It's officially the last day of Story Week, although I have one more thought I'd like to share about story on Monday. Stay tuned for that. Today, however, I want to say something about my story that you might be surprised to hear me say, but I comfortably believe I am not the only one who has wanted to say as much but has been sort of afraid to. What I want to say is this:
It really wasn't like that.
See, story is one of those places where memory doesn't always serve us well. Even eidetic (photographic) memory doesn't work for story because when you remember some of the tough times, some of the pain, some of the hard moments, you can't help but draw your emotion into it, and that tints the story with perspective, which may or may not be all it's cracked up to be.
I wrestled for a long time with whether or not my story was "true." There were certain events, certain occasions, I could remember with absolute clarity and would never doubt. There were other times that I had to wonder about, whether it really was what I imagined that it felt like or whether there was something different at play. These aren't easy questions.
Because you sort of build your life based around your story, whatever your experience of it is, and when you start to have thoughts that might be contradictory, you wonder what that makes of things. What that makes of you. Are you a liar? Are you somehow broken? Are you deserving of some of your story and not other parts? Does everything form one linear narrative and if not, how are you supposed to deal with bends in the road? These are some of the questions I asked. And deeper, I had to wonder if it betrayed my story at all to discover that not everything necessarily was as it absolutely seemed at the time. Does one negate the other?
When all you're searching for in your life is some one consistent thing, it's agonizing to discover that your story might not be it.
Here's the conclusion I've come to, dealing with my own story. I know I'm not alone:
The experiences I have had can probably be whittled down to a handful or a couple of dozen, maybe, significant, profound, painful experiences. These experiences stretched a certain span of time and many came at vulnerable moments, either by circumstance or by pure developmental milestone. These big events had no answer for me, not at the time. There was nothing and no one to swoop in and reassure me that these were anomalies in the story, that this wasn't how things were supposed to be. My little heart didn't know what to do with some of these things, and so they colored my lenses.
These things that took place Once Upon A Time began to tell the in-between. They were the perspective through which I had seen every other event, every other moment in my life - often as affirming that narrative. Because these things which I simply could not make sense of weighed heavy on my everything, and I had to make sense of them. So I viewed the world in the way that would make these memories make sense, that would tie them into the bigger story.
In doing so, I ended up wrapped in a story I never wanted to be a part of and, had there been anything to tell me this wasn't the story, maybe I wouldn't have been. But this is life. This is how story works.
I've found that I was never free to simply live in my story, to experience the things that were contrary to my master narrative as anything tangible or real because my heart still needed to prove the bigger things. I was living out my Once Upon A Time as fully as I could because that's where my questions remained. That's where I was still looking for answers. That's where I believed my story - the truest things about me - was being told.
As a result, I think I've missed out on a lot. I think I've thrown away a lot of opportunities, a lot of chances, a lot of moments that could have been so much more. I think I've sold myself short and sold myself out far too often to Once Upon A Time. I know in the process, I have hurt many others, whose incredible love and patience and mercy I am only beginning to see. I know I have hurt myself, piling on the pain in this burden of a story that I thought had to be mine because it was the only way that anything else was ever going to make sense.
It's because these few things, this handful of experiences which I could never doubt and in which I am fully confident, came in such a vulnerable time and in such a powerful way that I felt so small...and these things seemed so big...and they seemed like everything. So I made them everything and missed out on a lot of better things.
Growing into my story, and through it, and working through what it really means, it's a tough question to face that your big things might not, after all, have been everything. It's tough to face what you've sacrificed to save a story you never wanted to tell. It's tough when you have to draw a line between what was and what you brought on yourself. It's tough to give yourself grace when you realize you were too busy hurting to give grace to anyone else, let alone yourself. Let alone your story.
But that's what a lot of my narrative was. It was my hurting too much to see any other word.
Thankfully, it is not my grace that I have to rely on. It is Grace Himself that draws me through the questions. It is Mercy that brings me to my knees. It is Love that opens my eyes to see what things were, and what they are. It is the Author of Life who sets my story straight. It is Humility that makes me hungry to eat as many of my words as necessary.
A therapist once told me, and he was absolutely right, that it doesn't much matter whether your story is "true." What matters is the way your heart is wrapped around it. That's what makes it real enough to have to deal with, whatever the facts may be. It is the way you have processed your story that you have to work through because truth or something less, you're sucked in and the pain is absolutely real.
So that's what I've been doing with my own story, all while extending forgiveness to and requesting it from those I have hurt while stuck in my Once Upon A Time. It has never been my intention to hurt or to smear anyone. My heart has simply been what it has been, and my sight has been colored by those defining moments that seemed oh so big, but which I wish had not defined me.
But I love my story, too. As broken, messed-up, and muddled-truthy as it is. It's a part of this beautiful work God is doing in me, and while I wouldn't choose the hurt, maybe it's almost worth it. Maybe.
And thanks be to God, the Author of this story, who has set me free from my Once Upon A Time. Invited into a greater story, into His narrative, I am humbly, mercifully, forgivenly, and brokenly on my way to Happily Ever After. And I'll take that.