Musings — August 2017

Loon call trills through the open window just as the rain begins to fall.  I leave the sash thrown wide because, I ask you, who could close a window on a song like that?  And as summer draws to a close, I am reluctant to close the window on a season that has been so short and yet so beautiful.

In August, we’ve enjoyed family time in all its chaos and delight and also had the experience of a day at the ocean with friends — and no kids!  One cooler and a few beach chairs!  Unimaginable simplicity!

 

 

We also visited Peaks Island with our son and his new bride. Riding the ferry from Portland, Maine’s largest city, and then walking the island gave us the opportunity to gulp in all the gorgeous views.

On the Blog

There’s a whole lot of truth to the idea of discovering the right book at the right time.  Jayber Crow was my introduction to the writing of Wendell Berry, and I was doing a lot of studying and teaching at the time.  It was exciting to be digging into Scripture and pondering the ways of God.  Of course, nobody warned me that there’s no end to the questions; and the more we search, the more there is to find.  Jayber’s questions ushered in a series of events that led him from theological training to the barber shop, but don’t for a minute think that this was the end of his ponderings about God.

Wendell Berry has created a fictional world in Port William, Kentucky and then populated it with the poignant, the hilarious, and the mundane.  Throughout my first reading of Jayber Crow, I found myself checking the back cover and muttering, “No, this is not a memoir by a real person.  This is fictional.” He’s a poet, too, and it shows — Berry, I mean, and so maybe . . . Jayber is, too.

Whether you prefer to gobble your books whole or to enjoy a more leisurely read, you are invited to participate in our reading and discussion group focused on Jayber and his Port William customers and friends.  Fair warning:  if your reading experience would be ruined by coarse language and obnoxious name calling such as you’d find in an old-timey barber shop, you may want to sit this one out.

If you love to talk about what you’re reading, OR if you would rather read the thoughts of others and just add them to your own quiet pondering, you are welcome.  I’m hoping that some of you will be inspired to write your own blog posts about your reading and ruminating and then to share a link in the comments.

Our leisurely and joyful discussion will begin on Thursday, September 7th when I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the first three chapters and inviting you to do the same. Here is the schedule so that you can plan accordingly:

september 7………………..chapters 1-3
september 14………………chapters 4-6
September 21………………chapters 7-8
september 28………………chapters 9-11
October 5……………………chapters 12-14
october 12………………….chapters 15-17
october 19………………….chapters 18-20
october 26………………….chapters 21-23
november 2…………………chapters 24-26
november 9…………………chapters 27-29
november 16……………….chapters 30-32

On the Monday following the tragic mayhem in Charlotesville, Virginia, SheLoves Magazine shared my essay addressing our spiritual blind spots through the retelling of a famous story about an elephant.  When the issue in the room is wide, gray and heavy, when it trumpets its voice and silences everything else within hearing distance, what is my right response? Will I lay confident hands on one aspect of the issue and announce that I’ve discovered its essence based on my own precious piece of the elephant?

 

The August book review that seemed to resonate with the most readers was Glory in the Ordinary by Courtney Reissig.  I think this may be because we all need reassurance that there is meaning in the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.

 

Several months ago, Jerusha Agen wondered if I would be willing to contribute an article for The Fear Warrior Blog.  Of course I would! So, I shared a recent experience of God’s amazing ability to overcome feelings of insecurity and inadequacy in the context of ministry.  Greater than the reality of my fear is the promise of God’s presence and a moment-by-moment faith that allows Truth to inform my feelings. If you head over to Jerusha’s place to read more, be sure to scroll through other helpful articles — especially if fear is something you battle on a regular basis.

 

Just for Joy

 

We marked another milestone around our dining room table when our third towering son packed his belongings into his faithful truck and moved north to attend college in Bangor, Maine.  I miss him already.

Our oldest son celebrated five years of marriage to his lovely bride, giving us the excuse to nab precious time with their boy — our grand boy with the mischievous smile.

Homeschooling has begun for my high school boy, and it seems good to be returning to the rhythms of “normal” life.

August has landed hard on this pot of summer beauty.  A gift from May, I’ve watered through June and July, deadheaded, chased the sun, or moved the plant to shade as needed . . .  I thought.  But on this end-of-August day, I find myself snipping off dead stems, plucking away the brown and lifeless, trying to get back to green again.  Thanks be to God, there’s always a way back to life.  There is always enough grace, and my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

My prayer for you is that you are finding this to be true in your own following life.

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I’m joining Emily Freeman and Leigh Kramer in sharing my monthly musings.

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.

 

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Sending Grace Downstream

Dining on cubes of watermelon and calling it breakfast, the youngest son stands pajama-clad at the counter, his toothpick a dowser for the juiciest chunks.  In just a few end-of-summer days from now he will be up to his fetlocks in geometry, and I will be preserving the summer sweetness of our red tomatoes with one eye on the clock and the other eye (fierce!) on the boy’s screen time allotment.  We will approach breakfast with business-like efficiency, thinking about food groups and family devotions and the day’s agenda.

But today, summer is still in full sway and grace is on the menu — along with the watermelon.  In the busy days that lie ahead, is there a way to keep on living juicy, to hang onto the full brightness of summer solstice even though the planet keeps tilting us into shadow?  Brushing crumbs from the dining room table, I wonder if there’s a way to send grace downstream, like a note in a bottle, by deciding today how I will navigate the current of busy days around the next seasonal bend in the stream.

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the far-off future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this seasonal transition to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  II Timothy 2:1 NEB

From one soldier to another, Paul was sending grace downstream to Timothy in the form of truth.  Truth can change the course of a day.  It can re-set a mind set.  Elisabeth Elliot translated Paul’s words into gritty practicality with one sentence:

“Whether you can take what life dishes out depends on what you take first.”

Is it possible that Paul saw a drift toward weakness in his younger brother and sent Truth as a course correction? On this late-summer morning, I invite Truth to inform my own feelings about the changing seasons with three small thoughts that carry the warmth and freedom of summer into autumn days:

There is always enough grace.

Even when my best efforts fail and progress on my self-salvation strategy of the day (also known as my do-list) proves that I am insufficient, I will remember that I am justified before God by my belief in HIS adequacy.  My obedient following makes the unseen visible and preaches truth to my own reluctance, for my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

Spoken words make a difference.

God stands ready to meet my unsure with sure and to galvanize my wishy-washy with a firm foundation.  There’s a good reason for Paul’s consistent use of the words “grace to you” at the beginning and ending of each of his letters, for he knew the Spirit-words that had been breathed to him would be read aloud to a fledgling church and believers would be strengthened in their faith.  Spoken aloud in a pick-up or drop-off run, murmured at the kitchen counter, these same words come off the page and dance in my imagination:
Take strength!
Don’t get tangled up in today’s mess!
Even if I am faithless, He remains faithful! 

To promote a deeper discipleship and a more faithful following in every season, I will choose to talk to myself more than I listen to myself.

Persevere in the Preserving.

Here just south of the 45th parallel, summer is a fleeting and an in-between season.  It won’t last for long, and even though the Atlantic Ocean is gorgeous all year long, there are only a few days in July and August when I can bear to feel its temperature on my skin.  The green cucumbers and plump tomatoes come in a rush and the last stragglers are snatched before the first frost.  What a perfect reminder that every moment on this planet can be a freeze frame, plucked from the blur and preserved in memory.  The colorful jars of beets and green beans shelved in my basement inform me that no good gift should be taken for granted.  Gratitude preserves joy, so I will persevere in the fight to train this oblivious heart to give thanks.

Instead of fighting the current as it carries away the last days of summer, I’m sending grace downstream by feasting on it today.  In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote about “faith in the present moment,”  and I’m convinced that moving with grace into schedules and lesson plans, cleaning and canning, will not be aided by day-old faith.  So I will speak to my soul today:  “Take strength!” in the bee-buzzing days of summer, because this practice today and the next day (and the day after . . .) sends grace downstream by training my heart in habits of strength for a day when the living is not so easy and grace might seem a little more difficult to find.

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Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“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.”

 

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.

Photo in featured image by kazuend on Unsplash

Rising in Grace and Glory

Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension.  His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:

Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor.  As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.

And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere?  Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.

The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”

When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives.  Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words?  Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?

Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:

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.”

While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!

I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing  reached out from those verses and chose me for its own.  That word —  “standing” —  and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.

With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health?  I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.

Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?

No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:

“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job.  Please don’t let this hurt him.”

Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?

Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?

This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears.  In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21).    This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.

Or was it?

Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance.  His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.

Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.

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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.

Together through the Doorway of Marriage

For Martin Luther’s fifty-seventh birthday, his wife designed, commissioned, and then presented to him a carved doorway for their home.  It’s elegance incorporated numerous features that demonstrated Katharina’s knowledge of and devotion to her husband; however, there is no way that she could have realized how completely appropriate her gift would be.  Michelle DeRusha’s biography demonstrates that the radical marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther was itself a threshold into a new way of understanding marriage, and it opened the way toward a more biblical expression of the life of two-shall-become-one.

By the time Martin and Katharina began their unlikely life together, Martin’s theological shot heard ’round the world had already set off the Reformation in Western Europe, and both the bride and the groom had already logged decades of life in cloistered communities.  For Martin, this had been by choice and against the wishes of his family, while Katharina had been placed in a convent by her father at the age of six.

Leaving the monastery was controversial for Martin, but there was no question that his gifts and background would pave his way into a well-defined role within his new freedom.  Things were not so simple for a 16th-century woman. In addition to the fact that single women were not even recognized as citizens in Germany, Katharina was, by birth, a member of the landed-gentry and, therefore, ineligible to pursue employment of any kind.  Her only option for survival was marriage — at the ripe old age of twenty six.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but Katie von Bora showed no signs of of caving to desperation, and she made it abundantly clear that she had no intention of marrying just anyone.  At one point she even boldly suggested that she would consider marrying Luther . . . if she were asked.  Why she considered a forty-two year old man (who, at any moment, could be found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake) to be a good catch is anyone’s guess.

From the groom’s perspective, Luther’s decision to tie the knot with Katharina was as reasoned and deeply theological as his basis for untying the knot with the Catholic church.  While he cited pleasing his father and antagonizing the pope as desirable outcomes of marriage, it seems that, primarily, he chose marriage out of love for Christ and a desire to model “the redeemed Christian’s relationship to God.”  With such an unusual beginning, it is not surprising that the Luther’s marriage paved new ground.

From Martin’s Perspective

Marriage ousted Martin from his ivory tower.  Michelle DeRusha records many of the idealistic or cavalier statements from his single days, and they were clearly made by a curmudgeonly man with no idea how to manage life on this planet. He waxed eloquent (and inaccurate) on topics ranging from the role of women in the home to something he called “bridal love,” but when married life began in earnest, there was no sign at all that he could actually live by his own tenets.

From the outset, Katharina dealt with all things practical including the management of and the procurement of supplies for the abandoned monastery the Luthers called home and which functioned more like a bed and breakfast than a family dwelling.  Martin trusted Katharina with the delivery of his manuscripts to the printer, and he left most of the business side of his work in her capable hands.

Marriage tested and clarified Martin’s theology, for this marriage of convenience actually grew into a relationship based on love and mutual respect, showing him “again and again that a love for others, as much as a love for God, was at the core of his beliefs.  The Protestant Reformation would have happened without the marriage of Luther and Katharina.  But Luther would not have been the same Reformer without Katharina.” 

From Katharina’s Perspective

Katharina’s escape at age twenty-four from the convent where she had lived since the age of six gives us a clue as to the mettle of this woman for whom,up to this point, every single life decision had been delivered to her as a fait accompli.  While marriage to Martin Luther handed Katharina the key to citizenship and an established role in society, it was her own determination by which she walked through the open door of their home and immediately set things in order.

The new Mrs. Luther took some getting used to in Martin’s circle of friends and colleagues, and, while she spoke with respect to her husband, she would not be bullied into becoming a shadow in her own home.  Her curious and lively mind found its way into participation in the theological discussions that were standard fare around her table — while she prepared and served what must have been huge quantities of food.

Martin and Katharina were a parenting team, and the death of their oldest daughter nearly undid them both.  Michelle DeRusha shares numerous clarifications about life in early modern times, but the most poignant is the harsh reality that 16th-century parents formed bonds with their children that were every bit as deep as those of 21st-century parents — even though their children died at an alarming rate.

It is revealing of attitudes of that day that only eight of Katharina’s letters were saved — none of which were addressed to Martin, but which, sadly, document the hard path of her widowhood as she wrote to friends and acquaintances to “call in favors” or to remind people of their responsibility for her and her children after Martin’s death in 1546.  Katharina’s final years must have been haunted by a sinking sensation of deja vu, for the very same traditions and expectations that had made her life as a young single woman so perilous were still in place to make her life as a widow untenable.  The era’s idealized model of a meek and silent widow assumes that someone would have already made practical provision for her.  Unfortunately, Martin failed to do that, so it was up to Katharina to make her own way, and she did — but it wasn’t easy, and the stress and privation likely led to her demise at the age of fifty-three.

It is timely to consider this biography of a marriage in the year that marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, for the truth from Romans 1:17 that fueled the up-ending of Martin Luther’s theology continues to leave its mark on the way we view marriage within the context of the Gospel to this very day.  When Martin and Katharina, “his rib,” walked together through the doorway of marriage, Martin wrote that they had embarked upon “a chancy thing” for “marriage does not always run smoothly.”  Five hundred years later, that’s still true.  And it is also true that there is grace for this — and that the righteousness which is “of God, by faith” is available in Christ for those who commit their lives (and their marriages) to Him — by grace alone.

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This book was provided by Baker Books, 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.”

Intrigued by the author?

This is Michelle DeRusha’s third book, and came about as a result of a chapter devoted to Katharina Luther in 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.  I’ve reviewed the book here, and you can get further information about Michelle’s faith journey and writing life through listening in to this podcast episode of Living a Redeemed Life in which my friend, Holly Barrett, interviews Michelle.

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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 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 Legacy of Striving

You opened your new eyes
in the garden that God Himself had planted.
Born a woman, you bypassed childhood,
and came into yourself with a rush of speech,
a flood of images,
and a seamless, three-way companionship:  you, Adam, and Elohim.

Was Eden’s bird song the first sound in your perfect ears?
Or was it the world’s first love ballad, crooned by sleepy-eyed Adam
the moment he clapped his eyes on beautiful you?
“Bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh . . .”
Lonely no more, he riffed on the theme of his heart’s delight.

And so began the days of one flesh,
the days of naked and unashamed,
and the joyous sound of Elohim’s footsteps in the cool of the day.
But you and I, Sister Eve, are all of a piece in our restlessness,
For I, too, am prone to hanging around the wrong tree at the wrong time.
One glance too many at the forbidden fruit,
And suddenly there’s
The sibilant invitation:

“You can easily become like God.”

It’s all we can hear.

Unaware of the deadly implications, you were convinced
to want to be something other than what you were meant to be.

But then, your striving to be like God
is so much like my own cobbled-together omniscience:
Two parts worry,
One part hubris,
Larded through with a need for control.

I, too, would jump at the chance to know everything all the way from good to evil,
to see what’s really going on,
to be just like God.  (Genesis 3:5 – MSG)
In my own ceaseless strivings, I have also thoughtlessly questioned the motives       and challenged the truth claims of God.

Today, we call it “The Fall” . . .

And some days it seems as if we just keep right on falling.

Today, over at SheLoves Magazine, I’m writing about Eve’s legacy to us, the heartbreak of all that’s been lost and the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to bring about glorious redemption.

I hope you’ll take a moment to join me there!

Capture

Photo credit

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.

 

 

Ten Thousand Truths

In my gratitude journal, you will not find the words “back pain” or “dead air conditioner in the mini-van.”  And even though I have read (and re-read) the Beatitudes, I am in a season of mourning deeply over the advancing dementia of a dear friend — and I’m not feeling the least bit blessed by it.

Clearly, my perspective needs adjusting, and, according to author Mark Yaconelli, I am not alone.  As a society, we are intolerant of anything that reminds us that we are not in control, and, instead of viewing failure, disappointment, loss, or frustration as gifts which open our hearts to the caring ministry of others and the heightened spiritual insights that come from a closer following, we become disoriented, cynical, shame-filled, or resentful toward our difficulties.

Even so, The Gift of Hard Things with its gritty and delightful truth-telling makes no claim to spiritual alchemy — there are no magical words that will convert suffering into joy.  Even so,  Yaconelli’s  stories offer a thin place where the gap between my desire to avoid suffering at all cost and God’s desire to use it to deepen my capacity for love and generosity stops feeling so wildly uncrossable.

I was captivated by Mark’s prayer service disaster story:  his careful preparation, his thoughtful attention to every detail, and his thorough marketing of the new campus ministry.  How could it be that not one college student — not one! — ever attended that service?  The disappointment of a ministry-crash-and-burn flies in the face of all my pat answers about God.  Mark’s too:

“Deep down, we believe if we pray, follow the Ten Commandments, and work hard, God will grant us a successful life.”

He admits,”My life has never matched my expectations,” and even though the prayer service continues three years later (sans college students), the experience was primarily a lesson in spiritual poverty and an invitation to examine his expectations for their source:  culture? family? personal need?  It is only through a long re-learning that we may begin to sit in gratitude for what has been given, but it is the path away from disappointment and resentment.

Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century social reformer, wrote:

“God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.”

Without a doubt, a goodly portion of God’s ten thousand truths come in the form of suffering.  I miss the point of the song He is trying to sing into my life when I concentrate on simply getting through the trial without looking for the lyrics of healing that are carried on the melody of affliction.  The aim of The Gift of Hard Things is for readers to find in the gift of difficult people, in the blessing of disappointment, or in the bracing realization of our own brokenness the reality of being met in the midst of that frailty with a strength that is not our own.  It is only in this strength that I am able to rejoice in the truth that God is fluent in the language of lament.  His psalm-singers have given us the lyrics, and the human condition provides the material.  By faith, we add our stories to the narrative flow, and by grace we are used of God to reveal that the very things that catch us off guard have actually been placed in our path with a purpose.

In choosing to believe the truth of this, my story is altered, because even when my circumstances careen out of control, I still get to choose “whether [my] helplessness draws [me] toward or away from prayer.”  Mark goes on to say that we get to “choose whether our grief deepens our empathy or sours us into resentment.  We get to choose whether to allow the difficulties we have suffered to break or expand us.”  With this wisdom, I am encouraged to point my divining rod toward Hope, and to hang on for the journey of discovering grace where I least expect it.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 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 from 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.

Persevering – in Grace

Even though the class was a disaster, I still regret quitting high school physics. I wish that I had hung in there with my little TI-30 calculator and all the boys who wore theirs in “denim-look” vinyl cases hanging off their belts or bulging from their shirt pockets — not because I suddenly care about the trajectory of a cannon ball fired at a forty-five degree angle.  It’s because I believe that I would be a different person today if I had persevered in the hard discipline and allowed the dreaded “B” (or less!) to sully my G.P.A.

Annie Downs knows what it’s like to look in the mirror and see a quitter.  By grace, she is also learning that to hang-in-there-in-hope is the path to joy.  Looking for Lovely is the record of her journey in joy’s direction, in which she explores the connection between suffering and transformation and the truth that beauty lives in the spaces that may look like “rain, confusion, hurt, and ugly.”

Looking for life’s loveliness may involve suffering.  Annie’s search felt, at times, like a training regimen in which she built strength and endurance, only to realize in the end that the muscle most in need of conditioning was “the one between her ears.”

Part of our search for hope is the process of learning to ask, and Annie reminds believers that the life of faith involves an awareness that God made us on purpose, and He has called us to a life of courage.  Whatever rope He calls us to climb, beauty will be “the knots in the rope” that keep us holding on.

It’s clear that Annie has spent some time pondering the past and all the changes she intends for the future resulting in a Spirit-fed resolve to mine her pain for every nugget of Romans 8:28 beauty:

“My capacity to see beauty has increased in a much bigger measure than the pain I felt.  My ability to feel the depths of something good was strengthened by my choice to feel the depths of pain.”

The Romans 5:5 hope that does not disappoint comes through embracing (glorying in!) the tribulations that produce perseverance.  Annie also reminds her readers that a pause is not the same as quitting.  In fact, the pause “can actually be part of the victory.”  She shares serial metaphors of her own paused-ponderings in which sushi rolls, nail polish, and Zumba classes all point believers toward healthy habits and grace-oriented priorities.  When we pause to look for the lovely that lives all around us, there is strength to be found in the reality that it is God who is at work behind the scenes, orchestrating the search and strengthening our hearts and minds for the journey.

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This book was provided by B&H 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.”

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