Janae, my niece, was three years old when she spent that night with us. During dinner I asked my husband about his day and how he fixed the toilet. As I put my precious girl to bed, I asked her to tell me a story. Words like “wrench”, “it was really tough”, and “we finally got ahold of it” were prominent in her story–all things she’d heard over dinner.
Pastor Rene Schlaepher recently said we are all writing, living, and telling a story–not by our words, but by the way we live. And we have a choice as to what story we tell.
Most of us have seen adorable pictures of infant twins babbling to each other. They laugh, giggle, and use “words” that to adults are meaningless. But if judged by their reactions, the twins understand each other well! I remember one in which one twin babbled something and the other almost fell over laughing. The one in the photo on the left looks unhappy that his twin is chewing his fingers!
Stories have been told throughout history in oral tradition. And those stories are still going on today.
Don and I cry at love stories. Those emotions are fanned by the storyline. Other stories about calamities like the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga this week, or about troubles we all face, can lead to fear, panic and distress.
We can’t always control the events of our lives. An accident, critical illness, death, terrorist attack…they appear on our screens as blips, or dots. But we can control the narrative we put around them. Do we look at a sequence of negative events–the pandemic, cultural and political division, loss, illness–and put those into a negative story? Or do we look at those events in light of God’s promise to bring justice and righteousness to this earth, his promise of a plan for our lives?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
Contamination or Redemption?
People in despair tell contamination stories. “I got a great job but the travel destroyed my marriage.” “Yeah, I got a raise but I hate my boss.” “My wife’s feeling better, thanks, but I’m sure she’s gonna crash again soon.”
People in hope tell redemption stories. My sister-in-law, Sheila, is one of these. When diagnosed with uterine cancer, she began to realize that without those symptoms that led to her diagnosis, doctors would also not have found the precancerous cells that wandered throughout her lymphatic system and, if latched on, were extremely aggressive.
After successful surgery, she is still fighting the remaining pre-cancerous cells with chemo and radiation. But, knowing how God has led them this far, she is confident and at peace, trusting that he will continue guiding them. While there have been times of fear, God showed her this smaller issue was to prevent a larger one happening. And, as she has shared her journey openly, people with whom she had a casual relationship have re-entered her life with deeper communication, often sharing their own battles with her. Sheila has looked deeper than the scars, the fatigue, and the temporary hair loss to what God is doing as she and Bob walk this journey.
My brother Arnold, whose wife suffered a life-altering stroke years ago, has built a narrative of love and care and hope around her limitations. Following her stroke In August 2012, my sister-in-law struggled with her identity. She was a capable, intelligent and caring businesswoman; now significant changes resulted in her feeling she wasn’t the same. Arn tells of a day she wept, feeling stupid (her word) because she couldn’t communicate the way she used to. He wrote, “The challenge to her identity was significant, and it reminded me of the Exodus story of Moses receiving instructions from God to lead the people out of bondage. When Moses asks whom he should say sent him to lead the people, God said, ‘I am who I am.’ There it is–the solid unmovable identity.” Arn and Carol’s love and faith is carrying them through a major life change.
We all have “stuff”. But how we handle that stuff shows where our hope lies. And only our God is that solid, unmovable source of hope.
In II Cor 10:5 the apostle Paul challenges us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” So where are we focusing our thoughts, what input do we welcome into our minds and hearts that impact the stories we live? Like Janae, we often fill our stories with what we have heard and allowed into our minds. Frankly, I’ve stopped reading a lot of news because it distresses me too much and is usually a contamination story.
I confess that much of last year, after my mother’s death, I told myself (and others) contamination stories. “I don’t understand why her death seemed so hard to me.” Overwhelmed with negative input, I complained. “I hate this political turmoil, protests, brutality, increased crime, this pandemic.”
With time and help, I’ve been able to change some of that narrative. My sweet mother was so ready to meet Jesus first, and her beloved husband of 58 years (my Dad) in heaven, to worship and glorify the name of the Almighty. Whatever difficulty I experienced in her passing was momentary in light of eternity and I am eager to see her, Dad, Jerry, and others again. And why in the world would I want her to return from the very presence of God?
As to the rest? My God has not lost control. Life is good, but often hard. I don’t understand all my Father is doing through these difficult challenges, but I know he wants us to rest in his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. I heard David Jeremiah talk about a young woman who had walked her cancer battle with God. He said, “Recently she won her battle and went home to be with Jesus.” What a different story–yes, loss aches. It can be agonizing. But she won. Her death was not the end, and that provides hope.
The redemptive story is that, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, Don and I and a host of you will see our loved ones again in heaven. Not only that, we will delight with them in a face to face reality of worship and praising our God, right there with us. THAT is hope!
… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5