Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stories of the Heart

In the past four or five weeks I have traveled over 4,000 thrilling miles through many joys and tender moments. My journey took me to small towns where my roots run deep and to large cities where they continue to stretch and grow. These roots are stretched out over one-hundred-eighty-four years and 1,300 miles yet they are still tied together through dream, faith, and family tree. 

My journey began with an incredible conference: Rootstech/Story@Home 2013. (www.rootstech.org/stories). I met old friends and new friends and heard some powerfully moving stories. In the Bring Your Stories to Life booth I connected with friends and total strangers as I taught them how to identify and share the stories of their lives. Many of the people I met came nervous and guarded, but they left as kindred spirits. I wish I could've witnessed them sharing the stories they crafted with their loved ones, because I knew it would bind them closer. 
Photo by Nicki Crockett
At An Evening of Storytelling there was an audience of over 450 people - the majority of whom were first time storytelling event attendees! As the stories swirled around the audience, I watched the emotions displayed on their faces. Those faces assured me they would no longer be strangers. I love the way storytelling invites a collective of strangers to share an intimate journey of the heart, but I also delight in the strengthened bond a shared story creates for families and friends. Once we've shared such a moment our hearts are linked. Story is the glue that holds humanity together and invites the world to remember what it is like to feel.

There are two words found in ancient Greek that I wish had carried over into our English lexicon: 'gnosis' and 'epignosis'. In essence, gnosis is insight or understanding into how someone might feel about something they are experiencing, whereas epignosis is perfect knowledge - complete, irrefutable understanding. At Story@Home we say, "Every family has a story and within that story is power to connect in new ways with those you cherish most." Our conference was wildly successful and we introduced thousands of new hearts to experiencing that reality. I anticipated that. But what I didn't anticipate was how I would walk away from the events of this month with a glimmering new web of connection to those I cherish most entwined with those already woven protectively around my heart. This month my understanding evolved to perfect, complete knowledge. I know the power story has to connect us to those we cherish most because this month I was blessed to experience the results of decades of sharing story within my own family in some truly remarkable ways. It's as if I went from the class room lab to real life application. 

It's all about family story, of course. Have you ever had a heart so full, you simply couldn't speak? Have you ever felt such a depth of feeling that no words would form to express the stories in your heart? Have you ever had so many thoughts intertwine in your mind that you don't even know where to begin? Welcome to my world! For weeks I've been trying to post my thoughts and each time the words failed me. This isn't writer's block, it is gratitude block.

Photo by clark-imaging.com
Where to begin? About twenty years ago I stood on this very spot on the banks of the Mississippi River and vowed to God that I would complete a quest. The quest, I thought, was to tell the story of my great great grandma in a way that would honor her memory and introduce her to a new generation. I knew I would write her story and perform it, somewhere. But I had no clue how to make that all happen. I knew that I had accepted a calling of sorts - a calling to harvest and share family story. On that bank, with the sun setting before me, I vowed to go wherever God chose to lead me on this quest. Before me was the way home. Behind me was the land of my ancestors. In my heart were countless stories and plans and dreams cascading down at such a rapid fire pace that it took my breath away. I did not begin to comprehend where the quest would lead me. I did not begin to grasp how the quest would influence myself or my family or the world. I did not know a lot - but I knew I had to try.

Fast forward to the here and now. I stood again on this bank of the Mississippi, surrounded by people I love. We'd come together to this quiet little corner of the world to witness something marvelous - the marriage of my youngest daughter to the man who completes her heart.

Photo by clark-imaging.com
This wedding was not held just anywhere. It was held in Nauvoo, Illinois. It was in this village that our ancestors had lived and died and sacrificed and served. It was in this village that they had built homes, only to lose them to angry mobs. In this village had stood a temple that our ancestor's had sacrificed to build. In this temple those same ancestor's had made covenants with God to give their all to make the world a better place - a world filled with love and service and joy. In the midst of their making such promises, their homes were destroyed and their temple was desecrated.

Our ancestor's had been driven out, but they were not broken, and they would not break their covenants. They moved on, firm in their commitment. But the reality of who they were and what they had done was planted firmly in the soil and memory of this place. Over time, buildings were restored and others built again as a monument and testament to these people. Even the temple was rebuilt.
Photo by Becca Bodily

Since so many of their ancestor's had been involved in this saga, my daughter chose this temple, in this village, to marry the man she loved. It was in this village on this sacred soil, saturated with family history and memory that they promised to love and care for each other forever, and ever.

Photo by clark-imaging.com
Is it any wonder my heart is so full? Is it any wonder it's hard to find the adequate words? This alone is enough for any mother's heart, yet there was much more to the past four weeks!

Photo by clark-imaging.com

It's all about family story, of course. I could never have anticipated those many years ago, as I stood on the banks of the Mississippi, that my children would be swept up in my quest, or how it would affect them. From deeply planted love for the people they came from to an irrevocable understanding of the foundational necessity of reliance on family story to carry us through any storm, my kids get it.

My second-born daughter substantiated this knowledge through her Masters thesis research and it led us to co-author a book. We've also been blessed to co-create a workshop and present it at two major conferences (so far) based on the key points found in our book. At Rootstech/Story@Home 2013 we were told by participants that our information was "powerful, inspiring, motivating, and vitally important for families world wide."

Amazon Presale: http://tinyurl.com/c8qtmew

Needless to say, sharing such a journey with my daughter brings me inexpressible joy. Her quest is different yet parallel with mine. Our section of over-lapped path has placed us in the position of being able to help lift, strengthen, and protect other families. Is it any wonder my heart is so full? Is it any wonder it's hard to find the adequate words?

In an ironic twist of timing - or perhaps in a perfect alignment of timing - I received a national award for my CD, Wears Like Iron, this month too. It's all about family story, of course. Specifically, the award is for, There Was a Time - just one of the multi-generational tales that was born from the quest I accepted on the banks of the Mississippi so long ago.

Buy it here by clicking on the link at top right of this post!
And so the stories weave and twist and wrap around one another and connect my family ever closer to my heart and yet more fully open my heart to the world around me. Is it any wonder my heart is so full? Is it any wonder it's hard to find the adequate words? Yet, still the epic journey of the past month was not complete! For one glorious weekend my family came together in my town to celebrate the union I spoke of before.

Photo by Tiffany Tidlund
Taken at http://www.stillwatermansion.com/
After a magical evening filled with delightful surprises, laughter, and tears in a space filled with all of our children, grandchildren, and others we love -  we had the extraordinary, first-time-ever, privilege of sitting amidst four generations of family as we worshiped together. Our shared heritage of faith and sacrifice is being embraced by another generation, because they know the vital stories of their family. My heart was full to bursting. So many emotions, memories, blessings, and joys swirled in my heart I did not think there was room for more. But the journey wasn't over. 

The next step led to a greater expansion of feelings as I was invited to reflect again on the vital value and identity enhancing influence of family story. Two of my Aunts passed away last week. Both in their nineties, they were remarkable women who left behind an incredible legacy and a combined total of 245 descendants! The world didn't even pause on the days of their passing, but for those who knew and loved them the universe shifted. 

My journey ends in another small village, settled by my ancestors, over 1,300 miles away from the first.  It's a small town in the desert of Idaho, nearly forgotten, definitely out of the way, with it's own unique story. Arco, Idaho claims some unusual one of a kind identifiers. While my ancestors were drawn by the broad open spaces ready to be plowed on inexpensive land...
...science was drawn by it's distance from everything. Study up on the development of nuclear submarines and atomic power and you'll be led to the history of Arco, Idaho. 



Ask the random traveler what they remember about Arco, Idaho and they'll talk about the strange cliff covered with numbers. Those numbers represent every High School class since 1920, that's nearly a hundred years of students! But if you're just zooming by Arco, you would never know that. You may even judge those numbers harshly.

For me, those numbers represent a whole lot of people I love that are no longer walking along the paths and sidewalks of this nearly forgotten little town. For me, they represent countless stories of people I am forever grateful to have had in my life. If I listen closely, I can still hear their voices and laughter and song. 

In the shadow of that cliff there's a cemetery where they are remembered by other numbers and names - etched in stone. Each piece of stone conjures up a harvest of story. Each piece of stone reminds me of the remarkable, down to earth, valiant, and passionate people I hail from. I miss them, yet sometimes I feel them right beside me, whispering encouragement and reminding me of the stuff I am made of.

On Saturday, my Aunt joined them. At ninety-five years old she had wrung every last ounce of living out of her wiry frame. You would not think a gal from such a town would have much of a story, but you would be wrong.  It was in this village on this sacred soil, saturated with family history and memory that hundreds of people flocked to pay their last respects. From coast to coast they came, in spite of time and distance. The stories and music that filled the air as she was memorialized would astound you. Nearly every person there had a story to tell of a time this dear woman identified an undeveloped talent within them and then provided a way for them to magnify it - even me. 

As I stood at her gravesite a young mother sidled up next to me. "I remember you," she said. "I remember you because when I was a little girl you told us stories." Then she proceeded to rehearse back to me the plot and message of those tales. These were stories she had heard me tell in that dear old town years and years before, when my beloved departed Aunt had insisted I magnify a talent. It had been near the beginning of my story, just a short time since I'd stood on the banks of the Mississippi and vowed to accept my quest.

Is it any wonder my heart is so full? Is it any wonder it's been so hard to find the adequate words? "Every family has a story and within that story is power to connect in new ways with those you cherish most." I have perfect and complete knowledge that this is true. I understand fully what such power can do for you.

What stories does your family tell? 


  1. I finally got time to read this! Oh so delicious. I am so thrilled for you. I am looking forward to family times like these with my children, and having just any one photo that so beautifully captures the ones in this blog entry. Teresa Clark - God loves you! You are so blessed. And I'm blessed to have you as a friend.

  2. WOW!!!! I had no idea what an emotional and awesome month you have had. Family really is the core of our whole being (in our family anyways) and I think what you wrote sums it up perfectly. I have those moments where I can't possibly describe the happiness and gratitude I am feeling, but this was pretty darn close.
    We have an amazing legacy and I am so thankful you are a part of it!
    Love you!!!

  3. I so enjoyed reading this! You have such a powerful and touching way with words! We love you oh so much and love the amazing woman that you are! Thank you!! Loves.