“What’s Your Story?” March 1, 2020

What’s your story? The one you’ve been learning all your life, that tells where you’ve been, where you’re going, what you’ve learned along the way, who you’ve loved, who you are and hope to be someday?

When you tell that story, who’s your best listener? Who do you count on to hang on every word?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about stories, what they do for us and why they’re important.

Growing up in the South, even before I learned to say “y’all” or gnaw the kernels off an ear of corn, I learned how to be still and listen with all my senses to a story. I didn’t understand the words. Not at first. Words and their meanings came later.

But I was born into a family of storytellers. My parents and grandparents. My aunts and uncles. My bossy big sister and my blind baby brother. The dogs that slept under the porch and even the fleas that slept on the dogs. They all told stories.

All I had to do was listen. And as I listened, I learned that every good story has three important parts. Do you know what they are? I’ll bet you do. You’re smart. And it’s a no-brainer.

Every good story—like every good life—has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The beginning is a stopper, a few magic words that grab the listeners so they’ll sit up and pay attention: “Once upon a time there were three bears….”

The middle can be anything that will keep the listeners hooked. The bears go to the mall. An intruder breaks into their house, eats all their Pop-Tarts, trashes the living room and passes out on Baby Bear’s bed. Then the three bears come home and “There she is!”

In the end, the intruder makes a break for it, never comes back to the bear’s abode, and they all live happily ever after.

Your story might not sound like that. Mine doesn’t. Except the part about eating Pop-Tarts and trashing the living room.

But what our stories and our lives tend to share in common is structure: A beginning, a middle and an end; we’re born, we live and then, well, we move on.

To tell a whole story takes all its parts. But to tell it in pieces—just the beginning and some of the middle—we don’t need to know the end. We can tell what we know as life unfolds and trust for a happy ending.

Why? Stories have always been, and will always be, the way we understand ourselves and each other. They tell us who we are, separately as individuals and collectively as people.

They point out our differences, but at the same time, they show us how we’re all alike, what we have in common and how very much we need each other.

I often hear from readers who tell me my stories are their stories, too. I love that. It’s my next-to-favorite comment. My most favorite comment came from a kindergartner who, after hearing my story on how I once tripped my brother on a barbed-wire fence, said, “That’s the meanest thing I ever heard. I can’t believe you did that.”

Maybe I’ll tell that story to my grandkids. They’ll say, “Nana’s cool, but don’t cross her.”

Good, bad or horrid, our stories can tell it all, including things that make us more human (and might not be mentioned at our funeral.) Or they can be edited a bit, as my grandad’s often were, to cast us in a slightly kinder light.

As much as we need to tell our own stories, we also need to listen to the stories others tell. Even if we’ve heard them before. An old familiar tale can have a different meaning depending on why it’s being told. Maybe the teller just needs to tell it again.

If we don’t share our stories with each other—with people who mean the world to us, or strangers we meet in the check-out line—we might never truly know ourselves, or one another or why on Earth we are here.

What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Tell it to someone. And ask them to tell you theirs, too.


  1. Mary Steiner says

    My stories start at the age of five when I became a mother to my newborn sister Martha, the fifth baby my mother gave birth to in a span of five years. Given that my youngest brother Mike was only 10 months old when she was born, my mom turned to me to be a surrogate mother to Martha.

    I recall my mother explaining to me Martha was my baby to take care of. I vividly remember feeding Martha and sitting perfectly still on the couch next to Martha to keep her from rolling off while our mother hung clothes on the line. Yes, she was my baby whom I loved deeply.

    Another baby brother was born the day after Martha’s first birthday. Eleven days later life completely turned upside down when Martha collapsed onto the floor. Chaos ensued as my younger brothers and sisters, and I were hurried into the backseat of the old ’58 Chevy. While my father sped to the hospital, the car’s trunk flew open – forcefully bouncing up and down for most of the 18 miles to the nearest hospital. In the midst of hearing my younger brothers and sisters crying and screaming, I looked over the front seat and saw my mother blowing air into Martha’s mouth. I began praying, repeating over and over the words I could remember of a prayer my mother had taught me.

    My baby died that day. It wasn’t until I climbed up the tiny steps at the mortuary and reached into the miniature coffin to touch Martha that I felt the sting of her death. My baby was ice cold and stunk due to the embalming fluid.

    Alone I grieved the death of Martha. No one thought to acknowledge that Martha wasn’t just my sister, she was also my baby.

    Martha’s death was the point at which my mother stopped being a mother to her remaining children, including a sister born the following year. Yet through it all the Lord worked through so many people to touch my life, assuring me He had not forsaken my family or me.

  2. Kate Sciacca says

    Your stories get me wondering …. What are my stories??? Going to have to sit and give that a think…. As usual, thanks 😊

  3. My favorite is the dash story, it was used in a sermon, its your life between the year you were born and the year you died. You can google it if you don’t know it.

  4. Anne Wheelis says

    “Every good story—like every good life—has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    The beginning is a stopper, a few magic words that grab the listeners so they’ll sit up and pay attention: ”

    Sharon, decades ago when the Monterey Herald published a weekend magazine you captured my attention and reader loyalty with a story that began something like “When I was five years old my mother went to town and brought back a daddy.” That is my memory–it is probably not exactly as I read it–but what a stopper! I’ve listened for and to your stories ever since. Thank you!

  5. Katie Musgrave says

    Faith testimonies are inspiring and so personal. That is what lead me to Christ. An oh so personal story of relationship with Jesus!

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