I love telling stories. I think you could give me any subject or even just a word and I could weave a tale about something we or some friends have experienced. After I’d called a friend to tell her the latest thing that had occurred in my life, she commented, “Julia, I think God has things happen to you just so you’ll have more stories to tell.” While that may be true, I am a person who expects things to happen in my day that will be humorous or from which I can draw a lesson. In other words, I expect stories to emerge from my day to day experiences.
This weekend I taught a seminar for the Winston-Green community on storytelling. This was the main point in session one. In order to tell a story, you must see a story.
Yesterday was a wonderful day. In the middle of singing a worship song at church, someone tapped us on the shoulder. It was a couple we’d met in 1976 when we were living in Long Grove, Illinois while David attended grad school. We lived with an elderly man who had Parkinson’s Disease, Agate Martin, and this couple, Ray and Nancy, lived with his friend, Freddie.
Ray was in the same graduate program as David, and when it came time to do the class on marriage counseling, Ray decided to use us as his “test case.” That’s my first memory of him. He gave us all the personality tests and finally the day came for Ray to give us his analysis of our marriage. He sat us down, studied us silently for a few moments, and then said, “Tell me, why did you two ever get married?” As the tests showed, David and I are totally opposite in every possible way. The one thing that holds us together is the fact that at the core of who we are we have the same purpose and motivation for our lives. We just express that core in vastly different ways.
After graduation Ray and Nancy moved to Nebraska and planted a church in Norfolk, a church that my parents joined. They were so excited yesterday to realize that my father was in church with us. Ray found my dad sitting in the congregation and knelt beside him. It took a moment for Dad to recognize Ray, but immediately he threw his arms around Ray and gave him a huge hug. Everyone around Dad had tears in their eyes as they saw Daddy weeping with joy at seeing his friend.
We spent the entire day together, going over old stories, catching up on our lives after years of separation, and talking about Mom, who has recently passed away, and what a blessing she had been in our lives.
The most interesting thing about the day was that Ray and Nancy had not planned to come to our church. In fact, although they knew we had lived in this area at one time, they weren’t sure we were still here. After looking up churches in the phone book Saturday night, they checked out a church in Roseburg that they decided to attend. On Sunday morning they had a bit of time before that church started and decided to drive around and see the area. By the time they left the Interstate at exit 119, they realized they had driven too far and would be late for the service they’d planned on attending on the north side of Roseburg. At that moment, they noticed our church and decided to stop there rather than turn back. It wasn’t until they picked up a bulletin and saw our name did they realize where they were.
Was it a chance meeting? Not for one second do I think it was a mere coincidence. Their visit with my Dad was the best thing that has happened to him since my mother became ill. It was a God ordained event from start to finish.
Every day is like that. Good things happen unexpectedly or troubles hit you until you feel like a grape being squeezed dry. You always have a choice. You can see things as a coincidence or as a burden, or you can look at each event and see God’s hand in bringing it into your life. The great things become “Look what joy God planned for me today” and the burdens become “Look at the opportunity God has given me to exercise forgiveness, learn a lesson or begin to trust in Him instead of myself for answers.”Sometimes the trial just serves to let you see that that you have more strength than you thought you had to get through a tough problem or to help you begin to empathize with people around you. Whatever happens, there is a story. How it turns out depends on your attitude.
The benefit of viewing life this way is that it is never boring. Stories began to jump out at you from everywhere. As some people at the seminar saw, in just recounting an event, things can suddenly fall into perspective and suddenly a trivial thing can become a story that adds insight and meaning to your life. Seeing a story is easy if you live with your eyes wide open.