For many of us, the holiday season is a time when we are particularly aware of our mistakes, wounds, and broken relationships, and we are left with the choice to bury them and try to run the other way, or to dig in and fight—against all odds—for goodness and hope. (Like Dr. Dan Allender says, every day we have to choose whether to live as a coward or a fool.) Here, Kelsey Paulsen, second-year MA in Counseling Psychology and Master of Divinity student, writes about learning that she has more fight in her than she once thought.

“When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in.”

—Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

About a year ago, a good friend named in me a fighter.

He said, “Kelsey, you are a fighter!”

In all my time on this earth, I had never been called a fighter before this unassuming moment, but as I look back on the narrative of my life, my friend saw something in me I wasn’t able to see in myself: a fighter. He was right. I am a fighter.

I have fought for myself and my sacred story. I have fought for the shame that seems impossible to beat, and the shame I see others carry. I have fought for my faith. I have fought for truth. I have fought when most other people would have given up.

I am a fighter. My war-torn heart tells of great battles fought, and my scars prove them.

There aren’t a whole lot of fighters left in this world. We’re an anomaly, a rare breed, so I pride myself on being a fighter, a warrior. I am proud of those battle scars and the lessons I have learned from fighting through ‘til the end. I boast of both my victories and losses, because each tells an epic story.

Yes, I am a proud warrior, yet what happens to the fighter when there’s nothing left to fight for? What happens when the battle is over?

There is a particular battle that comes to mind, and this battle was particularly brutal. Each side wounded the other, and these wounds pierced through to the deepest parts of our hearts. There was no victor, but a fatal loss for both. The battle had ended and I found myself hurting, regretful, and grievous. Time would be the only healing balm, but some wounds may never heal.

Have you ever lost a loved one in a battle like this?

The tragedy of such loss is overwhelming and devastating. I was heartbroken as I mourned the end of a once beautiful friendship, a relationship with mutuality, grace, compassion, and loyalty. We saw each other’s goodness and brokenness, and we stuck around…until we didn’t.

As the smoke cleared and time granted me healing and clarity, something shifted in my heart. My broken heart began to repair, and the painful hurt I felt began to lessen. Anger dissolved into compassion and resentment turned into love. I began to see something beautiful in the brokenness. Grace overwhelmed me and I was given the gift of seeing goodness, both in myself and in my friend.

As I write this today, my wounds have yet to fully heal and I am still nursing this broken heart of mine. But, there is a little fight left in me. There’s something in me that’s telling me to stay, to be still, and to wait.

The charred battlefield has cleared, yet I am still here. I haven’t gone anywhere.

I am left with a choice. I can succumb to the pain of a battle lost. I can walk away and pretend this friendship was meaningless, all the while hardening my heart as a futile way of protecting myself from future damage and loss. I would be completely justified in letting go and moving on, casting aside a meaningful relationship.

I can choose to give up.

Or, I can stay. I can choose to fight. I can advocate for the goodness I see in myself and my friend, fighting shame on behalf of us both. I can choose to see this temporary brokenness as a process and hope for beauty to be born from the dust of destruction. I can choose to say, “You are still worth the fight! You are worth sticking around for. However long it takes, I am here. I am waiting.”

I can choose to love—Love is patient. Love always protects. Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Is this foolish? Is it unwise for me to continue the fight? Is loving the other a waste of my time and energy? Are my prayers futile?

Maybe? Yet, maybe I am being called to love with fearless abandon, to risk greatly, and to be vulnerable? Maybe this love is meant to be a catalyst for something impossible? Maybe fighting for the other is bigger than me? Maybe loving the other looks differently than I ever imagined? Maybe, just maybe, I am being called to be a fool?

Maybe loving the other looks differently than I ever imagined?

“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.”

—Thomas Merton