Thursday, November 4, 2010

Positive and Negative Turns

“Man fully alive is the glory of God” Irenaeus

This past September I attended the Storyline Conference with Donald Miller in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. The entire trip was inspirational and nostalgic. Don was great. I sat in the second row of the conference’s theater and just smiled for two days straight like some star-struck teen in front of the Jonas Brothers. (Christian fame is funny isn’t it? It was kind of like the time I saw Rob Bell and I was like “Oh my gosh, there’s Rob Bell!” Oh wait… he is just an ordinary guy with some cool glasses.) For the past two months, I’ve been going back over my notes from the conference and putting into practice some of the things we learned. One of the most effective exercises, for me, was to map out my life thus far on a storyline. On a sheet of paper, I traced my life (as best as I could remember it) and made a timeline of all the positive and negative events that have transpired in my 25 years of life. It was eye opening.

Using the form of a narrative, Don says that every story (and every life) has both positive and negative “turns.” A story “turn” is a point in the story where you walk through a doorway and can never return. This is the moment where Frodo accepts his duty to destroy the ring. Or, as a personal favorite, the decision of Bill and Ted to do whatever it takes to complete their history report. By the time someone is in their 30’s they’ve had an average of 20 of these “turns” in their life. This could be a new relationship, the completion of a degree, a new job, or the loss of a loved one.

Don suggested we map out these “turns” in the life of Joseph in the OT and then our personal lives. Joseph’s life is a great example of positive and negative turns and since I’ve started viewing his life as a narrative, I’ve come to appreciate it more. Joseph’s tale begins with a dream and then what follows are many positive and negative events that could derail him from that dream. For example, Joseph has a dream that one day he will rule (positive); he tells his brothers of this dream and they get jealous (negative); he is sold into slavery (negative); becomes a slave at a wealthy man’s house (positive); is harassed by this man’s wife (negative); ends up in prison (negative); meets a cupbearer who hears of his gift of interpreting dreams (positive); the cupbearer forgets about him (negative); Joseph eventually fulfills his dream (positive). The goal of Joseph’s dream of ruling is summed up in Genesis 50: “what you intended for harm, God intended it for save many lives.” That was the point of Joseph’s story. God wanted to use Joseph’s life to save many lives.

As I’ve looked back over my life, it was incredible to map out the positive and negative aspects that are apart of my story. Interestingly, it was both the positive and negative turns that have brought me to where I am today. It’s odd to look at your life on a piece of paper and see every detail fitting perfectly together. You have a number of those “aha” epiphany moments where you say, “That makes sense.” I’ve completed the exercise about three times now, adding more detail each new time I’ve tried it. And my response has been the same as I’m able to look down upon the storyline of my life: gratitude. I can’t help but be thankful for where I am today. Every event and experience has taught me something. I can celebrate the good and the bad times, even rejoice at the places where I’ve suffered because without them, I don’t know where I’d be.

In her book, Managing Stress, Kath Donovan said: “In the order of God, pain is one of the best facilitators of the process of transformation.” How true is that statement. Joseph’s story would be incomplete without the negative turns. He would have never reached his dream if he didn’t have conflict and suffering along the way. Furthermore, a story with only positive turns would not be a very interesting story. And as Don has said numerous times, “if something won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”

Since the conference, I’m beginning to own my story. It’s my story and no one else’s. I’m thankful for the places I’ve been and the places I’m going. Who knows what the future holds. And who cares. It will fit perfectly into my storyline.


  1. i remember rooming with you and putting a big ol' post-it note on the wall and us mapping out your plans for the future on a long time-line. it's truly eye opening when you look at your life in a snap-shot like that, where you went and where you're going. since our talk a few weeks ago, i started trying to map mine out. it's tough! but it'll pay off as it has for you, right? thanks man.

  2. I will admit that Rob Bell isn't as cool as Don, but Rob Bell is pretty cool. And he waved back it me when I saw him! booyah.