Or This

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, my sweet friend across the world! In your last letter, you asked if I had any resolutions. Since this letter is so woefully late, I hereby resolve that the rest of my letters in 2015 will {hopefully} not follow suit. (Is it appropriate to use the word “hopefully” in a resolution statement? Probably not. Moving on.)

Your first Christmas out in the open in Tarakan (if I may call it so) sounded like most Christmases I’ve known: filled with beauty and anticipation, trekked with the ordinary, and left a little wanting. I think this is normal, and good. Further, I think you probably don’t know the good that you’re doing, in your life, in Anders’ life, or in the lives of those little kids crowded onto your couch, flashing the peace sign, way too cool for school. Also, those cookies look delicious.

Your comments about neighbors and cookies and your question, “Was it worth it?” have been ringing in my ears these days, post-holiday. Now that the merriment is over and it’s officially winter in Chicago, life takes on a steady, chilling monotony for me, if I let it. Right now, I’m writing from my living room, pathetically sick with some sort of flu bug. Marty is away at our church small group, where half our members are missing, mostly due to illness. It’s snowing, a top-off to the bitter cold we’ve had this week. My cheery balsam pine candle is burnt down to nothing, and I’m left with a red, ugly-smelling cherry something-or-other that I can’t bring myself to light. Hi January. I DIDN’T MISS YOU. Also, George Orwell called; he wants his manic-depressive plot line back.

Oh, hey though, there’s this. First, do you have a favorite Bible verse? I know, these days it’s not hip to have a favorite Bible anything. But, I am not hip, so run with me here. Because, I have a favorite. At least today, after writing that last very depressing paragraph, I have a favorite. It’s Ephesians 2:4-5.

Ephesians 2 starts out like a pessimistic treatise on Chicago winters. It’s all about how, left to ourselves, we’re like the walking dead. (The Message translation says that we “filled our lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.” Poetic yuck.) And then, here’s the good stuff, verses 4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” There’s a “but,” or in other Bible versions, an “instead.” It’s like taking the slushy slosh of a bitter Midwest January, and trading it in for a free ticket to Jamaica (or Indonesia, for that matter), 110 degrees and pure sunshine. (The metaphor breaks down when the bugs come out, but you know what I mean.)

I’m hope-filled, because of Ephesians 2:4-5. I’m following a God who lavishes love, and delights in new beginnings. Ephesians 2 goes on to talk about how God has good things all ready for us to get to work on, things we can join him in doing. There’s always hope, when you’re the recipient of God’s saving love, staring through the lens of Ephesians 2.

Back in college, during one of the physically coldest and personally depressing Januaries I’ve ever experienced, in a place more frigid than Chicago, I trudged through the slush to John Piper’s church in Minneapolis and listened to him speak on the value of preaching to your soul. The sermon was based on Psalm 42:11: “Why are you cast down, O my soul?… Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” And so here I am, preaching mostly to myself. 

So, back to where I said, “Oh, hey though, there’s this.” Here we go.


The days are slowly getting longer, even in mid-January. There are fresh, complex, crystalline flakes falling from the sky. The future breathes hope – big things like weddings and babies and dreams, and little things like mercy that comes in the form of a cup of coffee every morning, or smoothie dates with a handsome little man (saw that picture, loved it), or a long kiss after a mutually hard day at work. A soft answer. Words, gently spoken. Each moment, filled with potential, a choice to join God in the work he has for us.

Like you already mentioned, I’m not trying to wrap this up nice and tight and neat. I also dislike cliche, immensely, and “speaking Christian” can often sound painfully cliche. But oh, there is so much beauty in the truth.

You may have seen a recent conversation I had on Facebook with a friend of ours, a passionate atheist, skeptic, and humanist. I had posted a link to an article that had resonated deeply with me (“Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God”), because I, a Christian, love to second-guess the existence of God (often late at night, while brushing my teeth, when Marty just wants to go to bed). This friend is very smart, and while I’ve dreamed of degrees in ethics and philosophy, he actually has them. So we went back and forth a bit, volleying questions, offering definitions, prodding respectfully. Our conversation ultimately ended on the question of meaning: I was curious as to how he inserts meaning into a life devoid of a supernatural purpose, and his response was absolutely, poetically beautiful, and also – in my opinion – completely reliant on one’s capacity to both possess good things (friends, family, spouse) and enjoy them.

But take away an art lover’s ability to see. Take away family, friends, spouse, or turn those relationships toxic. Take away Michael Jordan’s basketball career, or watch old age force it from his grasp. Take away a skeptic’s rational ability to think. Take away a budding career, or one’s ability to walk, or give someone bankruptcy. Take away family and familiarity, and replace it with a foreign island and foreign tongue 3,000 miles away. Shoot, don’t take away a thing; just hand someone a serious bout of depression, and watch what happens.

Where does our hope come from in devastation, in a broken world, or in just a typical, run-of-the-mill January night? Pessimist that I am, I go straight to worst-case-scenarios. My family dead, my home destroyed, my life left in shambles.

Meaning, hope, gone?

Or this: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”

It is January, and it is cold. My head aches, it hurts to swallow. White snow turns black, and winter rages.

But, dear Joy, I have hope that beauty is coming.

Hope with me?



P.S. The photo is from a trip we took to Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory on New Year’s Eve, when it was really really cold outside. The conservatory has palm trees, so we figured we couldn’t lose.

Also, so glad germs aren’t communicable via blog post.