11:57 p.m. Three minutes before the first full day of a new life that I neither asked, nor planned for. I take my rings off for the last time and my hand feels lighter, weirder … I don’t know, just different. I put them on the nightstand and the stones somehow seem to stare back at me. Now that they are permanently separated from my finger, I dared look where they used to live. As I traced the tiny indentations that remained, I noticed a strange silence. I wasn’t hearing familiar breathing. Looking up, my bedroom, and my life, suddenly became this untouched canvas. Blank. Noiseless. Motionless. And for a creative person, there can be truly nothing more intimidating than a blank canvas.
I woke up about four hours later with that heavy-in-the-head feeling that you get when your soul has just been through hell, but your mind is trying to catch up and put all of it into neat little boxes. Then begins the strategic planning of how you’re going to function the next day and not let the world know what you’re really going through. After all, we do that, you know. We pretend. And if I’m being perfectly honest, we had been pretending for years. We lived in the right subdivision. Our kids had the right grades, the right activities, the right sneakers. Our Christmas cards were smiling and colorful 4”x6” stability announcements. We went on family vacations and did all of the things that so many families do. We were so busy offering glittery evidence of our perfect life that the only thing that was truly perfect was the ruse itself.
My bedroom felt the same at 4:13 a.m. as it did at 11:57 p.m. the night before. My blank canvas I ironically named “What now?” was demanding answers. All six hundred of those little people that I would teach that week, including my own two most important little people, were depending on my game face. Life just got seriously real, and seriously scary, and seriously… well, just plain serious. Thankfully, I had my faith and friends to fall back on, but I needed molten steel poured down my spine.
“I chose to regain my strength through authenticity, knowing full well that this life makes no promises about love, pain, compassion, betrayal, rejection, or success.”
As I sat in alone in my room, I started to speak … as in out loud. Hearing my own voice for the first time that day felt like I was hearing my own voice for the first time in my adult life. At first, it was this random gathering of thoughts that was one part battle cry and two parts prayer. And then the prayer led to a revelation: if my life was made weak by my decisions to be inauthentic, then maybe my strength would come from authenticity. This discovery led to my personal promise: I will no longer do anything in my life that is not coming from a place of pure authenticity. My life may become messy, imperfect, and probably go against the norm that is all around me. I may give up great opportunities that others would kill for, and I may choose to take chances that no one would dare. Nevertheless, every decision every day would now spring from the most authentic possible part of me. For years, I had listened to this insidious little minion named “inauthenticity” that told me “It’s not that bad yet” or “At least it’s not as awful as so-and-so’s situation.” But there was always that smaller voice inside of me that whispered “Okay, yeah, but, uh, something’s not right here…just sayin’.” And that littlest and quietest voice is my voice of unprocessed and unfiltered truth: my authenticity. It’s the voice that had been sitting there whispering truth all along, but somehow I had negotiated my way out of listening for one more mortgage payment, one more career success, and one more charitable opportunity. As of 11:57 on November 6, 2013, no more.
I chose to regain my strength through authenticity, knowing full well that this life makes no promises about love, pain, compassion, betrayal, rejection, or success. Life will happen for better and for worse. In the seasons when life is kind, we don’t need that much strength to coast from day to day. But when life truly shows up in its ugliest form, any morsel of personal strength is as vital as air. We then start hauling away the personal clutter that buries our strength, just like all those heavy boxes you have to move just to get to that one item you need right now, even though you know it’s in the deepest furthest corner. At 11:57, I began stripping away everything – everything – that compromised my authenticity. As my strength grew, I began to get emotionally skinnier as I shed the weight of world-imposed expectations, fears of failure or rejection, and the practice of duplicity.
Honestly, I hope that you never experience an 11:57 moment like I did. And I am hopeful that my story encourages you to find every ounce of strength to heal an injured marriage, or any of life’s wounds, before it’s too truly too late. But should you ever find yourself facing a sudden “What now?” blank canvas, know that you can find your strength if you dare to partner with your authenticity. And I promise that someday your littlest quietest voice will simply sit back, smile, and whisper, “Thank you for listening. Carry on.”