Making Peace with Our Stories

This week, pieces of a puzzle were put together in my heart and mind, bringing into sharp focus a lesson that I have been learning since October of last year.

On my trip to Ireland, my friend and I experienced many amazing and beautiful things: beautiful people, beautiful landscapes, delicious food, amazing music, and so much more. It was truly incredible! One of the things that stood out to me the most was how proud the Irish people are of their stories. Their history is one of lush richness. It is full of the entire range of humanity and human emotion. In it, you see instances of celebration and joy and periods of pain and sorrow.

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The same is true for all of our cultures to a certain degree. However, what impressed me most about the Irish was that they embrace every single part of their story. They don’t just highlight the moments of their history that are shiny. They speak with honesty and authenticity about the parts of their history that are messy, parts that many believe should be left in the shadows. They shared their heart with us about subjects such as the Irish War for Independence, the Irish Civil War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, famine, financial problems, and, yes, even the IRA. They didn’t dance around the hard questions. They didn’t guide our questions to touristy topics such as ruins, music, and folklore. They told the WHOLE story.

The entrance to Kilmainham Gaol or Kilmainham Jail, the site of the incarceration and execution of Irish political prisoners during the War of Independence and their Civil War.
The entrance to Kilmainham Gaol or Kilmainham Jail, the site of the incarceration and execution of Irish political prisoners during the War of Independence and their Civil War.

Recently, a dear friend of mine was sharing her goal for the new year with me. In the midst of our discussion, she asked me if I was a person who spent most of my time thinking about the past, the present, or the future. I had never really been asked this question before, but the more I thought about it, the more the answer became clear. I spend most of my time in the past.

I mean, in all honesty, as a museum worker, your job is built upon spending time with the past, familiarizing yourself with its subtleties and its staunch realities.  Most of my days are spent either researching and writing about historical events or creating exhibits and educational programs which help teach history to my community. And you want to see this history buff get tore out of her frame?? Attempt to re-write history! Nothing makes me more angry than when people want to gloss over the truth of the past in an attempt to politicize an issue.

While spending time in the past is necessary for my job, it can be detrimental to my relationships and my emotions. See, the truth is, I don’t get over my mistakes very easily. A bad day can haunt me for months, and a conflict or bad conversation can cause me to lose sleep for weeks. My past will haunt and lurk, filling me with shame and acting as a paralytic, preventing me from moving forward. I constantly wish and worry and wonder what would have happened if I had behaved better, if I hadn’t said that or done this or made this mistake.

This week, the realization hit me that there is a pretty big (and hypocritical) gap between my heart and my behavior. You see, while I treasure how the Irish celebrate their entire history…I definitely fail to celebrate mine! Give me a “do-over” or a magic eraser any day!! And, while I am a vocal opponent of re-writing and glossing over history…how many times do I attempt to gloss over portions of my own story?

Woah, wow, and ouch.

I can’t change my story. I can’t change my past. I can’t unmake my decisions or take back my less than stellar actions. All I can do is choose and trust. I can choose to believe that I am forgiven and that all of my bad is covered by His good and perfect love. Then, I trust. I trust that every part of my story (even the chapters that I am tempted to read through squinted eyes) is building towards something whole and something beautiful. I trust that every moment has made me who I am, and that who I am is valuable because the Author of all of our stories tells me so.

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