I am walking with Viki on the Strand in Keszthely, Hungary. She is telling me how interesting it is our talking this week about 'story' and how our lives are a story. I start to tear up as I talk about my own love of story. I share how knowing our stories leads us to the God who has always been and will always be there.
Each week of Speakout, our annual English Camp, I am sharing with groups of Hungarian teenage girls about the gift of our stories. I say the story of our life is a gift only we can give. It is precious and when it is lost or held back, the world loses an exquisite piece of beauty.
I was a girl no more than 10 when I first had the dream of writing down my life. My family still lived on a dairy farm but our days there were fleeting. I suspect I had a hint of the compounding of tragedy that would take us from this home to never return. There was this desperate soul reaching with arms squeezing tight to preserve this life I loved and I would use words and story to do it.
So as a part of a seventh grade project I wrote a collection of stories that I brilliantly called 'Down on the Farm'. Sounds a bit like 'HeeHaw!' That TV show my dad still loves. Those vignettes were lost somehow after mama died and my stepmom, God bless her, took on the task of sorting through nearly four decades of the life my parents had together. We were in our first intership in Hungary and I have a vague recollection of being asked what I wanted to keep.
That burning desire to write the stories from my life which had consolidated to the idea of 'my story' came again in my early 20s when I read 'The House on Mango Street' to my Spanish students. I thought I had arrived.
So, when life took a turn and I was seeking direction, I thought maybe it was time to become a writer. I sent away some poetry, studied Soren Kirkegaard and embraced the existential bent of my life on the cusp of newness. I was ready to leap into the dream, or so I thought. One rejection letter and a job teaching math later, I gave up my quest.
Then Mom died and I stopped writing anything. No journal. No poetry, my go-to. No stories. Life just happened all around me. I got married and was teaching full-time. I moved overseas for a year. I began a journey with my husband that meant a nomadic life with kids coming all along the way.
Then, one night, in the spring of 2010 through a comment on my dutifully-begun family blog with pictures of my kids and their lives I found Ann's blog. As I read her words, I knew it was time to start releasing my own into the world. I wrote her an e-mail about that dream and began 'Fan the Flame' to stoke the fire of the gift of writing.
I was absolutely terrified. I didn't know my story. It had gotten swallowed up along the way. I didn't know which words would come from me. I had lost the anchor to my past with the death of my mother. My present was full of being a mom and transitions that affected everything.
But slowly and in a dance that is as much a part of my story as the events and circumstances in which I have found myself, the words began to sing, stutter, spring, sputter and stop again.
Through it all, I've been missing a thread that would lead me to the depth in all of its beauty and tragedy from which I would write. And so over the past year I have re-engaged my story. It's been a re-kindling of a love affair that began as a little girl. My husband and I began reading Dan Allender's book 'To Be Told' together. One of the first exercises is to develop your well of stories. I couldn't stop adding, filling pages and pages of things from my life that I longed to weave into story.
I hoped my hubby and I would keep walking this together, but I found I was holding back waiting for him. So I have finally given myself this permission I've been dying to have. The freedom to write my story in the way I have always wanted. To hallow the beauty. To grieve the loss. To find God in each page. To become whole in a way that is uniquely intended for me as I journey Home.
It Is no surprise to the Great Author that this ripening would happen now. The labor to bring forth is bound no longer in a dairy farm in Pennsylvania or a wings-spread starry-eyed girl making her way in the world. It encompasses those things and the life of wife and mother but also the yearning to make a Home in a foreign land.
This new way of seeing story is a calling. It is alive. It strains to grow in ways that integrate my story with the story of the nation where I live and raise little ones. I have come to know it is the only way to become what I must to fight for the chapters to yet be written in every story of which I am a part. Mine, yes. But, also, the stories of my husband and kids and family and friends and the community of Christ-followers. Then, too, the stories of the students amidst whom we minister which is wrapped by their country's story.
I was blessed with a touch of it that day with Viki. I would share the part of my story filled with the pain of losing my mother to cancer. And how I never let go of God and more, He never let go of me. I found out later that Viki gave her life to God. In part because my own dark days and the faith that could not be quenched gave her hope for the jagged grief of her story and that maybe God really was there and wants to be there always.
There is risk in learning, loving and sharing our stories. We re-enter what we thought was healed only to experience the wound afresh. It takes courage and the serenity of the gift our stories are from God to us as the firstfruit. From this gleaning we lay down what was never really ours to begin with and we offer up this sacrifice before God to the world. We become a part of something so much greater that is like an ancient song woven into our lives.
It with this lens I walk the path of my story. So different yet so like when I first began to dream the telling.