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Courageous Manhood: The Courage to Step Up in the Valley

By Dennis Rainey

I just wanted to step in here before you read my latest blog post and let you know that we have launched my new video series, “The Call to Courageous Manhood.” If you want to learn and grow in your major responsibilities as a man and really step up, I encourage you to sign up and go through this FREE resource for men. To find out more and sign up go to

In this post I share about the most difficult week in my life—an experience when God called me to step up in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I hope you go to the course website to learn more.

“The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change.

You discover that Christianity is not something doughy,

passive, pious, and soft …The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness,

danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies.”

Tony Snow

The greatest tests for a man may come in the valleys—grim and gray times of hardship, loss, suffering, and sorrow. These are the moments and seasons in life that a man can’t possibly prepare for. The birth of our 13th grandchild was one of those experiences.

Our daughter, Rebecca, who lives in another state, went into labor at night, just as Barbara and I were going to bed. We prayed for her and went to sleep knowing she and her husband, Jake, would contact us when the baby was born.

So when I rolled over in bed I noticed the clock read 4 a.m., I thought I’d just shoot a text message off to Jake: “What’s up?” Almost instantly the reply came, “She’s pushing.”

At 5:45 a.m. I was awakened by another text: “It’s a girl!” I smiled and went back to sleep, knowing they’d call when they were able.

There was silence for 90 minutes, then they called again.

We learned that after Molly was born she didn’t cry for four minutes. The doctors were suspicious of a heart murmur and Molly had been whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Denver. Not the news we expected.

“Something is wrong”

We made travel arrangements, and 12 hours later we walked into the Children’s Hospital waiting area and were greeted by Jake. And then we heard the words, “Something is wrong with Molly’s brain.”

I immediately thought, “Fixing a heart is one thing. That’s dangerous enough. But brain surgery? That’s much more serious.”

We made our way to Molly’s room, wrapped our arms around Rebecca, glanced over at Molly, and immediately began to weep. She’s had tubes and wires attached seemingly to every part of her body. We were stunned as we watched her tiny chest heaving, laboring to breathe. Jake was so proud of her, and he wanted to be the first to introduce us to our granddaughter.

During the next 24 hours we watched helplessly as Jake and Rebecca received the news that Molly had a massive brain aneurysm. They were told that since the seventh week of development the Vein of Galen (the major vein that carries blood to the center of the brain) had delivered five times the amount of blood that a normal brain receives. As a result much of Molly’s brain was gone.

Instantly what was supposed to be a young couple’s mountaintop celebration of new life instead became a free fall into a dark, cavernous valley—the valley of the shadow of death.

They weren’t the only ones reeling. I had never experienced anything like this. What could prepare a man, a father, a grandfather for something like this? How does a man face his own fears of inadequacy and grief, plus provide the love and comfort his family needs?

Courage in the valley

I had been thrown into a battle that I didn’t sign on for. I was given a duty as a man that I had not anticipated. In the process of stepping into this pain-filled valley I was about to discover a different kind of courage. There were moments when I had more questions and fears than courage. How does a man step up and lead appropriately as you watch the hearts of the ones you love the most shatter?

Fortunately I was joined by Jake’s father, Bill Mutz. Bill is a good man and has been married to Pam since 1977. They had been through the valley before when he and Pam lost an infant son, 7-month-old Jonathan, who drowned in a bathtub.

That week, one day at a time Bill and I did our duty. Some were the mundane tasks of getting lunch, running errands, calling family and friends, and picking up family members at the airport. Other moments were anything but routine.

Molly’s seven-day life was marked by the most unimaginable, freeze-framed snapshots we could ever conceive. Like sitting in a cold conference room with our wives and watching Jake and Rebecca receive the news from doctors that Molly would likely die quickly if taken off life support. That she would require 15-20 life-threatening surgeries, and even if through some miraculous means she survived, she would be blind. Molly would never speak. Likely never hear, never walk, never ... the descriptions crushed hearts and hope.

As Bill would later recall, “One of the most difficult things for me, as a man and father, was to remain silent as Rebecca and Jake weighed their grim choices. It was their decision. Not mine.” Both of us learned that it takes courage to be silent.


Those seven days were the most challenging moments of my life. Nothing else comes close. Buckets of tears. Holding my wife, daughter, and Jake while they sobbed. And as unimaginable as it sounds, there were occasions when weeping and laughter mingled.

The last day of Molly’s earthly life was unforgettable.

Around noon, Rebecca and Jake honored all of us as grandparents by giving us the privilege of holding Molly and saying goodbye. None of us expected we’d get that treat. We didn’t want to rob them of one moment with their precious daughter.

Barbara was first. It was quite a maneuver to make sure all the wires and tubes that were supporting Molly’s life didn’t get tangled, but finally there she was in her arms. Barbara kept saying how much of an honor it was hold this little princess of the King. She held her close and cooed words of love and admiration over her beautiful face. Withholding tears was impossible.

Jake’s parents soaked in all of her they could. When it was Bill’s turn, he stroked her face, tenderly whispered his love for her and shared his favorite Scriptures with her. Pam beamed as she gently rocked Molly and sang “Jesus Loves Me” to her. Both Bill and Pam just held her, kissing her face, holding her little hands and weeping as they said goodbye.

As Molly was placed in my arms she felt so warm, just like every other newborn. I tried to sing to her and I doubt that she recognized “Jesus Loves Me” as I choked out a few words through tears.

Jake who was videotaping, asked me, “Papa, why don’t you tell Molly a story . . . one of your ‘Speck People’ stories?” These are adventure stories of tiny little people and equally tiny little creatures who live in a make-believe microscopic world, facing any number of challenges that demand courage and faith. Our kids were enthralled with these tiny people stories, and now I am telling them to my grandkids. The stories always take the Speck People to the very edge of danger ... and then I close, by saying, “And you’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to hear the rest of the story!”

I responded to Jake, “You aren’t going to ask me to do that, after I’ve just blubbered my way through a simple song like ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ are you?” Jake was joined by Rebecca in saying a resounding yes—they wouldn’t let me off the hook.

So Rebecca and Barbara surrounded me as I held little Molly, looked into her face and began my story: “A Speck grandfather and his Speck granddaughter went fishing for tiny Speck fish ...” My story was less than 60 seconds long and I looked up into Rebecca’s face and she had the biggest grin, dimples and all. She was loving the moment.

As I concluded my story, I told Molly, “The Speck grandfather and granddaughter took their fish and ate them, and then they encountered something that you would never expect or believe ... and you will have to wait until I get to heaven to hear the rest of the story.”

God gave us laughter

At this point I was sobbing, but I got the words out ... and Rebecca and Jake started laughing. Rebecca’s laughter has always been contagious and I too began to really laugh.

One other detail of importance is that all of us had been gingerly holding Molly, afraid that the stress of handling her might be more than her little body could handle. So as I began laughing, Jake and I looked at the heart and oxygen monitor to see if it was stressing her system. But the opposite was happening. Her oxygen saturation, which had been at 80, shot up to 92, then 94, 97, 98, 99 ... We just kept laughing and her oxygen level went to 100 percent, which it hadn’t been in 24 hours. All four of us cheered for Molly.

It was a moment of sheer delight and mystery. A small thing, perhaps? Yes, no doubt. But at the entrance to the valley of the shadow of death, God gave us laughter.

Christians are the only people who can laugh in the midst of such a crisis without despair—we know where we are headed. Heaven is certain because of what Jesus Christ did for us through his death for our sins. Because He lives, we who believe and place our personal trust in Him have the hope of life after death. Those who place faith in Christ for forgiveness of their sins and surrender their life to him can be certain of heaven too.

It’s the ultimate reason why death is different for a true follower of Christ. And it’s why we could laugh as our beloved Molly was about to leave us.

Laughter stopped and the tears flowed again as I was told it was time for me to say goodbye. Rebecca was now holding Molly. Barbara and I knelt beside her as I read her a goodbye letter:


I just met you—I feel cheated.

I don’t want to say goodbye.

I know I’ll likely see you in a couple of decades or so—in light of eternity, it won’t be long, really.

Still I don’t want to say goodbye.

You will always be my Molly, my granddaughter.

I’m really sad that I won’t be getting to spoil you

with a doll, or go sneak chocolate,

or take you on ice cream dates,

and eat chocolate pie and pudding.

Laughing all the time at what your mommy and daddy would say if they knew what we were doing.

I don’t want to say goodbye.

Your seven days sure brought a lot of joy to your mom and dad’s face. I’ve watched them drink you in with their eyes, kiss you from head to foot, stroke and caress you.

Your parents loved you well—God couldn’t have given you better parents. Courageous parents.

They have loved you with a sacrificial love that only a very few little girls like you ever get to experience.

Because it hurts their hearts so much,

oh, how I really don’t want to say goodbye.

And so, sweet Molly, until that day in heaven

when we will celebrate the greatness of our God together,

(then we will go sneak chocolate and go on an ice cream date)

I MUST say goodbye.

Goodbye Molly Ann.

I love you, Papa

Lessons from the valley

Reflecting back on those emotion-packed, ever-so-short seven days, I now realize that there’s a lot that I learned about being a man and stepping up in the valley. Without trying to explain every point, I’d like to summarize the lessons from my journey.

For a man to be courageous, he must know the truth about who God is. Courage that overcomes fears comes from convictions. And convictions about life and death come from the truth of Scripture.

· The easiest thing for a man to do in a devastating crisis is to move into denial and do nothing.

· Another good man standing alongside you will help you be courageous when journeying through the valley. Bill Mutz was that man.

· It takes repeated acts of courage for a man to truly face and process his emotions. The natural tendency is to run away from them or deny they exist, or to think you will be less of a man because you sob uncontrollably. Pleasure and pain were both meant to be experienced by men. For me, that took courage.

· It takes repeated acts of courage for a man to give others freedom to process their emotions differently than him and not be at the same place that he is.

· A man is no less courageous if he is faced with a situation that he can’t fix and cries out to God in prayer, “Help me God!”

· A man can have doubts and still step up.

· A man doesn’t have to understand all of God’s purposes to step up and be His man.

A number of years ago Barbara and I were vacationing in Southwest England and stumbled upon the little town of St. Burnyan, a crossroad in the country with a pub, a decaying church, and a graveyard. We stopped and read a few of the gravestones. One that was barely readable commemorated a family that lived in the 1600s. Buried beneath the stone were the mother who gave birth to a son and just ten days later died at the age of 24, her son who lived 13 months, and the father who died a few days later at age 25.

The words written on that weathered limestone grave marker were barely readable, but they moved us so much that today they are etched on Molly’s headstone:

We cannot Lord, Thy purpose see

But all is well that’s done by Thee.

A man doesn’t have to understand God’s purposes to be God’s man, if he knows who God is and trusts Him.

These are confusing times to be a man. In my new video course, “The Call to Courageous Manhood,” I talk about the five stages of manhood and the importance of stepping up to your responsibilities as a man, a husband, and a father. This course was created for both individuals and small groups, and it’s FREE. Just click here.

Adapted by permission from Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, copyright ©2012 by Dennis Rainey. Published by FamilyLife Publishing.

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