The Power or Telling Your Story
This Wednesday it will be two years since my life changed forever. Two years since I was ushered into a world I never knew. Two years since being transplanted into this life of grief.
These years are not something I would have ever chosen for myself. They have not been pretty. They have not been easy. I’ve lived them in survival mode.
I’ve run. Tried to hide. Pushed away. Built walls. I’ve spent energy I did not have trying to wish it all way, refusing to accept my new reality. Refusing to accept the fact that we lost a child. I’ve spent two years waiting for our baby to come home. She didn’t. She has not. She won’t. That hurts, and it’s felt impossible to comprehend.
In the past two years I have grieved, carried new life, birthed new life, raised five living children while grieving one lost, and returned to the classroom to teach. This school year was one of the hardest years of my teaching experience. I hoped for a seamless transition, but yet at the end of each day, I was often at a loss as to why it was so hard. I was different. I felt different. I knew that. But where was my passion? My drive? My motivation? Where was my natural ability to win my students over? They fought me tooth and nail. And most of the time…I was just sad. I questioned God as to why he would challenge me yet again. I just wanted easy. I wanted to coast. But instead, he was stretching me even further, and I didn’t want to experience that anymore.
I’ve always gelled with my female students, especially those in my homeroom. But this year was not like the others. They didn’t seem to want me as their last homeroom teacher at their elementary school. They pushed me away and wouldn’t open up to me. At first, I wanted to give up and push them away, too. But things gradually began to change in October when I picked up a weekly 5 AMholy hour spot at my parish. The Holy Spirit brought them to my mind and heart each week before the Blessed Sacrament, and little by little our walls fell down.
Prior to Teresa’s death, I was very transparent with my students. I was vulnerable—an open book. I didn’t hold back. I challenged and pushed and loved. But after she died, I’ve been scared to be these things. I’ve wanted to hide and not let other people get close to me. I haven’t wanted to be exposed or risk vulnerability. Kids read adults like a book. I feared that if I let my guard down, they would know I was having a rough day. I didn’t want them to take advantage of that or think I “didn’t have things together.” As their new teacher, I needed them to respect me and take me seriously. However, without my permission (again), things began to change. The calling to share became not my own, and the Holy Spirit interwove His way into my lessons, and my students began to impact me. I was the one who was changing.
I began sharing my heart, my disappointments, my grief, my sorrow. I shared Teresa with them, and although she is not physically alive, my students came to know my daughter. And because of her, I began to fight for those girls who pushed me away. My daughter, from heaven, practically demanded that I give them the love that I couldn’t give to her on earth. She told me I couldn’t give up on them, even though they made it impossible to feel otherwise. Teresa was relentless. (She’s so much like St. Therese, wanting her way all the time. My girl is a mess and is intent on making things messy for me…in an endearing way, of course.)
And now, here we are in the last week of the school year…which is also the same week of her anniversary. And in the heaviness of my grief that has surfaced in this month of May, I have felt nothing but love for these girls, which has been completely shocking and surprising. I look back and see how they challenged and stretched me to come back out of myself into vulnerability and transparency and to allow myself to be loved in return. I was their teacher, but they taught ME. They taught me to keep fighting. They taught me to look past my pain and to see someone else’s. They taught me the importance of not being afraid to share your story.
This past week, I gave them each a letter I wrote with a Mother Teresa prayer card and medal (which was a complete Holy Spirit inspiration.) It was the most quiet the room has been in the past nine months as they read their note from me. It was silent. This time, I wasn’t the only one shedding tears, and I didn’t know if I could handle it. I was already exhausted from the tears which had been falling in my personal time.
The next day, with another teacher and good friend, they took it upon themselves to go see Teresa. I think part of me secretly hoped all year that they would ask to visit her grave. My friend sent me a video of them, gathered in a circle in front of Teresa’s grave, and praying a Hail Mary all on their own accord. I cannot even express or comprehend the emotions that rushed over me in an instant of viewing that video. I burst into tears immediately. The sight both broke and healed my heart at the same time. It was so very confusing. I couldn’t even express it into words to my husband. All I could do was cry.
Joy at the sight of them. Pain that she is there. Love for their action. Anger at the reality. I was caught in between what my friend and bereaved mom describes as “intense pain” and “intense grace.” After all, I’ve felt like I’ve been living between the veil for the past two weeks. Life has been an interwoven chaos of pain and beauty—life has been the cross and the resurrection.
Lately I’ve worried that people will forget Teresa and her story. I so desperately want her to be known. And in the midst of these thoughts, these girls went there. They went to the source of my hurt. These children entered into my deepest wound. I have felt both humbled and honored, as well as livid and lost, that God would use me and my baby to change the lives of twenty-two adolescent girls. And that, through telling her story, living through her loss, and opening myself and my heart up again, that God would use that to change people’s lives. My yes to her life was so much more than a pregnancy. It was a yes to her death, and it continues to be a yes to all that lies ahead, as she insists on bringing God greater glory out of this suffering.
Her story touches their story…because it was told. Her story changed their lives…because it was lived through mine. Mercy found me through my students. Love found me through these girls. And although our daily time together is coming to an end, we are entering a new beginning. And so this week, on Teresa’s second anniversary, I will literally sing through the pain as they celebrate their last mass together. Teresa demanded I do it anyway (always getting her way)!
That is the power of telling your story. That is the power of a painful YES. That is the power of loving until it hurts. As Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Loving until it hurts…even when you hurt.
Love transforms. Renews. Heals. Stretches. Redeems…even while you are figuring it out. Even when you don’t understand. Even when you are in the thick of your grief. Even when you feel unlovable and struggle to love yourself. Loving until you are transformed, renewed, healed, stretched, redeemed.
Love is found in your story. Love IS the story. Tell your story. Love your story. And become part of someone else’s story. You never know what God will do with your “yes.”
Sent by Kristen Dunbar