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Great things happen when you approach others with an open embrace.

At age 10, a painful experience revealed how broken, disabled, and imperfect I was.

A conversation with my mother afterward, though, challenged me to never believe lies that cheapen the blessing of my life. And heeding her advice positively changed my life. Let me explain.

When I came home from the hospital after being burned, fitting in was a struggle. In the early days, I was in a wheelchair, bandages covering my entire body. Eventually, my bandages were removed, and the wheelchair was no longer needed, but I was covered in scars from my neck to my toes.

I had many experiences of being stared at, pointed at, and whispered about in public- and still do. One of most searing experiences occurred in church about a year after the fire.

During the service, there is a moment when we turn to others, extend our hands, shake theirs, and offer one another peace. As a kid, this was a much-needed chance to burn off energy that had been stifled for the previous 30 minutes trapped in a pew.

On this particular day, I remember joyfully shaking hands with my siblings and parents. Then, with the family we knew in front of us. After, I turned and extended my hand to the gentleman behind us. He began to extend his, looked down at mine, and realized he was about to shake hands with a little boy with no fingers and scarred arms. The gentleman withdrew his hand, crossed his arms, and looked away.

Dejected, I pulled my hand back, turned around, and put my head down. I tucked both scarred, fingerless hands deep into my pockets and tried to disappear.

It may seem relatively insignificant, but as a child with profound physical differences, already struggling to fit in, lacking confidence, and longing to be normal, this was a painful reminder of how obviously different and unwanted I was.

Hours later, through the power of a mother’s intuition, Mom could tell something was wrong. My typically joyful demeanor was absent. After denying anything was wrong several times, I finally, tearfully admitted what had happened.

She knelt in front of me, took my hands in hers and asked if I fully knew how remarkable I was?

I nodded my head and told her I did. It was a lie.

Mom looked into my eyes and said in the tone that only a convicted, impassioned mother could muster: “John, listen to me. You are a remarkable gift, a walking miracle. And you are perfect exactly as you are. Absolutely perfect. Never, ever, let your value be defined by someone who doesn’t realize that. Do you understand me?”

She then talked about the agony we’d already survived. She celebrated the bravery that we’d revealed and shared how these painful experiences were preparing me for something more beautiful than we could imagine.

She discussed how real peace, acceptance and joy will never come from someone else’s opinion of me, but by choosing to love myself.

And she challenged me that, from then on when I met someone, I not extend my hand hoping they take it, but extend both, take theirs and pull them toward me with love – showing them that I am confident in who I am.

Those I’ve had the honor of meeting after speaking engagements know that I do practice this way of shaking hands. It now usually ends with a big hug. And no, it wasn’t something I figured out as a man, successful speaker, or published author.

I was challenged to do it during a time when I lacked confidence, didn’t believe in the power of my story and was unaware of the miracle of my life.

Over time this practice freed me to not only embrace the blessings of my own imperfections, but to realize that everyone feels they, too, have scars that make them imperfect or unlovable. But in authentically meeting others where they are and loving them as they are, they depart a bit more confident and joyful than they had previously felt.

We live in a marketplace that feels so isolated, stressed, and divided. I invite you – like Mom invited me – to view your painful experiences as a gift preparing you for something bigger.

You will not find peace, acceptance, or joy in someone else’s opinion of you, but by choosing to love yourself.

And finally, my friend, today approach friends, acquaintances and strangers with confidence, love, and an open embrace.

Accepting this challenge is certain to elevate the way we feel about our own lives. It will also liberate us to extend our hands and hearts to those still desperately seeking acceptance in theirs.

Today is your day. Live Inspired.



11 replies on “Will You Reach Out in Love?”

John – thanks for continuing to inspire and challenge us.
Your message of love is so needed in this world. May God continue the great work he has placed in you.

John, I heard you speak years ago at St. Mary’s hospital, in Madison, Wisconsin. You were an excellent speaker! I could tell that you were also a special person. Thank you for sharing strength, warmth, and wisdom over the years through your website. I try to read your post every week. You are a breath of fresh air in a very challenging time. Thank you for continuing to share positive thoughts and great perspective. Wishing the best to you and your family!

Be happy with yourself! So true. The only true “external” source of happiness comes from knowing him who loves us all.

Thanks John!!!

My daughter sent this to me at a time when I was doubting my self worth after someone had said something hurtful to me. It served as a reminder to pay no attention to the words from a fools mouth.

My daughter sent this to me at a time when I was doubting my self after someone had said something hurtful to me. It served as a reminder to pay no attention to the words from a fools mouth.

Thank you for sharing this. Your mother is an amazing women. I hope that I am half of the woman she is to my own children. I preach as she did to my own children, “you are perfect the way you are to always believe and love yourself.” I am in tears as I write this with inspiration and love. Thank you.

How true John! How can we truly love someone else if we don’t love who we are. If you allow others to define you, you will never be happy, because everyone sees you differently. The old saying, “you can’t please everyone” is so true, just ask anyone in a leadership role.

Love this story, and the inspiration and encouragement it gives! I thoroughly enjoy all Monday morning stories and the plethora of inspirational speakers you interview on your podcasts! Someday I hope to see you in person, and I look forward to the two handed- open armed handshake and hug ❣️

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