When I was eighteen, my twenty-year-old brother came home one summer day from work with a severe backache. My parents took him to the doctor, but the doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. So he referred him to a specialist. After multiple tests, he was diagnosed with cancer. Eight months later after completing a horrific chemotherapy regimen, he died.
Before he was buried, I went to the mortuary to see him. When I walked into the slumber room to say good-bye, I didn’t see him. I saw Herman Munster. At that moment, my life stopped. And that image generated nightmares that haunted me for years.
After his funeral, I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and the nightmares continued without end. Through the encouragement of a church pastor, I sought counseling.
Finding new life through journaling
During our weekly sessions, my counselor suggested writing in a journal to get the pain out of my head. The goal was to transfer the pain down my arm, through my hand, into the pen, and into the journal. Once the pain was transformed to words and phrases, I could deal with it objectively. But I always locked that journal away in a dresser drawer each night just in case those memories decided to possess the journal and attack me.
Over time, I discovered that writing fit me. I learned to hear the melody of good sentence structure, and my hand and pen became an extension of my soul. For a few years, I worked as an auto mechanic to support myself while I pieced my life back together. And then one day, I got better and my life started again. I quit my job as an auto mechanic and pursued a bachelors degree at a local university.
During a timed Blue Book assignment in a Critical Thinking and Writing class, I wrote about a topic presented by my instructor and completed the writing assignment within the two-hour time limit. It was just another journal entry for me. So I connected my head with my hand and off I went. When she called time, I was writing on the back cover. The following week, she asked me to stick around after class.
“I read your Blue Book assignment this week,” she said. “In my 15 years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone complete a Blue Book session writing on the back cover. Have you ever thought of pursuing writing as a career?”
I thought she was crazy.
“I’m not a writer. I just like to journal. I treated your assignment like one of my daily journaling sessions” I replied.
“I think you have a skill here that will help you later in your career. You should consider pursuing a writing career before it stops pursuing you” she said.
We continued our conversation for several months until I completed the class and finished my bachelors degree in Business. Two years later, I applied to a full-time Masters degree program at Miami University, finished the program, and worked for the next thirteen years as a technical writer in the computer industry.
After my brother died, pain dominated my life that forced me to action–a process my church pastor called brokenness. It led me to writing, a college professor, a college degree, and a new career. Over time, I learned a valuable lesson about brokenness: Even though he died, his death gave me life.
Embracing brokenness in a positive light
We all experience some form of brokenness. It appears in many forms: heartbreak, failures, moral mistakes, loneliness, fear, even isolation. We deal with brokenness in many ways: self-help books, counseling, anger, even journaling. Brokenness can prevent us from finding our purpose in life if we allow it. But when we embrace our brokenness in a positive light, it can show us who we really are.
Executive coach and former pastor Ted Beasley explains it this way:
We human beings sometime feel this pull between the scarred-over memories from the past and the dreams that we have for ourselves for the future. We look at the things that we’ve done or the things that have been done to us, and we’re tempted to conclude that our past somehow disqualifies us from being truly fulfilled or keeps us from accomplishing great things in this world. But between the past and the future stands a choice. It’s a choice about whether we can face our brokenness–even embrace it–or, on the other hand, if we’re going to be a victim to it, and just resign ourselves to mediocrity.
I think we become who we are through brokenness. It narrows our choices and leads us down a path to new skills, a new perspective, and a purpose. And that purpose can define our career.