Once Upon A Time: Part II
“And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you.”
When I was five years old, I attempted to fly like Superman. I have no recollection of ever watching Superman or reading the comic, but, somehow, I knew he could fly. My Aunt Debbie, who I idolized as a child, jumped from the fifth step down to the landing in my grandparent’s farmhouse. So, when she jumped, I just had to do what she did. I remember her trying to convince me that it was a bad idea, reminding me that my grandparents had just gotten new carpet in the living room. I didn’t heed her advice, told her I was going to fly like Superman, and jumped. The next thing I remember was blood everywhere and my grandmother rushing me to the doctor’s office. The resulting five stitches ended not only my attempts to fly, but any future attempts at risky behavior.
That incident may seem minor, but I realized the impact of it on my identity years later. I have defined myself as “clumsy” at worst, or “not graceful” at best. This identity was reinforced by my failure to complete a back somersault in gym class, breaking a few bones over the course of my life, and never mastering roller skating. Furthermore, it has impacted choices I have made in my life. I sometimes wonder, what if I had succeeded in that attempt to “fly”? Would I have been more apt to try different activities, not fearful of getting hurt? Would I have had been graceful enough to figure out how to roller skate?
We all have stories in our childhood that impact our lives, both positively and negatively. Often, these stories shape our identity, self-confidence, and sense of security. They often determine the things we care about, what drives our passions, what triggers anger and depression, and how we handle conflict. Although these stories often have similar themes, how they impact us is not a mathematical equation that can be calculated. Even within the same family, although people can live the same story, how the story affected each individual family member is as different as the fingerprints that identify us.
About six years ago, a young teenager was asking me about my childhood. He specifically asked what made my childhood wonderful. I was a bit startled and unable to formulate a response. While I do have some good memories, I would not describe my overall childhood experience as wonderful. A lot of the good memories were marred due to the secrets I was forced to keep. I stumbled and said to the young man, “Honestly, I don’t have a lot of good memories, my childhood was not so great.” My fifteen-year old daughter, who was sitting next to me, was a bit surprised and said, “Mom, you never told me that!”
My daughter was right, I did not tell her anything about the negative parts of my childhood. To protect my children from information that was too much for them to handle, I had come up with a general statement about my childhood that was truthful, but vague. It was the right decision at that point. Yet, the question about my childhood forced me to pray and reconsider this decision made years earlier. I asked myself some hard questions. What is my story? Why share my story with my children? What purpose would it serve in their lives? Why bring up ugly, painful memories? Why rehash ancient history?
I have always been rather vocal about my opinions. In the last few years, I have gained some self-control by choosing not to share every opinion or thought that runs through my head. Yet, there are a few subjects that still fire me up! One of those subjects is related to history. Like a cartoon character with steam coming out of her ears, I cringe when I hear, “I hate history and find it boring.” I instantly want to get on my soapbox and extol the virtues of learning history. Now, I recognize not everyone has been as privileged as me to have Mr. Bemis, Mr. St. Pierre and Dr. Bader as teachers who made history come alive through stories. I know that, for some people, history has always been just a list of battles, dates, and rulers. Yet, I feel passionate that history is not just ancient information, dusty and worn out. History is an epic story filled with adventure, intrigue, plot twists, plagues, and romance. Furthermore, I believe we can apply the lessons of history to our lives today. We can learn from Neville Chamberlain that appeasement does not work and leads to harm. We can learn from Abraham Lincoln to surround ourselves with people who have different opinions to help make us more effective leaders. We can learn from Martin Luther King Jr. of the importance of taking a stand for equality.
Philosopher, George Santayana, once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I have often used this quote when I discuss the importance of history with others. I think an adaptation of this quote can be applied to our own individual stories. It might not make the latest edition of Bartlett’s Quotations, but I believe that “those who are not aware of the stories that shape them are not likely to move towards wholeness with God.” We need to be aware of our stories and recognize how they shape us. We need to be aware where our lives are broken, allowing God to do a work of restoration in those broken places, moving us toward wholeness. We then need to share with others the restoration work God is doing by sharing our stories.
So, in thinking about remembering my own “history” with my children, I thought it could illuminate the work God has done in my life, and in turn, in their life. One evening, I sat down with them and shared my story. I told them about the physical and emotional abuse that ensued in my home. I spoke about the fourteen years of sexual abuse that I was forced by my stepfather to keep hidden. I didn’t burden them with the gritty details, instead sticking to generalities. But I did detail the restoration God did in my life starting with reporting my abuse to the police. I shared with them about the three visitors I had in the hospital that impacted my life. I described the incredible peace I felt when God filled me with His Spirit. I shared how God redefined my distorted image of a father by observing their father, my husband, love his children unconditionally. I shared how, over time, God has taken the broken parts of me, and lovingly repaired the damage, creating a masterpiece. Although my story started off tragically, I closed by pointing my children to a God who is my Redeemer!!!
Both of my children were glad I had shared my story with them. It helped fill in some blanks that they did not understand. Furthermore, it gave them a greater understanding of who I was and what I had become with God’s hand on my life. Finally, it serves as a reminder to them that there is always hope. God can take any brokenness that they might experience and bring about restoration.
As a writer, I have the ability to self-edit as I write. I might start with one story to illustrate a point and realize that the story doesn’t work, only to choose a better illustration. When the reader sees the final product, they are unaware of how many times I have deleted a word, sentence or even a paragraph. They only see the final product, the words I have penned.
The beginning of our story is often penned by others. Our lives our shaped by events, people, and circumstances that we don’t have control over. Unfortunately, we cannot hit backspace to delete the painful stories, erasing them from our memories. We cannot create new characters that rescue us from the bad events penned by others, but we can rewrite our future stories. We can allow God to speak into those painful places and restore what was lost. We can allow God to rewrite our future, no longer allowing those beginning stories to define us negatively.
One of my favorite literary characters of all time is Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”. It is a long book, but so worth the investment of time to read. If the book is too daunting for you, I encourage you to listen to the dramatic adaptation from Focus on the Family Radio Theater. Jean Valjean was born in France in poverty. He was caught stealing bread for his starving sister and her children, sentenced to prison, and attempted to escape, resulting in a longer sentence. When finally released, Valjean had to carry the stigma of being an ex-convict for the rest of his life. Yet, a kind priest shows Valjean mercy which allows him to redefine himself for the rest of the book. This is such a powerful depiction of God, who shows us mercy and offers to rewrite our story. Just like Jean Valjean, we do not have to live with the stigma of our past. Throughout the rest of the book, Jean Valjean wrestled with the effects of that stigma. Yet, he did not let it define him, instead choosing to lead others to restoration from their own pasts.
In this post, I have shared a little about my story and the restoration work God has done. I am still working on my book about this restoration that I hope to complete sometime in 2021. A scripture that has inspired my book is found in Joel 2:25. Joel prophesies to Israel that God “will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm”. He goes on to say in verse 26, “And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD, your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you”. What is your story? What events, people, or circumstances have shaped your life? How has the stigma of your story affected your life and those you love? What scenes or stories do you want to delete? What areas do you need to allow God to restore so you can be satisfied and know that God has dealt wondrously in your life? Spend some time thinking about this, write it down in a journal, share it with those you trust, and ask God to heal those places. Remember, your story is important to you and to God!