Category Archives: Thoughts and Musings

Sanctification and March Snow

The snow pack in March is a sedimentary formation of snow, ice, and road sand. This time of the year, we are all eager for warm rain, and green points from the ground and tree branches. Instead, we get more snow. It’s disheartening to watch the white flakes blanket the road, and swirl over the windshield in a lazy folk dance. I want spring. I want the snow to go away.

The Carrier native nation who live in the Interior of B.C., where I was born and raised, call the late spring snow “the snow to take away the snow.” Were those eagerly anticipated warm rains to fall, the drops would skate lightly across the crusted surface, bounce along frozen ground, over flow the sill frozen rivers and streams, and collect in basements. Too much rain, would be a very bad thing. The spring snow, however, doesn’t pool, or stream down hill. Instead the fresh flakes blanket the wind hardened snow dunes, melting in the warming sun, and pockmarking the crust. The shell that would have resisted rain gives way beneath the gentle pressure of its own kind. Layer by layer the strata of snow peels away. Grey grass appears around the edges, and damp puddles color the banks of the icy streams. Spring is brought by the last snows.

The grey banks along the road are not the only things about which I grumble. The circumstances of life are significantly less within my control than I believed they would be when I was a child. I grumble about snow, and other things equally out of my control. The Lord deals with all of these things in the same way. He teaches me contentment in my circumstances by giving me more of it.

The gentle sameness of life is the most effective tool by which my hard heart is softened, and turned to fertile soil. When truthfully examining my personal history I must admit that the times of drastic change are more likely to reveal previously unknown crusts of anger and bitterness in my heart, rather than being transformative on them. Instead, it is in the momentary sameness that I am gently melted.

In the same way, the Lord changes us all through the sameness of the ordinary means of Grace. The weekly rhythm of Word, prayer, and sacraments settle like spring snow on our cold hearts, warming us in a way that thunderstorm events cannot. It is in the soft sediment of ordinary that He has appointed to speak, and mold, and cut away the cold death of our sin. The erosion of that crust happens so slowly that I am not aware of when the layers are melted back. I just realize, one same day, that I am seeing the green shoots of growth I hadn’t seen before.

This is the power of ordinary things applied regularly. Daily practice improves skill. A single drop of water or a few grains of sand can carve mountains. Snow can melt snow. The word preached and prayed and in sacrament can do no less. The snow on Sunday brought visible grass today. The word on Sunday is at work still.

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This Morning

This morning I was up before the river.

Her misty bed clothes were tucked, still snug, into her banks

although a few slipped, untidily, across the road.

My tires flicked them away.

Shadows stretched

long

away from the golden cheer of the sun

as if to linger a few moments longer

like the river.

The world was still rousing herself, drowsy and sluggish

but this morning I was out before the river.


This Wasn’t How I Thought This Life Would Go

Jonathan and I married 22 years ago this month, and like all newly weds we had big plans for our life. Among the certainties we presented to God, were the following:

  1. Jonathan would be a youth pastor forever, because youth ministry wasn’t just a stepping stone to “something bigger and better.”
  2. We would be young parents. Our four children would be born before we hit our 30’s so we could be grandparents in our 40’s.
  3. We were never leaving Canada.
  4. We would never renovate a house, or farm sheep.

In case you’re new here, I’ll remind you that we have, thus far, managed to not farm sheep. We hit our tenth anniversary, still childless, and Jonathan leaving his youth pastorate at the beginning of what would be a five year theological overhaul. One would think I would have learned not to give God absolutes. Still, I continued to be surprised when my plans were not His. Here I sit, approaching 43, expecting my own bonus doodle, instead of the granddoodle of my initial plans, and I find myself thinking “but this wasn’t my plan. This wasn’t how life was supposed to go.”

Almost nothing about the life I have now is the life I pictured then. I “should” be published. I “should” have teenagers in an excellent Christian school on whose PTA I would gladly serve. I “should” . . . does it even matter? The point is, I’m not.

And still, as I look back over 22 years of “shoulds,” I am struck also by the things I never saw coming. Would anyone who knew me even ten years ago have anticipated that I would own three separate rolling pins for three separate baking tasks, and use every one regularly? Would the naive almost 21 year old who walked that aisle have anticipated the day she/I could gut, skin, and process both large game and small animals and birds for our family’s consumption?  Hardly. My political shift from liberal to angry conservative to undefinable was probably not as surprising to others as it was to me. However, I know that no one could have foreseen the day in which I found joy and peace within the bounds called “confessional.”

I didn’t set out to be a confessional Presbyterian, any more than I set out to spend ten years of life infertile, but the journeys are not separate. This isn’t the life I set out to live. This isn’t the road map I unfurled at the dawning of my early adulthood. It doesn’t even look like the same country, some days. Still, I wouldn’t trade it. Some of the greatest beauties of my life and things that stir my soul today couldn’t even be found on that first path. The things in which I delight today are things I didn’t even know I wanted then.

So six months ago it wasn’t my plan to have a baby in my 40s. What joy and delights are to come that I cannot anticipate? This bonus doodle follows in a long line of things I receive from the Lord that I didn’t know I wanted. Some of those things have been terribly painful, and the heavy hand of providence may lay on this too. Even so, all things considered, He has continued to make my boundaries lie in pleasant places. This isn’t the way I thought my life would go, 22 years ago, 10 years ago, 6 months ago. This wasn’t my plan. What a comforting place to rest.


Seasons

TrueTone colors give way

to technicolor and neon

that fades past time bleached

into sepia tones

and finally black and white
with occasional wan water color tint

A lilac sunset the only reminder

of the pencil green shading to come


Some Thoughts on Silence and the First Commandment

Despite my promise almost a year ago to blog more, I clearly haven’t done that. I have a lot of thoughts – more questions than answers, more re-examining ideas than firm convictions these days. I have been asking the question “why do I believe that?” and seeking the answers in the scriptures and the writings of old dead men who knew far more than I do. In all of this, I have maintained an ambivalence to documenting even the common elements of my life, without really knowing why I couldn’t put fingers to keys.

Recently, however, I have found some clarification in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Like the Shorter, the Larger Catechism studies the Ten Commandments in depth, as a guide for holy living. In question 105 What sins are forbidden in the First commandment, I was struck by two points in a litany of ways in which we place other gods before our True God. The answer includes: “using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means;” and “ . . . corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal;“.

I have been guilty of corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal in my life. I once described myself on this very blog as having a theology of mustard. I wasn’t really exaggerating. There have been a lot of things in my life that weren’t necessarily idols, until I began to pursue them with the zeal for which I should pursue the things of God. I have approached everything from mustard and coffee to literature and politics with corrupt, blind, indiscreet zeal, while too often approaching my Creator with lukewarm indifference. That corrupted zeal was also applied, far too often, to blogging and writing. That corrupted zeal would be the definition of false worship was convicting in a particular way, because the reason I had originally been reading the Larger catechism was not to learn more about how I could serve my God. Instead, I had turned to it in a corrupted zeal to prove someone else wrong. My heart was reflected back to me, even as it steeped in violation of the law of God.

Within that realization, however, came another. The things that define my life at the moment – being a homeschooling pastor’s wife – are the subject of much blind and indiscreet zeal themselves, and the subject of much “trusting in lawful means.” I am silent on those points, both in person and online, largely because I don’t want two issues of circumstance to define who I am. I am casting about for a larger definition of myself, and coming up with things that don’t fit so neatly into a blog post. I am weary of corrupted zeal both in myself and in the cyber culture of  blogs and bloggers, and that weariness has led to silence.

I have decided to spend some more time with the Larger catechism, seeking truth, not vindication. In the mean time I am dwelling on Ecclesiastes 5:2

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”


Reflections on the Death of My Mother

Jonathan has been preaching through Genesis in the evening service and a few weeks ago Genesis 46:4 stood out to me.

“I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Our modern world thinks so rarely of the task of closing the eyes of the dead, but it struck me that one of the great promises God granted to Jacob was the promise that his long-thought-dead son would be the one to close his eyes. The intimacy and beauty of that care touched me in a bitter sweet way. I realized that living roughly 1400 km (850 miles) from my parents and 5000 km (3000 miles) from Jonathan’s parents meant that we would likely not have that moment, real or symbolic, of closing our parents’ eyes in death. Three weeks later we received a completely unexpected phone call that my mother was dying of a brain bleed, and there was no way to make it to her side in time to say good bye. The Lord had so graciously prepared me for the situation I could not have known I would face.

There were so many moments of kindness in the journey. Our church session was quick to encourage Jonathan to travel with me instead of sending me alone. Our church congregation, my sister’s congregation (also in our presbytery) and the other churches of our presbytery, and my father’s church all expressed their care and love for us in so many ways. The funeral service was full with people from almost every part of my mother’s life, except her Australia years. We received flowers and phone calls and literally hundreds of emails and Facebook messages with such kind and genuine memories of my mother. The Lord was kind to sustain us, even when we were struck with the stomach flu the night before the funeral.

memorialfrontNow, after seven hectic, but blessed, days of funeral preparations, we are back home, and the chronic nature of grief is becoming real to me. I had not realized how many times every day I think “I must remember that for Mom.” or “Mom would love that story.” or “Take a picture of that for Mom.” I had often joked about hearing my mother’s voice in my head. Don’t we all do that? But I hadn’t realized how very often the every day tasks in my life incorporated a memory of something my mother said, or taught me, or loved, or hated. There are so many irrational moments like seeing my Scrabble board and suddenly feeling overwhelming sense of guilt that I hadn’t replaced the J as I promised her I would before her next visit. There are those gut wrenching moments like being the only member of the family who could disable her Facebook account. There is the reality, as I sit blogging, that I was always certain, no matter what I wrote, my Mom would read it. There is that sense of sadness that I carry with me, inside my chest, without really being able to express it.

My mother loved the Lord and was loved by Him. Her struggles with her health, her body, and her mind are now gone, and she is worshiping in a peace and joy she never knew here. I do not grieve as one with no hope, nor do I grieve as the one who knows the Lord and is certain their loved one did not. However, I do grieve. I grieve in the confidence that the Lord’s promises are true and that my mother is resting in the arms of our Savior just as my first child is. Still, I grieve.  I grieve because I miss my mother. I grieve because I don’t think my youngest daughter will remember her Nana. I grieve because death is the result of sin and corruption in God’s good creation.

People ask me how I am, and I answer “I am doing well. The Lord is sustaining.” It is true. It is not a mindless platitude or the socially expected statement from a minister’s wife. The Lord is kind and is sustaining me in my sadness, just as he prepared my heart for it weeks ago. Blessed is the name of the Lord.


In Which I Call Todd Pruitt an Angry Conservative (on purpose) and Prove Carl Trueman Right (accidentally)

In order for this post to make any sense, you must understand something. I was a rabid talk radio fan for many years and after God shifted my life in a dramatic way, I stopped that nonsense. However, I still prefer to listen to someone talk when I am driving than to listen to music. About a year ago, I started listening to the Mortification of Spin podcast because I had just finished Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative, but I have to admit I mostly keep listening because I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend.

And that creepy note is the point of this blog post.

During my NaNoWriMo writing marathon, I was checking twitter more often than I usually do, because the NaNo crew communicated word challenges and the like through Twitter. I follow Rev. Todd Pruitt on twitter because I listen to the podcast, and one evening he posted an article. I had read the article earlier, and it had struck me as one of those “anger the masses” ad hominem editorials that serve no purpose other than to polarize. Several of my friends had linked to it. I didn’t respond to any of those people. I responded to Todd Pruitt.

Here is the thing. I feel sort of like I know Todd Pruitt. Every Wednesday he and Aimee and Todd show up on my iPod. I plug in my ear buds and have a lively conversation with them. Only, and here is the most important point here, I don’t actually have a conversation. The rational part of my mind knows that they can’t hear all of the witty and insightful (in my ever so humble opinion) comments I add to their podcast. The part of my brain that lives in the real world knows that if they were booked for a speaking gig in Moncton, not a single one would say, “Well, if we’re going to be that close, why don’t we swing up and see how Coralie is doing.” I know that they don’t know me.

I really do know that.

Except apparently I don’t.

In a rash twenty minutes of tweets, I suddenly felt I had the familiarity and relationship with a man I have never met, to try to correct his choices in 140 characters or less.

Interestingly, the Mortification of Spin cast speak often on this topic of celebrity. Dr. Trueman often speaks about the false familiarity that can be created in which people feel that they know someone personally because they have encountered them through varying types of media. I had thought he was talking about other people. Crazy people. The people who don’t have boundaries and think they can respond on twitter to someone they have never met.

Oh. wait.

The issue of celebrity is a complicated one. What gave me the impression that I could respond to Rev. Pruitt in a way and a medium that I wouldn’t with my friends? What makes us think we can pick apart the marriages of people we have never met based on headlines in a grocery store aisle? They are one and the same. The issue of celebrity isn’t that we feel a sense of intimacy or relationship with someone else. It is that we don’t really believe they are real. We create an idol of them in our mind, and mold it in our image. They are not image bearing humans, they are fictional characters in our mental world.

When I say something strange and creepy like, “I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend,” I am not speaking about a housewife in Maryland who cooks and mops floors and attends her children’s sporting events. I am speaking of the image in my mind of a woman who would sit at my kitchen table at my convenience and discuss only the theological points that I want to discuss and not challenge my mental laziness or personal blind spots. I am not speaking of a real human. I am building an idol. Rev. Pruitt’s posted article elicited a strong response from me not so much because of my personal distaste for the article, but because it did not fit into my mental image of who he was. When I sought to edit him back into my script, he stubbornly refused to conform. He insisted on being human.

While the internet didn’t create celebrity, it, combined with years of self-esteem culture, has built a culture in which celebrity has become the expected norm, not the exceptional experience for remarkable people. Ethan Renoe wrote a fascinating piece about become an overnight internet sensation. He says “It soon felt like little burglars were running through the halls of my cyber house . . .But while I became Internet famous, but what I did not become was known.” In our desperate search for celebrity, too many of us are willing to sacrifice true relationship to become idols in someone else’s cyber-world. Todd Pruitt resisted my efforts to celebretize him into my image, but too many of us don’t. Too many of us would rather have millions know about us than be known by a handful.

I don’t know Rev. Pruitt or Dr. Trueman or Mrs. Byrd. They don’t know me. Their 20 minute podcast once a week is fine, as far as it goes, but if someone told me I could have dinner with them, or with my sister, I’d pick my sister every time. I’d pick Jawan or Becky or Sarah or . . . you get the idea. I would pick real relationship over the inevitable disillusionment of idolatry.