Joy’s Relentless Pursuit

I discovered Indelible Grace at the beginning of college. I enjoyed some of the music we sang at church and at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, but the richness of old hymns, updated with new melodies and folk arrangements, all sung by many of my favorite artists, quickly shot these songs to the top of my list of worship favorites.

My favorite Indelible Grace song is “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” I fell in love with the mandolin, the harmonies, and Sandra McCracken’s exquisite vocals the first time I heard it. We sang it with the congregation at our wedding. I’ve known all the words by heart for seventeen years. But I came to a deeper understanding of the lyrics this week, when I typed up the chord sheet in preparation for this Sunday’s music.

The sermon today was on God’s judgment of the earth through the Flood, and His subsequent covenant with Noah. Our pastor pointed out that the third verse of this hymn references the sign of God’s promise not to destroy the earth again until the end of time. The song also references the promise of a world renewed: the promise, not vain, that “morn shall tearless be.” We may have many tear-filled mornings on this earth, but one day the Dawn will come, the Sun will rise, the dream will end, and every tear will be wiped away.

O Joy that seekest me through pain

I cannot close my heart to thee

I trace the rainbow through the rain

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be

It’s true. I can’t close my heart to the Joy of heaven, even when I’m suffering. This says nothing good about me and everything good about Jesus, the Love that will not let me go. I love the wording: that Joy is seeking me through pain. It’s not just waiting there for me to rediscover it. It’s pursuing me. This phrase describes my experience this year so beautifully. I didn’t particularly want to be joyful. Sometimes I really just wanted to wallow, and sometimes I wanted to shut down and sleep for weeks. As I’ve shared before, giving in to emotion can be exhausting, or even physically painful.

But Joy has chased me relentlessly. Sometimes its pursuit has sounded like my son’s little feet as he runs down the hall. Sometimes it pounds after me with the thundering power of a wild mustang. Joy has pierced through my heart’s walls with shards of exquisite music and stirring words. It has surprised me in quiet moments with a meal from a church friend or a book mailed from a friend I’ve never met.

Joy faces the charging lion of my pain head on, allows me to be knocked over, and then shows me that I am cradled in the velveted paws of Aslan. He may toss me like he tossed Susan and Lucy, but He will never let me go.

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On Knitting and Sanctification

I’ve been knitting for thirteen years, ever since one of my best friends brought me a beginner’s knitting booklet and patiently taught me how to cast on, knit, and purl. I’ve loved to knit ever since, but in Texas, I only do it six months out of the year. Between April and October, it’s just too warm, even in the house, to cozy up to thick balls of cushy yarn. My hands get sweaty, the needles get slippery, and my work starts to feel grimy. But as soon as the highs drop out of the 90s, I pick up last spring’s projects again, asking myself why I haven’t been working on them all along.

I feel that way about sanctification sometimes, too. Sometimes I get tired of fighting the same sin pattern. For a while, my circumstances will make it easy to fight. I’ll hardly feel any temptation, and I’ll wonder why I ever struggled. And then my circumstances will change, and suddenly what seemed easy weeks before feels impossible and unpleasant. God wouldn’t expect me to be obedient with this going on, would he? I mutter to myself. But though there’s no real harm done in putting my knitting down for the hot months, difficult circumstances don’t excuse our disobedience. God always provides more grace.

Until early this year, I only knew how to knit and purl. I could make some pretty patterns with those two stitches, but I was limited to making items in straight, rectangular shapes. People would ask if I made hats or socks, and I would rush to say, “Oh no, I could never do that. I only know how to knit and purl.” I was afraid that I would be unable to learn the more complicated stitches, and to try would only bring frustration. But I finally got up the courage this year to try some pretty, multi-step stitches, and it turns out that they’re not nearly as difficult as I thought.

Fear – particularly fear of physical discomfort – is one of my long-term sins. If I am uncomfortable, I usually shut down. I won’t try to get anything done. I’ll just exist, whimpering internally, until I can take whatever medicine I need and rest for as long as I can. Until this year, the idea of continuing to work or parent or even socialize in the midst of discomfort was impossible to consider. But shutting down during a bad head cold is one thing; retreating from life for nine months due to chronic pain is another. So I tried a new skill this year: being brave about feeling sick.

Sometimes the pain truly has been all-consuming, and I’ve had to stop to rest and recover. But more often, I’ve had in-between days – days where I’m uncomfortable, and would much prefer to spend hours in bed, but can’t, because I have to work or take care of Blaise or fulfill some other responsibility. My default is still to shrink into myself and ask others for help, but I’m trying to strengthen my new courage muscles and get things done even when I feel awful. And it’s never as miserable as I expect. God gives me grace for each day – patience with Blaise’s sometimes endless questions when I have a sore throat, peace amidst deep discomfort, strength from unknown reserves to tutor for an afternoon. If I start the day assuming it’ll be awful, it often is. But if I start the day confessing my fears to my Father, and continuing to ask for help during every difficult moment, help comes.

Even though the nicest things I’ve knitted thus far have been scarves, I hope to make a few blankets and other decorative items in my lifetime that could be passed down. Blaise sleeps with two hand-knitted blankets – one from my Aunt Jean, and one passed down from Brandon’s grandmother. I have an Afghan in various shades of pink and white from my parents (I’m not sure who made it, but it’s handmade, not machine-made), and my parents have a small white throw knitted by my grandmother. There’s such a satisfaction in making something not just for you or your family, but, maybe, for posterity.

I confess that I don’t think of my spiritual legacy as much as I should – not dwelling on how people in future years will think of me, but asking what virtues I am cultivating now, in myself and in others, that can be passed down through the family of God. But knitting brings the topic to mind. I don’t let Blaise touch my knitting (he can touch the soft yarn ball if he asks), but the other day I asked him if he wanted to knit, and his eyes lit up. I gave him an old ball of yarn and a short circular needle, and he sat down on an overturned plastic tub and clinked the needle ends together and poked the yarn while I worked on a blanket. Every few moments, he would look at my hands, and try to match my motions.

He’s observing everything I do, every day. What is he learning? I hope in a few years to teach him to knit for real, and to truly play the piano and guitar instead of just strumming or plinking. Would he have any interest in those instruments, or in knitting, if I wasn’t practicing them in his presence? What other practices can I model for him while he is still little enough to want to do everything Mommy does? What rhythms can I bake into our days that will form his desires and his heart?

I discovered last year that I could knit a narrow holiday garland in an hour or two, and I want to make many more this year, for every season. I want to use my creativity and my love of beauty to celebrate Thanksgiving, the birth of Jesus, the Resurrection, birthdays, and other occasions. I want to use these skills not just for my own satisfaction, or to pass the time, but to make our home more welcoming, infuse our family with a sense of festivity, and make gifts for friends.

I’ve often focused on my sanctification for its own sake. I’ve wanted to please God, but I haven’t considered how my pursuit of holiness could advance His kingdom. I’ve been focused internally, trying to obey God for my own benefit without thinking of others. And obedience does give great benefit! Walking closely with God gives peace, courage, hope, love…too many blessings to name. But I don’t want to keep those blessings to myself. I want my obedience to benefit my family, when I seek God for patience and strength to serve them well. I want my pursuit of knowledge of God to benefit my friends and my church, when God can bring His words to my mind when others need to hear it. God’s blessings delight me, just like I enjoy the activity of knitting, but they don’t stop there. They have a greater purpose: to bring Him glory by sharing His character with others.

In thirty years, I’d love for my grandchildren to sleep with a blanket I’ve knitted. But even more, I hope the faith of everyone I know has a small thread running through it that God used me to help weave in.

Not For What You Have Done Or What You Will Become

I cleaned the kitchen counters today.

I don’t mean I removed the dishes or decluttered (though I did those things first). I mean I got the crumbs from behind the toaster and the mixer and sprayed the counters down with granite spray and only put the stuff back that actually belongs there.

I don’t think I’ve done that myself since January.

It’s a long-ish task – I think it took me half an hour, not including emptying and filling the dishwasher – and until recently I haven’t been able to stand up for more than a few minutes without immediate sharp pain and excruciating pain hours later. My mom and husband have done it, but I haven’t. And it felt so good.

As I’ve recovered from my monster virus, I’ve started to notice my abdominal pain again. It can still be intense, especially if I’ve been on my feet much or done a lot of talking. But today I was thankful that the pains I felt were confined to a small place, no more than a few inches across. After days and days of severe aches from waist to knees, the smaller area of my regular pain was a huge relief.

In addition to cleaning the counters and dealing with the dishes, I decluttered the kitchen table and the bar, helped Blaise put all his toys in their respective bins, swept the floor, did two loads of laundry, and folded and hung up some more clothes that had been languishing in our bedroom, clean but rumpled, for days. I wanted to bake a pie or put up fall decorations, but I knew my energy might not last, so I decided to be an adult and clean up my house.

It was enormously satisfying. Looking out on a neat room does wonders for my peace of mind. The center of our one-story house is totally open – the dining room is just a big space by the front window, and the kitchen looks out onto the living room over a long bar. The open floor plan was a big draw when we bought the house: it’s great for entertaining (as they always say on House Hunters, but it’s true! Nobody wants to be stuck in the kitchen away from the action when a group of people is hanging out in the living room) and it gives a calming feeling of space. But when one part is cluttered, the whole living space feels cluttered, so putting all the clutter where it belonged was a big relief.

When I struggle through getting breakfast ready or reading to Blaise, due to pain or sickness or exhaustion, I often feel worthless. What is the point of me, if I can’t accomplish anything? But the other side of that coin is that when I do get things done, particularly around the house, I place my identity squarely on what I have achieved. I have a clean, comfortable house. I brought order out of chaos. I am a success today, therefore, I am worthy of love.

It took a random Spotify “album radio” playlist offering “Love Me” by JJ Heller to break down my castle of achievement. Many of the people she describes in the song have never known love based on who they are. I am thankful to say that I do not fit into that category. I am deeply, unselfishly loved by my parents, my husband, and (I think? he’s two) my son, and I have many thoughtful, caring friends. I enjoyed the song – it’s beautiful! – but didn’t relate until Heller takes on God’s perspective near the end:

Not for what you have done. Not for what you will become. I fought the tears for a moment because I was at a restaurant drive-through, waiting for a server to bring my to-go order to my car window and not wanting to alarm her by sobbing through my “thank you,” but as soon as I drove away, the dam broke. I wept the entire drive home.

I’m not consciously thinking, “God will love me if I clean my house,” or “God probably doesn’t love me today, my house is a wreck and I haven’t brushed my teeth.” But I feel pride and shame in each of those circumstances. I expect others to love me more or less, depending on what I have accomplished. But while I’m sure it was nice to come to a clean house, instead of piles of mail on the bar and dog hair floating down the hall, I know Brandon did not wait to see the condition of our home before deciding if he would love me this afternoon. Why do I heap glory or shame on myself based on what I have or haven’t done?

Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “My Worth Is Not In What I Own” is one I often skip over, because I don’t think of myself as finding worth in my possessions. Of course, once I consider it, my things bring me far more of a sense of worth than I would like to think. But the beauty of this song is that it continues, describing all the places where my worth is not found:

Jesus has done everything for me, already. He loves me for me. He died and rose again because he loved me, almost two thousand years before I was born. How can I feel shame at my lack of accomplishment when he loved me before I had accomplished anything at all? How can I glory in my meager achievements when he reversed Adam’s curse and bought life for everyone who believes?

And how can I remember these truths tomorrow, when I may not meet any of my goals for the day? Or next week, when I’m proud of all the items I’ve ticked off my checklist?

My first step is to listen to those songs on repeat. I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. My worth is not in skill or name…in pride or shame, but in the blood of Christ that flowed at the cross. Maybe I’ll get those words tattooed on my hands, or (slightly less drastic) hang them in my kitchen. Maybe I’ll teach them to Blaise as prayers for the start of each day.

My tears are dry now. I’m thrilled at my clean house, and I think I can enjoy it without allowing the work it took to determine my value, but I’ll need constant reminders. Maybe you need them, too. Let’s encourage each other to lay the heavy burden of our worth at the cross, and take up the easy yoke of Jesus’ unconditional love.

Fall is for Pie

I’ve got some serious season-envy going on right now. All y’all pulling out your cozy sweaters and boots and scarves, and I’m over here sweating from 15 minutes in the car without A/C with the windows down. It was 91 degrees at 6:00 pm, people. NOT FALL.

But apparently sweater/boot/scarf season is also pie season, and that’s something I can get behind right away. Since Brandon and I have the same birthday, and he doesn’t like cake or chocolate, if I bake something for our birthday, it’s usually a pie. When I have the energy, I love making pies. I’ve got a great crust recipe and I’ve nailed down the technique (though it’s been a while, so I’m probably rusty). My crust isn’t super flaky, but it’s slightly sweet and buttery and baked all the way through, unlike so many pies you get at restaurants. This may be because it doesn’t tend to burn even if it’s left in the oven for over an hour. I’ll let it get nice and golden-brown before I take it out.

I’ve been baking pies since the year we got married, thanks to the great Williams-Sonoma pie cookbook we got with a wedding gift card, but I didn’t try making a lattice-top until a few years ago. Turns out, it’s not hard at all! It keeps you from having to cut vents in the top of the pie (which I always forgot to do until the last minute), and it looks so pretty. I might try the overlapping-shapes-cut-from-pie-crust top crust sometime this year if I decide to get fancy.

I used to bake a pie probably once a month. A lot of my reasons admittedly stemmed from vanity – when you’re the only one in your group of friends who makes pie crust from scratch, you get big kudos for making a middle-of-the-road pie. But the other side of it is that I just love my pie crust, and I think it elevates traditional pie fillings and turns them into something special.

I’m hoping I continue to return to health over the weekend, because I am really dying for pie right now. I can’t decide if I want to bake a traditional apple, or if I should save that for a few weeks from now. Anybody got any suggestions for fruit-based pie fillings that come together easily (no blanching of peaches in order to peel their paper-thin skins, is what I’m saying)?

And before you ask, yes, I’m including my apple pie recipe here, complete with detailed (very detailed) instructions.. Let me know if you make it – take a photo and tag me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

Crust:

(You will need to make two crusts total, so have double the ingredient amounts below on hand, but make each crust separately. I have found that mixing the doubled ingredients makes the crust a lot tougher, for some reason. Yes, it’s more work, but it tastes so much better if you make the crusts individually.)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 lb (one stick) very cold UNsalted butter – put the butter in the freezer for 30 minutes before making the pie to make sure it stays firm

3-8 tablespoons very cold water (a glass of ice water works great)

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Slice the very cold butter into 1/4-inch slices, then cut each slice into 9-12 cubes (2-3 slices in one direction across the slice, then 2-3 slices in the other direction). Drop these small butter cubes into the flour mixture.

(The butter needs to be very cold because you don’t want those small pieces to melt until they are being baked. This makes a lighter, flakier crust. If you were to melt the butter, the crust would be super chewy and not nearly as tasty.)

Using a pastry blender (the hand-held tool with a curved wire bottom), cut the pieces of butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is mostly uniform and the largest pieces are less than half the size of the small butter cubes. If you can see the yellow of the butter anywhere, you need to cut those pieces in more thoroughly. Use a rocking motion back and forth with the pastry-blender hand, and turn the bowl a quarter-turn very few ‘rocks’ with your other hand.

Add very cold water. Start with 3 tablespoons and stir with a large spoon. You will probably need another 4-5 tablespoons, depending on your altitude, and how soft your butter was. You’re going to have to abandon the spoon pretty soon and squish it together with your hands. As it starts to stick together, try to form it into a ball. Once it starts forming a ball, sprinkle water around the remaining dry pieces and roll the ball in the moistened bits, then try to work them into the ball. Don’t work it too much, or the crust will get tough, but work it enough until your dough-ball is fairly smooth on the outside and doesn’t fall apart when you set it down.

You can chill the dough at this point and make another crust, or you can go ahead and roll the first crust out. If your kitchen is very warm, it might be good to chill it a bit, but otherwise, it’s fine to roll it out on a lightly-floured surface immediately. Start by pressing the dough into a flat circle with your hands, then turn it over and rotate it a quarter turn before rolling. Use the heaviest rolling pin you can (mine, another wedding gift, is partly marble). Roll it in several directions, first stretching it in one direction, then the other, turning the dough over and rotating it a quarter turn every 5-6 rolls. It’s okay if it’s not a perfect circle when you get it to the desired thickness (1/4 to 1/8 of an inch) – just make sure it’s big enough that your pie pan, turned upside down over the dough, fits with a few inches to spare on all sides.

Fold the dough in half and transfer it to the pie pan, then open it back up, pressing the dough into the edges of the pan. (This recipe is not for a deep-dish apple pie – I use the boring Pyrex glass pie pan for all my pies.) Press the pie up the edges of the pan. You want them to hang over as much as possible, because your top crust will cut to size, be smaller, and this bottom crust will need to fold over the top. Save any dough scraps. Or pop them in your mouth.

At this point you can either make the second crust or make the pie filling, whatever works best. I’d leave the crust-in-the-pan out, because you want it to be flexible when you put the top crust on it.

Apple pie filling:

4-6 Braeburn or Gala apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (not necessary to peel them unless you really want to – I never do, and I never notice the peels)

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

(You’ll notice there’s no brown sugar in this filling, which is, I think, part of what makes it so good. This won’t taste like the baked apples you get as a side dish at a low-end steak restaurant. It’s rich and apple-y, rather than cinnamon-forward.)

Mix all dry ingredients together, then put 1/4 of the mixture at the bottom of a large bowl. As you chop each apple, add the apples to the bowl, then sprinkle more of the dry mixture on top. Continue adding apples and dry mixture until all apples and dry mixture are in the bowl. Stir until every piece of apple is thoroughly coated with the sugar mixture. Some pieces will probably start to be a little sticky. If you can let the apple mixture sit out for a little while, the filling will come together even more, and it’ll start to make a syrup. If you let it sit, though, stir it well before filling the bottom pie crust.

If you have more apple mixture than you can fit in your pie pan (you want the top to be level with or a little below the top edges of the pan), save them in the bowl; you may have some extra crust that you could put on top of a small dish of the remaining apples to bake alongside the main pie.

Make the top crust according to the instructions above, then cut out a circle the same size as your pie pan.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut up the butter into 4-6 small pieces and place them evenly around the top of the apples in the pie pan, then transfer the top crust dough circle to the top of the pie. (I’m not providing lattice instructions [you can look it up online, it’s not hard] – you’d still make an entire top crust, but you’d have to cut the top crust into strips and weave them across before sealing the edges.) Fold the overhanging edges of the bottom crust over the top and squeeze it with your fingers to meld the two pieces of dough together. You can plug any holes with your leftover dough scraps, but try to fuse them with the existing pie as well as you can. After you’ve sealed the edges, you can use a pretty edging pattern (fork tines, crimping with fingers, etc.) if you’d like, or you can trim the whole pie to make a neat circle.

Cut slits in the top crust with a sharp knife. You can get creative if you’re fairly dexterous – I made the Texas A&M logo one time, but other than that, I usually keep it simple and just cut the slits into a star shape.

Bake the pie at 375 for 50 minutes. Put a foil-covered cookie sheet under the pie in case any of it bubbles over (this does sometimes happen to me, and trust me, apple-sugar juice burning on the bottom of your oven is not a smell you want to linger in your kitchen). After 50 minutes, check the pie. If the edges are getting dark brown but the center crust is still raw-looking, put a pie guard around the edges or cover all the edges with foil, and put the pie back in the oven. My apple pies usually take between 65 and 75 minutes to fully bake, but I do have to check them every 5-10 minutes after the first 50-minute check.

When the pie is done (when the crust is golden brown all over, including on the bottom, if you have a glass pan – I mean, it should be golden-brown on the bottom anyway, but if you don’t have a glass pan you won’t be able to tell), take it out and put it on a cooling rack. If you can stand it, don’t cut into it for a few hours – the filling needs to set.

(For reference, this photo is of a completely raw pie crust. It’s a lattice, but I couldn’t find another raw pie photo on my roll. No part of the crust should look like this when your pie is done!)

I enjoy this pie best cold, to be honest, but it’s great warmed back up and served with vanilla ice cream too, of course.

Always Good. Always Good.

Blaise made my day today. After requesting that we listen to “da wobots” (his name for the soundtrack for the Soarin’ ride at Disneyland, comprised of a whole bunch of cinematic scores like Apollo 13, Band of Brothers, and The Rocketeer – no idea where robots come into the picture, except that the cover art for the soundtrack is somewhat futuristic), he said “Yisten to Always Good?”

“Always Good” by Andrew Peterson is, I’m gonna go ahead and call it, my favorite song of 2018. The story behind it – that Andrew’s sons witnessed a young husband, collapsing in grief next to the hospital bed where his wife had died after giving birth to their first child, proclaim “You’re always good. You’re always good. God is always good” as he wept – brings me to tears every time I think about it. The words have described my feelings on countless days this year, as I’ve “tried to believe what is not meant to be understood.” Why did Jesus let endometriosis steal my health? Why did my pain increase every week when I was supposed to be preparing to lead worship for a church plant? Why would Jesus let that young mother die?

I can’t answer any of those questions. I think Andrew is right that some things are not meant to be understood.

Blaise’s request probably had more to do with the easily-remembered, easily-repeated chorus than a deep understanding of the song’s theological underpinnings. And this morning, I wasn’t thinking through the ins and outs of God’s goodness, either. I was fighting a cough and an upset tummy, and trying to figure out what to do with the jungle our backyard has become.

But I was thrilled to stop procrastinating about the lawn for a moment and just let these words of truth wash over me.

Do You remember how Mary was grieving?
How You wept and she fell at Your feet?
If it’s true that You know what I’m feeling
Could it be that You’re weeping with me?

Arise, O Lord, and save me
There’s nowhere else to go

You’re always good, always good
Somehow this sorrow is shaping my heart
Like it should
And You’re always good, always good

It’s so hard to know what You’re doing
So why won’t You tell it all plain?
But You said You’d come back on the third day
And Peter missed it again and again

So maybe the answer surrounds us
And we don’t have eyes to see

You’re always good, always good
This heartache is moving me closer than joy ever could
And You’re always good

My God, my God, be near me
There’s nowhere else to go
And Lord, if You can hear me
Please help Your child to know

That You’re always good, always good
As we try to believe what is not meant
To be understood
Will You help us to trust Your intentions for us are still good?
‘Cause You laid down Your life and You suffered like I never could

And You’re always good, always good
You’re always good, always good

Those lines contain the prayer of my life, and the prayer I offer daily for my son: “My God, my God, be near me, there’s nowhere else to go. And Lord, if You can hear me, please help Your child to know that you’re always good, ’cause You laid down your life and You suffered like I never could.”

The fellowship of suffering we have with Jesus as we experience painful bodies, discouraging circumstances, and broken relationships can still bring joy beyond all this sorrow. The more I understand how much Jesus suffered, and therefore how much he understands me, the more I come to know the depth of his love for me. I can trust that his intentions for me are good, because he laid down his life to purchase me from death. He’s proven his goodness, his good intentions, through his sacrifice.

With love like that, there is truly nowhere else to go.

He remembers that I am dust. He knows my weakness. He celebrates with me when today’s victory is taking a shower. He rejoices to renew my strength fifteen minutes before a meeting, and isn’t disappointed in me when I have to rest after it’s over. And he joins my delight in the sweet request of a small boy, asking for a familiar song but getting another opportunity for the deepest truth about Jesus to sink down into his soul.

Jesus is always good.

Good Things Today

(I’m sharing two smaller posts today instead of one longer post.)

In the midst of severe body aches this afternoon, I decided to start listing the good and beautiful things in my life right now. When physical pain gets overwhelming, sometimes it’s hard to remember the things that bring me joy, but once I started listing them, I couldn’t stop!

  • My little boy reading to himself from his favorite book (which means I don’t have to read the same story for the 287th time) – he sat in the big chair with the storybook on his lap and told himself the story about Baymax and Hiro.
  • A nice long comfy couch that I can stretch my aching legs out on. We’ve looked for a new couch on and off, but we can’t find one that’s affordable, wide enough to be comfortable, and long enough to nap on, like this one. I love this couch for its comfort even if I don’t love how it fits into our living room decor.
  • Air conditioning, since Texas doesn’t get cool for another month at least. It’s not too bad out right now, but I’m still very thankful that it’s cool in here!
  • Getting a dear friend’s wedding invitation!
  • Reading a beautiful book (All That’s Good). I started reading it digitally, but Hannah Anderson’s books are designed so beautifully that having the hard copy greatly enhances the reading experience.
  • Not having to work at the office tomorrow. It’ll be nice to have a day at home when I will be (hopefully) feeling a bit better.
  • Cheap, tasty pizza on the way home from my husband’s work. Six dollars for a large pizza!
  • A pitiful kitty meowing in the car along with a voice message from a friend. (The kitty was fine, she just didn’t want to be in the car anymore.) Kitty meows simultaneously make me laugh and tug at my heart. Plus she named her cat Luna! Such a great name!
  • Knitting some more on a throw blanket I’m working on with the softest yarn imaginable. I’m starting to see it come together, despite using an unnecessarily fancy stitch at the beginning. I like the stitch I’m using now, and I think the fancy stitch will still look okay as a border.
  • My little boy calling his little stuffed raccoon “Wacoonie.” Until now it was just “da wacoo-in,” but now I guess it has a name.
  • Getting a get-well-soon card in the mail from a church friend. I love getting mail!
  • Having another church friend bring her daughter to hang out at my house for 90 minutes so I could go to work while Blaise napped.
  • Looking forward to baking an apple pie from scratch as soon as I feel better. It’s really quite a good pie, if I can say so myself, and even if I’m not up to a lot of standing, I can do a lot of the prep sitting down.

That’s all for now. I’ve got lots of ideas for more October posts, though, so stay tuned!

Blogger Recognition – Get to know some new writers!

Netta Marie Woods nominated me for a blogger appreciation award today! This is a great way to discover new writers you may not have previously been following. To participate, nominate twelve other bloggers whose writing you want to highlight, tell a little about how your blog got started, and share two pieces of advice for new bloggers.

I started blogging at least ten years ago, and have gone through sporadic bursts of regular writing since then, but never kept it up for more than a few months. Most recently, I decided to write about what I was learning through my illness. All the extra time I had to sit and read when I was trying to distract myself from severe pain eventually bubbled over into wanting to write about those thoughts and books.

I feel like I am still a new blogger myself, so I’ll give advice that I still need to listen to!

1) Write out of the overflow of what you have been given. You don’t have to write a think-piece on the latest controversy to be relevant. Personally, I think my calling is to live out II Corinthians 1:4: “…who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” He has comforted me over and over again, and I want others to feel comforted and understood when they read my writing, and then to be pointed to Jesus, who understands them better than any human ever could. (More on this idea soon!)

2) Write often. My writing flows much better when I am writing regularly. Even if you have pieces you are working on for submission elsewhere, write on your blog or in your journal as often as you can.

I’ve nominated twelve bloggers whose words I love. I follow all of them on Twitter, and read their blogs regularly. All of them deserve lots of recognition for their beautiful writing. You may be familiar with a few of them, but check out all these lovely writers!

Sheila Dougal

Chelsea Stanley

Lucy Crabtree

Amanda McClendon

Haley Baumeister

Bailey Suzio

Jenn Hesse

Brianna Lambert

Courtney Ellis

Laura Lundgren

Joy Clarkson

Lore Wilbert

The Restorative Power of Beauty and Fellowship

A few people on Twitter have been talking about participating in Blogtober, which is a challenge to blog every day during the month of October. I’ve missed blogging regularly, so I’m hoping to write as close to every day as I can!

Today I’m going to share some of the beautiful words that have given me hope during these past weeks of sickness. I long to be outside, now that the weather has cooled down a bit – our highs are in the 80’s now, not the 90’s, so we’re not talking crisp fall weather, but it’s at least less oppressive – but our family has been passing around a nasty virus, and I got it last week. Fever, vomiting, horrendous headaches and body aches, and sore throat. It’s a real treat. So I’ve been stuck inside, but I’ve been comforted by the beauty of words, particularly words about nature. Words can take me away to a land of beauty and peace even more than pictures can. Pictures tend to make me jealous and wish I were there, but words make me feel like I am there.

Mary Oliver has been one source of such lovely words. She has a way of describing flowers or birds or animals with vivid imagery, and then adding a deeper meaning at the end of the poem. This is the last few lines of “Goldenrod”:

I was just minding my own business

when I found myself on their straw hillsides,

citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?

Are not the difficult labors of our lives

full of dark hours?

And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?

All day

on their airy backgrounds

they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

they rise in a stiff sweetness,

in the pure peace of giving

one’s gold away.

(This is from New and Selected Poems, Volume One, by Mary Oliver, pages 17-18.)

My friend KJ Ramsey has also been writing some wonderful words about nature. Despite a debilitating illness, KJ makes it a point to get outside and enjoy the beauty around her Montana home. She wrote this about a sunset:

“Joy in Jesus is as real and vibrant as this sunset.

Joy in suffering is possible.

The God who created the skies chose suffering. The God who chose pain endured it so your suffering can be transformed.”

I could read her writing all day, which is good news, because she writes lovely, hope-filled words every day, accompanied by stunning photos, on Instagram (check her out at @katiejoramsey) and she’s working on her first book!

This quote isn’t about nature, but just a few pages in to Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World, by Rebecca K. Reynolds, I teared up:

“Yet, the gospel can still refresh our vision in the midst of a difficult journey, filling our lungs with the atmosphere of heaven. It can place a clean, warm cloth on our eyes, fill our bellies with a hearty meal, and invite us to sing old hymns with fellow travelers who remind us why we are doing what we are doing.” (page 13)

Part of why I find such beauty in the words of all these writers is that their words came to me from “fellow travelers.” A dear friend saw me talking on Twitter about wanting to get into Mary Oliver, and two days later, New and Selected Poems, Volume One showed up in my mailbox. KJ Ramsey has been a light to me these past few months, as a fellow chronic-illness sufferer who craves beauty and truth, with whom I can share my latest medical frustration or physical triumph. And Courage, Dear Heart was a book I have been dying to read, but hadn’t yet told a soul my desire – until the friend who came to take care of Blaise for the morning (I’m still recovering from that virus) brought me a copy!

The beauty of thoughtful friends moves me just as much as the beauty of carefully-chosen words or stunning sunsets or majestic mountains. These friends, and many more, some several states away and some just a quick drive, have upheld me this year as I battled with pain, loneliness, and worthlessness. My friends have spoken truth to my weary heart when I feel like I’m not of use to anybody. They’ve given me space to be weak.

And I certainly was weak this weekend. Despite my croaky voice and on-and-off fever, I was determined to lead worship yesterday. I had a friend singing with me, and as my voice deteriorated, I told her she’d have to hit all the “high” notes for me (which was turning more into “all the notes” by the hour), but I could at least lip sync to help lead the congregation, and of course play the piano.

To ward off the persistent, excruciating headache this virus brings, I skipped washing my hair yesterday morning to rest until my painkiller kicked in. Unfortunately, that seems to have led my empty stomach to revolt yet again, and at 7:30, I had to rush out of an already-quick shower for what little was in my stomach to re-appear. Until that moment, I was still determined to make it to church, but when my husband came in with the thermometer, he said, “If you have a fever, you’re not going.” Shivering with cold and weakness, I said, “I don’t know if I could go anyway,” but sure enough, I had a small fever.

My pastor even immediately understood when my husband called him, saying that instead of us doing the sound and leading worship, he was going to take me to urgent care. Our little church plant adapted, praying fervently for my recovery as they sang a few songs a capella and conducted the service without any amplification. The care in those actions spoke volumes to me. I know having no worship leader and no instruments and no sound was stressful for our pastor, but instead of passing that stress onto us, he encouraged us to get me the care I needed. Multiple church members checked in on me later in the day, offering childcare this week so I could recover, including the pastor’s wife, the friend who brought me the book this morning.

I hate being this weak and sick. I swing between the lie that I am worthless unless I can contribute something to society and the lie that I must take care of myself at all costs. Still, the sweetness of the care of my friends and family has been the thread holding me together. They point me to beautiful words, beautiful nature, and beautiful love, and through them, my soul is restored.

The Bone Whistle, by K. B. Hoyle

The Bone Whistle is the stirring conclusion to K. B. Hoyle’s Gateway Chronicles series. The final volume is full of deep love, heartbreak, magic, and sacrifice. The prophecies are finally explained and, even in ways unexpected, fulfilled.

Darcy has been in agony for the year since she left Alitheia. She and Tellius were separated immediately after their wedding by Tselloch’s brutal attack, and she doesn’t know if her husband survived. Darcy is mentally and emotionally years older than her physical age of 18 after spending a year in another world every summer for the past five years, but still must suffer through her last year of high school. And if that wasn’t enough, her family thinks she has a serious mental disorder, and almost succeeds in preventing her return to her beloved world. Once Darcy finally does arrive in back in Alitheia, giant memory gaps from her last hours in her world plague her for months.

(Spoilers ahead! Stop here if you have not yet read The Bone Whistle.)

Darcy’s marriage to Tellius is the thread that holds this story together. Tellius’s intense love for his wife threatens to blind him to Alitheia’s greater needs, and Darcy struggles between frustration with his over-protective tendencies, compassion for his agony over losing her, grief about her upcoming death, and the undergirding certainty that their desires must be sacrificed for the good of the world.

The believable portrayal of a passionate, loving marriage is a feat not often attempted, much less achieved, in young adult literature. Books for teenagers often depict young love in all its spine-tingling, all-consuming beauty, but marriage in most of these stories is either far in the future, unattainable, or not desired. But in The Bone Whistle, after five books of hints and short scenes and anticipation, readers finally get a giant dollop of romance – after the wedding, instead of making a fairy-tale wedding the reward at the end of the story. Hoyle works magic deep into the nature of Alitheian marriage itself, showing that Darcy and Tellius are better able to serve their realm and each other united than they would be apart.

I did not expect to be so moved by Tellius’s fury and love. Every time he raged about his wife’s danger or possible death, I rejoiced to finally find a fictional man written with so much rightly-directed passion, tenderness, and relatable human weakness. I didn’t realize how starved I was for romantic portrayals of marriage within this framework. Hoyle manages to convey passion and depth of feeling between Darcy and Tellius without veering into overly titillating description, a balance few authors can achieve. Instead of drawing my emotions toward a fictional character, Hoyle’s portrayal of Tellius led me to love my husband more for the ways in which both he and Tellius reflect the character of God.

Of course, there is much more to The Bone Whistle than just the story of a marriage. Darcy, Sam, Amelia, Perry, Lewis, and Dean must discover the part they each must play to finally defeat Tselloch and close his gateways. As they search Alitheia for the final piece of the prophecy, the abilities they each received when they first arrived as young teenagers come to full flower. Hoyle’s brilliant plotting throughout the series finally pays off: all the mysteries are revealed, and seemingly tragic choices are shown to have a redemptive purpose.

K. B. Hoyle is the rare Christian author who can weave biblical principles – and even quotations from Scripture – into a fantasy story with a light hand. Christian readers will recognize the hints she has given, but readers of different faiths or without faith can enjoy the story without feeling preached at. Hoyle shows wisdom and folly, love and hate, courage and fear through action, and gives her characters space to grow in virtue by learning from their mistakes. The Gateway Chronicles shapes the minds and hearts of readers by immersing them in a story.

I can’t stress enough how much of a gift these books have been to me. Each new volume in The Gateway Chronicles took me away to a land of adventure, while still pointing my heart to the good, true, and beautiful. I can’t wait to read them to my son, and to give them to my friends to enjoy with their families. If you’re still not convinced, read my reviews of The Six, The Oracle, The White Thread, The Enchanted, and The Scroll, and then pick up your copies on Amazon (links below). I’d love to discuss them with you when you’ve read each one! Sharing books increases our enjoyment of them.

Thank you, K. B. Hoyle, for writing these stories. You have made the world a richer place with your words.

Amazon links for The Gateway Chronicles:

The Six

The Oracle

The White Thread

The Enchanted

The Scroll

The Bone Whistle

The Scroll, by K. B. Hoyle

(Spoiler warning: If you haven’t read any of The Gateway Chronicles but think you might want to, grab The Six and start reading before you read this review. A number of earlier plot points will be spoiled for you otherwise!)

Darcy left part of her heart in Alitheia at the end of The Enchanted. She and Tellius had finally come to terms with the depth of their love for each other, only to be separated for an entire year – Darcy in her own world, dealing with the mundanities of school while agonizing over Tellius, who, as king of Alitheia, is constantly in danger from the evil Tselloch. Darcy can’t stop worrying about his safety, and one day, her worries intensify. Through a tiny mirror, the only magical object she has from Alitheia, Darcy sees Tellius imprisoned and tortured. How can she possibly wait months to return to rescue the man she has promised to marry?

Through loss and seeming coincidence, more secrets of Alitheia are revealed. K. B. Hoyle’s plotting is at its most intricate here: familiar prophecies take on new meanings, mysteries are unraveled, and subtleties of Alitheian magic are explored in detail. It’s clear that Hoyle thoroughly planned the entirety of The Gateway Chronicles in advance, laying the groundwork in the earlier volumes for the revelations later in the series.

The Scroll shows us Darcy at her most vulnerable. She fights to ignore the apparitions Tselloch sends of Tellius pleading to her to come to him, but also longs to see his face, even for a few seconds. She makes an impulsive decision that leads her both to a tragic loss and a new ally. She must constantly battle her desire to see her beloved king on her terms, and seek the good of Alitheia above her own.

These internal struggles, along with the prophecy of her death, strengthen Darcy’s character. By the end of the book, she is a young woman who is willing to sacrifice everything that is dear to her to save not only Alitheia, but her own world as well. Sam, Amelia, Perry, Dean, and Lewis also experience emotional challenges and substantial growth over the course of their year in Alitheia. On one level, they behave like typical American teenagers, even sometimes having to explain their slang to confused Alitheians to great comedic effect, but at the same time, they have gone through stresses and tragedies very few teenagers could imagine. Their compassion and courage moved me to tears several times.

K. B. Hoyle has woven another compelling tale that is impossible to put down. Like the other books in The Gateway Chronicles, I finished The Scroll in one day. The wait – of only a few weeks! – to read The Bone Whistle was excruciating, because The Scroll ends in chaos and terror and heartbreak. Reader, have your copy of The Bone Whistle available to start reading as soon as you finish the last page of The Scroll – I promise you’ll thank me! You may not sleep until you finish the series, but it’ll be worth it.

You can purchase The Scroll here, or read my reviews of The Six, The Oracle, The White Thread, and The Enchanted first and buy the whole series!