Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tales of Redemption: What's your story?

     What’s your story? You know, the one you don’t bring up by the punch bowl at parties. The one that doesn’t place you in the best light yet probably is one of the most significant things that has happened to you. The one involving a mistake you believe if others know, they might shun, resent or judge you – even though you’ve paid for, have learned from and never repeated. Are you willing to share it? All my close friends have a story. So do I. Like so many others, I’m not proud of mine, but it’s a part of me.

     Most folks don’t tell their story. Don’t want to. That’s their right and I don’t blame them. Compared to others, my story, while significant to me, is tame. Still, I used to dread people finding out. It isn’t easy to admit you’ve made poor choices.

     Recently I witnessed some exceptionally courageous story-telling. They were told by high schoolers from underserved backgrounds in a theater during an inspiring spoken word event, in front of hundreds of people. Spoken word is an oral art form in which people recite poetry and other intimate writings in a group setting. The event was part of a program conducted by Speak it Forward, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to ‘uplift youth and adults who have been silenced by helping them find and powerfully express their voice.’

     One by one, these at-risk kids took the stage and, quite literally in the spotlight, told their story. It was powerful. Topics ranged from bullying and selling drugs, to stealing and being expelled from school. A common theme was redemption, thanks in large part to the program’s personal transformation approach. I’ve heard that telling stories is also used in other redemptive work, such as recovery from addiction, compulsion and other behavioral issues.

     Most agree, sharing your story is one of the most liberating things a person can do. Perhaps the greatest thing I learned from telling my story to others is that the world didn’t end. Some people ask difficult questions; others make hard judgments. But by far, most folks just listen – like the audience did at the spoken word event. In fact, when I told my story, no listener’s reaction approached the vicious, self-administered mental beat-downs I’ve given myself over the years.

     My story is that I pay court-ordered child support. I’m in the system – a statistic. It didn’t have to be that way, but that’s how things turned out. And I own it. There’s more to my story. There always is. I love my kids. I work hard to nourish them mentally and spiritually. But the bottom line is I made some serious – no, stupid – missteps years ago and now I’m living out consequences that stretch beyond material things like money.

     That said, I’m no longer hesitant to discuss the matter openly should it come up. Actually, I’ve grown from it. And after years of not speaking on it openly, I’ve come to realize an even greater truth: everyone has a story.

     Lessons we learn can be life-affirming. Sharing them can be instructive. How many of us move through the world defining ourselves by a single grave mistake we’ve made? Telling my story (and still having friends and family who stick by me) has helped me finally start believing this: I am not such a bad person after all. Instead, I’m a human being who made a really bad choice.

     Do you believe in redemption?

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