Archive for January, 2012

Raw Grief, Holy Hilarity, and Stubborn Grace

“This book is the story of how we reclaim the things that are lost.  It’s also the story of how a home can become sacred, and how in the process it can sanctify us as well. I can tell you these things because I have been in dark places—which is the only way any of us learns to love the light. . . . Home is . . . where we learn grace . . . where we find or lose God, or perhaps where He finds us if we will only be still long enough to listen.”  (Tony Woodlief, Somewhere More Holy, p. 32)

So ends Tony Woodlief’s introduction to his amazing book, Somewhere More Holy.  It’s the first book I’ve read this year, and I already know it will be at the top of my list of 2012 favorites.  My daughter gave it to me for Christmas, and I began to love it the minute I skimmed through the first few pages.

For starters, it opens with a quote from Frederick Buechner. You know a book can’t be all bad, beginning with Buechner.  I also like the fact that each chapter begins with excerpts from other favorite authors of mine.  But it was really an author completely new to me—Tony Woodlief—who captured my attention with his first words and never really let me go until the end.  Actually, I was very sorry to come to the end.

The book is a story that weaves together many stories.  Stories from, as the cover tells us, “a bewildered father, stumbling husband, reluctant handy man, and prodigal son.”  It is the story of deep loss.  Probably the deepest loss any parent can experience—the loss of a child, a beautiful, exuberant little 3-year-old robbed of the rest of her earthly life by a brain tumor.  Excruciating loss and pain.

It is also the story of some almost-losses: of a marriage, of father-son relationships, and of the ultimate Father-Son relationship with God.  Woodlief recounts these  losses and almost-losses with raw authenticity.  Reader be cautioned: have tissues at the ready.

But it is also a story of hope and hilarity and, as Woodlief says in my beginning quote, reclaiming the things that are lost.  The author has a rare ability to juxtapose joy and sorrow, the eternal and the everyday, the marvelous and the mundane, in ways that constantly catch the reader by surprise.  Reading the book feels like riding a roller coaster.  You never know where the next twist or turn will take you.  And oh, those heart-stopping drops!

Woodlief is a really good writer.  He’s also very very funny.  Never have I read a book that took me from laughter to tears so unsuspectingly.  There are—believe it or not—tons of LOL (“laughing out loud” for any non-texters) moments when Woodlief  recounts parenting adventures with his four wild and wooly little boys.  More than once my husband looked up at me from his football game while I was reading the book, wondering why I was laughing so hard.

Amidst the laughter and the tears, it’s also a great parenting book.  The author takes us through various rooms in the Woodlief home where there have been lessons aplenty in marriage and parenting that he shares with humor, humility, and hope.  Side note: you’ve got to love some of his chapter titles—e.g. “Where the Wild Things Are” for the chapter on the boys’ rooms.

Ultimately, Somewhere More Holy is the story of grace—God’s stubborn, abounding, relentless, amazing grace.  Just what a mom needs more than anything else.  Just what this mom needed more than anything else.  Thank you, Tony Woodlief, for reminding us.  And please, write more books!

My Best Book of 2011

Yes, I do know that it is now 2012.  But it just occurred to me that I never shared with you the book which most impacted my life in 2011.

It’s a wonderful little devotional book: Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, by Sarah Young.  Most of you probably already know about it.  It seems every time I recommend it to someone, they already have it.  It has been around a while (published in 2004).  But I had not heard of it until a friend gave me a copy last spring.  Since then, I have been reading it pretty much daily.  And day after day, I have the feeling she’s writing just for me.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say He wrote this just for me, as the book is based on scripture verses for each day that Sarah Young has loosely paraphrased in the first person—as if Jesus is talking directly to you.  I love that the verses from which she’s writing are included at the bottom of each day’s reading.  It’s a great way to find yourself dipping into words from God that you may not have encountered in a while.

The underlying theme is captured in the subtitle: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  Morning after morning, we are encouraged to be aware of our Savior’s presence with us throughout the day, whatever may happen.  Here’s an example:

“I want you to learn a new habit.  Try saying, ‘I trust you, Jesus’ in response to whatever happens to you. . . . This simple practice will help you see me in every situation, acknowledging my sovereign control over the universe.  When you view things from this perspective . . . fear loses its grip on you. . . .”  (January 4 entry)

The concept of living in His presence all day long, trusting Him for that day and trusting Him for the future, is certainly not a new one.  It’s as old as scripture.  And as I read, I am often reminded of Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God and John Ortberg’s God Is Closer Than You Think.  Both wonderful books.  But somehow—maybe because she is a woman?—Sarah Young seems to strike even closer to the bone.

Of course it’s really God Himself—and His words—that do this.  But thank you, Sarah Young, for reminding us!

A closing word for today (January 17) just in case you don’t yet have this book:

“Come to me with a thankful heart, so that you can enjoy My Presence.  This is the day that I have made.  I want you to rejoice today, refusing to worry about tomorrow. . . . Come to me with all your needs, knowing that my glorious riches are a more-than-adequate supply.  Stay in continual communication with me, so that you can live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them. . . .” (Psalm 118:24; Philippians 4:19, 6-7 NASB)

Good words for me today—and for you, too!

January Light

Is it January?  Really?  2012?  Really?  I feel as if I’m coming out of a giant cave—a cave where we’ve just been having a wonderful two-week party.  And I’m blinking into the light of a whole new year.  A whole new world.

Our house has just emptied out after 16 days of glorious chaos.  In overlapping visits, all our kids and grandkids were here to celebrate Christmas.  Such joy.  The house was full of Pack’n Plays and sleeping bags (there were 6 kids 6 and under), bouncers and blocks, Pampers and puzzles.  There were tunnels to crawl through in the basement, elaborate track designs on the train table, and hide and seek all over the house.  There was almost always someone hiding in the pantry.

But the last flight has taken off, the toys are put away, the tree and all the decorations are down, and the house is quiet.  Very, very quiet.  And empty.  Way too empty. It’s January.

But there’s still that “certain slant of light” I wrote about earlier.  Each morning as I have my quiet time (very, very quiet time), I see it slanting in across the mantle where the manger scene was.  (Full disclosure: I don’t actually see sunshine every morning in Wisconsin.  Today it is gray and snowy, and the sun didn’t quite make it through.  But still, I know it’s there.)

A while back I wrote about being mesmerized by the light of Christmas.  Well, it turns out it’s still here to light our way into the new year.  It may not appear quite as glamorous after Christmas.  But it seems I need it all the more in January.

And that’s the great news.  The Light that came with Christmas shines right on into January—and way beyond.  The Babe born in the manger didn’t stay there, waiting to be safely tucked away with the nativity set until next Christmas.  That was only the beginning for the story.  Thanks to our redemptive God, the Light that came into the world at Christmas became our Light for all the days and weeks and months of the year.

Maybe especially for January, with all of its newness and uncertainty and unknowns.  The little chalkboard in our kitchen still bears its Advent message: He is coming! I need to update it.  He has come, “that true Light that gives Light to everyone.” (John 1:9)  And now He calls us to walk in that light : “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)

Even in January.

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