If you know anything about me, you know that family, extended family included, is incredibly important to me. The times when I am with family and especially the broader family are the times when I feel most joyful, notwithstanding that we’re a bunch of nut-jobs, all due respect (and they’d all agree with me). This past week we had a fun opportunity to host my cousin’s daughter from North Carolina who stayed with us while my cousin had some west coast-based business travel. Although our kids had met before, it was a long time ago when they were all quite young. With our two and my cousin’s daughter now teenagers, there was an opportunity to see a different type of interaction, a closeness, and a family unity begin to form.
During the week, there were several opportunities to share stories with the kids. There were stories from my childhood and early years (the ones that were appropriate to share … many still are not at least yet), stories about my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – many of whom the kids didn’t necessarily know – and even their own early years that perhaps they didn’t remember. In the process, a greater level of detail surfaced for them even as it related to their story. That is, the more they learn about their extended family, their parents, and even themselves in situations they didn’t otherwise recall their life story gets a little more complete. They understand a little more about who they are by virtue of filling in some blank spots on the canvas. It was an apt reminder for me to be more intentional about telling stories to the kids but also to exposing them more to their extended family for the family to share some of the stories more vividly.
As I read this week from Luke 3 – 24, my reflection about the importance of the story of our family and our kids gnawed at me, and it struck a chord when I came upon a familiar passage. Luke 7:20-23 …
And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
We all know Jesus spent much of His time teaching and leading through parables … stories. Why? Because word pictures and experiences to which we can relate personally and deeply ultimately shape us best. Jesus talked about things His hearers would know and would relate to in their daily lives.
But in addition to telling stories, Jesus made stories. He created memories for His followers, situations they personally lived through in order, as we see above, for them to share. Stories don’t exist for their own sake, they exist to be told, conveyed, experienced, and in turn to shape (and bless) others. My sense is that Jesus didn’t create incidents just for His followers for them to believe in Him, He created them for ALL to believe in Him. Think about it, isn’t that in some measure what His bible is to us today? It’s the passing down of the stories of many in the family over the centuries and millennia. And, by the way, true stories.
Here’s the amazing thing to me … in Jesus making stories, in those memories for His followers to pass along and share, He inherently facilitated the creation of additional stories in turn. My story, for instance, is a result or consequence of the stories (both family and non-family) that preceded me. Stories I was told or that I experienced became an indelible part of my story and of me. God was so amazingly astute that He created a way for all our stories to be intertwined and to have the propensity to have us all shape one another in the process. Nowhere is that more fertile, though, than in the family stories we have to share.
This brings me back to my original point. As I was reminded last week, the stories we have of our lives and our families are incredibly important to pass down. I’m keenly aware that many of us have stories we don’t necessarily hold proudly. That fact is not lost on me even as I reflect on many of my own family members and many of the stories we shared last week. None of us is perfect and some of us keep a greater distance from perfection than others. That being said, when I reflect on some of the stories I am aware of in our family, and even some of my own stories that make me grimace when I think about them, I’m reminded that while disappointing, painful, shameful, hurtful, whatever, they are no less pivotal in creating the complete picture and no less crucial to pass along to the generations that follow me. I am nothing less than the culmination of my stories and the stories of my family before me for better or for worse. When I reflect on last week and other similar situations where stories were shared, in the sharing came a greater understanding and appreciation and I often say that while I wouldn’t wish some of my stories (or the stories of others in my family) on my worst enemy, I also wouldn’t change them for a moment. From those stories … even the ugly ones … come growth and learning. I think Jesus was conveying the same thing to His disciples and by extension, to us.
So … what’s your story? Have you shared it? This week, my admonition to all of us is that we have to do so! Take the time to share your story, what you’ve seen, what you’ve heard, what you’ve learned. Just like Jesus told John the Baptist’s followers above. Perhaps what you need is to learn your story. Dive in! I have a couple cousins who’ve reached out to me over the years and said, “Hey, could you tell me a little about our family? I don’t really feel like I know much about (this or that side of) the family.” Man, do I LOVE when that happens. And yet, there are tons of stories I have yet to learn myself. When I think that Helen and I (especially Helen as first-generation) are both the product of immigrants, I can’t help but think that there’s still so much to be exposed to through more stories.
Go … learn your story. And then, share your story. Maybe you don’t think there’s anything to your story. Nothing can be farther from the truth! Jesus didn’t tell His disciples to share the best and most colorful things they saw and heard, He told them to share the things THEY saw and heard. My prayer is that we’ll all be more purposeful in doing so … and that the fruit of the effort will be far greater than we could ever imagine. It sure was when Jesus shared HIS story, huh?
Soli Deo gloria!