I Love To Tell The Story


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Sometimes it’s how you say it. Sometimes it’s what you say.

I’m blessed to be part of an incredibly awesome Sunday School class. Our curriculum is the Bible. Period. No lesson books, no commentary, no other materials. We pick a book, and we work through it. We discuss it. It takes months. A given chapter often takes weeks. We delve deep, and you’re allowed to share your thoughts even if they aren’t the typical Sunday School answers.

I like it.

So I was excited a couple of weeks ago when we got to John 14, and to a verse I’ve been particularly intrigued by for the last few years.

“If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

I’d never really given a lot of thought to inflection until a few years ago. We see the written words, and our minds apply tone without us thinking about it. But, as I’ve written about before, someone was talking about Peter walking on the water, and Jesus’ reaction. “Oh ye of little faith…” And I’d always heard that with a harsh tone. And this person read it with a loving, proud, amused tone, and it changed my way of thinking.

So take that verse. “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

Over the last few years, it had become a prime example for me of the importance of tone. Say that phrase with one inflection and it means one things. Change the tone, and it means the exact opposite.

I’d always heard it growing up with the emphasis on “obey.”

It’s proof of the importance of obedience. Our works aren’t the key to salvation, but they are still paramount.

“If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

“You will prove that you love me by obeying my commands.”

But read it again, with the emphases on “love.”

“If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

“For someone who loves me, obedience becomes a natural outflow of that love, something they don’t have to worry about.”

The point becomes not that you have to obey in order to prove you love, but that if you love, obeying will be second nature. Don’t focus your energy on obedience, focus it on love.

It is, to me, an interesting idea, and so I was looking forward to having that discussion with my Sunday School class.

But in preparation, I was looking at the verse a little more closely. Different translations, of course, have different versions. Some are just wording changes — “keep” the commands instead of “obey” them. But some have a difference more important to the point I was interested in — they leave out the “you will.”

“If you love me, obey my commands.” It’s no longer a statement of fact; it’s an imperative. Very much the meaning of the first reading. If you love me, prove it.

I had a feeling it was about to get tricky. Greek grammar is a bit different than English, so I figure it’s entirely possible that either translation could be accurate. So I start digging.

What I find, though, isn’t what I expect. And it throws out all the cool stuff I thought I wanted to talk about.

It turns out, “you will” wasn’t the important distinction, really. That “keep” versus “obey” was the interesting part, after all.

On the surface, it’s just a difference in phrasing. “Keep the rules” is just a colloquialism for following them.

But Jesus wasn’t speaking English. He wasn’t saying obey; he was saying keep — take care of, preserve.

He’s going to be gone, and he knows it. He’s about to be crucified. He’s spent years sharing a message, and he’s not going to be able to anymore. What happens to his story then? What happens to his message then?

There’s no books. There’s no videos. There’s no news coverage. There’s him, and he’s about to be gone. And there’s these guys who’ve journeyed with him.

“If you truly love me,” he tells them, “preserve my instructions.” He repeats in the chapter, for his teachings and his saying. “Take care of my message.” It’s the only way it will survive. It’s the only way it will outlive him.

“If you love me, be the keepers of my story.”

And, of course, they did, and it did. They told their stories. They shared his teachings. They taught his commands. And, eventually, they wrote it all down.

For obvious reasons, I find this beautiful. It speaks to who I am. It’s what I do. I’m a keeper of stories. I love the idea of their being a divine mandate for doing that for Christ.

It’s something that’s important to him.

“If you love me, be the keeper of my story.”

And it’s still important today as it was then.

He didn’t say, “If you’ve been with me these last few years …”

“If you love me, be the keeper of my story.”

“If you love me…”

There’s a big world out there.

How will they know? How will they hear?

“If you love me, be the keeper of my story.”

Gardening In Babylon


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Sitting here at the beginning of 2013, it’s easy to imagine that I’ll most remember the year 2012 for how it ended, coming home in the last month to Marshall Space Flight Center after a year and a half away.

But, notable ending aside, 2012, by mass, was a chapter in my life about evolution, about answering a question the previous year had posed about who I am.

For the longest time, if you’d asked me to describe myself, somewhere pretty high on the list would be the fact that I’m a writer. Heck, I think that was my entire Twitter bio at one point. And for at least 15 years, it had been true — since college, I’d spent six years writing for newspapers and nine years writing for NASA education.

And then, one day, I’m not a writer anymore. At least, not in the sense of someone who writes things. No one was paying me to write, and I wasn’t even writing on here with any sort of regularity.

So if I don’t write, it’s hard to argue I’m a writer. What am I then?

I started working on the answer late the year before, but 2012 was the year that it really began to coalesce.

I started working at the Depot toward the end of 2011, but I expanded what I was doing there last year, doing more field trip programs for kids, and starting to give tours for adults. It was through that I ended up being “discovered” and doing the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll this fall.

I also continued substitute teaching from the year before, doing more of it and in more places than the year before. Some days were great, some were not so great. The great days, as a rule, tended to be the ones where I got to do more actual teaching, instead of babysitting.

My work with Cottage Senior Living included some writing, but also let me revisit my design and graphics skills I’d not used professionally in a long time.

I did begin writing again. I wrote a blog for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. I wrote articles for Mud & Magnolias magazine. I finished another draft of a book. And now I’m writing at my new job.

Then there’s the more random factors, like selling Pampered Chef and starting Comic Science Improv from the ashes of Face2Face.

And putting it all together, it becomes a story about, well, putting it all together.

Last year, more than any other, I took my foundation as a writer, and built on it, using pieces old and new. I’m a communicator. I can do that with writing, but I can also do it through design or speaking or graphics or acting. They stopped being separate things, and became parts of one thing.

And that one thing is telling a story. I told a lot of stories last year, about the Huntsville Depot, about The Commons, about the Space Launch System, about Christmas lights in Mississippi, about dead Alabama governors, about the space shuttle, about quality kitchen shears.

I was a writer. And one day I wasn’t.

Last year was about becoming something else. It’s a story about becoming a storyteller.