Afflicting The Comfortable

I really like fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and buttered biscuits with jam.  I used to watch Grandma Stone drop a big spoonful of lard into a pan before frying a chicken, with the skin still on.  Grandma’s biscuits with homemade blackberry jam and home-churned butter were heavenly.  I loved all the food Grandma Stone made, but I don’t eat much of it anymore.  Those foods will cause your arteries to stand on end!  They taste good, but they could kill ya.

 

But what if I was impervious to the negative effects of the foods Grandma made?  What if I was immune to high cholesterol and coronary artery disease?  Would I indulge in those foods while others looked on with envy?  Yep, I imagine I would.

 

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that almost no megachurches in the United States are open and affirming to the LGBTQ population.  Of the 100 largest churches in the US, not one will allow an LGBTQ person into leadership.  We can attend, but we cannot lead.  An article in Tuesday’s Washington Post quotes churchclarity.org in acknowledging that disturbing truth.

 

The maddening reality is that these churches go to great lengths to avoid telling you the truth. Brian Houston, the senior pastor of the Australia based global megachurch, Hillsong, has publicly refused to say if their pastors will perform same sex weddings or ordain or hire LGBTQ people.  In response to Church Clarity’s attempt to get answers to these three simple questions, Brian Houston blocked Church Clarity on his Twitter account.  I’m good with letting Church Clarity carry the banner for fighting for equality and equity on the national and international stage.  I am more concerned about Boulder County, Colorado, where I serve as one of three pastors at Left Hand Church.  None of the three megachurches in Boulder County are LGBTQ affirming.

 

I have friends who continue to attend all three of these megachurches.  Most are white males who suffer no personal ill effects from their participation in non-affirming churches.  They can eat the fried chicken and biscuits without any personal consequences.  Their privilege allows them that freedom.  I, on the other hand, cannot.

 

For the first time in my life, I have some small understanding of how women and minorities have felt in patriarchal society.  For centuries they have been on the outside looking in, while most straight white males have moved about with little concern for those whose gender, color, gender identity, sexual identity or ethnicity prohibits them from full participation in society.

 

When I was a straight white male, I was guilty of enjoying the spoils of the patriarchy. Yes, my views on LGBTQ issues were not in line with evangelicalism, but I was taking my time becoming public about it. Before I came out, I wrote one 400-word column for the magazine at which I was a weekly columnist and editor-at-large, asking for sensitivity for the transgender population.  The editor was approached by a former president of our denomination’s convention suggesting I should be relieved of my duties. To his credit, the editor kept me. After that, I decided to lie low with my public beliefs.  It was the wrong decision.  I know that now.  As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

 

I was comfortable, and I did not want to be made uncomfortable.  I did not want to be confronted with my prvilege.  I thought in time I would be able to make headway within my faith community to bring about LGBTQ acceptance, and that was enough. Except it was not.  I was maintaining my personal comfort at the expense of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

 

When I was called to transition, I had no choice but to make my views known.  Straight allies choose to make the decision to be affirming of LGBTQ people.  They pay a price.  They are my heroes.  Mark Tidd was defrocked by his denomination for supporting the family of a transgender child.  Jen Jepsen listened to her conscience and left her megachurch.  Jen and Mark and the leaders at Denver Community Church and my own son and his wife, and a whole host of others are the ones who have chosen to pay the price for supporting the LGBTQ community.

 

I know some are uncomfortable reading this post.  Some are pastors who truly struggle with discerning the right time to lead your congregation toward inclusion.  Some are believers trying to get by, and need your non-affirming megachurch to keep you afloat.  I understand that.  Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to listen to a prophet and take up a sword. Some are doing important work in the bowels of those churches, advocating for change.  I respect their decision to actively work for change from within.  (Of course, please note that I do use the word “actively.”)

 

I like to comfort the afflicted, but occasionally I feel called to afflict the comfortable. Of course, a lot of you who are reading my blog are already willing to be made uncomfortable, so I’m not sure what I accomplish by increasing your discomfort.  I suppose I am writing mostly to the “me” of ten years ago, someone who knew where he stood on LGBTQ issues, but did not feel called to lead the charge.  I’m not sure when I will be ready to forgive myself for that mistake.  As often as I write about this subject, it’s obvious I’m not ready yet.  I should have led the charge.  I know that now.  When you know better, you do better.

Advertisements

Not Gonna Be Stopped

A few months ago I was informed the student led program committee of the Youth Celebrate Diersity Conference had decided to invite me to be the keynote speaker for their 2019 conference.  It would be the 26th year of the conference, and over 1000 students would be attending from over 100 Colorado high schools.

I knew I could not say no to a group of thoughtful, motivated teens.  Teens do not ask a transgender woman old enough to be their grandparent to speak for their conference unless they really believe in her ability to speak to their concerns.  It was quite an honor to be asked, and I quickly said yes.

I am always encouraged when I see how supportive Millennials and Gen Z are of their LGBTQ peers. These young people are fierce protectors of the journey of authenticity, and they will not be stopped.  Today’s youth have grown up grasping the truth that all people deserve dignity, civil rights, equity and opportunity.

The young people were extremely warm and enthusiastically responsive.  I mean, if you can’t fire up a crowd of motivated teens who worked hard just to be selected to attend the conference, you shouldn’t be a public speaker.  I told those gathered that everyone is called onto the hero’s journey, but few accept the call.  I also said that given the hard work they had done to be at the conference, and the hard work they were going to do, I had no doubt these young people had already answered that call.

YCD has a three-pronged mission, focusing on education, empowerment and equity.  In addition to attending the keynote address, students participated in two workshops, discussion groups, and meetings with their peers to plan a course of action once they returned home.  The conference is one of three similar conferences in different regions of the state.

In 2018, Youth Celebrate Diversity won the Colorado Governor’s Service Award for Outstanding Nonprofit Agency.  Caleb Munro, the executive director, is a graduate of Georgetown University, and holds a master’s degree from Columbia University.  Caleb has a humble spirit and boundless reserves of energy.  He doesn’t talk about the prestigious universities he attended.  He talks about the teens with whom he works.  Caleb has a heart for the celebration of diversity and he dreams big.  He sees a national organization helping schools throughout the United States continue the good work that only young people will find the courage to do.

Teah Selkin and Zoe Siegal co-chaired this year’s conference.  I so enjoyed my conversation with them and the dozens of other students who spoke with me afterwards.  Several young women thanked me for my TEDx talk on gender equity. They have already figured out how much harder it is for women, and they are prepared to fight for gender equity.  Several transgender students shared with me their deep concerns and hopes.  It was an honor to listen to them.

I am often embarrassed to be a Baby Boomer.  We have become such a self-serving, conservative generation.  I am glad our influence is waning.  Last Saturday I had hope.  Gen Z has arrived, and when it comes to celebrating diversity, they will not be stopped.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of wonderful speaking engagements over the past three years, but none has meant more to me than the 26th Youth Celebrate Diversity Conference.  Thank you, Caleb and student leadership team, for the invitation.  It was an honor to spend the day with you..

At Least Tell The Truth

I was in Palm Springs to present a keynote and workshop to psychotherapists who work with the LGBTQ population.  My keynote was warmly received, as was my workshop about the evangelical church and its rejection of LGBTQ people.

One delightful couple talked with me after the workshop.  They are from a city in the west where they work as psychotherapists.  In my talk I mentioned that 100 percent of the 100 largest churches in the nation are non-affirming of LGBTQ people.

As we spoke, the couple mentioned that they were a part of a megachurch.  I asked the name of the church, and when they told me, I said I used to have a friendship with their senior pastor.  Not only that, but a little over a decade ago one of my family members served on their staff.   The couple said they would say hello to the senior pastor for me.  I told them I would love that, and I would be curious to hear about his response.  Because this man has not spoken to me since I transitioned.  They were surprised.

There are over 1,600 megachurches in the United States and only a handful (about one percent) are LGBTQ affirming.  (Most of the affirming megachurches are affiliated with the liberal wing of the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church of the USA, or one of the other mainline Protestant denominations.)

If you attend a church that has an average weekend attendance of 2,000 or more, it is safe to say there is a 99 percent chance your church is non-LGBTQ affirming.  But here is another problem.  Almost none of them will tell you that.

These churches will tell you they accept everyone.  If you are LGBTQ, they will indeed allow you to attend services, but they will not allow you into leadership, nor will they allow you to lead on any public platform.  On the issue of LGBTQ acceptance, almost all of America’s megachurches are deceptive and disingenuous.

Church Clarity is a wonderful non-profit that scores churches on LGBTQ affirmation and women in leadership.  If you visit their website, http://churchclarity.org, you will discover that most megachurches will not publicly state what their policy is on LGBTQ issues.  The reason is simple.  They do not want you to know.

These churches know evangelicals are increasingly supportive of marriage equality. According to the latest Pew Research Study, 51 percent of Millennial evangelicals are LGBTQ affirming.  Gen Z is even more affirming.  The people who lead these churches know the direction American culture is going, and they know that if the majority of their people are not already LGBTQ affirming, it won’t be long before they are.  But their current leadership is non-affirming.  And they are the people who hold the power.

There are three megachurches in Boulder County, Colorado, the county in which I live and serve as a pastor with Left Hand Church.  All three megachurches are non-LGBTQ affirming.  I know scores of people who attend these churches and have absolutely no idea their church is non-affirming.

One of the senior pastors preached a sermon against me.  Another, an acquaintance of mine from years ago, pastors the largest church in the county (and the state.)  The third remains a friend, though his church has occasionally stated its non-affirming position.  When I tell members of these churches that their congregation is non-affirming, and that two of the three have spoken negatively about my transition, they are shocked.

In my opinion, if your church is non-LGBTQ affirming, you should leave. Why?  Consider just one small subset of the LGBTQ community, transgender children.

Transgender children whose parents are non-affirming evangelicals have a suicide rate 13 times higher than their peers.  According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, transgender children who are called by their preferred name are 65 percent less likely to commit suicide, 35 percent less likely to experience suicidal ideation, and have 71 percent fewer indications of severe depression than transgender children who are not called by their preferred name.

If your megachurch is aware your child is transgender, they will not call your child by his or her name.  They will not encourage you or other parents to call their transgender children by their preferred names. They will not allow your children to use the restroom appropriate to their gender.  These churches will put your transgender child’s life in danger.

Of course, the likelihood is your child is not transgender.  Only .7 percent of children are transgender.  Therefore, in all likelihood your child will not have any problems at your megachurch. “And besides, their music is amazing,” you say.  “And the preaching is wonderful.”  Okay.  But by attending that church, you are implicitly supporting a church that endangers the lives of children.

You are probably getting the idea I feel passionately about this subject. Yep!  Every month I talk with parents of transgender children, parents who were rudely informed that their megachurch would not support their child’s transition. I see the tears in their eyes and feel the pain in their hearts.  If they had known this would be the response of their church, they never would have gone in the first place.  Yet their friends continue to go.

If you are an LGBTQ affirming Christian, beware of your megachurch.  With their confident opposition to one of the most vulnerable populations on earth, they are hurting your friends and neighbors every single day.

And so it sadly goes.

Three Is Better Than One

I spoke at a company in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago and at a conference of psychotherapists in Palm Springs last week.  In both places I engaged in fascinating conversations about agentic leadership.  Agentic leaders are assertive, independent, competitive individuals. The more common term for these leaders is “alpha.”

Pretty much all of the leadership structures of Western Civilization have been created by agentic/alpha leaders.  As you might imagine, most have been male.  A Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher happens along every now and again, but they are the exception that proves the rule.

I was an alpha male.  I was a corporate leader who felt comfortable around other strong leaders. Most of my male friends were also alpha leaders.  They were “Dominant” personalities on the DiSC test, ENTJ’s on the Myers-Briggs, and Eights and Threes on the Enneagram. (Full disclosure – I am an I/D on the DiSC, an ENTJ on the MBTI, and a Two with a strong Three wing on the Enneagram.)  These strong alpha leaders can be found in just about every corner office in America.

I have done thousands of  DiSC personality tests over the years.  I used the DiSC extensively in my second masters thesis and my doctoral project. There are sixteen personality types on the DiSC, but in the area in which I worked, entrepreneurial leadership, there were only two that were consistently effective in achieving the results we wanted.

For my doctoral project I studied 50 lead pastors of new churches.  Over half (26) had one personality type on the DiSC, the Inspirational Pattern, a “D/I” combination.  I knew something was wrong when over half of the people hired to lead new churches in the US had one single personality type.

These people did have a demonstrated ability to get people to buy into their vision. Unfortunately, a large number of them also had a predisposition to narcissistic behavior.  Without the right kind of character formation and accountability, these guys (and they were all guys) could go off the rails.

Unfortunately these are also the kinds of leaders we recruit into most corner offices in America.  We think strong alpha people make the best leaders.  But the truth is that we really do not know whether or not they make the best leaders, because no other leadership structures have been tried.

Throughout the centuries patriarchal societies have created systems that assure powerful males are ensconced at the highest levels of leadership.  It has not served our species well.

If we do not free ourselves from our addiction to these patriarchal leadership structures, we could lose the species. Seriously.  We now have the capacity to start a war that would end life as we know it.  I am not being an alarmist.  Those are the facts.

I believe our best hope is to dismantle the patriarchal systems that have left us in such a precarious position.  These hierarchical/vertical systems have been at the root of every war that has ever been fought.  But if we do dismantle them, what kind of leadership structure should take their place?

At Left Hand Church we followed the example of Highlands Church in Denver and chose not to have a single lead pastor.  We have three.  All three are equal.  But here is the interesting thing.  If you asked our people to identify one of the three of us as the heart of our church, they would say it is our one non-alpha leader.  I believe they are right.

Aaron Bailey and I are alpha leaders.  Aaron is a D/C on the DiSC, the number one personality type of Fortune 500 CEOs.  I am an I/D, the typical personality type of a lead church planter.  But I don’t think either one of us would be seen as the heart of our church.  Jen Jepsen is.  Jen Jepsen is an I/S on the DiSC and an Enneagram One with a Two wing.  Jen is not America’s idea of a CEO.  And we think that is a good thing.

Our Trinitarian-inspired leadership model has allowed a non-alpha leader to emerge and influence in a way traditional hierarchical structures would never have allowed.  And with three leaders instead of one, narcissistic behavior is unlikely.  Narcissists do not like to share power.

I know  we are just a one-year old church with 100 people, and Highlands is a nine-year-old church with 700 people.  Neither of us is exactly a compelling example of long-term success.  But Rome wasn’t built in a day.  And I do believe we are onto something.

Imagine the difference that would be made if more non-alpha people were in leadership positions.  There would be more collaboration, less competition, and more focus on the powerless.  There would be fewer wars and more resources for those who have been forgotten.  There would not only be equality.  There would be equity.

I know all of this sounds idealistic.  But this is not a pipe dream.  It is happening in real time in two churches in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.  And if we are successful, this could be a viable example of what is possible.  I hope so.  We need alternatives to the mess our patriarchal leadership structures have created.

One Loss and Then Another

One of the women I most respect passed away shortly after noon yesterday.  I have known her since 1991, and for over two decades she was like a second mother to me.  She lived in the Rocky Mountains, and during three weeks each year, she was my grounded companion.

She was grounded because the place at which she worked did not allow her much freedom to get away.  But she was also grounded because she was, well, grounded. She was my companion because every morning and early evening I would come to her office and we would talk.  Sometimes for hours.  She grounded me.

I came to Colorado alone every winter to snowshoe.  Every summer I came with my family, and every fall I came with my co-workers for a larger retreat held in the region.  Occasionally I would sneak in a fourth trip late fall in the fall, always alone.  I wrote most of my first book there, and a fair amount of my next six books.  The space was conducive to creative writing.  It wasn’t just the mountains.  It was also the space she created with her gentle warmth.

I hiked all day and came back to the warmth of the fire each evening.  The picture above was taken not far from her place on one of those winter hikes.  In the evening we would sit by the fire and talk.  Her early adult years had not been easy, but she found herself when she headed to the mountains.  She tried to retire when she turned 65 or so, but quickly became bored.  Besides, the mountains kept calling.  So she returned to the mountains and her gift of hospitality.

Over the years she came to know a lot about me.  I talked about my bouts with depression, my struggles as a parent, particularly when my children were in high school and college.  She was a mom and understood, offering advice when requested, listening attentively otherwise.

I talked about the work opportunities I had to become the senior pastor of more than one megachurch, and why I did not feel called to the position.  She understood.  She listened as I talked about my struggles with evangelical Christianity and the frustration of working in the political world of organized religion.  She understood that too.

After we moved to Colorado, Cathy and I would see her when we headed to the mountains to hike.  We spent one Christmas afternoon with her family, when they all came up to visit because she had to work that day.  The next year was the last time I saw her, though my trips to the mountains continued.

I wrote and told her I was transitioning, but never heard back.  Last summer I hiked with one of her former co-workers who stayed in regular touch with her.  He said yes, she had gotten the letter.  He said he would ask if it was all right if I stopped by for a visit.  It turned out it was not all right.

I have abundant stores of grace for this Godly woman who loved so many so well.  I understand how difficult it was for her to see me as anyone other than Paul.  She was one of my two most elderly friends.  She needed her memories intact, and I respected that need.  It was a great loss.

Her former co-worker now owns the business at which she kept working until six or seven months ago.  He wrote yesterday to tell me of her passing.  He said, “Love was at the center and core of her being.”  She was the kind of woman who saw love at the center and core of every being.

I never know what to do with moments like this.  It will not be possible for me to be at her wake or funeral.  I have become a little too well known to sneak in and sneak out unnoticed.  I also know that some of her family members would be uncomfortable if they knew I was there.  I respect their space and need to grieve without distractions.  Not being able to show my respects in person is a second loss.  You don’t think about these kinds of realities when you transition.  They always come upon you like a sudden storm.

I am grateful for having known her, and for having had the opportunity to be blessed by her presence as we sat by the fireplace, appreciating life’s blessings and struggles.  More than just about anybody I know, she lived well the poignant words of Dag Hammarskjold:

“For all that has been, thanks.  For all that shall be, yes.”

Grounded and Good!

I was in Chicago last week for meetings of the Union of Affirming Christians and the QCF Conference.  It was cold. When I’m in Chicago I am either freezing or sweltering.   Chicago needs a temperature makeover.

On Thursday evening I went to dinner with eight friends at an Italian restaurant near my hotel. We had a private room with a large screen TV on the wall, playing an endless loop of an old movie shot on the Amalfi Coast.  The movie starred Clark Gable and Sophia Loren and there were a lot of scenes with a young kid.  One time he was smoking a cigarette.  There was no sound so the plot remained elusive.

On Friday I interviewed the Executive Leadership Team of QCF in the morning’s main session, did a workshop with Jonathan, hung out with a friend in the afternoon, and headed out.  By the time I got to Left Hand Church for services on Saturday evening, I’d almost forgotten I’d been in Chicago.  It was a quick trip.

Church on Saturday was absolutely wonderful and, as is usually the case, grounded me in the ritual I need to thrive.  Knowing where I will be at 5:00 PM every Saturday is important.

Our TEDWomen talk was released on January 7.  Eight days after its release, the talk has been viewed over 650,000 times.  My TEDxMileHigh talk has been out for a year and has been viewed over 1.75 million times.  The TED talk has done in a week about a third of what the TEDxMileHigh talk has done in a year.

I had my season of obsessively counting media views.  The pleasure centers of the brain like watching counts climb on social media.  But the time comes, sooner or later, when the counts slow down and fewer people come up to you in airports thanking for you for your words.

Even if you happened to have been one of the biggest movie stars of the 20th century, eventually your movie career becomes an afterthought on the wall of an Italian restaurant, glanced at occasionally by a woman whose senses have been dulled by her second glass of the house red blend.

Do my children even know who Clark Gable is?  Sophia Loren is 84 and in a wheelchair.  I only know that because I just looked her up online.  Clark Gable and Sophia Loren are all but forgotten.  And what about the kid smoking the cigarette?  His name was Marietto, and he’s 71 years old now.  I hope his lungs are all right.

Jake Halpern writes in his book, Fame Junkies, that given the option of being a United States Senator, a Fortune 500 CEO, an astronaut, a university president, or an assistant to a star, twice as many American middle school students said they would prefer becoming an assistant to a star than any of the other jobs.  Let’s be clear about this.  They did not choose being a star.  They chose becoming an assistant to a star, carrying their bags, ordering their groceries, booking their haircuts.

Donald Trump is president because Mark Burnett knows how to turn marginally capable humans into stars.  Burnett, who is now a born-again Christian, doesn’t have a problem with what he ultimately did by placing Trump in The Apprentice.  He was just chasing views, counting his way to higher ratings and a bigger bank account.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love that our TED talk has done well.  But it is far too easy to become enamored with even relative fame.  It is fleeting and fickle.  Fame is anything but grounding.

Jonathan Haidt, in his book, The Righteous Mind, says religion gave the human race the ability to work together beyond the level of blood kin. Specifically, two elements of religion gave us that capacity.  The first was the ritual of religious practice, which serves as a steadying force in people’s day-to-day lives.  Second was the strength of the relationships that developed within one’s religious community.  Religious ritual and deep relationships allowed our species to thrive.  They still do.

Last Saturday evening at Left Hand Church was amazing.  Jen preached a bold and daring sermon.  Heatherlyn, Jason and Ben crafted a beautiful worship experience. Jody did a combination communion meditation and stand-up comedy routine that brought the house down.  But it wasn’t just the service itself that made the evening electric.  It was the depth of relationships that are developing at Left Hand.

Jen wrote about it in her blog post in our church email yesterday:  “I am moved and encouraged by your stories – both victorious and difficult.  You do hard things and emerge on the other side.  None of this is easy but all of it is beautiful.

The machine of celebrity uses you up and moves on.  I do not mean the people at TED or TEDxMileHigh.  They are wonderful!  I mean the machinery of social media and entertainment.  They were not created to serve human souls.  Left Hand Church serves human souls.

Left Hand Church invites you to live fully, embracing pain and happiness, joy and sorrow. If you want doctrine to matter more than life, we are not your church.  If you want tight boundaries instead of expansive love, we are not the church for you.  If you want to decide who is in and who is out, then you’d better look elsewhere. If you want celebrity pastors and fog machines, ditto.

But if you want to be rooted in the rich soil of lives authentically lived, then head on over to Fourth and Kimbark at 5:00 on any Saturday.  We’ll be there, waiting for you.

 

TEDWomen 2018 – Goodness Reigns, Love Wins

My TED talk came out yesterday.  As of this moment, it has had over 300,000 views in less than 14 hours.  I am a bit overwhelmed.  Jonathan and I are thrilled with the response.  It is an honor to share our story. I have put a link at the bottom of this post.

Our entire week at TED was a phenomenal experience, especially the extended time we were able to spend with the other speakers and TED staff.  Six weeks after TEDWomen 2018, there is one memory that stands out above all others.

The resort at which TEDWomen was held was a massive and beautiful complex nestled against the mountains outside of Palm Springs.  Walkways and manicured gardens ushered you from one lush location to another. I often found myself on the path from my room to the green room and nearby practice rooms reserved for the speakers.

On the way to the practice room I walked through a corridor with the registration area on the left and a waiting area for the entrance to the theater on the right.  The corridor was always bustling with activity.

The afternoon before the event began, the TED staff had been in the theater watching rehearsals all day, giving thoughtful advice and last minute suggestions.  Our rehearsal in the theater was over, but I was headed back to the practice room to meet Jonathan and Briar, our TED coach, to go over the talk one more time.  As I hurried through the corridor I saw a woman standing outside the theater door, leaning against the wall, looking intently at the screen on her iPhone.  I stopped to watch.

I could tell the woman was talking with a child, and not just any child.  She was talking with a child in whom she took great delight. Her eyes sparkled and she laughed heartily at something that was said.  Though the commotion around her was relentless, she was oblivious to anything but the screen and its precious image.

She spoke to the child.  If I listened intently, I might have been able to hear what she was saying, but that would have felt like a violation of sacred space.  There was an invisible boundary around her that begged for respect. I just watched.

I later learned she was talking to her child before bedtime back in New York.  Mom was in no rush, and I am sure the child knew it. Everything on the mother’s face said, “There are no two people in the world except you and me, right here, right now.”

The scene was touching under any circumstance, but to me,it had special meaning.  The mother holding the phone was Helen Walters, the Head Curator for TED.  Here was this woman who carried the burden of the programming of TEDWomen on her shoulders, yet she was attending to her child as if that child was the only person in the world.

I loved being a father, and when you watch the TED talk, it will be obvious that I adore my son. I always have, just as I adore my two daughters.  But as much love as a father might show his child, he never has the look on his face I saw on Helen’s face.  Only mothers have that look.

It is the look of a woman who knows every curve and ridge of her child’s body.  It is the look of a mother who discerns every subtle nuance of her child’s mood, and anticipates the child’s need before the child even knows to have it.  What I saw was the adoring gaze of a mother who loves with abandon, and treasures every moment in her heart.  Many of those memories will be pondered years later, maybe as her child goes off to college or gets married. Who knows?  Once a child is grown, there is often a far away look in a mother’s eyes, as she ponders those treasured moments from long ago.

When Jonathan and I practiced on the stage at the TED office in Manhattan, I got pretty emotional giving the talk aloud for the first time.  When we finished, there was applause and encouragement and suggestions. But in the middle of it all, Helen stopped everything and said, “Paula, are you all right?” She saw my tears and knew that I was, in fact, not all right.  I knew at that moment that I could trust Helen and the people at TED who took such good care of Jonathan and me.

There are times we get so caught up in the speed of this world that we miss the precious moments hidden in the corridors.

This is what gives me hope.  In spite of all the narcissism and self-serving madness in our corridors of power, we humans are going to be all right.  As long as mothers tuck in their children, whether near or afar, goodness will reign and love will win.

And now, our TED talk: