Sunday, August 2, 2015

EPIC: Week 6, Epilogue

Image result for i love to tell the story hymn
The final chapter of God’s Story, Your Story by Max Lucado is titled “You Will Finally Graduate.”  Throughout my career as an educator, I’ve attended many graduations, so this is a metaphor that resonates with me.  There were my own graduations—8th grade, high school, college, and graduate degrees.  There were the 14 years of annual graduation ceremonies at Carlisle High School for students I had taught.  Then came the 14 years of graduations at Northern Illinois University (3 ceremonies each year) watching students wearing powder blue cowls accepting their master’s and doctoral degrees.  And at each and every one, some speaker or another would tell the audience to note that their programs referred to the ceremony as “commencement”—a beginning.   Emphasizing this point, many graduates received a copy of Dr. Suess’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! among  their graduation gifts.  Max Lucado makes a similar point—the end of our life on earth marks the commencement of eternal life in heaven—that we will graduate.  Yet for all the students in all my classes over the years, not all graduated; some were drop-outs, some didn’t complete all their coursework, and some were ABD (all but dissertation)—they didn’t complete the requirements for graduation.

What are the requirements for God’s “graduation”?  It’s not about putting in “seat time” or earning “credits.”  As Paul points out, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9).  Yet James tells us that faith requires a response in how we live our lives: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).   Jesus defines the action that accompanies faith by quoting Deuteronomy  6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22: 36-40).  What does the Lord require of you?  “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Walking humbly with God; knowing His story and making His story our own, reflecting the power of God’s story in the lives of individual lives within the body of Christ.  Sharing His story (and ours) with others reveals the transforming power of our Savior.  Such is the purpose of, a web site that carries individual stories of Christian belief and where you can share your “His story is my story”  to inspire others to find their role in God’s epic story so that they can know and join in the grand epic and “graduate” with us.


This is a blog post I wrote on my personal blog on May 21st of this year, right after Libby graduated from Miami University...

Alpha and Omega

"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." - Isaiah 43:18-19
"I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." - Revelation 22: 13
     It's funny that May, a season of new life and an abundance of spring growth, should be punctuated by graduations, which seem like endings.   Tearful goodbyes, reflective speeches, scrapbooks full of memories, and wistful songs permeate the occasion.  High schools and beloved universities become alma maters, and students become alumni.  Fight songs are played one last time while best friends sway and sing,  already missing each other.  
     My husband and I sat in the stands (in the rain) of Yager Stadium at Miami University last weekend, watching our daughter and friends end their four years together, hardly believing that this era was closing.  How could the end come this fast?  It seemed like yesterday that we were moving her and Hannah into Tappan Hall, and a couple of the girls in her corridor came to her room bearing bags of "puppy chow" to share.  One of them, Katie, said her mom told her it would be a good way to make friends.  Well, right she was!  Those girls, and four others, became Libby and Hannah's best friends, guardian angels, and lifesavers at Miami.  They ended up living together again in Scott Hall the following year, and continued to live together in an apartment on Sycamore Street for their junior and senior years.  How could it be that all that was over?
      But then, at the apartment after the ceremony, one of the girls said she heard someone say that graduation wasn't the end of those friendships, it was just the beginning, and I started thinking about that.  Well, of course!  God has designed everything in our lives to be new beginnings.  Jesus made sure of that.  When everyone at the cross thought that an ending had occurred, Jesus knew it was just the beginning of something greater.  Gold DOES stay.  While graduations mean things are changing (and that can be hard), they don't mean the end.  They mark a beginning.   God has already started working in all those kids' lives to bring about a future of great things.  Those friendships will strengthen and grow and will continue to thrive.  We already know they will all gather again for two weddings in June (wonderful celebrations of beginnings), and they are planning to continue the tradition of Friends' Thanksgiving (a gathering my friends and I started in college and continue to this day - the Miami kids joined us for the last three years).  I'm sure they will plan many reunions. They may be going their separate ways soon, but they will continue to add new dimensions to their friendships because of their future experiences.  Because of God's promises, the circle is unbroken and our endings are beginnings.  What a wonderful assurance!

I love this quote because many times we DO get caught up in endings, but God is already creating a new beginning:

"And because it's all that we can see, the ending becomes an end in itself when directly ahead of us new beginnings are being forged and fresh byways are being laid out from the very ending we're caught up in." - Craig D. Lounsbrough

    My year was full of endings and beginnings: Katie leaving home to start college at OSU, Libby's college graduation, wedding, and move to Columbus, and putting our house on the market to downsize into a condominium in Landen.  Whew!  They were all happy things, though, so I can celebrate them all. 

   The bigger challenge is when endings and beginnings are more difficult: a divorce, loss of a job, a wayward child, a betrayal,  an illness or death.  God, though, has his children in the palm of his hands, and as He turns the pages of His Story with those hands, we are with Him.  We are part of the Story and all it has to tell.  Our challenge is to tell that Story to others.  To give those who have not heard the story or who have not accepted it yet a new beginning.  A better plot.  Go tell it on the mountain!

Epilogue Discussion Questions

1. Summarize your thoughts on what John Eldredge describes as the Three Eternal Truths:

 A. Things are not what they seem.
 B. We are at war.
 C. You have a crucial role to play.

2. As an actor in an epic story, to play your part well, you must know your role.  

* What, as a young boy or girl, did you once dream or hope your role would be?
* Consider the characters you love in Scripture—what is it about them and their role in the epic story that you would love to believe is true of you?

3. After reading  Finding Your Role, write a prayer, asking God to give clarity to your life purpose and calling.

Something to Ponder

Now that you’re aware of the power of a person’s story, begin to ask those closest to you to share their story with you.  Take time just to listen and ask questions, to understand their story.

Thank you, everyone, for participating in the first ever online class at LPC!  We've enjoyed reading your comments, encouragements, insights, and stories.  We'd love to gather again for a face-to-face meeting on Sunday, August 9th, at 12:30 p.m. in Room 305.  If you can't join us, consider writing us an e-mail about anything you'd like to share.  We'd love to hear any feedback about what you got out of the study, your online experience, or anything else!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

EPIC: Week 5, Act 4


“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2.

Life’s milestones mark the generational seasons of our earthly lives. Childhood birthday parties fade, graduation parties take their place. The celebrations of friends’ and our weddings yield to baby showers and birth announcements. The cycle repeats with our children—their birthdays, graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren. Somber funerals—once rare with the deaths of great-grandparents—become more frequent with the deaths of grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends’ parents, our parents.  Then the funerals far outnumber all other milestones and the obituary page lists friends, neighbors and family of our generation.  At my stage of life (age 68), I begin to feel that I attend too many funerals-- the temptation to despair is great. Yet some bring indelible memories that remind me of the hope inherent in the epic story.

I remember the funeral for our second son, Matthew.  Born with Downs Syndrome, Matthew’s 21 months of life on earth gave our family great gifts, not the least of which came with his death during heart surgery in 1977.  That’s when my husband and I told each other “Now I’ll never be afraid of death” because we knew that would bring a reunion with Matthew.

I remember the funeral for my father-in-law just a year and a half after Matthew’s death.  My mother-in-law told our then-6-year-old son Chris “We’ll never see Grandpa again.”  I explained to Chris that Grandma was sad because she wouldn’t be able to see and do things with Grandpa like she used to, but that that we would indeed, after what might seem like a long time, see Grandpa again in heaven.

I remember my mother’s funeral in 2008.  Five years after my father’s death following years with
Alzheimer’s, Mom prayed that her death would, when it came, come quickly with no years in a nursing home.  The Lord heard that prayer; Mom died following a massive stroke from which she never regained consciousness. At her funeral service, "Amazing Grace" was the last hymn, including the third verse often neglected or rarely remembered before the resonating last phrase of the last stanza:

The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures . . . And grace will lead me home.

I remember the funeral for Michelle Bell, a friend from “senior” classes at the YMCA. Hers was a military funeral honoring her years in the Air Force.  One remark made by the officiant stayed with me. He said that many of us would say to Michelle’s husband “Sorry for your loss.”  He challenged us on that language—telling us that “loss” signals not knowing where something or someone is and reminding us that we all knew precisely where Michelle was at that moment: in heaven, in the presence of God. 

I remember the memorial service for Willard Snider, long-time LPC member and father to a friend and then-graduate-student of mine, Cathy Riggin.  At the service, Cathy spoke about two enduring memories of her father. One was of family vacations, where the return home and the turn into the home driveway was always marked by her father’s announcing “Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!”  The other was the daily routine of childhood when her father’s work day ended and his entry through the front door was greeted by Cathy and her siblings announcing “Daddy’s home!” Then Cathy shared that for her, Willard’s death marked God’s message that “Daddy’s home—jiggedy-jig!”

Eventually, my generation will experience the last earthly milestone; it will be our time to go to our eternal home. And I begin to wonder what aspects of my funeral people might remember.  If I were planning my own funeral, what scripture would I want read?  What memories or thoughts would I want people to share? What music would I choose? In God’s Story, Your Story, Max Lucado tells a story about how Winston Churchill thought about such questions:

The prime minister planned his own funeral. According to his instructions, two buglers were positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  At the conclusion of the service, the first one played taps, the signal of a day completed. Immediately thereafter, with the sounds of the first song still ringing in the air, the second bugler played reveille, the song of a day begun.

In thinking about my funeral, I don’t envision a bugler, but I do hope that the last echoes might affirm Revelation 19: 1-8—maybe Mozart’s Alleluia  or the final chorus of Handel’s Messiah in one last and loud AMEN!


"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." - John 6:40

As I was reading this chapter, I was sitting outside on the deck on a beautiful, DRY evening.  The golden sun was starting to set behind brilliant verdant trees, swaying just slightly in the balmy breeze.  Flower pots exploded with cascading vines and butter yellow blooms.  Birds were singing their unique songs, competing for attention.  A rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker cut through the delicate notes of the songbirds.  The brilliant azure sky of the day was just fading slightly into the soft blue of a robin's egg, cottony clouds drifting lazily across it.  So peaceful, so gorgeous, so glorious.  I was picturing heaven to be just like that.

But boy, have we had a lot of rain!  Storms, humidity, lightning flashes, floods, and thunder have marked many of this summer's days.  Terrible stories of deaths in flood areas across the country have been on the news.  At the beach last week, riptide warnings and red flags marked the shore. And that's just the weather.  Our world seems in constant turmoil - horrific shootings, economic crises, and escaped convicts have permeated the news since spring.  How we long for peace and beauty.

The promise that it will come, and not just on random days, but every day - permanently, eternally - is so amazing.  The feeling I had in June when amidst family and friends on Libby and Jamie's wedding day, celebrating their joy, love, and marriage, will be ours forever some day.  How exciting!  We will enjoy the original glory that God intended for us for eternity.  Hallelujah!

After reading Nina's reflection, I thought I'd share the two songs that I would want at my funeral.  They reflect my hope and joy for reunions with loved ones, joining my God and Savior, and an everlasting life:

I Can Only Imagine by MercyMe

When I Get Where I'm Going by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Four

And they lived happily ever after.

1. Think of the stories that you love. Remember how they “end.” Describe a few of your favorite endings.

2. What would “happily ever after” look like for you?

Every story has an ending. Every story. Including yours. Even if you do manage to find a little taste of Eden in this life, you cannot hang on to it. You know this. Your health cannot hold out forever. Age will conquer you. One by one your friends and loved ones will slip from your hand. Your work will remain unfinished. Like every other person gone before you, you will breathe your last breath.

3. And then what? What does God promise as the end of the story?

4. What about heaven do you look forward to?

5. Will everyone enjoy this promise of a happy ending? Why or why not? Why is this such a difficult question?


Continue writing your story by writing out the conclusion.  How will your story of this life end?  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

EPIC: Act Three

We just returned from a week on the beach in Florida with my family to celebrate Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary.  Our week together seemed to reflect this chapter's themes.  First, the glory of nature...
The ocean's vastness, beauty, and power always brings to mind God's creativity and majesty.  From the shore birds running along the sand to dolphin fins emerging above the water to the steady strength of the surf, God's creation is humbling.  It is both peaceful and powerful - reflections of God's own image.

Holly Mueller's photo.

Next, the legacy of love...

This coming August, my mom and dad will have been married for 50 years.  That's a long time.  No one arranged their marriage or forced them into it.  They chose each other, and because they were intentional, faithful, and devoted to their marriage, it has lasted.  My husband, Ed, and I are so fortunate to both have parents in long-lasting marriages.  They've provided a legacy and promise that love lasts when built on a firm foundation, and now we've been married for 26 years.  Thank God we live in a country and time when we could choose our spouses and that we serve a God that gives us a framework for marriage.

All those years, though, pale in comparison to the infinity of time God has loved us.

Last, even though we experience and practice Earthly love, we fall short and need a Savior...

We had a great time at the beach and had fun with each other, but that week has come and gone, ending the second of the two major celebrations this summer that have been in planning for almost a year (the first was the marriage of our oldest daughter to Jamie, her college sweetheart).  Time is so fleeting.  It seems to go by faster the older I get.

God, though, is forever, and we certainly fall short of loving Him.  We also fall short of loving each other as perfectly as we should - we can be selfish and short-tempered. We complain and get lazy. We are easily distracted and caught up in trivial things. We're easily stressed and fatigued. We're rebellious. Eldredge says, "At the point of our deepest betrayal, when we had run our farthest from him and gotten so lost we could never find our way home, God came and died to rescue us.  You have never been loved like this.  He has come to save you in every way a person can be saved.  That is God's heart toward you."  Wow.  Thank you, God, for providing us people to love here in this temporary world.  Our spouses, family, and friends make it a joyful place to live.  My heart has been full as I celebrated a wedding and an anniversary, but I know this heart is only a tiny fraction of the heart you have for us.  Thank you for giving us free will, and when we fall short, thank you for forgiving us.

Thank you for your beautiful creation, having the free will to love each other and you, and being our rescuer when we fail.


In The Story of God, the Story of Us, Sean Gladding tells the epic biblical story as it may have been told before the Bible was a book—as an oral tradition imparted by wise elders.  The following excerpts gleaned and edited from his chapter “Catastrophe,” illuminate what John Eldridge describes as the Battle for the Heart.  

The story begins with a lie: “You will be like God.”  The tempter taps into our deepest anxiety as humans: that what I have and who I am is not enough.  So Adam and Eve exercised the freedom God had given them and disobeyed God’s prohibition.  How could they take what was prohibited when they were surrounded by so much that was freely given? What are we capable of doing when we think we do not have enough?  When we think we are not enough? Adam and Eve—and we--make an ethical determination, deciding for ourselves, independently of God, what it is good for us to do.  Like Adam and Eve, when confronted with our disobedience, when caught sinning, instead of taking responsibility for our own actions, we try to blame someone else.  Self-protection becomes our first concern; trust evaporates.  Yet, just as God called out to Adam and Eve, God calls to us. We, like them, may try to hide, to isolate ourselves, to be alone with our sin and shame, but God is constantly seeking the lost.  God asks “Where are you?” not out of anger, but in a gracious invitation to once more make us vulnerable—before God, before each other. It is an invitation to speak the truth about our sin, an invitation to be found. From the very beginning of our story, God extends grace to us.  God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  We cannot deal with our sin, but God can, will, and does.

The “Catastrophe” story leaves us with questions: questions that I invite you to ponder with me .

What lies am I all too willing to believe?

     That the old GE slogan (“Progress is our most important product”) is correct.

     That my sins are not so bad—not like murder or theft—totally ignoring  1 Timothy 1:15.

Why do I not trust God to determine what is good for me?

     Because I like the feeling of being in control, even though I know I’m not.

     Because God’s definition of “good” isn’t the same as the world’s definition.

How shall I answer when God calls out “Where are you?”

     To be honest, on too many days  the answer would be “Hang on, I’ll be there when I finish this important task.”

     On my worst days, my response would be “So NOW you want to know—when I’ve been wondering lately where YOU are!”

     But the best days are when I reply “Right here—ready to follow you.”

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Three (Video includes ACT TWO since last week I accidentally embedded just the preview to the video and couldn't fix it while I was in Florida!)

John Eldredge describes creation in a panorama of wonders. 

1. What in creation takes your breath away? How would you describe it to someone?
2. Lingering in the thought of Creation, what does Eden tell you about God, his desire for man, and the life we were meant to live?
3. Have you thought about “original glory” before? What does the idea stir in you?

Essential to “original glory” is the capacity to love. And with the incredible dignity of that gift, came the freedom to reject—not love—God.  

4. Why did God give you a free will?
5. To what or to whom have you given your heart in the past? To whom or to what have you most recently given it?

The Evil One hates God, hates anything that reminds him of the glory of God . . . wherever it exists. Unable to overthrow the Mighty One, he turned his sight on those who bore God’s image.

6. What lies does Satan tell us?

Deceived by Satan’s lies, we turn our backs on God, relying on our selves. The challenge God faces is rescuing a people who have no idea how captive they are; no real idea how desperate they are.

7. When have you felt in need of rescue? When has life become overwhelming?  Is it hard to ask for help? Why?


Creation is a glorious event we all too often rush through. But we must linger on the wonder and beauty of the world and life God intended for us to enjoy. Recall moments when you saw glimmers of the life that God intended for you. How has God acted as savior, beginning to restore your true identity to its original glory?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

EPIC: Act Two


My aunt Judy used to talk about angels, and she described them as "big, hairy angels," which used to make me laugh.  However, after reading Act Two, she was absolutely right!  The angels of God aren't sweet, wimpy cherubs, they're fierce and powerful!  This gives me comfort because they're up against Satan, the antagonist of antagonists - more dangerous than Voldemort, Darth Vader, and the wickedest of witches put together. 

I love the evolution of the Harry Potter books as Voldemort, "He who must not be named," struggles to gain power throughout the series.  One thing that sets Harry apart is his willingness to call the villain by name.  Avoidance of his name actually strengthens Voldemort.  Acknowledging the villain's name strips away that power.  I can't help but think it's the same with Satan.  Acknowledging who he is and not being afraid to confront him, weakens him.

Besides giving him a name, I'm not sure exactly what it means to live as if our story has a villain.  Perhaps it means to equip yourself as Jesus did with the WORD: "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." - Ephesians 6: 17  Or maybe it means to avoid the dangerous trap of so many non- or doubting believers who say, "What kind of God would let so and so happen?!" We can avoid it because we know it's not God who "lets" evil happen, it's Evil itself causing it to happen.  It's a fallen world that we've been born into, and that's why bad things occur every day. 

What I can be sure of, though, is living as if our story has a HERO.  The protagonist of protagonists!  More victorious than Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Glinda put together.  He was the ruler of the universe before we came into being, and He will continue to be the ruler until He ultimately defeats Satan. 

Sometimes I feel defeated by Evil.  With media telling us the horrid details of school and church shootings, beheadings of Christians, child abuse, etc., it seems as if the Villain is winning.  But we can "Be still and know He is God" - Psalm 46:10  We know who will win this war.

Steven Curtis Chapman's response to the Charleston shootings:

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” Revelation 5:11.

 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

This past winter I joined the Wednesday Nights Together class to read a book I had long intended to read (but never had): The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. The book is a series of letters  purported to have been written by Screwtape, one of Satan’s minions, who has been given charge of his nephew Wormwood, an “apprentice” devil, as Wormwood seeks to guide his first human charge to (in the language of Star Wars) “the dark side.”  The class listened to an audio version of the book in which John Cleese voiced the letters, lending a snide, sneering English-accented voice to Screwtape’s contempt for “the Enemy” (God) and sniveling devotion to “our Father below” (Satan).  Despite Screwtape’s guidance in all the devices that might steer Wormwood’s “patient” toward renouncing  Christianity, especially in the context of the early days of World War II, Wormwood fails in his task.  In the penultimate letter, Screwtape describes what to him is the horror of the patient’s dying without having been “converted.”

As he [the dying patient] saw you, he also saw Them . . .The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. . .He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time.” All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories . . .that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered.

As I read this letter, simultaneous thoughts entered my mind: John’s vision in Revelation, the old TV series "Touched by an Angel," and Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  My thoughts echoed what John Eldredge writes about Act 2 of the epic story: “we live in two worlds—or in one world with two halves, part that we can see and part that we cannot” (p. 33). I wonder:

What beings will I recognize in heaven that I did not recognize in my earthly life? 

When have I supposed myself to be alone when unseen/unrecognized beings have been playing a part in my life?

The world tells me that “Seeing is believing.”  Yet I am coming to understand that “Believing is seeing.” Maybe our shared online experience is one way our eyes can be opened to seeing all the characters who surround us in our part of God’s epic story.

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Two


“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death, disease, and sin . . .Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong.  Christianity agrees  . . . this is a universe at war.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In the common epic story arc described in the prologue, there is a great battle to be fought; there is an antagonist for every protagonist.

1. Why does every story have a villain? 

The Bible contains evidence of spiritual warfare waged between beings allied with God and those allied with Satan, beings often unrecognized or unseen by people. We are not alone.  This universe is inhabited by other beings; we share the stage with other players.

2. React to this reality. What does this stir up in you? 
3. What does it mean to live as though your story has a villain?
4. What questions does the reality of evil raise for you?
5. Who have you blamed for the pain and sorrows of life?

6. Have you ever felt “the Devil made me do it”?

It seems there two extremes when it comes to the devil.  We either live as if he doesn’t exist or we are so focused upon him that we see him behind every bad thing that happens.  What extreme have you been more prone to? What in your life, your story, do you now understand may very well have been the work of the villain?  What has he tried to steal, kill, or destroy in your past? What is he currently assaulting you with (lies, shame, guilt, temptation)?

Sunday, July 5, 2015




“We need to know that love is real, that it endures, that a world of love is planned for us and waits for us, and that we can count on it.” John Eldredge, Epic, p. 26.
As I think about writing my life story, I know that it begins long before my birth.  So much of who I am is linked to all the family that preceded my coming into the world.  Especially my parents.  Over the years, as I was growing up and even now after both parents have been reunited in heaven, I learned more and more about their lives.
My mother, Jane, was the daughter of Clara and Austin, and had an older brother.  Living on Chicago’s south side, her childhood was one of sidewalk games, going to the Methodist church, and a circle of close girlfriends (who together sneaked away to visit the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair).  She was the first in her family to graduate from high school.  Still in her early 20s, with World War II calling men into the armed forces, Jane became the manager of a local Jewel (the Chicago version of Kroger) store.
My father, Willis, was the son of Lydia and Arthur, and had two younger sisters.  Raised in Rock Island, Illinois, his childhood was one of home chores (trimming wicks and filling kerosene lamps), fishing with his father, school, and church. He played the bassoon well enough to get a partial scholarship to supplement his savings from a series of part-time jobs to enable him to be a “commuter” student at Augustana College—the first in his family to go to college.  A graduate assistantship (tutoring first year Spanish students) enabled him to earn a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois. Passing his CPA exam with flying colors, Willis moved to Chicago to begin work at the Arthur Andersen accounting firm—a career that lasted until his retirement.
Willis and Jane didn’t meet in Chicago, but at a Lake of the Ozarks resort where both went on vacation with friends.  There, they found that they lived in the same apartment building, but entered through doors on different intersecting streets.  Love blossomed quickly, but Willis’s entry in the Navy postponed their marriage until the end of the war.
Their marriage, in many ways, was a composite of every 1950s family sitcom.  Willis commuted to work from their suburban home in Westchester, and was a model active citizen—serving on the local school board and as Sunday School “superintendent.”   Jane was a housewife and volunteer extraordinaire—Girl Scout leader, school room mother, volunteer at the local VA hospital, Sunday School teacher.
Throughout their marriage, their devotion to each other, their daughters (my sister and me), and God was palpable—never more so than the last years of their life together when Willis lived with Alzheimer’s.
Like the Epic Story John Eldridge describes, my story has a golden past bathed in love.  Once upon a time.
"For God has, may I remind you, set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11)." - John Eldredge
My mom recently gave me a stack of letters that she had written to my grandparents, her parents, during her pregnancy with me and the first year of my life.  My grandmother had kept them, and when she passed away, Mom retrieved them back.  Each one was lovingly written in her beautiful, careful script, full of excitement and preparation awaiting my birth, and when I came the day after Christmas, full of unconditional love.  Reading and handling each one gives me a sense of belonging.  I was waited for and wanted.  Loved and cherished.  I wrote a poem after reading the first one:
Mom about 5 months pregnant with me in 1966
It was only days
until December 25th, 1966,
the day
I was supposed to be born.
Festive lights twinkled                                       
on Baker Avenue,
festooning apartments
in Cincinnati.
I was waited for,
dreamt about.
The nursery
was decorated
with a clown lamp,
and my mother sat in the
rocker and imagined
2:00 am feedings with
its 25 watt bulb,
dim and peaceful.
A scotch pine stood watch                                           
in the balcony window,
and unfallen snow
weighed heavy in the
steel gray clouds,
for a white Christmas
and a baby
to arrive.

How blessed we are when we're wanted and loved.  The decorations in my nursery were picked out specifically for me, baby clothes bought, washed, and folded into drawers, a lamp placed by a rocker for late night feedings.  My story began before I was even born, and it was full of love.  Amazing.
Not everyone was as fortunate as I, though.  Some children are born into broken homes, poverty, abuse, already addicted to drugs, or are unwanted.  Not everyone begins life with a decorated nursery and parents who love each other and await to love their children.  Regardless of whether or not your Earthly parents awaited you with loving anticipation, you can be assured your Heavenly Father did; once upon a time He knitted you together in the womb, loved you before and at birth, and He loves and awaits you now, carefully preparing a place for you in Heaven.  The lamp is already on.
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." -  Psalm 139:13
Discussion questions Act One: Eternal Love

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” John 1: 1-2 (NIV)
1. Consider this second “In the beginning” scripture:
a. What is the apostle John describing in these verses?
b. What does this passage say about “the beginning” of the Story?
c. What does the passage say about God?
d. For starters, what did this chapter in Epic stir up in you? New thoughts, questions, an “ah ha” moment?
2. The Triune God is ultimately relational. Our origins are relational, and this is why we are relational, for we are created in His image. What does it mean to say that we are relational? How does that help your understanding of the Trinity?
3. On page 24-25, John writes about the feeling of belonging when he visits his grandfather’s ranch. Tell a story about a time when you felt you belonged to a larger story.
4. How have you felt the longing to belong in your life—both in your youth and today?
5. One of the realities of a Larger Story is that Life is not all about you. You’re precious, important, and valuable; you have a crucial role to play.  But this story is about something bigger than you.  How does that make you feel?
6. Have you thought of God as being part of your story this week?  How? Conversely, have you thought of yourself as being part of God’s story this week?  How?

Continue to fill in the various seasons of your life with the good as well as the painful memories you’ve experienced through others.  Include those times you were invited up and into some unfolding fellowship (or the times you wish you had been).  Add those memories to the story you began to write last week.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Epic Prologue - Week 1

EPIC syllabus

Text: Epic: The Story God Is Telling

June 28—Joining together in an epic journey
Week of June 28--Prologue , p. 1-16
Week of July 5:--Act One: Eternal Love, p. 17-27
Week of July 12:--Act Two: The Entrance of Evil, p. 28-40
Week of July 19:--Act Three: The Battle for the Heart, p. 41-72
Week of July 27:--Act Four: The Kingdom Restored, p. 73-98
Week of August 2--Epilogue: The Road Before Us, p. 99-104
August 9—Sharing our stories, Making God’s Story our own

Welcome to LPC's first online class based on Epic: The Story God is Telling by John Eldredge!  Each Sunday morning Nina and Holly and will write a personal story or reflection, and then they will pose an assignment which will include reading a chapter and choosing all or some questions to ponder and discuss. The questions each week will be inspired/adapted/used from the Epic Study Guide. Links to videos or other media may be included.  Please post your own comment(s) and reply to at least three other participants.  The success of this class depends on the discussions.  Revisit the blog throughout the week in order to read other class members' comments and replies.  Let's begin!


Story has played an integral part of my life since I was a little girl.  My mom and dad sang, told, and read me stories.  I loved to read when I was little, imagining I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, and Fern.  I attended Sunday school and heard all the Bible stories.  I wrote a book about horses when I was in 6th grade and devoured the Black Stallion series.  I still remember visits to the library and book mobile with fondness. I was an English Literature major in college and now teach language arts to fifth and sixth graders.  I LOVE a good story, and devour many books a year, from picture books to novels, fantasy to historical fiction, every format and genre. 
At Miami University, I was a resident assistant, and one of our jobs was to sit bell desk in the lobby of the dorm.  I had time there, when I wasn't greeting or assisting people, to do homework, which for me was reading the many novels that were assigned for my major.  I remember the residents of my hall asking, "Do you REALLY read all those books?!"  Yes!!  I did!! I still do. I encourage my students to do the same.  I challenge them to read 50 books during the school year, and many exceed that challenge.  We also write stories and study mentor texts in order to try out various writing techniques, voice, and point of view.  We study characters, conflict, and theme.  When I read Epic: The Story God is Telling, I was captivated by the idea that I, too, am part of a story.  I am a main character.  I have a place in the narrative.  My life is not random or out of control; it is carefully crafted by a master Author.
Several years ago, I read Thomas C. Foster's How To Read Literature Like a Professor.  Like Eldredge, he claims that there is basically only one story, and it's told again and again. I teach a JOURNEY unit to my fifth graders that includes the basic tenets of classic journey stories from Foster's book (I've also added a couple).  I teach them that every journey story has a quester, a reason to go on a journey, a place to go, fellow journeymen, obstacles, a discovery of the REAL quest, and a transformation of the quester.   Like a journey story's protagonist, we are on a journey of our own.  The journey is not the objective, though, and we don't always start out looking for the right thing.  We are born with a spiritual yearning, and we all ask universal questions.  The task is to find our real purpose and the reason why we are here.  Eldredge points us to the real quest: "Jack will come to rescue Rose. William Wallace will rise up to rescue Scotland. Luke Skywalker will rescue the princess and then the free peoples of the universe. Nemo's father rescues him. Nathaniel rescues beautiful Cora - not just once, but twice. Neo breaks the power of the Matrix and sets a captive world free. Aslan comes to rescue Narnia. I could name a thousand more. Why does every great story have a rescue? Because yours does." 
Eldredge agrees that there is only one story, but unlike Foster, he points to Christ's story as the original one. 
We base all our stories on the story of Christ because it echoes in our soul.  We feel the need to tell it again and again.  We are part of the larger story, and it can not exist without us.  Likewise, we need the larger story in order to live fully.  How's that for a sense of purpose?  We have a role to play in the plot pyramid, and I particularly like the one I included above because the denouement has an arrow.  It never ends...
I look forward to this journey we are going to take together these next several weeks.  I'm glad you are my fellow journeymen/women.  Get ready for some obstacles, some discoveries, and a story arc that will keep you turning the pages!
“I will open my mouth in parables.” Psalm 78:2

“If we ever did find the secret to our lives, the secret to the universe, it would come to us first as a story.” John Eldredge, Epic, p.13.

I am a compulsive reader of stories—there, I’ve admitted it! From being told bedtime fairy tales and fables, to reading Golden Books, to “chapter books” without pictures, to required reading as an English major, I have spent countless hours of my life with my nose in a book.  Fiction, nonfiction—it doesn’t matter; there’s just something about a story that captures my full attention. So intense is my identification with the characters and plot of whatever book I’m reading, I often find myself laughing at comical plot twists or crying at tragic turns of events. Family will tell you that when I’m immersed in a book, no amount of noise disrupts my reading; only waving a hand between my eyes and the page can divert my concentration.

While my fascination with story may be extreme, I don’t think it’s unusual. My experience as an educator tells me that story is a powerful method of teaching and learning for all ages—pre-school through graduate school. It’s the primary tool Jesus used in His teaching.  Parables fill so many pages of the gospels.  No abstract philosophical treatises. No presentations of scientific evidence.  But instead, narratives that evoke memories, that relate to common events, that have a beginning, a middle and an end. The prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the rich fool, the great banquet—a lesson worth learning embedded in each one.

Actually, as I remember the Bible in 90 Days experience (my experience took more than 90 days!), the whole of God’s word is full of stories—Noah, Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat, Jonah, Daniel in the lion’s den, David and Goliath.  Maybe, as John Eldredge suggests, each Biblical story and parable is but a part of a larger, sweeping epic story, grander than War and Peace, Dr. Zhivago, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy combined.
The idea that I am part of such a story is intriguing, frightening, and heartening all at once.  What an adventure the next several weeks promise as I join you in pondering how this story gives meaning to our lives!

Discussion questions Prologue week 1
1. John writes “life is a story.” 
   a. Have you viewed life (YOUR life) as an unfolding story?
   b. What conclusions have you jumped to regarding God and His heart towards you that may be the result of you not knowing the full story?

2. John asserts that in the modern world, “we’ve pretty much given up on trying to find any larger story in which to live.”
   a. How would looking at life as a great Story change the way you live?
   b. What questions might it answer for you?
   c. What deep desires of your heart might the Larger Story explain?
   d. Does it affect your understanding of Christianity?

3. If our lives are a story, what kind of story have you fallen into? (Romance? Comedy? Sci-fi? Adventure? Thriller?)
   a. Is it the kind of tale you have hoped for or dreamed of living? 
   b. What part of your story has caused you to lose heart?

(You may choose to post thoughts or ruminate privately)

What’s your story? If you want to understand your own life, you must understand your story.  The things that have happened in the past have shaped you into the person you are now. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to ask you to write out your story.  This is huge! It will give you so much understanding of yourself, God’s hand in your life, the enemy’s assault on you, and of your role in God’s larger story. Think about these things: How would you tell your story? What would you include? What’s shaped you, made you who you are today? Where in the story arc are you?

Enter your comments and replies to comments below.  We look forward to reading your thoughts!