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Editor's Note: Enjoy this holiday reminder from Keri Wyatt Kent, one of our newest authors. Her book Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity is available in stores everywhere.
I’ve had a busy day, I’ve got to start dinner in an hour or so, but for now, I sit at the computer to finish this newsletter. I’ve got Michael Buble singing Let it Snow on the CD player, and it is, indeed, snowing outside my office window.
I don’t know about you, but I find December wonderful, but challenging. I want to slow down, enjoy the season and its true meaning. But the normal busyness created by our daily obligations (work, family, friends and just managing life) ramps up a notch when you add baking, writing cards, shopping (although greatly reduced this year), wrapping and simply planning.
I want to live a sanely-paced, God-focused life; a Sabbath Simplicity life. It’s never easy, because our culture keeps whispering in our ear (okay, sometimes shouting): “Hurry up, do more!” and the implication, stated or not, is that our value lies in what we accomplish. Something in us wants to protest, but we’re not sure we believe that we could be valued for who we are, instead of for what we do.
This month, don’t let holiday preparations consume you, robbing you of the joy this season is alleged to represent. take time to connect with those you love, to take some time to reflect, to rest.
I believe the holiday season should be a time of gratitude, hope and wonder. Such things cannot be experienced in a hurry.
We just returned from a trip to California to visit family for Thanksgiving. One of the things we were most thankful for was the weather out in San Diego—clear, sunny, unseasonably warm. We returned to find that winter had moved into Chicago, coating the trees and ground with several inches of s now.
While enjoying the California sunshine was great—we went hiking, waded in the Pacific, sat out by the pool—it’s good to be back to what feels like a proper December. In winter, the natural world responds to the shorter, cooler days by resting. Beneath the snow, soil and roots simply receive the slow watering that this frozen layer provides. Animals burrow into their nests, hiding and hibernating. The squirrels who have been busy gathering seeds and food for weeks are now tucked into big leafy nests in the willow tree behind the house. While we cannot sleep the winter away, we can learn from nature, and notice—there is a time for work, and a time for rest.
Advent has begun. The word itself means “coming”—we look forward to Jesus’ arrival. Yet for us, December is often a time of “going”—we have too many places to go, hurrying and scurrying to the point where we are simply tired. We’re too exhausted to be grateful, too busy to wonder.
Our family lights candles at Advent—one each Sunday. We work hard all week—kids at school, Scot and I at our jobs and with all the holiday preparations. But on Sunday, we slow down. We worship at church, we gather at home. We enjoy a meal together. We light a candle, reminding each other of the promises the season represents. We get enough sleep, if only that one night. That alone inspires gratitude.
Sabbath Simplicity involves taking one day to rest—which means we spend the other six fully engaged in the work we must do, the work we can even enjoy. I find that when I rest on Sunday—setting aside housework, keeping the computer turned off, enjoying my family—I am ready to get things done on Monday, and much more efficiently. Retailers often try to boost holiday sales by telling us, “Don’t just buy things for others, treat yourself as well. Buy something for you, too.” Well, okay, but you still have to pay for whatever you buy. When you treat yourself, you still get the credit card bill in January.
Rather than just buying something for yourself, why not simply receive the gift that God offers this month? In the midst of the busyness, stop. Sabbath. The word means “to cease”—whether our work is done or not. Simply rest for one day, enjoy God and all he’s already given you—family, friends. Once a week, reconnect with the true reason for the season.
Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity by Keri Wyatt Kent
Editor's Note: Join Shauna Niequist in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Friday, December 12, at Barnes & Noble, Rivertown Crossings Mall, 5:30-7:00 p.m. for a book signing. Now, enjoy an excerpt from Shauna's book, Cold Tangerines.
I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away. In high school, I was biding my time until I could become the college version of myself, the one my mind could see so clearly. In college, the post-college “adult” person was always looming in front of me, smarter, stronger, more organized. Then the married person, then the person I’d become when we have kids. For twenty years, literally, I have waited to become the thin version of myself, because that’s when life will really begin.
And through all that waiting, here I am. My life is passing, day by day, and I am waiting for it to start. I am waiting for that time, that person, that event when my life will finally begin....
John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” For me, life is what was happening while I was busy waiting for my big moment. I was ready for it and believed that the rest of my life would fade into the background, and that my big moment would carry me through life like a lifeboat.
The Big Moment, unfortunately, is an urban myth. Some people have them, in a sense, when they win the Heisman or become the next American Idol. But even that football player or that singer is living a life made up of more than that one moment. Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearls. And strung together, built upon one another, lined up through the days and the years, they make a life, a person. It takes so much time, and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small, and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies. But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that movie-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets — this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of us will ever experience.
I believe that this way of living, this focus on the present, the daily, the tangible, this intense concentration not on the news headlines but on the flowers growing in your own garden, the children growing in your own home, this way of living has the potential to open up the heavens, to yield a glittering handful of diamonds where a second ago there was coal. This way of living and noticing and building and crafting can crack through the movie sets and soundtracks that keep us waiting for our own life stories to begin, and set us free to observe the lives we have been creating all along without even realizing it.
I don’t want to wait anymore. I choose to believe that there is nothing more sacred or profound than this day. I choose to believe that there may be a thousand big moments embedded in this day, waiting to be discovered like tiny shards of gold. The big moments are the daily, tiny moments of courage and forgiveness and hope that we grab on to and extend to one another. That’s the drama of life, swirling all around us, and generally I don’t even see it, because I’m too busy waiting to become whatever it is I think I am about to become. The big moments are in every hour, every conversation, every meal, every meeting.
Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequist
Charles Colson, author of The Faith (Zondervan, 2008), today received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bush during a ceremony at the White House. Colson served seven months in prison for his role in the Watergate cover-up, and after becoming a born-again Christian, founded Prison Fellowship in 1976.
During the last thirty-three years, Colson has visited more than 600 prisons in forty countries and, with the help of nearly 50,000 volunteers, has built Prison Fellowship into the world’s largest prison outreach.
His most recent book, The Faith, has received universal acclaim for its explanation of the foundations of our Christian faith—bridging the gap between belief, understanding and life.
Colson joins a distinguished list of nearly 100 people who have received the medal since the program was created in 1969. Past recipients include sports celebrities such as Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Muhammad Ali, as well as former government officials like US Senator Bob Dole and Robert Rubin and entertainers including actress Elizabeth Taylor.
The Presidential Citizens Medal was established in November 13, 1969 to recognize US citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation. The medal is bestowed by the President and is one of the highest honors the President can confer upon a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Join me, Suzanne Beecher, for a relaxing 5-minute break every morning! When the Breakfast Club email arrives in your inbox M-F, there's always something fun going on: book excerpts, giveaways, and lots of recipes. Sign up at www.emailbookclub.com/Zondervan.
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Editor’s Note: Zondervan Author Philip Yancey recently returned from India where he received an insider’s view of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Indian caste system, and more. What follows is his account.
Dec. 6, 2008
We are home! I must admit, it seemed surreal to drive in from the airport and see all the cars proceeding in an orderly fashion in their respective lanes, with no cows, goats, or water buffaloes wandering through traffic and no 3-wheel auto rickshaws and 2-wheel motorbikes darting in and out among vehicles constantly jockeying for position. The air is so clean! And the atmosphere so quiet: many trucks in India have a notice, “OK Honk Horn Please,” painted on the back, the one traffic rule all Indian drivers unfailingly obey.
As we left New Delhi, new terror threats had been made against three major airports, and we have never experienced such tight security. Soldiers swarmed the airport, some manning machine guns mounted on the backs of pickup trucks. We went through numerous searches of clothing and luggage, as well as several verbal interviews. A few hours later gunfire broke out in the Delhi airport, but by that time we were 40,000 feet in the air.
Last time I wrote from Mumbai just as the terror drama was unfolding. I don’t know how this played out in the western media, though I imagine it got major coverage. Most terror events hit suddenly and end just as suddenly; this one dragged on for sixty hours. Indian television gave it non-stop coverage, and it seems the terrorists themselves were following media reports of police strategy, adjusting their positions as they watched real-time images of commandos dropping from helicopters onto rooftops of the buildings they were holding.
Life virtually ground to a halt in Mumbai, just as it did in the US after 9/11. In restaurants and airports all over India, everyone sat glued to the television, with poignant banners running across the bottom carrying messages like “Veneeta, we are praying for you...Vijay, please call home—we are so worried.”
Each day the Indian papers recounted stories of the ongoing drama. A well-known female journalist text-messaged a half-page article about being held hostage in her hotel room, describing the gunshots and grenade blasts from battles fought in hotel corridors, and the smoke licking under the doors. Her last message was “Terrorist is in the bathroom, I’m under the bed...”; commandos found her body there hours later. Rumors spread like weeds, of scores of bodies floating in the hotel swimming pool, of explosives set to destroy entire buildings. (And, indeed, five days after the drama ended police found a huge unexploded bomb smack in the middle of the attacked train station.)
The 12-year-old son of a British couple dining in the Taj Mahal Hotel restaurant went to the bathroom just before terrorists attacked. For 36 hours his parents were held hostage, not knowing if their son had made it. All survived, and were reunited. A man who had just made a champagne toast in celebration of a business deal spent the next two days lying in shattered glass feigning death, his arm covering his face so they wouldn’t notice he was a foreigner. A Muslim couple heard a noise that sounded like firecrackers. They went to the window overlooking a popular café and were killed in a hail of bullets as their young son watched.
Just as in 9/11, tales of luck and heroism also surfaced. A dance troupe scheduled to be in the Taj restaurant left an hour early to perform at a wedding, just missing the horror. The manager of the Taj Hotel was helping hide guests in a basement food locker even as his wife and two children burned to death in their executive suite several floors above. One British lawyer, barricaded in his room and hiding under the bed, set up a kind of impromptu network with other hostages who had Blackberries. The Indian nanny caring for the 2-year-old son of a rabbi smuggled him out of the Jewish center, saving him from the torture and death that awaited his parents. (Israel has named her a “righteous Gentile” and offered her citizenship.)
An alert railroad employee announced over the loudspeaker of the main railway station, “The stairway from platform 1 is closed, please do not use it,” thus diverting crowds of passengers and saving hundreds of lives. At least 56 people died in the station, which got little international coverage because few foreigners were involved. Local policemen charged into the invaded hotels with 9mm. automatic pistols, only to meet terrorists wielding grenades and AK-47s. It took almost a day for well-equipped federal commandos to arrive.
As for the Taj Hotel, one Indian told me, “You cannot imagine what the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel means to the Indian people. It’s a great source of national pride, an icon, like the Statute of Liberty is to you.” No doubt you’ve seen photos of the magnificent building, constructed in 1903 by a wealthy Indian who had been refused entrance to a “whites only” British hotel. Similarly, the railway station dates from the Victorian era, was once called Victoria Station, and is listed as a World Heritage Site.
We were scheduled to hold a meeting that night in an auditorium not far away from the action, but of course that got canceled. I felt bad for the organizers who had worked for months planning a program, designing banners, and stocking books. Instead, we held an impromptu meeting in Thane, the city 20 miles away where we were staying in a private home. With only a few hours notice, more than 200 people showed up. I began by telling them what happened in the emergency room the day I broke my neck in an automobile accident. The doctor poked me with a straight pin here and there, asking me, “Does this hurt?” Each time I responded, “Yes!” and he smiled and said “Good!” A physical body is only healthy when it feels pain from all its parts. The barrage of emails I had received during the day showed that people all over the world were deeply concerned about what was transpiring in India, sharing in its pain.
We spent the next day visiting a remarkable hospital founded by Stephen Alfred, an Indian doctor who gave up his lucrative practice in England to return to serve poor people who have no access to medical care. Currently he is building an eight-story hospital, with most of the funds coming from within India. The old 80-bed hospital will be used by the AIDS/HIV branch, now operating out of a small clinic. India has no shortage of people, and we accompanied two social workers on their visits to clients in a slum area. The government provides free drugs for those with AIDS, and when a person is first diagnosed with the disease, these social workers visit the family every day, counseling other family members on safe practices and checking on the medication. They continue these visits weekly.
One family of five that we visited lives in a single concrete-block room no larger than 8x10. They keep it neat and clean, and follow the regimen meticulously. The social workers told us that when they first contacted the family, the 3-year-old was lying in fetal position on the bed, unable to walk, mere skin and bones. Now she’s a healthy 8-year-old, playing outdoors, posing for photos. The mother, learning of another pregnancy, tried three times to abort the baby, and failed. Learning of this, the clinic doctors monitored the pregnancy and adjusted medication, and she delivered a healthy baby girl, now a rambunctious 3-year-old.
A first-time visitor to India is usually shocked by the seeming chaos of a billion people, many of whom live in poverty unimaginable to the West. Yet under the surface you find many signs of compassion, and come away amazed by their endurance, graciousness, and boundless hospitality.
I wrote previously of some of our contacts who are working to educate and liberate the Dalits (untouchables). On our last day, in New Delhi, we also met with some remarkable people working among the 500 million members of “Other Backward Castes.” (Imagine growing up with that identity.) Sunil Sardar, who has lived in the U.S. and is married to an American woman, spearheads this effort with an organization known as Truthseekers. He provides a home and center for various leaders of these castes from all faiths. We shared lunch with the leader of the Shepherds’ Caste, leader of 60 million, as well as the head of the two-million strong Farmer’s Union, a renowned author, and other leaders in the struggle. Amazingly, these leaders of millions would find it difficult to pay for a hotel room, and Sunil provides a place for them to stay as they lobby the government and plan strategy. One scholar told us, “You Americans are celebrating the election of a black man only 250 years after slavery. We are still waiting for liberation after 4000 years of living under caste.”
Besides these stimulating meetings and tense days in Mumbai, we also managed to have some fun on this trip. On a trip to Toronto earlier this year, I met a young man who generously volunteered to show us around Kerala, a state in the far south of India, a place where the Apostle Thomas reportedly planted the first church and where, bizarrely, the Syrian Orthodox Church still has a major presence. (Our friend now attends Fuller Seminary, where he met language specialists who translated for him the Syriac prayers he had learned as a child and never understood!) We spent one day and night on a bamboo-sided houseboat cruising the backwaters, which gave us the experience of floating through everyday village life. We drank fresh coconut milk, saw bright blue kingfishers darting for food and white egrets standing like sentinels in emerald-green rice paddies. Women in brightly colored saris stood in the shallow water to do laundry by beating their clothes on rocks—it looks for all the world as if they’re trying to break the rocks—and bathing naked babies.
We also made a trip to a tiger preserve where we saw few animals but got to ride an elephant. This park, too, we toured by boat. Whenever a passenger spotted a wild pig or bison, all the Indian tourists jumped up and yelled, which explains why we saw few animals. On the way, we also passed through tea and rubber and plantations, as well as spice gardens that cultivate pepper, cardamom, and other spices. (Remember, Columbus discovered America by accident, seeking a route to India to acquire these spices, thus misnaming the Native Americans he found.)
You hear about “the new India,” and indeed India has changed much in the two decades since I last visited. But in India nothing goes away, the layers simply accumulate. So electric wires crisscross the major cities, and monkeys now use them as highways. Exotic cars now crowd the highways, but they too have to share them with the animals, including an occasional elephant or camel. Every conqueror has left a mark: the Aryans brought the Hindu caste system; the Moghuls brought Islam (India is the second largest Muslim nation, next to Indonesia); the Syrians, Portuguese, then British introduced Christianity. There are also millions of Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains (who cover their mouths with a cloth to avoid inadvertently killing any living thing such as an insect.) As my Toronto friend said, “India is so diverse, with so many subcultures and more than 1500 languages, that I have more in common with you than with many people from other parts of India.”
We also toured a few publishing companies. Kerala claims to be the first place to achieve 100 percent literacy, and indeed bookstores and newsstands proliferate. Even here the old and the new exist side by side. I saw four men walking in circles round and round a table to assemble the 32-page signatures that make up a book, which were then pressed by hand into a binder. Meanwhile women sat yoga-style on the floor “gumming” the backs of paper scraps in the absence of adhesive labels.
Ah, India. Longsuffering, magical, baffling, mysterious, chaotic—any adjective you can think of applies. We are glad we went on this trip, and come away inspired by the dedicated people we met doing important and wonderful work. And we’re very glad to be home, safe and healthy. Thank you all for your prayers and concern.
Philip and Janet
You can, too! Find Denzel Washington as King Solomon in The Bible Experience, a captivating performance of the Bible presented by a stellar ensemble of almost 400 of today’s award-winning actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and producers. This historic production features an original musical underscore by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and Hollywood-style sound design created at Technicolor Studios and was awarded the 2007 Audies Audiobook of the Year for the New Testament edition.