Book review: ‘Be Brave in the Scared’
“Be Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During the Most Difficult Days of My Life.” By Mary E. Lenaburg. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2019. 160 pages. Paperback: $15.95; Kindle: $10.99; Nook: $10.99.
Probably the most powerful thing about Mary Lenaburg’s new book, “Be Brave in the Scared,” is her searing honesty. She does not dance around topics that others might; she confronts all her life challenges head-on with both humility and compassion, but confront them she does. By the time the reader reaches the end of this book, there is little that he or she won’t know about Mary Lenaburg. And that is a hopeful thing.
That is because Lenaburg has become, through many, many trials, a person of hope, and her hope rests in God. It was, however, not always this way. In the forward to his wife’s book, Jerry Lenaburg noted, “While Mary was writing ‘Be Brave in the Scared,’ she asked me what title I would give it. I immediately responded, ‘Well, That Didn’t Go as Planned.’”
The plan started unraveling the day her second child, Courtney, was baptized. “Just as the priest poured holy water over our daughter’s head, Courtney arched her back, and her face turned purple,” Lenaburg writes. “She held her breath and her body jerked once, twice and a third time. Her movements were so sudden that I almost dropped her. Then she turned into a spaghetti noodle, and I pulled her in close.”
Something was very wrong and everyone knew it; an hour later the baby was in a hospital emergency room, still actively seizing. When the doctor gently took Courtney out of the room, Lenaburg still did not know that her life was about to change forever in more ways than one. Yes, her picture-perfect family life would never be what she imagined, but it was her relationship with God that would begin to undergo a seismic shift that day. “In the midst of my silent screams, I felt a slight shift in my heart, like a hiccup of time, a moment of calm in the middle of one hell of a storm,” she remembered. “I took a breath and God spoke words into my heart. I’ll be forever grateful to the Holy Spirit for allowing me to hear them: ‘I love her. She belongs to me. And she’s perfect just as she is.’”
That calm would be tested many, many times over the next two decades. In an effort to cope with what seemed an insurmountable challenge – which really began in earnest when Courtney had a nearly fatal allergic reaction to a treatment drug leaving her blind and forever at a nine-month old developmental stage — Mary took to seriously overeating. Her husband, Jerry, who was still on active duty as a naval aviator, turned to pornography as his coping mechanism, and their oldest child, Jonathan, was acting out so badly that they were told he was no longer welcome at his preschool. If any story was going to end terribly, it looked as if this would be the one.
However, it was a trip to Lourdes that helped the family finally turn the corner. They went hoping for a miracle and they got one, though not exactly the way they expected. As they entered the waters with their daughter, both parents heard a young girl’s voice say one word: acceptance. “Although Courtney was not healed, we had received a miracle,” Lenaburg said. “We had received God’s grace with new openness and understanding. We went home changed parents filled with peace, hope, and even joy.”
There were more challenges to be faced when Courtney died at the age of 23, but, as Lenaburg said, “Overflowing love is what made it possible for me to rise.”
Overflowing love is what this book is ultimately about and, though recommended for all, it is especially uplifting for those with special needs children.
Mary Lenaburg is a full-time author and Catholic speaker; a writer with “Take Up and Read,” she has contributed to five meditation books and two others and has been on Catholic radio.
She serves her home parish in many roles, including as a catechist, sacristan and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. She and her husband, Jerry, live in Fairfax, Virginia, with their son, Jonathan. Their daughter, Courtney, died in 2014.