Sitting at the dining table with the only sounds around me – the ceiling fan in rhythmic spin and the sweet sigh of my eight-year-old dog, Hobie. My view out our back window is filled with the green and blue of foliage and sky and our old fence which I have come to love because it feels well worn and cottagey in a time when everything is praised for being new and trendy. I’ve stolen a small pocket of time to write in response to a prompt. She said, “Your Story,” and a flood of images and memories come through, but these seem somehow foreign to me from my current seat. Stories tell a tale and mostly, they serve to show off the glory of the redemption of God which reveals His heart of love for each one of us. My story surely does that.
My mentor once said she thinks the first immeasurable number of years when all the saints are together in heaven will be filled with our stories. We will be making connections and finding out how our actions and words impacted one another and showed off Jesus and gave Him space to do His loving will in our lives and midst. We will be tying our stories all together to fit in with the One Great Story. Me, I was just waiting to hug C.S. Lewis, kiss St. Augustine on the cheek and dance with Corrie Ten Boom. I long to see the ones I love who left here already, like a dear teacher/mentor and others. After that, I’m good. But thinking about the exchange of stories gives me a whole new perspective as to why I long for heaven. I am looking forward to story time as though I am a toddler before bed — “just one more!”
I have a friend who has lived a pretty straight life. She walked the line and did what was expected. She is now a missionary and once she told me she used to think her story didn’t add up to much because she hadn’t done anything “that bad.” She said she almost envied people who had stories about their dark lives of sin and how God saved them from addiction or other horrible backgrounds. To her, she had a “boring” testimony. We sat together in that moment as she shared an awareness. She had faced all those temptations and walked through them without sin. What a testimony! Now of course she does sin and did sin, but nothing dramatic and hair-raising. Not the stuff which makes for a good Francine Rivers novel, you know? That is Jesus’ story too. He was tempted in every way we are, but He didn’t sin. That’s not my story. My story is one of the other kind. And, believe me, there is not much to envy in the early years of my life.
My childhood had its carefree moments, but they were framed in by abuse and rejection, perfectionistic expectations, loss, grief at too young an age, bullying, moving across the country, being taken advantage of, attempting to fit in and feeling I wasn’t enough no matter what I did. In all the chaos and loss God found me as a child. I had people here and there who reached into my life and extended themselves to me and shared hope and a glimpse of who God really is.
You want to know my story? I can’t tell it all here. I once told the entire, whole, ugly mess to my mentor and she sat through it without wincing even once, just holding the space between us like a fragile and sacred ground. I told her after more than ten years of knowing her and walking together with her into increasing trust for her and Jesus. She held me without a touch and held me up to Jesus (again and again and again). I saw myself as broken and incomplete and that, so I thought, was the problem. I thought I needed to become more: More of anything – more thin, more beautiful, more humorous, more popular, more trendy, more … I didn’t know that broken was beautiful.
How does it happen that what seems one way at one time seems entirely different at another? Looking back over my life from this seat in my dining room I see so much I couldn’t see at the time. I was transported, transformed, reformed. God called out what He had always planned in me. He formed me and knew me, but I had become so mutilated and marred that His image and my own unique reflection of Him were unrecognizable. Even when I left apparant darkness behind, I had the darkness of perfectionistic performance. I strove for meaning and purpose and value. I was everything you wanted me to be – whomever you were. My story became your story just so I could fit in. I lost myself and became an achiever. Even in the church we can over-perform trying to prove our value and earn the gift that has been given us so freely.
There are so many shades of darkness and so many ways to be lost. Even as a professing Christian, we can be miles away from God, though He is always as near as our next breath. And when we are far off, He sends a messenger. I’m not making this up. He sent one to me, but I’ve seen Him do it over and over for many others like me. And, here’s the crazy, amazing, life-giving, redemptive part: I get to be one now too! After years of feeling I’d never arrive, I found out I won’t arrive, at least not here on earth. In the meantime He’ll just bless me right where I am and He’ll bless others through me as I open to His touch for them. Happily ever after? No. Joy-filled along the way? Absolutely. Perfect? Don’t even go there. And the more I learn to walk by the Spirit instead of trying to live up to the law for all the wrong reasons, the more inner freedom I find in God.
So you want to hear my story?
God told it in the Psalms and He continues to tell it every day:
Whatever your story, it matters.
He is in the heart of it and He is not finished writing His goodness through you for the world to see.
Blurry photo of field courtesy of Stephen Iliffe on Flickr