Why Should I Share My Story?

tell your story

Over one year ago, when Darrell and I started Prodigal Magazine, we did it because we wanted to hear your stories.

We had already heard so many of them — in the body of an e-mail, on a Skype call, at a conference in Chicago, in our car, or over a wobbly table at a coffee shop — and we couldn’t help but be moved by the way stories shed light and gave life and knit people together into a community, even when those people had never met.

Since then our journey with Prodigal has had it’s share of twists and turns (like any good story) and there have been moments we wondered if we might have lost our way, but no matter what else happened, we never got tired of hearing your stories.

It is your stories that made our job worth doing, that made it worth showing up everyday.

Why sharing stories matters.

There is something innately human about sharing of our stories.

One of the things I find so compelling about sharing stories is how it benefits both the teller, and the hearer. Recently I was working on a project where I shared a story from the first months of marriage to Darrell. Suddenly, I saw the situation in a new way. I remember sitting at my computer, wide-eyed, a little bit shocked at how I could have missed something so obvious this whole time.

I love how the simple act of sharing my story can help me find meaning in my story.

It can lead me to healing, grace and even forgiveness.

I can’t tell you how often I read or hear a story from someone else, and am moved in a similar way. Someone shares about a divorce, or a loss, or a heartbreak or a conflict between friends and suddenly I’m inspired to see my life, and the lives of others, differently.

This is the power of sharing our stories.

What if I’m scared to share my story?

The truth is, I’m pretty sure all of us are scared to share the stories worth sharing.

It’s easy to share a funny story about something that happened to us at a dinner party, but when we share what that story meant to us, what we learned from it, what it taught us or told us about ourselves or how it stirred something deep inside of us — that is scary.

We’re afraid people will judge us, they’ll reject us, they’ll start rumors about us, or they’ll say mean things to us. And you know what? Maybe they will.

But this is the risk we take for connection. There is no such thing as love without vulnerability. There is no such thing as community without transparency.

And no one else in the whole world has your story. If you don’t share your story with us, who will?

Will You Share Your Story With Us?

This is why we’re excited to announce a new turn in our story. We are re-opening submissions at Prodigal. It’s been almost a year since we had to close submissions due to lack of resources, and ever since then we’ve longed for this day. Needless to say, we’re a little excited!

We would be so honored if you would share your story with us.

Don’t worry. You’ll still continue to hear from your favorite Prodigal writers. Our featured team isn’t going anywhere. But there will also be stories from people just like you, people all over the world who come to the site and are inspired by something that is shared.

People who think to themselves: I have a story to share, too!

Is that you? Submit your story! We can’t promise we will publish every one, but we can promise we will read every one.

Thank you friends. Your story matters to us.

[Photo: Garrett Gill, Creative Commons]

When the Story Isn’t Mine to Tell

I am sitting at the kitchen table trying to write this post and my husband is in the living room, wrestling with a tangle of wires and cords, attempting to organize the octopus that is our entertainment center. He sighs in frustration, pulling plugs from power sources, tripping over himself and jamming his toe in the process.

So it is with sound systems and writing, I guess.

I’m trying to follow ideas to their logical conclusion, separating cord from cord, argument from argument. Everything is starting to look the same and nothing quite reaches, and I’m trying not to get tangled up in messy paradigms as I write my truth.

I’ve been writing about grief and loss for three years, and through all of it this is the conclusion I come to now:

Not all storytelling is created equal.

I used to think differently. I used to think that everything I experience is a story, and that because I am a writer, it’s my job to tell it. But I’m changing my mind. Writing nonfiction will humble you pretty quickly that way.

This year, I’ve begun a new endeavor with my writing. I’m writing a book, a memoir about my mother, her battle with breast cancer, and the grief of living with her terminal illness and losing her to it. Writing this book means that I am sifting through years of family history, collective memory, shared narrative. I’m writing about the issues, about women’s health, about grief theology and Church culture and how we define healing. But I’m also writing about real lives, real people, real feelings, and really personal losses.

I’m even editing my mother’s own words and ghost-writing some of them in, because she asked me to and she’s gone now and it’s just me and my memory of her. She entrusted her story to me, all fifteen chapters of it, revealing vulnerable parts of herself: memories about her marriage, her parenting, her choices and mistakes, her triumphs and failures.

And this is the reason I’ve come to believe that not all storytelling is created equal:

Not all stories are mine to tell.

My mother and my family have entrusted this story to me, but that doesn’t make it mine. I am “the writer in the family,” so I have the honor of being the one to tell it. But my story and my writing don’t exist in a vacuum. The grief I feel is tied to the grief my father and brothers feel, the grief my whole family feels.

Their grief and her legacy are not mine for the taking and manipulating.

I can write my part of the story, I can finish telling her part of the story, but there is a boundary where one person’s story ends and another begins. As a writer, I have to recognize that boundary and honor it.

As I write this book, I tangent off into stories of generational abuse and body image issues and times when we our family wasn’t sure to survive our own resentment of each other, never mind my mother’s prognosis. I could tell stories of ugly arguments and how individuals have dealt with this loss and the ways we’ve hurt each other, and the ways we’ve hurt ourselves. And those tangents and stories will have to be carefully rewritten or edited or cut out completely because they’ve crossed a boundary from shared experience into someone else’s story, and I have manipulated it.

The element of story is powerful, but like any tool, it has the power to bring life or to destroy it.

The temptation is to see every memory as a talking point, every person as a character, every correlation as a cause. The temptation is to connect anecdotes with ideas that don’t fit.

Even if a story is true, it might not communicate truth.

The setting might be accurate. The dialogue might be word for word. But where and when I choose to tell it in the larger story structure might imply something dishonest, creating a villain or a victim where there wasn’t one.

If we are going to tell stories in an effort to help each other understand life and faith better, then we have to understand that our ability to communicate truth through story hinges on discernment and justice.

And the justice is in the narrative.

I’m reminded of that part in the Prodigal story, where the son that stayed with his father realizes that his wayward brother has returned home and is about to enjoy the fatted calf.

“Father,” the son implores. “I stayed with you and he left home and he gets the fatted calf?!”

The Father listens to the son and gently admonishes him, changing the emphasis of the story and correcting the characterization that he has made of his brother, and ultimately redeeming the narrative of his son’s story.

“My son, you have been faithful to me and I appreciate that. Your brother was dead, but he’s alive again and that is something worth celebrating! Come eat with us.”

What is the Father communicating here? I think he’s trying to explain to his son in so many words that his brother’s story isn’t his to tell or judge.

The appropriation of people’s stories around our own arguments can short-circuit the narrative and inflict serious damage on the people to whom these stories actually belong, as well as to the readers that identify with those stories. Misappropriating stories can marginalize people, can construct false narratives of power, oppression and privilege, can circumvent and silence truth.

This is why I need editors and scholars and theologians and psychologists and feminists and complementarians and even angry commenters to read my words and tell me when I’m wrong.

I need people to take a red pen to my black and white lines. I need them to help me see color and grey areas where I was blind to them. I need an expert to follow my ideas to their logical conclusions, to recognize the disconnections and cognitive dissonance in my storytelling, and to separate fact from fictionalized narrative. I need them to help me determine where my story ends and another begins.

I need them to help me see redemption.

There is an inherent responsibility that comes with storytelling, even if you’re not a writer. So be careful in the telling. Be careful how you connect characters to causes, memories to legacies. Be careful that the narrative you create respects others’ stories,

—because God is still redeeming them.

[Photo: thejbird, Creative Commons]

Permission to Tell Your Story

“So, are you headed home, or headed away?”

I don’t particularly enjoy flying. I always fly coach class. And flying is a big hassle. But when I finally find my seat, I don’t bury my face in the SkyMall catalog. I don’t pull a book out of my backpack or start a crossword puzzle or put in my earbuds.

I’m ready to hear a story.

I have never figured out how two strangers can sit elbow to elbow for two or three hours on a plane and not speak. But I usually find that I am the one who has to break the ice with my seatmate as they pretend to stare out the window or read.

So I ask my standard question, “Are you headed home, or headed away?”

And with that, we’ve taken off.

So, Tell me Your Life Story

I’ve been able to do a fair amount of traveling, crisscrossing the country from one airport to another.  And I have asked that same simple question to many perfect strangers.

“Where are you headed?”

And usually, that little question is the only catalyst they need.  By the time we land, I’ve got their life story.

There was the real-life “most interesting man in the world” who had traveled to every continent, working every job from American pastor to Israeli kibbutz farmer, traveling to see his daughter one more time before traveling to the Mideast for a year. There was the old widow who was traveling alone for the first time. There was a family who just followed the New York Jets all over the country to watch every game.

The old businessman who traveled so much, he rented multiple apartments all over the country. And the man from Boston who just talked non-stop.

I’ve learned a couple of things by listening to strangers.

Everyone Has a Story to Tell

Most of us lead lives that we consider very ordinary. We have jobs, families and homes. We don’t think there’s much to tell there.  Our lives will one day be summed up in a three line obituary. Storytelling is reserved for the great writers, the people who have lived.

But that’s just not true. Everyone has an autobiography. It’s just that most of us haven’t written ours down.  Most of us don’t think we have an autobiography, until someone just asks us to tell it.

People Are Desperate to Tell Their Stories

All I have to do is show a bit of interest in a perfect stranger, and most of them will talk to me like I’m their therapist or pastor. They’ll speak in hushed tones, so the other passengers don’t hear, like they’re telling me a secret. I just keep asking questions, keep tugging on the little thread until their whole story comes spilling out.

Listening to people gives them humanity. It acknowledges their dignity and gives them importance in a world that all too often ignores people and tells them they aren’t important enough.

And most of the time, when our time together is over, my single-serving friend knows almost nothing about me. Most people are so eagerly caught up in the rare thrill of having someone pay attention to them, that they completely forget to ask me anything about myself.

Giving People Permission

The joy that I’ve found as an art teacher is the same simple joy I’ve found on an airplane.  It’s the joy I tried to capture and convey when I wrote Life After Art. 

It’s the joy of giving people permission.

See, everyone is a storyteller, whether they know it or not.  They have stories.  They want to tell them.  I give them permission to tell their story.

All children who come into my classroom are artists (and art is just another form of storytelling.)  When students say, “I can’t,” I tell them, “You can.” I give them permission to tell a story that they need to tell.

You and I can be great storytellers, just by doing this. You can do it at work, at church, with your friends, with strangers on the bus or airplane.  I’ve collected great stories from students and strangers.  You can do this too…

…You just have to give people permission to tell their stories.

For more about Life After Art, watch this short video. And, for a limited time only, purchase your copy and receive $100 worth of FREE resources from Moody publishers. To retrieve your resources, e-mail lifeafterartbook@gmail.com.

Do you need permission to tell your story? What does your story look like?

[Photo: Thomas Leuthard, Creative Commons]

What Are You Made Of?

In good stories, characters are put through the thresher. They go through hell and back, and it’s no coincidence that’s what produces character. That’s why Kurt Vonnegut encouraged writers to be sadists: “No matter how sweet and innocent your characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

I love to read because watching characters face challenges teaches me about the challenges in my own life.

Last year I read 137 books.

How? That’s a question I answered by writing my own book, 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love with Reading.

But today I want to talk about why: Why would anyone read 137 books?

The simple answer is because I love books. I love getting lost in a good story. It’s tempting to see this as mere escapism. Maybe some days it is. But I’m convinced there are lessons for my own life in all these stories.

In The Fault in Our Stars, 16-year-old Hazel not only doesn’t give up in the face of cancer, but she outright mocks it. Where does someone get that kind of strength?

In Every Day, the main character wakes up in a new body each day. How do you have a sense of yourself when there’s a different face looking back at you in the mirror every morning?

In the utterly hopeless post-apocalyptic world of The Road, a father and son keep on pushing their shopping cart of meager possessions through a world lost. They face starvation, cannibals and, perhaps worst of all, despair. What is it that keeps that father going?

We Grow By Trial

I may not be walking through a wardrobe into a fantastic world or traveling back in time to meet my wife as a 6-year-old, but my life has challenges. They may not rival the thrills of a Stephen King novel, but if your life is anything like mine there’s plenty of drama.

That drama, pain or conflict is not something we can avoid. It’s not exclusive to fiction. It’s part of life and it’s the only way forward. “Conflict pushes characters [and people] out of comfort, familiarity and ease,” Scott McClellan says in Tell Me a Story. But take heart: “Sin makes redemption possible.”

Conflict is how we grow and mature. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, but it’s how we get better. It’s why Luke had to face Darth Vader before truly becoming a Jedi. He had to be refined and tested by that conflict. Embrace it. Stories can offer us a template. A chance to see someone else do it. And the hope to make the right choices when it’s our turn.

Two Roads Diverged

“The real road to meaning is dirty and full of jagged rocks,” says Jeff Goins in Wrecked. It hurts. Robert Frost suggests we take the road less traveled. But it’s not easy. It requires more work: thorns, branches and struggle. “Not cool, Robert Frost!” says Kid President.

But it’s the path that leads to more awesome, as Kid President says. That’s not always an easy path, even if it includes some sweet dance moves.

Jesus called it the narrow road.

It might be easier to coast along and not hit any bumps on that smooth, wide road. But that’s the way out, not the way through. That’s the path of least resistance, and it’s no coincidence that it’s also the path with the least to gain. Just like Bilbo Baggins, we have a choice. We can stay safe in our little hobbit holes, or we can go out that door and face a dragon.

Resolution is Coming

And let’s be clear: It’s not all treasure and dancing. It’s called the dark night of the soul for a reason.

I’ve had my share of narrow roads. I remember collapsing on the curb, absorbing bad news, wishing for tears when all I had was hurt. I remember racing to the hospital, not daring to speak to my pregnant wife, wondering if we’d lost our baby. I remember standing in my front yard, a police car at the curb, blubbering into the phone and wondering how it had come to this.

But if reading books has taught me anything, it’s that resolution will eventually come to the stories of our lives. When we’re neck-deep in conflict and hope is drowning right along with us, resolution is coming. “While conflict is painful, it’s not final,” says McClellan. We may not be there yet and it may not be the resolution we imagine, but it’s coming. We can’t give in. In our moments of despair, that’s what sustains us.

I read a lot of books, some better than others. But in every book I read and every struggle I face there are choices that show me what I’m made of and, in the end, hope and resolution always come.

What struggle are you facing in your story? How is it making you a better character?

[photo: somegeekintn, Creative Commons]

Make Yourself At Home

“My mom is dying,” she told us.

We were in a small coffee shop outside of Chicago when we met her for the first time. She was quiet and unassuming. She looked down at her cup of coffee while she told us the devastating news, the thing that was closest to her heart.

She was a small blogger with a small following. Writing was her passion, but not her profession. She worked at a small university, the same university where she had graduated a few years earlier.

She was a normal twenty-something with an ordinary life.

Except for one thing.

Her mom was in a hospital a little over four hours away. And in her free time, she wasn’t wondering what she was going to do over the next decade. She wasn’t asking herself questions about career and calling. She was holding onto hope that her mom might make it another week, or month, or year.

Each day I get with her is a gift, she told us.

We left that first meeting with Bethany Suckrow different than when we came.

Since then, we’ve had that experience over and over again. We meet someone new, listen to their story, and walk away thinking to ourselves: that story needs to be told. In fact, we were so moved by stories just like Bethany’s, we became determined to create a community where those stories could be developed, shared and enjoyed.

That’s why we decided to start Prodigal.

When we took ownership of Prodigal Magazine one year ago, we didn’t have any idea how readers would respond. All we knew was that we wanted to help people, just like Bethany, tell their stories.

We wanted to create a space that was safe enough to be honest.

That’s why we regulate comments on this site. It’s why we’ve deleted comments (even by our own writers) and asked them to re-post. It’s why we don’t post how-to articles, doctrine, or theological arguments. We’re not interested in arguments. We’re interested in your stories.

We all have a story to tell.

Telling our story keeps us humble. Over the past year, as we’ve told our stories of abuse, fears, struggles, failures and victories, we’ve learned that there’s no way to stay arrogant while we’re telling our stories. Stories let people into our bedrooms and living rooms, the places where we cry ugly cries, or yell at our spouses, or sit around without make-up.

When we let people there, they see us for how we really are.

And when we listen to stories, really listen, judgement and anger tends to melt away. We’ve accepted the invitation, after all. We’ve taken off our shoes and walked inside and watched you, pray, struggle, scream, beg, and cry tears of desperation.

When you see someone on their knees, you can’t help but want to get down there with them. You can’t help but put your hand on their back and tell them everything is going to be okay. You’ve been there. You know what it feels like.

This is a not a place of either/or, but a place of both/and.

It’s a place where Pentecostals and Anglicans find common ground, a place where we are committed to discover, through our diversity, a fuller picture of the Kingdom of God.

That’s our commitment to you. We’re not determined to build the biggest platform; we’re just determined to share it with you. We’re committed to helping you discover your story, to develop in your ability to tell it, and to grow as you listen to stories of others like (and not like) you.

Welcome to our humble space. We can’t promise it will be the nicest place you’ve ever stayed, or that everything will be perfect all the time, but we can promise that you are welcome, you are valued, and you are safe.

It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, what you’ve done, or what you believe.

Come on in.

Take your shoes off.

Make yourself at home.

What about you? What’s your story? What’s stopping you from telling it? Will you share it with us?

[photo: meiburgin, Creative Commons]