Days 1-10

Day 10: "Love happens and we talk together."

"And that is what he wants his disciples to experience: fellowship, friendship, and presence of the Father, the exact sort of thing that Jesus experiences in prayer."

—From Ch. 10 ("Second) of Jesus Journey

I have a confession to make. I didn’t read Jesus Journey in forty days—I read it in two. Because I'm Trent’s older sister.

You read things differently when you know the author (and I mean, really know the author!). I remember the funny, magical moments Trent writes about in his book, and I remember many of the moments when Trent had revelations or transformations in his life. 

In families, when one is transformed, God’s goodness and faithfulness flows freely, and all who around will most likely be touched as well.  God’s just like that.  He loves families, and I'm so grateful for mine.

Trent begins chapter eleven with a love story about Bronwyn—what a curious way to start a chapter about Jesus' prayer life!  But the older I become (I turned forty-five just a few days ago, and I’m getting wrinkles and gray hair now), the more I find myself focusing on love. 

Loving my husband, Mark; loving my precious children; loving my parents; loving my brothers, Tré and Trent, and their amazing wives, Tori and Bronwyn; loving those who feel unlovable; loving my enemies; loving my extended family; and, at the center of it all, loving my dear Jesus.  I’ve always been opinionated (to a fault many times), but I find that if I love Jesus more, and love others more, my opinions don’t necessarily change…they just don’t matter as much to me. 

“Fellowship, friendship and presence” with the Father are the words Trent uses when he describes Jesus’ desire for his disciples in prayer.  Those are “love” words, aren’t they?

I love Jesus and I need Jesus, desperately.  So I talk with him in prayer because I don’t know how to live my life without him—without his words, his direction, his answers.  I need Jesus to lead me to the embrace of the Father. 

Life can become so confusing at times, and I worry about my children too much, so I need the Father to speak to me about their lives, their futures, and to calm me down.  I need the comfort of Holy Spirit to sustain me. In prayer, “love” happens and we talk together. 

We discuss my little world and God's good plans for it.  We talk about the lives of others, and how they are hurting or confused or desperate for love to encounter them as well.  

Sometimes, these prayer-conversations happen when I’m driving down the street, or when I’m cooking dinner for my family.  Sometimes, they happen when I’m on my knees early in the morning or in the middle of the night.  Sometimes, they happen when I’m angry, or happy, when I’m feeling deflated or excited, or when I hear bad news about others, about children who are hurting and hungry. 

But, these prayer-conversations happen on a regular basis because I love Him and He loves me and I need Him and, incredibly, He wants to use me (and you too…just think about that!) to create and extend and give more love to the world—“fellowship, friendship, and presence” all around. 

"Fellowship, friendship, and presence” often begins with a simple conversation, but there’s so much more at work than just a conversation. I thank God for that, because when I’m going about my work, or when I'm cleaning the house, or when I'm ironing a piece of clothing for my kids, and I'm talking with and listening to God in prayer at the same time, I’m so glad that I’m not just going through the routine of life!

No, I’m loving God in that moment, and God is loving me in that moment, and in His supernatural way our fellowship together is somehow—one prayer-conversation, one love-step at a time—changing the world around me.

I can’t get my head around the wonder and greatness of the simplicity of prayer, but I do know this…I have a lot of work to do today and there is no way I’m going to face it without His fellowship, His friendship, and His presence.  I just can’t. 

You see, I need God's love, and I’m in awe that He wants mine.

Today's guest post is by my one-and-only big sister, Krista (Sheppard) Harris, whom I've lovingly called "Sta" since I was about two years old: "I love all things family! My husband, Mark, and I long for wholeness and happiness in families, in children, and in marriages. We work hard to do 'family' the way God intended it to be done. Sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s difficult, but we love sharing our insight of twenty years of marriage and almost sixteen years of raising children. We hope to create a space (in-life and online) for others to learn and grow about God's good intentions for family—so that generations upon generations of children can know and experience the love of God through mother and fathers loving them well, and loving each other beautifully."

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 9: "I stepped into a season of hiddenness."

"After this one unusual episode at age twelve, it is not until Jesus is thirty years old that we meet him again. The eighteen years in between are 'hidden.'"

—From Ch. 9 ("Self-Aware") of Jesus Journey

As a white, North American Christian growing up in the twentieth century, there was no symbolic rite of passage celebrating or acknowledging my transition from childhood into adulthood.

However, I can think of a number of significant events that many of us would consider to be “transition moments”—moments that ushered us from one significant phase of life into another: graduating from high school and then from university, getting married, beginning a career, obtaining a master’s and/or doctoral degree, having a child, etc.

Whether on this list or not, I’m sure each of us could think back on our lives and recall moments when we felt we were leaving behind an old version of ourselves to step into a bigger, better, more “grown up” version of ourselves.

And with each of these transition moments comes the expectations—from both ourselves and others—as to what this new version of ourselves should look like, what we should now be doing, who we should now be. But seriously, no pressure at all, right?!?

I can’t help but wonder how young Jesus felt as he was heading back home with his parents after his unusual experience in the Temple described in chapter nine of Jesus Journey. As Trent pointed out, the three days he spent there likely marked a very significant moment in Jesus’ life as a twelve-year-old Jewish boy. He was stepping into his manhood, becoming aware of his own unique identity and calling, separate from that of his parents.

And yet, Jesus returns home with his parents that day to begin the longest stretch of his life—eighteen years!—of which we know the least about. When it seems young Jesus is more certain of his calling than ever before, his response is not the beginning of his public ministry, but rather eighteen years of silence, hiddenness.

I recently completed my graduate studies, another transition moment in my life. As a healthcare practitioner, I was certain I would finish my studies and continue on in my journey of “saving the world”—one patient, one woman, one child at a time. I jest, but in some ways I’m also serious.

I felt a true and genuine invitation from God to pursue studies in nursing, specifically maternal/child health, more than fifteen years ago now. I completed my undergraduate degree, and then worked as an obstetric nurse for six years before going back to school to complete my graduate studies. My years of graduate school were intense, they were grueling, but I felt sure they were further preparing me to step more deeply into my calling. 

So with my Super Woman cape on, I graduated… and with all the expectations of what this new version of myself should look like, should do, should be, I stepped into a season of hiddenness.

The past two-and-a-half years have been years of silence, of hiddenness for me. I feel like I have so much more to offer the world than changing diapers/nappies and kissing "ow-ies" when my little girl hurts herself, and yet I know that this is some of the most sacred and holy work I will ever do. I am “Mom” to the most amazing little two-year old girl you ever could imagine, and now my husband and I are newly expecting another little human as well!

It is the greatest gift of my life to be a mom, but I also feel more hidden, more unseen than ever before. Like Jesus’ years twelve to thirty, if someone were writing about my life, these would likely be the years you’d know the least about...

I’ve had some hard, bad days in this season. I’ve asked God some very loaded questions. And I can’t help but wonder if Jesus may have done the same.

Like me, did Jesus question if he had heard God correctly; did he wonder if he’d still have what it takes when his season of hiddenness was over; did he ever feel like he wasn't living up to the potential of his calling during his hidden years? I have to imagine he had some difficult days working for eighteen years as a craftsman, assuming he knew his ultimate calling was that of Messiah.

But that’s just the thing…Jesus was no less Messiah during those years of hiddenness than during his years of public ministry—just as we are no less of who God has made us and called us to be in our seasons of hiddenness.

We may know very little about Jesus’ life during those eighteen years, but Abba saw them all, all of Jesus’ hidden days…just as He sees ours.

I’ve come to the place where I (mostly) believe that now, and I don’t want to wish this season away.  Rather, like Jesus, I want to find Abba in the hiddenness of these very ordinary—but no less holy—days.

Today's guest post is by Sarah Bryce:  Sarah and her husband Joel were housemates and later neighbors of Bronwyn and Trent in East Boston, and they were also part of the Ekklesia Eastie church family before moving to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2014. Sarah is a former Labor and Delivery Nurse, and is now a (non-practicing) Family Nurse Practitioner with a Master’s Degree in Public Health. She is passionate about maternal/child health, and is currently living that out in the very day-to-day, ordinary experience of being a full-time mom to her daughter Victoria.

Image credits: "girl with plant"—Edgar Buenas / "woman at ocean" & "girl at ocean"—Chelsea Hudson

Day 8: "Sibling rivalry is as old as humanity."

When it comes to family ties, especially those that have been severely strained and even broken, you can't always figure out each and every part of what went wrong.  Sometimes, you've just got to cover it with a whole lot of love instead.

-From Ch. 8 ("Family Ties") of Jesus Journey

Reading through chapter eight in Trent's book brought back memories. Unlike many of the readers of Jesus Journey, I've had the privilege of meeting and getting to know all the members of the Sheppard family.

In fact, I was actually working with Trent when the 'nappy burial' ceremony described in chapter eight took place. (By the way, just in case you're wondering, a 'diaper' is called a 'nappy' here in the UK.)

I never could really understand why these two incredible, talented, charismatic, and godly brothers were having such a hard time understanding one another—I was part of sharing in some of that pain, and it was painful. So it is encouraging to read Trent's reflections this many years later and to know that he and his brother Tré are in such a good place, and that their friend Rod Smith's input made a positive difference in their lives.

How does all this connect with the humanity of God embodied in Jesus?

Sibling rivalry is as old as humanity. For example, we have the story of the first siblings in the world, Cain and Abel, and their relationship going terribly wrong (Gen. 4). Then there is the complex family dynamics in Jacob's household, particularly the rivalry between Joseph and his brothers who wanted him dead and finally sold him into slavery (Gen. 37). Jesus would have grown-up reading these stories, and perhaps even thinking about them as he dealt with unique family dynamics in his own home.

Maybe Jesus and his brother or cousin had to share food and clothes, and sort out whose responsibility it was to do particular household chores. Siblings have a way of getting under your skin, and Jesus surely was confronted by these day-in and day-out facts and frustrations of life.

The question I asked myself as I read through this chapter is this: how did Jesus deal with these live-wire family situations as both son of Joseph and Son of his Father in heaven?

I have a twin sister and a younger brother. We are a very close family but at times family ties haven't been easy. I won't go into details but this chapter really challenged me.

What would Jesus do in my situation?

As Trent explains we don't know much of the details of the interaction between the risen Jesus and James. In that sense, we are denied 'prescriptive solutions' to family problems because of this absence of information.

But what we can be sure about is that Jesus was no exception in having to deal with the struggles and demands inherent in family life.

Remarkably, these struggles were part of his own journey toward maturity—and therefore he is able to help us when family relations become difficult and we don't know what to do.

Today's guest post is by Philip Powell: Philip is the Training Director at in Cambridge, England. He was born in Chennai, India, and has lived in the UK since 1998 (when he and Trent first shared an Indian meal together!).  Philip has traveled to more than thirty countries speaking about global justice issues. His master's degree is in International Relations, and Philip has years of experience doing advocacy work at the United Nations and the UK Parliament.

Image credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 7: "Growing pains never go away."

We can come to Jesus with our messy, broken, sinful lives because Jesus knows how hard it is to be human, because he knows obedience is a battle.

-From Ch. 7 ("Wiser and Taller"), Jesus Journey

As any discerning aged human will tell you, growing pains never go away. Developmental psychologists have posited that as humans grow, our minds do not just gain more information, which is obviously very important, but they actually change their way of knowing to adapt to increasing complexities.

Every stage of development looks and operates differently, but one fact remains the same of all developmental stages from infant to elderly: letting go of how you once knew things is necessary to find a new way to know.

This idea and the image below is better laid out by developmentalist-thinkers like Robert Kegan, but suffice it to say higher-order understanding requires disorder and then reorder, using the same "elements" previously held (i.e. the "things" in the diagram):

It would make sense then that this is not always a smooth or fun or easy, overnight process, no?

It would make sense that if something bigger and better is coming along, that which goes before it must crumble and dissipate to be made into something new…almost even what could feel like a “loss of self” (ouch!).

In chapter seven, Trent captures this important life-reality with the notion behind the Greek term proekopten: making some progress in the journey of life through the blows and set-backs that naturally occur along the path.

Put honestly, simply, and relate-ably by Trent for all of us: “What followed were several painful years of internal wrestling and a lot of ups and downs. My body, mind, and heart began to heal, but not without some big changes.” (pg. 61, Jesus Journey)

Incredibly, this sort of journey—marked by "ups and downs," the blows and challenges of life—is a journey that Jesus understands.

So, what does it look like to lean into these blows?

Quite naturally (or is it?), we humans avoid tension, conflict, disequilibrium. But what a testament that nature around us, our own bodies and minds, even Christ himself, do not just face disequilibrium, but indeed use this process of setting back, or pruning, or disrupting, or unsettling, or breaking apart, or wrestling, or dying “little deaths,” or even “big” death (where is your sting?) for the sake of re-alignment, greater knowing, deeper wisdom, reaching taller... ultimately being made into the image of resurrected Jesus himself!

Even as he became “wiser and taller,” Jesus’ journey took him through the Garden of Gethsemane, to Golgotha, to a godless grave, and finally to the empty garden tomb (more on this epic part of the story in later days!). 

And we know this journey included very human features like betrayal, fear, alienation from God, even death—all of it endured after first becoming “wiser and taller."

One thing I have learned, having only thirty-four years of wisdom and growth spurts that take so long my tippy-toes hurt (thanks for that word fun, Chance the Rapper!), is that when things are painful or don’t seem to “fit together,” I need to slow down.

I need to listen. I need to remember. I need to look back, inside, and out—not intently at the thing that unsettles—but I need to strain to try and see the thing it is crumbling to make room for...

For there I will also find a risen man-God who is eternally taller than me.

Today's guest post is by Sam Albertson: "Sam is a professional Internal Wrestler. On the side, he has done some non-profit stuff with youth, was lucky enough to have studied some very neat things with some world-class peeps, serves-worships at Grace Church, and loves most his life at home in the Eagle Hill area of East Boston with two little human boys and a lovely human girl. He enjoys reading, thinking, listening to a wide range of music, and being outside with the aforementioned family... one thing he does not enjoy is writing bios."

Image credits: "colored wood" and "trees"—Chelsea Hudson / "diagram"—G. Gordon Worley III / "Hallgrímskirkja Church, Reykjavik, Iceland"—Sam Albertson

Day 6: "If God would have asked me."

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. (Carl Swifty?) Each of these characters is a superhero, and it's their names that tell us why. The name Jesus, however, tells a different story.

-From Ch. 6 ("Everyman") of Jesus Journey

Trent made me uncomfortable in chapter six.  Even his purposeful title of "Everyman"—it made me pause.

The reason why is that I'm an individualist. 

On the Enneagram, a system of understanding different personality types, I'm a strong four.  As a four, I'm expressive and I strive to be remembered as unique.  The idea did not sit well with me that my almighty God—to whom I have devoted my days—has a "boring" name like Jesus. 

"According to first-century Jewish historian Josephus, the name Jesus was one of the most common names of its time, a bit like being called John Smith today." (Jesus Journey, pg. 55)

If God would have asked me, I'd have suggested something more fantastical and authentic-sounding, like Aragorn.

But I am thankful for my discomfort.  

Because Jesus Journey has reminded me that it's better that Jesus is not a stained-glass superhero, nor a master carpenter who made rocking chairs before his time.

In reading, I realized that, naturally, I side with the throngs of expectant people who wanted a Messiah who was strong, unique, and commanding—someone who would deliver God's people from Roman rule in the way that was expected.

But this "everyman"—Jesus—even though he made heaven and earth... he's approachable.

He's not a cosmic, remote God on a cloud. Rather, he holds my hand and laughs and cries with me. 

Jesus loves me, common me, who spends a whole lot of time trying to be special.   

Today's guest post is by Stephanie Pekrul: Stephanie and her husband Luke have been living with their family in Nicaragua since 2009. "Steph" is an elementary school teacher passionate about seeing how curiosity can impact families in their community of Léon.  Steph and Luke started The Curiosity Circle to help more Nicaraguan children succeed at learning and to gain the confidence needed to help their communities thrive.

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson