An Unfinished List


Ever since I learned how to make a list, I’ve been documenting my life. I used to make lists of all the towns I’ve lived in, all the states and all the addresses, as well as all the schools, teachers and best friends I’ve ever known. It made me feel better to see these things written down in black and white, and it soothed the fear that I might forget important details.

Perhaps I was trying to make sense of all the moving my family had done. Perhaps I thought examining those lists would help me come up with a formula to help figure out why life was so unpredictable. Perhaps I was hoping to use that formula to solve this equation called life, and then I’d be able to live the rest of my days with a different remainder.

I don’t know how old I was when I made my first list, but by the time I was in my twenties I understood life couldn’t be figured out mathematically, so I stopped making them. Instead I began turning some of the items on those lists into paragraphs, poems, and essays. The decade after that, I decided to turn some of that writing into a book.

In a way this book feels like the answer to an often asked question: Where are you from? Most people can answer with one or two words, but when you grow up moving around a bunch, you have more of a home-base than a hometown (I’ve always thought of mine as Arkansas) and your roots are based on the amount of attachment you have to a place, rather than the amount of time you spent there. Like the houses of both your grandparents, or the one belonging to your aunt and uncle in Colorado. In the midst of constant change, you cling to what you remember best, and practice answering people in paragraph form when one or two words isn’t enough.

I’m writing this book because I feel led to, compelled even, for my own spiritual growth; but I’m also writing in order to connect with others like me. Anyone from the land of PKs and MKs, or the Bible Belt South, for all those good Baptists who “grew up in church”—they’re the ones who understand the language I speak. And they’re the ones I’d most like to tell, “you are not alone.”

It is possible to grow up learning all the right answers and still turn out clueless. It’s possible to have a loving family and faith in God, and still feel sad a lot of the time. Maybe even most of the time. My book is the story of me, a sad little girl who grew up feeling very alone. Then she left home, got married and started having babies, only to end up sadder than she’d ever felt before. It’s the story of how God used all that sadness to help her find joy, but more importantly hope. The story isn’t finished yet, and there’s bound to be more sadness before it’s through. But in the meantime, I’ve come to believe that God is good, he can be trusted, and he might even love me, better than anyone else does.

Henri Nouwen says that “Our brokenness … reveals something about who we are. Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality. The way I am broken tells you something unique about me. The way you are broken tells me something unique about you.”

It’s my sincerest hope that future readers of my yet to be finished book will see their unique selves in my story and find valuable truths in my brokenness. Of course there are many truths I haven’t learned yet, and I sometimes forget the ones I have. Oh, who am I kidding? I forget them every day, if not every hour. So maybe this book is just another list after all.

May the writing and sharing of it help me to remember.

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