My adventure into personal storytelling began with a question from my eldest son: "Mom, did you ever do anything wrong when you were a kid?" It had been a rough morning when eight-year-old Joshua popped that question. Though simple, it caught me off guard.
"Of course," I stammered. "Haven't you heard the stories?"
Joshua looked at me with surprise and shook his head.
I dove into my memory bank, picked a good one, and shared it with him on the spot. In no time at all, Josh was off running through the house. "Do you guys know Mommy cut off all her hair when she was three years old?"
While he whooped it up with his siblings, I sat quietly, one question haunting me: Do my children really know me?
Sure, they knew me as a mom. They counted on me for birthday surprises, bedtime prayers, and Saturday morning chores. But did it stop there?
Did they know I twirled a baton, taught canoeing, worked on a Canadian Indian Reserve, and dreamed of parachuting while I was growing up?
The resounding answer was no. My children knew a slice of me, but they were missing many important parts of my life. They were missing my stories.
In the Beginning
I became a mom on July 5, 1994. Six-and-a-half years later, our family totaled seven—leaving me surprised, overjoyed, and overwhelmed on a regular basis. Sheer survival was my daily focus. Who has time for meaningful dialogue, much less storytelling, when there are diapers to change, dinosaurs to identify, doctors to visit, and dinners to concoct? But the day of my son's question I made a commitment to embrace the adventures of storytelling, and I haven't looked back.
Personal stories are fun, free, and with a little forethought, easy to add to our overloaded lives. Every day is full of stories. News channels funnel the world's top headlines into our living rooms. Radio stations keep us up to date on local events. The Internet feeds us its daily portion of news-making trivia. Unfortunately, this bombardment allows us to devalue and neglect both our stories and those of the ones we love.
Good news! There's a gold mine in each of our hearts waiting to be tapped. More good news! Mining this treasure isn't hard. It requires very little time or energy—just the acquisition of a few helpful tools and an attitude adjustment. Every parent has an arsenal of stories, and God will use them to strengthen family ties and fan into flame the spark of faith he's igniting in our children's souls.
Real-life stories can give children roots, or they can be met with resistance. Take for instance the tale of Grandpa's three-mile walk to school through a foot of snow when he was a boy. It's a story designed to elicit a sense of guilt and distance, not community. But stories can be powerful bridge builders. They tie hearts together by sharing the joys and challenges common to all people, through every era and stage of life.
My family was missing out on this kind of bridge-building experience. After conferring with my husband, Tim, we did a quick inventory of our childhood and pulled a slew of stories that had been buried under an avalanche of busy days.
Dinnertime was the natural place to begin, yet it was also one of the most chaotic hours in our day. The noise level is often deafening as squabbles erupt, pouting crescendos, and children vie for Daddy's attention. Second only to a Mount Mama eruption, nothing quiets our children faster than the enticing question, "Have I ever told you about…?"
When I first realized the importance of storytelling, I began to explore the "how to" of tapping into the treasures of everyday stories. The answer came from a bedtime routine I've had for years. Trying to make my evening quiet time more meaningful, I focus my prayers on three questions: How did God bless me today? What did he teach me today? How did he use me today?
It didn't take me long to realize my evening reflection could potentially unearth a faith-focused story to add to the usual repertoire of questions and commands I direct toward my brood each day. Just last week a faith story emerged from a simple phone call with a friend. With a captive audience buckled into our van, I seized a quiet moment.
"Yesterday Mrs. Scheckler was on my mind all day long, so I decided to give her a call," I said. "As it turned out, she had just found out that her 11-year-old nephew was diagnosed with cancer. We had a chance to talk and then pray together on the phone. Just as we were saying good-bye, she got choked up and told me how much the phone call meant to her."
I wrapped up the story by taking the focus off me and pointing us back to God: "It's amazing how the Lord uses something as simple as a phone call to work in beautiful ways. I wonder how he's going to work through each of us today?"
Scripture is filled with stories of heroes of the faith. Abraham, Rahab, and Peter were vessels of God's power, yet they were far from perfect. This is a source of comfort and encouragement as I often fall short of God's best for my life. Still, I want to seize the opportunity of being a modern-day hero to my children. It can happen—through the power of a story.
It took a while for Tim and me to unearth the faith stories buried in our souls. Some are exciting and full of adventure. Others reveal our mistakes, highlighting God's grace and mercy. Most seem rather mundane, yet they share a glimpse of God's handiwork in our lives. Neither Tim nor I have ever fought a taunting giant or slept in a den of lions, but our stories hold great value simply because they're ours. With eyes wide and hearts open, our everyday stories now fuel the faith God is igniting in our children's souls.
Real-life storytelling is not an outdated pastime but an invaluable, underused resource ready to make a gentle comeback in the lives of families at any stage of the game.
Coming home from church one Sunday morning, six-year-old Joseph announced, "I've got a story." As I readied my heart to listen, a grin crossed my face. The van was strangely quiet. No one moaned. No one grumbled. It seemed the adventure of storytelling was taking root—and even growing wings.
Brenda Jank is a mother of five and a freelance writer. She and her family live in Indiana.
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