Choosing Better Stories

blog control narrative stories Jul 24, 2019

“Sylvia in Austin has learned that she is in control not of life, but of the story about her life.“ (Mary Pipher in Women Rowing North)

After our return from Africa, I could personalize this line like this: “Gem in Amsterdam has learned that she is in control not of life, but of the story about her life.”

I am going to try to make a long story short, so put on your seatbelt. This is the glamour of travel. On our way to Africa, we were re-routed from Newark due to weather. So we landed at Dulles and spent four hours in a plane on the tarmack. And, yes, that is as exciting as it sounds.

We finally took off for Newark, but by the time we reached Brussels, Belgium, we would miss our connecting flight to Entebbe. Since all the flights to Entebbe the next day were full, the only fix the airline could come up with was for us to take a train from Brussels to Amsterdam, stay overnight and then hop on a flight the next day to Entebbe.

We had originally planned to have a day of rest from the flights before we were to be with the Ugandan Bishops. That day was now eaten up and we would eventually land and get to our hotel by 2:00am, with a 7:30am pickup for our first day of facilitating. And, yes, we looked and felt like that sounds.

To top it off, In the midst of that story we wound around the Brussels airport for three hours trying to find our luggage that was sent to a “holding place.”

Now, these are the details of what occurred (with a bit of an attitude thrown in). But what I am learning is that I have a choice as to how I write the narrative of what occurred. What story will I take forward with me into the future as I share this with others?

In the midst of this mini-circus, I confess that my negative narrative was colored by 24 hours on planes and very little sleep. I moved quite easily to frustration.

But how many hours of my life do I want to waste on negative rumination? The older I get, the less time I want to waste on things that don’t matter in the long run. 

On the positive side of the narrative, we had the unexpected gift of a two-hour train ride from Brussels to Amsterdam, two cities I had never visited. At one point the sun was warming me through the train window. My eyes fell lazily onto the idyllic farmland of Belgium and the Netherlands. It was a wonderful moment of grace, and something I would not have experienced had we not been diverted.

In Amsterdam, we actually had a nice shower and good night’s sleep at a very nice hotel. And woke ready to fly the last leg of our trip. 

All of what I shared above is true. So then the question becomes: Which part of the story will I choose to focus on? What part will I ruminate on? Clearly I was not in control of the circumstances. But I am in control of the story I tell about the circumstances.

Think about a recent situation in your life that didn’t go the way you planned. Is there any aspect of it in which you can see the grace of God? Even a small, unexpected gift, like sunlight warming you through a window while you take an unplanned detour.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:6-8)

It’s not always easy, but watching for the simple graces is good for our souls.


Photo by Ken Yam on Unsplash