The Best Thing

When I was a young teenager, I fell in love with reading. I would check out numerous books from the library, and particularly in the summer, I would read for hours on end. I think this is one of the main reasons that I also developed a love for writing and the written word in general.
As I moved into high school, I discovered a new author and a favorite series. Michael Philips had released a series entitled The Journals of Corrie Belle Hollister, and I seemingly couldn’t get enough. The protagonist, Corrie, was so much like me, it was uncanny. She was the oldest sibling in her family, loved to write, and had always gotten the impression that she was different from those around her. The series takes place over a span of over ten years. The reader first meets Corrie when she is fifteen and mourning the loss of her mother. Corrie’s mother and siblings had been in the process of traveling to California in order to find the children’s uncle. Their father had left them several years earlier, so it was just Corrie, her mother, and her four brothers and sisters in the mid-1850s.
The series follows Corrie as she takes on the responsibility of her siblings. She is a big sister but a mother at the same time, and before long, she finds that her independent spirit is being hindered by her commitments to home and family. But a turn of events brings Corrie’s father back into the picture, and over the course of the next few years, he meets and falls in love with a widow from the community. As she reaches her mid-twenties, Corrie finds herself at a crossroads as she contemplates what she should do next.
By that time in her life, she had begun to explore her writing through reporting for various newspapers. She covered the Civil War through the use of her pen, and even traveled back east to immerse herself in the action as the war came to an end. A set of complicated political circumstances results in Corrie being shot, and near the end of the series, she finds herself waking up in a room she has never seen before.
I won’t spoil the ending for you in case you are interested in reading the books for yourself. But since I have read the series through several times, I find myself getting choked up a little when I think of what is to come for Corrie in her life’s journey. She had always assumed that her writing and independent spirit would not allow her to be married or have a family. For a long time, she also believed that her mother didn’t find her comely enough to attract a husband.
So when Corrie begins to entwine her life with a good, Christian man, she begins to ask all kinds of questions. As she corresponds with the one she intends to marry, she asks:
“Will our lives matter? What will we do that will be significant when we are old? What will we look back on and say, “That counted for something that was a best thing, not merely a good thing”? Will we have helped anyone? Will anyone know God more intimately because of us? Will we have made any difference in God’s kingdom? What value does life have if we do not do these things?” (A Home for the Heart, p. 95)
For Corrie, the prospect of getting married changed everything. She questioned everything she thought she knew about her purpose and what God wanted her to do with her life. And even though I am not in the same stage of life as my beloved favorite character, I find myself raising similar questions but with different motives.
As I have progressed into my early thirties, I have found that I am more reflective. My mid-to-late twenties were filled with self-discovery and a motivation for independence. I completed three novels and released a CD because I enjoyed the creative process, but it wasn’t very often that I actually considered the greater purpose of my glorified hobbies. Now as I look back on those years, the questions come:
What did it all matter? I’m not selling very many books lately, and my CDs are collecting dust, so was it all a waste of time and energy?
When I perceived that God was calling me to a deeper connection with Him, I found myself enrolling in grad school and pursuing a ministry degree. Although I still sang, gave the occasional concert, and blogged, I was not engaged in the efforts of a novelist and singer/songwriter. Sometimes, I missed the drive toward success and the constant movement forward, but once again, the questions would come:
Now that I have graduated from grad school, been employed as a worship and music director, and continuing to direct the camp for teens with disabilities, I wonder about the Kingdom value of these activities. Like Corrie, I wonder if I am moving in the right direction. Perhaps one could easily say that my worship leading has Kingdom value, and yes, on the surface it does. But I need to constantly check my heart and motives. If ever I would start to put myself first or value my voice and talents more than the greater purpose of worship, I would need to revaluate my intentions.
I think my greatest sense of uncertainty relates to my work at the camp. I have been directing for several years now, and every summer, I consider if it will be my last session in leadership. I have asked myself numerous times if this is God’s purpose for me. Am I reaching others for God as I promote leadership and career awareness for teens with disabilities? Does my example and heart for Him draw others to His side? I don’t have very many opportunities to speak about Him when I am at camp, so I wonder…
This post will not end with a clear answer or conclusion. These questions that I am processing have been at the center of my prayers for quite some time now, and as I complete camp activities this summer, I am sure my thoughts will continue in this direction.
I think it is good to be aware of one’s purpose and greater goal in life, so I invite you to ask yourself some of Corrie’s questions and consider God’s plan for your life. Our experiences are constantly moving us either closer to His will for our lives or beyond where He would call us to go. It takes a great deal of discernment, praying, listening, and waiting, but as we work through questions such as these, we are preparing ourselves for a closer walk with Him.


The Fish Tank

There is a restaurant in my home town that features a bit of an attraction: a fish tank. Inside the fish tank is even a look-alike to one of the characters in Finding Nemo. It seems that every time I go out to eat with friends who have young children, there is always a draw to sit at a table near the fish tank. It’s always entertaining for the kids to watch the fish, and needless to say, it’s a distraction during dinner as well. 🙂
I was reminded of the fish tank at the restaurant when I read a Facebook post from Chuck Swindoll. He recounted that entering into leadership is like diving into a goldfish bowl. He encouraged his followers to imitate Christ because people are always watching, much like a goldfish is often on display for everyone to see inside the tank.
I thought it was ironic that I read this post on Facebook. In many ways, I see my presence on Facebook to be a bit like a fish tank, if you will. It’s a place where I can share my thoughts and feelings, but I must always keep in mind who might be reading or following my posts. From the time I started using Facebook, just under a year after its launch, I made it my goal to never post anything negative or controversial. I wanted those who clicked on my page to be encouraged, supported, and validated. This became even more important to me when I started directing YLF and mentoring teens. I didn’t want to be that person in leadership who gave in to drama and negativity. Even though it was often easy to grumble or complain on Facebook, I refrained because nothing good ever came from it. I would frown when I would read friends’ posts on their own pages; for example:
“Just had the worst day ever.”
“I am so done with people…”
“My parents are driving me crazy.”
Typically, comments below the posts would read something like this:
“Are you okay?”
“Was it me? I’m sorry for whatever I did.”
“I’m sorry. Sometimes people just don’t get it. I’m here for you, friend… even if everyone else is a jerk.”
Needless to say, posts and comments like this never really accomplish anything… except maybe a less-than-stellar representation of character. Exactly three years ago, I found out just how out-of-character it was for me to fall into the trap.
On July 9, 2012, I posted the following to my profile:
“Nothing irritates me more than hearing people demean someone with a disability as if they were somehow less than human. Ugh! I guess I’m in the right line of work, YLF! I stand for you, for us, for all people with disabilities! We can make a difference in this world and no one is going to stand in our way.
*Sorry for the outburst; I just had to put that out there.”
Granted, I was justifiably angry that day. In fact, I thought that going online and venting where no one else really knew the situation was the safe thing to do. At least I hadn’t confronted the person face-to-face for their demeaning comments. And to be fair, I hadn’t called this person out on Facebook for their rudeness. We weren’t friends on Facebook, so I felt safe venting in that way.
But as soon as I posted it, friends began to comment. Most comments were supportive. I found that my statement resonated with many people, especially my contacts from camp. But what made me sad was that some questioned if I was okay or I needed to talk. It seemed my negative post was out of character for my typical posts, and suddenly I realized that I had done just what I vowed never to do.
Facebook was my fish bowl; I was on display for all to see, and I messed up. I may have made a worthy point with my words, but they didn’t come from a place of encouragement; instead, they came from an angry and vengeful heart.
I learned my lesson, and although I’ve come close to being negative on Facebook over the years, I have checked myself before I post. I consider my words before I share them, and I make sure they are edifying instead of self-supporting.
But in leadership, the fish bowl experience doesn’t only exist on Facebook. For me, it takes place on the stage on Sunday mornings, in conference rooms during board meetings, in classrooms and dorm rooms at camp, over the phone and email. It isn’t that I need to strive for perfection, but I need to be aware that people are watching for my reactions. They are looking to me for much more than example; they might even be waiting to see if I might slip up and perform out-of-character.
Particularly as a follower of Christ, I feel a need to portray Christ in everything I do and say. For those who don’t believe or profess Christ, I feel an even greater desire to mirror Him as I interact with others. It saddens me when Christians are often labeled as hypocrites; we say one thing and do another. I know that I might mess up and someone will turn away, but to the best of my ability, I want to strive to be like that fish tank at the restaurant. Whether someone is a believer or not, I pray that they would want to gravitate toward me… not for who I am but because of Who lives within me.

One-way Street

A few years ago, my hometown changed the placement of one of the stoplights that marked the center of downtown. Instead of the stoplights coinciding with Main Street, the lights were now presiding over the next intersection over. This change-up affected me immediately. First, it changed how I traveled to and from work each day. Even though the crossing with the stoplight was one street out of my way, I typically crossed there because I felt safe.
But as construction began and the stoplights were moved to their new location, Main Street was also torn up and everything was a mess. It was hard to walk anywhere, and I found myself asking for a lot more rides to and from the office. The last thing I wanted to do was fall into a hole or get hit by an oncoming car when I crossed the street at the wrong time.
When the construction was complete, Main Street featured wider sidewalks and a more business-friendly environment. But what resulted after this change was a one-way street. For someone like me who walked everywhere, the one-way street was no big deal. But for those who frequently drove to Mina Street, some habits needed to change. No longer could someone pull onto Main Street from either direction; a person needed to think through their route before intersecting with Main Street to take the one-way street into account.
Just last week, a friend came to town who had not grown up in our area. As a result, the Main Street change-up was not an issue for him. He had always known Main Street as it is now, but the one-way still needed to be taken into account. As we drove along the highway, I was proactive in reminding him about the turn onto Main Street. “It’s a one-way,” I said. “We’ll have to turn here and see if we can find a parking place.”
Finding a parking spot proved to be tricky. There was a lot happening on Main Street that day with a Dairy Days event taking place over the noon hour. We were looking forward to a little bonding time over hot dogs, cheese, and ice cream, but first, we needed to find a place to park the car. Finally, up ahead, we saw an open space about two blocks from the park. We were about to park there when I suggested we take a chance and see if there was a spot closer to the park. My friend agreed, and moments later we pulled in to a spot less than a half-block from the festivities.
The moment of indecision and seeking out a spot up ahead had paid off. It was a beautiful day and we would have been fine walking a couple of blocks, but even so, our parking spot was completely worth it. We were able to eat a leisurely lunch under the trees and interact with a few friends who later joined us. After an hour of food and fun, we ventured back to the car, unhurried, knowing exactly where we had parked.
Have you ever thought about one-way streets as they relate to spiritual life? I certainly have made the correlation time and again. I think about the ease of walking along my usual route. One-way streets don’t concern me because I don’t have to abide by normal traffic rules. I can cross here and there and walk along the sidewalks without going against the grain. As a result, I can go anywhere I wish on my own terms. But those who are driving along the same route have to take the one-way street into account. The road is only designed for traffic that flows in one direction. Anyone traveling from the wrong way could potentially put others in harm’s way. And let’s not forget the inconvenience of parking on a narrow one-way street. It’s not easy to drive along a one-way street, and it’s certainly not convenient.
My hometown Main Street is an easy visual for the Narrow Gate that is depicted in Scripture. As Matthew 7:13 reads, it is the broad road that leads to destruction, while the narrow gate is the route the Lord instructs us to take on our life’s journey. Let’s be honest; the narrow gate or road is not always the most glamorous. While everyone around us gossips, lies, cheats, etc, we as Christians have the option to do the complete opposite. We may not be rewarded with a positive approval rating, but we will have taken the high road instead.
But taking the high road isn’t always sunshine and butterflies (or a perfect picnic lunch in the park). It can often be messy, and others will question us as to why we have to be different. While some people might sneak onto the one-way road of life and find a convenient parking place along the way, those who take the narrow gate will take the time to seek out a closer parking spot along the way and will put forward the extra effort to make the journey worth it.
So much negativity is paramount in our world and even our country today. It might be easy for Christians to simply go with the flow: identify with the latest craze, side with the most popular political view, or give in to harmful substances to numb the pain of previous choices. But as Christians, we are held to a higher standard. The Narrow Gate is there to lead us forward for a reason. It may take longer, have more challenges, and be largely inconvenient, but in the end, the reward is worth it.
So before you sneak onto the spiritual one-way street, thinking you can take a short-cut to the high road, think again. The way to the Father’s heart doesn’t come by half-hearted effort. It is only in committing to Him whole-heartedly that we can move forward in service to Him. There is no way we will ever be perfect, but He only asks us to try. So the next time you are presented with that narrow one-way route, take a deep breath and get ready for the ride of your life. No, it won’t be easy, but the reward will be sweet.