how big your brave is

There is a bathroom at the high school I attended that was just down the hall from my government class. My senior year, when I was the most anxious and fearful I can ever imagine, I used to slip out of class with a bathroom pass and quietly go into one of the stalls. It was there that I would find respite from the hurt in my heart by carving straight lines into the meaty part of my upper arms.

No one suspected a thing. I wasn’t popular, but I had a lot of friends in many different social groups. I wasn’t a 4.0 student, but I turned the majority of my homework in on time, I got better-than-average grades, and I was never disrespectful to teachers.

Bravery to me was closing my eyes and feeling pain wash over me. I wore my bravery small and tidy, hatch marks that never faded fully even as the years would go on and I would see that I was not brave – I was afraid.

In college I lived for the cause. It didn’t matter what the cause was – but I had one. I bravely used this voice and these words and this passion to send up the rally cry.

But to tell you the truth, it wasn’t bravery – it was bravado. It was a coverup for the truth, which is that I was hurting inside and falling apart and I didn’t know how, couldn’t find the words, to explain it to those around me.

All of my life, my bravery has been this: a sham, false, anything but.

I can’t get it out of my head. It’s been echoing in my mind all day long, and every time I’ve been alone at work or in the car I’ve cranked it up. Its message is one that hits dangerously deep for me.

The reality is, at 17 I couldn’t define bravery. I couldn’t at 22 or 25 or really even at 28. Maybe I will never be able to grasp fully the concept of what it is to be brave.

After all, I am not flying planes into dangerous locations. I don’t feel called to the mission field to share the gospel with hostile people. I don’t think God is calling me to church plant.

But what I do earnestly feel is that God is calling me to speak.

I want to be brave with my words. God has gifted me as a wordsmith. I don’t say that proudly, because I truly know that I am by no means the most eloquent writer or public speaker, but I know where my strengths lie, and I am incredibly comfortable with words, with telling a story. In the moments where I have spoken with a voice that does not waver and hands that do not tremble, I have been seeking God more dearly than every before.

But I am not brave.

I hold back what I want to say. I feel the words rising out of my mouth, and I choke them back. I’m so afraid of what will happen, so I list my fears instead showing the world how big my brave is.

I’m young – I’ll offend – I won’t be received in love – I’ll alienate – I’ll shove it down their throats – I’ll be a hypocrite – they’ll never listen – they won’t take me seriously – it’s too complicated – they’re a lost cause – someone else will do it – I am afraid.

Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.

I can hear God telling me that. It’s funny how this song, not Christian in its intent, strikes me so deeply as a Christian.

Be brave with the words I want you to share.

If I were brave, I would say: truth is not objective.
If I were brave, I would say: God loves you.
If I were brave, I would say: I’ll love you no matter what, but I love you enough to tell you the truth.
If I were brave, I would say: stop doing that – you know better.
If I were brave, I would say: this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want you to be brave, too, even though it scares you.

If I were brave, I would say: it scares me, too.

My all-time favorite blogger, Angie Smith, wrote a blog post last year that I have bookmarked and reference when I need to remember what bravery feels like. I read her words often and I remember what God has called me to do.

Who am I to believe my words matter?
Do you wonder the same?
But He whispers with love and power-
I shape the letters of your life. Look around at the beautiful and splendid things, and write them.
Your job, love, is not to create the story.
It is to turn each page and listen.
Believe that it is all worth telling.
I know the truth underneath this, after all.

Do I believe I have something worth telling? How I answer this question makes all the difference to what I am doing in my life. If I answer no, I don’t think I need to tell people, then the outcome is this – what is the point? Why bother to live my life this way if it makes no difference for me, if it means so little that I don’t want to share it with others?

But if I answer yes, it matters, then the fundamental truth is this: your eternity demands I tell you the truth of Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. If I believe it is a story worth telling and a life worth living, then I should shout it to the ends of the earth that His death wasn’t just for me, but for you, too.

I am bursting at the seams. I want to tell you that God loves you tremendously more than I will never have the words to express. Your faults and your failures? The moments of bravado you have claimed to be bravery? The relationship you’re ashamed of, the mistake you have made the cripples you, the burden you carry that seems to suffocate you?

Oh, He knows you and He knows it all and He loves you so deeply and tenderly that none of it matters except for how He will use it for good.

Let that fill you to overflowing with bravery so you will tell others.

I don’t often speak of my scarred arms. The scars have faded and they aren’t that noticeable unless I’m sunburned or exceptionally cold, I know they’ll always be there. I can feel them if I run my fingers lightly over my skin. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed reading or watching tv, my fingers drift over them softly, tracing lines that spell the words of a sad, scary story.

I once had a friend in college stare at my arm while we were in a warm car and say, matter-of-factly, “Those are you scars.” I felt embarrassed by her comment. I’m not proud of them. I couldn’t stand them at the time. In my mid-twenties I was still hoping that they would go away in a few more years. Her words hurt me and made me feel so terribly different.

But these scars, and this scarred life, afford me many opportunities now to be brave. I might trace the lines of a broken life, but it’s no longer in shame or hurt that I feel those grooves – it is with the promise that I see and will continue to see the good in those paths.

Tonight, I show you how big my brave is.

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