Saturday, August 26, 2023

God of Waifs and Strays (A Prayer)

But first, some photos of a black and white warbler we met at Lake Tawakoni State Park last month:

Listen to me pray these words over you

For those feeling a bit left behind, lost, or rejected

O God,

Friend of the waifs and strays and ragamuffins,

Meet us today in the pain of rejection,

In the shame of neediness,

In the wounding words,

Especially those in the mouths of those called to comfort,

And those committed to heal.

Some of us bring you such a pauperly offering, but the best and only one we have:

Hearts bruised and battered

Yet still beating,

Still taking a beating,

Turned away, turned against, turned aside.

Thank You, my Rock and my Redeemer.

You never reject those who come to You in faith.

You welcome and do not shame our neediness.

When You speak wounding words,

They are the wounds of a surgeon's scalpel,

Precisely aimed at mending and restoring.

You are able to heal broken hearts.

You deal tenderly with crushed spirits and bruised souls.

You never turn away, turn against, turn aside from

Those You rescued through the blood of Your Son.

You call the worthless worthy,

The helpless, graced,

The cast off, cherished.

O God of the waifs and strays and ragamuffins,

Make the felt consolation of Your intimate companionship

As strong and sweet as a cuppa comfort.

Bring to our hearts and minds songs and verses

Best suited to the moment of need.

Open the ears of our hearts to hear your love song

Over us, the waifs and strays and ragamuffins

(But your waifs and strays and ragamuffins).

I ask this in the name of Jesus the Savior,

Who came gladly into our shabby poverty,

That He might make us princes and princesses

In the kingdom of His Father.


Monday, August 14, 2023

Elisabeth Elliot: A Life, by Lucy S. R. Austen {A Book Review}

Hardcover book in front of cream throw pillows: the book is Elisabeth Elliot: A Life, by Lucy S. R. Austen. On the cover is a black and white photo of Elisabeth Elliot. Author’s name and “a life” are in white all caps. Elisabeth’s name is larger, italicized, and embossed in gold.

In Elisabeth Elliot: A Life, Lucy S. R. Austen has crafted a meticulously researched literary biography of one of the most influential women in twentieth-century Christian history. In describing it as a literary biography, I meant two things: that it paid particular attention to the formation, values, and sustenance of Elisabeth Elliot the writer; and that the biography itself consisted of beautiful and polished literary prose, not unlike what readers might expect from Iain Murray or David McCullough. This style was a pleasure to read and also contributed to the nuanced, complex portrayal of a nuanced, complex woman. Austen’s love, compassion, and respect for her subject shone through, even as she did not gloss over inconsistencies, generational sins, and personal blindspots.


One of my favorite themes Austen brings out from Elisabeth’s life was her writerly bent, beginning in  childhood and blossoming at Wheaton College. Long before she wrote professionally, for seemingly all of her life, in fact, Elisabeth metabolized life through words on paper. She poured out and tried to make sense of circumstances and feelings primarily before God and in her journals, far more than she seemed to have done with close family and friends. Even during her young adult years as a missionary in Ecuador, another missionary told his wife “‘how he was impressed that Betty’s gifts tended more toward intellectual pursuits than to personal ministry’ and that he was beginning to pray for a ‘writing ministry’ for Betty” (203). As Providence would have it, that missionary’s death with Elisabeth’s husband Jim, when both men were relative newlyweds, became the catalyst for Elisabeth’s vocation to begin to shift toward writing and, secondarily, speaking at Christian events.


Austen described the genesis of many of Elisabeth’s books, including two I have known of and not yet read and several unknown to me until now. She let Elisabeth tell, in excerpts from letters and books, her own philosophy of biography and her values as a writer. Elisabeth longed deeply to see truly and convey to the reader what she saw. Throughout her life, she pursued a determined quest for truth and commitment to live accordingly, even if that meant contradicting one’s prior experience, writing, or teaching. Like most writers, Elliot fought recurrent battles with imposter syndrome, wondering what audacity gave her the idea that she had anything to say worth reading and whether she would ever find the right words to reach her readers.


In one of my favorite passages, Austen wrote:


Her talks were drawn from the things she had been wrestling with in her own thinking. At the [Wheaton College annual writers’] conference she spoke on “Writing as Personal Discovery,” arguing that we can only write with integrity about what we have learned through experience. The writer’s task is to faithfully portray the things she has seen. This requires a posture of uncertainty and active searching in order to be able to see. It requires openness to change—it will mean that “we don’t think the same way that we thought last year”—and to messiness. The psalmist, she pointed out, says in Psalm 37 not to fret, and then writes other psalms that are “just one long fret.” And it requires a commitment to excellence in the craft of writing: good writing can be trusted “to give form to…truth,” but “bad writing is a lie.”


In contrast to this vision, Elliot said, much of what is called Christian writing begins from the assumption that the writer’s job is to expound the right doctrine, win adherents to the cause, create certainty, prevent change, preserve tidiness. The result, she suggested, is not art but propaganda: “It is the search for truth which gives rise to creativity.” “I believe one of the reasons for the lack of really true Christian art is first of all that we start with the answers. We begin with the cheerful assurance that we know the truth and so the search that is the basis of art is thwarted” (392-393). 


To my mind, Austen honored Elisabeth’s aesthetic and biographical values faithfully in this fine volume.


Also through Elliot’s own words, I saw her lifelong struggle with the introversion that made her the observant, thoughtful writer she was but was often not socially acceptable (or even considered sinful) in the evangelical milieu in which Elliot worked. Austen made note of this struggle with gentle compassion and more understanding of various temperaments than perhaps Elliot had. Austen’s own reserved, introspective style suits her subject in this regard.


Along similar lines, Austen chronicled what Elisabeth was reading (as mentioned in journals and letters) at frequent intervals throughout her life. These lists demonstrated shifts and expansions in thinking over the decades and what ideas informed Elliot’s writings. A reader could build a lifetime reading list from the books mentioned in this biography and likely not be able to finish. The breadth of authors and content surprised me, despite my long familiarity with Elisabeth’s work.


This book held other surprises too. I had not realized how greatly her paradigms shifted on matters such as dating and courtship or liturgical worship. The progressive views on certain areas of morality and ethics she articulated in correspondence also raised my eyebrows and seemed likely to delight some readers and dismay others. Her deep and abiding friendship with her younger brother Tom was a bright and happy surprise. On a lighter note, her frequent and emphatic use of italics and underlining in her private correspondence and notes just tickled my funny bone. I could clearly hear her voice in my ear as I read those passages.


The most striking and meaningful insight I received was the depth, diversity, and duration of Elisabeth’s suffering. In no way was her sorrow concentrated in her bereavements of her first two husbands. In fact, it seemed to me that the only periods of her adult life in which happiness prevailed were her marriage to Jim and perhaps her early years back in the United States, when she lived in New Hampshire with her daughter Valerie and another former missionary, her friend Van (Eleanor Vandevort). Many times Elisabeth’s trials brought tears to my eyes. It saddened me that she endured so much for so long.


One of those difficult sections to read described Elisabeth’s growing awareness of what would be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s dementia, an illness I have witnessed in more than one close relative. Elisabeth Elliot had a dazzling intellect, a vibrant love of reading and learning, a sharp wit, and a practically unmatched gift for articulate, thoughtful Christian writing. Many of the lifestyle habits contemporary medicine has advised for Alzheimer’s prevention were consistently part of Elisabeth’s disciplined life. For her to lose the life of the mind must have been like dying while she yet lived. This was heartbreaking to read but only increased my respect and empathy for her.


And yet—the deepest waters and hottest fires she passed through enabled her to speak on and into suffering with authority and compassion. I believed Elisabeth when she addressed the topic of affliction because I knew she spoke from experience. When I have needed help in my own trials and heartbreak, I have wanted someone like Elisabeth (or Joni Tada, Amy Carmichael, Vaneetha Risner…), who endured hard things with grace; airbrushed, glossy celebrity Christianity has offered no cool water to soothe those in the furnace of affliction. Thanks be to God for those who have persevered.


Elliot clearly experienced doubts and changes of convictions over the years, but she never abandoned faith in God and in the Bible. Many earthly things were shaken, but the foundation of her life was the everlasting love of God upon her and the everlasting arms of God beneath her; therefore, her foundation held firm.


This biography provided a long, thoughtful read that amply repaid the investment of time and attention. It was not a book for those who have placed Elisabeth Elliot on an idealized pedestal and committed to keeping her there. The real woman, with all her complexities and contradictions, was much more interesting than the ideal, and seeing her humanity and need to grow and change through this book pointed me back to the Savior she loved and served. Her legacy has always been about His faithfulness, not her own.


The only thing I wished to add to Austen’s biography was an audiobook version. Not everyone could read a book of this length; I thought especially of those suffering profoundly, such as those living with chronic illness and disability that might make reading difficult but Elisabeth’s testimony needful. Perhaps one will come about if reader demand makes it feasible for Crossway to undertake? 


Eight years ago, Elisabeth Elliot Leitch Gren took her place in the cloud of those witnesses whose races were finished, and finished in faith. Along with them, her life testified that Jesus was (and is) better than anyone or anything else; that Jesus was (and is) worthy of our full and glad surrender; and that persevering faith was (and is) possible for those who fix their eyes on Him and on the invisible, eternal truth of Scripture.



The embedded link above is an Amazon affiliate link. It will yield me a small commission at no extra cost to you. To purchase directly from the not-for-profit publisher Crossway, visit the website The listing for this book is here:


Crossway+ members receive 30% off the retail price and a PDF copy with each hardcover purchased.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Hopeful Thirteen {A Blogiversary Post}


Giant yellow swallowtail on unidentified plant, July 2023

Listen to me read the audio file

If the player isn’t working in your browser and you’d like to listen, here is the link to the audio:

In the summer of 2010, I was working my way back to full strength after sinus surgery that spring. Although I had received a lupus (SLE) diagnosis 8 years prior, my illness had been quite stable, with medication and lifestyle adjustments, for more than 5 years. Prior to surgery, the Ebony Dog and I walked 3 1/2 miles most days, and Pilates and strength training were added several days a week. I learned more about nutrition and followed a healthier diet than most Americans, with lots of produce, lean protein, and whole grains and not a lot of sugar.. Amore and I had both worked hard to find a rhythm that worked for my illness, and he worked hard providing for us. 

Surgery has extra difficulties for autoimmune patients, so we weren’t surprised that recovery was slower than the doctor promised. Lab tests several weeks after surgery showed that I was still mildly anemic, but otherwise things seemed fine.

In July 2010, the day we departed for a stay with Amore’s parents due to a surgery for his father, I felt more tired, almost out of breath. On the drive down, my voice seemed oddly hoarse as I read aloud. The elastic around my ribs hurt. The seatbelt felt too tight. How odd.

Once we were settled in the home of my in-laws, I couldn’t seem to recover from the five-hour drive. I was so tired. As much as possible, I rested and read, but even sleep proved difficult. And what was that pressure on my chest?

(Aside: Yes, we should have visited urgent care or the emergency room. Chest pain is not a “wait and see” medical symptom. We were away from home for my father-in-law’s cardiac bypass surgery; this was not supposed to be about me. And, truth be told, I was more anxious about going to the emergency room, and in a different city, than I was about waiting out the pain and trying to breathe. But if you have new chest pain, please do the smart thing and urgently seek medical care.)

My father-in-law’s surgery was successful, but he had a long road ahead to full recovery. When our stay was over, we passed the support baton to one of my husband’s sisters. I was truly convinced I would feel better when we were back home and away from the stress and worry over Amore’s dad.


But I didn’t. The fatigue was so severe that unloading the dishwasher was too strenuous to do all at once. If I took a shower, I needed someone else in the house in case I passed out. My chest hurt so much that I could hardly breathe unless I lay down on my side. So I lay on my side on the sofa all day, for days and weeks and months.

As soon as we returned, I scheduled appointments with my sinus surgeon, asthma doctor, and rheumatologist. Perhaps after sinus surgery upper respiratory infections looked like this? Perhaps I only needed another course of antibiotics?

I did need a round of antibiotics, and my asthma did require a new inhaler, but that didn’t resolve the symptoms. The rheumatologist sent me for a series of scary, expensive tests on my heart and lungs. He was afraid the membrane around my heart was inflamed, so he ordered a month of bedrest and increased steroids and told me not to leave home except for medical care.

Driving was beyond my strength, and Amore did not have remote or flexible work, so my mom drove me about to all these appointments and brought her work to my living room when she could, so I wouldn’t be scared, in pain, and alone.

Eventually all serious explanations for my symptoms were ruled out, and it was determined that my lupus was flaring and causing painful inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribcage and sternum (“costochondritis”). In other words, “It’s not serious, just painful.” The doctor told me I could resume normal activities, but there remained that pesky problem of my chest hurting too much to breathe when I was upright.

After 6 or 7 months, we finally found a medication to manage the pain safely. I could have wept with relief that first morning after the new medicine. For the first time in months, my first conscious thought of the day wasn't chest pain. I had slept through the night. By that time, however, other pain issues had arisen due to the prolonged forced inactivity. It took years to work through the fallen row of dominos and set a substantial part of them upright again. Not all losses have been recovered even 13 years later.


There have been unexpectedly good and gracious enlargements of my capacity at times, such as a voyage to Alaska with my parents and husband and a journey to Virginia for the wedding of a young lady I love dearly. The Lord has given me several years of enough stability to assist my parents with time, meals, and company. I now sit with my mom in her living room as she sat with me so many times. Last week the Lord enabled me to walk a whole mile in a state park with my husband. Two days in a row. This is a far cry from where I was before lupus or before 2010, but it is the farthest I have walked at once (without paying for it later in post-exertional malaise) in a very long time. The last few times we’ve been to the arboretum, we have also been able to do without a wheelchair for me. I don’t know whether or how long this will last, but I receive it as a good gift from a loving God and give thanks to Him.

There have also been expected and unexpected brokenness, trials, and sorrows. The last 13 years have held far more funerals than weddings. Three of our four parents have suffered the long farewell of dementia. My mother is still suffering it. We lost Amore’s oldest sister to cancer. Many more surgeries and two rounds of cancer have added complications to my own medical history. Amore has changed jobs three times. Family members have faced life-changing diagnoses and financial hardships. My church has endured an astonishing amount of tumult and loss.

Oh, yes, and there’s this apparently never-ending pandemic that has required a few changes to our lives.

So far, there is no “back to normal” for families like ours, with immunocompromise, long COVID, and other high-risk conditions. Amore and I are still very much isolated in our tiny village of four with my parents. We are very grateful for the many circumstances that allow us to do that, even though we miss things about “before” life. We continue to seek the Lord and seek to steward health, illness, duty, and opportunity one next step at a time. I don’t know whether or how long this will last, but I receive it, too, as a good gift from a loving God and give thanks to Him.

Does that sound strange to you? Life's plot twists don't always feel like good gifts from a loving God, do they? They may come to us wrapped in sandpaper and tied with barbed wire instead of golden ribbon. For those who brave the bloodied hands and tear-stained cheeks, however, trials offer the Christian treasure that cannot be attained any other way.

Only those who mourn know the divine blessing of God's comfort. Only the weak know the sufficient power of God's strength. Broken hearts are uniquely able to receive God's nearness. Knowing Christ in the communion of His suffering (Philippians 3) requires suffering ourselves and experiencing the astonishing grace of His nearness in the midst of it. Suffering can bless us by chiseling our character into greater likeness to Christ.

"Good" isn't always happy or fun. Sometimes it is holy and soul-growing. It is good and worthy of our gratitude when we receive it as one means of knowing the Triune God more deeply.


My heart breaks for the tens of millions suffering prolonged illness, uncertainty, medical fatigue, inability to find treatment, financial hardships, isolation, and fear from the tsunami of new chronic illness the last three and a half years. And suffering those same afflictions from flaring chronic illnesses. They never seem to stop surprising us with new party tricks, do they? I have drunk from the bitter cup of dreams crushed and youth upended due to unexpected health collapse. If that is you, whatever the nature and cause of your illness (if you even know), please hear this:

You are not invisible to me or to God.

Your life matters. You are worthy of care and support. God loves you.

God hears and answers honest prayers. He doesn’t always answer yes, but He always answers. Call on Him.

Please keep going. You never know when the sun will peek out again and your life will turn for the better. However bleak things seem in this moment, if you are in Christ, this is not the end of your story. All the afflictions of today are actively at work producing the eternal weight of glory ahead of you.


One gift the Lord has given to sweeten my cup the last 13 years has been this place. Near the end of that first month on the sofa in pain, unable even to care for myself fully, Amore told me it was time to start a blog. He had decided I needed to write my way through whatever was going on. He helped me set it up, and this website was born.

To celebrate 13 years of writing here (and perhaps, for a few of you, 13 years of reading), I am retelling the story of my health journey during that time and leaving you with five things the Lord has taught me in the peaks and valleys of this quarter of my life.

  • No matter how isolated, alienated, and exiled you or I might feel, no weakness, illness, or disability can alienate or exile us from God. If we have thrown ourselves at the feet of His throne of grace to receive mercy and forgiveness through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, then nothing can separate us from His love. Even the humans who love us most will reach the limits of their compassion and energy, but there is no compassion fatigue in the Triune God. The tinuviel paraphrase of Hebrews 13:5b says, “for He [God] has said and not changed His mind: ‘I will never ever leave you without support, nor will I ever ever desert you in distress.’” He promises that He will never, never, never, never leave His people in the lurch.
  • Hope is not a feeling of optimism. Hope is not dependent on a happy change in circumstance. Hope is not incompatible with sorrow and grief. Hope is eager expectation born out of confidence in the promises, person, and purposes of God. Jesus our forerunner has dropped the anchor of our hope in the Most Holy Place of God’s presence (Hebrews 6:13-20). With Him securing it, nothing can uproot it, no matter how hot the flame, how fierce the wind, or how intense the storm. God cannot lie. He will not let go of us. He will hold us fast. Hold fast to hope. Hold fast to His promises. Hold fast to Him who holds fast to you. And if you can’t hold fast, lean in. He can hold on tight enough for the both of you.
  • I am weaker and less in control of my life than I ever really thought, and Christ in me is stronger than I ever really believed. His strength, goodness, and love, even when I have least felt the consolation of His presence, have kept me putting one foot in front of the other. He is the reason I have not abandoned the faith. The weaker I am, the stronger He is, and His grace really is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
  • “Acceptance with joy” is a lifelong lesson. When I think I have learned it, a bend in the track reveals more mountain to climb. And that’s ok. Anything is a blessing which makes us pray, as Spurgeon wrote. Anything is a blessing which reminds me of my dependence on God. The “hard eucharisteos” (things for which we struggle to thank God) are material for sacrifice. He transforms them when we offer them, with ourselves and our tears and our inability to accept them with a grateful heart, to Him.
  • Finally, don’t underestimate the providential grace of God, which can create real friendships out of zeroes and ones, pixels and screens. I cannot thank Him enough for the kindred spirits He has brought me from across miles, oceans, and continents. You know who you are. Thank you for reading and interacting. Thank you for extending kindness to this poor bell sheep, whether I could reciprocate properly or not.

Further up and farther in! Courage, dear hearts.