This week I started a free online course titled Storytelling for Change. (Check it out and join my team!) I’ve been contemplating stories a lot lately — in addition to reading and listening to them — because they move me. Tell me a lesson gift-wrapped in a story, and I may learn.
I had discussed the power of stories some months ago when I tried to craft my vision statement (a.k.a. manifesto) for my blog. For some weeks, I made that post “sticky” as I felt it a good introduction to All Things Work Together for new visitors. It declared my intent to write the stories of my life and share them here, and I do. But I am much better at writing than I am speaking, as my husband so aptly said last week. This is true despite my Toastmasters involvement and years of speaking before classrooms full of students. So the course Storytelling for Change seemed a good thing for me to tackle.
But last week, before the course began, I had an opportunity to share a part of my life story and inspire, if not change, someone’s life.
It happened at the gym. My day hadn’t started well. I’d awakened to find a text from Connie, my workout partner, indicating she was sick and I was solo. Despite my best efforts, I arrived at the gym late and a bit out of sorts. I considered doing no workout and hitting the shower sans sweating. But I walked toward the gym floor as if on autopilot and began, albeit halfheartedly. I got on the rowing machine for all of 11:20 and burned a whopping 102 calories. Yay, me. Then I did some stretching and minor weight lifting before calling it a workout.
I felt better, not perfect. But a conversation, actually two, made me realize that timing is everything and God’s timing is perfect. And while being late to the gym wasn’t my intention, it was the ultimate plan. It gave me an opportunity to share my story with one person directly, and another indirectly.
Kaylen arrived in the locker room just after I exited the shower. She was late too, and was changing into her bathing suit to exercise instead of changing into clothes to leave for work as I soon would. She took a locker next to mine, and when we began exchanging pleasantries she told me about a sermon she’d heard on submission on the way to the club. The speaker was Elisabeth Elliot. The conversation about Elliot’s surprising message led to one topic and then another and then somehow led me to share the story of my first husband’s death and my marriage to a widower and his four children three years later. Kaylen listened, entranced, as I shared the amazing story I have lived. (Apparently, I tell this story well enough.)
“What a beautiful story!” she told me.
“Well, it is a beautiful story, but living it wasn’t a fairy tale,” I admitted. “It was often hard, but I knew that God was good.”
Knowing that she was recently, painfully divorced, I added:
“You know, I am one of five children. All four of my siblings have gone through divorce, and when my husband died, one of my sisters admitted to me that she was jealous of me — because losing a husband to death was easier than losing a husband to choice.”
My friend nodded.
“My husband is dead to me,” she said, “but it is because he chose it. And that is what makes it so hard.”
I shared some instances in my life when looking to God wasn’t exactly a choice; it seemed the only option because everything else was stripped away at the moment. And, somehow, in those moments, alone with God, I felt whole, not stripped and lacking. I knew that He was enough. And then as days became weeks and months, I saw Him work to make even the ugliest situations in my life beautiful.
I love to share my stories for it never ceases to remind me of God’s ability to make something incredible from a perfect mess.
Before she left, Kaylen said how glad she was to have had this conversation, how it seemed so God-ordained, and we laughed that God had made Connie sick and made us both late just so we could have this time together.
Indeed, the day had become quite wonderful. And it got better.
While Kaylen and I had been talking, I had noticed that a woman at the makeup mirror kept glancing our way. I had never seen her before. She had the locker next to mine and came to get dressed. I complimented her skirt, and we shared idle chitchat about dressing at the gym and realizing what you’d forgotten. Then she told me she’d overheard my conversation with Kaylen.
“My first husband died, too,” she confided. “Now I am married again, and we have a child. You are right. God can make something beautiful out of the ruins of our lives.”
I think all three of us left the gym that morning feeling inspired. I was so thankful for the opportunity to share my stories with a friend and a new friend — and am definitely looking forward to the opportunity to learn how to speak in more public settings more effectively.
But mostly I considered how God works all things together — even a workout partner’s absence and my tardiness — for good. That day’s time was definitely in His hands, which is just where I want my life to be.
I hope yours is too. What’s your story?