V stands for veil, vulnerability, and valor


Because of you
I never strayed too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side
So I don’t get hurt  ~ Kelly Clarkson

Can you believe Kelly Clarkson was only 16 when she wrote the words to “Because of You”? The words in this song are so raw, so full of vulnerability.

Artists—musicians, poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, photographers, etc.— are naturally vulnerable. They slice open their veins just to let their emotions pour onto their art. They open their hearts and let people see what makes them ugly–and beautiful. Artists may hide themselves behind a thin veil of metaphors, symbols, or carefully designed wording, but they know the people who care to know will look behind the veil.

Kelly’s song resonates with me because as a kid I was terrified of everything, and as a result, I never learned how to open up to people, not even my family. People usually describe me as being “so nice.” And I try to be. But I don’t let people get too close. I’m too afraid.

I’ve always been afraid.

I came along after the birth of a stillborn child, so my parents were terrified something would happen to me too. They wouldn’t let anybody or anything get to me.  I didn’t date. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t have friends over to my house.

And all of this not doing turned into not trusting–others and myself.

My dad loved cars, and we talked cars quite a bit. But when it came time for me to drive, I feared I would make a mistake. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I drove on the interstate. It wasn’t until I was an OLD adult that I drove in downtown Nashville.

Growing up, I lived in a anxiety-ridden world of what-ifs. My parents possessed multiple police scanners and knew every code for every potential disaster. Even when I married and had children of my own, my parents called every time they heard a 10-46 (code for an automobile accident with injuries). They had to make sure I wasn’t driving.

Spending so much time alone as only child, I became very sensitive to reading my parent’s body language and subtle facial features, so what I came to fear most, even more so than their wrath, was their fear. Thus, I avoided doing anything that could cause them fear. Their fear made me even more afraid.

When my first child was born, I didn’t tell my parents I was going to the hospital. I’m glad I didn’t. The birth of my first child was the most traumatic moment in my life because we both almost died. I don’t think I could have persevered through their second-hand fear. I had enough of my own.

When I was little kid, I didn’t want to go on Sunday drives to a little community in my county called Hoodoo because it seemed so far away–actually it was probably fewer than 30 miles from where we lived. I was afraid we would become lost and I wouldn’t make it back to school on time. I went all twelve years of school without missing a day or being late.

As I grew older, I stopped showing my emotions. The last time I “acted out” as a kid I was playing softball. It was my turn at bat, and I struck out. I became frustrated and threw the bat down. My parents chewed me out up and down for “showing myself.”

From that day on, I vowed never to “show myself” to anyone again.

And so I became a writer. How ironic.

I started out writing about other people’s lives. I still felt the sting of rejection when editors didn’t like the way I worded something, but it wasn’t until I started writing a novel and blogging that my artistic flair began its battle within.

I can count on one hand (a hand missing a few fingers) the people who know me. Writing makes me reveal part of my soul. I still keep most of myself closed off to most people, even family. Opening up is like giving myself away.

I do give my students a part of me that my colleagues don’t see. I do reserve a part of me just for them because I can empathize with their fears.  I teach a journalism staff of six students. None of them have extensive experience writing news articles, so I know when they get their first articles back with red ink smeared all over them, they will feel as though I have personally attacked their souls. I wish I could help them get through the pain.

If there is one thing I fear the most, it’s being rejected by somebody I finally open up to. And that’s why I empathize with my students. I have asked them to be very brave and to show me their best work, knowing I will tear it apart and hand it back to them. How will they ever trust me again?

I decided to put together a pep talk to pick them up after I knock them down. I hope it helps. And if you are a beginning writer–or a human being who is as afraid as I am–I hope these tidbits help you too.

  • So you feel vulnerable right now. Just remember vulnerability is a GOOD thing. If you were cold and calloused, people would never trust you. A tender heart just means you’re real. People prefer real over phony any day.
  • Take time to meditate upon WHY you feel sensitive right now. The answer may unveil a truth about yourself or about someone else who is important to you.
  • People who struggle with vulnerability issues are more likely to be PATIENT with other people who are afraid. Patience is a quality other people appreciate.
  • Vulnerability, at first, makes a person feel weak. But when people rise up after being hurt, they usually come back much stronger.
  • If you are vulnerable and scared, don’t show it. Fake confidence. No one else needs to know. The more you fake being strong, the easier it will be for you to make it through tough situtions.
  • Vulnerability is a GOOD thing because it prevents us from making the wrong move. When we become intimate with someone, we totally let down our guard and expose all vulnerabilities. Being reluctant to be vulnerable prevents us from being intimate with the wrong person.
  • Vulnerability is a GOOD thing for writers, especially, because it prevents us from saying the wrong thing. Once we lose the fear of rejection, we are more apt to print whatever comes to mind. It’s not always a good idea to print or say the first thing that comes to our minds.

Examine your own vulnerability both as a human being and as a writer. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ~ C. S. Lewis






Walk this way

Public domain photo

I’m not a world famous novelist or journalist. I’m just a simple person. I love God. I love people, especially those who feel unloved, and I want to be an encourager. I write from the heart. But the last three weeks have been so hard that I haven’t felt like writing anything at all, especially anything good or positive.

I shared my dilemma with my journalism students. We often talk about our personal writing struggles. They suggested I use my writing to work through my frustrations. I want to use my words to bless, not curse.

Then one of them suggested I write about Steven Tyler—a frequent topic in our random media discussions. He’s bad…in kind of a good sort of way.

Okay, I’ll confess. I like Steven Tyler. REALLY like. REALLY, REALLY like.

And so not to alarm my “normal” conservative family members and friends, please allow me to indulge in my infatuation from within an American Idol context. Yes, some of his Aerosmith lyrics are crudely suggestive. And yes, while I am adamant supporter of the First Amendment, I cringe when I think about how Aerosmith pushed for funding for federal funding of an explicit art exhibit in 1992. But let’s stick to this context—American Idol. Other than his occasional bleeps, Mr. Tyler is actually a pretty cool dude on the show.

There are two main reasons why Steven Tyler strikes a chord with me.

(Side note:  Despite what some of you might think, I won’t begin by talking about his hair—although I do like his long hair…and his feathers. It took me a while to believe he was actually wearing feathers, but that’s what they are, actual feathers in the form of hair extensions. Don’t believe me? Check out this salon that specializes in them.)

But I digress. Let’s get back to the point of this blog—two reasons why I like Steven Tyler on American Idol.


The twinkle in Steven’s eyes suggests he’s a mixture of mischief and spontaneity, which if you know anything about me at all you know this is my kind of person. Steven makes the show more interesting. (Some days it’s all I can do to appear the calm, subdued English teacher. But what fun would life be if I didn’t talk my past a security guard into Fenway Park during the off season or if I didn’t accidentally find myself staring at a shiny badge during the middle of drug sting while searching for boxes for a move to a new apartment–just a couple of stories from previous blogs, I think.)

Steven Tyler doesn’t care what other people think. He wears what he wants to wear, he unleashes a quirky sense of humor the audience may or may not get, and he encourages whomever he pleases. In other words, he doesn’t give into the peer pressure of downing contestants just because Randy thinks they’re pitchy. And despite the gibes of his band mates, he followed the decision to do something “normal” like appear on a mainstream TV show.


Despite his outrageous rock n’ roll persona, Steven Taylor exudes compassion. He stole my heart the moment he knelt down beside the wheelchair of Chris Medina’s finance,  kissing and hugging her while reminding her how special she is. I also like the fact that, unlike Simon Cowell, Steven applauds the gospel roots of the contestants rather than showing contempt for their faith. Of course, Steven did grow up singing in a Presbyterian church choir.  He gets it. He has even voiced that he “gets it.” I wonder why he wandered away.

So in the context of American Idol, Steven Tyler is no longer the self-centered rock star with the ego-induced attitude. He appears the kindest and most humble of them all. Of course, Steven Tyler is on stage. He shows us what we want to see. We’re all on stage, aren’t we? Only God knows what’s really inside—good or bad.

I’m a public servant, a teacher. I’m on stage every day. Even when I’m sick with a fever or coping with the death of a loved one, I do my best to give my best performance. I shell out hundreds of dollars each year to equip my classroom or to buy things for a child who needs the help. I come in early and stay late and give away my time to someone else’s children. And not once have I ever raised my voice or said any child was “bad.”

My audience isn’t always so kind. Some of them take the term public servant and interpret it as “whipping boy.” They hurl hateful words at us teachers without regard for what it does to us emotionally. We’re the ones punished—or bullied—when their young princes and princesses don’t “make the grade”—literally now days.

What has all of that got to do with Steven Tyler, you ask?

Not much, really.

But on those days when my heart is too heavy to pour out anything good, on those days when the bullies make me their whipping boy, on those days  when I need a miniature vacation—an escape, I can point my remote to American Idol. I can pretend the American dream really can come true, I can listen to great music, and I can see the twinkle in Steven Tyler’s eye. It’s contagious. Before I know it, I’ve got one in my own.

And when I am heart is so heavy with grief and disappointment, I can do something goofy by writing about ceiling ninjas, pirates, or Steven Tyler. Maybe I can make someone smile—or even myself. Life is mean. We have to fight back if we’re going to help others get out of it alive.

And by alive, I do mean make it to eternity. Fighting back means using words to bless, not curse. Fighting back means trying to find the good in people, even when all they have to show is the bad.

Fighting back means not giving into peer pressure, the kind kids go through when they choose to go on a church retreat instead of a party…or the kind adults go through when they refuse to gossip during prayer meetings when their friends bring up so-called “needs.”

Fighting back means letting go of the ego and, instead, offering compassion. Fighting back means standing up to the bullies out there.

Fighting back also means letting go of the fear of being who God has called you to be. I just hope I don’t develop a taste for locusts and wild honey. But I sure do like Steven Tyler’s hair.

Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me I’m wearing feathers in mine.

Can I get there from here?

This past week one of my sweet little newspaper babies came to me for advice. With graduation just a few months away, she was overwhelmed with the thought of stepping into the world on her own. Bless her heart. I understand what she’s feeling. I just can’t fix it.

When I graduated, I had no idea of what it was like to be on my own. I tried to do what everyone else wanted me to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know where to find it or how to get it. I guess you could say I was like a pinball in a machine, propelled into life, bumping from here to there until I found myself where I am now, slightly bruised but a whole lot bolder.

My little newspaper kiddo asked me, “What if I make the wrong decision? What if I do the wrong thing?”

I wanted to say, “Brace yourself. It’s going to happen.” But I didn’t want to make her cry.

The truth is life is full of uncertainty, but for those who believe, life is all about hope. Is it possible that every road we take leads us where we’re supposed to be, even if we get off on the wrong exit on the interstate of life?

Old timers say, “You can’t get there from here.”  I say, “Why not?”

Last summer when I wrote my first manuscript, I jumped in blindly, never considering how many mistakes I would make. It’s taken a while to fix them, but step by step I’ve made progress.

For months I’ve stayed up late, polishing my work, submitting it to my critique group, and revising. It’s amazing how I’ve managed to go to work each day on so little sleep. But the journey’s been worth the effort. I’ve learned so much. I’m a better writer, a more confident writer.

A couple of days ago I submitted my entry to the 2011 ACFW Genesis Contest. There was a moment before I hit “send” when I wondered, “What if I pour everything into my story and the judges hate it?”  

It’s scary, being vulnerable, putting your heart on the line.

I wish I could tell my newspaper student that every step she takes will take her exactly where she wants to go—or that she’ll know without a doubt what she should do. But I’d be lying if I did.

Our troubles may be difficult and even painful, but every bump in the road can be to our benefit—if we put our trust in God. He said so (Romans 8:28). So even if we mess up, God can make it work for our own good. No matter what.

In other words, living life is like writing our own book. God’s critiques show us the revisions we need to make.

Just as young grads are afraid to take their first steps into the world, we older folks sometimes fear that we’ve traveled so far away from our dreams we’ll never get find them again. In other words, we wonder “can we get there from here?”

Sometimes what we want seems impossible because we can’t figure out a way to make it happen. But just because we can’t figure out a way for it to happen doesn’t mean that it won’t.

So, my frightened student (and anyone else who may sharing these fears), as you set forth into the great unknown, know that no matter what decisions you make (or have made), God can take all situations and make them turn out for your good. We have to work for an attitude that accepts that everything we go through makes us stronger, better.

The alternative attitude leads to a life dominated by fear and regret.

Choose wisely to avoid as many heartaches as possible, but ultimately, if you believe, you’ll get where you’re supposed to be—no matter what.