Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Driving my children to and from various events earlier this week, we had a discussion about what makes a good story. They are both working on writing a book (as am I -- we'll see who finishes first).

Stories, I explained, are interesting because they have conflict. There are most often two forces that push against each other. In classic stories, it's good versus evil. Really interesting stories have subplots, which reflect conflicts within conflicts.

Yesterday, another mother and I were talking about the trials and tribulations of raising children: dealing with challenges, setbacks, watching children get frustrated and sometimes even cry (sometimes the children, sometimes the mothers). As a mother, you want to protect your children, but we also know that it's the conflict that provides the growth opportunity for children. It's just hard to remember that in the thick of the trials and tribulations.

My mother reminded me of this fact on Monday after we returned home following a six-hour drive back from Easter break with both children. She said, "Growing up is not easy."

Neither is living life fully.

Life, like stories, inevitably includes frustration, setbacks and conflicts. Without conflicts, without pressure, there is no need to grow, to improve, to get better. However, ongoing conflict, with no respite, no time off, can lead to exhaustion, both mental and physical.

Even the need for conflict has a level of conflict.

In storytelling, conflict leads to a decision point. What will the hero do? Will they fight, (think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) will they give up, and will they be successful on their quest? Really good stories take the reader or the viewer into the world where the story unfolds, and the end is not quite evident until it occurs, preferably with a twist that was unexpected.

Life is often the same -- conflict, action, unexpected endings, only in retrospect might one's life make sense. Looking back over periods of despair and challenges, people can often see how their personalities were forged, how their faith became stronger, how their relationships became resilient. It's during the process of trials and challenges that it is often hard to see the path that is being cut.

This week's news that three Maryland public school employees had bought one of the winning lottery tickets for the mega millions jackpot picked on March 30 reminds us that stories and lives can change rapidly.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.