Why Knowing Someone’s Story Will Make Your Life Better

How well do you know the story of the life of the people you encounter most? Do you really know the stories of the people you work with or for, your classmates, or your neighbors? I recently heard an interview with the pastor of a very large church. In the interview he told about the time he took his staff on a retreat. To start it all off he revealed to everyone the biggest struggles he faced as he carried out his ministry. He made himself vulnerable as he publicly related his biggest difficulties. Then he asked everyone there to share their own biggest struggles in ministry.


To his surprise, one member of the staff told the story about how he and his fiancé had been on a fishing trip. Somehow they got caught in a storm and she got tossed overboard. He did everything he could to rescue her, but she drowned. To his chagrin, the pastor leading the retreat had never heard that man’s story before. It completely changed the way he viewed the man. It made him respect the guy’s work infinitely more. It drew the two of them closer together.

Our lives are made better when we know the stories of the people in our lives. My work as a pastor has me on constant alert for the stories of the people I serve. Sometimes I hear them “through the grapevine,” but I’d rather hear them straight from the people who have lived them. The other day I had just that opportunity. To protect privacy, let’s just say the story included a failed friendship which led to stolen identity and financial loss. It was heartbreaking to sit and listen to it.

But it also drew me closer to the person telling the story. Now I know how I can better serve. Now I know how I can better help. Now I know how to be more sensitive. Now I know the struggles of the person’s life so that we can together all the more greatly celebrate the victories that will most certainly come along as well.

Knowing the story of the people near you will make your life better in these ways:

  1. You will be known as a caring person. The people I have most loved and respected in my life are the ones who have spoken to me in a crowded room — and listened — as though I were the only one there. They knew me and accepted me as I was.  I knew that I was important to them. When you know the story of a person’s life you show that you care.
  2. You will be educated in nontraditional ways. When you pay attention to — and know — the stories of others you have the benefit of learning from their mistakes. Not only that, but you can find out how others achieve their goals, how they deal with sorrow, and how they learn new things. In short, it’s educational to pay attention to stories.
  3. You will be inspired. Listening to the stories of others often leads to a recognition of the triumph of the human spirit. So often we have no idea the trials someone faces until they tell us. Those stories frequently include the ways in which obstacles have been overcome and hurdles have been cleared. Listen and be inspired to overcome your own obstacles and clear your own hurdles.

If you want to learn more about the whole idea of how “story” can enrich your life, check out Donald Miller’s Storyline BlogIn the blog, Donald Miller and friends enrich us with their stories and bring value to our lives.

What’s the best “story” you’ve ever heard from someone close to you?

5 Blogs You Ought to Be Reading

At the Apple Store today I received incredible service from an employee who just happens to be a young, upstart filmmaker. I give the guy all kinds of credit for following his passion and pursuing his dream. He and a couple of friends are starting their own company even as we speak. I have a heart for young people who are doing the one thing they are passionate about. We have two children who are doing just that.

So while we were talking and closing the transaction, I wanted to do whatever I could to help him out. I recommended that he sign up to receive Seth Godin’s blog every day. I know for a fact that if he reads it, and follows what Seth says, it will help his young company thrive. Godin’s advice isn’t always easy, but it’s always right on target.

It dawned on me that since I have been on Twitter, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined from some fantastic blogs that I discovered there. I want you to reap the benefits, too. So here is a list of five blogs that I almost can’t live without. Pick and choose the ones that are best for you. They may not all fit your station in life, but there just may be one that does.

1. Seth Godin This blog, by the bestselling author if Linchpin and Purple Cow, comes to your inbox every single day. It has to do with marketing, standing out, doing life and business in a purple cow kind of way in this web 2.0 world.

2. Michael Hyatt This blog on Christian leadership applies even to those who don’t feel as though they are leaders. It applies to many areas of life, and may just get you to carry out your own “life plan.”

3. Allison Vesterfelt  Ally’s writing tugs at my heart just about every time I read it. Her blog is so diverse that both my 23-year-old daughter and I love it. You will think deeper thoughts about both yourself and your faith life when you read this blog.

4. Jon Acuff This bestselling author of Stuff Christians Life and Quitter is brilliantly funny with perceptive commentary on the Christian faith and life.

5. Donald Miller Another bestselling author, Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz (which is now also a feature film) and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Now he has rebranded himself to encourage people to “live better stories.” If you read his blog you almost certainly will.

Click one of the links above and begin exploring. Your day will be better for it. Your life may even be better for it.

Which blog would you recommend that others read?

How Consistency Creates a Sweet Swing and Artistic Hits

To put it mildly, the New York Yankees are not my favorite baseball team. My dislike for them goes back to the days that the Milwaukee Brewers were members with them of the American League. Their dominance, buy-a-championship ways, and cockiness have only fueled my fire.

I was certainly not the first to stand up and cheer when Derek Jeter recently reached the 3000 hit milestone. But I was intrigued by an article in the Wall Street Journal that shared a secret of his hitting success.

It came out of the mouth of Tampa Bay Rays manager, Joe Maddon. What he saw in Derek Jeter over all these years was:


 “Guys always want to change guys, or if they struggle a little bit, they say, ‘Let’s change his stance, let’s try this, let’s try that.’ The really good guys look the same out of high school as they do 15 years later. And that’s pretty cool,” the Rays manager said.

Apparently Jeter’s stance looks the same now as it did when he was scouted by Major League scouts when he was in high school. Already then he was building a foundational swing that, with consistency, would make him a hall of fame hitter. Though there was temptation all along the way to tweak and change his stance or his swing, Jeter always went back with consistency to the foundation he had built.

Even in creativity, there is something to be said for consistency. Certain talents, traits, and God-given gifts build the foundation for art and creativity that is distinct and unique only to you. Step too far outside your own box or comfort zone and you may be wasting precious time and material.

Creativity demands trying something new, something different, something that may be viewed as inconsistent. But an approach to creativity that includes the consistency of practice, or a certain talent, or a specific routine, could make you a hall of fame creative.

Start with a firm foundation, a great stance, or a sweet swing, and fantastic art will flow from it in every direction. Consistency matters.

Where do you see consistency helping your creative life?

It’s Live!

When was the last time you went to see a play, musical, or show? I sincerely hope it hasn’t been too long. If it’s been a while, there’s a piece of you that needs to be awakened…and will be as a result.

I liken seeing the live performance of a play or musical to having something resurrected within me. As I sit and watch I feel joy, get chills, experience pathos and sadness, and see myself reflected in the story. I get to view life from a different perspective. I see the human experience up close. I am a richer person having had the opportunity to lose myself in a live story, re-presented by living, breathing people.

One of my favorite quotes about theatre comes from Cathleen McGuigan, who wrote a piece for Newsweek:

The experience of theater is one of the few satisfying live entertainments available in our virtual culture. There’s nothing quite like the risky thrill of sharing a space with breathing, sweating actors—with no possibility of editing, photoshopping, voice dubbing or blue-screen special effects. The relationship between the characters onstage and each member of the audience who’s willing to suspend disbelief is a unique, delicate and deeply personal experience.

I got to experience that again recently as I watched a young lady do a cabaret type performance the Senior Project of her B.F.A. in acting. (Disclaimer: No, it wasn’t my daughter…although she did have a small part in one of the pieces.) The actress used the cabaret format to explore love and relationships from the female perspective. She did songs from 110 in the Shade, Guys and Dolls, The Last Five Years, Into the Woods, Avenue Q, and Legally Blonde. I learned some new songs. I was drawn in by her emotion. I thought about life in a different way. As the actors said on an old Saturday Night Live skit: “I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.”

The great thing about live theatre is just that: It’s Live! It not only brings a story to life, it brings life to a story. It draws the audience in and asks each member to do two seemingly contradictory things at the same time: 1. Suspend disbelief; and 2. Believe that the story is her or his own.

I guess that’s why whenever I watch most any kind of (good) live performance I feel more alive myself. I feel tears welling up as the performance brings to the surface heartaches and hard times in my own life. I feel exhilaration as the performance brings to the surface particular joys from my own life. I find myself re-thinking a situation in my own life as I see it literally being played out on stage. I even feel melancholy as the performance drudges up my own regrets, failures, or simply a time that has long since passed. Even the melancholy that I feel makes me feel living and alive.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that theatre expresses emotion and shows the diamond facets of life. It’s living. And it’s live. And I love it.

What is it that makes you feel truly alive? What particular performance drew something new out of you?

Back to the Backstory

I love a good backstory. It’s surprising. It’s scintillating. It takes the hard edges of a story and makes them soft.

ESPN and former Sports Illustrated writer, Rick Reilly, is the master of the backstory. I was reminded of it again when I read this. It’s the story of Chris Paul, the NBA star, who lost his beloved grandfather to a brutal beating by some early teen-aged hoodlums, just to get the man’s wallet.

The surprising part is the backstory about Chris Paul himself. The backstory is about Paul’s grief; about his humility; about his compassion. He was the president of his high school class three years running. He’s the one other people want around at important moments of life. And now, even though some of the criminals have been sentenced to life in prison, he wants the people who killed his grandfather to be set free.

He hates that they’re in prison. He hates that they will never see the outside world again. He hates that their lives are ruined.

It’s surprising. It’s scintillating. It takes the hard edges off of the story and makes them soft.

I’m the last person in the world to care one whit about NBA basketball. I don’t like the personalities. I don’t like the perceived laziness. I just don’t like the game.

But through the backstory of Chris Paul, Rick Reilly has made me care. He’s made me care about at least one NBA player who seems to be a genuinely good guy. I don’t necessarily agree with what Paul is pushing for, but it’s not mine to have a say one way or another. It was Chris’s grandfather that was murdered. Not mine.

I found all that surprising and scintillating. It took the hard edges off of just another NBA story and made them soft enough for me to care.

It’s an important lesson for writers and creatives:

  • Dig a little bit
  • Everyone has a story
  • People love stories
  • Stories connect
  • Stories draw people in
  • Surprising stories bring surprising reactions from readers

Go check out Rick Reilly’s writing. It’s filled with wonderful backstories.

Someday I’ll tell you the backstory about the mini-bike crash that made me lie to my parents. It’s surprising. It’s scintillating. It takes the hard edges of a story and makes them soft.

What’s a good backstory you’ve heard? How do you use backstories to enhance your creativity?

Face to Face

When was the last time you sat down with some one face-to-face, one-on-one, with no other good purpose than simply to get to know them (better)? It’s amazing what you learn. By doing so, I have learned things I may have never known.

Learning these new things has enhanced my life. I have come to appreciate different perspectives. In a world of Bing and Google, I have come to new knowledge without looking at a computer screen. I have learned that wisdom, connections, and creativity come from the depths of flesh and blood.

In one day I sat with three completely different people:

  1. A person going through a major difficulty in life told me that he has learned that what is even more difficult is to see others who have no faith and no church. What perspective was brought from an unfortunate situation.
  2. A pastor from a different denomination taught me the finer points of church polity and offered unexpected encouragement that was really needed. A helpful introduction to someone else is also going to come about as the result of our face-to-face meeting.
  3. A person who deals with central city children each and every day taught me once again about homes and situations that I can only imagine…and hope to change.

In a fast-paced, technologically-driven world, we far too often pass up or fly right by face-to-face, one-on-one meetings. It’s a shame. There is much to be missed. There is much to be learned. There is much wisdom to be gained. There is much creativity to be sparked. There are many connections to be made.

I challenge you to sit down today, face-to-face, one-on-one, with another person…even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.

  • Ask probing and specific questions.
  • Avoid “yes or no” questions.
  • Explore something about the person you had never known before.
  • Keep your mouth closed for a while and simply listen.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s seat.
  • Try to discover one new thing about the person herself or himself.
  • Try to discover one new thing you can learn from the person.
  • Following the meeting, discern the creative spark that was lit as a result of the face-to-face.

What have you learned from having a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation?

My Two Heroes

I met two heroes today. One is at the far side of life. The other is on the near side.

Hero #1 regaled me with stories about his selfless acts of heroism in the 4th Infantry Division in World War II. He gave nearly four years of his life to the Army. He was stationed in England during the German bombings of London. He landed at Normandy on D-Day.

Hero #1 spent thirty days living in a hole he dug himself in the middle of the German Hurtgen Forest. It was winter. For nearly all of the thirty days he was wet from his feet to his knees. At one point, his fiancè (now his wife) sent him a baked chicken in the mail (!), and he ate it with delight (It hadn’t spoiled!). He nearly lost his life at least three times. Once, a shell aimed at his jeep went right over his head and landed in a swamp, so it didn’t detonate. Another time, his assistant driver went out in his jeep on an assignment that was supposed to be his own, and was shot in the head. He saw people right next to him die in the midst of battle.

Hero #1 came home and got married. He got a 45 day leave to do so. Following his honeymoon he went back to camp and was supposed to ship out to invade Japan, but then the Japanese surrendered. He was sent home.

Hero #1 was just informed that he will be placed on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., in April. He, along with other heroes, will have an all expenses paid trip to Washington to see the World War II Memorial, amongst other things. He deserves it.

My hero.

Hero #2 can’t yet speak for himself so his mother spoke for him. He has been in the hospital for the majority of his not-yet-three-month life. Hero #2 has a rare disease called Hyperinsulinism. It means that in his young life his pancreas is producing too much insulin. They are finding it difficult to keep his sugars at the right level. He may need a portion of his pancreas removed and/or be on medication the rest of his life.

But that’s not all. Hero #2 has had rapid breathing since the day he was born, the source of which the doctors can’t seem to figure out.

But that’s not all. Hero #2 has a little dimple at the base of his spine that’s an indication that something might be “tethering” to his spine. It could hurt the development of his legs. If that’s the case, he will need surgery for it.

But that’s not all. Tomorrow he is having a CT-Scan and an MRI to determine whether his skull is developing correctly. If it’s not, they may have to do surgery to break the bones in his skull and set them properly.

Hero #2’s mom and dad, grandma and grandpa are getting to know far more medical terminology than they ever wanted to know. They are getting to know the hospital staff far better than they ever wanted to. They are getting tired of leaving Hero #2 at the hospital every night so that they can go home and get some sleep.

Hero #2 was just informed that he will have to be put on an Honor Flight of his own. He has to go to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to have a test and possible surgery for his Hyperinsulinism. It’s an Honor Flight Hero #2’s parent’s would rather he not have to take.

My hero.

Through it all, the only way you can say it is that he has been a “little trooper.” Between the tears, fears, and frustration, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, have been trusting and faithful through it all. They are my heroes, too.

Two heroes: One on the far side of life, the other on the near side. But both heroes to me. I am thankful for them both, and praying for them both. They have both taught me that life is a precious gift of the Creator.

It’s not often you meet two heroes in one day.

Who are your heroes, and what have they taught you?

A Story of Grace

A true story:

Once upon a time there was a faithful school principal. Like most every school principal in his day and age he faced shrinking receipts and growing bills. Mr. Faithful Principal’s school provided quality education for children who came from far and wide. Despite shrinking receipts and growing bills the school was appreciated by grateful parents. It was a godsend.

One such set of parents had sent their little first grader to Mr. Faithful Principal’s school. He hadn’t done well at his previous school, so these parents thought a change of venue might help the child. 

Lo and behold, Little First Grader made great strides.  It was not only the change of venue that brought improvement, it was the quality teachers and staff. Little First Grader’s Father called Mr. Faithful Principal to see if there was anything he could do for the school.

Mr. Faithful Principal invited Little First Grader’s Father to his office to discuss this generous offer. In the conversation Mr. Faithful Principal noted that the school was looking to upgrade its math curriculum the following school year.

Little First Grader’s Father asked what would be the price of such a proposition. Mr. Faithful Principal said that it would be in the realm of $10,000 smackeroos.

Little First Grader’s Father got out his checkbook and wrote a check. It was in the amount of $11,000 smackeroos (Note Well: ELEVEN thousand) to Mr. Faithful Principal’s school. The End.

That’s the abundant nature of God’s grace: Always more than is hoped for, expected, or deserved.

How have you seen God’s abundant grace in your life?

Re:Creating Life

In this ongoing series I am recapping the incredible speakers I experienced at re:create 11, a conference for “creatives” in Franklin, Tennessee. If this blog were on a piece of paper you would probably see tear stains on it. Ken Davis is certainly in the top five public speakers I have heard or witnessed in my life. For me it wasn’t so much what he said (although it, too, was fanstastic), as it was how he said it. And it brought literal tears to my eyes.

I noticed that the notes I took during his talk mostly failed me, because I was so enthralled in what Ken was saying and how he was saying it. Nonetheless, here are some of the things I jotted down:

  • There is an exhilaration you feel when you’re doing what God had in mind when He spoke you into existence.
  • Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
  • Ben Franklin: “Many men die at 25 and aren’t buried until they’re 75.”
  • Switchfoot: “I wanna wake up kicking and screaming.”
  • This life is not a waiting room for eternal life.
  • A sign of life is discipline.
  • Do what you do to live, not because it’s a living.
  • The opposite of discipline is death.
  • If you proclaim anything you will be criticized.
  • Fail quickly; get it over with.
  • Failure is the ticket to success.
  • Confidence is using your giftedness according to God’s purpose.
  • Take chances and risks.
  • “Signs of life” are relationships.

At this point, Ken began to speak about his own relationships. He introduced us to his family and his grandchildren. He told us about what he called his “Fairy Granddaughters.” He spoke about them with humor, passion, compassion, and the kind of love only a grandfather can have for his grandchildren. He engaged us by allowing us to get to know them all. I was drawn in deeply because I saw my own family in his.

And he told a story. It was a story about his granddaughter getting lost on a mountain in Colorado. The story was captivating because it was filled with “real life” situations, humor, tension, humor, exhilaration, humor, relief, and humor. This is the part of the talk when I found myself wiping away tears. I was identifying completely with the speaker and feeling the arms of the story being wrapped around me. I saw my own love and passion for my children, the way Ken has love and passion for his grandchildren.

It was a bold and blatant reminder that one of the greatest reasons to be alive is to be in relationship with those closest to you: your own family. I wasn’t taking notes at this point, but while his granddaughter was lost Ken said he found himself out in the woods on his hands and knees praying something like this: “Take my property; take everything I own; take my health; …take my life…but please bring back my granddaughter alive.”

What parent or grandparent wouldn’t pray that same prayer in a similar situation? My family is more important to me than life itself. I guess that’s why I found myself in such an emotional state at that point of the talk. I saw others wiping tears, as well (fellow re:creators, you know who you are!).

I guess Ken’s point was: God gives life in this world purpose. That purpose is filled full in many ways. One of the greatest ways is by the very people with whom we laugh and cry, sing and shout, live and breathe…the people that we call our family.

When the room was, at the end, still with the silence of incredible appreciation, Ken finished his talk with words I will never forget: “Live. For God’s sake. Live”

  • Ken had set us out to sea with self-deprecating humor.
  • He floated the bait by using interesting quotes.
  • And he set the hook by using his own story to get us to think about our own.

As Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” What is it that makes you feel fully alive?

Re:Creating Story

Last week I spent a few days at the Re:Create Conference in Franklin, Tennessee. It was probably the best conference I have ever attended. I was surrounded by fellow “creatives.” Every speaker was first rate. The music and media were sublime (and live!). The fellowship and learning opportunities were incredible. And the food was the best conference food I’ve ever had.

Best of all were the words of wisdom that I am still pondering and contemplating. Over these next few posts I’m simply going to share some quotes with you. I like thoughtful quotes and quotations. When they are easy to remember they have an impact. The best quotes spur me on to action.

Here are some quotes from our first speaker, author and communicator extraordinaire, Patsy Clairmont:

  • If you have a loss it gives you the opportunity to realize the benefit of that loss and make up for it.
  • We want to know people’s stories because: 1) In their story we want to find answers for our own life, and 2) We want to know the story-tellers’ secret to success.
  • Own your story: Be consistent with who you are and what people see you to be.
  • Creatives are good at making something that isn’t right sound good (touchè!).
  • Clairmont quoted Faulkner: “The past is never dead; it’s not even past.”
  • Make opportunities to look back and see how God has worked in your life.
  • We are closest to being most fully ourself when we are functioning in our gift.
  • Ask questions that matter; get to the heart of things.

I suppose one of the points is to pay attention to our own story, and to learn from the stories of others. Through it all, God works to carry out His own narrative, and to have His own impact on our life. As a result of this talk I hope to reflect on how God has worked in my life in the past, what it means for today, and where it’s going to lead tomorrow.

I’m also going to try and ask better questions…questions that matter. The Faulkner quote reminds us that who we are today is a product of our past. God is still working. He has used people, places, and things to mold and shape us. Ultimately, it is the narrative of His own Word that shapes us in the way the matters most: He takes sinners and makes saints.

What can you learn from your own story, and what have you learned from paying attention to the stories of others?