I have a library of personal stories in which I let others’ needs demands overrule my own. I’m not proud of them, certainly not happy about them, and aware that without them I would have never learned the lessons they taught: boundaries, self-care, self-esteem, sovereignty, and more. Of them all, the hardest one has been learning to use my voice; not speaking in and of itself, but speaking my truth without editing, censoring, holding back, or apologizing.
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” ~ Audre Lorde
She’s right, of course. But knowing this doesn’t make it easier. It’s scary to anticipate the fallout, the misunderstanding, even subsequent isolation and still speak, still write, still tell the truth, still articulate an opinion, still stand our ground.
What’s far easier, at least in the short run, is compromising. Saying just enough, but not upsetting anyone. Hinting at what we mean and then getting angry (usually with ourselves) when we’re not intuitively understood. And worst of all, saying what others want to hear or doing what others want, even and especially at our own expense.
When I look back at my many experiences and stories of such, what frustrates me most is how many times I felt like I had no choice; that I had to bite my tongue or censure my thoughts or tamp down my desires. I could not see a way to honor myself without someone else paying a price (or so I thought). And all of this without any recognition of the tremendous price I was paying over and over again.
It’s a false dichotomy – and an untenable one: either keeping others comfortable or honoring our very self.
We should never have to deliberate between compromising ourself, no matter how slightly, or paying a price for holding fast to what we know, believe, and feel.And yet we do – over and over and over again.
Ready for the good news in all of this?
When we inventory and acknowledge the times in which we’ve compromised, not spoken up, not told or lived our truth, not chosen ourself, these become the impetus to do nothing of the sort ever again! Our hardest experiences – past and present – are what enable us to change course; to reimagine and rewrite our story, then live into the one we desire and deserve. Our awareness is what enables choice – and change.
Do the risks, costs, or fears go away? Absolutely not. In some ways, they probably increase. But so does our strength and certainty and courage and sovereignty.
Yes, in retrospect, I might wish that I’d chosen myself sooner, that I’d trusted my voice earlier, that I’d nipped any form of compromise in the bud and in the moment. But I’m profoundly grateful for the gift of perspective – to witness my own growth and transformation; to feel the surge of strength, even joy, that comes when I do choose myself; to extend myself grace when that has not been the case – and may yet be again.
So, my invitation to you?
List out the stories you wish were not yours – the ones in which you compromised or stayed silent or said what others wanted to hear or sold yourself short or, or, or… Let yourself feel all the feels associated with each. And then stand back and look at you now – who you have become, what you have accomplished, how you have grown, what you now know and understand and believe about yourself that once felt like mist and shadow. That’s a story worth telling and living. That’s your story – complex and dramatic and challenging and amazing. And the awareness and appreciation of that story? That’s the reimagining and retelling and redeeming of stories that I’m talking about all the time. It changes everything.
A tiny PS: One of the reasons I keep telling the story of Eve – and countless others – is because the common telling perpetuates the (wildly untrue) message that when women choose themselves, disaster befalls. It’s no wonder we compromise and comply and keep our truest desires to ourselves!This is why her story (and countless others ) must be reimagined and retold and redeemed. Ours, as well. And when they are? Yep: it changes everything. Mmmm. Let’s do that, yes?
I am neck-deep in manuscript-writing these days. This book, my book, this thing I’ve been nurturing and holding and holding back for years (and years and years) is now making its way into the world. Much like labor, I can’t stop it now – nor do I want to.
The section I’m working on currently tells the story of a young woman whose life was violently, brutally ended.
I don’t like the story at all.
I wish it didn’t exist.
There’s no justification of it, no making sense of it.
And though I might wish to just ignore it – to dismiss it as one more piece of evidence against the text within which it’s found – that only perpetuates her harm. Which isn’t acceptable to me.
It is in telling women’s stories – even and maybe especially the most painful ones – that we invite the healing we desire and deserve.
When I calm myself down, at least for a bit, about the injustice and senselessness and violence, I can hear a different voice; I can hear hers. The one that was snuffed out. The one that was permanently silenced. The one we’ve rarely-if-ever bothered to listen to. The one that I imagine she’d speak on our behalf if only we could and would hear.
This is what I believe she’d say:
Fear is not your birthright.
Do not hold back – no matter the danger or risk.
Pursue what brings you life.
I am clear that these three statements are, indeed, the wisdom she longs for all of us to embody – in honor of her sacrifice, in honor of her story, in honor of her, and most of all, in honor of the life and story that is ours.
I am clear that were we to follow these three statements as gospel, it would be our own healing and that of our world that we would enable, invite, witness, and proclaim.
And I am clear that if I were I to imagine her saying even a bit more, it would sound a little something like this:
I’m right about this! Fear is not your birthright. But courage is. Write. Speak. Say. Do. Be. Say “yes.” Say “no.” Quit. Continue. Decide. Whisper. Roar. Love.
Risk is a given. To try and mitigate it, lessen it, create a balance sheet to show you exactly what might happen if you move this way or that is not the the least bit practical nor remotely close to your destiny. Do not hold back. Let risk and danger be the signs that you are moving in the right direction. And then read the paragraph above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright.
Learn from me. Let my life (and death) offer you invaluable perspective. Cherish every moment. Pursue all that is yours, all that awaits you, all that exists within and around you, all that you desire and deserve. And then read the two paragraphs above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright and you must NOT hold back, no matter the danger or risk!
Of course we wish that stories like hers did not exist, then or now. We must rage (rightly and justifiably) against violence. And in the midst of both, we must honor the voices that can no longer speak, the stories that are rarely if ever told.
We must use our own voices and live our own stories in ways that are courageous and risky and full of life.
And when we do? Well, Jepthah’s Daughter smiles and says “Thank you.” Oh, and this:
Read the three paragraphs above over again? And then maybe a few more times?
With her wisdom as rubric, encouragement, and hope, I labor on – knowing and trusting that the imagined words of even one ancient, sacred young woman might strengthen you in the labor that is yours, in the story that is yours, in all that is yours to birth and live and heal.
I’ve been thinking about the wisdom that has shaped much of my life. I’m grateful for some of it, to be sure. There’s been a lot more that I’ve had to intentionally dismantle and deconstruct.
I was raised in the church. Both consciously and subconsciously it inferred, offered, and proclaimed Wisdom – as an institution, within its sacred text, because of its God. And not just a wisdom, the wisdom. It was the only wisdom that I was to rely on, turn to, and build my life upon. I was dutiful. I was obedient. I was disciplined. And to be fair, it was this wisdom to which I turned, on which I relied, in which I took solace. The darker side was also true: when I didn’t turn to it, rely on it, or took solace anywhere else, I felt vast shame and guilt.
But it wasn’t just the church, religion, or God as wisdom source – it was men. (White) men were seen as the experts, the holders of authority, the ones I could and should trust. In completely transparency, for a very long time, I rarely-if-ever thought to consider anything else! They had the answers. And because that was so obvious, it was just as obvious that I did not have answers – or wisdom; that my thoughts could not be trusted, that I could not, should not trust myself.
Then there was academia. It would have never crossed my mind to question why all of the things I was learning were from (more) white men. Yes, I had a few women teachers along the way, but they were instructing me from textbooks written by white men. Even in college, as a Business and Communications major, everything I learned was from a man’s perspective, man-as-wisdom. I didn’t question a bit of it. I appreciated what I was learning. I took it in as gospel.
By the time I got to my Masters Degree (with a nearly-20-year break in the middle) very little had changed. The professors and authors were still almost exclusively white men – in my studies of both theology and therapy (especially theology). But it was also during this time that things began to shift. I took a class called Feminist Critique (taught by a visiting professor who was a woman and only assigned texts written by women) that opened me up to a wisdom that made me really, really angry. She systematically revealed the white/male lens everywhere, influencing everything. And that lens was not mine.
At about the same time, probably not at all coincidentally, I began to experiment with the interpretation of women’s ancient, sacred stories through a non-male lens, through a woman’s lens, through a feminist lens, through my lens in order to pull forth something different, anything different. And it was this effort that became a practice that became my everything that enabled me to find, hear, and actually trust my own wisdom. For the first time.
A few weeks back, I woke up in the middle of the night and typed a text to myself – just so I wouldn’t forget the thought that was keeping me from sleep:
We need sources of wisdom that are distinctly feminine. Only they can mirror our experience in ways that allow the wisdom to actually land, to be relevant, to support and strengthen us.
I was pretty happy to see that text waiting for me the next morning.
I’m not opposed to the wisdom of men (well, maybe a little). What I want, though, is the wisdom of women – not in opposition, but as obvious choice.
Without such, it’s no wonder we walk through our lives doubting ourselves, not trusting our intuition, flailing in relationships, putting others ahead of ourselves, tamping down our desires, and wallowing in (often) self-inflicted shame. Everything we learn is not who WE are. Everything we compare ourselves to is not who WE are. This is the patriarchy, of course; the water we swim in, the air we breath, its insipid presence in everything we do, think, and feel.
If we had feminine sources of wisdom – and saw them as reliable, trustworthy, honorable, valuable – we would have a template through which to understand ourselves that syncs with who we most closely are, who we most closely resemble, how we most often act, think, and feel.
Imagine it for a moment.
If I had grown up in a goddess-worshipping coven, it would have been normal for me to trust my body, to eschew anything that smacked of self-contempt, to always look within for answers, comfort, and strength. Even if I don’t take it to that lovely extreme, let’s say I grew up in a Christian home, attending church, going to Bible studies, but everything was focused on women. At church I would have heard stories that were not about a woman’s sin or shame; rather, their magnificence and strength and power. I would have never heard a single message – spoken, assumed, written, or preached – that told me I should be more submissive or more humble or more obedient; rather, I would have been extolled and encouraged to trust my voice, my heart, and yes, my wisdom. I would have grown up reading books written by women, novels about women (written by women), and even if my teachers and professors had remained mostly white men, that input would have been consistently “countered” by the reminder that at the end of the day, what I thought mattered. When I watched TV or read Seventeen magazine, I would not have been inundated by women’s objectification; instead, I would have known and understood that women’s bodies are our own, that they matter, that they are beautiful and perfect – in every way, shape, and form. And I would have been very clear that attracting me was the end-all, be-all – not attracting a boy, a man, or a prince. Can you even imagine?
We need sources of wisdom that are distinctly feminine. Only they can mirror our experience in ways that allow the wisdom to actually land, to be relevant, to support and strengthen us.
This wisdom allows us to see ourselves in the mirror, to listen to the voice within that not only makes sense, but is 100% true and right. This wisdom teaches us to trust ourselves – which leads to agency and power – which leads to doing the unexpected thing, to rising up, to speaking out, to resisting anyone who tells us anything different – which leads to a disallowing of violence because of race or sexuality or difference of any kind, sickening entitlement because of gender or power, and ignorance based not in wisdom, but foolishness!
So find that wisdom. Be that wisdom. Be that wise. It’s all within you. It always has been – for generations and generations, from the beginning of time. And it’s all yours to offer us. Imagine the world you’ll change, create, and birth along the way.
Last month I was in a bookstore in Lexington, KY with both of my daughters. We wandered in three different directions, as we often do – drawn to different things, different genres, our own stories speaking through what we collected as we walked through the aisles.
One of the girls called out to me, motioning me over to the rounder filled with magnets. And this, now impossible to ignore on my fridge, offers me exactly the reminder and the wisdom I need, multiple times each day.
Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.
But oh, how we wish for different conditions…
before we have that hard conversation.
before we make that needed decision.
before we hit “publish” on that blog post or sales page or amazingly updated bio.
before we say “yes.”
before we say “no.”
before we speak our mind.
before we tell our truth.
before we step forward.
before we let ourselves be truly seen.
before we trust our wisdom.
before we act on our wisdom.
before we launch.
before we let go.
before we write that text, that email, that post, that book.
before we take care of ourselves.
before we do pretty much any number of the things we know are ours to do…
All of this is understandable.
We believe that if the conditions were different, then all of these things would be far easier and way less risky.
But here’s what I wonder – for myself and for you:
If the conditions were different (far easier, less risky) would the benefit, the impact, the “result” of doing any/all of these things be as profound and powerful?
It seems to me, at least with hindsight, that what seemed most impossible at the time was, in fact, what made the biggest difference, invited the most change, transformed me. Had I waited until the conditions were more favorable, it might have passed me over entirely – the experience, the moment, the leap into the unknown, the bold and beautiful (and difficult and risky) choice.
Doris Lessing is right, of course: now is the time for us to do what we are meant to do. Not once things are better, easier, calmer, figured-out, mitigated, or resolved. Now.
Heavy sigh. Deep breaths. (Both are reasonable here.)
As I look at this magnet, again and again, I see my resistance and, most of all, my fear. I can call it “conditions,” but at the end of the day, fear is what I’m faced with – and what I’m invited to name, acknowledge, and heal by choosing sovereignty instead.
It’s me (and you) showing up in exactly these conditions, whether impossible or not, and…
having that hard conversation.
making that needed decision.
hitting “publish” on that blog post or sales page or amazingly updated bio.
speaking your mind.
telling your truth.
letting yourself be truly seen.
trusting your wisdom.
acting on your wisdom.
writing that text, that email, that post, that book.
taking care of yourself.
(insert any and everything else that you know belongs on this list)
doing all the things you know are yours to do…not someday, but now.
This is why I have created SOVEREIGNTY. Because I know the “someday” and the waiting on perfect conditions is exhausting and endless…
SOVEREIGNTY is a 9-week program that acknowledges the conditions (and your conditioning). It invites you to walk straight into the truth of your life with courage and grace. And it provides the advocacy and generosity and support you desire and deserve – so that you cando what you are meant to do. Not someday. Not when the conditions are right. Right now.
And since you can’t walk past my fridge multiple times a day, let me repeat this one more time on your behalf:
Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.
The conditions aren’t the issue. Not really. You, being you – glorious and wise and brave and yes, sovereign – in the midst of them is what matters and makes all the difference.
Each morning, lately, I have been reading from a book with 365 reflections. Some I resonate with; others, not so much. And some surprise me. Like today’s…
The author began by telling a story of having once interviewed the runner up of The Bachelor (the last one standing besides the one who gets the proposal). She asked how much of what we saw on the show was real, and how much just reality TV. Not surprisingly, the woman confirmed what all of us already knew (right?!?): she was not seen for who she was – not really. Every clip of her being anything other than how the producers wanted her dipicted (partying, disruptive, etc.) had been left on the cutting room floor.
We would be wise to name the “producers” in our world – those who are intentionally shaping the narrative, the story, the plot they want us to believe and buy – whether media, religion, politics, our family of origin, even those closest to us. We need to ask ourselves what’s being intentionally left on the cutting room floor so that we comply, stay in line, and don’t make waves.
We would be wise to ask ourselves how many women, how many stories, how much wisdom has not been ours throughout time. And we need to pay attention to how that has impacted us – dramatically and definitively. Because we’ve not seen those reels – the raw vs. edited footage of Eve, Mary Magdalene, Tamar, Hagar, and so many more, it’s not surprising that we often feel isolated and alone (part of the producer’s plan, no doubt). We have not been given access to the legion of women who long to speak, have much to say, and stand alongside us even still.
We would be wise to wonder about how we produce and edit our own stories. On the cutting room floor lie reels and reels of what we don’t want others (and sometimes, even ourselves) to see, what doesn’t “fit” with the story we’re telling, what feels better left unsaid, hidden, even thrown away.
For every scene, every conversation, every part of us that’s been discarded – whether by choice or under duress – the woman others do see is not complete, not whole, not all of who we are. And that is both excruciating and untenable.
We would be wise to consider:
what we intentionally cut out of our own story so that we better meet the “reality TV” ideal, the IG influencer ideal, our culture’s ideal, even the ideal of our boss, our peers, our significant other…
how feeling the pressure of other “producers” or “editors” in our life has translated into compromising the story we want to tell, the life we deserve and desire to live.
how the reels and reels on the cutting room floor might, in truth, be exactly what and who deserves to be seen and heard.
what we are most afraid of if fully seen, fully ourselves, unedited, unrestrained, untamed.
…what the world needs right now in order to evolve is to watch one woman at a time live her truest, most beautiful life without asking for permission or offering explanation. ~ Glennon Doyle, Untamed
That woman leaves nothing on the cutting room floor.
We must learn to be big in a way we’ve never been big – we must claim our right to take up space, to say our words, to claim our desires. We must also learn to be small in a way we’ve never been small – to be in service, led not by our egos or by our desire for material goods or by our fears and aversions, but by our desire to be liberated from these things. And we must do both at the same time. ~ Holly Whitaker, from Quit Like a Woman
In my last post I named the ways in which we have transmuted being small into our very DNA. This is not the kind of small that Holly Whitaker is talking about. Not even close. It plagues us, sits with us, stays with us, and is the very thing that prevents us from being big. It’s complicated.
Whitaker also wisely says this:
Perhaps before we can learn to be both big and small at the same time, we first have to learn to be big…I’ve had to learn to get big, in order to practice being small.
What’s that how-to? How do we learn to get big so that we can practice being small? Well, using her quote above, it consists of three things:
We must claim our right to take up space. We must say our words. We must claim our desires.
Done and done, yes?
No surprise: I immediately go to Eve when I see this list. It’s why I talk about her – again and again and again. Her story has been told as the cautionary tale to prevent all three of these things! Look what happens when you get (too) big! Banishment. Downfall. Disaster. And a lifetime of separation from all that is good and perfect. No pressure. But that’s ONLY because that’s how her story has been told! If we want to learn to be big, we must blow it up and start again. (I’d probably go so far as to say we need to do the same thing with our own story, but that may yet be another post…)
Eve says, “Take up space! It’s your right and destiny! You are created in the image of the divine, for goodness sakes; the pinnacle of all creation!! Walk through your world as the regal, sovereign, and amazing being that you are!”
Eve says, “Say your words! Those that are disruptive. Those that go against the grain. Those that call into question every structure of power, every rule that needs breaking, every line that needs crossing. Speak what is healing, what is authentic, what is deep, and what is true. Your voice ushers the divine right into our midst, and brings a woman’s clarity, strength, and yes, her desire, to the fore – where it belongs, where it is desperately needed, where you belong and where you are needed!”
Eve says, “Claim your desires! Listen to the voice within (remembering that the snake was always seen as a symbol of wisdom) and follow it – no matter what, no matter where. Take. Eat. Devour. Be nourished by. Wipe the juice from your chin – or don’t. And look at yourself in the mirror, through my eyes, as you deserve to be seen and experienced: fully sated, rightfully fed, awake to and alive in all your desire, all your beauty, all your strength!”
Eve also says, “I get it. The costs, the consequences, the fallout: all of these are real when you choose to be big.”
PERFECT! That apple cart you are afraid to upset, the Pandora’s Box you are hesitant to open, the s*** that will inevitably hit the fan – this is the very evidence you need to affirm and confirm that you are moving in the right direction, making the right choice(s), doing the right thing(s).
Too often we see the ledger of what “big” will cost and, from an ROI standpoint, determine it’s not worth it. I believe it’s just the opposite. That ledger is an Excel sheet of data that tells you to step forward, to show up, to follow Eve’s lead, and to be as big as you possibly can be.
I am not naive – nor are you. None of this is easy. Costs are, well, costs. Consequences are real. And fallout happens. But I would be remiss if I didn’t invite you to name how hard it is to not be big, what that costs you – day after day after day, what those consequences are.
A story: By the time I was in pretty deep to the retelling of these ancient, sacred stories of women, I was also in relationship pretty deep with a man I loved. Though there was much that was good and lovely between us, he did not like the way I told these stories. He found it to be disrespectful of the original text and intention and far too disruptive. No matter my efforts to talk through textual interpretation, the ongoing evolution of theology, even the patriarchal stronghold on religion, the argument continued. And my stance? I’m not happy to admit it, but ‘here goes:
I would not take up space – either in the conversation itself or on behalf of these women who deserved my advocacy and care.
I would use my words, yes, but in twisty and maneuver-y ways that maybe-just-maybe would be acceptable to him.
I would not claim my desires in out-loud or powerful ways because I was convinced that I desired him more than my own integrity.
Over and over again, every time the topic came up, I would ultimately downplay the significance of my own work, my own wisdom, the value of the women themselves and their stories, and my very self. I got smaller and smaller. And that ledger? Well, the list was long of what I would lose if I couldn’t/wouldn’t somehow fit myself into his image of who I should be – and should not be. And I didn’t want to lose those things. I didn’t want to lose him. They mattered to me: laughter, companionship, his relationship with my daughters, the time we spent together, the memories we’d made, the future we could share. I was willing to lose myself. And “small” seemed a small price to pay.
Until it wasn’t small anymore; until it became way too big a price to pay.
On the other side of the ledger, revealed over time, in both tiny glimpses and dramatic-but-excruciating exposure, was my compromise and compliance, the well-learned practice of holding my tongue, the ever-present awareness that I was not being honest, not being my (big) self, not living my external life in alignment with my inner one. And at the end of the day, when I took a good, long look at the spreadsheet, I couldn’t reconcile them. Painful to acknowledge (I can feel it even still – though years have passed) . Heart-breaking to walk away from. And ultimately a simple (though not easy) choice between being big or staying small.
I wish I could tell you that seeing these costs and consequences offered me an immediate spike in adrenalin, strength, and courage; that I was able to simply. walk. away. Nope. It was messy. It took far too long. Not a bit of it went as I might have wished. Here’s what I will tell you, though: every bit of it, even (and maybe especially) the messy parts, have helped me learn what to do next time – far faster and with much more capacity and confidence – in relationships, in my work, in leaving my most recent job, and in response to the insipid and endless cultural demand to conform.
We become big – not all at once, but because we practice….and fail.
We become big because we let a story like Eve’s remind us of who we actually are: here to take up space, to say our words, and to claim our desires. We become big because we choose, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and sometimes, necessarily, minute-by-minute, to be sovereign – to trust our wisdom, to use our strength, and to soak in the grace that is inherently, always ours to receive and to give. And good news: there is so much more bigness yet to be experienced and expressed within and through us; it’s limitless, expansive, and infinite.
We are here to be big, bigger, ginormous! No matter the cost, the consequences, the fallout. Maybe and especially because of them!
Back to Holly Whitaker’s point, once we’ve learned to be big, then we can learn to be small (in the best ways); we can learn to be both at the very same time. Because we are that amazing, that complex, that brilliant, that wise, that strong. All that and then some.
May it be so.
Again, I am not naive – nor are you. This is hard work and it lasts a lifetime. It deserves your attention and vast, extravagant support. And it’s what I’m building, even now, through SOVEREIGNTY – an online program. I’d love for you to know about it, to experience it, when it’s ready to be birthed into the world. SUBSCRIBE HERE.