Monday, August 23, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 4-6

I promised to blog about Donald Miller's book on Mondays and I'm just squeaking this post in! I'm rusty at this blogging thing... Not to mention very, very busy. Have I mentioned that the Baart family is moving next week? Have I mentioned that I hate packing? Well, we are and I do. But I can't complain--we're so excited to settle into our new home! It's a pretty incredible story... I'll have to share it with you sometime.

But not now. Now I need to talk about A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Wow. Can I just say I'm loving the dialogue so far? We need a forum or something--in lieu of a face-to-face gab session, I'd love to chat "real time" with you about these issues even if our fingers are doing the talking. Oh well, we're making do, aren't we? You all are awesome.

Today I'm going to keep it short and sweet. The book is speaking for itself and I certainly don't feel the need to narrate. Instead, I'm going to jump right into the paragraph that gripped me this week.

It didn't occur to me at the time, but it's obvious now that in creating the fictional Don, I was creating the person I wanted to be, the person worth telling stories about. It never occurred to me that I could re-create my own story, my real life story, but in an evolution I had moved toward a better me. I was creating someone I could live through, the person I'd be if I redrew the world, a character that was me but flesh and soul other. And flesh and soul better too.

It never struck me until I read this paragraph that the person I am and the person I think I am are not necessarily the same woman. Let me give you an example... Just tonight one of my friends asked to hold my new baby. I happily passed him off, and as she buried her face in his sweet cheeks she murmured: "Oh, you smell just like your mommy." Of course, I assumed she meant he smelled good--maybe like Dove soap and the light perfume I wear. But for all I know she meant my son smelled like sweat and sour milk. How can I know how other people perceive me? In my mind I'm a "good" character. I do nice things, work hard, take care of myself, and yes, even smell decent. I draw a better me no matter the circumstance. But when I think about myself the way the rest of the world must see me, I realize that the life I live is indeed boring. I'm selfish and petty and probably mean. Lacking. I'm not the storybook character I wish I was.

So, here's my question for the day: If you could edit one thing in your life, "dream it all up again" like Ben says, what would you change? How would you redraw your own character to be flesh and soul better?

There are so many things that I would love to do to "better" myself, but I guess if I had to pick just one I would mold myself into the sort of selfless woman that always puts others first. You know the type: quick to listen and slow to speak, always ready with a helping hand, a smile, a meaningful gesture of true compassion and kindness. The truth is, I think about me way too much. I would love to be one of those woman that people are drawn to because of the sincerity of her heart.

How about you? Or, what stuck out to you in these chapters? I'd love to hear what you have to say... 

PS - I forgot to mention how we would proceed with readings. Let's take 3 chapters a week until we finish the book. Next week we'll talk about chapters 7-9. Happy reading!


  1. Hi Nicole! I bought the book over the weekend and read chapters 1-7 poolside today in Minnesota. :) It is a quick read but I'll have to slow down and process it better in the weeks to come.

    I find it so easy to relate to Donald! He is so REAL. In changing something about myself, that's a tough one. I would like to say "ditto" to everything you wrote above, because I, too, am sometimes selfish and self-absorbed and sometimes jealous and petty. (Not that you said all of those things!) But I also can't imagine tinkering with the past and what those effects would be. Every experience and memory has created who I am today and whose to say that changing something might not turn out worse? So the past "is what it is" and instead I like to read books, reflect, talk with others, and try to become a better person each day. Looking to the future.
    Well, enough rambling tonight. Thanks for getting this online book club going! I am enjoying the book a lot so far!

  2. Gosh, there was a lot I underlined in these three chapters. Probably the standout for me was "somehow we realize great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller."

    That jumped out at me for a couple of reasons. Just recently I'd blogged about conflict in a post called "Conflict, embrace or avoid?" where I talked a little about how I've grown up so confident and assured in so many ways... yet a chronic conflict avoider in relationships. I don't think anyone actually LOVES conflict (well, maybe a few people do) but I also don't think as many people go as far out of their way to avoid it as I can. It's something that I've been learning a lot about during the last two plus years of being in relationship with Mike. Not that Mike and I have conflict a lot, we don't. But it's sort of inescapable in marriage in little ways, even if not in big ones.

    So that's one reason it hit me. The other reason it hit me is because I find it true in my life. I know in my head "conflict" or "challenge" makes good story. Yet I don't want it in my life. I don't want to have days here in Laos where I feel overwhelmed and exhausted and sick of so many important problems that don't have easy answers. I definitely don't want to have lymphedema at 34 and be in compression stockings and living with all the discomfort and risk that condition brings. I hate it. It feels unfair. And on days when Laos and life is hard, that's all it feels like... hard. It doesn't feel like "oh yeah, this is a great part of the story because I'm working towards something worthwhile". It feels like "Oh, this part of the story SUCKS! I want a new story. Or at least a new challenge instead of the one I've got."

    So there you have it. And now I have to head out to dinner with Mike and work colleagues. So I'm off. Happy packing. Happy moving. Sounds like there's a story there.

  3. I wish that I would have tried to understand grace and the peace of knowing what Christ did for us. I grew up in church, but didn't really "get it" (and I'm still learning but there was definitely a different peace) until I was about 23. I didn't yearn to learn about this template with all of the answers was there within reach since I was born (because I really knew what was best for me-HA)! It's a peace that I wish I had a long time ago. I look back and God was pursuing me all along, and pretty obviously (almost like a smack in the face) and I just went on about life for years, searching for "the thing" that was going to make me happy...

  4. As with Lisa, the part that stood out for me was God as a master storyteller, and how we are "unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in" even as we realize that great stories come from conflict.

    I'm good at talking, and fairly skilled at persuasion. This is a good skill to have sometimes, and one of the things I most dislike about myself other times. Because, as one of my best friends pointed out to me, I can easily convince myself not to do something. And the somethings that I'm convincing myself to stay away from generally involve conflict, challenges, and yes, potentially great stories.

    This is what I would change about myself: courage. Courage to do something even when I know it will be hard. Courage to step outside my comfort zone. I'm getting better at it, because I know that if I want to live a meaningful life for God, I need to do these things and to challenge myself. But most times I still feel like a huge coward.

  5. I can definitely relate to the desire to become "the person I'd be if I redrew the world, a character that was me but flesh and soul other. And flesh and soul better, too." And at the same time, I have to remind myself of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians that urge "each person to lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him." I want to upgrade the version of Sherry that God created with a distinct purpose, instead of trying to buy into a version of myself that, though noble or strong or good, isn't exactly what God wants me to be.

    In thinking of how I am often "unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story I am in," I realize that my story doesn't always have to appear great to me. I have to remember that my story is just one small chronicle in God's great epic novel, but that my little scene, though seemingly dull standing alone, may be part of a turning point that leads to a really exciting chapter. Maybe the events of my story seem small compared to the sweeping adventures in others' tales, but I think some of the most beautiful stories whisper instead of yell. I may not be able to jump off of a stage and scream, "Hello world, here's what I'm doing to make you a better place," because maybe my contributions to God's plan aren't as blazingly obvious as others', as far as human standards are concerned. But even the Lord himself sometimes speaks in a still, small voice.

    I would love for my story to be a dramatic saga, but if it isn't, I'm okay with that, as long as I am serving in the way that God wants for me to serve, and continually seeking to serve more. Besides, it really isn't about me, is it?

    Hmmm... If I could redraw my character, I think I'd want to be more patient. I would love to always see the beauty that is in the now, as opposed to wishing my life away in favor of reaching a goal before it's time.

  6. I'm so glad you're liking the book, Danette. It was really transformational for me. As for accepting that the past "is what it is," I totally agree with you. I was reminded again today of the passage where God promises that all things will work together for the good of those who love him. Even the icky parts, and even my flawed character. You're right, we can learn lessons from the past, but we'll be much more effective (and content) if we focus on today.

    Thanks for joining!

  7. Lisa, your comment made me worry about you... How is your lymphedema in the heat and humidity of Laos? I wish I could erase that particular challenge from your life...

    Conflict might make a good story, but I'd rather my story be smooth-sailing, too. After my fourth miscarriage I quite literally wanted to crawl right out of my skin--I remember feeling like I couldn't possibly continue to exist in the broken body I was given. And yet now those same hardships hold a certain sad and terrible beauty. I can go back to those dark days and find moments that were so filled with grace it makes me tear up to this day. Just one dark and lovely memory from that time... I had to have a D&C with my last miscarriage, and as the anesthesiologist was putting me under, he cupped my face in both of his hands and wiped the tears that were falling into my ears with his thumbs. He said, "I'm so sorry, honey." And then I fell asleep. In the midst of that particular conflict, God chose to bless me by the touch of a grandfatherly anesthesiologist. I'll never forget it. Do I want to face that sort of pain again? No way. But I love that God meets us even when we hardly have eyes to see him.

    Missing you, Lis. I have a long email to you in the works...

  8. Michelle, I think so many people can relate to what you shared. I know I can. I grew up in the church, too, but I continued to believe that a string of different things would be the "one thing" that made my life make sense. Popularity, a man, success... Sad thing is, I still struggle with those things sometimes. (Well, I have an awesome man, but I do still battle my own desires for popularity, success, acclaim...) It's comforting now though that at least I have the perspective of my own experiences to remind me of where my gaze should rest. It's an ongoing battle, isn't it?

  9. Heidi, I'm surprised to hear you admit that you lack courage (or at least, that you think you do). You strike me as a brave, bold woman. Funny how that goes... I come off as very outgoing but on the inside I'm quite a shy person. Anyway, I think we all need a good dose of courage to one degree or another. No one wants to intentionally take the most difficult, heartbreaking path in life.

    I just ordered a book called "One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World," and although I'm excited to read it, it scares me, too. I want my kids to change the world, but I don't want them to be the sort of risk-takers that get themselves into unpredictable, dangerous situations. And yet isn't that the sort of boldness that is needed if one hopes to change the world? I think some situations in life require plunging into the deep end. Just run and cannonball--do it--instead of easing in nice and slow. If we believe that what we are doing is of God, whatever the outcome (sink or swim) it is for his glory. Right??? Easy to say, not so easy to believe...

  10. Sherry, your comments made me realize that I hold a dichotomy in my hands... When I read Miller's book, I long for a meaningful life--and like Heidi pointed out, a meaningful life is (maybe inadvertently) represented in this book by a life of adventure and excitement. And yet one of the things I have been striving for in the last few years is a life of quiet and simplicity. I've been longing for a life of "less is more." But "A Million Miles" makes me tend to think that "more is more." I need to be doing more, living more, expending myself more... Hmmm. I'm not quite sure what to do with that. Any ideas??? I'm feeling a bit confused...

  11. Oh Nicole, your story about the surgery is so beautiful and so sad all at once... made me tear up. Lymphedema... yeah. It's going OK. In that, most days it's holding steady. Because I stay inside generally during the worst of the heat. And I wear my stockings. And I use the pump. I couldn't do Mike's job in this climate... physically couldn't do it. And that's a hard thing to accept. But, then again, I haven't been asked to do Mike's job in this climate, I've been asked to do mine. Which I better go do, come to think of it.

  12. Could less possibly be more b/c it makes room for God to fill our bit of the story with His abundance?
    Yes, I'm eavesdropping here & thoroughly enjoying everyones honesty. As I haven't gotten the book yet it seems unfair to just jump in, still.... Right now life feels overwelming (I'm at Mayo clinic with my husband in the hospital, my toddler snoozing on the cough), thus eliminating clutter, physical & otherwise, to make room for the vital things sounds wonderfully appealing.
    For now, that sounds like a good & better redraw

  13. Glad you're finding time to work, Lisa. Can't wait to see what you have in store! Maybe being stuck inside is prodding you to put your writing first--something that makes me (and all your fans) absolutely thrilled.

    Jennifer, you can eavesdrop anytime. I'm so sorry for whatever circumstances bring you to Mayo. Blessings to you, your husband, and your toddler as you work through this season of your life. My prayers go with you.

  14. Sherry, I agree with you fully about our stories perhaps just being small chapters in God's epic. Wise words. We are here to serve Him and make His story glorious, not our own. Thanks for the reminder.

    Nicole, thanks for those words. You're right. It does take boldness to cannonball into situations that we are uncertain about. It's a boldness that can only come from trusting in God. Something I'm learning, slowly. :)

    My heart goes out to you. Can you imagine the day when you'll hold those babies in your arms in heaven?

    A Million Miles does seem to imply that meaning can only be found in adventure, and that, as you said "more is more." But I disagree. Meaning can only be found in God. So as long as you are following His will for your life, whether that is traipsing through foreign countries or living a peaceful country life, then your life will have meaning. Excitement doesn't need to be a plane ticket to the Amazonian rainforest or a story of overcoming all odds. It can be found in cuddling a precious newborn baby, as I suspect you've (re)discovered these past weeks. It can be found in watching your children discover the world. It can be found something as simple as making someone else smile. When Donald Miller was talking about a life he felt had true meaning, his uncle's, he didn't speak of all the harrowing things his uncle had been through or the great adventures he had been on. He spoke of what his uncle had done to serve God, and to serve others. Perhaps that's the key ingredient in a life of meaning: service.

    (This discussion would be so fantastic in person.)

  15. Heidi, I couldn't agree more. I, too, think that "the key ingredient in a life of meaning: service."

    Nicole, I've been thinking about your quandry, and I have to say that I relate to it in so many ways. I, too, wish I knew how to resolve my confusion.

    I think I so often consider my very limited scope of life (comnpared to God's) to be much broader than it is. And in doing so, I think I sometimes try to categorize the "big" things based on what's obviously difficult, a sacrifice apparent to all. I certainly see the imnportance of giving my best to God. The Bible is full of examples of huge sacrifices and grand gestures made for God, sacrifices that are glaringly obvious to most. But then, there's the example of the woman who, though poor, gave all she had. Removing the fact that she was poor, it would seem to most that her gift was not a sacrifice. But Jesus knew her heart, and knew that she had given more than if even the richest person had given half of his wealth. I think I sometimes tend to judge what is "significant" based on the apparent sacrifice instead of the real offering. For me, I think it's easy sometimes to fall into the trap of judging my role as God's servant by comparing it to others'.

    Right out of college, I wanted to become a career missionary in South America. I soon found out, though, that due to health issues I needed to remain in the U.S. to receive the kind of health care I required. I was so heartbroken, thinking that a career in missions would have been the grandiose sacrifice I had so wanted to give to God. Not long thereafter, I visited a monestary in Southern California and got to talk to some of the monks there. I told them of my broken plans and how devistated I felt (side note: I'm not Catholic, but found this experience to be so very heartwarming and enlightening). One of them told me something that has stuck with me since: a life of service isn't about the size of your servanthood, but about how you serve and who you serve. God isn't looking at the grandiose getures, but at the state of our hearts when we serve.

    I have so much to learn, and I am finding that learning to be a servant can be so challenging, because I am so selfish and proud. I think that pride might play a large role in why God has chosen to give me a relatively simple existence; I think He's trying to teach me humility so that I seek to give the glory only to Him.

  16. One of the parts that struck me in these chapters is the part where Steve mentions that it's all about the story. This made me think about my life. Our life on earth is really a story. All the actions we take are a page of the book. We may think that we're the main characters, but that's where we get stuck. Yes, we're main characters in our own stories, but nobody likes to read a story where the main characters are self-centered. We are in this story for a reason. During our stories, we are here to help others, and along the way, we discover stuff about who we are but more importantly about who God is. God has placed us in this story for a reason. But, the problem is when troubles come we aren't able to see it as just a chapter in our life. We start to think that the troubles are the whole story, and we aren't able to see how they resolve. I have been subject to doing such a thing. I guess the quote about the story being the most important part made me think about how our life is a story and what our role in it is.

    If I could change anything about myself I would change how I view "time." It seems that recently I'm always counting down to stuff. I'm always thinking about how much more time until a event occurs or until I'm done with whatever I'm doing. Because of this, I have problems being content with the present. I wish I could just dwell in the present and be happy with it.

  17. Ahhh....I'm joining the convo late, but I did have the chapters read by Monday, I just wanted to process :)

    I wish I could be one of those people that truly believes that every experience I went through shaped my life into what it is now and that I wouldn't change even the bad parts, but there really are some things I would love to go back and rearrange if I had the chance.

    I didn't know the Lord until I was 23 and up until that point I was very weak in spirit. I wasn't a confident person, I didn't believe in myself, and I made decisions that reflected those poor qualities. I didn't always treat others with the respect, dignity, and grace that I should have and I will always regret those moments.

    When I was saved and began to learn about how life with God could be, the tragedies starting son was born early and died at 4 months old, my mother died very unexpectedly not two months later, then my grandfather, then I suffered through 2 miscarriages and no answers to the infertility problems. But, through all of that I knew that I did have the Lord to help me and I didn't have to fall victim to bitterness.

    I guess my ultimate answer to your question is that I wish I had come to know the Lord sooner. I was able to make it through horrific tragedies, but just a few years earlier didn't have the confidence to look people in the eyes or speak up for myself. I've been humbled, blessed, and given peace in the hands of God and if I could change one thing about my life, I only wish it could have happened earlier.

  18. I would be a better listener; someone who really ingested words and retained what was being said or read. I would be more observant and aware of my surroundings instead of just floating from point A to point B like a zombie.