Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calling All Story-Tellers

By Nicole Unice

Last weekend my husband Dave and I took the final step in the complicated process of obtaining life insurance. Getting life insurance requires more of you than getting married, having a child, or borrowing money for a mini-mansion. The only experience that came close was the time we navigated customs in Mexico, having our bags poked to make sure we weren’t sneaking contraband cantaloupe across the border.

Our last step was a phone interview, reviewing interview questions and elaborating on bizarre queries about our chiropractic visits, plans to become pilots and capital gain history. Here’s my husband’s side of the conversation.

“No, no, yes…. Two. Speeding and failure to observe a traffic signal.”

I almost spit out my Diet Coke laughing.

I realized that those three little questions gave the woman on the other side of the phone an interesting perspective on my husband. The truth is, those two tickets are the only Dave has had in his 18 years of driving. He’s never had an accident, checks door locks every night, and goes by “Straight Arrow” in his father/son camping group. Yet those three little questions told a different story. To the woman on the other end of the phone, Dave was a speeding chiro-addict maniac.

It’s amazing how perspective changes a story.

I started to think about my own perspectives, on myself, on others, on God. I wondered what little pieces of information I learn and then use to write my own stories. Take pregnancy. Consider these words: Natural birth. Yoga. Epidural. Organic. Midwife. Elective C-section. Formula. Breastfeeding. Each word carries weight. They are heavy words, value words, words that tell stories.

Are you a natural birth touting, yoga practicing, attachment parenting breastfeeder? Or a formula-giving, C-section choosing, nanny-hiring career woman?

Even as I type I realize how ridiculous it sounds. Of course I wouldn’t judge others based on a few little words! Of course a woman is about more than just her choice of bottle or breast! Of course I wouldn’t write a story about myself or another based on just those things!

…or would I?

The truth is, I’ve been that woman. The one who judges. The one who takes just a little bit of information and then creates a whole story line about the person behind it. The one who also writes my own story based on the things I pride myself upon—and the things I hide.

As ridiculous as it is to determine a perception of Dave in three questions, I do the same thing all the time. Perspective truly changes a story.

My oldest child is turning seven this month. Seven years ago, I began to use those weighty pregnancy words. I began to attach value to a woman’s choices. I began to write mental stories about what made a “good” mother or a “godly” woman. Now, many mistakes later, I can see that my perspective was about as crazy as the insurance lady’s.

I get it wrong with other people. I get it wrong with myself. And I certainly get it wrong when it comes to what God has for me. Yet I find encouragement in God’s plans for women. Throughout scripture, God makes it clear that his perspective on women is much different from what their culture, their families, or even they think about themselves.

God uses women as leaders, and he uses them to empower male leaders. He uses them as mothers and wives, as encouragers and warriors. He gives them purpose in families, in relationships, and in the kingdom. His perspective is always bigger than ours. And His is right.

I recently spoke with a young woman struggling with anxiety. After a few minutes of explanation, she said, “I really want you to tell me what I need to work on. I need you to tell me what’s wrong.”

I smiled and thought about my little perspective, and then said, “I can tell you what I think based on my perspective. And you can tell me what you think based on yours. But neither of us has the full perspective. Maybe we should ask the guy who really knows. God.” She looked at me a bit sideways, but then slowly nodded. I encouraged her to spend time each day waiting for God. Asking for his perspective. Letting him take the lead.

As women leaders, we are often pioneers. We forge new paths. But we can trip on crazy questions and value words, forgetting that there is only one perspective that matters. When God writes our story, it is right, and it is true. We must allow ourselves the space to hear from him, and the grace to listen for his perspective on the people around us.

And that makes a great story.

Nicole Unice is a professional talker—counselor, writer, and teacher--and director of women’s ministries for Hope Church in Richmond, VA. She has three children and the stretch marks to prove it. Find her blogging about faith and life at www.thestubbornservant.blogspot.com.

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