Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Reading, Restoration, and Grief

There are stages of grief. I think I may be in them all simultaneously. Denbigh pointed out that we have lost 18 people in our family in 17 years of marriage. That seems unfathomable and could account for why I feel like I have been run over by a truck. It's been a hard road. Sometimes grief is a deep loss of a person. Sometimes it is the aftershocks of the mess a person caused with what they left behind. Sometimes we grieve the relationship that was never fully realized in life because of alcohol or drugs or mental illness. Sometimes we mourn the life we could have had without abuse. It's been a mixed bag of the torturous and the beautiful for me personally. I found myself 20 feet in the air asking God a simple question after my third brother passed away recently. What are we going to do with it all? Where are we going from right here?

Over a decade ago, I was reading Ron Hall's book The Same Kind of Different as Me. Ron had a gallery close to my grandparents in Ft. Worth. When my stepmom read his book, she was blown away by his transformation. During the reading of that book, I knew that my brother was going to die from that same thing that Ron's wife died from in the book. It's a fascinating read about a Ron's wife having a dream about a homeless man and their taking him in. God has used that story to help me have direction for my healing grief.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Ron had a new book out. Walking Our Way Home. It was about the 10 years of his and Denver's, the homeless man, friendship since his wife's death. I downloaded it on Chirp so that I could listen to it while I was scraping and painting. Then my brother Bart died. I am honestly still in shock. I am sad for my family and wondering how I am the last child left of both of my parents. Grief. I was surprised to hear that the book I was listening to was equally about navigating grief after his wife died. It helped me tremendously.

I started reading Sophie Hudson's new book Stand All the Way Up. I just love her. Her down to earth writing and depth of heart always make me feel at home. The thing that surprised me was the chapter on grief at losing her mama. I knew that this was for me right then. The rest of the book is funny and prophetic and wise. It was exactly what I needed right in that moment. As a side note, she even tackled racism and the church in a powerful way.

David Kessler, protege of Elizabeth Kubler Ross who wrote Five Stages of Grief, wrote a new book from some of their research entitled Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. This book is rich with hope and I cannot recommend it enough. We all go through the stages of grief in different areas of our life. This book helps us see what we can do with our pain. We can transform pain daily into more life. It's a choice we have to see our worst moments as seeds for some of our best. We can pray for post traumatic growth. We can get the help we need.

Reading through Dream Big by Bob Goff was a continuation of Finding Meaning for me. Bob has written a book about getting past all of our internal and external hurdles. It has helped me to continue forward motion through the long reaching effects of abuse as a child. It's giving me new words for myself. I have found meaning in loving the homeless and starting a non-profit for them, but the continual unraveling of God's work in me to give more is unending. I am thankful for the boost.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever finish this house, but I am always thankful for the picture that it offers me. Healing comes and washes over us. I have heard it said that angels talk to a man that is walking. I think Jesus talks to a girl that is restoring.

Other posts that might help you in grief:
Grief is a Gift
Trying: Miscarriage | Infertility | Hope

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The Neglected C.S. Lewis by Mark Neal & Jerry Root

The Neglected C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Riches of His Most Overlooked BooksThe Neglected C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Riches of His Most Overlooked Books by Mark Neal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that you read and feel like you have a mountain of homework in order to understand everything in it. Outside of Lewis' fiction and apologetic work, he has mounds of works that are largely overlooked. He is a man full of thoughtful opinions about the works of others. I have found some new books by other authors to read that he wrote about.

The thing that has stuck with me from this book is how important reading widely is. Reading takes us into the thought and hearts of others and gives a clear-eyed view into the plight of another. Given our current rioting, I can see how important it is to figuratively peer into the window of another man's house. We can see things and move on the behalf of others because we have developed a sense of care.

"Reading at the level Lewis advocates is a yearning for connection and clarity, to imagine oneself living many lives, seeing through many eyes the many ways the world can be apprehended. It is a way to engage in beneficial iconoclasm, in breaking down those barriers of blindness that keep our hearts and minds fettered. This kind of reading helps us to come awake from the lethargy of self- delusion. G. K. Chesterton noted that “If you look at a thing 999 times, you are perfectly safe. If you look at it for the 1000th time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.”256 This is what the eyes of others can give us, where we finally see beyond ourselves, the windows are opened, the light streams in, and our view of the world clarifies and expands."

This also struck me and left me wondering how we get back to beauty and significance.
"The medievals saw the universe packed with beauty and significance. Our modern sensibility tends to see the universe in terms of fear: as an infinite, empty void."

Synopsis: Readers who can quote word for word from C.S. Lewis’s theological classic, Mere Christianity, or his science fiction novel, Perelandra, have often never read his work as a professional literary historian. They may not even recognize some of the neglected works discussed, here. Mark Neal and Jerry Root have done students of Lewis a great service, tracing the signature ideas in Lewis’s works of literary criticism and showing their relevance to Lewis’s more familiar books. Their thorough research and lucid prose will be welcome to all who would like to understand Lewis more fully, but who feel daunted by books of such evident scholarly erudition.

For example, when you read The Discarded Image on the ancients’ view of the heavens, you understand better why Ransom has such unpleasant sensations when first descending toward Malacandra in Out of the Silent Planet. And when you come across Lewis’s discussion in OHEL of a minor sixteenth-century poet who described the hellish River Styx as a “puddle glum,” you can’t help but chuckle at the name when you meet the famous Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair. These are just two examples of how reading the “Neglected Lewis” can help every reader understand Lewis more fully.

The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis is another great book by this duo.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The German Heiress

The German HeiressThe German Heiress by Anika Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting and different view of WW2 from the vantage point of the German business owners and citizens who were threatened to comply with Hitler’s army.

I had a bit of trouble getting going with this story. I’m not sure if I didn’t like what was happening or if the beginning didn’t flow to me. After I paced my way through those initial pages, the story ramped into high gear. I don’t want to issue any spoilers, but I was overwhelmed to see how the war had such an effect on everyone around. It was incredibly easy for people to be killed simply because someone said they were involved in a crime against the Reich. Businesses were forced to comply and use forced labor. After the war, people were left to live in bombed out houses and were in fear of the people who came to rescue them from the Nazi regime.

I read that this debut novel was meticulously researched. I couldn’t find what our author researched. I do not know if it is based on actual events or simply things that might or could have happened during this time. The writing is engaging and the story keeps you locked in. It’s definitely one that is hard to put down.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Holy Hush : Silence is Healing

It's a gray day here. Gray days cause a quiet hush to fall on the land. They feel like tears. They aren't sad tears per se. I call them tears of presence. When a time of quiet comes and I can hear the gentle voice of the Lord, my eyes tend to water. It's a washing away of sorts. That meek and wild voice of God destroys old things and propagates new ones simply by speaking. Even though the exact words that he is saying are not always understood by us, we feel it. It reverberates deep within. The holy hush falls upon us and we are changed.

I heard Makoto Fujimura say that our churches will need new wine skins for our new wine after this pandemic. The world will be different. We will all be different. We will seek the Lord more desperately. I think we will all need new wine skins to hold the fermented fruit of this season.

God has drawn us away from the business of life and invited us into his quiet, contemplative presence. That has changed us. We are remembering to enjoy our families again. We are remembering to enjoy him again. We are searching for the depth and richness of the everyday. We are gardening and baking and playing. We are makers again. We are creating and sustaining life alongside You. O, how we have missed this. We have remembered to pray again. We pray for our neighbors and send toilet paper and hold parades and ask people how they are doing. We are more like You right now.

Silence is healing. I read that on a sign in the surgery center while waiting on Dr. Mike Tschoepe to fix my friend Kenny's eyes. It was ironic because the tv was on, but the words glued themselves to me. I have thought about them several dozen times. The world went quiet. It grieved with us. It sang together. It quit celebrating the huge feats of celebrity and applauded human kindness. You have learned to teach online. You are homeschooling. You have parked in hospitals collectively with your blinkers flashing and prayed for the staff and patients. You have figured out how to love your congregations. You have called people to ask how they are holding up. You have masked up and gloved up and fed the homeless. It has been a joy to see you care. Thank you. Thank you for caring for us all. Your kindness is a teacher.

Jesus, show us how to hold deeply to the silence you speak in. Show us how to hold fast to compassion and mercy. Show us the beauty hidden in the everyday.

"There are burning bushes all around us." -Makoto Fujimura

May I take this holy hush forward with me. May we all see the sacred in the simple moments of our lives. Those moments that we have long neglected are the moments that we could easily be overcome by holiness, but we have been afraid to actually talk to you for a long time. So we light a candle. We pause and breathe deeper than we have in possibly years. We see you quite clearly. Your common grace is felt. Help us to remember. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Simple Folk

I have been wanting to go to Bob Goff's Dream Big seminar for years, but the $3500 price tag was a huge deterrent to me. When I saw that he was opening up an online version for $200 during our quarantine, I immediately purchased it. I have to tell you that I am so glad I did it this way. 

He tells you that if you go through the questions too quickly to do them again because you haven't thought deeply enough about your answers. Friends, I have spent three weeks in the introduction and I have cried quite a bit. I wasn't expecting this at all. I thought I'd go through this and formulate a plan to best help homeless people in my community and maybe learn to be more hospitable to those around me. I've never been a person who wants to follow their dreams or dream big. I just like to follow Jesus around. He's doing crazy stuff and it is absolutely wild to be in cahoots with Him. 

Here's what I didn't expect: When asked what my dream was, I had to stop and ask myself some questions. I have had so much abuse in my home(s), at school(even by teachers), and in church that I don't think I had ever allowed myself to feel safe enough to dream. I stopped and I grieved that. I'm still processing it, to be honest. I have flashbacks of cruelty and I go through the emotions and forgiveness. This is a hard journey to healing. I have been looking for the people who gave me hope in humanity.

If you know me, you know that I am completely willing to do crazy things. I followed God out to a dilapidated mansion in the middle of nowhere, to foreign countries and under bridges to sit with homeless friends. This is different. I am discovering who God created me to be and exactly why the enemy was trying to crush that.

The questions that set me to thinking were really simpleWho are you? What makes you get out of bed each day? I always think those sayings about the hustle sound great, but I have reconciled to the fact that I am not the hustler. I like slow, steady, thoughtful movements that impact people. That's why I get out of bed each day. I want to enjoy Jesus and use that to love people.

I have read that you are like the people you surround yourself with. What you admire is often where your own heart is. I have thought through my own friends and then I started on a path to who my heroes are. I am 42 years old and one of my heroes is Mr. Rogers. That's true for many of us, but I really thought about the “why" of that. I know I looked for tv personalities to teach me because my own family wasn't healthy. We were constantly in a state of divorce and remarriage, but Mr. Rogers offered me something that other adults did not. He communicated feelings in a healthy way, a simple way. There is even a Harvard professor that teaches a course on his simple, direct approach. Mr. Rogers was quietly fierce and at war with a culture hellbent on destroying it's creation. He gave us words for our pain.

I realized that every hero of mine followed this basic ideology. Simple words that fight back darkness. One of my favorite stories from Corrie ten Boom was about how she felt like God had prepared her for the concentration camp by having her volunteer in a hospital full of the mentally ill and special needs children. She said she learned to communicate the gospel there in the simplest of ways. She begged Jesus for clear words that would reveal truth to minds that couldn't comprehend it. After much hardship, she was given the opportunity to take those words to the nations.

I started making a list of my heroes and the reason they stood out to me. It isn't comprehensive, but these are the first people to come into my mind.

Andrew Murray: simple humility
Jimmy Dorrell: simple gospel
Bob Goff: simple acts of love
Alan Graham: simple community
Mr. Rogers: simple human kindness
Corrie ten Boom: simple words of power
Jill Briscoe: simple prayer
Cervantes: simple depth
Dr. Paul Farmer: simple care
Harper Lee: simple character
Dr. Barry C Black: simple speech
Anne Graham Lotz: simple love of Jesus
Benita Long: simple hospitality
Bryan Stephenson: simple justice
George Washington Carver: simple redemption

I can go on and on with George MacDonald, CS Lewis, Frances Mayes, Lois Tverberg, Edith Schaeffer, Charlotte Mason, Voddie Baucham, Bono, and even Dolly Parton. The thing I love about all of these people is that they have simple ways, even though some are hidden in big, public lives. For me, it all boils down to speaking very plainly to the one thing that God has put in front of me. I hate to see people in pain with no idea how to care for themselves. I want to earn the opportunity to speak truth to pain. That often comes through feeding the homeless or anyone who will sit at my table. It's simple. So, I think I'll quit everything else and sit with these heroes, the simple folk.

I was sitting here at my desk trying to sum up my life verse to fit on a personalized journal that I am buying myself for my birthday. How do you sum up Isaiah 58:10 to exhort yourself? It says that if you pour out what you have to satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your own light will rise in darkness and your nighttime will become like the noonday. A little long for my one line of personalization. Then, into my head came these simple words. 

Give them what you have. 
Give it away, Steph.

Simple indeed. I hope you find me with the simple folk.