Joseph Gruber: 10/4/20
“What’s your story?” is a question I often ask other people. I love stories—I studied English literature in college, and one of the reasons I love studying the Bible with people now is my love for good narratives. And we all have stories—we all began, did something, and have at least ended up here, reading the St. John the Evangelist bulletin. That story is one where we are the main character, the hero, as it were. That’s the version I usually get when I ask for someone’s story.
There’s another story, though. It’s God’s story of our lives, and in that story, He is the main character. He is the One Who created us, and He sent His Son to redeem us from our captivity to sin, and sent His Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify us so we can respond with love to God’s love. In this story, God is the hero. We are the ones needing to be rescued in this version. Sometimes, this is the story people share with me. It’s what people call a ‘testimony’—we can testify to the fact that God has broken through into our lives and changed them for the better.
Everyone has a story; no one has fully lived out the reality of God’s rescue operation (other than Mary, of course…)– some of us have experienced, in part, God’s work in our lives, and others are waiting to be introduced to God as the main character. We meet each other in the middle of our stories, not always sure where we’re headed, or sure where the other is going, either.
Here’s my story—I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a relatively large Catholic family. Growing up Catholic, I knew about God—I even knew a lot about God. But I didn’t know Him. When I went to college, I had a strong desire to learn both how to think and how to tell stories—or another way to put it, I didn’t like to be wrong, and I wanted to be better understood—so I studied philosophy and English literature at the University of Pittsburgh. But I found that neither modern philosophy nor modern literary analysis did much for my thinking or my living.
What really was transformative for me was a question that totally redirected my life, asked by a friend during my senior year: “Are you joyful?” I had no idea how to respond. Nine years of Catholic school, four years in a high school Catholic youth group, and three out of the four years of college actively involved in campus ministry, and I had no answer. I had no idea that Jesus and joy go together. My friend challenged me to start talking to Jesus, and to ask Him what joy was. I started to, and discovered that I was wrong in my thoughts, words, and deeds pretty often, and that I took almost no time to try to understand other people, especially God. But I also found in Jesus’ gaze that I was loved by Him—though I was selfish, wrong, sinful, and stubborn, I was still loveable. I don’t think I knew that before then.
Knowing that I was loved by Jesus made it a lot easier to talk to other people about Him! So I did! And when I graduated, I became a Catholic missionary, which is what I’ve been up to for the past 11 years, serving eight and a half years at different college campuses, and two and a half years here, in Jackson.
Along the way, I’ve learned more and more about the love of God. Most especially, His love was made manifest in a new way some years ago when I married Crystal, and I learned more about what love means by trying to live it out. He continues to shape my heart, with now three sons and a daughter you can meet, and three children in heaven from miscarriage. Each child has been a blessing, and as I learn to love as a husband and as a father to now three active boys and one special-needs daughter, I continue to learn that I am wrong, and I need to do a better job to understand. And there is joy there, because I know that I am first, last, and always loved.
Everyone has a story, and I’d love to hear yours!