A few years ago I wrote a story for Guideposts called A Closer Bond, about my reconciliation with my mother in the years leading up to her death. A month later I got a phone call from the editor-in-chief of GuidepostsBooks, who said she liked the story so much, she wondered if I would consider expanding it into a full-length book. A “memoir” is what she called it.
Me? Write a memoir?
For a fleeting moment my heart fluttered with excitement at the idea.
And then, just as quickly, I was terrified.
It was one thing to write a magazine-length story about my mom and me. But to fully explore the complicated terrain of our relationship would mean having to be scrupulously honest—sometimes painfully so.
It would mean publicly revealing that my beloved father suffered and died a tragic, too-early death from alcoholism—not to mention my own battle with a stubborn eating disorder and anxiety. It would mean admitting that it wasn’t always easy being squeezed in the middle of the “Sandwich Generation,” meeting the needs of my aging mom while also caring for my two children and husband.
Yes, I agreed with the editor, I understood that the overarching message would be about the healing and redemptive power of God’s love. How in God’s economy, nothing in life goes to waste. How everything in life has value—even the pain—and how something beautiful can come from life’s most difficult circumstances.
After decades of writing inspirational stories for Guideposts—mostly other peoples’ stories—I understood the incredible power of the first-person narrative. Still, because of the potentially embarrassing self-disclosures that the book would require, I wasn’t so sure.
“I need some time to think about it,” I said.
Dear God, I prayed, as I hung up the phone. Show me what you want me to do.
A few days later, I was walking with my daughter Katy in a local park, where there was a formal flower garden in full bloom, lush with dahlias hydrangeas, roses…and everywhere butterflies.
Katy and I became transfixed by a beautiful aquamarine butterfly that didn’t seem to mind our presence. Fascinated, we leaned closer and observed as she delicately lit on the edge of a pink petal and extended her needle-like, thread-thin proboscis to sip nectar from the blossom’s center.
For several seconds we fell silent, caught up in the wonder of the moment.
“Isn’t it amazing,” Katy whispered, “how she so naturally and effortlessly does what she was created to do?”
“Yes,” I nodded. My daughter is a quiet soul—the phrase “still waters run deep” comes to mind—and when she speaks, she has a way of coming up with the most profound observations.
“I wonder…” Katy mused. “If God can create a butterfly so perfectly for his purposes, what do you think he’s created us to do?”
That night, as I reached to turn off my bedside lamp and closed my eyes, all I could think about was the butterfly and my daughter’s provocative question.
How can we know what God has created us to do? How can we discern his will for our lives—in ways both large and small?
I remembered a friend telling me once that God actually provided us with a natural indicator for discerning his purposes, namely enthusiasm—which literally means “to be inspired and indwelled by God.” That’s why, my friend explained, when you experience enthusiasm, it’s a good idea to pay attention. That fluttering sensation in your heart is God’s way of saying, Yes! Go for it!
I thought of the memoir that I’d been asked to write, and remembered how initially my heart fluttered—like a thousand butterflies!—at the idea. For years I had been writing other peoples’ stories. Maybe God was trying to tell me that now it was time to write my own.
OK, God, I prayed, before drifting off to sleep. I’ll do it. Thank you for this life you’ve given me. I’m just going to give it back to you as honestly as I can.
Now that the book, Lost & Found: One Daughter’s Story of Amazing Grace, has been published, I believe it was worth the effort. Just the other day a woman wrote a letter saying that my story had helped her make the decision to have her aging mother move in with her.
Are you trying to figure out what God has created you to do?
Ask yourself this simple question: What is it that excites you and fills your heart with enthusiasm?
Perhaps it’s volunteering to work at your local soup kitchen, or teaching Sunday school, or adopting a cat from the animal shelter, or setting aside time each day to work on that book you always wanted to write…
Whatever it is, just follow your natural-born enthusiasm—God’s gift of his guiding spirit, abiding like a thousand butterflies in your heart. I promise it will be his greatest joy and delight to show you the way.