Americans sprawled from the east to the west coasts will watch as ballots are counted. State by state, county by county, polling location by polling location, one by one. I imagine there will be an array of feelings sweep across the nation as the numbers inch higher and higher.
Some will celebrate at the end of the night, beaming with pride, “Yeah, that was my vote. The right vote.” There may be applause, or there might be a quiet sigh of relief in homes across the nation.
Some will be on the winning side and might wonder how anyone could have voted for that one.
Others will be disappointed, maybe even outraged. Heads will shake, “How are we going to get through these 4 years?” Surely there will be angry Facebooks posts, and maybe even tears shed for the loss.
Some will be on the losing side and might wonder how anyone could have voted for that one.
This Tuesday could be a Tuesday we always remember. We don’t know how it’s going to shake out, or what’s going to happen in the wake of the results. As we prepare for it, let us remember:
The sovereignty of God is not threatened,
the Kingdom is not in trouble,
and even if you “lose,” you’re still on the winning side.
There’s not a perfect savior on this earth, unless His name is Jesus from Nazareth, the Christ. That name was 100% not found on my ballot last week. And according to my Bible, He isn’t confined to one political system. In fact, He disrupted the political system of His time.
For me, as I prayed for this election, I thought foremost of my refugee friends and students. I considered how to make my vote count for them. Their faces came to mind every time I prayed for this election. I felt a deep conviction, as I have for a few years now, to speak up on their behalf.
I’m guessing you probably had other people and ideas engraved on your heart when you considered who to vote for. Someone came to mind. Something stirred you. It may not have been my refugee friends, but someone compelled you to vote for them.
Your and my convictions might have led us to vote for different people, but neither of us are more loved by God. Neither are we more approved. Let’s boldly believe that His hand of guidance was on me just as much as it was on you too.
It’s amazing to me how a church spread across a continent can pray about who to vote for. And still, there will not be one consensus. There’s room for people representing ideas on both sides of the aisle.
God will not send down an angel to command each of us who to vote for. He did not write that verse in the Bible. No, that is not His way. Why? Because He is not a dictator, tyrant, or bully. Our hope is not in the most powerful person in the world – not even the President of the United States.
Our hope is better; it’s in Christ.
As believers step into voting booths, we’ll find there will not be only one answer to prayers. I really believe that God, in His sovereignty, will lead his church to vote for more than one person. The church will represent every name on the ballot. The church will identify with more than one candidate’s story and heart.
You know, maybe even Kanye’s.
Friends, that is the sovereignty of God. The indescribable, unknowable plans of the master craftsman. I can barely comprehend it. He is not put into a single checked box. He is not a simple answer. The sovereignty of God leads a nation of believers to vote for different people, and still accomplish His plans. The systems and politics of this world don’t perfectly align with His heart.
Our hope for something better cannot be satisfied in one vote for a political leader; the hope He offers is far greater. We don’t hope in man to work things out for us. We hope in a God who is so intimately at work in the very minds, hearts, and souls of humanity that we can’t even begin to unravel His plans.
Your vote matters, and your voice needs to be heard. But you can’t mess this up. God is still here, fighting on behalf of His church in ways that we can’t even explain.
So what do we do on an election day?
We go to God. We pray. We definitely vote. We love our neighbors, brothers, and sisters despite their vote. And we stand with an unwavering resolved to seek His glorious face, knowing that His embrace will never be loosened. We might even remind ourselves –
The sovereignty of God is not threatened,
the Kingdom is not in trouble,
and even if you “lose,” you’re still on the winning side.
“God is great not just because nothing is too big for him; God is great because nothing is too small for Him.”
The Circle Maker, page 113
I mark up my books. Mostly with underlines, sometimes with a star or asterisk to the side. It drives my husband crazy, but it helps me to learn. It helps me to not miss the message woven in the writing that I most need to hear in that season of reading.
Without a doubt, the book I’ve marked up the most recently is Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. Inspired by a first-century BC man who drew a circle of prayer in the middle of a drought and refused to leave until the rain came, Batterson describes a method of prayer that completely circles around and through our requests. The book, which is an entire testimony to the prayer walk of Batterson and his congregation, introduces believers to a different mindset to prayer.
Now, I need to pause here.
The premise of the book is not to literally draw a circle and to sit in it while you pray. Actually, it’s a book about persistence and patience. It’s about perseverance and boldly seeking a heavenly kingdom, even here. The book invites us to participate in a walk with the Lord marked by bold and faithful prayers, and requires a kind of stubborn faith that is dedicated to the practice of praying until the end.
I almost couldn’t stop underlining, and there’s so much that could be said about this book. But for today, let me leave you with 3 main takeaways.
001: “It takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert.” Circle Maker, page 86
I think one of the woes of living as a sinful human is that prayer is hard. It just is. It’s hard to find focus, to sit down to it, and to be faithful to showing up to it. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a believer who admits to having a perfect prayer life without any flaw.
Taken from research on world class athletes, musicians, and writers, Batterson brings up that it takes 10,000 hours to develop world-class mastery. Drawing from the implied practice and determination it takes to get there, he makes the point that prayer is the same.
No, it’s not about logging hours. It’s not that when I reach my 10,000th hour of prayer that I’ll be some expert. No, not even close. But he is saying that a solid prayer life takes time. His point remind us, “It is a habit to be cultivated. It is a discipline to be developed. It is a skill to be practiced.”
This gives me hope. I’m just as broken as the person who seems to pray so effortlessly and often, and the difference between me and that person is simple. They’ve committed themselves to the practice of prayer. That’s it. They’ve taken the plunge of faith it takes to show up to pray to an unseen God every day. They have stretched their patience, focused on the Lord, and continued meeting with Him.
They practice prayer. And it’s not always easy, but they do it in anyways.
And you know what, anyone can get in on that. The only failure in prayer is to stop praying. Establishing a prayer rhythm isn’t happenstance, and that means that all of us have the power to start healthier prayer habits and approaches even today.
002: “When you know you are praying the promises of God, you can pray with holy confidence.” Circle Maker, page 91
Did you know that conservative estimates say there are more than 3,000 promises in Scripture? And because of the work of Jesus, those promises belong to those who believe in Him.
James 1:5, ours.
1 John 1:9, ours.
Psalm 37:4, ours.
Romans 8:28, ours.
Did you hear that? God made Scripture. God made incredible promises. And we have permission to approach Him with those promises.
Some of the Christians I most respect and look up to have talked about praying Scripture right back to God. Hey, if He wrote it then surely it is the most reliable set of words we can read back to Him. Batterson coins it as “God’s grammar.” It’s His own language and set of terms. Why wouldn’t we bring that up in our talks with Him? Not to mention the words He promises are beautiful and plenty to sustain us.
We can read our way through the Bible, but prayer through the Bible plants its words deep within us. We learn how to cling to His promises by heart when we’re speaking those words back to Him, counting on Him to come through with it. My faith in Him heightens when He answers. And He will answer because He’s God and it’s not in His nature to break a promise.
003: “You’ll never achieve the goals you don’t set.” Circle Maker, page 176
Something I started praying about and seeking earlier this year are goals for the coming years. I sat down more than once to my Bible and a composition book that I’ve deemed as my Life Goals journal. This inspiration came from the He Restores My Soul podcast by Jani Ortlund, where she unpacks the value and how-to of casting vision.
One of the final chapters of Circle Maker, “Life Goal List,” could have not have come at a more appropriate time. Just like Jani, Batterson also unpacks the value of setting goals, why it’s important to prayer, and 10 steps for writing them down.
In his goal-setting guide, Batterson walks us through the practical elements of a good goal while above all recognizing that the chief end of a good goal is make God’s name famous. Not only does he give us practical steps for setting a good goal, but the entire list hinges on prayer. Beginning, middle, and end.
The rest of the book aside, this chapter alone was enough to remind me that we are not made to live on auto-pilot. We have been given opportunities and imagination that we’ve barely tapped into. One of the greatest opportunities of goal-setting is getting to marvel at the goodness of God to not only let us dream so big, but to provide incredible ways for those dreams to unfold. The bigger we pray, the more God’s name is magnified when He answers.
Batterson’s passion for prayer is contagious. He believes deeply in the power of prayer, and loves to tell the stories of how the Lord has provided for him; it’s evident on every page.
If you are looking for encouragement as to why you should be praying more and creative ideas on how to do that, you will enjoy this book. Batterson shares some incredible, specific stories in which the Lord came through for him. I loved reading his narrative on how he prays, and was moved to believe that anyone can do this. It just requires practice. Anyone can pray with this level of faith. You just have to start and see it through.
If you are looking for a highly academic, scholarly discourse then this is probably not the book you want to read. Certainly we can all glean some inspiration from this work, but I think it’s important to come in with this mindset that this is ultimately a narrative of one man’s testimony of how he has seen prayer make a difference in his walk.
I have to add that caveat because I think it would be very easy to be disappointed by this book if you come in with the wrong expectations. Instead, I encourage you to start with this simple question: what does a life of prayer look like and how can I practice it?
Much of what Batterson describes are practices and rhythms that I have heard other Christians I look up to say and do. And I feel like if I have heard this message, or similar to it, from the mouths of multiple, well-trusted people, then I can listen to Batterson’s message too.
The heart of Circle Maker is that 100% of the prayers we don’t pray don’t get answered, and if we want something to change, we have to do something different. Batterson’s message is simple: try a new thing. Try a new prayer model. Try a different mindset. Whatever it takes to get closer to seeing the kingdom of God unfold in our world, try it.
Ultimately, are any one of us going to damage ourselves further by praying more? Are any of us going to waste our time by finding different ways to refresh our spirit in Christ? Is anyone really going to be reprimanded for coming to God and saying, “This might look crazy, and it’s sacrificing new portions of my energy, and I feel a little clumsy about it, but it’s worth it because I just want to be nearer to You.”
I’m deeply indebted to historical fiction as an entire genre, and owe a hearty thanks to some of these books that have reintroduced me to the wonder of storytelling this last year.
Among these more recent, great historical-fiction reads is Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Set in Italy near the end of World War II, this tale sends readers on a journey through the eyes of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager.
Pino. The boy who led a Jewish underground railroad movement and acted as a spy for Allied forces. Pino, the unsung hero who helped end a World War and lived most his life after quiet about it.
Pino Lella is only a teenager when Nazis overtake his home Milan. As the hand of the German forces grows stronger in his community, Pino is sent to live at a Catholic convent in the mountains.
Just after arriving to the convent, Pino is asked to lead Jewish refugees on secretive, strenuous hikes through the dangerous passes over the Alps and into the safe zone of Switzerland. For months, all though the winter and beyond, Pino operates this underground railroad leading dozens of people to safety over the treacherous passes of the mountains.
When Pino is summoned back home to be drafted for service, his family forces him to join German efforts in order to ride out the nearing end of the War. He protests at first, but what he soon discovers is an opportunity to serve as a spy for Allied forces as Pino becomes a personal driver for a Nazi general.
In this remarkable journey of courage and hope, Pino Lella affects the entire trajectory of the War by daily putting his life on the line for a cause bigger than himself. He falls in love, fiercely protects, and never gives up on the good that can be found in the world.
Here’s the Wild Thing: It’s a True Story
Beneath a Scarlet Sky was born after 11 years of extensive research by author Mark Sullivan, who estimates that 80%-90% of the story true. Over a decade of study, interviews, and simply being in Pino Lella’s presence culminated into this book. This is a treasure for us as there is a not a lot of written documentation of World War II in Italy. Who knows how many stories we’ve missed; even for Mr. Lella, his story had gone untold for decades.
This is Why I Love Historical Fiction
We can pick up a history textbook if we want to learn about WWII. But, there is something about storytelling that affects our brains in totally different ways. Suddenly we’re not just reading facts and summaries crammed on a few pages, but we’re in the story too.
We’re on our way to the market, walking past Nazi generals with guns in hands and swastikas banded. We’re knocked to the ground, covering our ears at the ear-splitting sound of explosion around us. We’re hiking snow trails across the Alps, leading refugees to safety. Suddenly, we are the refugee, fleeing for safety while wearing a target on our back.
I gained more empathy for the effects of WWII in this book than I ever did reading countless textbook pages. By delving into Pino’s story, I met Nazis and Jewish refugees. My tears fell at the weight of it all, and I rejoiced at the victories. No longer was WWII a black and white stain on our world’s story, but it became this nuanced tapestry made up of real people who fought for its end in indescribable ways.
You can’t learn that in a textbook. It takes the patience of hearing a story to gain that sort of understanding.
Retracing the Steps: a Guide for Reading
As I read, I retraced the steps of Pino by looking at maps and searching photos. I found what I believe is the Catholic convent he lived in (or dang close to it). I saw the lake he led his underground railroad around. I saw his home city, and the cathedral that represented hope and safety for him. I saw the same streets where Pino Lella fell in love, wept, witnessed atrocities, and fought for restoration.
With each discovery, as I looked at each picture and Google earth image, I thought, “He was there. He stood there. He stood up for his country and for peace there.”
This is another beautiful opportunity historical fiction grants us. I created a Pinterest board of photos and links that I found helpful while reading. For me, it made the reading so much richer as I really delved into Italy in WWII. If that sounds fun and nerdy to you too, check out the board to see some of the sights referenced in the story.
Final Word: an Excellent Five Stars
If you look for them, you’ll certainly find the critics of this book. But as far as I’m concerned, this was an excellent read and I plan to keep it on my shelf and recommend to others for years to come. Mark Sullivan honored the story of Pino Lella with his careful crafting of this quiet hero’s journey; he did the world a service by sharing it.
I will admit: it wasn’t Sullivan’s writing style that captivated me. I wasn’t drawn to this book because it boasts incredible dialogue or beautifully moving poetic style. Actually, what drew me in was the unavoidable message at the center of every page that every breathe we have left is a breath of purpose.
Even the ordinary breaths.
Pino Lella thought his story was ordinary. Plain. Not worth rehashing. But here is the truth: there are no ordinary days that don’t make a difference. He showed us that the most remarkable stories happen by taking one step after another, making decisions one at a time. We could be living in the middle of a World War, saving lives and communicating critical information, and never realize the impact we’re making.
Pino Lella’s story promises us that even in the darkest of days love is there. His story is evidence that there is more good at work than bad. Don’t get me wrong – times are tough. But, we have a choice to make. We can either be victimized by it, or fight courageously to see the good.
Every step we walk has the power to change the entire trajectory of someone’s future. Let’s dare believe that. And as we take our steps, one after the other, we follow that young Italian’s example. We continue –
to have faith,
to do what is right,
and above all,
find the strength to believe there is good woven in every day
If you know me, you know I love tradition and can tie sentiment to anything. But this winter, we gave up some things – traditions, expectations, rituals, shopping adventures.
This season, working to get out of student loan debt has made a tremendous impact on our lifestyle; I especially felt it this season. The way we shopped, wrapped, and participated in the whole season is changing. Has changed.
You see, the deeper we go into this journey, the more I realized it’s not about the debt. It’s about my love for “stuff.” It’s our society’s constant message: you don’t have enough and you need this to be happy. It’s the constant, tortuous game of comparison and discontentment.
We blocked out that message of comparison shouted to our society. It might sound silly, but we made a choice to have a smaller Christmas to stay in budget. What we didn’t anticipate is that by choosing to engage in smaller ways, we would actually open a wider breadth in which to celebrate and be present with others.
We would actually prove to ourselves that we can love and serve well with little; we can live big moments with little things. But, it required some sacrifice. (Albeit little things to you, but these were initially hard for me to release):
We gave up matching Christmas PJs and got matching socks instead.
We chose 1 gift for each of our people because 2 would be out of budget (even though we really wanted to do more and look ahead to the day when we can be outrageously generous).
We made coffee at home before hitting the road, instead of buying Starbucks. We packed snacks instead of hitting a drive thru.
We received and displayed Christmas cards with joy instead of sending them (I LOVE snail mail!).
We shared presents in gift exchange games, and had to learn how to agree on gifts to contribute together.
We said NO to cat stockings (even though I love them so much).
We reused the same wonky tree, whose branches are still bent from the cat’s last year and only got more out of shape this year.
We only used decorations we had from previous years; absolutely zero new decor was purchased.
We sought ethical and local gifts, and chose to be okay with the small stack under the tree.
We made a choice to look at our Christmas, and enjoy it, even though it was small.
I should rewind. This theme of minimizing and simplifying, this mantra of defying the rules of American consumerism and consumption, has really been in the works this entire year. It’s not a switch I turned on December 1. Actually, these ideas began rooting within me before we ever flipped the calendar to 2019.
But I owe it to 2019 for all she’s done to serve this desire well. All she’s taught me. This year was simple and peaceful in our home. It was calm. It was small. It was decluttered.
The biggest decision we made this year was this: to stay.
We renewed the lease on our apartment for a second year. We hosted friends for dinner, and became members at a church we’ve fallen in love with over the last year and a half. We set our alarms every morning and showed up to the same office and workshop every day. We continued praying for family and friends, students and ministries. We had monthly supper clubs with our old college friends. We set goals every month to pay down that student loan bill.
We were just… here. Nothing big or mighty, special or particularly impressive. We were here, doing the faithful and often monotonous work of living the faith in the places we’ve been called.
And it is because of our commitment to small living this year, that I can say with total confidence that what has happened this year has been from the hand of God. We’ve done next to nothing, and certainly nothing of extreme impressiveness with own hands.
The wins of 2019, y’all. Wonderful wins.
After years of endless prayers and tears, my father came to Christ. Just weeks later, I witnessed he and my mom finally exchange hands in marriage. These are gifts I’ll treasure in my heart forever; these are gifts that most kids don’t get to witness – the choice of their father to follow his Heavenly Father and their parents’ wedding. Two marriages I will never forget. But God did it. What a win.
We watched healing and restoration ripple in relationships in my life. Obstacles and hurts, frustrations and burdens that once overtook my heart were stilled. Honestly, I can’t explain it. Forgiveness and love swept through our souls in ways I can’t make up.
I set a reading goal for the first time in my life, and not only met it, but surpassed it – 25/24 books read!
Travis and I both found wonderful favor with our bosses. He received bonuses and pay raises, and my position became a full-time gig.
I wrote more than I ever have. I started and continued a book, and set up this blog. When a friend found it, she said, “Wow, you’re so consistent.” I’m no where near where I want to be, but I’m practicing and I’m getting there; that’s a win.
Travis and I dove deeper into community with a small group of friends. We began serving at our church. Transitioning to a new church home is daunting work. I say this from a believer who actually wants it, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who are skeptical of church. But our roots grow deeper every day.
I prayed more than I have in my entire Christian walk. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I did it because I knew my soul needed it. I learned new tools and practices to prayer, and they helped me tremendously. Discipline is hard, but 2019 is the year I began deciding what I want to be disciplined in- something I want to do even when I don’t want to, you know? And prayer was on the list.
Travis and I made honest, tight monthly budgets. We made some cuts and sacrifices, but also gave grace, and we doubled our student loan repayment in this second year of marriage. We are now past the halfway mark of paying down our student loan debt, and are determined to be at $0 by the end of 2020.
I shouldn’t just give you the wins; 2019 certainly had setbacks too.
Not including the condition of politics in America, Twitter explosions, and outrageous headlines, some of my every days were hard too.
I lost friendships – as in, cut out, don’t-want-to-talk-to-ya-again, completely erased from memory.And I deeply feared losing others; I missed home and people. I struggled with comparson and the heavy weight that I never meet expectations. I felt anxious when the Lord was quiet because our lives were quiet. I feared that Travis and I are rats in a wheel, doing the same things in the same places we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. I dealt with other fears. I often didn’t feel like praying or reading.
2019 handed me some difficult challenges and losses, some of which I’m still recovering from. But woven intricately in it all, and above all, in 2019 I saw the kindness of God.
I saw his faithfulness. I saw him supply more when I lacked. He set a Spirit of empowerment and joy in me, refusing to be swayed by the craziness of our culture. He began working a boldness to live… differently.
It was in the works all year. But my simple, sweet, little Tennessee Christmas was pure evidence of all this work.
He beckoned me into his quiet presence and peace, assuring me that he is at work even when I’m not. Perhaps that is why I’m seeking a simple, quiet life right now. Maybe that’s why contentment and minimalism are tiny anthems plastered over my heart – because God knows that he is enough for me. And 2019 was a launching pad; how much more I have to go.
One day, older and wiser me is going to thank this younger me that we began this process of simplifying and allowing ourselves space to be present, while unashamedly combatting consumerism and comparison.
I’m still learning how to live “weird” unapologetically, but this season – this whole year – was a big step. It was simple and calm, and I’m beginning to think that sustainable and content living is truly possible. It’s not glamorous, but it’s beautiful.
So, if you had a small Christmas too, and gave up things you wanted for better fruit, welcome to the club. If you’re walking away from 2019 feeling like you accomplished absolutely nothing of extraordinary impressiveness, I’m walking with you.