Shy to a Fault

All my life, I have been shy to a fault.

People don’t realize it; when I share it in workshops or in places where I speak, people literally laugh and say they don’t believe me. I am so animated when I speak or present, it’s hard for people to believe that when I am done, I crawl into a shell.

I have always done it.

While there is nothing wrong with being shy, I write this to ask any of you who are shy not to let it compromise your life and your possibilities, as I have.

I have not made friends with people as a rule. I have not fostered and cultivated professional relationships. I have not mingled with people of my profession much, getting to know them, and allowing them to know me.

For the years I was a pastor, I basically went to church, did my “church work,” and go home. Oh…I did raise my children, and did quite well at that, I am pleased to say. But I did not build relationships. I did not diversify the palette of my life.

My therapist ( yes, I see one regularly) said that I made my world too small. Isn’t that a wonderful description of what being shy does?

Where in the world does the shyness come from? Is saying I am shy another way of saying I am insecure, or not confident?

I can remember once I went somewhere to preach. I got there early, with a friend, and was led into a roomful of women I didn’t know. I looked around, and the woman was whisking my friend to another area of the building. I wanted to die! There were all these women whom I did not know. They were well-dressed and articulate …and it felt like their heads were blowing up into huge balloons right in front of me; it felt like the balloons were coming toward me! I could not run out. I told myself that …and so I made myself walk to the balloons and, in talking, was able to stick a pin in them so that the big heads shrunk down to normal. I found that I could talk with these women; I found out that I had much to say and that they listened, but I will never forget the terror of those few moments.

Since then, I have been practicing not being shy. Some people from my former church would see me in a crowd, “working the  room,” and would encourage me. That meant a lot. Someone knew I knew this particular weakness of mine, and saw that I was trying to meet it … and, in effect, beat it.

But the bottom line is that I have hurt my life and my career by being so shy. I told/taught my children not to be like me, and thank God, they have listened. I have gone to the best schools, but didn’t connect with people. They, too, have gone to the best schools and have connected with people, have good friends all over the country, and are nurturing the relationships they have made even as they make new connections.

I told you I raised my children well.

I write this because this morning I wept for a few moments as I dealt with seeing myself “face to face.” Sometimes, I like what I see. This morning, I did not.

But the little weeping spell is over. I decided to write because someone else, a young person with lots of gifts and talent, is hiding under a bushel somewhere.

Please come out. The world needs you.

A candid observation …

The Problem With America and Race

America, “methinks thou dost protest too loudly.”

The quote, from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” has been resonating with me all week.

As the Trayvon Martin case continues to be covered, with an emphasis on the possibility of his death being a hate crime, many people have protested – loudly and vehemently – that it is nothing of the sort.

Trayvon’s shooting may or may not have been racially motivated, but as I have thought about race in America this week, the thought has recurred to me that America doesn’t understand why race IS always an issue for us.

It is because, in the most simple terms, an issue of trust. Black people, African-Americans, do not trust white America. African-Americans do not trust the actions of white America or the intentions of white America. The relationship between the two races is one of suspicion based on evidence-based actions of white America which have worked to the detriment of African-Americans.

If we take it out of racial terms for a minute, and just look at the two races as two entities in relationship, we can see that the relationship has been “broken” from the beginning, in spite of absolutely glorious documents establishing America as a democracy. From the beginning, white America made it clear – and exercised its power to enforce its clarity – that they believed African-Americans were  inferior and unworthy of receiving rights guaranteed to all Americans by this country’s Constitution.

America’s blacks and whites are like a married couple in trouble, where one has continually abused the trust of the other and the other has developed coping behaviors to deal with the constant disrespect shown. In spite of efforts, some honest and some paltry, to fix the relationship, the dishonesty in behavior and intentions on the part of the “cheating spouse” has continued, and so the relationship between the two parties has continued to disintegrate.

As in many relationships where one has been unfaithful (in this case, white America being unfaithful to the ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the Constitution), the one who has done the cheating has the burden of doing whatever he or she can to regain the trust of the partner who has been cheated on. Counselors will tell cheating partners that if he or she wants the relationship, he or she will have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to mend the bonds of broken trust.

Many partners cannot handle the process of building or rebuilding trust. The partner who has been cheated on is OK for time, but the slightest deviation in word or action on the part of the cheating partner will bring back painful memories, the process of rebuilding has to begin all over again.

Only those relationships where the cheating partner is willing to take the crying, the complaining, the fear, the anger, and the resentment at having been disrespected until  a healing takes place, survive.

When it comes to white and black America, the relationship has never healed, and in fact, white America has too often continued to abuse the relationship between the two races by practicing discrimination and enacting policies that continue to belie a sincere desire to heal the relationship.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the “disillusionment of Negroes” in his book Why We Can’t Wait, written in the mid 1960s. African-Americans, he wrote, struggled and fought for desegregation of public schools, because the quality of education in white schools, as opposed to black schools, was so disparate. “Separate but equal” was an unreality, and all African-Americans wanted, he explained, was a level playing field in the area of education so that African-American children would have the same possibilities for latching onto the American dream as did white children.

Much of white America, however, resented the historic Brown vs. Education ruling by the United States Supreme Court, and at the time of the writing of Why We Can’t Wait, ten years after the decision, many schools had not been integrated because white educators and legislators were still finding loopholes in the laws requiring integration. Integration was supposed to happen “with all deliberate speed,” the High Court had ruled, but its words were ignored…and no court, no legislature, did anything about it.

King wrote that “the Supreme Court retreated from its own position by giving approval to the Pupil Placement Law…which permitted the states themselves to determine where school children might be placed by virtue of family background, special ability and other subjective criteria.” (italics mine)

Though there was verbal non-support of discrimination in housing and employment during the Kennedy administration, Dr. King wrote, the fact of the matter was that government, state and local, continued to allow discrimination under the mantra of “states’ rights.” King correctly observed that though the Emancipation Proclamation had been a signed at that time 100 years before the time in which he wrote, there had been little true freedom for African-Americans.

What is there to trust in this relationship between the American government and its African-American citizens?

The pattern of the government saying one thing, yet supporting and permitting just the opposite, then, eroded the capacity of African-Americans to trust this same government. Perhaps the heart of America and its general disdain toward African-Americans can be found in the fact that the federal government never passed an anti-lynching bill. In the area of justice shown toward African-Americans, the country’s record was dismal, and continues to be. Not only black, but brown and poor people have little chance of experiencing the full majesty of America’s justice system.

And yet, white America expects African-Americans to “be happy and content.” The breach of trust is never spoken of or acknowledged, and the patterns of discrimination continue, in spite of our Constitution.

Though people like GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum carry the belief that “black people are spending other people’s money,” the fact is that the majority of African-Americans have pushed through the system, the laws and the governments which have done all they can to keep them in  second-class citizen status. In spite of discrimination in hiring, housing, lending, education and justice, African-Americans have pushed through and made their own way in a country which has tried at every step to block that way.

But it is unfortunate, the relationship between blacks and whites. The trust is not there, and no attempt is being made to build or establish the trust. Those who have been “cheated on” in a relationship supposedly built on trust can recall, I am sure, their discomfort with their partner after “the breach.” The desire to continue on has been there, but has been made all the more difficult by this breach …and if the offending partner has not only not apologized but has continued to repeat the offending behavior, repair of that relationship is almost certainly not going to happen.

Perhaps if there were a national counseling initiative, a “truth and reconciliation” effort like that done in South Africa, the lack of trust might be addressed and workable solutions found…but as things stand, the relationship between blacks and whites is toxic and volatile. There is no way, as we have heard during the debacle called the Trayvon Martin case, that black people are going to “trust the system” and  be willing to “let the system work.”

Our experience has been that “the system” does not and has not intention of, working for us, not without behemoth effort and push back from a system that seems to be filled with people who resent African-Americans even being in this nation.  African-Americans have tasted the cup of injustice, over and over again, and its bitter taste remains in our spirits.

If there is no trust, there can be no relationship, not between two individuals, not between nations…and not between two races, these two races, called black and white.

A candid observation …

Girl Talk: Finding and Filling Our Empty Places

The Greatest Love of All
Image via Wikipedia

Whitney Houston has been dead a week, and I find myself wondering, still, if she was not like so many of us women: empty of the kind of love we crave.

Why is it that so many of us end up with people who are not good for us or to us? We are not with these people under duress: we choose and stay with people who do us emotional harm, who damage our already frail inner selves, and for what?

I guess men do it, too, but it seems like we women do it more. It seems that the worse we are treated, the harder we hold onto the person who is treating us so badly. We internalize blame for the reason we are being treated badly, and we decide that “if we can just” improve ourselves, do something better, that person whom we love so much will see the light …and there will be a “happily ever after” for us.

I am not saying that was the case with Whitney and Bobby Brown, but it just feels like, from the outside, that Whitney, for all her talent and beauty, had an emptiness inside of her that she was counting on Bobby Brown to fill.

Nobody can fill our empty spaces but ourselves.

It is ironic that Whitney sang the absolute notes off the pages when she performed “The Greatest Love of All,” but in the end, resorted to drugs to self medicate the inner pain she felt from that emptiness that too many people in general, but surely too many women feel.

Years ago, a woman came to my door in the middle of the night. She was bloodied all over her head; she was crying and shaking and said she needed help. I didn’t have to ask; I knew she had been beaten. I didn’t really know this woman, so I was afraid to let her in, but I finally offered to take her to the hospital. She didn’t want to go. She only wanted to talk. She wanted some water, and she wanted to talk, and talk she did, about this man of hers who “really was a nice guy.” As she talked, I couldn’t help but shudder at the sight of her injuries. I finally offered to call the police, but she said, “no. It’ll be OK. He just gets mad sometimes. I’m trying to be a better person…”

Though I had never been physically beaten, I had had my share of experiences with guys who were “really nice guys” but who were oppressive in their treatment of me. They didn’t have the problem; I did, because I took it. I was so interested in having a relationship that I accepted treatment that damaged my spirit. I, too, had been trying to be a “better” person.

I have to believe that we women will find ways to identify our empty places, and stare them down instead of running to or staying with people who will only exploit them. It baffles me that so many of us women are so love-starved that we latch onto people who mean us no good. I find myself wondering what it is we are being taught, even subliminally, as we are being raised. What is it that makes us doubt ourselves and be willing to compromise our very spirits for the sake of being in a relationship?

Certainly nobody wants to be lonely, but we should want to have quality lives while we are yet alive, and there is no quality of life when we are in relationships with people who exploit our personalities. We are looking for something and we are finding it, too often, in the wrong places and in the wrong people.

Kevin Costner said, in his remarks at Whitney Houston’s funeral, that she wondered if she was “good enough” as she auditioned for her part in “The Bodyguard.” She was “the voice,” for goodness’ sake! She was amazingly beautiful. She was smart…and still, she doubted if she was good enough. The “empty place” syndrome that plagues so many of us women plagued even her.

Kevin Costner said to Whitney, post-mortem, “Yes, Whitney, you were good enough.” Maybe that’s something we should say, as women, to ourselves, every day, no matter what we look like: no matter the color or length of our hair, the size of our hips, the number of mistakes we have made in our lives. Maybe we should say that we are “good enough” to ourselves, and in so doing, begin filling up our empty places so that we don’t depend on a human being to do what only we and God can do.

Just a painful…and candid…observation.

Girl Talk: “The Code”

Years ago, I made one of the worst mistakes of my life.  I had a good friend who had a boyfriend, and when they broke up, he and I got together.

We had had nothing going on when they were together, but after they broke up, he would come talk to me and pour his heart out, and I would listen. After a while, he and I started going out, and it ruined my friendship with my friend.

Duh. I didn’t know “the code.”

My mother died when I was quite young, and so there are discussions she and I never had. Had she lived, I am sure that she would have laid “the code” out for me… and I am sure that one of the first things she would have taught me is “thou shalt not date thy friend’s former boyfriend, husband, or love interest.”

I didn’t know.

Thing is, this guy – the one I lost a friend over – was not even CLOSE to being someone I would have picked on my own. I cannot understand what I was thinking – or not thinking. I suppose loneliness might have played a part, but I understand that loneliness is no excuse for breaking “the code.”

As a pastor, and a single pastor at that, I have learned to apply the “girl code” in my work. If I need to talk to a male member of my congregation, I am careful to make sure that when I call, I first talk to the wife or girlfriend, ask how she is doing, tell her why I need to talk to her husband, and then ask if I might speak to him.

It not only is polite and professional to do it that way, it honors “the code.”

Recently, a friend of mine became furious at another friend of mine, because, it seemed, “friend A” was interested in the same guy as was “friend B.” It seems that “friend A” had begun conversations with the guy first, and then “friend B” began talking to him, too. He, of course, talked with and flirted with both, but the aftermath of this little scenario was that now, “friend A” and “friend B” are not talking.


I know …someone will say that unless he has a ring on his finger, its open season, but doesn’t friendship mean something? To me, there is nothing quite as special as a good female friend; good girlfriends are true gifts. It seems to me that way too many of us women lose friends because we violate “the code.”

All this makes me think of pieces of wisdom my mother shared with me while she was alive. One was that if a guy grew up in a home where he saw his father beat his mother, he’ll probably beat you. Another was that you could tell the relationship a guy had with his mother by the way he treats you. And yet another was, “if he played around on your girlfriend, he will play around on you.”

I listened to her, and have to say, her words of wisdom have saved me many a time.

Had she lived long enough to have had the conversation with me about “the code,” I’m sure she would have put it in language I would never have forgotten, and would not have lost my friend over this…guy.  I don’t know where the guy is today, or what he’s doing. My former friend, I must say, is married, has children, and is doing wonderfully well professionally.

I don’t know if any of my female readers are in a situation where you are attracted to a guy that a friend of yours either wants to be in a relationship with or has had a relationship with, but stop before you move. Friends are rubies, precious gems, not easily replaced. Better that you sigh and set your sights elsewhere than to damage or kill a friendship that may never come again.

Thou shalt not destroy a friendship over a guy. A good friend is more than “just a friend.” She’s often a sister, the sister, perhaps, that you never had. A sister-friend tends to “be there” when a guy just cannot relate or understand. Sister-friends are the ones you can call at midnight and pour your heart out to, and they are just there. They tell you, in love, when you’re wrong, they support and celebrate you when you are right. They push for your success, and they carry your burdens when you are “there,” so you absolutely know you are not alone.

They are too precious to lose.

From experience…a candid observation.