How to Be Brave: Annie F. Downs
What if brave happens in the middle of fear? Annie F. Downs, bestselling author of 100 Days to Brave: Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self, had to learn the hard way how to be brave. She felt her challenges were too difficult, too scary, too much. Then she decided to stop allowing fear to hold her back. It wasn't easy or simple. But it was good. In fact, she asks, if you're not willing to step out, how could it affect your relationship with God? And what if you're braver than you know and stronger than you thought possible?
About the Guest
- Annie's website can be found at anniefdowns.com
- Read Annie's testimony from WSJ
- Purchase Annie's new book here: Chase the Fun: 100 Days to Discover Fun Right Where You Are
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What if brave happens in the middle of fear? Author Annie F. Downs explores how bravery affects a person’s relationship with God and looks faith in the eye.
How to Be Brave: Annie F. Downs
Dave: So here’s a question: Would you say I’m a brave person?
Ann: Yes, totally.
Dave: You think I’m a brave person.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Dave: I think you’re a brave person.
Ann: You’re gutsy. Remember that time we were in Miami?
Dave: Here we go. Miami.
Ann: The band was playing, and you were—
Dave: Oh, we were going on the cruise with our small group.
Ann: Yes. And you were watching the band.
Dave: You thought of that?
Ann: Something I wouldn’t do. You go up and play the air guitar in front of the band, like you were the real guy.
Dave: Well, that’s not really brave. It was to her.
Ann: I would never do that. What are you doing?
Dave: Yes, that is true. But it was fun. More people joined me.
Ann: That’s true. Everybody started doing it.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
So, let’s talk about brave. We have Annie F. Downs back with us. She’s the fun girl, but also the brave girl.
Annie: Yes, maybe. I hope so.
Dave: You hope so?
Annie: Yes. I think so. I sure try. I wrote books about it, so let’s hope.
Ann: I know, which is even interesting that you would choose this topic. Your book is called 100 Days to Brave. It’s a devotional. Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self.
Dave: You’ve written it, and you speak over a lot of topics.
Ann: Broadcaster, author.
Dave: Why this one?
Annie: I will answer that, but I also want to talk to you about your air guitarness. One of the things that you modeled that you didn’t even know you were modeling about courage is that when one person does it, it shrapnels on other people and they do it too.
Dave: It does.
Annie: That is absolutely true about courage. If you see one mom stand up and say, “Hey, if anybody wants to get together and pray for the kids at school, I’d love to get together,” other moms are going to show up.
Ann: Well, you even said in your book when you saw one person witnessing to a friend, their faith, that made you be courageous to want to do that, too.
Annie: Totally. That’s exactly right. Even in the air guitar example, you’re actually showing that when you go first, other people will follow.
Ann: This devotional is beautiful.
Annie: Thank you.
Annie: We did that on purpose. Talking about courage is an interesting thing, because everybody wants to be brave. We want to believe we were not cowards in our own lives, and we shame ourselves when we think we were, and we reward ourselves or celebrate ourselves, even if it’s just internally when we think we’ve done something brave.
So when I was writing about this, I wrote another book first, called Let’s All Be Brave that was my story of moving from Atlanta to Nashville, which is three and a half hours. It was not that hard. [Laughter] But it was for me. It really was for me.
Ann: Because you’re leaving—
Annie: Yes. I left my family, my friends, and I grew up in a town outside of Atlanta called Marietta, where everyone stays. It’s a wonderful place to live. Everyone stays. So when I left, I left everybody. It was very hard, but I’ll tell you, three years later when I got an invitation to move to Scotland to help plant a college ministry, that was so much easier. Because I had already seen God’s faithfulness up the interstate, I could go over the ocean.
Ann: Wait, did you do that?
Ann: You are brave.
Annie: Thank you. Sometimes, I hope so. I try. So when I wrote Let’s All Be Brave and kind of told those stories, afterwards people said, “Okay, I get the ‘why.’ I get the ‘where’ for you but tell me the ‘how.’ How do I actually do it?” I thought, “That’s embarrassing. I should have actually put that in the book.” [Laughter]
That’s what happened with That Sounds Fun, too, and that’s why I wrote Chase the Fun. I accidentally told everything except the ‘how,’ so I was like, “Here’s your ‘how.’ Here’s your hundred days of ‘how.” So 100 Days to Brave is the ‘how’ of “what does it look like?” Often people think bravery has to be big and expensive, but what is really true is what God’s invitation is. Can you be brave in the life you already have?
I sat with someone over the weekend who just needed to process some changes in their life. As he’s talking, he’s just sobbing. We’re in a hotel lobby, and he’s a friend of a friend. Y’all know how this goes. The friend of a friend who’s officiating the wedding, “Can I get ten minutes of your time?” kind of thing. Two hours later, the guy’s still crying in the hotel lobby. He said, “It’s funny how much easier this is to tell a stranger than to tell my friend.”
Annie: I thought, “Yes. The invitation to courage is in your own life.” This is easier, actually, to tell strangers. What requires more courage is to tell all this to your people. So when we were designing the book, one of the things I really wanted— “This has to be beautiful, because I want people to give it to people. I want it to bridge people to a braver life, and in the long run, bridge people to Jesus.”
So what ended up happening that is truly the Lord. People have said that book has far exceeded anyone’s expectations in the reach it has had. Beachbody picked it up? What? At one of their national conferences, told their coaches, “If you want people to stay with you for this 100-day challenge, have them read this book.
Dave: Oh, really.
Annie: I wasn’t there. That’s the story that I heard, and suddenly, trust me, a lot of people in workout clothes were posting themselves with 100 Days to Brave.
Ann: Which is amazing, because let me just read the beginning of Day One. “Day One: What is brave?” And then you have Isaiah 41:13 that says, “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear. I will help you.’” So you have Beachbody people that are, “This is what I’m reading now.”
Dave: Yes. “We’re Beachbody people.”
Annie: Yes. And the Lord just puts books in hands. But God has used it in more lives than I could have ever dreamed. So it’s fun, because I get to go, “Yes, what does it look like to be brave in your life? Don’t go make a new life. Just sit here.” So in these one hundred days, we go through about every topic. We talk about eating vegetables, we talk about moving cities. We talk about dating and marriage, and we talk about where your hands and feet should take you.
I just kind of thought, “Let’s throw it all up against the wall, and people are going to like 80 of the days, and they’re not going to care for 10 of them, and they’re going to like another 5, and then 5 of them are going to change their life. And that’s enough for me. That’s enough for me, that if 5 days matter enough to you that you make a different decision, I’m glad you came for the 95 that were okay enough.
Dave: Our President and founder of FamilyLife—we are now sitting in the seat [where] he used to be the host. He started this radio program; Dennis Rainey. Every time he’s with somebody, he looks at you and says, “What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?”
Dave: So there it is. I just said what you did.
Annie: What a kind thing.
Dave: So I want all three of us to answer that.
Annie: Okay, great.
Dave: Annie, you go first.
Annie: The most courageous thing I’ve ever done.
Dave: Or brave thing, obviously.
Annie: They are interchangeable. At the time, this is the nature of courage, is that the thing that you did that was brave at the time doesn’t feel brave anymore, because you did it.
Annie: But when I moved to Nashville, I was mid-20s. I wasn’t married yet, and I thought, “What are you doing? You are leaving everything and everyone that matters to you.” And I left my career. I was teaching elementary school. So I left my church, my family, my hometown, the house that I owned, my career. I left it all in the dust.
Annie: There is a public answer, and then I’m going to just tell you the real answer. The public answer is I was pursuing writing, and I wanted to try it in a city that was full of people who did my job. And that is true, but the realest answer is this was the fall of 2007, and I had been a Christian since I was five, and I was in my mid-twenties, so the majority of my life.
I grew up in a church and in a family that taught me how to hear God, and I’m so deeply grateful - for all the ways that church isn’t perfect, and neither am I, I am a better Annie for my experience in my church growing up. So I’m 26 or something, and I can hear the Lord, but He sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Ann: Like you can hear that “whah, whah, whah, whah.”
Annie: Totally. It’s like “I know Your voice. This is Your tone, but I do not know these words that You’re saying.” So I sat down on my bed one night and said, “Listen. You and me, we have to sort this out.” So I said, “I’m just going to start asking the Holy Spirit a bunch of questions, and I’m going to wait for the ‘yes.’” The 25th question I wrote, “Should I move to Nashville?” and I had never been there, I didn’t have anybody there, and I thought, “Oh no. That’s it.”
But I thought, “I’m sorry I asked. I’m sorry I asked. I’m sorry I asked. I didn’t mean it. I don’t want to leave. I don’t know anybody.”
Ann: How do you know it was clear? It just felt right in your gut?
Annie: Oh, it was like my entire—yes. Now, I’ll tell you, that night I heard God clearly, had everyone in my community disagreed with me, I would have reassessed. So the first move is, “Do you hear God for you?” The second move is, “Now take what you think you heard God say to Scripture and to your people who know God’s voice.” So that’s what I did.
I sat in it for about a month by myself, begging God to change His mind. At Christmas I told my parents. We were driving from Georgia to Alabama for Christmas with family. I said, “I have a crazy thing to tell y’all. What would you think if I thought God said that I should move to Nashville?” My mom said, “Sounds like it could be Him,” and I was like, “Wrong answer!” [Laughter] I needed you to say, “You’re off base, and you’re just an old single person trying to have a new life.”
As I put up gates to make sure I was hearing God correctly, they just kept opening. Telling people, selling my house, going to visit Nashville, and so I would never say to people, “Did you hear God alone in your bedroom? Go and do it.” But I would say, “Did you hear God alone in your bedroom? Then does it match Scripture? Now when you go to your people who know God, do they agree that this could be Him?”
For me, that was it. That was in December and January. I sold my house in April, and I moved to Nashville on August 3, 2008.
Dave: Best thing you ever did?
Annie: Yes. You know what’s funny is the Sunday before I left—I left on a Sunday.
Dave: I read this.
Annie: Yes, where I went up to the altar at church. Yes. And I said to the Lord—I had already moved a load of my stuff. I already paid rent. I already made the bed, in fact, in Nashville, and I said to the Lord, “Okay, where’s the ram? Here’s my Isaac.” I was ready to do it. “Now trade out. Don’t make me do it. Look how much I’ve already done. Don’t make me do it.” And the Lord said, “Nashville is the greatest gift I’ve ever given you.”
I could cry, sitting here with y’all. I said, “I do not know how that could ever be true, but I will go.” I’m telling y’all, it didn’t take me 14 years to believe it, but at 14 years I can tell y’all, “Nashville is the greatest gift God has ever given me.”
Dave: Why is that? What’s so great about it?
Annie: I’m so much healthier as a person. When people say, “Where are you from?” I say, “Well, I was born and raised in Georgia, but I grew up in Nashville. But I didn’t get there until I was 27. But I grew up in Nashville.” I think my career has been able to do some things that may not have happened in Atlanta. And my community—I love my home friends and I love being with my family, but Nashville made me who I’ve always wanted to be.
Ann: Did you have to lean on Jesus more than ever before?
Annie: Oh, listen.
Ann: Because our securities are family, so often, and our friends.
Annie: Oh, I was like, “You are my only friend. Some people know my name here, but none of them are my friends.” I don’t know if this is true for you guys in your life, too, but what it actually did is it solidified, that no matter who comes along, especially since I’m not married yet, don’t have kids yet, and I still have a future that I don’t know. Jesus is the one Who’s always been my friend, and has always been my partner, so no one’s going to match up to Him.
So good for the guy who doesn’t have to come along and try to be my Jesus anymore, like I probably would have tried to marry at 24. This guy, whoever I marry, doesn’t have to be my Jesus.
Ann: I did that for five years.
Annie: Because I know now what it’s like to be in partnership with Jesus. I’m into that. Now having a human partner is very interesting to me, but Jesus is my life partner, and I only know that because I lost everybody, and He came with me to Nashville, and no one else did.
Dave: Do you think for a person to mature in Christ, to really become what God wants them to be, they have to step out of fear into brave?
Annie: Yes, because I think the only way you get stronger in the gym is if you rip up your muscles, right? We see it in nature, we see it in our bodies, and we see it in our spirits.
Ann: We see it in the Bible.
Annie: Right, right, that it is the hard things that actually make us who we want to be, but we avoid them so much because we like comfort, I think, especially in our modern day in our country. Comfort is so prioritized. Me too. I am a creature of comfort, so I’m not calling anybody else something I’m not calling myself first. But yes. I think the only way we become who we want to be is by doing things that don’t feel easy.
Annie: Because then, once you’ve done the thing that hasn’t felt easy, it’s why we can go up in weights. It’s why instead of using fives, I can use tens. It’s because I did fives for so long that my muscles got used to it, so that’s not hard for me anymore. Make it hard again.
Ann: I remember we would listen to some speaker one time, and he said, “Are you doing anything spiritually or in your life that you could not do apart from God?”
Dave: “You’re destined to fail unless God shows up.”
Ann: Yes, and I thought, “Do I want to do that?” because of that comfort thing, and it’s also we become so fearful and paralyzed with fear, we want to be comfortable. We want to be happy. I remember thinking, “Should I always be stepping out on the water, really to that ‘Lord, the only way I can do it is if You’re with me.’”
Dave: I think at some point, I hope, I’ve said this many times as a preacher, that you don’t want to be the person sitting in church hearing another God story up there. Somebody’s giving their testimony, and you’re thinking, “God never shows up like that in my life.” You know why? Sometimes it’s because we have never taken that courageous, brave step, to open our mouth, to talk to our neighbor, or to write a check bigger than we’ve ever written.
Annie: To repent. It’s so hard to repent.
Ann: Or “I did that five years ago,” or “ten years ago God did this cool thing,” but now we’re not seeing anything anymore because we’re not stepping out into the brave.
Annie: Yes. Because you know the feeling in your stomach when God’s asking you to do something you don’t want to do.
Annie: I just have to tell the story—it’s so embarrassing. I wish I could tell this happened at Whole Foods, but it happened at Dairy Queen. I’m at Dairy Queen. There’s a woman who walks in after me, and she’s crying, which I respect because I was there because of a breakup, too. So fine, fine, fine. We’re all inside. Well, as I’m leaving, the Holy Spirit says, “Go talk to her.” I’m like, “Don’t. Come on. I don’t want to do that. Let her be at peace. She’s just trying to Blizzard her own feelings.”
I try to leave. You know that feeling. I try to leave, and the Holy Spirit says, “If you dare.” He’s so kind about it. But what would have happened if I had left is I would have missed out. I’d have missed out on my muscles getting stronger. So I go back in, pretending to get napkins. I get the napkins, and I just walk up to her and say, “Hey. Are you all right?” “Yes, it’s just allergies. It’s just allergies.”
“Okay, well, I just don’t think it’s an accident that we showed up here at the same time,” because I’m not going to lead with “The Holy Spirit told me,” right? That’s no way to make a neighbor. So I just said, “I think it’s a coincidence, maybe, that we ended up here at the same time, and so I just wanted to ask if you’re okay.” She said, “I’m totally fine.” “Okay.” and I got in my car, and I left.
Dave: That was it.
Annie: I will never know if she was fine or not. But what I do know is my muscles are stronger because I was brave.
Dave: You were brave.
Ann: You’re such an evangelist, too.
Annie: Well, I hope we all are, right? I hope that our lives make people—in the long run, the Lord is never going to ask me how many books got in hands. He’s going to say, “Were you kind to your staff? Did you talk to that woman in Dairy Queen?”
Ann: “When I nudged you?”
Annie: “When I asked you to?”
Dave: I’ve told this many times, and it’s a long story so I’ll cut to the chase.
Annie: No, come on.
Dave: Annie’s never heard it. [I’m] a brand-new follower of Christ in college. I’m going to my first ever spring break evangelism at Daytona Beach. They call it Operation Sonshine, s-o-n, and learn how to share my faith. I’m probably two months old in my faith, and I’d never shared my faith, ever. Long story short, I go to visit my dad. My mom and dad were divorced, so he lived in Florida.
I get a car and I’m driving to the conference, and I pray this prayer: “God, if you want to use me even on this trip, I’m so excited to learn how to share my faith on the beach. I’m your guy.” A minute later, there’s a dude, a hitchhiker. I can see him off in the distance, and I’m like, “Is this how this works?”
Dave: You pray? Okay, here we go. I’m going to tell this guy about Jesus. I get close, and he’s huge, and he has a duffel bag—huge—and I get full of fear. I didn’t know how the Holy Spirit works, because I’m so new in Christ. Long story short, it’s like He keeps saying, “Go back. Go back. You prayed; there’s your guy. Go back.” So I did. I turn around, pick him up. “What’s your name?” “Joe.” “Where you going?” He’s going to be in my car an hour and a half.
I say, “Hey, Joe. What do you do?” You won’t believe this. He says, “I’m a Navy Seal.” I’m like, “What?” But he’s like 6’5”, 280. As soon as he said, “Navy Seal,” I’m like, “There’s no way I’m talking about Jesus, ‘cause he can reach over and kill me with one little twist of his pinky toe.” So I don’t, and the whole time I feel like God’s saying, “Tell him about Me. Tell him.” I’m like, “No way, God. No way. Not this guy.”
Finally, five minutes to go before I’m going to drop him off, I just “Okay, God. I’ll do it. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been trained.” I say, “Hey, Joe. You ever think about spiritual things?” That’s my opening line.
Annie: Yes, that’s a great line.
Dave: And he says, “I can’t believe you just asked me that.” So now I’m really scared, and I say, “So why do you say that, Joe?” Word for word—I’ll never forget this moment the rest of my life. He said, “Because my life is a wreck right now. I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist. About ten minutes before you picked me up, I pointed at the clouds and I said, ‘If You’re real, send me one of your followers to tell me about You.”
Dave: And he looks at me and says, “Would that be you?” [Laughter] I say, “Yes, that’d be me.”
Dave: Yes. And I lead Joe to Christ on the shoulder of a highway in Florida, forty-some years ago. I remember driving away in tears, thinking, “God can use me?” I was a partying idiot a year ago. I thought God used good people and church people, which He does, but I was like, “God can use me?” I remember thinking right then and there, “I want to be that brave every day of my life.”
When God whispers, when God shouts, no matter how scared we are, whatever it is, “Okay, God. I’m Your man. I’m Your woman. Let’s go.” And you’ll be on the adventure of your life.
Annie: That’s right.
Ann: It’s the best.
Annie: Yes, it is. And it’s just amazing when you think about the honor that God would even trust us.
Annie: Because one of the things that’s true about me is I have perfect attendance to my sins. I haven’t missed one of them, so I know exactly the kind of person I can be when I’m not living redeemed, right?
Annie: So even when the world decides who’s good and who’s bad, we live with ourselves. I haven’t missed a day. So I go, “The idea that God would use any of us when He could handle this so much cleaner on His own. Oh, the ease He would have if He didn’t mess with us.” Instead He says, “No. Make a mess of it, but get in this mess with Me, and tell them who I am, and then invite them to pray that I would be a part of their lives.” The pressure is not on us. We’re the ones invited in. I feel very honored.
Dave: Hey, last question. What would you say to a husband or a wife? You’re not even married, but I know you can speak to this. How could a husband, how could a wife be brave today?
Annie: I think often what I experience through watching my friends—being my age, I get really up close to marriages and parenting. What I would say whether you have kids or not, is that there is always an opportunity to apologize, to encourage, to say the thing that you think, “I don’t want to say that, because what if they don’t say it back?” Even when you’re committed to someone, there still is vulnerability in saying, “Hey, I appreciate you doing that yesterday.”
Annie: And in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “I know you wish I’d have done the laundry quicker, but I’m thankful you did the yard, so I’m just going to say it, even though it makes me feel vulnerable that I didn’t get the laundry done by the time that I thought you wanted.” All the expectations that we hold that we don’t share. I think vulnerability and connection are worth whatever courage it takes.
Ann: And sometimes it’s harder and hardest to say it to the people that you love the most—
Annie: Yes, that’s good.
Ann: —the things that really matter to your heart, because you’re so vulnerable and they know all of you, and that’s a brave step to take.
Annie: Yes, to say, “I’m having this dream of this other thing I want to do, or this hope. Can we go after this? Can we pursue something?” Or “Hey, there’s this one thing from my childhood I still haven’t told anybody, and I want to tell you now.” Everyone’s afraid that they’re going to open a can of worms that makes everybody too dirty. It always remains true that when light comes into dark places, everybody wins.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Annie F. Downs on FamilyLife Today. Wow. Annie has reminded us that we were always meant to be brave. You were meant to be brave. Whether you’re coping with loss, or making a major decision, or facing a fear, being brave is something that God wants to help us with as we pursue courage and confidence.
Annie has written a book called 100 Days of Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329 to grab a copy of Annie F. Downs’ 100 Days of Brave.
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So how do we have the tough conversations about what we believe? How do we talk to our kids, or how do we talk to other people in our lives about the faith we hold in Jesus Christ? Not only how do we talk to them, but how do we listen well, not judge, and give grace when we’re in these tense conversations?
Well, tomorrow on FamilyLife Today, Sean McDowell is going to be in the studio with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about being others-focused rather than self-focused when we’re having conversations about faith. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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