Story stacking vs I-jacking

Recently, I was having dinner with a group of friends when the conversation led to stories about Zoom. One person recounted a hilarious tale of a woman changing into her pyjamas in full view of the online prayer meeting! And we were away! Each of us was firing off other funny stories we’d seen or experienced. One after the other, not stopping from the laughter of the previous one before the next one began. It was loud and entertaining and our sides hurt from laughing.

This is story stacking and it’s so fun! Whether it’s stories about poo or vomit (everyone has a poo or vomit story!) or sharing favourite ice cream flavours or recalling funny incidents that happened on public transport … the energy is high as stories ping around the group. Each one prompting the recall of another, sometimes with a competitive edge as the tales get taller and more dramatic!

On another occasion, in a group of people, we were talking more seriously about the difference between those people who are expert and highly knowledgeable in their field and those who have the capacity to convey that intelligence to others in helpful ways. I reflected on a really difficult experience I’d had with an ultrasound technician. He had to inform me that I had miscarried early in a pregnancy and he did it in such a cold and callous way. It made an already terrible situation just that little bit harder. Straight away another person jumped to a story of when they needed an X-ray and started to recount their experience.

This is I-jacking. This is when, in response to one person’s sharing, we leap straight away to something that is about us. Or when, no matter the subject of conversation, we manoeuvre the focus back to ourselves or what we want to talk about. Sometimes it’s harmless. It could be an acceptable story stacking situation. But lots of times it’s really unproductive to healthy communication. It can shut someone down. It can dishonor a person’s sharing. It can diminish a person’s experience. It can communicate disinterest in others. It can make you a bad conversationalist! Or, as in my example above, it can actually be quite hurtful. To raise something personal or vulnerable and not have it acknowledged before the conversation moves on to someone or something else.

Story stacking or I-Jacking. One can draw all present into a dynamic social interaction. And the other? Well, that makes you a less appealing conversation partner and is probably not you putting your best foot forward relationally.

So, the trick is knowing how to spot a story stacking moment and how to avoid I-jacking (intentionally or otherwise). It’s a nuanced business but, generally, a story stacking moment is about light hearted or objective things. Like funny Zoom stories or tales of wardrobe malfunctions. If the topics are more personal, deep or reflective, or are initiated by the serious questioning of someone in the group – that’s not the time for story stacking. We must hold space for an individual to share fully and be responded to appropriately.

Story stacking is possibly the one sport I could medal in at an Olympic level! I love it! I love hearing other people’s fun stories. I have so many great stories (that I often forget about until someone else shares and prompts a memory) and I love me a good story tell! And then I love – perhaps the most – how my storytelling might prompt someone else to contribute and get to participate in the “collective effervescence” of a group deep in storytelling mode. But I recognise (first in others which made me question it in myself) that story stacking can so easily come across as I-Jacking if the initial story teller was hoping for the chance to say more or go deeper. It looks like attention stealing. It looks like disrespect. It can communicate a lack of welcome or inclusion.


This is my social trigger, the mantra I’m repeating (or at least trying to remember to repeat) in my head while you’re speaking. Don’t jump straight in with an anecdote or a solution or a story of my own. Hold the space for the speaker just a little longer. “When did that happen?” “Why is that?”“How do you feel about that?” “What happened next?” “Does anyone have this on video?”

So often, when we are listening to others speak we’re looking for points of intersection. We are naturally wired to desire inclusion and connection so we’re trying to find our place in the topic that’s being discussed. Someone says “I really loved my holiday in Italy!” And our first thought might be to say “oh, I went there in 2019!” or, alternatively, to immediately highlight the disconnect “yeah, I’ve never been to Europe” or perhaps even more tempting “oh, I’ve been there twice now!”. In any of those responses, we’ve just made the conversation about us.

Ask one question. It’s a form of social discipline to train ourselves to stay with the speaker just that little bit longer – to value them, to learn about them, to be equipped to understand them better. Often, in the speaker’s response to that second opportunity you can gauge how desiring they are of a further chance to engage or how willing (or hopeful) they are for the conversation to bounce on around the group.

Story stacking or I-jacking. Watch for it around you, watch for it in you. Becoming more alert to the more appropriate conversation genre will increase your social intelligence and make sure you’re the one people want to be seated next to at the dinner parties!

I am not the mother of a 14 year old 

February 9th was my due date.

Babies are rarely born on their due date but when a baby doesn’t make it to full term, the due date is the only one there is.

If mine was a different story, my baby would be 14 years old today. Within that there is grief to process (read here) and questions still unanswered (read here) but I can’t help but pause to think how different my life would be if I were the Mum of a teenager.

Of course it’s all speculation, but with what I can imagine my life could be so very different. My day to day schedule could be different, Work life, friendships, social activities, priorities; heart focus. I might drive a different car or live in a different house. I might have less money in the bank, more shoes at the door, a higher turn over of food in my fridge. Those of you with children could list indefinitely the way my life might be changed by the presence of a child – right now and for the 14 years before.

It’s one of those “sliding doors” moments. You know the film where they track the parallel stories of a train missed or made and the different outcomes of each.

The “what if” game can be fun (or painful) to play. Imagining the outcomes of a decision made differently, a relationship ended or started, a job gained or lost, a different path chosen, 5 mins earlier or later, a different family, the near misses and the close calls. Some of them we’re glad to have avoided but others we regret and reflect on with longing and grief.

It’s almost impossible to imagine all the impacts of a baby in my situation. It might’ve meant a different relational status, living in a different State, a different career and job (and all the implications of that), I’d probably not have written a book and experienced the opportunities that have opened up because of it …you might not be reading this blog.

So today, I am not the mother of a 14 year old and all the implications of that. But I AM so many other things. The mental gymnastics of the “what if” can be fun but also painful. They can lead us to celebration of who we are and all we have or can cause us to be stuck in the pain of missing out or the negative spiral of comparison.

What about you? How do you handle your “sliding door” moments?

miscarriage – a unique grief

If you’ve ever had a miscarriage, or intimately known someone who has, you’ll know it brings a unique type of grief. 

Discovering you’re pregnant is a giddying experience. The combination of hormones and hope; anticipation and mild panic brings a range of emotions and there’s a sudden rush to a reimagining of your future from that moment forward. In 9 months I’ll be a mother, in 6 years I’ll be a school mum, in 14 years I’ll have a teenager, in 20+ years I might have raised the next Prime Minister or the scientist who’ll cure cancer or a heart that will embrace the broken and the marginalised; or my best friend. 

The early stages of pregnancy do strange things to your body – growing a tiny human will do that. For me, it meant nausea that reduced my appetite – turning me into a perpetual grazer and a weariness that settled on me and wouldn’t shake no matter how much I rested or slept. 

The news of a miscarriage is so clinical. It’s just a black blob on the ultrasound. The potential for life has ended. Almost as quickly as possibility has been conceived it is dead. The whiplash of emotions can be profound. (read more here)

If you listen to the stories of miscarriage the grief is often marked by an isolation or loneliness. So often both the pregnancy and miscarriage happen even before an announcement is made and so it is intensely private. Many times the celebrations and excitement have been held within a tight circle of family and friends – heeding popular advice to wait until the first trimester is reached and the chances of the pregnancy reaching full term become greater. But these things can contribute to others not engaging as personally in the loss when they haven’t had opportunity to connect with the joy and potential. 

For some, like me, the oft assured temporary ‘set back’ of loss – waiting for new timing, second chances – turns into long term childlessness. The miscarriage becomes a brief flirtation with the experience of parenthood. A promise whispered, but silenced. 

For others who are fortunate to conceive again and meet their little one – the grief mingles strangely with joy. Perhaps due dates are forgotten as birth dates get celebrated. Perhaps there is a struggle to hold the public celebration of new life in tension with the seeming disregard for lost life. One so much more tangible than the other. 

When I reflect on my own journey and hear the stories of others’ I am struck by the common thread of unspoken or forgotten grief. I am constantly surprised by the eagerness to share their experience, to speak of the loss, to name their expectations, to recall the deep sadness; to question and doubt. So many words waiting to find ears and hearts to land on. 

So I’m led again to share these thoughts and ponderings. Maybe they spark a familiar feeling. Maybe they serve as an invitation. Maybe they touch an ache harboured deeply in a heart. Maybe they serve as unknowing preparation. Maybe they help. 

I WILL celebrate Mother’s Day

This Sunday would have been my 14th Mother’s Day. An early term miscarriage saw the hope of that ignited and then grieved (& grieved again, differently, surprisingly; sporadically over the years). 

I still find it hard to believe that I’m not a mother. As I move deeper into my forties I am forced more often to face the biological realities but for the most part I’ve just lived with an expectation that (husband &) children would be part of my world. 

And then comes Mother’s Day. 

In many ways it’s a day that represents the hopes and dreams that are deep in my heart and the grief that those are unrealised. There’s a wistfulness; a longing that is undeniably present. Envy and jealousy rear their heads. I wish for the hand drawn cards, the dodgy school stall gifts, the crumbs in the bed from a delivered breakfast. And even more than that, just the day to pause and whisper in my heart “I am a mother” and celebrate all that it would mean for me to be that. 

The reality of Mother’s Day is that it’s a hard day for many. Those grieving the loss of their own mothers – to death or broken relationship, struggling with infertility, facing difficult family dynamics, processing illness (etc) often approach Mother’s Day with fear, anxiety or an overwhelming desire to hide away and avoid. 

But here’s the decision I’ve made and make again this weekend. I WILL celebrate Mother’s Day. 

Of course, I will celebrate my Mother (who I am abundantly grateful for) but I will also celebrate my friends who are mothers. Because I love them and I love that they have produced mini-thems and I want to champion them in this infinitely important role. I will help lead our church in honouring our mums and encourage them with the full resource of the church to keep Mum-ing well. This Sunday, we will cheer for all the women in our church who “mother” us – with their love and care, their modelling of Christian womanhood, their role in the lives of women and girls (& guys alike) needing the investment and wisdom they offer. 

I know some will disagree with me but I don’t think we ought to care for our non-mothers or those grieving in our midst by not celebrating those who are mothers. I believe the idea that we might not acknowledge mothers in deference to those who are wounded and hurting isn’t what family (in its broadest sense) is meant to look like. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn. Rom 12:15

Do we not celebrate someone who graduated from university because not everyone has? Do we not high five someone who ran a marathon because not everyone has? Do we not congratulate someone on their 90th birthday because not everyone lives to celebrate theirs? No. That would be crazy. Families are full of people with a diverse range of experiences – both positive and negative – and one of the things that makes us family is our ability to journey the breadth of those experiences with one another. Where we carry one another in our grief and difficulty and we multiply joy by celebrating one another’s successes and wins.

Our tendency toward comparison and the associated emotional processing means that a day like Mother’s Day can make us feel more of the grief and heart-sickness of longing and loss – but our reality is actually unchanged from this Sunday to the next. In reality I am just as likely to feel the pang of jealousy watching a mum with her child at a cafe this afternoon as I am to feel it while the mothers stand to be acknowledged on Mother’s Day at church. 

I don’t mean to diminish the significance of the day – I just dearly hope to bring some perspective that might free us to more genuinely celebrate others as we ought. 

So, let’s celebrate our mums this weekend because they are worth celebrating. Let’s be sensitive to those who will struggle with this day (hot tip – don’t assume anything – ask lots of questions to help you best connect with someone for whom Mother’s Day may – or may not – be difficult. Let them direct you.) Let’s see this day as one of many in the life and journey of our family – where everyone gets a turn to be celebrated and those who need the extra love and support find that amongst us too. 

Drawer of Dreams 

There’s a drawer at the bottom of my side table that I haven’t opened in years … but I know its contents by heart. 

There are several white newborn-sized onesies. A rattle in the shape of a plush teddy from my mum. Six pairs of tiny white socks. Two bibs, one grow suit, a calendar, a book of poetry and the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. 

I was at the doctors for a routine check up – over 13 years ago – when I off-handedly mentioned some symptoms I’d been experiencing; nausea, breast tenderness and fatigue. Trying desperately to contain her mocking, the doctor patiently joined the dots for me. She suggested a urine test which revealed I was pregnant. 

Only just. But just enough. 

I know it’s not commonly considered prudent to tell anyone too early but I excitedly shared the news with my family. Later that week while spending time with my mum, we couldn’t resist popping into a couple of stores. We excitedly made our clandestine purchases and the secret stash was hidden away … just as those little cells were hidden in my body and already growing in my heart. 

A week later I experienced some “spotting”. An ultrasound revealed normal growth for the stage we were at but it was too early for a heartbeat to be detected. I was told to come back a week later and I lay on the sonographer’s table with excited anticipation …only to be brusquely told that the baby had not grown beyond the small sack that was evident the week before. 

“There’s nothing there.” 

That’s exactly what he said. 

“There’s nothing there.”

Two weeks later as I lay on a hospital gurney in recovery, the first thing I did as I came out from under the anaesthesic was to touch my hand to my stomach. It felt hollow and empty. I wept. There really was nothing there. 

So now those items lie hidden in my drawer. Rarely touched. Not required. 

I don’t know what to do with them. 

Initially I couldn’t much bear to look at them. Then they moved in my mind to “just waiting”. Waiting for God’s timing. For second chances. But my status has changed and many years have passed.

Sometimes I’ve wondered about giving them to someone else. A close friend who is pregnant; a welcome gift for a precious new bundle. But I hesitate – would that be weird? 

Maybe I should box them up: squirrel them away in a dusty corner of my garage? I’m not sure how I’d feel to come across them again some day in the future. And besides, what would I do with them then?

But can I just throw them out? What does that mean? It seems such a waste. It seems so …resigned. 

It feels like these physical things and the conundrum of what to do with them are a metaphor for the dreams they represent. 

What do I do with the desire to have a husband and a baby? What does “waiting on God” look like? When is it time to “throw out” the dream? When should I, and indeed how do I, give up the hope or grieve the loss? 

It is hard to want something so badly that is so far out of reach or my own control. It’s hard to hold in tension a complete surrender to God’s perfect will and plans with a perfectly natural desire and, for me, a deeply held hope. 

I guess it’s ok to have the little drawer of things – out of sight, largely out of mind – it’s not a “shrine”; it isn’t in the way of anything else. And I wonder if that’s not the same way God would have me hold the dream itself? Tucked away in a little part of my heart and mind – not consuming or impeding; not stopping me from embracing the fullness of the plans and purposes He might have for me aside from the gift of my own family.