Our Stories Matter

I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths,
Stories we heard from our fathers,
counsel we learned at our mother’s knee.
We’re not keeping this to ourselves,
we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,
the marvelous things God has done.

Psalm 78:2-4 MSG

It will soon be May, the month in which my husband and I annually remember the day we said “I do.” Thirty-seven years, plus the four we knew one another before marriage, seems both an epic reel of memories and a brief snapshot of time.

May tags along after the annual reminder of losing our parents—both our mothers in April and dad just a year ago in March. Those reminders force the recognition that, though we’re not exactly old, there is more in the rear view mirror for us than the windshield. We think of our own mortality far more often than we used to.

We are born of ashes, dust, and the breath of God, and to them we will all one day return.

Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash

Our daughter is an archivist. She deals daily in the metaphorical ashes that are left when people are gone. She identifies, sorts, and catalogues what we leave behind. She’s occasionally been prodded by her occupation to ask for an oral history of the Hutchinson-Richardson family shenanigans. Though I love public speaking, I hate having a microphone shoved in my face. Somewhere in that act I forget every story I ever knew. Yet I know stories matter. I know because I wish I had them.

My parents left me with far more questions than answers. Their history is mostly blank, and I have little more than unidentified black and white photographs to sleuth out whatever I can piece together. I committed to scrapbooking my kids’ lives with us so that they would never have that taped over line banning entry into their past. Though they never met my parents, I want to gift them with that link, however fragile it might be.They think I’ve overdone it a bit, and they’re likely correct. I hope one day they’ll have the years of experience to know why.

Stories matter. I remember elementary-school-me bicycling to my library to check out a thick blue book called A Biography of Helen Keller. I read it over and over—I’m sure my name was inscribed on that yellow card the most. Helen inspired me, a small, youngest child, to think I could learn anything and help others with what I learned.

Stories matter. What is our Scripture but God’s compilation of stories to guide, comfort, and inspire us, but more than all those, to connect us? If not for the story of Hagar, would we comprehend the awe of being seen? Without all the Marys, would we have the courage to resolutely do what frightens us? Absent Abigail, might some have missed out on the comfort of knowing other women have married abusive men and survived?

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Many of us have been molded more than we know by the stories of these women and others. They forge a connection between people long ago whom we might write off as unattainably heroic and make them human, like us. A single strong cord extends from Genesis to us, made up of stories of other fallible human beings and God’s love for them. For those of us without a past, maybe those stories can be a lifeline to a family we can claim. It’s made up of quite a crew, but then, so are most of our clans.

Our stories matter, too. Someone in the future might need to hear about our worst moments, our thriving (or surviving) after a health scare, or our joy at welcoming them into our world. They might be inspired by us facing our fears or planting our seeds of hope. I know I’ve believed I had all the time in the world to pass my stories on and not leave my kids without that anchor of identity, but reality says otherwise when I look in the mirror.

Maybe the idea of writing down stories exhausts you. I’m a writer, and I get that. Maybe the ghosts of English teachers past have crushed you into believing you can’t write a grocery list, let alone a story. (I used to be an English teacher, and I get that, too.) Might I suggest that if you don’t think you’re good at stories, think in photos.

Think about moments in time, and take a picture in your mind. Tell that story. If you’re crafty, scrapbook it, draw or paint a picture of it, make a paper collage—whatever. Write a few sentences that evoke the feelings—how did that moment smell, sound, feel? What were you thinking or hoping or grieving? Dictate your stories as audio files. Write them in a journal. Scrapbook them digitally or on paper. It’s the stories that matter—not the medium.*

Jesus said to a healed man—“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:38 NIV). Our stories matter because they tell of God’s eternal story intermingled with our finite one. They continue the cycle that the Psalmist writes about when he says that “generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts” (Ps 145:4 MSG). Keep the story going.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

*That archivist, however has a few suggestions:

  • Make sure you save writing in a pdf and have them stored at least twice in two separate areas (computer, flash drive, etc)
  • If audio, save in a WAV or AVI file
  • If artwork, make acid-free copies and keep them somewhere safe from fire and water

It’s Going To Stink

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9.24

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

There is an ongoing struggle in our house. My husband sincerely believes that the garbage needs to go out on Thursday night, the night before the garbage truck comes. This is logical to him, and he likes logic and, more than logic, he likes to know when things are going to happen. He is a total creature of habit. (Also a flaming enneagram 6)

I, on the other hand, have a different viewpoint on when the garbage needs to head outside. When it’s full. Or, worse, when it stinks.

During the summer especially, it can really stink.

I like my schedules, but if something stinks, it needs to go, regardless of whether the city has scheduled its demise that day or not. 

He has habits; I have reactions.

In this month of resurrection celebration, I often return to the beautiful story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and Jesus’ love for them, especially in the sisters’ time of devastating loss. Beautiful? Yes. But first, it’s really stinky.

Jesus hears that his dear friend Lazarus is sick, and the man’s sisters beg him to come. He waits a couple days, then tells his disciples he’s going to “wake Lazarus up.” His disciples protest, and since euphemisms are clearly lost on them, Jesus explains that Lazarus is, in fact, dead by this time. He’s not making this dangerous trip to raise his friend from an afternoon nap.

“When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

John 11.17-27
Photo by Mads Schmidt Rasmussen on Unsplash

Martha has already lost her parents, we presume, since this home belongs to the three siblings and she is its mistress. Now she has also lost her brother, and with him, all the security these sisters have in the world. Two women alone in her culture did not have the options women have now. Lazarus wasn’t only a dear brother—he was their source of income and protection. This loss strikes the core of everything she fears most in life, and justifiably so. She looks at her future with eyes filled with fear, and Jesus comes down the road asking her a different question than the ones preying on her heart and mind.

I am resurrection and life. Do you believe this?

Notice Jesus’ timing—he’s not asking Martha if she believes in something she’s already seen. Lazarus is still in the grave. Her brother is still dead. She has zero evidence that this circumstance will change. 

Jesus’ question cuts to the hardest thing she will ever be asked—Has she known him enough, followed him deeply enough, understood his heart and his identity enough, to believe he is what he says he is, regardless of the evidence in her life and in her family’s tomb?

In a display of faith perhaps greater than any in Scripture, both she and her sister affirm that they do. “Yes, Lord. Even now I believe.”

Even now. Even when we can’t see through Good Friday to Easter for all the tears and grief and fear, we believe. Then Jesus takes her even one step farther and tells her to have the stone taken from in front of the grave. This time, Martha protests. It will stink something awful. The man’s been dead and behind that rock for four days. In an Israeli climate, that body’s going to reek.

I wonder at times if this is our sticking point as well. We agree that Jesus can resurrect our pain and grief. We know he can bring life from death. We’ve seen it. But we falter when it comes to letting him bring out what we’ve buried. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

We’ve carefully hidden away that childhood abuse, not wanting to revisit it. We know he can transform it, but we don’t want to smell the stench beforehand.

We’ve put the resentment on a cold stone shelf, smothered it in grave clothes, and we don’t want Jesus to examine it too closely and remind us of the stink.

We’ve set those unmet dreams and goals way up in the tomb, out of reach of prying resurrection artists who will remind us of them and the decay we’re allowing to set in.

Letting Jesus roll the stones out from in front of our messy marriage will stink, and we know it. What if we open up something that vomits all over us and never, ever goes back into its safe can?

Learning to live with physical limitations stinks. Learning to make changes to mitigate those limits stinks, too. Rolling a stone in front of them allows me to pretend one more day.

We know He’s calling us to something more, higher, deeper—in faith, in work, in calling, in hope. But taking the steps toward that means burying what is for the dream of what might be. 

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we’ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

Oh, but look what can come walking out of the tomb if we let him.

Resurrection. Life. Renewal. Restoration.

If Jesus is going to resurrect it, it’s probably going to get smelly and messy before it gets good. If he’s going to create new life out of our old hidden things, we’ll have to listen and obey as he calls us out of that dark place, unwinding our grave clothes of sorrow, denial, and neglect, telling us to blink hard in the sunshine of completeness. 

Martha looks him in the eye. She knows it’s going to stink. She’s never experienced an actual resurrection before. It’s got to be frightening. She buckles in, nods her head, and says, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

One Link To Rule them All–April













CHURCH BLOGMATICS–https://bethfelkerjones.substack.com/

FREEDOM ROAD PODCAST: JAMILA HODGE: A NEW VISION FOR PUBLIC SAFETY–https://freedomroad.us/2023/03/jamila-hodge-a-new-vision-for-public-safety/


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