Thursday, July 15, 2010

Writing the Story of Me...

This is a first for me... writing for a 'contest.' Author Donald Miller and Co. are putting on a seminar in Portland and gifting a trip to said seminar to a person (and a friend) who writes an inspiring blog about it.  (please see the video at the bottom of this blog)

There's no feasible way to attend the conference outside of winning the contest, so I take the leap, and let my fingers articulate my heart.

So... prepare to be inspired. And even if it doesn't inspire, this will give you all a vulnerable glimpse of my life that, I hope, will encourage you to rethink yours.

(I've read all of Miller's books, most of which have come out in the last 10 years or so. Blue Like Jazz and his latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, are my favorites. He writes with a personable and conversational style that makes reading easy. And he discusses the weighty topics of life, relationships and faith with an openness and candor, admitting when he doesn't know the answers, and graciously offering his opinion and perspective when he has them. He seems to have a great and biblically-inspired balance of grace and truth. He's good-one of my favorites. Check him out, if you haven't already)

Miller's latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, introduces the topic of seeing our lives as a story, and intentionally pursuing a better story, and a better life. As Miller writes, the components of a great story are true in whatever genre-movies, novels, and yes, even our own lives: "A character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."  (Don begins a three-part blog series here about how we see those components in the popular new movie, Toy Story 3.)

I love how Don weaves his own personal story and experience in with the discussion of big and weighty topics of life and calling and destiny. I'm intrigued by the people that he's come across in his life, developing life-long friendships with amazing individuals, simply by being open and aware of his surroundings. I appreciate his ability to engage people's hearts by sharing his own.

His story, and this 'million miles' book, reminded me a bit of Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor. Like Miller, Yancey shares about people who came into his life and shared a part of the journey with him, or at least caught his attention along the way. He shares how they inspired him and contributed to his own story.

What would happen if we took more time to listen to the stories of people surrounding us? How would our perspective of our lives change if we stopped to take inventory of what others have contributed?

I also hear the voice and heart of John Eldredge, reminding and inspiring us that life is an epic journey that God desires us to live to the fullest. The experiences that He allows are all about developing us into the men and women He created us to be. We have an enemy who seeks our destruction, but God is our biggest cheerleader, protector and advocate, encouraging us and reminding us of His presence on this life journey.


So... what is my story?


I'm not going to bore everyone with the details of my birth (which I obviously don't remember) or my daily routine, 34 years later. But it's intriguing to me to look at the components of a story and overlay them on my life and see how they flesh out. Intriguing?  Maybe a better word is baffling. Or sometimes, frustratingly random. Or...


Actually, I'm not going to go into many specifics, but I think I cover two of the three bases pretty well. I know the character- me- and I recognize (and struggle through) conflict when it arises, but the third one is the challenge. The 'wanting something' is a little blurry. Actually, wanting something is not the problem, but knowing what I want and intentionally pursuing it is the issue.

What do I want? Why am I here? Where do I fit? What was I created to contribute? Where is this journey leading?

I've grown up with supportive parents who have been as supportive as anyone I know. They were always consistently there to say, "we're proud of you and love you, no matter what you choose to do." That wasn't a license for scandalous behavior, but a blank check of their backing to support me in following my dreams. And when my parents haven't been physically present, I've been surrounded by an amazing host of cheerleaders and friends.

I have been afforded opportunities to do just about anything I wanted.

  • I've served on two mission trips to Jamaica. 
  • I've traveled to Africa twice, serving in Zambia and even bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge. 
  • I saw the frantic preparations for this year's World Cup when I was in South Africa two years ago.
  • I've officiated a wedding for one of my best friends on the steps of a Sonoma Valley vineyard house, after driving with him on a non-stop 29-hr trip from Wichita to San Francisco. 
  • I even got crapped on by a bird in Grenada last summer while on a 3-week exposure cruise with Operation Mobilization.
These things have all just 'happened,' it seems. I didn't dream up and pursue any of it. The opportunities materialized, and I said, 'okay, let's do it." That's the story of my life- no big pre-arranged life blueprint; just a series of fun, sometimes hard, and exciting experiences.

And don't get me wrong... I am deeply grateful for those experiences. I have some rich memories and unforgettable experiences to relive in my mind and in conversation. And looking back, I see God's hand guiding and leading and orchestrating (for most of it)...

But life just seems random and disjointed sometimes. And the current season seems as ambiguous as any I've known up to this point. As blessed as I am, and have been, and as supported and loved as I am, I still struggle to not feel like I know where any of this is going or where I fit.

I'm a pastor's kid, and have lived enough places that I'm not sure what to tell people when they ask me where 'home' is. 
I went to college as a criminal justice major and graduated as a pastor.
I worked at a camp after college and worked there for a year and a half because they needed help, not because I have a life calling to camping ministry.
I left camp ministry to a short season of transition, living with my parents and working in a church pew factory.
I lived the church pew factory/parental 'free rent' life for six months before moving halfway across the country to be a youth pastor, something I never really envisioned doing. 
The youth pastor 'gig' was a great 9 1/2 years at the same church, producing lifelong friendships and memories, but ending with a clear sense of needing to move on.
And now... a year after resigning my youth ministry position, I've just 'celebrated' my first anniversary of paying my bills by working at a cemetery and funeral home doing everything from mowing lawn to driving a funeral coach...
And now... I have no clue what's next... or what I want to be next. There are possibilities for 'next,' but  no clear, life-defining vision of the immediate or long-term future.

Someone likened my life to that of Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry's multi-faceted  and eclectic-life protagonist. There are some parallels, oddly enough. He seemed to go wherever the wind blew him, doing everything from working at a race track to cutting hair to digging graves.

And now, although I don't really adhere to this theology in my heart of hearts, the current chapter of my life story seems just as random as Jayber Crow's and a product of what feels like God taking a break from communicating my story with some kind of 'writer's cramp.' It feels like everything is on 'pause' even as life speeds by me. I don't know my place, and it's hard to be okay or at peace with that.

I know the right Sunday School answers. I know God loves me and has a plan for my life. I know that 'all things work together for good for those that love God." I know that this life is ultimately not about me, but like any human being, knowing that and living it are two different things.

I don't see how the story progresses from here.

I don't understand where I balance what I do with what I trust God to do. What is my responsibility in this story, and what is His?

And hardest of all... I don't know how to enjoy the journey for what it is--a faith-saturated opportunity for me to represent God in a winsome way on this earth by living the life and story He's called me to.

The 'not finding joy in the journey' makes me feel selfish and ungrateful and spoiled... and most assuredly, I am those things on a regular basis. It's no fun to feel stuck, and, although biblical, I struggle to thank God for these opportunities to grow.

But I have a sincere desire to live the story and be the person God created me to be. It's ultimately about Him.

So... were I to be picked to attend the Donald Miller seminar, I think these are the things that I would look for...
  • An opportunity to widen my spectrum of friends and acquaintances by meeting others with the same desire to pursue a meaningful and exciting personal life story. 
  • The opportunity to have some objective input into my life story from people who, as yet, know nothing about me.
  • The opportunity to be reminded of TRUTH that I forget or ignore in the distractions of life. 
  • The opportunity to add a cool chapter to my life story.
That's it... gut-honest, vulnerable, and raw.

Don, and other staff members, thanks for the consideration. Thanks, too, for inspiring people like me to think more 'big picture' thoughts about life and eternity. And thanks for helping facilitate the process of realigning and reinvigorating 'stuck' people in need of encouragement.



    please check out this video about the seminar...

    Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

    1 comments:

    Momma H July 21, 2010 at 10:40 AM  

    I hear the cry of your heart in this essay, Jim. I am sort of in that same place: "Well, What now, Lord?" Keep blogging your journey. It is a good way for your to articulate, and in so doing give us, your supporters, direction to our prayers for you.
    One thing I know - You are definitely a blessing to many many people!!

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