Embracing Our Imperfections as Gifts
“What’s wrong with your dad?”
I heard those words earlier this year and my heart skipped a beat.
The school year had just begun and I was picking up the kids from school. My youngest, Grace, and a new friend approached to see if they could stick around the schoolyard to play for a while. Grace raced over and gave me a massive smile and hug. Her little friend stood back at a safe distance.
Having never met me, she was clearly surprised by my physical appearance. With the subtle, sweet filter of a child (read: none!), she pointed at me and asked the question: “What’s wrong with your dad?”
After hearing her friend’s question, Grace looked up at me. Her big white bow held back her blonde hair; her pink rimmed glasses framed her blue eyes. She turned from me, looked at her new friend and without any semblance of embarrassment, shame or anger, responded: “Nothing’s wrong with my dad. He just got burned when he was a little boy. But he’s fine now. He’s all better.”
Her little friend looked back at me, down at my hands, then up at my face. She sized me up again, her original suspicion faded. She accepted Grace’s response, they handed me their backpacks, and the two ran off to play.
Whether on a playground with kids or at an office meeting with a difficult colleague, how do we respond when one of our faults or flaws gets called out? How can we move forward into the light when it feels safer to draw back into the shadows?
The Greatest Showman Celebrates All That Makes Us Unique
This past weekend our family watched The Greatest Showman. It’s the story of P.T. Barnum, his rise to success, his fall from it, and his redemption after discovering what actually matters. (If you haven’t seen it, go! Terrific movie, music and message. We loved it!)
To attract people to his traveling circus, Barnum employed the most peculiar individuals alive. Their various ethnic backgrounds, unique talents and wildly different looks attracted large audiences. A seven-foot giant; a three-foot little person; a 700-pound-man. Individually, they were castoffs, unwanted, ignored, pitied or even despised. Ah, but together they were celebrated, providing entertainment, joy, and smiles.
In order to take center stage, though, these characters needed to recognize that what seemed to be their great imperfections, were in fact their greatest assets.
Leading this charge was the meek Lettie Lutz (played by Keala Settle). Most striking of the various outward challenges she faced was the fact she was a fully bearded lady. With limited confidence she emerges from the shadows and whispers out these lyrics:
I am not a stranger to the dark.
Hide away, they say.
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts.
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars.
Run away, they say.
No one’ll love you as you are.
Although few of us will find ourselves physically unusual enough to be valued by P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus, I am confident all of us have scars, bruises, failings and have felt like Lettie from time to time. Although few of us will be pointed at by a child asking the question “What’s wrong with you?” I am convinced we all endure the pang of feeling utterly broken, unworthy, undeserving. We have learned to play it safe, to run away, feeling no one could love us as we are.
But my friends, Lettie’s song doesn’t end there. And neither do our stories.
Surrounded by friends, Lettie steps toward the middle of the ring and moves into the light, unashamed. Her voice elevates, her confidence grows and she belts out the words:
But I won’t let them break me down to dust,
I know that there’s a place for us.
For we are glorious!
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down,
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out.
I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be,
This is me!
Sometimes we are the brave one. Yet many times in our weakness, we need those around us to be the flood, to drown out the critics, to remind us we are perfectly who we are meant to be.
As the song reaches its climax, surrounded by her friends, with an adoring audience cheering them on, our beautiful singer finishes her anthem, belting out the words:
Look out ’cause here I come.
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum!
I’m not scared to be seen.
I make no apologies…
This is me!
(Finding beauty in the brokenness is frequently easier for kids than it is for us. I was reminded of this fact during my most recent Live Inspired Podcast interview. Lizzie Velasquez was born with an extremely rare congenital disease and substantial physical abnormalities. As a young woman she became the unwanted subject of a viral internet video describing her as the world’s ugliest woman. Having more courage and beauty than any internet troll could fathom, Lizzie fought back. She shared the truth of her story and now travels the world educating audiences on what real beauty and inner confidence looks like in action. She is simply amazing; you’ll love her story and her message. Check out my full interview with Lizzie here.)
What The Greatest Showman Can Teach Us About Embracing Imperfections
My friends, in a marketplace ripe with snap visual judgments, desire instead to be blind to the unimportant.
In a society that celebrates the physical appearance rather than character, the trivial rather than the relevant, and the fleeting rather than the substantial, seek a clearer understanding of true beauty, meaning, and success.
Keep marching to the beat you drum. Continue embracing the bruises, the scars, the experiences that have lead you to where you are.
And remember that imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.
Make no apologies for the imperfections you have. This is you.
And this is your day. Live Inspired.
Thanks to everyone who replied to last week’s blog post and shared the one item they’d be sure to grab if their house was on fire. Congrats to Lisa Jilek who shared that she’d run in for a red choker necklace that has some pretty special meaning. You’re the lucky winner of a signed copy of On Fire! Please send your address to firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your prize.