Musings: November 2018

In just a few days, we’ll begin the season of Advent. Even if you don’t observe much else on the liturgical calendar, it’s hard to avoid the on-ramp to Christmas. Instead of counting shopping days and check marks on my do-list, my practice has been to think of Advent as a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’s birth. There’s no magic formula for this. When my sons were all young and enthusiastic (and boisterous!), we did a daily project:  baking together, crafting an ornament, visiting a nursing home, or even bailing out of the homeschool schedule early and reading big stacks of Christmas books. We’ve looked at Old Testament prophecies and thought about the message of the angel, the response of the shepherds, and the visitation of the mysterious magi. Advent puts time on our side for more in depth teaching than can ever happen in a quick read through of Luke 2 on Christmas eve.

One component of Advent that seems to get lost in the tinsel is the recognition that Jesus had a very somber and serious reason for showing up all pink and newborn in that Bethlehem manger. He would grow up to bear our griefs and to carry our sorrows, to be wounded and bruised so that we could know healing and peace.  From time to time all of us feel the dissonance of Christmas joy alongside regular old December stress, and to varying degrees our own experiences have confirmed that Simeon’s prophecy of a heart-piercing sword is not the only evidence that the Incarnation started out tinged with blood.

David Bannon is a grieving father who knows the bitter taste of disappointment–with life, and with himself. He was convicted of felony charges in 2006, and, then, in January of 2015 his twenty-six year old daughter died of a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose.  He found his way back into a true and heartfelt celebration of Christmas by embracing the grief as well as the solace expressed in Christian art. The result is Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, a collection of twenty-five meditations based on paintings that become devotional in nature as they “convey truth rather than arguing for it.” (xi)

Leaning into the joy as well as the sorrow during Advent prepares the heart for a celebration of Christ’s birth that is rooted in hope. Since “grief can ruin or mature us,” (11) there is wisdom in bringing it out into the open to do its work, and Bannon employs a palette of Scripture references, quotations from great literature, and images of masterpieces from a collection of flawed, troubled, and wildly talented artists in his creation of twenty-five meditations to carry the pause of communion through the season of Advent.

Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, is a guide for those who, perhaps, would not appreciate a more traditional approach to Advent, but who would find companionship in the healing knowledge that they do not suffer alone.

November News

My feet are still firmly planted in the season of Thanksgiving. Ten Morins gathered around the table this year, and I was so caught up in the joy of it that I took nary a picture.

 

 

The kitchen renovation has been front and center here on the hill this month. We tore the old kitchen away down to the shiny insulation and even removed the wall adjoining the bathroom (Don’t ask!). We have installed new windows, new cabinets, and new flooring, and I’m still in shock, but am making a valiant attempt at returning to some semblance of normalcy before we add a Christmas tree to the chaos soup that has become our living space.

 

 

This is high school musical season here in mid-coast Maine, and my youngest son was bringing down the house as Donkey in Shrek the Musical. It’s a hectic season with seven performances, but coordinating concessions for sale during intermission has given this homeschooling mum a way to serve the community while getting to know other parents and also the students my own kids hang out with when they are involved in public school activities. We’ve got a faithful band of area businesses and parents who donate goodies and bottled water, and we do a booming business to raise money for the program.

November Reading and Writing

The women in my Sunday school class have finished reading Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Grace (Bible Studies: Becoming a Woman)and we’re moving on to a study of, perhaps, the most misunderstood book of the Old Testament, the book of Judges. I can’t begin to say how much I’m looking forward to this!

 

 

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Here at Living Our Days, I’ve shared three books in the month of November, and you’re invited to check out my reviews, especially if you’re looking for gift ideas for the readers in your life:

All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo
It’s All Under Control by Jennifer Dukes Lee
I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

 

 

It was very satisfying to team up with Desiring God again this month with a post I wrote from the ongoing experience of being a mother-in-law in training. Then, when Jeanne Takenaka invited me to write about gratitude for her blog, I felt right at home with the topic–not because I’ve mastered it by any means, but because it’s something I am committed to writing about until I begin to get a handle on it. Gratitude is a matter of obedience, and it is a choice we have to make, by faith.

I was especially thankful in November for the opportunity to take a blogging break so that I could be more fully present for family and for all the Thanksgiving activity. It was a good week, and well-timed.

I’m giving thanks for you, trusting that your season of Thanksgiving has filled you up with joy and an abiding gratitude for all that God has given — and for the Giver Himself as He presides over the many gatherings still to come in this season of celebrations.

 

Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of Wounded in Spirit to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

For those who have been missing the What I’m Into community, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Shannan (of shannanenjoyslife.com) is carrying the torch forward! Click here for a link to the November gathering!

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 Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations or any of the resources mentioned in this post, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you make a purchase a tiny percentage helps support the work I do here at no extra cost to you.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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The Hard Work of Hanging On and the Brave Work of Letting Go

Twenty years ago, my husband and I made one of the most difficult decisions of our married life:  we decided to leave a church and to worship elsewhere. Leaving behind dear people we loved (and likely offending more than one person in the process), we left that fellowship convinced that God was telling us it was time to let go. Soon, our roots were planted deeply in the good soil of another church family. They welcomed us with warmth and enthusiasm and the years have flown. The church with the white steeple and the red doors is home to us and to our sons, but, quite honestly, there have been seasons when it was not a joy to be there–hard seasons of pastoral searches, dry spells when nothing seemed to click, frustrating years when I would scan the horizon for a sign–sky writing, a whisper from the Word, ANYTHING that would release us and give us a green light to let go. I was tired of holding on, but the clear assignment from God was to do that very thing, and I’m thankful now that we did.

In It’s All Under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible, Jennifer Dukes Lee devotes two full chapters and a lot of wisdom to the tightrope walk of hanging on and letting go. It turns out that “Let Go and Let God” may not be the best advice all the time, but there are also times when letting go is a true mark of bravery. It was good news to hear that “gospel living is not an either/or question. It’s both/and. It’s coming back to that fork in the road every day–with every decision, every obligation, and every relationship–and asking God to help you choose.”  (77) This is a recipe for living surrendered, and it comes back to persevering through the hard work, believing through the messy middle, and practicing the spiritual discipline of active trust.

Persevere through the Hard Work

“Just because something is hard work, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or should be abandoned.” (85) God may call you to write a book, start a new career, or to persevere through a hard season with a needy friend. It is also likely that at some point you will be called into the hard work of letting go, of opening your hands to release grown children, to relinquish a project that has gone off the rails or a task that is not yours to do.  The privilege and the challenge of this following life is living close to Truth so when God’s voice comes, our ears are accustomed to its pitch and timbre, and our hearts are in good shape for the hard work of obedience.

Believe in the Messy Middle

Living on the horns of a dilemma is just as uncomfortable as the metaphor sounds. We reach a point where we want ANY decision that will take the place of indecision, and yet holding on in the midst of the unknown is a powerful affirmation that we are not in control of the situation and are yielding to the One who is.  When guidance comes, if God calls you to hang on, He has the end of the rope alongside you. However, if you are called to release instead and to move on in faith, Jennifer reminds readers that “for everything you’ve ever let go, Jesus is still hanging on.” (107)

Practice the Discipline of Active Trust

Does it help your heart to know that God knows the end result of your holding on/letting go dilemma?  It is entirely true that we may “have to wait until heaven to know he was trustworthy in all that is yet to unfold in our lives. But until then, we have a choice. We can trust him with all that we are because we believe he is all he says he is. He hasn’t done all that we wanted, but he has done all that is right.” (108)

Releasing our white-knuckle control over every aspect of our lives (and those we love) is fueled by that relationship of trust. The prophet Isaiah painted a picture of the point of release around seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. He did not know your situation, whether you are struggling to let go or straining to hold on, but his words come as fresh reassurance today:

“Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: ‘This is the right road. Walk down this road.'”  (Isaiah 30:21, MSG)

 May we find grace to wait, to listen, and then to follow,

Michele Morin

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

Back in 2016, Jennifer Dukes Lee released The Happiness Dare in which sheThe Happiness Dare lays down the challenge to overcome obstacles to happiness with truth that jumps into our hole of unhappiness and builds a ladder toward the light.  To the defeatist notion that “This is just the way I am,” she offers the happiness booster that “little by little, I can become happier by changing the way I think.” The truth of Romans 12:2 is nowhere more practical than in the “renewal” that takes place when the believer alters her thoughts toward happiness. I invite you to check out my review of The Happiness Dare here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase It’s All Under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible, simply click on the title 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.

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 Holy Pursuit of Happiness

For quite some time now I’ve had the urge to poll a room full of people with this question:  What words come to your mind when you think of God?

First impressions are what I’m looking for, and I have a feeling that very few responses would include the word “happy.”  In The Happiness Dare, Jennifer Dukes Lee is out to change the way we view happiness — and, along with that, our view of God.

With Scriptural evidence for a happy God (Psalm 68:3; Isaiah 65:18) who rejoices over us, His people (Zephaniah 3:17), Jennifer invites her readers (Double Dog Dares us!) to pursue happiness, to stalk joy,and to do it according to the unique way in which we have been created.

Contrary to popular perceptions of God (and of Christians!), the Gospel itself is a call to happiness which is not in any way antithetical to holiness.  Theologian John Piper has written at length in defense of the concept of a happy God:

“Happiness is part of holiness . . . If you tried to describe what it means to be a holy person and left out happiness in God, you can’t do it.  There is not such thing as holiness minus happiness in God.  Happiness in God is the essence of holiness.”

Jennifer Dukes Lee lays down the challenge to overcome obstacles to happiness with truth that jumps into our hole of unhappiness and builds a ladder toward the light.  To the defeatist notion that “This is just the way I am,” she offers the happiness booster that “little by little, I can become happier by changing the way I think.”  Comparison is a happiness hacker that will yield only to a determination to find happiness of one’s own rather than wishing for someone else’s life.   A heart of gratitude is the antidote for perfectionism and discontent.  The truth of Romans 12:2 is nowhere more practical than in the “renewal” that takes place when the believer alters her thoughts toward happiness.

What makes The Happiness Dare unique (and do-able) is the recognition that happiness looks different on everyone.  Some people are simply wired for a happier outlook on life.  In fact, studies show that 50% of our happiness is governed by genes.  Ten percent is dictated by life’s circumstances.  That leaves 40% within our ability to control, so tipping the balance scale toward happiness is far more feasible if we understand ourselves and others.

I took the Happiness Style Assessment in the book (and you can take it online here).  It turns out that I’m a Doer/Thinker, so while I’m checking tasks off my list and pondering the outline for my next blog post, I’m smiling inside.  If you are a Relater, an Experiencer, or a Giver, you might want to run for the hills at the very thought of my happy place, but that awareness of our unique wiring only makes God look more amazing — because he made us all.   The happiness of my loved ones — however different from my own — feeds my happiness, and all of it is a gift from our happy God, and “part of a happiness cycle that rotates forever on the axis of the Cross, a cycle that will carry us all the way home.”

On Earth as it is in Heaven.

Amen.

//

This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 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.”

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.