Finding Courage; Part One

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Amtrak takes Hadassah and I through a cute town in the Appalachian Mountains

As I write this I’m on an Amtrak train headed for Toledo with my worn-out-but-wiggly-even-asleep eight-year-old sprawled across my lap. I’ve got my laptop perched on the fold-out table attached to the chair in front of me (like the ones you see on planes) and she keeps bumping and kicking the table as she twitches sporadically in her sleep. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that I ordered some red wine hoping that it would help with this splitting headache I’ve got and each twitch brings the glass closer to spilling all over my computer and lap. Everyone is so freaked out about the Corona Virus that I was afraid to ask for some Tylenol so I ordered an over-priced cheap cup of wine instead. Earlier today I had entertained the fantasy of sophisticatedly sipping a glass of wine as I typed out a blog post with my daughter sleeping peacefully beside me. Oh well, I suppose that, in it’s own way, this reality is even better.

As far as an update goes, we’ve been busy doing the typical settling in things as well as a bit of exploring. Certain events from these past couple weeks, however, have caused me to return to a topic I often consider. Courage is a common theme of discussion in our home. We talk about how the Bible admonishes us to be brave and about having the courage to stand up for what is right, to defend the helpless and downtrodden and to speak boldly for Jesus even when it’s unpopular. We talk to our girls about standing up for each other, their belief system, their God and their country. We read historical accounts and fictitious stories about courageous men and women, boys and girls who stood fast despite great peril. But as the stories tell, courage always involves risk, sacrifice and discomfort. Being immersed in a culture that worships self, entertainment and comfort, how can we find it within ourselves to choose great courage and sacrifice, let alone teach our children to do so?

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

~ Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

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photo courtesy: Stuart Miles @ freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t actually have the answer to those questions, but a couple of events these past weeks have prompted me to ponder them and I’ve concluded that my girls have taught me much more about what it means to be courageous than I have ever taught them.

Recently we went on a fun little hike that led us along a stream. The stream had tall banks (for a stream, that is) suggesting that it had previously carried more water than it currently contained. Along the banks were a series of small caverns that turned into tunnels burrowing into the ground horizontally. My girls jumped down the banks, stuck their heads in the caverns and shouted into them. Most of the time, the sound echoed and then disappeared, but one cavern proved different. When they shouted into it they realized that their voices emerged ten feet upstream from a one-square-foot half-submerged hole in the bank.

“I’m going in,” declared my oldest. “Mom, can I have your phone so I can catch this on video? I promise I’ll do my best not to get it wet.”

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The girls checking out caverns in the stream bank

I looked at the cavern and then upstream to the small hole we suspected was connected. The tunnel was pitch black and trees grew up to the bank directly above us. I could just see her getting stuck between a wall and root four feet underground, or the ground caving in on top of her, or the tunnel becoming so small that she got stuck. My oldest has an insatiable taste for adventure which causes her to be a bit reckless at times and I had no doubt that she would press on when most others would turn back. However, I told myself that this was the perfect opportunity for her to build confidence and practice courage. It was her chance to prove to herself that she has what it takes, that she was brave enough. So I handed her my phone, held my breath and forced my best encouraging smile.

Just a couple minutes later she wiggled out on her belly from the small hole upstream. “That was awesome!” she exclaimed. “Hey, want to go through it with me?” she asked her sisters. Thanks Mila; now I get to visualize a catastrophic underground accident involving all three of my girls. I wasn’t too worried about my 11-year-old. Her history said this would be a piece of cake for her. My eight-year-old, however, was another matter. She doesn’t really like the dark, or tight spaces or being cold, or taking instruction from her older sister. The day was chilly and the water was freezing and anyone going through the tunnel would get quite wet and be cold for the whole hike back to the car. Despite this reality, all three of my daughters looked up at me with hopeful eyes.

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The girls inside the entrance of the cavern that led to a small, half-submerged hole about ten feet upstream.

“Look here Hadassah,” my husband piped in. “If you go into that cave you’ll get wet and cold. It will be pitch black and you may run into spiders and mice. It will get tight and you’ll feel the walls pressing up against you. If you get stuck, neither mom or I can make it in to rescue you so Mila will be your only hope; you must listen to her no matter what and not panic. Once you make it through you’ll be wet and cold all the way back to the car. That said, I believe you can do it. Do you understand the risks?”

“I understand,” responded Hadassah solemnly.

“Well then,” said Sal, “what do you want to do?”

I watched Hadassah’s face as she recounted and considered all that my husband had laid before her. On it I saw fear and watched as determination chased it away. “I can do this Dad,” she finally responded. “I’m going in!”

“In that case,” said my eldest daughter Mila, “we should start upstream and enter there.”

“Wait a minute,” I cut her off. “That would mean that you are entering at the smallest scariest part of the cave and that once Hadassah enters she’ll have no choice but to go forward. There would be no turning back from the start.”

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My brave young explorers

“Exactly,” replied Mila. “It would be scary at first but then the worst would be over. I think that will be better for Hadassah than having all that time to worry. I think it will be easier for her to navigate that way as well. Please, trust me on this one.”

Hadassah grabbed my hand, looked up at me and said, “It’s okay Mom, I trust Mila. I can do this. I’m brave enough,”

Every instinct in me told me not to let her go, but how could I deny her this: her very own chance to be brave? What message would I be sending her if I refused her? Sure, I could tell her that she was the youngest and should wait until she was older, but having already allowed her older sister to go through, I wondered if such a blow to her self-esteem would be worth keeping her safe. After a deep breath to slow my own heart I nodded approval and watched my youngest disappear inside a dark underground tunnel. After a minute or so I heard Hadassah calling out in a panic-fringed voice. She started to cry and I immediately prepared to dive into the larger part of the cave and get to her even if I had to dig my way through the dark to do so. Then I heard Mila’s calming voice responding and guiding her. It was quiet again for another couple minutes before they emerged downstream.

Hadassah’s face wore worry as she emerged, but as soon as the sunshine hit it, it became radiant with victory and excitement. “That was awesome!” she shouted. We shared high-fives and fist-bumps before hiking hurriedly back to the truck with the girls laughing and talking about their adventure the whole way.

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Talai using a key to try and entice some ducks along our hike a little closer

I was so proud of all three of my girls that day. Not only had they demonstrated their perpetual courage in the way they sook out adventure, but the youngest faced legitimate fears that many adults would have succumbed to. She confronted and overcame them, even regaining her composure without mom or dad in a moment of weakness.

This post is getting lengthy so I will conclude it in a day or two. As always, thank you for reading this blog and tracking with me. May God bless you and yours.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

~ Joshua 1:9

Above is the footage of their underground adventure that the girls recorded.