A Spring of Hope

Ah, Spring! Thou hast returned, and none too soon!

(Note: Spring is capitalized in the preceding sentence only because I have personified the word. According to Harbrace Rule 9a: “The names of seasons—spring, summer, fall, winter—are not capitalized.”)

Yes, Tennessee has endured a seemingly endless wet winter, but the new season of spring has now awakened a sense of hope after a period of short gray days and long cold nights.

But we must endure the bad to fully appreciate the good. “April showers bring May flowers,” right?

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In his prologue to “The Canterbury Tales,” Geoffrey Chaucer praises the many elements of nature that herald a beautiful time of year. He references the April rains which bathe the flowers’ veins, preparing the way for nature’s rebirth.

In the late 1700’s William Wordsworth wrote the lyrical poem “Lines Written in Early Spring.” He must have been influenced by the April showers as well as the flowers that follow the rains.

As a religious man Wordsworth believed communing with nature allowed him to commune more closely with God. This poem, however, presents a paradox of emotions: the pleasures of experiencing the beauty of God’s creation and the pain of knowing the miseries of humanity.

Spring caused the poet’s pleasant thoughts to drift to sad thoughts, and his heart mourned to think “what man has made of man.”

While Wordsworth’s thoughts were likely tainted by the cruelty of the French Revolution, our thoughts can also be easily turned afoul if we dwell on the myriad problems of our modern society.

Like Wordsworth, my heart also grieves “to think of what man has made of man.” But today, I choose to have hope. Instead of dwelling on the cross, I choose to focus on the crown.

A beautiful song entitled “Mercy Tree,” written by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale, illustrates the bittersweet experience of death and resurrection and the hope that springs eternal.

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On a hill called Calvary, there stands an endless mercy tree. Every broken, weary soul, find your rest and be made whole. Stripes of blood that stain its frame shed to wash away our shame, from the scars, pure love released, salvation by the mercy tree. In the sky between two thieves hung the blameless Prince of Peace, bruised and battered, scarred and scorned, Sacred Head pierced by our thorns. “It is finished” was His cry! The perfect Lamb was crucified. The sacrificed, our victory, our Savior chose the mercy tree. Hope went dark that violent day. The whole earth quaked at Love’s display. Three days silent in the ground, this body born for Heaven’s crown. On that bright and glorious day, Heaven opened up the grave. He’s alive and risen indeed! O praise Him for the mercy tree! Death has died; love has won. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ has overcome; He has risen from the dead. He’s risen from the dead!

The sweetness overcomes the bitterness. The Son shines in spite of the pain. We can appreciate the sunshine because we’ve endured the rain.

The crab apple trees in full bloom at this time of year also offer a perfect metaphor. These trees have beautiful blossoms but bear bitter fruit.

Bask in the beauty, not the bitterness.

crabapple-tree

If you are in a season of despair, have patience. Your season of hope is imminent.

Song of Solomon 2: 11-12: “For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

Zechariah 10:1; Isaiah 35:1

The Meek and the Wild

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According to an old English proverb, first referenced by John Fletcher in 1624, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

Robert Schlueter, journalist for The News-Democrat, believes the basis for this proverb lies within the heavens. Schlueter avows that the constellation Aries the Ram (aka lamb) can be seen in the Western night sky on March 1. On that same night Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion is visible in the East. Thus, the astrological Aries (the goat) follows Leo (the lion).

Not being a fan of astronomy, I prefer to think of the March weather adage as a poetic juxtaposition of the meek and wild.

Although many people misquote Isaiah 11:6 and refer to the lion and the lamb lying down together, this passage actually describes harmony between the wolf and the lamb. Nonetheless, the prophet is referring to a peaceful co-existence of all creatures when Christ returns, a time when the meek and the wild can walk side-by-side without conflict.

I believe humans today should be more like the proverbial lion and lamb. Even though we possess opposing views, why can’t we dwell in harmony together?

The Message translation of Isaiah 11:6-9 describes this harmony as a “living knowledge of God”:

The wolf will romp with the lamb,

            The leopard sleep with the kid.

            Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,

            And a little child will tend them.

            Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,

            Their calves and cubs grow up together,

            And the lion eat straw like the ox

            The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,

            The toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.

            Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.

            The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,

            A living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

 

Like the lion and the lamb, British poet William Blake (1757-1827) juxtaposes the meek and the wild in his collections called Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

As a devout Christian, Blake believed innocence to be a state of childlike love and trust toward everyone and everything. He saw experience as a state of disappointment and disillusionment with the world. Blake pondered over these two contradictory states of humanity and concluded that experience provided epiphany, thereby allowing him to achieve a sort of cleansing in order to return to a state of innocence.

In his poem “The Lamb,” Blake writes, “Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? . . . He is meek and he is mild, He became a little child.”

In “The Tyger” Blake asks, “Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

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The Lamb created the little lamb.

God made both Blake’s lamb and his tiger, and He created them in His image. He created Christ to be a sacrificial lamb, and He will one day summon His return as the Lion of Judah.

In the meantime, the world must experience balance. God provided the juxtaposition of winter and spring so that we can better appreciate the beauty of His creation. He gave us all things: the day and the night, the sound and silence, the elephant and the donkey, the toddler and the serpent, the animal and the human, the lion and the lamb.

I propose that we take a step back to better appreciate the contrasts in God’s handiwork. By taking a moment to breathe in and breathe out, we can allow our differences to complement each other, not catapult us apart.

Whether your March is meek or wild, may you experience joy in the midst of your tears.

–The Literary Lyonesse

Matthew 5:5; Revelation 5:5-6

 

The Sport of Reading

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I love books! Some people love football. Others love chocolate. Some people are hooked on Netflix; others can’t get enough pizza. I love books!! Clarification: I don’t literally love books. I literally love Jesus and my family, but I really, really enjoy reading books.

As an English major in college and an English teacher all of my adult life, reading has been my métier. I have always had a fondness for words and great stories.

I was a slow reader in the beginning, but the Bobbsey twins and Nancy Drew worked their magic on me as child. When my aunt came to live with us during my adolescent years, I witnessed her excitement as her “Book of the Month Club” book arrived in the mail. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I was hooked.

Over the years I wanted to emulate other family members as they made reading a priority. My father read and studied his Bible daily, and he was a great fan of Dale Carnegie. My mother found time to enjoy the Reader’s Digest condensed books, and my sister devoured all the classics.

I also had some wonderful English teachers who shared their passion for the written word. I am grateful for family and teachers who showed me how to love books.

I treasure my collections.

My books would probably not impress Netflix star Marie Kondo, who recommends that people “tidy up” by de-cluttering their book collections. I cannot take her advice. My collections are my treasures.

I once heard James Patterson say that anyone who doesn’t enjoy reading has simply not yet found the right book. If you’re still searching for the right book, visit a local bookstore that is hosting an author event. Hearing an author read from his own work will certainly spark your interest. Parnassus Books in Nashville hosts some awesome authors.

Find an author you love, and give yourself permission to read. Go to goodreads.com and browse through the “Read Alikes Book Lists.” Give up your gaming for a fortnight, and spend that time reading.

Here are five of my 2018 “goodreads.” Check out their reviews, and read at least one. Trust me. They’re worth the read.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

Rush by Lisa Patton

While you’re setting aside more time to read this year, don’t forget to spend a little time each day with the greatest book ever written.

I think some kind of major sporting event is being televised tonight, and most of the country will be watching. I’ll be reading.

“I’m going to go to my room and read for awhile, okay? I’m fine. I really am fine: I just want to go read for a while.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Romans 15:4

The Greatest Adventure

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“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:  it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien).

Bilbo Baggins loved the comfort of his home. He was content to kick back, go barefoot, eat six meals a day, and NOT have any adventures. However, Bilbo experienced a golden opportunity when he decided to step out of his comfort zone.

Thirteen dwarves and a wizard named Gandalf invited Bilbo to tag along with them on their adventure. Although Bilbo was reluctant to accept this challenge, he found himself caught up in the moment, and he couldn’t turn back.

By mustering up some faith and courage he didn’t know he had, Bilbo experienced the “greatest adventure.” His life was transformed.

In Romans 12:2 Paul gives us the same kind of advice Gandalf gave Bilbo:   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The same kind of opportunity awaits us all as we stand on the threshold of 2019. If we are willing to take a look outside our own dens of comfort, we can find goals to reach, children to teach, pews to fill, wounds to heal, stories to write, and metaphorical dragons to fight.

We will never be the same if we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. We can soar with the eagles, we can run through dark and scary caves and not grow weary, we can walk through murky forests and climb misty mountains and not grow faint. (See Isaiah 40:31.)

At the beginning of the hobbit’s story, Bilbo felt ill-equipped to take on an adventure. We may feel the same; we may think ourselves too young or too old, too timid or too bold. We can find numerous excuses if we look for them.

We must, however, put our trust in God and allow Him to lead us out of our comfortable hobbit holes. If we invite Him to be our guide, He will walk beside us the entire way.

In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

“God created you [and me] to do amazing things” (Ephesians 2:10). I challenge you and myself to begin this new year by accepting the call to adventure.

Get off the couch. Volunteer. Find a new hobby. Write your story. Commit to going to church every Sunday. Commit to a healthier lifestyle. Step out in faith. According to Einstein, “Nothing happens until something moves.”

“[Bilbo] had many hardships and adventures before he got back [home.] The Wild was still Wild, and there were many other things in it in those days beside goblins; but he was well guided and well guarded . . . . He was never in great danger again” (The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien).

The challenge may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Get out there. Take the risk. God will have your back.

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The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.

The chances, the changes are all yours to make.

The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is there if you’re bold.

Let go of the moment that life makes you hold.

To measure the meaning can make you delay;

It’s time you stop thinkin’ and wasting the day.

The man who’s a dreamer and never takes leave

Who thinks of a world that is just make-believe

Will never know passion, will never know pain.

Who sits by the window will one day see rain.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.

The chances, the changes are all yours to make.

The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

(from “The Ballad of the Hobbit” by Jules Bass)

“It is better to wear out than rust out.”—Edwin Markham

“Get up, fix up, and show up.”—Eva Thomas

“Do your best, and trust God with the rest.”—Mark Barron

“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”—St. Augustine

“There is some good in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.”—J. R. R. Tolkien

Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 84:5

 

Do You Plan Your Reading?

Mid-South Christian Writers Conference Blog

A Guest Post by Bob Hostetler

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, of course, I mean the annual celebration of our Lord’s nativity, which is rich with meaning and blessing for me and my family. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Christmas.

But there’s something else that makes this time of year wonderful to me: the joyful preparation of a reading plan for the coming year, which I do every year in late December and early January. That plan becomes something like a syllabus that will allow me to derive maximum variety and benefit from my reading throughout the course of a year. My annual reading plan always includes:

  • a minimum of one biography;
  • at least one memoir;
  • a healthy dose of at least four classics (e.g., Pascal, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, etc.).
  • at least one history book;
  • several writing books;
  • at least two books by authors I’ve never…

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Humbly Hopeful

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(Sigh) I received another “pass” on a book proposal this past week.

The rejection did not address the quality of my work, just the quantity of my followers.

I was rejected because “my platform is small.” I understand publishing a book will enlarge my platform, but I can’t find a publisher if I don’t have a large platform.  Which comes first, the chicken or the egg??

This situation reminds me of the rejections I received when I first applied for a credit card. Unlike today, when college students are bombarded with credit card applications, I was turned down by every major credit card company. I was rejected not because I had bad credit, but because I had not yet established credit.  I was told I couldn’t get credit unless I had credit.

It seemed like an impossible situation, but a local dress shop owner graciously agreed to write a letter to the credit card company on my behalf.  She attested to my not being a credit risk, and I received my first credit card at age eighteen. Thank you, Mrs. Hill.

I wonder if this is how Christ feels when we “pass” on His proposals. He’s not asking us to prove whether we are worthy of His offer for eternal life. He freely brings us into His tribe if we simply agree to profess a belief in Him.

I am thankful that God doesn’t require me to pass a background check or prove that I am worthy of His love. I know He’s willing to write an endorsement for the back of my book—just as soon as I find a publisher.

In the meantime, God is teaching me hope and humility and patience—all virtues worthy of our focus during this Advent season.

I am reminded of the words of Mary in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

Mary was willing to submit to God’s plan. She found favor with God because she was a humble servant. I want to be more like Mary.

Maybe God is using rejection to keep me humble, but hopeful.

Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 15:13, Galatians 6:9, James 1:12

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” –C. S. Lewis

 

Finding Joy

 
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When I count my blessings, I always include books. I find joy in reading.

I have specifically found joy in the works of C. S. Lewis. I read his Chronicles of Narnia years ago and used them as supplemental reading in my classroom. I named our high school writers’ group The Inklings because I was impressed with the minds of Lewis and Tolkien. I read The Screwtape Letters twice. Once wasn’t enough. I then used the book as the basis for a six-month Bible study at my church. I watched Shadowlands, the movie about his life with Joy Davidman. I have read Lewis’s book on Psalms, Mere Christianity, and Surprised by Joy. I have watched a documentary of his life.

I thought I was well-versed on C. S. Lewis and his life and his wife. Not so.

While attending the recent WriterFest Nashville conference, I was enthralled by author Patti Callahan’s discussion of the lives of C. S. Lewis and his wife Joy. I had already read her new book and found it to be delightful. Hearing her talk about it was the icing on the cake.

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In her book Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan brings Lewis’s wife Joy to life. Written from the point of view of Joy Davidman, this book focuses on the death of one love and the birth of another. The story opens in New York in 1946 as Joy Davidman faces the harsh realities of life with her alcoholic husband Bill Gresham. As a professed atheist Joy finds herself attracted to the writings of C. S. Lewis, and she begins a correspondence relationship with him to better understand his theology.

As their relationship develops, Joy goes tit for tat with Lewis as the reader learns of their intellect, their wit, their writings, and the depth of feelings they have for each other.

Through their letters the reader discovers not only Joy’s vulnerabilities, but Jack’s (C. S. Lewis’s) as well. The humanness of these two writers, who become friends and then become marriage partners, is the cream that rises to the top of this book.

This book gave me new insight into the lives of Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Lewis. I found great joy in reading it.

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” –Nehemiah 8:10

Philippians 4:4
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