roaring chickens: how I found my voice

One of my Mom’s many stories was about how she kicked the bucket…literally:

I had a job stacking pails coming off a paint line. One of my bosses came in and told me to stack them one way, and so I did. Well, then, my other boss came in and told me to stack them a different way. So I did. Then the first boss came back in and asked: “Why are you stacking ’em this way and not the way I told you to?” Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I kicked those pails all over the place and turned to them and said: “When you two get your shit together, come and get me. I’ll be in the break room.”

This story can be filed under the motto of my Mom’s life of strength and fire:

You picked the wrong damned chicken to mess with!

For most of my life, I’ve been the perfect chicken to mess with. Being the youngest in the family, I fell naturally into the role of making peace. I didn’t want tension or drama at any cost, and so in my naivety, I’d be the go-between, trying to make all parties feel better. In my past jobs, I rarely spoke up, letting people run over me rather than dealing with the ramifications of protest. For my first years as an educator, I struggled in the middle-ground of blatant wrongdoings against our students and staff while wanting to keep my job. I was a woman whose voice burned within me, but sadly, never manifested externally.

During many of my conversations with my Mom, I was haunted by her persistent call to courage:

Mary, you can’t just let people run all over you.

Her deathbed words to me (though not on her deathbed, but on the owl-light-lit porch, in the darkness of night) were:

Mary, be strong.

Her conviction and her challenge have been planted in my deepest parts since she died in September of 2013. Slowly, painfully, the seeds have cracked open under the dirt of my grief, broken through the shattered pieces of my heart, and have reached toward the warm sun of her legacy. There, they bloom, while the birds’ songs harmonize with my own resurrected voice.

In this expansive field of flowers, I see and hear my Mom within me. I have cut toxic people out of my life. I have learned to declare and honor my protective no’s and my worthy yes’s. I say what needs to be said, shooting through the heart of the elephant in the room. I ask hard questions instead of making easy assumptions. I openly admit my faults but do not minimize my strengths. I talk to people instead of about them. I am the microphone for the voiceless. I foster discomfort, assured of the future benefits. I feel good in my skin, knowing I am Created. I have found my voice; I have rightfully claimed my voice.

For much of 2014, Katy Perry’s “Roar” would come on the radio…and it felt like my Mom was singing to me, reminding me of her strength and fire. This was my song, my anthem, of a life spent hiding, then finding my voice; like mother, like daughter; the wrong damn chickens to mess with.

This post was inspired by Synchroblog’s January prompt. Follow these yellow-brick-links to other ponderings!


To the Class of 2014: On Fear

Class-of-2014Today I watch my seniors check-out. And as they sit with me, over and over I hear: “Ms…I’m scared.” And if I could say anything, I would say…

Well of course you’re scared. You are leaving all you’ve ever known. You are separating from a community of friends and teachers you have been with for the past six years. You are venturing out into the world that, though inaccurate, has repeatedly told you you’re not good enough. You are moving away from the family home in which you’ve been nestled. You are transitioning into the adult world of responsibility, dire consequences, bills, accountability.

I was afraid too. In fact, I bet any adult you talk to will admit to their graduation dread. I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the University of Illinois–a two and a half hour commute. And I cried the entire way… the entire. way. Because I was scared and nervous and insecure and sad. So I suppose, if I could, I would say to you that your fear is normal. You, along with every other single high-school student across America, is feeling fear in this moment.

And so, if I could, I’d like to give you some advice:

  • Embrace your fear. That you are afraid means you are doing something right. That you are afraid means you are risking. Embracing your fear means being kind to yourself, accepting that you are scared out of your wits. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious or frightened. Be soft to your heart and mind and all that they carry within them.
  • Use your fear. Don’t try to change your fear; the more you fight it, the more it will grow and become a monster in your life. Instead, make it work for you. The great people in history and literature, the great people of these stories that inspire us, are not people who denied or ignored or lied about their fear. They are people who used their fear, who took all its energy and harnessed it into something meaningful. Make your fear count. Make your fear matter. Make it your bitch. Yep, I just said that.
  • Think of your fear as a pen. With it, you can continue to write the story of your life. Maybe you are proud of your story, so you write the next chapter. Maybe you are ashamed of your story, so you write a new book. Maybe you are lonely in your story, so you write some new characters. Maybe you are lost in your story, so you write a setting that comforts you and clarifies your thoughts. No matter what you write, write. No matter how afraid you are, live. No matter how nervous you are, risk.
  • When I think about the fear present in this room, I think so much of it comes from this moment in your identity development. So with that in mind, I encourage you to be true to who you are, but also to realize and accept that who you are will change. And that is a beautiful, wonderful, glorious thing. To stay the same, to say static, is boring–and also causes stress. To change, to reflect, to see someone else you want to be like or someone perhaps you don’t want to be like, that is exciting; that is living. So look around, be yourself, but also change yourself. Grow. Develop. Expand. Shift. Because shift happens!
  • And lastly, this Scripture comes to mind: “there is no fear in love; perfect love drives out fear.” I think about moments the love of people in this room have overcome fears in my life. My neighbor Libbi helping me to work through my fears of being an ineffective teacher. How we came together slowly but surely sophomore year. Returning after my Mom’s death to a group hug in the hall and a bracelet that said “family” on my desk. It is love, ultimately, that allows us to embrace and use our fear. And so, if I could, I want to remind you, class of 2014, how much you are a part of my heart, how proud I am of you, and how much I love you. Congratulations…10267773_237007369829133_2181741124839691383_n

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