By Stephanie Evelyn McKellar
Hmm, new teeth. That’s weird.
In the British science fiction show, Doctor Who, the Doctor is a Time Lord who can cheat death by a process called regeneration. He (and now she!) has been played by thirteen actors, allowing Doctor Who to be tv’s longest running sci fi program. With each new regeneration, the Doctor takes an episode to get reacquainted with the new body, new personality, and new preferences. Usually in the midst of a high stress, world-saving dilemma, while using that top-notch brain to devise a clever solution, the Doctor is in the midst of the chaos, figuring out who s/he is now.
Through processes of struggle and change, I have found myself unrecognizable, having to get reacquainted with who I am now in this season, in this new skin, within my whole story. I have found myself in the process of both discovering my True self and also collaborating and improvising within community and alongside God, incorporating who I was with who I’m becoming as I live and create a new story.
In the “Story and Community” class in Launch & Lead, we teach a model called the Story Circle. I suspect you can feel and find this journey in many of your favorite movies, stories, or even in your own life. The circle beings with You, as we start with the person we are. Then there’s a Need, something is shaken up, broken, lost, or necessary to retrieve for the sake of some healing. This prompts a Going—in Search of something. Often this journey means moving from an ordered state to a chaotic state, and we can feel disjointed, dismantled, and unfamiliar in our own skin and story. Sometimes, along the Search, there’s a Finding of what needed or were looking for, and in that process of Finding, something feels Taken, or lost: a part of us is with us no more, whether fear of something, a relationship, a dream towards which we once moved. Having made our discovery and transformative journey through some chaos, we Return in a way, either home from our quest or back into community in some way, capable now of Change or having been Changed. The journey has changed us and crafted us anew, death and loss has been followed by new life and resurrection, and we return again to the beginning of the circle, with you.
We’re different, we’ve changed. We’ve been dismantled, layers and masks and facades stripped away, we’re different somehow. We may not recognize parts of ourselves, we may not recognize our True Self, or our need for rest, boundaries, or physical health. The us we once knew, our energy and capacity, our desires and dreams, is nowhere to be found. Ours is an old story, rather than a present and rooted truth about us now.
Jacob wrestled with the angel, and, forever, walked differently. The disciples left their nets and followed in Jesus’s footsteps, becoming apostles and finding a new way of being in community. Many inspirational stories of great artists, creators, philanthropists, and activists have stories of trauma and struggle in their pasts that have deeply rewritten their soul DNA and HTML code. The walk through struggle sharpens and reshapes us. Like the journey from caterpillar to butterfly, the struggle from one identity to the other can make the new entirely unrecognizable to the old. Marked by new names, vocations, locations, and endeavors, the unfamiliar can leave us disjointed and disoriented.
Yet, instead of being lost in this journey, God meets us along the way as we go. Jesus calls us by our new names, inviting us to step away from the comfortable and familiar, telling us to stay close, for this journey ahead requires less plot line and more pilgrimage posture. In our struggle, we are learning to walk more closely to our Companion and Advocate, getting familiar with our new (wine)skin and selves, trusting the Spirit from within, the flame from above, and the lamp that lights our feet.
To face the struggle of the dark night or the pilgrim road may mean losing ourselves entirely, yet our deepest selves lie in the hands of a trustworthy Creator, hovering over our chaos and speaking life and love into the fibers of our being. We may feel disjointed now, but we will discover and create ourselves again. We are always and evermore people of a resurrecting God.