Exactly a year ago, on a quiet, forgettable November night, I went to the woods for a quick escape before the weekend set in.
Gray clouds hang in the air, low to the shore. The ordinariness of the evening matches the mood of my week.
I don’t mind the cloud cover, or the dampness, or the solitude. The cool air is cleansing, chipping away at the constriction of my chest.
As I allow worries, and work, and deeply buried wants to simmer, the stillness of the waters strikes me. There is depth to this blue bay. It is a place of peace, to release those burdens.
And so I open my hands, and my heart. I surrender my struggle and let go of my longings. I send them out into the sea, because I know the captain of my soul is watching. He is with me. In charge of the wind, the tide, the creatures chirping, and the sun that is setting, He is restoring my soul along these still waters. He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.
He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.
I realize my eyes have closed, in reaction to the restfulness that is flowing from my smiling face to my feet. I slowly open them to see colors emerging in a choreographed dance that begins to take my breath away.
Immersed in waves of the most glorious sunset, everything within me is lifted heavenward. The sun has long left the horizon, lighting up those heavy clouds with every shade of yellow, orange, blue, pink, purple, and red.
Those deep, still waters provide a perfect mirror for the masterpiece overhead, doubling all of its breadth and beauty.
It is absolutely stunning.
I soak it all in. This was not just a sunset but a spiritual experience.
I finally leave the shoreline, reluctantly, knowing that I am seen and loved, and worthy of great beauty.
An attempted photographic capture of each phase:
That sunset sticks with me, a year—a long, hard, painful year—later. Perhaps it even got me through the next terrible twelve months to come? How often my imagination drew on the goodness of the memory!
It was not something for which a screen could suffice, and I see now how it’s timing was perfect. I didn’t orchestrate that evening, I just showed up. I am glad I know the director.
I went back again this weekend, thinking I might see an encore. I find more loveliness and delight, but nothing like last year. But even simple beauty can fill one with wonder.
Another long, cold, and I’m afraid, lonely winter looms ahead.
What are the memories you will draw on?
Where will your imagination take you?
Trust that the quiet hand of providence will take care of you. He is an artist, choreographer, and conductor that we cannot even comprehend.
He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption. I will keep choosing to let him be the author of my life—I hope you will too.
He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption.
A few weekends ago, while exploring the countryside in Pennsylvania, my parents and I stumbled upon an old log church. As I wandered around the cemetery (not something I typically do!) I was amazed by what I found, including gravestones that commemorated several men that had served in the Revolutionary War!
In fact, this modest cemetery in Bedford County, PA, had gravestones for men who had served in every military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
I was humbled by the hundreds of years of service, and at least one life that was lost in action, from this small community.
We’ve seen a lot of strife this year. But on this Veteran’s Day, I hope every American can pause in gratitude for all those who have gone before us and served to protect and defend our country and our freedom.
It may be an overused saying but that’s because it’s true—freedom isn’t free, and so many have served to allow the rest of us to live the life we choose, to worship the way we want, and to pursue happiness as we see fit. We can make all the typical disclaimers about how America isn’t perfect (of course it’s not!), and we have so many problems (we do and we should seek cultural and policy solutions), but we as Americans are privileged and blessed with a measure of freedom (and prosperity) that the vast majority of the human race has never experienced.
I offer my thanks and gratitude to the servicemen of Bedford County—and all who have served, including my family members—thank you! You inspire me to cherish my freedom and work towards an America that ensures rights and opportunities for all people.
Freedom is incredibly important, but it isn’t everything. For the Christian, it is an incredible blessing to live in a land of religious liberty, but our citizenship ultimately resides in heaven.
A few other gravestones at the old log church inspired me on this note. Seeing the witness of believers who were born nearly 200 years before me, and lived in a vastly different world than I know and yet clung to the same promises from God’s word that I do, was very moving.
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
“Preserve me O God, for in thee do I put my trust.”
And a final one to share: this young man, who seemingly lost his life while serving in the Army during the Civil War, was buried by his parents with this epitaph:
“Here lies, with the hope of a joyful resurrection, the mortal remains of …”
Eternity with Christ, the resurrection of the body, and life in the new Kingdom is the blessed hope for every believer. That is a truth that will truly set one free.
Oh what a year it’s been. Here I am smiling on my birthday last year, with no idea what 34/2020 would bring!
Yesterday on a pre-birthday outing, I visited a winery with a dear friend. I have always enjoyed wineries, but this time the spiritual symbolism was jumping out at me.
The vines and branches.
The pruning process.
The grapes and the wine-making.
It’s been a year of crushing, to a degree, for all of us. For me, I’ve been pushed to the brink with physical pain from an injury that sent me to a surgeon. Have persevered through physical therapy, trusting that the daily imperceptible changes add up to full healing. (And praise God, they have!!!)
Through it all, the pruning has been hard. And yet, I know it is for my good—and for God’s glory. That I may bear much fruit for him.
Through this, I have also been learning the value, rather the necessity, of dependence. My family has always been a rock to me. With COVID, my injury, and other challenges, 2020 has showed me, more than ever, how much we need each other.
My parents are especially my heroes! Godly, loving, supportive parents are an incredible blessing and I am eternally grateful for mine!
An abundant grape vine requires care and pruning by a master gardener. Likewise a fine wine does not become so on its own. It is a process—many people play a role.
As I hit 35—an age between two decades—I hope and pray that the work the Lord does in me always points to him. He is in control and his loving-kindness never ends.
As a new year unfolds for me, I pray that his love also flows forth!
Thank you, dear readers, for following along this year! It’s been a joy to spend more time on this blog over the past year.
What a Justin Bieber Music Video Taught Me About Paying Attention
I cried over a Justin Bieber music video. 2020 really is wild.
Watch to the end, when the distraught couple are invited in the “direction of a warm meal.”
Hopefully you made it to the end! It might be understandable if you didn’t…human attention span is decreasing. It doesn’t take a study to recognize our modern dilemma of constant bombardment of information, technology, social media, etc.
The illustration of attentiveness in this video struck me as a beautiful antidote to the noise. I was caught up in the plight of the young couple – burdened by job loss and family abandonment – when a kind soul, who surely is juggling his own trials, notices the homeless pair and invites them to his home. The kind, selfless, non-judgmental hospitality portrayed is beautiful!
I was touched and challenged by this song and video – if I slow down, and pay attention, what might I notice around me?
Every human has a story, with unique wounds and wisdom. If we listen, we can both love and learn.
Every human needs love. We were created by love and for love-in relationship and community.
Every human has a story, with unique wounds and wisdom. If we listen, we can both love and learn.
Ultimately, attentiveness displays kindness, goodness, gentleness…does this ring a bell?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, ESV)
These characteristics exude Christ and attract the human heart, opening the door to God’s love – the love we all most desperately need. If there is anything we need next month, I’d say it’s definitely attentiveness with the fruit of the Spirit!
As we continue through a very hard year, and a divisive season as we head into October, I want to challenge myself to pay attention – to notice the humans around me (including when it’s me!) who are hurting and in need of love. Will you join me?
Here are a few specific ideas for practicing and forming a spirit of attentiveness:
Text a friend going through a trial to check-in, and let them know you’ll follow up next week (or invite them to coffee!).
Go for a walk around your neighborhood and leave the phone at home.
Pulled on my fall flannel, for the first time this year;
And jeans, snug and comforting.
After a quick drive, and a few steps, I’ve been transported.
Sounds of a chorus of buzzing bugs set my pace.
Deep breaths of fresh air filled my lungs, providing a new rhythm;
Calming my anxious mind and relaxing my body.
Soft and slow ripples in the water flowed towards me, a welcome to rest.
The lushness of summer’s greens has been infiltrated with reds and yellows.
Signals that time is moving to a new season.
Like the foliage before me, life finds a way of providing signs.
Am I walking slowly enough to pay attention?
To hear what’s in the whisper of the wind?
Am I seeking intimacy with my Creator to notice his nudgings?
With the aroma of change in the air,
The sun sets on another day.
A chance to reflect. To confess, to worship, to pray.
To welcome a posture of openness to God’s direction.
To be led by Him, looking for his signals; be they red, green, or yellow.
Every hard lesson after hard lesson, I find;
His way, especially in the waiting, is best.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
I hope you had a safe and fun-filled Labor Day! I enjoyed the beautiful weather at Longwood Gardens enjoying the sunshine, flowers, and fauna.
With the unofficial close to summer, it’s time to write about my favorite summer reads! I have fallen behind on my monthly reading round-up blog posts —forgive me readers! (all 5 of you!) You can check out my April and May highlights, and below I’ll wrap-up my summer favorites in one post. Rather than review each of these books separately, I want to pull together the threads within them. I hope it’s helpful and edifying!
“Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.”
I found Atomic Habits to be extremely practical and helpful with ideas and strategies for becoming a creature of good habits. Clear’s thesis is that tiny, consistent—“atomic-size”—habits aggregate to big life changes. His four laws of behavior change are a helpful framework to form healthy habits: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying (these can be inverted for breaking bad habits).
One concept I particularly liked was the relationship between habits and identity. Clear describes it simply: “Your habits shape your identity.” An example would be if one assumes the identity of a healthy person, it is easier to make healthy choices; of course, coupled with various other practices to establish healthy eating and exercising habits. But the way we think about ourselves does have a significant role in the way we act and order our lives.
Aside from reading the book, Clear provides many helpful resources on his website, and I’ve also been enjoying his twice weekly email newsletter. My critique comes from what I felt was missing. Habits are absolutely important. Healthy eating, living, exercising, reading, writing, etc. I for one, have been trying to increase and improve my writing this year and thinking through setting myself up for success with good habits is something important to me. But as helpful as Clear’s material is, it also felt a bit robotic and formulaic. Is there more to life than good habits?
I think yes.
A life of good habits with a lack of purpose is a life devoid of meaning.
Which is why I loved and highly recommend James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love.
Smith cuts to the core of the human heart, writing that our actions, behaviors, or “habits” flow from our longings and desires. We were made to worship and desire God, but our heart’s desires become disordered because of sin. Smith draws on the words of early Church fathers to describe this:
“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine opens with a design claim, a conviction about what human beings are made for. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it recognizes that human beings are made by and for the Creator who is known in Jesus Christ. In other words, to be truly and fully human, we need to “find” ourselves in relationship to the One who made us and for whom we are made. The gospel is the way we learn to be human. As Irenaeus once put it, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
To put it simply, I am what I love. My habits – my lifestyle – flow from what I long for and love. Smith later invokes the Church reformers to illustrate this “worship”:
To say “you are what you love” is synonymous with saying “you are what you worship.” The great Reformer Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” We become what we worship because what we worship is what we love. As we’ve seen, it’s not a question of whether you worship but what you worship—which is why John Calvin refers to the human heart as an “idol factory.” We can’t not worship because we can’t not love something as ultimate.
Smith goes on to expose the idols of our age within secular culture and the church. And he poignantly shows how the sacramental gifts of the church should rightly form us.
“To be human is to be a liturgical animal, a creature whose loves are shaped by our worship…Christian worship, we should recognize, is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life. This is why worship is the heart of discipleship.”
This book was convicting, but also beautiful and freeing. The habit-forming gifts of the church are a special grace from the Lord to mold and shape our hearts, so that we can truly become the creatures with a purpose we were meant to be.
In thinking about one’s habits and purpose in life, one can’t help but reflect upon what life might look like when we come to the end of our time here on earth. Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, does just that. I’ve had this book on my “to-read” list for a while, and found it to be an enjoyable and leisurely read this summer.
Gilead records the stream-of-consciousness journal entries of a country preacher in his last days. Reverend John Ames writes to his young son about a myriad of topics, from family history, amusing life anecdotes, and especially his memories as a pastor.
Robinson’s writing is both conversational and lyrical. One of my favorite examples:
The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point. It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love. I’ll try to remember to use this.
His letters reflect on the intricacies of the human soul, the purpose of life, and his wrestling with deep theological questions. One thing shines through: he loved and served his family, his wife, his son, his parishioners, and his town, well.
What Gilead lacks in plot, it makes up for in droves with beautiful language, character study, and thoughtfulness. It is a reflection of a life well lived, and the desire to pass on a legacy to the next generation. It stood in stark contrast to me with Atomic Habits. As valuable as those psychological insights are, habits without purpose, and a purpose disconnected from the Creator, is meaningless.
I highly recommend all of these titles! And perhaps I will get back into the “habit” of a monthly review, rather than quarterly. Enjoy and may your September be filled with good books and good habits 😊.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23: 4, NKJV
Last year for Labor Day, I headed west. It felt good to take a few days off work, pack up my hiking gear, and hop on a plane (that world seems so different and long ago!).
One of the national parks I visited was Death Valley. I was interested in visiting it for a number of reasons, including my hope of experiencing it as a spiritual pilgrimage.
Being that it was the end of August, and pushing 115 degrees, it wasn’t going to be a long visit, but I wanted to see the main sights. It was incredible with an “other-worldly” feel to it.
Unfortunately, what I hoped to be a peaceful and reflective experience, turned into a scary one by the end of the trip. Thanks to an unidentified critter that stung me, I got to experience the body’s fight/flight response in full blown action! By the end of it, I was fine, but in the moment it was quite frightening; it truly felt like I was living through a “death valley” moment in Death Valley.
I survived my literal Death Valley adventure, but I didn’t know more “valley of the shadow of death” experiences would be coming in 2020. No one knew the Covid pandemic was coming and that we would collectively be living through a valley season.
Over this past year, I’ve been reflecting on three important things to remember during hard times:
Don’t go through Death Valley Alone
In hindsight, I should not have gone to Death Valley National Park alone; I let my independent spirit get the best of me. The same goes for any valley experience – we can’t do it alone. Even the fact that I couldn’t get cell service when I needed it in Death Valley, painfully highlighted how it can be downright dangerous when we can’t be connected!
Whether it’s an immediate traumatic experience, or long-lasting suffering – we need one another. The beauty of God’s design for humans reflects this need. He created us to exist in families; we are literally dependent when we come into the world. And he created the church, as one body with many members. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26, ESV)
I may have made the miscalculation of going alone, but at least I was prepared. I researched to know what I was getting into; I hydrated and had lots of water, I wore lots of suntan lotion and a hat, I had energy bars and gatorade, a first aid kit, a paper map, a flashlight, and I always made sure I had a least a half tank of gas. Those were wise things to do to be prepared.
Similarly, when going through a real-life valley experience, we need to be equipped. Prayer, Worship, Scripture, the Church – these are our lifeblood in times of suffering. And they prepare us for whatever suffering may come. By studying the Word we become immersed in God’s truth so that it becomes an anchor when we are wandering a wilderness.
Prayer, Worship, Scripture, the Church – these are our lifeblood in times of suffering.
No matter what we are going through, or will go through, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. As Moses preached to Joshua and the Israelites after they’ve been wandering for so long and are prepared to enter the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV)
No matter what we are going through, or will go through, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us.
During my frightening experience, with no humans around and no cell service, all I could do was remain grounded in knowing the presence of God was with me. Looking back, I am amazed at how he gave me the peace I needed (and how he designed the human body to respond in a crisis!).
Life can throw us some very challenging experiences. How marvelous that the Creator of the Universe is with us every step of the way, longing to help and comfort us. We may have those times where we feel completely on our own and helpless, but we can trust that we are never truly alone.
If life feels like a desert, be encouraged. Find family, friends, and the fellowship of believers to connect and carry you. Equip yourself with prayer and Scripture. Meditate and take comfort in the truth that God goes before you and behind you – he is with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 ESV
I had the opportunity to write an article for Fathom Magazine on nature, God, healing, and one of my favorite theological topics, dominion.
You can click on the image below to read it!
I believe and have experienced how God can speak to us through nature; it’s up to us to slow down, listen, pay attention, and steward his gifts—his creation and the soul he’s entrusted each of us with, equally.
And it was a joy to write about one of my favorite places. Many of my blog posts over the past two years have been inspired by this beautiful spot!
I hope you will enjoy the piece, and I hope it inspires you to spend more time outdoors with God!
The rumble of thunder from a summer storm. The waves of cicadas buzzing each morning and evening.
This weekend, on a leisurely stroll, I came upon some peaceful sights. They were not the most stunning scenes— in comparison to my days on the water or hiking or traveling (remember when we could travel?!). But they were welcoming and lovely, even in their imperfection and messiness.
The beauty of a butterfly—with a broken wing no less—brought much joy. The happy—albeit disheveled—black-eyed susan’s stirred delight.
The blessing of a quiet walk sparked a smile of gratitude.
Seasons of suffering make these simple things—even a simple step outdoors—all the more sweeter.
Seasons of suffering make the simple things all the more sweeter.