Friends in High Places

I walked in the church, scanned the pews for a place to sit, and found tears in my eyes.

You know that story in the Bible where God opens the servant’s eyes to see the army of horses and flaming chariots surrounding him? His eyes were opened to see what had been all around him all the time—and suddenly he didn’t feel so alone anymore (2 Kings 6:14-17).

Well, God opened my eyes last weekend. For several months I’d been ruminating on how alone I felt. And it seems I never miss an opportunity to tell my readers that I’m 1,000 miles from home. Indeed, writing to my roots has revealed that I often feel displaced in my new home, and I feel even more that way when visiting my old home.

Being in a hiatus from work and school has also laid some things bare: I don’t know who I am without my work. Sometimes I don’t know how to relate to people outside of the most functional of activities: I can be a teacher, a sister-in-law, a communications secretary and music leader for church, a Bible study leader for friends.

But what about just a friend?

I can tell you right now, friendship—hanging out, relaxing, shooting the breeze—none of these have been my strengths.

Yet despite all the off-putting, prickly parts of me, God has drawn friends to me. And at the church that day, I saw them.

There was Tasha sitting in the back left pew of the church. Her friendship was a carryover from the small group Bible study my hubby and I had for a year and a half. We still get together often, for fun things like spa days, iced tea, and girl talk.

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Me and Tasha–on our cruise to Cozumel in December. The hubbies came, too.

Then, a few rows up, was Tammy, a new-ish fixture in our church, who responded to the call I made in October to start a choir. Now she has taken the reins, much relieving me, and also become a fun girlfriend.

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My friend Tammy directing a mean choir in December! They sounded great. I’m at the piano to the left (you can’t see me).

Across the aisle were Ashley and Christina, two young moms whom I’d only recently come to know from our Tuesday night prayer group. They’d been in the congregation for many months before their lovely personalities were uncovered for me. Both sincere and searching for the Lord, they responded to the opportunity to pray with Amanda and me, who had recently been trained in prayer ministry.

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Me and Ashley at my house for a late night Easter egg hunt. It was for the kids…really!
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Christina with her two strapping boys–also at my house for that late night Easter egg hunt.

And behind them was Amanda. I had known Amanda the longest of any of these ladies, yet until our prayer training, I’d hardly known her all–had not seen the beauty of her personality beneath her quiet exterior. Now we are prayer partners and buddies in ministry.

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That’s Amanda chuckling on the left–we had a great time at our 2012 New Year’s party. The life-sized Barbie was my husband’s surprise in our informal gift exchange.

How did it come to be that I was so blessed with all these friends?

Last summer when Amanda and I joined the prayer ministry Straight 2 the Heart to lay our hearts bare before God and our small group—I saw that we had a lot in common. A lot of hurt, a lot of self-protections, and a lot of desire to serve the Lord if we could only know how to channel our pain into something positive.

Looking back, I think it must have been the laying bare of my heart before God and a trusted small group that allowed me to be more authentic with these others that have decided they like my company. Sure, I’m still detail-oriented and serious when I talk church business. But over the past year, I’ve had more frank and open conversations with ladies in my church than I’ve had in eight years combined.

Sharing my heart in a prayerful, supportive environment has bound me together with Amanda, and now Ashley and Christina, in a way that mere biblical instruction can’t. And as a result, I have been able to relate more authentically to others like Tammy and Tasha, and even my music committee in meetings, where we have finally started talking openly and corporately about issues our church has had for a number of years.

Showing some vulnerability not only to my prayer partners but also to my acquaintances has opened the door for conversation that goes beyond surface level…and finally, friendship.

Since deciding to be more honest with others, it’s been a relief not to have to hide my feelings—to be able to speak up when something’s on my heart—to get it out in the open and deal with it sooner rather than later. And saying things that have gone unspoken before—such as on music committee—has actually gotten people thanking me for my honesty and openness.

Do people prefer pretenses, or plainness?

While being honest can open up some uncomfortable cans of worms, in my experience, that’s not any worse than tiptoeing through church—and through life—not knowing and not being known by anyone. Being honest is no worse than feeling alone—wondering if I’m the only one who ever suffers.

As I’ve learned, the sooner we share our stories with someone and listen to theirs in return, the sooner we are brought out of our self-centered misery. The sooner our eyes are opened to the fact that we are not alone.

I’m so thankful for my friends in high places, the old no less than the new (although this post just happened to be inspired by the new). Much love to all! Here’s to many more great memories!

 

I May Be Childless—At Least my House is Messy

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Please don’t think my house always looks this bad! This is just what it looks like when I reorganize my office.

Last weekend I again felt like a failure as a woman. How did this happen, you ask?

Scene: I’m standing in a pasture talking to two girlfriends. The first one is twenty-eight like me, and married, but unlike me, has a kid. Same with friend number two, only add a couple years and a couple kids.

Can you guess what we are talking about?

The pasture belongs to number-two. Number-one and I have come for a visit and are walking number-two’s property. Inevitably, the talk turns to houses and the jobs we work to afford them and the bodies we are housing with those jobs.

What are our livelihoods? How are we getting by day to day and affording these homes in which we live and raise our families?

Basic questions. They deal with basic necessities that we all have.

Yet when I find myself in these conversations, I see an un-level playing field.

Number-one has started cleaning houses to supplement income. Number-two has started selling Mary Kay. Number-one makes her own cleaning products from baking soda. Number-two plants and cans an impressive garden. Both plan to homeschool, and number-two is positively beaming just talking about what fun it will be to write lesson plans again (she was once a teacher).

Then there’s me. They don’t turn the conversation my way, but I take care of that in my head.

“So, what are you doing to supplement income? What financial struggles have you had? What sacrifices have you made for your family?”

“Uh, well, currently my life is pretty easy,” I’m embarrassed to say (in my head). “Financially easy, anyway. My hubby is making good money at the moment. And we don’t have kids. Yet.”

“Wow. That must be nice. So what do you do all day?”

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“Uh…” here I panic a little. My mind wants to go blank. What is it that I do again? It’s not gardening. It’s not concocting creative cleaning supplies, chasing rug rats, or drawing up lesson plans. When I did write lesson plans two years ago, I don’t remember relishing the act.

Truth is, I’m struggling just to keep my house clean at the moment. And I don’t even have kids, mind you.

Wow.

What a loser I must be.

Standing with these two very industrious ladies, I am suddenly struck with the weight of my failure as a woman.

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Yet another view of my office under construction. Note the headless bookshelf in the corner; my hubby made that for me, and I am waiting for him to finish it off before I put it back to use.

 Am I a Woman, or a Worm? (Perhaps a Writer…?)

A few days removed from my moments out to pasture, the Holy Spirit has helped me realize something I was missing while feeling so guilty for my perceived failings: There’s a good reason why I’m not out cleaning houses or selling Mary Kay or planning a garden or writing lesson plans, and it’s not because I’m a failure. It’s because that’s not who I am.

If you want to get financially pragmatic about it, sure—I’m also not doing those things because we don’t need the money (I might be if we did)—but there’s this point as well: We planned not to be put in that situation. All my waffling about motherhood aside, we also always wanted to be financially stable before we brought kids into the world.

As I prayed about my feelings of failure and my worthlessness as a woman, the Lord brought these words, like balm, to my soul: Don’t compare yourself to others. Just compare yourself to Jesus.

Sometimes when I pray I hear whole paragraphs and Bible verses rising out of the slime of my soul to comfort and guide me. Note that my slime wouldn’t do any good had I not already  planted God’s word in it (Psalm 119:10). Yet this message was annoyingly concise. So I thought about those words some more. How could I compare myself to Jesus in my struggle about womanly duties?

Then it came to me: Jesus had a mission and He followed it. He let others plant the gardens and tend the kids—let them do their missions. But as for Him, He wandered from place to place with “nowhere to lay his head.” He obviously had no house to clean.

Again, I was reminded, it’s not a gender issue.

Not to say I’m going to abandon cleaning altogether. Since I do have a place to lay my head, I will try to keep it reasonably clean. And if we have kids, I’m sure my mothering instincts will kick in. But the truth is, I’m just not by default a homemaker.

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Okay, I’ll admit it: I’d rather my table be full of literary rather than culinary masterpieces!

Like a blessed dew this memory came to me: As a girl, I hated gardening. When my mom tried to get us to help her, I tried anything I could to get out of it–unlike my girlfriends who have always enjoyed the activity.

I love and appreciate my girlfriends and their stellar skills at motherhood, gardening, cleaning, and other things I dislike doing. And I am thankful that they feel called to do them—for without women like these, I really think society would fall apart.

But as for me, well, I just didn’t come into the world wanting to work with my hands as much as dabbling in words and ideas.

So what is it that I do all day?

Well, until we really hit the jackpot and can afford a maid, regrettably, I clean when I have to. I cook a bit, too. But on the perfect days—on the days when Satan is not winning and I’m not worrying what the world thinks—I write.

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Just a few of my journals.

Hi there! If you liked this post, you might enjoy some of my other posts about women’s issues and family-related topics, such as:

Role Confusion and the Modern Woman

Celebrating 8 Years: Roots of a Love Story

A Career is Not Enough

The Question Every Young Couple Must Answer

On Teenage Suicide

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I was sitting in Mcdonald’s typing up one of my typically self-centered posts when the news hit: “Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student…[and that victim of gang rape a year and a half ago], was taken off life support on Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself.”

I tried to go through with my post, my selfish, solipsistic post about the insecurities of this past teenage girl (myself), but I just couldn’t. Not without acknowledging the tragedy.

Suddenly, my “Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face” couldn’t hold a candle to what I was imagining this poor girl had gone through: being gang-raped, then “blamed, shunned, and harassed by everyone,” to the point of death.

What were my puny pimples, compared to this?

And yet, once upon a teenage time, I, too, tried to commit suicide.

Though it seems almost vulgar to compare my story to hers, I’d like to…if only to throw into relief how little it takes for a girl to doubt her worth, to doubt her life, to consider ending it. And so, despite myself, I give you [a modified version of]…

Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face

No matter how much older and wiser I get, it seems I can’t quite move past certain childhood insecurities. These days especially, the fact that I’m a twenty-eight-year-old with recurring acne much disheartens me.

Thankfully, I don’t go through life with this “ugly complex” always on my mind—not like I used to. But as a teenager, I remember living with perpetual horror at the thought that I was un-pretty, and unworthy.

I remember it really starting at age fourteen. Somehow I got the idea that my stomach was just gross—incidentally, that was right around the time I had to start undressing in public. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that age-old trope about the locker room.

Kids historically have feigned all manner of sickness, inventing a bevy of excuses, to escape that locker room reckoning.

But I never wasted my excuses on a mere class period. I saved those for entire days when the insecurity, or the depression got too bad. Plus, I was in sports all school year, so I had to get used to it. I mean, I got used to dressing in the locker room with the other girls. But I never got used to how bad it made me feel about myself.

That year, as a fourteen-year-old eighth grader, I had my mom order a book for me, Karen Amen’s The Crunch. And every night I would close my bedroom door, don a sports bra sans shirt, and do those crunches—in hopes, I guess, of watching my stomach shrink before my very eyes. I even kept a log to track my progress. But I remember being very guarded about it.

No one but my mom knew that I had embarked on this program toward self-improvement. I didn’t let my dad or brother see me doing it, didn’t tell my friends. Only let my mom come into my room sometimes and see me in the sports bra, as I pointed in disgust at my stomach and lamented how freakish I was in comparison to other girls. I remember mom looking at me with sad eyes, just listening. Soon after, Mom left us. And I started taking antidepressants. (But I’m greatly compressing, of course.)

The thing is, adolescence is confusing enough without having to undress in front of others. Without having to contend with a parent’s abandonment. Or without having a boy shame you (much less four). All these things, which partly account for my first suicide attempt, are terrifying to a teen.

But having to go through what Rehtaeh did? Having my pain and my shame and my body and my insecurity swirled onto the World Wide Web for all to see? Unthinkable.

The Mirage of Hollywood

I can’t say for certain that the teenage years are worse for girls than for boys, but I feel I could make a strong case for the former. What do I know, though?

I do know there’s this extreme cultural pressure imposed on girls to be pretty, sexy, skinny. And while being all of this, girls are also supposed to be chaste—to be better sexually behaved than boys. And even though I’ve gained considerable perspective on all the media’s BS about what constitutes true beauty for a woman—and even though I don’t base my self-worth on my looks or my bra size like I used to—sometimes I still get taken in. Sometimes, when surrounded by bikini clad beauties whose clear skin and shapely bodies I will never rival, sometimes, for a little while, I feel like I hate my body, hate my face, hate  myself.

Even well past adolescence, I don’t need anyone else’s voice but my own to tell me I am unworthy, I am ugly, I am disgusting.

Rehtaeh, although a victim of gang rape, was called a whore by her classmates, by her friends, (by the media?).

Fortunately for me, because I have twelve years on Rehtaeh, and the benefit of no viral pictures or videos to condemn me, I can take a step back and re-see the whole picture. I can remember that this isn’t reality—this is a mirage of advertising and Hollywood and Satanic lies about what I have to do and how I have to look and how I have to be—to be worth anything. And as I make this reflective, redeeming remove, I can see clearly again.

But Rehtaeh never will.

A Devilish Game

Ladies, why are we continuously taken in?

Why do some girls get up at the crack of dawn to make themselves up? (One of my high school students proudly flaunted this fact.)

Why do others spend every spare moment in front of the mirror? (This describes many other students I had.)

Why do yet others become bulimic, depressed, and suicidal? (Yep, that was me.)

And why do innocent girls like Rehtaeh so easily become martyrs to rapists, to the media, to the devil?

We may not think we are playing the devil’s game, but all of us—whether we find ourselves fretting over pimples or starring in child porn—are.

It can’t be God’s will for women to worry and strive, to be attacked with lies, and to never feel pretty enough, never feel good enough.

It might be different if we felt it were a matter of choice not to go to all the trouble, not to spend an hour on the makeup, not to log our ridiculous repertoire of crunches, not to go along with any old man or boy, just because he’s offered—or if we just elected to do these things once in awhile. But I know ladies who won’t leave home without an hour’s prepping. I know women who can’t escape abusive relationships no matter what they say. And I know of a teen girl who will never, ever be able to get back her life—because the rumors, the bullying, the façade that life was over, was just too real.

Nearing the age of thirty, it’s funny to me that I’ve overcome, or am near overcoming, so many childhood demons—depression, fear of having children—but what still gets me on a regular basis is that little-girl insecurity about my looks, whether my adult acne; my below average bra size; my frizzy hair; or my thunder thighs.

After today’s news, these insecurities seemed almost too mundane to mention. But they’re not, of course, because they are outward fruits of the same hidden roots, lies, that so many women and teenage girls struggle with. And though it’s not the worst root some of us will contend with, I don’t want to leave it unchecked so that it continues to degrade us, to degrade me—and younger versions of me—forever. It has done destruction enough.

Rest in peace, Rehtaeh.

Playing the Stranger

I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin's wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I took at the wedding: background.
I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin’s wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I feel I took at the wedding: a faceless photographer–capable of participating only as outside observer.

I should have brought Kleenex. I always cry at weddings; I knew this. But I was not prepared for the emotions unleashed at my cousin’s wedding Saturday.

Not only the customary tears for a budding union, but I cried regretful tears for all that I had missed over the years. You see, I moved 1,000 miles away from all of this, and all of them, eight years ago.

Faces from my past swarming around me, coming at me in waves, breaking through some icy barrier I’d built. There were old classmates, old classmates’ parents, and even a former teacher. I wanted to cry just for seeing them. I did.

In the past, what had I imagined of such a reunion? In my teen years I was very conscious of at first having to hide things. Later on, when it would have been okay to share, I still mostly hid, out of habit. To the point that I disappeared from people’s lives.

Standing with two former friends at the wedding and hearing them banter like they were not just past, but present, friends, hit me in the gut.

“Yeah, next time on the fishing trip you’ll have to come with–and bring your brother, too.”

“Billy* couldn’t come to the wedding—we’ll have to see him next weekend.”

“So, there’s no alcohol at this wedding? You must have a flask stashed in your tux, huh?”

Soon I wasn’t even standing there. And I realized I had done it. I had erased myself from memory.

I excused myself for the bathroom. But then, selfishly, wondered if maybe, just maybe, they were talking about me.

Sad to say, I’m just beginning to realize how self-centered I’ve been all these years. Always thinking about my feelings—protecting myself.

The fewer people I’m close to, the fewer who can hurt me—was my unwritten, unspoken motto.

What have I done?

As I see faces from my past swimming at me, I now feel it was all a lie.

The face of an old teacher’s aide—from my first grade classroom, nonetheless—exclaiming, “Is this Lindsey?! She’s turned into such a beautiful young woman!” A mother of a classmate, gasping, exclaiming my name, and enfolding me in a hug.

My sixth grade teacher’s face lighting up as she asks, “Are you writing?” Yes. “Oh good; I always thought you should!” An ex-boyfriend’s mom even engaging in friendly talk as she never did while I dated her son.

My cousin’s, the groom’s, exclamation: “Lindsey, what an awesome surprise!” My old friends, C and T, who married each other, taking time to talk with me over an hour as if they had nothing better to do. “It’s so good to see you!” they say (and mean it, I think). It has been about eight years.

Another old friend looking in my eyes and, to my small talk, saying, “Being away from home must be the hardest part.” Understanding for the words I could not speak.

What have I done?

Desperately I snap pictures of my young cousins and their spouses and children, laughing and talking at neighboring reception tables. They too are familiar, comfortable, with one another. And like my classmates, they have passed through many of the same coming-of-age events as I, only together.

There’s something comforting about a shared heritage.

But I have refused to be comforted.

This visit has once again touched me where it hurts…still, thankfully, it has been different. Like the Minnesota snow I left behind last night, something in me is thawing.

As much as is possible from 1,000 miles away, in the future I’ll try to be less of a stranger.

Going Home

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My dad called last night to check on me. He’d been reading my posts from last week and wanted to make sure I was “okay.” Also to confirm travel plans for this week when I will go see him.

“So you’re feeling depressed? Are you feeling better?”

Since another family member has long been diagnosed as bipolar, I think Dad is extra sensitive to signs of mental illness. It’s understandable. And though I didn’t appreciate these inquiries when I was sixteen, today I think they’re sweet. He and my mom are the only ones who really ask about my mental health anymore, since I’ve been off medication for about eight years.

Thankfully I am able to answer, as I did last night, “I’m feeling much better, thank you. It was just a bit of the blues, and some female hormones getting the best of me.”

Thank God, I do feel better.

But that’s the thing these days. Even when something painful triggers bad feelings, I know they’re just passing feelings. None of that abysmal stuff of the past.

Like with visits home.

Used to be these visits triggered deep depths of anger and sadness.

Because of the divorce, I always miss half of my visit time with each parent and my little brother. The ‘rents live hours apart (and both are far from the airport), so though I buy a plane ticket for a week, I only get to see each for about half that time.

Needless to say, visits are complicated.

For years, when I was about to make a visit, I would typically spend the days leading up to it grumbling about the inconvenience. Anger bubbling up again at the awkwardness left over from divorce. Sadness that the awkwardness would never go away.

And, oh, I can get pretty low rubbing my nose in the past—and I have. Sometimes, in the past, returning from a visit was even worse, as I got to thinking about how a few days were not enough—and how long it would be until the next visit (usually six months to a year).

Maybe some of these thoughts were unconsciously playing in my head last week as I felt the illusion of the abyss, though I didn’t acknowledge them.

But over the weekend, something happened to remind me: my life is not that bad.

After church, I found myself talking to a new couple from Romania, the first real conversation I’d had with them since they’ve started visiting our church.

The woman is pregnant, and due this very week, in fact. Because I knew they were from far away—and I am sensitive to being far from home—I got to wondering: Does this lady have any friends or family nearby to help with the baby?

So I asked her.

After describing how miserable the pregnancy had been in the beginning—constant vomiting, dangerous weight loss, and inability to eat or sleep—she told me she’d lost both parents at a young age. Now she has only one or two family members left…and they are still in Romania. In the states, her husband is really all she has. Still new to this area, she doesn’t even have a church family yet.

“That must be hard,” I said, over the lump growing in my throat.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” she said, eyes bright, face brave. “We’re always seeing and hearing interesting things; we get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

She proceeded to tell me about the groups of people they’ve met at various churches they’ve attended over the years, moving from state to state for her husband’s job.

Through it all, she kept a smile on her face.

Does she really mean it? I wondered. If I were her, all alone and pregnant in a new state without so much as a church family to call my own, I think I’d be depressed. Perhaps she really is. But she carries on, as we all must.

Readers, I have to apologize. I want this blog to be positive and godly and uplifting. But sometimes I find myself hovering a little closer to melancholy than I want to.

Though it’s not an excuse, my parents tell me I was a melancholy child. My husband agrees that my personality still drifts that direction.

I want to show you how far I’ve come from depression and sadness, but sometimes, with a personality that tends toward the negative, it’s hard. And I’m not going to lie.

So I write about sad feelings hoping you realize I’m just being honest—to show that, though one’s life might, overall, be “re-set” from broken and despairing to hopeful and healing—that doesn’t mean all sadness leaves.

It just doesn’t stay like it used to.

But knowing, recognizing, and acknowledging when bad roots are stirred up allows me to take them to God once again. Allows me to open my heart, once again, and say:

“God, it hurts. And I don’t ask you to fix everything just today (because I know you will in the future). But for today, here’s my heart. Thank you that Jesus died for my broken heart. Thank you that His heart and Your heart were broken as He carried all my hurt and pain to death on the cross, as He suffered and died for me, and rose again in victory over the death and decay of our mortal bodies and wounded hearts, so I could claim my inheritance as Your daughter.”

Though I have to pray this way daily, He delivers daily. Fresh batches of grace every time I need them. And I’m sure I’ll need them again, soon.

This week I’ll get to my dad’s and have a jolly good time laughing and talking over Scrabble and coffee—and at Mom’s I’ll enjoy the home-cooked meals and those mother-daughter conversations I can’t have with anyone else. It’ll be a good time, and infinitely more fulfilling than past visits, when walking over the old family threshold used to bring tears.

I’ll probably battle some more resentment when I have to part from Dad on day three—then I’ll face it again as I wave goodbye to Mom and little bro at the airport on day seven.

But I will recover quickly, as I remember that it won’t be too long until I go home for good—my real home—where there will be no more tears, no more regret, no more long car rides, limited visitations, or broken families. This is the hope that heals—and brightens bad days.

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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:1-4, NLT)

Is My Writer Seeping Through?

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Since deciding to be a “real” writer, I’ve kept a low profile. Not wanting people to know I’ve embarked on a low-paying (sometimes no-paying) job, I’ve hidden my true profession behind a façade of graduate student and teacher.

I haven’t been a teacher since May 2011, but until last December, I really was a graduate student, putting the finishing touches on my one-hundred-page master’s thesis. Mostly I was done by October, but I still let my classmates offer condolences for “how hard” the writing must be.

It wasn’t hard, really, because my advisor let me write the way I wanted to write: creatively and personally (with a little academic jargon sprinkled in). I guess this “practical” approach worked because the topic was practical: best practices for teaching writing.

When a few of my fellow students heard about my personal [slash] creative [slash] academic project, they seemed intrigued.

“I’d never have thought of that,” some said.

As they scrambled to turn up sources on the databases, scouring search engines and library shelves, giving themselves ulcers looking for an original angle, I just sat back and wrote. I started from the inside—I knew what I wanted to say, and I didn’t much care about citing the scholarly conversation that had come before me, or that would come after.

I know this sounds sort of pompous, and it wouldn’t work in some of the disciplines where original voice is not prized. But thankfully, English departments operate on this truth: If a voice is engaging enough it doesn’t really matter what it’s saying—people will read it for the good writing.

And that’s the truth in the real world, isn’t it?

People who don’t care a lick about golf will watch Tiger Woods because he excels in his sport. Same for most Olympians and Olympic sports. Who watches bobsledding or curling on a regular basis?

But millions watch the Olympics because it’s fun to watch pros do what they do best.

Funny, then, that I feel I’m still hiding in the wings, waiting for permission to “come out” to do what I do best.

Well, not so funny, I guess. I have no doubt that the hiding is due to the overwhelming personal content of my writing. (It’s not really about the money.)

In order for me to write about the things I write about (mental illness, family dysfunction, deepest fears) and be respected, I feel I have to be either a mental health professional or a pastor, or some other authority who can talk on these things at a close, yet safe, distance. That, or I have to make the writing itself attractive. Because the topics just aren’t.

Still, I am convinced that these topics are worth discussion. Worth a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation, and many book series. I am convinced that all this painful self-reflection is what more people ought to be doing, but aren’t. But if it’s so worthwhile, why aren’t more people doing it?

Because: Like graduate students fumbling for research topics, we are afraid of ourselves, and we are afraid of what self-examination might reveal. So we look for other voices to latch onto. Let someone else be the guinea pig—or the “straw man,” to use an academic term. Then, if our life thesis fails, we can partially blame the voices on whom we’ve built our own.

Well, I’ll stand behind my own work. To the thesis examiner who said my work got uncomfortably personal at times, I would remind her that everyone else who read it said it was the most memorable thesis they’d ever seen. She was more comfortable in the theoretical realm, and that’s where she encouraged me to return. Toward the end of the defense, we had a more informal discussion about how we felt about publishing—how we felt about others reading our work—and this professor said she felt terrified thinking others would read her academic writing (not to mention any personal stuff).

Just like she couldn’t understand me being so personal in writing, I couldn’t understand her being so guarded (about dry academic prose). Perhaps she is worried that others will smell a rat—that of inauthenticity. And I guess if I were not being true to myself, I might worry about the same thing.

But after denying myself public expression for so long, I think having to live in hiding is far worse than living exposed. After spending time in a theoretically constipated English department, I think living vulnerable is better than living jealous of writers whose real-world topics you only dare poke with a critical stick.

Perhaps my guarded professor would even agree. At the end of the day, she passed my thesis unconditionally. Call my writing what she will, that day she called me a master.