I am a storyteller. I don’t mean the kind who makes up wild tales (although, I do love fiction and imagination). I don’t have to make stuff up. I have the wildest, truest stories… of manna falling through the hands of strangers every, single day for the entire time we were traveling the country, of meeting angels disguised as people, of having mine or my family’s lives spared in countless fires, of being gifted with a motorhome five days before our oldest son was born when we didn’t have a penny, yet we did have an inconceivable faith that it would be provided in time (and it was), of being in church buildings so thick with angels I could literally feel them, of a trillion ways the details of life are designed by the Creator to match up perfectly like this magnificent, giant Domino trail leading straight into Glory. I could tell you stories that would make you think I was making them up. But I’m not.
Lately a few things happened which made me realize I had stifled my storytelling in the past many years, out of fear of being “too much”. I think it was a compilation of many things… Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that if I told my stories others wouldn’t feel like their life mattered as much. When I have scratched the surface of my story, telling the basics of how Smiles and I met hitch-hiking the country and found Jesus a week and a half later, I have watched many suddenly feel as though their life is boring and they didn’t have anything they wanted to share. It’s made me want to weep, then shake them by the shoulders and tell them sometimes glory is found in the cracks and crevices of “boring”. Sometimes a gentle breeze is just as miraculous as surviving fires, or stomping barefoot next to the head of a Copperhead snake and not having it strike you, or getting picked up hitch-hiking by an old friend in a different state than the one we’d known each other from. Just think of Elijah, standing at the mouth of a cave, seeing earthquakes and fire, yet God came in a whisper.
I also think I got the idea that if I told my stories, I wouldn’t listen as well. Storytelling can feel like releasing a dam, and I am a full reservoir. Get Smiles and I together and we could go on for days, weeks, months. Listening is a skill I desire to perfect and a thing I greatly value. And out of fear of not listening well, I unknowingly began to fear speaking.
Compound all of this with the fact that I’ve been writing a book, which means most of my solitude has been spent reflecting on and refining part of my story. I am weary of my own voice.
(Even as I write this, I am afraid people will roll their eyes and think “You still tell stories all the time” which is true, but if you knew the hundreds I suppressed while telling you the one, you’d be amazed.).
A few times recently, I’ve accidentally found myself in the storyteller seat, and when I tried to retreat, my listeners insisted I keep going. Keep telling. Keep entertaining. When I gather around the campfire with other storytellers, there’s a comradery among us that always surprises me. It feels like my reservoir would crash into theirs and we would just be talking over each other and everyone else, but instead we all just seem to join into one sweeping river of amazing tales. When I’ve anticipated that others might feel like they didn’t have enough of a voice in the circle, they’ve usually insisted I keep sharing because I am entertaining them.
It is actually my gift that has made me feel like I am too much. As though I need to tone down and make sure others have equal real estate in the conversation. I bet you have gifts like that, too. Gifts that make you feel like a show-off when you use them, or like you have to act more mild or you risk stepping on the toes of your friends.
Of course we have to learn how to use our gifts responsibly. Isn’t that always the truth? If I ignore body language and facial expressions, and if I don’t treasure the voices of others, I will, indeed, be a terrible listener. All strengths have their counterbalancing weakness. But for the most part, it hasn’t been listening but speaking that I’ve been avoiding. If these stories die within me rather than being told, it would be a great travesty against the God who made my life so abnormally wild and adventurous.
So, this is what I want to ask you… What is your gift? What are the lies you believe about it? About yourself? What would your life look like if you were more concerned with living your one life to the fullest of who you were made to be? If you remembered that you were called to “love your neighbor as yourself” not to “love your neighbor at the expense of yourself”? Because, perhaps, when we neglect who we are, in our quest to love our neighbor, we neglect to love them to our fullest potential.