The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.
‘I hope you are sitting down. Because I need to tell you my story.’
This, the first line of an email from a woman whose soul I recognized as my sister even before I hugged her for the first time in the year before. Life in different time zones hadn’t so far afforded us the richness of regular coffee dates that tend to culminate in the rummaging around in the way back of the closet of each other’s hearts. I sat as Alli had asked and I read most of her letter through what looked like rain on the panes of a window.
The tears were for the suffering of my friend.
But I also knew it to be something else.
The eyes of one coming from inside black to outside light squint and stream in the blinding brightness. I felt so clearly the sweet breeze of freedom she blew through places long locked I am almost sure it lifted my hair in that moment.
Yes, Ragamuffin. Me too.
Often someone else’s healing begins with another’s courage to go first.
Not long after, I shared for the first time with her the parts of my own story I like to keep in the dark. It felt easier because I knew she understood what it meant to stand in need of grace. My friend had gone first and she held my hand and there was a sun flood and we tasted freedom.
And this breeze never stops blowing.
A group of wild-hearted women and I drawn to the beautiful places spent this last weekend in a women’s maximum security prison. The grounds had a mistrustful kind of heaviness like a scratchy wool blanket one could feel on the shoulders. On the second day, my friend Amy and I took the youngest inmates off to one side for deeper conversation.
‘Why are you guys here?’ asked Jen.
She had I’m telling you perfect brows and that rare kind of constant light behind her eyes. My backend had no time to even warm up my seat before she tossed her head and that question out. I liked that she asked and I knew she wasn’t looking for pat Sunday school answers.
I answered her. ’Do you mean what gives us the right to come in here and talk to you like we have some clue about where you’re coming from?’
‘Yeah. We get ladies in here all the time telling us all about this and that and Jesus and we’re all like yeah we got it.’
‘So you want to know my street cred?’
The girls laughed but then leveled off quickly with a short, ‘Yeah.’
I swallowed hard because I knew they didn’t want the shiny version. Everyone knows you can’t polish a turd anyway so I cut right to it. My hands were shaking and I got choked up and I saw them begin to understand I knew what it meant to need deepest grace. I had earned a place at the table with these precious girls, but harder was facing my friend who didn’t know this part of my story. I looked at Amy and understood we were blood sisters in a new way now and her eyes told mine, ‘Yes, Ragamuffin. Me, too.’
And she began to tell her story.
There had been a young girl in our group with these haunting eyes in which equal parts blue, desperation and hope swam together in some race to the finish. She approached me quietly from the side where I stood by myself gathering papers and my guts back together.
‘I never met anyone with my same story before you.’
‘Well,’ and here I searched for some good words, some cloud-parting revelation, a life raft for her to hang on. I squeezed her hard and said in my forever awkward way, ‘It’s good. It’s good. It’s so good. I love you.’
And I pulled back and I jumped straight into her eyes and told her, ‘We’re gonna be okay.’
We both smiled and in that moment I saw hope take the lead.
At the end of our time, we all got to share what we loved most about being together. Over and over it was the stories. Anne, one of our young girls, took her turn up front and stood for a minute. ‘I forgot what I was going to say!’ She was nervous, chattery and stinkin cute and we told her to take her time. She was silent as she took in the room. Rather than at, her eyes seemed to be looking through to something other.
Perhaps a glimpse of heaven.
That’s what her face said anyway.
And she breathed in the wonder and exhaled our truth, ’We are all broken. Our stories are so beautiful.’
Sweetest girl, I stand in faithful witness.
Each time I brave the rough waters of my story that used to threaten to swallow me up, I am reminded of a love I did nothing to earn. Remaining in this single relentless stance of love is an act of faith in the grace of God*.
And each time I am whole brand new.
We tell our stories for the healing…our own and for others the same.
Any futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. ~Brennan Manning
*This quote is also from Brennan Manning
All names have been changed to protect the awesome.