You may look at this photo and dismiss it as another adventuring rookie failure, or a borderline-interesting family day at the lake. But let me assure you- this is no failure and it happens to be one of the most memorable days of my August, 2014.
Have you ever noticed that every picture has a backstory and a post-story? I know we’ve all scrolled through pages and pages of social media hitting the “like,” “love” and “angry face” buttons without so much as a backward glance. We make judgement calls instantaneously. Along with that, we pre-set our availability to the world around us in factors of time and mental energy and then put on the blinders to keep us plowing through the day. But, have you wondered what events or emotions preceded your friend’s weird sideways glance, that epic skiing video or 45th ridiculous cat picture? When is the last time you took time to stop and listen to someone’s backstory? A friend of mine did this for me just a few weeks ago. I tell you it’s impacted how I relate to other people.
The thing about backstories is that most people won’t just tell you their own. You have to ask. I used to think if I asked it would sound pushy and rude. Yeah in some cases… be sensitive. It’s not for you to know everything. But, I’ve also been learning that when I truly care about something or someone, it becomes part of my life and I WANT others to ask! Time together is like driving through a national park- scenic. But time with inquiry is actually getting out of your car and realizing your friend arranged for a helicopter tour of the park instead- it’s epic! And you’ll miss out if you insist on peering from the comfort of your four-wheeled hunk of metal.
So, while the question is still on your tongue, I’m going to tell you about my picture above.
It was a hot summer day in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. The five of us, Mom, Dad, brother and sister had already been given the lecture from our rental agency concerning proper motorboat operation and now we were excited to finally see the Reinell bobbing in the antsy waters. So we packed in all the essentials for a great day; food, towels, water skis, warning flag, sunglasses and a foam mattress. A mattress? Yep.
Mom had been battling cancer over two years. Comfort was essential. She had already been in Arizona and Germany for treatments. This was August and probably just the second week in that whole year of true vacation from doctors and protocols and all the rest. A year before, the cancer had settled into her bones; “metastatic involvement of the T-4 vertabral body, left 6th posterior rib, left illiac wing… ” and the report went on. She was in constant pain. Yet Mom was no whiner.
That day in August on Coeur d’Alene Lake, Mom tried to water ski. I’ll never forget watching her slip those rubber straps over her vanishing toes and grip the tow line with all the strength she had left. I seriously wondered if the force of getting up would break another rib. She tried twice- and failed. But did she really? Mother lived fully, even if something didn’t work out as planned. Most of her strength over the years had gone into relationships.
Three weeks after this trip, we were gathered around her bedside where she lay in a fitful sleep. She was dying. The house was quiet, too quiet. This must have bothered her because abruptly she inquired, “are you going to live?” We realized by not concerning ourselves with at least the pleasure of normal-volume conversation, we had inadvertently sent the message we were not concerned about ourselves or our future. Even in her state, Mom cared to ask. She wanted to live with us and be excited for us. So one-by-one, we told her our future plans. And because she inquired, she was comforted. Because she asked, we were reminded there was hope in Christ and life for us to be lived beyond that moment. Two days later, she was gone, but that question still lingers with me.
God has prepared in advance things for us to do and a future far more wonderful than we sometimes care to embrace. Don’t you want to know what other people have been walking through? You can’t do everything in life, so why not hear how someone else is experiencing that career, that vacation, that day at work? You might just learn something about them. Or you might be challenged yourself. Either way, my hope is that every encounter helps you see more of who God is and what his story -past, present and future, has been for you all along.
Recently, some scribbled down musings I penned in 2013 resurfaced. Obviously, the same thread has looped back around.
“By God’s grace I go and I return. I never know if the present entry will be my last. I’m not told if my entries will change drastically tomorrow. All I hold is this moment. And yet, it is unrealistic to say that I will always take full advantage of this moment to be fully alive as most ‘good people’ would think of the terms. If so, putting all of those ‘perfect’ moments together would make for a perfectly boring story. So, we must encourage others to view the moments as a whole picture not because it is a hype to make it through to another great moment, but because it is essential to grasping our purpose.”
“It takes more than one moment to see the depth of beauty. It takes more than one act to trace true strength. The story; where is the story? Take time to appreciate people because God works in stories- and you can’t see everything about someone in one glimpse. However, you can know that God has not finished their story. Knowing that moments make up stories helps us to serve people in a less conCLUSIVE way and more conDUCIVE to their growth. They are a work in action. A story would be boring if their were no progress, no motion, no morphing. We know that God does not write boring stories. So, whatever crazy moment you may catch someone passing through, know God’s pen is intently scribbling away.”
Here are some some practical observations in the way of appreciating people.
- Discovering someone’s backstory takes availability. If you don’t slow down, you’ll miss the opportunity.
- Discovering someone’s backstory takes persistence. Ask. When is the last time someone just came up to you and blurted out everything they wanted you know about their week? More likely, you had to inquire. “What happened?… and then?… Really, why did you choose that way?”
- Discovering someone’s life backstory takes time. As much as I’ve tried to microwave this one, it’s true: Building relationships requires time on task. Plain fact. Why? Because good relationships have an element of trustworthiness, which is earned, not assumed. Yes, take risks, be vulnerable and a judge of character. But be patient with yourself… and your friend. It’s always worth the effort.
- Discovering someone’s backstory may require you to share your own. What if they ask YOU?