How A Google Doc Changed My Life by Rachel Rim

One of the biggest blessings of my life exists in the form of a Google document.

Two years ago, my friend Alycia and I sat on the steps outside "Saga O" on Wheaton College's campus and made the rather arbitrary decision to be accountability partners. Looking back, we had no clear idea of what that really meant. The decision came out of a conversation about how ironically difficult it was to read the Bible regularly at a Christian college. If memory serves correctly, I made the suggestion, she readily agreed and neither of us thought too much about it. Later that night, one of us created a Google document, titled it “Rachel and Alycia’s Accountability Page” and we went on with our unsuspecting lives.

Like in the gospel story of the five loaves and two fish, God took our clueless-but-genuine intention and multiplied it in ways we never could have predicted. We started reading Deuteronomy and Hebrews together and began writing on the page every night. We wrote out our questions and thoughts on the passage and responded to each other’s posts in different colors. Soon we were reading Paul's letters to the Corinthians, the prophet Hosea and the Gospel of John. We posted on C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, shared lyrics to hymns we were currently listening to and pondered the Tolkien lectures at the Wade Center we attended. 

It didn't take long before academic discussions turned into personal conversations. Alycia opened up to me about her family; I shared with her some of my struggles. We began to not simply share prayer requests but to meet every week, usually on the steps of Edman Chapel, and pray for things going on around the world, on our campus and in each other’s lives. Whatever happened on any given day, I could count on Alycia’s steady reflections on our accountability page; whatever a particular week looked like, I knew there would be a time to come together, share and pray. The summer before our senior year, we read a book together and decided to pursue spiritual friendship—friendship that was intentional, committed and rooted in biblical truth.

Looking back, I’m not sure either of us would have so casually embarked upon our accountability friendship had we known all that would happen. There is something a little frightening about seeing something grow so powerfully, so unambiguously of God. Some truly beautiful conversations and memories have come out of our accountability, but it has also been immensely difficult at times, as we struggled through busy schedules, the natural wounds that come from deep vulnerability and the inevitable realities of post-graduation life.

Part of the struggles we faced—and still face—stem from the fact that we have few places to find examples of friendships like ours. Short of David and Jonathan, there aren’t many biblical stories used to illuminate deep friendship, and the topic does not factor heavily in most sermons or seminars. Our culture as a whole, and I would dare to say, church culture in particular, holds friendship as the least committed of all relationships. It puts marriage and romantic relationships up on a pedestal, and friendship comes in last of all. The nature of friendship is seen as whimsical, the decision to “be friends with someone” as arbitrary; we become friends and stop being friends with someone based on how we feel, and we use words like “commitment” and “intentionality” exclusively for marriage.

As a single, recent college graduate, friendship obviously plays a different role for me than it does for someone in another season of life. I recognize this, and yet at the same time, I cannot help feeling that our under-emphasis of friendship has caused us to miss out on a fundamental aspect of God’s character, as well as a profound avenue for grace and blessing in our personal lives. I have learned different things from my friendship with Alycia than I have from my relationships with my parents or my sister, particularly because I’m stuck with my family whether I like it or not, whereas friendship requires unrequired effort. It is creating a covenant where none exists, choosing commitment in a culture that says we can drop friends when we no longer feel like we have much in common. And accountability specifically has done more than anything else in my life to show me that I cannot walk alone—that to do so would be to miss so much of what it means to be human, made in the image of the relational God.

Alycia and I are still accountability friends, though we live in different states and the lack of proximity makes everything harder. Our Google document is close to three hundred pages long, and I recently returned from Minnesota where I spent a week with her and her family. Before my friendship with Alycia, I never knew friendship could be so hard and so complicated; I also never knew it could be so beautiful. It is my prayer that both secular culture and Christian culture can slowly work towards understanding friendship in a radically different light. I’ve found too much beauty in my own to pray any differently.

On the Road to Thanksgiving by Lorraine Triggs

He’s traveling with stage 4 cancer this year.

Not his first choice of traveling companion I’m sure

Neither is rebellious children or unemployment.

No one sets a place for

bleak prognosis

fear

anxiety.

Doors slam on

loneliness

unfaithfulness

hopelessness

Still they crowd the road on the way

to Thanksgiving.

Unwanted guests who want to be wanted

If only for moment by a band of pilgrims

Not weighed down by light afflictions

On the wide road

On their way home

to Thanksgiving.

Daddies pm Saturday Mornings by Wallace Alcorn

It’s Saturday morning, and Ann and I have just returned from shopping at Trader Joe’s. I like going on Saturdays, because it is then I get to see dads—daddies, actually—shopping with their children. One little guy was sitting in his cart seat singing, “Daddy O, O my daddy.” I hope daddy noticed. This old daddy certainly did, but I wonder if I noticed more today than I did when I was the daddy.

I think I did, but it is more certain that I now more understand and with stronger conviction borne of both rewarding experience and enlightening observation. I pray retroactively (however dubious the theology) that I was faithful as a father as our Father always is. I learned most by how he worked out his fathership through my father, who was himself father indeed.

Changing planes at O’Hare some years ago, I ran into my former Wheaton College professor Kenneth Kantzer at baggage claim. Any number of esoteric theological questions rushed into mind. As I was deciding which to risk asking at this opportune moment, he preempted me: “Wally, how old are your children?” When I told him all in grade school, he shot back: “Spend time with them while you have them!” Then he was off, leaving me to ponder why this world-class theologian should lay just this advice on his former student. Although I knew him as an academic, he had also allowed me to know him as a person, as a daddy. The Lord chose the right voice for me at the right time.

John Calvin wrote of a sensus divinitatis (“sense of deity”), and I wonder if there isn’t also something of a sense of fathership, inherent within our souls. I have seen it in some who never experienced actual fathership. It was there ready to be activated. In the most deeply felt crises, it expresses itself as daddy, “Abba Father.” Already a father is but a start; we must grow into being daddy. The children will already know, and they will never forget if we are.

I was, as a police chaplain, called to a Tacoma KFC following an armed robbery. As the policeman unlocked the door to admit me to the crime scene, he motioned to a booth where sat a grandmother and a two-year-old boy. The young boy was sobbing deeply trying to “be a man,” as his grandmother was demanding. Tragically, when the little one had begun to cry, one of the robbers pushed a gun in the boy’s face and then turned and shot the clerk before the boy’s eyes.

I slid in beside them and held my arms out to the boy. He flew into them and buried his face in my shoulder. As I hugged him, he kept crying, “Daddy! Daddy!” He knew.

I am grateful to those daddies who remind me on Saturday mornings. But, when we have grown up recognizing what a daddy is, why is it we don’t pay attention when we are?

My Road to Russia by Wil Triggs

I was in fifth grade when my trumpet teacher took it upon herself to teach me music appreciation and theory in addition to trumpet. She sent me home each week with records to listen to and then we would talk about them at my next trumpet lesson. After she took me through weeks of studying and listening to composers for each of the periods of classical music, she told me that I seemed to be drawn to a lot of Russian composers. The more I listened to, the more records she would pull out and loan to me. “If you like that, listen to this,” she’d say week after week. And it really became an auditory sort of revelation of sound—Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov,  Rachmaninoff, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Prokofief, Stravinsky, Khabalevsky.

In my junior high art class, the teacher dumped clippings of buildings and places from around the world onto a table and told us to each pick one up and paint it with watercolors. I chose an exotic building with lots of colors and shapes. Is it real? I wondered.

The teacher explained in his outgoing art-teacherish way that there was a terror to go with the beauty in the photo I chose. I didn’t know what that building was or where it came from. Of course, it turned out to be a real structure in Russia. The legend was that the Czar had the architect blinded after he finished so that he could never duplicate his work. I was fascinated and a little aghast. What kind of a place was this?

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Then, in college, I took a class that focused on Dostoevsky. There I was, back in Russia again, this time exploring the world through the eyes of Raskolnikov, Sonya, Porfiry, Mitya, Ivan, Alyosha, Zosima and so many others. Dostoevsky became a giant of a writer to me, as I read through many of his works and marveled at the insights into humanity, faith, suffering and some kind of redemption. This was a land far-removed from the England of Charles Dickens or the America of John Steinbeck. Not better, but very much different. It was a people familiar with sorrow and suffering.

In all of these experiences, never did I think that I would ever go there.

But I did end up working to advocate and pray for Christians in labor camps and a psychiatric hospital during what turned out to be the last years of the Soviet Union. And while doing my work, the organization I worked for sent me there. It was to help me see and do a better job of writing, and also to take some Bibles and books with me to the churches starving for them. This later grew into full-time missionary service, but that’s another story.

dostoevskysign.jpg

One place I went to on that first visit was Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). A Soviet-approved tourist destination was the Tikhvin Cemetary—the burial place of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Of course, I had to go. When I got there, I found that I was not the only one to go to his grave. Others went also, reverently and with a sense of awe.

And Dostoevsky was not the only one. I wandered and stopped beside others where people stood and figured out the names in my newly acquired Cyrillic alphabet—Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky. I knew these names and recalled their music. Walking by them all, in the shadow of the Orthodox monastery, I returned to Dostoevsky’s grave before heading out.

Even as the official tour guides took us to many cultural and historic landmarks and lectured us on history and culture from the Marxist-Leninist perspective, we did carve out free time. It was then that we purposely sought out church. Leningrad was also where I met and prayed with Christians who loved Jesus in ways that seemed normal to a Sunday school teacher like me but was reckless in the Soviet context. And just a few weeks later, some would be arrested and sent to psychiatric hospitals/labor camps for teaching minors about Christianity. And even later on, one recanted to a degree and later got back into ministry, another served out his term and was released from prison, later still emigrating to the United Kingdom. 

The suffering and sorrow expressed with such intensity in the arts of the country were nothing compared with the mostly unseen regular people living out their lives and practicing their faith no matter what.

My prayer and advocacy for Russia has grown now to include so many other places and people of the world—a partial list from a recent prayer time includes Algeria, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, India, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Vietnam and North Korea.

I’m learning and forgetting and learning anew that God answers prayers along the way—prayers that free people, topple empires, convert persecutors and give freedom to share the good news in more open ways that may seem impossible. Things that seem far away aren’t far away at all where Jesus is concerned. You could read about a far-off land and years later find yourself standing in the very place you read about.

My first time in Russia was an eye–opener. More than that, it was a heart–opener, forget the heart—it laid bare my soul. I came face to face with God preparing me for his work in ways no human could imagine. And I started to learn that even more beautiful than art or literature or music is the suffering of God’s people and the amazing gift we have to stand with them in prayer and advocacy.

Beautiful Seasoning by Virginia Hughes

A wooden rake, an old rolling pin, a stack of chipped mixing bowls, the wrought iron meat grinder, canning jars and a family Bible. These items from my grandparents’ home were the simple implements of ordinary lives seasoned and made beautiful by use of their hands over time. 

In the crisp autumn air Grandpa’s hands curl around the old rake made entirely of wood from handle to comb as he teaches us to rake leaves and gather branches under the massive willow tree. Most of the leaves have blown over from the red-orange sugar maples edging the property. As missionary children we relish this rare visit to our grandparents’ stateside home by jumping with glee to bury ourselves in piles of autumn leaves. A loaded wheelbarrow carries stacks of leaves for burning. No horsing around by the burning piles; we respect the command to stand back. A handful of colorful leaves rustles in my coat pocket. 

After we have labored, the aroma of fresh biscuits quickens our steps. “Smell those fresh biscuits in the air!” Grandpa announces, and we float into the house, our noses carrying us toward the heavenly scent. 

In the kitchen, Grandma is pulling biscuits from the oven and assigning jobs, “Get a spoon for the jelly.” She instructs. “Pour the milk, put napkins at the places and of all things, first wash your hands.” 

Grandma’s hands grip the rolling pin handles. The ancient rolling pin perpetually rolls dough with its thick cylinder of smooth, seasoned wood. Decades of cookies, pie dough and biscuits roll from the wheel marking times of lean and plenty throughout their lives including tales of how they survived the Great Depression. Family stories roll out alongside dough connecting us through many generations. 

The iron meat grinder sits on the counter waiting to be turned with a hand crank. While its origins are unknown, Grandma knows her great-grandmother used it in her kitchen long ago. “You can’t trust sausage, meatloaf or even a meatball unless you see what goes into it,” states Grandma exposing the meat jungle long before we read Upton Sinclair. “You must learn about the cuts of meat and proper seasonings or be unaware and eat terrible things.” She elaborates about wholesome ingredients. Her large mixing bowls are stacked with the highest expectations. 

Grandma’s hands curl around jars of canned green beans, pickles, whole tomatoes and strawberry jam as she stacks them on the pantry shelves. All the talk of canning is confusing. “Where are the cans?” Aren't cans metal and these are clear glass jars. An eight-year-old mind while imaginative, is correctively literal. The kitchen rings with Grandma’s laughter, “Where are the cans? Right here!” She points to shelves lined with rows of colorfully filled canning jars.

Grandma and Grandpa fold their work worn hands to pray before we dig into the biscuits. Grandpa’s prayer is sincere and blissfully short and for that I love him even more.

When I’m older I learn their home did not always center around faith. There is a season when Grandpa sits in the diner drinking coffee and reading the newspaper while Grandma attends church with their three young children. One summer evening in downtown Indianapolis, while out walking and munching on ice cream cones, the whole family is drawn toward beautiful music flowing from a tent service. After the gospel is presented, Grandpa gives his life to the Lord and his family attends church altogether now. They learn to read their Bibles and pray to grow their faith, and their children became young adults who join full time ministry. 

My mother is their 20-year-old daughter married for one year, saying goodbye to family and country. She and Dad are going to the Philippine Islands shortly after World War Two to start a Bible college and a family.

We are shown the large family Bible on display in my grandparents’ living room. Our names are written majestically in script on the page entitled, Family Births, along with our birth dates. The large Bible with my name in it makes such an impression that it immediately comes to mind when I hear about the Lamb’s Book of Life in second-grade Sunday School class.  “Is your name written there, in the Lamb’s Book of Life?” The teacher cryptically asks.

Never has one answered so swiftly nor earnestly as myself, “Oh yes, I saw my name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” The teacher is taken aback that I dare claim to have seen God’s own book described in Revelation. “And where did you see this?” She asks. “At Grandma’s. She has the Lamb’s Book of Life in her living room and my name and birthday are written right in it . . . in cursive . . . in ink.”  Teacher’s patience and raised eyebrows remain intact long enough for me to announce that I have also seen the page with the picture of lambs.

Grandpa and Grandma revere the Bible far too much to underline text or write a note in the margins. So, Grandma scrawls notes, names and prayer requests on bits of paper and tucks them into the Bible’s pages similarly to visitors placing prayers into the crevices of Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Grandma believes her prayers will be answered as she waits upon the Lord. 

My grandparents entrust my young parents into God’s hands and later their eight grandchildren as we come along. They are the lone set of grandparents keeping the home fires burning. My dad’s parents travel as evangelists and we see them even less than the stateside ones. 

No phones for calls. Letters waylaid and delayed. We are not together as a family for many years as Grandma’s rolling pin rolls out the biscuits, and Grandpa’s rake is raking leaves over many seasons, the canning jars fill with fruits and vegetables, and line the pantry shelves. Wholesome ingredients stir within the mixing bowls. 

We know our grandparents open their Bibles and fold their hands to pray. They trust God to keep us, savoring the telegrams, air mail letters and postcards announcing a new grandchild, and good news that we are well. An amazing bond grows between us despite time and distance as we believe we are loved and practice faith that we will see them again. Their presence in our lives teaching both family and faith reflects their use of the family Bible. For in it we find the beautiful and perfect seasoning leaving us equally satisfied and always wanting more.

Noses and Nostalgia by Nancy Taylor

The air is heavy today with the scent of rain and fall. It’s funny how our sense of smell can instantly transport us to another time and place. One whiff of hedgerows and roses and I’m back in England. Salty sea air wafting on the breeze transports me to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Scotch pines swaying in the breeze take me to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. A particular cologne brings back all the feelings of young love because that’s what my husband wore when we were dating. The smell of cedar brings me back to days of playing in our walk-in cedar closet as a child. Gasoline and lawn clippings and burgers on the grill are all the best scents of summer. Maybe it’s no mistake that the words nostril and nostalgia are so similar.

The funny thing is, we can’t really describe a smell the way we can describe a sight or taste or sound or feeling. It’s something you have to experience for yourself, and it’s not always an experience we choose. Scientists tell us that the sense of smell is the most direct of all our senses. As we breathe in, tiny nerves transmit information to our brains. The effect of a smell is instantaneous, unedited, and visceral. And the information that enters our brains through our noses lodges in the long-term memory section of our brain. The effects of what we breathe in without even knowing it are long-lasting and inescapable. That is why smells have the power to bring up long-buried emotions of joy or sorrow, reduce our stress and improve our cognitive performance.

Perhaps the power of scent was on Paul's mind when he wrote, “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16) Christians have a unique smell about us. We carry with us and in us the life of the Spirit, and he creates in us rivers of living water, which carries the scent of life and growth and hope. The promise of true life.

The scent of a Christian is interpreted differently by different people, just as the smell of grass clippings makes one person think of happy summer days and another think of miserable allergies. Those who are being drawn to life in Christ know that it is the aroma of the life-giving love of God, and to them it is the smell of life. The presence of another believer transports them to the glorious home they will one day share as they live in God’s presence. It is a tangible reminder of the worldwide family that we became part of when we believed in Jesus.

Those who have turned their back on God associate Christians with judgment because a Christian’s life of love and obedience to God makes theme realize that their own life stinks of death and destruction. To them, Christians reek of death. Maybe they are not too far off, because after all we are carrying in our bodies the death of Christ, the death which brings life.

There is another aspect to the scent of a Christian—we are, in our very existence as well as in our acts of love and worship, a fragrant offering to God. The prayers we breathe out and the good deeds we do for others are like the sweet aroma of sacrificial incense wafting up to him. (Leviticus 1:17) We are “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18) In these ways we imitate Christ, who “has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Ephesians 5:2) Regardless of how we are viewed by those around us, the scent of life and love that clings to us as believers is pleasing to God. It is a sign that we are a living sacrifice to him, that we have offered ourselves, body and soul, in worship to the Creator.

So the next time a scent takes you by surprise and transports you like a magic carpet to another time and place, think of the aroma of your life. Are you letting Christ flow through you so that you bring the scent of life to those around you? Are your attitudes and actions a sacrifice of praise that releases a sweet aroma pleasing to the Lord?

 

Follow Nancy's blog on her website: nancytaylorwrites.