The Ragamuffin Gospel

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning…

I’m pretty sure I have read this book before, mostly because I remember my friend Gloria raving about it years ago. However, I don’t remember being as completely bowled over by it like I was this time. I. Love. This. Book. Manning’s insistence that we are saved by grace through faith…along with his beautiful prose…I got about halfway through it and then started it over as a family read-aloud. Since it’s a library copy, I can’t underline all my favorite passages…which means we might have to spring for a copy of our own. Here are a few favorites…

“…the American Church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works — but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in the house of fear and not in the house of love.”

“Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation — that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase — our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response. We talk about acquiring virtue as if it were a skill that can be attained like good handwriting or a well-grooved golf swing. In the penitential seasons we focus on overcoming our weaknesses, getting rid of our hang-ups, and reaching Christian maturity. We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.”

“Only love empowers the leap in trust, the courage to risk everything on Jesus, the readiness to move into the darkness guided only by a pillar of fire. Trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to teach us holiness. The love of Christ inspires trust to thank God for the nagging headache, the arthritis that is so painful, the spiritual darkness that envelops us; to say with Job, ‘If we take happiness from God’s hand, should we not take sorrow too?’ (Job 2:10); to pray with Charles Foucauld: ‘Abba, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all: I accept all. Let your will be done in me and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my spirit. I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and I give myself, surrender myself into your hands without reserve, with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.'”

“Though Christ no longer visibly moves among us, we minister to Him in the ragamuffins within reach. Each encounter with a brother or sister is a mysterious encounter with Jesus Himself. In the upper room, the Man like us in all things but ungratefulness, spelled out the game plan of gratitude: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ To Peter on the beach along the Sea of Tiberias, ‘If you love me, Simon, Son of John, tend my sheep.’ Quite simply, our deep gratitude to Jesus Christ is manifested neither in being chaste, honest, sober and respectable, nor in church-going, Bible-toting and Psalm-singing, but in our deep and delicate respect for one another.”

Families Where Grace is in Place

Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff Van Vonderen…

The opening story in this book is about a dad and his little girl Chrissy. The dad tells the little girl that he’s going to work on their old fence later that day; he asks her to clean up the debris around the fence while he runs a quick errand. Chrissy does what her father asks, but then decides to “help” her dad out by painting the fence. Partly because she can only find inadequate tools and partly because the job is just too big for her, she ends up teary and discouraged. She can’t get the old fence to look nice, no matter how hard she works. When her dad comes home, he finds her a puddle of sadness. Why? She was trying to do a job her dad never asked her to do. Van Vonderen’s point is that too often we, as Christian spouses and parents, make the same mistake.

“Too often, though, the work we try to do as Christian spouses and parents is not the right job at all. We focus on ‘unspiritual’ or wrong behavior, then we set out to apply pressure, control behavior, and do everything in our power to change our spouse or children. As I have seen with numerous Christian couples and families, this is the primary cause of exhaustion, depression, and the hopeless sense of wanting to bail out of it all. When people spend their lives trying to transform their spouse and their kids, the natural result is tiredness and discouragement, and the desire to quit…We must learn the simple difference between God’s job and ours…God’s job is to fix and to change. Our job is to depend, serve, and equip. This is the work of grace. And it is more restful than you can imagine” (p. 15).

The author informs us that relying on someone else (a spouse or child, for example) for our security or joy is a form of idolatry; God is our Source: “He is our need-meeter, our vindicator, our defender, the one who has the last word on our value and acceptance.” He encourages us to concentrate on our own verses, instead of those of our spouses and/or children (he says that the people who come to him for counseling are very aware of the Bible verses that apply to what their spouses and/or children should be doing, while being incredibly ignorant about what God’s Word is saying to them).

Using the example of training his dog, he encourages us to quit trying to change those around us: “You don’t have to teach a retriever to retrieve. Retrievers already know how to retrieve, hence the name retriever…we can best help our children by honoring their individuality and by building on the ways God has made them different from one another.”

He gives a list of ten qualities of a grace-full home:

1. Out-loud affirming (vs. out-loud shaming).

2. People-oriented (vs. performance-oriented)…I like you, just not what you’re doing…”But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

3. Out loud rules and expectations…”It is not okay to hold people accountable for rules they did not verbally know were in operation.”

4. Communication is clear and straight (vs. coding)…if you need help, ask instead of hinting…don’t triangle (get in the middle, run messages)…speak the truth.

5. God is the Source (vs. idolatry).

6. Children are enjoyed…”The next time you feel the urge to tell your children to act their age, pay attention. They probably are.”

7. Responsibility and accountability (vs. fault and blame)…our job is to discipline (teach) and forgive.

8. “Head skills” are used for learning (vs. “head skills” used for defending).

9. Feelings are valid and useful.

10. It’s okay for our outside to match our inside…we don’t have to act full when we feel empty.

This was a quick but thought-provoking read. He hammered home points that I seem to need to constantly remember. I was particularly struck by the idea that I often do try to get my needs met from human resources instead of from God…and that is idolatry, pure and simple. I was also struck (again) about my insistence on trying to do God’s job for Him…and ending up a puddle of tears…just like the little girl in the opening story. Good stuff.



Notes from a Blue Bike

Notes from a Blue Bike (The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World) by Tsh Oxenreider…

I loved this book. The subtitle pretty much sums it up, and the book was exactly what I needed it to be. While Oxenreider talks a lot about traveling and living in other countries, her intentionality is something that can be applied to whatever life you want to lead. I think that’s why I loved this book so much. You know how you read some books and then end up beating yourself up a bit because you’re not living the way the author is? Somehow, this woman is able to tell stories about her family and the decisions they’ve made for their life without implying that you should make the same decisions for your family. I was able to read this book and simultaneously think of ways I want to apply its truths, without applying its specifics.

For instance, I feel that Jason and I have done a pretty good job of “living intentionally in a chaotic world.” The decision to homeschool was (more than we dreamed at the time) a huge step away from the culture around us. Our schedules were never dictated by a school calendar. Partly because the kids weren’t in school, we avoided the pressures and practices of team sports. Books and music became the building blocks of our lives. We have always had a lot of time together. We spend a lot of time in God’s Word.

At least…that’s how we used to live. Then a couple kids went to college, and we adapted ourselves to their school schedule. We became foster parents again, and adapted ourselves to their school schedule. Our middle kids started working, and we made more adjustments. Our baby boy began putting us through some pretty significant teenage angst, and we tried to adjust for that. Slowly but surely we have drifted away from the values that were once the foundations for our home.

So. This book helped me process all of that. And while circumstances change and we sometimes have to roll with them, we dare not let the days slip by while we live a life we never intended to live. Reading this book helped me stop, think, and focus. A family mission statement is in the works. I feel re-empowered to take back the helm of our home and get us back on course.

So…what does that look like? For Oxenreider, it meant realizing how important travel was and is to them and making the adjustments in their life to allow them to do more of that. For us, it means getting back to things we’ve always done as a family: regular devotions, read-alouds, staying home, being quiet, providing a safe landing place for one another. Sure, sometimes more kids are gone than are here. Sure, we still have to bend to allow for the changes that time has brought. But we want to be intentional about our days here on this earth…and this book helped remind me of that.

A good read.

Better Late Than Never

One of my goals for this summer was to have Friday Fires. It’s no big deal (we live in town, after all), but I wanted us to build a little fire in our little portable fire pit every Friday evening, let the kids run around with flashlights and glowsticks and jars full of lightning bugs, and sit with our older kids and whatever guests we invited and just visit. At the beginning of the summer, it seemed like a perfect way to unwind and build those family relationships.

Alas. Too often, by Friday night, I just want to tuck the little people in bed, rent a movie, and enjoy a few hours of blessed quiet. Sad, but true. So we haven’t been doing Friday Fires. Instead, we have been opting for the lazier-but-air-conditioned option.

Big mistake. When we finally did a Friday Fire on Fourth of July weekend, I realized how much we had been missing. Yes, the little kids were up late and were a wee bit cranky the next day. And, yes, we forgot the bug spray and had a few itchy mosquito welts for a couple days. But, oh, the joy! The enforced chill-out time (in the house, even with a movie, I find things to putter around and do), the conversations, the great outdoors, the stars, the s’mores…just priceless.

So, with the exception of one Friday when a critical mass of Rensners were AWOL, we’ve had Friday Fires ever since. A week ago, a some good friends of ours (the Lagerhausens) came over. Sure, two of their kids were at work (as was Josiah), but hey, that’s how we have to roll during this phase of life. We had a marvelous time. This past Friday, another good friend came over (Arielle). She filled us in on her recent mission trip, her wedding plans, and her tales from working in an emergency room. She’s young (and used to working ridiculous hours), so we ended up quenching the fire and putting the littles to bed around 10, and then staying up until after midnight (so technically into Hayden’s birthday) to visit some more. Good, good times.

Local friends, let me know what Friday you’re available…we’d love to have you:)

A Toast for Aunt Eunice!

A week ago, Jason took Josiah, Hayden, and Dillon to Indianapolis for the day. His sister Eunice was in town for a brief visit, and we can’t pass up an opportunity to see her. I was bummed to have to stay home and miss the fun, but I was able to live vicariously through the pictures!

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Hayden Turns 15

If I had seen this awesome idea earlier, it would have been a birthday present. As it was, Hayden and I worked on these beauties together yesterday…

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Depending on the kid and the year, we either do an activity or gifts for a kid’s birthday. Not only was this a gift year for Hayden, it was a big gift year, for a variety of reasons. She loved everything she got…




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and looked pretty spiffy for a trip to the farmer’s market…


After a birthday lunch of chicken strips (a family favorite), we sang to the birthday girl…


and she blew out the candles (Feff couldn’t resist assisting)…



After the littles were in bed, we ended the celebration day with a movie and some stuffed jalapenos.

Happy birthday, Hayden Kristin! We love you so much!

I Is Smart.

Back in the day…I scored well on standardized tests…I was a National Merit Finalist…I graduated close to the top of my high school class…I earned almost straight A’s in college…you get the idea. I am smart.

Or at least I was. One of the joys of being surrounded by teenagers all day long…not to mention the teenager and barely-not-a-teenager-anymore children who don’t live here but still text and call me…is their developmentally appropriate questioning of every single thing I say.

It’s good, right, and salutary that they should behave this way. I get it. They’re growing up, up, and away. They’re forming their own opinions about every single thing. And it’s good. It is. The problem is that there are six of them (and we’re not even counting the three little people, who are not exactly hanging on my every word either). So…even though each child is wonderful and inquisitive and thoughtful and only questioning me a few times a day…the end result is that I have been defending my opinions on issues big and small all day long. Some days, I can barely decide on my own wardrobe without somebody chiming in with a dissenting opinion.

I’m starting to doubt my own intelligence. I make myself read challenging books and do crossword puzzles, trying to make sure my brain cells aren’t dying off as quickly as these children seem to think that they are. It wears me out.

Which is why when Quincy’s boyfriend’s sister (did you get all of that?) had a baby…and I innocently suggested to Quincy that she send a gift for the child…and Quincy (who is one of my most compliant children)…when Quincy promptly told me that sending a baby gift didn’t seem like a very good idea to her…I almost wept. The poor kid didn’t know what to say. She just patted me on the back (just as you would for someone who is a few French fries short of a Happy Meal) and said gently, “Mom, it’s OK. I can send a gift if you really want me to.”

Good heavens. I need counseling. Or tutoring.

Repeat after me: “I is smart. I is kind. I is important.”