Vessel

I woke up to take another sip of water. The skin on my forehead felt tight from a sunburn, but my symptoms were not from the after effects of a tropical vacation. Instead, it was the flu.

I had heard all the reports that year about how bad it was. People who were in good health had died because this one was supposedly the worst strain yet. This was three years before the pandemic, but it wasn’t given as much publicity.

I implemented what I had learned from my upbringing from my mom, the personal in-house nurse,

“Drink, Chris,” she would say when I didn’t want to.

“No. I’m not thirsty.”

“Do it anyway.”

I would put my lips on the edge of the glass and pretend.

“You didn’t take any. Drink!”

When I was that sick and fatigued, the last effort I wanted to make was swallowing liquid.

“I can tell by the color in your face that you need water,” she would say. If she forgot her thermometer, she would either put the back of her hand on my face or her lips on my forehead. She never seemed fearful of contracting what I had. She had to run the house, so even germs obeyed. She was in control. Not an illness.

We could be sprayed down with Lysol at the door, made to choke down substances that are illegal to give humans now, and forced to gargle the salt content of the entire Dead Sea. A spoon coming at me always meant something disgusting was about to hit my tongue.

If a disease dared to manifest itself in her home, she would become a totally different person. I wasn’t used to her giving me a lot of attention. And, I would have gladly done without it.

If one or more of us were down, she had lists of medications, times, and temperature checks. You were on her roster, and she would make her rounds.

I couldn’t keep anything from coming back up during one particular illness, so the forced fluids weren’t working. She noticed that I had started to throw up dried blood from my lungs.

The following day I woke up to the smell of popcorn. The minute my eyes opened, she came into my bedroom with a bowl of it and a glass of room temperature pop.

“I want you to try and eat this.”

Everything in me refused, but she insisted.

“Just try it, Chris. Just one small piece.”

I put it in my mouth, too tired to chew, and fell back to sleep. Throughout the day, she would tell me to eat more, and for some odd reason, it started not to be so bad, and I was also developing this incredible thirst. I drank down the initial glass, and she filled it up.

By the end of that day, I had drank a lot. A few days later, I was improving rapidly.

“Remember that night you threw up what looked like coffee grounds?” She asked. It was hard to forget.

“Yes.”

“I asked the Holy Spirit what I should do. That’s one of the first signs of pneumonia. I heard to make you popcorn and put a lot of salt on it, and it would make you well. It would make you thirsty.”

I bet that tip isn’t on any web MD list of recommendations.

She had pulled us all through times of physical distress by applying her nursing skills and praying for guidance.

She ingrained it in me so strongly that when I had a run-in with the superbug of the century that year, I did what she had always said,

“Drink, Chris, drink!”

It is easier to make yourself do it as an adult because you understand the goal better. The idea is to flood the system and force the invasion out. If I did this at the onset, it would shorten its duration by days and give my immune system control.

So I would wake up, try not to think about the death toll, and finish one cup at a time.

During one of my hydro sessions, I went into my email. I don’t know how they had gotten my address, but there was an invitation to be a book reviewer online.

In my feverish haze, I typed in all my information, set up an account, and drifted off. Two weeks later, I recalled I had done something.

Sure enough. I had signed up. I investigated and found I was on the very bottom of the pile. There were six levels to achieve, kind of like a video game where you have to show your merit.

My first undertaking was written by a pastor who took the age-old story of Adam and Eve and made it new. I had specific guidelines to follow as I wrote out my paragraphs from my notes. It had to be run by the elite editors on the site and checked for adherence to the guideline rules.

I had to strictly implement certain criteria into each one or face the firing squad. On the one hand, I could write freely, giving my thoughts, but on the other, I had to include key elements, such as listing the title and the author’s name. And if any of these requirements were missing or not done as ordered, the review could be rejected.

I passed the first one with flying colors, and since I was a novice, they gave me no payment. As I said, I had to prove myself worthy. By my fifth attempt, I was moving up levels quickly, earning bonus points, and was at 6, the writers who were offered the higher paying jobs.

I fought my way through a couple of author disputes. All the writers were grateful for the most part, but a couple had their egos all wrapped up in their books. I understand it is a part of you when you write, but a few of them were so suspicious of us not giving them the perfect review, they would attack for no reason. The moderator had to step in on my behalf to appease the other party.

One of the worst offenders was a church leader.

The business owner changed some of his rules and decided that if you were at the top, you had to participate in editing other reviewers’ work. I did not enjoy this at all. If I felt someone had done an excellent job, but another editor found fault with something, we had to argue our point. I didn’t go to school to be a lawyer. It wasted my time and took away from the real reason I was there.

This created an unhealthy relationship between all of us. Once getting glowing scores, my reviews now became subject to a harsh system where I started to feel as if my writing was failing. It was the same, if not better, but the editors were told to find something wrong to keep too many from climbing too fast. I had to dispute many remarks made and defend my work to keep my score high. The grading became degrading.

Slowly, it took away my joy of what had always come so easily to me.

After three years of being under that scrutiny, I took a long break and kept everything I wrote to myself. The day I quit, I immediately went back to reading what I wanted, just like I always had. It felt like I was taking in oxygen again. Because of the rules, I started to believe I wasn’t a good writer anymore based on a faulty system. I had to conform, or I wasn’t approved. I had let the judgments of others get to me.

I heard The Little Drummer Boy playing in a store the other day. It reminded me of one of my brothers, who is naturally talented in drumming. He, too, went through situations where instead of being allowed to play freely, he was expected to follow a particular beat and restrain his abilities.

While in high school, I recall this happening in a music class where my parents realized an instructor was crushing him down. He wanted to quit and started to feel inadequate. When really, he was great at it.

My mom noticed that his nightly practice in the basement wasn’t happening. Usually, for an hour every evening, we would have to yell at each other to communicate over the crashing sounds from below. You could hear him down the block.

“He used to sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and drag out all my pots and pans to play. He could barely walk and was in diapers when he did that,” she always told me.

It was unusual for his drums to sit silent.

It became a learning time for him as it had for me. Not everyone will see what God has blessed a person with, and from those places, you walk away. If you aren’t appreciated for what you bring, then that’s a sign you aren’t in the spot you have been created for. Sometimes things aren’t going to follow the way that things are ‘normally’ done. I was healed from pneumonia one popcorn bowl at a time.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, it puts it into perspective the only One who we have to please with our abilities:

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! (Message)

When I heard the song, I listened to the lyrics. The drummer comes to play because that’s his gift to offer. He isn’t the main attraction in the story, but he carries an important message. He isn’t there to win over the crowd but to display the abilities that are God given, to do something he loves, make the world better and be a vessel.

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.