The leaves have danced off the trees and the turkey is cold again; in its place comes the Christmas season. Here comes a herald of holly and gift wrap, of warm greetings and jingle bells.
On our drive beneath the Tennessee sunset on our way to a small Thanksgiving dinner a couple days ago, advent came up. We were just at the crest of a hill, the pink and orange sky outstretched above lanes of highway, when Travis said, “Celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving makes me feel like I’m bought into consumerism.”
As the sky rolled on above us, we unpacked it. We found words for what we just naturally do in our home. Our desire is to spend November thanking God for the good things in our life. We participate in a season of reworking gratitude into our every day, because in doing so, we see our Father’s goodness all the more (James 1:17).
But when December comes, we spend it in thanking God specifically for the good gift of His Son. We ponder on the mystery of salvation. We marvel at the story of Jesus’s humble human entrance into this world. We wait.
Well, don’t let me be the one to start a debate on when the appropriate time to celebrate Christmas is. You’re welcome here, even if you’ve been listening to Christmas music since October. I’m not here to cause division, I’m simply saying that either way –
It’s time to prepare.
There are gifts to find and cards of red and green to write. We have presents to wrap, recipes to perfect, party dresses to purchase – we’re all still doing that this year, even though we’re staying home, right?
The American Christmas really does roll out quite the red carpet for this holiday season. But for the Christian, the hallmark of this season is humbly spiritual.
Our preparation is not only hanging beautiful décor and rocking around the Christmas tree. We participate in those things because it’s fun and laughable, and God has made us to enjoy life (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).
But when the lights go out, we have more to celebrate. We prepare not merely for lights and dollars, but for a gift that will never taken away: the birth of our Life and Joy. Advent is a sacred few weeks worked into our calendar so we can wait for coming of Jesus. There’s a quiet groan aching within us as we reset our vision back on Him.
How are you waiting for Jesus to arrive? It’s a question I’m asking myself today.
I’ve found that these weeks of waiting, or advent, look different for every season of my Christian walk. There have been a few resources I’ve used more than once that have enriched the days of waiting for me. You can explore some of my recommended options below.
As we step into this beautiful, somber season of waiting, let’s cling tight to what we know to be most true: that God loved humanity in all its brokenness so much that He gave us His Son as a baby to serve and teach us. Let’s marvel at this miracle and dare to trust all the more deeply in this wonderful story.
Advent Project 2020
Provided by Biola University’s Center for Christianity Culture and the Arts, this Advent series features a daily Scripture, devotion, a work of visual art, a poem, and a piece of music.
There are two things I most love about the Advent Project, and why I continually come back to this resource:
001. Integration of art. Creation and our created projects glorify a Creator God. God loves when we create beautiful things. The art and music provided each day only enhances the beauty of the written word.
002.Different teachers, one salvation. Because each essay is written by a different professor, theologian, or friend of the university, there is a wide range of voice. But the remarkable thing is how regardless of whether the Episcopalian or the Baptist are sharing, or somewhere in between, all rest their faith in Jesus.
What a diverse, creative, beautiful universal church we get to be a part of. I look forward to the Advent Project every year. The Advent Project follows the full Advent calendar, so you get daily essays emailed from November 29 – January 6. This unique plan is rich and fulfilling.
Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones
Is this a kid’s book? Yes.
Have I used this devotionally before? Also yes.
The older I get and messier life becomes, the more I hunger to sit in the simple presence of my Savior. This children’s book is an all-time favorite, completed with lyrical wording and adorable pictures. Every story points us back to Jesus – exactly what we need day in and day out.
25 Days of Advent
Provided by Hannah Brencher, this 25-day daily email devotional is packed full of truth and beauty. The queen of storytelling and breaking the Bible down into bite-sized chunks, while not minimizing the deep theological truths of the Word, this series is a delightful read paired best with coffee in the morning.
Honest Advent by Scott Erickson
Travis and I purchased this book to read through this season, so I can’t give an honest review about Honest Advent yet. However, we chose this book for 3 main reasons:
001. The feminine perspective on the birth story that we’ve never heard before.
002. The honest, descriptive account of the outright scandal of Jesus’ birth.
003. The reflective artwork.
My prayer is that this book will take us on a journey to reclaiming the wonder of Christ afresh as we behold Him in all the goopy mess. In a world of striving and beautifying, my soul is ready to crash into the honesty of the advent season.
I’m deeply indebted to historical fiction as an entire genre, and owe a hearty thanks to some of these books that have reintroduced me to the wonder of storytelling this last year.
Among these more recent, great historical-fiction reads is Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Set in Italy near the end of World War II, this tale sends readers on a journey through the eyes of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager.
Pino. The boy who led a Jewish underground railroad movement and acted as a spy for Allied forces. Pino, the unsung hero who helped end a World War and lived most his life after quiet about it.
Pino Lella is only a teenager when Nazis overtake his home Milan. As the hand of the German forces grows stronger in his community, Pino is sent to live at a Catholic convent in the mountains.
Just after arriving to the convent, Pino is asked to lead Jewish refugees on secretive, strenuous hikes through the dangerous passes over the Alps and into the safe zone of Switzerland. For months, all though the winter and beyond, Pino operates this underground railroad leading dozens of people to safety over the treacherous passes of the mountains.
When Pino is summoned back home to be drafted for service, his family forces him to join German efforts in order to ride out the nearing end of the War. He protests at first, but what he soon discovers is an opportunity to serve as a spy for Allied forces as Pino becomes a personal driver for a Nazi general.
In this remarkable journey of courage and hope, Pino Lella affects the entire trajectory of the War by daily putting his life on the line for a cause bigger than himself. He falls in love, fiercely protects, and never gives up on the good that can be found in the world.
Here’s the Wild Thing: It’s a True Story
Beneath a Scarlet Sky was born after 11 years of extensive research by author Mark Sullivan, who estimates that 80%-90% of the story true. Over a decade of study, interviews, and simply being in Pino Lella’s presence culminated into this book. This is a treasure for us as there is a not a lot of written documentation of World War II in Italy. Who knows how many stories we’ve missed; even for Mr. Lella, his story had gone untold for decades.
This is Why I Love Historical Fiction
We can pick up a history textbook if we want to learn about WWII. But, there is something about storytelling that affects our brains in totally different ways. Suddenly we’re not just reading facts and summaries crammed on a few pages, but we’re in the story too.
We’re on our way to the market, walking past Nazi generals with guns in hands and swastikas banded. We’re knocked to the ground, covering our ears at the ear-splitting sound of explosion around us. We’re hiking snow trails across the Alps, leading refugees to safety. Suddenly, we are the refugee, fleeing for safety while wearing a target on our back.
I gained more empathy for the effects of WWII in this book than I ever did reading countless textbook pages. By delving into Pino’s story, I met Nazis and Jewish refugees. My tears fell at the weight of it all, and I rejoiced at the victories. No longer was WWII a black and white stain on our world’s story, but it became this nuanced tapestry made up of real people who fought for its end in indescribable ways.
You can’t learn that in a textbook. It takes the patience of hearing a story to gain that sort of understanding.
Retracing the Steps: a Guide for Reading
As I read, I retraced the steps of Pino by looking at maps and searching photos. I found what I believe is the Catholic convent he lived in (or dang close to it). I saw the lake he led his underground railroad around. I saw his home city, and the cathedral that represented hope and safety for him. I saw the same streets where Pino Lella fell in love, wept, witnessed atrocities, and fought for restoration.
With each discovery, as I looked at each picture and Google earth image, I thought, “He was there. He stood there. He stood up for his country and for peace there.”
This is another beautiful opportunity historical fiction grants us. I created a Pinterest board of photos and links that I found helpful while reading. For me, it made the reading so much richer as I really delved into Italy in WWII. If that sounds fun and nerdy to you too, check out the board to see some of the sights referenced in the story.
Final Word: an Excellent Five Stars
If you look for them, you’ll certainly find the critics of this book. But as far as I’m concerned, this was an excellent read and I plan to keep it on my shelf and recommend to others for years to come. Mark Sullivan honored the story of Pino Lella with his careful crafting of this quiet hero’s journey; he did the world a service by sharing it.
I will admit: it wasn’t Sullivan’s writing style that captivated me. I wasn’t drawn to this book because it boasts incredible dialogue or beautifully moving poetic style. Actually, what drew me in was the unavoidable message at the center of every page that every breathe we have left is a breath of purpose.
Even the ordinary breaths.
Pino Lella thought his story was ordinary. Plain. Not worth rehashing. But here is the truth: there are no ordinary days that don’t make a difference. He showed us that the most remarkable stories happen by taking one step after another, making decisions one at a time. We could be living in the middle of a World War, saving lives and communicating critical information, and never realize the impact we’re making.
Pino Lella’s story promises us that even in the darkest of days love is there. His story is evidence that there is more good at work than bad. Don’t get me wrong – times are tough. But, we have a choice to make. We can either be victimized by it, or fight courageously to see the good.
Every step we walk has the power to change the entire trajectory of someone’s future. Let’s dare believe that. And as we take our steps, one after the other, we follow that young Italian’s example. We continue –
to have faith,
to do what is right,
and above all,
find the strength to believe there is good woven in every day
Here’s the first thing to know about The Matchmaker’s List: it’s not a holiday rom-com.
Wanting to read some sweet, Christmas funnies, I searched for a few to put on hold at the library. The Matchmaker’s List popped up in my searches, and I’m ashamed to say, I judged the book by its cover.
As it turns out, the white specks on the cover are not snowflakes. They’re just dots. And the red flowers the men are holding aren’t poinsettias. They’re just flowers.
Believe it or not, I had read the synopsis. But even so, I refused to believe it wasn’t a holiday rom-com. “The Christmas and the snow will be here somewhere!,” I told myself, holding out hope for a Christmas love story.
The *Not-So-Holiday* Story
In this story of learning to love and self-honesty, author Sonya Lalli takes readers on a journey of a 29 year-old bank analyst, Raina, who has made a deal with her Indian grandmother, Nani: if Raina isn’t married by her 30th birthday, Nani gets to arrange a marriage.
In a race against the clock, Nani chooses suitors from all over the Toronto Indian community to pair with her granddaughter. However, with each date, Raina finds herself more frustrated. And what Nani doesn’t know is that Raina is secretly holding on to hope for a man she loved (and still loves), wanting to believe that he might be ready to love her too.
Oh, and she’s internally battling with the tradition of her Indian culture too.
Throughout the journey, Raina asks hard questions. Why does she have to marry to be happy? Why does her Indian heritage leave no space for her opinion or space? What if this isn’t what she wants? Who even is she, apart from the marital expectations placed on her?
In The Matchmaker’s List, as Raina pines for a man she keeps waiting on to change, watches her best friend’s mom plan an elaborate Indian wedding, navigates the confusing dynamic of her family relationships, and of course, goes on multiple dates, Raina discovers that maybe love and life really does happen in ways that are not always arranged or planned. And maybe that’s okay.
Shout Out to All the Immigrants Making it in a New Home
One reason I chose The Matchmaker’s List as my next read – despite my reluctant doubts to believe it had nothing to do with snow or Christmas – was because of the opportunity to learn more about Indian culture and customs.
Lalli does not disappoint as she describes the textures and scents of the culture across multiple pages; I loved those moments. So often, I felt myself cooking beside Nani or sitting in her living room with tea. I heard Nani talking to the other women, and could picture myself wearing a sari in the beautiful big to-do of Raina’s best friend’s wedding.
And with each beautiful description of the culture, I saw the sacrifice that immigrant families make to come to a new home. I felt the effects of their children growing up on a different continent, and the confusion of generationally integrating in a new home.
How do you honor your history and culture, while also making a home in a new, totally different place? felt like an underlying question throughout.
The book hinges on Lalli’s description of the tension mostly between Raina and her Indian community. As a granddaughter being raised by traditional Indian culture in a progressive, large, Canadian city, Raina’s internal conflict in The Matchmaker’s List is probably a tension felt by all immigrant and refugee families resettled: seeking to make a better life, in a new home, while still honoring their heritage.
I enjoyed Lalli’s perspective into this confusing, messy, and under-told perspective of the immigrant and refugee story.
But, It Felt Like My Home
The Matchmaker’s List is not only a unique glimpse into Indian culture, but it also resonated familiar feelings of love for home within me too.
Although the underlying tension of Raina’s relationship with her Nani was the center of the plot, I adored their relationship. I love Nani like my own granny, and understood Raina’s desire to meet her expectations and make her proud. Actually, Raina’s gentle love and understanding of her grandmother convicted me, making me wonder if my love for my own grandmother’s mirror a level of grace like Raina’s.
I did love Raina and her grandmother’s relationship; their love was evident, and honestly, probably a testament to the close familial ties in Indian culture. Reading that from an individualist, American worldview was refreshing.
I Know Relationships are Hard, But…
Lalli did a wonderful job at painting images of all of Raina’s relationships. With Raina’s transient mother’s sudden coming and going, the clash with her best friend, the guy that she didn’t expect to fall for – Lalli captured the complex nuance of relationships.
She agreed with us that living with people is hard. But she also showed us that it’s beautiful and worth it, and requires hard honesty and unconditional love woven at the center of those complicated relationships.
With that, Raina came from a messed up family. Oddly, I appreciated that. Reading some of the flashbacks of her life, key points that shaped her, I was reminded of how deeply specific moments root within us – growing with us past childhood and well into adulthood. We are truly shaped by people and experiences. And not just us, but our entire worldview and outlook.
However, despite whatever childhood trauma and confusion she was going through, Raina was pretty unkind to others in her life in the novel. She really hurt a lot of people by lying to them, keeping truths from them, ignoring them, refusing to own up to her mistakes. And it messed up some relationships. She had damage to fix.
She did eventually make her wrongs, right. I applaud Lalli for that. I saw a lot of redemption in those relationships. But I just wonder how different it could have been if she had been brave enough to stand up and tell the truth in the first place, instead of waiting months to gather even more courage to own up to her mistakes.
And Oh, Yes, The Perfectionism
“She reached for my hand, and as he slight brown fingers interlocked with my own, that’s when I realized that in my silence, I was being complicit. I realized how much I truly loved this vivacious, slightly insane little woman, and what I would do to be the only person in her life never to break her heart. I would go along with it. I would live up to her expectations, and that promised I made to her two years ago – brokenhearted and desperate for my life to make sense once again – that if I wasn’t married at thirty, I’d let her make the arrangements for me.”
Sonya Lalli, The Matchmaker’s List, page 13
Probably the aspect that Lalli touched on that most resonated with me was the teaching of perfectionism. She delves into the pressure put on us, especially children of unfortunate situations, to rise and be better – in this case, better than her mother. While I don’t completely agree with Lalli’s execution of this topic, I did feel the weight of the pressure she was describing.
Raina had lived her whole life trying to be perfect, and never disappoint anyone. It took her until her 30th birthday to realize how absurd this was, and to see that actually, in her efforts to not disappoint anyone she’d actually created an even bigger mess.
Life is all about living and learning. Making mistakes and growing. We’re going to let people down. And Raina had let the pressure of believing she couldn’t for so long. I was so sad to see Raina live in this mindset. Humans are not created to be perfect, and in a lot of ways, Raina tried to be the God and Savior of her own story; it didn’t work.
I was glad to see Raina peel back her scales of perfectionism and fear, and by the end of the book, be honest about who she truly is. But man, was it a frustrating journey watching her get there.
Let’s Find a Better Argument Than “Tradition Sucks”
Although Lalli delivered on her description of Indian culture, I did not sense any deep love or appreciation for the culture as a whole. Actually, I felt a sense of shame and frustration with this community. This was disappointing because I thought there could have been more said to pull the reader into a deeper understanding of Indian culture, and there could have been redemptive qualities stated. Instead, by the end of the book, Lalli seems to state through Raina: my culture is wrong and outdated, and it needs to change. She only wanted to focus on the negative.
I’m not sure what to do with that. I think the “tradition sucks” argument is old and worn out, and cheaply done. But that was the premise of the whole book. I would have loved to have seen a more well-rounded, mature approach to disagreement. Instead, I read frustration and low-key complaining throughout.
And honestly, maybe I am working through this personally too. I know that loving people does not mean always agreeing with them, and I am not claiming that Indian culture is perfect. I don’t understand Lalli’s response to her community, and tradition, through Raina though. I’m still grappling with that.
Major Eye Roll at the “BIG LIE”
Another thing I was frustrated by was the “big lie.” I’m not going to spoil it for you. But there is a huge lie that Raina allows her grandma to believe, and in turn the entire Indian community in Toronto, believe. When the lie is first mentioned, it seems so small. But soon thereafter, the entire plot of the book hinges on this lie.
I really struggled with that too. The lie itself is ridiculous, and disrespectful. I felt that it did not make for a strong plot, and I was actually really surprised to find the lie continue growing and getting bigger. What Lalli wanted to esteem with this lie was actually cheapened by it. She seemed to make a mockery of a topic that the whole premise of the book is to accept.
The Final Word: Staying at the Library (For Now)
I loved the peek into Indian life, and stepping into the shoes of an immigrant’s granddaughter. I loved seeing Raina work through hard choices. I saw redemption in Raina’s self-discovery and relationships.
I think what I’m ultimately struggling with here in The Matchmaker’s List is that Lalli and I have vastly different worldviews.
We have different beliefs on who should marry, and how situations should be handled. We disagree on what it looks like to respect others, and how to be “true to yourself.” We have different levels of respect for submission and tradition.
Sonya Lalli and Brianna Persinger are very different. But I’ve had to settle with this: it’s okay. It is good to read literature and see life from many different angles.
If your experience reading this is like mine, you won’t pick up many quotes to jot down on the back of your bookmark. You’re going to relate more to relationships between characters than you will to the characters themselves. You’ll raise your eyebrows at some of the comments and situations in the book, because you know you’d write it very different. But, you’ll try to understand where Lalli is coming from. You’ll just respectfully disagree.
Read it, because we can not wear out the reminder that everyone is fighting battles that we – that even they – might not yet understand. We all need to remember what unconditional love and respect looks like in relationships, and we certainly need to develop a deeper empathy for the nuanced struggles of the immigrant journey and acclimation.
Although Sonya Lalli arrived to those conclusions different than I would have, I appreciated her perspective to arrive there in some fashion in The Matchmaker’s List. I’m glad to have checked this one out from the library, but am going to leave it there for now. Perhaps I’ll check it out again later, and see what refreshed eyes feel about it then.
Nearly all my houseplants are a blend of vibrant green, and
a pathetic shade of darkened brown. Lack of sunlight, or too much water aren’t
the issues. Actually, it’s that the cats love to gnaw on them.
I’ve tried a few different tricks in the book. I’ve placed
double-sided sticky tape around the plant to detour the cats from stepping too
close. I’ve sprinkled cayenne pepper on the top of the soil, and sprayed lemon
juice all around it because I’ve heard those are both scents cats hate.
Everythinag short of simply getting rid of the plants, I’ve tried.
But Dash, my precious, plant-eating cat – she only licks the
tape and comes back to the plant once the scent has worn off later. When one of
the reviews for the tape mentioned a demon cat eating the tape off its surface,
I thought: Surely not my demon cat. Wrong.
It’s been an annoying, frustrating journey of trial and
error. But the worst of it happened last week when we cleaned up cat puke. Multiple
The first time it happened, we didn’t think much about it.
The second time? We thought it was only what was left of the first. But by the
third time, we knew something was up.
And so it went on for 2 days: listening to the cat heave,
and then cleaning up puke.
Bless her. I knew she wasn’t feeling well. Her food bowl sat
full those days, and we held our breath until she went back for water. She
seemed even more put-offish than normal (if those you that know Dash can even
As bad as I felt for her, it only took one whiff of her mess
to assume what had made her sick: the aloe plant. That same one with the
hardened, brown tips – evidences of her chewing. Apparently, my ridiculous
attempts to detour her had been ignored.
First off, I don’t get why she even goes to the plants in
the first place.
But secondly, why does she go back to the plants,
even when they make her sick?
We watched her do it. Just moments after getting sick, she’d
go back to the very source of her sickness.
Time after time. Eventually we’d have to completely move the plant out
of her reach. But until we did that, we waited anxiously, hoping she’d get the
point and stop going back to the very thing that was damaging her.
As much as I wanted to be like WHYYYYYY??!, the
strange realization hit me: I do that too.
No, I’m not confessing that I eat my aloe plant and puke it
up every day. No, not quite. But this is a confession that I go back to the
things that damage me. It’s not an aloe plant, but it’s a whole list of other
things I go back to –
My phone for comfort and distraction.
Social media to desensitize.
Unkindness to myself and to others.
The crippling list of could haves, should haves, and would
All these places, and more I’ve not listed, are the ones I
run to. I know they’re not good for me. I know they’re not helpful to my life’s
vision, and I know that these are not things that I want to be marked by. These
things don’t refresh me, or enliven me. These are not the will of God
for my life.
They bring me anxiety and worry, fear and cowardice. They cripple
me, causing me to feel stuck and think that my Savior doesn’t care for me. They
leave me out, make me feel unworthy and far from my best. It disgusts me every.
And yet, I keep going back. Even though I know full well that these things make me sick with regret and discontentment, I return.
It’s stupid because my Father promises to give me the
opposite of these things. He promises kindness through and to me. He promises
to give me the truth, and assures me that when I believe it, I will truly live.
He gives me permission to be content and joyful, staying focused on my tasks
ahead without the hindrance of the regrets. And when I believe him, I am
restored and nursed back to health.
But when I don’t believe him, it’s damaging.
We all have something that tears us up, but we keep putting
stock in. For Dash it’s the aloe plant. For me, it’s that whole list – and more.
But today, I am remembering that I don’t have to go back to the things that
make me sick. I might have hunger pangs for them, but I don’t have to thirst
What if instead of going to them, I ran to the things that do
Like writing, both here and in my paper journal.
Reading the story of Jesus.
Talking to God.
Reading my current book (The Hobbit!).
Serving and doing well toward my people.
Snuggling with the cats (always necessary).
Setting screen time limits.
Jotting down goals.
Taking the time to hike beneath a sky that is beautiful and
fills me with wonder, being sure to breathe in deeply and say thank You.
I might look at Dash returning to her sickness time after
time and be like WHYYYYYY??!, but one beautiful thing to remember is
that is not how God sees me. He looks at me with a tenderness, not an astounded
frustration. I’m surprised by Dash, but God is not surprised by me. And yet, he
still fully loves and accepts me, despite my sickness and crazy. I’m glad for
Here’s to a day another day of practicing running to the
things I love, not the things I hate. It feels more awkward than it should, but
I know this is going to fill me with a life and health that I didn’t know I was
missing. That’s worth it.
Smells of meat and rice interlaced with turmeric, coriander,
and cumin wafted from the kitchen. Folding chairs lined the walls of the living
room, save for a corner where a table of desserts covered the surface. Music
with beats and tones that blended in the Middle East saturated the air we
Travis and I had been invited to a feast, and the celebration would not be taken lightly.
Marking the end of a month of fasting, this feast would be a
time to gather and make up for all the food missed out on over the weeks. Students
of mine for nearly 2 years, the hosts – a Kurdish husband and wife duo – had
invited their American friends to the party.
I should say, they only invited their American
friends to the party.
When I slipped my shoes off just past the threshold of the
front door, my eyes adjusted quickly to the realization that I was with white
strangers. There were about a dozen Americans – adults and kids – occupying the
seats and sitting cross-legged on the large area rug.
I would later learn that some of these folks had been
invited by the other Americans in the room, and not our Kurdish hosts. Yet, it
would take me most of the night to realize that these were most likely all the
Americans my friends knew – even the ones they were only on meeting this night.
But honestly, a dozen American friends is more than most refugees and immigrants with limited English have.
Betty was one of these white women I met that night as we
held foam plates nearly overflowing with food. She was older and reminded me of
someone who had seen Nashville before it was what it is today. The lines on her
face spoke of wisdom and her white hair boasted of a lifetime of work. This
woman came over to the loveseat I sat on, asking to take the seat next to me.
All it took was a simple question about how I knew the hosts
to start the words falling out of my mouth. I started from the beginning. Before
I could even stop them from tumbling, I boasted in the sequence of events, leaving
out no major detail of how I got to where I am now. It was the story of my cross-cultural
work in the community; a familiar story I had heard myself say a hundred times.
I don’t know what I expected. Maybe a “Wow” or a “That’s amazing.” Some follow up questions. A lot of others respond like that. Instead, she just nodded. When she asked who I worked for, I told her. To which she replied, “Hm. Never heard of it.” I described the office location to her, and she asked about its founding. Despite the effort, her answer remained. Nope. Never heard of it.
Just when I didn’t want to admit that I think some part of
me was expecting a pat on the back, a voice within me prodded me to ask more
questions. Turn it away from me. This work isn’t about me. What can she teach
And all it took was a fleeting humble thought and a couple
open-ended questions to learn about Betty.
Betty has worked for this people group all my life and then
some. In her life, she’s done incredible things like purchase real estate and
rent to families in need. She’s taught English, helped people get important
documentation figured out, and been a friend and a helping hand. She described
the Kurdish weddings she’s been to and picnics she’s been invited to. Her name
means something to this community of displaced people. Her legacy shouts of
love and kindness.
She told her story – one I’m sure she’s told over a thousand
times – and I was enthralled. Every time there was pause in the conversation, I
asked her another question. I wasn’t thinking of my own story anymore. Hers was
captivating. Hers spoke encouragement over this work, wonder in my mind, and
gratefulness in my heart for a God who does this for us.
As she and I talked together, she helped me to see some things in a different light. They were simple truths, but I needed them to bring me back to earth that night.
We are the faithful planters.
All her years of laboring on the field, she had never been
there when someone made a decision to believe in the story of Jesus. I was
honestly surprised. She had been doing this for so long, all for the goal of witnessing
lives be glorified. Surely at least one person had seen the light of Christ in Betty?
I asked her how that felt.
“Discouraging at times,” she said. Of course. What else?
But then she told me about the folks who called her months
or years later. They reached out to her just to let her know that they’d
discovered the Truth. They had decided to follow Jesus and wanted her to know.
And even though she wasn’t there, she rejoiced with them.
“I realized how special it was that they felt it important
to call me and tell me about their decision. I wasn’t there, and it took a long
time, but they knew He was in my life. I got to help plant the seeds,” she
Where she could have felt sadness or felt that she missed
those moments, she spoke this with joy and excitement. That’s when I realized
she was genuinely doing this work for a purpose bigger than herself. That she
knows this isn’t about her.
She had worked laboriously for months and years, thinking it
might all be a bust. When the discouragement pressed in, she continued to show
up for these people. Every day. What she thought was failure became a
wellspring of hope. She came to the field knowing her weaknesses, and that was
plenty. Yes, even that was plenty. Her shortcomings were enough.
Because in the end, just by being a familiar face to this community of people, she had given them a glimpse of something bigger than themselves. And without her being there in those early days, they might never have opened their eyes to the Truth of the world around them later.
We work together.
Betty’s work caused people to wonder about life. The Light
and the Love she carried with her every day sparked questions within the
deepest parts of the people she served. And when they left Nashville or moved
out of her rentals, the questions and wonderings her work began in them was
completed by other believers.
She didn’t get to see the transformation of a person’s life;
she only caught a glimpse of it over a phone call. The believers who got to
witness it came to answer the questions that had started being asked, and they
got to see the reward. They came to finish the work Betty had started. And they
Church, we are a team of imperfect people knowing we’re
going to let each other down but come together anyways. We’re a group of people
that forgive until we’ve forgotten the number of times we’ve forgiven. We come
alongside people who are difficult and hurtful because we know they’re loved.
We can only handle so much before we tap out though. We can
only keep up with our routines in this neighborhood at this job and with this
exact circle of friends for so long. Our assignments are temporary. Eventually,
things will change. Who will be there to tap us out when we’re worn thin? Who
will come along to continue loving the difficult and the hurtful when it’s time
for us to head toward the next place? Who will meet the ones we serve when they
suddenly pack up and move states away?
I can’t always follow, and I can’t always stay. If I’m at
this alone, I’m never going to make it. I need the church to help me. I need a
community to fill in my weaknesses, serving and helping others in ways I can’t
I’m not responsible for saving the world. I’m barely responsible enough to save a single person. Maybe this is why we are called to live in community, and to labor alongside the likeminded. Because we pick up each other’s work. We work together, by whatever means necessary, to see a single soul purchased for heaven. Humbly, I admit that this is not up to me; it’s up to the work of God through His people. We can achieve far greater rewards together than we can in isolation.
We don’t give up.
I get bogged down when I don’t see progress in the day to day.
Our modern-day culture has taught me to always feel satisfied, comfortable,
happy. I’m expected to always feel like I’m getting something or going
somewhere. If I’m not, I’m failing.
But what Betty’s story told me is that even when we feel like nothing is happening, we stay. We stick around. We’re faithful to the task ahead of us. It’s not always going to be easy or fun, but we stay. We have dinner with that family on our mind, knowing they won’t ask a single question about Jesus that night. We offer up our home to a woman in need, knowing she can’t pay it back what we think it’s worth. We do this all, and even more, walking in the confidence that God has brought us here and that changes everything.
This is called discipline.
As long as God has assigned you to a place, the knowledge of having been called is all you need to keep going. It’s going to feel boring and sometimes you’re going to wonder if you’re making a difference; stay anyways. What we perceive as failure is often what God uses to changes lives. Don’t leave yet. If anything within your bones tells you to stay, listen. He’s still at work. And you can’t even put a number on the people you’re going to help by choosing to stick around.
I’m really not as impressive as I think.
Here’s a humiliating thought: I’m not that impressive.
I’m going to type it one more time, because I really need this: I’m not that impressive.
When I’m tempted to think that I’ve made it and have it
figured out, or that I’ve reached all that God has for me, I’m going to
remember Betty. I’m going to remember the laborers I’m working alongside who
have left more, sacrificed more, given more for the sake of our refugee
friends. I’m going to hear their stories of leaving home, buying a home, doing
something truly radical in order to make the gospel real to refugees in
As long as there are people to help, my job is not finished.
As long as I’m on this side of heaven, I’ve still got room for improvement. I
believe this most when I meet people like Betty. It humbles me to realize that there
are ideas and opportunities that I’ve not yet discovered and people I’ve not
yet met. Slowing down now because I’ve “worked so hard to get here” would be
detrimental to the completion of this task.
So, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get back out there.
There’s still work to be done.
As Betty and I looked away, staring at the Kurdish music
video on the TV and our eyes seeing but not really watching, a flicker of hope
came across me. My eyes scanned the room and a question whispered within me: do
my Kurdish friends realize every person they invited here tonight is a
Betty’s words were still ringing throughout my body, seeping
their way deep down into the quietest parts of my soul. As I realized that I
didn’t fight the battle for my hosts’ hearts alone, a burden was lifted.
Burdens that told me everything was up to me and what I accomplished seemed
less believable. Lies that told me I worked alone were called out. In the place
came a joy that my team was here – even here in this room – and that they
hadn’t given up. It wasn’t time for me to either.
When I’m down, I’m going to remember the faces that made
that large living room feel more cozy last week. We’re a team of people, planting
seeds with a stubbornness that refuses to give up. Even when it doesn’t feel
like it, I’m going to choose to believe that everything I can give to my hosts while
I’m here might actually make a difference.