Measuring my life by loss

Ugo Bassi

Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice;
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.

–Ugo Bassi, Sermon in the Hospital

I first read this quote many years ago in one of Elisabeth Elliot’s newsletters and had to rethink how I looked at my life. How could I measure my life by loss, by wine poured forth? Shouldn’t I count my blessings? Wasn’t it a pessimistic way of looking at light to measure my life by loss? Weren’t we supposed to rejoice always?

As I mulled over the idea and referred back to Scripture, I discerned what Ugo Bassi and Elisabeth Elliot were saying. The seed that falls to the ground and dies is the one that bears much fruit (John 12:24). It is the Christian who hates his life who keeps his life. The person who takes up his cross to follow Christ is the one who finds life (Matthew 16:25). Dying on the cross led to Christ’s resurrection from which He gives us new life.

The natural world requires a seed to be planted in the earth and die as a seed to produce a plant. The spiritual life requires the same dying to self so we may live. Paul writes in his epistles that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:10). Elsewhere, he says we have died and our life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:9).

The more I read Scripture and studied the lives of Christians who came before me, the more I understood this principle of death out of life. It isn’t until we allow the old man to die with the sins and desires and idols we pursue instead of God that we truly begin to live. John Owen talked of mortification. Mortification comes from the Latin word, mors, mortis, which means death. It is in the dying that there is life. It is in the pouring out of our lives as drink offerings we find purpose and meaning.

Wanting to delve further into this idea, I found the original text of the Sermon in the Hospital by Ugo Bassi, where I read:

But if, impatient, thou let slip thy cross,
Thou will not find it in this world again,
Nor in another; here, and here alone
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight;
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.

Canst thou not suffer then one hour, — or two?
If He should call thee from thy cross to-day,
Saying, It is finished ! — that hard cross of thine
From which thou prayest for deliverance,
Thinkest thou not some passion of regret
Would overcome thee? Thou wouldst say, “So soon?
Let me go back, and suffer yet awhile
More patiently ; — I have not yet praised God.”
And He might answer to thee, — ” Never more.
All pain is done with.” Whensoe’er it comes,
That summons that we look for, it will seem
Soon, yea too soon. Let us take heed in time
That God may now be glorified in us;
And while we suffer, let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly : since this alone,
The suffering, which is this world’s special grace,
May here be perfected and left behind.

This world is the place where we have the opportunity, the privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. Once we are in heaven with Him, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, and no more sorrow. This time on earth is our only opportunity to show the world we follow our Master, that we can experience difficulty and loss, hardship and pain while holding onto joy. It is only in this life we can die, take up our cross, and follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death while continuing to trust Him, have confidence in His unfailing love, and rest in His sovereign goodness.

Will you be a witness to the goodness of God amid hardship and pain? Will you trust that He knows what is best, that the circumstances you are facing aren’t a surprise to Him, that He will bring good out of whatever difficulty and evil in your life? Will you let the Lord refine you like silver until you reflect the image of Christ and are holy as He is holy?

Then one day when you are in the throne room of heaven, you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.”

 

 

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Cultivating Friendships

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Friendships are like gardens. When we first plant our flowers or vegetables, we spend time preparing the soil, digging, and watering. But then, summer comes, we are busy with other things, and it’s all too easy to neglect our flowers until they droop and, sometimes, die.

Just as we need to continue to weed and water and fertilize our gardens, it is also necessary to spend time and energy on our friendships lest they fade away from neglect.

In these days of “crazy busy”, it can be hard to find time for friendships. By the time we finish work, paid or volunteer, take care of our homes and families, and fulfill our responsibilities, it is difficult to get out of the house one more time to see a friend. However, while all of those things are important, so are our friendships.

It was easier when my children were young and I was home with them. We had play dates, and the mothers chatted. We hauled the kids to the YMCA for pool time or ping pong or racquetball games, and the mothers exercised together. There were multiple activities at which the parents grew to know one another for a season or for several years, depending on the activity.

Now that my children are grown and gone and I’m working outside the home, finding time for friends is much more difficult. Making new friends is even harder.

One of my personal goals for 2018 was to make time for friendships, old and new. I am doing this in a variety of ways: walking about once a week with my closest friend, having coffee or lunch with at least one friend a month, and occasionally watching someone’s baby with a mutual friend so we can both get baby cuddle time and have time to talk, too.

Another way I found time to cultivate relationships was to throw a spring tea this past March. A dear friend and I worked together on it, which gave us time together, and then on a Saturday, we had a small group of women come share tea and delicious food with us for the afternoon. We scattered groups of chairs in several rooms so everyone had an opportunity to sit down with someone they hadn’t seen for a while. My friend and I had the joy of talking with our dear friends and giving them an afternoon of beauty, tea, and conversation.

Not only did I have the opportunity to cultivate my friendships, I helped others to cultivate theirs as well and created memories to add to our histories together. It was well worth the time and energy.

All of us can find a couple of hours a month to spend with a friend. Do things together that you have to do anyway like exercise or grocery shop. Grab a quick cup of coffee on your way home from work one night a month. Join a book club or Bible study that meets regularly so you see the same faces repeatedly and have the time to get to know them. Spend the time with a friend in real life that you would have spent on social media.

As Laura Vanderkam says in her book 168 Hours, there are 168 hours in a week and not all of them are spent sleeping and working. Dedicate a certain amount of time to your friends and you will find that the time and energy spent is multiplied in pleasure.

How do you make time for friendships? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to have more ideas to reach my goal for 2018 and add to my treasury of friends.

 

Friends, Mentors, and Guides

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Child_Reading_(Enfant_lisant)_-_BF51_-_Barnes_Foundation When I think back on my growing-up years, my most cherished memories are of the books that filled my life.  I began to read in kindergarten and after I learned, it was a rare occasion I wasn’t reading a book.  Curled up in a chair, lying flat on my bed, perched on a tree branch, riding in the car, at my desk in school—every location was the perfect place to read a book. I raced through The Black Stallion books, inherited from my father, and spent countless hours poring over the volumes of Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairy tales that had belonged to my mother. Christmas and birthday gifts always included beautiful hardcover books such as The Little Princess, Alice in WonderlandThe Wind in the Willows, and other classics. With my allowance, I bought myself the Nancy Drew mysteries that my library didn’t own and filled in the gaps in my collection of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books.

Each trip to the library resulted in a new stack of books to savor, the highlight of my week. Books by Beverly Cleary, sequels to Little Women, and The Scarlet Pimpernel were titles I borrowed over the years. Staying home sick in bed meant time to reread my favorite Narnia book. If I had to miss church, my parents would bring home Bible story books from the church library to keep me occupied for the afternoon.

Every time we moved, one of the first things I did was to set up the bookcase that my great-grandfather had built in my new bedroom. Made of dark, heavy wood and held together only by slots and pegs, the bookcase contained all of my treasured volumes and remained the focal point of my room.

However, it wasn’t merely the books that charmed me or the stories they contained. The truths they contained, the characters that became my friends, and the worlds to which they introduced me that were the real treasures.

My imagination grew as I traveled to fabulous places. I went to Wonderland with Alice and met the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Red Queen. Dorothy’s adventures in Oz drew me to a place where monkeys flew, lions talked, and terrifying tornadoes became vehicles to other worlds. I grew to love the English countryside of Mary Lennox and Rat, Mole, and Toad. The American woods and prairies, as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder, became my playground too, in my mind, while I longed to go to Narnia with Lucy and Edmund, Susan and Peter to meet Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, and the Beavers.

Also, the heroines inspired me with their character and strength . When I was feeling put upon by having to do chores around the house and yard, I would imagine myself a princess like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess.  Instead of complaining about shoveling the walk, I would do it cheerfully as I thought Sara would do.  Rather than whine about a dinner I didn’t like, I would remind myself that at least I had good food to eat. When I was embarrassed by a pair of shoes I had to wear one year, I remembered Sara’s clothes being old and shabby.  Seeing how difficult it was for Sara, without parents to love her, I learned to better appreciate my own happy childhood.

After reading Anne of Green Gables in fifth grade, I not only found a heroine to emulate but also identified with her imagination and fanciful ways. I loved to read and put myself in the place of the heroine although I fortunately never sank in a leaky boat. I, too, spent hours wandering through the woods and fields near my home, and named my favorite haunts. Violet Valley, a small depression carpeted with violets each spring, was my favorite place. I would sink down among the flowers and pick handfuls of the purple and white blooms for my mother every year.  When I read the chapter Where the Violets Grow in By the Shores of Silver Lake, I was not only reading the words, but I knew exactly what it was like to sink down into a mass of violets.

Reading opened the world to me. I learned how to be more compassionate to those in need, to understand people from different places and cultures than mine. I was inspired to make jam, bake bread, and keep a house from some books. Other books prodded me to study hard and succeed at school. Still others pushed me to continue with my writing. I learned what qualities make a good friend and wife and mother.  Poetry opened my life to a richness of emotion and put words to things in my heart that I didn’t know could be described in words.

Spending so many hours reading during my childhood and adolescence was not only helpful in my growth academically and intellectually. I grew as a human being as I encountered the experiences and relationships of fictional characters. Books have been my friends, my mentors, and my guides.  The person I am today is due to the books and stories I have absorbed and delighted in throughout my life.

Off the Clock

Now that I’m working outside my home every day, I’m having to be much more mindful of how I spend my time. I “discovered” Laura Vanderkam this past year and tracked my hours for a week while reading her book, 168 Hours. It was eye-opening to see how I really spent my time.

Yesterday, I received her new book, Off the Clock, which deals with how to use your time so that you can focus on what is important to you. That will lead to the feeling that you have more time to get your priorities accomplished. It should be good!

A Room of My Own

For many years, my bedroom was the room where I did much of my study, reading, writing, and thinking. Morning is when I read, meditate, pray, reflect, and work on my current study project. With children in the house and a busy schedule, there was no other time and place to work on my own studies and cultivate my devotional life.

Now that my children are grown and mostly gone, I am working every day outside the home so I still don’t have a lot of time. However I still write and read in the morning, and I now have a place for my studies. When we moved into our house, my husband decided that since I was the only woman in a house full of men, it would be a good thing for me to have a room I could call my own. He had our contractor take the back porch and turn it into a room off the back of the house.

It’s a jewel of a room. The pale green walls reflect the sunlight that pours in like liquid gold throughout the day. The dark wood floor is covered with an oriental carpet with rich, deep colors, which my father gave me. Family heirlooms dot the room and the wingback chairs are both elegant and comfortable. And, of course, there is a full wall of bookshelves, covered in books of all kinds, so that I have novels to sink into and bits of information right at my fingertips.

Virginia Woolf wrote in her famous essay, A Room of One’s Own, that for a woman to write fiction, [she] must have money and a room of her own…. She did not just mean a physical place, but also that one must have leisure as well as mental and emotional space in order to pour out her thoughts onto a page.

While I believe that anyone can write in the middle of a busy, crowded room, if necessary, as journalists and other professional writers have learned to do, I also can see what Woolf was implying. In order to write, you must create a mental space to take in information through reading, watching, observing, and then meditate on those things long enough to turn them into your own thoughts. Once those thoughts are formed, they must then be written down in some way. All of this takes time and space and energy, much of which is lacking in busy family life, especially when the children are small.

Of course, a mother must make time for her children. Interruptions must be allowed. Attention must be turned from her work to her child’s needs. Reeve Lindbergh discussed this in her memoir, Under a Wing:

…if I knocked at my mother’s door, she always answered, and if I entered the room, she never seemed to mind. She would put down her pen immediately, and smile gently, and ask what I wanted.

However, since my children have grown and moved out into the world to embrace their lives as adults, it has been easier for me to go deeper and further in my thinking and writing. The empty nest has allowed me to acquire the mental and physical space I need work. Having a room with doors that can be closed signals to others that I am in working mode: please do not disturb. I can now fall into what I call the “black hole of research” without being concerned for hungry tummies and skinned knees.

It doesn’t mean that the men in my house always pay attention to that closed door (which is why I still get up before everyone else in the mornings), but it does help me to feel less conflicted and less likely to be interrupted, which allows me to more freely pour out what I want to communicate. Long stretches of time are still scant, but with careful planning, I can often find corners of time and sometimes even a few hours to gaze out the window, read beautiful prose, chase down my myriad of thoughts, and write what’s in my heart.

A room of one’s own—what a luxury and a comfort to have this place of beauty in which to work and think and ponder the important things of life. This room, this jewel, is in the top ten of things for which I am thankful every day.

Penny Plain by O. Douglas

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I had another blog post planned for today, but I just finished Penny Plain by O. Douglas and had to share about this new to me author.

I had heard of O. Douglas, a pseudonym for Anna Buchan, because my boys and I have long loved John Buchan’s books. I still enjoy reading about Richard Hannay and his adventures, especially Mr. Standfast. Did you know that John Buchan is the father of spy novels? His first, The 39 Steps, was written in 1915 but set just before World War I. The first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s so full of hair-raising adventures and last minutes escapes that you find that you must read one more chapter to see if Hannay escapes the current tight corner.

Anyhow, because of my enjoyment of Richard Hannay, I had read about Buchan’s sister, Anna Buchan/O. Douglas, and had seen her books reviewed by other middlebrow novel enthusiasts. However, until this weekend, I had never read one for myself.

I downloaded Penny Plain for free onto my kindle. (As an aside, while I still adore real books, being able to read out of print, unaccessible books is one of the definite upsides of the digital book revolution). I’ve spent the last two days in Scotland with Jean Jardine and her three brothers, whom she is bringing up by herself after the death of her parents and her aunt.

It’s a charming little story with wonderful characters and a happy ending, the best kind of book. Jean is making do with little money but lots of books and love when Pamela Reston comes to the village of Priorsford to escape the social whirl for a while. The book is set just after World War I and the sorrows of the loss of so many young men come across from time to time. In a way, it is more poignant than a modern novel about the losses because the author knew those aching gaps in a way we modern readers never will.

However, the book itself is upbeat and tells about the kind heart of Jean, her genius for helping others, and the way her life takes an unexpected turn as a result of her kindnesses. Also, there are numerous quotes from Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, and poetry, which I will have to track down to their sources one of these days for the sheer fun of it. I love books that are full of quotations.

Just a few bits to give you the flavor of the book:

“You know the people,” said Pamela, “who say, ‘Of course I love reading, but I’ve no time, alas!’ as if everyone who loves reading doesn’t make time.”

She has been nowhere and seen very little; books are her world, and she talks of book-people as if they were everyday acquaintances.

She was glad she lived among people who had the decency to go on caring for each other in spite of lines and wrinkles—comfortable couples whose affection for each other was a shelter in the time of storm, a shelter built of common joys, of “fireside talks and counsels in the dawn,” cemented by tears shed over common sorrows.

It wasn’t sad to be old, Jean told herself, for as the physical sight dims, the soul sees more clearly, and the light from the world to come illumines the last dark bit of the way….

The other rooms are lovely, but they are meant for crowds of people. This says tea, and a fire and a book and a friend—the four nicest things in the world.”

If you love books with kindness and laughter and true values and happy ever afters, even in the midst of life’s sorrows, then you will enjoy Penny Plain.