Apr 062010

This is the best advice on life and parenthood I have read in my entire life.

From Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

How Jason Saved His Family

When I got back from Los Angeles, I got together with my friend Jason who has a thirteen year old daughter. He was feeling down because he and his wife had found some pot hidden in their daughter’s closet. She was dating a guy, too, a kid who smelled like smoke and only answered questions with single words: “Yeah,” “No,” “Whatever,” and “Why?” And “Why?” was the answer Jason hated most. Have her home by ten, Jason would say. Why? the guy would ask. Jason figured this guy was the reason his daughter was experimenting with drugs.

“You thought about grounding her?” I asked. “Not allowing her to date him?”

“We’ve tried that. But it’s gotten worse.” Jason shook his head and fidgeted his fingers on the table. Then I said something that caught his attention. I said that his daughter was living a terrible story.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what I meant. I probably wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t just returned from the McKee seminar. But I told him about the stuff I’d learned, that the elements of story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Even as I said this, I wasn’t sure how it applied to his daughter.

“Go on,” my friend said.

“I don’t know, exactly, but she’s not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one.” I said a lot of other things and he kept asking questions. We must have talked for an hour or more, about how novels work and why some movies are meaningful and others simply aren’t. I didn’t think much of it. I just thought he was curious about movies.

A couple months later I ran into Jason and asked about his daughter. “She’s better,” he said to me, smiling. And when I asked why, he told me that his family was living a better story.
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 adventure, 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. “So how did you get her out of it?” I asked. And I couldn’t believe what he told me next.

Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and, instead, create a better story to invite her into. He remembered that a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

“I started researching stuff on the internet,” Jason said, “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.”

“Right,” I said, trying to remember the elements of story myself.

“So I called this organization,” Jason continued, “And it takes about twenty-five thousand dollars to build one of these orphanages. And the truth is, we don’t have the money. I mean we just took out a second mortgage. But I knew if we were going to tell a good story, it would have to involve risk.”

“That’s true,” I said, remembering it from the seminar.

“So I went home and called a family meeting,” my friend continued. “I didn’t tell my wife first, which it turns out was a big mistake. But I told them about this village and about the orphanage and all these terrible things that could happen if these kids don’t get an orphanage. Then I told them I agreed to build it.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said.

“No, I’m not. And my wife sat there looking at me like I’d lost my mind. And I looked at my daughter, her eyes as big as melons, and she wasn’t happy. She knew this would mean she’d have to give up her allowance and who knows what else. They just sat there in silence. And the longer they sat there, the more I wondered if I had lost my mind.”

“I actually think you might have lost your mind,” I said, feeling somewhat responsible.

“Well, maybe so,” Jason said, looking away for a second with a smile. “But it’s working out. I mean things are getting pretty good, Don.”

Jason went on to explain that his wife and daughter went back to their separate rooms and neither of them talked to him. His wife was rightly upset that he hadn’t mentioned anything to her. But that night while they were lying in bed, he explained the whole story thing, about how they weren’t taking risks and weren’t helping anybody and how their daughter was losing interest.

“The next day,” he said, “Annie came to me while I was doing the dishes.” He collected his words. “Things had just been tense for the last year, Don. I haven’t told you everything. But my wife came to me and put her arms around me and leaned her face into the back of my neck and told me she was proud of me.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“I’m not,” my friend said. “Don, I hadn’t heard Annie say anything like that in years. I told her I was sorry I didn’t talk to her about it, that I just got excited. She said she forgave me but that it didn’t matter. She said we had an orphanage to build, and that we were probably going to make bigger mistakes, but we would build it.” My friend smiled as he remembered his wife’s words.

“And then Rachel came into our bedroom, maybe a few days later, and asked if we could go to Mexico. Annie and I just sort of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. So then Rachel crawled between us in the bed like she did when she was little. She said she could talk about the orphanage on her web site and maybe people could help. She could post pictures. She wanted to go to Mexico to meet the kids and take pictures for her website.”

“That’s incredible,” I said.

“You know what else, man?” Jason said. “She broke up with her boyfriend last week. She had this picture on her dresser and took it down and told me he said she was too fat. Can you believe that? What a jerk.”

“A jerk,” I agreed.

“But that’s done now,” Jason said, shaking his head. “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”

-Donald Miller


Talk to me, Monkees. Do you know what you’d like your family’s story to be?

I’m thinking about drafting one. Scary, though.

Apr 072010

The night before Sister left for Rwanda, she gave me a letter, along with a very special gift. I’m offering them to you today because Bubba always tells us: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Today you’ll get to read her letter and tomorrow I’ll send you to her blog, where you can become her partner on the great adventure that she and God, and all of us, are on together.

My hope is that you will be as encouraged and inspired by her as I am, everyday.

Here goes.


March 24, 2010

We can do hard things.

Slow and Steady.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12


I think I first gave it to you in 1999. I was in my second year at UVA, you were in your fifth year at JMU. I was worried about you, about your eating and drinking and health. But I knew that if you believed in you- believed that you were worth fighting for – you could be well. That you were strong. So strong. That you would need to be strong to struggle toward health.

I sent you a long letter and these little black boots with fire red laces. The boots, little kids’ hiking/combat boot type things, had the label “Rebel” on them and those bold, defiant laces. I loved them. And I loved the word Rebel to describe what we needed to do. To defy the powerful forces that made you feel so desperate to match the image of acceptable thinness, the same that kept me the year before, and a few years beyond, in the crazy-making cycle of bulimia. To defy the temptation to believe that you were what alcohol had made you. They were an invitation- those little Rebels – to put on our badass boots and courageously hump through our battlefield toward the peaceful clearing where we belonged. By one step. Then another.

That was the first time those laces and we met.

In 2001, you gave a boot back to me. The other had long since disappeared in the muddy trenches, but you gave one back to me in 2001 when I left for law school. You told me it would be hard, but we could do hard things. It was hard. I hated it actually. But we did it.

Close to midnight in January 2003, after I got the call that it was all happening, I carefully unlaced the sacred red string and packed it – together with every desperate prayer and joy in my heart- and drove from Charlottesville to Fairfax to deliver it to you as you delivered Chase. It was in the room that changed the world- when you were ushered into motherhood and family and the greatest challenge of your life.

You gave the lace back in 2006 as I was being ushered out of what I believed was my most important role. As I recovered- in your basement and in your care – from the divorce, the only thing I could do was take the hump – one step at a time – with faith that a clearing was ahead, even when I could not see a sign of peace anywhere in the distance. The image of those boots – the belief that what saves a person is to take one step, and then another- was the only way I managed to stumble, solemn and grateful and defiant, onto the clearing where I could breathe easy again.

Each one step. And each another. These are all life is. Every day a million courageous or grueling one steps; each crisis the will to step instead of crumble, each joy a grateful skip. This is what is required of life.

But the joy of life- the privilege of life – is these boots, these laces. It is the comfort and peace in knowing that each step we take is accounted for by each other. Knowing that the other is walking each step with you – would take that hike for you if she could – and will not let you fall. Will never let you fall except into her arms. These laces signify the privilege of knowing we walk with each other through everything, and that is because we are two united and with God three – we can do hard things.

These next many months will be no different, except in proximity. You will be with me through every step I take, every person I meet. I will be with you through every writing session and bath time, through your recovery from Lyme and your small town adventures. We will miss nothing. But that might be difficult to remember at times. So this lace, this lace will help us remember. I will wear mine everyday to remind me how blessed I am to walk this world together.

We can do hard things.

Slow and Steady.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12



These are the bracelets Sister had made out of the Red Rebel Shoelaces, which we will wear each day that she’s gone.

Cords of three strands.

Good story, huh?

Apr 082010

There we are, the Doyle Sisters, the night before Amanda left for Rwanda to help some other sisters.

Please head over here and sign up on Sister’s blog as a follower. Maybe you could even leave her a little note. Just let her know you’re thinking of her. She’s brave, but brave people get lonely, too.
Thanks, Monkees.
Love, G

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