Mystics and Misfits – A Book Review

Book reviews are something I have thought about doing for awhile now but never got around to doing.  Until today.  It took the beautiful work of my dear friend, Christiana, that spoke to my own weary heart to compel me to write my very first one.

So here it goes.

Insightful and achingly human


Insightful and achingly human with humor and grace throughout.  These are the words I chose to begin my review on Amazon of the amazing book, Mystics and Misfits – Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints, by Christiana N. Peterson.

Honest and vulnerable, this wonderful book is filled with part autobiography, part spiritual journey as Christiana remembers her time living in an intentional community called Plow Creek in Tiskilwa, Illinois.   The correspondence she sends to the mystics she admires throughout the book are delightful!  She holds back nothing of herself as she shares her struggles with faith, ideals, motherhood, and life.  I was drawn into her story and read the entire book within the first twenty-four hours of having it in my hands!

Bridges my Catholic roots with my Mennonite faith


Christiana is unafraid to cross denominational lines and beautifully intertwines current Mennonite faith and values with the wonderful mystics of old from the Catholic church, as well as some modern-day ones.  The examples they leave us as their legacies are definitely worth taking a look at to serve us as guides in right living and navigating our consumeristic, me first culture.

She crosses the divide, while staying true to anabaptist beliefs, and has given back to me the stories of saints from my childhood to inspire me and making them relevant to Mennonites everywhere of lives lived well for the glory of God.  I am convinced that had St. Francis lived during the reformation period, he would have had some important influence to wield.   He is extremely radical for his day, embracing poverty, promoting creation care and nonviolence, and loving people the way Jesus did.

 

Validates my own feelings of loneliness and awkwardness


Finally, Christiana is able to put a voice to the struggles so many of us have experienced or are currently experiencing but haven’t been able to voice.  Instead we struggle on in silence and wonder if anyone else has ever struggled the way we are or felt the pain and loneliness that we are feeling.

As I turned the pages of this fantastically well written books I found myself often nodding my head in understanding and exclaiming “me too!”  to myself as I found a kindred spirit with Christiana, having experienced/still experiencing the same feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety that she is sharing with us.  I came out of this book feeling a little less alone, if not still my awkward little self!  I am very glad to be counted among the misfits!

Throughout this journey, Christiana’s deep faith and love for God and her fellow man comes shining through.  She encourages all of us to lean into those dark places of our lives to come out with a stronger faith and deeper connection and devotion to God.

This is a must-read book for anyone trying to navigate their way through life and live according to the law of love taught by Jesus!  Pick up your copy here and also check out Christiana’s author page to take in her other writings.

From one misfit to another, I hope you connect with and enjoy this awesome debut book as much as I did and come away feeling a little less alone, and a little more secure in the knowledge that God loves you always.  No matter what.


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Feeling Sheepish

Did you know that the last time Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday happened on the same day was in 1945?  There are many funny memes on social media that are wondering how you celebrate the day of chocolate indulgence while engaging in a Lenten fast.   Still others are pointing out that you can’t have a valentine without the LENT in it.  The mixed up feeling of these two things colliding on the same day have not been lost on me.


Given the mixed up kind of day VaLENTine’s day is today, I guess it should come as no surprise that we are not having a typical candy and flowers kind of a week at Cattywampus Corner (our home).

Sunday I was overwhelmed by recurring grief and loneliness caused by the loss of a beloved beagle back at the end of November.  Monday brought feelings of disconnect as well as the most recent parent vs. child episode about school and the importance of grades.  Tuesday was one of those days at work where nothing is going well and everything is moving fast.  Then today arrives with a sick husband


Poor sick husband at dr’s office!

and a sump pump that has stopped working in our basement.  Did I mention North East Ohio is about to get rained on for the next few days?

They say desperate times call for desperate measures.  Some people have stress balls, others sip on glasses of wine to soothe troubles away, still others practice yoga. For me what made the most sense was to buy a stuffed emotional support sheep.


Emotional Support Sheep – Elloise

 


Yes, I will confess to feeling slightly sheepish about purchasing a children’s toy at the age of almost forty for comfort, but perhaps reverting back to the simple things that helped us face things as children are still useful in midlife.

It also feels fitting to me that it was a lamb (sheep, same difference, only age seperate them – haha!) that I saw that made me feel soothed and safe.  It is the sacrificial love of the Lamb of God that we begin to reflect on during the coming forty days of Lent!

It is during weeks like this past week that I need to be reminded the most that the troubles of this world are fleeting.  Seasons of struggle come and go, but because of the Lamb of God, we have hope for an eternal future!

Our God is a God of love.  Even in our loneliest hours amid struggles of this world, he reminds us that we are never alone:


‘Do not fear [anything], for I am with you;
Do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you;
I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right h
and [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].’     
                                                        – Isaiah 41:10 (AMP)

It seems very appropriate to me that the season of Lent starts in the dark and cold days of winter.  Jesus entered into a dark and cold world.  The broken world of humans.  Jesus came to restore us into right relationship with God.   The Good Shepperd reclaiming his flock.

This world Jesus entered became even darker and more dangerous for him once he proclaimed himself as the long awaited for Messiah and began his ministry here on earth.  Until the darkest day, Good Friday, when the Lamb of God was slain by the very people he came to save.

I am entering into this Lenten season as a lost and lonely wandering sheep.  However, just as the psalmist proclaimed, I know that eventually at the end of every dark night, joy comes in the morning.   We are never alone, the Shepperd is always near us.


Weeping may endure for a night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:5 (AMP)


The Winter Laundry Cycle


Have you noticed that winter this year has taken on the characteristics of the laundry?  Just like the laundry pile that you wash, dry, and put away no sooner do we get the snow cleared up then there is more for us to take care of.  Wash, dry, fold, repeat……. snowfall, endure frigid temperatures, shovel sidewalks/driveways, salt, repeat.

Here in North East Ohio we are dealing with the latest snow storm system to dump through our area, and I discovered this morning that I was unable to muster up the energy or will power to force myself to go out and drive on roads with blurred lines, slush, and white out conditions.  So instead, I decided to take a PTO day and stay home with this guy:

And let me tell ya, he is in rare form today!  The Disney tunes are blaring while he meows along with them.  Yes, you did read that correctly, he is MEOWING along…..gotta love this guy!

The long, dark, cold days of winter are here and they don’t look to be letting spring in anytime soon.  I find myself often sinking into dark and depressing thoughts.  Why is it that dark and cold lead to these lonely and isolated places in my mind?

Well today I am determined to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer and I will focus on trying to contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.(Romans 12:13, NSRV).  Winter will not hold me a melancholy prisoner in its cold grips!  This passage from Romans will be my to do list for today.  If I take a look at this verse in the amplified version of the Bible, I have a clearer picture of what my tasks for today are:


constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength]

Recently I have been drawn to studies of the early church in general, and the roles and voices of women in particular.  So for this item on my to do list I will spend some time in my daily prayer routine, then dive into reading some more of the books in my pile that are related to the early church.  Somewhere in all of this history there is a message for me as I begin to focus on moving forward in my calling.

Getting lost in the ancient stories takes me away to places that are warm and sunny.  The stories of intelligence, confidence in God, and courageous faith help to fill me up with purpose.


contributing to the needs of God’s people

This task has brought me full circle back to my own set of God’s people and back to the laundry.  What better way to combat the winter blues then to have fresh and clean flannel sheets when we get into our beds tonight!  So down to the washer I go with all the sheets and throw them into the washer.  I am sure that later today when I have returned to the basement to put the sheets into the dryer, and then again when I go down a third time to take them out of the dryer to put them back on the beds I will be questioning my sanity and wondering why I thought all this extra work today was a good idea.  But I will indeed be rejoicing when I lay my head down on my pillow as I snuggle into bed for the night and inhale the comforting smell of fresh from the laundry sheets.


pursuing [the practice of] hospitality

For this one, I again am looking no further than my own household today and the people and animals that live here.  Sometimes in the stresses of our day-to-day lives, we forget these souls need our hospitality as much, if not more so, then the ones outside of our homes that we are extending ourselves too.  Extra treats and snuggles for these guys! 

 

 

 

 

 

They are extremely grateful ( I think) for the warmth and comfort they both are enjoying inside on this cold and snowy day.  This is the cat’s first winter inside with us, and she seems to have adjusted nicely to her change in circumstances.

For the people – comfort food!  While I stayed home from work today, my poor husband braved the elements and drove slowly and carefully to work.  So what better way to welcome him back home and in from the harsh cold then with the delicious aroma filling our house that is coming from the crock pot?  It’s homemade sauce and meatballs for spaghetti at our house!

All of these things on my to do list for today from Romans 12:12-13 are small things.  Don’t be deceived though!  These things, little as they may seem, have brought soothing to my own winter weary soul and at the same time brought comfort to my people and animals.


Sometimes I think I get so caught up in focusing on THE BIG PICTURE of life and SERVING IN THE WORLD that I forget that first and foremost I need to be caring for myself and my family.  Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women (among other wonderful books) said,

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.”

Did doing all of these things cure me of my winter blues?  For the moment they have.  Maybe the biggest lesson for me today is that doing these little things are therapeutic for me and everyone around me.  It’s just a matter of taking the time to find the joy in these simple tasks.  After all, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy!

So that being said, I am now off to consume a pot of mochaccinos and answer the call of the Hallmark movies that are calling to me from the dvr!

Winter can’t last forever.  Eventually, just like the laundry, we get to the end of it.

Until spring arrives, stay cozy and warm!


 

Advent – Looking for Hope

Have you ever found yourself facing down the start of December with absolutely no spark of Christmas cheer?  That is where  I am finding myself at this year.  Advent has started today, and my Advent wreath has no candles in it.

Normally I look forward with great expectations for the coming start of the Christmas season and to going through the meditative Advent activities with my family.  I like to see us each being attentive and watching and waiting for the coming of the baby on Christmas morning.

This year, however, I just can’t seem to muster up a festive spirit.  I have a grieving and sad spirit.  The days are turning colder and the hours of darkness after the sun sets have been getting longer.  That is perfectly fine with me.  It matches the mourning and darkness in my soul.

In normal years, when the fall arrives I begin to get excited for the changing of the seasons, taking in the breathtaking beauty of God’s handy work as he changes the colors of the leaves to glorious autumn colors.  November comes in and brings with it one of my favorite holidays – Thanksgiving.

But this year, while I am still thankful for all I have been blessed with in this life, November itself has become a somber month filled with anniversaries of the passing of loved ones.

This November marked the fifteenth year since my beloved brother left us.  We celebrate his life and are grateful for the memories we have of him.  His passing marked the end of his lifelong struggle with a debilitating disease and we are comforted by the thoughts of him walking, running, and jumping with glee in glory – things that he could no longer do on this earth.   So all of these years there has at least been joy in the sorrow.  Happy rejoicing that Mike is free from the shackles that bound him here.

This November marked the first year anniversary since my beloved cousin was violently killed and taken from us.  One year ago my entire family was in shock and reeling from the unexpected and sudden loss of him.  While we are still all deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life, justice has been served and his killers are sentenced to jail for a very long time unable to hurt any other people and families.

This November has also brought with it another loss for me and my immediate family.  The sudden illness that lead to one of our beloved beagle dogs crossing the Rainbow Bridge on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I am afraid that this latest loss for me has left me with a gaping hole in my heart.  It is never easy to lose a pet, but the unexpectedness of it all has left me feeling sad and lonely, even in the midst of people who care about me very much.

So I decided yesterday to force myself to go through the motions and began pulling out the storage totes with Christmas decorations.  We started decking the halls, so to speak, but when I came to the advent wreath, I must confess that I tucked it away back in the box it came out of.  I just couldn’t bring myself to go through the motions of watching and waiting for joy and peace when my heart hasn’t been feeling either of those things.

Then today at church, our pastor reminded me during his message that the Israelites had their entire world uprooted and transplanted.  They had been removed from the promised land and found themselves trying to make sense of it all as they attempted to pick up the pieces in Babylon.  The favored, chosen children of God had been abandoned by him.

They were feeling lost, lonely and alone.  Mourning and sadness filled their days.  And yet, the Lord God has not abandoned them.  He still has a plan of redemption for them.  He promises them a hope and a future.

So perhaps this year I am more uniquely suited to come into the celebration of the Advent season than in any year prior to this.  I am feeling the loss and loneliness that the ancient Israelites felt.  I am the one mourning, seeking to make sense of the losses that are heavy on my heart.  And just like those ancient children of God, I too can find hope and joy again.


The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
(Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSV)


The advent wreath is back up out of the box.  It is still empty, like I am feeling, but I have lit another candle next to it.  A spark of hope during a season of the dark night of the soul for me.  A spark of flame that tells me even in the midst of my sadness and pain, my God is still here with me waiting patiently for me to turn to him for comfort.



This world is full of lots of things.  Pain, sadness, and suffering, but also kindness, mercy, and gladness.  Most importantly, this world is filled with Love.  God’s love.  God’s love for us.

We are waiting for a baby to be born in a manger, but it is because of this baby that we have a hope for a future.  One in the Father’s kingdom where there is no pain, sadness, or suffering.

Love came down at Christmas, so the old carol goes.

God is with us.

O come, o come Emmanuel

Click here to listen to O come, O Come Emmanuel by Sovereign Grace


 

 

 

Deciphering Me

So I must confess I have a guilty pleasure.  I love to watch Hallmark Channel movies!  It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen a movie, each one is like a dear friend to me that I enjoy spending time with again and again.

The up side to this is I regularly intake good, wholesome entertainment that always has a happy ending!  I also see the characters overcome adversity, find strength in spite of their human weaknesses, and mend broken relationships.  Some rekindle old dreams while others are discovering that change isn’t a bad thing.

The downside of this is that I see these characters in all kinds of jobs that I think I would really love to have, which leaves me feeling discontent.  Women who run country inns or bed and breakfasts or are chefs, writers, artists, restaurant owners, bookstore owners, wedding planners, or teachers to name a few.


So for the past few days I have been trying to imagine what my perfect job and life would be if I had no current obligations and money did not need to be a consideration – both the money for any training and/or set up cost and the income from said perfect job to at least maintain my family’s current finances.  Because let’s face it, I can’t turn off the satellite service to save the money on that bill – how would I watch the Hallmark channel?!?!?

I would be a writer with degrees in biblical studies that may possibly moonlight as a college professor while also having either a bookstore with a cafe and fun events for the community or an inn, and may here or there conduct public speaking engagements or fill in as a substitute preacher on a Sunday morning.  My daily life would include walks in nature, time for yoga (which I have never done but REALLY want to), reading/writing/research time, and time for puttering around my house cleaning, decorating, and cooking amazingly delicious and healthy meals.   Phew! Now I can take a breath.

That’s all!  Is that really so much to ask for? Lol.

This career path looks absolutely NOTHING like my current job and life.  As I have reflected in the past, I made the life choices that brought me to this career path based on a desire to be successful.  Unfortunately the definition of successful I used was the world’s definitions instead of God’s.

This realization of what I want to be versus what I currently am leaves me with two choices:


  1. Continue to be stressed and bitter about what I wish my life could be, filling my thoughts with regrets and what ifs.
  2. Know that God has brought me through everything up till this point and that he will use all of this in some way in my life. I can start making little changes here and there to work towards achieving some or all of these visions for myself trusting in God to bring me to that place to be the person he is calling me to be in His own time.

In my old life I would have probably chosen option number one and made myself miserable allowing the bitterness to steal all of the joy out of my life.  But I am a new creation, content to trust in God that he knows the directions he wants my life to go in.  So I am choosing option two.

Starting here and now in fact (with this blog post) – because I am writing.  And I will use the planner I keep thinking to myself that I should use to schedule time so that I can be more intentional about writing.

I will also add to my prayer journal these petitions to the section on my own person goals and dreams (you know, the one I keep meaning to set up to be more intentional about prayer time).  My prayer will be that God takes this vision of what I think I want to be and uses it to help me find out who He wants me to be.  And perhaps who I am now is EXACTLY who and what he wants me to be.

Last year I tried the New Years resolution word thing – where you pick a word to describe something you are working on understanding or being in your life.  The word I chose was Enough.  I wanted to focus on who I am in Jesus Christ and that I am enough exactly as I am.

This coming year I already have my word picked out and it is going to be Intentional.  Intentional in my walk with Jesus, intentional in my health goals for myself, intentional in seeking further education in theology and biblical studies, and intentional in developing as a writer.

Perhaps this is a two-year resolution word…

As often happens, while I was trying to get these words out I ran across on Facebook a Bible verse shared by author Sarah Bessey that has put this all into perspective for me today.  Isn’t God’s timing perfect?!?!

Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (MSG)

Regardless of what my current employment is or my current lifestyle, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I am an accounting manager or a published author.  What matters is how I live my life.  Do I chose the ways of the world or do I embrace my citizenship in God’s Kingdom?  Am I a humble servant of God that is obedient to God’s will for me?

My discontent over my job is just another worldly distraction.  I choose to be grateful I am blessed with employment at all.  And I choose to be more intentional about making changes for my future.  Counting my blessings daily and enjoying the simple things of God’s creation.