I recently finished a book called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years – What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller. It’s a great book that a few hundred words in a blog post could never do justice, but I need to share what I took away from his book.
If one paragraph in the book spoke louder to me than others, or maybe summarized the book best, it is the following:
You can call it God or a conscience, or you can dismiss it as that intuitive knowing we all have as human beings, as living storytellers; but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness. (A Million Miles In A Thousand Years – pg.86)
Miller pointed out how the movies we love have characters who take on challenges and win. We admire how they change along the way. How they become people that can do things they and we doubted they could.
The story written in us wants us to become better characters as well. It wants us to take on things we don’t think we can do, and to be changed by the process of trying to prove ourselves wrong. The trouble is, even though most of us want to be those characters, we are more inclined to seek comfort than the challenges that will make us better characters in better stories. The story we write for ourselves is often filled with less action than the one written for us.
I thought about my Aunt Mollie. After spending all of her life in Ohio, she packed up an moved to Montana several years ago. Some people move across town. Some move from an apartment to a house. She moved from Ohio to Montana.
She started riding horses, not as primary form of transportation as one might think would be the case out there, but to do something new. She met new friends. She visited new places. I can’t help but believe she’s written a new chapter with her life.
I thought about my own life.
I remember the day Katie came to me and said God had told her we should be parents. We had decided before we got married that children weren’t going to be part of our story, so I was surprised to hear what she and God were discussing. I asked her if by chance God had told her this in an email or a fax. I wasn’t doubting her or God, but if the communication existed, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I read it.
The truth is marriage was pretty comfortable without kids. It required little effort outside of deciding where we were going to go out to eat each night. It additionally meant we actually had the money to do that. Less than a month later, though, our dinner conversations turned to picking out baby names.
Once the reality sunk in that we were going to have a child, and after I put God on my wife’s do not call list, it occurred to me that I was never against having a child. I was against upsetting the comfort of life without children. Once in the middle of preparing for Elliott’s arrival, the story of having a child actually sounded exciting. I was glad to be a character in that story.
I must tell you, once Elliott came along, and then Ian, I discovered I was wrong about children upsetting the comfortable life. No, children take comfort and they poop and pee on it and spit up on it and keep it running in circles until comfort is begging for life in prison without parole. Children make locking yourself in the trunk of a Volkswagen Bug for a week sound comfortable. I had no idea how comfortable the comfort was I resisted parting with.
And I suppose Miller would use that to explain why I call fatherhood the greatest story I have ever written with my life. At the end of each day when I look at what our boys are becoming, and I acknowledge the role Katie and I have in shaping them, I am looking at a rewarding story. But more importantly, at the end of the day when I look in the mirror and acknowledge the kind of father those boys are shaping, I am looking at a story I am excited to continue writing, no matter how challenging that might be.
Challenges like getting Ian to move beyond the smashed pumpkin today during his class trip to the pumpkin patch and continue our search for the Great Pumpkin.
Which we found, and that makes for a great ending to a great day and another great story.