I was interested in your comments about devotionals vs. first person narratives/inspirational writing. Ten years ago, I had a piece called “Yellowstone or Aramaic?” published in Ronald Allan Knott, ed., College Faith, vol. 2: 150 Christian Leaders and Educators Share Faith Stories from Their Student Days (Andrews University Press, 2004).
Because of the subtitle, we were told to start with our name and institutional affiliation. We were supposed to “tell a story.” We were supposed to end with a Scripture that “fit” the story. I picked a Scripture that I thought was illustrated by my story. (You’ll notice that I used a completely different Scripture within the story.)
In my mind, this has always been a devotional. But now I think it’s on the other side of the line; it is after all a “faith story.”
Of course, it was presented alongside 149 other “faith stories.” Which does it feel standing alone?
(By the way, I recognize some Christianese in here. Excuses: it was written to an explicitly Christian audience and it reflects my abilities and approach 10 years ago. Also, some typos or punctuation errors may have crept in due to re-typing.)
YELLOWSTONE OR ARAMAIC?
Steven W. Fitschen
President and Executive Director
National Legal Foundation
During the summer of 1988 Yellowstone National Park burned. In all, fire consumed over 1,500,000 acres. In May of 1989, the Park’s forests had already begun the miraculous comeback that will ultimately take 150 years to complete.
Meanwhile, I sat at a table in a library 2,300 miles away.
What’s the connection? From 1979 until 1987, I had made my living as a forester. Then in 1987, in preparation for a total career change, I enrolled at Regent University to study public policy and theology. So in May of 1989, I was torn. The forester wanted to go see Yellowstone bounce back. The student knew that there was just a week or so before the summer session started and that this small window of opportunity was the only time to wrap up an independent study that was due at the end of the summer.
Both ideas made some sense. Watching the beginning of the Yellowstone rejuvenation would be—in an overused, but in this case accurate, expression—a once in a lifetime opportunity. The last time America had seen a fire this big was 1910 and the time before that was 1871.
On the other hand, an independent study in Aramaic was no walk in the park. I knew that if I didn’t hit it full-bore before summer classes started, the summer semester would be miserable. Weeks of all-nighters and near-all-nighters loomed on the horizon.
Maybe you have to be a forester—or even a forester interested in history—to understand, but this was an agonizing decision for me. As I pressed in to God in prayer, a verse came to me: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” To me that meant that my days as a forester were in the past. The next week or so was to be dedicated to Aramaic.
As I sat at that table with my Aramaic grammar, I also prayed. The burden to pray was great. I began to feel as if the week was more about prayer than it was about the independent study. At the end of a week, God had impressed three things on my spirit. One of them comes into this story. I believed that God was leading me to invite the President of our University and his wife to dinner at our house. Fortunately, my wonderful wife was willing to go along with this invitation.
When I invited him to dinner, he said he would be delighted to come but that it might take a while to arrange because of his busy schedule. I had no idea that “a while” would turn into a year.
But he never forgot, and a year later he and his wife showed up at our tiny townhouse. Our President was a wonderful man of God named Bob Slosser (who has since gone home to be with the Lord). He and his wife, Gloria, were wonderful guests. We shared a pleasant evening of Christian fellowship consisting mostly of small talk. However, Bob was used by God that night in a way that he never knew.
He asked me what my major was and what my interests were. I explained my joint degree program in public policy and theology. I also explained my interest in things political and legal. He mentioned in passing that I might be interested in a new organization—a public interest law firm—that Regent University’s Chancellor Pat Robertson had started, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The ACLJ was so new, it had not existed when I had originally invited Bob to dinner a year earlier. Bob was just making small talk, but God was speaking through him.
For weeks, I could not get those words out of my mind. Because of those words, I pursued a position at the ACLJ. And that is another testimony of God’s goodness: how I started as a volunteer, became a part-time student employee, joined the staff after graduating from Regent, and eventually became the Assistant to the Executive Director.
After three years at the ACLJ, the Lord led me to move to the National Legal Foundation (NLF), another public interest law firm. Within two years of my arrival there, our President was ready to retire. Largely because of the skills acquired at the ACLJ, I was asked to serve as the NLF’s Executive Director. Again, that is another testimony: how a non-attorney was asked to run a public interest law firm and then went to law school and got his license.
Is this a career path for others to follow? Hardly. As I sometimes tell folks, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “I went from being a forester to being a lawyer via seminary. Doesn’t everybody?” But fourteen years later I believe this: The choice between Yellowstone and Aramaic was about a lot more than how to spend a week that summer. It was about the first link in a chain of events that might never have happened.
Isaiah 55: 8-9: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien