Maybe Life is a Little Bit More

For some reason, I have lost my blogging mojo! I have not lost my enthusiasm about the blog; I love writing and I love my blog. It is as if I have lost my energy and concentration. It is at these junctures, I need to push myself into deeper water. In deeper water, I can either give up and drown or dig into that well of reserves and swim with more determination.  So, here I am swimming with determination, but in what direction? I am floundering with what to whittle out, though in reality the pickings are truly abundant. Hey, there’s a word — “abundant.” Seems like a great word for the Christmas season. Now, I am not talking about prosperity, I am talking about abundance. Prosperity, on the other hand, has more to do with material possessions and affluence. Scratch prosperity, that is not what I want to talk about, though I think the two get mingled together into one ideology never considering the distinctions.  

Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the Prosperity Gospel or New Thought) peddles a controversial religious thinking filled with accusations of hypocrisy. This notion promotes the will of God as always being financial blessings and the alleviation of sickness and poverty. Faith, prayer, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. If humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity; after all, it is God’s will for His people to be blessed. One prominent proponent of these teachings is Joel Osteen. Osteen owns a $10.5 million, 17,000 square foot mansion with 6 bedrooms and bathrooms, 5 open wood fire places, 3 elevators, a guest house, an outdoor pool, and pool house in River Oaks, Texas (a ‘burb’ of Houston, Texas, paying over $260,000 in property taxes yearly.) *Picture below

Joel Osteen’s Mansion

His lifestyle includes fancy cars (for sure a Ferrari), private jets, yachts, tailored suits, a wife refined by lavish jewels, attired in top quality garments, etc. His estimated net worth is $50-60 million. A satirical joke by the Babylon Bee circulated during Hurricane Harvey saying, “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ” (it is worth a little chuckle!) Now, I am going to just leave this right here because I am not a proponent of this doctrine. However, I will toss out a couple questions to ponder:

  1. Who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The leader?
  2. Wouldn’t Jesus have been the wealthiest man on earth?
  3. How do you explain the persistence of suffering, sickness, and disaster among Christians?
  4. Where are treasures laid up under this religiosity? – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”

I really want to try to keep this simple. Abundant living is not material blessings as I interpret scripture. I believe abundant living is quite the opposite. Abundant living is:

  • Faith and hope in Jesus; eternal life –
  • A true personal relationship with Jesus – “…the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God…”
  • Pray, Pray, Pray about everything – “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
  • Reading the Bible – learning and maturing in wisdom and knowledge of truth – ““Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
  • Trusting in God’s power and presence in your life – “”I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”
  • Trusting that God is all knowing – ““I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning…”
  • Desiring God more than what the world offers like material possessions, status, achievement, recognition, popularity, approval, acceptance, attention, idolatry, fulfillment of the flesh
  • Practicing the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • Confessing our sins regularly; asking forgiveness from God and others; apologizing; swallowing pride and humbling oneself to specifically say “I’m sorry for…”  – “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in loving kindness.” The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth…”
  • Asking God for help and helping others – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
  • Choosing gratitude, being thankful for EVERYTHING – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances” (not some), “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you…”
  • Contentment in ALL circumstances – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “O, taste and see that the Lord is good…”
  • Choosing joy and peace amidst grief, difficult circumstances, and painful struggles (the list is not comprehensive, but here are many to contemplate choosing joy and peace amidst the pain) –

Death of a spouse
Divorce or Marital separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness, major surgeries
Mental Illness
Abuse
Job termination or resignation
Retirement
Change in health of family member
Loss of Pregnancy or child
Sexual difficulties
Change in financial state
Death of a close friend
Change to different line of work
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
Bankruptcy
Disability
Change in responsibilities at work
Child leaving home
Trouble with in-laws or family members
Spouse starts or stops employment
Change in living conditions
Revision of personal habits
Change in residence, moving
Change in church
Change in sleeping habits
Change in eating habits
Christmas & Holidays & Anniversaries
Home invasion, theft of property or threat of
Loss of Trust, Betrayal, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety  

  • Deep, abiding peace that passes all understanding that does not come from deep breathing and counting to ten
  • Choosing to live a changed new life as a new creation through the power of Christ
  • Surrendering our will and desires over to God – one example is addictions, which includes failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, overcoming, over and over until we have victory
  • Resting in God’s sovereignty and timing – “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “I the Lord do not change.”
  • Loving and giving to others – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

You see, the abundant life is NOT an abundance of tangible “stuff” purchased at stores or online amassed in our homes or owning finer things keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Joneses, accumulating treasures here on earth. The abundant life is about the abundance of Jesus. I have often looked around our home and wondered what if I literally sold it all? A young man approached Jesus asking what good thing must he do to receive eternal life. Jesus replied, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Just think about that for a minute. What if we sold all our material prosperity and gave the money to the poor? What if?

Charlie Brown struggled with the meaning of Christmas and the trappings of consumerism until Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas.

And, even the Grinch in all his grinchiness finally grasps:

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

The abundant life is about eternity with Jesus – “setting our minds on things above” and “storing up treasures in heaven.”  The abundant life is a state of being from within and living it outwardly toward others. The abundant life is a continual, un-ending season of giving; it is living out our faith through good deeds and blessing others. The abundant life is following Jesus.

Love you, mean it!

Frankincense: The King of Oils

Frankincense

Often, I have a goal of reading through the Bible in one year, and often I have found it to be quite enlightening, edifying, and enriching (and there is my three-point sermon…). The one-year path feels like a sprint to cross that finish line; it is a hard push and honestly at times, the pressure can scrape up a bit of irritation and annoyance. I feel like I miss out on the power of stopping to smell the roses and the reverence of taking in the scenery – the study, the meditation, and hearing that still small voice. So, this year I have been choosing random books. I meandered through the prophetic message of salvation in Isaiah, spent many months strolling through the rhythm of the Psalms, inhaled Job for about the fiftieth time, and this past week finished reading about my fleeting life in Ecclesiastes.   

Every time I do the one-year plan, I venture into Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers packed with rules, rules, and more rules. Several times reading through it, I thought to myself, “God, how could anyone ever remember all these instructions regarding rituals and legal and moral practices for holy living?” The next time I came upon my missionary endeavor, I literally stopped and prayed. I asked God to show me truth about His reasoning for all these manners of conduct. As I was scurrying through the text, I heard the Spirit speak to me in that still small voice, “Deeon, these rules were not meant to harm the Israelites, they were meant to protect them.” I really had to step back and soak in that revelation. That little rocky crag in my heart softened. It changed my perception. As I continued reading, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers took on richer meaning. This was not about some punitive God trying to inflict punishment through laws, this code of conduct was about a holy, loving God living in their midst.  Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, as is the entire Bible, is God’s message of His presence, His power, and His sovereignty offering reconciliation from sin and a passageway to forgiveness because He loves us beyond comprehension.

At any rate, I am intentionally choosing to read the book of Leviticus unhurried. I am trying to dig underneath and marinate on all the many ways in which God is protecting His people. Here is an example: near the beginning of Leviticus, the guidelines for the Grain Offering are rendered. Depending on the version of scripture (I lean toward the ESV or NKJV), the text states to put frankincense on the Grain Offering if it is fine flour. I am a “why?” kind of gal. These offerings are burnt on the altar. Have you ever smelled burnt bread – not so much a pleasing odor? Perhaps, the frankincense rendered that “pleasing aroma” to God, that aroma that represented the substitutionary atonement for sin, which is pleasing to God. Yet, I believe frankincense, the king of oils, had a multilateral purpose. What I mean is that the frankincense was a pleasing aroma to God, which I believe holds deeper meaning than I have studied, but it was not unilateral, only for Him. I believe God created and used frankincense as a medicinal protection for the Israelites.  

From an article entitled, Frankincense, The Holy Grail of Essential Oils:                                                

Here are a few other points of interest about Frankincense:

Frankincense, also known as Olibanum, comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree grown in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia, though the finest comes from Arabia. Careful incisions are made in the tree at key times of year, and the sap slowly pours out. Once the sap dries and hardens it is ready to be used. The first period of tapping occurs from January to March and the second from August to October. After tapping has continued for five or six years, the trees are rested (the irony that God created through the sixth day and then rested on the seventh.) Frankincense has a woody, spicy smell. Now, I have a little bottle of Frankincense oil and indeed the smell is woody and spicy. I think for some it would be a scent that gains acquired appreciation, though I have always liked the scent and whiff on my little vile occasionally.

“Traditionally, frankincense was used for hundreds of years in incense, primarily in ancient rituals because of its promise to bring tremendous healing properties. Priests, rabbis, and medicine men around the world—especially in the Middle East—appreciated the essential oil for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and rejuvenating properties.

Early use of frankincense resin was reserved for religious services, where it was burned as incense with the intention of the scent floating up invisibly to heaven in order to attract God’s attention. Historically, burning the resin was also a tool to vanquish negative energies or hold evil spirits at bay. To this day, it is commonly used in churches and temples and believed to affect us at our deepest level, setting our spirit free. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used frankincense in their religious rituals. Similarly, the Chinese have been known to use it for years.

Frankincense was so valuable during ancient times that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Some cultures even prized it more than gold, making it an integral part of the Silk Road trade. Overall, it has been high in demand, from early history all the way to today.”

History, modern medicine, research, and the advancement of technology have offered some thought-provoking theories about frankincense:

Sacredly, when used during meditation, frankincense can be purifying to the mind, create a connection to one’s soul, and offer spiritual protection.

The smoke from burning frankincense drives out mosquitoes, pests, and other flying insects, reducing incidence of malaria and other insect transmitting diseases.

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce symptoms of joint inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Frankincense may help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation in the gut.

Frankincense may help reduce the likelihood of bronchial and sinus infections and asthma attacks in susceptible people. It may also open breathing passageways and increase lung capacity, thus relieving symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and as well reduces phlegm.

Frankincense has antibacterial properties. Clinical studies at major universities in Egypt and in the United States have shown that frankincense has fantastic immune-enhancing abilities. These studies reveal that frankincense can fight dangerous bacteria and viruses throughout the body by providing immunostimulants. When applied topically, these benefits will work to create a layer of protection against bacterial and viral infections. When used aromatically, the same benefits manifest internally while working to heal your body from the inside out.

Frankincense has antimicrobial and antiseptic benefits, working to destroy harmful germs and bacteria upon contact, whether on the body or on surfaces throughout the home.  It may help prevent bad breath, toothaches, cavities, and mouth sores.

As a beauty Serum, frankincense can revive, rejuvenate, and strengthen skin health, adding elasticity to the skin. It may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars, smooth the complexion, prevent acne, even out blemishes, heal minor wounds, help reverse damage caused by UV rays, fade stretch marks, and heal cracked skin.

Frankincense is supportive of cellular function. It can assist with healthy cell function by promoting cell and tissue regeneration. So far, test-tube studies suggest that frankincense may fight breast, ovarian, skin, and colon cancer cells. The small study indicates that it may also help reduce side effects of cancer and may help kill cancer cells and prevent tumors from spreading. It can suppress cancer cells viability.

Psychologically and emotionally, frankincense, through aromatherapy, reduces the heart rate promoting relaxation, balancing moods, reducing anxiety, and calming and lifting the spirit. 

And, there are a few additional opinions hanging out there for which studies have not been performed. Frankincense could possibly help to prevent diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels; may aid in preventing heart disease by reducing inflammation; could improve sleep quality; may well boost memory and cognitive function; and quite possibly balance female hormones — delaying menopause, and reducing menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood swings.   

An altar of incense burned inside the tabernacle. This incense was a specific recipe of spices mixed with “pure frankincense.” God gave the recipe and stipulated that only this incense, and no other, was permitted to be burned on the altar of incense, and this incense recipe must not be used anywhere or by anyone else or else they will be cut off from their people. Aaron was instructed to burn incense on the altar each morning and at twilight, every day, as a regular offering to the Lord. To release its scent, the frankincense was either burned or smoldered over hot coals.

The Altar of Incense

Frankincense complemented many offerings and sacrifices. Frankincense was extensively used in burial rituals as part of the embalming material as an offering to the departed, a means to cover the odor of the dead body, and I believe to create purification from the potential risks of chronic infectious diseases.

The market for frankincense was unlimited. It created commerce and trade, via merchant ships and camel caravans. In essence, it was a form of currency. Whereas other exotic spices and aromatics were luxury items, frankincense, though expensive was a household necessity, a basic staple. An article from the New York Times states:

 “In January of 1997, exploring the remote back country of Yemen, over hills and through valleys and ravines, a party of archeologists came upon ruins and monuments from the time when frankincense and myrrh were among the world’s most coveted commodities. In the 10th century B.C., the biblical Queen of Sheba is supposed to have ruled in golden splendor over this land on the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula. For several hundred years before and after the birth of Christ, it was a major emporium of the ancient world. Spices and textiles arrived by ship from India, silk from China and gold and ostrich feathers from Ethiopia. These goods were then packed off by camel caravan to Egypt and Persia, to Palmyra in Syria and, often as not, on to Rome. Nothing in the shipments was more prized than the two locally grown gum-resin products, frankincense and myrrh. “

They say the encampment of the Israelites, though highly structured and orderly, was about the size of Houston, Texas, the ninth largest city in the US. Now think of Houston as an entire city of refugees. Some scholars estimate the total Exodus population, including men, women, and children to be around 2.5 million people. Houston’s current population is about 2.3 million. Now imagine Houston as a desolate, barren wilderness where these refugees are, with precision as directed by God, encamped in tents throughout the entire region. The potential for widespread disease is immensely problematic. Now I do not know if every household contained frankincense for personal use, but I do know every morning and evening frankincense was burned in the tabernacle, releasing smoke and fumes upward into the air. This was holy and reverent, symbolizing the prayers of the people rising up to God, which was a pleasing aroma to Him. But, secondarily, I believe the incense served to purify the air in the encampment consequentially benefiting the refugees with all the potential of frankincense described above. The Bible is not clear on these likelihoods, but that is what I believe, and I am sticking to it. I believe God knew the need beforehand. I believe God planned everything out beforehand. Frankincense is a mere fraction of all the ways God sought to protect His people. So you see, the Bible is not all about rules, it is about God’s protection, provisions, and ultimately His love. It is a clear reminder to me, He knows the way that I take, He works all things together for my good, and His love is everlasting and higher than the heavens. I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit’s little whispers and teachings as I persist in reading scripture.

Love you, mean it!

In Celebration of Grandparents, Part One

About a year and half after the end of World War I, in the spring of 1921, on a Wednesday, a little baby girl was born in Centertown, Kentucky, a little protestant town northeast of Lexington. Life happened amidst coal mines; prohibition, bootleggers, and moonshiners; the rise of the mob, mafia, and gangsters – most notably Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Ma Barker; women gaining the right to vote; Time Magazine first publication; the first Winter Olympics in the Alps; Hoover being appointed to lead the FBI; the Great Mississippi River flood; Charles Lindbergh making his first non-stop transatlantic flight; the beginning work on Mount Rushmore; Amelia Earhart being the first woman to fly over the Atlantic; JC Penney opening their first store in Delaware; the great stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression; the Dust Bowl; the construction of the Empire State Building; Bird’s Eye inventing frozen foods; Nevada legalizing gambling; Babe Ruth; and the book release of Gone With the Wind. This is a macro world picture of life during that time. Life on a micro level reveals that her real mother passed away during the childbirth of her younger sister, her sister lived. My great grandfather remarried, having four more children, including a set of twin girls. I have a few shabby pictures of her family – one picture of her grandparents, one picture of her real parents, and one picture of her real father and stepmother. I also have a picture of the front of the home where these six children grew up. I am told they could look through the cracks of the wood floor planks and see the ground; I am told it could get quite cold in the winter. They kept the fires burning with timber from the land. They slept on featherbeds and under feather blankets, cleaned clothes on a washboard and hung them outside on the clothesline to dry, and harvested the garden and canned much food for winter. In my mind, I get a hint of the Walton’s on a much smaller scale – faith in God, attending the protestant church on Sundays, singing hymns, saved and baptized in the river, playing with siblings, deeply loved, together working hard as a family living this life they had been given. In her mid-teens, my grandmother and her real sister move to my hometown. With little time to breathe, she meets my grandfather. He recently moved there from Paynesville, Kentucky with marginal education and means, looking for work. I am told, his grandfather, which would be my great great grandfather was the richest man in Mead County, Kentucky owning countless acres of land. When he died, the land was split up into parcels and given as an inheritance to various family members, my grandfather included. My grandparents marry in 1939 when she is 18.  She came with southern hospitality and deep Baptist roots. She overflowed a gentle nurturing spirit; kept a neat, clean, tidy home; cooked meals morning, noon, and night; and enjoyed spending much time with her family, as all the siblings, hers and his, slowly relocated to where they lived.  In 1940, she gives birth to a daughter, my aunt, and in 1941, she gives birth to a son, my dad. They rent a very small, one bedroom house. My grandmother takes in laundry and ironing for the property owner.  I am told they were in good standing with the property owner. The property owner actually lived next door in a large two-story home. My grandfather faithfully pays rent on time, completes carpentry work on both houses, and grooms the lawns. He finds favor with the property owner. When the property owner passes away, they move into the big house as renters at first, and eventually they are offered to purchase the properties at a fair, reasonable price because of my grandparent’s faithfulness and hard work. When my grandfather acquires the properties, he becomes the property manager and in turn begins renting out the little house and the upstairs of the big house, which has a separate stairwell entry from the back. Oh how I remember these places! Now my grandfather is illiterate; he has never learned to read or write. I do not recall his oppression and struggles, but I am told he carried much fear and shame as he encountered obstacles – employment hurdles; quality of life concerns such as driving tests, his inability to read street signs, names on buildings, mail, medication instructions, follow written instructions, write his name or anything for that matter. He is dependent upon my grandmother, my aunt, or my father. I am told he was a good provider and conscientious about paying bills on time. He actually works at a local dairy farm when times are about manual labor –  feeding cows, milking cows, filling milk pails or aluminum milk cans, and loading them for transport on a horse-drawn wagon. When dairy production becomes regulated, labeling requirements catapulte my grandfather into a frenzy because he cannot read the labels. He brings the new labels to my father and like flashcards, they work on visual recognition of which labels meant what. My grandfather is able to remain at the dairy for a season, but his illiteracy becomes his demise. I imagine it grieved him terribly. I faintly recall a tutor being hired to teach him how to read, but he does not have the self-assurance or patience and quits. Subsequently, he becomes a self-employed carpenter. Between rental properties and the carpentry business, he actually does well. My grandmother supplements their income by taking in laundry and ironing, working at a local canning company, working for a US TV manufacturer, and eventually working ten years for a local internationally known candy company. At some point in her life, my grandmother acquires diabetes. I do not know if it is Type I, Type II, or gestational, but what I do know is that my grandfather administers daily insulin shots to her. However, the progression of the disease seizes her eyesight. This is about the time I am born. I will write further on my relationship with my grandparents, but I pause here because the real truth is that every single person has a family history and every single person has their own story within that history. I feel like I am on a precipice overlooking a lovely landscape that I have never seen. When we share our history; when we share our story; when we invite others to enter into our story; when we open up to vulnerability; when we expose the dark secrets to light; when we reach past our inhibitions, shame, anxieties, and fears; when we reach down deep and dig in the messy, complicated, and imperfect to touch the pain, sorrow, heartaches, losses, failures, mistakes, hopes, and dreams; when we are willing to authentically speak our truth; we begin to break down barriers and stigmas; we become connected by tiny threads, we become a community. I am on the margins of considering that here is where we learn the truth about the immeasurable, steadfast, unfailing, unconditional love of God. Love you, mean it! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ God’s Everlasting Love, Romans 8:31-39 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher

A friend loaned me this book with high accolades. I would rather not say how long ago she passed it my way, but I am seeing her tomorrow and was determined to finish reading it. I am typically reading multiple books at the same time, but of late have been trying to dwindle down those numbers.

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The book summary on the jacket cover reads:

When his little sister Ruthie Leming was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer, cosmopolitan journalist Rod Dreher was touched by the way the community he had left behind – St Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) – rallied around her. On visits home during her illness, he was afforded glimpses of a world he had turned his back on as a teenager.

A concert at the town sports park, dubbed Leming Aid, raised $43,000 to help Ruthie, a local schoolteacher, and her husband, Mike, an Iraq war veteran pay their medical bills. At the event an old friend pulled the author aside, pointed to the crowd of people there to support his sister and said, “This is how it is supposed to be. This is what folks do for each other.”

Dreher was also struck by the grace and courage his sister displayed in the face of death. Back home for Ruthie’s funeral, Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led in Louisiana was in fact a path to hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher.

To explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife, Julie, decided to leave Philadelphia and move back to his hometown. There he would help with family responsibilities, be there for Ruthie’s girls, and raise his three children amid the rituals that had defined his family for five generations – Mardi Gras, LSU football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described the move in his New York Times column, Dreher and his wife “Decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.”

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For me, the book started out slow, perhaps that is why I felt like I was dragging it around. However, the book does depict very real issues. Sibling rivalry is a current running throughout the pages. I could not understand Ruthie’s opposition and misperceptions she held against her brother for choosing to pursue his dreams beyond the small Louisiana Parish. Her resentment toward Rod strangulated the potential warm relationship they could have shared and placed undue awkwardness on the family system. Clearly, this was in sharp contrast to the relationships she maintained with her husband and children, the community, the church, and her professional peers. These two contrasts blur her true character for me. I wonder if the author’s rearview mirror was rose colored in an attempt to honor his sister’s life, tempered with trying to bring understanding and closure for him.

The issues of cancer and the far-reaching effects on everyone involved are sad, but West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana showed true value of community. Ruthie seemed to manage her fate with grace. The story does lead the reader to ask questions about what really matters in this life. Her story brings in a little focus on how faith in Christ helps sustain a strength, perseverance, and peace beyond understanding.

I felt half of the book dealt with Rod’s life (the author and brother.) I wonder if the book was away for him to probe and workout his personal life decisions. From an early age, his heart leaned toward escaping the small town. He wanted to pursue bigger opportunities that were not possible if he remained in a small community. He had a constant wrestling inside over his choices of leaving home, which religion he would align with, employment, and cities to live in, a constant mental struggle reconciling his life inclinations.  I got the impression that he grappled with giving himself permission to have his own unique identity and preferences. A point of interest to me was Rod’s spiritual life. I felt a true spirit in pursuit of God. He began as a Methodist in the tradition of his family, but soon ventured into Roman Catholicism, finally establishing himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite these transitions, I sensed a true reverence for God.

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A few quotes from the book:

“She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.”

 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They did not have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.”

“There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.”

“Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you–and it will–you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want–no, you need–to be able to say, as Mike did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”