Catching Up: Conferences, Cliffhangers, and a Movie Critic

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Lots of life happening at our house these days.

A friend recently asked me if she needed to re-subscribe to Greener Trees – she hadn’t received anything in her inbox for a while. I tried to log in to the blog’s administrative page to work on a few things and couldn’t remember my password. Apparently, it’s time for an update.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

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A little over a year ago, I was honored to join a team of wonderful folks over at Story Warren. You can learn more about their mission here. I’m delighted to share that Story Warren’s inaugural conference, Inkwell, will be held in Charlotte on June 21. On that day, two of my favorite worlds will collide. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. The conference is sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame concert to be held later that evening. We are lucky ducks, indeed.

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NOAH

Last summer, Greener Trees Reads (online reading group) read Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly together. In the fall, I was able to meet and chat with Overstreet during the wonderful weekend called Hutchmoot. We talked about the possibility of working on a future project together. Months later, the idea became reality. Here it is:

Once upon a time, two total strangers — one a mother and a teacher with a background in business; the other a writer, editor, and film critic — became friends after she invited him to join an online discussion of his book about film. They were both Christians. And they met at an arts-and-faith gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville. They both agreed that they wanted to work together on something someday. You can continue reading here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lookingcloser/2014/04/noah-2014-part-two-of-a-two-part-commentary/#ixzz331Sgw68s

This summer, we’ll be listening to and discussing the recordings from Hutchmoot. If you have an interest in the intersection of faith and art, you may consider purchasing the 17 hours of audio here. It will be well-worth your investment.

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A simple assigned writing prompt surfaced this long-forgotten memory. We have much to learn from each other – far more than initially meets the eye. Over at Art House America:

Not much was said as we hiked up the trail. Words would have tarnished the moment. The Colorado mountains were doing their thing — offering the fresh taste of reality in a saccharine-laced world. The climb provided ample time to survey the landscape. I was overcome with the beauty, so thick I couldn’t swallow it all in one gulp. I had to take in little sips. You can continue reading here.

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In March, David and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by taking a few days away in the Big Apple. It was a rare grown-up playdate – complete with Broadway shows, unbelievable food, and my first visit to the Met. I’ve binged on the life and works of Van Gogh this spring, so standing before Starry Night was a hi-light. We’re deeply grateful for twenty years of struggle, joy, friendship, community, and far more detours from the assumed path of life than we could have imagined.

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Perhaps the biggest news coming from our home is the newest addition – Little Lucy. It’s amazing how much joy this sweet little pup has brought into our home. She’s six months old and we are all smitten.

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Happy summer from our home to yours!

 



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Looking Back: Books of 2013

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The kiddos last January at Makoto Fujimura’s Four Quartets exhibit.

As I look back at the adventures, mishaps, joys and trials of the past year, it seems fitting to recount the books that have gently adjusted my vision. Some books have been read and discussed in a group, while others I’ve enjoyed with my family or alone with a cup of hot tea. Here are a few books that left their mark on my life during 2013:

With the Reading Group
In 2011, a small group of folks came together (virtually) to read and discuss The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. Greener Trees Reads was born. In the past few years, we’ve read and discussed several books, each of which has stretched, challenged, and inspired me in unique ways. These are the books that we read together in 2013:

Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet*
If you watch movies, read this book. If you’re a parent, read this book. If you want to better love your neighbor, read this book. It’s as much about posture of heart as it is about movie-going. As a result of reading Through a Screen Darkly, I’ve viewed not only movies, but also current events and the people in my life through a different lens. You can get a taste of the book and our group’s discussion of it here.

The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner
I’m an ardent supporter of Makoto Fujimura – both his art and his writing. Last year, our group read his book Refractions, and Mako was kind enough to join our discussion. At his suggestion, we read The Art of T.S. Eliot in preparation of the Four Quartets exhibit at Duke University. This book was a stretch (to say the least) for me, but it was successful in illuminating Eliot’s work as well as exercising literary muscles of mine that had previously been inactive. More on my stretching here.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger*
Shortly after Leif Enger was announced as the keynote speaker for Hutchmoot, I was asked to lead an online discussion of So Brave, Young, and Handsome over at the Rabbit Room. I was hesitant. My only experience of reading with a group had been limited to non-fiction. I had no idea where to start. But this book made the process easy. Enger is a master with words and subtext. I took pages of notes from So Brave, Young and Handsome and enjoyed hearing the insights of others. I emerged from our weeks of discussion reminded and hopeful. Redemption is a messy, beautiful business.

“A line only gets grace when it curves, you know.” Leif Enger (So Brave, Young and Handsome)

The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon
I’m not sure how one book can simultaneously be about cooking, seeing the miracles in everyday life, and idolatry, but this one is. An entire chapter dedicated to the cutting of an onion is potentially life-altering, and I own a new whisk and two new knives as a result of my reading.

“Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of clichés. It takes playfulness to make poetry.” Robert Capon (Supper of the Lamb)

With the Kiddos

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This one took me by surprise. A story of friendship, character revealed in hardship, and the hope that creativity can offer. I almost didn’t make it through.  My painful experience of the first few chapters is chronicled here.

The Singing Tree and The Good Master by Kate Seredy
Seredy has quickly become one of our favorite authors. Hard to find in hardback, but worth the hunt.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
It was an honor and a privilege to read and discuss The Hiding Place with my children. A glimpse into our conversation and an explanation of why we still read aloud to with them here.

On My Own

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge
My last read for the year. If you’ve never read Goudge, this is a good place to start. I look forward to reading the remaining books of the Eliots of Damerosehay Trilogy in the upcoming months.

“Beauty and shabbiness are quite compatible. . . A thing of beauty is a joy forever, but it must be a costly and strong beauty, purchased at a high price of service or sacrifice, not skin-deep but bone-deep, if it is to be as desirable at the shabby end as it was at the sumptuous beginning.”  Elizabeth Goudge (The Bird in the Tree)

Death by Living by N.D. Wilson*
Last year, Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl was significant in shifting the culture of our family (a bit more on that here). Death by Living had a similar impact. “Life is meant to be spent.” Those six words play out in a million everyday choices. I’m fairly certain that the recent decision to add a new member to our family can be traced back to seeds of ideas planted by Wilson. A book can be a dangerous (and glorious) thing.

“When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.” N.D. Wilson (Death by Living)

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger*
For years, I’d heard friends proclaim that Peace Like a River was their favorite book. A few come close to swooning when they speak of it – for good reason. Enger weaves an endearing tail of adventure, family tragedy, and healing, with the bright thread of hope running throughout.

“We see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look, children, a miracle! But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness? We won’t even see it, though we look at it every day.” Leif Enger (Peace Like a River)

Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson*

The sequel to The Fiddler’s Gun. If you’re looking for a meaningful, rich, story that is full of adventure, Peterson’s books are not to be missed.

Lilith by George MacDonald
I read this book by sheer will. It’s been a long time since I started a book and so desperately wanted to quit. But I love MacDonald’s work and decided to trust the author more than my own judgement. I trudged through the first 3/4 of the book, wavering between being bored and wondering if I just wasn’t smart enough to “get” it. The last 1/4 was more than worth the work. I’ll read this one again. And perhaps again.

The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse by Michael Gungor
This is the year I became a fan of Gungor‘s music. Although this book was written with “creatives” in mind, it has significant insight to offer to everyone. After all, we are all “creatives” in some capacity.

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
I’ve heard quotes taken from The Weight of Glory for years. Now I know why. Lewis never disappoints.

– – –

* I’ve had the very good fortune to meet the authors of several of the books listed at a gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville, Tennessee. This year, the sessions of these authors as well as a number of additional writers, musicians, and generally swell people were recorded, and you can purchase the 17 hours of audio here.

May your 2014 be filled with beauty, friendship, and many a good book!

 

 

 

 

 



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Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

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We’re taking an intermission during our summer reading of Through a Screen Darkly to give folks who’ve fallen behind (or have recently joined) a week to catch up. In the spirit of celebrating movies, however, I’m pleased to present the following guest post from Jonathan Rogers. Jonathan had mentioned in passing that he is a big fan of the movie Raising Arizona. I was curious. If you knew Jonathan, you’d want to hear more as well. He was kind enough to put some thoughts down on paper for us. Enjoy.

 

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Raising Arizona is one of my favorite movies ever. I make no claims for its greatness, only that I love it. I love my hometown of Warner Robins, Georgia in much the same way: there was a time when I would have tried to argue that Warner Robins (or Raising Arizona) was the greatest. Now I am content to say that it shaped my sensibilities, for better or worse, at the time of life when my sensibilities were ready to be shaped. I almost can’t help but love it.

 

I had just graduated from high school when I saw Raising Arizona at the movie theater. It was the first time I had ever thought of a movie as a made thing. I knew, of course, that there were moviemakers, but I had never spent one minute wondering what they did. I enjoyed movies well enough, but I was about as passive a consumer of movies as a moviegoer could be. It was only earlier that same year that I had ever thought enough about a movie to dislike it. It was a Sylvester Stallone movie about arm wrestling, a truly terrible movie. I would have never gone if a movie theater employee hadn’t let me in free.*

 

But I digress. The first five minutes of Raising Arizona grabbed me with its down-market poetry. The language is highly stylized, polished and rhythmic. (Just the name Tempe, Arizona, with its three trochees, has more poetry in it than Ithaca or Xanadu or Elsinore). And yet the language sounds very much like native speech. It reminds you of the musicality that is possible in everyday American language. There’s a visual equivalent in an early shot in which Hi an Ed are sitting in the treeless, grass-less yard just outside their single-wide trailer watching a magnificent sunset beyond desert mountains. The glories of the Western sky are as available to these two trailer-dwellers as to anybody else. Over that very shot, Hi explains why he and Ed wanted a baby so desperately: “there was too much love and beauty for just the two of us,” he says, as the sunset gives way to darkness. I realize that the joke is probably  supposed to be on the rubes in the lawn chairs. But I believe Hi. There is real beauty in this life that the jail-bird and the policewoman are putting together.

 

Raising Arizona is a movie with certain literary aspirations (if literary is the right word). There’s quite a bit of symbolism in Raising Arizona as in all the Coen Brothers’ movies. I have mixed feelings about symbolism, which is very easy to get wrong. Indeed, even as a seventeen-year-old, I was bothered by some of the ham-fisted symbolism in Raising Arizona (the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse mostly gets on my nerves). But on the other hand, I was delighted to realize that things like symbolism could exist in movies (as to why it hadn’t occur to me many years earlier, I can’t say). I had never thought of a movie as a vehicle for carrying literary freight of any kind. To put my moviegoing experience in perspective, I should mention that at this point in my life I was already enamored of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Nobody does transcendence like Milton. Angels. Demons. Unfallen Eden. War in Heaven. Councils in Hell. I was caught off guard by this funny little low-rent (and occasionally coarse) movie that looked and sounded like something resembling literature.

 

I am crazy about Hi McDonough. I love any character who is too smart to be so stupid. Hi is a smart guy and something of a poet, but his life circumstances haven’t given him the opportunity to use his gifts in constructive ways. He keeps making stupid choices, but you love him anyway because his heart apparently is in the right place. There’s a lot of Hi in Grady, the narrator and protagonist of my novel, The Charlatan’s Boy.

 

Finally, I love the way that legitimate, understandable desires on the part of the main characters leads them to do outrageously stupid things. What could be more natural than for two happily married people to want a baby? But, as Hi says, “biology and the prejudices of others conspired to keep us childless.” Their pursuit of their desire leads them into situations in which they are in way over their heads. It’s like Greek tragedy, except that it’s hilarious.

 

–Bonus reason to love Raising Arizona: When Ed says to the Lone Biker, “Gimme back that baby, you warthog from hell!” she is quoting Flannery O’Connor almost directly. In “Revelation,” the Wellesley student who assaults Ruby Turpin in the doctor’s waiting room says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.”

 

* The same movie theater employee–perhaps to make up for exposing me to such a terrible movie–also gave me a trash bag full of leftover movie popcorn to take on a camping trip to the Okefenokee Swamp. It attracted the attention of a gang of especially nasty raccoons, who scattered the popcorn all over the campgrounds and beyond.

 

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Jonathan Rogers grew up in Georgia, where he spent many happy hours in the swamps and riverbottoms on which the wild places of The Wilderking Triology and The Charlatan’s Boy (some of our favorite books) are based. He received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and holds a Ph.D. in seventeenth-century English literature from Vanderbilt University. The Rogers clan lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where Jonathan makes a living as a freelance writer. His most recent book is The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor.

 



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A Better Thing – Reflections from Hutchmoot 2012

The first face-to-face meeting of our reading group.

There are events in life that are worthy of memorialization. Every detail is recorded for posterity. Hallmark birthdays. First steps. Weddings. We submerge ourselves fully and bathe in the richness of the moment. It is a sacred place. I won’t attempt to memorialize the events of last weekend at Hutchmoot. Pictures and scrawled notes fail miserably. Rather than recounting the specifics, I want to share a bit of the sacred fragrance that has lingered with me as a result.

Last year, my attendance at Hutchmoot was unexpected after learning of an open spot only days prior. I had little time to develop expectations, and sojourned through the weekend like a wide-eyed tourist taking in the sights. I went with no particular agenda, no preparation, and having had met only a few who would be attending. I arrived with open hands, and I left with a full heart.

During those few days in Nashville, I met folks who were writers, musicians, artists, and book lovers. We had much in common, and conversations flowed easily. Through the following year, some of those initial meetings grew into deeper friendships. Black and white took on tints of color. Initial sketches of those writers, musicians, artists and book lovers developed into more complex portraits. As months passed, I began to see them as parents, friends, spouses, and children, all finding their way through this thing called life. We read through books together and learned from one another. We shared life’s burdens and triumphs. We prayed for each other. As diversity and imperfections surfaced, the degree of affection and loyalty deepened.

In speaking about a writing group which had been meeting together for several years, Anne Lamott describes the following:

“They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”

 

According to the lineup of speakers and musicians, a gathering like Hutchmoot could be perceived as a gathering of the “slick and cool.” Yet the actual experience was anything but. Nearly every conversation, whether in a crowded hallway or during a structured seminar, was peppered with the themes of gratefulness, brokenness, struggle and redemption. Folks were honest about life and cared for one another well. Hearts got bigger.

During one of the sessions, Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive read, sang, and played through the life of Rich Mullins. Mullins, like so many of us, led a life of seeming contradictions. He was steeped in scripture. He wrote unabashedly of the power, tenderness, grandeur and compassion of Christ. Yet his life was marked by significant struggle and addiction. Mullins had the courage to be honest about his life, and as a result, ushered in a new era of Christian musicians who would do the same. It’s an unexpected irony – his brokenness may have been the most beautiful thing about him. His struggle only amplified the grace of God. The same is true for all of us.

Yes, Hutchmoot was indeed what Jonathan Rogers termed “an embarrassment of riches.” The food, the music, the conversations, were far more lavish than mere words can convey. Yet the senses of taste, sight and sound only served to heighten an awareness of the eternal fragrance present in each one of us. Not of perfection, competence, or achievement, but the unmistakable incense of a broken, forgiven people. A people who are deeply and eternally loved by their Father. It’s the broken vessel that is most potent.

 

Maybe it’s a better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken, then redeemed by love

Andrew Peterson, Don’t You Want to Thank Someone

 

I’m grateful to have been given a few days with these beautiful, broken, and redeemed people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The servants of the secret fire… until we meet again.

 

 

 

* Photographs not printed with permission. If you’d rather have yours removed, don’t hesitate to let me know. 



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Big Rocks and Veggie Tales

The asker-of-wise-questions at his first movie.
I’m pretty sure that Dad is looking out for the big fish.

We’ve made some changes around here.

Given that our oldest (at home) is quickly approaching high school, we’re coming to the end of an era. We’ve been homeschooling for the past nine years, and it has been a sweet time for our family. Very possibly, some subset or all three children will attend ‘school in a building’ in the next few years. Within a decade, they will be in college. Their days at home have always been numbered, but I’m beginning to see the point at the end of the number line approaching more quickly than I’d prefer. As that reality became more, well… more real, a question began to haunt me.

What if this were to be our last year?

What would I do differently? What would I want to make sure we experienced? Read? Played?

The truth is, for all of us, this could be the last year. The last year working at a particular job. The last year living in the current city or neighborhood. The last year that any given person will be in my life. If I knew in advance that the current situation were about to change, what would I do differently?

I don’t want to live a life of regret. “What if this were to be our last year?” has become the banner under which decisions are made. Not with a spirit of fear, but with a focused, expectant intentionality.

Early in my corporate career, I was introduced to Stephen Covey and his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the most memorable illustrations from Covey’s teachings is the Big Rock principle. I’m a visual learner. In the spirit of tackling ‘first things first’, I trotted off to Michael’s craft store and brought home the components of our life lesson.

big rocks

Jars – Signify the hours in a day. Their capacity is finite. Twenty-four hours is all we get.

Big rocks – The most important priorities. These are the nonnegotiables.

Small rocks – The activities we enjoy and want to do more often. Good things but not crucial.

Sand – Less significant.  Not to be confused with Sabbath rest and reflection, sand represents those not-so-constructive activities we use to “check out.” I have a few. And I bet you do as well.

If we fill our days with sand, we run out of room for the big rocks. The reality of our daily lives doesn’t embody our stated priorities. When this happens, I end up feeling frustrated, disappointed, and on the worst days, despair.

Yet if we start with the big rocks – structure our choices around that which we deem most important, well, you get the picture.

As we were plunking rocks and pouring sand, I couldn’t help but to feel some relief. Surely this conversation would bolster my case for working hard, getting chores accomplished cheerfully and quickly, and developing unselfish, joyful relationships between siblings. Yes. I had found the perfect illustration to support my case. Until one of my children, as does frequently happen, asked the question.

“Mom, if we’re supposed to want what God wants, don’t you think some other things are really more important?”

More important than mastering your Latin declensions, obeying your parents, and cleaning your room? Really? Hmm. Good point.

I realized that I had hoped this exercise would reinforce my priorities. But that was the problem. It was my agenda.  Not that the things I want for my children aren’t valuable and important – I believe that they are. But are they really THE big rocks? What exactly do we value most?

Hard work?
Obedience?
Academic excellence?

 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

 

THAT is the big rock.
Pursuing God.
Or more specifically, allowing Him to pursue me.
That’s where we start.
Everything else must follow.
Everyday.

In Me, Myself, & Bob, Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, tells the story of the rise and fall of his company, Big Idea. The business case he unfolds is fascinating, particularly for a former banker. I’m like a kid in a candy story when discussing marketing and strategic planning. Although captivated by both the personal drama and business details in the book, I was stopped by his personal reflection at the end. Vischer had wanted good things for God. He wanted to further the Kingdom. Yet this admirable dream was plucked out of his hardworking, persevering, highly-creative hands. What happened?

In response, Phil Vischer offers the hard, hopeful insight:

“The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact. It occurs when we’re pursuing God.”

 

That’s the big rock.
Not my agenda.
Not my dreams.
Not the good things I can do to further His Kingdom.

I’m grateful to share that I’ll be hearing from Phil Vischer this weekend. He’ll be speaking at Hutchmoot, a gathering of folks occurring in Nashville. This is an uber-talented group, of which many earn a livelihood creating for the common good. They have a great deal to give. I find it fitting that the speaker won’t be offering a talk on “The Five Keys to Building a Successful Business ” or “Effective Marketing Techniques to Grow Your Platform.” Phil Vischer achieved those goals. He had great impact. But the years were eventually marked by loss and heartache – which resulted in a deep well of wisdom. And from that wisdom flows the most valuable lesson of all. One that has been taught over and over through the ages to a people who are slow to learn.

 

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. . . You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:2-4

 

Yes, we need to make some changes around here. I want to lay down my big rocks of personal agenda, control, and self-reliance. Daily, I’ve allowed good dreams to usurp that which is best.

I’m guilty.

I’m forgiven.

I’m beloved.

I’m grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Along the Road – Hutchmoot 2011

I’m a lover of life.  A glass-is-half-full girl.  A believer in ideals.  But life can be really, really hard.  And if it’s not hard for me at the moment, chances are, it is for one (or many) of those close to me. Over time, I’ve had the honor of walking with folks who were navigating through some treacherous territory.  They didn’t see it coming, and weren’t sure they’d be able to find the way out.  I’ve been there a time or two.  And I bet, so have you.  Thank goodness we’re all here to stumble, sprint, roam, crawl, dance, climb, skip, limp and wade through life together.

In returning from my weekend at Hutchmoot, I’ve been pondering how and what to report back to those who’ve graciously shown interest.  This is my attempt.  For starters, it may be helpful to address the etymology of the name.

Hutch – n.  A coop for the housing of small animals, especially rabbits.

Moot – n.  An ancient English meeting, especially a meeting of the free men of a shire.  v. To discuss

Hutchmoot is the convening of 100ish music, art, Lewis and Tolkien-loving folks, many who have met virtually in the Rabbit Room. Hutchmoot is more of a family gathering than a conference.  It offers community rather than instruction.  Its intent is to inspire and enjoy rather than to equip.

Upon returning from my weekend away, our family resumed reading Dangerous Journey, which is a beautifully illustrated retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress. The story begins by introducing Christian, who carries a heavy burden upon his back.  He works with it.  He sleeps with it.  He can find no relief.  In an effort escape from certain doom, Christian embarks upon an odyssey of discovery that leads him through great peril, uncertainty, and pivotal  choices.  During his travels, he meets a variety of fellow-travelers.  Some of them, such as Obstinate, Pliable, Worldly Wiseman and Mr. Legality offer a plethora of counsel to Christian.  Their counsel, however, is unhelpful at best and near-fatal at worst.

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One broad road turned to the left;  another broad road turned to the right;  while the narrow road went straight on – up the great black back of the Hill called difficulty.  Which one would they choose?  Formalist chose to go to the left, which led him into a dark wood.  Did he but know it, the road was call Danger, and he lost his way for ever.  Hypocrisy chose to go to the right, which led him into rough ground, full of holes and hummocks.  Did he but know it, the road was called Destruction.  Here he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.  As for Christian, he paused and drank at a spring to refresh himself.  Then after looking both ways, he started briskly straight up the hill.

Others join Christian and impact his journey in quite a different way.  Evangelist points him in the right direction.  The Interpreter helps him gain understanding.  Faithful, who has fought quite different battles from those Christian experienced, offers encouragement and fellowship along the way.

So I saw in my dream that he made great haste.  But as he drew nearer, he could hear in the darkness the roaring of the lions.  The only way forward was along a narrow passage, which was about a furlong from the porter’s lodge.  This, he knew, was the place from which Mistrust and Timorous had fled.  And Christian was never so near to running back after them.  But the porter at the lodge, whose name was Watchful, perceiving now that Christian made a halt, cried out:   “Is your strength so small?  Fear not the lions.  They are on long chains.  If you keep strictly to the beam of light, in the center of the path, they cannot reach you.”  So Christian moved on.  He took good heed to the directions of the porter.  At the same time, he trembled for fear of the lions, for now they were on either side of him, straining at their chains.  And how they roared, and snapped at him!  And how they tried to catch him by the foot!

Although the characters are prototypical, I can see myself in each on any given day.  At times, I offer hope, encouragement and companionship to those who are struggling.  At others, I’m presumptuous, hypocritical, timid, and not particularly helpful in encouraging my fellow-travelers to persist and press on in the right direction.  As the years go by, my hope is to become a better travel companion.

My time in Nashville was a sweet reminder that we’re not left alone on this unpredictable journey of life.  Those I met did not have names like Evangelist, Faithful, or Goodwill, yet they gave me great gifts of encouragement, community, and hope.  Here are few glimpses of our encounters along the road:

~ Pete PetersonAffirmed that just as God created in His own image, we create from our own personal stories.  Although flawed, we are born to create.  That which we create has dignity, and reflects the hope and the truth of the gospel.

~ Jonathan RogersEncouraged us to spend time considering our story… those moments, years, and decades in life that make up our personal history.  Within each of our lives can be found the story of redemption.  Not just in the few dramatic, life-altering scenes, yet more often in the details of the mundane.  Pay attention.  Take note.

~ Ben ShiveChallenged us to look for stories of redemption in unlikely places.  Although that may not have been his end-goal, it was certainly a by-product of his recounting the life and works of Brian Wilson.  Who “woulda thunk” that his music is complex and innovative, or that redemption can be seen in the story of his life.  Not in a renewal of Wilson’s strength and vigor, but in the kindness of those surrounding him when he finally reached the end of his proverbial rope.  Listening to the Beach Boys will never be the same.  And hopefully, neither will listening to the stories of folks whose paths intersect with mine.  I want to listen without presumption, but with anticipation and curiosity.

~ Russ Ramsey and Justin GerardIlluminated the connection between the art of the masters and the Master himself.  By becoming apprentices of the great artists – studying their lives, technique, style and artwork, we can gain glimpses of the Kingdom from a new and fresh vantage point.  Gerard, who is an amazing artist and illustrator, conveyed, “I can’t write like Tolkien, but I can reflect what he’s done with my own art.”  There’s a sermon or two for us all in that statement alone.

~ Sally Lloyd-JonesInspired us to believe in the power of language and story, and to fall more deeply in love with The Great Story.  “A story can do much more than teach, it can transform you.  It works secretly,” she shared.  Trust the story to do the work.  Don’t feel like we we have to push morals.  I’m still mulling over the implications of that one.  With her humble, winsome, and delightfully British accent, Sally treated us to a lovely storybook time, which could have rivaled that of the Darling children in Peter Pan.  She then narrated the story of her own life, complete with a few significant plot twists, compliments of the Author.  She inscribed my daughter’s Jesus Storybook Bible with the following, “Caroline, This is your story.” And it’s mine.  And it’s yours, too.

~ Andrew PetersonReminded us all to Whom we belong.  We are the beloved.  We are made in His image.  And we create as a response.  He also reminded us that we have not been left to journey through life alone.  The weekend served as a living testimony that the Kingdom is not only in the future – we’ve been given a taste of it here on earth.  In all of creation.  In music, art, literature, laughter, kindness, compassion, and yes, in each other.

As I continue to distill all that I experienced over the weekend in Nashville, perhaps the most lasting impression that will mark my soul was the gathering of 100 relative strangers, who because of the great love for their Father, became family.  We were given a glimpse of what will take place one day, when we are all finally gathered together “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”…

A voice cried out: “These pilgrims now are come from the City of Destruction for the love they bear to the King of this place.”  So the Gates of Heaven opened to them, and they entered in.  “And,” writes Bunyan in his book, “I was able to look in after them, I saw the streets were paved with gold.  And in them walked – with crowns upon their heads – the company of just men made perfect.  And the Bells of the City rang for joy.  For Christian and his fellow had come to their true home.”

Amen.


 



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At the Start Line Again – This Time for Hutchmoot

Frozen puffs of air tumbled from a deep sea of mouths – some chattering with excitement, others just doing their work of oxygen exchange.  It was mid-December, and I found myself in the middle of what felt like a platoon of runners.  The starting line was up ahead, and I had slipped inconspicuously into the crowd of  folks who ran at a similar pace to mine.

I looked like them – donned in Nike apparel, timing chip laced onto my shoe, and sporting my trusty black running hat.

I had trained like them – having spent the last few months studying and implementing a standard training schedule with the obedience of an infantryman.

But when the actual moment had finally arrived, I stood in the middle of the crowded Charlotte street knowing one thing for certain – I wasn’t like them.  They were runners.  I was not.  And it was too late to back out.  What in the world had I gotten myself in to?

As I’ve confessed earlier (full disclosure found here), my education and work experience have been primarily focused in the business world.  I’m not a writer.  But through the years, I’ve found that words and thoughts would clutter my brain unless I found a way to capture, bring order to, and free them from the roaming wilderness of my mind.  While ambling through life, I’ll occasionally trip upon an experience that I don’t want to forget. The ideas, emotions, and spiritual applications morph from pleasant fleeting visitors floating among my thoughts into a vicious stampede demanding to be noticed.  Order from chaos would be obtained only by putting pencil to paper.  Occasionally, as friends would experience similar situations, I’d hesitantly share some of my writing in the hope that the words would bring tangible form to the commonalities in life… and that we’d both be a little less alone.

This summer, I took the leap of sharing some of my meandering thoughts in a more public forum (which you’re currently reading).  At the least, or perhaps most importantly,  I’d be leaving written memorial stones for my children to remind them of the great things the Father has done in the lives of our family, and in the world around us.  Thus is the birth of my writing on a more intentional and frequent basis.  It has become a more integral part of my days, particularly when I’ve read or experienced something of significance.

The day before yesterday was one of those “wake up in the morning expecting a regular day” days.  After returning from a lovely coffee date with a new friend, I learned that a spot had opened up for “Hutchmoot” – a conference in Nashville founded by Andrew Peterson and his friends at the Rabbit Room.  Months ago, the conference had filled up so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to consider registering.  Just as well.  Hutchmoot draws musicians, artists, “real” writers, and other uber-gifted folks from across the country to spend a weekend together experiencing “live music, great food and conversation, and a series of discussions centered on art, faith, and the telling of great stories across a range of mediums.” Oh my.  My heart beats faster just thinking about it.  But I don’t really qualify, so a very closed registration saved me from the risk of… well, the risk of hoping and being disappointed.  Or even more terrifying, the risk of hoping and receiving that for which I had dared to dream.

I half-heartedly decided to  tap gently on the first door down the hallway that would lead to Hutchmoot.  I fully believed (and secretly hoped) that the door wouldn’t open.  I called my husband at work and instructed him, “I just need you to tell me that I can’t go to Nashville this weekend.” There were a multitude of factors which would support this reasonable response, including prior commitments and a full schedule.  He didn’t follow the script.  He wanted me to go.  Shortly thereafter, a multitude of questionable details were quickly resolved, and my trip to Nashville became an unexpected reality.

Remember the “what have I gotten myself in to” dilemma I experienced at the starting line?  Well, here I am again.  I hardly consider myself a writer, yet that is the closest category under which I fit during the weekend.  My only preparation through the years has been one of soul, not one of skill.  Once again,  I will find myself surrounded by those with far more experience and “right” to be there.  But just as I did during my race, I’ll will myself to put one foot in front of the other and believe that my training, albeit quite different from those around me, will be sufficient for each step of the way.

I can’t help but to chuckle (or wince) that my last post was about living freely, without comparing to or performing for others.  Drat.  Sounded good last week. Stings a little this week.  But what I can be sure of is that the Father is good.  He is intentional.  He uses our weaknesses, not our strengths, to bring glory to Himself.  And I’d be well-advised to remember that “True humility is not thinking of less of yourself;  it is thinking of yourself less.”  CS Lewis

So if I cross your mind this weekend, I’d ask you to pray for all those who will be attending Hutchmoot in Nashville:

~That we all would be aware of the subtle entrapments of comparison, pride, envy, shame, and a much longer list of enemies of humility.

~That in the midst of a stimulating environment rich with talent, conversation, and beauty, we would be mindful to worship the Creator, not the creation.

~That as we pause for a few days to consider the Great Storyteller, we’d experience a glimpse of the Great Story itself…

Then Jesus gave John a beautiful dream – except John was wide awake and what he saw was real and one day it would all come true…

I see a throne.  And on the throne is a king.  And the King is Jesus.  All around the throne people are bowing down.  They are giving him their treasures.

There are loud cheers and clapping, clapping and bright laughter like a thousand waterfalls and everyone bursts out singing a new song…

“This is our King!  The Lamb who died, so we don’t have to – our Rescuer.  All Honor and Glory!  Forever and ever.”  And every creature everywhere, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, joins in.

And then

From all around

A wide

Immense

Beautiful

S i l e n c e

And I see Satan – God’s horrible enemy – thrown down, defeated

I see a sparkling city shimmering in the sky:  glittering, glowing, coming down!  From heaven.  And from the sky.  Heaven is coming down to earth!

God’s city is beautiful.  Walls of topaz, jasper, sapphire.  Wide streets paved with gold.  Gleaming pearl gates that are never locked shut.

Where is the sun?  Where is the moon?  They aren’t needed anymore.  God is all the Light people need.  No more darkness!  No more night!

And the King says, “Look!  God and his children are together again.  No more running away.  Or hiding.  No more crying or being lonely or afraid.  No more being sick or dying.  Because all those things are gone.  Yes, they’re gone forever.  Everything sad has come untrue.  And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!”

And then a deep, beautiful voice that sounded like thunder in the sky says, “Look, I’m making everything new!”

Sally Lloyd-Jones The Jesus Storybook Bible







A very public “Thank You” to the one who continues to cheer me on through the races of life – and who has the courage to go “off script” from time to time.








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