It's the eve of my 42nd birthday.
Life doesn't look much like I imagined half a life ago, at 21. I haven't won that Pulitzer Prize; I don't have my previously-planned 2 boys and 2 girls; I'm not setting the world on fire in some obvious, dramatic way. But as I reflect on this birthday-eve, I'm really ok with all of that. Because when I remember my life at 21, what stands out to me the most is the lack of peace that I felt. 21-year-old me was, in technical terms, a mess. I could list all the ways, but quoting President George W. Bush will suffice: "When I was young and stupid ... I was young and stupid." Um, yeah.
As I look ahead to the next 21 years, I think of what I've learned and how my transformed life reflects an entirely different set of priorities now. Thanks to grace and grace alone, I have learned that what matters most are things of eternal significance: My relationships with God and others ... loving well ... seeking to be part of "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven", and working out with others (even some of you!) what that might look like ... daily pouring out my heart to God, letting Him pour in His Spirit and His Word, and then pouring forth to others through prayer, service, and exercising my gifts ... all in a way that glorifies Him and never myself. As John the Baptist said, "I must decrease and He must increase." It's not a life that lends itself well to five-year plans. It's a path filled with challenges and obstacles and risks and intentional attack by an all-too-real enemy. But it's a path that is also filled with unspeakable joy.
When I first heard Andrew Peterson's song, "Dancing in the Minefields", I immediately thought of all my friends on various mission fields around the world. While the song is about marriage, the picture it paints is one of love and joy amidst danger and hazards.Any work for God's kingdom will definitely have that! As I reflected more, I realized that "Dancing in the Minefields" is more than just a description of the lives of many whom I consider my heroes. It also defines my goal for my own approach to life and ministry.
Those who know me best know that I'm not a risk-taker. I like my plans and my lists and my security. But try as I might, God hasn't agreed to outline the rest of my life in that manner. Don't get me wrong: I have the free will He gave me and I certainly could create a plan and stubbornly stick to it, putting on blinders to alternate paths and calling it "focus". Or I could yield to the unknown, allowing the wind of the Spirit to guide me in the dailyness of walking in the Spirit and see where that leads. I can jealously guard what I have or open up to potential opportunities like I've never dreamed. I can selfishly focus on my corner of the world or be part of what He is doing in a global perspective. One path will have me "tiptoeing through the tulips". The other invites me to go "dancing in the minefields".
When I consider all the options before me ... when I examine where I've been and where I want to go ... what compels me to choose the uncertain path, more than anything else, are the stories of those who have taken that path before me. Peter. John. Paul. Patrick of Ireland. Countless unnamed Mennonite Brethren. William Carey. Gladys Aylward. Corrie ten Boom. Brother Andrew. Cheryl Beckett. Many friends who would be at least embarrassed or at worse put at risk if I named them here. All consistently communicate one truth to me: Pursuing the greater glory of God through being available to His kingdom purposes in whatever way, location, or timing He chooses will always be more rewarding that the certain path. It might not be the "safest" path ... but it will be good.