Read an Excerpt
Let's All Be Brave
living life with everything you have
By Annie F. Downs
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Annie F. Downs
All rights reserved.
an honest moment
March 2013 My dining room table, Nashville, Tennessee
I'm not brave. I lack courage. I'm thirty-three years old, and I sometimes cry when I leave my parents' home in Georgia to drive back to my little brick house in Nashville. I have never jumped out of a plane, and I only ride roller coasters when I'm trying to impress a boy.
Some people live for an adrenaline rush. I live for a sugar rush.
I don't think it is fun to risk, to gamble, to possibly lose. I like safety, smart choices, and learning the easy way. Tell me it's a bad idea and I'm going to believe you.
A few months ago, my friend Lyndsay's car ran out of gas. (Something that does not happen to me because I do not let my gas gauge go below a quarter of a tank. I never once saw the "low gas" light come on in my first car. I don't know if it even worked. Never risked it.) But Lyndsay is a natural-born risker, and she pushes that two-door coupe to its gassy limits.
So her car coasted into Nichole's parking lot, and Lyndsay carefully directed it into a slot. It was out of gas, out of fumes, literally just rolling because the wheels are round. Before sitting down for dinner with Nichole, Lyndsay called her boyfriend, who brought over a can of gas. While she was still at the table, he filled up her tank with a few gallons of gas and then drove home. When she was ready to leave, her car worked fine.
Lyndsay told me the next day, "That did not hurt enough for me not to do that again."
She's the valedictorian at the School of Learning the Hard Way. And she wears it like a Ms. Tennessee sash and crown.
That's how risk takers roll. That is not how I roll.
But I want to be brave.
And I'm going to ask you to be brave too, even if you, like me, don't take to it naturally. I'm here to ask you to please do that thing in your heart that scares you to death. To make that move or leap or step or sound you wouldn't have made a week ago.
There is no formula and there are no rules. There is the Bible, our guidebook for all things, but other than that, being brave is organic and spiritual and a unique journey for each person.
I won't be making a list of brave things you should do. I won't be saying, "Here is exactly what courage looks like" or "If you want to really risk in a way that impacts the people around you, do these particular things." I don't think that works. I don't think you need me to tell you what to do. I think you know. I think you just need a little pregame warm-up. A little something to oomph you along. An understanding of the map you are holding.
* * *
I had lunch with my friends Chris and Jimmy this week, and we were talking about this very subject. And Chris said, "Courage implies action, like you are going somewhere or going to do something." Courage. Maps. Movement. We talked about what it means to be on your map and off your map and whether there's a map at all.
I left that barbecue lunch buzzing with hope and ideas. I love talking about what courage looks like (probably more than I like actually living it). I think an appreciation for brave people and brave moments has been in me forever. To this day, my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman song is "Burn the Ships" from way back in the mid-90s. It's a song about Spaniards sailing for Mexico in 1519, and upon arrival and in the midst of many hardships they wished they could go back. Instead they decided to burn their ships. Stay there forever. And figure out what that life would hold.
That stuck with me when I first heard the song as an awkward middle schooler—sometimes you set sail without a view of the destination, trusting the tools you've got. And once you get there, you stay. You move forward, not backward. You burn your ships.
In my mind, when I think about you and me and where we are going, I see ships sailing and maps waving in the breeze and forks in the road. I see airplane arcs on tiny television screens and I see navigational tools strewn across a desk.
I see action. Movement. Travel.
X marks the spot, but it's not about the X. (Also, it's not about your ex.) It's about getting there. It's about the brave things you have to do between here and there to make you the person your X deserves. (Again, not what your ex deserves. You have got to get over him or her.)
But here's the problem: I'm known for getting lost. I cannot be trusted to lead if we need to get from here to there. So if you're on a journey or an expedition or an adventure, I'm going to get you lost.
If I had my pickings of what flaws to be known for, I'd go for something like "too pretty" or "too nice." Instead it's usually "too directionally challenged to be in charge at this moment." (Or any moment of travel, really.) Mama always said I'd marry a mapmaker—it would be the only way to balance out the deficit in my skill set. So any cartographers out there, give a girl a call.
I love maps. Before Siri would talk to me on my iPhone and tell me when to turn right and when to turn left and redirect me because somehow I had still missed the turn, I had a lot of maps in my car. I still have a few because, you know, I'm me and I get lost and I can't get too much directional assistance.
I need maps. And so do you. Maps of the mall because, seriously, I just need to pop into Gap for a breezy white cardigan. Maps of the airport because Atlanta's airport is practically its own city. Maps of your town and maps of your state. Maps of the places you've been that you never want to forget and maps of the places you want to go to.
Your life, start to finish, is a map. And we are HERE. That's all I know. I don't know where you've been and I don't know where your map will take you. I only know there will be moments when you feel like the map has turned or changed and moments when you realize you've read this map wrong all along. You will crumple it up and throw it down, only to return to it for direction once you finish your cryfest. I get it. I know.
But it's your map. Not my map. Or my cousin's map. Or your spouse's map. It's yours. And there is something so sweet about God doing life that way. Giving you your own rivers to cross and mountains to climb and forks in the roads of your life that I will never come to. You get to be brave right there, in each of those places. Bravery begets bravery. If you'll be brave, I'll be brave. And when I am brave, you feel like you can be too. We are holding hands and I promise I won't let go.
Let's all be brave.CHAPTER 2
March 2013 Mountain Brook Starbucks, Birmingham, Alabama
I think the hardest thing about writing is the blank page. Or computer screen. It's said to be a writer is to have homework every day for the rest of your life. You remember that feeling, don't you? When you have a paper to write or an assignment to turn in and you know you can do it if you can just. get. started. I find the same to be true if I'm creating a presentation for a conference I'm speaking at or if I'm trying to write a message on a Father's Day card. I know what I want to say. I just often don't know where to start.
My favorite hamburger in Nashville is the turkey burger with a gluten-free bun at Burger Up in 12South. It's always cooked perfectly, and they have this honey mustard aioli that will just bless you. The owner of Burger Up is Miranda. She's a bit of a legend in our neighborhood for taking a boring stretch of street and adding some substantial eateries. I wrote my first book almost solely at her coffee shop, Frothy Monkey. Next came Burger Up and then a sandwich shop, and now? Josephine.
Josephine, the newest restaurant to situate itself on 12th Avenue South, hasn't even opened yet, but everyone in our neighborhood is buzzing about it. They're going to have a Sunday brunch that is pretty much all the permission I need to eat nowhere else after church except right there in one of her perfectly made booths.
Every time I run into Miranda on the street or in Burger Up, I ask how Josephine is coming along. She always tells me about another decision she has made—the style of patio furniture, the foods she has traveled across the country looking for, the right chef to bring to town, the kind of napkins and cutlery.
Every decision requires her to start somewhere. The menu was blank. The walls were blank. Even the title of the restaurant was blank. But one day she made that first decision toward offering us a new neighborhood favorite, and once things got started, they haven't stopped. Her courage shows up as community tables, delicious food, and warm hearts all up and down the neighborhood thoroughfare.
I'm flying to Minneapolis today. Travel is a major part of my life and job right now, which means fewer turkey burgers from Burger Up, but luckily, on an airplane seems to be where I get lots of writing done. Sitting in a window seat with my laptop open and All Sons & Daughters pouring truth into my ears—this is prime writing time for me.
As I'm buzzing over some farmland (I'm guessing somewhere in Iowa), I'm thinking about how hard it is to start, whether it's a new book, a new restaurant, or any other dream you may have. To start the journey toward that thing ... I don't know what it is for you, but it's not a journey to courage. The moment you take that first step, the moment you start, little seeds of courage, the ones I believe are already planted there right now, begin to sprout in your heart. You aren't headed out to find courage. It's in you, it is blooming, and it is with you as you travel and say yes to things that seem scary. Remember, it's not only the X that matters; it's getting there.
At my home church, the high school students host and run the middle school retreat. It's a really neat experience. As an adult leader a few years ago, I loved watching my sister Sally, an eighteen-year-old senior, be the retreat director. She nailed it. It was the only middle school retreat I ever attended, but I'm pretty sure she was the best retreat director ever. The coolest part about being an adult leader was I literally just had to supervise, not really plan or lead. It was awesome.
We were at one of those retreat centers that have cabins and bunk beds and two showers for every twenty people, and it was as rustic as you are picturing.
And I loved it. Yes, I absolutely love retreats. You know why? I love when all my friends are trapped in the same place for days at a time. Is that weird?
On the Saturday night of this middle school retreat, I crawled into my little twin bunk, shoved up next to another twin bunk, and closed my eyes. It wasn't thirty seconds later that I felt someone tap my shoulder.
Because we are a people who love to prank, I was sure I was about to (1) be sprayed in the face with some sort of liquid or (2) get to participate in pranking someone else. Instead, it was Mallory, another senior helping lead the retreat. Because it was March, Mallory was just a few months from graduating and heading off to Auburn University.
She asked me to scoot over, so I did. I was worried—Is something sad? Something wrong? To snuggle up next to your leader in a twin bed means that something isn't right. So I lay there on my side as Mallory stared up at the springs on the bunk above us. Light from the moon barely snuck in through the curtains, but it was enough for me to watch as she was obviously wrestling with something in her heart.
"I don't want to go to Auburn," she whispered, and I heard the tears dripping onto my pillow. I waited, thinking she had more to say. When she didn't, I responded.
"Okay, Mal. You don't have to."
"I think," she stammered slowly, "I want to be a missionary. I want to go to YWAM." Her voice was still shaky.
"Okay, Mal. You can do that." I said it quietly. I wanted it to fall softly into her heart. Of course, I wasn't her parent or the final decision maker in her life, but I knew all that would shake out. She didn't need me to help her figure out how it would work out; she needed me to tell her that it could. I know what it is to need to say the brave thing, whether it actually works or not. To just start the process.
Mallory didn't begin her journey toward courage right there. That little glow of courage was growing in her heart for days, maybe weeks. And then in the hours and minutes before she actually got up out of her bed, it grew feet, didn't it? Feet that brought her to me.
Somewhere, at some point, she started being brave—probably before she even realized it. It wasn't when she told me. It was long before, when something in her heart began to beat with a different rhythm.
You just have to start, my friend. That thing that is whispering on your insides? That conversation you need to have or that place you need to go? That job you want to try or that ministry you want to attempt? That major you want to pick at college or that mission trip you want to go on?
You've got to start somewhere.
Tell somebody you want to be brave.
* * *
Today I volunteer as a leader for the college ministry at my church. It is one of the greatest joys of my life. I love that after four years of living in Nashville, virtually blind to the college scene (besides noting the massive decline in traffic during the summers), those students are now one of my favorite reasons for living in this town.
Each Sunday night after the service ends, we head together to the gym and eat cereal. Yep, cereal. College students totally dig it. It's hilarious. Our pastor, Pete Wilson, and I have a little game we like to play. We stand behind the cereal table and try to guess which cereal the students will pick. There are usually six or so options—the staples like Honey Nut Cheerios and Frosted Flakes and the classics like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms, and then there are the wild cards that trade out, like Cap'n Crunch and Reese's Puffs, for example.
Here is how the game is played. A new young college guy will come over to the countertop lined with cereal and milk and supplies, pick up a bowl, and we'll introduce ourselves. "I'm Annie. This is Pastor Pete. What's your name?" And the startled student will say, "Uh, John."
I smile and continue. "John, we're so glad you're here. Now, Pastor Pete and I have a little competition going. We'd like for you to look at the six cereal options and pick the one you want. BUT. Don't say it out loud. Just think it. And then we'd like to guess what you are going to pick. You ready? Have the cereal in your mind?"
At this point, the student is usually quasi-entertained (because I'm obnoxious and Pete is really cool) and wants to play along, so he picks which one he would like—and we guess.
"Cinnamon Toast Crunch?" It's usually my go-to guess.
"Nope," John replies.
"Cap'n Crunch Berries?" Pastor Pete makes a left-field guess.
"Yep!" John says, and fills his bowl.
Now I'll tell you this, Pastor Pete has a pretty solid guessing percentage. But I'd like to have a formal investigation initiated because I am almost 100 percent sure that at least half the guesses Pastor Pete gets right are because the student changes his mind based on what the pastor thinks the kid wants.
And just so you know, I get about one out of every eight cereal guesses right. Terrible winning percentage, I know. But they don't lie for me like they do for Pastor Pete.
Also, on a personal note, this is my favorite time of the Sunday night events. I get to talk to every student and connect with him or her week after week. As silly as it sounds, this is a big part of my ministry, and I love it.
Last week, Pastor Pete was out of town, so a new volunteer, Paul, stood with me at the cereal table. I tell Paul how Pastor Pete and I have this little guessing thing we do, and I suggest he and I try it for a little while. So we start guessing some of the students' cereal choices. I'm totally off my game and go 0 for 7 right off the bat, which leads to a lot of students rolling their eyes and my confidence going down the drain. Ouch.
Excerpted from Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs. Copyright © 2014 Annie F. Downs. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.