Right after I released my eating disorder story in February, I was asked to be a part of a panel at Liberty for National Eating Disorder Awareness week.
I was still battling fear and nerves over people knowing I'd had an eating disorder at all, but encouraged by the response to the story and bolstered by the flood of incoming stories I'd heard — people reaching out from all random corners, thanking me for shedding light on a problem I never would have guessed we shared — I agreed to join, and even looked forward to it.
Once the initial wave of anxiety passed (meeting the other panel members like hi, yes, Dr. Expert Counselor Jesus, I am Average Twentysomething, here to give advice alongside you lol), I settled in and shared what I could, hoping that my words — however live and un-edited they were — would touch a few in the room.
After the fact, as attendees and panel members alike milled around, I wound around between chairs and people to say hi to my friend Javaz, whom I'd (blessedly) spotted in the audience.
Javaz was a personal trainer at the student union. My roommate, his coworker, introduced us a year or two before, and immediately I was struck by the presence he has in a room. He is the kind of warm that makes you feel like you've known him for ages. I am also super glad I have never pissed off Javaz, because he could physically kill me at any moment with about the same physical exertion it would take for him to, like, eat a waffle.
We hugged. We chatted. I hadn't seen him in months, and even then, it was usually just in passing at the gym. I asked about work, graduation and his plans afterwards. He was pumped to hear about my job and upcoming move.
About the time conversation started dwindling and I was preparing to say goodbye, Javaz stopped me.
"Hey, I need to tell you something," he said, with a fervor that caught me off guard.
"Okay," I responded with a nervous laugh.
"I need to tell you something," he repeated, "and I need you to listen."
It was more command than request. He had my full attention.
"You have the gift," he said, "of vulnerability."
Javaz stood in front of me, sincere and authoritative, and told me that being on the panel that night was brave, and that writing the post about my eating disorder was brave; and that anytime I wrote anything he could see a lot of my self and my soul in it, and releasing that into the world for better or worse time and again was brave.
"I think you're brave, and I think that's beautiful, and that's a gift," Javaz told me. "You have the gift of vulnerability, and God is going to do amazing things through that."
To say I was stunned is an understatement.
I stammered a totally inadequate thank-you, hugging him again and trying not to burst into tears, which is what I really wanted to do.
Vulnerability has become something of a buzzword lately, but it's one of my things. I have always believed that insulating yourself in caution, avoiding all risk and pain, is a boring and distinctly un-abundant way to live life. The lows are worth the highs, in my mind; and risk is worth potential, more often than not.
I've fought to hold on to that belief, but the truth is that the lows and risks are still real. I had suffered my fair share of them in recent times. Javaz had no way of knowing, but at the time, vulnerability didn't feel like a gift to me at all. His words came at just the right time.
Before I published my last blog post, I emailed it to a handful of people and called my dad and asked everyone if I should share it or if it was "too Jesusy."
They all said I should, and it wasn't, but I hesitated for a couple more days anyway because the thing about writing is no matter how good your best friend and your mom think it is, you imagine everyone else scrolling past it on their Facebook feed yelling "NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU THINK OR ABOUT YOUR STUPID LIFE."
I do put a lot of myself and my soul into my writing. Anyone who creates anything does.
But add in subject matter that's near and dear to (or, worse yet, about) you, and publicly sharing the final product — open to the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent — feels downright terrifying.
I've focused my writing on sports because I absolutely love sports. Writing about sports is fun. I'm good at it. It allows me to be around the people and environment I like most.
I have also found as a bonus, though, that writing about sports is very safe and unlikely to generate any strong, negative, "NO ONE CARES" kind of responses from people. (And if it does, then it's usually aimed at sports, not me; and in that case, we probably wouldn't even be that great of friends, anyway!)
Writing about sports means I think I have a good analysis of a football game, and I risk someone not agreeing with it.
Writing about sports means I think I found a great human interest story about an athlete, and I risk someone not being particularly human interested.
Writing about my life implies I think my life is interesting enough that other people might want to take time out of their own to read about it, and I risk finding out that, no, actually, it's not — and why would I think that?
Writing about my faith implies I think I have something to say or share or teach about my relationship with God, and I risk being told that I don't — and who am I to think so?
The scariness of hitting that "publish" button usually corresponds to how significant the words are to me; how personal or important.
When I finally shared my last post, Javaz's words came back to mind. They made me feel brave again. And more than that, they made me wonder:
If I don't feel a little vulnerable when I hit that "publish" button, have I really shared anything that meaningful at all?
Sometimes, writing things just for the sake of weaving words and creating something beautiful for the sake of it is enough. God created stars beyond our vision and cells with intricacy our eyes can't even see. I don't think He's all pragmatics, unappreciative of an artful hockey piece.
But with limited time and words, I wonder sometimes if God doesn't have some more important things He'd like me to say.
Every day I pray surrender, and that includes my words and fingertips. The writing that feels too risky to share usually ends up being His taking me up on that offer.
I'm learning to reclaim vulnerability as a gift: not as an opportunity for hurt (though it can be), and not just risk for the thrill (and all God's Lana Rush said amen), but as an opportunity for beauty and good and God.