Evidence of Grace in the Cycling of Seasons

When my thrifty mother-in-law made mincemeat, she would start with the venison roast from a deer who may have had the audacity to nibble on her tulip leaves.  From there, she would improvise, adding whatever needed using up on that particular day:  a batch of jam that didn’t “set up” just right or an over-abundance of applesauce.  Somehow, the mincemeat always simmered fragrant and delicious.

When I make mincemeat, I follow a recipe – to the letter. But it is likely that if any of my daughters-in-law find a need for that particular pie filling, they will just buy a jar off the shelf.
(Or I will give them one of mine!)

I’m well aware that generational change is a given.  Good and exciting things happen quickly once our kids hit the double digits, so I’m braced and on board.  Change is on the menu whether I like it or not.

I’m choosing to like it.

Today I’m anticipating the cycling changes that come as the tilt of the earth’s axis begins to register longer days and more direct sunlight. However, here just below the 45th parallel spring is still weeks away and will arrive in its own good time.

The majestic evergreens and the kindness of low  bushes that turn a deep red after they drop their leaves are all that rescue my early spring landscape from a panorama of sepia and gray.  Last night, Venus and the waning crescent moon were veiled in mist, and the damp cold that is seeping into my bones today tells me that change is on the way.  And I welcome it.

If spring is still an unfulfilled promise anyway, then let it be cold.  Let the ground stay hard, and let the sky send a fresh, clean blanket of white every few days to relieve the monotony of all that has expired.  Better to walk on frozen ground or across the crunch of snow than to sink into the mud of early spring acedia.  Better to bring my mittens, my shovel, and my small resiliency to a beautiful world than to mourn the slow and uncertain advent of spring.

I can never make less than six quarts of anything!In this season of slow sunrise, when the daffodils snooze and the robins make angry phone calls to their travel agents, I will make kielbasa bean soup and fill up the empty spaces around my table with people who need the full feeling that comes from a hearty welcome.  After all, no matter how earnest my intentions, I cannot make less than six quarts of anything.  (And I can’t shake the idea that if Jesus had walked the frozen fields of New England instead of the dusty roads of Galilee, He would have worked His way with a metaphor around an abundant kettle of steaming chowder.)

With sons coming and going, who knows how many bowls I will need to put on the table?  This ever-changing count provides a concrete measure, a confirmation of the vague sensation I carry that someone, somewhere has thrown a lever, releasing a huge gush of life from this busy and crowded home.

This season of change includes kids with parenting questions, kids with careers, kids with house-buying dreams–and “the baby” just bought a car! I’m certain that the boy behind the wheel was napping in his crib just yesterday, while I weeded green beans and scribbled in a journal.  We gave him a cell phone to keep in his car–just in case. (He is happy to leave it there, because it’s not a very cool model.)

My first cellphone had a tiny antenna on it.  It rang infrequently, but when it did, I usually missed the call anyway, because, buried in my purse, it sounded like a distant chainsaw in the woods.

I still keep my phone in my purse, despite the “fervent counsel” (i.e. nagging) of my children.
Them:  “Where were you?”
Me:  “In the garden.”
Them:  “Why didn’t you take your phone with you?”
Me:  (momentary silence while I try to adjust my wording and tone to be kinder than I am feeling)  “Because I carried a baby monitor around in the garden for ten years.”

Is it a sign of progress that, now, when I hear a distant chain saw in the woods, I run for my cell phone?

A more urgent question:  Am I willing to “outgrow” my crankiness and claustrophobia about technology in order to connect with the important people in my life?

Facebook updates me on the steady advance of the cancer that is tunneling its way through one more friend or of the dementia that steals the self-hood and the memories of yet another precious personality whose creativity and warm laughter will be forever lost to this world. Thanks be to God that the offset of all this lament comes in celebration of the full-body smile of my grandson and the mischievous giggle of my blue-eyed granddaughter. Both have absolutely no idea how much joy they add to the world just by inhabiting their own tiny skin.

And while it is true that it is the voice of the Lord that “strips the forest bare,” it is also true that when “winter is past [and] the rain over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth . . . and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.  The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance,” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).

I will bring what I am learning about patience from this cycling of the seasons to my navigation of a life of perpetual change.

I will start where I am with my full days and my inconsistencies and my pitiful mixed motives.

I will use what I have, putting it all in the pot to simmer, and somehow, by the grace of God, I believe that it will be enough.

//

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Surprise! God Has Your Best Interest at Heart

When C.S. Lewis wrote Surprised by Joy, he was clear that it was a “spiritual autobiography” designed to track his pilgrimage from atheist to deist and, finally, at long last to “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England.” In Christian circles, we’re fond of talking about finding God, until we realize that He has been there all along—and like C.S. Lewis, we are surprised by the joy of a love that came to us before we ever reciprocated, an unconditional love.

Growing up in a home in which mental illness and addiction seemed to be setting the agenda, it was a surprise (and a joy!) to discover that God was actually mightily involved in every detail of my life. In the midst of the chaos, He was NOT standing idly by, but was deeply involved in bringing me to Himself. He was longing to be gracious and to show me compassion!  He had His own agenda in mind for me that He would be faithful to fulfill!

In my small hometown in Northern Maine, God bent over backwards to connect me with godly mentors and opportunities to test His faithfulness. When I bought a one-way ticket to California for my first semester of college, I pictured myself taking flight and pulling up my roots in Maine. I had learned a love for teaching the Bible, so I majored in Christian Education, transferred to a small college in northeast Georgia, crammed a bachelor’s degree into three years, and began wondering where in the world my next adventure would take me.

God is full of surprises! I landed right back here in Maine, and there’s so much more to this story, so I invite you to click on over to Mary Geisen’s writing home where she has opened wide the door for me to tell my story and, in doing so, to also #TellHisStory, because, after all, every story circles back around to Him.

Let yourself be surprised by joy,

Michele Morin


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When You’re Sitting in the Winter Room

When life sends a hard turn in a direction I am not expecting, all the cracks and flaws in my theology show up.  The wheels come careening off my carefully constructed orthodoxy, leaving me in the ditch with all the prosperity gospel folks or the “Where was God?” finger pointers. When God does not “cooperate” with my vision of success or yield to my will for Him, I am slow to yield my own will to a rogue story arc that may eventually untangle itself in the passing of years . . .or not.

While I am familiar with Paul’s words about having been “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down,” somehow it always comes as a surprise to me that believers are not exempt from the usual challenges and inconveniences of life. Peter devoted an entire letter to the topic of “fiery trials,” exhorting believers to take them in stride, and yet, my feet trip over the plain truth as my brain struggles to instruct my heart. Suddenly, it is my mission to relax all the tension in the gospel, to disconnect glory from suffering, and to drag the not-yet of redemption into the right-now.

When I insist upon picking and choosing inspired words as if some might be optional, I take a seat in the Winter Room alongside King Jehoiakim.  On the day he received the scroll containing Jeremiah’s scalding prophetic words, the content came highly recommended by his advisers. Unfortunately, the king was already nursing a grudge against Jeremiah . . . something about a prophecy in which Jeremiah predicted for King Jehoiakim a donkey’s funeral on the city’s garbage dump–a consequence of his slipshod spiritual leadership.

Therefore, instead of receiving the inspired Words of God with joy or in a spirit of repentance as his father King Josiah had done,  Jeohoiakim sliced them up with a knife, line by line, as they were read to him and then tossed them into a fire that was burning nearby to keep the Winter Room comfortable for his royal highness. Jehoiakim did not reckon with God’s commitment to preserve His Word, nor did he comprehend that, like Jeremiah, God the Holy Spirit values the good of the reader more than He values the reader’s good opinion of Him. The king’s  unwillingness to receive the truth diminished its urgency and its sway over his life not one iota.

The View from the Winter Room

The earth’s axis is slowly tilting toward the sun in these days of late winter, but here on the far reaches of the Northern Hemisphere it will be a while before I can feel the effects of this seasonal shift. Even so,  I will not sit with Jehoiakim in the Winter Room, filleting Truth for my own comfort and employing every available defense mechanism against the parts I’d rather not accept.

Sitting in the Winter Room, truth becomes less important than self-justification. The view from the Winter Room is small and limited, and suddenly the sovereignty of God is not a comfort but, rather, a threat to be managed as eyes dart frantically in every direction for a way around the revealed will of God.

Leaving my chair in the Winter Room, I have found two undeniable truths about God’s written Word:

Better to be burned by its searing statements about reality than to dismember it in dangerous denial;
Better to embrace the fiery words and reckon with their truth than to sit in the Winter Room, warming myself before a small fire kindled by my own willfulness.


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The Search for a Church that Feels Like Home

Slightly hard of hearing in his Sunday suit and tie, the smiling usher boomed a greeting into the cold and cavernous narthex.

“You forgot to set your clocks ahead, right?”

Immediately the disjointed pieces of that chaotic Sunday morning fell into place:
The full parking lot, the strangely empty narthex–yes, we were an hour late for church, which meant we had arrived just in time for the sermon conclusion and the last amen. Wearing our awkwardness like ill-fitting choir robes, we exited as discretely as two people wearing dress shoes can manage in an echoing church entryway, and we rode in silence across town to our tiny apartment on Middle Street—an address that had become an accurate and stinging summary of our entire lives in that season.

A career change for my husband had put our workplaces over two hours apart, but we’d cheerfully split the difference and settled in neutral territory exactly half way between, telling ourselves it was temporary and a good test of our independence within this new marriage of ours. No friends, no family, no church ties anchored us in this new home base, but we were optimistic, so . . .

Let the church hunt begin!

Are you looking for "the perfect church?" Finding community can be challenging, but the rewards are worth the wait.

I’m sharing the story of that crazy season of our life together over at (in)courage today, and whether you are living in the on-ramp toward faithful church attendance or standing along the way cheering others forward, you are in a unique position to put the beauty and uniqueness of God’s love on display.  

Finding community can be a long and challenging process, but the rewards are worth the wait. Thanks for joining me, and while you are there, take a minute to browse the work of other writers in that community of faith, connection, and friendship. You can welcome them into your daily inbox by clicking here to subscribe.


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Timeless Words About Love for Your Valentine’s Day

The snow is flying sideways like rice at a wedding, and I’m reading Lore Wilbert’s blog post about marriage. She writes:

“‘We don’t treat our home like it’s the place where we can ‘be real,’ as though every other relationship in our lives deserves the fruit of the Spirit, but at home we can drop the facade and level all the pent up frustration of the day at one another.’ I said, ‘[My husband] should get my best self, the best of the Spirit’s fruit in my life and heart, not the worst self.'”

Having said that, Lore acknowledged that that this kind of marriage talk usually elicits a few eye rolls from the jaded cynics among her readers.  “Just wait,” they say.

My patient husband and I experienced some of that in our early married life as well. “This won’t last,” jeered the nay-sayers.

Even so, thirty years later, we still refuse to submit to the “Just wait” narrative about our marriage, and are persevering in our commitment to live as “heirs together of the grace of life”–which includes loving each other by being grace-givers–“our best selves”–here on this country hill

After all, as believers, we want the people who know us best to love us most. That’s counter-cultural, I know, in this world of picture-perfect posts and curated images offered up for virtual strangers to “like.”

If our everyday lives  are where the fruit of the Spirit is most visible, Truth becomes more important than sentiment. We need a durable love that will sustain us through home improvement projects, sick kids, and tired middle-aged bodies and souls.

Since it seems that all the important words about love have already been written, and written well, I have been paying attention to them. This curated collection from some of my favorite writers and thinkers is offered to anchor our thoughts in a biblical understanding of love–with one cautionary message to parents from a source that might surprise you.

As we plow our way into February and join the world in celebrating the holiday of hearts (in which love is most discussed but perhaps least understood) let’s bring with us the understanding that love, romantic or otherwise, is a 365-day-per-year laying down of our lives for the beloved.

 

John, the Beloved Disciple

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18)

C.S. Lewis

“Is it easy to love God?” asks an old author.
“It is easy,” he replies, “to those who do it.”  (From The Four Loves, 288)

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”  (From Joyful Christian, 140)

Elisabeth Elliot

“Love is willing to be inconvenienced.”  (From Mark of a Man, 118)

Thomas Merton

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (From No Man is an Island)

Karen Swallow Prior

“Charity–godly love–cannot be separated from truth. Not just lofty transcendent truths, but the truth about the here and now and all the reality it entails–including our mortality. Truth is true and love is loving only in its application.” (From On Reading Well, 151)

Wendell Berry

“Love in this world doesn’t come out of thin air. It is not something thought up. Like ourselves, it grows out of the ground. It has a body and a place.” (Hannah Coulter, 88)

“You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering.” (Hannah Coulter, 171)

Luci Shaw

“The risk of love
is that of being unreturned.

For if I love too deep,
too hard, too long
and you love little
or you love
me not at all
then is my treasure given,
gone,
flown away lonely.

But if you give me back
passion for passion,
return my burning,
add your own
dark fire to flame my heart
then is love perfect
hot, round, augmented,
whole, endless, infinite,
and it is fear
that flies.”   (Polishing the Petosky Stone, 75)

Eugene Peterson

Love is one of the slipperiest words in the language. There is no other word in our society more messed up, misunderstood, perverted, and misused as the word love. Complicating things even further, it is a word terribly vulnerable to cliché, more often than not flattened into nonmeaning by chatter and gossip. The most relational word in our vocabulary ends up being all me directed, all self.”  (As Kingfishers Catch Fire, 37)

Bruce Springsteen

“Those whose love we wanted but didn’t get, we emulate them and that’s the only way we have, in our power, to get the closeness and love that we needed and desired.” (Comment about his parents from On Broadway)

Madeleine L’Engle

“Love isn’t how you feel; it’s what you do.” (The Wind in the Door)

Jesus

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40)


As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s abide in love, but let’s not lose sight of it’s true meaning amidst all the red tissue paper and glitter.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (Jesus from John 15:9)

With love,

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Heart Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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. You can look for me this week at Purposeful Faith#TellHisStoryLet’s Have CoffeeFaith on FireFaith ‘n Friends and Grace & Truth.

 

Driven by Fear to the God Who Casts Out Fear

The road out of Jericho was always well-traveled, but Bartimaeus could sense something different in the air. Just as the angle of the hot sun on the back of his neck told him the time of day, the buzz of the crowd, the whispered excitement, and the press of bodies told him the truth that his ruined eyes could not — something was stirring.

Slowly, he pieced together the scene: a Healer, a Miracle Worker named Jesus was heading his way, and the word on the street . . .? This Teacher just might be the promised Messiah.

A seasoned beggar, Bartimaeus waited until just the right moment and then poured every possible ounce of drama into his anguished plea:

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he howled.

“Pipe down, Bartimaeus,” hissed the embarrassed townspeople, but the blind beggar called out all the louder.

In this encounter of a life time, Bartimaeus put all that he knew about Jesus into his heart’s cry, for he had a huge and impossible dream. Bartimaeus wanted to see, and he boldly broadcast his deep and urgent need to the only One in the universe who could help him.

Saying our dreams out loud can be intimidating — even frightening.

It feels vulnerable.

Exposed.

Whether it’s a career goal, a longing for intimacy, a desire for a child, or an avenue of service to God that won’t stop calling our name, it’s easy to allow the sheer size of the dream to muzzle our cry for help and to overwhelm us with fear.

Courage and Strength from an Upholding God

As a young woman, I believed that God was calling me to teach the Bible, and so I volunteered for a summer ministry that landed me in front of a crowd of rowdy kids with nothing in my trembling hands but my Bible and a few flash cards. Thinking that preparation — knowing my material inside out – would chase away the terror, I studied hard with a pounding heart.

One evening, my team leader flipped the pages of my Bible away from the story of blind Bartimaeus and into the book of Isaiah, handing me a torch of Truth that re-ignites even today whenever I sit around a circle of women with open Bibles:

Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

That young woman who hid behind her long hair and struggled to make eye contact with the world still finds her way back into my head sometimes. When I’m standing at a microphone, or preparing to click on “publish,” or leading a stressful meeting, I’m tempted to be still, to shut down, and to believe the lie that my words don’t matter — that I am, somehow, unqualified.

When fear threatens to extract all the air from my dreams, I’m thankful for the courage and strength that come from an upholding God. Mustering every fragment of truth that I can remember about Him, I release my dream to His care, and I hear the Spirit gently whispering:

Would you rather give in to the fear and miss this opportunity?

Have you forgotten that I am the God who says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

In the light of this blazing truth, may we answer God’s omnipotence with a trust that cries out, fearless.

By grace, may we let our fear drive us to the One who casts out all fear.


May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

michele signature[1]

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

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

Photo by Leonardo Baldissara on Unsplash

 

This post first appeared at God-Sized Dreams

 

The Glory of Being Loved and Known by God

My finger hovered over the screen as I read and scrolled, the words landing like lead in my stomach. A friend had simply reported the facts:  “Try this!” she chirped, her heart pure, meaning only to encourage. “It worked for me! I’ve had 300 responses in just a few hours!”

I darkened the screen with a sniff and a tiny eye roll (just for good measure), because three-digit responses just don’t happen in my world. In fact, the math of social media leaves me with more questions than solutions, and the presiding symbol in the equation always feels like “less than.” When I fall into the trap of comparing myself to the gifted, the scintillating, and the accomplished, I can be sure that the spirit of scarcity won’t be far behind, sucking dry my confidence and leaving my faith parched and brittle.

“Less than” – the phrase clamors for my attention even through the darkened screen, but I will not give it entry to my soul. I will fight the lie with reassurance tucked into Paul’s letter to believers in Corinth. Whom we know, how much we know, or how well we are known by the-names-that-matter is all secondary to this one truth:

“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”  (I Corinthians 8:3 ESV)

Hear the Word of the Lord, O my soul!

I may not be “known” by thousands, but I am known by God, and this is the most compelling feature on my resume. God’s face is turned toward me with joy and welcome– with a love that is present and powerful. While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for wide open access, and my feet are standing on the place of grace.

In his classic essay “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis describes this “good report with God” using one word:  “Glory!”  The promise of acceptance into the heart of God comes with His approval, and Lewis concludes:  “How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. (38) To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”  (39)

So it is. God’s ponderous glory is a weighty counterbalance to past lies or present disappointments. And when I try to do life according to any other equation, I’m making deposits to an account that is continually overdrawn.

Responding to the Weight of Glory

Because of weighty truth, I am no longer the girl who feared scarcity, inspired by a worried President Ford wearing his sweater on T.V. and telling us to turn down our thermostats because there most certainly was not enough oil to fuel our future.
God’s delight in me has filled up the empty spaces in my heart that corresponded to the empty spaces in my growing-up refrigerator—the ones that stood in stark contrast with the steady supply of vodka bottles hidden in the trunk of the ’72 Plymouth.

It’s likely your own road map shows a few desolate places in the itinerary up to this point, a record of the journey through days when security and abundance seemed to be a thousand miles away as you slogged through debt or disappointment or confusion. Whatever its origin, the only lasting corrective to a less-than mentality is an abundant approval that will endure. The only potent antidote to its poison is the weighty security of a welcome from the One with whom your heart is absolutely safe.

Therefore, with my longing to be acknowledged lavishly met, I receive (with gratitude!) the gift of self-forgetfulness. The script of my life can switch from, “Here I am!” to “There YOU are!” as I celebrate the accomplishments of my sisters in Christ and come alongside them to help them lean into their unique callings. Best of all, liberated from the need to be center stage, I can lift my eyes and be astounded by the glory of God where everything begins and ends.


Beholding His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,

Michele Morin

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

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