Walking up the stairs towards the 4th grade classroom I take in the architecture and the smells of this old place, the large staircase with it’s carved handrail and the wooden door to the classroom feel like they belong in an old movie. It is Katy’s 9th birthday.
Ms. Mildenberger welcomes me, and invites me in to hand out the ice cream. She circles the class up as I hand out the treats. Katy is placed in the center of the circle and the kids are invited to ask her any question they want.
The questions begin and she answers them easily, “What’s your favorite color?” “How many places have you lived?” A girl asks who her favorite music group is and she replies, “Point of Grace” to which someone says, “Who’s that?” and Katy responds, “They’re a Christian group.”
As the questions are winding down a boy asks, “If you could be anyone in the class who would you be?” I watch Katy’s expression of confusion, “What do you mean?” she asks him with her head slightly tilted. “If you could be anyone else in the class who would you be?” he repeats.
She sits quietly pondering the question. “I don’t want to be anyone else” she replies. He does not back down, “You have to answer, you have to pick someone.”
I look over at Ms. Mildenberger who has one eyebrow raised and is watching carefully. I want to stop this boy, but Katy sits up on her chair and looks him square in the eye and says, “I don’t want to be anyone else, if I can’t be me I don’t want to be in the class.”
I remember feeling amazed by her poise and confidence. She answered their questions staying true to her self and when she was pressed to comply she sat up and spoke clearly. She demonstrated bravery that seemed beyond her years.
This scene would have unfolded very differently for me at that age, I did not have that kind of steady confidence.
Knowing who I am with sustaining, peaceful confidence continues to mature within me.
One of my brave choices has been to step back into therapy, inviting someone who isn’t a friend to help me narrate my story. The scenes where I needed help are not way in the past, they are more current, and yet I had already constructed a way of making sense of them that had left me more distanced from myself, and mostly angry with God. My way of making sense of my story has, at times, stemmed from mimicking bravery. Sucking the pain up into some distant place in my head where I squeeze it down tight so I can swallow, be brave, and do whatever hard thing I determine must be done in order to move forward.
I’ve felt the emptiness that comes on the backside of trauma as I’ve entered the scenes and named truths that I wanted to avoid, because they were more than I wanted to bear. At times it has felt like being sucked down to the bottom of the ocean, vast, dark and cold. There is a desperation born in the powerlessness of not being able to control or make sense of what has happened that I hate feeling.
It leaves me feeling lost and like I don’t know who I am anymore; it is something I fiercely resist feeling. In his book Surviving A Shipwreck Jonathan Martin describes it well, “The life you lived before is the life you live no longer; the world you knew before is under water now. Your life feels like a funeral, because there is a part of you that is actually dying. There are things you are losing now that you won’t get back. The shipwreck is upon you. And there is no going back to the life you had.”
The truth that without death there can be no resurrection is not something I easily appropriate for myself wholeheartedly. It is just too real and too scary; to be perfectly honest I want resurrection without death.
Choosing to face death and let it be death invites me to stop mimicking bravery and wait to be seized by hope again in the true resurrection.
Resurrection has come in quiet and deeply personal ways; it’s come tied to my tears, which are lost when I choose mimicked bravery.
“Our worst moments tend to be repressed and denied. When that happens, we begin to lie to ourselves; and when we lie, the very fabric of life falls apart. The gift of tears is concerned with living in and with the truth and with the new life that the truth always brings.”
Being brave for me has meant returning to truth, feeling deeply again and allowing my tears to bring new life for my soul.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 29 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.