Books · Friendship · Rooted in Christ

Messy Beautiful Friendship – There You Are!

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It was midnight when we rolled into the driveway of a city hotel under the cover of pitch darkness and a brooding storm that had escorted us into our new state, half way across the country. For months as we were planning to move, I couldn’t envision this new place and so in my mind, the state of Missouri was completely dark. And when we arrived to our hotel where we’d be living for a week as our new apartment was being prepared, I opened the handle of the driver’s side door into blackness which was lightened only by the hotel’s inner brightness and some funky pop music to usher me out of my stressed out, post traumatic state of having driven for about 15 hours straight, the last few hours having been pummeled by a thunder and lightning storm. Darkness. What I had envisioned about this state was still true in my perception. Our family was alone, isolated, with no friends or family, and without a clue as to what we would wake up to in the morning.

The morning did come. We awoke to blue, sunny skies overlooking a city, although all I could see from our hotel room was trees for miles. Trees! Now I knew two things about Missouri… storms and trees! The light was beginning to dawn on the beauty of the new land we had come to and our perception of this amazing state was getting into focus.

As we bravely left our hotel room to visit the campus, we were met by strangers who would become dear friends and neighbors. We were met by introductions, small talk, and “what’s your phone number? I’ll give you a call and we’ll get together!” More light was coming into view and our vision of what our home could be for the next three years started to become clearer. In fact, there was one woman on campus, Liz, who had been silently preparing for my arrival for several months and when we finally met in person, she was like a magnet that drew me in and connected me with other women, giving me much to look forward to in friendships here and what God might do in the life of our family here.

That’s what I call a friendship magnet. Like Christine Hoover says in her latest book, Messy Beautiful Friendship,

The truth of the matter is that we all have the ability to be friend-magnets when we enter a room with the words, intentions, and body language of seeing others–There you are!–rather than saying Here I am! Everyone look at me! Everyone listen to me! or the opposite, false humility response, I hope no one notices me. I will feel too self-conscious. We esteem others as more important than ourselves. We keep an eye out for the one standing on the fringe of the circle. We move toward the outside and pull those we find there into the mix. And let’s face it: Don’t we all feel like we live on the fringes in some capacity? Haven’t we all felt like an outsider at some point? We all know the relief of someone pulling us from the outside to the inside. We’ll be their friends for life.

In fact, I’m pretty sure my dear friend did say those exact words several times, “There you are!” She was so outward-focused and so eager to serve and connect me to the community that she invited me and our four kids out to the zoo with her and her kids while still living at the hotel that first week! We weren’t even in our new place yet. After that, she sent her older sons to collapse all our moving boxes that were strewn about on our patio. She sent food, invited us for dinner, play dates, and since then, many more coffee dates!

Christine writes,

Keep an eye out for the marginalized, the fringe, the new, the lonely, the quiet and unsure ones. Your influence pointed in the direction of an outsider can have great impact. It doesn’t take much—a word of welcome, an invitation to a playdate, a thoughtful encouragement about a job well-done, or remembering her name—and a whole new world opens up for the one who needs a world, any world, to open up.

I’m so thankful for this friend who reached out to me during a time of great need, even before I stepped onto the campus of our new home away from home. It meant the world to me! With the stability of a growing friendship with her, I was then able to, slowly, reach out to other women here and begin to offer the same kind of friendship I had received from her, to them.

Blessings on your journey of friendship,
Jen

**

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I am a part of Christine Hoover’s launch team for her new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship. One of my favorite things to do is to share great Christian resources with other women, as well as promote or share the creative work of other women as they use their divinely designed gifts to serve God and the Church. It is an honor to pair these two loves into helping promote her new book which will be released on April 18th. Below, you will find one of these excerpts. Enjoy, and be blessed in the gift of friendship!

 

 

How to Be a Friend Magnet

Perhaps you’re one of those people with friends coming out the wazoo. I am friends with people like you. You are likable, fun, considerate, helpful, and all-around good human beings. You are awesome. I flock to you.

These friends of mine, upon hearing that I was writing a book on friendship, asked me to tackle these questions: How does one foster intimate, true friendships and remain hospitable without becoming cliquish? Is it even healthy to cut off the number of friendships you have?

The friends that I mention are women using their influence to serve others, honor others, seek out the best interest of others, and love others in a way that brings glory to the Lord. For those who are jealous of the friend-magnets in your midst, to be fair, I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as it seems. I believe these women are a real-life chicken/egg scenario: do people come toward friend-magnets simply because of who they are, or do these friend-magnets consistently go toward others ready to bless and honor? I see my friend-magnet friends working hard at friendship and being extremely others-centered. They are genuinely interested in others, honor others, and listen to others. My friend-magnet friends all have wildly different personalities, so it’s not that they have a charisma necessarily, although I think they are delightful people. They are simply people who consistently go toward others, no matter who they are, and seek to make other women feel comfortable.

If you are a person who attracts friends easily, please know that you’ve been given a gift from the Lord. You’ve been granted a magnetism and a way of making people feel loved. Thank Him for this gift, but please also recognize that this gift is not about you. The gift you’ve been given is the gift of influence, and it’s important to consider how you will use it.

If you are a woman who attracts friends easily, my encouragement to you is to use your influence to serve the outsiders. Keep an eye out for the marginalized, the fringe, the new, the lonely, the quiet and unsure ones. Your influence pointed in the direction of an outsider can have great impact. It doesn’t take much—a word of welcome, an invitation to a playdate, a thoughtful encouragement about a job well-done, or remembering her name—and a whole new world opens up for the one who needs a world, any world, to open up.

The truth of the matter is that we all have the ability to be friend-magnets when we enter a room with the words, intentions, and body language of seeing others–There you are!–rather than saying Here I am! Everyone look at me! Everyone listen to me! or the opposite, false humility response, I hope no one notices me. I will feel too self-conscious. We esteem others as more important than ourselves. We keep an eye out for the one standing on the fringe of the circle. We move toward the outside and pull those we find there into the mix. And let’s face it: Don’t we all feel like we live on the fringes in some capacity? Haven’t we all felt like an outsider at some point? We all know the relief of someone pulling us from the outside to the inside. We’ll be their friends for life.

An honoring person who looks for the outsider soon becomes a safe person for many, many women. In other words, her opportunities for friendship are abundant and overflowing. This is why my people-magnet friends are asking, “How does one foster intimate, true friendships and remain hospitable without becoming cliquish?” and “Is it even healthy to cut off the number of friendships you have?” Because a person who honors others will eventually have to navigate these things.

And I say, in response, that part of honoring others is connecting others. There is a special kind of joy in connecting two women we think will hit off or who share a story, interest, or life circumstance in common. We don’t have to be everyone’s bestie, and just because we’ve included someone doesn’t mean we have to become their intimate friend. We can help foster community among women by being a bridge between them.

So, for my darling friends who are worried about having too many BFFs to handle, this is what I would say: honor all and be deep friends with some. Be friendly and hospitable to all and give intimate attention to a few. Welcome all. Keep an eye out for all. Love all. You don’t have to be close friends with everyone, but you can certainly use your God-given influence to bless others and connect women with one another. Be a friend magnet and you’ll attract joy too.

This post is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, which explores the joys and complexities of friendship among Christian women. Find out more about Christine at www.gracecoversme.com.

To preorder Christine’s new book, click here! As well, watch this wonderful interview with Ruth Chou Simons of Gracelaced.com. In it, Christine and Ruth talk about overcoming hurts in friendship. This 30 minute video is packed full of godly, Biblical wisdom and truth.

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Books · Education · Motherhood · Parenting

For the Children’s Sake ~ Our Philosophy of Educating with Grace

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There seems to be a Schaeffer theme threading its way through our story. In 2007, my husband and I spent six weeks at the Swiss L’Abri where we lived, worked and studied with a small group of students from around the world. Our days were divided into work and study. Study took place at the Farel House which was a chalet that served as a library containing many books and lectures on tape. Yes, in fact the first time I heard Tim Keller preaching on marriage was spent listening to a tape of a lecture he had given in the 80’s on marriage. The work portion of our day included gardening, cutting down thorn bushes, making meals in one of the staff chalet’s, vacuuming and ironing clothes in the home of the Schaeffer’s granddaughter, chopping vegetables in Edith’s kitchen, and other ordinary tasks that needed to get done in the L’abri community. Edith, herself, was living nearby up the mountainside from L’Abri, and being cared for by family in her old age and frail health. And finally, the work portion always included a short pause for high tea and biscuits. I had heard of Francis and Edith Schaeffer but had never read any of their books. Lounging in their former living room and perusing books in their sunroom was my first introduction to the Schaeffer family.

dscn2356~The home of Francis and Edith Schaeffer at L’Abri in Huemoz, Switzerland~

We did not have children at that time, so the topic of education was not something that we thought a lot about when we were starting out together, discovering Scottish islands, German castles, and the romantic streets of France. I was busy learning how to knit my first baby blanket, but I wasn’t quite ready to jump ahead and figure out what kind of education we’d be able to give them.

As our family grew, our personal education philosophies were birthed and began to take shape. We read a slew of books and articles, talked to friends and searched our hearts for how we wanted to shape our own family culture. Our convictions went through many stages of discovery, development, and transformation. Eventually, I came across a book called For The Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, written by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Our philosophy of education has been fine-tuned through these early years. As I have read Macaulay’s book, I have embraced it as my own philosophy of education and the model to which I wish to aspire to as we educate our children. For the Children’s Sake is largely based upon the ideas of renowned educator, Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of educating children as born persons using living ideas. Her book does not promote just one place of education, but goes deeper to the foundational aspects that begin within the family, and will underly any good, wholesome, holistic path of education with a Christian worldview.

“When a baby is picked up, spoken to, and loved, he is starting his education as God planned it. For all our lives we are human beings, in an active state of learning, responding, understanding. Education extends to all of life… The truly educated person has only had many doors of interest opened. He knows that life will not be long enough to follow everything through fully.”

-Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School is a book for all Christian parents and teachers whether your children attend a public school, a charter school, a Fine Arts school, a Christian private school, or are homeschooled and the many varieties of wonderful co-ops that exist. This is the wisdom I see in Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. She humbly acknowledges that God doesn’t have the same plan for each family, but that God is so much bigger than our little boxes and labels that we try to fit Him and everyone else into. She sees beyond the methods, and environments available to different families, communities and parts of the world, and gets to the heart of the foundation of education; an education that can be implemented by parents in whatever environment you are in. I know many parents in different educational contexts who naturally implement these ideas already.

Based largely on Charlotte Mason’s ideas, this masterpiece gives both parents and teachers a vision for what education can be, a joy filled journey of learning, discovery, and preparation for life. The Christian truths and practical ideas can be applied in every educational context, and wherever your child’s learning takes place.

The foundations of this living education focus on the child as a born person with a unique personality and a responsibility to serve the child for who he or she is. Respecting and honoring this young human as made in the image of God and allowing the child to play and explore the world around him or her. Teaching habits of virtue, showing children living ideas of the world outside of themselves and that they have a place in time and space in this universe. Giving children the opportunity to learn excellence in music and art, exploring nature and being outdoors. Giving children the opportunity to participate in household chores, and balancing that with creative play and free time, from which the fruit of creativity will ultimately produce their own great works.

“We have to look long and hard at the individual child, our home, school, and outside influences. Just because a home or school is ‘Christian’ does not mean that the child is being properly helped, grounded, educated as a whole person. We accept that nothing is perfect, but we try to get our priorities right. We are ready to take time and trouble to see that our children aren’t swept off in a roaring tide. But we want more than that. We pray for a person who is like the individual mentioned in Psalm 1. He has grown like an ad tree by a stream. Storms may roar, a branch or two may snap, but the oak stands firmly grounded – so much so that small creatures seek shelter therein. There is no one method to achieve such a mature person. There is no perfect or complete situation. We must pray for the individual, pray for wisdom, open our eyes, choose priorities.”

-Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

Recently, I have chosen the term “grace-schooling” as our educational philosophy. It leans in full dependence on Christ and His grace to lead, shepherd and sustain us in the choosing of educational methods appropriate for each individual child, each season of our family life, and based on the needs of our children and us as parents. This type of philosophy is not a stagnant, one size fits all, forever and ever, type of philosophy. It sees the family as a team unit. When something is not working for one member of the family, the whole family needs to make adjustments to help that individual so that the whole family can move forward and thrive together as a family unit.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:26

Grace schooling is fluid, capable of continuously moving forward and transforming if and as the need arises. This is grace, not law. It is freedom to assess your family culture, family size, family limitations and preferences. It is freedom to see a need arise in your family whether it is health, financial, or behavioral and to have the space and willingness to make a change that will move the family forward together, as a team, in the most beneficial way possible. Because of this, For the Children’s Sake is a vision of consistency in the underlying principles of what we want our children’s education to look like even though we may have to change the method from time to time.

Some families may never need to make a change. For some, it may mean choosing to homeschool one or more children. For some, it may mean, putting the children into a good public school and getting involved as a parent there. For some, your unique situation might mean finding a Christian private school or a Fine Arts school where drama and music are a main focus, and for some it may mean finding a special needs school that will more strongly support your special needs child. For others, like us, it may mean a mix, according to the various unique needs that are present in your family at the time. No one can make this decision for you, and no one has the right to judge your decision. As a Christian, you have the Lord to watch over your coming and going, who sees your needs, cares more deeply for your family than anyone else could, and who has promised to be your Provider, your Comforter, and your Covenant-keeping Father.

As a new school year begins, may you find that His grace is sufficient for you in the path He has led you to and may you hold it lightly with open hands for He may yet change it and lead you in a different direction, and yet the foundation will remain the same. You’ve been given a task to raise children to follow God, and it is for their sakes that you lay an unchanging foundation that will be the constancy in the midst of unknowns and variables in the future. Pray, research, study, and then lay your decisions at the Lord’s feet asking Him to open and close doors as He sees fit, for His glory, purpose, and for the children’s sake.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

Books · Christian biographies

Correspondence

FullSizeRender{A Basket of Letters from many people, but mostly from my mother.}

When I was a little girl, about the age of 8 or 9 years old, I began reading through a series called The Mandie Books. I have fond memories of pouring over page after page of these exciting stories of Mandie and her friends. Now, thirty years later, I am reading them to my daughter and she, too, is enthralled with them! As a young girl, I was amazed to find that the author, Lois Gladys Leppard, based many of the incidents in the stories on real life accounts of her mother’s life growing up in North Carolina in the 1900s. My favorite genre of books are undoubtedly Christian and missionary biographies, so its no surprise that even at a young age I was drawn to read about stories based on true accounts.

I remember there was a small Christian bookstore down the hill from our home and I would ask my mother often, if she could take me to the store to check if the next book in the series had been published. I walked the aisle, my heart pounding, the bookstore smell so sweet as it was, and the excitement of seeing the newest book on display. I would hold it in my hands, absorbing every detail of the cover illustration, the chapter titles and return to the counter to pay for my book. The store owners wrapped it in a small brown paper bag and stuffed a cardboard bookmark inside. I could not wait to get back home and read it. And then I’d have to wait months until the next one was published. I even remember one day that I was sick and home from school. My mom had bought the two newest books for me and I am sure I read them both that day! Oh the joy of reading!

I remember the day I told my mom I wanted to write a letter to the author. She checked over the letter, helped me address the envelope and then off it went. Although I never heard back from the author, it was exciting to write to her. I’m sure she received a lot of fan mail especially from the east coast of the United States where the books were probably more popular. But there, in the southwest corner of British Columbia, Canada, her books were making an impact on at least one little girl.

Fast forward thirty years later.

This past year, I’ve had an unexpected journey with books and authors. I have written  about the book, God in the Sink, by Margie Haack. After reading on her blog that I could purchase a signed copy of her book by emailing her, I did just that. She wrote back to me an encouraging and heartfelt letter. She wrote about her joy in receiving my letter, the common ground we have in our husbands having both attended this seminary, her own memories of growing up on the border of Canada, and words of blessing to continue to follow God’s plan for my husband and I, and our future. For an author to take the time and write back was a real privilege and an honor.

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{email letter and a postcard that came with the book, photo of Margie’s childhood home}

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I had recently learned more about the life of missionary, Lilias Trotter, from biographer, Miriam Rockness. After commenting on one of the articles, I had the privilege of hearing back from her, not once but twice. She even took the time to share her words of encouragement about my own writing and blog, noting even about our common love of specific books, authors, and musicians. She even gave delightful descriptions of their hallway of books! It is those little personal touches that mean so much.

She wrote: “I wish you God’s continued joy and blessing as you write (and sing) out your life and faith.” – Miriam Rockness

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Whatever is your field of ministry in the Kingdom of God, it is of incredible importance to search out older women who can pray for and encourage you in your work and calling. Sometimes the encouragement is from peers who are doing a similar work as you. Building a network of like-minded friends can go a long way to building one another up and creating a safe place to spur one another on.

“If you want to write good books, good songs, good poems, you need some talent, yes. But you also need good friends. You need fellowship. You need community.”
Andrew Peterson, The Rabbit Room

For the past several years, ever since I heard a cassette tape recording of Tim Keller speaking on the topic of marriage whilst staying at Swiss L’Abri in 2007, I’ve been following the ministry of Tim and Kathy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  Every once in a while, I read a book, an article, listen to a podcast or like last month, get to see them in person at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference!

This afternoon, as I was resting from a busy day, I picked up my iPhone and thought of Kathy Keller. I randomly found an interview with her on Christianity Today recounting her correspondence with author, C.S. Lewis! I was engrossed in this interview as I had not known that she and him had written letters to each other for two years before his death. Here was a woman whom I greatly admire who had corresponded with an author/theologian whom I greatly adore. It was another example of writers writing to writers and the impact it can have on a single life.

“He did send me letters. I gave copies to the center at Wheaton College. At one point, I saw a book called “C.S. Lewis’s Letters to Children” and sure enough, mine were there. What was humiliating was seeing some of the letters other people had sent. They were so thoughtful and interesting and deep. I just wrote him of the small doings of my world, “I’m keeping house; my mother is sick.” He was so gracious.” – Kathy Keller, Christianity Today

Years ago, Sandra McCracken shared an essay about her experience writing a letter to Wendell Berry and the visit to his farm in Kentucky that followed. The entire experience being a dream come true for her.

“The exercise of writing my letter to Wendell Berry was, after my procrastination, a very gratifying experience. Just knowing that my official “thank you” was sealed, stamped, and on its way to Port William — I mean, Port Royal — gave me a feeling of deep satisfaction and joy. This would have been enough, but then a few months later, he wrote me a reply. I read his words of appreciation on a simple note, typed on simple stationery. I was thrilled.” – Sandra McCracken, Arthouse America

As I sit and think back to the correspondence I’ve been encouraged by this past year from several different authors, including having one of my articles being featured at Story Warren,  the new friendship I’ve made with a missionary mom in Taiwan, and the correspondence with a good friend from the Northwest who has now left to become a missionary on the other side of the world, I’m reminded of the simple joys of life, friendship, and correspondence. I’m reminded of how important correspondence is. Like Sandra, I was thrilled! It was the fulfillment of that wonderful quote by Sandra written many years ago to which I often come back to at the dawn of a New Year:

“I want to make house calls. I want to waste time on things that matter. On things that leave a mark in this world and the next. I want to carve out time to stop and boil the water. To bring out the china and the silver. To ask good questions of myself and my neighbors. And to listen patiently for the subtle answers…” – Sandra McCracken, Arthouse America

Each of those letters written to me this year has left a mark and has unexpectedly impacted my heart. They were a gift from my Lord. My blog has been silent for a few weeks. Summer has been full, full of many good things. I’m allowing myself this quietness here, mostly because I have no energy at the moment for piecing together words and sentences. So I find my creative energies are put to use searching out little woodland creatures behind our home, taking pictures of them, creating vignettes in my head about their comings and goings. As I pick up the pace just slightly again with my writing and working on my craft, I am reminded of the words of these authors who have been pivotal this year in the Lord’s work of shaping my craft. And I am thrilled!

Books · Christian biographies · Rooted in Christ

Lilias Trotter – An Invitation to Many Beautiful Things

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When I first met missionary and artist, Lilias Trotter, it was in the pages of a book given to me by a dear friend who is now, herself, a missionary to Ireland. This book, Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God, is written by Noel Piper and is a collection of short stories about the lives of five women and how God used them in their unique circumstances, giftings, and callings. With a love for Christian biographies, I dove into this book ten years ago to learn the life stories of these five women. One of them was Lilias.

It was a delight to read the story of this seemingly forgotten woman. I hadn’t realized at the time that Noel Piper’s book was just the beginning of Lilias’ reintroduction to the world. There was little written about her from various sources, but there was a small group of women who in this day and age had been continuing to keep her story alive. They affectionately have named themselves the Trotter Trust. I had not heard much else about Lilias in the years between first reading Noel Piper’s book and now. And then it came, an invitation.

An announcement came to our seminary inviting students and families to attend a special viewing of a documentary film about the life of Lilias Trotter called Many Beautiful Things. Although I was not able to attend, I was curious about this film and I already knew I wanted to watch it at some point and learn more about this daughter of God, her art, writing and mission work.

As I began reading two of her books, I was incredibly moved by the way she compared the process of new birth in Christ and sanctification to the processes of plant life. So detailed in her descriptions and so delicate with her words, she draws the reader into the intricate world of plant life to paint illustrations of spiritual truths. I was intrigued. What else was there to know about her and how beautiful it would be to discover it.

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It is when the death of winter has done its work that the sun can draw out in each plant its own individuality, and make its existence full and fragrant.  Spiritual growth means something more than the sweeping away of the old leaves of sin – it means the life of the Lord Jesus developed in us.
Parables of the Cross

The documentary film, Many Beautiful Things, is a glimpse inside the research process of Miriam Rockness and her journey over many years in discovering more about Lilias’ life, her writing, art, and ministry in both England and Algeria in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. As I learned more about her, I was struck with a sense of beauty that seemed to effortlessly flow through her thoughts and images. Her mother had introduced her to England’s most famous art critic of the Victorian age, John Ruskin ,who helped to hone her skills and technique. At the same time, she was attempting counter-cultural and even dangerous work serving and feeding homeless street women. Eventually, Lilias was faced with an enormous decision as her mentor encouraged her to focus solely on her art. Would she pursue the greatness that Ruskin believed she could accomplish and give up her work with the poor, or continue her ministry to the homeless?

Take the very hardest thing in your life – the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot.
Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.
-Parables of the Cross

This was a monumental crossroads that she had come to. Desperate to know God’s will for her, she sought the Lord in prayer and submitted herself to His purpose for her, no matter the cost. Could she entrust her art to God? Could she give up one of the greatest gifts she had been given? What was she being called to?

Surrender – stillness – a ready welcoming of all stripping, all loss, all that brings us low, low into the Lord’s path of humility  – a cherishing of every whisper of the Spirit’s voice, every touch of the prompting that comes to quicken the hidden life within: that is the way God’s human seed-vessels ripen and Christ becomes “magnified” even through the things that seem against us.
Parables of the Christ Life

As Lilias discovered, God was changing the course of her life and setting it in an all new direction. It would still include art, but art would no longer be the goal; it would be a tool for ministry to a different people group, in a far away land.

“Before us all dawned, I think a new horizon – of the glory of the task to which God has called us – a glory in its every hardness & in the sense that we are working for the future & its coming day.  ‘We were dreamers dreaming greatly.’”
23 October 1911 – Lilias Trotter

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As my daughter celebrated her birthday recently, I was overjoyed to give her the gift of a children’s story about this woman called, Lily the Girl Who Could See. There are many similarities I see in my daughter and Lilias, and its a joy to see her discover her own gifts, given by the great Giver and to offer her a true story that points her to Him. The story itself, written by Sally Oxley and Tim Ludwig with Miriam Huffman Rockness is like a biography for children and the artwork in watercolors on every page are reminiscent of Lilias’ paintings further creating a holistic portrayal of this artist, writer, and missionary.

I often come across the stories of Christians in bygone eras and am drawn into their stories, the sights and sounds they experienced, the emotions they felt, the honest reflections of life detailed explicitly in journals, poems, essays and like Lilias, in her art. I am only beginning the journey of discovering her work, absorbing the images she painted, and opening my heart to what God desires to show me through what He has shown her. And He has shown her…

“many, many beautiful things”
-Lilias Trotter, her last words.

*This reflection is my small part in continuing to tell the world the story of Lilias Trotter. For more information, please visit the website of biographer Miriam Rockness: Reflections on the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter. To purchase the film, Many Beautiful Things, click here. To purchase the children’s book, click here. A full list of books, booklets and art by Lilias Trotter can be found here.

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A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter

Books · Hospitality

The Hospitality of Frog and Toad

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Long car rides and washing dishes in the kitchen sink have something very important in common. Both have the ability to let my mind retreat into itself and let random thoughts come to the forefront, much like the way tea leaves expand in the boiling water. This morning, at the kitchen sink, with my hands scrubbing bread pans and pot lids in the warm soapy water, one of those unexpected thoughts suddenly came to the forefront of my mind so unexpectedly that I wanted to drop my dishes right then and there and start writing. However, I responsibly finished my kitchen work, cleaned up from the lunch hour, welcomed some new seminary students into our home for a short visit and put my littlest down for a nap while my husband roasted some fresh coffee beans.

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With a cup of English breakfast tea in hand and a book beside me for inspiration (God in the Sink by Margie Haack), I recall that somehow between the soap suds and relaxation of washing dishes from the day before, the calm in my house while children were playing, I realized something very wonderful. It involved hospitality and a children’s book series, Frog and Toad.

My thoughts often revolve around children’s books in this season of life. I wonder about that Winnie the Pooh who so looks at everything in life with such simplicity and ease. I often think about Squirrel Nutkin and his crazy antics and how much he has made my children laugh until it hurts. Our kids go on adventures into Narnia behind our home and I brace myself while reading the Chronicles for the moment when my kids realize that whatever magic is happening in the story in that moment surely means that Aslan is around, He’s coming or is already somehow mysteriously there though they hadn’t realized it for a few paragraphs. And I can’t wait for one o’clock to roll around so we can snuggle up on the couch to continue reading about a little baby named Pollywog and his curious disappearance in the playhouse floor. Unlike Eustace, and most like the Pevensies, we Harris’ want to make sure we read all the right books! Perhaps if we do, we might get to travel to enchanted lands of our own or walk into the coat closet and see if it leads to another world… my oldest two did nervously try that once, or twice, a few years ago!

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Stories about little critters that keep house and home in burrows, hollows, or tree stumps have fascinated me since I was a child. So how did I make that connection between hospitality and Frog and Toad? I had never explicitly realized it before, but somehow subconsciously I had always known it. Frog and Toad are two friends that share life together in a caring and winsome way. Perhaps its the illustrations of a crackling fire in the fireplace, a toad sitting on a wing-backed chair, a cup of tea shared. Perhaps its the letter sent from Frog who knew how desperately his friend wanted a letter to come in the mail. Perhaps its the way these two friends always know the other will always be there for them or the way they really do care what the other friend is talking about even if it doesn’t totally make sense. Perhaps its the hospitality experienced in the willingness to sit with a friend who lost his to-do list. I’m sure one day I will be old and grey and need someone to remind me of the things I needed to do that day.

Sharing the simple ordinary events of their days. Isn’t this what hospitality is? Entering in to someone else’s life because you simply want to! Even when you don’t want to, but still do, this is hospitality.

My home was not cleaned up when these new students arrived on our doorstep today. There were parenting moments, interspersed with conversation, a sink full to the brim of dirty dishes, a sewing machine, a dirty floor, and messy hair tossed into a bun. But this is my ordinary and we welcomed them in to our ordinary, we made time to talk, and we gave them some fresh roasted coffee beans. Then we made sure we remembered each other’s names. It reminded me of Frog and Toad.

Books · Motherhood

Charlotte’s Web – A Passage to Reading

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Every journey has a beginning. Sometimes you can begin a journey without even knowing something very special is about to start. That’s how it was when I discovered the joy of reading chapter books as a child.

When I was young, we had a two level bookshelf that my dad built with a pull out drawer underneath. It was coated with a deep mahogany wood stain. We kept all our kids books on that shelf for years. Little Golden books like The Little Tugboat, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, The Poky Little Puppy or Eloise Wilkin stories. These delighted me as a child and I enjoyed the sweet illustrations. I’m sure we read lots of stories in the early grades at school, but most of the time I was more interested in drawing and coloring, catching hundreds of tadpoles during recess at school, playing with dolls and toy animals, riding my bike, playing Barbies, collecting special rocks in milk cartons (because every rock I found was special), perfecting my acrobatic flip on the playground bars and joining my friends in creating our very own imaginary Charlie’s Chocolate Factory in the creek behind our school. I still remember the broken tree branches that served as a trampoline and I’m amazed those branches never broke. I loved books as a young child and there were ones I treasured and now read to my little ones. But there came a day in my childhood, when I found a passageway into reading and imagination that went so much deeper and took on a whole new world of imagination. That passageway came in the form of a beloved story, Charlotte’s Web.

It was library day at my elementary school. I remember going to the older kids’ section of the library, pulling out chapter books one by one to look at the title and cover. At the time, I wasn’t interested in science fiction or fantasy. I didn’t even know what those words really meant and the cover illustrations kind of freaked me out. I just knew it was out of my comfort zone.

As I passed by book after book, I finally pulled out a hardcover book with the title, Charlotte’s Web. I paused and took a look. The name, Charlotte, was endearing and pleasant. I loved animals and farm life. Perhaps this was a book I would enjoy. I brought it to the librarian who, in those days, pulled out the little library card in the front pocket – oh I just loved this part – and she, an elderly woman who wore bifocals on the tip of her nose, looked down at me through her glasses with that same stern, curious expression. Taking her date stamp, she pressed it into the black ink and stamped the card with the date that I was to return the book. I always said thank you, smiled and carried my book back to my classroom. I didn’t realize, but this was the beginning of my chapter book journey.

I was enthralled with this story about a little girl named Fern and her pet pig Wilbur, and of course, I then wanted to move to a farm and have a pet pig of my own to raise. I can’t remember all the ways the story intrigued me or moved me, but I remember reading voraciously with an excitement that surprised me and settled deep in my heart.

When I finished the book, I experienced a sense of satisfaction that I had not had before in reading. This story had somehow changed me. I also knew that I had accomplished something great. And in truth, I had! Reading a chapter book that makes you want to read more chapter books is a monumental step in reading. And if its a good book, a living book, it can be formative. For me, it was. I returned the book, knowing that I had met a sort of “old friend” in this story and that it would be one I would read again.

A few years ago, I began reading chapter books to my children, and what was the first one? Charlotte’s Web. As my third baby rested at naptime, I would read to my older two and we would dive into the world of the Arables and the barnyard at Zuckerman Farm together. It was a joy to share this story with my little ones. We have a tradition of reading a book first and then watching the movie. We have done this with several books already and are currently working on more! The kids love knowing that they will then see the story they have imagined in their own minds brought to life in film.

As my daughter now enters the world of reading chapter books on her own, I am remembering all the ones that formed me as a young girl and shaped the way I view life, family, heritage, God, and my purpose in life. I already see the ways the books we have read together have formed the imaginations of my children with the obvious example that the woods behind our home have been affectionately named Narnia! One day, they will be choosing their own chapter books to read. For now, I plant seeds of living books and story-formed imagination that will hopefully, one day, be stepping stones for their own journey of enjoyment in reading.

Books

The Hiding Place – A Book Reflection

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This past fall, a friend asked if I had a certain book that she could borrow. I rummaged through our shelves and found The Hiding Place, worn and yellowing, with the old book smell on every page. But as I flipped through it, I realized that this was a treasure that had sat on my shelves untouched for too long, a book I had yet to read. It had been a birthday gift from a dear friend years before. I hadn’t meant to neglect it. In fact, I believe God sovereignly waited for the right time to share the story of The Hiding Place with me, showing his control over all things by allowing the book to sit on our shelves, collecting dust, until at last, I opened the book and the story finally made its way into my heart.

Biographies are my favorite genre to read, perhaps because they tell someone’s own story, another thread in the tapestry of God’s historical narrative. Being able to look at the span of someone’s life in a 300 page book and see God’s story of grace written across the pages is a great encouragement. The people in my favorite biographies become mentors to me. There is hope in knowing that God is working in the events of our lives for a purpose only he knows.

“I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” (The Hiding Place, p. 72)

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The story begins with a glimpse into the lives of a small family and their community. Two sisters, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom and their father, a watchmaker, were a faithful Christian family living in the anxious days preceding the occupation of Holland in World War II. As persecution of the Jewish families in Holland grew, the ten Booms began to hide those who came to them for shelter. With the help of a friend, the ten Booms built a secret room inside their home. They held practice drills to prepare for the impending day of a horribly real life game of hide and seek. Out of devotion to Christ, this family created a Hiding Place for others. It seemed like practical life and spiritual realities were becoming mirrors of each other in their lives as the concept of a hiding place came from the very Scriptures they held so dear and from which Father read to his daughters every day.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path . . . Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word . . . ” (Psalm 119:105, 114)

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The hiding place was not just a secret room where a handful of people at a time could hide from an enemy who sought to destroy them. In the depths of their pain, these sisters who knew Christ so well hid in him. And he led them moment by moment through the shadows. He was their Light in darkness, their Hope in despair, their Exceeding Joy in the sadness that sought to overpower them. The Lord Jesus Himself became their Hiding Place.

God is intimately acquainted with all our ways (Ps. 139:3) and orders all things for his purpose. We are not meant to know all the purposes of God, but we are meant to seek and trust in him.

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During their lives, Corrie and Betsie became intimately acquainted with suffering, and Betsie, abounding in childlike faith, reminded her sister to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:13). Betsie led her sister in faith and prayer, giving thanks for everything—even the fleas in their living quarters, for she knew her Savior had a Sovereign purpose even behind those fleas.

One of the most influential parts of this book was how these women prayed, “Lord show us how to live, show us the way.” Time and again, the Holy Spirit led them in practical, everyday steps. They did the next thing, trusting God to lead, and they acted in faith. I find that when I pray this way, my heart is focused on dependence upon him and his provision.

“My job was simply to follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to Him in prayer.” (The Hiding Place, p. 81)

There were moments while reading when I held tightly to my yellow highlighter, marking up quotes I wanted to remember, even parenting advice from the ten Booms’ beloved Father. Other times, I was speechless, with eyes closed and tears streaming, not able to read another word of the nightmarish existence these sisters had to endure.

Corrie and Betsie remained valiantly faithful through this ordeal. But this story, in all its fullness, points to something beyond both Corrie and Betsie and their faithfulness. It points to a place of refuge, which is not really a place at all, but a Person. It was the gift of Jesus that was given to these women and it was Jesus who ministered through these women in the darkest place on earth. Jesus was their Hiding Place.

After my friend returned the book, I held it in my hands, knowing that I needed to read this story. God greatly impacted my thinking and my prayer life through this true story. I wanted to share this reflection with others because I believe it is a story that must not be forgotten.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:35-39)