All posts by catherinesletters

Catherine Morgan lives in Colorado with three kids, two dogs and a yellow canoe. She and her cowboy/professor husband planted a church a decade ago and are amazingly still standing! You can follow her blog here at catherinesletters.com and snag a copy of her book, Thirty Thousand Days, published in 2016 by Christian Focus Publications.

In a World Dry as Kindling

Dear Kids,

As you might have noticed, we were born in America.  We come from families with a long history of working hard to beat the odds, of excelling in all kinds of jobs—or not, as the case may be.  We have drinkers and pirates and politicians and scalawags, artists, creators, teachers, and pastors lining up in our DNA.  Some were noble.  Some were despicable.  Some were heroes and some victims (like as not, those two qualities combined.)  They are the stuff of legend.

As for our family, we’ve enjoyed a modest happiness, sheltered from much harm, sleepy with blessings and hopeful with dreams.  We’ve visited wide sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, fields full of sunflowers, mountains that scrape the sky.  We have sung around campfires and feasted on turkey every Thanksgiving.  We are no one special, except that by the grace of God, we are loved.

We are not special.  We are loved.

There are in this wide country a great many people who tell a different story.  Oh, their families, too, have high points and low, moments of love, moments of hate.  Maybe they don’t expect breakfast most mornings, maybe they’ve never seen much beyond a boarded-up window.  But people are people, dreamers and drifters, lovers and loved.  We all laugh easy when we go to bed warm and full, when we wake up hopeful.  We all come into the world wired for friendship and meaningful days.

It isn’t too hard to see where hate starts, where, if you were bent on it, you could rip a flag along fraying seams.  Envy, mostly, pride, or thoughts of revenge, fulcrums that pivot us toward dark places.  We all want justice for our enemies and mercy for ourselves.  We all die a little with the death of a dream or a door slammed.  It’s easier to be hard than tender.  It’s certainly easier to hold a grudge than forgive.  Sustain enough injuries, and scar tissue grows up, cording thick around our hearts, squeezing out grace.

A long enough drought and it only takes a spark to burn a million acres.

Our country is dry right now, really dry.  Hearts are hard from hurts and words spark angry like flint striking stone.  There is no logic than can forestall a forest fire.  Only water, only love.

I pray for you.  You scamper through dry woods, while clouds thick with static gather overhead.

What if?

What will come?

I want to immunize you against the taking sides, the never-ending, unforgiving duels.  Capulets and Montagues fling arrows, bruised and outraged egos bristle back, cycles claim another generation.

But, love.

Here child, fill your bucket, pour it down over your own head.  Fill it, fill it, let it run in streams around you, a circle of safety, damp with tears.  Turn your anger into weeping, turn your eyes to heaven, turn your bruised and fragile cheek.  Bend your sword into a shovel, dig up your unplowed ground, plant thickets of mercy.

Let justice roll down like mighty waters.

It is easier to despair some days than hope, easier to choose apathy than passion.  And hope that lands in disappointment can risk your heart.  The whisper, Where is God? becomes a scream.  Your faith must be as strong as your ego is vulnerable.

I remember a poem I learned years ago, a word for the misery of our times.  It’s “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold, melancholy, wistful, the sound of losing faith.  And yet he ends with hope—albeit a battered and a mournful one.  You are yet too young to grasp these words, I think, but someday when your heart is low, maybe you will hear them.  They are partly true.

The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

 

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

 

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I wish I could sit down with Matthew Arnold, ask him if he’d lost faith or only lamented the general loss of faith in the world.  I, too, lament, but there we part.  I stake my life on this: where all is lost and broken, there is hope, hope in the person of One who bled to water the thirsty ground, hope in the One who watched hate win, only to rise again above it, triumph of meekness over might.

If this bone-dry world, sweet kids, is all there is, then we are “here as on a darkling plain”—Charlottesville, Hitler, and slavery is all there is.  Hate wins.  But if this world is just the hard-cracked shell of a seed that must first break to burst out again in life, well, then, we wait.

I pray for you to hold fast to faith.  Take courage.  Risk everything you have to love.  And drive your roots down deep, so that on a scorching day you won’t dry out.

Yours while we wait,

Mom

“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” –Jeremiah 17:8

in the waiting,faith

Life is Vapor, Week 11

“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.”
Mark Buchanan

“Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.”
Wendell Berry

This week we talked about work, and rest, about slowing down, and breathing deep, and trust.  We talked about why our work matters, really matters, in a place where nothing much seems to matter, and how, ultimately, everything matters–from our tedious chores to our grand accomplishments.

Join us?  And let us know–what would the long term effect be, year after year, if you learned the secret of real rest?  How would it change you?  How would it change your family?

Life is Vapor, Week 10

What can we do when we’re lost in the dark?  How can we confront the absurdities of life on a fallen planet?  What does it mean to choose light?

Last night we talked about this idea of choosing light, setting our hearts on things above, consciously turning away from darkness that could swallow us whole.  We talked at our tables about those moments when darkness has a strong pull, and choosing joy takes all of our strength.  “If you have no words to give thanks,” I’d written, “borrow some.”  Here, then, are a few words I frequently borrow to keep my soul lit up.

From Isaiah 43,

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you….”

Here’s Erika sharing her heart with us once more!

Photo via VisualHunt.com

Life is Vapor, Week 9

So enjoyed our conversation about spiritual battle Sunday night!  It went right along with this gem from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.  (Exodus 14:13)

“These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is reduced to great straits and brought into extraordinary difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut up on the right hand and on the left; what is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is, “Stand firm.” It will be well for him if at such times he listens only to his Master’s word, for other and evil advisers come with their suggestions.

“Despair whispers, “Lie down and die; give it all up.” But God would have us put on a cheerful courage and even in our worst times rejoice in His love and faithfulness. Cowardice says, “Retreat; go back to the worldling’s way of action; you cannot play the Christian’s part-it is too difficult. Relinquish your principles.” But however much Satan may urge this course upon you, you cannot follow it if you are a child of God. His divine decree has bid you go from strength to strength, and so you shall, and neither death nor hell shall turn you from your course. Even if you are called to stand firm for a while, this is in order to renew your strength for some greater advance in due time.

“Precipitancy cries, “Do something. Stir yourself; to stand still and wait is sheer idleness.” We must be doing something at once-we must do it, so we think-instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something but will do everything. Presumption boasts, “If the sea is before you, march into it and expect a miracle.”

“But faith listens neither to presumption, nor to despair, nor to cowardice, nor to precipitancy, but it hears God say, “Stand firm,” and immovable as a rock it stands. “Stand firm”-keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward.”

Here’s the talk in case you missed it!

Hitting the Reset Button With Your Kids In Time for Fall

Last week at our Life is Vapor study we talked about the priority of enjoying God as a family.  Our own family was already thinking along the lines of starting fresh this fall to break bad habits and establish a new family vision.  After picking up our eldest son from camp, we wanted to take some time to talk through a family covenant — what are we aiming for?  What boundaries do we need to enforce (especially regarding technology)?  Here’s the deal:  we have a pretty darn good family, but as we’ve transitioned into the teenage years, the crabbiness and snapping is ramping up.  The ever-present internet is encroaching on our family culture.  And the stakes are higher than ever.

The minutes tick down until the day our kiddos leave home.  This is it, our one shot to love, our one long road trip to make memories, to laugh, to raise up world-changers.  How can we guard this treasure of time?

We decided to walk the kids through some of the classic “one another” passages of the Bible to set the stage, then read through and commit to a family-wide promise to love each other well and enjoy God together.  We do realize a shortcoming of our core values list is the lack of outward-flowing service and mission.  That probably deserves a whole page to itself!  Since this is something we already do a lot of, being in ministry, we didn’t include it (but maybe we should have.)  Our need at the moment is more along the lines of love within the four walls.  (Why is it often harder to love on your own family??)

For those of you who have a similar desire to unleash the love at a new level in your home, here’s what we came up with.  Since you no doubt know the Bible verses we chose really well, you might fly past that part to get to the new info, but talking through them on the front end with our kids “primed the pump,” so to speak, for being able to hear the heart behind the rest of it.

Setting the Stage

I Corinthians 13: 4-8  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”Print

Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Matthew 5:1-16  “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’”

 II Peter 1:5-10  “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

I John 2:15-17  “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

I John 4:7-8, 20  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love….If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Family Covenant

Because it is our family’s highest priority to glorify God by enjoying Him together, we commit to strive towards the following ideals out of love for Jesus and each other:

Grace

  • We recognize that we are forgiven, so we will extend forgiveness.
  • We will try hard to keep no record of wrongs.
  • We will make every effort to be kind.
  • We know that we have been given much more than we deserve, and we will not demand our “rights.”

image3Gratitude

  • We will actively count our blessings.
  • We will verbally express thankfulness.
  • We won’t whine, complain, or grumble.  Instead we will encourage, rejoice, pitch in, and be cheerful.

Humility

  • We will consider others better than ourselves, and seek to outdo one another in love.
  • We will look for ways to serve one another.
  • In our house we will not worry about the opinion of others, but only seek to please God.

Unselfishness

  • Our gratitude will overflow in generosity as we put others first.  We will share, take turns, and refuse to be greedy with our time and money.
  • We will work hard not to make more work for others.  If we get it out, we’ll put it away.  If we get it dirty, we’ll clean it up.  If we borrow it, we’ll return it.

Purity

  • We do not welcome the pollution of the world in our home.  Like Job, we covenant to set no vile thing before our eyes.
  • If we see something inappropriate, we will turn away, and take steps to prevent seeing it again.
  • We will not keep secrets out of shame, but confess our struggles to one another, welcome accountability, and bring everything into the light.

Responsibility

  • We agree to function as a team, each with our own strengths, roles and responsibilities.
  • We recognize that we must finish what we start, work diligently and with excellence at our tasks, and not shirk our duties in laziness.
  • We will approach our work with a sense of honor, not half-heartedly; with optimism, not dread; and with a merry heart, not a grumpy spirit.

Integrity

  • We will always tell the truth.
  • We will be true to our word and do what we promise.
  • We will accept consequences without seeking to justify our sin.
  • We will obey.

Joy

  • We will do our best to have fun, lighten one another’s loads, affirm one another, and laugh often.
  • We will happily join in games, family outings, social events, outdoor recreation, trips, and holiday activities, making our own traditions as we go and creating our own zany family culture.
  • We will happily participate in family prayer time or devotions and point each other to Jesus however we can.

Screen Time Rules

Because computers and other forms of entertainment technology can become so addictive and so isolating, we agree to the following rules in order to keep screen time in check:

  • Family time takes priority over screen time (including phones, tablets, computers, TV, etc.). e14713c0fac02d07a2d75c532d7e1dc1--acadia-maine-wpa-posters
  • Outside of school or work, I agree not to spend more than two hours per day alone in front of a screen.  This includes surfing the internet, watching a show, playing a game, Garage Band, Skype, email, etc.
  • I will not use the internet alone behind closed doors (for instance, alone in my room at bedtime or in the bathroom).
  • I will not bring devices to the dinner table or family outings.
  • I will not wear headphones in the car (except sometimes on road trips).
  • I will not post photos or videos without permission.
  • I will never post personal information (address, birthday, contact information) on a public forum.
  • I will not develop online friendships with strangers.  If a stranger reaches out and I would like to chat, I will ask first.  I promise to alert my parents if I receive inappropriate or alarming communication from anyone.
  • I agree that screen time is a privilege that may be revoked, reduced, or suspended as a consequence or simply to prioritize other things.
  • Schoolwork and chores will come before screen time.  If a parent needs my help or involvement in any way, I will pause whatever I was doing without complaint.
  • I agree not to hog family devices or borrow equipment without asking.
  • I will take care of my own devices — being careful where I put them, how I carry them, how I operate them, and being careful not to waste energy or resources.
  • I will use good etiquette (for example, turning off noisy notifications in public or turning off my device to engage in conversation).  I will follow rules external to our house (no texting while driving, no internet during class).
  • Parents reserve the right to read incoming emails, but will try to respect everyone’s privacy.
  • I understand that disregarding these rules will result in my devices being taken away or my privileges being suspended.

Life is Vapor, Week 8

Chapter 7 of Ecclesiastes–another fascinating bit of ancient wisdom!  While it did contain a sprinkling of sound relationship advice (especially what to avoid), it wasn’t a perfect match for our chapter of Thirty Thousand Days, “Love Deeply.”  The closest fit for that idea would have come from Ecclesiastes chapter 9, where the Preacher exuberantly says, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart… Enjoy life with the wife whom you love.”  As far as loving those Extra Grace Required folks in church, Ecclesiastes is pretty mum.  We’d do better to look to the New Testament for that topic.  So how to tie the two books together?  Or should we treat them as two entirely separate things?  We went with the second approach.

Erika walked us through this week’s chapter of Ecclesiastes with an eye to what the main theme of the text is–wisdom.  It’s so critical when we study the Bible to practice the discipline of letting it speak for itself, not forcing our agenda onto it.  Erika did just that last night.  Here ya go!

Life is Vapor, Week 7

Miss Erika brought it again this week as she shared with us her thoughts on holding loosely.  It led to an interesting discussion of idolatry — what is an idol?  how would you know if you had one?  how would you go about getting rid of it — or would you want to?  Hope you are reading along with us as we dig into Ecclesiastes.  Next week’s topic is loving deeply, and Ecclesiastes chapter 7.

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