"…And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you'll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you…"
- Mariah Carey
When I was a little girl I was fascinated with Arthurian legends. I wanted to believe that a hero with a heart of gold could sweep into my life wearing a shiny silver coat of arms, riding a white charger and save me from all the things I felt powerless to protect myself from…injustices, lack of opportunity, poverty, fear.
I loved the idea of a wizard named Merlin who would wisely advise my hero. It never occurred to me that I deserved a Merlin of my own. I was small, poor, fragile…and a girl. I was never sure that if placed under the stress of circumstances I wouldn't break or shatter.
When I look back at that little girl and all the things she actually did…all the obstacles she overcame, time and time again…I am, to be quite honest, pretty darn proud of her. I wish she could have seen herself the way I see her today. I wish she could have had the gift of knowing what she knows now, 44 years later.
I look back at the things that made me feel small and vulnerable…incapable of standing up for myself, and trying new things…and it makes me terribly sad. I allowed the opinions of others to define my view of myself. I capitulated to an insidious fear of failure…and therefore shouldn't try some things because I might look foolish…and didn't. When the world told me "no" because I lacked something…finances, strength, courage, experience…I thanked it for it's consideration and backed out of the door apologizing for having even thought that I might have a right to compete. "Where is my hero?" I'd ask, "When would someone advocate for, defend, stand up for me?" Too many times I'd forget the most important sentence I had ever read.
"Behold, the kingdom of heaven is within you."
But on those rare occasions when I did remember that I had God's kingdom strongly garrisoned within my heart, my mind and my soul, I was fearless.
I remember one such moment of courage. I was in sixth grade and I knew that I was an excellent speller. I could spell ANYTHING…and for some reason I was always right. But I was new to the school and my teacher wasn't as sure of my ability as I was. There was going to be a big spelling bee and I wanted to represent our class but I felt too shy to ask my teacher to consider me as a competitor. Day after day I did everything I could to show him that I would be a great choice. But I don't think I was even on his radar.
One afternoon my little sister and I were walking home from school and she was telling me that she didn't think she would tryout for a team, that she really wanted to be on, because she didn't think she was as good as the other girls in her class. My sister loved this activity and she was very good at it. But she was also new to the school and didn't think that the rest of the team would want someone who hadn't been with them the year before. As I encouraged her to "go for it" anyway, I realized that I was asking her to do what I didn't have the courage to do myself.
This was a new thing for me. I didn't know how to put myself "out there" and ask to be considered, but I knew I had to be a better example for my little sister. My love for her gave me all the courage I needed. The next day I went to school early so I could talk to my teacher about competing in the spelling bee…a competition I ended up winning. My sister tried out for the team and had a very happy year with her new friends.
As I look back on this experience a few things have become clearer to me. Courage isn't something you either have or don't have. The root of the word courage is "couer" which translates as "heart". We all have heart. We all have love enough to do what we are being given the opportunity to do in life…either through desires we cherish, demands that are placed upon us, or the love that impels us to inspire, encourage, or help someone we care about.
45 years ago, standing in front of Mr. Schumacher asking to be considered as a candidate for that spelling bee, I didn't need a hero to advocate for me. What I needed was to see that as a child of God I was already…and always…complete, whole, divinely prepared and equipped with all that I needed to be successful, brave, confident and perhaps, inspiring to others who may need to be reminded that they too had the courage to try something new and maybe scary.
Tomorrow our daughters will compete in their school's annual spring track meet. Before they leave for school I will remind them that, as Annie Lamott said in a recent interview on PBS's Tavis Smiley show, "We aren't going to be saved by a hero without, but by the hero within." Every single child stepping onto the track, approaching the long jump pit, catapulting themselves over the high jump bar tomorrow, is expressing such remarkable courage. It's the most natural thing in the world for a child of God. I hope they never forget how brave they are...I won't.