Powerful things, stories. They can help us understand another. The good ones make us feel. The even better ones end up mobilising us to care.
I’ve known the power of stories since I was a young girl. There are stories I still remember, stories that have moved me to tears.
I was about six years old, curled up next to my parents watching Walt Disney’s animated Jungle Book. I knew deep down when Mowgli left Baloo and Bagheera at the end, he was not coming back. Mowgli had new adventures waiting for him in the land of people. And I wept as Baloo called out to him to return.
“Come back,” Baloo cried.
“No come baaaack!” I cried even harder.
Then there was the story of the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. I think I was even younger when it shredded my heart into tiny pieces.
We were travelling somewhere in the car. My youngest uncle entertained and educated me about the world through the story of a kind swallow and a bejewelled statue who couldn’t stomach the suffering around him.
I was inconsolable by the end of it. I learned that day, the world was unjust; that the rich and powerful could be more concerned with their image and importance than the suffering of the poor.
I also learned that God did not see what the world saw. But to my young mind, it seemed unfair the Prince and the swallow were only recognised and cherished after they were destroyed.
Incredible things, stories.
For almost twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to tell real stories of heartbreak and resilience, struggle and change.
When I started my career in Public Affairs, these stories were a means to a higher end – to promote the work of the organisation; to raise awareness of the need around us. But as I became older and wiser, I realised their power lay in their integrity. They were powerful and precious because they were someone’s life entrusted to us to tell well.
Now living in London, I am working for a remarkable organisation helping children and families around the world. I have the opportunity to tell real stories of hope and transformation, of bright new futures to inspire others to support children living in extreme poverty.
Some stories must be told. They need to be recognised before they disappear. Inadequate words must be strung together to hold truths that must not be lost. Dig deeper and what seems ordinary can inspire us and move our flawed selves to something better.
It was a very old story that changed my life. One that has echoed over thousands of years. Held in ordinary books and told by ordinary men. Four eye witness accounts of an extraordinary man who claimed to be God, who died on the cross only to prove what he said and rise again.
It’s a story full of love and pain. One that opened my eyes to my hypocrisy and sin as well as God’s all encompassing love and forgiveness. A love that would see His only Son make His way to the cross and endure the crushing weight of the sin of the world, so that I, who hated God so, could be redeemed.
And if I spend my entire life doing good deeds, it will never be enough to match God’s overwhelming Grace. I will never be able to repay Him.
The story that tipped me over to repentance and faith was a story within a story. Told by Jesus himself according to the eye witness account. It was the story of a selfish son who grabbed his share of his inheritance from his father and spent it on wild living.
Soon his money was gone. In desperation he heads back to his father, expecting to be treated like another servant at best.
His father sees him in the distance and filled with compassion for his son, he starts to run. In my mind, this elderly man cannot run fast enough, hitching up his robe to run as fast as he can to meet his wayward son.
The father calls to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
It’s been twenty years, but this part of the story still moves me to tears. The father loves his son so much he holds no record of wrongs. He just opens his arms and embraces him.
Powerful things, stories. Especially if we believe them to be true.
I found Jesus through them. He has transformed my world. He has given my life purpose and meaning. And He promises to welcome me home in the next.
For that, I am grateful.