A while back my daughter asked me how many jobs I’ve had. I took a few moments to remember and count, and I came up with 20 jobs since I was 14–and I’m pretty sure I forgot a few. Since I’ve spent most of my adult life working at a few publishing companies, I was surprised to realize I had worked in that many jobs, from waitress to telemarketer, fast food to health food, bathroom cleaner to publishing executive. My first thought was this: Today, every day, I use what I learned in every one of those jobs.
The summer spent doing data entry transformed me from an adequate and disinterested graduate of a high school typing course to fastest fingers in the West (or something like that). Cleaning dormitory bathrooms as a work-study job in college taught me about humbly serving others, regardless of whether they appreciate–or even notice–my work. Waiting tables made me more aware of the way I treat people who serve me. And two weeks spent sorting film reels in a windowless high-security facility taught me a lot about what I wasn’t meant to do.
My second thought reflected the writer’s impulse: Wow, that’s a lot of stories.
The longer I live, the more I am convinced that God really doesn’t waste anything. He redeems the bad and the ugly, he mixes them with the good, and he puts it all to use in his work in and through us. And sometimes he works powerfully as we simply tell our stories.
A while back I finally watched the documentary God Grew Tired of Us, a film that was on my list for a while. It tells the story of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan and follows a few of them as they are resettled in American cities. The Lost Boys were displaced by civil war in their home country in the mid-1990’s, as children. They endured a 1000-mile journey through the desert–a journey that killed more than half of them–to a refugee camp in Kenya, where they were stuck for the next decade as they grew up, unable to reunite with their families or return to their homeland. Eventually, a few thousand of the young men, who had never seen running water or electricity, were flown to the United States and settled in apartments and given assistance to establish themselves in this country.
As I watched the film, I found myself thinking again about how God does not waste even the worst of experiences. The Lost Boys suffered as much as any humans have suffered, and God uses even that kind of experience. John Bul Dau is a striking example: Separated from his family at 13, John joined the massive group of boys fleeing genocide. Because of his above-average height, he was perceived as older and asked to serve as leader for a group of 1200 other boys. When he was resettled in the United States 15 years later, his height and his leadership skills helped him succeed in this new setting and gain an audience among the influential. He became a leader in organizing the Lost Boys throughout the country, and in drawing attention to the situation in Sudan. In 2007, he founded the John Dau Foundation to improve healthcare in South Sudan. Many of the other Lost Boys became equally focused on improving life in their home country, and some went back to South Sudan to build a new country after the vote for independence. Only God knows the full extent of how he will redeem and use the experiences of the Lost Boys in the future. And how he has used their story as it has been told.
God redeemed Paul’s experience as a religious persecutor and put his Roman citizenship to good use. He redeemed Ruth’s heartbreak in widowhood and poverty. He used Moses’ upbringing in the Pharaoh’s household. He used Joshua’s leadership skills, David’s musical talents, and Esther’s beauty. And we know all this because of their stories. God has used their stories to glorify himself, proclaim his truth, and draw generations of people into his light.
When we have bad experiences, or we feel we’ve wasted time or effort, sometimes we say, “Oh well, at least I have a good story.” Sometimes that’s all the value we can find in a bad experience. And it is valuable! Sometimes telling a story brings redemption. We never know how God will use our stories, but we can be confident that he will. So tell them!
© 2014 Amy Simpson.