Hello, Friends! What you see below is the entrance essay that I wrote for the School of Kingdom Writers. As a librarian with lots of book-loving friends, I thought a few of you might be interested. Also, I promised you a “part two” on my story about how I ended up changing course after 15 years in libraries. It’s coming soon. If you missed it, here is part one: Saying Goodbye Is Not Easy.
I hope you enjoy this essay – my heart is on display for all to see. And I hope that if you have been hurt by the Church or by people in the church, that you will give Jesus the opportunity to heal your heart and show you true, lasting love like I share about in my story. 💜 -Leanna
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
It would be nice to say that the book that changed my life was the Bible. While that is certainly true now, it was not the book that was the catalyst for the most drastic change in my life. That honor goes to A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. I cannot remember who suggested it, or why I read it, because at the time I had an aversion to all things even remotely related to Christian culture. In my mind, many Jesus-lovers were faking it. Most Christians were only honoring God with their lips and their social feeds, not their heart and actions.
The Church – Imperfect, Just Like Us
I grew up in the church and had seen the beautiful and the ugly from those professing to follow Jesus. My faith weathered a church split that deeply hurt our family; though, it wasn’t until I personally experienced a wound inflicted under the pretense of “love” that I became cynical. My disillusionment with church community started small. I was angry at this one situation and a few people that I knew I would have to forgive, eventually. The anger grew the longer I was out of community and continued to delay the act of forgiveness.
Suddenly, or rather over the course of five years, the wound had become septic. Its poison consumed everything: church, friendships, worship, the Bible, God, and on it went until I couldn’t even talk about faith with my own family. My life was closed off to all but one friendship. I lived solely to work, eat take-out, and binge watch Netflix. I had succeeded in numbing everything. It was bleak. It was dark. I couldn’t imagine a sadder existence.
Online Dating, Seriously?!
About that time, I remember a friend telling me that I should try online dating. Anything that would help to perk up my boring slog through each day sounded like a great idea to me. When the online dating profile asked me to share how I typically spent my free time, I was stumped. Did petting my cat, reading books, and watching TV count, I wondered? It was a quandary!
When the profile required me to list the qualities of my ideal partner, I answered honestly that he would be faith-filled, love God with his whole heart, and be involved in a church community. I sat there shocked as I realized that I was not doing any of those things. How could I expect a future spouse to be okay with my lack of attention to my relationship with Jesus? How had I let it get this bad? My soul didn’t even vaguely resemble the person I used to be, nor the person I’d hoped to become one day.
Enter the book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. How it came about, I may never remember, but I do know it was sent from God. In the book, Donald Miller finds out that recognition from his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, led a few movie producers to want to make a film of his life. Through the book, he embarks on a journey of redesigning his life to include the elements that make a story interesting and worthy of retelling. Along the way he realizes his life would make a terribly boring story.
To be engaging, a story must include risk and a protagonist who overcomes adversity. Though, how does one edit their life to create a story that would hold a moviegoer’s attention? In fact, how does one create a life worth living, period? The answer to that big question was that Donald’s life, and subsequently my own life, needed serious soul-deep attention.
While Donald added adversity and risk to his journey, such as biking across America and starting a new relationship, my challenge was to climb out of a self-inflicted pit of skepticism in order to remember my first love. Jesus.
Thinking About the Cost of Change
I knew what needed to change, but I was terrified of the associated cost. I knew that to begin a life worth living I needed to overhaul everything. It involved church shopping (shudder), vulnerability, forgiveness, anger, repentance, cutting off sin and negative behaviors, and immersing myself with a community of Believers.
The hope of discovering a community that valued authenticity was my key criterion after theological values that aligned with mine. My desire was that the members would demonstrate a willingness to embrace questions and dig deep, while fixing their eyes on pursuing Christ rather than ticking boxes for weekly church, volunteer, and small group attendance.
I ached deeply to return to God but didn’t know where to start. It would be messy from the get-go and would probably involve a lot of snot. How did I know this? About a year prior to reading the book, my new Sister-In-Law asked me why I couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about God. I cried for two hours as I tried to put into words the panic I felt at facing the emotions and experiencing the pain required for me to trust Jesus again. At the time it had been safer and easier to shut out the Spirit and turn off all my emotions.
(This is where I take a moment to praise the Lord for his forgiveness of that prodigal daughter! It is true that those who are forgiven of much, love much.)
Risk and Reward
Reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years gave me the swift kick that I needed to move forward. I knew I had to face my greatest fear if I wanted to live a life that truly mattered in the Kingdom of God. Donald’s willingness to grow and risk for the payoff of living fully, helped me to walk in the doors of a church and tell the Holy Spirit that whatever he asked me, I would do. Well, I had one stipulation. I said, “Please don’t ask me to go to a women’s group. I’ll do anything else.” Other than that, come what may, I’d say yes.
I remember sitting down in the back row of Life Vineyard Church. It was blessedly dark. All the better to hide my shame and awkwardness. It felt like there was a neon sign over my head indicating that I didn’t belong there. I had probably taken someone’s favorite seat. It wasn’t long before I discovered that the lead pastor had a character and teaching style filled with authenticity.
This small risk and act of obedience led to the Spirit asking me to come back again and again. Nearly every altar call given after the message was an invitation directly from the Spirit for me to receive healing, hope, and forgiveness.
Every Sunday, I would hand over my pride as Jesus walked me to the front of the church and lovingly deconstruct the mess I had made of my heart. He was building me back up in his image. My dialogue with him usually sounded like, “You want me to go up for prayer, again?” This was followed by buckets of tears and no small amount of tissues.
He asked for a lot of yeses in those first six months. And that was my answer to him over and over. It led me to a place of intimacy with Jesus I had never known or encountered in my life.
Living in Full Color
God used A Million Miles in a Thousand Years to woo me back to himself, which was the only place I ever wanted to be. With him, I am fully accepted, loved, and forgiven. Now, I have a life worth talking about. Pursuing Jesus is the only story plot I will ever need. Mission accomplished, Donald.
Along the way, God not only asked me to go to a women’s group, but he proceeded to bless me with true friendship on a level I never knew existed, let alone experienced. When that group dissolved, guess who God called to lead the next one? That’s right. Wounded, healed, and restored; Me. God redeemed my broken places with his touch. How could I not be devoted to such a wonderful Father?
Today, the Bible is one of the biggest agents of change in my life. However, I will forever be grateful to God for using Donald Miller’s words to help a sad tertiary character step into the role of protagonist in Jesus’s everlasting story.
These gals (and others not pictured) have helped teach me about true friendship! ❤️
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