A Book Review, Mostly

 

Weeks ago I started a blog post about a new microwave giving me more precious counter space, and a new Instant Pot giving me almost inordinate joy, and a two-year old and baby following me around cleaning light fixtures, and about house cleaning and soul cleaning. I wrote about finding a long-lost notebook of quotes from one of the best books I have ever read. I had this book review in the middle and some tidy hopeful comments at the end about trusting God and how it makes everything better. Thanks to beta reader feedback, I decided to scrap most of that writing.

Without further ado, the book review:

Around five years ago, I was weary of evangelical authors who wrote on and on about analyzing the past to heal or move on from it, with God’s help, of course. They wrote about problems and where they came from and why they affect us as they do. There is a place for doing such introspection, but it needs the balance of learning about the greatness and ability of God.

 

Then I read Finding God by Dr. Larry Crabb. The back cover says, “we are more preoccupied with solving our problems than with finding God. We’ve got things backward… Instead of using God to solve our problems, we need to use our problems to find God.” In the introduction he talks about not needing a plan to follow, but a Person to trust.

This book was copyrighted in 1993, so it is not new. Proof of that is the picture of Dr. Crabb wearing large black-framed glasses, the kind in style again now.

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I devoured the book, then went back and read it carefully, jotting down quotes in a little notebook. It is hard for me to leave any of the quotes out, but copyright law prohibits sharing more than brief quotes. I think you should get your own copy.

“It is healthy to face the pain in our souls, to feel bad when others violate our dignity, to admit to ourselves how desperately we long to feel loved and valued and accepted as we are. But, in the middle of all this… the point of Christianity is not us, but the God who cares for us.” (p. 19)

“The deepest pleasures of life don’t satisfy–they point us forward.” (p.56)

“Finding God means to rest in his goodness through poverty, lost opportunities, and plane crashes.” (p.85)

“If we are to find God as he wants to be found, if we are to know him in a way that frees us to live with joy and purpose and self-control, then we must not work primarily to solve our problems. Instead, we must work to dismantle our fallen structure, replacing the foundation of doubt with a rock solid trust in God.” (p. 97)

“The godly structure begins with trusting and loving God, and it ends by freeing us to love people with all the beauty and richness of our unique identities.” (p. 147)

“We must learn to tell the stories of our lives–the good, the bad, the ugly–to explore who we are: twisted image-bearers who live together in a community of other twisted image-bearers in the presence of an untwisted God who is slowly making us straight. We will never find God by denying who we are and where we have been. The route to God never takes us around our problems.” (p. 163)

“God is ashamed to be known as the God of people who devote their energies to building a satisfying life in this world, who take lightly the promise of a better country, and who live for the present. He is not ashamed, however, to be called the God of people who enjoy legitimate pleasures now but who clearly refuse to build their cities here; who look forward to a better home in another land; who are willing to feel the ache of unsatisfied longings without making any demands for relief; and who are grateful for the chance to serve God in an unfriendly world until they find their rest in an eternal city. See Hebrews 11, particularly verses 13-16. (p. 174)

As I read over these quotes again, I see where I have been trying to build my own safe city. I see areas of selfishness and a lack of true service to God. I have not attained to that passage from Hebrews, but thinking again about these truths invites me to wrestle until I rest in God’s constant goodness. When I enjoy legitimate pleasures, I want them to draw me to worship the Creator of pleasure and the God of grace.

Dr. Crabb says this about that grace: “God’s grace frees me from needing to be better than I am and frees me to face what I’m really like without giving up. The shock of seeing the truth about myself enables me to embrace God’s grace more fully.” (p. 113)

The housekeeping analogy for soul clutter and dirt is overused, I know, but bear with me. I leave you this one revelation that has been shocking me now for weeks: I keep my soul like I keep my house. I often do not see the dirt, because I am lazy, disorganized, and lacking right focus. It may sound odd, but it is such a relief to know what is out of balance.

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The Big Question of the Month

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I’m an inconsistent and impulsive gift-giver, not a tidy and organized one like the above picture from Pixabay.com implies.

My disorganization (or laziness?) means I really don’t do much for Christmas, but since my space here has the name, “how much of what” I want to share a quote. It was in Christian Light Publications’ ImPRESSions, a weekly in-house company newsletter I receive as an ex-employee. Here you go:

The big question of the month: Where to pay how much for how many of which kind of what to give to whom? (From Sunshine Magazine 64 years ago.)

Best wishes answering the question, if you have been asking it… and especially if you are feeling holiday pressure and starting to do things like grab the nearest fleece anything for Aunt Matilda Lou.

Please do make time to relax and thank God for Jesus, the greatest gift of all time. His name is still called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. He is still the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

 

Bachelor Buttons

Blue is her favorite color and so naturally she likes bachelor buttons, one of the few blue flowers easy to find and grow.

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When she surprised herself and married a different kind of bachelor, she wanted to launder his clothes, all of them. Frequently. But he said, “That doesn’t need to be washed yet” and “Didn’t you just wash my towel?” and similar things. And she would stalk off, muttering about the soapy water in the wringer washer not getting very dirty. Sometimes she would even stalk back and whine.

By and by she realized he did take extremely good care of his clothes. He would ask her to tighten loose shirt buttons before they fell off.  If something might stain his work clothes he would suggest soaking them or put them to soak himself.

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At times clothes seemed to wear out all over at once, not unlike the deacon’s one hoss shay. And he would say, “I think we can let that shirt (or pants) go, now” instead of “Can you mend this?” and since she didn’t enjoy sewing, she was glad.

She came to appreciate the system he had created to keep track of not-perfectly-clean shirts. (Perhaps every man should do his own laundry for five or ten years.) If he had worn a clean shirt, he would put it back on the hanger with the second button instead of the top button closed. Sometime later (much later, she thought) he would put it in the laundry basket when it failed to look or smell clean enough after being worn again.

One day she realized that she was using a similar system herself such as when she wore a dress to town for an hour. And she would use little boy and baby outfits twice if they were lightly worn.

She thought about how marriage changes man and wife, often in different areas than they dreamed. Often they balance each other. In the beginning, she thought she could convince him to prefer wearing freshly washed clothes. But what he liked better was not being nagged. Now he rarely questions how frequently she launders towels and wash cloths. She rarely seethes about not having more clothing to launder from his tidy closet and chest of drawers, partly because he puts clothes in the laundry basket sooner than he used to.

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She is glad her used-to-be bachelor is no longer eligible to wear the namesake blue flowers in a buttonhole as men once did, to let ladies know they were single. She even anticipates more of his good qualities pervading her life.

What other laundry shortcuts am I missing? How have you embraced change instead of bracing yourself against it?

Dolphin Analogy

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I have admired the graceful bottlenose dolphin since my teens when I spent time at the Atlantic beach. A friend later gave me this ceramic dolphin which has been jumping out of its ceramic ocean wave for more years than I wish to calculate. (Thanks again, Sheila Graber.)

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I often see it in front of my computer monitor and think about how God created dolphins to live in the water, but breathe air from the atmosphere. I think about how He created humans to live in the world but desperately need spiritual breath from Him.

I wanted to dig into this analogy, so I read about dolphins. That was educational. According to the World Book there are over thirty types of ocean dolphins and half a dozen river dolphins. They do not all look like my nice gray ceramic dolphin.

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Killer whales are dolphins! Some of them even eat smaller dolphins. The Bible may not mention dolphins but it does say something about that behavior:  But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.  (Galatians 5:15)

The very next verse talks about the importance of walking in the Spirit. Do my actions (springing from my thoughts) fit best in the kingdom of this world or the kingdom of God? If I care what kingdom I belong to and become heir to later, walking in the Spirit matters. Remembering that others are also walking in the same Spirit should remind me to encourage them on, not elbow them off the path.

Dolphins care for each other if injured, and even help other species out of dangerous situations. I think I can learn from that. It may not be comfortable to help someone not in my social circle or family, but who is promised a comfortable life here? In church life, speaking truth about sin observed in someone’s life could help them avoid a dangerous situation. I want others to approach me if I seem to be in danger. Well, to be more honest, I want to want them to approach me.

As I considered the variety in dolphin species, I thought about how easy it is to think people different from me are wrong. Often I may just not understand their background, or what they are aiming to accomplish.

It is true that not every “Christian” (or dolphin) is genuine. I am to judge fruit, mine included.

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It is also true that there are many things dolphins and humans do not have in common. For just one example, dolphins do not write blog posts, and if they did write them, they probably would not try so hard to include a fun photo of people made of fruit.

When Isaiah was learning to talk several months ago, he would come to my desk sometimes and indicate he wanted up. I would hold him on my lap. Next he would point at things he wanted to hold, and I would let him hold something from the desk. One day when he was holding my ceramic dolphin, he said, “Pig.”

I laughed and said, “Dolphin, not pig!” Now that he is older, we have advanced in our communication. He says, “Get up here.” I hold him. He says, “You want dolphin.” Sometimes I require that he say “Please.” He holds it, and usually before he is done playing with it he will look up at me with a gleam in his eye and say, “Pig.” I say, “Dolphin.” He says, “Pig.” I say, “Dolphin!” and we laugh.

That may be our little game, but it sobers me to think how much influence I have on him in identifying objects, people, responses, etc. With God’s help I want to live in such a way that he and others can see that my Christianity is not something ceramic and cold, molded and painted to look just so. It should be living and warm, Spirit sustained. It should be responding to needs and cares around me. It should be helping, but also willing to be helped.

 

 

God’s Keeping

I am three. Grossdawdy and Grossmommy visit from Indiana; I watch Grossdawdy use shaving cream. Daddy just “scrapes his face.”

Mommy gets a phone call, and cries.  I don’t like when Mommy cries. Grossdawdy is hurt. We travel to Indiana more often than before. I like to see Grossmommy there, and Aunt Ida and Aunt Maryann and funny Uncle Ammon. He teases me. Grossdawdy is always in a hospital bed and doesn’t look at us. They feed him with a tube.

I am four, almost five. We go to Indiana again and everyone is sad and wearing black and the hospital bed is gone and Mommy holds me up to see Grossdawdy in a coffin. They put the coffin in the ground and my aunts and Grossmommy and Mommy cry and cry. Then we all walk to the church house.  At home later I dream they buried me but I shake off the dirt and go into the church so the people will know not to be sad.

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There are so many things I couldn’t understand at four years old. Now that I’m nearly forty, I think Grossdawdy was a young man, not quite sixty years old when he died. But there are still many things I don’t understand.

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Last year this month my cousin’s son died when a driver struck his bicycle after dark. His bride of six months suffered a miscarriage three weeks before his death. I remembered those first months of marriage. How awful it would be for marriage to stop there without even a first anniversary together.

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Four years ago this month, Uncle Ammon died after an SUV hit his horse-drawn feed wagon during inclement weather. He was only fifty-one, and had lived all his life on the same farm along busy State Route 119 near Goshen. He was born there, brought his bride there, and the crash was just yards from the end of the lane. The family reeled in shock and grief: he was so needed! His youngest son was only a few years old, and for the first while wanted to put his daddy’s shoes back in the mud room for him to use. His oldest son was still in elementary school.

The entire community loved Uncle Ammon. He wasn’t perfect but he had a big heart, and lived out his faith with kindness toward others. Even for us away in Virginia, it was hard to let him go.

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This past Sunday, as my Old Order Mennonite cousin Judith and her family were going to a Communion service, their buggy was rear-ended by a speeding full-size Dodge pickup. The police found skid marks only beyond the point of impact. Three of the seven children under twelve died, and both parents have serious injuries. Judith can’t attend the funeral of her own children. Their father Paul likely can’t either.

When the news first came about this crash, there were few details, and my mind churned with questions. Questions and prayers, such as they were. Would Paul and Judith live? If not both, which one? Neither? Which children had died? Did the congregation have their service anyway? How would the driver of the truck live after this tragic day? How would the eighteen month-old do until her mother could be home–if ever? Was Judith’s sister who teaches school in that community living with them?  Who would help the little children at the hospital? They wouldn’t know English well, if at all!

As the days go by, I think and think of all the changes. What will it be like to suddenly go from seven children to four, and be missing the oldest ones, those with the most training and teaching already invested? Who will do their chores? Who will retrieve their school books, move their desks out? How will Alex (nearly 9) deal with going to bed alone, or to school alone for the first time ever since those who died were Cameron (11), Kayla (9), and Kendra (7)? (Another boy in this same community died in a car/pony cart crash just last March, on his way to school with his brother.)

We get some updates and answers. The injured ones are stable but Judith especially has a long road to recovery. The children who lived are Alex (8), Ammon (3), Calvin (2), and Trina (18 months). There was a very emotional and abbreviated Communion service. And yes, Judith’s sister lives at their house. Community members rode to the hospital holding the little ones who couldn’t speak English.

The driver attended the viewing of the children, a brave and very hard thing for him to face. He is twenty-nine, a family man with stay-at-home wife and two daughters. The community members would not press charges, but if the law puts him in jail, as sole wage earner he doesn’t know who will care for his family. He was overwhelmed by the community’s loving and forgiving assurance they would support his wife and children.

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Over the years Mom’s large family has certainly grieved other dear ones who died. Uncle Enos (17) from head injuries from hitting a barn beam as he rode on top of a grain wagon that barely cleared the beam.  Stillborn babies. A child run over by farm equipment. Grossmommy. A school boy with a brain tumor. Uncle William taken suddenly from some kind of stroke. But somehow I am most shaken when a motor vehicle and horse-drawn vehicle collide and people die. Is it because I am a car driver and most of this family drives horses? Worse, is it because I have driven faster than necessary or with distractions?

Are these tragedies reminders that life isn’t supposed to continue as we know it? That for those who died, the life that continues is much better than the life they knew here? We have the anchored hope they are in God’s good keeping, for they were either innocent or had prepared to meet their God.

Am I in God’s good keeping? There are things God has been bringing to my mind lately that I need to repent of, turn from, and replace with good habits and greater trust in Him. He can handle my problems and help me live faithfully. I can be in God’s good keeping now, and when the next tragedy strikes, and two hundred years from now.

God kept Uncle Ammon safe for fifty-one years along that busy road, and He wasn’t sleeping when the crash happened. Sunday morning He did not see fit to nudge the pickup truck driver a few feet to the left to avoid Paul and Judith’s buggy, but He did spare some lives, including little Ammon’s. Our Father God is sovereign over all, and the best I can do is trust Him with all of me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why How Much of What

This is the promised explanation of why I chose to name this WordPress site “How Much of What.” I would have just used my name, but some variations of it were already taken and besides, how many people know the right way to spell Kathryn or Swartz when they hear the name?

After I scrapped using my name I tried to think of something lofty or closely tied to my personality or strengths or even weaknesses. I’m not passionate about gardening or housekeeping or much of anything, really, not even writing. In some ways I suppose I’m a rather blah person. Should I have taken a Charlie Brown approach and checked if “blahdom” was taken? Then people could visit my blahdom blog for insomnia relief.

I kept thinking about how I used to say that they could probably put “There’s a balance.” on my head stone because I’ve often said that. And that made me think of an email conversation.

I was emailing Stephanie J. Leinbach about my baby’s silent reflux problems and some possible remedies. I mentioned another friend’s recommendation of giving the baby kefir for reflux problems since that might fix gut imbalance and therefore help the stomach balances too. I wrote, “Donna Swenck seems to be THE fermented foods queen like Hurd is the bean queen. I’m not all gung ho about either one, but they surely have some good things we should do if we could only know for sure how much of what.”

Part of her response was this:

Your last sentence—that’s it, exactly. And that last sentence makes me want to get out the duct tape and say, “Get to writing. Now.” You do have a way with words that I hate to see go untapped.

Since she lives hundreds of miles away, I escaped the implied writing therapy: me + duct tape + desk chair. But I’ve been living on that good compliment for longer than Mark Twain supposedly said a compliment could keep him going.

Another thing Stephanie did was write and send her first edition of InkWell, an email newsletter for writers. She left no room for excuses like not having time. You have to make time. She encouraged writing every day, so I’m trying to do that.  Some days I only get an appointment written into my planner. Or a grocery list. Today I wrote two checks and a couple of emails and a blog post. Some days I would have to say, “Today I wrote nothing.” Maybe that counts?

Just a bit more credit where credit is due… before Stephanie there was Sheila J. Petre, with whom I wrote letters and emails and continue to enjoy fun conversations. She has encouraged me to write more. Before that my family and some friends have also enjoyed my writing whenever they could get their eyes on it. Before that I was born into a family with some writers and colorful people on both sides of the family tree, and before that God created me to like words and books and writing and writing books.

How much I get written, of what, God knows.

Tolerance

P82A52531How does a parent know when a toddler is in pain or just ornery? When to stay by the bed and pat his back for thirty minutes and when to simply walk out after a final, “Go to sleep. I love you?” When to require him to eat even with a sore in his mouth and when to let him just drink milk and eat random soft finger foods? When to feed an already fat infant more formula because it seems to make him happy, or when to try to space his feedings out more so he doesn’t look like a beach ball with hands and feet on his first birthday?

I had these questions today and I don’t know the answers. I will continue to try to get direction from God, who gives wisdom to those who seek it from Him. Sometimes I might choose the wrong option unknowingly, and my children will need to forgive me my humanity.