shame

Call Me Maybe: A Guest Post About Embarrassment, Failure, and Karaoke

I am so excited today to be featured over on Lindsey Smallwood’s fantastic blog, Songbird & a Nerd. Lindsey asked me to write about a time when I experienced something out of the ordinary – a time when novelty causes us to notice. I could almost have picked any day of my two years in Korea at random and found material for this, but I chose to write about a less-than-glorious moment and what it taught me about Failure, Shame, and letting Life shout the loudest.

“Perhaps the only thing Koreans love as much as kimchi and soju is singing karaoke, or norebang as it is called in Korean. Singing is such a deeply embedded part of Korean culture that it’s virtually unthinkable to be Korean and not sing (sort of like being Korean and not drinking, but that’s a different story for a different time). Much like golf in America, singing karaoke is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do as part of a business meeting or work event.  

When we’d first arrived at the restaurant I’d scouted the room for the telltale sign of the cart with the microphones, speaker, and video screen and had been comforted when I didn’t immediately see one. I should have known there was always one in reserve.”

Read the rest of this post here and be sure to check out other stories on Lindsey’s blog!

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Wholeheartedness: Practicing Self-Compassion When I Feel Like I’m Failing

Today I feel like I’m failing at life.

I’m not a very “together” person and honestly, I’ve never tried to pretend that I am. I don’t have a problem admitting that I mess things up sometimes. But lately it’s felt like all the time.

There are dozens of things I know I’m not very good at. I don’t like failing at those things, but in a way, my expectations of myself aren’t very high. I’m prepared to deal with these failures. It’s so much more discouraging to find you’ve failed at something you like to think you’re good at. And I’ve been failing like a boss.

You know how sometimes you pray for patience and then God gives you lots of trying circumstances as opportunities for you to practice? And (if you’re like me) you’re like, “Yeah, not cool, God. Not what I meant.” I feel like that’s what’s happened to me lately.

At the beginning of the year I said, “Ok, God, I want this year to be about learning wholeheartedness. I want to live with intention, to connect, to be compassionate, and to live a life that isn’t ruled by shame.” And I feel like God said, “Ok, well here’s some anxiety, and here’s some loneliness, and here’s a heaping spoonful of shame. Go ahead and practice wholeheartedness. Sucker.”

Yeah…Thanks, but no thanks.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what Brené Brown calls “shame resilience.” This is the ability to accept that you’ve made a mistake without letting it affect your sense of worthiness. It’s the ability to lean into those feelings of vulnerability and silence what Brown calls your “shame gremlins” by practicing self- compassion. This is how we can admit to our mistakes and learn from them without letting our mistakes define us.

I have been lonely lately. Not, “I have no one to hang out with” lonely. More like I don’t feel a strong sense of connectedness and belonging. This has made me self-focused and self-centered. I’ve spent more time feeling sorry for myself, thinking about what I wish I was getting from others instead of about what I could be giving. And this has led to some pretty epic fails on my part.

My shame gremlin sounds like a meaner version of Mushu from Mulan. (Hashtag Disney4Eva). “Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family. Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow…” except more like, “This is why you’re lonely. Because you don’t deserve love and belonging. Because you suck.”

Dishonor

Yesterday I let my shame gremlin overwhelm me. It was one of those days when I went to bed at 8:00 simply because I couldn’t bear being conscious any longer. I woke up this morning feeling about the same and frankly, I don’t feel much better now, but I’m going to try to practice shame resilience. And I’m going to start by extending grace.

The thing about grace is, it’s always there for me if I just let myself receive it. The only thing standing between me and grace is my shame. I inked this word, “GRACE,” onto my body because I wanted it to mark me, but I still have trouble letting it pierce my heart.

When you’re not very good at something, the only way to get better is by practicing. So I’m practicing. I’m practicing extending grace. I’m saying, “It’s OK that you really messed up, here. You are already forgiven. You don’t have to beat yourself up about it. You can grow and you can learn from it. This does not affect your value or your worth.”

I’m still feeling pretty crappy. But that gremlin sounds a little quieter now. He’s still talking, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen.

Earned Grace – or That Time I Asked My Mom for a Spanking

There’s a story my parents used to tell about me as a child. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember where we lived at the time so I had to have been between 7 and 9. The story goes like this – one day, out of the blue, I came to my mom and told her I thought I needed a spanking. She asked why I thought that. Had I done something wrong? (She didn’t know of anything I’d done).

I told her I kept “thinking bad thoughts” and that I thought if I had a spanking they would go away. She was (understandably) a little baffled. But in our family, we were spanked for disobedience or bad attitudes. If I felt something was wrong in my heart, maybe a spanking would help me correct it. She’d never had something like this happen before and, not knowing what else to do, she reluctantly gave me a little spanking. After a few halfhearted licks with the paddle, she asked, “Do you feel better now?” And I told her, “I think I need a few more.”

My parents used to share this story (with my permission) in the Growing Kids God’s Way classes they taught at our church and school when I was in jr. high and high school. I didn’t attend the classes so I’m not sure what the context was for sharing it, but I can safely bet it was part of some discussion on spanking and discipline. At the time we all thought it was a kind of funny story that illustrated how kids know when they are out of control and how they crave discipline to help them gain control again. Also, I sort of liked this story because it made me feel like the best kid ever. What kid asks to be punished for something nobody knows they did? A perfect kid, that’s who! (That’s what I like to believe anyway).

As an adult I have a very different reaction to this story. As a child, I certainly didn’t understand everything I was feeling or what my motivations were. And even as a teenager, I was either not mature enough, or not distanced enough from that event to recognize those feelings. But now, when I remember that story, I cringe. Because I don’t just remember the story or what happened. I remember what it felt like. Now I understand that this was an early manifestation of something I’ve struggled with all of my life – the inability to accept grace without suffering or punishment.

I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but this is what was happening in my mind and heart that day. For some reason, curse words had starting popping into my head. I was a child, so they weren’t really connected to particular situations – I wasn’t thinking them in moments of frustration or anger. I was simply thinking them. A stream of curse words running through my head while I was playing. I knew this was wrong and I felt guilty, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. I apologized to God over and over, but I couldn’t seem to stop doing it.

I didn’t get spanked often growing up. Apart from one year when I was 4 and decided to be a holy terror, I got spanked a few times a year on average. It was the standard discipline in our home for anything that fell under the category of rebellion and I have 3 siblings, so it wasn’t unusual for someone to get spanked, but I was pretty well behaved after that one bad year and didn’t act out very often. I didn’t know whether it was because the result was restored relationship with my parents or because it represented repentance in my heart or simply because of the catharsis of a good cry, but I knew that I felt better after a spanking.

So at this point, I was feeling horrible guilt and shame about all of these curse words in my head. I knew I was doing something wrong. And the only thing I could think of that might make me feel better was a spanking. See, I strongly correlated forgiveness with punishment. In my mind, forgiveness wasn’t just the thing that followed punishment. It was actually produced by punishment. In other words, I did not believe that I could have forgiveness or experience grace unless I had experienced punishment.

Punishment and consequences aren’t the same thing. Consequences are the natural and unchangeable result of a certain actions. Punishment is “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution.” Grace doesn’t remove consequences. It removes guilt and shame. It removes the need for punishment or penance.

What I was doing was trying to use punishment to remove guilt. This is dangerous thinking. This is the child’s version of the “mortification of the flesh” that has led some to self-flagellation. This is believing we have to earn love and forgiveness—either through good actions or through suffering. And that isn’t the story of Christianity.

I want to take a moment to say that I do not blame my parents for this in any way. I firmly believe that if they had understood what was going on inside of me they wouldn’t have spanked me – and they certainly wouldn’t have told the story later. But they were still new in their faith and learning to be parents and certainly there was no textbook answer to this situation. This post isn’t about spanking. I’m not here to debate whether parents should spank their children or not, so please don’t get side-tracked by the details. This is about grace and about my inability to accept it.

The feeling I had that day has come up many times since. I was 17 when I got my driver’s license. I was a nervous driver – always afraid of making a mistake – afraid to be in control of something as powerful as that engine wrapped in steel and glass. I didn’t trust myself with it. Ironically, I got into an accident that totaled my mom’s car the very first day I drove it by myself.

The thing that stood out most to me that day and in the weeks that followed was how NOT angry my parents were. I wanted them to yell at me, to tell me they were disappointed, to punish me in some way. Instead they were just happy that I was OK.  They knew I wasn’t being careless, I was just inexperienced and I had an accident. I didn’t need correction or discipline. I needed more confidence.

But I was plagued with guilt – the kind of guilt that makes you feel sick in the pit of your stomach. No one was making me feel bad or holding it over my head, but I was filled with an overwhelming sense of shame. I had screwed up and I had a hard accepting that I was completely forgiven and unconditionally loved.

Why is it so hard to accept grace? And why is it so much easier to extend grace to others than to ourselves?

Now that I’m an adult, I understand this part of myself. I see it in my marriage. When I really mess up, my husband forgives me and moves on like it never happened. And I catch myself thinking “I’ll make his favorite dinner and do all the chores this weekend and I won’t ask him to help with anything, and I’ll iron those shirts I keep forgetting about, and I’ll wear the sexy undies even though they are really uncomfortable, and I’ll give him a lot of compliments.” Of course, these can be great ways to show love to my husband. But not when I’m doing them as self-inflicted penance.

I can’t seem to wrap my mind around a grace that is unearned or forgiveness that comes punishment-free. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time trying. But I had a moment of epiphany recently. Maybe I can’t wrap my mind around it because I’m not supposed to.

Maybe I am not supposed to understand unearned grace because grace didn’t come free. Grace came at the price of Love’s only son, stretched out on a tree. Maybe I’m not supposed to embrace a forgiveness that comes without suffering because Love did suffer.

Maybe my problem isn’t that I think grace and forgiveness cost something. Maybe my problem is accepting who it cost. Maybe my problem is that I can’t wrap my mind around, “It is finished.”

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“Because the sinless savior died

My sinful soul was counted free

For God the just was satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.”

My sister sang this song at our wedding. I wish I had a recording of her singing it to share, but I really like this arrangement too.

What Makes You Vulnerable Makes You Beautiful: A Review of a Book That’s Changing My Life

daring greatly

A Review of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

I’ve spent the past few weeks telling everyone I know to read this book, so I thought I would put together some sort of official book review. Although I mention the books I’ve read or recommend in my monthly “What I’m Into” post, this is the first book review I’ve ever done on the blog. I think this book is powerful and I hope if you haven’t read it yet, that you will soon.

Brené Brown is a skilled researcher with a Master’s and PhD in social work. She has dedicated the last decade of her professional life to studying shame and vulnerability. Her two TED talks on these topics have been viewed by over  This book is the perfect mixture of hard data and personal stories and her message is one that I believe every human being can relate to. This book does not apply to people of one particular religion, race, family demographic, or socioeconomic status. It is a book for everyone.

The title of the book comes from this powerful quote from Theodore Roosevelt,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brown began her research by studying human connection, but very quickly discovered that there was something that kept coming up when she interviewed people about connection. She would ask for stories of connection, and inevitably, people would share the opposite – what disconnection felt like. She noticed a common element among the stories of disconnection and that element was shame, which she defines simply as the fear of disconnection. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Brown differentiates between shame and guilt in one of the simplest and yet profound ways I’ve ever encountered:

Guilt = I did something bad.

Shame = I am bad.

She explains how this sense of shame stems from the feeling that “I’m not enough.” Not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, successful enough, funny enough, etc.

Brown states that shame blocks our ability to make meaningful connections with others, and the only way for connection to happen is through vulnerability – allowing ourselves to be truly seen.

Vulnerability has such a negative connotation for many people. In our culture, we often equate vulnerability with weakness. Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” and argues that vulnerability is a risk, but it is not a weakness. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Unlike how many of us think of vulnerability, Brown reassures us that vulnerability does not mean “letting it all hang out,” but is instead about “sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned a right to hear them.”

Brown goes on to identify the “vulnerability-shields’ people put up to protect themselves from being real with others (perfectionism, forboding joy, and numbing being the major ones) and to give the “daring greatly” alternatives to these behaviors (embracing the beauty of our cracks, practicing gratitude, and finding true comfort).

Through the book Brown explains how developing shame-resilience and practicing vulnerability has the power to radically transform our relationships and our lives. She gives practical examples of what this could look like in a business or work environment, in the other leadership roles we fill, and in parenting. Although I’m not a parent yet myself, I found the section on parenting particularly interesting and inspiring. This section was full of good, practical examples of how we can break the cycle of shame in our homes and teach shame-resilience for the things that happen outside of our homes. We can cultivate empathy, self-compassion, and a profound sense of belonging in our children by first cultivating these things in ourselves.  Brown explains that being vulnerable is one of the most powerful ways we can parent children, “…the question isn’t so much, ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?’”

In her previous book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown explored the concept of “Wholeheartedness” which she defines as living with a sense of worthiness – of love and belonging. She interviewed hundreds of people and studied what separated those with a sense of worthiness from those who struggled for it. She talks about this research in one of her TED talks. Brown says that the difference between these two groups of people was only one variable. “And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”

“And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect…The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful… They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

I think Christians (in the Reformed tradition especially) have some push-back against the idea of our own worthiness. We balk at expressing what we perceive to be an overly high opinion of ourselves. What about being hopeless sinners in need of Christ’s grace? I would argue that Christ’s grace is exactly why we need to see ourselves as worthy. That we are worthy because of the work of Christ. Maybe failing to see our worthiness is really a failure to understand and accept the work that Christ has done for us. Maybe combatting shame and embracing vulnerability are essential to how we live the gospel.

This book is making me consider the kind of person I want to be. It has challenged and encouraged me to identify places of shame in my life and to combat them. Embracing our imperfections and our messiness is something I had already been thinking about and writing about a lot over the past year, and this book has confirmed for me that this is crucial to living an abundant life and to becoming the people we want to be.

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If you don’t feel like you have time to read the book, or just want to hear more before you do, here are Brené Brown’s two TED talks. They are well-worth the 18 minutes of your time.