Paul and I grew up on a two-hundred-and-sixty-five acre dairy and row crop farm in southwestern Kentucky. Okay, actually, we had other siblings who grew up there as well. Well, more accurately, they lived there for a while, some for nearly as long as we did. The oldest two lived there during their high school days and our younger older sister did that, plus her years of what would now be called middle school. Our youngest brother was born there and we moved before he was old enough to work in the dairy barn.
Since Paul and I were the only young ‘uns who didn’t leave for college until after we’d all moved away, we tend to think of ourselves as the only ones that really grew up on that farm in Todd County.
Of course, Patsy lived there for nearly as many years as we did and she may very well consider that’s where she grew up. I have no memories of living on the farm near Russellville; I was only three when the family moved. Paul (three-and-a-half years older than me) has more memories of Logan County than I do but not as many as the others. Since I stayed on the farm and worked for the family that bought it until I’d finished eighth grade, I actually lived there a few months longer than anyone else in the clan. This is a fact that I’d never thought about until just now. I’m not sure what bragging rights this gives me but I’m sure going to give that some careful thought.
The thing is, the claims of our heritage are highly individualized. They are also often fantasized to some degree. Memories get altered over the years. The barns get bigger, the hay bales heavier and the days more demanding. Impressions formed in childhood may become too entrenched for objective adult examination to alter them. An afternoon in the field may turn into a week of work. A mile hike through the creek may turn into a mini-marathon through a swamp that didn’t even exist.
That brings up an advantage that Paul and I have through our shared years on the farm; we can check our stories against each other. Then, each of us has the option of altering in favor of a more accurate account or of mutual collusion that turns it into an even better story. Unless we overlooked a witness or two, who’s to say we didn’t do what we just told you we did?! In terms of personal history, one should not underestimate the value of imagination and creativity.
Such liberty, however, must never apply to our witness of our beliefs and our attempts to live faithful to them. Testimonies that declare nothing but the glorious victories are not only suspect; they do damage to both the speakers and the listeners. Anyone whose witness does not include admission of dark days and long nights, wrestling with demons and sometimes losing, is a person with an incomplete testimony. It is not by “victory” alone that we overcome; it is by an absolute, bone-stubborn refusal to surrender our faith. No matter how deep and dismal the swamps. “I believe” is the victory.