JK: The Office of Stories
When I make presentations, I often talk about the power of story in our lives. I’m convinced that some of the best writing being done today is being done by those who write children and young adult stories because they capture the essence of story and must do so within 32 or just a few pages, unlike me whose stories tend to run to 400 pages.
Earlier this week my belief in children’s stories was affirmed. I visited a friend who is dying. He’s had a long struggle with cancer and has lived his life and faith in fullness. At his home where his wife and hospice nurse and others were settling him into his bed, he pointed out to me the pictures his grandchildren had drawn for him that had been hung on the wall.
They were stories, of course. You could tell how important this man was to them as he was the theme of all the stories but they’d drawn themselves in relationship to him. Close. Comforting. Being there.
One of the drawings showed a young girl reading to her grandfather who rested on the bed. But what she’d written above the bed is what struck me. She’d made a sign that said “The Office of Stories.”
I was on my way to lead a retreat titled “The Stories of our Lives” where I’d be talking about Journey stories, Hearth stories, Transition stories and Enduring stories. But her little sign sang to me. “The Office of the Surgeon General.” “The Office of Homeland Security.” And the most important of all, “The Office of Stories.” She’d put stories in the proper perspective: they are that important, and would be to them as their grandfather left their earthly presence and what remained were the stories of his life.
So often we ignore the stories of our lives. We get busy, we get distracted. As writers, this happens to us too. We get so busy putting ourselves inside the story we’re writing that we forget that we are writing stories of our lives at the same time and that those stories are important. They are healing. They protect us. They give us hope.
As part of my transition story session at the retreat I’d asked women to bring along a favorite picture of themselves, maybe a baby picture. I wanted to talk with them about change but also about God’s endurance as we transition from one stage to another in our lives. Divided into small groups that looked like they were sitting around a campfire telling stories, I asked them to tell the narrative of the picture: what was it about, who else was there, who took the picture. Each woman waited patiently and intently as the stories were told. Then I asked them to explore what positive quality was expressed by that child of long ago? Then I asked them if that quality still existed within them. Did they still have stories of resilience in their lives? Could they still see determination? Was that broad, happy smile still possible as adults?
The exercise appealed, they said. They loved telling the stories but more, seeing how the child within them was still alive, still to be nurtured and loved. “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” Christ said. That’s how important our stories are to him. We mine those early stories as we write and use them to explore our characters’ lives and change our own stories in the process. It’s important work fit for the office of Stories.
Jane Kirkpatrick’s 12th novel, A Clearing in the Wild, will be released from WaterBrook Press this month. www.jkbooks.com .