Finding Your Way Home

3This morning my friend Amy Gannett posted my short little meditation on Finding Dory & teaching our kids to find their own way in the world. Her website Tiny Theologians sells the most beautiful children’s theology tools, which are all thoughtfully designed by Amy. She is a scholar & has impeccable design taste, so her products are all delightful. I was glad to get to write this piece & share it with other parents who might also need to remind themselves what is at stake as we teach our kids theology!

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The Sad Side of Good News

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I always love writing for Morning by Morning, partly because they always have such great writing prompts. Their latest series is on Biblical characters, and after a summer of reading Jeremiah (I’m still barely halfway through!) as part of a virtual Bible study, I knew exactly which character I wanted to write about.

Here’s a sample from my piece on Jeremiah as a prophet who models how we might sometimes need to approach evangelism:

“Reading Jeremiah slowly this summer has given me a lot of sympathy for the prophet Jonah. Like Jonah, I would be tempted to run away rather than bear such a lonely burden of proclaiming sin and judgment to people who may or may not receive my message. But when Jeremiah is assigned to speak judgment against his own people, he doesn’t run away. He speaks persistently in the hope that his fellow Israelites might acknowledge God’s faithfulness to them, and have God himself heal their faithlessness (3:22). They don’t listen. Jeremiah keeps speaking. The record of his persistence is the book of Jeremiah, fifty-two chapters that make up about five percent of the entire Bible.”

Read the rest at Morning by Morning.

A New Opportunity!

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For years I’ve been storing up writing ideas. I collect them in notebooks and list them in word documents. I’ve started writing essays that never go anywhere and discussed these subjects to death with my favorite conversation partners (you know who you are!)

Now I’m excited to have a new place to pour some of my energy and enthusiasm for glorifying God through my writing and read. I was recently introduced to a new website in search of writers. Dave, the editor of Servants of Grace, seeks to let grace inform his every interaction. When I offered to write a piece, he enthusiastically welcomed me to do so. When I asked about doing book reviews, he started contacting publicists and getting me advanced copies of books to read!

My first piece at Servants of Grace is about marriage as an act of preservation. Much like making jam, marriage takes something that is sweet for a season and turns it into something that will last through all seasons. I’ve been pondering this piece for several years of weddings and trying to figure out the way to best explain it, and I’m so glad to finally have this piece written. You can read that here.

I could not have chosen a better read for my first book review at Servants of Grace. I have loved Madeline L’Engle’s stories for almost as long as I’ve been a voracious reader, and this book about her spiritual legacy presented such a complex and compelling portrait of her influence. I loved it, and I was honored when the author of this book (Sarah Arthur) said on Twitter that my review made her sob with gratitude. I feel the same kind of gratitude for her gentleness and honesty in portraying this complex woman.

I’ll try to keep linking to my latest writing every so often. Thanks for reading!

 

The Glory of Being Taken for Granted

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I like to take credit for my garden but really the bees do most of the work.

Every time I pull together a bouquet of flowers, every cucumber my kids pick and eat straight off the vine, every string bean I snap into a bowl for dinner is courtesy of the bees and all the other pollinators who spend their summer flitting from flower to flower.

As far as bees are concerned, their work is to collect nectar, a bit from each flower, and contribute it to their hive. Meanwhile, they carry out a far more glorious task unintentionally because at every flower they pick up and leave behind pollen, completing the reproductive process that allows these plants to bear fruit that will contain seeds for the next generation. Back at the hive, each bee could only take credit for about 1/12th a teaspoon of honey, never realizing the credit they deserve for the beauty of the flowers and the abundant produce of the garden. There is an unseen glory to their work that only we can appreciate.

The Glory of Being Taken for Granted

Of course gratitude is the best form of praise, but being taken for granted is its own form of glory. When we aim to do our work with true selflessness and faithfulness, the greatest sign of our success will be that other people can take us for granted. We serve not to be served (or thanked or owed a favor) (Mark 10:45); instead we are called to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galataians 5:13), using whatever talents we possess to serve one another “as faithful stewards of grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). We serve because we have been served by Christ, not to draw attention to ourselves for our work. Such faithfulness and selflessness will be taken for granted nine times out of ten (Luke 17:11-19).

Many live their whole lives taking God for granted. The very order of the universe that we take for granted is declared by God to be a result of “my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night.” The faithfulness of the sun and moon are so dependable that we order our lives around them. Many spend their whole lives taking for granted that day will follow night, never recognizing the faithful God behind these patterns. Surely he gets a kind of glory even from those who never think to thank him but nevertheless depend on his faithfulness.

It is easy to enjoy taking others’ faithfulness for granted. Every Sunday when we gather in worship, I take for granted that the coffee will be prepared, the nursery staffed, the bathrooms will be cleaned, and the worship music rehearsed. But these things happen because members of our church show up faithfully week after week. It is also good to live with people who do their share of the household chores so faithfully that you can take their contributions for granted.

It is less joyful, however, to be taken for granted. Those of us who serve our families, our churches, and our communities often chafe at going unrecognized. The selfless service described in the scriptures is a high ideal with which I am eager to agree during Bible study but find much more difficult to live out minute to minute.  I’ll admit that there are days when I’m tempted to let the dishes pile up or let my kids run out of clean underwear just so they’ll recognize my work. On days I’m feeling sorely used, I have been known to slam the dishes a little louder to suggest that maybe I could use a little help. I don’t want my work to go unnoticed any more than Martha did when she complained to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40). There is a fleeting glory in being recognized right away, but the lasting glory is for those who can endure patiently while being taken for granted.

Fleeting Glory

Those who proclaim their good works now receive an immediate but smaller glory. Public acclaim means “they already have their reward” (Matthew 6:16). When the applause fades or when the feed fills up with new things to like, that small glory evaporates. Living for small moments of glory is a form of vanity as we receive our inheritance now instead of laying up a treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

Future Glory

Fortunately, we serve a God who “sees what is done in secret and will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Even if no one else pays attention, the work that others take for granted does not go unseen by God. When I am afraid my work is going unnoticed and that I’m being taken for granted, I pray “Remember me for this, O God, and do not wipe out my good deeds” (Nehemiah 13:14). To fortify my self-control and resist the temptation to ask for recognition, I remind myself that it is better to be exalted by the praise of another than to praise yourself (Proverbs 27:2).

Christ’s Glory

It also does my soul good to remember how small a glory I’m seeking to enjoy. Compare it to the glory which Christ gave up on my behalf: not grasping at his equality with God but laying it aside willingly, emptying himself and becoming obedient, even to the point of death (Phillipians 2:8-9). No one has received more glory than Christ, and no one else deserves as much glory as Christ. His name has been exalted above all other names and his work will be proclaimed to every tribe and in every language. And yet, there will always be those who take his work for granted. Who hear the terrible news of their sin and the wonderful news of their salvation, and still fail to be thankful. It satisfies my glory-hungry soul to know that the One who deserves all glory and honor and power will receive it when every knee will bow, even those who failed to recognize and took for granted the gift of his faithfulness while they were on earth.
The Glory of Gratitude

I would like to thank the bees, to give them the gift of insight that would allow them to appreciate the full glory of their tedious work. Perhaps the bees would know how much plants depend on proper proportions of rain and sun, and they’d want to give glory to God for his faithfulness. Maybe they’d even commend me for planting the seed in the first place. Oh, to live in such a circle of shared credit, offering one another the glory we see in one another’s work and receiving the appreciation of others, imitating the holy dance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who exist in eternal admiration for one another. Glory is not meant to be hoarded but shared, not asked for but given. It will ultimately be our great joy to not only receive our commendation from God (1 Corinthians 4:5) but to give glory to our God who deserves all glory and honor.
[This was the piece I tried to submit to Desiring God this spring. It made it to the editing committee who ultimately decided that it wasn’t one of their top choices. It was my personal writing goal to have a piece rejected this year, so I was both sad and glad to check that one off the list–mostly because it meant I was brave enough to submit out of my league!]

Neighborhood Watch

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We all do our part in the suburbs. We mow our lawns and take our trash out to the curb on our assigned days. We’re friendly but we still don’t feel like friends, even after exchanging produce from our gardens over the past seven years. I feel the presence of all these invisible barriers in suburban life, barriers that make me not want to appear too needy or too eager. But I find myself consistently longing for more. I knew as soon as I picked up  The Gospel Comes With a  House Key by Rosaria Butterfield that I would leave the book wrestling with the conviction that I ought to be a better neighbor.

I’m better at writing about hospitality than offering it. But Rosaria Butterfield? She knows of what she speaks. I got the chance to write a review of her book for my beloved Fathom Mag this month. It was the kind of book that made me want to hand out May baskets with my kids for the first time (which I did!) and get up the gumption to finally invite my neighbors over for that cookout I’m always planning in my head (which I’m still working on… life gets busy this time of year!) If you read this, would you check in with me and make sure I’m doing what I know I ought to do? I might not be able to offer Rosaria’s daily hospitality, but I can certainly plan a once-a-summer event!

Thanks for reading, friends!

 

 

Book Review: The Music Shop

The Music ShopThe Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a theory that the only way to learn how to love art is to undergo an apprenticeship of appreciation. Almost all of the art I love–poetry, literature, music, film–I love because someone else introduced me to it and showed me how to love it well. I’ve tried on a variety of different tastes through the years, usually because of someone I was hanging out with at the time or someone I wanted to impress. I learned to enjoy (briefly) R&B because of my best friend in 8th grade. I was on a serious emo kick for awhile in college because of the guys I was hanging out with (but didn’t we all listen to Dashboard Confessionals sing Your Hair is Everywhere in 2000?)

Some of my appreciations lasted longer than others, usually because I pursued them more earnestly or because I began to really appreciate the art form itself, going beyond the initial introduction. I wonder sometimes if there is any other way to learn to love a thing? At least for me, there is always a who behind every what. Sometimes that who is a friend or teacher; sometimes it is a “celebrity” or someone I don’t know in real life, but who nonetheless represents how I want to live or think or become.

All that to say, to me this book was about an apprenticeship of appreciation. Frank knows music because his mom knew music. She showed him the possibilities of music, especially when you put your favorite songs in conversation with one another. But Frank carried on his mother’s appreciation of music, using music to address his customer’s needs with surprising results. And Frank, too, passes on his knack for finding the right song for the situation to another character who puts this talent to use as a career (no spoilers!) Because of his knowledge of and enthusiasm for music, Frank shows everyone around him how to love music, too.

When Ilsa meets Frank, she seems to be captivated, first and foremost, by his taste. She wants to listen to him appreciate music so that she can apprentice herself to his loves. Of course, she turns out to have a story of her own before the end of the story, but the point is this: we learn to love art by learning about it from those we love or admire or are drawn to. And that is the most beautiful thing about art: it forms community. When we are drawn to a song or a poet or a painting, we’re drawn into a community of others who love the same thing. The internet is rife with “fandoms”–online communities of people who find their truest companions among those who love what they love. I understand this impulse to love things with others and so I understand the characters in this book.

I will say that I liked Rachel Joyce’s bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry better than this one, for reasons that I won’t divulge. But I loved that both books celebrate community and the need to be physically present for those we love, and both celebrate the way that love can grow even into middle age and beyond. A fun read.

View all my reviews

The Right Way to Pray

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Part 3 in a series of 2 paragraph posts on prayer:

I’d like to believe there is a right way to pray. I want to be able to ask earnestly enough or pray for long enough so that my prayers will be effective enough to move the hand of God to do what I want. I know we have to pray to get what we want. I have to ask in order to receive. We are instructed to ask God for the things we want rather than to envy or grow bitter towards those who have what we want. Our prayers may not be very powerful in themselves, but if we don’t ask, we won’t receive. Just like if we don’t plant the seed, we’ll never get to eat the fruit.

But, alas, there isn’t a sure-fire method. I will never leave my prayer time satisfied that I’ve said enough or said it right. When I’m feeling desperate, I have a temptation to heap up empty words and phrases, thinking that I can persuade once and for all with my words. But Jesus tells us not to bother: God already knows what we need so we don’t have to explain it to him. He just wants us to ask and keep asking. The asking reminds us of his power and our dependence. The things we long for most in the world are not things we can purchase on Amazon or make with our hands. If we want a peaceful family, satisfaction in our work, contentment in our souls, we have to ask God. The clearest advice we get about prayer is that persistence is more effective than elegance. We keep asking. We mention it again. We don’t let God forget. Prayer is often pictured as a kind of scented incense that rises from our place on earth up to heaven. Our prayers are a scent that fills heaven. So we persist in prayer to make sure that the incense of our requests is continually before God. When I lose heart, I remember the image of Cornelius in Acts. He received a heavenly visitor who announced to him, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Cornelius persisted in praying and giving to the poor in the hope that someday God would acknowledge and respond. And God did. And so I, too, persist.