Below is a speech I recently gave to my class about storytelling, our stories, and how Jesus redeems it all. As the fourth anniversary of the death of Rachel Daggett occurred last Sunday, December 9th, I’m reminded that even in tragedy, Jesus is always working.
I had a previous speech written up on why we should care about the achievement gap. But then I realized that as passionate as I am to helping inner city school children, this will be my last speech in our Comm. 100 and subsequently, this will be my last opportunity to persuade you about anything. Today I want to tell you why telling stories matters, and why being an effective communicator can literally change the course of history. I hope that by the end of my speech, you will realize that we are called to be storytellers, and that our stories matter. I will go over three points: how stories can capture attention, how stories can quickly change directions, and ultimately, how story telling can save lives.
“I once knew a girl with girl with the bluest of eyes, the brightest of smiles, and the emptiest of hearts.” Beginning a story can gain attention like no other. You can instantly gain credibility and the attentive ears of your audience. Geoff Livingstone, author and public speaker known for his book, “Welcome to the Fifth Estate” describes this as the “personification method of story telling.” He says, “Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together.” By starting off my story with the overture of love, most of you can instantly relate to a Jr. high or high school love story. Or Taylor Swift songs. By gaining attention for the right reasons, we can use our stories to change the direction of our audience.
“Her name was Rachel. Rachel cursed like a sailor and was thirsty for truth. She had a jolly and obnoxious laugh, and she sat next to me in my 5th period economics class.” Stories, as I just mentioned, have an usual way to change directions very quickly. In the Bible, Joseph and Mary had a pretty typical story. Joseph was to be married to Mary, be a good husband and future dad, work hard and be a good Jew. But the story changes. “The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child will be born and will be called holy – the Son of God.’” You see, just like Mary and Joseph, stories with unusual plot changes can help us realize that indeed, our personal lives aren’t unusual – and as our lives turn and twist, sometimes tragically, we can relate. As Pastor Tim Chaddick of Reality LA said at a College Conference last January, “We must realize the importance of our identity…and realize that it changed the moment we accepted Jesus into our lives.”Our stories change, and it’s important we recognize change and call it as it is in our storytelling. If we can recognize change, we can realize our storytelling can literally change lives.
“Rachel always had questions about the Bible, even saying, “I don’t know if I believe, but I know the verses you share make me feel better. Make my day seem like it’s worth it.” Indeed, story telling can change lives. You see, Rachel was a classmate of mine. We did indeed sit together in economics. The girl was a hurricane, a culture shock, and the most loveable human being I ever met. But she didn’t know Jesus. And I’m going to tell you now the rest of this story, and why my storytelling mattered and still matters. I went to a public high school with one of the worst drug problems in the state of Oregon. Rachel was a big time drug user crushing up prescription pain pills known as oxycodone and smoking them through tin foil. And every class she asked me, begged me, to send her verses and to take her to church. I could see the pain in her eyes but my own selfish pride and fear were more evident in mine. I knew my story at the time was a joke. I promised Rachel I would take her but my shame wouldn’t let me. The story Rachel needed to hear was that God loved her so much he came and died so she wouldn’t have to. She needed to see that from my life, but the truth is, my life was a wreck. I was choosing a lifestyle with my teammates and friends that didn’t show I loved or followed Jesus. I was living in sin with my girlfriend at the time, being a stupid 18-year-old boy. So instead of sharing my story with Rachel, I took her trust and put it in my back pocket. And subsequently, she became apart of my story. I remember it was November of 2008, and I told my friend Aaron that Rachel would come to our church retreat a few months later, find Jesus, and change our drug culture forever. I’ll never forget that on December 9th, four years ago last Sunday, he called me. And he said three words I’ll never forget: “Matt…….Rachel died.”
Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church recently said, “The genealogy of Jesus includes Bathsheba to show that God can work through our mistakes and our sin.” just like us, Jesus’ story involved a lot of sin-filled people. But he didn’t stop telling his story. I want you guys to know as I close up, that not a day goes by where I don’t somehow think about Rachel. That I wish I had known these facts about story telling. Because instead of being apart of my story, Jesus could have used mine in hers. That my sin hindered and perhaps ultimately deterred her from knowing Him. I want to encourage you guys and let you know that no matter where you are coming from: sexual sin, sexual addictions, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, abusive parents, sexual abuse, anger, pride, anything and everything. That Jesus died for you, so you don’t have to. There is no shame in the Gospel. So don’t live in fear, but live in outspoken humility because your story matters. Thank you.
I am a person of structure. When I lack structure, it normally means I lack discipline, and when I lack discipline, I normally end up with an anxiety attack and the making of an ulcer in my system.
So when August rolled around, and I made the tough decision to talk to my parents about missing Thanksgiving 2011, I knew it was going to be an interesting Fall Semester.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go home – every ounce of flesh that embodies my soul stillyearns for the fresh air of the Columbia River Gorge, the smells of mom’s Greco/Italian/Grilling cooking, the love of my dog – that is when he isn’t trying to hump me in the morning – and the love of my family and friends whom I care about more deeply with each passing month that I continue to ride this unstoppable train called Time.
I even had a justifiable reason – my job is to coach young men to smash each other into oblivion, and we happen to be very good at it, which meant that before this season started, I knew we’d have a late playoff game.
With much dissatisfaction, my parents had to agree. It was tough, but we did it.
You see, this is a big deal for me. For the last decade we’ve done the same thing. We go to the Kopra’s house, where Jake and I eat raw croutons (don’t ask), a lot of chips and dip, the traditional turkey dinner, and then Jake and his sisters normally pass out so I baby sit the cousins. We then play some dice game that I absolutely suck at, I get super tired, I go home early, and I wake up to go Black Friday shopping.
But this year, I had to find a new home for Thanksgiving. By God’s grace, Mackenzie and his cousins took me in, and it was an absolutely beautiful time, and I am extremely grateful and blessed to have such great friends.
But with each Carpenter’s song that comes on the radio – another slightly annoying tradition of my family (dad plays that stupid CD nonstop…he won’t even use his iPod) – my heart breaks for home with a deeper cut.
It doesn’t help that this time of year, as I wrote in my last blog a few weeks ago, kills my façade of being a manly man who plays and coaches sports and changes me to about as close as I can to becoming a woman (I say this with sarcasm, because for one, I do consider myself to be pretty dudeish, secondly, I am not a woman, thirdly, it’s okay to be romantic once in awhile).
The Christmas music, the cold air, the decorations, the lights, the cooking, and the movies – it just hits me for some reason.
Seriously, I have no idea what PMS is like, other than facing it’s wrath from my friends – but I think Christmas gives me the perpetual emotional effects. Things that don’t normally make me cry make me want to cry, and God forbid, tear up.
Just for the record – the only other things that make me tear up: Jesus time, Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers, the Colts AFC Championship game against the Patriots, and getting kicked in the crouch by soccer player.
But here I am, typing away at my computer, tearing up over what happened today and in all totality, what happened the last few weeks.
As we ate cookies and drank coffee (two of my favorite things at this time of year…naw, all the time), a young lady at the brisk age of 15 started to talk about her family.
Dinner tonight was already odd enough – about 5 families with no connections except to the host, and then us Biola students who only knew the Burns and didn’t know their cousins, so I wasn’t sure if I was eating turkey or speed dating everyone. It was fantastic.
Back to that young girl. Her dad is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. She’s moved 27 times in her life. She is more mature than most of my friends, super friendly, and just about the coolest young woman I’ve ever met.
She started to talk about how much she loved her daddy – despite how much they move, despite how she wouldn’t finish high school at the same place and would probably have to attend a few more schools, and despite how friends come and go through her life because of the constant strain of being a military family on the move.
Her dad, who was on base at this point in the afternoon, sounds like an absolute stud. After she asked a few random questions about Biola, I started asking her about her experiences, because as someone who almost joined the military, is still thinking about joining, and has had nearly every other male on the Fier side of the family serve in the Navy, I felt I could empathize with her to some degree.
She immediately and bluntly responded to my peppering about her father by saying: “I love my daddy. He’s an amazing father and a good soldier” with about the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.
Talk about a gracious, graceful, and wonderful young lady (I refuse to say girl, because I still don’t think she’s only 15.)
As I drove home, I started to cry (there it is), because I want to be that type of father. A father who reflects the image of the living and Holy Father. What a beautiful moment I shared with this young lady and the rest of our table.
As I drove, I prayed that God would continue to wreck my idols, specifically of control, because I know that in order to be a father to my future children who is righteous and made holy, I must first pursue holiness at deeper level today.
Katie isn’t the only epiphany I’ve had about growing into a better young man of God lately – a student and spunky freshman young woman (still refuse to say girl) has really radically and powerfully shaken my ideas about Jesus and the pursuit of holiness.
I’d say it’s the icing on the cake to a semester filled with Psych of Marriage, Theology II,and Mars Hill Orange County, but who knows if God has finished this baking session yet.
I won’t go into details about this young lady from Biola – mainly because of time, secondly because of privacy, thirdly because it would come across wrong.
But I’ll say this:
Men – as Christians we claim to seek first a holy and righteous woman of God. So often I’ve experienced and seen differently. We seek a girl who believes in Jesus, who likes the same things as us, and who looks really good in sun-kissed California skin.
But there is something truly beautiful about finding a woman of character, grace, and love. This young Biola student knows really nothing about me. I know very little about her. But I do know her life hasn’t been necessarily easy, and it hasn’t been the picture perfect Christian home.
But when you meet a woman who understands the Doctrine of the Church, Doctrine of Family, Doctrine of Sin, and who has securely placed her identity in Jesus and not in man, her image, or by her functionality (what she does), it rocks your world.
So, for the first time in my life, my eyes filled with tears this week over not a girls beauty, or because she broke my heart (which yes, I have cried over such things I suppose I should admit) – but instead because her character so exemplifies God’s character, that I think I got a better idea and vision of what God’s complete triune character is this week.
For the first time in my life, a woman challenged me to pursue holiness. Not by direct command, not because I want to impress her, but because she loves Jesus.
That my friends, was a powerful moment.
God bless you on this Thanksgiving. For those who couldn’t go home, my hope and prayer is that you shared it with loved ones. For those that don’t get to go “home” to picture perfect families (that we pretend to have!), my hope and prayer is that you realize the power of the church and the family of God. For those of you serving or have loved ones serving in the military or protection forces of our country, thank you for your sacrifice.
Finally, for those of you that have been hurt, oppressed, broken, beat down, and abused by someone you thought loved the Lord, keep seeking the Kingdom. I can assure you that God will come through when the sinful nature of our souls and others souls gets in the way.