You Are Not Alone
by Jamie Ivey
I’ll never forget the first time I told a friend all the parts of my story I was so ashamed of—the parts of my story that made me feel so utterly alone and embarrassed.
At that point, I could count the number of people on one hand who knew all the stories from my most difficult seasons of life. Every time I started to get the courage to tell someone the things I’d been through and the ways God had shown up, I would grow so timid. Would they only see me for what I’d done, not for what Jesus had done in me? What if they looked at me the same exact way I once looked at myself?
Maybe my friend Maris would be different.
Maris was actually a new friend, but I had this feeling she would be around for a while. We both lived in the Nashville area, and she was dating Steven (the same Steven who built our Commonfolk Table), who was in Aaron’s band at the time. We all knew they would get married someday, and I envisioned us being friends forever, which I’m happy to say we still are.
But before I started to open up with her, I laid the groundwork first. I prepped her for what she was about to hear as if I had spent time in the mafia, sold government secrets, or been a target of FBI surveillance. Cloak-and-dagger stuff. By the time I had set up my story, I think she was actually a bit relieved (or maybe disappointed!) that I hadn’t done jail time, lived under a code name, or resurfaced as part of a witness protection program. Although I wouldn’t put any of those past me!
As Maris and I sat together in the living room of my 1940s-era house, while my baby napped in the other room, I shared it all. Really hard things. I had never laid all my cards on the table in front of someone like that. You wouldn’t believe what happened next. As soon as the words had finally escaped my mouth, my instant impression was a sudden sense of relief. I had done it. I had shared my story, out loud, with a real friend, and . . . you know what? It actually felt good to get it all out.
It helped, of course, that I’d been right about Maris. She gave me permission to be real with her. Although she didn’t say those exact words, she was willing to listen to what I said, no matter what I was going to say. As I poured out my heart to her, she listened. She didn’t try to fix me with canned advice, and she reaffirmed all the things she’d seen God do in my life, even in the short time she’d known me. Her permission that day to be real with her was life-giving to me as a friend.
I also learned something profoundly beautiful that day—something that may surprise you. It’s this: our stories are not really as unique as we think. The more I’ve told of my story through the years, I’ve discovered my struggles are actually quite common. But because we’re all so uncomfortable talking about those struggles—or even hearing about them—we walk around with this idea that no one’s ever done what we’ve done, ever felt what we’ve felt, ever thought what we’ve thought, ever said what we’ve said.
This is simply not true.
I’d been scared of my story for years because I assumed no one else had battled what I’d battled. But except for the specific details, many others have fought and lost to the same things—if not those things, then other things of equal weight in their heart and mind. Think of how much unnecessary anguish and self-torment we’ve endured, as well as how much freedom we’ve forgone, from seeing ourselves as the only one. When we’re not. We’re just not.
But I believed the lies that said I was. I believed the lies that said I was forever defined by my story. I believed the lies that said I couldn’t afford to open up. I believed the lies that said all the labels I’d assigned to myself were mine to bear, not to be free of.
And nobody, I thought, could ever take those lies away from me.
So just as my friend Maris granted me full permission to be real with her, I’m doing the same for you. If you were sitting around my backyard table with me, and we were chatting, I’d want you to feel as though you were safe, that your story is welcome with me.
I’m giving you permission to let down your guard and to let God woo you into His love and grace.
Excerpted with permission from If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.
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