Six months ago, my friend, Elise sent the following text…”You won’t believe the dream I had last night. It was so real! You and I were standing on a stage in front of women sharing our stories.”

What?!? Back then, the thought of sharing my story in words was still new to me, so the thought of sharing out loud was not on my radar at all. God has His own plans, though, and last Friday night, surrounded by 200 women, Elise and I shared our story of “sistering.” We took off our masks, showed our mess, and pointed to the One who continues to carry us through.

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Elise sharing her journey of cancer, anxiety & chronic pain.

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Me sharing my story of a nervous breakdown and divine breakthrough.

The process of preparing and speaking for this event impacted me in profound ways. It was scary. It was healing. It opened old wounds. It set me free. Most of all, it was an honor to let God use my story and impact women struggling with similar issues. Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the experience, I want to share what I learned.

Because you don’t have to tell your story to a room full of people for it to matter.

Give God Space to Work

Rehearsing for a speaking engagement is tricky. It’s a balance of knowing the content, yet being flexible enough to respond to the audience and incorporate impromptu thoughts. It is tempting to simply read a script. In fact, the first few times I practiced telling my story, that’s exactly what I did. I needed the safety of the written word to get through. But it felt too stiff. Too stale. Too safe. As I prayed about last Friday’s event, I realized that I knew this material. It was my story, after all. I lived it. I breathed it. And now it was time to trust God with it. I knew I needed to ask Him to open my mind and heart as well as my mouth and know that He would give me right words at the right time. I let go, and let God, and it was amazing.

We like to play it safe with other areas of our life, too, don’t we? It feels good to plan and control. But just like speaking, there is a balance to achieve. If we are too controlling and think our way is the only way, we miss the opportunity for God to direct our paths. We need to give Him space to work in every area of our life! I am learning to open my hands of control and lay my plans and my words at God’s feet.  I long to let go and trust that His outcome is always best.

Prayer is Powerful

A few days before the event last week, I was starting to feel the familiar anxiety creep in. I got tense and terse with my family, so they asked if I was anxious about speaking. After thinking about it, I realized that I wasn’t nervous about speaking at all, I was simply nervous that I MIGHT get nervous. I know…there is a reason I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder! But before I could get too worked up, people began texting, emailing, and messaging me with words of encouragement.

They said they were praying for me.

And when Elise and I arrived Friday morning for the walkthrough, I incredulously asked her if she was anxious?

“No, not all,” she replied.

“Me, either!” I responded with glee.

Those prayers carried us throughout the day, through the event, into the evening. and to this day.

The Magic of Stories

I am fascinated by Revelations 12:11 where it says,

They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

We overcome evil and sin and suffering in this world through the grace of Jesus and by sharing our stories. That is huge! Why? Why are our stories so important? I think it’s because stories (real, raw stories) act like a mirror. When you hear a story, you automatically see yourself in it. Something about it resonates. It becomes intensely personal. That’s why Jesus spoke in parables – stories! Those stories share the most powerful truths we need to know, but rather than telling us with facts, Jesus told us with stories.

So, what’s your story? How do you even begin? That’s a topic for an entire post, but here’s one idea. Get a sheet of paper and list the milestones from your life. Start at the beginning and work your way toward today. What are the highlights (both good and bad). Then go back and make notes about how God was working in your life through those times. Finally, do the mask activity. What’s on the inside and outside of your mask? You will see your story begin to take shape.

Walls Can Come Down

Don’t believe the lies this world tells us. The lies that say you have to wear a mask. The lies that say you need to live up to your Facebook status. The lies that say you are less than the woman sitting next to you. After I spoke last Friday, I stayed up on the stage in case any of the women wanted to speak to me. Did they ever! One by one, strangers and friends, alike, came up and shared parts of their own story with me. Ladies lingered at their tables. People didn’t want to leave! As Elise and I shared our stories, the facade of every person in that room began to crack and tumble down. We looked at one another and saw beautiful, broken sisters with more in common than not. When I think back to that evening, that’s the picture I want to remember. Women of all ages, all shapes, all sizes daring to let down the guard that the world forces upon us to allow the Holy Spirit to stir. I pray that He continues to  stir us, one heart, one story at a time.

Video of Event

Laura Fleetwood and Elise Aromando were two women separately dealing with tough struggles until God unexpectedly brought them together.  They became friends and spiritual supporters – “sisters!” In the video below, Laura and Elise  share the story of God working in the midst of cancer, chronic pain, anxiety & depression to strengthen faith, provide new beginnings, and offer hope for the future.