Everyone has a story.
In fact, when someone asks you who you are, and they are willing to give you the time, you will move quickly from telling them where you are from, what you do for a living, to telling them your story. We all have a story. Some folks tell their story exceptionally well, while others struggle for a cohesive plot line for their narrative. What’s your story?
Frankly, I love listening to stories. I’ve always loved stories, telling them, writing them, and listening to them.
I grew up listening to my grandfather’s friends on the Atlanta police force tell their stories of the street. My favorite was my grandfather getting off work, going to his Chevy coupe parked around the corner, finding a young man trying to “hot wire” his car. It must have irritated my granddad, because he arrested this man, taking him back to the station, only to find out that he was on the infamous FBI’s most wanted list. My grandfather wound up in the newspaper as a hero, posed with his police Harley, looking like John Wayne, capturing a dangerous criminal. How does it go: when the truth becomes legend, print the legend! My granddad and pals used to laugh about that, as my grandfather practiced the Andy Griffeth style of policing, never firing a shot in his entire career.
My grandmother told me her stories of growing up in Texas, the rich black earth, and the monstrous thunderstorms. She told my that her mother died in childbirth, her father sensing something was wrong while he was plowing, running from the field to find his wife in labor. While my grandmother lived near Waco, I found the same true in East Texas where I lived for ten years. I wish we could have compared notes on those mammoth storms.
While I was on sojourn in Texas, I listened to the senior members at Christ Church in Tyler, Texas tell me about their epic stories of World War II, in prison camps and on the beaches of Normandy. I was fortunate to pastor some of The Greatest Generation, walking with them as they carried their compadres to the graveyard, telling stories along the way.
And I especially loved listening to Texas musicians tell stories about being on the road, particular bars, circumstances that would cause you to whistle. It sometimes made me wish I had chosen that life, but I left that for my son.
I cherish the weekend I spent in Eunice, Louisiana listening to the stories of Marc Savoy, the Cajun philosopher, who builds accordions and plays a mean one himself. I enjoyed being with Marc and his amazing wife, Ann, as they gathered their community on a Saturday morning for a music jam. These blue collar workers were magically transformed into musicians when they walked in the door, their stooped shoulders straightening as they were greeted by Marc’s call of their name. They fed their bellies and souls with boudin and Dixie beer, at 9:00 in the morning as they cut loose with the tunes and stories. Cajun stories are full of bombast, exaggeration, that makes them right at home in the South.
Did I mention I love stories? It’s the basic stuff of being a human, stringing together events and moments in a meaningful string, forming a narrative.
A story tells where you have been, things that have happened to you along the way. Some things, you highlight, and then some parts of the story, you deliberately choose to leave out. And some parts of the past, you simply forget, sometimes because they are just too painful. You may not recognize it, but you are an editor of your story and how you tell it.
A story also takes into account the present. where all these events have led you to…the NOW, or as mystic Howard Thurman, taught me, the Present Moment. It’s always intriguing to me to attend to how people describe their current state of being. What emotions are in play in the moment, and how doe they inform the way the story is being told.
Always in the background of each life story is an anticipated future, where this whole shooting match is headed. Is it heroic story that is in process, or is it a tragic tale that reveals a fatal flaw that has yet to bring down the house of cards? Is there a propelling sense of hope that pulls the teller on into the next frame, or has something put the action on hold with a kind of freeze frame that stops the motion?
My joy is listening to people compose and tell me their stories. I listen intently for themes, a thread of meaning that links seemingly disparate events into a flow. I pay close attention to pauses, and hesitations, as one weaves the fabric of their story. I have noticed that many people seem to be led by a master narrative, a story that they repeat as if they are playing a role in which they have been cast. And others seem lost, wandering looking for that lost thread of meaning.
For me, my mother gave me the name David, which set me on the road to look for any Goliaths that need slaying. It’s led me into some life-long dramas that were heroic, as well as pretty crazy. Some Goliaths need to have their asses kicked while others should just be left along. That lesson came later than sooner, but came, nonetheless. I still get my Davidic bravado pricked every now and then, but I seem to be able to choose more and more the battles I take on, which some one once told me was the essence of wisdom.
A pastor friend of mine told me about his sermon last week, on Easter Sunday. Bravely transparent, he recounted his own story of being at a significant low in his life, where “you had to look up to see the bottom”, as he phrased it. As a pastor, he suffered a complete breakdown, forced to surrender, to rely on his family and friends to keep him going. He was at the end of his rope. But he leaned into the future, with some assistance from a nun who was his spiritual director, and a therapist. He was able to get through that “dark night of the soul” and get on with his story.
He made a comeback, going to serve his current parish in a powerfully pastoral way that perhaps he couldn’t have before his fall. It struck me that he WAS the resurrection that morning as he preached, up from the grave, he had arisen, with a hope and a message, and more importantly, a way of being.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many lives he may have saved last Easter morning. How many people sitting in those hard pews were at the end of their rope? How many young people who have yet to hit bottom, but will remember the story of their pastor who did, and yet lived to tell about it? How many folk who had have the very life kicked out of them and found a line of hope to pull them up? My bet is that Easter may have happened in a big way in a little town in “by God” Missouri.
When you leave a parish, it’s funny. You hear from the people you served, and they tell you stories, stories you may not even remember. Things you said, little things you did, actions that made a difference in people’s live that you simply had no idea. Sometimes the story is told in a note, a letter, sometimes in a call, or hug. It’s the psychic pay for a pastor.
Everyone has a story. Why not take the time to jot some notes about yours? Your high mountain top experiences, your down in the valley lows? Your lower than low bottoms, and your miraculous resurrections?
Story hold our lives together in narrative form. What’s your story? Find a way to tell it, either in written form or spoken to an other. What is your story?