Turbulence (The forward to my new book)

I’m happy to announce the arrival of my new book! It’s called…

Turbulence – Devotionals to steady you through the storms of life

In this post I’d like to share the full forward of the book with you. At the end you’ll find the links to it on Amazon (paperback or Kindle edition), Apple Books and Kobo.

Forward

Ladies and gentlemen, please put on your seatbelts. We’re heading into some turbulence.

Life is full of turbulence. When I say “turbulence” I’m talking about the challenges and difficulties that inevitably descend on each and every one of us at some point in this short flight called life. Like the abrupt, knock-you-around blasts of air that seem to randomly attack airplanes, they shake you up and threaten your stability—or even your sanity.

There’s an old saying that all humans share two things in common: they’re born and they die. My cynical friends add a third category: paying taxes! To that I’ll add a fourth: turbulence. In fact, I’m guessing you’ve either been through a storm, are in a storm, or are one phone call away from a storm. And you don’t have to live very long to realize that no one gets a free ride.

No one.

A few years ago I was flying to a conference. It was a regular flight out of Pearson International Airport in Toronto. People were putting on seatbelts and choosing which movie to watch on those little screens on the back of the seats. As usual, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom system. He started to tell us about things like the weather forecast, how long the flight was going to be, and where the exits were.

And no one was listening.

Maybe that’s normal. After all, you’ve been on flights before and know how la-dee-dah those announcements can seem. But consider the fact that the person who is talking is the pilot. He or she is about to launch and navigate your massive aircraft into the sky at insane speeds. We passengers sit there virtually helpless while someone we don’t know steers a huge chunk of metal through the clouds. (A huge chunk of metal, I should add, that from a distance resembles a gigantic torpedo.)

As everyone was ignoring the pilot I thought to myself, ‘This pilot holds our very lives in his hands—and no one is paying attention to what he is saying!’ Some people were looking through those little bags of pretzels and others were trying to untangle their earbuds.

But no one was listening.

The flight to the conference was problem free. But the flight back was another story.

About an hour into the flight—bump, bump! The plane shook—enough for someone to topple over in the centre aisle. A few moments later the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. This time he said something that immediately snapped everyone to attention: “Ladies and gentlemen, please put on your seatbelts. We’re heading into some turbulence.”

People scurried to their seats. If I remember it right, a little light came on, accompanied by a dinging sound. I looked around, and all the same people who were neglecting the pilot’s words a short time before were sure listening now!

As I scanned the plane, several people settled into their seats and leaned their heads back with their eyes closed. I thought to myself, ‘Huh. I wonder what they’re doing.’ But then it dawned on me. They were probably praying!

Storms

As you can probably guess, I’m using the idea of turbulence as a metaphor for the troubles, trials, tribulations and “storms” in life. There are many kinds of storms.

There are family storms where people disagree and there’s an all-out feud.

There are relationship storms where communication breaks down, hurtful things are said, and the future teeters on the brink of relational death.

There are health storms where a diagnosis or condition threatens a certain picture of how you thought life was going to unfold for you or for someone you care about.

There are school or career storms where decisions just seem too hard to make and where people or day-to-day environments contaminate your peace of mind.

There are financial storms where the funds dry up and the bills pile up.

There are bad-choice storms where one bad choice (or many bad choices) have rippling consequences for the rest of your life.

There are existential storms when your Plan A dies, or when the things you thought you knew fall like a house of cards and you start to question the very meaning of your life.

And there is the COVID-19 storm. But more about that in a minute.

Unfortunately, we often wait until the storms of life descend upon the weather systems of our souls before we proactively tune into the voice of the pilot to know what’s going on and what to do next. I say small-p “pilot,” but I really mean capital-P Pilot. But I’m guessing you knew that.

As I was thinking through this idea of turbulence and the storms of life, I thought it would be great to speak to an actual pilot to tap into what he or she had to say about the subject. The first pilot I thought about was Amelia Earhart, the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic. Surely she would have some good things to say about navigating turbulence since she was such a bold pioneer of aviation. Then I realized—thanks to Google—that she disappeared in 1937. Oops. I guess she’s out.

Then I thought about Leonardo DiCaprio from the movie Catch Me If You Can. Then I remembered that (a) he’s a celebrity so he will probably never reply to an email from some random guy in Canada; (b) he’s an actor and not an actual pilot; and (c) even in the movie he was faking it. Huh. Better keep searching.

Then I remembered that I know a few real flesh-and-blood pilots. One of them is Melissa Mutchler. Our children go to the same school. So I got in touch, explained what I was doing, and asked her this question: “What can you tell me about turbulence? How do pilots deal with it when they come across it?” Here is what she said:

Turbulence is a disturbance or irregular motion of the air. It can be caused by other jets (wake turbulence from the vortices of the wing), or by weather patterns such as fronts and thunderstorms. Essentially, they are just rough patches of air. I’ve experienced lots of turbulence, but very few flights with significantly long distances of rough air. When we are dealing with turbulence we have procedures for the various levels. Obviously, we always try to avoid it. When we do encounter turbulence we turn the seatbelt sign on and ask the passengers to remain seated for safety. In the cockpit, we slow down, ask for reports from other aircrafts through ATC [Air Traffic Control], and try to navigate away from it. Navigating away from it could mean climbing or descending or turning another direction. Sometimes it’s not possible. Every situation is different. So we navigate it the best we can, keeping safety and comfort our priority.

Thanks so much, Melissa!

In a certain way, I think that we can apply what Melissa said about the turbulence we experience in the air to the turbulence we experience in our souls. We may not like it, and we certainly don’t go looking for it, but it happens. Sometimes you can see it coming; sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can steer clear; sometimes you can’t. “Every situation is different. So we navigate it the best we can…”

COVID-19

As I write this, our world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are different. Very different. And difficult.

I have family on the other side of the ocean. When I first heard about the coronavirus—whatever it was—it was something they were dealing with over there, but it certainly wasn’t something we were dealing with over here. That changed pretty quickly. The National Hockey League isn’t playing games. Television studios aren’t making new episodes. School buildings are closed. And our favourite bands aren’t touring.

But more importantly, people are sick and dying. Health care and front line workers are making huge sacrifices. People are generally “not okay.” Many people have lost their bearings, jobs, money and peace of mind. We can’t worship together in the same place on Sundays. Going out for groceries is now a source of anxiety for a lot of people. Children haven’t hugged their grandparents, and grandparents haven’t hugged their grandchildren. The list goes on. There is an uncertainty which bruises the arrival of each new day—and those of us who live them are tired of having black eyes.

I’m not sure when you’ll be reading this. (I’m writing the forward to this book in late May 2020.) Here in Ontario where I live, the curve has been somewhat “flattened.” But last week it somehow seemed to un-flatten. It was a reminder that things are probably not going to go back to “normal” as soon as we’d like. Even on the other side of the hump, I don’t think anyone doubts the fact that our society—and world—will be different. But in and through it all, there is godly wisdom to steady you through the storms of life. That’s what this book is about.

The “Up!” Devotional

Since April 2015 I have written a daily devotional called “Up!” which is published five days a week over email, on various social media platforms, and at www.TheUpDevo.com.  It’s meant to be read in a minute or less and is designed for daily, down-to-earth discipleship. The topics often include dealing with the challenges in life, what I’ve here been calling turbulence. So I wanted to bring many of these devotionals together in book form for this particularly bumpy season of life’s journey. About a third of the entries are from March to May 2020, and the rest are taken from entries over the past few years that I feel are helpful or hopeful for the living of these days.

Use of Scripture

Every daily devotional includes at least one quote from the Bible. I think that’s important because the Bible is the primary place where we learn about God’s will. But a devotional is different from a sermon. A sermon includes sustained study of a biblical passage to uncover some of its meaning and includes an application to daily life in a specific context. But each devotional isn’t the result of that kind of sustained study. Some of them are; but the majority are inspired by, or related to, a biblical passage or theme. In either case, I’ve done my best to be faithful to the spirit of a passage and never misrepresent it. Throughout this book I usually use the New International Version of the Bible, quite simply because it’s the version most English readers have. When I quote another version I make a note of it in brackets.

A Broad Audience

Generally speaking, when I write the devotionals I have a broad audience in mind. These are people—probably like you and me—trying to navigate turbulence. Some readers are in their teens, some are seniors, some are in-between. Some are mature Christians, some are new Christians, and some are just curious. Most are in North America, some are in Europe, and some are from who-knows-where. In light of that diversity, I try to get as specific as I can on certain topics, but not so specific that what I say wouldn’t apply in a variety of situations. I also tend to include a fair amount of conditional language (i.e. “such-and-such might mean that…”). I do this because each reader is unique and may be in very different circumstances than the next person. Just as I have all this in mind as a writer, I think you should have it in mind as a reader too. So if you are navigating a specific and difficult situation or question, I suggest you do some sustained biblical study, pray, reach out to some wise friends, and speak to your pastor for more guidance.

Awash in gratitude

Before we dive in, I want to share some words of gratitude. Thankful people thank people—and I am definitely thankful!

I thank my wife, Laura. She is my other half who is also the better half! She prayerfully supports my ministry, thoughtfully manages our home, and is proactive about her own discipleship. She is still able to make me laugh on a daily basis, challenge me in all the right ways, and offer words of reassurance or encouragement when I’m feeling low. Could I ask for a better wife and best friend? No. No, I could not. Thank you, Jesus.

I thank my children, Sarah, Ben and Anna. They have great questions, boatloads of energy, and a zeal for life that makes me appreciate each new day in a new way. I love watching them grow in their faith, and basking in their light which already shines so brightly.

I thank my mom, Donna. This book is dedicated to her. As I said on the dedication page, she filled our childhood home with learning, singing, hard work and hugs. I appreciate, and have been richly blessed by, her never-failing love through the various chapters of life. Plus, her homemade lasagne is stellar.

I thank my dad, Eric. He died in November 2014. It’s amazing how much you can think about someone even when they’re not physically with you anymore. His perpetual support, and his honest and unpolished advice, continue to walk alongside me as I grow older.

I thank my brothers, Deric and Jason. We seem to grow closer as the years unfold—not that we were ever not close, but you know what I mean. I value their friendship, wisdom, and the laughs we can’t help but have whenever we get together.

I thank my wider family circle, from Nashville to Toronto to Woodbridge to Bracebridge (and a few other cities along the way). They ask questions, show their love, have your back, and joke around with the best of them. It’s a fortifying gift to have a family circle like this.

I thank my friend Jeff Einboden. He’s professor of Nineteenth Century American Literature and Comparative Literature at Northern Illinois University. He has a list of accomplishments as long as the Great Wall of China. But mostly he’s a fast friend, confidante, and fellow song-writer who can reify concepts into melodies that both haunt and gladden the heart.

I thank Winston Newman. He’s my prayer partner and is one of those people who exudes humility, if that’s even possible. His sage counsel, theological acumen, and unceasing prayers have given me direction and encouragement on many a dark day—and some happy ones too.

I thank my feedback writers who I ask to give me occasional pointers about whether or not my writing is clear and makes sense. Sean O’Toole was my high school English Teacher at Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School. Andrew Faiz was the Senior Editor of the Presbyterian Record magazine. Brian Irwin is the Associate Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures at Knox College at the University of Toronto. And Jeff Loach is the pastor at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Nobleton, Ontario, and is a spiritual director who formerly served as Central Ontario District Director for the Canadian Bible Society. I’m not sure they knew what they were signing up for when they agreed to offer me feedback for a devotional which is now going on five years!—but I continue to benefit from their input.

I thank Lauren Walsh. She diligently chronicles the themes, Bible verses and quotes from each daily devotional. This helps me locate entries and organize my thoughts when putting together various writing projects—including this one. Plus, she’s a sunny, intelligent person who is a delight to be around.

I thank Jeff Walther. His ongoing confidence and commitment to the Up! devotional has brought it to thousands of listeners through the Life Radio Network in Central Ontario. His energy and creative thinking for the Gospel is so much fun to be a part of.

I thank the elders, staff, and congregation at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Barrie, Ontario where I’ve served as the pastor since 2008. Watching them in action through the ups and downs of real-world faith has been a source of inspiration for several of these devotionals. Plus, they’ve been great supporters of my teaching and writing. The active elders are Cathy Clark, Mary Colvin, Guy Gagnon, Aaron Harris, Wayne Hope, Colin Leonard, Steve Sainsbury, and Tom Walsh. The staff is Julie Cunha, Jenn Harris, and Kim Sanderson. Praying, praising and serving alongside one another is an honour that has flavoured my days with lasting contentment.

I thank Matt and Cheryl Brough. They own Thicket Books and have always been enthusiastic and supportive of the Up! devotional. When I asked what they thought about publishing a book of devotionals about navigating turbulence they were eager right out of the gate—even with a relatively short timeline.

And I thank you! You are the readers. You’ve bought this book with your hard-earned money or have followed along with the devotional online. Your continued confidence in me is both humbling and motivating. I cherish and celebrate the stories and comments you send in about following Jesus in purposeful, daily ways.

Lastly—and firstly—I thank the Lord. Jesus, standing tall and radiating integrity, is a power unto himself of incomparable magnetism. He is the Living Word I hope to magnify with my written words. May he be glorified today, tomorrow, and while navigating the turbulence of life.

Where to buy it

Paperback editions:

E-Book (Kindle edition) through Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo Edition


CLICK HERE to sign up for my daily email devotional called “Up!” which is delivered to your inbox five mornings a week (Monday – Friday).

Turbulence 3D on table

 

 

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