The Very Best Thing

There were beautiful flowers, delicious dishes, and lots of stories and laughter with family.

But this is the best thing that happened today.

My husband baptized our son into the faith.

And God’s family got a little bigger.

***

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. ~ John 1:11-13

40 Days, 40 Chapters

Between the covers of these five books are a total of forty chapters. One chapter for each day of Lent. They’re all books I’ve been meaning to read, books that have been sitting in stacks or on shelves. Each day of Lent, I hope to read one chapter. I probably haven’t read five books in one month since I was on maternity leave, so we’ll see if I can keep up with that ambitious schedule. But I thought that, rather than giving up practices or habits I should not have to begin with and calling that a sacrifice, I might instead feed my mind and soul with devotional readings, memoir/history, science and religion debates, and Bible study. That, in addition to my daily readings (they’re snippets, really) from C. S. Lewis’s classic works.

I’m putting writing on the back burner during Lent. Perhaps a poem or two or three may materialize, but likely little else. And I’ll put off my research reading until after Easter — though I suppose the grim realities of World War I would be in keeping with this somber season. For now I’ll set my mind on things above and hope that it positively affects my world below.

For those of you who begin the observance of Lent tomorrow, may it be a time of fruitful self-examination that brings you to the joy of Easter in the proper mental and spiritual state.

He Is Risen Indeed!

I know not all of my readers share my faith, so thanks for this indulgence as I share a bit of it with you. Keith and Kristyn Getty are two fantastic Irish musicians I’ve been privileged to see live several times. They truly capture the spirit of this most joyous of days.

 

Amazing Grace on Good Friday

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)

Jesus didn’t die for people who had cleaned themselves up, gotten their act together, stopped sinning of their own power and volition, or kept the Law perfectly.

He died for the weak. For the ungodly. For sinners. For his enemies.

That’s us. We weren’t just not “living our best life now.” Who would die for that? No, we were in opposition to God. We were thumbing our noses at him, flipping him off, and actively working against him because we wanted to do what we wanted to do.

And yet, he made it possible to be reconciled, restored, resurrected.

While we were his enemies.

That’s amazing grace.

And if he died for his weak, ungodly, sinning enemies, how should we treat those we view as weak, ungodly, sinning enemies?

If you’re a Christian, find someone today to whom you can show the love of Christ. If you’re not, thank you for indulging me in this post. And if you find the Christians you know to be unloving, please forgive us, because even when you’ve been reconciled with God, you still make mistakes and you still need grace. (I know I do.) Maybe do some reading of the Bible yourself (I’d suggest the Gospel of John and then the Book of Romans). Or better yet, team up and read it together. I’m certain great, spirited conversations will follow.

Entering a Season of Joyful Anticipation

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m still recovering from a fantastic extended weekend of great food, family, friends new and old, and lots and lots of cleaning up. I managed to somehow be involved in three Thanksgivings: one at my in-laws’ with fifteen people; a quick visit to my aunt & uncle’s house to see them, my parents, and one of my cousins; and one at home a couple days later with eleven people that I actually prepared singlehandedly.

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It ended up being a very multicultural Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law invited four international students who wouldn’t be able to be home over the holiday. Our Kenyan friend Grace we have known since she was nine and her father Jeremiah was attending seminary in Grand Rapids. She brought three friends: Korean Grace who grew up in China, Korean Grace who grew up in India, and Nigerian Oyin who grew up in Nigeria. The meal we had at our home on Sunday night was our little family and eight Bhutanese-Nepali friends from one of the congregations that uses our church building for their church services.

It was fun to share the story of the first Thanksgiving with our Nepali friends who had never heard it. And it was fun to discover, through my mother-in-law’s careful genealogical research over many years, that my husband Zach has two ancestors who were actually on the Mayflower! Thinking about that distant connection gave new meaning to the very old story.

And as Advent began on Sunday, Zach (who is also my pastor, in case you didn’t know) made a poignant connection for me. The same distance in time that exists between us modern Americans and the Mayflower existed between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ as a baby in the manger. Four hundred years. Four hundred years from when God said this:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6

to when God said this:

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:13-17

I think about those four hundred years of waiting, listening, wishing for a word from one’s God, wishing for fulfillment of a promise. And I believe I shall think on it all during Advent, in a time in our world when it can feel like God is silent and everyone simply does “what is right in his own eyes.”

Tonight we’ll finally have time to decorate the house for Christmas. On our pre-lit tree, I believe there are four hundred lights. One tiny light for every dark year of anguished waiting. Altogether they make a bright and beautiful light and will point me toward the one Light that was soon to make His humble entrance into His creation, in order to redeem it.

So Much for Which to Be Thankful

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US and therefore we are all beginning to think of the things for which we are most grateful. We’re also beginning to stress about food preparation, where all these guests are going to sit, and whether it’s worth it to go out shopping on Friday amongst the hordes to save a few bucks. But mostly, let’s hope, we are counting our blessings. I thought I’d share a few with you.

I am thankful…

…for a husband who is caring, talented, funny, and supportive

…for a son who is enthusiastic and hilarious and so, so sweet

…for a warm home with a fireplace and a well-stocked pantry

…that we found a new home for our cat and that our son’s allergies have greatly improved

…that last night I reached 50,000 words on my WIP and became a winner of National Novel Writing Month

…that my extended family is intact and that we all enjoy spending time together

…that I have a few days of relaxation coming up during which I can chat with people I don’t get to see often enough and quilt a baby quilt for a friend

…for a good job at a great company where I feel our collective work makes a difference in people’s lives

…for a beautiful, if broken, earth to care for and enjoy

That’s just a short list. I could go on, but you’d probably stop reading because it would get too long.

Most importantly, I’m not thankful for these things in some vague “I’m happy about these things” way. You can’t just be thankful for something. You also have to be thankful to someone for providing those things. So this Thanksgiving, and every day, I am thankful to God for these material blessings. And I’m most thankful to Him for creating everything that is, for creating it “good,” for not abandoning that creation when it turned against Him, and for sending His Son to redeem it. Because Thanksgiving, to me, is the first step into the Advent season, when we wait with joyful anticipation for God’s long-promised and yet still somehow unexpected gift: Jesus.

If you live in America, I hope that no matter what your faith you have time to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. I hope you’ll take time to count your blessings. I hope you’ll meditate on the story of the first Thanksgiving. And I hope especially for those of you who don’t know what you believe about God, that you’ll feel the pull, either a gentle tug or a disorienting jerk, of the One who knew you before you were born and who has lovingly sustained you, even to this very moment.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Do We Worship at the Altar of Family?

I count myself lucky to be close friends with Ted and Kristin Kluck. Ted is primarily a writer and professor, though he is also a football player and coach, a boxing coach, a concrete grinder, and someone who unloads cargo planes at four in the morning. Kristin is primarily a homemaker and caterer, but she is also a cookbook author, a marketing professional, a janitor, a gardener, and an all-around crafty person with a great sense of style. Household Gods is the first book on which Ted and Kristin have collaborated.

Long ago (in Internet Time) I fancied this blog as a place that I might review books about Michigan and by Michigan authors, though I have only reviewed a few. Then one Sunday afternoon I read this book in two sittings–interrupted by the need to make and consume quesadillas–and I felt compelled to share it with others.

51Y2CtLMMzLIn our age of over-programmed kids, obsessively crafting our persona on social media, and constant cultural messages to relentlessly improve our lives, our bodies, and our station in life, Household Gods is both a breath of fresh, unpretentious air and an uncomfortably honest mirror for us to look into–like one of those magnifying mirrors in some hotel bathrooms that shows us our every flaw. But, as with all Ted Kluck projects, there’s so much humor and so much of the author pointing to himself as the chief of all sinners that it never feels like a guilt trip.

The book begins as a call to examine our lives for idols that take the form of some very good things–family, children, spouse, success, money, ambition, work–and it doesn’t take long to realize that every good gift from our Father can easily be turned into an idol, something we serve ahead of or instead of our Creator. But as I read, I found that the book delved deeper than I expected.

Despite the fact that it is positioned as a book for families, I think this book is for every Christian, single or married, childless or parents, young or old. The stories that Ted and Kristin tell–with unflinching and sometimes painful honesty–are rooted in family, whether their family of origin, the one they created when they first married, or the one they have built through adoption. But no matter what stage of life you are in, you will find yourself in these pages. And it won’t necessarily be in the way you expected. I know I have not experienced the same struggles as my friends, but their struggles pointed me to mine. And now I’m left with the task of bringing my own idols to God, laying them at His feet, and asking for forgiveness and strength to resist them in the future.

I guarantee you that if you read Household Gods it will

1.) be the most honest book you have ever read–no sugarcoating, no excuses, no putting themselves in the best light possible, and no passes for the reader to do that either

2.) help you examine your life, relationships, job, hobbies, desires, and dreams to discover why you are motivated to pursue those things

3.) show you when your pursuit of success or praise crosses over into idolatry

4.) clearly show that God offers us grace in everything

5.) and motivate you to realign your priorities and model humility and grace in your relationships

Knowing Ted and Kristin as well as I do, there were still many moments when I realized that I didn’t know them as well as I thought. And that is an encouragement to me to offer my friends and family more grace than I do now, knowing that I can never truly know just what someone is going through under the surface that they allow the world to see. So not only will Household Gods help you to be a better mother, father, son, daughter, husband, or wife, it will help you be a better friend and a more faithful witness to the saving and sanctifying grace of the Savior.

** To my non-Christian readers, thanks for indulging this God-soaked post. While written for Christians, Household Gods would be an eye-opening read for anyone, I think. Perhaps you should check it out.

A Good and Terrible Day

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

~ John 11:45-53

 

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

~Matthew 27:51-54

 

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

~Acts 2:38-40

Why Today I Am Remembering C.S. Lewis Rather than JFK

Someone else died on this date fifty years ago whose influence during and after his life has far and away surpassed that of JFK. And this excellent little documentary film shows you just a small slice of why he is so significant. I encourage you to watch it. It is beautifully done and I was happy to see some familiar faces in it.