I just got back from a really great time at Multnomah University’s Global Ministries Conference. This was a three-day mission conference for the 500 or so students at Multnomah. The theme of this year’s conference was Story. The whole conference had this really nice artsy feel to it. Almost as if to say, “Artists, we see you and love you. We think you’re an integral part of the church and God’s mission.” Actually, one of my favorite quotes from the conference was from Micah Bournes who said, “Artists should be the primary evangelists and missionaries of the church.” (You can follow him on Twitter @micahbournes.)
The combination of creativity and story came together in a really beautiful way for me. Though I was there to tell people InFaith’s story and encourage students in their individual stories, I found myself coming back again and again to my own story. I found myself in this weird spot of feeling well-placed and happy with where I am and yet uneasy and frustrated with my dreams undone. I look back on my story so far and I see an incredible journey. My story can be weaved seamlessly up to this point. As I look back, so many things make sense, so many things come together in a beautiful way. My background, my experiences, my education, even my personality and my quirks all seem to come together to this really great space where I find myself. I am so blessed.
Yet I also look back on my story so far and see frustration, anger, and fear. My story is broken and disjointed. As I look back, so many things bring such shame and pain. Missed opportunities, failed attempts, repeated offenses, bitter betrayals and unrealized dreams all come together to form this big fat disappointment. It feels like that elephant in the room. I am angry, bitter, and hurting.
I saw this same kind of weird tension in the conversations I had with some of the students at Multnomah. One young man began to see so clearly how his skills and passion could come together in an awesome way to participate in God’s mission. He wanted to fix bicycles for homeless people! Apparently he knows how to fix bikes and the homeless in his community all have bikes. It was a special moment to see him come to this realization. But when I asked him to tell his story in front of a camera, he was hesitant. He suddenly realized that recording this moment made this idea more than just an idea. Recording it meant he actually had to do it. But the reality was that he wasn’t really sure he wanted to. Though his ministry idea made sense according to part of his story, other parts of his story instilled fear, doubt, hesitation, perhaps even disinterest.
As I’ve thought about all this over the past week, I realized that this story pattern is found all over the Bible. It is, in fact, the reality of our world. God uses broken people. (Probably because there are no unbroken people.) Sometimes it is our very cracks, scars and wounds that actually enable us to be used by God. Consider Joseph (the Old Testament one). His story was one of terrible betrayal. Then obedience to a moral standard when confronted by the sexual advances of a powerful woman only led him to more suffering. But his story ends with saving his family and enabling the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to prosper. Or consider Paul. When he was being stoned the umpteenth time for preaching the Gospel, do you think he felt pity as he looked into the fiery eyes of the rock throwers? Or do you think he had flashbacks to the victims he had condemned through his own fiery eyes years before as Saul?
Our stories, it turns out, aren’t all they are cracked up to be! They are indeed full of pain and shame and bitterness. And yet our stories, it turns out, are exactly what they are cracked up to be! We are cracked people walking a crooked line after a crucified God. We don’t have to look at the bad in our stories and say, “Well, that’s what God intended.” No, it’s not. But God will redeem it. God will restore our broken, confusing, messed up stories and walk us through life to write a new story. Our scars won’t go away (Jesus’ didn’t), but our stories march on.
I wonder what it would look like if we took more time to consider our stories? If we carry our scars with us and if our scars inform our stories, how would we think differently about our present? How would it change the way we envision our place in God’s great kingdom? What if a key way of living into God’s call on our lives is to claim all of our story? And to believe that our whole story is valuable, is okay, is worth sharing. What if living a life on mission begins with our story, continues our story, and even redeems our broken story?
Perhaps the God who makes all things new begins His mission with us… and our story.