I had a wonderful experience this past weekend (Feb. 5-6): I was able to participate in my very first IF:Gathering event through a local simulcast group. The dream of IF:Gathering is to disciple a generation by equipping women to make disciples that make disciples in their local context. Ooooh do I love that! I stumbled upon this ministry on Twitter some time earlier this year, and I have been steadily and increasingly impressed and intrigued by what they do and how they do it. So, when my college roommate and some gals from her church decided to register a last-minute impromptu IF:Local group (the name for simulcast gatherings), I was in! Well, I did hesitate a little at first—mainly because this was going to be my only free weekend for the next month, and I am swamped in life tasks right now—but in the end I decided to figure out timing for life tasks later, because I knew this event was going to be good for my soul and it was a thing that just needed to happen right now.
I was not wrong. In fact, I’m overwhelmed with all the God-goodness it has dumped into my heart and my mind and my life on top of all the other sources of similar and related areas of goodness! I’m overwhelmed enough that my initial instinct is to shut down, because I don’t know how or where to start processing it all! But one of my life mottos is to just take the first step, and I think Pops has made the first step clear.
Right here. Right now. This post is step one.
Toward the end of session one on Friday, Jeanne Stevens led a time of corporate confession. During her preparatory exhortation she shared a quote from Dr. Brené Brown:
“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerability is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”
I have never been shy about my story. I decided decades ago that when it came to my past experiences, I was going to be an open book; hiding them did no good at all for anyone, and especially not for me! I have understood for a very long time the power and freedom that comes when we give expression to our stories; doing so breaks the lies of shame often associated with our pasts. In Christ we are forgiven and made new; “there is therefore now no condemnation [or shame] for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). We no longer have to fear our stories! So we are free to share away and trust that in doing so God will bring something good from them no matter how dark and destructive they may have once been!
But as open as I am about my past of emotional and sexual abuse and abandonment, I have also been careful about the language I use to talk about it when I’m in certain circles of friends or acquaintances. Specifically, I don’t think I had ever used the word abuse in the presence of any of my family—or anyone who knows anyone in my family—prior to Thanksgiving 2015; and when, during Thanksgiving 2015, I used that word in a conversation in which my aunt (my dad’s sister) was participating, I made very sure to ask her never to mention to my dad that I had used it. (I spent that holiday with my aunt and her family in Minnesota, and none of my other family were present since they all live in Virginia.)
You see, long ago, I forgave the various members of my family who had abused, misused, or abandoned me over the course of my childhood and adolescence. I haven’t been angry at them about any of it for a long time. Over the decades I had come to believe that we had found a place of reconciliation and peace in our family unit that was building a foundation for a new unity among us, and I had no desire to cause hurt by using words that have the effect of a punch to the gut. My experiences were what they were; we all knew they had happened, and as far as I was concerned we had all moved on, hopefully into healing.
Over the last sixteen months of darkness, as God has been pressing into all those places and wounds, He has helped me to see that there are a lot of ways in which I still have not healed or moved on as much as I had made myself believe. I discovered that the word abuse was hard for me to utter as a name for my experiences even when I was all alone. I had found every other softer means of naming my difficult upbringing so that I could avoid using that word as an active-verb description. And even when I started having to say it, you can be sure I didn’t use it in arenas where my family or anyone connected to them would see or hear it!
I’ve always believed that my tendency to shy away from the hard truth of my past was motivated by love and forgiveness and a desire to protect from unnecessary backlash directed toward them, whether from within our family circles or from those in their larger communities who might not have been completely aware of what was happening way back then. This weekend, though—during IF:Gathering—I began to see it for what it was:
Fear of unnecessarily causing hurt for them, but more than that, fear of the ramifications of calling the thing by its name and squaring off with it face-to-face in my own heart and mind. Fear of the fruit of doing that. Fear of why God might want me to walk in the freedom to express my story and testimony fully no matter with whom or in what context I find myself. Fear of what ripple effects might occurr in my family relationships once the story is revealed by its rightful name. Fear that those who hurt me have not come to the same conclusions as I have—namely, that it was in fact abuse.
During her teaching in session two, Lauren Chandler talked about the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well in John 4:1-29. You know the one—multiple husbands and enough of a social outcast that she went to draw water alone in the middle of the day rather than with all the other townswomen at the normal hour for that task. John 4 recounts Jesus’s interaction with this woman who was hungry for freedom and life in her heart. At the end of their conversation, it says in verse 29 that she “left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?'” Lauren pointed out that in this moment, the woman left her jar at the well. Then she asked us what it was we were clinging to as the source of water for our thirsty hearts instead of drawing from the eternal and satisfying living water from Christ dwelling in us?
I have a confession: the idea that I should perhaps start this blog started niggling at my mind months ago. I ignored it. There was no way. Honestly, I don’t want to write anymore; I’m tired of fighting with the words to make them work for me instead of failing me. And no way was I going to blog about all these things in a place where my family or their friends could stumble upon it and hear my own expression about what happened to me.
Too hard. Too scary.
But the first step to being whole is being known. And the first step to being known is being seen. And the first step to being seen is making yourself show up. All the way. Every time. Even if you are the only one at the party.
The first step is expression, and expression always makes you one hundred percent vulnerable one thousand percent of the time. But you cannot tell a story if you don’t open your mind and let it out; there is nothing to punctuate if there is nothing on the page. Doing that can seem so scary; scarier still is the first time you let anyone else know it exists. The most terrifying is the first time you let someone else read it.
Here’s another confession: I am the most scared to be honest and vulnerable with myself. But that Samaritan woman hit the nail on the head: “Come see the man who told me all that I ever did.” Jesus already knew her whole story. In fact, He was the one telling her, not the other way around, and that telling brought her life that day! The same is true for me: my story is already known fully, and I have nothing to fear anymore. God has asked me to show up, to listen as He tells me my story, and to punctuate it in and through faith. That means getting what I know out of my head and onto the page, even if I don’t know exactly how all the pieces will fit together in the end.
This blog is for me, first and foremost, because I have to let myself see me and my story all the way every time. But I have left it public because if I’m going to embrace my real story, my real self, then that means doing so whether I’m by myself or in the presence of others.
At the end of the conference, IF founder Jennie Allen explained to all the women at the event in Austen that they’d all been given a domino and that this was to represent how the decisions they made about how to live out at home what God had showed them at the conference would have a domino effect in their communities and in the world: they would go home and obey God and “fall” into other women who would hear the gospel and believe and do the same and then “fall” into more women. She challenged them to write on their domino what it was that God was calling them to do when they walked out the doors of that conference center and went home to live it all out. We at the IF:Local simulcast gatherings around the world didn’t have dominos. She challenged us to write it down on something.
Well, this blog is my domino, and over it all is written this that God impressed on my heart this weekend:
“Leave the fear at the well. Trust me, and tell your story.”