“Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.”
This post has been brewing in my mind for almost a month…mainly because of how long the trial lasted and reading a book twice…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
June 28 I had Jury Duty. I love Jury Duty. I love the people-watching, I love the civic duty, I love getting a little dose of Grisham and watching the lawyers, trying to figure out the psychology of their questions, etc.
Either way I was in the assembly room with about 500 other Harris County residents and my new book. My friend Tamara (who is currently in Croatia and is about to start a job in San Francisco – something with Google and global strategy…she lives good stories…I’ll also get to that later) recommended Donald Miller’s latest book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” I ordered it, and had it in my bag ready to read that day.
Starting this book while waiting was an interesting social experiment. The premise of the book is your life as a character in a story. What makes a good story? What makes a compelling movie? How can you live your life in a way to deliberately live out a good story?
I was reading for awhile…pausing to look up at all the people around me. What were their stories? What life did they put on hold today to come to the Jury Assembly Room? My overactive imagination even began writing stories for them. They called my number, and I got a hunch I might be considered (randomly of course) for a big case. We had to fill out a paper survey before we even went to the courthouse. I looked up the story on my phone and almost cried while reading it. I surrendered that day to the Lord – “If you want me on that jury, I am Yours, but God, this would be an emotional gauntlet I might not be ready for.” Turns out, it was a big case. It had already garnered some media coverage, and we were in the “ceremonial courtroom” (the one used for high profile cases, TV etc.) About 200 of us made our way over to the courtroom in the criminal justice building. If you notice the folks hanging around the outside of the criminal justice building, you can tell their stories aren’t going so well. They might be there to support a loved one. They might be there to testify against someone who hurt a loved one.
Long story short (this is already going to be a very long post) we spent all day in that room. This mother was being accused of intentionally, knowingly or recklessly putting her 4-year-old in harm’s way (her sleazy boyfriend) which eventually led to the death of her sweet little girl. I was juror number 9. Front row. I was pretty sure my ever-growing baby bump struck me from the defense’s list immediately, but there I sat…listening to the questions, responding to the questions. Hypothetical scenarios, legalese, outbursts of emotion…some of the other potential jurors’ stories had a chapter on abuse, decades ago, but they felt unfit to serve on this jury. With every break we took, reporters were trying to weasel in, and the bailiff made them leave each time. They didn’t let us go until after six.
I grew attached to this story. Some of the jurors selected were acquaintances of the day, seated around me. I was impressed with the DA, not so impressed with the defense. I wanted to know what would happen to this mother. I followed it in the paper, and she was convicted, on the “reckless” charge, which was less, but her sentence was 20 years in prison. I had come close to this terrible story. I wonder if she sat in that courtroom wondering how her life led here – to the divorces, to the shady men she was involved with, to two daughters being taken from her and one being killed.
Needless to say – it was a heavy day. The Donald Miller book was so good I read it twice. I’ve never done that before. Below are some of my favorite quotes and comments. I encourage you to read them and to get the book itself…then challenge yourself to write a better story for yourself and not shy away from adversity so much.
“You get a feeling when you look back on life that that’s all God really wants from us, to live inside a body he made and enjoy the story and bond with us through the experience.”
“In a pure story,’ he said like a professor, ‘there is purpose in every scene, in every line of dialogue. A movie is going somewhere.”
“But nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That’s what makes a story good. If you think about the stories you like most, they probably have lots of conflict…these polar charges, these happy and sad things in life, are like colors God uses to draw the world.”
“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. ‘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.’”
“We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got her. When you are born, you wake slowly to everything. Your brain doesn’t stop growing until you turn twenty-six, so from birth to twenty-six, God is slowly turning the lights on, and you’re groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and health care. The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering. What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.”
“If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you. I’ve wondered though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”
“He also said that every creative person, and I think probably every other person, faces resistance when trying to create something good…The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be.”
“I began to realize the stuff I spent money on indicated the stories I was living.”
“You become like the people you interact with. And if your friends are living boring stories, you probably will too.”
“I realized how much of our lives are spent trying to avoid conflict. Half of the commercials on television are selling us something that will make life easier. Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.”
“We believe we will be made whole by our accomplishments, our possessions, or our social status. It’s written in the fabric of our DNA that life used to be beautiful and now it isn’t, and if only this and if only that, it would be beautiful again.”
“in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, “Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.”
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