Friday, July 3, 2015

How brave comes to be

I never once considered myself brave. Some people, I think, are born into it and others meet it face to face in a turning point moment, when the scales tip and they plunge headlong into courage. But me, I've baby-stepped my way into bravery. One foot and then the other, day after day after day, for months now.  Until in one day, one moment, with shaking hands I force my quivering voice to steady and speak, to shatter a terrible silence. 

I did that today, with a male customer who has spoken words and given looks and caught us in embraces that, for at least a year now, have made our skin crawl. And we have swallowed it, absorbed it, with indignation and that lingering self doubt we've been taught as women in our culture. Maybe we're over-exaggerating. Maybe he's just dense. Maybe he doesn't mean them the way they sound. Maybe he's just touchy feely.

Until, no. Not a second more could I bear to swallow this pill, bear the violation of self and others. And so I looked him in the eyes and spoke, watched him as the one squirming and flushing and walking away embarrassed. And I was glad that finally, yes, finally, I spoke up. 

I wanted to run whooping through the store, for now, the magnificent reality of who I have become settled upon me.

I am brave.

* * * * * 

It's been a hard won bravery.

And I can't tell you where it started, some while back. But that first time I stepped into my counselor's office and wound up crying in the bathroom stall afterward, knowing I was crossing a threshold and it was painful and scary, holy and good; yes, this, perhaps, was a first step.

And in the months to come, staring down the questions of faith that had haunted me a long time. The anxiety trailing me. Letting myself fall into the questions, sit with them and come unraveled. To allow myself to wonder if this tower of beliefs, like a game of Jenga, could withstand another piece pulled, or if it might all topple for good. This was the bravest thing I'd ever done.

Bravery came in slowly, like shards of light, as I learned to stare into the darkness and to parce through the guilt and fears. To find my own voice among them, and here, to know the difference. To find, in the unraveling, that here is the Divine Presence and I am held and we are good. Yes, this is bravery.

Here, all these steps, all these bricks laying a new foundation of courage in my soul. I have found my voice. I am finding my voice, still. 

I am finding it in facing where I've come from and altering where I go from here. And I'm finding it in the trenches of marriage, the vulnerability of keeping my heart open in the midst of deep pain and hard-to-see hope. I'm finding it in setting new boundaries and holding to them, pushing aside guilt even as it presses from my belly up to my chest, that old onslaught of self doubt and accusation that says to have a self is selfish. That to not meet people's needs, even at the expense of mine, is unloving.

I'm learning to open my mouth and speak from my heart words that are tough and clear and laced with grace. To risk rocking the boat, even to the point of losing friendships, losing respect, being misunderstood. I'm finding courage in no longer hiding who I am.

And here, I'm learning I'm not responsible for keeping other people comfortable. 

* * * * *

Months back, I was heading into a difficult weekend and had to coach myself, with deep breaths, into going through with it. I packed a pair of earrings I had painted, goofy looking birds on bottle caps, with a word on each one: Be Brave. I wore them, not only on my ears but on my heart all weekend long, and now, each time I need to coach myself to courage, I put them on. 

I wore them the weekend I headed across country with five women, four of them I'd never met, to attend a writer's retreat far outside my comfort zone.  I came home with a new little tribe of friends who continue to inspire me to greater bravery and love.

I wore them last week, when I posted my story of learning to love without strings and the journey of affirming same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  Because I knew there might be harsh words, or just as painful sometimes, silence. And I needed to remind myself of who I am regardless.

And when I contacted an author I admire, who lives in Seattle, and inquired about her being my writing coach - and she responded yes - and my mind hissed back at me, What the hell have you done now? You're not good enough for this! And I took some deep breaths, told my mind to take a flying leap and stepped forward to jump off the cliff anyhow, wherever I may land.

And when I called Animal Control to report neglect of a dog I found wandering last weekend and returned to his owners, who are neighbors, and worried if this was the right thing to do, even as I knew that it was.

And when I gave myself permission to step back from a friendship of many years and let my heart recover from the pain of multiple hard conversations and not being heard, even as I shook inside and cried at the tearing of it all, and prayed for grace to light the way through. 

You're brave, I whisper to myself these days. I'm proud of you.  

These are not words that have come easy, goodness no. But here they are now, settling in to stay, a beautiful echo in my soul.

So, too, may you hear this echo grow in your soul, in your own brave steps, whatever they may be.