When I first visited Thailand in June 2014, I was invited to “share my story” with girls who were confined to the Juvenile Detention Center in Chiang Mai. These young women (14 – 18 years old) were all serving mandatory 5-year sentences for offenses ranging from theft to drug running to prostitution. Many of them had been trafficked or abused. I had never shared my personal history publicly, and struggled with the idea of “coming clean”.
What will they think of me? And worse (in my mind), what will the missionaries present think of me?
The night before the event, my friend called and said, “Hey, I need a transcript of your talk.” Say what? I’m still wrestling this out with God. Why do you need a transcript? “I need to know the hard words,” she explained. Hard words? “Yes, the ones that might be difficult to translate into Thai.”
Aaaah, I see… Growing up in alcoholism. Childhood sexual abuse. Early exposure to pornography. Promiscuity. Unwanted pregnancy. A rape 6 weeks into college. A difficult marriage. Betrayal. Divorce. Depression. Suicidal thoughts… I’ve got some hard words for you. I just don’t know if I can say them out loud.
“You have to tell the truth, Helen,” my friend urged. Really? Why? “Because,” she insisted, “these girls believe that everyone from America is rich and therefore has had a happy life. Further, they have no concept of forgiveness, of grace, of redemption… You are living proof of a Living Hope.”
So I said those hard words out loud for the first time three years ago in Thailand. (The girls and the missionaries were open and kind, by the way.)
And again last month as I shared with my community of supporters in NC.
And now, on the worldwide web. Yes, it’s terrifying.
But today I can say those words out loud because they no longer define me. I am not defined by what has been done by me, nor by what has been done to me. I am defined by what has been done for me on the cross.
Saying hard words out loud continues to be difficult, but freeing and healing. As my oldest daughter pointed out, “Mom, how will people know how far God has brought you if you don’t tell them where you’ve been?” More than a few times, it has given others the courage to say two of the hardest (yet most comforting) words: “Me, too”.