the soundtrack of sorrow

sountrack of sorrow

There’s a mysterious power in tones and rhythms; a sort of shortcut to the soul.

Sometimes, music can take us to places that words alone never could.

Often, I need a Soundtrack of Sorrow to more fully feel. Grief and loss can stay bound up behind to-dos and busyness and noise. But music suspends the shoulds and lets me grieve. It gives a whole rest.

The Bible itself contains these types of soundtracks: Psalms of Sorrow and expressive Laments. They are powerful, emotive, and not to be dismissed.

Mourning is a deeply human, soul-level response to The Fall and its repercussions: death, separation, loneliness. And sometimes, to deal with all that, I need music.

What’s on your Soundtrack of Sorrow? Here are a few of the tracks on mine…

These choices might  not make sense to you. That’s ok, ’cause they’re on my Soundtrack of Sorrow, not yours. These songs remind me of my mother, and when I listen to these tracks, I see her at the piano, or sitting on the couch with her worn-out guitar. I see her crying in the kitchen after the death of her third baby.

These tracks remind me of my dad. Of happy times long since gone, and lazy Saturdays with grass and baseball; they remind me of Casey’s cookies and how he always bought a Butterfinger and a Diet Coke.

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Over time, I’ve added songs to the list. Songs unknown to my parents but deeply known to me:

This last one was sort of my mom’s cancer anthem. As I drove her back and forth from oncology appointments, we listened to Fernando Ortega. My dying mother in the front seat next to me, my baby brother in his car seat in the back. Not your normal teen experience, but it was mine.

Do you have a Soundtrack of Sorrow? What’s on it?

A Few of My Favorite Things {April 2016}

Here are some highlights from the hottest month of the year. To be honest, it’s been kind of a rough one, what with the heat, the power outages, the broken things, the loud funeral chanting, the karaoke music in the morning, the metal shop next door, and even the middle-of-the-night cat fights outside our bedroom windows, but here are some honest-to-goodness bright spots. (And in answer to your unspoken question, yes I’m still writing in my gratitude journal! I’m just being honest about the hard things too.) ~Elizabeth

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Watching some dear friends and teammates in the local homeschool coop’s play. I wrote about what I learned from that refreshing evening here.

Heading to Mondulkiri province with our teammates for Khmer New Year. It’s unbearably hot in Phnom Penh, but it’s at least 10ºF cooler in Mondulkiri during the day – and so cool at night I need a blanket, even without any fans. We met up with some other missionary friends in the area and had a lot of fun fellowship. I completely “unplugged” during this time and didn’t even use my husband’s phone to check Facebook or email. And the kids were again able to traipse all over the campground with their friends (there were 21 children in total), really getting that “camp experience” that Jonathan and I cherish so much from our childhoods. Here’s what I wrote about Mondulkiri on Facebook last year, what I wrote about it this year, and what I blogged about it last year.

Participating in the Velvet Ashes online retreat. The theme was “Commune: Closer to Christ, Farther from Fear.” Karolyn’s testimony really resonated with me, as she talked a lot about the Shepherd. She taught us that we are supposed to find our identity in the Shepherd alone – not even in being sheep, but really, truly in belonging to the Shepherd. She talked about how our Shepherd leads us to different pastures, but that’s all they are: different pastures. The pastures are His, and He is with us the entire time. Sometimes I can get hung up on “place” and Home being a place, but I loved the beauty of what Karolyn said about the Shepherd leading us to different pastures and being with Him the whole time. Beautiful, true, comforting imagery.

Also in the retreat time Kimberly read aloud Psalm 23 in The Message, because we tend to gloss over familiar passages of scripture without really thinking about them. She wanted us to listen to the psalm and pick out which phrases really caught our attention. The phrase that immediately caught me was “You let me catch my breath.” It stood out to me because I’ve been really breathless lately. I feel I can’t catch my breath, there’s so much to do, and the idea of catching my breath with God sounds really, really inviting.

Co-leading a workshop on relationships for international teens. We focused on both friendships and dating/romantic relationships, and I really enjoyed our interactive sessions. Confession: I really miss youth ministry! It was a thrill to get just a little taste of it again. I led a session about female friendships and also participated in a panel discussion on guy-girl relationships with the other leaders.

 

BOOKS

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. I broke through the “wall” I was hitting in this book, and it started flowing much more quickly and easily. L’Engle is completely out of time. She’s in my grandmother’s generation, but I keep reading her words thinking they are directed at today’s society, when in reality she was a 1940’s bride and has been dead nearly a decade. So she’s a good example of the fact that human nature and human needs don’t really change. There’s so much in this book that I underline and find profound – too much to quote. You should just read the whole thing!

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, also by Madeleine L’Engle. Marvelous. Absolutely marvelous.  Her husband had one kind of upbringing: stable. And she had another: mobile. I found myself in her story, and I found her musings on home, belonging, and marriage to be deeply moving. Be forewarned — it’s a tear-jerker. A beautiful tear-jerker, but a tear-jerker nonetheless.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. We finally finished reading this one! Goodness it takes longer to get through than any of the other Chronicles. I have so much less motivation to read it, although there really are some very good metaphors for the Christian life in it, including the baptism/transformation of Eustace and the appearance of Aslan in the form of a bird in one of their darkest, most fearful hours.

 

BLOG POSTS

What If? by Michele Womble. Poetry by Michele is something you should never skip!

Commune: In the Breaking by Patty Stallings. In preparation for the Velvet Ashes retreat. Beautiful.

Sometimes We Can’t Feed Ourselves by Amy Young. Also in preparation for the Velvet Ashes retreat.

Breath of Life by Amy Young. Because I forget that I need to b-r-e-a-t-h-e. So thankful for the reminder.

Resurrection by Sarah Bessey. Because there’s no way I can pass up Sarah Bessey on resurrection — and you shouldn’t either.

The Cult of Calling by Leslie Verner. Such great truth that really touched a nerve over at A Life Overseas.

Sisterhood: We Sharpen Iron Here by Idelette McVicker. I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again: Christian female friendships have been some of my most life-giving relationships. I treasure them.

A Fit Bit (on belonging; not on electronic step tracking!) by Robynn Bliss. Not belonging or fitting in: this is the TCK condition. It is also the human condition. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. (And as an aside, when I met with Robynn in person, I felt like I belonged. I hope she felt the same.)

The Desert Shall Bloom by Emily Hamilton. Because “flourishing in the desert” imagery speaks my language.

On Freedom and Forgiveness by Jen Hatmaker. Such important truth, and so clearly and convincingly laid out here.

 

SONGS

Let It Be Jesus by Christy Nockels. Especially the phrase:

God I breathe Your name above everything.

Beneath the Waters by Hillsong. Especially the bridge:

Your word it stands eternal
Your Kingdom knows no end
Your praise goes on forever
And on and on again

No power can stand against You
No curse assault Your throne
No one can steal Your glory
For it is Yours alone

 

VIDEOS AND PODCASTS

If:Equip is going through the Nicene Creed. Here are my favorite discussions so far (they are each 2 minutes):

Day 7 on God being good

Day 10 on God as creator

Day 18 on the resurrection

Day 21 On the Holy Spirit

Day 24 on listening to the Holy Spirit

What Room Does Fear Have? video and backstory. This one’s 20 minutes, but worth the time.

Finding Allies in Imagination: Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast interviews S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember (which I recently bought but haven’t read to the kids yet). Encouraging.

Navigating Fantasy: Sarah MacKenzie interviews Carolyn Leiloglou. Another WONDERFUL Read Aloud Revival podcast.

What does it mean to be emotionally healthy? by Kay Bruner. A short but comprehensive description of emotional health, including recommendations for some of our favorite books, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and the classic Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Head, body, heart: three ways to work a problem by Kay Bruner. How much do I love this (also short) animation? So much. We are whole beings and have to treat ourselves as such.

And finally, this trigonometry animation, because I’m still more than a little obsessed with sine, cosine, and the unit circle.

 

FUNNY STUFF (because too often I forget to laugh)

27 Ridiculously Funny Things Sleep Deprived Moms Have Done. I laughed so hard at these! (Once I walked into a wall while on my way to fetch my little nursling.)

This Video Slays Every Video About Working Women Ever. Found this through a FB friend. Kind of like Igniter Media’s Nobody has it all together, minus the Christianity.

Jim Gaffigan on bowling. Because it’s Jim Gaffigan, and that means funny. (I actually do love bowling though.)

Jim Gaffigan on Disney World. As someone who doesn’t like amusement parks, I couldn’t stop laughing at this. (Beware one bad word.)

 

QUOTES (but only a few this month)

For the liturgical among us, Easter is a season, not a day. So even though it’s way past Easter, I’m going to share an Easter memory from Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.  This particular story took place on Easter morning several years ago. The author’s son had been given a balloon in Bible class. He walked into the sanctuary where his mom was chatting with one of their pastors. He accidentally let go of the balloon, causing it to float upwards. The pastor immediately started walking for a ladder to retrieve the balloon for this heartbroken young lad. Kimberlee tried to stop him: “Please don’t. We believe in letting him experience the consequences of his actions.” But the minister turned around and said,

“It’s Easter, Kimberlee. There are no consequences.”

Aslan and Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon.”

Stephen Hawking, in The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, explaining straight lines and the curvature of space in a way in which I finally “got it.” I must admit that my study of spherical (or globe) geometry from several years ago greatly aided my understanding of this section. Even so, this is the best explanation I’ve ever read:

Einstein made the revolutionary suggestion that gravity is not a force like other forces, but is a consequence of the fact that space-time is not flat, as had been previously assumed: it is curved, or ‘warped,’ by distribution of mass and energy in it.

Bodies like the earth are not made to move on curved orbits by a force called gravity; instead, they follow the nearest thing to a straight path in a curved space, which is called a geodesic. A geodesic is the shortest (or longest) path between two nearby points. For example, the surface of the earth is a two-dimensional curved space. A geodesic on the earth is called a great circle, and is the shortest route between two points. As the geodesic is the shortest path between any two airports, this is the route an airline navigator will tell the pilot to fly along.

In general relativity, bodies always follow straight lines in four-dimensional space-time, but they nevertheless appear to us to move along curved paths in our three-dimensional space. (This is rather like watching an airplane flying over hilly ground. Although it follows a straight line in three-dimensional space, its shadow follows a curved path on the two-dimensional ground.)

How can I not love this chemistry analogy from Mike Bickle in his book Growing in the Prophetic? Though it’s not a perfect description of the science (but really, what metaphor is perfect?), over and over this has been my spiritual experience: I sit and I sit and I sit before God, and nothing happens. Then all of a sudden one day, something BIG happens:

There is a chemistry experiment called a titration. In this experiment, there are two clear solutions in separate test tubes. Drop by drop, one solution is mingled with the other. There is no chemical reaction until the one solution becomes supersaturated with the other. The final drop that accomplishes this causes a dramatic chemical reaction that is strikingly visible.

Some sit before God in prayer rooms and renewal meetings for hours with no apparent spiritual reaction taking place. Then, suddenly, they have a power encounter with the Spirit that radically impacts them. In retrospect, they come to believe that a spiritual “titration” was going on through the many hours of waiting on God and through soaking in the invisible and hidden ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Corduroy by Don Freeman. I got back into reading shorter books with my younger kids this month and was particularly drawn to the end of Corduroy, where the little girl Lisa brings Corduroy home from the department store.

Corduroy blinked. There was a chair and a chest of drawers, and alongside a girl-size bed stood a little bed just the right size for him. The room was small, nothing like that enormous palace in the department store.

“This must be home,” he said. “I know I’ve always wanted a home.”

Lisa sat down with Corduroy on her hap and began to sew a button on his overalls. “I like you the way you are,” she said, “but you’ll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened.”

“You must be a friend,” said Corduroy. “I’ve always wanted a friend.”

“Me too!” said Lisa, and gave him a big hug.

Isn’t that just the heart cry of all of us? We want home and a friend and unconditional acceptance.

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. No matter how many times I read this book, little Jo-Jo’s YOPP at the end still gives me goose bumps. No matter what it is or how small it seems, the kingdom work you and I do matters.

And he climbed with the lad up the Eiffelberg Tower.
“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the air of their country!” he said.
“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts.
So open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they got to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, “YOPP!”

And that Yopp . . .
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heart! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean? . . .
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All!”

Child of God

by Elizabeth

I love the song “No Longer Slaves” by Jonathan and Melissa Helser. Absolutely love it. I love it because it sings the truth over us about who we are: children of God.

I wept over that song when we sang it in church last Sunday. That’s because in the last year or so I’ve really come to understand that my truest and deepest identity is as a child of God. It’s who I am — because of who HE is — and it’s the truest thing about me.

I know now that being a child of God is what defines me more than anything else. More than being a woman, more than being a wife, more than being a writer, more than being a mom, more than being a TCK.

But here’s the thing: it’s not like I wasn’t taught this. I was searching through my wallet this week for a card that I’d misplaced, and in one section I found a bunch of small cards and family photos that I hadn’t looked at in years. On one of them is this message from my mom:

“Dear Liz, Remember who you are — a child of God! Love, Mom & Dad.”

She wrote that note to me in high school (maybe college), and I’ve kept it in my wallet all these years. Why? I don’t know. But I’m glad I did. Because it shows me that the Truth was there all along, it just hadn’t sunk deep enough into my marrow.

But it has now, and as Melissa Helser practically screams in “No Longer Slaves,” nothing can change the fact that:

I AM A CHILD OF GOD!

Listen to the beautiful backstory of this song here.

Bleeding for Dust Like Us

by Elizabeth

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I worked at a Christian summer camp when I was a teenager. We attended Hymn Sing every morning, and at the end of every Hymn Sing we wandered off to our Bible classes while singing these words from Fanny Crosby: “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”

I didn’t realize at the time just how central that prayer-song is to our Christian walk. For what is theology but the stories we tell ourselves about God? So we cry: Tell me the story of Jesus. Tell me the story of a God-become-flesh, a God-who-dwells-among. Tell me the story of a God who sacrifices of self, who pours out His life-blood for dust like us.

Tell me the story of a God who sets captives free and makes blind people see. Tell me the story that never gets old or grows stale. Tell me the story that revives my weary soul, the story that brings new life to all. Tell me the same story I’ve been hearing for thirty years, the same story people have been telling for two thousand years: Tell me the story of Jesus.

I love this story. Truly I do. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the story, I can’t get enough of it. And it never gets old. But. Sometimes I forget. And sometimes I need a reminder. Last month my reminder came in the form of C.S. Lewis’s children’s novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For when I read it with my children, I read words like these:

“Please – Aslan,” said Lucy, “can anything be done to save Edmund?”
“All shall be done,” said Aslan, “but it may be harder than you think.”

As I spoke those words out loud, I remembered the greatest Story ever told: the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice, the enormity of my need for that sacrifice, the enormity of Jesus’ love for all of humanity. Believe me, I needed the reminder.

Glennon Melton has said that “Grace cannot be personal if it is not universal.” If grace is for me, then it’s for you. And if it’s for you, then it’s also for me. This is a truth about grace that I sometimes forget. Sometimes I need reminding of the personal, and sometimes I need reminding of the universal. Last month I needed reminding of both, and I found them both in the pages of an ageless children’s story.

This week the global Church is preparing for Easter. We’re on a collective journey toward the Cross and toward the Resurrection that follows. As we journey, let us remember the truths immortalized in the Apostles’ Creed. They are the core, the crux, the fundamentals of our faith. They are the words we must remember when we begin to forget. And they are the words I leave you with today.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

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When you forget the Story, what helps you remember??

(Originally published at Velvet Ashes.)

I am a Worshipper

by Elizabeth

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I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath.

Psalm 104:33

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I was nine years old when I attended my first week of Bible camp. I came back singing. The preacher’s daughter (who provided my transportation) told my parents this story about our four hour return trip: if I wasn’t singing, I was sleeping, and if I wasn’t sleeping, I was singing. And I’ve been singing ever since.

Years later it became a sort of joke in our youth group that “Let’s sing!” was all I ever proposed doing. And sing we would. Our church building had a back stairwell where the sound of our voices reverberated particularly beautifully, and when we wanted to sing, that’s where we would go.

I remember learning new worship songs at the Tulsa Workshop. We still used overhead projectors back then. Nowadays we have Zoe Group for teaching us new acappella songs, but when I was a teenager, the only group singing acappella worship songs was Free Indeed, and boy was I in love. They still produced cassette tapes back then. I remember collecting those tapes and singing my little heart out to and from school in a massive maroon Mercury Sable.

I was always singing. I took voice lessons. I was in choir at school. I sang in the shower. I joined the church youth group choir (Go CYC!). I wanted to be like my singer/songwriter hero Twila Paris — though this probably had more to do with my pride than anything else. In college I sang on the worship team at our campus ministry, but after a couple years of singing into a microphone, I quit. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my singing up front was too much about ME.

I may not sing on a stage anymore, but I can’t get enough of worshipping God through song. It’s one of the strongest ways I relate to God. I crave it, whether it’s in a large group with modern worship anthems, or a small group singing “camp songs” around a fire, or by myself, picking out simple hymns on the piano or blaring worship music through my tiny purple iPod shuffle.

Worshipping in song is still my favorite part of a Sunday (or anyday) service. It’s where I most often and most consistently meet God. It’s what takes me “past the outer courts into the holy place,” and I can’t get enough of it. I get crazy excited singing songs about God’s worthiness and holiness, whether it’s Jesus Culture’s “Alleluia,” David Brymer’s “Worthy of It All,” Brandon Hampton’s “There is Only One Found Worthy,” or Kari Jobe’s “Forever.” Worship never gets old for me.

We preach to ourselves through our worship music. Laura Hackett Park puts it this way: “Sometimes you gotta sing your way into the truth.” Singing the truth tends to penetrate my heart much faster than someone simply instructing me — that’s especially true if I’m in a spiritually resistant phase. Singing is more participatory than preaching, and if feels safer too, as though I’m choosing to believe and obey instead of being ordered to believe and obey. A song might send the same message as a sermon, but it speaks to my heart instead of lecturing to my head.

Worship music opens the door for hearing God’s voice. That’s why we must make space for worship in song. We have to take the time to let the words sink deep into our souls and allow God to speak to us there. Some of the most important things God says to me happen in worship. Weird, unexpected things happen to my attitude. And they are holy moments, these times when I invite God into my heart in order to change it.

I’ve come to realize that my role in calling believers to worship may not be through “my” music or “my” singing, but it will be through sharing my experiences in worship. It will be through encouraging the Body not to neglect both private and public worship.

I may never be a worship leader or lead singer the way I used to dream. But may I always and ever be known as a Worshipper. May I be someone who calls people to worship. We must be a Church full of worshippers. The world needs to see us loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And honestly, when we worship? It’s just a little taste of heaven.

So I will be a worshipper. I will worship alone, in the secret place, and I will worship corporately, with other believers, and I will call the saints to worship even more deeply than before.

I will be a worshipper.

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Other posts in The Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

Authenticity is Not New

A Few of My Favorite Things {February 2016}

I can’t believe it’s the end of February already! I started writing again this month, beginning with a piece I submitted a couple weeks ago but that hasn’t published yet. There were also some deliciously cool days this month, which both surprised and delighted me, as cool days are all usually relegated to January. Also a highlight of this month were two (two!!) dates with my husband. There’s nothing I love more than dreaming about the future and processing the past with my favorite man, all over a cup of coffee and a side of palm trees. ~Elizabeth

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BOOKS

Seth Haines’s Coming Clean. Seth’s book took an unexpected turn from doubt and pain into unforgiveness this month. I had only finished half the book last month, but it was already so good I simply had to recommend it. (And the second half did not disappoint!)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I read this with my kids this month. There’s nothing like meeting Christ and Him crucified through the pages of Lewis’s Narnia. Nothing.  We also read through The Magician’s Nephew, which was actually quite good and not nearly as strange as I remember it, and then started in on Prince Caspian. (Yes, I am bucking the Creation-to-Christ trend of missionaries, and we are reading the Chronicles in the order I deem fit: first Christ, and then Creation, and then further histories.)

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. As a child I met L’Engle through her children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. It’s one of my all-time favorite books (along with Lewis’s The Silver Chair, for their obvious connection in standing up against Evil, of course).  I’ve been wanting to read L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals for over two years now but have never made the time for it. I finally cracked open the first one this month and was in tears by the second page. Madeleine was so honest, relatable, and similarly enamored of words that I knew right away we were going to be good friends.

Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr. Last year during Lent I worked through a compilation of Henri Nouwen’s writings called Show Me the Way. It was the first time I’ve ever done anything related to Lent and was such a rich experience that I knew I wanted to do a Lent study again, so I bought this book in America last fall. It’s so good that at the end of this post I’ll share some quotes from it.

 

BLOG POSTS

In the Light of Home by Jennifer Trafton. Meditations on home and, for the word-lovers among us, a new Welsh word for its accompanying longing: hiraeth (As an aside I understand knowing the light of a certain place, as I have that kind of relationship with the light in my Cambodian living room.) If you’re an expat or a TCK, or a wanderer of any kind, and you read none of my other recommendations this month, make this the one you do read.

The Race and Contented Competing, both by Michele Womble. Both of these were short meditations on the theme of “Compete.” But don’t be deceived by their brevity; Michele’s words are packed with wisdom and insight. I love it when she links up with the Grove, which she often does in a poetic format.

How Old is Sisterhood? by Idelette McVicker. I spent years attending a Ladies’ Bible Class at our sending church, and they’re some of my favorite memories. One woman was a young mom like me, but most were older than I was by a generation or more, and they literally prayed, counseled, and empathized me through a particularly deep, dark time in my life. This article reminded me of our priceless Thursday mornings together those many years ago.

Things No One Told Me About Grief by Rachel Pieh Jones. That title and that author are all you need to know in order to read this piece. Her words here tell a universal yet personal story.

Why Are We Here? by Jonathan Trotter. A beautiful encapsulation of the Gospel and of Kingdom work, by my dear husband.

Your Blind Spot is Only Blind to You by Kathy Ferguson Litton. This gave me a good kind of “ouch.” It put into words a truth I need to remember and made me feel sorry for the people who regularly see my blind spots and have to put up with them.

Let’s Talk About Sin . . . Again by Cindy Brandt. This article blew the top off my understanding of David’s sin. I already thought he had committed egregious sins, but this opened my eyes even more to the fact that David had power, prestige, and privilege — and he abused them all. No wonder he was so contrite in Psalm 51.

Welcome to the Past (and Why It Matters) by Susan Wise Bauer. Written by one of my very favorite authors, this is the launch piece for a new series on the Psychology Today website.

On Staying, Leaving, and Which is Harder by Abby Alleman. About one of the best and most important lessons we will ever learn — but one that’s usually learned through fire.

 

VIDEOS

Necessity of Seasons by Jonathan and Melissa Helser. Beautiful, honest, and relatable as I attempt both to follow Christ and to string together words that express my followership. A guest writer at Velvet Ashes recommended this video.

Interview with Jonathan and Melissa Helser. This video followed the first one, so naturally I watched it. It offers some really good reflections on God-glorifying art and seeking God’s heart alone instead of the approval of the Crowd. (One of these days I want to talk about Misty Edwards’s conversation on creativity and listening to God at the onething 2015 conference, but I simply haven’t had the time yet.)

Minor Revisions Episode 1 with Jen Fulwiler, an atheist to Catholic convert. I was fascinated by this reality TV miniseries. Not because she chose Catholicism — don’t worry gentle readers, I am happy in my Protestantism! — but because of her journey from unbelief to belief. Atheism proved itself hopeless and meaningless, so she set out on a search for God. Her story is of a changed life and a changed heart. She’s also a writer, which of course I connected with. Here are Episode 2 and Episode 3.

Where’s the Washing Machine? and Why are You Covering Up? by Natural Khmer Lessons. A friend here in country shared a link to these Natural Khmer Lessons in a recent newsletter. They are fun and funny and give some good insight into the cultural differences between Cambodia and America, for any of my readers who are interested in that sort of thing. (In defense of Cambodians, the sun is so strong here that it really can be more comfortable to wear long sleeves in the heat. And my washing machine doesn’t have a central agitator like it did in the States, so some dirt has to be scrubbed out by hand anyway.)

One more cultural story — watching these videos reminded me of the time during our first term when Jonathan was watering the plants outside our front door. Our neighbor asked, “Jonny, do you know how to water plants?” “Uh, apparently not,” he thought. She proceeded to show him the proper, Cambodian, way to water plants: to sprinkle water all over the leaves instead of pouring water on the soil. Funnily enough, growing up as an American I was specifically taught not to water the leaves, as it would make them wilt (is that true??) and to only water the soil. But everywhere we go in Cambodia, people water their plants the way our neighbor instructed us, and every time I witness a plant-watering session, I smile to myself at the differences between East and West.

 

MUSIC

My Soul Longs for Jesus by Planetshakers. Beautiful modern-day hymn that doesn’t merely sing the same chorus over and over again (though there’s a place for that, too, as you’ve seen in many of my “favorite things” songs before). I’ve been singing this song all month. Read the full lyrics here.

I Will Bring You Home by Michael Card. My husband grew up listening to this song and recently re-discovered it. (In fact Jonathan introduced me to Card’s music in general, and I have several favorite Card songs myself.) This song is for the global nomad. I love the “kingdom now and not yet” theology in this song. Jesus is our Home even now, and one day He will also bring us to our final Home. Lyrics are located under the video.

As an aside I’m also planning to read Card’s (relatively) new commentary/devotional books on the Gospels this year. I’ve started on Luke: The Gospel of Amazement and learned a lot already in just the beginning chapters, but am currently sidetracked by a few other books, including Rohr’s Lent book (which I mentioned earlier) and Tracey Bickle’s Chaos Beneath the Shade: How to Uproot and Stay Free from Bitterness, which caught my eye at the onething2015 conference (and which I believe was Holy Spirit-directed).

Sinking Deep by Hillsong Young & Free. Heard this at church this month. It’s a good basic summary of all the things I’ve learned about God and His love and grace over the last several years.

I Will Praise Him, Still by Fernando Ortega. An old song that I randomly remembered this month. Beautiful and true and reflects my deepest desires. (My husband also introduced me to Ortega, and as a teenager, he and his mom would listen to this song on their way to her chemo treatments.)

 

QUOTES

Marilyn Gardner in Waving Olive Branches:

“Forgiveness is not easy. We give up our rights to hold on to wrong-doing, we give up our rights to be victims, we extend grace to the perpetrator. Sometimes forgiveness costs us everything we have, everything we can give. But there is no ambiguity in the Biblical call to forgive, there is no grey area, there is no ‘but what about…?’”

Frederick Buechner (via Marilyn Gardner):

Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” 

I’m a big believer in His mercies being new every morning, and that to access that mercy, we need only sleep.

I’ve talked before about the International Children’s Bible Field Guide, which we are using for family devotionals and which doesn’t shy away from hard topics, even for children. (Better to address tricky questions now, when they still live under our roof, rather than later when they don’t, right?) There’s a section describing the responsibilities of Old Testament priests that concluded with this comment:

“Today when Christians pray for others, or teach them about God, we are being priests to them.”

Sometimes it takes a children’s vantage point to give hands and feet to a Scriptural concept. I’ve always loved the verse about us being “a royal priesthood,” but I had focused more on our ability to contact God directly (through Jesus Christ our High Priest) and on the equality that brings to all believers. I had never thought about the fact that we act as priests to each other when we serve each other in Jesus’s name, and I’ll never look at our shared mutual priesthood the same again.

Speaking of which, I just discovered Revelation 1:6 which triumphantly declares that:

“He has made us a kingdom of priests for God his Father.”

St. Benedict, as found in Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book The Circle of Seasons (which I’d been wanting to read for years and won in a book giveaway from Amy Young):

“Repentance is praying with tears.”

More and more I’m coming to understand how essential it is for my life and my relationship with God to regularly practice repentance. And yes, it almost always involves tears. (Bonus tip: Kimberlee is currently blogging through the Psalms of Ascent for Lent.)

Asaph spoke straight at my heart in Psalm 73:21-26:

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant — I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew:

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”

C.S. Lewis and Richard Rohr, in parallel quotes from The Magician’s Nephew and Wondrous Encounters:

“All get what they want; they do not always like it.” (Lewis)

“We will all receive exactly what our lives say we really want and desire: Love is always torment for the hateful, and final torment is impossible for the loving.” (Rohr)

Susan Wise Bauer on the 6th century Byzantine rulers Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, in The Story of the World Volume 2:

“The two of them ruled side by side, and Justinian rarely made a decision without consulting his wife.”

Were they perhaps the first egalitarian couple? Even my sons cheered their marriage.

Anisha Hopkinson (who blogs here and also at A Life Overseas) told this story on her personal Facebook page:

“This morning I about fell apart – in church no less.

The kind of falling apart when you actually hear the screws coming loose in your head and your heart is pounding so hard any moment it’ll break right through your shaking chest and a fleeting, ‘Watch it. You’re going to lose your witness.’ flashes through your mind right before you become completely unglued.

At least this is one particularly helpful thing about my marriage – My husband and I seem to have opposite freak out moments. If I’m about to pop, he’s usually ok, and vice versa.

So while I had my moment in church this morning, he had his when we got home.

And after 2 years living in the melting pot of all things stressful, here’s what we’ve learned-

Be the safe place.

Seriously. Just let the other person have their freak out and you be the safe place that says with your quiet presence, ‘Totally ok. You won’t lose your witness with me. You just let all that out.’

Because there is so much PRESSURE to be this ‘authentic Christian’ person, but what people (or your own condemning thoughts) really mean is ‘yes, be ‘real’ but no mistakes or bad tempers, please.’ Because…

*You’ll lose your witness*

Which is actually just another way of saying, ‘People will see you for who you really are and it’s not at all *Christian* enough.’

Now, I’m not implying abusive or mean behaviours are acceptable, but I am saying – We all need safe places.

Safe places let unglued people freak out and meet them with grace and love, rather than insisting the ones struggling keep all their crap together and hidden with a smile on their face.

Friends, that’s the community I need. One that says: Don’t worry. I’ll be a safe place when you come unglued. You do the same for me.

I’d take that kind of witness any day.”

To finish out this post, here are several Richard Rohr quotes so you understand why I’m loving his Lent study so much:

“You cannot begin to desire something if you have not already slightly tasted it.”

“You could not have such desires if God had not already desired them first — in you and for you and as you.”

“We can only be tempted to something that is good on some level, partially good, or good for some, or just good for us and not for others. Temptations are always about ‘good’ things, or we could not be tempted.”

“As the Danish philospher Søren Kierkegaard wisely said, ‘Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward.’ Jonah knew what God was doing, and how God does it, and how right God is — only after emerging from the belly of the whale. He has no message whatsoever to give until he has first endured the journey, the darkness, the spitting up on the right shore — all in spite of his best efforts to avoid these very things. Jonah is indeed our Judeo-Christian symbol of transformation.”

“Did you know that you only ask for what you have already begun to experience? Otherwise it would never occur to you to ask for it. Further, God seems to plant within us the desire to pray for what God already wants to give us, and even better, God has already begun to give it to us! We are always just seconding the motion, but the first motion is always and forever from God. The fact that you prayed at all means God just started giving to you a second ago. . . . It is not that we pray and God answers. It is that our praying is already God answering within us and through us.”

A Few of My Favorite Things {January 2016}

We transitioned back to Cambodia this month. It was so good to arrive back home and see our friends and teammates again. We put our house back together and started home school as soon as possible, leaving me tired but happy. Having our own space again allowed me more time to spend alone with God, something I desperately needed. And while I’m still not doing any substantial writing, I did want to share the words and music that shaped my month. Enjoy! ~Elizabeth

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BOOKS

Coming Clean by Seth Haines. Such a good book. This memoir chronicles the first 90 days of Seth’s sobriety, but it isn’t only for those who struggle with alcohol. It’s for people who numb their pain by any method. The core pain in Seth’s life was disappointment with (and subsequent doubt in) a God who didn’t seem to heal or answer prayer. His use of language is beautiful and poetic yet clear and understandable. You can get a glimpse of his story by listening to this interview.

Looming Transitions by Amy Young. My blogging friend Amy asked if I would read and review her upcoming book on transitions. I wasn’t able to finish it before the official book launch in January because I was, ironically enough, taking her advice to stay grounded in Christ during transition, so I chose to read my Bible instead of her book. Now that I’m resettled in Cambodia, I finally finished it, and I can tell you it’s chock full of clear and practical advice, including several helpful metaphors — the most important of which is about soil and farming. Also watch for the section on transitive and intransitive verbs that got my husband asking me what I was laughing so hard about.

 

BLOG POSTS

Where We Have Gone Sideways by Kirstin McGrath. A beautiful meditation on Eden and wanting More. Velvet Ashes had great content this month on the theme of Eden, and Kirstin’s post in particular had me pondering something new.

Get Thirsty by Patty Stallings. How to cultivate a thirst for God, and how to quench said thirst. Velvet Ashes also had awesome content on the theme of Thirsty. Incidentally, both “Eden” and “Thirsty” were based off major themes in Amber Haines’ memoir Wild in the Hollow. (And to make just one more connection here, Amber Haines and Seth Haines are married. To each other.)

Gifts without Bows: Telling and Receiving Stories as They Are by Craig Thompson. Don’t be fooled, this seemingly Christmas-themed post is applicable all year round. Do we have people with whom we can be honest, people with whom we do not need to prettily package up our stories? I do, and I pray you do, too.

The Radical Spiritual Art of Staying Put by Stephanie Ebert.  I relate to so much in this spiritual memoir, even though I’m not a missionary kid! I think everyone can relate to something in this post, as Stephanie pretty much covers the entire gamut of American Christianity in the last forty years or so, but you’ll especially relate if you’ve worked or grown up in missions or ministry.

Travel Delusions by Hsu-Ann Lee. An honest examination of the effects of international travel on our identity — and on our pride.

On How Elephants Can Escape Their Chains, and We Can Too by Anita Mathias.  How does Anita do it, manage to write my heart and my struggles, over and over again? Sometimes I really struggle with forgiving others. (I’ve also found Rachel Pieh Jones’ article on forgiveness to be helpful both in redefining what forgiveness means and also how to do it.)

 

POETRY

Thirsty by Michele Womble. Don’t miss this poem by a fellow overseas worker! I found it when she linked up with Velvet Ashes for their “Thirsty” theme.

“Petrichor” by Kathleen Brewin Lewis. I shared this as a photo last month on Facebook. I found the poem on my friend’s fridge:

Two geologists made this word from the Greek, petros for stone, and ichor, for the liquid that flows through the veins of the gods.

They wanted to name the scent of parched earth after fresh rain: The reconstituted redolence of salted silt marbled with terra cotta.

This old, dry world brought back to loamy life – another name for mercy.

 

HOME SCHOOL

The Official Teaching From Rest Book Club by Sarah Mackenzie. I would LOVE home school parents’ input on these ideas. I haven’t yet read her book Teaching from Restbut I follow her blog and Facebook page, and I’ve watched these book club videos. They are so intriguing, the ideas so attractive. Please let me know what you think about these teaching concepts! And any idea on how to implement them?? Would love to have a conversation.

Part 1: Whose Well Done Are You Working For?

Part 2: Curriculum is Not Something You Buy

Part 3: Be Who You Are!

What is Scholé? by Dr. Christopher Perrin and Sarah Mackenzie. I’m enchanted by the educational ideas in these videos. Scholé means “restful learning,” the kind of conversing and philosophizing that happens among good friends with good food and drink. It’s the kind of thing I loved as a teenager and still love as an adult. My only question — how to make this practically happen in a home school setting??

 

SONGS

“I Shall Not Want” by Audrey Assad. Ever since I heard this song at the onething 2015 conference in late December, it’s been in my head and on my lips. “I shall not want, no I shall not want, when I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.” Can’t say enough good things about this song, or her voice. This is the live version I heard.

Mercy by Amanda Cook. “You delight in showing mercy, and mercy triumphs over judgment.” I also heard this at the onething 2015 conference, and it stayed with me. At the conference Amanda said, “The only One worthy to judge delights in showing mercy.” I would do well to remember this, for both myself and others. This is the live version I heard.

I Still Believe by Kim Walker-Smith. I first fell in love with this song a couple years ago, and I heard it again on Jonathan’s phone as we were packing to come back to Cambodia. Then I heard it again on my little iPod shuffle over the Pacific. And then strangely enough, the iPod shuffled back to it again before we landed. So I thought perhaps God was trying to tune my ears to its message.

You Satisfy My Soul by Laura Hackett Park. “Thirsty” week at Velvet Ashes had me remembering this song (which beautifully complements Audrey’s song, don’t you think?).

 

QUOTES

Leslie Verner, in her Velvet Ashes post When You Feel Spiritually Dehydrated . . . Again:

“On a recent road trip, my three-year-old son cried for his water cup. I eventually took off my seatbelt as my husband drove and I craned my arm back to search for his cup. I finally found it—under his arm. Immediately following, my one-year-old daughter shrieked for her water. I found it on the floorboard, but as soon as I handed it to her she hurled it back down. And it occurred to me that these are the two ways we often approach God’s attempts to quench our soul: we either don’t notice His provision for us or we throw the spiritual nourishment back in His face because it doesn’t fit our rules for what is ‘spiritual enough.’” 

These are the first words spoken in the television show Christy, which I’ve been watching with my girls. They are beautiful (and they reminded me of my old post How Do You Write Your Name in the Land? ):

“The Great Smokies. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the wonder of those mountains. Smoke blue and serene, folded one behind the other. I counted eleven ranges rising up toward the vault of the sky. I didn’t realize it then, but from the very first moment I saw them, the mountains were a source of peace and strength to me, always there to quiet my mind and satisfy my heart.”

Also regarding place, from C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress (and found in Amy Young’s book):

“Be sure it is not for nothing that the Landlord has knit our hearts so closely to time and place — to one friend rather than another and one shire more than all the land.”

Dan Scott, metallurgical engineer, as quoted in the Fall/Winter 2015 volume of Missouri S&T Magazine. I thought they applied to more than just engineering:

“In the synthetic diamond industry that I work in, we aim to build products that last. The best way to do that is to take a step back and look at the worn products. To get to the root cause of what had limited the life and see if we can either improve it or create something entirely new.”

In America I was chatting with a long-time friend who is both a fellow engineer and a fellow home school mom. We were discussing (among other things) creation, God, and atheism. I mentioned that everyone worships something; atheists just stop at the cosmos. (You know this is true if you’ve ever heard an atheist speak about the universe; they hold the cosmos in high esteem.) My friend Vicki replied thus:

“Of course! It doesn’t require anything of them.” (Which was both incredibly true and something I had never, ever thought of before.)

From fellow missionary Chris Lautsbaugh (who blogs here):

“One of my students said the other day, ‘Grace is nonsense (in a good way).’ I like this. Grace is mind blowing, it is not rational, it sounds like a scandal, but oh so amazing.”

Ravi Zacharias:

“The older you get, the harder it is to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to fill it.”

Bonhoeffer:

“Bewilderment is true comprehension.”

Gerhard Tersteegen:

“A comprehended god is no god at all.”

Augustine:

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.”

Miss Alice in the book and television show Christy, quoting her father. A guiding light for parents:

“Before God, I’ve just one duty as a father. That is to see that thee has a happy childhood tucked under thy jacket.”

And on that note, here are some parenting notes from Allen Hood at the onething 2015 conference. I’ve mentioned in other places that I dislike parenting books and can hardly stand to crack them open, let alone finish them. Even so, God has been teaching me a lot about parenting over the past several years, and each word Allen shared resonated deeply with me, mirroring my own journey — which is why I’m sharing his advice below.

  1. Ask our heavenly Father to reveal His heart to us.
  2. Ask the Lord to turn our hearts toward our children. 
  3. Ask our children to forgive our shortcomings.
  4. Talk about porn without shame. Fight the battle together. 
  5. Record our family’s memories.
  6. Keep an unwavering commitment to our spouses.