The Stories We Tell
My brother, a middle child, tells a story about a cold morning some 20 or more years ago in Austin, Texas, when we were in high school. It’s important for this story that you remember two things: 1) we were late for school and 2) it was very cold. It’s not important that he is a middle child, but it helps you imagine his character. I mean, we all know middle children, am I right?
So, we’re late and he is pants-less. He steps into our freezing cold garage, where the dryer is whirring along, like a brave soldier standing stalwart against the cold. My brother whispers a quiet hope that the jeans are dry and throws open the dryer door. Success! They are dry! And his pair was the first catch! He may have only been a sophomore, but he knew it was going to be a good day.
Slipping into his still hot jeans, he feels like they’ve perhaps gotten a little snug. No time to worry. We’re late. So, he does what countless boys have done since 2010, but none before, and forced himself into that millennia's first example of skinny jeans. We get to school, and he is there all of half a class period before a kind friend points out, “Hey man, you’re wearing chick jeans!”
Offended, my brother retorts, “These are not chick jeans!! These are man jeans!”
“No, man. The label on the back. It says, ‘chic.’ They are chic jeans. For girls.”
And, that’s the story of the time my brother wore my jeans to school.
At a recent family gathering, we all sat on the deck while kids swam and we told our stories. It’s not a formal thing, it’s just what happens when you get two or more people together and they can’t look at their phones because kids are swimming. My brother found a perfect on ramp to tell his story of the chic jeans disaster. I watched him tell his story with great comedic timing and awareness. It occurred to me that this was a well practiced story, one he had told many times, but it never got old, so he took care to paint the picture clearly. We listened intently. We laughed hysterically at all the right parts. We threw in our own commentary.
He told me later that it is his favorite “go to” story. Need to humble yourself in social circle? Chic jean story time. Need a funny, relatable story to start an impromptu speech? Chic jean story works perfectly.
I think we all have a go to story. A story that we have told hundreds of times. It never gets old; the decades only add color. These stories give us a quick and easy picture to show a slice of who we are to whatever audience we have before us. These stories tell people who we are and what we care about.
I was thinking about my brother telling his story while also thinking about writing this very post for all of you. In pondering it, I prayed and asked God just what on earth could a drama queen say that would carry any weight? (As I lounged on my fainting couch and sighed.)
He did not burden my heart to tell you the chic jean story. That was just my new go to story when I’m in a jam. What I do want to tell you is that we are all storytellers. Every one of us. We want people to see a piece of who we are, who we love, what humbles us, what makes us proud, what shatters us, what brings us peace. We tell our stories.
Also a storyteller? God.
For 10 years I have practiced (with very little discipline) the discipline of memorizing and performing Scripture. In my process as a performer, I study each word. What is God saying here? How many different ways can it be interpreted? How should I hold my body when I say this part? My face?
I concern myself with where each word will land. As a spiritual discipline, this has meant that I have combed over more than 40 chapters of Scripture this way, constantly looking for how best to tell God’s story. This is where he tells us who he is, who he loves, what makes him jealous, what makes him proud. This is his story.
When I am practicing a portion of Scripture, I may repeat it well over a hundred times in a few weeks: reading it, writing it, investigating it. As I train others to also practice this discipline, I encourage them to invite the Holy Spirit along as a teacher, to engage his knowledge as the author of these stories.
I am willing to own that dramatic tendencies are uniquely mine (and also my brother’s, the middle child), but I will never agree that the ability to memorize large portions for the benefit of the church is unique to me alone. My challenge to everyone I meet is to memorize one of God’s stories. This is good for old preachers, middle schoolers, toddlers, mamas, daddies, trash truck drivers, scholars, theologians, professors, makeup artists, and everyone else not listed. It’s God’s story.