Lessons from Jeannette Walls About Shame, Imperfections and Texture
Guest Blog by Kristy Bell, Loaves & Fishes Board Member
Jeannette Walls came to speak at our May Luncheon of Hope and provided us with her own perspective, as someone who grew up in poverty and homelessness. Growing up her family did not have indoor plumbing, she went to school dirty, and she didn’t have lunches. She joined the school newspaper mainly so she could stay late and dig through the trash to find something to eat when other people weren’t around. Her father struggled with alcoholism and her mother was of the mindset that kids can take care of themselves. Although her childhood lacked a lot of the basic needs such as stability, security, and structure, she found that it was really “hope” that was critical for survival. Jeannette saw hope when her father would get out his architectural plans to build a big Glass Castle that he was designing for their family. Even though he never had the means to build it, the plans themselves were the hope he clung to when times were hard. Jeanette and her siblings found hope when they saved up their money to move to New York City and escape their life of poverty in rural West Virginia. I’m sure many families here in Charlotte find hope in Loaves & Fishes pantries when they are shopping for groceries during times of unexpected crisis.
Jeannette now uses her past – something she was ashamed of at first and tried to run from for many years – to propel her forward by sharing her story and to offer hope for others. She says she has found out that the key is to embrace your story, whatever it may be. Regardless of what your background is – whether you’ve struggled with poverty or whether you’ve never gone without – because of your specific set of circumstances in life, you have special gifts inside of you which are unlike anyone else’s. We all have such unique experiences, childhoods, struggles and gifts – and none of them are wrong or right. It takes all of us, shaped by our many different experiences, woven together to create the quilt of humanity, which is both beautiful and complex.
Looking back at her life now, she is thankful to her parents for her upbringing because it gave her the tools to succeed and persevere in the most dire conditions. She said “We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside if you’re willing to receive it”. Some of our most heart wrenching struggles provide us with the most humbling capacity for compassion and empathy. Our flaws and scars give us texture and make us beautifully unique. Jeannette encourages us not be afraid to truly honor these hard experiences – especially when we are able to turn around and help others through their dark times. Compassion is a deeper emotion, rooted in the understanding that we all fear the imperfections within us. We naturally try to hide them for fear of judgment. Sometimes the best thing we can do is meet someone right where they are and accept them.
Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”