The stories my mom told me when I visited her in the Alzheimer’s Unit, they were usually from decades earlier, even back to her days leading girl’s camps in the 1960s. They were the stories her brain ran home to when it was no longer constrained by reason and a rational timeline. It was difficult to keep up in conversation when she moved forward and backward in time, but I was happy that her default stories were about ministry and family. Our stories, like our memories, are the ballast that keeps us from being tossed aside by illness, or toppled over by the resistance, or blown away by winds of fear.
Our stories define us. They communicate our heart. To say let me tell you my stories is to say let me tell you who I am and what I believe and what I think is important and who I love and where I’m headed, and all that. To know my stories is to know me. To know your stories is to know you.
Whenever we try to describe someone, the best way to do it is usually by telling a story. And just this week, while digging through past journals preparing for my next book, I rediscovered a great identity story.
One Monday evening in 2007, Cyndi I attended a jazz performance in Odessa. It was excellent. All four musicians were friends with my brother, Carroll, a phenomenal drummer himself, who lived in Austin at the time. After we got home I emailed him my observations about the music and the musicians. I should have picked up the phone as soon as I sent the email because I knew he would call right away. The first thing he said was, “No way I could read an email like that without phoning.”
We talked a long time about music and Carroll’s respect for the musicians we’d heard, and he told personal stories about knowing and playing with each of them.
I mentioned how Neal, the night’s drummer, played more melody than rhythm. Carroll knew exactly what I meant. He talked about how a drummer will take a long time setting up his kit just right. He’ll adjust and re-adjust drums and cymbals and stool until everything is millimeter perfect. “It’s part ritual, and part striving for excellence; nothing to get in the way of the music.” But he said Neal seemed to have his kit set differently every time he played. “If he backed his pickup against the curb so all his drums flew out on to the stage, he could sit down and play them where they landed and still be the best drummer you ever heard.” Carroll said, “Neal is so far above the rest of us he doesn’t even need drums.”
Now that was a great story. Not only did it tell me a lot about Neal, it also told me something about Carroll … and how Carroll thought of me, that he would tell such a drummer-specific story and expect me to get it.
Well, just this past Sunday night we watched a cool Jeep commercial during the Super Bowl; it featuring wild and beautiful places around the world with “This Land Is Your Land” playing in the background.
I posted: “This commercial moves my heart. With each passing year, I have more and more trouble distinguishing spirituality from geography, sense of place, and home. It all gets mixed up.”
What I meant to add but forgot, what I should have included, was this: But it isn’t enough to go places and see wonders. I want to come back home to my people and tell the story of where I’ve been, and share the lessons God showed me.
Telling the story is something I’ve been compelled to do my whole life. As the Psalmist wrote, “Come and hear, all of you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.” (Psalm 66:16)
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32