What is the backstory of your life?
In a book or movie, the backstory refers to the history behind the current situation — basically what happened before that sets into motion what is happening now. To share your story, it is important to process and understand your early life.
Today I’m visiting my hometown in South Georgia and will reunite with Mama, my two sisters, and a dear Aunt after a two-year absence, due to life and the pandemic.
Every time I return, I learn more of my story. About fifteen years ago I took a pilgrimage to the actual home where I grew up in Thomasville, Georgia. Allow me to share some of my reflections from that experience:
“This is where it all began, I thought as I walked the brick pathway to the front porch. Climbing the stairs, I turned my back to the front door, and gazed at the expanse of yard before me. A lifetime of Easter egg hunts, softball games, birthday scavenger hunts, kickball, chasing fireflies (we called them lightnin’ bugs). and family photo shoots flashed through my mind. The landscaping was different — my mama’s meticulously planted flower gardens were gone now in favor of a practical lawn with simple upkeep, but the expanse still seemed huge. Yet I was familiar with every inch — the section of the yard where Barbie and Ken took their camper, the corner where my tree house had been my favorite lookout, and the hill where I went sailing out of control while learning to ride a bike (“How do I stop it, Daddy?” were my final words before the crash.) It was all here, and a rush of memories stirred my emotions.
I turned back to the front door, took a deep breath, and rang the bell to a home I had not entered in more than thirty years. “Pinecrest” was the only home I ever knew as a child. Our family name, Secrest, had been combined with the tall Georgia pines filling the yard to inspire the name. Every rite of passage occurred here — first step, lost tooth, impossible dream, broken heart, and new adventure had its genesis here, at least for my first twenty-five years.
Today, as part of uncovering my own life story, I was ready to make this pilgrimage alone. The current owners greeted me with grace and hospitality that confirmed what I had already suspected and fervently hoped — this was a loving family home. Still.
My gasp came as I stepped over the threshold and faced the staircase to my upstairs bedroom. “Why, it’s so small!” I exclaimed.
How many times had I and my sisters hovered at the top of the stairs furtively spying on a grown-up party or waiting to be released to the tree on Christmas morning. How vast the living room had seemed back then.
As I began my exploration, I had a destination of primary importance — my little bedroom, top of the stairs and front of the house. Standing by the bed under the window, my eyes filled with tears as I whispered to my hosts, “I saw the whole world from this window.” It was true. The bed in that corner had been my haven, my sanctuary from the world, where I would curl up and read voraciously of far-away places, hardly daring to dream that I would one day actually experience them. Or perhaps bury myself in a pillow, crying my eyes out because I felt rejected and unpopular; a nonconformist in a sea of sameness.
I had spent hours listening to Rod McKuen poetry records and writing my own poems and stories in diaries, wanting somehow to capture meaning in my musings. This was also the corner where I read my Bible and my very first daily devotions from “Streams in the Desert.”
There were times I sat on that bed and hated myself because I felt fat and loud and bossy and selfish. And, truth be told, there were plenty of times that I was those things. But there were also times when I dared to believe that I was smart and beautiful and adventurous and even capable of being used by God to help change the world. And, incredible as it seems, I really was those things too.
As I bid farewell to my hosts and the house, I could almost hear the barks of long ago pets Frisky, Rusty, Pepper, Cinnamon, Ginger and Parsley sending me on my way. This had been a happy place and my memories were mostly good ones. Here I had been nurtured, provided for, taught, prayed for, disciplined and encouraged to become all that God had for me. Most of all, I had been loved. Mama and Daddy assured me of their love daily. “Thank you, God, for this legacy of love You gave me,” I prayed as I drove away.”from “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
Visiting my childhood home helped seal some of my emotions and memories so that I could move forward.
Because who we become flows out of who we were.
When Alex Haley published “Roots” back in 1976, he was saying to generations of black people in America “Your story began before slavery — and it’s a rich and wonderful story indeed.” We all need to face our own roots and determine how they fit into the story we are now living. “Sooner or later you must go home again. You must face the depths of that well. The parentage, the family story, the tribal story, the story of the hometown or region — all of it contributes to who you are now.”
As you think about the backstory of your life, offer both the good and bad elements to God, and ask Him to help you discern their part in your ongoing story.
- Draw a diagram of the home you grew up in (if it was several homes, do the one when you were ten years old.) What was your favorite place in that home and why do you remember it so well?
- Describe the family you were born into (parents’ ages and vocations, siblings, house/apartment, church and community involvement, socioeconomic status, etc.)
- What values were considered most important in your family?
- Are you aware of any long-ago family secrets? If so, what were they?
- What was your family’s greatest strength?
- Greatest weakness?
- Complete this sentence: One of my happiest family memories is when _______.
- Complete this sentence: An especially difficult time in our family was when _____.
Counselor Dan Allender has observed that while everyone’s life is a story, most people don’t really understand the script. “they miss the deeper meaning in their life, and they have little sense of how God has written their story to reveal himself and his own story… Our story is truer than any other reality we know, and each of us must discover the meaning of what God has written as our life story. In our story God shows us what he’s up to and what he wants us to be about.”
When you intentionally take time to remember your life, you will discover that it indeed has meaning. Your story matters, and you alone can fulfill the significant role God has for you in the larger story of His kingdom.
Now I’m going to go find some grits, fried chicken, cornbread, and iced tea…
May the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the friendship of the Holy Spirit bring you comfort and strength, Lucinda
“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”
©2021 Lucinda Secrest McDowell www.LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” She has authored 15 books including “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” and “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most.” She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and shares encouraging words at LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com