Many of Grimm’s fairy tales start the same way: “Once upon a time…” These stories also seem to have the following components; children, a scary witch, a dark forest, a path, and a hero. As the reader, I, first of all, think, why did someone write this terrifying story and call it a children’s story? Then I think, let’s mark that path better! Let’s be a little more prepared for danger! Let’s give a little more hope that all will be well in the end … you know, the “and they all lived happily ever after” part. It’s no wonder we all were scared to death as children. If our parents read these as our bedtime story, it explains why I am still afraid to hang my leg or arm off the edge of the bed (and I’m in my 50’s for goodness sake!). We can control the content in the stories we read to our children, but we can’t always keep the real threats away from our life stories.
When I meet people I always wonder about their story. People are so much more than a name and address. There is a birthday and a coming death-day (that much we know), but the story is cushioned in the years in between those two dates. I love to hear the stories of people’s life. However, there is so much more down deep inside each one of us than we ever reveal to others. We have guards posted at the entrances of our most inner thoughts and experiences, ensuring complete insulation from people and places where the pain occurred. They are on lockdown, and rarely see the light of day, because it is too hard to go back and relive.
This week as I sat in church I glanced around the room and I looked at all the faces sitting in the worship service around me and marveled at how they each represent a unique story. Well over a thousand individual stories located in one room — like a library, volumes and volumes of information, experiences and wisdom. Walking and talking books! I’m so intrigued by this thought and all the implications of it. I think I’m pretty good at reading others, but I know most people never allow you to get all the way in to read their whole story. You mostly get the intro and chapter one, then bits and pieces here and there from time to time.
As I write my stories it is inevitable that I will rewrite portions of the story before it is completed. I will sometimes start completely over and only keep one thought from the previous work. It is in the writing that I find clarity and direction for the story. There are times I don’t like what I’ve written, but all I have to do is hit “delete” until it is all gone. It’s that easy … delete! It isn’t that easy when it comes to our lives. We can’t hit delete and make the mistakes go away. We get one life and one story. It is in the living that we find clarity and direction for our life story. I find it fascinating that you are the only one with your particular story. I guess a common thread is we all have regrets, hurts, unfinished chapters, disappointments, unseen dreams and hopes for the future.
Many times we just get worn out and frustrated and want to give up. We forgot to leave the bread crumbs or markers to help us find our way back home. We get so far from where we started that we are, literally, lost and hopeless. We settle for things that were never intended for our lives. If only we had left a better marker (something a bit more permanent than breadcrumbs) for making our way back home. Maybe then we wouldn’t have had to go through the dark swamp that left us beaten up and nearly dead! If only…
Tragically, most of us start the journey and don’t think we need to mark the path because we can’t imagine we will ever get lost. But, in my experience, it doesn’t take years to get lost … just days that, then, add up to weeks, and then months, and then you wonder why you ever believed what now seems so far away. It is in marking the path that keeps you from getting lost in the first place. It is in the markers that you find grounding.
In the Old Testament, I love the imagery seen over and over again of the Israelites leaving spiritual markers for those big moments in their journey to the Promised Land (Joshua 4:8). When God did a mighty thing for them, they stopped and put stones in the place where it happened. They never wanted to forget what God had done for them. They wanted their children to know when they were no longer there to tell them. So, they marked their journey well. It is such a beautiful reminder for us too.
Have you ever marked your journey? Do you have it recorded in some way? The times God answered your prayers? Do you keep close the times God moved and shifted your story into a better script? What I’ve seen in my life is that, in the darkness, it is easy to forget the goodness of God. It is easy to forget the moments God rescued me from the brink of despair. When I reflect, I see clearly the path I marked where God guided me. I keep the proper perspective when the journey gets unfamiliar and dark. My hope is knowing that Jesus has never failed me all along the way. He has been my permanent marker … the breadcrumbs that never get snatched away by the enemy when he swoops in, as he will. I am safe in His arms, sheltered and secure. He is leading me back home. I know my future, because He is my future and my hope. I can find my way back home as I remember all He has done in my life. I remember His faithfulness.
The best news for everyone is Jesus came so that He could rewrite our story. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is what Jesus does for us. He changes us, makes us a new creation, gives us a new start, and a new chapter. He forgives us of our past sin and throws it as far as the east is from the west. He hits “delete!” if you will. And the ending … believe me, it is one you couldn’t have seen coming without Christ. We once had a sad dreadful ending without hope, but at some point along our journey, Jesus comes in to rewrite our story. It takes on a new life, a new direction. The path is brighter. The past isn’t quite as painful, because you now know the ending. It is a perfect ending too … in a perfect new kingdom here on earth, with Jesus forever! Now, that is the perfect life story, the perfect ending for your story, and only Jesus can come in and make us all live “happily ever after.”
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)