an exercise in fortitude

an exercise in fortitude

. 3 min read

Fortitude isn't a word you hear about so much anymore. It's old, it sounds heavy like it belongs in a hymn. But it's a word that I need right now in the back pocket of my mind, to keep going.  It means, "strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage."

Without saying much about the particulars of my journey at this juncture, because it's so bound up with the kids' journeys and those need to be their own: the danger, pain, adversity, aren't life-threatening. They're just present and sort of relentless, like the office mate I once had who showed up to work everyday armed with limitless complaints, jabs, and insecurities and vocalized all of them. I remember sitting at my desk, waiting for her to come in, I knew the carpet-bombing assault on my soul was about to begin. She didn't see it that way, she saw it as "chatting." I remember that deep breath I took most mornings when I heard her walking back where I told myself: I am here to work. I am here to love everyone. Even her. Especially her.

It was hard. It required fortitude.

These daily struggles that I'm having, even though they are good and worthy struggles, are a lot like that office mate. I didn't pick them, I can't control them, they're so loud, and they don't even know it. They just keep showing up every dang day, pulling up at work when I do because they are the work.

Strong mind, courage. I was running low on those last night before bedtime so I picked up my phone and hopped on Marco Polo to record myself complaining for 5  straight minutes to a couple of select friends and sisters who are good at listening. There's a Spanish word my sister-in-law Nicole told me about once: desahogarse. It means to confess, unburden, vent. In financial terms it means "to get out of" or "to ease"—you get out of debt the same way you unburden your soul to your friends.

They got back to me right away, a minor miracle, they said: you are brave and strong. (I did not feel brave and strong, I felt weak and defeated). That's the thing about fortitude: it's a team sport. You look bravest and strongest when you feel the weakest and most discouraged, but you keep going anyway. When you roll over and show trustworthy people the soft, vulnerable underbelly of your struggle and they cheer you on and somehow, as if by magic, you get a second wind and keep going.

Jenna the wise said, "I want to lend you my mantra: trust the return. I was just reading in Mark, where Jesus fed the 5,000. You know what leads up to that? John the Baptist is beheaded, his disciples bury him and then come and tell Jesus. Jesus tries to take them away to a lonely place, really to process their grief, but the crowds find them. And that's when Jesus blesses the 12 loaves of bread. But even though he blesses it, it's the disciples who hand it out. Who keep giving it away even when there shouldn't be any left. I felt God telling me in that 'trust the return.' The disciples were so sad, they were so tired, but still, they kept handing out bread from resources they thought were limited. They didn't stop even though I'm sure they were confused and a little resentful. They kept right on going. And they had 12 baskets left over. So, these thousands of small things you're doing everyday, you're just like the disciples. You don't understand, you're tired, you're grieving, you're giving out of a basket that should be empty, but it isn't because you keep working, you keep giving it away, you keep trusting. And as long as your hand is open and you're actively working, you'll never run out, in fact, you'll run over. So. Trust the return."

Like my office mate, like these daily struggles, like the crowd that followed Jesus and his disciples, the struggles pull up to the office when we do, they are the work we're called to. The work requires fortitude, it's very Mr. Miyagi, very wax-on, wax-off, very "where is this even going?"  It requires a strong mind, courage, trust in the return. These are things we get from somewhere else, some other, bigger source: the blessing of the Lord who had pity on all of us, the encouragement of friends who listen, and the conviction that if we keep giving it all away (even when we are confused, resentful, tired, grieving etc. etc.), it will return to us somehow with compound interest.

I'll lend you the mantra that was lent to me the same way someone lent the disciples their bread, a sort of "here you go, let's see what happens" situation: Trust the return.