Five Minute Friday: Anniversary

Anniversary

Gentle Reader,

I spent so much time on the phone today. Good conversations, but I’m really feeling the need to crawl up in my introvert ball.

Kate says: anniversary.

Go.

Tomorrow is the thirty-fourth anniversary of my birth. At 1:16 p.m. I will officially slide into the middle part of my third decade.

I’m supposed to dislike that. I’m supposed to feel bad about aging, the gray hairs and the fine lines. Men become “distinguished” with the passage of time. Women are rarely given that moniker. Instead, we are pressured to spend thousands of dollars attempting to make ourselves look as though we are, at most, twenty-one.

Dude. I don’t want to go back to twenty-one. I don’t want to go back to any year of my life. Why should I strive to appear as I did in one of those years?

I like getting older. With each passing day I learn, bit by bit, how to stand my ground when it matters and how to let it go when it doesn’t. I no longer feel too self-conscious to go out in public without makeup. I don’t believe myself to be “ugly” because I have curly hair. I read and grow and think.

I’m glad to celebrate another year because I know that God is with me. Nothing that will come my way in the next days will be anything that I face alone. He is present. Faithful. Good. Kind.

I am happy to be His daughter.

Stop.

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Review: Mere Hope

Mere Hope

Gentle Reader,

Mixed feelings about this little book. Maybe that’s because I’m naturally cynical.

In Mere Hope, Jason Duesing instructs the reader to do four things: look down (hope’s foundation), look in (hope’s fountain), look out (hope’s flourishing) and look up (hope’s focus). Each of these steps is centered on the overarching theme of remembering Jesus, meaning that we are to live each day intentionally conscious of His presence and work in both our lives and the world at large. In this first chapter, Duesing writes:

By the Middle Ages the use of the phoenix as a Christian “resurrection bird” faded, but throughout other forms of literature, the avian myth appears to convey and remind of Christian hope. … What I love about the phoenix…is that just at the darkest moment, when you think this majestic creature has died or given its life for another, it is reborn, returning to life. … The foundation of our hope rose from the ashes of death; “something greater than the phoenix is here” (see Matthew 12:41). This mere hope is good news, for ours is a cynical age without much hope.

– p. 5

Given the chaos of our world and our growing awareness of it due to the constant connectivity of the internet, particularly via social media, this is a good reminder. All is not lost. The darkness, no matter how great, isn’t going to win. Our Savior, though He died, lives. We must continually reflect upon this truth.

I particularly appreciated the chapter on looking out, which seeks to move us from reflection to action:

…mere hope flourishes when it is employed in the service of others.

– p. 94

Just as we easily forget that God really is in charge and that evil really isn’t going to win, we also forget that our job is to go out and not only preach the Good News, but to take care of people. The two go hand-in-hand, for as James wrote, faith without works is dead (2:17). While it’s just a short jump into the terror of believing that our works keep us in right relationship with God (wrong thinking that has to be consistently battled), it’s an equally short jump into a “they need to pull themselves up/nobody ever helped me and I’m fine” mentality. This is not the example of Christ. He rolled up His sleeves. So, too, must we.

What brought me up short while reading this book was Duesing’s mediation on Evangelical Stoicism:

…Stoicism that is high on morality, asceticism and indifference plays well into our day of mutual challenges to “just grind it out.” … We are experts at “toughing it out.” … We have gotten very good at being proficient and we know how to get by. … In the face of the decline of cultural morality we hunker down and huddle up. Yet, simple joy, faith, hope and thankfulness are conspicuously absent as we “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

– p. 118-119 (emphasis mine)

Duesing is right in his claim that Evangelical Stoicism exists. I think he is wrong that it arises as a result of cultural shifts or societal pressure, however. I cannot speak to other parts of the world, but here in the United States Evangelical Stoicism exists because of the movement’s intimate connection to the very Western value of individualism, as well as the ever-present specter of the “American Dream.” As I alluded to above, it is with great difficulty that we expunge the “bootstraps” notion from our psyches. Thus, while Christianity itself has an extremely interdependent mindset, broken people living and working together in the power and for the glory of God, that way of being is largely foreign to us, here and now. We know how to be Stoic. We know how to strive. We know how to put on a brave face.

I agree with Duesing’s remedy for the problem: look up. Refocus on the Gospel. Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world have no choice but to daily, moment-by-moment put all their trust in Christ. We get distracted by…stuff. Bank accounts, jobs, Netflix, whatever. You know what gets you, just as I know what gets me. In order to shrug off the shackles of “keeping up with the Jones’,” which is certainly a major element of our Stoicism, we have to forcefully remind ourselves that we are nothing without Him. A constant awareness of the Gospel and what it means – suffering and death for you and me – is the only thing that will break us out of our individualistic shells.

Overall, there’s nothing really wrong with this book. The author has a Calvinistic framework through which he views the world, which isn’t my jam, but no biggie. He doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it. I do find Wayne Grudem’s endorsement annoying, given his political activities in the last few years, but his standing as an author and teacher in Southern Baptist circles (this book is published by B&H Books, part of Lifeway Christian Resources, the publishing and distribution arm of the SBC) means that most first-time authors of that particular denomination would seek out his approval. Given what I know of the publishing world, I get why Duesing and his team went there.

I would have preferred some practical application tips or discussion questions at the end of each chapter. What does it look like to put mere hope into action? How do we move from the realm of the theoretical to “feet on the pavement” living? As one who really is naturally cynical, that would have been helpful. In the end, though, I do appreciate Duesing reminding us to continually look to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

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Sketches: Dirt

Dirt

Gentle Reader,

It’s really hot. It’s stupid.

So, let’s talk: dirt. (Prompt submitted, once again, my my own brain).

I could have been a farmer’s daughter.

My great-grandparents owned a farm in Idaho, near but not quite in the panhandle, where there is a town named “Onaway” because it’s on-a-way to elsewhere. He played on a traveling baseball team part of the year. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse at one point. My dad and his four brothers spent many hours out at their place, forced to bake something every Saturday morning before being released to run through the fields and orchards, chucking rotten apples at each other and jousting on bicycles.

My dad’s first job, around age 14, was working for another farmer, driving tractors and moving big, metal sprinkler poles. The kind with wheels attached. (Google if you don’t know what I’m talking about). He’s the quiet sort, so it didn’t bother him to be out on his own, working in the dirt.

It doesn’t bother him now, either. Though the great-grandparent’s farm was eventually sold and it never worked out for my own parents to buy land and raise animals that would never be slaughtered because we would get too attached to them, he still works in the dirt. Mows the lawn, prunes the roses, plants trees. He hates the heat this time of year (as do I), but he finds being out there, taking care of things, relaxing.

Perhaps the funniest thing he’s done when it comes to dirt and plants was the time he allowed an offshoot from a rosebush to grow in the middle of the yard. Drove my mom nuts. She wanted him to cut it down. He mowed around it week after week, wanting to see what it would do. The fact that it annoyed her was just a bonus, of course.

My mom would always plant geraniums or petunias in pots, lining them up neatly on the stairs that led up to the porch. When I was about 13, I began helping her with the process, learning how to gently spread the roots and place them in deep, soft, wet soil so the plants wouldn’t go into shock. I found it very soothing – me, the not-outdoorsy, doesn’t really like to get dirty person, completely fine with plunging her hands into a bag of potting soil. If my memory serves correctly, one year, I think the last year we lived out on the two-and-a-half acres in the single-wide trailer, I did all of the geraniums myself. They always looked so happy in their terracotta pots, deep green leaves and red blooms reaching for the sun.

I turn to my own plants when I’m feeling anxious. There’s something immensely satisfying about chopping a woody rose cane to the ground. Nothing better than watching the vegetable garden spring from seeds to delicious food. I could do without having to weed, but even that isn’t bad when done in the morning, when it’s cooler, while listening to music or a podcast. I send the ladybug army in to eat all the nasty, destructive little creates. Sit on the back porch and watch the birds flit from tree to tree, the ones that we snagged at a giveaway because we bought our house at the wrong, worst time and had no money to put into landscaping. Admire the baskets hanging from the pergola, fresh vines draping over following a ruthless pruning.

The dirt, and what it produces, is delightful.

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Five Minute Friday: Thirteen

Thirteen

Gentle Reader,

Slipped into the chat near the end because my laptop wasn’t turned on and I sort of forgot that it was Thursday. Because my husband has been gone all week and my dogs won’t let me sleep. I don’t know what they think they’re doing, staying up all night. I give them before-bed treats. Tuck them in. Let them know they are safe. They don’t care. Their world isn’t right and they will let me know that they don’t like it.

Kate says: thirteen.

Go.

Thirteen was twenty-one years ago (next Friday). I wonder what my newly-teen self would think of me as I slide into the mid-thirties?

I think she’d be very surprised that I’m not a journalist. There was no other career she dreamed of. She would be equally surprised that I still live in the town which she thought of leaving. Her goal at the time, which she shared with exactly nobody (that I can remember), was to head off to New York and attend the Columbia School of Journalism. Makes me laugh now because a) I hate crowds, so why did I ever think I could live in a big city? and b) I’m a huge homebody/family gal who would never move that far away, unless God said “go.”

She would be glad to see that my teeth are straight, because she got braces that year and her mouth hurt all the time. She would like that I let my hair do its own thing now, because she brushed and blow-dried it straight every single morning (which never really worked; usually by lunchtime she had waves and ringlets popping up). My two fat, neurotic dogs would delight her. She would be quite pleased with my book collection.

I think 13-year-old me would like 34-year-old me. And I like 13-year-old me. I didn’t back then. Everything was horrible because middle school is truly the worst time of life. Young me thought she was weird and stupid and ugly and awkward and that nobody would ever really like her. I see now that she was funny, highly intelligent and a loyal friend who just didn’t know how to choose the right people to be loyal to.

Gosh. Writing this hits a tender spot in my heart. Yes, young me, you are beautiful. Thirteen is hard, but it will pass. It really will.

Stop.

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