I’ve been looking back on my life and remembering the people and the stories that have made it what it is.
Too often I get caught up in the negative harsh things. They loom large and dark with sharp beaks and harsh squawks. But if I were completely honest, much (maybe even most) of my life has been filled with small, gentle, holy things. The ugly ones scream and gnaw and fill me with bitterness. The others pass by quietly—unless I pay attention.
Remembering through stories sanctifies (sets apart for good) the characters and their moments and helps us see how they impacted our lives. Stories hold these moments up to the light to be seen and cherished—or perhaps just understood in the brilliance of forgiving grace.
Stories reveal our hearts, too. When do we weep or laugh? Why do we grieve or get angry? What causes us to sigh with longing? Each emotional response to a story informs us about ourselves.
The majority of life is full of every-day-kind-of-stories—mostly unmemorable. Those every-day things mount up, surround us and empower or disable us: words (lovely and cruel), sin (against ourselves and others), and of course grace, love, and forgiveness (that we give, withhold, or receive).
There can be splendor in simple stories. An exhausted father rocks a sick child during the night, so a frazzled mother can sleep. A grandmother plays Go Fishing with a grandson—as if it’s the most important thing she will do all day—and it might be. Daughters, sons, grandsons and granddaughters care for aging parents. These are glorious overlooked moments when divine mercy intersects with broken humanity. They are moments when we sacrificially give—even if our giving is laced with sin.
Stories also reveal our fallen state. All truly great tales have conflict with the darkness: external and internal. Stories mimic life. People are a mixture of glory and sin—and stories are filled with people—therefore conflict. Made in the image of God, mankind experiences its most splendid moments as we bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. However, our fallen state makes such steady glory impossible. We find hate, despair, cruelty, unfaithfulness, and unfettered sin of all kind mingled into our lives—even as we try to do right things.
But I don’t want to remember life as bitter. I want to see and appreciate the small holy things in the tiny stories, and I have thousands of such stories.
My husband rises and cooks us breakfast—most days. My oldest son insists on paying for gutter cleaning, so my husband won’t climb the ladder and get injured. My daughter helps me put mulch in the yard and plants flowers on my behalf; yesterday she made muffins. My youngest son is helping me put in a bathroom and kitchenette downstairs. I loaded groceries for a young mother with a baby girl papoosed to her chest. She also had five boisterous sons under ten in tow—all acting like puppies in play.
Can I write a compelling novel from these stories? Probably not. Still, those are the stories that transform our lives. It isn’t the trip to Germany that’s so important to remember; it’s the people who love you and pick you up from the airport with flowers in hand.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8-9; The Message)