In my blog post last week, I mentioned writing the story of Larry and Shirley Rascher, missionaries to Irian Jaya. My husband Alex and I met Larry at our church’s missions festival many years ago. He was the missionary assigned to tell stories to our fourth grade Sunday school class. Larry was a born storyteller, and brought a skull, spear and shield as props. After class, the three of us lingered and Larry told us about the drowning of his two children. He said he didn’t know why he was telling us; he never told that story unless someone asked him. The story haunted me for weeks.
A year later I ran into Larry at a conference. “Hi, Larry. I met you….”
He remembered me. “Aren’t you a writer?” he asked. Had I told him that? It was my secret identity; in real life I was a busy stay-at-home mom.
“Well, yes,” I said, flattered.
“People have been after us for years to write our story,” Larry said. “Would you consider doing it?”
My mind reeled. But I’d have to go to Irian Jaya! I thought.
At the same time he said, “Of course you’d have to go to Irian Jaya.”
I left our brief meeting in a fog. Somehow I knew that I, the stay-at-home mom, would write this story, and that I would travel to Irian Jaya. And I did. It was more than twenty years ago and remains the greatest adventure of my life.
If you have a big story to write – yours or someone else’s – don’t let the entirety of what you’re attempting overwhelm you. Writer William Zinsser suggests this:
…think small. Don’t rummage around in your past – or your family’s past – to find episodes that you think are "important" enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it’s because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life.
In LA I boarded a fourteen-hour Indonesian airline flight that refueled in Hawaii (in the middle of the night – ha!). As we crossed the Pacific in darkness, the Big Dipper was perfectly framed by my little square airplane window. As I gazed at it, I had the sense that the Lord was pouring out his blessings upon me. He knew where I was going. He would protect me and be with me.
Rather than giving a travel log from Irian Jaya, I believe Zinsser is saying tell about the small, telling moments like this.
Capture these stories, one after another without concern for order or form. Then spread them out on the floor and see what theme arises, see what order seems right.