When I was born, I was in a hurry. As my mom’s third child, she’d gone through the ordeal before. She’s one of those women that actually loved being pregnant. She felt beautiful and vibrant. She worked out and was healthy. It was a good deal for her.

But only 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, they told her it was time to push. “What? I just got here!” was her thought. (That’s what she says when she retells the story, at least.)

They had her in the delivery room when her water broke (or maybe they broke it… I technically wasn’t there yet to know for sure). But what they saw was dark, cloudy water — the technical term is “Meconium in the fluid”, the reality is that baby me shat myself before I was born.

And while there are jokes to be made about that now, it’s actually a fairly common, but potentially dangerous predicament. When this happens, if a newborn breathes it in, and gets it into his or her lungs, it can block their airways.

I don’t know how many doctors and nurses were already in the room at this point, but when they discovered this, they started to call out the door to other doctors and nurses around. Apparently, at that point in the wee hours of the morning, there wasn’t much going on on the floor, aside from the woman delivering super fast, and her baby with bathroom problems.

When she delivered me, my mom says she looked up and there were doctors and nurses lining the walls, looking on. She said she felt like that phrase in Hebrews 12:1 about being “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” had been brought to life in the delivery room. That’s how I was brought into this world.

I suppose I’ve been in front of an audience for most of the rest of it, too.

Excelling in school always made me known to the teachers, and parents of other kids who excelled. They let me stand at a podium and address the sizable crowd at the stadium when I graduated high school.

A month later, I stood in a conference center, and shortly addressed 10,000 teenagers to talk about my recent trip to Malawi, Africa.

In college I felt like I blended in a lot more than ever before in life, only making it onto a public stage a couple of brief times to address a crowd.

But that’s just it. I feel like in every instance since being born, I’ve been in front of crowds. Not witnesses.

Witnesses witness something real — the good and the bad. They’re not a captive audience, they’re choosing to be onlookers. They’re seeing the realness of everyday life happen, not contrived speeches or scripted talks. Not awards ceremonies or graduations. They’re not seeing public-presentation you, they’re seeing you.

When it was announced in front of my home church that I’d been involved in “an inappropriate relationship” with a pastor for many years, since my teens, it was the first time since being born where I wasn’t in front of the crowd. I sat among them as an apology statement was read. And I sat among them in the coming months as I wept through every church service I attended in that building.

I was among a few of them as they welcomed me into their life group. It was a group made up mostly of couples in their 50s and 60s, and they told me they wanted me there.

I was among them as a few invited me over to dinner. To lunch. To decorate cookies with their children.

I was with one, my therapist, as I sat in her office each week, struggling, defensive, broken, reeling, seeking, questioning, accepting.

I was with some in cafes. I was with some in their homes abroad as they welcomed me in after years apart.

And because of the internet, as I’ve started to write again, as I’ve started to present myself publicly again, I again have people who are not just in close proximity of everyday life who are looking on. But this time, I am trying (and I think — hopefully — succeeding) to do it different. I’m trying to give the public venues (my blog) my real, raw self. I’m trying to invite people to be onlookers, not an audience. To be friends, not a readership.

And what I’ve found is an incredible result. I feel like, in the ways I push myself to write what’s raw and in-process and unresolved in me and my journey, that I have again found myself with a great cloud of witnesses.

People who are there on the sidelines of my journey watching, rooting me on. I am not on big stages talking to lots of people about grand things I’m doing in the world. I’m alone, at home, pouring myself out in words about the ways I struggle or the things I’m discovering. And I feel more loved and supported in this chapter of life than I ever have before.

Because I have this great cloud of witnesses, I press on, toward the goal of living the best life possible, being the best me I can be in and to the world. And I believe that that’s what I’ve been called to. It’s not easy. It feels like (and certainly is) a never-ending journey.

But you, my people who love and support me, who tell me you want to see me happy and successful, you who are glad for me as I struggle and do find my way — I am so, so thankful for you. You help me know that I am not alone as I journey on, even if the journey is a solo venture sometimes.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

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