Wednesday, January 13, 2010

what I want to give God this year

A friend of mine told me about how they have a tradition called "What does Jesus want for Christmas?" that they do with their kids before Christmas, and while I didn't get the complete details of the whole thing, the last thing the children do is open a gift which is a mirror. Because what Jesus wants for Christmas is us. He wants us to give him more of ourselves, our time, our heart, our focus. (In case you were wondering about this image, this blog will relate to Donald Miller's new book. Just bear with me).

Shortly after that, while scanning some blogs I follow, I came across an alternative way to look at New Year's Resolutions: not what we plan to do or achieve for ourselves in the upcoming year, but what we want to give God. A much better focus, I think. And if it's a better focus, there's a better chance it will be achieved. For instance, I set myself three resolutions last year: 1) a Bible read-through, 2) a 22 verse scripture memory challenge, and 3) weight loss. Of the three, guess which two I managed to achieve? Yup, the ones focused on God. I finished the Bible read-through a few days into the New Year, and I memorized over 30 verses (keeping them memorized will be another matter). But the 7 pounds that I lost last spring, I gained right back, then lost again in the fall, and regained again over Christmas (argggh!!!)

Even though I failed with the weight-loss (though I haven't given up - still going to Weight Weighters meetings), I am excited about my success in the other two areas so I really do believe that whether you call them New Year's resolutions, or goal-setting, or participating in some sort of challenge, it IS worthwhile. Even if you only partially succeed. Even if you fail. This is one lession I learned from Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Heather lent it to me over Christmas). I will probably be making several posts on this book, because there were a lot neat things in it (and a few problems with it, too - no book is flawless. Except the Bible).

Okay, so before I get to what I want to give God this year, and before I get to the part about how you suceed even if you fail, I have to give a little more background about the book. I already shared one quote from it in previous post. Here's the quote that starts off the book:
If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.

Miller challenges us to live a better story. Good stories have characters that take great risks, or face great conflict. The main character faces conflict and for a while you're not sure if he's going to overcome it. And the very best stories have sacrifice in them. Isn't that the main draw of the Lord of the Rings? That Frodo (and so many others) were willing to give up so much, to go so far, to save Middle Earth from the dreadful power of the ring? Casablanca: Rick gives up Ilsa because he knows she is needed for a better cause. It's a Wonderful Life: George keeps giving up his dreams of traveling the world to help those around him. He actually gets to see how, if he hadn't made those sacrifices, it would have negatively affected the lives of many people.
Both Heather and I agree, the chapter in A Million Miles that really hit home is the one called "How Jason Saved His Family." This is where Miller relates how he was talking one day with his friend Jason, and Jason was concerned about his teenage daughter, how she was in a relationship with a guy that was... well, just using her, and she was get mixed up with a lot of bad things as a result. Miller, who is exploring this whole "living life as a story" idea, said she hadn't chosen a good story to be part of.
The night after we talked, Jason couldn't sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. 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 adventrue, rebellion and independence. "She's not a bad girl," my friend said. "She was just choosing the best story available to her."
I pictured his daughter flipping through the channels of life, as it were, stopping on a story that seemed most compelling at the moment, a story that offered her something, anything, because people can't live without a story, without a role to play.
Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and instead created a better story to invite her into. He remembered that story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. "I started researching some stuff on the internet and I came across an organization that builds orphanages around the world, and that sounded to me like a pretty good ambition, something maybe my family could try to do together. It sounded like a good story. So I called this organization and it takes about 25,000 dollars to build one of the orphanages. We don't have that kind of money.... But I knew if we were geting to tell a good story, it would have to involve risk. At first my daughter wasn't happy. She knew this would mean she'd have to give up her allowance and who knows what else... but a few days later she started talking about how she could post pictures of the kids on her web site and maybe people could help.
Not long after that she broke up with her boyfriend... no girl who playes the role of hero dates a guy who uses her."

So what I want to give God this year: a better story for myself and my family. As we were driving back from our Christmas in South Dakota, I read the chapter "How Jason Saved his Family" to B., and he agreed with it completely. Several times last year he mentioned wanting to do something like fostering kids or trying to reach troubled kids by working with them to train horses (like Monty Roberts), and I remember stiffening at that thought and thinking "oh no, I can't take on anything like that. I'm overwhelmed already with the kids we already have." But after reading this book, I realize how involving our whole family in a story like that, putting an effort into something other than a nice house and nice cars and soccer games and cool family vacations... that is truly living life. We both agreed we needed to pray about it, to keep our eyes open for opportunities.
A good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it - I want to live a better story. But am I willing to take the risk, give up the comforts, to go for it?

No. Realistically, I am a selfish person who loves her comforts and enjoys her "space" and needs lots of quiet time - lots of it. I would rather write a blog about this stuff than actually go out and do it. Until I'm forcefully put into a position to make choices and take steps, there is nothing noble and self-sacrificing about me.

But, I do have a great ally. A promise: "I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13) and who created me "to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:10)

Miller writes: "I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, and whispering a better story into our consciousness."

Last May, I had a similar revelation at Beth Moore's conference and the preconference. God was telling me two things 1) He wants more of me, and 2) He wants me to share more Him with others. I think this is a reminder. He's also teaching me that it's going to require some sacrifice, but it will be worth it. Because living a meaningful life is worth it in a way that you just can't quantify. You just have to keep reminding yourself that nobody wants to read a story about a guy who finally gets his Volvo.

Okay God, where to begin? Jason (from the chapter "How Jason Saved his Family") did some research on the internet which led him to orphanages, and he felt burdened about helping to build an orphanage in Mexico.

Since Christmas, when I read Miller's book, I've been praying about where God would have me start. Ideas are starting to trickle in. I remembered the missionary family who stayed with us back in November for 5 days, and shared their ministry in Nicaragua with our church. There is a great scarcity of Biblical materials down there for people to read, for teaching and preaching, and James is involved with discipling and training native men to be pastors. I can start by talking my kids about the work he and his family are doing down there, and reading missionary updates and prayer requests to my kids, praying more, and supporting more. I am also going to look into sponsoring a child through Compassion International (Beth Moore's family all sponsor children and one of the Moore daughters went to India this past year to meet her sponsored child and her family.) Me and my little women can write letters to our sponsored child. B. and I also talked once about the Big Brother/Big Sister program, and I am also intrigued by the Mentoring Project that Donald Miller started and talks about in his book - some ideas to keep praying about and researching.

There are more aspects to this "living a better story" from the book that I want to blog about (e.g. "Memorable scenes") but I will save those for another time. Plenty enough to work on right now. Keeping the label "goals of a follower" to track how I progress with this year's - I mean life's - goals.

I have a few other goals this year too. I have structured my goals after the "JOY = Jesus, Others, You" order of priorities. First priority is relationship with my Lord and Savior. I want to have more "7 Days" which are based on Psalm 119:167 "Seven times a day I will praise you for your righteous ways. Great peace have they that love your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." Goal: pause for a moment to praise God seven times a day. Also, I'm setting myself another Bible study challenge - not a read-through this year, but instead an in-depth study of one Gospel (Matthew), one Epistle (Colossians), one Psalm (undecided) and one chapter of Proverbs (undecided). Also setting myself another Scripture memory challenge (hopefully Beth Moore will do her 22 verse challenge again... but if not I still plan to work on memorizing one new verse every two weeks and keep last year's verses memorized.

For the "Others" part of JOY, it's praying more with my family (both with B. and the girls), and seeing where God leads me with living a better story.

For the "You" part of JOY, still going to work on losing weight, getting more active and healthy because I know a person can accomplish a lot more if she's not preoccupied with stuffing her face and then lolling about afterwards in shame and guilt and indigestion. And it will mean having more energy and "get up and go" spirit. Also, I am challenging myself to write 1000 words a week to finish my current novel and start the research for my new idea so I can start writing it in November for NaNoWriMo.

Writing progess for the first two weeks of 2010: 1322 words. Already a little behind. But hopefully now that I've confessed all these resolutions on my blog, Lord willing, it'll keep me motivated to keep trying.
In the end, all that matters is - God be glorified.

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