“She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city”
I used to be a “nice girl”.
It was somewhat inescapable, being a middle child growing up in small town Iowa, in a Christian home. I avoided conflict like the plague. Keeper of the peace, non-boat-rocker, good natured, agreeable, dependable, and… Nice.
Being nice is exhausting.
Bearing the weight of everyone’s perceived expectations. Feeling the constant undercurrent of pressure to be Liked threatening to pull me out into an fickle ocean of insecurity.
There is something fierce, something wild and untamed in the depths of the feminine spirit. It is not always nice. Something that should not be squelched or corseted. My soul is an unkempt field of wildflowers, not a well manicured symmetrical and unimaginative English garden. And that’s ok. The wildflowers should not be mistook for weeds.
I am wild, reckless abandon dancing in the rain with arms outstretched. And I am gentle, quieted beneath a blanket of stars as I lay on the roof. I am a brooding storm cloud, unrelenting as I pass through. And I am a straight downfall of rain, grieving an ache I can’t put into words. I am brave like the dawn, pushing aside darkness to reach for hope.
We are meant to be nurturers, encouragers, empathetic and compassionate. It comes to us, easy as breathing. Underneath the surface however, that reflex gets poisoned ever so slightly with the lie that perennial pleasantness is the definition of Good.
Good goes so much deeper than nice.
Love goes so much deeper than warm fuzzies.
Femininity goes so much deeper than Miss Manners.
Compassion should not stop at smiles and pleasant conversation. Because when we peel back the layers, when we are honest with ourselves, that kind of niceness is more about being liked and seen as desired company than the other person. It can be a cowardly avoidance of the the kind of messy and discomfort that brings about freedom. It is selfish. It is ugly. It is a sham.
I’ve come to realize that there is a difference between peace-keeping and peace-making. I have always been a peace-keeper. Do what is needed to make others around me happy. Be who is needed to be liked and appreciated in the circumstance. Avoid anything that would cause friction or disagreement. This isn’t peace. It’s conflict avoidance. Peace was the farthest thing I was feeling in my soul. Anxiety and insecurity were eating me up.
I needed a new operating system. To be transformed by the renewing of my mind.
It is a slow process, and sometimes, from my vantage point, I don’t see any change at all. But when I look back, I can see I’ve come quite a ways. It’s not that I’m no longer nice, but that I’m in the habit of reminding myself that Nice is no longer the reigning dictator of my identity. I am free to speak the Truth with purpose and poise. I am free to let go of who I think I’m supposed to be and enter into the mystery of who I already am.
So when my friend, Bill Rose asked if he could paint me, simultaneously flattered, embarrassed, curious, and uncertain, I said yes. What he captured on canvas surprised me. It was me, but not the me that most people see. It was intense. Not nice. But, it was me. This painting… it’s a thing that I feel so much hesitation to admit to others. Worried about the reaction, the response, the raised eyebrows, only a handful of people know about that three foot square painting hanging in his Crossroads studio. I am scared to share it with you now… but it fits. This is me. Unapologetically and ferociously me.
“Darling is a catalyst for positive change, leading women to discover beauty apart from vanity, influence apart from manipulation, style apart from materialism, sweetness apart from passivity, and womanhood without degradation. Darling leads women to practice the arts of virtue, wit, modesty, and wisdom— all the while creating beauty and embodying love. Darling says women are not only interesting, but original, not only good enough, but exceptional, not just here, but here for a purpose.”