Friday, February 25, 2022

Lord, Have Mercy

 One of the things I hate about social media as it exists at this moment in our cultural context is that when something Big happens in our country or in the world, those of us who are on Facebook, Twitter, etc. feel a compulsion, almost an obligation, to respond, and to respond on our personal timelines immediately. You start to feel that if something Big is happening, and you choose not to post about it then you aren't Doing Something or you aren't Caring enough. Unfortunately, what you see from many who post their support, chagrin, grief, whatever the response, is that they tend to come off seeming like they are jumping on the bandwagon, but often people don't really understand the issues, but, hey, posting about it is Doing Something. Because to not post anything will be interpreted by all the followers that we Don't Care. 

Here is the thing, though, I think we need to be careful not to assume that just because someone who is active on social media isn't posting about the Big Thing, does NOT mean we aren't at home praying, watching the news, caring a great deal - we just choose not to jump too quickly to share an opinion or stance on the bandwagon of social media until we can suss out all the nuances and complexities. And even then, sometimes social media IS NOT THE PLACE for all of our reactions to be shared. 

The longer I'm on Facebook and Twitter, the more I'm realizing they are hurting our ability to think deeply about serious issues. Most Big Things are not summed up in pithy soundbites. Most Big Things have many complexities and angles to them, and in order to understand them sometimes we have to move away from black and white, stark right and wrong snap judgments, to a place where we can hold two or more thoughts in tension at once. There usually isn't one totally good actor vs. one totally bad actor.  Very often there are complex issues. And social media is tending to lead us to think we can soundbite our way through understanding and it is narrowing our abilities to have nuanced discussions, and that is also polarizing us into various camps that end up unable to understand each other or even able to assume the best of each other or find common ground with each other anymore. 

That was all very vague, I know. the first part of this post isn't about one specific instance, but more my view from the perimeter as I have been on social media for more than 10 years now and as I've been watching how these things play out. 

But now, more specifically, I am thinking about this most recent Big Thing, the Russia invading Ukraine thing, that we are all watching unfold before the world stage. Early on, I saw some amazingly stupid reactions on Twitter and Facebook and saw some colossally stupid hashtags in response to it all. My daughter was bemoaning  how frustrating it is when the teenagers and influencers she sees on Instagram start hashtagging and posting and it's obvious they think they are so morally superior and Doing Something with their posts, yet they obviously don't really know what they are talking about at all. I agreed. Frustrating for real. And the sad thing to me is that people don't seem to want to go beyond the initial Do Something kind of reaction to think deeply and start to really understand the issues - of this or of whatever the next Big Thing may be. It is Enough to have made a post, preferably one that goes along with the popular narrative. Allie Beth Stuckey said the other day something along the lines of how liberal progressive white girl social media is the worst.  I tend to agree with that - most of the stupidest of the stupid hashtags and responses I saw were from that quadrant, two of which left me just gobsmacked at how embarrassingly naive and ignorant they were, and I'm being vague on purpose. My point isn't to call out anyone, just to make an observation. And I am acutely aware that it is a bit hypocritical of me to post my qualms about the nature of social media discussion media. 

Anyway, now that I've got my rant out of the way, I did have some thoughts about the whole Russia invading Ukraine thing, but I'm not going to make the mistake of thinking my sharing this is Doing Anything, except that it helps me to hash out my thoughts in this space, and I am not going to assume I have any kind of solid grasp on what is a fluid and evolving situation. My son is pursuing a double major in Russian Language and Culture and History - where he tends to focus on European History, and he has been really helpful to me in trying to get some understanding of what is happening in our world. The thing is, that help is coming in the form of very long and complex conversations, because these things are not easily understood, and not easily explained in a sentence or two, and certainly not in a hashtag or soundbite. 

I tend to process heavy things with music, and there are two songs that often come to mind when Big Things come across our attention and I'm trying to process them. The first one is this:

I like this one because, honestly, when I go to pray about things - and though right now it is Russia and Ukraine that are weighing heavily on my heart at the moment, there are also many other things going on in the world that I'm feeling heavy about as well (like what's been going in Canada, for one, wowza, and many other things, too) - often I just do not know how to pray, and my most urgent prayer is often, "Lord, have mercy." I am thankful that the Holy Spirit groans with groanings that are too deep for words and when I do not know how I ought to pray, He intercedes for me. The greatest comfort that exists is to know that God is sovereign, He knows what the need is and what the desired outcome is much better than I could ever imagine or put into words, and if He allows even this, He has a purpose in it, and I can pray for His mercy, and I especially pray for His people who are in the midst of turmoil today.

Next is this one:

I can't listen to this one without tears, because whenever there is turmoil in the world, children and the vulnerable will suffer most grievously. We are already seeing heartbreaking things from Ukraine, and it should hurt all of us who hate tyranny and the immorality of what is transpiring there. 

So, I guess my thoughts I'm processing today, if I sum them up are:

1.) Maybe we would all be wise to be slow to hashtag respond and quicker to seek to understand the issues.

2.) For myself, I need to be slow to judge those who are quick to respond and assume the best - we really do care, maybe it isn't just for show.

3.) For all of us, don't assume that just because someone doesn't post about Important Things on Facebook that they Don't Care. Many of us are watching the news and caring and praying deeply, but, I know for me, I just don't choose to use my Facebook for it most of the time.

4.) Learn to think deeply about things. Don't just listen to the headlines of one news source or the hastags of so-called influencers. Look at complexities and realize people and motives are more complex and nuanced than hashtags, and ALL media outlets have biases, I do not know of any neutral sources, and, to be honest, there are very few trustworthy voices left these days. Learn to weed through bias and seek to understand.  It will take work and time. 

5.) Pray for Ukraine.  That's never wrong to say, and for most of us it is very much the right and best thing we can do today.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Time is Weird, Sing for Joy

I was on my way home from dropping my daughter off at high school the other day and I saw a sign advertising for a local flag football team.  Out of the blue tears threatened and I thought, “We don’t have anyone in our house that can apply to anymore, and we haven’t for a while now.”  Here’s the weird part, do I want right now to be running kids around to flag football, upward basketball, and all the other stuff we were busy doing when they were little? Not really. But sometimes I am hit with a kind of wistfulness that we are past having kids that age now. 

Time is so weird. When I started this blog, my youngest was not even a year old. That little one is the 15-year-old high school student I was dropping off the other day, and her brothers are basically mostly out of the nest, away at college, the oldest just starting grad school this semester. In some ways the me I was when, with trepidation and trembling fingers, I hit “post” on that very first tentative venture into the great unknown of sharing my thoughts from my little corner of the internet and I started this blog seems a lifetime ago - so much growing, maturing, and so many moves and packings and unpackings and joys and sorrows and more great unknowns and just living were still ahead of us then. And even blogging was a whole different thing back then. The lonely mom with three busy littles at home needed that little blog community we had back in the day. That kind of blogging doesn’t really exist anymore, and sometimes I miss it a little.  

This song came on my play list yesterday and it took me back to when my middle boy was about 4 years old and he would sing this thing with joy while strapped in his carseat in the back of the minivan. I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I miss that little guy singing in the back of the minivan. One of the weird things about time is that when I get these wistful feelings I can sometimes spiral into wondering, did I make the most of those years? Did I enjoy them enough? Was I too serious about things I should have been able to laugh about more? Did I do all I should have done to train up my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? But those wistful moments don’t last long. They don’t last long because I look at the young man that little guy has become and the young man his older brother has become and the sweet young lady their little sister is becoming, and I realize that these precious people have moved from being my littles who I got to raise to being friends I get to enjoy and to enjoy watching them spread their wings and shine, and I’m thankful.  So incredibly thankful.

Time is weird because in some ways it goes so slowly when we are in the moments, but when we look back it almost takes our breath away to see where we’ve come and how quickly it seems to have gotten here, and how different we are today from yesterday. I really can’t wrap my head around the fact that this little blog has existed on this little corner of the web for 15 years. I really can’t even wrap my head around how fast those 15 years seem to have gone. And I can't really wrap my head around how different I am from the me I was in those yesterday years. The days are long, but the years are swift. 

As I’m thinking about these things, I am also remembering a dear friend who went home to be with the Lord this week. She was one of the most joy-filled people I’ve ever known.  She loved Jesus so deeply, and she took her walk with Him very seriously, and man, she knew how to live.  She just overflowed with the fragrance of Christ and she lived and loved and laughed so well.  I want to remember my friend and I want to be more like her. 

I heard a sermon several years ago that very much has stuck with me, from Ecclesiastes talking about how we can enjoy the portion God has given us. My friend did that so well. 

When I was younger, I struggled a lot with some not great teaching from certain Christian circles about how we need to do big things for God, do more, try harder, do better. I wasted much time worrying about missing my calling and that I didn’t know what big thing I was supposed to be doing and I felt so much pressure about that.  Then one day I realized, my big thing was right here, raising my littles, being the wife my husband needed, taking care of our home so he was freed to do the things he needed to do to take care of us, and I realized, the big thing I need to be doing is to honor God in all I do, to live full out for Jesus right where He has planted me. As I look at my kids who aren’t littles anymore and who have become treasured friends, I realize this is has been, and still is, a good portion. 

So, as I’m thinking about the weirdness of time and that weird wistfulness I feel sometimes, I’m reminded again of the joy of knowing that I can find joy and glorify God with the portion He has given me today. I can live this life with joy and fullness, loving Jesus every step of the way, and in every season and twist and turn of life. What abundance His joy and grace and new mercies are every single day.  And I’m so very thankful. 

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Singing With Thankfulness in Our Hearts

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

After opening with singing Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee and prayer, we got to sing this song today in church.  What a wonderful way open worship on this first Sunday of a new year! We were introduced to CityAlight at our last church and we have loved adding their songs into our repertoire of the newer hymns that are being written in recent years.  I’m thankful for the wealth of newer hymns that are rich in biblical language that we can add to our library of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we can sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God.

I recently went through a bout of the blues where I felt low and couldn’t really explain it. 2021 was a year with a lot of challenges and griefs one on top of another that felt overwhelming at times. I have found that when that kind of pressure starts building and I may have trouble focusing on reading my Bible deeply and well in some of those moments, one of the best comforts I’ve found is to put good music with Christ-exalting lyrics and thoughts on repeat and fill my heart and mind with them. I am extremely thankful for the gift of music.  Often these rich spiritual songs minister to my soul in a deep and resonant way. I am thankful that God is bringing new hymn writers to us, people like Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, Matt Papa, Andrew Peterson, CityAlight, Sovereign Grace and many others who are writing music we can sing, even when our hearts are broken, which take us out of ourselves and to the very throne of God, bringing light to adorn the darkness and lifting the sprit in times of trouble. 

Today was a good day to start this new year, also, because we were finally able to formally join our new church.  We have known for a while now that this church is to be our new home and church family, but life circumstances kept happening that hindered us from going forward. Today we finally got to make it public that we want Northwest Hills Baptist Church to be our new church family here. We are excited to join in the life and work of this little body of believers and we are thankful for the deep and solid teaching, gospel and grace-centered encouragement, and rich friendships we are already developing here. 

God is so kind to us. And I am grateful. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

My Year in Books - 2021

 As we are winding down 2021, a year which has admittedly held a lot of challenges for my family and me, I am ending one of my slowest blogging years, also, with only nine posts counting this one, with my traditional book list rounding it out for the year. I barely made my Goodreads goal of 50, and didn't think until today that I would (There are only 49 on this list because I read Delighting in the Trinity a second time to prepare for a book club at our new church). With all the challenges this year held, and with deciding to read ten of the Wheel of Time books, all of which had over 1,000 pages each, I almost didn't reach my arbitrary goal.  As it is my kids think I'm cheating to add the Christmas devotional I read each morning this month, but it is a book(let), and I did read it, so, in my opinion it counts. I could count the Bible, too, since I read it entirely again this year, but I don't typically include it in my list, since it is a given that I'll be reading it each year. Anyway, some of these I liked, some I loved, some I didn't like all that much.  Here is my list, with commentary on a few of them.  As always, just because I read a book and listed it here doesn't necessarily mean I would recommend it.  Some I would, some I wouldn't. I will say I LOVED the Andrew Peterson book, Adorning the Dark very much. And I really do hope for the coming year to take some of his advice about not waiting until I feel like it or until everything is just right before writing but to just write. Looking at the sad state of my blog and the fact that I've wanted to write that fiction story since high school, I really do need to take his advice and attempt to adorn the dark in my little corner of the world and just write.  May it be so. So, without further ado, here is what I was reading in 2021.  Happy reading, friends. 

January 2021

  • Faith Alone - R.C. Sproul (NF).
  • The Fires of Heaven (The Wheel of Time Series, #5) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Simple Genius - David Baldacci (F).
  • Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody - Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay (NF). Overall, I found this a helpful and critical look at Critical Theory and Postmodernism. Aside from the authors' rather obvious bias against deeply held religious belief, I even found much to appreciate in their proposed solution of a more liberal (in the classical sense of liberalism) approach to scholarship and discourse.  I wouldn't have lumped all people who hold a strong religious faith quite as solidly with other ideas they attribute to the far right (like white supremacy, for example), but I can overlook the bias and appreciate such a sentiment very well could stem from their own experiences, and I appreciate the intent, knowing my own beliefs and community as I do. And I have to think liberal-minded authors like these would appreciate the nuance and willingness to discuss and accept discussion on that. Overall I would recommend this book. 
February 2021
  • The Power and the Glory - Graham Greene (F).
  • The Green Ember - S.D. Smith. Another great middle/high school book find! This was recommended by our pastor on The Cripplegate blog, the first of a four book series, and once again, I loved this.  Pretty much if Pastor Jesse recommends a book, I usually find that it's one I want to read.  We've found several good new book series in the past year that my daughter and I have thoroughly enjoyed, and I had bought this one for her for Christmas upon reading the recommendation. She has been so busy reading for school she hasn't had a chance yet to read it, but having just finished the first book, I know she's going to love this. I bought the second in the series last night at the church bookstore before choir practice, and I'll probably get the next two as well. I was hesitant at first, because it's about rabbits and I wasn't so sure about that, but, as I've heard it described it's not so much like Watership Down, but  more like the Narnia books or the Wingfeather Saga, which I'm still emotional about. Definitely an engaging adventure story and I'm looking forward to finding out what is next in the ongoing adventure with Picket and Heather. 
  • This Tender Land - William Kent Krueger (F). This is one of those novels that is so well-written you kind of lose yourself in the story.  I liked this very much.
  • The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution - Carl Truman (NF).
March 2021
  • Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, Book #6) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • A Children's Bible - Lydia Millet (F).  After waiting quite a few weeks for this on library hold, it was disappointing, but I really did not like this one. At least it didn't take long to read, so I didn't waste too much time with it.
  • The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity - Douglas Murray (NF).
  • The Cost of Discipleship - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (NF).
April 2021
  • A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time, Book #7) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Unmasked: Inside Antifa's Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy - Andy Ngo (NF).
  • The Path of Daggers (The Wheel of Time, Book #8) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith - Michael Reeves (NF).  I loved this book. I am so glad one of our pastors recommended it.  I needed to read this today, and it is really good.  I will be pondering and leaning into the love of God for a long time after reading this.
May 2021
  • The Whole Truth - David Baldacci (F).
  • Anxious People - Fredrik Backman (F).  This is the third book I've read by this author and I just really like the way he writes. He has so much insight into the anxieties and insecurities we all can struggle with and such a compelling way of depicting relationships and friendship and the kindnesses that follow when we attempt to look beyond the surface to the things we want to say but can't always express, and start attempting to see people for who they really are, in the way he spins out the story.  I'm looking forward to reading more of his novels. 
  • Winter's Heart (The Wheel of Time, Book #9) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity - Shai Linne (NF).
June 2021
  • Panic Attack: Playing Politics With Science in the Fights Against COVID-19 - Nicole Saphier, MD (NF).
  • Crossroads of Twilight (The Wheel of Time, Book #10) - Robert Jordan (F).  The last couple of books in the series I've only given 3 stars (and the last one I almost gave 2 stars it was that boring and frustrating) because they've just been so slow-going in terms of moving the plot forward.  These really could have stood for some editing and making them move along a bit faster with less words, and in the last book there was a major character and plot development I really don't like and which has made me not like certain characters nearly as much as I would have,  but I've read far enough into the series that I want to know how it will end, so I guess I'm committed at this point.  The last half of this one did pick up the pace a bit to where I actually wanted to start the next book right away when I finished it (though I need to read a library book that I've had on hold for weeks and which finally came available first), and from reviews I've read, it seems that the next books will be better, especially the last three when Brandon Sanderson took over to finish the series after Robert Jordan passed away, so I'm not giving up yet.  
  • Ordinary Grace - William Kent Krueger (F).  Beautifully written. I very much liked this one.
  • Ember Falls (The Green Ember, Book 2) - S. D. Smith (F).
  • Ember Rising (The Green Ember, Book 3) - S. D. Smith (F).
  • Ember's End (The Green Ember, Book 4) - S.D. Smith (F).  I loved this series.  To think I would cry real tears over rabbits.  It's a beautiful story and truly engaging.  I would highly recommend these books. 
July 2021
  • How Lucky - Will Leitch (F).
  • A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman (F). Backman is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. Another good one.
  • Hope…the Best of Things - Joni Eareckson Tada (NF).
  • The Nightwatchman - Louise Erdrich (F).
August 2021
  • Knife of Dreams (The Wheel of Time, Book #11) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • The Gathering Storm (The Wheel of Time, Book #12) - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (F).  As I've read in many reviews, this was indeed better than the last several books in the series as Brandon Sanderson took over the writing. He seems to focus less on the minutiae and unimportant details that took up too much of those last few books and gets down to moving the story along better, and I'm looking forward to reading the last several books in the series to see how it all wraps up. One of my sons keeps asking if it's worth starting the series, and I'm conflicted on how to answer. On the one hand, I've enjoyed the story, but it's a pretty big time investment - the books are all very long and there are 14 of them, and those middle books do drag quite a bit and all the other things I've not liked about the treatment of women, along with the disturbing overall worldview. However, Sanderson does a better job of toning some of the things I hated in the last book down and actually succeeds in subtly making a character I knew we were supposed to like but who I had a hard time liking as written by Jordan much more likable without drastically changing her character finally, and I'm glad for that. So, yeah, if you're willing to spend as much time as it takes and wade through several books that needed better editing to get to the good part, it's worth it, but not if you don't want to spend all that time on one series. There are so many good books out there to read - it's hard to justify it, in a way. As my other son and I were discussing, the problem with these epic fantasy series is that while the world-building and story may be interesting, they're just so long and there is so much else out there to read besides fantasy that it would be sad to limit yourself just to this genre. You miss out on so much other very beautiful and well-written literature if all you read are these long, epic fantasies. That's why I'm hesitating to read the next one he keeps telling me to read. I'll finish this series and then take a break to read some other things for a bit, I think, before I decide to take on another long fantasy series. 
September 2021
  • The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz (F).
  • Towers of Midnight (The Wheel of Time, Book #13) - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (F).
October 2021
  • A Memory of Light (The Wheel of Time, Book #14) - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (F).  I think overall I liked this series ok, but it was just so long and drawn out that by the end I was too exhausted by it to be as emotionally impacted as I usually am at the end of a good series.  It was a satisfying ending for the world that the author created, but the overarching worldview of that world was one I didn't care for - too much like Eastern philosophy for my taste, with the idea of the need for the darkness balanced with the light and the idea that mankind will ultimately choose honor and light and good. The Creator/Light was much too impersonal and uninvolved with the outcome for the creation, though characters would often pray for the Light or the Creator to shelter someone, there was NO indication that there was any sort of loving or even involved creator to do that. It all hinged on the relentless turning of the Wheel of Time and endless cycles of rebirth similar to the concept of reincarnation and Eastern thought,  and blind spinning of the pattern by the wheel, kind of like the impersonal idea of fate, and the hope that people would choose the light over the darkness. Anyway. I'm glad to have finished it. Not sure I'd give it a hearty recommendation since I don't really feel all that much enduring love for any of the characters or the story now that I've spent all this time reading it. So that's that. 
  • Britt-Marie Was Here - Fredrik Backman (F).
November 2021
  • Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries, Book 1) - James Runcie (F).
  • The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity With the Gospel - Dean Inserra (NF). Of the books I've read so far this year, this is one I very much recommend. It's an important message, convicting and challenging and necessary, especially as someone who lives and grew up in the so-called Bible-belt.  Highly recommended.
  • The Means - Douglas Brunt (F).
  • Pathway to Freedom: How God's Laws Guide Our Lives - Alistair Begg (NF).
December 2021
  • One Faith No Longer: The Transformation of Christianity in Red and Blue America - George Yancey and Ashlee Quosigk (NF).   In his book Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen made the argument that liberalism and Christianity are actually two different religions.  This study pretty well bears that out, making a convincing case that the differences in Progressive Christianity and Conservative Christianity are so profound that we are probably witnessing the divergence of the two into separate religious categories.  Interesting read, though if we have been paying attention in recent years, sadly it is not terribly surprising in its findings, to be honest.
  • Mystic River - Dennis Lehane (F).
  • My Last Name - Eric Schumacher (F).  This was a beautiful little story. I finished it in one afternoon, but it left me in sweet tears. 
  • Jack - Marilynne Robinson (F).
  • Cry, The Beloved Country - Alan Paton (F).
  • Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane (F).
  • Christians Get Depressed Too - David P. Murray (NF). Recommended.  This should probably be recommended reading for all Christians, especially if you know someone struggling with depression, or you are experiencing it yourself.  This short book is easy to read and very compassionate and practical, a realistic and helpful look at the complexity of depression.
  • Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making - Andrew Peterson (NF).  I really loved this book. Andrew Peterson is one of my very favorite singer/songwriter/authors, and this book is beautiful.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
  • Gospel Meditations for Christmas - Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, & Michael Barrett (NF).

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Feel Good Songs

 Do you have any songs that whenever they come on your playlist, they just make you feel good or transport you back to another time? For me, one of those songs is Rod Stewart's "Forever Young." 

For me, whenever I hear this song, it's senior year in high school, band friends meeting at my house after football games so we could change out of those impossibly hot wool uniforms (wool uniforms in Florida, what were they thinking?) and go meet our friends at Jungle Jim's for a late football Friday night dinner, boombox on the beach or by the pool, windows down freedom enjoying my new drivers license, tables pushed together at Pizza Hut with lots of friends and laughter after church on a Sunday night, the excitement of the acceptance letter from the University of Florida, endless sunshine and a simpler time, and all the good memories and emotions that go with that season of life. 

It's funny how songs can convey so much emotion, and though this certainly isn't the only one like that for me, it is one of my favorites. Whenever I hear it in the car, I just want to play it loud with windows down and drive. It's such a feel good song and when it played on my way home from taking my daughter to band practice on this crisp cool morning, that's what I was thinking about.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Memory of a Smile

One of the most perfect movie moments I’ve ever seen is near the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when Frodo boards the ship to sail to the Gray Havens after his tearful farewell with Merry, Pippin, and most of all, Sam.  That moment when he pauses and then he turns and smiles at them and his face is truly happy and he all of sudden has color in his cheeks and you realize that you hadn’t noticed how pale and sad and wan he had become and how tinged with sadness and weariness his smiles had been until right at that moment when he suddenly looks like the sweet, carefree Frodo he had been at the beginning, and you sigh as the tears are streaming and think, “Oh. He’s whole again.”

This evening I was making grilled cheese sandwiches and thinking about my mom, specifically thinking about one of the last times I saw her and how she smiled at me while I was making a grilled cheese sandwich for her when she asked for one after she came home from the hospital when we were there in January. Grief is a strange thing, how it hits at unexpected times, but tonight I got to thinking about that scene from The Lord of the Rings and how sweet that unguarded, loving smile from my mom was, and how sick she actually was then and how sick and exhausted she’d really been for a long time even though we didn't realize it and she faithfully kept on and kept on, and I thought how if I were to be able to see her today and she were to smile at me, she would be whole in a way I’ve never known her. 

I know Tolkien didn't mean The Lord of the Rings to be an allegory or anything, but I think that scene and how Peter Jackson chose to portray it in the movie perfectly captures the emotions surrounding the death of the believer in Christ. There is the grief those who are left behind feel so tangibly, there is the sadness the one who is dying feels at leaving, yet there is that sense of relief and joy and wholeness in knowing they go to be with the Lord and enter into a joy that this world can only hint at. And there is also that sense of letting go and moving forward for those who now have to live with the grief of the separation from their loved one and that emptiness we feel when we miss seeing their smile, but also to live the life we still have to live and to live it in joy, even while we often ache with the missing of our loved one and are so often reminded by little things - even things as ordinary and simple as a grilled cheese sandwich.   

Tuesday, August 03, 2021



Romans 8:18-25

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Proverbs 14:13

“Even in laughter the heart may ache,

and the end of joy may be grief.”

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers, For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” - C.S. Lewis

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how in this fallen world how tangled and intertwined joy and grief, contentment and longing, laughing and weeping are in just about everything we do and all that we hold dear.  With my mom passing into glory earlier this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the strange mingling of joy and grief. On the one hand there is the joy of knowing her, having gotten to be her daughter and have her in my life for as long as I did, and also the ache in knowing how many of the years of her life were marked by some form of suffering through which she grew mightily in her faith, but it wasn’t an easy walk. Even in death there is the grief of separation, those moments when I think, “I wish I could talk to Mom about this, I wish she could have seen or heard this, I wish I could ask what she would think about this,” but then there is the sweet joy of knowing her physical exhaustion and pain are over, her faith is sight, she is in the presence of the Lord.

Another way I’ve been pondering some of these deep thoughts is in the very nature of friendships and relationships. When you have to move as often as we do, you come face to face with the grief of goodbyes. You also come face to face with both the joys and the difficulties of new hellos. It takes time to build up the kind of closeness that breeds deep and intimate friendships. It seems that for many of my adult years I have found myself finally finding people I could grow to have that kind of friendship with, only to have to pack up and move and say goodbye before really getting the chance to let those friendships fully blossom further. It seems that most of my adult life I’ve been torn between missing people we have known, looking forward to knowing new people, and learning to plant quickly in the place where we are at the moment. I told my husband the other day, I haven’t really, truly felt like we are ‘home’ in a long time.  Even when we are settled, in the backs of our minds, we know we most likely will be moving again in a few years, and though we try to plug in and form bonds and bloom where we’re planted, blooming and blossoming takes time, forming real community and trust and friendship doesn’t happen overnight.

Even when we have time, I find that real, deep friendship is a hard thing to come by. I think part of what we lost in the Fall back in Genesis is the ability to truly be open and truly vulnerable with others. Even in the best of friendships, often we are holding ourselves back, there is just something missing. This is why marriage and family are such a unique and beautiful blessing. On earth in our fallenness, marriage and family should be the relationships that come closest to being able to truly just be ourselves.  This is also why brokenness in marriages and families hurt so very deeply. When the people who should be the most able to be open and vulnerable and know everything about us are a safe place, it is a glorious glimpse of some of what we lost in the fall, but when they are not a safe place, it mars the gospel picture in a really ugly and deeply painful way. 

Another place where we ought to be able to find a glimpse of what is being restored for those who trust in Christ and have been joined to Him is in the Church. When people genuinely love Jesus and are seeking Him and His brilliant beauty above all else, it ought to bond them to others who also genuinely love and belong to Jesus. And I have found in all of our moving that if I’m going to find those kindred spirit kinds of friendships that I think we all desperately long for, it is within the local church families we’ve joined. 

But part of the cost of living on this side of eternity is that in loving well, we are also at risk of grieving hard. When a loved one passes away, or we have to pack up and leave cherished friends or friends who would have been kindred spirits had we had more time to develop the friendship, it hurts deeply. Life is hard.  There is so much wrong in the world that we long to see restored and made right. And the real hope for the believer in Christ is the knowing that He is making all things new.  He is sovereign and wrong will not win.  Jesus wins. He has conquered sin and death and He is where our hope finds rest, even as we live with the tension of the now and the not yet of that fulfillment on this side of eternity.

As I told a friend recently when we were expressing sadness that we hadn’t had time to know each other better, one day we will have all of eternity to develop friendships that won’t ever have to end as we worship Jesus together, no more marred by the sin that entangles us here. 

Something else that feeds these thoughts is that as I see the news and how divided people are, how much we can’t trust the voices we should be able to trust, how bad things seem to be in the world, I just feel a sense of homesickness, even when we are settled somewhere. It’s not like I’m wanting to be in some specific place that I’m missing, it’s more that I just don’t feel like it’s home in the deepest sense. I think what I’m longing for is not so much a place, but a Person. I’m longing to know Christ more and to find my security and rest and HOME in Him. This desire grows the longer I walk with Him and realize that the only hope for all of these things I’m pondering about is Jesus. He is the something better which my heart yearns for. It is in Him that we can be freed from the sin and discontent and lack of ability to let go of my self-centeredness and rest in Him and be free to love others and truly enjoy the portion He has granted with all its joys and sorrows combined. 

So, while we sojourn here on this side of eternity, let us seek to pursue Christ wholeheartedly, love others deeply and hold back less and less so we can give more and more of ourselves and make the best use of the time we’ve been given to share glimpses of eternity with others and moments of light in the darkness as we love well. I feel like I’m rambling a bit and not adequately saying what I’m trying to say here, but it’s a start. I’m speaking to myself.  I have such a tendency to hold back, to be shy, to live like a hermit, and then complain because of the ache of loneliness that I often don’t know how to break. Whatever the circumstances, I want to see Jesus for how precious and beautiful He is, and I want to live so full of that grace that I can reach out to kindred spirits and point them to His glory and together to live the life He has given us and enjoy the portion He has for us well, to purpose to fully enjoy the joys while not hiding from the griefs, to join in fully rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep until He calls us home.

“The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning. “ - C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Revelation 21:1-8

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall here be mourning, nor crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and  the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolators, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’”

Revelation 22:1-5

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”