At church, we’ve been talking about how our own stories matter. Each one of us has a story that is unique and telling that story is one of the greatest things that we can do. By telling our own stories, we give others the chance to learn from our past experiences or to wonder about something that they’ve never experienced. As a church, we’ve been digging into what makes a good story (literarily speaking). We took some time to look at points in our lives where the plot jumps or changes direction, which we’re calling life turns. I’m going to go over a few of the significant life turns to build up my story.
The first time something or someone dies in the life of a child it always seems to be a toss up as how the child will react. For me, I can remember being sad and crying when my grandmother died when I was four or five, but it didn’t affect me as much as it should have because I just didn’t understand. The first death that I experienced that affected me as I would expect was when my Uncle Victor (Vic for short) died. I was in the fifth grade at the time, and up to this point I would say I was a pretty well-adjusted kid, but probably a little emotional. I remember crying a lot about things that weren’t that important. I was close to my Uncle Vic and when he died I felt so horrible that I hated God for allowing this to happen and set out to protect myself from feeling this type of pain again. From this point, I became a cold child. I tried my best to guard my emotions against others, and this eventually lead to me becoming cruel to those around me.
This was the first significant life turn that I could recall. A real change in who I was, and there was no going back. This was a negative turn that would result in a few problematic situations and damaged relationships.
Meeting a Positive Influence
The same year that my first life turn occurred I was fortunate enough to get to know my best friend James. On his own, James is a wonderful man and has always been a great influence on me, but when we became friends I got much more than a single friend. His entire family took me in like I was one of them. This lead to me becoming the “adopted” son, not because I didn’t have my own family, but because I spent a lot of time there and James’s parent poured a lot of their love and guidance into me. George and Kathy Brake loved God in a way that I had never seen before. I didn’t understand it at first, but it didn’t take long before some of that started to rub off on me. George took the time to lead a youth group at the Brake house each week and I tagged along because it was an excuse to hang out with James. That’s how it started. This group that my friend’s dad lead was the bridge that lead me to know God. Every since then the Brake family has welcomed me with open arms, and I continue to grow as a follower of Christ because of them. This was one of the most positive life turns that has occurred in my life thus far.
Tragically, George Brake died in a car accident a few weeks ago, but his wisdom lives on in his children and his effect on the world is not hard to see.
Loved and Lost
Moving forward into my first year of college, I had grown up and dated the same girl all through high school. I’m not a huge planner, but I thought I could see where my life was going. I imagined myself finishing my math degree, becoming an actuary, and marrying my high school sweetheart. None of that happened.
During my freshman year of college, I had something that I didn’t have while growing up, friends that were nearby for me to hang out with. Growing up in a town of fifty people I only had one boy my age that I could hang out with, and he and I had a tendency to argue and not speak for months at a time. I lived in an all-Freshman dorm my first year and became good friends with the other guys on my floor. I got way too caught up in having friends and let my relationship with God suffer. At this same time, my girlfriend was not falling away from God, but instead growing stronger. This eventually caused her to leave me, and I didn’t even see it coming. In true Keith (or rather human) fashion, something horrible happened in my life so I turned on God with my full fury. This time I didn’t just shout at the sky, though, I started going after the Christians that my girlfriend hung out with. I like to think I was trying to figure out what went wrong, but that’s really not the case. I’m a pretty intelligent person and at this point in my life I used this in the worst possible way. I poked holes in the faith of the Christians I ran into, and I did this in the most hurtful way I could. If I had to relate to anyone in the Bible at this point it would be Saul. I persecuted Christians with ruthless abandon. This is the most shameful of my life turns.
Having a four and a half year relationship fall apart isn’t the best situation, and I didn’t handle it well. Besides being wrathful, I was also depressed. This depression built up until I eventually decided that it was too much. One evening as I was driving back to Toledo I decided that I should just end my life. I’m not one for gore and I didn’t want people to know that I intentionally killed myself, so I decided a car accident was probably my best choice. I was driving down the highway going somewhere between 90-100 mph waiting for the next overpass so I could swerve into the support column when I decided that I needed a little music. At this point I didn’t listen to Christian music, but that’s what I ended up on and the song that was on spoke to me more directly than I had ever experienced (sadly I can’t remember the song). Needless to say, that was enough to stop me from being as stupid as I had planned. I broke down crying and felt more loved at that moment than I can explain. This was a pretty positive life turn by not being the end of the story. I realized that I didn’t have the relationship that I expected to have, but God still loved me very much.
A New Journey
Shortly after not committing suicide Summer break started and I had a summer job lined up to work for Central Insurance. Central had given me a large scholarship so I seemed like a shoe-in for a position, but I would have never considered trying if it hadn’t been for my ex-girlfriend’s mom suggesting it. From where I stand now it’s interesting to see how the story unfolded and all it took to get me to Central, where my next life turn happens.
After a few weeks of working at this job, I got to meet the actuarial intern who also worked in my department part time. Her name was Kendra. She and I got along well and we both had the same career direction. The first time we hung out after work was the day that she got her wisdom teeth taken out. She looked and sounded incredibly silly, but I enjoyed every moment we got to spend together. Things were looking up for me at this point, I was finally letting myself be happy again. To make a long story short, she and I started dating before we both went back to college, had a long distance relationship (2.5 hours apart), and eventually got engaged. The distance was hard, but Kendra was able to use it help me not rely on her for my happiness, this lead me to grow closer to God.
Money Can Make You Look Stupid
After Kendra had graduated from college and moved home I was still in Toledo, but wanted to be closer to home since I wasn’t getting anything out of college. Prior to this, I had made some stupid mistakes with money and built up a large debt unknowingly. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail because I wrote most of my thoughts on money over here, but it embarrassed me to discover my own stupidity. This embarrassment made it hard for me to admit what I had done to Kendra. Eventually, I tried to transfer from UT to IPFW so that I could live at home and be closer to Kendra. I thought I had everything worked out with the transfer, but I was only given in-state tuition for IPFW if I went to school full-time which I was not planning on doing since I was consulting full-time. I put all of my eggs in one basket and ruined my chances of graduating in a timely fashion from UT by dropping some courses before finalizing my transfer to IPFW. At this point, I needed to tell Kendra what had happened, and it terrified me.
When I sat down and talked to Kendra about the mistakes I had made regarding school and money she nearly left me. I was hiding things from her because I was ashamed and that’s not something we could build a healthy marriage on. Thankfully, she showed forgiveness and helped me to get my personal finances under control. This education on finances set me on a good track and really changed my life, but the forgiveness and mercy she showed are the incredible parts about this life turn.
Our stories are more than the turns. Together these turns make up the narrative of our lives. When I step back and look at mine this is the story that I see:
No matter how many times I turn my back, God still finds a way to bring me back to him and show me his love.
My turns show the ebb and flow of my life, I make a mistake and God finds a way to put me on the path to redemption. That’s really how I see God working all the time. To sum up everything I know about God is to say that he loves us a lot and no matter how many times we screw up he’ll always be there to guide us and receive us when we decide to return home.
What’s your story?