Do Stories Change Lives?

 

Because my ministry messages are story-based, when I read Chuck Neighbor’s recent blog about story changing his life, I got to thinking about how story has impacted my life. I realized that sharing our stories is a way to reach out to each others and form emotional connections that result in understanding, compassion and unity. Sharing our stories cross barriers and teach truths in ways that simple conversations cannot. Hearing the stories of others reassures us that we are not alone. Stories comfort and confront; stories inspire and challenge. I’m very grateful to Chuck for allowing me to share his blog on my website. I’m hoping Chuck’s message inspires you to be brave in sharing your stories, because you never know whose life you might change.

Can a Story Really “Change” Your Life?

“It changed my life” is an adage that’s often repeated. There are certainly events that are life-changers: birth, graduation, job, marriage, children, death… and so many more.

But can just the simple hearing or reading of a story actually change your life? I’m not talking about making us laugh or cry, or evoking emotions of compassion or anger. Those are a given. I’m talking about tangible change that results in action. Change that makes someone do or live differently.

As a storyteller I have heard “life-changing” applied to my craft. I have often accepted the statement as a compliment, but not taken it too much to heart. I am not sure I really believed that someone was going to live their life differently because they heard a story I told them.

I decided to put it to the test. Could I actually point to life-change in my own life because of stories that I heard or read? Once I seriously considered the question I was surprised at how quickly the answers followed.

  • It was through hearing and reading the Gospel story in my youth that I became aware of a need for Christ in my life. It was the added stories (testimonies) of other believers that convinced me to become a follower of Jesus, a change that resulted in me living my life differently.
  • It was hearing the stories from a missionary to South America at a youth retreat in Michigan that I became convinced that I wanted to actually serve God as a vocation. One of the few Spanish phrases I can actually remember is the translation to a familiar song that he taught us: “He decidido seguir a Cristo” (I have decided to follow Jesus). I didn’t know the path I would take, but I have never considered a job for more than a brief season of my life that was not also a ministry.
  • It was through first seeing plays as a kid and then performing them that I discovered my passion was to be on that stage as a performer. I wanted to tell stories like the ones I was seeing–I wanted to live them. It became the inspiration and motivation for me to find a way to combine my desire to serve God with my desire to be a performing artist. My first job after college was 10 years on the road with a professional touring theater ministry.
  • It was reading the book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon that challenged me with the famous question “What would Jesus do?” Little did I realize that years later that same story would keep me awake at night–a still small voice saying “tell that story.” Later adapting that book to the stage has indeed been life changing. It launched my current ministry and set the course of my professional/ministry career from 1984 to this day.

I am still thinking through the question but these thoughts flooded in once I opened the door to the question, “Can a story change your life?”

My answer is without a doubt, yes!

Story really does matter!

But All I Did Was Share My Story

Marcia11 smallDuring the past three years as I have moved farther into what I describe as testimonial ministry, I’ve had wonderful experiences travelling and sharing my faith-journey all the way from British Columbia to Florida. But secretly, I’ve always wondered why God would close the door on my professional career in music and call me into something that seemed way outside my scope of experience and to something for which I didn’t feel remotely equipped? I’ve also wondered what possible difference it could make in anyone else’s life whether or not they heard my story.

Recently, I was sharing with a friend about my ministry presentations and the type of comments I frequently hear afterward. As I became aware of the recurring theme in congregation members’ comments, it really surprised me.

During a presentation last month, one particular lady in the congregation just couldn’t stop weeping. I don’t usually do this, but I was so moved by her pain that I remember coming completely off script and told her from the platform that I believe God was intimately aware of her situation, held every detail of her life in the palm of His hand, that God would help her get through whatever she was coping with and I promised her that she wouldn’t always be in as much pain as she was experiencing that morning. She told me after the service that her husband had died unexpectedly that week, but she wasn’t able to cry until she heard me sing Give Me Jesus and share with the congregation that I had finally experienced a light at the end of the tunnel of my own pain. To say I was humbled would be an understatement.

At another church, the pastor noted in his announcements at the top of the service that their church had experienced a rough week that culminated in a funeral on Saturday. After the service, a young woman came to me with thanks for my presentation and shared that my message had given her a great deal of hope. She told me that the funeral was for her daughter. She told me that she had given birth earlier that week, but the doctors told her there was no hope that the child would live. That mother told me she felt privileged to hold her newborn as she awaited the baby’s death 90 minutes later. She thanked me again and again for the hope I had offered her by being vulnerable and honestly sharing my own journey through disbelief and sorrow. I was so shaken that God would use me in such a powerful and profound way, that after I left the church parking lot, I had to pull the car over and cry for 20 minutes.

We all have a story to tell. Every single one of us. Our stories are powerful. And we never know how our stories are going to impact those around us. I believe that a willingness to take down the walls behind which we hide our own pain, the willingness to become vulnerable in the eyes of others and the willingness to allow others to hear and see the truth of our lives, will draw us to each other and offer assurance to each other that we are not alone. Those two ladies I mentioned above were willing to share their pain with me after I had shared mine with them during the presentation. That seemed to create a deep sense of communion with each another. And though it is now weeks later, I still carry those ladies and their stories with me.

The truth is that as much as I deeply loved my life in classical music and all the potential that life might have offered, no one was ever going to wait for me backstage and tell me that their life had been changed because I had done a good job entertaining them. God has shown me, repeatedly, that His plan to use my voice and story for ministry has offered me a life of deep meaning and purpose for which I am becoming more and more grateful.

Understated Bravery

Dad's 95th birthday dinner. He LOVES oysters.

Dad’s 95th birthday dinner. He LOVES oysters.

This morning I had a conversation with my 96 year-old father about Memorial Day and his recollections of World War II’s impact on his life.  When thinking about my dad’s personality and what his life was like during the World War II era, “brave” would not be a word that would immediately come to mind in describing my father. I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from him, but Dad never served in uniform, never saw combat and never really experienced any frightening or dangerous ramifications of the world war he lived through. He is a wonderful and dedicated father, a loving and faithful husband, a wise and generous provider and a very accomplished chemical engineer who designed polyethylene (plastic) plants all over the world. But the concept of “brave” doesn’t enter the picture when I think of my Dad. After our discussion this morning, I learned something about Dad’s experiences during World War II that came as a big surprise to me. In our family, conversations about my father’s life in the 1940s during what his generation called “The Great War,” were centered on Dad’s work for an ammunition factory. He was a Canadian citizen, newly graduated from University of Toronto with a chemical engineering degree and was seconded by the US government to work in a US ordinance factory in Texas. My dad is a very quiet, understated and introverted man and I always assumed he got through those war years without any real concerns or personal stress related to the war effort. During his service at Cactus Ordinance Works near Amarillo, Dad met and married my mother, so I’m guessing they had many happy memories from those days and not very many experiences related to the horrors happening overseas. My mother’s brother, Randall, served in the Navy, and thankfully survived the war without harm. I always assumed my father felt relatively little stress during those war years. I was wrong. What I didn’t learn until this morning was that because Dad was a Canadian citizen and worked in the United States, he could have been drafted at any point during the war by either country – essentially doubling his chances of being drafted into military service. Every few months when he was required to report and be tested for conscription consideration by both the USA and Canada, Dad never knew if he’d be going back to the ordinance factory or sent on to basic training.  Luckily, both countries determined that his skills were better served by staying at Cactus Ordinance Works near Amarillo rather than putting on a uniform and being sent overseas. My father could have returned to Canada and cut his chances of being drafted into military service in half, but felt his work in the United States munitions factory was so important, that he took the risk. Dad’s bravery was a different kind of bravery shown by those who volunteered for military service and a different kind of bravery from those who served in the nearly literal hell of combat. A different kind of bravery from those who died as prisoners of war and a different kind of bravery shown by family members of soldiers stationed overseas. A different kind of bravery shown by the loved ones of fallen or missing soldiers.  A different kind of bravery than those whose war wounds have impacted their lives on a permanent basis. On this Memorial Day, I honor all those who served our country in so many brave and selfless ways. My father’s bravery was very much like his own personality – very understated. And on this Memorial Day, I also honor my father whose personal and quiet bravery was understated, undocumented and undecorated, but bravery nonetheless. Thank you, Dad, for your service during World War II in that sweltering hot munitions factory out in the Texas desert. Your contribution to freedom will not be forgotten.

Incorrect Assumptions

Make-up photoPeople tell me that personal blogs are places to be completely honest and transparent, so, with some trepidation, here goes.  I have always struggled with my weight which is a very sensitive issue for me especially because of the related bullying and abuse I suffered, both as a child and into my adult years.  And living most of my life in Southern California, a place famous for an individual’s value being determined primarily by their appearance, certainly didn’t help.  We live in a society where most people instantaneously judge others based upon appearance and that tendency is so deeply ingrained in our society, that I think it has largely become a subconscious process.

I learned a valuable lesson recently and it all started when the producer of the CD I recorded last month arranged for me to spend time with a professional photographer and hair & make-up artist in order to capture a photo for the CD cover.  So I looked on-line for information about these individuals just to know with whom I would be spending the afternoon. I learned that the photographer is also a very much in-demand international male model and the hair and make-up artist is the personal hair stylist to extremely well known Hollywood actresses that I may not be at liberty to name.  Both are individuals steeped in professional fields focused on physical beauty and appearance. I also learned that I’d be showing up at the shoot without wearing the slightest shred of make-up and my hair directly from the shower without any styling effort at all.  Say what?  Who shows up to meet strangers like that, much less strangers involved in the professional modeling industry?  Having professional photos taken has always made me a little nervous, but now I was starting to panic.  It sounds completely absurd, but I imagined that people as physically beautiful as both of these individuals and who spend all of their professional hours working with other incredibly beautiful people would neither be welcoming or remotely open to working with someone who struggles with, well, “fluffiness” and is, well, quite ordinary by “Hollywood’s” standards.

I could not have been more wrong!  Michael and Bridget are two of the warmest, friendliest, most hospitable and “normal” people I’ve ever met and I had an absolute blast spending the afternoon with them.  We were only together about four hours, but in that short time I realized they are people I would be privileged to call friend and I felt truly welcomed and embraced as if I were family.  After I got home from the shoot, I slowly realized with horror, what I had done.  I was guilty of the very same wrong done to me for so many years and that I feared they also would do – judge me by my appearance.  Because of their physical beauty and the type of people with whom they spend their work hours, I made assumptions about them both that were absolutely wrong in every imaginable way.  To tell you the truth, I felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself for making those assumptions and it served as a major life lesson for me.  I had been guilty of the same wrongs I have complained about suffering from others – being judged by what I look like rather than who I am.  I was shocked to realize that I was the one making the harsh and incorrect judgments about two people I”d never even met. I’m praying the memory of that discomforting realization will continue to serve as a reminder to me, whenever I catch myself starting to entertain assumptions about others that I have no right to make.

 

Finally Recording That CD!

DSC_1457Well, I finally DID IT!  I”m very excited to let you know that I have committed to recording dates in Los Angeles on January 11-14, 2014.  I am thrilled to be working  with a producer I”ve known for years and trust implicitly.  I”m grateful that through Indiegogo, I”m able to offer you the opportunity to partner with me to make this long-awaited dream a reality. Please visit my campaign on Indiegogo.com to view my video and learn more about the project. The link below will take you directly to my campaign page.
I”m hopeful that you will prayerfully consider supporting me as funding a project like this alone has always been way outside my means and, the truth is, I really need your help. In addition to your partnership, I would deeply appreciate your prayer support as I work toward making this dream a reality.  The campaign ends on January 1, 2014.  Many of you have known me a long time and you know how long I”ve wanted to do this, so I”m very excited to finally see this project finally get off the ground after all these years.  I”ll post frequent updates on Facebook because, if your life is as busy as mine, you may not check in with Facebook as often as you might like.  Here we go!!!
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