In the years before I had my first job, I used to spend summers with my grandparents. My mother would drop me off in the morning and pick me up after work. These days created many memories that I can still recall as if they were yesterday. I remember playing cards and betting with nickles. I watched my grandmother make apple pie by hand. She always had a pitcher of iced tea ready and waiting in the fridge. One of my favorite things from those years was listening to my grandfather’s stories.
We would eat our lunch and go out to the porch, glasses of iced tea still in hand, and watch the cars go by. Poppy was a veteran of World War Two. In those moments, with the heat of summer pressing like a blanket, he would tell me tales of the Italian campaign, of sailing across the ocean and landing on foreign shores. He told me about battles, fighting on the front line, and seeing casualties all around him. He spent Christmas Eve in a bombed out church sleeping on his live grenade belt. He marched in all kinds of weather, took cover from machine gun fire, and made it back home. I was always told that he was a different person after the war, more quiet and reserved. He had to leave a wife and two daughters behind and now, as a parent, I can’t imagine that feeling. Twenty years after hearing his stories, I still remember them.
Stories are powerful.
Jesus taught in stories. He created illustrations meant to enlighten, anger, scare, and inspire. He used images from around him: mountains, fig trees, birds, and flowers. He knew his audience and exactly what was needed to make his point.
Stories are just as powerful today.
I have written before about spending time in a classroom. One of the more unique teaching experiences was working in alternative education. These kids were the ones expelled from their home schools. They were the ones, in the words my special education professor, “that nobody wanted.” I worked in a Day Academy where kids were bussed in from the surrounding areas, taught for the day, and bussed home. I had time in that building that I will never forget.
Officially, I was an instructional aide. My job was to go around and help the teachers with their lessons, work with kids individually, and try to maintain some sense of order. Certain moments that place had an energy that just hummed. You could feel the tension in the classrooms, the feelings that boiled over from kids living stormy lives uncertain of their future. We all did what we could to make connections and build relationships. When you showed interest, asked them to tell you a story, the defenses fell and they opened like flowers.
Words are currency. Just ask the spouse who is insulted by their partner, the employee praised by their boss, the child embarrassed in front of their friends.
As you go forward in your walk, your business, or your life consider your stories. Watch your words. Know your audience. Think of your purpose. If you invest in your story, personally and professionally, you will see results. Think of your end goal and peel back your layers of intention. Keep asking yourself why. Keep digging. Find value.
At the core you will see what makes you complete. You will find your Savior waiting with open arms.
These days I still think about the summer afternoons on my grandparents’ porch, before the stresses of life, before bills and jobs, kids and obligations. Poppy passed away almost two years ago. I can still hear his voice and see the sparkle in his eyes as he told me his stories. I can taste the iced tea and feel the warm air. I am thankful for the time he invested in me and I hope, one day, to live up to his example as a man and husband.
Stories bring security. They give you a beginning, middle, and end. They plant hope for the future with illustrations of the past. I know that Poppy wanted to teach me and now, years later, I’m learning the lessons.
And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ~Mark 4:9