Every year during the first few days of January, my husband and I have a meeting in which we attempt to set goals for the coming year. I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions
, never been one to go in for all that guilt and self-reliance. (Truth be told, it’s probably because I know that I could never accomplish them. In my case, it wouldn’t be so much a question of self-control as general absentmindedness—I’d simply wake up one morning and forget about my resolution entirely.) But while I’m not one to make resolutions, I am one to dream. So that’s what we do—this husband of eleven years and me—we sit and dream and plan and reach for the stars on cold January evenings well after our children are tucked in bed.
Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a yellow legal pad that has been at the center of those meetings. On it, we’ve chronicled our goals for the past eleven years. On it, we’ve strategized and organized and neatly categorized them into 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans. Some have been eerily prophetic; others, hilariously naïve. Our first year's goals included eventually owning “forty acres of land” (because as my father-in-law says, “They’re not making any more of it.”) and having “a couple kids.” Today, we own ½ acre and don’t “have
kids” but we are
a family that includes three marvelously creative and unique individuals, none of whom I could have imagined ten years ago.
Looking over that legal pad reminded me of two things---
1) how foolish we are to think we can plan our own paths
2) how kind and wise God is to give us dreams that He wants to fulfill
I grew up in a church tradition that, while perhaps unintentionally, was often suspicious of personal dreams and ambition. We had just two choices on the shelf, after all—pleasing God or pleasing self. And while I don’t really believe it was intended to be that simplistic, to an impressionable teenager, this often presented itself as the need to choose between doing what God wanted and doing what I loved. What no one seemed to clarify was that a life well-lived would undoubtedly involve both.
My parents believed in dreams though. And they believed in Providence--the kind of Providence that made each of their five children unique and would ultimately lead each to very different callings from finance to design to music. They never pressed the false dichotomy that I felt but instead taught us that all of life was to be lived with joy and faith, all of life was to be lived for His glory regardless of what we ended up doing. Still I don’t think it really sunk in for me until adulthood. I remember privately agonizing through high school, desperate to prove to God and myself that I would follow “His will” if only He would reveal it to me. All the while never realizing that He already had and I already was.
In fact, as I look back, I realize that I was doing His will every time I followed in obedience, every time I loved another person, every time I longed to see His glory. I also realize that I was doing His will every time I sat down to write, every time I read and reread books that stretched my thinking, every time I reveled in and pursued the dreams that He had already placed inside of me.
Eighteen months ago, I began blogging
, in part to finally prove or disprove this theory. I wanted to fully commit myself to a dream in order to see what He would do with it. I guess, in a way, I wanted to put my big toe in the Jordan to see if the waters would part. To that point, I had been writing bits and pieces but only as a hobby. I think it was my way of not having to commit, a way of inoculating myself from disappointment. What if my dreams weren’t God’s dreams for me? What if I failed?
I would just play it safe; and while that meant that I may never know what God could have done, I would also never have to face the possibility of seeing my dreams crushed.
But I soon found that I couldn’t play it safe. Every article I wrote and every query I sent flamed the passion that was burning inside of me.
And slowly I realized that God Himself was the one nurturing and cultivating my dreams. He faithfully sent the right people to encourage me and faithfully sent the right rejections to keep me in my place; until one day, He finally gave me the courage to accept that as much as I loved writing, He loved me writing as well.
Back to the yellow legal pad. One of those silly goals that my husband and I wrote down over ten years ago was that I would write a book. Shortly before Christmas, in large part due to blogging, I signed a contract with Moody Publishers
to write that book. I signed a contract that will enable me to do what I love at the same time that it will serve His people on a broader scale. I signed a contract that will enable my thoughts to be embodied in paper and ink and type and give me a chance to truly earn the appellation of “writer.”
I am humbled. I am grateful. I am scared. And I have never before so strongly believed in Providence.
The next several months of writing will probably be similar to the last several years—I expect to wrestle through fears, doubt, and discouragement, to swing from heights of elation to depths of despair. And while I have plenty more that I want to share about this unbelievable opportunity, at this point, I just want to sit in awe. To publicly acknowledge the kindness and wisdom of God and to remind myself that the God who gives dreams doesn’t abandon His children in the middle of them.
Each of us has different dreams; and each of our yellow legal pads should have different goals on them because He was made us distinct. Writing may not be your passion, but it is essential that you pursue whatever is. It is essential that you surrender not only to what you love but to the fact that God wants to use what you love for His kingdom. It may not end up being your profession, but it will be your calling. It will be something that only you can do--something that only you can contribute.
So this year--in this brave new world of 2013--find what you love to do, surrender to His hand, and know that a kind, sovereign God put those dreams inside of you in the first place. And because He has, this same kind, sovereign God will, in His own way and in His own time, bring them to pass. Not simply for your joy, but for the joy of His people, and I’m convinced, for His own joy—for His own secret delight in watching His sons and daughters become all that He has created them to be.
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Sometimes in this life, the Light doesn’t seem to shine very brightly. Sometimes darkness seems to be winning. Last Friday morning, when a killer entered a Connecticut elementary school, it was precisely one of those times.
And while we were initially absorbed with what happened and how it happened, we are now left wrestling with the question of why
it happened. Undoubtedly over the next few days, we will discover bits and pieces of the story. We will hear about mental illness, previous altercations, worrisome signs, and we will cling to these scraps as some sort of explanation for horrors that simply cannot be explained.
But even as the details become clearer, I’m afraid that it will become increasingly harder for us to truly understand. As the details take shape, we will be tempted to isolate this tragedy, to relegate it to the result of a broken mental health system or a society glutted with violence. And while we must have those conversations, we must not forget that what happened on Friday is part of something larger than any of us. What happened Friday in those now sacred halls was one more attempt by the Evil One to fight a battle that he has already lost.
Those of you who are literature buffs may remember Shakespeare’s play Henry V.
The story climaxes as a young King Henry successfully leads his ragtag English army to victory over superior French forces at the Battle of Agincourt. During the battle, when it becomes apparent that the English will prevail, a band of French soldiers slip behind the English lines to do the unspeakable—they slaughter the young boys who had been left at camp.
In Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film
adaptation, the fighting on field abruptly stops when the air is pierced with high-pitched screams of panic and anguish. The soldiers rush back to camp to discover their boys--their sons--murdered. Viewing their lifeless bodies, a war-hardened Henry wails, “I was not angry since coming to France until this instant!” War is one thing—that is business—but there is a code of honor, a code of warfare that is supposed to keep the innocents safe. But as we were reminded last Friday, the Evil One does not play by the rules.
Especially when he is on the run, especially when he knows that he has been defeated. Instead, the Evil One lashes out in fits of senseless, puerile rage because he knows that the only thing left to him is the possibility of inflicting suffering as he flees. As the Apostle John recorded in The Revelation, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath because he knows that his time is short.”
This is also why, despite all the coming conversations about mental health and gun control and school security, we will never be able to make sense of what happened that cold morning in Connecticut. We will never be able to make sense of it because there is no explanation, there is no reason, there is no point.
When the Evil One attacks, he destroys all that is natural, all that is good, all that is beautiful, all that is just. And he does so by attacking the weakest among us.
This randomness, this refusal to play by the rules is precisely what makes him so terrifying and why it is easy for us to fear him. Deep in our souls, we know that for all our precautions, for all our legislation, for all our whispered prayers, we cannot predict where he will strike next. And so, even as we desperately pray for the Father to deliver us, we wonder whether or not He will. And sometimes in the worst of the battle, when the skies are darkest, we don’t even know if He can.
As Henry and his men stand helplessly surveying the carnage, a French herald rides into the English camp. Snapping from his stupor, Henry lunges at him, throws him to the ground, and is seconds from impaling him when the herald cries out that he is come seeking terms of surrender. Soul-worn and body-weary Henry responds simply, "I tell thee truly, herald, I know not if the day be ours or no."
Translation: I don’t even know who is winning anymore
In this life, in the muck and mire, in the sweat and tears, we too don’t always know who is winning. It seems very likely that the Evil One prevailed on Friday. If the grief and pain in our hearts is to be believed, he certainly did. But he did not.
Instead the grief and pain must remind us that we grieve precisely because things are not as they should be; and the fact that things are not as they should be promises that one day they will be.
The fact that the Evil One acts in such deranged, malicious ways proves that he is helpless; his very struggles testify to a prevailing and conquering God. Because in battle, only the winning side has the capacity to be generous, to spare the lives of its enemies; the losing side cannot risk it.
And so we endure in hope and longing. We wait not in fear, but in power and love and sound minds. Power that enables us to continue the fight against the darkness. Love that allows the pain to seep into the corners of our well-guarded hearts and break us so that we weep—deep, guttural wrenching sobs—with those weep. And sound minds that remind us that we do not despair as those who have no hope; we know this is not the end.
We know that for the all times that the Evil One tries--for all his cowardly acts of violence, for all his desperate attempts—he is not winning. Christ has conquered; the Evil One is defeated and he is fleeing the battlefield. Through His own valiant struggle, our King has made him a weak, pitiful, paltry, powerless fool; and through His own victorious resurrection, our King can give life even to those the Evil One tries to destroy.
This is all we can know. This is all we can understand. And yet, it is enough. It is enough to know that even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and even as we cry to our Father to deliver us from the Evil One, we do not fear because we know that He is with us and we know that He already has.
I completely intended to have my next post dive right into hospitality. After all, that’s what I said, right
? But something else has captured my thoughts today and I’ll admit I’m just as surprised as you are. In fact, I hardly recognize myself for posting what you’re about to read. I’ve always thought of this blog as a quiet, reflective place, a place to get away from controversy, to bask in the warm glow of grace and love. But sometimes light needs to shine into very dark places and today is one of those days.
So here it is: I’ve been following the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.
For those of you who don’t know, the short version is this: pedophile in the top ranks of a collegiate football program + apparent systemic cover-up = shame and disgrace. (Think Catholic Church scandal and you’ve got the basics covered.) Initially I really didn’t want to know about all of it and I did a pretty good job of ignoring the headlines. I have two young sons of my own so anything of this nature hits pretty close to home
. And quite frankly, it’s just disturbing.
But I’m a Pennsylvania girl; and when you’re from PA, there are some things that you simply can’t ignore. Nittany Lion football is one of them. So when the rumors become allegations and the allegations become official charges, I knew I couldn’t deny it any longer. And just as quickly
, my denial turned to anger and here I am, interrupting a perfectly good blog with scandal.
And this is why: It’s not that abuse of this nature doesn’t happen elsewhere. It’s not that collegiate sports programs are squeaky clean. It’s not that we don’t all make mistakes in judgment sometimes. It’s this: the abuse and cover-up happened in a context of machismo and testosterone, it happened in the very heart of what we consider to be the manliest of American sports – football. It happened in a program
ostensibly designed to help boys become men. But when it was most important, the moment that manhood really mattered, no one had the courage to stand up.
And so I can’t help but wonder, what good is it to teach young men to dig deep, find the strength to overcome their opponents, to drive a ball down a hundred yards of field, if they can’t find the same inner strength to stand up to evil when it meets them face to face? What good is it if in the very same collegiate locker room the helpless and most vulnerable among us aren’t safe?
I have two sons. And one is a fighter—he once hit another boy at pre-school simply because the kid had said something (and I quote) “dumb.” He’s aggressive, he’s intense, he’s “all boy.” And I won’t change that. What I will do is teach him that the whole point
of his strength, isn’t to protect himself--it’s to protect those around him. What I will do is teach him is that he must
fight--he must fight for the weak and vulnerable. What I will do is teach him to overcome his fears so that he rush evil head-on.
Because this is the tragedy of it all--the tragedy that none of us can escape--because men failed to be men, little boys were hurt.
So today’s million-dollar question is this: Can a butcher and a vegetarian be friends?
This (slightly absurd) question has been rolling around inside my head for the last couple of weeks. For whatever reason, all at once, I’ve found myself wrestling through challenges to several close relationships. And while it’s entirely possible that I am just a very difficult person to get along with, I prefer
to think that the issue lies more in the fact that I’m a human being interacting with other human beings. And that my relationships, like everyone else’s, are often interrupted by differing opinions, dreams, beliefs, and values.
I’ve also realized that we human beings have funny ways of resolving these interpersonal tensions. Most of us end up doing one of two things. We either simply avoid the relationship altogether and make friends only with people who are like us and affirm our value systems. Or we rally the troops and come out fighting. Either, the butcher and the vegetarian simply never meet; or the vegetarian stages a protest outside the butcher’s shop, while the butcher inside makes snide remarks about grass-eating radicals.
I’ll be honest, I’ve done both. But I’m coming to realize that there’s something wrong
with both as well. While these responses are all too human, they are not at all Christian. Because usually the thing that’s driving them, first and foremost, is fear.
And the simple truth is that fear is not a Christian virtue
In fact, just the opposite is the case. Our faith actually frees
us from fear and empowers us to live lives marked by courage and openness. Our faith looks to Jesus and realizes that if ever there were a relationship doomed by differences, it is His with us. Our faith also recognizes that He made a better way and understands that this way is love.
So it is love that we must bring to our relationships, not only those that are easy for us, but especially to those that are difficult. And lest you, along with the butcher, think me a wild-eyed hippie, I’m not talking about that superficiality that masquerades as love and minimizes the differences between people. I’m talking about a courageous love that looks the differences square in the face and commits to wrestling through them together. A love that says I’m willing to hear and
I’m willing to speak. A love that casts out the fear that drives us to silence and keeps us from honestly sharing ourselves with each other.
Even if, in the end, we don’t agree.
And yes, I’ll quickly recognize that differences between people can at some point preclude them from traveling through life together. (As Tevye
reminds us, "A bird may love a fish, but where would they make their home?") Still, this is a far cry from having simple love-filled relationships with people who are different from us. In the end, we may not be able to agree, we may have profound and honest objection to each other’s choices, but as Christians, we will always be able to love.
And that’s my final answer.
So today's two-for-one special is a book review AND and an interview with another fabulous person, Ben Freeth.
Several months ago, my husband and I watched the following documentary
about the racially-inspired violence against the white farming community of rural Zimbabwe. I have a latent interest in the issues surrounding Africa’s complicated colonial past and her progress to self-governance that first began when I read Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country
. So while it was the topic itself that initially caught my attention, when the film began exploring the protagonists’ Christian faith, I was hooked. It tells the story of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth, two white African farmers and their decision to take a stand against Zimbabwe's tyrannical dictator, Robert Mugabe.
Initially I thought about simply posting a review of the film, but in the crazy working that is Providence, I ended up reviewing Ben Freeth’ s book, also titled Mugabe and the White African
and interviewing him. The Freeth and Campbell families definitely make the cut of people quietly going about their business responding to God’s call when it comes and I’m thrilled to help share the story of their courage and faith. Here's the review
and the interview.
(PS--If you hurry, you can still view the film online at POV
(Several weeks ago, I mentioned wanting to introduce you to some fabulous people I know. What I had in mind was posting interviews, and while that will happen eventually, I decided to start with this.)
She was born Hideko, but by the time I knew her, already twenty years the wife of a small town factory worker, she was simply “Aunt Heidi.” Standing not even five feet tall, she had thick raven-black hair, skin the color of golden sand, and dark eyes that always seemed to be smiling. And somehow, despite my western European ancestry, my fair skin, blue eyes, and blond hair, it never was odd to me that this woman should be my aunt.
She was simply my uncle’s wife, my aunt whose nut rolls, lady fingers, and apricot drops showed up at every family gathering from birthdays to graduations. She was my aunt who at Easter made individual plates of chocolate crosses and peanut butter cups for her nieces and nephews. She was my aunt who on Christmas Day handed out much anticipated envelopes with ten-dollar bills inside, and in her heavily accented English, wished us each a “Me-ly Chlis-a-mas.”
But before she was my aunt, she was Hideko.
Born on a small island in the Pacific, she was a toddler when WWII invaded her tropical home and turned it into a major battlefield of the war. To escape the firestorm, her family and neighbors fled to isolated caves where provisions and medical care were scarce. When she contracted an infection, there was nothing to do but move her to a separate part of the cave, administer meager doses of black-market drugs, and endure the shunning of the other refugees.
She survived and eventually the war ended. But the lush paradise she once knew had been destroyed and rebuilt and repopulated by US military bases with an ever revolving collection of American GIs. By her early twenties, she had adapted to this new normal and caught the eye of a young Marine far from his home in rural Pennsylvania. One whirlwind romance later, they were married and welcoming a daughter with the same dark eyes and black hair as her mother. Eventually he was discharged and hoping to find a quiet life as a family, they left her Pacific paradise for his home in the States
But what she found there were the wintry hills of Pennsylvania, trees stripped naked of all green life, fields of mud crusted with ice, and skies that never cleared but forever changed from gray to black to gray again. Instead of pots of rice and freshly caught fish, she found rice mixed with greasy ground meats wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves. Fish was strange frozen rectangle coated in yellow batter and plunged in hot oil. And yet, she blossomed. She soon had a son and despite her limited English, quickly learned to navigate the continuous cycle of doctor’s visits, bus schedules, PTA meetings, and after-school practices. She became a faithful member of a church, mastered the pot-luck, and saw her husband become a deacon.
All this, seven thousand miles from where she had been born.
After her death, my uncle confessed his misgivings about bringing his bride to such a foreign place. Early in their marriage, he had opened a bank account in her name and deposited $1,800 in it. He told her that if she ever found her new life too overwhelming, too lonely, or if she simply wanted to return to her family, she was to use the money and go.
She never did.
Instead she stayed and chose to be part of our family. She left her own mother, father, brothers, and sisters and embraced her husband’s mother, father, brothers, and sisters. She left her own nieces and nephews and embraced me and my cousins. She traded life on a Pacific island for life in rural America with the man she loved. Growing up, it seemed pretty unremarkable to me that Hideko was my uncle’s wife, my aunt.
Today it does not.