The Power of Story

the power of storyby Julie Luse

Can you think of any stories you’ve heard recently or perhaps watched through a movie or TV or internet that entertained you or gave you insight or inspired you in some way?

What was it about that story that prompted those feelings?

What is it about our story that has such a profound impact on our ability to remember?  It’s like it got a high speed pass from our short term memory into our long term memory. Much quicker than information we are trying to memorize or learn.

I think it’s because God wired us for stories. Stories connect us to each other. Stories connect us to truth about ourselves. And stories connect us to our God.

For me, stories are a window that God uses to impact my soul and to draw me to him. And I have a feeling that God uses stories like that for you too.

I believe stories help people find their why and their purpose and their passion.

I could tell you a truth or I could show you truth by sharing an indisputable first-hand experience of that truth – a story.

So we know that a great story has great power. And if we understand it was God’s idea, that God is the originator of story, perhaps we could see God’s story in everything we do.

God uses stories to string you and me together. We find each other when our stories even slightly collide. When the words “me too” bubble up from inside you. That feeling that there is possibly someone on earth that gets a certain part of you – that is God’s idea and that is a little piece of heaven here on earth – Jesus in the flesh.

Just think of it! If we wiped our stories–even the hard stories we would choose not to re-live– from our memories and our lives, then there would a deep level of connection missing from our lives.

When we tell our stories, we unlock these different levels of understanding. We learn about ourselves and we learn more about the character of God by telling our stories to each other.

And don’t forget God uses stories to communicate the truth of his character and the gospel through scripture.

So today I have a fun little story for you:

One of my biggest and dumbest fears is the fear of mice. It’s incredibly embarrassing, but it plagues me. In fact I found sometimes it dictates strange behavior on my part like scouring a room for holes in which mice could get in or putting things in front of doors in an unfamiliar place so that mice will not creep in while I sleep. It’s yet another weird thing about me that is best kept to myself. Actually, there was a time in my life where I thought the fear of mice was a fear that everyone had. I thought it was pretty legit, except perhaps maybe I take it a little too far. But I’ve had some bad experiences with mice. I’ve lived in a few places where these little creatures have had no respect for my boundaries. I’ve had them in my car trunk. When we lived out in the country, my husband set up 5 mouse traps only to have them all full at the end of one day. And one time, mice babies were born in my laundry pile. So you might understand my healthy obsession right?

When I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat last year at a camp in western Nebraska I was excited, as long as I didn’t get the same cabin I’d stayed in the summer before for a middle school week. I’d had a bad experience with a mouse in that cabin that left me jaded and sleepless and I  preferred not to repeat that event in my life. It was cabin #6, and I had spent some time talking to God about this fear and figured we were good to go there.

But I’m a woman who deals with fear by being prepared, so I had thoroughly investigated this issue on the world-wide web and knew what needed to be done, should my worst fear come to fruition.

Like most things in my life (I swear God thinks he’s hilarious),  I was assigned to cabin #6 with my good friend Renee.

Okay, take a breath.

There was no getting out of this. They had all the cabins scheduled for people, and I was too embarrassed to ask if I could switch rooms.

No worries. I came prepared and I trusted my internet research. As soon as I arrived, I started soaking cotton balls in peppermint oil and throwing them everywhere in the room. I had actually planned on sprinkling the grounds all around the cabin units with peppermint, but my bottle had leaked out half of its contents on the drive up, and I didn’t have enough for that. I tried to relax until my friend arrived. When she did, I told her I had a few things I needed her to do for me. I knew she was willing to help with whatever–she’s a servant like that, and she loves me. And I seriously kept thinking in my head “Well, yeah, Julie, this is kinda weird, but Renee is weird too. She has weird stuff about her. We all do. I’m sure she’s seen weirder than this.”

As she walked into the room, she commented on how amazingly minty our room smelled. “It’s so refreshing,” she said. I showed her my peppermint-soaked cotton balls and told her my plans for anointing the campgrounds with peppermint oil, and she laughed. It was more like a long, drawn-out chuckle. It wasn’t a “oh, what a great idea” laugh. It was “I didn’t know you were so strange” kind of laugh. But I had hard investigative evidence from the internet that this works, so I kept that in mind. Then I pulled out the box of SOS pads and duct tape.

“What will we do with that?” she asked.

So I explained to her, that first, mice hate peppermint so that should deter them from entering this room. Then I explained that the only thing mice won’t chew through is steel wool, and I figured the SOS pads would be perfect because it’s steel wool and the soap would taste like poison. I showed her the big gaping hole in the wall (which I asked them to cover last summer after my horrible experience – but anticipated them thinking I was a crazy lady and doing nothing about), and then another big gaping hole in the wall under the bathroom sink. I explained to her that I needed her to stuff the holes with the cotton balls soaked in peppermint, then the SOS pads and then to cover them with the duct tape, two layers – just to make sure. That is, of course, unless she was too afraid, like me.  I was afraid if I stuck my fingers in the hole a mouse would jump out at me.

She tried to hold in her laugh as she told me that it didn’t scare her and yes, she could do that for me. I could tell she was trying to keep the edges of her mouth from curling up into a smile. I know she thought this was weird, but I kept telling myself she’s weird too. I know she’s done weirder things than this before.

She followed my commands, doing each step in the right order. As she bent down to cover the final hole with duct tape, she burst into laughter so hard I thought she might cry or pee her pants. I’ve never heard her laugh so hard. I instantly felt defensive.

“What? Is this weird? This can’t be that weird.”

She tried to speak through her giggling, “Oh, this is weird! This is very weird.”

At that point I started laughing too, mostly out of nervous compulsion. “Yeah, but this isn’t like the weirdest thing you’ve ever done.”

“Uh, yeah. This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.” She was laughing ridiculously at this point. I thought she was going to fall over.

I started to raise my voice. I was getting a little worked up. “No wait, Renee. Aren’t you weird too? Don’t you have weird stuff too? I know you’ve done weirder stuff than this.”

I couldn’t believe her answer. “No, I’m not this weird. I’ve never done anything this weird. This is the weirdest thing I have ever done. –But I still love you.”

It took her a while to stop laughing that afternoon, and I almost died with embarrassment. My suspicion that I may be one of the weirdest women on the planet was confirmed. I don’t know what’s worse here – my fear of mice or the confirmation that I am indeed Renee’s weirdest friend. What was also very embarrassing was the fact that Renee and I were there to speak on the topic of BRAVE – teaching women to lean in and conquer their fears in life so they could live more freely with God.

But, my friends, I do have to say – my plan worked. No mice. And you will not believe that this last summer while at middle school camp I, again, was put in cabin #6 and all of my contraptions were still in place.

That’s my story. But the purpose of this story was not to help you understand how weird I am.

I learned something valuable about friendship through this story – true friendship is not pretty. It’s weird and embarrassing and uncomfortable and forgiving, and it feels good to have someone love us despite our most hidden and embarrassing idiosyncrasies.

Another purpose of this story could be that those weird things about us, maybe don’t seem so weird when we know someone’s story – where they’re coming from – for instance, my history with mice.

Whatever the purpose – it’s a good story, right? There is power in a good story.

The elements of a great story and what that means for us

What is it about a great story that moves us and compels us?

There are so many ways a story can compel us. We may love it because it is honest, or tragic, or we can relate, or it is true of something we all think but no one will talk about. The story could be funny. It could be a great adventure. The protagonist in the story could conquer some big hurdles in life.

Isn’t it crazy how a story can hit us right in the heart of what we are currently struggling with? Or it can hit us in a way as to take our mind out of our struggle and give us a fresh perspective on it.

There are elements that literary experts and teachers say make a good story.

A great story will always have conflict, a quest, a critical choice and, hopefully, a resolution. Perhaps this is why we love fictional stories, because most of them have a resolution. In fact I don’t like a story in a book or movie that doesn’t have a resolution.

Perhaps that is why it’s easier to fall in love with fictional stories than our real stories of life. Because often times, we spend way too much time in the conflict and many of our stories are still waiting for resolution.

Challenge to live/see the story

I’ve spent a lot of time running away from stories like that in my life. But running away from the story does not make it cease to exist.

And I think God’s point is that we would share these kinds of hard stories with each other. What if God has a hard story in your life that he purposed so you would tell it? What if His plan was to use your story as you told it to others because there were many more people it would help?

What if we could look at life like a story? What if, instead of seeing these women sitting around us, we saw stories of God’s amazing provision and restoration. What if we truly believed that our purpose on earth was to live life with each other, to love one another and share stories of encouragement and struggle that would spur us on further in our faith?

Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

When we share stories with each other, we realize there are many women who have gone through what we’ve gone through. We are not alone, and we can make it through like they did. When we share God’s stories from scripture, we realize there is a great cloud of witnesses waiting for us in heaven who have gone through the things we have gone through. Sometimes our stories pale in comparison to theirs so we realize things aren’t as bad as we think.

So I ask you this:

Are you struggling to see God’s fingerprints on your story? If you are, then maybe you should share it with a friend, so they can help you see proof of an active and intimate God.

Are you struggling to make sense of your story? If you are, then maybe you could write it down in a journal and come back to it with some fresh eyes down the road only to realize He really was walking with you through your hard time. Maybe you could ask God to help you see your own story as you write.

Are you struggling to love the people around you? If you are, then I challenge you to consider their stories–the journey that God is bringing them through. It may explain why they do some of the things you find unlovable.

My dream for us as women is to strive to live a story worth telling and for us to realize we all are living stories worth telling right now. May that kind of perspective change the way we look at our lives. Perhaps you need to make some changes to live a better story. Or perhaps you need to realize this hard thing you’re living through now is indeed a story worth telling.

If you’ve enjoyed hearing from Julie today and would like to read about life and God from her perspective, please follow her on her blog, julieluse.com.

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