Courage When You Don't Feel it

Feelings come and go, but courage is deeper and longer lasting. Courage can be found even when we don't feel it.

"But I felt scared." I had just told my son he was brave, and that was his response. No, I'm not brave, he reasoned, because I felt scared.

We had left the doctor where he got caught up on some vaccinations. He and his sister have inherited a bit of their dad's needle phobia, so it's a little unpredictable how these visits will go. On that particular day, Ian was stoic.

Even while telling me he was scared before the appointment, he remained calm and attentive while we talked about it and prayed. During the appointment, he followed instructions and didn't fight or try to get out of it. He was so brave and I wanted him to know I saw that in him.

After his response, I told him that brave people can be scared too. In words that fit a preschooler, I told him that bravery isn't the absence of fear. Bravery is how we act in spite of that fear. We might still feel scared in some way, but are we going to press through or run away? That is what makes a person brave.

I saw his bravery again a couple weeks ago when we took the kids to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. Going to an amusement park with kids was kind of perfect for me because I get terribly motion sick on roller coasters (among other things). The last time I rode a Ferris wheel, I was 8 and felt sick the rest of the day. So I'm not entirely sure why I had no trepidation in volunteering to take a turn riding on one with Ian. It might have something to do with his bravery that draws out my own.

Early that morning, I woke up with unexplained anxiety and fear. I had shivers and felt sick to my stomach and couldn't stop thinking I needed to tell my husband that we shouldn't go on this last-minute trip. After showering it off and journaling it out, I decided not to give in to this irrational fear.

As the morning wore on, it became clear how irrational my fear had been. The weather was gorgeous with plenty of sunshine and a light cooling breeze. The rides our kids could do had hardly any lines, so they excitedly ran from ride to ride smiling more than I'd seen from them in a while.

Several times throughout the day of the kids having a blast doing something we don't usually get to do as a family, I got choked up thinking I almost gave into the fear. I was so close to calling off the trip and would have missed out on this incredible and necessary day for our family.

Finally, we had experienced enough, and we were wrapping it up with a ride on the Ferris wheel. Something about that anxiety turning into a beautiful day, I felt like this ride would be the cherry on top, despite all my past experiences getting motion sick.

Ian and I buckled into the seat together. He squirmed and cranked his head all around taking in the wheel and the nearby roller coasters.  Coming around the top of the first cycle, I felt it--the losing my stomach sensation rising. Oh, no! I panicked, not now!

I loosened my muscles, stopped looking over the edge of our seat for the ground, and relaxed my gaze up to the sky and out to the horizon as our chair lowered. It worked--my stomach refound itself right where it was supposed to be, and I felt fine. I just needed to adjust my focus. That ride with Ian and the beautiful aerial view of city in the distance really was the cherry on top of a fear-smashing day.

I've shared a little in the past about bravery in new beginnings. These experiences add to what I'm learning about that, especially when our feelings shout fear and worry that crowds out our bravery and courage. Here's what I know...

God doesn't speak through irrational fear.

This is coming from my own experience backed up by what I've read in God's Word. Whenever an angel came before someone in the Bible, they started with "Do not be afraid." Jesus himself says "do not be afraid" many times throughout the gospels. Along with being told to be strong and courageous, Joshua is told to not be afraid. Our fears and concerns might have something to tell us, but it's likely not God's truth, hope, and love.

Feelings come and go, but I can choose to focus on unwavering truth.

I don't think it's a coincidence that a broomstick doesn't easily balance in your palm when you're looking down, or that focusing on your feet can make you slip off a railroad track, or that looking back at your raised foot can knock you over in a yoga pose, or that looking for the ground can make you feel motion sick on a roller coaster. It's fitting, then, that where we focus matters, and when our focus wanders to the wrong things, that anxiety results. When I need to refocus, I start with some of the truths I memorized while reading Beth Moore's Believing God: God is who He says He is, God can do what He says He can do, I am who God says I am, and I can do all things through Him.

Courage and bravery are when we act in spite of ill feelings.

We might feel scared, but is that going to stop us from doing what we know is right? We might feel confused or discouraged or disappointed or anxious or worried, or any number of negative emotions. We can still choose to act in what we know is true and right and good, and when we step forward in faith in spite of bad feelings, we are choosing courage and bravery.

We can give in to anxiety or we can choose courage even we don't feel it. I am so thankful for the One in the sky that draws my gaze up and in doing so, steadies my feet... and my stomach. Keep on friends. Don't let those fears or feeling scared lie about the truth of bravery in you.

You are so brave.


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Little Ways to Make Big Changes in Your Life

The life you dream of starts today. Choose a small habit, decide how you'll work it into your daily routine, and commit to doing it everyday for at least 3 weeks. Big transformations happen one simple habit or change at a time. You can do it!

Every change I've made started with learning to make my bed everyday. I don't remember how old I was when I learned that actions have to be repeated 26 days in a row to become habit. (I've since heard other variations starting at 21 days and up.) At that point in my childhood, I wasn't making my bed everyday, and I often didn't do so until later in the day when I needed a clean place in my room to sit.

So, I decided to start making my bed every morning as soon as I got out of it. My feet hit the floor, and I quickly fixed my covers, before going on to showering and breakfast and off to school. The first week, I didn't always remember until later in my routine or when I got home from school in the afternoon. By the second week, I was gaining consistency, and by the third week my new habit was formed. Now, twenty-some years later, I simply cannot leave my room in the morning without making my bed. It's maybe a little bit compulsive, but it's mostly just habit.

This habit seems simple enough, and almost arbitrary. It goes so much further than making beds, though. This single habit taught me how simple it can be to set and follow healthy habits for years to come. It's happened in so many other areas of my life. Habits that helped simplify our home and helped me lose the 15 pounds I gained from bad habits formed in college.

It goes both ways. We can train ourselves in good habits within 21 days, and we can teach ourselves to rely on unhealthy habits in the same amount of time. The good habits might be harder at first, but they'll make our lives easier in the future, which makes doing hard things worth it.

Big transformations happen one simple habit or change at a time. And it can all start today. Here's how...

Look at where you're headed.

If there's a bigger change you want to make in your life, start with working backwards. What's the big picture goal? Are you needing simplicity in your home? Have you been resolving to lose weight and get healthy for years? Now, work backwards from that big, overwhelming goal. What changes will help you get there? A starting point for simplifying your home might be stopping the needless Target trips or scheduling regular times to go through your belongings and get rid of the excess. A starting point for your health might be eating better breakfasts or taking at least 5,000 steps each day or taking healthier snacks to work so you don't reach for the office candy or donuts. Consider where your habits are leading and whether you'll be happy with that in a month or a year or more.

Choose one specific change.

There are lots of little daily habits that make up our lives. Instead of choosing vague goals like "get rid of some stuff" or "eat better and exercise more," try narrowing down your goals to a specific habit to work on changing. What one change can you maintain daily starting today? If you're not sure what habit to start with, you could start with something relatively arbitrary and basic like making your bed every morning or doing the dishes before you go to bed each night. Or addressing a specific problem area might be a good place to start. In my aiming to get healthier, my daily dessert-like coffee habit was something I knew needed to go. Instead of dropping cold turkey, I decided to start drinking green tea instead. It might seem as unlikely a swap as an apple for a cupcake, but it's specific and doable and a better daily alternative.

Set reminders or cues for better routines.

When I resolved to make my bed everyday, my feet hitting the floor was my cue to do it. Otherwise, I would walk away and get distracted and forget about it. You can set a reminder on your phone or anchor into a specific part of your daily routine. My simple daily exercises are done along with my shower routine in the morning, and I'm adjusting my evening routine to include stretching and reading and better alternatives to push out the Netflix-binging.

Use your new willpower for more good.

Making my bed wasn't a stand-alone habit change. Once that habit was set, I was able to move forward in keeping my room clean and getting my homework done. Now, years later, making my bed isn't even something I think about. Now I'm working on improving other habits like exercising every morning, stretching every night, or exchanging my food vices for healthier alternatives. And each time one becomes habit (like buying dark chocolate squares instead of ice cream and cookies), I don't have to think about it anymore and I can work on more specific changes for the better. Making those hard choices flexes that little willpower muscle and gives us motivation for other positive life changes, so our good habits produce more good habits.

The life we dream of starts today. And as we get older, it won't get any easier to make healthy choices. Choose a small habit, decide how you'll work it into your daily routine, and commit to doing it everyday for at least 3 weeks. Big transformations happen one simple habit or change at a time. You can do it!


5 Things Only You Can Do (and Courage to Do Them)

Let's be courageous in putting the important stuff first, knowing the rest will follow. No one else can for us.

It seems about once a year I'm reminded of what's really important for me to do. Well, maybe once a season, when something comes up and I'm not myself and I have to consider on a very practical level, what is essential for me to do everyday?

This usually starts with some sort of fatigue or not feeling "myself." I lack motivation or energy to get the important stuff done. The cause varies depending on the year or the season. There's been depression or deficiencies in Vitamin D or iron, and the times in between when I self-diagnose and self-treat based on past experiences.

The effect is a real come-to-Jesus with what's essential in my life. What can only I do with my limited energy, and which things maybe aren't as important, at least for this season? Usually chores and creative work get lumped in the ask-for-help or okay-to-neglect categories. This evaluation of priorities when I'm not feeling well is now influencing my focus even when I'm feeling motivated, energetic, and healthy.

Ultimately, when my life has been lived and it's all memories in the past, what will have mattered? Will I be proud of how I lived and the legacy I've passed on to my kids?

With those questions in mind, I realize in all of my busy list-making and task-doing, I often leave off my most important and highest priority tasks. I forget or negate or assume I already know/do the tasks that only I can do. These are vital things I should be paying attention to that no one else is going to do, and sometimes no one else can do, for me.

Here are those things only we can do for ourselves, just in case you also need a little courage to daily do what matters most.

1. Love your people. And pray for them.

I originally saw this idea as a tweet from Lysa TerKeurst: Pray for your kids. If you're not going to, who will? I've taken that to heart, and even broadened the umbrella. If I'm not loving on and praying for my husband or my friends or my parents or my siblings or my grandparents--who is? Maybe someone else that cares for them. Or maybe I'm missing the opportunity to love and pray for people in my life that really need it--nevermind the bonus of getting to stop thinking about myself and my own problems for a minute. Imagine if we all started openly caring for and praying for our people as if no one else was? I can feel the love already!

2. Commit to Jesus.

I know how we can all relate to being too busy for a devotional life and not knowing where to start and feeling like our prayers aren't going anywhere. But either we're spending time with Jesus regularly because we're His girls (and guys), or we're not. No one else can make that decision for us. No one else can make that time to grow that relationship for us. When all is said and done in this life, I don't want to regret not making Jesus the priority He always should have been--I believe He really is the One that matters most.

3. Tell your story.

We all have a story to tell. A story of the ways we hurt and the ways God heals. A story of struggle that's been overcome or a lesson learned or a blessing experienced or a miracle witnessed. Only we know and can tell our own stories. These stories that make us human also bring us life, make us relate-able, help us connect with each other, and ultimately help us reach others with God's love. We can find little everyday opportunities to tell our honest, heartfelt stories with friends over coffee, in a small group, in a blog post or social media update, or even in a journal or to a counselor as we process them ourselves. Or we can keep our stories to ourselves and lose the connection and gospel that comes with vulnerability. May we all find opportunity to share our stories and find Jesus's love in the retelling.

4. Take care of yourself.

Sure, others can extend love and grace and acts of kindness to us, and that sometimes happens when we need it most. Still, when we become adults, we mostly become our own responsibility. That means if you're sick, you take a day off; if you're regularly fatigued, you go to the doctor; if you're overwhelmed, you de-stress or see a counselor or ask for help; if you're feeling discouraged, you focus on and choose positivity and gratitude; and if you've slipped into unhealthy habits, you start making small changes toward healthier choices. Taking care of ourselves makes a huge difference in our quality of life for years to come, and no one else can do it for us.

5. Choose your thoughts.

I don't know about you, but my thoughts can get out of control. A seed of negativity spreads like weeds of discouragement, and a quick what if can spiral into anxiety. It doesn't have to be that way unless I let it. Thoughts might pop into my head unwelcome, but I don't have to let them take residence. The more I let a thought linger, the deeper the pathways it makes in my brain so I'm more likely to think that negative or anxious thought again. Or, I can turn it all around by countering negative or anxious thoughts with new, positive thoughts. I can fill my mind with positives and truth to counter and replace the negative. This happens by consuming (reading, watching, listening) to good things, and repeating (thinking, saying out loud, writing) those good things. Since our thoughts lead to action, we can do a lifetime of good only if we start it in our thinking.

Sure, there's other things to we have to do like our jobs or home upkeep or run errands. I just want to make sure I don't let those daily tasks crowd out what I really value and want to do in this life. When all is said and done, I want to be at peace that I focused on and did the things that matter, and did them well.

Let's be courageous in putting the important stuff first, knowing the rest will follow. No one else can do it for us.