-by Ross Gale
I have a friend whose mother tells a story of her as a child: when studying for a third grade test using flash cards, my friend strained to think about the answers. Sometimes her mother would have to say the answers out loud, but even then my friend didn’t seem to connect the dots. She’d keep thinking, the answer too far beyond her. Her mother laughs a bit and says, as a child she was a little stupid. This is the story my friend tells herself, that she is stupid.
When she was in junior high and missing school from an illness, she’d beg her mother to return her to class because she needed to get smarter. She loved school. She did not like being stupid.
She is in her twenties now and the stories her parents tell her influence her. She is an over-achiever in the sense that grades matter to her because they reflect who she is. She’s always trying to prove the story wrong, but she also seems to believe that she’ll never be able to prove it wrong. She’ll always be stupid.
The story my father tells me is about when I was three and he was sick in bed with the flu. Everyone was out of the house for the day so I stayed by my father’s side. I didn’t cry or fuss or ask for anything. I just stayed there because he needed me. My father says I have the biggest heart of anyone he knows. The story tells me something about myself. This is who I believe I am.
The stories parents tell their children about them are stories that shape their identity and purpose.
When Mary and Joseph take their son Jesus to Egypt, I imagine them telling him the stories surrounding his birth, the reason they weren’t living in Palestine, and what the angels had each pronounced to them. Before he knew who he was through Scripture, he knew who he was from his parents’ stories.
When a child is disabled like my brother KC, who had a traumatic brain injury at three, the stories my parents tell are stories about a different boy, they are stories about a boy without a disability who doesn’t have seizures, who can run and play sports, who can graduate high school, who can annunciate his words, and speak clearly. They tell stories about a boy with athletic prowess and a stubborn attitude.
An accident like KC’s, however, renders the stories meaningless. With an accident like KC’s he becomes a storyless boy. How do you shape the identity and purpose of a storyless child? This is the tragedy of tragedy; it robs the power of story.
We have a God who gives us this purpose and identity so even when our stories are harmful or meaningless or shameful or stolen, we can become a part of a new story. God’s story. A story of hope, redemption, and meaning.
Ross Gale is a writer and editor from Oregon. His work is featured in Burnside Writers Collective, Antler, Relief Journal, Archipelago, and he contributes to MagicalTeaching.com. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He blogs at rcgale.com where he’s editing the “Bereshit Bara Creativity Series” which asks 13 Creatives to wrestle with questions about what gives them the courage to create.