- The Second Chapterby William Stephenson1
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The Story of a Storyteller
The Second Chapter by William Stephenson1


I had known Barry and Marian before they married. We went to the same church and our friendships were also intermingled. They were a wonderful couple and when they decided to marry, most of the church attended.

Marian became pregnant almost immediately. She would be a fantastic mother because of her upbringing. Barry was scared to death. When Mary came into their lives, Barry became a wonderful loving father. He doted on his daughter. Seeing them in church together was reason enough to be there.

Our church had in its worship service a time for children to come forward and listen to a story that spoke of this man called Jesus. The pastor knew that in the facility I was working, there was a ward for children who were fighting for their lives. Our pastor also witnessed times when at the end of the day we would bring the children into the recreation room and end the day with them all around me on this huge circle rug, and I would proceed to tell them a story.

The pastor of our church would on occasion invite me to be the storyteller for the children during the service. It was such a celebration to watch them come running down the aisles, all hoping to get close enough to sit beside me. And Mary, she was one of the fastest, and always found a way to sit next to me every time. She had a smile that could break your heart.

One Sunday, after finishing my story, Mary stood up and said, “Dr. Bill, my mom says that all your stories have a ‘chapter two. I don’t know what that means but she says there’s more to tell us in your stories. Would you tell us more about this girl you just told us about next time?”

 I had been found out by an eight-year-old. I stuttered and stammered, and finally, I said, “Mary, I promise to tell you the end of this story next time. But I don’t know when that’ll be.”

“Next Sunday!” the pastor announced. And the kids all cheered and gave Mary high fives.

But Mary would not hear “chapter two.” None of the children would hear “Chapter Two.” Mary fainted in school that week, and she was rushed to the hospital for a series of tests. The blood tests revealed a very ominous story. Leukemia, and the worst kind. The prognosis would become a nightmare of treatment and heartache. This would be Mary’s “chapter two.” I would become her therapist, as well as to her parents, Marian and Barry.

Mary’s leukemia spread very quickly and this was a time when we didn’t have the medical treatment for this disease that we have now. Furthermore, one of the treatments for this disease was quarantine. Whenever Mary was home, she couldn’t go outside and could only have family members visit with her. Her friends could not come into visit and were relegated to sitting on the outside of the sliding glass door and Mary sitting on the inside, usually on the lap of her dad, Barry.  

Their church participation also ended very abruptly. It all ended when Mary asked me about “chapter two.” But the particular pew the three of them sat was conspicuously empty Sunday after Sunday.

Mary died within four months of her diagnosis. It felt like a disaster had struck our community. I continued to provide Marian and Barry counseling but the grief was so widespread that it seemed as if the whole church was in need of grief counseling. Even the children’s moments in the service were put on hold because no one would volunteer. It seemed as if the joy that we cherished in our services was now absent.

In time, the Children’s Moments returned to the order of worship, and periodically, I was asked to be the lead. While others would read something to the children, I would always tell a story that had a message of hope and purpose. And as before, the children raced down the aisles to get as close to me as they could.  

Except for two times they attended, Marian and Barry remained absent. In both of those times, I was the storyteller in the service.  They were now alone and isolated with their grief, with their pain. And ironically, the church also seemed to be isolated with their grief. One could almost sense that a cloud was hanging over our church. Some even confessed that they felt relief when they came to church, and Marian and Barry weren’t there. “What do I say?” “I dread facing them!”

But Marian and Barry remained committed to the counseling. I could see that they were making progress. In one of our last counseling sessions, I asked Marian and Barry about their absence from church.

Marian said, “It’s the Children’s Moments we can’t handle. Especially when you are asked to share a story with the children. We see the children running down the aisle so they can be closest to you, just as Mary did, and we go to pieces. And you don’t make it any better because of the kind of stories you tell and the way you tell them. We’re nearly sobbing, and everyone feels so helpless. They feel our pain, and they don't know how to approach us.

We looked at each other for the longest time, and finally, I responded, “Marian, perhaps it hurts so bad because you and Barry have a story that needs to be told. Not just to the children, but there’s a whole congregation that needs to hear it. You two need to tell your story because it’s a story of hope. It’s a story of love and faith found in your marriage and a community called the church. Would you be willing to join me and share your story of hope? To share in the weeks to come how hard it is to hope when life seems to be crashing down upon you? It’s the “second chapter” that Mary hopes you will tell to others needing a word of hope.”

You could almost see a light turn on over Marian’s head as she said, “Bill, you think she’s there in the children’s moments don't you? When you tell a story, you sense that she’s sitting right beside you, and that’s why you are asking me to help with the children because she’s there! Am I right?”

Again, a long period of silence. When she realized I wasn’t going to give her an answer, she said,“Alright, I’ll do it! When shall we start?”

“How about next Sunday?” I said.

It wasn’t long before Marian became the most popular storyteller in the church. She was a natural. She had those kids mesmerized. And she would always find a way to include Mary, the one child she truly believed was also in that circle.

Barry also became a storyteller. He was invited to a number of service organizations where he eloquently told his story of the father of a child, dying, and how his faith and his relationships kept him afloat. Especially with his wife.

But other changes began to occur. From out of nowhere came a weekly meeting of a new group for mothers who had experienced the loss of a child.  Some of the women who attended had no loss to share but came because the group was so honest and safe.  

Even our pastor got caught up in this new spirit. She moved the singing of the Doxology from after the offering to when the children were leaving the Children’s Moments and exited to their Sunday School classes. They left the sanctuary every Sunday, hearing the congregation singing:   Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;  Praise God, all creatures here below;                  Praise God, above the heavenly host;  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

One Sunday, Marian was able to say after we had told a story to the children together and the congregation was singing the Doxology with unusual enthusiasm, “That’s where my Mary is, Bill. She’s with the Heavenly Host.”

She was not alone. The congregation embraced a new hope, or perhaps it was a new hope that embraced them. Indeed.


Author Notes
This is a true story. They would have another child who is now starting college and she has inherited the gift of her mother and the inspiration of a sister she never knew.


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