CLEARWATER — Glennon Doyle Melton turned Temple B'Nai Israel into a virtual reality ride Sunday evening.
She didn't need 3D glasses, Disney animatronics or elaborate lighting to pull off the feat. The best-selling author took us through the highs and lows of her life by literally kicking off her heels and guiding us down a path of truth-telling that drew from the crowd warm laughs, knowing nods and rousing applause.
Doyle Melton's renown has extended beyond her best-selling memoirs Love Warrior and Carry On Warrior. Her Momastery website has millions of followers and her nonprofit, Together Rising, has raised more than $4 million.
But her captivating messages all stem from her unvarnished admissions and engaging humility. She captured the audience at the very beginning by explaining that after years of battling bulimia and alcoholism, she found herself in 2002 lying on a bathroom floor and holding a positive pregnancy test.
At that moment, we checked to make sure our seat belts were fastened, preparing for a gut-wrenching ride.
Yet with the comedic timing and voice inflections that rival the world's best stand-ups, her speech rose and fell with emotion.
In one moment, she delivered such humorous self deprecating observations about her struggles, the crowd howled. And then, seconds later, she softened her voice and reduced the audience to murmurs of appreciation with prescient observations.
"I really think addiction is just a hiding place where sensitive people go so we can kind of shield ourselves from pain and from love, which is so risky," said Doyle Melton, who explained that her problems with bulimia began at the age of 10.
"But the problem is the only things that grow us are pain and love. So when you hide, you don't grow."
As that thought sunk in, she quickly took the crowd up through more laughter and down into a series of funny observations before delivering another pearl. She said she rose from that bathroom floor looking to model successful women, and she determined the most successful women in the world wear scarves.
"If you are the type of woman who gets up early enough in the morning to get completely dressed, and then you look in the mirror and you're like, 'You know what, this outfit needs a scarf.'
"And then you have bought a scarf at some point and you know where to find the scarf, so you go to your scarf drawer or hanger or whatever you people do, and you get the scarf and you know how to tie the scarf, you are just, like, crushing life."
Doyle Melton actually found her brand of truth-telling through writing. It started innocently enough when she followed the lead of others and listed 25 things about herself on Facebook. While others listed such benign observations as, "I like hummus," Doyle Melton offered something far more poignant.
I'm a recovering food and alcoholic addict but I still find myself missing booze in the same twisted way we can miss those who repeatedly beat us and leave us for dead.
She joked that her sister left six voicemail messages — the "Bat Signal" that she had written something inappropriate — but in the responses she found supporters willing to share their fears and pain. It spurred her writing, her way of diffusing the shame life can impose, and rose to her current stature.
You come to realize that the pain of her failures — addictions, a failed marriage, doubts about her parenting ability — have sparked her success.
"The problem with transporting ourselves out of our hot loneliness ... is that we miss all of our transformation. Everything we need to become the person we're meant to become next is inside the hot loneliness of now.
"So when we transport out with those easy buttons, we're like caterpillars jumping out of the cocoon just before we're supposed to become butterflies."
And so it went, the crowd laughing hysterically and then quickly quieting to receive another gift from the woman who has appeared on Oprah Winfrey's Supersoul Sunday. She spoke about parenting, addictions, marriage, relationships and faith, and she offered a message about not allowing these troubling times to divide us.
Becca Tieder, who co-chaired the Temple B'Nai event with Katie Blaxberg, brought Doyle Melton in to start a time-critical dialogue and strip back the pretense that can impair relationships.
"Glennon was a perfect unifier for her fearless approach to the truth and our temple was the perfect location for its commitment to inclusion," Tieder said. "In 2017 there is no space for hate or distance and in this time of rising hate crimes there is no better time to open your doors to all people to break down barriers and begin building bridges."
Truth-telling? I walked in worried about missing the Giants-Packers game. Now I'm promising myself to save and savor all of Doyle Melton's wisdom.
I can't begin to fully capture how she's fueling my thoughts about being a father and husband and about grappling with life's inevitable pain. But I feel blessed to have attended and a bit closer to those who joined me.
That's all I'm saying.