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What I’m Learning About Courage

It’s hard to believe we’re already in the second week of 2022.

So much has happened in the past couple of years. To me, it still feels like 2021 just started. Most of the things I expected to change last year didn’t, and many things I never expected to change did. You’d think I’d finally learn not to try and guess God’s ways.

Time after time, He’s proven that His ways are the best, and that He truly knows what the right thing is for every moment of our lives. Though I don’t understand His ways and really never can, I can certainly see His masterful hand behind my 2021.

For the past three years, instead of setting New Years resolutions, I’ve chosen a growth word for the year. I still make lists of goals for myself to work toward, to keep me on track. But ultimately, choosing a word for some quality that I know I need to improve at helps me not to focus so much on individual plans. It helps direct me to become more like Christ, and trust what His plan is for my life – not my own hopes.

This isn’t an idea I came up with, although I don’t remember where I first heard of it. But the growth word you pick is supposed to be a highly personal one, relating to some quality or practice that you feel God’s calling you to work on. When it comes time to choose one for the year, I first pray about it. And then I examine myself and what might be coming up in the year ahead.

What qualities am I lacking? What areas am I struggling in most? What do I need to improve at that would help me serve God better in the next years of my life? Where can I feel Him directing my attention right now?

Some years a word comes to my mind out of the blue, and seems to fit perfectly. Other times, it’s a toss up between many things I think I could work on. Although I might choose one, it’s not until the end of the year that I look back and see how appropriate it was. Or I may never settle on one for sure, but as I examine the year later, a clear theme emerges.

In 2019, my word of choice was love. 2020’s word was trust (which I talked about – and how perfect it was – in this post). I never settled on a word for 2021.

It’s not that I didn’t have things to work on – I had too many! And of course, that will always be the case as an imperfect human. But after a year like 2020, I didn’t know what to expect going forward. And with so many areas I wanted to improve at, I wrestled with choosing a word for a while, then eventually gave up on picking just one.

I figured I’d wait and see what the year brought. In the meantime, I knew I’d need to continue trusting God, and be willing to try whatever I felt Him asking me to. Even if it was difficult, scary, or uncomfortable.

Now I realize that a big part of that involves courage. But it didn’t click for me until the end of 2021, when I sat down to examine the past year, and choose a growth word for 2022.

Even though I never recognized or pinpointed the exact word, I spent my 2021 developing more courage. Striving to try new things, even if they intimidated me. Reaching out to others and helping however I could, even if I felt awkward or out of my comfort zone. Navigating new opportunities and relationships that, quite honestly, terrified me.

Did I fill my schedule with a little too much in the process? Probably, yes (which I’ll talk about in next week’s post, when I share my growth word for 2022). But as I look back at 2021, I can honestly say that I’m a braver person than I was before. God’s been working on my heart and helping me with it, despite my hesitation.

I’m a naturally cautious person, and prone to being a bit socially awkward, hesitant, and quiet. There’s a determined and adventurous side of me that can show up after I take the initial step into a new situation, but the more dominant and reserved side of me is usually very reluctant to take that first step.

Unless I feel there’s a very good reason, I’m probably not going to rock the boat or overhaul a system that’s worked fine. Even if I should.

And that’s what I’ve been learning, especially starting in 2021. I’m sure it comes with this stage of my life anyway, as time passes and I’m stepping farther into adulthood and independence. But I’m thankful I’ve taken the time to focus on being braver, and that God’s been helping and strengthening me in the process.

2021 held a lot of new things for me.

I finally buckled down and completed a four-month elimination diet to figure out what’s been causing recurrent nausea the past six years. It was extremely restrictive and challenging, and I’m not out of the woods health-wise yet, but I truly believe I’m getting there. And there has been improvement, praise God. Between that and finishing a year and a half process of Invisalign, my diet has completely changed. I’m learning to navigate that.

I took a larger role as a leader and part of the worship team in my church’s youth group. In addition to accompanying on the piano and leading small groups, that also meant taking several trips to a camp my church is connected with. One of those trips was a week long and involved co-counseling ten girls not all that much younger than I was. Eggs cracked on my head by giggling campers, constant movement, tearful prayer meetings and teachings, and creative meals with newfound allergies made for an intense but rewarding week.

The week after, I virtually attended my second weeklong writing conference, which consisted of live teaching sessions, Zoom calls listening to and reading excerpts from our stories with my new critique group, a mentor session with Allen Arnold, collaborating to sing recorded for open mic night, drawing my own fantasy map, and random writing and editing. Despite a bad cold, with headaches and sounding like I had cotton balls in my sinuses, I was grateful to be able to attend again.

In July, I house-and-pet-sat for a week by myself for a family. It was faux independence sure, but yet another new experience, as I spent the week in a new town, new place, with new animals and new responsibilities while I balanced the rest of my weekly obligations. I enjoyed the opportunity, despite repeatedly planning in my mind what I’d do if that creak or bang down the hall (which was actually just the dog) was someone breaking in.

The next two weeks after that were spent participating in a theatre camp. Although I’d done years of theatre before, this was in a far shorter time period, with mostly new cast members and directors. I was cast in one of the main roles, with eleven days to memorize all my lines, learn half a dozen songs with several solos, and figure out all the choreography. The improvisation exercises were yet another aspect extremely outside my comfort zone. The entire experience stretched me very much, but I learned a lot during it.

I attended my first non-family wedding – also the first one attending by myself. It was a lovely experience getting to celebrate with my newly-married friend. And in yet another example of God’s mysterious, awesome ways, I received the chance to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen in ages, but, five months later, see quite often. A relationship wasn’t anywhere on my radar, but despite the sometimes petrifying newness of it all, I’ve seen God bring so many blessings. I’m very humbled and thankful.

I started teaching a fiction writing class to eight wonderful high-school students, most of which I used to take classes with (and one being my sister). Putting together a curriculum and materials, sending out emails, standing up and teaching on a subject that I’m passionate about but not an expert at has been quite the adventure. I don’t believe I’ve inherited the natural gift of teaching that my mother has, but stepping outside my comfort zone in the process has taught me a lot.

I started a second part-time job, working full-time hours between the two of them, and ensuring that every day of my week has at least one obligation. Nannying and office work could hardly be more different I think, but both have brought their own set of challenges and rewards, and I can see how they’re helping me grow as a person. One day I’m soothing crying children and the next I’m soothing myself while filing mountains of paperwork. Character building, I believe they call it. And truly, I am thankful for it.

I published my first book in December: The Toymaker’s Doll. And what an experience! For this perfectionist to share a story so near to her heart with just anyone has definitely been a step outside my comfort zone. But the launch, the blog tour, and the rest of the process so far has gone wonderfully, and I’ve been very blessed to hear readers’ thoughts. Though I don’t plan for it to be my only published story, it feels like a really neat accomplishment and it’s been a goal of mine for years.

All in all, as I look back at the past year, at all these things and more, I sometimes wonder how I’ve done them. It may not seem like much to others, but to me, knowing my personality and tendencies, I’m surprised. Over and over again, I’ve shakenly made the decision to try something despite feeling scared by it. And as God’s helped me have courage, those new things have gotten at least a little bit easier.

I’ve grown. I’ve changed. And I can honestly say I’m more courageous than I was in 2020.

Do I have a very long way to go still? Absolutely. But that’s the point of a growth word. It’s to focus on growing. And even though it isn’t my main growth word this year, I’ve made a lot of ground and plan to continue striving for courage in the years to come.

God’s shown me His character, and I’ve found that the more I trust Him, the easier it is to find courage. No matter what the situation, He will still be with me. No matter how I’m feeling, He is the same; faithful, loving, and wise. I don’t think it’s possible to be truly courageous without Him.

In many ways, I’m merely a frightened toddler desperately clinging to my strong Father’s hand. And just as I know He won’t ever stop guiding me, I don’t plan to ever let Him go.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith;
be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

(1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV)

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