Bravery: a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger without showing fear.
Synonyms: courage, courageousness
Over a lifetime I have learned that it takes courage and determination to love others well. My cousin Janie was one of those brave individuals, who sacrificially gave of herself to bless those God put on her path.
Janie went home to be with her Lord on the morning of July 5th. I wasn’t there but trust she was in much the same frame of mind as when I saw her two weeks before, concerned more for her family than for herself. Reading her obituary yesterday, I was touched by this very apt description of my dear cousin,
“Jane* was a dedicated and caring family woman and teacher,
full of love, pure goodness, generosity, enthusiasm, and the best advice.”
There is no question that Janie measured up to those wonderful accolades. But there is another attribute to add, that was foundational to her ability to love and impact the lives of so many: Janie was brave. This is not to imply that she was never fearful. It is simply to say, that Janie set aside her fears because she cared about people. Here’s an early example:
She was brave . . . .
My first clear memory of Janie was playing together on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm–I must have been about five and she would have been seven. All the grownups were inside that late afternoon, enjoying the simple pleasure of “visiting”. Outside I remember an undercurrent of competition between us cousins as we dared one another to climb higher and jump off some hay bales stacked to one side of the yard. Not wanting to be outdone, I remember making my way up to the highest bale and then jumping off. I hit the ground so hard that my legs buckled and I landed on my bottom. Momentarily stunned, it was probably the first time I actually saw stars!
Then we made our way out to the pasture where the cows were. Continuing to test our bravery, we ran around among the cows–until we saw one mean-looking bull standing off to one side. Suddenly aware of the danger, we ran for our lives and ducked under the fence just in time . . . or so we thought. When we turned back and looked, there was Bette Jo–no bigger than a peanut–still in the middle of the pasture! As I looked on–too scared to move–Janie ducked back under the fence, ran to pick up Bette Jo and brought her to safety! Embarrassed by my fearfulness, it was then that I knew without a doubt . . . Janie was brave.
Looking back I see this pattern of living courageously throughout Janie’s life: sacrificially stepping in to help others, facing difficulty head-on as she made what were painful but right decisions, encouraging others with her humor and sense of irony.
When I first heard Janie was sick last fall, I messaged her through Facebook. Fearing the worst, it was several days before I received this response:
“Kathie, what a prayer warrior you are!
The doctors are amazed that I’m not experiencing more pain than I am,
but I know you’re praying for me–keep it up!”
That was pure Janie–taking the focus off of herself as she encouraged me to continue doing the one thing I could do living so far away–PRAY! So that is what I (and many, many others) continued to do.
In May my husband and I (taking advantage of his recent retirement) began an adventure we’d talked about doing most of our married life: going to those “off the beaten path” places we never could go to before. In the back of my mind I hoped to visit Janie when we got to California, but knowing she was so sick I tried not let my hopes get too high.
God was gracious in providing us the opportunity to get together one last time. As my husband and I approached the home where Janie was being cared for, I was excited but scared. Deep down I was afraid of what I was going to see–a frail, weak Janie who needed rest far more than she needed to see me.
When I walked through the door and Janie spoke, it was as if we became those two girls looking through the pasture fence. This time though, Janie urged me to enter into the safety of the pasture with her–the mean bull was long gone and her Shepherd was there! She beamed as she told me how God was helping her to look for good in every single day (no matter what had taken place) and to leave the bad behind. When I started to ask about a bad fall the previous month that put her back in the hospital, her eyes widened as she looked at me saying,
“No Kathie, we’re not even going to go there. I have learned to trust God daily; to count my blessings and leave what happened in the past behind. I admit that part of me is a little afraid of what may come tomorrow, but I have given that to Him as I give thanks to Him for the Gift of TODAY.”
Appreciating her wisdom and courage we entered into the joy of the moment. Our visit of two and a half hours could be likened to the “wild rumpus” of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are.** We laughed so hard that tears came and talked about many things. When I asked her how she wanted me to pray for her, Janie got very serious again as she urged me to pray for those she would be leaving behind–“that their hearts would not harden toward God.” Pure, wonderful Janie . . . putting her concern for those she loved above all else.
Since then I have thought a lot about Janie’s bravery and our “wild rumpus” celebrating God’s goodness together. Pure and simple, it was a gift from God to be given a glimpse into Janie’s heart. Something happened that was so much more than magical as Janie chose to live out the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:16-22,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;
hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
Reflecting on the larger passage, I am struck by God’s goodness in providing Janie the courage to enter into His Pasture with an open and trusting heart.
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and HE will do it.”
I Thessalonians 5:23, 24
All to His Glory!
*Most people knew her as Jane, but having grown up together as cousins, she has always been Janie to me and most of our family.
**Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963.