May 27, 2011

Friday's Fave Five - Anniversary Edition

18 years ago today, my life was a bevy of last minute wedding details. 48 hours remained until our vows would be spoken and our lives would change. We could not have imagined how much. Nor could this immature girl have guessed how much she had to little she actually knew about being a woman, let alone a wife.

If I could go back in time and give that young bride five pieces of wisdom, I'd say...

#1 - Don't scoff at his dreams.  Instead of belittling them, encourage him to reach out of his comfort zone (and yours), in obedience to God. For all things are possible with God. ~ Mark 10:27

#2 - Don't sweat the small stuff. And much of it is small stuff, even though it looms large. Remember, these things are just a small portion of your life that only affect you & your marriage if you let them. And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? ~ Luke 12:25

#3 - Be content. A successful marriage cannot be measured by the number of pretty things you accumulate.  Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. ~ 1 Tim. 6:6. 

#4 - Love him more. - Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. ~ 1 Peter 4:8.

#5 - Love God more. Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. ~ Joshua 22:5

(Friday's Fave Five is hosted by Susanne @ Living to Tell The Story)

May 24, 2011

What's On My Nightstand - May

What's On Your Nightstand

It's time once again for What's On My Nightstand over at 5 Minutes for Books. I'm still trying to stay with the 3-book plan, which has been made easier with my new found love of the audio book.


~Lady Susan. A quick and delightful book of letters. Obviously early Jane, but fun nevertheless.

~How Do I Love Thee?  I didn't know the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This was an interesting novelization of her life, with plenty of strange truths.

~Loving the Church: God's People Flourishing in God's Family. I wasn't particularly fond of the format of this one, but John Crotts has some really good things to say about the role of the church and the members within it.

~Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. To say I enjoyed novel about the plague in a small 17th century England doesn't quite fit, given the subject matter. I will say that it is a compelling study in how people deal with tragedy. The ending left me unsatisfied, still I would recommend this book.

Currently Reading:

~A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering (Kindle, non-fiction). The discussion at Elizabeth's on Wednesdays is worth reading, even if you aren't reading the book (although I HIGHLY recommend that you read it!)

~Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (audio, biography).  I'm finally on the last disc. It's been a very interesting story, although a bit long and detailed for my taste. I have learned much about the Third Reich and Hitler's power over Germany, and have been fascinated by the Christians who opposed him.

~The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (fiction).  I decided to give this a whirl after reading Carrie's post that included it among books she's happy were recommended to her. I'm only a few chapters in, but already adore Flavia de Luce. I can't wait to read the next two books in this series.

Up next:

~Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (audio, fiction)

~A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith (biography). This one has been on my list forever, but I am going to get to it!

~The Organized Heart: A Woman's Guide to Conquering Chaos (Kindle, non-fiction)

~Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle, non-fiction), as part of Challies' latest Reading the Classics Together.

~The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay (fiction).

Concern about what I've been reading - particularly fiction - has been gnawing at me. I didn't understand it at first, because I'm very careful to choose "clean" books (I find certain language offensive). Still, I decided to cull my bookshelves again. I had accumulated a large number of Christian romance novels, but the prospect of reading them no longer appeal to me. Then I read this article by Russell Moore, which confirmed my convictions.  I'm determined to focus on classics and works that are more thought-provoking and witty (while clean at the same time).

If I want to be more intentional in my life, I must also be more intentional in my reading.

What about you...what are you reading these days? Are you intentional about what you read? Do you have any recommendations for me?

You can visit 5 Minutes for Books to see what others are reading.

May 18, 2011

A Place for Weakness - Chapters 3 & 4

We're continuing the discussion of A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering over at Elizabeth's.

Not much time here today, but I wanted to share a favorite quote from each chapter.

...from Chapter 3

...those who demand heaven on earth here and now - instant health, wealth, happiness, or holiness - often become the most embittered, hostile, and disillusioned critics of Christianity. Whether it is perfect bodies, perfect sanctification, perfect success, perfect marriages, perfect children, perfect security, perfect churches - whatever- we must abandon this theology of glory instead of abandoning the God who works all things together for good. ~p. 48

...and from Chapter 4

It wouldn't have shocked most Christians in other ages, but it definitely catches us by surprise. God does not exist for us; we exist for God. In our human-centered age, we tend to measure God and his purposes by what we calculate as most beneficial for us. With this starting point, the whole horizon of sin, judgment, salvation, and damnation becomes reduced to our happiness. It's not surprising that God's wrath and everlasting judgment fall off the radar. pp. 65-66
Go to Elizabeth's to join the discussion on this thought-provoking book by Michael Horton.

May 17, 2011

Lessons Learned - About our Home

There have been many lessons learned in our new life. Some have been simple. More than a few have been hard-fought. Others continue to be a struggle. In the coming days, I'll share some of these lessons with you. Most are principals I already knew in my head, but had no room for in my heart.

Today I'll share two lessons I've learned about our home.

Breathing room is essential

Meaningless knick-knacks, pretty as they were, sucked the life out of our home. They are gone. We are surrounded by pictures, family treasures, and words of encouragement - things that matter.

Fewer things to dust. More space to live.

And we do live in our home. Even when piles of laundry beckon, I am able to look around at the surfaces and see space. Space allows me to relax, to breathe easier. 

Fewer unimportant things to keep track of. More time to live.

2008 was the Year of Peace & Simplicity in our home. I learned that our family functions better when life is calm. When I am calm. Not having to remember where important papers are (because they've been put where they belong) or being a slave to a complicated organizational system keeps me calm.

Homemade is worth the effort

Laundry detergent, dish detergent, household cleaners, apple sauce, bread, ice cream, and even mayo.  The planning and the time spent are a small price to pay for what we've gained by eating better.

Making pancakes from scratch creates room in the budget for real maple syrup. We buy eggs from pastured hens instead of boxes of cereal.

The trade-off works well for us.

There are some things I will always buy, but many I've committed to making at home because the benefit is greater than the cost.

The quality of our choices takes our focus from the quantity.

Our home is still (and will always be) a work in progress. Yet I think for the most part, my family would agree that it's a sanctuary for all of us.

 Any sacrifice I might make pales in comparison.

May 13, 2011

One Year Later - The Final Step, The First Step

Revisiting our journey, and God's answer for a new life. Read Part I, Part II, and Parts III/IV first.

News of R's pending unemployment crashed over me, a tidal wave of grief and despair. The force broke the chains of bondage R had wrestled with for so long. He was walking away, yet maddeningly unsure of his steps. I selfishly denied him time to gain his strength, to heal. His trepidation fueled my need for control.

I plotted and planned, wheels spinning and getting us nowhere. Exhausted and spent, I finally gave up.

And my sweet husband started to smile again.

I could only hang my head in shame. I'd allowed my dreams to crowd out his. I'd put myself first and stifled him in the process. I'd been unwilling to sacrifice my comfort for his.

I was heartbroken, knowing there was nothing beautiful about my ambition, pride, and selfishness.

We wanted a new, different life.  With no clear direction on how to get there, we resigned ourselves to waiting on the Lord.  For a woman who likes to know, it was excruciating. All I could do was pray.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
~Psalm 40:1-3 (ESV)

With great joy, awe and humility, I'm happy to announce that our wait is over. After 17 years of wandering, of pursuing what we thought best for our lives, God has taken us back to the beginning.

This fall, R returns to college. The same university as when we married.

It astounds me how God has used the past two years to prepare our hearts. He has granted us a fresh start.  (Except, as CJ quickly reminds us, we now have our fantastic daughter.) We are also older, wiser, more willing & ready to submit to His leadership.

Whenever R talked about returning to school, I tuned him out. There was no way we could afford it. By God's grace, we don't have to. Oh, He is good!

Today is the last day of our old life, the one we chose for our own comfort. Where this new road goes from here, I honestly don't know. But I'll be holding His hand, and my dear husband's, all the way.

One year ago, my husband reported for his last day of work.  We were a mix of emotions - excited, sad, afraid, and nervous, to name a few. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into or how it would turn out. We only knew that we could trust God.  

We were right.

And that man who was unsure about returning to school...well, he's made Dean's List both semesters!

Next week, I'll share some things I've learned in this past year.

(edited, from the archives)

May 12, 2011

One Year Later - Final Steps, Parts III & IV

Continuing to look back on the last days of our journey towards R's unemployment.  Read Part I and Part II first.

As the years passed, R would occasionally rebel against the bondage of his employment. I endeavored to convince him that we were in the promised land. I had already convinced myself. I was bold and tireless in my manipulations.

Untended weeds spread quickly, almost imperceptibly.

The new home was no longer new. I knew it would be impossible to change it into what I wanted. Even if we did, it wasn't where I wanted. Why not put R's carpentry skills to use? I reasoned.

We found the lot and the house plan. Sold the home that had seen two young people fight for their marriage, grieve the loss of a child and a father, and welcome a baby girl into the world. We crammed all the stuff into a tiny apartment where we spent the next 18 months navigating the obstacle course of boxes containing our old life. Boxes waiting for our new life were soon stacked among them.

We poured the foundation of our house and cemented R's future in a job he despised.

But God...

If it's possible to test God's patience to the limit, I did. He finally pried my hands from my ears so that I could hear Him speak about the hurt I was inflicting upon my husband and my daughter, and even myself.  He told me enough was enough. He started weeding my heart.

My oft-chronicled journey toward peace & simplicity commenced. I learned to let go of things, except one. I was still hiding the key to R's chains in my pocket, clutching it until my knuckles were white. Every time he mentioned breaking free, I assured him we were where God wanted us.

Isn't that what the Israelites thought about Egypt?

I was standing my ground. Little did I know God was about to pull the rug out from under me.

(from the archives)

May 11, 2011

A Place for Weakness - Chapter 2

Coolness has always eluded me.

As a girl, I lacked the courage and swagger that define cool. As an adult, I'm still not cool. Just ask my daughter.

I thought I was above wanting to be cool, until I read Chapter 2 of A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering.

Michael Horton's words, and the truth behind them, sting. 
...we seem obsessed at times with convincing the world that we are cool, which especially in this culture means healthy, good-looking, prosperous, and, even better, famous. Not only can one remain cool in Christ; it is this personal relationship with Jesus that, far from calling us to die, gives us that little bit extra to "be all that we can be". (p. 23)
What has happened to the true gospel, the gospel for losers? Instead, Horton says, we are leaning toward the religion of "healthy-mindedness, which replaces sin with sadness as the real enemy of human nature. The modern evangelicals, beaming and healthy successes in the communications industry, as exemplars of that religion." (p. 25).

We want the best, purpose-filled life we can have...and we want it now.

But is this the life Jesus calls us to?

The cross-bearing, sacrificial life is not found in the pursuit of happiness or feeling good. The Jesus that is offered by so many today bears little resemblance to the One who promised blessing in persecution (Matthew 5:10-11) and proclaimed that the world would hate us (John 15:17-19).

Buying into this modern version of Jesus, we've settled for less. The "irony of our lives is that we demand the ephemeral, momentary glories of this fading age, too easily amused and seduced by the trivial, when ultimate joy is held out to us." (p. 27) 

This chapter pricked my heart. I'm tired of worshiping a god of my own making. I'm worn out by the trivial and momentary.

It's time to quit pretending to be cool and accept my true identy...

A loser who needs Jesus.

Visit Elizabeth to see what others are saying about Chapter Two of this great book!

May 10, 2011

One Year Later - The Final Steps, Part II

(Looking back at our journey, one year later.   Scroll down to read Part I first.)

A bigger home needs more stuff.

A sinful heart will rationalize anything to get what it wants.

More stuff isn't free. Despite the beauty of R's craftsmanship, a carpenter's salary  wasn't going to finance all the stuff we had to have. The answer was clear, at least to me. I wasn't subtle in my attempts to persuade my husband that gaining a job at the paper mill would give us the life we deserved. He submitted himself to the long process of application and testing. We were so happy when he was finally called for an interview. The day he was hired was cause for celebration. We were giddy with anticipation of a better life.

R was the first to feel the chains. He began to resent a job that didn't allow him to use his God-given talents and required him to work ridiculous hours. He grew restless. His conversations were peppered with words of another career path. He was eager to shake the dust of the current one from his shoes. He talked of unpacking those school books.

And I? I was comfortable. I didn't hand him the key to his chains. I simply cleansed the wounds caused by his resistance, washing them with my words instead of the Word. Occasional bandages kept us from having to examine the depth of the cuts.

The weeds that had grown in my heart appeared to be beautiful blossoms, but they were choking the life out of my husband's dreams.

To be continued...

(from the archives)

May 9, 2011

One Year Later - The Final Steps, Part I

One year ago today, we were counting down the final week of R's unemployment. One week until a new life began. One year from today, we'll be two-thirds of the way through our journey, we told ourselves. It seemed so far in the distance.

And yet here we are.

In this past year, God has taught us so much. I keep saying that, I know. I also know my words fall flat, in no way adequate to describe His goodness. I've come to realize that all I can do is proclaim that He is good and we are standing only by His grace and mercy. 

One year ago today, my fingers took to the keyboard to tell the story of our old life before we journeyed into the new one. I had no idea just how far we would come...

When R & I married, I was six months into a new job. He was a part-time carpenter and part-time student. We lived in a small apartment filled with hand-me-down furniture and wedding gifts. Friday night Chinese food and a rented movie was our weekly splurge.

One day, we decided to tour the homes R's boss was constructing. Beautiful, I thought. I'd love to have a house like this.

After that we spent many Saturdays visiting different houses, each watering the seeds of envy and discontent growing in my heart.

A few months later R's boss offered us a great price on a house he was just starting. Our mortgage would be little more than our monthly rent. A good investment, we said. Paint colors and carpet samples consumed my thoughts. I wanted our first home to be perfect.

Meanwhile, R was realizing that being a husband, a part-time employee and a part-time student (at a university an hour away) was no piece of cake. He eagerly accepted an offer to work full-time and packed up his school books.

Seven months later, we moved into our new home. Those seeds of envy and discontent, quietly resting under the surface, soon found company in pride and greed. When they burst forth, I didn't recognize them for the weeds that they were. Instead of yanking them out by their roots, I searched for ways to nurture them.

To be continued...

*from the archives

May 4, 2011

A Place for Weakness - Chapter 1

I had not heard of A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering by Michael Horton until Elizabeth announced her online book discussion. The book's title, and Elizabeth's first post, stirred something within me.

I need this.

These past months - all 17 of them since R learned he would be losing his job - have been a time of weakness. I cannot say suffering. Not in light of what so many others are enduring in Japan and Alabama, in hospitals and on the mission field.

The red tape of school funding. The hurt of leaving a life we had grown so comfortable in. The weight of homework and this new life. Concerns about money. Church issues. An illness that's lasted far too long and interrupted life more than I would like.  They are merely inconveniences.

So why do I have a hard time remembering that?

Michael Horton's words bring to mind the first days of leaving the old life, of knowing that God was giving us a precious gift.
Our weaknesses really are an opportunity for God to show his strength....without the trials, faith is not really roused to grab hold of the God of promise. (p. 17)
I look back on this journey I would not have chosen, with deep gratitude that God chose it for me.

For giving me an opportunity to grab hold of Him with both hands.

For reminding me how much I need Him.

Others are discussing Chapter 1 at Elizabeth's today.

May 3, 2011

Around the House: May

I've reclaimed the dining room table.  Books have been banished.  In their place, bright yellow lemons nestled in a bowl.

Winter clothes, and their heaviness, are stored away.

Many things that clutter our lives are finding new homes, giving us space to breathe.

I delight in little things.

... Lady Susan by dear Jane, written in epistolary style. I love it almost as much as I did The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

...The West Wing: The Complete Second Season

...Rose bushes bursting with color that greet me each afternoon.

...The sweet aroma of cut grass.

...Leaves shooting forth from the cool soil, the first signs of our garden coming to life.

We are enjoying the simplicity of life, and I still marvel at that.

Next week, we'll mark the one year anniversary of R's final day of employment. I wonder, have I been faithful to share how very good God has been in this past year? Not just in this place, but in my day-to-day living as well. Have I proclaimed His sovereignty and grace and mercy?

I've been quiet around here for a while now. Words often seem to fail me, and I don't know if I'll ever find any to capture things that have been on my heart. Many days find me weary, at best.  Yet I feel my heart stirring and waking from its slumber.

It is well with my soul.