A Godward Life

John Piper’s A Godward Life: Book Two  reads like a blog.

His keen interest in life brings a wide variety of topics to the table: poetry, ethical dilemmas, reflections on his parents, letter to his wife, vignettes of people in his life, meditations on suffering, mental health tips, and commentary on current events. He reaches back to Augustine, Bunyan, and Luther, reflects on David Brainerd, and writes about contemporary heroes like Josef Tson. 

Each reading is close to three pages; this is a book which can be read in small sips or large gulps. 

Piper brings perfect pitch to his writing.  It is not smarmy or cheesy; dry and dusty; or heavy and didactic.  His exuberance for God’s glory brings a patina of grace on each page.  His humility keeps him from self-focus while maintaining a personal and genuine voice.  Above all, John Piper is a pastor. He teaches us how to pray, how to think and how to live.

Life, well lived, is like writing a poem. And therefore it is hard, very hard. A sloppy prose or an unintelligible, free verse life would not be as hard. And the effect would not be as great. God is beautiful, and the life that expresses his glory should be beautiful…Beauty and truth and compelling depth come by painstaking thinking and trial and praying and self-correcting.

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Everyone Needs Help Sometime

“It’s okay…I’ve been there before…Everyone needs help sometime…”

Deana was calling our store’s adopted “Christmas family” to get specific items they needed.  The person on the other line was overwhelmed.

Hearing Deana’s side of the phone conversation took me back to a time when one of my husband’s colleagues showed up on our doorstep with four or five bags of groceries.  It was 1983 or 1984.  My husband was teaching high school, I was home with a baby. We didn’t have two dimes to jingle in our pocket; it was a paycheck to paycheck life. 

Then the flu flattened us. The fridge had free space on every shelf. It was all we could do to make a fire, wrap a blanket around our shoulders, and stare at the wall. Dave Steen, a legendary high school baseball coach, called to check on our Thanksgiving plans. He listened to Curt’s explanation and heard the unspoken pathos between his words. 

And the next day there he was on our front porch.  Cheerful, matter of fact, generous.  Paper bags spilling over with groceries.

I felt embarrassed, relieved, exhausted, awkward, thankful, humbled, uneasy, shy. Reluctant to admit that we needed help and yet incapable of arguing otherwise.  
How grateful I am for that Thanksgiving. That pitiful, miserable, rotten Thanksgiving that turned a corner when our front door opened.  Admittedly, it’s easier to be thankful for hard times when they are in the rear view mirror.

Any of you been there?

Everyone needs help sometime.

Get Used to Neglect

 

Goodbye, my most neglected garden.
I gave you precious little attention,
but you faithfully rewarded
our small times together.

Even as you age and decline
you graciously dish out goodwill.
The Swiss chard, Italian parsley,
lettuce, sunflowers remain.

I live in a state of perpetual hope…
the promise that next year I’ll do better.

Next summer there’ll be no weddings,
no babies, no trips, no books?
May it never be!

Get used to it, dear garden.
You are a minor delight of my life.
I need you, I do.
But I’m an undependable friend.

Next year we’ll get it together, won’t we?
I will magically morph into a Gardener
and you will mysteriously develop rich, loamy soil.

Sweet dreams!
Soon you will warm yourself with a quilt of leaves
and a comforter of snow.

Sleep well, my quiet companion.
Remember: next year!
Next year.

Marriage is a Wood Stove

 
 
 
  :: for Katie ::
 
 
Metaphors for marriage abound. 
 
Marriage is a harbor. 
 
Marriage is a garden. 
 
Marriage is a meal. 
 
Your choice of metaphor reveals your perception: if you say marriage is a lottery, or an anchor, or a wastebasket…

Because marriage is so textured and complex, and because God gave us a a creation chock full of pictures, we can amuse ourselves for a lifetime thinking about marriage metaphors. 
 
Marriage is a ballet (lift and stretch and twirl).
 
Marriage is a fugue (blending counterpoints brings harmony). 
 
Marriage is Crêpes Suzette (a little zest, a flame and a lot of nibbles). 
 
Marriage is a tile roof (beauty built to last).
 
Marriage is a barn raising (effort from the community around makes a difference).

Here in the Shire, many people heat with wood.  They understand when I say marriage is a wood stove.

What, essentially, is a wood stove?  It is a box that holds fire.  It is a container.  The fire doesn’t run hither and yon, wherever it wills; it is a controlled burn.  This brings safety, security and peace of mind.

A wood stove provides heat for living; in the past, it provided heat for cooking.  It is a means of warmth and sustenance.  But it is more than utility: a ginnin’ wood stove is pure comfort on a cold day.

The stove won’t heat without work.  Wood needs to be cut, split and stacked; a fire must be kindled; it needs to be fed.  Constantly.  If you leave the stove alone for a day, the fire goes out.  Ashes need to be removed; air needs to be present for a good draft, the door needs to be shut to conserve the fuel.  If smoky irritants start billowing out, it is time to attend to the fire.

When a fire burns in a stove, a chemical reaction takes place.  The composition of the wood is unalterably changed.  Marriage does that.  It changes you.  Even when the marriage ends by death or divorce, you do not revert back to the person you were before marriage. 

Fire is powerful.  A relatively small stove can heat a large space.  Being faithful in the small daily acts has huge ramifications. 

A warm wood stove becomes a community magnet.  If a group of people walk in from the cold, they congregate around the warm stove, basking in the warmth and comfort.  A warm marriage does the same thing: it attracts people.  When you respect and admire your husband, and when he respects and cherishes you, you are warming your community.  Your marriage is the gospel on display.  The inverse is also true.  When you give your husband the cold shoulder more than one person feels the chill.  Folks won’t huddle around a cold stove. 

Fire is dangerous and wild.  A wood stove presents a very clear and present danger to young ones.  When we had toddlers my husband built a fence to protect them from getting burned.  The marriage covenant is that fence.  A healthy respect of the danger and a healthy thrill of the wild are both appropriate.

Fire is a thing of vibrant beauty: blue, red, and yellow flames, brown and green wood, black smudgy coals, white ash.  As it burns it changes outfits and takes on new shapes.

Finally, a fire is a profound mystery.  How does does fuel + air + combustion make a flame that flickers and dances and curls around the coals? Fire mesmerizes, makes you stare and wonder and marvel.  When the fire burns in a marriage, we stare at the sparks and gasp at the glory.

I wish you a warm wood stove, one that radiates grace.  May the Lord God Almighty who ignited the flame between husband and wife, keep your fire bright.

Sometimes It Just Takes One

Mid-December, 1995.  It was a dark and slushy night.  I stopped by the library just before it closed to get a book on hold.  I was at the front desk when my friend Cindy walked in the door, looking distressed.  Her car wouldn’t start, she lived 30 minutes away, and her husband wasn’t home yet.  And it was December. 

“I only know one thing about cars, but I’d be glad to try it,” I offered.  We had an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera Wagon that was easily flooded.  My husband had taught me how to open the hood and stick a pen in the carburetor to hold it open. The car often flooded, but I could always fix it.  It was that kind of car.  I had used the pen-in-the-car trick many times to keep from getting stranded. 

I left my books inside; we held onto the rails as we threaded our way down the steps to the street.  The snow had turned to rain. Cindy popped the latch, I opened the hood like Mechanic was my middle name, and stuck the pen in the carburetor.  “Now try it,” I coached.  The car started like a top.  Oh. my. goodness.  I danced in the  puddles, whooped and hollered.  It was a moment of victory unlike any other in my life. fixed a car! 

Sometimes it only takes one piece to solve to puzzle.  When the odds of getting an answer look bleak, when the chances seem impossible, you don’t need a dozen possible choices.  There may be many interviews, but it just takes one job offer to become employed.  There’s no need for a dozen Mr. Rights to choose from.  It only takes one. 

Reading Evening

Tucked in between the happy chaos and loud gatherings of the 22nd and the 24th was a quiet reading evening. 

It was reminiscent of my childhood: siblings sprawled in various positions between horizontal and vertical, the quiet occasionally punctuated by a chuckle, hum, or gasp.  Curt was working late, Carson had taken Noah out to look for who-knows-what. Those of us at home were at home with a book. 

Taryn, my daughter-in-law, was reading Kristin Lavransdatter.  Collin was chuckling his way through P. G. Wodehouse’s The Heart of a Goof.  I was dipping into Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection.  The tree twinkled, the fire crackled; the only other sounds were barely audible breathing.

When the missing men arrived back home we popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  Son #2 toasted to God’s goodness in his life: three years of marriage and an inquisitive one year old boy.  While Carson was toasting I had a flashback to a day seven years ago when he experienced a rare bout of angst.  He knew what he wanted (a family of his own…I believe his words were “a wife, a house and a kid”) but it all seemed so very far off and unimaginable. 

His dream was out of my sight too, but I encouraged him to wait and hope…and to work while he waited.  Seven years ago I couldn’t give him a snapshot of his life today.  But it is glorious to look back and see the gifts, stacked to the ceiling and spilling over, he has been given.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.   

 

Frosting, Still Life, Chariots


photo by Donna Boucher, used by permission
~  When I’m in a car, I muse on metaphors.  I see pleats in geography, accordions in foothills, belts in highways, down comforters in clouds.  On Sunday, the fields were white with frost, a typical late November morning.  My mind was groping for the right trope: sheets of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. 

It was an aha! moment.  Frost → frosting.  Ice → Icing   Sweet!
Schindler’s List (*now* we may watch the movie) is a haunting read.  People dodged death one afternoon even though it was likely they wouldn’t escape the next morning.  “An hour of life is still life.”  To hold hope so tight… 
A Commandant’s morning routine was to go outside, stretch, pick up a rifle and pick off a prisoner.  The choice of victim was so random, mindless, unpredictable.  The recent Tacoma police shooting is yet another random, rattling, needless killing.   
~  Here is a hymn snippet: On the first Sunday of Advent while singing Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates we came to these lines.

A Helper just he comes to thee,
His chariot is humility.

We all have heard of Chariots of Fire.  You may know Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  Chariots are often dazzling, splashy, flashy ways to arrive and leave.  But a chariot of humility?  What does that look like?  And why would a King of Glory ride in a chariot of humility?

This picture is challenging me. 

I naturally want my arrival to be noticed, a few more ta-DA moments, please!  Even in thinking about how I could choose the transportation of humility, I tend to romanticize the idea.  Any thoughts about chariots of humility?