The story that's building
Editors note: This blog post was originally published April 7, 2016 on this website.
Before I decided I needed to develop my character from scratch, my Mom would tell a story to people called “Jesus and I.”
Sometime in the mid to late ‘90s I pulled up an empty chair to my family dinner table. My parents were ridiculously confused. So they asked me what was up. And without hesitation, I said Jesus needed a place to sit while we ate.
That’s it. The story is super simple. It’s short. “Jesus and I” doesn’t have a build, tension, a climax, or resolution.
Really, it’s just a brief arrangement of sentences about a cute religious experience. But, my Mom told it all the time. She did this because she thought it exemplified my character.
I share it because, while that story doesn’t matter much to me today, the fact that it’s one of my many mini-stories does matter.
I recently finished reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He writes about living a better story. And part of living a better story involves realizing that most of our stories are quirky little bits like the one about Jesus and me.
It’s those stories, which are incidentally influenced by other people’s stories too, that allow our larger story to build and climax and resolve.
A song titled “The Story You’re Building in Me” by Love & the Outcome popped up on my Spotify Discover Playlist this morning. The artists revisit a handful of moments that have mapped out the larger story their concept of god is building in them.
It made me reflect, too. Something I totally needed to do at 2:30 a.m. after a 5 hour work shift.
For the last three years, I’ve spent a ton of time trying to reconstruct my character. When I left home I wasn’t satisfied with who I was. To be honest, I hated myself.
So I took a full canvas and tried to force it into a blank slate.
I didn’t want all of the stories my life had built up until that point. I wanted new stuff. I thought I needed something a little more in my control and fresh.
One time I asked my Mom to toss my Little Mermaid VHS because I thought Ariel was pretty. Three years ago it wasn’t important anymore.
My dad skipped work to contemplate what the destruction of the World Trade Centers meant for our family. Years later it suddenly lacked value.
All of the moments spent serving homeless men and women in Portland rapidly began to mean nothing.
“Jesus and I” became a joke, my piano lessons were forgettable, and high school passions seemed laughable.
But all of that is important. I didn’t need a blank slate for a new character. I needed to add layers to the full canvas that was already there.
I have a new character today. It’s not because of a blank slate though.
It’s because there was this one time I decided to make friends who went to a community loving, Jesus believing church called Resonate.
It’s because another time I was hired by a student newspaper called The Daily Evergreen and found a second family for two years.
It’s because for a season I made friends with co-workers in the food industry and started to get to know the staff of my favorite bar well.
“Jesus and I” is something that has begun to be replicated in my adult life. Nothing I am doing is forgettable. And my passions are still laughable, but for completely different reasons.
I have a bunch of new small stories. They’re kinda boring. They don’t build, get tense, climax, or resolve. But they’re all really good. And they exemplify my new character.
A new table is set up in my home. My family doesn’t have dinner at it. Just my roommates and I. But there are always empty seats. It’s because we always leave space for others.
I’m not much different than the kid in the mid-‘90s. We both like empty chairs.