“How does a good story begin?”
“Umm...There once was this boy.”
“Ok, what’s next?”
“Who was wearing one shoe.”
“Great. And then…”
This is an activity I do early on while working with groups. We go around the circle adding to the story one sentence at a time. Coming up with their next sentence, each person has an idea of a direction they want this thing to take. Of course, it doesn’t end up going where anyone’s steering it on their own. With the story on its second or third lap around the room, Person 5 is able to say ‘But then he saw it was a Dragon!’ only to have Person 6 trump the line by saying, ‘But, luckily, it wasn’t a dragon at all, but a horse dressed in drag.’
This story doesn’t end until, as a group, we reach the ending. Point A to Point B can be a wild ride - especially considering the producers. Needless to say, I’ve heard some good stories. And I’ve heard some great lines. (Some people are so lucky to have a good line ready, and have things fall into place allowing them to make the delivery.) These are the lines that bring the most laughs. However, the more I do this group production the more I realize there is a group of lines that I value more than the zingers. Due to the structure of the story, Person 8 might be stuck with the simple ‘And so he walked.’
The Horse in Drag is great, but there’d be no Horse/Dragon if the persons before didn’t have The Boy walk on the green grass and around the brown wall. There’d be no excitement, nothing funny, if it weren’t for the mundane progress.
John Piper wrote Don’t Waste Your Life. I bet the book has something to do with the first of the Ten Things I’ve learned this year. I’ve had some big, funny, interesting, and/or intense things happen these last 365ish days. But a big, fat chunk of my days are as boring as ‘And so the boy ironed his shirt.’ My boring times - this is what life is made of. I’ve learned to appreciate the day-in and day-out. This is where I learn and develop the skills and things that enable me to hold my own when I see the Dragon around the corner. A key to not wasting my life - not wasting a day - is to be aware that most of life occurs in the mundane. Trudging along during these times is more beneficial than a big victory is impressive.
Be direct and to-the-point.
You know those times when you’re stuck between two options of equal pull and can’t come up with which direction to take? It would take what seems like years for me to make these types of decisions. I can’t put my finger on why this is so. I’m just indecisive. (And cheap, but that’s only part of it.)
But not anymore! Ever since a beating I gave myself for choosing the lamer of two options, now when I’m given a choice, I choose the bigger. For a recent example, not long ago my step-brother invited me to join him at a gun show. With guns. Lots of them. Miles and miles of thousands of tables piled high with millions of guns. I’m not sure if I either know or care less about guns. But it was either that or eat a Pop Tart and watch my dog stare at a wall. So I went.
It doesn’t matter if it was fun or not. I wasn’t sitting at home wondering about if I should have gone.
Doing the Big Thing has given me experiences worth writing about. And making these decisions within seconds and moving forward has freed up my mind to think about important things.
Important things, you say? Part of the reason for choosing the gun show was because it meant time spent with a couple step-brothers. One flies helicopters for the Army. One is a businessman in Tulsa. The three of us don’t have much time together that often.
Here’s the Seventh thing on my list: Whatever the activity, whenever the time, wherever the location - I want to be with the people I care about, and who care about me. This trumps the "neat" or "exciting" any day.
I’ve been able to do some cool things in my life. Spending that year living on Mt. Fuji is nothing to shake a stick at - and it’s not something I’ll regret. Heck, watashi wa nihongo wo hanashimasu for goodness sake. But after the honeymoon period and jet lag wore off, it was just me on this iconic volcano reading about my loved ones on Facebook.
I hope you don’t hear me sounding ungrateful for this totally once-in-a-lifetime experience. This was a very important year for me. I am a better man because of it. I’m mentioning it now in this way because it’s an example of the point I’m making. What became clear while I was a day ahead of you is the importance of your continued fellowship. Give me a 8-to-5 job in Muskogee, OK, doing the mundane if it means I’m around you. The pictures taken here aren’t as far-out and cool as the ones saved on my hard drive, but to say time with you is more impressive to my life than any day in Japan is an understatement.
So suck on that, Godzilla.
Whaddaya say we get to Number Six
There is honor in staying in a challenging and trying situation, riding it out through the dump, the cold winter times and the worst days until there is resolution.
And there’s also wisdom in knowing when it’s time to quit.
It takes courage to do both. I respect people who make the decision to do either.
God help us find guidance and peace in these times.
It’s ok to try new things. If I’m not careful, my natural tendency to be timid (and lazy) will come out of hiding. Pointing back up the list, I don’t naturally like doing Big things. I don’t like doing New things all that much either. I’m comfortable flowing with routine and letting everyday happen. Whether this makes you cringe or not, I would almost be ok with working at the same job, spending time with the same people, eating the same things at the same places. I’m a creature of comfort and habit. I have been for a long time.
But boy, has the excitement really kicked up this year! Being willing to break my mold, take a deep breath and jump in has allowed for things to happen that I would have missed if I’d stayed in form.
I won’t tell you all the reasons I decided to go out on a limb at the times I did this year. What is important is that something clicked and I began to change things. I started speaking up, sticking my neck out and my foot in the door and taking on more control and responsibility. I shot higher than my norm and ended up scoring big points. I took (healthy) risks in relationships and ended up moving forward in honesty and intimacy with those I’m around.
I still move with caution, but also with wisdom and courage. I am willing to take more risks. The payoff is worth it.
I can’t deny that all things will work out for good for us somehow, someway. They have so far for me, and I have no reason to believe this will not continue. Example? One of the greatest things for me came from my car hitting a tree and me finding out about it a month later.
That’s an entirely different blog. For right now, since this worked out, I’m confident other "bad" situations can be turned around as well. It about did me in, but now I’m going forward.
If I live, then I’ll run with a limp.
I don’t want to name the artist who wrote this - don’t want to up my street cred any higher if I can help it. Using the artist’s initials will be good enough.
Early in his book is what I see as the most important sentence. Just pages in, almost to prepare the reader for what follows, J.Z. says to tell a story about a kid with a gun, but to not tell why he has the gun in the first place, is telling a kind of lie. There is no need to write that I don’t encourage kids to walk around with guns. That’s not the point of this line, anyway. The point is, the Kid doesn’t wake up one day and just go get a gun. It is the background that leads to this: the danger of his surroundings; the actions he’s seen modeled since early on; the fear he has been burdened to carry. These are the things that have boiled up in his past - and present - that led him to carry the gun today.
This doesn’t excuse present violence. But it does help me understand. Empathy for this Boy comes quickly when I open my eyes to what he’s up against, to what he has been up against.
This line of thought ties in directly to conversations I have with people on a daily basis. People don’t just wake up one morning and decide the type of person they want to be, or with what they will struggle. We don't know what they’ve been up against as we bump into them throughout our lives. But knowing that they’re in the middle of a long fight helps me treat them with understanding and compassion.
I wish I could remember the man’s name who belongs to this quote. He sums it up in a sentence: “Be kind to everyone, for we are all fighting a hard battle.”
Don’t worship idols.
“Mountain tops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valley.” ~ Billy Graham
I will not spoil this with commentary. Thank you, God, for providing me with valleys. Thank you for teaching me in valleys. Thank you for showing me you’re with me in valleys. I will not be afraid.