“The most powerful words in the English language are ‘tell me a story,’” says Pat Conroy. Today’s episode contains two relationship stories that illustrate the power of doing something small that achieves something big.
I can’t seem to get the episode from two weeks ago out of my mind, #21, “The Most Important Relationship of all.” The relationship story I talked about certainly is an active part of my life, but it’s the quote of the week that lately seems to be following me around wherever I go, like a needy lap dog.
We need to remind each other of our own stories.
It comes from page 82 of the book I wrote a few years ago, THEM. I’m seeing the truth of that statement all over again in new ways. I’m realizing how it can go a long way in giving us the relationships we were made for.
Keep reading to find out how.
If you listened to episode 16, “Two Ways to Care for a Missionary,” You may recall the story of Larry and Jill, who went to Borneo with $75 in their pocket, $100 “promised” monthly support and the rock-solid guarantee from the Lord Jesus ringing in their ears, ‘I will always be with you.’” Yeah, that Larry and Jill, that Jill with her insatiable appetite for ….. ice cubes - her one great weakness.
Jill recently wrote to tell Janet and me how honored she felt to be mentioned in that podcast, and also to remind us of another story about our relationship, that I while I remembered it, never really think about it anymore. Here is what she wrote:
“One of my favorite memories that illustrates how you two love and care for your missionary friends is ‘The Christmas Story.’
"Larry and I were transitioning from 33 years overseas in Asia to Florida, a central location for our widening international travel and ministries. We were ‘between homes’…OK, basically homeless at that point. And it was just a few weeks before Christmas - my favorite holiday. Which you guys knew.
"So when we showed up on your doorstep with our numerous heavy suitcases, you led us downstairs to the beautiful guest suite - complete with a live decorated Christmas tree! I will never forget your thoughtfulness and generosity…just the comforting feeling of being truly welcomed and cared for by friends.”
Jill reminded me of my own story, just like the relationship quote from episode 21 encourages us to do.
I share it here for three reasons. First, because it reminds me of how many times in relationships, when we do something small for someone it will often yield big results. Small is the new large.
To go out and get an extra Christmas trip was really no big deal for us. It was a 2 on our effort meter, but it registered a 10 on their love and appreciation scale. It started with Janet and me thinking about their transition….saying goodbye to 33 years in Asia and moving back to this vastly different culture. Saying goodbye to your home at one end of the world, with no replacement home lined up at the other end. And to do so at Christmas time must have made it all the more difficult. I recount this story because I hope it stimulates you to think of something small you can do to bless others.
The second reason I share it, is that by Jill reminding Janet and me of our own story, it encourages me that I am making progress in becoming the person I was made to be. And want to be. It encourages me to think small, to think of small things I can do to bless people. it encourages me to think more of others than I am normally inclined to do, and that I am capable of being more like this than I am normally inclined to behave.
A third point to this story is that there is joy in our story being part of the joy in another person’s story. There is joy in knowing that we can bless people in small ways that they may well remember many years later, long after you stop thinking about what you initially did to bless them. You can’t buy this kind of joy!
Hopefully it will encourage you to do the same thing, because when you bring joy into another’s life, you often receive joy back in return.
Another example of being reminded of my own story occurred earlier this year in January when Janet and I visited my sister Karen in Florida. When you live in Wisconsin it’s a wonderful thing in January to have a sister living in Florida.
Because Janet and I started a new decade of life this year, my sister took it upon herself to organize a birthday celebration for the two of us. It was all quite secret up to the last minute. Karen and I are bookends among our siblings. I am the oldest and she is the youngest. Eleven years separate us. Our parents died over 10 years ago, and I feel a bit like the patriarch of the family, and Janet the matriarch.
Karen, my sister, and my sister-in-law, took us out for brunch on a Sunday afternoon, where we meet my brother Joe and his kids all married now, with kids of their own. Our daughter Jennifer and her husband Tim also showed up from South Carolina.
At the brunch Karen passed out paddles she fashioned with 5 x7 head shot photos of Janet and me, pasted back to back on the end of what looked like a huge tongue depressor a doctor would use on a man the size of Shaquille O’Neal. My photo was taken when I was 13 and had hair, Janet’s was more recent. Everyone started waving the paddles, rotating the photos back and forth. It was great fun. Even the waitress enjoyed it.
After we ate we headed to my brother Joe’s new home where they sang “Happy Birthday,” then blew out the candles on the birthday cake. All the traditional stuff you do at a birthday party. What happened next, however, was anything but traditional.
Weeks before this birthday get together, Karen wrote to everyone in our family, inviting them to this gathering, but knowing most of them could not make it because of the distance and expense. But she asked for people to send her a favorite memory they have of Janet and me. She got 48 email responses, some people sharing several favorite memories. She then typed those responses on a small folding note cards and had Janet and I read them aloud.
[Listen to episode for responses from our own kids, nieces, and my brother and sisters]
What Karen did in organizing this event for Janet and me was to remind us of our own stories. Some of these I have no memory of, others I recall fondly. The whole event did three things for me, one was to appreciate even more my younger sister Karen and all the work she did to put this together. Contacting everyone, methodically typing each of their favorite memories onto the note cards, assembling the paddles with our photos. This was all very labor intensive. And there was a fair bit of expense, too.
Secondly, it told me that Janet and I made more of an impact on members of my family than I realized. It told me that people noticed and we made a difference in their lives, if nothing more than a found memory. And fond memories are worth something.
And finally, and most importantly, what my little sister did was set an example I can follow in my other relationships by reminding my friends of their own story. To remind them of their stories to encourage them and honor them, as Karen did with Janet and me. So here’s to little sisters!
Before I close, here’s the he main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence
We can be agents of joy when we remind others of how our story is part of their story - because after all, we were made for this.
Here’s a way you can respond to today’s show
Who is someone you can remind of their own story? It doesn’t need to be a big party like my little sister arranged, although that was really a lot of fun. It can be something as simple as writing a note to share a favorite memory you have of someone. Like our friend Jill did for Janet and me when she told us her favorite Christmas memory with us. Imagine if we all did this, even just once. You were made to do this, you know. I’m going to give it a try myself this week. How about you? Please let me know how this goes for you.
Coming up next week
We will reflect on some of the listener responses we’ve been getting that will hopefully stimulate your thinking about relationships to make them the best they can be.
Relationship Quote of the Week
The most powerful words in the English language are "tell me a story,” - Pat Conroy
Remember, you were made for this. Life-giving, fulling relationships. We’re here together to learn how. See you next week. Bye for now.
Resources mentioned in today’s show
Episode 21 The Most Important Relationship of All
THEM - The Richer Life Found in Caring for Others