Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. —Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I stood at the front of the room. A room full of young women stared back at me. Women who hadn’t slept, enjoyed adult conversation or eaten a hot meal in weeks.

Moms. Each and every one. I loved them instantly.

Just minutes before, we’d sat around large, round tables, where they told me about their posse of children, bubbling over with the sweet details of their families. I counted at least four in various stages of pregnancy, another two or three with infants on their arms. They’d come to hear me speak, to re-energize and “learn from my experience,” one mom would tell me later.

Now I stood before them while they waited. I shuffled my notes, notes I wouldn’t end up using, buying time.

Not a sound.

I wanted to run. These women were in the midst of living out a fairly tale. In the first years of marriage, experiencing the magic of those early years of motherhood and parenting. They glowed with the joy and innocence of it all.

My “experience,” however, did not read like a fairly tale. Instead, the story I’d come to tell, my story, carried the calm stability of a roller coaster or bungee jump. I’m a woman crafted by mistakes and heartbreak, about to speak to women who looked far too young and happy to have experienced much of either.

I felt embarrassed. Ashamed.

Beam me up, Scotty. I can’t do this.

Too late. They waited with anticipation. Stealing myself against their certain disappointment, I took a deep breath and began:

“I had a dream. A dream of giving my children the perfect family …”

Then I told them about the divorce. The single motherhood. The step-motherhood. The grown children who still struggle. The little children trying to find their place. The fear that almost crushed me. The mistakes I continue to make. The guilt I always feel. And the horrible ache I felt when my dream of a perfect family died.

But then I told them about a God who promised to redeem it all. A God who promised to establish me, firm and unafraid, in spite of unexpected circumstances. A God who loves my children even more than I do, and vowed to be with them forever, long after I’m gone.

Forty minutes later, I rejoined the table of young moms. It was quiet at first, everyone looking at hands and coffee cups. Then one woman broke the silence.

“I didn’t mention it before, but I’m a step mom, too.”

Then another …

“My 10-year-old actually came from my first marriage.”

Then another …

“I’m a cancer-survivor, two years.”

And another …

“My pre-teen daughter is having a really tough time.”

Roller coasters and bungee jumping all over the place. In less than a minute, the room filled with the sound of truth-telling, burden-sharing and stories of imperfect women living imperfect lives.

Even better than this music of community all around me?

The light on one woman’s face when she finally discovered she’s not alone.

This is why I choose to go first. This is why I push past the discomfort of vulnerability to own the truth and tell the truth, even in all its ugly imperfection.

Because I want the eyes starting back at me to know they’re not alone.

And the men and women behind the eyes to fall in love with their story, and to find the courage to tell it.

Whether you’re blogging, speaking, or simply sharing a conversation across a fence or cup of coffee, your story is one of the most beautiful gifts you can offer the world. Even in all of its ugly imperfection.

Embrace it, all of it. And dare to go first.

How could your story help someone else?

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