Musings: May 2018

Every spring, property owners here in Maine cede our rights over to the blackfly population. With their serrated jaws and overwhelming numbers, they swarm by the hundreds, drawn by breath and body heat, and driving even the most determined souls back into the safety of our homes. When my four sons were all small and yearning for the great outdoors after a long winter, I would pile them into the car and drive to a playground in town, just to escape the bloody, itchy, swollen mess the black flies inflict, aided by their buggy-brand of saliva which is both an anticoagulent (so the blood flows freely!) and an anesthetic (so you don’t realize they’re feasting on you!).

Apparently, early settlers here in Maine welcomed spring in spite of the blackflies, because it meant an end to their diet of un-refrigerated bear meat. The first dandelion greens were perfect medicine for the bleeding gums and boredom that accompanied the winter menu. The local lore is that black flies disappear after the first thunderstorm of the season, and, while I’ve never verified that scientifically, I can attest that they are usually still in full swarm mode when we begin planting the garden at the end of May.

On the Hill

Graduation

Our number two son graduated from University of Southern Maine in May, and it was delightful to celebrate that rite of passage with him and his lovely wife.The college guy is home, but working 60-hour weeks at his summer job and taking an on-line class, so it’s a stretch to call this “summer vacation” for him. On the home front, the school year is winding down with year-end concerts and an end in sight for the homeschooling routine. Meanwhile, the lawn-mowing business is booming.

On the Blog

Caregiving, Sandwich generation, Elderly parentsOn the first anniversary of my mum’s passing, I was invited to share my caregiving story at The Perennial Gen. It was so encouraging to hear the experiences of many others as they offered insight and support in the comments there and also here at Living Our Days.

Taming Anxiety over the UnknownAs a Redbud Writer, I contributed an article to the May Redbud Post, and enjoyed interacting with that community around the topic of Taming Anxiety. The truth is that whenever the unexpected happens, I’m thrown against the framework of my theology. Will it hold? Does what I believe about the sovereignty of God accommodate a veering turn that was not anywhere on my road map? With anxiety over the unknown comes a greater need for and reliance upon a sinewy faith in God’s good intentions toward me in this following life.

Resolve: The power of God is at work within my will, but it does not take the place of it.

 

And then, I was grateful to contribute to the daily conversation over at (in)courage with this post about the partnership of obedience that characterizes this following life.

 

Book reviews continue to be a great gathering place in these parts, and it was a delight to feature four books in May:

Katherine Clark’s story began on a routine Friday, volunteering at her son’s school. However, when she rounded the playground equipment in a schoolyard game of tag, one of the children bounded into the air from above and crashed into her head. She landed on the ground, paralyzed from the neck down, and Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope is her memoir of that collision and of her faithful response in the re-telling of it.

The Clarks learned that grief is “the faithful response to loss.” (211) In excerpts from Care Page posts that were written during Katherine’s hospitalization, John Clark (Katherine’s husband) shared the family’s story of laughter and tears. Their grief over all that was lost with the accident was tempered by hope and gratitude, “the sense that God [was] not only near, but that He [was] doing something mighty and altogether lovely in [their] midst.”

 

It was a pleasure to review Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life). Author, Joe Rigney presses into Lewis’s expression of his theology and considers its outworking in life on this planet. While it is true that C.S. Lewis was careful to remind his readers at every opportunity that he was not a biblical scholar nor a theologian, nonetheless, his writing has had an almost unparalleled impact on the way we think and talk about the Christian life. It is at this intersection of theology and practice that Rigney engages with Lewis’s words.

One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear. Rigney’s goal in writing is not to explain Lewis so we don’t need to read him, but instead to create an appetite for his work, which he has definitely done in my case by quoting from The Weight of Glory, reminding me of the brand new copy that’s waiting for me on my bookcase.

 

I had been waiting for the release of Leslie Leyland Fields’s new book, a collection of 40 essays written by and for women over 40, and since I’m doing my own personal research on that season, it was a joy to read and to review.

Leslie Leyland Fields has hung a glorious and fitting banner over these years past the mid-point: The Wonder Years! With gathered wisdom,The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength shares insight from warrior-women who have lived and loved past the mid-point, offering both a resource and a tribute to women over forty.

 

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) poet Jennifer 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, and the reader wins and is blessed by reflections that excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God and the journey toward peace and hope.

On My Mind

Memorial Day weekend was a busy time here on the hill. Trumpets are in demand, so our youngest participated in two different events, and we all managed to gather for the traditional hamburgers on the grill followed by apple pie. In all the rush, it’s pretty easy to forget the main reason we celebrate patriotic holidays. Even so, I wonder if patriotic holidays might be a great excuse for a little “peace seeking,” a perfect opportunity to fly the flag, sing the songs, and practice a little “irrational optimism.”  G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is still on my night stand, and I shared thoughts here from chapter five on patriotism and “irrational optimism.” When our love for country is formed around a deep belief that God is at work in our circumstances, we are better equipped to look for Him to be at work in our country and in our world.

Patriotism, Pessimism, Church, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton,

When the family gathered on Memorial Day weekend, we planted all the seeds and set the gardening process in motion for another year. It was an amazing gift to receive so much help this year! My garden is one way that God really demonstrates that He is at work, and I’m looking forward to participating once again in the glorious rhythms of seed time and harvest.

Thank you for the encouragement of your company and the gift of your time here,

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Where Tragedy Intersects with Truth

Some stories leave a reader short of breath, muscles stiffened, dreading to turn the page because of the unavoidable outcome of the narrative arc. Katherine Clark’s story began on a routine Friday, volunteering at her son’s school. However, when she rounded the playground equipment in a schoolyard game of tag, one of the children bounded into the air from above and crashed into her head. She landed on the ground, paralyzed from the neck down, and Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope is her memoir of that collision and of her faithful response in the re-telling of it.

Because of the Fall

What followed that day in 2009 for Katherine, her husband, and her young children was a journey of why’s in which they also learned to trust God in the dark, even when answers did not come. As they waited for healing of Katherine’s crushed and lacerated spinal cord, they found the truth of C.S. Lewis’s words:

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

And in the case of the Clark family, God’s best was pretty painful. Although forty days of intense physical therapy and rehabilitation enabled Katherine to come home on her feet with a cane, her life was forever changed. Even today, nine years after the accident, she experiences difficulty in walking, muscle spasticity, balance issues, and continual nerve pain throughout her body.

Grieving, but not Depressed

The Clarks learned that grief is “the faithful response to loss.” (211) In excerpts from Care Page posts that were written during Katherine’s hospitalization, John Clark (Katherine’s husband) shared the family’s story of laughter and tears. Their grief over all that was lost with the accident was tempered by hope and gratitude, “the sense that God [was] not only near, but that He [was] doing something mighty and altogether lovely in [their] midst.”

The faithful response of the local church was key to this tenacity and “faithful response” within grief, and it was heartwarming to read about all the many ways in which the Body of Christ showed up for that young family:

  • A friend posted Bible verses in Katherine’s hospital room;
  • Meals were delivered to the hospital each day so Katherine and John could have a family dinnertime with their children;
  • Evening visitors were asked to wait until 6:15 to protect their family time;
  • Friends and family volunteered to stay with the children after John tucked them into bed so he could return to the hospital for some treasured time alone together.

The loving attention of God’s people and their prayers helped the Clarks to see beyond the pain and suffering to God’s redemptive purpose in it, to deal with their children’s sorrow, and to praise and grieve together.

Two Pervasive Responses to Grief

  1. If grief is seen as an unwelcome interloper, we’re quick to put a Romans 8:28 band aid on it instead of giving our attention to lament. Jesus models a right response to the death of Lazarus, for even though He was going to turn death on its head, he wept genuine tears and entered into grief with His friends.
  2. If grief becomes a way of life, indulged at every opportunity, we reject healing and become content in sadness.  Jesus’ question of the man at the pool of Bethesda (“Do you want to be healed?”) could be rhetorical, but probably not! Although it is true that we spend our days on this planet living in shadow, Katherine challenges readers to remember that our “darkness cannot overcome the light.” (127)

The transcendent truth that emerges from the story of Where I End is that we are asked to carry the weight of our story for the benefit of others who also have a holy history that requires their attention and acceptance. Although everyone will not be asked to experience quadripelegia, the miracle and the mess of each life reveals the power of God to carry us through pain and to sustain us through darkness. Even those events which could never in a million years be described as good, can be used to produce good in the hands of a God who knows us and loves us and is able to redeem our stories.


Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this copy of the book.

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 Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope 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.