Somewhere along the road, while gathering crazy and wonderful experiences like so many wildflowers in a basket, our family began to love storytelling. It wasn’t really a conscious decision nor a concerted effort – it just sort of blossomed into being.
In the early years of our three children’s lives, I read to them every night at bedtime: tales I still remember well (as do they) about the consequences of giving a moose a muffin, of a town overrun with bees and the giant jam sandwich its residents made to lure them away, or a surprise birthday party thrown for a wombat by his friends.
As our kids grew and we shared our home and dinner table ever more frequently with friends and visitors from around the globe, our reading of stories before bed gave way to the telling of stories late into the evening. This practice was only encouraged by the marvelous Southern European custom of lingering for long hours around a meal. As our palates relished each flavor of the multi-course meals I’d prepare, we reveled in the unraveling of real-life tales. Stories of adventure and folly, of sadness and redemption. Accounts of God’s amazing provision for our family as we’ve trusted in Him against all odds, of His faithfulness as we’ve ventured down the often uncharted paths that have marked our life in Southern Europe.
The personality of each of our five family members is distinctly evident in our styles of storytelling and each one adds detail, color, flare, context and his or her own perspective. We speak of a life lived together, with all its joys and stresses; of a journey that’s been wild and wonderful, difficult and painful. It has required commitment and sacrifice from all of us and has, in exchange, afforded wealth unspeakable, undergirded with a quiet confidence in the One who has walked with us through floods and fire, over soft, white, sandy beaches and across fields littered with broken memories and disappointments.
You may have heard the Indian proverb that says, “Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Jesus himself was the master of storytelling and knowing the incredible effectiveness of associating imagery with narrative to teach essential lessons, he opted to speak in parables more often than not.
Storytelling has such a magical quality because it not only reminds us – the tale bearers – of who we are and from where we’ve come. It also speaks deeply to the hearts of our listeners, passing on lessons that they will store in their spiritual and emotional treasure boxes long after they’ve been with us. I’ve often been humbled by comments received from friends years after their visits with us, confiding that some of their most cherished memories or nuggets of wisdom that they continue to carry with them were garnered during the hours spent around our dinner table.
Our family’s tales narrate a life spent seeking to love Jesus and to love all those He brings us in contact with; to follow where He leads and open our doors to whoever seeks solace or celebration within our walls. Our stories are not all narratives of greatness and glory, but rather our humble (and sometimes prideful and ridiculous) pursuits to know and serve the God of the Universe and to be submitted to Him. A journey I will never tire of undertaking, as it’s full of life, love and unexpected challenges around every bend – gifts that we have received and in turn, must give away.
Despite our oftentimes material lack as our children were growing up, I have no doubt that we have been (and still are) one of the wealthiest families in the world. The richness and beauty that every friend and guest has brought to our hearts is immeasurable. And the sheer plenitude that has been afforded us through living a life of faith, trusting in God to supply our every need (and to make clear to us those things that are not “needs” at all) can never, ever truly be put into words.
Friends laugh when they experience our family telling stories all together – five furious, passionate hearts beating in a crazy rhythm of animation and laughter, finishing each others sentences, correcting inaccurately recounted details and challenging embellishments. These are some of my very favorite times because, while we may not have a family home or heirlooms that attest to who we are and where we have been, our stories are our testament. They bear witness to a life lived in so many cities and cultures, with countless people who have become like family and one unifying, central pillar: the God of our salvation, never-changing, ever-faithful.
Today, our kids are telling stories all around the world and though our family tales are not quite the same when only Denny and I share them, we could not be prouder nor more thrilled with who our children have become.
Whitney, fiercely determined and beautifully sensitive, a champion for justice, is weaving stories of faith, hope and love that will forever change the lives and future of special needs children and their families in rural Southern China.
vibrant and free-spirited, an inspiration to the disheartened, brings a burst of color to every landscape she touches in Austin,
Texas with her uniquely creative and prophetic perspective.
gentle and wise beyond his years, a leader by example, is setting out to tell tales that will change the world, through his passion for Jesus and his drumming on a four-month evangelistic tour that will touch a dozen countries in Europe and the Russian-speaking world.
I can hardly wait for the next glorious opportunity we’ll have all together, each sharing the stories we’ve been living in our different parts of the world: the new chapters of our family life expanding across the globe. And you can bet that if there are some fresh ears around our table, we’ll be taking some of those wonderful old family “heirlooms” down from the shelves, dusting them off and breathing precious life into them once again.
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if the salt should lose its taste,
how can it be made salty?
It’s no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.
You are the light of the world.
A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.
No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket,
but rather on a lamp stand,
and it gives light for all who are in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13-16