Arthur’s Story

I was an eager, conscientious student in elementary school. I wanted straight A’s. I wanted the approval of my teachers. My 6th grade teacher, Mr. S, was one of my favorites. Energetic and creative, stern yet fair, he was generous with his encouragement and affirmation. If a student did something noteworthy, Mr. S would honor them by writing their name on the chalkboard in huge letters, where it would remain for the rest of the day. I loved seeing my name up there.

In our small, rural community, everyone knew their classmates and their families. We were similar in many ways. Then one day, a new student joined Mr. S.’s class who was noticeably different from the rest of us. Arthur was the only student in the entire school with black skin. His clothes and shoes were more tattered than ours. He stood a head taller than the other boys and was probably older, but he had been placed in 6th grade because he could barely read. His family had come to our fruit-growing area as migrant workers, and he spoke with an accent that was probably Haitian or something similar. It was hard to tell, because Arthur barely spoke. No one befriended him.

One day in class, the topic of foreign languages happened to come up, and Mr. S. asked if any of us knew words from another language. Hands waved in the air. Students rattled off what they knew. Mr. S. turned it into a contest and began keeping score. My hand waved wildly. I knew quite a few German words that my grandmother had taught me. I could even recite a little rhyming prayer in German. I started counting my collection of words on my fingers as I awaited my turn and knew I was certain to win. But first, it was Arthur’s turn. He raised his hand for the very first time and told us he spoke French. All eyes were on Arthur. Mr. S. gushed with enthusiasm as Arthur spoke phrase after phrase. I kept score and still believed I might be able to beat him with my German poem.

Mr. S applauded when Arthur finished. His name went up on the chalkboard in huge letters. Arthur beamed as if lit from within and gave us his very first smile. Then Mr. S moved on to another subject. But wait! I didn’t get my turn! Didn’t Mr. S see my hand? I battled tears. It wasn’t fair.

I was too immature at the time to see the wisdom and grace in Mr. S’s actions. But in later years I understood, and the lesson has remained with me to this day. It was something Jesus would have done. In describing the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah writes, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (42:3)

I pray for eyes to see the bruised reeds around me. And I pray for the grace to tend and nurture these bruised ones, regardless of the cost to me.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was seven or eight years old, growing up in a village in rural New York State, when I learned my first lesson about racism. My mom, my two sisters, and I had traveled to a nearby city on a shopping trip. For a treat, we went to the lunch counter at the dime store for grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries. That’s where I saw the two signs, one labeled ‘Whites Only,’ the other ‘Coloreds.’ I asked Mom about them. Her impassioned explanation made it clear to my young heart that discrimination on the basis of race was a terrible injustice.

As I grew older, news of the Civil Rights Movement appeared on the front pages of the newspapers and in nightly newscasts. I knew that a great war was being fought, with soldiers and guns and the deaths of innocent civilians. The battle divided our nation. I was a teenager when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, his death the result of hatred and racism. In spite of all the laws and amendments our government had passed, the injustice I had glimpsed as a child continued. Sadly, some fifty years later, it still continues.

I recently read an eye-opening book entitled “I Will Not Fear” by Melba Pattillo Beals. It details her lifelong battle against racism and how it shaped her deep faith in God. In 1957, fifteen-year-old Melba was one of nine African American students chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her account of the abuse and torture she suffered at the hands of her fellow students and their parents is chilling. It required faith and enormous courage for Melba and her family to endure harassment, violence, and death threats on a daily basis, simply for the right to attend school.

Melba met Dr. King during that time and poured out her suffering and fear to him. He listened kindly, then told her that perhaps God had assigned this task to her. “You’re not doing this for yourself,” he said. “You are doing this for generations yet unborn.” His words were life-changing. Melba writes, “I had been waiting for white students to change, extend kindness, and welcome me, when maybe it was my task to change.” She became a warrior for God, setting aside her own comfort to serve Him.

After one year of forced integration, the Little Rock school board decided to close Central High School and open a private, all-white school rather than educate their children alongside African Americans. But Melba and the others had made history. In 1999, she and the other eight Little Rock students were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their role in the integration of Central High School.

Today, Dr. King’s words to Melba inspire me. What task requiring courage and faith might God be asking of me? Would I be willing to suffer injustice for the sake of generations yet unborn? The early Christians suffered much more than I will ever have to endure as they spread the Gospel throughout the world. Dr. King’s advice to Melba reminds me of God’s words of encouragement to the early Christians, and to me: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

What Are You Waiting For?

Do any of us enjoy waiting? In shopping lines? In traffic? At the doctor’s office? Or for our prayers to be answered? This morning, the psalm I read during my quiet time said, “Each morning I bring my requests to You and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3). While it’s true that I wait expectantly for God to answer my prayers, I don’t always wait patiently.

At the moment, I’m waiting for several urgent prayers to be answered. A job opportunity for a loved one. My friends’ six-month-old granddaughter who needs a liver transplant. A friend’s husband who is battling cancer. For a friend awaiting a biopsy report. These are only a few of many. And don’t we all have similar lists?

Right now, winter has a solid grip on the area where I live. The Lake Michigan beach where my husband and I walk looks cold and desolate, locked in a deep freeze, waiting for renewed life. If I had no memory of the countless spring times and summer times that have followed winter in the past, I would sink into despair to imagine the world forever looking this way. But I do remember, and remembering gives me hope.

Hope also comes in the form of the prayer journal I keep so I can look back on the many prayers that God has answered in the past. Last year alone, a dear friend had successful back surgery. A young father I’d been praying for finally began an addiction program. My long-awaited granddaughter was born healthy and strong. Celebrating each of these answers gives me faith as I wait for God to answer the others. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to wait.

I waited eleven years from the time I first began to write fiction until my first novel was published. When my prayers were finally answered and I received my first book contract, I rejoiced. But during the long publishing process for that first book, my editor and I had a disagreement that brought me to my knees. Could I accept the changes she wanted to make, or would I have to cancel the contract and find a different publisher? I prayed while I waited for the publisher to respond to my concerns. I waited. Then I waited some more.

When my patience ran out, I picked up the telephone, intending to give someone a piece of my mind and end the agonizing wait. Seconds before dialing my editor, I happened to glance at my computer. The screen-saver was programmed to display random Bible verses, and this one read, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” I laughed and put down the phone. And waited some more. In the end, the disagreement was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. My books were in print.

I still don’t like waiting but I think I’m growing better at it. Like the psalmist, “Each morning, I bring my requests to God and wait expectantly.” And hopefully.

So, what are you waiting for?

The Gift

Last week at our Ladies’ Christmas Tea, a woman who enjoys reading my books said to me, “God has given you a wonderful gift.” Maybe it’s the season of the year, but instead of hearing “gift” the way I usually do, as a talent or ability, I immediately pictured a beautifully wrapped present.

A gift! I did nothing to earn it or deserve it. Unlike Santa Claus, God doesn’t give gifts to “nice” children, and lumps of coal to “naughty” ones. My delight in telling stories and any ability I have to do it well, came to me as a free, no-strings-attached gift from a loving Father who chose it especially for me. I’m not a member of some select group who was chosen to receive a gift while others were excluded. When explaining God’s gifts, scripture says God “gives them to each one, just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). No one is left off His list. And He has a huge variety of gifts to give besides the ability to write books.

As I’m doing my Christmas shopping this week, I love thinking of each individual person on my list and choosing something special for each one. I enjoy seeing my loved ones’ pleased reactions when they open them, and I especially enjoy seeing them use the gifts I’ve given. I hope they will think of me each time they do, the same way that I remember the people who gave me certain cherished gifts over the years. I would be so disappointed if the people I love kept their gifts wrapped up beneath the tree, unopened and unused.

Here’s the thing. I know many, many people who aren’t even aware that God has given a gift to each of us—the most important one being the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Sadly, their gifts remain unopened instead of being used and enjoyed. I’ve also met people who acknowledge that they may have been given a gift such as writing ability, but they choose to wait for the perfect set of circumstances to open and use it. “When I have more time,” they say. “When the kids are grown.” “After I retire.” Too often, that perfect time never comes.

I was the mother of a nine-year-old, a two-year-old and a newborn when I first sat down and started to write. If I had waited for ideal conditions, I would still be waiting! I took an important step in unwrapping my gift when I signed up to attend a Christian writers’ conference. That’s why I love to say “Yes!” whenever I’m now asked to teach at a conference. If you’re waiting to tear off the wrappings of your writing gift, I invite you to attend the Word Weavers’ Florida Christian Writers’ Conference (https://word-weavers.com/floridaconference) on March 6-10. I will be teaching the Fiction class, and the keynote speaker will be the fabulous Liz Curtis Higgs!

I especially love watching little children open their Christmas presents, don’t you? I love seeing their anticipation and enthusiasm, their sheer joy as they tear off the wrapping paper and pull out something special. Why not be like a child this year and tear into the gift that your loving Heavenly Father has delighted in giving you? Please don’t wait another day! Merry Christmas!

A Child is Born

Tomorrow is our oldest son, Joshua’s, birthday. My husband and I are looking forward to celebrating it with him and his wife, Vanessa. Joshua was born in Bogota, Colombia where we lived for two years while my husband performed in Colombia’s National Symphony Orchestra.

Those were interesting and memorable years—learning a new language and adjusting to a different culture far from home. When our friends and family learned that I was expecting our first baby, they invariably said, “But you’re coming home to the States to give birth, aren’t you?” I just laughed and assured them that babies were born in Bogota every day. It was no big deal.

Until I went into labor.

Those of you who have children can probably imagine that giving birth is not something you want to attempt to do in a foreign language. Especially when it’s your first child. But I was young and dumb—and by the time the labor pains started it was much too late to book a flight to America. I did my best to stumble through the ordeal in Spanish, and when they finally laid little Joshua in my arms, my first words to him came out in Spanish. My baffled husband said, “What are you doing? He speaks English!”

Twenty days later, it was Christmas Eve. We were far from home, far from family, with a tiny son who barely weighed 6 pounds, celebrating the holiday alone. Yet I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful, memorable ones of my life.

Christmas in Bogota is celebrated like our Fourth of July—with fireworks. You can forget about “Silent Night” with explosions of all kinds going off in the streets. At night the sky is lit up with globos, which are little parachutes fastened to cans of burning fuel. They look lovely as they rise up in the sky, but beware—when the fuels runs out, the cans drop to the ground, falling on unsuspecting pedestrians’ heads!

But what made that Christmas so memorable was that I was holding and nurturing a tiny, helpless baby—a beautiful reminder of how tiny and helpless Jesus was when He came to earth. Imagine! The Creator of the infinite universe was once as helpless and vulnerable as my son. From the moment I first held Joshua in my arms, I felt such a fierce love for him, stronger than any emotion I had ever known—and in that moment I finally caught a glimpse of God’s unfathomable love for me. For me! I knew that I would protect my son with every last ounce of strength I possessed. Yet God’s love for me was so great that He allowed His Son to suffer and die. For me.

That Christmas in Bogota was different from any other Christmas, before or since. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. There were no decorations, no lights, no frantic shopping trips. No carols, no cookies, no presents to wrap, no family gatherings. Yet in that simplicity, I found the true meaning of Christmas—a helpless child, a Father’s love.

I was reminded of Mary and all that she must have endured that first Christmas—a long journey from home, finding a place to stay, giving birth for the first time. Then all of the excitement as the shepherds paid a visit and spread the news about the Messiah’s birth. Yet in the midst of it, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In the simplicity of my first Christmas with a newborn, I had the luxury of doing the same.

Only 20 days remain until Christmas Eve. I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree or decorated my house. There are no cookies baking in my oven, no hot chocolate simmering on the stove. I haven’t bought a single present or even made a list. But this year—every year—I pray that I can let go of all the trappings, all the stress and hassle for just a few moments, and remember how it felt to hold a helpless child in my arms, a child I loved with all that I am. Like Mary, I want to treasure up these things and ponder them in my heart. And then I can celebrate Christmas joyfully, thanking a Heavenly Father who loved me enough to give His Son for me.

Hidden Treasure

Two of my favorite hobbies when I’m not writing are bicycling and hiking in the woods with my husband. Now we’ve added something new to these adventures—geocaching.

It’s a treasure hunt, of sorts. Avid fans of this sport hide thousands (if not millions!) of “caches” all around the world in out-of-the way places, then give GPS coordinates and clever hints for how to find them. We searched for some while vacationing in Florida, when visiting our son in California, and when we traveled to Germany. I found a few while hiking in New York State with my sister last week. They are everywhere!

A geocaching app on our phones locates them using GPS coordinates. The compass then takes us within a few feet of where it’s hidden. After that we use the hints that are provided and our powers of observation to find the hidden container. Some are hidden right along the trail; others require bush-whacking through underbrush or reaching into holes—not my favorite things to do.
Large caches are the size of a shoebox.
Medium ones the size of a sandwich container.
Small ones, a medicine bottle.
Micro caches are even tinier.

I’m pretty good at the larger ones. The micro-sized ones often defeat me. Some caches offer little trinkets inside as a reward. I found a dollar bill in one. All of them have some sort of log book to sign. But for me, the reward is in the pleasure of the hunt and the thrill of discovery.

Recently, I’ve been trying to apply my new treasure-hunting skills to my spiritual walk. Our pastor has been preaching about the Imago Dei—the image of God—which resides in every person on earth. The Bible says we were made in God’s image, so that spark is hidden there, whether we see it in someone or not. The key to loving our neighbor as Jesus taught, is to remember that even the most unlovable people are made in His image, although we may need to search hard to find it.

Sometimes I meet strangers and feel an instant connection—and discover that they have a huge cache of faith and love of Christ in their hearts. Their treasures are easy to find. Then there are people who rub me the wrong way, or whose outward behavior is offensive, or who don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities at all. Those are the ones I want to turn away from and give up on without even bothering to search. It seems as difficult as finding a micro-cache in a forest. But they have been made in God’s image too, and deserve to be shown His love. Weren’t we all “lost” at one time?

Jesus was amazing at finding that spark of the Divine image in unlikely people such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and demoniacs. And I’m supposed to become more and more like Him, aren’t I? He taught us to “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” but I never quite understood how to do it. Maybe the key is to search for that hidden treasure of God’s image. Jesus also tells us why we should bother to look: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” He doesn’t want anyone to remain lost—and so I shouldn’t, either.

I often wish I had a handy app to make it easier, but I do have the Word of God to guide me. If I’m faithful to follow it, that should be more than enough.

On Stage

While we were in California visiting our son Benjamin in April, my husband and I asked him to get tickets to watch a TV show being filmed. He was able to get seats at Universal Studios to watch the taping of two episodes of “Family Feud” with host Steve Harvey. We sat in the second row, front and center, and had a ball!

The young man doing the warm-up act got the audience all fired up with his antics and contests. That was a terrific show all by itself. Then Steve Harvey came out and he had us laughing until our sides ached. A lot more goes on during the taping than ever ends up on the show—and that man is funny! He remained on stage during the commercial breaks and treated us to a comedy routine. He also answered questions from the audience that had been submitted earlier. We weren’t treated like a living “laugh-track” but as an audience that he was eager to entertain.

During the final commercial break, Steve asked us to stay seated after the taping ended because he wanted to send us away with a word of encouragement. We did, and he walked out to the edge of the stage and gave us his testimony of how God had worked in his life. He told his own story, from his heart, and said, “This is what God did in my life, and He can do the same for you. God loves you. He wants a relationship with you.”

We were people of all ages, races, and backgrounds—and in California, no less—yet no one uttered a sound as we listened. He had won our respect with his humor, his genuine warmth, and his honesty during the show, and now we listened. “You know there’s a God,” he said with a smile. “You know there is. He’s reaching out to you because He loves you.”

Steve Harvey entertained me that afternoon, and then he taught me something. He showed me how powerful it can be to simply tell others what God has done in my life. I don’t need to memorize verses or have a theology degree but simply tell my story and remind people that God loves them. I was also amazed that a man of his stature in the entertainment world was courageous enough to use the platform God had given him to speak so forthrightly.

Not only did the audience hear his testimony, but the cameramen, technicians, producers and stagehands did, too—people Steve works with every day. I was reminded that God gives each of us an “audience” to reach out to, whether at work or at school, at home or in the marketplace. He made me wonder—am I taking advantage of the places God takes me and the people He puts in my path to bring Him glory? Do I take time to offer a word of encouragement like Steve Harvey did? I thought of the scripture verse that says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Hats off to you, Steve Harvey, for a great show and a memorable lesson.

Life-Changing Books

I’ve been thinking about my spiritual journey lately, along with my journey as a writer. The two are closely entwined. And I realized what a powerful, life-changing effect books have had on those journeys. Space doesn’t allow me to list all the books that have influenced me, but four stand out.

The first is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family lived uneventful lives in The Netherlands until the Nazis invaded. Then their faith in God and deep love for Christ compelled them to hide Jews in their home, trying to save as many people as possible. Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their father were arrested and sent to prison camps. Only Corrie survived.

I read this book when my husband and I lived in Bogota, Colombia. We had everything a young couple could possibly want; we were newly-married, working our dream jobs, and our first child, Joshua, was born there. I had been raised in a Christian home with godly parents and grandparents, yet when I read “The Hiding Place,” I realized how weak my faith was. I wouldn’t have had the courage to risk my life as Corrie did. Her story convicted me, and I hungered for what she had. I began to seriously pursue a closer walk with God.

I read the second life-changing book shortly after we returned to the United States. “Anointed for Burial” by Todd and DeAnn Burke tells the true story of missionaries to Cambodia in the final, life-threatening years before the nation fell to the Communists. Again, I was impressed by their tremendous faith to endure fiery trials. For months, they lived in such perilous conditions that they needed to hear God speaking on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. They developed the habit of reading scripture three times a day, and God miraculously spoke to them through the Bible, offering wisdom and guidance when they needed it most.

Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Anointed for Burial” convicted me of my need to feed on the Word of God every day. I was faithful to feed my physical body three times a day, so why didn’t I see the greater need to feed my spirit with His Word? I found a daily scripture-reading plan that enabled me to read through the Bible in a year. I began that very day and have continued ever since.

The Bible is the third life-changing book. Like Todd and DeAnn Burke, I have found it to be a comfort and a source of wisdom. But best of all, the picture of God and His eternal plan that emerged as I read it, accomplished what I had longed for back in Bogota—to draw closer to Him, to get to know Him, and to strengthen my spiritual walk.

Next, my husband’s work took us to Canada. My plan had been to have a second child around the time Joshua turned two. But we celebrated his second birthday, then his third and fourth and fifth—and I still wasn’t pregnant. He turned six and started school, and God didn’t seem to hear my prayers. I read the fourth life-changing book, “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok as I wrestled with unanswered prayer. This beautifully-written novel tells the story of an Orthodox Jewish father who, for reasons that aren’t told until the end, stops speaking to his beloved son. When the father finally speaks, he tells how his heart broke the entire time he had kept silent, and how he feared his son would turn away from him forever. But he did it because of the son’s arrogance and self-sufficiency, which needed to be broken. The son needed a loving, compassionate heart so he could understand other people’s pain and accomplish the work God was calling him to do.

I saw in “The Chosen” an allegory of God’s inexplicable silences. And I realized that through my longing for a child, God had led me to become active in the Right-to-Life movement and to help start two crisis pregnancy centers. Through this novel, I discovered that God speaks powerfully through fiction. And it also created in me a longing to write novels like this from a Christian perspective. Christian fiction as we know it today had yet to be born, but I sensed that this was the calling God had for my life. I signed up for a creative writing course at a local college—and a month later, I learned I was pregnant with our son Benjamin. Twenty months after he arrived, our daughter Maya joined us.

My spiritual and writing journeys have been long and satisfying. I have published 25 books, now. Glowing reviews and royalty checks are great, but to me, the most gratifying rewards are letters from readers telling me how one of my stories has impacted their life.

So, how about you? What life-changing books have you read?

The Bus Tour

I’ve done some unusual things during the course of my writing life, but my upcoming bus tour next month will be a first. The idea came from my friend Paul, who thought readers would enjoy touring some of the interesting sites from my novel, “Waves of Mercy.” The novel is set in the town of Holland, Michigan where Paul has lived most of his life, and it tells the story of the Dutch immigrants who founded the town in 1847. Paul happened to mention his idea to a friend from church who leads the 55+ Seniors’ Group—and the “Waves of Mercy” bus tour was born.

I imagined maybe a dozen of us climbing onboard the church van for a spin around town. Ha! I had no idea how popular this tour would be! The group has had to hire two chartered buses carrying 56 passengers each—plus the church van. The “Waves of Mercy” tour will begin at the church with a lunch of Dutch pigs-in-the-blankets and pea soup, then we’re off to see the sites. Here are just a few of them:

A typical settlers’ cabin from 1847

The first church built in 1856

The original light house on Lake Michigan

The Hotel Ottawa Resort on Black Lake

The town’s founding father, Rev. Albertus Van Raalte

I’ve been trying to figure out what makes this tour so appealing to so many people. The sites we’re visiting aren’t unusual ones, but places that can easily be seen in Holland every day. I’ve concluded that it’s the settlers’ courage and faith that makes their story so compelling. They left their homeland of civilized cities to carve out a town in the wilderness because they longed for religious freedom. Their boat caught on fire and was delayed for repairs. The delay kept them from their goal and forced them to spend most of the winter in Detroit. They walked through knee-deep snow to reach the town site because there were no roads. They ran out of food and starved. Their first summer here, so many people died from malaria that they had to build an orphanage to house all the children. But they worked hard, cleared the land, and built farms and businesses. Then, only twenty-four years after the first settlers arrived, fire destroyed the town.
I’m guessing that many of us would have given up—or at least questioned where God was in all these disasters. Had He really called us to settle here or not? It’s so easy to feel like our work is in vain when our carefully made plans start to fall apart. But the settlers’ faith remained strong. Today, there are more than 70 churches in this town of 33,000 people. What an example of perseverance and faith! If they had a life-verse, I think it would be this one:

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
Because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58

That verse will give us something to pause and think about on our “Waves of Mercy” bus tour.

Helpless

Our two-week vacation on Sanibel Island in Florida was wonderful—just the break I needed after finishing my latest novel and before starting the research process for the next. I sat in the departure lounge in the Fort Myers Airport with my husband on Saturday, thinking about all of the things I needed to do when I got home, including writing this blog. The inbound flight arrived, but we were told there would be a delay before we could board due to a mechanical issue. One hour stretched into two. I tried not to grow nervous as I watched the mechanics “tinkering” with something on the wing of our plane. And I was greatly relieved when the airline finally announced that we would be moving to a new gate to board a different plane.

At last we lifted off. But an hour into the flight, I happened to glance out the window in time to see our airplane make a giant U-turn in the sky. The flight attendants, who had just begun serving snacks and beverages, abruptly steered their carts back to the galley. Then the announcement came: “Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot has just informed us that we need to make an emergency landing due to a mechanical problem. We should be on the ground in Orlando, Florida in about 30 minutes.”

No one wants to hear news like that when they’re ten-thousand feet above the earth! As panic set in, I realized that I was utterly helpless to control any aspect of my life or my future. All I could do was pray—and of course, I did. Fervently! Everyone else must have been doing the same thing because the plane became eerily quiet. The next thirty minutes seemed like an eternity.

The book I happened to bring along to read on that flight was “Be Still My Soul” by Elisabeth Elliot. Her words took on new meaning as the stricken plane descended. “We have to come to Him in humility, acknowledging our helplessness and our utter dependence on Him. … If we have given our lives to Him, we are able to accept everything that happens to us as from His hands.” We have a savior we can trust, Elliot says. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive it as the will of our all-loving God.

Most days, I go about my life with the illusion that I’m in control. I can decide where and when I’ll go on vacation; which airline I’ll fly with; how my novels will end, and which book topic I’ll write about next. But my helplessness on that airplane reminded me that my ability to control things goes only so far. Ultimately, my life doesn’t belong to me, but to God, who has redeemed it through His Son. If I’ve given my life to Him, then He is in control, not me. And I’m helpless to save myself spiritually, as well. If we crashed and my life ended, none of my “good deeds” would have any merit at all. “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

Of course, we landed safely or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. We got off the broken plane and were loaded onto a third aircraft an hour later. I confess that my knees felt very wobbly as I boarded. The sick, churning feeling in my stomach grew worse. “The third time’s the charm,” our flight attendant said cheerfully as we took our seats. Once again, I would be vulnerable and helpless, thousands of feet above the earth, for another two-and-a-half hours. And yet, in a strange way, I’m grateful for the reminder of God’s power and my own helplessness. The new year is certain to bring many changes and challenges that I can do nothing about. There will be many more times when I’ll feel panicked and afraid and helpless. But as Elisabeth Elliot says, we do have control over one thing: “You can choose to trust His faithfulness in every detail of your life.”

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3)