Luci Shaw — A Poet for Life

When I first heard Luci Shaw described as “a poet sorting socks,” I was just coming into my own career as a sock-sorter.  Her poetry, harvested from the everyday of enjoying nature, relating to family and friends, and living the questions about her faith was soul-food in the midst of all the sorting out that came with this mothering life of mine.  I received Writing the River as a birthday gift the year my oldest son was born, and I mined it like a prospector, treasuring “Trace” during our family walks on the beach, smiling at the sight of tiny boy prints on Atlantic-smoothed stones.

Because you walk
on waterCapture
your footprints
are invisible.

We look in vain
for a wet mark
from the ball
of your foot
or even
a lick of

Dried salt
on the stone.

As our family grew, boy upon boy, and we began to homeschool, I found that a haiku about Queen Anne’s lace was just right for penmanship practice which would also complement a drawing in a nature notebook and so, surreptitiously, we made poetry a part of everyday life.

It lifts its lovely,
loose exactness — like fireworks,
outstarrings of God.

As my Luci Library grew, my holidays were enhanced by images of the incarnation and a kinship with Jesus’ mother that extended beyond her teenage identity to the middle-aged widow standing at the cross:  “for him to see me mended, I must see him torn.”  Every Good Friday, part of my mind finds a way back to “Judas, Peter” as I am reminded that the only thing that sorted their divergent outcomes, and the only reality that will bring Easter to my heart is “the grace to cry and wait.”

Luci’s journey through grief after the loss of her husband in 1986 (when she was only 57) was both gritty and genuine.  It also blossomed into her first work of prose:  God in the Dark.  For several years it sat on my nightstand, re-visited at least annually, because I needed the reassurance of her pendulum-swing between eloquent expressions of faith and mournful seasons of despair.

With decades of written data to support my conclusion, I draw a straight line between Luci’s depth of expression and her curiosity, her honesty, and her willingness to push against and palpate faith, beauty, and quirky human nature.  Her words on paper have been a silhouette of her hiking-boots-on-the-ground living.  Years of spiritual journaling found their way into Life Path, a guide to personal growth through journaling.  Her “following hard after God” is the spirit behind Water My Soul, which, rich in metaphor, is a book about “cultivating the interior life” and reveals Luci’s photographer’s eye in its delightful descriptions of sunlight, pumpkins, ripe berries and tilling the soul’s garden.  Luci’s readers are enriched by her friendships of the heart.  A game of “postcard tag” with a fellow poet shines its way into What the Light Was Like, and decades of prayer and faith-building with Madeleine L’Engle birthed A Prayer Book for Spiritual Friends. 

Then there was the day that Luci Shaw went bungee jumping in New Zealand — in her seventies!  While the video has apparently vanished from the internet,  the manner of living that inspired the jump has breathed itself into The Crime of Living Cautiously.  Luci writes with humor and courage about the aging process.  Adventure of Ascent is a God-struck memoir that displays the brave and positive voice which has followed Luci into her ninth decade.  Capture

As for me, I’m still sorting socks, but once in a while I write a poem these days.  The idea that I should, the impression that I must, and the courage to share my words have been fed by my reading of Luci Shaw’s words.  I love the agony of wringing out the next word like condensed fog from an over-night clothesline and the triumph of “having written,”  which, in the words of Dorothy Sayers, feels like “God on the seventh day.”  I love the boldness of words that change me even more than they change my readers and the fine shades of meaning that come with a slightly better adjective.  In her career of writing, publishing, and editing, Luci Shaw has made contagious her pleasure in language and her enjoyment of God.

“This idea is burning in my own mind
Here, let me light a wick in you.”

Consider it done, Luci.




Pay Attention

We are a gulping people —
A swallowing whole, planning the next mouthful before the bolus lands kind of people

We’re that way with our food, too.

Savor by Shauna Niequist is a daily flavor of the Word —
A slow down and think about it experience of considering one verse, one concept at a time.

Shauna describes the book as her “attempt at paying attention, at clearing away space and noise.”  To facilitate this focus, she has arranged her writing in 365 daily readings, each with a relevant scripture verse and followed by a question or suggestion to guide the reader’s thinking.  For example, Job 2:10 (“Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”) leads Shauna to ponder the term bittersweet, to reflect on the idea that in all things “there is both something broken and something beautiful.”  Her pondering is velvet, and her conclusion is steel:

“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate, and when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

Having thus whet the reader’s appetite for spiritual food, Shauna tantalizes the literal palette with twenty-one recipes from savory to sweet, sprinkled throughout the book, and accompanied by a story-behind-the-dish.  Personally, I intend to start out by trying Blueberry Yogurt Morning Cake as a delicious treat to savor with my family around the breakfast table.

Savor is like a greeting in the daily conversation with God.  Reading each day’s suggested verse in context will provide a more nourishing scriptural meal; recording meditations on the verses in a spiritual journal will allow the truth to digest; and bringing the daily thought forward into prayer and praxis will fortify faith and encourage growth.  The goodness of God is everywhere.  There is no profounder reason to enter into His creation — all the gifts He has bestowed — and to savor His grace wherever we find it.

This book was provided by Zondervan through the Book Look Bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.

Just One Thing: History

The longest recorded prayer in the Old Testament, Nehemiah 9:6-38 is also the fullest summarized retelling of Old Testament history.  It’s all there, point and counterpoint:  the Red Sea crossing, the manna, the subduing of the Canaanites.  Ponder these alongside the disobedience, the mutiny, and the faithless complaining.  A slow reading of this prayer with an eye for the ebb and flow of righteousness reveals six paired instances of Israel’s rebellion and God’s redemptive responses.  Whether Israel’s dance of death speaks to your heart about the mercy of God or about His patience and longsuffering, it is a testimonial to God’s commitment to His chosen ones, and this, I believe, is what led the people to take the words which describe their ancestors’ rebellion and to turn them Godward in the form of prayer.  Like their predecessors, they were in great distress (vv. 36, 37).  They desperately needed reassurance that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was still the kind of God who would meet them with forgiveness and restoration.

The chart below is for your personal study.  We scrawled it large and garish on our Sunday School white board last week, but I recommend printing it and taking notes in the margins, because this prayer of generational confession follows the psalm of praise that bubbles through verses 5 and 6.  It follows a litany of liberation trumpeted through verses 7 through 15.  These are scaffolding under Israel’s faith, emboldening them to come clean with the past and to make solid plans for reformation (see Nehemiah 10).

Without too much thought, I, too, could come up with a chart like Israel’s, and while it is important to avoid morbid introspection, it is good for my soul to recall the work of God on my behalf in the face of my pride, high-handed rebellion, and irrational faithlessness.  The mirror of God’s Word startles and forces me into honest evaluation, but God’s history of faithfulness and redemptive work in the past inspire confidence for bold reform.

Scroll down to find the chart I mentioned earlier in this, the twenty first in a series of posts pondering  “just one thing”  each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah, as I travel slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class.  If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own blog post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link:

                                             Israel’s Rebellion and God’s Response

Nehemiah 9:16,17 Presumptuous disobedience and mutiny Grace, mercy, and steadfast love
Nehemiah 9:18-25 Idolatry Supernatural guidance and provision
Nehemiah 9:26, 27 Disobedience to the law; murdering God’s messengers Deliverance through the godly leadership
Nehemiah 9:28, 29a Evil (again) Deliverance
Nehemiah 9:29b, 30a Pride and stiff necked rebellion Patience; warning through prophetic messages
Nehemiah 9:30b, 31 They would not listen More grace and more mercy, even in the midst of exile

Receive. Respond. Repeat.

John Piper shares a story of his experience at a sky-scraper construction site in Minneapolis.  The foundation was in place and he gazed, astonished, into the depths of the hole — four, five, six stories down into the soil of middle America, ensuring a sturdy foundation.  His application from this experience was that a deep foundation is needed to support a lofty truth.  Deep into the fertile soil of Scripture, Christine Hoover has dug, laying the foundation for the lofty truth of a grace-oriented gospel in From Good to Grace:  Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel.  She trumpets the life-changing pronouncement that God loves and saves, not because of what we do or contribute or accomplish, but because of what He did through Christ on the cross.  This mystery changed the foundation of her own theology from moralism and legalism to dependence upon “the righteousness which comes from God by faith.”

She writes of her years devoted to the “goodness gospel,” whose foundation is performance.  Everything from extending hospitality in the home to personal devotions and service in the church are evaluated according to “results” — the response of others, the sense of “accomplishment” they produce.  Adherents to the goodness gospel must be “good enough” to win the approval of others and the heart of God.  The truth is that the goodness we seek in our daily lives is a work of God the Holy Spirit.  This turns the goodness gospel on its head because a life of following the Spirit’s leading may not add up to measurable results and impressive resume material.  Christine helps us to see that “the reason we obey is to please the God who loves us.  The results are up to Him; they’re His concern, not ours.”  I was reminded over and over again that my obedience is a result of my relationship with God, not a qualification for earning His approval.

The scriptural basis for From Good to Grace has been tested in the crucible of a church-planting ministry in which Christine and her husband are in the process of “birthing” a fellowship of believers — everything starts from the ground up.  Chapter by chapter, Christine’s growing understanding of grace provides the backdrop for rich scriptural messages of hope which are supported by a helpful discussion guide at the end of the book.   The message is that the work of ministry is God’s, and just as our children are “ours” only in the sense that we steward them for God, we must accept the spiritual reality that life-transformation, salvation and spiritual growth are actually God’s territory.  By grace, we kick ourselves out of the center of the universe and receive the job description that goes with true grace-oriented ministry:  faithfulness and obedience.

Letting go of the goodness gospel can be summarized with two verbs that form the structure of Christine’s thesis:

  1. Receive:  It is God’s demonstrative, ultimate, and heroic love that mends.  That is, it reconciles us to God and then opens the door of my heart to receiving God’s help through His Spirit and to embracing the true freedom that releases the believer from slavery to roles or the opinions of others, to the death-sentence of comparison/competition, and from the grip of paralyzing fear.
  2. Respond:  Eight little words light the fuse that blows up the goodness gospel once and for all:  “We love Him because He first loved us.”  We are the loved.  When we believe that, everything in life becomes a response to His love, and it shows up, most amazingly, in our love for others.  Suddenly, service is not a burdensome checklist, but a joyous offering.  Our weaknesses and failures are even available for God to use, a risk unheard of under the goodness gospel, but a manifestation of God’s grace and power when offered up in response to His great love.

The stream of living water that runs through the true gospel of grace is receive, respond, repeat.  Because God is not in the business of daily performance evaluations, we are free to treasure what God treasures most:  faith.  By faith we receive what’s been given in Christ, and we respond in worship, love, and joyful service.

This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.

Unexpected Life

Linking up today with friends from #livefreeThursday where we are all pondering the topic:  “no strings attached.”  Well, fine, say I, the Bible-teaching evangelical.  My confessional theology is all about the sovereignty of God.  I love and serve Him, and He gets to call the shots.  But when He really DOES call the shots, and I don’t like what He has chosen, can I find grace to let go of my plans?   Undone, a memoir by Michele Cushatt (who, incidentally, spells her name correctly), chronicles her process of living a “no strings attached life” in the midst of the unexpected.

When my plans go awry and the unexpected happens, all the cracks in my theology show up.  I like to believe that if I do “A,” then “B” will happen, and I might just have some teensy control issues, so Michele Cushatt’s memoir, Undone:  A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life held me in its grip from start to finish.  Michele’s cancer diagnosis could not have come at a worse time.  Her three teenage sons required energy and attention and, on top of that, her career in public speaking was taking off — all good things!  But how could she manage this in the aftermath of a surgical procedure on her tongue that would leave her speechless and in unrelenting pain?

Through a vulnerable narrative of her circumstances, Michele reveals that “the day cancer showed up in my life, God showed up bigger.”  In words, raw and relevant, she traces the lessons in “one day at a time living” that came with a second marriage and blended family. She addresses the futility of worrying, her frustration with the imperfection that accompanies mothering, and the miracle of providence — all the times that God showed up to prove His faithfulness and to demonstrate His love.

“Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we’re not called to it; and just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not good,” became a watch word for Michele as she lived the hard gift of mothering through cancer.    Then, just as the Empty Nest (“The Promised Land!”) seemed to be within her grasp, the Cushatts added three special-needs preschoolers to their family.  In spite of her best efforts, she could not make perfection happen in the midst of the upheaval of their PTSD and attachment disorders, and once again, her readers have a front row seat to witness the miracle of God’s grace at work in the circumstances of her life.

Undone marches through the heaviness of some very intense days, but Michele brings her humor and creativity of expression into the telling so that grace gets the last word.  The reader who battles perfectionism will find food for the soul in reading about Michele’s relinquishment of the day-to-day struggle to keep all the plates spinning in unison and about her acceptance of the “the holiness of a rough-draft life. . . Of trying and stumbling, but finding the grace to get up and try again.”

This book was provided by Zondervan through Book Look Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Just One Thing: Joy

Linking up with Erika and the #WholeMama community today on the theme of Joy.  When I taught my way through the book of Nehemiah with my Sunday School class this year, I was reminded of the context for one of the Bible’s most “quotable” verses on joy — it’s not what I expected!  Thanks be to God that He is  our  infallible source of joy during Advent and throughout the year.

Then he (Ezra) said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord.  Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength,”  Nehemiah 8:10.

I wonder if people who sing and give testimonies about the most well-known verse in Nehemiah realize the irony of it:

A captive people impoverished by taxes and famine conditions returns to their homeland — a broken down city — and stands for six hours to hear their priest read aloud to them the record of their ancestors’ rebellion.  Living in the grip of a distress which they have brought upon themselves, they are encouraged to rejoice!  Yet, we see in verse 12 that they actually obeyed, because, in spite of their circumstances, they had been invited into the Lord’s joy which He delights to share with His people.

A careful reading of Scripture should banish from our minds, once and for all, the idea that God is a cosmic kill-joy, and yet the myth clings in spite of the writings of Paul (Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!) and in spite of salient pronouncements such as Phyllis McGinley’s:  “Dourness is not a sacred attribute.”  Martin Luther had no patience with his friends who behaved as if it was.  Melanchthon, his contemporary, was of a cool and reserved temperament, highly virtuous and still clinging to his monkish lifestyle even after having joined the reformers.  Fiery Luther roared at him to relax, and with his gift of over-statement declared:  “God deserves to have something to forgive you for!”  Commentator Derek Kidner observes from Nehemiah 8:9-12: “Holiness and gloom go ill together.”  In his commentary on the Psalms, he points out in Psalm 126 that the singers on their way to Jerusalem provided two metaphors for the joy of the Lord.

  1. Streams in the Negev:   Utterly dry in the summer, the arid regions to the south flood in minutes when the spring rains come.
  2. Sowing and reaping:  Crops require time and human effort in order to produce a harvest.

There is wisdom in these complementary images for those who would know the joy of the Lord.  It is His to give, and it may come in a flood, but it may also require cooperation from a heart that seeks God’s perspective on life’s circumstances.

In Psalm 137, when the Israelites lament, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” they answer their own heart-wrenching question in the lyrics that follow —  Jerusalem was to remain their “chief joy.”  Being at home in God’s City is also the ultimate joy for the present-day believer.  All the things that we chase after in our pursuit of “happiness” pale in comparison to the expectation that comes from having our spiritual roots at home in the City of God.  Anticipation of that day allows the believer to sustain joy and confidence in the face of a terminal diagnosis, loss from a natural disaster, or the heartbreak of wayward children.  In fact, the strength of which Nehemiah 8:10 speaks, in the Hebrew [maoz]  implies a refuge, stronghold, fortress or place of protection.  God’s joy is the believer’s safe haven at all times, and, dare we believe, in all circumstances?

In Christine Hoover’s new book Good to Grace, she expresses an honest response to the juxtaposition of God and joy:

“When I think of God delighting as He throws us a really good party, it surprises me a little, like I’ve got it wrong . . . Doesn’t it feel a little sacrilegious?  If so, perhaps we’re missing that God is in fact a celebratory God.  He delights and exults in those who accept His invitation to come to the party and sit at His table.”

Far from a pasted on smile and a forced “amen,” the joy of the LORD is not a requirement of the Christian life — it is a consequence!  We’re not dependent on fleeting imitations of joy, or even to the temporary outbursts of joy found in Nehemiah 8 (and later in Nehemiah 12) but are invited to the robust and eternal joy that comes from taking God’s grace, trusting His promises, accepting His unmerited invitation to “the party,” and allowing His joy to be our joy.

This is the twentieth in a series of posts in which I ponder “just one thing”  each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah, as I travel slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class.  If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own blog post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link:

Blog Swap!

            Michelle Lesley is my guest today in this, my first-ever blog swap.  Our intent is to give our readers the benefit of a different writing voice and greater diversity of content.
            I have been following Michelle’s blog for some time, and have been challenged  by her clarity and confidence as she encourages her readers to pursue righteousness and the wisdom that comes from the Word of God.  Michelle is a ministry wife, the homeschooling mother of six, and a published author.  She also teaches a ladies’ Sunday School class in her church in Louisiana and, miraculously, cranks out an article on her blog nearly every day.  From the abundance of available content, I have chosen to share with you her post called:

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are:  Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible.


Michelle Lesley is addressing a mindset that devalues the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.  He promises to guide you into all truth (Jn. 16:13) and to give understanding (Ps. 119:34), but, often, we circumvent that spectacular privilege by reading other peoples’ interpretation of the Bible instead of the Word of God itself.  This is a temptation I have battled in my own teaching preparation, so I know that you will be challenged by Michelle’s words today:

“My heart goes out to these ladies because they desperately want to learn from God’s Word, but somewhere along the way, someone or something has convinced these perfectly intelligent women–I haven’t met a dumb one, yet– that they’re not good enough or smart enough for God’s Word.”

Click here to continue reading and don’t forget to subscribe to and follow Michelle Lesley on social media.

What are some of your greatest challenges in studying the Word of God?  Do you find it tempting to jump right into a commentary rather than comparing scripture with scripture, using cross references, and studying the context on your own?  What’s working well for you as you press on to know the Lord through His own written words?