I must have been about 17, and I was milking cows. The bull had followed the cows into the holding area, and for some reason a group of cows thought it was much cooler to hang out with the bull in the back of the holding area than come into the barn.
Dad was doing the feeding, so it would have only made sense for me to go out and herd the cows in. But it was much easier to casually yell for Dad than step inside a concrete-and-metal enclosure with about 2,000 pounds of brute force.
Instead of doing the scary job for me, Dad handed me the manure scraper. Basically a metal blade on a wooden handle, like a hoe, only flat. "Show him the scraper and let him know you're boss. And remember that, if he would charge you, you have the strength to stop him. You plunge the end of the scraper into his nose, and he will stop long enough for you to get away. So don't be afraid. If you're afraid, he will know it."
Somehow, I made my barn boots walk into the pen. The wooden handle of the scraper felt comforting to my hands. I used it every day. I knew its weight. Its length. Its balance. I tried to believe that I could stop the bull if I needed to. But my legs were trembly inside my boots and my voice was a little warbly when I called to the cows, hoping I wouldn't have to get too close to the bull before the cows got the message.
They didn't. And the bull turned his head and regarded me with one unblinking, baleful, bloodshot eye. Almost imperceptibly, his head dropped lower and lower until his chin neared the concrete. His front hooves made tiny scraping sounds.
And I found myself slipping back through the metal bars, the scraper trailing me.
Dad vaulted into the holding area with an amused, "this-is-how-it's-done" grin on his face. He hit the concrete running at top speed toward the bull, waving his empty hands above his head and emitting his signature wildcat scream.
The bull's head snapped up and this time it was his back feet making scuffling sounds as he backed himself into the corner. Knowing the time had come and the time was now, the cows disbanded and headed obediently for the milking area.
That's one of the many things I learned from my dad: don't run away from things because you are afraid.
Now my dad is facing things much scarier than Holstein bulls, and I see him doing it with a different kind of courage. This courage admits qualms. Asks for advice. It mourns. And yet still it runs into unfamiliar territory, propelled by love.
This new kind of courage inspires me even more than the impressive bull-intimidating stuff. Because it is a result of looking your worst fears in the face and not running away for this reason:
"I am convinced that neither death,
nor things present,
nor things to come,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
If the worst thing you can imagine happens to you, and even in that, you can go to God and find your core unshaken because you are secure in His love for you... really, what is left to fear? I see this kind of courage in my dad. The solidness that comes from finding the very core-est core of your identity to be safe in God's love for you... and simply accepting God's acceptance of you.
When big, scary stuff happens (with the exception of rabid animals and glaring bulls), I tend to be very matter-of-fact. If you can't change what is happening, look at your options. Figure it out. Everything's going to be fine. Your heart can stretch to absorb this and keep on trucking. I feel genuinely calm and a little dauntless.
For a day. Or a month. And then I feel all fluttery inside. Tumultuous and a little bit insecure and panicky. And it doesn't make sense to me because I thought I was fine, you know? I thought I could take this on. Yesterday, I was feeling like that. And I was trying to just power through and it wasn't working too well.
I must admit that it was mid-afternoon until I thought, "Maybe I should talk to God about this."
There is a prayer by Richard J. Foster that I sometimes pray when I don't know what else to say:
Abba, my Abba!"
And, after calling on Him and throwing the entire weight of myself into His hands, I knew what I needed... to center myself in His love. Security, calm, and courage replaced my muddle.
I am beloved.
My Abba's cherished possession.
And nothing can separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. My Lord.
That gives me the courage to face things... and not run away.