We were sitting in our bathing suits and shorts in the ice cream shop waiting out a storm. There was thunder and lightning, and my girls were huddling close to John and I with their hands over their ears. To distract them, I told them a story starting out with, “You come from a long line of brave, fearless women…”
I told them about how their “Abuela”, my mom, single-handedly took on a neighborhood dog named “Duke-y” who had bitten just about everybody on the block, swinging a broom over her head and using her big momma voice. He ran home with his tail between his legs, never to bite another child again (yeah, this was in Puerto Rico in the 1970s…days before leash laws, poopy bags, and lawsuits).
I told them about how my Abuela made the guy who ran the corner store apologize to my 9-year-old dad. This man had made fun of him because he had been sent on an errand to buy things that included stuff “just for ladies” (Abuela still had her curlers on because she was getting ready for work, but she put on her lipstick just before stomping out the door).
They were enthralled and still make comments and ask questions about these women whom I think they picture standing boldly on a rock with wind blowing through their hair.
These stories are a part of me, of my identity. They – along with other stories of how members of my family have triumphed, have failed and have endured – play a role in shaping who I am, a process which I believe goes on until we see our true reflection in the eyes of Jesus welcoming us Home.
Recently, I prepared for a women’s retreat themed, “The Stories That Shape Us,” and I ran across an article that emphasizes the importance of sharing these stories with the children in our families. Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush, of Emory University, developed and tested families with The “Do You Know” Scale. The scale is a list of 20 questions like:
Do you know where your grandparents grew up?
Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?
Do you know where your parents met?
Do you know the story of your birth?
In Bruce Feiler’s article for the NY Times, “The Stories That Bind Us” (March 2013), he wrote, “Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
I have noticed that when my parents and aunts tell me these stories they are woven with a thread of “…and thank God…” or “… and by the grace of God…” It makes me think of that passage where Samuel raises his Ebenezer to remind Israel, to remind himself, that “thus far the Lord has helped us.” This awareness is also part of my identity, and one that I pray I pass on to my girls as I share with them stories of their family and their family of faith – stories about faithful Phillip; resourceful Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus); rabid-for-the-Lord Elijah; and “a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do” Jael (Judges). So, when they are up against the Queen Bee on the playground, the glass ceiling in the workplace, or any other force that tries to squash their self-esteem, their values, or their dreams, they can remember “I come from a long line of brave, fearless women and thus far the Lord has helped us…. Bring it!”
What family stories have played a significant role in your “shaping”? How much do you know about your family’s narrative? Do the young people in your family know where grandma and grandpa met? …where you went to school? …what made “crazy uncle Eddie” crazy? Have you shared with them stories of the ways God has walked along with your family…how the Lord has helped you thus far?
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime… (1 Samuel 7:12-13)
God, You wove each of us in our mother’s womb and continue to mold us and shape us. Help us to find the peace in realizing You’ve brought us safe thus far and are in it for the long haul. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Lolimarta Ros Reiter, or as most of her friends know her, Loli, ministers alongside the fine folks at The Presbyterian Church of Seffner outside of Tampa, FL. She was born in Puerto Rico but has lived on the mainland since she was 9. Her daughter Isabel (9 years old) wants you to know her mom is funny; Olivia (6 years old) wants you to know she likes to talk about God…a lot; and John, her husband, wants you to know that she is the best wife, ever…Such a smart man! She looks forward to being in cyber-community with you.