Our Lives as Stories: Voyage and Return

 


What does this image put you in mind of? If you have seen the old classic The Wizard of Oz, you know exactly what this picture means: Dorothy has returned home from her amazing, frightening, colourful, unintentional adventure. She’s gone and come back. She’s voyaged and returned.  She’s been there and back again.

It’s a pretty classic storyline. Besides The Wizard of Oz, there’s Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Back to the Future, and many others.

It’s a satisfying storyline, in a sense. The main character goes to an unfamiliar place, meets new people, has challenges and adventures, maybe some tragedies, and in time learns enough “out there” to make their way back home… back to where they started from.

Satisfying in one sense. Frustrating in another.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Seriously, Dorothy?! You could’ve saved yourself all this trouble if you’d just seen all you had at home in the first place!” Often it is we, the viewers, who see the good of home that the main character misses for most of the story.

The characters go, they grow, they (usually) suffer, and then they come to their senses and return home.

Satisfying or infuriating?!

The story of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament is a pretty perfect example of the voyage and return. The son not only didn’t know what he had at home, he outrightly rejected his home and father. The son insists on receiving his inheritance and leaves to make his way in the world. But, it’s not long before the money and the good times are over, and heartache and destitution follow. He ends up getting a job feeding pigs (pretty abhorrent to a Jewish person) and is starving. It is in this moment that he remembers his father’s house. He goes home to repent and ask to work for his father. But (and this is my favourite part) before the father even knows why his son is coming home (he could be coming to ask for more money, as far as he knows!), he runs out and welcomes his son home. The son, astonishingly, returns home to rejoicing and celebration.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this parable, and then learned again. 

But it is a wonderful example of voyage and return — of leaving home for something better and then realizing that the “better” you sought was back at home all along. There really is something beautiful and satisfying to such a story.

Exercise: Examine what is going on in your life these days. Are there things (people, situations, habits) that you are running from? What are the specific ways you are wandering away? Do you know what you’re looking for as you wander? Might the thing you are looking for “out there” already be where you are now?

I think it’s a valuable exercise. And we can all benefit from taking stock of what’s happening in our lives, right here, right now.

But.

What happens if home isn’t a good place? What if it isn’t a place of love and care and security, like we so often find in the classic stories above?

Well, that takes me to an Old Testament example. The people of Israel (if you are not aware) do a lot of complaining to Moses as their leader. However, the other week I read these words in Numbers and they struck me: And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

That would be the people of Israel longing for their time as slaves in Egypt. They have seen countless miracles on their behalf by the hand of God, but they are still waiting for his promise of the promised land to be fulfilled. And, in this moment, they long for Egypt: at least they knew what to expect in Egypt. It might have been horrible, but at least it was stable, secure, and they had food.

Lest I become self-righteous when I read this passage, I have to remember that their desire to be back in Egypt says a lot about how scared they were in their present situation. It must’ve been pretty scary, even if that means they were forgetting or ignoring all that God was doing. (Even the mention of the manna shows that they are not seeing God’s continual provision in their waiting.)

But they are longing for Egypt here. It doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t make much sense because we know how the story goes. Egypt was bad. The promised land is good — it’s just in sight!

But do we ever do that in our own stories? Do we ever long for the old things, the things that were hard and yucky, because today is so scary? “At least back then we knew what to expect!” Do we ever get into old unhealthy patterns because, bad as they were for us, there was security there?

Sometimes we long to go back to a home that is not a good home. It may not make sense to our friends or maybe even to us, but there is that pull. I think part of it is the pull for predictability and stability… and a strange form of security. It may not be the best response, but it is a very human response. And I imagine we can all relate to it to one degree or another.

Exercise: Are you relying on and returning to patterns, habits, or addictions that are harmful? Are you even just toying with them in your mind — thinking about the comfort they afforded, even if they brought many other negative consequences? Take some time to write down the things that you truly long for — your deepest desires for love, belonging, and security.

Are there two pictures of home being formed: the unhealthy home (easy to return to but harmful in the end) and the healthy home (takes determination to get to but is ultimately life-giving)? Describe the home and the path for you to each one. What is one thing you can do today to move towards that healthy home?

(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives As Stories series, go here.)

Why make a legacy document?

Several years ago I was at a ladies’ retreat where we were asked to bring a picture of one of our relatives that was going to be placed on a board anonymously, and we would all have to guess whose relative was whose. I was in my late 20s at the time, and I thought I was so clever bringing a picture of my great great grandmother. I was certain everyone would think it was one of the older lady’s grandmas.

I was wrong. They all guessed she was my relative… because apparently these cheeks are a dominant gene.


My great great grandmother.

I know her name, the years she lived and where she is buried, but that is about all. I don’t know what made her laugh, what her favourite thing to cook for supper was, what she thought about the world, or the biggest struggle she ever had to overcome and how she overcame it.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to know that I not only have my great great grandmother’s cheeks but maybe I get my sense of humour and inability to run fast or properly thicken gravy from her as well?

But I don’t know.
I’ll never know.
And that’s okay.
That’s a lot of information to expect to pass through time!

But what if we could know these things about our relatives? What if there was a way to pass on who they were, their stories, and the things that mattered most to them?

This is what a legacy document does.

A legacy document is like a written photo album of your life where you get to share the moments and memories that were the most important and impactful to you: significant relationships, roles, and accomplishments, the lessons you learned and maybe even the lessons you wish you’d learned.

A legacy document allows you to share you. Your story. The things you love and value.

But the legacy document does more… it connects your story to others.

The second part of the document is your chance to share your hopes and dreams for the future for your loved ones and the words and wisdom that you would like them to always know. These are words that will live on and encourage even when you are no longer there.

And all of that information is gathered in an interview that lasts about one hour. The interview is recorded, transcribed, prepared and edited into a smooth-flowing narrative of your story. Then the document is read aloud to the client so they have a real sense of what their words sound like and if any changes need to be made. Necessary revisions are then taken care of and the final document is printed and nicely bound for the client to share with loved ones at a time of their choosing.

And that’s when the story lives on.

A legacy document allows you to share your story and the things that are so often left unsaid with the people that mean the most to you — allowing your story, your lessons, your life to live on in those words into the future.

It would be such a gift to know the story of my great great grandmother. I’m sure her story is just as human as mine.

Our lives are complicated and often not very easy. Our stories don’t have to be perfect to be shared. They just have to be ours.

Why make a legacy document? Because we all have a story to tell.

Our Lives as Stories: Comedy

“They say comedy is tragedy plus time.” Bob Newhart

Picture a sunny Mother’s Day afternoon. The family is just home from church and mom asks to get the traditional “mother’s day picture” taken with the kids quickly before lunch. But the kids have never liked taking pictures, and today is no different. Contorted faces. Whines. Demands to listen are made. Followed by a little yelling. Then a little more yelling. Then the kids are crying. Then mom is crying. Then mom is saying she is just going to go to her bedroom for the rest of the day.

Yeah, not my greatest Mother’s Day.

I was ready to give up on the day. I was done. Exasperated. Sad. Tired.

But before I could run away to the bedroom, my husband said calmly but firmly, “Okay, all of you outside!” He sat us all down on the front step. Then he walked a few steps away, dropped his jeans, flashed us his underwear, and snapped a picture of our shocked laughter. (And, yes, we lived on an acreage at the time, so he only flashed us!)

This picture will always remind me of the power of humour to completely change a mood and a moment for the better.

The day totally changed after that. We were happy again. We stuck together and had a fun day. If not for that moment of humour, I would’ve stewed in frustration alone in my bedroom on Mother’s Day for a long time.

One simple, silly moment changed it all.

There is lots of research on how humour is good for our health.
But is it really possible to turn tragedy into comedy?

Comedic stories are different than tragedies because tragedies always end in… tragedy. But the two genres are both fraught with misunderstanding and conflict. In fact, there would be no comedy without conflict and misunderstanding!

What would Home Alone be like if Kevin had not been forgotten by his family? If Marv and Harry decided to not to rob houses on Kevin’s street or not rob houses at all? What if Kevin had actually gone for help instead of trying to single-handedly out-smart the bad guys?

There would be a lot less conflict. But a lot less comedy, too.

Conversely, imagine how truly horrifying a movie like Home Alone would be if it was not in the genre of comedy! A 10 year old boy forgotten at home with serial criminals invading his home?! Another great movie would be made — one that would have parents getting security systems and teaching their kids about emergency services rather than passing out the popcorn and candy canes every Christmas season.

You see, often it’s not the content of the story, but the perspective from which we approach the story that means the difference between comedy and tragedy.

This is not to say that there are not real, hard, tragedies in our life sometimes. Because there are. And they are hard. And they do not turn into comedy so easily.

But there are a lot of things in life that would be different if we took ourselves, our life, our situations less seriously… if we would just relax, breathe, and recognize that we are human just like everybody else.

There’s a lot of grace that can be found in recognizing that we are human and our lives don’t need to be perfect.

Exercise: Is there something in your life that you’ve been taking too seriously? Is there a moment that was embarrassing or frustrating to you that, if you looked at it again, you might be able to laugh about it? How is it different to look at parts of your life through the lens of comedy?

(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives As Stories series, go here.)