January 22, Hope, Nancy and I went to hear Donald Miller for the first time. We know him well, as well as you can know someone from the books he’s written, and the posts and the tweets. But we hadn’t heard him. Nancy and I drove the two hours to Mishawaka, Indiana, picked up Hope and drove the two hours on to Wheaton. Afterward, we dropped Hope hack at school and came home. It was a long Sunday.
Nancy talked about the presentation itself quite well. Hope talked about it in the context of her day and life. So what did I learn? Most of it I won’t list. You’ll hear it over the next decades. But I wanted to tell you a few things I learned, mostly about speaking.
1. I confess. I’m a Don Miller fan. (But he helped me write my dad’s eulogy). Before the event, I went for an autograph. There was an informal line. And when the people in front of us moved down the aisle, Don walked up, put out his hand, and said, “Hi. My name is Don.”
Lesson: Don’t hide, preparing for a performance. Walk around, preparing for a conversation.
2. Jerry Root hosted the evening. After Jerry introduced Don to us, he introduced the college audience to Don. “This is the community where I live. These are the people that I love.” I quit taking notes then, overwhelmed by the idea of being rooted in community, of building a bridge that way.
Lesson: An audience is a family. Or can be. If you love them. When you are introducing, make the speaker pay attention to the people.
3. Don started with stories we already knew, Nancy and I, from A Million Miles. We were afraid that we’d come all this way for reruns. But the laughter said that many people hadn’t heard them Or loved to hear them again.
Lesson: Repeating stories is important. It orients the curious. It reaffirms the faithful.
4. I probably never sat in Row E, Seat 2 before Sunday night. I did spend 30 minutes many weekday mornings for three years sitting in seats close to that seat. Unless I was late.
I’m a Wheaton grad (80). We had required chapel and we met in that room. On the drive home, it was easy to think, “Have I done anything of value in the last thirty years? Have I told the story that I could have told?” And then I laughed at the danger of the question.
In Row E, Seat 3 sat Nancy. We’ve been married for nearly 29 years. Three children, one buried. Job gains and loses, career changes, moves. Shared bed and board and many months of accumulated conversation. We have changed each other.
In Row E, Seat 1 sat Hope. I held her first almost 21 years ago, noticed her months before that. She has challenged us, blessed us, taught us how to be parents of a daughter.
And so, driving through the night to take my favorite two women home, I smiled, grateful for the story I’m in the middle of.
Lesson: when looking for new stories, don’t forget the one you are in the middle of. It may be the most important one you could find.
My review of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.