True Purpose

“I think you are all going to be blown away by what I have written,” he said.

This was such a bold statement from someone who was about to share an excerpt from his manuscript with a roomful of strangers. Most of us were cautious about letting anyone hear what we had written for fear of ridicule. Not this guy. He was all out there, ready to wow us.

The person in charge told him to go ahead. The next few minutes, which seemed like hours, became one long stream of consciousness with not many stops along the way, such as pauses where punctuation had been added. A good edit job would not have helped because the content was so confusing.

Details of a hitman, a machine gun, and the typical violin case housing a weapon were all there. As he read, I tried to visualize what he said, and just as I had an image form, it was quickly erased like on an Etch A Sketch that was violently shaken.

There was a lot of blood, maiming, and murder. Just dangling pieces of information that made absolutely no sense, and I wasn’t the only one not getting it. He would read the names of characters who would appear and exit quickly just because they could, for no reason at all, without any depth.

I looked at the other faces around me, and they all were frowning deeply. We all wanted to like it, we all were trying to find a shred of something to cling to, but right as it would get to a place where I thought it was taking a turn for the better, he would plunge us back into a dark area of nothingness. Random pieces of scenes and fragmented sentences with no substance kept on coming.

My mind couldn’t take it anymore as it searched for understanding. Instead of a sample reading, it felt like I was undergoing a form of brainwashing where I was supposed to make sense of what he was presenting and accept it. He had set the stage by saying this was right up there in excellence, like Moses reading the Ten Commandments. What was I not getting?

When he uttered his last sentence, he said smiling brightly,

“Isn’t it great?”

I looked to the ceiling to avoid eye contact as he was seated across from me. I was trying to give the impression that I was in deep thought. When really, I was trying to recover from the mental assault we had all just experienced.

The silence in the room was like none I had encountered before. There was throat clearing and hard swallows as we all tried to come up with a response. This was why we were here. Getting hit by a truck was all I could imagine.

We met weekly in a classroom at a church as fellow writers to discuss what we were working on. And the goal was to get feedback on how to improve and where we were hitting the mark perfectly.

He was expecting us to comment, and no one could think of anything to say. I could tell that the man running the group was calculating some thought, as was I. The only thing that came out of my mouth was,

“After hearing it out loud, how do you think you did?”

It was a clever trick I had seen Randy Jackson use as a judge on American Idol. When a singer was at their worst, he would turn it around and have them explain their view rather than give his opinion. It was a way to discuss without causing any harm.

And none of us wanted to make him feel bad. He thought what he had put down on paper would be the next New York Times bestseller.

“I think I could clean it up in a few places,” he said.

“Like where?” I asked.

“I could take out a few of the killing scenes because that got to be a bit much.”

I was out. Someone else, though, picked up on that and began to explain how to improve. Another attendee pointed out another aspect where he could rearrange some things for better meaning. Instead of taking in the ideas gratefully, he got angry, hastily put away his manuscript, and said,

“You don’t get it.” That was the first thing he said all evening I understood.

We were the problem, not him.

As I went to more of these sessions, I noticed that the best writers had extreme difficulty exposing what was on their pages. That is how I felt. Like I was letting reckless people look after my children. I recall one woman reading the most enchanting children’s story with a timid voice.

“I don’t think it’s my best,” she stated at the end.

“Why?” I asked. It was so well done.

“It sounds boring.”

“How many times have you read it?”

“Too many.”

“That’s why. Put it aside and then come back to it. It will be brand new to you then.”

“I feel like something is missing, though.”

“While you were reading it, I kept seeing it as a pop-up book where each page is three-dimensional versus flat.”

“Oh! I like that idea! I already have an interested publisher. I just felt like I needed it to stand out in the crowd from other material like this, and that would help.”

On another occasion, a woman gave us a glimpse into her recent work. Without much fanfare, she led us into a world of a man who had committed a crime and was on a prison bus, pondering his existence. It was easy to get caught up in the storyline, and her words were vivid. You could feel the anxiety of this character coming right through, along with his deep regret.

We all were awestruck at her talent. She was very unassuming looking with her hair half combed, a dirty, stained tee-shirt, and stretchy pants that had seen too many days. I knew her background as a single mom who was struggling like I was at the time. I had engaged in conversation with her to listen and tell her that what she was going through would have a good outcome.

I had no idea she housed such a gift inside.

“That was amazing,” said the leader.

“Really? I thought you wouldn’t like it. I almost threw the whole thing away yesterday.”

“No. I think you should keep going with it and see where it leads you. You have the start of something great.”

“I usually don’t write about topics like this. I write erotic romance novels.”

It was one of those moments where you think you heard wrong, and inwardly you are saying to yourself…huh?

The look on his face told me I had heard correctly.

Stumbling over himself, he said,

“Go in this direction. See where God takes you with it.”

“I guess so. Writing smut is easy for me.”

It was like being punched directly in the chest.

He looked at me to add help to the situation, and I was thinking,

“You are in charge, buddy, not me.”

“Smut just flows off my pen so easily.”

This felt like it was turning into an after-hours 1-900 phone chat. Before she got into any further details, I said,

“Maybe God wants you to do something else. What you have been doing was just for a period of time until you got to this point.”

I was trying to tone it down and break the uncomfortable feelings I sensed from all around me. She was being honest, so I didn’t want to be anything but delicate in how I addressed it.

I had seen a lot of nonverbal reactions in my time, but the expressions around the table were unreal. Wide-eyed and pale, I think most of them were shocked to their core. My goal was to get her to see she was better than where she had been, and she needed to embrace it.

“Your writing is from God. You know that, right?”

“I never thought of it that way,” she said. “I just did it.”

“God wants you to be aware of the idea that you can tell a story that you are given, and it will have deep meaning to many people. Maybe the genre you were writing was limiting God speaking through you.”

No one in that room would have ever read what she said was her usual. Well, maybe one guy, but I could tell by the muted reaction that most would not have touched it with a ten-foot pole.

“You have a choice. You can do what is easy, or you can move to where you have never been and see what you are made of.”

She had been in a comfort zone where what she produced would show up without effort, but now she had to put some work into it with genuine feelings. Right away, she was ready to throw the entire thing into the trash because she believed it wasn’t good. But, when she got outward recognition and support, telling her the truth, then she was willing to keep on going.

Moving from one place of being into another isn’t something most of us excitedly sign up for. We like safety nets and the false assumption that life will somehow change before us if we keep on doing what we have always done. We cannot walk a higher road until we decide to get on another path. That is the scary part. Leaving behind what is familiar to seek out something that is calling us to unknown territory. Sometimes we need another voice in our lives to come along and tell us we can do it.

Many creative or spiritually gifted people often hide their talents for fear of what others will think. Proverbs 29:25 explains,

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. (Message)

There’s that word again: trust. And if you have been criticized or hurt in the past, it’s easy to want to protect yourself. So you self isolate and cut yourself off from the world.

The other illusion is that we are just a tiny drop in an ocean of others who are so much better than we are. What do we have to offer the world? We convince ourselves that we aren’t anyone of value so that painting goes undone, the book isn’t written, the speech is never delivered, and a healing prayer is never spoken. It’s just another way to keep ourselves safely tucked away out of the limelight. Yet in Proverbs 18:16, this is stated,

“A man’s gift makes room for him.” (NKJV)

So instead of sitting on the sidelines making excuses while God waits to do the best divine work ever in your life, be willing to step into the real reason why you were created and live out your true purpose.

Right Place

Every church that I have attended had a children’s Bible school. For a week every day, I would drop off my girls so they could learn more about God. This was a long way from how I was brought up, and they actually liked to go. My experience as a child, on the other hand, with anything church related, felt like surgery without anesthesia.

We were attending a pretty large church, and they spared no expense. All week they kept encouraging the kids to bring friends. At the end of every session, they made a point to bring out this gigantic plastic bag filled with paper. The more friends a kid brought, the more entries were put in for a prize.

All week, they continually mentioned that they would be giving away an Apple iPod on the final day. This was one of the very first models on the market in the early 2000s.

They gave away smaller rewards daily with the constant reminder that on Friday, all names that had been put in the bag all week would have the potential to win.

On the evening before the final day, my oldest daughter, who was nine years old, told me she wanted to bring a friend.

“I want to win the iPod.”

I remember thinking, you will have one entry after this whole week, and you think you can win that? Kids were hauling in strangers off the street to walk away with it.

I didn’t say that, but I told her I would ask her friend’s mom if she could come along the next day.

She explained that it was the only thing that had appealed to her, and she didn’t want anything else.

Every day I had sat upstairs in a waiting room reading while they attended. That particular day I decided to sit in the balcony to hear and see what they were being taught.

They were all given coins to go to a make-shift store to buy candy or other fun things. Like I said, my fire and brimstone upbringing was nothing like this Willy Wonka atmosphere.

They dismissed the kids by age. I watched her and her friend leave to spend their pretend money.

The sanctuary began to fill up as the time to end neared. She wasn’t back, which didn’t surprise me because it’s not in her nature to spend what she has been given quickly. She likes to consider and contemplate her choices. And then ponder some more.

“Okay, so we are going to do some other drawings before the big one we have been telling you about. We are going to wait until everyone gets back here for that.”

This massive bag looked like it was holding shredded pieces of paper. It was full of names, and I saw a lot of hopeful faces. They started giving away items working their way up to what all of them were eyeing.

Where are they? Her younger sister and her friend were already seated. I leaned over the railing, trying to see the back door.

I saw the children’s pastor scanning the room, trying to determine if all the kids were back. I looked at the clock, and they should have been done, but apparently, they were still hardcore shopping.

“We are going to do the final prize drawing, and if we call a name and that person isn’t here, we will pick another.” Some kids had already left.

I leaned over more trying to see where she was. What was taking this child so long?

I saw him reach in and pull out the tiniest strip.

I looked at him and back again to the door.

He said her name.

He repeated it. I knew I couldn’t get down the stairs quick enough to grab her. So I tried to get his attention from the balcony so he would know she was still in the building, but he could not see me.

He kept looking at all the faces for hers. Because I helped in the children’s ministry, he knew her and me.

He repeated her name.

You have got to be kidding me! What was she doing? This is why they say we get grey hair.

Suddenly she materialized at the door.

He spoke her name, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was unsure what was happening.

She froze in place like she thought she was in trouble for being late.

Her friend realized the meaning and said,

“He said your name! You won!”

Because she wasn’t moving, the pastor started walking toward her.

“You won the iPod.”

I saw the smile spread across her face as the realization sunk in that she wasn’t going to be rebuked but be rewarded.

Into her hands went the grand prize.

We took it to the store later because we had no idea how to use it. After a quick crash course, she was happily listening to music.

A month later, I took them to the state fair. One of the tv stations was doing a giveaway of another version of the iPod, more of a compact one. When you have two kids, everything has to be even. Or at least that was my philosophy.

This time, I was the only one who could throw an entry in because you had to be over eighteen. I scribbled my information on the pink slip and placed it in this metal tumbler with a large handle. There was a little wait until they were going to make the announcement.

I asked the girls,

“Are we in agreement that it’s ours?”

I was attempting to apply this from the book of Mathew:

When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. (Message)

I was always trying to have them move through life with a simple reliance on God for whatever they wanted.

They said they believed with me for the win.

The canister was spun, and I saw the paper taken out. It was weirdly folded like in accordion style, and I instantly determined by how it looked that it wasn’t mine. Some people think if they shape their entry a certain way, it will make it more susceptible to be plucked up. I folded mine in half, and there was no way it was me.

The lady reading it unraveled it like a scroll and stated that someone from my city had won. What an extraordinary coincidence! I was possibly going to see someone that lived by me.

I said to the girls, “I wonder if I know this person?”

I had mentally abandoned the tiny bit of faith I had moments ago.

When she read my name, I was in absolute shock. I looked at them, and they both lit up.

I handed it right over to my younger daughter. The miracle of winning two of them just weeks apart was a reminder of this in Mark 11:24:

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (NLT)

I don’t even know if my prayer counted, but I think theirs did. Someone out of the three of us didn’t waver.

Or, this was true:

I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”(Matthew 17:20, NLT)

Why is it so easy to forget the hand of God at work in our lives? We pray, the answer shows up, and then we go on to worry about the following situation.

In both of these instances, the end result was not life or death, and they were each given something that would brighten their days. So if you are under the impression like I used to be, that God only helps if circumstances are critical, then think again. He handed out two iPods, so what else can be done?

I have found that what we think about ourselves determines the strength of our beliefs. If you feel you are unworthy, then you are. And you will get back according to that mindset. If you think you lack confidence, then you do, and your results will reflect that.

What does God think of you? In Ephesians 2:10 it says,

For we are God’s masterpiece. (NLT)

So if you walked into a museum, your picture would be the most important one in the whole place and super expensive. So if you feel undeserving, that is not God’s view of you. That has been something either put on you by others, or you have taken it upon yourself as accurate. It’s an illusion. And it needs to be healed and changed so your prayer life and relationship with God can excel.

You aren’t supposed to cower and come like a scolded child, hoping that you will be heard.

In Hebrews 4:16 it says:

So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most. (Voice)

Heaven is waiting for you to take on your actual persona. You were created to be a powerful force and vessel that God can operate through to change the world around you for the better of all.

And once you surrender your made-up faulty image for God’s view of you, life will become more enjoyable, you will achieve more, and you will be effortlessly led with perfect timing to the right place.

(The grand prize that is now in her box of memories kept forever…)

Amazing

As if daily existence isn’t a puzzle enough, I decided to test myself by going into a corn maze. Doing this during the day would have been too easy, so she and I opted for an after sunset challenge with a flashlight. 

There are two things I’m very aware of that don’t always work in my favor. My sense of direction, even as simple as left or right, can suddenly betray me without warning. And my aversion to feeling trapped. That one takes precedence over the other.

One time while wearing a long winter jacket that went to my calves, my zipper got stuck midway, trapping me in like a physical restraint. With minimal mobility, panic was quickly my friend. This was in the middle of a busy mall in the winter, where the heat index was at least 100 degrees. 

When I realized I could not escape easily, I frantically started jumping in place because it gave me the feeling of accomplishing something. I got one arm free and wrestled the entire thing off to the floor. It felt like years had passed.

Both of my girls stood away from me, laughing, to let it be known they were not associated. They had initially tried to help, but I wouldn’t stop moving long enough, so they gave up. When that type of fear sets in, the outside world becomes a blur. 

So realizing my weaknesses, why not go into an enclosed space, in the pitch dark? I figured it would possibly cure some of my irrational, claustrophobic fears. 

Before I went on this evening adventure down at the farm, the other thing on my mind was an episode from The Twilight Zone. A bratty kid sends people to a cornfield when he gets offended, and they are never seen or heard from again. Scary segments and scenes from that TV series always seem to pop up in my memory at the most inopportune times. 

I affixed my wristband that would help identify my body later when the rescue team would find me. And I grabbed a map. 

“The phone number is at the top of that. Are you going to call them if you get lost? I can just see you in a dark corner trying to get help,” she said, laughing. 

“If it comes to that, yes,” I said. We all have our security blankets in life. 

“It says right here that no profanity is allowed,” she said, pointing to the small print. 

“I cannot guarantee that,” I replied. 

That had already been the case when I left the house. My map decided to reroute me out of rush hour traffic and felt I would immensely enjoy a ride through massive construction instead. Then, it took me to a water tower and announced I had “arrived”. I had to pull into a parking lot to take my life back. 

We stood at the entrance and watched young children filter into the tall corn stalks and the blackness, unafraid. I figured if it got too bad, I would just apply the verse that says: and a little child shall lead them. She clicked on her light to illuminate our way, and as if scripted, the moon came out from behind a cloud to watch. 

“I’m going to let a higher power guide me through this,” I said. “And I always have heard to go to the right. If you do that, you will find the answer.”

I followed behind her hooded head as she went into Nancy Drew mode. Every single turn to the right was a dead end or a circle back to where we began. So much for that theory. 

We rounded a corner and stumbled into a woman sitting on the ground. Both of us jumped and grabbed each other for protection.

“Sorry. I’m just waiting for my family.” 

I was so thankful that this was not an added feature to contend with all along the way. We left her in the corner and carried on. 

We slowed down for a second as it seemed we had come to an impasse. To our left, we spotted a tiny, obscure opening. Everyone else seemed to be running past it, but we both had a feeling to sneak through it just to see where it led. We took the path less traveled, and it bought us our freedom. 

“Most people aren’t seeing that,” I said to her. 

It reminded me of this verse:

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:14, NLT) 

Behind me, a large group of kids materialized. They had followed us, ditching their parents.

“We did it! Let’s wait here to see how long it takes them.” 

You never know who you are influencing by taking a risk, going out on faith, and showing others the way. 

We decided to drive to another field not too far away. I ended up on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. We were leaving civilization behind to upgrade to a more prominent attraction. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a UFO hovering over my vehicle.

My right hand was stamped to prove I really had signed up to do this a second time, and we walked to the entrance. The cornstalk walls seemed much closer together, higher and more complicated. But, just like before, she pulled up her hood, clicked on her light, and went back into character straight out of Scooby-Doo.

The decision making was more intense. At one point, we had three openings to choose from, and in the middle of it all, there was a set of stairs that led to a platform. We could see the entire field from there. It was a nice view, but it did absolutely nothing to get us out. 

We thought we had it solved but then decided we were not right. 

“Did we just go around in one big circle?” I asked. 

“I think so,” she said. 

We retraced our steps. She thought maybe some of the smaller openings were the key, but it didn’t work that way as I was whipped across the eyes by stalks that led us to a parking lot. My first clue that we had taken a wrong turn was the smell of exhaust. 

“This is not the way out, Nancy!” I said, pulling a piece of dried stalk out of my mouth.

She laughed, and we plunged back in. We soon discovered that we had been at the exit earlier, but we hadn’t realized it, second guessed ourselves, and overthought it. 

“Why didn’t we just walk out? We were done a long time ago,”

“It didn’t look like the right way.” 

It reminded me of this from 2 Corinthians 5:7:

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (ESV)

We can talk ourselves out of a blessing and possibly a miracle just by deciding it doesn’t appear to be a gift from God. We choose to go our own way, and we miss out. Then we spend unnecessary time going in circles wondering why God has forsaken us. Being a victim of circumstances and making excuses are easy habits that keep us stuck.

To move ahead, one has to trust that God is in charge, advancing us forward. 

On a cold October night, I made it out alive, became more comfortable in a limited space, expanded my capacity for patience, and was shown once again that while life can be uncertain, it is meant to be amazing. 

(Maze 1 before sunset)
(Dead end, but no dead bodies..)
(Maze 2..I passed the height check..)