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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Once Upon a Time: Why You Need to Tell Your Story

When we visited friends in West Africa some years ago, I was intrigued to discover the local custom of beginning tales like this: “A story, a story. Let it go, let it come.”

Storytellers in Arab cultures use this phrase: “There was or there was not…”

And here in the West, we lull our children to sleep with the magic words, “Once upon a time.”

Did you happen to read the comments many of you sent after last week’s post on dancing? Your weekly contributions are the best part of anything I publish here.

After Julie S’s father died, her mother spent many afternoons swaying to their favorite music, imagining she was dancing with her husband once more.

“I came upon Mom's afternoon folly when I told her she needed to get some exercise,” Julie commented. “She quickly informed me that she did exercise often while dancing with my dad. At first, I thought she was losing it, but then I realized she was missing him, and this was her way of keeping him in her thoughts.”

Linda M. wrote, “A few nights ago, my husband asked me to come downstairs and stand facing away from him. Unbeknownst to me, someone had given him a beautiful set of homemade speakers and a turntable. We haven't had a turntable for decades and couldn’t listen to our old favorite record albums.

“Suddenly music came on and it was folksinger Nancy Griffith's song: "We waltzed the aisles of the five and dime." My husband took my hand and we danced in the basement. He knows this song is so personal and beautiful to me because my father and grandfather both managed Woolworth stores once--the old five and dime.”

One of my favorite comments, complete with photographic evidence, came from Laurie Eve, who relies on a walker. Laurie Eve posted that despite being unsteady at a recent wedding, she simply had to get up and dance because they were playing a favorite group: Earth, Wind, and Fire.

“I tried to get up next to the one person I knew but stay in the background because – after all – I use a walker. But then suddenly the whole place opened up and I was the focus of attention! The bride did say it was one of the best moments of her day.”

Even when your dancing partner’s as inanimate as an aluminum frame on wheels, hold on tight and kick your heels up anyway.

Don't you love these stories?

“Someone once said that God created humans because he loves stories. And the Old Testament tells us about God through the narratives about his people…Jesus told stories and is himself the story of God’s outrageous love for us. Stories make up more than 70 percent of the Bible, and it is in the stories of our lives that we can spot God’s handiwork.” – Dan B. Allender and Lisa K. Fann, To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future

In preparation for an upcoming women’s Bible study at my church, I’m currently rereading a book that’s a personal favorite: Soul Strong: 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life by beloved storyteller Lucinda Secrest McDowell.

In Soul Strong, McDowell urges each of us to take time to share our life stories through parables, proclamation, and pointing others to Jesus, always.

We need to tell others what God has done for us before we take our personal narratives out of time into eternity where they will no longer be needed.

“I will teach you hidden lessons from our past – stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders.” Psalm 78: 2-4

Some time ago I purchased a little hardcover titled, “Letters to My Grandchild.” Each page is a self-contained letter and envelope with a suggested topic: “Here is a special story about our family…,” “It may surprise you to learn that when I was young…”, or “One positive change in the world I have witnessed is…”

In the months ahead I’ll be filling those pages for our firstborn granddaughter, Libby, her siblings, and cousins. What I wouldn't have given to have had just one letter from the grandparents I never knew.

The “letters” that you write in the Comments section after my weekly posts minister to each other in a way my words never can.

Last week, Mal shared this poignant story: “Several months after my 8-month-old grandson passed away, I was swimming with my bestie. We swam under a dock and started singing the children’s song “Mr. Sun” at the top of our lungs because the water was quite cold.

“Suddenly, we saw the looks on our husbands’ faces and [we] started to laugh. That laugh grew and grew until we were sobbing because I realized it was the first time I had laughed in months. They were tears of hope and sadness and joy all wrapped into one. That laugh was the most healing dance I’ve ever done.”

Jan, a two-time cancer survivor, sent these words in response to my thoughts about dancing.

“Maggie, this evoked thoughts of 2 Samuel 6 when King David and the people of Israel were bringing up the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. David 'danced before the Lord with all his might,' an act which was met with great disdain by his wife, Michal. But David’s response was, 'I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes…'

“To David, a man after God’s own heart, this act of unbridled worship was his sacrifice of praise, no matter the cost.

When we are faced with the worst life has to dish out, to dance is to offer every fiber of our being in worship and praise to the only One worthy to receive it."

Jan continued.

“It was on Maundy Thursday 2016 that I received the confirmation that an aggressive cancer had invaded my abdomen. The Holy Spirit instructed me to lift high the cup of salvation by taking communion with my family in a precious time of prayer and worship. But then…He led us to watch Mary Poppins—to celebrate with childlike joy His Ephesians 3:20 supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ways of redeeming the circumstances to bring glory to His name.

Seven years later, I am rejoicing with exceedingly great joy over the One who dances with me, with all of His beloveds, whenever we come to Him with open arms.”

Jan, you may never know how many of those reading these words need your story of hope.

In the country of Chile, stories begin with this reminder: “Listen to tell it, and tell it to teach it.”

Last week I was insistent in urging you, whatever your current circumstances, to dance. Now I’m encouraging you to do something much more important: Share your life stories.

"Listen to tell it, and tell it to teach it."

We need one another in this brutal, beautiful life we share.

With a grateful heart,


Maggie Wallem Rowe writes from Peace Ridge, her home in the mountains of western North Carolina. She is the author of This Life We Share: 52 Reflections on Journeying Well with God and Others, and Life is Sweet, Y'all: Wit and Wisdom with a Side of Sass. She loves stories - reading them, writing them, and acting them out.


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