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The scents of vanilla bean body spray and cherry blossom lotion waft through the door before I even enter the room. I hear them laughing, talking about children, and discussing essential oils as I pass through over threshold. It’s my first meeting with the mom group, and the familiar anxiety rises in my chest. I fear I won’t fit in. I wonder where I’ll sit and how I’ll embark on an adventure in awkward small talk. 

I scan the room as I wait in line to fill out my nametag. I’ll write box-like letters that look like they were penned by an 8-year-old boy, while the other women etch their letter with elegant calligraphy. Why did I not take cursive class more seriously in third grade?

Name written in all caps on my tag, I scan for an open seat at one of the round tables with pretty handmade centerpieces. I swear I’d fit in better at the men’s chili cookoff. For years, I wondered why God created me female, when so many of my interests and comforts fell into the male realm: sports, camping, fishing, hiking, jogging shoes, ballcaps, and T-shirts. 

I’m pushing my tomboy thoughts to the back of my mind when I remember. I remember the exact truth I try to embrace in every social situation: I’m not here to feel included; I’m here to love others well.

While it’s tempting to walk into social situations with eyes scanning for the group that will make me feel included, the calling on my life is to constantly watch for opportunities to extend love and kindness to others. 

I scan the room and utter a quick prayer for guidance. I’m looking for a lonely woman who needs my love. I’m looking for someone to draw into the group. 

When my mind is fixed on brightening someone’s day, most social events lead me to a lonely or isolated person. However, this is not always the case. At times, I sense a nudge to join the group that looks entirely put-together, clique-like, exclusive, popular, and intimidating. (Why does my middle school self cast these judgments and cower?)

There are no lonely or isolated women on this day. Instead, I’m drawn to an empty seat in a well-dressed, perfectly styled, freshly showered, chatty group in the center of the room. “Oh no,” I think, “this is not what I was hoping for.”  Am I really going to saunter over to this group in my too-tight skinny jeans, plaid shirt, and loose bun, and join in?

In this moment, I’m reminded of the truth: You have nothing to prove to anyone. You are a vessel of love. Go love these women.

I pray the seat is taken when I ask if I can join the group, and I’m welcomed in with smiles and warm greetings. The popular girls are nice. This is good news. 

I join in the conversation about recurring ear infections, and we’ve only talked for a few minutes when the speaker rises to the stage to silence the audience. I sigh at the reprieve of forced silence for the next half-hour. 

When the speaker concludes her talk, we’re asked to discuss some weighty issues about balancing motherhood and our own personal passions that aren’t connected to being moms. The women at my table seem reluctant to open up, and I sense a nudge in my heart: Be real with these women. They need it.

We’re good at wearing masks. We cover ourselves in foundation, concealer, eye-liner and mascara. We make sure our hair looks good and our clothes fit perfectly. We pretend we have it all together. We show the world that we are fulfilled and satisfied with our lives. 

What if taking off my mask will allow these women to shed theirs as well?

I ponder the question and scratch my loose bun, staring down at my frumpy flannel. I’ve always loved plaid.

Then I say it. I just plain say it. I tell them how I often hit the end of the day feeling completely poured out. I talk about the meltdowns I have on my children when my husband works late and the way I eat chocolate when they go to bed just to feel satisfied by something. I tell them how I crave greater abundance in my life and admit that I often come up lacking. 

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I love being a mom. It’s the most fulfilling calling of my life. My years as a mom have been the best of my life. But there’s so much gritty unseen work that no one knows about. There are so many hard days of simply praying for his truck to pull in the driveway for some relief. It’s not an easy calling.

My vulnerability opens the floodgates. The pretty moms with their perfect makeup are weeping, one at a time, as they share the same struggles. They’re honest about their failures, their lack of satisfaction, and the places they turn when they feel empty. 

We linger long into late morning—after the meeting has ended and the men come to put the tables away. We pray, cry, laugh, and share. Numbers are exchanged and playdates are arranged.

Something profound has transpired.

I drive home in a whirlwind of thoughts. I see God’s hand in the whole morning, and I wonder why all women can’t just be honest about their struggles. Then I remember myself as I walked into that estrogen-saturated room. I remember my masks and my reservations, and I empathize.

Regardless of how transparent you are in your interactions with others, let’s band together as women and commit to honesty. Let’s take off our masks and embrace authenticity. The fruit of that honest morning continues to ripple into my life now, years later. Let’s not let our concerns about appearances stop us from growing in authentic relationships, reaching out to women who are vastly different from us, and being the love of Christ to those who need it most.

Stacey Pardoe

Stacey Pardoe lives with her husband Darrell and two children in western Pennsylvania. In addition to being a wife and mother, she is a writer, mentor, and teacher. She is passionate about encouraging others to pursue their passions and make an impact in the culture. She enjoys hiking, camping, running, and spending time outside with her family.

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