by Rachel Macy Stafford
“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 out who she really is—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. Through 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’s 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.”
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.