On Friday, February 24th, I was the keynote speaker for a high tea fundraiser and silent auction for the Raise My Head Foundation at the Wichita Country Club. The Raise My Head Foundation provides a two-year residency program for women who are breaking free from sex trafficking. They provide a safe residence and support services to help these women recover, grow, and transform. The theme of the program was Love is… Here’s an excerpt.
Love is Greater
Poets have written endless sonnets.
Composers have written millions of songs.
Playwrights have dedicated countless hours of stage time.
And philosophers, since the dawn of time, have spent billions of brain cells.
All in the exploration and celebration of our strongest and most sought-after feeling – LOVE.
This complex, powerful emotion bonds us together. It teaches us empathy, gives us hope, and shines a light through the darkness.
Whether it’s our love for friends, family, furry friends, or romance, these emotional connections are vital to our physical and psychological well-being, impacting our overall happiness.
We all know how important love is in our lives, or we wouldn’t dedicate so much creative energy to poems, songs, plays, and speeches on trying so hard to find it.
But what is love?
Even with so many creative minds pondering the feelings of love for centuries, coming up with a truly meaningful definition has been elusive.
One of the things I love most about speaking at occasions like this is that it gives me a chance to dig through my experiences and define my thoughts to share them with you.
The first thoughts that pop into my head are from trite, pop culture references. I had to get past the – love is never having to say you’re sorry – and all you need is love. But love is much deeper than that.
Isn’t it interesting getting older? Thinking back through so many memories and emotions makes it much easier to be introspective than when you’re young. You have so much more to pull from.
I’ve been in love many times and have had my heart broken at least as many times as that. Haven’t we all? You would think this has made me a bit jaded toward love. Well, maybe it has. Or maybe just toward romantic love. Amore. Amore.
I recently took a survey by VIA (Values in Action Institute on Character) called the 24 character strengths test for a Science of Well-being class I’m taking. This test reveals our most positive individual strengths so we can increase happiness in our lives. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that my number one character strength is LOVE.
I shouldn’t have been surprised because I was born with a natural, authentic love for people – all people. Of all the gifts I have been given, this is my favorite. I am quick to feel love for most people I meet and have always worn my heart on my sleeve.
I can’t help it. This connection with others is intuitive. Meeting others with this same gift is powerful, like magnets snapping together.
So, after drawing from this deep well of experience, I don’t have just one or two thoughts about what love is. I have six. We’d better get started before your tea gets cold!
1. Love is vulnerable. I love Brenee Brown’s definition of love. “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”
To let love in, we have to humble ourselves enough to show our tender underbelly, let people see who we really are, and accept ourselves and others for who they are.
Of course, opening yourself to vulnerability means some pain is bound to slip through too. Disagreements will happen. Hearts will be broken. When we’re living fully, hurt is part of life.
Grief is part of love. In the Marvel Universe show Wandavision, one of the characters asks, “What is grief if not love persevering?” I know this is true. I lost my baby brother to cancer last year, and I will love and grieve him forever. But does that mean I wish I hadn’t had him in my life? Just the opposite. My life is enriched through our love. I wouldn’t be the person I am if not for him. Sitting in that sadness makes my love deeper.
There’s also a certain vulnerability to being able to take in truths about yourself that others share with you. Listen to constructive criticism from your truth-telling friends, sort through what is valuable, and throw away the rest.
Remember that when people give us advice or answers, they look at the situation through their worldview, with biases that have more to do with their fears and desires than anything having to do with you.
I used to think that to protect myself from pain, I had to grow a thicker skin, a rhino suit. Since then, I’ve learned that the best way I can protect myself is to build my core. Building our core by working on self-confidence boils down to the ability to give ourselves unconditional love, not just project ourselves. Building our core is expansive while putting on a rhino suit is constricting.
Being vulnerable is worth the risk for all the fantastic rewards you receive.
2. Love is effort.
I love that the definition from Brenee Brown has the word “cultivate” in it. Love takes effort.
Love takes a willingness to prioritize another’s well-being or happiness above your own. It takes compromise. Love needs cooperation and collaboration to be healthy.
Another part of Brown’s quote, “Honoring the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection,” is not always easy, especially when we’re feeling hurt or angry. It takes purposely taking actions to hoe your love garden and nurture the relationship.
You can send a text to a friend who is going into surgery.
Slip a note in a kid’s lunchbox.
Discuss what’s bothering you with a spouse rather than vent your frustrations on them.
One of the sayings I live by is, “The energy you put into something is the energy you receive back from it.” It helps me remember to cultivate the relationships that are meaningful to me.
The biggest act of love that is worth the effort is setting boundaries. These personal policies about what is and isn’t acceptable are important ways we show love to ourselves while showing others how we want to be loved.
Remember that boundaries are set to control our behavior, not someone else. This is a subtle but important strategy to remember when framing your limitations. It’s not something we do “to” people. For example, “I will order dinner and enjoy my meal without you when you’re more than 15 minutes late to a restaurant.”
Knowing and asking for what you need and holding others accountable to honoring your boundaries makes loving relationships less mysterious and stressful.
3. Love is unconditional.
Giving the people we love the acceptance to be their authentic selves is a respectful, powerful way we cultivate love. We don’t have to like what people do or agree with the choices they make to love them.
“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” – Mr. Rogers.
Because people cannot truly feel loved in a situation where they don’t feel respectfully accepted. Feeling like we must change somehow to fit into a relationship doesn’t create the trust needed in loving relationships. Feeling like we belong, and can be accepted as our authentic selves, is where love blooms.
Political discourse has become so divisive that we’ve lost touch with our humanity. I remember when we could agree to disagree and have respectful conversations without severing relationships. Families are being torn apart, long-time friends have quit speaking to each other, and there’s been talk of another civil war for several years. This fighting is distracting us from the important work of community.
Which reminds me…
There is one caveat to my thoughts on unconditional love. People who are toxic will take advantage of people who give unconditional love and find ways to use their trust to make situations better for them and worse for the person who loves them. Voice of experience talking here. It doesn’t mean that toxic people aren’t worthy of our love. Just love them from afar.
4. Love is healing.
Feeling loved gives people a greater sense of belonging, meaning, and value. This emotional security provides a safe space to grow and thrive.
The Raise My Head Foundation understands this beautifully. On their website, Raise my Head tells the story of drawing inspiration from sunflowers that lift their heavy heads to the warmth of the sun. This foundation sees love as that light in the survival of the trafficked women they serve. They say love is stronger than the darkest evil, more powerful than the deepest doubt, destroys addictions, shatters lies, and restores a woman’s voice.
Something else Raise My Head understands is that giving love feels as good as receiving love. The love they share through their residency program may be something these women haven’t experienced in a long time, if ever.
The joy of seeing people go from a withered seed into a shoot, starting to grow stronger and healthier, to fully bloom into their potential, is as much a gift to those who nurture as it is to the ones who are flourishing.
I get to experience this with Finishing School for Modern Women and the Badass Women of Wichita Alliance. I started the Finishing School for Modern Women as part of my healing, which may be why we attract women going through significant life transitions. My mission in life is to help people build their core confidence and step into their power. Seeing people’s lives change is such a gift.
Congratulations on being here today to support this incredible foundation. Your loving generosity makes it possible for Raise My Head to provide healing, restoration, recovery, growth, transformation, and love to women in our community.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
5. Love is community.
The strength of community is mighty! Just look at what we’re here to do today! We’re pooling resources to give someone you likely do not know another chance at a happy life.
Healing doesn’t happen without community. We need each other!
Love unites us, creating something greater than ourselves, and when we come together, we are stronger. We see this every time there’s a disaster, but we shouldn’t wait for an emergency to support each other.
Communities are only as strong as our weakest link. When we lift up the most vulnerable among us, our whole community is happier and healthier, making Wichita a more fulfilling, safer, and lovely place to live. Living to survive is a brutal life, and people in our city deserve a better existence.
When we come together as community, we can make changes. Volunteering time in service to others and sharing your resources gives our brains a jolt of dopamine, the same chemical our brains release when we’re in love.
I should have added love is giving to my list too, but you’ve already figured that out since you’re here today.
5. Most importantly, love is something you give yourself.
This is the most important love we have to give.
Our relationship with ourselves is the longest one we’ll have over our lifetime, so why not make it a good one?
While loving others has come naturally to me, loving myself has not been as easy. I’ve worked harder on loving myself than I’ve ever had to with anyone else.
But this work is important. When we find this inner peace, we make better decisions, let ourselves become a priority, see the world differently, and how we react to people and situations changes.
Because - we can only give as much love as we have for ourselves.
And when we are propelled by love, we start to live more, care more, and express more.
This feeling drives us to do more, not just for ourselves but for humanity.
What is love?
Whether it’s directed toward yourself or others,
Love is vulnerable
Love takes effort.
Love is unconditional.
Love is healing.
Love is community.
Love is you!
As Vicki Bond, the founding director of Raise My Head, says, “Love is greater.”
Did you know I've published a book? Learn more about it here!
Because We’re Never Finished
The Finishing School for Modern Women, located in Wichita, Kansas, offers classes to help women find their authentic selves, not because we need finishing, but because we’re never finished. We bring together women of all ages to learn from experts and each other how to claim our power in business, finance, communication, and life.
To learn more about what we do:
https://www.finishingschoolformodernwomen.com for our classes and free social membership.
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