10 Things I Learned in September

1. My great-great grandparents came to Baraboo in 1851. I came to Baraboo in 2004. Although time separated us by 153 years, their homestead was less than a mile from where we now live. We went to pay them a call one afternoon, but nobody was home.

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2. The PBS series “Poldark” is based on a set of 12 novels, each of which is over 400 pages long. The twelfth and final installment has 704 pages. Be still, my beating heart. I think I’ve found my new calling in life.

3. I will never think of the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” in the same way again after hearing Tony Evans’ version during the “Cry Out!” prayer night.

4. We met some of our new neighbors. PB put up a trail cam in our two acres of woods. Lots of little critters have been walking the trail in our backyard and posing for the camera. One big critter ambled by, causing PB to consider bringing the florescent orange out of the mothballs. 

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5. We are in the “one-gallon-of-milk-a-week” stage of life. It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were in the “one-gallon-of-milk-a-day”phase.

6. The flannelgraph in my 1st grade Sunday school class might have been wrong. I clearly remember Jonah being swallowed by a whale. As I recall, that flannel fish was smiling and blowing water out of its spout. Jonah was on his knees, praying in that whale’s belly. Except the word “whale” isn’t in the book of Jonah.

7. Every house should have a brightly painted front door. My sister just got back from a trip to Cornwall, England, and she said every church and most every house had a cheery front entrance. What a lovely idea.

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8. I can’t resist taking personality profiles. The Enneagram uses a nine category system to understand personality types. I am a “1”. Just for fun, I signed up to receive an email every day with guidance for my type. I love it  when I get one like this: “You need to allow yourself to relax. A therapeutic massage would be extremely beneficial for you.” Oh yeah. I don’t love it so much when the message is like this: “Try not to deteriorate down into being too harsh and critical of others.” Ouch.

9. Hibernation is setting in early this year. I already have the down comforter on the bed, the tea bags stocked and the firewood piled. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long winter.

10. This quote from “Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken seems especially true this month: “We seem unable to get used to time. We are always amazed at it — how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.”

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Two Books

In June, I wrote about my son-in-law’s Christmas gift to me — reading four books together in 2016. The first two books were a resounding success so we each made another pick.

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My second choice was “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean. It’s a story about a fly-fishing, Presbyterian minister and his two sons. If you’ve seen the movie, you will picture Brad Pitt standing in the river, casting his line, on every page. But that’s ok. Because the writing is so captivating, even Brad Pitt takes a back seat.

Maclean’s phrases are picturesque: “The storm came on a wild horse and rode over us.” “Then the air disappeared from view.” “We were so dry that we could feel in our ears that we were trying to swallow.”

Some more of my favorite excerpts:

“You can love completely without complete understanding.”

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

“As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty.”

“It was here that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”

My son-in-law, Dan, admitted it was tough at first to wade through all the fly-fishing lingo, but when he finished the book, he sent me this text: “Wow. That book deserves another read-through. Man, that last paragraph. The best ending words I have ever read.”

That’s saying something.

Dan’s second choice was “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken. I’m just a couple chapters in so the jury is still out. Dan and I will talk it over at Thanksgiving.

There Are Days

There are days….

when you’ll miss something if you don’t look up.

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There are days when you’ll miss something if you don’t look down.

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There are days when you’ll miss something if you don’t look around.

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And then there are days….

when you just have to skip down the sidewalk

in your zebra print tutu.

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I hope you have some of those kind of days.

My Favorite Word

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The Bible is chock full of terrific words. Wonderful words like love, joy, and peace abound in the scriptures. Abound is a pretty good word too.

There are long words in the Bible, like Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:1). (What were his parents thinking?)

There are short words in the Bible, like Ur (Genesis 15:7). “Where do you live?” “Ur.” (Confused look.)

There are impressive sounding words in the Bible, like sanctification, justification and propitiation.

There are precious words like Savior, heaven, grace and redeemed. I could go on and on.

I have a hands-down favorite word in the Good Book. It’s easy to overlook this humble three letter word. Here it is. Are you ready?

But.

Don’t be fooled by this well-worn word, this scant syllable, this inconsequential conjunction. It packs a wallop when it’s perfectly placed. “But” is the pivot point in so many sentences, and so many lives. I have circled every “but” in my Bible.

“But you were washed…” 1 Corinthians 6:11

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:20

“But because of His great love for us…” Ephesians 2:4

“But God’s word is not chained…” 2 Timothy 2:9

My second favorite word in the Bible is equally short and powerful.

Now.

Team these two up and you’ve got a potent combination.

“Once you were alienated from God, BUT NOW he has reconciled you…” Colossians 1:21-22

“Once you were not a people, BUT NOW you are the people of God.”           1 Peter 2:10

“I was blind, BUT NOW I see.” John 9:25

“For this son of mine was dead, BUT NOW he is alive;

he was lost, BUT NOW he has been found.” Luke 15:24

I am thankful for these two little words.

They can redeem a past full of faults and failures.

They can redefine a future full of hopes and dreams.

But now.

Persistence

See all those books?

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Those are books that I have bought and read and highlighted about the craft of writing. There’s another stack that size of more books I have checked out of the library on the same topic. You’d think, after reading all these books, I’d be making progress. But I find that there’s always more to learn. Or re-learn.

It’s also easier to read books on writing than to actually write.

That’s why I couldn’t resist this latest title.

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 When it comes down to it, every book on the stack says the same thing —

BIC

(Butt In Chair).

In other words, I just have to do it —

I have to be consistent and persistent.

I have to get my hiney in the chair routinely and habitually.

Persistence is a key in more than my writing life.

I could use a book entitled,

“A Christian’s Guide to Persistence:

How to Create a Lasting and Productive Spiritual Life”.

When starting a new Bible reading plan in January, I’m all gung-ho and ready to dig in. But by March, I start lagging a bit. When beginning a new Bible study class in September, there’s excitement in the air and lots of anticipation. In May, I’m wondering where all that dedication went.

Persistence is hard, whether it’s in spiritual disciplines or writing.

Or anything else.

But I have the answer.

BIC

“I will not neglect Your Word.” Psalm 119:16

 

Run

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I admire people who run. I really admire people who want to run, who even like to run. Me? I prefer walking. The slower pace doesn’t jar my joints, doesn’t make my heart do funny flip-flops and doesn’t turn me into a sweaty mess. It also doesn’t burn off the caramel pecan roll. But I do some of my best thinking when I’m out on a walk. I’m sure running would restrict those profound thoughts. Pretty sure.

In preparation for this fall’s Bible study on Jonah, I’ve been thinking a lot about running. When Jonah heard a word from the Lord that told him to go to Nineveh, Jonah ran. The opposite direction. Jonah hightailed it out of town and hitched a ride on the first boat leaving for the end of the earth. Did he really think he could out-run God?

A few weeks ago, PB preached on Philip and the Ethiopian from Acts 8. It provided a nice contrast to Jonah’s rebellious response to God’s command. When God told Philip to go, he ran. In the right direction. He was even able to keep pace with a chariot and still have enough breath to explain the gospel to the prince riding in it. 

“The Word of the Lord came to Jonah” (Jonah 1:1) and he ran away.

Do we, like Jonah, think we can avoid God by running? A clear, concise directive from heaven is what most of us long for. But what if God tells us something we don’t want to hear. Then what?

I come to the Word of the Lord every morning. Yes, I come stumbling and fumbling my way to the chair, rubbing sleep out of my eyes. On the days I hear Him say “Go”, I want to be more like Philip than Jonah and run the right direction.

Or at least walk at a good clip.

“But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.”

Isaiah 40:31

Reset

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The beginning of a new school year always inspires me to start fresh.

That used to mean clean-paged notebooks and sharp pencils.

Now it means a spirit that is calm and a desk that is uncluttered.

A mind that is focused and a purpose that is renewed.

A heart that is cleansed and ready to begin yet again.

September 1st is my reset.

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.”

Ezekiel 36:26