Path to Story, Chapter 33: Revenge of the Story

I started writing this blog with no agenda except for fun for parents and their kids. From morning times to family road trips, I wanted to give families an idea of how to enjoy life together, but now it’s about to get ‘real’. What happens when your kids start to annoy you beyond anyone’s endurance? When, “Mom-mom-mom-mom-mom” becomes an alarm clock-like water torture?

The other night, my wife and I attempted to have a conversation at the dinner table. As the first words escaped my wife’s lips, one of our adorable children thought it a perfect time to voice a request. Maybe it was because it was the first time we had seen each other that day and really hadn’t gotten a chance to talk, maybe it was the way my child said, “Mom” every half second, maybe it was my blood pressure, maybe- I think you get the point, I had to make it stop before any facial tic set in. It was then that I had an idea: Give them a taste through story of what they are doing before mommy and daddy have to get sent to the looney-bin.

Meet Robbie the Robot! I made up this character with an annoying robot voice that would say the same thing over and over:

“I am Robbie Robot and I clap like this. I am Robbie Robot and I still clap like this.”

He’d say that till his batteries ran out. Then a guy would come and replace them which started Robbie up again. Now you may be asking yourself, “How is this any better?” Well if you heard my kids’ reaction, you’d get it. After a few rounds with Robbie, I introduced a guy who couldn’t take it anymore. I had him remove the batteries and hide them far away. My kids cheered, till a lightning storm came which struck Robbie and started him up again.

They got the point and let my wife and I talk. Yes, I could’ve just yelled at them, and I also know the Bible says ‘Vengeance is the Lord’s’, Romans 12:19, but sometimes giving them a taste of their own medicine is just what the doctor ordered. Besides, having a conversation after a victory like that is much easier than attempting one right after you’ve lost your cool.

Most parents know kids need to learn what appropriate behavior is and that the majority of those lessons aren’t intuitive. May this chapter reveal a more peaceful approach to engage our precious little children as they develop a greater understanding of how annoying they can be. Yelling for the most part only teaches fear, and it has its place in emergencies, but story has a way to help kids understand the ‘why’.

Next time your kids knowingly or unknowingly drive you to the brink, consider story, let it guide you to safer shores. For whenever parents are in trouble, and where ever children push too far, Robbie the Robot is ready to rescue! He will always still clap like this…

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.

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.