Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons

The distance around my elliptical driveway is one tenth of a mile. I know this because I drove around it, watching the odometer—and then did it again just to be sure. This fall I’ve been doing a careful jog-trot around its leaf-strewn gravel, a compromise intended to jump start a flagging metabolism without putting undue wear and tear on aging joints and narrowing spinal interstices. Five times around with the dog makes for a half mile of elevated heart rate, deep breathing, and an uncluttered brain. Of course, the gift of those empty mental parentheses is that I get to decide what I’m thinking about while I’m avoiding loose stones in the path and thanking God for the fiery red Virginia creeper and the rusty orange of fading marigolds. Lately, I’ve been following the example of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who watched the nation of Israel disintegrate before his very eyes.   In Lamentations, he records the morbid details around the sacking of Jerusalem and the devastation of siege warfare:
  • Chapter 1 — The Lord is punishing Jerusalem for her serial idolatry.
  • Chapter 2 — Yes, it is time to lament the sin, the death, and the loss.

Turning a Corner into Gratitude

Then, twenty verses into Chapter 3, Jeremiah turns a corner and makes a choice. He leaves his mental parentheses open just long enough for an act of the will, and, shutting out the evidence for despair that lies all around him, he “calls to mind” a new thought that gives him hope:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  (Lamentations 3:21-26)
You’re invited to join me today at the writing home of my friend Jeanne Takenaka to ponder along with me the nature of a sinewy faith that summons gratitude when chaos reigns. Every blessing, Michele Morin
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page. I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers. Photos by Vanessa von Wieding and Rich Wooten on Unsplash
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Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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A Post-Election Prayer

By faith, we have gone behind the curtain.
We have made our voices heard, according to the temperature of our hearts —
Some with a raised fist;
Some with a wavering hope.

We have sifted the relative merits of deeply flawed and difficult candidates.
We have heard the word “Never” said about winners and losers, and
we have learned that only You are equipped to say that word with absolute certainty.
Thank you that the eye of the storm has passed, and we can now begin to put feet to those whispered prayers:  “Thy will be done.”

In the aftermath of a political hurricane, we ask for grace:
To be charitable;
To pray for the winner;
To honor the brother or sister who voted differently;
To advance into the culture — knowing full well that politics is all “downstream”;
To trade litmus tests for conversations with real people;
To renounce our deep desire to say, “I told you so”;
To live in such a way that strong families, strong churches, strong communities, and strong faith will become our First Thing, giving us courage to stand for righteousness.

May our desire to be folded into the number of those nations who are called “blessed” impact the way we practice Mere Christianity, knowing that those who fear You, who hope in Your mercy, and who wait for You are those who will rejoice.

Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.”   (Psalm 33:22)

//

This prayer was inspired by the stimulating and insightful conversation between World Magazine’s Warren Cole Smith and Rusty Reno, editor of First Things Magazine in the November 4, 2016 edition of the Listening In podcast.

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Beloved Differences Bring Us Together in Hope

Conversations about the laws that govern chemistry might be one of the most spiritual things going on this week at my dining room table. Homeschooling chemistry involves revisiting the Periodic Table of Elements with its jagged line separating the metals and the non-metals and the tiny numbers that define and describe unseen properties of pure substances, and for me this is pure joy. Chemistry’s Law of Definite Proportions that I’ve been unknowingly applying to my pancake recipe all these years points to a God who is not only a Creator but also a Designer. The fact that a highly reactive metal and a poisonous gas, when combined in the correct proportions, can be sprinkled on my hamburger to heighten its flavor is a joyful lesson in the unexpected, but then, the laws of science serve to heighten our awareness of the exceptions to the rules and the unpredictability that leaves room for the unknown.

In All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo declares herself to be a combination of elements, unique and unpredictable–more evidence that “elements that hold certain properties in isolation. . . together yield something perhaps less obvious.” (26) Her story points to the beauty that is inherent in unexpected combinations of geography, ethnicity, and culture. As a woman with a unique mingling of genes from the Asian and the African continents, as a black Jamaican American who grew up in Alaska, she struggled to land in a known space, and her writing is a travelogue in which Gopo finds peace in living with and learning to love her “unpredictable unknown.”

Through a collection of essays, the reader realizes that it is possible to find home in far off places, and that our differences actually lend us a point of commonality, a gift to celebrate, and a reason to come together. It is through loving our own people, through speaking the language of our heart, through cherishing the unique beauty that our genes produce, through embracing that heritage, and accepting our own way of being in the world that we begin to see our “differences” as an offering to the world–not a barrier from the world.

Speaking a Different Language

What is the “ideal” way to raise a child in a multi-lingual home? Patrice and her husband Nyasha both speak English, and his Zimbabwean Shona is more a cultural memory than a heart language. Even so, they have honored its presence in their family by dipping their brush into its palette to name their daughters. They are learning as a family to count to ten in Shona, and have resisted the Americanized pronunciation [plan-tayn’] of Patrice’s delicious Jamaican plantains [plan’-tins].  There is room in their home for the conflation of all the various cultures and practices that are part of their family’s heritage.

Cherishing a Different Beauty

Giving up her routine of hair relaxing chemicals and returning to her natural hair texture, Patrice discovered strength that came as a complete surprise. She weaves foundational wisdom behind her choice throughout a number of her essays, calling readers to attention regarding the prevailing views of beauty that idealize very specific white traits.

Learning to style and manage her daughters’ hair has heightened the importance of Patrice’s understanding of her own feelings about beauty, and you can read her essay on acquiring both skill and confidence over at SheLoves Magazine.

Embracing a Different Heritage

When Patrice arrived at Carnegie Mellon University to study engineering, she also received free and immersive tutoring in Black American culture with details that just were not part of her upbringing by two Jamaican immigrant parents with Indian ancestry. Her identity process has been one of claiming all the parts, living under the weight of all the varied stories, accepting the unknown chapters of the those stories, and living the sum total with congruence before her children.

As a black family worshiping in a mostly white congregation, Patrice offers thoughtful commentary on the tension between Paul’s declaration that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” and the Sunday morning tightrope walk of parsing her sentences, avoiding offense, and dodging sensitive topics. While reaching out to her white sisters one at a time, she shares that “sometimes only a person who looks like me can understand certain things about me. Like what it feels like to walk into a room and consistently be the only person of my race.” (191)

Beloved Differences Bring Us Together in HopeAccepting a Different Way of Being in the World

Selfless serving has become a counter-cultural pursuit, so when Patrice announced that she was “giving the year after college to God,” there were some raised eyebrows and concern among family and friends. She ended up in a far off land . . . washing silverware to the glory of God.

Returning to the United States to begin her career in engineering, she eventually moved on to community development, and she shares her conflicted journey of leaving a career that sorely lacks black female role models. Almost surprised to find herself a writer, her voice is raised in the pursuit of problem solving and justice.

Patrice Gopo joins Deidra Riggs in the choir of women who are singing “God Bless the Whole World” in a minor key. With writing that carries depth of emotion and clarity of expression, they remind white mothers like myself that our sons need not fear the fate of Philando Castile or Alton Sterling, and they offer words to bridge the empathy gap.  Looking squarely at tragedy, Patrice acknowledges that we live in the space between what is and what will someday be while praying for God-initiated transformation leading to oneness in heart and in mind.

Even as a seasoned under-liner-of-sentences-in-preparation-for-a-thorough-book-review-to-be-written-very-soon, I found myself gulping down this collection of essays with my pen idle in my hand, forgetting to read like a reviewer, and just reading for the experience, because each of us is a collection of stories. We forget this at our peril, for the unfolding of a story implies hope and possibility at every stage of life:

“You press forth into the unknown,
and the other side, the reality of
the other side, pierces your heart in a way
that reminds you of your humanness,
of your possibilities, of your very life.”

Patrice Gopo, All the Colors We Will See

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for the differences that just might bring us together after all,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Patrice’s website is a rich resource with links to many places where her writing has appeared as well as her speaking schedule. Click here to visit for further information about her book and her career.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

How to Be a “True Christian” Mother-in-Law

Over time, a family with four sons develops a unique tone, a guy-culture with a certain decibel level and a distinct way of doing life. As a mother of some now-married sons, it has been a joy to welcome other women into this circle, women who love my sons well and have also opened their hearts to me.

Of course, the messy flip side of this blessing is the requirement that I acknowledge and appreciate another woman’s way of doing things—important things like parenting my grandchildren, feeding a family, and managing a home. Just as I have prayed for twenty-five years for grace to be a good mother, I am now trusting for grace to be a good mother-in-law. Wisdom for this challenge flows in abundance from one of Paul’s lists in the book of Romans.  Some translators have labeled Romans 12:9-21 “Marks of the True Christian.” I can’t think of any better advice for women striving to be good Christian mothers-in-law.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

In the same spirit as Paul’s command to “let love be genuine,” Amy Carmichael prayed:

“Love through me, Love of God.
Make me like Thy clear air
Through which, unhindered, colors pass
As though it were not there.


I’m teaming up with Desiring God today to share more of Paul’s admonitions from Romans 12 and how they have applied to my life as a mother-in-law-in-training. I hope you’ll join me there to continue reading!

Rejoicing in hope,

Michele Morin

Photo by Khongor Ganbold on Unsplash

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Is It Time to Rethink Your Definition of Christmas?

When Christmas seems to have been reduced to a shopping list;
When the squares on your December calendar are bulging with enough activity to exhaust Frosty the Snowman, Santa, and all his elves;
When you are tired of the knot that has already twisted itself into your stomach by the day after Thanksgiving . . .

. . . it’s time to look carefully at your definition of Christmas.

This Christmas season, join Meadow Rue Merrill at Lantern Hill Farm where a Christmas party in the barn helps to redefine the season for her young friend Molly who knew all about Christmas!

“Christmas was Santa and reindeer and elves!
Christmas was bright lights and a tall tree!
Best of all, Christmas was presents!”  (5)

 

The Christmas Cradle Picture Book (Ages 4-7) spins a realistic tale in the context of family and comes alongside parents with practical and yet winsome suggestions for activities that will help children discover the joy of serving others. Inspired by Jesus, the ultimate Sharer who invites us into a poured out life, our acts of love become a gift to Him. Like Molly and her friends at Lantern Hill Farm, we learn:

“Christmas [isn’t] Santa or reindeer or elves.
It’s not bright lights or a tall tree.
It [isn’t] even presents.
Christmas was a baby who shared God’s love with the world so that we could share it, too.”

Many thanks to Hendrickson Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Because of God’s great Gift to the world,

Michele Morin

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase, The Christmas Cradle Picture Book (Ages 4-7)  [or the board book version, The Christmas Cradle Board Book (Ages 1-4)] simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Musings: October 2018

When jets fly overhead, stitching up the airspace between Boston’s Logan and somewhere-in-Europe, by the time they reach the sky over Mid-coast Maine they are barely visible, nothing but contrails. My roots are deep here on this country hill, thirty thousand feet below, so I’m no globetrotter, but over the years, visitors from around the world have eaten apple pie, soaked up their gravy with warm yeast rolls, and responded in grace to the imperfections and barely managed chaos of this busy household.

At the same time, they have enlivened my family’s vision of an international, border-crossing Gospel and a God with room in His heart and in His plan for everyone He has created. It turns out that missionaries are some of God’s best warriors against small-minded belief, because they put flesh and bone around this truth:

“Biblical religion is aggressively internationalist.”

In Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, Eugene Peterson writes about Jeremiah, the “prophet to the nations” (1:5) who barely ever left home. Since October is missions emphasis month at my church, it is well and good that I am deep into Jeremiah’s letters to “the nations.” By “nations,” God meant foreigners, in the same way that people around here might describe you, if you happen to come “from away.”  You see, folded into Jeremiah’s job description–along with carrying to Judah’s kings all the bad news about Nebuchadnezzar– was the task of writing ten oracles to ten different nations comprising an area of about 750,000 square miles. He was “the prophet to the nations” who only left Jerusalem at the end of his life because he was carted off to Egypt, probably against his will.

Hand-Carried Judgment

The letters Jeremiah wrote were hand-carried–but not by him. We know the identity of one courier, Seraiah, the messenger to Babylon with the news  that she would “sink to rise no more because of the disaster [God] will bring on her. And her people will fall.” By way of Jeremiah’s tethered pen, God’s message was delivered to nations that could have been written off as hopeless pagans. Eugene Peterson notes that letters of condemnation employed “judgment in the service of salvation.” Read for yourself:

This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will break the bow of Elam,
the mainstay of their might.
 I will bring against Elam the four winds
from the four quarters of heaven;
I will scatter them to the four winds,
and there will not be a nation
where Elam’s exiles do not go.

“Yet . . .

I will restore the fortunes of Elam
in days to come,”
declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 49:35-36, 39)

God extends a glimmer of hope, not in all ten oracles, but then, He went on record with some stern words to Israel as well, and He did not relent.

This Month at Living Our Days

We’ve run the gamut from poetry to memoir to biblical exegesis in October, and I love offering resources here and sharing my reading with you.

First poetry:

As Christians, we have no light of our own, but the nature of our Borrowed Light is so compelling that others are drawn to its warmth and luminosity, just as we are drawn to the borrowed light of the moon against an inky sky.  In her poetry collection (The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems), Sofia Starnes has expressed this exact quality of sainthood, the here-ness or there-ness of a life that “orbits the earth but [is] not of the earth.”  It is the discipline of recalling the source of our Light that keeps the underlying Presence in proper view. And maybe it’s because of Mr. Roger’s influence, but when I reviewed the book, my takeaway was that the believer’s right response to our borrowed light is to run toward the darkness with it.

That same week, I shared one of my own poems, inspired by a sermon series on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount from my excellent pastor. If His warning to “beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” has ever jarred you into pondering your motives, you can read my own reflections on it here.

Bring Me a Vision: A Story of Redeeming Hope is the true unfolding of BeckyReview of Bring Me a Vision: A Story of Redeeming Hope Moreland’s story. Founder of RAHAB Ministries, she lived a miracle of turn-around and her co-author Pam Ecrement bore witness to it, first as her counselor and then, later, as her friend and colleague in ministry. When Becky first approached Pam for counseling, she was seeking help for her children, but Pam soon learned that Becky’s own traumatic childhood was impacting her mothering in ways that were detrimental, in spite of her best intentions. The glory of God is put on display as His story runs its course in the life of an ordinary woman who has been impacted by the love of an extraordinary God. Purchasing details and a link to RAHAB’s website are available here, as all proceeds for the book will be turned over to RAHAB ministries.

Nancy Guthrie picked up her pen, gathered up the tangled threads of the earliest story set in a garden, and then she moves forward in hope through the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan in her latest book, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story. On her meandering way from the thunderous God-force of creation to the end of the ages, she shares stunning truth about “what the original garden has to show us about the more secure, more satisfying, and more glorious garden we’re destined to live in forever, which will be even better than Eden.” (14)  This was one of those books that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’ve read it, too, I’d love to have a conversation with you. Here’s a link to more details.

As a long-time journal-keeper, I was happy to review Deborah Haddix’s is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God. Deborah explores the use of drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes.

In The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement: Hearing the Words of God for Others, we find Kitterman’s confidence and fervor flow from years of learning alongside biblical characters like little Samuel that the voice of God in our ears and in our hearts requires action on our part.   We are built for connection, for relationship with God and with each other. Living in harmony with the example of Jesus means embracing a lifestyle of encouragement. “Jesus had radical encounters with ordinary people every day. By listening to the Father’s voice and doing what the Father said, Jesus was able to release heaven into the situations and lives of those He encountered.” (21) You’re invited to read more about Debbie’s bridge-building ministry of encouragement here.

News from the Hill

The garden has exhausted itself just in time for our kitchen to be torn apart and put back together again. The new cabinets arrived on the 15th in a very impressive truck, and since that day we have been moving toward the goal of peace and order. Let us live in awe of the Lord our GodNonetheless, homeschooling, enjoying the grandchildren, the comings and goings of turkey hunting and trumpet playing sons, and a glorious fanfare of fall color have filled this month with plenty of joy.

Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics) by Wallace Stegner is the book I used to re-read every fall. It’s a story in which a friendship is so front-and-center that it seems to become one of the characters in the book. I’ve been luxuriating in Stegner’s gorgeous prose this month, so I will leave you with his rich definition of friendship, and with the prayer that you have people like this in your life.

Friendship:
“It is a relationship that has no formal shape,
there are no rules or obligations or bonds
as in marriage or the family,
it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood,
there is no glue in it but mutual liking.

It is therefore rare.”

Blessings and love to you,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the resources mentioned in this post, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Image credit:  Jason Leung of Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.