What is the blow that has knocked your life off course?
If you were asked that by a well-meaning person – someone you would likely grow to trust by all the regular signals you use to determine that – which story would you tell? C’mon, we all have a bunch. Some are obvious or easily accessible, and others are strictly invitation only.
Wanna know the story I most often leave out when I’m in a new small group or I’m getting to know new people? Whatever the one is that I’m living through right now.
A little over a year ago I was invited to join a group of women. She called us The Embers for reasons that would unfold. I only knew one of them at the time, the one inviting me.
My friend veiled her idea to gather us, and I love her so I latched on. She promised that no force would be applied – you know you know what I mean. If any of us decided This Is Not My Deal But Thanks, that would be totally cool. That was approximately 847 texts between us ago, so I can’t recall exactly how it went down. I do know I was gun-shy, being fresh off a series of “setbacks”, but I must have said OK, and probably punctuated my answer with my favorite emoji, the eyeroll.
On the first night, after coffee and some outrageous cake, we did introductions and shuffled nervously, still wondering what we’d said yes to, and then my friend confided that there was something we all had in common. We’d all been impacted by a life changing rejection or some debilitating loss.
I remember I stiffened. If being a loser was the qualifying factor for inclusion, it was a label I hated.
Hard questions and showing up
We stacked our plates in the sink and played clean up, which is never easy in someone else’s kitchen, all the while knowing that storytime was coming next.
What was the loss or pain that shifted my life from drive to park?
I picked an old one. I went safe. Mom, always Mom. It’s still true, and it’s my go-to story in situations where people say their things. The chicken soup, the seizures, the ambulance, the inexplicably callous Dr. A-hole. The metastatic breast cancer, the life slipping through my fingers, and the ring I still wear. This story has a 17 year epilogue that’s remarkably personal, so I kept it cloistered for another night. Whether that night would ever come was still in question.
I picked that story, one I have practice telling, because I am all kinds of broken. On any given day, even with loving believers, I don’t air what I have not worked out.
If I don’t have a story polished, I don’t let it out to preach.
Or, I didn’t. Since The Embers, some things have changed.
After a while with them fresher stories came. Time and trust and cake and prayer will do that to a soul – scrape the dead skin away so the tender flesh can breathe.
It’s so hard to present our suffering in-real-time when we don’t have a stellar ending yet for the story we are living. So many gangly awkward loose ends! We think we ought to be able to swiftly tie those suckers up, but it’s just not Pinterest-simple. Not when it’s your life.
One time I was listening to a pastor preach on suffering from one of my favorite scriptures , 2 Corinthians 1:5-7 *, and inside I was cheering him on. Cheering and praying. Please let him tell a real story, I pleaded, because people want real more than we want good. But in place of real, we got a dusty tale from his college days and an unfortunate sports injury. I hate when that happens. I could not have been the only one silently begging for a faith transfusion, a story of fresh hope – the kind that’s just stitched and still swollen.
The magical thing about a painful story that feels too fresh to share is that right now it still has the energy, the gravity, the impact I need like a tourniquet for my leaky hope. Our stories have that kind of power.
Making space for my still raw stories to play and have a life –beyond me arranging for you what I think you should think of me – is a risk every single time, but, these days I’m taking it. When I hold back, I rob you of comfort by protecting too long and pretending too well. If I am the only one feasting on what God is pouring into me because of a sorrow, I’m starving the body.
So, every other Thursday I meet with my girls. We co-shoulder our baggage and drip our fat tears. I love them with my messy self. It’s been over a year since that first night, and it’s only a little easier now. But this is my slow truth and the truth always helps. Don’t let your stories go stale. Talking out the things God is doing while he is doing them and before he is done shows us all what miracles look like in the goo and gunk of the making and shaping.
Didn’t we learn this in third grade? Always show your work. Your life is telling a great story of how God grabbed a person and filled her with himself. Let it out to preach.
Pictures for this post were taken by Rowdy Smith. Thanks, Rowdy!
*Capsules of Comfort is another post I wrote about this scripture, because it won’t let go of me. Blessings.