Thursday, April 28, 2016

Your “Sacred Stories of the Ordinary”

“Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred stories of the ordinary.”

Those words zing me, those “Aha!” words penned by Lawrence Kushner.

I marvel at those words combined that way. They stretch my awareness of God and of life—and of myself and my family.

I applaud their meaning.

Those words capture the purpose—the heart—of spiritual memoirs.

Writing a memoir includes looking back, pondering, sorting out, reflecting, mulling, examining, unraveling, looking for deeper meanings and patterns and threads.

In doing so, you discover that from one generation to the next to the next, God arranges “invisible lines of connection.” In your everyday moments, He writes “sacred stories of the ordinary.

“Reverence before heaven. Amazing grace.” Kushner writes. “It is a way of understanding your place within Creation.… When viewed from a point of high enough vantage, everything is revealed to be in the hands of God…, (Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary; emphasis mine). 

God’s presence and His holy, invisible, connecting lines in your life have been there all along, since before your birth.

Try to take this in: God includes you in His sacred stories that span the centuries.

“You are a story,” writes Dan Allender. “You are not merely the possessor and teller of a number of stores; you are a well-written, intentional story that is authored by the greatest Writer of all time, and even before time and after time.

“The weight of these words,” Allender continues, “… will call you to a level of coauthorship that is staggering in its scope and meaning” (To Be Told).

You are part of God’s divine story.

You began with a plan God wrote:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more” (Psalm 121:8, NIV).

You discover sacred stories of the ordinary, Kushner says, “just beneath the surface.…”

You might think you live an inconspicuous, unremarkable life but, through the generations, God has been writing His sacred stories through you and your family’s ordinary events.

Grandpa, my cousins, and me.
Search for ways God has watched over your ancestors’ coming and going because through those people and events God was preparing for, and then shaping, you.

The beginning of our story on earth “seldom coincides with our birth. Our story begins,” says Allender, “with the characters who gave us birth, including their past relationships with their parents and issues such as success and shame; power and abuse; love, loss, and addiction; heartache and secrets.… We owe our existence to the generations that came before us. Our beginning, which took place before we were born, signals some of the themes that will play out in our life.”

So then, track sacred connections around you.

Look for broader, deeper significance hidden in everyday moments.

Ask God to give you glimpses of His hand-written, just-beneath-the-surface stories.

And then ponder this: 

You are the bridge God has placed between your family’s generations past and generations yet to come.

Your stories can make a difference.

Stories heal.

Stories shape lives.

Your stories can help mold the lives of children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and generations yet unborn.

Sometimes a particular story, or version of a story, is so potent,” says Ayd Instone, and “becomes so interwoven in our lives that it defines the direction our life story takes and modifies behavior...” (emphasis mine).

Your stories are important. Write them for generations yet to come.

“Write what should not be forgotten.”
Isabel Allende

Adapted from a post of April 18, 2012

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

“Through us, with us, in spite of us”

Your Tuesday Tidbit, your 15 seconds of inspiration:

“For such a long time, I felt my story wasn’t important….
I didn’t know who my story had made me….
But exhuming it, the healing had been profound,
pulling from the ashes of charred memories….
And the things I’ve discovered have been treasures….
Through writing I’ve discovered that…
protecting and preserving our stories
is about discovering God’s story.
What he did through us, with us, in spite of us,
continually pursuing that story
is a matter of faithfulness and obedience,
to become aware and invest in this life he’s given.
To speak its life-affirming power
in proper words and context,
it can be the delight of our lives,
an endless source of inspiration.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

“Look where you have not had the heart to look before”

“Every once in a while, life can be very eloquent. 
You go along from day to day
not noticing very much,
not seeing or hearing very much,
and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it,
very often something speaks to you 
with such power
that it catches you off guard,
makes you listen whether you want to or not.
Something speaks to you out of your own life
with such directness
that it is as if it calls you by name and forces you to look
where you have not had the heart to look before,
to hear something that maybe for years
you have not had the wit or the courage to hear.”
(Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark
emphasis mine)

Writing your memoir can be like that: Within the reflecting and pondering and exploring and decoding, something pops up, something breaks you right open and “forces you to look where you have not had the heart to look before.” You can no longer ignore it, hoping it will disappear. You know in your heart of hearts that you can’t turn away. You’ve arrived at a defining moment.

If, in writing your memoir, you unexpectedly "hear something that maybe for years you have not had the wit or the courage to hear," recognize that God is doing something profound.

Set aside time and make a serious effort to listen for God’s still small voice. Be willing to do some soul-searching. God can help you make sense of it and make peace with it. He can give you a new outlook on life, new purpose, new opportunities.

Initially you might not welcome that process, but it can be good and valuableif you give God your undivided attention for as long as it takes

By breaking you open, God can help you break through to a higher, wider, deeper place of faith and joy in Him.

God can open your eyes to see events and relationships in new ways. He can give you a more accurate understanding of His love for you: You are beloved and secure in Him (Deuteronomy 33:12), He takes great delight in you, quiets you in His love, and rejoices over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17) .

Getting there can be a long and painful process, but if you stick with God and search Scriptures and listen and pray, He can shine light on your darkness, He can give you a new song to sing.

Listen to the words of dear David, the psalmist:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
            and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
            out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
            and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
            a hymn of praise to our God. 
(Psalm 40:1-3, NLT)

When that happens—when God brings you to that good, new place—write the rest of your memoir. Consider it—your memoiryour new song of praise.

“It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing, which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can … be brought to life by and healed by all these years later.” (Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, emphasis mine.)

So, marvel at God’s goodness. Cherish His grace.

Use your memoir to:

Sing a new song to the Lord!...
Publish his glorious deeds….
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
(Psalm 96:1-3, NLT)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Write now, fix later

“… [R]emember that whatever you have written 
is neither as good nor as bad as you think it is. 
Just keep going, 
and tell yourself that you will fix it later.” 

Pat yourself on the back for what you have already written.

But remember:

The clock is ticking.

Be intentional about writing your memoir.


Resolve to finish writing your memoir.


And pray!

There you have it, your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lovely people and tender moments and soft-spoken words

Today let’s reflect on life’s everyday joys and subtle beauties. They can teach us important lessons.

Grace-filled, winsome people can tutor us and introduce us to life’s most valuable discoveries. They can be the best kind of role models for us.

If you missed last Thursday’s post, we looked at the way devastating situations can bring us to our knees and leave us broken, helpless—but that from within that place of crisis, we can learn: During our most painful times we can learn our most important lessons.

But let’s not overlook life’s happinesses.

Our problem is this:

The gentle things of life
don’t catch our attention
the way tragedies do.
Too often we overlook the deeper treasures
within lovely people and tender moments
and soft-spoken words.

Who showed you what it’s like to live with these (consider them one at a time): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22)?

Who demonstrated serving one another in love, loving your neighbor as yourself? (Galatians 5:13-14)

Who displayed what real love is (again, consider the following attributes one at a time):

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

Who demonstrated what commitment is—for better, for worse, in sickness and in health?

Who was like a Mr. Rogers in your life? Or a Matthew Cuthbert in the Anne of Green Gables books? Or Father Tim from Jan Karon’s novels? Safe, kind, considerate souls. Jan Karon writes, “There is deep, resonant, lovely, tender beauty in the ordinary life…. the person on the street; the woman at home; the one working in a flower bed or trying to raise her grandchildren.” Who were those people in your life and what did they teach you? What spiritual wisdom did they demonstrate?

Who were the quiet, dependable, heart-of-gold people God brought into your life? Maybe a classmate, or a grandparent, or a neighbor, or a boss. Perhaps a store clerk, or a professor, or a nurse, or a janitor.

Amy Carmichael wrote of the time Jesus ignored derailing comments made by a group of men (Mark 5:36). Rather than confronting them, he just kept about his business. Amy writes, “He heard, but He took no notice…. How often one…finds peace upset by something that someone has said. ‘Not heeding the word spoken,’ to be deaf to it, to go on as if one had not heard it—this is something not all of us find easy. May the Lord give us this holy deafness…” (Edges of His Ways; emphasis mine). Who modeled that attitude and conduct for you?

What people and stories come to mind when you read the following verses?

A gentle answer turns away wrath….
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge….
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life….
The lips of the wise spread knowledge….
A patient man calms a quarrel….
A man finds joy in giving an apt reply....
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart,
            and good news gives health to the bones (Proverbs 15:1-30). 

She is clothed with strength and dignity….She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (Proverbs 31:25-26). How good is a timely word (Proverbs 15:23). For a moving essay on the reality of these two passages, check out Stacy Sanchez’s post, “It’s not over until….” (Stacy’s young husband died suddenly a few weeks ago.)

Your job, as a memoirist, 
is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

So, set aside time
to search through your memories
and discover quiet, subtle blessings
from everyday people and events.
You might be surprised to find
extraordinary in your quiet ordinary—
and that some of your most important lessons
and values and beliefs
came from those people and events.
Surely each was a gift from God
His fingerprints are all over them.

Write your stories.
Pass on the inspiration you’ve received from others.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: “Stories are our prayers….”

Stories are our prayers.
Write them and edit them with due reverence,
even when the stories themselves are irreverent.

Stories are parables.
Write and edit and tell yours with meaning,
so each tale stands in for a larger message,
each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

Stories are history.
Write and edit and tell yours with accuracy
and understanding and context
and with unwavering devotion to the truth.

Stories are music.
Write and edit and tell yours
with pace and rhythm and flow.
Throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting,
but stay true to the core beat.
Readers hear stories with their inner ear.

Stories are our soul.
Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves.
Tell them as if they are all that matters.
It matters that you do it as if that’s all there is.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The stuff of turning points and second chances

Devastating situations can knock the air out of us. Bring us to our knees.

Sometimes we cause our own tragedies, other times we’re innocent victims of someone else’s choices and actions. And sometimes heartbreaks are part of life—like the death of a loved one.

Sometimes we are so broken, so helpless, we can’t do anything but fling ourselves into God’s arms and hold on.

And there, within that place of crisis, we discover that during our most painful times we learn our most important lessons

Sorrows can wrench us out of places we should never have wandered: Anguish can break down our stubbornness and make us willing, finally, to embrace a holy discontent with things that are not right in our lives.

A crisis can force us to get serious about God and His forgiveness and grace—and about our need to forgive and extend grace to others.

Devastation can shake us by the shoulders and convince us that God is worthy of all we are and all we have—that He is Number One.

In that way, our brokenness can lead to our wholeness: Heartbreaks can be the stuff of turning points and second chances. Personal disasters can lead to personal victories.

Some of you have been there. You messed up. Or maybe someone else messed up and left you devastated. Shattered. But you survived. Your  broken self healedby God’s grace. You’re living in a new chapter of your life.

God has given you a new song to sing (Psalm 40:1-3).

He has given you beauty in place of ashes, gladness in place of mourning (Isaiah 61:3).

He has restored places long devastated (Isaiah 61:4).

He has turned your weeping into songs of joy (Psalm 126:5-6).

You need to write your story because
someone needs to hear that you got through your disaster.
Someone needs to know that you are living a new and better life.

Not just that you got a new life—but how you got there.
How did you and God, together, get you to this new place?

Someone, sometime, will read your memoir—someone searching for answers, someone reeling in the midst of his or her own anguish, longing to turn a corner, desperate to receive a second chance, eager to leave the former life behind and make a fresh start. God can use your story to help answer their prayers, give them hope, and someone (you, through your memoir) to walk alongside them toward the other side.

In that way, you—just an ordinary person—can be a “messenger of the Most High.”

“And so we understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High,” writes Lawrence Kushner. “They go about their tasks in holy anonymity. Often, even unknown to themselves. Yet, if they had not been there, if they had not said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now. We would not be the way we are now. Never forget that you, too, may be a messenger. Perhaps even one whose errand extends over several lifetimes.” (Lawrence Kushner, Eyes Remade for Wonder, emphasis mine)

Read those last two sentences again with your memoir in mind: “Never forget that you, too, may be a messenger. Perhaps even one whose errand extends over several lifetimes.”

How can your stories extend over several lifetimes? By putting them in writing, making copies, and making sure your family knows they have copies—on a shelf somewhere, or in a box in the basement. They might not read your memoir in your lifetime, but someday, someone will read it.

Trust God
He has given you a high calling.

Not so much because of who you are,

Commit your stories to Him,
believing He will use them to bless your readers.

“Your struggle to share your struggle changes the world.”