“I don’t dwell on it.”
I often find myself thinking about my grandmother’s signature phrase. Grandma went through a lot in life – the Great Depression, WWII, and all the armed conflicts in between. She outlived seven of her fifteen children. When we asked how she coped, she simply said:
“I don’t dwell on it.”
Her words became my primary coping mechanism. When pain whispered, I refused to dwell on it, ignoring my tears and the feelings that went with them. I thought I knew her secret to strength: shove things aside and keep moving. Race ahead and pretend it didn’t happen. Refuse to dwell on it.
But then life caught up with me. Traumatic memories played on an endless loop in my mind, storming my mind and heart like a mighty army.
I realized that I had not only started to dwell on them, but to dwell in them.
I finally had to deal with my pain. Healing made its way through my carefully curated collection of secret wounds, and strength surged through me.
I realized Grandma had refused to dwell on things;
I had refused to deal with them.
I am learning to allow myself to feel the hurt when it hits because I know strength does not come from arbitrary barricades but from enforcing guardianship of my heart and mind. I now see that, while pain has been trying to invade, my God, my loved ones and my own strength have stood outside too, ready to help me fight if I would only let them in.
I am now striving to be the kind of person who deals with pain but who abides under the shadow of the Almighty, and who dwells among those who are amazing enough to love me through it.
Human beings are wired for stories.
We relive and express our memories through story. After death, we live on in the stories of our loved ones. We think in stories because they provide a context for facts. When you get the magical alchemy of the living writer sharing the story, there is potential for transformation. Lives can be changed by storytelling.
There is a reason we hear fairy tales as children. They teach us values and morals. It is through story that we learn about our own identity. Neil Gaiman once said,
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
The stories we listen to are the stories that write our lives. If we want to change our lives, it begins with changing the stories we listen to.
Hebrews 11 presents us with the lives of some of the greatest heroes of faith who have ever lived. It is an anthology – a collection of stories. Alongside the expected stories (like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and David), are the seemingly unheroic ones (like Rahab, Barak, and Gideon).
Still, the great Author saw their value. And He has never set the pen aside.
He continues to write our stories with the same dedication and care that He put into theirs. Join us in this series of articles as we explore the importance of our stories and of the One who continues to write them.
It was just an ordinary day. The sun rose over the tall oaks in the valley of Hebron and young Joseph began his day, unaware that he would never see his homeland again. In one instant, he would lose his family and his freedom. Still, somehow the boy from the valley rose above it all to become the second most powerful leader in Egypt.
His years in Hebron gave him something no one could ever take from him: an enduring identity.
As a boy, the family legacy was passed down to him as his father wove together stories of the incredible faith of Abraham and Isaac. His beautiful coat of many colors told the story of who he was: the beloved son of Jacob. Most of all, the stories he heard in the valley told him who he was – that the God of his fathers was also his God.
The valley also taught Joseph who he was destined to become. If he learned his heritage while sitting on his father’s knee, he learned his destiny while working in the fields. It was there that God spoke through dreams and revealed the great leadership role he would come to play in his family’s legacy. The valley taught him that he was not merely a young man from Hebron – he was Joseph: a man with a tremendous heritage and an awesome promise.
Thoughts of identity must have occupied his mind as he marched in the slave caravan, deprived of free will. His father’s words must have echoed as Egyptian masters tried to redefine him according to their own culture and religion. Those dreams must have been a lifeline as he spent his first night in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The identity that had been forged in the valley of Hebron strengthened him enough to give him hope during the years of slavery and of prison.
It grounded him enough to keep him humble when he eventually rose to power, fulfilling God’s promise from so long ago. Then, as his starving brothers knelt before him and pleaded for help, the pull of that valley-crafted identity was so strong that he wept, forgiving all the years that had been stolen from him.
A valley has the potential to bring out who we really are. Identities are molded and carefully crafted as we walk through life’s trials. Valleys remind us of who we really are but they also remind us that we were created for more – that trials come to pass, not to stay.
As he threaded his arms through that multicolored coat for the first time, dreaming of his future, Joseph could not have foreseen how God’s plan would unfold. Still, no matter how the world around him tried to redefine him, he remained true to the message that both his earthly father and heavenly Father had poured into him. God was able to position him in just the right place to save the world – all because a young man held onto an identity born in a valley.