Finding Joy in Uncertainty

Recently, during a fit of spring cleaning, Beth and I were going through a stack of books and notebooks, trying to determine which were worth keeping and those that would better serve not taking up valuable shelf space. In one of those notebooks, I came across the following—a reflection written by a younger, still-single Steve (circa. 2007) who was contemplating marriage and the future. It reminded me that there is joy in uncertainty when you trust the One who holds the future in His hands. ‘Tis a lesson worth repeating—mostly for myself, but hopefully it speaks to others as well.

It dawns on me that I often view uncertainty or lack of future knowledge as a detriment. I see it as a lack of faith on my parta result of the Fall. “If only I were more committed to seeking God’s will through prayer and devotions,” I reason, “then God would make his plans known to me.”

But faith is not the result of knowing what lies ahead, but rather in the knowing of Him who knows the future. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for,” but not necessarily a certainty that God will bring these things about in the time and manner we expect, if at all.

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Running Toward a Different Goal

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job). Check it out sometime!

Tim Montgomery has always been fast.

A track legend in his hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina, Montgomery established himself as a sprinter from an early age. In college, he ran a sub-10-second 100 meters, only missing out on setting a world junior record when it was discovered the track was three centimeters too short. He competed in two Olympics, winning a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta for the 4×100 meter relay, and following that with a gold medal in the same event in Sydney in 2000.  In 2002, he reached the pinnacle of his sport, setting a world record in the 100 meter dash with a time of 9.78 seconds and earning the title “Fastest Man in the World.” He even had his own Nike commercial.

And then everything fell apart.

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A Sad Masterpiece

It has now been close to a week since the conclusion of Saturday’s Bengal-Steeler playoff game (working title, “The Bungle in the Jungle,” patent pending, all rights reserved), and I am just now getting a chance to collect some thoughts in an attempt to describe the indescribable—to explain the inexplicable.

Gridiron TragedyTo put it mildly, the game was brutal.  The conditions were brutal.  The play on the field (and on occasion, off of it—I’m looking at you, Mike Munchak) was brutal.  Most of all, the conclusion of the game was brutal—the cruelest twist of fate dealt to a team who has had more than their share of bad luck and self-inflicted agony.

The Bengals lose.  It’s what they do.  Sometimes early, sometimes late, but for 47 years, the Cincinnati football team has specialized in finding new, creative, more painful ways to not win.

But on January 9, 2016, the Bengals delivered their masterpiece—a magnum opus of defeat that may never be matched.  It was King Lear, full of plots and subplots, tragic heroes and anti-heroes.  It was Guernica—a chaotic, dark work of art painted on the soggy canvas of Field Turf at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Christmas, Epiphany, and “Blue Monday”

If the Christmas season (or, more accurately, the run-up to and including Christmas day) is the “most wonderful time of the year,” Epiphany is, to borrow from another seasonal song, “the bleak midwinter.”  Gone are the shiny light displays, the festive decorations, and the holiday treats that were everywhere just weeks before.  Instead, there is a blank space in the living room where the Christmas tree once stood, a naked mantle that before had stockings hung with care, and an expanding belly where our waist had previously been.

... and with this image, I have reached my quota on song references for a single post.
… and with this image, I have reached my quota on song references for a single post.

According to a formula developed by a researcher and psychologist at Cardiff University in Wales, today (January 6) is the “unhappiest day of the year” taking debt, weather, failed new year’s resolutions, and a general lack of motivation into account.  In the United Kingdom, the day has been dubbed “Blue Monday,” and has been adopted by a travel company to encourage Brits to escape the doldrums by flying someplace that isn’t perpetually dank.

As fate would have it, today is also Epiphany – the actual end of the Christmas season, where Western Christians remember the visitation of the Magi to see the young (but not newborn) Christ child.  Alas, most Christians don’t actually get to this 12th day of Christmas to celebrate this.  Instead, we slap three kings into our nativity scenes, celebrate the whole shooting match on one glorious day, and have the entire set put away by the time the new year is introduced.  (Not to cast aspersions on that old chestnut of a tune, but they weren’t actually “kings,” the Bible doesn’t indicate how many there were, and modern audiences aren’t likely to consider Persia or Yemen as the “Orient.”  Other that that, though, great song.)

I submit, however, that there is reason to continue our celebration through the full season of Epiphany.  By doing so, we are reminded not only of God’s coming in human form at the Incarnation, but also of His continuing presence, even in the dark days of January and beyond, and our call to take that news and share it with others.

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The Power to Forgive

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job).  Check it out sometime!

“How do people forgive a crime like murder?”  The headline from a BBC News Magazine story asks a question that most of us hope we never have to answer, but it is a question that we would all be wise to ponder.

The BBC article interviews Bill Pelke.  In 1985, Pelke’s grandmother was brutally killed by four teenaged girls in her home in northwest Indiana.  Fifteen-year-old Paula Cooper, viewed by prosecutors as the leader of the group, was convicted of murder for the stabbing death of the 78-year-old Bible teacher, and sentenced to death.  A subsequent appeal based on Cooper’s age reduced the sentence to life in prison.

At the time of the conviction, Pelke said he felt the conviction was appropriate.  But after reflecting on the values he had learned from his grandmother, and seeing the impact the sentencing had on Cooper’s grandfather, Pelke began to reconsider.

“My grandmother would not have wanted this old man to witness his teenage grand-daughter die,” he says. “Everyone in north-west Indiana wanted Paula Cooper to die – Nana would have been appalled by the anger.”

Pelke decided that forgiving Cooper was what both God and his grandmother would have wanted him to do.  For eight years, he attempted to meet with Cooper, only to be denied the opportunity by prison officials.  Finally, on Thanksgiving day in 1994, Pelke was allowed to come face-to-face with his grandmother’s killer.

“I walked in and gave her a hug,” Pelke recounts.  He then offered her his forgiveness.

Pelke’s act of mercy was not without its detractors.  His relationship with his father, who found his mother’s body after her murder, was damaged for years following the decision to forgive Cooper.

“I knew I was doing the right thing,” says Pelke, “and later my father forgave me for forgiving Paula Cooper.  He came a long way.”

Such a desire to offer forgiveness to someone who has done something as unconscionable as murder is difficult for many to understand.  Was Cooper not guilty of the crime?  Had she done anything to warrant Pelke’s forgiveness?  To hold out the promise of compassion in the face of such evil seems unjust – even unnatural.

And that’s because it is unnatural.

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A Trip to the Zoo

The second day of the Tour de Rempe (the first not spent entirely on the road) began with a trip to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  The kids had a great time watching the animals in their natural habitats (kinda’), and were only slightly concerned when I tried to convince them that “children’s zoo” meant it was a zoo where kids were kept for display.  (I think Caleb was actually a little disappointed when he realized this wasn’t the case.)

Aunt Mary and Uncle Stan were the perfect tour guides, steering us toward the best path for optimal animal viewing for the short amount of time we had available to us.  Afterward, we retreated back to their house for a nice lunch (a/k/a, the dinner we didn’t get to the night before), and spent a fair amount of time exploring the myriad of sounds that could be produced on Aunt Mary’s organ.  Grace in particular has inherited dad’s love of music.  Whether she has mom’s actual musical talent or not remains to be seen.

All in all, our brief stay in Fort Wayne was very enjoyable.  I’m sure we could have spent more time exploring all there is to see and do in northeast Indiana, but the road beckoned, and soon we were back on the road, headed north to introduce the kids to their great grandfather.

Next up: a trip to Grand Rapids, and a step back in time.

Who’s My Neighbor?

The following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job).  Check it out sometime!

On January 30, three young brothers were canoeing the Salmon Creek in Washington state. The river current was strong that day, swollen by a week’s worth of rain, and the boys found themselves unable to control their small craft in the rushing water. The boat capsized, sending the three boys—the youngest of which was eight—into the icy cold water.

On shore, Nelson Pettis heard the screams of help from the frightened youngsters. He quickly scanned the creek, and saw three heads bobbing in the water. In a split second, he chose to put himself at risk, diving into the rapids in an attempt to save the boys. Soon, two other men—Larry Bohn and Jon Fowler—joined Pettis in the creek. Fighting the current, they were able to direct the boys to dry land, dodging fast-moving debris as they made their way to shore.

The three men are rightly being hailed as heroes who risked life and limb to save the lives of boys they had never met. And yet, the most interesting part of the story might be why these heroes were in the vicinity of the creek in the first place.

As fate would have it, Pettis, Bohn, and Fowler were performing maintenance work at a nearby park at the time of the capsizing, members of a work release program from the nearby Larch Correctional Center.

Continue reading “Who’s My Neighbor?”