What do you do when you meet one of your favorite authors, ask for advice on writing a book while you have a full-time job, and he says stop blogging and wake up early to write the book… well you blog about it of course!
A few weeks ago, Rich and I attended Donald Miller’sStoryline Conference in Nashville, TN. Miller is the best-selling author of Blue Like Jazz, a groundbreaking book that spoke to the idea that it’s ok to have questions and doubts about God.
After I read Blue Like Jazz and, subsequently, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years where Miller talked about the process of changing Blue Like Jazz from a memoir into a screenplay, and learning how to live his life as a story, I became hooked on his writing style. Miller is self-deprecating, honest, reflective, humorous, and relatable. He writes blogs about theology, God, relationships, and writing, among other things. For the past few years he has focused on the Storyline process, subtitled “finding your subplot in God’s story.”
Rich and I had attended the Justice Conference in February with the goal of making huge changes in our life. Slowly but surely, we’ve pursued some of those changes (see my blog series about it here). But the purpose for attending the Storyline Conference was to help provide us with more direction and focus.
The Storyline Conference included many inspirational speakers, including Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest who founded Magdalene & Thistle Farms, which helps women recovering from trafficking, prostitution, and addiction by providing them with opportunities to create and work. The theme of the organization is “love heals.” She encouraged the audience by saying, “our call is to love the world, not change it… we heal in community.”
The entire weekend was filled with inspirational stories from individuals who have done amazing things with the life God gave them. But what Don stressed was that we are partners with God. We aren’t provided a shopping list that God created with what we’re responsible for doing to live the life God meant for us. Instead, God provides us with passions and gifts and then it’s up to us to partner with God and make the decisions that will lead us to be use those passions and gifts to help others. That’s right. Our story is not about us. It’s about others.
The message for the weekend boiled down to one sentence:
“What would the world miss if you do not tell your story?”
We are all unique. We are all here for a reason. We all have a purpose. We all have a story to tell.
This resonated with me deeply. I have struggled with knowing I love to write, wanting to share what I’ve experienced and have learned with others, but not knowing for sure if I have anything of value to provide or if I even write well. Well, Don and friends were telling me otherwise. I do have a story to tell, and, in fact, God wants me to tell that story. I have received affirmation from people in my life that my words have had a positive affect on them. Don continued to encourage the audience to take risks in living out their story. “What would your life look like if you stopped being careful and started taking risks?”
I haven’t thought about what those risks would be until right now, but I believe it would include becoming completely vulnerable, particularly to criticism, because once you go public as a writer there is no turning back. Your heart is on your sleeve; your deepest thoughts are forever accessible. Even if one person reads your blog or your book, that information cannot be redacted or erased. That terrifies me. I often say, “I’m an open book, I don’t care what anyone thinks.” But I think I’m just trying to convince myself that I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. It’s a risk I’m taking every time I write. What will people think of me? Am I fooling myself to think anyone cares what I have to say? Is this any good? And so forth…
These lies I’m hearing are not confined just to me. Everyone has voices in their head telling them they’re not good enough, they should stop trying to be something they’re not, soon people will find out the truth, etc. During his workshop at the Conference, Al Andrews spoke about how the way to drown out the lying voices is to be in community and surround yourself with people who will give you good voices. Then also talk to those negative voices and ask them to shut up. Personalize it to turn it off and then instead listen to the voice of God, which often is telling us “Do it! Risk it! Fail! I love you!”
God doesn’t want us to be complacent and afraid. God didn’t provide us with this life so we could sit back and watch from the sidelines. All great characters and great stories involve conflict, they involve risk, they involve stumbling blocks, and yes failures, as well as triumphs. If we don’t put ourselves out there to live our unique story, with the hurt that is bound to come along with that, as well as the lessons learned, we will miss out on so much. We may even miss out on being a part of God’s larger story.
The person who demonstrated this the most during the conference was Bob Goff. I don’t know what to say about him without sounding like I’m turning him into an idol, but the truth is there are certain people you meet in your life who just open your eyes to the truth about love, joy and peace. Bob Goff is one of those people.
Bob recently wrote a book, Love Does (check out my review here), and during his presentation at Storyline he told stories, like he did in that book, about how to love people. He basically put it out on the table: “Don’t just agree with Jesus – Do stuff!” Stuff equals loving others. And wow, does Bob know how to love people! He started a school for witch doctors in Uganda, who were mutilating young boys as a form of sacrifice, and teaching them about the love of Jesus so their hearts would be changed and they would go on to save the lives of children instead of destroying them. Because of the amazing work he's done in Uganda to help the children there, he is the honorary consul of the Republic of Uganda to the United States!
Bob says we are supposed to become love. We do that through telling people who they are. He did this with my husband, Rich, when we had the privilege of meeting him after his talk. Here Rich explains what happened in that exchange:
When we took our picture with Bob Goff, he had his arm around me. He made an offhand comment, “Rich, you’re a solid guy!" This hit me hard. Earlier in the day, Don had explained how Bob has a tendency to see people for who they are and this often contrasts with who they think they are. Shauna Niequist also challenged each of us to think about a word (a new name) we want to describe ourselves, something that means so much we could see getting it tattooed on our wrist as a reminder. Bob said I was solid. I’m certain that at the time he meant physically (I worked in a lumber mill for 7 years so I guess I am kind of solid in that way). Later on Twitter, though, he told me I am a solid guy with a solid heart. I feel like in that one moment, he stepped into my brain and picked out the one thing he knew I believed to be my biggest weakness and told me it was actually my strength. “Solid” is pretty much the complete opposite of how I generally think of myself. I’m not a confident person in the least; I have convictions but I’m often too weak or lazy to follow through on them. But Bob is a very smart and perceptive guy and I’m going to trust him on this one. It’s there in me and I know because he saw it! I just need to remember that… and maybe get it tattooed on my wrist so I can't ever forget.
Bob's way with people has encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone, stop being so overly concerned with what people think about me when I walk into a room, and instead show absolute interest in them out of pure love for them as a human being. Of course this takes practice but I know God is with me the entire time, plus I always have Bob Goff’s phone number for advice too! (Seriously, who puts their cell phone number in the back of their book unless they truly want to have a conversation with you? That’s real love right there!)
In the end, Storyline helped me narrow down the focus of my life to three areas:
- I want to love people
- I want to be joyful
- I want to write
I also realized I can’t just sit back and wait for God to make it happen. We’re partners in this life so I need to stop listening to the lies in my head and begin listening to my loving God who believes in me and in the gifts He’s given me. He’s given me a story to tell, a story that is constantly developing and changing, and I have to share that with the world.
So back to when Rich and I met Don Miller… I was literally sick to my stomach, partly because I was very hungry and partly because here was my moment to ask my favorite author how I, too, can make writing a priority in my life – and more specifically, write a book. Don Miller’s advice on that – wake up two hours early! Just as I’m getting used to staying up late… There will always be barriers to reaching your dream. Don’t give up! Listen to your heart, to God, and to the affirmation from others. If there is something you are meant to be doing, if there is a seed God has placed in your heart that is meant to produce a fruit to share with the world, begin prioritizing the things in your life so that becomes your focus.
My focus is now people, joy and writing. It can be done…
A personal thanks to Bob Goff for showing me what pure joy looks like and for when we met, praying for me to seek that joy out in my own life. As a person who is controlled by my need for order and predictability, finding joy in the little things is extremely difficult. But I’m tired of living in this prison. I want to experience the joy of Jesus in my every day life and share it with others in ways that will show them I love them, but most importantly God loves them!
What is your dream? What barriers have you come up against while trying to reach that dream?