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When GOD winks on NEW BEGINNINGSSignposts of Encouragement for Fresh Starts and Second Chances
By Squire Rushnell
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 SQuire Rushnell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHICH ROAD TO TAKE?
When I'm experiencing a fresh start in my own life, when I'm sorting through the options of what's needed to reach my desired destination, my first step is always this: pray. It may sound like a simple exercise, but I've found that when I ask God for enlightenment about which route to take or what preparations I need to make, He always provides signs-godwinks-along the way, reassuring me that I'm on course.
Mindful that my ultimate purpose is to serve Him, I also ask for the divine placement of people and circumstances along my journey to help me get where I'm going.
Surely we all encounter hurdles and pass through valleys of disappointment. Each of us will be tested-whether with financial challenges, medical emergencies, closed doors, or family issues. I know of no one who isn't! But I can honestly tell you this: God has never let me down. Through faith and the patience He gave me, I have reached just about every destination I've set out for.
So can you.
Many of the most successful people I've met or read about had inklings about where they wanted to go in life at an early age, and a lingering desireburned in their hearts even until long after they had reached their goals. Tiger Woods, one of the world's top golfers, wanted to play golf starting at the age of five. By the age of ten, my wonderful wife Louise DuArt, one of the world's top comedic impressionists, saw herself as a star on stage. Howard Jonas, founder of the large long-distance company IDT Communications, was a preteen entrepreneur. Cheryl McKay was also one of those early determiners. In kindergarten, no less ...
Cheryl: Signs of Destiny
At the age of five, Cheryl demonstrated a love for writing.
By the time she was a teenager, Cheryl paid special attention to the actors' dialogue in every film and TV program she saw. One particular ABC Afterschool Special so impressed her that she figured out how to get in touch with the writer/director, a woman named Susan Rohrer.
"How do I do what you do?" Cheryl boldly asked.
"Go to a place like Regent," Rohrer replied, explaining that she was currently employed by a production company housed on the campus of Regent University.
But soon after, Cheryl's laser-sharp focus on writing was suspended by another interest she wanted to explore-acting. Both fields seemed exciting to her, and she needed to figure out which road to take. She and a future actress-of-note Ali Hillis performed in The Children's Theatre, an ensemble company in their hometown of Charlotte, and wowed audiences with a singing duet. After that, Ali was encouraged to pursue acting as a career, while Cheryl-dismissed from a subsequent theater program-received a different message.
"Getting kicked out was my confirmation that I was meant to be a writer," concluded Cheryl.
Cheryl went on to graduate from high school at age fifteen, do her undergraduate studies at a trio of colleges in the South, and eventually follow Susan Rohrer's counsel: She went to Regent University's School of Communication and the Arts for graduate study.
"I applied for an internship with Susan. She didn't take me on right away, but when she did, a lifelong mentoring relationship began between us."
Cheryl always wondered about those coincidences that she'd later come to call godwinks. She thought, Are they God's way of communicating with us?
A significant godwink occurred when, after college, she returned home to Charlotte and raised enough money to shoot one of the scripts she'd written at Regent.
"Most days, I had two crew members on set, including me, and I supervised a fifty-member cast of actors and extras," she says, acknowledging the audacity of her statement. One of her extras was a girl named Kasey Eldridge.
"You should meet my dad, Rick," said Kasey. "He produces movies and kids' specials."
Little did Cheryl know then how prophetic Kasey's statement was.
After finishing her shoot, Cheryl went on to save up enough money to follow her dream-to go to Los Angeles and begin a career as a screenwriter. It was then that her godwink was finally fulfilled.
"I had just arrived in L.A. when I got a call from Rick Eldridge's Charlotte-based production company The Film Foundry."
They had a writing opportunity for the audio series Wild & Wacky Totally True Bible Stories that they were producing for publisher Thomas Nelson, and they wanted her for the job!
"I had taken a leap of faith to go to Los Angeles, and everything fell into place," she says with amazement. "I found an apartment and got a writing job in my first week."
Remaining in Los Angeles, Cheryl worked with Eldridge's company off and on over the next few years when another opportunity emerged. Eldridge acquired the rights to a book by Jim Stovall called The Ultimate Gift. During one of their conversations, Eldridge asked Cheryl if she, among other writers up for consideration, would like to pitch for the project.
She did. And she thought she did well by keeping the heart and soul in the script and suggesting a love interest for the principal actor.
But Eldridge ultimately chose another writer. Cheryl was disappointed, but she also began to understand that all career pursuits are going to produce a certain number of rejections. And when they happen, it's simply time to reposition your attitude and your actions, be glad for the lessons you've learned, and keep moving forward with enthusiasm.
Nine months later Cheryl was suddenly called home to Charlotte. Her dad required immediate heart surgery. As her concern mounted, Cheryl e-mailed everyone in her address book asking them to pray for him.
Not only did God see her dad through heart surgery, but Cheryl learned that her prayer request had produced an additional blessing: One person on her e-mail list was producer Rick Eldridge.
It was an auspicious time. Eldridge was reconsidering his script options for The Ultimate Gift. By divine alignment, Cheryl's e-mail arrived just in time to jog his memory of her heartfelt approach to the drama. It also made him aware that, at that very moment, Cheryl was right there in Charlotte. He called to see if she could come in for a meeting.
Skipping on air, Cheryl returned to Los Angeles as a screenwriter.
Eldridge had given her the chance to write her first produced movie, which also meant she had earned a coveted pass to membership in the Writers Guild of America.
One night, halfway through writing the film, Cheryl awoke from an odd dream.
"I dreamed that the movie starred my childhood friend Ali Hillis. That puzzled me."
Cheryl wrote down the dream, which was her habit, suspecting that God uses dreams as one of many means to communicate with us.
Exactly one year after Cheryl got the nod to write the movie, she was invited to the set for the filming. And as a sweet outcome, the feature was being shot not in Boston, as portrayed in the book, but in Charlotte.
Can you imagine the thrill? Cheryl's very first movie, filmed in her own hometown?!
To top this off, she arrived on the set to find a director's chair bearing her name, placed next to other chairs with such famous names as James Garner, Brian Dennehey, and Abigail Breslin.
"Who did you cast for Alexia?" Cheryl asked Rick, revealing her favoritism for the mother of a critically ill child, a character not found in the original book but one she had created for the screenplay. Rick replied by saying they had hired a terrific actress who had starred in the film Must Love Dogs and who was the runner-up for the lead in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Her name was Ali Hillis.
The statement took her breath away! What a major godwink!
If Cheryl McKay ever received a heavenly confirmation that she was on the right track with her destined purpose in life, that was it.
The two old friends welcomed each other and rekindled the friendship that had started years before during their performances at The Children's Theater of Charlotte.
Hugging each other on the set, Cheryl underscored the obvious. "I had to go to Hollywood to make it in Charlotte," she said with self-deprecating humor.
It's fair to say that if Cheryl McKay had not started her life with a road map marked by signposts revealing the true passions of her heart-if she had not been absorbed with writing starting in childhood-she would not be where she is today. She'd be where most people are who have no idea where they want to go ... after driving around in circles, they're sitting right where they started.
If you are facing a crossroads and feeling uncertain of your journey-it doesn't matter whether you're in high school or commencing retirement-know that it is never too late to begin mapping the course to your dreams. Today ... right now ... is the time to start charting a concrete path of pursuit.
So ... let me ask you. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Assessing What You Were Born With
Some of you were born into homes of comfort and affluence. People might look at you and say, "Boy, were you lucky! You didn't have to struggle like the rest of us."
But this latter group may actually feel sorry for you. After all, if you've never known want, if your parents gave you everything you needed-food, clothing, medical attention, schooling, and nearly every toy you wanted-you may have a disadvantage. You only need to study the number of highly successful people who have risen from backgrounds of difficulty to clearly see that it was their struggles that made them stronger.
Many of you will identify with a kid named Tommy Harken who had a hard time in school and an even harder time in life. But, if you're like me, you'll be flabbergasted by what he made of it....
Tom: Yes, Someone's Watching
The first time I heard of Tom Harken was when he stepped up to a microphone at an awards banquet I was attending in Washington, D.C. It was the annual Horatio Alger Awards that recognizes ten Americans who have lifted themselves up by their underprivileged bootstraps and pressed on to a place of honor and achievement in our society.
Many of the other recipients were familiar names: Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State; Wayne Huizenga, the founder of Blockbuster Video; Maya Angelou, the wonderful poet. But the name Tom Harken ... that was brand-new to me. Little did I know, it was a name I would not forget.
"I can't believe I'm here," said Tom, his eyes apprehensively panning a room of one thousand luminaries ready to hang onto every word. "I'm just a guy who peddles tacos."
Moments later, these same people would be struggling with golf-ball-sized lumps in their throats and eyes that became uncontrollably misty.
Even as a kid, blond towheaded Tommy Harken had an engaging smile, and his handshake was like a young man's.
"Before I was six, I was welcome in the kitchen of every house on the block and knew every kid and canine in the neighborhood," he recalls.
But a confident exterior can hide a soft interior. It hurt when others called him "stupid."
"I was painfully aware of being slower than the rest of my class."
Unlike kids today who learn numbers and letters on Sesame Street, Tom didn't have that advantage. His folks didn't have a TV, which was in its infancy when he was young. Besides, he was a kid long before those kinds of educational programs had even started.
"Learning disabilities were virtually unheard of in those days. Children were considered smart or dumb," says Tom, "and I had a tendency to gaze out the window while the other kids learned their ABCs."
Other than shooting baskets, what he did best was talking to people ... like the customers in his dad's tiny grocery store. That, and getting into mischief. If he could have only figured out how to get graded on monkey business, he'd have had straight As.
Tommy, his older brother, and his two younger sisters grew up in a simple house on a small lake in Michigan; the town was called Lakeview and his street could have been the set for Leave It to Beaver, the homey TV series. His mom and dad were similar to those quintessential TV parents too. They loved each other and weren't afraid to display it. And they taught Tommy and his siblings that God was always watching over them and that when they pray, God hears them.
But when he was only eight, Tommy's budding faith was about to be severely tested. His life was about to go into a tailspin....
He was feeling tired. At first, his folks thought he might be dreaming up a way to get out of going to school. But, when his breathing became labored, the doctor sadly recognized the signs of an epidemic sweeping the country at the time: It was the terrible disease called polio that killed or paralyzed children.
Doctors couldn't tell if the disease was contagious ... how it started ... or how to get over it. The only solution was isolation. At a hospital seventy miles from home.
"They tried every treatment you could think of," says Tom, "but I kept getting worse, and people in the isolation ward were dying left and right. I was struggling to just take a breath, so they put me into an iron lung-big tank that looks like something out of an old science fiction movie. I lay there on my back with just my head sticking out, while mechanical bellows forced oxygen into my lungs."
He was captive in the iron lung for months. With only a small mirror reflecting his own little face to keep him company, he was consumed by thoughts that he was about to die.
There were nurses who occasionally entered the room wearing masks, but he could tell they really didn't want to be there. Fearful they might catch what he had, they weren't likely to stop and chat. They would just come in, officiously look him over, and leave.
Is God really watching over me? Tom wondered again and again. Why would God want to do this to a little kid?
He prayed anyway, the prayers of a lonely child: "Please, God, just get me out of here. I'll be good from now on. I promise to do what my parents tell me to do."
One night Tommy got sick. He threw up. Lying on his back, he struggled, but couldn't get his hands out of the iron lung to wipe his face. He was afraid to call a nurse, certain that he was a bother to them. So he just lay there, all night, in his own vomit.
The next morning the doctor was making his rounds. Wearing a surgical mask, a white cap, and a long white coat, he bent over Tommy. His eyes filled with concern.
"Tommy, what happened to you?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it," stammered Tommy.
"You didn't do anything wrong, son. My goodness, didn't anyone come to help you?"
"I didn't want to bother anyone."
The doctor pulled off his mask and, as best he could, used it as a towel to wipe Tommy's face.
He pulled Tommy from the iron lung, then sat with him on the floor, just holding him tightly, deeply pained that the nursing staff had neglected this child.
Into Tommy's ear he whispered, "Tommy, I want you to know that God loves you. Even when you wonder about God, He's there, He's watching over you, He's protecting you. Keep your faith, Tommy. Keep your faith."
As the doctor rocked slowly, Tommy felt safe. It was a comfort that he had not felt for a long time. The hugs of that caring doctor prompted feelings that he carried inside him from that day forward.
And that experience, as terrible as it was at the time, was a godwink-a clear answer to a little boy's prayers-and a few days later Tommy's breathing became better. His hope was beginning to rise. Before he knew it, he was in the backseat of the car as his mom and dad took him home.
It was an indescribable thrill. For years, when thinking back on that day, he could still relive the joy he felt while driving home, the joy of watching the treetops, the houses, the people they passed along the way. He was out of prison at last. Out of isolation.
Excerpted from When GOD winks on NEW BEGINNINGS by Squire Rushnell Copyright © 2009 by SQuire Rushnell. Excerpted by permission.
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