Invited into the Deep Welcome of Friendship

Across the miles they drove, journeying four hours north on washboard roads until they reached this country hill.

“We want to talk about the conference,” they had said on the phone.  “We can fill you in on the details in person.  The more you know about us, the easier it will be for you to prepare.”

I heard their words, but I was deaf to their hearts, because as the date of their visit approached, the puddle of panic around me grew deeper and murkier.  The faithless ponderings multiplied:

They’ll be sorry they traveled all this way to meet someone so ordinary.
Will they want to quiz me on my theology?
I’m sure they’ll take one look at my tiny kitchen and my beat up wooden floors and decide that I’m a mess, too.

This, for me, has been the challenge of the Christian life:  to boldly welcome others into the mess that is me, and then to trust – to trust that God will build a bridge between our hearts, and to trust that others will respond with acceptance and love.

As it happens, my new friends arrived a few minutes late – G.P.S.’s aren’t much help out here!  More important, though, when they showed up in my driveway, they did not arrive bearing an impossible yardstick or hearts of judgment.  They were not expecting me to look or to sound like a conference speaker or to live in a museum of Pinterest perfection.

We exchanged warm hugs and settled down to business.

 

Capture

And may I invite you to join us?
{I would love for you to continue reading with me over at The Perennial Gen . . .}

And while you’re there be sure to brighten up your inbox by subscribing to their regular updates!

Michele Morin

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To finish reading this post, click here and join me today at The Perennial Gen, a space for Christian women and men in the second half of life.

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Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons

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

Turning a Corner into Gratitude

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

Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

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

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

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

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

Can I be thankful NOW?

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

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

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

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

Following the Instructions

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

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

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

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

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

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Big Pizza Love and the Recipe that Makes it Happen

“It’s pizza night!”

Any Friday.

Even every Friday.

My boys never tire of those words.

A bowl of popcorn, a favorite movie, and a few square feet of mozzarella magic, and it’s going to be a great evening.

No question about it.

In a family of four boys, food is currency, and pizza is the gold standard. As the long bones lengthen and the voices grow deeper, the double batch makes way for the quadruple batch, and leftovers in the fridge are like money in the bank.

Of course, eventually, someone gets his license, or a girlfriend (or both), and suddenly an evening at home no longer registers on the social Dow Jones. But pizza night goes on for whoever happens to be home or whoever is visiting, and the leftovers pay dividends forward — with cold pizza after a basketball practice and a heart-to-heart talk about unfair coaches; cold pizza after a shift at McDonalds and a late-night discussion about where to buy the diamond; re-heated pizza for a carload of friends who “aren’t hungry” until they realize how very welcome they are.

Inexhaustible Love

Food can become a metaphor for abundance. Yes, your friend can stay for dinner, because we have enough — enough food, enough space in our lives, enough love to go around.

God is also in the business of letting His children know that He is enough, and His love is inexhaustible.

That’s why the apostle Paul strains His heavenly thesaurus in Ephesians 3:18,19 (NKJV) to communicate the expanse of Christ’s love for us:

How wide!
How long!
How deep!
How high!

God’s love for us passes knowledge; it is vast and complete, and yet He urges us to lean into its impossible dimensions and to rest there.

When I wonder if I can absorb another change or welcome another whirling planet into the solar system of my life, these words remind me that my ability to keep on stretching the circumference of my heart depends on my continual acceptance of the love of Christ for me. If I set my boundaries small and safe, I’m leaving room only for my own love — narrow and choosy, shallow and tentative.

Slowly, slowly I am learning that the only way to really “know the love of Christ” is to leave my heart ajar to the expanse of a bigger love.

It was standing room only the last time we all got together for a pizza night — daughter-in-love, grandboy, girlfriend, and all, but somehow in the midst of all the laughter and chaos, the pizza disappeared as usual. Slicing through the last pepperoni-and-black-olive, I smiled, because pizza night is teaching me that love comes — and it fills all the space we make for it.


The Recipe for Big Pizza Love

As regular readers know, most of my pizza-eaters have flown the nest, but I’m still making pizza, and I continue to receive requests for my pizza recipe, so I’m sharing it here. Giving credit where credit is due, if you happen to own a Moosewood Cookbook (mine is the 1992 edition), you’ll find that I’ve borrowed the recipe for calzone crust (160-161) and adapted it for pizza.

Enjoy!

The Crust:

1 cup wrist-temperature water
1½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbs. honey or sugar
1½ tsp. salt
2½ to 3 cups flour
oil for bowl and pans

  1. Place the water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast, and stir in honey/sugar and salt until everything dissolves.
  2. Stir in flour, kneading when it gets too thick for a spoon.
  3. Oil the bowl and cover dough with a cloth. Let rise until doubled in bulk. This is a good time to begin making the sauce and preparing toppings.

Sauce:

1 quart of canned tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
Garlic and basil to taste (sorry, I’ve never measured it!)

Toppings:

You don’t really need my help here, but I will share that pepperoni and black olives top the list of favorites here. The patient husband and I like to put leftover ratatouille on pizza. When we have a crowd in, I usually make at least one with just veggies, and I always make one with just cheese.

Baking:

Punch down the risen dough and spread with greased fingers in a well-oiled pan. Be sure to go all the way to the edges and then create a tiny edge around the circumference. Top with sauce, toppings, and an abundance of mozzarella. Bake at 450° until crust is browned and cheese is bubbly–about 15-20 minutes.

Depending on the size of your pans, this recipe will accommodate one large, deep dish pizza or two smaller pizzas of the thin crust persuasion. Experiment and let me know how it goes!


May you know and share the width and length and depth and height of God’s great love,

michele signature rose[1]

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This post appeared first at (in)courage, the blogging ministry of Dayspring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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A Time to Gather Stones

Every year in late spring, we till up an admirable crop of rocks as we prepare the garden soil for planting. Some years I have been diligent about collecting them. Other years . . . not so much. Regardless, there always seems to be a plentiful supply, and after twenty plus years of gardening in this one space, one does wonder where all these rocks are coming from!

The deeper question, however, is always “why?” and Christians with our teleological view of nature are driven to press into the goal or purpose (in Greek, the telos) of  created things.

On this rural hill of sandy soil, whatever could be the design behind such an abundance of rocks working their way to the surface of our growing space every spring?

Falling into the category of “all things,” it’s possible, I suppose, that they join all the other “things” in the Romans 8:28-29 universe that “work together for good.” They are part of the constellation of “things” that, work toward the ultimate good God has in mind for His child:  conformity to the image of His Son.

It’s a sobering thought that my attitude toward the quotidian task of piling rocks into a rusty wheelbarrow makes one whit of a difference, but then, this seems to be the way of the following life. We are called to become small, to bend low, and to do the unseen and thankless task because this was the way of the Cross. The God Who makes the sun rise every day and Who has ordained that one season should follow another in unbroken rhythm has invited me into humdrum and repetitive tasks because, even in this, He is at work.

So, as I dump the smaller rocks into the ruts in our driveway or simply upend the entire contents of the wheelbarrow onto the growing rock pile in the bushes near the garden, God is at work in the invisible realm. He is at work in me.

I have a feeling that our supply of rocks won’t be running out anytime soon.
They still have a lot of work to do!


What evidence is emerging in your own world that God is at work in you?

Blessings to you as you lean into the process and rejoice in this season of transformation!

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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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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.

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!


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.