When God Says “Yes”

From her earliest days, Meadow Rue Merrill dreamed of adopting a child, and she longed to travel to Africa, even wrestling a promise from her husband that if she promised to marry him, he would not stand in the way of her going. Redeeming Ruth is Meadow’s record of God’s “yes” to her dreams — and it stands as powerful evidence that the unfolding of our dreams may not look exactly as we imagined.

International adoption is complicated even without a large family and economic limitations. The Merrill family had both, but when they met tiny Ruth, she captured their hearts.  Ruth  had traveled from Uganda through Welcome Home Ministries, Africa, to stay with a family in Maine (friends of the Merrils) where she could receive physical therapy. When Meadow and her husband Dana held Ruth’s limp body for the first time, they were astonished at her level of disability from cerebral palsy — and at the way their hearts responded to her.

Desire warred against ambivalence as Meadow and Dana weighed the wisdom of bringing a profoundly disabled African child into their already-full-and-busy home located in the whitest state in America. Yielding to what Meadow described as Dana’s “annoying habit of believing that God will take care of us,” (22) they took one tentative step after another, weathered countless setbacks, and put thousands of miles on their vehicle until one momentous day, Meadow and Ruth boarded a plane for Uganda to finalize Ruth’s adoption.

Time to Walk

In the spirit of “leaving the 99 to save one,” Meadow spent nearly a month in Uganda chasing paperwork, caring for Ruth in primitive surroundings, living among the other orphans and workers at Welcome Home. There, she gained insight to the hopelessness of Ruth’s future, forever trapped in a body with the skill set of a two-month-old infant, if she did not gain entrance to the United States and the privilege of hope that comes with education, health care, and rehabilitation.

Together, the Merrill family prayed for healing and trusted for progress, but what would healing look like? Her big brothers and sister prayed specifically that Ruth would walk and talk. Would a cochlear implant restore Ruth’s hearing? Meadow pondered theological implications of her daughter’s fragility:

“[P]erhaps God’s purpose was higher than ours. Perhaps instead of healing Ruth, he intended to heal us of our selfishness and pride. Wouldn’t that be a miracle?”

A Faith Journey into God’s Yes

Redeeming Ruth reminded me of why memoir is my favorite genre. Not everyone who reads Meadow’s descriptive prose will be able to appreciate her references to Brunswick area landmarks or have memories of sunny days at Popham Beach and walks around the trails of Mackworth Island that heightened my appreciation for the setting. However, it will be a rare reader who does not identify with the struggle to hold onto a dream that keeps slipping away or to continue in faith when sight is alarmingly out of sync with expected outcomes.

The Merrill family’s unique story is a valuable resource for anyone who is learning to trust God’s motives and struggling to live well in the tension of pursuing a dream while holding it loosely, for within the flow of story, priceless principles emerge:

Close the door on worries.

“I can believe what my  mind is telling me, which is ‘Panic!’ Or I can believe what the Bible tells me, which is that children are a blessing. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I close my eyes and picture myself physically putting my trust in God the way I’d put something in a cupboard. I give my worries to him. Then I close the door.”   (149)

Love like a fool.

“Even if you love and lose, keep sharing God’s love anyway. Love in the face of suffering and grief and heartache and loss. Love beyond racial and religious and physical borders and barriers. . . You won’t have to look far to find someone who is hurting, someone without a voice, someone waiting to know they are loved.” (203)

There is nothing of value that may be lost here that will not be redeemed in heaven.

“Everything life takes, love restores. Everything. Broken bodies. Broken hearts. Broken dreams. No matter how painful. No matter how devastating. God can transform even our greatest sorrow into something good.” (201)

The unfolding of Ruth’s story rebukes the notion that God is made visible only in happy endings. Loving and caring for Ruth became Meadow’s offering to God, “one small piece of this broken, pain-pierced world that [she] could redeem.” It will surprise no one who has read the New Testament that redemption is a costly process. In the midst of grinding fatigue and great joy, discouragement and soaring faith, mourning and soul-deep comfort, the Merrill family continues to live their way into God’s high purpose for bringing Ruth into their family.

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This book was provided by Hendrickson Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

Downeast Magazine is a favorite here in Maine, and Meadow shares an excerpt from Redeeming Ruth in their March 2017 issue. You can read it here.

A fellow member of the Redbud Writers Guild, Meadow wrote an article featuring her adoption journey for September 2017 issue of The Redbud Post: A Promise, a Prayer, and an Irresistible Smile.

For more of Meadow’s fine writing, including her blog, be sure to check out her website.

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Featured image from Meadow Rue Merrill’s website.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

 

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It’s Not About You — And It Never Was!

There’s always a certain amount of eye-rolling that goes on in a household overrun by teens and young adults. My husband and I are amazingly un-cool. His humor is entirely “Dad-jokes.” My questions and observations are overwhelming evidence that I’m over-thinking everything.  But here’s one tiny bit of wisdom that has been passed down without protest, maybe because it is so abundantly clear: “People who are all wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.”

Sharon Hodde Miller found the pull of this variety of self-focus to be stronger than gravity, robbing her of her joy and killing her confidence, for no accomplishment was ever stellar enough to overcome the downward pull of comparison; no applause was loud enough to drown out the self-condemnation; no audience was large enough to banish the feeling of invisibility.  What we’re all fighting is a “mirror reflex” (25) in which everything is a reflection of ourselves, leading to the tendency to shape our self-image around people, possessions, and profession and to live in a state of self-focus that will “make everything about you, even when it’s not about you.”

The writer of Hebrews has thrown the window open wide for all of us who live in the stuffy room of self absorption, inviting us to stop running the race distracted, focused on our cute sneakers and flawless form, and to “fix our eyes on the only One who can heal our wounds and set us free.” (35)

Living life as if it is all about me sends me off course in seven very specific ways. Sharon refers to them as “mirrors,” and in our own brokenness, they reflect back an image that has nothing to do with the real world as seen through God’s eyes.

  1. When you make God about you, it’s as if He exists to make you feel better about yourself, to serve you, to make your life easier, and to bring about your kingdom and your will on this earth.  Freedom comes when our life focus becomes the glory of God.
  2. When you make family about you, everything comes back to image management. Your kids, your husband, their accomplishments (or lack of same) either puff you up or deflate your bubble. Here’s the truth: “The purpose of your family is not to make you look good. The purpose of your family is not to make you comfortable. . . The purpose of your family is to love your family and other families. The purpose of your marriage is to love God and the world better than you could have done it alone.” (67, 68)
  3. When you make your appearance about you, it becomes an idol, a demanding tyrant. Preoccupation with appearance drives a wedge between women. The alternative (and healthy) view is “compassion over comparison.” “[O]ur goal is not to be the cutest girl in the room . . .” And on the flip side of this, physical imperfections become opportunities to “relinquish our splendor” in humility and grace. (77, 78)
  4. When you make your possessions about you, your hope is in something that is very temporary and unreliable. Sharon unpacks Paul’s instructions to women about modesty in I Timothy with an emphasis on the cultural context of extravagance — apparently a problem in New Testament days as well! The modesty Paul argued for was a path to decrease their own glory and to exalt God by hoping in Him rather than in wealth.
  5. When you make your friendships about you, you will operate out of a position of perceived rejection and continual loneliness. “Our friendships are for us, but they are not about us. They exist primarily for the glory of God. They point us toward the perfect friendship we have with him, and as long as our friendships remain grounded in that truth, even the broken ones will be swept up into the arc of redemption.” (102) 
  6. When you make your calling about you, you will live in dissatisfaction with the present and may find yourself acting in disobedience to his calling in self-protection or self-promotion. Paul was a man who carried a heavy calling as if it were feathers on the scale because “he wasn’t living for his own glory, so nothing was on the line.” (112)
  7. When you make your church about you, suddenly your preferences have become essentials and your search for the “perfect” church will become a matter of consumerism. Sharon compares church attendance to marriage in that both are intended to grow us and to teach us perseverance — for better or for worse.

With the tendency for self-focus hard-wired into our fallen DNA, it would seem to be an impossible struggle to ever become Free of Me, and yet, there are four broad categories of healthful habits that can put us on the right path:

  • Loving God

  • Loving Others

  • Pouring Out from the Well of Your Gifts and Interests

  • Letting God Plant You and Trusting His Heart

Throughout Scripture’s narrative arc, God points to a redemptive plan in which all things will be redeemed — nothing will be wasted. Freedom comes when we see ourselves as part of God’s bigger story, crucially involved in the advancement of His vision for the world while swallowed up in the freedom and contentment of self-forgetfulness. Free of Me is an invitation to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

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This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Additional resources

Read more of Sharon’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to ministry and leadership.

Jamie Ivey interviewed Sharon on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way Sharon met her husband, getting her PhD, supporting women in ministry and cheering others on in their unique giftings.

Sharon also shared her story and her book on Melanie Dale’s podcast, Lighten Up! Besides a sneak peek into the concepts behind Free of Me, Sharon talks about what it’s like to be pregnant and professional, falling asleep in class, and resisting the temptation to become cynical in  ministry roles.

This review is coming just in time to be part of #NotAboutMeNovember, an entire month in which we seek God and seek ways we need to make life more about Jesus and less about us. I’m sharing it here along with a crew of other bloggers who are inspired by the goal of making much of Jesus — and less of ourselves!

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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.

Embrace Fiercehearted Living

The Fiercehearted come in all shapes and sizes on this day, and their beautiful faces circle the table from all ages and stages of life. A gray-haired woman sips orange soda facing a 96 year-old faith warrior who prays fiery gospel truth over our meal. Our hostess chows down at one end of the table, mounding up joy like the whipped cream on her brownie pudding cake as if the cancer that has dogged her steps for ten years were only a minor inconvenience. A missionary on home assignment contemplates aloud the challenges of living on both sides of an ocean, but it’s clear that she is among the company who have borne seed with tears but now rejoice over a harvest.

In her manifesto scribbled in the dim light of an airplane seat, Holley Gerth has drawn the boundaries wide and grace-filled for who gets to wear the the name “Fiercehearted,” and her words have found their way into a book she never intended to write.

manifesto

When Holley disembarked from that plane, she walked away from unhealthy peace-keeping behaviors, signed up for counseling, and committed herself to the “brave, hard thing” of acknowledging and dealing with conflict in healthier, peace-making ways. For her, that was Step 1 of learning to take grace — not just for salvation, but also for making a way through a life, lived fully.

Fiercehearted is a series of essays devoted to one woman’s journey of learning to love her successes and her failures by grace alone. Digging into its pages like a prospector, I collected bright nuggets for the reader who has become tired of feeling controlled by fear, of living alone with her imperfections, and of being shackled to continual striving. Hear and believe these gentle reminders that God is tender toward your brokenness and stands ready to cover you all over with His righteousness:

If rules and systems for prayer don’t help you, let them go!

“I love my husband very much, but if someone gave me all kinds of rules for how I had to talk to him, it would stress me out and shut me up. I would become focused on my performance instead of our connection.” (72)

Stop imagining that you can somehow control how other people will respond.

“There’s no escape hatch from being an opinionated human surrounded by opinionated humans.” (90)

The church is an appropriate place for freedom and for fun.

“[W]e can sometimes intellectualize faith to the point where learning takes the place of living. . . We are not just minds. . . . We want to feel fully alive.”

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Holley invites readers to embrace freedom in Christ without fear; to sing from the depths of our hearts and our lungs; to laugh together and to forget about how “important” we are;  to enter into joyful celebration. Or even to enter into a crazy photo booth at a church celebration!

The true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

“[S]ometimes it’s inconvenient and annoying and downright exasperating to be human. But it’s what we’ve got to work with. So perhaps one favor we can do for each other is to not believe anyone has it all together . . .In other words, we all need more kindness than it seems.” (124)

Holley’s words have tumbled onto the page at just the right time for me. Coming down the home stretch on raising a family of boys, I’m thankful for a new baby granddaughter who will need to see what strong looks like. There will come a day (sooner than I can imagine!) when she’ll need to swap stories about brave faith and audacious ministry — and she’ll realize that Bam’s house is never as clean as she’d like it to be.  Turning the last page, I’m praying for another generation of fiercehearted women who realize that God has already equipped them with everything they need for a life of living fully and loving bravely.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

The Beautiful Hidden Life

When I learned in fifth grade that Helen Keller had graduated from college summa cum laude, I made it my goal to do the same. As it happened, those little Latin words that mean “with the highest distinction” did actually end up being embossed on the white parchment of my degree, thereby setting me on a course of high expectations for the “distinction” that was somehow going to be my destiny.

It should come, then, as no surprise to anyone that I packed that philosophy of life into the diaper bag I traded my briefcase in for after our first child was born. (Am I the only one who was surprised to discover you can’t get a baby to adhere to a schedule by sheer force of will?) If only Unseen by Sara Hagerty had been written 24 years ago when I embarked upon the ordinary days of unremarkable tasks and (often) mind-numbing routine that go with motherhood.

I am thankful that, somewhere along the way, it became clear to me that there is an unseen and un-celebrated beauty to everyday acts of service, that productivity can not always be measured in the short run, and that there is a chasing after God that happens in the dim light of a rocking chair session with a fussy baby that is completely unavailable in the spotlight of recognition and acclaim.

Unseen is the product of Sara’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge.  It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33)

There are innumerable lessons from Scripture presented in Unseen for living in the secret places with the God who sees, but I have teased out five of my favorite insights to carry forward into these mothering years:

1. Productivity is not a pre-requisite for God’s approval.

He values intimate conversation, faithfulness in the repetitive duties, and humility in performing the unappreciated tasks that maintain life.  Sara found that she had “a harder time trying to imagine what He might be thinking about[her] during the hours of the day when [she] wasn’t doing anything tangible for Him.” (19) The god news is, He’s already on your side, and there’s nothing you can do or produce that will make Him love you more –or less.

2.  We are made by God to be seen and celebrated.

He has called us by name, and we love the sound of approval, but there comes a dissonance  when a “misplaced desire” for recognition puts us on a path in which acclaim and acknowledgement become the focal point, rather than the glorious by-product of a relationship with God.

Note the intimacy of Psalm 139:1-3:

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.”

3. When God hides us, His intention is that we will find Him in the hidden-ness.

Sara’s season of hidden-ness began with a twelve-year journey of infertility. She had never entertained the idea that her life would be anything but fruitful on every front. In her busy ministry years, she saw results with many lives impacted by the gospel. Finding herself in a dead end job with little human contact, she felt “sidetracked,” sidelined, and walked a completely unfamiliar path. As she stumbled along, she heard the voice of God whisper, “This is where you become great — on the inside.”

4.  Pain is a thin place where the glory of God shines through.

Sara’s pain drove her to a place of finding joy only in God. As she suffered and wondered, she lived her way into a deep belief that the love of God is real and valuable. Like the psalmist, she felt His nearness in her broken heart.

5.  What appears to be an absolute waste can translate into a beautiful, extravagant hidden gift to Jesus.

In Matthew 26, Mary of Bethany is criticized for her lavish love gift of scented oil, poured out on Jesus’ feet.

“Why this waste?” they asked, with judgment oozing from every pore.

Little did they know that Jesus was going to view this apparent “waste” as precious, pronouncing that her act would go down in history as the right choice at the right time.

Sara’s mothering heart has found its home with six children, four of whom were adopted from Africa — and two who came to her naturally! Learning to mother children with needs bigger than she can fathom has deepened Sara’s dependency upon God and heightened her realization that the real need of her heart will be met, not by greater discipline, but in friendship with God. She encourages her readers to cultivate a lifestyle of beautiful waste, poured out in love and chasing the only thing worth being concerned about: God’s deep and abiding pleasure in you.

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This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional resources

Read more of Sara’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to adoption and her books.

Jamie Ivey interviewed Sara on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way God built Sara’s family and her fight to believe that God sees her, understands her, knows her, hasn’t forgotten her – and how that truth is better than being seen by anyone else.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

Dementia, Dignity, and Honoring God

Modern medicine has made optimists out of us all.
Cancer? Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy frequently combine to leave the patient cancer-free or living well with the disease as a chronic illness.
Heart attack? Clot-busters, by-pass surgery, rehabilitation, and the patient returns to a normal life.
Dementia?  Well, that’s a different story.  Pharmaceutical options are disappointing, and there is no cure for the progressive downhill slide into confusion, loss of independence, and eventual death.

In Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia, Dr. John Dunlop asks, “How can such a tragedy as dementia be dignified, and how in the world can God be honored through it?” He’s well-qualified to seek the answer to his question. As a geriatrician (a medical doctor trained to meet the special health issues of older people), he has worked with dementia patients and their families professionally. He has also experienced the challenges of dementia from the patient’s perspective as he walked that hard path with his mother, his father, and his mother-in-law.

The Science and Theology of Dementia

Judeo-Christian values support a position of respect for the dignity of everyone, rooted in our belief that people are made in the image of God regardless of whether or not they can contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product. Since statistics show that, of those who live to the age of 90, nearly half will manifest some form of dementia, it is important for us to arrive at a right understanding of our role, as individuals and as the Body of Christ, in coming alongside patients and families.

Dr. Dunlop is careful to anchor his view of dementia firmly upon the foundation of Scripture’s narrative arc:  creation, fall, redemption, and future hope. Although dementia was not part of the “good” God declared in the very beginning, He has a purpose in all that He allows to happen. A stunning quote from Tim Keller brought this into focus for me:

“The evils of life can be justified if we recognize that the world was primarily created to be a place where people find God and grow spiritually into all they were designed to be.” (Loc 307)

With all the good that God has given to enjoy, I find myself imagining, at times, that I’ve been placed on this planet to be comfortable and to have my own way. Dr. Dunlop encourages his readers toward a trust in God that looks for purpose even in the midst of the horror of suffering that appears to be meaningless.

Understanding dementia requires an understanding of the human brain. I found this distinction among brain, soul, and mind to be especially enlightening:

“Our brains are packed with countless nerve cells, and the chemicals that go between those cells allow one nerve cell to affect another. This enables our brains to process and record our thoughts. But we also have immaterial souls, where our thoughts originate. Together our physical brains and our immaterial souls constitute our minds.”

Normal brains forget sometimes (especially as they age — cringe), but a diseased brain is comparable to an old computer with limited memory capacity. It is storing many old memories and loses the ability to store new ones. When memory loss begins to interfere with speech and cause personality change, it is diagnosed as dementia. Seventy percent of diagnosed dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, caused by plaques and tangles in the brain which begin to kill nerve cells and “lead to a deficiency of the chemicals . . . whose job it is to carry signals from one cell to another.” (Loc 730)

Insights for Families and Caregivers

Case studies of former patients are a valuable part of John Dunlop’s contribution to the caring community. Discernment comes into play from the very beginning, even in deciding WHEN to make a diagnosis of dementia. Some patients are helped by having a name for their confusion; others are sent into despair at the prospect of future loss. He recommends calling it “a memory problem” in the early days to allay fear, and stresses that physicians should communicate hope for a meaningful and enjoyable life in spite of deterioration.

Again, because he has seen the caring process from both sides, Dr. Dunlop’s insights are especially practical and helpful:

  • Try to share the burden of decisions and care for the dementia patient, even though it is usually best to have just one person be the primary caregiver and decision maker.
  • Do not delay in setting up a legally designated, durable power of attorney for medical decisions and in having a lawyer draw up documents to give supervision of the patient’s finances to someone else.
  • Notify spiritual leaders so they can be available for counsel and encouragement.
  • Maintain a regular schedule to help dementia patients get their bearings.
  • Over and over again, the author emphasizes the importance of respecting the dignity of the patient. When we serve a dementia patient, first and foremost, we are serving God who finds people so infinitely lovable that He joined us on this planet so that we could know Him. Those with dementia are whole persons, loved and valued by God.
  • Prayer is a spiritual resource which may help the one who prays more than the patient by graciously changing our attitude.
  • Remnants of pre-dementia personality may persist, but lack of inhibition may allow some previously suppressed aspects of the personality to present themselves with startling results.
  • Committed Christians may experience a sense of the absence of God as the ability to feel anything at all recedes.
  • Even the most habitually grateful individuals may become apathetic toward their caregivers, never acknowledging the sacrifice the loved one is making. Caregivers for dementia patients face daily challenges and deal with their loved ones’ meltdowns, agitated behavior, sleep disturbance, endless messes, and this is exacerbated by their resulting loss of contact with the outside world.  This amazing statistic is both startling and motivating to the Body of Christ to be offering assistance:  “Thirty percent of caregivers die before the patient for whom they are responsible.” (Loc 1027
  •  One way to connect with those who have dementia is to repeatedly tell them the stories of their life, emphasizing God’s part in bringing them to Himself and reminding them of our love for them. One of the greatest ways of communicating love to someone with memory loss is the gift of presence.
  • The church plays an important role in providing for the spiritual needs of dementia patients and their caregivers, but also in teaching what it means to be fully human, educating believers in an adequate theology of suffering, establishing believers in spiritual disciplines that will sustain them through hard times, and developing a culture that values serving and caring for “the least of these.”
  • Dr. Dunlop addresses end-of-life issues with answers to questions about appropriate medical care, the process of dying, and whether or not it is appropriate to limit life-prolonging care. His answers come from a biblical perspective coupled with a respect for both the sovereignty of God and the value of life. His position on end-of-life care for those suffering from dementia could be summarized in this way:  “Comfort is more important than length of life.” (Loc 2377)

Inside Dementia

After a certain point, it is impossible for a patient suffering from dementia to report his feelings from within the disease, but Dr. Dunlop shares empathetic insights he has gained from his work.  Dementia is constricting. Suddenly words do not work as effective tools for communication. It is not clear where the bathroom in one’s own house can be found. Life becomes small and boring as abilities and hobbies become unmanageable. People act embarrassed by the new you, so it’s easier just to withdraw. Everything is unfamiliar and, therefore, threatening. Frustration becomes a way of life.

J.I. Packer shares words that are applicable to both the dementia patient and the caregiver:

“The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.”
(Loc 1173)

I recently attended the funeral of a friend I’ve known for most of my life, but the beautiful memorial service was not the good bye. My friend had been slipping away from us into the fog of dementia for years, leaving us all feeling as if we had not had the opportunity to say a proper good bye. Even so, as we gathered, we remembered her as she had been, and we honored her as we thanked God together for the gift of her life, for the fortitude of her caregiver, and for the truth that our value to God is not tied up in how well we perform or how much we contribute.

By embracing biblical values, respecting the dignity of those with dementia, gathering around the caregiver as brothers and sisters, and placing our ultimate hope in Christ, we grow, God is glorified, and we are reminded in one more way that our eternal home is not to be found here on this planet where “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us,” (Romans 8:18).

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

Nurturing Faith and Strengthening Family Ties Around the Table

If my dining room table could talk, it might begin with a story about cinnamon rolls whose aroma can pull family out of bed like a giant magnet. Smiling and sleepy, they sniff their way toward the dining room and the warm welcome of a breakfast gathering. My scratched up table might share memories of voices singing – or arguing; of conversations with missionaries, old friends, and people who became new friends; of the sound of laughter that accompanies holiday homecomings and boisterous birthdays.

Our gatherings around the table for feasting and fun are symbolic, a pale adumbration of a larger feast, and Sally Clarkson points her readers toward this truth in The Lifegiving Table. Remembering her own family’s heritage of traditions, she shares her motivation behind it all: “The soul satisfaction of belonging to one another, the anchor of commonly held traditions, and the understanding that our home was a sanctuary from all the pressures and storms of life.” (5)

Her exhortation is well-timed, for North American culture is characterized by a speed and complexity that leans more toward fast-food in the mini-van than family meals around a table. Statistics gathered by The Six O’Clock Scramble website indicate that the frequency of family dinners has declined 33 percent over the past two decades with the average time spent at a dinner table shrinking to a mere twelve minutes. Studies also show that children and teens who enjoy more than three family dinners per week eat more healthfully, are less likely to be overweight, perform better academically, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. (13)

It’s clear that time spent around a life-giving table nourishes more than just our bodies.

“The food is only an exclamation point!”

The rhythm that pulses under The Lifegiving Table is a mother’s deep desire to build memories and traditions that nurture close relationships among her children and to point always and ever to the faith that is foundational to everything she does. Intentional time around a table may be elaborate or simple; a gathering of the troops or a face to face, one-on-one heart-to-heart talk.

I read Sally’s book straight through, underlining and nodding and gathering inspiration, but the book could also be treated as a reference, for each chapter stands alone with very practical principles for some aspect of table-love alongside scripture verses to ponder, a gentle push in the form of suggested activities, and then, recipes that come from Sally’s tried and true collection.

Practicing rhythms of life around a table is enriching for many reasons. These are some of our family’s favorites, and The Lifegiving Table offers a wealth of resources for each one:

1.  Shaping a family culture

I was sharing a youngest-son glory moment with his oldest brother, and was surprised at his response: “Well, of course. He’s a Morin.” It turns out that our boys have a very strong sense of “this is who we are” as a family. Our prayer is that as they mix and mingle with people of many faiths and persuasions, they will continue to hold fast to the bedrock of “this is why we believe” and “this is what we stand for.” Values and traditions that shape and define a family are picked up and carried forward through shared goals and strong relationships that form a legacy over a lifetime together.

2.  Practicing conversation

It was a relief to me to read that sometimes things got loud around the Clarksons’ table. Dinner time conversation is a great place for trying out convictions, arguing an opinion, or validating thought processes. It has been my goal to draw each child into the conversation so each would have the floor at some point (for at least a few seconds!), but I had no idea how obvious I was being in this quest until my youngest as a toddler turned toward his dad during a lull in the conversation and asked, “And how was your day?’ with the exact tone of voice I would have used.

3.  Celebrating everything!

In sharing this favorite G.K. Chesterton quote, Sally urges parents to tap into the natural exuberance of our children to put on display the celebratory nature of God:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (91)

4.  Pursuing discipleship in the midst of life

“A discipleship that cannot make room for the ordinary is unrealistic.”

Growth toward God can happen in an atmosphere of fun, and whatever we plan for our day-to-day, line upon line, precept upon precept building into our children must fit our family culture well enough to be sustainable over the long haul.  Realism dictates that we shelve perfectionism. If our family had waited for perfect conditions in which to practice hospitality or implement family devotions . . . we’d still be waiting.

5.  Making love your goal

We are made to love and to be loved. How sad when children go looking to have this need met outside their family, when the life-giving table is the perfect medium for seeds of friendship to flourish right in the home.

“What makes a table lifegiving is what happens at the table.”

If relationship is the goal, a life-giving table can be found anywhere people come together to find refreshment for body, soul, and spirit, and where the value of relationship is based on the value of individuals as God’s image bearers and much-loved children.

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This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

Table Mentoring

Sue Moore Donaldson shares inspiration and practical advice for ministry around your table at her website, and in her books. Hospitality 101 is a Bible study featuring lessons from The Ultimate Host, and Table Mentoring will help you get started on the joyous path of coming alongside another person around your welcoming table.

Also:

Be sure to give a listen to At Home with Sally Clarkson and Friends,  a podcast in which Sally shares more thoughts on the Lifegiving Table along with interviews with fascinating guests.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

The Proverbs: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life

Four young men have grown up around our dining room table, and the book of Proverbs has shown up as a regular on the breakfast menu, along with the oatmeal and the eggs. Liz Curtis Higgs asked hundreds of her readers to choose their favorite verses from the Proverbs and then narrowed the list down to the top 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path, a month’s worth of daily wisdom, comfort — and jarring insights.

Liz loves words and has dug deep into each text, phrase by phrase, holding the truth up to the light and turning it slowly so as to appreciate each facet. The proverbs are all about wisdom, but the goal Liz has in mind is to assist her readers in savoring God’s goodness. God’s words are an invitation to individual spiritual growth and a deep source of satisfaction for “the hunger no breakfast can satisfy.” (14)

Drawing from personal examples and her own humorous observations of life on this planet, Liz brings unique and refreshing insights to much-beloved sacred words:

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:2)

Of the 31 Proverbs in the book, 13 have the word but right in the middle. Liz compares but to “a hinged door” that “leads to another possibility or an important comparison. But can also serve as a flashing light, a warning, a stop sign.” (18)

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” (Proverbs 11:13)

A chatty personality is delightful, and it can come in handy, I’m sure, when Liz is on the road with people coming and going in her life all the time, but she shares the dark side of loving to talk, and the proverbs offer a path of freedom away from the sins that bind us and the bad habits that slow our growth toward righteousness.

In fact, more than a hundred verses in Proverbs focus on the power of words to wound or heal. Having experienced the down side of this equation, Liz invites her readers to dream along with her about a life in which the only words we speak to one another are “pleasant” and “kind” and “fair.” (Proverbs 16:24)

“Anxiety weights down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25)

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Anxiety and depression are a reality that cannot be shrugged off with a scriptural band aid. Liz knows from her own experience of swallowing pride and swallowing the daily pill for depression that the “cheerful heart” and anxiety free living are not empty promises — but there are bio-chemical realities that must be faced head on.

And just in case anyone has become discouraged in their reading of Proverbs as a list of good deeds for the habitual do-gooder, Liz makes the important distinction between “doing a good thing” and “doing a God thing.” Generous living and joyous giving flow from a relationship with the God who owns all things.

When Proverbs 18:10 declares that “the name of the Lord is a “fortified tower” and encourages readers to “run to it” for safety, it’s helpful to have a concrete image to connect with the name of the Lord, and Liz has added something to my tool belt:  a list of twenty-six names of God in alphabetical order for memorization and meditation.  (Thanks, Liz!)

The hands-on, boots on the ground mentality of 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path makes it clear that the light on our path is godly wisdom that emanates from wise choices, righteous deeds, and an intentional following of God that happens over a life time.  Each of the 31 Proverbs comes with a One Minute, One Step practical application.  Suggestions range from the very simple — list everything you are grateful for — to the more intensely meddling assignment of initiating reconciliation with someone we have wronged, hurt, or offended.

With Bible study questions in the back of the book along with complementary passages that allow Scripture to comment on Scripture, Liz has crafted a resource for individual use or for small group study. The application of ancient truth to a thoroughly modern life begins with opening the pages of Scripture and allowing the Spirit of God to speak Truth into our words, our relationships, and our motives as we are led along His straight paths.

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This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.