In May, I wrote this for Prodigal Magazine. I have decided this next season of my life to story. And learning how to live a good one.
Words wait to jump off my fingers, antsy to unfold little strings of quips, rhymes, images, and observations; all unique yet woven together to create a sentence, a paragraph—a story.
Yet the words that comprise a biographical tale can only be the result of experience.
And experience, living a good story, begins with decisions.
Decisions to eat strange food, to buy a plane ticket, to apologize, to forgive, to commit to another person; decisions that change the course of our life or simply our weekend.
Example: I decided to go camping.
The Cossatot River valley is a secret pocket of unmolested land in the heart of Arkansas. Twenty or so miles of riparian riverbanks woven between slanted rock walls that ominously remind campers flooding is immanent. Despite various hazards of flash floods, ticks, poison Ivy, and rodents of unusual size, five of us drove right into the heart of the state park and set up camp.
Arriving just as the sun began to dip behind pine-cluttered hills, an evening storm sprinkled rain on our heads. We huddled under a rain fly as we scarfed down stir-fry and buttered bread.
The sun punched through the clouds with its last minutes before heading west and painted our corner of river with deep purple and red reflections. Lounging on lichen carpeted rocks, we watched its final descent and chattered about nothing and everything.
“It’s all about the process.”
This was the motto I kept repeating as we waiting an hour for coffee to boil the next morning. And again when my friends eyed me skeptically as I boiled omelets in sandwich bags.
We filled the day with river exploration, fishing, hiking, and an early evening swim in the luke-warm water; an attempt to rid our bodies of nasty little ticks.
Muscle poses of us perched on boulders filled our camera and memory, with a rather cliché backdrop of river and forest that one might find on a bottled water billboard.
Despite the beauty and laughter around me, I found time to imagine myself in an even better landscape.
I am unashamedly obsessed with Colorado; any chance to imagine myself frolicking at the base of the Rockies will be grasped eagerly. I kept pretending Arkansas, home to Tyson Chicken and Wal-mart was actually Colorado, land of microbreweries and rock climbers.
The little state park in my daydream was actually the Rocky Mountain National Park, and the mountains were tucked just beyond the lodge poles, waiting for my eyes to feast on their luminous peaks.
At one point my friend Andrew looked at me and said “Why do you keep imaging yourself away from here, isn’t this enough?”
Nope. Arkansas was not enough.
I thrive in the romance of what could be, and see reality as quite dreary. This is true of camping in Cassatot State Park and working in Fort Worth, Texas.
In many ways, I would rather live in the mystery of the unknown, instead of the present reality of my daily life.
But living a good story requires risk.
Whether that is moving to a new city, getting married, having kids, battling cancer, or committing to the place you are—these are all great risks because they require us to sacrifice our comfort and stability.
I took a risk and quit my job for an internship in Oregon.
I have been ready to move to Oregon since I decided Texas would not provide enough of an adventure—totally unromantic for a mountain loving foodie. Occasionally I will allow myself to pretend I am cycling along the river in Portland, rather than Fort Worth.
However, I am learning that story is not so much about where, but how you live.
I have accepted the tiny biting lies, the whispers that personal validation is found in good story, and good story is only found in exotic travel and adventure. These little lies have burrowed deep, assuring me that satisfaction can only be gained as long as I am running.
But I cannot allow the identity of my life to be defined by a choice to quit my job, or consider it failure when I choose to stay.
Paul, Christ’s poised pen, claims that we must be the story, the letter “written not with ink but the spirit of the living God…on tablets of human hearts.”
The truth is, camping in Arkansas and moving to Portland will not be the cornerstone of my story.
The cornerstone will come from the process.
Living a good story is about allowing the spirit of the living God to weave little strings of quips, rhymes, images, and observations onto this human heart; permitting life to unfold and accepting, even embracing the processes of struggle, pain and joy.