Following the Trail Back to Hope

Sometimes it’s the very thing that makes you wild, the thing that feels as if it may be your undoing, which ultimately saves your life. For me right now, the pebble in my shoe is a 15-foot speed boat parked parallel to the north side of our house. The college-aged son is a project magnet who resurrects dead motors for fun and profit, so this is just the latest in a parade of snow mobiles, outboard motors, go- carts, and things that go vroom which have come to heighten the hillbilly panache of this country hill in Maine.

On the other hand, when I recall that his tinkering has made him eminently employable, and when I consider all the lesser things an almost-19-year-old could be doing with his free time . . .

And so, annoyance finds its grumpy way back to gratitude, and I follow its trail to the other transitions–much grittier and more sensitive–that need to happen around the fault lines in my following life:

  • The dizzying yo-yo of the number on the scale holds me in awareness of this truth: It is only by grace that we ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery;
  • An overwhelmed middle-age brain keeps me depending upon God for strength in my weakness and for the next sentence whenever I teach or write;
  • My slow-to-hear-quick-to-speak way of finishing peoples’ sentences and igniting small, unnecessary brush fires reminds me every day to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience just as I put on my shoes or my makeup.

Meaningful change often follows on the squeaking hinges of regret and repentance.

The Transition to Hope

In the waning weeks of Israel’s existence as a nation, Jeremiah tutors my soul in this spiritual discipline of transitioning from annoyance to hope. The record shows that he had invested 23 years of his life faithfully delivering an unpopular message of God’s impending judgment to a people who much preferred happy talk from lesser prophets with dubious motives. His reward for services rendered was a sentence of house arrest in the palace of disgruntled King Zedekiah.

Transition into Hope, G.K. ChestertonAs Babylonian armies camped around Jerusalem and hammered together their siege ramps outside the city walls, Jeremiah purchased a field in an act of unreasonable hope. Of course, according to G.K. Chesterton, “It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.”  Pushing against hopelessness, Jeremiah handed over his seventeen shekels because, in his mind, God’s promise of restoration and return to the land was as real as the shining silver in his hand.

When the siege ramps of despair are already leaning against the walls of my heart, that trail back to hope seems like more of a journey than I can manage. And of course, it is–apart from God. Likewise, reading on, I see Jeremiah, by a power that was not his own, transitioning into a glorious paean of praise:

“Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17 NKJV)

Seeing this, the “Ah” of Jeremiah becomes an “Aha!” on my lips as I discover, as if for the first time, that there is nothing—no transition, no messy in-between—too complicated for God. He stands ready to help when I lean into the impossible or find grace to forgive the unforgivable. His Great Power is put on display in surprising ways as His outstretched arm effects the miracle of another day’s transition into hope.


 

Thank you for joining me today on the path toward hope,

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Taming Anxiety Over the Unknown

Knocking twenty-two years’ worth of dust off a resume stretches the definition of “creative writing” to its limit. After giving my time away for two decades, could I convince even myself that my skills are marketable? Was I still capable of holding my own in the workforce? The questions hung in the air like a challenge.

At about this time two years ago, I was embarking on a job search that did not happen at all the way I had planned it. I’m sharing that experience this month on The Redbud Post where we’re examining the topic of anxiety for the month of May.

The truth is that whenever the unexpected happens, I’m thrown against the framework of my theology. Will it hold? Does what I believe about the sovereignty of God accommodate a veering turn that was not anywhere on my road map? With anxiety over the unknown comes a greater need for and reliance upon a sinewy faith in God’s good intentions toward me in this following life.

Redbud Writers GuildIf this is also your story, I encourage you to click on over to The Redbud Post where you can read a collection of articles on the topic of dealing with anxiety.

Thanks for reading, and I trust that you will also share your own thoughts on dealing with anxiety in the comments below or over at the Redbud site. I have found these words from Paul Miller in The Praying Life to be especially helpful and wise:

“Instead of trying to suppress anxiety – to manage it or smother it with pleasure – we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we find that we have slipped into continuous praying.”

Blessings to you!


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

The Crash and Burn of a God-Sized Dream

It all started as a strategy for outreach. We sat around a table and began to dream out loud, trusting that the fire of shared passion and the wisdom of group process would yield creative ideas for communicating the love of Christ to our community.

I don’t mind confessing that I loved my dream. We would offer free oil changes to those in need: the poor, the elderly, single parents, come one, come all! Coffee and brownies would make the most of the waiting time as those of us less talented with a wrench would fill cups and keep the conversation flowing. We prepared colorful informational brochures about our church and its programs. We bought supplies, spread the word, and waited.

Not one person signed up.
Not one person called to inquire.

The spectacular crash and burn of my dream rang in my ears for a long time. In fact, it was all I could hear, and it was ages before my idea spigot found its way back to the on-position once again.

I hope you’ll join me over at God-sized Dreams today where I’m reminiscing about a colossal failure early in my ministry life that convinced me of this truth:

Our story does not end with the death of one dream.

Click here to continue reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts (and maybe your shared experiences?) on the holy persistence that presses into a dream when all around you wafts the stench of failure.

God-sized Dreams

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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.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

The insistent tone of my cell phone’s timer carried through floorboards to our basement schoolroom–another call to prayer unanswered.

I sighed, turned the page, and continued with my sixth-grader in a lesson on fractions.

I had been reading about the historical practice of praying the hours, setting aside intentional moments throughout the day at specific times to stop everything and pray.

Believers long ago listened to the sounding of bells to remind them to pray.

My solution?

Setting a cell phone timer.

It seemed like the perfect solution for a more intentional prayer life..

Why, then, did my timer always seem to sound when I was in the middle of an un-interruptible task?

  • Dinner preparation on a ball game night.
  • A fervent untangling of numerators and denominators.
  • An intense disciplinary moment.

The reminder was impractical for that season, but it was an important step on my journey toward a more mindful use of my minutes in building my relationship with God.

Today I’m joining Sarah Koontz over at Living By Design to share 5 ways I’ve learned to invite holiness into my every day habits. Click on over to join me there, and let’s pause together to consider how these simple strategies may encourage your faith and help you to grow.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

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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.

Two Reasons to Give the Church Another Chance

When my husband and I were still a “young couple,” we used to laugh over an imagined scenario at our church:

“What ever happened to that young couple with all the boys?”

“Haven’t you heard?  They divorced – someone said that they just grew apart, that they didn’t know each other anymore.”

“No!  They were here at church all the time!  How could something like that have happened?”

Truly, it’s not funny, but we laughed because we knew that even though our church family loved us,  if we had said, “Yes,” to all the ministry opportunities that were pressed upon us,  it wouldn’t be long before this was our fate.  Fortunately, we were able to remember their love for us as we made decisions to become the guardians of our own margins and boundaries.

For many people, the church has a reputation to overcome.  It’s hard to trust The Body when you’ve been burned by its members.  For various reasons,  believers are staying home on Sunday mornings, and the experts say that only 20% of Americans attend church regularly.  Certainly, anyone who has done time in the pew can find a reason to gripe:  lack of appreciation; not liking the pastor/the music/the sermons/the color of the carpet; unsatisfying or turbulent relationships.   All of this should be no surprise to us, for even the healthiest, most vibrant fellowships are populated with . . .  well, sinners.  There’s really no one else to come to church!

I’m over at The Perennial Gen today making a case for giving the church another chance–even if you feel as if you’ve been burned in the past. Ponder the wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and then click on over to read the post in its entirety:

“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself . . .”

Please join the discussion over at The Perennial Gen, and I do look forward to reading your thoughts on the church gathered and the role it has played in your spiritual formation.


Many thanks to Jen Ferguson for the lovely image.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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Making a Commitment to Blessing

The ping of a message changed my day: “Let’s take food to a friend who needs encouragement.

“Well, why not?” I asked myself, and began pondering the joyful outcome that always arises from random acts of blessing.

I’ve always wanted to be an extrovert — or at least an optimist.
Failing at both, I’m thankful to be a Christian, for when Scripture presides over any natural tendencies I may have to hunker down and spend my whole life “ordering my private world,” I get to move outside my comfort zone and to make a commitment to be a blessing to others.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a challenge I return to again and again with its strings of dependent clauses and its long stretches between end punctuation. I may not have it memorized Navigator-style, but this one thing I know from my stumbling repetitions as I walk these country hills on the business end of a St. Bernard’s leash:  God’s blessing (v. 3) and His choosing (v. 4), His acceptance (v. 6) and His redemption (v. 7) will result in an ultimate gathering (v. 10) of all believers and all things — in Him. 

Believers have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” so that we can be a blessing to others and add to the joy of that future gathering. Having been blessed, I am called to be a blessing.  Given that God, in His providential grace, has already heaped up blessing upon blessing, my church family has designated 2018 as our Year of Blessing. We’ll meet to feast and declare it to one another, we’ll invite others into the blessing, and, most of all, we want to be intentional about it.

Making a Commitment to Blessing

My friend who got the ball rolling with this most recent project is operating out of blessing-based thinking that I want to emulate:

Don’t Wait for a Reason

We’re used to showering people with food when they have a baby or if someone in the family is in the hospital, but what about someone who lives alone on a snowy day in January? If God brings someone to mind, there’s likely a reason for it that only He knows. How wonderful to be on God’s encouragement staff and to receive private memos from Him!

Overcome Obstacles

My Blessing Mentor/Friend offered to be the liason for food delivery. And if our target audience has a freezer that is too small to accommodate the blessing, she has room in her freezer and will take care of the overflow in the meantime.

If the project you have in mind is too big to do alone, ask for help. If you want to help, but don’t know what to do, make a friendly phone call or visit and be a good listener and observer.

Think Outside the Box

Recently, our women’s ministry experienced some setbacks in arranging the details for our Christmas project. Usually we bless a struggling family with children by purchasing gifts, but this year our contacts kept falling through, so we fell back, regrouped, and ended up blessing a recent widow with gifts and a visit for tea. She would never have come to mind if our business-as-usual plan had worked out, and in the process we were able to meet a need that others were not aware of.

Partner with Others in Your Community

There’s really no way we would have known that this is exam week at our local high school, but a para-church ministry in the area knew and invited us to contribute snacks for the teachers during this challenging week.

A couple of courageous women in our fellowship teach a Good News Club at one of the elementary schools in the area, and it’s our privilege to provide snacks for that and to be on call to pray or to help in other practical ways. (This week a call went out for paper towel rolls for a craft project!)

Intentional blessing puts the love of God on display in unusual ways. He wants to be known, feared, enjoyed, and praised because He is gracious to all people, and often believers wonder how to accomplish this, how to make Him known. Practical acts of love, homely blessings that communicate caring are a bridge between hearts, and allow us to extend the blessing we have received to others that they, too, may “enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”

What practical ideas do you have for being a blessing to others in your church and community?
What has worked well for you in the past?
Please share in the comments below!

Image by Unsplash

This post was shared at the Salt and Light Facebook Link-up.

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.

A Year of Orthodoxy

It may have been my footsteps, or perhaps it was a slight disturbance in the breeze — imperceptible to me, but enough to set off a flurry of motion and a rustling of black feathers in the bare tree branches. The birds rose as one, and then, without hesitation cut to the north and rose higher, perfectly synchronized, beautifully fluid.

How did they know?

Who decided on that sudden change in course, and how did she communicate it? 

On that same walk, I was puzzling over a “situation” with our house. Furnaces, roofing, windows, and doors have come and gone in the past 24 years of life on this country hill, but this time the jarring news from the carpenter is that there’s a problem with the foundation. The repairs needed will not add a whit to the beauty of our home, but are, nonetheless, essential for its health and stability.

A Foundation of Orthodoxy

And thus, together, our family-fixer-upper and those well-choreographed birds played a role in setting my direction for 2018 and in helping me to choose a focus word for the year:  Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is not a path to lock-step uniformity in which we all move as one, but it may result in a harmonious unity that is freedom itself and is beautiful to behold in the Body of Christ.

Orthodoxy is the foundation to everything. It governs the way I understand and interpret Scripture; my comprehension of God and His ways; and even the practical application of Truth in my homeschooling, dish-washing, laundry-folding, floor-vacuuming, Bible-teaching, and blog-writing life.

There, under the clear, blue winter sky, I decided it was time to return to G.K. Chesterton’s classic book, Orthodoxy, which has been on my Kindle for a couple of years (and which I’ve started multiple times and then stalled).

With nine chapters and 239 pages in the edition I have, that will mean reading and interacting with approximately 20 pages or around three fourths of a chapter per month, and it is likely that I’ll be reporting on that pondering here in this space. If you’d like to join me on this year-long journey, you are most welcome, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts along the way.

From his vantage point of the early 20th century, Chesterton described his book as a “slovenly autobiography,” so his quirky personality will, apparently, be evident in his writing. Orthodoxy is not an apologetic work, but rather, a collection of Chesterton’s musings as he attempts “an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.”

The Anchor to Orthodoxy

Of course it is, ultimately, the Word of God which anchors us in Truth and in right thinking. To chart my progress in this at the outset of 2018, I’m making a fresh start with two brand new journals, both my gratitude journal and my all-purpose-catcher-of-random-thoughts having filled up by the end of 2017. Reviewing entries from past years is always either an encouragement or a rebuke, and I need both from time to time.

A Year of OrthodoxyTherefore, I was happy to discover Deborah Haddix’s Journaling for the Soul. Her handbook of journaling methods is a thorough and very accessible resource for anyone who wants to embark upon the exercise in soul care that journaling has become for me.

Deborah urges her readers to loosen up and enjoy the process of putting the pen to the page. This was reassuring for me because a few years ago I started keeping one journal for just about everything in an effort to live a one-piece life. So if I have an answer to prayer that I want to remember, an insight from my reading of the book of Jeremiah, or a great quote from a podcast, I scribble them all into the same pages. It’s also where I maintain a list of all the books I’m reading. Therefore, when I re-read journal pages, it’s enlightening to note all the different things that were feeding into my thinking at the same time.

One of the challenges I’ve heard women express about journaling is that they want to record their thoughts about prayer and Scripture, but they either don’t know where to begin, or they run out of steam at some point and abandon the discipline. Journaling for the Soul provides a collection of methods and approaches that can serve as an encyclopedia of options. I recommend that anyone who is not sure how to proceed just work their way through the book and try each method until they find an approach that resonates for them, and feel free to change as needed. List-makers and chart-lovers may gravitate toward inductive studies while creatives may find that color coding and verse mapping work well for them.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

Deborah Haddix offers words of encouragement to us all as we drill down into orthodoxy in 2018:

“Stay with it. Journaling for the Soul is a discipline that requires perseverance. When its newness wears off, when you don’t feel like it, when you are going through the ‘hard,’ press on. Ask God for His help and strength and energy to keep going in this worthwhile endeavor.”


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.”

Photo by Rowan Heuvel via Unsplash

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.