Monday, January 30, 2012

An Evergreen Prayer

"God of new beginnings, guide me through the seasons of the coming year. Whatever joy or hardship I face, let me face it standing with you. Whatever building up or tearing down that I encounter, let me take action under your care. For you are the creator of every season." Amen.
--The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas by Beth A. Richardson. © 2009 by Upper Room Books®.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Hymn to Close the Weekend

"In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my Light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this Solid Ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when striving cease! My Comforter, my all-in-all; Here in the love of Christ I stand." - In Christ Alone by Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

That is my absolute favorite hymn. I had no idea that it was penned in 2001. I thought it was one of those old ones from the 1700's. But no, and I learned that this weekend while reading Robert Morgan's Then Sings My Soul, Book 3.

I became a Christian back in 1973. The Jesus Movement was in full swing and I was in close proximity to Calvary Chapel in Southern California -- the genesis of Christian music via Maranatha Music. But in church we still sang a lot of hymns. And I love them.

One of the things I enjoy about this three-book series on hymns is that it tells the stories behind the great, and even obscure, hymns throughout history. And that's a key word here, history. This is a history book as well as a book of stories. Hymns have been a part of faith going back to the Exodus.  As Morgan writes:

"Hymns are distillations of the richest truths of God, versified, emotionalized, set to music, and released in teh mind and from the mouth. They're miniature Bible studies that lead us effortlessly to worship, testimony, exhortation, prayer. and praise. They're bursts of devotional richness with rhyme and rhythm. They clear our minds, soothe our nerves, verbalize our worship, summarize our faith, and sing our great Redeemer's praise."

There is truth here to be meditated upon. If I actually had a bucket list, learning to play the piano would be on it; for the sole reason so that I could play my hymnal and privately sing through every single one.  Morgan's book has made be want to learn even more.

(I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Saturday of Cleaning

I've spent the day cleaning...and there is a marathon of picking up clutter, cleaning out dust bunnies and sort out years of accumulated stuff yet to do. It's like a 12-step program with me. One day at a time. Todd says he can see the difference. I just see the tasks yet to be tackled. But I am grateful for a day to clean. And it's only 5:00 p.m. so I have time yet to invest in this immense undertaking. Yep, one day at a time, one task at a time.

"To be a hostess, I'm going to have to surrender my notions of Good Housekeeping domestic perfection....This is tough: My mother set a high standard. Her house is always immaculate, most especially if she's expecting company. But if I wait for immaculate. I will never have a guest."

-- Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

The Elephant in the Room

I did not intend for this blog to be principally about books. But I guess my "thimbleful of time" of late has been to thoroughly enjoy being a reader. So strap on your reading glasses because I have another book to tell you about.

If I were to list some favorite authors Gary Thomas would surely make the list. I was given the opportunity from Zondervan to get an early copy of his latest book Every Body Matters and couldn't wait to dig in. I've thoroughly enjoyed his books on spirituality (Sacred Pathways is a book I often recommend), marriage (if you haven't read Sacred Marriage, it's a must for every married couple) and parenting (yes, it's titled Sacred Parenting).

I want to tell you that I really enjoyed this book as well, but that would not be a completely honest account. I needed this book; I needed what Gary had to say to me and to the church. Sometimes the truth hurts. Page two of the book let me know what I was in for: "Whether you're in your twenties, thirties, or forties -- or facing your fifties, sixties, seventies, or beyond -- one thing is certain: you're doing it in a body, a body that not only contains a soul but affects a soul as well. We are not angels, pursuing God without physical covering, and if we try and pretend that we are -- living as though the state of our bodies has no effect on the condition of our souls--all the proper doctrine in the world can't save us from eating away our sensitivity to God's presence or throwing away years of potential ministry if we wreck our heart's physical home." In Gary's own words, "This entire book is focused on becoming "holy, useful to the Master, and prepared to do any good work."

I agree with Gary that our bodies matter when it comes to our relationship with God. It's very easy for me to live my relationship with God in my head and my hands. I love to read and think and learn; and I love to teach and serve and be available to God for his purposes. But somewhere in between I've neglected training for endurance and strength and stamina. I do not want to be a winded, breathly, weak and feeble Christian. I realize that the 25 extra pounds I carry is a weight on my soul as well as on my feet and back.

This is not a weight loss book, but a book that calls you as a follower of Jesus to be strong and fit. It's also a book that addresses the impact of laziness in our lives. "Confronting spiritual laziness doesn't mean ignoring physical life to tend to spiritual concerns, however; on the contrary Drummond urges us to use physical life as a primary training ground for spiritual growth." He goes on to say, "We should be asking ourselves how we can become places of outreach that love, affirm, and build up the sick, the lonely, the recovering addicts, and the weak, while affirming the call to become strong, fit, and active servants."

Gary tells his own story of being convicted to take his physical health seriously. There was no health scare, just a realization of the spiritual implications fitness has on our spiritual life. He became a runner with a goal to run in the Boston marathon. He also tells the story of Kristin Armstrong, Lance Armstrong's ex-wife, and how running and fitness was a catalyst for surviving her divorce. Frankly, I now want to get back to running, even at 52. There was something very compelling and right about the exhortation to fitness in this book.  It is not about pounds but about strength. I want to be a strong believer; one who can sustain all manner of life.

A few excerpts so you can get a taste of Every Body Matters:

"Desiring a silver soul (Gary is speaking of refining) means we stop treating our bodies like ornaments and start treating our bodies like instruments,vessels set apart to serve the God who fashioned them...It is about having a silver soul, not about fitting into a certain size of jeans." (15/21)

"Two areas of dross that received attention in previous ages are widely ignored today: excessive eating (in all its forms) and laziness when it comes to caring for our bodies. In ancient times, these hurdles were called gluttony and sloth." (21)

"What if exercise and discipline in eating isn't as much about physical health as about honoring the God who made us?" (47)

"One of the great dangers of gluttony, in John's (John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent) view, was that "to be unfaithful in the small things is to be unfaithful in the great, and this is very hard to bring under control." He adds, "Many who keep a hard check on the stomach can more easily restrain the blathering tongue." (81)

"Francois Fenelon (18th century author) warns, "But the most dangerous thing is that the soul, by the neglect of little things, becomes accustomed to unfaithfulness." ... There is little doubt that today's church views gluttony as a relatively "little thing." Our silence on the subject is more than enough evidence to suggest this." (82)

"Instead of attacking our anger or lust head-on, John Climacus suggests going to war with gluttony: If, in your humility, you reduce the amount you eat, your passions will be correspondingly reduced. To have an insensitive heart is to be dulled in mind, and food in abundance dries up the well of tears." (84)

"So I go to war against gluttony and indulgence, not because I want God to love me more, but because God, who already loves me perfectly, warns me that gluttony and excess are my enemies -- regardless of how good they may sometimes feel. I go to war against gluttony, not to build a body that others admire, but to maintain a soul "prepared to do any good work" that God can use to bless others. I go to war against gluttony because those who have walked closely with God warn me that overeating dulls me to God's accepting presence, makes me more vulnerable to other sins, negatively affects my relationships with other people, and robs me of the joy rightfully mine as an adopted, deeply loved, and accepted child of God." (88/89)

"Getting fit is not about what I look like in a pair of jeans; instead, I really care about being strong and having endurance spiritually" (Kristin Armstrong). (152)

"All this talk about fitness, facing the pain of getting in shape, actively combating indulgence and laziness, is in many ways an appeal for the church to get tougher. We are soft. We often cave in at the slightest challenge. Men are lost to superficial sins; women are lost to superficial cares, and the work of the kingdom is neglected. If we don't get tougher, the work will never get done." (193)

"I don't believe that riding a bike for a hundred miles, swimming across a lake, running a marathon counts as "carrying our cross," but getting in shape can help us build souls willing to carry a cross." (195)

See you out on the trail, I'll be the one walking before I can run.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Continued Search for Simplicity

Every year I select a book to read throughout Lent. This year Lent doesn't begin until February 22, but I have already picked my book and placed the order. I can't wait.  I'm still on the journey of simplicity so this book fit right in.  Let me know what you are reading this upcoming Lenten season.
Simplifying the Soul
Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit
By Paula Huston

Award-winning author and Benedictine oblate Paula Huston invites readers to de-clutter their minds, hearts, relationships, and souls in a book of daily Lenten practices woven from the gospels, the Desert Fathers, and the author's own wealth of spiritual experience.

"What are you giving up for Lent this year?" It's the expected question amongst Christian friends each spring. In Simplifying the Soul, Paula Huston asks her readers a deeper, alternative sort of question: "How will you rid your life of excess this Lent?" Huston encourages readers to see Lent as a time to seek out silence and free themselves of "stuff"; to de-clutter minds, hearts, and lives; and to acknowledge the connections between what they pray about and what they do.

With honesty, vulnerability, and grace, Huston challenges readers to move outward and act, showing them how everyday actions like cleaning out a junk drawer, giving away something no longer used, or spending fifteen minutes in silence can be surprisingly powerful ways of experiencing a more meaningful Lent and a simpler life. Whether cutting up a credit card, visiting someone at the hospital, or forgiving someone with whom they are angry, readers experience, under Huston's gentle and expert care, how such practices lead to a more authentic Christian faith.

About the Author
Paula HustonPaula Huston, a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, wrote literary fiction for more than twenty years before shifting her focus to spirituality. She taught writing and literature at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and served as a core faculty member of the California State University Consortium Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program for many years before leaving academia to write full time.
Her first non-fiction project, Signatures of Grace, with co-editor Thomas Grady, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Her book The Holy Way was a Catholic Press Association award-winner and Catholic Book Club major selection, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a bronze medal from Foreword Magazine for Book of the Year in Religion. Huston has also published By Way of Grace and Forgiveness: Following Jesus into Radical Loving. A Camaldolese Benedictine oblate, Huston is married, has four grown children, and lives in central California. Visit her website at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

All is Grace

The title says everything, "All is Grace." I hope you've read something by Brennan Manning - Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba's Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, Patched Together, The Furious Longing for God, Souvenirs of Solitude, A Glimpse of Jesus, The Rabbi's Heartbeat, Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, The Wisdom of Tenderness, The Signature of Jesus, or The Boy Who Cried Abba. If not, start with Ragamuffin Gospel. It's my personal favorite - amazing.

I still remember reading Ragamuffin for the first time. Brilliant. It was the antidote to perfectionism and my incessent feelings of inadequacy; that sense that I could never measure up. Brennan wrote a story for sinners. People like me. And I loved it.

All is Grace is Brennan's memoir. Oh, what a story. I wasn't prepared to read about all he's been through; the depth of his struggles. But it made me appreciate even more Ragmuffin and the rest of the books he's penned. It also helped me understand the many friends at Open Door Fellowship who struggle with a lifelong battle with alcohol. Brennan's story also reinforced my belief that God uses people in spite of their failings.

I don't want to spoil any part of this fabulous book...but read it and be blessed.  All is grace.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oh I love reading!

The joy of reading for me is an endorphin release of happiness.  I started a new book today, one I'm reading and reviewing for Zondervan.  Oh me, oh my, how I love Gary Thomas.  He's one of my absolute favorites so when I had the opportunity to read and review his latest book, Every Body Matters, I jumped at the chance.  I've just finished the first chapter and just like with Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting, Gary is calling me to a higher purpose in the care and treatment of my physical body.  I can't wait to tell you more.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

This is Me

"My highest hope is for all of us to stop trying to fool others by appearing to have our act together. As people living in intimate union with God, we need to become known for what and who we actually are. Perhaps a good place to begin would be telling the world--before the world does its own investigation--that we're not as bad as they think. We're worse. At least I know that I'm worse.

"Let's get real. For every mean-spirited, judgemental thing some preacher has said, I've thought something nastier, more hateful and more cutting about one of my neighbors. For every alleged act of homophobia by my fellow Christians, I've done something stupid to demonstrate my manliness. For every brother or sister whose moral failure has been exposed, I've failed privately. No matter how boring followers of Jesus may appear to be to the outsiders, they don't know the half of it; trust me.... If we really believe the gospel we proclaim, we'll be honest about our own beauty and brokeness, and the beautiful broken. One will make himself known to our neighbors through the chinks in our armor--and in theirs."

As quoted by Brennan Manning in All is Grace from his friend's book (which I just bought!) Breaking the Rules by Fil Anderson (pages 80-81). BTW, Fil also wrote another great book I have greatly benefitted from, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wisdom from Brother Dominique

"All that is not the love of God has no meaning for me. I can truthfully say that I have no interest in anything but the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my words and witness. If He wants it to, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is His concern, not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that."

Final journal entry of Brother Dominique Voillaume from All is Grace by Brennan Manning

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Setting Goals ... with a Teenager

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I am home schooling Matthew this semester in Christian Formation. One of the first things I want to do with him this week is set some goals. While we were watching some football this morning, I ask him about his goals. You would have thought I'd asked him to solve a quantum physics problem. 

I could easily draft a few for him. I think every parent can quickly make a list for their teenage! But I want these to come from him. I want him to own these goals. They can't be mine. And I realize that goal setting isn't necessary easy; you need to feel about stuff, want something that's currently out of reach, admit hope, and lack. 

I want to help him with this. I want to help me with this! So, thank you Google, I searched "teen goal setting" and found some helpful guidance. In the event you are in those teenage years like me I hope you find these words as helpful as I did. I don't think when I asked him the question that I realized that this was a life skill I would need to teach. I'm glad I asked the question.

Goal Setting for Teens

What do you get when you combine the talents, skills, learning abilities, and dreams of your teenager? Someone who is pointed toward success. However, one vital tool is missing - goal setting. With goal setting, you can help your teenager learn the skills necessary to help their dreams become reality.

"I never felt like I could do very much with my life." What a sad statement to make! This adult felt hampered by her situation as a teenager and lacked the necessary environment to feel like her goals could be accomplished. How can you, as a parent, avoid this same scenario?

First, open up communication with your teenager. Have a goal-defining session. Make sure you have plenty of time to work through the following exercise, at least an hour. Have them sit down with a piece of paper and answer questions like the following. Encourage them to be as honest and open as possible and take as much time as needed to answer the questions about themselves.
  • What do I want out of life?
  • What do I most enjoy doing?
  • What gives me joy?
  • What do I value?
  • Who is someone I admire and what characteristics do they have?
  • If I could solve a world problem, what would it be?
  • What am I good at?
  • What makes me motivated?
  • Where do I see myself in 5 years, 10, 15, 50?
  • Where would I like to go?
These and similar questions can help your teenager produce a goal-setting profile. This exercise can be repeated and kept confidential. However, encourage your teen to use it as they begin to set goals in their life. Second, teach your teenager goal-setting strategies. There are some specific steps to setting goals.
  1. Define their goals (wishes are not necessarily goals because some are not probable or even possible to achieve, i.e. "I wish to go to the moon right now.")
  2. Discuss and brainstorm the steps needed to achieve their goals. Do this step for each individual goal. If needed, research the goal online or at the library or talk to school counselors for guidance on how to reach the goal.
  3. Go over the possible roadblocks to accomplishing the goals and how to deal with them. For example, are their financial problems or time constraints to accomplishing the goal?
  4. Make deadlines. Don't be overwhelmed by large goals, set small goals to help meet the large goals.
  5. And finally, have them report on their progress every now and again.
In connection with the final step, a good idea is to set goals and evaluations to work around the school programs. For example, grades can show academic success, or sports programs can show physical prowess. Also, set rewards for accomplishing goals. Talk about how good it feels to meet goals and the rewards that come. Teen goal-setting is a life skill that can take your child far. Watch them grow and succeed as they make their life dreams come true.

2012...A Year With Jesus

I am a glass half-full gal. I see hope around every corner. Already this morning I've been journaling and reading and pondering.  I love the first day of a new year.  Fresh and available.  It's also a day that I choose a devotional for the year.  I rarely have just one.  But Thomas Nelson Publishers put one in my hands this past month that I am really enjoying: A Year With Jesus, Daily Readings and Reflections on Jesus' Own Words, by R.P. Nettelhorst.

Unlike many devotionals that provide you with a scripture reference to look up, or a single verse, and then fill the page with personal stories or reflection, A Year with Jesus is a book you can use for a real scriptural learning, study and insight.  Each day (I love that you can start at any point since it is not associated with a specific date) includes an entire portion of something Jesus said. Then a half to a third of the page is insight into that passage. It's good stuff; meat to enjoy, learn from, and grow in your understanding of Jesus and his priorities. 

The book is organized into sections. Jesus' words on: love and hate; truth and lies; arrogance and humility; friends and enemies; belief and disbelief; patience and impatience; deserved and undeserved; good and evil; fidelity and treachery; and life and death.  And it's all Jesus. 

As Nettelhorst writes in the Introduction, "The best way to get to know other human beings is to spend time with them and to listen to what they have to say. We can then discover what matters and get a sense of their personalities."

I can think of no better thing this year than spending a year digging into Jesus' words.

(This book was provided to me for review purposes by Thomas Nelson Publishers)