Monday, August 22, 2016

Contempt and Coming Home

I prayed a prayer yesterday, for someone else. But God did not listen to the someone else part; He answered for me instead.

I had been struck by a person earlier that day, how quickly and almost causally contempt overtook them. They would just be sitting there, being their sweet self, and negativity would burst forth. It came so hot and so often, it was like tuning into someone's “umms” or chewing noises, once you've heard it you can't stop hearing it. Then I started paying attention to how this was making me feel, and I noticed I felt completely thrown off and worn down by it. The pleasant conversation would so abruptly switch, not to words against me necessarily, just to words against. And I got so tired of trying to keep myself positive, trying to fight off the meanness of it, that I just wanted to leave.

I don't think they mean to be this way, I thought. I know this person. This is a lovely person. But this is not lovely. This is the opposite. It occurred to me that they probably are not even hearing it anymore. That contempt had become a habit, like a bad smell in your own house when the only one not smelling it is you. God, I prayed, give them new ears to hear their own words, and their sweet spirit, that wants wholeness, will answer you.

In my experience, God always takes our prayers a little more seriously than we take them.

So, wouldn't you know, there I was yesterday talking. Being my sweet self on a lawn chair in a group of women I love on the most beautiful day. Pleasant, pleasant, affirming, and contributing. And suddenly, out of my mouth, lava. It struck without warning. It was one of those moments when you say something and the words just hang in the air in front of you, you can't escape them, you just have to sit there in a circle with your friends and look at them as they ring over and over in the new ears that you prayed for someone else but God gave you. He had not stopped at new ears either. My new eyes took in the moment, the faces of those women, and I saw how the words had struck, and how I had thrown them off balance.

I wanted to leave, immediately. I wanted to hide. I told myself to shut up, to be quiet and be kind. My shame did the opposite though. It just released more poison in me. And there it came, out again, words like acid, against against against. Contempt and me fought a battle and I lost. I left and I wished I wouldn't have ever brought my monster of a self there. I shouldn't have left my house. I shouldn't be allowed to have friends or say words (this is how I was feeling).

Contempt has a fortress built up in my heart. Seriously, a bunker. It is dug down deep and built up high and I have been trying to dismantle it for years. As I reflect this morning, I am reminded that shame and isolation and fear often seem like the tools to defeat it, but they just add to the layers of protection around it. Honesty, compassion, and repentance are the only things I can used to tear this down.

With honesty in my hands, I can admit that I keep contempt around, even though I hate it, because it makes me feel strong and it makes me feel legitimate. I use it to bully my way into a space in the world, into having a voice, into making allies by pointing out enemies. These are the lies I have bought again and again, that contempt works. Praise God, for new ears, new eyes: it doesn't work. It delivers the opposite of what it's selling. It discredits my voice with its violence, it steps into a space that isn't mine and so I can't fill the spot I was meant to fill, and it pushes away the people I was trying to be close to with its manipulation.

Compassion comes to replace shame when I remember that God knows all about my monster-self already. So do all my friends. The only one who doesn't notice the contempt smell in my house is me. My shame comes from thinking I was keeping this a secret, that I was fooling them all, and now I've been found out and everyone is going to leave. But come on, it was no secret, and yet I will gather with all those women again, many times. Of course I am lacking, just like the friend I loved and prayed for that started this whole thing, and no one is really that shocked about it. What freedom! I am loved anyway.

Repentance means to turn. Turn back, turn around, come home. That's what I am hearing this morning: the strong, kind voice of God. "Don't be afraid," He is saying, "you've wandered down that old path again, you got confused about who you are and what you need, just turn around and come back, Kylee."  And here it is, my own sweet spirit, who wants wholeness, answering.

We can trust these things. We can come home. We can choose the new thing. We can keep choosing it. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Women (Probably Works for Men Too) Showing Up

I haven't blogged in a couple years, but I just keep wanting to say this and it's too long for Twitter.

A few months ago, I went to a conference. At this conference there was a breakout session for women in leadership. I was hesitant. I didn't want to sit in a room with angry people if it was going to be an angry sort of thing. That this was my first thought about what women in leadership are like, as a woman in leadership, was troubling. So I went. It was beautiful from the moment it began until the moment it ended.

Each of us were encouraged to investigate what it meant for us to lead as ourselves, not as any other person. We were given time to examine our own stories and callings. We were told that leadership is a skill that can be practiced. In all of this, I found immense comfort, challenge, and freedom.

I am not a meek or mild person. I can assert myself all day long, to be honest. This isn't something I would say that I struggle with. I charge forward into most situations whether I'm feeling "charge-y" or not, and usually it's the not. In fact, the more scared and small I'm feeling, the "braver" and bigger I get. Knowing this about myself, I have spent the last several years trying to punch myself down. I have tried to quiet this over-assertive self by piling contempt on her: "don't be the angry person," "don't be the critical person," "be a team player," "don't ask too much," the list goes on.

That day, in that conference, as I was given time to reflect on my story and on my calling, I realized that I've always been a person that needed to say what she felt was true. There are stories from before I can remember about me, not even in school yet, calling out what I saw as inconsistencies and injustice around me. And I realized, this is something good that God placed in me. This is not something to be piling "angry woman" contempt on. And just as strongly, just as early in my story, I remembered that God had also placed in me a need to draw attention to the beauty I saw. My mother is like this. I remember walking down the dirt road by our house as child with her pointing out wildflowers and the way their colors spoke to each other.

So I wrote down something I had known all along, but had never written down: "I am called to see and speak about the beauty and the [baloney]  ...and I can PRACTICE THIS SKILL."

Those last words were accompanied by many exclamation points and underlining and stars.

Ever since, I have felt this challenge and this freedom, and I would offer it to you. The challenge is: what if you showed up to your life and relationships and work, without contempt for yourself or apology? What if you offered what you saw and believed and had to say with the increasing confidence and humility that comes from knowing it was God who gave you your eyes and heart and words, and it was God who gave you the person in front of you that you're speaking to?

The freedom I would offer is: this is a skill you are practicing. It is okay to not do it perfectly. If you have spent years pushing yourself down, of course you are not going to stand up perfectly in these first moments. Even if you come on too strong, sisters, AT LEAST YOU CAME.

We will learn, if we practice, and if we practice together.