I recently had the honor of speaking on a parenting panel with two experts in the field of living with intention and gratitude. Mike Robbins was the panel mediator who posed thoughtful questions to Michelle Gale and myself.
As we took our seats in the chairs positioned at the front of the room, I realized this would be the first time I was seated while speaking to an audience. My eyes were immediately drawn to the people in the front row. As I responded to Mike’s questions, I soon realized I was talking directly to them. I forgot I was holding a microphone. I forgot I was talking to a large group of people. I forgot all the things I had prepared to say and spoke from my heart, just like I do when I write.
One man in a red sweater nodded encouragingly, just like a friend would sitting across from me at a coffee shop. One man clapped enthusiastically after one of my responses. One woman, whose beautiful, dark hair swooped over her left cheek, could not stop her tears. I was speaking to those people, literally and figuratively. I could feel it, and it made me want to share more of my heart with them.
That’s when Mike invited the audience to participate in a group exercise. He instructed them to answer the following sentence with a partner:
If you really knew me, you would know …
After each person took a turn, he or she would go a little deeper:
If you really, really knew me, you would know …
The partners were instructed to continue exchanging their truths until time was up.
Although Mike checked with Michelle and me ahead of time, I felt a pang of discomfort when I heard Mike say that the panelists would go first, illustrating how the exercise would work.
Part of me hoped my microphone would malfunction or I would suddenly lose my voice. Part of me wanted to think of something light and easy that would make people laugh. Part of me wanted get up and run away.
But instead I took a deep breath and looked at my new friends seated in the front row. Their loving gazes indicated I would be safe, supported, and encouraged, no matter what I said.
And what came out of my mouth was unexpected, but it was truth. I said:
If you really knew me, you would know I have trouble forgiving myself for the mistakes of my past. You see, I missed a lot of important moments in my children’s lives due to my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways. And when my readers write to me and say, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Is it too late for me?” I tell them, “It’s never too late. Today is a new day. This journey is not about yesterday. It is about today and the critical choices you make today.” That is what I tell my readers. That is what I believe with all my heart. But yet, I cannot offer those same forgiving words to myself.
And then I took it one step further:
If you really, really knew me, you would know that I’ve apologized to my daughters for the impatient, unhappy, perfectionistic drill sergeant I once was and for the hurt that I caused … but when they wrap their arms around my neck and say, “I forgive you Mama,” I can’t quite allow myself to accept or embrace their forgiveness. I must keep punishing myself.
As I set down the microphone, I felt a tear slide down my face. I’d never said those things to myself, much less an entire room full of people, but I did not feel embarrassed or ashamed. In fact I felt lighter, as if a heavy burden had been lifted simply by letting the truth out.
As audience members paired up and began doing the exercise, I watched their faces. I noticed the way people locked eyes. I saw some lean forward. I saw nodding heads and compassionate expressions. In tears and smiles, I saw hope and maybe even a little healing. I watched as weights were lifted.
Was anyone “fixed” in this five-minute conversation? No, probably not. I know I didn’t experience a momentous revelation that provided an instant answer to my inner struggles, but that was okay. Because what I did feel was a little more hopeful and more empowered. The act of speaking those truths allowed me to really hear them and question their validity.
Afterwards, a young woman who’d volunteered at the conference for several years approached me. “The way you and your colleagues openly shared your hearts changed the atmosphere of the entire room. Your willingness to be vulnerable touched lives here today, and it will affect the entire conference, maybe even the world,” she said hopefully.
Like me, this young lady hoped that authenticity, openness, and honesty would become the way of the world. Oh yes. Me too.
“When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more,” is what I believe.
Two days later, I arrived home from the conference quite anxious to hold my daughters. I’d been gone for six days because the conference coincided with a book-signing event. Throughout the week, my husband had let me know that my older daughter had trouble sleeping. And about three nights after my arrival home, my daughter told me herself.
“I couldn’t fall asleep when you were gone. I missed you tucking me in,” she whispered in the sanctity of her darkened room. “It helps me calm down to talk to you,” she added.
This admission didn’t take me by surprise. I knew my daughter cherished our nightly Talk Time. But what she said next took me by surprise.
“I finally went downstairs and got a pair of your pajamas pants and slept with them,” she admitted. “When I could smell your smell, I felt better. It helped me sleep. Then I was okay.”
That is what my daughter said. But this, my friends, is what my heart heard:
I don’t care where you’ve been; I am just glad you are here now.
I don’t keep track of your failings; I am just glad you are here now.
I don’t remember your mistakes; I am just glad you are here now.
Because you know what comforts me? You – not what you did do or didn’t do last week, two month ago, or two years ago. You – the mere smell of your presence comforts me.
I don’t care where you’ve been; I am just glad you are here now.
And like my daughter clung to those pajamas pants while I was away, I am now clinging to two powerful revelations this experience has given me:
Let us not be so consumed with the past that we forget we are here now.
Let us not be so ashamed of our inner hurts that we never let them out.
Speaking one’s deepest struggles does not “fix” the problem—it does something far greater.
Speaking one’s deepest truths spreads hope to the person sitting across from you … and possibly his family … her community … their cities … our world.
But it doesn’t end there.
That hope you offered by sharing your pain has a way of finding its way back to you when you need it the most.
And suddenly, unexpectedly, you have something to cling to in the darkest part of the night …
Reminding you that you are not alone.
**A note of apology, June 9, 2014 – I am sorry for the random old posts like this one that have been emailed to my blog subscribers over the past few days. I am trying to get to the bottom of it. Thanks for your patience!
Since today’s post was about vulnerability, I leave you with one of the bravest blog posts I have ever read. A brilliant writer that I adore courageously shared her struggle with weight and body image that I believe is a life-changer and possibly a life-saver for many adults and their children. I would love for you to read “Enough” and support the bravery exhibited by Katrina by sharing it. Spread hope.
Thank you for walking beside me on this journey. For those who are new here, you can read about the steps I took to transform my distracted, hurried, perfectionistic life in my book, HANDS FREE MAMA, a New York Times Bestseller.