“Eight, nine, ten … ready or not here I come!”
Giggles unmistakably coming from behind the curtains. Doing my best to play along, I feign a search throughout the living room making my way toward the window. Unable to control their delight any longer, they burst out from their hiding spot with squeals of pride and joy and we collided on the floor in an all-out belly laugh. If only hiding as an adult were as innocent as this childhood game.
I’m guilty of hiding behind my own curtains; afraid of people seeing the real me, afraid of their rejection and disapproval. Wounded and exhausted, I hid from my own needs, determined to not need acceptance, companionship, genuine connection. I didn’t need to feel valued or worthy, I’d much rather hide in my own self-sufficiency and perfection.
But as I’d soon come to find out, there’s a dark and deadly side to those walls of isolation.
I was pregnant with our third child and had been through some pretty hurtful relationships, some abusive and others just plain toxic. Broken and bruised I retreated, but as all pregnant mommas know, we need extra hands sometimes. But the risk of reaching out for help only highlighted the things that terrified me. So I put up walls of perfection. “Suck it up, Buttercup” was my motto and “I got this” was my game.
When it came time to deliver, I walked into that hospital armed with my day planner, itineraries and contact lists. I had stocked my freezer with food. My nursery was prepped and I’d even arranged toys and entertainment for my other two munchkins. Everything was color coordinated and slotted with activities and to-do’s. Every step was planned, every vulnerability shut down and silenced. I was prepared to not need.
But I wasn’t prepared for her.
Less than 12 hours after checking into the hospital, my life was in jeopardy. My feet were numb, my head was dizzy, my eyes blurry and I had absolutely no control over anything. I had developed a severe form of preeclampsia and was hemorrhaging, loosing over 75 percent of my blood supply in less than 40 minutes. Doctors and nurses swarmed everywhere. My blood type, weight, name and age were shouted across the room over and over again. My room number was broadcast to the entire hospital and everyone was invited to join (and I do mean everyone). From random surgeons and ER interns, to janitors and the chaplain, this girl who didn’t want to need anyone, suddenly found herself surrounded by everyone.
But she was different.
She was gentle, steady and she wasn’t searching for anything. She just was. She simply slipped her hand in mine and didn’t let go. I didn’t know her; only knew her first name and her deep blue eyes. Her gaze calm and steady. The room stood still for a moment while I allowed myself to notice.
I needed her.
As she stood there with no other purpose than to hold my hand, I realized she also held my vulnerabilities – the emotional ones I was ignoring. She watched me lose all control and helplessly disrupt an entire hospital with my needs. I was fully exposed, fully vulnerable and yet, she held on, never once turning away.
It was unfamiliar to be that out of control, that exposed and yet feel so … connected. I was afraid and she stayed close. I couldn’t be polite or put together and she lovingly touched my arm. In the midst of all my need, she met me with the simple comfort of connection. I not only felt my feelings, I faced them.
Walls of perfection and self-sufficiency don’t protect, they stifle. There in that isolation from community, we numb ourselves to our own fears and our needs, even to our dreams. Sure, being vulnerable is risky. We all have stories of sharing a piece of our heart or experience with others only to have them reject us, leaving us bruised and broken. But we can’t guard ourselves from the risks of vulnerability without also keeping ourselves distant from connection.
The doctors patched me up and a generous donor replenished what I’d lost, but it was the nurse’s simple gesture in the midst of crisis that uncovered a healing balm I most desperately needed.
I needed connection.
I didn’t want to be found that day, but the nurse with the blue eyes peaked behind my iron curtain and saw me. She touched my hand in the midst of my fearful mess and said, “I see you. You are visible and I’m not letting go.” There I found the will to live, the will to keep dreaming and the hope for tomorrow.
We were made for community, built to thrive in the whole place of authenticity. There in those places of honesty, both with ourselves and with others, we find strength and hope. Community pours life into our dreams, helps to silence the fears that seem unbearable and reminds us just how real we are. The game of hiding is over – let’s all be free.
Alle, alle, auch sind frei (German for “all, all, are also free”).
Brandi is a writer, speaker and faith-encourager. As a former social worker, she learned that radiant faith is forged in the depths of real life. She and her husband live in northern Colorado with their three vivacious children. She blogs weekly at BrandiRennemeyer.com.