Donald Miller

Wrecked in a Good Way

Four months ago today I was driving through Yellowstone National Park with my husband Craig and our dog Lilly.

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We had just sold or given away about one third of our belongings, and we packed up the rest of the stuff we had accumulated in thirty-one years of marriage and moved from Vancouver, Washington to Louisville, Kentucky. It was a scary move to leave our beloved Pacific Northwest and move to a new part of the country where we didn’t know a soul other than my husband’s new co-workers. I thought my life had been turned upside down.

Until I went to the Storyline Conference this weekend.

It seems that God tends to work this way in my life. Things become unsettled and topsy-turvy, and just when I think I am settling in and getting used to it, my upside-down is turned upside-down. And that is what happened this weekend. My brain and heart are so full that I have a conference hangover, but I will try to convey at least a couple of coherent thoughts.

It started with meeting (in real life) three women that I met on twitter. Yes, sometimes I meet total strangers from the internet and we become lifelong friends. If you know me at all, you know this is not unusual. And the weekend continued like that. I think Storyline has such a unique attendence because every single person is there to learn what it means to dream, to love, and to live a better story. At every turn you meet people who are open and challenged and ready to share their heart – sitting next to you in the auditorium, eating lunch with you at the table in the common area, standing in line in the bathroom. @cha-bare tweeted it perfectly –

Storyline feels like what I suspect heaven will be: a place wide open and close where there are no strangers and love rules #storylineconf

storyline 2

I attended the Storyline Conference in 2014, and since that time my life has never been the same. I’ve been wrecked, but in a good way. That is why I was open to move to Louisville.

But this Storyline was exponentially deeper for me. The speakers were extraordinarily vulnerable. Photographer Jeremy Cowart did an amazing multi-media presentation about how his life transitioned from “I Can’t” as a kid who felt like a failure and tested in the 5-15 percentile to “I Can Do All Things Through Christ” and became a well-known photographer.  As he told his story and shared his humanitarian efforts, I was weeping in my seat. I have found my new favorite human. You can watch his presentation on Vimeo.

And then after that (I mean like MINUTES after that), when my tears were barely dry, we heard the beautiful story of two best friends who walked the Way of St James in Spain, the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. I guess I shouldn’t say walked, because one of the friends has a degenerative neurological disorder, and his friend PUSHED him 500 miles across Spain. Please watch the trailer for their upcoming documentary, “I’ll Push You“.  It was such and inspiring story of brotherly love and perseverence.

I am not sure that I had one tear left after these two stories.

Another presentation that tore at my heart was Miles Adcox from Onsite, a renowned counseling center that offers intense experiential counseling workshops. He did an exercise in openness with his brother – his real brother – in front of the whole audience. Not staged or scripted, this intimate exchange with two brothers working on repairing their relationship and speaking hard truths to each other in front of an audience of 2,000 people was raw and real and it tore my heart wide open. It was such a great reminder to not let important things go unsaid, and how it is especially difficult with our own families.

There were so many other speakers and teachings that spoke to me. Of course the whole Storyline process, which I have been living for the past year and a half, was written on my heart in a fresh and deeper way. Author Allison Vesterfeldt helped writers find their voice, and encouraged us that it is not about how many followers you have on Twitter or IG, or how many blog views you have. My favorite quotes from her session were:

Finding your voice is less about finding your voice than it is about finding yourself.

Write to change one person’s life, and you will change the world.

The place you have to go to find your voice is probably the place you don’t want to go. Sometimes the suffering, more than the healing, is the catalyst for transformation in our lives. The suffering will whisper you secrets if you let it.

She then lead us in an exercise to find our voice. Writing “I am From” was an enlightening exercise for me, and helped me remember who I am at the core.

There are so many other impacting moments, and I will write about them later.

I wish I could encourage you all to attend the Storyline Conference, but unfortunately, it was announced that this will be the last one. If you are interested in this process, you can find materials at storylineblog.com. I am beyond thankful for Donald Miller and his books, and for the whole Storyline process and materials. I can honestly say that my life would not be the same without the things I have learned. The stories they have told have changed my world, and are changing my world every day. And now my job is to use my story to change the world.

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Unsettled. And It’s a Good Thing

Please excuse this stream of consciousness – it’s the middle of the night and I am processing.

I am unsettled.

It’s 2:30 am and I am lying in bed in a hotel in Chicago. Having worked Tuesday night, I went home and slept two and a half hours, then hopped in my car and drove the long and boring five-hour drive from Louisville to Chicago. I was able to get to bed early in preparation for the conference tomorrow, but I woke up at 2am. My sleep is off, my brain won’t shut down, and my heart is unsettled. I am living another part of my dream – when we sold our house and moved to Louisville, I told my husband one of my dreams was to attend the Storyline conference again, this time from the perspective of a writer. So I signed up for the whole works – dinner with Don Miller, the full conference experience, and an extra day with a workshop on how to tell a better story.

Since the first time I attend this conference (almost two years ago), so much has changed. I’ve seen old dreams die, and new dreams come true. I started two blogs, I have started writing again, and we have moved across the country, far from our friends and family, and are slowly building a new community. In preparing my heart for this conference, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past years, particularly since the last conference.

Before that conference nineteen months ago, there were seeds planted in my heart. The speakers I heard and the things I learned watered and nurtured those seeds and I saw them sprout and start to grow.  My dream of retiring and becoming part of a close neighborhood community was reborn into a dream of buying an old house in downtown Vancouver where people could come, gather around the table, or sit with a cup of coffee and talk about life in a safe place. That dream died, or at least changed. We left our family and friends and moved 2300 miles away. We now have the house and the table is waiting for guests, but we are tasked with bravely building a new community from scratch in a city where we knew no one. Those seeds were planted, and it has been amazing to see them grow and change.

This year, I feel I am getting ready to harvest some of those dreams. As with the last conference, seeds were planted long before I got here.

And as I am typing this, I feel the tension of a new dream being born. And that scares me, but it’s also thrilling. And scary. And even more scary.

I feel big changes coming. Haven’t I had enough big changes this year?

In getting my heart ready for this conference, I looked again at the “Creating a Life Plan” curriculum from Storyline. I love this exercise – I would like to take the whole world through it! After writing my positive and negative turns and plotting them on a timeline, the theme was so evident. Through childhood, restless youth, and  a broken and restored marriage. Through miscarriages and infertility, the loss and restoration of a prodigal son, and through the season of empty nest. As a wounded member of the church and the Church, and now with this move and huge life change – it is evident.

He rescues and restores us from a hopeless place.

That is so evident as the theme of my life in this season. And I know God is going to use our story, as he has in the past, to bring hope to those who feel hopeless. To bring light in the darkness of despair. To help those who are so blinded with the inconsistencies of what they see in the Christians who are so engaged in political and moral self-righteousness that they have forgotten the core of Christianity – Love one another – I want to help shine the light. And I know this is part of my story. But here I am. Unsettled again. Feeling the labor pains of a new dream being born.

The next part of Creating a Life Plan involved looking at the roles in your life, and defining them, then setting a goal or ambition for each role. This, along with identifying a theme of your life, is meant to help provide a focus and a filter. Aside from my role as a spiritual being, the five roles I identified were: Wife, Family member (broad, I know, but it includes mom, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, and niece), Friend, Neighbor (includes my immediate physical neighborhood as well as work and extended family), and Creative (writer, etc). Narrowing these roles and identifying goals for each helped to confirm the message that has been poking at my heart.

I don’t remember when, but in the past year or so I read about the wife of a prominent worship leader and author who had been a popular Christian blogger and I believe a speaker as well. She had multitudes of followers on social media, but after some events in her life, decided to leave it all behind. She closed her popular blog and basically left social media to focus on her community. Not her community of followers, but her actual physical community – her family, her friends, her church. Something about this really appealed to me.

Then recently I was listening to author Shauna Niequist speak about something similar. She is a popular Christian author and speaker, but she felt that things had become unbalanced. She decided to reevaluate her time and energy, and to keep her family and her close community a priority, even if that meant disappointing her larger community (social media, and her agent). Basically she said – if I am not as loving and present with my people as I am on stage or with my social media community, what good is that? I am not explaining it clearly (thank you, sleep deprivation), but hearing her talk about her change in priorities only served to confirm what has been on my heart.

I want to love my people better.

And to do that, I am thinking I need to close my circle.

By that, I mean concentrating on my five roles, and my goals in each of those roles, and letting everything else go.

What will that look like? I don’t know, but I am getting some clues. I think it is going to mean a big change in social media. I love keeping in contact with friends, co-workers, and family from back home. But how much of my energy is going to maintaining a relationship with friends from high school or people I worked with ten years ago. I enjoy that, but in terms of a greater purpose, what does that mean. Not to mention the time I spend on social media. If I want to concentrate on my ‘small circle’ and really love them well, what will that mean? How will things change? Am I spending more time reading an ex-co-worker’s blog or being part of a Facebook group of 10,000 dreamers than I am loving my next door neighbor who had surgery yesterday, or practically loving my sons who are living in all corners or the world, or writing a card or letter to my brother on his anniversary, or finding time across the miles and time changes to talk to my best friend on the phone? Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that my co-worker’s blog or Facebook group are not good things. But are they the BEST things at this time in my life? I do not want to sacrifice best things to good things.

With limited resources of time and energy, how can I best build and love my tribe, my people, my small circle?

And if I am looking to focus on my small circle, what does this mean for my dream to write?

I don’t know that answer. But I have a feeling I will get closer to the answer this weekend. Unsettled is a good thing.

 

 

He Rescues and Restores Us From a Hopeless Place

Time after time, he rescued me from hopelessness: abuse, infertility, broken marriage, prodigal child, loss of community, broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams
God answered and came to my rescue when I didn’t even know to cry out.

Part of finding your dream/passion/calling is to look at where you have been and what you have learned. In my last post I talked about a process called Creating a Life Plan from Donald Miller’s Storyline. The assignment was to list your ‘major life turns’ – those events that changed your life from that point on. So yesterday on the plane from Boston to Baltimore (a short flight), I began listing those events, and then labeling them positive or negative, and weighing them with a number from 1-10. On the videos for the curriculum, Miller state that if you are forty years old you would likely have about 15 events. He also confesses on the training video that he is 42 and has 37 events, while Shauna Neiquist, the other participant in the video, has 8. I identified twenty-seven.

First, I listed each event, with a short description. I then labeled the event as a positive or negative turn, and gave it a number from 1 to 10. Then, on the next leg of my flight from Baltimore to Louisville, I placed each event on the timelime of my life.

+ Positive turns

_____I_________I______I__>>>>>

– Negative turns

 

I had to do this a couple of times, because I hadn’t written the events chronologically, I just wrote about them as they came to mind. To simplify it for me, I made a timeline for each decade of my life, then transfered them onto one major timeline. It just helped me to organize things better.

As I started plotting the events onto my final timeline, something became very apparent.

For most negative turns, there was a redemptive positive turn. When events in my childhood caused shame or brokeness, there was a person who showed love or gave me value. When our marriage fell apart, we found a great counselor and were able to confide in friends that became like family. When times were tough with my oldest son, it strengthened our marriage because if forced us to really communicate and become a team. When broken friendships and family relationships ravaged my soul, I found healing with skilled counselors and healthy relationships. There are countless examples like this, and I had not seen the thread of rescue and restoration until I plotted these events on my timeline.

The last part of this module is to reflect on your timeline and see if you can identify a life theme. Here is what I wrote in my notes:

Whenever there was a low, or a time of hurt and pain, or a great loss, there was also a great RESCUE. A source of help, redemption, healing, restoration. During times of trouble, God provided a way out.

Restoration

Rescue

Hope from despair, hopelessness

Time after time, God rescued me from a hopeless place: abuse, infertility, broken marriage, lost and wandering child, loss of community, broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams

God answered and came to my rescue when I didn’t even know to call out.

I think I found my life theme for this season of my life:

He rescues and restores us from a hopeless place

As part of Dare to Dream: Finding Your Dream (Again), I am completing Donald Miller’s Storyline process of Creating a Life Plan. (this is meant to be done over a month’s time, but I am doing it in four days so that I can complete it before the Storyline Conference) Note: I have been through this process before. It would not be a good thing to rush through it your first time. 

Never the Same Again


“Major turns are those moments that once they happen, you are never the same again. Once you walk through that door, there is no looking back.”

First of all – I obviously haven’t completed the #write31days challenge. I was out of town, and then got sick, and then went out of town again, and it just wasn’t happening. So I’m going to finish it up like this, it just won’t be done in October (obviously). As part of attending Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference, I can participate in some curriculum called “Creating Your Life Plan.” I had actually purchased similar  material from Storyline years ago, and never completed it. But I feel like God has been preparing my heart for something big at this conference, and I want robe ready.  So here goes.

I’ve decided that since I’m going to the Storyline conference on Thursday, I should try to actually complete some of the curriculum. So I’m going to run through “Creating a Life Plan” in 4 days (I think it’s usually supposed to take 30-45 days). I’ve read through it and done some of the steps in other programs, but I really want to have it done before the conference so that I can move on to other big things 🙂 (Have I ever mentioned that I am an  all-or-nothing, impulsive type of gal?) I have all day on the plane flying home tomorrow, and I have the 5+ hour drive from Louisville to Chicago on Wednesday, so I know I’ll at least have that time to work on it.

Tonight’s assignment: list the ‘major turns’ in the story of your life, both positive and negative. Major turns are those moments that once they happen, you are never the same again. Once you walk through that door, there is no looking back.

Once you identify a major turns, you categorize it as negative or positive, and then give it a weighted number of 1 to 10. On the video, Don states that if you’re age 40, you probably have about 15 of these turns.

For instance, in my life one major turn was when I was 24 and my only sister, Tricia, who was 19, was killed in a single car accident when she fell asleep at the wheel. Losing Tricia greatly impacted my whole family, as you can imagine, but specifically for me it left a big hole in my heart at losing my only sister, and not having a sister relationship from that time on.

  • So tomorrow (and probably tonight as I’m falling asleep) I’m going to think about the timeline of my life, and start to identify my ‘major turns’. I’ve done something similar before, and I think it will be really interesting to find which events I now identify as life changing compared to when I did this almost 15 years ago.

Three Ingredients for a Meaningful Life

“I wanted my life to count for more. I wanted deeper relationships. I wanted to touch the hearts of others. And so I began my search for a meaningful life. These three things are helping me find my dream and live a more meaningful life.”

*this post is part of my #write31days series Dare to Dream: Finding Your Dream Again

Many years ago we had moved to a new town and were getting settled with our two young boys, then ages 2 and 6 months, and I was lonesome. I was a young mom and we had finally found a home church, but I was so unsure of myself. I was 26-year-old stay at home mom, and I had no idea who I was or who I was supposed to be. It seemed that all the other moms had it all together – always dressed to the nines, hair perfectly in place, kids sitting quietly at the pew. In the meantime, I had one kid is screaming in the nursery, and the other one yelling “My penis itches!” in the middle of prayer. So much for having it together.

To be truthful, I really didn’t want to be friends with the women who had it all together (at least I thought they had it all together). People who smile too much make me suspicious (you know, those people who smile even when they’re angry? I don’t trust them). I knew I could never measure up, and it would be too much pressure. But my heart longed for a friend, for grown-up conversation, for someone to share my heart with in these early days of mommyhood.

 

During those early days, I attended a funeral for a woman from church. I didn’t know her, but I was helping serve the meal afterwards, so I came early and attended the funeral. As I listened to family and friends review her life, I was struck not by what she had done or even who she was, but how she loved. I heard story after story about how she had loved her friends, shown up in times of need, and given of herself for others. Not for a salary, not for recognition, but just because of who she was. I thought long and hard after that funeral – what kind of friend am I? What will people say about me after I’m gone? Am I making an impact on the lives I touch, or am I just existing and surviving? I knew that I was just surviving. That I was waiting for life to come to me, I was waiting for people to invite me into their lives, but I wasn’t making an effort to love others. I wasn’t reaching out. And that day, I determined that

I wanted my life to count for more. I wanted deeper relationships. I wanted to touch the hearts of others.

That was almost thirty years ago, and I’m still learning every day what it means to love others.

If you have read any of my essays, you know I am a fan of author Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And subsequently, I have fallen in love with Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. From his experiences living and observing others in Nazi concentration camps in WWII, Viktor Frankl developed many theories on man’s motivation to live a meaningful life. As he developed a framework of existential therapy called logotherapy, he theorizes that there are three “main avenues” which one must take to find meaning in life.

“The first is by creating a work or doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love  . . . Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life; even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by doing so change himself. He can turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, Postscript 1984, Viktor Frankl)

Donald Miller has utilized these lessons in his Storyline ministry, helping people live more meaningful lives, and more practically, developing a life plan. He applies Frankl’s work and explains it a little further, giving practical steps to finding your dream and living a meaningful life.

The three crucial ingredients in finding a meaningful life:

  1. Meaningful work or a project. Working towards something that is bigger than yourself that brings meaning not just to your life, but to your world. This is something that is unique to each individual. It may be what you do as a career, or it may be something apart from your regular job. Often this is something that only you can do, based on your unique life experience and your own special gifts and talents.
  2. A loving community. I am not talking about your 400 Facebook friends. These are friends that you live life with, who love you unconditionally. We were made to live in community. We need to surround ourselves with friends with whom we can share our heart on a regular basis. Friends who ‘get’ us. To live a meaningful life, we need to walk alongside friends who love us as we are but also encourage us to grow beyond who we are. These are the friends who will be gathered around your deathbed.
  3. Our suffering redeemed. Frankl states that we need a change in perspective on the suffering or tragedies that have occurred in our lives. Turning tragedies into triumphs is the key is survival and also learning from that pain, and using it for a greater purpose. To build a meaningful life, we can take those difficult times and not let them destroy us, but use them as a tool to build a better life.