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Fairfax author Mary Lenaburg shares how to be 'brave in the scared'

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Every day for 22 years, 24 hours a day, Mary and Jerry Lenaburg cared for their daughter, Courtney, who suffered from grand mal seizures and was unable to speak or care for herself.

During this time, they learned that the rest of life’s struggles don’t go away when your attention is focused in one direction. Their son, Jonathan, had his own battle with depression and survivors’ guilt for feeling the disability should have been his instead of his sister’s. Jerry’s addiction to porn nearly destroyed their marriage. And throw in Mary’s battle with food. It made for a challenging life.                    

“When Courtney came along, all that we had pushed aside, all that we weren’t really addressing that exists in a marriage that is broken, they bubbled up to the surface,” said Lenaburg, a parishioner of St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax. “It’s like the asphalt in the street broke. All of that came up and you can’t ignore it. You just have to face it. Courtney was the earthquake that broke the asphalt.”

Lenaburg said she learned much from her daughter.

“Special needs kids clarify things very quickly for you,” she said. “They get past all the (baloney) and to what life is all about. She wasn’t going to be a ballerina, she wasn’t going to be a valedictorian or soccer star. Courtney could not do one thing to earn my love and yet she had it, all of it. The same thing is for us in Christ. There’s not one thing we can do to earn his love. We have it fully and freely, and we are blessed for it.”

The journey with Courtney started at her baptism, when she suffered the first grand mal seizure. After many trips to the hospital, the Lenaburgs tried a medicine that was supposed to help. It didn’t. A few days after using the drug, they realized she was allergic to it and she became unable to speak or care for herself.

Lenaburg said people looked at how they cared for Courtney and saw it as a burden.

“I look at it and say, ‘I want it back,’” she said. “I knew what to do. I knew how to love her. I knew when it was a bad day, good day, what to do. And then God brought her home to him.”

“Be Brave in the Scared,” Lenaburg’s book about trusting God, is not a memoir about her daughter who died in 2014 at age 22. It isn’t only about hiding dark secrets in a marriage, though it does explore the impact of that. Lenaburg says it’s her spiritual memoir about her “dance with God.”

“It’s the story of brokenness, faithfulness, forgiveness and redemption,” said Lenaburg. “The story isn’t over. God continues to redeem each of us as we move forward in life without Courtney.”

Seeing the book in print was revealing for Lenaburg. “When you read it from cover to cover, it’s hard. I didn’t live my life linearly, and the first time I saw it in print and read it again, I thought ‘we survived,’” she said. “Not only did we survive, but we thrived and learned how to love one another as we’re supposed to.”

Lenaburg has lived out the title of the book.

“Being brave in the scared means even if you’re terrified, you will be brave,” she said. “Fear cannot be the ruler of our lives.”

Lenaburg said there are daily choices to make in the face of fear. “I have to make a choice to forgive my spouse, I have to make a choice to be present today and not locked up in grief,” she said. “I have to make a choice to step out in bravery and in vulnerability to stand in front of 400 women, pour out my heart to unlock something in theirs, to allow the Holy Spirit to work in them.”

Lenaburg said she and her husband slowly surrendered their addictions to food and porn and have been married 31 years. Her son also found healing through therapy.

Her work as a public speaker is challenging. “It’s not an easy thing to get up and expose your life again and again,” said Lenaburg. “As much as I love, and have a gift for speaking, it doesn’t make it particularly easy. You never know what’s going to happen in that room.”

Lenaburg said there are no suffering or hardships in life that go to waste. “God uses it all. We have him in the Eucharist,” she said. “Mass is a whole different experience now that Courtney is in heaven, because she’s there. It’s the closest place I can be to my daughter on earth because she stands right behind the veil. When heaven meets earth during the epiclesis (in which the celebrant prays that God may send down his Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus) and we’re brought up to heaven, she’s there, and for a breath I can be there.

“It’s a gift, and one I do not take for granted,” she said. “Just like I didn’t take her for granted here. I thought I’d have more time.” 

Find out more

Go to marylenaburg.com.  


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019