The Touchstone of Courage

Asking for courage is like asking for faith, or patience – you don’t get a magical infusion of the thing. You get opportunities to develop it.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I think maybe, just maybe, courage is determination wrapped up in persistence. Courage is not knowing the outcome, or knowing the odds are not in your favor, and trying anyway. It’s facing an unknown, unsettling, hard, scary, sometimes even dreadful thing. Taking its measure. Refusing to be defined by it. Formulating a plan. Stepping out. Seeing progress, which feeds more progress. Getting that sense of having turned a corner, and feeling the euphoric rush of certainty that you will see it through.

Courage is a touchstone.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What is a touchstone? It’s a test for determining quality, authenticity, or genuineness. Why does this matter? It means this: the source of our greatest fear can become the touchstone for our greatest courage.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

I have a touchstone. It is a heart-shaped stone, polished and etched with a single word: STRENGTH. I carried it with me a few years ago when I traveled to Tallahassee on weekends to spend time with my beloved cousin Cheryl when her breast cancer, five years in remission, spread to her bones. It was a journey she did not want to take, because in going toward her future, she had to step away from the people and the life she loved wholeheartedly. Choosing to do that, to accompany her in that intimate way, as her physical health failed and her faith shuddered and groaned, was at once the hardest and easiest choice ever. How do I do this? Better to ask, how do I not? She taught us so much in her suffering: how to be graceful, eloquent, and concerned with the well-being of others, always. How to let herself be loved and reassured and cherished. And how to love and reassure and cherish those of us who gathered around to accompany her on that private, noble journey. It was a time of continually giving and receiving permission to let go and accept the reality of what was happening not just in Cheryl, but through her in us. It was an exquisitely sweet time, one in which our world became very small as we sat with her, and held her, and cried with her, and reminisced and laughed and knitted our very souls together in one comforting blanket of love and memories. The stone still represents the strength she both gave and received.

“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~ Alan Cohen

What are we most afraid of? I believe it is precisely that place that will be the source of our courage. And encouragement? To me, it’s sharing our courage with others who need it. Stepping into their journey with them. Sitting with them in their storm. See, when we ENCOURAGE someone, we are actually infusing them with courage they can’t generate within themselves. They are on the inside of the storm looking out and feeling overwhelmed. We are on the outside of the storm looking in, and we see its limits. We are seeing beyond their storm. What a gift.

For more on the subject of courage, and encouragement, please visit:

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