Living between the Lines and What It Reveals about Our Stories
by Amanda Cleary Eastep
When my son was a young boy, he had a dream that he found me dead beneath a pile of dirty clothes.
He dreamed this during the divorce, and I can’t say I didn’t feel exactly like that—as if I were smothering and dying beneath a mounting pile of secrets and sins and everyday chores and child rearing that suddenly seemed to weigh ten times its weight in normal.
I never asked him the details of the dream. Did all the T-shirts I refused to turn right-side-out finally get their revenge? Were the lights separated from the darks? Was I clutching a dryer sheet in one cold hand and a very clean $5 bill in the other?
Sometimes, even when we aren’t going through a traumatic season, we can simply feel buried beneath the everyday.
That’s because most of our life’s story is lived “between the lines,” in the subtext that doesn’t immediately or explicitly reveal its meaning . . . so in our impatience, we declare it meaningless. While I prefer to envision my life reading like an epic fantasy novel or the biography of Joan of Arc (without the burning alive part), in between the major plot points are the ten-hour workdays, the boring errands, and the dirty laundry—both literal and figurative.
“I don’t think we have stories. I think we are stories,”1 writes author Paul Young.
Yes. Kind of.
Years after the “Exhausted Divorced Mother Dies in Laundry Avalanche” chapter, my son told me that one of his favorite songs was “Helplessness Blues.” I listened closely to the lyrics. The songwriter explains that he grew up believing he was as unique as a snowflake; but after thinking about it, he decided he’d rather be a “functioning cog” in a machine serving something far beyond himself. 2
Being the mother who very much bought into the unique snowflake belief, the fact that my son loved this song actually bothered me. Until I thought about it.
My son may be a story, but he isn’t the story. Nor am I; nor are any of us.
After all, isn’t being part of a greater story what the Christian life is about? As we live out our parts, God develops our character, moves His plot forward, and ensures that we grow along the way to become more like our Author.
Consider how life between the lines is meaningful…
1. It develops our character and calls us to trust God for daily bread as much as in the crises and climaxes.
2. It gives us space. We can’t only experience the major plot points of adventures, thrillers, and Amish romances. Life between the lines allows for a respite between the happy milestones and the toughest trials.
3. It lays the foundation for the rising action, builds support for the climactic moment, and allows for the gentle descent from the peak.
Has anyone ever said, “You should write a book about your life”?
If yes, that’s pretty cool, and you should do it.
If, like me, people have only said, “You should write a quirky sitcom about your life that gets canceled after one year causing a brief uprising of 17 fans and a petition-signing campaign that results in a disappointing final Netflix season,” then you might want to skip it.
In college, I wrote a book about my grandmother’s life. I wrote down all of the stories she had told me across the Sunday dinner table full of dirty dishes. Most of those stories would have been pretty ordinary while she was living them. Her family tended their gardens and plowed their fields, buried babies and grandparents, walked miles to school (really!), cooked, prayed, fought, and laughed.
And every moment she shared fascinated me.
My grandmother never said, “Why do you want to know this stuff? It’s not important.” She never appeared to doubt the value of those stories, however ordinary, or the presence of God’s hand in writing them.
In literature, there is a type of subtext called “revelation subtext” that gradually shares a particular truth over the course of a story until the larger meaning is revealed. In our greater Christian story, that revelation will come with Christ, who is our life, and when He appears, we “will all share in that magnificent denouement” (Colossians 3:4 J.B. Phillips).
1 Young, Wm. Paul. “We Don’t Just Have Stories. We Are Stories” (blog). http://wmpaulyoung.com/we-dont-just-have-stories-we-are-stories.
2 Fleet Foxes. 2011. “Helplessness Blues.” Track 6 on Helplessness Blues.
Amanda Cleary Eastep is the author of the new Tree Street Kids series for kids 8-12 from Moody Publishers in Chicago. Books 1 and 2, Jack vs. the Tornado and The Hunt for Fang, release in April 2021.
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