Monday, January 21, 2019

Recovering REST

The Ebony Dog (2006-2018)

My husband can tell you how much i love words: naming things, nicknaming people, digging into etymology, decoding idioms,... I love it all. When we were in SE Asia, my eyes were drawn to words on signs and in windows even though i couldn’t read them. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve prayerfully sought a theme word for the year since at least 2011.

Often those words have turned out to be the central challenge of the year, like 2014, the year of “refuge,” when i had shoulder surgery followed by 6 solid months of physical therapy and then the unexpected death of my grandmother. I needed the reminder of God my unfailing refuge. 

Or 2018, the year of “love,” when i knew the utter heartbreak of losing my shadow dog abruptly to cancer and later celebrated the joy of a milestone birthday and anniversary for my parents. From one extreme to the other and in everything in between, God’s love was real and true and trustworthy, when i could feel it and when i couldn’t. For most of the year i had to take that by faith in His promises.

For 2019, the word is “rest.” Like 2017 and 2018, this year is already continuing the momentum of a full schedule of medical appointments, family, and puppy training. I don’t always have much control over how much physical rest or whitespace a week holds, although i am very ready to leave things undone in order to grab a nap while Moose Tracks is sleeping. That kind of rest, as welcome as it is, was not my objective in this word’s selection.

At one time in my life, thanks to writers like Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, and Andrew Murray, I had learned to grow in spiritual rest even when all around was busy and active. I had begun to learn to roll my burdens onto the Lord’s shoulders sooner rather than later. That carried me through completing a degree while working full-time, through commuting to seminary while tutoring on nights and weekends and delving into prison ministry, through raising support as missionaries, and through relocating to the other side of the globe.

Somewhere along the line, i started dragging my burdens and those of loved ones myself, asking the Lord for help rather than asking Him to carry the weight Himself. That exponentially amplifies the weariness of a full schedule, and I hear Him calling me back to the old way, the way of trust and rest in His sovereign goodness. He is orchestrating all things for my good and His glory and doing a thousand other things into the bargain. My fretting does nothing to expedite or improve the process.

As Hudson Taylor wrote, “Bear not a single care thyself, one is too much for thee; the work is Mine and Mine alone; thy work—to rest in Me.” In Isaiah’s words,
“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
‘In returning & rest you shall be saved;
In quietness & trust shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15).

Jesus, I come. Grant me grace to rest in You and trust You with the many heavy burdens on my heart. Amen.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Changing of the Guard Dog: Introducing Moose Tracks

As regular readers know, the late great Ebony Dog passed away June 1 after a brief illness. We initially thought we would take several months just to grieve and recover from the intensity and trauma of his final week. We reconsidered the timing, in part because this time we knew we needed a dog who would be great with the youngest nephews, who live close enough to see us frequently now. They would have more opportunities to get acquainted with Ebony's successor if we adopted before they went back to school, so we started looking in earnest and going to adoption events.

After one failed foster trial that clarified our non-negotiables, we found a dachshund-terrier mix on Petfinder with a happy face that looked a little like Eb’s. In fact, the facial resemblance is strong enough that Google photo assistant mixes them up on a regular basis. Appearance and appetite are where the resemblance ends, however!

He came to us as Diesel, but now he answers (when he feels like it) to the name of Moose Tracks, like the ice cream. His foster family was amazing and loved him dearly but couldn't adopt him permanently. We have stayed in touch with them, and his foster mom remains his biggest fan.

Moose Tracks (AKA Moosey, Moose, Moose Munch, Special Agent Shredder) is smart, social, silly, sassy, stubborn, and as devoted to Amore as Ebony was to me. He is so smart and curious that he gets bored and invents his own activities if we don’t provide enough stimulation. He is so social that Amore takes him to the dog park on weekends whenever the weather permits, and we are planning doggie daycare days into the routine because he needs and loves them. Ebony was a shy, calm, introverted dog, so there has definitely been a learning curve (which we’re still traveling) as we discover the rhythms and routines that work best for all of us.

Moose Tracks loves walks, training, sunbathing, meeting new people, and barking at the neighbors across the street when they come and go. He has 2 speeds: all out and crashed out. At the moment, he is crashed out, allowing me to put together this many-times-delayed post. (He is not a fan of the glowing screen thingies that pull his humans' attention away from him. Priorities, people!!)

He loves to eat almost anything: mulch, cookies, bully sticks, peanut butter inside a bone, “crunchy water” (ice), sticks, wood shavings, throw rugs, old pillows, stuffed animals, carrots,... He doesn’t like plain lettuce, but that may be the only thing he won’t eat. In fact, he has inspired the Moose Tracks Diet:
if it fits in my mouth, it’s food. If it does not fit in my mouth but I can break it into pieces that fit in my mouth, it’s food. If Mommy says, “No, no, Moose Tracks!! Leave it! Leave it!" It’s definitely food and probably really yummy.

He also has his own tongue twister: How much mulch would a Moose Tracks munch if a Moose Tracks could munch mulch? (The answer is “all of it.”)

Moose Tracks also adores his stuffed animals, but love hurts. I have a toy hospital with a revolving door. He tears one up, I sew it back together, he tears it up again, I repair it again, and so forth until there's not enough left to repair. I wouldn't bother, but he's just too cute when he plays with them, especially when he has a case of the zoomies and sprints around the house squeaking one in his mouth.

Moose has learned quite a few commands in our training sessions: sit, down, stay, come, place, leave it, heel, crate, paw, spin around, roll over, play dead, peekaboo, and drop it. We are working on find it, bring it, floor (when he climbs on something he shouldn't) and head down. He learns very quickly with the proper motivation (food). Heel and leave it are Mr. Curiosity's biggest challenges. Also, he is part billy goat and able to climb on anything he wants. We are still working on those boundaries.

As you can see, Moose tolerates the camera well, and the camera loves him. Today he has been in our family for 6 months. He adds a lot of laughter, makes our Fitbits happy, and challenges our creativity and training skills. We love him a lot! If you come to see us, expect kisses and a welcome waggin'.

Now that we're more settled into our new routine, I will endeavor to post here more consistently in 2019, but I make not promises. Also, I do micro-blog pretty regularly on Instagram: @crumbsfromhistable. Moose has his own feed for the dog people among you: @moosetracksmoore. (Do take what he says with a grain of salt. He is not always the most reliable narrator.)

Friday, December 28, 2018

The ESV Illuminated Bible: Art Journaling Edition {Book Review}

In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:10-11, ESV

This is the Bible with the dust jacket on; the actual cover and binding are identical to the dust jacket.

Opening my complimentary review copy of Crossway’s ESV Illuminated Bible: Art Journaling Edition felt like Christmas had come early. Quite simply, it is one of my favorite things acquired in 2018.

Visually, this Bible may be the most beautiful book in my library; certainly it is in the top 3 or 4. The copy provided to me is the green hardcover edition. It also comes in a navy cloth-over-board and a burgundy imitation leather. (In locating purchase links for the end of the post, I also discovered there is a newly released genuine leather version available.) All have gilt illumination on the binding and page edges. The cream paper is more restful to the eyes than bright white and thick enough that the show-through from my fine-point gel pen is less than in my other Bibles. Pencil and colored pencil write very smoothly on it too. The font is small (9 point) but clear. It is the same typeface and size as that of my ESV Study Bible. As with the other Crossway Bibles, the binding is smyth-sewn, which enables it to lie flat when open and is more durable than other methods.

The most unusual and stunning visual feature is the illumination in golden ink, done by Dana Tanamachi. There are beautiful, full-page illustrations for the title page of each book which would be suitable for framing in their own right. Each is unique and illustrates one or more of the themes and motifs of the book in question. A few pages at the back summarize the concepts included in each title page. In addition, there are full-page illustrations of single verses scattered throughout and marginal illuminations of key words or phrases.

Marginal illustration

The Biblical text is single-column, well-suited to reading large chunks of text at a time. The 2” margins are wide enough for writing out prayers, adding one’s own artistic meditations, or making inductive study notations such as chapter and paragraph titles or lists (e.g., Precept study style). There are no cross-references or concordance, but this is not designed as that kind of study Bible. I am as big a cross-reference nerd as the next person (okay, maybe bigger), but I am not missing them as much as I expected. Really, those are interpretive, not inspired, so it does me good to make do without them and add my own as the Holy Spirit connects passages to each other in my reading. For Crossway to incorporate cross-references in a future edition would mean a bigger volume, thinner paper, or narrower margins. Any of those options would detract from the volume as it stands.

This is not a compact travel Bible. It weighs in at almost 3.5 pounds, less than my ESV Study Bible but almost a pound more than my primary Bible of the last 10 years. It is a substantial, well-made piece that has the makings of a family heirloom, especially when personal notes have filled the margins.

All in all, this Bible is a treat to read and to write in; it begs to be opened and lingered in. The illuminations invite me to pause to meditate on the words. The sheer beauty of this Bible renews my wonder that such a thing as God’s revealed written Word exists and that I can own my own copies (plural!!) to read for myself. The latter factor has not been the case for three-quarters of Christian history, and men died for their commitment to put the Scriptures in the hands of laypeople in our own languages. Too often I forget that and take it for granted. This edition reminds me what a treasure God’s Word is, and I heartily recommend it to those looking for a new Bible or prayer journal for 2019. May the Lord bless your reading of His Word, from whatever format.

Here is my Amazon affiliate link, which will yield a small commission to me for purchases made through it:

Here are non-affiliate links to other online retailers:

Genuine leather edition: (Affiliate link)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Prayer for Election Day

Ancient of Days, we praise You that You are the one who removes kings and establishes them. We praise You that Jesus, the King of kings, sits at Your right hand, far above all rulers and authorities, powers and dominions, and every title--including President, Senator, Representative, and Judge--that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come. 

In that confidence, we entrust ourselves and our nation to You. Guide us in Your will, not ours, as we cast our votes.  May the elected officials, including our next Governor, Senator, and Congressman,  live in voluntary personal submission to Your reign. Show them Your ways, O Lord; teach them Your paths, for You are God our Savior, and our hope is in You all day long. We ask this in the name and authority of Jesus the mighty one. Amen.

(Dan. 7:9; 2:21; Eph 1:20-21; Ps 25:4-5)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life {Book Review}

A theologian, a psychiatrist, and a Puritan pastor walked into a book….

Joking aside, in Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter, theologian J. I. Packer, psychiatrist Dr. Michael Lundy, and the seventeenth-century Puritan pastor Richard Baxter join forces to introduce Baxter’s counsel on these mood disorders to twenty-first century readers. Dr. Packer provides the preface and a chapter of biographical-historical context about Baxter. Dr. Lundy provides a “Perspective and Retrospective” chapter describing his professional and church experiences with the shortcomings of both the medical-only and counseling-only approaches to treating mental illness. The bulk of the book comprises 3 substantial messages on the topic by Baxter, with language updated for modern readers by Dr. Lundy.

Why Baxter? Here is Packer’s explanation:

We believe that in the wisdom of God thorns in the flesh—mental and emotional thorns included—may become means of spiritual advance that would not otherwise take place. And we believe that greater wisdom in this matter than we are used to is found in the pastoral heritage of seventeenth-century Puritanism. Supreme here is the wisdom of Richard Baxter, who in his day was viewed and consulted as a top authority regarding ministry to Christians afflicted by what was then called “melancholy,” but would today be labeled depression. Our hope is that by presenting what Baxter wrote in this field we may contribute to wise pastoral care in Bible-believing, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring churches at this time (12).

Richard Baxter served as a pastor from 1638 to 1662, when changes in religious freedom laws in England forced him out of the pastorate and into a full-time writing vocation for the final 3 decades of his life. In that day, many towns and villages did not have a resident physician. In those cases, the pastor, as most educated member of the community, served as a lay physician providing care for the parish’s bodies as well as souls. His counsel as reproduced in this volume reflects that holistic approach. Packer sums this up:

…never letting melancholics lose sight of the redeeming love of God, the free offer of life in Christ, and the greatness of grace at every point in the gospel; not attempting to practice the “secret duty” of meditation and prayer on one’s own, but praying aloud in company; cultivating cheerful Christian community (“there is no mirth like the mirth of believers”); avoiding idleness; and making good use of a skilled physician, a discerning pastor, and other faithful Christian mentors and friends, for support, guidance, and hopefully a cure (28-29).

Dr. Lundy describes Baxter’s approach as a rudimentary forerunner of today’s cognitive behavioral therapy. His counsel is both compassionate and tough, kind and sometimes admonishing. Lundy writes, “he does not permit a particular inability to license a general unwillingness, or excuse his readers for failing to do what they can do on the grounds that they can not do all that they should or would do” (55). When the patient is truly incapacitated by the depression or anxiety (“melancholy”), Baxter directs his exhortations to the family, friends, pastor, and physician of the sufferer.

In the addresses by Baxter himself, I found his lists of attributes of melancholy and directions to the patient to be helpful and consistent with other books and articles I have read on depression. The passages I would have underlined and dog-eared in a physical copy reoriented the suffering person outward and upward: outward to Christian community and the duties within reach (while not minimizing the strong depressive impulse towards solitude and inactivity) and upward toward God and His work, away from self. He compares the “broken imagination” of a depressed person to a broken leg and urges temporary mental rest. During episodes of depression, he cautions against attempts at lengthy times of prayer, confession of sin, and meditation as too taxing for the ailing mind and as a danger of a downward spiral of negative thought and emotion. He encourages short prayers, praying aloud in the company of more emotionally healthy believers, and “getting out of one’s own room” to take up some good, diverting task that requires more action than rumination.

His comments in the second address on the relationship of excessive sorrow and Christian hope resonated deeply with my experience from periods of depression in my own life and from trying to love depressed friends well and faithfully:

Excessive sorrow interferes with hope even more than with faith. This happens when those who consider themselves believers perceive God’s Word and promises to be true and applicable to everyone but themselves. Hope is that grace by which one not only believes the claims of the gospel but also rests in the comfort that those same gospel promises will be his own specifically, and not just generally. It is an act of application. The first action of faith is to acknowledge that the gospel is true and promises grace and future glory through Christ. The second action is when that faith says, as it were, “I will trust my soul and my all upon that gospel and take Christ to be my Savior and my help.” Hope then looks with anticipation to that salvation from him. Melancholy, excessive sorrow, and dismay, however, quench such hope, as water quenches fire or ice heat. Despair is the essence of such opposition to hope. The depressed desperately would hope for themselves but find themselves unable to do so. Their thoughts about such matters are filled with suspicion and misgivings, and so they see a future of danger and misery, and feel helpless. In the absence of hope—which we are assured is the very anchor of the soul—it is no wonder that these are continually tossed about by the storms of life (110).

Baxter follows that with an examination, beginning with the physical, of the potential causes of such excessive sorrow before turning to the cure and prevention. He warns against impatience and discontent in suffering as early attitudes which, if not resisted, can lead to depression. “Discontent is an ongoing resistance to God’s disposing will, and even a degree of rebellion against it, in which your own will rises up against that of God. It is atheism in practice to think your sufferings are not part of his providence” (134). And again, “when you do experience desperation to be delivered, remember that this is not trusting God. Attend to your actual duty and obey his command, but leave it to him what shall come your way. Tormenting worry only increases your sufferings; it is a great mercy of God that he forbids this kind of fretting and promises to take care of you” (134).

He balances those firm exhortations with consoling words like these:

When Christ was in agony for our sins and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was nevertheless beloved by his Father. [Feeling does not equate to reality.] He was tempted that he might comfort those that are tempted, and suffered such derision that he might be a compassionate High Priest to others (153).
All our troubles are under God’s sovereign rule; it is far better for us to be subject to his choice and disposition than to our own or that of our dearest friends. He has promised that all things will work together for our own good (153).

His counsel to friends and loved ones seeking to care for the depressed person are no-nonsense, focused on providing them any small pleasures and removing unnecessary irritants, frequently reminding them of gospel truths that are best suited to comfort, reading encouraging books to them if they are too weary of mind to read for themselves, bringing an able Christian pastor into the mix, and not neglecting medication when prescribed by a good physician. Here is a sample in his own words:

As much as possible, distract such individuals from the thoughts that so preoccupy and torment them. Focus them on other conversation and matters. Intrude into their space and interrupt their ruminations. Rouse them from such musings with loving and unwavering insistence. Don’t allow them to spend too much time alone, but arrange for suitable companions to be with them, or take them to visit friends. Be especially careful not to let them be idle, but press or entice them into some pleasant activity that may entail physical as well as mental action (160).

It is also useful if you can engage them in providing comfort to others who are worse off than they. This will convince them that their own case is not unique, and they will actually be encouraging themselves as they encourage others. In my own personal experience, a primary way to resolve my own doubts about the state of my soul was through frequently comforting others that had the same doubts, and whose lives persuaded me of their sincerity (161-162).

If you will bear with one final quote, this bit of counsel moved me to worship, and I pray it blesses you too:

Set your thoughts on the things you know to be right and good: don’t focus on yourself and your own heart. Even the best may find within much to trouble them. As turning millstones only wear themselves down in the absence of grain to grind, so do the thoughts of the depressed when they think only of the troubles of their own hearts. To the degree that you can, direct your thoughts toward these four matters:
A. The infinite goodness of God, who is more full of love than is the sun of light;
B. The immeasurable love of Christ in redeeming mankind, and the sufficiency of his sacrifice and merits;
C. The free covenant and offer of grace, which give pardon and life to all who neither prefer sin nor obstinately refuse them to the end;
D. The inconceivable glory and joy that all the blessed have with Christ, and that God has promised with his oath and seal to everyone who consents to the covenant of grace and are willing to be saved and ruled by Christ (155).

In conclusion, Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life does an excellent job of introducing contemporary readers to a Puritan writer I would like to know better. It is not an easy read, even with the updated language, but it is an edifying one. The holistic approach to mental illness, combining medical therapy, pastoral counsel, and partnership with the patient’s community, presents a demanding but well-reasoned philosophy of care. I commend this book to mental health professionals and pastoral counselors. As a complete non-professional who has experienced depression and anxiety and has many friends in the throes of these afflictions, I found it instructive, hopeful, realistic, and God-exalting.