CHAPTER 3: GOD, GRANT ME COURAGE

CHAPTER 3: GOD, GRANT ME COURAGE

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Presents Teens Talkin' Faith

Chapter Three

GOD,

GRANT ME

COURAGE

. . . THE LORD PROVIDES US WITH COURAGE . . .

We all encounter situations in our lives in which we experience a need for courage. Our reasons may be extremely simple or quite complex. Some of the teens who wrote for this chapter share serious problems that led to their prayer for courage. Others express a need for boldness that stems merely from ordinary teen angst. Despite the reasons, I hope that the passages you are about to read will lead you to think about the many ways the Lord provides us with courage and strength. I also pray that if you read a passage that you have difficulty identifying with because of a sensitive topic such as suicide or addiction, you will use that excerpt to help you understand what a fellow student or a close friend may be experiencing. Let these stories give you insight and understanding. Perhaps they may even give you the courage to reach out and help someone in need.

Mrs. T

I WORRIED ABOUT EVERY POSSIBLE THING THAT COULD GO WRONG . . .

I used to think courage was a gift given only to a select few; a person either had it or she didn’t. I think many people, especially teens, feel the same way. The last place most people would look for courage would be in God, but I found courage, as well as strength, in God. When I was young, I truly believed I was fearless; I could remember not being afraid of anything. I wasn’t scared to try new things, to go against the norm, or to be the person I was inside.

I am not sure exactly when that all changed, but I think it was around the time I entered high school. For the first time in my life, I was nervous on the first day of school. I wasn’t a nervous type of person; in fact, I rarely got nervous, but that day I was so nervous I almost felt sick. It seemed odd to me to get so worked up about something as silly as school, but I couldn’t help myself. I worried about every possible thing that could go wrong; at the time, I didn’t think I had ever been so scared in my life. On the way to school that morning, I looked to God. I felt that He was the only one who could make me feel any better. I didn’t ask God to take away my nervousness or to make everything go perfectly on my first day of high school. I simply asked Him to be with me because I felt that I needed Him. I walked into school that morning, and I felt that God was with me. He filled me with courage. My nervousness didn’t disappear, but it was eased, and that was all I needed.

HOLLI, 18

. . . HE WOULD JUST BEAT HER . . .

When I was a young boy and my parents were still together, my father would verbally and mentally abuse my mother. My dad would usually get drunk and then either tear my mom apart verbally nonstop until she was in tears, which could take multiple hours depending on how mad he was, or he would just beat her. Thank God my mom finally got out and got a divorce before anything worse happened. Even though my parents were divorced, my sister and I still had to go see him. We had to spend every other weekend with my dad. I dreaded those weekends because he would still come home, get drunk, and then start to verbally abuse me and my brother. He did this so often that we eventually started to believe what he was telling us. We didn’t have any confidence or a feeling of self-worth since every time we saw him, he would tell us that we weren’t worth two cents, or that we were a mistake. Those were just a few of the nicer things he would tell us. One night, my dad and my brother had a really big fight. My dad was still upset with him the next day. He told my brother that if he told my mom anything about their fight, the police would find his body at the bottom of the local river. That was the last time we ever saw my dad. You see, my brother didn’t listen to our dad’s threat; he found the courage to speak up. Thankfully, through the grace of God and lots of prayers, my whole family was able to leave my father’s house for good without getting too hurt. If God wasn’t present in my mom’s life, she never would have had the courage to leave my dad. Her example helped us to have the courage to handle our ordeal because we knew that God would lead us in the right direction to get us far away from my father. Without God present in all our lives, my mom would probably be dead, and my brother and I would be extremely psychologically messed up. With God, everything is possible, no matter how big or small the problem. He will always be there for you. All you have to do is put your faith in Him and know everything will work out for the best, just like it did in my life.

KENDRICK, 17

. . . EVEN IN MY LONELIEST HOUR, I HAVE NEVER FELT ALONE . . .

Mark Twain once said, “Be good, and you will be lonely.” Now what he didn’t say is that being lonely is not the same as being alone. You see, throughout my life, I have always tried to be honest and do the right thing, even if it wasn’t the most popular choice. Hence, some of these choices have thrown me into a state of loneliness. However, even in my loneliest hour, I have never felt alone. There has always been a light in the darkness, a voice in the silence, an existence in the void. God has always been my sentinel, watching over and protecting me when I truly needed a guardian. God has also given me the courage and the strength to pull myself out of these states of loneliness. Unlike Icarus, from Greek mythology, who had no one to catch him when he fell from the heavens, I feel that God is always by my side, ready to fix my wings and allow me to fly again.

JAMES, 17

I HAD NEVER THOUGHT SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUICIDE BEFORE . . .

About a year ago my life couldn’t get any worse. My best friend had died, my mother was abusive, my father absent, and my sister on a downward spiral using drugs. I felt like nothing could make my life better. I felt worthless. That night I started thinking that if my life was eventually going to end anyway, I might as well do it myself now so that I wouldn't have to suffer anymore. Though I had never thought seriously about suicide before, I found myself in my room with two bottles of pain medication. I figured it wouldn't hurt if I overdosed on pills. So I turned on my music, getting ready for my death. I sat down on my bed with the pills in hand as a song started to play. It was one of my favorite songs. It was from a CD my youth pastor made for me and the lyrics went something like this: “You're not alone, you're not alone. He'll never leave you. . . . ” And it made me do sorta like a double take on my life. It reopened my eyes to who I was. All the bad things that had happened in my life had helped me to actually become a strong person, not one who would take the easy way out. What I realized was that even though I had no comfort at home and no one really understood what I was going through, God understood and He could comfort me. You might think it was a coincidence that song came on. I don’t. I know that God works in mysterious ways. God gave me courage to live instead of die. I took the courage He gave me and started living my life according to His plan.

KANDACE, 16

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Kandace suggests that when everything in her life was going wrong, she thought of ending her life. Please recognize that instead of turning to suicide, Kandace turned to God. Taking one’s life is not the answer and definitely not God’s desire for you. If you have ever contemplated suicide, please seek comfort and courage from God, and find the strength in Him to talk to someone about what you are feeling or to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). Also, please take time right now to refer to the “T” Talk at the end of this chapter for reassurance and guidance.

. . . I THOUGHT FITTING IN WOULD BE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE . . .

When I was younger, the realization that I was fat came from other people’s hurtful words and mean comments. I would always try to hide from people and their words. I would cry so much, and my tears would sting my cheeks with shame for myself and what I looked like. Because I thought fitting in would be the most important thing in my life, it just made me feel even more excluded. I kept to myself, and I avoided people. Yet, they came and found me, just to put me down and make fun of the way I looked. I was always in tears, but no one saw them. No one saw the pain I was really feeling because I hid behind a plastic smile and fake laugh. I was lost and confused, and I didn’t know where to go. Whenever I went out to recess, they would make a game out of hurting my feelings or making me cry. I was always in tears, and my friends weren’t even there when I needed them the most. They would say that they felt sorry for me but were too afraid it would hurt their own image if they stuck up for me. I had no one, and I was too alone to be human. I felt one-of-a-kind and hated it. Then I went to a youth group, and my eyes were opened because I saw Christ. He opened not just my eyes but also my heart. He gave me the courage to love myself for who I was and not what I looked like. I asked Him to lift my problems off my shoulders. He helped me through everything. He showed me that it is great to be one-of-a-kind and that is exactly what I am.

MADDISON, 13

WAS I REALLY BEING LEFT ALONE?

Growing up, my life was okay. We had some tough times, but we always knew we would get through it as a family. I lived with my dad and my brother, and I always knew we would be all right. But when I was thirteen, our family started falling apart. I’m not sure how it all came about, but little things created heated arguments. My dad and older brother were constantly crashing into each other in an endless battle of who was right.

One night stands out the most to me because I discovered a faith that was stronger than the anger. My dad and brother were fighting (nothing new), but this time was far worse. I was brought into it. I felt harsh words lash out at me from my father with cold cruelness. At that point, I would have rather experienced physical pain than hear what he had just said to me. My dad, full of rage and fury, put on his jacket and took off. My brother, in the same state of mind, was packing his stuff, preparing to run away. I felt my world caving in around me. Was I really being left alone? I didn’t want the fights, but I didn’t want to be alone either. My brother left the room, and at that moment I felt completely hopeless. I hit the ground with angry tears streaming down my face and begged God to help me. I asked Him to give me the courage it would take to be the one to hold it together. I asked Him to give them both forgiveness for each other. In that instant, I felt about a thousand times lighter. Then my tears of frustration turned into those of determination. I got up and went out to find my dad. I made both my dad and brother come back to the house. I made them talk and, more important, I encouraged them to listen. For once in my life, they heard what I said.

Since then, things are getting better. A lot of time has passed, and it hardly ever gets that bad. I know God was with me that night, and I know He gave me the courage to reach the unreachable. I am not perfect when it comes to religion, but I am a believer. I know God was with me that night, and I know He will always be with me when I need Him. I have put my trust in God’s hands. I know that with Him, I will be safe. It doesn’t matter what this life brings; God will see me through it. I know great things are waiting for me. All I need to do is stay with God.

GABRIELLA, 15

SHE HAS HERSELF AND HER FAMILY FOOLED . . .

I’m worried about a friend of mine. Maybe you have a friend like this, too. I put my thoughts down in this poem:

I have this friend, we’ve been friends forever

But now our friendship doesn’t seem to measure

She’s lost so much weight in this past year

If she doesn’t seek help, the end will be near

She has herself and her family fooled

Her obsession with being skinny has overruled

When I try to talk

She gets mad and walks

Although I know deep inside

She isn’t mad, she is just trying to hide

She’s quit the sports she’s loved and been good at

Because now her body won’t let her do that

I have thought and thought of what to do

My other friends feel it is their fault, too

My friends and I have done everything we possibly could

I hope she’ll turn to God for courage, like she should There is nothing left for me to do

But to know that God will help her through

NINA, 14

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Eating disorders are extremely dangerous and need to be taken seriously, as they can threaten one’s health and life. If you currently are struggling with an eating disorder, please allow yourself to reach out for help. Talk to your parents, pastor, friends, or an adult whom you trust. You may also find it helpful to contact Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention (EDAP), an eating-disorder information and referral hotline, at 1-800-931-2237.

I THANKED GOD FOR GIVING ME THIS PEACE IN MY HEART . . .

In the past six months, I have really gotten a lot of courage and strength from the Lord. I come from a very extensive Native-American family, and we all love each other with our hearts and souls. In the past six months, I have lost five loved ones, and this hurt me badly. It has been two months since the last death. I was close to all of them, especially my great-grandma. We shared the same soul. Although I felt angry that my loved ones were gone, I still found strength in the Lord.

About three days after my great-grandmother’s death, I was feeling terrible, and I couldn’t eat or get out of bed. I was dozing off to sleep when I heard three knocks on my bedroom window. I was frightened. I sat up on my bed and leaned against the wall. I saw a light. It wasn’t very bright, but it was glowing. I heard two women laughing, and they sounded very happy. Not only did they sound happy, but they sounded like my beautiful great-grandma and my little auntie. She was my great-grandma’s sister who passed away only three months before. I was no longer scared. I felt warm inside. I fell to sleep never saying a word or trying to speak to them, just listening to their sweet voices that used to whisper me to sleep. I woke up feeling peace, remembering the last time I saw my great-grandma. She told me, “Don’t stay away too long,” and I said, “You either.” She said, “You better come visit me.” I said, “You, too.” And that’s exactly what she did! I thanked God for giving me this peace in my heart, for I did not get to say good-bye before her death. Also, I thanked God for giving me the courage to accept my great-grandmother’s death and go on with my life.

LUCI, 14

. . . MY FATHER WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER . . .

I recently got some bad news: my father was diagnosed with cancer. It didn’t just end there, though. The cancer cells weren’t contained and had spread to his lymph nodes. It was really hard on my whole family, but it would have been a hundred times harder if I didn’t have faith. God gives me the courage and hope I need to make it through the day. With my dad always on my mind on top of school, friends, sports, and the million other things that I have going on, I don’t know if I would be able to handle it all without my faith. All of my friends are keeping my dad in their prayers, along with me. Life is rough sometimes, and all we can do is have the courage to get through the difficult times. There is no one else who will be there the way God is 24/7. If there is anyone close to you who is sick, depressed, or lonely and needs you, let God be your refuge, your relief. No matter what the problem at hand, God is always there guiding you and helping you overcome your fears and hardships.

RENA, 15

. . . I WOULD HEAR SOME OF THE CONVERSATIONS, AND I WOULD BE ASHAMED . . .

Have you ever felt pressure to go along with a crowd, even when you didn’t agree with them? Well, in the beginning of my junior varsity volleyball season, it happened to me. Some of my teammates had no respect for our coaches. They would talk behind the coaches’ backs by calling them names and making rude comments. There were some girls who didn’t want to be part of the drama, but they ended up getting involved. I think it was because the girls who started it were older and popular, and so it was tough for some not to get caught up in it. But there were others, like me, who chose to stay out of it completely, even though we felt the pressure. It was so hard because I would hear some of the conversations, and I would be ashamed of the girls who started it all because our coaches were great people. All of this drama ended up with some of the girls signing a petition to try to get the coaches removed. Through it all, I disagreed with what my teammates did. I really had to look to God for courage, because without it, I don’t think I could have stayed on the team. Every night after practices or games, I would lie in bed and pray to God to give me and my coaches courage. On the team, I was often put in a bad position, but God always gave me the courage and strength to make the right choice and stand up for myself and my beliefs. My coaches were also put in awkward positions by these girls, but I know that God gave them the courage to get through it and still keep our team together as a family. Throughout the rest of the season, the drama kept building, but God helped me to ignore it and finish the season without too much worry. I feel a lot happier now that the season is over, and I believe my coaches probably do, too. For the rest of my life, because of this situation, I know that God will always be there to give me courage when I need it most. So if you have ever been in a pressured situation, look to God. I know that He will give you courage, too!

SHARAE, 14

I WAS SCARED OUT OF MY MIND . . .

I was always confused when I was little. When I look back at how my life was, I don’t think it was a very good one. Of course, I always had fun playing with my friend on the swings and stuff, but when it came to what went on at home, I didn’t like it. My mom was always having new people over, people I had never even seen before. I thought they were going to be some new friends or something. I was a little confused about it, but I never asked because of what I can remember about my mom. She always seemed to be in a bad mood or not wanting to be around me at all.

One day, my mom did not come home at night. My dad got off work at 5:00. I was supposed to be picked up from school at 3:00. I had to sit at the school for two hours, and finally the cops had to come and pick me up. I was scared out of my mind. When I got home, my dad was just showing up. I was happy to be home, but scared and confused because I didn’t know what was going on. That night, I found out that my mom was in jail for drugs. I was also confused about what drugs were. I learned that the people who always came to my house were people who were dealing drugs with my mom.

Eventually, my dad left my mom, and we moved and started over. I remember my new next-door neighbor came over to meet me, and I started talking to her. She had a lot of belief in God. I used to think that maybe there was no God because I didn’t think He was ever there to help me. My new neighbor showed me that God was there. She said that maybe I experienced everything with my mom for some reason that I wouldn’t understand until I was older. She also looked me in my eyes and said, “Nita, God does have faith in you to go to school, get good grades, and stand up for yourself. He will give you the courage you need.” So I figured I would try to believe in myself. If God believes in me, maybe I could, too. And He did give me courage. Even with all my family problems, I do excellently in school, and I have a lot of new friends—mostly because I now have a really strong belief in God.

NITA, 14

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Sadly, some teens come from homes in which a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol. If you or someone you know is living with an addict and needs help or support, I encourage you to contact your local chapter of Al-Anon, Alateen, or a similar program that provides support for families living with addicts. You can call 1-888-4-AL-ANON (1-888-425-2666) to find an organization near you.

“T ” Talk

Joe was one of my best friends in high school. He was the type of guy whom everyone loved. He had a strong faith in the Lord, but at that time in his life, he lived for his friends. Although he was an outstanding athlete, he was able to supersede the typical high-school cliques. He was full of life and always ready for a fun time. One of the things I enjoyed most about Joe was the delight he took in luring someone into a good prank. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because he and I pulled many pranks on one another. One of Joe’s favorite schemes, which he carried out with another close friend of ours, was to sneak into my locker, take the keys to my truck, and then move it to various places around our school. When I would go out to the parking lot after school, I’d never quite know where I’d find my truck. Once it was on the other side of the football field. Another time, it was behind the convenience store across the street. I never figured out how they pulled it off without getting into trouble, especially when they left it for me to find on our school’s front lawn. The ultimate fun, however, was worth their efforts. It seems ironic now that while my truck was the source of so much amusement for us, Joe’s truck carried him into the greatest tragedy of his life.

It was a typical Friday night in a small town. Joe and his friend, Ronnie, were on their way to a party. It was dark, and he and Ronnie were listening to the radio, cruising along. All of a sudden, Ronnie screamed, “Joe . . . STOP!” Within an instant, Joe felt a sickening thud and watched his right windshield shatter into pieces. Joe never saw the man who had wandered into the road, but the second he felt the impact, he knew that he had just hit a human being. Can you imagine what went through his mind? Joe told me later that everything inside him wanted to run. His first thoughts were, Just keep driving, as if ignoring this terrible calamity might make it go away. But he knew that his conscience would not allow that to happen. So Joe pulled to the side of the road. As he got out of his truck, he looked back to see a limp, mangled body. Ronnie raced to call for an ambulance, while Joe ran over to where the man lay lifeless in the middle of the road. He felt so helpless as he approached because as he encountered the man’s crumpled body, he knew inside that the man was already dead.

While Joe waited for the police and ambulance to arrive, his own life flashed before his eyes. Questions filled his mind. How could this have happened? How could he have killed someone? How could his life change so fast? One moment, Joe was on his way to laugh, joke, and live it up with friends at a party, and in the next instant he was kneeling over a man, willing him to breathe. It didn’t seem fair. He wasn’t driving recklessly, drinking, or even speeding. The road was clear, and then out of nowhere there was this man.

As these thoughts swirled around in Joe’s mind, he subtly began to feel a very small sense of peace. He couldn’t explain this feeling except to say that it could only have come from God, for the circumstances that he had found himself in were too overwhelming to even comprehend. As statements were taken, Joe learned that the man he had hit was homeless and had been walking along the road with another man. The man told the police that he had told his friend not to walk in the road. But the victim had been drinking and had lost his sense of good judgment. He had no identification, family, or home. While Joe was taken to have his blood tested to confirm that he had not been drinking, the man was taken to the morgue. All the while, Joe’s heart was pounding with the reality of the accident. Yet, he knew that he had to focus on the sense of peace he was feeling because, without it, Joe knew that fear would overwhelm him.

Mostly, Joe feared that all of his dreams and desires for the future would vanish as quickly as this horrifying accident that had just transpired. He feared he would lose control of his life and his destiny. You see, Joe had always wanted to be a cop. It had been his goal for as long as he could remember. Would he never realize this dream? Or worse, would he end up on the other side of it, behind bars? Joe also feared the reaction of his family and friends. What would they think, and what would they say? Throughout the days following the accident, Joe contemplated all of these things and knew he had an important decision to make. He could give up and hide behind his fears, or he could seek the courage he would need to face the repercussions of this tragic ordeal.

Joe chose to grasp on to that underlying peace that had been steadfast throughout his fear and confusion. Daily, Joe put his situation in God’s hands, and that sense of peace nurtured a feeling of courage that he knew he would not have experienced on his own. Joe knows that without God’s touch, he could have withered away. But with God, he was able to hold his head up, face his fears, and grow emotionally, as well as spiritually.

I, on the other hand, struggled with my role as Joe’s friend. How do you support someone who has experienced something so tragic? As a sixteen-year-old, I was scared. On the day following the accident, I picked up the phone to call Joe fifteen different times but hung up before I dialed because I was afraid that I would say the wrong thing. When I finally did make the call, I was relieved when Joe’s mom told me that he wasn’t up to talking. I comforted myself with, “At least you tried.” I could have done so much more, but I just didn’t have the courage. I remember praying for Joe, but not praying for myself to find the courage to be the friend that Joe needed me to be in his time of need.

I understand now that the courage we tend to lack as teens can be found in the strength and power of God. Had I asked God to give me the courage to comfort my friend, I believe I would have had the confidence to show up on his front doorstep, if only to say, “I’m here for you.” But, I was afraid, so I made excuses. As teenagers, it is easy to make up a reason for not taking action by convincing ourselves that it is for the better. When really, we may just not have the courage it takes to do the right thing. I told myself that Joe needed his space, that he didn’t want to see anyone and needed time with his family. It took me almost a week to work up the courage on my own to get over to Joe’s house and be there for him as a friend. Yet, in the Bible, Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find.” Courage is waiting in that scripture. As I look back, I wish that I would have sought such strength from God.

If you have struggled with an experience in your life where you have needed the courage to endure, look to God. When someone dies, for example, it seems so senseless to us, so unfair. We get lost in our grief, and that is a very lonely place to be. Sometimes we even turn our backs on God. But turning toward God instead of away from Him can bring understanding, peace, and even hope to your heart.

Maybe your need for courage is more serious. Perhaps you need it because you question the value of your own life. If, like Kandace, you have ever considered suicide, please know that taking your own life is not the answer to your hopelessness. I have heard teens occasionally express that they feel it takes courage to commit suicide. I disagree. I believe that it takes courage to live. Think about this: If your life is so bad that you consider suicide as your only option, then it has to get better. And if it is going to get better, why would you want to die?

I have spoken to numerous teens who have admitted to thinking about suicide. So know that if you have ever considered it, you are not alone. Yet that doesn’t mean that attempting suicide, let alone completing it, is right. One of my former students, Anthony, told me that when he gets in the mind-set of having nothing left to live for, he turns it around and considers that if, in fact, that is the case, then he has nothing left to lose. This keeps him focused on living rather than dying. Another student, Summer, once shared that she saw her life as an endless book. Each page was a new day. She said that if teens get to the point where they are considering suicide, then all they need to do is wait until the next day because it is a whole new page, and who knows what excitement or happiness could be waiting there. Just like a book, our life stories change. If we take it upon ourselves to end our lives, we miss out on the story in its entirety, and the story could have an incredibly happy ending.

In addition, when contemplating suicide, teens frequently neglect to think about the people they would hurt by their choice. They tend to disregard the consequences of fatal actions. Do you think that God, who loves you so much, who in essence created you and gave you life, would want you to take your life into your own hands? Have you ever asked yourself if suicide isn’t, in reality, murder? Now, I’d be willing to bet that you would never think about killing another person, so why would you kill yourself? In God’s eyes, perhaps it is the same. What do you think?

Regardless of your answer, know that God has a gift waiting for you. It is not wrapped in beautiful paper with a perfect bow. In fact, He has already opened it and placed it in a small room in your heart. It is courage, and it is waiting there to be discovered by you. When you do find it, if you keep your eyes focused on God as you approach, the courage He has placed in your heart will blossom into the strength that you need to see you through your most difficult trial or turbulent time. Like my friend Joe, if you put your life in God’s hands daily, He will give you the courage you need to persevere.

Mrs. T

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If needed, please take time to turn to Appendix II at the end of the book for additional referral services for grief and loss, suicide, drug addiction, eating disorders, and more.

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