"It all makes sense now, of course, 20 years later. At the time though, it was dark. Very dark. I couldn't see then that God was with me. Sure, he said he would be. In the Bible, you know? 'I will never leave you or forsake you?' But it didn't feel like it then. Not at all."
"Even with all the weird things that happened.... This old lady sat down beside me at the bus stop that day. She talked about inane things. Ridiculous things. Like the weather. But when I got up to get on my bus, she grabbed my hand and smiled at me. Quietly, she said, 'God loves you, honey.' On that day, of all days."
"And then that guy at the grocery check-out. He was a little creepy, I have to admit. But his creepiness led him to pay for my groceries. Up til that very minute, I had no idea how I was going to pay for them myself."
"So now I can see it, looking back. God really was with me, even then. He was present. Not the way I expected him to be. Not how I wanted him to be. But he was there."
I gathered today with a small group of Christians in my community to talk about stories and telling stories to express the truths found in Scripture. One of my friends talked to us about "stories that compost" and a process of examining a Bible story and then asking 3 questions:
(1) What did you like about the story?
(2) What bothers you about the story?
(3) What questions do you have about the story?
At the end of that, we all took a few minutes to write a story as a sort of reflection or meditation about the ideas presented in the Bible story. So we looked at Matthew 1 today, about Joseph's response to the news that Jesus was coming and that he should just go ahead and marry Mary. As we talked about the story, we noted how God's presence as Immanuel was a theme that flowed throughout. As I paused to write, that was the overwhelming thought that came to my mind. So I wrote the narrative above as my "story."
There's something about interacting with a story at that level that requires you to internalize the truth of it in a different way. I must have read Matthew 1 25 times before. I have thought about Jesus coming to earth at least once a year around Christmas time. But have I really considered Jesus's presence with us as Immanuel in this way? Have I reflected on his presence with us through his people in the same way? Have I really allowed the story of God's presence to intersect my own heart and life? Probably not.
There are lots of ways to tell the stories of God. I've talked before about telling our own stories and how God has intersected our own lives. And without taking away from the truth of what actually happened, I think we can also imagine what those ideas might mean in our own lives and the lives of those around us. And we can learn to tell the heart of the story using words and stories that make sense to those around us.