A woman is like a teabag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.-Eleanor Roosevelt
One of my favorite mugs sits on my desk, warm, inviting, a tall spoon sticking out the top of it. It is filled with tea, a little bit of honey, lemon. It transports me back to my childhood. I can still picture that old farmhouse, nestled behind the peach orchard, dark wood, white lace curtains, always full of piano music and tea. I loved that house. I loved the people who lived in it. Mostly, I loved how I felt when I went there. Mrs. Nitzsche had the gift of hospitality and a great red lip. I can still hear the clank of the china, smell the lemon slices, hear the box fan humming in the summer months. I remember the evenings we would spend, mothers and daughters, sitting in her family room, teacups perched on our laps, listening to Elisabeth Elliot on cassette tape. I don’t remember if it was once a month or every few weeks. I remember those nights: the talking, the giggles, us girls trying to act proper and grown-up, failing miserably. I remember the feeling of being seen, taught, cared for.
One of my greatest fears in childhood was this idea of invisibility. I’m not sure where it derived from. I didn’t particularly feel unseen at home. I was the apple of my dad’s eye. My mom encouraged my writing and artistic side. They saw me. Still, I remember the feelings welling up inside of me. Fear of not being seen for who I was, being liked for who I was, wanting to make a difference, be bold, never feeling like I was. I remember those women in the church I grew up in who did see me. They knew me. They cared for me. It meant a great deal.
I think the greatest gift you can give anyone is the knowledge that you see them.
Perhaps my greatest fear as a child came from the place of what my highest calling in life was: to see you.
When writers talk about writer’s block, we all mostly agree it’s a made-up barrier. Writer’s block doesn’t actually exist. What does exists is the fear of writing what is truest for you. What is real is the fear of saying the bold thing. What if that’s what all fear is? Knowing in your gut the thing you fear the most is the exact thing you should do, say, be? What if I grew up surrounded by people who did see me, showed me how they did, and my fear welled up from the knowledge that my calling in life was to go and do the same. Not real fear that no one would see me, but that I wouldn’t see others and fail my truest self because, in the end, I failed to see myself.
I said in my previous post that the New Years’ Eve I told my then-husband I wanted a divorce was the best New Years’ Eve I had had in a long time. It was also the eye of the storm. For years I had fallen through the cracks emotionally in that relationship. I hadn’t felt seen in a very long time. That year, 2019, was the catalyst to push me over the edge. I had lived in fear for far too long. When you grow up in the church you are taught a lot of things and some of them can hurt more than help in the end. I was taught time and again that the “D” word should never be used in a marriage. I heard that God would never call you to a divorce more than once. I truly believed divorce was the worst thing that could happen to me and my kids. So I hid. I hid how hard it hurt, how much I wanted to leave, how unloved I felt. At least, I thought I hid it, it turns out I wasn’t as invisible as I thought, other people could see it. Fear of rejection from the church kept me married. When I finally felt seen, heard, and validated by people in the church that divorce was not going to end my life and my walk with God, I felt free to walk away.
Fear. Invisibility. Rejection. They lock you away. They have a grip on your heart that pulls you away from others, convincing you to hide, play it safe, make yourself small. They whisper in your ear that you don’t matter. They are the strong voices in the room. We call it a whisper. I called it a whisper. But for any of us who have lived with those voices, we know they don’t whisper. They shout across the room at you. You take your chair and move as far from them as you can. You know you need distance between them and you. Their toxicity runs deep, and you’ve never been a dumb kid. You see it as clearly as if it were green slim running down their mouth and hands and seeping onto the floor. You move away. You turn your back. You fold your arms, cross your legs, you try. Yet, they shout at you, berate you, badger you, they never leave you.
I know. I live with them, too.
There’s only one way I know of to move away from the voices. There’s only one way I know to unlock the door and move on. It isn’t easy. It’s counterintuitive for most of us, I believe. We have to turn the chair around, unfold our arms, face the voices, and name them for what they are. We have to face the voice of rejection, call it by its name, and tell it we are accepted. We are loved with everlasting, eternal love. We have to face invisibility and tell it we aren’t invisible. We are seen. We aren’t ghosts passing through the world unnoticed. We matter. We have a purpose. Sometimes, most of the time, the fear doesn’t leave easily. It digs its heels in and forces us to drag it along. That’s the trick, going forward even when you are scared shitless. Putting one foot in front of the other while fearing what could happen next. The longer you do it, the more you push, the lighter fear becomes until it finally falls from your shoulders.
I promise you, dear one, there will be days when the voices quiet, and you can rise to meet the day with bravery.