Fierce Grace as Saving Grace

Carrie-Anne has declared this the year of Fierce Grace.

Yes, as far as a theme for the year I can get behind that one.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me; I look like a cherub. Seriously, just like the soft-limbed arrow-wielding babies floating around a Michelangelo painting. Once I lived an entire year with a shaved head and never once came off even the tiniest bit edgy. Let’s face it, I am not visually fierce.

But, though my contours could never be considered chiseled, I still flex in front of the mirror (much to my own round-cheeks-blushing abashment). I work my body daily, reveling in maintaining my health. I challenge myself to greater degrees of flexibility and achievement. I wield hammers when necessary. I haul 50 lbs of chicken feed over my shoulder. I do things that scare me. I value strength.

For a long time, my personal story—the armchair-psychology version of myself—had been thatbecause a scary event happened in my childhood, my psyche responded with bravery and tenacity. That event motivated me to become physically powerful and fast. I would dash out of the house for the newspaper and try to be back before the front door swung closed. I even remember riding my bike down the street, parking it, dutifully locking it up, and then practicing sprints around the block—"training” all on my own, at the age of seven. In later years, I did anything that scared the bejeezus out of me: spending the night next to a massive shark tank, bungee jumping, living in a foreign country alone.

I figured my ferocity was only in reaction to fear, a courageous fight against the very idea of being considered a victim.

Then I gave birth to my daughter.

It seems that before cultural influences could program her, she was flexing her muscles, choosing challenges on her own terms, diving into the deep end.

My perspective widened. Drawing back, taking in my father—a man who also prides himself on his vitality, boasting of his power moves in a basketball game or in a courtroom. Then drawing even further back to my father’s mother, who at ninety-three still prides herself on a daily neighborhood walk and other mind/body conditioning, who reigns over her world with palpable potency. It occurred to me for the first time, that my interest in strength, the degree to which I value independent fortitude could have very little to do with anything bad at all. As I thought more of my sister, my mother, even my other physically fit ninety four year old grandmother, and their incredible capabilities, I thought, "damn, it could even be genetic."

I could be brave, strong, and even fierce without being damaged.

I had a new story.

I imagine this new narrative illustrated by a beautiful wolf, walking gently through the woods. A light snow sifts through the pine needles. It lands silently on her fur.  She steps carefully. She is not in a hurry, and she is not alone. Though she hunts to feed her babies, though she needs a good warm meal, she is not shouldering the burden unaided, nor is she desperately thrashing, plunging headlong with brute strength, and fueled by fear. Her power lies in focus, in patience, in forward movement, and community. Her force comes from full trust in who she is and where she’s headed.

I like that story better. The wolf isn’t fierce because of a wounded soul. She is strong because it serves her. She chooses to be her power, not pack it like a weapon against her fears.

I can be strong and fit, not because I might need to fight my way through throngs of villains, but because my body is an extension of my mind and my heart, and to care for one is to care for the others. Strength can simply be my way of moving through the world, not an artificial accessory purchased under duress.

My new story helps me remember that being brave and fierce does not mean invulnerability. It does not mean feeling scared and shoving that fear aside to appear otherwise. It does not mean reacting to my feelings at all, but acknowledging them. To recognize, identify, and own my feelings gets me further than any amount of bulging muscles ever will.

I am fierce every time I say:

I am nervous.

 I don’t know.

 I am scared.

 I need help.

 I love you.

There is nothing more courageous than welcoming my feelings, befriending them, and walking through their gateway into a world of centered calm, determination, and delight.

I suppose the gentle step versus the primal lunge is where Grace enters the narrative. What a beautiful piece. The possibilities available to me when I access my tenacity by gingerly sorting through my inner thoughts and sentiments instead of pressing my will against the tide feel abundant, and light, and most importantly, achievable.

In this story, Fierce Grace just might be my Saving Grace.


(image by Michelle Gardella)




About Natalie

Natalie Christensen is a writer, illustrator, and mother living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-creator of Feeleez, a line of tools that support the emotional development of children. She offers life + parenting coaching.

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