The Middle of the Story

I was wrong when I said a few days ago that I do not like theological discussions at this time. Or…maybe I was correct. I do not like scholarly, ivory tower discussions that dissect God as if He’s something to be cut apart and examined. That statement sounds extremely  harsh to me, because I am sure I have entered such discussions many times as I’ve tried to wrestle with understanding, so I’m not sure that people are really dissecting God. I also do not think such discussions are wrong. But when you go through difficult times, it’s no longer merely talking about faith, a person is suddenly plunged into it.

I love Psalms 107, particularly verses 23-32. I tend to go there when a tsunami of trouble hits:

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
plying their trade on the great ocean,
saw the works of Adonai,
his wonders in the deep.

For at his word the storm-wind arose,
lifting up towering waves.
The sailors were raised up to the sky,
then plunged into the depths.
At the danger, their courage failed them,
they reeled and staggered like drunk men,
and all their skill was swallowed up.

In their trouble they cried to Adonai,
and he rescued them from their distress.
He silenced the storm and stilled its waves,
and they rejoiced as the sea grew calm.
Then he brought them safely
to their desired port.
Let them give thanks to Adonai for his grace,
for his wonders bestowed on humanity!
Let them extol him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the leaders’ council.

Stormy Seas
Stormy Seas

I’ve always pondered that the sailors in this tale could have safely stayed on shore, but they risked going out into the ocean and they were the ones who saw Adonai’s great works and wonders. It sounds as if the wonders they experienced occurred at a place, a time, when the storm hit, and they were overwhelmed, all their marine skill was swallowed up, their courage failed…and all they could do was cry to Adonai in desperation.

When I was growing up, my parents never took our family on vacation to amusement parks. We always went to living history types of places that taught the history of a place and people. In history classes in school, teachers taught history as if it were a list of dry facts and dates. My mother taught us that history was the lives of the people. We’d be standing at a historical place and she’d say, “Just imagine having to live like that. Having to raise the sheep, sheer them, make the wool into thread, and weave your clothes. Imagine having to cook your meal over a fire. Imagine having to cross the country in a covered wagon…Imagine.” She taught that history is really stories of real people struggling to live. It’s their day-to-day stories.

I was a child when Nixon resigned, but my Mom made us sit down in front of the TV to watch his speech because “this is history.” I have passed this down to JJ: Watch this, take note of that, observe how it affects the lives of people-because what you are seeing today will tomorrow be history. Sometimes when JJ and I have studied historical events  that happened in my lifetime, I have told him what I thought or felt at the time. Because history isn’t just facts, it’s people, it’s their stories. Maybe this is why JJ loves history and he loves writing.

I think that often when we read a story, we forget that the people living it didn’t know what would happen later, at the end. We read our knowledge of how the story ends into the middle and think, “Oh the sailors trusted God and He delivered them and they sang songs of praise”–and we overlook or forget that at the time that they were living the story, they didn’t know if they would even survive.

Noah's Flood
Noah’s Flood

Sometimes when I read history or the Bible, I try to forget that I know the end of the stories, and I try to imagine what it was like to live it. We decorate baby nurseries with cute scenes of the story of Noah, forgetting that his story was an epic disaster. Imagine…What would it have been like to be Noah, “a man of honor in a den of thieves”? What would it have been like to spend years building the ark, enduring the ridicule of those around him? What would it have been like to enter the ark with all those animals, to hear the desperate cries of people drowning outside, to feel the ark rising and plunging in the flood? What would it have been like to leave the ark knowing that your family was the only people left on earth? Noah didn’t know the end of the story like we do now. Honestly, if my family was the only people to survive a world-wide disaster, I think I would get drunk too.

And what would it have been like to have been a groaning slave in Egypt, to see Moses arrive to challenge Pharoah, to have my workload increased because of Moses, to live through the plagues? And what would it be like to joyfully escape Egypt and then learn that Pharoah had sent his whole army after us? The people didn’t know that Adonai would open the sea. Jonah didn’t know if he’d live after he was swallowed by the fish. Job didn’t know that Adonai would bless his end more than his beginning. Neither did the disciples realize what would happen after that very dark day when their friend Yeshua (Jesus) was dragged off and crucified.

Sometimes I like to pair up the Psalms with the accounts of David’s stories in other parts of the Bible. Where one says that thus and so happened in a factual way, I read the same account in the Psalms to see what David felt as he was living it. One place factually explains that David encountered an enemy, in another, “Oh, Adonai, when I am overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I…” The personal story, the emotions, breathe life into the facts of the story. A writing teacher once told JJ that he must make his readers see and hear and feel what the characters in his stories see, hear, and feel. Maybe that’s why I write as I do.  Really, our story could be written as “Life was normal, our son got sick, he had the following treatments, and then…” But what sort of story would that be? Let the reader see, and hear, and feel what it’s like to be a parent suffering along with a son who is severely ill. Let them enter into the story–experiencing with us the ups and downs, the hopes and fears, the laughter and tears. Let them watch the story slowly change us–into what, we do not yet know. Let them try to guess the plot twists. Let them finally, breathlessly, reach the end of the story with us…

I’ve read thousands of stories so I can usually guess the ending of a story. However, I appreciate a story that is so well developed and so well-written that it has an unexpected twist in it’s plot. A good story is not always what we expect. The characters of the story must be changed by events. They must suffer great challenge, but still there must be an end, a goodness. Like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, who courageously bore the burden of the ring. At the end of the story I wanted him to live out his life quietly in his Hobbit Hole in the Shire, but he no longer fit there. He was changed. He did get to travel to the Grey Havens for rest, but he had to leave behind his dear friends forever. When I read a good book or watch a movie, I always savor the elements of skillful storytelling. 

Battle of Helm's Deep
Battle of Helm’s Deep

I love The Lord of the Rings, one of my favorite stories. The journey, the danger, the loss, the courage, the friendships forged. At the very, very end of the story, the King returns, evil is overcome, peace reigns. Still, it took courage and perseverance for the characters, who didn’t know what the end would be. They didn’t know if they would win or perish in the fight. I’m always sitting at the edge of my seat when the enemy is overwhelming, the danger is great, and the people are reeling and struggling to hold on to hope and courage–such as at the battle of Helm’s Deep when they were so overwhelmingly outnumbered that there was no way they could survive.  I’ve read and watched the story so often that I know what is going to happen next. I whisper to them with great anticipation: “Hold on! Just wait! You have no idea what is going to happen next! You are going to WIN!” I love the following scenes of Helm’s Deep from the The Lord of the Rings: There’s Always Hope and Helm’s Charge.

The village of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof
The village of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof

I also love the movie, Fiddler on the Roof. The storytelling and music are suberb. I always thought the ending was sad. I wanted the people to be able to resume life in their village where their families had lived for generations. I didn’t want them uprooted and scattered, all the history together lost, the relationships broken apart. But EJ perceptively said that if you observe carefully, all the villagers were given what they most wanted. Tevye had sung “If I were a rich man…” and he ended up moving to America, a land of opportunity. The matchmaker had longed for Jerusalem. She was headed for Israel. EJ says the end of the story is happy, not sad.

Another chapter of our story.
Another chapter of our story.

Anyway, my family is starting out on another chapter of our story. We are at the point where the clouds are darkening, the storm winds are beginning to strengthen, and the waves are building. I expect we are headed for a place where our lives will reach to the skies and plunge to the depths and all our skill to handle it will be swallowed up. But that’s where we will see the works of Adonai, His wonders of the deep. We are moving towards the middle of the story, building up to the climax, not yet at the end. We are readers of our own story, turning the pages, not knowing what will happen to us next. We don’t know if we will survive undamaged. I wonder if God is on the edge of His seat, whispering with anticipation, “Oh, hold on, dear ones, you have NO IDEA what will happen next!”

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2 Comments on “The Middle of the Story

  1. TJ. Excellent!!! You take the common place and open our eyes to see the story, the emotions, the fears in the middle of the story. You have helped me to forget how it ends and see the real life in the midst. You have encouraged me that in the midst of my pain I just need to know that I’m ok to have all this emotion; that the One who already knows the end is still there with in the midst. Thank you!

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  2. I’m so sorry you are going through a painful time, elgowing4jesus, but very glad I could encourage you. I believe that God designed us with emotions so it’s ok to feel. If He didn’t want us to feel, He would have make us with metal and batteries. It’s helpful for me to remember that I’m in the middle of the story, not the end. ❤

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