Category Archives: fresh start

Monday Morning Moment – Building and Re-building Community

Just before the start of COVID’s mandate for physical distancing (just a year ago), group video calls were only a thing at work. Not with people in your other life. Not with your community.

Yet it has become normal now.

Except for my family, no other people have been in my living room in a year. That is staggering for me to register…even now. This roomwas made for people…like my heart is. It’s been a strange year.

Community isn’t gone. It has changed. It is just as precious and just as vital to healthy, flourishing living.

One day many of these and other dear ones will gather again around our table and sprawl around our living room. I’ll be so glad.

Until then, we do what we can with video calls, cards and phone calls, and physically distanced visits in yards and driveways.

Community is not cancelled, just challenged.

Right now I’m plowing through a book by Sarah, Sally, and Joy Clarkson. Girls’ Club – Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World. “Plowing through” because the messages are deep and thought-provoking. Good for the soul and great for kick-starting community.

Sally Clarkson’s daughter Sarah writes about creating community. She references the great “love chapter” in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13). In this text we are reminded what love looks like. Sarah goes on to talk about how she incorporates the character of love in growing community.  In the coming aftermath of COVID – can you hear my hope? – three keys to building and rebuilding community come to bear:

  1. Remember and rekindle – We have all known community, hopefully at its fullest. A place of being known and loved, just as we are. A place where we can serve and be served. A place of rest also. Post-COVID, our culture will be changed, but our need for community will not be changed. In fact, we may need it even more, but will we go after it? This is where we must rekindle, as Sarah puts it, our vision to reach out to one another in meaningful ways.
  2. Renew and revitalize. Community takes effort and intentionality. We don’t have to do all the work ourselves nor is it even wise to do so. Find partners, neighbors, like-minded people who will add their own gifts and energy to the process. My husband and I actually live in a neighborhood with such folks. What a joy it is to know we are there for each other and will show up, regularly, when there is a need…or just for the pleasure of it.   [Memorial Day parade in our neighborhood; May, 2020]
  3. Really love and rejoice over each other. Community is not a project. It is a way of life, a mindset, a worldview. People matter. Life is short. When we truly invest in one another, our lives are enlarged. Both the giver and the receiver. I have missed the ease of pre-COVID community. I took it for granted. Now I value it more than ever. Hopefully it is a lesson that won’t be easily forgotten. Hopefully we go after community like never before, having learned in a hard way how much we need it.

[The section below is retrieved from one of my recent blogs.]

In the book above, Sarah also writes a chapter entitled Saturday Mornings: The Girls’ Club Prototype. In this chapter, she describes “five progressive actions…central to the powerful cultivation of friendship”. They are imperative in building and rebuilding community as well:

  • Invite – Reach out and bring in a new someone to an adventure and your life.
  • Plan – Work out the logistics of an event, a meetup, an outing. Make it a welcome ritual or routine.
  • Provide – Show love, Sarah says, by preparing the table, so to speak. Whether it is the physical space itself (your home, for instance) or your own “mind and heart” to wholly receive the new friend.
  • Stay – This is huge! Whether distance or circumstance separate you, be a continual presence in the life of a friend. Be there. Show up. This takes effort and intentionality, and it’s not easy. It requires both forgiveness and faithfulness…no matter what.
  • Pray – When we remember that every single person we meet is an image-bearer of God, we are reminded of the value there. Even those “mean girls” in our lives didn’t get mean in a vacuum. “Hurt people hurt people”. They have God’s imprint like every other imperfect person… When we recognize our own frailty and that of others, we are drawn to pray. For our own hearts to love like Jesus. For eyes to see how God sees people…and to reach out in love…as only He has made us to do so.

So thankful for all the ways we’ve experienced friendship and community, both here and far from here.

I’d like to close with some wise words from Rosaria Butterfield from her incredible, autobiographical book “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”. Until you read the whole of it, soak up some of her quotes from GoodReads (written to Christians, but, honestly, anyone who longs to create community can take the good from this book).

“Hospitality always requires hands and heads and hearts, and mess and sacrifice and weakness. Always.” – Rosaria Butterfield

“Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are co-conspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. And even more serious is our failure to read our Bibles well enough to see that the creation ordinance and the moral law, found first in the Old Testament, is as binding to the Christian as any red letter. Our own conduct condemns our witness to this world.” – Rosaria Butterfield

We introverts miss out on great blessings when we excuse ourselves from practicing hospitality because it exhausts us. I often find people exhausting. But over the years I have learned how to pace myself, how to prepare for the private time necessary to recharge, and how to grow in discomfort. Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.” – Rosaria Butterfield

Living out radically ordinary Christian hospitality means knowing that your relationship with others must be as strong as your words. The balance cannot tip here. Having strong words and a weak relationship with your neighbor is violent. It captures the violent carelessness of our social media–infused age. That is not how neighbors talk with each other. That is not how image bearers of the same God relate to one another. Radically ordinary hospitality values the time it takes to invest in relationships, to build bridges, to repent of sins of the past, to reconcile. Bridge building and remaking friendships cannot be rushed. – Rosaria Butterfield

 

Beginner’s Guide to Reaching Out to Your Neighbors – Angela Sackett

How to Build a Unique Community – 10 Lessons By a Master Community Builder – Michael Burkhardt – this excellent piece is more bent toward a business community or alliance/affiliation BUT also has great takeaways for any type of community building.

10 Key Components of Healthy, Equitable Communities – Again, this article is also a comprehensive look more at community planning at a municipal level – fascinating stuff.

Photo Credit: Wendy McCaig, Embrace Richmond, Embrace Communities

Worship Wednesday – On Unity and Love – Hymn Medley – Maverick City

Photo Credit: Heartlight

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:28b-31

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”JesusJohn 13:34-35 

 “I pray not only for these [Jesus’ disciples], but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.”JesusJohn 17:20-23

“Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”the Apostle Paul, Ephesians 4:1-6

Unity in diversity. Not uniform but unified.

When the Lord speaks in Scripture, or when one of His faithful followers speaks in Scripture, we are meant to pay close attention.

Also when Jesus prays – speaking to the Father, borne up by the Spirit of God – we know He prays in the will of God. He will answer.

John 17 is the prayer of benediction over Jesus’ disciples and for all of us who would become His followers through the ages. They had finished their last supper together, and just hours later Jesus would be taken to be crucified the next day. This prayer speaks to the very heart of God for both His glory and for His people.

How do we glorify God in our lives? In our love for and obedience to Him in both word and deed.

Today’s social media can be both a platform for a witness of our experience of God or a public square for an exposé of others who violate our Christian sensibilities. Both Twitter and Facebook can be brutal in the treatment of both believers and unbelievers.

I’m so thankful for some of the great lights that penetrate the dark side of social media. Michael Catt and Jackie Hill Perry are just two. Here are three tweets from them this week that encouraged me (even in the harder one by Perry – it points to Truth and reminds us how to live).

Photo Credit: Michael Catt, Twitter

 

Photo Credit: Michael Catt, Twitter

 

Photo Credit: Jackie Hill Perry, Twitter

I’m a follower of Jesus, as you know. And Baptist by doctrine. And Southern Baptist by church affiliation. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has come under fire of late for its origins prior to the American Civil War and subsequent race issues, its supposed political leanings, and the moral failures of some of its pastors. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the US. It has a voice, not always positive, and when notable members criticize it or even more dissociate from it, there is a public ripple effect.

I’ve never felt the need to leave Southern Baptists because I love that we love God and His Word (imperfectly but its foundational to belonging to these churches). I love that we try to be unified in purpose and mission. Again, not always peacefully but resolutely.

No Christian church or organization will be as it should be this side of Heaven because it is made up of saved sinners, still grappling with sin, and personal preferences and sensibilities. My husband sometimes quotes his childhood pastor, Richard Bailey who quoted Charles Spurgeon, when he says,

“The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.”

Today’s blog is not a defense of an organization…or a particular church. It is also not meant to be a dig at anyone else’s struggle to align with such an organization.

Today I just want to point to a God who loves us and who calls us to a unity, a unity in diversity. A unity that requires us to love across all sorts of philosophical and political lines. A unity that must be fought for in such a time as this – as Jackie Hill Perry’s tweet implores quoting from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

God, help us not to always be looking for the wrongs of others rather than Your rightness. Help us not to be so easily offended thus enabling ourselves to forget our own offenses. God, help us to see others as You see us all. In love. Forgiven through the substitutional death of Christ on the cross. Help us to rise to a newness of life that empowers love, gentleness, honor, long-suffering, and forgiveness. You, O Lord, are doing a great work in Your church. Thank You, Father, for not giving up on us. Help us never to give up on each other. For Your glory and for the sake of each other, and for those who don’t yet know. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Jesus prayed for us to be united. Why? So that the world would believe that Jesus was sent by God, and so that the world would know that God loves us. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus believed the unity of His church would communicate all of this to the world? – Francis Chan, Multiply, p. 69

I’d like to just close with Maverick City Music‘s “Hymn Medley”, featuring Chandler Moore. The medley includes “Great Is Thy Faithfulness“, “‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus“, and “It Is Well“. Just spend this 16 minutes (sometime today) basking in the love of God who calls us to Himself and to be one with Him and with each other.

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Monday Morning Moment – How Shame Affects Our Thinking and How We Can Break Free

Photo Credit: Pixabay, John Hain

Shame is not something I’ve actually thought much about. Now guilt…that is a whole other matter. I know guilt…intimately. Shame as an emotion can affect all of us but less for some than others. In the last few years, and especially in recent months, I’ve taken to studying shame…for my own sake and that of those who deeply feel it.

Shame differs from guilt. Eve Glicksman in Your Brain on Guilt and Shame describes them both as “self-conscious emotions linked to real or perceived moral failures. Their motivations and outcomes are different, though, and you can have one without the other. Guilt arises when your behavior conflicts with your conscience. Shame is triggered when we think we’ve damaged our reputationWith shame, the focus is on someone else discovering your misdeed.” Guilt is an emotional response to a bad behavior, separate from the person. Whereas shame is a much larger response transferring the bad behavior onto the self, making self a bad person.  Guilt deals with the behavior only, not the self, but shame, if found out, will do whatever it takes to protect self, to not be devalued by others.

Photo Credit: The Compass of Shame, D. L. Nathanson, IIRP

The experience of shame is to be avoided so the one with a bent toward shame will withdraw from people, attack (either self or the other person), or avoid through addictive behaviors.

Brené Brown, professor and researcher, has done ground-breaking work in the area of shame. Her TED Talk below, Listening to Shame, is riveting. She talks about how shame tries to taunt us with “You’re not good enough” and “Who do you think you are?”. Guilt says, “I did something bad”, but shame says, “I am bad”.

“The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.” – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk

When shame is our struggle, if we are willing to break out of the secret life, the silence that binds us, we can begin the healing. If we’re willing to be vulnerable with others, even if it’s a few safe others to begin with, we can create a new life. We can change.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk

As I learn more about shame, it has dawned on me that my mom didn’t shame us growing up. I didn’t know that until recent years. It just didn’t happen. For that I am thankful, and the way she parented us is how I’ve parented our children.

Shaming stays with us…from childhood through adulthood, unless we take intentional steps to not let it define us.

“Shame is contagious if you take on the lethal projections of shame from a partner–especially one who is abusive. In this same way, shame is especially difficult, if not toxic, for children because it is an emotion that is concealed, especially by victims of aggression or abuse. The anticipation of being shamed by peers creates anxiety in a child if he or she is a victim of bullying…Shame can be experienced as such a negative, intense emotion of self-loathing that it can lead one to disown it, and, in the case of one who acts like a bully, give it away by evoking that emotion in others.” – Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.

Shame: A Concealed, Contagious, and Dangerous Emotion – Mary C. Lamia

Before shaming (whether another adult or a child), pediatrician Claire McCarthy offers 5 questions that you should ask yourself:

  • Is this something they can change?
  • Is it important that they change it?
  • Is this a good place and time to say anything?
  • Do they want to change this behavior?
  • Is there a better way of changing this behavior?

In a moment of high emotion, these questions may be hard to consider, BUT those moments if not handled well can turn into memory and can even change the wiring for us of how we deal through life with “bad behavior” and what we think of ourselves.

Think Hard Before Shaming Children – Dr. Claire McCarthy

The Clearview Treatment Program staff post excellent helps on various topics in mental health. Their piece on 5 Ways Shame Can Shape Your Life is brilliant. Here are their 5 ways (go to article to read the added commentary):

  1. People who live with shame often avoid relationships, vulnerability, and community. 
  2. People who live with shame are prone to suppressing their emotions. 
  3. People who live with shame often feel worthless, depressed, and anxious.
  4. People who live with shame are less likely to take healthy risks. 
  5. People who live with shame are more likely to relapse back into problem behaviors. 

Then they list 5 ways out of shame. So helpful and empowering!

  1. Seek out relationships and commit to vulnerability with safe people.
  2. Move out of your head and into the open.
  3. Develop self-compassion.
  4. Take one small risk.
  5. Believe that healing is possible.

If you struggle with shame and need a mental health or counseling professional, do your homework and find one who truly knows how to help. You don’t have to live the way you’re living now…you don’t have to hide from others or avoid or withdraw or attack. You can be free…to be the person you want to be, giving and receiving empathy and having empathy for yourself.

Photo Credit: Pixabay, John Hain

A Psychotherapist Says There Are Four Types of Shame – Here’s What They Are and How They Affect Us – Lindsay Dodgson

The Soul of Shame – Curt Thompson – Goodreads Quotes

20 Quotes From Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame

Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings – Mary C. Lamia

5 Friday Faves – Romantic Flight on Classical Guitar, Snow Days Turned to Spring, Normal, Relief vs. Rescue, and Carefully Taught

Happy weekend! Hope this finds you well and enjoying the many small miracles of life. I’m a bit behind on posting Friday Faves. Sometimes they are so excellent they still end up in my Friday Faves weeks later…some of these are like that, and others are as fresh as this weekend. These are all for you. Enjoy!

1) Romantic Flight on Classical Guitar – Anyone new to this blog will have the pleasure of experiencing Nathan Mills‘ music, maybe for the first time. He is a classical guitarist whose work is found under the brand Beyond the Guitar. He arranges and performs themes from movies, TV shows, and video games. A heart and body lift on sweet nostalgia. We probably all know the positive impact of music on our minds and bodies. I personally never cared for instrumental music before Nathan’s journey with classical guitar. Now, we always had music in our home. Always. My preference was anything vocal. The thing that’s interesting in Nathan’s music. It feels vocal. He makes the guitar speak to the heart. Maybe the nostalgic familiarity of the tunes is part of it, but there’s something in his expressive playing…just so heartening. Check him out with his latest arrangement: Romantic Flight from the film How to Train Your Dragon. #LikeSubscribeShare

2) Snow Days Turned to Spring – In Central Virginia, our snow days might be past us. Early Spring flowers are popping up and flowering trees are beginning to brighten the gray of our landscape here.

A friend pointed me to the poet Billy Collins and I’d like to present in contrast his “Snow Day” poem and his poem celebrating Spring entitled “Today”. The kids (above) are ours and the flowers (below) are in our yard/neighborhood.

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.
And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.

“Today” – Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

3) Normal – What does that even mean? As we come up on a year physical distancing and wearing masks to keep COVID at bay, people don’t even talk anymore about a return to normal. Nor even about a new normal. We are reinventing normal. If we’re wise, we’re also looking “down the road” to where our choices today will lead.

Photo Credit: Old Comic Strip, Bill Watterston, Calvin and Hobbes

One issue for me is my struggle with reckless eating. COVID restrictions have not been my friend in this area. I overeat for about every reason possible – for recreation, out of boredom, when under stress, and even when happy. Food is just such a lovely go-to. Until this last year’s isolation pushed me to the highest weight I’ve ever been…but that’s again in the past.

In October I started seriously looking “down the road” to a life possibly shortened by my casual over-eating. Started using the My Fitness Pal app and asked for a Fitbit for Christmas. The non-Premium app is free and we caught a sale on the Fitbit.

After four months, I’m way below the highest weight I’ve ever been.

Do I miss the reckless eating? Absolutely! I miss McDonald’s double-cheeseburgers and fries. I miss Waffle House. I miss eating all I want. I miss Shyndigz fresh fruit cake and Piccola Italy‘s feta cheese and sausage pizza. One day those things will come back in my life… maybe. What I don’t miss is the normal of too often getting short of breath climbing hills and struggling to get up off the floor after playing with our grands. Also what I hope to miss is a stroke or…(almost hard to write this scary thing) dying from COVID because I put myself at even greater risk.

Now normal is weighing and logging food, eating less than I would before, listening to my brain when I’m actually full, and having only one cookie instead of 3…or 5. It all works out to a beautiful different…a new normal.

.

The change in eating is one thing. Way more challenging is how to be in people’s lives with the struggle of physical distancing and Zoom fatigue. That I am still figuring out…but one shot down and one to go and it will become less of a challenge hopefully. And a different normal will emerge.

[Sidebar: There was a time in the not too distant past when I went off sugar for over a year. It happened, there was benefit, but I don’t want to repeat it. As I get more fit, do I miss the chew of a French baquette or a perfect frie? Absolutely. Sugar though is still a part of my daily intake…and there will come a day when I will enjoy my daughter’s birthday cake again and MomMom’s refrigerator coconut cake. Many times over. For now: a Kathy Kaye popcorn ball is enough. Sorry for the long sidebar – like confessing in an Overeaters Anonymous group. 🙂 ]

4) Relief vs. Rescue – Words mean things. The 2020 CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act)  and the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act reflect a difference in meaning and approach. I just want to focus on two words: relief vs. rescue. Relief communicates easing the pain or stress of someone in a difficult situation. Rescue communicates much more. Rescue is to come to the aid of someone who can’t help her/himself. Rescue is freeing or delivering someone from an impossible situation. Both describe a response but one is a greater response and a greater need. Can words be prescriptive? Making us think we have a greater need? Making us think we need a greater response? Making us think we are helpless without the intervention of government?

The power of words is well-known and well-documented.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”Diane Setterfield

We can woo and cajole with words. We can speak with an authority that demands acquiescence. We can speak with such brilliance or passion that we must be believed.

Check out this little TikTok video below (forgive the thumbnail shot of the young woman; it’s the second woman, @thesavvy, you will see that brings the point). Now I haven’t done fact-checking, but she I believe. How about you?

Two educators I’ve discussed before also talk often on the power of words in our world. They are economics professor Glenn Loury and linguistics professor John McWhorter.Photo Credit: The Glenn Show; YouTube

We don’t agree on everything, BUT their authenticity and brilliance in calling out the use of words to move political agendas and change culture is super fascinating. See one of their videos linked below.

YouTube Video – In Defense of Knowledge – The Glenn Show – Blogging Heads – Glenn Loury and John McWhorter

YouTube Video – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Debate in U.S. Senate (C-SPAN) – February 2017 – just another example of the use of words to actually draw differing sides together.

5) Carefully Taught– The food for thought on this fave of the week is the painfully exquisite song from the Rogers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Classic movie released in 1958. Remade in 2001. The song You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught relates to an American military officer who has fallen in love with a young woman from the islands during WWII. He struggles with his own prejudice even in the face of his love for her. I saw the first movie sometime in my childhood. It was confusing for me then because I had not been raised to hate people different from me.

We are confronted right now with so much racism and presumed racism, it’s hard to know how to think critically on it or what to do definitively about it. Somehow we must separate the politics (driven to divide) from the persons (being used by those various platforms).
The song speaks to the incredible importance of parenting our children to choose love over hate; understanding over withdrawing. I do wonder if we are born with a bent toward racism…of choosing people who look like us, for whatever reason. Fortunately, if that’s the case, we don’t have to stay there. Parenting matters. Thankfully.

Photo Credit: Norman Rockwell

Six Words: ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught‘ Intolerance – Michele Norris – NPR

Are Racists Born or Raised? If You’re a Racist don’t Blame It on Your DNA – Grace Russo Bullaro

How I Learned to Care About Social Justice Growing Up Southern Baptist in Oklahoma – Mark Wingfield

YouTube Video – James Taylor – You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

That’s all. Have a great week. Filled with people you love and those you can serve. It means a lot you stopped by.

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Bonuses:

The most extraordinary quote I’ve just discovered:

The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak—even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him. – Frederick Buechner, from The Sacred Journey and Listening to Your Life

YouTube Video – Without You – For King & Country – Ft. Courtney [If you’ve ever faced a cancer diagnosis or a critical illness – life and those we love take on an even deeper meeting. This song says it.]

The Hope that Sustained Tim Keller Through 2020 – Matt McCullough

Key takeaways from Atomic Habits by James Clear – Genevieve Deaconos

Just a little bit of James Taylor and Carole King…you’ll be glad you stayed:

Worship Wednesday – Marvelous Light – Charlie Hall

Apr 04 154

[Adapted from the Archives.]

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.1 Peter 2:9

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”John 14:6

Then Jesus told his disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Matthew 16:24-26a

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 15:55-57

The righteous will be glad and rejoice before God; they will celebrate with joy. Sing to God! Sing praises to His name. Exalt Him who rides on the clouds—His name is the LORD—and rejoice before Him. A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in His holy habitation.Psalm 68:3-5

When we were kids, in summer, we would play until almost dark.  My brothers, our neighborhood friends, and I would own our quiet street on those summer evenings.

We would run, chase, and  evade being caught until we could almost not see in the fading light. Our moms would tell us “home before dark”, and we scattered, just in time, each to his own home.

The porch light brought us running home every time. No matter how dark it was out, we could always find home….because of that “marvelous light”.

The dark can be a scary place. We ran home gladly to escape the dark.  My childhood memory is nothing in comparison to  how God delivers us out of the darkness of our sin. Passion Movement musician Charlie Hall captures that childlike run home (to God) in his song Marvelous Light. The lyrics reflect all the tremendous truths of the Scripture above.

I resonate so deeply with the words of this song. To know real shame because of hurtful choices or terrible decisions. Then to experience the forgiveness of God. To know, from His Word, that He sees us as pure and lovely. It takes my breath away.

What life God gives us! To have the weight of our sin lifted off our lives through the perfect love and sheer grace of God in Christ Jesus. No wonder Charlie Hall includes “hands in the air, spinning around” imagery. In the love we have as His redeemed and restored children, we lose that adult self-consciousness.

All that matters is His speaking into the dark, calling us into His light, and we run to Him, as His children, full of joy.Sun through the clouds

Worship with me (lyric video in link). You might not be able to stay in your seat. Receive His joy and let it animate every fiber of your being. Hallelujah!

Into marvelous light I’m running
Out of darkness, out of shame
By the cross You are the truth
You are the life, You are the way

I once was fatherless
A stranger with no hope
Your kindness wakened me
Awakened me, from my sleep

Your love it beckons deeply
A call to come and die
By grace now I will come
And take this life, take Your life

Sin has lost its power
Death has lost its sting
From the grave You’ve risen
Victoriously

Into marvelous light I’m running
Out of darkness, out of shame
By the cross You are the truth
You are the life, You are the way

x2

Yeah
No more shame

My dead heart now is beating
My deepest stains now clean
Your breath fills up my lungs
Now I’m free, now I’m free

x2

Sin has lost its power
Death has lost its sting
From the grave You’ve risen
Victoriously

Into marvelous light I’m running
Out of darkness, out of shame
By the cross You are the truth
You are the life, You are the way

x2

Yeah
No more shame
No more shame

Now we show the world – Christ in you

Lift my hands and spin around
See the light that I have found
Oh the marvelous light
Marvelous light

It’s Christ in you

Lift my hands and spin around
See the light that I have found
Oh the marvelous light
Marvelous light

x2

Lift my hands and spin around
See the light that I have found

Oh the marvelous light, marvelous light

whoa-oh-yeah
whoa-oh-oh

Into marvelous light I’m running
Out of darkness, out of shame
By the cross You are the truth
You are the life, You are the way*

x2

Blog - Running into His Marvelous LightRunning on the Beach, Oualidia, Morocco

Worship Wednesday – Into Marvelous Light, I’m Running – Charlie Hall – Deb Mills

YouTube Video – Marvelous Light – With Lyrics – Charlie Hall

*Lyrics to Marvelous Light – Songwriter: Steve Hindalong

Charlie Hall

YouTube Video – Marvelous Light – Charlie Hall – Powerpoint with nature shots and Scripture

Worship Wednesday – Set Free From the Lies about Ourselves and Each Other – Fear Is a Liar – Zach Williams

Photo Credit: Flickr, Lisa Hall-Wilson

[Adapted from the Archives]

Now this is what the LORD says–the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel–“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.  2 Timothy 1:7

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear.1 John 4:18a

“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

What happens when we believe lies? Oh, it’s not that we are gullible or naive. Lies sound true when spoken in the first-person pronoun. As in “I’m such a failure.” or “It’s all my fault.” Or by someone we care about. As in “You are impossible to please.” or “You will never change.”

When we, or people we love, come under an attack of some sort, we respond. Always. Two physiological responses may immediately come to mind. We fight or fear (literally fleeing or just in our head). That fight or flight response is much researched and well-documented. My default is flight…in fear. If I have to, especially for the sake of my children or others needing help, I would fight, but fear would be part of that battle. So, even in the fight response, it is mixed with fear. The threat is perceived as so real, we fear for our lives or our personhood, at some level, and we fight for it.

I too often go to fearful flight. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you go to fight. Either one can be used in ways by our enemy to keep us from a third response. That being collecting our thoughts around what is true and acting in a way that gives space for God to fight for us…and for the relationship that feels threatened. That does not mean we won’t be physically removed from a fight (to protect or for justice or mercy’s sake). Nor does it mean that we won’t be tempted to fear. We must learn to resist the lies…and the Liar.  To replace the lies with what is true. So that we are not defeated already – by believing fear’s lies or by unleashing fury that hurts in its own right and only escalates fear in the end.

When I heard Zach Williams’ song Fear Is a Liar, the lyrics drew me in immediately. I knew that experience. That experience of fear being a voice in my head, telling me things that simply were not true…but sounded true. Paralyzing me when God means for me to be free. I am free in Him. Not cowering. Not withdrawing. Fear picks us up to throw us down somewhere dark and outside of who we really are. Fear is a liar…and is generated by the “father of lies”. At first, I struggled with the personification of fear in this song…but more and more, it is like battling with Satan himself, or one of his minions. The truth is that “greater is he (God) in me, than he (the evil one) in this world”. Photo Credit: Flickr, Artem Popov

My Mom and I, through the years, would often quote 2 Timothy 1:7 to each other.God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. We both struggled with fear and needed to remind each other of the truth. My husband Dave has often helped me come back to my senses with just the two-word imperative: “Pull up”. When we struggle with fear, our thoughts can grow more and more terrifying and send us on a deep dive, spiraling out of control. Just the reminder to “pull up” would spark my returning to remember what is true.

Those of us who fear need people in our lives who remind of us of the truth and the God of truth. Not in a platitudinous way. But in a way that wraps around us, stays with us, loves us through it. Who are your people?

[Sidebar: For those of you who default to fight or fury…the wisdom is the same. Return to what is true, what is full of love, what is genuine power. Being “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” is not weakness; it is a right response that gives space for God to act. Also, another huge truth to remember: God forgives as we repent. When we shrink away in fear or strike out in fear, God does not leave us in a crumple of failed flesh. We are His. Warriors. Prophets. Priests. Children of the One God. He has flung our sin as far as the east is from the west. It does not define us or diminish us as His repentant own.]

Worship with me and cancel the fear with the truth of God. Extinguish its darkness with the light of the perfect love of Jesus. As you worship with this song, remember the lyric “he” isn’t the person in front of you – the “he” is the Evil One. Our fight is not with that person in front of us…it is a spiritual battle…and we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar*

Fear does not die easily. It requires an act of will and an act of faith. Often I have to pray myself out of fear before sleep at night, and praise my way out of picking it back up in the morning. This is after a lifetime of battling with fear. However, there is nothing sweeter…nothing…than knowing that God’s got this. Whatever “this” is. We live in a world full of scary and confusing struggle. We can’t see yet how it will all come out or what is happening in the unseen. Trusting God with what frightens and acting accordingly is how we deal with the struggle. We don’t retreat…we don’t attack…but we also don’t go it alone. That gives me joy, and I will not to be afraid.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – JesusJohn 16:33

*Lyrics to Fear is a Liar – Songwriters: Zach Williams, Jason Ingram, Jonathan Lindley Smith

Zach Williams Music

Worship Wednesday – No Fear – Same Power – Jeremy Camp

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns – East to West (Official Lyric Video)

Fear Is a Liar – 91 Images on Pinterest

Monday Morning Moment – Conflict in Marriage – The Dance of Negative Escalation – with Esther Perel

Photo Credit: YouTube, Esther Perel

Do you have conflict in your marriage? Or even in roommate, friend, or family relationships? Maybe even at work with colleagues?
Of course, you do. Oh, there’s the rare situation where people can work out their differences amicably. My mom-in-law would always say she and our father-in-law never had a fight…well, once maybe. I’ve been around them in all sorts of situations, and I have to agree. Early in marriage, they worked out a system where they served each other and the family in complimentary ways. They genuinely loved and enjoyed each other.
Their oldest son, having grown up in this sweet and peaceful home, fell in love with a woman from a very different family…a home full of love but also where conflict and chaos sometimes reigned. That woman would be me.
Over the course of our 30+ years of marriage, we have matured. With age and experience, with resultant understanding, the fights are rare. The tears and silences are also pretty much absent.
We never ever considered divorce an option. Both of us have had too much experience with divorce (in my biological family and his in his extended family). We didn’t want it for ourselves or for our parents or children. So….we white-knuckled from time to time. In the end, I’m so thankful we hung in there with each other. It’s what I tell couples considering divorce…hang in there…it gets better.
OK…maybe not always, BUT the resources for helping us to do marriage and relationships are vast and easily accessible…if not in-person then online. If one or both of you are willing to inquire.
[Also, please, this is not meant to hammer anyone who’s experienced divorce. A betrayal is devastating and feels impossible to overcome.]
Dave and I had the opportunity just this weekend to hear couples therapist Esther Perel speak. She is Belgian and the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. She is married and has two sons. Her practice is international. She is a prolific writer and a life-long learner.
After hearing this brilliant, insightful, caring woman speak, I started looking for her online. So many YouTube videos, interviews, articles. Her podcasts, too. Among the topics was something she called a dance of negative escalation. What this entails is a process whereby two persons address an issue with one of maybe 3 or 4 responses.
  • Both listening and sharing, engaged, connected which would NOT be the dance of negative escalation.
  • Both withdrawing into their own thoughts – away from the perceived conflict or threat. Not outright escalation but no resolution either.
  • Both attacking, escalating into screaming and violence until…This wouldn’t even be considered a dance probably. I’m still learning.
  • One felt to be attacking, and the other felt to be withdrawing. This is where the dance takes place).

Perel defines this dance of negative escalation in this way: a “pattern occurs when one partner stonewalls and the other, in reaction to this refusal to engage, allows their emotions to escalate…For both partners the part of themselves they struggle with today is the very trait that saved them as a child. Sometimes what works as a survival strategy backfires when we are no longer under threat.”

“It takes two people to create a pattern, but only one to change it.”
Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence

All kinds of light bulbs went off for me in reading and listening to Perel talk about this phenomenon.
There are always two sides. Two views of a situation. With two different histories (all the way back to childhood potentially). Two different emotional meanings.
When a conflict builds, the combative one, the aggressor, is usually seen and experienced as “the bad guy”. However, we all know from the classroom, that a child can be drawn into a negative response through the badgering of or intentional exclusion by another child. Yet, when the teacher is late to notice the interaction, only one child, the responder, is disciplined, and the other seemingly “good child” is left unchecked in the altercation.
We all want to be heard, to be valued, and none of us want to carry the responsibility or blame of an escalation. Four things are mentioned by Perel as being devastating to a marriage or long-term relationship. This can also be true of work relationships. Any of these can mark a relationship in peril. They are:
  • Indifference
  • Neglect
  • Contempt
  • Violence

We don’t want to go there in our relationships. Or if one partner or the other is there, the other can still begin to make positive change.

If you are in a relationship with the pattern using the dance of negative escalation to deal with issues , there is such hope! The links below are incredibly helpful…and they are just a few of the many resources available by Esther Perel and others.

I just wanted to introduce this subject. For those of you who know you struggle with these negative cycles, start with the links and go on your own journey of healing and restoration.

In her talk the other night, Esther Perel described the experience of having more than one marriage, sometimes with the same person. In a way, I experienced that with my sweet husband. We have a thick cord of continuity through our marriage, but, in ways, our marriage has passed through such seasons that almost feel like we are in a different marriage. I’m so thankful we stuck it out with each other.

Remember, a negative cycle is the problem. It may have absolutely nothing to do with the character of either spouse. “Name the cycle” rather than blaming your explosive partner or feeling betrayed by the withdrawing one. Start there. Then take steps to slow down the conflict in a safe environment in order to see what is happening underneath. With grace, accountability (external and internal), and time, you can come out on the other side, stronger, healthier, and with love rekindled and restored.

_________________________________________________________________________

Where Should We Begin? Podcast – It’s Very Hard to Live with a Saint – Esther Perel – excellent example of the dance of negative escalation. The podcast is an actual marriage counseling session. If you prefer reading, the transcript is here.

Marital Destructive Styles of Communication – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Couples Negative Cycles – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Naming Your Negative Cycle – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Withdrawers  Desire Safety – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Negative Couples Cycle: Finding the Bad Guy – Kevin Leapley, Round Rock Couples Counseling

YouTube Video – Fight Smarter – Avoid the Most Common Argument Patterns – Esther Perel

Emotionally Focused Therapy – a Roadmap for Working with Couples (pdf) – Tanya Radecker

Series : Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse – Brad Hambrick – Dr. Hambrick is an excellent “counselor to the church”. He covers a lot of ground on this topic related to the different aspects of being self-centered in a marriage: the low emotional intelligence self-centered spouse, the lazy or apathetic self-centered spouse, the situationally explosive self-centered spouse, and the intentionally manipulative self-centered spouse. Fascinating. Great helps as well.

Growing in Negative Emotion Tolerance – Brad Hambrick

Worship Wednesday – On Compassion – Lead Me to the Cross – Brooke Fraser Ligertwood

Photo Credit: Music Notes World

When he saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:36-38

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”Matthew 16:24

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus, the night before He gave His life for us – John 13:34-35

Did you ever ask your child or grandchild, “Do you know how much I love you?” Then you stretched out both arms as far as you could reach, and, with stretch in your voice, exclaimed, “This much!!!!”

That’s the kind of love we experience from Jesus, and that’s the kind of love He calls from us for others.Photo Credit: Your Quote

After reading One Perfect Word, I prayerfully chose a word to saturate myself in and explore the breadth of it…across this year. The word is compassion. You can find the beginning of this journey here. A good friend, also a writer, emailed me last night, having read that blog on my taking on the word, and life of compassion. He asked for action steps toward the goal of being more compassionate – how does one get there?

I don’t have the steps…except for this: the journey to compassion starts at the foot of the cross. Throughout Jesus’ earthly life, He pointed His followers to the Father and to one another, a widening circle of “one anothers” which would encompass the whole world. We are staggered by such a calling. Yet, if we remember His word, He has already given us all we need for a Godly life, and He has promised always to be with us. Always.

What are the steps to a compassionate life? Maybe in a few weeks or months into this year, I might have a different answer to that question. For now, it is small and, at the same time, tall. Love God and love others. Not on my terms…but His. Whew! I am not sure exactly how to make that work, given the conviction that I was a compassionate person, and yet now I think not so much. It has been a fantasy of mine…but in real life terms, in the will or heart…not on the daily.

With COVID and few routine outlets as a person at risk and retired, I can easily pull a blanket over my life…and feel almost justified in it. How about you? Has this been a struggle?

Praise God, I’ve wakened out of that dull slumber, with compassion lying dormant. Where this “wokeness” leads me, only God knows. He, in His kindness and mercy, will shake us out of our sleepiness; then we see where He takes us.

I don’t have the steps of my own making, but He has already given us a few to start just in the Scripture above.

  • Pray.
  • Give up our own way.
  • Follow Him – which would include that taking up His cross and not one of our own making or choosing.
  • Love others as He has loved us – which takes us back to the cross.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, if we make goals and put steps in place toward meeting those goals…those steps and goals just lie in our imagination, our fantasy life, UNTIL we take action. Every day, take action. As I deal in the real with letting go of personal preferences and sacrifice, then the wonder of Romans 5:3-5 happens:

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Tuning our heart toward the leading of the Holy Spirit and following Jesus can move us to lives where compassion becomes habit, through perseverance, and then character follows, bathed in the love of God.
Hallelujah!
Now, did Jesus have moments of counting the cost? Being God yet human, for an instant, He did, and we learned from Him. In the garden that night before He died, He asked the Father if it was possible not to have to die…but without hesitation He spoke His resolve, “Not My will, but Yours be done”.
This is where the work of building a life of compassion begins…and continues. Prayer and obedience. Prayer and obedience.
[Wall plaques by the door I take to get out of my house – my comfort zone]
So this is where I am today, with this new journey, exploring the word compassion, both in word and deed. Lead me to the Cross, Lord.

Photo Credit: IMB Photos

Worship with me to Brooke Fraser Ligertwood‘s “Lead Me to the Cross” – where life truly began for us…and the place where we learn how to truly love others.

Savior I come
Quiet my soul remember
Redemption’s hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

You were as I
Tempted and trialed
Human
The word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now you’re risen

Everything I once held dear
I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

To your heart
To your heart
Lead me to your heart
Lead me to your heart

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Oh, lead me
Lead me to the cross*

Photo Credit: IMB Photos

Postscript: Below you will find several other worship songs that may prove a blessing to you as they were to me in seeking God’s face to see with His eyes, to love with His heart, and to follow Him in the daily and the real.

*Lyrics to “Lead Me to the Cross” – Songwriter: Brooke Fraser

YouTube Video – Lead You to the Cross – No Other Name

YouTube Video – Give Us Your Heart – The Emerging Sound of People & Songs (feat. Melanie Tierce)

YouTube Video – Give Me Your Eyes – Brandon Heath

YouTube Video – Follow Me – Casting Crowns

YouTube Video – I Will Follow – Chris Tomlin

Monday Morning Moment – One Shocking Revelation After Another – Shaking Off Our Fantasies and Grounding Ourselves in the Real – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Worshipping Together and By Ourselves – God Draws Near – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – One Shocking Revelation After Another – Shaking Off Our Fantasies and Grounding Ourselves in the Real

A dear old friend gave me a book shortly before Christmas of 2020. Just starting to read it in January, and once in, I realized I was way behind. Debbie Macomber‘s One Perfect Word gives a strong case for choosing a word for the year. A word to dissect, and meditate on, and to make real in both our thoughts and walks of life. One Perfect Word. For the year.

[Thanks, Kay, for this book.]

Here, a bit into this year, the word compassion has become my word for 2021. For clarity: It is best defined as: to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help. Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering.

For those who know or think they know me, compassionate is a word that might seem already descriptive of who I am. “Seem” is the operative word.

10 Ways to Show Compassion – Katie Krawczyk

You see I have always thought of myself as compassionate. Being there for friend and family. A cancer nurse for many years. Hospice, as well. Living overseas for love’s sake. Volunteering in my community and beyond. Love God. Love neighbor. Love even my enemies. This is life…the life Jesus lived; the life I’ve ascribed to live.

So I chose a word compassion to examine and flesh out in my life.

As fate would have it, some friends and I decide to tackle an old and brilliant book: C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942). In affectionately abbreviated TSL, Lewis presents a series of fantastical letters from a master demon (Screwtape) to his nephew, Wormwood. The nephew is on assignment to mess in the affairs of a certain young Englishman. In the letters, God is referred to as The Enemy.

[I recommend this book to everyone, whatever your worldview or belief system – the wisdom captured on the pages of this small book is phenomenal. Our human nature and struggles or challenges in life are exposed. Fortunately, we are also given a way forward; oddly by looking at the schemes set in place to trip us up or cause us to fail.  This book is both fascinating and heady. It requires a deep read, for sure.]

In Chapter 6 of TSL, the demon uncle advises his younger on how to trouble the human assigned to him. In the particular area of worrying about the future. This is where fantasy can overtake the real, and, fortunately vice versa: the real can prevail, if we pay attention. Remember my word, compassion.

Screwtape gives much “good counsel” to Wormwood on how to trouble the human by keeping his thoughts on the fears of and hopes for the future rather than on what is right in front of him. For those who do believe in God’s providential care of people, Lewis wholly satisfies us readers as well.

The main message of Screwtape is to keep the human off balance and focused on himself, thinking that he cares for people and outcomes and that he is a good person. The reality is that the human is actually overcome by cares of the world yet does little about them.

How do we shake off our fantasies and ground ourselves in the real?

Screwtape instructs Wormwood to deal with the human as one made up of concentric circles of will, intellect, and fantasies or imagination. Our will, or our heart in spiritual terms, is the deepest part of who we are. It is where we make our choices on how to act and then, in turn, take action. Different than intellect, or what we know about life (intellect) or what we imagine or fantasize about life…or about doing life.

YouTube Video – Screwtape Letter 6 – Providence eLearning – Dr. Arthur Hippler – a clear and excellent resource

Photo Credit: Providence eLearning, YouTube, Screwtape Letters

So I can think I am a compassionate person. In fact, one can choose to be compassionate. However, we can also simply apply our intellect to the whole idea of compassion and then only fantasize or imagine ourselves doing acts of compassion… This is NOT what we think it is. Compassion, in its truest most real sense, happens in the will…and in the moment. Oh, we can plan on acts of compassion and put in place steps toward compassionate outcomes… but, until we act, compassion itself lies in the realm of imagination or fantasy.

Sobering and extremely helpful.

A huge and relevant example in modern culture right now is the statement, and call to action, “Black Lives Matter”. Do black lives matter? Absolutely. Do all lives matter? Of course. Do lives “womb to tomb” matter? Not to everyone…but that’s for another day.

We can say and lean into powerful messaging. Yet, until we grapple with the realities of that messaging, and sort out what truly communicates the truth of that message…not just in word but also in deed…then, in fact, the messaging is just so many words.

Screwtape has wreaked his havoc in our culture and in us as fellow humans, as we struggle with how to respond to messaging. Both in our news and social media platforms, and conversations with neighbors and friends. What is fantasy and what is reality and how shall we then act?

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your [human’s] soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.Screwtape to Wormwood, Chapter 6, The Screwtape Letters

Related to compassion, my word for 2021, I no longer want to stay locked in debate over whose lives matter or what hasn’t been done than needs to be done. I would love to settle in my will to act…with compassion. Not thinking I am showing some sacrificial compassion out there among those I don’t even know…but in fact, acting in compassion, toward my housemates, my extended family and friends, this neighborhood and beyond. Leaving off the malice of disagreeing or tweaking each others messages out there in the world somewhere.

This is the goal: shaking off my fantasies about compassion and the idea of my being a compassionate person and grounding myself, my very will, in the real…acting in compassion, in the moment and moving toward making it habit.

Restless Pilgrim – Pints With Jack – The Screwtape Letters 6 – “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”the most fun to be had in diving deep into C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

YouTube Channel – C. S. Lewis Doodle

Monday Morning Moment – Poet Langston Hughes on Life and America

Photo Credit: The Wisdom Daily

American poet Langston Hughes was born in 1902. His life as a black man in such a time as this gave voice to that of many in America. Especially blacks, but to others as well who also found themselves marginalized by the powerful and influential of their day. He died much too young at 65.

I discovered his poetry in 2020…very late to the party or revolution.

Raised by a loving, Godly mom, I was taught to be color-blind regarding races of people. It turns out that didn’t prove to be healing to black friends, neighbors, and strangers on the street. Blacks whose lives had been deeply and darkly affected by a racism I simply had not learned or experienced. How could that be? Yet, it is true.

[My mom had a pure heart; I’m sure of this. She wanted to believe that there was only one race, the human race. She grew up poor, worked hard all her life, mostly making minimum wage, held her family together, and kept her faith. Much like the black women who lived in that distant, unknown part of town. She just didn’t know what was happening in government and the private sector that divided us…and diminished some. All of us, by degrees.]

Racism is wrong and must be exposed and wrestled down. I don’t believe that what has happened in the US over 2020 will move us in that direction.  I could be wrong. For sure.

Still…I’m so thankful for people who, despite the wrongs done to them or around them, have flourished. Like the rising tide, raising all boats in its wake. My desire is to recognize and support those who resist street-level thuggery and use platforms that don’t divide but draw us all in.

Langston Hughes is an example of that sort of person. [Now, he died during a pivotal time in the Civil Rights Movement, a year before Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. Had he lived longer, I don’t know how his thinking or poetry would have changed.]

I’d like to let just a few of Langston Hughes’ words speak for him:

“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you–
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”
“I swear to the Lord,I still can’t see,Why Democracy means,Everybody but me. ”

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”
Langston Hughes

On this day, commemorating Hughes’ birthday, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the two following poems (one by Walt Whitman followed by a poem of response by Langston Hughes):

I Hear America Singing – Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

*I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”*

I, Too – Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.”*

Hughes wrote about America and life as a black person in America. Especially as it related to freedom of expression:

“This is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America — this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible...Then there are the low-down folks, the so-called common element, and they are the majority — may the Lord be praised!…These common people are not afraid of spirituals, as for a long time their more intellectual brethren were, and jazz is their child. They furnish a wealth of colorful, distinctive material for any artist because they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardization. And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself.” – Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues

Here, on the first day of Black History Month, in a more somber America 2021, I salute the great poet Langston Hughes. May we learn from him and from each other.

[May we also beware of those who “seem to be influential” in our culture today – those who would divide and diminish us – when we have the capacity and capability to help each other flourish…all of us. – This warning coming of all places from my reading in the Bible this early snowy morning, Galatians 2.]

I’d like to close with just an excerpt of the powerful Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again” (recited in full in the YouTube video above):

“O, let America be America again– The land that never has been yet– And yet must be–the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME– Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose– The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain– All, all the stretch of these great green states– And make America again! “

I Dream a World – Langston Hughes

*Poets – Lesson plan, which features poems by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Alexander

10 of Langston Hughes’ Most Popular Poems – Rachel Chang

The Bold Wisdom Within Langston Hughes’ Poems – Ellen Levitt

Black Lives Mattered to Langston Hughes – Robin Bates