The Staying Power of Stories - Part 1

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Hi Storyformed Friends! It is my pleasure to introduce to you, Jason Pederson, a Storyformed guest contributor. Jason believes good stories change lives. Though he has only recently begun work on his first children’s novel, he has been storytelling for 10 years through his residential design business where his home designs help fund adoptions (www.jpdesignhomes.com). Jason is married to his best friend, Jennifer, and together they adopted their now two-year-old son, Jackson, who is eagerly anticipating the arrival of their newest addition; due this Christmas. They live in a Colorado cottage filled with good books and a funny little dog named Belle.

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By Jason Pederson

Most of my childhood is spread across four states. I can still recall unpacking the
familiar boxes of fear and anxiety that the moving trucks always seemed to deliver
alongside my Legos, trading cards, and tennis shoes. Worry shaded my perspective like
the brim on one of my ball caps. New skies meant new friends and the only friendships
I had known were uprooted before they had time to mature. The ebb and flow of my
uncertain surroundings kept me wading in the shallows where I searched for sure
footing and calm waters. For me, that stability came in the form of stories.

Whether it was constancy, permanence, or companionship I was after, books satisfied
that longing in me. An unfamiliar house with its new carpet smell became the well-worn
sandstone corridors of Redwall Abbey. A neighborhood full of strangers grew into
Mirkwood Forrest with its dense boughs and heavy mists. And anyone of my new
friends could turn out to be the most important companion in the fight to take back
Narnia from the hand of the White Witch. The anxiety produced fertile ground ripe for
adventure. My imagination and confidence flourished in the soil of these stories.

As I now look over my shoulder, many years later, at the path formed by thousands of
pages, I can’t help but notice that very few have stayed rooted to the spot where I first
encountered them. The vast majority have been carried away by indifference. In reality,
the path looks more like stones scattered across a river; each requiring a leap more
daring than the last. As I continue to read, I find the river to be wider than I expected,
leaving me feeling as if I am forever suspended mid-river. What may be unnerving for
some has given me a deep appreciation for each new story that proves strong enough
to carry my momentum forward.

What is it that produces this kind of “staying power” in a story? Where does it's
strength and endurance come from? Why do some stories propel us forward while
others leave us stranded?

My 2-year-old son loves books. I find myself reading him stories far beyond his
comprehension and admittedly, his attention span, in an effort to bring him closer to the
ones with power and substance. Even just dipping our toes into one of these stories
brings back the same delightful impressions that captivated me years ago when my
young eyes first passed over the words.

I know you’ve felt it too. Story knits us all together in that way. The particular stories
themselves may differ, but the captivating threads that pull on your heart, have the
same effect on mine. I have followed the roots of the stories that have stayed with me over the years and found that they lead me again and again to the same four streams.
Each stream nourishes my life in a different way, but together they satisfy completely
the longings of my heart.

WONDER is the stream I first encounter as I am being caught up in a story. Wonder
shows up when my imagination is given a glimpse of something that resonates
with what my heart knows to be Good, True, and Beautiful. I use these terms
because, as a Christian, the landscape of my imagination is defined by God, whose
words and character beckon my heart to embrace life as He designed it to be
experienced. Regrettably, there are times when my heart is captivated by empty
promises and half-truths. But it is into that perspective that Wonder calls the loudest and
draws my gaze upward to rest upon the truest Word.

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Thomas Chalmers, a nineteenth-century Scottish minister, wrote about the “expulsive
power of a new affection, saying: the only way to break the hold of an object on the soul
is to show it an object even more beautiful.”
This is Wonder in its essence; to enliven
our eyes and hearts to see and savor the most beautiful.

Words strung together in a beautiful way can be original and even evoke a sense of
awe. But originality and inspiration are not strong enough to withstand the currents in
this life. The roots of resonance need to be present in a way that connects the story to
the core of what it means to be human. The best stories use wonder to help us
remember this whimsical mystery we all find ourselves wrapped up in. The point is that
life is meant to be lived and Wonder is an invitation into that adventure not an
escape from it.

G.K. Chesterton sums this up well in his book Orthodoxy where he says,

“Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild
moment, that they run with water.”

Wonder has this incredible way of sweetening our senses by helping us see the amazing realities right in front of us in their fullest color.

I tear up every time I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s words from The Return of the King when the
wizard Gandalf consoles the young despairing hobbit, Pippin: “End? No, the journey
doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-
curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it…White
shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” These words make me
ache for glimpses of that green country every day. I’ll let you in on a secret; if you look
closely in the places where that rain-curtain seems darkest, you’ll find the fabric to be thinning a bit at the seams. In fact, the life of Jesus is one gaping tear through that heavy curtain.

Jesus told great stories, but he lived an even better one. He was a master at using
wonder to wake people up to the realities of the kingdom of heaven. One of my favorite
examples is from Luke chapter 5 when Jesus first calls Peter, James, and John. After
they had been fishing all night with nothing to show for it, Jesus tells them to cast their
nets again the next morning. They end up pulling in the biggest catch they had ever
seen. The wonder that Jesus awoke in them was not in the wealth of the catch but in
the wealth of the Master. They left a worldly treasure on the shore to follow the greatest
Heavenly Treasure. What I love most about this example is that wonder bookends the
story. The same question is on the minds of the disciples at the beginning and end of
the story: Who is this man and where will he lead us? The only difference between the
two is that the second is carried on a breeze from the White Shores beyond. The
disciples caught a glimpse and couldn’t look away.

Wonder resonates, wonder enlivens, wonder invites, and wonder reveals.

Listen as wonder whispers through the words you love. Allow the ache to burrow deep into your
heart. Dwell in the stories that reveal thin slivers in the rain-curtain. Let the sight lead
your longings to the only place they can be satisfied: the love of God bookended in
mystery and laced through with wonder.

What are your favorite books with staying power?