The Antidote at the Back of the Shelf


One of the habits I have not developed well enough is that of going through my cabinets and cupboards to not only organize, but also get rid of those out-of-date items that somehow got shoved to the back of the shelf. How could I possibly forget that nothing I purchase and bring home is without an expiration date?

A few weeks ago, I dug into our medicine cabinet to check on expiration dates, but I really didn’t expect to find anything that was a problem because there was not as much there as when our children were young and living at home. I was more than a little shocked to discover a bottle of extra-strength acetaminophen that was several years expired. The bottle had gotten shifted to the back of the shelf and well…you know the rest.

There are other things beyond products we buy that can get shifted to the back of the shelf as well. Some of them are antidotes to things we are struggling with. In the flurry of daily activities, we can forget what was already provided for us.

Fear is one of the most prevalent viruses spreading throughout the world today and it gets plenty of reinforcement from daily news no matter what its source. Monster storms, earthquakes, uncontained wildfires, unspeakable atrocities, violence, spreading civil disorder, disabling diagnoses, and even threats from space of asteroids coming close to earth. We are bombarded on every side.

We need more than optimism. Too often optimism is based on fairytales that do not stand up to real life challenges. Optimism many times comes with a heavy dose of denial. I recently read a quote by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks from Celebrating Life:

“It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.”

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We so easily allow hope to be eroded and Proverbs 13:12a makes clear what that will create:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick”

God repeatedly points to three key antidotes to the challenges of daily life: faith, love, and hope. I don’t think He intends they simply be words we toss about without meaning or understanding. Three of His reminders that are favorites of mine in my arsenal against the daily onslaught include:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” Hebrews 6:17-19 (ESV)

Hebrews 6:17-19 (ESV)

Have we paused long enough to get the powerful truth the writer of Hebrews is telling us about? Hope is an anchor of the soul!!

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I love what John Eldredge says in his book, All Things New, as he describes the difference between faith, hope, and love:

“A life without faith has no meaning; a life without love isn’t worth living; a life without hope is a dark cavern from which you cannot escape.”

John’s words describe so well what can too often be our experience:

“When we lose hope we wander too close to the shadowlands of hell…Hope is the sunlight of the soul; without it, our inner world walks about in shadows. But like a sunrise in the heart, hope sheds light over our view of everything else, casting all things in a new light…

Faith is something that looks backward—we remember the ways God has come through for his people, and for us, and our belief is strengthened that he will come through again. Love is exercised in the present moment; we love in the “now”. Hope is unique; hope looks forward, anticipating the good that is coming. Hope reaches into the future to take hold of something we do not yet have, may not yet even see. Strong hope seizes the future that is not yet; it is the confident expectation of goodness coming to us.”

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It can be easy during crisis and chaos to think or say, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t see it!”

Perhaps that’s the point. Where are we looking?

If we are looking at the world for human options, it can look shaky and bleak at best. We long for someone to stop the madness and rescue us as we slip down a descending slippery slope. There is only One who can, and He has promised to be there in the midst of all this (whatever it is) with us and to come for us who put faith in Him.

It is in His Word we find the source of truth, the source of faith, the source of love, and the source of hope. And hope is the antidote for what is often ailing us. It is the anchor we need.


Reflections on Maturity

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If I were to survey a group of people of varying ages and cultures about what maturity looks like, I think I would get a wide range of answers. Maturity is one of those nebulous words we all believe we understand but have difficulty defining succinctly. There can be a lot of subjectivity involved and our own age and maturity can affect our response as well.

One thing we would all likely agree on is that it is a quality that is considered an asset. I say that with assurance because when we hear someone say, “She/he is so immature” it has a negative connotation. Most of us would also agree that chronological age is not necessarily a corollary with maturity.

From my corner of the universe, one quality that identifies maturity for me is when a person can be honest without being rude, crude, or obnoxious with someone. It means that person can look at life, a circumstance, or a problem for what it is rather than what she or he wants to believe it is or isn’t.

John Eldredge succinctly states: “Maturity means living without denial.”

One of the joys of a healthy childhood is how unrestricted imagination can be. Pretending is great fun. We can be the hero or the villain, the rescued or the rescuer. We can pretend to be any age we wish. It doesn’t work out so well if we continue that habit as we get older. It can appear that someone who tries can get away with it for a short time, but the truth, the reality, catches up with him or her at some point.

We may fall prey to the habit for many reasons, but I think that one of them is that we really want to be better than we believe we are, stronger than we are, cleverer than we are, more knowledgeable than we are, and so on. Somewhere inside we see the deficits and consciously or subconsciously try to wallpaper over the marks we see against us. We also don’t want you to see those things so we might try to work very hard to make you believe in the press we are trying to sell ourselves.

Those tendencies sometimes get in the way of our relationship with the Lord. The secret guilt of knowing we aren’t all we are cracked up to be heaps shame on us that causes us to be much like Adam and Eve and look for fig leaves to cover over our condition. We try to hide.

This tendency is as old as time. Over and over scripture admonishes us to become mature, put away childish things, or grow up. Here are some examples:

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.”

Hebrews 6:1-4 (ESV)

“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV)

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)

Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)
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Many situations and circumstances can serve to help us “grow up”, but one of the most direct paths toward the goal might be to admit the truth to the Lord about what we think and believe and ask Him to correct and align those beliefs with the truth. Yes, that might be painful, but what He shares with us will always be spoken with grace and love.

Owning the truth is one of the best qualities we can attain. It will not only develop maturity, but integrity will be a companion of that maturity.

We will gain freedom in our daily lives because we are not trying to keep up the masks and pretense.

We will also begin to experience the richness of authentic relationships with others. Our relationship with the Lord will deepen and we will be congruent in the depths of who we are.


Why Do We Read?

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Why do we read?

We might have more than one or two answers. It may be for information, for assignments, for enjoyment, for inspiration, or any number of things. A line from the 1993 film, Shadowlands, about the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham puts it this way, “We read to know we are not alone.”

My husband and I have pondered that line since watching the movie again a few days ago. Perhaps there is no specific meaning or that it is a universal truth overarching all else because reading connects us with the world outside of ourselves and connects with our internal world. How those connections occur can be hard to specify and yet they are undeniable no matter what reason we are reading.

It’s not unlike an author trying to explain how they wrote a book:

“You must not believe all that authors tell you about how they write their books. When the story is finished, he has forgotten a good deal of what writing it was like.”

Patti Callahan
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In the scheme of things every interaction we have with anyone or anything we read or take into our hearts, minds and spirits plays a part of experiences that help shape us. And human interactions are eternally important even if we may not recognize that in the moment.

A wee man climbs a tree to get a better look at Jesus and the next thing he knows Jesus is inviting himself to come to his house for a face-to-face connection or a woman comes to a well and meets “a man” who tells her everything about who she is and what she has done in her life.

You bump into a friend that you have not seen in a long time and a spiritual moment occurs that God uses to change your life in ways you did not even know needed to be changed.

Yes, we have choices and consequences for those choices, but a look over our shoulder as we enter the later seasons of our lives give us a different perspective so that we can see God was gently leading us even though we didn’t see Him then. We see that again and again in the great stories we read, even in fairy stories.

As I have been pondering the magical story in Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan, I remember what the 8-year-old George gained from reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that helped him as he faced a weakened heart that would take his life before he ever had a chance to grow up.

There is a scene where a friend of his sister, Megs, (Padraig) observes the following gift of the writing of C.S. Lewis:

“George knows you can take the bad parts in a life, all the hard and dismal parts, and turn them into something of beauty. You can take what hurts and aches and perform magic with it so it becomes something else, something that never would have been, except you make it so with your spells and stories with your life.”

Patti Callahan

The stories we read may not be full of magical spells cast by a witch or elf, but they often change us in ways we cannot explain. They may well give us hope even as C.S. Lewis’s book gave hope to George:

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“Mr. Lewis’s kinds of stories – the fairy tales, the myths, the universes all wrapping themselves around other worlds – are inside ours. These stories make us remember something we forgot. They make a young boy want to hop out of bed and see the ruins of a castle. These kinds of stories wake us up.”

Patti Callahan

There are stories like that, books like that, that sit on my shelves that I cannot give away because they changed me somehow, caused me to believe differently and with greater hope amid life’s daily challenges. And if I mistakenly pass them along to someone, I regret losing the companionship they gave me. Stories in the Bible are like that as well. Reading them at a specific point in our lives will speak so clearly that we can be tempted to think they were really written just for us. We get a sense of what it must have been like when Jesus called the wee man to come down out of the tree or asked Peter to leave his nets and go fishing for men.

And guess what? Each of our lives is a story that may never be written down in a book and yet is being read every day by those around us. How are we telling those stories and what do they reveal about what we believe, hope, love, or trust?

One thing is certain, the life of C.S. Lewis changed us if we have read any of his 30 books or taken the adventure to Narnia in his epic series. The things that wounded him in his childhood like the death of his mother from cancer when he was 9 years old and even the death of his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer so many years later influenced his writing and us in ways he could never have known when those things and so many others were happening.

“Maybe…maybe Narnia also began when Mr. Lewis sat quietly and paid attention to his heart’s voice. Maybe we are each and every one of us born with our own stories, and we must decide how to tell those stories with our own life, or in a book. Or…could it be that all our stories come from one larger story? Maybe Narnia also began before Mr. Lewis was even born in Belfast, Ireland. Maybe…Mr. Lewis’s tale already existed in the bright light where every story, legend, and myth is born.”

Patti Callahan
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The Best Book

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What is the best book you ever read? If you are like me, it might be hard to choose just one, but I am curious what makes it your “best book?” We certainly all have different interests and tastes in what we read. Our bookstores and libraries are a testimony to that and yet I think perhaps that some of what makes it the “best book” is the gift of the author and how they take us on an adventure.

In Patti Callahan’s newest book, Once Upon a Wardrobe, there is a place where she writes about C.S. Lewis struggling to write a certain poem and determined he had missed the target and tore the poem to shreds and then notes, “…he knew what writing actually meant. It wasn’t just words, one after another. Composing a poem required more than lining up sentences one right after another.” A good poet or a good writer knows that and has the gift to be able to take something of this world or one totally from imagination and help us to travel there. They can help us visualize something that adds to our imagining.

Art and photography can do that as well. What does the photo above suggest to you or invite you to consider? It’s a favorite of mine from a trip we took to Stowe, VT, some years ago. Does it make you wonder where the path is going or what you might experience along the way?

Photo by Pam Ecrement

Communication through poetry, books of all kinds, photography, paintings, music, and more is one of the things that distinguishes us as humans. Sometimes we can be so accustomed to chatting away and talking we forget the significance of what we are able to do.

“…talking and writing aren’t merely for chatter. They are, above all, a means to discovering the truth.”

Patti Callahan

You may think that sounds a bit grandiose but consider it for a moment before you are tempted to toss it aside. You invariably learn something through talking, writing, and reading. Sometimes it is about yourself. Sometimes it is about someone or something else.

It is one of the reasons the Bible has had such a profound influence on the world through the centuries since it was written and canonized. It continues to impact its readers in ways that change us, give us pause, and help us see more than we would have without it.

When I read a book that impacts me, not unlike George in Once Upon a Wardrobe, I often wonder where the idea of the story came from in the author’s mind. What Megs and George discover in the quest to discover the source of Narnia is revealed in how Callahan writes that C.S. Lewis responds to that question:

“After a book is written, it is hard to know where it came from. Can anyone – can you – say exactly how things are made up? How one of your physicists comes up with a new theory? How imagination rises up to make meaning?”

Patti Callahan

At one time not along ago, there was a T-shirt that some were wearing that said, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” I couldn’t agree more! If we are introduced to stories and books while still babes and toddlers on the laps of people who love us, we come to love what is being read to us and are much more likely to love reading if those who teach us capture our imagination and make it more than a drill. A good teacher can make learning to read as fascinating as the magic of a story we first hear as it is read to us.

Some of the stories we recall are ones that were handed down from generations before us in oral or written form. When we first hear them, we don’t usually understand how much of an impact they may have on us.

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“Every life should be guided and enriched by one book or another, don’t you agree? Certainly, every formative moment in my life has been enriched or informed by a book. You must be very careful about what you choose to read – unless you want to stay stuck in your opinions and hard-boiled thoughts, you must be very careful.”

Patti Callahan

The books that speak to us tend to have pieces of the author, what they have experienced or learned along the way before the words became a story. That was true of the Narnia stories.

“Its pages chronicle a man who turned all he was and all he is into a magical story about Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.”

Patti Callahan

What is the “best” story or book you have ever read that somehow you remember even years later? How did it change you?

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What Captures Your Imagination?

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What fuels your imagination? Do you even value your imagination amid daily life and demands on your time, roles, skills, and abilities?

For too many of us our imaginations get set aside early in our elementary school years when learning information and developing thinking skills becomes the primary goal of education. Clearly, they are important, but we must never undervalue imagination. It is one of God’s great gifts to us and for everything we enjoy about the things we see and use now, imagination on the part of someone played a key component. Someone imagined something that did not yet exist and how to make it into a reality.

In Patti Callahan’s new book, Once Upon A Wardrobe, there is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that says, “the true sign of intelligence was not knowledge but imagination.

There are more than one or two things that bring my imagination into action. Some of them include music that transports me beyond the space I am in while listening to it, nature’s wonder on display in every season and landscape, the intricacy of created humankind, art in all its forms, and of course, words written by authors who can transport the reader to places they have never been.

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One thing that can stunt imagination is exhaustion with little time for allowing our senses to take in the things that are not work or duty related. If our schedule is driven by demands from dawn until late at night, there is little to no time for thinking about anything except those demands.

Another thing that stunts our imagination is to not value it or believe we have it because it may not (likely won’t) look like anyone else’s. Some of us are imaginative in practical things in the kitchen, building something, or designing something while others of us are imaginative in abstract things that comes from somewhere we cannot always even name. Beyond all the things listed above as sources, there are times it seems to emanate from somewhere deep inside of us. These are a part of our story and who can really say exactly where a story begins? Often a story comes to us in bits and pieces that do not necessarily fit into one theme or story and then when we aren’t expecting it, connections happen and a story flows out from those bits and pieces. That is how our lives develop as well.

Why is imagination important beyond development of all kinds of inventions and things to make life better in some way?

“Reason is how we get to the truth, but imagination is how we find meaning.”

Patti Callahan

I have heard someone say on more than one occasion that they never read fiction and see it as trite or less valuable than other genres in their local library or bookstore. It can intimidate some who enjoys reading the latest novel or a classic from decades ago.

“With stories, I can see with other eyes, imagine with other imaginations, feel with other hearts, as well as with my own.”

Patti Callahan

One of the gifts of a written story is how the author sits down at a computer or with pen and ink and often without a clear direction of what he or she wants to write and yet as the words come and fall into sentences and paragraphs, they take shape. Later when we read them, they can give words to something we only had a sense of before we read their words.

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All writers are first of all readers. They become immersed in words, ideas, themes, and adventures that serve as fertilizer for their own imaginations and stories. If you are a journal person, as you sit down to write, what helps you about that process that is usually very personal? Doesn’t it help to take it from deep inside and put it down so you can better see it and sort it out?

“Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.”

Patti Callahan

Stories also help us in another way. There are many parts to a story, just as our lives have many parts and many seasons. Our stories all have different themes over a week, year, and lifetime. Reading stories reminds us of important realities.

“All stories have the dark and scary part… Stories have their own truth.”

Patti Callahan

Because of that, we can be encouraged that it is like our life as well. It can have dark and scary parts, parts that do not make sense and yet they bring us to truth and remind us of the truth that life is hard. The stories remind us that it is universally true and not some specific way life is out to get us.

Douglas Gresham recently said in a Zoom chat I was part of before Once Upon A Wardrobe was released, “Books are living things. What hits us one time, hits us another way another time.”

I think that is perhaps why we may read the Bible every day of our lives and discover something different with each reading. A word or verse can seem as if we have never read it previously as our experiences are different and the Holy Spirit illuminates a different part of what God is trying to say.

Life is nearly always busy for great parts of it. Make time to find a good story and sit down and let it take you on an adventure that inspires you and gives you a new lens to see your life, the world, and God from a different vantage point.

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