The Pilgrim’s Regress

The Pilgrim’s Regress was the first fiction book written by C. S. Lewis after his conversion to Christianity. Lewis’ book is not a retelling of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Lewis just borrows the allegorical format.

The book’s protagonist is John, a young man from a land called Puritania. The country is ruled over by a Landlord who is reportedly very good and kind but who will throw anyone who disobeys him into a black hole.

One day John catches a glimpse of a beautiful island through a window. The sight, sounds, and smells raise an ineffable longing to see the island again and even visit it.

John journeys towards the island, but instead finds different philosophers and detractors. He meets a “brown girl,” who assures him she’s what he really wanted. But she represents lust, and John eventually finds he’s dissatisfied with her. (This article makes a good case that Lewis was neither racist or misogynistic by designating lust as a brown girl).

John continues on and meets Mr. Enlightenment, the Spirit of the Age, Mother Kirk, Mr. Sensible, Mr. Neo-Angluar, Mr. Humanist, History, Reason, and others. Some say his island is an illusion. Others offers various suggestions for how to get there. Some argue for or against the against the existence of the Landlord. History tells John the landlord sent truths about himself in the form of various pictures. But many interpreted the pictures the wrong way.

Finally John understands the way to the island. Wikipedia says, “The Regress portion of the title now comes into play as John journeys back home and now sees everything in a new light and sees how the road he took is a knife’s edge between Heaven and Hell.”

In a preface to the third edition of the book, written ten years after it was originally published, Lewis apologized for the book. Although he hadn’t intended the book to be strictly autobiographical, he hadn’t realized that not everyone’s journey was quite like his.

On the intellectual side my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity. I still think this a very natural road, but I now know that it is a road very rarely trodden. In the early thirties I did not know this. If I had had any notion of my own isolation, I should either have kept silent about my journey or else endeavoured to describe it with more consideration for the reader’s difficulties.

He says that in the new edition (online here), he added headlines before the different sections. He apologizes for doing so, but the headlines would have been a great help if I had read rather than listened to the book.

I think I would have gotten more out of the book of I had read an annotated edition, which explained more about the different references and philosophies (one GoodReads reviewer recommended C. S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies as an aide). But I got the gist of the story and understood most of the discussions between characters. To me, this book illustrates what Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

Be Your Own Unique Style of Grandparent

Be Your Own Unique Style of Grandparent

I’ve only been a grandparent for eight and a half years, and I only have one grandchild. So I am not an expert. I’m still learning how best to navigate this phase of life.

But one piece of advice I read in a forgotten source has stayed with me. The writer had a granddaughter whose other, wealthier grandmother loved to take the child shopping.

The writer’s budget was a little tighter, and she couldn’t afford many shopping forays. So she faced a dilemma when her granddaughter wanted to be taken shopping. This writer’s solution was to say, “Your other grandmother is the shopping grandma. I’m the baking grandma.” She and her granddaughter spent fun time in the kitchen.

I thought that was such a neat idea. We don’t have to compete with the child’s other grandparents or even parents. We don’t have to follow Pinterest or Instagram influencers, though we can learn from them. We can grandparent in our own unique style and way.

And we don’t even need to specialize in one area. I had hoped to be the reading grandma, but my grandson isn’t particularly interested in reading when he is here. Though we can share our interests, it’s best not to push them. It’s better to share their interests.

We’ve done a few crafty things together, colored, played games, baked cookies. But mostly I just want to be available to him, to listen to him, to let him know that his grandfather and I love him very much.

I only had two grandparents growing up. My father’s father died before I was born. My mother’s mother passed away when I was four, so I have only hazy memories of her.

My mother’s father was a big tease and had a distinctive laugh. My mom would sometimes make us kids coffee–really just a lot of sugar and milk with just a little coffee. But we felt so grown up when we drank it. When my grandfather saw us drinking our special brew, he would tease, “If you drink coffee, hair will grow on your chest.” My grandfather had a lot of “If-then” predictions, and I knew he was teasing–but I still checked sometimes just to be sure.

We lived with him for a few years when I was young. For a while, he drove me to a friend’s house in the mornings so I could ride to school with them (I assume everyone else’s work schedules didn’t allow them to take me). It seemed like every time we were in the car together, two songs always came on the radio: “Mairzy Doats” and “Mr. Lonely.” I can’t think of those songs without thinking of my grandfather.

When we moved to another city, he would come to visit and always brought Dunkin Donuts. No matter when I woke up in the mornings, I could hear him and my mom talking in the kitchen over a cup of coffee.

He married again, and I don’t remember much about his second wife. Not long after they married, she developed dementia. She was very dependent on him. Friends urged him to place her in what we would now call respite care so that he could go hunting with them, an activity he loved. When he came back, the facility she was in had her tied down in a chair (I assume because she tried to wander off, looking for him. Restraints like this are not allowed now). He said, “Never again,” brought her home, and cared for her the rest of his life. When she died, he lamented to my mom that he didn’t know why the good Lord gave him two good women and then took them away.

He was also heavily involved in the Boy Scouts, and we used to visit their Jamboree every year and see him.

My father’s mother had kids in Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, and she divided her time among them. The “Galloping Gourmet” was a thing then, and we called my grandmother the “galloping grandma” due to her many travels around the Gulf coast.

For a couple of summers, I got to travel with her to visit relatives. I enjoyed the time with her as well as getting to know aunts and uncles and cousins I didn’t see often otherwise.

When she lived nearby, she often had me over to spend the night. She loved to read, and one of my favorite memories is of us sitting up in separate twin beds in her room, reading before bedtime.

She loved to crochet. Almost any time she was sitting still, she was working on a crochet project. I especially liked the trim she crocheted around doilies and handkerchiefs. I never did learn crochet, but I like to think my love of crafts and needle arts was inspired by her. She and my aunt also made clothes for me in my childhood.

I don’t recall that she had a garden, but her sister, my aunt Jewel, had a large one. They loved fresh vegetables.

When my grandmother was away, she would write me letters. My first forays into writing consisted of composing letters to her. We wrote back and forth all her life.

She could be a little harsh in her discipline. But we knew that she loved us.

I don’t remember either of my grandparents giving me direct spiritual instruction. But I knew they both loved God in their own way. My grandfather and aunt took me to the Lutheran church in my earliest years, and I think he was responsible for my attending a Lutheran school in first and second grade. When I was with my grandmother, it was understood that we’d be attending her Baptist church. Their faith shaped their morals, values, and conversation.

I look forward to making memories with my grandson, Timothy. But most of all, I hope I can have the same influence as the biblical Timothy’s grandmother had on him. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5). Later, Paul admonished Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

God gives grandparents responsibility to pass his truth along to the next generation:

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:9).

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness (Psalm 145:4-7).

They say that most of what we teach our children is “caught” rather than “taught.” I think that’s probably especially true of grandchildren. We won’t have as much directly instructive time with them as their parents do. But hopefully, through our love, our lives, our testimony, and our words, we can have a great influence on them for God. That’s my prayer.

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come (Psalm 71:17-18).

Psalm 71:17-18

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

Hope you’re having a fine weekend! Here are some thought-provoking reads discovered this week.

What We Need More Than the Mountaintop Experience with God. “The apostle Peter heard a voice from heaven during his mountaintop experience. And he concluded that the spiritual formation of Christ-followers relies not on repeating such an experience but on something even more certain.”

Can Cancer Be God’s Servant? What I Saw in My Wife’s Last Four Years by Randy Alcorn, HT to Challies. “By saying sickness comes only from Satan and the fall, not from God, we disconnect Him from our suffering and His deeper purposes. God is sovereign. He never permits or uses evil arbitrarily; everything He does flows from His wisdom and ultimately serves both His holiness and love.”

The Crushing Obligation to Keep Doing More and More, HT to Challies. This is so good. “I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived.”

When Praying Hurts: How to Go to God in Suffering, HT to Challies. “My desire to pray when I’m suffering can swing wildly in a single day — and sometimes within the hour. Through the severe trials in my life — losing a child, having a debilitating disease, losing my marriage — prayer has been both arduous and exhilarating. Exhausting work and energizing delight.”

Rethink Female Bravery, HT to Challies. “Why is physical dominance our measure for brave women? Why is heroism reserved for the person in charge—or the person with the weapon? Why aren’t there more stories that honor daring in the ordinary?”

An Anchor For Our Tongues, HT to Challies. “Preachers and authors do it all the time. They quote the English definition of a word or refer to its linguistic roots as a way to ground their argument, to establish the meaning of a term or concept. Then they move on, seemingly convinced that they have offered up enough evidence for their audience to trust that they are indeed communicating the true sense of that term. What is not often realized is that, for the Christian, this kind of appeal to the dictionary or history is actually an inadequate grounding.”

In Praise of Stuff, HT to Samuel James, resonates with me. It doesn’t advocate for materialism, but argues that “Experiences matter more than things” is not always right. “There are people whose long-finished lives are only dimly known to me, but whom I meet and cherish every year in the physical memorabilia they handed down: great grandmother’s silver, pottery made by my grandfather’s sister. Even ridiculous kitsch can gain a new dignity this way. Each Thanksgiving I greet a grinning plastic monkey that was my great Aunt Gertrude’s. I would miss him greatly if he were ever gone.”

Six Questions You Should Ask at the Beginning of 2023, HT to Challies. I don’t think we’re too far into the new year to consider these. “What I started doing a couple of years ago was to abandon the idea of New Year’s resolutions and instead start thinking about what I wanted to focus on for the next year in early December. Then I started implementing changes that would make progress on my goals before the new year begins. What this allowed me to do was to get out of the habit of thinking the new year would magically change me into a new person.”

Start the Year Small: Wisdom for Setting New Goals, HT to Challies. “Our flesh keeps us on the couch, waiting for opportunities that appear to promise instant and immense impact. Those who constantly dream of the big victory often overlook the small decisions required to get there.”

The Pro-Life Cause Nobody Marches For. “Ultimately, I had to reckon with what it meant to believe that all people have inherent, God-given worth when everything we give value to is stripped away. It has been a long and painful process, and a sanctifying one—the kind that teaches you to view others who are struggling to understand the size and significance of human dignity through the eyes of tender compassion.”

Friday’s Fave Five

The rain and cold has given way to warmth and sunshine as I write on Thursday. Welcome changes. Not all changes are welcome, but there’s no way around them: only through them. But God is with us every step of the way. I like to pause on the journey to count God’s blessings and gifts with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story.

1. A movie/symphony combo. When we went to a Christmas concert last month, we had some problems that caused my husband to call the management the next day. He didn’t want to complain, but to let them know of the issues. They were very kind and interested, and offered us free tickets to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s next program–which happened to be a showing of Jurassic Park, with the orchestra playing the soundtrack live. That would not have been my first choice of a movie to see–but it was what they were playing. And the music is gorgeous. It had been a long time since I had seen it, and there were some fun parts. Jesse enjoyed seeing what would have been cutting edge technology when the film was made thirty years ago. Jason, Mittu, and Timothy didn’t come: larger-than-life rampaging dinosaurs would have been too much for Tim, and there were a couple of quite violent scenes. But overall, it was a really fun experience, and the orchestra did a wonderful job. And we had great seats–row Q!

2. Celebrating our first date. I hadn’t thought about our first date in years, but it suddenly hit me that it was Jan. 13—also a Friday the 13th that year (1978), which is probably why I remember the date. Inspired by Intrepid Reader’s first date anniversary celebration (at the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower!), I asked my husband if we could commemorate ours in a more homey way. 🙂 We decided to order take-out from Ruby Tuesday’s.

3. A half-off coupon. As my husband looked up Ruby Tuesday’s web site to order online, I rummaged through my sales offers email folder–and found one coupon for buy-one-get-one-free ribs entrees, which was what we were going to order anyway. Nice!

4. An appointment changed to a tele-health call. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea a few years ago, and consequently have to have an appointment with the sleep center once a year. Last year I thought this appointment really could be phoned in, as it was mostly just answering their questions. This year, because they were in the process of moving their offices, they did change the appointment to a FaceTime-like phone call. I asked about keeping it this way for next year, but they said no, they prefer in-office visits. But it was nice to have a reprieve from driving in this once.

5. Puttering, which for me means little jobs like decluttering my desk, cleaning out my catch-all basket, putting things in place, etc. When it’s busy, those kind of things pile up, and it feels incredibly good to get to them.

And that’s it for another week here. How is your January going?

Be Committed: Commentary on Ruth and Esther

The books of Ruth and Esther are the only ones in the Bible named for women. The two women lived in different times and came from very different backgrounds. So why did Warren Wiersbe group them together in his commentary, Be Committed (Ruth and Esther): Doing God’s Will Whatever the Cost? He says:

Why do we bring these two women together in this study? Because, in spite of their different backgrounds and experiences, both Ruth and Esther were committed to do the will of God. Ruth’s reply to Naomi (Ruth 1: 16–17) is one of the great confessions of faith found in Scripture, and Esther’s reply to Mordecai (Est. 4: 16) reveals a woman willing to lay down her life to save her people. Ruth and Esther both summon Christians today to be committed to Jesus Christ and to do His will at any cost (pp. 15-16).

And then Dr. Wiersbe says something he has repeated in many of his commentaries: “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence but obeying in spite of consequence” (p. 16).

Ruth lived during the time of the judges, before Israel had kings. She was from Moab, people who were enemies to Israel. But her in-laws had come to Moab from Israel during a time of famine. Ruth had married one of their sons, but over time her father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law all died. Ruth had come to believe in Naomi and Israel’s God, and she traveled with her mother-in-law, a bitter and broken, Naomi back to Israel.

The only recourse the women had for food was for Ruth to glean in someone else’s fields. The law at that time told farmers not to harvest every single piece of produce they grew, but to leave some for the poor. Ruth “happened” upon the fields of kind Boaz (one of my favorite OT people), who told his workers to leave some extra on purpose for her.

Near relations had the right to redeem the land of their deceased relatives, but part of the deal was marrying the widow. The nearest relation to Ruth’s husband was not willing to do this. But Boaz was the next nearest relation, and he was willing. Thus Ruth and Naomi were taken care of, and Naomi’s joy returned with the birth of her grandson–who became the grandfather of King David.

There’s much that could be said about this wonderful book. One point Wiersbe makes is this:

It is encouraging to see the changes that have taken place in Naomi because of what Ruth did. God used Ruth to turn Naomi’s bitterness into gratitude, her unbelief into faith, and her despair into hope. One person trusting the Lord and obeying His will can change a situation from defeat to victory (p. 43).

Esther lived hundreds of years after Ruth. Israel went through several kings, most of whom did not follow God. After much warning and preaching, with little response, God sent His people into exile in Babylon, which was later conquered by Persia. After 70 years, many Israelites were permitted to go back to their land. But Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, were among many Jews still in Persia.

Mordecai raised Esther because her parents had died. The pagan king, Ahasuerus, dismissed his wife for reasons found in Esther 1. His advisors encouraged him to gather the virgins of the land and . . try them out, and then choose from among them a new bride. Esther was one of the young women, and she happened to be chosen as the new queen.

Neither Esther nor Mordecai were known to be Jews at first. Wiersbe talks about the possibility that this may have meant they were not living according to God’s laws, because even the dietary laws would have separated them from other people in the land. We don’t know if this means they weren’t being faithful or if there were other reasons their nationality was not known. There also would have been problems with Esther, as a Jew, marrying a Gentile, and of course with her sleeping with the king before they were married (though she may not have had a choice about that).

At any rate, one person knew Mordecai was a Jew: Haman. Haman was a high official and hated that Mordecai would not bow to him like everyone else did. He was so angry, he plotted to kill not only Mordecai, but all the Jews. When he proposed this to the king, oddly, the king agreed without much discussion.

One interesting thing about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned once. But His fingerprints are all over the book. The suspense and irony of how God delivered the Jews from destruction is one of the most exciting stories in the Bible.

The highlight of the book is when Esther goes before the king to petition his protection for her people. According to the law of the land, if she came uninvited to see him, and he refused her, she could have been killed. But after fasting and praying for three days and asking others to do the same, she determined to go. Her “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) has rung through the centuries as an example of doing what’s right and what’s best for others despite what happens to us.

Both of these books show God’s guiding hand in the lives of His people, individually and as a nation. One encouragement to me was that God did this despite and even through a pagan king and an enemy to His people.

Finally, there is a powerful personal message in the book of Esther; for Esther, like Ruth, is a beautiful example of a woman committed to God. Ruth’s “Whither thou goest, I will go” (Ruth 1: 16 KJV) is paralleled by Esther’s “And if I perish, I perish” (Est. 4: 16 KJV). Both women yielded themselves to the Lord and were used by God to accomplish great things. Ruth became a part of God’s wonderful plan for Israel to bring the Savior into the world, and Esther helped save the nation of Israel so that the Savior could be born (p. 79).

We must never think that the days of great opportunities are all past. Today, God gives to His people many exciting opportunities to “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap” (Ezek. 22: 30 KJV), if only we will commit ourselves to Him. Not only in your church, but also in your home, your neighborhood, your place of employment, your school, even your sickroom, God can use you to influence others and accomplish His purposes, if only you are fully committed to Him (p. 80).

What Does God Want Us to Continue?

There is something exciting about a bright, shiny, new beginning, isn’t there? A new project, a new start, a new book, a new year, a new routine. Whatever happened before, we can start fresh.

Perhaps that’s the appeal of New Year’s resolutions, even though most people confess to not keeping them or even making them even more.

Granted, we all need to make time to take stock, to adjust our routines, to see what needs to change—whether we do that on Jan. 1 or some other time.

But sometimes we need to set our faces and purposes once again to continue something we’ve already started, to stay the course, to keep going.

A few weeks ago, the pastor of the church we were visiting spoke from Colossians. I happened to notice the word “continue” in a couple of places in the book, which brought to mind a couple of other verses that used the word. I looked into the word more after I got home and then again last week.

What does God want us to continue?

Fearing the Lord: Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day (Proverbs 23:17, ESV).

Being in His Word:If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed (John 8:31, KJV; ESV says “abide”).

In His love: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love (John 15:9, KJV, ESV says “abide”).

Gathering with other believers to pray, fellowship, learn doctrine: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren . . . And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 1:14; 2:42, KJV; ESV has “devoting themselves.” Though this is not a command here, it is in Hebrews 10:25).

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).

Speaking His Word with boldness: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29, ESV).

In His grace: “And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43, ESV; also “continue” in the KJV).

In the faith: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, ESV; also “continue” in the KJV).

“If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23, ESV; same in KJV).

In His kindness: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22, ESV; also “continue” in the KJV).

In prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2, ESV; also in KJV).

In what you have learned and believed: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV; also in KJV).

Continue in doctrine: Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16, KJV; ESV, “persist”).).

In brotherly love: “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1, ESV; also in KJV).

In the perfect law of liberty: “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25, NKJV; “perseveres” in the ESV).

Though this same concept may be displayed in other words (abide, dwell), these passages give us plenty to think about for the moment, don’t they?

With all the excitement of the new, let’s not forget the foundation and steadiness of the old.

Mac Lynch wrote a beautiful song incorporating the words of 2 Timothy 3:14: “Continue thou in the things thou hast learned.” He wrote this when he was the music director at The Wilds Christian Camp. I don’t know if this is how the song was used, but I can imagine it being sung the last night of camp week, urging campers to continue on with the Lord, not to make decisions at camp and then forget them when back in their regular worlds. I know it won’t be familiar to most of you, but I hope you’ll give it a listen and be blessed and encouraged by it:

And of course, the only way to continue these things is if we had at one time begun them. If you haven’t, this as as good a day as any to do so. Especially if you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, I invite you to learn more here.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

I’m still catching up with blog reads from the last few weeks, but here are a few good ones I came across.

A Friend Just Lost an Unbelieving Loved One to Death: What Do I Say, Think, and Do? HT to Challies. “How on earth is anyone supposed to be perfectly ‘balanced’ as they traverse this seemingly impossible canyon? With God’s help, it is possible to be faithful to His Word and your friend simultaneously, but this ability does not equate to ease or an absence of deep distress.”

You Can Understand the Bible, HT to Knowable Word. “I’ve battled to get through the census records in Numbers. I’ve labored through the kidneys, livers, and “entrails” of the Levitical laws. I’ve grown weary of the repetitive failures of Israel in 1–2 Kings. I’ve sometimes struggled to see what Hebrews sees in the Old Testament. Much of the imagery of Revelation is still a mystery to me. And so, I regularly find these clear and accessible words from Paul all the more meaningful and encouraging: ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything’ (2 Timothy 2:7).”

Why I Stayed in the Church. “So when I offer these reasons for why we stayed in the church, I do so as a woman who has wrestled with the church’s messiness–and my own. In the end, they may not answer your questions fully, but at least they’ll be a place to start:”

Hedgerows and Big Yellow Trucks, HT to Challies. I loved this. “A hard rain was falling that afternoon, and I was eager to get home. After a long day of doctor appointments in the city for my son Ben, I loaded up the car with groceries and headed up the twisting road to our home in the mountains. Only a few miles up, however, a large yellow County Roads Department truck suddenly pulled out in front of me, making me hit the brakes in frustration. I stewed and fumed as the big truck ground upwards at 20 mph instead of my usual 45.”

Risks and Benefits of Age-Specific Ministry. HT to Challies. “Reflecting on that season of ministry, I’m freshly reminded of the two sides of the age-specific ministry coin. On one hand, the junior high and senior high ministries were incredibly fruitful in their own right (not to mention other age-segregated ministries in between). The ability to hone in on age-specific needs and opportunities served everyone in a personal and powerful way. On the other hand, the combined events were reminders that there are many riches to be discovered with cross-generational ministry. There is a massive benefit to an integrated ministry approach that unleashes the saints to do the work of ministry with everyone in the church, rather than a small segment of it. We all have much to learn from—and much to offer—brothers and sisters who are in different seasons of life.”

An Encouragement to Young Husbands, HT to Challies. “I wanted to do this Christian marriage thing right. As a couple who felt called to missions among the unreached, I wanted us to discipline and focus everything about our lifestyle toward that end. I desired for us to be an example of a sacrificial, Jesus-centered marriage. These desires were not bad. In fact, I would say they were God-given. However, they were also paired with a rushed time-line, anxiety, and pressure. During this newlywed period I was missing what should have been a major emphasis of that time – helping my new bride to simply rest securely in my love for her.”

4 Biblical Truths to Help You Use Time Wisely. “Like Frosty, I saw time melting away, and I wondered if I’d done anything worthwhile with my life. What if I’d wasted weeks and months chasing after worthless things? What if I’d fretted away my days with endless worries over inconsequential things? Had I misspent my minutes, pondering and procrastinating, but never progressing? Had I missed the things that matter?”

A Certain Kind of Evangelical Christian, HT to Challies. This is a Twitter thread that starts: “There once was a certain kind of evangelical Christian I felt free to make fun of. I was pastoring a fast growing church in an urban environment, and a spirit of elitism had infected us. No one would correct me on it because they made fun of them too.”

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, HT to Challies. These are always fun.

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday once again, time to pause with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story to remind ourselves of and thank God for His gifts of the week.

1. A family outing. We went with Jason, Mittu, and Timothy last Saturday to a car show. I’m not so much into looking at old cars, but Timothy asked. 🙂 And it was fun to do something together. A bonus was finding some pink cars!

I thought this British one was cute as well:

You probably can’t make it out in that picture, but on top was a tribute to Queen Elizabeth.

Afterwards, we went out to a new-to-us Mexican food restaurant. I love Mexican food and hadn’t had any in a restaurant in a long time. After we ate, someone (maybe the owner or manager) came over and told us about their desserts, then brought us a free sample of white chocolate raspberry cheesecake to share.

2. Churros. These get their own listing. 🙂 At the restaurant, we ordered some churros to go. It was only the second time I had ever had them, and the first time to have them freshly made. Oh my. So good.

3. Popcorn experiments. Some time ago, Jason and Mittu had given Jim a set of different types of popcorn. We made some the night they brought it, but had not done much with it since. But lately, Jim’s has gotten out the air popper and tried several different flavorings. My favorite so far was kettle corn mixed with honey roasted peanuts. But we just found white cheddar flavoring yesterday, so I look forward to trying that. And to his credit, whenever Jim experiments in the kitchen, he always cleans up afterward.

4. A fun outing. I had a dentist appointment yesterday afternoon–not fun, especially when she couldn’t do the planned filling because the damage was too extensive. The affected tooth is under a bridge, and I’m going to need either a root canal or an implant. While I try to gather more information to make a decision, I have to take antibiotics because there is a little infection in the tooth.

I had planned to run some errands and get my hair cut after the appointment, but thunderstorms started about an hour before I needed to leave (two of my least favorite things at the same time: dental work and driving in storms!) I almost decided to just go back home after seeing the dentist. But the rain let up, so I went on. Then the rain stopped completely. One of my stops was at a new Michael’s craft store recently opened nearby. The only other Michael’s was 30 minutes away, so I rarely got out there. I had some gift cards for them, and it was almost like a second Christmas being able to use them. Plus, craft stores are some of my favorite places, and it had been a long time since I had just wandered around one just for fun. One of my new treasures is this:

5. A fantastic cookie. Jason had once brought me a cookie from a new Crumbl Cookies shop. I wanted to stop in there and see what else they had, but hadn’t made it yet. I finally did on my outing yesterday. This is their Reese’s peanut butter cookie. Oh. my. word. So soft and so good! It’s too much to eat in one sitting, but I’ve enjoyed parts of it and have some left for today.

So it’s been a “sweet” week in more ways than one. 🙂 I hope you’ve had some sweet moments as well.

Seasons of Sorrow

One November day in 2020, Tim and Aileen Challies learned the stunning news that their 20-year-old son, Nick, had suddenly died. He had not been ill. There were no known congenital health issues. He was playing a game with his sister and their friends at college when he suddenly collapsed. Efforts to revive him failed.

Though grief never goes completely away, it is probably at its most intense the first year. Like many of us who write, Tim processed what he was thinking and feeling by writing. Some of what he wrote was published on his blog. But much was not. He gathered his writings from the year into a book titled Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God. The book is laid out across seasons, beginning with fall, when Nick died, through winter, spring, summer, and then fall again on the first anniversary of Nick’s passing.

Nick was a young man training for gospel ministry. This is not the first time I have wondered why would God take someone with so much potential to heaven instead of allowing them to do His work here. We don’t know all the answers. But we do know our times are in His hands. Anyone’s death, but especially that of one so young, reminds us that we’re not guaranteed a certain number of years. By all accounts, Nick used his time here well. May God give us grace to do with same, with a heart fixed on eternity.

Even though the book deals with the recent loss of an adult child, much of it can be applied to any loss. I found help and comfort in dealing with the seventeen year loss of my mom, who died seemingly (to us) too early at 68.

One of the things I appreciated most about Tim’s testimony was his desire to honor God in the midst of his grief. There is nothing wrong with grief and tears. Jesus wept with his friends at the loss of Lazarus, even while knowing He was about to raise him from the dead. We don’t go off on a season of grieving and then come back to faith in and peace with God. Tim demonstrates that we can trust Him through and in the midst of grief.

Tim wrestles honestly with what he knows of the goodness of God in circumstances that don’t seem good.

One aftermath of loss is fearing more loss.

I, whose son collapsed and died, cannot fall asleep in the evening until I have received assurance that both my daughters are still alive and cannot be content in the morning until I am sure both have made it through the night. Nick’s death has made us face mortality and human fragility in a whole new way. My children may as well be made of glass. I’m just so afraid that if Providence directed I lose one, it may direct that I lose another. If it has determined I face this sorrow, why not many more?

How, then, can I let go of such anxiety? How can I continue to live my life? The only antidote I know is this: deliberately submitting myself to the will of God, for comfort is closely related to submission. As long as I fight the will of God, as long as I battle God’s right to rule his world in his way, peace remains distant and furtive. But when I surrender, when I bow the knee, then peace flows like a river and attends my way. For when I do so, I remind myself that the will of God is inseparable from the character of God. I remind myself that the will of God is always good because God is always good. Hence I pray a prayer of faith, not fatalism: “Your will be done. Not as I will, but as you will”  (p. 76).

Another section that particularly spoke to me was when Tim found his longings for heaven mixed up with seeing Nick again as much, and sometimes more, than seeing Jesus. He confessed this to a friend, ending with the thought that he must sound like a pagan. The friend replied, “No, you sound like a grieving father” (p. 122).

And I’m content to leave it there. It was God who called me to himself and God who put a great love for himself in my heart. It was God who gave me my son, God who gave me such love for him, and God who took him away from me. The Lord knows I love the Lord, and the Lord knows I love my boy. I’ll leave it to him to sort out the details (p. 122).

Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” God doesn’t condemn feasting and gladness: He incorporated such into Israel’s calendar year and tells us the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). But we do tend to learn deeper lessons through mourning. I appreciate Tim’s sharing what he experienced and learned with us.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Wrapping Up Two Christmas Reads

I just finished my last two Christmas novels and thought I’d review them together.

In Hope for Christmas: A Small Town Christmas Romance Novella by Malissa Chapin, Merry Noel (who insists her last name is pronounced Knoll, not No-el) is trying to close one last deal before Christmas Day. If she can’t get everything together for it, the client will call the deal off. But her office is in the midst of a Christmas party and she can’t get anyone to make copies or do the things needed to close the deal.

Even without the pressure of this last deal, though, Merry hated Christmas and wouldn’t be celebrating.

After a disastrous series of events, Merry ends up losing her job. She didn’t want to go home to Wisconsin, but she has nowhere else to turn.

Having gotten used to city life in Atlanta, Merry chafes at going back to the farm. And how crazy was it to come back when the whole town was in the throes of their annual community Christmas celebration.

But her mother’s new neighbor, time with her mother, a blizzard, and an unexpected visitor in need all help Merry face her issues.

When I first started reading this, I thought it was going to be a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol. A couple of Merry’s coworkers even call her Ms. Scrooge. But Merry’s motivations aren’t related to business or finance.

I very much enjoyed Merry’s journey and this story, which were both heart-warming and faith-filled.

Malissa is the author of a book I read and loved last year, The Road Home (linked to my review). She also wrote Murder Goes Solo: A Piper Haydn Piano Mystery, which I have not read yet. Cozy mysteries are not my favorite fare, but I do read them sometimes, so I probably will check this out at some point.

I had not heard of Beth Moran before. But I had finished my audiobook a few days before Christmas and wouldn’t get another Audible credit until the end of the month. So I looked around Audible’s “free with a subscription” selection, and Beth’s Christmas Every Day caught my eye. I’m wary of modern secular fiction because usually it has bad language or bedroom scenes. But I figured this was low risk–if I came across something objectionable, I could just delete it from my library.

Jenny is another Christmas-hater, but for different reasons. Since her parents’ divorce, she usually spent holidays alone. But in light of her impending engagement, she has every hope that she’ll spend Christmas in a lovely place with a real family this year.

But then her boss/secret boyfriend announces an engagement not with Jenny, but with her beautiful, popular twin sister.

Jenny leaves for an old cottage in Sherwood Forest that she inherited from her grandmother, who passed away six years earlier. She expected the place to need a little clean-up. But she hadn’t known her grandmother had become a hoarder or that the house would need so much.

She gets off on the wrong foot with her curmudgeonly neighbor, Mack. But slowly, she begins to form friendships with other people in the village and gets a job.

Then she’s invited to an unusual book club. A couple of the participants are so cantankerous that they can’t agree on what books to read. So the group decides to shift focus and work on a personal challenge for the coming year, reporting on their progress at the monthly meetings instead of books. A private investigator wants to learn to bake. A dying older woman has a list of daring feats she wants to accomplish. A single mom wants to find a good man with whom she can have a real relationship. A super-fan wants to find the location of a reclusive author said to live in their area and invite her to the book club.

As Jenny deals with the house, her new job of minding a lively family of five children, her neighbor, and her new friends, she finally learns what belonging and family are all about.

This story is funny in places and heart-warming in others. Jenny’s series of comedic disasters got a little old at one point—but I guess I got used to them, or maybe they just toned down a bit. They kept happening but didn’t seem so outlandish as at first.

Even though this is written from a secular standpoint, there was a really good section on forgiveness.

There was a smattering of bad words, but otherwise the story was very clean.

Helen Keely did a superb job narrating the audiobook. I had to slow down the narration just a tad, as the British accent spoken very quickly was hard to understand in places.

I liked this books so well that I am willing to try more from this author. And I hope Helen Keely narrates them all.