Introduction by Randall from Moody Publishers
Kelli: Good morning!
Peter and I have been looking forward to this chapel for quite some time. We have been looking forward to sharing this book with you. Our prayer is that it will bless you, encourage you, and challenge you in your walk.
Unfortunately, one of the requirements for a chapel speaker is that they can actually speak. And I am having a hard time doing that today. So I’m going to have to keep my part brief and let my very capable partner carry the bulk of the time.
But today we just want to give you a little background on this book project and an overview on what it is about.
So this all started about 18 months ago, when I wrote a little article that I didn’t really want to write.
I was on a sabbatical from my teaching position to write a book. It was a completely different book—about spiritual formation. And I was writing my way through the spiritual development journey—beginning in childhood. I was using some of my own faith journey to talk about these things, as well as some research and some stories of other people I know. I called that book This Odd House.
As I was writing my way through that manuscript, I sent a couple excerpts over to Relevant magazine where a former student of mine was the editor. His response was that these articles were maybe a bit heavy for his audience. They were a bit long for their online format. But, he said, what did really well for Relevant were those list-y articles. “5 reasons you need a mentor” or “7 ways to get a date in a Christian way.”
My thought was, Really? A list-y essay? I didn’t want to write listy essays. I thought they were overdone. I thought they oversimplified important and complex topics. I thought I would never write a list-y essay.
A few months later—when I got to the point in my This Odd House project where I was writing about the 20s—and the transition to adulthood—and how important that decade is to our faith journey—how it is a key time to really ground your faith, and grow your faith, and make it your own—well, when I got to this period in the writing of This Odd House, I found myself truly reflecting on what I wish I had understood better when I was in my 20s. And wondering if I had understood these things better, would my 30s have gone differently. As a result of these reflections, this 20 Things listy essay sort of wrote itself.
I posted on my blog. “20 Things I Might Have Told My 20Something Self.” And for my humble blog, it got a considerable number of views.
So I sent that listy article over to Relevant. My former student editor for Relevant accepted the article and published it on their online magazine. And the readers of Relevant seemed to resonate with it as well. A Catholic online journal in Croatia even picked it up and translated it. So I guess it even had some international appeal.
A few weeks after the Relevant article was posted, Randall Payleitner from Moody Publishers asked if we could meet. He wondered, Would I be interested in exploring a 20 Things book?
I am a slow learner. My initial response was, “Really?” A listy book? I was focused on This Odd House. And I didn’t think I wanted to write a listy book.
A few months later I went back to Randall, waving a big ol’ white flag in surrender, believing that God was indeed calling us to write about these 20 things, and I asking if Moody Publishers was still interested. He said, “Yes.”
Then, I also went to Peter and asked if he would write the book with me. Thankfully, he too said, “Yes.”
I’ll let him tell you a little more about the process and the book itself…
Peter: When my wife came home and told me I was writing a book, I was both honoured and a little surprised. I thought that, being that she is the writer, she would write it. However, we decided to work out a system and the system has served us well. To write the book, I sat down and wrote each chapter using Kelli’s article as a guide for what we were talking about. I wrote a full chapter from my own perspective and included my own stories. I drew from my experience in my twenties and from the many conversations that I have had with students and friends who have had questions which we have processed together. Because I am a student at Trinity and because I like to read, we include some of the research that we have come across in order to support our ideas.
After I had finished I would submit my draft to Kelli who would craft it using her supernatural writing powers. Kelli has an MFA in Creative Non-fiction. She teaches classes in Creative non-fiction at Moody. Not everyone knows what creative non-fiction is. The problem is that non-fiction means that you are writing the truth. People like Bryan O’Neal have surmised that since my wife is creative with the truth, she must be really good at writing lies. The truth is that she very carefully chooses the words she uses and how they are put together. She crafts how the truth is delivered. So I am very comfortable handing her the truth and having her polish it up until it sparkles.
Apart from polishing what I wanted to say, she also removed much of what I really didn’t need to say. That created space for her to express her own opinions. Sometimes a lot of space and sometimes not as much. The result is an intertwining of our voices in a way that represents the best elements of our marriage.
I get excited when we have students over from Moody and we talk about life as they make themselves comfortable in our living room. Sometimes when I read the book, the extra time that Kelli has taken to choose exactly the right word makes me wish that I could always find words like this as a natural part of my conversation in Joe’s Coffee Shop or in my office when I meet one-on-one. Concerning our marriage, the whole is definitely better than the sum of its parts.
What kind of book did we create? Kelli and I do not teach theology and we are not qualified to publish some important critique of the language in the Masoretic text. Although I studied Bible in Moody Graduate School and this book reflects the wisdom the professors shared with me, it is not an exegetical group of sermons which work through a book of Scripture. It is more an exegesis of life. It distills the testimony of Kelli, myself and the friends we have made into a concentrated collection of key ideas. So, 20 Things We’d tell Our Twentysomething Selves is not a theological textbook. It is not a biblical exposition of scripture—though Scripture is present. It is a Christ centered conversation. It communicates how we have corrected our course ever so slightly each day and realigned ourselves with our Creator. Jesus is our North Star by which we navigate more fervently now that we are older. We sometimes lose sight of him in the storms and we often focus on our own fears rather than his constant grace, but the course that we sail is more constant now than it was and more true than it has ever been.
I don’t think you should read our book because we are exceptional. Kelli and I are part of a fallen creation. We are human beings far from Eden, too. However, God took us through a journey and we would like to share a testimony of his grace. God restored me after I had been convinced that ministry and a life of service were for people far better than me. God brought back Kelli from the edge of despair and gave her joy and purpose. God has been gracious in restoring the years the locusts have eaten. We were not exceptional sinners and we are not exceptional saints. We had moments where we were hot or cold, but much of our reality was lukewarm. What we want to share are some of the truths that lit a fire under us. All the many commandments faded into one. Legalism gave way to love. Out of love came obedience. In increased obedience we found more freedom. Freedom to breathe, see the colours and celebrate life. What we would want for you is to trace the twenty things to the one thing. Somehow, like us, you would gain a greater understanding of what it means to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. To see more clearly the depths of his love for his children and respond to it.
The book is written in some ways against drifting. Drifting is a word that describes much of Kelli and my twenties. We quote a sermon in the book that was written about Solomon. When Solomon was a young king he did not choose evil with a will set against God. Solomon drifted into sin and disobedience. Like the reeds that drift in the river, they always drift downstream. Hopefully the book would open people’s eyes to the value of making a decision to move in the right direction. Hopefully you will learn the lessons we had to learn a little sooner than we did.
I know some of you will meet with Kelli and me. For those of you who do that, read a chapter slowly with a cup of tea (coffee will do although it is a poor substitute). There are questions at the end of the chapters which we can discuss when we sit down together. Maybe the chapter will raise many of your own questions. They may even uncover some things that are difficult to think through on your own. In that case we can talk about them. However, we won’t have time to sit down with everyone that we would like to, so we have created a conversation space on our web-site: PeterandKelli.com (a change from what is said in the video). It’s not the same as face-to-face, but it is a place where thoughts can be shared and ideas can be discussed. We are planning on posting there every week, but we will join the conversation much more regularly than that. Also you might find others in that space who have the same questions that you do. You can connect with others in a way that is almost exactly dissimilar to Christian Mingle.
For those of you who are active and are looking for a conversation as you run, cycle or walk – we wanted to create something for you, too, so we made an audiobook with the help of Jon Gauger from Moody Radio. The audio book will be available in the next couple of weeks. That will be more like the conversation that we imagined when we created the book. We both recorded our own sections that we contributed, so we go back and forth a bit. Hopefully it will be like having a work-out buddy talking with you about things that really matter. We both like to jog when we get the chance, so if it goes particularly well, you could invite Kelli and me along for the live version.
Whatever way you choose to join the conversation, though, we want it to be one of mutual encouragement as we keep our eyes fixed on our Lord. You can check in on the conversation at our website at peterandkelli.com.
Kelli: We wrote this book for you. The dedication page says, “For our students: past, present, and future.”
As we close this morning I’d like to read you our 20 Things. After chapel, Moody Publishers is making the book available—just for today and just for you—for 5 dollars.
#1: EXAMINE YOUR FOUNDATION CAREFULLY
It’s your worldview. Look deeply at what you value and what you believe about God and man and truth and reality. Then make it your own. Because it will affect every decision you make. Because life has a way of picking you up and tossing you around, and you always want to nail the landing
# 2: REMAIN TEACHABLE
More specifically, find a mentor—a parent, a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual guide. Or just a person who is living as you would like to live. Spend time with them. Look and listen and learn. And, most important, be different because of them.
#3: DIG DEEPER THAN YOUR DOUBT
When waves of doubt rock your faith, don’t panic. Don’t despair. And don’t jump ship without very careful considerationSeek answers to your questions. And when you get hold of the truth, hang on.
#4: CHOOSE YOUR COMMUNITY CAREFULLY
Your friends will give shape to your life. They will either stunt your growth or spur you on. And when you find good friends, keep them. They are like gold. Treasure them. Invest in them. Spur them on too. Be the kind of friend that you would like to have.
#5: FEED YOURSELF
Feed your body, your mind, and especially your soul. When your soul is starving, you can’t see straight. So learn what sort of nourishment you need: a group Bible study? a worship song? a long run? an art project? a prayer with a friend? This is an individual matter, so take the time to figure out what fills you up.
# 6: FOSTER GOOD HABITS
As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So don’t wait until tomorrow to get up early, go to bed on time, exercise enough, save money, and so on. The patterns of your life today are the person you will become.
# 7: LEARN TO REST
Though this could fall under “foster good habits,” for me (Kelli), it deserves its own point. I am terrible at resting. I can trace this trouble back to my twenties—when I was single and lonesome and (more) insecure. To distract myself, I filled my days and nights to overflowing—a bit fuller and more frenetic each year. If I could, I would tell my twentysomething self that busy is not better, and your worth is not measured by the length of your to-do list.
#8: BE PATIENT
Learn to wait well. You are used to getting things in an instant and on demand, but life doesn’t always work that way. Neither does God. His timing is rarely yours, but His is always right. He doesn’t rush, and He never delays. Instead, He unfolds a plan carefully designed and perfectly timed to bring Him glory.
#9: DON’T WORRY
It’s a waste of time, energy, and emotion. Worry will tie you in knots. Keep you up at night. Make you cranky and crazy. Nothing good ever comes of it. Worry is fear for the future, but worry does nothing to actually change it. So instead of worrying, make the best decisions you can right now. That’s all you can do. Then let it be.
#10: ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS
So much of our disappointment and frustration—with people, with life, with God—occurs because we presume that life should go our way. I (Kelli) still remember the Friday night when the lightbulb of this lesson first switched on for me. Years ago I was driving home from work, mulling over my expectations for the weekend and already becoming irritated, knowing that they wouldn’t be met. So I decided to change them. I made the conscious decision to rewrite my personal plan for those two days. I put only one thing on my new agenda: “Love Peter well.” That I could do. Over Peter himself I had no control, but I did have control over my own mind. Lo and behold, our weekend went well, and I was in no way disappointed.
#11: TAKE RISKS
Follow God’s leading boldly into the unknown. Heed His call, leaving the outcomes in His hands. As a wise friend advised me when we were contemplating putting our hearts on the line to foster our now-adopted son Daryl, “Do what you won’t regret.”
#12: EVALUATE YOUR EMOTIONS
They are tricky, and they can be trouble. Often, they spring up from our triggered trauma. For example, let’s say (hypothetically) your husband says something about your blog. He might mean it innocently, even positively. But (hypothetically) you hear it differently. You immediately feel threatened, defensive, hurt. All of your (hypothetical) insecurity swells to the surface in an instant. You can go with it. Milk it. Act on it. Hurt him back. Or you can do the better thing and take it back to truth.
#13: PRESS INTO PAIN
While no one wants to experience pain, you will. Don’t be shocked. Don’t run from it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t fight it. Let it burn. Let it melt your heart. But never fear that God has abandoned you to the flame. He is there. His presence is unwavering. He is pursuing you and purging the dross. You are not being punished. You are being purified.
#14: TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY
There is no such thing as “getting away with it”—even if you don’t “get caught.” Though grace is gigantic and forgiveness is free, sin does still stain. And the spot will undoubtedly spread further and sink deeper than you can initially see.
#15: EMBRACE GRACE
Accept it with open arms and open heart. Hold it tight until it soaks into your soul. Then release it. Give it away. To your family, to your friends, to your church. When I (Kelli) was a twentysomething, my church was falling apart. The pastor left. The leadership couldn’t agree. The congregation was about to split. I was disillusioned and critical, sitting in judgment over all of them, looking down my nose with disgust. But that posture helps no one, and it is not your place. Instead, be a conduit for grace.
#16: SEEK HEALING
Don’t imagine that the trauma of your childhood has been left in the past. It simmers under the surface. And it will surprise you at how suddenly it can boil up or suck you under. The work of healing those hard places might involve reading books or finding counseling. Don’t be too afraid or too ashamed to ask for help.
#17: LIVE LOVED
Wake up every morning and—before you put your feet to the floor—let your mind and heart linger on the fact that the Creator of the universe loves you passionately, completely, unconditionally, and eternally. Nothing matters more than this.
#18: CULTIVATE AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
Train your eyes on this hope, this inheritance, that will “never perish, spoil or fade.” That is “kept in heaven for you.” For it is in this that you are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:4, 8 niv). Peter (the apostle) said it better than we ever could. Here’s just a sampling.
#19: MAKE GOD’S GLORY YOUR GOAL
I (Kelli) used to repeatedly recite the following mantra to myself when a big project loomed and I feared the outcome. Would I succeed or fail? Would my reputation rise or fall? “It’s not about me. It’s all about Him.” I said it over and over and over again. I still do. And I am confident in this: He will do whatever brings Him glory. That is all that matters. That is all I desire. Remembering this removes all of the pressure.
#20: FINALLY, PREPARE TO BE AMAZED
Your life may look something like you envisioned, or it may take you to places that you never imagined. Regardless, hold on tight, because God is in the business of blowing your mind.