So what was your weekend’s Oscar-winning moment?
In other words, what was the funniest or the most adventurous or most inspiring or outrageous moment of your weekend?
Last week I finished reading Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I first picked this book up about five years ago, not too long after it was released in 2009. I seriously fell in love with this book. Pure romance. And it’s the only evangelical book that I’ve returned to since my deconversion. Yes, it’s that good. Partly because it’s not too preachy, and one can easily skip over the few parts that are.
Like all Don’s books, this is memoir. Memoirs of his reluctant, haphazard, meandering relationship with religion and God and Jesus and so forth…
This one begins with a guy who approaches Don and wants to make a movie out of his life. Or at least they want to make a movie of his hit breakthrough book Blue Like Jazz, a memoir about Don’s reluctant, haphazard and awkward, meandering relationship with life and religion.
So these guys show up to make this movie of Don’s memoir which is of his life. But as they start hashing out the screenplay, Don is surprised to find them completely rewriting the story. They explain to Don that this is because a meandering memoir about his thoughts on life and spirit doesn’t necessarily translate quite so readily for the big screen. There needs to be a defined plot. And story arc. And character development. And that point where the guy gets the girl. Or at least something like that.
Something that will make people want to watch the movie. And people that watch movies aren’t necessarily the same people who read meandering memoirs.
So as they begin rewriting Don’s life, we’re sitting at about page 50. And it’s here where Don realizes that no one would want to watch a movie about his real life because his real life isn’t telling a very good story. His real life is boring. The story his life was currently telling was pretty much one of an overweight out-of-shape thirty-something-year-old sitting in front of his computer not-writing about stories that aren’t really stories. And honestly, who wants to watch a guy sitting at a computer punching keys about nothing?
So Don decides to start living a better story. And that’s what the rest of the book is about. Don making daily decisions to live an intentionally better life. One with a plot and with story arc and with character development. Seriously, I love his new story. I have nine pages of quotes.
Quotes like this:
We think stories are about getting money and security, but the truth is, it all comes down to relationships. I tried not to think about that stuff, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I knew a story was calling me…. Not living a better story would be like deciding to die, deciding to walk around numb until you die, and it’s not natural to want to die.
But there in Boston it occurred to me that his story was better than mine [i.e. this guy who was doing really cool things that made Don want to do cool things too] for the simple fact that his story was actually happening. He was doing real things with real people while I’d been typing words into a computer.
And this one too:
Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.
So Don begins to build his life. He takes to the director’s seat. And Don creates this fantastic story of overcoming obstacles and doing hard challenging things. He decides to find his father, the one who abandoned them when Don was a child, the only father he had ever really had but not had. The one he wrote a book about a few years prior, memoirs about what it’s like growing up without a dad. He researched his father and received a report that his dad had died several years back. Then as he’s right in the thick of grieving the death of the father he never really knew, he finds out that the information was false and that his dad really was alive, living in Indianapolis. So Don flies into Chicago and drives to Indianapolis to meet his father, the athletic father who is a coach and loves basketball and prizes those kind of things in a son, the kind of father who probably prizes the kind of son that Don never was. Don doesn’t want to go visit his father, but he does anyway. He faces his fear because, as he says, “fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” And Don had decided to live a good story even if a difficult one. So he visits his dad. And it’s a beautiful story with a happy ending because Don faced his fears.
But that’s only one chapter of Don’s new life. Real life isn’t just two hours long.
Don also commits to hiking the Inca Trail, from Cusco, Peru in the Andes Mountains all the way to Machu Picchu. He does it to impress this girl he likes, and he invites her to join him. See, Don was always too scared to ask the her out, but this is the part of his story where he realizes you can’t lose a risk your not willing to take and that losing things of risk make for better stories than just walking around peeping at girls you’ve never talked to. But this also means, out-of-shape Don needed to train for this expedition. Especially since the girl was physically fit and he wanted to impress her. And so he does. Don hires a trainer and works out everyday. He realizes he loves getting in shape. The sweat and the pain. The accomplishment. Then he hikes to Machu Picchu, and he takes this girl with him. This was their first date.
And Don gets the girl.
Don also realizes he wants to keep doing more with his life. He realizes that great stories lead to more great stories. That they evolve and shift and grow deep while overflowing with meaning and meaningfulness. Don stops watching television. The crew is still working on his film, but Don has realized that people who are on TV rarely have time to watch much of it.
Don joins a bike expedition and travels coast to coast, the beaches of LA to those outside DC. He develops incredible bonds, and the team of bicyclists are informally led by the eldest team member, the one who just got out of prison and wants to finish a commitment for the first time in his life. He literally leads the team of bicyclists right into the waters of the sea. And then the whole team weeps their own sea of joyful pain-filled tears.
By the end of the book, Don has also started a mentoring project called The Mentoring Project, partnering fatherless children with amazing stand-in dads who can come alongside them and be the father that Don never really had and that all these children would love to experience.
Don’s story turns out to be the kind that makes you cry a little at the end. It’s the kind that makes you also want to live a better story.
When I first read this in 2010 or whatever year it was, I knew I needed to take a closer look at my own story. Those of you who know the timeline of my own story know that this is also around the time I began to discover new conflicts with my faith, but that’s not what this post is about.
I’ve always been one to look for adventure. Or at least live a life of significance. We were already doing family service projects, already building into my children’s psyches the need to help change the world one step at a time. I was already doing weekly daddy-daughter outings.
But Don’s life challenged me to make sure each and every day was worth living. If I wouldn’t pay money to watch it, why would I give up my years to live it?
Don’s Story challenges each of us to live better lives.
I suppose we could write a whole book on what this really means and looks like. And about the kinds of questions we should ask to help us do so. I suppose this is the kind of book that Don has already written.
But what if we took just a little more time to plan out our days and weeks? Like actually sitting down and asking The Self, What is a new experience that I haven’t yet tried? A new variety of food I haven’t yet experienced? And then find a day on the calendar when you will take the kids or the girlfriend to that new museum or that Indian restaurant.
My kids and I are trying to visit a new restaurant from a new cultural/ethnic tradition each month. This month is going to be this renown Ethiopian spot just down the street from me on Chicago’s lakeshore. Trying new restaurants might not sound like much of a story. But if you take your kids with you and hype it up as “your thing” then who knows. They may grow up and make a film of all the restaurants their parents took them to. About marking off checklists and all the lessons they learned along the way. All the laughs they had. All the learning they did. And who knows, I bet some people would pay money to see that film. More importantly, I’m willing to pay a great deal to live that story right now. It’s that worth it.
Maybe you want to begin a new charity with your children. Maybe your story is one of trying new sports or hiking expeditions or of coming up with as many creative ways to help people as possible. Maybe its with your children or with someone else’s children or maybe it’s you just trying to tap back into the childlike wonder you missed when you were one of them yourself.
The key is to live a good life. The key is to make much of it. To sit down, plan it out, and be intentional. To take to the director’s chair and seize control of your life. And maybe along the way, you will find yourself an advocate for empowering others to do the same with their lives.
But as I’ve told my own kids, in order to live this kind of life, you have to be willing to set down computers and phones and remote controls. You have to be willing to stand and stretch and go outside. You have to talk to people and have real conversations. Life is inherently relational. And it is vibrant.
And that’s when they usually tell me to quite blogging or book writing or website admin’ing and to take them to the park. To swing on tires and walk the beach.
I think I hear the beaches of a good life calling me.
And here’s the thing. They’re calling out to you too.