Update!

To the faithful and few QuickReads followers, first, I thank you for reading, and I wanted to share a couple of updates.

  1. I have another BibleStudyTools.com article: How Do We Wait Upon the Lord?
  2. I have officially made this my personal blog, which I said I’d never do. What I mean is that I promised myself not to journal online, because there is already so much good material online (and there’s plenty of lousy writing out there, which I wanted to be careful to avoid contributing to.)
  3. My new aim for this blog is to share with my readers what I am learning presently, in my voice and in my own way. Writing for others as a very-part-time occupation has made me miss being able to write my own thoughts without concern for how it reflects on others. QuickReads is an outlet for that.
  4. Also, my family is treating Sundays as our Sabbath day (i.e., our day to rest), and I’ve decided that the afternoon is a perfect time to regularly contribute to my own blog. Therefore you will hopefully see more blog posts coming on Sunday afternoons!

Thanks,

Allie

What Lake Michigan has in common with my niece

The thing I like about walking at the lake every morning is the same thing I like about holding my newborn niece. They are made by God and not too different from the way he made them. They don’t expect me to say anything coherent to them.

Also these two created things are both constant and changing. I walk the same route to the lake every day. It frees up my mind to think of other things and to talk with God. When I get to the lake, it’s always the same in most ways. A depth of expanse rivaling the sky, it’s empty of complication or obstruction. It’s so deep, there are no plants sticking up in the middle and I guess I’m there too early in the morning to see boats.

The simplicity calms me. Even the path next to the lake is simple. One asphalt lane, on a bluff above the shore. One bridge across a ravine. One bench at the end of the path where I turn around and start walking home.

My one-month-old niece is another story. Her face changes from moment to moment; her sounds gurgle up in charming variety. But there is something pleasantly the same about her. It’s the familiar smells—her head smells just like my kids’ did at that age and so do her diapers. She responds to the same motions and sounds as my kids. Some day soon she’ll become so different I’ll forget all about holding her for an entire movie while she slept. I’ll forget the smell because it’s unlike any other smell besides that of other infants. Is it because she’s the cousin of my children that she is so familiar in her newbornness? Am I smelling my husband’s genes?

The lake has its changes too. One morning, it is hazy and there is no discernible line between the water and the sky. Another day, the lake is so bright with the sun that I can barely look in its direction. But these changes are suitable and not too surprising.

I walk the same way every day. I revel in the sameness of the lake. I rest in the familiarity of the way my niece smells.

As if from outside myself, I’ve noticed how much pleasure I’m taking in these two God-made things, and I have assumed it’s because I generally like nature. But now it dawns on me that I’m enjoying the calm that their sameness brings.

So little in my life is presently familiar. We’ve moved to a new state, which of course means a new house and all sorts of other new things. We now live close to two sets of family (including the sweet-smelling niece). We are just normal participants in our church, rather than being church leaders. Half the people in our neighborhood talk loudly on the phone in Spanish and the other people have professional landscapers mow their lawns. We fit into neither category and feel a little like live-in tourists. But we like it here.

Also unfamiliar is staying at home with my kids rather than sending everyone off to school/daycare so I can go to work. Exceedingly unfamiliar is having my husband home all day every day because he still does not have a job. Neither situation is actually unpleasant, but it does feel unknown.

All this lack-of-normalness has created a thirst in me for that which is known. No one knows the pleasure of water like a desert nomad, which I suppose is one of the perks of being such a person. This is one of the benefits of difficulty: to take pleasure in the things God made because you desperately need them.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. James 1:2

Latest article published!

Dear QuickReads friends, I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL for a while. We’ve moved from Indiana to Illinois, celebrated the too-short life of our niece, and I’ve also started assisting a rather industrious science editor.

In the midst of that, I’ve had the opportunity to write for a website that I use on a regular basis! My favorite feature on Bible Study Tools is their Interlinear Bible, where you can look up the Hebrew or Greek for the scripture you’re learning.

And here’s my article, inspired initially by grieving with my kids as we’ve moved states. In the middle of writing it, my niece passed away, so this material became all too relevant. Special thanks to another niece, Mary Grace, who lost her sister, for giving valuable first-hand insights on this article.

How to Use Scripture to Encourage Grieving Kids

Grieving boy

Finding self-control

At the moment, my self-control is lame and limp.  What have at times been fairly robust inner-strength muscles have atrophied, wasted away.  

What do I do, oh Lord? What have I done to get me here?

Like many an American Christian, my greatest struggle with self-control is eating.  I am like a vacuum, a bottomless pit of a stomach, though I myself certainly am not bottom-less.  Food fills up my need for fun, for rest, for stress relief. Also, I often overeat in social settings, just to avoid displeasing anyone.

I have tried a zillion diets, none of which have successfully kept off excess weight for very long.  Because after the allotted time is done, I go back to overeating rich foods.  

Also there’s something weird about aging – the bar is moved up on how disciplined I have to be to maintain a decent weight.  It makes perfect sense, actually. If you want someone to continue to grow in a skill, you raise the difficulty gradually.  

I imagine God is my personal trainer.  His primary objective is not to tone my external muscles, but the strength of character inside me.  So, like a wise guru, he designs obstacle courses for me to conquer. He designs resistance exercises to test and hone me.

He’s made it clear that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” But right before James says this, he also writes,

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”

And “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

I hear testing and trial and I think of the Oreos in my pantry.  Test #1: can I eat three of them and leave it till tomorrow?  Test #2: can I throw out the leftover Oreo on my kid’s plate rather than sneaking it in my mouth as I dump the healthier contents in the trash?

Last week, the answer to these questions was, “No, apparently not.”

First-world problems at their finest.  But I have to see that these present difficulties are producing for me an eternal weight of glory.  Right now, they’re producing for me an everlasting weight of body. Lord, help me.  

Self-control is promised as the fruit of the Spirit.  I have imagined it like an orchard where I can pick an apple labeled self-control anytime I need.  There’s a sense in which I still think this is true. “He has given us everything we need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus.”  

But it would seem that the fruit of the Spirit is actually growing on me, as though I am a plant myself. God is the Master Gardener, tending and pruning and training.  Now that I think about it, he is the vine and I am the branches.  And the fruit comes out of that connection, that union with him.  

I’m a little afraid that all my failure in the eating category will disqualify me from something.  Like I’ll fail the test so many times that I get kicked out of the program.  But maybe God’s tests aren’t to see what we’ve learned.  Surely he already knows that? They’re to teach us how to apply what we’ve learned. Also, apparently, they’re teaching me how puny is my fruit outside of him.  

“Every branch that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit.”  It doesn’t say how much fruit.  God, can you find a little self-control in me?  In your mercy, continue to prune me.

Today, when I am faced with tests of my character, small and big, let me see God in it, wise and pure, strong and kind.  Let me ask for help because we all know I can’t do it on my own. In other words, let me abide in him and watch for the fruit to form.  

How SMART goals can hurt


Informed by Atomic Habits, by James Clear

Goals can be SMART  

Many of us have been drilled on goal-setting as a motivator to propel us from where we are now to where we want to be.  

Want to lose weight?  Set a goal, break it down and stick with it till you reach it.  How many pounds do you want to lose? Create a calorie deficit of 3500 lbs each week and you’ll lose one pound per week (how many people does that actually work for??)  

What GPA do you want to get this semester?  Identify what grade you need in each class to achieve that. What score do you need on each test?  How, when and where will you study?

Goals help us know where we want to go.  Using the SMART goal strategy or something like it can clarify what it will take to get there.  

Goals can be DEADLY  

But what if you never reach your goal?  What if you aimed to lose 20 lbs but only lost 12?  What if you aimed for straight A’s but got 2 B’s?

Goals can make success too black and white.

“Goals create an ‘either-or’ conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

If you were aiming to lose 20 lbs, but only lost 12, you may feel like a failure.  But you lost 12 lbs! When do you get to celebrate that?!

SMART goals push you to assign numbers to your success – measurable is the “M” in the acronym..  That way you know if you’ve accomplished your goal.  But such an emphasis on reaching a number can nullify the other types of progress you’ve made.  

Consider the silver-medal winning Olympian. She set her sights on becoming a gold-medal winning Olympian.  Is she a failure because she only reached the silver level? She’s still a world-class athlete and has a tremendous degree of discipline and talent.

She can still aim to become a gold-medal Olympian. But that goal must not be linked with her sense of happiness.  Another quote from Clear:

“The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: ‘Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.’”

Disconnect goals from happiness or feelings of success in order to keep them in their proper place.

Goals can lead to a dead end.  

Once you accomplish your goal, what now?

Best case scenario, you achieve your goal in the time you allotted.  Then what? Either you set a new goal and start working towards that, or you slide back into your old ways.  (Which has happened to me a whole bunch of times!)

Goals focus on the destination.  The journey to get there is utilitarian – it’s just a road to get you where you want to be.  So you can finally be happy when you get there. See how this is a dangerous mentality? It’s dangerous to your enjoyment along the way!

How to balance the dangers of goal-setting  

Use goals to set your course.  Use systems to propel yourself in the direction you want to go.  

The makeup of your everyday life is more influential than the shiny goal you see glimmering in the future.

Clear would have you ditch goals and focus only on systems. I think there’s a place for goals – to get inspired, to get a picture of where you want to be.  But define your ultimate success by your lifestyle, your integrity and your enjoyment of everyday life.

Imagine yourself on a road to a fabulous city.  You know you want to live in that city, you’ve always dreamed of it.  You’ve specified the penthouse overlooking the water and the sweet jazz club you’ll frequent.  Your goal is crystal clear.

Who will you be when you get there?  How will the person you’ve become affect your enjoyment of that illustrious goal?  

Think of your goals as that city.  The systems and habits of your everyday life shape the person you will be when you reach them.

Stay tuned for more on establishing long-lasting systems to become the person you want to be when you arrive.

Why so downcast?

“Why so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”

–David, to his own soul, whose question I now ask myself.

Well, Self, I feel downcast presently because I just said goodbye – indefinitely – to a student in whom I’ve invested for a long time. Working through the ups and downs of her spiritual life have made me value her well-being more keenly than if she’d been all put together the whole time.  She is a prize fought for and won fair and square. (PS, I was a cheerleader in the fight, not the One who won her back.)

David’s question to his own soul could be seen as rhetorically implying that he should not be downcast.  Because he follows up his question with an exhortation to himself:

“Why so downcast, oh my soul?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”   Psalm 42:11

The implication may be, “You shouldn’t be downcast, because you can hope in God.”  

But I know that my present feeling of downcast-ness (probably not a word) is not resulting from a lack of hope in God.  It’s due to the value of what I’m losing, this lovely girl in my everyday life.

(If I have any readers who think this girl may be you, it probably is.  I feel this way about all of you.)

So is it okay to be downcast sometimes? Instinctively, yes, of course it is.  Grief means you’ve lost something important to you. If we’re to make sure we’re never downcast, we must either value nothing or we must lose nothing.  

This month of saying goodbyes and transitioning into a new, unknown season, has been full of downcast-ness and disturbance.

 Admittedly, sometimes I’ve popped the question: “Why so downcast, oh my soul?” and the answer has to do with a lack of hope in God.  I’ve been fearful about finding a place to live, even though God has always provided generously in that area.  Underneath that layer, I’ve been fearful that I won’t have an important role in people’s lives anymore, because I won’t be a campus pastor anymore.  A big reason I signed up for that gig was because my campus pastors were important to me, and I wanted to be important to someone else. I wanted that more than I wanted money or renown.

When a lack of hope in God is the reason for being downcast, then I need to quit being downcast and rejoice in the character of my faithful God.  

I need to remember that He’s the one who gave me a role of significance in the lives of these girls (and some of the guys, too.)  Therefore, as He sees fit, He’ll fulfill my desire for significance again, one way or another.

When being downcast is due to normal, healthy grief, like I feel right now, putting my hope in God is simply the next step.  It’s not a corrective measure. Maturity doesn’t look like sailing through the potentially painful times without tears.

I ask myself, “What now?”  Now it’s time to hope in God, to praise Him, because He is the constant. He will always be my Savior and my God.  

Grieving the loss of good gifts He’s given is one sort of praise. This wouldn’t hurt if You hadn’t been so good.