You have a story to tell. You are your story. Do you know your story? Do you share it? Only you can. I hope that you not only own your story, but that you recognize how important your story is.
Sometimes the world sends a message that some stories are more important than others. That is a lie. Sometimes the world says that one can do irreparable damage to his or her story. That too is a lie. As long as we breathe, our stories continue. Each breath is a reminder that our stories are still being written, still being lived out.
Another truth to ponder – your story is sacred because you are sacred. Every day I have the opportunity to hear people’s stories. And more than anything else in my work, I remind people of this truth. You are sacred. Your story is sacred. Sometimes we avoid our story because we feel shame about it. Or we miss the beauty of our story because we compare it to another person’s story.
And in case you didn’t know, there are countless stories in this world to hear and learn from, to be challenged and encouraged by. Listen deeply. Listen empathically. Be curious. Be kind. We need these stories, all of them. Yours and mine. My story isn’t your story and that is a good thing.
Several years ago, my then teenaged son plopped himself in a chair nearby complaining of my decision to not let him go hang out with his friends that evening. He was genuinely annoyed with me. In his story in that moment, he was the protagonist and I was the antagonist. How could I, this big, bad, mean mom ruin his life? I let him go on for awhile. When the complaining showed no signs of slowing, I walked over to interrupt his story with another. I knelt down to be eye level. I gently touched his arm. “Isaac, going hungry is a tragedy. Losing a parent at an early age is a tragedy. Living in a war-torn land is a tragedy. This? My making you stay home tonight? Not a tragedy.”
I said this not to shame him but to broaden his perspective. That is what another story can do. I was challenging his story with another story in hopes that he would see things a little differently. Isaac looked at me, a bit startled at first. He then chuckled and said, “yup.” He jumped up and found something else to do.
Maybe it is because I said what I did without judgment or annoyance. Maybe it is because it was love that fueled my actions. Or maybe I was just lucky. But in that moment I could see recognition on his face of a perspective that changed the story he had been telling himself.
A few years later I was sitting in a room with my fellow seminary classmates. One student shared that he had recently taught his teenaged son to drive. Part of that education included how to be pulled over safely by the police. This man, a black man, one of the kindest, gentlest men I knew, went on to share about his dozen or so experiences of being pulled over by police only to be let go after being cleared for no wrong doing. He talked about the unwritten rules he had been taught to follow that he had to pass on to his son. “Don’t make eye contact.” “Be polite.” “Don’t question.” “Don’t show your agitation, frustration, or anger.” Just to name a few. These rules weren’t for the sake of common courtesy. They were rules for survival.
I pride myself on identifying outcomes. I come up with contingency outcomes and contingency-upon-contingency outcomes. Never once, in all of my worst case scenarios I tried to imagine did I consider that my son, who I had recently taught to drive, might be in harm’s way when in the presence of the police. Not once did I worry for his safety. Maybe if my classmate had simply talked about his experiences, I might have dismissed his story. But there was something undeniably disturbing in the contrast between his son’s “driver’s ed” and my son’s. I heard him. And I was undone.
His story exposed a world I had refused to see up to that point. His story challenged my story in a way that humbled me and tore me open. It was painful and hard to allow his story to coexist with my story. But I knew I had to keep listening. I needed to hear his story and many more stories of people who live in and experience the world differently from me.
I am still listening. I am listening to my story and your story. I look for the ways they beautifully overlap and the ways they uncomfortably bump into each other. I am living and learning through my story and your story.
So, what is your story? Have you told it recently? Do so, and tell it often. Remember to tell the ups and the downs. Share the good and the not-so-good. Celebrate the joys. Mourn the losses. Share your story. Again and again and again. The world needs to hear your story.