McEntyre (2009) in her book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, tells us that good stories are gifts (111) and often provide a window of healing after we have been wounded (115). Matthew Paul Turner, in his book, the Coffeehouse Gospel, shares that personal life stories are an effective tool to share Christ in a relevant way. I would suggest that words, carefully and intentionally chosen, create the stories that inform, nourish, and entertain. Shared, our stories are the bread and water Jesus invites us to give to others.
Sharing stories started for me when I was young. I created dramas and my friends paid a penny to take a seat on the grass and watch shadow dramas through my mother’s freshly laundered sheets. Other times, I used magnets under a cardboard stage to move characters. I believe this love of sharing stories enabled me to connect with people as I grew older and traveled and lived in various countries.
After our family arrived in West Africa in the 1960s, I began reading stories written by African authors, such as Steve Biko, Camara Laye, Sembene Ousmane, Wilton Sankawulo, Wole Soyinka, and more. In Liberia, I learned the Ananse spider stories that became the foundation for the Uncle Remus stories of Brer Bear and Brer Rabbit. In Sierra Leone, I took my turn sharing stories around the evening circle at funerals. In Ghana, I became part of an Akan family and listened each week to my Asante grandfather tell stories of the family, the tribe, the nation, and the world, all in one of the Kwa languages, Asante Twi.
I am saddened when I realize that many of the traditional stories are disappearing and the story tellers are not being replaced due to linguistic genocide (Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000). As entire people groups and their stories are fading away, the world is left with fewer words and limited insights with which to share even our own stories.
Setting aside what is happening in my life and reading the stories of others has been a tremendous help to me. Anaïs Nin instructs us that “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” McEntyre stresses the importance of revisiting stories (115), whether for comfort, encouragement, or a reminder of some previous time (116). For me, when major tragedies began to strike my family, I read stories of personal loss and interpretations by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Jerry Gladson, and Rusty Berkus. As I studied heroes and misfits in American literature at Ohio State University under Professor Patrick B. Mullen, author of I Heard the Old Fisherman Say, I could relate to the stories of those Ohio citizens who were disoriented as they “came across the river on the outhouse door!” They were taking risks and entering unknown waters. So was I.
What about the biblical stories? Living and re-living Bible stories also changed my perspective. Reading the story of the Woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-37), for example, took on new meaning each time I turned to the story. The first time, I saw the lesson of “kindness comes back.” Then, when her son appears to have died, her words, “It shall be well!” kept him alive. Psycholinguist Timothy Leary states “Words freeze reality” and truly this woman’s son would have been declared dead had she acknowledged that he was no longer breathing.
Later, when things were not going well, I read again and saw where the Shunammite clung to the prophet and would not let go, teaching “Hang on until Jesus returns.” None of this replaced the losses in my life; however, I learned to look for those Christ-sent windows (McEntyre, 115) and a different faith has provided the frame within that gives me a different hope.
Thinking again of the value of re-reading stories, the story of the Woman of Shunem in particular, I recently reread it from the perspective of the prophet and his helper. Jeremiah pictures Gehazi, Elisha’s assistant, to be a failure; he could not heal the boy, even with the prophet’s rod in hand. Yet, Elisha does not embarrass Gehazi. The prophet empowers him with the words of victory. The power of words!
Each of us has a story. Each of us has been “through things” and, if we are truthful with our memories, we have stories to share. Each of us must be a good steward and share those stories when someone who is in need of a unique “cup of water and slice of bread.”
Nin, Anaïs (Retrieved 2006, 2014, from
McEntyre, Marilyn C. (2009). Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. Grand Rapids, MI:
Mullen, Patrick. B. (1978). I Heard the Old Fishermen Say: Folklore of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Austen, TX: University of Texas Press.
Skutnabbb-Kangas, Tove (2000). Linguistic Genocide in Education—or Worldwide Diversity
and Human Rights? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Airbaum Associates.
Trent, Tererai (2017). The Awakened Woman: Remembering & Reigniting Our Sacred Dreams.
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Turner, Matthew P. (2004). The Coffeehouse Gospel. Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Books.