Days 11-20

Day 15: "One unchangeable fact."

"Word about the authority and power of Jesus was spreading, and for those who were there that first, extraordinary evening with him, for those who were set free and made whole, truly it was a night never to be forgotten."

—From Ch. 15 ("Real Authority"), Jesus Journey

My husband and I had recently moved to Boston, a hub of cutting-edge ideas and innovation, a place filled with human determination to bring felt change to the world. There was this thrilling sense in the air that one could achieve nearly anything with the right amount of brains, grit, and sheer force of will.

It was in this setting that my questions of personal contribution began to spin, and I found myself plagued by a deep ache to play my role in the story, God’s Story.

On one particular day, as I walked along the Charles River, deep in thought about who and what I might become, my eye caught a flurry of three birds in the air just above the rushing river. Two larger black birds spun circles around a smaller song bird. My justice oriented mind instinctively searched for a way to help the underdog (or shall I say, underbird?).  (And no, I cannot blame this response on any innate or deep love for animals—my Alaskan roots didn’t really groom me in such a way.)

So, naturally, I sprang into action, consumed with how I might come to the aid of this defenseless bird. I threw rocks at the black birds (because I have phenomenal aim) as they continued to team up on their smaller counterpart. Unfortunately, this only managed to temporarily distract them, and I watched rather helplessly as the song bird was systematically overpowered and eventually forced into the river.

This calculated act of the strong destroying the weak offended me deeply, and I was uncharacteristically enraged, tears beginning to brim over. Clearly, something deeper was at play, as it’s not every day that I get drawn into the melodrama of nature’s survival of the fittest.

I found myself in a familiar place that day by the Charles River, tired of merely having strong feelings about injustice, wanting to acquire a skill set that might actually position me to offer real help to people in real need. I wanted a clear and recognizable badge of authority, and following considerable process, becoming a lawyer seemed like a logical next step.

Nearly a decade later now, law school has come and gone, and I have my overt stamp of authority. I am a trained attorney, and according to this metric, the ideal advocate for the underrepresented. I now live in Beirut, Lebanon, at the center of the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet. Refugees flood the borders daily and their stories shake me to the core. (Yes, so much more than a songbird being driven into the Charles River.)

And while there remains a part of me that wishes I could still say that becoming a lawyer has sufficiently prepared me for the harsh reality that surrounds me, I’ve found another reality to be far more true and far more real...

You see, what set Jesus apart was the place and person from which he derived his identity, and thus his subsequent authority.  His significance was rooted in one unchangeable fact: He was the Son.

The authority of Jesus to bring change and set the captive free was not rooted in his dynamic teaching, or his carpentry skills, or his social network. Rather, as Trent points out in this chapter, Jesus’ authority was intrinsically linked to the fact that he was God’s child.

The way that Jesus walked planet earth laid the groundwork for us to live similarly.  Something catalytic is set in motion when we too take our place as a son or daughter. Because it is from this foundation that our prayers and our actions are fueled by the power and hope of Holy Spirit. It is there that true authority is born.

Our trouble is truly living from the place of our sonship, our daughtership.  We are so driven to seek external and overt access to authority. We pursue it through the acquisition of wealth, beauty, knowledge, or respected places of influence. And while all these things can at times be effective vehicles for kingdom come, the preeminent place of influence is remaining in—and living from—our essential identity as children of God.

Today's guest post is by Marisa Chud: "My name is Marisa, and at present I live in Beirut, Lebanon with my (amazingly good looking) husband and my two (absolutely beautiful and energetic) boys. Following my completion of law school, our young family made the long trek East, drawn by the Syrian refugee crisis and a belief that Jesus is at work making all things new in the Arab world. At my core I am an advocate and a dreamer, but most recently my time is absorbed with the all-consuming tasks of learning Arabic and instilling curiosity in my children (and mostly just keeping them alive)." 

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 14: "Mic drop."

"There is a vital truth here, one that Jesus knew all too well, and one that we must always, always keep in mind: evil takes various forms, and most dangerous of all is the evil that appears to be good."

—From Ch. 14 ("Eat, Jump, Bow") of Jesus Journey

It was one of those perfect autumn mornings in the Northeast. The kind of morning where you can see your breath early in the day, but not at noon. Trees were exploding with color, leaves crunching underfoot—yet, I could appreciate none of it.

Because my mind was preoccupied with my incompetence. 

Scranton, Pennsylvania. November 2011. I was a newly minted MBA graduate from one of the country’s “finest institutions” (my Grandma’s words). A management consultant (very original career selection for an MBA student… ahem, sarcasm noted).

Our client was a health insurance company (not a fledgling paper company as you might have suspected). They were facing some very real challenges, and I didn’t have a clue where to start. It felt like I was swimming white water rapids with toddler floaties on.  And because the workload was so overwhelming, I had slept an average of three hours per night for about seven weeks. 

So, on this particular morning, I was watching the Courtyard Hotel staff setting up the continental breakfast. It was 4:30am and my team and I were still in the lobby hard at work from the night before. In fact, I can still remember walking into the office later that morning and jealously watching a guy washing windows six or seven stories up—I stood there long enough to draw some awkward glances, genuinely wishing that I could have his job.

And then the whisper.

The simple whisper that changes everything:

“I’m more interested in your character than your comfort.”

Mic drop.


In that moment, God reminded me what he’s after in my life.  It was all I needed to hear. This job was so much more about my character than anything else.  God wanted character to form in me… sadly, I thought it was already there. 

I had been given advice to bail on this job. I was even offered a much more cushy job with my previous employer. But something deep down told me that my definition of “good” may be different than God’s.

You know, it sure seems good to remove the challenges in our lives, especially when those challenges are partially within our control.  

But Jesus showed us another way to live when he faced the devil in the wilderness. Sure, Jesus could have bailed... it was certainly in his control. But he knew that the temporary challenge he was facing in the wilderness was forming an irreplaceable treasure inside: character.   

Something no one could steal from him. Not in this life or the next. 

Today's guest post is by Joel Bryce: "Joel lives in South Africa with his wife Sarah and daughter Victoria. He is starting a food and agricultural business ( with the vision of supporting the lives of millions of small-scale farmers—economically, socially, and spiritually. Joel originally met Trent via a cassette tape in 1999, when Joel’s brother was attending a youth conference in Colorado. Joel blames Trent for carrying a bible around during his senior year of high school, in a desperate—yet genuine—attempt to live a more Jesus-centered life."

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 13: "A gut-wrenching question."

"In some ways—at least as it relates to expectations—what Jesus experiences in the wilderness is an age-old temptation that each and every human must face: Will we be shaped by the expectations of others or by the expectations of God?"

—From Ch. 13 ("If You Are") of Jesus Journey

Watching my husband write this book sometimes felt like being a fly on the wall of his own personal wilderness testing. It’s a rare thing to spend most of your working days for a few months reading about Jesus, thinking about Jesus, writing about Jesus. 

I watched it refine Trent, and I watched it bring him to his knees.  I watched it frustrate him, and I watched it take his breath away with new thoughts and emotions.  But most striking of all was when I watched all of Trent's reading, thinking, praying, and writing force a mirror in front of his face, making him respond to the question: “If you are...”

It’s such a gut-wrenching question, isn't it?  And we could all fill in the blank with our own taunting doubts: “If you are...” beautiful, godly, a leader, loved, filled with the Spirit, influential, a good mother, a good father—the list goes on and on and on.

Writing a whole book about Jesus’ humanity was a vulnerable endeavor for Trent; he desperately wanted all of you to encounter Jesus anew, and he poured his heart and soul into the pages. 

I personally can’t imagine being able to write forty different chapters (punchy, powerful, funny, moving chapters!) about Jesus’ humanity.  And the task took Trent down at times. There could always be a funnier way to grab attention in a story, a clearer word choice, a better analogy to turn on the light bulb for his reader... 

But it wasn’t the writing itself that cut to his core, it was when the accuser came taunting: “Are you really qualified to write all this about Jesus? Who is going to listen to you anyway? Hasn’t it already been done? Who do you think you are?  People are going to tear this apart!”  More than writing on any other topic, Trent’s Jesus journey made him face the tempter’s questions about his own identity, self-worth, and the expectations of others.


In chapter thirteen of Jesus Journey we’re challenged to pray for “courage, clarity and confidence when you are faced with the choice of pleasing others or pleasing God," and to ponder that Jesus also had to choose to “live according to…the expectations and hopes of Abba Father." (pg. 95)

So, following Jesus' lead as best he knew how, when Abba said (through the gentle and wise voice of the Spirit of Jesus): “Trent—I love you, I’m proud of you, you are my son, I have been on this journey with you and have given you everything you need to share with others," I watched Trent force himself away from the accusations and temptations, and say “Okay, I trust you.”

Taking the liberty of putting words in his mouth, he basically responded, “Even if I’m not the most amazing writer in the world,  even if people don't like the book and nobody buys it, I am more a friend of Jesus than ever—I've gone through the temptation that has shown me where I really stand, and my place is with Jesus... I’d never trade that for all the fame and glory and impact in the world."

I imagine Jesus coming out of the wilderness, hungry, exhausted, and chiseled away, but so grateful that in the face of all the accusing, tempting, and taunting, he had seen who he really was, tried and true. 

And so, like Jesus, into the mirror of all the accusing and tempting and taunting that comes—all of the “If you are..." statements that are thrown in our faces—may we, like Jesus, live in the deep identity of who we really are. 

"You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery, did you, to go back again into a state of fear? But you received the spirit of sonship, in whom we call out ‘Abba, father!’  When that happens, it is the spirit itself giving supporting witness to what our own spirit is saying, that we are God’s children." (Romans 8:15-16)

Today' guest post is by my wife, my best friend, and my favorite person on the planet, Bronwyn Sheppard:  Bronwyn is a childbirth educator and birth doula, and she and Trent regularly host evening childbirth education classes in their East Boston home, while their "small humans"—Miréa Alev, Blaze Aslan, and Petra Ceylan—sleep "peacefully" in their bedrooms. The kids have Turkish middle names (Alev means Flame, Aslan means Lion, and Ceylan means Gazelle) because Bronwyn was raised in beautiful Izmir, Turkey.  She's bilingual in English and Turkish, and she dearly loves the land of Turkey and its people.

Photo credits: "mountain sky"—Stephanie Pekrul / "shore"—Chelsea Hudson / "fern"—Bill Pekrul

Day 12: "A gladiator entering the Colosseum."

“The Spirit took him off into the wilderness for forty days, to be tested by the devil…”

—Luke 4:1-2

Here is a first-century Semitic man embarking on a grueling forty-day fast. No pleasure of food; no warm, fresh-baked bread. No joy of community; no comforting words from friends.

How strange: for the first time, I notice… Luke says the explicit purpose of this fast was “to be tested by the devil."

I’m struck by this image: this able-bodied man was not retreating into the wilderness for a peaceful meditation; no, this man (and this is new for me) is a gladiator entering the Colosseum. And there, his mortal enemy awaits, to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

But here, in this lonely arena, there are no spectators, no roaring crowd; only silence.

I see this forty days that Jesus endured in the wilderness—and the accompanying physical hardship—as a dramatic “stripping away”; a stripping away of all of the comforts and distractions of his daily life (which was, surely, so much tougher than our own).

The gnawing hunger refined him and the continual flood of prayer washed him and, together, pain and prayer were like a lacquer thinner, stripping away the layers—his physical layers, his mental layers, his spiritual layers—until what remains is a physically hard human with intense clarity.

He is in intimate communion with the Creator. His body exposed to the elements and his mind freed from the minutiae of everyday life, this human being is now prepared for battle, to stand face to face with the Destroyer.

But here’s the amazing thing—the fast hasn’t weakened him; it’s strengthened him. This fast from food is actually a “feast of prayer” (to borrow a phrase from the wonderful Richard Foster)—and it endows Jesus with, as Trent writes, a “mental acuity and heightened awareness of his surroundings… the ideal time to be tested by the devil.” (pg. 88, Jesus Journey)

Jesus’ food-fast and prayer-feast allows him to see Reality at its essence: a loving Creator and, slithering amongst the shadows, a cunning Destroyer who seeks to seduce humans into running after worldly things… away from Abba Father.

As for me, I know we humans have always struggled but I feel like it’s especially easy to be seduced by the comforts of modern life. Food always at our fingertips, smartphones attached to our bodies like a new appendage.

I wonder, when do these comforts become distractions? And when do distractions make me blind and deaf to what matter most?

I wonder, how can I—even in a small way—“strip things away” to see more clearly? How can I be immersed in the shimmering love of this Abba Father? How can I recognize when the Destroyer is whispering in my ear?

I don’t think I need to do exactly what this intensely adventurous rabbi did—and disappear into the wilderness (plus I’d miss my wife and two little girls too much). But I can do it in little ways—closing my eyes (and my laptop) and venturing into the wilderness of prayer for a few minutes each day, perhaps re-ignite the little fasts that I used to practice—and enter into a lavish feast with God.

Today's guest post is by Rob Pyles (aka "Roberto" in the book acknowledgements): "Rob Pyles is part of Ekklesia, a wee house church in East Boston (along with Mr. Trent). He's a daddy to two amazing girls and a lucky husband to a feisty Mexican. He's an entrepreneur, and loves a good story, and occasionally a fine rum. He suffers from a rare medical condition where he can only talk about himself in the third person."

Photo credits: "Cappadocia"—Nathan Chud / "lumber" & "sunset"—Chelsea Hudson

Day 11: "Where was it all leading?"

“There are all sorts of opinions as to how Jesus came to understand his identity and calling, but I am convinced that it was a journey that led him there, a journey of faith and discovery…”

—From Ch. 11 ("On and On") of Jesus Journey

My identity is constantly changing. Nearly eight years ago, I embraced my identity as a husband, shortly thereafter as that of a father.

I’m still in the process of discovering and wrestling through both of these identities, even as I work through the shedding of others: my bachelorhood, my youth, my high school triple jump record (or is that still standing?).

I struggle with how the son of a pastor’s kid who grew up in France, who is now losing his ability to speak German, is to reconcile an adult life that put me on a journey from skyscraper offices in Chicago to living with Bedouin in the Sinai, working with refugees resettled in Massachusetts to landing in the hills of West Virginia (go Mountaineers!), where I presently study food banking networks. (And all of that doesn't even include one of my newest identities here—homeowner. I'm still working through that one as well…)

Identity theorists use the word “intersectionality” to describe the multiple, complicated and overlapping social identities that make up each person’s understanding of themselves. We don’t put on identity like clothes or masks—we grow into them… all of them.

We’re constantly working through who and what we are in relation to others. In fact, identities cannot exist outside of others, we can’t understand ourselves without first constructing the “other”, what we are not.  These identities are reinforced by long standing and often oppressive human made systems, which is why identity politics are so messy.

Socially constructed boxes and categories define us sometimes subtly, at other times violently. We all carry them around, some front and center, others hidden away or purposefully forgotten: gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, age, height, weight, disability… the list goes (on and on).

Shortly before I got married I was working on trying to reconcile my different life experiences and identities into something that made sense, that fit into a social box. I felt I needed to have it more together, and the fact that I couldn’t was a bit of a crisis.  During that time I leaned on Trent to talk things through, and we delved together into deep identity questions over coffee one day.

I wanted to know, to peer into the future and understand what these intersecting identities and experiences had all been for.  Where was it all leading? (Confession: I still do that sometimes, probably too often.)

Did Jesus fully know what awaited him for the next three years of his life after John baptized him? Did he know the names of the blind who came to him for sight, or the faces of the lame who asked him for strength to walk? Did he expect the curses and gossip his enemies would spread about him, and the pain of his death? Personally, I don’t think he knew each and every part of how it would all unfold...

But, did he always rest in the knowledge of his identity as the beloved Son in whom God delights? Yes, I believe he did. And the constancy of that rest is why I trust and worship him.

I’ve never experienced Holy Spirit descending on me like a dove, but I have lived through special moments when all my identities melt away and I am left with only one… a beloved son in whom God delights.

One such moment was driving on Interstate 5 in 2003. Another was on a swing in a park in 2009. Still another was two weeks ago on my way back from a conference.  In those rare moments, I am always overwhelmed by tears. The tears flow as a release from all the pressures of trying to conform my identity to the molds constructed by others.

Unlike Jesus, these experiences are few and far between for me, but they are etched in my memory and I look back on them for courage in times of doubt along my faith journey.

I imagine Jesus too leaned heavily on the defining heaven-tearing-open, dove-descending, Father-speaking memory of his baptism when he began sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane.

Today's guest post is by Josh Lohnes: Josh is becoming a geography doctor. He lives with his wife Jenna and children Evie-Lou, Elias, and Jude in Morgantown, West Virginia. He likes planting seeds and watching them grow, but very much dislikes mosquitoes and poison ivy. Josh has a hard time saying no to things because he sees every project as an opportunity to get involved with people. Even though he’s an introvert, his favorite thing is cultivating relationships.  He hopes that being a geography doctor will give him the chance to see all the friends he’s made in different places as often as possible.

Photo credits: "Italy" and "Coffee"—Cheslea Hudson / "Ocean"—Bill Pekrul