Friday, September 18, 2020

Great and abundant

Yesterday I saw a flag flying that said “Keep America Great,” and I had to wonder which part of America we think is great.  Is it the West Coast on fire, spewing noxious smoke across the globe?  Or the flooded Southeast strewn with people waiting for rescue on the roofs of their ruined homes?  Perhaps the tanked economy.  Nationwide riots?  Or was the rampant disease not enough?  Well, at least we still have confidence in the peaceful transfer of fairly elected power, right?

I live 3,000 miles from California and the sun is obscured by forest fire smoke.  At my house.  It’s cold enough in the haze that I feel bad for the dinosaurs during that asteroid incident.

My kids are growing up in a world where you have to find your shoes AND your mask before you go out the door.  The librarians, the cashiers, the teachers are all behind a shield or on a screen.  We can no longer read each other’s facial expressions.  There’s so much insistence on contradictory information out there we’re tempted to ask with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”*

Yesterday also I read two articles:  the first saying that a vaccine probably won’t be available to the public until late 2021 (one year from now), and the second saying that covid sufferers are often left with indefinitely-long-term, “debilitating” fatigue, and that “women and those with histories of anxiety or depression” are most likely to experience this.

If you’re not starting to hyperventilate yet, please just bear with me.  In truth, I feel like the Lord Rhoop in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

“We’re going round and round in circles.  We shall never get out.”  The stranger, who had been lying in a huddled heap on the deck, sat up and burst out into a horrible screaming laugh.

“Never get out!” he yelled.  “That’s it.  Of course.  We shall never get out.  What a fool I was to have thought they would let me go as easily as that.  No, no, we shall never get out.”

We’re restarting our Sunday school class this weekend.  At least one of our Sunday school friends is immunocompromised.  Another works at ground zero of our latest local outbreak.  

Breathe.  Breathe.

Breathing!  We’ll all be breathing on each other!!

We set up our chairs spaced apart and plan to leave the door and windows open.  I’m still not thrilled.  But the risk/benefit ratio has been weighed and this is what we’re going to do.

I would much rather crawl into my hermitage and stay there until it’s over (in other words, pretty much forever, apparently).  But in reviewing a sermon series on “The God Who Gives,” I came across this passage:

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.

~1 Corinthians 8:1-2

Great ordeal of affliction?  Check.  So when the Macedonians were in their great ordeal of affliction, their abundance of anxiety overflowed in their crawling into their hideaways, yes?


The generous Macedonians gave at a time of great suffering.  Their ordeal was great, but their joy was simultaneously abundant.  And they gave.  

And so I will give of myself in a way that feels sacrificial.  Because my brothers and sisters are lonely and hungry for the Word.  And I trust that God gives grace in affliction—grace that will be enough even for me.

*John 8:38

Monday, September 14, 2020

Down in the valley

My friends up above me
Don’t understand why I struggle like I do...

It’s like that long Saturday
Between Your death and the rising day
When no one wrote a word
Wondered is this the end

But You were down there in the well
Saving those that fell
Bringing them to the mountain again

~Caedmon’s Call, “Valleys Fill First”

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Like the cry of the song, I have plenty of friends who don’t understand why I struggle like I do.

“It’s fall!  Let’s do all the things!” I hear all around me.  Announcement time at church gives me an anxiety attack that ratchets up another notch with every line item.

I don’t think the presence of heightened anxiety at this cultural moment necessarily signifies demonic influence.  I think for a normal human who reads the news and cares about human life, anxiety is an understandable and appropriate emotion right now.

This coming from a person who feels anxious every time I don’t feel anxious because I must be missing something, I know.  But of all times and circumstances, I’m confused that I feel so alone in my current anxiety.

The on-and-on pandemic is frustrating.  I don’t like it.  I remind myself (and my kids) morning after morning, God is in control.  He controlled history when Esther lived in the Persian Empire that almost destroyed the Jews.  He was in control when Job was covered with sores.  He’s in control of the 2020 pandemic.  He’s in control of our lives.

I don’t particularly want to be told why I should relax, whether it’s because the pandemic is overblown or because God’s got the whole world in His hands.

I’d rather be acknowledged as a human being who is functioning as best I can to cope with ever-changing plans and a barrage of conflicting information, but who is weary and frustrated and keyed up, who unexpectedly finds tears trickling into my mask when I drive alone across town or sit in church.  I like rules and take comfort in following the rules, and now nobody knows what the rules are, which is why I doggedly follow the arrows in the grocery aisle, because according to the sticker I know I’m doing something right.

I’m not allowed to go shopping or eat out—or maybe I am!—I’m not allowed to have parties—or maybe I am!—and I have to wear a mask—or maybe I don’t!  Dear ‘friends up above me,’ please just allow me to feel my feelings.

I feel anxious about the world.  Please don’t tell me, again, that I’m doing something wrong.

The Lord our God is always good,
His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

~Louis Bourgeois and William Kethe, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”

Quick lit


What I’ve been reading lately (linking to Modern Mrs. Darcy)....

I’m decidedly back into schooly books instead of summer fluffy fun books.  Tis the season, c’est la vie.

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff

Ada’s first book of the year completes the trilogy that she started at the end of last year (The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch).  They all take place around and after the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, highlighting the struggle for Britain after Roman legions departed.  

I liked The Silver Branch the best out of the three.  They hardly relate to each other so you don’t really need to read them all to follow the story.  In fact, we did read them all and still struggled to follow the story.  The Lantern Bearers follows the story of a Roman soldier who’s also a British Celt, enemies with the Saxons, who are also called Sea Wolves, but they’re also mad at another Celtish clan that aligned with the Saxons, so they’re called Foxes, and they are led by a guy whose name sounds a lot like Voldemort and his sons with names that also sound very similar to Voldemort, and they’re all Celts, except the Saxons, who are also British like the Celts, and not Romans, like the Roman-Celtish main character, but they’re all in different Celtish tribes who occasionally band together but other times split apart and fight.  Oh, and the main character’s father and son are both named Flavian, and his sister is named Flavia. 

Follow?  Yeah, I didn’t really either.  I’m good to leave this series behind for a while.

Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand

Jo and I both read this at the beach as a sort of mini-book club, since she found it on one of the house’s shelves and we both dabble with Elin Hilderbrand.  It was quick and truly fluffy, as a beach read is, and slightly ridiculous and a bit scandalous.  We agreed that we didn’t particularly love it, but it was fun to compare notes and complain about what plot points and characters we didn’t like.

Arthur of Albion by John Matthews

I may have complained about King Arthur before (like here and here), so it would be unnecessary to point out again here that in my humble opinion, King Arthur and his knights act like childish brats who are overcompensating for something when they go around accepting every challenge to see who can whack whose head off first.  But at least this version has lovely illustrations.  And Ada appreciated the book, probably because she had just read The Lantern Bearers.  Geez, I really gotta make my kids read better books.  [But in my defense, one does need to be acquainted with King Arthur if you’re going to be an informed Western citizen.]

Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard

Dear 1963, could you have made an uglier cover?  Well, yes, I’m sure you could’ve.  Because, see below.  Maybe only green and pink had been invented by then.  

Snark aside, the actual story here isn’t so bad.  I’m reading this one aloud to Lizzy and Caleb and I haven’t gotten terribly far along yet, but the story is compelling enough that it seems like it could’ve had a more interesting cover.  

Fun fact: there were two Saint Augustines.  The one that generally springs to mind is the one who wrote Confessions and City of God.  That wasn’t this guy.  This is another Augustine, who reintroduced Christianity to Britain after Rome fell and pagans took it back over.  

Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle

This internet-search picture of the book cannot do justice to the true ugliness of the copy we have.  And what really makes me cringe is the typos in the text itself!  I suppose I can’t shouldn’t complain, seeing as it was free.  

I’ve read this story before for school, and it’s a bit sad and rather macabre, but it does give a picture of the feudal system during the Dark Ages, which is what we’re going for.  And if was as cheery as a birthday party I guess it’d be historically inaccurate.  Putting two and two together, I guess it’s characters like the ones in this book who looked up to guys like King Arthur as their hero.  And that basically sums up the European Dark Ages.

Did you read anything more fun this month?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

On getting old

I recently had a milestone birthday.

For which my dear family got me this iPad Pro!

40.  I turned 40.

It amused me how many people’s birthday wishes were actually condolences.  

“It’s just a number!”

“I hope you handle it better than I did.”

“Oh well, at least you got a card.”

Last year when I threw myself a birthday party, friends tiptoed around the question: “You’re so young. This isn’t a big birthday, is it?”  When what they really meant was, “How old are you?”

I was recently reminded that turning a milestone year like 30 or 40 is really hard for people whose life doesn’t look anything like how they hoped it would by that time.  Maybe they have yet to get married; or they’re divorced and unwillingly single again, for example.

But I can’t help but feel that much of the delicacy surrounding age in our culture is silliness.  Facts are facts.  I was born in 1980; that was 40 years ago; therefore, I’m 40.  Ten years from now, if I am still on this planet, I will be 50.  Someday I might be 80.  I’m pretty sure my birth year is a matter of public record, so it’s not like a state secret.

Here’s one guy who isn’t worried about his age.

We age.  This is a basic fact of life on earth.  Maybe the gospel gives me the courage to face it.  I’ve known for years that the Bible promises my body will decay.  To dust I will return and all that, and it happens bit by bit over the years—starting around age 23 or so. 

“Therefore glorify God in your body.”

~1 Corinthians 6:20

Admittedly, I wish I had fewer wrinkles and the metabolism of a teenager.  But I wouldn’t trade those things for what wisdom this many years has given me—as well as the sort of comfortability with oneself that age brings (what our children call dorkiness, as we increasingly shrug off what the world thinks).  

I heard John Piper once say, regarding the desire to look younger, despite the acquisition of wisdom as we age, “Why would I want to look ten years dumber?”

I’ve walked with Jesus for going on 35 years now and haven’t yet found Him unfaithful.  And most of all, every day—every year—brings me closer to the moment when I see Him face to face, whether by my bodily death or His bodily return.  Why would I want to reverse time?  That’s the very day I long for.

Yes, it’s disappointing, at best, to watch my body slide into decay.  My knee is sore; my skin sags and has weird new spots; accidents hurt more; my joints don’t bend like they used to.  At worst, it’s tempting to panic and scrabble to try and hold on to physical youth.  So we cling to our kids and are shocked when they grow up; we avoid admitting simple arithmetic; we get offended when people call us that dirtiest of words: old.

But what if we rejoice at each new age spot (smart spots, my friend and I decided to call them, since they demonstrate we are aged and therefore wise) because it promises that we are one step closer to the grave, which, while our final enemy in one sense, is also the believer’s door to paradise and the relief of our longing heart.  

What if the weakening of my body doesn’t frustrate me, but instead reminds me that “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” and I am moving toward the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”?*  God is doing something inside me that’s far more valuable than taut skin and the foolishness of youth.  He is preparing me for glory.  And the weaker and more broken my body gets as the years go on, the more He will invite me to trust Him and yearn for that great day, and that kind of yearning will only welcome the years that speed by.

We’ve taken to giving “motivational speeches” before school each day, on a rotating basis.  This is what Ada created for her inspiration.

It’s alright
It’s okay
I won’t worry ‘bout tomorrow
For it brings me one more day
Closer than I was to You

~Third Day, “It’s Alright”

Not sure if it’s aging-related, but Buck is in the worst shedding phase he’s ever had.  Fur tumbleweeds waft through the school room throughout the day, and when you spend five minutes petting him, this is the result.


*2 Corinthians 4:16-17


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