My goal, as I sit here in my bedroom is to prove to you that your backstory is the family setting that you experienced growing up. Not only that, we could call this family setting your FIRST CULTURE.
I’m sitting in my favorite red chair which has an amazing backstory of its own, but I’ll save that for another time.
On the desk beside me are four books, just popping with helpful resources in this endeavor. Each of these resources is like a lovely rock taken from the shores of Lake Superior where I grew up. There is texture and color to each one. Though one of these is like an agate, spiraling and layered and full of delights, if one uses a magnifying glass.
The books are the Holy Bible (that’s the agate), The Art of Life by Edith Schaeffer, Wild Hope: a memoir by Carol Anne Alexander, and Ruby Payne’s, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.”
Each of these texts has something to say about you and about your family.
Let’s start with Carol’s memoir. This woman is a Director of Graduate Studies at Trinity Bible College in North Dakota. She has had a rich life of growing up in South Africa and made many nations of this planet her home through the years. Incidentally, she appears to be about my age. Both of us have had sufficient time to “get around.”
She begins the first chapter with one incredibly painful incident of her childhood which shaped the whole family. Her sister’s near drowning shook their world, their worldview, their security. Here’s what she says about the value of looking back on experiences such as this:
…each experience and season has shaped me, making me the person I am today. Truth is wrapped up in various ways. At times it is clothed in the some of the most painful and agonizing stories of our lives…There are milestones that have shaped me forever, and each one occurred in a specific place that I still recall with crystal clarity. One event, which impacted me forever, was on a beautiful sun-filled day in my childhood home. –Carol Anne Alexander, A Wild Hope, page xvi
How Carol ’s family interacted with each other after the traumatic event became part of her family’s culture, her first culture.
Do you like how Wikipedia’s definition of family culture?
Family tradition, also called Family culture, is defined as an aggregate of attitudes, ideas and ideals, and environment, which a person inherits from his/her parents and ancestors.
Or do you like Ruby Payne’s? She says the family, schools and other institutions can be called a system: a family system, a school system, etc.
A system is a group in which individuals have rules, roles, and relationships. —from A Framework for Understanding Poverty, page 81
Simple and to the point, both of these definitions teach us that part of our original culture is the communication patterns by which attitudes and ideals and rules were passed on. It makes me think about how much my mother loved to do the laundry. She made the whole process seem mysterious and sacred. To this day, I also love to do the laundry and to hang out the clothes to dry.
Edith Schaeffer says the family is the center of communication and relationship. Let’s let her speak because she says it best:
Human relationships are taking place whether or not anyone stops to label them. Good or bad human relationships and constructive or destructive human relationships take place at every level of life. Whether people treat people as human beings or machines, people are treating people in some way. Whether people treat everyone as having importance, dignity, significance, or whether people treat others on a sliding scale of importance-everyone is reacting to other people in some way. Human relationships start at birth and continue to death, whether or not anyone consciously things about it. Adults have been teaching children lessons of how to treat other people in devastatingly horrible ways or in biblically right ways, whether or not they have ever thought of themselves as teachers. Teaching takes place by example, every minute of every day for every human being. —Edith Schaeffer in THE ART OF LIFE, page 53
I beg to say that this communication or teaching, as Edith calls it, is the family culture being passed on to the newest members, and that this culture can be turned upside down in one day. It can drastically change from functional to dysfunctional after a single positive or negative event or as a result of a collection of them.
A writer of personal history must be aware of the family culture to which one grew up. We can’t escape the attitudes of our parents and siblings in those days when our personalities were being formed. Yet, we can reject them, push them aside, learn new patterns.
When I was reading the Bible this morning in my red chair, I took in chapter 18 and 19 of the book of Luke in the New Testament. I saw several characters there meeting Jesus for the first time. Each one had a backstory that brought them to that place in time to need what Christ had to offer. How I’d love to know their family histories!
When people encountered Jesus Christ, their lives were turned upside down. Just like a rock sitting on the shore of Lake Superior, the rough stone is picked up and polished and on display on my coffee table. So too, people can be given a whole new context and a whole new family culture from this day forward.
Yet, the backstory, or family history of that person is part of them, showing up in a variety of ways and most definitely should be recorded in their LIFE STORY as their FIRST CULTURE.