I recently went to event by an interfaith group called Faith in Texas that advocates for justice. As part of the training, we paired off to ask each other for our story with the guidance to avoid offering any comparison stories as we listen and learn what justice looks like to others.
It was the first time anyone purposely asked for my story.
I struggle with how much to say because it’s so shocking for people to grasp what happened to me that I wind up having to comfort them rather than heal myself. Still, I braved the task and accepted my second “share your story” meeting with a woman I met at the first event. By all appearances, she’s a nice, young and conservative woman that never endured a day of hardship in her life. And because people often respond to my story with “but you look so normal”, so I know not to judge a book by its cover.
I drove to the meeting muddling over what to share and walked in thinking how in hell’s hounds to share and keep us both calm without offending her only to find her seated, incredibly poised and perfectly coiffed and looking like a top selling Mary Kay rep. It was oddly calming. I proceeded to portion my story out, complete with a warning about how bad it is. She had just earned her master’s in theology and was planning to certify as a pastor, so my fear of being judged and not understood set in. I do grow weary of people praying for me to be healed when they don’t even know the wound. Frankly, I’m still coming to grips with my history, so sharing it on purpose with a stranger so they can love me as I am (and walk with me in the fight for justice) is pretty damn scary. I don’t want to share my real story. I want to talk to you about my capacity for love and make sure you don’t feel sorry for me or leave damaged by my truth.
As I sipped pineapple tea, sharing away, I realized I had ignored my story for years, then finally accepted it and yet could never fully own it. I fought back tears as she patiently listened. I never felt so visible in my life. It was real. It was raw. It was scary. It was good in a way that is hard to describe. Somehow sharing our stories in this way reveals a strange bounty of new possibilities.
I have shared a few tidbits with enough people to know that after a few sentences, there’s a horrified, mouth-agape, full face stare on the way. Then, the future pastor said the most humbly profound thing; “maybe it’s not an either-or? Maybe you can be happy and sad at the same time, maybe you can have faith and still question it at the same time?”
She was full of revelations. My heart was like a pinball machine bonging away in rapid fire with multicolored lights flashing as I eagerly agreed. Having listened to many people tell me their stories over the years, I never had a clue what that look of surprise on their face was about until now. It is that surprising knowledge of how mollifying it is to be heard and seen without sympathy or solutions or blame; the freedom to be seen as your authentic self. Like a lid popping off a vacuum tight mason jar, being heard removed all the pressure to be perfect. That pressure swiftly departed today when sharing my ugly story made me feel whole once more. I knew without a doubt this woman is going to be a grand preacher.
We talked for two hours and I found myself rambling about everything and landing on the knowledge that I’d spent years ignoring my past. I told her things I’ve never told anyone including my family. There was no judgement, no shame, and no blame, just listening and talking. I heard her story as well and must respect her privacy here, but she was as I suspected…a woman with her own battles. I was emotionally exhausted. I never would have guessed that hearing a person’s story, their real story, frees them from the bondage of the past and allows them for the first time to simply be all of whoever they are.
The room was like an impeccably scented, exquisite powder puff dusting the soul with hope. I fully agree, an ugly past is not an either-or situation. You can be happy and sad, confident and conflicted, certain and doubtful at the same time.
I know most people that go through what I went through wind up dead. But I’m here. I understand that meeting a person who was kidnapped twice, raped, stalked and dealt with attempted murder multiple times by the age of 10 is a lot to wrap your brain around. But that’s my first story. My first boyfriend tried to kill me and then stalked me for a decade and that’s part of my story, too. I’m not wealthy and I didn’t make the headlines, but I did make the meeting.
So, it’s ok if you don’t know what to say, you can just listen. I want a pretty story like everyone else, but the ugly ones (the real ones) are the ones that restore my faith in God and humanity. That’s what justice looks like to me and that’s what Faith In Texas is all about.