Who do you think you are? What do you think you’re worth relative to the whole of things?

Not ready to cope with the facts of organic chemistry and the mathematics associated with it, I sat as far from the instructor as I could. Please…dear God! May I not be asked any questions!

After several months at Iowa State, I realized that even if I tried to fake it, I wouldn’t make it. There were explanatory reasons: I worked nearly full time to cover expenses while carrying a full load of credit hours. My high school credentials were as valueless as a forged passport – I had graduated from high school 22nd from the top in a class of 32.

Though faithful in attending classes, I did nothing to draw attention to myself: I volunteered nothing. I sat in the back. I avoided eye contact with the instructors, lest they sense any desire to be called upon. Truly, my self-esteem had bottomed out. If anyone ever needed to imagine himself afresh, it was me.

Let me tell you something! I had it all wrong. True! I was hopelessly lost relative to organic chemistry and, the truth be known, I was intimidated by most of my studies. It was as if I had arrived at college with the wrong map. But being an inept 17-year-old did not make me less of a person.

What I would discover later was that the imperfect was to be my Paradise – flaws and faults became a source of creativity. Meanwhile, driven by an overwhelming desire to obtain a college degree and trusting this drivenness as God’s gift to me, I arrived successfully beyond two stretches of probation. It was a major step toward re-imagining myself. I was like Owl in “Winnie the Pooh” who “hadn’t exactly got brains, but he knows things.” Then I may have been hard put to say what it was that I knew; still, it was all there waiting for its season.

Since, I have pocketed both college and graduate degrees, though the cost was a mix of success and setback…repeat, and then finally coming to an UPPERCASE sense of self. Life has rewarded me in unexpected ways. Thankfully, I am not living the dreams of the youth I then was. Still, that untutored youth’s dreams underlie everything I have become. Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson wrote that she often gives adults an exercise that may serve as commentary on the way I have shoehorned what I was into what I am now. She asks that we compare two narratives of our life history. Narrative One: Everything I have ever done has been heading me to where I am today. Narrative Two: It’s only after many surprises and choices, interruptions and disappointments that I have arrived somewhere I could never have anticipated. Then she points out that each person’s life story can be read both ways. I have always favored Narrative Two.

It seems that God visits us in the complexity and variety of all that is happening to us. God sustains us in those seasons of our lives, lost or found, supporting us in the fumbling arising from our good and bad decisions respecting our vocational aspirations. I am persuaded that God has created in us a capacity to make our failures meaningful, even enabling us to usefully embrace those luckless trials life sometimes imposes upon us. Kent Horuf, author of “Our Souls At Night,” wrote of his own self-awakening: “I felt as though I had a little flame of talent, not a big talent, but a little pilot-light-sized flame of talent, and I had to tend it like a kind of monk or acolyte, and not to ever let the little flame go out.” It is my life’s story. When I consider how life has happened to me and how I have happened to life, I think of the old prayer: “Prepare us for adventure and do not spare us the hazards!”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus for First Parish Church, Saco, ME., and may be reached at [email protected]

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