The more media we have to record our stories, the less we make the effort. What a shame! When we don’t tell our stories, then all we bequeath to our heirs is some stuff, a few words on a tombstone, and a DVD full of pictures that soon lose any connection to their world.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a good story is worth a thousand pictures (see “Telling Your Life Story,” p. 20).
For example, it’s fun to see what grandpa looked like as a kid. But it’s much more telling of the man when you hear what he did or said when he dropped the communion tray, when they fished him half-naked out of the canal, or when the bomb took out the two-holer behind his house.
Several weeks ago the De Moors converged on Bragg Creek, Alberta, for a family reunion. We hiked, toured the Calgary Zoo, and ate a lot. Notable was the rapt attention paid by the youngsters to the stories we “oldies” told around the campfire—stories about their grandparents and great-aunts, folks who have long since passed on and are, for them, just a fading memory. But they delighted in the stories: all meaningful whether poignant, dramatic, or just plain funny. Stories brought their ancestors near. That mattered.
As an editor for Faith Alive I received many written submissions from folks who wanted us to publish their memoirs. Unfortunately, the very things that made their stories meaningful to family and friends made them less engaging to a wider audience. We didn’t accept any, although many were well-written. The problem was the unhappy compromise of addressing two competing audiences: relatives and the general public. The more the stories engaged the one group, the more they distanced the other.
I learned from that. God willing, I want to do what my father-in-law did. He wrote down the stories he remembered—his own, his late wife’s, and the relatives who came before. He unabashedly targeted our family in the telling. He was not interested in stringing the stories together into grand themes or a historical narrative so he could make the bestseller list. He just told the stories. Then he printed them up and gave a copy to every child and grandchild. The youngsters tore into those like a lion into lunch. I couldn’t put them down either—and I’m just a “married-on.”
Some well-written works “go wide,” reaching millions of people. But more significant, in most cases, are those that go deep, reaching a select few and profoundly impacting their lives by building up their identity and coloring in the prologue to their own stories.
When I’m gone I don’t care to be remembered for Banner editorials, for what’s chiseled on a tombstone, or for the bucks left behind. I want my grandkids to remember what I did to save my brother’s skin when his discarded cigarette butt burned a hole in the front seat of Dad’s new car.
Don’t neglect telling your stories. “Tell of them to the next generation” so that they will know “this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end” (Ps. 48:13-14)—our guide even when we snuck out of school with those matches and . . .