When is a story just a story? When is a story much more than a story? When is the story we think we know obscuring a much richer story? These questions and more lay at the root of my lifelong quest to understand the power of story. Growing up in a southern rural community, I learned the art of storytelling from my family and neighbors. I often heard with some admiration, “She sure is a good storyteller.” I also heard with disapproval, “He sure can tell some big stories!”
I instinctively knew from both statements that some stories were cherished and brought forth life. Other stories were tall tales of deceit. My upbringing taught me that stories were a part of everyday life, stories influence your personal values, and stories influence how you value others. The “take away” for me was that stories tell us who a person is and is not. In my journey, I found it difficult to figure out how to identify and separate “good” stories from stories that were “tall tales.”
My love for stories drew me to pastoral care because listening to others’ stories carried such power. Those persons who had supportive stories in their lives seemed able to look to the future with at least a glimmer of hope. Those persons who focused on the stories of loss in their lives seemed to be unable to look, even for a second, at future possibilities.
Further complicating this caring for others through stories was my growing awareness that some stories were labeled as pathological while other stories were labeled as “normal.” Never being one to value normality, I found this labeling more and more distressful. Pastoral diagnosing to an extreme seemed to negate the power of a living God who cares for us and struggles with us through pain to hope.
Listening for unique stories that tugged at me personally was part of who I was. However, I was quite surprised when I experienced a call to ministry in college. I was well aware that women were not expected to be ordained as 1Southern Baptist ministers. Yet, my calling to the ministry was unmistakable. My home church, Beech Fork Baptist Church in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, ordained me after I graduated from seminary and began ministry. Soon, my world was shaken when the church was disfellowshipped from its association because I, a woman, was ordained there.
You can purchase my book Uncovering Spiritual Narratives in the sidebar on the right.