Are you telling a good story?

avatar
About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

To be honest, I’ve had a hard time deciding what my posts should be about post-Philippines. I just experienced poverty that, up to now, existed for me in photographs. At best, it was thousands of miles away, and therefore didn’t have much to do with me directly.

But because it does now, it feels rather strange to write about the five best ways to handle your laundry pile, or using Google Calendar to create your menu plan. Those things are helpful, and I still like learning about them.

Yet there’s more. There’s so much more. Not saying getting dinner on the table isn’t important — it is, very much so. But it’s not so terribly meaningful if you don’t make it meaningful.

How do you do that?

I’m on the plane heading back to Austin from Manila. In my half-awake stupor in Tokyo, I started browsing Amazon on my Kindle. My friend Keely told me I had to read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years; that I would love it and eat it up. So I tapped a few keys and bought it.

So now, about a third into the book as I hover somewhere over Missouri, I’m thinking about Story. More specifically, my story, and all your stories, too. What is my story? What is the point of my life?


Photo by Keely Scott

Last week, I experienced on a new level just how hard it is to tell a good story. I’m a writer, so I prize the poetry of a perfectly-used word. To me, a story is great when I think, “Man, I wish I had written that.”

I found it hard to tell my story in the Philippines. The pixel-formed words you saw on this blog didn’t adequately infuse the smell of the slums we puddled through, the eerie green glow of the water growing in the neighborhoods instead of grass. We all returned from our days in order to write to you, and by 11 p.m. or so, when I finally hit “publish,” I was beat.

It’s important to tell an important story well. There’s an injustice, I feel, when something as hauntingly wrong as poverty goes untold to those immersed in wealth. (That’s one of the reasons these Compassion blogger trips happen — so that more people know, and then hopefully take action.)

It’s just as important to live out your own story well. As Don Miller says, a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. All our lives are stories.

The question is — is your life a good story?

• Who is the protagonist in your story? You, obviously. So as the character, how are you shaping up? Are you describing yourself well to those who can read you?

• What do you want? Is it good? Is it worthy of being wanted? Do you know your purpose? Do you embrace it?

• What conflict are you overcoming to get it? Are you risking stuff? Are you taking chances to make it happen?


Status of our living room, 4 p.m. yesterday.

My family and I move again in four days. Nothing new to us. But it’s still chaotic, especially with three kids. I write what I know, what I’m going through myself, so it’s only natural for me right now to not have tons to say about the best way to hang pictures above the couch. I’m not doing it right now.

But I am thinking about my story. My family’s story. Your stories. So that’s what I’ll be writing about for the next little bit. How our stories can be more meaningful as parents, as spouses, as friends.

My family’s story includes helping release children from poverty. That’s just one part of it, of course, but it affects many other parts of our story. Where we spend, why we save, how we live, and our attitudes towards our possessions and the role we’ve been given in the Big Story… They’re all affected.

“If I have a hope, it’s that God… put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, ‘Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.‘”
-A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story

I don’t have a lot of answers today. But I have questions. Do you feel like you’re living a good story? What does that even mean? Do you think it’s possible amidst the laundry and the sticky fingers?

Join the Conversation

Comments

  1. Don Miller’s Storyline Conference starts tomorrow and I get to hope on a plane and go! Can’t wait to see what God has in store!!!!!! I read his book the week before and two weeks after the birth of my second son in October and it was life changing. Yippee! Thanks for sharing this post, Tsh!

  2. I bow to you – a beautifully written (“I wish I’d written that”) piece.

  3. Did you know that in the bible the word for compassion means several different things? One being to be moved by the suffering of others down deep in your gut or “inward parts”. http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T1369 God is doing a mighty work in my heart this week. I am moved down to my “inward parts”. And your story is now my story. I cannot look away. I must act.

  4. Good question!

    I feel like my story is on a tangent. A tangent that’s two-and-a-half feet tall and won’t go to bed.

  5. I loved that book! I do think it’s possible to live a great story in the midst of the mundane…but it’s also easy to get off track! Thanks for getting me thinking about it again.

  6. Thank you for writing …especially when you don’t feel inspired or full of practical solutions. It is these breaks in our routine that bring us invaluable perspective about our individual ‘bigger picture’. This is exactly what I needed to hear tonight–thank you!

    Blessings on your move :-)

  7. My story is preventing children from growing up lazy.

  8. Tsh, your radical change in perspective (from the Philippines trip) is so good for all of us. We are trying our darnedest to live some semblance of a story… but it’s easy to forget what that story is, or to simply be too overwhelmed by the sticky fingers and kids who won’t fall asleep.

    Thank you for sharing honestly with us your internal struggles through all this. And we’re praying for your move!

  9. Really poignant post here. I have been noticing the Phillipines story on a few different blogs, not really realising a few of you must be connected somehow until I realised, or am pretty sure, you were on the same trip. I watched a movie online on the weekend called HOME – I didn’t travel to see it with my own eyes but it definitely changed my perspective and made me think about my life, my story, on a whole new level.

    Good luck with your move! :)

  10. This is such a great reminder for all of us. In the everyday craziness of life & with our endless to do lists it is so easy to forget that we are all part of a BIGGER story. Tending to our homes, children, etc are so very important b/c God has given us these blessings for a reason. Yet like the quote you posted, God has also blessed us with the chance to live within in His story & to help create beauty for ALL of His children…whether be our neighbor down the road or those living in another country. Thanks for your post & insight!

  11. This is now my all time favorite post of yours. Lately I’ve been exploring what Brene Brown means when she says “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”

    • Love Brene Brown. Are the thoughts you are exploring from a book of hers or from her blog? And Tsh, love your post and also love DM’s book. So glad you are blogging as you read.

      • I have her book and have heard her speak, but I honestly haven’t looked at the book too much, nor her blog. I do really like her, though. I’ll have to go see what you two are talking about! :)

  12. avatar
    Whimsygirl says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the big story and the little stories that it’s made up of. I live in Missouri and my heard was broken for my neighbors devastated by the tornadoes. I felt small and inadequate that my worry for the day was saving on my grocery bill. But then God reminded me that all of those little things I do play into the bigger picture. Actually He chastised me a bit for not taking them more seriously. Was my household in order? Did I have it running smoothly enough that He could call me to leave for a time to help others? Certainly not. Was I giving a thanks offering for what I have been given by caring for it in the very best way? Umm no. Right down to my laundry. A little more time being diligent with laundry and stain removal would have resulted in more clothes that I could have sent. A well stocked pantry means I can welcome guests and care for them at a moments notice.
    It may seem like we dont have a lot to offer while we do our daily chores – but God can and does use those things for mighty big purposes.

  13. Its funny my husband and I have been talking about what we are doing with our lives. Are we doing things with our time, money, belongings etc to honor him or to conform to society and please whom ever them are. We are wanting to write a good story for Christ. We are in prayer on what that story is that He wants us to create for Him. I will have to add that book to my Amazon wish list, or perhaps pick it up from the Library and use that money for something else?

  14. Have you read Acedia and Me, Tsh? Not light by any stretch, but amazingly provocative in terms of finding the bigger story in the mundane! Thanks for this series… Now what to do with the thoughts it’s stirred up!

  15. LOVED that book, and I love hearing other women respond to that same question of how do we live a good story! Thank you for all you shared of your story in the Philippines. Always inspiring to my spirit….

  16. I too often look at how much I’m “doing” as the ruler by which to measure how “good” my story is. I find my story is best when I’m most in prayer, interceding to the One who can change not just circumstances but hearts. And that’s exactly what my 11-month-old and I did for our compassion children this morning. We prayed. Thanks for reminding me how precious these children are and how much our money, letters and prayer mean to their lives!

  17. Thanks for getting me thinking about living a good story. Letting God write my story is hard for me. Seeing God in the mundane things, like laundry and changing diapers doesn’t come naturally to me. But he’s there beckoning. And waiting for me to respond.

  18. Probably some of the best posts I’ve read on Simple Mom include the Compassion blogger posts and this one makes me stop, pause and think. I live in India and while we are blessed to be able to live a comfortable, albeit simple, life, there are many, many all around us who are in need of food, medical attention, just a kind word. I’ve gotten so used to seeing poverty around me that maybe, I’ve forgotten that I need to reach out and take action. Thank you Tsh, for reminding me.

  19. Thanks to you for the introduction to Compassion. Yesterday, the day our oldest celebrated the Lutheran Rite of Confirmation, we chose to sponsor a young boy in Uganda. The sponsorship is something we’ve discussed, as a family, for some time but didn’t know where to start. As our daughter begins her “adult” role in our church, we look forward to sharing hope and the message of God with another young child 1/2 way around the world. Thank YOU!

  20. Tsh, thank you for this post. As I’ve tried to be more diligent about my website posts, I’m finding I’m losing some of the passion and clarity in my posts. They’re becoming more about just getting it done – then telling a story that’s important. I needed your reminder.

    You have a lot of guts to talk about what you witnessed – and the feelings and discomfort you felt. I appreciate you doing this. Here’s a few things I learned that helps me keep perspective on what next . . .

    1. When I worked in the Bronx w/ women working their way out of poverty, I used to do the grunge look – uncomfortable with my access to new clothes, etc. until I realized that not enjoying and doing what we’re all striving to have diminishes everyone’s hopes and dreams. So doing laundry in a machine, not by hand in dirty water and enjoying the luxuries of your life is part of recognizing what we all want. As long as we’re aware of and thankful for these niceties.

    2. My wise husband told me early on when I was busy running around working for non-profits trying to save the world while I was falling apart myself that you can’t help anyone when you can’t help yourself. Too true. Your advice on how to manage our lives better gives us all invaluable skills and frees us more to use those skills and our resources to better support people making changes in their own lives.

    Another thing I learned through some tough self-examination, we often turn to helping other people when we have unattended business at home we’d rather not face. The tough thing is to manage both and provide real support that comes from respect for yourself, your life and for the people you’re supporting.

    Keep on trucking! Good luck on your move!

  21. I thought of A Million Miles instantly when I saw your title. What a great connection to make to your experiences (past and future).

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the trip in the coming weeks…

  22. I never quite know where the next chapter of our Story will lead us but I trust the Writer with all my heart … even so, at times the action (or inaction) leaves me breathless and a little scared. Right now is one of those times as our first furlough looms before us with all of its unknowns and the challenge of a intercontinental move with five young children.

  23. avatar
    Izabela says:

    I’ve been pondering the question of meaning of life, my story, my impact on the world a lot lately. I don’t have answers either. I do know I have to DO, I have to get involved. Thanks to your posts from the Phillipines, I’m now sponsoring two children. I’m excited beyond words.

  24. Repeatedly throughout the years I have learned that it is my faithfulness during the daily things like laundry, raising children, and wiping up sticky fingers that “my story” unfolds. With Christ little things, seemingly mindless things, are the very fish and loaves the Father blesses to feed the thousands. Not that long ago, when looking back over my life, I saw for the first time that while I was waiting for my destiny, that one defining moment of bigness God had created and designed me for to arrive, my destiny (or story) had been unfolding day by day. So thankful for a loving, Father who takes small, foolish, senseless things (and people) and fills them with His greatness.

  25. I believe it was Wallace Stegner who said that any life will provide the material for writing, if it is attended to.

  26. Because of your posts this past week, our family is now sponsoring a five-year-old boy in India, chosen by our five-year-old son.
    Thank you.

  27. Thanks for your post and what you’re doing! I love love love Donald Miller and that book! It really helped me continue to think about living out story in my life and spurred me on. It’s a blessing to see how others take those ideas and run with them in unique ways as well…

  28. I love reading your story, from the seemingly mundane to this last week’s humbly noble posts. Not only does my family eat better because we got back to menu plans, but we just sponsored a child–you have helped us refocus and try new directions time and time again, in big and little ways.
    A great way to begin writing any family’s new story (or new chapter) is to be sure you have a great mission statement (in story terms, I guess it would be the “Introduction?”)–I know you have posted about this in the past. I love Slow Family Living’s workbook, which, until your post today, I had forgotten about:
    http://slowfamilyliving.com/products-page/ebooks/family-mission-statement-workbook-ebook/
    Thanks for the reminder that it’s not just about getting through today’s list! And, please, keep telling your story, even the “boring” parts! ;)

  29. I think that the way to tell your story well, even “amidst the laundry and the sticky fingers,” is to practice doing everything with love.

    Our story is not written by us. God is writing it, and we’re living it.

  30. I feel like my story gets richer everyday. You say story I say legacy. I know that I respect the legacy previous generations have given me so I strive to accomplish something legacy worthy and to instill that in all 7 kids.
    Thanks for writing while you are beat… You are such a trooper.

  31. Just put the book on hold at the library, can’t wait to get it! I get so overwhelmed as a Mom (and am terrified that baby #2 will be here later this year) that I feel like I am basically useless to others. Of course I am vital to my daughters well being, but outside of that, I feel like I’m not contributing much to society. I get so bogged down in everything that isn’t how I want it (a clean house, time to declutter, start menu planning) etc. that I can’t even imagine the time or energy to invest in others. I know it must be possible as others do it, but I don’t get how!

  32. Sometimes I have those same questions about telling a story. That’s part of the reason we decided to have kids, since that gives purpose to our individual stories in a big way. But I often think that I still need more, more than just the usual diaper-changing, laundry-doing, Sunday-school teaching routine. Lately fostering has really been on my heart, and I think that we’re leaning toward being foster parents in a few years (when we’re out of the baby stage).

  33. That really is a great book. While reading it, I found myself feeling what I suppose is a sliver of the itch you might have right now as perspective falls more soundly into place. It makes you re-assess the amount of time that is wasted, or at least misused, on serving yourself.

    There is some great stuff later in the book on how a family tells a good story together. Love it.

  34. avatar
    Tiffany says:

    This is exactly the series our church has been focusing on for the past year. Living the story that God wrote for us. The last three weeks we’ve talked about time, relationships and money in terms of stewardship and how we use them in our story. Hearing it week after week after week has been a great reminder to be intentional about about everything I do. It’s hard when we live in such a “go go go” world but I’m trying to slow it down so I can CHOOSE to be intentional each day.

  35. avatar
    La Monica says:

    Wow! I need to marinate on that for awhile. I’m a writer myself, but I’ve allowed fear and doubt to choke out my God-ordained purpose for far too long. Yep, it’s an interesting story…

  36. So much of one’s story is mundane; it is the daily obedience to small things that accumulate to make a life. Jesus talked of giving a child a cup of cold water in His name & getting rewards in Heaven for it~I have no idea how many times I have done that. He said that the servant who was feeding the household at the proper time when He came back would be commended~I have no idea how many meals I’ve prepared! But the amassed moments of attitude adjustment that slid into obscurity are important to Him. That gives me encouragement and hope.

  37. avatar
    Sharon Marcus says:

    Thank you for the wonderful, reflective post, which I plan to save. As Lisa says in her response above, I also plan to have my son choose a child to sponsor and share with.

  38. I feel very much in the same mental space as you, Tsh. Trying to sift through all that we saw and felt and smell and touched last week and translate it into my life back home as I go back to making oatmeal, teaching math, doing laundry and shopping for veggies. It feels surreal to be back.

    I know that there is a new norm lurking in here somehow, and that it includes a bigger and more intentional focus on what is important in our lives, mixed in with the everyday necessities. I love where you’re going with the story idea, and I think this post has said it so well. I look forward to processing more with you (and I think that book need to be added to my Kindle as well).

    Thanks for your honesty, as always. It was such an honor to go on this journey with you, friend. :)

  39. Thankful to be even a small character in your story. Praying for you as you re-enter the first world…and moves across it this week.

    -Shaun

  40. Poignent. Thought provoking. Well said. Great post, I will be forwarding this one to all, thank you.

  41. There are times that God uses to change our focus and deepen our convictions…IF we listen to him. I know I have been going through a transition in my life (to be honest, being a sahm was not “my” decision and I struggle with it), and I’ve been searching for what God is trying to show me, how to be content wherever I am. I think God knows exactly what we need to help strengthen our faith and soften our hearts.
    Tsh, you are a blessing and God uses you in so many great ways!

  42. There are times that God uses to change our focus and deepen our convictions…IF we listen to him. I know I have been going through a transition in my life (to be honest, being a sahm was not “my” decision – I wish it was something that came more naturally to me), and I’ve been searching for what God is trying to show me, to be content wherever I am. I think God knows exactly what we need to help strengthen our faith and soften our hearts.

    Tsh, you are a blessing and God uses you in so many ways!

  43. Oh, Tsh, a precious post…
    Yes, livin’ a good story because it’s been designed by The King.
    A ‘good story’ is one where I am not in control. But I know The One who is.;)
    And, yes, it is even possible amongst the experimental haircuts and missing garbage cans (sometimes I just have to laugh out loud and remind myself it is all about Him…His character…oops, and mine!)
    It all comes back to perspective.
    Keepin’ my eyes on The Prize!

  44. SO timely. Spoke to my soul on a myriad of levels today.
    Thanks for trusting us with so much of what you are working through.

  45. Was this every the best post for me to read today. I have a student from UCLA coming over tomorrow to get help for a website he wants up to benefit UGANDA. It has something to do with his PHD. He is very excited.

    I am glad to be part of his new story. Now I need to find my own.

  46. Beautiful! Love your heart and the story you are telling!!
    miss you already friend! Thinking of you!
    Keely

  47. avatar
    designenvy says:

    i read that book last year and it rocked my world in so many subtle ways. I loved it. thanks for an honest genuine post. it ties in to so many things i’ve already been addressing this last week in my life.

  48. Your feelings resound with me all too well. I too have walked the impoverished slums of the far-away countries, treating diseases that only returned once the meds we left in those villages ran out. It’s hard to put one foot in front of another in a blessed and padded life stateside when I remember what I saw in those countries as a young doctor. Now I spend my days raising my babies, but a new twist in my own story has opened up: will I volunteer in an inner-city clinic twice a month? Motherhood has made me slightly germophobic, but I know what bugs my poor and homeless patients would bring to my exam room off the streets. I think, though I need to keep praying, that He is calling me to pick up the stethscope again, give a cup of cold water when what I really want to do is to hide. But God’s call isn’t always to a safe life.

    Thanks for this post, and all of the ones you have sent from your trip. Best wishes as you endure the chaos of a move. I am moving across the state in two weeks with my family of four, so I feel your pain!

  49. Thanks for sharing this post. It is so important for us not to get so “in-grown” in our thinking about life…

  50. Yes, I, too, love your writing. And I, too, love the perfect word or phrase. Thank you for sharing this and giving us more than words to chew on.

  51. What a great post! I loved reading your posts from the trip, and hearing (or rather, reading) your change in perspective. My husband went on a mission trip to Haiti, and when he returned, he had a little bit of a hard time talking about it, because he felt it is was so hard to convey to people here what the poverty looked like over there. We here tend to take a lot of things for granted; we get hungry, and we may complain because we don’t have the money to buy what we want to eat. They (in, say, Haiti) get hungry, and they just have to deal with it, because they have no other option. The photos my husband brought back were definitely eye openeing. To answer your question about living a good story, I am still finding it extremely hard to be more intentional, and to live with more of a purpose, while I am busy chasing around little ones! I make a plan, try to stick to a schedule, even a very loose schedule, then my 10 month old decides not to sleep for a few days, and I am done :0) I’m still working on figuring out what works for me though.

  52. These posts have been awesome, thank you so much for going and sharing, even though it meant coming home to a big move right away!
    It is funny how the blogging world works, I have read several posts today that aren’t sharing information, they are more asking questions, deeper life questions. I actually wrote one as well! I am definitely thinking about my story and I have heard so much about Don Miller, I am going to have to read his book!
    Bernice

  53. So glad that we don’t have to write the story but that the Author invites us to engage in it, make it an adventure, say “yes!” when He places the plot before us. Thanks for sharing this part of your story with us, for taking us with you there, and taking us to new places here too.

  54. avatar
    Sue Ann says:

    Dear Simple Mom, greetings from Singapore! I’ve been reading your posts from the Philippines and I just wanna thank you for sharing and making known to us the plight of so many others who are less fortunate than us. Thank you also for introducing Compassion to us – my husband and I have decided to support the Child Survival Programme in Haiti as helping newborns is something close to our hearts. Once our 7 month old daughter gets a little older we’ll get her to choose a child to sponsor, in that way we can forge a relationship as a family with another. Keep writing and be blessed! Love in Christ.

  55. hi Tsh, Lindsay, Kat and Stephanie! just wanted to say I love your blog, and I’m a follower of all your blogs. So imagine to my surprise (and joy!) to find out that you were all coming here to my home as a Compassion Blogger! I followed all posts of your time here closely, and was moved and inspired to tears again and again. I love how God used angels from another country to bring a new meaning to the poverty that I see every. single. day. Too often citizens like myself are quick to be filled with pity at their plight, or helplessness, or even anger… but through the posts by the Compassion Bloggers now I am filled with hope and joy, rather than anger and pity. I am inspired and convicted to be a good steward of God’s blessings, and to have the desire to use these blessings to bless others :) God bless you, your family, and the Compassion International family :D

  56. avatar
    Jennifer says:

    I love the path that God is taking you down right now. He’s tugging me in the same direction. Your writing is blessing me on a whole new level. Thank you.

  57. Thank you for doing the work you do and telling your story.

    I teach creative writing (non-fiction) and believe we all have a story. To see the details of our lives as material, ourselves as protagonists, family and friends as characters, can be freeing and instructive and can help us to get curious about our lives.

  58. avatar
    melissa c says:

    Just wanted to send this along to you, as I sent to Emily as well…. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. We sponsor two girls in South America and through your posts (and the other bloggers) I was able to show my daughters the realities of life for Compassion children. The size of the homes made such an impression on my 8 year old. She mentions it often as we pray at night. I am sure you know that your pebble dropped in the pond is producing multiple rings of change. Thank you for leaving your family and influencing ours. God bless <3

  59. I wanted to say that in reading and following your story, I find strength to create my own meaningful story. Thank you for the post… It came at the right moment.

  60. avatar
    Shalini says:

    Dear Tsh,

    I have been reading your blog regularly for more than a year now, but I had not felt compelled to comment on your articles. But this article touched my heart..and really I mean it. It is a well-thought and well-written article.Super liked it.
    I am a mom of two boys, and I have these thoughts about my purpose in life or what I should be doing, and these thoughts get easily lost doing the daily chores and the constant attention that kids need.
    What I like about your articles is they all have substance in them. They make me think. Thanks for inspiring .

  61. great post. i’ve read that book and i think about “my story” often. this is a great reminder to reevaluate the story i am telling! beautifully written!!

  62. These are important questions…questions my husband and I ask daily. What is our story? What matters most? Where should our priorities lie?

    The simple routines of housekeeping, childcare, organization, being a good neighbor, etc. – these things matter. But…but…we also want to give intentionally to an impoverished world, to live with faith and grace, to do hard things.

    We’re still wrestling through how to balance all these things.

  63. P.S. Where are you moving to?

  64. “The liturgy of laundry” — beautiful turn of phrase to describe that what may be mundane can also be comforting, or even a respite. Wish I had written it.

    My story seems to be one of disappointment or unwillingness to accept that life didn’t follow the script I had written for myself, yet falling deeper and deeper under the spell of my children and sweet rhythm of our family life such that it erodes the sting– if not the meaning– of those disappointments.

  65. Psalm 107:2 – “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Thanks for sharing yours :)

  66. This reminded me of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk “Your Happily Ever After”–reminding us that “Sandwiched between their “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” they all had to experience great adversity.” and that “It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.”

    Link: http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/your-happily-ever-after?lang=eng

Speak Your Mind

*