The Thanksgiving holiday will soon be upon us here in the US, so I’ve been reflecting on what I’m thankful for. And this year I’m thinking about things that goes beyond my family and good health. In considering this, I’ve come to realize that I’m especially thankful for the stories of others. 

That’s because I’ve found that the stories of what other people have experienced often lift me out of myself. Listening to what others have been through, both good and bad, and how those experiences shaped them into the person they are today, have a way of neutralizing the difficulties and concerns I’m experiencing.

I’ve got a story for you today that illustrates this principle. A story that happened to me. I hope as you listen to it you too will be encouraged to listen to the stories of others and experience the benefits in doing so. 

But before we get into today’s episode, here’s what this podcast is all about.

 Welcome to You Were Made for This

If you find yourself wanting more from your relationships, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll discover practical principles you can use to experience the life-giving relationships you were made for.

I’m your host, John Certalic, award-winning author and relationship coach, here to help you find more joy in the relationships God designed for you.

To access all past and future episodes, go to the bottom of this page to the yellow “Subscribe” button, then enter your name and email address in the fields above it. The episodes are organized chronologically and are also searchable by topics, categories, and keywords.

Thankful for this story that didn’t start well

My story starts on a late Friday afternoon at the end of the work week. I was still active full-time in my business, but this particular weekend Janet and I were headed to a missionary care conference in Gull Lake, Michigan. 

When I got home from the office that day I hurriedly loaded up the car with our luggage, anxious to get on the road for the 4½ hour drive to the conference. Getting there required driving through Chicago during rush hour. Lots of bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic through the city’s congested highways. It was nerve-wracking.

We finally reached the conference grounds late at night, registered, and got our room key. As I began unloading the car with the clothes we packed I realized I had left half of them at home. 

Oh great, I thought. We’re going to have to wear the same clothes for the entire weekend.  Couple that with the late hour, and the nerve-wracking drive through Chicago, my irritability score was off the charts. 

It didn’t get any better the next morning as I didn’t get much sleep that night. Lack of sleep. The long drive through Chicago traffic. No change of clothes all contributed to my over-the-moon crabbiness.

A not-so-thankful-start to the day

The first scheduled event for Saturday morning was breakfast in the dining hall of the conference center. Janet and I grabbed a tray and made it through the line with our breakfast selections and then looked for a place to sit.

I was still feeling so irritable that I didn’t was to sit with anyone else attending the conference. It wouldn’t be fair to them to sit with someone as crabby as I was that morning. So we spotted a few empty tables in the far reaches of the room and headed there to spend a quiet breakfast away from anyone.

It wasn’t long though, before I spotted an older man slowly heading toward us with his tray of food. “Oh no. Please no,” I thought. He’s going to sit with us and we’re going to have to eat breakfast together. And we’re going to have to talk with him. Yikes! 

There was no getting around it. There was no place to hide. We were stuck.

Thankful for an unusual breakfast companion

The elderly man sat down with his tray across the table from me. We exchanged pleasantries, commented on the weather, and then he asked us where we were from. I told him and then following his lead I asked,

“How about you? Where are you from?”

“I came here from Detroit,” but I was a pastor in Canada for many years. I’m retired now,” he replied.

Hmm, I thought. His answer surprised me a bit because in our brief conversation so far I detected an accent in his speech. He sounded European and not like any Canadian I had ever known. We made more small talk and then I asked him,

“You seem to have an accent, European I’m guessing. Were you born there?”

“Oh, yes,” he said. I was born in Holland and lived there until I was 19 before I moved to Canada,” he replied.

Hmm, I thought again. I’m guessing our new breakfast companion was probably in his early 80s, which turned on my mental calculator and prompted me to ask another question based on his age and my knowledge of history.  

Thankful that one question often leads to another

“Were you by any chance living in Holland during World War II? I asked.

His eyes lit up, and with a smile, he responded with a simple but spirited, “Yes!”

I continued with, “And were you still living there when Germany invaded and took over your country?”

“I was,” he said.

By this time in our conversation I suddenly realized I’m talking with someone who was an eyewitness to one of the most significant and awful events of the 20th century. I didn’t see it in myself at the time, but my mood took a drastic turn for the better. My irritability escaped from my being like a mouse who flees when he sees a cat in the room.  It happened that quickly.

“What was that like for you, to be living during the occupation?”

“The Nazi soldiers were everywhere, patrolling the streets with their rifles slung over their shoulders. It was a very scary and difficult time for all of us.”

“Why did you leave Holland when you were 19?” I asked after he finished talking about his wartime experience.”

Thankful for the humor found in the stories of others

“Oh that’s a funny story,” he said, again with a smile on his face.

“The Dutch government was concerned about over-population and that the country couldn’t handle the increase in population growth they anticipated. So they offered anyone who would move away a sum of money that was equivalent to about $5,000. After the war in 1945-46, that was a large amount of money. So being 19-years-old and looking for adventure, I grabbed the money and moved to Canada.

“As it turned out, the population of Holland grew much larger anyway and there hasn’t been any problem with the country keeping up with that growth.”

“Why did you move to Canada,” I asked. “Why not the U.S.?”

“Oh, that was an easy decision,” our elderly Dutchman replied. “When the Allied forces liberated us after the war in 1945, the Canadian soldiers were much friendlier than the Americans. So that’s why I moved to Canada.”

We all got a good laugh over this part of his story.

With that, we finished breakfast and moved to the first session of the conference. I was now completely rejuvenated and thankful for the story of this Dutchman. I don’t recall seeing him again the rest of the weekend, but this relational moment we had together over breakfast has stayed with me for many years since. It makes me smile whenever I think of him.

Thankful for what we learn from the stories of others

My interaction with this World War II-era Dutchman taught me a number of things:

  • All problems are temporary. Even leaving half your clothes at home for a weekend trip
  • Our moods are temporary, too. A good conversation can be a mood-altering experience
  • Asking a simple question to start a conversation is quite powerful
  • Asking a follow-up question is even more powerful. It’s the engine that keeps the conversation train rolling down the tracks
  • Being curious about other people has been a source of joy in my life. It’s the basis for being a good listener, and a means to deepen relationships. 
  • I’m so thankful I majored in history in college and that I still enjoy it. Having a background in history has enriched my life.
So what does all this mean for YOU? 

The next time you’re in a bad mood, use your curiosity muscles to listen to someone share one of their life experiences. By drawing them out with follow-up questions it will help lift you out of yourself. It’s amazing how that works. Give it a try.


In closing, I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to be curious about other people and to be thankful for their stories.

For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God desires for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s it for today. 

Now don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them.  And I’ll connect with you again next time. Goodbye for now.

Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

021: The Most Important Relationship of All

185: Thankful for Curious People

063: Six Reasons Why We’re Not More Curious About People

165: Nosey People Weaken Relationships; Curious People Strengthen Them

The prior and most recent episode  

205: How to Have a Meaningful Conversation

All past and future episodes

Our Sponsor

You Were Made for This is sponsored by Caring for Others, a missionary care ministry. 


Please consider making a donation to help cover the costs associated with this podcast and the other services we provide missionaries around the world. You can make a tax-deductible contribution to Caring for Others when you click here. 

You can also make a contribution by clicking on the yellow “Donate” box in the upper right corner at the top of the first page.