Musings: June 2018

My favorite hoe was a gift from a friend. Its blade is just the right size for scooping up the dirt to support a growing plant or for upending the roots of pesky weeds. While it’s making a difference in the lay of the land and the weed-to-wanted-plant-ratio in my garden, its familiar feel in my hand makes a difference in my attitude toward the task at hand.

In a world where change is inevitable, I want to pay attention to the manner of change that’s at work:

A field becomes a garden.
A jumble of weeds yields to the hoe and a straight row of corn seedlings becomes visible.

Reading Jeremiah’s prophetic words, however, I find a different sort of change:

In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it.  In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated.  (Jeremiah 39:1, 2)

These are the “setting” verses that we hurry through on our way to the action, but there’s a good reason to slow down and notice them, because it is in this manner that a garden returns to being a field and the straight, seeded row succumbs to weeds and is no more.

One day it’s the siege ramps.
Two years later, Jerusalem has a Babylonian zip code.
The people of Israel had stopped using their hoes.

By this same alchemy of slow transformation, I will not be the same person when I harvest my cucumbers as I am today in this season of weeding.
And neither will you.
Let us use our hoes with care.

Summer Reading 

When school takes a vacation and the gardening season begins and the lawn mowing business flourishes, the wheels come off my reading, writing, and studying routines. Things may be a bit erratic over the summer, so I’m hoping to stay in touch via the blog’s Facebook Page.   If you pop over and gave it a like or a follow, you’ll be able to stay on top of content here — along with other thoughts that don’t necessarily make it all the way into a blog post.

June has been a delightful month for reading and writing, and I shared four reviews with readers:

A Leopard Tamed by Eleanor Vandevort is a missionary story in the very best way, because the author was a woman ahead of her time, asking questions few in the golden age of U.S. missions were asking and even fewer wanted to entertain. In my review, I spent some time reflecting on the challenging history of missions here in the United States and the startling truth that even heroes of the faith struggle in their understanding of the ways of God:

“Try, if you can, to fathom Him, to draw His picture with clear, solid lines, to pin Him down. Just when you think you have God in focus, He moves, and the picture blurs.”

A more modern-day missionary story finds Rachel Marie Stone serving in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. As she leaned into the risks of motherhood in a third world country, she also supported women at the beginning of their mothering journeys in her role as doula. Birth is the metaphor that runs throughout Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light as it binds memoir to meditation and bears witness to the journey that has left its mark on the author.

 

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson is an older book, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s a classic work on the importance of spiritual reading in the life of a believer. A full-bodied entering into a text, essentially chewing on it, is the kind of reading that takes time and a lot more thought and focused attention than most of us are currently investing in our spiritual reading, and yet it is the words of Scripture, the sentences and paragraphs and trains of thought through which God has chosen to communicate His holiness, His wisdom, and His love to mankind. I invite you to read more here about God’s intention to speak with clarity to His people through a written Word.

I don’t read many parenting books anymore. Often they come across as “answer books,” and it’s hard not to detect a smug, formulaic success story behind their perky narrative, but I was happy to read and review Kristen Welch’s second parenting book in which she has woven her experience of establishing and operating Mercy House,”a ministry that exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name.” with her realization that the grace of God has placed us in a country with clean running water and a solid infrastructure so that we can share our bounty with others. In Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving, she shares the impact that being a World Changer can make upon an entire family.

Fall.Stand.Orthodoxy

The journey through G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy continues with this month’s post focusing on the challenge of living a balanced Christian life when Christianity itself is characterized by wild paradox and “furious opposites.” Chesterton’s thoughts leave so much room for pondering and challenge:

“We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”

And finally, if you want to have your prayer life turned upside down (in a good way), join me in reading through A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller. I haven’t finished it yet, but took a stab here at sharing the best book I’ve ever found on prayer.

Summer Writing

Transition into Hope, G.K. ChestertonIt’s always a joy to write about grace I’m receiving in this middle-aged following life. When God pours it out as a beacon that helps annoyance finds its grumpy way back to gratitude, I’m grateful. When He uses His Word in the jumbled synapses of my brain, at rest in summer afternoon weeding, to shed light on my path or to put His finger on an attitude or action that needs fixing, it’s a gift, and occasionally the lesson finds its way into a blog post here.

My account of Following the Trail Back to Hope was, by far, the post in June that stimulated the most conversation here, and it left me with the thought that I want to do a better job of balancing this kind of writing and thinking with the book reviews that show up at least weekly in these parts.

Exercising

I know.
You’d think that with all the weeding and tending of the garden and the walking that goes with our summer mowing business, I’d be fit and trim, but the reality is that my muscles need strengthening and my metabolism needs a kick start, so I’ve started exercising almost every day. A friend shared the link to Faithful Workouts, and so I’m going to be that kind of friend to you. The videos are free on You Tube, and the tone is encouraging and spiritually uplifting. I actually look forward to working out!

Summer Gatherings

When our third son turned 19 in June, the crew landed here for pulled pork sandwiches and Frito pie. My husband and I both declare that these gatherings are our new favorite thing as we transition into parenting adults who have busy lives elsewhere.

A virtual gathering in June was initiated by an online friend, Jody Lee Collins. After her April visit to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College (Grand Rapids MI), she came home resolved to champion the voices of women faith writers over the age of 50. She compiled a resource post listing ten of us and sharing our bios and links to our online presence, and it was a great surprise and gift to be included. I’ll share the link  in case you are looking for more inspiration here on the web.

My heartfelt thanks go out to YOU at the end of this month and the beginning of summer for your faithful encouragement here as you have read, shared, and added your words to mine in the comments section. Blessings to you as you apply the hoe of Truth to the weeds and as you are strengthened by Truth for positive change,

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 any of the books listed in 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.

The books mentioned in this post have been provided by the publishers to facilitate my reviews, which were, of course, offered freely and with complete honesty.

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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.

Grateful Parents: Grateful Kids

Finally, about ten years ago, the light began to dawn, and you can’t imagine how disappointed I was.  I realized that parenting is not a cause and effect proposition.  It’s not a vending machine in which I insert my actions (seizing teachable moments, training in character, consistency in discipline) and then am rewarded by equal and corresponding reactions (obedience, respect, good behavior).

I’m a slow learner, so this was earth-shattering for me, but . . .

Having said that, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch reminds me that if I want my children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, I had better be modeling the right heart attitude myself.

In the Great Balancing Act called parenting, we are at war against three words:  “Is that all?”  In ourselves, in our kids, Western culture exacerbates our entrenched selfishness in everything from “ice cream servings to allowances.”  “Enough” is never enough.

Kristen is writing from the trenches of raising three kids, and so the tone of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World is NOT “we have arrived and here’s how your kids can ooze gratitude like our perfect children do.”  She comes alongside her readers with humble offerings:  “Here’s what we’re doing.  Here’s what others have tried, and that’s great, too.”  Kristen’s perspective is derived from the knowledge that parents who are willing to fight against the prevailing culture and for an attitude of thankfulness in their children will feel as if they are swimming upstream.

My oldest son talked early — and often — so I can still hear his husky toddler voice saying, “There’s a difference between a need and a want.”  To me!  Even so, one need that is common to all kids is their parents’ love, and ironically, in our culture of possessions and privileges, it is common to find children who are sadly lacking in that need while every want is speedily fulfilled.

No one sets out with a goal of “spoiling” her children, but little daily choices that arise from incorrect thinking accomplish the task over time.  Kristen unmasks some of these:

  1.  We want our kids to be our friends.
  2.  We’re afraid to say no because of the fallout (slammed doors, tears, eye rolling, shouting).
  3. We feel guilty about our circumstances and try to compensate with permissiveness.
  4. We are busy.  We eat fast food on the way to one of Junior’s three different soccer league practices, take on an extra job to pay for a Disneyland vacation, and don’t have time for the slow work of eyeball to eyeball interaction in which we pass on our values.
  5. We don’t want them to fail, so we make things “easy” for them.
  6. We don’t want them to feel left out, so we cave to the “everyone else” argument.
  7. We don’t want them to be unhappy.

It is not for nothing, then, that Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World provides an end-of-each-chapter assortment of age-related hints for going against the flow.

For parents:

“Put a plan in place.  Decide in advance what you will say ‘yes’ to.”

For toddlers:

“Make cookies together.  You may eat one for your effort, and then give the rest away to brighten someone’s day.  Teach your children that we don’t have to keep everything for ourselves.”

For elementary age:

“Clean out closets and drawers, and instead of giving away only things that they won’t miss, urge your kids to include something they really love to share with someone else.”

For tweens/teens:

“It may seem to your son or daughter as if she’s the only one in her class or he’s the only one in his grade or on this planet who isn’t fitting in or keeping up.  But if we are going to compare ourselves to others, let’s also compare ourselves to kids who live in poverty.”

The award for most practical feature goes to the chapter called “Making Smart Choices about Technology” with its related idea of a cell phone contract.

Central to all this intentionality and hard work is the goal of  introducing kids to the freedom of self-discipline; to the security that comes from seeing parents follow through on their principles; and the self-confidence that can only come to kids who have been allowed to “struggle” a bit and then to solve their own problem before a parent comes swooping in to rob them of the privilege.  We must love our children enough to make the hard choices that lead to a lifestyle of gratitude.

This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishing,  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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