On stories, dumpster diving and indirectly doing my homework

This story begins in media res, in fact I do not think that any part of my story has a true stasis. I might change that for my “story” paper I am currently reflecting on for “Intro to Counseling.” Stasis was that I was born. Or maybe earlier than that, within a garden called Eden.

There is no part of my life that did not have some difficulty, some inciting incident intruding upon just living out life. I am good with this. I learned early that life would be painful. I am glad for this.

Dan Allender describes this event as the shattering of shalom by. Shalom can act as a metaphor as how our lives might have felt because something truly changing occurred. It might have felt really normal and complete before, even if it wasn’t. If it wasn’t normal, you might look back on it as if it was normal. We like to make memories nostalgic.

Don Miller says “… an inciting incident is a doorway through which a protagonist cannot return.”

Oh, how many times has that been the case. I will not draw out a timeline for you, all. That will be for my story paper. I may or may not post it. It depends on how deep it goes.

Life gets interrupted and we have to live with it.

Let me demonstrate a story from a couple weeks ago.


It was a humid, grey Saturday morning. I rose early, and headed to South City which is a 20-30 minute drive. Got on Grand, took a turn for this one street which led to New City Fellowship- South. It was my first time to this location. I have been attending church at their other location on 82nd Street. It’s closer. I saw that there was a red bar at the front keeping the doors locked, so I followed an older couple to the side of the church where there were also doors. I entered a simple, cafeteria-like room, signed in, made myself a nametag with masking tape, and then headed to the coffee table before I got a distinct kind of headache. In the next 30 minutes, people filed into the room. I did not know anyone except for the coordinator. I came by myself after meeting with April, the coordinator a couple weeks before. She told me about Work Day and invited me to come and see and check it out. This I did. I was by myself. I am independent, so sometimes I never realize how by myself I am until I am the only one I know in the room.

Sometimes I can make my way around and talk to people, but everyone there was from a different church. It was really cool how many churches are partnering up with New City as they minister to the city. I eventually wandered over to a couple who also looked to be in their 20’s and got myself up to chat with them, and I ended up being assigned a project with them and a Burmese girl. Several people were assigned to our project after. One man was a pastor from Zimbabwe, who I recognized from Chapel the day before. He had a super strong work ethic but I would expect no less from most people from the African culture. It was a startling discovery I made during my 7 weeks spent in Kenya.

In fact, people began to grow tired and they had other assignments to do. We were to clear rubble out from a future sunday school room– the place was a wreck and a living dustbowl. I spent a few hours simply shoveling rubble and rocks and dirt into buckets, which other people would grab and haul to the dumpster. I volunteered to shovel simply because I suck at lifting stuff. I prefer the aerobic strength exercise that shoveling provides.

Shalom or Setting or Stasis

The entire thing felt like a worshipful, super long, P90x routine. It was hard work, but I focused my mind to worship in the mundane, strenuous work and just really enjoyed it. I knew I would be tired later, but I did not feel tired at that point. Some people left but the pastor from Zimbabwe was keen to getting the entire job done- which was a lot. I resigned myself to finish the job– I wanted to see the completion of my efforts. It was a joyous thing to accomplish. Also the presence of an African pastor helped motivate me, of course.

I felt the best I had felt in awhile after that– I went on my facebook and wrote: “Today I feel full and happy. The Kingdom is alive in me.”

And that is how I truly felt. Not anxious, in peace, feeling spiritually rejuvenated. Feeling like I was participating in progressive drama of the gospel story. Life was at rest for a few minutes.

Inciting Incident

“Good stories tell about the intersection of desire (“subjective expectation) and tragedy (“cruel reality”). A story begins when our desires collide head-on with reality.”- Dan Allender, To Be Told

I rested on the stairs of the church for at least 30 minutes and talked with the Burmese girl who I was surprised to discover was only 14. She had a certain maturity for an 8th grader. We talked about school. Her least favorite subject was English. My favorite subjects were always theater and English and I asked her why she did not like the books she read (among them were one of my favorites, “To Kill A Mockingbird”). I did discover that she did like to read, but not reading she was assigned. I could resonate, being a rebel to homework many times. She liked The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and was starting to read Narnia. I was pleased with this and we talked a bit about it. Shalom continues.

I drive home, back to campus, and I clean my out my car as I go into my apartment. I NEVER do this. I must have felt so great about life that cleaning out my car seemed like no big deal. I gathered these things and placed them all in the trash went I entered the apartment. Sarah, my roommate, who was cleaning, took the trash out a few minutes later.

It was not until approximately 10:30 that I realized that my keys were gone. I went to karaoke with some people anyway, being driven there, and went home forgetting about the keys, and fell quickly to sleep.

I woke up the next morning planning to go to South City campus. I worked out (by this I mean I did some therapeutic stretching because my back was messed from shoveling), ate breakfast, got dressed, and looked everywhere for the keys.

Nowhere to be found.

I went hunting around my car and resolved one thing right as a car with my roommate, Taylore, Kiersten and Kiersten’s visiting friends rolled up:

My keys were most assuredly in the dumpster.

I told the girls my situation and they offered me a ride to go to church with them. I really did not want to. I really wanted to see the Zimbabwe pastor preach. I knew he was gonna be good. I worked with him all Saturday morning. I accepted the ride and went with Sarah and she was doubtful about my dumpster theory, sensibly asking me if I searched all over the apartment. Yes, yes I did.

My world got miserable in a few minutes. We all love inciting incidents in stories, until they happen to us. Then, we want our own story to be resolved, fast. I was overcome by anxieties sitting in this really good church I had never been to. I cried tearfully after the service out of simply being overwhelmed: I had a paper to write, I had to help a friend with something, but first I needed to retrieve $300 car keys from the dumpster. Everyone was going to the City Museum. I had been longing to go there ever since I moved here, and I couldn’t go. Life sucked. Shalom was shattered.

Shalom Sought or Rising Action

Dan Allender writes “It’s inconcievable to consider what Adam and Eve felt during their first night east of Eden. Life in the wild, surrounded by formidable darkness would require a radical new choice: Will I trust God’s goodness to protect me and provide for my needs, or will I trust myself?”

Story involves risk. We cannot venture on in our stories without some pain and suffering. We run away from risk because it makes us too vulnerable. Risk is messy, and a little ugly to gaze upon. There is danger there.

I took a risk. I took a literal jump of faith, into the dumpster, which I suspected my keys to be in. I first got into dirty clothes, put my hair up, and my sunglasses on to protect my sensitive eyes. I wished for latex gloves and one of those claws that people use to pick up trash on the road. I pulled a chair from my kitchen up to the dumpster, and a neighbor came by to assist me into the green box of utter messiness. I was literally stepping into other people’s trash. I scanned every trash bag– some with diapers, some with food remains, boxes, mayonnaise jars, tuna fish cans- it was disgusting.

“The world into which these stories invite us both attracts use and makes us hesitate to be drawn into it. It makes us draw near and draw back equally by its realism and by its vision. It is ruthlessly true to the suffering and sin that run through life and history: deprivation, animosity, fear, anxiety, hunger, guilt, injustice, immorality, loss, frustration, disappointment, grief, failure…”- Goldingay

The weirdest part was my phone was with me. It had to be. Would if I could not get out of the dumpster? I needed to have it on me. Taylore came outside and laughed at me, we both laughed at the whole absurdity of this experience. It felt tragic to me but incredibly amazingly ridiculously funny at the same time. She snapped many pictures of me. I had her take pictures of me from my phone, as well.

This is me in my existential state of garbage.


This was when the e-mails to Covenant housing started. I left the dumpster to go investigate further. To both search my apartment more thoroughly and to ask Sarah about the contents of yesterday’s trash bag.

I wrote my first e-mail.

1:57 PM “Hey everyone, please be on the lookout for lost keys. They have a green carabiner. On a related note, if you could
hold off on taking trash out for an hour, that would be great. I already looked through the dumpster but might be diving back in. Thanks so much! Janelle.Sent from my iPhone”.

2.04pm : “Additionally, can someone help me move a
bookshelf? I suspect the keys also may be in this area. Sent from my iPhone”.

2.08pm:“Bookshelf moved. Sent from my iPhone”. Then silence.

So I spent this time, looking through the apartment. Sarah helped me move the bookshelf. I also texted our roommate Peggy who was out of town but was definitely gonna get a kick out of this.

After becoming practically famous (all the kiddies saw me in the trash can. I felt like Oscar the Grouch.), being told by a 7 year old friend named Josie about how someone threw up in the dumpster, and acquiring lots of other similar remarks, I jumped back in.

I did not find the trash bag Sarah had described in there. It had to be in there.

I did not want to go back in. I wasn’t even sure if it was worth it.

Would if my keys were somewhere completely stupid? Like, under my pillow or in the utensil drawer, or even in the bottom of one of my numerous bags? I checked every possible nook and cranny.

I had to jump back in.

2.57pm. “And they were in the dumpster.
Beautiful. Can someone help me out of here? 🙂 Sent from my iPhone”.

After some heavy searching and a more intentional method, I found our trash bag.

I at first disregarded that because the swiffers looked like diapers. But there is no mistaking the smell of a swiffer wet jet throwaway.

I ripped the bag open and discovered the small bag of trash from my car.

They were not there. I was about to cry.

But wait, amongst all the crap and dust Sarah carefully swept the day before, there lied my car keys. Triumph.
I cried with joy and then sent an e-mail.


Yes, a bunch of people wondered about having my iphone in the dumpster with me.


I had my keys. I just had to get out of there. Lest I either be trapped forever or if I hurt myself getting outta there. I sent the e-mail from before the slideshow. After I sent the 2:57 e-mail from iphone asking for someone to help me outta there, I got an answer:

At 3.01pm. “Subject Line: Re: Help found: Out of dumpster”. Sent from my iPhone.

And isn’t that what the denouement of our life events should be like? Out of the dumpster. We enter into messy dirtiness, but somehow, through taking a risk, we reach a pivotal point of victory, and our lives are back at rest- restoration of shalom- denouement.

Resolutions are never fully resolved as they may suggest. In french, Denouement means “an untying, a relaxing of a knot of complexity.”

Life out of the dumpster was not clean yet. I needed to still write that stupid paper, eat dinner, experience life , get asked by 10 people at the RUF party if I still had food in my hair (it was the running joke of the night).

“Tragedy mars shalom, but denouement invites us to remember our innocence (life before lost keys) and dream of a day of greater redemption (finding the keys, being able to go to church again without lost keys in the dumpster)…there is always the next turn in the road. A new story begins the moment an old one ends (hey, there’s that concept of in media res!). But a denouement is a respite that calls us to stop the journey for a brief interlude– to eat, drink, sing, dance, and tell our story to others (I did all these things at the RUF party).”-Allender with parenthesized interjections by me.

Goldingay says, “Stories can both reassure and challenge, support and confront, reinforce and unsettle; they may offer identity or disturb it…The best stories hold together comfort and confrontation, as they reflect life itself in interweaving suffering and hope, cross and empty tomb, life in its gritty reality and death in which are the seeds of resurrection.”

Living out stories can be somewhat tragic. My story was funny, but I was tired, overwhelmed, and beat down. I chose to make fun of it and live it out as a comedy, instead of a tragedy. By faith, I jumped into my story, again, even when it looked a little gross. All to come to a good ending.

God has a story going for all of us, seen in the completed picture of the Bible which Sandra Richter describes as “the epic tale of God’s ongoing quest to ransom his creation.”

“Endings are not merely times for reflection; they are also seasons of celebration. We are to dance in the arms of a good ending…What is your style of celebrating an ending? Do you only throw parties after someone graduates, gets married, or dies? If so, then all the other endings in your story are lost in the wake of another day’s busyness. Perhaps one of the reasons you and I don’t party well is that we do not know what to do with the tragedies that linger in our life.”- Allender

All Allender quotes shamelessly quote from Chapter 2 of To Be Told, part of my homework assignment. 🙂


2 thoughts on “On stories, dumpster diving and indirectly doing my homework

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