Wednesday I told you:
(1) I made a surprising observation while looking at a decades-old photo from our family’s three years on the mission field in South America,
(2) a couple days later I stumbled upon these words by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner:
“Sometimes you think a story is completed
and all wrapped up.
But then, decades later, something happens
and you realize that it’s not done yet,
it’s still in process.”
(Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary)
and (3) I realized that the photo and Rabbi Kushner are begging me to tell additional stories, bigger stories than the ones I’ve already compiled in three-ring binders for my kids—old letters to folks back home and a few added stories.
While it’s good that I compiled them, they are just the facts, not memoir. (What is a memoir? Click on that link, and on this one.)
Currently my stories dawdle on the surface. They lack memoir’s introspection, pondering, and unraveling.
They lack an examination of what God was doing in and for and through it all.
But now that snapshot has changed everything. That snapshot represents a theme (which is an important aspect of memoir), an ever-present undercurrent that impacted everything during our years there.
The picture foreshadows stories that made ongoing international news—events that touched our family and friends. Events that changed many lives. Forever.
What am I talking about?
Let’s look another look at the picture:
That’s my Karen (her haircut is a story for another day),
Glenny, my Matt, and Ray Rising, Jr.,
who had also come over to play that first day.
Only days ago I looked at that picture and realized that when we moved to the mission field, the first two kids my kids met, Glenny and Ray, became victims of leftist guerrillas.
Less than five years after that snapshot, guerrillas kidnapped Glenny’s brother-in-law, Chet Bitterman, and murdered him 42 days later. His story was all over the news. Steve Estes captured the story in Called to Die. (I know almost everyone in the book.)
The day I took that picture, no one could have guessed guerrillas would kidnap and murder our neighbor and coworker, Chet.
In 1994, guerrillas kidnapped Ray’s dad, Ray Rising, Sr., and international news agencies covered this event, too. Unlike Chet’s case, guerrillas released Ray after 810 days. Denise Marie Siino penned that grueling episode in Guerrilla Hostage.
The day I snapped that picture, no one could have guessed guerrillas would kidnap Ray’s dad.
Shortly after the Glenny-and-the-snake incident, the next two friends my kids met were Mark and Tracey Tattersall. Several years later, guerrillas gunned down their father and our friend, Norm.
No one could have guessed those precious children would experience the guerrillas’ radical violence so personally. No one could have foreseen the high price they’d pay.
But there’s more. It occurred to me that our stories' overall theme would be carried out, literally, in the lives of the first four kids my kids befriended.
And I could tell you more stories of more kidnappings and more murders at the hands of leftist guerrillas.
Those photo discoveries make me marvel yet again at the richness of memoir—the tunneling beneath the surface to find deeper meaning, to discover what God was doing.
Memoir involves piecing together small pictures that, like a collage, compose and reflect the bigger picture.
That bigger picture for three years for our young family, that bigger picture for colleagues who worked there thirty years, and for missionaries with other organizations, and for Peace Corps volunteers—that bigger picture included guerrillas, always lurking, sometimes face to face, sometimes in the shadows, but always stalking—always—from before our family’s arrival and for years to come.
All these years I’ve treated the bigger story like an elephant in the room.
Why? A couple of reasons.
The bulk of my materials consist of letters I sent home and, when I wrote them, I didn’t want to alarm our parents. Yes, they knew of guerrilla activities while we were there, but I deliberately downplayed them.
Second, I’m sure we were at least partially in denial about our day-to-day dangers. (And maybe that wasn’t so bad. Living in denial was much more fun than living in wild-eyed, paralyzing terror.)
Now, however, years later, I have no reason to hide the realities.
The time has come to deal with the elephant in the room because, as a family, we can embrace deeper lessons.
I want my kids, and someday their kids, to celebrate God’s faithfulness, power, and protection for our family and friends.
I want my kids, and someday their kids, to marvel at how God can use everyday people to accomplish SuperHuman heroic feats.
I want my kids, and someday their kids, to see God’s sovereignty: To us, at the time, it looked like God had to scramble to patch together a Plan B, when it was his Plan A all along.
So, now I must decide: What’s the best way to incorporate that bigger, broader message—that theme—into my already-existing stories?
Do I want to revise the letters and stories and turn them into a memoir?
I groan when I think of the time and effort that would take.
Come back Wednesday and I’ll tell you what I might do.…