The Gift Of Going First
Plowing Rocky Soil
“Go first today. When you have the chance to hide, and you will, choose to go first with your story and give others the gift of going second.” Jon Acuff
I read these words from Jon Acuff years ago. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, they are one of the foundational shaping influences on my life and how I have attempted—albeit imperfectly—to lead others. Any woman who has been a part of ministry with me over the years has heard me talk about giving others the gift of going first. So it seems fitting that as I invite others on the journey toward wholeheartedness, I go first by sharing my brokenness.
Going first plows the rocky ground for those that follow, making the path toward knowing and being known just a little bit easier to traverse. Going first allows others to peer behind the curtain just long enough to get a true glimpse of you and to know they aren’t alone. It means being vulnerable with those parts of your story you’ve held close to your chest. Going first opens the cell door and invites the prisoner to walk out into the warmth of the sun and take that first deep breath of fresh air without the stench of fear and shame. So while going first isn’t easy, I do it because others have done it for me, and in doing so, they’ve set me free.
Brokenness is inevitable. It’s the thing that binds us all together. Fractures, jagged edges, gaps, and scars cover the landscape of my heart—whether because of my own sin, the sins others have committed against me, or the everyday realities of living in a broken world. I’ve been both wounder and wounded, sinner and sufferer, victim and villain. And, because it’s all so interconnected, it is hard to discern where my woundedness ends and my wounding begins. Some of these fractures are fresh, others more than four decades old. Some have experienced substantial mending; some are still in process. Yet all of it has shaped and is shaping me. And through it, I have witnessed the kindness of God, who not only forgives me of my sin and comforts me in my suffering but has also not allowed one ounce of it to go to waste. Instead, he has used everything I’ve experienced to teach me more about who he is and allowed me to comfort others with the comfort I received (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). So while I would not choose my story, I also would not trade it.
Brokenness is inevitable. It’s the thing that binds us all together. We are wounder and wounded, sinner and sufferer, victim and villain. And because it’s all so interconnected, it’s hard to discern where our woundedness ends and our wounding begins.
My childhood memories are fragmented, like a puzzle missing more than half its pieces—there’s enough to help me make out an image here and there but not enough to see or understand its place in the whole picture fully. I clearly remember some things, like breaking my dominant arm when I was six and a mob of German Shepherd puppies licking the hot salty tears from my face or being repeatedly stung by a swarm of agitated wasps when I stuck my hand in their nest.
Other things I only know because others told me. Yet, I have no recollection. There are things I even wrote about decades ago that seemed to have escaped my memory in the decades since—parts of my life punctuated by a question mark. The path my life took as an adolescent and young adult hints at possibilities but no certainty. So I can only entrust the known and unknown aspects of my life to the God who knows it all.
But here is what I do know. I had two parents who loved me, but they carried their own generational brokenness into our family, just as I have carried it into mine. My dad was a hard man—plagued by his childhood wounds, clinical depression, untreated Graves disease, rage, and workaholism. He was intense, rigid, strict, and had high expectations of both himself and me. And while I loved him, I was also afraid of him.
My early years were lived in the shadows of powerlessness, fear, loneliness, and not being good enough. And the sin and brokenness of others marked me. I was shamed over my body weight. I was repeatedly exposed to pornography. And I experienced abuse—the extent of which is one of those missing pieces. And while there is much more I could write, the constraints of this space make it hard to explore (in just one newsletter) all the ways I’ve experienced the worst of this world, much less the myriad ways I have also contributed to it.
Some things you can only understand in hindsight. But to this day, I do not know if the actions of my adolescence and early adulthood were an attempt to repair the harms done to me or to repeat them as an act of war against myself. For over a decade, I pummeled my body with drugs and alcohol and pummeled my mind and heart with self-contempt and degrading words I would never speak to another. I treated my body as a commodity—sometimes trading it for drugs and alcohol and sometimes for the vain hope of being wanted and loved. I willingly endured years of emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse by men—which led me to seek safety and solace in same-sex relationships for a time, only to pick emotionally and psychologically abusive women too.
While much healing and restoration have occurred, the scars remain. So part of my journey to wholeheartedness has been examining the story behind each scar to understand how it not only impacted me then but how it continues to impact me today. And some days, that scares the hell out of me. It is hard, emotionally disruptive work—work I avoided for decades through all manner of escapism, indulgences, hyper-spirituality, and denial. But as believers, when we deny, minimize or spiritualize our sin and suffering, we rob ourselves of the rich experience with pain as our teacher and Jesus as our mender.
When we deny, minimize or spiritualize our sin and suffering, we rob ourselves of the rich experience with pain as our teacher and Jesus as our mender.
- Chrystie Cole
So as I invite you to journey alongside me, I want to assure you that it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to wrestle and struggle and doubt and fear. It’s ok to grieve and be angry and hurt. And it’s okay to long for beauty when all you see around you is ashes. It’s not just ok; it’s a normal part of the human experience.
The journey to wholeheartedness means embracing it all—the bitter and sweet—with curiosity and kindness toward yourself, and having hope (no matter how frail) in a compassionate Savior who breathes life into dry bones and brings beauty out of ashes—even when the faint smell of smoke remains.
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