A family reunion in Guatemala: Part 2

As I explained in my last post, spending a week in the little town of Panyebar, Guatemala recently was a little like a family reunion. Our “family” of Mayan Partners supporters, ages 7 to 50+, joined a group of Guatemalans of all ages, and the results were lovely and heart-warming. Like any family though, there are complex dynamics at work and some situations feel so fluid and unresolved you can only let go and let God (hopefully) direct.

First, I’ll start with the heart-warming interactions. The kids in our group took no time at all to relate to the Guatemalan kids, despite language and cultural barriers. They played basketball and soccer and endless games of duck, duck, goose. They helped out when we painted the basketball court and made crafts with the preschoolers. I’ll never forget seeing my big 16-year-old TJ and his friend Sammy, also 16, sitting on the tiny preschool chairs helping the little kids draw animals. Between them, they came up with the Spanish words for rabbit, cow, and butterfly as they talked about the pictures. The little Guatemalan kids thought it was hilarious that Sammy had the same name as one of them. They kept repeating Sammy’s full name: “Samuel Heller, Samuel Heller…” and they laughed and laughed.

Another comical moment came when the middle school girls in the village decided to braid my boys’ hair. Starting the first day, the girls crafted intricate braids in the hair of the girls in our group. Then, the second day, they turned to the boys. Their hair was just long enough to pull into tiny braids. The very next day, TJ decided that if his hair was long enough for braids, he needed a haircut. He asked one of the villagers where to get a haircut and someone led him down the road to the one barber in town. He got the cheapest haircut of his life: $1.

One surprise was how easily my older son Miguel related to the preschool teachers we worked with, who were mostly my age. We had written to them before coming that Miguel wanted to interview them to make a documentary. But we weren’t sure if these women would open up to him. Would they want to talk on camera? How would they feel interacting with a young man? As it turned out, they were completely enthusiastic about the interviews. Miguel completed three long interviews on three consecutive afternoons and the women were open and honest, talking about their lives, hopes for the future and dreams for their children. Juana broke down in tears. Dominga told me how talking to Miguel felt like talking to her own son. I realized that for these women, who work long hours taking care of so many children, being able to express themselves as individuals was quite powerful. For Miguel, what impacted him most was their deep faith that God was good and taking care of them. (Miguel hopes to put together the film this fall.)

Beyond the laughter and joy, which dominated most of our interactions, there were other situations which reflect the complexities of rural Guatemala and our desire to be friends and not merely rich American cousins. The first day we arrived, after enjoying a festive parade and welcome ceremony, some of us climbed up to the newly completed third story of the middle school and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the village below, surrounded by lush mountains and fields. One of the teachers introduced herself. She was wearing a traditional colorful Guatemalan outfit with a feature some better-off women now sport—a smartphone tucked into her wide faja (belt). She quickly told us her dream was to live in America and work as a Spanish teacher. She is single and wants a better life for her daughter. She had tried twice to apply for a visa but had been turned down. She wondered if any of us had a WhatsApp account so she could write to us. I hesitated a bit, but gave her my address, wondering what I could really do for her. I wouldn’t want to cultivate false hopes. I have no idea how to apply for a visa, and even if she got one, I imagined making it in America would be pretty tough. Was it really worth it to leave this beautiful place? Then again, the job opportunities are so limited here, people are very poor and the village is isolated. The school is one of the only employers in town. I haven’t heard from her yet but maybe someday I will.

Another situation that left me somewhat confused happened with a former employee of the school, a woman named Flory. Flory had been a secretary at the school until a few years ago when our group and local leaders decided to implement a policy to eliminate nepotism, which had caused some problems. (Flory is the daughter-in-law of the head of the local committee that runs the school. Her husband Feric and some other teachers also had to leave the school because of the nepotism rule.) Our group reached out to Flory after she lost her job and asked her to make handicrafts for sale in the U.S. as a way to earn income. For two years, she and a group of other women made Christmas ornaments that we sold. We sent many e-mails back and forth to coordinate. Then, this year, I stopped hearing from Flory. My many e-mails went unanswered. What had happened?

Our second day in Panyebar, two of us went to Flory’s house but only found Feric, working hard behind a huge loom. It turned out that since losing his job at the school he turned to the only other industry in the village besides farming, which is weaving cloth. He said Flory was out but would be glad to speak to us and we arranged to meet with her the next day.

The next day came and Flory received us in a friendly way, but seemed a bit reserved (I later realized this was her personality). She was dressed in a purple hupil (blouse) with matching earrings and a traditional corte (skirt). I asked Flory whether she had gotten my e-mails and she simply said she hadn’t received them (she thought maybe they had been bloqueado–blocked). In any case, she now had a new address. I asked whether she still wanted to make ornaments and she told me a long story about how she now had a part-time job in another town teaching young people to make handicrafts. Finally, though, she said she would very much like to make the ornaments. I was glad to hear this but also felt unsatisfied about our communication. I had hoped for a better explanation. Why had she not written me with her new e-mail address? It’s never easy though to read people’s thoughts or motives, especially when another language and culture is involved.

The good news is, Flory and I are now in e-mail communication again. Even better, we had a subsequent good meeting in which took she me around the village to meet the women who make the ornaments. Most are young mothers, caring for small children. One spoke very little Spanish and Flory had to translate my Spanish to Quiche. As Flory and I walked between the houses, on little dirt paths, she told me of several other projects she’s involved in, such as teaching literacy classes in her home and setting up a handicraft center in Panyebar. It’s clear this is a woman with vision.

As I reflect more on my interactions with Flory and the other villagers, I realize that most of the people we met in Panyebar did, in fact, have vision. They have dreams and hopes for their lives. In that way, they are no different from us. Just how we Norteamericanos can help them in reaching those visions is an ongoing question. Thankfully, we don’t need to depend on ourselves for all the answers. Like the villagers, we have faith that God will provide and lead. More than anything, our work in Panyebar is a trust-building exercise–with each other and with God.

First steps on the path to spiritual direction

“Spiritual director? What’s that?”

I hear that question a lot when I tell friends that I have started a program to train to be a spiritual director. Most people have never heard of spiritual direction, even though it’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s understandable. Spiritual direction was a practice confined to Catholic monks and nuns for most of its history. Only in the last few decades or so has the practice been adopted by lay people and Protestants.

I was fortunate to learn about spiritual direction almost 20 years ago from my Protestant pastor. At the time she was leading a group of us at church in doing the Ignatian exercises, a 30-week period of intense study of Jesus’ life and Saint Ignatius’ writings. Over the course of the 30 weeks we met regularly one-on-one with Pastor Helen or her husband Pastor Max. The one-on-one meetings were a revelation to me. Never before had I participated in a conversation solely focused on how God was working in my life. I had been in lots of Bible studies and prayer meetings but nothing like this. To talk with someone uninterrupted for one hour about spiritual matters changed me and my whole outlook. I began to see things, even ordinary things, through spiritual lens.

Once our Ignatian group ended, so did my meetings with Helen. I could have continued I suppose, but with a baby to take care of, I didn’t think I had the time. Many years passed and I longed for the type of spiritual conversations I’d had with Helen. In the meantime Helen moved to Chicago. Then, about three years ago, as I was surfing the Internet, I came across the web page for Mercy Center, a Catholic retreat center in Burlingame. Through a program there I started meeting with a director again, and then one thing lead to another. My director moved to Seattle, I started meeting with Helen again (over Skype), and last summer I decided to apply to a program where I could study to be a spiritual director. I recently completed my first two months of training at the Journey Center in Santa Rosa.

Actually, I should say I am exploring becoming a director. The idea of directing anyone in spiritual matters is daunting. I don’t feel like a spiritual giant or mentor. I am not particularly rigorous about my faith nor do I feel like I pray enough, read the Bible enough or practice charity enough (unless you consider lavishing attention on my pets charity). I like to think I’m a good listener, however, and this is a key component of spiritual direction. Mostly the director offers a sacred space and listens deeply to the directee, It’s a type of listening we don’t often encounter in everyday life.

Here’s how my last session with my director started:

First, my director lit a candle and prayed that the Holy Spirit would be present in our conversation.

Director: What would you like to talk about today?

Me: There are so many things, I’m not sure.

Director: Well, how is your writing going?

Me: Oh, I feel like I’ve hit some roadblocks.

Director: Tell me about these roadblocks.

Me: Well, I wanted to write an article about grandparents so I decided to call some people–my aunts and uncles and brother-in-law–to interview them. But I kept putting it off. I think I feel shy about calling myself a writer and enlisting others to take part in that.

Director: So, how could you move past these roadblocks?

Me: I don’t know.


Me: Well, encouragement from other people helps. I could talk to other writers I know.

Director: You could do that. But tell me more about the roadblocks. Can you go around them or over them?

Me: I was thinking over.


Me: Actually, this reminds me of a roadblock I encountered before I started the spiritual direction program. I was talking with a friend of my father’s, a man who works in a seminary and has been in Christian circles his whole life and he didn’t know what spiritual direction was. I was so surprised. I realized then that if I pursued this direction thing I would have to explain it a lot. But in a strange way that made me more zealous about doing this. I really want people to understand it, maybe even try it.

Director: I hear that word zeal. Is that something you need in your writing too?

Me: Yes, I think I need to feel like my writing is important, that I have something worthwhile to say. I need to be zealous about it.

It’s notable that neither my director nor I mentioned God directly in that conversation. Instead, before beginning we asked God to be present, to direct the conversation. In fact, these conversations don’t happen in an isolated way, as no conversation does. The word “roadblock” was on my mind because another friend had used that word a few days earlier describing her own struggles. And “zealous”—that may have been lurking in my mind because my Bible reading that morning was about the apostle Stephen, one of the more zealous apostles. Perhaps spiritual direction is a place where all our percolating thoughts get mixed together and graced by God’s spirit to help us move forward, sort of like a purposeful dream.

While I don’t know for sure if I’ll become a spiritual director, the program has so far borne fruits, even in the first two months. For example, we learned about praying the “examen,” a prayer that helps you look back over each day and consider God’s movement in your life. While the examen wasn’t new to me, I learned two new aspects: one, identifying something you are proud of during the last day, and two, naming something you need God’s help with the following day. I’ve added those two components and it’s been good. Some days I initially feel like there’s not much to be proud of, but after a few minutes, God always brings something to mind, even if it’s something small. Praying about the next day has helped me take initiative in some areas I would have ignored. Some are spiritual; some are mundane. Two nights ago during prayer I realized I was really missing practicing Spanish. I prayed that the next day I would have the discipline to listen to a Spanish podcast I’d recently discovered. I made a point to do that the next day and ended up listening to two podcasts!

Another fruit of the program has been reading thoughtful books about prayer and the practice of listening. In one book I discovered a wonderful prayer written by Hafiz, a fourteenth-century Sufi mystic and poet:

In the morning
When I began to wake,
It happened again—
That feeling
That You, Beloved,
Had stood over me all night
Keeping watch,
That feeling
That as soon as I began to stir
You put Your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp
Inside my heart.

Is the God of the universe watching over us even as we sleep? Most days I wholeheartedly believe this. But there is infinite mystery in this and I’m a long way from understanding it. If I listen closely, though, to my life and to others’, I begin to see the outline of God’s movements. Seeing this more clearly is my hope in becoming a spiritual director.

What I want for Christmas


When I was a child, the month of December seemed to pass so slowly. I would count the days until Christmas and it seemed to take forever. I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning when my brother and I would get up early, rush to the Christmas tree and tear open the presents. What special gifts would be waiting there? In the picture above I am wearing overalls I got for Christmas when I was 10. I really wanted those overalls. I was serious about the overalls. I wore them every day for two weeks straight, right into January. It’s like that with kids and their favorite gifts.

These days the Christmas season rushes by. Thanksgiving is over and suddenly it’s Christmas season. Time to buy a tree. Time to decorate the house. Time to buy gifts. As an adult, there doesn’t seem to be time to fit in all the errands, shopping and preparations. In the background linger all the voices that tell you what you should be doing. Maybe this is the year you should write your Christmas letter early (if at all) or this is the year you should put up those Christmas lights languishing in the basement. So many shoulds can take the joy right out of the holiday. It’s a challenge to quiet the shoulds and live in the present moment.

That Christmas when I was 10 I had my first “boyfriend.” He was a cute strawberry blonde with freckles. A few weeks before Christmas break he gave my best friend a little folded up piece of paper for me. It said, “Will you go steady? Mike” Only a few of the cool kids were going steady so I was flattered. I wrote “yes” below the question and sent it back to him. I hardly knew him and we didn’t talk after our note exchange. Then Christmas break came and I forgot about him until one day he arrived at my door with a gift. I was so embarrassed when my mother told me there was a boy to see me that I refused to come to the door. He left the gift with my mother. I later opened the gift and it was a set of Snoopy stationery. I loved it and kept it for many years, unused in a drawer. After Christmas break I returned to school and saw Mike again. I don’t remember whether I thanked him for the gift, but I must have, considering I was always taught to thank people. One day a few weeks later it was rainy and we had to stay inside for lunch. The kids were restless. Pretty soon some of the kids decided to play truth or dare. To my horror, they dared Mike to kiss me. Not only did I not want to kiss Mike, I hated being the center of attention. Instinctively I ran under a table and hid. Everyone laughed. That was the end of our going steady.

With the small boyfriend drama behind me I could turn to my interests at the time, which included dressing up my miniature Schnauzer in old baby clothes and playing superballs with my friend Kim. I still have the album of photos I made of my dog in various outfits. I don’t have the shoebox of brightly colored superballs, but I trust some other kid somewhere is having fun with those. Kids generally have such simple interests and I take that as a lesson today. Yes, I do have adult responsibilities, but I can still savor simple things. In fact, in light of my responsibilities and the shoulds, I need to savor simple things. Simple things today can mean adding a little egg nog to my morning coffee or writing a little extra in my journal. At the top of my Christmas list is a “frother,” so I can froth milk to make foam for my coffee. Next is a new leather moleskin journal and some nice pencils. Simple pleasures to enjoy the moment.

Of course, what I really want for Christmas these days will not come as a present under the tree. It’s what most of us want—a happy family, good health, fulfilling projects—and perhaps a dash of adventure. One of my most memorable recent Christmases contained almost all of that in a comical way. All four of us, my husband and two sons, had driven out to Salt Lake City, Utah a few days after Christmas to celebrate the holidays with my brother and his family. We had a great time sitting around talking, watching movies and sledding on a nearby hill. The snow-covered Utah mountains were beautiful and a nice change of scenery from the Bay Area. For reasons I don’t remember, we left on New Year’s Eve to make the l2-hour drive back to Berkeley. We passed through the frozen Salt Flats and then crossed the desolate Utah/Nevada border where you can drive 50 to 100 miles without seeing a town. Just after speeding by Winnemucca, Nevada, the halfway point of our trip, our car began to making sputtering noises and losing power. Panicked, we pulled off to the side of the road and called AAA. Fortunately we were just miles outside of Winnemucca and a driver came fairly quickly. We were towed back to town and found out that our car’s timing belt had broken. The bad news was that, since this was a holiday, they wouldn’t be able to get the part for our car until January 2. We were effectively stuck in Winnemucca for three days! A little dejected, we checked into the Winnemucca Hotel, which boasted its own small casino and restaurant. We drove our loaner car around the town (which took about 2 minutes) and cheered a little when we saw there was actually a movie theater (playing the Muppet Movie) and a Basque restaurant. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. As it turned out, we spent a very happy couple of days in Winnemucca. Besides our outing to the movie theater and Basque restaurant, we sat in our little hotel room watching bad TV shows, writing thank you notes on Winnemucca postcards and reading and rereading “Of Mice and Men,” which my son had in his backpack. It seemed that time had stopped.

I don’t know exactly what Christmas will bring this year but as long as I have loved ones near I expect it will be good. I just hope time will slow down enough to enjoy all the right moments.

PostScript: Last summer we stayed at the Winnemucca Hotel for a night on our way to a family reunion in Colorado. We reminisced about being stuck there a few years back. There was no time for a movie or a Basque meal but I have a feeling we’ll be back again.

Consolation, desolation and the election

burning_candles_in_the_dark_199518For the last few years I’ve followed an ancient practice of the church, the daily prayer of the examen. Conceived by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500s, the prayer of the examen has enjoyed a popular resurgence in recent years as people search for new (or old) ways to connect with God. The examen involves prayerfully examining your day and looking for points of “consolation” and “desolation.” Consolation may be a point in the day when you felt most grateful while desolation may be the point in the day when you felt least grateful. Another way to look at it is when in the day you most felt God’s presence versus when in the day you least felt his presence. I’ve found it to be a helpful and encouraging tool as I bring before God both my thankfulness and neediness.

This last week since the election I’ve felt both consolation and desolation. My feelings of desolation are not surprising, and they look like classic desolation—a mixture of hopelessness and despair. I ask, how can a man who has said so many hateful, thoughtless and damaging things possibly be our next president? How could so many people look past these dangerous statements and still vote for him? Moreover, how can so many people who share my faith think so differently than me? There is no ready “fix” for desolation. I simply bring to God my heaviness of heart, my fears for the future and my grief for the present. I believe God can bear my burden (“love bears all things” Corinthians 13:8). I take comfort in the fact that Jesus himself lived in an oppressive time, contending with an all-powerful Roman government, and he understands my despair.

I don’t really want to write about desolation though. What I want to write about is consolation. Because even in times of hardship, God supplies consolation. Despite what I perceive as bad news, God finds a way to bring moments of grace and blessing. One of the blessings of this post-election season have been some of the honest, heartfelt conversation I’ve had with people. There is a genuine interest in discerning how to best shape our future. How can we get involved to stop potential injustices and support the changes we want to see? I see people online calling their representatives in congress and signing petitions. This seems to be a first step to what could be a larger movement of activism. I’ve never been a particularly political person, but I feel hopeful, maybe even energized, as I consider how I can get involved.

What will God do with all this? What I do know is that God works at a very personal level to encourage us on whatever path we are on. Recently at work a woman named Judy joined our staff. She sits next to me and about a month ago we began to eat lunch together. At first glance, I thought Judy and I had little in common. She is twenty years older and single, with no kids. With the election season at hand, however, Judy and I discovered we shared similar views and it was a great “consolation” to process the news of the day with her. Several nights, when I prayed the examen, I thanked God for the consolation of my new friend Judy and our conversations.

In a more dramatic way, God consoles through healing. One of the harder conversations I had after the election was with a family member on the other side of the fence. It would have been easy to dispatch quickly with the election results in our conversation, but I made a point to tell him how truly sad and disappointed I was. He said he was sorry about this and asked me why I was so disappointed. We proceeded to have a calm, honest conversation about the election. We ended by both saying we loved one another. We can’t heal all the divisions everywhere, but it’s a start to face the ones right in front of you.

I’d be dishonest to say that my consolations don’t sometimes get overwhelmed by my desolations. It’s easy to feel like any small efforts (like calling a congressperson) or even bigger efforts (like volunteering for an immigrants support group) won’t amount to much when compared with the juggernaut of power our president and his advisers will command. I wish I could say I had an answer to deal with this type of discouragement. Simple platitudes and Bible verses don’t always help much. I can only say that I must be a person of integrity and do whatever small or large thing is asked of me. In the meantime, I’ll keep praying the prayer of the examen nightly. In this crazy and tumultuous time I need more space for reflection and quiet than ever. And every day, I commit to seeing God’s consolation.



Reflections after the Paris attacks


My first thought when I heard about the Paris attacks on Friday was of my children. What kind of world was this that they would have to live in? Would these kinds of attacks become more and more frequent? Would they become as commonplace in Europe,as they already are in the Middle East? How could my children live and thrive in such a violent world? If I had to do it all over again, that is, have children, would I still do so in today’s world? I had to pause and think about it. So much has changed in the last 18 years since my first son was born.

My children were 4 and 1 when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center. I still remember sitting at the kitchen table with them having breakfast when my husband returned unexpectedly from a meeting. He had heard the news and instinctively came back home to be with us and tell us about it. We turned on the TV and saw the image of the crash replayed over and over. I don’t remember what we told the kids about the events or even if we let them watch TV. The truth is, 911 shook up my husband’s and my world, which had never seen this kind of attack before, but for our children, the effect was different. They had no point of comparison. They didn’t know 911 was so impactful. For them now, there is no pre-911 world.

Since 911 there have been countless terrorist attacks in many places, from a hotel in Mumbai to a shopping center in Nairobi to the city streets of Beirut to a train station in Madrid. Unfortunately, these attacks, combined with the many acts of gun violence we witness each year in the United States, has made our world a scarier place. The effects on my children’s world are subtle. After the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012 for instance, their school hired a security guard for the parking lot and installed a camera and buzzer for the front door. Thankfully we haven’t been affected personally by any of these events, but it’s impossible to escape the ever-present images of violent carnage and the caustic debates about gun ownership. Ironically, this violence even seeps into play time. One of my sons loves video games and many of his games feature shoot ‘em up type activity. One such popular game, called Counter-Strike, pits terrorists against counter-terrorists. It’s a little too realistic in my opinion, but when we’ve talked about it he assures me it’s just a game. Two seconds later, he switches to a game in which he’s a virtual teradactyl swooping through a jungle and seems just as immersed in this world.

Where do we look for hope amidst the darkness? I found it very hopeful that the day after the Paris attacks, people were out in the streets talking about the need to carry on life as usual and present a united front. In the same way, we need to celebrate all the acts of courage we see in the world. They are all around us. My retired neighbor, for instance, volunteers as an ESL teacher in inner-city Richmond. I’m sure my kids don’t know this. Wouldn’t it be great to invite her to dinner and have her share her experiences? My nephew JP is currently in Nepal, volunteering his time to help rebuild communities destroyed by the earthquake. It would be great to invite him over as well and hear his stories. I can probably think of dozens more people doing good in the world. For every terrorist there are many more good-hearted, courageous people.

As I write this, it is almost the time of advent, the month leading up to Christmas. As a Christian I am called to pause and reflect on the miracle of Jesus’ birth. God sent his son into a world that was marked by violence and war, much like our own. The Romans were brilliant but also ruthless. Indeed, just days after Jesus was born his family had to flee to Egypt because Herod had issued a decree ordering all baby boys in Bethlehem killed. Jesus spent his first five years as a refugee in Egypt. (That’s a point we should remember in debates about welcoming refugees.) In any case, God sent his son with a very specific mission. One of his chief motives was to give us an example of how to live a loving life. Even if you are not a Christian, Jesus’ life is inspiring, filled with acts of wisdom and kindness. He went as far as loving his enemies, even asking for God to forgive his persecutors as he died on the cross.

My prayer this year is that my sons (and myself) can live such a loving life. Despite the violence and hate around us, I pray for courage to face each day with hope and love and also opportunities to recognize those that are already doing good around us. In fact, one goal of my blog this coming year is to highlight the stories of outstanding people. We need more stories of hope to counter despair. And my boys need to hear the abundant good in the world today.


The Persistence of God

When my brother was a teenager he badly wanted a mountain bike. He pestered my parents continuously to buy him a fancy bike. At the time, the mid-‘80s, mountain bikes were a fairly new phenomena. A few adventurous souls had pioneered the sport of mountain biking on nearby Mount Tamalpias and soon kids and adults were zooming down firetrails on bikes outfitted with fat tires and special brakes. My brother wanted to be one of them.

My mom still recalls how my brother didn’t let up the pressure over the course of several months. He kept asking about the mountain bike. He wouldn’t settle for no, even though the bikes cost hundreds of dollars. Finally, one weekend my brother and my dad went camping and the weather was cold and drizzly. Feeling a little bad, my dad gave into my brother’s pressure and stopped off at a bike shop on the way home. He bought a top-of-the-line Stumpjumper, which my brother still owns.

Thinking of this story recently, I realized that persistence can be a pretty good thing. It turned out well for my brother. Of course teenagers who want toys aren’t the only ones with persistence. God can be just as persistent as a teenager. It’s just that God doesn’t want material things. He doesn’t need things. He’s interested in people and in using people to be his hands and feet in the world. Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible are people who resisted God’s persistence. They were unlikely leaders in the first place and if God had not persisted in calling them, they would not have been the heroes they turned out to be.

Moses is one such hero. When we think of Moses we think of a spiritual giant. But when God first sought out Moses, he was a fugitive hiding out from the law. How did he get to be in such a precarious position? At the time Moses was born, the Pharaoh had issued a decree that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. The Egyptians were concerned that the Hebrews had become too numerous and strong. Moses’ mother put him in a straw basket and placed him in the Nile. The Pharaoh’s daughter heard the cries of Moses and rescued him. Perhaps God had even chosen Moses at this point. Later, when Moses was a young man, he saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave. Moses lashed out and killed the Egyptian. He then fleed for his life, ending up in a neighboring land tending sheep. It was there that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He tells Moses he has heard the cry of his people, the Israelites, and that he will send Moses to Pharaoh to ask for their release. Moses is afraid and questions God. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Three more times in the space of two chapters, Moses questions God’s plan. First, Moses says he doesn’t know how to name God when talking to the people. God says to simply call him “I AM” or “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Next Moses asks what will happen if the people don’t believe him. God answers by turning Moses’ staff into a snake then back into a staff and says this will be a sign to the people. Finally Moses says he is not a good speaker: “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” God assures him he will teach him what to speak. But Moses pleads, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” God is angry but he still wants to use Moses. He tells Moses he will use Moses’ brother Aaron to be the voice. Moses went on to do great things for God, but only after God persisted in calling him.

Another classic example of a reluctant leader pursued by God is Jonah. When Jonah hears God’s call asking him to deliver a message to the people of Nineveh, he flees. He boards a boat going the other direction, but God catches up with him. He causes a fierce storm and the men on the boat wonder who could be the cause of such bad luck. Jonah finally admits that he is responsible and they throw him off the boat. God might leave Jonah to die in the choppy waters but instead he sends a great fish to swallow him up. Jonah survives the ordeal and finally makes it to Nineveh, telling them, “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Surprisingly, the people of Nineveh repent and God decides not to destroy them. Jonah responds with anger. He seems to tell God, “Why did you make me come here if you were going to relent?” Again, God could abandon Jonah here and let him simmer in his anger, but he doesn’t. In the next scene we see Jonah sitting outside Nineveh, trying to get relief from the hot sun. God causes a bush to grow up over Jonah, to give him shade, and Jonah is ecstatic. The next morning, however, God sends a worm to eat up the bush and Jonah is so angry he wants to die. God then points out that if Jonah can get upset about a simple bush dying, God can certainly be concerned about the survival of a city with thousands of people like Nineveh. God is trying to explain to Jonah his actions. In both Jonah’s case and Moses’ case, God didn’t really need their help. He could have accomplished his goals without them. For some reason though, God wants to use humans, no matter how flawed or resistant they may be.

Maybe God uses us and pursues us simply because he likes us. Isn’t that why we often pursue relationships with people in our lives? Recently, my son Miguel got his first job. He had thought briefly about getting a job when he turned 16, but it wasn’t a high priority. He was busy with school, sports and friends. However, a good friend of his, Rey, kept talking to him about working with him at his restaurant. Apparently it was not enough that Rey and Miguel spent most Friday and Saturday nights together playing and watching soccer, their passion, Rey wanted my son to join him at the restaurant too. Miguel went back and forth on it. Finally, one day Rey texted him from the restaurant: “We really need help. We’re shorthanded. Come down today and I’ll train you.” Then a few minutes later he texted again, “Please come.” So just like that, without even an interview with the boss, my son started working. Rey’s persistence paid off.

I could use a little more persistence in my life. I have dreams and goals I don’t ever seem to accomplish. There’s the book I want to write, the exercise routine I want to stick to or the friendships I want to pursue. I have felt God nudge me toward things but sometimes I wish he would use the same pressure he did with Moses and Jonah. Sometimes I think I’d like to see more clarity: a burning bush or a call to go to “Nineveh.” In reality, though, I realize most things worth getting in life take patience and perseverance. After all, Moses spent the next 40 years wandering around in the desert, leading his wayward people. I imagine that every day was an exercise in trust for Moses. He had to trust that God would provide direction to the Promised Land, not to mention basics like food and water.

Perhaps trust is the key here—trust that God does have our best interests at heart and that he will not give up on us.  We all have a “Promised Land,” a place we hope to go. What is yours? No doubt God is involved in your journey. That is an awe-inspiring fact, that the God of Moses and Jonah should also be involved with us. As author Brennan Manning says: “We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”