Newsletters. I wrote them for 18 years — paper, email, and eventually some blog posts. Our organization had ‘checkers’ who made sure the content was free of grammatical errors and mistakes before we hit ‘send’ or licked a stamp. But more importantly, the content needed to be truthful, sensitive and respectful; free of exaggerations and negativity toward partners or the host country. And no asking for money.
We lived in a sensitive country, so we always changed names, avoided politics, and used those classic code words- like M, ‘think about’, or ‘remember.’ Most of the newsletters I wrote came back from the checker with a few edits and suggestions. Some cautioned me that I was getting too explicit about the work and ministry we were involved in…a bit too personal perhaps?
I tried my best to write out of humility, to raise awareness, to elicit prayer and encourage involvement. I wanted people ‘back home’ to get a taste of our life overseas- to meet our friends, our team mates, walk the paths, and listen to the sounds around us. I wanted it to be real. Did I do this perfectly? No. I look back at some of my newsletters and cringe, not because they were poorly written, but because I wasn’t “telling it straight.” I wrote out of arrogance, ignorance, or trying to meet the ‘expectations’ of people back home. Yikes.
I recently came across some letters I wrote during a time in my life when I was suffering from severe post-partum depression and I wish I could go back and gently whisper to my younger self, “Tell the truth Monica.” But I didn’t, instead I wrote about language school, our 18 month old son’s nap struggles, and the education project we were embarking on. Not a word about my mental health. I regret that. And yet, how do you communicate such a serious thing to a variety of communities who are living their own lives oceans away?
We dream, we dare, we dive in, we discover, we doubt, we struggle, we dance, and then for most of us we have to decide what to share. It is expected of us: What are we doing? Are we doing what we set out to do? Cue the progress reports, the divine encounters, and ministry details. We can’t always get all the ‘news’ in, plus we may feel a duty to only share the good things– the stuff that speaks to people’s hearts, and dare I say, their checkbooks. But in the end, I believe we must be honest with our struggles, our joys, work, play, and relationships just as we would expect a dear friend to be honest with us. We wouldn’t want them to embellish or disregard what is happening in their life, right?
So, are you sharing the story God has given you to share? Are you being true to yourself and to those you are writing about?
On that note, something I appreciate about Velvet Ashes, is the importance of transparency in story-telling. In a post I wrote about friendship, the editor asked me if I had received permission from my friend to write about her. I had, but still…I am grateful I was held to a standard. Now, I realize we can’t get permission from entire communities, and for security reasons we may have to change names or be discreet to safeguard certain situations. BUT, if possible, get permission to share. Don’t ever assume your words (especially on Social Media) are not accessible to the people you are ‘highlighting’ in your latest post or letter. Context matters of course, so if safety is a concern, consider the risks and boundaries in place when it comes to sharing.
Friends, no matter what we do, or where we live, we are Christ’s ambassadors and have a responsibility to storytell in a way that is respectful, honest, and compassionate. We must keep in mind that our opinion and narratives inform our friends and supporters in serious ways. They are introduced to far-away places, people and contexts through OUR EYES. That’s heavy. It’s easy for bias to creep in, to become careless with our words, or even become know-it-alls. And when we tackle tough subject matter like poverty, social injustice, oppression, and persecution we must do this carefully- to the extent of our actual involvement and with respect to all involved.
Furthermore, if the person or people you are writing about were to read your memoir 15 years down the road, would they feel embarrassed, used, or belittled? Or would they feel empowered, honored, and respected? Consider what it may feel like if your read your neighbor, team mate or community’s ‘letter’ about you. Whoa!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic of “telling it straight”. What approaches can we take from the Ultimate Storyteller, Jesus? Do you struggle to share your stories, and why? Have you found a good balance in the way you communicate with family, friends and supporters?
Thank you for letting me share what my experience has been so far, and I know I have more to learn. Let’s keep talking, learning, and growing together. Will you join me as we, the Velvet Ashes community, endeavor to share God’s story, through our own stories for His glory?
We invite you to share in The Grove. You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.
Share your images on this week’s theme with #VelvetAshesTellingTheirStory. You can add yours!