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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.”