Storyline

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.
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Resources for Finding Your Dream/Passion/Meaning and Living a Better Story

Here are some resources that might be helpful: (I will be adding to this list as I find more resources) Please feel free to add your resources in the comments below.

Books:

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl    THIS has been my favorite find while doing this series. I LOVE this book. And bonus find – I found this on youtube in an audio version. I don’t know how long this will be posted, but here is the link.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

Youtube:

Living a Great Story – sermon by Don Miller

Articles:

What Makes a Meaningful Life by Donald Miller

Blogs:

Storyline

TED talks:

Conferences:

Storyline Conference Coming up! November 5-7 , 2015 Chicago

The Next Step (in Attaching Meaning to Our Suffering)

What would the world be missing if you did not tell your beautiful story?

This is part two of exploring the importance attaching meaning to our suffering. In Attaching Meaning to Our Suffering – the Most Important Step, I described a process that I went through in leadership training in which we looked at the significant events and experiences in our lives, positive and negative, and then thought about the lessons which learned from these events. We shared our stories with one another, and learned there is power in sharing your story.

The last part of the exercise was the most important. We were asked to look again at the quilt that represented the story of our lives . We were then given more squares of all colors. Drawing from the story of our lives, we were asked to take the lessons we learned from each event and circumstance, whether we considered it positive or negative. We considered those lessons and what they might mean in the overall purpose for our lives. We took those last quilt squares and brainstormed what interests, projects, careers, or ministries might be born from the story of our lives so far. We were asked to fill up the last few rows of the quilt.

Some examples from my quilt:

  • I suffered multiple miscarriages early in our marriage. That gave me a heart for women who have had miscarriages and are dealing with infertility. In general, it also gave me a heart for people who are hurting. This translated into working with our support group for moms at church and eventually into my job as a hospice nurse.
  • We had some serious struggles early in our marriage and came very close to divorcing. As a result, we have shared our story numerous times in public and in private, so that couples going through difficult times would know they are not alone, and also to help them have hope that marriages can be healed even when it seems like things are hopeless.
  • My younger sister died in a car accident when I was newly married. She was 19 years old, four years younger than myself. As an adult, I missed having a sister to share my life with, to be an aunt to my children. I think that this made me much more purposeful in my friendships with other women, and I gathered a circle of women friends who were like sisters. Once again, this loss of life also prepared me for becoming a hospice nurse.
  • Maybe you experienced some sort of abuse as a child. That experience might move you to learn how to be a better parent and do things differently. Or you may be the person who can easily pick out hurting kids, and you make it a point come alongside them to provide encouragement and a safe place. You may choose a career such as nursing, counseling, or social work, to help others who have been abused to find hope and healing.

Those are just a few examples of how reframing those negative events helps to give those moments or seasons of suffering meaning and purpose. This does not mean denying the pain or hurt that resulted from negative events or circumstances. It simply involves searching out a reason for the suffering and gleaning any lessons that might be learned. Redeeming our suffering by attaching meaning to it is a crucial step in finding your dream (again).

It becomes increasingly clear that events and circumstances in our lives are connected, even though it might not be obvious at first. This exercise helps to put all of the pieces together to tell the story of our lives – where you have been and, more importantly, where you are going.

What would the world be missing if you did not tell your beautiful story?

Ali Eminov "Girls of Sudam" The Quilted Conscience Project

Ali Eminov “Girls of Sudam” The Quilted Conscience Project

 

Your Life as A Story

In previous posts we talked about defining our life’s dream (or purpose) as a pursuit of pleasure versus a search for deeper meaning.

I love the word picture of one’s life as a story.

Every story has a cast of characters and a plot line. Every story has a message.

If your life is a story, who are the characters that play a role in your story? What is the plot or message of your story? Is your story heading where you want it to be heading? Is your story a search for pleasure or a search for deeper meaning? If your life is not the story you long to be telling, what needs change? This series will help us look at how to live a better story.
Author Donald Miller talks about this concept in his book “A Million Miles in A Thousand Years”. When his book “Blue Like Jazz” was made into a movie, he literally had to think of his life as a story. He shares the lessons he learned as he talks about how to live a better story. His business, Storyline, has an upcoming conference to help people live a better story and develop a life plan. You can find out more about the Storyline Conference here.

I love this illustration.

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”

Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Today’s questions:

Think about the story you are living: the characters, the plot line, the central theme, the direction you are heading.

Are you living the story you want to be living?

If not, what might need to change?

Join the conversation on our Facebook page, or send me a message below

Living the Dream (or How Donald Miller’s Words and the Storyline Conference Shaped My Path) 

*please forgive my accidental post earlier. I was trying to save what I had written and accidentally pasted a text to our real estate agent. Yikes!

————————————-

I haven’t written in a while.
Quite a long while.

In the past six months the whole direction of my life has changed and I’m very excited to tell you the story. There has been an upheaval in our family, in our home, and in our hearts. 
I believe it all began a number of years ago when I read Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was a time in my spiritual walk where I was lost. Dissatisfied. Hungry for more. Blue Like  Jazz was the type of book one reads with a huge sigh of relief – finally someone had put into words how I was feeling. It made my heart come alive with hope. This book gave me the courage to think outside the box, to question, to tell myself it’s okay to be hungry for more – for truth, for love, for community. It started me on a path to being a more honest wife and mother. Let me to start becoming a more purposeful friend. And it gave me freedom as follower of Jesus that I didn’t know I was missing.

A few years later my son was in high school and was walking a troubled path. He had a lot of spiritual questions, as did I. I desperately wanted to find a way to connect with him and his small group of ragtag friends. And here Donald Miller played a part again. I had read his Searching For God Knows What, and thought maybe this would be a way to start a conversation with these kids. I talked to my son and he asked his friends, and to my shock they said they would be interested in a book study. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing for some cool college kid to come alongside and do a book study with this group of kids?” I prayed for days, for weeks, for months, to find the right person in my church of 6000 people – and it just wasn’t happening.

Then I felt this (horrible) nudging in my heart that maybe I’m supposed to lead this book study. NO. Just no! Dear God, I’m the MOM. These kids do not want to do a book study with their friend’s mom. But my son and his friends said yes. So there we met, week after week. Our little group included straight edge kids, drug using kids, atheist and agnostic kids, wounded Christian kids, bisexual kids, and a Jewish kid. I would love to tell you this study was a huge success and all of the kids opened their hearts to Jesus – but you know what? That didn’t happen. I learned to step away from being a mom and just listen to what my kid’s truth was – whether I wanted to hear it or not. I gave all the kids a safe place where they could say whatever they wanted, and I would listen. And that was okay. Actually, it was better than okay.

Fast forward to February, 2014, at the Storyline Conference in San Diego. I had already read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. This Donald Miller book helped me to start thinking of the story of my life in a very purposeful way. What kind of story did I want my life to tell? Who are the characters in my story? What can I do to build an even more beautiful story as a follower of Jesus? I was beside myself with excitement as I arrived at this conference with a few of my best friends. I don’t know if my friends quite knew with they were getting into. As a middle-aged stay-at-home mom for many years, the concept of dreaming and building a better story often felt out of my reach. But it had been building up for months in anticipation of this conference. And man, let me tell you – once I got there, my heart and my brain exploded!

Warning: once you open the floodgates of dreaming and creativity, especially if they have been closed for years, it is overwhelming and invigorating. And it’s also very difficult to shut off.

Starting with the incredible author Anne Lamott, the wheels of my heart and my head started turning. I soaked it in as I listened to amazing speaker after amazing speaker, each telling their beautiful story. I began to think and dream – I was hungry for community, I wanted our marriage and our family to be purposeful. I longed for for our home to be a safe haven, a healing place for broken people. And that is the beginning of our story.

This story involves a dream – born, shattered, and reborn. It’s the story of a broken marriage that was healed. It’s the story of the journey of a prodigal son and a wounded family that was restored. It’s the story of a family scattered across the globe to live out their dreams. It’s the dream of finding our tribe, learning to live in community, and welcoming everyone to our table. Every single one.


And right now it’s the story of a woman who needs to keep packing so that she can move across the country next week.

Please stay tuned. The story is unfolding, even as I write this.