Hey friends! (I’m hoping we have all come to terms with that greeting now because it feels the best. And trust me I have tried out many.) As I try to lay the framework for this blog it feels really important to talk about why I decided to call it “A Big Brave Life.” Many of you will recognize the “Big Brave” mantra/slogan/phrase from Molly’s cancer journey. I wrote about it over on her Caring Bridge page and you’ll see some of those same ideas here. But I also think you’ll find me grappling with how those ideas and the message will propel me forward as we begin to sense the end of this chapter and what we hope is the start of the next.
Brave is an everyday word in our house. Whether it is talking about port accesses, raising a hand to ask for help, entering into a hard conversation, etc. we talk about what it means to be brave often. And actually it was an everyday word before Molly’s diagnosis too. My oldest son, Jack, has a lot of anxious tendencies. Kindergarten was a hard transition for him. One of the strategies we used was positive self talk and a repetitive mantra. “I feel brave, I feel brave, I feel brave. I am brave.” I will forever have these words etched into my mind and my heart. Do I need them tattooed on my body? Maybe. We would talk about our nerves and our worries, and we would talk about how many times those make us think we aren’t capable of doing the next right thing. Then we would repeat this mantra, usually starting in a whisper and gaining confidence as we went.
The irony with Jack’s mantra is that we never felt brave when we started. If we did then we wouldn’t have needed it. And to be honest, when Jack came up with it I almost talked him out of it because I struggled to make sense of it for myself. But his little five year old mind explained to me that every time he said he felt brave he only meant that he felt braver than the single moment before. Repeating “I feel brave” three times meant that by the time he finished he was three times braver than when he started, and that was enough to make him brave. (The kid is a gem.)
In the last two and a half years I have been called brave a lot. But brave is a weird word. I once thought being brave simply meant pushing through and doing something when you’re scared. And I think that is part of it, but it isn’t all of it for me. Glennon Doyle describes being brave in a way that resonates with me. She said being brave is more about showing up in a way that is true and authentic to yourself. Sometimes this means saying yes, going through with something, committing to something you want to do. Sometimes this means saying no, not showing up, taking a break, resting. This means that being brave looks different for each of us. So for me, being brave has been looking at Molly through both of our teary eyes, holding her close, and telling her with every ounce of my strength that I am there and not going anywhere. Sometimes being brave for me is sending Jack to school knowing he will be exposed to germs he could bring home to us or Molly, especially during a pandemic. Other times being brave is telling Dan I need to carve out an hour during our weekend to hide out, by myself, to write and be quiet.
Being brave isn’t reserved for giant, shake-em-up moments. Instead bravery shows itself most for me in the little, seemingly tiny times. But those subtle moments add up. Everytime I recognize my own brave I also feel a little braver. As those small instances build and expand on each other I find myself moving from feeling brave to being brave and committing to show up as myself in all situations, always. For me, this definition of brave still acknowledges the fear (because showing up as yourself is almost always scary), but it allows for all of my emotions and even tears, and it pushes me to make a decision that honors myself.
When we named Molly’s Caring Bridge page “Our Big Brave Girl” it was intentional to leave out the comma. Yes, she is big, and she is brave. But Molly is more than that. Her brave itself is big. It is inspiring and it is a force to be reckoned with. Her brave isn’t just something she does but it is who she is. I hope so hard that once we are through this and we are able to teach and remind Molly of what this chapter of her life looked like that she feels her brave swelling up inside her because it is powerful and beautiful. Her brave looks so different than mine. And yours looks different than both of ours. But we all need to feel and believe that our brave is big enough for us to act on and build a life around. Thinking about the impact that would be made if we each just believed in ourselves enough to breathe life into our brave…it gives me full body goosebumps.
This blog is a small slice of my brave. Pausing long enough to get words out of my head. Clicking share when imposter syndrome is telling me I have nothing new to say. Taking up space when I’m so used to staying quiet. Asking for time to prioritize myself, my craft, and my sanity. Showing my kids I have wants and needs and deserve to have them fulfilled too. These are all my version of bravery. These are each an example of me chanting to myself that I feel brave. The hope is that each of these moments helps me to be braver the next. If life is simply a collection of moments then let’s make them brave ones. And when you don’t feel brave, feel free to borrow Jack’s mantra. All you have to do is be a tiny bit braver than you were the single moment before.
“I feel brave. I feel brave. I feel brave. I am brave.”
Be brave. Be you. Be human.
With so much love and gratitude,
*Originally published March 2022 and republished July 2023