This world. This place. This life.

Stories we tell about ourselves


Eighteen years ago, after my first year of seminary, I served as camp chaplain at Johnsonburg in northern New Jersey. It was the first of two internships I would complete.

I was part of a small group of senior staff. At the beginning of the summer, a few days before the counselors arrived for training, the six of us gathered at Johnsonburg for our own training, including team-building exercises.

The only thing I remember was the ropes course. I remember because I failed.

It’s a story I’ve told about myself for eighteen years.

One of the first obstacles—maybe even the very first—was a cargo net that stretched up the side of a tree, and the goal was to climb the net.

I tried, but I didn’t have enough strength in my arms, and I was very afraid. In tears, I gave up.

I thought about that story a lot in the months leading up to Willa’s birth. I wanted to give birth without meds, but I had no confidence in my ability to do so.

I kept imagining myself giving up.

But circumstances didn’t give me a choice. The contractions came so fast and furious that there’s no way an anesthesiologist would have gotten me still enough to put a needle in my spine.

And I did it.

With grit and determination, I wrestled sweet Willa from my body, without a drop of pain meds.

A few weeks later, I told Ruth, a friend and colleague, about the ropes course, and how I’d been afraid of my weakness and cowardice.

“How long ago was that?” she asked.

I did some quick math. “About eighteen years,” I said.

“Well, you’re not the same person anymore, are you? And now you have a new story to tell yourself,” she said.

Yes, I do. And now when I’m afraid, feeling daunted by a task, large or small, I remember: I gave birth. I can do this. I can do anything.


5 thoughts on “Stories we tell about ourselves

  1. love it. all of it, and yes we tell ourselves crazy stories … so glad you have a new (mountains-high) benchmark for yourself. never can take that one away :). it will come in handy countless times i’m betting.

    • Thanks! It’s so fun to be reconnected with you. Our lives have gone in interesting directions, haven’t they?

      • yup, so true! never thought i’d end up where i am, or with whom, or with kids, or living in the sticks, plotting ways to make our lives even more free and less anchored and scheduled :). wouldn’t change a thing, but as weird as can be if i look at it with my 18-year-old eyes. so very glad you’ve got the kid twist in your life now too, it’s as freeing as it is anchoring i think, such a crazy wonderful thing :).

  2. Birth can be such an empowering experience, a rite of passage into another sense of being. I wish that for all women, and I cherish the wisdom of women who helped me during my own travails, women who believed in my strength and endurance. I needed that confidence to move forward into parenting. Further challenges ahead, but each passage renews one’s faith that we will find the wisdom we desperately need. So much at stake in forming a new life, and such resilience in young children who also have the power to overcome our daily parental mistakes.

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