Path2Story- Ch. 46, “It’ll Be Curtains For You!”

In my house, the guys outnumber the girls. When my daughter was very young, she didn’t mind being the only girl – besides mom – in the family. As she got older, however, it has become the cause of all her woes. When it was just the kids and I, because mom had the job, it became too much for her and I realized something had to be done. Plus, by now with COVID, everyone is up for a krazy idea.

When we moved into our house, there were these obnoxious curtains. I say obnoxious because, at our previous house, we used mere blankets to cover our windows to prevent our neighbors from seeing inside. The ‘curtains’, nay, draperies at our new place had layers. The first layer was a lacy white lingerie type and the second was like a fine gown. As soon as we saw them, my wife and I took on posh English accents and acted like royalty. They covered the windows on the south side of the house. This was important because the amount of sunlight they let in provided the background for what I’m about to say.

As anyone with kids will tell you, their belongings take on a fierce tribal-type of ownership. The brothers better not touch their sister’s stuff and vice versa, or there would be ‘hell’ to pay. House responsibilities came with the new territory and one new job was to open and close the curtains. So, I gave my daughter the responsibility of opening and closing the fancy draperies and the boys got the more manly purposed one layered curtains.

For my daughter, those draperies became her new sisters: Pip, Barbara, Tammy, and Ethel. Each one had their own personality based on how much sun they let in and on what they shone that light upon. The ease in which the draperies opened and the size of the window also played their parts.

At the time, my youngest took upon himself the right to claim the gender based on whoever closed the curtains. This, again – like the birthday penny – took what I meant to be for fun and made it grounds for war. After a while though, things calmed down as the draperies’ personalities took form.

Pip was the smallest window, and opened with a quick pull on the rope. She was facing the sun during the mornings till evenings. She took on a happy, energetic, and cheerful personality and always said “Good morning!” with extra joy. Barbara, a bigger window than that of cute little Pip, let in the most gorgeous bright light. She was the prettiest maid of the bunch. Every time my daughter opened her, you could hear a harp play as the curls of her golden hair danced in the sunlight. Her name was usually sung and would be finished with a slight toss of hair over her shoulder. Tammy was a military soldier. She opened up and shone sunlight upon our dinner table, which gave her the business side of life. “Hup-hup-hup!” was her call with a salute, as my daughter would race to open her for our meals. Last of which leaves Ethel. Now, she was the only window that faced east, and you might think that would make her a bright morning personality like Pip’s, but our neighbor’s house blocked the morning sun. Also, for some reason, the original builders placed awnings over Ethel which gave her heavy eyes. All of that, plus the fact that she was the longest and most arduous curtain to open and close made her the melancholy/Eor one of the bunch. Accordingly, the light she let in was so slight it was almost pointless to open her up at all. I would say her name in a low voice and slowly shake my head breathing out a long misunderstood sigh.

If the girls were closed in the morning, I would ask my daughter to please wake them up. If they were open at night, I’d ask her to put the late night partiers to sleep. In the end, this seemed to somewhat placate my daughter until we eventually bought our family a cute little female kitten.

I share all of this for fun and for families who may need to add more numbers to their flock to even the score. For many, this can be done with dolls, etc. If you are like me and you even want chores to be fun, it’ll be curtains for you!

Path to Story Ch. 29: Belief and Doubt, the Origins of Storytelling

As time progresses and your proficiency at storytelling improves, you may wonder how this profession began. How is it so powerful? Why do the hearts of mankind become so engrossed in what is beyond our senses? More along the lines of dreams, stories can persuade and inform as well as deceive. So what is the essence of where imagination and emotion collide with our sense of reason? How is storytelling even possible?

Storytelling is religion, and at the core of each of the major religions of the world lies a story that tells why we are here and what this life is for. Most of them are stories that recognize this life and world are broken and point to a salvation that is earned by good works. Christianity stands as the only story where Someone else earned our salvation for us and offers it to those who believe.

The origins of storytelling told to us in the Bible hail all the way back to the Beginning. In the early chapters of Genesis, we witness a cosmological war between two storytellers that forever changed the fate of mankind and the entire world.  The First Storyteller told stories that created life and brought peace that was fulfilled in intimacy with the first audience of earth, man. His story required only one thing from that audience: obedience, and for a time there was peace.

Rebellion came in the form of a serpent who told a different tale with a different purpose than that of life and peace. A toxic and flaccid storyteller, the Serpent told one that promised much but gave nothing. The Serpent’s story spoke doubt into the minds of man and stole that peace, breaking the order God had made. By giving rise to doubt, it revealed the only weakness we ever had, and now we deal with those competing stories every day.

Looking at the history of storytellers throughout the Bible can be pretty depressing.  The first storytellers of man used story to try to hide from responsibility.  We were already trying to create with our words a reality that would shield us from wrath.  I include the rest of us with them because we inherited from them the rewards of such a story, and like them, we all have listened to that life stealing story of the Serpent.

However, the First Storyteller was not finished with His tale, and it was through this weakness that the depths of His love came to light. For the love of God spoke of another story, a story that reached further in and revealed that though the Serpent’s story exposed our weakness, God’s love through His Son Jesus used it to bring an even greater and eternal life for those who believe. Through Jesus, we have a story of divine love that redeems us and gives us the best of all endings.

Belief and Doubt still stand as the two opposing forces of mankind. They provide the essence and create the landscape where imagination and emotion collide with reason. As you create stories for your children there is no better backdrop than the rescue story of Christ. It gives hope and value to this life that forever lifts us from the consequences of the tale of the Serpent.


Path to Story, Chapter 28: Mix It Up

If you are running out of ideas for your stories, and you need to be reminded of all the possibilities storytelling provides, or if you want to challenge yourself to see if you can handle multiple characters and their voices, try mixing it up.

Today I mixed up a lot of characters my kids love in a story during lunch. Sometimes it isn’t really that important for the story to make any sense, leave that for the pro’s. My aim was just plain fun.

Hulk, Yoda, C-3PO, R2D2, and Shifu were the cast. It got really silly between Hulk and Yoda, because Hulk kept referring to Yoda as Baby Hulk, and kept laughing every time Yoda tried to say, “A baby Hulk I am not!” Hulk would respond, “But you green! Baby Hulk talk funny!”

At first, I tried to work with the Star Wars universe, and had the Emperor show up and scare everyone with lightning, but “Hulk smash!” sent him flying. Then, because of such a crazy cast, I couldn’t get the idea of a carnival out of my head, so… C-3PO and R2 picked up on strange radio transmissions and found out about an evil clown syndicate attempting to take over the world with a golden cotton candy machine that had mind controlling powers. How does it control minds? An ingredient in the candy, “bad sugar”, stimulates the brain to be hypnotized by a certain frequency employed by the leader through a loudspeaker. Are there gigantic holes in this story? Absolutely. For fun stories, sometimes it’s good to not take yourself so seriously.

It was ridiculously hilarious even to me to picture them all together. Shifu and Yoda made a team as they infiltrated the carnival to get more intel on the evil clown syndicate. Shifu got picked up by a little girl because she thought he was a cute prize from the carnival. Upon seeing Yoda however, the little girl screamed dropped Shifu and ran. Meanwhile, C-3PO kept trying to advise Hulk, much like he tried with Chewie once. I actually didn’t get much farther than that because lunch was done. We had too much fun with Hulk and Yoda interacting to pay mind to much else. Boba Fett and Batman showed up for a brief cameo and we were done. So I incorporated chapters, one for lunch and one for dinner.

During dinner, I only had to say something about Hulk and Yoda and my kids cheered, got right to their seats, and were quiet. The power of story is unparalleled.

Speaking of power, I want to eventually talk about endings, but I’ll save that for a future post. I already tried that a little in this one but had to edit it. I try to limit these to one main idea at a time so as to make it easier to follow.

Mixing up a story keeps everything fresh, like Star Wars & Cinderella in Chapter 9. It also breaks down any limits to imagination, much like the movie, “Toy Story” that used the narrative of many different toys to tell a new one. So go ahead and mix it up. Set your kids’ imagination free!

Path to Story, Chapter 27: God’s Toy Maker

Perhaps you are frustrated with the skyrocketing prices of all the new toys and video games out there, or maybe you are tired of trying to find that perfect gift for your kids that they will forget about the very next day, or you’ve become overwhelmed as you try to find anything that won’t turn your kid’s brain into mush, if any of this is the case let me point you to God’s toy maker. It’s a tree, and it’s totally free.

It started with a thought: “There’s got to be something more and better for our kids than staring at a screen.” So one day I challenged my kids to go in the backyard and make a toy out of whatever they could find. I wanted them to go outside and use their imaginations to create something. I tell my kids as often as I can, “Be a creator, not a copier.” So they did. The benefits of doing this are more than I know. Along with storytelling, making their own toy enables kids to get a taste of the power of their own imaginations. A power that seems to get stunted behind flashing lights and sound effects.

There is an oak and a maple tree growing in our backyard, but the one that gave my kids everything including the glue was the pine tree. I didn’t give any plans, just a mission. My kids took an hour or so digging around and collecting stuff in the dirt. They came back with warriors and a princess made from pine branches. They had acorn faces with helmets and were clothed with cloaks made from the leaves. I was impressed and gave them a marker to draw their faces with.

There is no reason to get caught up in the mad dash for the “new”. Parents want to give their kids good gifts, Matthew 7:11. The best of gifts is enabling and equipping them to know the power they have in their own minds. This life is harder than any addiction can distract us from. If our kids wake up to what they can do for themselves they will depend less on gimmicks and will have a more stable ability to navigate the blackouts of life.

So go ahead, have your kids go outside. Quote Bill Murray’s dad from the movie, “Scrooged” and tell your kids, “Get a job and buy yourself a choo-choo!”, or rather, “Go outside and make yourself a choo-choo!” You’ll be saving them from the mentality that they can only have fun if they get whatever the new thing is.

Path to Story Ch. 24: Make it Live!

If you want to give your kids a balanced worldview that explains the righteous laws of God revealed in Creation and manifested in the heart of man, if you want to help them gain the discernment needed to choose the path to Wisdom’s house, if walking the paths of God is of any interest to you then a study of the book of Proverbs would be well worth your time.

It was a simple Proverb, just one verse: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” Proverbs 18:8. It exposed to me one of the “dark ways” (2:13) that people choose instead of being on wisdom’s path. In its straightforward simplicity, I was given a window view into Folly’s house, a view that revealed the bait and trap that await those who wander in. A power is given to the Gossip, as to a villain in any of the superhero movies, it has a draw that people don’t even realize and brings poison to the “inmost parts”. A poison that tastes like filet mignon, so yummy, so tender, but it rots from the inside those who consume it.

But seeing as this was the next verse for our Spiritfire, I was confronted with the issue of how to explain it to my kids. For years now I have chosen story as a tool for teaching my kids various things, everyday things like the importance of closing a door or cleaning a room. But I have also experienced its explanatory power in the deeper things. When I looked at my kids’ blank stare as I read the proverb to them, and confused expressions as I tried to explain it, I knew I had to do something…

We traveled back in time to the Old West, to a town that for years had been robbed from by a band of hooligans. A hero had come to that town recently, one that brought fear to the villains and deliverance to the townspeople. Until one of the more unscrupulous members of the village witnessed something odd on the way home. The hero was dismounting from his horse when he saw a spider had crawled up on the saddle. Before the villager knew it, the hero, who had thought he was alone, screamed and jumped away in fear.

It is at this point the story has enough to almost tell itself. The villager goes to the hooligans and says he knows something that will let them take over the town again.  He will tell it to them if he gets a cut.  In this story, it is to the villains that his bit of gossip is so tasty.

Yes, it got fun as I gave different voices to the characters: Joker-like for the Gossip, Dudley Do-Right for the hero, Dr. Claw-like for the hooligan leader, and random ones for the townspeople. My kids got to see and hear an explanation that seemed to really sink in as my oldest son said to me, “I think I get it, that was a good story Dad.”

Do whatever you want for the ending, I didn’t want to belabor the point so I left it at the bad guys throwing a box of spiders at the hero, who then ran away screaming. Feel free to let the hooligans take over for a time, until the hero somehow overcomes his fear, or have an opposite Samson-like ending and have a woman take care of the box of spiders.  One of the unspoken bits of storytelling that can really make a difference to your kids is that of the role you allow gender to play in it.  I’ve also told stories where the villain was a Cruelella Deville-type character or a spoiled princess, it’s fun to see my daughter wrinkle up her nose in distaste when I do.  Everything plants seeds, and when it comes to solidifying identity we must be careful to define discernment, for parents are most responsible in equipping their children to navigate who they are becoming.

Joining storytelling with a devotional Spiritfire time can really help bring Scripture to life. I know my kids really enjoy watching Veggie Tales movies, but nothing can replace a genuine family devotional time with God. When you do it, bring story along with you and witness your kids plum the depths of books like the book of Proverbs, the sayings and riddles of the wise (1:6).

Path to Story Ch. 21: On the Road, Part 3

My kids surprised me this time.  They are getting older these days and I sometimes wonder if the stuff that worked when they were 5 will work anymore now that they are 9.

I keep hearing from parents who say, “Just wait till they get older,” with a foreboding tone.  They refer to the age of 5 as this golden era when their kids were actually a joy to be around.  It reminds me of the parents who kept claiming “The Terrible Two’s” or three’s or whatever.  When my wife and I talk about when ours were two, we are grateful that was not our story.  We were still amazed they were real.  We’d been trying to have kids for 9 1/2 years and started to believe that we wouldn’t be able to.  Nowadays I hear parents talk about the “teenage” years with that same “terrible two’s” tone.  I look forward to it like I did before mine were two.

So back to the surprise, we were traveling back from church out on the west side of the state.  We had to get up bright and early to get there.  On the way home, I expected my kids would sleep but instead they wanted story.  They took up their positions, but this time the enemy outnumbered us so much everyone had to bust out machine guns.  If you travel about mid-Michigan you might know what I’m referring to, yep, corn.  Just before harvest time, corn and soybean fields lined both sides of the road.  They were on us at every moment, it was a blast.  Machine guns and bombs were our tools of war.  Any combine that was already out harvesting the corn was an ally.  We did our best but it was a massacre.

In the end, what I’m trying to say to new parents and old, don’t let others tell your story for you.  They are embittered for a reason, and as my wife and I have learned, don’t take it from them.  Let them keep it.  We both are middle children and have found that we feel responsible to take the burdens from others and shoulder it to help make them happy.  But it doesn’t help, they don’t want to be happy.  Walk away, just walk away and shoot some corn with your kids.

Path to Story Ch. 20: Making Faces

When all of this comes out in book form there will be many corrections.  Editors will laugh at my use of commas and semicolons.  Sentence structure and word choice are undoubtedly other points of comic relief.  As far as subject placement in the order of chapters, it will be rearranged and organized so that all this actually makes sense.  Speaking of order, this one should go right with accents in Chapter 4.  And speaking of comic relief, the mastering of this element of storytelling is possibly the greatest one to open the door to its interactivity… with humans.

When you are reading a book to your children the main focus is the book itself.  In many of the books I’ve read to my kids, the pictures are almost as important as the story if not more important.  Accents and dynamics are essential tools for a great reading experience.  In storytelling, you show the pictures with your face.

The greatest comic actors can display a moment of hilarity with a glance.  One of the masters of this that comes to my mind is Jim Carrey.  Back before his movies when he was on “In Living Color”, I was amazed at all the contortions that guy could do.  Then in some of his movies like “Pet Detective”, “Dumb and Dumber”, and “Liar Liar” to name a few, he made me laugh so hard I fell off my seat.  He had the courage to emulate the emotion, to emphasize the story and was able to say so much more than merely speaking his lines would allow.  Now we may not have his ability to make faces, but we can learn from him to be a little more unabashed in our approach.

When we try this, do we look silly?  Yes, that’s kind of the point.  Go get a mirror and practice.  Visualize it in your head and practice moving your face muscles, they need to be worked out too.  Pick a bunch of emotions and go through them like:  happy, sad, mad, confused, afraid, and silly.  Emote them in your voice too.  Laugh and cry, growl and cheer along with them.  Exaggerate them, make your faces as extreme as you can, again match it with your voice.  By doing that, you develop the appropriate range to match with whatever is happening in your story.

I know it helps me when I “get into character” as they say.  For example, try asking “Who?” with all of the confusion you can muster, use your eyebrows etc.  Background story could be:  someone called the wrong number.  Then try saying it with anger, someone ate your lunch.  Notice how your eyebrows change.  Then surprise, someone got you a gift.  Keep it simple, it’s funny how tiring working those muscles can be.  My kids’ reactions let me know if I’ve nailed it or not.

Be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself to learn from your mistakes to improve rather than using them to give up.  Don’t be afraid to enjoy telling stories to your kids.  You communicate courage, bravery, and strength when you do.  You open a new door of comfortability for you and your family.

Using faces in story time with your kids can help fill your home with fun.  So go ahead, be brave and give it a try.

Path to Story Ch. 19: Holding a Spark

Here is something you’ve probably already figured out that I should have mentioned a while ago since this is my first time being a parent.  I really have no idea what I’m doing and have no experience with the long-term effects of my choices.  But that’s the same with everyone.  It is possible to learn from our elders, but be wise in the “what” and the “who”.  We are all here, that’s what we know.  Do we want to enjoy the time we’ve been given?  I do.

I know each of our stories are different, but a unifier is that Jesus saved us all.  His salvation freely offered opens us to hope, and hope ignites our imagination, an imagination that is not held by the constraints of this world.  Because of Jesus, I can imagine.  Because of Him, I have more to look forward to than dirt and worms and with my imagination, when partnered with my faith, I can see it.  The Bible further tells us that He offers us even more now during our daily lives.

My story, in recent years, has been of battling a debilitating disease.  Others have children who were born with all kinds of challenges.  Many have the hopes they’ve imagined for their kids taken from them before their child breathes their first breath.  For those of you who are there, your imagination combined with your faith in His goodness can bring you to places this world will never know and may never understand.

We’ve each been given a path we never asked for.  So in a way, envy and jealousy are pointless and are ultimately forms of madness.  But we’ve also been given the power to change things.  Any limits to that power have more to do with the constraints we shackle ourselves with than the unyielding and unrelenting bonds of reality.  If there is anything we can learn from the story of Man’s ingenuity, it’s that if we don’t give up and give in to hopelessness or have a fragile understanding of what is possible then we can become shapers of reality instead of victims of it.

Story is one of the most readily available tools we have to become shapers.  Imagination is what gets you there and faith can bridge the worlds together.  God spoke this world into existence out of nothing.  His forming and shaping of reality is so amazing it still today and every day inspires people to worship.  The power to create by speaking into existence is truly awesome.  Through storytelling, we get to hold a spark of that Divine Intervention.

Speak a story into existence, take your place as a shaper and inspire those under your care.  They will see how you brave the rapids around you.  They will become equipped to do the same when it comes time for their turn.

Path to Story, Ch. 18: It’s Your Story, Tell It How You Like

If you are ready for what I’ve called “Master Level Storytelling”, then this post may be helpful to you.  If you are wanting to create a story of your own for your kids, if you need inspiration for a starting point, or maybe even the cliffhanger/twist that can keep them guessing, use situations that have happened in your life as the skeleton.  The recent posts about my kids’ birth and of my wife running in from the backyard are examples of this.  Feel free to ham it up however you want.  “It’s your story, tell it how you like,” was a phrase we used when I was a kid.  We’d say it a bit sarcastically to people who were butchering the truth, but for you, I mean it.

My own life has had quite the turn-around even in the last year that provides endless opportunities for story.  At every negative point, there were people who stood with us and blessed us.  We moved to an amazing house, and are daily filled with thankfulness.  We see God’s faithfulness and it inspires a tale or two, and if your story is like mine, the truth is entertaining enough.  Keep the blessings you’ve experienced alive by retelling them to your kids.  These are stories that carry with them your legacy.

So here you go, think of your day.  You can begin your story with waking up, but instead of it being about you, it can be about a giant waking up in your house.  The fun can begin when he tries on your clothes only to find they don’t fit.  He hits his head on every door frame, etc.  He tries to eat potato chips but crushes the bag.  At this point, my daughter is the one who will usually try to help the giant and plays the host giving the tour or instructions on how to do things carefully.  As the story continues my sons will want some kind of action and not just homemaker tips, so I’d try to let their desires shape the story.  I have no clue why the giant is in the house in the first place and left that part blank, but if my boys want action, then so be it.  The giant came to defend the area from a dragon, but as he waited for it to show up, he fell asleep.  There, and let the story tell itself.

Now all my kids usually want to be in the story at some point, especially the action parts, and this is key:  You can actually encourage your kids and challenge them through your story.  If there is something you know your kid is facing at school that he/she needs encouragement on, bring it into the story.  Maybe you’ve had similar experiences with a bully.  Bring that bully in.  If it didn’t end well for you, then you might want to change the story a bit.  Feel free to make your kids the hero, have them surpass whatever it is you did to the best of all endings.  I have seen my own kids rise above on different occasions where I fell flat when I was their age.  I’ve seen them have courage right after a story I’ve told them when they had none before.  I’ve seen behaviors changed, moods lifted, even abilities developed after telling my kids a good story.  It’s a lot of fun to see that happen, at those times I really feel like I’m giving them something more.

Even if your life is rather boring and it’s the same thing day after day, then use that as the plot.  Change it up, bring the giant to your workplace and let him do your job.  Make him a little slower and droll out his voice a bit, use your lowest bass voice to emphasize his size.  That is a standby character that I often use in my stories for my kids.  It’s something that makes them laugh almost every time.

Let your life be the canvas for your stories.  Your kids can learn something about you while having a front-row seat to the lessons life has taught you.  At this point, you equip them while you entertain them.  Remember, it’s your story, tell it how you like.

A Path to Story Ch. 15: Game w/ Story

I enjoy creating games out of random things.  Sometimes I make games out of necessity, and sometimes it’s just a fun way to spend time together.  Creating a game while also telling a story of what the game is for helps to give it a context.  Most of the computer games I played as a kid and still do have a creative storyline that gives purpose to why you play.  Whether it’s to save the princess or to turn back the dark forces threatening the kingdom, giving a game a story makes it change from a simple test of skills to an epic battle of warrior awesomeness.

Here’s an example of a game-with-story that I made up and played with my kids.  I called the game: “Ninja!!”

Story (It doesn’t have to be long, just a quick reason that answer’s the “why?”):  The training of the Ninja is a time-honored practice taught for centuries amidst the misty mountains of Imaninja.  During the once in a century meeting called “The Only One I’ll Be Alive For”, or “TOOIBAF”, the sensei masters of the Imaninja Dojo have agreed to reveal the entry-level test to the world.

The goal is to have your kids sneak up on you and touch you on the shoulder 5x’s (or however long you want the game to be and as the kids stay interested).  If they achieve 5 taps, they will be given the entry-level title of Mouse, or make something else up.  You can do this by adding their favorite animal, or something sneaky.  The entry level makes it repeatable.

If you have a child who is not interested in staying entry level but wants to be a full Ninja Master, you could add to the story by saying, “No one has ever completed the entry-level test as quickly as you have.  I have been given the authority by the ninja counsel of the Imaninja Dojo to bestow upon you the rank and title of Master.”

Set Up:  First, place a chair in the middle of a room, this will be where you will sit with eyes closed for the game.  Second, pick the distant place from where your kids will begin.  The starting place could be the corner of the room or down a hallway etc.  When everyone’s ready, you begin the game by shouting “NINJA!!” If you hear them you open your eyes and if you see them they have to start over.  You can turn off the lights to make it easier for them to evade you.  You can also help them by snoring. You can occasionally wake yourself up which makes them have to decide to freeze or move to hide.

If caught, your kids have three options:
1. They can throw down a smoke bomb to become invisible and have 3-5 sec. to hide, but they only get one of those per attempt.  Smoke bombs can’t be used for a tap, they are for hiding only.
2. They can pretend to be an animal by meowing or barking etc., thus tricking you, but this only works when they are farther away and low to the ground.
3. Sing a lullaby which lulls you back to sleep.

This entertained my kids for a good 1/2 hour. No props needed.