Review: This Outside Life

Gentle Reader,

I believe God wants us to notice it all.

– p. 7

Misty mountains, rippling prairie grasses, towering trees and multiple lakes – these are all around me, and have been all my life. For years, I was dulled to their beauty. Though I knew from a young age that I preferred the quiet of country roads and barely-beaten paths to the noise of cities, nothing in my surroundings seemed unique or unusual.

Then I took a long walk one early autumn evening, in the time when the sun disappears and twilight spreads its mysterious cloak over the earth. I watched as a glorious and indescribable array of colors – gold, violet, fiery orange – danced across the sky, putting on a spectacular show for any who cared to notice. And notice, I did. It was as if God arranged that display specifically for me, to remind me of His goodness and constant presence.

Crickets began their song. Frogs joined in. The colors faded into the gray-blue of the thin place, when the veil between this world and the spiritual realm is at its thinnest. In that moment, I began to understand why God called His creation good.

In This Outside Life: Finding God in the Heart of Nature, Laurie Kehler calls the reader to connect with this goodness in order to foster a deeper, more intimate relationship with God:

Spending time in nature is healing. It can draw you closer to the creative heart of God. It can help anxiety. It can help ADHD. It can give you a new perspective. Spending time outside is good for your insides. It’s no wonder that Beethoven, Einstein and Steve Jobs all took long walks outside. It quieted their minds and fueled their creativity. In 1910, hiker and philosopher John Muir noted that we were a “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” We need to reconnect with nature now more than ever. … I want you to step outside and find the heart of God in nature. … He’s there. He’s everywhere.

– p. 13-14

Having never known a day without anxiety, even stretching back to my earliest memories, I can attest to the truth of her statement. The worst days are made better when I take the time to get outside, whether that is going for a hike, wading in the always-cold river or digging my hands into the dirt of my garden. The fresh air and physical activity shift my focus from whatever is scaring me and onto the sound of birds singing, the scent of pine trees, the touch of grass on my skin. God lays His hand on my head and says, “Rest, child. Rest.”

Kehler not only makes this call, but issues another, to remember that we need to connect with others within the context of outside. To step outside of our homes, workplaces and traditional worship centers. To gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows and drink bad coffee:

Community and connection are the antidotes for anxiety, isolation, and depression. A caring community cultivates contentedness. This is reflected in the Hebrews passage where it states: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (10:24-25 NLT).

– p. 93

I read this and a fond memory rises to the surface. I am a young teen, baby cousin balanced on my knee, watching the crackling fire and listening as my dad and uncles tell ridiculous stories. The whole family is present. Grandma, her five sons, their wives, her fourteen grandchildren (two more would be added in years to come), plus a few friends who came along. None of us have had a decent shower because the campsite is as basic as can be. The boy cousins are all about this; we girls, less so. But despite the grime and grit, we are happy.

I think of another campfire, more recent. Church family gathered around. I sit, shivering despite the flames and several layers because warm is not really a thing I ever am these days, with a big dog at my feet, just waiting for a bit of s’more to drop. People drawn from various backgrounds and experiences, whose only commonality is Jesus. And He is more than enough.

This is the point that Kehler makes, time and again,

…the romance of stars and how they hint at a loving an imaginative Creator. I like to think of His hand scattering the confetti of brilliance across the carpet of sky. I like to ponder God’s immensity, artistry and care for the great and small things He has made.

– p. 116

Yes, great and small, the Lord God made them all.

Spending time in nature is meant to drive us not to worship the creation, but the Creator. It is a choice to slow down and refocus, reprioritize. The world and its break-neck pace will not give us permission to do so, and thus we must be intentional. Close the laptop, turn off the phone, lace up the boots and go. Have a spot of adventure, done with a dash of daring. And then sit, whether on a mountain peak or in the midst of a perfectly plotted rose garden, wrapped in silent awe and wonder.

For the King made all this. He is so very good.

Kehler’s words will stay with me for some time to come. Definitely recommend this one.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Untitled Number Nine

Gentle Reader,

Participated in a craft fair this past weekend. Managed to sell more books than I gave away, but none went for consistent prices. (Never go into business with me). The experience has got me both looking through old, unpublished poems and beginning to scratch out new ones. I reveal not which the following is, for half the interest in poetry is in the interpretation.

While all art is contextual, tied to a specific place and moment, it is also universal, transcending boundaries and speaking the language common to all. And the truth is, we suffer. We battle.

Plutarch wrote, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” May the following conjure up a clear image in your mind. May you find Jesus there.

What do you do
When you’re trapped in a storm
That nobody else can see?
What do you do
When it takes all you’ve got
To stay afloat in the sea?

Arms wrapped tight ’round
Center mast of the ship
Feet continually slipping
Gales pasting hair to face
Filled with howls, screeches
A voice, against faith chipping

There is no meter to capture
The scene playing in mind’s eye
Nor prose that’s fit to express
The beating up of the heart
The bruising of the soul
The ever deepening distress

God, I pray You grant perception
To someone with grace to move
To walk in steady love
To be the hands and feet of You
Just as was designed
On mission from above

Because, I can’t stand on my own
Just one push away from falling
Hands already bleeding
From hanging on for dear life
Oh, Lord! Please, I beg,
Respond now to my pleading

…the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…

– 1 Corinthians 12:25b-26a

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Not Easy, but He is Good

Gentle Reader,

…a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

– Ecclesiastes 3:4 (CSB)

Time is linear. Ever-moving forward. Marching toward a specific end.

It’s also wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff. (Thank you, Doctor Who).

In each of our timelines, there is good and bad. Weeping mixed with laughing. Mourning combined with dancing. It’s not easy to separate our experiences, and the emotions that arise from those experiences, into discreet parts. Perhaps that’s why someone coined the word “bittersweet” ages ago. That, I think, is an apt description for life.

And so, the truth is (and I remind myself here that truth is what I’m meant to be focusing on this year), we have to learn to accept whatever comes our way. There is very little that we can control. Really, most often the only control we have is in how we respond to events. Will we choose bitterness and fear? Or will we choose to exercise the gritty kind of faith that takes shape in the cauldron of adversity?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not telling you to be a doormat. I’m not telling you to say, “Yay! I have cancer!” I’m not telling you to paste a placid expression on your face when your heart is breaking.

What am I telling you?

To ask Jesus to give you eyes to see Him, even on the worst days. To seek God at all times, in all things. We can accept whatever comes our way when we learn to embrace the Lord who loves us first and foremost. When we are wrapped in His arms, we can breathe deeply, despite the torrents of tears, and resolve to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that He will never let us go.

It would be nice if life was simple. It will be, one day, when the feet of the Savior touch the earth again and all is renewed and restored. That, we look forward to. But for now, it’s complicated. It’s messy. The destructive tentacles of sin, that of the first people which fundamentally tainted and twisted our souls, reach out and with a sickening thud glomp onto everything. Every person. Every relationship. Even down to the bits and pieces that make up the atoms. The entire world blew up at the first bite of forbidden fruit.

We blew up.

And we keep blowing up.

Thank God that He’s not like us. Me, if I were Him I’d have called it quits a long time ago. Heck with all of it. Heck with this chaos. But He’s not me. He’s Other, Unique, Mystery, Holy, Just, and Good. He is Love. He keeps working, patiently. He knocks down walls, breaks through doors, shakes the mountains, stops the rivers. There is no depth to which we can descend that His arm does not reach further still.

The author of Hebrews calls this saving “to the uttermost” (7:25).

Maybe we won’t see that uttermost in this part of the timeline. Maybe that will wait until Eternity. Maybe we won’t understand all that He is doing right now.

What is definite and assured is that we will continue to have wave after wave of tribulation wash over us. Some, we cause ourselves. Some, we’d never ask for or anticipate in a million years. What is also definite and assured: All storms can be navigated by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. His light continues to guide us to the safe shore.

Perhaps you cry today. Perhaps the news never seems to be good.

But then you see the first faint buds of spring. Just the barest wash of green upon the trees. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds. And you remember: Blessed assurance. Jesus is mine.

And you raise your hands to Heaven as the tears drop to the ground.

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A Note to the Elders

Gentle Reader,

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”

– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)

I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.

The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”

I never have. Never will.

Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.

I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?

And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”

So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.

That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.

I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.

And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.

Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.

Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.

Let them in.

Let them do.

Let them be.

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