As a writer, I love stories. I read them. I write them. I tell them. Actually, I tell them all the time, especially my favorites.
So if you know me and you love me, I’ll be polite and give you a heads-up that you should just scan the next six paragraphs. You’ve heard the story many times over.
One of my very favorite stories is about how I learned there was no Santa. I was 5, and we were living with a man and his grandson. For the first time in my life, I lived in a house. This was exciting, so one morning before the school bus came, I ascended the steps to the attic to go exploring.
Within moments, I came upon a large box that contained a Santa suit. I could tell immediately that the massive suit was just the right size for Bombi, the white-haired man whose house we shared. My mind raced, and I came to some immediate and mind-blowing realizations.
“Bombi must be one of those department-store Santas,” I thought. “That means there is no Santa, so anyone can be Santa. And that means I can be Santa too.” And then I saw the bell. I had seen Santas ringing their bells and collecting money. This was my chance to help my mom afford her own place.
Before I continue, let me just say that I was the shortest, scrawniest kid in my class. But that didn’t stop me from putting on the Santa suit, donning my face with red lipstick, grabbing the bell and racing out the back door before anyone saw me. (To this day, I don’t know how I avoided falling on the suit.) I toddled out as the school bus pulled up, so I got on and began ringing my bell as I walked down the aisle. I didn’t think asking for milk money would be much of a sacrifice.
To my astonishment, the school bus driver grabbed me by my unwieldy collar and towed me to the back door of Bombi’s house, where my mother – my poor, linear, analytical mother – stood staring.
“Your daughter won’t be going to school today,” the bus driver said as she shoved me inside the back door. My exasperated mother had her own bus to catch, so I got to spend the day traveling with Bombi on his primary job: driving a hearse. But that’s a whole new story.
Stories are woven into the fabric of our families. Some stories are funny, some are odd, and some are heart-wrenching. But the best stories are those that define us. For Christians, the story that most defines us is our testimony: the account of where we were before we knew Jesus, how we met Jesus and the difference He has made in our lives.
Over the years, I have shared my testimony with children I’ve taught in Vacation Bible School, children’s church, Sunday school and on mission trips. I tell them how the people in my life did bad things to and around me, how my sister had a police record by the time she was 12, how we were repeatedly abandoned and lied to. It was easy for me to focus on other people’s sins. But as a young person, I recognized my sinfulness and my mortality, so I cried out for Jesus’ mercy. For more than a decade, I didn’t understand enough to process through what all that meant, but the Lord got hold of me again as a young mom, and I never looked back.
I know many kids I have encountered – particularly those I serve each summer in Anchorage – understand what it is to be abused and abandoned. I hope my story inspires and, yes, convicts them. But I know my story can only be a portal through which they can enter into their own journey.
John 4 tells of a woman whose story became a portal for many. Jesus – the all-knowing God-man – was weary from his travels, so He rested by Jacob’s well in what the Jews viewed as enemy country, the neighboring land of Samaria. It was there that He providentially encountered a Samaritan woman who came to the well when she least expected company, and yet here was this Jewish man who asked her for a drink.
What ensured was a cat-and-mouse narrative in which Jesus plainly yet lovingly disclosed the sordid details of the woman’s life. The woman readily changed the subject to spiritual matters, resulting in a admission on Jesus’ part.
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” – John 4:25-26
Then the woman did what everyone who has just encountered the Messiah should do: She ran off and told everyone she could find about Jesus.
Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, ‘He told me everything I ever did’” (John 4:39). This woman’s sins easily could have been fodder for years of town gossip, so you can imagine how everyone’s eyebrows raised at that news.
The woman’s story compelled them to get to know Jesus for themselves. But that encounter gave them a story of their own.
And they told the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42
There’s plenty of room for stories in our lives, but this is the kind of story that should define us. I love my Santa story, but it isn’t what defines me. The story of when I encountered Christ is.
Maybe you’re not at a place where you have this kind of story of your own. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor and take some time this week to read John chapters 1, 3 and 4. They tell a timeless story that starts, “In the beginning . . . “ It can be a new beginning for you.