Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I am a huge fan of Don Miller's book Blue Like Jazz. I'm not really sure why, exactly, other than it tells a very interesting story about Miller's life and struggles that I could, in some ways, identify with. As much as I liked it, I never got around to pick up a copy of any of his other books.

Until I got a chance to get his newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Why was this one different? I wasn't really sure until I opened it up and started reading it. I literally had a hard time putting it down.

In this book, Miller gets to "edit his life" when two filmmakers approach him about making a movie around the story in "Blue Like Jazz." In this process, Miller learns a little about screenwriting, something about stories, and a lot about what life is and can be. Through the process of developing "movie Don", Miller tells us what he learned about character arcs, saving the cat, plot structure, struggle, and obstacles. Most importantly, he tells us about how story plays such a major role in the lives we have and choose to lead.

But "Million Miles" isn't a screenwriting, or any kind of writing, handbook. It is a story about Miller's life and, through the universal themes God has written on our hearts, a story about our own lives. That is the real appeal of the book overall; it is as much about the reader s it is about Miller. Sure the book has the details of Miller's story, but it could just as easily be the details of my story. The key is in the story structure. This came clear to me when Miller talks about how Jason saved his family.

Miller's friend Jason is having problems with his teenage daughter. She is dating the guy that no Dad likes, being generally rebellious, and may be experimenting with drugs. Jason and his wife have tried grounding her and strong arm discipline only to make the matters worse. Miller suggest something that gets Jason's attention - "I said his daughter was living a terrible story." Jason wants to know more.
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 a story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it... "[S]he's just 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.

A couple of 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 his family was living a better story.

The author goes on to tell how Jason decided that his family was going to tackle the cause of orphans around the world. He told his wife and daughter that their family was going to raise the $25,000 needed to build an orphanage. It would be hard because they had a second mortgage and no extra money. But the struggle against this obstacle brought out the character in the members of Jason's family. His daughter was part of a better story. She wanted something and overcame obstacle to get it. Jason's daughter broke up with the boyfriend. As Jason says, "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."

And that turned on a light for me. Jason decided that his family needed a better story. So he was intentional in giving them one. He didn't re-write the story that had gone before and he didn't try to overthrow the ultimate authorship of God. What he did was step into the role of Father and Husband as it was originally written. And when Jason did that, he helped his daughter move into the role written for her - confident, strong, loved.

It is this kind of "everyday profound" that keeps you pulled into this book. Miller's stories about the people in his life and his stories about his struggle to get into a better story himself can make you ponder your own story. It can cause you to think about the role you are playing and the obstacles that are there (or why they don't seem to be there).

And even if you don't get into the self-reflective aspect here, you will likely enjoy the tales of Miller and the people he knows.

It turns out, Don Miller can tell a story...

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a 2 free copies of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weigh In #2

It's Friday again and that means it's time for the weekly 80-60-40 weigh in. Before I jump into that, I'd like to note a couple of things:

1) As a part of the ThisMustChange.org team, I am trying to raise awareness and money for Love146.org as they work to end human trafficking and care for those victimized by it. I am pledging a donation of at least $1 per pound I lose. I'm also asking you, dear reader, to support someone. You can pledge/donate money to Love146.org or you can give to your cause of choice. I just ask that you please DO SOMETHING. Whatever it is that you do, please let me know so I can add you to my prayers.

2) I have added a couple of things to the sidebar over on the left. One thing is a "Donate" button that takes you straight to the Love146.org online donation site. Please use it. I have also add a counter to let you know how much the community here has pledged. I can only keep it up to date if you let me know you are pledging or donating. And, No, you don't have to be losing weight yourself to participate...

Ok, now on to this week's moment of truth...

I stepped on the scales this morning and was met with the number 310.1! That's 2lbs for the week. I initially had some mixed feelings stepping off the scale. I knew that the big numbers from last week (9lbs in 9 days) wasn't something to expect each week, but a part of me had already done the calculations that included numbers like that. I had moments thinking I would be through the 80lbs by New Years! A sweet delusions....

I've brought myself back to the reality that I knew would mark most weeks: 1 - 2 pounds lost per week as long as I stick with it. And I'm happy with that.


Because I'm trying to keep my destination in mind. I try to see what life will be like on my birthday next October when I can look back and see that I did it. Each day, I'm deciding that I'm going to be that Steve on his 40th birthday...

And with the support of God, my wife, and a strong community of friends, I'm going to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Other Things Must Change

As you may know by now, I have decided that there are some things that must change in my life. One thing specifically is my overall health and that means I need to lose weight. Not just the "Freshman 15" I picked up 20 years ago, but the other 100+ that joined those guys since then...

But I realized that it can't just be about me. Through a friend and other folks out there, God has put it on my heart to try to make a difference beyond my own reach as well. So I'm jumping on the wagon with ThisMustChange.org. The basic plan is that I will donate $1.00 per pound I lose to one of the great causes they are sponsoring.

And here is where you come in: all of these causes can use more support. And so can many other causes. So let's band together to help them out. I want YOU to sponsor me in this effort. It can be $1.00 per pound like I'm going to do. It can be any amount you want. It can even be as simple as donating 2lbs of food to the local food pantry for every 6lbs I lose. Be creative, but please help.

I'll be donating for the entire period of 80-60-40 (until the end of Oct 2010). You can add your support for some or all of the weeks. You decide.

If you want to help out, please leave a comment on any of the 80-60-40 posts on my blog. Or you can leave me a message on Facebook. Or you can find me on Twitter. Or even email me (see top of left sidebar).

I've chosen to support Love146.org in their efforts to stop slavery and human trafficking. Here's some info on their organization:

Slavery is a prison of injustice.

And it’s alive and well in our time.

These statistics are startling and heartbreaking:

  • 27 million people enslaved around the world
  • World’s 2nd largest criminal venture (32 BILLION dollars)
  • Estimates say 2 children sold every minute into human trafficking and sex slavery.

The vision of LOVE146.org is the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation. Nothing less.

That’s a fight worth fighting!

To work to that end, they provide aftercare for the children who have been trapped in this horrific industry as well as prevention programs to bring awareness to the issue.

So please, help join the fight and support more than just me in this effort.

Photo credit to PorcelainB

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weigh In #1

Well, it's Friday and that means time for weigh in #1 for 80-60-40. What's 80-60-40? In short, it's my quest to lose at least 80 pounds during the 60 weeks before I turn 40 years old. You can read more about it over at this page.

Over the past week, I've grown very fond of the Daily Plate with it's database of food items and record of my eating. Just making a daily habit of entering everything that I eat or drink and seeing the nutritional values add up has made me very aware of what I'm eating each day. I would say that, previously, I was neither intentional about nor conscious of my daily choices in this area. Now I'm planning ahead for the day, in some cases, so that I am not caught in a situation where I am stuck with bad food choices. Being aware of what i've already eaten in a day and what the totals are so far for calories, fat, carbs, etc also allows me to make better choices at the end of the day. That period from dinner to bed time has traditionally been the hardest time for me.

LiveStrong.com also has the ability to help determine your daily caloric levels needed to get you to your goal. Using an estimate of your body mass index (BMI) based on height and weight, you age, level of daily physical activity, and weight loss/gain goal, you can get a daily calorie amount. This amount is your target for caloric intake each day such that you should be on track. I listed my goal as "Lose 1.5lbs per week" and my physical activity as "Light Activity (Seated or standing, e.g. computer use)". To my surprise, the calculation for me came out to be around 2500 calories per day. Kinda high, I thought.

Over the past week, I pretty much didn't really come close to the 2500 calorie mark. My daily total calories usually came in between 1800 and 2000. I noticed that my real struggle this week was with sodium. While I was consistently under the daily allowance for calories, fat, cholesterol, and carbs, I was over on sodium just about every day. Sometimes over by as much as 50%.

On the exercise front, I walked about 5 miles total, in 1 mile increments over the week. Most of that was done during my lunch break where I can make the 0.5 mile walk to Whole Foods to pick up lunch and then the 0.5 mile walk back. Total trip time was about 25 minutes (including in-store time) which means a decent walking clip of about 3 miles per hour.

Ok, ok. Enough waiting. What did the trust bathroom scale say this morning? I stepped up on it and looked down to see... 312.2! That's 9 pounds in the last 8 days. I'm extremely happy and I'm also pragmatic. I don't expect this to be the norm by any means. I expect that my body will start to adapt to the lower calorie amounts and become more efficient (i.e., use less calories each day). This tells me that I will probably lose less each week and need to increase my physical activity along with the diet change.

For the moment, I'm going to enjoy the progress. And I'm going to thank God for being my rock during this week. It has been very hard. I have found that there have been times where I felt like I was going to make the wrong decisions about food choices. I felt almost helpless to not make those decisions. During those times, and many others, I tried to let go over my anxieties and focus on God. Sometimes it was focused prayer and sometimes it was more meditative. But I always felt like I was stronger following these times. I also know that I have many people praying for me now. That has got to be a good thing.

So, on to week #2. Come back next Friday and see how it's going...

Photo credit to SheCat.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Numbers of Hope: 80-60-40

No, this isn't a book review of Max Lucado's popular book about numbers. Actually, it's not even a book review - Gasp!

This little post between book reviews is dealing with something else. Here's the breakdown:

For a lot of my adult and teen life, I have battled a weight problem. Standing just shy of 6 feet tall (I like to say that I'm 5' 12") I have been anywhere between 195lbs and 321lbs since I was old enough to drive. It wasn't a steady increase over the years either. There was plenty of yo-yo and roller coaster in my weight and fitness level in there.

But the reality of it is that the trend has been increasing year over year. And I have arrived at what I hope is the top number now: 321 pounds (146kg for those outside the US). It has to be the top end. If I go higher, I'm in trouble. Actually, I'm in trouble now. I have some family history of diabetes, my dad had a heart attack back in June, and I have a wife and 4 children that I'm not ready to let go of yet. As my friend Fred told me on Labor Day, "I want to start thinking about [my son's] children." And I feel God giving me increasingly less subtle nudges/shoves to take care of myself. I've learned that I should listen to what He has to say...

So, let's talk the hopeful numbers. In about 60 weeks, I will turn 40 years old. My goal is to lose at least 80lbs in those 60 weeks. So, 80lbs in the 60 weeks before I turn 40. 80-60-40. That works out to 1.33lbs per week on the average. It doesn't sound like much that way but here's a case where I really believe slow and steady wins the race.

My plan is pretty simple: Pray, eat reasonably, add exercise at least 3 days a week, and keep a food journal. I've started using the "My Plate" feature of the free LiveStrong.com site for tracking my daily meals. Just in two days of using it, I've been making different choices because I can see what I've already had and how I'm doing against my goal for the day. LiveStrong also has a way to search for different food items and make suggestions for healthier alternatives (based on calories, fat, carbs, etc).

Whew. Glad to have that out there. Now, why am I putting this out on the interwebs? Is it so I can boast next year? Is it some sort of demented pity/ego dysfunction mashup I am afflicted with? Is it just for attention? Maybe some or all of those reasons plays into it. But my stated reason is to have some accountability. Not necessarily from the 3 people a week who might stop by the blog, but at least from myself. By writing and recording it, I make it real. It's kind of a motivator for me. Maybe this is my "inciting incident". (I know what that is now thanks to Don Miller. But that's a post later this month....)

I'm considering joining the folks at ThisMustChange.org to try and raise money for the great causes they are helping. I probably will but I want to make sure I have my intentions right.

I will be posting progress reports. I'm shooting for at least weekly and we'll see how that goes.

I really will appreciate any prayers and support that you can give. This is a battle for me daily. I've lost weight before but never this much and never for a long time. If you think about it, add me to your list.

Well there it is. My numbers of hope: 80-60-40... Drop me a comment on here, or email me (seekingafter@scbubba.otherinbox.com), or find me on twitter @scbubba.

Credit for photo to pzado.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Fearless

"Imagine your life without fear." That's the tag line from the latest book by author and pastor Max Lucado. In Fearless, Lucado draws you in with that invitation and delivers a very thoughtful book and doing just that.

In 15 chapters, the author discusses fearful subjects from "Fear of Not Mattering" (in a very Dr Seussical manner) to "Fear of Overwhelming Challenges." He covers fears like Violence, Worst Case Scenarios, and Not Protecting My Kids. Lucado also covers some spiritual fears such as Disappointing God, What Comes After This Life, What if God is Not Real.

In each chapter, Lucado draws on Scripture as well as his own life experiences to unpack the fears and to show how God has provided for us. The author, being the good pastor that he is, brings Biblical truth from everyday situations and people and complements it with verses and stories from the Bible. In discussing "Fear of Worst Case Scenarios", the author ties in an illustration of two young girls jumping into the pool to their Dad with Jesus in the garden at Gesthemane and on the cross at Golgotha with words from Yann Martel's bestselling book "Life of Pi."
[The] sister jumps. Not with foolish abandon, but with belief in the goodness of a father's heart and trust in a father's arms. Such was the choice of Jesus. He did more than speak about fear. He faced it.
The decisive acts of the gospel drama are played out on two stages - Gesthemane's garden and Golgatha's cross. Friday's cross witnessed the severest suffering. Thursday's garden staged the profoundest fear.

Lucado goes on to point out that in Mark's gospel, he used the word for horror meaning "used of a man who is rendered helpless, disoriented, who is agitated and anguished by the threat of some approaching event." That is to say, Jesus knew fear and faced it down as we all should - by giving ourselves over to God's will "with belief in the goodness of a father's heart and trust in a father's arms."

We should go to our Heavenly Father in prayer, as Jesus did, and turn over the fears to Him. Here Lucado borrow's from Martel's character Pi in saying that we should address our fears specifically when praying. As Pi fights his fears he realizes that he can "shine the light of words upon" his fears and remove much of the power it has over him. Doing this in prayer stands the fears in front of God where they lose all power.

All in all, I think this book is a good read. The author digs into some pretty heady areas of life and doesn't back down. What I come away with, however, is that it takes more than a book like this to really help people with their fears. Where this book helped me the most was in pointing out that my fears grow and strengthen when they are left alone. When no one else knows about them. The advice to take my fears to God is good advice but it can seem very hollow coming from a book written by someone I don't know.

Only when I take this advice and bring it into my community of faith along with bringing the fears to God, does it become very real to me. By sharing my fears, and my faith, with others and by seeing how God has worked in their lives, I can get my feet planted on the solid rock of God again. And I can even start helping others with their fears from that position as well.

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.