Friday, March 24, 2017

Lessons on Bravery from an Unlikely Teacher

     Having a blog can be a really strange thing sometimes. I, or anyone else with access to the internet, can write about whatever I want, and send it out into the universe for anyone to discover and read. There are no rules, unless I choose to set them for myself. Most of the time, I don't worry about it very much because I don't get a ton of feedback, and the things I write about aren't typically scandalous or shocking. But seeing the number of views on my last post, compared to the numbers on other recent posts, was a reality check for me. While I was very happy that so many people were interested enough to read what I wrote, my eyes were opened to the fact that I am putting my feelings on the internet for the world to see, and the world, or at least a part of it around me, is taking notice.
     Obviously, being real and honest and vulnerable is something that people connect with. I try my very best to write from a place of authenticity, and I'm usually quite open about the things I share. But as open as I may seem when it comes to writing, there is a side of me that is not so comfortable with people knowing so much about me. Many of the people who read this blog are people I know in real life. I might see you in the grocery store or at church after you've read all about my feelings, and I would be lying if I said that doesn't make me feel a little uncomfortable at times.
      As I've been thinking about the impact of being so vulnerable so publicly, I looked at many bible verses, devotions, and articles about vulnerability, and also this issue of guarding my heart that keeps coming to my mind whenever I worry that I am sharing too much.  In the end, the thing that helped me find my answer didn't come from a Bible story or academic article. It came from one of my childhood heroes, Franklin the Turtle. Franklin starred in a TV show and also a series of books, whose opening lines are somehow still etched into the farthest corners of my long term memory. "Franklin could count by twos and tie his shoes..."  I remember when I had to have a minor surgery when I was probably four or five, and my parents gave me the book Franklin Goes to the Hospital. For some reason as I began writing about vulnerability that book came to mind, so I decided to revisit my childhood and look it up. Something that fictional, animated animal says is exactly what I want to say."Everybody thinks I'm brave, but I've just been pretending." What if, after reading that I've really been struggling with my feelings, people who once thought I was brave now start to change their minds. Now, instead of a brave young woman who's gracefully endured hardships throughout her life, I'm just another "snowflake" millennial talking about mental health and feelings on the internet? For the record, I believe that talking about mental health is very important and something we should do far more openly and often, but that's a topic for another day.
     This is not the first time I've worried about losing my bravery badge. I have felt that way so many times, since I was very young. Is it brave to endure life with a disability that makes me different, and the struggles that sometimes come with it? Maybe, but I don't exactly have a choice in the matter. I did not choose to be born with a birth defect, it's just who I am, and since it's not going away, I try not to focus on it. I'm not sure if that's bravery or just a coping mechanism.
     Is it brave to travel to a foreign country alone, and stay there for three weeks? Some people say so, I say it was an experience that I loved. To me, the issue of bravery only kicked in once I returned home and had to face the ways I had changed. When I had to realize that I had returned different than I left, in ways that I don't yet know how to fully describe.
     As strange as it may seem coming from a person who has endured some pretty gruesome medical drama and traveled to two foreign countries that aren't exactly tourism destinations to do mission work, I think the bravest thing I've ever done was to be open and honest about my feelings. I am still struggling to find a balance between guarding my heart and allowing my weakness to be on display, but here's what I know for sure; If my struggles can help someone in any way, even if only to let them know that they are not alone, then I believe it is important to share my experiences as honestly as possible. It can be scary for me to be so honest sometimes, but I know a thing or two about bravery thanks to a book from my past about a beloved cartoon turtle.
     What part of your story are you keeping to yourself, because it feels too risky to share? You never know who needs to hear the chapter of your story that you've always left untold.

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