Musings — November 2017

This has been a year of complicated math. With one son having spent a snowy spring semester plowing through an online Technical Math II class (every bit as bad as it sounds) and another presently working his way through geometry, we have had some fairly intense conversations around operations and theorems, but it’s also been a year of family members coming and going, being added and subtracted from the membership. We’ve welcomed a new daughter-in-love and a new baby granddaughter. We’ve said goodbye to my mother.

On My Nightstand

In this season of pluses and minuses, I’m working my way through a small treasure of a book on my Kindle that is teaching me a new math just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holidays in which we think and talk and even sing about peace and joy. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremy Burroughs is challenging me to add contentment to the holiday equation with stunning wisdom such as this:

“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”

This is not the message that is showing up in my inbox from Amazon everyday (or in my mailbox either with its daily shipment of multiple catalogs), but the truth is that there is hardly anything I can add to my life without it leading to a desire for more. So . . . Burroughs suggests subtracting from our desires to bring them into alignment with our circumstances.

As a Puritan man firmly planted in the 17th century, Burroughs’ temptation to discontentment certainly would have been different from mine or yours, but even so, he felt the reality of it and apparently, even in his day, “the world [was] infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.” For those with advanced math skills, he moved on to examining “the proportion between our hearts and our circumstances” urging believers to bring them into alignment.

What strategies in fostering contentment are working for you as we fly headlong toward the Christmas season?

On the Radio

At some point in 2017, the only classical radio station accessible here in Midcoast Maine disappeared from the airwaves, so we are rejoicing in the expansion of Maine Public Radio’s signal to include us here on the fringes! This won’t be relevant news to anyone except Maine readers, but 96.7 FM is now pumping lovely sounds into our lives each day, giving us one more reason to be thankful!

 

On the Blog

It’s been great grace to enjoy the hospitality of friends at (in)courage, The Perennial Gen and SheLoves Magazine this month:

Faith Going Forward for The Perennial Gen encourages readers in mid-life to jettison anything that slows our growth and keeps us stuck in our safe and familiar habits — whether it’s cleaning out a closet or establishing new and healthy habits, there’s always room for improvement here.

For All Who Have Chosen Wrong Roads addresses regret with the good news that, used well and with its sharp edge pointed toward the task at hand like my favorite garden hoe, regret can be a salutary thing. It can be the gift that sends me in search of a better plan.

DaySpring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc., has a blogging ministry called (in)courage which is formed around a community which shares the life-giving tools to equip women right in the midst of the chaos. They graciously shared my story about the first Thanksgiving my husband and I celebrated together, a season of celebration and lament that continues to shape the way I give thanks each year. You can read it for yourself here.

I reviewed four books in the month of November. If you’re looking for reading material as Christmas gifts — or for your own heart — you can get a preview by clicking on the titles below:

Fiercehearted is the expansion of Holley Gerth’s manifesto that the true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites readers to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

I was thrilled to share the story of fellow Mainer and fellow Redbud Meadow Rue Merrill. Her international adoption of a severely disabled daughter is a story of faith and disappointment; loss and redemption. Redeeming Ruth is a valuable resource for anyone who is learning to trust God’s motives and struggling to live well in the tension of pursuing a dream while holding it loosely. The unfolding of Ruth’s story rebukes the notion that God is made visible only in happy endings

I’m ever intrigued by personality inventories, and Alice Fryling’s Mirror for the Soul is a guide to the Enneagram that encourages a slow and careful pondering in order to understand one’s type and what it means for spiritual formation and transformation.

Coming to the end of Jayber Crow, the discussion group concluded that, among many other things, Wendell Berry wrote a book about love. Our friend, the “married ineligible bachelor barber,” reflecting on the benefit of sacrifice, concluded that the good he derived is this:

“I got to have love in my heart.”

In this season of serial celebrations and rubbing shoulders with our once-a-year friends and relations, it behooves us to frame our hearts in the direction of loving well and with no strings attached.

Around the Table

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my patient husband makes an early foray into Christmas shopping with all four sons, and he’s done it since there were only two tiny boys, so it’s quite the tradition in these parts. Meanwhile, I make pies, peel vegetables, and prepare for the Thanksgiving feast in lovely peace and quiet.

This has been our first celebration without all four of the guys present, because the two married sons synchronized their inlaw rotation. Even so, we filled the seats with family and friends and gave thanks with gusto, another opportunity to adjust my expectations and to find contentment within the gift of my present circumstances.

I hope you’ll share in the comments about your own season of Thanksgiving and how you are bringing contentment forward into your celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Blessings to you and thank you for the encouragement of your friendship here in this gathering.

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Image courtesy of Unsplash by Hedi Alija

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Embrace Fiercehearted Living

The Fiercehearted come in all shapes and sizes on this day, and their beautiful faces circle the table from all ages and stages of life. A gray-haired woman sips orange soda facing a 96 year-old faith warrior who prays fiery gospel truth over our meal. Our hostess chows down at one end of the table, mounding up joy like the whipped cream on her brownie pudding cake as if the cancer that has dogged her steps for ten years were only a minor inconvenience. A missionary on home assignment contemplates aloud the challenges of living on both sides of an ocean, but it’s clear that she is among the company who have borne seed with tears but now rejoice over a harvest.

In her manifesto scribbled in the dim light of an airplane seat, Holley Gerth has drawn the boundaries wide and grace-filled for who gets to wear the the name “Fiercehearted,” and her words have found their way into a book she never intended to write.

manifesto

When Holley disembarked from that plane, she walked away from unhealthy peace-keeping behaviors, signed up for counseling, and committed herself to the “brave, hard thing” of acknowledging and dealing with conflict in healthier, peace-making ways. For her, that was Step 1 of learning to take grace — not just for salvation, but also for making a way through a life, lived fully.

Fiercehearted is a series of essays devoted to one woman’s journey of learning to love her successes and her failures by grace alone. Digging into its pages like a prospector, I collected bright nuggets for the reader who has become tired of feeling controlled by fear, of living alone with her imperfections, and of being shackled to continual striving. Hear and believe these gentle reminders that God is tender toward your brokenness and stands ready to cover you all over with His righteousness:

If rules and systems for prayer don’t help you, let them go!

“I love my husband very much, but if someone gave me all kinds of rules for how I had to talk to him, it would stress me out and shut me up. I would become focused on my performance instead of our connection.” (72)

Stop imagining that you can somehow control how other people will respond.

“There’s no escape hatch from being an opinionated human surrounded by opinionated humans.” (90)

The church is an appropriate place for freedom and for fun.

“[W]e can sometimes intellectualize faith to the point where learning takes the place of living. . . We are not just minds. . . . We want to feel fully alive.”

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Holley invites readers to embrace freedom in Christ without fear; to sing from the depths of our hearts and our lungs; to laugh together and to forget about how “important” we are;  to enter into joyful celebration. Or even to enter into a crazy photo booth at a church celebration!

The true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

“[S]ometimes it’s inconvenient and annoying and downright exasperating to be human. But it’s what we’ve got to work with. So perhaps one favor we can do for each other is to not believe anyone has it all together . . .In other words, we all need more kindness than it seems.” (124)

Holley’s words have tumbled onto the page at just the right time for me. Coming down the home stretch on raising a family of boys, I’m thankful for a new baby granddaughter who will need to see what strong looks like. There will come a day (sooner than I can imagine!) when she’ll need to swap stories about brave faith and audacious ministry — and she’ll realize that Bam’s house is never as clean as she’d like it to be.  Turning the last page, I’m praying for another generation of fiercehearted women who realize that God has already equipped them with everything they need for a life of living fully and loving bravely.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 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.