I just finished Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It really blessed me. It was new and refreshing to really think of my life as a story. I am my story’s main character and I want to claim my story as my own and strive to make it a good one! Here are some thoughts about how I’d love to do that:
Viewing my life as a story really changes the way that I view conflict in my life. A story without conflict isn’t really a story, it’s just a scene really, a pretty one perhaps, but only a scene. A scene doesn’t move. It is a story paused and muted. It is one frame of a movie; one dot of a line; one tiny part of a connected whole.
Miller defines a character as somebody who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. If the character started out with everything they ever wanted, then there would be no fight, no struggle to obtain, no desire, there would be only one scene and eventual boredom. Conflict might be difficult, but it brings significance and meaning to the scene, creating an actual story. I want to start facing conflict more fearlessly. I want the sweet satisfaction in my life that only comes when conflicts are overcome. But the sweet (satisfaction) can’t happen without the context of the bitter, sour, or thirst… whatever your conflict might feel like.
Right now, a large portion of my story feels connected to one major conflict going on in my life: the fear of not being able to have kids. Let me reassure you that this is a very real, very big, very ominous fear of mine. Some of you might know even more of the context for why I have this fear, but the point of my writing this is not to prove to you that my fear is justified, but just to let you know that it exists and affects me often. Sometimes this conflict is against my own body, sometimes it is against one of my best friends who is anticipating the birth of her first child in a few months, sometimes it is against God (because when you just don’t know against whose chest to bang your fists, God’s is always available).
A Rough Draft
Part of my desire to live a better story means being willing to include more people, more perspective, more discussion. I realized that it wasn’t fair that my friends and co-workers could celebrate in my pregnant friend’s story, but weren’t allowed to be characters of support and encouragement in my story. This was, and continues to be, a relational risk. Letting people see an unfinished draft of my story means exposing a very significant and fragile self to their opinions and advice (some of which I do not always find comforting). Letting them be involved in a story that doesn’t yet have a resolution also sometimes makes others uncomfortable. Rough drafts are rough for a reason, they aren’t what you publish to the world. But I take this risk to enjoy a story that is not lonely.
All Things New
In Chapter 34, Don says: “A good storyteller speaks something into nothing. Where there is an absence of story, or perhaps a bad story, a good storyteller walks in and changes reality. He doesn’t critique the existing story, or lament about his boredom, like a critic. He just tells something different and invites other people into the new story he is telling.”
This puts another spin on something that God and I are already pondering together. If my current conflict is about wanting to marvel at and grow a new created life with Brandon, physically speaking, a child, how could I also strive to be about bringing new life with me wherever I go, spiritually speaking, The Spirit? While I wait to see how the climax and resolution turn out for me in this saga, why not seek out places to breathe, speak, bring newness into situations.
First, am I the kind of person who can do that? God am I? Can you turn me into somebody who is able to see people that need to be introduced to something new… and then help me and Brandon with the “how” to follow up? How can we tell a new story with our families? How can we bring a fresh air to the people in our lives: at work, on the road, with our friends, with people we’ve chosen not to like? I can think of specific people with whom I’d like to start a new story, revive with new air a boring or dull relationship. This is a story of general newness and it is already motivating me to initiate conversations I wouldn’t have before.
The Marathon Steeplechase
Life is easier comprehended as many smaller stories strung together for cohesion. The grand elaborate version of a whole life story will not have an ending or resolution this side of heaven. Some of the individual stories in my life may have climax and resolution, but not all, and definitely not all as a whole. Don talks about this in his book.
I know it’s kind of cliché maybe to think of your life as a race, but I think it could be quite accurate if described specifically as a never ending hurdle event, or better yet, a marathon steeplechase! The Steeplechase is the comedy of all track and field events. It’s not so much a race as it is people running from puddle to puddle to jump around… some even stop to swim a little bit! The runner encounters hurdles and obstacles along the way. Sometimes they clear them with the ease of an Olympic champion, or other times they fall in the mud or get hurt. Each obstacle is the rising action, climax and resolution of a story, but all the obstacles are connected as part of the same race. If I fell getting out of the blocks, that’s going to affect the way I approach every obstacle after that.
This is important because it means that the one conflict I’m currently facing isn’t the end all, even though it totally feels like it. Flip back with me a few pages of my story for a bit of a tangent. You’ll find a chapter that started the summer before I entered 9th grade. Here you’ll meet my first boyfriend. His name is Tim. In 9th grade, I also started going to youth group. You will also meet the one youth leader that’s incredibly passionate about end times and refuting evolution. Does every youth group have an individual so impassioned or was it just mine? Anyways, a few weeks before Tim and I started dating I sat and listened to a fervent youth group lesson that described what it might be like after the rapture occurred and proof that the rapture would occur very soon. I left church that evening pleading with God to please just hold off the trumpet’s blast until Tim could have a chance to be my boyfriend. Silly isn’t it?
The point is, I was making that small story about the prospect and desire to be somebody’s girlfriend, be the ultimate story of my life. Like once I got a boyfriend I could be sucked up into heaven in the twinkling of an eye, a happy and fulfilled girl. Well done my good and faithful servant, you achieved girlfriend status on earth! I was bloating the story and trying to make it bigger than what it really was. It’s cute and silly to remember now, but I bet I do this with all the individual conflicts that are only just a portion of my whole story. They are each just one hurdle, just one chapter, just one story within a bigger, more important story.
I suppose I wrote this blog for a few reasons. Maybe the more obvious reason was to further process Don’s book by answering a question he poses on his blog: How do you want to live a better story? (in fact, he poses this question as an invitation to enter a contest to his upcoming Live a Better Story seminar in Portland. I didn’t feel like entering the contest because this is my life, not something to be judged in a contest, but I answered the same question because I thought it relevant.) But more importantly, I wrote this blog because I wanted to confess that the current chapter in which I live is what it is: a conflicting, annoying, emotional hurdle that trips me up over and over again, and also to invite anyone who considers me their friend along for the journey… steeplechase was not meant to be an individual event!
I’m turning into somebody who cries more. I’m also turning into somebody who wants to fight for things that are worth fighting for. Even in the midst of being emotionally “tore up from the floor up” as my pastor calls it, there is one story about a Syro-Phonecian woman that makes me want to fight. This woman doesn’t have a name that history remembers, but she did have tact and confidence worth telling to the generations. After approaching Jesus with her painful conflict and being rejected three times, she respectfully challenges Jesus’ responses all three times, to eventually find favor, healing, and resolution. She spars with Jesus, but in a way that shows reverence and honor. Like her, I want my story to be one that bares all: the rough draft included; fights for things that matter: making things new in all stale situations; and revering the ultimate Storyteller who spoke all things into existence and weaves all stories together within my individual life, across cultures, and through generations.
This has been my unfinished rough draft of a story for the past year and a half. This is the part in the story where I decide to live in the freedom of accepting and presenting a rough, unfinished story to others, allowing us all parts to play and front row seats to watch as God finishes.