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Bar Brawlers, Horse Thieves, Auto Mechanics, and Storytellers…

June 15, 2010
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I always liked those standardized tests where you were given four or five objects and you had to pick out the one that didn’t have a relationship to the others in the list.  They sent my brain running wild as in my imagination I would throw all the objects into a room, and then I would stare at them until one of the objects seemed out of place.  The real bummer about those tests, though, is they were timed, and I would resolve to frantically filling in bubbles after I snapped out of my daydream to find my elementary school teacher gathering up the answer sheets.  Funny thing, my scores always came back showing how advanced I was.  My teachers would praise me.  My parents would brag about me.  And I would just smile and think about how I beat the system.  Eventually, though, I would put aside my pride and drift back to that room full of bar brawlers, horse thieves, auto mechanics, and storytellers…

I’m convinced that God answers prayers, because this weekend my little girl turned one.  We threw a terrific party, and family members drove in from Arkansas and Kansas to partake in the festivities.  As is custom in my family, I said a prayer before we gorged ourselves on potato salad, hot dogs, and hamburgers.  It was a simple prayer where I offered a humble nod of thanks to the One that orchestrated such a beautiful scene filled with such a wonderful cast of characters.  And in closing I asked God if he would help us to tell good stories as we enjoyed good food amidst great company.  The Almighty did not disappoint.

During the celebration of Hadley’s birthday I heard story upon story that moved me to tears as well as warmed my heart with laughter.  In fact, I found out that I come from a long line of bar brawlers, horse thieves, auto mechanics, and storytellers.  Yep, everything in that list shares a common thread – me. 

My grandfather’s uncle was a tall man that knew how to throw a punch and had an affinity for beer.  This weekend my mom’s dad, or Papa, as we call him, told me a grand story that had been passed down to him, of his uncle bloodying up some poor chap after a few beers over a hundred years ago.  He also told me that he had another uncle that served time in Leavenworth Prison because he stole a horse from a man that refused to pay his wages.  Now back in those days, stealing a horse was a sure way to get your neck lengthened at the gallows, but I guess some judge saw the just cause in his horse thievery and simply sent him up state.  My father tells me that I have some uncles on his side that made stealing horses more of a habit, and indeed met their demise in the hangman’s noose. 

 I also became acutely aware this weekend of how many mechanics there are in my family.  My father’s dad was a mechanic that had a specific knack for motorcycle engines.  In fact, as the story goes, he was recruited by Honda to move to California to work on their bike engines.  But my grandfather turned it down, not wanting to move his family across the country. 

Years ago, Papa operated a garage with his dad and later opened a part store.  The old garage is still there in my hometown, and is now a place where troubled youth can get their GED’s.  My great-grandfather would be very proud of that fact.

I guess I always knew that my family was mechanical, but as I heard story after story of working on cars, operating a wrecker, and creating custom tools for the old Dynaflow transmission, it became very apparent that I did not receive that gene from the gene pool.  It really hit me in the face when my father and I began assembling my daughter’s radio flyer wagon.  He said we needed a crescent wrench.  I came back with a pair of pliers.  He just smiled at me and shook his head.

But even if I’m not much of a fighter (though I love a good ale), I’ve only ridden a horse once let alone stolen one, and couldn’t tell you the difference between an oil plug and a cam shaft, I am a storyteller.

The major roles in my life right now are husband, father, friend, and therapist, and I can strongly say that in all of those my main job centers on the telling of stories.  As a husband and father I am working to create a compelling storyline for my family.  I want to put our family into a plot that propels the three of us to engage and redeem the brokenness in the world.  As a friend I am an editor, coauthor, and reader of stories.  I ask questions and shape characters.  And as a therapist I invite my clients to examine, edit, and write their own stories in a way that transcends their existence as they work through loss, anxiety, and depression.

The point is stories of bar fights, stolen horses, and engine blocks this weekend helped me to clarify some of the major themes in my life.  Through the telling of stories I learned more about where I come from, and thus, I have a better understanding of where I am going.  Now, I don’t plan on stealing any horses or learning to replace a transmission, but I do see where some of my rebelliousness comes from.  I can see why I have such a penchant for adventure, and where I learned to tinker (even if my mechanical work happens on a chair and a couch rather than in a garage).

So, I wonder what your story is?  As you look back on your life, what stories seem to stand out as foundational in defining your current character?  And where are these themes taking you?  Perhaps you feel stuck.  Maybe it is time to write a Theme statement.  Take a look your storylines, and see what they reveal.  Here is my current Theme statement:

My story reveals an adventurous, seemingly paradoxical, and dangerously relational God who redeems an ashamed, isolated, and prideful world through a scandalously beautiful grace.

Now, the question is what am I going to do about it?  Stay tuned…

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