Category Archives: Storyline by Donald Miller

A Meaningful Story is Always a Good Story

I came across this article today and it highlights one of the things we discussed when finishing up the Storyline series.  Don’t misunderstand what Donald Miller is saying.  He isn’t suggesting that we all have to be rock stars to tell good stories with our lives.   Living a meaningful life that is pleasing to God is the point.  And meaningful stories are always good stories.  Some of the best stories I’ve seen in movies or read about grabbed me because of the struggle of a character who wanted something and overcame obstacles to get it.

This article is about “Shifty” Powers.  If you’ve seen Band of Brothers (probably my favorite mini-series), you know about him.  He fought with the 101st Airborne division in WWII.  Chuck Yeager makes a great point, when Shifty died, there was no fanfare like we saw when Michael Jackson died.  But that doesn’t mean his story is any less meaningful.  Band of Brothers isn’t about a group of celebrities.  It is a great story about a regular bunch of guys who sacrificed everything to conquer an evil force.  Don’t let your story get hijacked by society and our obsession with celebrity. 

For my money, Shifty told a great story with his life.


“Shifty” By Chuck Yeager



Shifty volunteered for the airborne in WWII and served with Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Infantry. If you’ve seen Band of Brothers on HBO or the History Channel, you know Shifty. His character appears in all 10 Episodes, and Shifty himself is interviewed in several of them.

I met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago. I didn’t know who he was at the time. I just saw an elderly gentleman having Trouble reading his ticket. I offered to help, assured him that he was at the right gate, and noticed the “Screaming Eagle,” the symbol of The 101st Airborne, on his hat.

Making conversation, I asked him if he d been in the 101st Airborne or if his son was serving. He said quietly that he had been in the 101st. I thanked him for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made. Quietly and humbly, he said “Well, I guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945 …” at which point my heart skipped.

At that point, again, very humbly, he said “I made the 5 training Jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy.  Do you know where Normandy is?” At this point my heart stopped. I told him “Yes, I know exactly where Normandy is, and I know what D-Day was.”

At that point he said “I also made a second jump into Holland, into Arnhem .”

I was standing with a genuine war hero, and then I realized that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day. I asked Shifty if he was on his way back from France, and he said “Yes… And it’s real sad because, these days, so few of the guys are left, and those that are, lots of them can’t make the trip.” My heart was in my throat and I didn’t know what to say.

I helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach while I was in First Class. I sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that I wanted to switch seats. When Shifty came forward, I got up out of the seat and told him I wanted him to have it, that I’d take his in coach.

He said “No, son, you enjoy that seat. Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and who still care is enough to make an old man very happy.” His eyes were filling up as he said it, and mine are brimming up now as I write this.

Shifty died on Jan. 17, 2011 after fighting cancer.

There was no parade.

No big event in Staples Center ..

No wall to wall back to back 24×7 news coverage.

No weeping fans on television.

And that’s not right!!

Let’s give Shifty his own Memorial Service, online, in our own quiet way.

P.S. I think that it is amazing how the “media” chooses our “heroes” these days… Michael Jackson & the like!


Want to Make Today Memorable?

If you are like me, you’ve been thinking about the Storyline process and asking if you are telling a good story with your life.  You’ve probably been looking for a way to tell a better story with the big picture.  Simply asking “Is this telling a good story?” makes the decision making process easier on the big questions in life.


“Should I date this person?

“Should I take this job offer?”

“Should I use my free time to volunteer for a cause that touches me?”


The answer is simple, if it tells a good story, then we should do it.


It struck me this morning that we can apply the same methodology to the mundane things we do everyday. “Is this telling a good story?”  If so, let’s do it.


“Should I display an act of kindness to a complete stranger for no reason whatsoever?”

“Should I buy lunch for a friend that I know is struggling with something?”

“Should I get so blitzed tonight that I spend the next two days hungover and unproductive?” (Sadly, I’ve told this story many times)

“Should I use my day off to sit on the couch watching reruns and trying to set the world record for Cheetos consumption?”


I’m reminded of a memory that started Christmas morning when I was 5 years old.  It was on that Christmas morning that mom and dad gave my brother a toy guitar.  For it was on that guitar that my dad composed his early-morning wake up songs for the kids.   Now, dad never actually learned any chords on the guitar, which was fine because when he sang he never actually hit any notes.  While the songs were musically horrible, they were terribly effective at getting us out of bed.  I can still hear the haunting melody of “Wake up all you sleepyheads” (somehow composed in the key of “T”) in my head to this day. My dad turned an event as dull and ordinary as waking up and turned it into a memory that still lives (and/or haunts me) over 30 years later.

Donald Miller says in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “The saddest thing about life is you don’t remember half of it.  You don’t even remember half of half of it.  Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth.”

How can you make today memorable?

I Don’t Have Any Bloody Use For It

I guess I couldn’t wait until Monday to get going with my thoughts:

In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller wrote about attending a seminar on screenwriting by Robert McKee, who is an authority on storytelling. McKee is the one I quoted in class saying, “You have to put your characters through hell.”  McKee’s seminar was used in the movie “Adaptation” with Nicolas Cage.

The following link is a scene from the movie based on his seminar.  This is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Think about how this relates to what we’ve been talking about in class.  Pardon the language in the clip.  There is proficient use of the f-word throughout, just like there is if you sit next to me at an SMU football game.

Miller says in Storyline , “We should not feel guilty or ashamed of having desires.”  From the beginning, God created us to have desires.  Adam was lonely, so God created Eve.  Maybe we don’t pursue things because we feel guilty for having desires.  Miller continues, “We shouldn’t feel guilty about desiring shelter, transportation, food, sex, love, community or even clothes.  These are all positive desires.  There are also evil desires, and many desires that are good, out of an appropriate context, become evil.  In other words, following God is a lot like becoming mature and being able to discern right from wrong, pure from corrupt.” 

If you want to tell a good story with your life, you have to start by having desires.  As McKee says, “You cannot have a protagonist without desire.  It doesn’t make any sense.”

A few years ago, I had a burning desire to be a part of a community.  Now I have Impact and all you guys.  Positive turn.


Who is the Audience for your Story?

Someone mentioned in class that we need to be careful about what other people think of our story.  It made me realize that one question we haven’t asked is “Who is the audience for my story?”  As much as we want the approval of our friends and family, I’m wondering if I’m really trying to tell my story for them or for me.  I am working with God to tell my story.  It seems to me that those are the only two opinions that really matter.  Maybe being a “people pleaser” is one of the things that is hijacking our story.

Donald Miller says in Module 2 of Storyline, “God created us with a need for food and water, but He doesn’t become food and water.  He created us with a need for community, but He doesn’t become multiple people and invite us to go bowling. God created us with desires He fulfills through means He provides.  Or, better said, all our needs are not met in Christ, though they may be met by Christ.”

We all need community and other players in our story.  I guess the hard part is drawing other people into your story without letting their needs and desires write the plot for you.  If someone knows an easy way to do that, please let me know.


This reminded me of a poem I heard a long time ago that states the point much better than I just did:


The Man in the Glass


When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day,

Just go to a mirror and look at yourself,

And see what that man has to say.


For it isn’t your father or mother or wife,

Who judgment upon you must pass;

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one starring back from the glass.


He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest.

For he’s with you clear up to the end,

And you’ve passed the most dangerous, difficult test

If the man in the glass is your friend.


You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,

And think you’re a wonderful guy,

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.


You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years.

And get pats on the back as you pass,

But your final reward will be the heartaches and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.


Dale Wimbrow (c) 1934

Your Ambitions Must Be Clear

If you listened to Paul’s sermon on Sunday, it seems like he is right in step with what we are covering with Storyline.  He left us with three questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Where to begin?
  2. What is your biggest obstacle?
  3. What are you willing to do about it?

These are three important questions to ask yourself in order to write your subplot.  I think before we ask these questions we have to hammer down something we (I mean “I”) glanced over in class – Your ambitions must be clear.  Donald Miller says, “If you’ve ever watched a movie in which you weren’t sure what the protagonist wanted, you were likely bored out of your mind.  Clarity is critical.”

Think about every great movie you’ve ever seen.  Was there ever a point when you didn’t know what the protagonist wanted?

  • William Wallace wanted freedom
  • Rick wanted to get Ilsa back
  • Dorothy wanted to get back home
  • Luke wanted to become a Jedi and defeat the Empire
  • Bill and Ted wanted to save the future
  • Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott wanted to find their car

Are your ambitions that clear?

Looking at the three questions, you can’t decide where to begin unless you know where you are going.  It reminds me of the passage from Alice in Wonderland when Alice asked the Cheshire Cat which road she should take.  He asked her where she wanted to go.  She said she didn’t know.  He replied “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

When deciding where to go, maybe you are waiting on God’s will.  If you are waiting for a burning bush or to become a pregnant virgin, odds are that isn’t going to happen.  There are examples in the Bible when God speaks directly to people, but I think God speaks to us in more subtle ways.  Paul said in his sermon that something is bubbling up inside you, that’s probably the will of the Lord.

What is bubbling up inside you?  Pray about it, and let’s talk about it on Sunday.

Storyline Thoughts

A much longer message today since I’m off work for two weeks.  Sorry, this is what happens when you are off work, all your friends work during the day and you are already caught up on How I Met Your Mother and Downton Abbey.
I’ve been thinking a lot about part of the discussion we had on Sunday, specifically the part about our careers.  There’s a belief that probably started with our generation that we are owed a job that is glamorous and makes each of us famous.  Maybe it’s because our society is obsessed with celebrity or maybe because our generation has it easy and hasn’t had to endure the hardships of previous generations (The Great Depression, World War II, etc.).  I thought about the Victor Frankl quote from the workbook, “Stop asking what you expect from life, ask what life expects from you.”  When I read statements like that, it makes me think that maybe we are getting it wrong.  We all have specific talents and gifts that we can use to tell a great story no matter what we do from 8-5 everyday.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 17-20, 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
There you go, “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”  We don’t all have to be movie stars and rock stars to create significant subplots within God’s story.  Obviously, God did not create me to be the lead guitarist in a rock band or Wimbledon champion (still trying to get over both of those), but my contribution to God’s story isn’t any less important.  Conversely, Eddie Van Halen probably can’t help people invest for retirement and Roger Federer can’t create a bitchin’ playlist for a dance party.
I’m not suggesting that each of us stay in our current jobs.  If you dread waking up and going to work everyday, ask yourself if your job needs to change or if your perspective and attitude needs to change.  If it is your job, then by all means do everything you can to find a job that you enjoy.
Here are a couple of videos that came to mind during our discussion.  The first is a speech by Mike Rowe, Ford spokesman and host of Dirty Jobs, at the TED conference a few years ago.  It’s 20 minutes long, but it’s one of the best speeches I’ve seen in a long time.  He talks about how we are getting it wrong with our view of work.  It’s very entertaining and thought provoking.
The next is a trailer about Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.  These guys wake up at 4 am everyday and spend all day dealing with smelly fish, and they don’t make a ton of money doing it.  Pretty crappy job by society’s definition.  But they make each day as fun as they can, and this little fish market has become an inspiration to many corporations about how to change culture and engage employees.  Think about it, they work in a fish market and became world famous simply because of their attitude.
I hope this helps you find your subplot.

Monday Motivation

Here is a post that I mentioned in class yesterday.  It’s from the blog of James Altucher.  I think The Daily Practice can be useful when going through the Storyline process.  Not all of these aspects will resonate with this group (like waking up between 4-5 am everyday), but I found some of these really helpful.  When thinking about having my story highjacked, I remember his quote about emotional practice,
” If someone is a drag on me, I cut them out. If someone lifts me up, I bring them closer. Nobody is sacred here. When the plane is going down, put the oxygen mask on your face first. Family, friends, people I love – I always try to be there for them and help. But I don’t get close to anyone bringing me down. This rule can’t be broken. Energy leaks out of you if someone is draining you.”
It’s not necessarily an enjoyable process to evaluate your relationships and determine who lifts you up and who drags you down, but I can personally attest to the fact that cutting out negative people (even some you thought were good friends) increases your energy and happiness.  If you want to keep moving forward, sometimes you gotta thin the herd.

Your Story, Your Job

Does anybody feel like you aren’t telling a good story because of your job? Do you have a job that you don’t like or isn’t fulfilling?  Brad and I were discussing this at lunch today when I was semi-lamenting the fact that I’m about to start a job where I’ll be working 10-12 hours a day.  When he asked, “Do you really want to do this?” instead of getting sad and crying in public (like I did during Les Miserables), I thought about this passage from Storyline that we will be covering next Sunday:
For some, our careers are a large part of our stories, but others of us aren’t emotionally connected to our jobs.  If that’s the case, we should do anything we can to switch careers.  However, if that’s not possible, don’t sweat it.  From here on we can think of our jobs as fundraising.
I have a friend who is a lawyer.  He sues large construction companies that make crooked sky-scrapers.  It’s not a save many lives kind of job, so he just thinks of his job as a way to get cash to fund his story.
That said, even in his job he’s living a great story.  He takes on clients for free that can’t afford him and even started his own law school to help one kid pass the bar. No kidding.  He has his own law school comprised of one student.  He found a loophole in some paperwork that allowed him to start a single-student law school.   They have sweatshirts and everything.
Don’t feel bad about viewing your job as fundraising.  Anybody who writes a screenplay has to hit the pavement, hat in hand asking people to invest in their story. It’s the same with life.  If your job isn’t directly connected to saving many lives, consider it fundraising.
Our careers are not our stories.  Our stories come from the core of who we are and we are bigger than our jobs.  If you are what you do for a living, you are smaller than your potential.
So I’ll be fundraising in my new job.  With that perspective, I feel a lot better about my story.  After all, I can’t remember any New Testament passage where Jesus complained about being a carpenter.  And I think he lived a pretty good story.

Letting Go

I guess I’m feeling inspired, so this might be a daily e-mail this week.  Another reason for not taking risks that came up in class was the inability to let go.  Ever feel like you should be doing something else but couldn’t make the move because you couldn’t let go of something, a relationship, a certain lifestyle, a steady paycheck or your comfort zone?
Paul preached a sermon a couple of years ago about letting go, and the following song is the one the Cornerstone band played that day.  It’s one of my all time favorites and to me the ultimate expression of someone trying to let go.  Peter Gabriel has neither confirmed nor denied it, but those close to him said he wrote this song when he was deciding to leave Genesis.  For those who don’t know, Peter Gabriel was the lead singer of Genesis before Phil Collins.  The band was becoming successful and famous, but Peter always felt called to have a solo career.  Solsbury Hill is the place where Peter would go to meditate. His friends called him crazy for leaving the band.  Looks like the move worked out really well for him and the remaining members of Genesis.  Just think, if he hadn’t left the band he might never have recorded “In Your Eyes.”  If he hadn’t, what song would Lloyd Dobler have played on his jam box in Say Anything?  Thankfully, we’ll never have to know.
Every time I have trouble letting go, I listen to this song.  The lyrics (especially in the second verse) always hit me square in the chest.
Here are the lyrics to Solsbury Hill.  Hope they inspire you like they have inspired me.

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
“Son,” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho’ my life was in a rut
“Till I thought of what I’d say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home.”
(Back home.)

When illusion spin her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,

They’ve come to take me home.”

Storyline Inspiration

I was thinking last night (I don’t sleep much) about some comments that came up in class yesterday when we were talking about doubt.  Sometimes we don’t take risks because we are afraid of failing and/or having to start over.  This reminded me of the Storyline of someone you might have heard of:
§  Lost job, Age 22
§  Defeated for legislature, Age 23
§  Failed in business, Age 24
§  Elected to legislature, Age 25
§  Sweetheart (Ann Rutledge) died, Age 26
§  Had nervous breakdown, Age 27
§  Defeated for Speaker, Age 29
§  Defeated for nomination for Congress, Age 34
§  Elected to Congress, Age 37
§  Lost renomination, Age 39
§  Rejected for Land Officer, Age 40
§  Defeated for Senate, Age 43
§  Defeated for nomination for Vice-President, Age 47
§  Again defeated for Senate, Age 49
That’s a lot of negative turns.
Oh, he did have a series of positive turns.  That started when he was elected President at age 51.  Yep, it’s Abraham Lincoln.  He failed plenty of times, but I’m pretty sure we would all agree he told a pretty good story with his life.