How can we recognize our own story, and how can we function during the inevitable montage?
The end of the school year brought about a final stack of student statement papers on leadership. As I was reading through drafts of these papers, I was struck by the fact that so many times people don’t recognize their own story. Here a person's unique strength has been birthed from an important moment, grown, and then even bolstered them through life's challenges, yet it remains unacknowledged and overlooked. I wonder, how can they not see it? How can they not wrap their arms around this important story and center it to its rightful place as a foundational part of their life?
Bumps in the Road
But then again, when you are in it--the thick of it-- and living it, it is so challenging to understand the important and noteworthy parts of life's story. Something feels like it should be important, but really it's not. Or something is important to you, but you think it is silly to others or the context or scope or point of its very existence just hasn’t been revealed yet.
These past couple years have laid down real challenges of faith to many of us, me included. Two summers ago, I had to walk a path of faith through the closure of my husband’s office and subsequent job loss, trusting that God had a plan for us—for my husband, for my family, and for me. Just when we thought we landed on firmer ground, my appendix need removing just as Covid arrived and brought with it a return of my once-managed OCD and anxiety and new daily challenges to navigate, all filled with uncontrollable unknowns. Sadness, fear, and anger filled our streets and newsfeeds and hearts. I stood (and continue to stand) witness and listen, not knowing when or how or what to say. But then again, how do we respond to bumps in the road? Proceed slowly. Hang on. Keep going.
I’ve struggled to write these past months because I’ve struggled to see the story, the narrative, the resolution. Yet though the masks are coming off now, I feel as if part of me is still covered and hidden. I stand masked in a different way, separate from others, and I wonder how many others feel separate too? Covid brought to each person unique challenges and losses. Covid changed me; I think it changed us. Some ways for the better, other ways just changed. So today I write about the struggle of not knowing exactly to where or to what, but choosing to keep walking.
How do we respond to bumps in the road? Proceed slowly. Hang on. Keep going.
Building the Arc
When I work with students on writing or analyzing literature, we try to create a narrative arc or look for one that is present. All those bumps in the road are important; they lead to something. Maybe the power I find in writing is a level of control, a control I struggled with for years and continue to work to let go, allowing grace. My students, too, have felt that sense of power when they are able to assemble all these separate pieces of their lives together to reveal the whole that remained hidden in plain sight all this time. I find a beauty in the shaping of these life moments into story, creating and crafting the meaning we individually choose to make, slowing down flashes of experience and transforming troubles into triumphs.
When my father-in-law passed away this past March, my husband, though in his grief, still wanted to honor his dad through story. He wanted others to see the dad he knew and loved, pulling together the pieces of eight-five years of life into meaning and purpose.
What a gift to offer.
For those of us who seem to be living the inevitable montage before that moment of epiphany, how can we find the precious gift of our own story?
Life, just like literature, leaves clues that can help point us to something that at least feels a little more resolved.
How Can We Find Our Story?
1. Moment of realization. What have you realized during this past year or season of life that feels important? What did you learn that you didn't know before? Or understand in the same way before? How can you think or act differently now that you have realized this?
2. Moment of change.
What were you like before the bumps in the road or key obstacle or event? How did you act? What did you say, to yourself and to others? Was this an internal change? Was it an external change? What did that change mean to you and to the people close to you?
3. Moment of creation.
What did you create? Was it in tangible form or was the creation ephemeral? How did you create this? What did you have to learn along the way or what obstacles did you have to overcome? What helpers did you need to find? Who or what did you have to let go of in order to create this? How did this creation change you or someone else? How and whom did it help?
The Great Author
Of course, I like many of you, believe that I am not the only author of my life. And I am grateful. How could our human minds fully comprehend infinite love and the great mystery that connects us all to something larger than ourselves? Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians,"I pray that you may have the power to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God." While searching for our story might seem like an intellectual exercise, the process requires us to reflect and listen to that still small voice. It requires faith, hope, and love.
If no other story emerges, choosing that is foundation enough.