Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm Taking Up Acting

I've been reading another awesome, life-changing book, compliments of my counselor.  Once again, she said, "You should read this book.  Here it is.  Just bring it back when you've finished."  Just like Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen and The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris, I put the book in my purse and headed out of her office doubting said book would do for me what it did for her.  And once again, I've been wonderfully surprised.

Within reading the first page of Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, my eyes had welled up with tears and I felt something; I couldn't put my finger on what emotion it was, but I just felt something.  To summarize, the book is about Donald Miller finding the connection between life and story while writing a movie script about a book he had written.  The lines are short and punchy, and countless times throughout my reading, I just stopped and sat.  I was moved to stillness.  My mind, my body--I felt empty, not in the negative sense of the word, but empty in I knew I was being filled with something beyond my life, beyond this life. 

Here are the passages which moved me most and my thoughts I journaled after reading them:

If Steve was right about a good story being a condensed version of life--that is, if story is just life without the meaningless scenes--I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place.  I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally (pg. 39).

Live life intentionally.  This a discipline that Joyce Meyer speaks of often.  Do life on purpose.  Smile on purpose, not just because you feel like it.  Enjoy your life on purpose, not just because you feel like it.  No matter your thoughts and fears and circumstances, make the choice to live a meaningful life on purpose.

He realized he hadn't provided a better role for his daughter.  He hadn't mapped out a story for his family.  And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.  In the absence of a family story, she'd chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence.  "She's not a bad girl," my friend said.  "She was just choosing the best story available to her (pg. 51)."

My story = choices.  I've chosen any story I could get my hands on.  I wasn't presented with an appropriate story as a child, and the stories around me only got worse as I grew older.  So I chose a story that fit at the time, that didn't make feel uncomfortable and out of place.  And because I was accostumed to bad stories, I chose other bad stories. 

God is slowly turning the lights on, and you're groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and healthcare.  The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn't that big of a deal, that life isn't staggering.  What I'm saying is I think life is staggering and we're just used to it.  We are all like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we're given--it's just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral (pg. 58).

The gifts I am given--I don't appreciate them.  I don't even see them as gifts.  Life--I don't want it.  Friendship--I don't want it.    My stories have included pain and regret and mistakes related to life and relationships so, naturally, I want nothing to do with them. 

I wake up in the morning, day after day, not excited that I am alive and healthy, but dreading the day--dreading the day God has gifted to me.  What kind of life does he have planned for me?  What wonderful things and people and places does he want to give me?  I don't think of this as I'm closing my eyes and heading back to a safe, comfortable, recognizable nothingness. 

"To much is given much is expected."  I don't want a gift, however glorious, that causes me to take action, to leave this safe, comfortable story I am wrapped up in--despite the discomfort this story actually causes me.  And the more glorious the gift, the more action I must take, and the less equipped and deserving I am to receive it.

When Steve, Ben, and I wrote our characters into the screenplay, I felt the way I hope God feels as he writes the world, sitting over the planets and placing tiny people in tiny wombs (pg. 59).

I've never known if I was pro-life or pro-choice.  I thought it depended on the circumstance.  And I'm still unsure if I don't believe in a woman's right to choose.  But what I do know is that life is precious.  "Placing tiny people in tiny wombs"--as I read these words, I feel a deep sorrow for the lives I have not valued.  God creates lives to fill his story.  Who are we to edit God's story?

I've wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don't want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement.  We don't want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage.  And if life isn't remarkable, then we don't have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants (pg. 59).

I live life as a victim, not as a willing participant.  I am a victim of your response to me and my response to you, I am a victim of a poor childhood and tumultuous teenage years, I am a victim of myself and all the negative, victim-ess things that come along with me.  Again, "To much is given much is expected."  Participants act.  Particpants move and create and hurt and smile.  Participants participate.  I don't participate because it's uncomfortable and challenging.  I may not be smiling, but I'm not hurting.  I may not be maturing, but I'm not faced with conflict. 

And once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don't have a choice.  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 (pg. 66).

I'm not living a better story.  I know what it looks like and I know what it feels like.  I've even read a few pages of it.  But this better story stirs something up inside of me, something that I don't believe I have the strength or courage to handle.  Before I begin living a better story, I've got to believe I am deserving to live it.  I've created a character for myself, and that character can only be in certain stories.  I've got to reformulate the character.

He didn't know what the point of the journey was, but he did believe we were designed to search for and find something.  And he wondered out loud if the point wasn't the search but the transformation the search creates (pg. 69).

But I also wondered if he wasn't right, that we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.  The point of a story is the character arc, the change (pg. 70).

I am not at the point I'd like to be or where I think I should be on my journey.  But, I am, without question, transforming.  There was a time in my life when I didn't even know I had a journey!  But here I am, living it and traveling it.  In large part to this book, I realize I am not living it and traveling it meaningfully and purposefully--but this book is a part of my journey, this realization is a part of my journey, and the steps I am ready to take are a part of my journey.  These parts of my journey are parts of me, and they are positive and healthy and loving.

It's not a book; it's a movie.  We have to show it.  A character is what he does (pg. 72).  ...but it did help me realize the stories we tell ourselves are very different from the stories we tell the world (pg. 73).

What am I doing?  I am in denial.  I am living and breathing and laughing and smiling to the outside world, but inside I am dead.  I have one good day and I'm healed.  All is right in the world, I tell myself.  All is right with me.  But there is a big difference between what I tell myself and what I am actually doing.  One example:  I tell myself I'm a runner, I ran a half marathon three years ago--but what am I doing today?  I tell myself I'm a runner, but I'm not running.  I tell myself I want friendships, but I isolate.  It's the doing that will bring meaning and purpose into my life.

Beneath the surface of characterization, regardless of appearances, who is this person?  At the heart of his humanity, what will we find?  Is he loving or cruel?  Generous or selfish?  Strong or weak?  Truthful or a liar?  Courageous or cowardly?  The only way to know the truth is to witness him make choices under pressure, to take one action or another in the  pursuit of his desire (pg. 74).

This passage reminds me of authentic self vs. small self.  We all have both of these selves inside of us, we are all capable of expressing and choosing and living both.  But choosing generosity and strength and truth and courage, this is one's authentic self.  The key word is choose.  Act, move, choose--this is living an authentic life with purpose.

All of these realizations--it's like my eyes are opening for the first time, it's like I'm being born again--and this is only from reading the first 75 pages.  Currently, my bookmark rests on page 137, but to keep this post from being too awfully long, I'll stop here.  We'll call this part one, and I'll post part two tomorrow.

If I had to summarize what I've discovered about myself thus far, it's this:  I am not living a good story.  I have created a character by my actions, and this character is not living a good story.  A better story is waiting for me, but I have to choose to live it.  Choosing requires action and movement and risk.  I've got to live this better story on purpose--it's not going to live itself.  This better story requires a better character, and a better character is created with better actions and better choices.  It's time I act, and act well.

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