“I'm on your side,
So shed your shadow
And watch it rise.
Into your darkness,
I'll shine a light.
Bring your secrets, bring your scars.
Bring your glory, all you are.”
–Phillip Phillips, Unpack Your Heart
The headlining band had just come on stage. The crowd was on their feet, cheering wildly. I was taking it all in—the lights, the sounds, the smell of the rain coming down just beyond the amphitheater covering. Flanked between my dear friend and my loving husband, all my senses were alive and content.
That’s when she turned to me—the young woman positioned in the isle in front of me. “I’m sorry,” she said as she leaned towards me, attempting to talk over the loud music.
I wasn’t sure I heard her right. What could she be apologizing for? I wondered. I leaned in closer and listened carefully.
“I’m sorry you have to look at my soggy, fat ass all night,” she said.
No. No. No. I thought as my brain scrambled for a response.
I hoped that perhaps she was joking—but the solemn look on this woman’s face confirmed this was no laughing matter. She was apologizing for her appearance … for her size … for taking up space … for being her.
Although I felt like crying, I placed my hand on this young woman’s upper arm. It was wet from a mixture of sweat and precipitation, but I was not repulsed. I rested my hand there, on the arm of someone’s beautiful daughter and said what I hoped would liberate her for at least a couple hours.
“Oh my goodness, no! Please don’t worry about me,” I said assuredly. “I am completely focused on the concert back here. Just enjoy yourself … just have fun, okay?”
The woman looked relieved.
Much like my younger daughter looked when she told me she wanted to “be healthy,” and I did not press her for details or explanation; I just said, “How can I help?”
The woman looked hopeful.
Much like my older daughter’s friend looked the other day when she needed to borrow a bathing suit, and I had one that fit her developing physique.
The woman looked understood.
Much like my friend looked when I read my declaration for living that began with the words, “Get off the scale. It cannot measure the depths of your heart.”
My friend had immediately asked me, “How do you do that? How do you express my struggle so perfectly?”
Because of the hours I spent in front of the mirror being my own judge and jury. Because of the hours I spent deciding whether I was fit for public observation or when I needed to stay home and hide. Because of the thousands of discarded outfits I tossed to the floor, taking shreds of my dignity with them. Because of all the times I felt the need to apologize for the space I inhabited. Because of the countless times I lost myself in numbers and measurements. I can’t say how many years it went on like that, but I can remember when I finally questioned it.
We were still fairly new to the state of Florida, and I’d just given birth to my first daughter. My newly retired parents had moved down from Indiana so they could be near their grandchild. Not being from Florida, I found myself feeling perpetually sweaty and out of place. But in the months following Natalie’s birth, my body was even more difficult to inhabit. I was hesitant to put on a bathing suit, but if there was one thing my baby loved, it was the water. So I did it – I came out of hiding for my child.
One evening Mom and I took Natalie to the community pool where my mom did daily water aerobics. As I pulled Natalie gently through the water, my mom said something completely unexpected. “Every day my water aerobics instructor plays, ‘Just the Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars; it always makes me get teary.”
After a brief moment of shock, (Mom knows who Bruno Mars is?), I asked her why the song moved her.
“Because it makes me think of you,” she said becoming emotional. “It’s your song.”
My mom recited as much as she could by heart.
“She's so beautiful, and I tell her every day
When I compliment her she won't believe me
And it's so sad to think she don't see what I see
But every time she asks me, do I look okay? I say:
When I see your face, there's not a thing I would change
Cause you're amazing, just the way you are
And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for awhile
Cause girl, you're amazing, just the way you are.”
I could see by mother’s face, this was truth. When she looked at me, she saw beautiful.
I looked down at my baby girl to find she was looking up at me. The look of adoration on her face said it all; she saw beautiful too.
As my eyes filled with tears, I released a long-held breath and admitted some of my own truths: I was tired of hiding … and criticizing … and apologizing. It was time to live freely and fiercely, just as I am.
That moment in the pool was the start of a decade-long re-thinking exercise. Part of it involved avoiding the mirror. I realized that was where I attacked myself the most. Another part involved reminding myself if I don’t show up, I will be missed and I will miss out. Another part was taking an exercise class with supportive women of all different shapes, sizes, and life stages who mothered me. Another part was coming to my own defense when my inner critic was mean and nasty. “You’re being too hard on yourself,” I’d say to my hate talker. “Only love today,” came years later, but it was the healing mantra I used to become an encourager rather than a critic.
I still struggle. Every single day. But now I have two sets of eyes watching me, learning from me. And I want my children to live, speak, and move freely and fiercely in this world. I try to learn as much as I can from truth tellers and hope spreaders, like my brave and brilliant friend Glennon Doyle Melton. As I poured over Glennon’s life-altering new memoir, Love Warrior, I was struck by a particular passage. Glennon’s daughters had just asked her what “sexy” means. She writes:
“What I want to be, girls, is beautiful. Beautiful means ‘full of beauty.’ Beautiful is not about how you look on the outside; beauty is about what you’re made of. Beautiful people spend time discovering what their idea of beauty is on this earth. They know themselves well enough to know what they love, and they love themselves enough to fill up with a little of their particular beauty each day … it’s why I read and look at art and always have music playing in the house. It’s why I light candles in every room. It’s why I watch you climb our banyan trees in the front yard. It’s why I roll around on the floor with the dogs, and why I’m always smelling the top of your heads. It’s why I drag you out to watch the sunset each week. I’m just filling up with beauty, because I want to be beautiful. You girls are beauty to me, too. When you smile at me, I can feel myself filling.”
Thank you, Glennon. I want to be full of beauty too. And I desperately want to help my daughters, as well as my sisters and brothers find their beauti-ful too. I’m going to another concert this weekend because live music fills me up. But this time, I’ve tucked a note in my pocket just in case I see a sister who is afraid to stand, dance, or lift her voice to the sky. When I see her, I will reach out my hand and pull her to her feet. And when I have the chance, I will slip her this declaration, which was at least a decade in the making. My prayer is that she will come to believe these truths for herself one day:
Get off the scale. It cannot measure the depths of your heart.
Put down the measuring stick. It is not long enough to assess your worth.
Ignore the score. It does not show your true potential.
Don’t get hung up on the salary. It doesn’t even come close to showing your value.
Ban the mirror. It cannot reflect how much you are loved.
Ignore the critic. It has no idea how far you’ve come.
Instead, look for evidence of a day well lived:
I made someone smile. I gave a tender kiss. I hugged and wasn’t the first to let go.
I encouraged. I laughed. I believed. I lifted. I kneeled. I forgave. I danced. I sang.
What is most important in life cannot be measured, but instead felt through the hands, heart, and soul of each life we touch.
What gives us value is not a number or a score, but rather our unique contribution to the world or to someone’s life.
Come as you are, precious ones.
If you don’t come, you’ll be missed and you’ll miss out.
Let us lift our hands and sing out loud, taking up as much space as we need to awaken and liberate our beautiful souls.
My friends, in just a few days Glennon’s soul-stirring memoir releases into the world. In it, she offers soul-bearing revelations about marriage, self-love, body image, faith, grace, and imperfection. I have read the book twice, finding it offers me self-reflection and enlightenment in a way no other book ever has. When I read Glennon’s truths, my own truths become more accessible. My shame falls away, and I am left with real hope and possibility. Glennon shows us that by acknowledging and voicing the dark, painful places within ourselves and our lives, we create a passageway towards acceptance, fulfillment, connection, love, and inner peace. Please consider accepting the life-giving invitation contained in Glennon’s book, Love Warrior. Click here to learn more and pre-order your copy, releasing on Tuesday, September 6.
Friends, when I posted the “Get off the Scale” declaration on Instagram and Facebook a little over a week ago, there was an outpouring of requests to make it into a print. I hired Jenna, an incredibly talented member of our Hands Free community, to design the masterpiece pictured below. Click here to pre-order this beautiful print. Lovely metal cuffs and handmade bracelets inscribed with the mantras ONLY LOVE TODAY and COME AS YOU ARE can be found in the shop, as well. The more masculine-looking “come as you are” reminder bands you requested for your sons and brothers are available now. Thank you for your support!
Friends in Tennessee, tickets are now available for my two speaking events happening there in early October! Iowa, I just found out I am coming to you this spring! Click here to access ticket links & see all my upcoming speaking events. I hope to meet you ALL someday. I cherish you!