Our Shabby Biographies

Our Shabby Biographies

I have a couple of special places at home designated for reading. In the early morning (before daylight) I sit in my recliner in the living room. Beside my chair is an “end table” which was originally an old chamber pot bench (complete with chamber pot). On that small bench is where I stack my books.  My other spot is on my back porch. I have been known to sit out there in the dead of winter – gloves, heavy coat and all – deep in a good read.


This year, for no particular reason, I have read several biographies and memoirs. Biographies are not necessarily my favorite genre, but one well written is worth the time. From Genghis Kahn to Johnny Cash, people are generally interesting if you pay attention to their story, and everybody has a story.


At the risk of sounding narcissistic, sometimes I wonder what an author might write about my life. “A thoughtful soul; quick to laugh at sophomoric things; and has a fondness for strange antiques.” No doubt my biographer would pour over all my writings, including articles like this one. From such research it could be said of me, “Grammatically clumsy, but passionate in convictions and winsome with nostalgia.” Of course biographers have to get into the family background and here again I am not wanting for material. “An eclectic upbringing; surrounded by hard-working farmers on the rocky piedmont soil of middle Georgia.”


A good biography usually shows the complexity of its subject. No one person is “all good” (not even Johnny Cash) or “all bad” (same with Genghis Khan). People are complicated, often at odds within themselves, and at times duplicitous with convictions.


What would your biography say?


We all have shabbiness in our story. Mistakes, missteps, and outright embarrassments litter our personal narratives.


The poetry of faith reminds us that redemption is not one-time, but on-going. John Claypool use to close his church services with the words, “You are being redeemed” and that is true. Our biographies are always changing, day by day, moment by moment. There are highlights and accomplishments we hope will always be remembered. And there are set-backs and failures we pray will soon be forgotten.


Your story is important and I hope you find strength to share it. The old-fashioned word for this is testimony, which is just another way of saying share.


Share your story with others. Your funny memories as well as your times of failures are stories that can strengthen and comfort others. In sharing with others you build connections and from connections you build trust and from trust come an abundance of generative beginnings.


Many this summer will be traveling for vacations, mission trips, family reunions, and student camps. As you go you are writing your biography to your “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver).

May your story speak of great adventures, even in the mundane chores.

May your story tell of great grace, even when you experience great disappointments.

May your story share God’s fidelity, even when your strength fails you.


“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)