The most compelling part of The Face of the Story is each woman's personal story.
Each of these incredible women were brave enough to put these incredibly personal and trying experiences into words in hopes of inspiring, encouraging, or providing hope for others. Some are difficult to read. Some will inevitably move you to tears. Some will anger you.
But above all, remember that these are real people.
Any of these woman could be your mother, your sister, or your best friend. This could have been you.
Before you begin reading their stories, take a moment to really look into each woman's eyes. Then, as you read her story, quietly listen for her voice in your ear and allow yourself to step into her shoes. It won't always be pleasant, but you'll come out of each story amazed at what the human spirit can endure and overcome.
You do not need to know the horrors I went through; I did not even want to know. My brain got too good at compartmentalizing the damage. I went through periods of forgetting the abuse and pretending I had a real dad and “normal” family. I rebelled a lot against the abuse as I got older and it got much, much worse. But he had too much leverage. When I was small, pain worked. Then, I did not care about pain.
But I found that I struggled...mostly when I was alone. My mind would race. I became paranoid and didn't know who to trust. Even though I did nothing wrong, I felt all alone. My back was up against the wall in my small little apartment.
“Anyone can give up; It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, that’s true strength.” – Chris Bradford
There are two significant life-altering events that have happened in my twenty-five years of living that I credit for making me who I am. It is because of those situations that I have been able to learn how to become a warrior, to stand up for what I believe in, and to be proud of my past.
I am a sexual assault survivor.
Being joyful toward others and spreading joy is one of my favorite things. Recently, I had a personal struggle with my career path. After being rejected into multiple graduate programs I began to ask myself: Am I a failure? What am I going to do with my life? Where will I work? Were the past 4 years a waste of time?
I want to share about how our infertility journey has impacted my faith, in hopes that it may encourage others who are struggling through the same battle. I can remember when I first became a Christian, all I ever wanted was for God to use me for His glory, but I never really knew how or what that would look like. I see how He built my faith and refined me in the trials that my husband and I faced through trying to conceive. I remember growing up in such an unstable and dysfunctional home and all I ever wanted was a family and kids of our own that I could shower with love! I wanted to break the cycle of abuse, dysfunction, and chaos.
The story behind my face is so much more than a word or a topic, it’s a series of battles and storms. When I was first approached to do this, I thought hard about what my story represented. Right from the beginning I was a fighter. I was born with a hole in my heart and back then there was so much unknown about this type of congenital defect, there were many surgeries throughout my childhood to repair damage. I spent much of my childhood hood sick, in hospitals or with restricted activities. My parents were very young, kids themselves, eventually my mom left us. She didn’t want to be a mother, my brother had come along by then, leaving my dad to be a very young single parent. His parents helped us greatly, my grandparents and my dad are such loving and compassionate people. I wouldn’t be here today, without them.
Losing a parent when you’re young isn’t easy. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face and still have to face to this day.
August 13, 2003, I lost my mother. I was 10. I remember the day so clearly, it still frightens me. One of the things I remember the most was my father’s face.
Then, on November 7, 2014, I was taking my dog for a walk like I did every other day, and I once again prayed these prayers and asked God what it would take for these things to happen. Except this time, I heard God answer me. It was as if he was standing right next to me. He said, "Erin, something tragic needs to happen." I thought about something terrible happening to my best friend or someone in her family. Then God said, "No, Erin, it's going to happen to you." In that moment, I asked myself if I could pray the next prayer. I wasn't scared, more shocked, but I felt sure. I wanted desperately for God to answer my series of prayers and so I made a request: I said, "Okay, God, do whatever you need to do, just do not take my life."
I have a tendency to act like everything is fine and move ahead without addressing issues. I can’t recall the number of times I broke down crying that month, and in front of people, which isn’t like me. I bawled my eyes out sitting in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car. I felt bad because I knew she had no clue how to help or what to say. So few people know what to say or do for a woman losing her baby. I found what I needed most was just to be heard. I had anger and sadness and bitterness that needed let out. I was trying to grieve someone I hadn’t even gotten to meet, and the hormonal drop definitely did not help.
I have always been artistic, but my family and friends were the only ones who saw my art.
I liked being hidden.
But maybe there was something I could do to show people kindness. It did not have to be something big. It could be something small. It could be something I could make and give to people.
On February 15, 2017 I was headed to school at Parkland College in Champaign, Il when the tread came off of the left rear tire of my truck causing me to lose control. When I tried to get myself back on the interstate the truck ended up flipping three and a half times. The drivers side door came open during this and my left leg was outside of the vehicle.
I tear at and peel the flesh from my fingers to my knuckles until I bleed. I try to offset my disinterest in nearly everything by doing as much as I possibly can until I collapse from exhaustion. I keep my mind and muscles at bay for as long as I can.
Fortitude. Courage in pain or adversity. Although my white privilege excludes me almost 100% from any real pain or adversity, being a woman with ideas sure is scary to some folks.
I'd have to say one of the most defining moments in my life, as far as life taking unexpected turns goes, would have to be the day I finally opened up my heart to the truth about where my career path was heading. I was struggling along my way to figure out what I was doing with my life, career wise, as well as what the heck I was doing as a wife and mom. I felt torn and all over the place. I couldn't quite seem to succeed anywhere, or find happiness or fulfillment.
Well, I will start with saying that I am one of the estimated 3.1 million breast cancer survivors. I never thought that cancer would be a part of my story. It has been a part of my story for the last 9 years.
My cancer journey began in November of 2008. This was the first time I noticed I had a lump in my breast.
As I pondered the struggles in my life, I realized I’ve had a pretty easy life compared to many, by God’s grace and a bit of work.
But ‘perseverance’ is a word that strikes a chord with me.
I taught art for 21 years and loved my students. But I had a yearning to accomplish what I preached. To make a living doing my art. I had always created art and gone to art shows, but it seemed like I never had enough time to do all the art I needed or wanted.
I seriously felt like Job in the Bible. I’ve learned though that God has been with me every step of the way. He has met all my needs and gives me comfort when I’m feeling at my lowest point.
The days after the fire occurred, I was pretty inconsolable and just felt like I was losing Keith all over again. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. Somehow I knew that God would get me through it I just wasn’t sure how.
Furthermore, at least in my case, I felt like I always had to walk on eggshells. I needed people to think I was perfect because I was aware that I was already “disposable” to one set of parents, and what would keep this family from getting rid of me, too? I felt like I was a mistake who brought sadness and destruction with me when I entered this world. For most of my life, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, and even though I acted happy and was always a bit of a class clown, I walked around with this indescribable hole inside of me.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold. As a Philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise. We have to understand that no one or no situation is ever truly broken beyond repair. When we give our brokenness to God, He can repair us and fill our brokenness with light, hope, faith and love. God has the ability to take broken people and broken situations and make them more beautiful.
I must tell you this before I share my story. I have been broken—my family has been broken.
When I was five years old, my school's strings teacher gave a small presentation to my kindergarten class and at the end, the students were invited to try out the instruments. When the violin first sat on my shoulder and I curled my hands over the fingerboard and around the frog for my first tentative note, my life shifted. I went home that evening and demanded to be enrolled in violin lessons. That decision made at five to play the violin ended up setting the course for the rest of my life.
In sixth grade, I was a women’s size 16. My jeans were always too short, I couldn’t find fun, bright, and sparkly clothes that were popular in the 90s. My wiry hair framed my freckly acne-prone face. I spent half of my life straightening out every little kink. In middle school I made it into show choir and the afro became useful. Then I noticed something else about myself.
My story? Like so many others, it involves cancer. It begins thirty years ago, which means I’ve lived longer with cancer than without. It’s not been an easy journey. I’ve had wonderful support and love from my family, but that is their story. And this? This story is mine alone.
Soon after I met my husband we had the conversation about kids. For me, children were non-negotiable. I had also always wanted to adopt and knew that the man I married had to be on the same page. Lucky for me, he has a big heart and felt the same way. After dating for 5 years we decided to tie the knot. A healthy marriage has been very important to us, so we wanted to take the first year without even trying to have children working out all the fun new marriage situations. A year later, our journey begins.
When 2002 rang in, it seemed like it was going to be the best year ever. My husband, Chris, and I had been together for 8 years, we had lived in our first home for almost 2 years, we had a son, Duncan, who was going to turn 6, I was scheduled to graduate from college in December, and in the Spring of that year, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. Chris and I were very young when we had Duncan and wanted to wait until I was close to being done with college before adding to our family. We were so excited to find out we were expecting.
So there I stood, propped up against the cooler that held the kids frozen dinners, staring at the paper towel selection, sobbing because I knew I needed to buy my groceries but I knew I couldn’t stand in line to check out. My anxiety wouldn’t dare allow it.