The Hard Middle

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.” —Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace

Stories are hard. That’s the thing they never tell you about life. We see story everywhere, and the abundance of them leads us to believe they should be easy. They’re not. They’re not easy to write, they’re not always easy to read, and they’re definitely not easy to live.

The beginning and the end can be easy, but the middle is usually hell on earth, at least in the stories that matter. Middles suck. All the build-up and excitement leads to work. And the work never seems to be done. I love What Donald Miller says about this in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

“IT’S LIKE THIS when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon.

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat. You got the wife, but you don’t know if you like her anymore and you’ve only been married five years. You want to wake up and walk into the living room in your underwear and watch football and let your daughters play with the dog because the far shore doesn’t get closer no matter how hard you paddle.

The shore you left is just as distant, and there is no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea. Maybe there’s another story at the bottom of the sea. Maybe you don’t have to be in this story anymore.”

I am in a middle right now both of a smaller story of going back to Beijing and of the larger story of my life. I often feel the urge to check out, the work doesn’t always seem to be worth the rewards. I mean, how I can be sure there even going to be any rewards at the end of this thing anyway?

A few weeks ago I was presented with the knowledge that it is possible for me to return to Beijing in February 2016, instead of waiting until August 2016 (apparently the school never filled my position and would really like me to come, my paperwork is in order, and due to the fact that my ticket was nonrefundable, I still have a flight to Beijing that I’ve gotta use before July). So I did the logical thing and said a big fat emphatic YEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!.

That’s all fine, well, and good. But now I have to wait on my contacts on the other side of the world to arrange everything. Waiting isn’t my thing. I often tell people that I have a large, angry Viking trapped inside me and he needs out, and never more than when I have to wait for something.

I was gnawing on this predicament during my quiet time the other day and as part of my morning ritual I read the Storyline Blog, and it had  a post ( ) that really helped me gain perspective. In the post, the author used the story of Joshua and the Israelites preparing to cross the Jordan into the promised land. He said sometimes all can do is get things in order, wait for God to tell you to move , and dip your toe into the water.

Now that’s great thing to hear, but what about the waiting. Well, the story of the Israelites didn’t end with them putting their feet in the water. When the priests stepped into the Jordan the river didn’t part like at the Red Sea. God stopped the flow of the river 20 or 30 miles upstream. They had wait for 20 or 30 miles of river to pass them by before they got move.

Imagine being an Israelite during this event, there’ so much excitement and anticipation for what God’s going to do next, you probably assume He’ll do what he did last time and just split the in front of you. And the priests step in and it seems like nothings happening. Everything in the river goes floating by, rock, sticks, Cousin Benny. And yet your left wondering if you heard correctly, maybe today wasn’t the day? Maybe God’s done and we’re on our own. And the as if it had always been there you see the bottom.

The waiting is hard. It feels like you’ve failed in some, but it pays off big. The that I like most about the story of the Jordan Crossing is that after they are on the other side, before he starts the flow of the river, God says: have one man from each of the twelve tribes go and grab a stone from the middle of the river and pile them here as memorial to what you have seen.

For a lot of people the take away is that we should always remember and celebrate the amazing thing God has done in our lives , and we absolutely should. But I don’t think God was trying to say “I’m awesome” or “Look what I did”, I think I was trying to say remember that crossing, remember that hard middle, I brought you through it and it was worth it.