Quitting The Cover: A Self-Portrait.

Note: This piece originated as an entry to a contest Donald Miller is holding for his Living A Better Story Seminar in Portland this fall. As the ink began to flow, I quickly realized that this was far more than a contest piece. It was a grueling - and at times quite painful - storyboard of the most honest self-portrait I've ever displayed. It's long. It's raw. It's me.

"Our very lives are fashioned by choice...First we make choices, then our choices make us." - Andy Andrews

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Many hours have been spent trying to write this piece – unsuccessfully – and I just couldn’t gather why…

Until now.

The simplified explanation is because I tend to be an arrogant & manipulating, wanna-be-superhuman ass. The process that lead me there, well, you can find that below.

I’ve got this reputation I used to have this reputation – one of ‘having all the answers.’ I was the father figure to friends, the go-to guy in my family when my parents split after 32 years of marriage, and let's not forget to mention the credibility I built from spending a lot of time at church and being voted ‘Best All-Around’ by my senior class.

So I took it. They asked, I answered. They didn’t ask, yet I thoughtfully spoke up. They asked me not to give my opinion, and I convinced them why I should. It was glorious.

Then, 4 years ago I moved to a new city, outside the only bubble I’d really ever known. I met a girl, dropped out of school, and started experiencing life in a whole new way.

Don’t worry, that’s where the cliché ends.

That girl and I? Well, I now call her my bride and the mother to our daughter.

She could also be described however as the girl who I couldn’t manipulate. The girl who called out my B.S. The girl I fought (loudly) with on the streets of New York City two days after our wedding…on our honeymoon. The girl who feels trapped because marriage has felt more like prison than it has freedom.

I can’t take all the blame, but I will take a good chunk of it.

I was the first boy she dated that ‘grew up in the church.’ She wanted that, badly, and I figured out a way to deliver. The problem was that the church I grew up in wasn’t authentic; it was a commodity to the suburban lifestyle. It taught façade, not facts. It taught legalism, not life. But it taught, and I learned. The system was in place.

So how did that affect our lives so significantly? Expectations, attachments, superficiality, lack of trust, backdoors, terrible leadership, and an ultimate feeling of imprisonment.

So here I was, dumbfounded as to why I couldn’t write this piece.

Then the sun rose.

This season of my life has been about shutting up. It’s been about learning not to attempt and manipulate a situation so that I can get the most out of it. It’s been about learning to strip it all away and just be raw. It’s cold, it’s naked, it’s wildly uncomfortable and it feels like hell...

...or perhaps another way to describe it would be along the lines of learning a few life lessons in courage + humility.

My many first unsuccessful attempts at this piece were forgeries full of eloquent rhetoric trying to win a free trip. I suppose my soul wouldn’t allow me to finish until I accepted the fact that manipulating words for a free trip isn’t living a better story. It’s a business maneuver, it’s my same ol’ routine, and it’s a lie.

Something had to give. I had to push past the flesh of keeping it pretty on the outside, and commit to going regardless of the outcome. I couldn’t just ‘hope to get a free ride’ and expect my life to change. Granted, a seminar won’t change my life, but I believe a willingness to sacrifice and community will.

Now, as I press on towards this path to freedom and life, I’d love to share a little bit of the journey I long plan to take.

I want to re-marry my wife, but not in a ceremonial way (well, if doves flew, I’d be ok with that). I just want us to embody life. In that role I want to be a leader. I want to serve and love my bride wilder than ever. Continuously chasing after her wild heart...with courage & vulnerability. Fight for her, woo her...hold her when she’s lonely and stand up when she can’t. I want to be on the front row as the feeling of imprisonment slips away and enjoy her finding freedom in her own story, watching from a distance...but never too far to miss out on the unfolding beauty.

I want to be a tender and loving, humble father who adores his little girl. I want to teach her about self-worth and living life to the fullest: laughing often, taking chances, and serving others. I want to show her how we love often, and love recklessly.

As a family I want to enjoy the majesty of God’s creation together. I long for us to invest and learn from other cultures and to never allow others expectations of ‘how life is supposed to be lived’ to get in the way.

As a unique individual, I want to look in the mirror and see someone who has taken the time to dig deep within, examine God’s masterful artistry to the best of my human brain’s ability, and put it to work in a way that is edifying, joy breathing, life giving + glorifying to him.

My aim? Full-time creative. My main trade will be photography, but there’s so much more. I want to invest the majority of my life believing in people and seeing them succeed. Whether this relates to photography, or creative vision, or an authentic conversation over a beverage or two, that’s how I want to do it. I have much to learn, but where I excel and find ignited passion is in the opportunity to capture and share a story.

Think about this. There’s a reason people love Rolling Stone magazine. Have a look and you’ll notice that the stories never stem from an hour-long interview with the same Q & A session rattled off by a disinterested journalist. Rather, a music fiend who is also wildly talented in story telling and capturing the details of life goes and spends some time with whoever the subject may be. They eat together, drink together, and it’s typically inevitable that they will cause some ruckus together. Ultimately, what’s happening during that time is relationships are being forged, walls are cracking down a bit, and authenticity is bleeding forth. Come time to check your mailbox, it’s the best damn story you’ve ever read on given subject.

I want to do that, but visually.

And I want to make a living that way.

I want to hear the story about the humble and out-of-the-ordinary beginnings, I want to hear the vision for the grandest plans, and I want to capture the passion that accompanies it from beginning to end. By the time they show up for ‘the shoot’ I want to have a built a relationship, been a part of the process, seen and know the passion behind it all. Then, I will have the confidence of my now friends to capture them and their dreams in the best light imaginable.

This can and will take on many forms, many of which are most likely beyond my current scope of imagination, but I do know where I want it to carry me…

I want to put food on the table for my wife and daughter, our friends, our families, strangers alike, and I want to do it intentionally.

I want to use the gifts within that I can’t hold down, and from that platform I want to help encourage and enable others to embrace their gifts and talents, and watch them soar.

I don’t want to live a life separated by God, family, philanthropy, job, social time and rest. I want it all to ebb + flow. Rather, I would prefer to break it down like this:


My mind spins a million miles an hour on a regular basis trying to figure out exactly how it is that I’m going to continue this semi-successful trek along eggshell trail, checking off the legalistic and manipulating list. In the process I’ve forgotten to dream, forgotten to live, forgotten to love.

I’m tired of busting my fleshly ass to try and create this attractive and enticing picture. I’m tired of making book covers. It’s time to write the story.

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To find out more about Don's seminar this fall, have a look at the video below, and then hop over to www.donmilleris.com/conference to discover all the details you may need.

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

Hope to see you in Portland. Cheers - JF