Welcome to the ninth installment of our series What Being Brave Looks Like. Kathy and I met at our church when she participated in the six week study of my book Being Brave. The Thursday morning WOW group begins each week with one of the participants offering a devotion- her story of how God is working in her life. When Kathy proceeded to the front of the room with a jigsaw puzzle in her hands, THIS life-long puzzle lover was intrigued! As she shared her story and the puzzle pieces of her life, I connected deeply with the idea of God creating a masterpiece from the misshapen, disparate pieces that contribute to each of our stories. Before I left that day, I asked her if she would be willing to share her beautiful metaphor with all of you here on the blog. I am so grateful she said YES!
Please welcome my very brave and very wise friend, Kathy Fioramonti!
Brave. A word. A character trait. A decision. Kelly’s book, Being Brave, prompted a weird thing in me, an epiphany of sorts. It gave me a box—for the swarm of puzzle pieces that have been floating about me for many years. Nice to have them finally contained in one spot, a place to put my “thinks.”
To put me in context, twenty years ago I found myself a faith and church newbie. Before that I was a kid who grew up, got married, did the career and grad school thing, had two miscarriages, preemie twin boys and a girl. Adult life took on a groove. For the most part we adapted, did the needful things, matured and learned the important lesson to never take our kids for granted. God did a whole devotional story to bring my husband and I—separately, but at the same time—to a decision it was time to go church shopping. We took a step towards “brave,” dressed up the kids one Sunday morning, and we began the walk of being churchy people.
In the time since, I’ve learned, pondered and wondered about things from:
- Reading what God has to say in the bible
- Participating in nearly 20 years of bible studies
- Attending a variety of seminars, conferences and talks
- Serving in volunteer roles
- Being available
Which in turn began forming my “Kathy life” puzzle, and some of the following sections are emerging:
- Sonseekers was my first ever small group. I could talk for days about the impact these ladies had on me…a sponge with a brand-new bible. They were mostly older women; most had lost parents, many husbands, some kids. They’d experienced illnesses in themselves and been caregivers for others. Some had parented kids in trouble/jail, and one was terminally ill and died. Yet there they were…joyful, sincere, Bold, Resilient, Authentic, Vulnerable, Engaged & Empowered (sound familiar?) women…still coming to bible study – even from the humbling position of some needing a ride. They contributed many pieces to my puzzle box of thinks to think.
- Daily devotional and quiet time. This came from a determined push by one of those Sonseekers who kept mailing me The Upper Room. She knew this was a worthy practice that would benefit me, and I simply cannot imagine life without her laying this foundational stone.
- An Attitude of Gratitude. A talk at church by a very wise woman in our midst. My ears heard that and have held on to it since.
- “The 6 Traits of a Confident Woman.” The church bulletin said a group named WOW would be offering this study. Those would be handy tools to help raise our girl but that would mean leaving my comfy and secure spot in Sonseekers. This is among the best brave things I’ve done.
- Christian radio, albums and concerts. Redirects my thought life and puts scripture in my head… a big puzzle piece contributor.
- Safe, Healthy & Empowered. Rebecca St. James is a Christian singer-songwriter who did a tour directed towards encouraging young girls. I took our daughter, bought her the SHE T-shirt and spent years annoying her with “Be SHE.” Not long ago she sent me a picture of her, in her SHE-shirt, at college. Being annoying pays off.
- Boundaries, by Henry Cloud & John Townsend. A sacrificial birthday gift from my husband who handed it to me saying “You don’t know this, but you need to read this, and it’s not gonna work out so well for me.”
- Because of scripture, I’ve learned stuff that comforts, afflicts and grounds me…
- My bible has my scribbles, underlines, happy faces, exclamation marks, people’s names.
- I know I am never alone and that I’m loved. Really
- I know not to fear, and when fear shows up anyway, I have special verses I can go to
- Takeaways and quotes. A collection of meaningful thoughts that holds power to re-orient me when I remember to look at them.
- Put on my armor! From The Armor of God, by Priscilla Shirer– Sign-up for this study if it is offered near you.
- Lean-IN…when life gets hard…to God, our faith, our faith community, our inner circle – resist the temptation to back away. We have a choice. Many studies have threads of this theme.
- “Most of the really remarkable people I have met, people who are having an impact on the world, have been on journeys they didn’t want to take” From Faithful, Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph, by Adam Hamilton
- Change your F word. From Frustrating to Fascinating. This came from a marriage event at our church, and it has improved my end of our marriage since I latched on to this phrase.
Details don’t so much matter, but 2012 shooed away my groove. I abruptly became power of everything for both parents, Alzheimer’s in one, massive stroke in the other. I found myself managing a rather large uncomfortable project and my heart was sad. Then cancer showed up in my sister while water demonstrated its’ power by coming into our house creating an expensive, disruptive mess. Hindsight reveals that was a year-long diversion that kept me from focusing on hard things. Then loss. One right after the other. Each new year has brought bad things happening to my inner circle and I don’t like it. But I do like them. My dad is in his last season, dear friends grieve the loss of their son, and my sister has yet another biopsy. Walking alongside those you love in hard circumstances is hard, because you love them. I find it’s the most meaningful thing I get to do. And you know what??? This abbreviated list makes me feel like a purveyor of gloom.
But wait! BRAVE came along offering a fresh viewpoint. I feel like I got a glimpse of the front of the puzzle box!
- I can see with hindsight that God HAS been equipping me, putting people to walk alongside me, comforting and afflicting me to change. In the last 6 years there have been big moments, big decisions, big responsibility and big hurts—all requiring me to be brave when I really just wanna run, or stand there and tremble, and delegate the whole scene to someone else. But God HAS been with me, I am never truly alone. The security of knowing this has fit pieces to form the outer edge of my puzzle. Now the sections that have been forming make more sense.
- But what has surprised me is an awareness…a perspective. That life, at least the one I’m currently living is richly Both/And – simultaneously, not consecutively.
- Both mess AND glorious – the last 6 years have held GREAT stuff too. It would take till next week to list them all.
- Both terribly sad AND intimate – Weeping with those who weep, sharing deep grief brings extraordinary vulnerability/authenticity/intimacy/bonding.
- Both chaotic AND clarifying – priorities become clear
- Both suffocating AND funny – it’s ok to laugh
- Both wonderful AND poignant –Entire family on Christmas day all festive and joyful…but surrounding Dad’s hospice bed.
- Both a loved one is gone, AND snowdrops are blooming in winter.
- My takeaways from Being BRAVE include:
- Bold – this is required to set boundaries and do things like show up when an unthinkable tragedy happens
- Resilience – necessary to find joy and be content in my circumstances even when bad news rolls in seemingly incessantly
- Authenticity – I no longer wanna be anybody else. My job is to be the best me I can be.
- Vulnerability – The closer my relationships, the more it opens me up to feel their hurt when they are in pain, trouble or grief.
- Engaged/Empowered – Community…just say yes. Show up, notice needs, be SHE, be still – so I can hear/sense nudges from the Holy Spirit.
In closing, it’s good to remember these words from Paul—a man who knew what it takes to be brave in trials and tribulations—who wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:11 “Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.” NLT
Kathy Fioramonti used to get paid for being a Logistics Engineer, thinking about U.S Naval electronics and weapons systems. Happily, her next career has been teaming with her husband to raise twin boys and a girl into adults she likes to be around. She likes cats, lizards, bugs, people, and replacing grass with gardens. Her goal is to daily live such that at least a fruit or two of the spirit is evident in her behavior.