Monday, February 22, 2016

Wallow or Fight

In every trial, large or small--whether a one-time instance of being sinned against, or an especially difficult season of life with no end in sight--there comes a crucial moment. Actually, it doesn't come just once, but dozens of times. It is the moment when you recognize you might actually not be sinless in this mess: when you realize at some deep level of your heart, in some small part of your mind, that there is a significant difference between what God says is true and what you are thinking or feeling. It's the moment when you see that the problem is not only others' sin or out-of-control circumstances, but also your own unbelief.

In that moment, you are faced with a choice. You can continue to rehearse the laments ("vent")--to your journal, your husband, your best friend, or just on an endless internal loop. You can dwell on the potential miseries, feed the fears and the resentment, preach to yourself about how much you suck or how wrong the other person is or how awful this is going to be.

Or you can fight. You can let go of your plans, surrender your emotions, settle into what IS rather than what you wish life were. You can't fight a week-long or a six-month or a ten-year battle, but you can put on your armor and fight for joy--fight to believe truth--today.

When I come to this critical realization, there's a little part of me that doesn't want to give up the wallowing yet. Sometimes I just want to keep stewing in a big ol' pity party for a while. More than that, I think I fear that choosing to fight means pretending that these emotions weren't real and deep, that it doesn't really hurt. But...I can acknowledge them as powerful and real without being ruled by them. And reality is, wallowing doesn't accomplish anything. It doesn't change the situation, and it doesn't make facing the trial any easier. In fact, you could argue, just the opposite.

Fighting, on the other hand--that changes everything. It means you will get beat up, even face the agony of defeat at times (though this is made bearable knowing you will never face ultimate defeat because victory has already been won by Christ!). It doesn't mean being Pollyanna, slapping on your shiny, happy Christian face and pretending. It means gritting your teeth and digging in your heels and clinging to Jesus with all your might. It means repenting; it means crying out "I believe, Lord--help my unbelief!" It means preaching to yourself about how God sees and loves you in your unlovable mess, how Jesus' blood covers all the ways you suck, how all this is going to be a *beautiful* mess because it's going to be used for your good and God's glory. Guaranteed.

For me, it means being vulnerable and humble with my husband and other trusted friends, asking them to fight for me, relying on them to hold up my trembling arms as Aaron and Hur did for weary Moses, to hold up their shields of faith when I cannot keep mine upright. It means, to paraphrase Tim Keller, trusting that although these events may reveal me to be more sinful than I even believed, I am also, in the midst of them, more loved than I have dared to hope.

I am not called to fight the hundred-years' war. I have only to fight in this moment. I cannot look ahead and fear what may come; instead, I must fix my eyes on Jesus, be fully present HERE, and trust that the grace for tomorrow will be there tomorrow.

Acceptance = Peace
Divine Love Put Me Here
Joy. Here.

[edited repost from the archives]

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Roots and Sky: An Invitation to Marvel and Feast [Review + **Giveaway!**]

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Christie Purifoy has become one of my favorite modern writers. I first “met” her when we were both writing for Pick Your Portion, and I loved her contributions so much that I started following her around the internet. Almost every time she posts something she’s written, I don’t merely read, but feel compelled to comment—and it’s usually some variation on “Wow, Christie. So, so beautiful.” Her voice is lovely, piercing, elegant. So when she announced that she’d signed a book contract, I was eager to volunteer for an early review copy!

Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is the story of Christie’s first year in her dream-come-true farmhouse, Maplehurst. She explores the way pain and joy commingle in the everyday and what it really means for dreams to come true. In the opening essay, she introduces the journey this way:
"A few weeks after moving in, one of my boys slid belt-buckle down and carved a deep scratch the entire length of that beautiful banister. Somehow I most clearly grasp the living reality of my dream come true when I touch that scratch or remember the miserable heat of that first day. We live in a good world shackled by decay. A world that always seems to fall at least a little bit short of its own promise. Yet glory dwells here too. Heaven and earth meet in scratches and scars. In broken banisters and in a Body broken for us."

[TL;DR review here--but keep reading below for the giveaway!]

Christie is a prose-poet, and her writing is exquisite. It's lyrical in a way that is very accessible—not the sort of flowery, trying-too-hard language that many readers find off-putting, but clear, vivid language with striking metaphors. It has richness and depth. Christie’s wonder and her hunger are contagious. She invites the reader to marvel with her, feast with her:

“I cannot tell whether or not these ordinary days are significant in the story of myself, in the story of my daughter, in the story of Maplehurst. Perhaps they are not. But can it be this lack of significance that makes them such a gift? They are gloriously excessive. Like a whole bowl of mismatched beads just asking me to thrust in my hand and wave my fingers. Like a sky spilling over with stars. Every moment I fail to record in Elsa’s baby book is like an unseen galaxy or an unnamed planet. Created but unobserved. Made but unremarked. What are they for? Why does God make them anyway? For the joy of it?

“He gives the blue-sky day in a month of blue skies. He gives the hand-holding day in a decade of holding our child’s hand. He gives the sunrise and sunset, always and again. He gives me a husband in the kitchen making breakfast. Not because it is Mother’s Day or because we have a new baby, but because it is morning. Again, it is morning. Again, we hunger. Again, we are satisfied.”

Yet this isn’t just another “find the beauty in the ordinary” book. Its light is crisscrossed with shadows. Christie isn’t Pollyanna; she writes not only of extravagant beauty, but also of anxiety and loneliness, depression and failure and loss. In the “Winter” section, she reflects on shielding her young children from the lines in Matthew 2 about Rachel weeping for the children of Bethlehem:
“One day they will know just how good and just how terrible the story is. They will know what Rachel’s voice sounds like, and they won’t be able to rid their minds of its awful cadence. I cannot spare them forever. Always there are more heartbroken mothers. Always there are more tears. But they will also know Emmanuel. They will know the good news of incarnation. That God walks with them, always already in the darkest places. He is especially present in the very places we imagine he cannot be. He is there holding Rachel, whispering his promises. It will not always be like this.” 
Christie doesn’t merely cling to sweetness; she fights for hope.
“This is not my first spring, and here is something I know: the day when daffodils emerge is not the day for hope. The day when seedlings show the bright green of new life is not the day for faith. That day came and went. Hope is for the dark days. The days when all you can see is mud and mess, like so many forgotten toys strewn across the backyard. Those are the days when miracles begin.”
The thing that has moved me to tears more than once in the midst of this book launch is the timing of it all and how prophetic her words have proven to be. Just weeks before the official release date, her family was devastated by tragedy, as her sister’s husband was one of the Marines lost in the January helicopter crash off Oahu.  Christie’s testimony to God’s faithful presence in the midst of unfathomable grief is startling—as she puts words to this sorrow, reading her most recent blog posts has felt to me like standing on holy ground

Even in heartbreaking grief, she bears witness to redemption—the priestly role she wrote about in the latter part of her book:
“The shifting seasons usher in so much redemption, even the redemption of one overgrown lilac. As priests we are witnesses to these redemptions. We are here to receive, to name the work of God’s hands, as Adam once named, and to proclaim, ‘Heaven and earth are full of thy glory!’” 
The beauty she captures is messy, not tidy; it is a beauty that makes you tremble. She describes this in the book’s final season, “Summer”:
"True beauty is not vague or distant. It is not a rose-tinted vision. Beauty belongs to the waking world. If beauty comes from God, then we will not find it in abstraction. It does not live in dreams; it lives in dirt."
I felt the need to read through Roots and Sky quickly in order to post an early review (only to procrastinate from writing one for more than two weeks…OY), but I hated to rush—it is a book to be savored, one from which I have copied many quotes and to which I expect I’ll return again.

And, great news: Revell graciously sent me an extra copy to give away! It is my delight to share this beautiful book with one of you. Comment on this post to enter, and earn extra entries through the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be announced on Saturday, February 27. 

Rita: Your visit to and "liking" of Christie's Facebook page was the lucky winning entry as randomly determined by Rafflecopter! I'll be contacting you to get the book in your hands ASAP :)

For those who didn't win, you can buy a copy of Roots and Sky through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. At only $8, you can easily justify treating yourself to a brand-new paperback (or pick up the Kindle version for even less)! 

One final note: Amazingly, Christie’s creative gift is not limited to words. She also has a way with a camera, and she captures the colors and light of Maplehurst in photos almost as gloriously as in sentences. You’ll definitely want to follow her on Instagram.