My fingers shook as I curled them around my spiral bound notebook.
Moments before I was going to give my talk, I considered rewriting the whole thing, making it up and presenting something less brutally honest and more flowery, elegant, something that fit in the nice 'churchy girl' box, that fit with the paper smile I give.
I say I'll do whatever, that I'm open to nudges from the Holy Spirit, until I am asked to do something that is right up there with being naked in public.
It is a part of my story I've sheltered for a long while. I say I have good reasons for it too: that there's no reason to bring up the past, that I don't want to rock the family boat, that my story doesn't really matter anyway.
There's so many advocates for sexual abuse out there, why does the world need another one? Why my voice?
So in the moments before I was going to begin speaking, with my hands shaking and my heart racing, I reached over to grab the hand of my friend sitting beside me, hoping her calm would rub off on me. And she began to pray, whispering in her sweet voice for courage and strength and wisdom.
I wanted to disappear into the chair, to be back in bed curled up under the blankets faking sick like a little kid who didn't want to go to school. That's what it feels like when you are asked to do something so scary, to share something so real and honest and personal.
When I began to speak, I was shocked by the calm, strong clarity in my voice. I felt like the cowardly lion, the one who was supposed to be strong and brave but instead jumped at the sight of her own shadow.
I lost my voice a long time ago, as a little girl who cried for help with no answer. This summer, I learned how to use my voice again. Over and over I was affirmed by those around me, "You have a beautiful voice."
I clung to those affirmations this morning. I curled my fingers around the courage I found in the words and actions others had left behind. I stepped from shame into courage.
What happened to me was not the end of my story. It doesn't define my worthiness. It doesn't get to take away my voice.
And with the words I spoke to this room full of girls aching for words of grace and truth and love, as I spoke about my own pain and healing journey, I could feel my voice vibrating strong. I heard the most beautiful sound: a soft but still present roar coming from within.
To you: I see you. I'm standing with you. Come to the table. Jesus had a thing for outcasts