I’ll Tell You What’s So Amazing

What’s So Amazing About Graceyou ask? Sweet Moses! Got a year?

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There are some questions we humans don’t even realize we have percolating in our hearts. That is, until we are confronted with the monotony of day-to-day living and we begin to wonder what else there is out there.

Right?

Have you hit that wall yet?

Because, I remember that wall.

It hurt.

At the time I slammed into it, I wasn’t interested in answering The Big Questions. I was, however, interested in scaling those walls. For some reason, I never chose the easy way. Skinned knees and a bruised heart were what met my attempts to climb it.

And author Philip Yancey is genius at distilling answers to life’s biggest questions down to the studs. What’s important?

Love. Love is always the most important.

And once Love found me, I became consumed by the Grace that came with it; both taken in and given out. Considering myself a sinner, and chief among them, I couldn’t get enough of God’s undeserved but freely given grace.

Yancey was the author who famously penned,

“God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are.”

Indeed!

If you haven’t heard that yet, I’ll give you a minute. Because, truth.

Nothing, and I mean not a thing this side of heaven, will be able to keep you from God’s love and grace, once you want it. It’s like discovering a devil dog dispensary. Once you know it’s there, you can’t help but go back again and again.

And, in this very year, where election politics and race politics and gender politics are tearing at peace like a dog after a bone, I find so much of what Yancey wrote in this book to be a comfort. And a reminder.

“Politics draws lines between people; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across those lines and dispenses grace.”

I want to keep cutting across lines, like Jesus did. And I want others to keep cutting across lines toward me, too. Despite writing this book fourteen years ago, the problems Yancey calls attention to – the human problems we all experience – remain the same.

“Religious faith—for all its problems, despite its maddening tendency to replicate ungrace—lives on because we sense the numinous beauty of a gift undeserved that comes at unexpected moments from Outside.”

Lots of us feel “outside” an issue, these days. Grace reaches the hand across and says, “Love,” instead. I’ll tell you what’s so amazing about grace, it’s the outstretched hand.

I like that very much.

I need that even more.

And I always will.

Yes indeedy.

Well well well, this is the last book. I missed yesterday as our sweetgirl came down with a nasty case of Strep. But, I appreciate the grace to finish. If you missed any of the other books I named in this Best Books Ever series that I wrote for the Write 31 Days Challenge, click the button below and check them out. And thank you for hanging out with me (almost) each day in October. 

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Can’t Handle the Tooth

In honor of the incredible toothache pain I’m in right this very minute, I’m going to share a quote by one of my favorite authors of all time (and then a book of his, too). Or maybe two books of his. Or three. Or…

“If only this toothache would go away, I could write another chapter on the problem of pain.” -C.S. Lewis

That guy, up there, wrote exceedingly well about the God. And life. And pain. And love.

And friendship.

I like what he wrote about friendship so very much.

The first book of C.S. Lewis’ that I read was “The Four Loves”. Although still hovering over Christianity as though it were a possibility, I was still too full of Bertrand Russell and Friedrich Nietzsche to land.  And as I read Lewis’ take on charity, eros, philia, and storge, I realized there were enough “thinkers” in this Christianity gig to make it a pretty sure thing.

And then, I got to the part about friendship and I exhaled. Because, exactly.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

But, then in The Abolition of Man, Lewis brought me down to my knees. I thought I saw through all that religiosity and hypocrisy.

“You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.”

Oh boy! He had my number. And as I speed read every book I could get my hands on (because, BOOKS!), I realized that there was no more denying God.

So I didn’t.

Ultimately, C.S. Lewis, turned my eyes outward and upward.

And they are ever upward.

Even as I sit here feeling like I can’t handle the tooth (pain). 

Yes indeedy.

If you are hovering over Christianity, grab a copy of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Or, The Great Divorce. Or, if you are more fantasy fiction leaning, The Chronicles of Narnia series. (And no, it’s not just for youth. I daresay you get far more out of it as an adult!)

And then, if you missed any of my previous posts on the Best Books Ever, click the button below. I am writing this series as part of the Write 31 Days Challenge.

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Passionate Fiction

After reading a fictional account of a woman so desperate to hide her beauty that she would pour Drano on her face to end it all, I realized that Lisa Samson’s characters would never bring me comfort.

I’ve now read every piece of fiction that Lisa Samson has ever written. Not one character or story left me comfortable. But, each character certainly did beckon me into their hearts. Every one has invited me to question my own motivations – spiritually and personally.

And the stories that Mrs. Samson concocts are riveting.

In the The Passion of Mary-Margaret, I was moved to tears. It wasn’t just the stunningly crafted sentences or the angst of longing for a life that isn’t meant for you. It wasn’t the harrowing way the main character, Mary-Margaret, and her precious Jude ultimately reunite. What could possibly go wrong when a nun and a man living in the red-light district come together?

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Tears fell as I saw my propensity to love only on my own terms. They fell again as I saw the enormity of shame’s shadow on a person’s soul. And they fell, yet again, as I could only imagine sacrifice on the level that Mary-Margaret was able to pour out.

The best books do that, don’t they? They transport you into a world where anything is possible. Even ultimate sacrifice. And it somehow makes perfect sense.

I will tell you that this book was not wrapped up in a nice neat bow of finality. That played with my mind for a good long while after I read the last word. But the end is just right for these characters.

Lisa Samson is a writer who is expert at pointing to the light refracted in the midst of dark lives. Our humanity, Samson constantly points out, is no match for God’s Divinity. And His mercy and grace take forms we can only begin to make out in the murk of ordinary living. In the very first pages of this, one of my favorite pieces of fiction, she writes:

“The mercy God gives us is our own  to receive, and while sometimes it overlaps with others’ like the gentle waves of the bay on which I now sit, for the most part, the sum and substance of it, the combination of graces, is as unique as we are.”

Truly. I have experienced this for myself time and again. Reading it only heightens my awareness of just how often Grace comes and mercy reigns.

And once again, I’m drawn to a book where Love wins. I probably always will be.

As I’m also continually drawn to Grace. And, I pray I always will be.

Yes indeedy.

If I could break out in song, I would totes start singing “Livin’ on a Prayer”, right now, because I’m halfway there! My participation in the Write 31 Days challenge was tentative at best, this year. But, I heeded the call to just write, and I’m so thankful. If you’ve missed any of my previous posts on the Best Books Ever, click the button below.

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Just One of the Misfits

Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha was a saving grace in my life. Going through a period of my life where my faith was floundering, I needed a reminder that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. I needed to know I wasn’t alone in my fears and inability to figure out all the answers to All the Questions.

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I don’t remember how I first heard about this “occasional author”. It may have been through Deidra Riggs, as I know they both live under the big sky in Nebraska. All I do remember is reading the back cover of this book and thinking, “This. Is. Me. Right now, this very minute.”

And it was.

It still is, sometimes.

Believer, Follower, Christian…whatever you want to call people who are amazed by God’s grace, that’s me. And if you, like me, are just one of the misfits, you will find this book a mighty encouragement.

Every half-decade or so, I go through the spin cycle of my life and everything I believe gets hurled around in my head and heart and I’m fumbling around for my faith again. It unsettles me. Loving mentors always set me back on the right track through mature counsel; but sometimes, my floundering around lasts a heck of a lot longer than it needs to.

After reading this book, though, I’ve felt more at ease with the doubts. And, as DeRusha makes clear, I’m less alone in them, too. She is the master of gently pointing out that as we begin to drift toward that island of misfits that so many of us find ourselves on, God draws us just as gently nearer.

And always in the way we most need.

“Perhaps God knows this is true for us humans. Maybe he knows the whole enchilada would simply be too much, too overwhelming, too mind boggling. So instead he gives us just enough – the shaft of brilliant light in the murky green…”

Indeed He does.

We’re getting close to the halfway point of the Best Books Ever series. I hope you are enjoying these. If you’ve read any, please let me know in the comments. Have you read any that are similar or affected you similarly? I love a good book discussion!  Click the button below to see the other posts in this series.

Click here to visit the Write 31 Days Challenge website and see all of the other topics.

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My Eyes Are Watching

Sophomore year of college was when I finally got serious about learning. For one thing, I wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses anymore, and for another, my interests were diversifying beyond where to use my fake I.D. next. Also, I got over the hurdle of that pesky .33 GPA that miraculously showed up on my report card at the end of my freshman year. Apparently, studying was a thing.

One of the significant ways I grew was due to my exposure to some incredible literature. Like, truly great books. I read my first Jane Austen (yes, it took me that long to get to her). Soon after, Charlotte Bronte, Henry David Thoreau, and F. Scott Fitzgerald came roaring into my mind. As did Zora Neale Hurston.

Their Eyes Were Watching God sowed seeds in my heart.

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As a Floridian, Hurston tapped into the familiar for this girl. She also introduced me to dialogue. And dialect within dialogue.

Mind. Blown.

The closest I’d come to that was in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. And I didn’t have much use for the whippersnapper that was Huck.

But Janie? Now there was a woman who had thoughts I could identify with. While her beauty, as described by Hurston, was foreign to me, her desires weren’t.

I think I actually identified with a character for the first time while reading Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The following quote? It’s one of those that resonates soul deep.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”

Even at the ripe old age of nineteen, I had the awareness that dreams could be elusive.

And this book…well, my eyes are still watching for an author that spins a story using dialect and dialogue as powerfully as she did.

Yes indeedy.

If you missed any of the previous posts in my Best Books Ever series for the Write 31 Days challenge, click on the button below. What the heck is the Write 31 Days challenge? Click here for that.

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Day 2 for Some Irreverent Reverie

Short on pages, but long on funny, The Sacred Diary… series by Adrian Plass  is one of my favorites. He writes with an honesty and wit that I had never read before picking up my first book of his (The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 3/4).

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Responding to the news that a new couple that he didn’t particularly enjoy wasn’t going to be able to join their Bible-study group one particular evening, he writes:

“Isn’t it WONDERFUL when something that was going to happen even though you didn’t really want it to happen but you thought it ought to happen because it was right, doesn’t happen after all, and it’s not your fault?”

After reading the above quote, I realized this humor writer was for me for a couple of reasons.

  • His tongue-in-cheek way of reporting what really goes on in the hearts of many of us humans was spot on
  • His irreverent humor made me laugh
  • He was brutally honest
  • I identified with the range of emotions he portrayed Christians going through in a single train of thought
  • His family relationships made me laugh
  •  I walked away from each book taking myself a little less seriously and God much more so
  • And, he made me laugh

Now, these books are written by an author who is British. Some of the humor is very… British. But, the candid way he captures our foibles and follies is hilarious and brilliant.

And, he will make you laugh.

Missed yesterday’s Write 31 Days’ Day 1 post? No worries – click the little button below and you’ll be whisked there. Tomorrow, I’ll dive into a memoir.

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Time for a Tune-Up

Typing away in the other room while a playdate ensued, I heard the voices of my Sweetgirl and her friend carrying loudly in the air. They were singing along to a popular song about sunshine in their pockets. One of them was out of tune. Jarringly out of tune. But, singing along no less enthusiastically.

Isn’t that just the way we humans do, sometimes?

We become glaringly out of tune with what’s good, true, honest, or noble. And we can’t even hear it.

Maybe that’s just me.

Sometimes, Grace has to swoop in on the raised eyebrows of one forced to listen to each off-key note, to get my attention. Other times, Grace opens my eyes to the words set before me.

That’s exactly how He found me this morning, wedged between Sweetman and Sweetboy on the shiny wooden pew at church. Listening to a message about our very human and very real need for second and 432nd chances, I felt my attention shifting to the list of things to be done this week. Because, clearly, I am intimate with the notion of third and 303rd chances.

Soon, I began considering my lunch options after church was done. IHOP was firmly on the short list.

But Grace reminded me (yet again) that church isn’t ever “done”.

And nothing shakes me from my irreverent reveries like a call to worship.

The opening notes were strummed and I realized we were about to sing one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

I stood up, perked up, and prepared to sing, thinking, “Oooh, I love this one!”

God wasn’t finished getting my attention, though.

Nope.

As we skipped to the third verse, my eyes read what my heart already knew.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord,
Take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.”

Now Grace had my full attention. Just some of what was out of tune sprang to mind:

  • The willingness to read one more chapter of the latest story over one more chapter of The Greatest Story
  • My eagerness to join conversations about others without grace even as that very grace was being heaped out upon me
  • Forgetting the joy that comes out of sacrifice as I stubbornly refused others’ needs for my wants

Friends? Forget about my inability to carry a tune, physically. Singing The Truth in that moment, my heart’s distance from the heart of God felt like a million spiritual miles away.

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Clearly, it was time for a little tune-up.

And God, in His boundless beautiful grace, whispered love. He tuned my heart to His, as He has countless other times.

Yes indeed.

I left church this morning reminded that I don’t need a tune-up because I’m bad, but because of my human ability to become dissonant. Oh-so-easily.

And, because Grace is always good, He tightens those loose strings. He replaces the frayed ones. He adjusts the pitch.

He gently brings harmony back to my heart.

Thank you, God, for binding my wandering heart to thee.