Lance & Megan's Blog

On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble

January3

The Burden and Gift of Living

Formational Book Review by Megan

4/5 Stars

“… your life is a good gift from a loving God,”

This is the whole premise of the book. Our lives are a gift. Many people suffer from anxiety, depression, grief, or mental illness at some point in their lives or perhaps daily. But despite all the “fixes” the world has to offer, the choice is still ours to get out of bed in the morning. Living out our days by getting out of bed is actually a powerful testimony to our neighbors and friends to the goodness of God. 

Reading as a Disciple

“Suffering… is a normal part of human life.” 

There is a lie in the Christian world that when we become Christians, our lives should become beautiful and easy and that we shouldn’t suffer. 

There is nothing in the Bible to support that thought. Noble goes on to say, “tremendous suffering is the normal experience of being in this world. Beauty and love and joy are normal, too, but so is suffering.” Becoming a Christian does not give you immunity to the normal hardships of life. While this can be disappointing to some, it is also a gift. Noble argues that we give testimony to the goodness of God by simply getting out of bed and continuing with our lives no matter how difficult our circumstances may be. 

“When we act on that goodness by rising out of bed… we honor God and His creation, and we testify to our family, to our neighbors, and to our friends of His goodness. This act is worship.” 

We often look to the glorified testimony but we already have a testimony by continuing in God’s faithfulness. I should not seek out something special to “add” to my testimony but to simply live out my days as a disciple, faithfully honoring God. 

“Your task is not to feel right but to act right.”

In this day and age, there is an emphasis on feelings and validating people’s emotions but sometimes we have to continue on without the feelings. Noble says, “Sometimes that’s what peace is: an action based on faith and not an emotional state.” 

Reading Pastorally 

“You are not your own, and neither is your suffering.”

“This is hard teaching, but we are responsible for one another, even when we are in the midst of great suffering and sorrow.”

One of my favorite things of the book is the emphasis on community and being with others. We need the body of Christ, we are not little islands that make up a body, we are united in Christ and therefore to each other. The world tells us we can overcome our problems with XYZ and all we have to do is decide what is best for us but again, the problem here is that it falls back on us. Our desire to “fix ourselves” falls to us and therefore if we are not changed by whatever we decide to do, it’s our fault. This is island thinking.  

This book challenged me to not only be more open with my own sufferings but also to not shy away from others who are suffering. For many people, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to walk with someone in their pain. We don’t know what to do. “Let me know if you need anything” is the best we can muster. After reading this book, I am looking for ways to not shy away from negative emotions in others but to be that hand or person that will simply make sure you are not alone. 

“Enduring requires you to share your suffering with others.” 

“By knowing together as the body of Christ, we can both exhort and comfort one another when we feel irrational guilt and shame.” 

Final thoughts

“Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That’s not why He created you, and its not why He continues to sustain your existence in the world. His creation of you was gratuitous, prodigal. He made you just because He loves you and for his own good pleasure.” 

We were created for God’s own pleasure.  There is nothing we can do to change his love for us, to diminish it or increase it, His love just is. And with that, we can continue to testify to His unconditional, never-ending love for everyone by simply getting out of bed and living out our days, especially when we don’t feel like it. 

Other Alan Noble books:

You Are Not Your Own

Disruptive Witness

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The Making of the Mary Card

December5

We take our Christmas cards seriously. We thought you would like a little glimpse into how and why we put so much effort into these hand-carved and stamped cards that only come once a year.

Hand Carved by Megan

A few years back, I (Lance) got Megan a stamp making kit. I am always looking at ways to let her creativity shine. Sometimes I fail (ie. modeling clay, custom embosser…), but sometimes I get it absolutely right. Stamp making was one of those right things. As I am typing, I just asked Megan why she likes stamp making. This is her answer verbatim, “I don’t know, it is kind of fun. It is a forgiving kind of craft that you don’t have to get perfect. It really fights my perfectionism. Though after being in Ukraine, I can’t call myself a perfectionist anymore.” There you go!

Cards over the years

Her stamp making took a new turn a few years ago with the introduction of stamping our own Christmas cards. Megan and I both had a time where we desired a deeper understanding of Church history, what it means to be human and God’s story in it all coupled with a desire to live out a more intentional faith. One of those outlets took the form of the Christmas card. For us, this process has been a rewarding reflection on the different aspects of the world changing event of Jesus’ birth. From the design and carving, to the mailing, we try to keep it all in the spirit of reflection, joy, and generosity.

Christmas Card 2023, Mary

Megan started researching our Mary card soon after last Christmas (Joseph). But the real production started in September. She actually had the design in mind way earlier, however, life and Solomiya’s introduction to our family put a pause on the process. Previous years, Megan took inspiration for the covers of the cards based on pictures she found on the internet. This year, she could not find a suitable picture of Mary and so necessity became the mother of invention or rather the mother of Jesus stamp. Here at Discovery Bay, they have a lot of props for plays and production. With this in mind she said to me, “Lance, I want to get a robe and you take a picture of me. I will make a carving from that.” I thought she was a bit crazy at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I had to do some research on how to create something for Megan to use as a template, but eventually we found a suitable solution. I did all the digital work and Megan was able to transfer that to paper then on to the stamp.

The Little Ditty Inside

What is a Christmas card without a little ditty of a message? Last year for our Joseph card we added lyrics from a Porters Gate song called “Wood and Nails.” It is a beautiful song that has deep significance for both of us. I figured this year we would do something similar, but Megan thought because she was doing the stamp… I had to write a poem. I would not call myself a poet and my poems sometime seem more like a Dr. Seuss book than reflective poetry. But, I agreed, it would be an interesting challenge. I find, my ability to deeply think about something is assisted and honed by the constraint of cadence and rhyme. Thus “Questions to Mary” was the result. I wouldn’t call it amazing, but it was an interesting project. The full poem is in another blog post.

We so enjoyed this years card making. Megan has already been cooking up ideas for the next one actually. We hope that this little glimpse into our process and pondering has been a blessing for you. Blessings on your Christmas season!

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Questions To Mary- A Poem

December5

This year, our Christmas card was a stamp of Mary. Megan challenged me (Lance) to write a poem for the card. To be honest I was a bit reluctant, but after a nights sleep I got excited about the challenge. Megan has a much higher opinion of my poetry than I do. But sometimes you just have to trust your wife knows something about you that that you may not know about yourself 😉

Admittedly, the poem is a bit darker. Yet, I couldn’t help but think how hard it was for Mary to be the misunderstood mother to a misunderstood Messiah. We see her story through the lens of the joy filled resurrection. She was living a normal life then was thrown into a life altering situation that is mostly dark history for us, but to her quite real and all consuming. I’m not convinced Mary had any foreknowledge of what was coming. She didn’t know she would be fleeing to Egypt or she would have left sooner, but this also shows her deep trust in the Yahweh and the equally deep character that made God choose her to hold this incredible responsibility. I mean, look at all the art we see about Mary. She looks so happy and gentle all the time, but it had to be super stressful at times.

I was keenly aware that I was walking along side the song “Mary Did You Know?,” but I wanted to reflect more on the human aspect rather than the salvation aspect of the untold story of Mary’s experience and really, our human existence is full of suffering. I have to assume that Mary had more than her fair share. I find, in the evangelical world of which I live and work, we often find it quite difficult to reflect on suffering without changing the subject or shifting in our seats uncomfortably. We often say something like “the Lord is in charge” or “joy comes in the morning.” To be honest, this has come into sharp focus for me as I have had to deal with my own pain of the war in Ukraine as well as have no good answer for my suffering Ukrainian friends.

However, in reflecting on Mary and her entangled story with Jesus, I am reminded that suffering is not the end. Even with all the difficulty, we are able to look at her story through the lens of the resurrection and see God’s faithfulness to a helpless baby that happened to be the savior of the world and taken care of by an ordinary young woman and carpenter of not so ordinary character. They must have had an absolutely wild ride of a life. Can’t wait to ask all my questions to Mary face to face some day.

I hope you enjoy.

Questions to Mary

From the beginning to very end, 
You were there, it is written
Painful joy at birth, 
With death, grief stricken

Your story so pivotal 
Impossible to comprehend
Without it my life
Or most of it would wholly upend

But wow! Mother of the Son of God
What a noble, grand title.
Pray, let me tone down the reverence
And ponder for a while

Was the angel's visit enough
To endure the shame of scandal?
"Adultery" shadowing Joseph's gaze,
Was it more than you could handle?

Did you tell your father all,
did he too have a dream to understand?
Or being blight on the family name,
Did anger burn, rage quiver in his hand? 

All the pictures I have seen
Show you happy in the stable
But was there any angst you felt
As animals shared your table?

When at His face you gazed
As brand new mothers do,
Did you recognize any features
Did He look at all like you?

In the silence, then the crying
In the middle of the night,
Did you find it frustrating 
When He wouldn't latch just right?

Were you ok with the rabble,
Brought by Jesus birth
Strange foreigners from afar
Shepherds smelling of animal and earth.

When news came to Egypt
Of all the young ones slain;
In agony of friend's children,
Did you feel at least partly to blame?

As a toddler did He play?
Did He grope for things absurdly,
Or was He more refined,
mannerisms other worldly?

What about when you rebuked Him,
Like that one time at the temple?
Did He always give it back,
Or in understanding was he gentle?

Better than the rest, you knew him
Thirty years living in your shadow
Darkness, is this time for us
For you only to intimately know

But you seemed to have a clue
With the lack of wedding wine.
So was young Jesus like other boys,
Or was his housework divine?

When his purpose became public
And he stayed away from home
Did you feel left out, forgotten,
When with misfits he would roam?

I wonder, was it painful 
As Jesus pointed to others
While you waited for Him outside,
He asking who is my mother, my brothers?

When you saw him on the cross,
Did pain-filled doubt creep inside?
"Blessed are you" now a joke
Because messiahs can't have died.

From joyful promise of messiah 
Hope growing in your womb,
To bringing once joyful spices
For anointing the dead in a tomb.

I guess what I am asking,
If I may be so bold,
Were you like the rest of us?
Or was there deeper faith to hold?

The Mother of the Son of God
The more I look, the more I see
A pain filled journey for you
Meant a grace filled life for me. 

Did you know this from the start?
In the middle, did you get a clue?
Was there a post-grave visit,
A tender moment meant just for two?

Even though no answers given
To my questions of you and Son,
You were picked for a reason
All I can say is, job well done.
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The Wise Woman (AKA a Double Story, AKA The Lost Princess) by George Macdonald

December5

Formational Book Review by Lance

5/5 Stars

“To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.”

This fairy tale follows two foolish young girls and their very foolish parents. One is a princess who is aggressively spoiled rotten and the other a poor farm girl who only hears praise from her parents and is incredibly conceited. A very mysterious and wise old woman shows up and uses her knowledge and bit of magic in her curious house in an attempt to reform the girls and maybe even their parents.

Reading as a Disciple:

“But the wise woman had, in truth, heard the first sound of her running feet, and stopped and turned, waiting. What with running and crying, however, and a fall or two as she ran, the princess never saw her until she fell right into her arms—”

No matter how many smart books I read or techniques that I implement in my pursuit of being a disciple of Jesus, I find myself being either or both of the daughters.  In the end, I need divine guidance to show me the real depravity of my conceit and entitlement. This is a parable that helps to console with hope the part of me that understands the deficiency in me and my easy forgetfulness of this deficiency. It also confronts my pride and reminds me that I have a guide that will allow my sinful nature cause me pain while working a more beautiful creation in me. I have a wise counselor who continually and creatively pursues me and draws me toward my true self away from the false self.

Reading Pastorally:

“As she grew up, everybody about her did his best to convince her that she was Somebody; and the girl herself was so easily persuaded of it that she quite forgot that anybody had ever told her so, and took it for a fundamental, innate, primary, first-born, self-evident, necessary, and incontrovertible idea and principle that SHE WAS SOMEBODY… in this odd country there was a huge number of Somebodies. Indeed, it was one of its oddities that every boy and girl in it, was rather too ready to think he or she was Somebody; and the worst of it was that the princess never thought of there being more than one Somebody—and that was herself.”

Macdonald does a great job weaving “nature/nurture” into this story.  Both the girls have a will to do what is right or wrong, however they are also influenced by the faulty care of their parents.  In the end, misguided “love” created two atrociously selfish little creatures. Both sets of parents, in their discomfort or blindness, gave the wrong base idea to their daughters; that they were the only somebody. A person being a person is not for the sake of their own specialness. The reason for personhood in the story is a bit hidden. But it is very clear that each is loved by the Wise Woman and the more they know it, the more that transformational love is shown to others.

“…you (parents) are sufficiently punished by the work of your own hands. Instead of making your daughter obey you, you left her to be a slave to herself; you coaxed when you ought to have compelled; you praised when you ought to have been silent… She is your crime and your punishment. Take her home with you, and live hour after hour with the pale-hearted disgrace you call your daughter.”

 This hit home for me.  How many times have I only focused my care for people on being “somebody” in this world without reenforcing the reality that they are not the only somebody in the room. If we care for others without the context of character growth and being a person in a community, we can unintentionally and unfortunately cause harm to those in our care.

Formational Reading:

“I could tell you a great deal more concerning them all, but I have already told more than is good for those who read but with their foreheads, and enough for those whom it has made look a little solemn, and sigh as they close the book.”

The very last paragraph of the book is a glimpse into George Macdonald’s philosophy on what story should produce in a person. And I can say the first time I read this story I was more of a forehead reader. Time and trial, I think, has made me read this story a bit differently this time.  I believe that story should be a large part of our joy building. And I also believe that digesting a story takes practice and effort. I hope I sigh after every book I read.

Other thoughts:

Formationaly speaking, George Macdonald has been a huge influence on me and my view of God, human nature and God’s work of redemption. He is known for being a large influence on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis with his fairy tales and sermons.  In some circles George Macdonald has been a figure of controversy.  Towards the end of his life his theology had a hard universalist bend. More specifically, in Lance paraphrase, through our own hell of depravity and the consuming fire of God’s love, over time, everyone will eventually yield to the love of God and accept His embrace. As Paul Young (who wrote “The Shack”) said in the documentary “Restoring the Shack”, (again in Lance paraphrase) “I don’t necessarily hold to George MacDonald’s view on hell, but I hope he is right.”

Other George Macdonald Favorites:

  • Lilith
  • Phantastes
  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • The Princess and Curdie
  • The Shadows
  • Back of the North Wind

Also

  • “George Macdonald: An Anthology 365 Readings” by C.S. Lewis
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