Day: April 12, 2010

Elements of a Story in Our Lives

For my birthday my sister Megan got me A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  I am about 50 pages into it and loving this book. It is a bit hard to describe but basically Miller is a writer who begins to feel that his life is boring that it is unworthy of a memoir (even though he had just published a memoir and was blocked on writing his newest one).  While feeling frustrated and blocked he gets an offer to write a screenplay and in his meeting with the other writers they mention that his character will need to be changed to make a better story.  This makes him wonder even more about what his life is all about and how much of a hand God has in the development of his story.

I am still reading but there was one part that I just had to share.  Donald goes to an intense story-writing conference where he hears 36 hours of lecture and is still confused about what makes a great story.  When packing up his bags he mentions his frustrations to his buddy who responds:

“A Story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”, he said with remarkable assurance.

I looked at the definition for a second wondering at how simple it really was.  He was right.  A character who wants something  and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.

“That’s it!,”  I said to him.  “That’s the essence of a story”

Realizing this truth he has a fascinating interaction with a friend of his.  This friend has a daughter who is starting to experiment in drugs and is dating a guy “who smelled like smoke and only answered questions with single words ”  (I love that description!).  After repeated grounding attempts nothing seemed to be working.  On a whim Donald tells his friend that his daughter is “living a terrible story”.

“What do you mean?” he asked

“I don’t know exactly, but she’s just not living a very good story.  She’s caught up in a bad one”

After that the two friends talked for a long time about living the right stories.  A couple of months later he ran into this friend and asked about the daughter.  ‘”She’s better” he said to me smiling. And when I asked why, he told me his family was living a better story”.    Basically the friend went online and looked for something different, better to be involved in- something that might catch his daughters eye.  In the search he found an organization that builds orphanages around the world.  He then called the organization and signed up for the service.

“So I went home and called a family meeting…I told them about this village and about the orphanage and all these terrible things  that could happen if these kids don’t get an orphanage.  Then I told them I agreed to build it”

My wife sat there looking at me like I’d lost my mind.  And my daughter, her eyes were as big as melons and she wasn’t happy.

He then goes on to explain that after getting over the initial shock the entire family became excited including his daughter.  She even wanted to use her website and blog to promote and fund raise for the orphanage.

“That’s incredible” I said   “You know what else, man?” “She broke up with her boyfriend last week.  She had his picture on her dresser and took it down and told me he said she was too fat. Can you believe that?  What a jerk.”

“But that is done now,” he said, shaking his head. ” No girl who plays the role of hero dates a guy who uses her.  She knows who she is.  She just forgot for a little while”

I have a quote on my wall that says “If at some point in your life you are not where you want to be it has no bearing on the future. You can always reinvent yourself”.  I don’t know who said that first but I think this is a very interesting idea.  Just like the girl in the story or the prodigal son from scripture, we can come to ourselves and think upon our ways; thereby, creating a new story, a better story, or certainly a more dynamic story.  Even if it is not a redemptive change, knowing that change is possible is so wonderful.  For example, if I am able to lose weight that would change my story- it may or may not make it substantially better but the chances are it will make it a longer story.  Another example that comes to my mind is the new story which was created when I quit my job at JWA.   I felt 100% authentic to what God wanted to me to do and what was consequently right for me.  As Donald says “And once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don’t have a choice.  Not living a better story would be like deciding to die, deciding to walk around numb until you die and its not natural to want to die.”  This is the best summary of how I feel now compared to how I felt in my old job.  I just wasn’t living the story I was meant to live- it wasn’t a bad story, just not the one for me.  I am so glad I had the guts to leap into the unknown and try something new.

On my mission I saw many people who started to tell a different story.  They experienced conversion and fairly quickly his or her life became a life with a “Mormon” story thrown into the mix.  I’d be curious to hear of moments in your life where a change in your story had a dramatic affect or a smaller but memorable one.