Posted in Bold and Honest

The Gravitational Pull of Shame

Shame’s extra dose of gravity is resting on my chest. It doesn’t press enough to labor my breath, nor bring any sort of panic, but the nerves of my scalp are wired into this additional pull. It’s been two days since shame laid its heavy head down.

Words will be the death of me.

Also, words are kind of the life of me.

Maybe because I spill so many words, it doesn’t always occur to me in a timely manner that some of them have not simply dribbled down my chin but have been spat into the center of a group where people look uncomfortably at them, then at me, then at each other, then back at my words throbbing there among us.

On Tuesday, it took a good hour to recognize the weigh of shame, the heaviness on my chest. On my drive home from a deeply meaningful meeting with some of the smartest women I know, my chest and scalp asked me to glance back at what I had said at the end of the meeting.

We were talking about women and the issues of strength, ego, timidity, and taking (or not taking) up space in our work lives. Someone said it was hard for her to claim her space because it meant shedding so much of her training as a young girl: make sure everyone else is happy, and do whatever you can to accommodate others.

I live in the South, now. Things are different here regarding genders and expectations. A dear friend of mine has indulged me in several long conversations about gender roles in his beloved South – and how it has been for me to encounter this since I moved here a decade ago. During these unhurried and thoughtful phone calls, we have talked about how he noticed I enter rooms differently, that I take up the space I need in a room or a conversation, that I perceive my role in a given setting differently than, say, the women in his family or his childhood church have in his experience. We have wondered aloud, maybe even hypothesized, about whether this difference in my manner is a California vs. The South thing. Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about this.

So, as the Tuesday conversation with that group of smart women turned to this topic I had considered in a labored and focused way, I asked the question that bubbled up from my gut. When one of my Sisters said taking up space in her work life takes some dismantling of her childhood training, I asked, “Is that because this is the South?”

My ability to be obtusely unaware when I have spat words into the middle of a sacred space is quite keen. I didn’t even notice my words were just lying there while my sisters stared at them. Nope, I just kept talking. I added words to the embarrassing pile, strings of words like, “I walk into rooms like I belong there. I take up the space I need. When I moved to the South, I found that it’s different here.”

Gratefully, one of the kindest, smartest, most articulate women I know stopped me short and said something like, “A better guess is that you won the lottery when it comes to your family of origin.” She was right, of course. My childhood was enchanted, and my parents were purposeful in their choices and patterns around affording every family member dignity and love. I learned that I belonged in rooms, conversations, projects, and planning because that’s what happened in my home. It could be that our cultural context helped shape it, too, but this dear woman offered me an out from the mess I didn’t even know I was making.

Until the meeting was over, and I was driving away.

Then my scalp prickled and my chest sank slightly under the weight of shame’s visit, which is seldom brief.

At the tail end of a productive meeting brimming with mutual encouragement, my curiosity and ego asked a question I had been mulling over. But, I hadn’t given any context of my months and years of observation and pondering. Instead, I basically said, “Huh. You Southern women are struggling with something that comes naturally to me. Y’know, what with being from California and all. I’m kind of kick ass and strong in ways we have just identified as important.”

Just typing that makes me queasy.

My chest is still heavy, and my scalp still knows something is wrong.

But, my brain chimed in yesterday. I started thinking it through, and anger showed up. Now, anger and shame know full well they often arm-wrestle to decide how long I’m going to wear shame around to remind myself that I am a loser. Shame has very strong arms, and often wins the tussle. However, when anger shows up to the fight, she usually brings defensiveness along with her. When they win, I get to dismiss other people’s reactions and opinions as ridiculous.

This is what anger has to say about the clumsy words I spoke on Tuesday: “All you did was say something that’s true, that others have told you is true about yourself. You didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and if stating that you have confidence is a great and cardinal sin, then what was all that talk among your Sisters concerning ego, timidity, and taking up space about?!”

So, here I am tonight. Imagining calling up each of those Sisters to explain how much I’ve thought about the questions I posed, how I should have offered context, how if my words stung or were pompous – then, I apologize. And, I’m also a bit mad that my body has physically responded for two days, that my chest and scalp nudged me all the while I was at a writers’ conference I’d been waiting to attend.

Writing this here – and the possibility of sharing this publicly – has worked a bit of a miracle. Shame’s extra dose of gravity is not nearly so extra, anger and defensiveness really aren’t that interested, and the nerves in my scalp have mellowed.

In a writer’s workshop today, a presenter suggested we write 600 words every day. I’ve splashed more than a thousand onto this screen.

To quote Farmer Hoggett in Babe, “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Truth for Lent

I have been very productive in my work lately. I’ve worked with a team to craft curriculum for a week of camp focused on prayer. I’ve crafted liturgies for our congregation’s anniversary and to use during Lent. I worked a 14-hour day on Sunday – doing some of the most beautiful things a girl could get to do.

I have been attentive to my need to learn new and complicated things lately. I took a six-week course on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Every Tuesday, I drove 90 minutes round trip to sit at the feet of excellent teachers and learn. And I’ve read a couple books about various saints of the Church.

I have been attentive to my needs for a social life lately. I threw a fun party with a pretty table setting for the meal and a table full of craft supplies for afterward. I saw a movie with some friends. I have two friends in some pretty solid crises, and I’m loving them over text messages and phone calls from far away.

I have been attentive to my need for exercise lately. I started working with an app on my phone that dictates a 7 minute workout, and I do it nearly every day. If you are thinking, “Seven minutes is not a lot.” I say this: 7 minutes is 100% more than zero minutes – and me using the word “daily” when it comes to exercise is quite new.

I have established some new ecologically friendly methods in my life lately. I use flannel squares I can toss in the wash – instead of cotton balls. I use a bar of shampoo – instead of liquid in another plastic bottle. I use handkerchiefs – instead of Kleenex most of the time. I’m using bar towels – instead of paper towels in the kitchen. It takes a bit more energy, but I’m learning to change some things.

Meanwhile,

  • The hairs on my chin grow wild.
  • The craft supplies are still on the table.
  • The sink seems to be birthing dirty dishes.
  • My car is so messy.
  • My desk upstairs has paperwork on it that likely has some overdue stuff lingering in the stack.
  • My ever-shedding dogs need brushing (again)!
  • The skin on my face has dry patches because I haven’t given it the regular moisture it needs.
  • Pretty sure I don’t want to know what is in some of those containers in my refrigerator.
  • I’m pretty sure the rain gutters are full or plugged somewhere.
  • And poop-scooping? Let’s just say I’m behind on that.

I really can’t do it all.

Or at least I can’t do it all …well.

During Lent, I’m trying to be very honest with myself about some things. Confessional, I’d call it.

Truth:

I am strong and capable, and I can do anything.

Truth:

I am distractable and do not live with a team anymore, which means I cannot do everything.

(Okay, you are maybe thinking: If you were had laser focus and lived with a family, you would still not be able to do everything. I think you are right, but I’m acknowledging some old and new truths, here.)

I’m not feeling self-deprecating, here. I’m not beating myself up or dripping with shame. I’m just listing some truths that God is revealing to me about…me (again).

It’s confessional in that I’m searching myself, acknowledging the things that nudge up against me and have the potential to scoop shame on my head, and saying them aloud.

It’s confessional in that I have responsibilities lingering in paperwork stacks and home repair/upkeep and pet ownership, and if I let them linger too long, people and animals could suffer.

It’s confessional in that, in my life, after confession comes forgiveness. And just now, writing that sentence and typing the word forgiveness caused me to take a deeper breath, offer this physical body of mine an extra dose of oxygen. Knowing, as I do, that after confession comes forgiveness means I’m safe. And when I feel safe, I really can do anything.

But seriously, even being safe (saved) doesn’t mean I can do everything.