Vespers. A time of evening prayer and reflection.
Sunday afternoon, I spent 45 minutes with the Friendsview Retirement community in Newberg, speaking on behalf of Newberg Area Habitat for Humanity as the guest speaker for their Vespers service. Even though I anticipate the looks of surprise in my audience when I contradict my current professional polish with my challenging childhood, I was a little more nervous to share.
In this particular audience sat many individuals who had endowed dorms and building wings at my undergrad school, located just across the street from the retirement center. I heard several family names in the introductions that I still struggle to not be intimidated by. One of my former professors and, later, colleagues was in the audience. In particular, I know this man is kind and wants my success. I also knew there were other individuals in the audience who are skeptical of my success or have judged me harshly for my past choices.
I spent so many years embarrassed by my poor manners, my rough stories, my dirty humor and my secondhand clothes that I had worked so hard to impress people. I don’t think I tried purposefully to deceive others, only to hide what I thought were my inadequacies. Even as I started to become more confident in my differences, I still often felt the internal hesitation of shame.
I took a calming breath, found a source of love for myself and my audience and used that focus to begin sharing my story. I’m a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity because I desperately want resources available to individuals who are honest and courageous enough to make positive changes in their circumstances and skill sets. I respect the process of searching for responsible, self-advocating people to build equity and security. I care about being an advocate because resources and relationships were made available to me when I was ready to grow out of my poverty-mindset.
I shared the brokenness of my parents’ abilities to care for me, how that affected my school work, my confidence and even the stability of my home. I shared how I needed help to learn manners, to write a thank you note, to smell good and to clean up after myself. I shared successful jokes, and jokes that fell flat – only creating another opportunity to laugh with myself at my odd sense of humor. I shared how I barely made it through high school, and only with the help of advocates and social networks and service agencies, but I also shared how those well-timed boosts eventually brought me to a thriving place.
I have purpose in being an advocate, and purpose has a way of making fear and shame feel much less significant. If I have purpose as an advocate, then no parts of my story, including my many mistakes, are anything to feel shame for. With my shame diminished, I can share freely, joyfully and with confidence that while my message might not be received by all, it will profoundly help some.
Yesterday evening, I found the courage to again share part of my story, vulnerably offering myself as an example of someone who needed change and found an opportunity, just like our local Habitat homeowners. And while the retirees in the audience reflected on the mission of our local affiliate, I reflected on my ability to raise awareness and bring integrity to the purpose of many non-profits who create opportunities for marginalized communities. I’m grateful that I’ve lived a life that has been contradictory, messy, broken and painful with a surprising happy ending, and very proud that I now possess the courage to consistently, candidly, share my story.
PS – Every person who waited to speak to me after Vespers was only kind and encouraging.