finding poetry

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I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery’s Anne series this summer - for the first time ever, if you can believe it. I read Anne of Green Gables in my teens and as for so many others, Anne became a beloved fictional friend; but for whatever reason, I never followed the series to its conclusion until now, at least a dozen years later.

Happily, I find Anne to be just as much a kindred spirit as ever - and this time I recognize that her creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery, is even more so. She writes with such an old, meandering style, so unlike the fast-paced and action-packed demands of the year 2019. It’s slow and pure and lovely, such a joyous reflection of the best things in life, and it has given me a necessary glimpse of my own soul in the way that only classic fiction can.

I know we can’t live there, in the delightful unreality of stories, where the mundane is skipped over to save words and only the prettiest or bleakest moments make the page - but sometimes I rather wonder if we give up too easily in the pursuit of at least a hint of that beauty in “real life.” We submit to the prosaic existence, marred with occasional blots of grief or tears, and don’t even acknowledge that there is poetry to be found in any of it.

I don’t want to live my life that way.

I want to see and acknowledge everything beautiful, to think on the things that are true and noble and admirable, to notice all the little gifts of life and color that God splashes into my days. I have experienced the darkness in recent months and years, but I think I’m ready to emerge now, and to try to find the poetry again. No doubt some of it will be lamentation - especially as I watch the dark clouds gathering westward - but if I can’t find some beauty even in these storms, how will I weather them at all? I don’t want to look for the cliche silver linings, but rather feel the coursing life in my veins when the cold rain swallows me, or the thrill of God’s presence when the thunder roars, or the exhaustion of having loved my people faithfully and wholly through the hardest hours.

And then, “for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2a).

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

summertime reflections

It’s mid-July already, and I find myself lost in a rather reflective mood. These long summer days have been sticky and temperamental, a shower here and a sunburst there; I strained my lower back doing too many burpees and so I’m relegated now to long daily walks and short core-strengthening sessions, and in a way, I’m glad - glad to have been pushed to enjoy the out-of-doors more intentionally while the weather is mild and the world is green. I love to go outside and say hello to my flowers and walk barefoot in the yard and pick raspberries and marionberries straight off the vines. I love to find new trails and routes to explore, places where I can feel small under the towering firs or the vast sky. Summer, somehow, always serves to jolt me out of step with the rest of the world’s clip and strip away the superfluous and remind me of who God says I am.

I am seen. “Then [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’” (Genesis 16:13a). I’ve joked before (all too seriously) that invisibility is my superpower. I’ve always been the kind of person to think carefully before I speak, and to speak only if I had something truly valuable to say - which is a trait quickly passed off as quietness or shyness, and makes it spectacularly easy to fly under the radar. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to do something worthy of notice with my life, but I am learning - slowly - that I am already seen. There is never a time when I am out of God’s sight - the recognition that I crave, He generously gives, and I need not do anything to gain or deserve it.

I am significant. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). The loudest voices tell us that significance can be quantified in numbers - the number of people reached, the number of dollars made, the number of successes won, etc. But the Bible says true significance is sourced from a much humbler place, because it is a gift, not an achievement. I try to imagine God, as He was creating the masterpiece we call the Universe, painstakingly writing every one of my life’s days into His script. Somehow, while He was placing stars into position and setting planets into orbit, the tiny detail of Hallie’s life on July 16, 2019 did not escape Him - nor did the 9,312 days before it, or the unknown number that may come after it. For some reason He wanted me here, now. For some reason I’m a piece of His story, called into His family. For some reason - known and quantifiable only by Him - I am significant.

I am cared for. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable” (Isaiah 40:27-28). The same God who sees me and declares me significant proves these things true with His tireless love and care for me. Even when I’m complaining and blind to the work He’s doing, like the nation of Israel in this passage, God is not wearied in the pursuit of ultimate justice and goodness for the child He loves. I can rest in Him because He never rests; He keeps fighting for me, loving me, and winning the victory for me regardless of my failure, discouragement, or forgetfulness.

These are the truths He keeps reminding me of during these slow, but rapidly slipping, days of summer. Life is such a paradox - it’s small as well as important, simultaneously fleeting and everlasting. Like the flowers in my front garden, I may occupy only a small space for a short time, never to be celebrated by the masses, but I still have the opportunity to beautify the lives of a few passersby with the Truth for a moment. Perhaps that is enough.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

biblical vocabulary: unity

It’s been a little while since our last installment in the Biblical Vocabulary series, but there has been a word on my mind recently that I think deserves a closer look, especially because it’s so easily misunderstood. The word is unity.

The concept of unity (or the lack thereof) seems to have crept into conversations across a broad range of topics in recent years. We are confronted with division and conflict on every side, and in spite of the fact that so many voices in the public square are denouncing that divisiveness, the splits and chasms only seem to broaden. It matters now more than ever that the Church understands unity - what it is, what it isn’t, and why we so desperately need it.

So, what is unity? How does the Bible define it?

What is unity?

Our dictionary defines unity as “the state of being one; oneness.” I think that’s a good starting point, even though it sounds rather elementary; unity is one of those words that’s pretty easy to throw around without remembering its most basic meaning. The prefix “uni-” means “one” - not “same,” not “compromise,” not “fairness,” not “equality.” One.

That’s the word and meaning Jesus used when He prayed, the night before His death, that His followers and all those who would believe in Him be “perfected in unity.”

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

John 17:20-23

Unity, by Jesus’ description, is the ultimate evangelistic tool the Church possesses. It is the ultimate representation of who God is and what He has done for humanity. It was Christ’s unity with the Father that made Him willing to come to earth as the salvation for humanity, whatever the cost. It is the Church’s unity with God and one another that makes us the guiding light toward Jesus in a dismal, dog-eat-dog world.

But we can’t fulfill that mission if we’re striving after a mistaken understanding of unity.

Jesus was one with the Father without being the same as the Father. He desires us to be one with Him, even though we can’t possibly be equal to Him. He asks us to be one with each other even though we all come from different backgrounds, have different opportunities, and experience different wounds. He envisions unity, oneness, among all of His children - even when some of them have absolutely nothing in common beyond Jesus Christ Himself.

Sometimes, we think we’re fighting for unity when we are really fighting for sameness. Or we think we’re fighting for unity when we are really fighting for fairness. Or equality. Or compromise. We often mistake for unity a room in which everyone acquiesces to the status quo, everyone looks and acts and speaks the same, and no one rocks the boat with a hard question, rebuke, or dissent.

But the real power of real unity is only found in oneness, which defies all our natural prerequisites for camaraderie, community, and teamwork to bring together the unlikeliest of human beings and unite them in Christ, the cornerstone.

biblical vocabulary : What is unity?

Unity is a value statement.

True, Biblical unity is reflected best in Christ’s oneness with the Father. Father and Son had very different roles in the mission to redeem fallen humanity; One remained on the throne, holding the universe in His hands, while the other cast off His holy power and royal rights to become a sacrificial Lamb. To accomplish the greatest rescue of all time, these two Persons of the Godhead became unequal. The demands on one of them became unfair. Their actions and experiences became completely different and separate.

Yet they were still One, because they both gave equal, all-important weight to the ultimate goal: the salvation of the world.

In the Church, we frequently get unity backward. We rally together as groups of people who look and act and think the same, but divide based on how we understand and interpret truth. (If you don’t believe me, consider the sheer number of different denominations that exist, and what “kind” of people stereotypically attend each church in your area.) Biblical unity is the opposite: It’s very different people with very different experiences and perspectives coming together to stand on the same truth and pursue the same goal.

The kind of unity that points the whole world to Jesus can’t be accomplished when we select our churches based on whether they serve our similar demographic or cater to our exact interests, or when churches silence the legitimate questions, ideas, changes, and concerns of individuals in an effort to prevent “division.” We all need to keep our eyes on the big picture, and examine the value statements we are making at individual, local, and denominational levels. Do we balance the weights of different issues in a way that’s consistent with the priorities of God’s Word, our foundation - or are we clinging too hard to certain preferences and petty differences?

Is abiding in life with Christ and the sharing of His abundant love with our brothers and neighbors the foremost concern on our hearts?

If we can all become one behind that cause - even if some of us like to sing hymns and some of us like to worship in dance, or if some of us are decades younger in age and experience than the congregation around us, or if some of us are Calvinists and some of us aren’t - then our testimony to the world will be impossible to snuff out.

There is a reason Paul uses the metaphor of a body to describe the Church. Just as a physical body needs all its different parts in order to stay healthy and accomplish its created purpose, the Church body needs a diversity of people that work together in unity toward its common health and common goals.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13

The issues we unite behind are a clear and direct statement to the world about what we believe and value. If we can only unite around our demographics or around secondary theological issues, they’ll notice that in the big picture, we are just as divided as they are. But if we can become one, despite all of our differences, around the ultimate truth of who God is and what He has done? Then, as Jesus said, the world will know exactly who He is, and how He loves.