Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Power of the Story

I've had a lot of inspiration about the importance of recording and telling ancestral stories, especially ones that teach eternal truths. I met Eleanor Jensen who serves in the Riverton Family History Center at the UGA Conference held at the end of the summer who shares her method for doing this. Very inspired!!!

Basically, it involves explaining who your ancestor is ( Example, "This is the story of Sweet's paternal great-great grandmother Jill O'Sullivan), telling what principle this person taught in one of their life experiences ("This story teaches us about persevering and finding joy in life despite hardships."), giving a brief (especially when talking to young children, longer, in depth is fine as the age goes up) retelling of that experience ("Great-great grandpa Maurice died at the early age of 46, leaving Jill to single parent 5 children, including one special needs son,", etc, etc...,"she still managed, along with keeping their family home in West Auckland, and making sure they got good educations, to, find joy in life- racing hydrofoil boats on Auckland harbor."), and then bearing testimony of that truth. ("Heavenly Father wants us to be successful and joyful in all our endeavors. In mortality we agreed to be tried and tested, but we must find ways to take pride in being resourceful to get through hardships, helping others and reaching out to others and the Lord for help, and keeping joy and hope alive. I say these things.....")

This was a very rough example, and obviously, to teach eternal truths and gospel principles, your ancestors do not have to be members of any church, like my daughter Sweet's ancestor Jill. You will find lessons in their lives.

If you need more concrete information on how to do this, Sister Jensen made a book full of stories of the Primary children (ages 3 through 12) in her ward. She still has a few copies. They would give you a good template for how this works....Her hope is that this will be something families can do to collect their family history and teach- using the stories on a family night, or when asked to give a talk in church or elsewhere appropriate. If you email me I can forward her contact information to you.

In compiling the family stories of children in her ward, Eleanor has stories that teach all  principles of the gospel, and these are used in the Primary to make the teaching relevant and meaningful as the children identify with THEIR own family stories.

Obviously, as we compile our family stories and have a binder full (which can be organized by topic- Tithing, Keeping the Sabbath Day, Serving others, Not Judging Unrighteously, Fasting with Prayer, Honoring our Parents, Overcoming Negative Peer Pressure, etc.) , our children (and ourselves!) can also rely on the power of stories that are meaningful and unique to us and our families.

We'd be surprised how effective storytelling is in helping us make decisions and weigh choices with discerning hearts. Which is basically the point of having the scriptures- that we might liken their examples to ourselves. (AND of course, to know our literal & spiritual genealogy! :)) I think some of my favorite scripture passages is where stories of our spiritual ancestors are retold, like in Hebrews 11. How powerful are these stories of faith!

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi uses stories repeatedly to remind his abusive and mean spirited brothers that all things are possible with the Lord. To counter his older brother's doubt after they failed to retrieve the scriptures on brass plates from Laban, a wicked and powerful man in Jerusalem who had tried to kill them and stolen their property, Nephi recounts the story of Moses parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape from Pharoah's army.

It's not a coincidence that meeting Sister Jensen at a genealogy conference (when I was signed up for another class, but walked by her's and had her say something that confirmed some inspiration I had) also came near the time of the annual Timpanogas Storytelling Festival. (Mahalo to my dear friend Candice and her parents who always think of us when this rolls around). The festival made me think of the power of mo'olelo, and stories in Hawaiian culture, and also the power of storytelling in Native American culture. (I serve in a Native American Ward. I think storytelling about our lives and ancestors and community in our classes really has helped us get to know one another and feel closer.)

At the same time I was listening to the audio book called The Influencer....Amazingly, much of the social science research in the book about creating positive change (of course, the authors admit the same method can be used negatively) involves storytelling! Governments have used dramatized stories on the radio to cut domestic violence rates and break long held cultural beliefs that have kept families struggling. As the audience listens to the fictional family in this situation, gets their different perspective, and sees the effect on the whole family play out, they start to to consider what role they are playing if something similar is happening in their home, and options they have. One man said he didn't realize how selfish and hurtful he until he identified with the rationalization and abusive actions of a person in the story. These stories have strengthened families.

I really believe in the power of the story. We need GOOD stories, positive role models we can identify with, AND we must FILTER negative stories.

At the same time I was pondering the power of the story, I attended a talk by two PhD students from the University of Utah about the negative stories and messages women get in mainstream media. That to feel okay we must be thin, hairless, wrinkle free, light skinned, ever young, straight shiny haired, large bosomed, white perfect teethed, & sexy.

This, is of course, is something I already identified from my own experiences growing up and being schooled between different communities with different aesthetics and expectations...And thus, in raising a daughter, I have tried to be very, very careful to deconstruct messages we see and hear in the media so she can do this for herself when she is in an environment I can't control- like school (one of the girl's she sits with at lunch, has only an apple and a juice box for lunch because she is trying to lose weight. These girls are only 12.), and keeping negative stories (images found in magazines, songs, shows) out of our home.

I invite stories of resilience, doing what's right in face of social conformity, enjoying life and laughing, being kind and inclusive while also setting healthy boundaries, overcoming failure and rejection,and having our knowledge of our eternal identity as children of a loving Heavenly Father (ans Mother :)) inform our decisions. And I want these stories to have the tangible faces and names of people in her family.

I want her to know about women like my great grandmother, Esther Ku'uleikaulana Nu'uhiwa, who was born on a wa'a/ canoe between Ni'ihau and it's sister island Kaua'i, and learned to navigate the new culture and ways of the haole/ white foreginer, becoming a teacher, and then converting to the LDS church and being a tireless missionary and servant. (I wish my young cousin made sure to include this in his gorgeous story at the above link, because this was INTEGRAL to her self identity).

I want her to know the story of my mother, Charlotte Ann, who gave birth to 6 children, adopted another, survived a terrible marriage, kept up hope and found her companion, and used her artistry, remodeling skills, and knowledge of volleyball as a college player (she walked on to the Boise State team after having us 4 older kids and never having played before), coach (high school state champion, most successful Idaho club), and official (currently working in the Pac-12) to cultivate this talent in her children and find a way to beautify her home and contribute financially.

I want her to know the story of my step-mother, Lisa who loved children she didn't give birth to, sacrificed professionally for decades because of her commitment and dedication as a teacher, yet found a way to continue to pursue learning to be prepared when opportunity arose down the road, and served her own family throughout the entirety of her life, caring for grandchildren, aging parents, and some hound dogs name Po & Moke.

I want my daughter to know my story, being born into a culturally/ ethnically mixed family, living a rural country life, being shifted between extended family members, and using what Heavenly Father gave me to make my way in life, travel, earn scholarships, and broaden my world, but being able to walk away from good things (like playing on the US Rugby team and a lucrative job track) , for better things (being her mom, and keeping the Sabbath- a very minor seeming thing that really changed my life in profound ways).

What can your children learn from their ancestors?

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