The Journey of Following Jesus Isn’t Always Smooth

What It Is and How It Helps

Caring for someone affected by multiple disabilities is never boring. Life is generally pleasant, but at any given moment, you are seconds away from disaster—a part of your brain is always on. So to give my wife, Jill, a break, I decided to take our disabled daughter Kim with me on a speaking trip.

On a Friday in January 2001, Kim and I headed to the Philadelphia airport for a trip to Florida. We had two suitcases and a large box with “seeJesus” written on the side. As soon as we parked, Kim rummaged through the carry-on bag, only to discover that Jill had not packed the recorded book that Kim wanted. She began a low-level whine, one we’ve considered patenting and selling to CIA interrogators. Forget water torture; just play this tape of Kim and your prisoner will be putty in your hands.

When we got to the bus stall, I told Kim we had to wait for the bus, and her whining grew louder and more irritating. Everyone was looking at us. I glanced down at my box, wondering if there was any way I could hide the big “seeJesus” sign. I looked like a religious nut.

When the bus arrived, I had a horrible thought: “How will I get all this luggage and Kim on the bus at the same time?” I decided to help her on first, then return for the luggage. As I was getting on with the luggage, much to Kim’s delight, the back door closed on me. Her well-honed sense of humor kicked in, and she grinned broadly as she watched me shouting at the bus driver while being crushed by the door.

The ride to the terminal was uneventful—Kim is fine as long as she is moving. But when we got to the check-in area, we found a line that wrapped around the terminal. Knowing we’d never make our flight if we got in that line, I headed up the escalator, luggage and Kim in tow. As soon as we got to security, our line merged with another, forming one very long line—and Kim began whining again. Fortunately, she is adept at moving quickly in lines. She stands so close behind people that she bumps them. It’s uncomfortable for them, but they see she’s disabled and often let us go ahead.

J-Curve

J-Curve

Paul E. Miller

This book explores what it means to live out Jesus's pattern of dying and rising in order to root our hope and tether our faith to Christ in all the ups and downs of life.

When we got to the scanners, Kim wouldn’t put her speech computer on the conveyer belt. She started arguing with the security person, typing out, “It’s my voice.” I yanked her “voice” out of her hand and put it on the belt, and she restarted her whining. Of course, security was suspicious of my “seeJesus” box, so a particularly scrupulous guard scanned it meticulously.

Once through security, we had twenty minutes before our gate closed. I checked the screen. We were in the wrong terminal. We were in Terminal C, but our flight was in B. There was no way we’d make it. I threw myself in front of one of the carts that carry people around and begged for a ride. The driver agreed and whisked us away, but as we came down the long ramp of Terminal B, we got stuck behind a man on his cell phone. Our cart was emitting a loud, persistent beeping, but the man did not pick up his excruciatingly slow pace. As Kim saw me getting tense, she started to smile again.

We made it to the plane, and after settling into our seats, my shoulders relaxed as I hooked Kim up to her audiobook. Then the flight attendant came by and told Kim to turn off her electronic devices. Kim turned off her audiobook, but refused to turn off her speech computer. I reached over and shut off the device—and Kim resumed her whining. A few minutes later, the captain announced, “We have eleven planes ahead of us, so it will be fifteen minutes before departure.” Even though she could not see the line of planes, just knowing we had to wait led Kim to a complete meltdown. I started to say, “Kim, if you don’t stop, we aren’t going to Disney,” but that was one of my reasons for taking her on this trip, so I swallowed my threat. Helpless and embarrassed, I said to myself, “This was a mistake. I will never do this again.”

Sink to Rise

The next day, Saturday, as I reflected on my reaction, I realized I’d forgotten the J-Curve, the idea, frequently articulated by the apostle Paul, that the normal Christian life repeatedly re-enacts the dying and rising of Jesus. I call it the J-Curve because, like the letter J, Jesus’s life first went down into death, then up into resurrection.

The J-Curve is the shape of the normal Christian life. Our lives mirror Jesus’s.

Just like the earthly life of Jesus, the J ends higher than it starts. It’s the pattern not only of Jesus’s life, but of our lives—of our everyday moments. When Kim and I were sitting in the back of the plane, I thought everything had gone wrong. No, the apostle Paul says, the J-Curve is the shape of the normal Christian life. Our lives mirror Jesus’s.

Keep in mind that Jesus’s J-Curve atones for our sins; ours don’t. His is once for all—we have multiple J-Curves that echo his. (For the sake of clarity, when I use the term J-Curve by itself I’m referring to our present J-Curves.)

Embrace Weakness

Our J-Curves each have their own unique cadences, but they all

  1. enter some kind of suffering in which evil is weakened or killed;
  2. weaken the flesh and form us into the image of Jesus;
  3. and lead to a real-time, present resurrection.

As I reflected on how our travel disaster was the beginning of a J-Curve, our trip went from a lifeless gray to vibrant and multicolored. Like Jesus, I experienced a death followed by a resurrection. The two are inextricably intertwined. Friday’s trip left me drained and weary (dying), which created a spirit of humility as I taught on Saturday (rising). On Saturday, I was in front of a group of people who were listening to my every word. I’m thankful they were such eager listeners, but being at the center of people’s praise is potentially toxic. I’m prone to the leadership sins of overtalking and underlistening, so Friday’s dying was God’s gift to inoculate me against the pride lurking behind success and popularity.

The work of love that happens in a J-Curve exposes our hearts in unexpected ways. On Friday, in front of three different crowds (at the bus shelter, in the security line, and on the plane), I was far too concerned with how I looked. In fact, my desire to hide my “seeJesus” box at the bus shelter showed I was ashamed of him. The sign was dead-on—see Jesus in his humility; don’t run from his path of weakness.

This article is adapted from J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul E. Miller.



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