Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Writing down the small stuff

 I’ve been teaching a series of classes on “Writing Your Life Stories.” The class is mostly older adults, each with a lifetime of experiences and memories. These experiences and memories comprise a legacy to pass down to grandchildren, friends, even organizations and churches.

Since the idea of writing a memoir or autobiography can be daunting, I’ve been emphasizing the small stuff, memories of single events or relationships that even now evoke a smile, a laugh, or a grimace. Stuff you wish your brand-new great grandson would know about you someday, so he could smile, laugh or grimace along with you. So he could know you.

Small stuff can be a response to a prompt: “The time my prank got me into big trouble,” “The ugliest clothes I ever wore,” “My most interesting job,” “What I learned from my dad,” “When God answered my prayer,” “The time I thought I’d lose my life,” “How I met my husband/wife.” And so on. You get the idea. Small stuff includes the funny stories you tell time and again in family reunions. Those are stories worth writing down.

One idea I gave was that of writing a series of stories around a certain theme. I shared my friend’s collection of stories of his encounters with animals. Gary has traveled widely, so the stories included lions, as well as local critters—deer, birds, and the owl that stole his hat from off his head. He put these stories into a book (shutterfly.com) that included photographs and gave one to each of his grandkids.

Another friend read in class one of the stories from his collection of times God answered a prayer.

That gave me inspiration to begin making my own collection.

I’ve been reading through my old journals, being inspired, entertained, and appalled at things in my past. Some experiences I definitely want my descendants to know. A few pages I tore out and shredded. But overall, I’ve been delighted to stand back and see the growth. Among other things, I’ve recognized patterns in my relationship with God and ways he has touched my life.

So I decided to write stories about ways God has spoken to me—specific messages in concrete situations. Part of what interests me are all the different ways God has spoken: through dreams and visions, through a Bible passage, through a prophetic word, through a discerning friend or family member, through a circumstance that acted as a sign, through a Quaker meeting for clearness, and through a talking donkey (just kidding about that last one—although it’s in the Bible). Often God has spoken through an inward nudge or sense. Holy intuition.

Not that I aways get the message right. I’m human and make mistakes. Sometimes a “message” doesn’t come from God. Even so, I’m listening and hopefully practice is giving me more discernment.

Anyway, I’ve got the stories and I’m typing them from my journals into a folder.

My journals are full of dreams. I don’t remember most of my dreams; often I wake up and try to capture a dream, but it flies out of reach and disappears. But some dreams stick around after I wake up, and I pay attention to those dreams. I write them down. Not all are to be considered messages from God. Probably most of them come from my subconscious mind and indicate a fear to be faced or some unresolved issue. These are helpful.

Sometimes God does speak through a dream. I’ve found a number of these in my journals. I’ll share one here. It’s “small stuff,” really, but it encouraged me at the time. If I were to give it a title, I’d call it “The Pooping Baby Dream.”

Background: It was 1999 and Hal and I had recently moved to Santa Cruz, Bolivia at the invitation of the Bolivian Evangelical University to begin a masters program in missions. We arrived excited, ready to work. We were assigned a team of interested faculty members and together began to design the program. But we soon ran into roadblocks, and disagreements with university personnel.

Bolivia is a lovely country, but it comes gift-wrapped in red tape. Even in a Christian university. Administrative hassles, squabbling between academic departments, requirements we didn’t understand, and so on. I guess this stuff is normal in institutions, Christian or not. To add to our difficulties, in order for the degree we would offer to be recognized, the Bolivian government had a long and complex process of legalization.

We grew weary and at one point questioned our call to this task.

The Dream: In my dream I had given birth to a new baby. She was beautiful, healthy, and big—the size of a three-month old at birth. She was smiling, cooing, eating applesauce, shaking her rattle. A very accomplished new-born. We loved her and she responded to us.

The only problem was that she was a super-pooper. Much more than normal. As soon as we changed her, she would fill up her diaper again. And each time, the poop made her heavy. She was hard to hold with all that weight. And of course it was all very messy. I don’t really want to describe that part, so I won’t.

But we loved her dearly and recognized her as a gift from God, in spite of the inconvenience of constant diaper duty. Hal assured me that she would outgrow it in time.

The Interpretation: I woke up laughing. Hal was already awake, so I told him the dream. His response surprised me. “Nancy! Don’t you see what God is telling us?!!!”

Well, no. I didn’t see it at all. It was just a funny and strange dream.

Hal went on to explain what had been instantly obvious to him, that God was encouraging us. He was saying that giving birth to something new and good was naturally a messy process. It was normal. We needed to cherish the gift of this opportunity, proceed through all the mess, and have faith that it would all work out in the end.

We both lay in bed laughing and praising God.

And it did work out in the end, but that’s another story.

I’m hoping that my collection of stories of God speaking can be an encouragement to other people someday, and occasionally give them something to laugh about. I’m glad God has a sense of humor.

Cherish the small stuff. Write it down.

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