On the day she dared to publicly confess that she felt brave for the first time in her life, a disillusioned reader wrote back to say she didn’t know the meaning of bravery. She was too young, her life was too pretty, she still had to live a little before she could staple herself with the title, “Brave.”

It’s amazing to me that there is a critic who would honestly think a girl is too young to be brave, when I’m sitting here on the other end of the spectrum thinking she is far too old to experience bravery for the first time.

Darling, if twenty-five is when you finally feel ready to face the danger, I can’t imagine how fearful your childhood must have been.

Because Brave is not for after you’ve survived it all; Brave is for a lifetime. You don’t need Brave once you’ve overcome; you need it for right there in the thick of the storm when the waves are crashing onto the deck and the ship is starting to crack in two.

Brave is for the band of children trekking deep into a forest that may be filled with coyotes and Indians on the warpath.

Brave is for the ten-year-old child who watches her grandmother succumb to cancer.

Brave is for the fourteen-year-old girl afloat deep in the ocean, urging her little brother to just keep swimming toward shore.

Brave is for the nineteen-year-old aspiring author, clutching a manuscript to her chest as she prepares to offer it up for rejection.

Brave is for the twenty-one-year-old young woman realizing everything she has ever dreamed of is not everything she imagined it would be.

Brave is for the new teacher, cradling a child whose whole world has fallen apart around him, trying not to fall apart with him.

Brave is for the girl with the broken heart, picking up the pieces and deciding she will love again.

Baby, you had better believe I wouldn’t be standing here today if I hadn’t learned to strap Brave to my shoulders like a parachute. I would have crashed. And burned. And died.

And I’m not even twenty-five yet.

But how else does a girl survive the way the world likes to throw her about even as it goes on spinning if she does not resolve to be Brave?

So if you think Brave is a cloak that doesn’t fit your shoulders just right, maybe you need to stand a little taller, darling. Just straighten on up and tug it snugly into place. I think you’ll find, with a little practice, that it fits you prettier than you might think.

Do me a favor and set the lies aside. Stop believing you’re too young, and that your life is too pretty, and that you have to live a little before you can staple Brave to your name.

You deserve a lifetime of bravery. I hope you find it. I hope you find it.


Dance to the Beat of Your Fears

I used to harbor a deep fear that the Indians were going to scalp me.

That probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who didn’t grow up across the valley from Zane Caverns where war drums can be heard at various times of the year. Maybe it sounds ridiculous even if you did grow up within earshot of the caverns because maybe you didn’t have an older brother who was dead set on convincing you that the natives were coming for your scalp. (Brothers can be pretty doggone convincing.)

Even when I wised up and grew skeptical, arguing that if the Indians were coming they would take his scalp too, he responded with a statement so logical I lost the willpower to doubt him: “They won’t want my scalp because my hair is black like theirs. Yours is long and brown and beautiful. The Indians are going to want it.”

I take that as a compliment now, but at the time it served its intended purpose.

From that moment on, whenever the drums would start to pound in the distance, I would stick close to the house lest some Magua-lookalike would appear in my woods and come for me with bloody, outstretched hands. (This is why you don’t let small children watch The Last of the Mohicans. Cough, cough, Dad.)

And I remained confined by the boundaries of irrational fears.

Funny Fact about Fear: so much of it is, without question, irrational.

Our minds conjure up multiple scenarios and we fret and we worry and we dread all these things that never come to pass.

But they might, we think. They could.

And we confine ourselves to the same kind of boundaries I set for myself as a child.

Don’t leave the house. Stay away from the woods. They’re out there waiting, but you’re safe here. If you remain behind closed doors, they won’t find you.

As a child, I resented those festivals at the caverns. I resented them because I loved the woods. I loved climbing trees and splashing in the creek and painting tablets of slate with the juice of wild berries.

I resented the drums that played in the distance because they crafted fears that held me captive indoors when my little feet wanted to create a rhythm of my own, pounding down paths that had been carved by a thousand footsteps that had gone before.

But I was never brave enough to chance the woods when the Indians were on the warpath. I was never reckless enough to face my fears head-on.

Then I got a little older and discovered that the drums were a performance, the natives were friendly, and my scalp was never in any danger after all. And once I realized all of that, something strange happened…

I learned to love those drums.

And the same rhythm that once struck fear into my heart became music to my ears.

Some of us will spend our whole lives believing the natives are hostile. Some of us will never step outside the four walls of our homes because we’re afraid of what lurks in the woods.

But we are restless.

Though our fears may strap us down, the fact remains that, deep inside, We. Are. Restless.

And we want more than these safe little walls offer.

We want the world.

We want wide open skies and and an endless path before us, brimming with new things just waiting to be discovered.

Darling, you have two choices when those drums start pounding in the distance: you can hide, or you can dance.

I hope you dance in complete abandon, twirling to the beat of your fears.

the beat of your fears

Calling Forth the Artist in Me

I never would have called myself an artist. My drawing skills are limited, and I never could figure out how to get the eyes right. Paints and brushes scared me because I never understood what to do with them. The first time I walked into a Michael’s I felt lost.

So naturally this art journaling thing has been a bit intimidating to me. But mostly it’s been amazing—calling forth the artist in me. And I wonder how long I’ve been stifling my abilities by denying myself the courage to try.

Throughout my childhood, I bounced through a lot of activities trying to find my place in this world. I couldn’t do a somersault, so gymnastics was out. I had a stint of being the worst (but friendliest) person on the baseball team, then I became a ballet school dropout. The only reason I stuck with piano lessons for so long is because I adored the time spent with my teacher.

Basically, I was bad at a lot of things. So when my knack for storytelling was discovered I latched onto it like a parasite, sucking life from the creative venue of writing. I filled stacks of journals with various thoughts, wrote letters to loved ones and virtual strangers alike, and started collecting fragments of story ideas.

Writing was my gift, my passion, my purpose. And somehow I managed to convince myself that writing was all I did well.

I stopped dancing anywhere but behind closed doors even though I loved moving to the music. I stopped using my pen to create anything other than words. I never touched a piano if anyone else was in the house.

And I sold myself short.

Because, while writing may be the thing I do best, it is not all I can do.

I was made for more.

You were made for more.

It took me many years to discover that we are all artists, designed to create beauty in the world around us through whatever medium we choose. But we don’t have to use only one.

I want to encourage you to branch out, test your limits, and challenge yourself to do more than you ever dreamed possible. Because you deserve more than the limited life you’ve safely created for yourself. You’re missing so much if you’re clinging to just one gift.

While nothing has opened entire worlds for me in the way writing does, painting stirs a part of my soul that writing has never touched. Dancing frees my heart to worship, and singing brings joy to the surface of my life in a way the written word never has.

And my life is so much richer for having multiple ways to express myself.

My friend, there’s more. There is more out there to be experienced if you’re brave enough to try. Brave enough to throw your arms wide open and embrace these different ways of expressing yourself. So please don’t sell yourself short. Please don’t limit your potential.

Pick up your paintbrush and point your toes. Paint, dance, sing. This world is a symphony. Life is your canvas. Don’t close your ears to the music. Don’t leave the pages blank.

Stretch yourself by sinking into the wonder of life in more than the typical way.

dreaming in color