The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

April 2, 2020

Giving Up

It feels like ages ago when Lent began on February 26. In the five weeks since then, the world has changed. Our daily lives have altered.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I decided what to give up for Lent. I chose dessert. Every year, I question my motives with what I choose. Am I doing this for myself and my health, or to substitute the vast amount of time I spend eating bon-bons with listening to God, or maybe a little of both?

Going dessert-less is laughable if I think it compares in any way with what Jesus suffered.

What I Gave Up

This year, I actually gave up more than dessert, and it hasn’t felt trite at all. You’ve given up the same thing. Whether we wanted to or not, we all gave up time with people. We keep our six feet of social distance from everyone except those we live with. If you live alone, you have given up physical contact with everyone.

Our new normal feels a little like life did in Eastern Europe when I moved there. The streets are quiet. The few who venture out run the risk of being cited by the police with a misdemeanor or criticized by suspicious neighbors. Grocery store shelves are empty. Supplies are scarce and people are short on money to pay for them. Churches are closed. Gatherings are limited to a small amount of people. People are fearful.

I gave up face-to-face time with people because I had to. A global pandemic forced me to give up. I didn’t choose this; nobody did.

What Jesus Gave Up

Jesus willingly gave up. He gave up for us. It was his purpose all along, the reason he came to earth as a baby.

The biggest sacrifice for Jesus wasn’t the pain he endured–although that was horrendous–or the humiliation or the betrayal. It was being separated from his Father, for the first time ever.

Philip Yancey expresses this well in The Jesus I Never Knew:

No theologian can adequately explain the nature of what took place within the Trinity on that day at Calvary. All we have is a cry of pain from a child who felt forsaken. Did it help that Jesus had anticipated that his mission on earth would include such a death? Did it help Isaac to know his father Abraham was just following orders when he tied him to the altar? What if no angel had appeared and Abraham had plunged a knife into the heart of his son, his only son whom he loved? What then? That is what happened on Calvary, and to the Son it felt like abandonment.

As the final days of Lent pass by, I want to reflect on what Jesus gave up for me. I want to use these days to prepare my heart for Easter.

This Easter will feel strange. We won’t gather in person on Sunday morning to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today!, sharing in the joy of the empty tomb that first Easter morning. I will miss that. Probably you will, too. Even though we’ll be worshipping in our homes, alone, He is still risen.

I pray this Easter will be especially meaningful for you.

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March 12, 2020

Do Not Fear

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

People across the globe have a lot to be anxious about these days. Worrying quickly turns into fear, which becomes panic and leads to hysteria. Besides the obvious pandemic coronavirus, we have the worldwide economy to be concerned about. Cancer, illness, money problems, job problems, relationship problems . . . the list is endless.

Yet, none of this has taken God by surprise. He wasn’t distracted. He didn’t step away from his throne to take a personal day off, and then come back to find out that somehow this virus crept in. He is still sovereign. He is still good.

The Bible tells us “Do not fear” 365 times. Every day of the year, there is a fresh reminder, new every morning, to not be afraid.

It’s hard to relinquish fear. But there’s good news. We’re not just admonished to stop worrying; we’re given something to replace it. When we surrender our fears to the Lord and affirm our trust in him, he gives us something wonderful to fill every crevice of the place where fear used to live.

We get his peace. Peace that surpasses anything we can try to understand on our own. His peace is different from the fleeting kind that the world gives. Actually, it doesn’t feel like the world gives any kind of peace at all; just more turmoil.

God’s peace is supernatural. We can’t manufacture it on our own. It is a fruit of the Spirit, given to us when we yield control of our lives to him.

I remember being the most frightened that I’ve ever been one New Year’s Eve when I lived in Budapest, Hungary. I came home to find that my flat had been burglarized by the Russian Mafia. They’d been stalking me. After the police left–about 4:00 in the morning, I tried to sleep but I was too afraid. The robbers had cut the doorknob out of my door; my only protection–or so I felt–was to slide my hutch in front of the door.

I scrunched under my down comforter and repeated God’s word that I had hidden in my heart as a prayer. I recited Isaiah 41:10Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

And Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

I realized my protection didn’t come from having an elaborate security system or a strong guard. My safety was and is found in God alone.

When you start to feel anxious, put his word in your mind. (And continue to wash your hands and be sensible.) Following are just a few of the 365 adages to not fear:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9

Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. ~ John 14:27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

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February 24, 2020

Settled or Open-Ended?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I like to plan. I live by my to-do lists and my organized calendars. I rarely clean my house, but I must have things in their rightful places. I like having decisions made, tasks completed, plans settled.

Everything in my life right now is unsettled and disordered. This does not make me very happy. If I write anything in my calendar, it has to be in pencil because it’s all open and up for grabs.

Years ago, I used to be the Queen of personality tests. You name, I took it. I’ve been labeled a Starring Individualist-High D-Sanguine-Designer-People Gatherer-Fieldmarshal. My favorite test was the Myers-Briggs, but I realize that dates me. I haven’t kept up (I don’t know anything about enneagram) since I stopped being part of a team.

One of the Myers-Briggs categories reveals how you prefer to live your outer life–how you orient yourself to life. I always tested near the middle of this category, with its “J” for judging (a terrible word choice) and “P” for perceiving. This category highlights the biggest cause of stress on overseas mission teams, which are made up of people who already have the stress of navigating life in another culture.

When the majority of my team overseas couldn’t decide which train to take or arrive at the station on time, I became the J who took charge to get them there before the train took off. If my team were mostly task-oriented, deadline-driven people, I was the fun-loving one who would help them loosen up and enjoy life. People on those teams would not recognize me as I am today.

These days, I am a total J because my life feels chaotic, causing my need for order to spin out of control. It’s harder than I imagined to juggle two books at once. My mind and my office space are littered with haphazard info that I must shape into some semblance of structure for the non-fiction prison book I’m currently writing, while spending much of my energy calming down my highly emotional ex-con who has to rehearse painful events so I can write about them.

I find I can’t make plans—for anything. When the first round of edits come back for the historical fiction novel that’s being published, I have to drop everything and complete my part in just a couple weeks. What if it comes when our houseguests are here (who sleep in my office, by the way)? Until the novel’s release date on November 20, I will have many such urgent publication deadlines.

But that’s not all. Being the caregiver for two parents in their late eighties means frequent and often unplanned trips to medical facilities—which is how I spent most of today. It also means that if I schedule anything  that involves me leaving town–even for a day, a shadow of uncertainty looms overhead. Will I be able to get away or should I stay put? What does a good daughter do?

Buried here in the middle of all this emoting is some really, really good news. I’ve just signed a contract with an agent for the non-fiction book that I’m currently writing (yay!), and he’s shopping for publishers right now. When he lands one, I’ll have two sets of publication deadlines.

Naturally, I am over-the-moon ecstatic over all this. I just hope I’m still (?) sane when the books come out.

 

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January 21, 2020

Crazy or Called?

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Ten days before Christmas, and smack dab in the middle of publishing one novel and revising its sequel, I was asked to write another book. This one couldn’t be more different than the YA historical novels I’ve been working on the last few years. Curtis Roberts, recently released from San Quentin State Penitentiary, a friend of mine and my husband’s, called to officially ask me to write his story.

“Curtis in the Yard” by Antwan Williams

I thought a moment about how I’m busier than ever with publication deadlines, my part-time work at the university, and caregiving for my parents. And what a s-t-r-e-t-c-h a prisoner memoir is from my usual writing, which–whether fiction or non-fiction–always seems to be set in Eastern Europe.

I’d be crazy to accept.

But how could I say no?

Curtis’ story has burned in my heart for years. Curtis Roberts received no mercy from the courts, slapped with a 50-years-to-life sentence for three non-violent robberies, amounting to a grand total of $116. He got caught up in California’s Three Strikes, You’re Out! law, helped to get the reform of the law passed and many non-violent offenders released, yet still remained left behind in San Quentin. He discovered redemption and grace as he waited and suffered, enduring unfathomable depths and having his hopes raised again and again, just to be crushed each time. Finally, Curtis was released one year ago, after 29 years in prison.

I’ve blogged about Curtis off and on over the years (changing his name to Chester while he was still incarcerated). I even wrote my master’s thesis on the rhetoric of the three-strikes law and its reform. In the process of researching that paper, I stumbled upon a group of law students at Stanford who were working on behalf of non-violent three-strike lifers. My husband took over from there and got them connected with Curtis’ case.

We had something to do with his release. How could I refuse?

I sensed clearly that this was something the Lord was asking me to do. Curtis is trusting that God alone will receive the glory through the story of his life. I’m honored that he has entrusted this task to me to be the writer.

Maybe I am a bit crazy to take on such a massive project, but I also believe I’m called. The Faithful One has called me, and I can trust Him to do it (I Thessalonians 5:24).

Over the years, Curtis has been interviewed by countless people: Ted Koppel, Bryant Gumbel, PBS News Hour. He became somewhat of a media sensation through his story, entitled “Left Behind,” featured on the first season of Ear Hustle, a collaborative podcast by a now-former inmate, Earlonne  Woods, and a volunteer teacher, Nigel Poor. Curtis’ episode immediately received 750,000 hits.

If you listen to this 30-minute podcast, you’ll know why this amazing story of redemption needs to be told. And why I’m excited to be the one to do the telling.

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December 20, 2019

A Day I’ll Never Forget

I’ll never forget December 21. Two times in my life, it has proven to be a significant day.

1989

On December 21, thirty years ago, I sat glued to the television news. The revolution in Romania was under way. First Poland, then Hungary, then East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia had shaken free of their Communist oppressors. But could it happen in Romania, where people were so beaten down it didn’t seem possible they could find the strength to stand up?

The revolution began on December 15 in Timisoara, a border city, when people protested the forced exile of a Hungarian pastor. The action moved to Bucharest on December 21, and by the next day, it was finished. Of one accord, the army tanks turned and began firing on the Securitate.

Chants of Down with Communism spontaneously changed to God exists! For 45 years, the Romanian people had been brainwashed that there was no God, and they’d had enough. The dictator Ceausescu fled and the unarmed people were victorious.

The impossible had happened!

This revolution affected not only Romania, but my life personally. A matter of months later, I had moved to Romania to reach college students with the gospel. The adventure of my life had begun. It was to last for the next decade.

2000

Another life-changing event happened to me on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but one of the brightest of my life. Nineteen years ago, on December 21, Steve Hutchison got down on one knee and read a speech he’d hoped to memorize. His words were beautiful, but I only remember the last phrase: Will you marry me?

I said yes! Another adventure began, one I am still part of and hope will never end.

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