Every week, I carve out a little time to respond to something I’m almost embarrassed to talk about, something which still takes me by surprise. Some may call it fan mail, but I consider it ministry. It’s an opportunity for me to continue the conversation with people – perhaps on the other side of the country or even the world – who have been affected by my writing to the point of taking time to let me know that. I try to get to know them and their needs, to turn the conversation away from me and encourage them.
“Are you an author?” a lady asked me last week in a gallery on the Art Crawl line-up downtown.
“Who? Me?” I stammered. “I guess so. Yes, I am.”
“We read your book in my book club and you look just like your picture.”
That had never happened to me before.
A few days before that, I got a phone call from a man who’d read my article in the Amy Writing Awards booklet. After initially feeling more than a little creepy that he tracked down my phone number, I decided he was just a dear older gentleman who hasn’t forgotten how to use an antiquated phone book. But to be on the safe side, I did talk about “my husband” frequently – a trick I also employed in my single days.
Last week, a lady in Kansas emailed me that she’s reviewing my book at her church’s women’s conference. Another first for me.
Every time one of my articles runs in the local paper, “fans” tell me they eagerly wait for each new article I write. And then there are comments that come via my blog and the ones where I’m a guest blogger.
Always unexpected, it’s become one of my favorite aspects of the writing life.
Home. Just saying the word conjures up all kinds of images. What do you envision when you think of home?
I see myself cozily tucked under an afghan in front of a robust fire, hot chocolate in hand and my husband beside me, while a vicious wind piles snow outside our cabin windows.
I’ve never lived in a cabin. But the idea of home stirs up feelings of a safe haven; of warm belonging that insulates me from the cold.
We either remember – or long for – a home filled with laughter and closeness. A place where we are understood and even delighted in. In the security of home, we gain the courage to soar on our path to becoming all we were meant to. And then we can retreat to our refuge to heal our battle wounds.
I’ve lived in a lot of places –three countries, eight states, and I’ve lost count of the number of towns. Each time, I love the newness of the honeymoon-like beginning. But then homesickness is bound to come unbidden.
The other morning, it accosted me once more. After two years of courtship with our new town in the Southeast, my husband and I are still not “one of them.” And we probably never will be. We’re viewed as Californians here, but in California I identified with Eastern Europe. And in Eastern Europe I was The American Girl.
Haven’t I been down this road before?
After one move, I felt particularly sorry for myself for always having to go it alone. Jesus gently realigned my perspective. He reminded me that I’m not alone. He is my home – my forever home – and he makes the move with me to each new earthly home. He takes up residence in my heart and I abide in his heart.
Even when my external world is turned inside out and upside down, He is the one constant who never changes. I may feel lonely at times but the truth is that I am never alone. And neither are you. The one who understands our tumultuous emotions better than we do ourselves will never leave us.
“I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (II Cor. 6:16.)
Years later, on my first morning of life in Romania, I sat on a park bench and poured out my fears to God. Did I have what it took to make it in a place so different from any I’d ever known? As I finished praying, I noticed my favorite deep purple flowering bush from my last home in California, thriving in the middle of Bucharest. If God could provide something purely for my delight that I didn’t need at all, I knew at that moment that He could take care of the rest.
God whispered to my heart that it didn’t matter if I could do it. He had what I needed, and He was going to lavish me with his grace and infuse me with enough strength for each day. ”The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thess. 5:24.)
By the time I returned to the States a decade later, my values had expanded so much through life and ministry in another culture that I had changed, forever marked by the experience. I had to accept the fact that I would never fit in anywhere again. Just as I was an alien overseas, I’d be an alien back in my “home” country.
And that’s a good thing. I’m not meant to become so comfortable here on earth that I stop longing for heaven. My true citizenship is nowhere on earth.
God can plant us and sink our roots down deep wherever we live. But when the cloud moves and He calls us somewhere else, we need to trust him as we pull them up. Again.
This time when loneliness hit, I remembered that I was created for eternity. And someday I’ll be welcomed home.
I love this time of year. It marks the beginning of the end of summer. Signs start to appear that foretell fall’s imminent arrival. The early mornings are now cooler (which I like) and darker (which I don’t like) than they were in July. This past July broke the record for the hottest month ever in the United States and I couldn’t be happier for it to be over.
You may think I’m crazy to be glad for summer’s end, and perhaps this time of year delivers the exact opposite emotion to your doorstep. But to me, it means the end of the heat and humidity.
It also marks the return of students to the campus where I work.
As a child, I loved the seemingly-endless summer days filled with bike rides and swimming in the river and writing stories and playing with our animals. But even then, I had to admit the start of a new school year invigorated me.
I loved the smell of crisp new textbooks, buying a new outfit every fall, picking out school supplies, the excitement of wondering whether I’d like my teachers and my classes. To some, the unknown brings fear, but to me, it means thrill and anticipation.
Spring is the season of new life. Trees and flowers that appeared to be dead return to full vibrancy, pointing us to Christ’s life conquering death. But autumn also seems like a resurrection of sorts to me.
A new school year means new beginnings. A chance for a fresh start. A do-over.
Freshmen are arriving today, full of trepidation and excitement. Their values and life goals will be shaped while they’re in college; their possibilities are limitless and yet to be written.
I wonder which of the freshmen will be introduced to Christ through the Cru students. Who will grow in their relationship with Jesus? Which ones will respond to His call to help reach the world?
Our campus has been in the throes of death, or at the least, in hibernation since graduation in May. This week it is springing to life. Students are beginning to return. Rather than the sound of birds singing as in the springtime, I hear laughter again.
And it sounds beautiful.
“Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” You’ve probably heard this quote, maybe even used it. It’s widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but never verified, and certainly taken out of context.
If St. Francis indeed made the statement, he must have thought it frequently necessary to use words. He trained large numbers of young men to go with him to preach on the street corners in 12th century Italy.
That quote has become a convenient escape clause for us. A cop-out.
Yes, it’s true that our lives need to match the faith we profess. We need to live with integrity, meaning that we are the same at home AND at work, on Sundays at church AND on Mondays on the interstate. Our public and private selves merge; we become undivided people.
We share the good news both by being tangibly involved in peoples’ lives AND by speaking truth.
No words are ever wasted in the Bible. The little ones carry a lot of weight.
Word AND deed.
Truth AND love.
Neither are any words inadvertently omitted. Notice the absence of the little word “or.” We were never given the option of choosing whether to travel the route of speaking the truth of the gospel OR showing the love of the gospel.
And where are we to do this? Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, AND the remotest part of the earth.
We begin with one small stone, in our town, our Jerusalem. Like ripples that spread out from there, we go on to Judea and Samaria (our country), with the impact radiating out to the world.
“We have enough needs right in our own backyard. What’s the big deal about reaching the world?” Have you heard this sentiment? I have.
Our perspective is skewed. Jesus promised us power to be his witnesses, to testify to his life, everywhere. How would the gospel ever have reached you in your land if earlier saints had ignored this? Maybe the church has been remiss in recent history with an emphasis on preaching to strangers while ignoring the needs of our neighbors. But is that any reason to let the pendulum swing to the exact opposite extreme?
How can we communicate news – good news – apart from words? If you are kind to people, serve hungry people soup, or even go to a foreign country and help build houses, how will they intuitively guess the reason you are so nice?
Many of us attend church our entire lives and still get confused about the finer points of theology. Yes, the gospel is simple, but the depths and complexities of it take a lifetime to plumb. Do we really expect others to figure it all out on their own?
Words are critical. But they must be backed up by action or else they’re empty hypocrisy. And not just one isolated incident, but consistent and authentic action. Anyone can be nice for one hour.
When my friend, Greg, went to Bosnia for a year, he expected the Bosnian people to see there was something different about him because he modeled Christ’s love. Instead, he found people – with no knowledge of Jesus – to be some of the most gracious and generous he’d ever met. His landlord even had a great marriage – apart from knowing Judeo-Christian values.
Greg concluded that kindness wasn’t enough. “The gospel must be shared with words,” he told me.
Good deeds are not enough. Greg had words that brought life. Do you?
esterday I witnessed Americans turning out in droves to cast their vote; more than I’ve ever seen for any presidential election. Cars lined up for a mile waiting to turn into the polling place in my town. People stood in a queue that wrapped around the voting venue, out the door, and spilled onto the sidewalk.
Amazingly, people waited patiently, not a small feat for instant-gratification-loving Americans. At the end of their sojourn, weary yet pleasant workers greeted them with a smile.
The ballots were cast at unorthodox locations: Chick-fil-A restaurants.
Some Americans turned out to vote because First Amendment rights were being threatened. Some came to stand for the Biblical definition of marriage. And some just to support their favorite chicken sandwich with their wallets.
A handful of people stood in front of the restaurant with picket signs, also casting their vote and exercising their free speech. One sign read, “Chick-fil-A serves Hate and Intolerance with their Chicken.” (I wonder if they considered that it might be intolerant to attempt to ban Chick-fil-A from whole cities.)
I felt like I was witnessing something historic.
Last week, I blogged about my fear that we are a nation headed toward Fascism. My angle was the violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. The whole brouhaha began when Chick-fil-A’s president merely answered a question posed by a reporter, honestly expressing his personal belief, while refusing to discriminate against anyone with a different belief who eats or works in his company.
Since then, I’ve read many other editorials which have pointed to a bigger First Amendment right being threatened in our Western world: the free exercise of religion. It’s not just evangelical Protestant Christians who are being discriminated against.
Recently, the Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) mandate went into effect, requiring that all employers pay for contraception services and abortion-inducing drugs. This forces Catholic organizations to either abandon their consciences or drop health care coverage for employees.
In Cologne, Germany, circumcision was banned as a violation of a newborn’s human rights; thereby infringing on the exercise of religion for Jews. To follow Mosaic law, all male Jewish boys must be circumcised at eight days old. Of all nations in the world, Germany is the last country that should attempt to step on the free expression of Judaism.
Last night, my faith in democracy was restored. Americans spoke up.