Why your testimony matters

We’re talking over Zoom on a Tuesday night when he says we’ve got it wrong, the way we highlight people’s testimonies as incredible stories about them. “Testimonies are about what God has done,” he says. 

They are equally incredible for the murderer, the drug lord, the Karen and your average Joe. 

She asks me about my latest fascination with his books. “His heart,” I say. “His heart is so genuine.” 

His story is fascinating, but it’s his heart that wrecks me. It’s his pure, honest search for truth. His impartial discovery of The Way. 

It’s not the unique beginning to his conversion story that brings me to tears at midnight when I read it. It’s the wonder that his story has the same resolution, the same conclusion, as mine. 

His books fascinate me, not because he is telling me things I don’t know. It’s because he helps me really see the things I do know. 

It’s how he gives me a third-person view of the way the love of God has changed him. Has changed me. 

It’s how I feel when I meet him in the midst of homesickness and we realize we grew up driving past the same fields, the same diner on the same corner of town. It’s validation. 

And I watch her tell her story to strangers across our kitchen table, to an audience of women from the podium in front of the church to the pages of handwritten letters she sends to teenagers, the sick and dying. “I was taking communion on Good Friday and I knew something wasn’t right,” she always says. 

Her story validates the experience of the transforming work of God in the soul.

And that matters because it’s almost impossible to describe. 

All John Wesley can say is that his heart felt “strangely warmed.”

All Nabeel Qureshi can say is “I submit.”

All C.S. Lewis can say is, “I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

And it matters because every story makes me see the gospel over again, in different words. 

It makes me see what’s happened in my own heart, in the language of another’s. 

It matters because it expresses the truest thing I have ever experienced.

It matters because it adds to the testimony of countless Christians across the ages nodding in agreement. 

“Amen. Me too.”

The Person I love

When I first meet her, what strikes me is the way she brings Jesus into everything. 

Not politics, not religion, not philosophy. 

Jesus. The Person. 

She starts talking to Him in the middle of the hike, gazing at layers of mountains against the horizon. Anytime. Anywhere. 

I am quiet when she does. Not uncomfortable. I am distant, an outsider to their connection. 

Distant. 

Like when I stop calling her every week and she stops checking in–and a year later, we meet without the comfort of familiarity. 

Or when he moves far away and comes back different. I don’t know how to talk to him like I did before. I don’t know how to push past the barriers. 

Because commitment is shown through frequent connection.

 “I’ve kept track of you on Instagram,” she tells me over coffee.

Like I’ve kept track of Him, watched His life through the pages of the Gospels. 

And when I finally lay down my book about Him and trace my own outline of the mountains, the words come slow at first. 

Almost apologetically. 

And a week comes and goes as I commit to connection. Just five minutes. Ten minutes. I put away distractions. 

And joy comes as surely as the sun.

And perspective–out of the shadows. 

A maturing love for the Person over the good gifts He brings. 

A love that can never be taken away. 

 

I was wrong

“What do you say to him, Katie?” Dad has me look him in the eyes. I stick out my lip in a pout that’s been common for the full eight years I’ve been alive.

“Sorry,” I look away. I’m not a bit sorry.

“Sorry for?” Dad prompts me.

“Sorry for scratching your car with a stick.”

“And?”

“I was wrong.”

“And?”

“Please forgive me.”

Now almost twenty years later, I realize how hard it is to make a proper apology. To name the specifics. To admit wrong.

Like when I tell them on the group chat that “she always does this” and I know she doesn’t. I know I have to make it right.

Or when she tells me that the show I’m watching is offensive to her culture and my heart’s reaction is defensiveness. I know I need to make it right.

We walk together at dusk and I tell him how I’m re-learning how to lay down my life, my desires, my politics, my agenda, my privilege.

Because I’d rather view my life through the lens of Christ.

I’d rather have eyes that are open to see suffering than closed by excuses.

Because change cannot start in the world until it starts in the heart. And it can’t penetrate the heart without the sharp blade of humility.

He tells me that I need to change, but I want us to move past the discussion.

It’s easier to tell him ‘I love you’ than to say the other three words.

“I was wrong.”

And when the streets fill with a cry for justice, it’s easier to say “I love you” than to go back to the basics of the gospel.

Back to recognition of wrong.

Back under the blade of humility.

Back to laying down my privilege and my lofty view of self.

To quietly acknowledge that things will have to be different.

They must be.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8

The prerogative

“I don’t agree with your interpretation,” she tells me. It bothers me for months. 

I feel like I’m eleven again. “We can tell each other everything,” I say to my best friend. 

Until we’re fourteen and I realize there are things she doesn’t tell me. 

And things I can’t bear for her to know. 

I realize we are separate people. But I try to be the same as her. 

“I’ll do anything for you,” I pray when I’m seven. Because I have no doubt He knows best. 

Then I turn twenty-six and I wonder why He says the things He says. 

“I don’t agree,” she says and reminds me she is her own person and I cannot overlap. 

I want to lash out and I don’t know why. My desire for control. 

Like I want God to agree with me. I want to be in control. 

And I realize when he asks me what I’m wrestling with lately, that I’m wrestling with the fact that God is His own, in three persons. 

I’m wrestling with His prerogative to say no. To say what is good. What is not. 

I want to push His boundaries. 

Yet He is the One who gave me mine. My own prerogative to say yes or no. 

To build a relationship with Him. 

I curl up on my bed on a Wednesday night and read the Psalms of David. I read how David cries out for help, in desperation. 

And realize how much sweeter it is to hear an answer from a God who has the prerogative to say no. To bend the ear of Someone who does not feel the need to please us. But delights in showing His love to us. 

Through Christ, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. 

Who took on the boundaries of a person and died. For us. 

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8

 

It’s no coincidence

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” I tell them.

I don’t believe the old man stopped me in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of my prayer for help, on a rainy day in May, out of pure luck. I don’t believe he told me exactly what I needed to hear in that moment out of pure chance.

“What you have gone through has taught me a lot about myself,” I tell her even though I wish she had not gone through it.

Who knew that the way I would learn to grow out of my habit of fear would be by standing in the shadows of her pain? That I would learn courage by proxy.

I put no thought into the comment I still remember making to her across the table in the middle of lunch. “It would be great if we could live together.”

And I do not believe in the coincidence of the way our lives collided.

The way her growth makes an imprint on my life.

I read about Abraham and Isaac. I read about Ruth meeting Boaz in the middle of a workday. And the selection of Esther to be queen.

I read about people with unique personalities, born at specific points in history, doing certain things, which leads to a person being born in a stable at a specific point in history, performing certain miracles. Which leads to a cross.

We go for a hike together on a Friday afternoon and I learn about her history and wonder how she’ll play into my future. Or how I’ll play into hers.

She leans across the table toward me. “It’s amazing.” Her eyes light up as she talks about neutrons and electrons and protons–and planets beyond. I’m just a writer trying to understand.

What everyone is trying to understand. The unimaginable details of the universe.

I’m a writer amazed at the Master Storyteller.

How He will accomplish His purpose in her.

Which accomplishes His purpose in me.

Which builds up them.

And on and on it goes. One perfectly planned coincidence after another.

And when the old man stops me in the middle of the sidewalk, I know I’m going to remember his words for a long time to come.

Because I know they’re not an accident.

Because I believe in a loving God who knows mysteries I can’t fathom.

And who cares about the details to a degree I can’t imagine.

“Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, And how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” Job 26:14

In His image

I first met her at summer camp. She was good at sports and I wasn’t. She was good at talking with boys. Not me. She was bilingual. I knew two or three words in French.

I was the farm girl she introduced to public transit in the big city of Montreal.

She was different and it made me less afraid of what I didn’t know.

And then I met him, my first experience with a real foodie.

And her, the American who introduced me to Starbucks.

And then I lived with a girl who tried to teach me to salsa, but mostly taught me to laugh.

And years later, on a Friday night, she teaches me how to see things differently. “When I think about the friends who challenge me,” I tell her through the screen, “I think of you.”

I say this after running 2.23 miles for Ahmaud Arbery–because I have the privilege to run in broad daylight, a privilege everyone should have.

It’s after we spend an hour talking through Zoom, the three of us, three different backgrounds. One faith. I ask him how the church loses out with less diversity. “A sign of less diversity is a sign of less maturity,” he says.

I think of the ways she expresses things differently. She helps me visualize a side I’d never see without her.

Isn’t that the point of life with Christ? To grow in maturity? To have a multi-dimensional view.

How can we learn to worship if we only see it done one way?

How can we grow in empathy if we only listen to voices exactly like ours?

How can we deal with prejudice in our hearts if we are too afraid to examine them?

They ask me how I came to be in this discussion on race and diversity on a Friday night. I’ve been reading a lot, I tell them. I think about my conversation with her a few days before, about how to live out our faith in these bodies we’ve been given. Now, we talk about how to live out our faith in the skin we’ve been given.

“I’ve been afraid to say something wrong,” I also tell them. Minutes later, I realize why.

I’m afraid of my heart. “…For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

He mentions justification and how it comes down to proper theology.

When we know who we are in Christ, we are not afraid to examine our hearts, to listen to criticism and to pursue change.

Because Christ is not the second amendment or the Canadian image of “being nice”.

We are not afraid to see our prejudice without being defensive or devastated.

We can see the path to growth.

As I run 2.23 miles, I realize I have no choice but to run.

And to run with endurance.

Toward a Future that is altogether better. A side we cannot yet see.

 

Created for connection

I go for my daily walk and smile at the older gentleman I’ve passed before. 

I fantasize about making friends along the city trail. 

What is it about isolation that makes me realize we weren’t meant to be alone? 

We were created for connection. 

Like the way she looked at me from the hospital bed. “What would we do without Kate?” But she only said it for me to hear. And I come back to it again and again as validation that I need to be here even if she isn’t. 

Or that little girl I knew for a week. Twelve years later, I still remember how she gifted me her favourite outfit. Of course, it couldn’t fit me. But it was the one thing she had to give. And now I can’t turn my face away from her memory. I don’t want to.

Or how he dropped his work and stood there talking with me, telling me things that made me think we were finally friends and not just family. 

What is it about human connection? 

Like the day he put his little hand against my cheek and looked me in the eyes. “Nice beardage.” We laughed. 

Or the night we lay on the floor together in the house we all shared, and laughed so hard I couldn’t overthink. 

And you never know how each interaction can heal a piece of you. 

How it can give you courage. 

How a little hand against your face can convince you of divine touch.

How sharing laughter can convince you of belonging.

It’s a Saturday night and I stand on my balcony at the end of another long week of hear-say about the virus and rumours of re-opening. Everyone claps and cheers around me.

And the sound of human hope pieces me back together. 

“I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” 2 Timothy 1:4

 

Religion of the heart

I come back again and again to her Facebook post. I consider typing something mean, then something clever.

Some people would see it as their job to correct her. Others would block her. 

In the end, I do nothing.

Like I tell her over the phone on a Saturday, change has to start with me. 

But often it hasn’t.

Like when I sit across the table from her, poking at my sushi, and complain about their lack of vulnerability. 

Because that’s easier than sitting across from her and sharing my fears.

Like when I watch for his reactions on Zoom, telling him about my hatred for injustice. 

Because that’s easier than defending her in front of them.

Like I criticize celebrities for the way they spend quarantine. 

Because it’s easier than recognizing my own privilege.

Like I tell her, change has to start with me. 

And the times I’ve really changed have started in the early morning prayers in a maintenance closet, in the long jogs where I persevere to the end, in the habits I start at my desk–in a pandemic, as I spend the hours alone with everything I’m learning and dying to share. 

And maybe the best way to change is to learn more and share less. 

And maybe the best way to see the right thing happen more often is to start doing it myself. 

To grow without recognition. To fight without the spotlight. To give in secret. To pray in solitude. 

What if we stayed six feet apart forever? What would happen to our religion if it had never really happened in the heart? 

What would happen if it had? 

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” James 1:23-24

Routine hope

“I’m glad you haven’t asked me what’s new,” she laughs.

I know better than that, weeks into social distancing.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and usually I’d just be finished hiking. Usually I’d be rolling down the windows of my car and turning up the volume on the radio.

“What is your daily routine now?” she asks.

“Well first, I wake up.” We laugh.

I know it inside and out. The routine.

Like I know the old, old story. I send him a selfie with one eye closed, one half open during our Zoom discussion on the passage where Jesus dies.

It’s that moment where the future hangs in the balance, the inciting incident, the moment that changed everything, and I feel tired and want to go to bed.

“What do you think, Kate?”

I go off mute. “Sometimes the gospel feels–I just forget its impact,” I try to say.

I know it inside and out. The plot.

I walk slowly along the edge of the river as we talk about where we want to travel when this is all over. “Even if I don’t get to travel on this earth, I pray I get to travel in the New Earth,” she says.

The thought thrills me.

Like she once told me her greatest hope was to never lose curiosity.

Because the best way to close yourself off to discovery is to think that you have already arrived.

You never know what you might not know yet.

It’s the same advice he gives me for writing headlines. “Always assume there are a hundred good ideas available. You just have to wait for them to appear.”

Always assume there are limitless wonders of His available and His mercies are new every morning.

You just have to trust the familiar routine will bring them to light.

We read the passage again. I’ve read it twenty-five, maybe fifty times, and it hits me in a new way how God must have anguished over the death of His son.

Because I’ve watched him become a father, the unraveling gentleness, and the love I’ve never seen him have for any other.

On Sunday, I wake up. I’m not looking for a plot twist.

Or even the comfort of a familiar story.

I’m just looking for a curious heart to see what’s been there all along.

And what is yet to come just beyond the New Horizon.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:12

 

If only

In the middle of a pandemic, as the days grow longer, I bury myself in books and blank notebooks. I converse with C.S. Lewis over a cuppa tea at the Kilns. I hear James from across the gap of two thousand years tell me of joy in suffering. I devour histories of the civil war and the civil rights movement and mourn the loss of histories never spoken.

“I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without books,” she once told me her secret to survival. “The stories of others showed me I wasn’t alone.”

Like the wisest man in history said: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

And when the airwaves are shattered with sensational news, it’s easy to think we’re alone in a new era of suffering, that the peoples of the past never had a clue.

It’s easy to think we’re alone.

Like she tells me late one night how living in a pandemic makes it easy to get stuck in the ‘if onlys’.

If only we had kids right now, they would bring so much joy.

If only we had peace and quiet, we would be better able to endure. 

If only I didn’t have to work from home. 

If only I didn’t have to work outside the home. 

If only I had work. 

“I know I could complain if I wanted to,” she says. How will people know our struggles if we don’t?

Because in worldwide trauma, it can feel as if the only way to be seen is to scream.

In indefinite isolation, it can feel as if the only way to be happy is to be heard.

Like he heard me when I told him how I really felt, all the pent-up anger flowing into the phone. He listened and listened and listened.

Like she leaned in to meet my gaze after I disclosed the truth about myself, terrified to look her in the eyes.

And like they listened then, He listens now in the silence of isolation.

He takes my ‘if only’ and writes between the lines.

If only You could take whatever circumstance I’ve been given and fill it with meaning.

If only You could take the blank page and scratch out a story. 

If only we could learn from the past and look to the future.

And run the race for a cloud of witnesses we cannot yet see.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2