The Surprise in Service & a Book Review: "Four Souls"
A quick update on my lungs: I had a PET Scan yesterday. I've had many scans but the PET was a new one for me. My doctors are still trying to find the underlying cause of these bad blood vessels. Why is my body making them? And why is it making them so fast?
My gut says there are no answer to those questions and this scan isn't going to change a thing. Like so many other things that have failed in my body, these vessels will be written up in a white paper somewhere. Slides of my tissues will be preserved and viewed by medical students. But no answers will be found. That doesn't upset me at all. It's just how things have always gone for me. That said, I'm a good little patient, so when they say, go get a new scan, I say, "ok."
My friend Christine told me the cutest story this week.
Back in February, my friends Christine and Kristen came to my house to deep clean my bedroom before I returned home from the hospital. They had met before but were still new to each other. Linked by my friendship with each of them separately, they started to build their own friendship as they dusted and vacuumed my home.
At one point, after they had washed all my bed linens, they had my big down comforter in their hands and... a quandary. They literally stood on the side of my bed with the same thought in each head: what's the protocol for making someone else's bed?
"I usually stand in the middle of my bed when I put my comforter on," Christine said.
"That's what I do!" Kristen laughed.
So.... is it ok to stand on someone else's bed? Is there a loophole if you are making their bed as an act of service?
That moment, laughing in my bedroom, with my comforter in their hands and shoes off their feet, was the beginning of their own friendship.
Service does that. It breaks down little barriers to building community. Serving others brings its own surprise of satisfaction, joy and friendship.
Service and Friendship
Service and Friendship are two main themes in the book I just finished, Four Souls. It's a true story of the journey four young men made together the year after they graduated Westmont, a small Christian college in Santa Barbara, California. Mike, Matt, Jedd and Trey decided to go search for "epic life," as they called it, by traveling around the world serving others and sharing the gospel. They kept journals of their adventures, the people they met and served and the questions they wrestled with. When the year was over, they put their notes together to write this book.
So, ok, it's not a literary wonder. But it is so good. Why do I love it so much? Because it is authentic. These aren't made-up scenarios of moral and ethical dilemmas. Not a cheesy movie with unbelievable spiritual-conversation set-ups. They are real-life situations that these men faced when they stepped out of their comfort zones.
Is it ok for a Christian to smuggle Bibles? What's the right response to a demand for a bribe in a corrupt country? Should a missionary accept an offer of a few days of relaxing/vacationing that is given as a gift in love? Why do people with less or nothing seem to be more content than Americans with everything? These are just a few of the questions the guys wrestled with during their travels.
They set out to learn what it would look like to live all-out for Jesus. To take every circumstance as an opportunity from God to serve Him, speak for Him or learn from Him. And in the end, they got what they were looking for.
Starting in Mexico, they traveled to Russia, India (where they volunteered at Mother Theresa's mission, Sisters of Charity in Calcutta), Bangladesh, Vietnam and more. They learned that different cultures value different things. And even if that's maddening for an American, that doesn't make it wrong.
"They don't see efficiency as that high of a value."
"I can respect that, I guess," Jedd continued. "I know I get too caught up in wanting to be efficient sometimes. Still, it would just seem logical to use whatever tools you could to love the greatest number of people."
"They probably see it as quality over quantity."
"I don't see how those two are mutually exclusive."
"They aren't always, but I don't think our responsibility as Christians is necessarily to love the greatest number of people possible. We just need to do a good job loving the people we are supposed to love, whether that's a big number or a small number."
That conversation has been rattling around in my brain. Is sharing my story to the most people the goal God has given me? Or is it to simply share my story to those He sends to listen? Trusting that the right people are hearing the right words, because they are the words He has given me. That whole idea has freed me to really be present with the people I am with. If more people read my blog and hear my story, the story God planned for me, fine. Great. But I'm not focusing on that. I'm focusing on the sweet lady who sits next to me at the office. (Love ya, Jen!) And the friend who sent me a text last week because my blog prepared her for a surprise diagnosis of colon cancer. I'm just going to love on the ones He brings into my path. And love them well.
The guys repeatedly marveled at the contentment they witnessed in the people they met. People living in corrupt countries. People living in isolation. People living under the threat of persecution. People alive with hope and joy.
"On this trip, we have seen many a man who sleeps on the floor of his home and toils in the fields from morning to night, but he considers himself rich because his family does not lack for food to eat.
I hope the perspective this trip is giving me will help me be more content -- especially as I remember the poverty and struggles so many face and contrast it to my life as an American.
The way we feel about life depends not on the way things actually are so much as on how we view them. A thankful, positive attitude -- like Trey has most of the time -- continually shapes the world we see into something good. I hope I can become more that way."
At the end of the book, the guys discuss if it is possible to keep their new found perspectives. They decide, yes, that looking to serve others and seeing life as an unending line of God-given opportunities can happen anywhere in the world, even in America.
"As I witnessed the excitement of our Vietnamese brothers at the Bibles we brought, I was struck by how often I take God's Word for granted. They were gleeful, almost ecstatic. I sometimes see reading the Bible as a less-than-thrilling duty, and forget that its teachings are revolutionary enough to be forbidden by Vietnamese, Chinese, and many other government regimes.
I must never lose sight of what a wonderful thing it is that the God who set the stars in their places and carved the depths of the oceans desires to communicate with us. Whenever I choose, I can read His thoughts, gain His instruction, and learn His ways. What a wonderful privilege! May I never see the Bible just as another book, but as a life-changing opportunity to grow in rleationship With God."
Perhaps the best part of the book is that it is written by four VERY different men. So, I think everyone can relate to one of them and what they struggled with. For example:
Trey is the world traveler. The one who is most flexible and least uncomfortable in each new culture. He is the adventure-seeker.
Jedd is the natural-born leader. He speaks the most often for the group. Yet he also struggles the most with the moral dilemmas they faced.
Mike is the stereotypical SoCal surfer boy. In many ways, he made it through the trials they faced with the least discomfort. He's just laid back and takes what comes with faith that things will work out.
Matt is the worrier. He likes to play it safe, so traveling with a loose agenda and an uncertain budget made the entire year a test of his faith.
Find the one you are most like and learn from him.
Acknowledging that the trip would be a challenge like they've never experienced before, and that it would likely bring out the worst in each of them, they made a commitment to meeting together at night, every night, for a time of confession and reconciliation. They talked through every annoyance and hurt then asked for forgiveness. Every. Single. Night. That practice is maybe my favorite part of the book. It comes up over and over again as God puts them in situations to refine them. Iron sharpens iron has never been more beautiful.
I loved this book. It made me laugh. It made me uncomfortable. It made me think. The very best kind of book.
I found my copy of Four Souls at the library. Buy you can read a free digital copy here.