Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review: Surprised by Oxford

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
Surprised by OxfordMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though truth and falsehood be
Near twins, yet truth a little elder is;
Be busy to seek her; believe me this,
He's not of none, nor worst, that seeks the best.
To adore, or scorn an image, or protest,
May all be bad; doubt wisely; in strange way
To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleep, or run wrong, is.
(John Donne)

This book was, for me, a return trip to England, and to my own college life, to those times when I studied literature and theology and poetry, when I learned to love and be loved by God. Through her words, I revisited the Bodleian library, the words of the great writers, and the pubs. With the author, I doubted afresh, and learned to love anew.

This book has been a wonderful glimpse into the mind and life of another child of God. The precious glimpses of His work in her and his beauty in the world will stick with me for years to come.

Though this book is over 400 pages long, it was with great sadness that I closed the last page. I console myself with the following thoughts:
- England still exists and perhaps my path will lead back there someday
- Her God is my God, and truth is true even when this book closes. We go forth in joy!

A quick sampling of my favorite quotes:

“Dr. Deveaux stopped and looked at me hard. He leaned in and whispered, 'The rest is all bullshit, Miss Drake. It's as simple as that. Your purpose here in life is to discern the real thing from the bullshit, and then to choose the non-bullshit. Think of the opportunity that God has given you to study as the means by which to attain your own personal bullshit detector. Sometimes that will be particularly difficult, because those who proclaim to know the truth, well intentioned or not, are spewing the most bullshit. But you will know when you have been properly ravished. And then you'll see, how the entire world is eyeball deep in it and that we choose it, and that we choose it every day. But the good news is that, although we struggle with it, there is a way out. Yes, there is a very worthy antidote and option to all the bullshit."

“Pray for her? Doesn’t that sound condescending?” I cringed.
“Condescension is your genre,” Sylvia replied as she passed the snack plate. “Incarnation is His.” (204)

Grace means you get to light your candle on the top rung. So that is what I did for the first time ever, that night. And that is where I have lit it ever since, even when I am tempted not to. (374)

Pride is faith in the idea that God has when he made us. A proud man is conscious of the idea, and aspires to realize it. He does not strive towards a happiness, or comfort which may be irrelevant to God’s idea of him. his success is the idea of God, successfully carried through, and he is in love with his destiny. (Dinesen, as quoted onp. 417)

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I can't help but share two of my favorite pictures from our 2001 trip to Oxford! We shared one month of romance and (theological) wrestling here: it was a little piece of heaven!



Monday, January 26, 2015

noise

I know it is my sin, which locks thine ears
And binds thy hands
Out-crying my requests, drowing my tears
Or else the chillness of my faint demands.

But as cold hands are angry with the fire and mend it still;
So I do lay the want of my desire
Not on my sins, or coldness, but thy will

Yet hear, O God, only for his blood's sake
Which pleads for me
For though sins plead, too,
yet like stones they make
His blood's sweet current much more loud to be.

(George Herbert, Church Lock & Key)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Sheep of His Hand

  

When we moved to this place, nobody had ever gone to school before. I was a stay-at-home mom with four preschoolers. Little Lorraine was the first one to leave. I remember the nights leading up to her first day of kindergarten: her big brown eyes asking me terrified questions, “Mama, what was school like when you were a kid?”
“Mom, will I get to have a stay-at-home day with you again?”
“But what if I miss you?”

Years later, a son's first day of school. His face said “this is no big deal” when he left me, but after school, he grabbed my hand and made a quiet confession: “Mom, I cried a little at rest time because I missd-ed you, but nobody saw me.”

I may be able to see the school from my window, but the distance between home and school is huge, no matter where you live. Here, I am the one to whom they come with joys and problems. At school, to whom will they go? If they cry, will anyone see? Once they are on the conveyor belt that takes them to kindergarten, to sports, to junior high, to high school, to college, will they ever come back to me, to simply rest in my arms?

Yet, they are not mine, and I have no right to hold them as if they are. Our children are ours for a season, but by the grace of God given in Baptism, they are His for eternity. And here in my kitchen as I pray for my school kids, I know that God Himself is there in the school with them, helping them grow into who He has made them to be.

God is there, and I thank God, that His presence is welcome at our school. Even today, after morning tears over missing shoes, test anxiety, and young love, they gathered with their peers and their teachers, not only to learn multiplication tables and phonics. They gather with the body of Christ, and together, they remember who they are:

“For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever, Amen.”

Almighty God, heavenly Father, You have blessed us with the joy and care of children in our homes and in our school. Give us calm strength and patient wisdom that, as they grow in years, we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We cannot do this except by your strength. Please pour out your abundant provision for us, your church, and grant us faithful hands and faithful hearts.
In His name we pray, Amen.

(prayer paraphrased from LSB p. 315)



Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Littlest Prince

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If childhood is health...

This is food to nourish your aged soul, to help it grow healthy and small again.

I read this in one evening, but I will be carrying the ideas with me for some time. I can't wait to read this with my children. I am sure it will inspire many good conversations, and I hope its wisdom will become forever entangled with our lives from here on out.

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The Littlest Prince (free PDF)

Note: For those of you who receive Scholastic Book orders, this book is available for only $1 this month!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Thou didst lay hold...


Since, Lord, to thee
A narrow way and little gate
Is all the passage, on my infancy
Thou didst lay hold, and antedate
My faith in me.

O let me still
Write thee great God, and me a child:
Let me be soft and supple to thy will,
Small to my self, to others mild,
Behither ill.

Although by stealth
My flesh get on, yet let her sister
My soul bid nothing, but preserve her wealth:
The growth of flesh is but a blister;
Childhood is health. 




George Herbert, Baptism (II)

source http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/h-baptism-ii/


Friday, January 16, 2015

what He is about...

To my friends in the church militant,
here in this place where the struggle continues, 
here where the darkness gathers, 
where we feel the weight of evil, 
where we pray for the light at all times...

In the depths of woe, remember our Father, and remember His business- what He is about in all this, what GOD HIMSELF directs his resources towards, is our salvation and redepmtion.

This is His business, and He will finish this thing.
Let us hold fast to Christ while we await His finished work in us and the world.

Soul Food, highly recommended...


Therefore my hope is in the Lord
And not in mine own merit;
It rests upon His faithful Word
To them of contrite spirit
That He is merciful and just;
This is my comfort and my trust.
His help I wait with patience.
(verse 3 LSB 607)


1 Peter 1:3-25

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvationthat is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you,searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him,and so your faith and hope are in God.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

For those who love the little ones

For those who work with children,
for those with big hearts, open hearts,
and arms wide to embrace the world;
for those who have poured out love to the least of these,
even on my own children,

For family, teachers, coaches, piano teachers, principals, babysitters, 4h leaders, and all of those whose hearts have room for children and strangers...

God's people give thanks.

The love you pour out has not been given in vain. The messes you've cleaned in secret, the discipline,  the nurturing,
the words of wisdom that seem to have fallen on deaf ears- your work, done in the Lord, has not been done in vain.

Many do not see or understand the sacrifices you make. But God does see. And I do hope you know that those sweet words from him are coming to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

As I consider these things, an image from The Great Divorce by CS Lewis springs to memory. The author imagines a trip to heaven, and he imagines those great redeemed Spirits in whom the work of God has been done. And this is the part that made me think of you:

Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it. First came the bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers-- soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers...Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honor all this was being done.

I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and trusn them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye.
But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
Is it? … is it?” I whispered to my guide.

Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green... She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quiet different things.”

And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son—even if was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter...”

...now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”


Almighty God,
Bless and keep Your children with the big hearts and willing hands. Be with them in weariness and discouragement, and grant them moments of refreshing.  Defend them from despair and bitterness, and uphold them in Your grace. Grant strength for each day, compassion for each suffering soul you send, and rest in the grace of Jesus for each weary head this night.
Confirm the work of your hands, Lord, and sustain us until that day when we can see it, too.
Amen.

------
Perhaps this post made you think of someone specific. Why not share it with them as a way to say 'thanks?'

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A musical "don't mess with me"

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
   who trains my hands for war,
   and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
   my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge
Psalm 144:1-2


Are you discouraged, battle-weary, or filled with anxiety?
Are you soul-hungry, frazzled, overhwhelmed?
Are you filled with fear, doubt, or worry?
Are you breathing?


Feed your soul with this hymn study.  You will not regret it.


The hymn "I Bind unto Myself Today" With Pastor William Weedon

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

St. Patrick grabbed a tune to a pagan incantation and Baptized it. As I listen to the version above, sung by a mail choir, I can picture Christian-warriors gathering strength around a fire before battle with evil. And I picture the armies of heaven, and the help of God, and His name on them (and on me!) as we step forward, the church militant, here in enemy territory. We step forward in the strength of God, we hope in His name, and therefore our hope is confident. 

Sin, death, and devil- you are no match for our God.

Abbey54567TStPatChristBeWithMePlaque

photo from soulbookandgift- you can buy this!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pretty little checkmarks, all in a row



Sometimes it feels like God gives me too much freedom. When I am feeling the pull of ten different things, unable to give myself fully to any one, and feeling like every priority is getting too little of my attention, well, I would really just like a list. Not just general guidelines, not only ten commandments, but a detailed list. I want something like this:

Emily's to-dos today

Thou shalt remove thyself from bed when the first child calls. Feed, dress the children, and line them up neatly in front of educational television.

Thou shalt spend ten minutes with God and coffee.


Thou shalt work in kitchen for 1 1/2hrs, in three 1/2hr intervals, and no more.

Thou shalt use ten of the minutes I have given thee to catch up with current events

Tho shalt endure 18 knock-knock jokes, but thou canst redirect the child that bringeth the 19th

Thou shalt change each of the 17 diapers that are presented to you this day.

Thou shalt entertain children for 4 hours, educational activites consuming the better half.

Thou shalt exercise thyself and children for one hour.

Thou shalt spend no more than two hours on other housework, laundering thy towels and ordering the disorder visited upon thee by thy children.

Thou shalt snuggle thy children for 10 minutes, three times, afterwhich thee may excuse thyself to do your other jobs.

Thou shalt converse with thine husband for at least 60 minutes.

Thou shalt spend 20 minutes talking about God to children, reading this specific Scripture passage, praying, and bearing the nonsensical questions that are presented you in this time frame. After those minutes have passed, thou shalt send them off to bed.

If thou has completed the above tasks and are still without sin, thou may indulgest thyself in telephone or computer-facilitated socializing. Then, get thyself to bed by ten.

I am sure the list would be long and tiresome, but at least it would be clear! If I had a nice checklist like this, at least THEN I could look at all the things still undone at the end of the day and shrug, "oh well! God didn't tell me to do it so it is not my problem!" And I could go before Him with all those nice little checkmarks in a row and say, "Here's my report, Lord! I got it all done! Now give me some good sleep tonight please, and I'll see you tomorrow!"

But there is NO LIST! No black and white job description for me, and as far as I can tell, you don't get one either.

What does that leave me with? God's Word, and the Holy Spirit, and a bunch of demands, and a sinful heart that gets in the way when I try to sort all of this out. There is generous amount of freedom, and a great deal of gray.

And at the end of the day, there are things left undone, and the things that were done were done by me, a sinner, and I see even my best is tainted.

No checkmarks, no gold star. Just me. I come to God at the end of the day with the things I have done, and in His light I see there is not much to be boasting about. "Um, here you go Lord. It's a pencil holder... I think. Or maybe a coffee cup? I guess it's not at all finished, and I'm not sure what it is going to be...and I messed up in a few places. So there you have it... it is what it is... and I'm tired Lord."

Me, commiting the demands of the day, my efforts and my failures, to Him.

No pretty checklist to make me feel good about myself.

Just a lopsided sculpture that may or may not be a pencil holder.


My head does not rest at night comforted by what I have done. And yet by God's grace, what I have done and what I have left undone is taken from me by Jesus.

I am not sure what He does with all the gray; I cannot picture exactly what it is He is making.

I do know that He takes the black, the ugly sin, and hides it in His own wounds.

And then, He takes whatever remains of my lopsided creation, and He uses it for my good and the good of His people.

Then finally, He looks on me with pity, and gives me something concrete that I am to do with myself:

"Daughter, go, sleep in peace."


But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.


Philippians 3:7-9

Sunday, December 28, 2014

wake, artist!

Gifts from God, this Christmas;
one of my favorites-

Sitting at the table with my mother, for hours, with the paints.  

I got to see her joy at the way the colors bleed and mix, her creativity and laughter at the mistakes.   I see her mind spinning with possibilities and smile when she tells me in the morning that she was laying in bed plotting a trip to Hobby Lobby.  

The artist in her reawakens, and she is beautiful.

Thanks for sharing those moments with me, mom.
I hope you keep painting.




(Penmenship is not my strength, and I was tempted to crop my messy words out, but I'm going to let them stand, because that's exactly the point. Stay awake, imperfect artsy person within me, and do your art!)


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