Up In A Tree

I’m nearing the end of the novel I’m currently writing, and as I keep telling my husband, “I have to bring this story in for a landing.” My main characters have found themselves facing more and more problems and dilemmas over the past twenty-some chapters and it’s time to resolve them in a (hopefully) satisfying way. I’ve heard writers explain the plotting process as forcing your main character up a tree, then throwing rocks at her. Well, it’s time for me to fetch a ladder and help my characters down.

The novel’s climax is what readers have been staying up all night and turning pages in order to reach, so it needs to be stellar. I want my readers to sigh and maybe wipe a tear and feel as though all those hours spent reading have been worth it. Author Anne Lamotte says the climax is “that major event…that brings all the tunes you have been playing so far into one major chord.” For me, tying up all of those loose ends into a gratifying finish is the most intense and stressful part of writing a novel.

Once my characters are on solid ground again, they’ll have a chance to pause and reflect on the lessons they’ve learned during the trials and hardships they’ve endured. What have they discovered about themselves or about their faith? How have they been changed? This reflection process, called the dénouement, is a very important part of a satisfying ending, especially if the main character needed to change in order to become the person God created her to be. Yes, I have a big job to do in these final pages.

As I reach the conclusion of my novel, I’m also aware that we’ve reached the conclusion of a tumultuous year. 2020 has made many of us feel as though we’ve been driven up a very tall tree and had an avalanche of rocks thrown at us. Hopefully the climax is coming soon in 2021, and the rescue ladder is on its way. Maybe we can finally find our way down from our precarious position and recover from our wounds. But let’s not forget the final part of every great story—the time for reflection. Because if we don’t, everything we’ve endured this past year will have been a waste.

In a year as difficult as this past one, we may not want to remember everything we’ve been through, especially the losses. Yet I think it’s important to ask what lessons we’ve learned through it all? What have we discovered about ourselves? Is our faith any different? Has it grown? How has this year changed us? What new perspectives have we gained after being up in the tree for so long? I can already name a few things that I’ll never take for granted again, like a warm hug. An unmasked smile. And gathering together freely with my family and friends.

So, how about you? How are you different after spending this long, difficult year up in a tree?  

Merry (Quarantined) Christmas!

The first time I traveled to Israel and visited Bethlehem, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger.  I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD.  It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church.  A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated over the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.  I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases in the past ended up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spent and the stress we endured as we tried to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we were often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem. We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with Jesus that is the true miracle of Bethlehem. 

But this year—surprise! Many of the Christmas traditions we have come to love—like family gatherings and parties and Christmas concerts and church programs—have been stripped away, leaving the holiday a mere shadow of itself. Christmas is starting to resemble the classic Dr. Seuss book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” as Covid-19 slithered into our homes and communities and stole so many of the festivities we’ve long enjoyed.

But do you remember how the Dr. Seuss story ended? After the Grinch had taken everything away, Christmas morning still dawned. The startled Grinch could hear people singing and celebrating and rejoicing. We can do the same. The cookies and lights and parties aren’t what Christmas is about. Jesus is. His birth in Bethlehem is still worth celebrating, whether we’re alone, far from our families, or in a packed church sanctuary singing Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus.”

Maybe this will be the year that we’ll recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Maybe the clutter and glitz that have draped themselves over our past celebrations are like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries. Whether we gather with our loved ones in person or around our computer screens, we can still feel the holy wonder of Christmas—Emmanuel, God with us! I pray that your celebrations, no matter how small, will be filled with joy this Christmas season.

Remember the Wonders

As another week of quarantine begins, I’ve noticed a new worry taking root in my heart. Finances. With the stock market on a roller-coaster ride, I’m growing concerned about what my husband and I will live on in the future if our retirement fund vanishes. Our senior friends and family members face the same worry. Many of my friends make their living through conferences and retreats and concerts—all of which have been cancelled, leaving them without an income. My son and many others have been laid off from work without pay.

But I think I’ve discovered an antidote to my financial fears, and for the many other fears that have arisen during these strange times: Remembering.

I remember a time, years ago, when our finances were extremely tight after my husband went into full-time ministry. I was trying to outfit our three children for school one fall and the list of school supplies ate up a huge chunk of our budget, leaving little room for clothes. The kids would need warm boots for the Canadian winters, which meant we could afford only one pair of shoes apiece—and they would have to be gym shoes. Our son Ben, then six years old, spotted a pair of shiny, black dress shoes like his dad wore to church, and he begged me to buy them instead of the gym shoes. He wanted to dress up for church, too. I had to say no.

“Then I’ll pray and ask God for them,” he replied.

Uh oh. His simple faith astounded me. And worried me. How could I support and encourage his fledgling prayer life yet still teach him that prayer isn’t a magic wand you can wave to get whatever you want? I had no idea. But meanwhile, I started scrambling for a way to “play God” and buy those shoes for him. Maybe I could find some extra cash somewhere or ask Grandma for a loan. Because truthfully, I didn’t quite believe that God would answer Ben’s prayer.

The very next day—while I was still scheming—my neighbor came over with a bag of clothes that her son Martin had outgrown. He was a year older than Ben, and I was grateful for the hand-me-downs. “Now, I don’t know if you’ll want these or not,” she said. “Martin was in a wedding last year and he only wore them once.” She pulled a pair of shiny, black dress shoes from the bag.

They were Ben’s size.

“Yes,” I murmured, barely able to breathe.

“Well, good. Then here’s another pair Ben can grow into.” She lifted a second pair from the bag. “Martin was in another wedding recently and I know he’ll never wear these again, either.”

I’m quite sure I heard God laughing.

Ben treasured both pairs of those shoes, and I know that his faith grew from the experience—as did mine. I had known in theory that God feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies, but I learned that He also hears a six-year-old boy’s very specific prayers and is well able to answer them. To abundantly answer them! And now, remembering this lesson, I know that I can trust God with my prayers for the future.

Jesus said “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them.” In fact, He even knows your shoe size.

In these trying times, let’s all “Remember the wonders He has done…” (Psalm 105:5) and trust Him to hear our prayers.

Many Plans

This past week, my publishing company invited me to attend the Public Library Association conference in Nashville. Librarians are among my very favorite people because they share my passion for books and reading. And the librarians I met were a warm, dedicated bunch who knew their patrons and were focused on finding the very best resources for them. I had a wonderful time. I also made a fabulous new friend, Robin W. Pearson, who was signing copies of her debut novel “A Long Time Comin’” right beside me as I signed Advance Reader Copies of my newest novel, “If I Were You.” (Releasing June 2.)

But in the days leading up to the conference, the weather reports predicted a snowstorm that threatened to derail my plans. Would the roads to the airport be clear? Would the planes be able to take off? Would the storm cause a cascade of delays and cancellations that would strand me in Chicago and make me miss the conference? I anxiously checked the weather reports several times a day before realizing that my endless worrying accomplished nothing—except to unsettle me. I vaguely recalled a scripture verse about making plans, and finally decided to look it up. It’s Proverbs 19:21:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Why is that such a difficult concept for me to grasp? As much as I hate having my plans scrapped, why can’t I remember that the delays and interruptions that change my plans might be exactly what God purposed all along? If I’m stuck in an airport waiting lounge, maybe there’s a lesson He is trying to teach me, or another weary traveler He wants me to reach out to. If I’ve given my life to Him, I shouldn’t be surprised when He calls me away from my plans on a mission that He has chosen.

Paul and Silas’s preaching tour of Philippi was going great until they were arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail. Late that night, God added in an earthquake for good measure. Talk about a change of plans! But these “disruptions” were all under God’s sovereign control and ultimately led to the conversion of the jailer and his entire family. The Lord’s purpose prevailed.

In the end, the snowstorm I had dreaded bypassed our area. I didn’t encounter any delays or flight cancellations. I had spent three days worrying for nothing. It reminded me of one of my characters in my novel “If I Were You.” She takes matters into her own hands after her life veers off in a direction she didn’t plan, instead of trusting God. Her schemes and lies cause a chain of consequences that make matters even worse for her. As I was writing her story I had to sigh and shake my head and say, “If only she had put her trust in God.”

Yes, Lynn, if only you would remember to trust God’s plans.

Keep Hammering

I have the best job there is. I can live in an imaginary world all day, making up stories and creating new characters. I’m my own boss. I can set my own schedule and even work in my pajamas if I want to. But as great as this may sound, I don’t live a glamorous life with TV appearances and book signings and huge royalty checks. It takes me a year to complete a book, and for most of that time my life is very routine—some would say boring.

On a typical day, I’m mostly alone with no one to talk to except imaginary people. And even though I’m my own boss, I find that I’m much more productive if I stick to a schedule (and change out of my pajamas.) I get up early, eat breakfast, and then have my “quiet time,” praying and reading my Bible. This daily time alone with God helps me remember Who I’m really working for and why.

After my quiet time, I go into my office, sit down at the computer, and write. (Of course, I also check my e-mail and Facebook and try not to get too distracted . . .) There are days when my writing goes so well that I lose all track of time. On other days, I have to discipline myself to write whether I feel like it or not. As my manuscript deadline draws near, I set daily writing goals—usually about five pages a day. I work this way for 5 days a week and sometimes on Saturday but I always take Sunday off—a Sabbath rest that refreshes me for work on Monday.

I recently completed another novel, and after time off for a much-needed vacation, I will soon begin the process all over again—researching then writing and rewriting another novel, finishing it one year from now. I’m sometimes asked why I do it. Why do I sit at my desk day after day, year after year, with no guarantee that my book will ever sell a single copy or will impact a single life? The short answer is, because I’m convinced that it’s what God has asked me to do. Mind you, it took a few years for me to come to the conclusion that God had called me to be a writer. And it took eleven years from the time I first sat down to write until my first book was published. Believe me, there were many rejections and tears and much second-guessing during those eleven years. But I kept writing, with no guarantee that I would ever be published, no proof that I wasn’t wasting my time.

I often thought of Noah. Many years passed from the time when he first heard God asking him to build an ark, until the first raindrops fell. He had no money-back guarantees while he hammered away. If it turned out that God hadn’t spoken to him, then he would have wasted his life. But he took a chance that God was calling him, that the rain would come, and he obeyed. And Noah saved himself and his family.

I believe that God calls every one of us to serve Him—in a variety of ways, big and small, as many and varied as there are snowflakes. We can choose to actively listen for His call or not. Then we can choose to obey or not. Most of the time, we won’t have any guarantee that our obedience will have an effect. Will we keep hammering? Keep writing? Keep praying for that person God put on our heart? Keep doing the daily task of showing up, doing our best, believing that we’re acting in obedience with no proof, without a single raindrop falling?

If you’re losing heart, wondering if your calling is real or if your work is in vain, consider Noah. Or Abraham. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). And because he obeyed, Abraham became the ancestor of Jesus Christ.  Please don’t give up. Please keep hammering and obeying. I’m very glad that I did.

God’s Posture Toward Us

Today I welcome my friend Christine Bierma from Atrustworthysaying.com as my guest blogger. She has graciously allowed me some time away to rest, relax and recharge. She has been writing a series called “Postures” that considers the many postures that we can take as we approach God and the postures He takes toward us as we approach him. This is the second post in this series. To read more, please visit her blog at atrustworthysaying.com.

What do you think God’s posture toward you is? I’m not looking for the Sunday school answer but what you truly believe. When God thinks of you, are his arms open, closed, crossed, indifferent?

Does he have his finger lifted to you in accusation? Is he shushing you? Are his hands raised in a “whatever” pose? Has he completely turned his back?

Or, is he waiting with his arms wide open? Is he turning his ear toward you so he can be sure to give you all of his attention? Is he busy or is he waiting for you?

I believe many of us, if we are honest with ourselves believe that God the Father, is standing in judgement of us. Ready to heap shame and “shoulds” all over our head until we crumble from the weight of it all. Isn’t that what we’ve been taught? We sing Jesus Loves Me This I Know but just as soon as the song is finished we are given a list of our failures and shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of failures and shortcomings but that is the entire reason Jesus came to earth. He came to give us the assurance of forgiveness and to welcome us into his kingdom. He did not visit this planet to shame us or to shake an accusing finger in our faces until we relented.

You can study all of the gospels for your entire life and you will never find Jesus using shame as a weapon or a tool to bring us closer to him or to control us. You can search the Old Testament and the New Testament and not once come up with an example where God used shame to control his people. He just isn’t into the control game.

What you will find is a God who is grieved that his precious people have turned their backs on him. You will find a father that is hurting because of the poor choices his children have made and you will see him weep for the hurt and pain they bring upon themselves. You will find a loving God who is willing to move heaven and earth to allow us to come back to him.

Do you know who is in the shame and control game? Satan.

The prince of darkness wants to control us and lead us away from the Father. Shame is the perfect tool, especially for Christians. When he whispers shame into our ears he makes it sound spiritual, it feels like it is coming straight from God himself. Doesn’t it?

The scriptures tell us that “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:39

When shame, fear, condemnation and rejection start to swirl around you and weigh you down, bring this verse to mind and let it’s truth cover and protect you from the attack. God is not condemnation and fear. No matter what someone in your past has told you, no matter what you own inner voice screams at you, no matter what religious institution has smashed this lie into your heart, it is not true.

What is true is God is love.

Jesus himself said the greatest commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

Look at what that verse doesn’t say. Fill in the blank all the things your own condemnation believes are more important than the command to simply love God. Each of us will have a different list but it is a list of lies. That list simply does not exist in the scriptures.

God waits for each of us with open arms.

He will never force us to come into his presence or to serve him, he always gives us the choice. He isn’t waiting to condemn or shame us, but rather he is waiting to love us like we’ve never known.

He is waiting with his arms open wide!

Visiting Bethlehem

The first time I visited Bethlehem more than 25 years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger.  I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD.  It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church.  A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated over the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.  I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases end up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spend and the stress we endure as we try to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we’re often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem.  We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with Jesus that is the true miracle of Bethlehem.

The year after I visited Bethlehem, I began looking for ways to recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Santa Claus has never been invited to our family’s Christmases, and we’ve always celebrated it as Jesus’ birthday, exchanging presents because God gave us the gift of His Son.  But year after year, the clutter and glitz had draped themselves over our celebrations, just like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries.  That year, I purchased a nice but inexpensive manger set. I wanted something that wasn’t a toy, but that my children could handle and touch. We placed it at their level and at the center of our holiday, and began the simple tradition of gathering together as a family to fill the empty stable while my husband read the story from the Bible. Our children divided all the people and sheep and camels among themselves and when we got to their part in the Bible story, they added their figures to the stable.

This simple tradition has become so beloved by all of us that we still do it the same way every year, even though our children are now adults. One year, our daughter was living overseas and couldn’t make it home for the holiday but we still held our family tradition while she participated via Skype. And it’s always in those moments, with a simple stable and inexpensive plaster figures, and my precious loved ones gathered around me that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us! May you find Him this Christmas season, too.

What Christmas traditions are special for you and your family?

Doing Battle

Last month, our town hosted a Civil War Muster in a local park. Re-enactors from all over the country came here to camp in canvas tents, wear authentic uniforms, and re-create famous Civil War battles. A friend and I sat on a hilltop to view the battles while our husbands performed period music in the brass band. As I watched the north and the south shoot rifles and cannons at each other, I thought of two of my husband’s ancestors, Isaac Austin and his son George Hiram Austin who both fought in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Isaac Austin was taken captive and became a prisoner-of-war, eventually ending up in the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia. While he was away fighting, his wife died. His twin sons were too young to enlist, but after losing his mother, George Hiram lied about his age and went off to war at age sixteen. He was taken prisoner as well, and also ended up in Andersonville. His father Isaac died there, and a few years ago, my husband and I visited his grave site.

George Hiram survived and is my husband’s great-grandfather. In a photograph with his twin brother James, George Hiram looks ten years older, likely from everything he suffered during the war. After the war, he became a circuit-riding, Methodist preacher, ministering to dozens of churches before passing away in 1920. According to family history, his wartime experiences led him to become a devoted Christian and to offer his life to God.

As I watched the mock-battles taking place, I couldn’t help thinking how stupid war is. Making men line up on opposite sides of a field and shoot at each other until one side “wins,” seems idiotic. I pictured these men as my husband or my son, and I wanted to shout “Stop! Let’s just put an end to all this suffering and make peace!”

One of my loved ones is currently fighting a very difficult battle of a different kind. Everything in me wants to do something, take control, intervene, stop their pain, end their suffering. I’ve prayed and prayed and asked God, “What should I do? How can I help?” The answer I keep getting is: Nothing. Just wait. When I texted this dear one to say that I was praying, they texted in return: “These trials need to happen for our good.”

Like George Hiram Austin, my loved one is experiencing a difficult but important lesson. God can use our suffering to change us and draw us closer to Him, if we let Him. Or our pain can change us in a different way, making us bitter and angry, turning us away from God. I can’t offer an easy answer to explain the difference, but I suspect it might have something to do with our attitude when we find ourselves on the battlefront. The book of James says it this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I have never met anyone who has experienced “pure joy” while suffering. But I have met many people whose suffering drew them closer to God and resulted in greater service in His kingdom—like George Hiram’s suffering did. So, I will continue to watch my loved one’s battle from the sidelines, praying that through the struggle, and when the war finally ends, they will be able to rejoice in the work that God has accomplished in their life.

Labor Day

I’ve learned over the more than 30 years that I’ve been writing, that I need to get away from my desk from time to time and refresh my creative juices. So, over the Labor Day weekend my husband and I decided to go on a short adventure in his little red sports car. It’s such a fun, liberating feeling to ride with the top down, with the view open to the vast, infinite sky! I not only have a new appreciation for the beauty of clouds, but it’s amazing how many different scents I smelled along the way—everything from cows and fresh hay, to campfires and the fishy aroma of the lake.

We traveled north in our own state of Michigan to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and then on to the Leelanau Peninsula, stopping to visit three different Michigan lighthouses. They were all nice, but we decided we liked our own lighthouse here in Holland—affectionately known as “Big Red”—the best. What do you think?

The purpose of these lighthouses, of course, is to shine a beacon to prevent ships from running aground, especially during storms. But as we learned from the museum displays, even a warning beacon can’t prevent a ship from becoming wrecked during a storm. There have been hundreds of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes—some even in modern times. I used two of them in my novel, Waves of Mercy. And I’ve decided I’m glad I’m not a lighthouse keeper or the captain of a sailing vessel.

I returned from our trip eager to get back to work my manuscript. I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for any other. But as we celebrate Labor Day, I can’t help wondering how many people dislike their job and wish they had a different one. One of my favorite speaking topics at retreats and conferences is about finding God’s purpose. I believe the reason God created each of us so uniquely is because He has a unique purpose for each of our lives.

Sometimes, as in my case, my profession is also my calling. I’ve met people from a variety of occupations, such a teachers and nurses, who feel the same way. A friend of mine has had an amazing ministry through her work as a beautician.

For others, their daily 9 to 5 job isn’t necessarily the same as their calling but it opens up opportunities to serve God. An accountant friend, for instance, used his skills to help a missionary agency in South Africa upgrade to a new accounting program. And I have dozens of retired friends who are no longer working at full-time jobs but are still being called by God to serve in various ways.

I know that millions of people go to work every day at jobs they dislike because of financial obligations. When my husband was in graduate school, I worked as a secretary to support us until he received his degree. I also worked at various other jobs until my books began earning royalty checks. But even if we feel “stuck” in a job, I believe it’s important to ask God what His purpose for our life might be, and how we can begin to fulfill it. It’s the willingness to serve God that counts. We can do any job for His glory. And He blesses the work of our hands when we offer it to Him.

So, as we eat our hamburgers and celebrate our work today, remember what scripture says: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Happy Labor Day!

Companions for the Journey


I’ve been going through photographs from my bicycle trip through Europe last June, and before the memories fade, I want to share some lessons I learned along the way. My bike tour, like the Body of Christ, relied on three very important people—the Guide, the Corner, and the Sweep.

The Guide, of course, is Jesus. He knows the way and all of the challenges we’ll face. He has traveled this way before us. The Guide also knows the way to our final destination—the hotel—and His Father’s House in Heaven, where there’s a place prepared for us. But we won’t get there unless we follow Him. Our Guide led us up some pretty steep paths, and through harrowing, traffic-congested cities. There were times I didn’t want to follow him. But I knew that if I went my own way, I would get lost. Jesus said, “I am the way . . . No one comes to the Father except through Me.”


The Corner can be anyone in the group. When the Guide comes to an intersection with several choices, he turns to the rider behind him and says, “I need a Corner.” The rider gets off his bike and waits at the intersection to point the way. When everyone has cycled past, the Corner rejoins the group. It’s an important responsibility.


The first day of the trip, I didn’t understand that there’d be a Corner to point the way, so I exhausted myself trying to keep the Guide in sight. And we can exhaust ourselves trying to follow Jesus, too. But He faithfully appoints members of His Body to serve as Corners at important crossroads, pointing the way. We don’t have to make this journey by ourselves. Jesus asks us to take our turn guiding others who are a little behind us on the journey. It means being ready, knowing scripture and the Guide’s voice well enough to point the way.

On the second day of the trip, another newbie like me was told to be a Corner, and when she thought everyone had passed the intersection, she left her post. It turned out that 4 riders were still behind her, and they became lost. The Guide, like the Good Shepherd, left his flock to wait along the trail while he went back to “seek and save the lost.”

The Sweep is just as important as the Corner. Before setting out in the morning, the Guide asks for a volunteer to be the Sweep. The Sweep rides behind everyone else, waiting for stragglers and dawdlers and those who’ve grown weary. Nobody enjoys being last, but a good Sweep cares about his slowpokes and waits patiently for them. When the Corner sees the Sweep, he knows that everyone has safely passed.

I think Jesus is pleased when we volunteer to be the Sweep and care for the stragglers. It’s hard being patient with those who seem slow to learn, or who keep making the same mistakes in their journey. We can grow weary of sweeping up other people’s messes. But a good Sweep shares the Shepherd’s heart for the lost.

One day on our trip, I was one of only three people in my group of 12 who was pedaling the old-fashioned way. The others rode e-bikes with batteries and 3-speed power-assist motors. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for tackling the journey on my own power—until we came to a very challenging hill. (We were in Switzerland, after all!) I shifted into the lowest gears and gutted my way up the slope—still feeling proud. I was almost to the top—legs burning, lungs heaving—when I saw that the top wasn’t the top! The road curved and the steep hill continued!

I was done. I had to get off and walk. The e-bikes zoomed past. Then the Sweep caught up with me. He also had an e-bike. I told him he could wait for me at the top, but he said, “No, I’m not leaving you behind.” He got off and walked beside me. After a minute or so he said, “Here, why don’t you ride my bike and I’ll ride yours?” I knew exactly how the man in Jesus’ parable felt when he lay beaten along the road and the Good Samaritan loaned him his donkey! I swallowed the rest of my pride and accepted his offer. Zoom!—all the way to the top!

It’s difficult to be the one who needs help. It’s especially hard for me to confess that I’m weary and hurting and needing prayer. But the Guide has some very special people who have volunteered to be Sweeps. They’ll walk alongside us when the road becomes difficult—if we ask. And I also need to be willing to help someone else who has grown weary, walking with them along the way.

Our journey of discipleship, like my bike trip, is an exciting one. There are some amazing views at the top! The best advice I can give, is to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:6). Have a great trip!