LIVE NOT BY LIES: 7 Questions for Lovers of the Truth

Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher Book, Truth

We have to be push-backers, Abigail. Truth demands it. That from a recent email from a friend-who-shall-go-unnamed. This post is that: a little pushback. It is not a call to civil disobedience, to wear a mask or to take it off, or even to vote.

It is a call to not live by lies—a call to be courageous and walk in the truth in love and in truth. Both. John Stott wrote, Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love; John the Beloved, Let us not love in word or talk but in action and in truth. They belong together. Believers love truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Blaise Pascal

So when the world calls evil good, bitter sweet, and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20), those of the truth refuse. They refuse to drift along or succumb to self-righteous masquerade. Rather, because they love the truth, they push back against pretense.

They live not by lies.

1. Are You A Push-Backer?

Do you ever push back for truth? Or only ever go along?

I’m not (naturally) a push-backer and I don’t (generally) like to rock the boat. But sometimes a shift is too important to ignore. When it comes at you on multiple sides you can’t let it slide out of mind. You’d be a fool not to take note. I don’t want to be a fool.

So I took notes and now I share them. Because my friend is right. We must be push-backers. Truth demands it. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), as his follower I must walk in truth. The Father commanded (2 John 4) and the Spirit guides this walk (John 14:16-17).

In fact, did you know truth is the reason Christ came into the world? For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37). And, at some point, everyone who is of the truth will push back for truth.

But for a some time people pleaser like me, pushing back can be hard.

2. Do You Trust God’s Truth And Doubt Your Deceitful Heart?

Culture makes it hard. For one thing, our culture cherishes moral ambiguity as an end in itself, as an intrinsically good thing; theologian D.A. Carson notes. Humble Christians trust God to be true (Isaiah 66:2) and doubt their deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).

But the world does the reverse. Be true to your heart, it shouts. How can you be so sure, it taunts. If you trust God—if you “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E” and believe the sum of his word is truth (Psalm 119:160)— now that, it sneers, is most virulent form of pride.

This reversal is nothing new. G.K. Chesterton described it a century ago, when he wrote,

[W]hat we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.

Do you see? We should doubt ourselves—our feelings, desires, and ‘needs’— not God’s truth.

But believing a truth and speaking it are two different things. Gabi taught me that.

3. Do You Speak Up For Truth?

It was a Friday night in July. Maybe it was pushback to even be where we were. I’m not sure. But the after-dinner mood was light and Gabi was right across the table from me. We’d only met the hour before, but I sensed my new friend from the Czech Republic wouldn’t mind if I asked.

Truth not lies, Forward Statue in Madison, WI Capitol painted red,2020

So what was it like to live under communism?

Gabi was in middle school in 1989, when the Wall fell. Almost overnight, she replied.

That’s how fast her teachers went from denouncing democracy to decrying communism. Her school dumped the pro-communism for pro-republic curricula—taught by the very same teachers who’d spouted the party line mere months before.

How could they do that? I asked, incredulous. What do you think they really believed?

I think there was relief when communism fell and they could teach the truth. They taught what they were told to keep their jobs.

Since statue toppling and painting was big in the news, I pressed on.

So what about all these statues toppled and defaced?

Without blinking, Oh, yes. That happened in Czechoslovakia shortly before Soviet rule.

My stomach churned with the same tension I’d felt a lot in 2020 when I felt torn to like a friend’s post or affirm her position—even if it didn’t sit right. Gabi was insightful and wise, and still across the table from me. So I asked the burning question.

When do I just go along when and when do I speak up for truth?

I think—here Gabi paused and took a deep breath—you must be true to your conscience. If your conscience says it’s wrong, do not go along.

4. Do You Lower Your Voice And Close The Door?

Rod Dreher said the same thing Gabi did in Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents. The title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dated February 12, 1974 —the same day Russian secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. He was exiled to West Germany the next day. Live Not By Lies, the essay and the book, are clarion calls to courage for those who are of the truth.

But courage to push back against lies doesn’t mean we refuse all compromise. Daily life requires assessing which fights are worth having. Choose your battles. Though one must guard against rationalization, prudence is not the same thing as cowardice. (p. 105)

Sometimes silence is an act of resistance. My refusal to like a popular post or parrot a trendy mantra is choosing to live not by lies. Judit Pastor, whose father was arrested for vocally opposing Ceausescu in 1968 was arrested and his life destroyed in a Romanian prison. She says, Keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent is also pushing back.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the restrictions, “soft” restrictions, I now feel on freedom of speech. I am loath to admit that I close more doors and look over my shoulder far more often when I speak in public places. I wonder, “Can I trust her with this? Should I say that in front of him?”

This is new. It’s a shift. I never used to wonder like this.

We have not…to march into the squares and shout the truth out loud…But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Live Not By Lies,” 2/12/1974

A Primer On “Soft” Totalitarianism

I don’t fear arrest by government police. That happened in Soviet era where compliance to the Party’s demands were enforced by the state. That’s not what we’ve got. The totalitarianism we face is “softer.” It demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs… It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings or “victims.” I’m not worried about arrest as much as Facebook nixing my post, or a “fact-checker” blocking a link. I have, by the way, experienced both.

Compliance within soft totalitarianism, Dreher explains, is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations, that thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit. (p. 8-9) Anyone else second guessing your open invitation to Echo and Alexa?

But no, this is not a copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, gulags, and strict censorship. Which is precisely the problem, according to the many émigrés Dreher interviewed who had experienced “hard” totalitarianism. One Czech émigré, a professor in the Midwest, told Dreher about the shift he feels: friends would lower their voices and look over their shoulders when expressing conservative views. I grew up like this, he said, but it was not supposed to happen here. (p. xiii)

I agree with Dreher: it’s hard for us who’ve never lived through such “idealogical fog” to recognize what’s happening.

But don’t forget the frog in the pot.

Silence Doesn’t Save Us, It Corrodes Us

Part of the reason it all feels so foggy is that language is changing. Newspeak, here Dreher borrows from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—”holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5. (p. 14)

We might see through the lies, but will we speak up? But if we never do, our silence will not save us but corrode us. So says Czeslaw Milosz. He would know. Milosz was exiled from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident in 1951.

To dissent costs more these days. To even post this blog gives me pause. But walking in truth constrains me to write and encourage you to live not by lies. Because when you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well. (p. 170)

5. Do You Prefer the ‘Peace’ of Conformity to the Tension of Liberty?

Dreher interviewed Vladimir Grygorenko, an immigrant from the Ukraine. He expressed concern over polls showing waning support for the First Amendment. Grygorenko sees this as a sign of a society that prefers the false peace of conformity to the tensions of liberty. He added, To grow indifferent, even hostile, to free speech is suicidal for free people. (p. 104)

I walked and talked and ached with a friend over our difference this morning. I bear witness: tension, discomfort, and hurt feelings are the price our free expression. But wouldn’t your rather bear the tension of our differences, as our Founding Fathers did, than enjoy a false peace of conformity? Wouldn’t you?

What I did with my friend—imperfectly as I apologized twice in 20 minutes for raising my voice—we must all do. We must speak up. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), but we must “truth it in love” and grow up (Ephesians 4:15).

You have to live in a world of lies, Dreher concludes, but it’s our choice as to whether that world of lies lives in you. (p. 105)

The Greengrocer Breaks The Rules

One of the most gripping sections in the book was the Greengrocer story.

The grocer posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the grocer doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in the store to signal conformity. He just wants to be left alone.

But his action is not meaningless. As Dreher explains, the grocer’s act, “not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.” Then he quotes Vaclav Havel, one time Czech political prisoner who became the Czech Republic’s first President.

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really things at political meetings. And he even finds the strength to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. (p. 98)

And Shatters the World of Appearances

But this act is costly. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he can’t travel abroad. Maybe his children can’t get into college. People mock him. If not because they disagree with him, then to keep the authorities off their back. By refusing to mouth a lie, the man suffers.

But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture,

By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. The grocer has…demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie…He has said that the emperor is naked…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. (p. 99)

Maybe you’re shaking your head, saying, Get off it, Abigail. Lighten up.

Last year I would have agreed. But now I say, The kind of Christians we will be in the time of testing depends on the kind of Christians we are today. (p. 204)

What are you willing to risk—to sacrifice—for the sake of truth?

6. Will You Choose Comfort Over Your Soul’s Health?

Because if you live by lies and never push back for truth, your spiritual health will suffer. A person who lives only for his own comfort, said Havel, who is willing to live within a lie to protect that is a demoralized person. (p. 99)

Havel’s words remind me of something J.I. Packer wrote. Packer sets up the analogy by describing first how our bodies are like machines, that need the right routine of food, rest, and exercise to run efficiently. Conversely, if they’re filled up with “the wrong fuel—alcohol, drugs, poison—they lose physical health and ultimately ‘seize up’ in death.”

Then, to our point,

What we are, perhaps, slower to grasp is that God wishes us to thing of our souls in a similar way. As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image—that is, our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being de-humanised.

J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, 102-103

Simply put, believing one thing and doing another will ruin your spiritual health. Living by lies will enslave your soul. It might seem like a liar is strong, and his lie is a victory over his victim. But in reality, a lie is an enslaving act.

Because, as Ayn Rand wrote, one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.

Maria Wittner said, We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it. She would know. Her refusal to go along with the Party lies landed in a Hungarian prison. It’s an individual decision if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.

Refusing to live by lies isn’t always comfortable, but comfort is overrated. The idol of comfort will disappoint. C.S. Lewis observed, If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

If you refuse to live by the lie, whatever it costs you, you will gain a spiritual victory. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4) But God doesn’t mean for us to conquer alone.

7. Are You Walking Together And Alert?

Blogger Trevin Wax thinks LNBL is too pessimistic. Maybe so. In an interview with Eric Metaxas, Dreher himself said his book is not optimistic, but it is hopeful.

I read it and I agree. It’s hopeful because it says we are not without options and because it is a call to be alert.

That call to be alert and watchful so we’re ready for the Bridegroom is not new. Jesus urged us, Peter urged us, Paul urged us: be alert, stay awake, be watchful (Matt. 24:42, 1 Pet. 1:13, Eph.6:18).

Christian community helps us does that. That came through loud and clear in all of Dreher’s interviews with Christians who kept the faith under communism. To stay alert and remind ourselves of truth, Dreher prescribes the Christian dissident form small cells with fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture… (p. 18)

Rod Dreher wasn’t the first to note the connection between living in loving relationships with other believers and being alert. John praises his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4), then reminded them “to love one another” (v. 5), expressed by “walking according to his commandments” (v. 6). Those words probably don’t surprise us: truth, obedience, love.

But it’s the connection in verse 7 that grabbed me, the reason we must not let our love grow cold (Mtt. 24:12). Love one another, John writes, For many deceivers have gone out into the world. Walking with others in love is a protection against deception.

When we walk side by side we gain strength to live not by lies.

The Final Word: Touchstone For Truth

None of this is easy. Lies aren’t always obvious. The conscience is pricked at different points. But the Christian, as J.I Packer described, is the one, who acknowledges and lives under the word of God. She says with the Psalmist, The sum of your word is truth.

He submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Dan. 10:21)…since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.

J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, p. 104-105

But we need to the Spirit to illumine and help us apply the word. I feel my need acutely. My sin is ever before me.

Solzhenitsyn, for all his calls to resist totalitarian rule, knew well his own sinful heart: “the greatest totalitarian ruler of all—myself.” We are not gods. We never will be gods. But we can know the true God.

I know him. I don’t know him as well as I want to know him, but I know He is the Truth. By grace, I will press on to know him, whose truth is a fount of perfect wisdom, my highest good and my unending need. His name is Jesus Christ and you can know him too.

For only when we know him can the truth set us free— free from slavery to deadly self-rule and free to live not by lies.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:20

AFTERWARD: If You’re Still Wondering What It Means to Live Not By Lies

Even if, Solzhenitsyn wrote, we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.

Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote, will not:

  • sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
  • utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
  • depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
  • cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
  • allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
  • remain in a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
  • subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” Learn more in John Stonestreet’s probing 4-minute Breakpoint podcast.

How will you resolve to live not by lies? I’d love to read your comment.

Saints in the Land?

As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
Psalm 16:3

What delights your soul? Is it the saints you know? Do you even know any saints? And, if you do, do they make you glad?

Or does this sound like silly talk? Like such words about saints could only come from a  super-spiritual poet living long ago in a faraway land?

(Saint) Friends Who Stick Closer Than Brothers

It’s not silly talk. It’s real and daily- this saints-are-so-lovely talk. I know this because in the last week I’ve had- not one, not two, not three- but four different friends tell me, as it were, that sometimes blood isn’t thicker.  That it depends on whose blood; specifically, if it’s saints’ blood.

All four confided to me big hurts inflicted by blood. A sister whose words are sword thrusts, a brother whose whose aloofness wounds, another brother whose lifestyle choices take him to a distant land (my friend misses him), and a father who waited until my friend was 42  to tell her, “I love you.” 

All four also shared how a Christian friend- a saint- had helped them through. How, for example, when a blood-brother wound was raw, my friend texted a saint-friend to pray and then her friend not only prayed but showed up 30 minutes later to whisk my friend away to a happier place. 

Christian friends may be more loyal than an  unbelieving brother. Since brotherhood is one of the tightest relationships we know, a  friend who sticks closer than a brother is a life-giving gift, indeed. (David and Jonathan’s friendship is a great biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship.)

Proverbs 18:4 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And if the friendship is between saints, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that water’s sometimes thicker.

Just who are these saints?

Saints literally means, “holy ones.”

But if the term’s still a bit murky, don’t worry. You’re not alone. One source says the word “saints” has almost completely lost its original meaning,

[T]hat is, of being set aside for the exclusive ownership and use of the Triune God. Very few people in the Christian Church today would consider themselves to be “saints”…Unfortunately the original meaning of the word “saints” has largely fallen into disuse.

But if the term’s still a little fuzzy, a quick survey of Scripture makes it clear: saints are simply believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And all believers are called saints, even when their character is “dubiously holy.”

Paul uses the term “saints” – the plural- to refer to a group of Christians about 40 times. In fact, Paul addresses almost all of his letters to “the saints” in that particular place. (See 2 Thess. 1:10, 1 Cor. 1:2, Romans 1:7, Eph. 1:1, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2.) Only once does Paul refer to a solo “saint.” That’s at the end of Philippians where he writes, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”

So saints are not a special class of Christian. They are all those called by God’s grace and sanctified by His Spirit. Saints are in Christ Jesus.

Saints-R-Us. Saints are believers. Saints are “just” Christians, running the race by grace through faith, in Christ Jesus.

Saints-R-Us

Still, we’re prone to put people like Mother Teresa and Apostle Paul on pedestals and think they’re super-human. We ought not.

C.H. Spurgeon explains, 

Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation…They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.

I crossed paths with some saints last week. Their names were Holly and Hannah, Jim and Jen, Christin and Cindy and Shari and Stan. They live with Jesus, they live for Jesus, therefore they are growing like Jesus. 

The saints in my land are doing this. They are growing more like Jesus.

They’re growing to:

Saints in my land are growing thicker skins and softer hearts. They set their hearts to seek God.

That’s why the saints in my land make me glad. Saints remind me of Jesus. 

Those nearest him are nearest one another.

Believers like this are closer to us in our thoughts and affections than even our non-believing families. That’s the oneness of the body of Christ. That’s the intimate, eternal relationship that we have with the saints.

That’s why the Psalmist cannot help but say, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”

Or as S. L. Johnson said, God’s the center. Those that are nearest him are nearest to one another.  Saints take joy in saints.

David did this too. He took delight in the saints he knew. “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,”  (101:6), he said. And “I am a companion of all who fear you,” (Psalm 119:63). The saints were David’s delight.

Saints make saints glad.

Do the saints make you glad?

David says that there’s one type of person who gets him stoked and fired-up and makes him really, really glad. It’s saints. It’s the holy ones who treasure God.

So I repeat, do the saints make you glad? Do you cherish God’s people?  And do you delight in them or merely endure them?

If your honest answer is merely endure, I have two questions for you.  They’re from this sermon by Pastor John Piper.

  1. Do you know any Christians?  I mean radical people who lay down their lives for Jesus because Jesus means everything to them and they are servants of the world and God has broken them free from their love affair with the world and their ego and power and comfort.
  2. Why would it be that you, a professing Christian, would find more joy in people who find no joy in what is your primary joy?

Hard hitting, those. But it makes sense: If we treasure God, we treasure those who treasure God.

These are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.

The “Sweetness of the Saints” Test

Piper explains how this can be,

When it comes to people, he says, the ones who give him pleasure are godly people. “As for the saints in the land (the holy ones, godly ones — the ones who treasure God and live for God), they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” All his delight, his joy, his pleasure. He doesn’t mean that he has delight in God’s people instead of God or above God. He means that godless people don’t give him delight in their godless ways; only the godly do. What delights him about people is how they treasure God and exalt God. This is the sweetness of his relationships.

Saints are sweet to us because God is sweet to them. That’s why this saint stuff matters. Because it is one way we can measure our relationship to the Lord. It’s a simple test, really. James Boice explains, “Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him.”

So  I’ll ask again: Do you love other Christians? Do you cherish the people of God and seek to be near those who treasure your Lord?

Do you delight in the saints in the land?

The new men are already here, dotting the earth- recognisable if you know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be NEEDED: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Ki-Bum: Joy Doubled And Hearts Wrung

I would give anything to have Ki-Bum just one more night. I miss him so much.

Granted, that’s from Gabe and Gabe’s our emotional one. But we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we both sob uncontrolled sobs. We all miss Ki-Bum.

I  can’t think of a single unkind thing he did. Even when he broke his fishing line and I got so mad at him, he forgave me right away. Or when Dad beat him at Slapjack every single time and he still wanted to keep playing. Or like when I offered him soggy Swiss Chard for lunch on his third day and he turned to the boys and asked, “You like?” They shook their heads and Ki-Bum smiled at me, then shook his head too.

He wasn’t fluent in English, but Ki-Bum understood. When I was feeling some heat for how I was enticing the boys to do summer school work, I asked if his Mom gave rewards to help him study, Ki-Bum shook his head again. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But I not study.”

Ki-Bum was humble too. Most afternoons we were home, like a model son, he’d settle with his math at the dining room table. And break to serenade us at the piano with Summer.

But, Mom, if you had brothers and cousins in WI would you want to still live in Korea?  Gabe wondered, when we’d caught our sobbing breaths.

How Much Love Can You Pack Into One Month?

Short answer: Way more than the 48.6 pounds of luggage- and Pringles and Nerd ropes and Nutella- Ki-Bum stuffed into his suitcase Friday. So much love his leaving hurts.

Long answer: So much that a passing glance at the rice (“bahp”) or Ramen (“Lah-myun”) in the cupboards and the chopsticks (“jeotgalak”) in the drawer chokes me up a bit. We all took a stab at our sticky rice and real Ramen-not soup- with those.

So much that the kings and pawns and a bishop and knight stand hallowed in state, days after the last checkmate. Series total: 18-2, Ki-Bum over Sam.

So much that Gabe won’t shoot HORSE or PIG with his friends because it reminds him too much of fun at the hoop with  Ki-Bum. It makes me too sad. 

That much love.

Joy Shared Is Joy Doubled

I’ve been so slow to learn this JOY lesson.  Still, I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my happy little joys private and Leave well enough alone.Then, by grace, the other side of my mind steps up and replies, Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!

Seeing our daily lives through Ki-Bum’s new eyes proved it again. Joy shared is joy doubled. Ki-Bum helped us enjoy common things more: meals together and “family-sized” ice cream, straw bales and fishing and even flat tires.

In four weeks we played more Sequence and chess, more rummy and ping-pong and spoons, took more bike rides than in the whole year before. There was more just-for-fun plunking at the piano and more lingering around the dinner table with more home-cooked dishes and more meals with friends and cousins and uncles and aunts.

To be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedroom over three-handed wars, more midnight games of slapjack and more waking up at ten AM than ever before.

But I think we grew a little more kind and courteous last month too. Maybe a little more Korean?

Regardless, Ki-Bum brought out our best and smoothed out our worst.

Only Some Other Friend Can Bring Out

We miss Ki-Bum and we miss the joy we shared with him. But there’s one more thing I miss:

Ki-Bum brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.  I miss what we were when he was with us.

C.S. Lewis writes about that in the “Friendship” chapter of The Four Loves. He describes how he missed his good friend Charles Williams, and the way Williams changed what we’d call ” the dynamics” of the group of friends called the  “Inklings.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth,…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” *

That’s what happened last month. Ki-Bum brought out sides of Sam and Gabe sides- that only a big brother like Ki-Bum could bring out. Gabe plunking Summer, and Sam turned Chessmate. And fun sides of Jim I don’t see much, and I suppose more domestic sides of me.

Ki-Bum, to borrow from Lewis, “augmented our loves.” That’s the third reason our hearts were wrung.

Wrung

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves, 

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him;…

If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

So be it. Ki-Bum was a hand-picked gift from God. Sure, the International 4H Exchange Team officially made the match, but God’s hand was in it. I wouldn’t have picked him on paper. But I’m so grateful we were matched.

When Ki-Bum’s profile came a month before we met, I remember what I thought. when I saw his age- 15 (16 Korean)- and thought, So much older than the boys. And when I saw his hobby list; shopping, comeputer [sic] games, webtoon, eating, listening music- Oh dear. I thought. A teenager who likes shopping and video games and webtoon- whatever that is. 

Oh, well- a month goes by fast.

Kamsahamnida- 감사합니다 -Thank you, Ki-Bum.

So fast. The days went slow but the month went fast. But I won’t let myself say, Too fast. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. But it’s so hard to sit loose, to keep open hands. But if our hearts need to be broken and He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. 

So kamsahamnida,  Ki-Bum. Thank you. Thank you for leaving such a big hole in our hearts that we’re looking to only One who can fill it. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as our son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your kind, patient, courteous Korean heart to us wild Wallaces.

Kamsahamnida, Lord, for Ki-Bum.

So teach us to number our days  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Psalm 90:12-14

Remainder of *paragraph reads: “Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”

Zippy

April 1, 2000- August 23, 2012

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. 
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Just a pet, I know.  And an “outside” pet, at that.  Still, like our friend John sympathizd, “There’s no good way to lose long-time pet.” And I am not a dog lover.  I didn’t think.

Zip followed her nose out of the safety of “the fenced in yard.”
As hours, then a day passed,
Hope mingled with impending sense of doom.
But maybe…like in Homeward Bound…?

A day and half later…
A knock on the door,
Neighbor reports Zip, alive but “not able to move” in the ditch.
Frantic calls to Jim at work.
Apple pie still in the oven, very al dente tortellini on the stove.
Boys hurried into van -confused, sad.
Thirty second drive to the neighbor’s ditch.
Assessment- alert,stable, but badly injured in the hindquarters.
Grim.

Reaching down, stroking, calming sweet Zip…

Our first dog.
Traded her blue and brown eyed sister pup for her.
A very good trade, 12 years ago.
At the end of my first year of work.
Before kids.
The first one I told when, home alone,  I “got the call.”
That our first son, Sam was born in Korea.
Enthusiastic running companion all these- gulp- 5000 miles!
(Checked math, yes: 10 miles x 50 weeks x 10 years=5000.)

Now, gingerly hoisting her 55 pounds into the van.
Countless adjustments as she’d yelp when I moved her.
Still, trusting eyes.
Gentle Zip.
Grateful she’d eat a slice of bacon and sharp cheddar.
En route to vet.

Shots.  X-rays. Bones badly out of joint.
Sadness.
Tears.
Tender goodbyes.
Final strokes of silky black muzzle.
You’re a good girl, Zip.

Now home without Zip.

I can’t eat because I’m just too sad, says Gabe, when Sam offers snacks.  What about her dog treats?  Her bowls?  (Between 5 year old sobs) I want a new dog, Mom.  When can we get a new dog?

No, Gabe, now is the time to think about Zippy and how much we loved her and how good she was.  It’s not the time to think about getting another dog.

Or is it?

Maybe Gabe’s response, self-centered as it is, really is the better, or at least equally good Christian response to loss. To jump right in and love again, to give the heart away, again.

The past two days I tear up at the strangest times.  I feel lonely.  When I head out for a walk, and see the open gate.  Or stranger still, when I’m clearing plates after dinner or draining the grease off the ground beef.  You see, Zippy was a dog blessed by frequent and many table scraps and I was blessed by a dog who cleared plates beautifully, allowing me to rest my mind that “nothing was wasted.”

Today I read, “Loneliness is the illusion we are tricked into feeling when we stop thinking of others and think only of ourselves . . . it’s a disease and we can fight it the moment we chose to put others before us.”  Hear, hear!

Or like my mom always said, when in the throes of pre-teen, cliquey girl angst (and periodically in the midst of sinful adult friendship envy), “If you want a friend, be one.”   Or, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)

So, what better way to heal the hurt, to fight the disease, than to share a meal?  Remember the apple pie and pasta?  Our pastor’s wife had her first baby a week earlier, and I had offered deliver a meal the evening we said good-bye to Zip.  By God’s empowering grace, I managed to choke back tears long enough to get out a call from the vet’s. 

Could I come an hour late with dinner, I asked, due to a pet emergency?

An hour later, pasta, peas and pie delivered. 
Smiles, congratulations and cuddles with a sweet new baby, Hans Noah.

Teary and blessed, to give and to have received.