Brene Brown Would Have Been Proud

Chloe stood straight and as tall as her 4 foot 11 inch frame would allow for in her black floor length dress. Her ginger colored hair was pulled back into two tight buns on either side of her head. She had deliberate bangs that framed her face. Red circle rimmed glasses balanced on her nose. She looked up at the ceiling and took a breath. I smiled at her, she smiled back—tightly. Clearly she was nervous. The accompanist sat poised on the piano bench. Several of Chloe’s peers sat on the edge of the room. They had already performed in small groups or their vocal solo numbers. One girl balanced a saxophone on her lap. I was the only mother in the room, as far as I could tell. Another adult served as a room monitor of sorts. The room waited.

In the back of the room sat the judge. Papers and music books were piled up around her. She scribbled in pencil on a previous contestant’s paper. The room held its breath and listened as the judge erased something and then brushed the pencil crumbs to the side. She wrote again with brief strokes, circling numbers, making short comments. She was serious and deliberate.

Eventually she looked up at Chloe. Chloe took a deeper breath and introduced her self and the two pieces she would be singing. The pianist played the introduction and Chloe started.

Suddenly, without meaning to, I found my eyes filling with tears.

This situation would have made sociologist, Brene Brown, so proud. I’ve been reading her book, Daring Greatly. Brown talks extensively about shame and ways to develop shame resilience. In Daring Greatly she broadens the conversation on shame to the wider topic of scarcity. “Scarcity is the “never enough” problem.” (p 28) Shame, comparison and disengagement all contribute to the insidious nature of scarcity. Shame is that horrible knowing that something is wrong with me. I’m never enough. I’m flawed. Comparison also breeds shame and contributes to the “never enough” problem. I compare myself to those around me, those on social media, those on TV and I always come up short. I’m certainly not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough. Disengagement is the natural consequence of shame and comparison. I pull back. I choose to not show up. It’s too risky. And I’m not enough.

According to Brown the antidote to scarcity is not abundance. She doesn’t think the opposite of ‘never enough’ is ‘more than you can imagine.’ Instead she believes that the antonym of scarcity is quite simply ‘enough’. She calls that “Wholeheartedness”.

Wholeheartedness…at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks and knowing that I am enough (Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, p29).

Believing that I’m enough silences the shame, even if only for a few moments. The comparison track is paused and I’m given the space and the courage to engage. It requires risk and true bravery. It means being vulnerable. Showing up. Allowing myself to be seen.

Chloe finished her two solo pieces and she left the room. Our daughter, Adelaide, came in next. She stood in the very place Chloe had stood. Adelaide’s piano accompanist arranged herself at the piano. Adelaide smiled at her friends and at me. She wiggled a few fingers. She looked up at the ceiling and down at the floor. And then she took a deep cleansing breath and she locked her gaze on the judge. The judge was finishing up Chloe’s paperwork. Suddenly Adelaide smiled. The judge had looked up in anticipation and

Adelaide met her gaze. Adelaide introduced herself and the two pieces she’d be singing. The piano started up and Adelaide joined in, her voice clear and strong.

It took tremendous courage for Chloe and Adelaide to compete as solo vocalists at the state competition. They had the courage to stand up in front of others, to bring their strengths, to allow themselves to be seen. I’m sure they felt vulnerable and laid bare before their peers but they did it. They dared to show up, to remain engaged.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time…. vulnerability is life’s great dare. It’s life asking, “Are you all in? Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others?” Answering yes to these questions is not weakness: It’s courage beyond measure. It’s daring greatly” (Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, page 43).

I’m not performing in any competition. My day-to-day life doesn’t involve long black dresses and Italian operettas, vocal warm ups or practice sessions. Yet many a day comes where I feel afraid to face the next thing. My courage wanes. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I flounder. Emotions rise like the moon on a dark night and cast shadows. Watching Adelaide last Saturday was inspiring. Her courage was transparent. She dared to be there. She dared to do her best. She invited others to see her. As much as she might have wanted to, she chose not to recoil. She chose to show up.

As odd as this may sound, I want to be like my daughter when I grow up!


A Safe Sanctuary


The snow is blowing all around us. 8 feet of snow piled on every side. When we open the back door it piles through the doorway. No one is even bothering to shovel because there is no where to put it.

By contrast the inside of our apartment is warm and dry. Bright daylight pours through the windows. Warm blankets fall over couches, evidence of their recent use. Pillows sit haphazardly on chairs, ready to be arranged by the one who sits down.

A well-stocked refrigerator, hot drinks, plenty of fruit and vegetables — all of these are present.

We have a safe sanctuary away from cold, wet, snow, and ice. In this space we are impervious to the elements that rage on the outside. Security and safety are all here, within these walls, in this space.

I think about this, and about safety. In a moment it could all change and I know this. Safety is something of an illusion. On Sunday night I saw this yet again as I heard the news that a beloved priest was tragically killed in a car accident. He leaves behind his young wife and six children. He was driving home from his Parish when snow began to fall and suddenly with no warning driving conditions were no longer safe. Nothing could have prepared the family. Life changed in a moment for them. 

Safety – what is it? We can be in dangerous places and yet safe because we know who protects us. We can be in secure places and feel frightened. Physical safety is relative.

I think about storms that rage, whether they be physical storms or emotional storms, and how important it is to have a sanctuary, but also how having a sanctuary is a privilege. A huge privilege.

Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe, but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

I wrote the words above in a piece called “Dear New Mom” and as I think about safety and sanctuary, I revisit them.  Where does vulnerability fit into all of this? A heart surrounded by ice, thinking the ice prevents it from being broken, is little good to anyone. A friend reminded me of the words below by CS Lewis. She wrote them in response to my piece on connecting the head and the heart.

‘Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket of selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change, it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.’

There is being vulnerable and then there is being safe. Can safety and vulnerability coexist?

I think they have to. Particularly at different points in our lives. Only when we feel safe can we be vulnerable. When we are in the midst of a crisis, be it a marital or other crisis, it’s difficult to be vulnerable. Because all of our safeguards are gone.

When we let people who are not safe into the sanctuaries of our souls they tend to break things. They take those fragile pieces and treat them poorly, throwing them around, tossing out words and behaviours that shatter our safety. And when those fragile pieces break, it can take a lot of work to put them back together. Trust is broken easily, but repaired slowly.

Several years ago I heard a story about a public school in New York City that wanted to take down the fence around the school yard. I’m not sure why, perhaps they wanted children to feel more freedom. But the opposite happened: instead of more freedom, children huddled together in the middle of the play ground. They were afraid and they could not move freely. When they had the fence, they could run and play, there was safety around the perimeter and it made all the difference. The fence, instead of constricting, gave freedom.

We need fences in the sanctuaries of our souls. We are not made to be emotionally naked with everyone, everyone is not safe. But with proper fences, we have freedom to be vulnerable. 

So know your safe people, and be vulnerable with them. But keep proper fences, not walls that cannot be penetrated, but fences that allow freedom around the sanctuary of your soul.

Blogger’s note: Just a note that the first couple paragraphs of this was written in the middle of a snow storm. There are no snow storms raging around me right now, and for that, I am grateful!

Who Do People Say I Am?

lemon tea

Who do people say I am? by Robynn

According to research done by the Kansas Leadership Center one of the leadership competencies is ‘Managing self’. Part of that is knowing your strengths, vulnerabilities and triggers. It’s also knowing the story others tell about you.

Years ago, when our girls were tiny, friends left India, where we were all living at the time, to return to New Zealand. Before they left their little girl gave our little girls a framed picture. It certainly wasn’t high end art, by any stretch of the imagination, but it meant a lot to Adelaide and Bronwynn.

I was sitting at the dining room table, drinking a cup of coffee, catching up on some paper work, when I overheard the two girls chattering. “Our mommy is going to put a hook on the wall so we can hang up our picture,” Adelaide, then 5 explained to her 2 year old sister. She paused before further elaborating, “mommy’s going to put a hook right here.” What she said next made me snort with laughter, coffee spewing all over the table, “You see our mommy is a hooker, she’s a really good hooker”!

There was a day, ages ago, when Jesus, having just fed masses of people and helping a blind men regain his sight, was walking along with his friends. Out of the blue he turned to them, mid-stroll and asked, Who do people say I am? The friends offered a few of the names people were calling him, John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet. They held back from telling him all that people were saying. They failed to mention heretic, lunatic, nut-job. He seemed to take that information in his stride. But who do you say I am? One of his best friends answers with confidence, You are the Messiah.

It was a sacred truth. Jesus didn’t want it made public. At least not yet. He then went on to invite them into that holy space. He began to share vulnerably what was ahead. He spoke of suffering and sorrow. He revealed weakness. He spoke of the dangers ahead, for himself but also for those he loved, his friends, his family. And he talked about it all with authentic openness. He was honest. He was plain. He was raw.

It made his friends uncomfortable. One close friend in particular, who had rightly pronounced who he thought Jesus was, now took him aside. He wanted Jesus to keep these things private….. Audaciously he reprimanded Jesus for saying such things.  Was it the gloominess of conversation? Was it the seeming weakness? The powerlessness? Whatever it was Jesus wasn’t taking it. He turned and rebuked his friend, “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Recently I’ve come to discover the danger of honesty. It effects people in different ways. Some are magnetically drawn to it. They realize they aren’t alone. It places them in community. It helps them to know that others struggle, others fall apart, others can’t manage everything perfectly. It brings them great relief. But there’s another group of people who find vulnerability to be a sign of weakness and a cry for help. They disdain it. It’s embarrassing. It’s awkward.

But maybe vulnerability is in part what Jesus was modeling. He was speaking of frailty and death, of suffering and rejection. His friends wanted him to be strong and invincible. Mentioning weakness made everyone feel susceptible. They wanted a message of strength and valour.

As writers and bloggers we process our worlds through words. We take what’s real to us and we work through it, writing it out, typing it tidy. Bloggers who protect themselves and others from their own pain come off as trite and superficial. The best bloggers give themselves, opening, plainly. Vulnerability is a natural byproduct of that process. It’s the whey from the cheese. It’s the chaff from the grain.

Adelaide told a tiny Bronwynn that I was a “hooker”. It’s not true. It’s not who I am. It’s who she said I was…but she was mistaken and she obviously misunderstood the meaning of the word. And now again in the face of my transparency a few have said I’m apparently in distress or in pain…that I’m weak and pathetic. A few have voiced concern.

Vulnerability and weakness are signs of strength. These are indicators that I’m growing in emotional health. I’m aware of my limitations. I’ve come to weakness through a feigned strength, through the back door of thinking I was independent and sturdy. Burnout graced me with an assurance that I’m not indestructible. I’m not god.

I offer you my self: vulnerable, transparent, exposing my weaknesses and my temptations, my vices, my victories, my soul and my heart. I stand before you as Robynn. I invite you into my story, into the places of pain that still percolate in my spirit. Come journey with me. Find community as you identify with what you read. Find the nearness of Jesus as you see him show up in my story. Find hope as you watch me trip over it. I’m finding those things too as I find the words to frame up the formations and revelations. Together we can discover that in our weaknesses He is strong. He is God and we are not.

Have you struggled with honesty? Have you had others misinterpret your vulnerability as weakness? How do you respond? 

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