Mothers, Daughters, and Their Stories of Courage

I rise before the sun each day, before anyone else in the house wakes. I pour the first cup of hot coffee and grab a blanket to greet the morning on the porch. Beside me lie my Bible, pen and journal, and whatever devotional or book of poetry I’m reading. My spirit is soothed by the morning sounds: buses heading to pick up kids, the rustling of leaves, the neighbor’s roosters and cows, and the birds’ chatter. As I take in God’s word, my own prayers rise. I keep writing variations of the same prayers: are you there God? Give me peace. Help me to see you. Help me to pay attention and trust you are there.   


Each night at bedtime, once teeth have been brushed, books read, and pajamas on, my daughter Charlotte and I read one more story. Across from her bed, I reach for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2. We’ve made our way through the first collection of inspiring women and spend each night marveling at their strength, resilience, and collective power. Our time with this second collection, however, is slower. 

With Charlotte propped on her pillow, the book in my hand, I hear her request: “Fencer,” she says. Over and over she wants to hear the story of the Italian fencer, Beatrice Vio, affectionately called Bebe. The pages are worn after so many times turning to this story and the book easily falls open to Beatrice. 

Something in Bebe’s story strikes Charlotte. She is an Italian fencer who, at a young age, contracted meningitis. Her legs and forearms had to be amputated. But over time, through perseverance, courage, and the support of many, Bebe began to fence again, going on to win many championships. Perhaps it’s Bebe’s sickness or her courage that intrigues my daughter, or how many people encouraged her back to life. Maybe it has to do with how much she had to overcome. Whatever the reason, we come back to her story each night.


At the park next to the school, the afternoon light warms our bodies as a friend and I take a walk before venturing to the pick up line. We talk about how the start of the school year feels for our kids and for us. We recount the hard mornings and the late afternoon crashes. We marvel that we have to cook dinner, again. Fall hasn’t quite arrived, but leaves crunch under our feet. Transitions are all around us. 

We list the worries we have for our kids, but also how far they’ve come. My friend asks, “How much was Charlotte talking as a toddler?” I pause for a moment — not because I don’t remember the answer, but because it’s been so long since I’ve thought about her not talking. I answer, “At three years old, I could count the words she could say on one hand.” 

A few days later, I’m struck by a similar question from another friend, “How is Charlotte’s speech going?” 

“She’s good,” I say. “I don’t worry about it like I used to. The fact of Charlotte not talking or wondering whether she’d be able to communicate with her peers isn’t a constant worry.” At nine years old, she’s come so far. Even though we’re not driving to weekly (and sometimes twice weekly) speech therapy, even though we’re not practicing sounds and flash cards and strengthening her tongue muscles, even though I haven’t Google searched “speech delays in children” for years, I still remember and hold all the layers and experiences. 

In my mind, I can instantly picture the baby and toddler who couldn’t talk but laughed and smiled all the time. I hold the memory of my daughter with pure joy making sounds and screeches. Our house wasn’t quiet, even without the words. I remember the delight she had going to speech therapy and all the games she played over and over. Very rarely do I remember seeing her frustration at what she couldn’t say, only happiness at what she could do, and being surrounded by the people who love her. I see the countless stacks of paperwork and evaluations, the notes from the insurance company and doctors visits. I recall the endless phone calls with questions and background music while on hold. I can close my eyes and see the two-way mirrors and my reflection with both pride and tears. I can still hear the first inklings of understandable words: “bubba” and “mama,” “up,” “go down,” “please,” and “thank you.”

And eventually: “I love you.” 


Since we no longer spend days back and forth to speech therapy, our time opened up to pursue new hobbies. For Charlotte, this is horseback riding. There’s one recent scene I hope will remain in my memory with Charlotte atop her horse. Early on, she took a fall while on a trail ride. Even though she got right back on, the memory of losing her balance remained. At each lesson after the fall, she’d finish and tell me, “I didn’t fall off today.” 

A few weeks after falling, I’m watching Charlotte with her arms outstretched. She’s atop the horse, trotting in circles, her hands off the reins. The instructor holds the horse’s lead, guiding them, but Charlotte is on her own. I’m amazed at her courage to ride with arms reaching out; her hands not holding onto anything. Her legs and core muscles, and the support of her horse, keep her in place as she seemingly flies around the arena. 

This, I think, is what it means to move through each day with strength and trust. Maybe when she’s older, she’ll look back on these lessons and remember that she did something scary. That she could move forward even when she was afraid. That she could reach out, supported by her own strength. Perhaps she’ll remember being held by others and know that she doesn’t walk alone. 


These pieces of our life together keep coming to me. I’m mining them for glimpses of strength and courage. I’m searching beneath the layers to see where we’ve all grown and where we’ve stretched and been forced out of our comfort zones. 

Most importantly, I desire to see God’s presence. 

I think about the lessons of faith I want to pass on to my children — their belovedness, God’s abiding presence, and the power of prayer. At home I bless them with the sign of the cross. We read Bible stories together. We lift up prayers for our community and the world. We forgive and we ask for forgiveness. 

Yet I wonder if it’s enough. I think about all the times we fail to mention God or church or faith, the times God feels distant amidst shuttling kids to practices and games. The meals on the go with barely a prayer of thanks. 

But then I see our life — the daily living and loving together. The challenges we’ve overcome. The family and friends who support and love us. I’ve seen communities share their strength. I’ve felt the comfort of prayer and the embrace of friends’ arms. All glimpses of God’s presence. And it’s in this remembering and in really seeing our life as it is that I find courage. A courage rooted in God’s love declaring that wherever I go, I go not alone. 

Charlotte continues to be drawn to the life and story of Bebe. I am drawn to a life centered on God. Perhaps that’s enough for now, to trust that this desire to know and be known by God is enough. To keep getting back up when we’ve fallen and trusting we are being held. To keep rising each morning and praying the same prayers: help me to see you, God.  

Maybe the nighttime reading of Bebe’s story, the years of speech therapy, and the times watching Charlotte ride her horse aren’t only about her. Beneath the surface, these are also stories of a mother. 

A mother who worries and rails in frustration. A mother who desperately wants to be assured all will be well. A mother who wants to feel and know God’s presence is with her. A mother who is learning to trust. A mother who wants to spread her arms and close her eyes and feel the wind rush through her hair, hearing the words: you are not alone

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Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a writer, pastor, wife, mother of two, and the co-author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years (Morehouse Publishing, March 2023). She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Missouri. When she’s not at the park with her children, walking around town, or tending to the garden, you can find her with a pen and paper. Or a good book and a cup of coffee. She believes in the power of words, unearthing the extraordinary in the ordinary, and encouraging others to follow their passions. Connect with her online at, on Instagram @kknowlezeller, or sign up for her monthly newsletter.


  1. Erin Strybis on 24 April 2024 at 9:40 am

    “Maybe the nighttime reading of Bebe’s story, the years of speech therapy, and the times watching Charlotte ride her horse aren’t only about her. Beneath the surface, these are also stories of a mother.”

    Kim, thanks for this beautiful reflection I on trust and seeing God at work in our stories.

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