“Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
It was late, but for some reason I decided to clean the pantry. A friend had been weighing on my heart. I picked up the phone and called her while I arranged cans of beans and tossed near-empty boxes of old pasta.
It quickly became apparent why I’d called her. She was experiencing some tough revelations. Was it a mid-life crisis? She wondered out loud. “You’re going to hate me when I tell you my truths,” she said.
I assured her that nothing she could say or do would change my love and respect for her.
“You are kind, compassionate—you are a good person. Nothing you say will change that,” I said.
My friend took a deep breath and shared thoughts, feelings, and questions that were hard to admit to herself, let alone speak out loud. But she said no truth that any one of us hasn’t had or could have at some point in our lives. She was just brave enough to admit it.
“Do you hate me? You probably aren’t going to talk to me anymore,” she said worriedly. I could practically see her cringing through the phone.
“My opinion of you has not changed. I love you. I am here to support you as you try to figure out exactly who you are and what you need to be the truest and happiest version of yourself,” I said confidently. “It would make me sad if you were to live an unauthentic life for the next 40 years,” I added.
Unbeknownst to me, my 12-year-old daughter had come up from watching a football game with her dad. She’d been listening with open ears and wide eyes. This is my wise-beyond-her-years child. She is my question asker … my leave-no-stone-unturned child … the one who’s been drawn to the world’s sufferings since age three. I predicted the questions would be coming.
“Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as I said goodbye to my friend.
“Well, my friend suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood and now she is dealing with a lot of things she has not allowed herself to deal with. She is trying to figure who she really us—not who the world expects her to be. And she chose me to share her truths,” I explained.
“And she was afraid you wouldn’t like her anymore—the real her?” she asked, following along quite maturely.
That’s when I knew. I knew I was being given a beautiful opportunity right then and there. With my pantry in disarray and this brown-eyed beauty donned in her Indianapolis Colts jersey staring back at me, I had the chance to highlight this moment in time. What I was about to say would be stored away in this child’s mind for years, maybe decades, and referred to often. I chose my words carefully.
“You know how our favorite places to shop since we moved to our new state have been the antique stores in the historic sections of the city?”
She nodded and plopped down on a stool. Apparently she was going to stay awhile. I continued.
“Remember the antique store we went to with Grandma—the one with the aged rocking horse, the vintage dinner plates, and old-fashioned camera in the window? Each of those items told a story. With every scratch, knick, and worn button, there was a memory, a lesson, a piece of life. Well, whenever I think about living our truest selves, I think about shop windows. Each and every person decides what he or she puts in the window—what we want to show the world. It reveals who we are and either invites people into our real lives or shows them something false.”
Since my daughter remained completely interested, I pulled up a stool next to her. “For more years than I would like to admit, I didn’t show people how I really felt or who I really was. I plastered on a smile even when I was miserable … empty … overwhelmed. The sign I put in my window was ‘PERFECTION’. I sacrificed showing the world who I really was because I wanted things to look perfect.”
“But that’s not how you are now,” she said.
I sighed with relief. “Thank you. The best thing I ever did was let someone in. I’ll never forget when I told a friend, ‘I feel like a failure,’ and she said sometimes she did too. It was like a huge weight being lifted. I didn’t have to pretend with her. And slowly I began to let other people in on the real me—and it was a much better, happier way to live.”
That must have been enough of her mother’s truths for one day because my daughter hopped up, poured herself a bowl of pretzels, and ran back to the game. But just before she went downstairs she called out, “I wonder what I sign I will put in my window?”
It wasn’t the right time, but it will be very soon. And what I’ll tell her is that she’s already posting signs in the window of her life. Though our discussion, I realized I have the power to help her live boldly, authentically, and confidently. This is what I will say to my child when the time is right. May it help others know what to say when authenticity is bravely displayed in their loved one’s window and how to encourage living in realness …
About those signs in the beautiful window of your life, my child. Let me tell you what I see …
I see the sign TENACITY each time you admit you’ve made a mistake and try to do better. May you always see failures as stepping stones and opportunities for growth.
I see the sign SELF-ASSURANCE each time you wear your own personal style regardless of the latest trend. May you always accept yourself, so you don’t need acceptance from others.
I see the sign ASSERTIVENESS when you say, “No, I’m good,” when a friend asks you to do something you don’t want to do. May you always be able to speak up for yourself and do what’s best for you.
I see the sign VULNERABILITY when you are struggling and ask for help. May you always surround yourself with people who love you, care for you, and want to help you succeed. May you always be strong enough to say, “I need help.”
I see the sign CAPABLENESS when you tackle Grandma’s biscuit recipe, wash and fold your laundry, and water your plants. May you always find fulfillment in doing things for yourself rather than having them done for you.
My child, as you experience changes in body, mind, and friendships as you grow, it will be not always be easy to share your truest self. Therefore, count on me to support your authenticity in these ways …
When you say you aren’t hungry, I am not going to try to convince you otherwise.
When you say someone makes you feel uncomfortable, I will respect that feeling and help you keep your distance. I will also ask questions to make sure you are safe.
When you ask me not to share an embarrassing moment or foolish mistake, I won’t.
When you say, “I’d rather not spend the night at the slumber party, but I can stay until 10?” I will say yes.
When you say you know the best way to complete a school project, I will stand back and let you, even if it looks like it might not work out.
Whether it’s placing your order at a restaurant or announcing your lifelong goal, I will respect your voice and opinion.
I will admire the truths you display in your window, even if they are different than mine.
And when you speak truths about yourself that are hard for me to hear, I shall not turn away. I shall open my arms and remember how I felt when finally, at last, I let someone in on mine.
My friend said, “Me too.”
And there, as the most authentic versions of ourselves, we found an inner peace we had never known.
When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more.
That is what I believe.
I believe it for my friend who’s bravely rearranging what she chosen to display in her window after all these years …
I believe it for my child who’s in the early stages of planning her window display …
I believe it for you and for me, no matter where we are in the process.
The one with the knicks, scratches, scars, and imperfections displayed in the window—that’s the life I want to walk into … the life I want to live … and the life I want to embrace when I see it in others.
I shall keep looking for the signs:
BRAVERY found here
DETERMINATION found here
WHOLE HEARTEDNESS found here
RISK TAKER found here
HOPE SEEKER found here
GUTSY SURVIVOR found here
And when I do, I shall celebrate that momentous display of human courage by opening my arms and saying, “Me too.”
My friends, I’ve learned that showing our true selves (flaws and all) is what draws people towards us, not away. It took me almost 40 years to get it. I don’t want anyone I love to have to hide their truest self from the world for one more day. I don’t want you to have to either. In my newly released book, ONLY LOVE TODAY, you will find a collection of “window openers.” Each entry offers a chance to embrace yourself, scars and all … a chance to love your people exactly as they are … an invitation to step into the forgiving light of realness and make room for others to join you there. If you have not picked up a copy of my national bestseller, ONLY LOVE TODAY, now would be the perfect time. Stunning 5-star reviews indicate this book is changing lives. It is available at Target, Barnes and Noble, LifeWay, and Amazon.
P.S. I was inspired to share this post today, Good Friday 2017, because of a precious reader who came through the book signing line in Iowa on Wednesday. The tattoo on her arm was inspired by this very post. It brought me to tears. It's not too late to live bravely, boldly, flawed, and full of hope.
Marvelous piece, Rachel. It seems with children around the age of yours and mine, that sometimes they sense that what we are saying just might be important or they sense that now is the time for this lesson or perhaps they sense the wisdom in our words. Because you pay attention with intention, you see these moments as the divine opportunity they are. Wisdom is real and has nothing to do with age or time or experience. Wisdom is not truth, it is understanding that truths must be passed on, passed down, passed up, perhaps. Thank you for passing on your wisdom so I can mix it with mine.
One other thing. The strength of this post’s composition is noteworthy. The structure, the signs in the window, the meter, the gentleness of your consistent and distinct voice all just sing. It is Craft and you see that, languish in it, honor it – many do not. (I’m trying not be jealous.)
God’s Peace, as always, to you and your beautiful family.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Bill. I always read your comments several times because there are always many layers of goodness, and I do not want to miss any of them.
Thank you for your interpretation of wisdom — I love that it opens up anyone to having wisdom. I know my children often blow me away with theirs.
And as always, thank you for noticing the effort that went into the creation of this piece. Would you believe I started this back in May? It was not ready to be published — it was missing something. That phone call with my friend and conversation with my daughter completed it. I have learned not to rush a piece of writing. I will know when it is ready and when it is not. Your remarks about the piece bring such affirmation to my writer’s heart. This piece took me many more hours than usual, so thank you for taking the time to reflect on it and admire it. So incredibly grateful to walk this journey with you.
I read your post down to the last word and almost cried when I read that today you are weary. Your writing, thoughts, and obviously you as a person are wonderful. I am weary today too and am trying to be compassionate with myself also. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your thoughts. I hope you have a restorative week taking care of you. Sincerely, Cindy.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for reading down to the last word, Cindy. Given the length of my posts, that is quite meaningful to me! 🙂
I have slowly learned when I need to stop pushing myself to the point of burn out and exhaustion. It is not the best time to step away from the online world given my new book just came out a month ago, but I lived far too long pushing off the resting, the living, the laughing. Trying not to do that anymore. I am so thankful my community understands and supports me this way. Your caring words mean so much. I hope your weariness wanes and you feel a spark of life soon.
I love this post and needed it. Thank you for being you and helping others. God bless you.
Rachel, this post spoke so deeply to me. Over the past 10 years I have been in the process of deliberately, mindfully, but so very slowly, redoing what is displayed in my window. Actually, I’ve been redoing both my personal window and also my business window. It’s been a true struggle, as well-meaning people, including family and friends, push back. : ) This struggle has slowed me down and made me so weary. But it is such important work, and after reading your wonderfully wise and authentic words, I feel both comforted and encouraged. Thank you. May your respite be refreshing and renewing. Blessings!
Hello Rachel, I was wondering if you plan on doing a book tour around the Dallas/Fort Worth area any time in the future. Would love to meet you! Your posts are so inspiring and I look forward to new posts each week. Thank you for impacting my life in such a positive way! Will be making my long overdue purchase of both books, something that I have been meaning to do for over a year now.
I’m proud of you for recognizing, admitting, and taking a break. You are truly living your values! I’m sure your family will appreciate your time & attention, but they will also learn how to listen to their own inner voices when it’s time to take a break. That’s inspiring to me!
I have been drawn to Brene Brown’s work ever since listening to her fabulous TED talks on vulnerability and shame.. her most recent book holds these words: “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness—even our wholeheartedness—actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong
I don’t know if your friend was saying ” I don’t know if you’ll like me” because of an actual struggle or who she was underneath the mask she was showing the world, but I really feel the message you both share of “normalizing vulnerability” so we all can be less than perfect and actually REAL is so important.
Thank you once again.
Praise God for your transparency.
I cried through the first blog. Now to apply it!
As a gma I feel determined to not repeat mistakes of raising my children.
Guess what? I get DO OVERS!
God bless your obedience and your desires to scream this out to the world of hurting people.
I am ready to read all you wrote and recommended.
Bless you and pls pull me along your journey.
I can hardly wait to figure it all out!
In Christ’s name I pray.
I like the image of the window and the thought of what we are showing others.
Your conclusion that you “have the power to help her live boldly, authentically, and confidently.” Our kid study us even when we don’t notice. I try so hard to be a good role model to my children. I want to to help them to have “windows” that are praiseworthy.
darlene weir @fieldstonehilldesign says
Rachel, I am so sorry I will be missing you at Allume. Allume is my stomping grounds, they are my people,and this year is the only year I have ever missed since its inception. I wonder if we have even met there before. If you have not been, you will love it.
Thank you for reminding me to encourage authenticity in my children. I am mostly commenting simply to thank you. I know what it is to be weary from pouring out. And how we manage to pour from empty pitchers. I balance so much, with design and blogging and homeschooling and parenting etc. and your word has come to me like a lifesaver on a sinking ship. I am devouring your books and I only wish I could hug you in person this weekend for the moments you have given back to me.
I said no to Allume…. in part because of you. I will be celebrating a family member this weekend, and will be present.
God bless you for your pouring out. May your weariness be refilled with the fresh awareness of how you are blessing others AND the space and time to get back to right where you need to be.
So nice to connect to you. HUG my people this weekend!! Tell Logan I love her!
This is such a lovely post! Thank you. I am going to think carefully about my own window dressings~
Thank you so much for your moving words. I read it fresh from a discussion about how isolated I feel every time I walk into the school yard with my children because I feel I don’t fit in. Your words so often make me cry because you speak to my heart and to so many of my worries and fears. I hope your break refreshes you.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Jennifer – I wanted you to know that you inspired me to write a blog post. You should read the comments on the FB page and on the blog post, too. I think you will feel less alone when you see all the people who feel as you do – http://www.handsfreemama.com/2015/11/12/the-clasped-hands-of-those-who-want-to-belong/
With love, Rachel
I never miss any of your posts and always feel inspired and encouraged. But today I want to make a confession. I always promise myself to adopt all that you teach but I always go back. I have tried so many times and am yet to accomplish at least one achievement. I find myself going back to screaming, berating and I feel bad about it afterwards. In simple words, I am a FAILURE!! I know am not what the world sees. am even afraid of people knowing the ugly side of me. I have the willingness, all the willingness to change but I don’t know why I can’t succeed. I have prayed so many times, told myself I have to do it but all the time I fall back. I think there is a lot that I have bottled up and I need to let it out and sort it out one by one so that I can find myself. I long for a true friend who I can talk to without judging me but I don’t have one. I just long for someone who can truly understand me and hold my hand.
Valerie talbert says
Rachel, I love this post for so many reasons. Thank you for all your words, authenticity and generosity. I finished your first book again this weekend (needed it) and starting on your 2nd one (although I’ve read bits and pieces). Your gift is one I can never return and I am so thankful. I hope you have a wonderful well deserved quiet week!
What a lovely post. Everything you wrote is so true and so insightful. I look forward to your posts immensely. I wanted to tell you that your first book, your blog, and your second book have truly, truly helped transform me as a parent. I too am a recovering perfectionist and am still working on it daily with my two children. In the past few months since I have been adopting changes, my happiness and joy have returned and I am actually enjoying the time I get to spend with my two young ones. I am finally getting it – I am not going to get another chance to be with them at this age, at this time. The time to change is now.
So in short, please rest and take care of yourself. There are an awful lot of us out here that love you and appreciate your words and insights. Your work is helping to make the world better.
Joan Salmon says
Hi Rachel, this is an awesome piece. Is it okay if I shared it on my blog?
This is so beautifully written, Rachel. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within” ~Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Thank-you, as always. Your words continue to help me see my own light….forever grateful.
Thank you Rachel! This post spoke to things deep within me. My trouble, I find, is that I am so darn scared to show the real me. I fear rejection, I fear what others are going to say, do, or think of me, but then I feel empty. I struggle with this…constantly. I have an amazing partner who is always encouraging me to be me, supporting me, and I can only think that at some point he’s going to feel exasperated when it doesn’t click for me. I need to hold on to your words, like a mantra, and not fear showing who I really am. Those scars, scratches, scuffs I find so beautiful in others, well others may just find beautiful in me. I just had coffee with a friend last week and we had one of those “me too” moments. as women we need more of those, we need to support and encourage each other, not show our lives as Macy’s windows making others feel inferior and defeated. So thank you, thank you for giving me something to hold onto and start my week with, something to think about.
This is so true. And beautifully written. I hope to live as authentically as I can. Thank you for posting.
Kerry Foreman says
One of my new favorites Rachel. I love this so much.
Holly Wright says
I have so much stress in my life I can’t seem to keep it from my kids. I’ve been yelling and criticizing my eight year old son. Each time I do it it feels like a knife in my stomachs but I can’t stop. Every time I take him into my arms I apologize deeply and sincerely only to repeat the same mistake over and over again. I’m writing this to you in a desperate attempt to reach out for support and someone to rescue my precious son from my hurtful words and actions. The only thing I know to do right now is to separate myself from him so that I don’t do anymore damage as I cannot even be in my own skin with self loathing and a sense of dreaded failure. What can I do.
Sad and lost.
Sandy Blackard says
Rachel has invited me to respond to readers requesting parent coaching.
This must be really scary for you. To want to support your son so badly that you feel the pain of a knife in your stomach when you cross that line. You are even prepared to separate yourself from him to protect him from your criticism. Here’s what you can do instead:
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN! You may think you can keep things from them, but you can’t. Do not share grown-up details with them, but let them know that the explosions are not really about them. They are happening because you feeling stressed about other things, so you are easily triggered right now.
The point is to take ownership of your reactions and take ALL the blame off of them. Tell them that you may not like what they are doing sometimes, but that every situation can be handled calmly as a problem to solve or mistake to correct when you are your loving self. Being your loving self has been hard for you lately, so when they see you react, what you want them to know is that they didn’t cause your outburst, the stress of the other situations did.
Children can remain loving, accepting and undamaged as long as they know your reactions are not their fault. Plus being open, authentic and understanding of yourself now will help them when they feel the same way. It will be good for you and them to know that none of you are alone in this and that the best way to solve relationship problems like this is TOGETHER.
Ask for their suggestions or find out what they do in similar moments. Kids are usually experts at this because in their world the adults hold all the cards, so they don’t have much freedom to lash out. You can turn your challenging situation into a rewarding one by brainstorming for solutions to explosive moments that will work for you all.
In addition, Rachel has offered many suggestions that can turn the tide like: STOP, BREATHE and WAIT. Waiting is a true gift. Picture waiting with your 8 YO when he spills something. Waiting would allow his natural problem-solving abilities kick in. Seeing him run for a towel and say, “Oops! I need to clean this up,” would make it unnecessary for you to point out the mistake, and beyond that, it would show you something that you don’t get to see when you do the correcting – that he is already a responsible and capable child!
Then all that’s left is saying what you see (SWYS) and pointing out his strengths (two of the three steps I teach):
SWYS: “You know how to clean things up.”
STRENGTH: “That shows you are capable!”
Pointing out strengths instead of failures rebuilds relationships and the child’s sense of self.
Plus seeing your child as responsible and capable again and again will help you shift out of criticizing into describing, even in a situation when you want to warn. For example, instead of, “You’re going to knock your glass off the table. Why can’t you be more careful,” you can say what you see, let the child correct himself, and point out the strength:
SWYS: “You’re glass is at the edge of the table…there you fixed it.”
STRENGTH: “You know how to be careful.”
If you can’t stop, breathe, wait or say what you see, it is probably because your need for power is way too high. In that case, in addition to the suggestions your children provide, you might want try redirecting or exaggerating your feelings as a way that “gets them out” safely. Then when you are once again calm, you can return to problem-solving. For details on how to do that, you can read my post, Ending Reactive Parenting, here: http://www.languageoflistening.com/blog/ending-reactive-parenting/
You can find more of my posts on perfectionism, correction and criticism in the sidebar of my blog that may help, too. Rachel has many posts on these topics as well including her most recent, Bridging the Gap Created By Waves of Criticism: http://www.handsfreemama.com/2015/11/03/bridging-the-gap-created-by-waves-of-criticism/
The other thing that is important for you to do is address the actual sources of stress in your life. Reaching out here is a good first step, and a brave one. And there are more steps you can take to get the outside support you need. To find new options for handling the situations you are facing that are causing you stress, I heavily encourage you to reach out to your community to see what is available there. Contact extended family, friends, church, counselors, etc.
And there is help for your deeper concerns, too, like the “self-loathing and sense of dreaded failure” you described. Beliefs about self are usually at the core of situation-related stress, and don’t often change on their own. For that I recommend contacting a licensed psychologist like Dr. Theresa Kellam for an initial conversation about that. Theresa is another wonderful resource who helps Rachel’s readers. She can be reached at her website: http://www.theresakellam.com
One last thing about your fear of damaging your 8 YO. It might help to sit down alone with him before problem-solving as a group with the other children, so you can hear in his own words what he thinks about your outbursts, your attempts to control yourself and your apologies. You may be surprised by what you hear, especially since it sounds like he is still open to your hugs . Kids are more forgiving than you can imagine. If that’s what you hear, let his forgiveness help you forgive yourself.
If what you hear instead is frustration akin to your own, point out the wishes that it shows like:
SWYS: “You wish I didn’t yell at you so much. You want me to be more understanding.”
CAN DO: “ Me, too. Must be something we can do about that. Let’s talk about this as a family, and see what solutions we can try.”
Meeting criticism with wishes brings out the best in people. For you and your son, it can give you a fresh starting place for turning things around.
Rachel, your kids are so incredibly lucky to have You as their Mum!
I get inspiration from you on how to empower my children without driving them out of the house.
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