Letter #10: Advice about shopping

Dear Aglet,

I’ve noticed two attitudes toward shopping: in one view, it’s a fun, recreational activity; in the other, shopping is a cringe-inducing, groan-worthy chore to be gotten out of the way with as soon as possible.

I’m somewhere between the two extremes; I act like I have the second attitude because I suspect I inwardly have the first one and I don’t want to admit it. Any shopping spree tendencies I have, I actively suppress. Repress. Squash.

(This is mostly because I hobnob with Job’s proverbial turkey, as will you unless your parents do something extraordinary. I’ve got no plans to be a business tycoon or a world dictator, so you, Aglet, will probably start out your life without much excess.)

Both kinds of people, curiously enough, are prey to the same trap of impulse buying. The first sort does it out of a desire to have the thing–whatever it may be–and there is pleasure in obtaining it, so there, they’ve bought it. Dangerous habit, maybe, unless you’ve got plenty of funds to spend without thinking through what you buy.

But the other sort of person might do the exact same thing, just for a different reason! I’ve seen it and done it myself, Aglet. You finally succeed in dragging yourself to the store for some long-contested necessity, and then one of two things happens: either you spend as much time as you can, comparing price and quality and agonizing over the perfect, thriftiest choice; or you scan around for the nearest, cheapest thing that will fit the bill.
Depends on the day.

And then you just…buy it. You probably don’t go home to think about it first, because that would mean coming back up later and shopping again. And when you finally take the thing to the counter and it rings up and IT’S NOT ACTUALLY ON SALE LIKE THE PRICE TAG SAID IT WAS, you probably don’t contest it, because like whatever, just get me out of this place.

And that’s where you have GOT to strike a balance between the two extremes, Aglet (talking more to myself here). You MUST choose between saving your money and saving your pride. The silly part of your brain is going to tell you, “Now, Jo, just man up, tough it out, and pay the extra money.” But Don’t You Listen, Son.

The person who rationally thinks through “I have this much money set aside for this, and I can’t afford to just buy something on impulse” will probably make herself motion to the cashier and ask to put the thing–whatever it is–back. And it will not feel good, or cool, or adult-y.

It’ll probably feel cheap, and miserly, and OH-My-Goodness-It’s-Just-A-THING-Why-Can’t-I-EVER-Make-A-Decision? But you can handle it, Aglet, and the next morning will be a new morning, and you can try again to find whatever-the-thing-was-that-you-needed.

And (cross your fingers), maybe you won’t have buyer’s remorse.

So here are two practical pieces of advice about finances–and they’re pretty much the only assets I have to give you, so far, so listen up:

  1. Decide whether you care more about (a) taking care of the resources you’ve been given or (b) avoiding feeling “weird” because you realized you can’t actually afford that thing just now.
  2. Ask God for enough, and no more. There’s a great proverb (30:7-9) that goes like this:

“Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches–
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.

What I’m not saying is that having a lot of money is inherently bad or evil, or that you must take a vow of poverty to please God. What I am saying is that “poor” and “rich” don’t always mean what we think they mean, and a very little may be enough if, through it, you are reminded that it is God who provides what you need.

You may be given lots of money to take care of, Aglet, in which case you’ll need godly wisdom and a generous heart.

Practically speaking, a smaller budget (if you stick to it) might give you a built-in defense against your equally built-in bent toward materialism.

Love from your future (hypothetical) grandma,

Jo

Advertisements

Summer 2018 Reading List

I’ll try to keep this simple. Minimal rambling:)

I’ve been overly ambitious with reading lists in the past, but I know myself better now. So I’ve picked three or four books I want to read this summer and I’m giving myself plenty of leeway for re-reading Orthodoxy or anything by Nicholas Carr about transhumanism.

What I want to read:

  • Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas

I’ve read another book by Metaxas and for the most part I like his style. He’s a good biographer, and thus far into Amazing Grace he’s referenced William Cowper twice and mentioned Chesterton once. So I’m excited to keep reading.

  • My Antonia, by Willa Cather

I read this a while ago, but I didn’t understand it at all, just found it moving and beautiful. I want to read it again when I might understand it better. I want to read it again to see the red sunset on the plains and feel the ache of loving the land.

  • Phantastes: a Faerie Romance for Men and Women, by George MacDonald

“I was dead, and right content.” If you like lovely, rambling prose and a new adventure on every page, read this book. It’s another re-read, but I need to be refreshed–and this is the kind of fiction that refreshes your soul and prompts you to go deeper into real life, rather than escaping from it. It’s a wonderful story.

  • The Stargazer’s Handbook, Sweetwater Press

I’m going to read about constellations and study up so that when my stargazing buddy gets back, I can find more in the sky than Orion, the Pleiades, and Cassiopeia. I want to wonder, and maybe knowing more about the largeness of the sky and the smallness of me will help!

I told you I wasn’t ambitious. This is the smallest reading list I’ve ever made for a summer. You better finish this list, Jo.

I’m also interested in any recommendations you may have. What are you reading?

“My God, I Love Thee:” Why Are We Praising God?

I told myself I was going to spare you the perfunctory “these are all the reasons I haven’t blogged in a while” paragraph. I’ll keep it short: I’ve been not very busy–just been watering blueberries and writing letters, mainly. Watching stuff grow. It’s been a great time:)

Today at my church we sang a praise song that had as a bridge the following line:

I’ll praise You, not that I have to, not that I ought to, but that I may.

We must have sung this 8-9 times, and I still didn’t know how I felt about it by the song’s end. What does that mean? I am having a hard time figuring out what exactly the distinction is that the authors are trying to make.

My sister says what the intent must have been is something more like this: We praise God not only because we ought to, and we praise Him not because He forces us to, but because He lets us praise Him.

Okay, yes. That seems like a distinction I can get behind. But seriously? I have a hard time believing that any children in the congregation are going to make that connection from the way the bridge of the song was worded. In the distinction the authors made between reasons for praising God, it sure sounds like the emphasis is on the person offering praise.

It’s also just really unclear phrasing: I’m pretty sure the intention is not to say that we ought not praise God, but I would definitely understand someone younger or new to the faith hearing that as the song’s meaning.

Finally, when do we actually praise God in these songs? A big problem in some of the standard worship songs these days is that we do a lot of build-up with phrases like “we pour out our praise,” but never actually get to the praise part.

Is it a wonderful thing that God has drawn us to a place where we may praise Him? Yes.

Is it marvelous that God alone is worthy of worship? Yes, absolutely. Let’s rejoice that we get to worship our Creator.

But is there a way to then sing together of God’s character and attributes and actually ascribe Him that praise we say we’ve come to offer? Please?

Inner me: Jo, Jo, Jo. You are being too picky and critical and unhelpfully divisive. Don’t rag on your fellow brothers and sisters who are serving the Lord by writing today’s worship and praise anthems. They are doing the best they can and appealing to how people worship nowadays, rather than sticking to old language no one understands.

Well, dang it–they can do better. We need to be better, not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of being as clear as we can about why we worship God, and how we worship God, and for goodness’ sake, would it hurt us to look in a hymnal sometime?

As Christians, we don’t have to be afraid of old-fashioned phrases or difficult concepts–and goodness, wouldn’t it be better to tackle them head-on and early, so that our kids aren’t uninformed about their faith and blind-sided later on?

I get that it’s important to make the language we use as accessible as we can, but I also think that our worship is a key time to remind ourselves of what we know of God from Scripture. It’s a time to take the focus completely off ourselves, and confess together what we believe about our Savior.

It’s a time to instruct our children in the fundamentals of theology, so that hopefully later in the life they don’t think that theology and studying the Bible is only for pastors and teachers. Song in worship can serve all these purposes, and it seems insufficient to settle for an emotional, feel-good moment that may be due more to the repetition of words than to our true understanding of their meaning.

I’m going to end this post with a hymn from 1849 by Francis Xavier, which seems to be making a distinction about our motivation for loving God that’s similar to that of the modern song I quoted earlier.

I think it does the job better because the author takes the time and effort to develop his reasoning for claiming what he does. A child listening to this hymn would never have to sing the same line over and over, not understanding the full meaning.

And then just consider the emphasis of the hymn: where do we end? Who do we end up talking to, and about? Here is “My God, I Love Thee:”

My God, I love thee, not because I hope for heav’n thereby,
Nor yet for fear that loving not I might forever die;
But for that thou didst all mankind upon the cross embrace;
For us didst bear the nails and spear, and manifold disgrace.

And griefs and torments numberless, and sweat of agony;
E’en death itself, and all for man, who was thine enemy.
Then why, most loving Jesus Christ, should I not love thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heav’n, nor any fear of hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught, not seeking a reward,
But as thyself hast loved me, O ever-loving Lord!
E’en so I love thee, and will love, and in thy praise will sing,
Solely because thou art my God and my eternal King!

Thank you for reading:) What I’d like to do is foster a conversation about what sorts of praise songs are helpful, rather than just getting mad about songs I don’t like so well. Not sure if I did so hot on that second goal.

So let me know your thoughts–is there a song or hymn that you find particularly helpful? I’d love to hear about it!

“Sometimes a Light Surprises”

Today I ran as far as I could, trying to rid myself of how overwhelmed I was feeling.
I can’t run that far, friends.

My response to dealing with one hard thing is to become anxious about all the other potential hard things awaiting me. And I can pretend all I want that I’ve conquered worry and fear and anxiety. It’s just not true.

Today, as many times before, there came a point when I was exhausted from running. Exhausted from trying to stuff my fears back down into myself; trying to deal with everything quietly and on my own; trying to excuse my worrying as only an unfortunate habit.

Every time I reach this point, Phillipians 4:6-7 runs through my head, over and over. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

It sounds so easy. Just stop being anxious, Jo. Tomorrow will worry about itself. You know this.

Sometimes it seems like it’s the very things we know best with our heads that are hardest to keep solidly in our hearts.

Take a look at a hymn written by William Cowper (1731-1800), who also wrote “There Is a Fountain” and other great hymns:

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

Isn’t it an encouraging hymn? Listen again to these words: “Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, ‘Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.'”

That Cowper guy, he must have really known about worrying and what the biblical response ought to be. Well, yes, you might say that, but let’s look closer.

William Cowper was friends with John Newton–even wrote hymns with him–and there are accounts of their interaction. Cowper struggled with depression for much of his adult life, at one point even attempting suicide. John Newton encouraged him through these times, but Cowper thought that he had committed an unforgivable sin in trying to take his own life.

Eventually, he stopped attending church, although he remained close friends with Newton until his death in 1800. Several hymns written in the latter part of his life attest that William Cowper still trusted in Christ, but did he ever get rid of his depression?

William Cowper, struggling with depression, penned these words: “Yet God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice, for while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.”

Was he relieved from all worries and cares in his life? Or did he just pretend he wasn’t struggling? Likely neither was the case. Not until William Cowper met his Savior face-to-face, was he relieved of his crippling depression. We can see from his hymns that he knew the right answer, and I think that he probably returned again and again to the comfort he found in Scripture.

What can we say about dealing with depression, or anxiety, or worry, plain-and-simple? Can we fix ourselves by somehow having enough faith, or by pasting on a smile and pretending we’re not anxious?

Here’s a better question: what are we to do with our anxiety and cares, when they come? We don’t ignore them, or think God won’t listen because well, here we are again, worrying about that same old thing, worrying about a new thing altogether, not having learned the lesson from last time.

God listens, friend. Go to Him. Tell Him. 

Do you know that He meets the poor in spirit right here, wherever they’ve stopped running because they’re exhausted from handling everything on their own? My weakness, your weakness, William Cowper’s weakness–all these are opportunities to learn more and more what God’s peace is like.

And no, in this life we may never stop dealing with worry or even depression–but the point is that God is able to draw us to Himself even through tough moments when we are vulnerable and overwhelmed.

He inspired William Cowper to write a powerfully encouraging hymn, all the more powerful because the author proved in his heart (again and again) what he knew with his head.

 

Thanks for reading! Reach out in the comments or through email if you’ve got thoughts on this topic and want to have a conversation. I’d like to be praying with you:)

Letter #9: In Defense of Letter-Writing

Dear Aglet,

Let me explain something. I’m writing these letters to you during the tail-end (or maybe it’s smack dab in the middle, I don’t know) of a cultural shift from print to web. From handwriting to typing to texting.

Bookstores to e-books.

Cabinets to clouds.

Even noting this fact makes me a grandma, I’m so late to the game.

My point is, people my age aren’t writing letters to each other. It makes me really sad. See, I love checking the mail, because there’s nothing like the feeling of opening the mailbox and seeing my name on a good, well-stuffed envelope, which some nice person thought to send me.

[Note: we don’t necessarily count the nice lady or fellow who sends the bills in this group of people, however worthy they may be].

AND. And and and. What I love even MORE is sending such a letter. Oh, the joy that comes to this introvert when she has the chance to write down all her thoughts in a hopefully-coherent-but-still-poetical way and then bombard some poor soul with the whatever-it-is that gets written down.

It’s a lovely sensation. It’s so lovely that I’m borrowing from forty years in the future when you might actually be in existence, Aglet, and sending you these letters now. I don’t expect a reply–which makes it easier.

I’m also writing a dear friend in real life, and realizing how much patience is required in letter-writing. I had to wait to send the letter, and I have to wait a few days to properly imagine his opening the letter, and then wait a few more days to even begin anticipating a response.

I’m realizing how much patience I do not have.

But it makes it easier, in a way, to think of our communication in terms of days, weeks, and months, rather than the previous manner of hours and minutes, when a flurry of texts could be sent simultaneously. [In your case, Aglet, communication is decades away, which is at once delicious and terrifying to consider.]

Patience is a learned gift.

What a blessing, then, for someone who desires patience, to have a chance to learn it, and, I pray, learn it well! I love tangible things–even something as simple as opening a real mailbox, rather than clicking on a button which then does its code-y thing and redirects me to more code that’s been translated for me to read. The latter is cool enough, but my opening of the mailbox: that is the miracle.

To be reading what someone far away wrote down for me. To be able to understand without the aid of some other technology. To know that time was taken in the writing, and deliberation taken in the sending.

We appreciate what we think is worth waiting for. And, in the waiting, we have the privilege to hope–a peculiarly human thing to do, I think.

Sincerely,

Your Grandma, Jo

 

The Bad Content/Good Literature Problem (and vice versa)

Have you ever been reading a book and realized “holy cow, this is kind of a bad book,” and not been able to finish it? I have, plenty.

What makes a bad book? Offensive content or sloppy writing? In English classes, professors drill it into you that a “bad book” must mean the latter–it’s just not written well. Maybe most people agree that good literature means it (whatever it may be) is communicated with excellence, or that there is something expressed in an artful way.

They don’t actually ever agree on a formula, but that’s why there’s still an English major. We like to discuss.

I read plenty of material in English classes that had horrible content–I mean, pretty dang wretched–but certain poems or novels were in the anthologies because they were good literature. Shakespeare, John Donne, Robert Herrick–they all wrote beautifully, but more often than not the subject matter wasn’t exactly edifying (looking at you, Robert Herrick a la “The Vine”).

How come we can excuse inappropriate content if it’s presented artfully, but a book that’s badly-written gets dismissed immediately, even if its content is admirable?

This is opening like five cans of worms all at once, and I know I don’t have all the answers to the questions I’m asking. I’m genuinely asking for some perspective on what makes something worth reading–whether you’re more motivated to read a book that will help you or a book that will entertain you. I want to know whether you would choose a better-written book with salacious content or, all things being equal, a not-so-eloquent book that has great themes and characters but nothing in it you couldn’t comfortably read aloud to your grandmother.

WHY DO WE HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN GOOD CONTENT and GOOD WRITING?

AAAAAH.

I need to clarify something. I am of the opinion that children don’t need to read about grown-up things until they’re grown up. I am also of the opinion that grown-ups may choose to read what suits them. I think that there is some content inappropriate for some people that’s fine for others, and here’s the key thing: I think there are some stories that require less-savory details to be included, because stories should be in some way true to life, and there are parts of life that are less-savory.

I’m not arguing for censorship, or making every piece of literature the Bible. But I am frustrated that in order to write a good novel, some writers feel they must include some explicit scene or language, even if it isn’t needed for the story. It makes me mad as a hopeful writer to be told any stories I write can’t be good literature unless they include certain “realistic” elements, as if a book must be as heavy-handed as a movie in telling the reader what’s happening elsewhere.

am arguing for imagination, and for a sense of reserve when telling a story. I think, although I don’t know for certain, that a good story-teller is like a painter in that there should always be something more there than at first meets the eye. There is more in a good impression given to a reader, than in a thousand actions described.

And then I start thinking about the fact that there are such things as “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I just really think the printing press should have been destroyed after all.

I mean really. 

To be continued, maybe, if I get mad again.

Write, Jo, Write

Ever feel like you don’t have anything to say, actually? I do. Right now, I feel that. I have been reading blog after blog which talk about how to get people to read my words, but none of them tells me how to write words that are worth reading.

So much has already been written–adding more words can feel like shouting into the whirlwind. Unless I know why I’m writing, it’s hard to feel motivated to just add something. But that’s what I’m doing, anyway. I’ve heard that, to be a writer, you have to write.

OH.

Is that all I’m missing? Self-discipline? Is it really just a matter of setting aside the time and doing it?

Probably five times since the New Year, I’ve started out writing about Thomas Hardy and optimism and the Darkling Thrush, and I’ve only gotten a sentence in every time.

It’s a great post (I hope), but it’s in my head–just stuck there–and driving me crazy.

Dear writers reading this–let’s start writing, okay? Let’s keep writing, but let’s remember why. What is it you need to say?

So write something imperfect (like this mess of a blog update), and then write something better afterward. Stay tuned for Thomas Hardy:)

Human for the Holidays

It’s a kitschy title, I’ll admit.  I’ve just been thinking about how these holidays will be a little different for me than previous Christmases, when I had four weeks of a break from school. This year, because God has blessed me with gainful employment, I get one day off, and I’m trying to think of how to make the most of it when it gets here.

So here’s my list of reminders starting now, December 6, that you are welcome to join me in, if you’d like to. They are reminders to be human, and to engage people around me well, rather than be absorbed by a screen. They’re activities I think are peculiarly human things to do, and they’re things to do at your leisure (ie, if no one immediately signs up to climb a mountain with you, don’t get discouraged and go by yourself and get mauled by a bear–or worse, not go at all). If you think of more ideas, or things you plan to do this Christmas, please share them in a comment!

Week One:

-Make a coffee date with a friend. Don’t check the phone. Listen:)

-Arrange to meet that one friend who always sends ugly pictures back and forth with you on Snapchat. Sit facing one another. See who can make the silliest face. Laugh together:)

-Wake up really early, bundle up, and take a brisk walk. Don’t put earbuds in. Just listen.

-Have tea-time promptly at 4 o’clock with a dear friend. Have cookies and tea (or hot chocolate). Chat about the weather and your health. Each of you recite your favorite poem.

Week Two:

-Find three or more friends and have game night (board games/pictionary/charades/anything) but leave your phones in the other room. Pretend you’re in a theater: you can’t text the friends who didn’t come until the game night’s done.

-Read a (good) book cover-to-cover. Warn anyone who persistently contacts you that you’re unavailable for the next two hours, but that you’ll talk to them soon. REEEAAADD.

-Knit a thneed. If you don’t know how to knit, ask a friend to teach you.

-Make a homemade loaf of bread. If possible, do this with your mother. Eat the bread with homemade butter (actually SUPER easy to make) OR blackberry jam. Or anything you want.

Week Three:

-Wrap presents/clean your room/do your homework/wash the dishes: do anything you need to do, but if possible, without checking your phone throughout.

-Play video games with your kid sister (or brother) but DON’T check your phone during it. Just play. Lose, win, it doesn’t matter, just keep mashing the button and focusing on being with the person you’re with.

-Go OUTSIDE and play football, or baseball, or tag, or blind man’s bluff (not sure how to play that last one) with your family or your neighbors or your friends. Preferably a mixture of all three.

-Make a fancy dinner for your parents and serve it on fancy dishes with a fancy candle on the table. [CLEAN ALL DISHES AFTERWARD. ALL DISHES. EVERYWHERE. EVER.]

-Sing carols all day. Go caroling at night. Have apple cider waiting when you get back.

-Watch a Christmas movie–but leave your phone somewhere else and text people later.

CHRISTMAS DAY:

As much as is possible, wherever you are Christmas day, be all there. Yes, wish EVERYONE happy Christmas and call friends and far-away family and do these things, but be with people, and don’t distract yourself with Facebook or Twitter or things that, at least the memories of which, aren’t going to be with you when you’re your parents’ age and older.

Sincerely, Jo:)

 

To Tune a Heart

“Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.”

We know this one, right? Written by Robert Robinson in the 1700s, tune by John Wyeth (as I literally just now learned)? What a hymn, friends–what a concept: that our hearts must be tuned like instruments to praise our Master Craftsman. The hymn goes on–

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount–I’m fixed upon it–mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer–hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it–prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart–O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

This is helpful stuff. But what on earth is an “Ebenezer?”

Other than a type of Scrooge, I mean.

I looked it up in our huge, Random House Dictionary of the English Language (because I’m stubborn and because I wrote this long paper once about posthumanism), and I didn’t learn the definition. [I did, however, learn what an ebeniste is: a French cabinetmaker, if you were wondering].

SO I caved and went to the online OED, which defined “Ebenezer” so:

1a. The name of the memorial stone set up by Samuel after the victory of Mizpeh: see 1 Sam. vii. 12. Used appellatively in religious literature in fig. phrases, alluding to the sentiment ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’, associated with the origin of the name.

Okay cool–so I looked up 1 Samuel 12. It’s a great passage, all about Samuel giving the Israelites a reminder of what he’s been telling them all his life: Trust God. Serve the Lord. Fear Him.

But I don’t see any mention of a memorial stone. It’s kind of a sad passage–the people have demanded a king, even though God was their king–and God has given them Saul, and Samuel says that if the people and their king will continue to follow God, all will be well. But the people have a habit of forgetting, and it’s pretty clear Samuel knows this.

He ends with something that’s a cross between a blessing and a warning:

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve hm faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12: 20-25)

Wherever that memorial stone is in the passage–that same idea pervades Robinson’s hymn: that God tunes our hearts by reminding us what He has done.

Fount of blessing. Streams of mercy. Redeeming love. Let these reminders bind our hearts to our Savior, who rescued us before we knew how lost we were, back when we were wandering aimlessly and serving useless idols.

What’s reminded me of this is a poem by George Herbert (my favorite poet) called Denial. I’ll give the whole thing, but especially note the rhyme and meter and how they change:

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears,
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go anywhere, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come!
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! All day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung;
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung
Discontented.

O cheer and tune my heartless breast;
Defer no time,
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

Do you see how crazy the meter is in here? And the rhymes go back and forth in each stanza until the last line, when there’s an effect of brokenness: Disorder. Alarms. Discontented. Untuned. Unstrung. 

And then. The speaker’s prayer is that God will “cheer and tune [his] heartless breast,” and that, being in tune with the will of His Father, his offering will be acceptable.

Teach us some melodious sonnet, God–and let us remember what You’ve done throughout history to glorify how good and great You are. Mend our feeble spirits, and let our hearts be satisfied with Your mercy.

Letter #8: For Jonah-days

Dear Aglet,

I’ve started writing this probably five times over the past few weeks. Just now I saw that it’s my thirteenth blog post I’ve written a draft for and not published. They’re about various, unimportant things: one is called “Purple hair dye and communion wine” and I think it’s about dressing up as Madam Mim for Halloween.

In other words, I’m not sure I have anything worth saying, but I’m writing anyway.

That last sentence may end up being my autobiography in one sentence.

I tried doing NANOWRIMO for the fifth or sixth year in a row, and all I have to show for it (so far) is one page, handwritten on front and back, about a young preacher’s wife who moves to a town called Marysville, TX, where it’s always dusty and dull and she has to do good all the time and she misses the trees in Arkansas.

I don’t like how it’s heading, so I’m retiring that story, maybe forever.

Everything ends in autobiography with me, Aglet, which is a real shame, because I’ve not gone and done a whole lot with my life thus far. Hence, I’m not sure I have anything much to say. There have been some Jonah-days here lately–days where your soul feels like the grayest of days in November, and it doesn’t seem like anything can make it better.

There have been wonderful days too–days like today, when the sun came out and various poems by e.e.cummings and Gerard Manley Hopkins kept popping cheerfully into my head and distracting me.

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

I cry about everything, mostly, even lovely things. Even while laughing, sometimes. I heard my dad’s voice and cried; heard a sad song and cried; thought about what it would be like to have cancer and cried; thought about what it would be like to have someone I loved have cancer and cried.

Worried about what might happen tomorrow, or in five years. And cried.

It’s ridiculous, especially because I have been down this road so many times, and I’ve made a choice over and over and over not to fret about what happens next (or five years from now), but instead to trust God, who’s infinitely worth trusting.

I need help trusting God and being more honest than simply stuffing my fear into my pocket and pretending that means I don’t have it anymore. Jonah-days will come to you. Whether you’re terrified of things not turning out perfectly or whether you think you’re so strong that hard times will just bounce off whatever rationalistic armor you’ve been layering on as a defense against overwhelming emotion–something will happen that’s too hard for you, Aglet.

You’ll have to decide where to run and what to do when you are overwhelmed with fear, or depression, or anger, or grief, or any of a thousand troubles that won’t be a reality anymore when we’re in God’s presence. But they’re reality now, and they needn’t be pointless. If, when you discover you’ve been horribly wrong about something important, you yield to despair, thinking you’ve ruined everything and you somehow can’t ever fix what could have been, you’ve missed something.

You’ve missed (and when I say “you” you better know I mean “I“) grace, in a way, and the precious illustration of your own desperate need for grace. Feeling heart-sick, or lonely, even feeling rage at the wrongness of the world–all these may drive us to prayer: to wrestling with how on earth lovely things and wretched things exist together, and to asking our Father to fix what’s broken, to fix us.

So yes, on Jonah-days, read Hopkins, read cummings, even read Whitman, but most of all take comfort in knowing that God is both good and great, and He blesses the poor in spirit.

Love, your grandma,

Jo

Continue reading