The Third Story
When I was in middle school, I got invited to birthday party. I was the new girl who had moved in the middle of the year, and I was desperate for some girlfriends. The kids at school did not seem to like me, and the girls were especially sophisticated in their methods of exclusion. I was so relieved and happy when the most popular girl came up to me with an invitation to her birthday sleepover.
On the afternoon of the party, I skipped up to the front porch of a big house and rang the doorbell. I held a new sleeping back in one hand and a big present in the other. The door opened and a woman looked down at me confused. I told her I was there for the party. She said I must be at the wrong house. Just then, I saw them. Down the hall, "Jane" and all her girlfriends were pointing and laughing. There was no party. It had been a trick, a cruel joke.
I will never forget the feeling I had as I saw the girls delighting in my humiliation and shame. Ever since then, it has been a struggle to trust any invitation to join women in community. The first time I came to a women's ministry event, I felt like I was standing on that front porch again. The fear of rejection was overwhelming. The ladies in my first women's small group were exceedingly kind. But I was guarded and judgmental. I was not able to experience the depth of friendship I was longing for.
It's been an ongoing process for me to trust that God cares about the pain of that middle school experience and then to risk lowering all my self-protective defenses to open my heart to care and repair. It has taken many communities of women inviting me again and again to come with my gifts and desire for intimacy and belonging in order to step through thresholds into good and genuine friendships with groups of women. My heart still races with insecurity when I take a seat in a women's group. But now there's also hope, and sometimes even expectation. I have experienced the redemptive power of a circle of women, and I'm anxiously excited to join a new circle this spring.
Telling a Good Story
You may have already realized this, but I've actually told you the same story three ways. Only one version, though, comes close to being a good story—my true story. It's very easy to tell a story like the first one. It's a list of demographic, factual information that hides who I am behind what I do.
The second story is what I like to call my "once I was lost, now I am found" story. I pretend everything is fixed, cleaned up, and resolved. We can be tempted to think that these are inspiring stories, but they're often thin, meaningless fakes of the profound, often confusing, unfinished rich story that God is coauthoring with each of us. True stories will hold tension, reveal themes, and invite relationships.
The Book of Romans names how we are living between the "now" and the "not yet," and how our spirits groan and ache with hope for heaven. A good story comes out of that ache and hope. It acknowledges the gap in our lives due to the fall and the tension that we live with every day. Not everything is resolved or understood. There's a sense of mystery, wonder, and awe. There's also the struggle of doubt, confusion, and even despair. A good story holds both heartache and hope, questions and answers. It's a story that doesn't yet have its ending. The third story holds these together. It is my true story.