“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
Recently the familiar buzz of my phone yielded a text. “You’re writing is different. Stronger. Intentional. Larger Voice. It’s so good.”
January did not unfold the way I had anticipated. While waiting for my husband to que up an episode of “Justified” on the TV I sat on the couch curled under a blanket scrolling twitter when I saw the story of Andy Savage. My heart began beating faster and I felt a bit shaken. Reading Jules’, his victim, story about the night he raped her flooded me with feelings of anger, sadness, and grief. Her story contained familiar elements of my own story of rape and I felt compelled to respond and let her know she wasn’t alone. The next morning the live stream of Andy speaking to his church and the subsequent applause by his congregation landed hard in my gut and I found myself typing out what I wanted to say to him, and to his church leadership. My words came easily and I posted an open letter on my blog.
That same week I received news that my testimony is needed in a case involving sexual abuse of a minor. And, I had the opportunity to sit with the executive pastor at my own church to discuss #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and what our church policies and practices are around sexual harassment, gender equality and sexual abuse reporting.
If all of this had happened two years ago it would have felt pretty typical. I was leading an organization at that time where the bulk of my work centered on educating the church and helping victims of sexual abuse. The work was deeply personal and as my time there came to a close I was faced with my own failures, and the loss of relationships that had once defined my place of belonging. The shame was deep.
Shame shrinks and silences us. For me, the shame and loss of belonging were absolute death for my heart. The road to recovering began over a year ago and included our moving back home to Texas. And, there has been a return of so much life and goodness that I really wasn’t aware there was more that still needed life breathed back into it inside of me.
I have a playlist of songs that I titled “Survivor”, filled with songs that helped me over the course of the last year. Tell Your Heart to Beat Again by Danny Gokey puts words to what has happened for me over the past several weeks.
Tell Your Heart to Beat Again (excerpt)
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun
Tell your hear to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again
Shame silently seeps into you, laying like cold, wet dew, almost frozen across your heart and soul.
Shame told me I no longer belonged or deserved to speak in the world where I once worked. It left me wondering what now? Where do I belong? What about my story? Will I ever belong again in the world of those fighting for victims of sexual abuse and advocating for change and healing for the church?
The invitations to step back in, to use my voice, to tell my story and bring all of myself have been clear and profoundly kind of God. The song lyrics say, “Step into the light of grace.” Almost as if Jesus Himself stretched out a hand and said to me, “It’s time, trust me, let your heart beat again, I know you’re scared and it would be easier to stay in shame and keep yourself small. But we both know that’s not what I’ve called you to, so come on let’s go.”
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 30 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. She writes about her life and her work here.