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Meeting Donald Miller

Dear Jesus,

Yesterday I read this book called Blue Like Jazz. The guy who wrote it talked a lot about You, and what You did, and what You want us to do. He talked about how love should be, and the whole concept of “love everybody”.

Now I’m all confused.

Where are You in all this? What are you trying to say to me? God, what do you think of Blue Like Jazz?

– from my journal, March 2006

It’s been a few years now since the first time I held that blue book with the yellow-tinted pages in my hands. A few years since the day I opened the cover and swallowed it whole, all at once. I was almost twenty years old then; all I knew about Blue Like Jazz was that it was a book about Jesus written by a Christian who smokes.

I was mired in a miserable religion, but my heart was aching to break free.

Looking back, it was probably a turning point. The first step on a long, long road away from religious bondage, toward Jesus.

I read Blue Like Jazz twice that year, wrote about it on Xanga, filled pages of my journals with quotes. Then I read Searching for God Knows What and Through Painted Deserts.

That inspired a road trip up the West Coast to the green lumpy places and the fabled coffee shops of Portland. I was gratuitously plagiarizing Donald Miller’s search for God; God was kind enough to meet me on the West Coast despite my lack of originality.

Donald Miller was the first one who taught me that it was ok to doubt, it was ok to question, it was was ok to be frustrated, it was ok to want more. And as I’ve returned to his words again and again in the past seven years, his voice has shaped mine more than any other.

I always imagined hanging out in a coffee shop with him somewhere, passing the hours with robust conversation about faith and writing and adventure and green lumpy places. We would be instant friends. Occasionally I tried getting in touch with him, with no luck.

This summer I finally saw Donald Miller. He was speaking at a conference in a big Texas church; I sat in the front row and filled up pages of notes.

After the session, I stood in line to get his autograph on a scrap of paper.

For just a moment, my voice wobbled as I told him how much his words meant to me seven years ago, about the road trip to Oregon he inspired, about how much I saw myself in his stories. He smiled and thanked me graciously.

It’s a conversation I’m sure he’s had a thousand times.

I don’t imagine that we’ll ever be best friends. I’m just a face in a line at a conference. He’s a writer who wrote some words that I devoured the winter I was nineteen. But I’m grateful.

I’m grateful for his story. I’m grateful that his words were there when I needed them.

Thank you, Don.

published October 29, 2013

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