Going home is always an experience. Now the “home” I just came back to visit is not the city I grew up in, nor the town in which I currently live, but the place of my deepest and most resonant friendships.
A few weeks of hanging out with so many of my very favorite “peeps” has filled my soul like hardly anything else can.
I have laughed, and cried, and laughed until I cried. I have joyfully celebrated great victories and tearfully mourned great struggles – many of which I am, regretfully, just learning about. I have met the children of close friends for the first time and caught up with these amazing parents until my heart overflowed. My peeps have even helped me make a few new friends who are already kindred spirits (apparently the peeps of my peeps are also my peeps, lol).
I don’t know how to express it other than this: I have LIVED . . . outside of my own headspace . . . for the first time in way too long . . .
Funny thing is, all this living I’m suddenly doing has made me look back at the last season of my life and wonder what the heck’s been missing.
I could be lazy and blame it on exhaustion from two years of degree-completion while working full time. I could target my job loss the previous year from “departmental restructuring” as the reason behind my avoidance of existing relationships. But these realities only cover a tiny part of the problem and I’m just too analytical to settle for the easy answers.
The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I realized that there was an actual, fundamental difference between my “old” friendships and my new ones – and God was gracious enough to provide me with the source of that shift: In 2011, I was advised to abandon my story to the past.
I was strongly encouraged to not think about it or share it with anyone new; to just leave it “where it belonged” for good and move forward, almost as if certain aspects of my journey had never happened.
But they did happen and in the fallout I became a wholly transformed person. Who I am today is much more the result of overcoming my negative experiences than undergoing my positive ones. Recovery and redemption don’t come into play without brokenness.
As a result, I’ve built some of the most inauthentic relationships I’ve had in years (with a few choice exceptions). At least when I was still struggling, I held back out of a fear of rejection. More recently, I was holding back out of a sense of obligation to two amazing, admirable, Christ-loving women who genuinely had my best interests at heart.
Only their advice was the exact opposite of what I had been called to do by, and for, God.
I let myself put that on the back burner for a while because it was easier to believe that these two ladies I looked up to as mentors had some amazing spiritual insight I was lacking. I now know that was only an excuse.
My whole call to ministry has to do with sharing my story. Nearly every person I’ve deeply affected on a spiritual level was someone I initiated a difficult and truly vulnerable conversation with about what I had been through. These are among the closest and most rewarding relationships I have, the ones that have grown and flourished and deepened over the years.
But authenticity takes work; it’s hard to share the messy stuff. I indulged my natural laziness as a result of the well-intentioned advice and my relationships have paid a steep price.
My biggest regret is that I owe most of my newer friends an apology for concealing what I’ve come to consider the “real” me: the one who celebrates the victory that God wrought and revels in the freedom that He reinforces; the one who remembers where she’s come from and brings glory to God and blessing to others as a direct result; the one who OWNS her story.
That’s the thing about our stories: either we own them or they own us. When they are in control, we are not. Too often we are bound by the shame and guilt and fear they inspire. This perfectly describes the first 7 years of my Christian life and partially describes the next 12, as my healing gradually came into being. Those since 2006, thankfully, been an entirely different story.
In the beginning, the darkness of my journey made it inappropriate to share in all but the most specific of circumstances (as led by God). But once His redemption and light took hold, grateful sharing (with discernment) became the natural response.
To know God had an ultimate purpose, to realize my story could help others, to find I could participate in bringing good from what was meant for my destruction – these made all the pain worthwhile and gave me the courage to embrace my whole story, even the ugly parts, and start to make it known.
Now I don’t presume to consider my particular experience as prescriptive: we can choose to own our stories in different ways. Some people internalize and others externalize; both options are valid.
The key is to embrace the journey, which brings victory, rather than reject it, which brings defeat. Just be open to whatever God wants to do in and through the hardships of your life. Not that you should dwell on them incessantly, but also don’t neglect sharing them with others when prompted by the Spirit’s leading.
And don’t let anyone, however good their intentions may be, convince you to leave your stories in the past and pretend they don’t exist . . .
Artistic Kudos: Pixabay.com/rawpixel