Living into a Good Story

I am not there in the kitchen when she spills the ink bottle across the counter, there to see it run down her arms, splatter cupboard fronts, pool on planks of trees under her bare toes.

She calls for rescue and, after slight gasp, weak smile, feeble rebuke (for, really, had I been there?), I wipe up smearing black, return cap to smudged bottle, the grooves of these fingertips stained with word paint.

Little Girl and I, we scrub, soap lathering thick, foam piling. All to no avail. Today, we wear ink. And somehow it feels right.

For I bleed stories, and these stories that we live mark, permeate, me. And I wonder as I measure salt, sift flour, make bread: Do the stories come from without or within? And maybe both, simultaneously. The stories of our days saturate us, soak into our pores. And we leak our stories. One, we are.

I scoop dough from stainless steel bowl, knead out its warm softness on countertop. I touch tentatively, hesitating. Will these inky fingertips of mine sully bread dough? I smile at the thought, understanding: doesn’t story nourish us, feed us?

I was four and they were old, skin wrinkled soft, and I’d climb in between them both, toes under flannel sheets, and ask, “Tell me stories of when Dad was a little boy?”

And Grandpa, wearing cotton undershirt, would lace gnarled fingers behind his head and start slow. “Did I ever tell you about his dog, Sandy?” Although he had, I’d only say, “Tell me that one!” and Grandma would chuckle and together they’d take me back too.

I was twelve and he was ageless, and while the school bus careened with talk of Teen Magazine, Michael J. Fox, and what hairstyle to wear with dangly earrings, I wrote down the stories Great-Uncle Elmer told us all over porridge bowls and sunrises and honey-sodden tea biscuits.

Great-Grandpa Joe tracking bees to trees full of the sweet stuff, he and cousins nabbing foxes down in the fence bottoms, Bill Chambers’ team of horses carefully backing up, wagon and all, over railroad tracks too, when Uncle Bill stepped out door of the mill and whistled for the chestnut pair. Great-Uncle Elmer dipped biscuits into porridge and we dipped too into stories from before that became the stories of now, of us, explaining who we are, how we’ve traveled here. I can still hear his voice, time-rusty, see his eyes, transparent as water, letting me see that which once was.

I knead these stories, this ink, into live dough rising. As Ezekiel heard from God, “‘Eat this book’” (Ezekiel 3:2), so we too will eat our words, the words we speak, read, listen to. Like Ezekiel, we too will open our mouths and eat stories. Words, living and rich, nourish.

The first words spoken into the cold expanse of the cosmos are words meant to reassure: “In the beginning…” It is all story. We live in narrative; the epic of existence is His story. And it is His story: “In the beginning, God….” God is the central character. His story flashes with Him. Our stories are not our own, not even really about us, but spotlight His heart. I forget that, listening to my story, these days, to know more about me instead of Him. How often had I missed the point of the story?

I wash dough off my hands, indelible ink stubborn, permanent. It won’t come off, dyed into being. Isn’t that way with love stories, the passion bathing you? He’s writing a romance. The bridegroom woos: “And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine” (Eze. 16:8).

In the late morning light, bread rising, I trace fingertips black with ink and know how this story ends. In Him, there are only happy endings, lovers united. No, I don’t know how the middle chapters will read. Yes, with embarrassing frequency fear strangles me and I wrangle against turning the page. Regardless of angst, the next scene comes. But this is a story I can trust, an Author I can believe in. He’s writing a story with a beginning, an ending—this middle must make sense. Will I remember when the anxieties loom, bear down: I can trust His storyline.

Our lives are not random, haphazard, absurd. The story has a Storyteller Who is making meaning of these moments. Nor do I have to slip a peek at the last page. He’s already told us the words inked there: “I have plans for you… plans to prosper you..plans to give you a hope and future Jer. 29:11I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am John 14:3No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him 1 Cor. 2:9.”

My hands are stained with the ink of a good story.

Because The Word came, His hands stained red.