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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Fill Your Easter Basket with Books

Holidays and reading go hand in hand, not only because books heighten our enjoyment of the celebration, but also because, through stories, we pass along the Truth and the significance of the holiday. This Easter, I hope you’ll take some time to read the account of resurrection found in Scripture first of all. Then, if you still have minutes to invest, here are half a dozen recommendations for your own Easter basket or for someone you love:

Recommended Reads for Easter

The Women of EasterWith her carefully constructed re-telling of the final weeks of Jesus’ life,  Liz Curtis Higgs honors the women who were part of that story in The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene. Rather than lifting her protagonists out of the story one by one with three distinct bios, she considers them in context as they interact with each other, with Jesus, and with other major players within the narrative arc of Scripture.

Liz shares the encouraging truth that even the very first Easter was not a picture perfect affair.  No.  It was “full of disbelief, fear, and confusion” as even Jesus’ closest disciples struggled to absorb the truth.

Likewise, with our Easter bonnets askew and our Resurrection Sunday dinner menus still up in the air, we are invited to come, by faith, to the empty tomb.  We are invited to rejoice, and we have been charged with the privilege of sharing the good news. By faith, we, too, are The Women of Easter.


In a decision that somehow manages to seem both arbitrary and precise, the One Spring LambCouncil of Nicaea met in 325 A.D. and determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the first day of spring.  Easter and spring are also holding hands in Anne Vittur Kennedy’s festive board book, One Spring Lamb.

From sparkly cover to peaceful conclusion, children will enjoy the rollicking rhymes and vivid illustrations.  Parents will appreciate the fact that this celebration of the resurrection is also a counting book in which two lilies dance in the breeze, and three little girls and four little boys are all dressed up for Easter Sunday.  The fun goes on all the way up to the challenge of finding and counting ten stuffed bunnies in a child’s cozy bedroom, and the stated conclusion that the best Easter gift of all is the joy of knowing that “Jesus lives and loves me so.”

By the way, that adorable spring lamb shows up somewhere in every scene!  My grandson was not quite two when I first reviewed One Spring Lamb, but even now, this is one of the books he asks me to read to him when he comes to visit.


Holding hands around a table; a focus on gratitude and shared celebration; Easter Blessingsdressed in their Easter best, the Berenstain Bears lead the way into a fun and family-oriented celebration of Resurrection Sunday.  Presenting as normal the discipline of church attendance, prayer before a meal, and portraying the beauty of love and respect among extended family, The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Blessings by Mike Berenstain (son of Stan and Jan who began the series in 1962) will come alongside the parents of young children with words and ideas for a meaningful celebration.

All the blessings that we enjoy (and take for granted) come through the hand of the God who orchestrated the miracle of the resurrection.  Join the Berenstain Bears in counting and listing Easter blessings.  Beginning with the glory of a spring morning and a cozy tree house, they move in ever widening circles to include friends, the church family, and the public servants who care for us and keep us safe.  In the weeks leading up to Easter, write them on slips of paper to hang on a spring-branches bouquet, or toss them, one by one, into a festive Easter basket and then read them all during Easter dinner.

What a gift to hold this small board book in one hand and to share it with a tiny lap child, to join the Bear Family as they worship in the Chapel in the Woods, and to be reminded of the greatest Easter blessing of all:

Yes, He is risen!  He is risen indeed!


Esther Emery unplugged her life from the Internet in November 2009, and for What Falls from the Skyone year, she lived a life without email, without a cell phone, and without a debit card.  No Google, no on-line shopping, no text messages.  She walked away from her blog, an encouraging Facebook community, and any trace of an on-line presence in a leap of Stop-doing-everything-you-know-and-start-doing-everything-you-don’t-know Faith.

What Falls from the Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds shares this journey in four parts that correlate with four glorious gifts from the sky:  snow, rain, sunshine, and fog, but I found her most compelling words  were about a celebration of Easter in community. By this, she was  introduced to the  beauty of “borrowed” power from the crucified and risen Christ and the truth that this is “not theoretical at all.”  The vulnerability of Good Friday left Esther defenseless against the claims of Christ upon her life, and she was captured by the forgiveness that conquers fear, the “Jesus of the brokenhearted, the Jesus of the suffering.”  Ironically, as her spiritual life came into focus, the material world also became sharper.


I’m sure there will be those who find significance in the juxtaposition of Easter and April Fool’s Day in 2018, but whenever Easter falls on the calendar, I find that my heart is more prepared to celebrate Easter if I spend some time during the Lenten season reading about the two historical events that are central to Christianity:   the cross and the empty tomb.  What happened?  What does it all mean?

ScandalousA few years ago, I found Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus in which D.A.Carson isolates five theologically stunning concepts based on five scriptural passages that integrate the implications of both crucifixion and resurrection:

I.   The Ironies of the Cross — Matthew 27:27-51
Irony, using words that normally mean the opposite of what is actually being said, brings situations into sharp focus, and there were four profound and dramatic ironies at work in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.

II.  The Truth of Human Desperation — Romans 3:21-26 
In our post-“I’m-O.K.-You’re-O.K” era, this may well be the most inexplicable of all Christian doctrines, for we are a tolerant generation in which “the one wrong thing to say is that somebody else is wrong.”  However, the truth is that we are offenders before God and in need of reconciliation which Jesus provided, preserving the justice of God while justifying the ungodly.

III.  The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb — Revelation 12
In this apocalyptic reenactment of the Christmas story, the Red Dragon rages over the truth that a deliverer has come forth from the Messianic community, and, therefore, his demise is certain.  The past 2,000 years of martyrdom and persecution are the thrashing of the doomed dragon’s tail, while, in the meantime, the gospel advances through believers who are bearing witness to Christ, through the blood of the cross, and through the realization that life in Christ “is a call to die to self-interest,” (Revelation 12:11).

IV.  A Miracle Full of Surprises — John 11:1-53
The juxtaposition of death and life in Bethany reveals that God is always full of surprises.  Jesus’ dealings with the dead man’s sisters is foreshadowed in His response to the disciples when He receives their summons:  “This sickness will not end in death,”  (11:4).  The purpose of the miracle had nothing to do with death or even with life, but instead, God’s glory was put on display.  Of course, this is not clear to anyone at the time, and it only becomes clear to us if we take a minute to realize that Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus put Him in the crosshairs of those who were plotting to remove Him from the scene.

V.   Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus — John 20:24-31
After an analysis of six forms of doubt, D.A. Carson enters into the cognitive dissonance that accompanied a crucified messiah.  The fallout of that all-important weekend in Jerusalem, at least from the disciples’ viewpoint, was disappointment and despair.  Therefore, the second Sunday after the resurrection, Thomas is still determined not to be taken in by rumors of a living Jesus.  His utterance of faith, “My Lord and my God!” is part of the “these” that were written so that we who only read of Christ’s resurrection may also believe.

May the outcome of all our ponderings during this season be a stronger belief in the resurrection and a deeper following of our wounded God.


For years I celebrated Easter as if it were a stand-alone holiday, singing “Up fromA Glorious Dark the Grave He Arose” without giving much thought to the horror of the Dying or the silence of the Dead. Providentially, my early efforts to incarnate and to enliven an invisible God in the hearts of four sweet boys found a way into the obtuse heart of their mother as well.  A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience is a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.  Where memoir meets theological pondering, author A.J. Swoboda’s story winds through his faith journey, with the bonus of startling spotlight quotes which he aims at himself and at all of us who say that we believe.  Here’s one of the dozen or more:

“Many envision faith as a kind of hall pass for laziness, excusing them from a life of action, doing, and working hard.”

Ouch and amen.

A Glorious Dark reveals a God who “stand[s] tall” above human history and invites (rather than scorns) the questioning heart.  After all, of the thirty-one questions Jesus posed in the Gospels, He answered only three.  When God does not break into history to rectify the list of problems set forth in my latest memorandum/prayer, it will be helpful to remember the messy way in which that one weekend in history played out for those who were on the scene.  Once again, the life of Jesus will be made manifest, a glorious life emerging from a glorious dark.

Thanks, for reading along and for joining with me in the celebration of all that is ours because of our risen and living Savior!

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 mentioned in this post,simply click on the title within the text or the images below, 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:

 

These books were provided by various publishers in exchange for my review. It’s my pleasure to feature them once again here, all in one place for your Easter enjoyment.

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Word Made Flesh — A Celebration of Reading for Advent

In the month of December, the Christmas story often stands alone, lifted with huge parentheses out of the New Testament — maybe delivered in Linus’s hushed boy soprano, and then tucked away with the durable resin nativity set and the white twinkly lights until next year. It’s a great story, so it’s easy to see why authors of every creed are drawn to its rich narrative.  Left in context, of course, it holds a pivotal place in redemptive history, and since it is a Word that was given to us (John 1:14), it is natural to use words and the magic of story to give substance to our celebration.

For me, every holiday is made more festive by the inclusion of books that heighten my understanding and appreciation of the occasion and that encourage me to enter in, to be present to the beauty. That’s why I’m sharing a collection of books that will bring the sacred into your everyday celebration of Advent. Click on over to the Redbud Post to read a joyful sprinkling of content from A.W. Tozer, Madeleine L’Engle, Sarah Arthur, and Luci Shaw.

Letting our hearts rejoice in the incarnation reminds us that even within the hectic pace and hoopla of Christmas celebration, we, too, can make the Word become flesh once again, in our lives and in our deeds.

I hope you’ll join me, and may your heart be encouraged in joy!

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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.

9 Names that Belong on Your Bookshelf

In a life time of reading, we make friends with a variety of authors, usually total strangers to us in real life, but nonetheless, known and beloved, because we have come to know them intimately through their books.  In Writers to Read, Douglas Wilson invites his readers into the circle of friends he has formed with nine favorite writers whose dates straddle the twentieth century, whose nomenclature leans toward the use of initials, whose faith commitments are all over the ecclesiological map, but whose writing and thinking are sure to be as iron sharpening iron — the best sort of friendship.

What sets these writers apart and makes them worthy of space on our crowded bookshelves?  In Douglas Wilson’s delightful enneadic biography and book review, five resounding reasons surfaced:

1. Their gift of seeing G.K. Chesterton was a master of paradox who had a “way of turning everything upside down so that we might be able to see it right-side-up.”  Robert Farrar (R..F.) Capon was able to portray grace in his writing to display the inexhaustible gift of God that cannot be overdone (although he tried), but his real gift was in writing about food, observing what “went on the table and what went into getting it there.”

2. Their artistic imagination N.D. Wilson happens to be Douglas’s son, a fiction and fantasy writer and a creator of villains and plots involving great danger.  He and Chesterton agree that stories with intense plots do not teach children to be afraid.  “They have dragons under the bed already.  They had the fear already. The stories actually teach children that dragons can be killed.”  I still need to be reminded of that and applaud a writer who can bring them into being on the page.
One of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, is also on Douglas Wilson’s list (rendered M.S. Robinson for his purposes), and her ability to create a world and to populate it with believable characters is unrivaled.  When I read Gilead for the first time, I found myself checking and re-checking the back cover author bio to assure myself that the book truly had not been penned by an elderly parson writing his son’s “begats” in the twilight of his life.

3.  Their use of metaphor P.G. Wodehouse is first on my list of untried authors from Douglas’s recommendations, and I can hardly wait to dive in, because, apparently, “the metaphors and similes found in the work of Wodehouse cause the reader, even if alone, to laugh like a hyena with a bone caught in his throat;” and since we’re on the topic, that quote is evidence that Douglas Wilson is also no slouch in the creation of similes.
It will surprise no one to find that T.S. Eliot is also on this list of nine with his “streets that follow like a tedious argument,” and his description of fever singing “in metal wires.”  Wilson’s most encouraging and heartening contribution regarding Eliot came from Thomas Howard who explained Eliot’s “habit of treating us as though we know as much as he did.”  This is a great relief to me.
4.  Their distinctive voice — The only atheist on Douglas’s list, H.L. Mencken came across as the skeptical cynic in his writing, but with a deep vein of kindness and an ability to convey fascination.  Too, having read out loud four and a half (we bailed out on The Silmarillion) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, his love for language and his lyrical depiction of camaraderie and adventure are  magical.  All who have been drawn into the warmth of The Fellowship will enjoy Douglas Wilson’s analysis of the uniqueness of Tolkien’s fictional world.

5.  Their ability to be both fun and good for you — In all feigned humility, I must call attention to the remarkable restraint that I have exercised to this point in not including C.S. Lewis in any or all of the previous categories, but perhaps this final quality summarizes him best and touches all the others as well.  Douglas Wilson helps us to see that the “mainspring” of this ability in Lewis is “the idea of aching after joy.”  As a romantic rationalist he fused logical reasoning with glorious imagination that turned every description and dialogue in his work into a feast for the heart and for the mind.  Who doesn’t love a talking beaver with great theology?

Although the biographical information provided in Writers to Read is informative and includes a thorough probing of influences and motivations which set the stage for digging deeper into the authors’ works, it is the final section of each chapter that presents the not-to-be-missed material.  “If You Read Nothing Else” points out a short selection of titles from each author, narrowing down the dizzying list of great books to manageable proportions.  Douglas Wilson goes one step further in his Afterword with his “you-can-do-it” encouragement to become acquainted with his nine friends.  As a book-blogger, I love reading about books and authors, and I make an effort to read as much and as broadly as I’m able, but few have made it into such an entertaining journey!


This book was provided by Crossway 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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