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?
Hi Michelle. You may know that I am writing my memoir, one blog post at a time (hopefully to publish it). I just wrote a post called “Learning to Fly on My Own,” that I swore since I started I would not include. Then I knew I had to. But I felt the same sense of shame and regret you did, and telling it, exposing myself, was hard. I had made a decision that was wrong for me and for my children, and something inside me told me it was wrong at the time, but I did it anyway. I had to make a choice between letting my readers think that once the Lord came into the picture everything was hunky dory or sharing the fact that even a Christian can make a huge mistake. But at the end of my post, my readers find that the Lord came through once again (as He always does) and redeemed everything for me, and for my children. Enough years have past and there has been so much healing all around…but we all carry the battle scars. One day, even they will fall away. In the meantime, we all learned a lot more about how forgiveness works…and that is priceless.
Blogging your memoir is a great idea. Keep writing your story, Linda.
Beautiful! Your honesty and vulnerability are compelling as always. Yes, I choose to go first, too. The world is much to messy to think we all have it together, and much to short to pretend we do.
From another messy, yet cherished woman, thanks!
You have a beautiful way of owning and telling your story, Stacy …
The other night my wife and I had taken some food to some friends of ours who are going through a hard time. The wife actually told us not to come. We showed up anyway. We sat there and listened as they recounted their friends that seemed to have it all together. I quickly reminded them that the fronts we put on are deceiving. At the end of the day none of us are perfect and we all have our battles to conquer. The best thing we can do is forgive our selves and let God do the rest. Faith can be a hard road to walk. Thanks Michele for sharing your story.
I love that you went anyway. They needed you to love them enough to fight for them. Well done.
Your post inspired me to complete today’s blog post:
Thank you for your gift of words spoken and unspoken.
What a beautiful post, Stacey!
I needed to read this today…I’m working on a talk for MOPS myself and your feelings so resonate with me. I just bemoaned to my husband that people will expect me to have my act together perfectly and my life is anything but picture perfect. He encouraged me to tell the truth but I wonder if anyone can relate to that! Thank you for the reminder that truth is the most powerful encourager of all.
It feels so risky, doesn’t it? Make sure you let me know how your MOPS talk goes. They’re going to love you. 🙂
Thanks, Michelle! I wish I could go to the SCORE conference to learn how to be a better speaker. 🙂 You’re doing an amazing job.
My story exactly, right from the dream to coming to depend on God for my grown and growing sons. Thank you for the encouragement to shed masks and share the story of brokenness, forgiveness and the amazingly good things God can create out of my multitude of mistakes.
I love that we share stories. 🙂
Loved this and tweeted it. Yes, sometimes I think the moms who look the most put-together might be the moms who are falling apart inside! Not always, but it’s so easy to look like we’re keeping all those balls in the air, and maybe we are, but our emotional state is in turmoil. I do love the idea of being the first to admit, “I’m a mess”–and I frequently do!
Thanks for the tweet, Heather. And thank you for being one of those who goes first. 🙂
You have no idea how timely your encouragement is, having recently spent a week with an editor who encouraged us to craft a story with more details, less emotion, and only a last minute reference to the God who can and does redeem. Thank you for reminding me to keep telling my story, including the parts about weakness and struggle. For being real, though a bit scary, is the way we truly share how God comes into all of life.
Real is risky. But it’s good. Press on, my friend.
I love love this Michele. So many times we think we will minister because we are perfect yet when we share through our weakness God shows up. Wow
Yes, exactly. We get it mixed up, don’t we? Thanks, Brent.
Your posts always have such heart. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you, Jennifer.
What an encouraging reminder, Michele.
I have also chosen to go first. First in my family to name the monster called abuse, first in my family to get help to stop the cycle of anger. It’s taken 12 years, but insisting on the truth is now helping to mend some (almost) impossibly cracked relationships. One reconcilliation last summer, and another on the horizon for next month.
God can redeem it all. My hope is between my blog and my still-in-progress memoir others will know they are not alone.
Reconciliation is a beautiful thing, isn’t it Denise? Thanks for choosing to go first.
Revelation 12:11… Just think of the freedom the world would experience if every Christian would get real with their testimony…
I was there when you spoke! I can’t say enough what a inspiration you were to each and every woman there. I had to leave a few minutes early, but I did with tears in my eyes. Not bad tears, but tears that I wasn’t alone in my imperfect life. Thank you so much.t
Thank you, Angela. I’m so glad you were there!