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You Have a Story

My strategy to survive was to appease the soldiers and to make friends with them. I thought, if only we could make friends with these soldiers, then we would survive. 
But porters can die at any time. For example, if a soldier got angry and just shot me with his gun, nothing would happen to him. I would just die, like a chicken or a rat. To Tanintharyi Division, they send 500 porters every year. Of the 500, only 72 porters make it back to the prison. If you survive, you survive.
I was a porter for nearly six months.
~ Lai Pa, 34-year-old man from Burma. Source: How to Use Stories to Change the World.
by Hillary McFarland

Everybody has a story. Sometimes it's buried so deep we forget we have something to say. We wonder who would want to listen? And often it's so painful that reliving our stories through the telling process is such an overwhelming prospect that we squash it into oblivion.

Stories are like sculptures. They must be chiseled slowly, carefully. Creating art from a sprawling array of experiences takes time. And yet, this can be powerful. Redemptive. And part of a personal healing journey.

My book features many stories from women who share their experiences of setting out like Abraham into a land they do not know, a life they do not know. It's a tremendous act of faith to follow the prompting of God and leave all they've known behind, but these women are brave. Courageous. And I am deeply inspired by them. They are my heroes. And I continue to hear from others who do the same ... who leave all to take up their cross and follow God into the wilderness despite extreme physical and emotional hardship, rejection from their families, and the comfort of what they've always known. It is scary to walk by faith! It is agonizing to endure accusations, knowing that your act of godly obedience reaps judgments of rebellion, of feminism, of apostasy and worse from those you love the most.

It is in this pain, in this becoming, in this life journey, we find your story.

God gave you something to say. Even if you don’t believe in this idea of a Creator who has an ultimate plan for the universe, there is something in you that knows you have a purpose. That there is more to life than just you and me and all our stupid, fleeting fancies.
(Yes, I just used “fleeting fancies” in a blog post. That’s how I roll.)
You have a unique voice with a unique message. It is called your story. And only you can tell it. ~ Jeff Goins, You Have a Voice
He hosts my favorite website for writers. He is encouraging and inspirational, offering fresh perspectives on the art of prose. He says that everyone has a story to tell. And he reminds us that:
To be an artist (a writer, photographer, painter, musician, etc.) is to suffer, but not without meaning. Not without purpose. To be an artist is also to create something beautiful that can alleviate pain. ~ Jeff Goins, Art Helps us Deal with Suffering
Some of the early drafts of my book Quivering Daughters were written in real time. For me, writing helps me to process. It's like lifting the lid off a pot of boiling water, allowing steam, and therefore pressure, to escape. It allows the rabid, frothy pain to dissipate so I can see what is really there underneath the surface of emotional reaction. It helps bring clarity.

My story, and the stories of my heroes, are real. They are told through our own unique perspectives. This is something no one else has. No one else can tell your story the way you can. But here is what I want you to take from this: when you share your story, with all of its nuances of light and dark, of pain and joy and heartache and victory and morning and shadow, when you flood your pages with vulnerability and crack open those deep, hidden places, there will be those who try to discount your experience because they had a different one. They have different eyes and don't trust your eyes. They have a different tolerance of pain. And they will dismiss you. They will try to re-write your story. Or edit it. Or tell you that you're wrong. Maybe even that you are lying.

You can't take my story away from me.

Here's the thing. God knows the truth. He knows the truth about your story, and that is what matters. Trust Him. He knows what your eyes see. Tell your story with confidence because you answer to Him, not to those who discount your thoughts and experiences and feelings. You don't have to defend the truth. Truth defends you. Be faithful to God's calling and trust Him. He is faithful.

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God... John 3:20-21

Your story comes from your heart. It is a culmination of many things, but it gestates in your heart and you birth it, and it comes alive. Guard your heart. Keep it with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Don't give it away. Don't let your story be re-written by others.

What story do you have to tell?
What keeps you from telling it?


  1. As a direct corollary, Listening is an act of love.

    Once there was this guy who had two sons....

  2. Beautiful, Hillary. The last two questions gave me goosebumps.

  3. Hillary, thank you. I needed to hear that again. <3

  4. Someone with an experience will never be at the mercy of someone with an opinion.

  5. My brother led me to your page... Completely inspired by your post today. Praying God will allow me to take the right steps to put my journey into words.

  6. Writing helps me process too...which is why I started my blog.

  7. I had never thought of it like that. But it's so true. I like it.

    And I agree with Anne - writing it out really does help!

  8. Thanks for your piece. Perhaps this answer will help others to know they are not alone in their self-speak in their minds when trying to find their voice. On the second question, "What keeps you from telling it?", I answer:

    People will not understand. They will judge me for it. It is self-centred to focus on my own story. It's one story in all the world's millions of stories, why should people care about it?

    Or perhaps even posting this is self-centred and a waste of time, and much worse will be telling parts from my story. But that reasoning must be wrong, as I don't regard others as selfish when they tell theirs. So I post as Anonymous.

  9. Yes!
    Don't let your story be rewritten by others.
    Don't let others squash the truth of your story because they can't handle the truth.
    Don't let others shame you out of your story because it doesn't line up with what they want your story to be.
    It's YOUR story. It's YOUR life. It's YOUR pain. It belongs to you and it is the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy the truth of your story.

  10. Indeed. great post. I have spent many hours with a pen and paper to help me handle the stress in my life growing up.

    What keeps me from telling my own story?

    Well, can I answer that with a question?

    How do you tell your story without hurting the people involved? I have a story, but I don't want to go there because I know it will hurt the perpetrator whom I know all along had been well-meaning in their great error.

  11. Great words... thanks for sharing... Your description of the pot boiling and the words letting out the steam...yea, I get that... speaks my heart too...

    My first visit here... loved it.

  12. I also write to process things, it's like free therapy. Thank you for writing this. I wrestle with how to write my story out, because I am kind of like brittany in the sense that I don't want to hurt anyone. But I've come to realize that I am telling my story, not anyone elses. I tell what I have lived in my own words, and I've found that when I get that feeling as though I might have shared to much, it is usually because I was trying to prove my perspective with to many details. I have nothing to prove. People can try to re-write it, or demand more detail to justify my understanding, but I am just me, with my feelings and thoughts and experiences. And I have a voice.

  13. Great post! and thanks for the blog love.

  14. You, my friend, take my breath away every time you write. HOW do you hear my heart even when I can't? Love, love, LOVE this. <3

  15. Brittney wrote: How do you tell your story without hurting the people involved? I have a story, but I don't want to go there because I know it will hurt the perpetrator whom I know all along had been well-meaning in their great error.

    Great question, Brittney. For me, the answer becomes: is it something God has called you to do? Anything He has asked you to do He will equip you to do. He will show you how to do it with grace; the important thing is to walk obediently and trust that He will show you the way. What isn't good is allowing fear to keep you from answering His call...just start writing and He will help you know how to write, what to say. Sometimes truth isn't pretty but God can bring life and beauty and joy from broken things...He is the Redeemer! Believe me when I say that it isn't easy. You must be 1000% sure that it is something God has asked of you, and commit to walking in obedience. {{hugs}}

  16. Brittney: Also, from a rather more mundane perspective, there's no shame in writing anonymously, or in using pseudonyms to identify yourself or others. Even professionally published memoirs do this all the time: "Names have been changed to protect the innocent."


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