Life stories matter. They matter a lot. I’ve been privileged to the front row seat of many storytelling sessions. For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed listening to people tell their stories; stories of joy, pain, hardship, sickness, falling in love, temptation, success, hurt, and life in general. Isn’t it fascinating to see the way a person’s face lights up when someone has a genuine interest in his or her story?

When I was a little girl, my mom and dad would tell stories. Yes…the stories about walking the miles to and from school, barefoot in the snow; funny how they both have the same experience. (eye roll) My grandparents spoke of very different days of parenting than I know today. They talked about hand-washing the clothes and dishes, baking fresh bread, letting the kids run around outside unsupervised until dinner time, and being poor…really poor. The difference in their parenting experiences versus mine do not diminish the joy we each have found in raising kids. One probably isn’t better than the other; just different, which is what makes listening to their stories so entertaining.

It took until the age of thirty for me to really start understanding my own story. The funny thing is I had been telling parts of my story ever since the day of the Columbine shooting. However, in the thirteen years between that event and my 30th year of life, I was unable to fully comprehend my story and what it meant to me. It almost felt like a script I had memorized…”I was shot at Columbine. I almost lost my arm, but…” I’ve never had a problem sharing details of that event, but figuring out how I wanted to use it in my life as a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend required many years of internal healing and reflection. It took all that time for me to realize that the years before and after the shooting mattered to my story much more than the event itself.

Writing Over My Shoulder opened a pathway for healing. Telling the full story of my life, as Karen Booker Schelhaas and I put the words to paper, helped me to see how each moment of life has led to and prepared me for the next. The moments all tie together, and my story would not be complete if one moment was missing. I didn’t choose my story, per say, and there are parts I wouldn’t want to experience again. But, I wouldn’t give back the life lessons or perspectives I’ve learned along the way.

Last summer, I was speaking at a conference in Indiana. I looked at the event schedule and noticed Jason Schechterle would be sharing his story. I knew of Jason and his story. For a couple of years we had passed each other by; speaking at similar conferences, but never the same one. As we arrived for rehearsals, we both noticed each other immediately and shared a hug. We knew of each other’s stories, and that knowing connected us in an unexplainable way. Watching Jason tell his story at the conference further encouraged me to find comfort on stage, sharing my story in hopes of encouraging others the way he does. To me, his story is unimaginable and inspiring. Yet, he stayed the whole morning after his presentation to be sure he sat front row as I shared mine. When I finished, he hugged me and told me how much my story has inspired him over the years.

Every ‘story’ is specific to the person to whom it belongs. Not all stories will be shared with others. Some may be kept internally, some may be exposed to the masses, but those differences do not diminish the power of finding purpose in a life story. Understanding our stories helps each of us to find healing from a hurt, joy from a success, forgiveness of an offense, grace for ourselves and others, and an appreciation for how the pieces intertwine to create a beautiful life.

“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it. “ Jason Schechterle