As you probably know by now if you’ve been following me on social media, I’m in East Africa at the moment, stocking up on medical supplies before I go to South Sudan to teach medicine to 100 teachers (who will be able to care for 30,000 kids!)
I’ve gotten lots of encouragement from family and friends and colleagues. Maybe the most common compliment is, “Wow, you’re so brave.”
And I appreciate the encouragement and the sentiment, but to be completely honest? I’m not brave.
Because bravery is the ability to confront danger without feeling fear.
And courage is acting in the face of danger, in spite of the fear.
Yes, it’s a subtle difference. But I think it matters.
As a person who’s struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, I don’t know that I’ve ever been brave. I’ve never not felt fear — especially when facing tangible, visceral, real danger. Like when I was on chemo fighting for my life, and when I had malaria in Togo, and when I traveled by myself to rural western Kenya last year and got malaria and Typhoid at the same time…and had to get myself back to the U.S. in spite of feeling quite ill.
In those moments, trust me, I have felt fear. My heart races, I can’t catch my breath, I keep thinking “what if” and tying myself in mental knots figuring out myriad worst case scenarios.
In those moments, and in the mission I’m currently on, I have felt plenty of fear. I didn’t act, or persevere, or confront danger because I didn’t feel fear.
I felt all the fear, but I acted anyway. And that’s not bravery; that’s courage.
As a person who’s prone to anxiety, constantly thinking about all the things that can possibly go wrong and devising a contingency plan for every possible scenario, I love that the most commonly repeated commandment in the Scriptures is “Don’t be afraid.”
Saints throughout the ages weren’t told to be brave — to suck it up, deny reality and the feelings they had about it. No, they were told to have courage. To speak to Pharaoh, to cross the Red Sea, to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, to defy immoral leaders not in the absence of fear, but in spite of it.
I think having courage is more meaningful than being brave because it means you honestly encounter fear…and choose to believe that something matters more. You have the strength and the faith to believe that there’s something greater, something stronger, something higher at stake than your desire to feel safe.As I spent time praying for my trip to South Sudan, I spent a long time discerning if I should go at all. And when my soul came back with a resounding YES, I spent more time praying over all the logistics and dangers and worst-case scenarios. I read State Department reports and travel restrictions and reported threats. I lost a lot of sleep over it. And even now, as I’m days away from crossing the border, I still sometimes feel my mind and heart racing about the what-if’s.
But what keeps me going, what drives me to go anyway, is what John wrote: “There is no fear in love….because love drives out fear.”
When we know we are loved by Divine Love, and when we know that the most significant thing we can do with our lives is to love the world, our fear is not erased.
It is overcome.
I don’t know what the next month holds for me. I don’t have any guarantees. I’m taking all the safety precautions I can, but you know as well as I do that sometimes in spite of our best efforts, sometimes we suffer anyway.
Before I left the U.S., I called all my family members. I gave them the details for my bank accounts, my storage locker, my will and the contact info for The Invisible Girls.
I took those steps because I don’t know what the future holds. Over the past few months, I’ve frequently felt fear rising in my chest and found myself on my knees, asking for Love to overcome the fear.
I have no way of knowing what the future holds, but I do know this.
Love is greater than fear. Love is my reason for existence in this world. And no matter what happens to me — or to any of us — in this world, our souls exist in a Love that goes deeper than danger every could.
When I think of the statistics — that 6 million kids in the developing world die each year, mostly of preventable causes — I’m driven to pack my bags and get on that plane and go halfway around the world and go a month without income and risk my safety and my life so I can train adults to provide medical care for tens of thousands of kids.
My fear is overcome because I remember that God is Love. That I am loved. And that that opportunity to live out love to these children is greater than the fear could ever be.
Am I brave? Nope. Not even a little.
But by God’s grace, I will practice courage. One step, one breath, one mile, one moment at a time.