Stories. They’re absolutely everywhere.
Look out your window. You’ll see them. Walking. Talking. Breathing. Shaking hands. Sipping tea. Smiling. Driving. Surviving. Weeping. Living. Taking every day as it comes. Never knowing what the next day will bring. But always knowing what the last day has brought.
Some stories are quiet. The little woman sitting on the park bench over to your right. Do you know what her chapters are? Of course not. But you can observe her. She’s quiet. Sitting with perfect posture. Pale and perhaps a little delicate. Nibbling on a ham sandwich. Staring at the pigeons sharing her crumbs. Humming a lullaby to herself.
Who is she?
"Oh yeah, I know her! ... She's uhhh that face from the park."
But what if you actually knew her? Would it shock you to know that she was abandoned by her husband? Would you care if you discovered she had gotten her sandwich from a nearby homeless shelter? What would you say if you knew she hummed to the pigeons while thinking about the children she never got to have?
There are loud stories too. The girl with cropped bright purple hair, black lipstick, dressed entirely in skin-tight leather clothes. She’s standing outside a dark, smoky pub, laughing loudly while cussing up a storm.
“Poor girl must’ve had a rough life for her to end up in such a joint,” we may find ourselves saying. “It’s a good reminder that so many parents these days just aren’t qualified to be raising kids.”
But what if we asked purple-haired girl about those irresponsible parents she must have?
“Oh them?” she let’s out her breath and smoke from her cigarette fills your face. “Mom and Pops are one of those goody-two-shoes church going folks. Can’t stand them. Always asked me to recite Bible verses and prayers and such nonsense before bed. Sure they meant well, but dang. They were close-minded folks when it came to having fun. I got out of there the moment I could.”
Meanwhile, she can’t see her mom crying in the kitchen over her baby gone astray. She can’t see the bruises on her father’s knees that he got as a result of kneeling in hours of prayer for her, asking God that she would just come home. They didn’t ever suspect she felt the way she did. They didn’t know they were going to lose something they treasured above any other earthly thing.
But as you’re driving home, do you really have time to care about the woman in the car next to you who has mascara running down her face marking the recent tears of a broken heart? Or do you even notice the man and wife sitting on their front porch crying tears of joy because at last they are expecting the baby they’ve been hoping would come for years?
Is life just a rush of passing stories filled with heartbreaks and tears and first words and giggles and progress and singing and challenges and waiting and grief and joy and promises? Does it give you a headache? Does it overwhelm you? Do you even notice it? Does it make you excited? Or does it make you want to crawl in a dark hole and pretend you don’t even notice? Maybe you decide that it would just be easier to focus on your own story?
You see, the problem with noticing that other people are more than just extras in a movie featuring yourself, is that you usually feel compelled to DO something about that observation.
Noticing that life is beautiful because of the One who made it beautiful can be uncomfortable. If He cares about each living, breathing story…. shouldn’t you?
Suddenly you’ll find yourself putting others first.
Or maybe you won’t. And then you’ll feel awkward. Because honestly, who REALLY believes the entire world revolves around them alone? I mean really.
Or maybe you'll suddenly find yourself in a chapter of your own story that makes you feel miserable or happy or angry or worried or desperate. And you’ll realize you aren’t the only one who has ever hurt or lived or loved or lost. You aren’t the first one or the only one who feels the way you do. And well, selfishly, that’s kind of disappointing sometimes. Don’t I deserve to be the happiest person in the history of the world? Don’t try to tell me other people have been just as happy.
Or maybe you are at complete rock bottom, sitting on the floor, rocking in shame and misery, and drowning in your own tears and fears. Surely NO ONE could possibly understand how you are feeling. Because you are the only one who has ever hurt that bad. Other people’s pain is obviously nothing compared to what you are feeling. And you sit there praying solely for yourself hours upon hours. “Please God! If only You would heal this pain I am feeling.”
Meanwhile there is an entire world that is hurting and in need of prayer.
Have you ever stood in an icy cold stream in the middle of the Rocky Mountains? Without a human in sight? Surrounded by endless miles of evergreens? With only the sky and mountain peaks separating you from God? In that moment you will feel small. In fact, you may feel so small that you forget to even think about yourself. For a moment, you are just a pebble in the stream. Maybe not even that. You are a speck of dust. Smaller than a speck of dust. The dust molecules around you are actually boulder sized compared to you.
Steady now. Feeling this small can make it hard to breathe. Because suddenly you realize it: you’re nobody. Absolutely nobody. That stupid fight you had with your little sister yesterday over who was taking up more room in the car… did that happen on a different planet? Was I thinking straight? Why would I fight over something as stupid as that.
Would you look at the size of that dust?
And then God looks you in the face. Yes, you. He speaks your name. Your name! He knows it. And He cares. And He loves you. And He forgives you. Because you aren’t really a nobody. You are a somebody. A somebody that the God of the Universe died for. But that doesn’t mean you should think you are a somebody. That doesn’t mean you need to walk out of the stream, jump back in the car, and demand to be worshipped. I mean, if God became a nobody and died for you, then maybe you should consider giving up your life as a somebody to live for God and others too. Maybe you should choose to be a nobody.
Is it getting hard to breathe again, or is it just me?
This is your life. Are you who you want to be?
I know I’m not. And that’s why I’m sitting here typing feverishly. It’s because I’m sick of myself. I’m ready for a new chapter. A chapter with a big, fat, bolded, Caps-locked title called “Make Me Like Christ” and the first paragraph beginning with “I’m done with the old me.”
Because to the rest of you, I’m just a story many of you don’t know the half of. I’m that blonde girl who comes to church every Sunday with a smile on her face and a funny remark up her sleeve. But would you believe me if I said I was terribly shy? Would you ever guess that the shower is where I so often cry uncontrollably? Can you see me kneeling on my bed after everyone in my family is asleep asking God once again to forgive my stupid self? Have you seen my past and can you know my secrets and can you guess my dreams?
How could you know?
And how could I guess what it is you might be dealing with?
I guess this is also why I find myself sitting here writing. I want to use this space and my thoughts and my typing fingers to tell you a long story. It’s a story about life. Not just about my life. But about yours. And about that stranger down the street. And about that perfect man who died for us two thousand years ago.
Not everything I write will be deep. Because sometimes, things are absolutely perfect without having to over-think them. I like simple stories with simple people and simple messages.
But sometimes I may get carried away with my thoughts, and I hope that you won’t mind.
Every day we are surrounded by stories. We meet one at the grocery store. See one on the news. Get annoyed by the one driving too slow in front of us. Read about one in the Bible. And all the while, we are learning what our own stories are.
It’s overwhelming. But yet it’s not.
Because each of our stories is written by an Author. The same Author who built a universe using His words alone.
So let's trust our stories to Him, shall we?