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Month: September 2016

So what is my story anyway?


As summer ends and school begins, I’ve been in a funk, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’d hoped to make more progress on my new book manuscript before my fall teaching resumes. Maybe it’s because some of my friends are moving on to greener pastures, and I’m a bit sad. Maybe it’s because the upcoming election depresses me.

Maybe it’s because pretty soon, I’ll turn fifty.

Fifty is a landmark. My body is getting older, my pharmacy visits more regular, and the arrival of my first AARP invitation much closer (that last one really creeps me out). I’m starting to do things I never dreamed I would, like gripe about my sore back and say things like, “When I was your age…” More and more, I feel like Old Man Caruthers in the old Scooby Doo cartoons: “If it wasn’t for you darn kids!”

As my birthday approaches, I can’t help wondering: What have I done with these first fifty years of my life? And what will I do with what’s left? Just when I should be planning ahead for retirement, I still don’t know what to be when I grow up.

The best times of my life have involved writing (in my PhD effort) and teaching (at my dream job), but so have my biggest failures (the loss of both). Besides, writing often doesn’t pay much, and I’m still finding only part-time teaching opportunities in my subject areas.

So I face questions—mostly of the “magic 8-ball” variety: What’s ahead for me? Will I find clarity, or just more ambiguity? Will some sort of life purpose finally come into view?

I think what I’m really asking is: So what is my story? You’d think I’d have one by now – but what is it?

In the early 1980s, the philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard wrote a critique of modernity called The Postmodern Condition. In it, he argues that science is limited because it relies solely on knowledge for meaning, but true meaning transcends knowledge. He claims that meaning is found only through story.

So what is my story?

The truth is, my resume doesn’t reflect any standout direction or ability. There’s really nothing about me which excels over anyone else, and in fact there are many things about me which fall short.

But that’s not my story. That’s not who I am.

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine”

“My Story” – Big Daddy Weave

My story is about overcoming my past to make a better future. My story is about beating my low-income, broken-home background to get an education, buy a home, and establish a stable marriage which has outlasted my parents’.  My story is about turning my PhD loss – my worst personal failure – into a book, produced by a respected Christian publishing house. And that last fact seems to confirm Lyotard’s point: my efforts at science (researching and interpreting data in a 400-page doctoral dissertation) went down in flames and will never see the light of day—whereas Losers Like Us (my much smaller book about my life story) has gone public, bringing redemption to me and to others.

Now that I think about it, my story isn’t really about me at all. It’s about God, pouring out his grace over my mess.

I am a part of God’s story. God is the main character; God is the protagonist. The whole story arc, with all of its confusing, maddening subplots, glorifies him.

So what is my story?

My story is about grace, mercy, and redemption. It is about a God who loves me despite my failures, and uses my broken life to point others to him.

Others may be unimpressed by my resume – but it’s not who I really am. Your resume isn’t who you are either. No resume can ever reflect the meaning of our lives.

So now, as I face the precipice of my 50th birthday, I must keep telling my story. And his story. I must keep letting him shine through my brokenness.

That is my story.

It has been my story for this first half-century. Lord willing, it will be my story for the next.