Stand on Your Story: Living4ward in Spite of Life
“They didn’t teach me how to deal with this in seminary.” That was the statement made by a missionary friend when her supervisor asked her to confront a homeless woman outside their center who was talking to herself and removing all her clothes. She managed to connect with the woman, wrap a blanket around her, and walk her inside the mission center. My friend had not learned a specific step-by-step plan for how to handle such a situation. However, she engaged her gifts and skills and found a way to respond.
Life is full of encounters where we learn as we go when we experience “I haven’t been here before.” I am honored to share one of my stories with you. The only question: Which one?!
Each person has a personal library filled with chapters and books. The “books” of my life are categorized and include growing up, high school, college, first job, etc. Within each of those books are chapters. My library may reflect some similarities to others, but it is exclusively mine. While I have encountered aspects of life that no classroom ever taught me to respond to, standing on my story and choosing to do what I call living4ward has been an effective approach for my life.
Our brain is wired for stories, and according to psychologist Justin Barrett, stories give meaning to chaos. So we create a story and it becomes reinforced each time we tell it. It has been said “that of all the stories we can read and/or tell, the most compelling story about storytelling is how we tell stories about ourselves.”
The impact is that stories we tell ourselves can limit or release us. So it is my story theme I want to share. I could have titled this “Life, Loss, and Living4ward,” or “Live, Laugh, and Love,” or “Living4ward with Dementia,” as those are chapters of books in my library and illustrate how I stand on my story.
My current “book” includes chapters on being a solopreneur, a daughter providing care and support to aging parents, a sister/sister-in-law offering long-distance encouragement and support, and a leader in the music ministry at my church. It also includes chapters of loss.
In the past ten years, I have faced many “learn as I am going” experiences. After 26 years, the company I thought I would retire from had other plans when many of us were given an opportunity to exit. When I lost a brother unexpectedly, not only was it a physical loss, it was also the loss of shared family history that we experienced that is different from shared history with my younger brother. I lost the aunt whom I am named after, as well as that shared family history. It’s a challenge to see my mother struggle with life as her dementia progresses and to see my dad getting more frail as life experiences take a toll. Yet they continue to stand on their stories and are my greatest example of living4ward despite life!
My practice of living4ward in life is based on my faith and the scripture verse John 10:10; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (abundantly).” (NIV) And from the William Barclay Commentary, “To be a follower of Christ, to know who He is and what He means is to have a super abundance of life. When we try to live our own lives, life is a dull dispirited thing. When we walk with Jesus there comes a new vitality, a super abundance of life.”
Sounds great—and then life happens. To say it another way, our life gets hacked! A “super abundance of life” in no way implies a life without challenges, frustrations, loss, etc. However, it is a promise that God wants the best for my life.
There are three essentials that help me stand on my story and live4ward. The first essential relates to my CORE: Character, Operating system (values and beliefs), Relationships, and Emotional Intelligence (that is, knowing who I am).
The second essential is Alignment. I strive to consistently live and align with my CORE. I check the stories I tell myself to evaluate where I live consistently: in the land of self-sabotage or self-efficacy. When we are disconnected from living our true, authentic story, we miss the most exciting part of living!
The third essential is: Embrace my story! When we choose to stop immersing ourselves in our self-sabotaging story because it is comfortable, and instead choose to embrace who we are, we engage our story and are empowered to live4ward! All stories are messy and complicated.
The coach in me must ask: What’s keeping you from willingly and enthusiastically accepting yourself? How are you continuing to look for a villain in your story so you can give up, quit, and be irresponsible?
Recently, I reconnected with my college roommate and we had a wonderful time of storytelling from our college days as well as highlights of our lives in the 40 years since graduation. We laughed and had some emotional moments. The storyline for each of us could be titled “Life, Loss, and Living4ward.” Because we made choices to stand on our stories and be the person God had created each of us to be, we chose not to give in to the “mess” of life.
Here is my truth: Living4ward in life is about choices you make. Remember, the most important story you will ever tell about yourself is the story you tell to yourself. I invite you to stand on your story and experience living4ward in spite of life!