Donald Miller, one of my favorite Christian authors, wrote a book called A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. In his book he compared his life to a story. One day, movie producers showed up at his house and told him they wanted to make his life story into a movie. The only problem was that his life wasn't quite interesting enough… they would have to (as it seems they do in ALL "based on a true story" movies) fabricate a bit of his story to make people want to watch it…
When he stopped to think about it, he realized something: why don't we live stories that people want to watch or to read about? When you think about the Bible, it is FULL of real-life stories of people who lived lives worth reading about (whether good or bad, unfortunately, but still "read-worthy"!)
In his book, Donald shares about the journey of struggle that he went through during that time- it was filled with doubt, insecurity, questioning, exploring… and in the end, Donald says this:
"We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn't mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It's a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them."
I am reminded when I read these words, how important our stories truly are! There is A LOT of bad stuff happening around us, A LOT of bad stories being told. But God has given each and every one of us a story… and "how brightly a better story shines"! If we wake up realizing that each day is a paragraph or a page and each week is a chapter or a section of a greater story and we seek God, the Writer of our story, and ask HIM how He wants us to live- and let Him write our story- oh what a beautiful story it will be!
Ever since I read that book I keep coming back to this idea.
My life as a story- written by God.
Some days, I feel like I put the pen to the page and try to write for Him… oh how that must frustrate my Creator! Other days, I can more easily rest in letting Him call the shots… and THOSE days- they are so much better. Not easier, not more comfortable, not free from struggle or labor- but still better. They are better because I am living as He calls me and commands me to live. I am living through the power of His Spirit, accomplishing things that I could never do on my own, and even in the difficulties that often come with those days, I can rest my head on the pillow at night knowing that those problems, those struggles, just made me stronger, accomplished more of His plan, glorified Him more through me.
The first 75 days here in Haiti were spent adjusting to culture and climate, beginning a new school year with kids and transitioning into a new home. We started learning the language, meeting the staff and students here at the seminary, getting to know our neighbors better (FYI- they are wonderful!), and even began leading worship each week in chapel…
But day 75 marked a NEW chapter in our story in Haiti…
This past Tuesday we held a symposium in the chapel, for all of the students here at Emmaus. This symposium was designed to be more of a Q & A, a time for us to share with the students about our passion for youth ministry, a little bit of our experience, but most importantly for us to hear from them about youth in Haiti. We asked what the church is currently doing for youth and the problems they face. We inquired about the struggles that youth have here and the needs they are faced with. We listened as they told us how difficult it is for them to reach youth and the need they have to be trained and resourced, to have people who are passionate about youth and have a desire to disciple and mentor them.
What we found is that many of the same problems that our churches face here in discipling youth are the same problems that we faced back in the States. And, surprisingly, the same struggles that so many of the youth have here in Haiti, stem from the same issues that kids have in the U.S.
We began the time that we had together with a little object lesson… (can you even have a youth event WITHOUT an object lesson!?!?)
We asked for two volunteers to come forward and compete against one another- to see who could fit all of the sand and the rocks in the jar the fastest… with ALL of them fitting in the jar.
They worked hard, mixing the sand and rocks together, trying to maneuver them into the jars, but after a few minutes of failed attempts, they were unsuccessful in getting them ALL in!
Phil then proceeded to show them "the trick" to getting them all to fit…. start with the rocks, then let the sand flow in and around them. In a matter of 30 seconds or less, Phil had all of it in place- neatly fitting perfectly in the jar.
And now the lesson: in Matthew, Jesus tells a story of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man upon the sand. Phil started with the rocks (the foundation of Christ) and everything else flowed around and through the rocks. And it worked. When we begin with "the sand"- the "stuff" that we fill our lives with, place our confidence in, the often times even "good things"- we are foolish, because our foundation is not firm unless it is built on Christ. There is not even enough room in our lives for God when we fill it with everything else.
I LOVE this object lesson.
What a great picture of the necessity for us to have Christ as the cornerstone of our lives!
We began with this illustration so that we could lead into the purpose for youth ministry. It has been proven that the developmental years (around the age of 11-14 typically) are the time when youth begin to form their ideas and understanding of the world around them. It is around this time that they become passionate about finding purpose, meaning, understanding about life, who they are, and why they are here. It is during this time that it is SO important that teens have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and to have their foundation in Christ, their understanding of the world through His eyes, and find their purpose in HIM through His Word and His Spirit.
As we talked through with the students, and heard their hearts, we were affirmed, ONCE AGAIN, of God's call on our lives here. He has been equipping us, training us, building us up so that we can share with these students and pastors what He has done through us. The tools and experience that I have received over the last 16 years (and Phil the last 14 years) are priceless! The blessing of working with youth and the things that we have learned along the road are going to be SO helpful here.
Before we walked into that symposium we knew that 50 students would be seated in the chapel. We hoped that after meeting with them, that at least a handful of students (5-10 maybe…) would feel called to, and take advantage of, the training we were offering. We told them that this was not a course they would be graded on, nor would they receive credits for participation. This would be offered during their free time, as optional training for anyone who might want it. No obligation.
Just an offer to help…
After Phil prayed and dismissed, we offered a sign-up for all who might want the training.
And you know what?
32 people signed up!
GOD has been writing this story. He has been building the events, the experiences… He has been developing and working out His plan as the Author… yes there have been times that we have tried to do things our way and failed, but God doesn't leave us or forsake us. He teaches us through our mistakes, brushes us off and put us back into the pages of His story. If we allow Him to shape our lives, our stories mean so much more than we might ever imagine.
I pray that I will NEVER forget that. That on days when I want to take my story into my own hands, when things seem difficult or even when life gets too comfortable, I will remember how much more meaningful and purposeful and God-glorifying my life will be if I let Him lead.
I want to close with a bit more of Donald Miller's book, because he can sum up what I want to say so much more eloquently! He says this:
"… 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."
What might the Author be whispering into YOUR story?