Writers live and die by the story. We see a story in the heated exchange between a mother and father over the cooling remains of a half-eaten dinner at a crowded restaurant, in the brief glimpse of a bicycle laying upside down against a rickety fence, in the weathered face of a one-legged man holding a cardboard sign on a street corner.
Are we writers first, born with the love of story? Or do the stories that we encountered growing up make us into writers?
No matter which chicken or egg answer you choose, stories are a blessing no writer can ignore.
My story blessings are deeply rooted in the histories of sacrifice, hard work, and all-out toughness that surround my family’s background. Like many of us, I don’t have to look past two generations to find people who survived off the land, perfected the art of getting by with just enough, and who never questioned the value of hard work and the happiness achieved via the simple philosophy of loving God first and then one’s fellow man.
There are people outside of my family circle, however, whose stories also touched my creative spirit. One of them died before I was born. A friend of my dad’s, he was sacrificed like so many of that generation on the battlefields of Vietnam. As the story goes, he was safely inside the trench when he ventured out to retrieve a fellow soldier. Unfortunately, he died in the attempt. The closest he ever came to having children, I suppose, is the middle name I bear in honor of his memory.
Another one of my dad’s friends survived his tour of duty only to be scarred by it for the rest of his life, or at least, so it seemed. A “frogman,” that friend had the scary job of following behind the enemy divers and dismantling the bombs they had set in the ocean. It was almost fifteen years after the war before he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but even before that, he had chosen a different path.
A sort of “old hippie,” he travelled the country playing music, never laying down roots, and yet still having that bon vivant quality that drew others to him. At his funeral recently, Dad was impressed by the stories this buddy’s more recent friends had to tell about the kindnesses extended and lives touched by someone who truly sacrificed all for his country, leaving behind in the end nothing to really call his own.
No matter how diligently we try to express or emulate the stories we experience on paper, beyond personal experience there are no stories as powerful as those woven for us in the pages of the Bible. Open this good book anywhere, and you will encounter love stories, great battles, and conversations with God.
How incredible is the story of Saul called Paul, a Pharisee known for his zealous pursuit of the infidel Christians, a Roman citizen who met God on the road to Damascus and gave up all the acclaim he had earned among his peers to preach the truth of Christ to the Gentiles? Or what about David, who had a heart like God’s, yet still continued to struggle with the same sins that we all must face each day? Because David repented of those sins, he continued to find moments of wonder with the One and Only.
But my favorite stories of the Bible are found in the Psalms, where anonymous, every day people, just like you and I, pour out their praise and fear and even anger with God as they combat the challenges that are inherent to being human. What a glorious God we have, that He will love us through our happiness and our pain! If you ever doubt it, you will find a fellow traveller in the Psalms for whichever place with God you are at. And if you are far from God, I am convinced that the every day people of the Psalms can bring you back again.
From Psalm 91: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”
From Psalm 33: “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”
From Psalm 12: “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.”
Solomon tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun,” but there are beauty and wonder, tears and pain.
And it all begins with a story.