Without Hindsight: History in the Present

As I’ve looked at history, I think I’ve sometimes viewed the characters as if they knew their actions’ outcomes. It was all fine and well for the Patriots to be so brave. They must have felt very sure of themselves. Of course they were going to win! How could anyone have wanted to give up?

But they didn’t know the end of their story. They were like I am in 2015, in the middle of the adventure and wondering what might happen next. Are we doing right? Is there any way we’ll win? Or will we be relegated to the failures of history? Is it going to be worth the cost?

And they had reason to wonder. By the winter of 1776, not even six months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, George Washington’s Patriots were underfed, shoeless, unpaid, and suffering sickness and defeats. Since they didn’t know what was coming, 2,000 of them left when their enlistment expired. [1] Even before that show of hopelessness, Washington wrote to his cousin,

“In confidence, I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state since I was born.” [2]

Yes, these were days to “try men’s souls” as Thomas Paine put it. [3] The realities remind us that the War for Independence wasn’t glamorous. The men who fought in it weren’t given messages from heaven saying that they were going to be famous someday. They struggled with decisions, made mistakes and had to face them, and needed to confide their feelings to friends.

Somehow this knowledge comforts me as I live within my own life’s tale. While it’s true that as a Christian I know I can look forward to a “joyfully ever-after”, I don’t know when that’s coming or what lies between now and then. Somedays I think, I don’t know what tomorrow holds; how can I possibly make life-altering decisions? 

Let’s face it. Life gets complicated and hard sometimes. That sure wouldn’t be news to George Washington! And yet, he and a (comparative) handful of others pressed on. For some reason, God chose to suddenly bless their efforts – with their crossing the Delaware and surprise attack on Trenton on December 25, 1776, for example – and here I am over two-hundred years later with gratitude for that.

Here’s another thought I’ve pondered: If you’re going to be a soldier who sticks with it, you’d hope your cause would be worth it, wouldn’t you? For me, that’s where listening to God comes in. As the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15, ESV), Jesus knows the end of the story. I think that’s a good reason to rely “on the protection of divine Providence” like the signers of the Declaration of Independence said they did. [4]

So I press on – praying, reading, watching, listening, working, waiting for God’s directing hand. What might happen if we’re not “sunshine patriots” or “summer soldiers” [5] who give up when life gets hard? Maybe we won’t have history-shaking victories. But at least generations to come could look back and say, “They didn’t give up. They persevered in something eternally worthwhile. They set an example for us. Let’s live up to it.”


1 David McCullough, 1776: The Illustrated Edition, pg. 197.

2 David McCullough, 1776: The Illustrated Edition, pg. 191.

3 Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis” http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm (accessed 9 July 2015).

4 “The Declaration of Independence” http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html (accessed 9 July 2015).

5 Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis” http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm (accessed 9 July 2015).

When the Road Bends: Reflections on Anne

Has life ever taken a turn from what you expected?

Imagine this: You have spent an entire school year laboring to gain not only your teacher’s certificate but also a full-ride scholarship to university. As you return home for the summer holidays, the road ahead is bright with possibilities laid out before you.

Then life takes a turn. All of your money is lost in a bank failure, one of your guardians – who is almost a grandfather – suddenly dies, and you learn that his spinster sister who has raised you is going blind and won’t be able to live by herself. All of this means that the only true home you’ve ever known will have to be sold.

How would you react?

Maybe you would decide to give up your hard-earned scholarship and instead take a teaching position and stay at your beloved home in order to care for your struggling almost-grandmother. How about cheerfully saying the following quote?

“When I left [school], my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does.”

If you happen to be a red-headed, freckled, imaginative girl named Anne – please note the “e” –  you would do and say all that. Yes, I know she’s a fictitious character, but I find her quote inspiring. In fact, I want to be able to say that, too.

You see, I often have a hard time facing the uncertain future, especially as I’ve experienced dramatic changes in how I thought life would happen.  Sometimes it’s a  struggle to take proactive steps, to act with hope. Maybe you’re a kindred spirit with me in this.

It’s true that, unlike Anne, I live in the real world with real problems that don’t seem to wrap up with a bow at the end of a certain number of chapters. Yet it’s equally true that I have a real relationship with the real Creator and King of this real world. That Creator-King not only calls me and the stars by name (Isaiah 43:1-2, Psalm 147:4), He promises to have good – though not necessarily easy – plans for me (John 16:33, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28). That’s why I can believe that the best lies ahead even when the road bends.

Here's my copy of Anne of Green Gables. Reading it aloud with a friend or two sure has been delightful!

Here’s my copy of Anne of Green Gables. Reading it aloud with a friend or two sure has been delightful!

1 L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995), 390. An Everyman’s Library children’s classic edition.