A Good Story

The other day, while stationed on the couch, trying to recover from The Plague, I watched Don Miller’s message at Willow Creek from a couple Sundays back. Simona had sent me the link and told me to watch it, so I did. And I’ve been thinking about it since. The message was nothing fancy, but it made things click in a way they hadn’t before—all the quarterlife crisis stuff from last summer (here and here), the nerves about Congo, this crazy idea of writing a book.

Don Miller said this: “The truth is, you and I have a lot more agency, if you will, over how our story goes than we like to admit or we even feel comfortable thinking about. God actually hands you a pen and says, ‘I want you to tell a great story with your life.’” He talked about how often we settle for boring stories, how often we allow our storyline to be focused on things, on the procurement of Volvos and the like (which, I’ll just be honest, I really want—ever since the accident, I’ve had car-lust for Volvos, what with their great safety ratings, their special anti-neck-injury headrests, and the magic I perceive they weave into the seat cushions). But, really, we are far too easily pleased, far too easily distracted, and by “we” I do mean me. My tendency is always to play it safe, to take the well-worn path of least resistance, to allow fear and plain old-fashioned laziness dictate what I do and do not do.

Last year, I was working a job I didn’t like and letting the book take back burner, the book I’d spent the last two or three years and many grad school classes on. Then I went to Congo and lost that job I kind of hated and floundered for a while and then decided to get serious about the book, and Jesse was lovely and took on extra freelance, and I started watching a lovely little two-year-old boy who has very generous parents, and now I’m here, re-reading old blogs and realizing what that whole thing was about—I wasn’t telling a good story. I was bored by the story I was telling with my life. And this is no tragedy to anyone but me, but still.

I wrote years ago (one of my first blogs ever!) about this little plastic sign I bought in Tokyo that reads: “This is your own future! That means you yourself are going there. Choose your own way!” I framed it, put it over my desk, and that’s what it says to me—tell a good story. I think years of creative nonfiction classes have driven it home, this idea of life as story, of the importance of story. The importance of conflict and adversity to a good story. The way a good story operates not as escapism but revelation and confirmation. I’m getting off the ground here, so I’ll end and say that at the close of my life, I want to look back and not—as I told my friend Beth—say, “I paid all my bills on time,” but rather, “That was a good story.” And whatever that story is, and so much of it will not be my choice, I’m not under the delusion that it will be, I just hope—and pray—that it’s a good one. And when I do have the choice, I hope I always choose the good story over the safe one.

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