Faith, Family, and the Adoption Journey

Last summer, we canoed down the Saco River.  With kayaks, canoes, and colorful life jackets, we were a festive family flotilla bobbing along in the gentle current. On the way to our destination, we swam, sunned ourselves on sandbars, and the kids played a rousing game of gunwale wars. It was the kind of day that becomes a better memory every year, except . . .

We received some misinformation along the way and our end point was actually further down the river than we had thought — by several hours. Wild with a quiet panic, I paddled and fretted. As the sun began to set and I pictured us navigating around fallen trees and exposed granite in the dark, I announced to my husband, “I’m not a process person!  I’m a destination person, and I want this journey to be over!”

Kristin Hill Taylor found herself navigating a similar course in her journey of infertility and the decision to adopt.  Steering around the discomfort and inconvenience of fertility treatments, enduring the open-ended waiting process, and keeping one eye on the sunset that comes with aging ovaries, she found herself returning to Daniel’s Old Testament anthem to God’s sovereignty:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.  (Daniel 2:20-23)

God graciously allowed Kristin to stay close to the truth that waiting is an opportunity for growth — but that does not mean it was easy! Once Kristin and her husband Greg entered the adoption process, they faced an entirely new set of circumstances that were beyond their control. Even so, they could see the hand of God at work when a young mum made the brave choice to continue her pregnancy and selected the Taylors as an adoptive family for her baby.

Kristin shares her astonishment at the great gift of insight adoption brought to her understanding of the Christian life. Understanding the depth of God’s choosing love and leaning into this faith gave Kristin peace in the process of becoming a mum and leaving a much-loved career to stay home with her first child. The Taylors went on to adopt two more babies, each story unique and each child a gift from God.

By sharing the details of each adoption and including the diverse stories of a number of friends who also adopted, Kristin prepares readers who are considering adoption for the twists and turns of the process.  Throughout the years of her story arc, it seemed that Kristin was perpetually updating a home study or weathering another round of disappointed hopes.  She learned that “few things define us more than how we struggle.” (49) And she realized that she was NOT a good struggler.  However, she was also in a process of transformation — as is every believer.

The sandpaper that God chose to use in Kristin’s situation was the adoption process and the emotionally draining job of mothering multiple children. As Kristin openly shares her moments of weakness and the ways in which God used His Word to instruct her, I was also challenged to dig into the truth of the book of James that “God wants me to live out my faith with my hands and my feet and my words and my actions and my attitudes and my relationships and my decision and my whole entire life.”

A closer examination of the adoption process pushed my understanding of being pro-life beyond a political position and into a realization that children are worth the level of effort, investment, and inconvenience that adoption can sometimes create. The formation of a family is worth the risk and the vulnerability.

The Taylor family has come together through adoption, and although the journey was not predictable or planned, the result is all that Kristin could have hoped for. The uniqueness of their family’s growth served as the occasion for witnessing God’s glory on display as He brought order to brokenness and wove together a network of love and connections in the making of a family.

Raymond Kayak
And, yes, the journey down the river was worth it, too!

//

This book was provided by the author 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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Activate the Love Filter: 5 Principles to Safeguard Your Marriage

Somewhere within the first decade of our marriage, my husband and I began to notice a disturbing trend:  marriages dissolving all around us.  In the church we attended at that time, three couples went their separate ways in a single year.  They were active, visible members — regular attenders.  We looked at each other, both deer in the headlights and knew, deep in our bones:  This could happen to us, too.

Shauna Shanks writes about marriage from the trenches, and A Fierce Love is a manual for marriage preservation in the wake of unfaithfulness, betrayal, and emotional abandonment, for Shauna has invited readers to witness the anguish of the days, weeks, and months that followed her husband Micah’s announcement that he wanted a divorce.  The book is a record of her resolve to fight for her marriage, even though Micah gave her absolutely no hope for reconciliation.

The Love Filter

” . . . this man with whom I had built a life, made promises to, and shared our children, opened his mouth and declared, “I do not love you. . . I am not attracted to you . . . I shouldn’t have married you. . . I have wasted ten years of my life with you, and I don’t want to waste any more of my time.  I feel nothing for you.”

And yet:
God directed Shauna’s thoughts to I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and she made a decision that her love would not be based on mere feelings.  Rather than reading Paul’s words as lovely sentiment or tired poetry, for Shauna, they became a call to a fierce love — a battle cry based on the truth and a posture of grace and restraint.

Instead of remorse over his sin, Micah communicated only rejection. If the marriage was to be saved, the ball was entirely in Shauna’s court, so she employed the truths of I Corinthians 13 as her Love Filter.  Responding in kindness, patience, and hope while rejecting rudeness, pride, and jealousy, she was free to persevere because I Corinthians 13 love never fails.

A Specific Calling

Shauna is very quick to say that not everyone will be called to fight as she did, and not every marriage on a broken planet is salvageable.  However, her specific calling was to hang in there, to speak only to a few very close friends about her plight, and to expend all her energy in the direction of preserving that relationship.

“Second Marriage”

So completely was the Shanks’s marriage transformed, Shauna speaks of their first ten years pre-crisis as their “first marriage” (even though there was no legal breach) and the time since the reconciliation as the “second marriage.” The challenge facing you and me today, then, is to reject a “first marriage” mindset and to fight each day for that “second-marriage”-level of commitment to self-giving as a rescue for a failing marriage — or as a safe guard to an already stable and healthy marriage.

In reading Shauna’s courageous account of warrior-level faith, I gleaned five principles that seemed to be sign posts on her journey of fierce love:

1.  Beware “blatant indifference.”

The roots of Micah’s cold detachment from a ten-year marriage can be traced to his troubled childhood coupled with the distraction of a competing love, but even so, Shauna admits she, too, had been practicing some behaviors that could also be considered “blatant indifference.” Binge-watching Netflix series, failing to prioritize time with Micah, and viewing the marriage as a utilitarian childcare arrangement also set the stage for weakened ties.  Of course this does not excuse Micah’s infidelity but Shauna laments, “My sin may have looked different than Micah’s, but it was still sin.”

2.  Find “Aaron and Hur” caliber support.

God provided two friends for Shauna who upheld her through the darkest days.  So strong was her resolve to fight and so clear was her understanding that God was directing her toward reconciliation that she did not want to risk telling her family about their rift in order to keep them from turning against Micah.  (She and Micah continued to live in the same house so to the outside observer, nothing had changed in the Shanks household.)

Shauna was not being abused or endangered, so she does not intend for her practice to be prescriptive for those who are in an abusive relationships. This is an important distinction given the tendency of abuse victims to hide unhealthy relationships out of shame or fear. With that firmly established, in a culture in which husband-bashing has become acceptable even in Christian circles, there’s a place for respectful silence about our spouse’s shortcomings as well as an honoring curtain of privacy sheltering a marriage relationship.

3.  Refuse to receive the damaging effects of a wayward spouse’s rejection.

Shauna clung to the truth that God had already set a high value upon her, and this guarded her heart from dwelling on negative thoughts and helped to pull her out of depression and despair.

“The Bible instructs us to take our thoughts captive.  We act as though we have no control over our thoughts . . . as if once they pop into our heads, we have to let them live there.
Take them captive.  They will kill you.”

4.  Chase after God.

If two people are determined to seek God faithfully, their marriage relationship will be impacted as well.  Before working on her marriage, Shauna focused on her relationship with God and, mercifully, Micah’s heart for Shauna changed after his heart warmed once again to his Lord.

5.  Take grace.

There’s a prideful rising up of the spirit that is death to relationships because it rejects the gracious offering of forgiveness.  Shauna found that one of the obstacles to reconciliation was that, although she was willing to extend grace to Micah in a supernatural way — he had to become willing to receive it.

From a dark and oppressive place, Shauna trusted for grace, and God met her there.  No matter what the state of your marriage (or even if you are single) there is merit in being reminded that when God becomes involved in the process of restoration, He does not merely patch us up or send us backward into a former thing.  God’s work of redemption restores forward into a brand new and beautiful thing that only He can accomplish.

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This book was provided by Zondervan through BookLook Bloggers 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

  • Jamie Ivey interviewed Shauna on Episode #153 of The Happy Hour Podcast.  Together, they talk about life and Shauna’s book — and the house the Shanks family is building together out of shipping containers.  Click here to listen.
  • My friend Crystal Storms blogs about marriage and recently shared A Prayer for the Wife Feeling Abandoned.  She has experienced the heartbreak of a husband pulling away, and describes the distance between them in that season as “a wall of insurmountable heights.”  Click here for encouragement from Crystal’s heart.

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.

Coming Alongside as a Way of Life

Joanne’s kitchen table was an uncontrollable force in her life, always covered with an assortment of books, mail, loaves of bread, and magazines.  It became a joke between us that she was always in the process of clearing it.

Fortunately for me, another uncontrollable force in her life was the power of God.  She had an ongoing relationship with Him that continually pushed her outside her comfort zone, and even though the word “mentor” wasn’t being thrown around back in the seventies, that’s certainly what she was to me.  We pulled chairs up to that defiant horizontal surface, pushed the butter dish out of the way, and opened our Bibles together. Her whole-hearted pressing on to know the Lord marked me in ways that I’m still discovering nearly forty years later.

Table Mentoring is a matter of coming alongside another person, and Sue Moore Donaldson has Scriptural backing for her assertion:

“God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”  ~I Corinthians 1:3,4

Our natural inclination when it comes to mentoring is to play the unqualified card.  “Who, me?  I’m too [fill in the blank].  Too young, too old, too inexperienced, too busy, too over-committed, too introverted, too tired, too ignorant . . .

Quietly, Sue pulls her chair up beside mine and shares these two objection -silencing considerations:

  1. God is the primary Mentor, and the first qualification for mentoring another is having first been mentored by God.  It is not my own holy perfection or infallible wisdom that is being required.  However, “as we experience God’s ‘alongsideness’ in our up’s and down’s, joys and sorrows, we can more naturally share His overflow with someone who is where we have been.” (8)
  2. The second qualification for mentoring another is a willingness to take on the risk of relationship.  The vulnerable sharing of our own lives is an open door. Furthermore, the experiences God has custom-designed and the thin slice of knowledge I may possess may be exactly the gift someone else is waiting to receive.

Sue’s simple guide to coming alongside moves quickly from theory to practice. She has developed worksheets which can be implemented for structuring a mentor meeting time, for quiet time inspiration, prayer, and beginning Bible study.  They can also be printed in 8 ½ by 11 size at her Welcome Heart website.

As I read, I found myself putting together an agenda for an imaginary future mentor meeting that looks something like this:

I.  Goal setting.  Ask:  “What would you like to get out of our time together?”

II.  Getting to know you.  Ask questions about family, work, current challenges.

III.  Strengthening one another’s walk with God.  This is where fine-tuning becomes important.  Will the mentoring relationship look like a Bible study?  There is great benefit to be found in simply reading the Bible together and pooling questions and insights.  Will you read a book together and discuss it in your meetings?  Sue uses a Personal Growth Plan (available here) to discern the needs and concerns of her learner.

Chapter 5 of Table Mentoring quieted my racing heart with some very important details:

  • Decide ahead of time how long you will meet and how frequently.  Sue suggests twice a month for three months.  This is very reasonable, and if a sunset is put in place at the beginning, no one will feel as if they are embarking upon a life sentence.
  • Time limits are a reasonable concern.  It may be best to go to someone’s home so that you can set the limit. (“Whoops! Looks like I’ll need to run!”)
  • Both participants will demonstrate their commitment by putting the meetings on a calendar.  My experience is that if I do not write it down, it does not happen.

Sue’s writing style is unique, and I continually found myself underlining encouraging statements.  In keeping with the table theme, let’s call these Sue’s Mini-Muffins of Wisdom:

“Not feeling adequate shows that you are more ready than you think.”

“I don’t have anything worth passing on to another if I’m not regularly working on my personal relationship with God.”

“If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise.  Ask God for someone to share it with today.”

“You and I are blessed to be a blessing.”

My reading of Table Mentoring felt like a specific invitation to move forward into this challenge.  Therefore, I have begun praying for an open heart and for the right person at the right time.  I am also praying to be BECOMING the right person to come alongside a sister who is looking for a welcoming heart, to offer the gift and the accountability of a side-by-side seeking after God.

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This book was provided by the author 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.”

And . . .. . . this Thursday will be the first virtual meeting of our book discussion group around Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion, and you’re invited!

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.

Living Beyond First Person: How to Really Benefit from Personality Inventories

We were the fun department:  Human Resources. We all had cute accessories and big hair. (Hey, it was the 80’s.)  After the whole department took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, we gathered after work to discuss the results. Our facilitator began by dividing us into two seemingly random groups tasked with the answer to this question:  “What do you do with time?” What we did not know was that she had divided us on the cusp of the final pair of the MBTI’s psychological preferences, the Judging vs. the Perceiving types.  When we came back together to report, we were stunned by the difference, for while the J’s used words like “invest” and “schedule,” the P’s happily listed activities like “watch my soaps” or “do my nails.”

That ten minute exercise opened my eyes to the importance of Reading People well — of understanding what makes me and the important people in my life tick, because we are different in so many different ways.  As a “J,” it would be easy for me to imagine that everyone thinks of time as a vanishing natural resource that must be rationed, apportioned, maximized, guarded, and measured.  In her most helpful book, Anne Bogel reminds me that I would be incorrect.

Using personality inventories to understand her own unique take on the world changed Anne Bogel’s life, so she has shared her five favorite — not in a manner that shouts “Classroom!” or “Laboratory!” but in a tone that says, “Hey, friend, here’s something that has helped me a lot.  Let me fill you in.”  She shares her own story with the goal of making her readers’ experience of self-discovery go more smoothly than her own.

Defining “Personality”

When we look at people through the lens of personality, we’re looking at a person’s foundational character which includes “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make that person unique.  We’re all inclined to think, feel, and act in particular ways.  Our personalities capture what we’re likely to find relaxing or exciting or pleasurable or tough.”  (LOC 117) While character is malleable and arises out of core beliefs, personality is fairly fixed.  Given this, the five frameworks presented in Reading People are comparable to a good map, for, as we learn the lay of the land, we can begin to live more confidently in a world that goes beyond first person.

The Five Personality Frameworks

  1.  The Five Love Languages

The BEST gift I ever received was a load of bark mulch from my four boys.  They bought it, delivered it, and spread it on all my flower beds.  Can you detect from this that my love language is acts of service?  It turns out that not everyone would be as over-the-moon at the memory of that (perfect) gift, because “we all have a vehicle that needs a certain kind of fuel.” (LOC 979) For others, that fuel is love expressed in quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, or by gifts given and received.  The point of knowing someone’s love language is to bridge the communication gap so that we are expressing love in a way that our favorite people can actually receive.

2.  Keirsey’s Temperaments

In the 1950’s, clinical psychologist David Keirsey developed an outline of four basic temperaments.  Some of us still remember Tim LaHaye’s treatment of this concept from the 70’s (sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric).  Under Keirsey’s framework, our temperament is determined and described in terms of how we use words and how we use tools.  The identification of Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals puts on glorious display the truth of C.S. Lewis’s famous quote:

“There are no ordinary people.”

We honor one another’s differences by appreciating and attempting to understand each other — without trying to shoehorn others into our favorite cookie cutter image.

3.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Some mother/daughter teams write books together, make quilts, or start family businesses.  Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a personality inventory together.  Based on the work of Carl Jung, and overlapping in fascinating ways with Keirsey’s temperaments, the MBTI assessment is based on eight psychological preferences that come in pairs:

Introversion (I)/Extroversion (E)
Intuition (N)/Sensing (S)
Thinking (T)/Feeling (F)
Judging (J)/Perceiving (P)

Because the focus is on personal growth, this is a favorite test for colleges and in the workplace. Online assessments are available, and may be a good place to begin,  but looking in further detail at cognitive functions associated with Myers Briggs added depth to my understanding and can also be helpful in clarifying one’s type.

4.  The Clifton StrengthsFinder

In 1998, a group of scientists led by Donald Clifton developed a personality framework based on human strengths.  The tool is available in a book that was published in 2007 (StrenthsFinder 2.0).  Assuming that we are NOT well-rounded, the StrengthsFinder is built around thirty-four “talent themes” which are broken down into four categories:  executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.  Once we find our strengths, the crucially formative question is:  Are we using them?

5.  The Enneagram

Based on the name for a nine-sided polygon, the Enneagram has been around for centuries and focuses on motivations.  I found that focusing on negative qualities of each of the nine types helped me to identify myself, so brace yourself for a personality framework that is neither warm nor fuzzy.  In fact, a good indication that you’ve nailed your Enneagram type is if you feel vaguely exposed and uncomfortable about it.  There are a number of online assessments, and these will get you started on the basics, but there are wings and arrows and subtypes and enough other details to keep the devoted Ennegram seeker engaged and analyzing for a long time.  However, even a rudimentary understanding of our type can help us in becoming a better version of ourselves.

Making the Most of Your Investigation

One of the main strengths of Reading People is Anne’s practical application of self-knowledge.  We don’t take personality assessments simply for raw data about ourselves, and there are a number of very helpful thoughts about the use of assessments that bubbled to the surface as I read Anne’s thoughts on personality:

  1.  Be honest.  “Aspirational answers won’t do you any good; only true ones will.”  So when taking a personality assessment, don’t waste time giving the response that you “know is right” or that you wish you were.  Report on who you are today.
  2. There is no “best type.”  Remember that we are hard-wired for personality.  Therefore, by God’s design there are delightful qualities to introverts who think deeply and respond to beauty as well as to extroverts who get the party going and are the last to leave. Those who feel loved when they receive gifts are no less worthy of love than those who prefer acts of service or meaningful words.
  3. Your temperament or type is not the boss of you.  Identification of one’s type is not an excuse for living cramped and small.  It does not come with a free pass to say, “This is just how I am. You’ll have to put up with me.”  Instead, self-knowledge is an invitation to develop what Ann calls “an arsenal of coping strategies” (Loc 560) for dealing with situations outside your comfort zone.
  4. Understanding your personality and the tendencies of your loved ones will not eliminate conflict.  However, it will grease the skids in traveling through conflict and make the inevitable friction that comes with life together more manageable and less damaging.

In these days of middle age (on the home front) and angry, opinionated words (in the news), I am drawn to the beautiful humility that comes as a fringe benefit with self-knowledge.  Every day, it is my privilege to choose between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” (LOC 2666)  I can keep plowing my rut deeper and lonelier, or I can beat my plowshare back into a sword of Truth and use it as a pointer toward forgiveness and integral living.

Knowing that God has spoken words of blessing over all the types and temperaments is an invitation to declare a truce in the war against myself and to receive with open hands the gift that is me, and then to turn that gratitude outward in thanksgiving for and acceptance of all the different expressions of God’s creativity.

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This book was provided by Baker Books 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.”

And . . .

. . . come back Thursday to take a look at the reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. We’ll begin the discussion here on the following Thursday — September 7.  I’ll be sharing my insights on Chapters 1-3 and will be looking forward to hearing YOUR voice.  If you choose to blog about the book at any time, be sure to share a link in the comments so we can all profit from your detailed analysis of the content.

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.

Life, Life, and More Life

We picked raspberries a couple of weeks ago — the free kind that grow along the edges of fields and in the company of thistles.  They were succulent.  I could wrap words around a description of raspberry picking:  the gentle encompassing pressure that releases a perfectly ripe berry from its stem; the empty white cone that is left behind on the bush; the scratches on hands and forearms;  the sticky red fingertips that carry home the smell of summer and bee-buzzing sweetness.  But — there is no literary technique, no class in horticulture that comes close to the essence of picking raspberries.  For this, one must go into the bushes and experience life in the raspberry patch.

This is the nature of knowing God as well, for Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and to live from the heart what we know in our heads, we must go crashing into the bushes with the thistles, thorns, and mosquitoes.  This is the message of this first volume (2003) of Eugene Peterson’s classic series of five conversations on spiritual theology.  The term “spiritual theology” refers to “the specifically Christian attempt to address the lived experience revealed in our Holy Scriptures and the rich understandings and practices of our ancestors as we work this experience out in our contemporary world of diffused and unfocused ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.'” (5)

Peterson borrows a theme from Gerard Manley Hopkins and expands upon it with engaging examples and sharp Scriptural observations that argue for this truth:

“The end of all Christian belief and obedience, witness and teaching, marriage and family, leisure and work life, preaching and pastoral work is the living of everything we know about God:  life, life, and more life.” (1)

He goes on to support his argument through beautifully detailed exposition of three of those “ten thousand places” in which Christ plays and in which we all go about the business of living our days.

Christ Plays in Creation

Creation’s Firstborn  invites believers into a life of wonder.  The Greek word kerygmaa “public proclamation that brings what it proclaims into historical reality,” (53) frames the impact of His miraculous birth and sends readers looking to the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 for help in shaping a Christ-following life.  Firmly grounded in time and space, we find that the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are also gifts marked by the sacredness of creation.  John’s Gospel affirms in “theological poetry” (87) that Jesus was indeed “at play” in the Genesis creation.

Christ Plays in History

As creation points our thoughts toward life, history outside the Garden of Eden has been characterized by a series of deaths.  Even so kerygma — good news! — appears in the midst of the mess because the death of Jesus redeems the mess of history and takes the edge off the truth that one day death will come to each of us.

“This conjunction of death, Jesus’ and mine, is where I begin to understand and receive salvation.” (143)

Peterson takes his readers to Exodus as a grounding text, rich in the history of God’s people, but particularly in the action of a holy (and often wholly inexplicable) God.  The Gospel of Mark also deals in history, for with his succinct and economical style, Mark pioneered a new genre in which Jesus is the subject, but the content — rather than focusing on the background, emotions, or internal dialogue of the main character — is all about salvation, the redemption of every part of history:  the world’s and my own.

Christ Plays in Community

If the birth of Jesus and the creation of the world ground us in life; and if Jesus’ death has redeemed history from the stench of meaningless death; then the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for a life lived in community.  “Jesus’ resurrection is the final kerygmatic ‘piece’ that, together with his birth and death, sets the good news, the gospel, in motion and creates the Christian life.” (230)

The spiritual formation that makes community possible is the work of the Spirit, and this is nowhere more clear than in Luke’s New Testament writing about the ministry of Christ and the early church with 17 references to the Holy Spirit in his Gospel and 57 in the book of Acts.  In spite of persecution and imprisonment, Luke uses the word “unhindered” (akoluto) to describe Paul’s ministry under house arrest.  This irony minimizes the obstacles and invites present-day believers, who are “constantly tempted to use the world’s means to do Jesus’ work,” (299) into the unhindered life of prayerful obedience, hospitality, and submission to the means and methods of kingdom living. Perfection is the enemy of community and love is the fuel, a I John 4:21-style love that “purg[es] [the] imagination of the barnacles, parasites, and grime that have accumulated around the word ‘love’ so that Jesus and the Jesus story becomes clear.” (328)

Eugene Peterson and Gerard Manley Hopkins harmonize in the challenge to seek Christ in creation, history, and community and in any of the ten thousand places in which He plays.  Finding Christ in all of life is the single unifying experience that brings wholeness to our theology and moves us toward a faith that honors the risen Christ and puts His resurrection life on display.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 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 are interested in pursuing the topic of spiritual theology through more of Eugene Peterson’s writing, I can recommend book five in the series, Practice Resurrection, through my review here.  And his most recent book expands Peterson’s thoughts on the writing of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire along with a collection of Eugene Peterson’s sermons.  I’ve shared my thoughts on the book here.

And . . .. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

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.

“Laundry Is My Overflowing Inbox”: Working within the Home

Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.  The laundry is never done — even though we are down to a family of four these days.  How in the world did I survive eleven years of cloth diapers?  Apparently, somewhere along the way I have discovered that there is Glory in the Ordinary, that there is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  So when Courtney Reissig compared her laundry hamper to her husband’s overflowing inbox at work, I stopped and underlined, and nodded, “yes and amen.”

My soul resonated, too,  when she argued that in our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God.

“You and I were created to work because God Himself works.  It is a function of being image bearers.”

Organizing a cluttered closet, mucking out a nasty refrigerator mess, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.

Go Back to the Purpose

Courtney’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question:  “Why?”

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?  To love God and to love my neighbor.  And sometimes the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones that share my last name and my DNA.

While Martin Luther made it clear that the works of our hands are not meritorious for our salvation, he wrote decisively that “one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even one’s enemies.” (Kindle Location 871)  Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing the dishes and the bedding they besmirch.

Mother’s Little Helpers

The whole family is invited to experience the “glory in the ordinary” that comes with the work of home — not only because of the “many hands make light work” principle, but because of the soul-shaping nature of chores and collaborative effort.  With sweet reasonableness, Courtney shares this gracious logic (Kindle Location 923):

“The home we all live in is for us all, and therefore, requires that we all contribute to it.”

She traces the history of housework through the the subtle transition in terminology from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mum,” and examines the impact of cultural context on the believer’s theology of work.  For instance, missionary and author Gloria Furman is a mum and keeper at home in a middle-eastern, community-oriented culture, while those of us in the West tend to have a go-it-alone mentality which can lead to the isolation, loneliness, and burn out that has given motherhood a bad reputation.

Toward a Sound Theology of Home

Since God is relational Himself, and since He ordained (Genesis 2:18) that his creatures would fare better in company with others, even the introverts of the world (I’m looking in the mirror here), need to consider what part community should be playing in our work at home.  Hannah Anderson says it well:

“God did not intend for families to be islands; they are part of the continent.  This is why multi-generational communities are so important to the work of home.”

I enjoy covering the nursery in church these days so that young mums can get a break from little children, but I am on the receiving end when a dear friend in her eighties washes all my dishes whenever she attends a big gathering in my home.

“Home here on earth is a microcosm of the heavenly reality that awaits us, [and] so is the church.”  (Kindle Location 1134-1143) Good theology and its practical application should lead to a connectivity and a “my life for yours” mentality as we serve one another.  This glorious truth gets lived out whenever Titus 2-truth sees daylight in a discipleship relationship between older and younger women or whenever men and women of “grandparent age” step into a situation where are there are no grandparents nearby to help and encourage.

“Community done among women commends the gospel to a world that breathes isolation and loneliness.” (Kindle Location 1151)

The God-Designed Gift of Rest

If God rested (and He did), if Adam and Eve in their perfect prelapsarian bodies needed rest, it stands to reason that my own post-Genesis 3 life will be better if I submit to a pattern of work followed by Sabbath.  J.I. Packer speaks wisdom into this subject (Kindle Location 1276):

We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own.  Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road . . .”

Our prideful rearing up against the rest we need and the fact that work exhausts, depletes, and frustrates us are both factors attributable to our fallen-ness.  So is the idolatry that makes work into a god and permits it to supersede in importance even the people we are called to love and to serve.

When my children were all small (in the pre-homeschooling days), I gave myself the weekend off from cooking by preparing meals ahead every Friday.  Courtney shares an idea from a friend who depends on leftovers and PB&J for the weekend.  Regardless of how we accomplish it, we ensure that the Sabbath is honored in our homes by “working hard at rest,” investing the effort up front and employing some carefully chosen “no’s.”

 Enter into the Joy

The job description driving the work of home is an unwieldy thing, shifting daily and expanding and changing as our families grow.  While this is unavoidable, we can lighten our own load with some purposeful choices and a Christ-shaped mindset such as steering clear of comparison; resisting the urge to audition for the role of Super Mum; and encouraging our husbands to fulfill their own God-ordained roles as workers at home — without feeling threatened or “less than” because we are unable to shoulder the work of two single-handed.

Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste.  Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.

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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.”

Regular readers will recognize that the theme resonating throughout Glory in the Ordinary has shown up in these parts quite a bit in recent days.  I recently reviewed Jen Pollock Michel’s excellent book (Keeping Place) that also touches on the work of home.  Click here for part one of my review which deals with a theology of home.  Part two parallels Courtney’s thoughts and gives additional perspective on the work of home.

Melissa Kruger blogs for The Gospel Coalition and has interviewed Courtney at their website.  Click here for further insights behind the scenes of Glory in the Ordinary.

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And . . .

. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

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 Spiritual Practice of Curiosity

Part of the delight of spending time with my tiny grandson is that he takes nothing for granted.
Nothing.
“Bam, why bubble pop?”
“Because you stood on it.”
“Why?”
Well, good question.  Why indeed, but our conversations routinely run on in this vein of relentless curiosity.  They move forward not because “Bam” comes up with anything like satisfactory answers, but because the two-year-old mind has jumped the rails to a new topic.

Historically, the church has an uneasy relationship with curiosity, beginning with the Son of God Himself receiving flack throughout His earthly ministry from the anti-questioning party in power at that time.  Casey Tygrett invites Jesus’ present-day followers back into the spiritual practice of Becoming Curious, beckoning readers into the tension that holds opposing concepts in a space that waits for answers from all the multitude of possibilities.

Risk and Tension

Jesus, the “whole and beautiful,” jumped into the mess of a broken-down world and created tension galore, so it should not surprise us when our own risky ponderings lead us into uncomfortable territory.  Jesus’ twelve “learners” were continually yanked into a right understanding of all they did not know by Jesus’ search-light words:

“What do you want me to do for you?”  

  • Posed to James and John (Mark 10:35,36) when they were gunning for the corner office;
  • Posed to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47-52) the blind beggar who made a ruckus and sought healing.

It’s startling to see the question posed in both settings (Had you noticed it before?  I hadn’t.), but regardless of their initial intent in coming to Jesus, His unexpected question certainly let them know that they were in for more than they had expected.

The Critical Questions

Throughout the book, Casey Tygrett repeatedly argues for the utter necessity of curiosity for our spiritual formation.  When Jesus probed the disciples (Mark 16:15) for their interpretation of His identity, it was certainly not because He was unclear on this point.  The truth for 1st-century and for 21st-century learners is that our answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” defines the core of who we believe ourselves to be.

“What practices, habits, attitudes, and realities are now possible because he is who he is, and therefore I can be the same?”

With so many cultural — and, face it, “religious” — influences seeking to name us against our will, a right understanding of our identity in Christ allows us to cling to our “real, God-engraved name.”

Hearing the Why

Pressing into a spiritual practice of asking questions holds the door open for those in the following life to move beyond the basics of what and how questions and to live our way into the world of why.  It’s our motives that shape who we are, and rather than pasting a list of legal requirements to our exterior selves, Jesus challenges believers in the practice of becoming:
Become the kind of person who can forgive beyond the seventy time seven.
Become a lover of the neighbors who act in an unworthy and annoying way.

Failure as Spiritual Formation

Curious living extends two challenges in the uncomfortable realm of failure:

  1.  Learn to understand and embrace our failures as part of who we are;
  2. Repent of our old ways of seeing failure.

In His recorded dealings with the failure of biblical characters, God goes on record as One who meets murderers and cheaters and weaklings of all types with grace and forgiveness.  What if part of the “all things” in Romans 8:28 that God promises to use for our good and for the fulfillment of His holy purposes includes (gulp) our failures?

Rituals, Routines, and Disciplines as Part of the Curious Life

Again, the important question in the following life is “Why?”  If I’m doing something because I want to earn favor with God, or because I think I can control some outcome in my life by it, then it’s likely that a ritual or routine has become my master.  God has ordained certain practices of godliness because He wants “to cut thick neural pathways in our minds that allow wisdom to flow continually.”  We show up in front of an open Bible each day, not because it’s a lucky rabbit’s foot and “my day always goes better if I start with Scripture” like a multi-vitamin, but because this is the path of formation that makes me into the kind of person who is able to discern the voice of God from all the screaming banshees inside my head.

Casey invites readers to keep a Questions Journal as they read and provides prompts at the end of each chapter that prime the pump.  I was surprised at what came bubbling to the surface as I scribbled questions into my notes, and I invite you to start reading Jesus’ biblical questions with a bit more involvement.  What if you were face to face with Him over coffee, and He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  What comes to mind first?

As we persist in our asking and in our listening, may we find that our questions become bolder and that we begin searching to know Him rather than merely to know about Him.  The spiritual practice of becoming curious is God’s gift to His people, and He has equipped our souls to take the shape of an explorer into the deep things that will change our way of seeing the world.  Are we curious enough to follow Him there?

This book was provided by the IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 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.”

 

Be watching for details about an upcoming reading group that invites you to read (or re-read!) and discuss Wendell Berry’s classic work of literary fiction, Jayber Crow.  The discussion will begin on Thursday, September 7th.  A flawed and curmudgeonly bachelor barber, Jayber’s homely wisdom has inspired me to think more deeply about what I believe.  Here’s a thought from his ramblings on prayer:

“I prayed the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’ Having so prayed, I prayed for strength.”

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.