When you’re fearless in what you want

Once again, I’ve been reminded about the importance of being brave in every aspect of life.

And, once again, a young child brought it to my attention.

“I want a hug.”

My precious niece Olivia had a cold last week, so I worked from my brother’s house for a couple of days to help take care of her. She’s a little older than 2 1/2 now, and she’s gotten really good at saying what she wants. More than once, she came up to me and said “I want a hug” and then climbed up into my lap.

My heart soared, and I melted.

Olivia knew what she wanted to comfort her when she wasn’t feeling well, and she made it known. She wasn’t afraid to be open and honest, and she does that with everything that she wants. Like when I was eating Wheat Thins and some granola and a banana, I heard that little angelic voice say “I want some.”

I started thinking about it later and wondering why it’s so simple for little kids to be so sure and assertive with the things they want and need, yet we struggle to be as open about it when we get older. Sure, there are certainly things that kids declare they want that aren’t theirs to have (no, Olivia, this is not your phone), but I still commend them for being so bold.

They are actual angels.

When you’re that young, you hear the word “no” a lot more than you ever want, but you don’t really think much of it. It’s just another “no” that you eventually forget about (even if there is an ensuing hissy fit that follows for a little bit) before the next time that you pursue your interests. You don’t overanalyze why you were rejected or let it make you feel like you’re not good enough—you simply move on and continue with your life. There might be tears, and you might need to take a moment for some uncontrollable wallowing, but you don’t let such a minor setback get you down for too long.

Why is it so much more difficult for us to go boldly after the desires of our hearts when we get older? Why do we let fears hold us back from saying what we want? Sure, just like kids, we can’t have everything we think we need, but there are certainly times when we simply need to suck it up and chase the things that set our hearts on fire.

I can think of far too many times in my life when I should have been more like Olivia—when I should have said what was in my heart instead of shying away from declaring words that never actually made it into the air for anyone to hear. But that was years ago, and I’m way past done being the girl who’s too afraid.

As my girl Jess said in New Girl, “What’s wrong with a girl that’s fearless?”

Minus her choice of pronoun, I’m completely with Jess. There’s nothing wrong with a girl who chooses to be brave.

I wanted a pic with Dirk, so I asked to borrow a stranger’s cutout.

Brave enough to chase her dreams.
Brave enough to speak what’s on her heart.
Brave enough to love without reservation.
Brave enough to walk with her head held high.
Brave enough to say “yes” when she means it.
Brave enough to say “no” when she means it.
Brave enough to look fear in the face and say “not today.”

I hope that Olivia grows up to be an even braver woman than she is now and never lets fear keep her from taking chances that she knows she needs to take. And I hope that you don’t, either. No, you can’t always get what you want, but it’s often better to take the risk than to sit back and be far too content with what’s merely comfortable. Do you want the job? Apply for it. Do you want the raise? Ask for it. Do you want to get to know the guy at the gym you always see and think is cute? Ask him out. Do you finally want to say “I love you” out loud? Let the words leave your mouth. Do you want to dance your heart out? Get out on that dance floor, and let loose. You do you, sister, and don’t worry about what other people think or say about you.

Because there’s nothing wrong with a girl who’s fearless.

Covered

There are certain moments in life when you know without at doubt that Someone is truly watching over you.

Especially in times when you feel completely helpless and alone.

One morning last week, I was running just like I do almost every morning on a route that I’ve run plenty of times. I’m always very aware of my surroundings, but I haven’t been in many situations where I thought my safety—or my life—was at risk.

Until that day.

I crossed a street where a car was at a light in a lane to go straight, but then I noticed that same car drove past me on the road I had continued on, which meant the driver had diverted his path and turned rather than gone straight. He then turned right on a side street up ahead, which gave me an anxious feeling in my stomach. I was on my way back home and really didn’t have a different way to go, and I was hoping he had continued driving on the street he had turned on—but I was very nervous that wasn’t the case.

And, unfortunately, it wasn’t.

As I started to run past that street, I saw his parked car in my peripheral vision, and a man was walking toward the corner of the street. He suddenly spoke to me: “Excuse me! Do you see this?!” Instinctively, I turned and looked and saw that he was holding a gun. He asked me again, this time more forcefully, “DO YOU SEE THIS??!” I said, “No,” and then did the only thing I could think to do: ran like hell. I couldn’t turn onto any of the side streets, because that would be almost walking into a trap, as they are all poorly lit and seemed like very unsafe options knowing he could navigate through them easily. I crossed the street and started running in somewhat of a zigzag pattern, wondering if I was about to feel a bullet fire through my back.

But then I felt this strange reassurance that said, Just keep running. I’ve got you covered.Joshua1.9

And so I ran probably faster than I’ve ever run in my entire life. I don’t think that man actually wanted to shoot me, though. I think he wanted to scare me and figured I would freeze when I saw the gun. Then he could do whatever he wanted with me. Thank God that didn’t happen.

Even though I reported the situation to the police (who claimed they would monitor the area better), I’ve developed a certain hesitation anytime I step outside to run now. And my fear isn’t in dying—it’s in being taken advantage of and losing a piece of my innocence that has become so sacred to me. It’s not something I want someone to steal from me. But I also don’t want to live in fear, and I don’t plan on doing so. Even though I’ve had nightmares every night since this happened, I know that was a moment in my life when God showed up in a BIG way. And that in itself is a reminder that we don’t need to fear. Will bad things happen in life? Yes. But we don’t have to be afraid, because God’s got us covered.

I think the man with the gun had seen an easy target in a small woman running by herself in the early morning hours when there was absolutely no one else in sight. What he didn’t factor in was the One who isn’t actually seen. I’m thankful he wasn’t able to take my life or my purity that day, and I hope he’s never successful with anyone else in that regard.

I know my nightmares won’t last forever, and I know the anxiety I’ve felt lately won’t always be this high. I will certainly be cautious and aware, but I will not be fearful.

Because I know these words are forever engrained on my heart: I’ve got you covered.

Not for a moment

Sometimes comfort comes in strange forms.

Like not getting hugs.

By the time I arrived at church on Sunday, I had already had a pretty emotional morning. After I came home from a cold, my-face-is-completely-windburned run, I learned that Stuart Scott (an ESPN anchor) died that morning. He was battling his third bout with cancer and was only 49 years old. Scott is one of the reasons I studied sports journalism–he was so unique and had a way of making great highlights seem even more spectacular. You could tell he really loved sports, but you could also tell that he was a genuine person and someone who knew the things that were truly important in life, such as family.

When Keyshawn Johnson started getting choked up while talking about Scott on Sunday NFL Countdown, I had to turn away, and then when Merril Hoge (who also fought his own battle with cancer) began talking about him, I almost lost it. Even though I didn’t actually know Stuart Scott, I’ve looked up to and respected him for years. It’s sad to lose people.

I got to church and was waiting for service to begin, and I started looking around the room as the band started playing the first worship song. I saw a mom lean over and give her son a big hug; I saw a woman hug her friend like they hadn’t seen each other in a while; I saw a man pull his wife close to him; I saw a mother put her arm around her daughter and give her a little squeeze. My thought in that instance: Where the heck is my hug? Yes, I had a brief moment of feeling sorry for myself.not for a moment

And then I got my hug–in the form of lyrics.

The next song, “Not for a Moment (After All),” was one we don’t sing that often but one I apparently really needed to hear. I think I needed a reminder that I’m never alone in this life and that there is One who will never wrong me, even when it seems like things are worse than they ever could be. The part of the song that truly jumped out at me most was:

And every step, every breath you are there

Every tear, every cry, every prayer

In my hurt, at my worst

When my world falls down

Not for a moment will You forsake me

Even in the dark, even when it’s hard

You will never leave me after all

Yes, sometimes life is just plain hard. Sometimes bad things happen, even to good people. Sometimes you lose people you love. Sometimes you are faced with obstacles that seem insurmountable. Sometimes unexplainable and catastrophic events take place and impact multitudes of people. Sometimes innocent lives are lost. Sometimes you make bad choices. Sometimes your world seems to be caving in around you. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you watch others cry. Sometimes nothing makes sense. At all.

But, even in all of those times, when it seems like every single person you know has turned and walked away, there is One who is there the whole time. It’s really easy to say God is there when those good things happen to us, but why is it so hard to believe that same truth when life is full of storms? A loving mother would never shut her child out in the middle of a torrential downpour and leave him to suffer; rather, she would do everything in her power to get him back inside safely. Our loving Father would never leave you all alone in the middle of a storm, either. Sometimes it may feel like you’re all by yourself in troubling times, especially when you don’t get the results or answers you want and when you want them, but life is out of our hands–which is actually a good thing. After all.

I won’t try to explain to you why things happen as they do, because I honestly have no idea. In fact, I ask that question so much that it’s probably ridiculous. But I do know that life is much more enjoyable when you’re not worrying about it so much. When Stuart Scott received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs last summer, he said, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

And, I don’t know about you, but I want to live fearlessly knowing that, after all, I’m never alone.

When you have your people

There are some things I am fully qualified to do but avoid doing as much as possible.

Like driving a bus.

I had been somewhat dreading last Friday, because I knew it meant I was going to have to drive a bus. With children on it. I’m a very confident driver (probably sometimes a bit too confident) when I’m cruising around Dallytown or making my forever-long work commute to Canada and back every weekday, but there’s something that gives me real anxiety about driving a bus. I was required to get my CDL when I was coaching, but I only drove a bus full of athletes once, and it was a situation where I was the only option available.

And that was almost two years ago.

I really didn’t want to have to drive, but I had a promise to fulfill. You see, my students had earned a mini field trip to Cane’s (which is seriously less than a mile from our school), and I had to be the one to take them there. My kids were counting on me, and I could not–and would not–even think about letting them down. I always encourage them to be fearless in all they do and to give their best in all situations, and I obviously could not hypocritically not follow my own advice.

CANE's
Great crew

As soon as we loaded the bus Friday afternoon, I started sweating. Even though I aced my driving test during the actual process of obtaining this cursed license, there is something different about being in a real-life situation without another licensed adult in the vehicle with you to take over in case you prove to be a destructive disaster. Instead, I had 11 individuals super excited about getting to go to off-campus lunch and all fully confident in my abilities to get them there safely.

The trip started off rough. The brakes felt rusty, and it took me multiple times to press on them without feeling like I would send everyone flying forward; the doors flew open, but thankfully we weren’t going fast enough yet, and the kids were all sitting in the back, anyway, so I stopped to have a student come pull the lever to make sure the doors remained closed tightly; I was still sweating; I was too nervous to go the set speed limit, and one student yelled from the back to ask me if we would get to Cane’s before Thanksgiving; there were other cars on the road; I was still sweating; there was a super small turn space when we actually entered the Cane’s parking lot, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make the squeeze (in fact, I briefly paused and gave up, thinking I would need to call someone to come rescue us all from this horrid predicament, but I said a little prayer, and God got us all out of that pickle with only one tiny curb check); and I invented my own parking spot in some grass.

Once we got inside, the kids cracked a few jokes but also tried to make me feel better by telling me I did a good job. I love them. Then, they all wanted to go around the table and share what they were thankful for, and they pretty much all said what they were thankful for in regard to our precious class. If I were a crier, I would have been bawling. They warmed my heart more than anyone outside of the teaching profession would likely ever think teenagers could. It was the most beautiful lunch anyone could ever have at a grease-filled fried chicken establishment, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.

My mood changed, though, as we walked out to the bus, because all I could think about was the dreaded drive back to the school. It was a complicated exit from Cane’s, and I wasn’t confident in my abilities to be successful.

But Someone else was. And He gave me just what I needed.

Three of my students sat at the front of the bus rather than at the back with the others, and one of them said to me, “Ms. Merrill, we believe in you. We don’t care how long it takes to get back, but you can do this.” Then another added, “You’re always there for us, so it’s our turn to be there for you. We will be sitting here if you need anything.” They talked to me the entire way, and I forgot about being so nervous. I forgot about all of my worries, and I knew everything was going to be just fine. I had my people with me.

Life can get hard sometimes–even more challenging than driving a big yellow titanic submarine on wheels–and it’s even more daunting when you have to face those situations when you feel like you’re all alone. But, if you surround yourself with people who truly care about you and will be there for you when you need them the most, you might find strength that you never knew you had. I fully believe with all of my heart that God puts the right people in our lives at the exact moments we need them–and He can use anyone.

There will be times in life when your bus doors fly open, or you feel stuck in a parking lot, or you feel completely overwhelmed and unsure how you will possibly reach your destination in one piece. But you aren’t alone. You’re never alone. Know that there is always a voice trying to whisper to you, “I believe in you.” I hope you hear it.

And I hope you have your people there with you.