When It’s Snowing Sideways

This is a post written during the frightful winter of 2015, but given that there’s a storm raging outside this afternoon,  I’m digging it out of its snow drift and sharing it today.

Meteorologists are having a field day, rummaging around in their thesauri for words equal to the task of describing the nor’easter that is hammering the east coast on this January day.
“It’s Beauty and the Beast!” crowed NPR’s morning weather guy.
“I get the “beast” part,” chirped the perky news anchor, “but you’ve got to explain the ‘beauty,'” whereupon the meteorologist launched into a riveting psalm to the raw power of the storm.

He had my attention, and for a few minutes I imagined myself out in the storm, snow-caked scarf trailing behind me, face into the wind, being scoured clean by the blinding snow — sort of an east-coast, middle-aged, female version of John Muir, the 19th century North American explorer.  He was known for climbing to the top of a Douglas fir in the middle of a wild, Sierra Mountain wind storm, holding on for dear life and riding out the tempest so that he could know and experience wind.

I, however, am known for making pot roast and home made ice cream on snowy days, so I peel another carrot and decide to use the food processor instead of the hammer to pulverize leftover candy canes for the ice cream.  Through the driving snow, I see that Lady Cardinal, out on the deck rail, is having her own issues with the wind.  Usually perfectly groomed in her red-orange lipstick, today her stylish, coiffed tuft of feathers is out of control, as, back to the wind, she struggles to maintain her dainty footing.  Then, unexpectedly, the wind gusted, pivoting her where she stood, end for end, tail for beak.

This is the work of the wind, untamed and untamable, turning us around when we least expect it.  For the Christian, everything we do has its basis in the Wind of Spirit as both the Hebrew and the Greek render “spirit” as “wind” or “breath.”  Apparently, John Muir had the right idea about how to relish wind, how to take it all in.

Today’s sideways snowstorm is a visible effect of wind, as are the sculpted drifts and tossing tree limbs.  Typically, like Lady Cardinal, I want life on my own terms, predictable as the ingredients in my crockpot, without the bother of being upended by an invisible force beyond my control.  How much I miss!  I wonder what would happen if the Wind of Spirit was set free to do something in me that only God could do?

Now, don’t be looking for me at the top of any fir tree, riding out this storm!  But what if, trusting the Wind to do His work, I relaxed my white knuckle control of the universe and let the beauty of Wind change my direction?  What if the way to ride out life’s storms, the way to live “life in the Spirit” is to wait for the Wind to blow — and then to move.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you . . .”    Acts 1:8

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One Weekend in History – For Ruby Magazine

For years I celebrated Easter as if it were a stand-alone holiday, singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” without giving much thought to the horror of the Dying or the silence of the Dead. Providentially, my early efforts to incarnate and to enliven an invisible God in the hearts of four sweet boys found a way into the obtuse heart of their mother as well.  Therefore, this Lenten season, I will be re-reading A Glorious Dark, a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.  Where memoir meets theological pondering, author A.J. Swoboda’s story winds through his faith journey, with the bonus of startling spotlight quotes which he aims at himself and at all of us who say that we believe.  Here’s one of the dozen or more:

“Many envision faith as a kind of hall pass for laziness, excusing them from a life of action, doing, and working hard.”

Ouch and amen.

What we believe about one weekend in history, the three days’ journey from Golgotha to the garden tomb, impacts our whole experience of the Christian life.  That’s why I’m sharing this book review in the March issue of Ruby Magazine.  I would love for you to continue reading with me there.  Be sure to check out the other articles and be encouraged.  Click here for more information about subscribing.

capture

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This book was provided by Baker Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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 Mosaic of Images on Joy and Prayer

I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayers, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God.  Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.

Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter.  At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened.  It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.

In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.

“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)

Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first:  a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet”  jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD.  Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.

Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy.  This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.

The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise?  Order?  Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)

He portrays service as a learning process:

“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)

This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways:  in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.

Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:

  1.  “God is present in every moment and in every molecule.  His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
  2. The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”

Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.

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This book was provided by the William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you 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 box 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 Veiled Life in the Sandy Waste: Till We Have Faces (7)

Welcome to Week 7 of our discussion of C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces!  As we consider the events of Chapters 16-18, I’m looking forward to another opportunity to hear your insights into this unfolding drama.

Plot Summary

Once again, Orual creeps back into the palace unseen, but after this catastrophic encounter with Psyche, it is The Fox she is avoiding, as well as her father the King, for she is ashamed of her dealings with her sister.  When questioned by the Fox, she tries to reframe the wrath of the god of Grey Mountain as a natural disaster — rather than the supernatural disaster that it actually was.

Orual’s life begins to be lived on two levels:  on the one, a dogged determination to anesthetize all thoughts and reminders of her lost sister; and on the other, a realization that she has been “doomed to live,” but has the displeasure of the gods hanging over her along with her grief and loss.

When the King is fatally injured in a fall, Orual suddenly becomes Queen, mostly out of political expediency and practical collusion between the palace and the House of Ungit to keep the peace, but she finds that she can “queen it with the best of them.”  To establish her position on the throne and in the hearts of her people — and to fix a very tangled foreign policy issue — Orual challenges Argan, the sitting ruler of Glome’s long-time enemy nation of Phars, to a duel of swords.

Reflection

As I read Orual’s progressive absorption (and disappearance) into the role of The Queen, two major themes kept surfacing:

The Nature of Love

We’ve already begun to get a glimpse of Orual’s definition of love in her dealings with Psyche on the bank of the River.  Coercion, emotional blackmail, and insistence on complete agreement are all part of the sick package, and upon her return to the palace, Orual learns that The Fox, with all his rational talk, is more equipped to demonstrate true love than she.  When it becomes apparent that she is withholding information about her dealings with Psyche, he refuses to jeopardize their relationship by forcing her to divulge her secret.  Later, he apologizes for his own emotional outburst that accompanied his efforts to convince her not to challenge Argan, and, then, ironically, succumbs to Orual’s pressure to remain in Glome even after she has freed him from slavery.  It appears that C.S. Lewis is holding The Fox up as a mirror to Orual in order to put her true self on display — but she is blind to it.  She demonstrates her complete inability to comprehend The Fox’s capacity for love when she sees him seated by her father’s death bed:

“It was not possible he should love his old master.”

She’s forgetting, or course, that her hatred for The King is not necessarily universal, and that her own relationship with The Fox may feel very different from his perspective.  This complete inability to enter into the emotions of another person is clear again when she feels only her own joy (and none of his sorrow or ambivalence) when The Fox agrees to stay in Glome rather than returning, free, to his homeland.

Lewis scholar Gilbert Meilaender cites one of Lewis’s poems to demonstrate Lewis’s scorn for those who make others miserable in the guise of “loving” them:

“Erected by her sorrowing brothers
In memory of Martha Clay:
Here lies one who lived for others;
Now she has peace. And so have they.”

In a 1957 letter to Clyde Kilby (another Lewis scholar and professor of English at Wheaton), Lewis said that Orual is an example of “human affection in its natural condition, true, tender, suffering, but in the long run tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession.”

The Purpose of the Veil

It is not until page 180 that Orual confesses her resolve to go through life wearing a veil, but, to the reader, it is apparent that Orual has been in hiding for some time.  There is evidence for this in her actions and reactions:

  1. Her attempt to avoid contact with The Fox (177) and the fact that she never does actually disclose the entire story to him (and even less to Bardia).  Her barriers of secrecy and silence cost her the comfort she had formerly found in the relationship with her old tutor.
  2. Her literal closing of the door to Psyche’s room and the figurative closing of her mind behind an equally well-sealed door that refused to think of Psyche or to hear her name.
  3. All the grief of her loss of Psyche is barricaded behind a dam, a barrier that serves her well as long as nothing triggers the anguish, but which has to be carefully maintained by the distraction of work and then meticulously rebuilt after every episode of “weeping and writhing.” (184, 189)  Joe R. Christopher writes about a difference in tone in this section of the story.  Orual has “no religious visions” and she “works without hope . . . so that she may forget what she has done to Psyche and may forget the god which appeared to her then.”

Orual first wears the veil when she traveled to the Holy Tree so that she would not be recognized.  Her decision to be perpetually veiled is symbolic of her desire to be continually hidden, to be swallowed up in the duties and the identity of The Queen, presenting an outward appearance of decisive composure while grieving and bitter behind the mask.

Without pressing the point or making more of it than Lewis intended or the text supports, I think of Orual whenever I read  Paul’s discourse on Moses’ veil in II Corinthians 3.  Moses’ understanding of the ultimate significance of the Old Covenant was, at best, veiled and shadowy (I Peter 1:10, 11), and the Israelites’ veiled hearts were a symbol of unbelief.  The believer, on the other hand, is privileged with unimpaired spiritual perception: the ability to see the glory of God revealed in Christ, an unobstructed view.  Eugene Peterson masterfully describes this in the Message:

“With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us.”

. . . or, at least it can be if we are willing to take the risk.

Whether or not Moses’ veil proves to be a helpful metaphor, Orual reminds me that the believer comes before God unveiled, and she warns me of the dangers of damming up emotions, slamming the door on things I’d rather not deal with, and working hard to project an image that does not line up the the “me” that lives and breathes (and fails and falters) on this broken ground.

Some Issues to Ponder

If the lover is not healthy, neither is the love.
Orual’s story is a cautionary tale for all of us, but particularly, I think, for those of us who are mothers.  Open-handed love is so hard to practice when those precious people begin to make decisions on their own.

 Your Turn

When Bardia describes Orual’s decision to challenge Argan as “something out of an old song,” did anyone else think of Peter’s challenge of Miraz in Prince Caspian?  I love the “old songs” that I remember from the land of Narnia.

How are you feeling about Orual these days?  She is such a bundle of strengths and weakness, leveraging the psychological value of her veil to appear powerful, and yet reduced to a puddle of grief at the mere sound of the chains on a well blowing in the wind — because they sound like Psyche’s wails.

Be sure to share your insights on these and ANY topics that have come to mind in your reading so far.  Again, I’ll remind you that you are welcome to share links to entire blog posts if you have the time and inclination to write them — we’d all love to know what you’re thinking, and I know that my understanding and appreciation for the text is enhanced each week when I read the thoughts of other readers.

Next Time

Next Thursday (February 23rd), I’ll be here having read Chapters 19-21.  That will take us to the end of Section I!

Thank you for making this experience so fruitful and fun!

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Resources:

Bright Shadow of Reality:  C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect. Corbin Scott

The Longing for a Form.  Essays on the Fiction of C.S. Lewis.  Peter J. Schakel, editor.

The Taste for the Other. The Social and Ethical Thoughts of C.S. Lewis.  Gilbert Meilaender.

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In case you missed last week’s post, click here to catch 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.

Till We Have Faces (2): Longing for the Grey Mountain

I have invited the readers who visit Living Our Days to join me in reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, and to return here each Thursday for a discussion.  If you’re just joining us, you can find the reading schedule here.  

Approaches to C.S. Lewis’s brand of fiction vary widely, ranging from “This is a great story, and I love it.  Please leave me alone and let me enjoy it,” to those who seek a point-by-point application for every possible allegory.  Wherever you fall on this spectrum, it’s clear that Chapters 1-3 set the stage for many of the major themes that permeate the book.  Even if you have not yet started to read with us, this short summary of the first three chapters may serve as a teaser to get you started!

Plot Summary

In the semi-barbaric kingdom of Glome, in a time before the fall of the Greek empire, there lived a homely princess named Orual.  Her mother has died, and the king remarries and fathers, to his dismay, yet another daughter, making three in all.  Transfixed by the baby’s beauty and good nature, Orual raises and dotes on the child who grows in beauty and goodnessand is beloved by the people.  The young Princess Psyche is rumored to have healing in her hands, and chapter three ends with an ominous sense that the jealousy of the middle daughter (Redival), two years of poor harvest, and the onset of an epidemic of fever may, together, signal the end of happy times for Orual and Psyche.

standing

Reflection

The word “standing” reached out from Romans 5:1,2 and chose me for its own this year,

 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

and it leaves me wishing that Orual (and her present day sisters) could see and know this God who “has always wanted to do” good for us, to be “all together” with us so that we would see the wide-open door which He has already flung aside in welcome.

With her opening paragraph, Orual makes it evident that she is (and has long been) at enmity with the gods.  She has concluded that the gods hate her, but clearly, she is not in a position of unbelief:

  • She recognizes but disregards their power to do her harm, and describes Ungit as a “very strong goddess,” (pg. 4).  Dressing traditional Christian concepts in pagan clothing, C.S. Lewis portrays Ungit as a nature goddess and Ungit’s son is the “god who lives on the Grey Mountain.”
  • She acknowledges that the gods have knowledge that is unavailable to humans, “and gods do not tell,” (p. 33).
  • As a child, even the smell of Ungit’s temple was frightening to her, and she continues to refer to it as a smell of holiness, “the Ungit smell,” (p. 11).

By contrast, Psyche seems to have been drawn since childhood toward the Grey Mountain:  “When I’m big,” she said, “I will be a great, great queen, married to the greatest king of all, and he will build me a castle of gold and amber up there on the very top,” (p. 23).  Even when she succumbs to the fever, her delirious ravings are all about the Grey Mountain.

In the midst of these two polar opposites stands The Fox, a Greek slave who has been assigned to tutor the girls.  Spouting rational explanations for all the mysterious actions of “the gods,” and insisting that all the murky evidence for the numinous all around them is “just lovely poetry,” he still trembles before the mystery of death, and fails to convince anyone with his reason-based protests. Throughout the book, we will see that Orual continually struggles to reconcile the teachings of The Fox with the teachings of Ungit’s priests.

C.S. Lewis, in his writing, frequently ties the distant hills to the sense of longing that formed the backdrop to his formative years — “sehnsucht” he called it, a German term that manages to convey deep yearning and nostalgic longing.  The theme permeates much of what Lewis wrote, and at this point in the novel, the longing is tied to the distant hills and their “otherworldliness” that draws Psyche. Of course, C.S. Lewis was famous for having said,

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Some Issues to Ponder

  1. Do you see any similarities between Orual’s devotion to Psyche and the people of Glome’s failure to look beyond Psyche to the god of Grey Mountain?
  2. Lewis used the term “myth” not as an opposite to the word “fact,” but instead to label a device of meaning-making. For instance, he referred to “the myths of the Bible,” referring to the stories and themes we all know.  Converting to Christianity at the age of 31, Lewis found that Christ “is the reality which all myths are suggesting.”  In Miracles he refers to “a long preparation [of all previous myths which] culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so . . . the truth first appears in Mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History.”  He believed most myths were initially theological; for instance, that all nations’ myths of blood and sacrifice arose from “initial revelation,” all pointing toward the same truth of Christ crucified.   Do you find Lewis’s portrayal of Christian concepts in a strange context to be helpful — or distracting?
  3.   Lewis scholars claim that his wife, Joy Davidman, was quite influential in the development of Orual’s character.  This does give insight to the amazing ability of a nearly lifelong bachelor to develop the interior landscape of a strong female character.  But . . . then there is Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew. And Mrs. Beaver.  And Lucy Pevensie is no slouch either!  Any thoughts on this?
  4. How are you pronouncing Orual’s name as you read?  I’ve always said “Or-oo-all” which is a bit awkward.  Anyone saying “you” for the middle syllable?

Your Turn

I hope that you will share your thoughts on the first three chapters in the comments below.  I will be thrilled if you choose to link up your own blog posts for all of our benefit and enjoyment!

Next Time

On Thursday, January 19th, I’ll be here having read chapters 4-6.

I hope you are enjoying the experience of exploring this beautiful, complex, and compassionate story.

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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 box 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.

Three Thousand Gifts — A Thanksgiving Checkpoint

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

I’m taking a blogging break, but here’s a post from the past about the year I started counting gifts in a gratitude journal . . .


#2967 — The sweet and tart of cranberry bread.

#2968 — Peach colored dawn behind silhouetted branches.

#2969 — Phone call from far-away friends . . .

. . . and so I approach the end of another year of giving thanks, another record of the day-by-day goodness of God in my Gratitude Journal.  Giving thanks is definitely not my default ( My husband just might have called me “Eeyore” a time or two in the past twenty-four years.); however, the discipline and intentionality of naming and numbering three gifts every day is changing my thinking.

It all started in 2012, a year of seismic upheaval in our family — good changes, yes, but huge and life altering:  a graduation, a wedding, a college enrollment.  My bearings were absolutely gone.  Everything that had been obvious and routine up to that point (“How many plates do I put on the table for dinner?”) had suddenly become ponderous and complicated.

Rattling around in my subconscious (from having read a book review of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts), was the idea of keeping a list of blessings in order to fight the darkness and to sharpen the focus on God at work in the dailiness of life.  I had not yet read the book, but I was grasping at straws on that mid-August day, because it had become very clear to me that I needed to take myself by the scruff of the neck and turn my eyes toward blessing and away from negativity.  So, there was the phrase, dormant in my brain:  “one thousand gifts.”

I realize now that it’s a good thing I had not yet read the book, because I would have given myself a year to come up with the list of one thousand blessings as the book prescribes.  For me, at that time, desperate measures were required — not just a pace-maker, but a defibrillator for this dead heart that could not find the words of thanksgiving.  Reaching out from the fog, I asked:

“Lord, can you help me to find one thousand things to be thankful for?

With His help, I set my face in that direction, and resolved to name one thousand gifts in time for Thanksgiving Day. With just over ten weeks to do the job,  I would fight the fire of panic and despair with the fire of gratitude.  From that moment, whenever my mind was still and my hands were free, I would write, combing my minutes for evidence of grace and pinning them down with my pen, desperate for evidence of God’s love and goodness in the midst of my chaotic and unhinged days.

#1 — Tomatoes in a basket on the counter

#2 — Birdsong coming through my window

#3 — A noisy house with three boys at home

Car trips in the passenger seat with my driver-in-training yielded:

#348 — Beautiful double rainbow

#349 — Autumn leaves on wet pavement

This was just the medicine my ailing soul required, because slowly it dawned on me that, like the recipients of Paul’s letter to Rome, I had become “futile in my thinking.”  Although  I knew God and had taught others about Him and had introduced Him to my children, I did not glorify him as God when my foolish heart was choosing to focus on fear, negativity, and mourning.

Somewhere around #697 I encountered the words of William Law from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life:

“If anyone would tell you the shortest and surest way to all happiness, he must tell you to make a rule for yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.  It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.  If you could work miracles, therefore, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit.  It heals and turns all it touches to happiness.”

This was realism and grace to look at the hard things of life, and still to give thanks:

#701 — Tough math lesson in school today

#718 — Friday!  At the end of a hard week

I carried my journal in my purse, and suddenly, I was hot on the trail in a daily scavenger hunt.  Where would God show His goodness next?

When I reached one thousand gifts on November 22 (Thanksgiving Day 2012), I noted the milestone in my planner with  I Timothy 4:4:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with Thanksgiving.

The new little journal I started in 2013 sits quietly on my cookbook shelf above the counter where I stand to prepare meals.  I try to write my three gifts first thing in the morning to set my brain in the right direction at the outset, or, as Jonathan Edwards has said, “to stamp eternity on my eyeballs.”

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but now, much more, it has become my checkpoint.  As I approach #3,000 in 2014, I will challenge my heart with these questions:

During times of disappointment, am I able to see and count evidence of the grace of God?

Can I communicate a spirit of thanksgiving to those who know me best when the immediate evidence does not support it?

Does saying thank you for small, every day graces serve to heighten my appreciation for them?

By writing the truth in ink, bold, I let God correct my wrong thinking as, together, we name and number His goodness:

#2972 — Three red hens scratching under a green pine

#2973 — Time to write, read, and think

#2974  . . .

As the list goes on, the greatest gift is a renewed awareness of God’s gifts — daily.

Veering into the Serene Providence

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, can I convince even myself that my skills are marketable? Am I still capable of holding my own in the workforce? The questions hang in the air like a challenge.

This job search is not happening at all the way I had planned it. Certainly, I have always expected to return to work someday, but only after the graduation party for boy number four, the culmination of my career as a homeschooling mum.  Naturally, I would observe a few weeks’ intermission — to beautify my future Pinterest-perfect home. Then and only then would I break out the resume and step magically into the job of my dreams  – or else . . .  just crank out a run-away best-seller, the smoke rolling off my keyboard from the intensity of its truth-telling.

However, with reality comes the quaint truth that “making ends meet” may simply mean bringing them into the same zip code. With my teacher-husband home for the summer, why not let him manage the family mowing business – and the family? Why not see if I can land a summer job?

Why not?

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? In the past, I have found that the disruption of my plans has been a salutary thing – not a sign from heaven that I have disobeyed or ignored God’s direction, but, rather, an assurance that there is a serene Providence* at work behind the scenes, that God has said words of promise over me:  “I have other plans for you, plans which will open a way for you to learn to know Me – which is far better than what you had planned.”

Naomi would agree, I think. Senior heroine from the book of Ruth, she encountered the unexpected when Bethlehem, “The House of Bread” was stripped by famine and left without a crumb. The journey to Moab with Elimelech and their two young sons would have been a desperate act, and it was followed by a decade of every imaginable kind of loss as, one by one, her men — her protectors — died.

Even the comforting presence of devoted daughter-in-law Ruth could not dilute life’s acrid brew that transformed Naomi the Pleasant into Mara the Bitter, (Ruth 1:20, 21). Naomi’s jarring change of direction leaves me breathless. How does a woman ever absorb the loss of a husband and two sons? One thing she discovered (and that I am learning) is that God is the only One who is equipped to recognize a detour while it is happening. It is only from the vantage point of the rear view mirror that we mortals are able to verify the truth that, all along, God had in mind our best interest and the furthering of His Kingdom.

With the sadness of mourning still roaring in her ears, Naomi could never have imagined that her slow trek back to Bethlehem would be a journey toward life and joy – and grandchildren! She could not have discerned that her time in Moab – temporary after all – would reap a bearer of strong genes for the making of the Messianic Line:  King David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, the gleaner of barley who gathered grace as well.

In the interim, therefore, we wait; and we pray for grace to trust God’s motives.  Today, I am feeling the murkiness of the fog of unknowing. This waiting is something I’ve never been good at, and yet I can attest to the deep groove that is formed in the soul by waiting – and praying. Paul Miller in The Praying Life advises:

“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.”

How delightful to think that if I can adjust the angle of all my concerns at this turn in the road (Can I still be the present kind of mum I long to be? Who will direct the church’s VBS?  Will my blog disappear from the planet?), if I can move the trajectory away from worry and toward petition, I will “slip into” prayer.

What a mercy.

“Expect delays,” say all the road signs, and while my detour is only the palest adumbration of Naomi’s jarring ride, I am blessed by her words to Ruth:

“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out.”

And, Note to Soul:

While you’re waiting, let the memory of past deliverances teach you to hope against all hope in today’s uncertainty, knowing that with every unexpected bend in the road you are veering into the loving and wise sovereignty of God.

 

*The phrase “serene Providence” is borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s oration on the death of Lincoln.

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