This story was first published on thefreebirdsings.com on March 29, 2016.
At our church on Easter Sunday, a video was played of me telling my story. It was used as part of the message in demonstrating Christ's love for us, His redemption power, and the victory we have in Him. It was truly my honor to get to be a very, very small part of one of the most powerful church services I have ever experienced. I told part of my story here on this blog two years ago and was floored by the response I got from people with similar stories. It was shared many times and it was my hope that somewhere out there a girl read it and realized that she wasn't alone and that she shouldn't be ashamed.
After church on Sunday three other women came and spoke to me about their similar experience and thanked me for sharing. I couldn't believe that in our little church family, four of us have had to go through something like this, and that's just the few who felt comfortable talking to me about it. When Lady Gaga performed her song "Til It Happens to You" at the Oscars this year with a group of survivors of sexual assault, I was deeply moved. I was supremely affected by the act of a group of people bravely standing together, publicly sharing their stories.
Storytelling is the rope of life that ties us together. Without it, we are just lone rangers out doing this thing alone without ever having empathy for one another. Our life experiences shape our viewpoints, so in the age of social media where we try to fit everything into tiny captions and status updates and tweets, it's easy not to understand where someone is coming from. It's easy to look at the man sitting on the curb in disheveled clothes with dirty hair and a sign asking for money and say he's lazy and should get up and get a job. But I am willing to bet if any one of us sat down next to that man and took the time to listen to his story, we would walk away with a lot more compassion and a lot less judgment.
After church a friend came up to me and said that she was so grateful that I told my story- not because she shared a similar experience- but because she understood me so much better now. With the newness of relationship also comes the realization that these people- as incredible as they are- only know this one part of you. And I only know this one part of them. And the only way to change that is to tell our stories.
I recently shared online about a little boy named Roy that I fell in love with 13 years ago while serving our local inner city community. Any time I was around him I saw past what was sometimes a rough exterior and deeper into someone who was sweet and affectionate and truly very special. He was part of a family that we served for a long, long time and I watched him grow from a sweet little kid to the beginnings of a hardened teenager. We lost touch about 4 years ago and last I had heard he had been in trouble and spent some time in juvy. Earlier this year he was arrested for holding up a school bus at gunpoint, and a month later he was shot down in his front yard, calling out his mother's name right before he died. It would be very easy to look at this kid and see a statistic, a "thug", a high school drop-out involved in the wrong crowd who "got what was coming to him."
He was born into the type of poverty that most of us reading this post could never dream of. His great-grandma loved and cared for more kids than humanly imaginable and many of them slept piled up together on dirty mattresses strewn about on the floor of her tiny, dilapidated home. Eventually her body succumbed to the HIV infection she got from a blood transfusion and she left behind a trail of tears so long I'm convinced it would've wrapped all the way around the Earth. Roy's big sister had some developmental delays and medical issues and eventually Roy dropped out of school to help care for her.
Did Roy get intro trouble? Absolutely. Was he an angel? Definitely not. But he saw the dark side of a life most of us will never be able to begin to understand. And Roy meant so much to his sister that within a week and a half of him being killed, she died of natural causes at twenty years old. That thug, that criminal was a kid who at the core was gentle and loving and caring. Had that same kid been born into a middle class white family and experienced life in a completely different way, I have a feeling things would have gone much differently for him.
When we read newspaper articles very rarely do we see the whole story. When we read Facebook status updates it's very easy to judge (I am totally guilty). But when we tell stories, everything changes. Doors open, minds open, hearts open. We need to hear each others' stories. We need do go beyond surface level relationships and really get to know each other.
I am so proud to be the director of the local production of a national show called Listen to Your Mother. It's a 90 minute live reading show where a cast of normal, everyday people share their stories of motherhood. Some are humorous, some are poignant, some are devastating, all are important. Through telling our stories we validate not only our own experiences, but the experiences of others. We gain empathy and compassion and love in a way that surface level relationships can never reach.
You never know, your story may give someone else the courage to tell theirs. Their story could change a life. Stories matter.
So, what's your story?