I did something this week I should’ve done a long time ago. Honestly, I didn’t mean for it to take so long—four years. I kept putting it off, telling myself I could save for another day. But then one day turned into well over a thousand days. And what I knew I needed to do never got done.
I didn’t expect it to be so difficult, to tell you the truth. A death of sorts, like walking the plank and choosing to jump into shark-infested waters. I hovered at the very edge of safety, not sure I had it in me to take the leap. I knew it involved burying something that had been a part of me since birth, knowing I’d never see it again this side of heaven. Who willingly says goodbye to part of her truest self?
And yet I knew if I didn’t do it, I’d be forever caught between what was and what could be. Dying was the only way to still live.
And so I turned my back on what lay behind, and I jumped.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven years ago, I recorded a voice mail on my cell phone. It was upbeat, full of positivity and enthusiasm. People often made comments about it. But it a standard personal voice mail greeting, probably not all that different from yours.
The difference? The voice on my greeting was recorded before cancer stole my speech.
It was the old me, the one with near flawless articulation and professionalism. That girl who didn’t slur, spit, and lisp her way through sentences. She sounded warm, confident, maybe even intelligent.
She sounded—dare I say it?—normal.
This may sound like a small thing to you, but the truth is I’ve had such a hard time letting the Old Michele go. Speech is such a huge part of the unique human experience. It’s part of our signature, the rope that ties us to other word-speaking creations, making connections and deepening relationships.
The problem is I didn’t like my new signature. In fact, it embarrassed me.
In short, I felt shame. My flawed speech left me with sense of otherness and unworthiness. I was fine when I was home alone, going about my day, almost forgetting what had happened and who I’d become. But the moment I opened my mouth to answer the phone, record a video, or leave a friend a message? The old embarrassment slipped back in. And with it, Shame. Who wants to listen to a speaker who talks funny? Who wants to endure lisps and verbal ticks when there are plenty of normal-speaking people out there?
For me, shame acted as a silencer. It made me want to shut down, hide, runaway. To become smaller and smaller and smaller until I edged on the verge of non-existence. Although I kept speaking and recording podcasts and radio interviews, I avoided more personal means of connection, things like Instagram stories and YouTube videos, phone calls and Voxer. Every time I opened my mouth I felt I should apologize for who I was, for how inconvenient and annoying I imagined my new voice to be.
And then one day I decided I’d had enough. And that day happened to be today, when I finally pulled out my cell phone and recorded a new voicemail. A voicemail that reveals the New Michele, in all her imperfection. And a new voice mail that represents life ahead, not life behind.
I know you’d love for me to tell you it was a moment full of freedom and joy, but I can’t. It was hard, uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to do it. But I was tired of shame calling the shots.
And the only way to silence shame is to talk back.
My friends, what old story is holding you hostage and making you small? What flaw or mistake or regret or wound is stirring up shame and telling you to hide? That old story isn’t serving you well. It’s keeping you from connecting with other flawed and imperfect humans just like you and me. And it’s time to stop letting shame call the shots.
Grace Has Come. And He’s writing a new story. But you have to be willing to let the old story go in order to experience the miracle of what Grace can still do.
So go ahead. Name your shame. Say it out loud. Remind yourself of all the ways that shame has held you hostage and kept you from showing up to your actual life. And then ask Grace to tell a louder, better, more beautiful story. One that doesn’t hide, but one that shows up.
Then, take the leap. We’re all waiting for you.