Everyone Has A Story

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Oh, man! I can so easily forget this truth. Yes, it’s very true — people do cruel things, betray others, or otherwise make me wish I weren’t human. And too often, my first response can be negative, judgmental, and critical; I can find myself making snap decisions about people based on a moment or two of difficult behavior.

But you know what? Everyone has a story that they carry around inside themselves. And some of those stories might help me to understand why a person is acting the way they are — if only I knew what they were.

Slowly, slowly I am learning that when I feel frustrated, impatient, even angry at someone’s behavior or their choice of words, saying this simple mantra inside my spirit somewhere can make a difference: everyone has a story. I’m finding that simple discipline to be both important and helpful — psychologically and philosophically profound on the one hand, and plain-ole practical, on the other. In my ongoing (and never-ending) journey away from reactivity and toward responsiveness, this simple 4-word phrase is slowly changing me from the inside out.

Two small examples:

Example Number One: 

I meet with several people monthly for spiritual direction, some in person and some by Skype. All of them come with such rich stories, and many different life experiences. The discipline and training for becoming a director has helped enormously in my own journey as I learn how to listen prayerfully to each person I see.

Sometimes, it takes many months before the most important pieces click into place and light shines with fuller depth and beauty on who they are and how they’ve gotten to this point in life. Details rise with time, with prayer, with intentional listening and learning. Suddenly, perhaps many months into our relationship, there it is: the missing piece, the small story that helps me to see more fully who they are and where God is moving in them. I cannot tell you what a privilege it is to sit opposite these remarkable people, learning from each of them how to more fully inhabit my own story, my own life. “You never know,” I tell myself quietly. “You just never know.”

Example Number Two:

I’ve been going to the same nail salon each month for several years now, a place that is fully staffed by immigrants from Vietnam, many of them related to one another. Each and every person I’ve had the delight of working with fairly brims with story. This morning, I heard two — from people I’ve worked with before, and with whom I’m slowly building trust and confidence. Their life stories are so completely different from my own — except — they aren’t.

ALL of us come from families, some of them healthy and connected, some of them, not so much.

ALL of us deal with professional woes of one kind or another — even those who have never been paid for a job must learn to get along with those who are not related to us in some kind of ‘work’ setting.

ALL of us carry both pain and sorrow around in our bodies, our spirits. And it is when we find the courage to share some of those pieces with an empathetic other that we can begin to know who they are, and who we are. We can rehearse our own story as we listen to someone else telling theirs.

Today I spoke with a gentle young woman who is pursuing a PhD in depth psychology — yes, you read that right. She and I talked carefully as she did her best to help my feet look and feel better. I don’t have too many pieces of her story yet, but today she told me something, very quietly, that helped me begin to better understand her reserve, her cautiousness. She carries a wound, one that is not yet healed.

Don’t we all? And yet . . . we forget what we know so quickly!

The middle aged man who worked on these gnarled hands told me more of his own immigration journey today. He talked matter-of-factly about fleeing his home, landing in a refugee camp in Indonesia, going to Singapore when U.S. Immigration gave the green light, then flying across the Pacific with his younger sister at the age of 22.

He began college here, then returned to his homeland to find a wife. “How many kids do you have?” I asked. “Two,” he replied, “my son is 19 now and attends our local community college.” Something about him has always radiated competence and efficiency, the ability to quietly take charge and get things done. Now I have a little clearer understanding of how those qualities came to be.

Some of us can point to one or two defining moments in our lives that have permanently shaped and changed us; others of us have lived a life with a little less drama, but can talk about a steady accumulation of small things telling a story of movement and growth.

Some of us have gotten stuck along the way — maybe because of illness, or hardship or the untimely death of a loved one. And getting stuck is a story in and of itself! But how will we ever learn these things about one another if we don’t take the time to listen, to ask careful questions, to learn from each other?

This is one of the things I love about the internet, this blogging community we’re all a part of: we tell stories. And, believe it or not, the simple act of commenting, of offering encouragement to the storytellers we read, is a step in the direction of becoming a better listener. Taking the time to read carefully and then respond with a word of thanks and/or hope — this is good stuff. Important stuff. 

Which is exactly why I do not have plans to close down my own blog (even if it might feel that way on occasion, when I take a L O N G break!) and why I hope the rumors of blog-death are exaggerated and misplaced. Yes, of course, it is important to be listening to one another IRL — in person, by telephone, in email conversations. But writing in these funny spaces called weblogs is a great start, filled with potential — if we take care with our words, tell the truth, and release expectations.

So, I hope you’ll continue to join me here. And though I won’t be reading as many blogs as I have in the past (got a bigger project or two that need more time), I fully intend to continue to read several and to engage in conversations when I do.

Because everyone has a story,  right?

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Comments

  1. Gwen Acres says:

    Thank you for honoring us by telling your story, Diana and for listening in return. Such connections make us an extended ‘family’.

  2. Infertility taught me compassion…a deep soul knowing that everyone, everywhere is going through something…everyone has a story. I learned to love and listen for the stories that weren’t easily seen at first glance. And yes, getting stuck in a story is its own peculiar misery. You explored so many avenues with this. Good stuff. Happy Sunday.

    • Isn’t it amazing what the hard things can teach us? Doesn’t necessarily mean we WANT those hard thing, but if we try to remain open while we’re struggling, there is good, there is redemption. And I see redemption written all over beautiful you, Lisha. Happy Sunday to you, too!

  3. Sandy Hay says:

    “Slowly, slowly I am learning that when I feel frustrated, impatient, even angry at someone’s behavior or their choice of words, saying this simple mantra inside my spirit somewhere can make a difference: everyone has a story.” Oh how I wish I’d known this last Friday when a relative said something most inappropriate in front of my 9 year old granddaughter. But no excuse now. This woman does have a story, a sad one. that doesn’t excuse what she said but it does help me look at her differently. I personally am glad you didn’t shut down your blog Diana 🙂

    • Thank you, Sandy. And I SO get this – when someone says or does something wacky in front of a child we love, all sorts of mama tiger feelings emerge, don’t they?? Sometimes I literally have to bite my tongue to keep from opening this big mouth.

  4. Yes indeed we do all have a story. Thank you Diana for sharing your with us, especially the hard and rocky parts that you have traversed this past while. I too, have been through a rough part of my own journey this past year and gain wisdom and hope from reading your words . Thanks so much.

    • I am sorry for the roughness of the journey this past year, Linda – praying that hope will grow in you. Thanks for stopping by today and letting me know of your own struggles.

  5. Yes! And now we’re all part of each other’s stories. I’m so glad you’re part of mine.

  6. Anne-Marie says:

    ‘ But how will we ever learn these things about one another if we don’t take the time to listen, to ask careful questions, to learn from each other?’ So good Diana! You quieted my internal chatter w this post. Love hearing – anticipating the one that’s trying to get away! Have you tried morning pages for a day to get extra thoughts swept out of the way?

    • For some reason, your comment came through twice, Anne-Marie – and when I attempted to throw one away, I apparently threw away the one I’d responded to! Thanks for your kind words, and yes, I occasionally try something like morning pages. But I don’t have much success because writing in longhand for anything other than sermon notes is painful and difficult for me due to some arthritis issues. I think I’ll try again!

      • Hi Diana, I am new to your blog but loved this particular blog. Everyone has a story. So true. My story just seems to be stuck and maybe I need to quit hearing the rerun in my brain. Today is a new day.
        I wanted to address the pain in your hands. I too have arthritis but I try to write each day because I am hoping this pain will give be better attention to my writing. Attention to detail. Maybe attention to the pain. Maybe so that I can realize those who are in deep pain still love as I do and I need to be more patient and kind to them. Blessings on your ministry! I am so glad I found you.

        • Welcome, Nancy – glad to meet you! I appreciate you words about pushing through the handwriting pain and I will try to do a bit more of it. Although I am loving the notes function on my phone for journaling/reflecting, so I don’t feel much urgency about it — which may be exactly my problem!

  7. Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Diana, this is profound and needed. You express something so succinctly that I have thought for years, but your cogent expression of it gives us a memorable handle to grab: “Everyone has a story!” Variations of the theme might be that “hurting people hurt people,” or “looks are deceiving,” or “there is more than meets the eye,” or “you can’t tell a book by its cover” (going back to your story theme). My personal purpose statement is “encouraging transparency.” I love the idea of listening to others, or asking questions that will help me to know them better. What is beneath the exterior? If only we would go deeper and share more freely, we would realize that there are reasons we behave or react they way we do that go much further than just reactionary. I adored my father. He was a complex man, and he was jovial and funny and smart. And yet, he could explode emotionally. He had a temper. But I know there was a deep woundedness in him. There was also a dear man in our old neighborhood, who neighbors shied away from, because he was always disheveled and would barely look up (if at all) if you passed him on the sidewalk. But I kept saying hello, and one day he responded. Our exchanges were brief, but we established a rapport. Because I knew where he lived, I began sending him greeting cards, and then a Christian newsletter I wrote, and our family Christmas newsletter, which always has a spiritual emphasis. He began sending cards and notes back, and mailing my daughter gifts. When my husband had a heart attack, Uncle Dave (as we came to call him), sent Michael a beautiful plant. We moved away, but I kept sending cards. Finally, one was returned. We learned later from his brother that Dave had suffered a massive, fatal stroke. He also told me how Dave had had a massive emotional breakdown when he was in college, and that he couldn’t finish to get his degree. He came home to live with his parents, and never left home. Diana, he had a story. I wasn’t to learn it until his death, but how glad I am that God prompted me to reach out (perhaps when others didn’t). Dave and I never had long conversations or visited each others’ homes–I don’t think he could have gotten that close, because he was so socially backward. That was part of his undisclosed story. But we were still able to connect, heart-to-heart through writing, and our stories intertwined. And now, his story will always be a part of mine. I’ve also been praying a lot lately about the racial divide (especially in the Church), in my hometown, St. Louis. What would happen if we would just all sit down and break bread and tell our stories. As you say, we all have one. We need both to share them and to listen. Bless you. No time to proof this, so I pray I am making sense.
    Love
    Lynn

    • Those are all excellent variations, Lynn! And thank you for your kind and voluminous reply. Your story is just wonderful – EXACTLY the kind of thing I’m talking about in this post. Thanks so much for telling it here – it’s the perfect example of how we can become agents of transformation in one another’s lives. Just lovely!

      • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

        Thank you so much for your kind reply, Diana. I had to smile when I read “voluminous.” I love that word, and yes, I am. Glad the example spoke to your heart. And btw, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Love all you write.
        Love
        Lynn

  8. Diana, I’m so glad my life intersected with your blog. “everyone has a story”, an intellectual fact but now I will add it to my self-talk script when I’m out and about or read an email that irritates.

    I’m reminded of a woman at church who, no matter how polite I tried to be, responded harshly. Never mind the day she trashed my months of hard work in front of a group. Sometimes my own story gets to be my collision.

    • Thanks so much for these lovely words of encouragement, Elaine. And there are times when we have to ‘turn away anger with a kind word’ – and by that, I mean that when someone ‘trashes us’ in public, there are ways to politely ask that the conversation continue in private. No excuses, no matter the story, for repeated public rudeness. One-on-one can be dealt with – in a group? That is tough, way tough.

  9. Yes, indeed, there are stories, many stories, inside all of us. In my blog, Meditations of my Heart, I love to share personal experiences with my readers as I reveal what I learned of God’s truth and presence through those experiences. My prayer is that I touch my audience in a way that they don’t just listen to my words, but that they hear God’s Word speaking through me.
    Great post, Diana!
    Blessings!

    • Keep sharing those personal stories, Martha – that’s how we grow, I’m convinced of it. And if you offer them prayerfully, you know that God will guide what you say.

  10. Oh, so wonderful. Thank you for this reminder, tinged with some of the stories you have heard, some of the people you have truly seen.

  11. Thank you for your much needed words. You are truly a blessing. I will share this with my women’s small group tonight! It’s our first meeting of 2015 & what a wonderful way start this season.

  12. So wonderful to meet you Diana,
    I am following you from Playdates with God. I would love you to link to Sunday Stillness too.
    Stories – that is who we are – and how we learn more of who we are to become.
    Blessings,
    Janis

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