What One Girl Taught Me About Vulnerability – #TellHisStory

September 13, 2016 | 26 comments

Meet Maddie. She’s a sixth-grade girl who, several years ago, taught me an important lesson about vulnerability in friendships. Her story impacted me so much, that I included it in The Happiness Dare. On Saturday, Maddie showed up at the library for my book signing. She bought a book, asked me to sign in, and then she asked for a photo.

But before the photo, she opened up her backpack and pulled out an old “lovie” that she’s loved her whole life.


The lovie is part of Maddie’s story, and it helped me learn how a person can boost her happiness by risking vulnerability.

Let me tell you more, and let’s start here:

Vulnerability is scary, isn’t it?

Vulnerability is intimidating because the more you expose your soul, the more you strip away your defenses. And without your defenses, how will you protect yourself?

When we slip out of our self-protective armor, we’re saying, “Here is all of me. The parts where you can love me and the parts where you can hurt me.” But when it comes to long-term happiness, the risk is worth the payoff.

I saw how this played out when our daughter Anna hosted a sleepover for several of her friends, including Maddie. Maddie’s mom informed me that her daughter would be bringing along her “lovie” and was worried that the other girls might tease her for sleeping with a ragged blanket—the same blanket that she’d slept with for ten years straight. It had moved with her from her crib to her toddler bed to her “big girl” bed. The blanket had taken long car rides with her, and it had soothed her when she felt lonely or hurt or afraid of the dark.

When this girl was around the people who knew her and loved her best, she was never afraid to bring the lovie into the light. But as she grew older, she began to keep it hidden from everyone else. She couldn’t quite put a finger on the reason why. Why did something she loved so much feel like it had to be hidden? Somehow, the blanket had become a bit of a secret. Admitting that she slept with a lovie made her feel vulnerable, and maybe a bit ashamed.

As night came, I dimmed the lights in the family room, where Anna and her friends would sleep. All the girls snuggled under blankets for a late-night movie. I pushed play on the remote. But Maddie? She wanted her blanket. I could see how she was fighting a quiet battle on her insides.

This battle was about the risk of vulnerability. If she’s like most of us, Maddie was asking herself the most paralyzing question in the universe: What will people think of me?

She made her choice. I watched as she walked to the bedroom, unzipped her bag, and quietly pawed through her belongings to find the love-worn blanket. From my seat in the family room, I saw what happened next.

The girl walked back into the room with her blanket tucked under her arm. One of the girls saw what she had retrieved from the bag. Maddie had been found out.

“What’s that?” asked the friend, pointing a finger at the lovie.

I was so proud of Maddie, because here’s what she did next: She lifted her chin, mustered her voice, and took the first step toward authentic relationship. She sat cross-legged on the couch and told her room of friends the truth. She told them how her mom’s friend had made the blanket for her when she was a newborn, how it had traveled with her on a hundred car rides, how she once lost it at the park, and how it fell apart a few years ago so Grandma had to sew it back together. She showed everyone the long stitch mark, and it looked like a scar.

Everyone listened. No one laughed at her. No one judged. And then the most beautiful thing happened. One by one, each of the girls pushed back the covers, walked into the bedroom, and unzipped her own duffel bag. Out came the ragged blankets, a bear with a missing eye, a plush doll. Every girl in the room was hiding a secret lovie in her bag.

That was the Night of the Great Unzipping.

Each girl dragged her own lovie into the living room, and then they took turns telling their stories—about lovies loved, lovies lost, and lovies found again.

Everyone slept better that night. Because someone had the guts to go first.

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that goes like this: “Friendship begins in that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

The first step toward friendship — deep friendship — is vulnerability. True friendship requires a terrific amount of emotional exposure. With it, comes risk and possible rejection. But it also comes with the likelihood that someone else knows exactly what you’re feeling. 

Deep friendship grows only when we are deeply known, and that is what the Relaters teach us.

The only way to be deeply known, is to allow yourself to be deeply seen.

What’s Your Happiness Style

This story shows what it means to be a Relater.

The Relaters’ life motto is this: Together is what makes us brave when life makes us scared.

Group of beautiful young women strolling on a beach. Three friends walking on the beach and laughing on a summer day, enjoying vacation.

Are you a Relater? Or maybe you’re a Doer, Experiencer, Thinker, or Giver. To find your style, take this short test. My assessment will pinpoint what truly makes you happy. Ask your loved ones to take the test, too.


Portions of this were excerpted from my book, The Happiness Dare. Copyright 2016. Tyndale Publishing House.

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Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there!

Our featured writer this week is Linda Perkins. Her words will be an encouragement to you if you’re waiting for laughter to return. “Despite how we might feel at times, God never abandons us. He may not rescue us out of our difficulties, but He always carries us through them.” Find Linda here.

To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer

by | September 13, 2016 | 26 comments


  1. Angela Howard

    What a precious story of authenticity and gracious friendship. It’s an encouragement to all of us to love others as they are bearing their souls–leaving judgement behind.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Angela. Vulnerability has not been my strong suit. So fancy that — how God uses a child to teach me.

      • Angela Howard

        God uses children in special ways!

  2. Martha Orlando

    Loved, loved, loved Maddie’s story! Being vulnerable is tough, but oh, how worth it to open up our true selves to others, allowing them to see us as God does. That is exactly how true friendships come to be.
    Blessings, Jennifer!

  3. karen

    I want to live brave like Maddie every single day! 1 Timothy 4:12….she is certainly setting an example!

  4. Gayl Wright

    Maddie is a brave girl. She may have been a little timid about sharing, but she pushed through. And then everyone joined her with their own. How cool is that! Thanks for sharing the story.

  5. Megan Willome

    Such a wonderful, wonderful story! Because that’s usually the case, isn’t it, that everyone has their lovey. I’m glad everyone was kind, but I’ve also learned that the person who is the meanest also has the biggest lovey attachment of them all.

  6. Mary

    I love this story. The risk of vulnerability is one worth taking. The first step is definitely the hardest. Thank you for your words and for your book which continues to make such a great impact.

  7. Lesley

    This is a great story, and I love how when one person is willing to be vulnerable and authentic, it opens the way for others to do the same.

  8. Trudy Den Hoed

    So this is the beautiful, courageous Maddie I read about in your book. I was so touched by how she opened herself up to vulnerability. She is such an example of how it can open up others, too, to share honestly. Thank you, Jennifer.

  9. Peggy Zortman

    What a wonderful story. Maddie is wise and beautiful beyond her years. I wish I had her bravery everyday.

  10. Dolly @ Soulstops.com

    What a beautiful story about Maddie. I needed to read this today because what I’ve written in my little book feels very vulnerable. Thank you 🙂

  11. Meghan Weyerbacher

    This is one of my favorite stories in yur book, Jennifer. I remember when I first read about those other girls each having one, tears welled up in my eyes as they are now. I hope that little girl knows how much her bravery will impact others. She may never know in fact, but in Heaven I bet some of us women are going to find her and give her a hug for going first!!! We need more leaders like that today. That is a characteristic of a great one, just as Ruth was in the Bible which we talked about today. She didn’t sit around and wait, she took initiative. Love how God weaves stories together. Blessings to you, friend! I got my books in today – woop woop!! Pictures coming soon… 🙂

  12. Michele Morin

    What a great intersection between the story in your book — and the little girl you encountered! Trusting that God will continue to bring blessing and strength to your days as you persevere in “raising” this “baby book” that you’ve birthed.

  13. Sue Donaldson

    Now this was a tear-jerker – how incredibly sweet and rich that you got to witness this great unveiling – a wonderful example for us “grown-ups!” Thanks, Jennifer.

  14. Being Woven

    What an absolutely beautiful story of standing strong in the One Who made us the way we are. I just told my husband, after reading this to him, that I should have told the truth about my thumb…my lovie…at slumber parties, but I was so unsure of myself. I had it with me wherever I went and had such a hard time stopping the sucking of it. Twelve years and then I forced myself to lie on my hands so I would not automatically put it in my mouth!! I finally was able to stop but never told anyone but Mom.
    Thank you for sharing for I feel bolder already for other things about me. Thank you, Maddie. You made my evening!

  15. Theresa Boedeker

    I really enjoyed this story. Children can teach us so much. My daughter and son teach me all the time to be brave, reach for the stars, relax more, and lots of other things.

  16. Nancy Smith

    While this is a story of vulnerability and friendship I couldn’t help but be reminded of my husband’s grandmother and our daughter. Mamas was her favorite person in the world and when she died at the age of 90, our daughter had lost her best friend. She had just turned 5. My daughter went into her manaw’s room and scooped up the pillow. And had slept with it ever since. It’s old, has been recovered several times , her husband has tried to talk her out of it. She hangs on to that pillow for what it means- that she will someday see her again. My daughter turns 40 this year. Thank you for this lovely story of validation of treasured things in our lives and the courage it takes to tell others and finding we are all pretty similar after all.

  17. Susan

    Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. I love Maddie. I love this story. Precious beyond words. I still have a lovie – a pillow that goes with me everywhere. Yes, I am almost Social Security age-worthy. Amen. Thanks for the linkup, Jennifer!

  18. PleasingtothePotter

    Wow! That sounds like the best sleep over ever Jennifer. So glad to read how Maddie had to courage to be vulnerable. May we ask God to strengthen us as we allow our weakness to be visible to others. We must remember it is not always just about us but How god can use us for His glory. Thank you for sharing this sweet story of inspiration. I hope you have a wonderful week and may God continue to use you and bless you in all your endeavors!

  19. Lyli Dunbar

    I am thankful for friends who are willing to let me in. This week in particular has been a hard one, and my friends have helped carry me through.

  20. Julie Loos

    Maddie was so brave. She created community right there at the sleepover.
    We aren’t any different from those little girls, are we? We hid the vulnerabilities we don’t want others to see. We’re afraid of friends truly loving us if we let them see the true us.
    God wants us to share. We aren’t the only ones hiding and it creates community and fellowship when we bring out in the open!
    Great post!

  21. Elizabeth Stewart

    I love this story, and seeing Maddie’s sweet face and smile is beautiful!

  22. Richella Parham

    I loved reading Maddie’s story when I read your book, and to see this photo is such a bonus! And just look at YOUR face in that photo–so happy and full of peace! I’ll savor that look.

    Thank you so much for hosting this link-up, Jennifer. Every blessing to you!

  23. Amber

    Thank you for sharing Maddies’s story, and it’s so wonderful to now see the impact her courage still has through your blog post and book.

    I love the idea behind #TellHisStory; what a great way to share God’s impact in our lives through your blog. And I know God will do a great work through all these personal stories.

    Thank you, and continue the good work!

  24. Bec

    Thank you for sharing this! It really hit a tender spot in my heart as this is vulnerability is something I’m working on. Bless you, bless Maddie!
    And I’m really looking forward to receiving the Happiness Dare emails!



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