Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

All too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we risk having a front that’s soft and open…. How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft-front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly- and letting the world see into us.  -Roshi Joan Halifax

Are we all breathing collective “ahas” here? Ahhhh that last part “letting the world see into us”…that’s what it’s all about my friends. Being vulnerable and brave, letting others see us for who we are and being confident with the soul God gave us. I’m convinced life was meant to be lived with a strong back and a soft front. It’s time for our final chapter in Braving the Wilderness and I have to just take a moment to thank you all who joined me on this journey of my first book club. I’m sorry things weren’t always delivered on time but I’ll try to be better with the next one. There was so much to digest in this book so I hope these chapter reviews helped you go deeper as it did for me. Let’s dive into this closing chapter.

      1. What was your reaction to Dr. Halifax’s response to Brené Brown: “Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.” DANG! I loved her response, but yes I felt the same way. I sometimes need someone else to give me permission to inhale and just be. I go through seasons of giving, producing, and creating and sometimes I need to stop and remind myself to take time to breath and do nothing. It’s usually in the doing nothing period that I’m revived and given more creativity to keep moving forward. Relaxing or taking time to do nothing is usually what my body needs so I can wake up the next day and be a good mom, wife, friend and human. What was your initial reaction?
      2. When you have found true belonging and the wild has marked your heart how do you continue to be brave in the wilderness? I loved what Brown says on page 149, “We can spend our entire life betraying ourself and choosing fitting in over standing alone. But once we’ve stood up for ourself and our beliefs, the bar is higher. A wild heart fights fitting in and grieves betrayal.” The thought of betraying myself was a powerful one. I wouldn’t ever want to betray a friend, so why do I think it’s okay to betray myself when fitting in seems easier? Because I’m not confident and I’ve afraid to stand alone that’s why… but when you think about a life of betraying oneself that puts things in perspective. I want my children to view me as a woman that knew what she wanted, held to her beliefs and lived them out. If you want that kind of legacy then to the wilderness it is! Write down a time when you betrayed yourself and then underneath it write out how you would do things differently now.
      3. Strong Back: Brown says that when strengthening our back is our particular challenge, we are often driven by what people think. Perfecting, pleasing, proving, and pretending get in the way of the strong back….Ahhh! All those P’s got me! Even better though she gives us a BRAVING exercise on page 149-150 which looks like this. BOUNDARIES: Setting and holding boundaries even when your afraid of not being liked. RELIABILITY: Saying what we mean and meaning what we say while not overcommitting to please others. ACCOUNTABILITY: Taking responsibility when we’re wrong while letting go of blame and shame. VAULT: Keeping things in confidence while stopping gossip and oversharing. INTEGRITY: Practicing our values while choosing courage over comfort in hard moments. NONJUDGMENT: Giving and receiving help while letting go of the “helper & fixer” identity as a source of our worth. GENEROSITY: Being generous in our assumptions of others while being honest and clear with others about what’s okay and not okay. Which one or two of theses is the most challenging for you and what are the first steps you will take to work on them. If you journal write all that goodness down.
      4. To be in the wilderness you must have a high level of self-respect and self-love. Going back to the quote in the first chapter by Maya Angelou: “I belong to myself. I am very proud of Maya. I like Maya very much.” What does the work look like for you to get to this place? Are you close to this level of self-acceptance? If not what’s keeping you from getting there?
      5. I loved Jen Hatmaker’s story of how she entered the wilderness and stood up for her beliefs in a hostile environment. Part of me was like whoa I don’t know if I could do what she did and the other part was asking why not? Jen nails it on page 151 when she says, “Human approval is one of our most treasured idols, and the offering we must lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable.” BAM…”it’s hungry feet”, that paints and pretty accurate description of people pleasing doesn’t it? Human approval is always hungry and never stops if we don’t stop it ourselves. How did you respond to Jen’s story?
      6. Who’s in the wilderness with you? I loved that Jen Hatmaker talked about the wilderness as being a party with really awesome people. If the people in the wilderness are true to themselves and truly belong to themselves then think of how good the relationships with these wild hearted people could be! I mean this thought alone makes me want to have a strong back and soft front so that I can connect with more people like that. I want more real and honest friendships don’t you? Name a few people you know that are wilderness dwellers.
      7. Soft Front: The opposite of a soft front is an armored front. But as Dr. Brown says we learn at an early age to armor up as a way to protect ourselves. However, once we enter adulthood we might realize that the armor has also prevented us from growing into our gifts and becoming our authentic selves. I think we all wear a little bit of armor… write down a time in your life when you felt like you had to protect yourself. Think of a time when vulnerability was just too hard and the pain was just too great. Now write down how you will give yourself permission to take bits of that armor off and why you are better off without it.
      8. What was your reaction to the armored front reasons: 1) We’re not comfortable with emotions and we equate vulnerability with weakness, and or 2) Our experiences of trauma have taught us that vulnerability is actually dangerous. Violence and oppression have made our soft front a liability, and we struggle to find a place emotionally and physically safe enough to be vulnerable. I’ll tell you mine, I’m definitely a number 2. Certain experiences in my life have taught me to guard and protect my heart and I don’t think that that is all bad. I think there is a time for guarding your heart, but I also think we need to learn when the expiration date on that runs out. We forget that there is also a time to let the guard down, to take the armor off.
      9. Wild Heart: The wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid – all in the same moment. It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage and being both fierce and kind. I love love love that the wild heart is a paradox because it would be such a struggle to be tough, excited, and brave all the time. It’s freeing to think we can be brave and scared at the same time. How did you like or dislike this definition of a wild heart?
      10. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are! I love this thought…I don’t really have a question about just wanted to state that its a good one.
      11. The Practice: Living in the wilderness is a daily practice. I love how Dr. Brown talks about how this practice has changed the way she parents and the way she leads on page 158. “Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong.” Wow that’s like a swift kick in the pants that we probably all need. I mean we all want to belong but we sabotage ourselves constantly by looking for all the ways we don’t belong. I’ve done this since Kindergarten. I remember feeling like I didn’t belong because I was slower at learning to read and labeled with a learning disability. I came up with an endless list that I carried with me to college and finally learned to let go of once I earned a masters degree. What are some things you tell yourself as to why you don’t belong? Write them down and then cross it out and write I belong everywhere!
      12. A note on parenting: Can Brené Brown please write her next book on parenting because gosh this nugget was so good…. “I’ve always parented with the belief that love and belonging are the ground zero of wholehearted parenting. If they know they are loved and lovable, if they know how to love, and if they know that no matter what, they belong at home, everything else will work out.” I fail constantly as a mother but I always fall back on the thought that my children are so dang loved and I do my best to make sure they know that. How can we foster this kind of environment more in our homes and how can we teach our children to live in the wilderness with us?
      13. In closing: I loved how Dr. Brown ended this book by saying there will be times when standing alone feels too scary and times when we think we don’t have what it takes to survive but that its in these times that we dig deep into our hearts and say, “I AM THE WILDERNESS.” Write down all they ways you can be the wilderness and how you will survive when fear is great and standing alone is really scary….also write down all the ways your life is better when you are in the wilderness.


    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for joining me! I’m open for suggestions for the next book in this series so please feel free to share any recommendations in the comments below.

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