Five times he said it. The words soaked into my already saturated ears as we sat in the B-Line Diner. Dr. Wilkinson had just finished a morning speaking session about stewardship at a conference at which I was due to perform the following evening, and we huddled in the back of the hotel restaurant for a few moments of quiet conversation.
Less than a year earlier, in June 2016, he had been the one to launch my ministry, announcing to an audience of nearly 400 that it was my dream to perform "The Bema" drama at conferences and churches nation-wide, and that the people who could help me accomplish that goal were in the room. I was shaken near to tears at his speech, not only because that very dream had recently become mine, but because until that moment, we had never been introduced, much less discussed our dreams.
In early 2016, I had been commissioned to prepare a one-man drama about a raptured man’s experience before the Judgement Seat of Christ to be performed a single time at a June conference, themed “generosity." I had said yes for two reasons. First, I was the proud owner of an acting degree from the CalBaptist University School of Theatre and to make a paycheck with such a diploma is a coveted prize. Second, and most importantly, I wanted answers.
After graduating a Christian childhood with honors (high school worship band leader, occasional teacher of the university theatre Bible study, and multi-short-term-mission-trip-goer), I had gone to work for a church, never pausing to ask why I had chosen this faith. But when I felt that church had wronged me, I bypassed the land of questions entirely and headed straight for the valley of anger. I abandoned the God who loved me and, for three years, did my best to play the prodigal, satisfying every carnal desire my mind could conjure. But no parable could have prepared me for the lonely anguish of a life separated from the life-giver. I wallowed in bitterness at the "godly" people of whom I disapproved while ignoring the loving calls of those wishing to lead me back to a place of peace. Dissatisfaction shortly grew to anguish and I knew that I couldn't survive much longer in that valley, so when I was presented the opportunity to explore a character forced to see his life through God's eyes, I jumped at the chance. No more hiding. Finally I would have my answers.
As I studied and rehearsed, the eternal words took the painstaking journey from my mouth to my head and down to my heart, sinking their roots deep into the newly-fertile ground. I had seen the wasteland in the absence of the Grace of God but didn't know how to escape alone, so I did the one thing I had never quite grasped before. I prayed. I prayed for God to bless my memory. I prayed that I would learn the truth behind the words, instead of just emotionally parroting them back to an audience. I prayed for humility. I prayed for courage to change my lifestyle. I prayed that it would not all end after only one day in June 2016. And I told the Lord that if He would change me, He could have my life to use as He pleased.
Enter Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, a man I respected greatly but with whom I had never been acquainted, to proclaim to the world that I now serve our God.
Then we sat, nine months later, in a diner: I, holding on to every word, hoping to glean direction for a newly formed ministry, he, delightfully holding his sandwich.
It always captures me the way more experienced and accomplished people regard my questions about life's twists and turns. I call them "the elders." Not the OLD-ers, for their qualification is not principally based on age, though it is a factor. They allow the faintest joyful smirk, and answer as if they know by heart the trials I now face. When I first saw that look years ago, I thought it's giver mocked me, or at least didn't take me seriously. But in that diner, I finally understood where the tiny spring of joy found its origin. He knew where this uncertain road would take me, and it would be a glorious place, if I would stay the course! As I asked with fresh boldness, the fringes of fear still clinging to my sentences, he was pleased to gently direct me on my way, careful to repeat a simple instruction:
"Don't let it die."
His tone was calm, seasoned in steadfastness, but not lacking urgency. There would certainly be chasms in the road ahead, and I would certainly struggle in ways yet unknown to me, but I could certainly succeed if I vowed not to let my dream die.
That elder has his own dream; in part, it is to help people like me - like all of us - to move forward on our own journeys. My dream is to open eyes to the principles of godly stewardship, generosity and eternal rewards through the art of storytelling. So I tell stories about forever. I am not perfect, and in just over a year of traveling this road, I have experienced more chasms than ever before. But I have also seen miracles, joy, blessings, laughter, courage, patience and determination like I never could have imagined.
I'll tell you about them one day. It will make one heck of a great story.