Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Beyond the gasp-the death of shame

When I look at the blessings in my life, there is one thing that seems to ring true about all of them:  They came from something hard.

This weekend was one of the biggest blessings I have ever encountered, and it was born from the hardest thing I have ever done.  You see, my life isn't all sunshine and rainbows.  Most of it has been Sunshine and survival.  Shame has been my arch nemesis.

Let me introduce you to Shame.  Shame is the meanest kid on the playground.  He’s the worst boss you've ever had, and trust me, some of you know I've had a pretty terrible boss.  Shame leads you down the wrong paths, laughs at you in your darkest moments, and tells you that if you tell on it, it will take you down.  Shame keeps us from growing, stops our brains from developing, and can leave us trembling in fear.  Shame is Satan’s right hand.

I have met Shame several times in my life.  As a matter of fact, Shame has stared me down in the stillness of the night after enduring something terrible and whispered into my ear enough times that it was all my fault that I believed it for a long time because I hung on every word Shame said to me.  Shame was my comfort blanket, my best friend, and the justification I had for stupid choices.

About a year ago, my church women’s group asked me to testify.  I was terrified.  No, terrified would be like finding out I was going on a dream vacation compared to how I felt.  There’s not a word that describes the horror.  For the first time, I had to put on paper all of the things I’d been hiding in this big invisible box on my back.  I cried and agonized over it for a month before I finally got it all out, and even then, there were things I left out because Shame held a gun to my head and told me that my sisters would never want to talk to me again if they knew….fill in the blank. 

I got it all down on paper, and I read it for time, because I had 45 minutes to speak….and I had to stop at three hours and wondered how in the heck I would cram it all in.  I cut out everything I possibly could and somehow got it to 50 minutes, and I went with it. 

That testimony was a train wreck.  I held the paper to my face and just read and cried, and one of my Christian sisters named Jean funneled clean tissue and held a garbage bag for my dirty ones.  I must have dropped 25 pounds of my DNA into that garbage bag.  When it was over, I wanted to run.  I was naked.  I was exposed.   I was sure everyone would just stare at me and leave.

Instead, women stopped me in the halls for weeks and thanked me for freeing them.  They called me things like brave and strong, courageous and inspiring.  I didn't feel those words.  I felt naked and alone, exposed and undone.  Shame still peeked at me from dark corners and called to me in my dreams.  One thing I didn't feel though was the weight from the box that I no longer packed around on my shoulders. 

After some weeks went by, I started to walk a little taller.  I began to realize that God chose me to be the person in this body in this life because he knew I would run with it.  He knew I would set a bonfire in the darkness and lead my people to freedom.  He knew I would wage war on Shame and stalk it like a lion stalks her prey.  He knew I would form an army of survivors who would light up the dark places so Shame had nowhere to hide.

A few months ago, I was asked to share a snippet of my story.  I did, because a snippet was much better than the whole thing, and when people read it, I can’t see them.  Perfect. 

Again, the messages of hope, light, and courage inspired me, but I still couldn't use those words for myself.
Then, a little more than a month ago, one of the Co-founders of Damsel in Defense, Mindy Lin, asked if I would speak at our national convention….but I could say no.

Left to right: Bethany Hughes, Mindy Lin
Co-Founders of Damsel in Defense
Let me tell you a little something about the Co-founders of Damsel in Defense.  Mindy and Bethany are brave, strong, courageous, beautiful, amazing, inspiring leaders.  They have done hard things.  They have gone to the Philippines to one of the worst red light districts in the world and have seen and done hard things.  They are so strong and inspiring that thousands of women have joined their mission, including me.  I could not be the one to tell them no, that I wasn't going to do hard things!  I had to say yes!

Again, I had to reframe my story to fit in a 5-7 minute time frame, and I couldn't get it to go under 9 minutes and 44 seconds.  I sent it off to Mindy and the response I got back shocked me.  She was so torn up, so moved, and her world was so rocked that I could take all the time I needed.  So I let the nearly ten minute testimony cool.  Shame was using every method of communication to try and convince me to change my mind, but I knew Mindy wouldn't have asked me if it wasn't relevant to the mission.  I leaned into God and He whispered in my ear that I am stronger than I think I am.  For the first time, I started to believe Him.

Then the weekend came.  I was in Boise, soaking in everything Damsel in Defense, falling more and more in love with the company, building relationships with amazing strong warriors, and Shame was peeking at me from every doorway, every corner, and every shadow.  I tried and tried to ignore him, but it was getting harder and harder.  Then testimony time came.

I watched three brave women take the stage and pour out their souls all over that crowd.  They were brave.  They were strong.  They were beautiful.  I felt like a toad.  I felt like I would get up there and croak out all of this ugliness, then we would all stand in line and jump off a cliff because we couldn't take hearing that much filth, darkness, and pain. 

My team, the Red Hots from left to right: Amber,
Sunshine(me) , Karin , Judi, and Kyla
My team rallied around me and told me I was brave, and strong, and beautiful, and courageous, and that I was about to change lives.  I didn't believe them.  I thought I was the weird kid in the corner.

Then my name was called, and I made my way up to that stage and said my first word into the microphone, proving that the moment was real. 

The first half of my testimony is hard.  It’s gut wrenchingly terribly hard, but every time I testify, there is this moment in my 12th year of age that there is a gasp.  It is a gasp so deep that I literally feel the air being sucked from my lungs into everyone else’s.  In that gasp, I try to decide whether or not I can escape.  It may only be a three second moment of silence before I go on, but in those three seconds, I have come up with 25 routes of escape, envisioned myself throwing the microphone and running away, and come to a realization that if I stop now, there will be a mass suicide.  I cannot leave anyone holding that much pain inside of their lungs. I have to go on.  And I do, because I come to a realization that beyond the gasp is where the beauty in the breakdown of my life begins.  The story of Shame then becomes the story of me.  The story of an overcomer.  The story of a survivor.

After I was done, there was a moment while I waited for Mindy to come take that pesky microphone from me, and we hugged and I felt it….I felt the death of Shame. 

Over the next few hours, dozens of women were freed.  Shame was nowhere to be found.  Women broke into groups and shared their stories, some for the first time ever.  Many hugs, tears, and words were shared, bonds were formed, and warriors put down their heavy boxes and picked up their weapons.  We came to this conference afraid, shameful, terrified of ourselves, but knowing there was something larger.  We left strong, bold, brave warriors ready to lead others out of the darkness and into the light. 

We aren't just people who sell stun guns and pepper sprays.  We are bringers of the light, pushers of the darkness, and carriers of faith.

I know I'm going to be asked to share again again.  I know my work is not done.  I'm a little more comfortable in my own skin now, and I clearly understand my mission. 

If you’re ready to share your story of survival, you’re not alone.  We can help.  You can contact me directly at sunshine@yourdamseldiva.com.  Together we can make a difference.

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