God’s Heart Toward Us

One of the things I most love about slowing down to read and think and ponder is how it gives me the bandwidth to notice common themes that pop up again and again. A recent theme has been the love of God for us in Christ.

I saw this several places: in a song by Twila Paris, We All Bow Down

Worship Jesus

For He is love

Unfailing love

He is the Love of God

I saw it again in D.A. Carson’s meditation on Psalm 103:8, The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,

On the first signs of genuine repentance, he turns from wrath, for the Lord is “slow to anger, abounding in love.” Strict justice would be immediate–an easy thing for Omniscience! The truth is that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (103:10)

p. 6585, For the Love of God, Volume 2

I saw it multiple times in both the Old and New Testaments,

Sing, O heavens!

Be joyful, O earth!

And break out in singing, O mountains!

For the Lord has comforted His people,

And will have mercy on His afflicted.

God Will Remember Zion

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,

And my Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,

And not have compassion on the son of her womb?

Surely they may forget,

Yet I will not forget you.

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;

Isaiah 49:13-16a

Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,

Exodus 34:5-6

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Then as I was listening to the Knowing Faith podcast a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Michael Kruger said,

…God that is presenting Christ as a propitiation…God is basically offering His own Son to be the sacrifice that He Himself demands and so there’s this sense in which no one could say that God is this wrathful deity who’s angry all the time and you’ve got to placate Him with blood. No, this is a God who loves you and is going to give His own Son for you and He’s the One who offers Him. (Episode 121, you can start at where he is talking about propitiation at 27 minutes in but the whole episode is worth listening to)

Most of all, I have seen it in a book I’ve been slowly, slowly reading over the past several months, Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. While I knew the theology behind what the author was saying in his book, I have found it too easy to forget that, in Christ, God the Father’s heart toward me is one of compassion and mercy, not judgment. This book has turned my heart and mind to the truth of God’s mercy and love for His children.

Filled with quotes from the Puritan writers, Gentle and Lowly returns again and again to who God truly is. Ortlund makes the point that the God of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament are the same God, the One who loves us with an everlasting love, the One who has engraved us onto His hands, the One who redeems and clothes, sustains and provides for His people.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking that God is angry, especially when we think of the Old Testament. Ortlund writes,

The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is. This is hard work. It takes a lot of sermons and a lot of suffering to believe that God’s deepest heart is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger.” The fall in Genesis 3 not only sent us into condemnation and exile. The fall also entrenched in our minds dark thoughts of God, thoughts that are only dug out over multiple exposures to the gospel over many years. Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory in your life today is not the sin in which you regularly indulge but the dark thoughts of God’s heart that cause you to go there in the first place and keep you cool toward him in the wake of it.

P. 128, Gentle and Lowly

In fact, before we were born, before God even created Adam, from all eternity the Godhead had already agreed to what theologians call the Covenant of Redemption, which was God’s Plan A all along. R.C. Sproul explains it more fully in this article, but the gist of it is that God the Father sent God the Son into the world to save sinners and that God the Son willingly did so. It wasn’t some last-ditch effort because Adam and Eve messed up. No, God the Father loved us before He created us and had planned to save us from the beginning.

In one of the end chapters, Ortlund talks about our tendency toward “law-ish hearts” being so natural to our sinful selves that we struggle to see God’s lavish heart toward us, just as the Galatians did in Paul’s time. Ortlund writes,

And the Christian life is simply the process of bringing my sense of self, my Identity with a capital “I,” the ego, my swirling internal world of fretful panicky-ness arising out of that gospel deficit, into alignment with the more fundamental truth. The gospel is the invitation to let the heart of Christ calm us into joy, for we’ve already been discovered, included, brought in. We can bring our up-and-down moral performance into subjection to the settled fixedness of what Jesus feels about us.

p. 160, Gentle and Lowly

His heart toward us is one of love and grace, not harsh condemnation because of Jesus. What good news is this!?

I highly recommend this book to all Christians. It’s one that I will go back and re-read often as it reminds me of the thing that I most often forget: God’s magnificent, all-encompassing love for His people. Our beliefs drive our actions so the more this truth sinks into my soul, the more I will be able to live it out in my daily life. And then extend that love and grace to those around me.

Do you believe the Father’s heart is one of compassion and mercy towards you? How could believing that truth change your thoughts and words and actions today?

NaNoWriMo Goal for 2021

Four years ago, I attempted a goal for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Since I write nonfiction, not novels, I participated as a “rebel”, which meant I wouldn’t try for 50,000 words but instead would come up with a goal of my own to attempt during the month of November. You can read more about that goal here: Daily Writing and NaNoWriMo

This year, I will again create my own goal that I want to achieve. I wrote about my desire to get back to journaling a few weeks ago and after reading this article by Michael Hyatt, in which he suggested sticking with the habit for 30 days, it occurred to me that November would be the perfect month to work on that habit.

This morning I wrote out my NaNoWriMo goal for 2021:

I will write in my journal for 30 days, every day in the month of November, even if it’s only a few lines, to redevelop that rhythm of daily writing.

One of the things I cover with my writing group every year is that preparation for NaNoWriMo leads to better success in reaching your goal. Following that advice, I’ve chosen a “template” to use. By asking myself the same questions every morning, I won’t have to stare at a blank page, wondering what to write. On busy mornings, perhaps I’ll only choose one question to answer, while on weekend mornings, I’ll have time to answer all eight.

Also, I’ve decided to not limit myself to one particular medium but instead, I will write by hand in my paper journal, on my phone when I’m out, or on my computer, if it’s handy. In other words, my goal here is to capture my thoughts each day in whatever means possible.

Now, this won’t be my only writing since I’m still working on regularly posting here and also working slowly on my book project. That’s one of the reasons I’m not being too perfectionistic about how I get my journal writing done each day.

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a regular journaling habit? I’d love to hear how you fit writing into your day.

Autumn Senses

Image by Rebekka D from Pixabay

Ah, September! The month that starts my favorite season. I know most people prefer spring for its new beginnings or summer for its heat and vacations, but I love autumn the best. My senses are filled with autumn things:

  • The smell of wood smoke, apples, and fallen leaves
  • The sight of pumpkins piled high, the bluest of skies, the changing colors of the trees and chrysanthemums everywhere I look.
  • The sounds of raking and honks of geese as they fly over my head towards warmer climes.
  • The taste of homemade applesauce, the special ginger cookies I make every fall, and the first beef stew of the season.
  • The feel of a wool sweater embracing my shoulders, the crisp mornings, and the knitting beneath my fingers as I pick it back up after a break during summer’s heat.

Best of all, autumn is a time of reflection, a time to assess how the year has gone so far and decide what I’d like to wrap up by year’s end. I actually love that the days are growing shorter as I find it easier to reflect in the darkness of early mornings and evenings that increases throughout the season. I’m more content to sit inside with a hot cup of coffee or tea and gather my thoughts when there is no lovely sunshine beckoning to me to go outside.

What season do you love best and why? Please share your favorite in the comments below.

Autumn Reading

We are at the start of my favorite season. I love the golden light, the crisp evenings and mornings, the bright blue sky, the sounds of birds flying south, and the smells of bonfires and falling leaves.

My reading in the fall tends to be focused on reflective novels and books that warm my heart and soul. I’m always seeking new titles to read, but in autumn, I do a lot more rereading. Here are some of my favorite books to read this time of year.

Persuasion by Jane Austen – My favorite Austen novel, Persuasion is perfect for reading in the autumn as it talks about second chances later in life. I like to reread this one every few years and always in October.

September by Rosamund Pilcher – The title speaks for itself as it is set in September, but I love that most of the characters are in middle life, thinking about their lives, their choices, and where to go from here.

Possession by A.S. Byatt – An intellectual mystery, this novel follows a set of scholars as they seek the truth of the relationship between two Victorian poets – for those who enjoy an academic puzzle and unraveling historical mysteries

Anne of the Island or Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery – School stories always seem appropriate to read at the start of a school year and either of these work for that although Anne of Windy Poplars seems a bit more “fallish”.

Autumn Story by Jill Barklem – If you have not yet read any of Jill Barklem’s stories about the mice in the hedgerow over the various seasons, go immediately to your library and pick one up. The drawings are enchanting and the stories sweet without being cloying. The tale reads quickly but you will want to pour over the illustrations to look at all of the details of country English life.

Vittoria Cottage by D.E. Stevenson – This title by Stevenson is another book about second chances, this time for a woman in middle life with grown children.

Fresh From the Country by Miss Read – Another school story, this one describes the life of a brand new teacher. Miss Read’s Fairacre Series is also great for school-story lovers.

Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge – Many of Elizabeth Goudge’s books are thoughtful and reflective, but this one is a favorite of mine with many descriptions of cozy home scenes.

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struthers – Always good for a reread but especially great in fall and winter, each essay covers a small portion of Mrs. Miniver’s life in a way that can lead you to think more closely about the ordinary things in yours.

Books I’ve read that would make perfect fall reads:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – This gothic tale about an old woman who wants to tell the truth of her life after many years of hiding it away is perfect for fall reading.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – Austen pokes fun at gothic tales while telling one of her own. Delightful.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving – The classic story of Ichabod Crane and his night ride is spooky without being horror.

Early Days by Miss Read – Miss Read recounts her early childhood in this lovely memoir.

Books that are on my to-read list that would fit into fall reading:

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope – I’m slowly reading through Trollope’s Barchestershire series, and anything by him has one thinking about the human condition and the choices we make.

September Moon by John Moore – I found a copy of this after reading about it at a bookish Instagram account I follow. It’s set in hops-picking time in England, a time I’ve always been intrigued by after reading about it other books. I’m looking forward to picking this up soon.

The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell – Anything by Angela Thirkell is good cozy reading and being about a school is an added bonus.

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeleine Martin – This book about a bookshop in World War II may not appear cozy at first glance, but I find any book set in London involving books takes me away to another world so it qualifies for me.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee – Memoirs about childhood memories are always good for fall, and this one has long been on my to-read list so I’m hoping to finally get to it this year.

The Cottage Kitchen: Cozy Cooking in the English Countryside by Marte Marie Forsberg – Cool nights and earlier evenings call out for spending time in the kitchen. I love to read cookbooks and this one just seems perfect for this time of year. I have certain things I always make in autumn and am hoping to find another favorite.

Autumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch – I loved her memoir about her trip to England and hope to find an affordable copy of this book for the drawings and recipes.

Do you have a favorite book to read this time of year? Please share it in the comments. I love to add books to my autumn reading list.

Feeding Your Creativity

Writing Desk – Pen & Ink drawing by Victor L. Doyle

Earlier this month, I was gathering ideas to share with the writers group at the library. Our topic for August was Feeding Your Creativity, an idea I first read in Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta. During my research, I discovered this great article on creativity based on an old book from 1939. Artists and writers looking for creativity is apparently not a new concept!

The author of the book listed five steps to cultivating creativity:

  1. Gathering raw material
  2. Digesting the material
  3. Unconscious processing
  4. The A-Ha Moment
  5. Idea Meets Reality

As I thought about this five step process, I realized that I follow these steps almost unconsciously when I think about my writing, work on a Bible study, plan my goals for the next quarter, and a host of other creative and thinking work.

Then this morning, I came across this lovely video about Training Your Creative Flow by photographer Shaye Elliott.

In her video, Shaye is talking about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I started reading but quit partway through because I never conquered morning pages. I tried so many times on my own and did something similar last winter during a writing class. However, the pain in my hands when I write with a pen for more than a few minutes keeps me, mentally and physically, from maintaining that habit. Julia Cameron’s insistence that it must be pen and paper makes sense to me intellectually and the lovely piece of writing on the beauty in pain that came out of the exercise last winter both keep me thinking about this. But until I conquer the very real mental or emotional barrier of my fear of the pain, I know that I won’t do morning pages.

Consequently, I’ve decided to adapt these ways of capturing creativity to make it work for me where I am right now. Rather than just give up, which has been my tendency, I’ve come to the conclusion that if writing is important to me, and it is, then I have to do what works and stop trying to live someone else’s ideal process.

Here is how I plan to use these steps to feed my creativity:

  1. Raw material – This is not a problem. I read so much and so widely that I’m always gathering raw material. The challenge is to organize it for easier retrieval. I have a system that I’m working on but that is for another post.
  2. Digesting the material – I think this is where the morning pages will come in. Rather than fuss myself about doing it by hand, I’ve decided to just type my thoughts. Perhaps this is not optimal but it’s better than not doing anything at all, a sentiment echoed in this article by a leadership coach for lawyers.
  3. Unconscious processing – This requires silence and solitude, which are hard to find in the world today but not impossible. A combination of weaning myself off of social media, planning in slots of reflective time, and adding in more walks, some of which I will make thinking walks, should give me time for the processing that is crucial to idea generation.
  4. The A-Ha moment – I have a small notebook and/or my phone with me all of the time so that when the ideas hit, I’m ready for them. In the past, I’ve jotted down words and phrases on a slip of paper, dictated my thoughts to Siri as I drove, sent myself an email, added a note to my phone, and scribbled down thoughts for a new direction in my notebook. Writing down ideas as they strike is a discipline that is well worth cultivating for every creative. I wrote more about this in my post A Writer’s Notebook.
  5. Idea meets reality – Make time for regular writing! Two other ideas from Julia Cameron’s book are to have a creative date with yourself every week and to practice your art regularly. For me that looks like having a book on writing that I read for an hour a week, as a minimum, and sitting down every day to write—morning pages, a blog post draft, my journal, a book draft—whatever it is to get the words on paper and develop the discipline of showing up to my art.

Have I perfected this process? Not at all. However, the steps are in place and now I need to walk in them. If I can do it, so can you!

Do you think these five steps to creativity are helpful? Do you write morning pages either by hand or electronically? Please share your practices in the comments so we can all learn to live the creative life together.

Journaling – My Need and Neglect

Over the years, I’ve discovered an intense need for keeping a journal. It started in high school and has only grown over the years. When I was fifteen, a journal gave me a place to write down my thoughts, wishes, dreams, and desires that I did not dare share with anyone else. It provided a secret place for bad poetry, prayers, and plans for my future. Crushes on boys at school or church sat next to sincere desires to serve God with all of my heart.

As I grew older, I used my journal to not only keep track of what came out of my heart but also to record my interactions with God. What I read in Scripture, what I heard from sermons and speakers, what I discovered about Him in the books I read, and all of my responses to these things were crammed onto the pages as I learned about who He was and who He created me to be.

Plans for my daily life, goals for upcoming months, multiple lists, commonplace quotes, and things I wanted to remember were jotted down for future reference. My journal was my go-to most days to help me think and plan and dream. It became such an integral part of my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual life that I couldn’t imagine abandoning it.

However, as much of a need as I have for journaling regularly, I’ve noticed that I’ve been neglecting it more and more in the last few years. While I still try to read a good bit each week, I rarely copy down quotes from the books (commonplace). Also, I do a lot less thinking about what I’m reading, comparing it to what I already know, pondering its meaning, and writing about what I think.

Last year, I worked through Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing by poet Luci Shaw with a group of Christian women who also wanted to start or restart journaling. For a time during that study and a bit afterward, I once again filled page after page in my journal, but as COVID retreated somewhat and life began returning to its former busyness, I wrote less and less.

Part of that is just a lack of time for pondering. With a home and family, a full-time job, and a commute, large blocks of time for reading and writing have turned into snatches of time here and there. Writing often falls by the wayside as a result. To be honest, the difficulty in finding time is also due to the great amount of knowledge at our fingertips, the glut of which often keeps me taking in too much and not thinking about it enough.

However, this summer I have been deliberately setting up systems for tracking my time and activities and for carving out a deeper life, in which I can lose myself once again in the written words I used to revel in. My hope is that my neglect of journaling will cease, that I will pick up my pen regularly to mull over life and ideas, and that my musings will lead to a fuller, richer life.

Do you make time for journaling? How do you make it a priority? Please share any tips you have below!

Too Much of a Good Thing

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

When I was a little girl, my mother had a vegetable garden in our backyard. Each of us had our favorite. My brother loved the radishes and my dad appreciated the green beans. My favorite were the cherry tomatoes. Each one was just the right size to pop into my mouth. Warm from the sun, they would explode with flavor in my mouth. I couldn’t get enough of them!

Until the day I broke out in hives. After some searching questions about what I had been doing and eating, my mother came to the conclusion that my love of cherry tomatoes had caused the problem. It wasn’t that the tomatoes were bad for me, it was that too many of them overwhelmed my body. For several days, I itched and went without tomatoes until the hives healed. You can be sure that I was careful not to eat as many tomatoes after that!

Isn’t that same thing true in our daily lives? There are people, occupations, foods, objects, pastimes that aren’t harmful in themselves but too much of them can hurt us, can cause our systems to shut down because of the overload. Here are just a few of the things that can be too much for me:

–Too many people and not enough alone time
—Too much work and not enough play
—Too many hamburgers and not enough salad
—Too many books and not enough movement
—Too much time on screens and not enough time using my hands to create
–Too much busyness and not enough time for reflection
–Too much doing and not enough being

People, work, food, pastimes, and many things to do aren’t necessarily harmful in themselves, but too much of any of them can cause my life to tilt out of balance, which leads to a sense of unease in my spiritual and emotional life. The solution is often to take a break from those things in order to recalibrate my system. Then I can add the books, screens, and other good things back, being more careful in the proportion of time and attention each is taking in my life.

What good thing do you have in your life that can be too much? What do you do to balance that thing out so that you don’t get “hives”.

Creating a Writing Community

One of the best parts of my job at the public library is working with local writers. When I first started, I knew only a few, but over time, our tiny writers group grew. Several years later, I now know dozens and dozens of talented, enthusiastic, generous local authors. In fact, the annual writers conference has become a highlight in both my work and personal lives. More than 200 people attend to learn more about their craft and have opportunities to network and grow, and it is a privilege to be a part of that each November.

It has been a journey, and I love to share it with others so that they can create a similar group or conference in their own communities. When Chris Jones, a local writer, podcaster, and writing coach, contacted me about being a guest on his podcast, I jumped at the chance.

If you love to write or want to start your own writers group, workshop, or mini-conference, give this podcast episode a listen. Chris’s great interviewing skills helped me to lay out the steps for building a successful conference, which can be used for any size gathering.

Let me know if you want more information or have any tips for building a writing community in the comments below.

Signposts of God’s Faithfulness

My rogue daffodils

Have I ever mentioned my rogue daffodils? They are God’s reminder to me each spring that

no matter the trials in my life,
in whatever circumstances I’m living,
wherever He is calling me to live by faith and not by sight,
I can grow and thrive and bloom because I abide in Christ and bear fruit in Him.

Years ago, daffodils grew along the path from our driveway to our front porch. Most of them had been covered over with so much soil that the only thing that grew were the green leaves. So my husband decided to dig them up and get rid of them. He threw them in a large heap of dirt and debris leftover from some construction work in our backyard. Later that summer, we had the mound of trash hauled away, forgetting about those daffodils.

The next March I looked out of the back window in my bookroom and to my delight, a stand of daffodils were popping up in the grass where that hill of dirt had been. They apparently had worked their way down into the soil and waited for their time to shine.

Every day, I peered out the window to enjoy the sight of these glorious daffodils in the middle of our lawn. Eventually, the flowers withered and my husband declared that they couldn’t stay there in the middle of the lawn. So he dug them up again and threw them in the back corner of our yard. An easement runs there and because we can’t do much with that spot, it has turned into a catch-all for gardening stuff, old Christmas trees, and piles of wood and sticks. Again, we forgot about the daffodils in a back corner we rarely entered.

Lo and behold, the next year those daffodils popped up again in the middle of debris and weeds and sticks!. This time I told my husband that they obviously belonged in our yard if they were that determined to bloom no matter how many times he threw them away. They stayed, and each year, when they bloom, I am reminded that God takes our circumstances—the garbage, the piles of sticks, the cracked wheelbarrows, the weeds—and He strengths and nourishes us so that we bloom right in that spot. Rogue means something or someone that doesn’t behave in an expected way, which describes the little flowers that were determined to grow no matter how many times they were discarded.

These daffodils are a witness, a signpost to God’s faithfulness and lovingkindness that I look forward to every year. It seems appropriate that they bloom every year right around Good Friday, when He took the darkest day in the history of the world and turned it into a glorious victory over sin and death. Even so, He will take our sins, our trials, our sufferings, and our pains and turn them into golden daffodils for His glory.

What signposts of God’s faithfulness do you have in your life today?

Stopping to Listen

Morning sun

Amid the difficulties and trials of the pandemic this past year, at least one good thing has emerged: the time to stop and listen. In our pre-pandemic busyness, it was easy to dash ahead with recreation, work, and duties and never pause to notice the little things that make up our days. Several years ago, a reporter experimented with our preoccupation with rushing through our day when he set Joshua Bell up as a violinist in a busy subway station. Hardly anyone stopped to listen! The beauty of his playing was lost amid the urgent.

But these days, most of us do have the margin in our lives to pause, and as we do, we notice the world around us and listen to the background noise of our lives. This noticing and listening require us to still our hearts, to pay attention, and to turn off the incessant background hum of sound, but the rewards are well worth it.

Here are some of the things I am noticing and listening to right now:

  • the change in light as the sun rises earlier and earlier each day
  • bird song as it greets each morning with joy
  • weeds starting to grow again even though my plants are still mostly dormant
  • wind blowing through the trees
  • connections between ideas that pop up in books and conversation throughout the day
  • the dialog between my soul and God in the early morning hours
  • the way my cat focuses all of his attention every morning on the spot where the birds hang out
  • the sound of silence, heavy and soft, in which I can almost hear my heart beating
  • rays of light that fall across my bed each morning as I make it up for the day
  • how my heart lies quiet as I stop and stare and wonder, instead of rushing on
  • the soundtrack in my neighborhood—dogs barking, birds singing, leaves rustling—as I walk outside after lunch
  • feeling the sunshine warm on my skin when I go outside
  • seeing the first blades of green thrusting up where my tiger lilies grow
  • hearing words that my husband does not say in between the ones he verbalizes

Stop…listen…notice…reflect. These are gifts from the pandemic that came in the midst of the hardship, and I am thankful that I have cut out enough of the busyness to experience them.

What are you noticing and listening to today?