Tag Archive | stories

A Story Shared

friends-and-coffeeAt the end of my last blog post, I invited readers to share stories with me. To my delight, someone took me up on that. A dear, dear friend who had been out of contact for a few years asked if she could share a story with me, and of course I said yes. The story was difficult, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Those moments were intimate and personal and private, and I am so, so honored to have heard this woman’s journey.

What I want to talk about is the fear that went along with the telling, because it’s so very universal. She feared how I would react. She feared taking too much of my time. Her story was her own, but that fear–I think that was universal. We live in a fractured, distant society where too many of our interactions are couched in great fear, and I’ve spent a lot of time this week pondering that fear and wondering what it means big picture.

A few years ago a big social media trend was articles like “Ten things you should never say to…”. Insert single person, married person, person who lost a son, etc etc etc.  The idea was that anyone who doesn’t share my circumstances can’t understand me. Why do we think we can only share with someone who has experienced what we’ve experienced? What brings us together isn’t only circumstances; it’s also emotions. God has given us limited emotions. Almost all of us have experienced fear. Disappointment. Joy. Sadness. Because I haven’t experienced every circumstance does’t mean I haven’t experienced emotions. A friend might struggle with sadness because of a death. I might experience sadness because of a dream that didn’t pan out. We can share our stories, and even if our experiences are different, we can both relate because we’ve experienced sadness. Those emotions bridge the gaps in our experiences and lead us to see and understand each other in our different places.

We’re told to bear each other’s burdens. But how can we do that if we don’t share stories? Life itself is a burden. I know it’s a gift, but it’s also a burden. There is a reason God tells us to gear up for battle. There is a reason He tells us to long for heaven and a new kingdom and a new earth and new bodies. This life can be horrible. And yet we are to share that horribleness. We need to tell the stories. We need to carry each other when we are wounded in battle, and we can’t do that from some distant place of generalities. We have to know the details. We have to know the stories.

Also, I think the only way we can nudge each other back to center is if we know each other’s stories. Otherwise, we simply speak platitudes to one another. Our struggles and even our sins stem from complex situations, complex lives, complex pasts. We’re told to help one another stop sinning. We’re told to bear burdens and be united. But can that happen if we don’t know the stories?

I am the worst offender here, both at sharing my own story and digging into stories of people I love. I have divorced friends, and I know nothing about their marriages or even the names of the spouses who are no longer in their lives. I have working friends, and I don’t know where they work or what they do at those jobs. I don’t ask enough questions. And people know as little about me (except for the stuff I spew here on my blog…). It’s easy to fear judgment, to think someone won’t understand, to be safe and not dig. We fear offending one another to the point where we don’t find out even the simple things about one another. Or we don’t take the time  to discover who is behind the masks on the people around us. At least I don’t. Maybe I’m alone in this. I know I’m an extreme introvert, so maybe others do much better at this than I do.

Really, we’re not that different. I think if we shared the stories behind our emotions, we would be better equipped to help one another, to bear burdens. I don’t know how to make that any less scary. Of  course we need to be careful and find safe people. We need to be safe people. We need to stop worrying about only finding people with identical frames of reference, because nobody has an identical frame of reference. How I react to some of the issues in my life–chronic illness, sibling loss, miscarriage, whatever–looks very different to how other people react to the exact same events in their lives. Let the similarities and the emotions bring us together instead of letting the variations keep us apart.

I love stories. I need to get better at sharing my own. I need to become a safe haven for other storytellers. Jesus tells us more than once that we are to become one with our fellow believers. Paul says the same, imploring us to unite in a way the world can’t understand. People will want to join us not because of the way we love the outsider but because of the way we love each other, with our flaws and differences. We want to pull that outsider into our circle of love and safety. That love might have something to do with how tenderly we care for each other’s stories.

The Saga of Goose

saga of gooseSometimes I write just for fun. No lessons, no brilliant epiphanies (ha), simply the fun stuff that happens in life. Today is one of those days. And, surprise, surprise, my fun story revolves around my pets.

I have two dogs. My Chihuahua Sparrow is my tiny guardian. He spends nearly all his life at my feet or in my lap or snuggled on my pillow (yes, I’m one of those crazy people who sleeps with her dog.) Skye is a 9 month-old Australian cattledog. She is a never-ending font of energy.

Because Skye loves to be outside, we taught her to use a dog door. It wasn’t an easy task. For the longest time she’d only exit or enter when we touched the door and gave her permission. Then finally, after several weeks, she did it on her own. She could come and go into our fenced yard at will. That made life easier for those of us called on to let her in and out a thousand times a day.

Unfortunately, she can also take things outside. One day my slipper ended up on the garden path outside the door. I need to have a talk with her about being cliché—I mean, stealing slippers? One afternoon I came home to find half the stuffing from one of the couch cushions out there. Kitchen towels, toilet paper tubes—she loves to take things out there because I can’t see her chewing them. And, of course, she can take dog toys out there, especially toys she wants to hide from Sparrow.

The other day my husband mowed the yard. Skye watched this from indoors, because she doesn’t like the mower. She sat in the back window and stared, and then she began to whimper. She ran to the door, put her head out, decided she didn’t like the sound, and returned to the window to whimper. Over and over again. I thought she was scared because my husband and the mower were getting closer and closer to the house and therefore to her.

The mower stopped, and my husband walked in with goose in his hand. Goose is the third player in this story. For an inanimate object, he’s very important in the life of my dogs.

When Sparrow was small, we bought him a stuffed goose toy. He loved it. He chewed it. As he tore up a section, I would cut it off–wings, feet, the head. It was pretty creepy. Eventually I had to throw goose away, and I replaced it. The third time this happened, I replaced it with a similar toy that was a pheasant. And the fourth time, it was a fox. But Sparrow knows the term goose, so we call all these similar toys goose.

The toy my husband ran over was the fox incarnation of goose. Goose was now in three parts: head, torso, tail. Sparrow saw this, grabbed the head, and ran off to chew it. Skye took the torso. My husband returned to mowing, and Skye no longer paid any attention. I’m pretty sure she knew where she’d left goose, and she knew my husband was getting closer and closer to it with the loud, scary machine. It scared her to death. But when goose came inside, even in pieces, she was okay again.

I need to get a new goose. We still have the one hit with the mower, but it completely freaks me out when Sparrow carries around the head. It’s always lying there with its eyes peering up at everyone. Often Sparrow sits a couple feet away and growls at Skye when she gets too close. I find myself wondering if the disembodied head of his toy doesn’t wig him out a little bit, too, because he’ll sit close enough to watch it but not close enough to touch it. Also, Sparrow likes to play tug of war with goose, and the little head is simply too small for a good game of tug of war.

The fate of the dog door is still up in the air. I’m too lazy to let Skye in and out a thousand times a day. But our back yard looks like a trash heap. A couple days ago it was a big square of sandpaper. I don’t know where she found it, and it frustrates me that I think I’ve decluttered my house, and yet she finds zillions of little things in hidden nooks and crannies and puts them outside. I should put a low trash can out there and train her to throw things away. Yeah, right.

As I said, this post has no point, except I like dog stories. For animals with no jobs, no purposes, they love dramas. I also have four cats, and the cat-dog dramas are fun, too. They entertain us all the time.

I honestly don’t know why God made animals. I don’t think most of them have a practical role on the planet. But I’m so thankful he did. I think originally they were all made to entertain us, to be companions, to enrich our lives, before we sinned and they were filled with fear of us. Those we’ve tamed remind us of how things were meant to be, a little glimpse back into the garden.

I hope very much that our heavenly home will have animals. I want to laugh at them and enjoy them and snuggle with them. Only we won’t be limited to dogs and cats, I think. We’ll snuggle wombats and wallabies and tigers and elephants. Koalas. Aye Ayes. I want to see whales up close and swim with dolphins. I want birds to land on my shoulder. Animals are cool. Just one more way God went over and above making a complex, beautiful world for us.

A Story Untold

Story untoldNational Sibling Day recently passed. I didn’t know about it ahead of time. Even when I was made aware of it, I didn’t search around for old photos and post a shot of my siblings and me. Not that I don’t love my siblings. I do. But my sister doesn’t bother with social media, so she wouldn’t see my loving tribute to sisterhood.

And my brother. Well, he wouldn’t see it either. My brother, you see, isn’t in this world any more. And I don’t talk about that. I don’t write about it. I don’t mess with it. It’s not a fun or easy story, and I’m all about happy endings and problems with solutions.

But lately I’ve felt the need to share the hidden stories. Not stories that will hurt people, but the ones I’ve hidden for the wrong reasons. Usually I hide them as much from myself as anyone. I want to believe I have things together. I want to believe knowing God means all my wounds are healed or can be healed. I want to believe I don’t have issues that make me see God through the wrong lens.

Yet there lies my brother’s story, silently melting a hole in my heart. Rarely mentioned, seldom salted with tears, and often relegated to fairy tale in my head. Something old. I’m over that. It was a long time ago. I’ve moved past it. Barely happened. Like he wasn’t even here. Something imagined.

Except he was my brother.

My parents loved family. We did all kinds of things together. Vacations, dinners out, trick-or-treating. I was dragged to cheer contests and gymnastic meets and t-ball games. And that’s a great thing. But it also means nearly every perfect memory I have from childhood includes my brother, and when he died they all darkened. Childhood is haunted. I don’t visit much any more.

Maybe it’s time to revisit him. Let out a few memories, because memories spoken and dampened with tears lose some of their darkness.

He drank. He struggled with severe anxiety disorder, meaning he had anxiety attacks that didn’t last minutes. They lasted hours. Days. And that’s almost a fate worse than death. He was funny and adorable, and people loved him. But he could never see that.

For a decade, phone calls scared me, because often they were about him. Missing. In jail. Broken. He struggled to hold jobs. His marriage was messy. He had four children way too fast and couldn’t support them. His mental state got worse. His ability to make good decisions dwindled.

Then came the early morning phone call from my parents to come get his kids. He’d made a mistake, and his kids needed to be removed from the situation to keep them out of the hands of the state. I drove through the darkness to get them, brought them home. My family intervened to help him. We had a plan to watch the kids while he treated illness, fixed his marriage, put away the drinking. The plan meant a future. It was hope after a decade of fear.

I had one of his daughters, and my sister had his other three. She’s a physician, so she was in a better financial place to do that. My brother had all the support he could get from us. He couldn’t fix his life, though. He had no money for professional help, so he went to the state. He wanted psychiatric help. They said no. He was too healthy. There was nothing they would do.

In a fit of anger and desperation, he took too many psychiatric drugs. Not to die, but to spite someone. To scream that he didn’t know what to do now. He wanted his family back, his life back, but he didn’t know how to do it.

Two days later, his heart stopped. Paramedics started it. For ten days we lived in the hospital. I stayed at my parent’s house with my four kids and his daughter, sometimes with all the kids. The cable kept going out, and the TV would say Not receiving signal. That felt prophetic, or maybe like a haunting. Brain waves. Nobody could tell if he still had brain waves. Not receiving signal.

It was winter. Icy cold. I remember that best. Hours at home with little ones waiting. Short icy drive to the hospital. More hours in the waiting room with the tension of family members that didn’t get along, blaming each other, waiting with very little hope. Phil Collins sang Can’t Stop Loving You every time I got in the car. (Still can’t listen to that song without bursting into tears– Heard you’re leaving, in the morning, on the early train…)

Enough short icy drives that my car battery died. Dad took a break from the hospital vigil to help me. That felt like normal life. I remember that clearly, how good it felt to jump a battery, talk outside of the waiting room, freezing in the snow like the rest of the world. Hospitals aren’t real. They stand outside of time and space, some kind of alternate reality. Outside had seasons and hours and days. Inside had nothing. Stillness and bleach. Anger and tears.

The world watched a space shuttle blow. Astronauts died. I don’t think I’ve seen that footage to this day. It was barely a blip in my universe. But it happened sometime during those two weeks. I’m sure it did. I remember flags at half mast, and they sure weren’t for my brother.

For a decade we had prayed. For ten days we prayed more. God’s answer wasn’t what we wanted it to be. I don’t know why.

I went home a few days before he died. Had to get back to my life. Then he passed, and I went back. Funeral. Children crying to wake up Daddy. One of those moments that never, ever, ever hurts less. The only positive is those kids don’t remember that part. Might wreck me on a regular basis, but their memories are hazy. Lucky them.

Turning back in the cemetery as we walked away, seeing a lonely box on a gurney in the freezing cold. All alone. Leaving him all alone.

This isn’t a post about drugs or alcohol or mental illness. It’s not a post about anything. There’s no point. Death has no point. It’s powerful, and it hurts, and I shut it away. I don’t tell the story. But if you read this, you’re helping me brighten things up a bit. It helps to share. I know that. I listen. I listen to stories all the time, and I turn them into stories of my own. But I don’t like to tell mine. I prefer to write fiction than to tell the the darkest, most painful truths. I like happy endings. I don’t know if this story had one. Won’t know that until I get Home someday.

I had a brother. He was younger than me. He isn’t here now. He took my childhood with him when he left. Some days I hate him. Mostly I miss him. I didn’t post his photo on National Sibling Day, but I still love him. I didn’t post my sister. I love her, too. She’s brought a lot less drama to my life. Bless her for that.

Share a story today. If there’s a story lurking in the darkness, drawing shadows and casting fear, give it words. Salt it with tears. Take away some of its power by letting someone else know it’s in there. Don’t let it melt holes.

And if you don’t have someone close to share with, email me. Or post it here. I listen better than I share. I promise.

 

Spinning at Sea

DockI’m not sure how it started, but I think it happened long before I was aware of it.  Slow shifts away from truth toward lies, listening to quiet voices that didn’t come from the Shepherd.  Digging into the past instead of seeing the present or future.  And then one day, I realized I had lost sight of the land entirely.  I was at sea with no compass, cloudy skies, and little energy to row home, especially since I didn’t know the direction of home.

There are a few areas where I’ve never done well.  For instance, I lean toward the idea of God as a little bit angry.  A little bit frustrated with me.  More wrath and less compassion.  I know that’s not the right view, but knowing a thing and being saturated with a thing–yeah, I knew it, but I couldn’t figure out how to believe it, trust it, bank on it.  The default setting was “God might not be happy with you right now because…”

That’s a terrible foundation.  It breeds fear.  Doubt.  And Satan had an absolute field day with it.  He was the quiet voice saying “Do more. Try harder.  Don’t slow down and work through this,  because even questioning it isn’t right.  God needs you to obey.  Sure, he loves his own, but exactly what evidence do you have that you’re one of those?  The road is narrow.  What makes you think you found it?”

But I pushed on.  Okay, so maybe I wasn’t entirely sure of the outcome, but I could obey. Except obeying out of fear and doubt is exhausting.  There is no time to rest and relax. That yoke Jesus says is light–it isn’t light if you don’t wear it right.  It chafes.  Blisters.  Pain.

A few months ago, the spiritual battle in my life came to a head.  There was no event, no trigger.  It was a slow drift to sea.  For some reason, I started to dwell in the past.  Failures.  Betrayals.  Relationships gone wrong.  Areas of sin that have plagued me for decades.  Wrong thinking.  All of it played over and over and over.  I couldn’t get away from it. I was driving myself crazy.  I read more Bible, but I still wasn’t seeing it, wasn’t seeing God right.  I didn’t feel loved.  I didn’t feel protected.  I felt adrift.

To make things worse, I’m getting older.  That age where you can look back and suffer regrets.  It’s too late to do a few things I always hoped to do. My parenting years are almost done, and some of my children are wandering, and you don’t get do-overs.  Some of my dreams need to be released because they’re never going to happen.  I have a chronic illness (Diabetes Type One) that darkens my life a little bit and speaks of an uncertain future. And all of those things together–they gave Satan a lot of fodder.  They gave my sinful self a lot of fodder.  It was toxic fodder with fungus, though, and I chewed and chewed until I was sick.

Which leads to a new touch, a new start, a year of being reestablished. God sweeping in and sending a wind toward the shore. And yes, this post is a cliffhanger, because it’s a story. I hate cliffhangers, and I apologize, but the story takes time, and it’s still unfolding as I write it, so you’ll have to wait, along with me, for the whole outcome.  But I promise, it gets better.  I mean, it had to, right?  But for now, drifting at sea, chewing toxic cud, and needing, more than anything in this world, a rescue by a knight or a prince or a shepherd who knew me and loved me and wouldn’t get angry with me for being who I am… That’s how the story began. Once upon a time.

 

Hello, my name is…

In my previous post I talked about our need to study the whole Bible, not just shrink it into important bullet points of behavior and move on.  The first reason had to do with the factual history of the words and how we need such a detailed landscape of time and geography to teach us of God’s complex character.

This post is the second reason.  This one hit like a ton of bricks the other day.  I was looking at how God talks of himself.  No less than ten times, he calls himself “The Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”  He doesn’t identify himself as “spirit, infinite and eternal”.  He very often identifies himself in concrete terms by what he has done–the God Who Heals, the God who Provides, etc.  “Why trust me?” he asks.  “Trust me because of what I did for you.”

I love this.  I love the practicality of God.  He tells the people to make monuments and altars throughout the Old Testament not to remember who he is, but to remember what he did.  He links his character to his actions.  Does God really need to prove himself to us?  Of course not.  But he chooses to do just that.  “Taste and see…”  Remember leaving Egypt.  Remember leaving Babylon.  Remember what I did, because who I am and what I did are two sides of the same coin.

So, what about faith?  Funny, but I wonder sometimes if faith isn’t so much about the past but the future.  It’s not just believing the history, but it’s trusting that the God who did such amazing things before will continue to do such amazing things in the future.  The future can look a little scary.  Obeying God in an increasingly hostile culture can look more than a little scary.  Yes, it takes a little faith to trust the history of the Bible is real.  But it takes even more to step out there and trust that God is going to intervene again for me.  So he says “Remember.  Don’t forget what I did, because then you’ll trust me to keep on intervening.  Remember, remember, remember.  And from that, you will trust.”

So the actual facts of history have a place and a purpose–God uses them to define himself.  And, I think we can apply this in two ways beyond learning the history of the Bible ourselves.  One, we need to tell each other stories–how God is working in our lives now.  Christians should never get together without trading stories.  No, we may not have a story about a man swallowed by a fish or manna feeding our children, but the facts of our lives will point to God’s intervention just as fully as those in the Bible do.

And, we are welcome to identify ourselves through our actions.  If we aren’t practicing what we preach, we’re not following the model of both God the Father and the Son.  If identity and activity are two sides of the same coin to God, they can be to us, too.

So teach people about God by how you act, and recall God to each other through stories of his intervention, and don’t ever think the stories of the Bible are undignified tales for children.  I read the Bible on a yearly basis, and every year the Spirit weaves together the events to give me a deeper understanding of God’s character and to increase my trust in him for my future. And since I tend to worry over my future, I can use all the forward motion in this area I can get, so I will keep reading it until I fully know the peace he promises, a peace which grows the better I know he who promised it to me.

Truly learning the Bible, and learning from the Bible, takes time.  There are no shortcuts, so give yourself the time and bask in the whole wide tale of it, falling in love with its hero and finding something your spirit needs while you do.

God the bard in a bullet-point culture

Because I teach my children, and because my goal in teaching my children is more spiritual than intellectual, I think a lot about Bible curriculum.  This post, by the way, isn’t about Bible curriculum.  It’s about how God wants to teach us vs. how we want to learn.  And I think God’s way is really cool.

A few years ago I came across a curriculum that claimed it didn’t teach kids Bible stories.  No, the goal was teaching them the character of God, so it focused on God’s qualities without focusing on stories.  I admit, the intellectual snob in me thought that sounded like a good idea.  Quick, systematic, condense the Bible down to bullet points and feed it to my kids like a pill.  Practical application to the max.  You know what?  It didn’t work.  They never remembered what they were taught, and soon they stopped paying attention, and it was rather a failure.

Why the failure?  I think the curriculum writers forgot two things.  First, Bible  stories aren’t stories.  They’re history.  God is a real being who reached down in real time and real space to deal with real people in real nations.  Did he do it with over-the-top dramas?  Yes, he did–I wonder sometimes if he created the laws of physics just to knock them on their heads to show us his majesty (and maybe have a little fun).  He wants to touch our hearts, and the words grace and mercy and love and omnipotence and eternity have pretty much no meaning at all until you see them in action, and therefore they can’t lodge in the heart.  Frankly, God is too complex for bullet points.  We have to see him in action, over a long period of time, in a whole mess of situations.  Only then does the reality behind those huge concepts start to come into focus and mean something to our deepest hearts.

The history I learned in school didn’t include a lot of amazing things like rivers parting and men walking on water and the sun standing still.  I don’t know if Christians get embarrassed to tell the world they believe these things, or if they just don’t want to take the time to be awed and amazed by them.  A multitude of Bible study books exist that study a single topic or two.  I suspect many Christians today have Bible study overload while actually ignoring the Bible as a whole–a magnificent, epic, sometimes sad, sometimes scary, sometimes baffling whole.

A lot of my blogs are how I’m personally convicted and need to change.  This is one where I think God has gotten through.  We study the Bible with a timeline and maps.  It’s real history and real geography, and more than once I’ve sat with my youngest, especially, and talked about what it would be like to pop back in time to see some of it play out.  The events capture the imagination.  Jesus, especially, is a real man, not a nebulous model for behavior but a real person who lived here, and we all think it would be amazing to walk where he walked and see the sights he saw.

God put a lot of detail in the Bible.  I suspect he wanted us to read it, study it, immerse in it.  It’s a rich, lush, background on which he tells us who he is.  Epic, spanning many generations and many cultures, utilizing many characters.  And to try to remove that when we learn God’s character…  it just doesn’t make sense.  As it is, the tale sticks in our hearts and souls in a way a list with bullet points can never, ever do.

And the second reason the curriculum failed?  Well, this is one I really get excited about, and I’ll get to that next time…  Until then, I recommend you read something from the Bible you usually skip over, and keep doing that until you’ve seen it all.  Then do it again and again, because it’s alive and says something new each time to you do.