Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.
I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.
I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.
I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.
My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)
My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.
As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.
I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.
I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.
I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)
I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.
I was sickeningly wrong.
I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.
Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.
My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.
I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.
Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.
I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.
Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.
I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.
Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.
It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.
So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.
I never had the chance before.