Our two dogs are hunters by avocation, “man’s best friend” when they’re not on the prowl.
On any given day, remnants of their most recent hunting expedition can be found on our front lawn. Such was the case on a beautiful late summer evening recently. As I rolled along on my riding mower, making my perfectly straight paths, I spotted a pile of feathers up ahead. Actually, I smelled them before I saw them.
You have a couple of choices when coming upon one of their specimens:
- make a wide swath around said item and hope Husband disposes of it later
- mow right over it as if it doesn’t exist (don’t laugh — I’ve done this with deer skeletons)
- stop the mower, get off, find a shovel, hold your breath, scoop it up and carry it across the road to the ditch
None of these are pleasant options. Even swinging wide to miss the pile, it still stinks. This time, I decided to get rid of the offensive heap. It took several scoops and more than one trip across the road, but I managed to do the deed without losing my dinner.
Back on the mower, I got to thinking about how often we come upon stinky messes that need to be dealt with in life. We can be rolling along, making fine work of the tasks before us, when something unpleasant suddenly looms on the horizon.
It could be someone’s bad attitude, bad choices or bad news. It might be our own mistakes, hurtful words, misunderstandings.
If left to fester in the heat of the day, the mess will begin to stink. But still, we will dance around that stinky mess, avoiding it, even turning away to leave it for someone else to clean up. Or we’ll hold our noses and just pretend it isn’t there.
Over time, the stinky mess may actually rot away, becoming nothing more than a pile of dry debris. But there will be scars in the landscape. Weeds will grow over the mess and the stench will fade, but only after we’ve wasted time in denial and avoidance. And we’ll still know it was there and we didn’t deal with it.
Okay, this analogy may be a bit of a stretch, but imagine a lawn full of stinky carcasses — or a life littered with messes we’ve tried to ignore.
Scriptures that I turn to over and over are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. There is so much good instruction in Romans for dealing with life’s inevitable messes. The one I hang my hat on is this:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
As simple — and as complicated — as that. Live at peace with everyone. There’s a limit to what you can do about someone else’s messes (though it’s good to keep a shovel handy) but you can do your part and deal with your own messes before they begin to stink.
And keep the peace.
It’s a sad reality that millennials (those born between 1985 and 2000) are leaving the church in record numbers. (See my comments here.) But recent discussion centers around the fact that Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are also turning from faith traditions. Last week, I read with interest the Her.meneutics column in Christianity Today by Michelle Van Loon (also shared this week in her blog at Patheos.com.) She’s calling the exodus of church-goers over 50 “The Midlife Church Crisis”.
I’ve been thinking a lot about her lament that church doesn’t have much to offer us “empty-nesters”. Van Loon bases her assessment on her own lack of opportunity to become involved in a new church setting that obviously caters to young families, and on an informal survey she conducted on her blog among people she says are in their “second adulthood”. I don’t doubt that most churches focus on young families, and I believe her survey results which indicate “nearly half …. told me they had downshifted their involvement in their local church.”
But why leave now? Surely bulletins full of announcements for VBS, youth mission trips and parenting groups aren’t enough to cause us to turn from the faith traditions we’ve held — many of us for all our adult lives? I realize the issue is way more complicated than just feeling left out of church activities. For some, it is a crisis of faith. What I fear is that people of my generation are using the “there’s nothing for me here” argument as an excuse for their own boredom and lack of initiative.
Yes, it is challenging to worship alongside young Christians who are embracing “the doctrine of tolerance”. But in the next breath, they’re begging for someone to lead them deeper into scripture. It is a shame that the very people who could prime the pump for meaningful dialogue are bored or disillusioned or tired and are walking away. I’m blessed to worship with followers of Christ who believe that, though we are currently without a full-time pastor — or maybe because of it — the time is ripe for a fresh examination of the truths that define our faith and a stronger commitment to live out the original call to be in community.
Christian fellowship and worship are the foundation of “church”. The church experience is fashioned by the people who gather for those purposes. Is it really up to a leadership group to decide what the church will do for whom and when?
Last Sunday my husband and I attended a “hipster” church in Nashville, TN, with our 27-year-old son. The small congregation was made up mostly of people his age, with a smattering of folks in their “second adulthood”. There were the usual offerings for teen fellowship and family-oriented small groups. But we later found out there’s an effort to cross generations in those small groups and that there are opportunities for those teens to serve the church community.
Back at my home church, I joined a small gathering to discuss a plan to match teens with adult “accountability mentors” for the purpose of creating unity in the church and fostering spiritual growth on both ends of the spectrum.
My point is this: Church will be what we make it. The basics are still there. God is still the Creator, Jesus is our Savior and we are sinners in a fallen world. We come together to worship, to help one another up when we fall and to celebrate the victories. Whether we get everything we want from church or not is pretty much up to us. If something is lacking — such as an in-depth book study or a service project that appeals to mature believers — then it’s up to us to bring it.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work “Life Together”, defines “church” with these straight-forward statements:
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
I’m sharing these reflections today for Thought-Provoking Thursday at Lyli Dunbar’s excellent blog, 3dLessons4Life. Please hop over there to read more thought-provoking essays by clicking on the red chair.
It’s like walking down an avenue of corn. This time of year, our country road is lined on both sides by tasseled stalks towering eight feet as they reach for the sun, creating a beautiful tunnel for my evening walks.
Walking is my chosen posture for thinking and praying. Something about moving along helps unlock thoughts, concerns, ideas stored away throughout the day. The trek is never very long, but for a good 20 minutes, it’s just me and whatever’s going on in my brain.
As I walk, I’ve been thinking about that corn.
I let go recently of a responsibility that’s been dear to my heart because I felt God was telling me to free myself up. For what, I have no idea. I just know that I’m in a “waiting” mode.
Kind of like the corn.
A few short months ago, seed was drilled into the soil, and after a season of rain and sunshine, what stands in place are towering green stalks with ears of corn. The crop looks ready to pick, but the growing hasn’t stopped. Kernels are filling the ears, hidden behind green husks now turning brown. In a short month, when the time is right, the corn will be picked, hauled to the mill and ground up for feed — fulfilling its intended purpose.
You don’t have to be a farmer to know that growing anything worthwhile takes time. And patience. Whether it’s a child, a business, a relationship or corn, there’s nothing instant about it.
The life of Christ gives us the perfect example of patience. For 30 years, Jesus knew what he was created to do. He understood from the time he was a child that there was a call on his life. But he waited.
“The right time for me has not yet come,” he said to his brothers (John 7:6) when they pushed him to perform. “For you any time is right.”
In her devotional “Whispers of Hope”, author and teacher Beth Moore reminds us that Christ lived for one purpose: to do the will of the Father. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, it should be the same for us.
“If our heart’s desire is the will of God, we will wait for His timing even when the pause is long and uncomfortable. We will gain nothing by running ahead of God.”
She points out that if we believe God knows what is best for us, shouldn’t we also believe that He knows when is best for us?
Does waiting mean standing still? I wonder, is there anything to be done while waiting for “when”? Even as he waited for the right time, Christ was about the Father’s work. He gathered around him a support team and he did the work laid before him in each day of his waiting.
I believe God honors “active waiting.” In addition to praying and staying in the Word while we wait, could it be that God is also calling us to make some moves on our own? I think there are a few things I can do to move from passive to active waiting:
- Take a personal assessment and drop any unhealthy habits (physical, spiritual or emotional) that may be keeping me from hearing God’s voice. And I can replace them with new, healthy ones.
- Find a place to interact with positive, affirming people — church, a small group, a volunteer responsibility.
- Let go of a commitment that is unnecessarily consuming time, energy, resources. I’ve asked myself, “Am I the only one who can do this thing?” If not, maybe it’s really someone else’s job.
- Sit down with a trusted friend and make a list of all my interests, passions, talents and look for a common theme.
- Read worthwhile books, articles, essays and, yes, even blogs. God uses everything — He’s the God of perfect economy. He wastes nothing and He can speak through everything.
- Do something positive for someone else. It’s amazing how an attitude of impatience and despair can be changed when I take the focus off myself and share God’s love with others.
While we’re waiting and praying, we can do so with expectancy and we can pray believing the answers will come, thanking God NOW for this time of waiting, and for the answers He is preparing — even while we wait. We aren’t called to move ahead of God, but we can be fruitful in our time of waiting. Call it exercising our muscles so that we are fit and available when God says “Go and do!”
A late-summer afternoon custom-made for an outdoor birthday party drew me to the nearby home of Hoosier author and naturalist Gene Stratton Porter. Mrs. Porter would have been 151 on August 17. Guests at her home on Sylvan Lake near Rome City, Indiana, celebrated the author’s birthday with music, storytelling, walks through the garden and birthday cake on Saturday and Sunday at an annual festival called Chautauqua Days. Mrs. Porter supported the adult-education movement of her time, named for Chautauqua Lake in New York state, where the first gatherings were held.
Mrs. Porter was born in Indiana and had homes in Geneva and on Sylvan Lake. She loved the swamp and woodlands surrounding this man-made lake and explored them regularly. Her biography on the Limberlost web site says Mrs. Porter wrote 12 novels, 7 nature books and 3 books of poetry, as well as numerous children’s books.
Local storyteller and writer Lou Ann Homan portrayed Mrs. Porter on Sunday afternoon, to the delight of her friendly audience. As she moved in and out of character to share details of Mrs. Porter’s life, Homan urged visitors to emulate Mrs. Porter’s practice of writing daily in a journal and sketching things that interested them in nature. Two little girls enjoying the event with their mother during the session I attended took every word to heart and I later saw them walking to Mrs. Porter’s “Cabin at Wildflower Woods” with Homan to share some birthday cake.
Today, as I searched for my 100-year-old copy of Gene Stratton Porter’s “A Girl of the Limberlost”, I took a moment to calculate that Mrs. Porter was 61 when she died in an auto accident in California. Exactly my age. She’d already spent all her adult life reflecting on those things that mattered most to her — nature and her family.
In the spirit of Mrs. Porter, I have a renewed commitment to continue to pause and reflect on the moments, people and events that inspire and encourage me on this journey.
Limberlost North is located at 1205 Pleasant Point on the southern shore of Sylvan Lake, near Rome City, Indiana. The historical site is open April 1-December 1, 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday, Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm.
A few days ago, my good friend and fellow blogger Connie Gochenaur surprised me with a nomination for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Connie writes two very good blogs, including one that chronicles her mother’s journey through dementia. A Journey With Mom, is raw, moving and inspiring. Please visit her there and at My Days Well-Lived.
This is an award that we pay forward — honoring the bloggers whom we follow and who inspire us. Here are the rules:
Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
List the rules and display the award.
Share seven facts about yourself.
Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.
Seven facts? Here we go:
- I’m a small-town girl, transplanted to the country and loving it (as long as I can get to a big city once in awhile).
- I home schooled our four sons for 20 years before “retiring”.
- In another life, I’ve been a news reporter (I once met Sam Walton) and a floral designer (funeral flowers were my specialty).
- In yet another life, I ran a school lunch program and went into elementary classrooms dressed as the Pink Panther to teach kids about good nutrition.
- I’m the oldest of five children
- I wrote a little book with my Dad about his life (you can own one — see the sidebar).
- I love Jesus Christ more every day.
- BONUS: I believe we miss half of what’s going on around us because we’re too focused on ourselves (preaching to the choir here).
I follow many inspiring bloggers, a few of which probably don’t even know who I am. But I will follow the rules (except that I’m only giving you a baker’s dozen) and link them up here so that you can be inspired by them, too, then I’ll hop on over and introduce myself to them.
It appears I’ve been taking more than my daily ration of “manna” this summer. A few too many late evening ice cream cones at Lucy’s and way too many vanilla lattes (with whip, yes) at my favorite coffee shop have pushed the scales a good decade past where I began the summer. So now instead of that lingering 10 pounds I’ve been fighting to lose……..well, you get the idea.
We always want more, don’t we? In a nation where most of us have all we need to survive and thrive, we’re urged to believe we deserve to have it all. Anything we want whenever we want. If I can get it, why not have it?
Today, after a Sunday of corporate worship in preparation to feed starving children, the images of those hungry little ones are still fresh in my mind’s eye.
And I turn to Exodus 16 to read this:
“I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”
God provides. In the desert a thousand years ago and in our world today, He provides.
The World Health Organization says the world’s farmers produce more than enough food to the feed earth’s inhabitants. Some estimates say we could feed ourselves 1 1/2 times over. The problem is access, and it’s not an easy problem to solve. With poverty and war blocking the way, it’s difficult to get food to those who need it most. So we do what we can. We raise money and package meals and we pray the food gets into the hands of the hungry.
Back to the Israelites. God heard their grumbling and said to their leader, Moses: “Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
Only after meeting their need did God expect they would acknowledge Him as their God. But in that provision was a test. The Lord delivered on the condition that they take just enough for each day. Just enough to fill their bellies until the next morning, so that He could bless them again. Fresh manna from heaven. Each and every day. For 40 years.
Being the stupid people they were (nothing has changed) they tried to take more than their share. A hedge against hunger, when the One who provided had already promised there would be enough.
God desires to bless us out of His abundance in our time of need. When — in our self-made abundance — we fail to see our deepest need, when we scramble and grumble to be sure we’ll always have enough and then some, do we miss the blessing? Do we miss His best gift for us?
The food we send to those hungry children in Guatemala, Afghanistan, Honduras, Ukraine — and the United States of America — is designed to be enough in preparation for His greatest blessing. Because when a tummy is full, a heart can open to acknowledge the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
Before I share my reflections, I want to direct you to the blogs of two special women. They willingly joined the World Blog Tour today at my request. I know you’ll enjoy meeting them as they give you a glimpse into their lives. Please hop on over to meet Connie at her blog, My Days Well-Lived. In addition to her World Blog Tour post, spend a minute reading her heart-felt essay about motherhood. In an entirely different vein, I know you’ll have fun reading about the adventures of Lou Ann at her blog Stories from a Small Town. As I write this, Lou Ann is en route home to northeast Indiana from her summer island home on Okracoke Island. Enjoy!
In the waning of summer, I can’t help but notice a subtle shift in the weather. Until this weekend, I never considered how much I love the month of August. Spring and fall are my favorite seasons, but August has her own unique characteristics. Floating in a kayak on a local lake Sunday afternoon, the sun glinting off the lake’s surface, I remembered how the sun’s rays glared from mid-arc earlier this summer. On this day, the sunshine was more a glow than a glare.
This seasonal shift began about a week ago with the dropping of yellow leaves from our walnut trees. They are always the first to turn green in the spring and yellow in autumn. Our still-green lawn is littered with the little yellow slivers.
Wildflowers scattered alongside the pond last year are finally in full bloom and I know they’ll keep bringing color well into autumn. I love petunias, geraniums and roses, but these wild beauties are my favorites.
The glow of late afternoon sun has turned our lane into a golden pathway and I pause to take it in.
The changes in my physical world coincide with the shifts in my heart-held world. People marrying, moving and starting over. Some of these changes have not been easy to accept, but there is beauty even in that.
Years ago, on a late summer vacation in Michigan, I was introduced to the artist and poet Gwen Frostic. Her lovely little book of original block prints and poetry is a favorite I pull out from time to time. From her collection “To those who see….”
“…..yellowed leaves floating in the air
bare stalks stand erect
holding next year’s pussy willows to the sky
there is no beginning…and no ending…
…..only a slow blending….
day into night…fall into winter into spring…
to the eye that beholds it
is the one consistency…..”
I stole a day out of last week to focus on this craft of writing. Along with several hundred scribes, I turned from other responsibilities to consider the very questions I’m answering here today: what do I write and why? The workshop I attended zeroed in on the art of novel writing and my head was filled with great encouragement, instruction and examples from award-winning mystery writer William Kent Krueger. Between sessions and at lunch, all of us writerly types shared what we’re working on and traded contact information. It was a good day.
That day of focus reminded me that writing is as important to me as breathing. So, taking a deep breath, I’m responding to an invitation from my friend Brenda Yoder to post this week as part of a World Blog Tour. (Please visit Brenda’s wonderful blog, Life Beyond the Picket Fence, and see what she’s been up to.)
What am I working on?
In addition to putting into words my observations on life to be shared with you on this blog, I’ve begun crafting a little piece of fiction about a farming family. It’s a story that’s lived in my heart for over a year and I recently shared part of it with my writing group. With instruction from Mr. Krueger and from several great writing books, I hope to create a story that will move and inspire others. We’ll see.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure that it does. I love writing essays — which is essentially what blog posts are. It’s my desire that readers will step away from reading my blog with something to “mull over”. I’m sure that is what most bloggers desire. As for the novel, as the story unfolds, I’m hopeful that it will be an accurate portrayal of the trials and joys of working together as a family, especially in the midst of the conflicts and challenges life brings.
Why do I write what I do?
I write the blog because I believe we miss so much when we fail to slow down, observe, record and appreciate all the living that goes on around us. Several years again, I read a book by Nancy Nordenson entitled “Just Think”. Her little book was the impetus for my quest to love God with all my MIND. I think one of the most beautiful words in the Bible is “selah” — a tiny word inserted in the Psalms that tells us to slow down and think on what has just been read. In life, I try to practice “selah”.
How does my writing process work?
I wish I knew. It just happens, really. I seem to write best under pressure and late at night. However, I’ve had some very productive afternoons on the front porch of my writing cabin and in a local coffee shop. It’s best for me to write when inspiration strikes, though that isn’t always possible. For the novel, I’m keeping a notebook with character descriptions, a story outline and back story for each of the characters. They change as the characters evolve, but it’s a good place to start. For the blog, many posts come from my personal Bible studies or from books I’m reading, as well as from things happening in the world.
Next stop on the World Blog Book Tour?
While I follow and enjoy many well-known bloggers, two of my favorites live right here in northern Indiana.
I’d like to introduce you to my dear friend, Connie Gochenaur. After raising her daughters in suburbia, Connie recently became a “farm girl” and writes about her beautiful life at www.mydayswelllived.com. Connie is Mom to four grown daughters, Grandma to four wonderful grandchildren and Wife to Jon the Farmer.
I’m also hoping you’ll stop by the blog of Lou Ann Homan-Saylor. Lou Ann is a columnist for our local newspaper and writes a lively, entertaining blog at louannhoman.blogspot.com. A storyteller, writer, actress and teacher, Lou Ann leads a life between two worlds — her home in nearby Angola, Indiana, and Okracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Lou Ann is currently an islander, tending the light house and participating in theater at her beloved summer home. During the school year, she is on the faculty of Trine University.
There are books we read for pleasure. Others we scan for facts, information. Some books are meant to be read slowly, to be absorbed in bits and pieces, pondered and then read again.
And still others carry us along on adventures, affording the opportunity to live vicariously through the author’s chronicled life.
In this latter half of my “summer reading list” (see the first half here) there are books that fit all those categories. I offer eight more bookmarked choices inhabiting my reading stack:
- “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller. This book is inspiring on several levels. Reading it is pleasurable, it’s full of information and it must be read slowly to absorb all that is contained within. And certainly an examination of the reasons to believe in God’s existence by examining His Word is an adventure. I began this New York Times Bestseller last fall, only to set it aside after a few chapters. It is important and challenging, but it’s also serious work to examine how we hold our God up to what the world calls god. However, understanding its premise is important to my spiritual health and will equip me to share my faith with others. World Magazine’s editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky has been assigning Keller’s book to students in his World Journalism Institute, it’s that good.
- “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” By Ann Voskamp. This is another “redux”. I read this wonderful book when it began climbing up various best seller lists four years ago. I’m reading it again with my Sunday school class as we work through a study guide that is a companion to Ann’s devotional video. I’ve been counting gifts for several years now, returning to this book for inspiration from time to time, and I find something new in Ann’s lyrical prose every time I crack open her beautiful book. This is one worthy of owning in hard cover. Her wonderful blog, http://www.aholyexperience.com, is just as lovely and inspiring.
- “Pursue the Intentional Life” by Jean Fleming. This book is new to my stack and it will stay at the top for a very long time. This is one to be savored, marked up, copied, prayed through. Fleming can be seen talking about her book at http://www.incourage.me. From the back copy of her book: “Whether you are facing the end of something in your life or embarking on a new beginning, this book will help you live meaningfully and intentionally in the present while preparing well for the future.” Again, this is not one to rush through, but is meant to accompany personal examination and deliberate prayer.
- “Kisses from Katie” by Katie Davis. This book has been recommended to me so many times, and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. Katie Davis was Glamour Magazine’s 2012 Woman of the Year, but she hardly lives a glamorous life. This young woman stepped away from college and a relationship to travel to Africa at age 18. She has since founded a ministry and adopted over a dozen girls. Having served on three short-term missions to Central America, I’m inspired by the humility and bravery of this young woman. While not everyone is called to live Katie’s life, all of us are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Katie’s book shows us what that looks like in a very practical sense.
- “Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul” by Cathleen Medwick. While reading a collection of Saint Teresa’s writings (“Let Nothing Disturb You” compiled by Ave Maria Press) I became fascinated with this strong, gifted 16th century Spanish nun. Saint Teresa was the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church and was a reformer in the church. Not a light beach read, this biography is one that will likely remain in the stack into the new year.
- “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard. At just a little over 100 pages, Annie Dillard’s classic is a perfect “jump-start” for a writer with little time to read about writing. As reviewed by the Chicago Tribune: “For nonwriters, it is a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague.” Once finished, this little book will go on my shelf alongside Steven King’s “On Writing” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”.
- “Into the Free” and “When Mountains Move” by Julie Cantrell. I’m cheating here and giving you two for one (counting them both). I recently finished “When Mountains Move” because I just couldn’t put it down. I love historical fiction and after finishing Cantrell’s first book, “Into the Free”, I couldn’t wait for the sequel to be released. Both offer the well-told story of a young woman who overcomes tremendous personal hardship to pursue a life of adventure. The only drawback to the second book is that to fully engage with the characters, it is important to read the first. But, since that is the case with most sequels and since both books are equally compelling, they belong side-by-side on my reading list.
- “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. I have read others of Hemingway’s earlier books, but never picked up his final work of fiction. This is my oldest son’s favorite book, which is all the reason I need to put it on my stack in honor of this son’s 30th birthday. That, and the fact this book earned Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize the year I was born.
What’s on your stack? Better yet, what’s that one book you just can’t put down this summer?