Why Stories Change the World
To be redirected is to be directed to a different place, a new purpose. A great story is one that shows a clear progression and details the heart change. It should show what caused you to be the main character of it, outline the timeline, and most importantly, reveal the powerful emotions and change only possible through honesty and vulnerability. These kinds of stories change peoples’ lives. They tell us “I am not alone.” Or “I can do that, too.” They take our lid off of the power and possibility of transformation. Stories change the world. I believe most of us have a story like this. Here is mine.
I am a classic middle child. Well, that’s funny to say, because had it not been for my twin sister trying to strangle me in the womb she would have been born first.
I remember feeling “stuck” between my older brother’s self-discipline and my sister’s strong, free will. What developed from that was a shy kid with a “call” to order and peace. Despite being quiet and reserved, I boasted quite the character. It always seemed to make sense to me to work really hard at things and be what I thought was a good person. I would work tirelessly at perfecting my timing with the feather power-up in Super Mario World, or learning to ride my bike with no training wheels. I eventually picked up skateboarding and wouldn’t come inside until I had done what I set out to do, sometimes after 12 hours. I remember punishing myself even when I didn’t get caught doing things my parents asked us not to do, and being angry at people for doing wrong. No lie was acceptable to me and you had better not try to fool anyone. WWE wresting was really big when I was a kid and I remember Kane scaring me because I thought he was going to hurt a kid. I had an angry/scared fit at my brother and my dad for “allowing” it to happen.
I wasn’t totally serious, though. Laughter was also a big part of my character. Being goofy was what I thought would make the world around me feel good. Full of boundless energy and humor, I created some of the weirdest characters you can imagine through unusual voices, outfits, and toying with various emotions. You never knew what my outbursts of energy would produce. I was a quiet, sweet, kid, concerned about the good in the world, and that was perfect to me.
I remember becoming very aware of people’s criticism of me. Some of it was just making mistakes, like hitting the golf ball the wrong way, or not cleaning properly. What hurt deep, though, was criticism of my appearance. One comment that really stood out was from my grandmother, who said that I had “a very gummy smile” with a laugh. The cowlick “compliments” seemed to be very popular as well. I learned that apparently anything less than perfect didn’t seem to be acceptable. I also learned to despise attention of any kind as I couldn’t discern what was kind or what made a mockery of me. If I couldn’t be perfect, I didn’t want you to see me yet.
Fast forward through elementary school and my first experience really separating from my parents. “Hello, anxiety, it is not nice to meet you.” This would go on for years, all the way through middle school to some degree, intensifying through my shy and awkward social interactions. I wouldn’t say I was bullied, but in middle school I realized for the first time that people could be cruel. This was a painful realization for someone as innocent as I was. I remember being so nervous that I would habitually and unconsciously bite my lips in class. I deeply wanted social acceptance as I started to think something was weird about me and that’s why I wasn’t natural around people. There was one kid in particular that would come ask me questions apparently just to mock me. I remember him looking at me with animated eyes and an exaggerated nibble of his lip with a laugh to follow. I felt so small. Crushed. Angry. This was it, the moment my defense mechanisms were born. The beginning of abandoning myself. Unfortunately I would progress negatively from here through high school. I started to believe that maybe all I was wasn’t enough after all.
The High, School Years
I didn’t want to start my story with the cliche plot of drug abuse and a turnaround. That story is powerful, but well worn by itself. There is always something more. For me, drug abuse was simply a symptom of deeper underlying issues that I was unaware of how to properly address. My original role of the joy giver and peacekeeper was too much to bear under the weight of my own confusion and stress. The importance of those roles would not subside, though, so I turned to pills and liquor for a few reasons. The first was to cover up any imperfections in myself. I remember telling myself “Oh, if they don’t like that, then I was just messed up.” Second, to mask the perceived pain I felt for letting my family down. I somehow never got in trouble for drinking Goldschlager with “friends” before weight training at 7:30 AM, or for leaving early to sneak a joint in. By the grace of God, I left high school with a diploma, some decent grades, cool hair, and a good looking body. I also left with deep regrets of the missed opportunities I had for healthy memories and friendships.
Deeper In To The Dark Side
A few years after high school I was deeply depressed, having been removed from my known social interactions and thrust into work. I did resume education right away, but I was not ready for college from a maturity stance and I ended up dropping out of a psychology major. Instead, I focused on working hard, and moving up quickly made me feel a sense of purpose. Despite success in my job in retail management as a young aspiring organizational leader, the hold of drugs had extended into the really bad stuff. It became more than just a Xanax here and there, to a full blown cocaine binge and excessive alcohol every time there was a social interaction. The internal boundary of not doing it around certain people or at certain places, or really just having any limits at all, had lost its valor to me. Ultimately, I would find myself with a wrecked car, debt from the drug binges, hardly any belongings, and was fired from my job for theft. For the first time in 3 years, I was completely alone with myself without all of the things I had adopted to “protect myself”. No lousy friends that made me feel higher, no work, and no drugs.
The Girl Who Ran The Stop Sign
For some reason through all of this, girls still really liked me and showed interest. I always seemed to have a fling going on. I had forgotten the things I truly loved about myself, like my kindness and gentleness, and was fully engulfed in my facade. As a result, true confidence was a broken process for me. I was dating a girl at the time, but I was not interested in the relationship. I just didn’t want to be alone. (I would deal with this remorse later.)
This other girl messaged me on Facebook during that time that I had never met before and we sort of hit it off. She asked me if I wanted to meet and I ended up asking for advice with my current dating situation. I loved her thoughtfulness and went further to share my shambled life situation. She still wanted to meet, so she agreed to pick me up all the way in Soddy Daisy from Ringgold, GA. Almost an hour drive. I was deeply humbled.
I thought she was so beautiful and unique in this pure way. Far from the girls I had been spending time with. She was more connected to family than I had been and had an innocence I was attracted to. I was genuinely excited to meet her in person.
When she picked me up she lit up a Newport 100, just like I was smoking, and turned the music up loud. She sang and danced the entire time we drove downtown, as if we had known each other forever. She was free. Free like I longed to be again. So free, actually, that she ran a stop sign at a busy 4-way intersection while singing. After I released my survival grip from her passenger door and I realized we were still alive, we just laughed together for s long while. When we got to our date destination, a simple walk in the park, we talked easily for hours. She had wisdom to share, kindness to offer, a similar story, and a genuine interest in the real me. She appreciated and pointed out the qualities in me that I had abandoned long ago. It felt good to rekindle those good things and I fell in love immediately.
I would spend the next year with this girl every single day, except two.
I Am Redirected
As I spent more time with this beautiful girl and her family, I started to change. Up against their brightness and warmth, I was able to clearly see the things I had adopted that just didn’t fit any longer. I had warm and loving parents at home, but there was something about a family caring for me that didn’t “have to love me” that made me evaluate myself for the good. The crazy, dark music, the cigarettes and drugs, the foul language, the carelessness, the horrible friends and facade, all of it suddenly became useless to me. If you have ever spent time seeking, or being in the presence of God, you might relate to this small, imperfect, shameful feeling. It changed me. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be me again, no matter what came along with that.
I started utilizing the best features I was given in as many situations as I could. Almost to test them. When you’re at rock bottom, you can do that. Honesty and kindness were some of the things I liked most about myself. So when I met this girls’ parents, I sat right down with them and said, “Look, I’ve been in a bad place. I just got fired, I wrecked my car, and I have had a drug problem. If you aren’t comfortable with me spending time with your daughter, I understand, and I will leave her alone.” They were stunned. As was she. That comment right there generated the response that I instantly realized was what I had sought after for so long: respect. In that moment, I realized so much of what I had done up to that point was for some confirmation that I was good.
I had abandoned and sabotaged myself out of pain and fear, but this kind girl and her family showing me acceptance and kindness in my rawest form made me feel like I had to rush back to the home in my heart and apologize. I remember weeping at all I had done in betrayal of myself, but at the same time just feeling genuinely grateful for the chance to become him again. The love shown to me created a pathway for me to forgive myself and become whole. It would be an incredibly long and challenging process, but I was seeing the world through the eyes of purity and joy once again.
Peace I Leave With You
Ten years later, I have been married to that beautiful woman for nine of them. We have two handsome boys and another on the way. I used that honesty and kindness and anxiousness to spot differences in things, to help people see and understand them, and show them how to show others the same things. Through that, I got that organizational leadership opportunity I wanted. I use those same features to write on this blog and for other sites like Crosswalk to share hope with others. I’m on my way, and my family is sure glad to see me again. As am I. I’ve got the weirdest voices and characters of all time now that I have these little boys that are just as goofy. And that girl, well, I’d do anything for her.
It’s important to know that all these positive “things” I just mentioned should not be the goal. These “things” happened because I pursued what was already in me. The things are a side effect, a product. I say all this to encourage you that the pain that comes with personal growth is worth it. You don’t get the girl, you don’t get the job, you don’t get the family, and you don’t get the fulfillment of life without you. I get that now. And my purpose for understanding that now extends beyond myself.
I’m afraid most people think that transformation is done in an instant. That’s only partially true. I do believe the heart change is done in an instant, but life change is slower, even grueling. You are facing the undoing of possibly years of damaging habits and the burial of your true self. During the process of legitimate change, you experience deep loneliness, sorrow, and insecurity. But changing on purpose is worth it. Many of us don’t get passed these challenges and loop back into whatever relapse means for us: drug abuse, alcoholism, gluttony, workaholicism, abandonment, and so on. But it is worth the fight. Press on! Romans 5:3-4 encourages us that “Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will define our character, and proven character leads us back to hope.” Keep working at yourself, especially when it gets hard, because that must mean you’re close to something.
My story, so far, can be summarized by this verse: “So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23 (TPT)
I want you to know that even though you don’t know me, I will stand with you. To know that people who didn’t know me cared about me changed my life, and I hope it does yours, too.
Do you have a Redirected story?
I love the power found in stories featured on I Am Second. But there aren’t enough platforms for everyday people to share their stories. I want to change that.
If you would like to have your story featured, please message me on any of the social media links above the menu or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss it.