On a January night where I live in Kodiak, Alaska, I was working on a book. It was 10:30 p.m. Tired, under a deadline, and riddled with doubt, I knew I needed to go to bed, but I wanted to finish the chapter. While working, I glanced at my Facebook feed and discovered that the northern lights were ablaze. I was missing too much life. I shut my computer, proclaimed a “Northern Lights Search Party,” and yanked my sons out of bed. (They were both still awake, reading sneakily by flashlight.)
We jumped into the car in various states of dishabille and drove to the top of a mountain, up a switchback road, passing—count them!—thirty cars on the narrow gravel passage coming down. The whole town was out!
At the top of the mountain, beneath massive windmills, we scoured the black horizon for the shimmering waves of light—but saw only blackness, and then, something else. As our eyes shifted to night mode, they appeared, faint at first, then growing in intensity until we all gasped—a swimming sea of stars, like the night ocean alive with phosphorescence. We bathed in their glory together for a long moment while three windmills strong-armed the sky overhead.
I was under a book deadline. I am so aware of my limitations, how others’ words and stories are often so much better than mine. How can I compete? How can my words ever make it among so many brighter lights? But standing there, I realized something. There is no single star that knocks us down. It is the panoply of stars that take our breath. It is the uncountable collectivity of galaxies and star clusters that light the black sky and plow us down into worship and humility. It is their sheer density and magnitude that teach us our size and then make us glad to be small.
Yes, I am small. Dear friends, aren’t we all small? We are one among millions of talented, smart, creative others and their stories. Lucky us—we get to hear and listen and learn from them all. Write your stories for all of us. Keep going. You’re already a star. Now you get to join a constellation.
I have learned a lot from writing alone. But now that I’ve led writing groups for decades, I know what I’ve missed. When a community—a constellation—however small, is gathered around our stories, our words come to life in surprising new ways. I’m reminded of it every time I lead a writing workshop, especially out on our island in Alaska.
That’s why I’d like to introduce you to LifeStory Circles and give you guidelines about forming them. I hope you can do this. I hope you can find others who will journey through the process of writing your story.
If you’re writing with friends or in a class, form a LifeStory Circle (or circles, depending on how many are in your class). Pull out the scenes you are writing or an encounter-with-God story. Choose the piece you’d most like to share. Take turns reading and responding around the circle, following the Be R.E.A.L. guidelines. Be sure to let everyone read who desires to.
You may be writing together on an online book club, or with friends who live in other cities. Consider other ways of reading your work aloud to one another: through Facebook Live, Zoom, or Skype, for example. Reading your words aloud and hearing others’ words, even through a screen, can still be powerful.
Even as I say this, I know that some of you are not able to write and share your stories in community. Many of you are writing alone. Bless you, and keep writing. If you can find an audience, even just one other, as you write, you will be glad for it. If you cannot—and there have been long periods of my life when I could not—just keep writing. So much good is coming from your pen, your keyboard. And your words will find an audience at just the right time.
For all the years I wrote completely alone, and for those of you here without a group or reader to share with. You’re not alone! Here’s something valuable that you can do: As you write your stories, try reading them aloud, giving them your full voice. You’ll experience your words differently out loud than on the page. Consider recording it as well. You’ll get a whole new sense of the value and meaning of your story when you hear it aloud. (And you’ll be creating a valuable audio record of your life, faith, and thoughts.)
What if you join a LifeStory Circle, and then the worst thing happens? What if everyone in your class or circle is better than you? Of course they are! Every time I’m in a writing group I fall in love with everyone else’s words and I feel my own wither in comparison. Don’t you know others will fall in love with your words, too, and think their own are paltry and poor next to yours?
Let’s stop doing this, comparing voices. Let’s remember the real world we live in, which is a world abounding in gifts, voices, and experiences. Let’s dump our culture’s competitive mind-set where we rank and measure everything. It begins the moment we’re born with our Apgar score, and soon, we’re ranked and marked in kindergarten all through graduate school. Now we’ve gadgeted up our lives so we can measure and rank our steps, and even the few hours of our lives when we try to sleep! Can we put all that away? It’s not real. The real world runs not on scarcity, not on competition, but on abundance.
What is a LifeStory Circle?
A LifeStory Circle is simply a group of people sharing their writing together. The circle can be as few as two and as many as eight, depending on the time, the need, and the story. The ideal size is often three to five people.
Why a LifeStory Circle?
Sharing our stories
moves us from isolation and individualism to our truest state: belonging to the human community and the whole body of Christ.
strengthens us to break chains that bind us and to overcome the cyclical burdens of our past.
brings comfort and encouragement to one another, allowing us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”[i]
declares God’s glory: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.”[ii]
builds up the church: “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn or a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done to build up the church.”[iii]
* Important Note: LifeStory Circles are not a substitute for therapy or professional help. If you have traumas you need to work through, please seek appropriate professional guidance.
- What has been your experience with out loud storytelling or reading? Why do you think hearing stories aloud is so moving and powerful?
- What are some reasons we might hesitate to share our stories with one another?
Want to learn more about creating story that transforms your life and helps others? Read Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields and use the companion eight-week DVD curriculum, Your Story for His Glory.
[i] Romans 12:15, esv.
[ii] Psalm 96:3, esv.
[iii] 1 Corinthians 14:26, bsb.