I had this dream; in it I was at a summer camp. I found myself in my assigned cabin full of bunks. I never went to summer camp as a child, so this was something new. I got out of my bunk bed and looked in a mirror. I was definitely myself- that’s good, but I looked different, younger. I had been gifted back some years in life.
I left the cabin and went to the dining hall. Somehow, I knew everyone would be there. It was time for dinner. I walked over the well-worn path between the various cabins and buildings here in the wooded camp. When I arrived at the dining hall, I found it to be very much like a school cafeteria, except of a more rustic nature, in tune with its natural surroundings. As I scanned the hall, considering which table I might sit down at, I noticed something strikingly surreal and exciting. The characters from my first novel and series of short stories were there: Dan, Linzy, and Sarah!
At this point I realized I was in a dream, and thus I was excited I would get to personally meet the characters I had invented, materialized in this dream. They came over to me with looks of accusation and immediately they made their concerns known.
Linzy, the red headed, usually bubbly, outspoken teenager, pointed her finger at me, “Why didn’t you finish our story?” Her friends spilled out their similar concerns. I knew what she was referring to. My first novel, Wild Christmas, ends rather suddenly. Some readers have said that the book should have had a more well-rounded conclusion. The trio of high school friends were in the midst of assisting Santa in completing his Christmas Eve present run, but the reader is never brought to see the completion of that.
I did not know how to respond to Linzy’s concern. It is true I wrote her story, and it was intentional that I ended the story that way. I had nothing else to say in the matter. I had entertained a sequel for a while, but never pursued it in writing.
As I looked away from the trio to collect my thoughts, I noticed another familiar character. His name was Mark, a lifeguard from a series of comic strips I wrote and drew when I was much younger. In his story, extraterrestrials invade his beach and throw the touristy beach town into chaos. Mark’s lifeguarding duties greatly expand as he has to save the townspeople from not only high tide but the destructive aliens. The problem was I never finished that story. I left the townspeople dangling in chaos and danger and Mark in utter distress. When my eyes made contact with Mark’s, I could tell he was upset with me. He came over.
“How could you leave me, abandoned with the alien invasion?” he both accused and questioned.
“I don’t kn—” Before I could finish my sentence, I was silenced as I was struck with the realization that this dining hall was filled with characters of unfinished stories I had written over many years. There they all were, just as I had described them in writing. I looked out and I knew the backstories of everyone here. These were all my friends, but they were all upset with me, coming over with complaints of how I didn’t finish their stories.
Most profoundly of all, I noticed one of my most developed and personally explored characters, Dakota from my novel, Dakota Broken. He sat alone at a table. I took my tray of food and sat next to him. His head hung low, his black hair drooping down, nearly covering his eyes. With no introduction or acknowledgement, he simply asked, “What happened?” In the novel, Dakota was taken away from his abusive parents and was about to be adopted by a new family, but the novel doesn’t take us to meet the new family. “I was ripped from my parents and was going to be adopted? What are they like? Do I ever get to meet them? Will I ever overcome my insecurities?
I was left speechless. Then characters from all over the cafeteria began to crowd around me in angry accusation. I’ve left many a story unfinished and others have conclusions that may not answer all the questions the reader has. I’ve wanted the reader to speculate and think and have just said, “like in life, we never have all the answers.”
This definitely did not sit well with all my characters crowding around me. I couldn’t distinguish one accusation from another. Too much was coming at me that it all blended into chaos.
Over the commotion I defended myself, “Listen, I don’t write your stories anymore. You live your own lives.”
“But you’re the author,” one voice broke out above the others.
And I awoke.
What a peculiar dream, I thought. It must mean something. I sat with this dream for a while, and as I was driving my way through the desert on my way to Mojave National Preserve, I thought deeply about it. The words, “But you’re the author,” really stuck out to me. Here lay the deepest meaning. Before we unpack that statement, let’s peer into some fundamental beliefs I have about life.
I believe we are gifted life by God. Life is not a happenstance or an independent state. Life is dependent on God. He is the author and giver of it. A component of life is free will, which is also a gift from God. This is the ability to make our own choices and not be controlled. Thus, as humans, we make good and bad choices. The ability to make choices, to have freewill, is in essence to have the pen in hand to author the story of your own life. You can write for yourself misery by poor choices. You can write for yourself a tale of adventure through travel. You can pursue romance or enterprise, family, or solitude. Modern philosophy teaches that society is the author of your life; that society holds the pen and determines the projection of your life; that as an individual you have no choice but to be the outcome of societal factors. To think otherwise is to be the spoiled product of privilege. Society sure has influence, but society is not the author. YOU are the author! You have been given life and handed a pen by the almighty God. You are writing YOUR story.
Christians, and people of faith, strive to have God guide that pen, just as a young child learning to write, we desire God to help move the pen and show us the way. Thus God intervenes and guides our pen, becoming a coauthor and authority in our lives. As humans, we are made in the image of God, and a part of that image is having that ability to be able to have influence and write into the stories of others as well. Life is a book, or story, being written, and we intentionally, or not, write in the stories of everyone we come in contact with. Think about it. When you compliment or insult someone, you are grabbing the pen and writing or scribbling into the story of another. Your words have an impact on the lives of others. When you are generous with your resources, time, and wisdom, you are writing influence upon the life of another. When you teach people, insult people, hurt people, fight people, love people, care for people, you are writing into the story of another person. You are a coauthor of many stories.
So when the characters in my dream cried out, “But you are the author,” what a challenging reminder that is. You hold a pen, and you can open the story of another at any time and write into his or her story. What will that look like? Will you write in encouragement, experience, wisdom, love?
Reflect upon your life. If you are a parent, think about the influence you have had on writing the life story of your children’s lives. If you are a teacher, in its many forms, your influence is so broad and expansive. If you have been a good friend, a loyal companion, a good listener, an encourager, you may never know until eternity, the extent to which you have helped author the stories of others. On the contrary, have you been a complainer? Selfish? One who seeks power, or a seeker of revenger? Have you stepped on, trampled on the lives of others in authoring your own story? Have you intentionally scribbled into the story of another, creating the ugliest of pages in his or her life?
This is quite challenging, and although as beneficial as it may be to look backward and reflect, think about each day as it comes. You begin each day with a pen in hand- there are books all around you- you have been given the power to write into their lives.
One day when I was out jogging, thinking about such matters, Dolly Parton’s song, Dear God, came to mind. I had been listening to it in the car. Crying out to God, she sings, “The freewill you have given we have made a mockery of.” That really stuck with me. I was thinking of all the selfish and immoral choices made with our freewill, and I was thinking about how free will is not simply gifted out of love, but it has been gifted out of love with purpose, which is the part often overlooked. We are not to simply be thankful for our free will, but we are to use it as well for intended purposes. To live a life pleasing to God by serving others and writing into their lives goodness, hope, and love.
At this point you may be wondering, what has happened? Let’s talk more about National Parks and the great outdoors. Why has Joshua become so preachy? Maybe before I cared too much about what others thought of my writing. I wanted it to appeal to a broad audience. I have always been very introspective in my writing, relating matters to faith, but this time it may seem just a little bit more in your face. I don’t apologize. There are things we need to talk about.
I have debated and struggled over sharing this adventure, not over matters of faith and inspiration, but in another regard. This adventure, which I am just beginning to share, very much involves other people and not just the introspection which is mine. There are some moments here when I could have authored good things into others’ lives, but rather I surrendered those opportunities to neglect. I have thought, Do I only want to share those good moments of inspiration and leave out that which bears shame? Do I do so out of courtesy to others? I’ve concluded, no; that nothing grows without rain, healing does not come without pain, and learning does not come without failure. So, in my typical fashion, I lay it all out before you, so that you can learn from my life that’s lived. It is intentional that I follow the noun, “life” with the past participle “lived,” for a life that’s not lived does not have hardship. To truly live your life, you must face the hardships and let the hardships produce beauty.
I know that when my life is said and done, and my own sun sets. I don’t want my sunset to be dull and boring, or covered up by the clouds. A life that’s lived is the one that also produces color. I want what I’ve stood for, what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve lived, to be bright and vibrant- an orange on fire, a luminous pink, a deep reflective blue. May these be the Colors of My Sunset and may they touch upon the lives of others.
Check out my book Still, Calm, and Quiet, here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B093RMBNCP