Chapter OneCreated for Purpose
Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. Helen Keller
Before you were born, before you knew the world and the world knew you, there was only One, the Creator, who knew you in your most basic form. Even then, He had a relationship with you. Growing within the quiet shadows of your mother's womb, blocked from even her eyes, God watched you, marveling as your fingernails formed, and your eyelashes fluttered, and the tiny corners of your mouth turned up in pleasure as you discovered your miniature thumb for the very first time. You were His design, His pattern, and you were beautiful to Him.
From the moment each of us is created, God has a purpose for us. We don't necessarily know what it looks like at first, but we can be sure it's there, somewhere inside us. For a long time, I wondered what my purpose was. I knew I loved being a mother, and I knew I loved writing' but a writing career seemed to be something achievable only in my dreams, certainly not in real life for a twenty-nine-year-old housewife and mother of four.
When I think about what it means to be created by God for a purpose, my thoughts turn to Psalm 139. It is one of my favorite passages of the Bible because it combines two of my favorite things' knitting and the understanding of God's call on my life. We were knit together in our mothers' wombs (Psalm 139:13). We have been searched and known by the greatest designer in the universe (Psalm 139:1). We were designed for something special. I believe that something special is reflected in the strong desires God puts in our hearts through our dreams, through our passions, and through the things that bring us joy. It's through those things that we can discover what our purpose is, when we see for ourselves the pattern He's made for us and the dreams He's knitted together for us to live out.
I hope you'll go on an amazing adventure with me as we examine Psalm 139 in depth and discover the pattern God has for each of us when it comes to our purpose, our achievements, and so many other pieces that make up this fitted and well-worn garment we call life.
Finding Purpose in Humble Beginnings
Twenty-five years ago, I could not have imagined myself writing a book about realizing your dreams. I'm sure no one else could have imagined my writing one, either! I come from humble beginnings. I'm incredibly proud of my heritage and consider myself blessed in a number of ways because of my family. All four of my grandparents were German-speaking Russian immigrants. My father didn't graduate from high school and while my mother did, she had to move off the farm into town and work in order to obtain her education. Both of my grandfathers pushed a plow. There's absolutely nothing in my background that qualifies me to be a writer.
I got married out of high school to Wayne Macomber, and between 1970 and 1975 we had four children. I remember what my mother told me shortly after Dale, our youngest, was born. I hadn't slept an entire night in months; I was physically and mentally worn to a frazzle. A look of such joy came over my mother as she watched me with our newborn son. She smiled and said, 'Debbie, these will be the happiest days of your life.' I stared back at her in utter horror. 'Mom, you mean to tell me it gets worse'. She laughed, promising me that one day I would treasure these days with my little ones. And she was right.
So I was the mom of four youngsters living on a limited income with nothing more than a high school degree, and on top of that, I'm dyslexic. School was always difficult for me, and I never managed to achieve anything higher than average grades. A scholarship or the possibility of college was never an option. At the time I didn't know I was dyslexic. The teachers didn't have a word for it then. I didn't know my troubles in school stemmed from a learning disability until my own children were diagnosed with dyslexia many years later. Dyslexia doesn't go away, so to this very day I'm a slow, thoughtful reader and a creative speller.
As a child of the fifties growing up in Yakima, Washington, words were both my passion and my torment. My mom said that from the time I was four years old, I went to sleep every night with a book in my hands. I loved visiting the local library where Beverly Bunn, the children's librarian, would read to us for story hour. She later married and went on to write novels, too. You may have read her work. Her married name is Beverly Cleary. I didn't know it at the time, but she had problems reading as a kid, too.
Despite my love for stories and for reading, I struggled in school. I was the only girl in my first-grade class to be in the Robin Reading Group, the lowest level there was. I can still remember sitting with my mother for a parent-teacher conference with my third-grade teacher. 'Debbie is such a nice little girl, but she'll never do well in school,' my mother was told. Whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, I don't know, but the teacher was right' I never did achieve high grades and remained an average student, so average, in fact, that academically I ranked fortieth in my graduating class of eighty girls.
The biggest complaint teachers had about me growing up was that I daydreamed. It was true. As early as I can remember, I liked creating stories, often when I was supposed to be paying attention in class. Storytelling actually became my niche when I was twelve or thirteen. I used to make up stories about the kids I babysat, entertaining them with silly names like Snickelfritz and Stinkyfoot, and they loved it' so much that their parents would pay me a dollar an hour when the going rate was just a quarter. A friend of mine likes to joke that even then, I was set on being successful! Maybe I was, but I certainly didn't know it.
Though reading was difficult, I persisted with it, and by the time I was in fifth grade, I had caught up with my classmates. I was ten when I started thinking about what it would be like to be a writer, and I wrote my first book the following year. I still remember the characters' the story was about triplets named Faith, Hope, and Charity, a precursor I'm sure to what have become my three angels' Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy' favorite characters of several Christmas books I've written over the years. I never told my teachers or friends I wanted to write because I was afraid they would tell me all the reasons it was impossible for me to be a writer. I didn't get good grades in English (or anything else), and my spelling was atrocious. I couldn't bear to have such a fragile dream trampled upon.
Finding Your Purpose
I am absolutely convinced that each of us is created with a God-given purpose. It's what I like to call the focus of our lives' the 'what' that my life, and yours, is all about. Some people seem to know what their purpose is early on; they get up every morning with this innate passion for something; they walk around with fire in their bellies' a desire that doesn't go away. They have vision and determination, and they are ready to see all their dreams come true! For others, though, their purpose, their life's focus, seems much dimmer, harder to see. But that doesn't mean it isn't there.
If you've picked up this book, chances are you're trying to figure out what your purpose is or how to achieve that seemingly unreachable dream. Maybe you thought you knew what you wanted to do, but life's circumstances have left you wondering. Maybe you've never known. Or perhaps you do know, but, as I was, you're afraid. You're scared of what other people will think, or you fear that you'll fail. So you stick your purpose up on a shelf, thinking that maybe someday you'll get to it.
In the late seventies, my purpose, my focus to be a writer, was way, way out of reach and coated with a thick layer of dusty childhood doubts and the busyness of being a mother to four very active children. But every once in a while, in my mind, I'd take my purpose down and look at it, turn it around and wistfully think, Maybe after the kids are grown. Then, back on the shelf it went. Out of sight, out of mind. Almost. Until David got sick.
My cousin David Adler and I grew up together. We attended the same schools, lived in the same neighborhood, and worshipped at the same church. The only dates I got in high school were due to David. In fact, it was David, another cousin, Doug, and my brother Terry who made copies of my eighth-grade diary and sold them to the boys in my class. At the time, I was mortified, but the years have a way of changing one's perspective. These days, what I remember most is how many copies were bought!
As a young adult, David was diagnosed with leukemia. When he was admitted to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, my husband, Wayne, and I were the closest family to the hospital, living just a few miles south of town. Although I didn't venture into the big city very often, I was determined to be with David, his wife, Rachel, and their daughter. From the day he arrived in Seattle from Yakima, I spent part of every day with my cousin. I was certain God would perform a miracle. I was convinced that God would heal him.
At the time, I hadn't been a Christian long. I was raised Catholic and attended the local parochial school for all twelve grades. In my parents' house there had always been a coffee-table Bible, but I never saw it open. Every Sunday when I went to Mass, I heard the four Gospels and the Epistles, but they never connected. Maybe I was too young to really care back then. I knew about God, but the God I grew up with was stern and vengeful. I didn't have a relationship with Him. I didn't know Him. I didn't realize Christ was my personal Savior; I knew only that my sins had nailed Him to the cross.
But at the age of twenty-two, after Wayne and I had married and I was a mother twice over, we moved to Seahurst, near Seattle. With two small babies born a year apart on my hips, I was invited to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) by my neighbor Marilyn Kimmel. Until that point I'd never set foot inside a Protestant church, but I was hungry for friendship and so I went. I had the most uncomfortable feeling as soon as I got there. I was afraid if my parents ever found out what I was doing, they'd be upset. Then the teaching leader, Denise Adler, introduced herself. Adler is my maiden name, and it was as if God was saying to me that it was fine for me to be in these unfamiliar surroundings; I was home and this was family.
That week the class was studying the first four chapters of Nehemiah. I remember Marilyn telling me somewhat apologetically that this was the year BSF was studying the Minor Prophets. I told myself that was okay since I didn't know what a major one was. Surrounded by those dear ladies, as I got into the Word, it latched onto my heart. It wasn't long before I felt God tugging at me. I wanted the same relationship with Christ that my friends had. As I studied His Word, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and have never regretted that decision.
Knit Together for Purpose
'Whether I am knitting for myself or someone else, my passion for knitting enables me to express my creativity and produces a feeling of accomplishment.' 'Rita E. Greenfeder, Editor, Knit 'N Style
If you've ever read any of my books, you probably already know that I'm a big knitter. I started knitting as a twelve-year-old girl. My mother wasn't a knitter, and in fact, I didn't know a single person who knew how to knit. I pestered her until she took me to the local yarn store. The wonderful ladies there took me under their wing and taught me, and I've never been the same since. I knitted all through my school years until Wayne and I married, and then again periodically while the kids were growing up. But it was when I became a grandmother for the first time that the bug really took hold. I love to knit! I also love collecting yarn. In fact, I need an entire room to hold my yarn stash. It's difficult for me to resist stopping in a yarn store, no matter how many projects are already waiting for me at home. But knitting can often be a slow process. From start to finish, it takes time to complete. Knitting certainly requires patience and persistence. I find it's the same with finding your purpose.
That's why, seven years later, because of that wonderful relationship I had with Jesus, I was absolutely convinced that God would heal my cousin David. After all, I knew my life had changed for the better, and I knew God could make a difference in David's life. And this was no mustard-seed faith; the faith I carried around was the size of avocados! I told David, 'God is going to heal you. Through the love of Jesus Christ, you're going to be healed.'
But despite all my prayers and absolute certainty, David passed away on September 23, 1978. And suddenly, I didn't know what to believe. I was in a crisis of faith. I couldn't sleep; I couldn't pray. I couldn't read my Bible. I felt that God had let me down.
My questions ended one morning, though, when I tried to have devotions with the children. My son Ted was particularly antsy that day, and, exasperated, I tried again to get him to pay attention.
'Ted,' I asked, for the twentieth time, 'what do you have to do to get to heaven.'
He looked at me as if I had just asked what he'd had for breakfast.
'Die,' he said.
His answer took a moment to sink in. But I realized he was right. David had died, but before his death he had come to know the same Jesus I did. Because he had accepted Christ, I had the assurance that David was in heaven. Furthermore, by the grace of God, David really had been healed.
That revelation was quickly followed by another: I could no longer afford to dream of being a writer someday. I could no longer stuff my dreams into the future with a long list of justifications. Life holds no guarantees. I realized then that it was time for me to move my life purpose forward. It was time to go after my dream.
Since we didn't have the money to buy a typewriter, we rented one. I placed that typewriter on the kitchen table and moved it at mealtimes. Every morning when the kids left for school, I moved the typewriter back to the table and wrote until they came home. I didn't have a lot of life experience at that point, but I knew I could write something with a happy ending. And after four kids, I needed one.
The Passion in Your Purpose
I imagine that you're asking how I knew my purpose was to be a writer. Well, I didn't at first, not completely. But as I said earlier, I believe that God puts desires in our hearts through our dreams, through our passions, and through what brings us joy. When we can look through all of those things, we can find our purpose as we discover the customized blueprint, the pattern, God's made for each of us.
So, let's take a look at the passion in our purpose. Ask yourself these questions: What is it that gets me excited' What do I love to do'
I believe that what you enjoyed as a child often provides hints of what you should be doing as an adult. When I was young, I loved to read and tell stories. Maybe you loved to dress up your dolls, creating elaborate new fashions. Maybe you liked drawing. Or maybe you thrived on helping other people, or taking care of the neighbor's dog. Perhaps you enjoyed playing school or house, or caring for sick stuffed animals. Whatever you enjoyed most can give you clues to the purpose God has for you. As Rick Warren puts it so directly on the first page of The Purpose-Driven Life, 'It's not about you.'
God has a plan for your life and a purpose that fits into His master plan. But He doesn't want you to float through life waiting for a giant bolt of lightning to fall from heaven and point out what you're supposed to be doing. He gave each of us a brain as well as a heart. We have to listen to both to truly discover the pattern God has for our lives.