Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes, and General Mental Mayhem

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Appreciating “The Process”

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-1-54-25-pmI’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to movies. I don’t watch them for the entertainment value, though I do enjoy them at times simply for that reason (my guilty pleasure dance movies, for example). But this business of show is one that I wanted to work in for a godd part of my life, so the appeal to me is more than the final product. I love the process. And when I watch a movie on screen or at home, I see the process. I appreciate everything that went into it. I look for themes, appreciate the beauty of the cinematography and lighting, listen to the writing come to life, marvel at the effects and pull out truths. And if you’ve ever been to the movies with me, you know that I typically sit through the credits afterward (and arrive promptly for the trailers and pre-show trivia). I watch the credits for a couple of reasons. One is that it lets me reflect on what I’ve just seen. They’ve given me the appropriate music to sit there and contemplate or discuss the things I liked, and maybe didn’t like. The second thing is that I want to recognize all the people that contributed to the film. I read the names of just about everything I can, not just the celebrities. I know they all played a role in the process of getting the film to me, and I’m thankful (usually). We’ve been on this journey together, and we’ll finish together.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been watching one of my all-time favs, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I watch it at least twice each year, sometimes up to three or four times. I can’t get enough, and at the end, I’m always ready to start it over. I think it’s just a brilliant piece of movie-making on so many levels. Sometimes I watch just the movies, but sometimes I watch all the special features, too. I bought the Extended Edition on Blu-ray on Black Friday, so that gives me…over 27 hours of special features and footage. Nope, that doesn’t include the movies. Add in another 11+ hours for those. I can honestly say I get just as excited over watching the special features as I do the feature films. I laugh, I cry, but mostly I’m amazed. I appreciate the process. There are no words to describe the thought and detail that went into this trilogy. You can see how much the people love the books, and therefore, tried so hard to honor them. It is inspiring to me. I could never catch it all, even after having watched the special features a couple of times. And I love that.

In watching them this time, I started evaluating why I love the special features so much when so very few comparatively would dare (or care) to watch them all. I’m not a big Tolkien fan, though I think his work is astounding. I know it’s sacrilege to some to say this though, but I prefer the movies to the books. I’m a movie person, though. A filmie, my friend Daron calls me. But half of the reason I love these movies is that I love the special features. And in that, I love the process.

As I starting relating it to me and my life, I had a thought. I am, and I think this applies to many of us, always concerned about the beginning and the end. Sure there are always twists and turns in the middle, but mostly I want to know where something came from and where something ends. For example, I’m overly concerned about where I’m headed in life. (I still don’t know yet so don’t ask.) Where I am is always setting the stage for what’s next. I want to know what’s ahead for me, especially when times are hard. I don’t always appreciate my process. It’s hard, it’s tiring, it’s frustrating, it’s…not always fun. And I love fun. You can also take the prime example of a female like me. When she’s single it’s, when will she date? When she’s dating it’s, when will she get married? When she’s married it’s, when will she have kids? Sheesh. Let the woman enjoy one stage for a moment, will ya! I hear these remarks all the time from friends, females and males alike rather frequently. It’s never enough to be where you are. It’s only about where you’re going next. And frankly, that’s a shame.

Let’s take a lesson from my friend, Sam.

LOTR, for me, isn’t about the creatures or the monsters or the wizards or the hot elf who’s handy with a bow, it’s about the truths that I relate to and the process of storytelling. This scene, Sam’s speech, is my favorite in the entire series. It was sort of a last minute addition from the writers to tie up some loose ends and add some closure. I think it’s so beautiful. I watch it multiple times when I watch the movie, and tear up every time. I think it’s such a lovely description of not only life, but my Christian faith. (Yep, I tend to be a bit dramatic.)

We are living great stories, ones that really matter. And stories have a beginning, middle and end. (Note: otherwise you’re telling it wrong, Michelle.) The middle is the detail. Sure, sometimes that can be tedious, but it shapes and adds greater significance to the beginning and end. The middle is what makes us who we are. It gets us to the end. To forget that is to forget ourselves. That’s what happens when we’re “too small to see it” as Sam says. We can easily want to ignore the middle because it’s where we’re living, and not always where we want to be. But there are important lessons there, and to miss them is a tragedy. It could just be the plot twist we’ve been looking for.

My friends and I, and my favorite authors and workplace for that matter, talk about living great stories. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to go cure AIDS or move to Africa or acquire a fortune. It could, but it doesn’t have to. It simply means recognizing where God has you and doing the best you can with it. He’ll take care of the rest. He’s given you what you need to be right there at that moment. It may not always be to our liking, but there is greater purpose it in. I truly believe it. He has placed me in His narrative for a reason. That’s a tremendous thought. He. Has. Placed. ME.  It may not be for one job or one person or one calling or even one phone call, but it’s all mine because He destined me to be here. And I want to make the most of every opportunity He gives me, large or small, beginning middle or end, because He thinks I’m important enough to take on. It’s given to me. My responsibility, and my privilege.

The above is a picture of a decal from my bedroom wall. I see it at least twice a day, when I get up and when I go to sleep. I wanted it that way to remind me over and over again, since I can be a little stubborn (no comments, please), that my story is important. It sure doesn’t always feel that way, but I know in my heart and my head that it is. And it reminds me that the middle of the story is where life happens. And I truly do want to live a story worth telling, but takes a lot of work every day. Little by little. Sentence by sentence. Sometimes word by word. But in the end, it’ll be a heck of a story because I won’t skip over the parts that made me sad or uncomfortable. Those parts add punctuation to the highlights. They are mine, and want to do them justice.

The process is just as important, or more so, than the ending. The final product didn’t just happen. It was often painstakingly pieced together from more details than we’ll ever know, from more people than we’ll ever realize. It’s a mosaic, a tapestry, of what living is all about.

Appreciate the process. It’s the only one you’ll ever have. And tell someone the story of your life, taking lots of time in the middle. And remember, you’re not done until you reach the very end. (Hint: if you’re breathing, you’re not done.) “There’s room for a little more” as Frodo says.

PS – I’m sure more LOTR posts are in my future, but if you’d like to read my lessons learned from them in 2009, here they are: one, two, and three.

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Story Time

I had dinner with a good friend tonight and I realized that though we’ve known each other for over three years, I’ve never heard her life story. (I love stories!) So, I asked her to share hers with me. She kind of rushed through until I would stop and ask her questions along the way. She thought her story was boring.

I used to have the same perspective of my own story. I thought my life was incredibly ordinary or, to me, somewhat disappointing. As far as knowing Jesus, I always did. I’d never been a drug addict that turned from my wicked ways. I’d never sown those wild oats in college to overcome insurmountable regrets after salvation. I’d never heard God’s voice audibly in the middle of the night. Heck, I’d never even had a cavity, seen a national monument or lived in two different houses till college. I hated when people asked me about myself because I got bored hearing it.

Then, in the spring of 2003, I had a conversation that changed my life, and my story, forever. It was with a friend of mine named Don. I was going through one of, if not the, most difficult experiences of my life to that point. I went to him and asked him for his advice on the situation which was moving back from New York. New York had been my dream since I was eight years old and now it had come shattering to an end. I was devastated and heartbroken. One of the things he shared with me was the healing power of my life story. Don told me that as difficult as it was to talk about, it would help me to talk about it. And the more I talked about it, the easier it would get.

Though at the time it seemed like an impossible wound to heal from, I gave it a try. It took quite a few tries before I could tell it without tears streaming down my face, but he was right. Time and talking about it did help heal me from the pain. And it was such a significant time in my life that it became part of my overall story. Since then, it has even served as comfort for others who have had to mourn lifelong dreams or go through painful situations. I talk about it also because I have learned from it. I’m also an external processor, so it helps me to make sense of things when I can talk them out.

As significant as that chapter of my life is, it is still only a part of my story. There are so many bits and pieces. There are so many life-altering experiences that I only realized the importance of after the fact. Just like everyone else, all of these small things add up to create a thread that runs from my beginning to my present to my dreams for the future. It helps me understand myself and you understand me as well. It adds perspective.

For two years, I was a freelance writer. It was one of the greatest times of my life because it deepened my faith in a way I could’ve never guessed. I learned big time dependence and surrender to the Lord because I was dependent on Him for provision constantly. Most every week for those two years, I didn’t know if I was going to have another job the following week. I was hoping and praying bills would get paid. That may sound really scary, but it really wasn’t for me. It was a time when I could see God in a tangible way I’d never known Him before. I loved it. And it certainly kept me on my toes! It was a great time of growth for me.

I nicknamed that time “My Time in the Wilderness”. I was just kinda wandering and wondering. There were a lot of unknowns. I stepped out on faith because I felt God had called me to it and He gave me peace in return. But it was definitely a position I’d never been in before. So, during that time, I read in the Old Testament about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. I just figured we had a lot in common. But it was crazy how my life would parallel what was happening in the Bible. It came alive to me and I could see how to relate it to my circumstance in a whole new way. God provided for them as they needed, and no more than they needed at a time. He also led them to where they were going. He was with them. And of course, the Lord, was doing the same for me.

But much like the Israelites, I was a complainer. There were days I wanted more than quail as they did, or kept wondering how much further to the Promised Land or longed for the comforts of security. Not coincidently, He reminded me the same as He did them, that He was in the middle of this mess. God had taken care of them and He would do the same for me. Every time they complained, they were reminded of the captivity they’d come from. God reiterated their story…His story and their place it in. And without fail, every time I became discouraged or frustrated, God gave me an opportunity to share my story with someone. Every time. When I finished telling it, I was amazed at the adventure I’d been on. I couldn’t believe I was living in that story! It was such a privilege at that point. I had a great story!

I believe it is the same with everyone. It’s kind of like watching your own hair grow. Sometimes we look at the same thing every day and don’t see any change. But when we broaden our perspective and tie the whole thing together, we can see it more clearly. We are miles and years from where we were, spiritually, emotionally, physically, whatever. But it took all of those things to get us to that point.

God has a plan for each of us. I truly believe that statement. He invites us all to be a part of His story. And when I look at my role in The Story, I am humbled. I got asked. And I am playing my role. My own little thread runs through the fabric of time. I matter. Though my role may never be someone like Billy Graham, I’m significant. Yes, The Story can happen without me, but the point is that God doesn’t want it to. So, my answer is yes. I’ll join in!

When you look at your story like that, why wouldn’t it be grand?!?!?! It’s epic! It is part of The Story! It is full of events that bring God glory. It is a testimony of His love for this one, little person. One person out of six billion. And yet, it is mine. There are a lot of things people can take from me if they want. My story is not one of them. Yet it is woven with so many others. My story didn’t happen alone. He put all kinds of “random” interactions with strangers in between meaningful conversations and experiences with friends and family. They all add up to be words, phrases, sentences and chapters in my story.

Some of the most significant moments in my life are incredibly depressing. Some are thrilling. Some still make me laugh out loud. And I believe God was beside me in all of them. The Holy Spirit was guiding me along His path. Sometimes I took the right steps but there were quite a few I didn’t. All still matter.

I hope I was able to help my friend see that her story is not boring or insignificant. It is hers. I care about her and want to know her better, so I loved hearing it. It helps me understand her. I can see more of where she is coming from. I can see the unique ways God has worked in her life. That is quite valuable to me.

I don’t like to tell my story because I like to hear myself talk. I love to tell my story because I see God’s fingerprints all over it! I would say 99% of the experiences I’ve had were never planned by me. They were all Him. And I’m so thankful. They are so much better than what I wanted. My story is a witness of His work in my life. I believe the same is true for each of us.

Please do yourself a favor. Do someone else a favor. Share your story.