The Stories we carry end up carrying us. They shape us and form us like clay. I am grateful to carry many incredible stories from my childhood. Stories of seeing the world and growing up in a diverse, multi-cultural community amidst the breathtaking mountains of Papua New Guinea. These stories have formed my view of myself, the world, and my place in it.
These stories are sacred. They are the stories that have carried me through the difficult times. I go back to them when I need to find myself. Over the past few months I have been part of a diverse community of adult third culture kids (TCK’s) who grew up in Papua New Guinea. Together we have been looking at the ways in which race and privilege impacted our experiences growing up and permeated our most sacred stories and memories.
Much of the work we have been doing is intentionally looking back at our sacred, formative stories through a new lens. We have been challenged to ask new questions that we didn’t know to ask before. We have been encouraged to see things that we were blind to, and we have been forced to reckon with the painful truth that there is more to our sacred stories than we ever imagined. There are layers and complexities that many of us were woefully unaware of, or turned a blind eye to. There are ways in which our sacred stories and beautiful memories came at the expense of others, leaving them with scars inside and out.
This work of reflection is soul-wearying. I can only imagine the toll on those who lived out the injustices I am just now learning about and coming to reckon with. It has been heart-breaking to hear the stories of others who grew up in the same space I did, but experienced a very different reality than the rosy one I grew up with. As stories have been shared and voices have emerged to speak that have long been silenced and marginalized, I have been forced to question and re-evaluate my own stories. Under closer scrutiny I have found that the sacred stories I carry are cracked and incomplete. There are pages and chapters missing that tell a much bigger much more challenging narrative.
I find myself, along with others, asking new and challenging questions. How do I affirm the good of my childhood while also acknowledging the bad? How do I truthfully reshape my stories and resculpt the world I knew? Now that I see with new eyes and know in new ways, what am I called to do?
In the midst of asking these questions about growing up overseas in public forums there has been some backlash. People have demanded that we stop meddling, stop ruining their pristine childhoods, stop questioning their sacred stories. Some current missionaries have reached out saying we should stop focusing on the bad and just focus on the good. We should stop asking these types of questions and be grateful for the opportunity that we were given, but their words and demands ring hollow: fake, afraid, dishonest.
It is precisely this type of thinking that is so damaging, this need to label something as all good or all bad. This isn’t Disney. Real life just isn’t that simple or neat. Life is messy, and we as humans, despite the stories we might carry about ourselves, are a mixture of good and evil.
My hope is that we will learn to walk the middle path of celebrating the good parts of our stories while also wrestling with the ways in which our lives have and continue to cause damage to others. I pray that we, no matter where we grew up or where we live now, would look and see that no stories are so sacred that they cannot be questioned and re-evaluated. If our stories are so fragile, then perhaps they are already broken.
So friends, in the midst of the growing global awareness of the pervasive evils of racial injustice and systemic poverty, may we not turn a blind eye to the painful and difficult stories swirling around us. May we not ignorantly overlook the ways in which our sacred stories intermingle with the stories of others’ suffering and dehumanization. May we not use the privilege afforded us to focus only on that which is good and beautiful, but may we instead turn and listen and learn and grow.
May we surrender our sacred stories. May we add to them, amend them and pick up new stories to carry. I’m slowly coming to realize that my stories are too small. I need the stories of others to carry me into the future that I hope for and imagine. A future that is bigger and brighter and more beautiful than the sacred stories of my past.