Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Power of Sharing Our Stories

This week I attended the last program of our women’s series on healing at my church. This one was a recap of the four previous programs and ended up with a segment on sharing. We were invited to share our journey over the past five weeks, what we’ve learned, how our life has changed because of what we’ve experienced through attending the sessions.

The second week each participant chose a word from a basket of little pieces of paper with one word each on them. The idea was to meditate on that word and find out what special meaning it had in your life. I missed that week, so I got my word later. It wasn’t until this week, and people began sharing, that I realized everyone got a different word. For some reason, I had thought they just put five or six standard words in the basket and recycled them. But no. They had prepared 120 words, and each participant received the word that was especially meant for her at this point in her life.

As each woman who chose to speak stood and explained what her word was, and the meaning she found in it, the stories that unfolded were both heartwarming and tragic. There’s so much pain in the world, and women, who are relational, and who have awesome powers of endurance, seem to be the ones chosen to carry that pain. We care about the people we love, the people we serve, and in doing so, take their pain as our own.

Our church also has a special ministry, called the prayer shawl ministry. It was started by a woman whose sister was dying and while in her hospital bed, she received a prayer shawl to comfort her. A prayer shawl is one that has been knitted for the specific purpose of providing comfort to someone in need, and has been blessed and prayed over by the prayer shawl group after one member creates it. The person who creates it and the person who receives it most often will never meet, but you can also receive a prayer shawl from a friend, as I have.

This woman lost her sister, but brought the prayer shawl idea home, and started a new ministry within the church. Now they meet twice a week to knit shawls and bless them for others. Since the program was started, they have given out nearly 300 prayer shawls.

Since the evening’s topic was sharing, a few women had come prepared with stories to tell, to get the ball rolling. Each was visibly shaken by the telling, and broke down in tears. The women who listened, or received these stories into our hearts, were also visibly affected. Sniffles and hugs and hand holding and comforting rubs on the back abounded.

Then other women stood and voluntarily offered their stories, mostly about the word they had chosen and how they had tied it into their lives. Some of the words mentioned were trust, choices, focus, faith, healing, and solitude. One woman said when she read her word, she thought, “What a stupid word.” After the laughter died down, nods and murmurs of agreement ensued.

But in each case, the woman agreed that God knew what He was doing, when He presented her with that word, and reflecting on it had changed her way of thinking.

At the end, the prayer shawl ministry leader rose and asked if the group could present shawls to the women among us most in need of comfort. No one turned one down. Would you? Six shawls were brought out and prayed over by all of us, then lovingly draped across the shoulders of the women who had shared, and smiles and hugs ensued all around.

It was a powerful, moving experience. And the comment was made that we are all sisters in our pain and suffering, and that most times women are so busy being strong for others and trying to hold our families or situations together, that there’s no one there to comfort us. Mainly because women tend to suffer in silence. We don’t share our burdens, because we don’t want to burden anyone. We all know already how it feels to be the one who carries the burdens of others, and don’t want to intrude.

But women need to share. Not just our sorrows, but our joys and celebrations as well. There is a delicate balance to life, and within each tragedy arises hope if we will let it, and within each celebration comes the promise of sorrow. It’s simply the way things are. Life is not an endless series of highs, or an endless series of lows, but rather a blending of the two that move in a never-ending cycle. Have you ever seen someone crying for joy? A perfect example of the balance as it should be.

I have long believed that what brings you great joy will bring you an equal amount of pain. Therefore I go into any situation that brings me joy accepting that, and when the pain comes, I know it’s all part of the process. I’d much rather live that way than go through life feeling numb with a closed heart. It’s the pain that allows me to appreciate the joy, and to make the most of those precious moments when they come.

Out of these women’s pain came, if not joy, then great caring and kindness and love. That wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been willing to stand up and share what they were going through. We wouldn’t have been able to reach out to them if they had stayed silent.

Therefore I honor them, and salute them for having the courage to speak up, and I feel blessed to have been a part of their comfort and healing. And now when I see them, I will remember that we are all going through something at any given moment in time, and will--as another woman suggested we all do when we see each other in the future--be happy to reach out in sisterhood with compassion and kindness.

Oh, and my word? It was peace.

Peace be with you, now and always.


La Leigh said...

grace-filled post. I am blessed. Thank you.

Blessings from the Philippines.

Neecy said...

You are absolutely right.Great post, writing is a way of healing.

Unknown said...

LIANA--You thoughts are deep and emotional, filled with caring about others,and an unselfish manner of living. It was beautiful. Most women have a need for closeness to friends and family, although for some, friends seem to care more, at times. I have six friends who form a 35-yr-long friendship with me. One of the original seven died, and somehow, another women popped up and became one of us without anyone knowing how it happened. I've worked with them, sponsored students' trips with them, traveled with them, met every few weeks for potluck and 3 hours of our brand of fun, attended funerals in town and out of town with them; laughed, cried, mourned, rejoiced, and basically had a blast whereever we were. We've rarely become upset with one another--we seem to be more forgiving of each others' faults than any family member is. Friendship is "knowing everything about you and still loving you." Thanks--Celia

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Thanks so much for sharing this.

"But women need to share. Not just our sorrows, but our joys and celebrations as well."

I agree - it's so imporant to share not just the sorrows, but the joys. As you mentioned in the post, it brings balance and balance is so important to our emotional well being.


K.M. Daughters said...

Gorgeous post to read as this sacred Holy week begins. Peace be with you. Blessings always.

Eleanor Sullo said...

What a wondrful sharing of your own, and how generous of you to bless us all with this wisdom and healing. We also have women's sharing groups and prayer shawl ministry in our church in CT.I have been touched as you have, yet each of us so unique, and has so much uniqueness to give away to tohers. Thanks for reminding me.

Debra St. John said...

When we go through difficult times, it's always encouraging to know there are others around who are praying for us or who have gone through the same struggles. Definitely makes the burden easier to bear.

Diane Craver said...

Great post, Liana!

Writing was therapeutic for me when our first child was born. We were both 26 years old and so excited about having our baby. We were hit hard with her being born with Down syndrome & other problems - very unexpected. I wrote a partial ms. titled "Born to Love" but never could get it published. I did, however, have articles published in magazines based on my experience.

When we had the same thing happened with our 6th child, I published, "Celebrating and Coping Our Baby with Special Needs."

Maryannwrites said...

What a wonderful post. I am so glad I came over to your blog.

I once was on a retreat and the retreat leader asked us all to write our own gospel. Basically, like the apostles who wrote the Biblical gospels, it was to be our story of how Jesus touches our lives. What an amazing experience that was.

Thank you for prompting that memory for me.

Maggie Toussaint said...

What a lovely and moving post, Liana. You are so fortunate to have partaken in that experience. I've attended Women's Retreats before, usually under protest, but I always had a strong take-away message, only that stuck with me for months, in the forefront of my thoughts.

We have a prayer shawl ministry down here. I was given one last year when I was having some medical troubles. And I fussed about that. I didn't want them to "waste" one on me, but it wasn't a waste after all. Once that shawl went around me, a blessed peace settled over me. I still get that feeling when I wear it.

Peace be unto you, as well.

snoopsspots2 said...

You are absolutely right, Liana. Through pain comes the appreciation of joy.

I agree that women tend not to share the burdens for fear of burdening others. How many of us smile though our heart is breaking, because we don't want other people, who we know to have their own share of problems, to be dragged down by our moods? A fair few, I bet.

Nice post, Liana. Message to me: Offer a smile, lend an ear when it's needed--and don't be afraid to say when you are hurting yourself. :)

Word Actress said...

Wow - I would love to attend a seminar like that and could use a prayer shawl myself. It's always good to share. I think as women we're just better at it than most men. We're lucky in that way. But I have a feeling not all women are that deep. In fact, I know they're not. A friend of mine was talking about her sister and she said, 'Yeah, she just got married for the 4th time.'
I said something like, 'Yikes,' but she went on to say that her sister was best married, then their family and her kids didn't have to pick up so much of the slack. It made me realize, as a storyteller and character builder, I need to know about all types of people, to include women that just can't be alone.
Thanks for the post. Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget and the upcoming novel Night Surfing

Unknown said...

it's a good word for you. :)