Can we edit our life stories? How?
This quote from Susan Statham made me wonder: How does the editing process work?
Your life is a story. Write well. Edit often.
Back when my husband’s cancer took a sharp left turn, chemo was prescribed — not as a cure, but as palliative care.
It was Thanksgiving and we were with extended family in northern California. Gary asked our niece Janelle if she’d shave his head. Because he wasn’t going to let chemo dictate when he would lose his hair.
You put an electric shaver in the hands of a niece who is a crazy passionate Oregon Ducks fan, well then …
First you get your leopard-patterned cape.
Then you get your standard mohawk.
From there, it was all downhill as Janelle shaved an “O” on the back of Gary’s head in anticipation of the Oregon/Oregon State football game later that day.
And of course photos were taken and posted to Facebook.
“What’s going on out there?!” our daughter Summer texted from the east coast.
Looking back, I think this was Gary editing the “chemo chapter” by throwing in a bit of fun for those of us whose hearts were beginning to crack open more deeply.
So how do we go about editing our stories?
The key is to consider troubling situations from God’s perspective. Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, addressed this in a letter to believers in the ancient city of Philippi:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. — Philippians 4:8
This word ‘think’ can be translated as, “to take an inventory, conclude, reason, think (on).”
We edit the adverse events in our lives by taking inventory of all that has transpired.
By choosing to see our adversity through God’s lenses as we look for the true and the lovely and the admirable alongside the heart-breaking.
We edit by writing out our reasoned thoughts.
Dr. Timothy Wilson—a psychology professor and lead author of a Duke study on the benefits of capturing our thoughts in writing—said this:
Writing forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it.
Reconstrue. Rethink. Reinterpret.
I’m pretty sure I saved my husband thousands of dollars in psychotherapy costs through the years simply by keeping a journal.
There’s a long chapter in Gary’s and my story that ended up being a bleak trek through job loss, financial reversals, a live-in parent sinking into Alzheimer’s, cancer. And widowhood.
But I edited that chapter.
Instead of those years signifying irretrievable loss, they signify a season of stretching and growth, of falling more deeply into love with each other, more deeply into our faith.
Those years represent learning to find meaning and purpose during the hard and holy moments.
They represent hiking to the tops of more mountains, and taking more road trips, and having more fun.
Which means, the ten cancer years were the best years of our marriage. Imagine.
Henri Nouwen penned these thought-provoking words:
Our pains and joys, our feelings of grief and satisfaction, are not simply dependent on the events of our lives, but also, and even more so, on the ways we remember these events.
I didn’t have a choice when cancer invaded my husband’s body, our lives, our finances.
But I have a choice in how I react and live forward with this irreversible thing.
I choose to notice everyday graces, to acknowledge the people in my life as gifts, to love, to speak courage and hope, to count blessings and lean in close to God, to embrace all God allows – the broken along with the beautiful.
God is a best-selling author and master storyteller. And He wrote a beautiful book about each of us.
Quite possibly there are some chapters you wouldn’t have written into your book. But with open and trusting hearts, can we say to our Creator, “Help yourself to my story. Write in the hard with the pleasant, the grief with the joy, the loss with the love”?
Now that I’m in a blissful, contented, brimming widowhood routine, I wouldn’t wonder if it’s time for some unsettling. Because getting pushed out of our comfortable places provides the opportunity to start the next chapter of our lives.
But what if that chapter doesn’t turn out exactly as we planned?
What if we could edit and reframe it from God’s perspective?
I can just hear God saying to us: “Be prepared for unsettledness ahead. Hold on for the ride. It’s going to get wild and fun and unnerving and surprising and scary and disruptive and astonishing.”
I’m ready. Let’s do this.