Loving and Listening to God in Every Season

In every season, my garden speaks, reinforcing in leaf and humus Scripture’s messages around patience and diligence, inviting me to rejoice with the arrival of every cucumber and blazing pumpkin and to lament with the erect skeletons of sunflowers, their heads bowed at season’s end. Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.

That is the message of All Shall Be Well by Catherine McNiel, in which she shares the trajectory of her own awakening to God’s presence in his messy, abundant world. Her observations pay tribute to every season in its turn:

Find spring on a walk outside, coupled with a look inside.

Spring is the season of thawing hope and widening light. It invites us to look despair in the face and to trust for joy because God is present in the clouds that obscure our view. Spring-hope whispers that if you listen with your heart, you will hear God’s voice rejoicing over you with singing.

McNiel’s spring tonic is a prescription to take in the beauty with all your senses–the aroma of green and the sound of wetness–and to make a celebratory list of all the gifts of the season.

Find summer with wide open eyes that take in the night stars on a sultry evening or the power of wind and lightening during a storm.

The season of abundant fruition, summer is also the season of toil. Long daylight stretches faithfulness thin and makes demands that remind us of how cushy our life is in other seasons. McNiel interjects the concept of telos–a Greek word that means “end purpose” or “goal” (68)–to tame summer’s crashing pandemonium. Flourishing in the midst of the buzz and brouhaha of summer requires clarity of purpose and a mindful stewarding of our faithfulness.

Find autumn by celebrating the advancing darkness with candles and twinkling lights.

In all its bright beauty and generous harvest, autumn whispers a gentle warning. While we celebrate with pumpkin carving and corn mazes, McNiel reminds twenty-first century readers that harvest carried a dire significance just a couple generations ago–and still does in many parts of the world–for abundant fall harvest is the only way to eat and live through a long, bleak winter.

The curriculum of autumn assures us that death is transformation, that letting go of the old makes room for something new; and the twilight hours are for resting, pondering, and deepening as the light gives way to darkness.

Find winter in every season by making room for rest.

God’s creative work in winter is quiet as a blanket of snow and dangerous as sub-zero air. McNiel warns readers of the futility of trying to “overcome dormancy… mutinously straining to move forward anyway.” (131) In winter, we celebrate the arrival of snow with hot chocolate and snowmen, maybe to protect our hearts from the knowledge that cabin fever will set in come February as the glory of whiteness begins to feel like wilderness living.

Celebrating every sign of life and giving thanks for the borrowed strength that comes from God and others, we are called in winter to exercise faith that endurance is not for nothing, and that a long slog through a bleak season may require good traveling companions who carry and sustain us with their presence and their love.

Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.Because I love to greet each new season with joy, I will be keeping All Shall Be Well handy for, like its author, I hear God inviting me to come near in their unique beauty, and “I’d like to get better at meeting him halfway.” (32)

 

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

Because “all manner of things shall be most well,”


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World, 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.

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Sunday Scripture ~ Philippians 1:6

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

The work of salvation is ongoing, and this is good news for those of us who daily feel the rub of our own shortcomings against the standard of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Growth is ongoing as the Trinity cooperates to apply the fertilizer of Truth to the garden of our hearts. We come to the written Word in Christ and, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, we hear the voice of the Father.

This Sunday, let’s rejoice that just as the Word of God is living and active, our relationship with God is more than just what God has done. He finishes and perfects us as we cooperate with him.

Blessings 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.

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Self-Discipline: A Wholehearted Yes to the Call of God

Child #1:  “But I don’t want to do my spelling lesson.”

Child #2:  “I really don’t feel like cleaning my room.”

Parent:  “I’m not asking you to want to. I don’t expect you to feel like it. I’m asking you to do it anyway.”

There was a season in which conversations like this were standard practice in our home. With a focus on quotidian matters of chores and school work, they seem, at first glance anyway, to be inconsequential. However, the performance of small needful duties without procrastination or complaint is a sign post which, if followed to its destination, carries the promise of a more disciplined life in the future. St. John of the Cross expressed it well:

“Do not wait for desire before performing a virtuous deed, since reason and understanding are sufficient.” (134)

Elisabeth Elliot was uniquely qualified to write on the topic of self-discipline, for she brought to it her unique brand of no-nonsense wisdom, a product of having already “set her face like a flint” in this following life. A right understanding of discipline requires a right understanding of the God we follow, for training in self-discipline requires a “wholehearted yes to the call of God.” (16)

In her recently re-released Joyful Surrender, Elliot creates a linguistic mosaic featuring the words dependence, responsibility, and obedience to fine tune her readers’ thinking. Her strong gospel underpinnings keep her thoughts from a purely bootstraps mentality, for she understood that “discipline is not my claim on Christ, but the evidence of His claim on me.” (28)

7 Disciplines for the Believer’s Life

We embody self-discipline here on the ground by the miracle of grace, according to the guidelines of Scripture, and through the inspiration and enabling of the Spirit of God. What we bring to this equation is our own will–as an offering to God. (37) Our cooperation with God in a life of self-discipline shows up on seven fronts, and Elisabeth has devoted one chapter to each in a devastatingly convicting and yet hopeful celebration of joyful surrender.

  • First, discipline of the body is basic and essential, and it’s amazing how Christians fall into Gnosticism when we’re confronted with the need to wrestle our habits into submission to the will of God.
  • Rhythms of fasting and resting impact on the body as well as the mindand the Christian life is a continual journey of being “re-minded”–corrected  and pulled away from error by the Spirit who aids us in “thinking Christ.” (64)
  • In her discussion of the disciplines of place and time, Elliot’s focus is on the authority of God in our lives to call the shots, while the main question in the discipline of possessions is:  Are we willing to accept what God gives and to relinquish our grip on what he chooses to withhold?
  • The discipline of work views every task as a gift to be offered back to God, no matter how big or small, and our feelings, likewise, are to be recognized, named, and then laid open before the Lord for his training. (145)

Discipline is fundamental in the life of a disciple, and it finds its expression in our lives as we give up our “right” to my-way-my-time-my-stuff-my-preferences. Living in Joyful Surrender, we find that our obedience to Christ is met with gifts that far surpass the value of anything we will ever relinquish to Him.


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

Trusting for grace in the glad surrender,

Michele (1)


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 linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Joyful Surrender, simply click on the title (or the image) 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.

Photo by krystina rogers on Unsplash

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Reaching Out for the Adjacent Possible

“Nine chapters, one hundred fifty two pages—how hard can this be?” I thought, as I loaded a well-known Christian classic onto my Kindle.

Slogging through chapter two, reality began to set in.

I had always been an avid reader but felt a need to be more intentional in my reading choices. The holes in my theology needed sturdy patches of truth, and I longed to benefit from the wise words of classic Christian writers.

By the time I reached chapter three, I was seriously discouraged . . . and I never made it past chapter four. Reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy seemed like a great place to begin, but I soon learned a lot of really hard paragraphs lived between all those inspiring quotes I had swooned over on Instagram.

If I had chosen a book closer to what I’m accustomed to, would I have had more success?

Look for Small, Positive Steps

The concept of ‘The Adjacent Possible‘ has changed the way I approach adding spiritual disciplines and healthful practices to my life.

Adjacent means ‘in close proximity’.
If I am looking for The Adjacent Possible, I stop scanning the horizon for a “eureka” moment and begin looking close by for a small positive step in the right direction.

I’m writing more about this process of discovery over at Living By Design where I’m sharing a guest post today! I do hope you’ll come on over and read the rest.

Photo by Olav Tvedt on Unsplash

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When God Asks for More but it Looks Like Less

For long years, I have ridden the bucking bronco of calling, leaning into the tension of being a fairly ambitious woman in a life that leaves little room for goals beyond laundry management and remembering to thaw something for dinner. Anyone with a Facebook account or a presence on Instagram knows that there are people out there doing huge things for Jesus that bring income sources to third-world women, put shoes on the feet of trash-picking children in hidden corners of the lands to our south, and shine the light of biblical truth into thousands of shadowed lives with the click of a well-read blog post.

Shannan Martin thought she had figured out her path toward impact when the bottom fell out of her well-ordered life-plan and the balance of her carefully curated bank account began nose-diving its way toward zero. Her writing ministry as the “Flower Patch Farmgirl” seemed incongruous alongside a new calling that God was sending through shock waves of vivid detour messages:  a new vocation in a startling urban zip code alongside people with messy lives and unimpressive resumes who would ultimately become family instead of just neighbors.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You is Martin’s anthem to God’s goodness in shrinking her world and her calling “down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light.” (16) She learned that although the problems that come to us in our news feed are large and insoluble, there are people just around the corner who need a glimpse of hope and maybe a ride to visit their dentist–or their parole officer.

The Ministry of Paying Attention

When my eyes are focused far ahead or high above my life here on a country hill in Maine, I’m likely to miss God’s calling in the present moment. When Shannan remembered that Jesus admonished us to “pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given,” she became serious about forging relationships with the people who stood outside her church smoking between services. She also knew she would need deeper and wider wisdom to respond in meaningful ways to the voices of her multi-racial, adopted children when they posed questions about skin color.

Even though the truth of the Gospel puts tools in our hands for managing the complexity of life on this planet, it turns out that complexity is an acquired taste. I’d much rather trumpet the goodness of God against a backdrop of success and answered prayer than to cling to the knowledge of His goodness in the context of cancer diagnoses and stories of wayward teens and heartbroken parents, and yet Jesus entered time and space to rescue us “from the things we think we want by giving a face to the heart of God.” (39) He alone is equal to this ministry.

The Ministry of Flattening Divisions

Shannan shares a story from her neighborhood about a woman whose power was about to be shut off in error, but she had no phone to make the necessary calls. With no option but to ask for help, she showed up at the Martin family door asking to use a phone, but finding friendship in the long run. Of course, things could have been very different with Shannan in the “have” seat and her neighbor firmly fixed in the “have nots,” but Shannan’s goal was to defuse this dynamic. By allowing this shy and lonely woman to be the giver at times, she models a redemptive and counter-cultural approach to helping that is sadly lacking in existing welfare systems and charitable efforts.

“Most of us want the kind of friendship that is defined by mutuality, where we’re too busy enjoying each other to watch for pecking orders or power rankings. We don’t need more colleagues or service providers. We want two-way streets paved with the truth that life is more bearable when we walk in the same direction.”

The Ministry of Sticking Around

Five  years into their urban neighborhood commitment, the Martin family makes very modest claims for impact or outcome. This rings true for me, a practitioner of mundane faithfulness that looks like showing up with a mediocre casserole for a friend who’s had surgery or opening the Bible in a corner rocking chair in someone’s cozy living room. When God calls us to “the ministry of ordinary places,” we give up the luxury of life from a safe distance in exchange for a discipleship that Eugene Peterson famously defined as “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Sticking around in faithfulness to the call of God may look like “less,” but if it is the “more” that God is calling you toward, He has made strong promises that look like abundance to carry us into and through those ordinary places:

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring. 

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.  (Isaiah 58:11, 12)

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for my own “ordinary places,”

Michele Morin

 

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 The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You ,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.

Practical Help for Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline

Among the assorted ranks of those who practice journaling, you can record me in the column labeled “intimidated.” Observation, application, and interpretation of my reading primes the pump, but never are my entries particularly stirring or insightful. My pages are scattered with partial outlines, first and second drafts of biblically-inspired poetry, and lists of questions alongside scribbled notes from podcasts and commentaries. Add to these the assortment of written prayers and rants (what Madeleine L’Engle would have called “tirages”), and it’s clear that my journals are not a great example of why anyone should start journaling as a spiritual discipline.

Or maybe they are?

Author Deborah Haddix decided a long time ago that “formulating thoughts, getting them into words, and putting pen to paper simply required more energy than [she] wanted to expend,” and so journaling was just not for her. However, when friends began to share their experiences of deep spiritual growth and communication with God through the discipline of journal keeping, she began to listen and decided to give it a try.

She learned that journaling is not nearly as narrow as she had thought. Rather than staring at a blank page, she found freedom to use drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes. The result of her discovery and the fruit of her learning process is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God.

Soul care is a crucial (and over looked) element of self care, and it takes time and a level of commitment to focus on engaging with God in relationship. Investing the time to cultivate that interaction is an invitation to slow down, to replenish, and to exhale.

Slow Down

“Slow me down, Lord,” is the prayer I bring to the table almost every day when I open the sacred pages and begin to seek the “wonderful things” promised there.  For a successful and satisfying experience with a spiritual journal, Haddix recommends baby steps in the beginning. Give yourself permission to try new methods and also freedom to discard any that do not help. For example, since crafting is something I do with my grandson these days, it would get in my way during my quiet time. I’m not likely to try vision boards or mapping, because for me, the words themselves are what speak to my heart. For me, dealing in images feels like work, but I have creative friends who thrive in that medium. With that in mind, there is freedom to work within our God-designed personalities and preferences.

Replenish

The last thing we need when we come before the Lord is a sense of panic that we’re already behind or that we have failed. Keeping a journal is terrific for accountability, but even this can get in the way of meeting with God. Deborah’s advice is to move forward without giving up or being weighed down with the idea of catching up. While consistency is always the goal, failure should not be allowed to cast a shadow on the new day and the new mercies God is offering.

When you open your journal, send the art critic and the editor out of the room! Perfectionism will trip you up every time, no matter what method of expression you’re using. God will not deduct points from your journal-score for each coffee stain or misplaced scribble.

Exhale

One of my favorite parts of journaling is looking back at the lessons and insights from the past, and Deborah has made the excellent suggestion that, going forward, I should leave space on each page for writing an “insight line” when I return to an entry, an opportunity to record fresh thoughts on the same topic, new lessons, or ways that old reflection is still working its way out in my following life.

While I have tended to connect journaling with the discipline of Scripture reading, it is also a tremendous help in the disciplines of prayer, Bible memorization, and meditation. Several pages of fun lettering and decorating ideas prime the idea pump while lists of questions get the ball rolling for self-reflection.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

When God meets us over True Words and makes good on His promise to reveal “wonderful things” to us when we open our eyes, a spiritual journal is a record of that miracle.

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

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

Michele Morin

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 Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul) 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.

More on Spiritual Disciplines

If this post has piqued your curiosity about the journaling life and ways to deepen your walk with God, be sure to check out these related posts:

David Mathis refers to the spiritual disciplines as “Habits of Grace,” and that is the title of his book which organizes habits of grace according to three broad principles by which one may walk in the path of God’s grace:

  1.  Hearing God’s Voice;
  2. Having His Ear;
  3. Belonging to His Body.

Then, Enjoying the Truth by Keith Ferrin offers tips for becoming a more consistent and effective student of the Word.

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.

Your New Life Beyond the To-Do List

As one who lives by a list, I have come to appreciate the satisfaction of a neat column of check marks at the end of a day, the faithful reminder to pray or to do or to go, and the convenience of a resource close at hand:
“Didn’t we buy slippers for her last Christmas?”
“Yes, I think so, but let me check the list . . . “

List making is a utilitarian practice that keeps me (mostly) on the rails. However, in Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts, Marilyn McEntyre has elevated list writing to a creative endeavor, a writing exercise that is partly spiritual formation, partly imaginative play, and partly a recording of the music of one’s own soul. Putting the pen to paper or the fingers to the keyboard, the list maker asks questions, poses possibilities, and frames her desires.

In Word by Word, McEntyre chose fifteen words and challenged readers to discover them anew as “little fountains of grace.” In Make a List, she argues for the life-changing benefits of gathering our words into lists that inspire and challenge.

A List Is a Beginning

When McEntyre began making a list entitled “What Love Looks Like,” she found that the practice opened  her understanding of the monumental definition of love found in I Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

She remembered her grandfather reading to her and her husband brewing coffee.
She pictured a volunteer chopping carrots in a soup kitchen.
Making a list is the beginning of a wider understanding of an idea that may have become tired or hackneyed, so obvious that you have stopped “seeing” it.

A Mental Exercise Turned Outward

Throughout the book, there are “Lists to Try,” a concept I appreciate, for perhaps every list would not be meaningful to every list maker, but it’s okay to try–in the same way we might try the New York Times crossword puzzle or try juggling three tennis balls in the living room.

A list can solidify a nagging sense of unrest into a concrete “diagnosis.”

  • What are my concerns in this season?
  • What can I let go of?
  • What am I afraid of?

A list of possibilities is the first step toward meaningful change.

Disturbing the Smooth Surface of the Obvious

For six years I have been maintaining a gratitude list, pondering and then scribbling three gifts each day into a small journal. I’m pleased to note that the practice has changed the way I look at the world, but later this year, after I have recorded my 7,000th gift, I want to let that practice rest for a time so I can “try” some new lists. Maybe I will argue with myself in list form or begin compiling a collection of reasons why my faith matters to me. It may be that I will make a case for continuing some of the things I am already doing while at the same time listing some things I want to try.

When a do-list becomes a collection of intentions and hopes, the world becomes larger and the heart opens wider. In a busy life in which action so often precedes thought, the practice of making a list rearranges what we think we know and invites us into a life beyond the obvious. 

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 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 Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts or Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice, simply click on the title (or the image) 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.

Trusting for Grace to Live Beyond the To-Do List,

michele signature rose[1]

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.