Over the past eight years in my job at Union University, I’ve written hundreds of news and feature stories for the university. None of them were more difficult to write than the one I just posted, the one that began with these words: “David S. Dockery will transition from president of Union University to the role of university chancellor no later than July 2014 …”
A little more than eight years ago, I felt stuck in my career. Some of the jobs I had didn’t work out the way I had hoped. Some of them were positions with limited upside. So at age 27, I was floundering. Though I had no serious plans to leave the job I was in, or to move away from where we were living, I still had this nagging feeling that there was something that the Lord wanted me to do. But I couldn’t seem to figure out what that was.
Then I got a call one afternoon that changed my life. It was from Kathie Chute at Union University, asking me if I had any interest in returning to my alma mater to work.
“Can I just say no, without hearing any more details?” I asked Kathie. My wife and I, and our 1-year-old son, were happy where we were. Sure, my job wasn’t what I wanted to do forever, but it was paying the bills. We had friends and a good living situation. We didn’t really want to leave.
“Yes, you can do that,” Kathie said.
I remember standing there as silence fell on our conversation. My mind raced. I took a deep breath.
“Tell me what the job is,” I told her.
That was the beginning of the path that ended with me working at Union. I came to Jackson a few days later to interview with Dr. Dockery, who I found out was closely involved with my recruitment. I had been acquainted with Dr. Dockery a little bit over the previous years, but didn’t know him well. We had a good interview, and I could sense that Union University was where the Lord was leading.
So here I am more than eight years after Dr. Dockery brought me to Union, posting a news release about his transition out of the presidency. I knew this day was coming, but I kept hoping it wouldn’t be this soon. I’ve written thousands of words about him and about all that he has accomplished here. And over the next several months, I’ll undoubtedly write thousands more. But they hardly seem sufficient to describe exactly who Dr. Dockery is and what he means to me.
I have seen Dr. Dockery in all kinds of circumstances since coming to Union. I’ve marveled at the grace and kindness he consistently shows to others. I’ve been moved by listening to his prayers — prayers that demonstrated a deep and abiding trust in the Lord. I’ve laughed with him, as his keen sense of humor surfaced regularly in meetings and conversations. And I’ve cried with him, especially after a tornado ripped through the heart of Union’s campus.
I’ll never forget the night of Feb. 5, 2008, that I spent with Dr. Dockery and Gene Fant at the Jackson police station as we did our best to figure out the details of the disaster and communicate them to a national audience. I remember the pain we felt when we got word that a couple of our students hadn’t survived, and the relief we felt when we discovered that report was wrong.
In the days that followed, I watched with amazement as Dr. Dockery exhibited such calm, determined and godly leadership in the midst of a major crisis. We didn’t know if Union University could survive as an institution in the immediate aftermath of the tornado. But a few days later, DSD vowed that God would bring renewal from the rubble that was strewn across the campus. And now, almost five years later, the university is indeed stronger than ever.
I’m thankful for the team he has assembled at Union, a team of people with whom it is a pleasure to work. These are people who are more than just coworkers to me. Many of them are also close friends.
I am exceedingly grateful to the man for allowing me to provide for my family. I’ve now lived in Jackson longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, and it has become home to me. My family is part of a church that is a tremendous blessing, and we have dear friends there who are incredibly precious to us.
I also appreciate his willingness to allow me to pursue professional opportunities outside of my main job with the university. Some of the most interesting things I’ve done — covering three Olympics, reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, writing a book about Albert Pujols, etc. — would not have been possible without his encouragement and support.
Though I know the Lord is ultimately responsible for these good gifts and deserves the praise for them, I also know that he used Dr. Dockery to give them to me. Dr. Dockery has been a hero in the Ellsworth home and to the Ellsworth children (Noah used to ask if we could go to “Docky Docky’s house”), and we have regularly prayed for him during our family devotion time. All of my efforts to communicate and express my deepest gratitude to him are woefully inadequate.
I’m grateful that Dr. Dockery’s days at Union are not at an end. He will remain president through July 2014, at which time he will move into the position of chancellor. While I’m thrilled about that, and optimistic about the future of the university under a new president, I’m also saddened that my working relationship with Dr. Dockery won’t be the same. Being a part of his team at Union has been one of the greatest honors and most rewarding experiences of my life.
God bless David S. Dockery. He has truly been one of God’s greatest gifts to me, and I thank the Lord for him.
One of the most memorable places I visited while I was in London this summer was Westminster Abbey, a famous church that has been the site for coronations of English kings and queens for nearly 1,000 years. The church also serves as the burial grounds for all kinds of famous people. In addition to the monarchs buried there, Westminster Abbey is the resting place for such people as Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Pitt and Charles Dickens.
While it was fascinating to visit the graves of such notable people, there was one man whose grave I was especially interested in seeing – the great William Wilberforce.
Born more than 250 years ago in England, Wilberforce spent decades as a member of Parliament, where his chief passion and goal was to eliminate slavery from his nation. The practice of slavery was deeply embedded in the British economy, and its eradication was certainly a difficult task. He had powerful and dangerous enemies, and some of them threatened to kill him. His commitment to his cause also cost him several friendships, and he faced tremendous pressure to give up the crusade.
But Wilberforce refused to back down. He knew that his cause was just, and he knew that the Lord was with him, so he kept fighting year after year. His tireless efforts eventually led Great Britain to abolish the slave trade, and then to outlaw slavery entirely. Few people have had as significant of an impact upon the world as Wilberforce.
You may very well face some of the same struggles that Wilberforce did, as you grow up in a country that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. Should you choose to follow Christ, which is my most fervent prayer, you will most likely encounter ridicule, scorn and disdain from others. Our nation, which was founded upon principles of freedom — including freedom of religion — has in recent years shown little interest in protecting and securing the blessings of those liberties for itself or for future generations.
But even in the midst of opposition and hostility, I pray that the spirit of William Wilberforce will rest upon you – that you would fight for righteousness and truth, knowing that the Lord will always be with you to strengthen and guide you.
On his 41st birthday, Wilberforce prayed: “Oh Lord, purify my soul from all its stains. Warm my heart with the love of thee, animate my sluggish nature and fix my inconstancy, and volatility, that I may not be weary in well doing.”
Today, as you turn 4, I can think of no better prayer for you than that which Wilberforce prayed for himself. I pray that the Lord would purify your soul and incline your heart toward him, even at a young age, so that you would live a life of faithfulness and vibrant devotion to Christ. I pray that he would give you a passion for his work. And I pray that even when the world around you embraces wickedness and lies, the Lord would grant you strength and endurance like Wilberforce had, that you will be bold and relentless as you stand for what’s right and true.
Happy birthday, little man. You bring lots of joy into my life, and I love you very much.
One of the things that I love about you is your generous spirit. You’re usually quick to share what you have with your family and friends. When some friends were raising money a
few months ago to adopt a child, you gladly gave them a sizeable donation – not only of your own money, but of your brother’s money, too!
When I think of people who are generous, I can’t help but think of Lottie Moon. She was born into a wealthy family in Virginia in 1840. She had the benefit of a fine education, becoming one of the first women in the South to receive a master’s degree. She knew six languages.
With so many advantages, Lottie could easily have chosen to pursue a life of comfort and privilege. But that’s not what happened. The Lord changed her heart when she was 18 years old and implanted in her a missionary zeal that would change the world. At age 32, she departed from the United States for China, the country that would be her home for the rest of her life.
Lottie grew to love her Bible. In it, she wrote, “Words fail to express my love for this holy Book, my gratitude for its author, for his love and goodness. How shall I thank him for it?” She also grew to love the Chinese people deeply. In fact, she decided to abandon the way of life she knew as an American and chose to live as if she were Chinese herself.
She often lived in dirty, uncomfortable conditions as she went about ministering to the Chinese people, faithfully telling them the good news that Jesus Christ saves sinners. Late in her life, the region where she lived was devastated by war and famine. Many people went hungry. Lottie Moon gave of her own resources – and even went without food herself – so that other people could eat. She was so devoted to the Chinese people that by the time she died, she weighed just a little more than 50 pounds.
Lottie Moon’s work in China had eternal benefits. In addition to the people that she led to the Lord herself, she also became a strong advocate for global missions work, encouraging her fellow believers in the United States to follow God’s call to take Christ to the nations, and to be generous with their money in supporting mission endeavors.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Lottie Moon’s death. Since then, the Christmas offering named in her honor among Southern Baptist churches has raised $2.8 billion dollars that has been used to tell people all over the world about Jesus.
So, Emmalee, as you celebrate your sixth birthday today, my prayer for you is that you would follow the example that Lottie Moon set. I pray that you will pursue excellence in your school work. I pray that you will love the Bible the way she did. I pray that the grace of God would touch your life the way it did Lottie Moon’s, and that the Lord would grip your heart with a passion for taking the gospel to those who are perishing. And I pray that the generous heart you’ve already demonstrated would only grow in the years ahead, so that through your giving, countless others would be blessed.
Happy birthday, Sweet Pea. I’m grateful for the joy you bring into my life, and I will love you forever.
June 26, 2012
A 10-year-old boy named James knew he was going to get a new bike for his 11th birthday. That was the tradition in the English town where he lived – when boys turned 11, their birthday present was a new bike.
James undoubtedly had spent many hours dreaming of what his new bike would be like. He thought about the fun he’d have racing his friends in the streets and the freedom he’d have to wander farther from home.
So on the morning of his birthday, he rushed downstairs with anticipation and excitement, just waiting to get a glimpse of his glorious present. Imagine his surprise when he bolted into the room where his gift would be, only to discover that a bicycle wasn’t there. Instead, his parents had given him a typewriter.
A few years earlier, James had been involved in an accident that severely injured his head. His parents knew that giving him a bicycle would be dangerous. Because of his earlier injury, if James fell off his bike or crashed into something, he could have been seriously hurt or killed. So they had to come up with another option.
Though he was surprised at the gift – and maybe a bit disappointed at first – James quickly grew to understand what a special gift this was. As Alister McGrath wrote in a biography of this boy, the typewriter may not have been what he asked for, but it proved to be what he needed: “Surprise gave way to delight, as he realized what he could do with this unexpected gift,” McGrath wrote. “It was not more than a minute before he had put paper into the machine, and started to type. It proved to be his best present and the most treasured possession of his boyhood.”
This boy named James grew to be a great theologian and author, the famed J.I. Packer. Packer has written dozens of books and articles, and millions of Christians have been blessed by his work. He has helped countless people know God more deeply and grow in their walk with Christ. Church historian Mark Noll has called Packer “one of the great blessings of the modern church.”
Who knows what might have happened had he gotten that bicycle for his birthday instead of a typewriter!
That story is a great reminder that God knows what we need better than we do. There will certainly be times when things do not go the way you want them to. Disappointment and letdowns are part of life for everyone. No matter how much you may plan and hope, very little will turn out the way you expect.
But take heart, my son. We serve a sovereign God who is not caught off guard by the shifts and unexpected turns our lives may take. In fact, he is the one who is orchestrating and guiding all of them! And even though something may initially disappoint you, the Lord may take that situation and turn it into one of the greatest blessings of your life, as he did with J.I. Packer’s typewriter.
So my prayer for you, as you celebrate your 9th birthday, is that you would grow into a man who rolls with the punches and who trusts God completely — even when things don’t go your way, and even when it may seem that your life is careening out of control. The Lord will still be sitting on heaven’s throne, and he will still hold your life in his hands. He will still be kind, loving and good, and will know your needs better than you do.
As Luke tells us in Scripture, “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Happy birthday, buddy. You are a tremendous blessing to your mother and me, and we are so proud of you.
P.S. Enjoy your new bicycle!
As you grow older and learn about some of the heroes of the Christian faith, you’ll probably not find many people whose conversions were as dramatic as John Newton’s was. Newton was quite a scoundrel in his younger days, and an evil, godless man. He was profane and vulgar, mean and cruel.
He was even an active participant in the slave trade, a horrifying practice in which Africans were captured, taken away from their homes and families and sold to owners in Europe and America. Yes, John Newton was about as bad as they come.
But like so many others, Newton was not out of the reach of God’s grace. The Lord miraculously intervened in his life, saved him from his sins and set him on the path following Christ.
“I stood in need of an Almighty Savior; and such a one I found described in the New Testament,” Newton wrote. “Thus far the Lord had wrought a marvelous thing: I was no longer an infidel: I heartily renounced my former profaneness, and had taken up some right notions; was seriously disposed, and sincerely touched with a sense of the undeserved mercy I had received, in being brought safe through so many dangers.”
Some time after his conversion, Newton became a pastor in England, a role in which he labored faithfully for more than 40 years. He was beloved by his congregations and played a key role in encouraging William Wilberforce to fight boldly against the evils of the slave trade — a profession which Newton himself once readily endorsed. The Lord had indeed changed his life in radical ways.
While many people may not know a whole lot about Newton, they certainly recognize the fruit of his labors. Newton was an outstanding writer of hymns and is best known for “Amazing Grace,” the most popular hymn ever written in English. In it, Newton poetically testifies to the wondrous grace that God bestowed upon him:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me …
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Over the past three years, you have been a tremendous blessing to me, your mom and our family. You’ve made us smile and laugh more times than we can count. We are certainly grateful to God for sending you into our home.
One of the things that your mom and I have enjoyed about you is your love for music. Your brother and sister have always liked music as well, but you’ve taken it to another level. We’ve watched you sit transfixed during concerts and other musical presentations as you listened intently to the beautiful sounds you were hearing. We’ve chuckled when you’ve jumped down from the couch to dance to the music you heard on TV, smiling the whole time.
I hope that your love for music will only increase as you get older. I have no musical skills whatsoever, other than my ability to enjoy it, so that’s one area where I hope you don’t take after me. Music is a tremendous blessing from God, and I hope your life will be filled with the happiness and joy that music can bring.
But my prayer for you, as you celebrate your third birthday, is that God would do more than cultivate your love for music. I pray that he would implant a song of grace in your soul, and that you would be able to echo these words of the great hymn “To Christ the Lord Let Every Tongue”:
A thousand men could not compose
A worthy song to bring
Yet your love is a melody
Our hearts can’t help but sing!
I pray that you would be as captivated by the mercy and grace of God as John Newton was. I pray that the Lord would save you while you are still a child and spare you from so much of the wickedness that characterized Newton’s early years. And I pray that the faith God imparts to you would grow over the years, so that the deepest burning of your heart would be the same thing that Newton wrote about so many years ago:
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Happy birthday, little buddy. I love you so much, and I’m so thankful for the music you’ve brought to our lives.
My son Daniel and I were just at one of the most thrilling World Series games in history. After playing incredibly sloppy baseball for most of it, the Cardinals tied it in the ninth, tied it again in the 10th and won it on a David Freese walk-off homer in the 11th.
And I’m sitting here trying to come to grips with the fact that I left after the seventh.
Had I been by myself or with another adult, there’s no way I would have taken off. Yes, I was incredibly frustrated with the way the Cardinals were playing. Matt Holliday cost the Cards a run when he missed a fly ball in left field and another run when he inexplicably got picked off third base. Freese himself dropped a routine pop fly that gave the Rangers another run.
So after Texas pulled ahead by three runs in the seventh inning, it certainly seemed like the game was over. The Cardinals showed no indications that they wanted to win the game, and it was reasonable to conclude that they were done. Lots of other fans headed for the exits after the seventh inning as well.
Add to that the fact that Daniel was shivering and tired. It was a cold night, and although we dressed warmly, he doesn’t have as much natural padding as his dad does. So he had been feeling the cold for a couple of innings, and the temperature was dropping. He was also ready for bed. I felt bad for him, and I would have felt worse had we stayed through nine innings and the Cardinals lost the way I expected them to. I wanted the night to be an enjoyable one – and not a miserable one — for my son.
I knew I was running this risk when I decided to take Daniel with me to the game. But I also knew that it was a risk worth taking. I was 8 years old in 1982 when the Cardinals won the World Series, and ever since then the names of Andujar, Ozzie, Herr, McGee, Hernandez, Hendrick, Forsch, Horton, Porter and others have formed a pantheon of heroes for me. Since Daniel is 8, I’ve thought in recent days how special it would be if St. Louis could manage to win the Series this year. It would be even more special if we got to go to one of the games together.
So when I got two tickets from a friend for game 6, I jumped at the chance, and I knew I wanted to take Daniel with me. I thought he’d be fine. He’s gone to games with me before and stayed for the duration of them, and he’s been wanting to stay up late and watch the World Series games this year. I really thought he’d be OK.
But then after we arrived in St. Louis yesterday, the game got postponed because of foul weather. We went swimming at the hotel, and spent the first part of today doing other things around St. Louis. I think he was just worn out. So instead of forcing him to suck it up and tough it out, I relented and told him we’d go back to the hotel.
While we were waiting for the train, I heard the fireworks at the stadium and knew something had happened. I checked the score on my phone and saw that Allen Craig had homered to cut the Texas lead to 7-5.
We made it to our destination station, and then hopped aboard a bus to get us back to the hotel. As we sat waiting on the bus, I checked the score again. Albert Pujols doubled in the ninth. Lance Berkman walked. With two outs and two strikes, Freese tripled in both runs to tie the game.
Great, I think. It figures the Cards would end up making a game of this.
Josh Hamilton confirmed the wisdom of my decision a few minutes later when he homered in the top of the 10th to give the Rangers another two-run lead. But then I regretted the decision again in the bottom of the inning when Berkman stroked a two-out single to drive in the tying run. When Freese won the game in the 11th, I didn’t know what to think. I was ecstatic about the win, raising my hands in triumph and shaking my head in astonishment at the comeback the Cardinals had just pulled off.
At the same time, I was kicking myself. I could have been there to see it, and I wasn’t.
I’m still sitting here wondering if I made the right decision. Maybe I should have forced Daniel to sit there in the cold, just in case something historical happened. And I’m sure one of these days, when Daniel is old enough to truly appreciate the magnitude of the game 6 excitement, he’ll undoubtedly be apoplectic. “We were there for that game and missed the ending?” he’ll probably ask me. “Why didn’t you make me stay? I was just a kid who didn’t know any better.” It’s probably what I would have said to my dad in a similar situation. I guess I’ll have to take my medicine if and when that day comes.
But as I think of my son, exhausted, now lying asleep in his hotel bed, I’ll choose instead to think of the night we got to spend with each other. We had the opportunity to go to World Series game 6 together. We got to visit with some of the umpires outside their locker room before the game. Daniel actually got to go into their locker room for a few minutes, and Bruce Froemming loaded him down with candy and treats.
We cheered Lance Berkman’s first inning homer and groaned together at the bumbling errors the Cardinals kept making. Freese (when he botched the pop fly) gave me a vivid illustration of why I tell Daniel to use two hands when catching the ball. We waved rally towels and talked about baseball and dogs (Daniel’s two favorite topics).
As I sat in my hotel room watching Freese smack his game-winning homer, I looked at Daniel sleeping soundly, and felt an immense amount of gratitude. Even though we missed the ending, we’ll forever be able to say that we were there for that game. We’ll undoubtedly share many conversations in the years ahead about what might have been. And someday, maybe this episode will be just one proof to Daniel that he has a dad who loves him more than baseball.
Every morning, I’d go outside to see my dogs. While they were both happy to see me, Gus expressed his joy in a much more vocal way. It was almost as if he were singing to me, with a “roo roo roo” type of sound that must have been an annoyance to the neighbors. Sometimes I had to go back in the house just to get him to stop.
He was always thrilled to see me at any time of the day, but only in the mornings was I greeted in such a raucous manner. I came to call it my morning conversation with Gus. It was like he had been waiting all night to see me, and he simply wanted to tell me how his night had been.
My mornings will be a lot quieter now. At 11 years of age, Gus had been dealing with arthritis in his legs for some time. His condition had steadily worsened over the past few days, despite an increase in the pain-killing medication he was taking. It got to where he could hardly walk.
So on Saturday, we had to say goodbye. I’ve known for weeks that the day was coming, and had tried to prepare myself as best as I could. But it still was terribly difficult. He was my good and faithful friend, and a kind and gentle soul to everyone in my family.
I got Gus when he was just a puppy, probably only about three weeks old. He and his mama, who was half golden retriever, were residents of the local dog pound when I came in looking for two new dogs to replace the two we had just lost. Gus was the only pup to survive from her litter of seven, and I took both him and his mom.
Gus (whom we named after the great Christian thinker Augustine) was a tiny little guy at first, fitting in the palm of my hand. He was entirely dependent upon his mama Suzy, and anytime she’d walk off and leave him behind, he’d sit down, throw his head back and let loose with this mournful cry. You’d think his world had come to an end because his mom was a few yards away. He eventually grew to be almost twice her size, but he never stopped being her pup.
We moved to the country a few days after getting Gus and Suzy, and they lived in a dog’s paradise. We went for daily walks along the gravel road, and that was the highlight of Gus’ day. His wiry coat typically collected all manner of burrs as he scouted the surrounding fields. When we’d return home, he’d sit down and patiently let Suzy pick all the burrs out of him and clean him up.
A few years ago I bought my first truck, and Gus loved riding in the back. He was especially popular among strangers. Suzy was this beautiful dog with golden brown fur who looked like a miniature golden retriever. Gus was white and shaggy with brown spots all over him. I considered Suzy to be a prettier dog than Gus, but he was always the one that people asked about when they saw him in my truck. He certainly had a unique look, and I think that’s what caught people’s attention.
Gus was deathly afraid of storms. For several years, I had to give him a tranquilizer when a storm was brewing, or he’d go bonkers. At one house, we had a vinyl picket fence in the back yard. If Gus hadn’t gotten a pill when it started storming, he’d break through the picket fence and hightail it out of our yard. Typically, I’d find him sitting on the neighbor’s front porch. I don’t know why that porch was a more desirable location than our garage, which provided Gus all the shelter from a storm he would need. But in Gus’ mind, it certainly was.
Suzy died suddenly almost two years ago, causing no small amount of grief in our family. I felt especially bad for Gus, who had never known life without his mama. I wasn’t sure how he’d respond. But he was a resilient thing, and he eventually became friends with our new dog Katie. He was always delighted when we went on our daily walks through the woods, though his walking got slower in recent months as the arthritis began taking its toll.
But through the pain he experienced late in life, Gus demonstrated to me what I grew to love about him the most. The older he got, and the more his legs hurt, the sweeter his disposition became. Nobody would have blamed him for being grumpy and sour, but that’s not how Gus reacted. He simply loved us more and was all the more cheerful about life. Maybe he knew his days were numbered, and he wanted to make those days count.
I don’t know if it’s possible for a dog to be godly and to grow in sanctification. I guess it probably isn’t. But all the same, Gus showed me what I hope and pray to be, by God’s grace, as I get older. Assuming that I live for at least a few more years, I’ll most likely have to deal with a variety of aches and pains down the road. Most people do. And a lot of them don’t adjust well. They become cranky and grouchy and seem to take no enjoyment in their daily living.
Gus wasn’t that way at all. Just the opposite, really. Even until the day of his death, he was a jolly, loving and sweet fellow, perhaps more so than he’d ever been. I hope the same will one day be said of me – that at the time I die, my life was more reflective of Christ than it had ever been.
My mornings may be quieter now without Gus, and I’ll certainly miss his daily greeting. But maybe the silence will give me the opportunity to ponder the lessons he taught me, to ask myself if I’m growing in grace and in love for the Lord and his people, and to pray that God would make it so.
Sometimes the smallest things in life can be the most special. That was certainly the case when Corrie discovered an ant living with her. Normally ants are a pain and we try to get rid of them, but for Corrie, this ant was something to be celebrated.
You see, Corrie was living in a prison cell, all by herself. She had nobody to talk to, she was given little to eat, and she had to sleep on a filthy, scratchy straw bed with no way to stay warm. Normally people go to prison for doing bad things, but that wasn’t why Corrie was there. Corrie was in prison for doing something good.
Her full name was Corrie ten Boom, and the year was 1944. Corrie lived in Holland during the World War II era, when a man named Adolf Hitler ruled Germany and had taken over much of Europe. As I’ve written before in a letter to your brother Daniel, Hitler was one of the meanest, most wicked men who has ever lived, and he killed more than 6 million Jews who had done nothing wrong, simply because he hated them.
Corrie and her family did what they could to help the Jews. They created a room in their home where they hid several Jewish people from Hitler’s men for many weeks. They knew they would get in a lot of trouble if they were caught, but still they pressed on, because they were doing what was right. As Corrie wrote in her book, “The Hiding Place,” she and her family “knew that in spite of daily mounting risks we had no choice but to move forward. This was evil’s hour: we could not run away from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.”
Sure enough, their efforts to save the Jews were eventually discovered, and Corrie was thrown into prison. She had suffered there for a few weeks when she discovered the ant living in the cell with her. Here’s what she wrote about it:
I had almost put my foot where he was one morning as I carried my bucket to the door when I realized the honor being done me. I crouched down and admired the marvelous design of legs and body. I apologized for my size and promised I would not so thoughtlessly stride about again.
After a while he disappeared through a crack in the floor. But when my evening piece of bread appeared on the door shelf, I scattered some crumbs and to my joy he popped out almost at once. He picked up a heroic piece, struggled down the hole with it and came back for more. It was the beginning of a relationship.
She looked forward to the visit from the ant each day. Eventually, a few other ants came as well. Can you imagine how lonely she must have felt, for a visit from an ant to be the highlight of her day? But that’s what life was like for Corrie during that time.
Still, even while she was suffering so, Corrie did not lose her faith in God. She read from the Bible in her cell, and eventually, after she was moved to another prison, she and her sister began leading a Bible study for other women who were with them.
One morning, while Corrie was still in the cell with her ant, she heard yelling from the guards, who told the prisoners to collect all their things and get ready to move to a new place. As she waited, she hoped for a final visit from her little ant friends, but they were nowhere to be found.
“Probably I had frightened them by my earlier dashing about,” Corrie wrote. “I reached into the pillowcase, took one of the crackers and crumbled it about the little crack. No ants. They were staying safely hidden.”
Then she was reminded of an important truth.
“I too had a hiding place when things were bad,” she wrote. “Jesus was this place, the Rock cleft for me.”
As you go through life, Emmalee, I want you to know that your dad will always fight for you. I promise that I will do all I can to protect you and keep you safe from anything or anyone that would try to harm you. We live in a world that isn’t fair and that isn’t always easy. But I will be your guardian. I will be strong for you when you need strength. I will be a listening ear when you need to talk to someone. And my shoulder will always be yours when you need to cry on it.
But I also know that despite my best efforts and intentions, there will be times when I will not protect you and care for you the way I should. I will do my best, but I will certainly fail.
And so, as you celebrate your 5th birthday, my prayer for you is that you would come to know Jesus the way Corrie ten Boom did – because unlike me, he will never fail you. He will always be your rock, your fortress and your strength. He will be your hiding place when things are bad. I pray that you will learn to look to him to meet your every need, because he alone is the one in whom you can find perfect and complete love, care and salvation.
Corrie ten Boom believed wholeheartedly the words of Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” – and I pray with all my heart that you will come to believe them as well.
Happy birthday, Sweet Pea. You are truly one of God’s biggest blessings to me, and I love you so much.
David Brainerd spent his 25th birthday in a most unusual way. Instead of eating birthday cake or lunch at his favorite restaurant, instead of spending the day with his friends and family, the young man went into the woods to be alone with God for the entire day. Here’s what he said about it in his diary:
“Set apart for fasting and prayer, to bow my soul before God for the bestowment of divine grace; especially that all my spiritual afflictions and inward distresses might be sanctified to my soul. And endeavored also to remember the goodness of God to me the year past, this day being my birthday.”
That year was 1743, and Brainerd would live only another four years before leaving this world and entering eternity. In his 29 years, Brainerd certainly knew his share of hardship and suffering. His dad died when he was 9 years old. Five years later, his mom died as well. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone so young to lose both of his parents.
As a young man, Brainerd had sensed God’s calling to be a pastor, and he enrolled at Yale University to get the education necessary to pursue that calling. In his second year at Yale, he was sent home with a sickness so bad he was spitting blood. The culprit was tuberculosis, which would eventually claim his life.
He returned to Yale but then violated a university rule when he publicly questioned the salvation of the rector and one of his tutors. That indiscretion led to his expulsion from the university. Though he later apologized for his actions, Yale would not let him return. Since ministers in Connecticut had to graduate from Harvard, Yale or a European institution, his expulsion was a tremendous blow – because it meant he could never fulfill his dreams of a life as a minister.
There will undoubtedly be times in your life when you will face disappointments like Brainerd did. As he left Yale, Brainerd must have felt a deep sense of loss and wondered what the future held for him. He may have questioned God’s goodness in the face of shattered dreams. I must admit, I’ve been there myself many times, and I’m sure you will be as well. It would be wise, as you grow up, to prepare yourself for the inevitable disappointments that will come your way in life. Things will seldom turn out exactly the way you want them to, and you must learn to trust God’s hand even when you don’t understand where it is leading you. Heed the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
In Brainerd’s case, God certainly did have plans for him – plans that had eternal blessings for thousands of others. Brainerd ended up working among Indian tribes as a missionary in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The work was excruciatingly difficult at times. Brainerd suffered through loneliness, cold, hunger and multiple physical ailments. But he didn’t let such afflictions discourage him: “Such fatigues and hardship as these serve to wean me more from the earth; and, I trust, will make heaven the sweeter,” he wrote.
His ministry led to the conversion of several Indians to Christianity, so in a small sense he was able to see some of the fruits of his work. But the greatest impact Brainerd would have upon the kingdom of God came after he died. The great preacher Jonathan Edwards took Brainerd’s diary and published it in 1749 – and the book has never been out of print since. Brainerd’s accounts of his difficult ministry and the way he trusted God through all his trials served as fuel for the missionary zeal of countless others, including the likes of William Carey, David Livingston, John Wesley, Andrew Murray and Jim Elliott, just to name a few.
As John Piper has written, “ .. Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”
So, Daniel, as you celebrate your 8th birthday, my prayer is that you would be as faithful to the Lord as David Brainerd was – that no matter what difficulties and challenges you face in your life, you would put your hope solely and completely in our gracious and loving God. I pray that the Lord would draw you to faith in Christ while you are young and stir in your heart a desire to see the gospel spread among all the peoples of the earth. In short, my prayer for you echoes what Brainerd himself wrote so long ago on his 25th birthday, that day he spent in the woods: “Oh, that God would enable me to live to His glory for the future!”
Happy birthday, buddy. You make me so happy, and I love you very, very much.
Dec. 30, 2010
One of the characters I enjoy most from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series is Reepicheep, the tiny mouse with an enormous heart.
He may be small in stature, but Reepicheep’s size is no indication of what lies beneath the surface. His valor and his skills as a swordsman were legendary in Narnia. Noble in heart and bold in spirit, Reepicheep had traversed far and wide, encountering many adventures and battles in his life. All along, he conducted himself with deep honor and dignity that earned him immense respect from his countrymen.
The driving force in Reepicheep’s life stemmed from a poem spoken to him by a Dryad when he was just a baby:
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.
“I do not know what it means,” Reepicheep tells Edmund and Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. “But the spell of it has been on me all my life.”
That poetic prophecy was fulfilled at the end of the book, when Reepicheep and his comrades finally arrived at the end of the world, in Aslan’s country. Though everyone else was to return home, Reepicheep knew he had arrived at the destination for which he had been yearning. His friends bade him a tearful goodbye, knowing they wouldn’t see him again. And though Reepicheep tried to be sad for the sake of his friends, C.S. Lewis tells us he was quivering with excitement about the mysterious land that lay ahead of him.
For the last time, Reepicheep drew his sword – the sword that had been his constant companion – and tossed it aside. “I shall need it no more,” he said. And so he disappeared from sight, as a wave carried his tiny boat to his new home.
Over the last two years, you have taken your rightful place as a member of the Ellsworth household. You have brought great joy to me, to your mama, and to your brother and sister. You have made us smile and laugh, and we have taken much delight in watching you grow and learn. God has made you the youngest one in our family. And though you may not be the smallest one forever, that’s the role you have for now.
So my prayer for you, as you celebrate your second birthday, is that you would follow the example of Reepicheep – who, although small, was a giant in so many ways. As Reepicheep’s life was fueled by a pursuit of a poem, I pray that your life will be fueled by a pursuit of the living God. As the prophecy gave Reepicheep direction and meaning, I pray that you will find similar purpose in the prophecy of Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.”
I pray that God will implant in your heart a desire to seek after him all your days. I pray that you will attack life with courage and nobility – that you will fight valiantly for what’s right, defending the honor of your friends and family along the way. May your life be filled with adventures aplenty. And as you encounter challenges and difficulties, I pray that you will face them with a Reepicheepian boldness that flows from a strong faith in the Lord as your refuge and strength, a present help in trouble.
Then I pray and yearn for the day when your travails and battles in this life will end, and as you prepare to enter heaven’s gates, you can cast your sword aside, because you will need it no longer. How I long to be there waiting for you, to welcome a heroic warrior to his new home.
Happy birthday, my little Reepicheep. I love you with all that I am.