Growing in God through (re)writing your own story

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa (although we are currently on furlough in eastern Ontario, and return in July 2019).

In our last four articles, we learned about the different ways that God guides us. Some of these are very supernatural (dreams, visions, impressions, angels, scripture illumination, circumstantial signs) and others more ‘ordinary’ (wise counsel and common sense).  These directive means help you to look forward in hope.  Yet you also need to remember.  Writing your dreams, goals and aspirations in a journal also helps you to look forward as you pause and reflect on your past challenges.  When you look back, that’s when you can best see how things come into place. You can celebrate having come so far!  When you re-reading your journals, it helps you gain a new perspective of past struggles, and how you came through them.  You are reminded of God’s faithfulness.  However, you do also need to learn to say goodbye to any yet-unfulfilled hopes from earlier seasons, so they don’t hold you back.  Let’s call this the ‘goodbye’ list.

I learned this when I attended my Ottawa Cursillo weekend in March 2001. I was showered with love by the community by many notes and gifts that came in unexpected ways.  But what blessed me most was the counsel of Anglican priest Andrea Thomas.  I had been grieving certain losses from my single life in Toronto, and still hadn’t fully transitioned into my married life in Ottawa.  I was somehow stuck between the two.   I shared my very real feelings with Andrea, and she told me, you need to say goodbye to those things.  You can’t say “hello” before you’ve said “goodbye.”  Andrea was right.  I wrote down the things that I was missing from my single time in Toronto.  Things ranged from the convenience of driving my own car, to University of Toronto’s library, to friends, to Tony’s wish not to have children at our ages. So, some were small losses, others big.   I wrote this list down and shared with my Anglican priest, John Bridges.  We had a funeral for the goodbyes, and during the process, we burned the list in an incense burner.  It was like the burning list of goodbyes and failed hopes were an offering to the Lord.  I finally felt free.  This list is one form of writing as a release.

Another is to journal – as a love letter to God. It’s a good way to pour out your concerns, and your prayer requests in a tangible way.  So you write these concerns down, and then read them a year later. You would be surprised how often these prayers were answered!  I journal in this way, and when I re-read my past journals, I’ve also discern a pattern through the promises that the Holy Spirit assures me with.   God has shown himself faithful – even though there are some areas that I’m still struggling with, he is still there helping transform me.

In an earlier broadcast, I shared about psalming.  Psalming is writing poems to God, similar to the style of the Psalms in the Bible.  These include complaints and praise to God, and they ultimately end with a commitment to trust God. When you write psalms, they become a promise to God that you can stand with.  And, you’ll find that Holy Spirit will answer the cries of your psalms.   Tony has written music to some of the psalms and poems written by Ottawa prison inmates. Some of these songs have become favourites with the men we see in Worcester’s Brandvlei prison.  Tony has offered to write music from their own poems.  We are hopeful for what they will share.

Yet the deepest way to grow in God through writing – is to create your own story.  In a way, writing an autobiography could be part of this process, since it’s important to look back and remember what God has done in your life.  Too often we forget the goodness we have received, and instead complain about the present.  I know it looks shocking that the Israelites forgot about the miracles that happened in Egypt, and their Red Sea crossing.  They complained about many things, and when Moses was away with God, they instead turned to a newly-made idol and worshipped it.  How quickly we forget.

So writing helps you remember the lessons of the past as you go forward into the future.

If you see your life as a developing story, rather than one chapter on continuous repeat, you can see there is a rhythm in it.   If your page at the moment features a thunderstorm, and you feel that the wind and rain are lasting forever, they are NOT.  It just seems that way.  Are you going to be defined by only one chapter or even one page?  No! There is sun in the future forecast, and there are rainbows.  All stories have their crises, nail-biting intense parts, suffering, joys, sunshine and rainstorms. Some include romantic moments, beautiful sunsets, loving families, and joys of friendship.  You can even choose the genre of your life.  You might think that you have a sad dramatic story, but you may have moments of comedy.  And then there are the moments of overcoming.   You just need to see from a different perspective.

Surpresa Sithole is a very special Iris leader.  He is the base leader of the White River base in South Africa. He also is one of the teachers at the Harvest school that we attended three years ago.  He’s a writer and encourager of many, whether Iris missionaries, conference attenders and people he happens to meet.  He’s written two books.  One of them, Voice in the Night, is his story.  It was part of our required reading for Harvest School.  I remember I stayed up all night reading his book, since I just couldn’t put it down.  I remember when I was reading, Tony came downstairs more than once calling for me, but I kept saying, “I just need to finish the chapter.”  But of course, then I would start reading the next one.

When Tony began to read Surpresa’s book, he got so excited that he went and bought five copies of the book to give others.  Eventually he gave away them all, including my original copy.  I’m thankful that I still have my e-copy!   Surpresa has a nail-biting story where he has survived so many war-time incidents in Mozambique, as well as the murder of his witchdoctor family by rival witchdoctors.   Holy Spirit spoke to him that night and commanded him to leave the house, and when he obeyed, it saved his life.  He and his best friend were led through a forest to a home on the edge of Malawi, where they came to faith. And that was just the beginning of his life of miracles that included the gift of being given at least 12 languages supernaturally – one of them being English!  He turns all of his experience to joy in the telling.  He is not one to forget what God has done for him.

So what is Supresa’s secret?  Part of it is he’s a man who worships all the time. He prays, and has a thankful attitude.  He says that every day can be a good day, no matter the circumstances.  He doesn’t let what is happening around him sway or scare him.  He is a master of what I call the “re-frame.”  Re-framing is to look at a situation from a completely different perspective.  It’s to have a different view-point.  If six people were to view an elephant at the same time, would they see the same thing?  No, they wouldn’t – because they all have their unique perspective.  One sees the legs, another, the tail, and still another, see the trunk.  But they’re all the same elephant.   Are any of them wrong?  No, they’re not wrong – they’re just not seeing the whole picture.  So, re-framing, is to see the good in a situation, or something that you can learn from that situation.  It can even provide the way out of being under that perpetual raincloud.  This is a the storyteller’s version of a promise given in 1 Corinthians 10 verse 13: God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.  You need to look beyond your circumstances to the big picture.  That’s what storying is all about.  You write the big stories and fill in details later.

Another way to look at seeing from a higher perspective is through a scene from the movie “Dead Poets Society.”  Robin Williams plays a teacher who wants to inspire his students to see beyond the same-old, same old that they are used to.  Instead, he encourages them to stand on their school desks to see from a new perspective, a higher perspective.  Then they could change their minds and perceptions about truth, since they could see more.  It’s the same with being given God’s perspective, and to see almost prophetically like eagles.  This perspective is above the storms of life.   And this is also another secret of Surpresa’s – having God’s perspective on life.  This gives him constant joy.

Tony and I were fortunate to sit under two teaching sessions with Surpresa, as well as an extra afternoon session where many of the single missionaries begged him to pray over them to find their future spouses.  He doesn’t do that often, but he did then, and sure enough, many of those who asked for prayer are getting married or engaged. We asked him to pray over us for languages, and hoped for Afrikaans.  But sometimes you need to just work at it, right?  We are thankful for encouraging tutors who re-frame our frustration by reminding us of the strides we have made in our learning process.  Surpesa’s master re-frame is never to forget your identity as a child of God. I remember him telling us never to be discouraged. We have so much that the world is looking for. Go as a lion, not a chicken. He knows who he is. There are people who don’t like the fact that Surpresa is always smiling or laughing – but he told us that he is always enjoying God and is worshipping him.   His story is full of joy, since his perspective is always purposed by God.  Just like praise changes the atmosphere when you sing, so seeing through God’s perspective changes the atmosphere of your life.  You begin to see God’s little touches woven through your own life.

Of course, most of us are unfinished masterpieces, but we can in time become so beautiful.   Think of an art form that the Japanese have perfected.  They take broken pieces of a ceramic cup and they glue them together with gold.  When they are finished the process, the result is even more beautiful than the original cup, before it was broken.  All that was broken has been made beautiful.  The cup’s story has been re-storied with gold, and is beautiful, for all to see.

When you are thinking about your life, think of joys, not just sorrows.  You celebrate one, and overcome the second. But there are beautiful gems in those sorrows.  Your life wouldn’t be complete without them.

Think of all the characters in the Bible. Except for Jesus, every one of them was far from perfect.   All of them sinned.  Some were proud, others hesitant and afraid. Some initially said no to God’s call, like Moses and Jonah. Some were fearful, like Gideon; however, the angel called Gideon a “mighty man of God.”  Why?  Because that’s how God was remaking him.  He does the same with us.  He changes our fears to make us fearless, although this again is a process of growing in perfect love.  Love casts out all fear. So go on a search of different biblical characters.  Is there one that resonates with you?  Learn from their story.  How did they begin?  What did God do in their hearts?   God wants to do that in you, too.

You can be a super-hero in him, just like the biblical characters.  Each of these people were great BECAUSE of the Lord.  We can point to him and give him the glory.  He’s the one who has given us gifts and talents, intelligence and creativity.  And he’s especially the one who takes our weaknesses and pours his glory through like a waterfall.

Some people look at me and think I’m a wise woman.  I’ve actually always wanted to be one.  But that wisdom doesn’t all come from me.  It comes from observing from different viewpoints:  my own, others’ stories, scriptures and whispers from God.  I’m being decorated like that cup.  I’m also filled with gold lines, as God is mending broken areas in my life.

Some of the people that Tony interviews on our internet radio show “The Worcester Reports” have overcome so much.  Their stories reflect where they have come from, and the changes and hopes that they now have in Christ.  They are being remolded into unique masterpieces.

It’s important to invite Jesus into any painful memories you may have from your childhood. When you do, he can begin to heal your heart from the inside out.  I remember one such memory that surfaced when I was on a mission trip in northern Kenya.  I had a fear of public speaking, which sounds funny for someone like me who speaks all the time. When I would give presentations during seminary classes, I would be terrified, despite really knowing the topic I shared about – so I would read my talk.

During that mission, I gave a long talk on ministry of lay people in the church.  It was a very long talk – since I didn’t take into account that it would be translated as well.  That makes the talk twice as long, or more. So our mission leader wasn’t too happy with me.  That night, I was to prepare another talk for the following day and I had a struggle.  I was terrified to prepare a talk last minute.  I still like time to prepare but the terror was evil.  I shared with the other leader who was with us, a gentle pastor from Nairobi named Tom.   We prayed about this fear and I was given a sense of where this fear came from.  I had a picture in my mind’s eye of me as a frightened little girl.  I was being scolded by an older man, who was mean.  He had attempted to molest me and told me, “Don’t tell.  Don’t ever tell. Don’t speak.”  While I had long forgiven this man, I still had been held by his curse and decree over me to not tell of the abuse, or to speak.  And what is sharing a story or teaching on the mission field?  What is preaching?  It is SPEAKING.  Thankfully, I shared this impression and memory with Tom and we prayed.  We brought Jesus into the memory.  The man was again forgiven, and the power of his curse was broken.   I was free to speak, although it took time and confidence.  The following day I shared about my emotional and spiritual healing with the audience.  Previously, not many came up for prayer.  But when I shared that I too, had been healed in this very room, from childhood sexual abuse, the women came up in tears, asking for their own healing.   God used my story and his healing to bring healing to others. God showed his glory, like the gold in the Japanese cup.  And my story was transformed from being a fearful mute to an overcoming speaker.

You too can overcome your own struggles and painful memories, just as I did, and am continuing to do.  Just open the door and let him in.

Jesus, I thank you for the journey that you’ve taken me on.  We are still re-writing my story.  You’re continuing to take threads from my past to re-weave me into a beautiful tapestry.  I ask that you do the same for my friends who are reading. Knock gently on their hearts and guide them on their journey.  Bring your healing and give them new eyes to see from a higher perspective.  Give them joy where there has been sorrow, hope where there has been despair. And fill them with your peace as they look to you.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you’d like to hear a similar audio version of this article, please visit my podcast page   and scroll down to #35.

Be blessed, my friends and please visit again.

Blessings and love,
Laurie-Ann Copple

One response to “Growing in God through (re)writing your own story

  1. Thank you Laurie-Ann for all the encouragement in this post.

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