Musings: February 2019

Cold February is no context for thoughts of spring. Like the daffodils, our hopes are asleep under a crust of dirty snow. Nonetheless, retailers rush to display Easter candy and sleeveless, frilly dresses for us to admire in our winter coats and boots. Thoughts of resurrection seem out of place somehow when bare trees can’t quite stop shivering, but then, the weeks leading up to Easter, if we use them wisely, can raise the temperature of our hearts to match the truth that our whole following life is spent in the practice of resurrection, day after day, trying to get it right and to live our way into the freedom Christ won for us.

I’m following that path with my reading in these days leading up to a come-when-it’s-ready spring. As a Lenten observance, a slow read through the four gospels adds depth to my understanding of Jesus’s road to the cross:  the daily mundane obedience on dusty Palestinian roads, shared meals with a big side order of Kingdom clarification, and always, always, always, the will of God like a straight arrow, cutting through every competing or conflicting thought that came His way.

40 Days of Lent

Plugging into the details of Jesus’s poured out life always heightens my celebration on Resurrection Day, and this year, Susan Chamberlain Shipe has provided the road map I’ve been using on the journey. 40 Days of Lent: The people, places, and events surrounding the Passion weaves the Jesus story together with insights gleaned from Shipe’s following life. Because Scripture has been embedded within each day’s reading, it’s easy to follow the dots between action and application, and because Susan is a student of the Word, she has done a lot of the leg work for her readers, including both historical and geographical details to fill in the gap where the text is terse.

One story, one main idea, and then words of application followed by probing questions take the faithful reader through the people, places, and events on Jesus’ road to the cross. Like life itself, the “Lenten road is hard” (19), but it is also an opportunity for redemptive self-evaluation and a gentle push toward considering the next good choices we need to make in our lives.

 And Hey! There’s a Give Away!

To receive a free, autographed copy of 40 Days of Lent, simply leave a comment below. I will have my adorable grandson draw a name on Sunday, March 3, and Susan will send a book your way to guide you on your own Lenten journey.

February Gratitude

Whenever our family gets together under one roof, I’m thankful. Brotherly friendship and loud laughter are great gifts. The privilege of getting covered in flour with my grandson, and then teaching my small granddaughter that glue sticks are not edible stand at one end of the family bandwidth–while on the other end, our youngest son is doing the very grown-up research that goes into buying his first car. Really? How has this happened?

Small gifts, given with great love warm the heart. A cranberry candle, a book, a cup of hot tea with milk. I’m blessed on this country hill.

Our family said goodbye to a dear friend this month. We have spent the last 20 years worshiping in the pew behind Buzzy and Eleanor, so we will miss her seed-planting ways and her blue-eyed smile. “Little people, little problems,” was one seed of wisdom she planted with me long ago when I was getting whipped up over some small boy’s minor infraction on a Sunday morning. Her passing makes me very aware of my responsibility to be planting seeds of truth now. It’s my turn to step up.

February Reading and Writing

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Isaiah 53The Amazing Gift of Volunteer Love — Reviewing fiction always feels like a huge risk. What if I give away the punchline? Or worse–what if I completely miss the point?  Lights on the Mountain: A Novel was well worth the risk. With a pen like a paint brush, author Cheryl Anne Tuggle has fashioned a cast of unique players, and her writing is enriched by subtle characterization and delightful similes that underscore the close connection between the words simile and smile. 

Spiritual friendship involves caring, accepting, serving, encouraging, and practicing hospitality.How to Do the Hard and Holy Work of Faithful FriendshipCertainly not by any design of mine, two books on friendship have come in the mail, and I was delighted to share them both here on the blog. First, Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith in which Janice Peterson  remembers lemonade on the porch and shares her deep conviction that friendships can be life-altering in all the best ways.

In a lonely world where isolation is the norm and competition is the default, the deep connection of friendship is a rare gift.

 

Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World — Then, Sally Clarkson has teamed up with her daughters to inspire and instruct readers in the art and science of cultivating deep and lasting friendships  with  her  latest  book, Girls’ Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World.Are you looking for "the perfect church?" Finding community can be challenging, but the rewards are worth the wait.

It’s always a joy to share writing with warm and welcoming communities! During February vacation friends at (in)courage opened the door of hospitality to my story about our search for a church home. (Yes, we may possibly have been in search of the perfect church . . . and we may have had teensy commitment issues.)

Finding community can be a long and challenging process, but the rewards are worth the wait.

Then, I was thankful that The Perennial Gen shared my review of Kate James’s Can You See Anything Now? Be sure to visit some of these welcoming communities for encouragement and a kind of virtual fellowship in the gospel!

Coming up in March

That moment when you realize that you and your hairspray have a lot in common . . .

Does anyone else recall the days when we could take our hairspray and a normal sized toothpaste anywhere in the world?

Lord willing, I will be traveling to Mountain Lake Park, Maryland to teach the Bible at Faith Evangelical Free Church’s Women’s Conference on March 23rd. I’m always thankful for opportunities to open the Word of God with a roomful of women, and I would appreciate your prayers that I would serve this gathering well, and that God will bring together the words I’m preparing and the needs that are present.

And while I’m studying, I’m wondering:  What are you struggling with these days? I may not have an answer–and we may be struggling over the same things! However, I promise to read every response, as your thoughts will definitely shape my reading and my writing in the coming weeks. If the comments section here seems too public, here’s my email address:  morin6.mm@gmail.com.
I look forward to hearing from you!

May you know the love of Christ (which passes knowledge),

Michele Morin

Don’t forget:  You can enter to win a copy of Susan Chamberlain Shipe’s 40 Days of Lent by leaving a comment below!

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase 40 Days of Lent: The people, places, and events surrounding the Passion or any of the other books mentioned within this post, simply click on the title  within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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The Amazing Gift of Volunteer Love

Whether it was pessimism or lack of imagination, it never once occurred to me to ask God for a husband or a family. Maybe that’s why I value them as I do, for they are gifts that came to me, even though I lacked the good sense to pray for them. Cheryl Anne Tuggle calls this “volunteer love–so unlooked for, and yet so insistent.” (59) The love that found Jess and Gracie, their marriage and their life together, is only one strand of the story Tuggle has knit in Lights on the Mountain: A Novel.

As a young man, Jess was summoned into a contemplation of the numinous by Glory Light that rent the sky on a  distant peak, but tragedy changed his trajectory. He began to walk through the husk of his life half-asleep, placing one booted foot ahead of the other. Reading the borrowed adventures of Lewis and Clark by evening lamp light, he observed his own life from a careful distance, unable to feel either wonder or sorrow, but Gracie and marriage sharpened his blunted feelings.

Through Jess’s eyes, readers experience the peaceful labor of farm life in the mid-twentieth century, the tipping point between the old ways and “progress.” We are invited to roll up our sleeves and work alongside him as he tidies the barn. We nod good evening to the cows as they line up peacefully in early winter darkness, bags full of milk, awaiting the symbiotic ministrations of our hands. Becky the workhorse nickers her hard-working way into our hearts, showing up as a character rather than a prop in a life in which God is pondered more in the barn than in the church.

Subtle Characterization and Delightful Similes

With a pen like a paint brush, Tuggle has fashioned a cast of unique players, knit together by the rigors of agriculture and the accident of shared geography. The community observes and explains Tsura by their own terms, the girl who lives on the fringes but sees and knows the invisible and unknowable future. Margit and Opal practice casserole caring and lasagna love to fill in the gaps where words fail.

In a collision of cultures and in an era in which diversity was neither sought after nor discussed, western Pennsylvania farmers lived alongside Amish neighbors and navigated in-law dynamics with Russian immigrants.  In a mingling of faiths, prayer and worship, piety and ethics come on a bandwidth ranging from Jess’s rational materialist father to Gracie’s deeply observant Eastern Orthodox family.

Tuggle’s writing is enriched by subtle characterization and delightful similes that underscore the close connection between the words simile and smile:

Describing Pat the farrier:  “The man had to be tapped like a great old tree, and the sap ran very slow.” (15)

Jess’s concerned mother of his anxiety:  “You’re perspiring like a sinner at altar call.” (49)

Of Gracie’s ability to move in hope:  “[Jess] marveled at it from a distance, the way a man with no legs admires a circus acrobat.” (80)

The view of the Old Smiley place:  “An ancient wood frame, large and gaunt and set way back from the road as if it disliked being seen.” (94)

A comparison of the heart’s welcome:  “Gracie’s heart was a five-star hotel, had a smiling porter out front waving folks inside. His was the one-room shack.” (201)

Transformative and Purposeful Sorrow

Orthodoxy from the lips of everyday folk clarifies and enlivens truth, and sorrow suffered long and with patience leaves a road map for our own grieving. As Jess “abides” in grief, he sifts out the difference between a seasonal sorrow and one that comes to stay. He met himself on the road to healing, and readers will find themselves tracing and assessing their own path to wholeness. What if our suffering is transformative and purposeful, something to be learned from rather than something to be sidestepped or muted?

Learning to trust his love for his baby daughter, discovering that prayer may be nothing more (or less) than the release of a wordless ache, and realizing that often the reason God seems silent is that we have failed to listen with honesty sends Jess down a road toward the Light that is neither fleeting nor distant. As we grow in our understanding of where God is at work, the rear view mirror reveals that His presence has been seeded all along the path, and the place we have longed for is, after all, the place we most belong.

Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Rejoicing in Hope because of the Light,

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Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Lights on the Mountain: A Novel simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost 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.