Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stories That Matter

Jeff's Pure Desire workbook emphasized today the value of storytelling, specifically as it relates to connecting with your children. So tonight at dinner, we began to tell our stories. Everyone got to share something. We started simple. Two questions.

1) When/where were you born and what was your dad doing for a living at the time?

2) What is one of your earliest memories?

FIRST QUESTION

Jeff: Born on Month X, Day XX, Year XXXX in Town A, Hospital C. At the time, his dad was either making circuit boards, going to chemistry school, or already working as a chemist. He's not sure which.

James noted that he often thinks of his grandpa in a science setting, pouring chemicals into beakers, blowing stuff up. "Thats the main reason I love science," he said.

"Because your grandpa is a scientist?" I asked affectionately.

"No. Because you get to blow stuff up."

Oh. Right. Of course.

Becky: Born on Month X, Day XX, Year XXXX in Town B, Province D, Canada.

James exclaimed, "You were born in Canada?!"

"I always thought you were born in Idaho!" Jonathan echoed.

At the time, my dad had just graduated from Bible school, and our family was all set to move back to the U.S. But they couldn't travel until after I was born, so they sat around waiting for me to show up. When I was several days overdue, Mom went to the hospital in the nearby city, where they induced labor, and out I came. Another eight days later, our family moved. I've been moving ever since.

James: Born on Month X, Day X, Year XXXX. He knew that part. No idea where he was born. We've told him before, but he was too little to assimilate the information. I think he'll remember this time. He discovered tonight that he was also born in Town A, Hospital C, just like his dad! And his grandma, as it turns out!

He also had no idea what his dad did for a living when he was born. He guessed construction.

Jonathan interjected, "What about all the real estate stuff?"

Neither. Dad was a production manager at a steel cable manufacturing company. He oversaw the web sling division.

What are web slings?

Big, big ropes they use on cranes.

Jonathan: Born Month X, Day XX, Year XXXX. Town E, Hospital F. Not very interesting, poor guy. No family connection, no out-of-country experience. Aha! But he guessed correctly what his dad was doing for a living when he was born! He was a Realtor! In fact, Jeff recalled, he was fielding client calls at the hospital while I was in labor.

SECOND QUESTION

Jonathan: I remember Dad's old, big chair. It was so great for hiding behind when we played hide and seek at the yellow house. We played hide and seek there a lot, and Mom, you always knew where I was hiding.

Going for honesty in reporting, I explained, "Well, to tell you the truth, guys, four-year-olds and two-year-olds are really not that great at hiding. You always stomped all the way to your hiding places. Stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp! And then you bumped and banged around while you hid, and whispered really loudly. You weren't that hard to find."

Gales of laughter all around.

James: I have two early memories. They are both from the apartment before the yellow house. I remember hanging that silver cello ornament on our Christmas tree. That's my favorite ornament. And I remember sneaking downstairs at night after I was supposed to be in bed and watching hippos on Animal Planet.

"What were the hippos doing?" I asked, trying to determine what he may have actually seen.

"Regular hippo stuff," he shrugged. "You know. Laying around, swimming. The typical jaw attack action. Stuff like that."

Huh. Interesting.

Becky: I remember sneaking bananas off the kitchen counter and eating them down in the basement storage room behind our brown couch, stored on end and a thousand feet tall. I thought I was pretty clever, but I left all the peels in a neat pile in plain sight on top of our cooler lid, and Mom found them one day. Busted.

Jeff: I remember a car game that my sisters used to make me play, back before car seats and seat belts. They would say, "Pay the bill, Lenny," and then for payment, I had to lick the bottoms of their shoes.

Belly laughs galore.

Jeff again: Another time, we were riding in our camper with some scared rabbits who dropped pellets all over the floor. So we had to sit with our feet up, and every time Dad went around a corner, the pellets rolled all around. Mom and Dad were up in the cab, and my sister drew them pictures of rabbits and pellets to explain our situation, but when they didn't give her the attention she felt she deserved, she got them back by posting in the camper's back window, "Help! We've been kidnapped!"

James asked, chuckling, "Did she get that from Calvin and Hobbes?"

"Oh, no. This was before Calvin and Hobbes," Jeff replied in a my-sister-was-so-bad-but-in-a-cool-way kind of voice.

"Woah," muttered James, Keanu Reeves style.

"Yep," said his dad, nodding and chuckling.

I'm not sure what kinds of questions we'll ask next time, but I do know there will be a next time. Jeff's workbook says that the way parents retell their stories, in other words how they do or don't make sense of their past lives, is the most powerful indicator of whether or not their children will grow up with a sense of attachment or security in their lives. If the parent can share a coherent, reflective and emotionally engaged narrative about their childhood, the more likely it is the children will have a good relationship with them.

"It didn't matter what may have happened to them, the determining factor was how they made sense out of what had happened to them. That was the significant factor in how emotionally healthy they were and the type of parents they became.

"That tells us that if you can make sense of your story, you can change its impact on your life. It doesn't have to control you. Your destiny is not determined by your past. Your destiny is determined by how you see the sovereign hand of God at work in all of your life. Your past may have been horrific like mine, but once the Holy Spirit raises your vision to see a holy and gracious Father at work in your life, literally everything changes."

~Dr. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire workbook, p. 63.

Exactly what Ann Voskamp says. Tell your messy story. It matters.