BY MARTHA PETERSEN
Many, many years ago, I was hiking in Hawaii with my coworkers and our students. It was the average, perfect island day, sun shining and slight breezes. The jungle path was not easy and I fought to maintain my middle of the pack position as the hours rolled by. The vegetation around us was beautiful, but I found myself dreaming of being home with a book. We arrived at our destination point midday and found ourselves in a small clearing at the edge of a lagoon. In front of me was the most glorious waterfall I had ever seen. Truly stunning. I was struck with awe.
Simply gazing at it was not enough for me. I needed to get closer to it, to touch it. I dove in and swam over to it. The water was a welcoming cool. As I neared, my excitement grew and then I was under it. Suddenly, that peaceful serene looking waterfall was pounding me into the depths. It was exhilarating and utterly terrifying, and I couldn’t remain for long for fear I might drown. I swam out and floated in the middle of the lagoon. The view all around me was so vivid, it seemed surreal. Praising the God who created all of this was easy in this space. I swam back under the falls one more time.
This is not unlike how I feel delving into my story when guided by Dan Allender. I was introduced to him in the early 1990s, first through his books, followed by many conferences, classes, and trainings and eventually sitting across from him with my story. He has rocked my world. He is a brilliant, provocative, kind, terrifying, truth-telling, wild lover of Jesus. We got a taste of that at the “To Be Told” conference.
Sitting there in March, Paul and I laughed, cried, pondered our own deep waters, all the while simultaneously wanting to hear more and wanting to run away. Dan is intense! And he always leaves me feeling more connected to and hungry for the Lord. The content of the conference inspires hope in me.
So, recently, Paul and I sat down, at Dan’s suggestion, to ask each other what was remaining now that it’s been a month out. Two things came up for us.
Dan asked us to consider the themes of our stories. It is our themes that are written by God. Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you….” We are about to enter a new season of our lives as Paul thinks about retiring from his present job. We have been wondering aloud to each other what that means. Dan’s questions, “What are you meant to create of beauty on this earth?” and “Do you know what your ‘heaven yes’ and ‘hell no’ are meant to be?” have us curious about the story God is weaving in our lives. “To know our story is to know our kingdom.” We so want to honor God with our life choices. I have been asking those who know us well to help us hear His voice and to read us in that context.
The other echo from the conference for us is that of actually sharing stories, especially with each other. As Dan taught, we are deeply committed to seeing our stories one way. We easily become complacent about our own stories. I often stop and ask, “Who is narrating this story of mine? Is it Jesus?” More often than I like to admit, it is not. I need people who are good story interpreters to help me, to show me the face of God in the midst of the narrative. Paul and I are learning to do that for each other.
That may sound odd given that we have been married for 32 years! We realize that for numerous reasons, we have not always created a safe and invitational space to welcome each other’s stories. It is possible to be married a really long time and still not know each other, or even ourselves! Our stories are embedded within us. The Gospel story is embedded within us. But are we listening?
I am learning about my husband and letting him know me in deeper, more intimate ways than ever before. Our curiosity about each other and about ourselves is growing. That is leading us straight to the throne of God and Jesus as a very real, intimate author and redeemer of our lives. The sweetness we are tasting as we take the time to tell and really listen to even the seemingly small stories and to ask questions and ponder together is strengthening our faith in God and our love for each other. We have regrets that we haven’t always welcomed each other that way and especially for all the times we were story stoppers. We are so thankful that it is never too late for the redemptive hand of God to lead us on new paths.
Who are the ones who hold your stories? I sincerely hope that each of us have others helping us to read our stories and that we are willing to learn to walk hip to hip with others, hearing their stories. This is sacred ground. Our waterfalls.
I would love to hear what has remained for you? Or even better, one of your stories.
Open Door Presbyterian Church hosted Dan Allender’s “To Be Told” conference on March 17th – 18th, 2017.