Never, Never Ever
“You’re gonna hear me roar.”
My six-year old niece was belting out these lyrics over the weekend during her visit to the farm. She got to meet our little Charlie for the first time and spent time playing with our delighted daughter. It was amazing to see the cousins playing together and to finally not be the childless, perpetually-renting, penniless, over-educated, unmarried aunt. Praise Jesus!
My sweet niece loves to sing as much as I do. She can memorize song lyrics in a flash. I’m enamored with her charm. She’s growing up in South Carolina and has a cute little southern accent. She calls her mother Mama. She’s beautiful and talented, quick to give a hug, unaware of both misogynists and feminists.
And she has no problem speaking her mind. She’s growing up in a culture that tells her to roar – to share her opinion openly and to not let anyone silence her. But she’s also growing up in the American south, where she’ll likely receive the dual message that a young woman is supposed to be at all times charming, gracious, and never, never ever to offend.
Having spent the first part of my life in Ohio, I claim dual citizenship to both the Midwest and the south. From the ages of 13-36 I lived in the south. Once married, I found myself back in Ohio.
I love the south and felt like I was in some ways rescued when we moved there. We left rural life in a matter-of-fact farming community for a genteel southern city, full of beauty and charm. I cherish the time I had in the land of warm weather and hydrangeas. It helped shape me into the woman I’ve become and I’m thankful for it.
But I picked up on a dangerous idea there. It slowly seeped in and altered the way I view myself. Women are to be soft, quiet, always smiling, and never, never ever to cause offense. Even if you have very good reason not to like a person, you never let them know. If you’re seething inside, you smile and say, “Bless his heart; he doesn’t realize what he’s done.” Very rarely do you confront, say anything unseemly, or talk about how much something costs. It’s all about grace and charm.
Grace and charm are nice ideas and it’s understandable that they’re valued and taught. But the way I interpreted the lessons I was taught did not serve me well. I’ve spent many years biting my tongue, holding myself back. And God-forbid I ever out-shine a man! Any strides I made toward finding my voice and speaking my truth have met with smilingly vicious slaps right back down. At times the hand holding me down was so sweet and gracious that I didn’t see it for what it was, misinterpreted what happened for God’s hand of correction.
Into this environment I’ve been finding my voice as a writer. I’ve been educating myself with whatever books and resources I can get my hands on, attempting to learn what I can during these years where it’d be very difficult to focus on formal education. I’ve been writing, writing, writing. But what I haven’t been doing for the past two years is actually posting or attempting to publish most of what I’ve been writing. I often seem to run out of steam somewhere around ¾ of the way through, save the document, and never return to it again. It starts to feel like gravel in my mouth and I lose my urge to communicate.
I’ve been blaming it on baby-brain. I lose focus because a baby is crying for me or all I can think about is my babies. But is that really all of it?
The book I’m slowly poking my way through these days hit a nerve with me a few months ago. Julia Cameron, the author, suggested that I’m running out of steam because I’m not writing the truth. I’m afraid the truth won’t be received well, so I’m changing it. Trying to make it more palatable. I’m trying to be above all gracious, charming, and to never, never ever cause offense.
I was working on a blog about disciplining our daughter. There are times when we spank her. We don’t abuse her. We remove her from the situation if at all possible, but she’s a stubborn little angel. There are times when that doesn’t work and all the attempts at redirection are failures. The only way to get her attention is with a spank on the hand or through her diaper on her little bottom. We don’t enjoy hitting our little sweetheart, but we also don’t want her to be a brat. We’re willing to do the hard thing in order to achieve the long-term results we’re hoping for – a respectful and obedient child who understands authority.
I didn’t feel like I could write that in my blog though. I didn’t want to offend those who are against spanking. I really didn’t want to sort through angry comments about how I was causing injury to my precious daughter. So I tried to write about all the ways we attempt to redirect her and remove her from the situation and how stubborn she can be. In the end I gave up. I realized I lost passion for the article because I wasn’t telling the truth, but I didn’t want to tell the truth. I didn’t want to deal with disagreements. I wimped out.
And then my six-year old niece roared into my world over the weekend. God bless that precious child. (And her mother who has no problem saying to me, “You need a better bra.”) What am I so afraid of? Controversy? That someone might decide they don’t like me?
How can someone like me if they don’t know me?
I don’t want to be that mealy-mouthed woman. I don’t want to be the woman standing before God one day trying to explain myself…
…God, I know You gave me a voice to speak the truth. But there were these folks who got offended when I spoke up in a meeting. There were these men who went behind closed doors when I wasn’t around and changed the plans I’d been told to make, making my work meaningless. There were people who didn’t like it when I knew more than they did about something. They told me to be quiet, then attributed my ideas to a man…
I felt like God’s presence entered my car as I was driving, settled in around me, and poked at my heart. He hasn’t asked me to keep quiet, to be soft and inoffensive. Who was more of an offense than Jesus? And I’m to model my life after His?
Through prickly tears, I gave myself the time I needed to absorb the idea. I wondered how I can expect my niece and my daughter to speak their minds when I’m not willing to share my honest opinions. (Becoming a mother is challenging me in so many ways.)
As it always seems it is when God has a message for me that rocks my little world, He’s been dropping it into my lap a little at a time here and there for a while. It’s just taken me some time to accept it. He wants me to use the voice He’s given me to share the things on my heart, whether they cause offense or not.
I took some time to pray about how I might handle it when I receive the push-back I fully expect to receive. I’ve been operating under the policy that I keep my mouth shut (and do things my own way) in an attempt to keep the peace with others for so long that it’s going to be a big adjustment for me to open my mouth and speak/write what I feel. I believe God will guide me in those times and give me wisdom to handle the dissent. I’m going to try to stay open to other’s ideas and accept the possibility that my ideas may be in need of correction. And I’m going to try very, very hard not to get hurt and shut down when others roar back.
I’ve set my mind to embrace the discussion and not allow myself to become offended when others disagree with me.
You might want to put in some ear plugs, my friends. Otherwise, you’re going to hear me roar.