Worship in routine

Last week, a friend told me that she wants her appearance to reflect who she is on the inside, to reflect her inner value and worth as the Holy Spirit’s dwelling place (1 Cor. 6:19). Hmm. That’s good, I think as I lounge in my sweatpants and dirty socks and, oh, oatmeal still between my teeth from breakfast.

I’ve been struggling with the elbow grease of my friend’s realization before she even sent that message. See, I hate getting out of bed in the morning. No, it’s not depression; it’s because my morning routine takes too long, a chunk of seemingly misused time. The world is going up in flames and I’m making my bed and starting the tea kettle and washing my face. And, goodness, what should I wear?

These small tasks don’t feel useless, per se, but of such triviality that it’s irritating how they eat up my morning. They are necessary and I do them, but they feel to me like wood, hay, and stubble. Bedtime is even worse because I have to undo what took me so long to do in the morning plus I’m sleepy and *gasps* grumpy.

WHEN WE GET TO ETERNITY, IS GOD GOING TO CALL US TO ACCOUNT FOR WEARING DIRTY SOCKS? That’s what I want to shout sometimes.

In 2020, I read and recommended Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. “[M]y theology was too big to touch a typical day in my life,” she writes (p. 55). Trim my fingernails? God’s not going to call me to account for that either. I want to do the big things, the kingdom work.

Warren challenged me to view my routines as sacred and meaningful, part of the abundant life that Jesus has for me (p. 22) “How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life” (p. 24). And that includes my attitude. “The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines” (p. 34) because, according to Warren, that is where we can truly start the revolution we’re dreaming of (see Lk. 16:10).

So, God might not call me to account for my dirty socks or overflowing dish drainer, yet, that doesn’t make me unaccountable for how I treat God’s temple (my body) and the gifts He has freely given me. 

As I type out these thoughts, I interrupt myself for a shower, to heat a bowl of soup, and yes, to empty that overflowing dish drainer. It doesn’t feel worshipful, especially when I find a spoon that still has dried bean broth on it. 

But maybe I’m looking at it backwards. Like my friend, I think I should start by reclaiming my motivation and letting my life–even those mundane fingernail clippings and bed makings–come out of that motivation in something like a sweet-smelling savor of worship.


Photo by Nick Page on Unsplash

Thank you, my Illinois Library

Thank you, my Illinois library, for creating an expanse of accessible books to those who live next door and those who live an ocean away. Your effort to create this haven of enrichment, adventure, and knowledge is not unnoticed. 

With every book recommendation, I drop by your institution first, in case you are one step ahead. You usually are. The delight of selecting my next read or even those gentle reminders that my book is expiring soon and will shortly disappear from my account makes me glad to be a name, even a number, in your system.

On those rare occasions when I step through your creaky door–the one with the same creak since I was little–I take in the smell of the aisles and piles of books and wish I had unmitigated time to read, to learn, to grow.

I remember wandering among those stories, getting lost in The Boxcar Children or Garfield, Gilbert Morris or biographies. I sorted through research paper books to find the ones that didn’t make my eyes glaze over on the first page. I stood before your wall of audio books before every trip. I thumbed through your discard pile to find five cent treasures.

All the time, you were there, like a committed friend, offering what I needed if I had the patience to look for it. Apt to teach. Apt to serve.

Thank you.


Photo by Zaini Izzuddin on Unsplash

Between Spain and Spain

Last weekend, three of us went to the mountainous Spanish countryside to retreat from the normal grind of life. We drank in the green, the quiet, and space to read, write, and think. 

I knew I was still in Spain, but it looked so different from Mytown that I kept saying things like, “When I get back to Spain…” To me, Spain is noisy streets full of colorful immigrants, not silent citrus trees dotting an overgrown garden. To be in the Spanish countryside awoke longings in me that typically get silenced in the distractions of city life.

citrus trees surrounding overgrown garden

Months ago, a friend recommended the book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner. There, straddling those separate Spanish worlds, I figured it was as good of a time as any to start reading. 

Gardner writes, “I’ve come to realize that longing is ok as long as it does not paralyze, as long as I slowly continue to embrace the life that has been given at this time, at this moment” (Airports, par. 19).

Back in Mytown, far away from the calming Spanish countryside and even farther from my Illinois family and friends, I sometimes long for what I don’t grasp between my fingers. But will I let that longing rob me of today? Or can the far away people, places, and experiences of my life shape me into who God has called me to be where He has called me to be, right here?

What about you? Will you let your past life experiences and unfulfilled longings shape your today for the good?

It’s a choice, I think. Perhaps mixed with some trial and error. But a choice to let longing live inside of you, enriching but not robbing you.

Top 10 things I do to fill scraps of time

Do you know what I’m talking about when I say “scraps of time”? Those potentially useless minutes tucked between important things like a business meeting and lunch with a friend. We all have those, but some of us are naturally more productive than others of us.  I tend to fall into the latter half of that statement, but this week I’ve been noting how I spend those scraps, be it 5 minutes or an hour. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Organize something, anything really. A cupboard, a refrigerator shelf while sniffing suspicious condiments, or a drawer. Maybe that’s why people comment on how clean my house is. All I have to do is run my finger along a piece of furniture to prove them wrong, but it’s organized and so it looks clean. Then again, last night my neighbor pulled open my overflowing junk drawer. Now maybe she’ll stop commenting on my cleanliness.
  2. Do the background work for DIY projects (e.g. sanding, getting out supplies, creating a pattern, etc.) That way, when there is a block of time, I can move at the rate of my inspiration rather than the rate of my sandpaper. 
  3. Sit with my eyes closed and absorb nothing. These are quiet spots when my brain can relax. Sometimes, I pray. Sometimes, I fall asleep (but not before setting an alarm!).
  4. Look in the mirror. Really. I’m the one who is strolling down the street before she realizes she forgot to look in the mirror. It’s unnerving to wonder what everyone else is seeing that you forgot to. A booger? A hairball on the back of your black sweater? Bedhead eyebrows? So it’s always helpful when I remember to give myself a minute to primp.
  5. Come up with menu ideas and shopping lists. I can do this pretty much by standing in front of my pantry which happens to be a corner cupboard. Cocoa? Check. Rice? Check. What in the world am I going to do with this bag of barley? Maybe some kind of barley soup… Onions? Check. 
  6. Catch up on messages and emails because, who doesn’t do that these days? Those waiting-for-public-transportation scraps of time are ideal for this.
  7. Read, especially that book that I had to tear myself away from last night at midnight… Kindles and Kindle apps have made this exponentially more convenient.
  8. Eat. Years ago I had to learn to stock up on protein to keep myself from feeling faint between meals. I literally learned to “eat for the hunger that cometh.” However, on high-scrappy days, the hunger never cometh because I’m so busy fixing myself exciting little snacks. High-scrappy days are also high calorie days. Hmm. I think I need to work on that one.
  9. Trim my fingernails. Isn’t this one of those tasks that ends up like an abandoned middle child? It’s there, but other things are more demanding…until you have that scrap of time within which your hangnail catches on a hand towel to make you notice that you’ve fallen behind on your personal grooming. Speaking of which…
  10. Find things to get rid of. I think I drove my sister crazy by always having a box or a bag at the end of my bed with stuff to dispose of. Now I have a discreet corner of my wardrobe, but the bag is still there, accumulating junk. I know. I know I’m sheltered when hauling a bag of stuff to the clothes bin or a thrift store drop-off gives me a high. But here’s a tip for you town and city dwellers: the next time you get rid of something, carry it rather than drive it because when you arrive at your destination weary and heavy laden, depositing it is that much more freeing.

What are some of the ways you fill in your scraps of time? I’d love to hear about them and maybe even implement some of your ideas.

Recommended books for you

Ready for a little winter reading? Here are some of the favorites from my 2021 reading list to get your mind rolling.

Note that these are just recommendations, not reviews.

SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT

Jesus Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better than Jesus Beside You by J.D. Greear. This book gave a clear, biblical perspective on the Holy Spirit. It was the best book on the Holy Spirit that I have read so far.

Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present by Carolyn Weber. I read this in bite-sized pieces, probably how it is supposed to be read. Sometimes it was hard to find a coherent thread that wove the stories together. Yet, Weber has a way of reverberating understandable messages around inside of me. Messages that make me stop just to breathe in the “now” of life.

Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts by Paul David Tripp is a fantastic book about money that requires a thorough heart examination. Tripp isn’t afraid to ask hard questions and coax hidden motives into the light. Money can become our god no matter how disciplined or undisciplined we are with it.

Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters by Dr. Juli Slattery. This book is a wake-up call to the church. Because the church is so silent on this topic, we are letting ourselves be sexually discipled by our culture rather than by the Word of God. This book gives a picture of God’s redemption of our broken sexuality and encourages the reader to walk in sexual integrity.

MEMOIR / NON-FICTION

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. A story of a migration that changed our country forever in ways we haven’t stopped to notice. This book is hard to read, not because of the writing style–it’s well-written–but because it reveals the ugly side of our hearts. Don’t let the size of this thing intimidate you; however, you might want to clear other books off of your currently reading list first. I’m looking forward to reading her book Caste in 2022.

Things As They Are: Mission Work in Southern India by Amy Carmichael. Don’t read this book if you would rather cling to your glamorized view of overseas work. Don’t read it if you don’t want to be moved by the work that still needs to be done. Don’t read it if you want a tidy success story. Why? Because this book strips away any pretense and shows “things as they were” while still testifying to God’s worthiness. There is a free kindle version, but note that it doesn’t include the photos Carmichael often references.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a close look at introversion. This book is not written from a biblical perspective, so there were some bones I chose to pick out and throw away, but it was a thorough and fascinating read… especially for an introvert.

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook is an engaging story of the tomato. The book takes you on a journey through South American mountains, slave labor camps, and lush Pennsylvania tomato fields. But it’s thought-provoking rather than an adventure story.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman. This WWII story set in occupied Poland gives an unusual perspective of animals, humanity, survival, and hope.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter. This was another atypical WWII angle of Nazism, art, and unsung heroes. Note: It’s long, but so is winter. 🙂

FICTION

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The story of a boy on the outside of a Jewish prison camp… until he wasn’t. This book will make your heart ache at the juxtaposition of innocence and injustice.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is children’s classic about a girl who spends years alone on an island after her people are taken away. I somehow missed this classic growing up, but it is still worth the read as an adult.

Vinegar Girl: William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew Retold by Anne Tyler. A charming, fluffy romance if you like that kind. Note: there is some language present.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. What can I say about this old favorite? Just that it was even more charming than the last time I read it. For the first time, I noted that the story really is more about Marilla than about Anne. Think about it. And for the first time ever, I read through the entire series. Still, book one is undoubtedly my favorite.

That’s all for now. Let me know some of your good reads!

Day of green

I took a vacation day to get out of town and soak in some green. Most of the immigrants got off the bus at the Mytown stop. An assorted crew of elderly Spaniards remained, talking like they all knew each other. Maybe they did. Then there was me, who probably left them wondering if I had missed my stop.

The weather was gorgeous, but I forgot how long the hike was from the bus stop. I also forgot just how intense the Spanish sun can be when you’re hiking uphill. I was sweaty when I finally parked myself under a tree to revive myself with L.M. Montgomery and roasted almonds.

The park was quiet, only the occasional picnickers and the North African couples who came to do their illicit smooching (who I tried to avoid until I decided that they should be avoiding me).

Winding down the mountain on the bus ride home, I was staring out the window at the departing green when I realized that the bus radio was playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” The refrain (however monotonous) was a fitting closure to a morning that had sent me back to my country girl roots.

Recommended books for you

I have been frantically reading over the past few months, mostly research for two essays. And in the evenings, I would wind down my over-taxed brain with audio books. So, here is another pile of recommendations. Again, note that these are not reviews. I don’t detail every flaw of every book, and if at some point, you find you have standards different than mine, please leave a comment or disregard my lists altogether.

This time, I don’t have any fiction recommendations. I did manage to read a few, one of them being in Spanish and one that was just strange enough that I couldn’t recommend it and have you all scratching your heads too. But here’s what I have:

Spiritual Enrichment

Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together by Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn. This book is a powerful narrative of a woman learning to step into a friend’s unfixable pain and walk with her in the middle of it.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin. This book is a call to serve God in ways we don’t expect. Martin’s ardent writing inspires readers to invest where they are.

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani is a clear presentation of how we tend to relate to God and how He wants us to relate.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf challenges our culture’s concept of work and leaves readers anticipating what God is calling them to.

A Big Gospel in Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters by Stephen Witmer does not focus on the worthiness of people in small places,  but on the bigness of the Gospel and the worthiness of Christ to take the message to those small places.

Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel is a beautiful book about desire. It is a call to both feel and renew. I also recommend her book Surprised By Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World. Michel’s thoughtful writing makes readers want to embrace the mystery of faith by recognizing how much more robust faith can be because of paradox. 

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson. I’m still digesting this powerful look at imago dei that presses tender spots but ultimately leaves the reader praising God. Her book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul is a follow-up to Made for More, giving walking legs to those deep truths. Anderson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors with her intense but relatable style.

MEMOIR / NON-FICTION

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Middle of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts is a powerful story by a woman about to step into eternity. She shares the unfiltered pain of leaving behind her beautiful life. The story is haunting, beautiful, and absolutely worth your time. 

For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. Do you want to know more about Britain’s obsession with tea? This historical book narrates an agricultural espionage and reveals the lesser known story of tea.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the fascinating story behind HeLa cells. Some of this book was entirely over my head. There were a few parts I skimmed. But the writing was informative and engaging, the kind that makes readers interested in a topic they formerly cared nothing about.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills. This books is a delightful close-up of one of America’s favorite authors. The story is interestingly written, really several stories woven into one. But make sure you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee before you dive into this one!

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. Have you ever wanted to know more about Julia Child or the French cuisine? The lighthearted narrative style makes Child’s life in France come alive….and it will probably make you hungry too! There are a few parts of this book you may want to skip, but it’s perky and largely clean.

A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny by Amy Julia Becker is a moving memoir of a little girl who reshaped an onlooking world’s perspective of disability, especially the perspective of those who loved her the most.

Recommended books for you

Well, 2020 is fading but the sighs of relief are tinged with anxiety. What will 2021 bring? Well, on the bright side, just in case you find yourself isolated from the rest of the world for any amount of time, here are some book recommendations:

Spiritual Enrichment

The Next Right Thing: a Simple Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions by Emily P. Freeman is a book full of practical help on decision-making. Enjoy Freeman’s humorous and deep perspective, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Anxiety Interrupted: Invite God’s Peace into Your Questions, Doubts, and Fears by Rachael Dymski inspires readers to ponder who God created them to be, not just in spite of anxiety, but with anxiety problems woven into their story. This book gives a hopeful look at life with all its uncertainties. 

Gold by Moonlight: Sensitive Lessons from a Walk with Pain by Amy Carmichael is a beautiful book. At times, it can be poetic and hard to follow unless you’re engaged. Then suddenly, a thought punches you in the gut with stunning reflection of your own life. Best advice: DON’T SPEED READ THIS ONE. Why? Because it’s worth your time.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, is a call to worship, even in the ordinary things of our everyday lives. The writing is poetic but practical, powerful but flavorful.

White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker is an outstanding look at white privilege and racism. It is the kind of look that leaves you with hope rather than the suffocating knowledge of an unchangeable world.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Timothy Keller is an excellent read. As usual, Keller does quite a bit of stomping on toes, but he never presents a sin issue without also presenting the Help for the solution.

Memoir / Non-Fiction

For the Glory: The Untold and Inspiring Story of Eric Liddell, Hero of Chariots of Fire by Duncan Hamilton is an awing and at times horrifying read of the life of Eric Liddell, a man we think of as a runner, an Olympic gold medalist, but who was so much more.

The Spy Wore Red by Aline Countess of Romanones is a story of a female spy during World War II. It’s set mostly in Spain, which, of course, makes it that much more interesting! Note that this is a read that transports the reader to another world. Also note the presence of some strong language.

George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger is for history lovers. It is a history of the Revolution that goes far beyond the Battle of Bunker Hill and Nathan Hale. That said, it’s not an overwhelming read, nor for all it’s factualness is it one bit boring.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride is an excellent read and a beautiful tribute. The two stories of mother and son are woven into one hopeful journey. Be prepared to be moved.

Fiction

(Oops! Not a lot in this category this time!)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is an engaging novel about a middle-aged professional woman facing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Warning: you will feel like you need a diagnosis by the time you’re done with this one!

A light has dawned

Merry Christmas, everyone! This year is different than most. A lot of traditions are mandated aside. As much as I love traditions and festivities–they make Christmas magical– celebration of Christmas goes far beyond “how.” It’s “why.”

I’m reading Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. (No, I won’t finish it by Christmas; therefore, I’m delighted that Spanish Christmas lasts until January 6!) Keller says,

“The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from the outside. There is light outside of this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, he is the Light (John 8:12).” (p.10)

Miserable mandates or no, that’s a reason to celebrate Christmas. 🙂 

For some of you, this year the loss is more painful than breaking a tradition– during the biggest holiday of the year, you are staring at loneliness and grief and you can’t find the strength to stare either of them down. That hurts.

Another dear friend passed away this week. Right now, it feels like life is going on because it has to, not because we want it to. Could the world just pause as we all gather our bearings and sob our grief? Why does time march on, so unaffected?

But there is light, and it’s not at the end of the tunnel–somewhere beyond 2020 and covid and pain and death. The light is here because Immanuel is the Light. 

Merry Christmas.

Happy fall

Crisp fall air. Charcoal smoldering in a grill. A porch swing caught in a breeze, beckoning. Drying corn along quiet country roads. Baby giggles. Sun-scented laundry. Family wedding plans. Fresh clothes on happy babies. The steam of a busy iron. Ice cream rivers on shirt fronts. Late night talks. New honey. A church building smelling of Pinesol. Uncontrolled laughter. Spontaneous neighbor visits. Children’s books over and over.

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to be present in too many places to really be present anywhere at all. Ever feel that way? My blog updates probably will be scatter-brained over the next couple of months, but I’ll try to check in anyway. 🙂 Have a wonderful autumn in the meantime.