Courage is for the Faint of Heart

I rubbed my bulging stomach, trying to appease the skin that was stretched and desiccated, begging me for assurance. We were expecting our first child, and at that point in building our baby registry, my mind was whirling. I wanted to hide from the bright white lights of the colossal store, but they reached into every aisle and reflected their potency from the vinyl flooring. My feet felt like stubs too small for the weight of my body and my son’s growing one. I felt too small for the weight of “shoulds” I had agreed to without a fight.

Ten years ago, at this point, I thought our decisions about everything from sleep schedules to discipline, homemade verses jarred baby food, and whether or not we taught our son to speak sign language along with other needed languages, would determine how bumpy our flight of parenting would begin and stretch forward. Beyond that, I believed that all of our work would ensure our son’s safety, thriving, well-being, and basically, his everything.

As first-time parents, our attention to detail was over the top. Our first was bathed daily, fussed over, kept to a good schedule at all costs, and never had a hair out of place. Okay, that last part was an exaggeration, but you get the picture. I read verses like “train up a child” as insurance and added my extra credit for good measure. We had stacks of well-meaning books, and in the back of my mind, I had a crowd of phantom parents to follow and compare myself to.

A few years later, after an onslaught of transitions, another child added to the mix, and sleepless nights that stacked endlessly, one upon another, I realized I couldn’t figure it all out. The foundation of keeping things together and choosing all the right things for everyone all the time was breaking apart underneath my feet.

I’ve heard it said that parenting, like many of the journeys we embark on in life, isn’t for the faint of heart. I get the sentiment. I might’ve even repeated it. But if I’m honest, I’d tell you that I’ve always naturally been a faint-of-heart type of person. The description isn’t favored in our rugged, individualistic, God-helps-those-who-help-themselves culture and I still feel some embarrassment in admitting it. Whether we say we buy into those ideals or not, those ideals have permeated everything in sight.

My own parenting road reminds me of gospel glimpses of Jesus’ disciple, Peter. Peter had his hand up, ready with passion and right answers, all the time. I have been like a mama bear, ready to defend my cubs and attack, the way Peter cut a soldier’s ear off when they came to arrest Jesus in an olive grove. I’ve hidden like Peter after he tried to disassociate himself from being a disciple for fear of what people would think and say. Wearing a coat of shame, I’ve believed my validation as a mom and my worth as a person was wrapped up in outcomes and how my little ones behaved.

Peter had to start sinking in that water he so eagerly volunteered to walk on. He had to be submerged in the magnitude of mystery he claimed to understand, to know his need for the only One who could rescue him once he started flailing.

Over the years, courage has begun to look a lot more like humility to me. I think we’d all do a lot better to admit how afraid we really are. Bravery looks like starting there. Courage isn’t just for those who have quick answers, wear a tough exterior, or claim to have their ducks in a row. Nor is it just for parents. It doesn’t birth itself along with a baby or any other new journey.

Courage is for all of us who admit how scared we are and put our flailing selves into the ever-outstretched hands of Jesus. It’s for those of us who can say we don’t know, admit we’ve made mistakes, and choose to live in the indomitable stability of Jesus’ forgiveness, healing, and redemption.

My family and I are facing a new challenge right now. The skin on my stomach is no longer stretched taut anymore; instead, it now bears witness to all of the weight it’s held and released. I should listen to the reminders its ample, uneven curves speak. Their waves of skin counsel me to turn from the temptation to read every book, try to fix it, become the expert, and figure it out. This space, that’s been pulled like taffy, tenacious like a fortress, and as complex as an intricate machine, reminds me that our ongoing challenge involves a person to love, not a problem to patch up and regulate.

And while books and trying new things are good, Jesus offers me something else when I feel like I am sinking at the end of the day. He offers me His outstretched hands. Again and again, stretching further than my skin has ever had to, He offers Himself to fill in all the faint places in my heart.

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