Everyone has a story, or several stories, any one of which makes up their personal narrative, their little slice of history all their own. Most of them are little stories of little people in little places, yet what Francis Schaeffer said about such people, meaning you and me, changed my perspective years ago. He said that "there are no little people and no little places. . . . Those who are think of themselves as little people in little places, if committed to Christ and living under His Lordship in the whole of life may, by His grace, change the flow of our generation." And then he and his wife Edith lived that idea, giving their time and care to the least, to the mighty and the lowly. In other words, they regarded the stories of the little people to be mighty pieces of history, worthy of being told.
I told a piece of my story of a little person in a little place recently. Maybe it will help you tell yours. I'd like to hear it. Mine went like this:
"One of the things we need to do for each other is to tell our stories of how God has worked in our lives - stories of grace - and we have good reason to believe this is a good thing, as it is, after all, so much of what we find in Scripture. God is the Author of stories which encompass tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale, that run the gamut of emotion, and in which every human story finds its meaning.
There is an historian, Thomas Cahill, who when telling stories of our past, focuses on what he calls “hinges of history” - those essential moments when everything seems at stake or some big transformation is made - and he talks about “gift-givers” - the people who made all the difference, like a Wilberforce, who helped set the world on a different path. But what’s true for cultures is also true for each of us. There are hinges to our own personal history, as well as our gift-givers. Let me tell you about a few of mine. Let me take you way back.
In 1972 I was 14. I went on a church retreat and returned to find that my father had a heart attack. He died two weeks later. That was really traumatic. It made me very insecure, and I began searching for some hope that my life could change, because I felt like an outsider at school. I came to faith in Christ by reading. My parents were believers, though they were non-communicative about faith. I read my mother’s books of missionaries, Barclays Commentaries, really anything I could find in her library. And through those words I really embraced the faith I was reared in. So my dad’s death was a hinge and the books were actually the gift-givers. God was drawing me to himself. That’s grace.
In 1976 I graduated from high school. Though I had become a Christian in high school, I had no fellowship, no discipleship in the faith other than that provided by books (good as they were). I was uncomfortable with high school fellowships that seemed filled with kids who already had everything, already had plenty of friends. I was painfully shy and insecure. So I remained an alone Christian. At the same time I knew that I needed fellowship. I had read about it. I wanted things to be different. I wrote letters to all the campus student fellowships at N.C. State, where I was admitted, something I now look back upon as a somewhat surprising initiative. All of them wrote back and let me know of their campus activities. However, three students in leadership with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship wrote long handwritten letters to me --- Sam, Rich, and Buck. They told me there was a volleyball and ice cream social on registration day. I made up my mind to go.
When registration day came, I walked through campus and down the sidewalk on Dan Allen Drive. There was a grassy area where a volleyball net was set up. Three guys were sitting on a slight hill, their backs to me. And here’s the hinge: Every natural impulse in me told me not to go over to them, that I could always go later. And yet I did. I did something really unnatural for me. I walked over to strangers. I recall it was like watching my feet move without willing them to move. One of the guys I met there that day, David, is a friend I still have lunch with monthly, even after 39 years. I met Bruce that day, and he became my roommate for three years and is still a fellow church member. I met Tanya and Bette, both of whom have impacted my life. I was welcomed into that fellowship, went to retreats, was in a small group Bible study, attended the Urbana Missions Conference, met my wife of 34 years, was discipled and became a leader, and grew in faith. Oh . . . and graduated from college.
Blessing upon blessing followed from that one decision to talk to those guys sitting on the hill. I'm not presumptuous enough to think that it all came down to me. My "hinge" was secured, fastened to the One who providentially guides all events. The guys who reached out to me, who wrote me letters and spent many hours with me, were "gift-givers," instruments of God's grace in my life who took part in His transformation of my life. The "hinge" was that essential moment on a stretch of sidewalk on Dan Allen Drive when my feet took an unnatural path and the door opened in on a world of rich blessing I could just as easily have missed. And that's just one "hinge of history," one seemingly insignificant moment in one life among billions. But it matters. They all do.
You know, we Christians often invoke Romans 8:28, “that for those who love God all things work together for good,” but to keep that from being cliche, we have to hear it fleshed out in stories. Just consider: What are my hinges? Who are my gift-givers? What story is God telling in my life? And moment by moment, am I turning toward God, or away? The pastor who married my wife and I once caught us in the narthex of the church we attended at that time. He got up in my face, real close, uncomfortably close, and he said, “Steve, life has to be lived existentially!” He looked crazy. I didn’t know that word then. I just nodded. I looked it up later, and it just means moment by moment. Moment by moment we either turn toward God in faith, or away. There are millions of little hinges, little decisions that make up a life of faith. Which way will you turn?"