the rest of the story
I have forever found stories fascinating and always wanted to dig deeper into people’s lives and really “get them.” Perhaps that is why my degree is in Psychology (or was that more because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life and at least the classes were interesting?) Any-hoo…
Growing up, I loved, loved, loved listening to Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story bits on the radio. I loved Mr. Harvey’s voice, his cadence, and the way he could spin and weave a captivating tale about some interesting fact or saying or person that you thought you already knew about, holding the key element of the story painfully back from us until the VERY end when he would finally & triumphantly announce, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
And to this day, I still love a segment they do on one of my favorite stations called The Story Behind the Song. It was never just enough for me to like a song or know the lyrics. I always wanted to know the story behind those lyrics. I always wanted to mull over things like What was the writer thinking/feeling/going through when they wrote this? Does this song even mean what I think it does? And How can I apply this to my life/love saga/present drama? I just really like how both of these bits take a story or song and really burrow down deep, revealing the underneath parts that actually stick with you and mean something.
I think sharing our stories is important. But I think that sometimes we can package them up all nice, safe, and pretty-like, and accidentally lose the grit and truth and power of them. A 3 minute song/ 8 minute testimony talk is merely the intro… the teaser… the prologue… the wedge salad appetizer to the ribeye steak entrée of sharing our faith. So now, when I share my story- or my testimony, as they say – I always like to leave room for meat. Often, that means taking the time to answer the questions that invariably come afterwards, from those curious like-minded people that need to know The Story Behind the Song.
But, I will admit, as scary as getting up in front of people or publishing a blog is, opening yourself up to random questions is terrifying. The very first time I spoke to a group and gave my testimony, it had never occurred to me that there might be a Q & A session at the end. I was caught a little off-guard and found myself a little tongue-tied. But over time, I have begun to see the questions are really the most important part and the greatest opportunity to share the less edited version of my story.
I still get crazy nervous when I speak to a group (one time I had to take my brand new beyond-fabulous heels off because my fat little knees were shaking so badly and I was afraid I would wipe out if I tried to give my whole talk in them which is a CRYING SHAME because they were so completely amazing and they made me look 3 things I am not: tall, skinny, and sassy. But I digress.) And occasionally, I will get a new/different/whyonearthdoyouneedtoknowthat kind of question that makes me feel a little squirmy or misunderstood or whatever. But for the most part, I get the same 4 questions over and over. And I like these questions, respect them even. I asked some very similar questions of some of the people who witnessed to me, so I know first-hand that, more often than not, they are asked by someone who is genuinely seeking. So since I got to tell my story in my last post and got lots of good questions afterwards, let me not cheat you, general public, out of your steak.
Welcome to the Q&A, blog-style:
QUESTION #1: How “lost” exactly WERE you?
(This question is asked by 1 of 2 types of people – the one who just wants to hear your dirt and is almost dancing with glee at the scandal of it all OR the one who wants to know if you were worse than he/she is/was, so they knows what their chances are of getting in good with Jesus.)
ANSWER: Think really, really, really lost. Picture the types of problems being naïve, desperate for approval, and a walking daddy issue might create for a young girl. Apply that to a world that pounces on the likes of dumb, desperate, pitiful souls and add a dash of I’ll-show-you-because-you-aren’t-the-boss-of-me kind of rebellion. I had not just briefly wandered off in the woods somewhere, folks. I had been wandering long enough that I was darn near feral.
QUESTION #2: What was it that finally convinced you that God was real?
(This question is usually asked in a challenging tone by the person that was most violently dragged there by a friend against their will, OR even more likely, by the person who did the dragging, hoping that I will have some magical answer that takes away all doubt.)
ANSWER: I dunno.
I wish I had a more articulate answer for that, I really do. I wish I could point to one verse of scripture or one piece of profound truth that someone shared with me and some light bulb went off in my head or my heart. But for me, it was more of a process. See, when I give my testimony, it sounds dangerously like I didn’t believe and then- BAM! – I did. But that short story doesn’t have the luxury of time/inclusion for expanding upon the weeks and weeks of research (and arguing and waffling) I did about faith between when Celina first asked me about God and when I finally surrendered to Him, much less the lifetime of questioning that got me to that point. It doesn’t show you the full-length feature; the long agonizing drama I refer to as The Seeking.
So I like this question because it gives me a chance to share with you my main beef with God, which is that I like absolutes. I like lists and color-coded formulated spreadsheets. I like things that I can touch and feel and prove. Basically, I like things I can control. And despite my attempts to fit God into Excel or Quicken, He refused. And despite my arguing that the fact that He didn’t fit my formula somehow made Him less real, I began to see that wasn’t the case. Before I came to faith, I read dozens of books, talked to lots and lots of people, and GOD HAVE MERCY ON ME – made a pros and cons list. For real.
But I guess it was the fact that I was finding that God didn’t fit on a pink posty-note that finally began to sway me. I guess it was the dawning realization that He would never ever fit my formula or succumb to my spreadsheet or permit me to physically pinch Him to make sure He was real that finally did me in. At first, I was so angry and defiant that God couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t fit into the tiny box I wanted Him in. But then later, it was the very reason I fell in love with Him. It was quite the paradox: While I couldn’t yet prove He was real, I certainly could no longer ignore the fact that He must be, as I heard story after story of redemption from people. And when I finally began to open my heart to the truth I heard when these people told me their stories- the dirty, rotten truth of who they used to be and how God was literally saving them from themselves – I began to see some sort of pattern. Alas, it wasn’t some glaring absolute that finally convinced me, as I thought it would be. It was the quiet, persistent pattern of grace – almost imperceptible but woven tightly through- in each and every story someone shared with me.
QUESTION #3: What changed for you when you became a believer?
(Usually asked by someone who wonders if there is a certain set of rules we have to play by OR the parent/spouse/sibling of someone who has not yet come to faith and they need a little hope that life can be different when they finally do.)
ANSWER: Wow. So, basically: Everything. Some things were instantaneous and irreversible. There was certainly an immediate feeling of calm and clarity as things that I had struggled with and fought so hard to understand were suddenly crystal clear. Coming to faith was basically like getting Lasik Surgery on my soul. I could see things I had never seen, hear truths I had never heard, and feel things I would not have thought possible. I suddenly saw the world, myself, and (of course) God from a completely different perspective. I went from feeling like I was viewing God from backstage or underwater to having a front-row seat to watching His mercy play out before me.
I did a 180 on a few of my beliefs, gave up a few vices, and began to feed what felt like an insatiable hunger for more truth and His word in my life. From there, other things began to change as well. However, I am still a work in progress (and by that, I mean a total mess.) There are beliefs, habits and hurts that are taking a really long time to change and heal. There are some things that I am still dealing with and they feel a lot like getting up every morning and banging my head up against the same brick wall. That happens to be wired with electricity. And porcupines.
And because I know I will never be perfect this side of The Pearlies, I am sure I will always be frustrated with how some growth just takes a lot of time and a lot of work. This was perhaps the biggest surprise to me in my coming to faith: I found out- hard and fast like – that Christianity is not an immediate fix-all. In fact, if anyone tells you your life will instantly be easier when you come to faith, hit them over their heads with their bible and call them a liar. Christianity is HARD. Christianity often requires taking all you have ever known/believed/loved and giving it all up for what can feel like only the intangible promise of something better. It can mean not quite fitting in and going against culture. It can mean having to work harder for things in life because you have to do them differently. But it also means that you never have to do it alone and that what you are living for finally means something.
QUESTION #4 – my favorite -: What do you most regret about who you were before?
(This – or some variation thereof- is the most commonly asked question after ANY of my talks. I find that the person who asks this is (a) just curious or interested the psychology of redemption OR (b) still haunted by their past and longing to find some sense of purpose in it.)
ANSWER: When I first came to faith, I wasted a lot of time moping around for all that lost time, for all that bad behavior. And to a degree, that is appropriate: New life requires repentance, for sure and certain. But I also began to see that God could use even those ugly parts for good. So when I was finally done repenting of all my sins, I also stopped lamenting them. Romans 8:28 holds one of my favorite promises: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I can’t change who I was but I can let Him change who I am becoming.
Of course, there is a part of me that wishes that I had not grown up the hard way I did, or experienced some of the hurts that came with that. There is certainly a part of me what wishes that I had dealt with things differently and not made some of those terrible decisions during my wandering years. There was a lot of hurt in those chapters of my life, both coming in and going out. And I hate that some of my choices undoubtedly grieved the heart of God. I also hate that even with God’s forgiveness, there are still natural consequences to sin and I live with those daily. But I also believe that all that is behind us is truly forgiven, and that giving up our “If-Onlies” is one of the most important steps we take in our walk of faith.
I also believe that our stories beget our purpose and role within the kingdom. As Beth Moore put it, “You cannot amputate your history from your destiny, because that is redemption.” There are lots of people out there who are educated, gifted, and equipped to talk to people who struggle with the concept of the Trinity or debate the science behind Creationism and Intelligent Design. There are those well-trained seminary graduates of theology that can wax poetic about The Philosophy of Faith or intelligently discuss the varying theories of Eschatology. I cannot; these are not my gifts. But I CAN listen to the story and heart of someone who thinks they’ve wandered too far away from God. I CAN stay 2 hours after a talk and answer their hard /squirmy/deeply personal questions and get down deep with them (and possibly snot-cry all over each other while praying the sin and hurt away together.) I CAN share with them the very words and promises that God poured over me like a soothing balm of truth and love and healing, proving Himself to be a God of grace and redemption. There’s a lot I can’t do, but I CAN be broken and messy and human and His, simply because that is who I am and all I have to offer.
And so I do.
“And now you know the rest of the story.”