Jim and Elisabeth Elliot: A Deep and Delighted Love

He said:  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

She said:  “The deepest lessons come out the deepest waters and the hottest fires.”

And all the world still takes note, for Jim Elliot was a courageous missionary pioneer and martyr. Elisabeth Elliot was a superior writer and a sought after Bible teacher. Both are remembered as spiritual giants.

He also said:  “I didn’t know I would get this way, Betty, but I am lost, utterly lost without you. I love you, my darling, and sometimes just have to stop where I am and heave a sigh.”

She also said:  “I love you madly, and think their just isn’t anyone else to compare. Are you sure you’re not perfect? I think you must be mistaken, because I just love everything about you.”

But of course these words were private, addressed to each other, and sent by mail from separate South American mission outposts in the days leading up to their wedding. Valerie Elliot Shepard has combed through her parents’ letters and journals and the resulting treasure is Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. While the story of their courtship has been told in Elisabeth’s classic Passion and Purity, it is now possible for readers to trace the unfolding romance from love’s first stirring at Wheaton College in the late 1940’s all the way through the birth of their daughter Valerie.

A Persevering Love

When Jim and Elisabeth (“Betty”) landed in classical Greek classes together, the love that grew between them surprised them both. She was serious and studious; he was a visible presence on campus (and something of a character) who was quite vocal about his intentions to embark upon a career as a single missionary.  Nonetheless, through crisscrossing postmarks and star-crossed years of separation by circumstances and geography, their love persevered and survived five long years of waiting for a green light from God. Journal entries and letters document a growing devotion to each other alongside an expanding desire to follow unswervingly the will of God, even if it meant giving up all hope for a future together.

Listen in:

From Elisabeth’s journal (116):

“Oh, the joy which has come in knowing that I am one with Christ . . . oh, the marvelous, unspeakable interchange of joy–He my joy, I His joy–He my satisfaction, I His satisfaction. For I am accepted in the Beloved. . . I am In Christ–may He be seen in me.”

And from Jim’s journal (31):

“Prayed a strange prayer today. I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things–either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best. . .”

A Persevering Faithfulness

Just as young adults in 2019 cannot conceive of a relationship conducted entirely by snail mail, it is also likely that few can visualize a love in which each seeks his greatest satisfaction not in the beloved, but in the Savior. Because they allowed their vision to be shaped by Truth, Jim and Elisabeth were able to maintain an astonishing degree of clarity about their callings while still acknowledging the depth of their longing for one another. When the Bible says, “In Your light we see light,” this is not a promise of an uncluttered and pain free life, but rather an assurance that while “faith does not eliminate questions, faith knows where to take them.”

Valerie Shepard’s stated purpose in unpacking and sharing this trunk full of written memories left to her by her mother is that readers would discover anew God’s “unchanging, faithful, merciful, and loving character,” and be “fully moved in obedience to Him that we too might leave a lasting legacy of faith as [her] parents did.” (45) With mid-twentieth-century black-and-white pictures, images lifted from the handwritten letters, and a vintage feel to the book’s layout, Devotedly was a delight to read and to savor.

Readers can expect to be challenged by the laser focus of two young adults who took seriously their role as disciples–as followers of “Him who bore a cross.” As a mother and a grandmother, I want to let my prayer life be shaped by the knowledge that my most-loved people will not be exempt from disappointment, delay, or even confusion at times, for perseverance through difficulty is often the tool God uses in the shaping of a deeper devotion and a more faithful following.


Many thanks to B&H Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

“You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms,”

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P.S. I recently read and reviewed the book Elisabeth wrote about her days of waiting and wondering, while adjusting to life as a single missionary. Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador is a beautiful account of radical obedience in a context of wondering what God might be up to.

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 Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot 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.

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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.

 

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How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing

When D.A. Carson had the opportunity to interview two well-known and highly influential American theologians, he went straight to the core of their long ministries with this question:  “You have not succumbed to eccentricity in doctrine, nor to individualistic empire-building. In God’s good grace, what has been instrumental in preserving you in these areas?”

Their reply came with passion:  “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?”

When Jesus chose the humiliating path to the cross, He beat a clear trail for His followers. D.A. Carson issues a call to return to the cross as the main thing in our communication of the gospel. In our relationships, our prayer life, our career goals, and our personal choices, we demonstrate the depth of our commitment to the cross in a way that mere words cannot equal.

Truth from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an anchor to The Main Thing. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life is Carson’s exposition of a well-loved epistle. Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.

The Gospel is the Main Thing

I am often convicted that my conversations and my hospitality look and sound pretty much the same as anyone else’s. While we gather around my dining room table for “fellowship,” we are most likely to be sharing stories about common interests and family news, and I wonder:  Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?

Carson states the goal:

“The fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers.” (21)

The Main Thing About the Gospel is the Cross

Because Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross,” the cross becomes not only a symbol of our following life. It becomes “the supreme standard of our behavior.” (51) Self-denial is not second nature, and it is one thing to say, “I’m willing to be a servant for Christ’s sake,” but quite another thing when someone actually treats us like a servant. Carson employs the word “slave” to describe this and clarifies the self-emptying behavior as Jesus “making himself a nobody” (56)–our greatest fear in this selfie culture!

New believers will benefit from this primer for persistent progress in the faith, but seasoned followers of Christ will find their comfort zone invaded and their notions about Christian leadership and the faithful walk challenged and expanded. Paul’s message is unapologetic and his thinking about contentment, prayer, anxiety, rejoicing, and unity among believers ratchets up the “normal Christian life” to a standard that takes me back to the gospel as the only means by which this following life can be lived. Carson puts his finger on the soure of my dilemma: If I were living faithfully by the standard set forth in Philippians, the Gospel would quickly become the main thing for me as it was for Paul.

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

Rejoicing in Hope,

michele signature[1]


Readers looking for more wisdom and biblical insight from D. A. Carson will appreciate his work in Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. You can get a preview in preparation for the Lenten season from my review here.

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 Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life or Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus 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.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

10 Ways to Reflect God’s Character

He placed one hand on the door frame, shifted his weight to one foot, and then placed the other small boot toe-down on the floor. Looking at his dad, he checked his hand position and then assumed the facial expression he deemed appropriate to the occasion, a conversation among “the guys.” My grandson’s imitation of his dad is endearing, but it is also instructional. If you want to be like someone, even if that Someone is God, you study their actions and do your best to imitate and replicate them. If you want to be like God, and if God has revealed Himself through inspired writing as One who values and embodies particular qualities, then you have your marching orders.

In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character is Jen Wilkin’s affirmation that God’s character, revealed in Scripture, is the believer’s template:

“How should the knowledge that God is _________________ change the way I live?”  (21)

Who Should I Be?

A laser focus on the character and attributes of God impacts on my own character, but it also shifts my perception for decision making. When I am seeking the will of God, I have tended to ask, “What should I do?” when the better question is “Who should I be?”  Wilkin expresses the tension well and from personal experience:

“Perhaps you’ve known the frustration of hearing silence, or worse, of acting on a hunch or ‘leading’ only to find later that you apparently had not heard the Lord’s will. I know that process better than I’d like to admit, and I also know the shame that accompanies it–the sense that I’m tone-deaf to the Holy Spirit, that I’m terrible at discovering God’s will. . . .His will does not need discovering. It is in plain sight. To see it we need to start asking the question that deals with his primary concern. We need to ask, ‘Who should I be?'”

Here’s what it boils down to:

“What does it profit me to make the right choice if I’m still the wrong person? A lost person can make ‘good choices.’ But only a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit can make a good choice for the purpose of glorifying God.”

So while there is no list of words, no magical set of adjectives that can fully encompass the character and nature of God, Jen Wilkin has chosen ten attributes that assist the reader in modeling a life after the character of God.

For example, God’s holiness is his most frequently cited attribute in Scripture. What does His utter purity of character mean for the believer who claims a desire to be like Jesus? Practical holiness, according to Jerry Bridges, includes a “desire to be made holy.” This leads me to ask myself a number of razor-edged questions:

  • Am I praying about the sanctification of my kids–and myself?
  • Are my motives for right behavior results-oriented or am I seeking holiness for its own glorious sake?

Asking the Better Question

In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character has heightened my awareness of God’s attributes as a doorway to worship, and the journey actually began for me when I read Wilkin’s earlier release None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). (Click here to read my review!) In our efforts to understand the nature of God and to reflect His character, it is true that we are invited by the God who is holy, loving, good, just, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful, and wise to enter into the embodiment of these virtues as part of our sanctification process. These attributes of God are communicable, and this is a list that the believer can grow into by walking in obedience to the commands of God through the power of the Spirit of God within.

However, God is also infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. These are His incommunicable attributes, which, by their very nature can be true only of God. When we “strive to become like God in any of these traits, we set ourselves up as his rival. Human beings created to bear the image of God aspire instead to become like God.”

It is always a joy to return to the truth of the Gospel which is not self-help or advice for “better living,” but rather Good News. So, what is the Good News? It is simply this: The believer’s flawed and imperfect representation of the image of God can, by grace, be transformed. As we seek, by grace, to be “conformed to the image of Christ,” we begin by asking, “who should I be?” and then enter into the life long process of discovering who God is as we look to Him for the answers our hearts desire.  


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

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 In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character, or None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) 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.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your continual encouragement,

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.

When Words Fail: Living and Lamenting through Dementia

It’s a common experience:  the brain goes in search of a word that just will not materialize. Finally, eventually, the elusive word does come, even if it takes a thesaurus to prime the pump, and we rejoice because in conversation and in writing, finding and savoring the just-right-word to frame a thought is supremely satisfying.

Therefore, it was a searing loss for Douglas and Becky Groothuis when Becky began experiencing the symptoms of a uniquely devastating form of dementia (primary progressive aphasia) which robs the patient first of words, then of all executive function, and eventually of life. As writers, speakers, and teachers, Douglas and Becky’s life together and their livelihoods, their humor and their recreation, had revolved around words. Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness-A Philosopher’s Lament traces the tragedy of their loss from the caregiver’s perspective as, slowly, Groothuis’s beloved wife and companion begins slipping away.

The Language of Lament

Borrowing words from Moses and a soundtrack from Pink Floyd, Groothuis sings a lament in the key of faith, describing a slow suffering in a book that no one would want to write. He expressed lament with Buechner-esque accuracy:

Lament is the place “where our deep sadness meets the world’s deep wounds.”  (55, 56)

Christian lament should not be silenced or hurried along, for it is a sorrow mingled with hope, and those who mourn are “aching visionaries” (57) who lead us in expressing our own broken hearts in a context of healing and purpose found only in the knowledge of God. The worry and the despair of Becky’s gradual slippage wore on Douglas’s spirit, and he related with candor his season of misotheism–“hatred of God” (41)–in which it seemed that God (whose existence Groothuis never questioned) just was not listening and would not relieve their suffering.

Becky’s aphasia and loss of executive function rendered normal routines of life–tying shoes, brushing teeth, using a phone–inscrutable. With both caregiver and patient, efficiency is just a memory, but rendering lemonade from this sour mess, Groothuis observed, “Uni-tasking is often more important than multitasking.”  Leaning into the beauty and the gift of becoming the caring person in his wife’s days, his focus became the embodiment of “unmediated presence,” which comes as close to expressing the image of God as we can hope for on this planet.

Walking Through Twilight Together

As both a philosopher and a lover of God, the author plumbs the depths of his suffering and emerges with wisdom for the body of Christ both to lend purpose to our personal experiences of suffering and to sharpen our skill in coming alongside others as we enter fully and most helpfully into the brokenness of others.

Because it is a unique and long-term loss, our hearts so often do not know how to help a family that is struggling with some form of dementia. Cards and letters are a thoughtful way to express concern because they can be read in quiet moments.

Both tenderness and respect are crucial to communication and help to eliminate the tendency to talk down to dementia patients, to raise one’s voice, and to condescend. Becky Groothuis appreciated visitors and medical personnel who included her in conversations, who spoke directly to her and not merely about her.

Beware of Mere Optimism

As a caregiver, Douglas eventually begin to dread the question, “How is Becky?” A truthful answer would have been too hard for most casual inquirers to handle:  “She’s not doing well, and she will never get better.” Instead of inflicting the burden of vague questions, he suggests that we avoid trying to cheer caregivers up or to move them forward in their grief. Better instead:  grant them time and space to grieve. He urges believers to “pray for wisdom before speaking or communicating with someone under the pressure of loss.”

When offering help, be sure to follow through with action. Providing meals, transportation, or assistance with mundane tasks speaks love. Pronouncements shaped around Romans 8:28 and “I know how you feel” are presumptuous and not helpful, particularly in the earliest days of grief.

“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”  (Proverbs 25:20)

When words fail, when things fall apart, and the twilight signals that darkness is on its way in your own small world, God is present there in the twilight.

Even when words fail, the Word Himself is present and He will never fail.


And this update will enable you to pray with knowledge for the author as he journeys through grief:

At 6:45 a.m. on July 6, 2018, Becky Groothuis peacefully entered the presence of her Lord. Douglas shared these thoughts on Facebook shortly after her passing:

“Her long, long struggle is over. I don’t have to worry about her any more. . . Becky’s body is upstairs and will soon leave this house and all earthly houses forever. She has already risen from her body into God’s realm of angels and saints.

I don’t believe this for sentimental reasons. I worked hard for my worldview. We are more than our bodies. We have souls. The soul leaves the body at death to go into God’s presence. Christ’s resurrection is the down payment for our resurrection after the intermediate state. These beliefs hold me as God holds me, and Becky.


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

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 Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness-A Philosopher’s Lament, 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.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your continual encouragement,

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.

Lessons from C.S.Lewis: Becoming Fully Human

In my senior year of college, I took an English elective on the writings of C.S.Lewis. The professor, Dr. Kaye, was ebullient, effervescent, and contagious in her love for the Oxford don who spun words into gold. Her instructions for the final exam were simple but ominous: simply bring a pen and plenty of paper. We all eyed one another with apprehension, and it turns out with good reason, because the exam consisted of one question: Describe the theology of C.S. Lewis and support your statements from his writing.

Joe Rigney has taken this assignment one step further, for in  Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), he presses beyond Lewis’s theology and considers its outworking in life on this planet. While it is true that C.S. Lewis was careful to remind his readers at every opportunity that he was not a biblical scholar nor a theologian, nonetheless, his writing has had an almost unparalleled impact on the way we think and talk about the Christian life. It is at this intersection of theology and practice that Rigney engages with Lewis’s words.

 

One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear. Rigney’s goal in writing is not to explain Lewis so we don’t need to read him, but instead to create an appetite for his work, which he has definitely done in my case by quoting from The Weight of Glory, reminding me of the brand new copy that’s waiting for me on my bookcase.

On the Choice

Lewis is clear throughout his writing that Christianity boils down to a Choice:

“Both God and self are good and should be embraced. But the Choice in question is which of these will be at the center?

Furthermore, this Choice is expressed in any number of specific decisions throughout life, but the goal of the Christian life, according to Lewis, is to “so encounter the living God that we become our true selves. Becoming fully human in the presence of God–that is what Lewis thought the Christian life is all about.”

On the Person of God

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes sage advice in four words:  “Begin where you are.” Of course, he’s thinking “chiefly on prayer” in that book, but the conflict lies in the truth that humanity is limited to here and now, while God, both omnipresent and transcendent, has chosen to join us in the here and now. “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

In Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy, God is portrayed as a Pursuer. In Mere Christianity, he explains his favorite analogy of God as Author. “The world is His story or play, and we are His characters.” In Perelandra, we are reminded that Lewis viewed God’s creative work as a harmonious union, a Great Dance, and humanity’s sin came about because God’s Choice was to grant freedom in the dance, allowing for the possibility of sin.

On the Gospel

While Lewis decried the term “total depravity” on the grounds that a totally depraved individual would be unable to recognize sin in himself, his understanding of humanity’s sinful condition is certainly clear and orthodox. He also dismissed the doctrine of penal substitution on the basis that the reason why Christ’s death “has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start” is less important than the reality that He did it. However, it is ironic that Aslan’s sacrificial death on behalf of Edmund (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) is a lovely picture of the very doctrine Lewis protests about.

In applying the Gospel, Lewis describes the benefits of Christ’s work in the life of the believer through two images from Mere Christianity:

(1) Good Infection:  “We catch the Christ-life by being close to him, by drawing near to him, in truth, by being ‘in him.'”

(2) Good Pretending: This is the furthest thing from hypocrisy or moralism, but is rather a living out of our righteous standing in Christ, whether we feel like it or not. “The pretense leads to the real thing.”

On “Nothing-Buttery”

The Christian life, according to C.S. Lewis, is lived against a vigorous background of spiritual warfare. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis highlighted the elder devil’s urgency in communicating to “the patient” a reductionist view of the world in which “everything we can see and know is nothing but a mixture of matter in motion.” If humans are nothing but sacks of protoplasm, emotions are nothing but a confluence of digestion and hormones, and stars are nothing but burning gas, life is reduced to its lowest common denominator.

For Lewis, the incarnation was an extremely practical matter in that it gave dignity to our physical existence and tore down the artificial barrier between “the scientific and the supernatural.” In fact, this is my favorite aspect of Lewis’s brilliance: he always left room for God.  As a spinner of tales himself, he knew the importance of giving the Author free reign, and maintained that “reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”

On Relationships

The way we treat other people is the test of our commitment to the Christian life, and Rigney chose Lewis’s final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces, to dissect the impact of divine love on selfish love. Juxtaposing Orual’s corrupt love with Lewis’s thoughts in The Four Loves, Rigney offered parallels that were revelatory for understanding Orual’s and our own twisted neediness. Even her relationship with the gods is marked by her demand that they reveal themselves on her terms.

Throwing away joy with both hands, Orual brings us full circle, back around to Lewis’s point that the Christian life teeters at the tipping point of choice from beginning to end. Whether it’s a matter of initial surrender of your life or a wide place in the road where you are holding out on a seemingly smaller decision, here’s the Truth from Lewis’s pen:

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”


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

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 Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), 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.

Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy

Motherhood, for me, started out like a tightrope walk. To keep my balance and maintain my place on the tightly stretched wire, I read all the books, analyzed all the angles, second guessed all the decisions, and the only thing that saved my sanity is that Google had not been invented yet.

I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women.

It was none other than Sarah and Hannah, Elisabeth and Naomi who walked with Jamie in The Wanting and The Waiting of infertility. It was Mary Magdalene, Martha, and a choir of lesser known biblical women who sang her through The Getting and The Appreciating of a high-risk pregnancy, a ten-week endurance test in the NICU, and the white knuckle gauntlet of learning to parent an extremely fragile special needs infant.

The conflict that persists throughout the book’s narrative arc is Jamie’s struggle to “stay present, be still, and take notice of the moment” she was in. Being “in” a season of infertility presented a persistent reinforcement of the truth that even a much-wanted baby would not fill Jamie and her husband Jody’s hollowness in a way that was eternally satisfying. Years of shots and pills and finally the roller coaster of IVF made it hard to stay close to their mission statement:  What was all this about, anyway?

The Wanting and the Waiting

As she waited for “success,” Jamie threw herself into her teaching career and went about the business of  lesson plans and grading papers as a distraction from the continual pondering of the state of her uterus. Progress was always followed by set backs, and the devastation of miscarriage mirrored the empty/full, empty/full rhythms of Naomi’s life in the book of Ruth. Jamie identified with Mrs. Noah, pacing the deck of the ark and feeling like a spectator in her own life’s story.

The Getting and the Appreciating

Throughout her first pregnancy, Jamie worked hard to “turn down worry” and “crank up the trust,” which is a continual battle in a process over which one has so little control. Coping with waves of uncertainty and an always-changing prognosis, Jamie was Mary Magdalene, sitting on a hard rock during a long sermon on a Galileean hillside. She was a frayed and frazzled Miriam in the thirty-fifth year in the desert.

Learning the ropes of joy meant embracing the blessing of birth and the promise of new life while living with the bitter disappointment that came when waves of bad news continually washed over their days.

Images of Motherhood

Unbound comes from the perspective of a young mother against the backdrop of infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and parenting toddler twins plus a special needs pre-schooler with a chromosomal defect and cerebral palsy. Jamie’s story will encourage and lighten the load of readers who are living a similar journey, but her insights on mothering transcend any particular season. The voice of Unbound is a dialogue between reader and author, and feels like the conversations that happen among mums over coffee around a mult-generational table.

Reading Unbound, I was reminded that Motherhood is:

  • a sky dive into unknown territory where your shoot won’t open until the very last possible second, and only when someone else pulls the cord; (76)
  • an endless attempt to get your legs back; (115) 
  • a long way to fall without a net; (107)
  • a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice; (140)
  • a continual reminder that we cannot claim possession of either our lives or the lives of those we love. (166)

Tracing the Outlines of Grace

We come through the challenges of mothering NOT because of our own incredible giftedness or the presence of a “mom-gene” (157) that imparts super powers and exalted wisdom. Women become mothers and thrive in the role because there are “outlines of grace” (153) on our story, even though they are not visible to us all the time.

When Mary of Nazareth sang the poignant theology of the Magnificat, she was operating in faith that the new upside-down of her life was part of a bigger plan. When the impoverished New Testament widow emptied her pockets and let those two coins fall away, she was exercising trust for an unseen and improbable future.

In the NICU and beyond, Jamie and Jody Sumner have parented their children in the context of a growing faith that prays two-coin-prayers for God to “keep [their son] protected and deliver him to [them] in whatever state He saw fit.” (177)

Faith unbound perseveres in prayer no matter what.
Hanging on hard to the ropes of joy, faith prays and doesn’t give up during seasons of infertility, during the sturm und drang of toddlerhood, against the hum of hospital emergency equipment,  when the engine of the teen’s new truck is revving in the driveway, or when the grandchildren are coming for their first overnight.

Throughout our wildly varied parenting journeys, may we find freedom from anxiety and unrealistic expectations as we trust God and pray:

“Please help us to be good stewards of our own lives and any life you grant us.” (192)

Please.

Amen and amen.


Thank you to Faith Words, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

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 Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood simply click on the title, 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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Thanks, as always, for joining in the reading, the thinking, and the prayer that is part of Living Our Days,

michele signature rose[1]

Drawing Out a Handful of Light

Wendell Berry poured this wisdom into the mouth of one of his fictional characters:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”  (Jayber Crow)

This is always the nature of story, and in Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace, Walter Wangerin, Jr. has scooped deeply to tell what he could about his lifelong awareness of grace, shining in darkness and healing our wounds.

With a glance in the rear view mirror, Wangerin recalls his childhood search for a physical Jesus there within the church building. Under the pews? In the restrooms? Certainly not in the “gobbledygook” of the morning service? He is encouraged in his searching by the faithful worship of his mum and the humble and sacrificial gift of a “bunch-backed old woman.”

Light in the Context of Life

An adoptive dad with a multi-racial family and with a season of shepherding an African American church, Wangerin writes as father and pastor, as victor and failure, as celebrant of a joyful faith and mourner of lost opportunities and hasty words. Theology and biblical narrative lie just beneath the surface of this handful of tales, emerging now and then into the full light of day:

“In the first covenant God’s part was to offer blessings, and the people’s part was to obey. On account of the failure of the people to uphold their part, it was the covenant itself that failed. In the second covenant, therefore, God in Christ decided to take both parts upon himself.

Mercy hath a human face.”  (98)

As with all theology, the true beauty comes in its application and Wangerin’s son Matthew provided numerous opportunities to explore the relationship between law and grace. “Whims in him were deeds immediately,” (98) but it was the tears of his dad after an overwhelming disciplinary session that melted the little sinner’s heart.

Since God is “the giver of lazy afternoons,” (49) it follows that throwing a fish hook into an absolutely quiet lake with a fly-tying parishioner may fall under the category of ministry. Since God is the source of all forgiveness, “a free gift, freely given,” it follows that forgiveness between human souls should not be demanded as a law to be obeyed, but offered up freely with both parties going “straight to the source of grace.” (83, 84)

Grace for Ordinary People

Walter Wangerin’s stories are populated by a memorable cast of characters:

  • the staunch librarian whose “spine was composed not of bone but of rectitude” (100);
  • Billy who makes his living by the good will of others, but screamed in fury when Walter failed to include milk, butter, and cream in his donation package;
  • Shrill Miss Brill, allergic to the very air she breathed, but afflicted much more by her “very self.”

Only slightly less shimmering is Wangerin’s fresh vocabulary with its images of “obdurate” children, leaves clothed in “umbers as dark as sleep,” God as “supernal” parent, and the motion of “perfervid” dances.

It is extremely good news for readers that young “Wally” grew up to realize that his wounded self, the cracks in his character that brought him shame, the broken people to whom he ministered (and who taught him what it means to minister)–this is where Jesus lives. This is where light breaks through and where God’s love comes rushing in.


This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program 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.”

Wounds Are Where Light EntersI have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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.

Thankful for the Light,