St. Paul and his old stories

My four-year-old asked me to spell “Oshkosh” for her the other day. We moved from there a few years ago; it’s a common enough word in our house, I suppose. Weird, but so are kids. I went with it.

“O-S,” I said, waiting for her. “S is like a snake, like this.” I drew one with my finger in the air. She copied it. “Then H.” You get it.

“Look! I spelled ‘Oshkosh’!” she said. She held it out to me: “I miss Oshkosh.”   

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I keep no fewer than 754 items on my coffee table at one time.

Bull-oh-knee, sister.

“You can’t even remember Oshkosh,” I smirked.

When we left, she was still in one of those bucket car seats (the kind that, after three kids, always smells like spit up even though you washed every inch of it just last week). Her observation was probably fueled by looking at baby pictures of herself in our old house. Or it’s another weird-kid thing.

What’s stranger than a 4-year-old insisting she remembers something from when she was 9 months: we just haven’t talked lately about moving, Oshkosh, any of that.

Right after our move from Wisco, all our pictures in frames were of sunny Oshkosh summers.

But those things are mythical; they exist mostly in my mind now.

Photographs now on my fridge are of a trip to the zoo with friends; a vacation we took to Louisville with my mom.

My four-year-old reminded me of the grief I felt after the move. For more than a year, longing nestled under my stomach, somewhere unreachable and private; painful. That’s mythical, too; that pain.

I had simply forgotten.

I still carry sadness over the loss of close friendships, but the impact of those relationships bounded me up high here. I knew what I was missing so I set out to create deep friendships.

(Sidebar conversation: Besides people, I’m still mourning left-handed turns and Tortilla Flats’ salsa, but alas.)

Really, the four-year-old reminded me of the whole story: the worst thing right now won’t be the worst thing forever. I needed perspective. She made me look up from my book long enough to remember.

The depression and anxiety that feels like it might suffocate me won’t be here forever. The decisions we make about our kids are important, but not colossal; these too will pass. The things keeping me up nights now won’t be the greatest things on my mind in a few years (please, sweet baby Jesus).

The painful coincidence in this memory exercise: that same morning, I had typed up the lesson plan for Sunday’s kids’ class at church — same topic: remembering the whole story.

Our kids are nearing the end of our year in the book of Acts, and Paul’s in trouble (no surprise).  I summarized chapters 24, 25, 26, and again and again: Paul’s all, “look, here’s who I am. Here’s what’s happened to me.” He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen.

This guy is on message.

Because I write these kids’ ministry lessons over and over, week after week, I kept running into Paul telling his story — Paul remembering — and I only registered it as obnoxious; I wasn’t hearing, only listening. Half of my discussion questions this year have been permutations of “why does Paul keep repeating his whole story over and over?”

But really, why does he?

The obvious reasons are that the man needs to prove his authority, and he wants to share the gospel. Right. But what if he’s always starting over — “I was a Jew from birth, I did all the Jewish things” — to remind himself, too? Each time he’s captured, maybe he just needed to be reminded what God had already seen him through. (“OK, buddy. You drive a Dodge Stratus. You’ve got this.”)

I should start from the beginning when I’m doubting almost all my life choices. Start from the beginning, not the now. The now is awful and hairy and ugly. The future’s a black hole. The past, though; that’s like a bowl of mac’n cheese (not an everyday food, not the right color, but generally comforting). 

As this child lies: “I miss Oshkosh,” I admit: I just don’t in the same way I used to. Or, I do, but it’s OK. It’s a good “I miss.”

So maybe the rest … maybe those will be OK, too.

The fourth-graders in our church’s program probably could’ve articulated that in November; it took me almost the full academic year. I might even be ready for fifth grade next year. Look at that.

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