Adoption and the Journey Toward a Surrendered Heart

The collision of lives is mysterious and unpredictable. Friends meet at a gathering and are bonded for life. A man and a woman from random backgrounds are introduced to each other and eventually share grandchildren. Adoption is a choice that puts this miracle of connection on display in unique ways that seem to defy race, culture, and even geography.

When Lori Schumaker adopted her beautiful daughter from Bulgaria, she entered into an unfolding story that was being orchestrated offstage by a Conductor who makes no mistakes, but whose music is frequently strange to our ears as we struggle to find the melodic line. Surrendered Hearts: An Adoption Story of Love, Loss, and Learning to Trust is her triumphal and grateful anthem of praise for God’s infinite wisdom in bringing her family together. It is also a story of her family’s yielding to this process even when it involved the dissonance of unmet expectations and grinding disappointment.

Peace is a By-Product of Surrender and Trust

The Schumaker family was carried through their journey by an overriding awareness that adoption is an image of a far greater reality than simply adding a child to their family. Adoption is a mere shadow of God’s choosing love that grafts us to his own heart in a way that gives us a new name, a new identity, a forever home, and (most astonishing of all) a heart like His, forged in the furnace of New Covenant grace. For Lori, the outcome was a surrendered heart and an embrace of God’s will in the wake of miracles she could never have anticipated at the outset of her adoption journey.

Over the course of a rigorous two-year process, Lori discovered that “God grows a child in our hearts as unmistakably as He does in our wombs.” She first saw her daughter Selah’s face in an emailed picture. There were a few medical red flags in her file, but nothing could deter Lori from the idea that this toddler with brown sparkling eyes and black ringlets was meant to be her own child. The “knowing came through the peace,” and, although the process was gritty, continual prayer carried Lori through the uncertainty of a story that swerved between hope and despair. She found that the peace she longed for was a “by-product of surrender and trust.”

Living with a Surrendered Heart

Lori’s account of two trips to Bulgaria, the heartbreaking goodbyes, the grueling wait, and the eventual joy provide a very personal glimpse of the adoption process from inside. Those who are considering adoption will benefit from the realism, and those who are walking alongside adoptive parents will find excellent insights that will make them better able to pray their loved ones through the adoption process.

It takes courage to live with a surrendered heart. The vulnerable position of welcoming a child into your home is just one example of the many ways in which believers can live a poured out life characterized by availability and a willingness to respond to God’s resounding “YES” to us with an answering yes that opens the door to miracles.

Many thanks to Redemption Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Rejoicing in Hope,

michele signature[1]

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Surrendered Hearts: An Adoption Story of Love, Loss, and Learning to Trust, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

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The Gift of God in Exchange for Ashes

Sit on a wooden bench (behind a goat) for a day long bus ride through the Andes.  When the bus stops, the only way forward in 1952 is to rent a horse for an excursion over steep mountain trails with muddy puddles up to your knees. You’ll know you’ve reached the village of San Miguel de los Colorados because the large clearing before you is ringed by a number of small houses–and because your fellow missionaries open their doors in greeting.

This was the inauspicious beginning to Elisabeth Elliot’s famous missionary career. Those who have read Shadow of the Almighty or seen the Life Magazine accounts of her husband’s brutal death at the hands of an unreached people group know that Elliot became a sought after public speaker and her words reached literally millions via print and radio ministries. With her perfect diction, ironic humor,  and crisp, no-nonsense delivery of gospel truth, she set the course for my following life and has influenced my teaching and my parenting like no one else, and yet her on-ramp to ministry was beset by disappointment and confusion and was characterized by nothing that would point to a future of success or influence.

These Strange Ashes was originally published in 1979, and when I read it during my early mothering years, it quickly became my favorite of Elisabeth Elliot’s books, partly because of its realistic portrayal of the mundane (and sometimes simply boring!) nature of ministry life, and partly because of the titular reference to a poem in which Amy Carmichael writes about the experience of personal suffering that seems to come to nothing:

“But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?”

I hear in the anguished question a howl that expresses a broken heart and empty hands, but Elisabeth is quick to point out  the “mysterious exchange” by which we offer this emptiness to God and receive back from Him the gift of Himself. Following the death of John Chau and in a season in which many believers seem to be disappointed that salvation has not arrived on Air Force One, Revell has re-released Elisabeth’s deeply personal account of her first year as a missionary under a new title, Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador with a foreword by Kay Warren. In a world in which Twitter and YouTube can bestow celebrity status upon anyone, it becomes a holy experience to read about “calling” in the sense that God “calls people who believe in Him to [go to] others who do not.” This “going” may be beset by what looks for all the world like “downward mobility” and, in Elisabeth’s case, entailed a good bit of what she referred to as “jungle housekeeping,” the making of a safe and livable dwelling in the midst of amoeba infested waters, plain and monotonous food choices, and often deep loneliness.

Taken from journal accounts and her own memory of her young adult self, Elliot comes across as restless and uncertain. Her evangelical roots have led her to expect that her “calling and election being sure,” she should expect resounding success in the jungle– success being defined as a written language for the people, a Bible translation in their brown hands, and a line up of converts to be trained and discipled. What she found instead was a self-sufficient people group, hidden from white culture and content to stay that way, who may have been living in “bondage, sorrow, and night,” but were not interested, “not in the least, in our definition of liberation.”

Confronted with four stunning set backs to her ministry in the jungles of Ecuador, it began to appear to Elisabeth that God had failed her. Given the opportunity to prove Himself strong before the Colorados, He chose to work in quiet and incomprehensible ways that looked, to Elisabeth’s young eyes, like the silence of betrayal. Those who struggle with the mysterious ways of God or who have experienced the anger and disappointment of feeling as if God is not to be trusted will find a surprising voice of comfort and collegiality in Elisabeth Elliot’s long, slow wait:  waiting for help from the nationals with reducing their language to print, waiting for the local population to trust the missionary presence, waiting for a commitment from her fiance, Jim Elliot, that would allow them to marry and minister together.

When God does not “cooperate” with our vision of success or yield to our will for Him, the believer is left to yield her own will to a story arc that may eventually untangle itself in the passing of years–or it may not. In characteristic Elisabeth Elliot fashion, the veteran missionary looks back with clear eyes on her youthful disappointment and derives bracing counsel for us in our days of uncertainty.

Whether or not God chooses to reveal His plans to us, “faith, prayer, and obedience are our requirements.  We are not offered in exchange immunity and exemption from the world’s woes. What we are offered has to do with another world altogether.” Our assignment, then, becomes a fierce cooperation with God that brings our hearts into alignment with His to the point that this other world becomes more valuable to us than the one we can see with our own eyes.

Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for joy that “lights the way like some great star,”

michele signature[1]

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador, simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash

Beloved Differences Bring Us Together in Hope

Conversations about the laws that govern chemistry might be one of the most spiritual things going on this week at my dining room table. Homeschooling chemistry involves revisiting the Periodic Table of Elements with its jagged line separating the metals and the non-metals and the tiny numbers that define and describe unseen properties of pure substances, and for me this is pure joy. Chemistry’s Law of Definite Proportions that I’ve been unknowingly applying to my pancake recipe all these years points to a God who is not only a Creator but also a Designer. The fact that a highly reactive metal and a poisonous gas, when combined in the correct proportions, can be sprinkled on my hamburger to heighten its flavor is a joyful lesson in the unexpected, but then, the laws of science serve to heighten our awareness of the exceptions to the rules and the unpredictability that leaves room for the unknown.

In All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo declares herself to be a combination of elements, unique and unpredictable–more evidence that “elements that hold certain properties in isolation. . . together yield something perhaps less obvious.” (26) Her story points to the beauty that is inherent in unexpected combinations of geography, ethnicity, and culture. As a woman with a unique mingling of genes from the Asian and the African continents, as a black Jamaican American who grew up in Alaska, she struggled to land in a known space, and her writing is a travelogue in which Gopo finds peace in living with and learning to love her “unpredictable unknown.”

Through a collection of essays, the reader realizes that it is possible to find home in far off places, and that our differences actually lend us a point of commonality, a gift to celebrate, and a reason to come together. It is through loving our own people, through speaking the language of our heart, through cherishing the unique beauty that our genes produce, through embracing that heritage, and accepting our own way of being in the world that we begin to see our “differences” as an offering to the world–not a barrier from the world.

Speaking a Different Language

What is the “ideal” way to raise a child in a multi-lingual home? Patrice and her husband Nyasha both speak English, and his Zimbabwean Shona is more a cultural memory than a heart language. Even so, they have honored its presence in their family by dipping their brush into its palette to name their daughters. They are learning as a family to count to ten in Shona, and have resisted the Americanized pronunciation [plan-tayn’] of Patrice’s delicious Jamaican plantains [plan’-tins].  There is room in their home for the conflation of all the various cultures and practices that are part of their family’s heritage.

Cherishing a Different Beauty

Giving up her routine of hair relaxing chemicals and returning to her natural hair texture, Patrice discovered strength that came as a complete surprise. She weaves foundational wisdom behind her choice throughout a number of her essays, calling readers to attention regarding the prevailing views of beauty that idealize very specific white traits.

Learning to style and manage her daughters’ hair has heightened the importance of Patrice’s understanding of her own feelings about beauty, and you can read her essay on acquiring both skill and confidence over at SheLoves Magazine.

Embracing a Different Heritage

When Patrice arrived at Carnegie Mellon University to study engineering, she also received free and immersive tutoring in Black American culture with details that just were not part of her upbringing by two Jamaican immigrant parents with Indian ancestry. Her identity process has been one of claiming all the parts, living under the weight of all the varied stories, accepting the unknown chapters of the those stories, and living the sum total with congruence before her children.

As a black family worshiping in a mostly white congregation, Patrice offers thoughtful commentary on the tension between Paul’s declaration that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” and the Sunday morning tightrope walk of parsing her sentences, avoiding offense, and dodging sensitive topics. While reaching out to her white sisters one at a time, she shares that “sometimes only a person who looks like me can understand certain things about me. Like what it feels like to walk into a room and consistently be the only person of my race.” (191)

Beloved Differences Bring Us Together in HopeAccepting a Different Way of Being in the World

Selfless serving has become a counter-cultural pursuit, so when Patrice announced that she was “giving the year after college to God,” there were some raised eyebrows and concern among family and friends. She ended up in a far off land . . . washing silverware to the glory of God.

Returning to the United States to begin her career in engineering, she eventually moved on to community development, and she shares her conflicted journey of leaving a career that sorely lacks black female role models. Almost surprised to find herself a writer, her voice is raised in the pursuit of problem solving and justice.

Patrice Gopo joins Deidra Riggs in the choir of women who are singing “God Bless the Whole World” in a minor key. With writing that carries depth of emotion and clarity of expression, they remind white mothers like myself that our sons need not fear the fate of Philando Castile or Alton Sterling, and they offer words to bridge the empathy gap.  Looking squarely at tragedy, Patrice acknowledges that we live in the space between what is and what will someday be while praying for God-initiated transformation leading to oneness in heart and in mind.

Even as a seasoned under-liner-of-sentences-in-preparation-for-a-thorough-book-review-to-be-written-very-soon, I found myself gulping down this collection of essays with my pen idle in my hand, forgetting to read like a reviewer, and just reading for the experience, because each of us is a collection of stories. We forget this at our peril, for the unfolding of a story implies hope and possibility at every stage of life:

“You press forth into the unknown,
and the other side, the reality of
the other side, pierces your heart in a way
that reminds you of your humanness,
of your possibilities, of your very life.”

Patrice Gopo, All the Colors We Will See

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for the differences that just might bring us together after all,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Patrice’s website is a rich resource with links to many places where her writing has appeared as well as her speaking schedule. Click here to visit for further information about her book and her career.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Run Toward the Darkness with Borrowed Light

In times of danger and disaster throughout history, true believers have made their mark by running toward the darkness. Whether it was a plague in second century Rome or a twenty-first century hurricane in America’s deep south, if we follow Mr. Rogers’s advice and “look for the helpers,” we might be surprised by how many of them are Christians who have chosen to be part of this particular dark setting in order to put the Light of the World on display.

As Christians, we have no light of our own, but the nature of our Borrowed Light is so compelling that others are drawn to its warmth and luminosity, just as we are drawn to the borrowed light of the moon against an inky sky.  In her poetry collection (The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems), Sofia Starnes has expressed this exact quality of sainthood, the here-ness or there-ness of a life that “orbits the earth but [is] not of the earth.

It is the discipline of recalling the source of our Light that keeps the underlying Presence in proper view. G.K. Chesterton borrows the same reality for his own timeless metaphor, for “just as the sun and the moon look the same size” at first glance, a right understanding of the universe soon reveals that “the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite.” (229)

An accomplished poetess, Starnes employs delightful wordplay to embody the intangible to convey the loveliness of her observations:

“I wonder how such puny a word as pit,
could be both seed and slum, both dormant agency
and tomb; both conflict verb–met up against–

and scoop; a stone that yields, yields small,
yet hurts the hand. I wonder how,
but pittances deceive; thus is the way of potency

and plea; the oil is notched by hooves
and by the Fall, and then by falling fledglings,
insecure.

How measured is the earth for gift and scar,
for creaks and croons, for the precarious child.”  (69)

Borrowed Light for Living

One of my favorite elements of poetic writing is the surprising Scriptural connections that arise. Writing of Israel’s waste and desolate places, the prophet Isaiah imagines the complaint of future generations:  “The place is too cramped for me, make room for me to live.” (Isaiah 49:20 ESV) The poem “Catacombs” (64) adds to the imagery with comparison to an 80-year-old woman’s real-life six-day confinement in earthquake rubble, prompting the reader to examine her own surroundings. From what cramped places may I also emerge unscathed and with a great story to share?

Let us continue to trust in the borrowed Light that dwells in power, living our way into richly share-able tales by holy risk and trusting in the the “Lord of spill and swell” (118). May we also, in our own day, run toward the darkness with a glorious excess–“not merely patched: pampered, festooned, unspent,” but instead (YES, Lord!) trusting in the future of “a risen body our flesh has never dreamt.” (118)

Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Rejoicing in the Brilliance of Our Borrowed Light,

Image Credit:  Calvin R. Morin (on the bridge to Rackliffe Island) 

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Reclaiming Our Pilgrim Identity

I did not set out to live at the same address for 25 years, and, technically, I suppose my deep roots in this country hill may disqualify me from reviewing a book entitled Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity.  At the outset, I actually thought I had been born to wander, having purchased my first one way plane ticket at age 17 with no intention of ever returning to Maine.

Life does have a way of handing us gifts we didn’t expect, and for me, the gift has been rootedness. For the past 25 years, the only time I’ve changed mail boxes is when the snow plow has wiped ours out and sent it flying into the ditch. However, having read Michelle Van Loon’s thoughts on the pilgrim life, I have found that there are those who “pilgrim in place.” (135) This is good news to me, because I know from experience that it is possible to choose to stay in one church for two decades because staying put is more difficult than cutting and running. I have borne witness to the gritty process of knowing and being known by people who remember most of my faults and failings, but love me anyway.

Looking for Me in All the Wrong Places

Even when staying put, the pilgrim at heart acknowledges that the Christian life is one of exile. Post-Eden, humanity has lived uprooted. The people of Israel in Old Testament times were formed by wandering and displacement. The New Testament church grew because the hot breath of persecution blew them like milkweed over the field of the world. Contrary by nature, Christians have become experts at finding ways to live opposed to this part of our history, either by leaning into safer narratives and getting stuck or by turning the pilgrimage into a self-centered pleasure jaunt.

Van Loon describes a tourist mentality as a “slogan-based approach to faith.” (39) When we fold aspects of the American Dream in with a pinch of entitlement and a dab of self-focused ambition, we have dropped our pilgrim’s staff and re-defined the following life.

The Gentle Slope, Soft Underfoot

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape described the safest path to hell as a gradual one with a “gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings,” and perhaps this is also the best description of how easy it is to fall into the life of the “Settler” —  without even realizing it. While we crave contentment and were created with a longing to live in safety and security, the Apostle Paul describes a form of contentment alien to most of us in 2018 with our desires continually spurred on by affluence and Amazon Prime. This godly contentment says “enough”  regarding material things, while also keeping the believer in a state of discontentment that will not be assuaged on this planet.

“Godly contentment makes pilgrims out of us.”  (55)

The pilgrim life is lived in moment-by-moment obedience, praying like breathing, and assiduously avoiding the diversions offered by formulaic living. This is best done in community, but with the caveat that “formulas may work in math class, but real life in a rebel world is rarely that simple.” (152)

From the moment of new birth, the believer is drawn into the wandering life that is imprinted upon our spiritual DNA. As we follow the invitation to come and be loved by the God who promises to meet us at every point until the end of our following road, we find that the home we have always longed for is not a destination, but a Person, and can be captured by this question:  “Are we moving toward God or wandering away from him?” (26)


Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

One more thought:  Author Michelle Van Loon has teamed up with Amanda Cleary Eastep to curate a lovely gathering place called The Perennial Gen. In a community of Christian women and men in the second half of life, they tackle issues pertinent to midlife via the wise, curious voices of thoughtful Christian writers in their second adulthood. If this sounds like you, be sure to hop on over for an encouraging read.

Thanks for reading, and may you find yourself wandering in all the best ways,

Mailbox photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Missionary Experience: A Path of Faith in the Midst of Paradox

Starting in the book of Acts, the history of missions is characterized by controversy. It may have begun when Paul and company set out with freshly-minted instructions from the Jerusalem Council, defining the parameters of the message they were sharing. It was certainly evident when the citizens of Lystra decided to fold Paul and Barnabas into their eclectic assortment of deities–and then to take up stones against them. And remember the story of New Testament heroes of the faith clashing over personnel issues and going their separate ways for a season? Throughout history, according to His own counsel and sovereign wisdom, God has chosen to put the transmission of the Gospel into the hands of His fallen and often short-sighted children, and the effects of that have made for some fascinating reading.

A Train-Wreck of Two Cultures Colliding

Over fifty years ago, Eleanor Vandevort came home from South Sudan in the wake of political unrest. Her thirteen years of language acquisition, Bible translation, literacy work, and relationship building were cut short with no certainty as to their effect or ultimate impact. When she set down the account of her struggle and her achievements in A Leopard Tamed, she was a woman ahead of her time, asking questions few in the golden age of U.S. missions were asking and even fewer wanted to entertain.

Vandevort’s narrative centers around her work among the Nuer, a remote and primitive culture eking out a living on dry, flat, hard-packed land bordering on the Sobat River in South Sudan. She was fortunate, early on, to connect with Kuac (pronounced /kwich/, rhyming with quite), a young man who had been educated at the mission-sponsored village school and was, therefore, a valuable informant for learning the language and reducing it to print.

What followed from Kuac’s conversion, subsequent education, and eventual call to pastor the church in Nasir is a glorious triumph of light over darkness–and it is also the story of a train wreck of two cultures colliding in one frail human soul. With vivid descriptions of the Nuer way of life, this 50th anniversary edition transported me to a land of unique beauty alongside unimaginable hardship and hopelessness.

As Eleanor learned to respect and collaborate with national believers who did not share her affinity for logic, efficiency, or planning, she also gained a sharper image of God in the context of heathenism, for He has made it clear that He loves the entire world, even the parts a North American Christian cannot comprehend:

“Try, if you can, to fathom Him, to draw His picture with clear, solid lines, to pin Him down. Just when you think you have God in focus, He moves, and the picture blurs.” (11)

A Bridge that Spanned Two Cultures

In 1949, at the tender age of 24, Eleanor Vandevort embarked upon her career as a Bible translator, joining the ranks of Wheaton College classmate Elisabeth Elliot and her peers who put their hands to the plow with no thought of turning back. It was an era in which the boundary between Christian culture and Western culture was decidedly blurred, so Vandevort was nonplussed to find that she had arrived in Africa bearing a message that would meet a need the Nuer did not even know existed.

With Kuac’s help, Eleanor slowly acquired a working command of the language with its fourteen vowels, three levels of tone, and absolutely no Christian jargon. Learning her way into those speech patterns helped in building the bridge that spanned the two cultures. However, observations throughout the book reveal a growing awareness that along with the Gospel, she and her fellow missionaries were sharing a full menu of lesser messages, some merely lamentable and others disastrous:

  • “I was incredulous that after fifty years of missionary work among these people, there was no striking hunger on the villager’s part to hear the Gospel. I wondered where the people were who reportedly were crying out for the Word of God.” (34)
  • “As far as I could ever tell, Christian behavior patterns were outlined by the missionaries and were not born out of the Africans’ own experience with God.” (22)
  • “It was painful and disappointing to be making friends with people for whom my ideas were nonsense. The more I came to know them, the more I realized the barrier of taboos between us. But my disappointment went deeper. It stemmed from the fact that God was not shining in the darkness as I had prayed and hoped for and expected.” (39)
  • “Is my scientific orientation to life, which has removed me from the constant threat of death, the factor which stabilizes my faith? Or, in that I need not fear God physically as the heathen do, has this freedom set me adrift from God, missing Him altogether?” (46)
  • “How does a person decide that he’s not going to be afraid of death?” (83)
  • “The many problems of translation exploded my theories of Bible translating, and precluded the possibility of producing an exact and therefore inerrant–as Evangelicals used the term–translation of the Scriptures. (95)
  • “We did not foresee that our things would become more important to the people than our Gospel, that they would want them. No one was to be blamed for this, but as it was turning out, were we not becoming more of a stumbling block than a help to the people?” (187)

Leaving the Results in God’s Hands

As a young missionary, Eleanor Vandevort began to realize that the methods she had inherited from her forebears were an imposition upon the culture. From the tone of voice used when speaking aloud in prayer to the denominational distinctives around church government, Christianity and its trappings became an ill-fitting garment in a world that required Christians to address issues such as polygamy, marriage to the dead, animal sacrifice, and grisly coming-of-age ceremonies.

The prevailing idea among Presbyterian missionaries was that “what was good for Calvin was certainly good for the south Sudan.” Within a context of very isolated and individualized people groups, the concept of “a congregation” was strange enough, but then they must “call” a pastor and provide for him. “It would hardly have occurred to the people to pay a man just for talking about God. . . In that as Christians they were now to believe that God works by the faith of His people, it would seem likely that they would wonder at having to pay a pastor at all.” (82) Then, they must submit to the leadership of the Presbytery with decisions handed down from the UPC of the USA.

Nearing the end of her time in South Sudan, it was evident to Eleanor that Kuac was floundering in his role as “Pastor Moses.” (Upon ordination, national pastors took on a biblical name which, in Kuac’s situation, was never adopted by his people because it was unpronounceable and meaningless to them.) With the introduction of a money-based economy and the acquired need for clothing, furniture, blankets, soap, and utensils, Kuac was under pressure to become something for which there was no precedent in his experience or in his history. When the mission withdrew their support and yet continued to expect Pastor Moses to pay the expense of travel to official church meetings, it became clear that the white man was dictating “what was to be done from behind the Bible without having to submit to the discipline involved himself.”

Therefore, when Eleanor received word from the Commandant of Police in December of 1962 that she was no longer welcome in South Sudan, she wondered, with a sinking heart, what would become of her translation work and of the ministry. The Arab military government had already imprisoned Kuac numerous times in an effort to stamp out Christianity through fear. Like Elisabeth Elliot in These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge?she was called upon to leave in God’s hands the results (or lack of same!) of any work to which He had called her.

To Know, to Believe, and to Understand

From her home and new career in the United States, Eleanor heard of war coming to the Sudan, and then coming again.  Her story challenges many of our western assumptions about missions, while underscoring the sovereignty of God. He is free to work in a nation –or in a young, white, and slightly perplexed former missionary–in any way He deems fitting. As believers who are committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, let us also read and love God’s words to Isaiah, setting forth the purpose of our witness on this planet:

“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.”  (Isaiah 43:10)

In our witnessing and serving, the path of God may cut through mystery and paradox. Sometimes the greatest test of faith is to know, believe, and understand the power and presence of God, even when the evidence we receive is not what we had expected.

Many thanks to Hendrickson  Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase A Leopard Tamed or These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge?, simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I appreciate your joining me today in thinking through the conflicts and the joys of the missionary experience,

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8 Blessings of the Unsatisfied Life

Amy Simpson noticed early on that the tidy claims of Christianity were not lining up with the reality she was living at home. Suffering from the impact of her mother’s serious and debilitating mental illness, her family was certainly not strolling toward heaven with all their needs met and a smile on their faces. In fact, even though they seemed to be “doing the Christian life” according to all the patterns and prerequisites, their family was always just shy of “normal” and the provision they experienced always just short of enough. Unsatisfied with government cheese and feeling deprived on every level, Amy’s childhood was characterized by unmet longings and the dream of a “normal” life.

At this point, standard issue story-telling practices beg for an ending tied with a bow:  college, marriage, a successful career, and a loving family of her own–all a straight arrow toward deep satisfaction. However, in Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, the reader is caught up in paradox, for even though many of Amy’s personal and professional goals have been met, she confesses that she still lives “with a kind of unsatisfaction that will not be lifted in this life.”

If this is (secretly) your experience as well, find companionship with the writer of Ecclesiastes and take hope from these words from the author:

“Jesus doesn’t fulfill all our longings in this life. Instead, he offers us his peace. Jesus does not remove us from the fog of death and the ongoing consequences of human rebellion against God. He does not give us a ‘get out of suffering free’ card.” (4)

The moments of satisfaction we experience on this planet are transient at best. Here, we live in the tension of embracing the blessing of an unsatisfied life in which contentment lives alongside longing, and where we rest and rejoice in the given without succumbing to a Pollyanna-ish form of optimism.

Living unsatisfied is acres and acres apart from living dissatisfied, for nothing is ever acceptable to the chronically discontented soul. “Dissatisfaction is an active–sometimes even purposeful–absence, rejection, or refusal of satisfaction in a context where satisfaction is expected. It breeds discontentment, contempt, and a feeling of emptiness. And it is miserable.”  By contrast, an unsatisfied life combines acceptance with anticipation in an “embrace of the God-shaped vacuum in us, . . . a healthy hunger that is content to wait for the feast.” (41)

With this mindset, Amy Simpson shares 8 blessings that accompany the unsatisfied life:

1.  The Blessing of Need

Unsatisfaction is a reminder that we need God. No matter how gifted or “together” I am, my self-sufficiency is insufficient for living Christ-like and for managing the disappointments that come. Moses knew it and tried to warn the nation of Israel:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”

2.  The Blessing of Perspective

If I can be satisfied by clicking “Add to Cart,” I will not go looking for answers beyond my next purchase. However, living in an awareness that there is NOTHING (even on Amazon!) that will slake my cravings and fill my emptiness, my ears are open to the voice of God, and my heart is looking for answers in the intangible Truth of Scripture.

3.  The Blessing of God’s Heartbeat

My longing heart is the puzzle piece that will connect with the big picture of God’s family and with humanity at large, a collection of longing people, all with their own disconnected edges. When I stop longing for a better world and miss the needs of others, I’m a corner piece, hanging off the edge of the picture and missing the truth of God’s great love and HIS ache for the disconnected and the hurting.

4.  The Blessing of Focus

If you’ve heard the plaintive refrain of U2’s “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” and identified with the serial disappointment of chasing after the visible and the temporal, you know the importance of turning our eyes toward the unseen–“for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 

5.  The Blessing of Company

My  husband and I have tried to portray this truth to our kids with the old adage: “People who are all wrapped up in themselves make a pretty small package.” And it’s obvious:  if I’m satisfied with my own company and that of a few safe others, I’ll never venture into the unknown. Living unsatisfied pushes me into community.

6.  The Blessing of Growth

Back in the 90’s my co-workers and I rolled our eyes at employee meetings that were basically pep rallies for the latest Continuous Product Quality Improvement initiative. As annoying as institutional rah-rah-rah can be, the notion of continuous improvement is a line from the playbook of Scripture and the unsatisfied life of the Apostle Paul: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)

7.  The Blessing of Vision

Amy recalls a joint project in which her own predominantly white church partnered with a predominantly African American church with both congregations enjoying “fellowship” staked out on opposite sides of a cafeteria. She remembers thinking that this was unnatural and wrong . . . but inertia won out and she stayed in her seat instead of reaching out and mingling. I want to be unsatisfied with “as is” so that I will keep dreaming about how things could be.

8.  The Blessing of Anticipation

Every once in a while my boys will ask with a sleepy voice, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow, Mum?” I’ve stopped asking them why they want to know, because I remember from past experience:  they want to know what they have to look forward to in the morning, and when you’re a teen boy, food is a pretty big deal. Anticipation is risky, but if I remain immune to the sadness of loss that comes with death or if I fail to enter into the reality of God’s promises, still pending fulfillment, I may fall prey to the short-sighted notion that redemption is limited to what my eyes can detect today and that this temporary world is my real home.

Sustainable Faith Is Expectantly Unsatisfied

The Sermon on the Mount, with its pronouncement of blessing upon the most unlikely of people, lands like an indictment on the ears of those who prefer to thrive on their own terms. Sometimes it’s easier for us to lower our expectations and to live disappointed and without hope than it is for us to embrace an uncomfortable hope. The truth is, however, that the only sustainable Christian life is one in which we give up the chase, embrace delayed gratification, and lean into the blessings of living unsatisfied.

Many thanks to IVP Books for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

Additional Resources

Amy Simpson was featured on one of my favorite podcasts, the February 15 edition of Quick to Listen. Click here to listen as she answers questions about her book and about issues surrounding mental illness and the church’s response.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase,  Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Every blessing,