Half Way to Entirely

C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)

Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testament”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.

In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the presence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses:

  • In the foreordained turning of the head to view a crow in flight or a “squirrel passage, or a person with whom I share an ever-present reaching toward.” (20)
  • In a poignant pondering of “life’s second half”:

“Tell me, someone:
with the spade of days remaining,
how to turn the soil
and where.” (34)

Finding Joy in the Cup of Shadow

Far-from-glib reflections excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God, borrowing  words from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed to lament that faith can sometimes feel like “the rope that holds until we need it.” Wallace riffs on Psalm 23 when her “cup of shadow” (24) overflows, and she asks for grace to unbolt the door and walk into a season we’re so tempted to deny.

For most of us, by the time we reach middle age, the jarring truth has been well-established that “the world won’t behave, not even for me.” (39) We are ruefully accustomed to the phone call that describes the disappointing diagnosis of a parent, a friend, a spouse. These are the days when we awaken to an early dawn and begin to take attendance:

“Whose time will come next?
Storm taken.
War taken.
A tiny fracture in a cell.”

Even now, there is grace to find joy in a dusty yellow warbler who hops “in the autumn dogwood near the gate . . . on its way to Venezuela” (49) and to rejoice in the memory of a beautiful, normal day (77).

In every season of life, we dwell in the conflicted joy of The Two Pockets:

“In one is the message, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other, ‘for me the universe was made.'” Receiving the second in light of the first is the course of health and wholeness. This is enough. A simultaneous comprehension of these two truths will set us on a path that is almost entirely hope.Many thanks to Paraclete Press (here in beautiful New England!) for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with 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 Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry), 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.

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

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Faith Going Forward: A Mid-Life Following

I can just barely admit this, but I have finally hauled all the cassette tapes — John Michael Talbot, Carole King, Billy Joel — out from under my bed.

And I’m going to throw them away.

Letting go of this one thing may not free my hands to grab hold of an entire universe, but who knows?

This unloading is initiated, I think, by my oldest son’s purchase of a house:  endless boxes and piles of belongings, so overwhelming, and yet minor, inconsequential compared with my extensively curated mess.

Then, there’s the presence of teen sons still in the nest, their growing competence a continual reminder of my slippage toward obsolescence.
The prayer of my heart as I fill the waste basket with relics from the 1980’s is this:

“Oh, Lord, please keep my heart from becoming brittle and plastic,
unconsciously stuck in rigid notions of my own right-ness.
Grow in me a willingness to jettison anything that slows my growth toward You.”

Capture

I’m sharing this post with readers, writers, and thinkers at The Perennial Gen, a website devoted to the process of growing deeper roots in the dirt and light of midlife.

This offering winds up their October theme of health and wellness, and I’d love it if you’d join me over there now to read about what that looks like here on this country hill in Maine.

And I invite you to join the discussion.

  • Has your heart found grace enough to view, in retrospect, your stumbling steps as the exact price for becoming the person you are today?
  • What are you letting go of at this point in your life in order to move forward in health and wholeness?

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Are We Following?

I can just barely admit this, but I have finally hauled all the cassette tapes — John Michael Talbot, Carole King, Billy Joel — out from under my bed.

And I’m going to throw them away.

Letting go of this one thing may not free my hands to grab hold of an entire universe, but who knows?

This unloading is initiated, I think, by my oldest son’s purchase of a house:  endless boxes and piles of belongings, so overwhelming, and yet minor, inconsequential compared with my extensively curated mess.

Then, there’s the presence of teen sons still in the nest, their growing competence a continual reminder of my slippage toward obsolescence.  The prayer of my heart as I fill the waste basket with relics from the 1980’s is this:

“Oh, Lord, please keep my heart from becoming brittle and plastic,
Unconsciously stuck in rigid notions of my own right-ness.”

Trusting that the body and the soul are somehow linked in their flexibility, I’m exercising these days.  Like a teetotaling mama sneaking her basement brandy flask, I creep off to the furnace room, knock off my little jumping jacks and squats, approximate a push up, and tremble through a thirty-second plank.  The fear of looking ridiculous is banished by the greater fear of weakness — of outliving my ability to rise from a chair unaided.

Lilias Trotter, English missionary to Algeria (and brightly shimmering droplet in my cloud of witnesses) prods me to look beneath the surface of this middle-aged Christian life with her searing question:

“There may be much of usefulness
And of outward self-denial, and yet . . .
There may remain a clinging to our own judgment,
A confidence in our own resources,
An unconscious taking of our own way, even in God’s service . . .
Are we following His steps?
Are we?”

Am I?

If the Proverb is to be trusted, and my mostly silver hair is to be seen as a crown of glory and wisdom, don’t let me be guilty of false advertising — like Jude’s waterless clouds, carried about by the wind, promising rain, but yielding nothing; like those fruitless trees in late autumn, not only barren, but uprooted.  Twice dead.

We speak (disparagingly at times) of Israel’s wandering a circuitous route through a howling wilderness, but there is no inefficiency or waste in God’s methods:

The record shows that they were being led.

In cloud by day, in fire by night, God went before them, never leaving His place in front of His people, and so I join Lilias in asking a few questions of my own:

Is my following marked by an ever-enlarging faith that sustains forward and God-focused momentum?

Will the stumbling footprints of past failures lead to fear-based caution or to greater courage — founded in a memory of seas that split and sustenance that fell from Mercy?

Can my heart find grace enough to view, in retrospect, my own wasteland trails as a following that became the exact price for becoming who I am today?

Cloud of My Soul,
Light of My Soul:
Lead me forward.

Through shadow and shade,
When your presence is veiled and in mist;

Through blazing Words and bright Truth,
When the next step is clear and urgent.

Strengthen my soul for the wondering and for the wandering
That are part of my journey forward.

(Proverbs 16:31; Jude 12; Exodus 13:21,22)

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Finish Well

A senior executive at Focus on the Family, seminary graduate, and seasoned Christian, there was every reason to think that Bruce Peppin should have scaled the mountains of midlife with skill and enthusiasm.  However, with his marriage and his family relationships deeply broken and his faith in God taking a nose dive, he realized that he had veered off course.  His journey out of despair and defeat is the basis for The Best Is Yet to Be:  Moving Mountains in Midlife, his five-part course correction manual for those of us who are hiking through or toward midlife.  Just as a mountain climber keeps her eye on the summit, the goal of midlife is to finish well and in accordance with Peppin’s well-framed definition:

“To finish life in right relationship to my God, spouse, family, fellow man, and the work He gave me to do.”

With “gray divorce” at an all-time high, long-term marriage is no longer a given apart from the grace of God and a commitment to faithfulness.  Peppin shares vulnerably how the Lord of the Breakthrough turned his own marriage around.  Sin and poor judgment calls from the past have a way of cropping up in midlife.  One’s own morality looms large, and this question even larger:  How have I spent the life God has given?

Using powerful metaphors but plain speech, Peppin challenges his readers to follow six principles for decisions, relationships, and mindset that are essential for midlife, but helpful to have mastered beforehand.  (The sooner the better!)

  1. Heroic invisibility:  Living a life of integrity before an audience of One requires a realization that recognition is not the priority — honoring God is the path to true self-esteem.
  2. Famous in heaven:  Living according to the standards of heaven, for applause from a heavenly stadium, yields right priorities.
  3. Decades not days:  Taking a long view toward preparation for future assignments and accepting His timing acknowledges and bows to the sovereignty of God.
  4. Be ready:  Assess readiness for scaling spiritual mountains by answering the following life-changing question:  “If God was looking for someone to use on an important assignment for the kingdom, would you be the one He’d choose, given your present attitude, behavior, and choices?”
  5. Drink the cup:  Climbing mountain peaks over fourteen thousand feet, Peppin has honed traits of dedication and perseverance.  It is tempting to quit before reaching the summit.  In the same manner, honoring commitments to the Lord requires the discipline of determination.
  6. Faithful to the end:  Inspiring testimonies of mentors and historical figures who endured despite obstacles and finished their course in faithfulness to God drive home the point and provide powerful motivation and inspiration.

Apart from Christ, the uphill journey of middle age could seem discouraging and pointless, but the power of God’s Word can transform feelings of rejection, fear, and failure into powerful Christ-exalting expressions of God’s sufficiency.  The Best Is Yet to Be challenges the reader to look beyond this life to consider the importance of a godly legacy. As Randy Alcorn has said, “Our present life on earth is the dot.  It begins. It ends. It’s brief.   But from that dot extends a line that goes on forever.  That line is eternity which Christians will spend in heaven . . . Live for the line, not for the dot.”  Peppin’s book stopped me in my tracks one afternoon as I considered the outcomes of finishing well:  a life of integrity, courage and reward.  There is food for thought here, but, more importantly, there is grist for one’s prayer life.  “Lord, help me to remember, as I walk through midlife, that there is no reward on earth that can compare with Your well-done.”

This book was provided by David C. Cook in exchange for my honest review.