God of the Blank Page

At the end of last December, I faced an early deadline for this column because of the New Year’s holiday.  I was fried from a week of travel and celebration and did not feel like getting up early to write. But a deadline is a deadline, so I dragged my groggy self out of bed and fired up the laptop.

Nothing. I had nothing to say.

I’d been writing holiday-themed pieces for the past few months, milking Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas for all they were worth. I thought I would wrap it up with a New Year’s column, but I didn’t have a real idea.

All I had was an empty Word document and a ticking clock.

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The Ghost of Halloween Past

It was the best of Halloweens.  It was the worst of Halloweens.  It was the fall of 1980, and my mom made the mistake of putting my dad in charge of getting me ready to go trick or treating.  She had to work late that night.  She assumed getting an eight year-old in a Halloween costume was a no brainer.  What she didn’t know is that my dad vastly overestimated my intelligence. 
I can still remember him handing me my Mork from Ork costume in that rectangular cardboard box.   You know, the old school kind with the cellophane window on top that let you see the costume inside?  It was glorious.  I loved those cheap vinyl costumes and the promise of adventure they offered me every Halloween. 
“Here, go put this on,” Dad said, thinking his job was done. 
It was the first time I’d ever done this by myself.  Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me you’re supposed to wear clothes under those costumes.  Forget that they were thinner than a Hefty kitchen bag.  I mean they had pants and a shirt, right?   To a seven year old boy that’s all the clothes you need. 
So I went to my bedroom, stripped down to my skivvies, slipped into the Mork costume and waited for Mom to take me trick-or-treating.  When she rushed in to pick me up, she had no idea that I was an embarrassing disaster just waiting to happen.
We met up with the neighborhood kids and set off to pillage the good people of Milltown for all the candy they were worth.  At the first stop we scored some bubble gum.  The next house, Sweet-tarts.  So far so good.  I struck out at house number three with some lousy Tootsie Rolls.  I hate Tootsie Rolls.  Maybe I could trade them for something better later on.   The next three houses made up for it with miniature candy bars. 
Two streets later, I was having a record night.  At this rate, my plastic pumpkin would be so full I’d have to dump it before I was halfway through.  This had to be the best Halloween any kid had ever had in the history of trick-or-treating. 
And then it happened.  Don’t ask me why.  In all my years of trick-or-treating with those cheap, plastic costumes, all those year when I had pants on underneath, it never happened.  Not once.  Not even close. 
But this year, the one and only year I was, shall we say, underdressed, it did happen.  Yep, you guessed it.  My costume ripped.  Right up the inside of one leg and right down the other. 
“Uh, mom,” I said. 
She gasped, literally gasped I tell you.  Talk about shock and awe.  Her face went as white as my all too exposed briefs.  I can still remember her whisking me away to the car like the secret service did when Reagan was shot. 
Man down!  Man down! 
“Why aren’t you wearing pants?” she screamed. 
“Pants,” I said.  “No one said anything about pants!”
Once my dim-witted brain put two and two together and I realized the catastrophic inappropriateness of my predicament, I was mortified.  It was like those dreams you have when you show up at school in your underwear.  Only this was no dream.  It was a living nightmare.  Halloween was ruined.  I would never trick or treat again.       
 Or so I thought.  There’s a great thing about moms.  They have a knack for taking the worst situations and turning them into something good.  We went home and my mom threw together a new space warrior costume out of stuff we had around the house.  And the best part?  She let me hit all the houses I’d already visited in my new disguise.  I felt like I was getting away with the crime of the century.  Suddenly the whole thing didn’t seem so bad. 
One thing I learned that night is that eight year-old boys would gladly endure public humiliation for extra candy and for the chance to pull one over on the neighbors.  The other thing I learned is that no failure is final.  No matter how devastating the circumstances of my life may seem, there’s always the opportunity for a fresh start.  I would go on to discover, in fact, that there’s a God running the universe, who is an expert at new beginnings and second chances. 
There are days when my best laid plans tear at the seams like chintzy Halloween vinyl, days when I’m shamed by own foolishness, days when I think I’m just done.  Those are the days when God is waiting to pick me up, repair the damage and put me back in the game, and just like the Halloween of 1980, the second time around is always better than the one before. 


Editing Life

How do you edit someone’s life? I’ve spent hours asking myself that question all week. I’ve been given four stories, the amazing life stories of four women, and I have to edit them together to tell one big story. I have to decide which parts of their lives mattered most and what to leave out or condense.

They’re all former exotic dancers who found hope, freedom and new life in Christ. Most of them were abused. All were children of divorce. All were addicted to drugs or alcohol. But now, all of them are free.

They’re sharing their testimonies at a banquet for a ministry my friend, Ked, leads called the Refuge for Women, a place that helps women who are trapped in the adult entertainment industry. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that these were the kind of people Jesus loved to hang out with the most, scandalous people, people whom the religious elite wouldn’t go anywhere near. That’s why Ked and his staff have a farmhouse where ladies who’ve made some bad choices can go, work through their baggage and get a fresh start.

So, back to my job. I have 16 pages of single-spaced, rich life story, and I have to get it down to about four pages. I have to edit their lives. Which moments are most significant and help make sense of their life’s journeys? What can I cut?

It got me thinking about my own life. There are plenty of moments I’d love to cut, places I wish I’d never gone, things I wish I’d never done, words I wish I could take back. I can think of dozens of moments off the top of my head that I’d love to take a red pen to and ‘x’ out of my life story.

But I can’t. And neither can you.

Yet, when I look at the stories of these four women, it’s the hurts they’ve endured and the mistakes they’ve overcome that make them so courageous. Their stories remind me that God doesn’t waste anything. The Bible says that “In all things God works together for the good of those who love Him.” In other words, He weaves the good, the bad and the ugly of our lives together for our benefit. Each one of these women are now loving and encouraging other hurting women in ways that only they can do because of their life experience.

It’s funny. I think I’ve learned more about God this week from four ex-strippers than I did in five years of seminary.

See, God makes our stories count. He makes our pain count. He somehow even takes our most selfish, boneheaded actions, and guess what? He can make those count, too, not just for our good, but for the good of others.

God really is the great editor of our lives.

And the best news? That red editing pen? He’s got one. He uses it to cross out our junk and tell a new story. A better story. That’s what a good editor does, takes a raw manuscript, cleans it up and polishes it until it shines.