Thursday, January 8, 2015

From Fear to Faithfulness

"Your words are not your own."

That’s what Mr. Bill said the first time I met him. Eyes sparkling like a hardy twenty-year-old, the spry old man stopped me in the parking lot of our local grocery store for a chat.  

Silky white hair peeked out beneath an oversized Chevy baseball cap and he wore a plaid shirt, clean and tidy, tucked into sturdy Wrangler jeans. Cinching everything together was a wide leather belt which reminded me of the biblical Belt of Truth. 

Hard-worked hands tremored as he gestured and talked about his boyhood, his happy years with his late wife, and days on the farm. 

In my suburban-mom rush, I almost didn’t take time to stop. I nodded politely as I loaded groceries into the back of the car, ushering children into their carseats and thinking about how I needed to get home and start dinner.  

But something grabbed me like an invisible hand, saying, listen. He has a message for you today.

In our small southern town, street conversations like this one used to be a daily comfort, an occurrence as frequent and accommodated as the train passing through, blocking traffic for a spell. But times have changed, and today people curse under their breaths at the train and dart down a different path to avoid being caught up in conversation with a neighbor.  

Mr. Bill took a piece of paper out of his old truck and handed it to me. “I’m a writer,” he said.  

Interesting, I thought to myself. I had just two days before been given an all-expenses paid gift to go to my first writer’s conference. After writing privately for years, some friends were encouraging me to take my writing to the next level, making it available to a wider audience. 

I had been praying earnestly for God’s guidance in this new endeavor.

Mr. Bill told me his story. “I wrote this poem one night many years ago. I couldn’t sleep, and the Lord told me to get a pen and paper, and He would give me the words.”

He grinned wide as he confessed, “I argued with Him, because you see, I was just a farm boy growing up. I could clean the barn and pull a stubborn mule across the field, but I was no writer. The Good Lord won in the end. I have been sharing this poem with people every day since.”

My eyes grew moist as he recounted the stories of people he had encouraged and helped over the years as he faithfully shared his words and listened to their troubles.  

I read the poem, titled, “One Step Beyond the Cross”. Incredulously, I thought to myself, This man has one written work. And with that one work he has been more faithful than I have with twenty years of writing.

About that time he interrupted my convicting thoughts and looked straight at me, saying, “Your words are not your own. They belong to God, and He has given them to you for others. They were not meant to sit in journals on a shelf (what???? how did he know???). You must give them away.”

I heard the message, loud and clear.

Mr. Bill commissioned me that day: 

Step out from fear to faithfulness. Your words are not your own; they are given to you to give away to others

At age 94, Mr. Bill had one published work to his name. He was faithful with that one gift, and had given it freely to others. He was not cowering in fear of rejection, or towering in pride. He was just persisting with the offering, praising the One who gave the words.

I was a new writer about to take my own step of faith, trembling between fear of failure and fear of success. 

My focus was on myself. My writing, my future, my acceptance, my rejection.  My words.

It had not occurred to me that my words were not my own. That they were a gift to be given away to others.

You might be fearful like I was, afraid to take that step from writing for yourself to writing for others. Like me, perhaps you have felt anxious at the thought of offering what has been a private craft, a personal outlet, to a public audience who may accept or reject your gifts of words.  

Take courage. What you think is your own is really only something you have first received.  Give the words away. Wrap them up, tie them nicely, nestle them in grace and confidence.  But give them.

Your words are not your own, anyway.

I am so thankful I took the time for that chat one late afternoon in the grocery store parking lot.  Mr. Bill gave me the gift of his words, and I stepped out from fear to faithfulness in my own writing.

What has inspired you to take the step from fear to faithfulness in writing? Please share your story with me.

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