Let's Tell Stories

Here's a confession: my default is not pretty. I can be grossly negative, depressed and easily irritated. I have always seen that as a character flaw; as something about myself that I just can't shake. I've done my best to mask it, deny it, ignore it and re-shape it. Yet it remains. Damn it.

But then I did something profound. I dragged myself into a church office and sat down with two women that I barely knew. I told them my life story - all of the depression, abuse, neglect and trauma I had ever experienced. I cried. They cried. And then they gave me the start date for my Mending the Soul class.

I thought that was the hard part. It wasn't. The hard part was showing up every Wednesday night. The hard part was doing the intense, triggering homework every week. The hard part was letting everything fall apart so that it could be knit back together. The hard part was functioning for 7 weeks. But, after that seventh week, Mending the Soul got lighter. Or I got stronger. Maybe both.

I saw the same six women every week for 13 weeks. I heard their stories, I cried with and for them, I came to love them and I came to let myself be loved by them. It was extraordinary. Because what really changed was the way I saw  myself. I carried myself into that room every week, afraid. I made the choice to be transparent, completely overwhelmingly terrified. I let them in on the things I had never told anyone. Ever. And it turns out that my default started to shift.

One Wednesday I happened to have actually done my hair (I know - gasp!). Truthfully, I work out, I teach yoga, I have small children and I was going through the early stages of my separation. I hadn't done my hair in weeks. It was honestly the very first time they had seen me without a bun. Which led to a lot of comments about how pretty my hair looked. And that led to my default springing into action. My response? "But I have split ends." Mama Gina's response? "Just say 'thank you'. It's okay to say 'thank you'". To which I grudgingly replied, "Thank you. Damn it.".

So then we moved on. It was just a passing conversation about my hair, after all. Until someone mentioned an awesome sermon they had heard Gina teach. And Gina said, "It was... well...". Because I'm a smart ass, I said, "You have split ends?". This is why I love those women: we laughed and then we adopted the phrase for oh-so-many things.

We are overflowing with split ends. We have so many flaws, so many things that make us negative creatures. When someone stops to admire something beautiful in us, we are SO quick to shout, "But I have split ends!". We all do it. I hear it all the time. I see it all the time.

I do these Freedom Photo Sessions for women who are ready to leave that old body hatred behind. They embrace their bodies as they are by getting in front of my camera and confronting their split ends. It's powerful. So powerful. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes they shake. Sometimes they end the session with, "I DID that!!". Because looking our flaws in the face and refusing to let them define us anymore changes everything. Our defaults, the things that have been directing us since we were first wounded, first abandoned or neglected, start to shift. They lose their power in the wake of that holy first step. The second I stepped into Gina's office I was changing the trajectory of my life. My default was already trembling.

There is freedom in being vulnerable, friends. There is freedom in stepping forward, processing your past, your pain, your brokenness. There is freedom in a group of other broken people listening to you tell your story. There is freedom in letting them call you on old behaviors.

This is community. This is grace. This is healing.

Tell your story to people who will listen with grace on their lips. Tell your story to people who will laugh with you. Tell your story to people who will weep with you.

*February 2013