What is? What can be?

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“That basement could have been a prison to him,” mom said, “but he chose not to view it that way.”

We were cuddled up on the couch (with coffee) watching the Book Thief. The plot involved a Jew named Max, hiding from soldiers in Nazi Germany by living in a dark, cold basement. He painted the sun on the wall when he missed it, and taught the main character, Liesel, how to be a writer.

Photo by Scott Robinson

Photo by Scott Robinson

As we continued watching the movie the theme kept reoccurring. In a bomb shelter, as the people huddled, quaking with fear, explosions heavy in the background, an old man played an accordion as cheerfully as possible—relieving the strain in the atmosphere. Later, Liesel did the same thing by telling stories. In each circumstance the characters chose to face despair, head on, using their talents to brighten the world and dispel gloom.

A couple years ago I confided in an old mentor of mine that I felt trapped—like the best years of my life were behind me. My sister and brother had moved away. My career path had stalled. I was still living at home. And despite the uptick in social activities, I was desperately lonely.

The silence grew heavy, as the tiny white gravel of a garden path crunched loudly under our feet. He paused between the hydrangeas and stone angels. “Every day…” the concern in his eyes had been replaced with firm confidence. “Every day when you get up and put your feet on the floor, say to yourself, I’m free.” He opened his arms, palms up, “I’m free.”

He was right. I wasn’t really trapped. I was just afraid of taking a risk or two.

But, years later, I find I’m still good at building prisons for myself…

“I can’t be as good as…”

“It would take a miracle for…”

“Am I normal?”

“I’ll never be able to…”

These phrases slip out seamlessly, and I give no thought to the kind of damage they do. Not only to me, but to everyone around me. Every word is a cinder block. Every sentence an iron bar. (Not that venting is always bad. It has its time and place.)

But, self-limiting assessments are not the full story. They do not reflect reality in the broader, fuller sense.


We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5

That’s the truth. Trials and disappointments are actually strengthening my hope of salvation.

Instead of looking only at what is–ask what can be?

Freedom is playing an accordion in a bomb shelter. Freedom is recognizing your gifts and then using them to dispel gloom. Freedom is knowing, deep in your heart, that you’re a child of the King of Kings—and no matter who you are in this world, your heavenly calling is glorious.

You are free to walk in your calling.

How are you using your freedom?

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