Ten years ago, body full with baby, ankles and feet belonging to some other swollen woman, I left a job I loved.
To care for a baby I loved, but did not know.
This newborn girl glowed wisdom, and she cried long, so her papa held her like a football, rocking back and forth, and her crying slowed.
I traded in affirmation and accolades and occasional measured results in the good work I did mentoring girls becoming young women. I left “professional” relationships with beautiful adolescents who smiled at me, who shared their troubles, who gave hugs and lingered when our eyes locked.
And I began life with a small and beautiful stranger. Each day, I tried to know her more, discovering layer after endless layer of the skin and mind that formed the stuff of her. I did not know what I was doing, and I felt the pain of not knowing.
I lived large chunks of days unseen — rocking, cooing, sitting on the floor with blocks, reading books, pointing to nouns, tying shoes, rubbing jelly from her chin.
I loved her with all of me, and she loved me, and yet some days I felt the pain of being unseen so deep I thought I could break.
How will I know if I am doing right? Do these everyday acts mean something? What does this little one see in me?
Who am I now that no one else is looking?
Over the last ten years of my life, through the journey of raising three glowing girls, unseen slowly has become sacred. Laying down my right to attention and acclaim, recognizing my limitations and my deep need for God — living in this blessed unseen — has become the best of good, hard joy.
The other night I left a family event at our girls’ school. I emerged from the loud gym where we’d danced the electric slide and the Irish jig, balanced peacock feathers on our hands, and walked into the quiet night air.
I drove to the home of my dear friend and writing partner, Angela.
In warm light and soft chairs, we talked about our journeys and these word lives. I told her of my prayers for growth as a writer, about a particular path I considered pursuing.
“Then why don’t you?” she asked.
“Because I am so scared of being rejected,” I said.
Feeling the words fall from my mouth surprised me. The aftertaste lingered sad and long ago.
These words were whispered thoughts during nights I wrote college essays and shored up my resume with every detail of a full and intentional life. These words were the wounds of misunderstood, feeling unwanted and forgotten.
“Let’s take a closer look at the monster in the corner,” Angela said.
“OK,” I said, taking breath.
“Maybe we’ll find it’s really more like…a Scandinavian straw horse,” she improvised, tilting her head in the direction of the docile animal in the dining room — made of bleached straw, about two feet tall, trimmed with red ribbon.
(An aside: Angela and I have since learned this is a Swedish yule goat, but no matter.)
I looked at the small creature while Angela continued, “The fear might be just like that horse. You sit on it, and it breaks.”
For so many years of life before children, fear of rejection and failure threatened to break me. I might have appeared confident in certain moments, pushing through, pursuing good things, a smile on my face.
But underneath, fear often loomed heavy, oppressive. I wondered if I failed to accomplish this goal, if I were not approved of in this way, what might that say about me?
Better keep trying and attain, so I don’t have to know.
Under my fear of rejection — whether in friendship, as a mother or writer — dwell many lies.
Like other fears, these lies masquerade as (enough) truth, worm their way into tender, dark places and grow.
When I turned 30, my husband gave me a card. On the cover is a black and white photograph of a young, curly-haired boy at an easel. He is turned toward the camera, and his lips are curled up at the corners, eyebrows slightly raised. In front of him a free mess of swirls and streaks cover canvas.
Below the image are these words by Vincent Van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Each time I sit down to this computer, at this desk under strings of my daughters’ artwork, each time I create pictures with words, I paint.
And each time I do it, the fear voice that tells me I cannot and should not create is silenced.
When do you hear the voice say, “you cannot paint?” When have you experienced that voice losing its power?
When I see what I do as me, and not who I am as me, I am susceptible to the fear of failure and the fear of rejection.
When I see rejection and its accompanying feelings of pain as the enemy instead of a teacher, I am susceptible to the fear.
When I believe that saying yes to showing up is saying yes to my picture of achievement, I am susceptible to the fear.
When I forget the beauty that comes from and through weakness, I am susceptible to the fear.
When I believe that being seen for what I’ve made is pride-filled and eliminates the good of the sacred unseen, I am susceptible to the fear.
When I believe I am loved because of what I do and not who I am, I am susceptible to the fear.
When I forget my safe place of shelter in God and believe I must craft my own covering, my own protection, I am susceptible to the fear.
Let me assure you…I will not allow a straw horse (or goat, for that matter) to crush me.
I cannot allow fear to reign and rule.
I’m going to look that beast in the eye.
Sit on it if necessary.
I know the end of the tale, friends. Fear does not win.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; You are precious and honored in my sight, because I love you.” Isaiah 43:1-3