The other day, I met a friend at a venue that charged a $5.00 cover fee to enter. As I was walking through the parking lot to the door, I realized I hadn’t applied lip gloss, so I hurriedly put it on in the dark without a mirror.
The guy taking the $5.00 fee at the door was a small hipster with dainty features. I made the somewhat perfunctory assumption that he might not be weirded out by the question I was about to ask.
“Hey, ummm… This is a weird question to ask a stranger, but since I don’t see a bathroom closeby, can you tell me if my lipgloss looks okay?”
The dainty hipster studied my face seriously. “You want the truth?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, suddenly feeling that this guy had figured out my secret that I have absolutely NO FREAKING CLUE HOW to apply makeup, and that he was going to break down all the makeup errors on my face and I would feel like I needed to go home and watch YouTube makeup tutorials.
“It’s not even. The lipgloss is not even. You have some under your lower lip and then some above the upper lip on the right side,” he said.
“Oh my God, thank you for telling me,” I said, and I began to go into great detail about how I was running late and was putting it on while jogging through the dark parking lot, and so that was why I looked like a clown, etc., until I noticed there was now a long line of people behind me who were not appreciating this in- depth conversation I was having with dainty hipster, so I just cut myself off, stepped to this side, and attempted to fix my lip gloss by looking at my reflection in my cell phone.
I felt a little joyful from this interaction with dainty hipster over lip gloss.
Only it wasn’t about lipgloss. It was about truth telling. Telling the truth results in an immediate human connection.
We have become accustomed to not telling the truth. We have forgotten that truth equals connection. And every time we ask for the truth and don’t receive it, we are digging a hole of bullsh**.
I have spent a lot of time thinking recently about what truth-telling and vulnerability look like. I’ve been reading writing on the subject by Brene Brown, Liz Gilbert, Glennon Doyle Melton, and Rob Bell. And they all say the same thing–that vulnerability comes from telling the truth and it is the pathway to courage and even creativity.
Telling the truth is a courageous act. And it’s the doorway to opening connection with others.
It is easy to go about our day and stuff away uncomfortable feelings and medicate with food, alcohol, people, or whatever our drug of choice may be.
When I had pain, I used to medicate with people. I craved connection. Instead of telling the truth about my feelings, I spent time with people who sucked my energy out of me. They took and didn’t give. Or, I took from them, and didn’t give. It was off balance–off kilter, and actually caused me to experience deeper pain.
I felt isolated because I wasn’t connecting with others in my truth. The truth was, I was not fine, yet wanted to pretend I was. And in order to pretend, I had to stuff the negative emotions, and in order to stuff them, I had to medicate.
But now when pain comes knocking, I take a different approach. I have learned to say, “Oh pain, I know you. Come on in. Have a seat.” And I am still. I turn off my phone. I read. I write. I pray. I sit with it. I listen to music that feels like truth. I allow myself to be in darkness, because I know that my dark matter is trying to tell me something truthful.
I know that character and integrity is built upon that dark matter.
Darkness can lead to an explosion into life and love if we allow ourselves to acknowledge it and speak its truth.
In the last month I’ve been struck by acts of courage and truth-telling among human beings undergoing painful experiences. I read the stories of Syrian refugees who have experienced trauma and displacement, and yet keep moving forward and striving for better lives, while telling their stories. I also saw a football team of young men in Missouri demonstrate integrity as they supported a student on a hunger fast to bring about necessary change and truth-telling about the pain of racism.
Courage doesn’t mean you are fearless. It means you keep moving and stand for truth, even when it feels scary.
Yesterday, I went to the INTESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages in Indiana) conference where I had the privilege of listening to courageous truth tellers advocate for the rights of English Language Learners. Two employees of the Indiana Department of Education recounted instances of where they chose to courageously confront schools and school corporations who were not using equitable practices with ELLs.
When an administrator told them the school system didn’t have money to meet the educational needs of ELLs, they asked how they had money to afford an expensive, new scoreboard for the high school football team. When a school system displayed data for different school subgroups, but left off the data for English Language Learners, they courageously asked why there was an omission.
When I hear all these stories, I get chills. Why? Because I connect with the truth. They remind me that I, too, must truthfully and courageously live my life. And my pain helps me to understand others’ pain, so that I can stand in solidarity with them.
And in the meantime, I’ll put on my lipgloss in the light.