The Stories We Tell (A Book Reflection)

A few of the same things that drew me to my journal and pen at the age of twenty-one have brought me back: a yearning for healing, for clarity, for steadiness. -Joanna Gaines (p. 7)

Earlier this year I started subscribing to the Magnolia Journal and have been loving the glimpses into Joanna Gaines’ and others’ thinking paired with beautiful photography themed around a single concept. In one of the issues, I heard about Joanna’s new book The Stories We Tell: Every Piece of Your Story Matters, so I was thrilled to see it in the new books section of my library. Some sections and themes from the book felt familiar because they cross-over with the focus of the magazine issues and concepts discussed that I have been reading in recent months.

In the book Joanna does a narrative inquiry into her own life to make sense of her past, present, and implications for moving forward into her future – much like my recent narrative inquiry into the role of burnout in my personal and professional life. She noted, “I’m always looking for the invisible string that connects it all. When my pen stops, I want to have an idea of where I go from there. What did I learn, how have I changed? What do I carry forward, and more importantly, what do I need to leave behind?” (p. 16).

Based on my love of story, it is no surprise that I loved this book so much. Joanna documents different factors that have contributed to her process of becoming and how an awareness of how those factors have influenced over time allowed her to consider what was serving her well and what she wanted to re-write as she moves forward. It was about realizing lies that have taken root in her heart and the impact they have made, while also allowing space for the healing and redemption that can come from re-writing those lies with truths. She focuses on the process of coming into the fullness of belief in inherent worth and dignity.

Her experiences resonated with mine a lot – as a wife, mom, and professional in a similar season of life. Comments like “I looked around at what I’d built with equal parts gratitude and exhaustion” (p. 7), as well as reflections on time spans that seem hazy or blurry, spoke to my heart as Joanna reflected frequently on the role of drive, performing, and a desire for perfection. In recent years I have been reflecting on how I have navigated and dealt with challenges that have arisen over the years, including a realization that my default is to get through vs. truly recognize the depths of scenarios and acknowledge where healing is needed, so I loved her thinking as she said, “The last twenty years have been a heck of a ride, but I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I have. My adrenaline was slowing, revealing in its absence insecurities and unhealthy habits from way back when that I’d been moving too fast to deal with” (p. 8). Other layers, such as realizing a tendency to lean into control when other layers of life feel out of control and recognizing the role of self-protection, also aligned with my experiences. While other layers did not align with my personal experience of becoming, they provided insight into better understanding my daughters’ experiences.

She contextualizes her experiences within cultural influences as a piece to consider where she is, where she has been and why. In multiple sections she considered the value in making counter-cultural choices based on careful discernment, rather than choosing a route for the sake of it making sense to others looking in.

Though not so much in this season of life, I was previously an avid scrapbooker. I love how pictures of my girls and myself from younger seasons of life can reveal glimpses into identity and parts of ourselves that we might need to revisit and cultivate as we navigate older seasons of life, and Joanna does some similar thinking in her book.

In multiple sections of the book she reflects on the pace of the process of healing, including the role of mindsets. She also highlighted the role of just listening and allowing space vs. a tendency to want to jump in and strive to fix, something that I have been reflecting on a lot related to different roles in life, such as parenting, teaching, and friendship.

This book also provides plenty to consider through the lens of personal vocation. Joanna has a conviction to better understand herself in order to have more clarity in her unique calling and take action to align. It shows glimpses into how her work has taken shape over time, including, “I’ve come to see that a huge piece of my place in this world is to highlight passionate people who are doing beautiful things” (p. 60). Certain sections of her book reminded me of the famous Catherine of Siena quote, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

A natural fit for Beauty of Becoming, Joanna celebrates the process and how she needed to learn to do so. I appreciated the book for the dual purpose of being drawn to the stories of others and being fascinated with how journeys unfold, as well as the inspiration for my on-going deep dive into my own story. The fruits of her reflections and the power of writing and processing life’s events resonated with my dream to create a course focusing on diving deeply into story – Your Story with God. As Joanna reveals the value in writing to reflect, she encourages others to consider their own stories and provides guidance and prompts for doing so embedded throughout the book. It paired really well with Abide that I read about the same time.

Copyright 2022 Amanda Villagómez

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

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