At the church I grew up in, Lakeview Wesleyan Church, we had Sunday evening services, and sometimes, those services would simply consist of hymn sings. The music minister would take requests from the congregation of what songs they would like to sing. I have a very vivid memory of the minister (I can’t remember his name) sitting in the front when a little boy went over to him to whisper a request. This little boy had been sitting next to me because I used to help in Children’s Church and he liked me, and I liked him. Anyway, he told the minister he wanted to sing “This is My Story.”
We all laughed a bit, knowing immediately that he wanted to sing Blessed Assurance, and realizing that to him, the most interesting line was “this is my story, this is my song,” from the refrain. That’s because children love stories. And, most of us love them too I would suspect. Most of us have a story as well.
When I was going through Army journalism training, I remember one of the instructors telling us that the most popular part of a newspaper were stories about people. Studies had been done and it was discovered that people are drawn to stories and pictures of other people. We long to connect with each other. One of my favorite things about Olympic coverage are the biographical features done about the various athletes. I love to hear their stories. I suppose that is what made journalism so interesting to me.
My own story begins in an Army hospital at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That’s where I was born. I was the first born child of John and Dorotha Mack. My dad, John, was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, having been drafted for a two-year stint with the Army. We lived in a little house across the street from Leavenworth Prison. I remember seeing one of my mom’s photo albums that had a picture of me in a playpen. She had captioned the picture of my chubby self behind the bars of that playpen, “Leavenworth, Prison.” Later, when I was 11, my family (that had added two little sisters) traveled back to Leavenworth as part of a long, driving West-heading vacation. We went to see the hospital where I was born, but that building no longer stood where it had. It had been torn down to expand the prison. So, I like to tell people I was born in prison.
In spite of the many hardships I’ve endured over the years (life is never smooth sailing for anyone, I wager), it’s been a pretty good life overall. If one were to look at the stories of pain, loss, fear and brokenness, one might think it’s been a sad life. But, I have lived my story, and I know that there is nothing in my story that God hasn’t used to teach me. I’m not saying he caused the heartache, but I do believe he has transformed it so that I am still willing to tell my story and do it with a joyful heart.
Every Christmas, my family gets together at mom’s house, and we gather around the Christmas tree for a gift exchange. Before we begin to open gifts, we read the story of Christ’s birth, and we pray. My mother can never get through the prayer without crying, not because she’s sad, but because she is so thankful for what God has done in each of our lives. She always feels somewhat embarrassed about it, but I don’t think she should be. She should be thankful. I know I am. She sees our family as a miracle. And, I do too. What humbles her is knowing that all of her girls, their husbands, and their children all still follow Jesus, and love him. That is something that is important to her, and it is to me. We have young people who are following in the faith with compassion, joy, humility and faithfulness. We all feel that this is an immense blessing, considering some of the hardships we have been through. There has arisen no spirit of bitterness with us, no fighting between us, no lack of respect for one another.
We are thankful because we know the stories of so many families who are torn apart by animosity and bitterness and we have no idea why we have been spared such pain. My own mother experienced tremendous rifts in her own family between herself and her sisters. Her family came through great trauma with battle wounds that did not heal properly. While our family, though also suffering great trauma, managed to somehow not only be healed, but rise above the past and stay connected by great love. That is a miracle.
I think that knowing the stories of other people is necessary for the healing of our world. It is very hard to hate someone after you have heard their stories and realize that they are just like you in many ways. But, we have to be willing to listen with open hearts.
I have been (and I’m sure I’m not alone) so disturbed and heartbroken by the violence that seems to be constantly overtaking our world. I have been just as heartbroken over the divisions in our society as people draw hard lines in the sand and seem to be uninterested in hearing anyone’s stories unless those tales bolster their own ideas. To me, that is so sad. Do we want to know, for instance, that among the Palestinians dying in Gaza, there are many Christians? Do we want to know that the majority of Christians in Israel are Palestinian? Do we want to know that both sides have people who are good, kind and loving? Do we want to know the stories of people we have labeled enemies? I pray that we do. There is too much hatred today, too many people dying and too few people who seem to care to seek peace. I pray we can put down our weapons, our hatred, our anger and fear toward the “other” and remember the stories of Jesus.
He taught in stories, in parables, so that must tell you how important stories are to him. Do any of you remember the story of the Good Neighbor? Who is our neighbor? Could it be a Samaritan who has mercy on you when you’ve been assaulted and left for dead? Could it be a South American child who prays to Jesus that he will be safe someday, and hears Jesus say “suffer the little children to come unto me?” Could it be the Palestinian who reads his Bible as his father has before him, and his father before him, who can trace his heritage of faith all the way back to Jesus’ time, and who hunkers in rubble waiting for another bomb to fall? Could he be your neighbor? Shouldn’t he be?
So what will our stories turn out to be? Will they be tales of unity, peace-making, humble lives? Or will they be stories of bitterness, defeat, fear and the rejection of others who have different stories than ours? I pray that we can be united in our love of story, to the point that we see there are no “others” — only neighbors.