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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Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons

The distance around my elliptical driveway is one tenth of a mile. I know this because I drove around it, watching the odometer—and then did it again just to be sure. This fall I’ve been doing a careful jog-trot around its leaf-strewn gravel, a compromise intended to jump start a flagging metabolism without putting undue wear and tear on aging joints and narrowing spinal interstices. Five times around with the dog makes for a half mile of elevated heart rate, deep breathing, and an uncluttered brain. Of course, the gift of those empty mental parentheses is that I get to decide what I’m thinking about while I’m avoiding loose stones in the path and thanking God for the fiery red Virginia creeper and the rusty orange of fading marigolds. Lately, I’ve been following the example of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who watched the nation of Israel disintegrate before his very eyes.   In Lamentations, he records the morbid details around the sacking of Jerusalem and the devastation of siege warfare:
  • Chapter 1 — The Lord is punishing Jerusalem for her serial idolatry.
  • Chapter 2 — Yes, it is time to lament the sin, the death, and the loss.

Turning a Corner into Gratitude

Then, twenty verses into Chapter 3, Jeremiah turns a corner and makes a choice. He leaves his mental parentheses open just long enough for an act of the will, and, shutting out the evidence for despair that lies all around him, he “calls to mind” a new thought that gives him hope:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  (Lamentations 3:21-26)
You’re invited to join me today at the writing home of my friend Jeanne Takenaka to ponder along with me the nature of a sinewy faith that summons gratitude when chaos reigns. Every blessing, Michele Morin
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. Photos by Vanessa von Wieding and Rich Wooten on Unsplash

Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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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.

Musings — November 2017

This has been a year of complicated math. With one son having spent a snowy spring semester plowing through an online Technical Math II class (every bit as bad as it sounds) and another presently working his way through geometry, we have had some fairly intense conversations around operations and theorems, but it’s also been a year of family members coming and going, being added and subtracted from the membership. We’ve welcomed a new daughter-in-love and a new baby granddaughter. We’ve said goodbye to my mother.

On My Nightstand

In this season of pluses and minuses, I’m working my way through a small treasure of a book on my Kindle that is teaching me a new math just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holidays in which we think and talk and even sing about peace and joy. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremy Burroughs is challenging me to add contentment to the holiday equation with stunning wisdom such as this:

“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”

This is not the message that is showing up in my inbox from Amazon everyday (or in my mailbox either with its daily shipment of multiple catalogs), but the truth is that there is hardly anything I can add to my life without it leading to a desire for more. So . . . Burroughs suggests subtracting from our desires to bring them into alignment with our circumstances.

As a Puritan man firmly planted in the 17th century, Burroughs’ temptation to discontentment certainly would have been different from mine or yours, but even so, he felt the reality of it and apparently, even in his day, “the world [was] infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.” For those with advanced math skills, he moved on to examining “the proportion between our hearts and our circumstances” urging believers to bring them into alignment.

What strategies in fostering contentment are working for you as we fly headlong toward the Christmas season?

On the Radio

At some point in 2017, the only classical radio station accessible here in Midcoast Maine disappeared from the airwaves, so we are rejoicing in the expansion of Maine Public Radio’s signal to include us here on the fringes! This won’t be relevant news to anyone except Maine readers, but 96.7 FM is now pumping lovely sounds into our lives each day, giving us one more reason to be thankful!

 

On the Blog

It’s been great grace to enjoy the hospitality of friends at (in)courage, The Perennial Gen and SheLoves Magazine this month:

Faith Going Forward for The Perennial Gen encourages readers in mid-life to jettison anything that slows our growth and keeps us stuck in our safe and familiar habits — whether it’s cleaning out a closet or establishing new and healthy habits, there’s always room for improvement here.

For All Who Have Chosen Wrong Roads addresses regret with the good news that, used well and with its sharp edge pointed toward the task at hand like my favorite garden hoe, regret can be a salutary thing. It can be the gift that sends me in search of a better plan.

DaySpring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc., has a blogging ministry called (in)courage which is formed around a community which shares the life-giving tools to equip women right in the midst of the chaos. They graciously shared my story about the first Thanksgiving my husband and I celebrated together, a season of celebration and lament that continues to shape the way I give thanks each year. You can read it for yourself here.

I reviewed four books in the month of November. If you’re looking for reading material as Christmas gifts — or for your own heart — you can get a preview by clicking on the titles below:

Fiercehearted is the expansion of Holley Gerth’s manifesto that the true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites readers to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

I was thrilled to share the story of fellow Mainer and fellow Redbud Meadow Rue Merrill. Her international adoption of a severely disabled daughter is a story of faith and disappointment; loss and redemption. Redeeming Ruth is a valuable resource for anyone who is learning to trust God’s motives and struggling to live well in the tension of pursuing a dream while holding it loosely. The unfolding of Ruth’s story rebukes the notion that God is made visible only in happy endings

I’m ever intrigued by personality inventories, and Alice Fryling’s Mirror for the Soul is a guide to the Enneagram that encourages a slow and careful pondering in order to understand one’s type and what it means for spiritual formation and transformation.

Coming to the end of Jayber Crow, the discussion group concluded that, among many other things, Wendell Berry wrote a book about love. Our friend, the “married ineligible bachelor barber,” reflecting on the benefit of sacrifice, concluded that the good he derived is this:

“I got to have love in my heart.”

In this season of serial celebrations and rubbing shoulders with our once-a-year friends and relations, it behooves us to frame our hearts in the direction of loving well and with no strings attached.

Around the Table

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my patient husband makes an early foray into Christmas shopping with all four sons, and he’s done it since there were only two tiny boys, so it’s quite the tradition in these parts. Meanwhile, I make pies, peel vegetables, and prepare for the Thanksgiving feast in lovely peace and quiet.

This has been our first celebration without all four of the guys present, because the two married sons synchronized their inlaw rotation. Even so, we filled the seats with family and friends and gave thanks with gusto, another opportunity to adjust my expectations and to find contentment within the gift of my present circumstances.

I hope you’ll share in the comments about your own season of Thanksgiving and how you are bringing contentment forward into your celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Blessings to you and thank you for the encouragement of your friendship here in this gathering.

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Image courtesy of Unsplash by Hedi Alija

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Thanksgiving Prayer

For those of us in the United States, this is a day of thanksgiving. However, gratitude is not circumscribed by geographic boundaries. Nor do we need a calendar’s permission to leave room for gratitude, so . . .

LORD, we thank you!
We confess that our hearts are often full of ourselves, for we mistake self-importance for self-worth and make much of every burden, so today we thank you for all the good that you have piled into our lives by your grace.

Thank you for the successes and the victories that embolden us to risk more.
Thank you for the setbacks and disappointments that send us in new directions.

Thank you for the people we enjoy who bless us and enrich our days.
Thank you for the folks who require a concerted effort and Outside Help in order to love them as we should.

Thank you for the steady stream of blessing that comes to us through your love: healing, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, renewal, welcome, peace.  May we “enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise” no matter what the season of the year.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

Thanksgiving Celebration and Lament

Nearly thirty years ago, I married into a family that celebrated Thanksgiving Day with All-American fervor, featuring a day-long gathering and a loaded table. As the new bride, I was eager to prove that I had what it took to be the holiday hostess. Having done my research, I had planned all the best sides, multiple-choice pie selections, and a huge bird to fill the oven — but I had not planned for my mother-in-law’s life-threatening illness.

We rejoiced when she was released from the hospital on the Wednesday before the Big Day and decided to take the party to her place. As we rose early to prepare the feast, she was delighted to be present for all the kitchen activity, savoring the aroma of fresh rolls and roasted turkey from her recliner. We set the table with her best china, rolled out the amazing feast, and gathered for the celebration.

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But read on . . .

CaptureI’m sharing the whole story over at (in)courage today, and the truth is, I have spent the years since that first fiasco of a feast slowly learning that whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the flawed execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans.

And then to give thanks.

I’m giving thanks for you today! May your season of Thanksgiving be filled with joy and an abiding gratitude for all that God has given — and for the Giver Himself as He presides over your celebration.

To finish reading this post, click here and join me today at (in)courage!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.

 

 

November Musings — 2016

4988 — Warm zucchini bread smelling like a cinnamon candle

4989 — Church supper to celebrate our new pastor and our family connection

4990 — Clanging of wind chime in the chill autumn breeze

On the Monday before Thanksgiving Day, I recorded gift number 5,000 in my gratitude journal — confirmed evidence of God’s goodness to me every single day of the past year.  November always seems to mark a collision of holidays, but it’s especially true this year since I spent quite a few hours of the past month working on a new Advent banner (just like ours, of course!) for my oldest son’s family.  I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am that he wants to lead his family in remembering the Greatest Gift Who entered this world in an ordinary moment, in the fullness of time.  We’ll be doing the same thing at our house in December, just as we have for the past twenty plus years . . . such good memories and such promise for the future.

On the Nightstand

I can’t get enough Christmas poetry this time of year, and Luci Shaw’s Accompanied by Angels is a faithful friend.  Poems of the incarnation, these have been collected from Luci’s other books AND from her annual tradition of sending a Christmas poem to family and friends. (What a great idea!)

And even though I’ve finished reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, I keep going back to The Broken Way because of the breaking and the giving away, the timely exhortation to “live given.”

On the Blog

I have been overwhelmed this month by encouraging comments from friends who have read A Legacy of Striving, my reflections on our Sister, Eve.  As usual, I am grateful for the hospitality of the SheLoves community where I was able to share the truth that Eve’s story drives home:

Only God is equipped to be God,
and when I trust Him for the unknown quantities that furrow my brow,
when I say the words, “Your will be done,”
I join hands with Eve in remembering
And in waiting for the plan of God to be fulfilled,
For He will stop at nothing to restore and to reconcile.

Do we need any further evidence of this than the story of Christmas?

The most viewed post in November came out of our collective frustration and angst surrounding the election here in the United States.  As I was bracing myself for the difficult task of going behind the curtain, it occurred to me that my choice of words, attitudes, and responses on the day after the election was over would be even more important than the choices I made in the voting booth.  In the aftermath of the political hurricane, maybe this Prayer for November 9th is still relevant?  Certainly, the Scripture that inspired it will carry us a long way into grace:

“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You,”  (Psalm 33:22).

Just for Joy

Is it just my imagination, or is there more music in the world the closer we get to Christmas?  Since September, our family has been practicing to sing in the Living Christmas Tree, so the carols and the beauty of the Word made flesh have been singing their way through these autumn days.  (Yep, that’s me on the right in the next-to-the-top row!)

And thanks to my friend, Susan Shipe, here’s a first for Living Our Days!  We held a drawing for the giveaway of her lovely book, 31 Days in the Gospel of John, to one reader on Thanksgiving Day.  My adorable grandson reached his tiny hand into a blaze orange hunting hat (we are pretty high tech here on this country hill!) and selected . . .  drum roll, please:

Ariel Tohme

Congratulations, Ariel!

I hope many of you will visit Ariel’s writing home, His Grace Goes Deeper, for a blessing in words.

Thank you, Susan, for stirring things up around here, but even more for compiling your reflections on the life of Jesus just in time for Advent, a reminder to 21st-century readers of the Gospels that Jesus is not a two-dimensional Savior, trapped on the page or in the past.  He is alive and active in our day, and a commitment to read about him for 31 days is only the beginning.  God has given us an eternity of days to savor the beauty of Jesus, to turn the Truth over in our minds, and to let it sink deep into our prone-to-wander hearts.

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!  Please weigh in below with your thoughts on the discussion group.  Have you read Till We Have Faces?

Thank you once again, friends, for another month of encouragement through our conversations about books and about Truth.  As we begin our celebration of the mercy, the forgiveness, the promise, and the welcome that flow from the birth of our Savior, may our hearts rejoice together in this spectacular evidence of God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”* 

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Photo credit for Living Christmas Tree:  Beth Birmingham at Village Soup

* Quote from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ amazing words in The Jesus Bible Storybook.

Be sure to hop on over to Leigh Kramer’s place to check out what she and others have been into and up to during the month of November!  I’m also sharing this post at Emily P. Freeman’s Let’s Share What We Learned Fall 2016.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews 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.