Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 29-31

Okay, so there is such a thing as beating a dead horse. I think our little Donald Miller pony is breathing his last. It's been a fantastic discussion and I have loved your contributions, but I've been feeling for a while now that things are getting repetitive. I didn't notice that the first time I read the book...? Maybe I was so enthralled with the overall message that I missed the redundancy. Either way, I still believe it's an awesome book, and I'm so grateful that you've joined me in walking through it. Your insights have added immeasurable depth and wisdom to the ongoing conversation.

But we can't just stop. So here's what we're going to do. Today we'll discuss three more chapters just like we've always done, and then next Monday we'll finish the book in one fell swoop. I don't know how many chapters that gives us to finish, but if you're reading along, polish off the book for next Monday.

So, something fresh and new out of the book...

Chapter 30 is called Great Stories Have Memorable Scenes. Why yes they do. Right now I'm completely enmeshed in a story that has been brewing in my mind since I was a teenager. No joke. It's so exciting to finally be able to write this book! Anyway, one of the things that I'm actively working on is creating taut, unforgettable scenes. You know the ones, the sort of scene that keeps you up reading just one more chapter. And then, just one more.

Miller says: "I don't think memorable scenes help a story make sense. Other principles accomplish that. What memorable scenes do is punctuate the existing rise and fall of the narrative." I totally agree. The underlying action of my book will go on with or without the sorts of scenes that make my readers hold their breaths. But, oh, what would a book be without them? (Or a movie, a play... your life?)

I believe heart and soul that memorable scenes happen every day--it's just a matter of taking the time to acknowledge them. Sunday afternoon I took a long, hard walk all by myself. It was kind of dark and drizzly, and I was utterly alone on the walking trail. I could have been the last person in the world, and I felt exactly that way as I pounded out mile after mile. At first, I was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that all I really noticed was the cement beneath my feet. But at the top of a little rise I stumbled a bit and slowed enough to notice my surroundings. I happened to be directly beneath a towering sugar maple, a brilliant conflagration of crimson and citron that quite literally glowed against a gunmetal sky. I hadn't been praying or even really thinking about much of anything, but all at once it was like I came face to face with God, and from behind his back he produced the most amazing bouquet. Just for me. I stood rooted to the spot, grinning and tearing up at the same time, and feeling like this was one of those precious moments when I was gifted with the ability to truly realize that God sings over me. Wow. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Is that scene beneath a maple central to the unfolding of my personal narrative? No. But I wouldn't want to live a story without moments like that. And I don't want to write one without that either. So, here's my question for you: What is one of the most memorable scenes you've ever read/watched/experienced? What makes a scene unforgettable to you? Care to share? I'd love to hear what you have to say on this second-to-last discussion on A Million Miles in a Thousand Years!


  1. Hi Nikki, I was reading your blog and while I have not been reading the book that you have. I would love to share an experience I had several years ago that still remains in my memories and it is similar in nature to the one you share.
    My husband and I had been living in Hawaii for a year and shortly before we left we decided to spend a weekend in Maui. I had two young children and since we were staying at his brothers home which is in upcountry Maui we planned a trip to summit of Haleakala National Park. I tourist spot that many travelers visit. We woke up early that morning while it was still dark and packed our children into the back of our car, sleeping yet. The rode winds so much it often makes people sick and it made our son quite sick. But finally we arrive and I am struck by the fact that it is very cold. Having lived in Hawaii for a year I hadn't felt this kind of cold and I quickly understood why everyone was dressed as if they were living in Iowa. Some people had blankets draped around them. There is an small enclosed area for tourists, sort of a lookout point. We went there because our two little ones were cold. Donald decided to stay inside while I felt compelled to continue my journey along with a few of the other more adventurous tourists. There was a short path that continued upwards to the highest look out point at the park. While many people stayed inside the shelter I watched the others and decided that I too wanted to see the view from up there. We made our way up slowly because the way up was a bit rocky and winding once again. Finally I got to the top and to my sheer amazement I found myself suddenly transported in that moment to another world or planet. The view was breathtaking. The sun had come up and was changing the color of the surface to give it a reddish glow and I stood there I felt glued into that spot. I felt as if I couldn't move, nor would I have wanted to. The scene was changing as I stood there and soon the sun had risen further and the surface resumed her normal colors and since it was a partially clear morning we were able to see great distances. I felt as if I was on top of the world and had just climbed Mount Everest and I felt completely alone, the wind was whipping and there was no sound but the wind, we all stood completely silent. What I felt at that moment was God's presence in a most profound way, I felt as if I had been ushered up to this spot for a prearranged appointment with the Most High. I began to feel tears rolling down my face and I wonder if this is what Peter felt when during the transfiguration. I wondered if I too could put up a shelter and stay here, I simply did not want to leave. The thought that ran through my head was that I am truly blessed. I was born a poor native american child on a reservation hundreds of miles away with absolutely no conceiveable chance of finding herself standing here on this morning except by the grace of God's most amazing plan for me. I was humbled, grateful, and filled with an inexpressable joy that I knew I would never forget. So when you spoke of feeling God in your moment personally reach out and touch you I knew what that moment felt like.

  2. I wrote about this moment on my blog, but it was long enough ago that I don't feel bad reusing it. ;) Besides, it was one of the moments that will stick with me forever. Two friends and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland last August at the time of their Fringe Festival.

    Along the Royal Mile, as we were walking and taking in some of the performances, capturing a few pictures to be preserved (for posterity and for our parents), it started to rain. Scotland's rain isn't a torrential downpour, or a sprinkling shower. It's a light mist that just gently kisses your cheeks and caresses your hair but manages to soak you through in a matter of minutes. Immediately, everyone brought out their umbrellas. And that is the moment I will always remember. A hundred umbrellas of different colours and sizes, all unfurling at once as though the mist had kissed them awake like Sleeping Beauty with her prince. It was as though they were flowers blossoming in a matter of seconds against a backdrop of cobblestone and old brick. I was overwhelmed with the sheer simplicity of the beauty I was witnessing. And just for that moment, time was suspended.

  3. I don't know why this one comes to mind, but here goes:

    I was writing the first draft of "my hands came away red" in Manila at my parent's house. Their (quite luxurious, I must add in all honesty) apartment was on the 28th floor of a high rise, and this particular high rise towered over a slum. It was late one night and I was at my desk trying to work on the massacre scene, and utterly emotionally spent from hours of living that sort of violence.

    I sat back in my chair and stared out the window, through that shatterproof glass and down on the tangle of tin roof's and muddy paths far below me in the darkness.

    In that moment I was just overwhelmed by the story, and by the reality (visible everywhere I looked) that life wasn't fair and people suffered in ways that seemed unfixable, when Faith Hill's "There will come a day" started to play on the iPod.

    "It's not easy trying to understand how the world can be so cold, stealing the souls of a man. Cloudy skies rain down on all your dreams, you wrestle with the fear and doubt. Sometimes it's hard but you've got to believe.

    There's a better place where our Father waits and every tear he'll wipe away. The darkness will be gone. The weak will be strong."

    I didn't have one of those "flooded with ecstasy" moments. Instead it felt as if God had reached out a hand to me - wobbling and paralyzed on a tightrope - and steadied me with just one gentle touch. I stared out at the few lights shining up from those flimsy shelters and then went back to work.

  4. Eydie, Heidi, Lisa... Thank you so much for sharing. I needed to hear about your moments of transcendence today. I'm heartbroken to say that I received yet more bad news this afternoon, and I'm trying to cling to these reminders that God does draw near. Thank you for blessing me. Your stories are beautiful.

  5. Lisa, that's a beautiful reminder, and you described it nicely.

    Nicole, my heart and prayers go out to you.

  6. Nicole, I am so very sorry that you are heartbroken... My prayer is that you found some peace today. I hope that you find the chance to curl up into your Father's lap and warm your face in the crook of His shoulder...

    So many transcendent memories resonate with me, but one particularly stands out. When my oldest daughter Caroline (now seven) was only eight months old, she, my husband Dave and I went to visit Dave's grandmother at the nursing home. Grandma had been suffering from Alzheimer's for almost nine years at that point. Her disease had progressed to an advanced stage, and she very rarely purposefully interacted with anyone. Most of the time, she remained in a fetal position, her face frozen in a vacant and masklike stare.

    Dave and I had visited Grandma together several time before, but this was the first time we had brought Caroline with us. Caroline was alseep when we rolled her stroller into the nursing home, and I don't think Grandma noticed the extra presence as we entered her room. Dave and I didn't attempt our usual conversation starters with Grandma that day, knowing that she wouldn't respond anyway. Dave simply held her hand while I stared out the window trying to think of something to do or say. I noticed that the sky was thick, lined with protruding charcoal bellies overstuffed with anxious snow. Everything beneath it was still.

    After a while, Caroline woke up and as I pulled her out of her stroller, Grandma's eyes followed her intensely. To our surprise, she stretched her arms toward Caroline like a child reaching for a doll. Dave held Caroline near Grandma's head. Grandma caressed Caroline's little cheeks while Caroline reached for Grandma's face, smiling. Grandma smiled back. Watching the two of them was like witnessing two souls that, though worlds and generations apart, seemed to be meeting at the same place. It was though they were privy to a secret they could only share with one another, as if they were part of a purpose only given to those at the beginning and end of life. In the silence, it seemed that they could speak to one another when no one else could understand. Dave and I were so overcome with the moment, I didn't notice it had begun to snow...

  7. Nicole, you have been in my thoughts and prayers in the last few days. God can seem far away at times but then there are moments where His presence is undeniable.

    When I was a young girl I witnessed an unexpected miracle on the first wintery morning of the year. When I woke up and looked at the foot of snow that had fallen overnight, I raced from my room and was about to put on jacket, gloves and boots so I could jump right into it.

    My Mom was in the kitchen, talking on the telephone. In those days it was a rotary-dial phone attached to the wall (figure out the year :) She pointed over to the oven. She often baked buns in the morning so I decided to wait for breakfast but she motioned for me to look in the oven.

    I crouched down and peered through the tiny front glass window. It was a bit foggy and all I saw was our cookie sheet with towels on top. This was strange indeed. But as I watched, the towels came to life. They rose up and moved back and forth. Then suddenly one small paw stretched out of the middle of the pile. A towel fell away and I saw a tiny pink nose and whiskers. Mom came over and knelt beside me. I looked at her in wonder and amazement. She opened the stove just enough so she could take the towels off and show me six newborn kittens, squirming and silently mewing on the cookie sheet.

    Before dawn my mother had noticed that one of our cats had her litter. It was her very first litter and the snow made her nervous so she decided to move the kittens from their warm bed in our garage into a deep snowdrift. My Mom waited until our cat had moved them all and then rescued them, and placed them in our warm oven to try and save as many of them as possible. They all survived.

    As Mom placed her arm around me and we watched all the kittens slowly come to life, I felt like God's presence was there with us, showing us how He felt when He created us and we came to life. I was ready to expolde with the wonder and joy of it all! An expereince I will never forget...

  8. Thanks again for your thoughts, prayers, support, and, most of all, stories. Sherry and Doris, wow. So beautiful. So what I need to hear right now. Thank you.