Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Life of "Daily Loveliness"

I was one of those kids who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. If you had asked me as early as elementary school, I would have enthusiastically told you that I would follow in my father’s footsteps in corporate management. And like my dad, I would honor God by living a life of integrity and faithfulness in the business world.

True to my word, after graduation from high school, I enrolled in the business administration program of Texas A&M University, eager to blaze my trail into corporate America. Everything was going according to plan—in fact, I was even selected to participate in the business school's honor program—except for one problem.

I didn’t like accounting. Or finance. Or most of the other classes along the way to that business degree. I was only excited about the classes like marketing and advertising, where I could write. (You can read more about that here.)

Long story short, after my freshman year, I switched my major to English and spent the summer as an intern at Word Publishing in Dallas. As soon as I entered the world of Christian book publishing, I was hooked. I knew this is what I was meant to do with my life.

I was going to be a book editor.

Trouble was, I was only nineteen. Honestly, how many teenage book editors do you know? And how many bestselling authors do you think would entrust their manuscripts to a nineteen-year-old?

Didn’t think so.

But the Lord works out His plan in amazing ways. By the end of that summer, I was proofreading professionally. And not long thereafter, an in-house editor at Word made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (or believe!).

She asked me to edit a book.

“The whole book?” I asked her. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she reassured me. “I’ve seen your work, Jennifer, and I believe in you. Trust me: you’re going to be a great book editor.”

Those words literally changed my life. They were the encouragement I needed to chase my dream. I eagerly accepted the job and have been editing ever since.

Let me introduce you to the woman who gave me my break into book editing. A woman who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. A dear friend, colleague, mentor, and confidant.

A godly woman who went home to be with our Lord a few weeks ago.

NASHVILLE, TENN—The Christian publishing industry lost a colleague and friend when Laura Kendall, longtime editor for Word Publishing and Thomas Nelson, died this week in Nashville, Tennessee. Laura had retired from Thomas Nelson in 2005, after two decades of editing books by bestselling Christian authors including Max Lucado, Billy Graham, Ruth Bell Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Charles Swindoll, Barbara Johnson and Tony Campolo. She was still providing freelance editorial services and consultation from her home in Nashville until last week. Laura fought a brief battle with pneumonia and went to be with her Lord on September 2. She is survived by two nieces and two nephews and many who counted Laura as a spiritual sister and devoted friend.

Laura Kendall was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1938. She earned three degrees including a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (Mercer University, Macon, GA), a Bachelors of Divinity (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and a Masters in Sacred Music (Northwestern University). She worked as a voice teacher and then as an account executive for publicity agency Hahn Crane and Associates in Evanston, IL. She joined Word Publishing (Waco, TX) in 1978 as Director of Publicity and soon moved into an editorial role, eventually earning the title of Senior Editor. Ernie Owen, former Publisher at Word, recalls Laura’s unique gift: “Many authors owe a debt of gratitude to Laura. She had an uncanny sense or feeling for dealing with people and manuscripts.” Laura continued to serve Word and its authors when the publishing company moved to Dallas and later to Nashville (as a division of Thomas Nelson). She officially retired in 2005 but continued working as a freelance editor and consultant. Beyond sharing her professional skills, Laura shared her heart with authors and colleagues alike, and her presence will be missed as both an editor and a friend.

Laura was recognized for her professional expertise but also for many personal talents and graces treasured by her friends. She possessed a trained soprano voice and sang with her choir at Glendale Baptist and was known for her elegance, her love of music, and what one friend called “her daily loveliness.”

* * * * *

As word spread of Laura's homegoing, remembrances and responses poured in from her friends and colleagues. Here are just a few:

* “Treasured memories of Laura with her beauty, charm, grace and deep faith will remain with us always.” (Pat Bianco)
* “She was a thoroughly classy lady.” (Claire Cloninger)
*“May we all enter our golden years with such grace and style.” (Kris Bearss)

Over and over, the same words were repeated as friends and loved ones described Laura:

Grace. Dignity. Elegance. Classy. Lovely. Faithful.

All of these are such fitting descriptions of Laura. She was a woman who truly understood what it means to be an example of dignity, wisdom, faith, and beauty (Titus 2:1-6).

Lord, may we all set such an example of "daily loveliness" for our children, our family, our friends, and everyone we encounter so that You may be glorified in and through us the way You shone through the life of Your devoted and faithful servant, Laura Kendall.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Sound of Freedom

One of the fascinating things about living in north Fort Worth is that our house is only a few miles away from Alliance Airport. The brainchild of real estate mogul and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, in partnership with the city of Fort Worth and the FAA, Alliance Airport is an industrial airfield that also serves as a training site for military aircraft.

A few days after we moved to Sendera Ranch, Brett was installing storage shelves in our garage when fighter jets screamed over the house, literally shaking the walls. I remember him coming into the house and turning on the TV, convinced the military was bringing down a rogue aircraft from DFW.

However, we soon realized was that it was the Blue Angels, rehearsing for that year’s Alliance Air Show (which, by the way, is an amazing show. If you’re anywhere near Fort Worth on October 24-25 this year, you should see it!).

After living here for a while, we’ve gotten used to seeing various military aircraft zooming overhead, along with the regular assortment of 747s and passenger planes heading to and from DFW. On any given day, we can see F-16 jets, Blackhawk helicopters, and other military aircraft that I can’t even name. They’ve become so commonplace that our family hardly even notices them amid our daily routine.

Except for one humid, overcast day a few months ago.

That Thursday morning, I was working at the kitchen table when I heard a noise so loud that it rattled our back door and windows. I hurried into the backyard, convinced that it was some kind of massive explosion, honestly expecting to see flames leaping from one of our neighbors’ houses.

What I saw, instead, was an F-16 fighter jet streaking just below the clouds.

A sonic boom.

I looked down at my two younger children, who had also heard the boom and, frightened, had come to find me.

“What was that?” J.J. asked, covering her ears.

I kneeled down to her eye level and pointed to the sky.

“Honey," I gently explained to her, "that's the sound of freedom."

Eight years ago, on a clear, sunny September morning, the world heard the piercingly awful sound of terror.

But today, if you listen closely—beneath the acerbic political firestorm over health care and bailouts and even our military’s deployment abroad—you can still hear a sound so precious that it makes America unique among all other nations in the world.

Freedom to vote without fear.

Freedom to express your opinions.

Freedom to agree--or disagree--with our nation’s leaders.

Freedom to attend town hall meetings, write to your representatives, and even post your political views on public sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Freedom to participate in a democracy that has welcomed differing viewpoints and flourished for more than 200 years.

Listen closely. Pull your children toward you and gently explain it to them until they, too, can hear it.

Because, no matter how bitter the debates may be, when it comes down to it, freedom is a sweet, sweet sound.

To those who have dedicated—and even sacrificed—your lives to protect the freedom we all too often take for granted . . .

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can Christians Honor the President without Agreeing with Him?

Ever since the media announced that President Obama will be addressing public school students today at 12:00 EST, I have been intrigued by the outcry against it. I admit, when I first heard that the president was speaking to public school students (including two of my children), I was concerned about the specific content of the message and prayed about what God would have us do as parents. But as I investigated further and discovered that President Obama was simply encouraging children to pursue their education with passion and vigor, my concerns were assuaged. The speech (which you can read here) contains no force-fed leftist agenda or overt anti-God sentiments, as the pundits had gravely warned us. In fact, he actually closes his speech with the now-traditional presidential benediction: “God bless you, and God bless America.”

“But wait!” some Christian parents said. “It’s not the content of the speech we’re worried about; it’s the liberal, godless classroom activities that our children will be forced to do!” So I looked into those as well. The suggested classroom activities to complement the speech—which are completely optional--contain questions such as “If you were president, what would you tell students?”, “What can students do to help in our schools?”, and “Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?”

I’ve read the entire speech. And all the classroom activities. And to be honest, I don’t see anything dishonoring to God in any of it. What I do see is an opportunity to reinforce to our children a healthy respect for those who hold public office and to help them understand the sobering responsibility our public servants have to make decisions every day to improve and protect our country.

As it turned out, our school district gave teachers the option of showing the president’s remarks, and neither of our girls’ teachers opted to show it today, so this is a moot point for us. However, if all school districts had chosen to show the president’s televised remarks to all public school students today, how should we, as Christian parents, respond?

“Pull all the Christian children out of the public schools!” some would advocate. “Don’t let the government convert them to godless socialism!”

“Keep your children at home on Tuesday!” other Christians say. “Don’t let your children be influenced by this anti-Christian, left-wing-agenda-driven radical!”

If you’ve read blogs penned by Christians on this subject, in addition to the few who have shown a prayerful, careful response, you’ve no doubt read astounding vitriol from those who disagree with the current administration. Some Christians (who are supposed to be characterized by love) are publicly lambasting, berating, and even belittling our commander-in-chief.
But wait.

This is the President of the United States we are talking about here.

Granted, I did not vote for Barack Obama. And I do not agree with most of his political and economic policies.

But whether I like it or not, Barack Obama is the leader of my country. He is not only the President of the United States, but he is also the president of Jennifer Stair, citizen of the United States. And he is the president of my husband and my children. And if you are a U.S. citizen, he is your president too.

If we look beyond the vigorous, vehement firestorm of debates among Christians about whether to subject our children to the president’s address today (or whether Christian children should even be in the public school system at all), here’s the bottom-line question:

Can Christians honor the President of the United States without agreeing with him? Can we have a healthy, God-honoring respect for the office of the presidency without supporting the person who holds that office?

Listen to what the apostle Paul says in Romans 13:1–7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Regardless of whether you choose to homeschool your children, send them to a private Christian school, or put them in public school (which is, I believe, a decision parents are free to make as God leads them), as Christians we are all commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities” and to “pay … respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

As Al Mohler said, “Barack Obama is President of the United States. Christians must be the first to pray for this president and to model respect for the presidency, even when we must disagree with the President's policies and proposals.”

By our actions and by our words about the sitting president, are we setting an example to our children of how to "be subject to governing authorities"? Are we teaching our children how to respect and honor--without fear or resistance--those who hold authority in our local, state, and federal government, without necessarily agreeing with the people who hold that office? Certainly, as responsible citizens of a free and democratic country, we should voice our objections to our congressional representatives, attend town hall meetings, and make our opinions known. But we can do so while maintaining a healthy, God-honoring respect for those in authority, even--and especially--when we disagree with them.

Let’s face it: at some point in their lives, our children will eventually find themselves in subjection to an authority figure who holds beliefs different from our own. Whether a schoolteacher, college professor (yes, even in Christian colleges), boss, manager, or even pastor—your children and mine will someday have an authority figure with whom they disagree. As much as we want to protect them from encoutering difficult circumstances, the reality is that as our children grow up and begin making decisions on their own, they will eventually be faced with a situation in which they have an authority figure who embraces a differing political stance, religious belief, or worldview.

When that happens, how will they respond?

Will they berate, besmirch, and belittle that authority figure (the way, perhaps, they saw their parents do)? Will they retreat in fear and seclude themselves from having any positive influence in society?

Or will they, like the apostle Paul, understand how to respect and honor those in authority without fear or resistance—because they grew up in a home in which their parents modeled a God-honoring, prayerful respect toward authority figures (including presidents) with whom they disagree?