Stories Shape Us

Mar 23, 2016

Ben Riggs

Stories shape us. They begin at bedsides and become the movies and novels that line the shelves at our favorite bookstores. But Barnes and Nobles isn’t the only place to find stories. Our friends, families, and communities give us stories — personal “how-to” guides — that shape how we see the world and ourselves. We need healthy, whole stories to shape us into healthy, whole people. But in a broken world, unhealthy stories can shape us, too. Gladys, a 12-year-old in Bonfil, recently learned the shaping power of these stories.

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Gladys loves to sit at a picnic table outside her house, giggling and talking with friends. She loves her family, with the occasional squabble with her three older brothers. Most of her concerns are what you’d expect: friends, fun, and, increasingly, boys and relationships. For Gladys, though, these concerns are more than just a crush at school. For years, Gladys heard her community’s stories about relationships, her body, how to dress, and beauty. Unfortunately, these stories give a script for respect and relationships that only lead to more dangerous and difficult plot lines.

In November 2015, Darlene, a Back2Back staff member in Bonfil, noticed Gladys taking cues from these broken stories. She knew something needed to change. Darlene talked with Gladys and her friends about meeting together. They wasted no time. Soon, 4-5 girls began to meet on Thursday nights with Darlene in Bonfil. They talked openly, some for the first time, about relationships, self-respect, and body image. But this time, in a safe place with a safe adult with a new story.

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They heard they carried God’s very image in them; they themselves are special, unique temples for God’s presence in the world. Healthy stories — whole stories — about self-care, respect, community, and love filled their hearts and minds. Gladys heard she is special, not because of how she dresses or who sees her or knows her, but because she’s made, seen, known, and loved by the Father.

Gladys soon made a commitment to reflect God’s story with her life, rather than the stories she grew up with. She asked the others to hold her accountable, to be a part of shaping her with this new and healthy story.

Today, Gladys isn’t only shaped by stories – she’s becoming more of the character God has called her to be in His story.

Ben and his wife Emily Riggs are site-staff with Back2Back Cancun. He serves with missions teams, Back2Back's Child Sponsorship Program, and tries to keep up with the stories God is writing in Cancun. He's baffled by the grandeur of words, story, and their Author. He's also overly attached to coffee, Charlie Brown, conversations, and story-based blogs.

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