Stories are what bring us together, what bind us together, what change us together and what tear us apart.
They make sense of our world and the role we play in it. When loss strikes us, whether through death, setbacks, or impairment, the grief is not only about the loss itself but the overwhelming project of re-formulating the story, piecing together the fragments of the assumptive world that was shattered when we realized the narrative we find ourselves in has never been the story that we thought it was.
Stanley Hauwerwas has observed,
The project of modernity is to create a people who believe they have no story except the story they chose when they had no story.
As Christians, we can’t help but find ourselves bound to story. The book that we cling to is one of stories – profound and mundane – as well as stories told by the One the story is about. They confuse us, astound us, challenge us and motivate us. Indeed, in loving God and loving our neighbour we come to realize that we are intrinsically and intimately tied not only to our own story, but the countless stories that surround us and transform us – even the stories that make little sense to us or don’t connect with the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.
My sister, Emily Wierenga, weaves her story intricately and beautifully, encouraging and inspiring those around her to reflect on their own stories in new and powerful ways. Through her blog and books, she vulnerably shares her struggles and triumphs in her past and present, including the ways that she has been impacted by her family and wrestling with anorexia and self-image. Her latest book, Atlas Girl, has been described;
Raw, emotive and lovely . . . Emily Wierenga’s memoir is captivating, descriptive in imagery and emotion, and you can’t help but find yourself in her story.
Our family has supported Emily’s through her writing career, and it is exciting to see her reaching so many people with her experience and ministering to them in the story in which they find themselves.
I have a secret, though. While I have bought all of Emily’s books, I have never read one from cover to cover. You see, while so many people can’t help but find themselves in her story, I am one of the few that can’t.
The other day someone asked me where I was from. I’m never really sure how to answer that, but I made sure to include that I was born in Brazzaville, Congo. This, I usually add, is one of the most exciting aspects of my life even though I don’t remember our time there.
The start of my story goes something like this: Born in Congo, homeschooled and raised in a loving family with supportive parents, I went to Bible college… etc. Needless to say, I haven’t written a memoir. All of us Dow children are professing Christians to this day and we have a close family connection and love our parents deeply. When I look around, not many pastor’s families are as fortunate. My father has been an inspiration to me throughout my life, and I have always admired his remarkable patience and commitment to our family and his ministry.
So when this timid, short and relatively uneventful story comes crashing into the striking tales recounted by Emily of frustration and quasi-neglect, spiritual turmoil and desperation to connect with her earthly and heavenly father, I have a difficult time finding myself in her story. It is as though we grew up in two different households, with two sets of parents.
As I hear her share her story in interviews and online, in print and across the continent, I have to constantly remind myself that just because my story isn’t as dramatic doesn’t mean it is less significant. Maybe this is why I am drawn to artists like Cornelius Krieghoff (The New Year’s Day Parade – in header) who bring to life the story of ordinary Canadians in the 19th century, or the Peredvizhniki, the Wanderers, a group of Russian painters who powerfully portray the lives of peasants in the same time period (Vasily Perov – “Troika,” below). Even ordinary, mundane stories have a depth to them that can’t be fathomed until they are intimately known, and that is what these artists bring out.
Each one of us has a story to tell, to share, to come crashing into each and every other story. Community – family – is where we come to see that my story and your story, together, is our story. We will never have one story, just as scripture does not have one story. In fact, to love our neighbour as ourselves is to come to love our neighbour, in their story, as God works to redeem all of our stories, together.
So thank you, Emily, for telling your story. I have come to realize that it will never be my story, but it is very much our story. Maybe I’ll even find the courage to read it from cover-to-cover.