“Who can find a woman of valor? For her worth is far above rubies.”
~ Proverbs 31:10
At my eldest daughter’s fifth grade graduation, the teacher presiding over the ceremonies gave each child a word as they crossed the stage to receive their elementary school diploma. My feelings on elementary school graduations aside, I was intrigued by the words I heard from the stage that night, and particularly the word the school had chosen to bestow on my daughter. As she solemnly shook hands with the principal, she was told, “You are courageous.”
I wondered about this afterwards. The words had been chosen, we were assured, with much care and reflection…and not, as I had secretly thought, pulled out of a hat. But “courageous”? My daughter? It wasn’t that I didn’t think she was courageous, it just wasn’t the first word that would have sprung to my mind to describe her. Joyful, caring, loving, honest, bright…I could think of dozens of other adjectives I would have chosen for her. But the word she was given was courageous.
“I think they picked ‘courageous’ because I skipped a grade,” my daughter said on the way home. “And that was something that took courage.”
I’m sure it did. Walking into a second-grade classroom with an all-new peer group, having only finished kindergarten a few months before, was quite possibly the scariest thing she’d ever done up until that point. But I wondered if the school was on to something more, something we might only see with the passing of time.
It takes courage to live in a family with special needs…to inhabit that space with grace and aplomb.
My daughter is 15 now, and I’m still thinking about that word: courageous. With college looming barely more than two short years away, I often feel like I’m watching from the wings, watching as my girl grows into the woman she will soon be. And when I look at her, I think her school was right. I think she is courageous.
It takes courage to live in a family with siblings who have special needs. (If my daughter was reading this, I’m sure she would say something like, “Yeah, well, I don’t have much of a choice there, now do I?”) And granted, she didn’t have a choice about the family into which she was born. But she does have a choice to inhabit that space with the grace and aplomb she shows. That takes courage.
It takes courage for my daughter to navigate her faith in a world where people have vastly different beliefs about what it means to be a Christian.
It takes courage for my daughter to navigate her faith in a world where some of the people she respects and admires have vastly different beliefs about what it means to be a Christian. In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans writes, “…faith isn’t about having everything figured out ahead of time; faith is about following the quiet voice of God without having everything figured out ahead of time.” I see this in my daughter: the courage to follow that “quiet voice of God,” even when the supposed answers seem more and more like a never-ending paradox.
And it takes courage to grow up.
Recently, I had the opportunity to dance with my daughter at our church’s Shrove Tuesday talent show. We danced to a song called “Babybird,” by the Wallflowers, a song I fell in love with during college when I first heard it as a hidden track on the album Breach. It’s a love song from a parent to a child. Playing on the metaphor of the baby bird leaving the nest, it promises that no matter what, that baby bird can always come back home: “Wherever you have been, wherever you took cover / No arms that pulled you in could hold you like your mother.”
It takes courage to fly. It takes courage to become yourself, someday leave the nest…and it might even take courage to come back home.
One of my favorite parts in the song comes toward the end, where the mother bird sings to her baby:
When all my colors fade and my wings, they turn to leather
I’ll know the reasons why God let me get older
When all my days are through and I fly these hills no longer
I’ll lay beneath the stars and I’ll watch you flying over.
And I will, my girl. I’ll lay beneath the stars and I’ll watch you flying over.
My baby bird. My courageous daughter. My woman of valor.