One time I read this blog post on (in)courage by a favorite author of mine, Annie F. Downs. In this terrible, gentle post, she writes about the importance of telling your story. She writes that it's not just your story -- that others deserve to hear it, that they need to hear it, because it might help them through whatever they're going through. She writes:

While you are the main character in your story, and it is YOUR story, God is using your story to impact others, whether you know it or not. And if you hide your story, if you hide the successes and defeats, if you hide the answered prayers and the ones still waiting, other people miss out on what God could be teaching them.

Annie F. Downs, "It's Not Just My Story"

Her words broke me. As I burst into tears at my desk and sprawled out in pain, I grabbed my phone and texted two friends -- the two friends who have rejoiced with me, cried with me, and seen me through every circumstance. I told them my story -- which, in perspective, is not something that's worthy of shame, but I've hidden from it in shame for a long time. These sweet friends were utterly gentle with me. It changed nothing. I love them for that.

I knew then that the whole story eventually had to emerge in its entirety. When I planned this series, I thought about the danger and vulnerability of adventure, and I felt God's gentle nudging: Write about it. So. Here it is.

My degree at Texas Tech is Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance. This degree requires an advanced singing technique and an ability to perform at high levels. When I auditioned at Texas Tech, I did not have this capability. I didn't even have vibrato, y'all. It was really sketchy. I was told that I could re-audition for Performance at my first jury. So this was my goal for the first semester, and I was sure I would get in. But when I sang at my jury, I didn't get in then, either. I was devastated. It felt like being told I didn't have it in me. I cried for a couple of days, but I had a very wise friend who gave me the best possible advice. "Sara," she said, "this is your chance to prove to them you can do it. You have this chance to overcome it." She was right, and over Christmas break, I set to work.

I don't remember what I did. But I worked tirelessly, determined to learn what I didn't have -- specifically, I was going to get my voice to vibrate. And after some work, it happened. When I returned in January, my voice was like a new being: still rough, still young, but capable. My teacher was thrilled, and so was I. When I re-auditioned for Performance in the spring, I was admitted, and my joy knew no bounds.

After that, my improvement was rapid. I don't say that to brag. I don't think that rapid growth is the only sign of God's blessing -- He blesses things that don't look like they're growing at all. He is in the small things. But in my case, any improvement came straight from the hand of God, because I know I didn't have it. I didn't start with it. It's all a gift, and I am so unendingly grateful for what I have been given.

For a long time I lived in shame over this beginning, but last fall, on the way to a competition, I was talking about it with my teacher (God bless him), and he said, "Sara, I don't think that's a mark of shame." My mom later told me that it was a mark of honor. And I'm coming to see it that way: what we see as failure may not be. And y'all, it was failure. I failed pretty badly. But the initial failure was a door to the blessing that would come later: I learned the value of hard work, because since that day, I don't think I've stopped working toward the dream for a single, solitary second.

Now that I've written this down, it does seem small to me. That's partly because I have some distance from the thing by now -- it happened almost three years ago. But also, talking about it, bringing the thing out into the light -- it's been healing. I thought I would be exposed, unveiled for everyone to see me for what I really am -- a phony, a fake, not nearly good enough. And I have been exposed -- just in the opposite way. People have heard this story -- and here's the crazy part to me -- they haven't cared. To them, the past has no bearing on the present. It doesn't matter to them. My friends Liz and Becky both said, "We are so proud of you for all you have accomplished." They said they were proud of me. The opposite of shame is whatever this is. The opposite of shame is where we are accepted for the people that we are, not the people we wish we were.

I'm learning not to shy away from exposure. Yes, it's risky and yes, it's terrifying. But more often than not, that's what people want. They want you -- all of you. They don't want varnished, whitewashed, perfect. They want you. And I think if we all believed that more -- if I believed that more -- then I would no longer feel shame. I would no longer feel the need to hide.

So let's not hide. Let's walk into the exposure and the fear and the failure. God's got something in it. I want to say, "Let's not be afraid," but maybe when we meet the fear where we are -- maybe those are the moments where God comes to meet us and tell us that He has made us inherently lovable by the blood of His Son. Maybe when we decide to meet the fear, we discover a depth and bravery and adventurousness and freedom within ourselves that we didn't know was there.

I want to meet that version of myself. Don't you?