Let Me Tell You a Story

by | Aug 14, 2017 | Trust, Writing

Once upon a time, I decided to take a sabbatical from the phone and my soul woke up. Here’s what happened.

On a random Saturday, before others in the house stir from sleep, before the impossible lorry predictably barrels over speed bumps on our quiet street, I discreetly roll out of bed and tiptoe downstairs, avoiding places in the steps that creak. Enveloped in stillness, I lean against the window, gaze over the garden, and discover water droplets hanging on the sash. The wooden table is soaked from grey to smoke.

But the weather forecast predicts a round flaming sun at 10am.

Well, we have some time then, I think.

A date for a jaunt with girlfriends was set in the diary weeks ago. An outing to the Notting Hill fresh market to meander and then converse over fresh pastries and coffee at the home of one of them.

Faithful to the forecast, sky transforms from dusty shadow to bright cerulean. I lace up white trainers and scurry out the door. Past a menagerie of people and pets loitering around small café tables strewn with newspapers, cups, and plates holding evidence of flaky croissants. Cross over quiet train tracks, through a pedestrian crosswalk, up a hill, and past Simon Cowell’s house.

At the halfway point, I intersect with a friend standing at the entrance of Holland Park, her Russian accent, a sign of God’s faithfulness.  After all, I prayed for years to live in an urban city where diversity flourishes.

“Do you miss home?” I ask as we set navigation and whiz our way past pristine million-dollar homes in West Kensington.

“I don’t have enough time to remember how missing someone feels,” she says, smiling.

Stories of single parenting and small windows for presence remind me of how it feels to be the child of a single working mother again. To live in the tension of passion and everyday mundane responsibilities.

How do we say no to so many good things?

How do we say yes to resting when so much depends on what we do?

Turning the corner onto Newcombe, our pace slows upon a display of white canopies, crates of veg and our mutual friend who organized the morning for us, waving from a distance.

We follow her lead, past boxes of buxom heirloom tomatoes in every shape and shade of red and yellow, stopping at a table lined with buckets of flowers.

“You have to smell these,” she says, pulling a bunch of pale pink roses from the floral feast set before us. “Pick out another bouquet, I’m splitting them between the two of you. It’s my treat.”

“Oh, my goodness, wait a minute,” I say, “I want to take a photo, they are beautiful.”

And discover that God has a sense of humor.

The charge on my phone plummets to zero. No photos. No sharing the wealth. No documenting the sun slanting over freshly picked produce. It’s not even Sunday yet, the day I set aside to turn off my phone and stop sharing and scrolling for 24 hours.

Before disappointment sets in and steals joy in the outing, I hear a subtle whisper from God’s lips to my heart: Memorize what you see because this is just between us. I want you to become better acquainted with hiddenness and more comfortable with the unseen and not yet.

Sometimes feeding your soul with beauty means keeping the wonder and intrigue to yourself. Allow God to define creativity that shapes your soul and fits your story.

Carrying bags weighted by sweet corn, tiny white potatoes and fragrant strawberries, I follow our friend down a cobblestone street, into a mews, and through the contemporary wooden front door of her beautiful house.

We sit on tall bar stools around a white marble island presented with jams, pastries, cheeses and fresh squeezed orange juice. And I can’t help but become attentive to carefully displayed artwork, matching pots holding hydrangeas in the garden, the clean lines of charcoal kitchen counters against white cabinets, a bowl of plums blushing pink from yellow, the unobtrusive light in the bathroom illuminating a bar of soap.

I want to capture it all with my camera but a flat battery makes me impotent. Instead, words and thoughts begin stringing together from the images. A new story emerges and suddenly, my body is pulsing with adrenaline. I can’t wait to sit down and write.

“The real you involves your drives, your beliefs, your desires, even your reactions to the physical world. This is where your stories happen, if you’re a writer. It’s where your visions appear, if you’re a painter. It’s where your curiosity and tenacity live, if you are a scientist or inventor. The work that evolves from you begins in that very honest, place that I call the soul.” Vinita Hampton, The Soul Tells a Story

Lost in the details of work the week prior – deadlines, emails, travel details – I had verbalized to my family, I want to be inspired, whenever we sat down to watch a movie. But my soul was rarely satisfied by the choices.

A simple outing to a Saturday morning market with girlfriends resulted in unexpected creative inspiration.

The very thing we long for becomes available to us when we are willing to lay down what we envision and how we think we need to experience it. Trust God with mystery and encounter a soul awakening; a satisfying rush of meaning and purpose that cannot be duplicated by scrolling and the fear of missing out.

 “If you want to cast this in more clearly spiritual terms, then consider that part of what you do in order to create is to submit. As a participant, you are submitting to a divine process that is beyond you.”

This post was inspired by The Soul Tells a Story, Chapter 2, Exercises for a Writers Formation: Choose one of the following sentences, add “and here’s what happened,” and write till you complete the thought: Once upon a time, my soul woke up; Once upon a time, I met God; Once upon a time, I discovered my spiritual life.

Vinita Hampton will be the keynote speaker and workshop host for Refine {the Retreat} for Writers, March 22-25, 2018. Reserve your spot here. Hope to see you there!

What is your story? Write it out. Share it with us in the comments if you want to.



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  1. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Shelly, honestly, I think this is one of your most beautiful, lyrical posts–ever. I just love it. As I think I’ve told you, I’m no photographer. (Boy, is that an understatement!) I admire wonderful photographers, though. The photos people like you (and my daughter) take are sheer art. I love color, shape, and texture, and your artistic photos feed my soul. And, of course, there is the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Ah . . . but I just don’t have this gift. So . . . I’ve had to rely on memory and words to shape and recollect my life. Sometimes I tell my journal students my personal quote: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are a thousand words worth?” There is some truth in that, too. Photos allow us to capture exact memories visually (and I am grateful for the photos our family has), but words allow us to capture the meanings behind them, describing the times, places, and people we’ve captured in the visual images. You’ve done that here. And this reminds me of what an author, Vickey Banks, shared in one of my first books . . . about how she wished she’d had a camera to photograph a wonderful moment in her young son’s life. But because she didn’t, she stopped, breathed, drank him in, and etched this memory forever in her heart. That’s what you did the day your battery died! All this said, your piece speaks to me on yet another level and well could be an answer to my journal prayers yesterday. Isn’t the Lord amazing . . . how He truly hears and truly answers in ways unexpected? I had been writing to Him about how lethargic I am, and how my soul needs to be roused. This question sprang from the state of my soul and this quote which I had literally just read before I sat down to write: “However late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy . . . . let us rouse ourselves from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God . . .” –Benedict of Nursia. The quote goes on, but I won’t write it all here.. I asked the Lord how I could rouse myself, awaken myself from insidious lethargy. And then I wrote: “Eliminate what deadens me?” So when you wrote, “I decided to take a sabbatical from the phone and my soul woke up,” I was alert . . . your words started to awaken *me.* Mike bought me an Android for my Scottish trip so I could talk free on Viber and take photos . . . yes, I, take photos! Admittedly, I’m glad I did, because even I could accomplish this and I adore these images of the breathtaking Scottish landscape. But other than that, I hate my phone. I rarely use it. But lest you think I’m being smug and self-righteous in saying that excessive scrolling on a mini screen doesn’t consume my life, other things do . . . far too much FB time (and I swore I would never have FB!), far too many random Internet searches or reading utterly trivial articles, far too much recorded TV news–all to excess in their own way deadening (even demeaning). So when you woke up by turning your phone off, you had my attention. It could well be that your wisdom here today is my answer to my prayer yesterday. You are such a beautiful, gifted, giving friend, and I’m indebted–more than you know.

  2. Sharon Osterhoudt

    This is just beautiful…thank you.

  3. Nancy Ruegg

    A number of meaningful nuggets to contemplate here: 1) “How do we say yes to resting when so much depends on what we do?” Agreed! There were years in my life when I went months without sufficient rest. Now I look back and wonder, what if I had set an example of periodic rest instead of frenzied activity? Might others have been better served by the former than the latter? Undoubtedly yes. 2) “Allow God to define creativity that shapes your soul and fits your story.” That’s something to pray for: soul-shaping creativity augmented by God, as I write, dabble with craft projects and photography. I never considered how creative pursuit CAN shape our souls. 3) “As a participant [in creative pursuits], you are submitting to a divine process that is beyond you.” Oh, yes! I have felt that divine process when ideas have come from nowhere but the Spirit and words string together with surprising clarity. I want to submit with more abandon! Thank you, Shelly, for the challenge, inspiration, and delight of your beautiful and thoughtful posts.

  4. Ahyana King

    It is #selfcareWednesday in my world. I’m out of the office and post work out instead of going back to bed for a little bit I showered, dressed, grabbed my journal, a book, and my laptop, and headed up the street to Starbucks. And instead of delving into reading and writing, I came to this posting and am so grateful I did. Perhaps what I appreciate most is the gentle reminder of truth that God is always present even when we struggle to be fully present. And when we surrender to His presence, he reveals himself vastly. He speaks to our souls, opes our eyes and ears, and renews us. Thanks for sharing Shelly!

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