As the Founder of the fair trade accessories brand Noonday Collection, Jessica Honegger has helped create dignified work for over 4,500 Artisans across the globe, impacting 20,000 family members. When I first met Jessica through IF: Gathering seven years ago, one of the first things that struck both of us was our shared heart for justice. That sense, of finding a kindred spirit in the fight for a fairer and more grace-filled world, is what Jessica offers to all of us in her new book, Imperfect Courage. The book is part memoir, part call-to-action, and describes how Jessica’s winding journey led her to a revolutionary truth: We don’t have to wait until we feel fully ready to soar before we take flight. We simply have to go scared. In this excerpt, Jessica describes how her son Jack, whom she adopted from Rwanda in 2011, helped her discover this powerful truth. It’s a grace to welcome Jessica to the farm’s front porch today…
Some of the toughest situations in which to manifest vulnerability and empathy involve the people we happen to love most.
I realized this truth afresh on a recent Wednesday morning before school.
At issue was a pair of school pants. Or two pairs, to be precise.
That morning Jack had pulled on a pair of pants that had a rip down one of the legs.
We live in Austin and all, but I can still be a little old-fashioned. For the same reason that you will never spot any of us Honegger girls wearing leggings as pants at the airport, I didn’t want him wearing ripped pants to school.
With a ticking clock and a meeting I needed to get to, I asked Jack to change clothes. Except that I didn’t exactly ask. Asking would have been wise: “Hey, buddy, those pants are ripped. Would you please swap them out for the pair that’s not ripped instead?”
No, what I did was more in the realm of demand. “You are not wearing ripped pants to school. Go get your pair that’s not ripped. I’m already running late!”
As Jack stood before me shell shocked and refusing to change, I scurried around the kitchen, grabbing my laptop bag, my purse, my keys, and muttered, “You don’t want to change your clothes? Really? Then I’ll just take away every pair of pants you own.”
Moments later, Jack fled to his room, but not to change his pants. When I found him moments later, he had dived headfirst into his bed, blanket overhead with feet sticking out where his head should have been, and now refused to speak. My anger only grew.
Flight. Disconnection. Silence.
I felt like Mom of the Year.
It’s easy to judge ourselves in these situations.
But an atmosphere of judgment instead of compassion shuts down the opportunity for us to stay connected to ourselves, and by extension, to others.
I decided to change my defensive posture to one of curiosity: What triggers this reaction in me to my kid?
I wondered, and with my child huddled under a blanket, me now cuddled next to him in an apologetic embrace, a clear pattern emerged: the more Jack would shut down, isolate, and disconnect, the more I would totally rage. This was not connected parenting. This is not how I wanted to live.
During that season of parenting misses (the ripped-pants episode was but one in a sequence of maddening exchanges between my son and me), I went to a leadership retreat where one of the featured speakers was psychiatrist Curt Thompson, the author of The Soul of Shame.
His talk cracked me wide open, and so right after that session, I sought him out and cornered him as only a woman on a mission can. “I am not responding well to one of my kids,” I said, even before I had told him my name.
Curt laughed good-naturedly and without missing a beat said, “Well, at least you’re owning your part of it. Tell me, what’s been going on?”
To relay the entire contents of what wound up being an impromptu therapy session would be to usurp this entire post, but this gem from Curt I must recount.
He said, “Deep calls to deep, and sometimes God brings people into our lives who can help us overcome what we need to overcome—if only we’ll let them. We save each other, you know? We need each other, to heal. What is the whisper in your heart that you hear when your son is shutting you out?”
In fact, that whisper was more like a yell. “You are all alone in the world,” it said, “and no one will come to your aid.”
Seeing Jack disconnect, essentially withdrawing into a dark cave and spray-painting Do Not Disturb on the wall of his heart, triggered feelings in me of powerlessness, aloneness, and the same fear that I had experienced as a child.One of the bravest things we can do is to be still and alone long enough to feel our feelings, and once I learned to be still, that is what I felt.
Feeling our feelings is vulnerability.
After excavating more of this pattern between Jack and me in the month that followed, I came to terms with part of my girlhood that I had stuffed way down deep for years.
The contents of that will have to wait for another time, but for now here is what I’ll say: it was only by saying yes to the invitation Jack had given me into vulnerability that I could exhibit empathy toward his tendency to isolate.
Creating a space for other people’s pain is impossible when we deny our own pain. It takes courage to step into vulnerability, but only by owning our own hard places can we empathize.
If we want to deepen our relationships with others, then vulnerability is the state that we must pass through.
If you’re longing to leave a life of safety for a life of risk, meaning, and impact, then please read this carefully: you cannot get there on your own.You—even you—were made for community.To flourish, we must work with, not against, togetherness, and to prize togetherness, we must come out of isolation and be seen.
Regardless of whether you fear being perceived as weak, or you think that you will be a burden to others, or you don’t know if you can return the favor, or you are afraid that people will say no, or you are afraid that your need is excessive and, well, needy, choosing self-reliance and isolation is never the better bet.
While it may indeed be safer to curl up on the couch for The West Wing reruns night after night, that is hardly the life you were made for. It’s not at all what flourishing means.
My friend, you and I cannot serve in a context of isolation.
We cannot give in a context of isolation.
We cannot grow in a context of isolation.
We cannot truly live all by ourselves.
And so, we are here, at vulnerability’s doorstep, knowing that we simply must let it in —
because it’s in the safety of each other’s vulnerability that we finally find the healing we’ve so frantically and desperately sought.
Jessica Honegger is the Founder and Co-CEO of Noonday Collection, a socially responsible business that uses fashion to create meaningful opportunities for people around the world. She is also a wife, a mom to three littles, and the host of the Going Scared Podcast.
In Imperfect Courage, Jessica invites you to draw a circle of compassion around yourself and leads you through soul-searching aimed at setting you free from shame. She also challenges you to come together, risking all for each other and commit to building a culture of collaboration. She calls on you to broaden your circles of compassion to embrace the entire globe — and to bring that cultivation of imperfect courage to a world that deeply needs you.
One of the most impactful sections of Imperfect Courage comes when Jessica challenges us all to embrace a life of empathy and vulnerability. Only by opening ourselves up to our own feelings, and the feelings of others, can we truly find healing—and become the world changers God made us to be. Imperfect Courage is a must-read for anyone who feels called to something more, but feels stuck on the couch, afraid to leave their comfort zone.
[ Our humble thanks to Waterbrook for their partnership in today’s devotion ]