I stood over the sink, my hands raw and red, burning from the the hot water. Bits of pasta, small pieces of green beans, and leftover coffee grounds collected in the bottom of the basin. I hummed a sing-songy nothing to myself, making music alongside the gurgling water. The kids were all tucked in for the night, and I was pretending not to hear their going-to-bed-noises. Instead, while I leaned my hip against the wet edge of the counter, and dumped the water of the pot, I went over the day in my head, pouring out each event like that water, and conjuring up the story of the day.
For the past two years I’ve picked a word for the year. I’ve used this word like a rudder, to steer myself, or like a map, to help me determine my course. I’ve used it like a mantra to help me stay focused and like a lens through which I see the minutiae of my life. I’ve learned the consistent pace of my own self when I chose breathe. I’ve learned about how my cracks only make space for Glory to shine through when I chose enough. This year my One Word is Story.
There is story all around me, if I can just hear it – the old t-shirt that I sleep in tells a chapter and verse of the story of us, for instance. Or there are stories, worn smooth, rubbed down with each telling that the words now are more like family folklore than an actual recount of events.
In choosing “story” I’m choosing to focus on not just the events of the day, the many things that happen and check lists that are accomplished (or not) from sunrise to sunset, but instead to see the narrative that holds these things. A story has themes. A story develops characters. Lessons can be learned, right and wrong meted out, justice served. Beauty is writ out of the work of living. Stories are meant to entertain. We each have our own “once upon a time.” What is mothering if not the moment-to-moment development of character (the little ones’ and mine)? And isn’t it my work too to see the beauty in the work of life? Goodness knows, there is plenty of entertainment in my days!
In her book Storycatcher, Christina Baldwin writes “Story is the narrative thread of our experience — not what literally happens, but what we make out of what happens, what we tell each other and what we remember.” Every day my story is written, but not in the literal happening of my life, but in how I see it, recall it, tell it, remember it. This year, I want watch my story unfold, not just within the narrative of my life, or even the larger story that is family history. I want to watch my story be braided into the tapestry of the Big Story, too. Sometimes that’s not easy, because it often can look like the underside of that tapestry – the rough, tangled mess of dull knots. I want to learn to turn those tangled knots over and see the other side, to make meaning out of folding the laundry and putting the dishes away. Our story is woven, strand by strand. It is the warp of bath time and wooden block towers, the weft of singing together in the car on the way to school and running trucks after dinner. Alone, these things threaten to be trivial and mundane, but when seen as part of a bigger story, they serve the purpose of adding color, and texture; they advance the plot, they get us invested.
I am writing story. I am being written into story. As I come to see my life in the scope of the Big Story, too, I can watch the work of the One who holds my story. I can hear of His grace at work, I can see His gentle touch of guidance. This year I want to see each misstep, each adventure, each heart swell, each struggle as tale to be told. I want to hold the stories of my family’s past, to pass them along down the line, add ours to the fabric of folklore. I want to be the one they all come to and say “Tell me a story, Mom.” I want to always be ready with a story.
On the podcast, The Moth, as they sign off they exhort their listener to “have a story-worthy week.” I’m going to spend the next year with story on my lips, story in my heart. I’m going to have story in my steps, and story in my eyes. I’m going to be the one saying “well, that’ll make a great story some day.”
Today’s story was one of turning siblings into friends, and, still standing over the sink, I’m pressed with the image of all three of the Little Ones chasing after each other, trucks in hand. I finish up the dishes, sat the last pot to dry, and wring my hands through the dish towel. Mark had come to the kitchen now, and we were finishing up the nightly dance of setting our house right again after the undoing of the day. The quiet had settled in over the house, not thick but gauzy, and my mind turned over the day once again, listening for the story told.