Tag Archives: donald miller

What if.

What if…

That’s the beginning to five questions I asked two groups to write over the weekend.

A couple weeks ago, Don Miller invited people to quickly write five “what if” statements on a notepad. Not the kind of “what if” statements that end with “she hadn’t left” or “I had studied harder” or “I hadn’t taken that last piece of cake.” Those are about regrets, about things that can’t be changed. They are the kind of statements that lead to “what if I spent the rest of my life wishing that hadn’t happened.”

andrew looking for a wedding suitMiller was inviting us to ask the kind of “what if” questions that make this “the single most powerful question you can ask,”  the kind of “what if” that a novelist asks when writing about a character: What if Dick and Jane get bitten by Spot on the way to the playground? What if Andrew asks Allie to marry him?

When we ask that question of our lives, it can change things:

  • What if I write a book?
  • What if I get up early every day?
  • What if I can’t use my hands anymore?

Those questions can lead to actions, to plans, to changes, to choices.

I liked the idea. I didn’t do anything with it. Until he challenged me (and everyone else who reads his blog) with the “What if” challenge. So I made the group I lead on Saturday night and the class I teach on Sunday morning take the challenge. I read his post. I gave everyone note cards. I gave them time. And they answered. (The three “What if” examples came from those groups. )

For the larger group, the class on Sunday, I gave some help:

  • What if I finally…
  • What if I really believed that …
  • What if I didn’t worry about …
  • What if I asked …

Both conversations were great. I’m looking forward to hearing what happens next. We’ll be asking again in our group this Saturday. Because that’s the real challenge.

To find out what happens if you lose thirty pounds. Or you say “I’m sorry.” Or you invite everyone over for a couple days.

You in? What if you were?

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It was me all along: Donald Miller, a million miles and the next step

I’ll start with the disclaimers.

  1. Lots of other people are reviewing this book today because it is being released today.
  2. Many of us got free copies from Michael Hyatt
  3. (publisher, Thomas Nelson) because he offered them and we asked.
  4. This link for the book is to my Amazon store: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.

What I learned in the mirror

A couple weeks ago, Nancy and I went on a retreat. There were five other couples around, but the feel was more like “bed and breakfast” than spiritual seminar. We didn’t have wifi or much of a schedule. Most of us didn’t work on work. We woke up without alarms. We went to bed much earlier than home. It was nice.

Friday morning, the morning we were to leave, I woke up a bit earlier than usual. I went downstairs, made coffee, and sat on a sofa on one of the porches. When it was light out, it made a great place for watching birds. But this morning, it was dark.

I sat with a pen and a notecard and a pad of paper and a Bible and a book. I got up for my coffee. I started reading. I knew I had to write so I started writing a thank you card. I thought of something from the reading so I went to the library to find a book that would explain something. I went back to the sofa to write. But I started reading. I went back to writing.

I realized that it was me all along.

I was at the end of a week of quiet and reflection. There was no one around this early. There was no real list. There were none of my Internet distractions, no commercials, no unidentifiable noises, no dog scratchings. And yet I could not sit still, could not sit my mind still.

I did not, at that moment, like what I discovered.

It was me all along.

I much prefer to blame other people for distracting me, to excuse my lack of productivity by saying “it takes 15 minutes to recover deep thought after every interruption.” That’s probably true. But I am beginning to learn the name of the person who is at the top of the list of interrupters, this after being around him my whole life.

Donald Miller knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Donald MillerMiller  wrote a memoir (Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality) several years ago. Someone wanted to make it into a movie. In the process of looking at the Donald Miller character that was being adapted from the book to the movie, Miller realized that he and the screenwriters working with him had to rewrite the book as a story, rewrite the first-person narrator into a character.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the book that he wrote to describe what happened when he started the rewriting process.

Miller studied story, particularly as taught by Robert McKee in his Story Seminar.  He learned that at the heart of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. And he realized that his life was a story and he was the lead character and the story was stalled.

The first third of the book gets us to the realization that he, his life, isn’t getting anywhere.  On page 92, we find this exchange between Miller and his friend Jordan:

“You’re right,” he finally said. “You aren’t living a good story.”

“That’s what I was saying.”

I see,” he said.

“What do I do about that?”

“You’re a writer. You know what to do.”

“No, I don’t.”

Jordan looked at me with his furrowed brow again.  “You put something on the page,” he said. “Your life is a blank page. You write on it.”

And the rest of the book is the story of how he rewrote his life from the inside, living as a character that wants something. The process takes him to Matchu Picchu, across America, to Indiana, and to the stories of several other people who are living as characters who want something and overcome conflict to get it.

What I’m learning in the mirror of this book

Because this is a story, not a set of rules or guidelines or strategies, I’ll not give you more details. If I did, I’d have to rewrite Miller’s story, and that is silly. But I can tell you what it is doing for me:

  • It’s making me think seriously about the story my life is telling. We, Nancy and I, are at the ’empty nest transition point.’ I don’t know whether that’s a chapter break or a new volume in the series, but I do know that it is a “And then everything changed” transition in the story. The way that Miller tells his own story of story is helping me think.
  • It’s showing me how I need to sharpen how I tell the stories that I tell, because I like to use story.
  • It’s an example of writing by a Christ follower that isn’t preachy, reducing truth to rules and formulas. Instead, he is telling the story of how he is living. And that is what following means.

I’ve got an extra copy, thanks to Michael Hyatt. If you’d like to borrow it and return it by passing it to someone else, let me know.

If I’ve raised any questions, ask them and I’ll try to answer.

If you are looking at doing some rewriting yourself–of yourself–take a look at this book.

Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2009.