I sat in a circle of fourteen teenage girls and felt the space between us become heavy as stories of incredible pain and suffering were shared.
“I want each of you to share a brief timeline of your life. The big stuff. The stuff that marked some type of transition for you.”
Oh, my heart. It twisted and turned as I listened to each girl recall her own personal story marked by unique struggles, passions, and victories. The sorrow was almost tangible in the room as they described hearts trampled by boys, feelings of inadequacy leading to eating disorders, and broken homes. Each story was so different. No pain was exactly the same. No two hearts had identical breaks and bruises. Still, the underlying theme was always the same. We live life and we get hurt. We cause hurt. We are frail human beings, living in a world stained by affliction.
These sweet, sweet girls are so young. Their lives aren’t even halfway through and they have lived through unimaginable grief. They are growing up in a turbulent era in which terrorist attacks, online bullying, and divorce are more “normal” than one would hope. Despite the hopeless impression this world can give, their stories weren’t all hurt. Each one contained pieces of stunning redemption. Places where tragedy and chaos met healing and understanding. Places where ugliness was transformed into beauty.
I sat in a coffee shop with a stranger yesterday. A friendly, “Hey, can you believe how cold it is outside?!” turned into a two hour conversation. After a short exchange of niceties, it quickly became apparent that neither of us was good at surface-level conversation. I didn’t even know her name before I knew a good portion of the struggles she had faced throughout her life. As I told her my own story, she took the necklace she had been wearing from her neck and placed it in my hand.
It was a key with the word “Courage” engraved on it.
I looked up from my palms to her eyes as she told me, “Your story is one of courage. You are a leader of leaders. You are walking confidently on the path that God has called you to and you are sharing your story with others. That takes courage.”
Growing up, I always thought that courage was for fairytales- for knights fighting fire-breathing dragons and princesses escaping the wrath of evil witches. I thought it was for soldiers who bravely fought to protect and defend their home country. I thought it was for firefighters and policeman. I never thought it was for me.
I was reading a book just the other day that flipped my idea of courage on its head. The author made a claim that forced me to stop and rethink the definition that I had attached to the word “courage” for so long. He made the claim that courage isn’t defined by bold acts, it’s all about the heart. In fact, courage and the heart are one in the same, he said. The word itself comes from the Old French “ceur,” derived from the Latin “cor,” meaning heart.
This life that we are living takes a great deal of courage – that becomes obvious after you sit in a room full of sobbing teenage girls sharing their deepest pains and greatest victories with each other for two and a half hours.
You don’t have to slay dragons or fight a war to have courage. Sure, it’s bold and brave to fight enemies in the form of animals and dictators, but we must realize that our brokenness is its own type of enemy too, and our courage lies in our ability to face that brokenness and make it into something beautiful.
We must embrace our stories. We must embrace the brokenness and the pain. We must have courage enough to tell our stories to friends on a living room floor, to strangers in coffee shops on Tuesday afternoons, to the masses. We must have courage enough to live this life with our whole heart, despite the inevitable hurt we will suffer as a result of it. And then we must have enough courage to stick around and watch as God redeems every single broken part, piece by piece.
Our stories don’t define us. Our circumstances don’t define us. Our courage to live through them and speak of the magnificent redemption that takes place does.