Recently, the The Podium asked me to write an article regarding Story and it's impact on my life. I figured I would also place it here on my blog. Last year I wrote a chapter in a book published by Moody, called Inciting Incidents. If you're interested you can purchase that book here. Enjoy!
I was a “Goonies” kid. If you aren’t familiar, it means that when I was young, my bike represented my entire existence: my independence, freedom and social status. At nine years old, it was urgent my parents’ ears finally heard my complaints that I had outgrown my faithful red mountain bike. I was surprised to hear my dad propose that he wanted to build me a new bike, because, you see, my father is a handyman and I am not. This was determined very early in life when I was continually dragged to the garage as an unwilling apprentice with the single task of searching for random tools as needed. The effects of this torture are long-lasting, and I still suffer bodily twitches each time I enter Home Depot.
At this suggestion, I recalled several previous collaborations: the crafting of a model U.S.S Kitty Hawk, the second-grade log-cabin made from reeds discovered by a local creek, several winning pinewood derby cars and a DC Talk father/son remix we performed one Sunday night at church. (Long story, don’t ask.) Based on these past successful partnerships, I felt positive my dad wasn’t going to let me down. A custom bike built by my flesh and blood, the handyman, would only increase my Goonie status.
But as to be expected from any working father with four kids, his intentions were probably a little too grandiose for the time available.
On the day of the reveal, in the middle of much fanfare, I entered the garage and was immediately disappointed. First off, the bike only had one gear. My previous bike had three, so I felt confident looking for an upgrade to seven. Displaying “flare” was also extremely important, but I noticed a complete lack of decals. No flames stickers or rally numbers. As far as add-ons, there were no exposed shocks, off-road tires, or beefy handlebars. I got excited at a glimpse of color, but upon further inspection it turned out to be a red safety reflector on the back of the bike.
Above all of this, the biggest failure was obvious. My loving, well-meaning father had failed my heightened expectations by painting my bike beige.
(Side-note: At that time, my dad’s car was a khaki-colored Ford Escort hatchback. His future modes of transportation were: a distinctly brown 1991 Honda Civic, a color he mistakenly described as “champagne,” a Saturn LX, Honda Accord, and Nissan Murano, all of which are maroon, which everyone knows is a just a fancy word for brown. I should have taken into account my dad’s color preferences before agreeing to any custom builds.)
In a tiny way, my father silently reminded me that day in the garage that we can’t count on others to come through for us. Our middle-class suburban disappointments begin with silly things like bikes, and our inability to trust others grows as we do. We’re continually reminded by broken friendships, not making varsity, high school heartbreak, not getting accepted to that college, or getting fired from the perfect summer job. And as we grow into adulthood, the let downs only seem to get worse and include more paperwork.
At twenty-seven years old, my feeling of disappointment was renewed when a bizarre kung-fu incident led me to discover a sizable and inoperable brain tumor. Smart-sounding doctors told me I had five to seven years left to life. The nature of this diagnosis was a trauma on my marriage, which eventually revealed struggles ending a seven-year marriage with the love of my life. In the midst of this emotional heartbreak and cancer treatment, my business started to fall apart. I was done with these disappointments and broken relationships life had offered me. The expectations for my success, my health and my most important relationship had failed me. I was disillusioned with God because my life had become beige.
Only then, after three decades of life, I realized I have been living in a magical world where my relationships are based on an invisible agreement I force people to sign. Upon signing said contract, all parties agree from that moment forward, sooner or later, we will mutually let each other down. And when we do, we will never hold each other another accountable for the failure, let alone mention it.
To some this sounds like a graceful way to view relationships, but I know it’s foundation is built on my absolute fear of being let down. My life has consisted of relationships where other’s expectations of me would eventually force them into a crisis of heartache or frustration. But I was never hurt, because I knew the original agreement. I protected myself.
I don’t remember when, but at some point I asked God to sign my special friendship agreement. This unspoken agreement, which began as a seed planted in a small boy trying to protect himself from the difficult scenarios the world offered, had eventually killed off his trust in God. I love Him. I like Him. But I expect nothing from Him.
In the past six months, I’m beginning to see that God has shown, through His Word and through actions in my own life, He is still present and actively redeeming all of my sufferings. This forgotten concept of complete trust in God is growing like a slow leak of water into my lonely lifeboat in the middle of a dark ocean, and I’m realizing that full acceptance of this concept carries the possibility of drowning, of death to myself. But what else is left? This death to myself will reveal the freedom to fully trust my health will be restored, that I will find love again, and a good future is on my horizon.
Recently, I learned that Denmark has been named the happiest country in the world for over thirty years. After digging around for more information, I learned that researchers attributed this to a typical Danish mindset, “By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed.” Since God isn’t Danish, I feel safe to say that His hope for our happiness isn’t based on our mutual low expectations of each other. His hope is that we willingly accept the mysterious nature of our hardships and trust He seeks to redeem each of them. No matter how many times we have been let down by those around us, we can still trust God, the only handyman able to live up to His expectations.
May you know that God is a good Father who offers good gifts to His children and promises us He does not build beige bikes.