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.

//

Image courtesy of Unsplash by Hedi Alija

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular ponderings, 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.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

10 Questions that Foster Thriving Friendships

In our virtual world, we can swipe away friends as easily as we send leftover mashed potatoes into the kitchen trash.  We can polish our words and present ourselves as successful and popular, and even produce photos to back up our claim, but the longing of our hearts for true friendship — for genuine connection with another soul —  has to happen apart from Insta-glitter or the shallow disclosure of a tweet.

In Never Unfriended, Lisa-Jo Baker floats the notion that maybe our struggles with friendship happen because we are operating from wrong assumptions in our foundation.  We carry baggage from bad past experiences forward as if they were gospel, and we encumber relationships with unrealistic expectations.  We talk when we should listen, and we fret about our own small selves  when our eyes should be open wide to spot the needs of the other women in the room.

As community manager for (in)courage, Lisa-Jo is the girl in charge of relationships for that online gathering of hearts, but she doesn’t claim to have it all together yet.  We’re all friends-in-training together until we reach heaven.  In the meantime, we live our way into our best relational selves and seek to fulfill our God-breathed desire for community in ways that glorify Him and serve others.   Crashing into my own selfishness and self-protective strategies from the very first chapter of Never Unfriended, a list of ten questions bubbled their way into my thinking about friendship:

 1.  What would happen if I approached friendship from an active posture?

What if instead of asking, “Who will be my friend?” I asked “How can I be a friend?”  The words of Jesus come to mind:  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. . .”

2.  What lies are fueling my fear of or reluctance toward friendship?

Whether it’s a past friendship gone sour or wrong thinking about my own self-worth and relevance, these lies poison friendship going forward and must be rooted out and replaced with the Truth.

3.  What’s the worst thing that can happen if I go first?

It turns out that we’re all still in middle school when it comes to being the new girl — or welcoming the new girl into our established group.  Radical friendship maintains an open circle for others on the outside.  A fierce commitment to community will fuel Brave and risk Awkward.  Lisa shares the example of volunteering to host a group in her home when she had just moved to a new state and a new church.  She took the risk and the result was a sweetly woven network of relationships.

When we keep score with the facets of friendship — Who texted last?  Who’s turn is it to host this time? — and then hold back to wait for “justice,” our world becomes small and stingy.  Lisa describes going first as “the cardinal rule of friendship.”

4.  Am I willing to be radically inconvenienced?

Caller i.d. has made it possible for me to screen out undesirable contact at will.  My busy homeschooling life gives me a ready-made excuse for “minding my own business.”  However, if I live within safe boundaries of efficiency and time management, I’ll miss out on “Velveteen friendship” that loves off my rough edges.  I’ll never become real.

Adrian Plass writes about incarnational relationships modeled on the example of Christ’s radical encounter with humanity:  “Shouting stern advice at people through a megaphone from a very great height never did do much good.”

And it never did make for close friendship, either.

5.   Do I use guilt to get my friendship needs met?

Particularly when distance is an issue, Lisa-Jo advocates for “Guilt-Free Friendship” in which there is no deadline for responding to emails and phone calls, in which each agrees to assume the best about motivations, and in which the tone is always generous and forgiving.

“Guilt-free friendship is the gift that women who are secure in their own sense of acceptance can give each other.”

6.  Is it a joyful thing to me when I see that my friends are flourishing?

God is delighted when His children strive for the well-being of others.  Taking a radical interest in the people around me, making time for their needs, and actively contributing to their success is clearly friendship in action.

7.  How much time have I wasted being “fine?”

Fine is a lie that we tell out of a dusty soul.
Fine is plexi-glass protection for our image of perfection.
Fine is a deal-breaker in the economy of true friendship.
Never Unfriended challenges readers to “step out from behind fine” and offer friendship instead.

8.  Am I ready to drop comparison and competition and embrace a co-op mentality?

Jealousy ruins the joy of the jealous, but it also stifles the celebration of its object.  Better to rejoice in the truth that “there’s enough work in the Kingdom for everyone,” and to lean into the calling God has placed on my own soul than to be continually glancing over my shoulder to monitor the blessings of others with a resentful eye.

9.  What if I’m not the center of the universe?

When I become caught up in the vortex of “I wonder what they’re thinking about me,” it’s helpful to be brought to the reality that it is unlikely that they are thinking about me  . . . at all.  This leaves me free to think about them, or to look around me, to notice the “people at my table” — to practice intentional self-forgetfulness in the interest of pursuing meaningful conversations that do not center around me.

10.  Would the universe crumble if I gave my friend the benefit of the doubt?

What would happen if I believed the best about her instead of holding to the assumption that is clouding my brain at this moment?  Lisa-Jo hazards a guess that (unless a relationship is so poisonous and bitter that we need to walk away) the outcome will be positive and surprising — although it may take time and patience.  The grace of hoping and believing may have redemptive outcomes that could not have come any other way.

Friendship is hard work, but the alternative is a small, safe, and deeply lonely world.  Furthermore, God uses the crucible of relationship to reveal to us the contents of our hearts, to refine us so that we know that we are “the real deal” all the way to the core.

You were friended, ultimately and irrevocably, by the God of universe, when He took on a body and joined us here in the neighborhood of humanity.  If the life of Christ pulses within your veins and you have heard his “go and do likewise” — the next move is yours.

//

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.”

If Never Unfriended sounds like content that your group needs for a deeper dive, you’ll be pleased to know that Lisa-Jo and (in)courage have released a Bible study curriculum to accompany the book.  Click here for more information about We Saved You a Seat.

//

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.

Musings – March 2017

We’ve known for quite a while, so . . . what a relief to finally be able to share with the world the wonderful news that our second grandchild will make his/her appearance in September!  For this blessed grandmother (“Bam”), this also means that I get extra time for painting and baking and reading stories with big brother while my daughter-in-law goes to her doctor appointments.

Capture
This picture was taken before the blueberry stains had found his chin or the molasses had streaked a brown smear over his eyebrows.

After that headline, all other news in this monthly recap will pale, but it’s been a busy and productive month in other ways as well . . .

On the Nightstand

While I’m sure that Krista Tippett and I would not agree, point for point, on a few matters theological, I devoured Becoming Wise for its respectful and listening tone, elegant sentences, and broad scope of voices.  Since I won’t be reviewing it on the blog, I’ll tempt you with a few quotes:

“As love crosses the chasms between us, it likewise brings them into relief.  Stand hospitably before those who offend and harm and drive us crazy.”

“Western Christianity lost some of the cleansing power of mystery when it became a bedfellow with empire and later, again in its headlock with science.”

“Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory.  It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

I’m also working my way (slowly) through Nancy Guthrie’s Seeing Jesus.  Each evening I receive a reminder from its pages that the Old Testament and the New Testament deliver one glorious message, and that this message needs to be at the foundation of all my writing and teaching.  And by the way, Nancy’s podcast, Help Me Teach the Bible, is currently one of my favorites.

On the Blog

It’s always a privilege and an adventure to be invited into another writing space, and this month one of my posts appeared at (in)courage, the online community that is the vision of DaySpring (the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).  The (in) means that we are in Christ, connected, and in community with each other, and that was certainly my experience as I interacted with readers on the topic of hospitality and friendship.  I’d love it if you joined the conversation over there.  If you are looking for a community that offers life-giving tools to equip you right in the midst of the chaos, you’ll want to subscribe.

Another community that is less well-known, but vibrant and growing is Ruby Magazine.  They shared one of my reviews in their March issue — A Glorious Dark by A.J. Swoboda, a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.

Earlier this month, we wrapped up a ten-week long on-line book discussion group that featured C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.  Not only did we survive the process, but we also enjoyed the weekly sharing of insights and great input from people who approached the book from all kinds of perspectives.  If you love Lewis’s fiction, you’ll be challenged and inspired by his last (and, in his opinion, his best!) book.

The most-read post at Living Our Days in the month of March may possibly have been my most-read post of all time (and someday I’m sure I’ll figure out enough about the backside of my blog to actually make that comparison with confidence . . .).  Start Where I Am.  Use What I Have.  is my commentary on change and the following life; on children leaving and grandchildren arriving; and on my cranky relationship with technology and mud season.

Just for Joy

It’s not every day that I get into my car and drive away from this country hill with no husband and no children, but that’s what happened on the next-to-the-last Friday of March, and the welcome I received on the other end made me wonder what all my angst was about.  The women of North Uxbridge Baptist Church in Massachusetts invited me to teach at their spring conference.  We met over the Word of God three times that day, and the smiles and nods of that group of godly learners, the sound of all those voices lifted in worship, and the warm fellowship over coffee, around the table at lunchtime, and between sessions mirrored the welcome that God extends to all of us in the Gospel.

It occurred to me on the four-hour drive home that, although I cannot see your nods and smiles, you, my faithful readers, extend that same welcome to me here each time you visit, and so, I thank you for your continual encouragement in this tiny gathering place.  

Grace and peace to you, and may your celebration of Christ’s resurrection be filled with joy.

//

As usual, I’m joining the What I’m Into party over at Leigh Kramer’s place.

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.

The Deep Welcome of Friendship

Across the miles they drove, journeying four hours north on washboard roads until they reached this country hill.

“We want to talk about the conference,” they had said on the phone.  “We can fill you in on the details in person.  The more you know about us, the easier it will be for you to prepare.”

I heard their words, but I was deaf to their hearts, because as the date of their visit approached, the puddle of panic around me grew deeper and murkier.  The faithless ponderings multiplied:

They’ll be sorry they traveled all this way to meet someone so ordinary.
Will they want to quiz me on my theology?
I’m sure they’ll take one look at my tiny kitchen and my beat up wooden floors and decide that I’m a mess, too.

This, for me, has been the challenge of the Christian life:  to boldly welcome others into the mess that is me, and then to trust – to trust that God will build a bridge between our hearts, and to trust that others will respond with acceptance and love.

As it happens, my new friends arrived a few minutes late – G.P.S.’s aren’t much help out here!  More important, though, when they showed up in my driveway, they did not arrive bearing an impossible yardstick or hearts of judgment.  They were not expecting me to look or to sound like a conference speaker or to live in a museum of Pinterest perfection.

We exchanged warm hugs and settled down to business.

And may I invite you to join us?
{I would love for you to continue reading with me over at (in)courage . . .}

And while you’re there be sure to sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox!

//

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.

Big Pizza Love

“It’s pizza night!”

Any Friday.

Even every Friday.

My boys never tire of those words.

A bowl of popcorn, a favorite movie, and a few square feet of mozzarella magic, and it’s going to be a great evening.

No question about it.

In a family of four boys, food is currency, and pizza is the gold standard.  As the long bones lengthen and the voices grow deeper, the double batch makes way for the quadruple batch, and leftovers in the fridge are like money in the bank.

Of course, eventually, someone gets his license, or a girlfriend (or both), and suddenly an evening at home no longer registers on the social Dow Jones.  But pizza night goes on for whoever happens to be home or whoever is visiting, and the leftovers pay dividends forward with:  cold pizza after a basketball practice and a heart-to-heart talk about unfair coaches; cold pizza after a shift at McDonald’s and a late-night discussion about where to buy the diamond; re-heated pizza for a carload of friends who “aren’t hungry” – until they realize how very welcome they are.

Food can become a metaphor for abundance . . .

Capture

I’m pondering abundance and the glorious truth of God’s inexhaustible love over at (in)courage today.   Click here to join me, and while you’re there be sure to sign up for free daily encouragement right in your inbox from the writers of (in)courage.

//

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days 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.