The Story-tellers

When I was a little girl I went to a story-telling church. They did other things as well, like waved hankies at the hanky song, and played timbrels with all those lovely ribbons, and had bibles with stick-man pictures in them that a smiley man handed out at the door, and collected back up again at the door afterwards. There was a cross, and a table thing with a red velvet tablecloth on it, and probably some preaching as well, but I didn’t have much time for that kind of grown-up stuff. I’d stuff some coloured pencils in my little shoulder bag, and a notebook, so I could draw pictures during the boring bits.

One thing that bemused me about my church though, more so than the timbrels and the fact that the grown-ups had pictures in their bibles, was the Storytelling Bit. I didn’t know if all churches had a Storytelling Bit, but mine did. People stood up in their chairs, and occasionally the preacher would invite them to come up the front and stand near the red velvet table, and they’d say all this random stuff. I always listened to the stories. I liked stories.

Sometimes though…sometimes I swear those people had no idea how to tell a story. They’d get up there and they’d say all about their drinking, and how hard it was to stop, and then their kids stopped calling, and yada yada, and I’d get to thinking “this person has no clue what’s interesting and what’s not”, and then they’d finish with a “but Jesus saved me”, and we’d all have to clap and stuff, even if the story wasn’t very good. A lot of them weren’t. “I couldn’t find my keys, and then I moved my hat and there they were.” Where’s the tension in that? Where’s the drama? “My cat died, and then my aunt gave me another one.” Yeah okay, so I cared about that one. “I used to beat my wife and then this one day I met Brother Peter here and…” Oh boy. Ho hum. Don’t you people know anything about storytelling? Still, everybody clapped like it was the best thing they’d ever heard, and patted the storytellers on the back when they sat down.

I must have been about eight years old when I decided I’d had enough; decided that I could tell a story every bit as well as these people, and maybe I was old enough to put MY hand up in church too. I knew I could do it. I could add life! Drama! Adventure! Mystery! Fantasy! Imagination! And so I did. I knew these stories had to be in the first person (like, you had to say “I did…” not “she did…”, and I had this neat little tie-in about that dude in the bible who had a dream of a ladder with angels going up to Heaven, so it was a good church story even. I imagined it all up as I went, about me waking up in the night and going outside, maybe sleepwalking, and seeing that gate out the side of our house with angels doing loop-the-loops, and how then I realised I wasn’t walking, and that maybe I could do what the angels were doing too, and…

I didn’t get a big clap like I’d expected at the end, when I sat down, which surprised me. I was so proud. I thought maybe they hadn’t liked the ending, or that I hadn’t resolved it as well as I could have. The minister said thank you in a kind of tight voice, and asked if anybody else had anything they wanted to share. I kind of wondered if I’d goofed it, or missed the mark somewhere. I didn’t ever tell stories in church after that, I just clapped politely when I needed to, and went back to my colouring pencils and my drawing.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. That makes today, in the traditional church, Maundy Thursday, and the beginning of the Easter period. Or something like that. I’m sure I’ll be corrected. I love Easter. It reminds me of all the stories, the real stories, of my own life, of the stories I really could raise my hand in church for and say “…but Jesus saved me!”. It’s a time to reflect on what we do it for, the whole chocolate egg and four-day-weekend thing. The whole of Easter, the whole point of the Jesus thing really, is found in storytelling. Jesus told stories, and then, after his death and resurrection, his disciples told stories. That’s why I’m sitting here today, because of those stories.

Happy Easter, my friends. If you find yourself in church this weekend, listen out for the storytellers.

P.S. My friend Patti has been blogging her way through the weeks leading up to Easter by unpacking some of the stuff in the Bible. Her insights are fascinating, and she knows a lot of the historical/cultural details that I’ve not known before. Her blogs are worth a read. In one of her recent comments said this: “The disciples and the lives they led after the resurrection are the the best evidence that it did indeed happen. Before the resurrection, they were hiding away. Afterward, they were fearless, and eleven of them faced martyrdom. Would you do that for a man who came, filled you will hope and promises, and then just died. No! The disciples were changed when they saw their risen Lord.” I’d not thought of it like that before. These are stories that, unlike my little eight-year-old offering, make a difference.




The first story we hear

When I was a little girl I had short hair. Really short hair, cut like a boy; the kind you can’t put up in any kind of pigtails. Quite a lot of the time I was dressed like a boy as well, in oh-so-practical brown corduroy trousers, tan-striped jumpers and sturdy work boots or lace-up shoes. Granted, when I was very small I had to wear surgical boots and elastic twisters on a harness thing to straighten my turned-in feet, and the orthapaedic surgeon who supervised my development was the one who said I couldn’t wear party shoes like the other little girls, and the GP who treated my eczema was the one who said I couldn’t wear nylon stockings, and when it’s cold out and you’ve got big ugly boots to wear then trousers are the most practical thing to keep warm in; but it was the hair that clinched it for me. Only boys have short hair like that. I can still remember the shame I felt overhearing the words “look Mummy, that boy’s wearing a dress!”, and being told by older children, whether in spite or in earnest, “This is the girls’. The boys’ toilets are over there”.

I loved my family, and didn’t want to make a fuss, so I sat meekly in a padded chair once every six weeks and had my hair cut boy-short again, smiling tightly at my reflection in the mirror as the hairdresser showed me the back and asked my mother, “is that enough off today?”Inside though I dreamed of hair I could flick or tie or brush with one hundred strokes every morning and night, and I’d sigh, and nod, and wait for the hairdresser to brush the back of my neck so we could go home.

I knew, and I accepted, right from a very early age, that I was different, and that was my lot in life. I knew I wasn’t allowed to be a girlie girl; that pink would never be my color (“it shows all the dirt. So impractical!”), that I’d never dance (how can you go to ballet classes when you can’t wear stockings or put your hair in a bun?), and that whole swathes of beauty and wonder and femininity would never be mine, except as an outside observer.

I had a secret though. Sometimes I’d find old hairbands on the street, and I’d take them home. Once I even found an actual elastic bobble, the kind all the girls wore in their pigtails. It wasn’t that pretty, the plastic beads were just plain see-through plastic with no color, but it was a bobble nonetheless, and it was mine, my very own, and nobody could take it away from me.

I dreamed a dream that one day I’d grow my hair long. No matter what anyone said about me. No matter what I knew about myself. I knew that I’d never have hair like the other girls, but I could still give it my best shot.

This is me in the middle, aged five, with my cousin Janet whom I loved, not the least because she had such beautiful long hair.

This is me in the middle, aged five, with my cousin Janet whom I loved, not the least because she had such beautiful long hair.

I did it eventually. It took me a few years and a couple of false starts, but I started the year in grade ten with hair that, although still not long as such, was all the one length. Like a girl. The following year I got my ears pierced, and beyond that I knew that the sky was the limit, and that I could wear any kind of hair or clothes that I wanted, and nobody had the right to tell me otherwise. And so I did. I don’t have a scanner, so I can’t show you any of the outrageous outfits I wore when I was in my teens and early twenties, although some of you were there, and might probably remember. They were fun times, when the only limits on what I’d wear were budget and warmth. And even then some.

It’s a funny old life though, you know.

I read a blog post the other day. I’d swear black and blue it was by Mary de Muth, although I can’t find it anywhere on her site – it was perhaps a guest post on someone else’s. And perhaps it was someone else entirely, and if it was then I humbly apologise to the author and please let me know so I can link it here. Anyway. The blog was about how the first story we hear about someone or something is the one we accept as truth.  If the first thing you hear about someone is that they’re a liar then it’s hard to accept someone else’s story that they’re honest and true. If the first story you hear about a church is that the people are stand-offish and cliquely, then that’s what you’ll believe, even if you meet someone who tells you about a different experience. Until you can experience something for yourself, it’s the FIRST story that you hear that you believe. Everything else is filtered through that first story. I’m sorry, the author said it better originally. But it struck me as true. If your early childhood experience leads you to feel degraded and worthless, then no matter what anyone says about you after that, you’ll struggle to believe them, because it goes against that first story you heard about yourself.

I was in the bathroom the other day when it occurred to me that there are limits I’ve put on myself as an adult because inside I’m still the girl with the short hair.

I’m the woman who doesn’t go to hairdressers. They’re for people with beautiful hair.

I’m the woman who’d never buy expensive make-up. That’s for “girlie girls” and beautiful people.

I’m the woman who doesn’t wear what everyone else is wearing, because I am different. Not because I want to be, but because that’s MY first story.

I’m the woman who’s okay putting up with old and broken and dirty and mismatched, because pretty stuff is for pretty girls in party dresses, not for girls in brown corduroy trousers with short hair.

We’re in a strange place in life at the moment, and a lot is changing, not the least, me. I am changing. I bought new curtains for my daughter’s bedroom (I won’t tell you what was there before) and they looked so beautiful I nearly cried. My daughter loves them, plain though they may be, and she said “It’s like sleeping in a hotel room!” and that did make me cry, because I suddenly realised that MY first story is now influencing hers. I don’t just have a right to know the truth about myself and walk in that, I have a responsibility to others to do it too.

And so I will, and I am. This Easter holiday, when we’re celebrating the fact that Jesus died and rose again, I’m going to make darn sure that I leave my past behind, and let the real truth be the story that influences my future.

The Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

It’s nearly Easter. Or, if you’re part of the more traditional church, it IS Easter – Maundy Thursday, although I forget what Maundy means and I forget why it’s significant these days But I don’t want to blog about that, anyway. I should blog about Easter, but I’ll get to that later. Today it still feels like days…decades even…away.

Because Today I am going on an areoplane (Megan claps hands with joy like an excited toddler)! I LOVE travel. I LOVE airports, and I LOVE adventures. This particular aeroplane isn’t taking me particularly far, just to Melbourne. Well, not JUST to Melbourne, it’s taking me to see Alison, my very favourite sister-in-law (yes of course I’m allowed to say that), Simmone, my long-lost primary school buddy, and…wait for it…Paul Simon.

YES, I said PAUL SIMON. As in Simon and Garfunkel. As in Graceland. Bridge over Troubled Waters. THAT Paul Simon.

I’ve never been to a concert in Melbourne before. It seems to be some kind of rite of passage for Tasmanians. The first step is seeing your first concerts locally, getting all dolled up when big name visiting acts come, and then, when you’re slightly older and slightly wealthier, when the big name artists come to the mainland you fly over and see them there.  Not me though. I missed U2. Didn’t bother with Duran Duran. Didn’t think Pink. It’s not necessarily that the desire wasn’t there, but the cost of the airfare on top of concert tickets was prohibitive. Bass Strait, the stretch of water that separates Tasmania from the Australian Mainland, is expensive. Bass Strait is my troubled waters.

Bass Strait

Paddling in Bass Strait

Some people don’t feel that. Some people travel it all the time for work, for pleasure, for any number of reasons and they don’t think twice about it. I used to be a little bit like that – over for work twice a year or so – I always thought about it though. I always, however much I kept it hidden, felt the joy of freedom, of escape from island living, the awe and wonder and sense of incredible privilege that I was one who could go. Even though I had to come back, even though it was only for a few days at most, I was one who could go.

The feeling is always there, buried deep in the back of my skull. The One Who Can Go. The One Who Can’t. Everything about me defined by those troubled waters.

While this is far from my first time off the island, it’s my first time off the island for anything like this. It feels good. It feels fitting that it should happen on an Easter weekend. I first encountered God on an Easter weekend, many many years ago. And it was every Easter weekend, for many many years that I went away, and remembered that thing that God did for me, that whole death of Jesus on the cross, rescuing me from my island living, being my bridge over troubled waters.

And so, today in the frantic busyness of packing precious little in a bag for an aeroplane and the joy and wonder of family and friends and last-minute chocolate buying and making sure I’m there on time, today I will stop, and say Thank You. And remember.