She said just two words, “Hey, Mom!” Her voice had that nonchalant tone of familiarity, of normalcy, of all things being just as they should. I’d heard them so many times before. But on that day, they hit me like a truck. On that day, things weren’t normal. I was laid up in bed, probably on day three or four after a round of chemotherapy. By then, my hair had fallen out, I felt sick and weak, and I could barely muster a voice let alone get up and do anything that resembled what or who I used to be.

It was as if I had vanished, been reduced to a whisper of a breeze; I felt as though I was barely there, useless, meaningless and unnecessary. The titles that had once held so much substance in my life were gone. I was no longer a superwoman (or desperately trying to be one) complete with an executive title, a fit and healthy body, and I was not, so I thought, much of a mother. Frankly, I wasn’t quite sure what I was anymore.

The only thing I was sure of was that I felt like a freakish science project. I expected the sight of me to like that to frighten or upset my children. I expected them to pull away from me, or worse, I feared they might adapt by no longer needing me, seeing me, by managing just fine without me.

The front door opened and I heard the sound of my daughter’s energetic footsteps jogging down the hall towards her room. I turned my head on the pillow to glance out the open door as she passed.

“Hey, Mom!”

It was the strangest thing. Just like that, as lively and bright as ever, she popped into my room to tell me what they were doing outside. She wasn’t afraid. There was no pity in her voice. She didn’t see a shadow of a person. No, she still saw someone there, someone of value, someone she loved and needed. What she saw was the same woman she had always seen. She still saw her mother. To my amazement during those hard months, she adapted in ways I never would have imagined, hopping on the bed beside me to read a book, or play a word game together. She found ways to be with me, where and how I was.

I will never forget it because it was then, when I was at the bottom, not sure I even existed, that I realized something was still there. And maybe it was more than just something. Maybe all that other stuff didn’t really matter, didn’t make me who I was, make me more valuable, successful or special or worthy. In that moment, I saw that the “something” that was still there among the rubble of my collapsed life was me. And to my surprise, it was the best, biggest and highest version of me. Bigger and better than anything else I had ever, or could ever, be. That was what my daughter loved, needed and saw. And reflected through her eyes, I saw it too.

That moment continues to inspire my life today. Its gift has been the knowledge that worth and substance are rooted in a place so deep, so protected, so true that nothing can touch it. It is like a flame, whether you call it soul or spirit or inner truth, that shines brightest when we are unmasked, unlabeled and vulnerable. In that place, we find our greatest power, unbridled freedom and boundless love. Find it, and go there. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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