When We Are Changed by Telling Our Stories

Life stories sometimes need to “ferment” awhile before they’re ready to be shared. You may have an experience or event, or perhaps a personal encounter, that you’ve been mulling over, wondering if others might benefit from the telling of that story. How will you know when you’re ready to share it?

Knowing when our stories are needed can be as important as the formation of them. When we hold them for a bit before offering them to others, we sometimes find our perception of them changes. New meaning, more detail, deeper understanding — all of this can happen as our life stories take shape in preparation for telling.

Sometimes, in the waiting and in the telling, we find WE are changed by our story.

I held my birth mother’s story in my heart for a long time before I felt I could dig into it, longer still before I was ready to share it:

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out what to do with Mother’s Day.

My birth mother left her young family on a warm summer afternoon. Her daughters were ages three, two and one. Three sisters, huddled together on our front lawn, watching our Mother walk out the front door, across our yard and down the street. Our slender, beautiful Mother with the deep brown eyes, dark curly hair and a skirt that swayed when she walked. She was carrying a suitcase.

In my reconstructed memories, she never looked back. My baby sister sat beside me in the dirt, crying, but my eyes stayed fixed on the back of my Mother as she got smaller and smaller.

I was the oldest, but still so very young and so confused. Where was she going? Why couldn’t we go with her?

I didn’t know it would be several years before I would see my Mother again, and that the day would come when I could only call her by her first name — Anita……..

I first told the story of how I found a way to love my birth mom, who I felt had abandoned me, at a writing workshop in Wisconsin. I had written the story and submitted it to the leader of the workshop so that it could be shared in our group. I was far from home and the other attendees didn’t know me or my mother. It was a safe place to examine what that story might mean to others, and to look at how writing and telling it was changing me. I’ve since shared it on a friend’s blog. I’ve also rewritten and expanded it as I’ve grown more comfortable with the story. And, I’ve shared parts of it with a young friend I was mentoring.

Not every story is meant to be shared widely. In fact, most of them aren’t. Our life stories are treasures, worthy of respectful handling. My friend Kathy’s stories were captured for her family alone. The things she wrote on her blog, however, were the prayers and thoughts she hoped would touch others and point them to God. Both her personal stories and her public ponderings have value and worth, but they were intended for very different audiences.

Only you can decide WHEN and WHERE to share your stories, but here are a few ideas:

  • Begin with a personal journal, a space where you can be honest and can test your stories.
  • Add a personal story to a card or letter given to a family member for a special event, such as a birthday. I’ve written the stories of each of my four sons’ births. My thoughts and descriptions recorded in those first days are treasures.
  • Share a personal story as a testimony in a small group, such as a Bible study. Often, we’re asked to respond to questions as a group. Your life experiences, told with respect for yourself and your audience, can add depth and meaning to your group’s discussion. Personal examples almost always create a deeper bond with others who are studying with you.
  • Consider writing a fictional account of your life story. A family member has written a children’s book about one of her grandsons who has a unique health condition (I’ll share her story with you in weeks to come). A simple story, told with love, has made a difficult life story easier to share.
  • Use poetry to express a life story. Not only can this be fun for you, it can be entertaining for others who read it, while still conveying a story worth capturing.

It’s up to you to decide WHEN and WHERE, but once you’re ready to share life stories, Do Tell!

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Life stories knit us together, whether to family or to others who just need to know they are not alone. In these 31 days of October, I’ll be exploring the importance of STORY. You can read all 31 days by following the links under “31 Days of Story”. And, you can read blogs from other writers taking the #Write31Days challenge by visiting the website here.

Tomorrow: A quick look at blogging and self-publishing

 

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