A Path to Story, Ch. 13: Change the Story

By now I’m sure you’re getting the idea:  Telling stories is a great way to change how your family relates together.  Perhaps you grew up in a strict home, or even abusive.  Whatever kind of home it was, you are the parent now or may someday be, and you hold the power to change the story.

Now I’m not saying you need to be a creative genius, but being willing to see opportunities to turn life from the Dark side- which just like in Star Wars is easy and oppressively powerful, to Light- which is filled with fun and adventure, is more than liberating.  You give freedom, a chance to see things differently, to yourself and your kids.

It amazed me how when I would pick a place to spend time with God, it would change it.  Wherever I would do this:  in a corner of my room, at my locker at school, or up in a tree of my woods, it would become a doorway into Divine Intimacy.  It would change the story and whenever I would get near the place, I would feel the difference.  Likewise, when you decide to enter into a time of collaborative storytelling with your family, it changes the entire experience that you get to share together.  It is much like a Dad’s chair in the family room.  The chair that a Dad sits in while he watches sports and falls asleep, yep that one.  He has claimed it and made it a place different from all the other chairs.  Some Dads even have a hard time parting with their chair because of all the experiences they’ve shared together.  Storytelling can change the daily life of your family making each one almost as holy as that chair.

Some people need to change the story of their home life by having a tank of freezing water dumped on it.  Fighting spouses, overbearing attitudes, negative words gushing out like pollution in a Michigan river, these trample on opportunities like a drunk giant stamping on Spring Beauties.  But if you change the story, you will watch how those Spring Beauties can cover the forest floor with color and fill the air with a fresh sweet breeze.

My kids have been known to occasionally need to change their story, like a dirty diaper.  My wife often tells our daughter to throw the poopitude out the window, and for the most part, it works.  If my kids spend the day fighting each other over silly stuff, sometimes it’s an indicator that mine is the story that needs to change.  Parents are oftentimes the trendsetters for the story whether they know it or not.  We create the environment, the setting, and even sometimes the plot.  We become the scary villain or the hero depending on our attitude, and our kids will usually follow our lead.

Be introspective, allow your family to reveal what’s going on in your own home.  Look at everyone’s faces; look at your own.  Are they enjoying their lives, are you enjoying yours?  Know the story that is already being told and if you want it to change, think of where you want it to go and then tell it.  You do so through your actions as well as your words.  It can be as epic as you want it to be.  Remember, it’s not only your life but the lives of all who live with you.  Invite God to be the main character, let Him create the environment, the setting, the plot.  Start your own Family Spirit Fires and may you be blessed with the life-giving heat they provide.

Don’t be afraid.  Change can be difficult, it can also be refreshing.  If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late.  Be brave, be bold!  For your family’s sake and for your own, change the story!

A Path to Story, Ch. 12: On the Road, Part 2

Retelling stories that your children play an active role in is a lot of fun. We were headed out the same way as last time between the science facility and the military base. I told the kids beforehand to expect the worst. They knew we were coming and this time the Mad Scientist and the General were preparing a trap for us. This really built up the drama for my kids. Having a good prologue can set things up and get the story moving before you even enter the car. My kids went right in the van, got their seatbelts on and were ready to go almost before I was.

There were some new things added to our arsenal.  We had developed a stealth mode with the activation phrase, “Nothing to see here,” while waving our hands around us and making a combination of the trill sound from Wayne and Garth and the deactivation of the Death Star’s tractor beam.  This enabled us to secretly make it beyond both the base and facility without setting off any alarms.  We also grabbed a hold of a force field generator from Star Wars which protected us from any rockets or missiles.  My daughter was the forward scout who was able to notify us if any building we came across was friend or foe.  My eldest son was our munitions expert and was in charge of all machine guns and lasers.  My youngest son took care of all explosives.  I was the computer engineer in charge of the vehicle’s defensive and navigational systems, and my wife was our pilot.

As you can see if you’ve read chapter 7 you’ll notice an advanced approach to the story that we didn’t have before.  The familiarity with the plot which included landmarks lent themselves to a whole new level.  My kids ate it up.  When we came across a building that my daughter identified as our enemy, my youngest would blow it up with a missile.  When we came across an enemy vehicle, my eldest son would shoot it to pieces.  I was busy tapping into telephone poles and towers to listen in on their communications.  Sometimes our stealth mode would temporarily fail and my wife would take us under bridges for protection or drive past semi-trucks for cover.

Yes, I was having fun too, which is really important.  A boring storyteller is painful, but an exciting one who taps into the moment and dives in almost without looking, is a riot.  I don’t even know how many times I’ve said something in the moment that was so outlandish it cracked all of us up.  At those times just sit back, enjoy, and let the story tell itself.  You’ve created something and at that point it is alive.  Your kids will remember those moments and bring them up later saying things like, “Remember when this happened Dad?” or “What if we try this next time?”

On the way back it seemed like the kids wanted to sleep so my wife put on a CD that I and the kids had made years ago of us reading books together, but they weren’t ready to end things yet.  We played/told the story again the entire time we were in the van.  Rest stops were again places where we had to be careful, enemies were everywhere.  It was crazy how my kids took ownership of the story.  They would remind me of things I had forgotten that were established the last time we told the story.

Retelling stories facilitates memory.  It enables your audience to participate with an element of clairvoyance which is a lot of fun.  You can always add new twists to keep things from getting boring.  In the end, you can totally change the story of family trips and create them to be fun for everyone.  Make it a blast, make it an adventure.  Being a parent is an awesome privilege. Finding ways to help everyone enjoy their family is key to making lifelong memories.

A Path to Story, Ch. 11: Survival By Storytelling

A number of years ago my wife and I went to the Grand Canyon with some of my family. During this time we were attending seminary and were considerably out of shape. If college adds on 20lbs, seminary added on 40.  We planned on hiking along a portion of the Bright Angel Trail, and without thinking much about it we set out.  Turns out the trail was 9 miles round trip to Indian Garden, which was our destination.  I’ve done hiking trips before when I was in high school, which at the time wasn’t that long ago, so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult   From the top you could see the lush copse of trees that made up Indian Garden. It really didn’t look that far.

We made it down easily enough, but one of the few things I didn’t consider was the lack of shade.  Another was the trail itself which was composed primarily of sedimentary rock.  The dusty mix of lime and sandstone reflected the heat of the sun back up at us which thoroughly baked us.  Thankfully they had water stations every so often that provided both refreshment and shade.  However, the trek back up made me wish those stations were doubled.  The heat and lack of water and shade were slight issues going down, but going up they were signs of the apocalypse.  Exhaustion started to trick the mind.  If my wife and I were going to make it out of the canyon alive we began to think they were going to have to send a helicopter to get us.  At least they would have to strap us on one of the burros that carried people who actually planned out their hike.

It was then that I was hit with a moment of genius that only comes from dehydration and desperation, I began to tell a story.  I hadn’t yet utilized the power of storytelling and its distracting capabilities until that day.  I got the idea from one of the ancient texts we read in seminary.  It spoke of companions that walked up a great hill.  They told a story to pass the time which made the hill seem smaller.  I chose to give it a try and began to tell the story of Moses.  I found that when you are exhausted and borderline hopeless, you get a little loopy, the kind when you start laughing at everything.  However, since laughter cost too much energy at that moment, we went with something else it provided- an escape.  When I told the story both my wife and I journeyed back in time and saw baby Moses as he floated down the river only to be plucked up by an Egyptian princess.  It was like we were there, his story became our reality, a safe place we went to together.  There we became baby Moses, and his story was the princess that plucked us up from our woe-filled uphill trail.

I remember how the constant switchbacks on the trail actually helped out with our motivation which only shows how loopy we were.  We used each turn as a goal.  I walked behind my wife so as to not unknowingly leave her behind and continued to tell of Moses’ story.  For hours on end, I elaborated on everything adding whatever I could to make the story longer.  By the time we made it to the top of the canyon I finished it.  It pays to know your Bible, it pretty much saved our lives that day.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re trapped, stranded, lost, etc. and you need something to distract you and your loved ones while you attempt to survive, give storytelling a try.  It can actually give strength by keeping your mind off of the pain, and the distraction helps to fight off desperation, and hopelessness.  A couple years later, I used the same technique as I lead a number of Wilderness Trips for Junior High and High Schoolers.  We would canoe 110 miles of the Au Sable river over 5 days.  It helped to keep my crew and I calm during some of the longer stretches.  I actually did most of a 6 1/2 hour day with one story.  The Junior Higher I had with me was quiet and didn’t know what she was doing with her paddle.  We trained them, but by Thursday some of the kids were too tired.  My point is, it does work.  No survival book that I know of even brings this up as a tool, but it is, oh believe me it is.  My wife and I made it out of the Grand Canyon alive, and I never lost a camper the entire time I lead those trips.