Something happened to me today. My life was touched by a stranger, as oft it is. My girls and I spent the morning shopping for birthday cakes and the majority of the afternoon swimming at the Y. The girls love the water-they took turns getting “alligator rides” from me (they sit on my back while I swim under water), they flipped off my shoulders, we took turns swimming laps, pretending we were Michael Phelps, we played Marco Polo. In case you didn’t know, three hours actively swimming in the water with two girls and only a thirty minute break is exhausting work, and also it keeps you very busy. I paid no attention to the people who were in the pool area with us–still couldn’t tell you how many others there were, beyond the lifeguards and ourselves.

Finally, the girls’ enviable energy ran low and we decided it was time to go. By this time, we had stuff dread around the pool area–our snacks lay on the tables behind the lifeguards, some toys were at both ends of the pool, Breathe’s asthma bag lay on a chair by the hot tub. While the girls dried off, I walked around, collecting our things and throwing them back in the pool bag. A man who was packing up as well and who, until now, I’d not noticed, spoke to me, complimented me on the girls, and I acknowledged him in my usual, brightly happy way, then continued cleaning up. We journeyed to the locker room, showered and walked out. As we walked down the hallway toward the stairs, the same man was walking in the opposite direction, about to pass us. My head bent, eyes on the ground, I didn’t at first realize it was him, I only saw a pair of sneakers headed toward us. I wouldn’t have known it was the same guy, in fact, except that, as he neared us, he said: “A mama like you should have her head up.”

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His tone was gentle and kind and completely non-threatening. It jerked my head up. He hadn’t stopped walking so I kind of laughed it off, as I normally do compliments, offered a backhanded “thanks” and kept walking. He never stopped, and he didn’t turn around. It was so brief an interaction that the girls barely caught it; they asked what he said but when I just shook my head, they let me drop it.

We all acted as though an avalanche of emotion hadn’t just tumbled through my heart. The words, and his tone, though, reverberated throughout my entire nervous system. We drove home where the play continued. We were rock stars and danced away to the songs on the girls’ music player. We dressed our dolls and enjoyed story time, ate dinner before finally we settled down for movie time. All the while, it was as if the stranger’s words had been ushered into a special room in my heart and every little bit, I’d peek in the door and let them warm my heart.

“A mama like you should have her head up.”

Nighttime routine of bath, snack, movie time, teeth, story time, Chatter Chat and Imagine before the girls were down for the night. I ran around the house for awhile, cleaning and pretending to stay busy, while trying to ignore the wrenching of my heart. Finally, mental and emotional exhaustion weighed in and I cheated, running a hot bath with candles even though it hadn’t been a full week before the last one. I slipped in, leaned my head back and closed my eyes.

When I opened them up, I was crying. Kindness does that to me. That stranger thought I should walk with my head up. He didn’t know me. Most people don’t know me, not really. They see a shiny personality, and a devoted mother and teacher. Some of them have read some of what I’ve written, either the books or the blog, and sympathy then colors their view of me. I look and sound like I have it all together, that I’ve overcome significant challenges to evolve into a jubilant, however distant, survivor. And, frankly, I’m rather proud of that title. I have overcome a lot, both in my childhood and as an adult. I firmly believe that tragedy inspires character and, if you let it, faith; as a result, I choose to see challenging events as positive stepping stools and so I take a bit of pride from them. Be that as it may be, however, I am nowhere near model of how best to handle tragedy. In fact, I have a lot of flaws. It’s just that not a lot of people know about them. Because I choose to let fear of rejection showcase the positive sides of my character while simultaneously keeping the flaws in the shadows.

To be fair, I’m not the only one who does that. Lots of people do. When I think of the adults I see regularly and whom I admire, what I know about them are all the reasons I like and admire them… I know nothing about them to dislike. We’re all good at smiling, talking about how busy our lives are, or how big the kids have grown. We compliment each other, because it’s a nice thing to do, and because we like what we know of each other. But we don’t ask for lunch. We don’t dig into their lives because, well, what if they don’t want to go to lunch? And, after all, it’s rude to pry, right?

So, after a day of brief and impersonal interactions with others, I go home and think that my flaws are so terrible — more than they were the day before, even, because everyone else seems pretty close to perfect. The same people who think I have it all together, who admire my creativity, are the very ones I’m admiring in silence, the very ones who make me think I’m a lot worse than I probably really am.

Hence, the head bent as I walk. Hence, this post.

I thought that on this Thankful Tuesday, I could go out on a limb and do a quick inventory of a few of my flaws. Maybe if we learn to look shame in the face, and learn that it’s ok if we’re not perfect, truer friendships and greater confidence might follow. Secrets never do anyone any good, after all.

With that said…

My worst flaw is my perfectionist nature..

It causes me to feel ashamed of myself if anything but perfection is achieved. It causes me to work really hard and deny myself a break, because I’m afraid of failing. I can’t tell you how thin the tightrope is that I’ve been walking my whole life. What I say, what I do, what I think… It all matters. Perfectionism is, of course, unattainable. No one goes a full day without messing up. I know this logically but, emotionally, no one will want to be my friend unless I am perfect. It’s a script I’ve been fighting a long time. I’ve got much better at fighting it but it still dodges my every thought.

Close behind that flaw is control.

On the one hand, I don’t have a need for control. I am very good at obeying, and I leap at the chance to anticipate needs. I want to help. But having at least the illusion of control makes me feel safe. It’s the reason I’m a decent leader, and public speaker. There are a lot of reasons I could list that control is a good thing: it has helped me accomplish a lot. But it’s also hurt me. It means I control my emotions– even when I shouldn’t because I’m afraid of breaking down. I say nothing unless I think about it. I used to admire my sister because she always says what she thinks and does what she wants. I don’t; instead, I feel trapped by fear of others’ reactions and thoughts. I’m a great listener, and I can say all the right things, but control keeps me from sharing, even when sharing is exactly what I should do. Control keeps me from crying when what I really need is a long breakdown. Control keeps me calm when I am scared to death. I feel the weight of so many expectations, and responsibilities, and outright fear that I can’t ever feel really relaxed, or free. Thus, I make it difficult for others to get to know me, even though human connection is what I most want.

I let negative emotions like shame determine my worth.

The thing is, I feel shame a lot. Put me in an intimate situation, and enough shame to fill a life comes floating up. Shame mocks me when I look in the mirror. Some days, I’m lucky and I can keep it hidden long enough to believe I’m still worthy of affection. Most days, though, I hide from interpersonal relationships and true friendships because, when you get right down to it, I still believe the bad scripts that have been running through my head for decades. I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not good enough. This may not sound like a flaw — at first glance, it may sound sad instead — but believe me, it’s a flaw. Shame made me repeatedly hit my own body until bruises showed up. Shame made me eat only partial meals two days a week. Shame makes me doubt my worth, and leads me to question the motives of those who might be my friends because I can’t understand why they would even want to know me.

In addition to those three primary flaws, I’ve also done a whole host of other wrongs. By no stretch of the imagination am I really “good.” These flaws have truly led to great loss, and heartache. They have hurt me, and led me to hurt others.

“A mother like you should have her head up.

I genuinely adore my daughters. They give my life meaning, and they have helped heal more wounds than I hope they ever know about. I was convinced for a very long time that I would die before they were old enough to remember me and so I work really hard. I come up with hourly schedules for each day, schedules that are full of fun and interesting things to do, ways to make time precious and meaningful. No one can say if I am a good mother or not except Breathe and Alight. But maybe they know I love them, and would do anything to keep them safe and happy and healthy. And, if that’s so, I like to think that that balances out my flaws. I like to think that the grace the Bible talks about isn’t reserved only for more deserving sinners–but for those that love God and try every day as hard as they know how to keep His word close to their hearts.

I’m trying to inspire confidence in my daughters–so much confidence that the world won’t ever be able to drain them of all if it. We do daily affirmations, we do all kinds of exercises that are designed to make them feel good about themselves. But the best way to teach something is to model it.

Each Tuesday, I try to make a habit of being thankful for something, a way of keeping conscious gratitude a part of our daily lives. Mistakes are a part of all of us; we all have character flaws. We shouldn’t be proud of our flaws and we should try to correct them–but we should not allow them to determine our self-worth. We should not allow them to make them keep our heads down. And so on this Thankful Tuesday, I am thankful for strangers, flaws… And for me! 🙂

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