On Courage and a New Year

We’re closing in on the end of 2014 and the internet is full of year-end reviews, best of 2014 lists, and ambitious resolutions for 2015.  I’m a sucker for new beginnings and reflection, so obviously, I want to play too.

I have a fairly terrible track record when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions (either they’ve been discarded by February or I fail to set them at all) so last year I decided to choose a word to focus on in the coming year, a theme I wanted to manifest in my life that year.  It felt less specific than a resolution and in some ways, like taking the easy way out because a word is subjective and without specific benchmarks or quantifiable ways to measure its impact on your life.  So, basically, I’m confessing that back in December of 2013 I thought I had stumbled upon the Lazy Woman’s Answer to a New Year.  Boy was I wrong.

I chose the word courage and wrote these words on Facebook on New Year’s Day:

“2014 and I keep coming back to the word courage.  It sums up my hopes for myself and those I love in the new year.

This quote from “We Bought a Zoo” is often repeated in our home… “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage.  Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery.  And I promise you, something great will come of it.”  

I have found this to be true and I hope that all of you can find that courage in the coming year when you most need it.  Whether it is the courage to try something new, create something, speak out, remain silent, forgive, trust, run a race, nap, wear appliqué sweaters with no irony…whatever it is, grab your twenty seconds.  There has never been a better time than now, because now is the time you have.”

I don’t consider myself a brave person.  I’mafraid of heights and tiny spaces and creepy dolls(which by the way includes most dolls).  But that  little word….courage….guided me through 2014 in ways I did not imagine in January when I typed out those words, and it continues to inspire my decisions.  It became the filter through which I asked questions and found answers.  I learned how different courage can look on different people, or even on the same person in different situations….like the way courage would nudge me to speak up and other times, remind me to just listen.  Focusing on courage encouraged me to ask questions about how to spend this one, precious life, and how to become comfortable living in the tension of those answers.  And the word kept popping up everywhere, though I’m sure that had more to do with my mental filter than reality, kind of like the way you see pregnant women everywhere when you are pregnant yourself.  It was in books, movies, and quotes on my Pinterest board like the following:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin

Expansive life.  Those are bold words.  Bold, and if I’m honest, a little bit scary.  Our current culture is so consumed with the glorification of busy it is all too easy to read the word expansive and curl up in the fetal position.  Expand?  Where?  How?  Have you seen my calendar?  Or my laundry room?!?  I don’t have time to expand!

But here is the lie:  An expansive life is a busy life.

And here is the truth:  An expansive life is a life lived fully.  

This is a lesson that I have to learn over and over again, and no doubt will spend the rest of my life learning.  Each time I find myself staring at a calendar that is busy in a busy way, and not busy in a full way, I start making adjustments.  I start shrinking.  At first, it is a healthy shrinking, a sort of clutter removal to make room for the things I value.  It starts to feel really, really lovely.  All those beautiful white squares with NO PLANS and time for spontaneity and discovery.  I live in those days so well, loving the people I share them with and making room for interruptions.  But inevitably, I reach a point where I realize that I may have thrown away something useful in my decluttering process.  Similarly to the way that I donate my husband’s tools when I clean out the basement (he never uses them, right?) only to find that he needs them the very next week, I often find myself looking for something I cast aside.  Where did I put my knitting?  Theater?  Yoga?  

I am a person who loves to learn from her mistakes so much that she often repeats them.  

Just days into my newly courageous 2014, I tripped on some stairs, broke my ankle, and began to shrink.  At first, it was a healthy and necessary shrinking.  I couldn’t walk or drive, much of that winter was spent under ice, and it simply made more sense to stay home and hibernate through my healing.  I started to pick up a few of the things I rarely left time for … that children’s book I have been meaning to write, some watercolor paints, some time spent with my ukulele.  And as sure as winter turns to spring, so my ankle healed and my courage started to quietly roar and I was ready to enter a cycle of expansion again. 

 I’m not sure if courage is the right word for driving around Target in this fancy ride or humility.

I started playing music with other people (okay, so it was in the privacy of my home but other people were present so it counts as courageous) and I started writing regularly.  We dipped our toes into the foster care system, opening our home for short-term and respite foster children and explored ways to support families in crisis.  After several years away from musical theater, I auditioned for and was cast in November Theater Company’s production of Assassins in a role that stretched me as a performer, brought with it new and beautiful friendships, and offered me the privilege of watching an old friend achieve a long-held dream. We sent our oldest son to summer campOf the overnight varietyMy husband and I made the decision to home-school our children for this school year, a conversation that has been alive in our home since before our oldest started kindergarten.  I became an active participant in a faith-based community, a tension-filled choice that continues to surprise me in its impact.  I started this blog.  I’m not sure how many of these things I would have done without that little word, that guidepost of courage leading my way.  I fully realize that some of these things may not seem courageous to you, but all of them required me to become more vulnerable, to live out questions and live in tension, to leave behind the security of things known for things unknown, or to do something before I deemed myself ready.  My world expanded.

 It took super-human courage for me to leave this boy at camp.  Thank goodness real college is years away.
 Bravely staring down a storm to watch my youngest play baseball. 
As Sara Jane Moore in Assassins. 

And here’s what I found:  When we unearth the courage to try something new (and we usually know the things we are longing to try), our joy expands.  We wake anticipating our days rather than dreading our to-do lists, because our lists start to contain the very things that bring us joy or purpose.

When we unearth the courage to connect to the people we meet throughout our day, rather than going through the motions head down, buried in our phones, our to-do lists, or our own minds, our empathy and sense of shared humanity expands.  We begin to see opportunities to help others in big and small ways, and to let others in to help us when we need it.  

When we unearth the courage to listen to a viewpoint other than our own, and listen with the intent to understand rather than defend, our worldview expands.  Our patience expands. Our compassion expands.

Expansive life.  Those are bold words, but they are words worth embracing.     

So, here we are almost on the eve of a new year, and to be honest, I’m sad to leave my little word behind.  My “easy way out”  become something more than I ever intended and I know that I’ll still need courage in the coming year.  But I’m going to believe that I’m leaving this year a little braver than before, and that I’ll be able to find that reservoir of courage whenever I need it as I move forward into a new year.

In searching for a word for 2015 I got a little frustrated because the process wasn’t as tidy and no one word jumped out at me.  I have a list of words that are great words, worthy of hand-lettering onto a watercolor backdrop and tacking on my cork board, but none of them sum up exactly the theme I have in mind for the coming year.  So, even though I just spent several hundred words writing a testimonial for the one word concept, I’m tossing it out the window this year and instead choosing a phrase.  A quote, to be more precise:

“Because remember, the talking about the thing isn’t the thing.  The doing of the thing is the thing.” – Amy Poehler

Less talking, more doing. 

Those of you who know me well, feel free to laugh at the “less talking” part.  I know I am!

Here’s to 2015.

2 thoughts on “On Courage and a New Year

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s