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.

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.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Advertisements

Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons

The distance around my elliptical driveway is one tenth of a mile. I know this because I drove around it, watching the odometer—and then did it again just to be sure. This fall I’ve been doing a careful jog-trot around its leaf-strewn gravel, a compromise intended to jump start a flagging metabolism without putting undue wear and tear on aging joints and narrowing spinal interstices. Five times around with the dog makes for a half mile of elevated heart rate, deep breathing, and an uncluttered brain. Of course, the gift of those empty mental parentheses is that I get to decide what I’m thinking about while I’m avoiding loose stones in the path and thanking God for the fiery red Virginia creeper and the rusty orange of fading marigolds. Lately, I’ve been following the example of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who watched the nation of Israel disintegrate before his very eyes.   In Lamentations, he records the morbid details around the sacking of Jerusalem and the devastation of siege warfare:
  • Chapter 1 — The Lord is punishing Jerusalem for her serial idolatry.
  • Chapter 2 — Yes, it is time to lament the sin, the death, and the loss.

Turning a Corner into Gratitude

Then, twenty verses into Chapter 3, Jeremiah turns a corner and makes a choice. He leaves his mental parentheses open just long enough for an act of the will, and, shutting out the evidence for despair that lies all around him, he “calls to mind” a new thought that gives him hope:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  (Lamentations 3:21-26)
You’re invited to join me today at the writing home of my friend Jeanne Takenaka to ponder along with me the nature of a sinewy faith that summons gratitude when chaos reigns. Every blessing, Michele Morin
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. Photos by Vanessa von Wieding and Rich Wooten on Unsplash

Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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.

The Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving

It’s the terminal milestone on the parenting journey:

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” III John 4

Even so, there are a good many ways of measuring its achievement. It’s what we aim for and pray for, but how do we know that are children have made the leap from following their parents’ faith to actually “walking in truth” on their own?

Kristen Welch would argue for two measuring sticks:  Gratitude and Generosity. In her first parenting book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes she reminds readers that if we want our children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, we had better be modeling the right heart attitude ourselves. One of the ways we (and our children) demonstrate our gratitude and our biblical understanding of the role our possessions and our bank accounts play in our lives is by holding them with an open hand.

In Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving, she follows up that initial message with stories from her experience in establishing and operating Mercy House, “a ministry that exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name.” As her family has traveled to strategic locations, they have seen poverty and suffering first hand, and they have been changed by it. Even as their efforts make small but measurable changes in the world, they are learning the impact that being a World Changer can make upon an entire family as they share their parents with others, welcome visitors into their homes, and give up their rooms for long-term guests who need a place to stay.

The backstory Welch shares is that “the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving” can also wear a family thin like an over-used dish rag. Therefore, it’s important to develop family-care strategies, open communication, and healthy boundaries to provide respite and privacy for a family of World Changers.

We Are Where We Are for a Reason

The Welch’s story began with a question, posed by a young Kenyan teen to Kristen’s daughter Madison:

“Why do you think that I was born here in Kenya and you were born in America?”

She might as well have asked, “Why was I chosen for a life of suffering and you for a life of privilege?” Madison’s answer was perfect:  “Maybe I was born in American and you were born here because I’m supposed to help you.”

The point of Mercy House ministries and Kristen Welch’s writing is to float before North American Christians the consequential truth that we are where we are for a reason. (21) God, the Greatest Giver, has strategically placed His people with our spiritual and material abundance to respond to the needs and the suffering of others.

“In economic terms the global North (United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand)–with one quarter of the world’s population–controls four-fifths of the income earned anywhere in the world. Inversely, the global South (every other country)–with three quarters of the world’s population–has access to one-fifth of the world’s income.” (51)

Four Ways to Live Generously

The Welch family has learned how to become a bridge. They straddle continents to connect the resources of the haves to the great and glaring needs of the have-nots. The truth is, however, that every believer can be a bridge right in our own homes, communities, and churches:

  1. See the people around you. This requires more than just observing people; it means stopping to notice them.
  2. Spot the needs in others’ lives.
  3. Scatter kindness by donating a meal, offering childcare, or providing needed transportation.
  4. Start over with number one. When we make this a way of life, it changes everything.  (55)

This practical giving is how we love others well, and Welch ends each chapter with a set of tips for practicing generosity. Some are exceedingly mundane such as hosting house guests and asking kids to give up their rooms or paying it forward at the drive up. Others are more philosophical and poke us in the reasons we do what we do such as letting our kids fail as a natural consequence or giving our time away without complaining.

Another practical feature at the end of each chapter is a set of questions to stimulate World Changing conversations around a dining room table or in the mini-van on the way to band practice. The questions come pre-test-driven as Kristen provided her own children’s answers to queries including:

What do you value most?
How can parents encourage kids to grow?
Why do you think some people have enough food and some people don’t?

The role of a parent who wants to raise World Changers can feel very risky. We want our kids to be happy, comfortable, and safe. However, if we shield them from reality and protect them from life, we train them to live small and to take shortcuts. The providence of God is equal to anything our children encounter as they serve God, and John Piper uses Scriptural stories to back up this line of reasoning:

“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” (140)

Raising World Changers in a Changing World is not merely a book for privileged Americans about giving back. It’s a book for the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots about “giving it all.” (163) If we agree with the premise that God has placed us where we are for a reason, the blessings God heaps upon us are not merely to change our own lifestyle. God may be calling you and your family to change a life. He may be calling you to change the world.


Many thanks to Baker Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete 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 Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving or Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes, simply click on the title (or the image) here or 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.

Blessings to you and your World-Changing Family!

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.

Following the Trail Back to Hope

Sometimes it’s the very thing that makes you wild, the thing that feels as if it may be your undoing, which ultimately saves your life. For me right now, the pebble in my shoe is a 15-foot speed boat parked parallel to the north side of our house. The college-aged son is a project magnet who resurrects dead motors for fun and profit, so this is just the latest in a parade of snow mobiles, outboard motors, go- carts, and things that go vroom which have come to heighten the hillbilly panache of this country hill in Maine.

On the other hand, when I recall that his tinkering has made him eminently employable, and when I consider all the lesser things an almost-19-year-old could be doing with his free time . . .

And so, annoyance finds its grumpy way back to gratitude, and I follow its trail to the other transitions–much grittier and more sensitive–that need to happen around the fault lines in my following life:

  • The dizzying yo-yo of the number on the scale holds me in awareness of this truth: It is only by grace that we ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery;
  • An overwhelmed middle-age brain keeps me depending upon God for strength in my weakness and for the next sentence whenever I teach or write;
  • My slow-to-hear-quick-to-speak way of finishing peoples’ sentences and igniting small, unnecessary brush fires reminds me every day to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience just as I put on my shoes or my makeup.

Meaningful change often follows on the squeaking hinges of regret and repentance.

The Transition to Hope

In the waning weeks of Israel’s existence as a nation, Jeremiah tutors my soul in this spiritual discipline of transitioning from annoyance to hope. The record shows that he had invested 23 years of his life faithfully delivering an unpopular message of God’s impending judgment to a people who much preferred happy talk from lesser prophets with dubious motives. His reward for services rendered was a sentence of house arrest in the palace of disgruntled King Zedekiah.

Transition into Hope, G.K. ChestertonAs Babylonian armies camped around Jerusalem and hammered together their siege ramps outside the city walls, Jeremiah purchased a field in an act of unreasonable hope. Of course, according to G.K. Chesterton, “It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.”  Pushing against hopelessness, Jeremiah handed over his seventeen shekels because, in his mind, God’s promise of restoration and return to the land was as real as the shining silver in his hand.

When the siege ramps of despair are already leaning against the walls of my heart, that trail back to hope seems like more of a journey than I can manage. And of course, it is–apart from God. Likewise, reading on, I see Jeremiah, by a power that was not his own, transitioning into a glorious paean of praise:

“Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17 NKJV)

Seeing this, the “Ah” of Jeremiah becomes an “Aha!” on my lips as I discover, as if for the first time, that there is nothing—no transition, no messy in-between—too complicated for God. He stands ready to help when I lean into the impossible or find grace to forgive the unforgivable. His Great Power is put on display in surprising ways as His outstretched arm effects the miracle of another day’s transition into hope.


 

Thank you for joining me today on the path toward hope,

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.

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

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.

Thanksgiving Prayer

For those of us in the United States, this is a day of thanksgiving. However, gratitude is not circumscribed by geographic boundaries. Nor do we need a calendar’s permission to leave room for gratitude, so . . .

LORD, we thank you!
We confess that our hearts are often full of ourselves, for we mistake self-importance for self-worth and make much of every burden, so today we thank you for all the good that you have piled into our lives by your grace.

Thank you for the successes and the victories that embolden us to risk more.
Thank you for the setbacks and disappointments that send us in new directions.

Thank you for the people we enjoy who bless us and enrich our days.
Thank you for the folks who require a concerted effort and Outside Help in order to love them as we should.

Thank you for the steady stream of blessing that comes to us through your love: healing, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, renewal, welcome, peace.  May we “enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise” no matter what the season of the year.

//

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.

Thanksgiving Celebration and Lament

Nearly thirty years ago, I married into a family that celebrated Thanksgiving Day with All-American fervor, featuring a day-long gathering and a loaded table. As the new bride, I was eager to prove that I had what it took to be the holiday hostess. Having done my research, I had planned all the best sides, multiple-choice pie selections, and a huge bird to fill the oven — but I had not planned for my mother-in-law’s life-threatening illness.

We rejoiced when she was released from the hospital on the Wednesday before the Big Day and decided to take the party to her place. As we rose early to prepare the feast, she was delighted to be present for all the kitchen activity, savoring the aroma of fresh rolls and roasted turkey from her recliner. We set the table with her best china, rolled out the amazing feast, and gathered for the celebration.

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But read on . . .

CaptureI’m sharing the whole story over at (in)courage today, and the truth is, I have spent the years since that first fiasco of a feast slowly learning that whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the flawed execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans.

And then to give thanks.

I’m giving thanks for you today! May your season of Thanksgiving be filled with joy and an abiding gratitude for all that God has given — and for the Giver Himself as He presides over your celebration.

To finish reading this post, click here and join me today at (in)courage!

Sign up here to receive free notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox daily! 

//

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.