22. Bathroom Interrupted: When Our Faith Journey Is Stalled


The bathroom in this little cottage has been started and stopped, started and stopped, and now seems to be stalled indefinitely for a variety of no-good reasons: lack of ambition, other projects, fear of the unknown, or just downright procrastination.

Oh, it’s mostly beautiful. There’s a long vanity on one side with a striking hammered copper bowl sink. There’s a big mirror with wall sconces on either side; a timed electric wall heater, and a light that comes on when we walk in the doors.

The replaced window that looks out on to the back porch has been hung with a stained glass window and the new medicine cabinet is an extra mirror above the new water-saver toilet that has a bidet option. It’s mostly luxurious. Especially compared to what it used to be and how long we lived with it.

There is only one project left: the shower.

Seventy-five percent of the supplies for it are purchased and stored out on the back porch. I have alternately nagged, been silent, suggested we hire someone else to do it, asked when the start date might be…The last time I brought it up (after several months of silence) it started a series of unpleasantries that have not been reconciled. I’m not sure what to do, so in those cases, prayer is usually the answer.

Like interrupted home projects, faith journeys often get interrupted, stalled, or stuck. Sometimes outside events or other people are the cause, sometimes it is our own lackluster faith, and sometimes God intervenes for reasons of His own that we might not yet be able to see. Many times there seems to be no clear path forward: a faith that used to bring clarity and joy to life now brings only doubt and struggle; decision-making becomes muddied and almost impossible; and life is covered over with a gray cloud of angst and depression. At least, that’s what happened to me. I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t hear or see Jesus in scripture; love and joy was gone from my life, I doubted God.

I don’t have any instant answers. I will only speak about what thousands of others before me have said:

When you can’t pray, just say, Help me Lord. That in itself is a prayer–perhaps the most poignant prayer that you’ve ever prayed. It is a hard truth that God often sends suffering and sorrow to mature our faith, to help us achieve wisdom, to make us give up our illusion of control and rely on Him. This is especially hard when your soul seems dry and your prayers seem weak. Sometimes a beautiful prayer or piece of writing, written by someone else, and read out loud just made me cry. I used these three books: The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller; Praying Through the Names of God by Tony Evans; Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund; and I also re-read the book that was instrumental in bringing me to Christ–Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his small book, Psalms: the prayer book of the Bible that “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”

So when the poverty of your heart is overwhelming and you can’t hear Jesus in scripture, just keep reading. Read your favorite passages. Read them out loud even. Pray them. I read Psalm 139 over and over and over. Psalm 24 also, because it, too, is one of my favorites. I read and re-read Philippians 2 and John 14. You have your favorites–read them. The vision I kept trying for was remembering Christ on the cross. For me. And reminding myself that it isn’t about me. In a way, all that ennui and spiritual malaise I was suffering, was just another form of thinking about self. But more about that later….

Find a verse that speaks to you. In my readings, I found this scripture: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.–John 6:37. I wrote it on my kitchen chalk board. I made a bookmark of it. I memorized it. And whenever the doubts and depressions came over me, I said it to myself. Out loud, sometimes. And I found plenty of verses on the Lord’s faithfulness. I wrote this one on the kitchen chalkboard too: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.–Joshua 1:9

Find someone you can trust and talk to them. I had several friends who knew that I was struggling; I talked to a godly old friend; I went to a godly new friend. They all prayed with and for me. They sent me cards. They sent me lyrics to songs. They sent me texts and blog posts and sermons and reassurance. You are not alone; thousands of faithful believers have gone through periods of darkness for thousands of years before this has happened to you. You are not the first; you will not be the last. It has a name, “the dark night of the soul,” so named by St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite friar who wrote of the soul’s struggling journey to find the ultimate love of God. “In the dark night of the soul,” he wrote, “bright flows the river of God.”

“God is at home. We are in the far country.”

–Meister Eckhart

Find beauty in a new way. My go-to spiritual renewal has always been delighting in the natural beauty around me and thanking God for His creation. In this far country, my old habits didn’t work, which only increased my sorrow. Instead I rediscovered my earbuds. Listening to my favorite hymns, anthems, and praise-songs brought tears, deep breaths, and refreshment. Using the earbuds helped to shut out the noise of living. I also discovered a Compline podcast put out by Samford University, Compline: An Evening Liturgy for Anxious Souls and I listened to it each evening before turning out the light. The quiet music, scriptures, and prayers brought a peace that helped me sleep. I was reminded that even when we are wandering and lost in the far country, there can be times of calm.

Do something for someone else. When you are handing someone a box of food, a hot meal, or a loaf of homemade bread your own troubles fade. St. John of the Cross is also famous for this quote: “When there is no love, pour in love and you shall draw out love.” In other words, Don’t Wallow. There is always something you can do for someone, even something as small as sending a text, a message, or a card. And yes, back to thinking about yourself–doing a loving work for someone else keeps your own self-pity at bay. Mostly we just need to get over ourselves and concentrate on Jesus. On love.

I can only write this now, on the other side of the dark. It’s been eight months, and only now am I beginning to feel like the heaviness and the gray is lifting. I understand that God was and is walking through this with me. In times of heaviness, depression, and angst, God does not desert us–indeed God is always faithful. It is just that we have to push aside those gray clouds of despair in ways that we aren’t used to. That yearning? That desire for God to fill our hearts? God created it in our hearts from the beginning. (He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. –Ecclesiastes 3:11). No, we cannot fathom it, though sometimes we can get a glimpse. Sin–my sin, your sin, our sin–is the gray cloud we have to slog through (the slough of despond, anyone?) and we, being humans, sometimes have a hard time pushing it out of our eyes, our minds, our hearts. But remember,

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.

–Psalm 40:2-3

He, in this Psalm is Jesus. The one who came to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. (See 1 John 2:2) Keep your eyes on Jesus. The darkness will not last forever, sojourner. Fight through those gray clouds, for on the other side is the Son, waiting to welcome you, me, us back into His presence. He never left; we were the ones in the far country.

I wish I could tell you that the shower is finished and show you a lovely photo. But just as our interrupted faith journeys sometimes take months to get back on track, alas, so do home projects. And it’s best if I tell myself that it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s just a material desire, unimportant, and all things material will pass away.

(I just hope that I don’t pass away before the shower is finished….)

Spend some time finding and writing verses about God’s faithfulness and our trust in Him. I will get you started with one of my favorites:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. — Psalm 51:10-12

21. The Color of Light: the created world points us to God


Choosing paint colors is big business these days. There are color tools to help one choose, there are giant paint samples, colors of the month, colors of the year, and innumerable blog posts and web sites on paint colors.

I admit to having trouble making decisions on color, mostly because I love all colors, though that doesn’t mean I want just any color on my walls. There are so many caveats: Is it morning or afternoon light? When will you be spending time in this room? Do you want peace and harmony or a fashion statement or both? What if your favorite color is blue, but your partner can’t stand that color. (Ahem. Who doesn’t like blue? It’s the color of the sky, for goodness sake!)


For inspiration I’ve been sitting on the back porch looking. Looking at the sky (yes, it’s blue!) Looking at the birds. Looking at the world. Every color is here, there. In the natural world, colors just seem to harmonize; the best color matching is always a close copy of God’s own perfect design. 

When I think of color and light I tend to get off topic because the physics and metaphysics of light, color, and sight are amazing to me. How do I know if the beautiful shade of Blooming Grove green in my kitchen is the same color you see?

I don’t. It all comes down to our eyes and the light.

I learned a new word the other day: metamerism (met-TAM-er-ism). It means the effect that light has on color, specifically the type of lighting used to illuminate color and how it affects our perceptions of shades and matching.

The varieties of light make colors change. Fluorescent lights, incandescent lights, LEDS, those squiggly bulbs…they all make the same color look different. That’s why decorators tell you to paint a giant swatch in your room. The same color that you love in your north-facing kitchen will look different in the south-facing bedroom. That same color will change in morning light or afternoon light, summer light, or autumn light. Think of the sunlight on the trees and how it changes their colors. Think of the sunlight pouring down and reflecting on a mass of snow crystals and the glittering colors that result.


The glories of creation speak to us of an all-powerful, self-existent, beauty loving God — from the sky and sun and stars to the shape and smell and shade of a hydrangea. The world is filled with minute intricacies and details that “…since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

God the creator has made us to be creators as well. We are made in His image… He has made colors for our eyes, music for our ears, and He has put eternity in our hearts. We are seekers and God is waiting for us to knock at the door. He will never force us to believe, but the created world points us to God. He has made it all: every human, every spiderweb, every musical note, every apple tree, every word picture…

…and He is waiting for our hearts to open to Him in a thank-you song. How will you say thank-you to the Creator God for putting that creator spirit into you? 

IMG_1991Color is Light–

every color in white

Refracted, Reflected

journeys from the sun.


the change of direction

of a ray of light or sound,

passing obliquely

from one medium into another

in which wave velocity

Is different.

I pray for refraction.

God’s light to shine through 

the curtains,

the leaves,

the shadows,

the icicles,

the air I breathe in–


passing obliquely

from one medium through another.

Change my wave velocity,

refract me

remake me

redeem me

to reflect Christ

in whom all the colors

are one,

The light of the world,

The son.

For Further study, read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24


No questions today. Just exercise your creativity and craft a thank you to God in your favorite creative medium.

20. Now That We’ve Seen the Worst: In All Things God Works for the Good


We’ve been working on this little cottage for nine years.

And in those nine years, we have learned a lot about old houses, our limitations, and God.

No longer under any illusions, we know that the wiring has been haphazard, the upkeep was minimal, and it was built in fits and starts without much planning. (This is not to cast aspersions on previous owners and builders—they were our grandfathers and great-uncles; they were our fathers and mothers, and we loved them.)

We thought we were prepared for what we were going to see when we took out the kitchen cabinets. We were wrong. Way wrong. We were not prepared. We were both so appalled that I took only one small picture, and that was after we cleaned the floor of grungy insulation, mouse nests, hickory nuts, dead bugs, a mummified mouse, an inch of mouse droppings, and mouse chewed electric wires. There was no photo taken because, quite frankly, I don’t want to remember it.


But that wasn’t the worst. When we took out the second old cabinet along the outside wall of the kitchen, there was a hole. A giant hole where there was no floor; under the cabinet were three small pieces of plywood—each piece about eight inches wide by twelve inches long—just sitting on the joists. Not nailed down. Of course, when the cabinet was pulled out those boards dropped into the crawl space below. Just in case you missed this—there was not a nailed-down floor under the cabinet.

We spent five minutes staring aghast at the ground below; we spent three minutes wondering if Gus the groundhog would poke his nose into the kitchen; and we spent eighteen minutes scurrying around fixing it temporarily, so we could sleep that night. While I guarded the kitchen from Gus, raccoons, snakes, skunks, or any other critters that could possibly make their way up that hole, the contractor husband found enough boards to cover the floor temporarily, while we tried to figure out what was next. 

We are not wimps here; we’ve seen holes in walls and floors before…but what is astounding is that these cabinets were installed in the seventies by a Professional Cabinet Company. What kind of Professional Cabinet Company would leave holes in the floors and walls and shrug and say, “Oh just leave it, the cabinets will hide it anyway.”

At one point, early in the new kitchen planning, we tossed around the idea of leaving the kitchen cabinets and just painting them. The internet was filled with articles on how to paint your kitchen cabinets white and update your kitchen. Thankfully we rejected that idea, after examining the poor quality of those junk-board seventies cabinets. Just imagine if we had done that and not found the terrible holes in the walls and the floor. We would have had bugs and critters in the kitchen forever; in fact, Clara had always complained of mice in her bread drawer, and now we know why!

The new (redeemed) kitchen during canning season…

When we’ve seen the worst—maybe it is our own sin; maybe it is the sin of someone who is very close to us: a spouse, a child, a parent, a best friend, a pastor; or, maybe we’ve been sinned against—we all know that crushing anguish of Why God? 

The scenarios are horribly ugly—much worse than mouse droppings and bug detritus and holes in the floor—but those are apt analogies. When we are in the midst of them, it is bleak: we forget to pray, or when we try to pray, no words come. Our favorite Bible passages don’t bring pleasure. God, whom we know in our head loves us and will never forsake us, seems absent from our hearts, and we certainly feel forsaken. How long, Lord? is the cry at the core of our being; but that same core of our being is the place where God’s spirit uniquely resides, whether we feel it or not. God does not say However bad it gets you will always feel my presence. In our bad times we often feel abandoned and forgotten, as if God is far away. Yes, it’s true, he is far away, but he is also right next to us, whether we feel it or not. We know this is true, because it is one of his promises: “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5) Yes, it bears repeating–our feelings are not always reliable.

No one is exempt from suffering, no matter what form it takes, great or small, weeks or years. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33)  This eighty-year-old cottage has seen it all—betrayal, tragedy, death, abandonment, dishonesty, smashed dreams—and so has God. He is not surprised at anyone’s sins or messy lives or detritus. He went to the cross for the debris, the rubble, of our lives. And there is nothing that we can do that will surprise Him, because He knew us before we were born; (Read Psalm 139) he knew (or knows) our past, present, and future sins; and he knows how it will all turn out. He loves us still.

And not only does He love you and me, but “…in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The words to the praise song come to mind:  How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me.⁠1 

In my NIV Study Bible, that verse—Romans 8:28—is the first verse in the section called More Than Conquerors, and it tells us that no trouble will ever separate us from Christ’s love. Not hardship. Not persecution. Not danger. Not even a sword. No, Paul tells us, all those sufferings are part of life and they have always been part of life, and those troubles actually bring us closer to Christ.

Sometimes we can be so overcome by our own suffering, our own terrible circumstances, that we forget who he made us to be—His light, His truth, His love to a dark and suffering world. ⁠2 

He takes our messes, our sufferings and turns them around to reflect His likeness. Later, in 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls them “light and momentary troubles.” And what are they doing for us? “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

When we are in the middle of them they seem dark and endless; if only we can allow Him to nail our sufferings to the cross and not wallow in them; if only we could see and remember that they are light and momentary in consideration of eternity.  Please, God, take our if-onlys and make them so. You have promised to repay us for the years the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25)

This gives me so much hope, for I have a lot of years that were eaten by locusts. I have a lot of detritus hidden behind the walls. And perhaps I have not yet seen the worst…. But I will not fear, for those sins and sufferings and debris of my life have been nailed to the cross of Jesus through His grace and mercy. When Satan reminds you of the rubbish in your life, sing out in power “…my sin, not in part, but the whole, has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, oh my soul.⁠3

For further study, read 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Only one question this time:

  • What darkness in your life have you kept to yourself? Write about it now and allow it to be nailed to the cross.

1 Hutchinson, Gabriel Charles, My Savior’s Love, c1905.

2 John Dorean sermon

3 Spafford, Horatio G., It Is Well with My Soul, c1873

19. Perfectionism—Curse or Blessing? God Is the Only Perfect Creator


All our lives we’re told, “Do your best. If you do your best, that’s all anyone can ask.”

And what, exactly, is our best? How many times can we have a do over? When and how do we draw the line between “our best” and OCD? And who ultimately gives us the final grade? Friends? Lovers? Bosses? Ourselves? Society? Or God?

These are such hard questions I’d better stop now and have a cup of tea. I hope you’re having one with me…

Several events have precipitated these musings on perfectionism.

The Color of my Kitchen

I spent (or wasted) hours poring over paint samples. After purchasing a sample jar of Benjamin Moore Blooming Grove, I fell in love. There were even signs to let me know I’d chosen well: On the way to pick up our kitchen countertop in Eastern Pennsylvania we passed the exit to Blooming Grove. It was a big green sign on the interstate that couldn’t be missed.

Delighted that I’d finally made my decision, I bought a gallon at a store that shall remain nameless. I do have to say that when the mixologist opened the can to show me the paint, I said, “That’s too yellow.”

“No,” he assured me. “This is Blooming Grove. It will dry darker.”

It didn’t dry darker. I painted half of a cabinet door from the sample can, and the other half I painted from the newly purchased gallon. It was a striped cabinet door. One half was lovely spring green, the other half was a not-so-lovely yellowish-green. I struggled with this: I didn’t want to be the whiny-perfectionist-lady-customer who demands a new gallon of paint because it isn’t exactly right.

Nevertheless, it was clearly Not Exactly Right.

Does God want me obsessing over a paint color? Paint color just isn’t that important in the scheme of the universe. I know this. Where does the line fall here?

The Last Glitch in the Kitchen Window Process

Two weeks ago we were ready to put up the windows in the kitchen. The left side just had to be finish coated and we were ready to go. As I sat down to paint it (the paint was poured and the brush dipped) I could see that the primer was not sticking to the glazing. So instead of finish coating, I spent the next three hours peeling little strips of paint/primer from the window muntins. (For those of you who are not old-window-experts, the muntins are the vertical and horizontal strips of wood that hold the panes of glass in place.)

Instead of putting up windows, we were back to priming/drying/painting/drying. It was discouraging. And I wondered as I was sitting on the floor in the late afternoon sun peeling off little strips, “Is this normal?” Would other people say, “Oh for goodness sake, just paint the stupid windows and be done!”

I wanted to do that. But I knew it was peeling. Done poorly.  Where does the line fall here?

Life in General; Rehabbing a Cottage in Particular

I don’t mind little imperfections in wood or paint or people; I myself have little imperfections. I am not a complete dorky perfectionist all the time. (The jury is still out on the contractor husband.)

I have buried uncleaned paintbrushes in the bottom of a garbage can because 

A. I didn’t want to clean them, or 

B. I did clean them, but not good enough and they dried out stiff and I didn’t want any other perfectionist who lives in the household to find them.

Did you know that one could spend hours cleaning a paintbrush? Or peeling paint from an imperfectly primed window…. Or redoing a board because it is a quarter inch off…. Or choosing the right color of paint…. I don’t have any answers here folks. The age old question—blessing or curse—is still a question. But I can tell you that just last week I read a quote from Thomas Merton (much wiser than I…) who said this:

We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life.”⁠1

–Thomas Merton

That gives me hope. So does the saying from my wise contractor husband who says to me all the time–there’s nothing perfect in this world.

And just yesterday I read a quote that said: You can never be perfect. You can always be better.

Now I have to go demand a new gallon of paint. (Nicely, of course.)

Post Script: The clerk at the paint store was truly gracious. She saw the difference in color and looked up the formula to make sure it was mixed correctly. It had been. She was puzzled for a bit, and then she realized that I had purchased a new Benjamin Moore brand of paint and even the uppity-up corporate mixologists hadn’t come out with the correct color formulas yet. She then hand mixed it, showing me the paint every couple of minutes asking me what I thought. She dried the sample with a hair dryer and, to make sure I was satisfied, told me to bring it back again if it wasn’t right. Yes. God is the only perfect creator.

Last night I was reclining in bed, surrounded by pillows, books, notebooks, and reading glasses, writing a blog post on my iPhone. The mobile app is very handy when one has a thought and doesn’t want to lose it in the quagmire of daily living (or nightly dreaming). I was about to save the post when my finger accidentally hit the publish button.

There’s something very ironic and humbling about accidentally posting a post on perfectionism… It wasn’t ready. I hadn’t said it all yet. Hmmm…well, maybe I had, but I certainly hadn’t gone over it twenty-three times to make sure it was as perfect as I could write it.

Hence, more thoughts about perfectionism. But this time I’m thinking about the blessings of it—because God asks of us our best and our best can be a blessing, not only to those around us, but also to ourselves.

Artists and writers and musicians and craftspeople particularly know the struggle here. How does one know if the piece is finished and finished well? Madeline L’Engle says that inspiration usually comes as you are working, not before.⁠2 So if one keeps working, one will continually be inspired. Perhaps when the inspiration stops, the piece is finished well?

That might work for pieces of music or writing or art, but it doesn’t hold up so well for paint or wood or refinishing windows. The wood of those windows that we have renewed isn’t perfect. It’s old. There are dents and nail holes. One could work on them forever, and the wood would never be perfect. Yes, that is a metaphor…

We all have our imperfection tolerance limits, and the more talent one has, the higher the limit. That’s as it should be. The contractor has higher expectations for his carpentry skills than I do for mine. Except…

God, the perfect one, should have absolutely no tolerance for our human imperfections. Yet he does. Rather, he loves us in spite of them. And no amount of our own striving can help us achieve that perfectionism that is God. He has given us that striving, made it part of us, so we would desire to be like Him. In that way it is a blessing–His gift to us. It only becomes a curse when the world, (or the evil one, if you prefer) keeps whispering in our ears that we aren’t good enough or didn’t do it well enough.

Lysa TerKeurst says in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way  that because we once lived in the perfect Eden, we remember the perfection and long for it.

“This is why our instincts keep firing off the lie that perfection is possible. We have pictures of perfection etched into the very DNA of our souls.”⁠3

Perfection died when we were banished from the garden and we have been struggling with its loss ever since. This struggle between the blessing and curse of perfectionism is just one more tension of the Christian life. We can embrace our perfectionism as a God-given gift, but we must draw the line when we no longer feel the blessing or the inspiration  of it. Instead of yearning for our own perfection, we can (we must) lean on the only one who is perfect. He has offered us His perfect self as a substitute for our imperfectness.

When God looks at us, He sees the perfection of Jesus. If only we could see ourselves that way. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

God, the perfect creator, is calling us to perfection again, through His perfect son. Jesus paid it all. For me. For you. For us. Don’t let that perfection slip through your hands…

For further study, read Psalm 8.

Questions to think about:

  • Where is your striving harming your peace with God?
  • Psalm 8 asks: What is mankind that you are mindful of them; human beings that you care for them? Yet look at the next verses and just see what God has ordained for us to do. Is your perfectionism keeping you from doing what God might want you to do? 
  • I think that sometimes we all fall on both sides of the line, because my next question is: Or is your careless attitude keeping you from doing it well? It might depend on what it is we are doing and our talent/aptitude for the project. Thoughts?
  • Our need (or desire) for perfection is really about control, isn’t it? Where can you give up your desire for perfection and trust God?

1 Thomas Merton. AZQuotes.com, Wind and Fly LTD, 2021. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/371657, accessed May 27, 2021.

2 L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water, p. 176.

⁠3 TerKeurst, Lysa. It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. Nelson Books, c2018, p. 6.

18. In the Midst of Noise, Trouble, and Hard Work: Finding the Calm in your Heart

Sept. 2017–Bathroom project, Take Two

We’re working on the bathroom.

A small five-word sentence. It doesn’t even have an exclamation point at the end. Although it should, so I’ll put one here instead!

In 2011, when we became official owners of this little cottage, the bathroom was the first room we intended to refinish. It’s small, we thought; yes, start small. But then we ran into a few problems, and the contractor husband decided it would be better to redo the kitchen first. So now, six years later we are finally starting on the bathroom. 

Can I just say that the cottage bathroom would definitely take first place in the Ugly Bathroom Contest. The walls have had the wallpaper peeled off (one of the first tasks I completed) and are generally three different colors of old plaster—sometimes melding into one odd shade of greenish-yellowish-pink. Vintage Italianate plaster it is not. The ceiling was painted back in the seventies with textured paint and is peeling; the sink vanity is covered with some sort of fake material that started to peel, so I ripped the plastic off and one door is brown while the rest of it is still shiny off-white vinyl. There is a seventies moulded shower stall that is moldy and simply won’t come clean, no matter how much it is scrubbed with Barkeeper’s Friend. The wood floor is partially sanded (I also own up to this–remember we were going to start with the bathroom?) and partially still covered with years of caked varnish and paint drips. It is truly the ugliest bathroom on record.

In all these years, however, we have collected most everything we need. The first pieces we bought for the house were the bathroom vanity and mirror. They’ve been against the wall in the garage bedroom covered in plastic All. This. Time. The truth is often not pretty, but there is a glass-half-full outlook. We already have: the sink, the sink faucet, the shower faucets and hardware, the vanity, the mirror, the lights, the toilet, a lovely cabinet with glass doors that was left over from the kitchen project, the tile for the shower floor, the faux marble tile for the vanity top, the boards for the ceiling, an electric wall heater, and (drum roll please…) the pull-down attic ladder–which was the initial problem that stopped this bathroom project those many years ago.

That long list above, makes the list of still-to-purchase items rather short: subway tile for the shower walls, a  shower pan, and some incidental plumbing materials. Oh, and paint. And maybe a window. We haven’t really decided about the window yet. That’s the least of our worries; we haven’t gotten to that wall yet…

But can I just be honest and say, this prolonged bathroom project has made for a lot of anxiety and needless tension? The last unnecessary comment I made was earlier this year: the contractor husband thought maybe we could invite some folks over for dinner.

We have a lovely kitchen for cooking.

We have a lovely dining room for eating.

We have a lovely porch for grilling.

We have a lovely living room for conversing.

Did I focus on any of those? No.

I said, “No one is getting invited here for dinner until the bathroom is finished.”

I mean, let’s face it: you can’t invite people for dinner and then shove them out the door right after dessert because you don’t want them to use your bathroom….

Yes, the truth is not pretty. It’s right up there with those ugly bathroom walls.

And no, I never have had peace about living in the midst of a really ugly bathroom. Oh, every morning when I take a shower, I’m grateful for the hot running water. I lived without running water for several years, so I know about praise for hot showers…. And I know that much of the world does not have clean running water and I am a spoiled, first world rich woman. Forgive me Lord.

It’s just that I really appreciate beauty, and there is such a lack of beauty in this bathroom… The only charm is in my mind’s eye because I know what we have planned. Yet we are still in the midst of noise, trouble, and hard work, and the beauty is still not there. For months I had this saying on my kitchen chalk board:

This quote seems to me to be a direct explanation of the verse in the Bible that reads: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The world expects that peace is the absence of anxiety, noise, strife; but Jesus tells His disciples plainly that even though peace is one of His gifts, it is not the way the world expects. His peace may be found in the midst of strife–through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of anxiety—through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of trouble—through prayer. No, it isn’t easy. But Jesus never told us it would be easy. He said, yes, in this world we would have trouble, but He is our peace, and He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

One of the most difficult trials of the Christian journey is the worry about noise, trouble, or hard work that seems to surround us like a dark cloud (or an ugly bathroom). Stripped down, it is simply a lack of trust in God’s promises. He has promised to be our peace; He has promised to be with us always; He has promised to never leave or forsake us; He has promised us eternal life with Him. Think on those promises when worry, trouble, or anxiety creeps in, and pray that calmness will prevail in your heart.

The story of Jesus sleeping during the storm while the disciples were in the boat fearing for their lives has been brought up to me three times in the past two weeks. (When the Lord grabs our awareness in this way, we’d best pay attention.) There is the obvious connection of Jesus giving the disciples peace when they have only worldly fear of the storm, but there is something else, deeper and more sublime: He chides them for their lack of faith, but really, why are they afraid? They do not yet know that they are with the Lord of all creation, the creator of the wind and the waves who only has to say hush, and all of nature obeys. In fact, when He does just that, they are awestruck. They even say, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) We do not have that excuse. We know who He is, and what He is, and where He is: He is Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe, God with us. He is our peace, and we have no reason to ever fear noise, trouble, or hard work.

Think on His promises and pray for that calm to prevail in your heart.

For further study, read Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; and Luke 8:22-25

Questions for further thought:

  1. What is the storm in your life right now that needs to be calmed? Put another way, where in your life is there anxiety or noise that should be replaced by the peace of Jesus?
  2. Our fears over noise, trouble, or hard work can also be from fears of our own lack of preparedness, or lack of control over details, or the unknown, or…. (add yours here). Sometimes I find myself giving my fears to Jesus every five minutes! In the words of a friend: Why do I lay my fears at the feet of Jesus, and then pick them right back up again? Do you? What makes us prefer worry to the promises of Jesus?
  3. Picture Jesus sleeping in the back of your boat. At what point do you wake Him up? What do you say to Him? What does He say to you?
  4. I remember the first time I read this story of Jesus asleep in the boat, my thought was “How can He fall asleep when the waves are crashing over Him and the boat is about to capsize?” Now when I read it I understand that faith and trust and lack of anxiety all go together like a beautiful three-stranded cord, and I long for that peace to fill me. I haven’t made it yet, but I’m further along on the journey. Where are you?

    And here is a post-script: The bathroom is still not finished in 2021, although it certainly looks a lot better. We only have the shower left to do, and here are some photos of the three walls we’ve finished.

17. The Black and White Floor: a study in contrasts

 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

I’ve had black and white on the brain lately.

Everywhere I look, I see black and white together. Dark and light. Absorbing and reflecting. Hot and cold. Opposites. Contrasts.

Black and white together–it is bold. Courageous. Balanced. Stunning. It takes a stand.

And it’s our new kitchen floor..

I generally believe in hardwood floors or muted rugs because I don’t think it’s a floor’s job to be noticeable.

But this is bold.

The contrast of black and white tiles laid next to each other makes this floor shout out Look. At. Me.  One of my friends shook her head when I told her what we’d be doing with the floor. “If one color doesn’t look dirty,” she said, “the other will.”

Yes, it’s a worry–I’d better be able to keep it clean…

Contrasts, paradoxes, opposites–these have been on my mind lately too. Paradoxes of faith fill the Bible, and sometimes it’s hard for me to get my head around them. I just read today in Joshua 1:7–There are many other verses that tell us to keep straight on, not veering to the right or the left. (Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; Proverbs 4:27; Isaiah 30:21 are just a few…)

Our Christian faith is filled with the enigmas of contrasts, opposites, and tension:

How do we, as people of faith, deal with all these contrasts? We can get stuck on one side or the other, veering off to the right or to the left and lose focus on what is straight ahead. In truth, the world (dare I say Satan?) wants us to veer off to the right or to the left. Even those words right and left are loaded with the world’s values, aren’t they?

And some of these “right and left” issues are fracturing the church and Christian testimony right now. Look at some of those contrasts in the list above, and think about which ones trouble you the most.

Think of it as walking on the top of a mountain (on a narrow path with no guard rails) and trying not to lose your footing. We don’t want to fall over too far on the side of social justice, yet over and over God calls us to care for the widow, the poor, the immigrant, the orphan. We need to love people and show them Christ’s love, yet at the same time we can’t ignore flagrant sins. But what about our own sins? Just because we are believers and forgiven, it doesn’t mean we are sinless. How do we show non-believers Christ’s love and forgiveness without seeming judgmental or holier-than-thou? Is that mountain path turning into a slippery slope yet?

One point to remember is that Christ’s Church will never go along with the world. God calls us to be different, to be a peculiar people. He called the Hebrews in the Old Testament to be His people and they failed spectacularly. Jesus came and called anyone who repents and believes to be part of His Church, and now we are failing spectacularly. After all, the church is made up of sinners, and even though we have the Spirit, even though we are forgiven, and even though Jesus is our cornerstone, God’s blessed Kingdom has not yet come. We are still tempted and tried by the world and its curse of sin. And so often, we fail.

BUT, if we believe the promises of God, our spectacular failures might be just the opposite. The world’s wisdom is foolishness to Him, so why should we call it failing? It might be just what God has ordained to happen. But if we trust His promises, we must also trust that He will take care of things in whatever way He chooses, whenever He chooses. When we spend too much time tilting to one side or the other, we are paying too much attention to the world and not enough to God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit.

There is one verse that covers the Lord’s general requirements of us: Micah 6:8

Jesus’ life is the perfect picture of that balance: between be and do; between stillness and action; between justice and mercy. He is the one we are to emulate for He was and is the perfect man, sent from God to redeem us. Sent from God so we would know what perfection and holiness and balance really look like. Jesus is not an American conservative. Jesus is not an American liberal. To follow Jesus is to take on a radical agenda–loving your neighbor, serving others, praying for all, and gently urging everyone (including yourself) to live the holiest life we can through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

If we believe the Bible, we know that God is over all, above all, and all in all. He knows we are prone to leaning dangerously to one side or the other, rather than keeping our focus straight ahead. So we are to make peace with that tightrope, knowing that those paradoxes of our faith could well help us keep our eyes on the end rather than looking down. And if you need reassurance, then remember that even falling off that tightrope or the narrow mountain path is not fatal. The only fatal sin is thinking you can walk through that tightrope of life yourself without needing God.

No, the issues that are fracturing us are not black and white. But what we must all take to heart is His love; His redemption; His power. Written over both the black and the white, the contrasts of faith, is His love–written in His blood–written forever, no matter who we are, what we do, or how many times we fall from the narrow path. His love covers us all. He is the Lord over all the puzzling paradoxes–from the wise to the foolish, from the rich to the poor, from the believers to the non-believers–He is the Lord. He is the Door. But He knocks gently, and we are the ones who must open the door and let Him in… 

For further study, read Matthew 5:1-20

Questions to think about:

  1. Paradoxes/Opposites abound in the Bible. Can you think of others? Which one(s) do you struggle with the most? Which one brings you the most peace?
  2. At least one other opposite is Jesus fulfilling the Law, yet abolishing it. Check out this article: https://carm.org/bible-difficulties/did-jesus-abolish-the-law-or-not/
  3. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most difficult passages to take to heart. I think that sometimes it’s just easier to have cut-and-dried rules to follow instead of trying to keep your balance on a narrow path with steep cliffs on either side…. The Pharisees thought that too, and Jesus saves His harshest rebukes for them. Has American Christianity devolved into rule-keeping one one side because it is easier, and too much friendship with the world on the other side, because that’s easier too?
  4. I felt like a heretic writing the words that the church is failing spectacularly. Sometimes I think it is; but other times I think it is amazing that the church has endured through worse times than ours. Yet We are the church; it is not some nebulous administrative bubble somewhere in the heart of a city, so what does this say about us?
  5. How can we make peace with the sword of division that Jesus says He brings?

16. On Mowing and Marriage and Trying to Be Like Jesus

There’s very little in this life that I like less than mowing grass. Reasons? Oh yeah, I got plenty:

    What a waste of time–I could be gardening, reading, writing, baking bread, washing dishes, mopping the kitchen floor…
    What a waste of gasoline and added pollution, when we could be growing food, or flowers, or sheep instead of grass…
    Lawn grass has no value whatsoever, unless one is playing golf on a golf course…
    Why would I want to push around a horribly noisy, smelly machine that could easily cut off my fingers, or my toes, or throw flying sticks or rocks at my head?
    Imagine sitting down on Friday evening to a glass of your favorite beverage and some appetizers and having your neighbor fire up their stinky, noise-polluting lawn mower. Right. Just imagine…

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Usually mowing the grass is the contractor husband’s job, and I don’t have to think about it. But he’s busy doing the roof while the sun shines. (July in Pennsylvania makes watching the Weather Channel unnecessary; we know what the forecast will be: 90 percent humidity and scattered thunderstorms.) And the grass has to be mowed when the sun is shining too. Plus, the tractor is broken. So I’m being the selfless servant and mowing the grass with the push mower.

Right. Not quite so selfless as one might think…

Today as I started mowing, silently congratulating myself on serving my busy husband, he came down off the roof and waved at me to stop. When I stopped, he bent down and raised the mower deck on me. “You’re cutting it too short,” he said. Then he disappeared back up onto the roof.

Excuse me? If I am cutting the grass, I will blimey well cut it at the height I want. The shorter the grass, the less it has to be mowed. I’d just as soon kill the wretched grass anyway. That’s the trouble with it; grass doesn’t die. Its roots live forever and come back to haunt you next year after you’ve planted a lovely flower bed there. But I digress.

I confess that I was sweaty, hot, and bothered. Muttering the whole time, two passes later, I stopped the mower and lowered the deck back to where it was. But that still didn’t make me feel any better. Here I was, unselfishly mowing the grass so he wouldn’t have to, and he comes to tell me I’m doing it wrong? What kind of ungrateful man is this anyway?

Oh wretch that I am…

I’ve heard enough sermons in my life to know that this is not what Jesus would do. And I’ve also heard enough John Dorean sermons to know that the goal of every Jesus lover is to grow and be more like him every day. Of course, we fail all the time, but that IS the goal…

So when I stopped to take a break and get a cool drink of water, I sat down on  the couch and picked up the book I’ve been reading. Sacred Marriage. (If you know this book, you may laugh here.)

I had a copy of this book once, but we were newly married and I ended up giving it away to someone before I read it, and I never got it back. Since then I’ve read sections of it and heard sermons from it, and I know the subtitle by heart: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?; but I’ve never read it cover to cover.

Turns out, maybe I should have.

I always thought, yeah, yeah, I know what Gary Thomas is going to say. Die to your self. Respect your spouse. Love unconditionally.

And yes, that’s what he says. And yes, it’s hard. And, as Thomas says, none of that comes naturally to us.

But as I sat there reading Chapter Six,  “The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes Our Sin,” I knew. I knew that those words needed to penetrate my soul. Just as I need to die to my self a hundred, no, a thousand times a day, I also need to desire humility a hundred, no, a thousand times a day.

Of course, we always see our spouse’s sin — it’s so much easier to see other’s sins, isn’t it? Yes, this specifically refers to taking the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew  7:3-5). Listen to this:

View marriage as an entryway into sanctification–as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. But here’s the challenge: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. Correspondingly, give them the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our sanctification and growth in holiness.

I needed to re-read that sentence Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. There it is–the basic sin of all sins: Pride. Lack of humility. Thinking that I know best, yet knowing in my heart and soul that I do not. It’s ugly, pride is. Later Gary Thomas quotes François  Fenélon who wrote: “…all the saints are convinced that sincere humility is the foundation of all virtues.”

To grow in holiness marriage must be understood as a spiritual discipline, Thomas says. “To do this,” he writes, “we must not enter marriage predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged, but rather to become more like Jesus Christ.”

There it is again…to become more like Jesus; to do that we must put on our robe of humility and not throw it off each time we get hot and bothered. And not only do I agree with Fenélon that humility is the foundation of all virtues, but can I suggest that pride just might be the foundation of all sin?

Today as I was reading an article about the need for us to feel awe before our holy God, I came across the term self-forgetfulness. How I long for it. The author, Jen Wilkin, cited research that suggests when humans feel awe they are better able to forget themselves and reach out to other people. And I started wondering: What else makes me put on self-forgetfulness?
Blue sky behind gray cloudsDoing something for someone else with no expectations. (Remember mowing the lawn? It went wrong because of my own expectation–that my husband would be pleased and thank me profusely for doing something I hated to do.)

Praying–talking to the Holy God of the Universe. Yes, that’s one that definitely gets the mind off oneself.

Thinking about Jesus–whether it is reading the Bible, listening to worship music, or just meditating on how weak and incompetent I am, and how strong and competent Jesus is for me.

Immerse yourself in something beautiful that reminds you to thank God for creating such beauty. It may be poetry, it may be nature, it may be a conversation with a loving friend…

So here we have: Go watch a sunset or the clouds or stand on a beach or a mountain or a hilltop; Make dinner for your neighbor; Read your favorite passage in God’s word and thank Him for it; Meditate on the strength of Jesus and your own shortcomings and feel awe that you are so loved; Be grateful.

As I read further in Sacred Marriage, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Don’t run from the struggles of marriage. Embrace them. Grow in them. Draw near to God because of them. Through them you will reflect more of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And thank God that he has placed you in a situation where your spirit can be perfected.

And today, in the sermon I heard this: He loves us where we are at any given moment. Certainly He invites, encourages, challenges us to become more like Christ, but that becoming is not a prerequisite of His love. Can I get an Amen?

white clover

It’s time to mow the grass again…

The tractor is fixed. As the contractor husband took it for a spin to see how it was running, he said, “I’m not going to mow the grass short because there are lots of bees on the clover, and I don’t want to mow the flowers away.” Yes, he knows how much I like bees and clover…

I smiled to myself. Thank you God that you have placed me in a situation where my spirit can be perfected.

And thank you, God, that the tractor is fixed.

For further study, read Matthew 7:3-5

Questions to think about:

  • Think of the traits in your spouse that bug you to death; you know the ones that make you mutter to yourself Every. Time. (Surely I’m not the only one????) Ask God to help you see the good in them. Ask God for new eyes to see that they probably don’t do those things just to bug you….Ask God for forgiveness for your critical spirit. Ask God to bring to mind the things that you do that undoubtedly bug your spouse.
  • Look at Matthew 7:3-5. Last week we talked about Matthew 6:22-23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.” How can we correlate and compare these two verses on eyes?
  • I read somewhere that it is not only seeing well, but perceiving and understanding well that makes the difference between being holy and being worldly. My trouble is I know what I’m supposed to do and how Jesus wants me to think, I just don’t have the self-discipline to do it. As Paul says, “Oh wretched man that I am…” (Romans 7:24-25) I particulary like this passage in the The Living Bible translation, here.
  • It seems the more I grow in my faith, the more I struggle with how unholy I really am. Can you think of any other verses that can comfort us on this?

15. The Messy Beauty of Everyday Life: Jesus Loves Us Despite our Messes

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

I bought a new photo app for my phone the other day for 99 cents. While playing around with it (just pushing buttons, in other words) this photo was the fourth one I took.

Random messy beauty

I was shocked. It is really just a shot from the back porch here at Apple Hill. None of the others looked like this at all, and I have no idea what I did or how it came out like this. It is totally random, and I’ll probably never be able to recreate the effect; it’s messy; it’s artistic; and it reminds me of a favorite quote from Madeleine L’Engle:

“Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it.” ⁠1

That means, don’t wait—just plunge right in; that means, keep working—it will come; that means, while you’re working, don’t forget to say thank you to the Creator who created you to create.

I’ve been thinking about beauty lately because in the middle of a house remodeling project there is very little beauty: walls being ripped out; ugly boards; years worth of dust and dead bugs (and maybe a mouse or two, as well). 

Yet there is a beauty in messes that only the person close to it, the creator, can see. We know what the mess is going to turn into (or at least what we hope it will be!) Think of making a cake: flour, eggshells, sugar spilled on the counter, dirty cups and measuring spoons all over? Yet the end result is a delicious dessert.

We are moving everything out of the kitchen to get ready to lay the floor. All the stuff that was in the kitchen is now in the living room along with what actually belongs in the living room. I don’t even see this mess because I know it’s just a temporary inconvenience; but if anyone came to visit, they might think we’re applying to be on the television show Hoarders. And, really, the entire cottage looks like this right now; there are no Beautiful Photos because there are no beautiful spaces. 

Yesterday there was a package of BX Cable coiled around like a hose on the floor of the mudroom; it is shiny silver and wrapped in heavy duty plastic. Electricians use this cable to run wiring—it is waterproof, mouse proof, fireproof. This coil of wire is not the essence of beauty to most people. Most of the time it just sits on shelves of the local home improvement stores and looks plain. But I look at that gorgeous roll of BX cable, and I see new wiring in a wonderfully rehabilitated, once dilapidated, old cottage. I see the cost of it, the hands that labored over it, and what it is replacing—old jumbled up, mouse-chewed, taped-together wires. Now see again with new eyes—Isn’t that a fantastic coil of shiny cable? 

What a metaphor for everyday life, for God. Our creator knows and loves us regardless of the mess we used to be (or still are) because he knows what we will be later: a perfectly created work of art; a delicious dessert; a remodeled house, perfectly wired.

For those of us who are still in the messy state of wondering how this is all going to turn out–God loving us regardless of how ugly and taped together we are–is the epitome of hope. And realizing that we are all jumbled up, mouse-chewed, taped-together wires is the beginning. Those wires can’t change themselves into brand new cable; no, not only was there a cost involved in buying the new cable, there were hands that labored over it ripping out the old and replacing it with new…

Just as there was a cost involved for Jesus—and it was very great. It cost Him His life to buy ours. Our lives, bought by Him, are no longer sin-scarred, taped-together wires. Those have been replaced and made new. They are silver-shiny and rehabilitated. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!(2 Corinthians 5:17)

That’s the version of us that He sees, because He is our creator. 

Thanks be to God for this wonderful hope.

For further study, read 2 Corinthians 5

  1. What helps you see beauty in things that aren’t necessarily beautiful? Read Matthew 6:22-23 in The Message.
  2. Madeleine L’Engle’s quote about inspiration happening as you’re working is so hopeful, isn’t it? Especially to a procrastinator who often uses the excuse that I’m waiting for inspiration… Is there anything that you are putting off doing because you’re waiting for inspiration?
  3. Look at your biggest mess (according to you) and think how Jesus will see it when it has been redeemed and made new.
  4. Do you have a mess going on right now? Broken egg shells and spilled flour all over the counter? Pray for a new vision for it; pray to see it through Jesus’ eyes. Ephesians 1 may help with this: Verses 3-14 tell of God’s amazing plan of adopting us and seeing us as “blameless before Him”, and verses 16-18 remind us to see through the “eyes of our hearts” so we can know this hope.
  5. We are created in His image, so we also are creators. What are you creating right now? Think of this question as holistic and apply it to all areas of your life–physical, emotional, spiritual…

1 L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water, p. 176

14. Up on the Roof: We’re All in this Together

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

Winter, 2014-15

One of the final projects we worked on before we moved in was the mudroom. The entry into the cottage, it is a narrow room that was originally the front porch and enclosed in the seventies by Joe and Clara to keep the wind from whipping into the kitchen every time the door was opened.

There was a lot going on in that small room: Two sliding glass doors eight feet apart, a step up into the kitchen, a cracked concrete floor, a chimney on the far side, an electric panel that had to be hidden, and lots of old wires that came from the outside across the room to the electric panel. And a leaky ceiling. We had big plans for this small room, but those plans were essentially frozen by sudden snow melt that made us realize we could go no further on the mudroom until the leaky ceiling was fixed, which meant a new roof. Over the whole house.

In addition to expense, the problem was also the timing—it was February and we were moving in in March. A new roof in time for us to move in was impossible. So we did what we could on the mudroom — three walls and a new tile floor and new stovepipe down the chimney for a wood stove. The ceiling was just covered in insulation and the one wall that faced the entrance was left ugly and exposed. It was what everyone saw when they walked in the front door, but it couldn’t be finished until the ceiling was put up and the ceiling couldn’t be put up until the new roof was on. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that each part has to be coordinated with the whole.

Summer, 2016

It was two summers later that the roof finally was started. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that many people working together makes the project more manageable. Even the contractor husband, who likes working by himself, admitted he couldn’t do the roof by himself, even with my puny, inexperienced help. Especially with my puny, inexperienced help. 

We organized a work day and several faithful friends from our church showed up and worked hard, putting down roofing paper, measuring, cutting, and nailing shingles. That July was one of the rainiest months on record, but we only had to scurry off the roof once, and mostly the cloudy days were a blessing. Anyone who has ever worked on a roofing project knows that temperature is ten times magnified up on the roof.

We had rented the dumpster for two weeks, and that was the timetable. The project was costing enough without having to add any extra fees. And with help from our friends we finished it in plenty of time. I am reminded of the Amish who band together and build houses and barns for their neighbors in need, knowing that one day they will be in need and those same neighbors will be there for them.

In his novel Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry calls those friends and neighbors your membership. He writes,

 “…The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had the need the others, or enough of them, would come…”

This is what true membership in a community is about. Oh, we try to legitimize it in groups with dues, membership cards, meetings, but true membership has none of those formal rituals. There is no settling or keeping track of what is owed, at least, not out loud. You go because you are needed, sometimes without being asked, because you know that those same people will do the same for you in your time. It is what we all long for, isn’t it?

To know and be known; to accept and be accepted; to love and be loved. It is the human condition, the human need, and I worry that in our modern technological lives it has gone missing. The devices we hold in our hands or on our laps substitute as our membership in community, and how will that affect the generations to come?

The church has been provided by God to help us be a community and extend community to others. In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 as he writes to them about the church as the body of Christ, he says, “…its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

If I were honest, I don’t like the idea of official church membership. It seems too much like a club that one can join and leave on a whim. And we all know members who don’t pull their weight, don’t come to meetings, barely pay their dues… God asks more of us than just membership; He asks for the true, pure membership that Berry writes about. In truth, I would say that God has put that longing in our hearts—the longing for pure and real love among our neighbors, of which the church is to be the archetype, the standard.

We fall so short. But when we manage, it is a beautiful thing to watch church members serve each other—by teaching, by listening, by encouraging, by offering food, by giving rides, and yes, by helping to put a roof on someone’s house. It is loving your neighbor, which Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 is the second greatest commandment. By doing the second greatest commandment, we are also doing the first—loving God with all our strength, and all our mind, and all our heart. That is why our hearts sing when we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to serve. 

That day on the roof there was work, there was talk, there was laughter, there was food shared. Hammers rang out, voices rang out, love between friends rang out, and God was pleased.

For further study, read Acts 2:42-47.

Questions for thought:

  • Have you had more than one community “membership”?
  • Who is your membership now?
  • Describe one of the most meaningful times of fellowship and service you have experienced with them? What made it so?
  • Do you think life in modern America hinders true community membership or is that just an excuse? Is it something we need to work on to change?
  • Truthfully, I’ve always wondered why western Christians don’t heed these verses in Acts. Are we so invested in our individualistic capitalistic private enterprise economy that we can’t see that this early church is Socialism? Aargh! Perish the thought! I’m being a little facetious here, but what are your thoughts about this?
  • An effect of the lockdown (on me, anyway) is not being able to enjoy my church community in the ways that we used to. Technology has been wonderful–here we are on Zoom! and I’m grateful for the new far-away pastors we’ve discovered–but I think that has played a part in my feeling far away from my church family. What are your favorite verses about Fellowship/Community?

13. Apples, Walnuts, and Pears: Bounty and Scarcity

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

My grandfather built the cottage in the nineteen thirties; my great aunt and uncle later lived here and sold apples from the front yard. When the contractor husband’s parents, Joe and Clara, bought the orchard from my grandfather, Joe took classes in orcharding, pruning, and spraying from Penn State. They ran it for several years, but eventually they divided the property into three parcels and sold the orchard acreage. It’s been sold twice since then, and the fruit trees that remain are broken down and unproductive. We wanted to make sure Apple Hill Road lived up to its name, so that first spring after we acquired Apple Hill Cottage, we planted a few fruit trees.  

Joe named the road and made the sign, and now it is even listed on Google Maps…

For a time the old orchard property (which still has a greenhouse and a barn) was being rented by a local couple who were trying to make a go of a small nursery. So we drove the tractor over one sunny May morning and purchased two apple trees — a Honey Crisp and an Ida Red — and two pear trees — a Bartlett and a Luscious. Each year we’ve tried to plant at least two more fruit trees or berry bushes: we now have sixteen fruit trees, a dozen berry bushes, two grape vines, and an English walnut tree–all in varying degrees of fruitfulness.

The walnut tree was a total surprise. One bright October afternoon the contractor husband came into the house holding six or seven brown English walnuts — the kind you buy in the stores at Christmas time. “Look what I found in the yard,” he said. “There’s a lot of them.”

I followed him back out to the edge of the yard and we gazed up into the leaves to see hundreds of green husks just beginning to open. When the husks open, the brown shelled walnuts fall onto the ground, the road, the neighbor’s driveway…Within two weeks we had racks and racks of walnuts drying all over the house. The walnut tree is either feast or famine: we had two years of bumper crops; then two years of none. Two years ago we counted as we harvested: 993 walnuts, give or take 20. (It’s hard to remember your count when you are bending and stretching and picking up nuts from the ground…) Maple glazed walnuts in a Mason jar make lovely Christmas gifts. But last year there were none. (That was easy to count.) Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

The apple trees we planted five years ago are just now getting to the age where they will produce apples regularly. So far the only good producing trees are the two bent, aged trees that were here long ago, leftovers from the old orchard. We’ve pruned them back hard, but they won’t last much longer. The young trees have had a few apples here and there, but they are mostly what my grandfather used to call “little bits a nothin’.” The trees were set back several summers ago by a devastating plague of seventeen year locusts.

Periodical cicadas to be specific; and they decimated the young fruit trees we had nurtured. At the time it seemed to us a plague of biblical proportions, but all the trees survived, though not without damages. Then there was their recovery summer, and we were hoping last summer would be the year of the apples, but instead we had a week of 20 degree temperatures in May–and two days of snow–after all the trees had blossomed. The only fruit we had were a couple of quarts of blueberries. There are so many factors that can intervene to ruin apple crops: early blossoming, pollination failure, late frosts, too much rain, not enough rain, insects, deer… Even when there are apples on the tree, they can be lost or ruined by June drop, scab, insects, and various blights. Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

The two pear trees were much taller than the two apple trees we planted at the same time, so it’s likely they were a year or so older. Four summers ago we had our first real crop of pears. The Luscious tree yielded a bushel of large picture-perfect pears that we saved for eating fresh and giving away. The Bartlett tree yielded a bushel of many small pears that I canned and made into pear butter. In September, we were overrun with pears; by December the fresh ones were gone and we were left with canned ginger pears in the cupboard. Oh, they are good, but there is nothing like a juicy fresh pear. But since then? We had a summer of locusts, a summer in which only one tree produced, and the summer of frosts. Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

Bounty and scarcity. Plenty and want. The seasons of our lives are marked by these contradictions. At any time the loss of a job, a spouse, or health, can change our financial realities from prosperity to poverty. Here in 2020, this time of Covid-19, it’s become very obvious how prosperity can turn into poverty in just several short months. How do we live successfully through lean times? If and when good times return, can we live in compassion and generosity by remembering our own past troubles?

Paul writes of this in Philippians 4:11-12 when he says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I want that. I want his secret of being content in any and every situation. I don’t want to want fresh pears in February. I have delicious canned pears in my cupboard; why isn’t that good enough for me? During a lean month (a contractor’s life consists of always trying to maintain the right balance between lean months and months of plenty) I don’t want to worry about bills. Don’t we all want that peace of being content in every situation? What is Paul’s secret? — he tells us in verse 13 — “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” 

Put your needs, your wants, your discontents, in God’s hands, not the world’s hands. Don’t look at those fresh pears from Australia or South America in the grocery store. Prayerfully think instead, “I don’t need those; I have a cupboard full of pears; I am blessed. Thank you God for those canned pears.”

It isn’t easy, here in the land of plenty, where companies and advertisers make their living on making us want their stuff so much that we think we need it. Can’t live without it — or maybe we know we could live without it, but we can’t live well without it.

How do we balance the world’s idea of living well with God’s truth of how to live well? Because the world’s truth and God’s truth are polar opposites, just as plenty and want are polar opposites, and we need to learn how to do this balancing act if we are to live out our faith.

I am no mathematician, but here is my vision of that balancing act. Draw a circle and a point on the boundary of the circle. An antipodal point on a circle is directly opposite another point on that circle. Label one point Plenty; label the other point Want. Between those two points can be drawn the true diameter. Truth. God. Draw a little triangle below that line in the middle of that circle that represents the balancing that God requires of us. It also represents the center of our lives, where God needs to be. (The triangle is a nice metaphor for the Trinity—God, Spirit, Son—don’t you think?

The worry about unpaid bills, or your job, or your relationship, or (fill in the blank here) is not to be in the center of the circle. Banish it to the outside point on the circle of your life and make God the center. The treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) And Matthew gives us another verse later on that lets us know what will happen when our heart is in the center with God: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 12:28-30) Jesus tells us that when He is the center, we can rest in Him. Rest from the world’s worries. Rest from your anxieties. Rest from the fear of scarcity.

The story from Luke, Chapter 21 about the widow’s offering helps to remind me of a good way to actually live out banishing the fear of scarcity to the outer point of the circle, and how to keep Jesus in the center. After watching a poor widow put two copper coins in the offering plate, Jesus says, “‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:3-4) Remembering this story encourages me to give extra when I am feeling poor, because I have never given all I had to live on. Even when we are feeling that there isn’t money to put in the offering plate on Sunday, remember this story and do it anyway. Can I just tell you?  So far, the bills have always gotten paid.

There’s one more practical way to help combat those worries when times are lean: remembering your blessings. It’s hard to worry about an empty cup, when you are recounting remembrances of that same cup running over. Counting your blessings, as the song says, is the way to see what the Lord has done. 

For further study, read Philippians 4.

Questions for reflection:

  • Recount a time (or times) when you felt poverty or want. Did you feel worldly anxiety or God’s peace?  Now remember a time when you were poor and God provided. Thank God for His provision and blessings for your life. Be specific.
  • How can you live more generously? Be specific here, too.
  • There’s a quote from Matthew Henry that goes something like this: “It is not poverty that makes one unhappy, it is discontent.” And contentment can be found anywhere, any time through Jesus. It strikes me that sometimes discontent can be monetary, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Discontent can come from a scarcity of ___________. Fill in the blank. How do you center yourself on Jesus in times of discontent?
  • Paul gives us plenty of concrete ideas on how to rejoice always in Philippians 4:4-9. List some of them.
  • Just a week or so ago, when I was getting this post together, Psalm 37 was part of my reading. I was blessed (again) by two prayers in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus. I have combined them for us here:

“Lord, how easy it is to put faith in power and money. If I know the right people and have plenty in the bank, I’m secure–an illusion! Through the cross my great debt has been paid, and through the Resurrection my future wealth is assured. Let me rest in that daily. Lord, it is difficult for me to trust in your provision for me enough to be radically generous with my money. But if Jesus had been as grudging with his life and blood as I am with my money, then where would I be? Make me a joyful giver. Amen.” (pages 74-75)