On a fall writing retreat weekend with some fellow members of the Redbud Writers Guild, I went down to breakfast on the first morning and found a copy of We Wait You next to my plate. Taryn Hutchison, a fellow Redbud member, wrote this book about her work as a single missionary in Eastern Europe from 1990 to 2000 and was kind enough to gift all of us at the retreat with a copy.
Spare minutes on a writing retreat should be spent, one would think, WRITING, but instead I devoured Taryn’s book. In 1990 she had already been on staff with Campus Crusade for 10 years, serving at colleges across the U.S. She applied for an international mission stint with Campus Crusade and was waiting for placement when Communism began falling all across Eastern Europe. The doors were opened, and she went to Romania, where she and other team members had incredible opportunities to share the Good News of Christ with young people who were starving to hear it. A few years later, she took on a shepherding role and moved to Budapest, Hungary, using it as her hub to travel to Campus Crusade ministries across Eastern Europe.
The title is actually a quote from a Romanian. Taryn had been lecturing on democracy to a class in Bucharest, Romania. Following the lecture, one listener said, “We wait you. We waited 45 years for the Americans to come and set us free. Why did you take so long?”
It’s a fascinating story, and this book blurb is true: “History and faith will come alive as you take this riveting journey with Taryn behind the Iron Curtain, encountering Cold War informants, Russian mafia, and persecuted believers. Relive the unforgettable drama of historic events that changed Eastern Europe.”
In the process of learning about the incredible history and adventures Taryn encountered, you also read about how she learned to trust God to provide everything she needed to do whatever He called her to. Questions for reflection and discussion are at the end of each chapter, making this a great book for group or personal study.
Taryn’s voice is honest–and humorous! I enjoyed not only her wonderful stories and testimonies but also her personality. If you click on the title in the first paragraph of this post, it takes you to its Amazon.com page; here is link to a review of We Wait You that I found very interesting; and here is a link to Taryn’s website. The book is available in both Kindle and paperback form and would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for yourself or a friend!
A few months ago I went to a book signing for my friend’s debut novel, A Minor: A Novel of Love, Music & Memory. The author, Margaret Philbrick, is a both a writing friend (she’s on the board of the Redbud Writers Guild) and a fellow member at Church of the Resurrection (though she’s been there much, much longer than I).
The book deals with a teenage piano prodigy, Clive, and the mentor who helps him to, as Clive puts it, “set his fingers and his heart on fire.” I was fascinated with the way Philbrick describes music throughout the novel. It becomes a character, and it drives and woos Clive.
Clive’s relationship with his mentor, Clare, also becomes increasingly complex, and he finds himself falling in love with her. But Clare is more than twice his age, and Clive soon notices her memory is slipping. Clare is diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and Philbrick explores the effects of this on human relationships and on a person’s gifts and passions (with a particular focus on the effects of music on memory).
I don’t usually suggest an e-book over print, but this book is an exception BECAUSE Philbrick has done the coolest thing ever. In the e-book, the reader has the option of playing the music Clive is working on; it becomes the background music as the reader experiences the scene!
Here’s another reason to purchase the e-book: November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, so Philbrick and her publisher, Köehler Books, are donating 20% of all proceeds from e-book sales to the Alzheimer’s Association AND it’s on sale for only $1.99.
Intrigued? Here’s another link to the book’s Amazon page and here’s a link to the info about the publisher/author donating money during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
I just finished Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder’s true account of the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease (ID) specialist. Here’s part of the inside-the-front-cover blurb:
“In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that ‘the only real nation is humanity.’”
Though I found the accounts of worldwide medical politics fascinating, what gripped me most was Farmer’s dedication to the patients right in front of him. Many accounts reminded me of the stories my family-doctor father told at the dinner table. He, like Farmer, saw every person as a patient, someone to be helped. What also grabbed both my attention and my heart was Farmer’s insistence that we must treat the poor as if they are our own sister or brother, child or mother.
This insistence has often put Farmer at odds with medicine on a grand scale. The World Health Organization and other international medical entities, understandably so, want to impact the greatest number of lives with the limited funds they have, which means that those who suffer with resistant strains of a disease often get ignored. Dr. Farmer disagrees with this practice, in part because of his theory (which has been proven time and again through his and other’s clinical studies) that resistant strains, when untreated, eventually enter the general population, and the problem then multiplies. Better, though more expensive in the short-term, to make great efforts to find every person in a region who suffers from the disease, treat every case, no matter how complicated, and systematically eradicate the disease in that area in all its forms.
But the greater reason Farmer treats every patient he encounters is because of this belief: “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.” If you visit the Web page of Partners in Health, the organization Farmer, with others, founded, that quote of his is at the bottom of nearly every page.
This belief means Farmer is holistic in his approach to patient care. Well-fed people, living in decent housing, are less susceptible to infectious diseases, he argues. Therefore, in the process of administering medical treatment, he works to improve the nutrition and living conditions of his patients. He has poured out his life in order to accomplish this level of individual and community healthcare in some of the poorest places around the world.
The book is a good read. It’s also convicting. The title Mountains Beyond Mountains refers to a Haitian proverb: “Beyond mountains there are mountains,” and means that as you solve one problem, another presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one, too.
The proverb is so very true, and it should impact all of us, not just those who, like Farmer, are on the front line of the battle against poverty, disease, and injustice/oppression. The rest of us, though, can feel like we have no ability to impact the battle. What is the point, then, of thinking of it at all, of reading books like this? Kidder wrote: “The world is full of miserable places. One way of living comfortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money.”
Yet for those of us following Christ, “not thinking about them”—even if we do send money—is not an option. Paul Farmer is quoted as saying, “[Many people] think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We (Partners in Health) don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.”
We Christians don’t believe that either. We are called to think and pray and care to the point that our own comfort eventually becomes secondary.
Still, it can sometimes feel like an abdication to simply send money or even to pray.
As long as the prayer and the giving impact our hearts, it’s not.
At a different point in the book, Kidder said of Farmer, “Lives of service depend on lives of support. He’d gotten help from many people.”
I tell my kids all the time that we are richer than 98% of the world’s population. (They often finish my quote and say, “We know, Mom. We know.” By the way, you can check your own ranking out at the Global Rich List). It helps our perspective to remember that fact so we don’t simply compare ourselves with the other middle-classers surrounding us and see our wealth as being a means for keeping up.
Kidder spoke on this truth: “How could a just God permit great misery? The Haitian peasants answered with a proverb: ‘Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe,’ in literal translation, ‘God gives but doesn’t share.’ This meant… God gives us humans everything we need to flourish, but he’s not the one who’s supposed to divvy up the loot. That charge was laid upon us.”
NOTE: I’ve been through enough vague guilt trips that I certainly don’t want to lay one on anyone else. So what do we do when we don’t know what to do?
We start with prayer. God knows the resources He’s provided us with and the purpose He has for each one (whether they be time, money, or expertise). God directs us to (or directs to us) the neighbor next door, the local homeless shelter, orphans across the world, persecuted believers, resettled refugees from Syria or the Congo, or the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Is it easier, perhaps, not to be burdened? Absolutely! But we’re missing so, so much if we stay aloof. We must be bold to pray even when we know it will push us to know God’s heart better—the heart that cares for the entire world and knows each injustice and sorrow.
We can’t know His heart if we don’t pray.
LINKS: Here are a few links to U.S. and international organizations that are concerned with justice and health for all:
For smaller organizations, please see the “What I’m passionate about” column on the right side of my blog.
FURTHER READING: To read more about the subject of Biblical justice, follow this link to “A Justice Manifesto,” written by Kelli Trujillo for the July/August 2013 issue of Relevant Magazine. It’s a great big-picture article with excellent sidebars on specific issues and/or ways to get involved.
In the same issue of Relevant, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson wrote “Why You Can’t Save the World.” It’s excellent and a good reminder of the truth that we aren’t called to save the world, just to trust and follow Christ. Saving the world is His job.
PRAYER: Father, as Christ taught us, we, too, pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our hearts long for heaven, Lord, for Your goodness and justice to be the living reality for all. We pray against oppression, inequality, and persecution. Teach us Your justice and how to live justly where we have been placed. Teach us and then so soften and burden our hearts with Your grace that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with You.
I am in the middle of reading Half the Sky, a highly regarded book on the worldwide issue of violence against women and girls.
Some nights I get through a full chapter. More often, though, it is a couple pages, a few paragraphs. The stories of neglect, rape, beating, and horrific disfigurement and execution wear me down, and I close the cover and set it aside.
Yesterday a friend from the West Chicagoland Anti-Trafficking Coalition (WCATC) sent out an email to all members of the WCATC leadership team. In the body of the email, she wrote, “This article (attached to the email) is simply horrible. It makes me sick just reading it. … However, it is important for all of us to be aware of this side of the situation and be on our knees in prayer.”
The title of the article is “The Rape of Men: the Darkest Secret of War.”
I can’t read it in full yet.
After I hear such stories, I often close my eyes and see a scene from A Wrinkle in Time, one of my all-time favorite books. I want to share it with you. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are on a journey to another galaxy to rescue Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, a scientist for the U.S. government who has unexpectedly traveled through space with disastrous results. The three wise guides who are escorting the children take them en route to visit the Medium in Orion’s Belt. They ask her to show the children Earth in her crystal ball. She is reluctant and first zooms in on a sparkling clear planet in the same solar system.
“’No, no, Medium dear, that’s Mars,’ one guide told her.
‘Do I have to?’ the Medium asked. …
The bright planet moved out of their vision. For a moment there was the darkness of space; then another planet. The outlines of this planet were not clean and clear. It seemed to be covered with a smoky haze.”
Meg then asks if the haze is the atmosphere, but she knows it is not. She knows it is the same Dark Thing that terrified them earlier on their journey.
“’Did it just come?’ Meg asked in agony, unable to take her eyes from the sickness of the shadow which darkened the beauty of the earth. …
‘No, Meg. It hasn’t just come. It has been there for a great many years. That is why your planet is such a troubled one.’ …
‘I hate it!’ Charles Wallace cried passionately. ‘I hate the Dark Thing!’ …
‘But what is it?’ Calvin demanded. ‘We know that it’s evil, but what is it?’”
The oldest and wisest of their guides then shouts, in her quavery voice, “’Yyouu hhave ssaidd itt! … Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!’”
I forget sometimes that all the pain and evil inflicted by humans upon humans has the powers of darkness behind it. I also forget that for a supernatural problem, we must seek a supernatural answer. “What can I do about it?” I think, after hearing of another atrocity.
Then, failing to come up with an immediate, concrete solution, I say, “Well, I could at least pray.”
There is no “at least” about prayer. If the power behind acts of rape, ‘honor’ killings, mutilation… is the power of darkness, then engaging in earnest prayer is like bombing enemy headquarters, like being dropped into the heart of the battle and targeting the commanders who are giving the orders.
I’m not saying we should not also DO. Absolutely we should. But we must stop thinking of prayer as an “at the least” action. I recently read that Mary Queen of Scots said that she feared the prayers of reformer John Knox more than the combined armies of France and Spain (from A Spiritual History of the Royal Mile by Paul James-Griffiths).
I don’t know exactly what prayer does, but I know it does MUCH. It may aid angels who are fighting the powers of darkness. It may provide supernatural encouragement to the victims of violence. It may open the hearts of perpetrators to God. It may thwart evil. I have heard story upon story of believers feeling suddenly called to pray for a specific need or person far, far away and discovering later there was a correlation between their prayer and a miraculous change.
I DO know this about prayer: when I engage in it, it impacts my heart. It opens my soul to needs; it enables me to see opportunities for action and readies me to embark upon them; it fills my heart with compassion for victims and perpetrators alike.
I often feel helpless about sex trafficking; therefore, it drives me most easily to gut-wrenching, sleep-interfering prayer. That may not be the same for you. The persecuted church, abortion, pornography, child abuse, orphans, the mistreatment of those with special needs, the destruction of marriages and families, dying churches, starvation, the plight of refugees, racial tension… The enemy is waging war on many, many fronts.
Let’s fight back with prayer.
There will be no “at the least” about it.
Ephesians 6:10-20 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mysteryof the gospel,20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
NOTE: The audio of my reading of this post is at the bottom. Thanks for reading (or listening).
Just for fun–and in case you’re feeling the need for some chocolate! (We didn’t actually buy the chocolate bar–though the kids would have loved to!)
One day this past week I encountered a grumpy man at the dog park.
He didn’t say anything mean. He was just grumpy.
No big deal, really. In fact, I forgot about it the rest of that day.
But the next morning, it returned. And I couldn’t let it go. I grew frustrated with Grumpy man. Worse, I re-imagined the scene in my head—with a little more grumpiness on his part and some witty rejoinders on mine. It was ridiculous, and I grew even more frustrated with myself than with Grumpy Man. Why am I so caught up in this? I wondered. Why do I even care?
As I prayed about this, I remembered a scene I’d read the night before in The Hiding Place. My daughter is reading it for a class at school, and, though I’ve read it at least a couple times, it was lying around, so…
I was just going to read a few pages in the middle—but I finished it a little after midnight.
If you haven’t read The Hiding Place, you should. This true story is gripping: a quiet Dutch family becomes active in the underground movement during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, assisting some Jews to flee the country and hiding others in the attic of their home. Eventually their work is discovered, and middle-aged daughters Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom, along with their elderly father and several other family members, are arrested. Their father dies after only a few days in prison; most of the other family members are eventually released; but Betsie and Corrie are sent together to Ravensbruck, the notorious concentration camp for women.
Betsie is a saint (I know Scripture calls all of us who believe in Christ “saints,” but I, at least, don’t generally act like one, and Betsie truly did.) For example, here’s how she acted in the scene I remembered this morning: Corrie and Betsie had just witnessed German guards mistreating some prisoners with intellectual disabilities. Corrie said, “Betsie, after the war, we must open a home so we can minister to them. They will have so many emotional wounds.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
Betsie responded, “Oh, yes, Corrie. They will need so much healing.”
It wasn’t until later Corrie realized Betsie had not been referring to the prisoners but to the guards. Even when she was personally mistreated by them, Betsie had compassion on them. She saw them as hurting souls.
Betsie was as free in prison as outside it because she harbored no bitterness. None! This allowed her not only to be an incredible blessing to those around her, but also made her own life—which could be accurately described as miserable, full of physical and emotional hardships 24 hours a day—joyous.
That is freedom, I thought as I reflected. How ironic that a woman in a hellish situation could be so mentally, emotionally, and spiritually free, while often we who are well-fed, well-clothed, and “free” to choose career/family/circumstances, live in bondage—to our own selves—and are therefore miserable and bitter.
Case in point: ME—fixated on Grumpy man.
Lord, I prayed, I want to be like Betsie!
It would be nice to end it there—as if the desire for change made it actuality.
But though I sure wanted it, it wasn’t the reality I lived in that day. In fact, my frustrations spread: one by one my kids got lumped in with the Grump. Finally, this afternoon, after another kid pushed another button (they were getting more and more easily pushed as the day went on), I escaped for a short run and listened to Tullian Tchividjian preach on the book of Romans. It was only the second sermon in the book series, so he was camping on chapter 1—with its strong emphasis on the complete sinfulness of all mankind.
Not exactly a “fun” listen! But it shut me up. All day I’d wanted to be more like Betsie and failed! And though I would never have said (or even “thought”) this “out loud,” I knew the fault had to be with the people rubbing me the wrong way—
Because it couldn’t be completely with ME!
But Romans 1 doesn’t allow for that shifting of blame, for blindness to personal fault, for portioning out wrong. So as Tchividjian broke down the second half of the chapter, peeling away the ways we lump “sinners” together and somehow remain outside that group ourselves, I had to sink into the truth.
I said it out loud in the quiet woods. “I am broken—to the core.” It suddenly didn’t matter that I figure out the specifics of each little set of frustrations. The ultimate reason I was frustrated was ME!
And then, finally, I was ready to receive.
It would be nice to think Betsie Ten Boom really was a “saint” in the way we think of the word: that she lived joyously and freely in her own power—out of some special personality she had (because then we might be able to achieve it on our own, too).
But Betsie arrived at freedom the same way I have to—through brokenness.
Her sweetness and joy was a result of her being willing, again and again, to admit her own inability, to be “ok” with her neediness, to say “NO” to self-sufficiency—and in that place of vulnerability and humility to drink in the great, ready grace of God.
In brokenness we receive—again and again and again.
It’s the only road to freedom.
*Seriously, if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, do! If you click on the book title, it will take you to the book’s Amazon.com page. If you need a little more convincing, read this review. Wow!