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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Parenting Lessons from the Ashes

Strict practitioners would not have approved of my methods, but on one long ago mid-winter Wednesday, I smeared ashes on the foreheads of my two preschoolers and myself. An offering of the hardwood that had heated our home the day before, these ashes were not “ceremonially correct” in any way, but at the time, I did not know that traditional Ash Wednesday ashes come from the remains of Palm Sunday palms. I did not even know about the forty-day season of Lent that follows Ash Wednesday.

However, I did know about sin—my own and my children’s. We were in “time out” season with one of our sons. At our wits’ end, we had exhausted Dr. Dobson, Elisabeth Elliot, and every parenting resource available in the 90’s. “Why is it so hard to be good?” our little Dobson-buster would ask, and his younger brother’s eyes would fill with tears whenever they were caught in collaborative naughtiness.

In this parenting pressure cooker, maternal apologies had become a daily occurrence. I was hoping to model repentance—while at the same time atoning for sharp words and a short fuse. “I was wrong; please forgive me,” were the words through which my sons were learning that their mother had not outgrown the struggle against sin. Ash Wednesday gives Christians an opportunity to grow in our understanding of where to take that struggle.

Maybe, like me, you come from a tradition that has not emphasized the liturgical calendar, and Ash Wednesday is just a misty concept for you. I invite you to click on over to Desiring God with me today for some thoughts on filling up that concept with some history, some spiritual practices, and some story telling from my parenting life here on this country hill.

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Wooden Cross Photo by James L.W 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.

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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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.

 

Celebrating Christmas in a Season of Loss

In a year that has seen at least 23 school shootings, parental grief lies very near the surface of our society. At the same distressing time, a stunning 1 in 4 women has had an abortion by age 45, creating a quieter, but even greater undercurrent of grief — one mostly unshared and unacknowledged. Then there are the countless precious children who have died too soon a thousand other ways.

How many parents that you know are facing another Christmas without their son or daughter?

Entering into the mourning of friends (or even total strangers), we rarely know how to comfort them — how to do or say something that puts God’s mercy on display, while trumpeting the joy of our blessed hope, all with appropriate sensitivity. We desperately want to avoid a candy-coated misuse of Romans 8:28 that forces tragedy into some sort of untainted blessing without acknowledging the lacerating loss. The tension renders us wordless.

But where we are wordless, the word of God is not. Woven into the account of the Messiah’s birth is a story of childhood death, a blunt and brutal story that brings parental grief right into the “most wonderful time of year.”

Capture

I’m teaming up with Desiring God today in sharing this call to a compassionate observance of Holy Innocents Day during this challenging season for parents (and others) who grieve. Click here to join me over there for the rest of the article.

May Joy and Peace Be Yours,

Michele Morin

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

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

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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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How to Be a “True Christian” Mother-in-Law

Over time, a family with four sons develops a unique tone, a guy-culture with a certain decibel level and a distinct way of doing life. As a mother of some now-married sons, it has been a joy to welcome other women into this circle, women who love my sons well and have also opened their hearts to me.

Of course, the messy flip side of this blessing is the requirement that I acknowledge and appreciate another woman’s way of doing things—important things like parenting my grandchildren, feeding a family, and managing a home. Just as I have prayed for twenty-five years for grace to be a good mother, I am now trusting for grace to be a good mother-in-law. Wisdom for this challenge flows in abundance from one of Paul’s lists in the book of Romans.  Some translators have labeled Romans 12:9-21 “Marks of the True Christian.” I can’t think of any better advice for women striving to be good Christian mothers-in-law.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

In the same spirit as Paul’s command to “let love be genuine,” Amy Carmichael prayed:

“Love through me, Love of God.
Make me like Thy clear air
Through which, unhindered, colors pass
As though it were not there.


I’m teaming up with Desiring God today to share more of Paul’s admonitions from Romans 12 and how they have applied to my life as a mother-in-law-in-training. I hope you’ll join me there to continue reading!

Rejoicing in hope,

Michele Morin

Photo by Khongor Ganbold on Unsplash

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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.

Celebrating the Labor and the Love

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention. 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 steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and one of the most startling discoveries of my life has been that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?
Why do you do what you do?

Hopefully, we are both coming to the conclusion that our labor of love is a fulfillment of God’s great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
And sometimes, for me, the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones who share my last name and my DNA. 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 loads and loads of dishes and bedding.

To Love Is to Labor

To love is to labor, and for the believer, there is an inseparable connection between the routines of domesticity and the quotidian mysteries of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God. 

In Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel, asserts that “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures: avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

The Spiritual Discipline of Housekeeping

It is, therefore, possible to draw parallels between the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  In Scripture, He finds lost things; He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places; He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party.  Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, and performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.

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.

2.  Housekeeping is a work of welcoming and provision.

Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.

There is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  In our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God. Organizing a cluttered closet, sanitizing a nasty high chair tray, 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.

God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God!

Joining you in the holy work of sandwich-making and laundry-folding,

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

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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.