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!!!

Going Indie on the World

mic on sound boardDon’t you wonder why sometimes when we ask God for specific direction we don’t hear clearly from him and other times the answer is so clear it’s almost unbelievable?

As I travel presenting Embraced by God, I am continually asked why I don’t have a CD to offer people and the truth is, the timing has never been exactly right and the appropriate funding has never been available to create a first class studio recording. I find that with God timing is everything and up until recently, I’ve never felt prompted to move forward with figuring out how to accomplish the impossible. So I’ve been praying about this CD situation and a friend suggested I consider raising the needed funds through an on-line fundraising tool called Indiegogo.  I’d never heard of Indiegogo, but the idea seemed intriguing and as I walked into church the next morning, I remember asking God if he would tell me in some way that would be very, very clear whether or not I should move forward with the plan to raise funds through Indiegogo.

On that particular morning, my pastor preached on different kinds of faith and explained that it’s very easy to have faith for that which we can see – like having faith that the chair we sit down on will actually hold us.  But it’s much harder to have faith for that which we cannot see or for that which seems impossible. Raising several thousand dollars for a CD sort of lands in that category.

Toward the end of the morning message, Pastor Steve referred to having faith like Indiana Jones as he stepped off the precipice and desperately hoped the ground would form itself under his feet.  And Steve challenged the congregation to “Go. Go Indie on the world. Okay seriously, would it have been possible for God to be more clear that moving forward with Indiegogo should be in the plan?  I still giggle when I remember that experience and delight in the fact that God’s communication with me was so immediate and clear. I can tell you that my answers to prayer are not always so quick and easily understandable, but I’m grateful that this time I heard the right words at the right time. So I challenge you to “Go, go Indie on the world” and trust God to give you the faith for that which you cannot yet see.  And stay tuned for more information on the CD project which I’m hoping to record in January!

Unexpected Blessings

FireworksA little over two years ago, I was toiling with the desire to move into a fairly new and larger apartment complex that was considerably more expensive than my tiny apartment by the train tracks.  I could just barely afford the new apartment and wanted it so much, but wasn’t sure that moving was a wise decision.  The apartment itself was beautiful, situated up on a bluff and from the balcony just off the living room one could see for miles.  I remember asking a close friend for counsel and I’ll never forget that she said God may be leading me into a season of life during which He wanted to bless me in unexpected ways.  So after considerable thought and prayer, I trusted my friend’s words and my instinct about God”s direction and moved into Hawk’s Point believing that God would bless my decision to trust Him.  A view of Mt. Hood on a clear day, refreshing breezes every night and no more deafening train whistles at 4:00 am were just a few of the unexpected blessings I noticed right away.

But I was not prepared for the fireworks displays. There is a minor league ball stadium less than two miles away and during summer months there is a professional fireworks display each Friday night after the game that I can actually watch from my living room.  And as if that were not enough, I could never have imagined the first class show I would be treated to every July 4th.  Because this apartment sits so high on a bluff, I can stand on my balcony every Independence Day and watch at least 10 different fireworks displays from all over the Willamette Valley.  Sometimes there are so many going off at the same time that I don’t know where to look. And seriously, what a massive delight for someone who likes “anything that sparkles.”  HA!  It is an absolutely amazing experience and tonight it felt like I might be standing in the midst of a Norman Rockwell painting.  I could see all the family fireworks on the streets about 100 yards down the hill, the fireworks from the stadium on the left, the display from Riverfront Park on the right and sometimes more sparkling explosions in between than could be counted. As I stood there completely dazzled, I remembered my friend’s words over two years ago and realized that God must be smiling down on my delight. It must give God great joy to surprise us with blessings He knows will give us so much joy.  Tonight I am filled with gratitude for all the blessings God has given me – like the privilege of living in such an amazing country, loaded with our complex problems, but amazing nonetheless.  And as I sit here feeling the cool evening breeze and the smell of fireworks wafting through the windows, I am especially grateful for unexpected blessings!  And tonight, my wish for you,  is that God would delight your heart with the unexpected!

Shower Joy

bird bathIf I’m not traveling for ministry, my Saturdays all look pretty much the same – visiting my 93 year-old father who lives in an assisted living environment, taking him to Marshalls or Ross, a vocal work out and then home to do my household chores.  However, this past Saturday, my boring routine was interrupted by an amazing experience in the parking lot of Walmart.  I was rushing to pick up several things for my dad when I saw something that made time stop for a few minutes.  It is still surprisingly warm for October here in Salem so when I arrived at Walmart, the sprinkler system which waters the flower beds in the parking lot was on full blast completely flooding one particularly large flower bed.  As I parked the car, the sprinklers turned off and within seconds, thirty or forty little birds that had been up in a nearby tree descended into the pool of water and went completely nuts splashing around as if they had never seen water before.  I was transfixed by the number of birds that participated in this public bathing extravaganza, but what really captured me was their unbridled joy. What a pleasure to see a moment of absolute truth.  I”m so sorry I didn” t have my camera with me.  Those little creatures were so involved with their joyful play that they didn’t seem to care that I had approached them and stood so close that my pant legs got wet from all their splashing. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever experienced.  Much later in the day, I still felt a spring in my step as I vacuumed the living room and remembered those little birds.  It never ceases to amaze me the joy I derive from nature.  Before church yesterday morning, I took a leisurely shower and as I recalled how much those sweet little birds enjoyed their bath, I decided my morning needed to start with a little dance of joy in my own shower.  It was great fun and it colored my whole day.  A word of warning however.  If you decide to do our own dance of joy in the shower, you might want to lay a few towels on the floor.  Shower-joy is a wet business.  HA!!

The Valley of Humiliation

It occurs to me that I actually have blogs in three different places on the internet and it”s time to clean house and consolidate.  I”m going to repost a few old blogs from the days before I had my own website because, well frankly, I don”t know how to consolidate any other way.  I”m not so much a technical wiz.  HA!

The following piece by Oswald Chambers was sent to me during a particularly rough time while I was living in New York. It made such a deep impression on me that I still carry the words with me and have incorporated the concept of being “battered into the shape of a vessel God can use” into my “Embraced by God” ministry presentation. In my imagination, Chambers’ words evoke the image of a piece of metal heated by a fire and then literally beaten into the shape of a water pitcher – a usable vessel- with which to serve others. We’ve all heard it a million times: you grow the most during life’s difficulties. So it has been with my life and I would bet your life as well. The heartaches, difficulties, frustrations, losses, and disappointments we all experience and recover from are the forging instruments God uses to shape who we are.  Something that has helped me get through the really rough times is remembering that pain doesn”t last forever and statements like “it won”t always feel this way”  have been very comforting to me during the really hard times. Mr. Chambers thoughts are below:

“We always have visions, before a thing is made real. When we realize that although the vision is real, it is not real in us, then is the time that Satan comes in with his temptations, and we are apt to say it is no use to go on. Instead of the vision becoming real, there has come the valley of humiliation.

“Life is not as idle ore,
but iron dug from central gloom
and battered by the shocks of doom
to shape and use.”

God gives us the vision, then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give up. Every vision will be made real if we will have patience. Think of the enormous leisure of God! He is never in a hurry. We are always in such a frantic hurry. In the light of the glory of the vision we go forth to do things, but the vision is not real in us yet; and God has to take us into the valley, and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the place where He can trust us with the veritable reality. Ever since we had the vision God has been at work, getting us into the shape of the ideal, and over and over again we escape from His hand and try to batter ourselves into our own shape.

The vision is not a castle in the air, but a vision of what God wants you to be. Let Him put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision. Don’t lose heart in the process. If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.”

Oswald Chambers

“Dulcinea”

Man of La Mancha LPSeveral weeks ago, I saw a movie that completely blew my mind.  The film was “Matthew: The Visual Bible” and  the actor who played Matthew and narrated the film was Richard Kiley. Hearing his voice again took me all the way back to childhood.  Well the truth is, when the movie began, I started jumping around the living room shouting, “Don Quixote is Matthew!?!?!” over and over and over again.  As an opera singer, I’d love to tell you that the first musical influence in my life was Placido Domingo or Luciano Pavarotti, but the truth is, Richard Kiley introduced me to music.  I was a kid in grade school when my father’s job transferred our whole family to New Jersey for one year – 1966.  I didn’t know what musical theater was and was delighted when Dad took us to see Richard Kiley who delivered the performance of a life time as Don Quixote in the Broadway musical, “Man of La Mancha. “  I was absolutely transfixed and I remember that night as the most exciting and meaningful experience of my young life. That performance of “Man of La Mancha” had a major impact on my life as it was during that performance I realized my future just had to include story-telling through music in some form or other.  Little did I know where that desire would eventually take me.  In those days, music was recorded onto LP records and believe it or not, I still have that recording of “La Mancha” in its bright yellow jacket.  OH, what fun it has been to listen to that album over and over again during the last several weeks. I”m sure my neighbors are sick to death of hearing me sing all the parts.  HA!

For those not familiar with “Man of La Mancha,” it’s actually a story within a story. Sixteenth-century writer, Miguel de Cervantes, is thrown into prison during the Spanish Inquisition and in order to keep the other prisoners from stealing everything he has brought with him into captivity, Cervantes entertains them with the story of Don Quixote, a delusional old man who believes he is a knight on his quest to right unrightable wrongs.

What I particularly latched onto during the performance was the concept of “Dulcinea.” Aldonza was the female lead’s name and she was a woman who had lived through the ugly, harsh side of life and was treated accordingly.  She was called a “whore” in the musical, and as child I did not understand what that word meant, but I knew that Aldonza should never have been treated as poorly as she was.  When Don Quixote lays eyes on her for the first time, he looks past the tragedy that has become her existence, only sees her beauty and perfection and calls her his lady, Dulcinea.   As a child, I struggled with self-esteem issues from a very early age.  Most people I know have had similar struggles – maybe it’s just part of the human condition as we all try to negotiate the fractured, broken creation in which we live.  When I heard Quixote call her Dulcinea, I started wondering if anyone in my life would ever see who I am underneath all the self-esteem issues that plagued me and see me for the beautiful little girl I so wanted to be.

And that brings me back to the film, “Matthew.”  I had never really associated Jesus and Don Quixote, but I think there are similarities.  The Jesus I saw portrayed in the film looked right past the imperfections and the ugly things life had done to people and saw only the beauty of who God created each individual to be.  As I watched the film, I took that personally.  I knew the portrayal of a joyful, passionate, intimate, affectionate Jesus in the film was Truth and I also realized that Jesus looks at me the same way Quixote looked at Aldonza.  Jesus sees each of us as His exquisite treasure, no matter how many ways life has beaten us down and scarred us.  He loves us with an intimate, passionate love that defies description.

At the end of “La Mancha,” Aldonza’s boss wants her to return to “work” but she refuses saying that her name is no longer Aldonza, but is now Dulcinea.  My life and broken dreams look very, very different from those of Aldonza”s, but unconditional love has affected us both in similar ways. The ramifications of how God used actor, Bruce Marchiano’s,  portrayal of Jesus in “Matthew – The Visual Bible” to deliver Christ”s unconditional love, affection and joy into my heart are too deep and vast to go into in the confines of this particular blog.  But I will say this.  God reached into my heart, broken by life”s disappointments, and massaged healing into the deepest recesses of my soul. It has been as profound a thing as I”ve ever experienced and just one of the results is that I can now see myself through the eyes of Don Quixote . . . or more importantly, through the eyes of my Savior, Jesus.  Everyone calls me Marcia, but my name is Dulcinea.

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