I will never forget the day my hair fell out. A couple of weeks after my first chemo treatment, clumps of hair fell from my head as I stood in the shower. I knew it would happen. I expected it to happen. Even so, when it actually did happen, a mixture of shock and grief filled me, making my eyes water as hair continued to fall at my feet, handfuls at a time.
Another wave of sadness came over me as I pressed the clippers to my scalp and shaved off the rest of my hair. I stared for a long time at my reflection—bald and a long mastectomy scar across my chest—and then lifted my chin with a resolve to be strong and carry on.
I will also never forget the weeks after infusions. There are always a couple of bad days when you don’t want to get out of bed. You feel like you’re dying as the poison courses through your body, killing all the cancer cells it finds, taking other things as collateral damage—like your taste buds, your white blood cells, your hair, your strength. And then you wake up the next day and find yourself feeling better, thankful that you can walk down the stairs and join the family for breakfast that morning. Suddenly everything seems cheery and hopeful again.
To be honest, since receiving my breast cancer diagnosis, I have not once despaired. God has been faithful. God’s demonstration of love for me during this season has been indescribable. God drove to Costco and brought dinners over for our family. God ordered pizza from a local place and had it delivered to our door, tip included. God borrowed our minivan and took our kids to the mall and fed them lunch. God drove more than six hours to take me to my first chemo treatment. God paid for housecleaning services. God sent email after email, text after text with prayers of encouragement, telling me that I’m loved and precious in God’s sight. God has indeed been faithful through God’s people, the body of Christ.
No, I have not despaired—but I did grieve. Boy, did I grieve.
We were on our way to lead our district staff retreat. The car was filled to the brim with our four kids, my parents (who had flown into town the day before), enough spaghetti to feed five families, everybody’s luggage, and a couple of guitars. Albert and I got into our typical practice of bickering before a trip: “we should have left earlier” and “we’re going to hit traffic” and “did you remember to take out the garbage?” Without warning, something snapped inside me. Like a dam breaking loose after a torrential rainfall, all the stress and heaviness and anxiety and sorrow spilled over, and I started crying—no, sobbing, even wailing—at the top of my lungs. My shoulders started heaving as I sputtered out, “I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to go! I’m just too tired!”
I cried and cried. We turned the car around, went back home, and I went to my room and cried some more.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling emotionally and physically spent. In the dark, I reached for my phone and found a text that a dear friend had sent.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9–10).
Out of the hundred times I have read this verse, it never moved me the way it did that night. I felt an overwhelming peace and purpose for my suffering. The Lord’s promises covered me like a blanket, and my broken, beat-up body felt whole again.
Sharing our sacred stories serves a vital purpose in our lives. It lifts our experiences to be bigger than ourselves and connects us to each other and to God.
Telling you this story has magnified God’s love for me. I am deeply stirred by God’s faithfulness as I recollect all the ways God has held me close during this challenging season. It makes me pause and consider the works of God’s hand, and I can’t help but sit still in God’s presence and shout out praises to his name. I pray that reading my story has stirred something in your hearts as well, that stories of God’s faithfulness in your own life have risen to the surface, urging you likewise to praise his name.
Sharing our sacred stories serves a vital purpose in our lives. It lifts our experiences to be bigger than ourselves and connects us to each other and to God. Here are just some of the reasons we should practice sacred storytelling:
1. Sacred storytelling helps us connect with our experiences in a way that brings life and transformation. Renowned writer Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” There is something therapeutic about telling our stories. It brings sense and awareness to complicated situations. It brings perspective that both shrinks our problems to a manageable size and broadens the scope, giving us the ability to see beyond ourselves. Clarity, for me, comes most effectively by sharing my story with someone or writing it down on paper. I rarely get “aha” moments out of the blue. It is usually when I story tell that I am released from the emotional grip of a situation and can grow from the lessons learned.
2. Sacred storytelling helps us connect with others in a way that strengthens common bonds and friendship. I’ve seen it time and time again. When people share their stories and others hold their pain, friendships deepen. This quote by Jimmy Neil Smith, the director of International Storytelling Center, expresses it perfectly: “We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.” Listening to each other’s stories uncovers the universal themes of human struggle that we all share, and suddenly we don’t feel so alone and isolated. After my cancer diagnosis, cancer survivors came out of the woodwork and shared their stories with me. Their resilience gave me strength to weather what was ahead. I learned from their experiences, feeling a closeness with all of them, even those individuals I barely knew.
3. Sacred storytelling helps us connect with God in a way that gives us hope and brings glory and honor to God’s name. When Joshua led God’s people across the Jordan River on dry ground, the Lord instructed them to pick up twelve stones from the middle of the river and use them to build an altar (see Joshua 4). Whenever their descendants inquired about the twelve stones, the people of Israel were to tell them about the mighty works of the Lord’s hand—that he dried up the river before their very eyes so they could cross over. This story was to be passed down from generation to generation.
What would you consider to be one of these standing stones in your own life? What has been a tangible display of God’s goodness and might? What evidence would spur others to follow the Lord through any trial or tribulation? My shiny, bald head is my standing stone. I recently took a picture of my bald self and posted it on social media. That post got more responses than anything I’ve ever posted. People lifted me up with prayers of encouragement, praises to the Lord, and words of hope.
Sacred storytelling is like an oyster’s pearl. Like the grains of sand inside an oyster, moments of discomfort and pain accumulate over a lifetime until they form a precious treasure—but we need eyes to see and ears to hear the grace of God in every circumstance. Sharing our stories is like stringing these pearls together into a strand that reflects the beauty of the Lord.