Who doesn’t love a good story? No matter who you are or where you live, I’m sure that this time of year, you’ve heard your share of stories. In the middle of reaching for the potatoes, someone will bring up how his kid elbowed his way to the front at the school play, or a song will come on the radio, and someone in the back seat will start talking about that incredible outdoor concert last summer when it rained but nobody cared.
My family and I spent most of Thanksgiving week on my grandpa’s ranch. From the dusty Roy Rogers comic books to the old machinery in the windbreak, everything has a story there. And the place holds so many memories. Down by the creek, my sister thought she was dying when a leach attached itself to her leg. That’s when my 7-year-old brother, the hero, ran barefoot across thistles and burrs just to get help. Up in the canyons, I thought I’d scare my brother by howling like a coyote. I don’t know what my crackling adolescent voice communicated, but I said something in coyote, and when those dirt hills erupted in howls, we almost wet our pants.
I found a black and white picture on my mom’s dresser. Two rows of people are standing in a yard on a warm summer day. The little girl sitting in the front with pigtails is my mom, right in front of my kneeling grandmother, and my uncle is standing behind them, smiling mischievously. I brought the picture to the table where most of the family was sitting. Putting the picture down in front of my mom, I asked, “That’s you and Uncle Don and Grandma, but who are these other people?” It’s important, at this point, to understand that my mother is a story-teller. During every road trip to an old Indian campground or a Civil War battlefield, she would look back at us with passion in her eyes, whisper the words, “Can you imagine”, and then fill the car with wonder by weaving in a story. She picked the picture up and brought it close. It was clear, just listing off the names of the people in the picture wasn’t going to do. She was about to tell some stories. “That man in the hat is Grandpa Peter,” she said, “He was one of the Rough Riders.” She was pointing at him in the picture but leaning in towards us. “His brother is the one who was a Pinkerton. Remember the story about his gun going off when a tailor was helping him with his jacket. That’s when he said, ‘My god, man, you’ve shot me!’” One by one, she told the stories of each person. The good-looking, young man in the front was adopted and liked to gamble. One of the women in the picture just couldn’t shake the dark fog of depression and took her life one day in a car up on a hill. Grandma Susan and Grandpa Peter were happily married for over 60 years.
Time has passed. That little girl in pigtails now has 10 grandkids. The house on that ranch, where we were sitting, was once home to racoons and rattlesnakes when that same little girl with pigtails would walk her dog through the old creaking door and explore. She couldn’t have known that one day, in that same old house, she would be reading Uncle Wiggly stories by a fire to her grandkids.
Mom finished and put down the photo; the conversation shifted to Trump and football, but I couldn’t let go of the wonder of time and stories. The next day, we all ate our Thanksgiving meal, but before we started, of course we had to take pictures. One thought rushed through my mind and stirred up the wonder from the night before: What would become of our pictures? Will some relative, years down the road, find one on a nightstand and ask some questions about the people in it? Someone, with a few more gray hairs than most, maybe our 10-year-old daughter Joy, will put on some glasses, bring the picture close and sum up our lives in a few sentences. And what will those stories be like? Dreams may or may not be fulfilled; kids will be grown, even aged. There may be tragedy, and maybe there will be a memory or two that will bring a smile to the story-teller’s face. Most of all, I hope there’s beauty.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This may sound like a nerdy English teacher, but that word “handiwork” comes from the Greek word “poiema” which is where we get the word “poem”. That verse is literally saying, “We are God’s poems.” If we are God’s poems, that makes Him the Author, which means that no matter what happens with our lives, there is love behind our stories. The rest of that verse says we were created to “do good works”. What is your good work that God has prepared in advance for you to do? And how would your life look different knowing that you are God’s work of art, His poem that He is writing even today? Seeing God as the Author of our stories helps us let go. It means we get to enjoy the story as He writes each chapter. Best of all, it means that when someone, years from now, finds us in an old picture at a family event, we don’t need to be afraid of how our stories will turn out. There may be difficulty in our lives, even heartache, and there will be moments we treasure, but if we hand the pen over to the Author of life, you better believe there will be beauty, and we get to be a part of that.