Joanna slipped the book into my hand as she walked into the 24-hour care facility room to say goodbye to my dying father. Joanna came out wearing tears like the rest of us. Some friends are such close friends they are family. Joanna was loved like a daughter by both my mother and father.
I first met Joanna in the 7th grade when I began attending student council meetings. I walked into my first meeting late and took a seat in the back of the room to be in good company with my insecurity and embarrassment. I was soon captivated by the blonde pony-tailed 9th grader who led the meeting with such certainty and expertise. How did she know how to plan a school event? To order a snow cone machine? Her service and leadership left a hunger in me to serve in the same capacity.
Three years later.
Student Government classes began in the summer to plan and begin building our class floats for homecoming. My best friend and I rode our bikes to the meeting held at a community center many miles from our neighborhood. We walked in late and sat in the back of the room in good company with our insecurity and embarrassment. I was captivated by the blonde 12th grade Student Body President who was leading the meeting. All year long I watched Joanna lead meetings and serve her fellow students. Her example gave me courage to step outside of my quiet insecure self and run for class president my junior and senior years. I led every day following her example.
Joanna and I have weaved in and out of each other’s lives over the years; a lifetime tapestry interweaving its shape. We carpooled to college together; she was a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding, and is one of her closest friends; we lived in California during the same time and reconnected when we both moved back to Colorado. Throughout the past several years Joanna has been a stronghold for my family during my dad’s hospital visits, assisted living stay, and passing.
She’s the kind of person that shows up with food when you’ve been at the hospital all day, and she just knows and hands you a sandwich. She’s the kind of person who, as a high school teacher, got to know her students on a personal level and helped emotionally and financially support many of them. She’s the kind of person that comes over and helps you take the ornaments off the Christmas tree because you are in so much pain you can’t do it yourself. She’s the kind of person who puts a book in your hand as she walks in to say goodbye to your dad the day before he dies.
Joanna has been a mentor and friend since childhood. Since my accident two years ago, I have lost a lot of self-confidence. I am not in the forefront serving and leading in my business or at my church. I sit at home most all day feeling like I have no positive effect on the world. I loved serving in Student Government, raising my kids, helping others in my nutrition business, planting churches, serving women and teens at my church, and caring for my father during his final years.
But my accident has ebbed away at my gift of service. Joanna put The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown into my hand that day she said good-bye to Dad.
As I read The Gifts of Imperfection, I realized that, since my accident, I lost my gift of service because I couldn’t do it perfectly anymore (of course I never could, but now I really couldn’t). I couldn’t serve people in a way I was used to serving them. Brené teaches that if we wait to do anything until we think it’s perfected, we will never give anything. Perfectionism blocks creativity, functionality, and efficiency. Brené teaches that being courageous begins with being vulnerable. Being vulnerable and a perfectionist don’t dance together – they hijack one another (this one is my quote!).
My dad served others by giving them drawings he had created and framed with love. He received so much joy from giving. His drawings were not Monet type drawings—they were very good—but they were imperfect. And you know what? People didn’t care! If dad waited until he perfected his drawings he wouldn’t have impacted thousands of people with his gifts of love (he was an art teacher). He knew that love is what people wanted and needed from him, not perfection.
A perfect storm brewed in my mind with Joanna, Dad, and Brené forcing me to rethink my gift of service. I wasn’t giving anyone anything because I couldn’t figure out how to in the midst of my suffering. I have always wanted to be a writer, but was too embarrassed of imperfection and terrified of rejection. Reading Brené’s book provided courage for me to begin.
I blog because of Brené and Dad. I don’t know if I’m making an impact, but I’m in the arena, as Brené puts it. I’m putting my imperfect blog out there. I must learn to be creative in the ways in which I give to others, because I cannot serve in conventional ways such as cooking a meal for someone or cleaning their home or running errands.
So, I write.
Again, Joanna has mentored me. She has led the way in serving, by giving me what I needed, a book with a message I needed. I am still learning from this blonde-haired servant-leader who has chosen to step into the arena. Today happens to be her birthday. Happiest of birthdays, Joanna! Thank you for stepping into the arena to give your many gifts to so many, and thank you for giving me The Gifts of Imperfection – for that is what provided the courage for me to begin writing.