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The Definition of Courage

Goat Rocks
Goat Rocks

My pastor has asked me to talk at church in a few weeks and I’m finding it hard to write for here until I finish that. So, I thought I would post something that I wrote for a women’s group a few months after I completed the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail I hope you like it.

What do you think of when you hear the word courage?

  1. Noun
  2. The quality of mind and spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger and pain without fear; bravery, valor, bravado.
  3. Synonyms: fearlessness, dauntlessness, intrepidity, pluck, and spirit.

Is this a “strong” word? Does it make you want to flex your arms or do a Superman pose? Do you picture Wonder Woman? Mother Teresa? Amelia Erhart? Would you use the word courageous to describe yourself?

The word Encourage (En-Courage)?

  1. Verb
  2. to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident
  3. : to make (something) more appealing or more likely to happen
  4. : to make (someone) more likely to do something : to tell or advise (someone) to do something

Ahhhh…that’s more touchy-feely isn’t it? Doesn’t it make you want to pat someone on the back?   Don’t we feel like this is a softer word? Do we even use it in the same context? It means to GIVE someone else courage. Would you use the word encouraging to describe yourself?

Yep, a nun.
Yep, a nun.

I grew up in a house where courage was not encouraged. Emotions were not encouraged. Speaking up was not encouraged. I was shy and timid. I was a teacher’s dream. But it had its downsides.

Once, in fourth grade, I was so afraid to speak up after the teacher had yelled at everyone for talking that I would not raise my hand to ask to go to the bathroom. You can picture what happened about half way through class. The teacher was surprised (and felt bad) when I couldn’t get up to leave at the end of class until everyone was gone. At some point between then and now, I decided I didn’t want to be that person. I want to be the kind of person who…well, who was brave. Someone who faced her fears. Outspoken.

A few years ago I read the book, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is the journey for one woman to find happiness in her life. She documented the process of trying different ways of finding “happiness” in your life throughout a year of her life.

First, let me say that Happiness is different from Joy (as I learned at a women’s retreat awhile back). Joy can only come from God. Happiness comes from the things of this world.

Gretchen does not reveal the answer to what can make us happy, but what she said (and what stuck with me) was that it didn’t really matter so much WHAT goal we had (be it to exercise, lose weight, eat better, write a novel) but that we COMPLETED it. RESOLUTION of goals brings happiness.

What is Resolve?

Verb: 1. To make a firm decision. 2. To change or convert 3. To remove or dispel. 4. To separate (an optically inactive compound or mixture) into its optically active constituents. 5. To make a decision or make a determination.

Noun: 1. Firmness of purpose; resolution. 2. A determination or decision; a fixed purpose. 3. A formal resolution made by a deliberate body.

Resolve is the difference between a dream and its reality. You create your own reality. I was resolved to become the kind of person who hikes 500 miles.  Someone who can do anything she sets her mind to.  I am resolved.

First backpack trip
First backpack trip. Good grief, look at the size of that pack!

My family has always camped and hiked, being in the woods was natural. I spent most of my childhood at summer camps with overnights in the woods. My first backpacking trip was with a group of women from church about 9 years ago. We hiked from Hart’s pass to Foggy Pass and back. Well, some of us did anyway. I distinctly remember hiking along with what must have been a 50 lb pack (I started by borrowing my 6’3” brother’s 70l pack and the idea was to take as much as I could fit in it).

Along the way, a tall wiry man passed us going South with only sneakers and with what appeared to be a day pack, telling us he was heading to Mexico. Being new to the whole backpacking thing, it didn’t even register to me what he was attempting. We had only hiked out about 3 miles at this point and I thought I was not going to make it!

Me and mom
Me and mom 2014, Snowgrass Flats

The first person to give me courage was my mom. An avid hiker, I can only hope to stay as active as she is. The irony is, I didn’t always recognize this. I have to admit that it was not that long ago that I (and my sister) would chastise my mother for her solitary treks in the woods. Having not yet imagined myself doing it, my mother would take off by herself to the Olympic Rainforest (for example) and be gone for a few days. No amount of, “That’s not safe” or “Anything can happen” would deter her. Yes, I have had to eat my words.

It did not matter the obstacles. I was in a lot of pain and exhaustion (arthritis and bone spurs) but I had a goal. Resolve. What can give you that? Faith in yourself? Faith others have in you? People think that because I did my hike without a major injury, it was not hard. I have never been that tired. That sore. But, only when I stopped moving. The first and the last 5 miles were the worst. In between were the best. It got to the point that I did not want to stop because I knew it would be excruciating to get up again.

One more day to Canada!
One more day to Canada!

When I got to the ascent of Rock Pass the day before I completed the Washington section of the PCT, I looked up with memory. I was here just the year before with my friend Anne and we were dredging up this hill. We ran into Susan Edwards. Now, I had NO idea who this was but just the mention of her name sent Anne into a frenzy. I now know that she is a well known triathlete. There is one thing she said after Anne got done telling her that she considered her a hero of hers. She said, “Be your own hero.” Her words alone were inspiring but what she really had done was encourage. Give courage.

Star Struck


How often do you say that to yourself, “I am my own hero”? How often do you tell someone else they are that person for you? You might not always know it, but you have been that person for someone.  You have given someone their Superman cape (or Wonder Woman her lasso).  Sometimes just by sharing your own story.

Even today I am often asked what is next? What’s your next big hike? I usually refer to a never-ending list on my phone but the more truthful answer is: anything I set my mind to.  Accomplishing this first big hike helped me to reevaluate what is important to me.  I lived with what I could carry on my back for 5 weeks. I am always looking for ways to rid of “things”, make my life simpler.  I have no patience for redundancy or pointless meetings.  I look to make my work more meaningful and if there is a job out there where I can simply walk in the woods all day, I will make it mine.

Enchantments, 2015
Enchantments, 2015 Don’t we look badass?

I want to leave you with the question, what is courage to you? Who encourages you (GIVES you courage). But even as important, who are YOU giving courage to? Who do you encourage? If you can’t answer those questions, you are missing out on not only the happiness it can bring but the JOY. If there is anything that I have learned from my journey is that God put me here to not only HAVE courage but to give it.

Thunder Creek, North Cascades
Thunder Creek, North Cascades 2012


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6 thoughts on “The Definition of Courage

  1. I love the origin of the word, “courage.” “From the heart” is such a powerful image to me. Courage isn’t something we think about, it’s something we feel. The greatest source of courage for me is a lack of attachment to the outcome. I say, “I’ll do this thing, and I’m curious about the outcome, but whatever it may be, I’ll still be me and I’ll learn something of value.” I try and practice this, and teach my son the same thing.
    Like hiking, we want to achieve the summit or the end of the trail, but the effort of each step is itself a testament to our strength. Whether we reach the “end” or not, we strive, we endeavor, we endure. This, to me is from the heart: the true measure of courage.

  2. So many great nuggets! Finding joy, having courage, encouraging others (love that the word courage is embedded in encourage!)…those are all things that I write about and strive to embody every day. Although I’m not a hiker, getting out into nature is one of the surest way to find joy and (re)connect to Spirit. It reminds us that everything is connected!

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