Amazing Grace

I don't remember the exact details of her story but I will never forget the lesson of it.

She was the very definition of a survivor. She was sexually abused from nine months old and this abuse, along with other atrocities of neglect and torture, continued until she was liberated from her insane family and placed in foster care as a young child. Then things got really bad. She had the ill fortune of being placed with someone attracted to accepting damaged children because this was a ready pool of potential victims. By the time she left this new nightmare, mutilation was now in her story. She may have lost both arms but I know it was at least one. Hearing her story was hard enough. Living it was unimaginable.
She not only survived but used her survival as a life-long mission to to speak in churches and on college campuses. If she could survive, there was hope for those hearing her to accept their own suffering and make a life from what was left as opposed to being stuck in what was taken.
She told this part of her story as the first part. There was more.
She was telling her story to a congregation close to where she lived, she said. Many there had heard her story many times, she said. There was a young man in the crowd she knew who had the mental capacity of a small child. He listened in rapt attention with everyone else as was always the case when she spoke. She finished her talk to great applause. As she was leaving the stage, she heard the young man call out, "And then what?"
And then what? She said the question made no sense to her so she asked what he meant.
"And then what?" he repeated. He went on to say he had heard that story over and over already. What he was asking was what had happened since all that awful stuff and her surviving. He already knew that part. What happened after "after?"
This became her new story, her new mission. Her "then what" was phenomenal--the places she went, the skills she acquired, the experiences she had and the love and family and all the rest of the amazing things she went on to be and see and do thanks to asking herself that same question.
Her talk that day (the one I don't remember the details of but of which I learned a lesson I will never forget) was about "And then what." She wanted to teach the importance of not attaching to our narratives. She said that we write our stories in stone and then stop dead, wearing those stories like characters in a play with no liberty to change once the narrative is written. She challenged us to look at our own narratives and question if we are limiting ourselves to page one. Some define themselves (drug addict, gay, Mommy, poor kid, college drop out, military officer) and stop growing past the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. To notice first what our narratives might be (to question if it is even true) and to then take a moment to ask ourselves, "And then what?"
Her own narrative had changed and her purpose, already amazing, was now transcendent.

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