The First Step is the Hardest

As I recently sat at the edge of the rock precipice, jutting out over the steep drop off 100 feet down, I remembered this warning that I had first heard nearly 30 years ago: “The first step is always the hardest.” The local climbing guide overseeing our tourist zip lining experience issued it several times as the nervous adults lined up to take their turns repelling off the Mexican cliff.

“The first step is always the hardest.”

I was ten years old and I was away at overnight camp three states away from home. I chose to go bouldering at a local climbing area just off property with a group of campers and counselors — skilled outdoors-people. Being a mall rat from the urban jungle of Dallas, Texas, I was anything but “outdoorsy.” However, I was usually up for a challenge and repelling off the wall fit the bill. I clearly remember the feeling in my body as I cautiously backed up to the edge of the cliff, nothing but my carabiner and a belayer down below keeping me safe. Despite the rush of adrenaline surging up through my core, I couldn’t make myself step off the edge. I tried to push my foot a bit farther out, like the instructor had coached me to do, but I simply couldn’t trust that the rope was going to support me.

With the ground a good 50+ feet below, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to sit down into my harness so that the weight shifted out of my feet and into the seat of the girdle tied around my waist. It worked. With hardly any weight left in my toes, I allowed them to dangle off the edge until my feet had completely cleared the side of the wall. I was airborne but I was not falling! As quickly as I took that first step, the feeling in my stomach changed from total fear and anxiety to freedom and elation.

With small bounces off the wall, my feet propelled me slowly toward the ground with each progressive push and release. It only took a matter of minutes, but the confidence I gained during my descent would last the rest of my life.

Nowadays, courage looks different. Most days are not filled with dare-devil stunts and jumping off cliffs, but in many ways, life’s work requires faith similar to what I remember feeling growing up from inside my gut at the edge of that wall.

When I reached out to Terra Mattson, clinician and founder of Courageous Girls, to see if she wanted to create curriculum that could be used by moms anywhere to start Courageous Girls groups of their own, it took courage. Courage to boldly ask her if I could help, and courage in her response to a complete stranger. Our share desire was to give other moms the opportunity to experience the joy and connection that we feel each month as we gather with our daughters and several other friends to talk about relevant topics that our kids experience daily.

Like that first step off the rock ledge, gathering together in these small groups requires great courage. We have recently had moms share with us that they sometimes feel “vulnerability hangovers” after a monthly discussion. It’s hard! We are not accustomed to doing life skin-on-skin with others, our scars, open wounds and fears in plain view. In many ways, it’s like the first feeling I had when I realized I was dangling 50 feet above ground with very little to protect me. It’s hard and awkward, like a climbing harness,  and sometimes oh-so-uncomfortable.

But it’s also real. And it’s working. Our girls are talking, sharing in more vibrant detail than they did before. They are leaning into others with a kind of trust and faith that took many of us moms decades to develop. We are all leaning into God’s word and direction more. We look to Him to declare our worth and to define our purpose. He does. He is a faithful and redemptive God who uses our hurts and our hiccups to lead others and to see beauty on the horizon more clearly.

And yes, the first step can often times still be the hardest. One must put herself out there to extend an invitation and commit to shepherding a group for the long haul. But just like repelling off the cliff 30 years ago, the feeling of being “caught” by God’s grace is unlike any other feeling. The lightness of legs without gravity holding me in one spot allows for immense growth and positive change, for my own life, and for my relationship with my daughter and others. What started with fear, grows into long-term trust, fueled by grace and courage, so that doubts and insecurities are not so paralyzing anymore, and eventually you realize, anyone can do it.

Written by Aimee Eckley, co-curriculum developer; editor

A Letter to Courageous Single Moms

written by Amy Oliver

I didn’t ever plan to be a “single mom”. It wasn’t a label I ever wanted to wear. At the time of my divorce, I was running a ministry whose mission is to bring women and children into the body of Christ through gospel centered teaching, relationship and service.  I stood on stage and proclaimed the beauty of God’s design for family and to be honest, in a way that was my idol. We talked about how to raise children in stable loving households. And I “failed”. Or at least that’s what it felt like when my husband walked away.  I’ve been on quite a journey into single parenthood and have been humbled in the most beautiful of ways. I wish I could sit down with you, look you in the eye and tell you how loved you are, how brave you are and how much I respect you. That I know your pain and what it feels like to be “that mom” sitting at the soccer game alone watching other families who seemingly have something you don’t. But I would also tell you this….you are NOT a “single mom”…that is NOT your identity. You are a mom, chosen by God to raise your children in God’s power. You are not broken, defective, less capable or doomed. Your children and you have the same heavenly father. Celebrate that, share it with your kids and allow that truth to remind you that ultimately we are all children of a single parent…one God….whose love will be abundantly more than enough for you and for your children.

I have two girls who are now 13 and 10. I worried that they’d be scarred for life by the break up of our family. I read the scary articles about how divorce affects kids. But can I tell you something those articles didn’t say? My kids are strong, resilient and courageous BECAUSE of what we’ve gone through. We’ve had to learn together how to weather storms, talk about difficult emotions and lean on God together when life just doesn’t look like we thought it would. My kids can set boundaries like a boss! They can see below the surface of a situation and find the truth like detectives. They trust their feelings and are not afraid to say what they mean (which sometimes isn’t fun to be on the receiving end of, but I’ll take it). Together, we’ve rebuilt our little family! We even gave ourselves a new name…the Truth Love Trio! Having different last names felt a little awkward for all of us, so we decided we’d come up with a new name for our little threesome. We wrote up a definition of who we are, unique to us and our circumstances. We love when we see 3:33 on a clock. When one of us sees it, we all yell out, “333” and the others echo it back. To us that is a reminder that God sees our little Trio and loves us. All of us.

Listen closely…this is important. You CAN raise your kiddos on your own, but you don’t need to! You’re not alone even though it can feel like you are. I’m a “do it yourself” kind-of-gal and had a lot of pride about being capable of raising these girls alone. But the reality is my girls need other perspectives, other people pouring into their lives. And I’ve been immensely blessed by letting go of my pride and allowing others to come alongside me. For us, that looked like families having us over for dinner and not allowing myself to feel uncomfortable because I’m sitting at a table with a mom and dad. My girls have benefited greatly by watching healthy two parent families operate. I hope this for their future, so of course I want them to experience it now. We’ve also invited families to come eat with us, which felt a little awkward at first, but again, it reminds us that we are not on the outside looking in.

At the same time, I want my girls to know they are not the only ones without a dad in the house, so I’ve cultivated great friendships with other single moms and their kids. A healthy balance of both has been just what our family needed. Same thing goes for vacations. We have invited families to come with us and been invited to go with others. I’ve found that many of my married girlfriends have loved the opportunity to go away for a weekend without their spouse and we’ve had great times having their kids with us. Recently, my girls and I went on a vacation and at the last minute another married couple and their 3 boys came with us. It was so much fun for my girls to experience all that boy time! God’s blessed my girls with lots of bonus moms and dads; we talk about that all the time. I want my girls to see how God’s filled the gap with lots of amazing men and women who model for them the love of the Father in unique ways. Coaches, teachers, youth leaders and parents of their friends have really loved on my girls and I’m so grateful for that. Once I let go of my shame over what I thought our family should look like, God built a family I could never have imagined.

Same holds true for a Courageous Girls group. Do not think you are exempt because you are not married. You are a mom with girls and that’s all you need to be. Consider that the other girls in the group NEED to see a single mom and understand that she’s no different than a mom who’s married. Single parenthood is a reality, whether by choice, divorce, death or adoption. Your courage and strength will bless the members of your group. You are not defined by your marital status, you are defined by a God of love.  And the married moms aren’t defined by their marital status, either. In actuality, some of them may be struggling in their marriage or have a husband who’s uninvolved. Don’t assume everyone else has a perfect family, because those don’t exist. We all have challenges and sharing that is the point of being in a Courageous Girls group. We’re teaching our girls how to take the challenges of life and trust God to bring healing and hope. And we do it together in community! Embrace that and allow God to use you in a unique way.

All these ideas are just that, not a formula for anyone to follow. The more important thing for you, friend, is to take good care of YOU! There are a lot of demands on your plate: Caring for children, running a household and likely a job (or two) thrown in there, too. Getting adequate sleep, eating well, caring for your body and having someone to talk through your deepest aches with is invaluable. The best thing you can “do” is to focus on your health – physically, emotionally and spiritually. For me, that looks like spending time alone in the morning with my journal and bible. It means taking the time to make myself a healthy meal even if my girls won’t eat it. It means yoga and taking every opportunity I can to go for a walk with a friend. It means being in counseling to address my wounds and acknowledge my hurt. Prioritizing myself is a discipline, not a selfish act. My girls need me to be healthy and whole so that I can love them from that place.  And look, they’ve seen me grieve and struggle these last several years. They’ve seen friends show up with meals and watched me cry on the couch. I’m not hiding my pain, but I am allowing them to see God heal me through healthy relationships and healthy coping skills. I want them to know that I need God and others, that I’m not superwoman, because I want them to know they don’t have to be superwomen either.

I see you, single mom! I love you even though we’ve never met. I’m praying for you right now to know God’s love for you is immeasurable. Your girl(s) are blessed to have you as their courageous mama.

Building Trust in a Guarded World

It always helps to have people we love (and trust) beside us when we have to do difficult things in life.

– Mr. Rodgers

Life is so much better with a few trusted friends by our sides. In fact, a Harvard study found in 2016, after 80 years of researching health, that there is no greater health benefit than having a community of people who know you, love you, and will stand with you throughout life. It’s even more beneficial than eating your veggies or working out several times a week! Eating chocolate cake with a trusted friend is actually better than running a 10k alone. (Okay, the study did not prove that, but it seems like a logical leap.) As you set goals for the year, consider focussing on moving deeper into community and developing greater trust with those who cross your path. In order to heighten your health in 2019, begin the journey of building ‘roots of trust.’


Now, this is a loaded word. It gets thrown around with little consideration of its power, impact, and the ripple effect it produces. Many of us think we trust others easily, sometimes even too easily. Others of us are fully aware of the walls we keep highly fortified so that no one, and I mean no one, will ever hurt us again. Here are a few principles I have learned over the years about trust — these principles have been gleaned from many wise leaders, but also from my clients who trust me with their hurts and from my own personal experiences along the way.

When I started my first Courageous Girls group in 2012, I had just experienced one of the biggest betrayals of my life. At that point, I thought I was done giving my heart away to girlfriends. I had shared my heart deeply with another to find it broken, betrayed, used and lied to without any attempts to repair. Do you have a story from your life that has caused you to guard your heart and vow, “I will never let that happen again?”

My broken heart longed to help my own daughters develop healthy relationships and navigate the sometimes shark-infested waters of female friendship. Yet, I knew that my girls could not do this without me modeling the way. My words would never match my actions if I did not allow myself to trust others again. But what would this look like in my life? How would I heal the pain that still lingered enough to open my heart back up again? I know far too many who have been violated, betrayed, judged, rejected, abandoned, used, and abused. This type of experience does not discriminate. No matter how much a person gives or how hard they try, the wounds from others may never be fully known until carnage appears.

If this has been a part of your life story, my heart aches with you. When this happens, trusting others feels like trying to hug a grizzly bear. Here, big grizzly bear…please don’t eat me! The thought of trusting again can sound stupid and naive. And yet, the truth is that not everyone is out to hurt you. Only some are untrustworthy, but not all. Learning to trust and also to be trustworthy is a part of being courageous and living whole-hearted. Let’s explore more.

Trust is only built over time and consistency.

Often times we naively believe that trust is a given. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Herein lies a problem: Predators thrive on using implied or quickly-granted trust as a means to do harm. Think about anyone in a leadership position who has taken advantage of others easily because of the inherent trust assumed with their role. Others incorrectly think that broken trust can be easily repaired with a flippant, “I’m sorry,” after promises are broken and inconsistent patterns emerge.

Perhaps you are like many people who say they trust others but have never fully let anyone see you. Do you really let anyone in on your darkest days? Would you know who to confide in when you are at your weakest? Studies show that it takes about two years before people start to really know one another. At that point, an individual is equipped with enough information to make a better judgment about who they are risking their personhood with. This is why time is such a crucial factor for all relationships. This is also part of the wisdom connected with showing up once a month for two to twelve years for Courageous Girls groups. Though it is so different than most of us experience in life, showing up is a vital ingredient in trusted relationships (visit for more). Faithfulness is the fruit that is produced through consistency. It demonstrates commitment, care, and integrity.

Showing up for a friend’s birthday (even when a competing invitation arrives the day before), remembering a prayer request, meeting weekly for coffee, making it a priority to sit in the hard places with a neighbor — all of these illustrate faithfulness that builds trust. Laughing together, sharing life experiences, and meeting goals together are wonderful parts of relationships both at work and at home, but nothing compares to the slow drip of consistent, long-term, faithful people who show up again and again and again. After the seven years with the same moms and daughters in our Courageous Girls group, we have established trust and continue to build upon it. This kind of trust reminds us that we are not alone in this world. When storms come, as they always do, we have others to remind us who we are and who God is in the midst of the chaos. We cannot force trust to grow faster than it naturally does. It must be built one moment at a time, over time.

There is always a measure of risk in trusting another with ourselves.

Living Wholehearted and Courageous Girls are organizations full of brave souls who aim to be unafraid — unafraid of the risk we feel sometimes when trusting God; unafraid of trusting others, and unafraid of trusting ourselves. The practice is scary and the stakes are high. However, the reward is what we all are longing for — to be known, to be loved, and to be significant. Considering all the relationships you have, which ones are you willing to begin investing in a little more this year? Who in your life has proven to be consistently present and solid, perhaps even more than your own actions warrant? Consider pursuing a deeper level of trust with a few key individuals. Share a little piece of your childhood journey, perhaps the fears you have, or what you hope for in your friendship at a truthful and vulnerable level. You will likely feel some hesitancy as you take this step of risk, but don’t pull your foot back from the progress that can come from opening yourself up to the people who are earning your trust.

Trust is built on the other side of healthy conflict resolution.

Some of us thrive on conflict and drama, even at the cost of never finding resolution. Others thrive as peace-keepers, avoiding making waves by pleasing others, even at the expense of telling the truth. Both types of entanglements result in people missing out on what God intended for the human heart: resolution after conflict. Conflict is a necessary ingredient in the process of being known and building intimacy. Without it, relationships remain shallow, and one will never know if the other can be trusted in a storm. The very essence of the Christian faith is rooted in a narrative that trumps after conflict. It’s what happens after the conflict that helps us build trust in one another. Hang around someone long enough, and conflict is bound to happen. Deciding to be a trustworthy person means you can humbly say, “Let’s talk about it. How have I impacted you?” After listening well, maybe you can also share how they have impacted you, too. The cherry on top is when both parties can own something they did to contribute to the conflict, ask for forgiveness, and come up with a plan for how to do things differently the next time. Doing this can advance your relationship with people who desire to grow in trust and intimacy.
Trust is rare and fragile. It takes years to build (and only moments to shatter).

Shrinking the gap between who we say we are and how we live requires awareness and regular feedback from those around us. Being able to trust a person does not require perfection, but it is rare and it is also fragile. Trust at a basic level requires integrity, practiced with regularity. Integrity is the willingness to be honest and truthful with another and to also do the necessary work to repair where we have done wrong. It may sound difficult but that’s because it is, especially in the world we live in that has become accustomed to accepting partial-truths as the “norm.” Integrity means we speak the truth even when it seems “unimportant” or “not required.” It looks like telling your friend that you really can’t afford to buy her a birthday present this year rather than skipping her party at the last minute out of embarrassment. Trust grows when we insist (for ourselves) that our words and actions imbue care and precision. This is not easy, but settling for an “okay” grade on this aspect of our personal affairs is harder in the end.

I recall former CEO of World Vision, Rich Stearns, sharing how he spent six months on a “forgiveness tour.” Basically, he went to anyone impacted by a poor decision he had made, and, after coming face to face with the ripple effects of his decision, he owned his choices and took the time to make sure each person felt heard and a sense of resolution. Now that builds trust!

While a forgiveness tour may not be realistic for everyone, we can certainly take steps toward resolving broken trust that we have a part in. This might look like removing a mask of pride, ignorance, indifference or fear to step closer to another who provokes us to keep that mask on. When we stop “pretending” that everything is okay and allow others to see our frailty and weaknesses, we invite them to walk a bit closer with us in our journey. When we are honest with ourselves and others, we move closer toward being a person who others will trust with their true selves as well. Let me be clear: Not everyone is a person worth trusting at this level. This kind of trust and vulnerability is built over time and often times won’t occur with more than a handful of people in a lifetime.

Consider if you typically act like a trusted person—Are you someone who moves toward others rather than away in the midst of conflict? Do you receive feedback when others need to offer it? Do you speak the truth about your needs, emotions, and hopes, rather than appeasing others by acting as if you have no needs of your own?

Consider someone you want to build (or re-build) trust with this year and begin. Work on developing these characteristics steadily, one day at a time, asking God to help you every step of the way. If you stumble, don’t give up!

Choose to try vulnerability again. I did, and I can truly say that it has propelled my life in so many beautiful, meaningful ways over the last few years, in all my leadership roles and in my life as a mom and wife. In a heavily guarded world, it may feel easier and safer to stay closed off and rely only on yourself; know that God has more planned for you and for your heart.

A person with one or two trusted friends is truly rich. Trust is not an allusive mystical idea. It is a practical and fundamental part of any healthy relationship, producing the heart of what we all long for at the end of the day: to be known, to be loved, to be significant. This is courage.

For more on how to build trust with God and others, see InCourage: Raising Daughters Rooted in Grace by Terra A. Mattson or, Trust for Today, by Trueface Ministries.

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