You are braver than you know

This summer while browsing in a used bookstore in Michigan with aisles upon aisles of books stacked floor to ceiling, I stumbled upon a devotional entitled "100 Days to Brave." I'm not sure what drew me to this particular book. Perhaps these days we all need a nudge toward courage, a boost out of our comfort zones.

Picking it up, the jacket read: "For the next 100 days, let Annie F. Downs show you that you are braver than you know, and with that knowledge in your back pocket, you can change the world."

I want my kids to believe this, to know with a sureness they can effect change in their lives and the lives of others. So $4 later, I had a conversation starter for our lazy family lunches spent lakeside on the back porch in Michigan.

Sandwiched between mornings and afternoons on the water, our family of four took turns reading aloud from this little square book, analyzing bravery in its many forms, its obstacles and its trademarks.

Because we are a forgetful people, it helps to be reminded of inherent truths that spur us on and unshackle us from tired habits and thought patterns. We encourage one another when we remember there is no bravery without the simultaneous presence of fear, that we can choose what we fill our time and minds with, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I wouldn't say the contents of the book or our discussions were particularly revolutionary, but when you shine a light on something, it shifts your perspective and alters the landscape. Suddenly bravery is everywhere, and it becomes ever so subtly infectious.

I see it in my friends sending their kids off to college and, in juxtaposition, those with littles headed to kindergarten. They are tearful and maybe a little terrified, but they're full of faith and hope for their children's futures. I see it in my loved ones forging new career paths, building lives in new communities and chasing new dreams while juggling uncertainties and setbacks. I see it in those navigating through grief, parenting dilemmas, health challenges, mental illness and marital turmoil. Each day is full of its own quiet, unseen valor because they're doing their best to hold on through the hard.

As my kids return to school this week, I know they're summoning courage in their own unique ways because everyone wears bravery differently. We've stocked the lockers and filled the backpacks, but what I hope they carry with them are the truths we unpacked this summer: be brave enough to get started, to be themselves, to extend and receive grace, to dream, to serve, to work hard, to love others, to face change, to persevere through life's inevitable challenges and to do it all with the confidence of knowing they are incredibly valuable to an incredible Creator, and they are never, not ever, alone.

- Jade Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].