Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

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say YES!

IMG_6545As a working mother of a toddler, I live in a world of no.  No.  You can’t eat Ritz crackers for dinner.  No, you can’t play with the sidewalk chalk when it is 8 degrees and dark outside.  No.  You can’t watch ANOTHER hour of Thomas the Train on Netflix.  No, no, no, no, no.

The other day, I picked up Colton from school, and he raced to his cubby.  He pulled out a neon blue lollipop and told me he had earned it at school today, and that he wanted to give it to ME.   Could I open it now?  No, Colton, we can’t open it now.  We are going to get your sister and we can’t be all sticky.  Once the kids were settled in the car, Colton asked again if I wanted to eat my lollipop. No Colton, we are headed to church supper.  We shouldn’t eat a lollipop right before dinner.  Then, heading home from church… No Colton, it’s almost bedtime. This isn’t time for candy.  The next morning at breakfast, Colton asked me if I wanted my lollipop, and tears sprang to my eyes.  My precious son was trying to give me the lollipop he earned as his prize at school.  Why was I rejecting it over and over?  So right then and there I unwrapped it.  I had candy for breakfast, and a bright blue tongue to remind me of the little boy who wanted to give me a the one thing he had to give.

I think I have started saying no so much that it is now my automatic reaction.  I call it the ‘knee jerk no’.  But I don’t want my relationship with my child to be centered around the things he can’t do.  I want to take the time to really celebrate the everyday magic in life.  So I am going to focus on learning when to say YES!

Yes.  We can read another story before bedtime.

Yes.  You can bake cookies without your shirt on.
and yes.  you can eat the dough.  That’s the whole point of making cookies!

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Yes.  You can choose your outfit today.

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Yes.  Your mother loves you, and yes, she is available and present with you.

With each yes, I see a bit more of the magic of childhood.  I remember what it was like to feel the cold breeze of winter as a novelty and not an imposition.  I remember that it is fun to take a long bubble bath with lots of toys, to wear mismatched pajamas, and that the world will not end if bedtime is 15 minutes late.  I remember that I only have this moment with my little boy one time and that it is a gift to be reveled in, not endured, or scheduled to the teeth.

Saying yes to Colton entails more than just spontaneity.  I must also learn to say NO to other things.  Extra work projects.  My mental to do list.  Even good things, like time with friends or fun events.

And there are still many no’s to be said… I am still trying to raise a God-loving, responsible, unselfish human being.  But I want to remember that part of my role as a parent is to show the joy in life as well as the rules…

And then there’s this…

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:9-12

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Opportunity (has) Cost

Two roads in a yellow wood
But only one pair of legs.
Each decision a yes
But in the same breath, no.

A wishbone snaps.
One side victory, the other, splintered.
Each side broken, in different ways.

When we choose
do we hold the duality in our minds?
In each destiny there dwells a shadow side,
A legacy not engaged.

This is the balance of life, the yin and the yang.
And that is how it should be,
For we are made of flesh and not of feathers.

How do we lay ourselves before the throne of God,
Our lives, our collection of yesses and nos.

What story do these declinations tell?
Is it one of faith?
Or of fear?

How do I listen Lord, standing in a yellow wood?
Which path is mine to take?

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You are Enough

I feel it so deeply. The need to achieve. The pull to perform, to receive the inevitable accolades, compliments, comments “I don’t know how you do it all…”

But here is the truth.

I can’t do it all.

My life is a permanent tug of war. One length of rope, being mercilessly yanked in different directions. And, just like in the playground game, one side is always winning. Which means, at the same time, one side is always losing. If I feel like I am doing well at work, it is at the expense of my family. When I am spending the time I desire to spend with my children, there is no time to spend in the Word. And almost daily, I feel as if every side is losing. Emails go unanswered. Prayers truncated. Frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. These are the realities of my life. These are the rhythms of my days.

I hate it. It’s not how I imagine things should be. And oh how I hate that word. Should. In 6 letters, the summation of all our unrealistic expectations, the thoughts that keep us up at night. The voice that whispers to us that we have failed. That we are insufficient. That we aren’t doing it right.

I could write a long, whiny, self indulgent essay all about the things I think I should be doing better and how I am habitually horrified when a call from work goes unreturned or I lose patience with my toddler. I will spare you. Trust me it happens. And it is humiliating, humbling. So utterly not me.

Not me to the point that I am questioning my life. Am I doing the right thing? Am I built to be a working mother? Should I be attempting to engage in vocational ministry at this stage in my life, or is this hubris, my selfish insistence I can do it all? In the process of this questioning, I have gone to so many others for council. My supervisor. My senior pastor. Spiritual directors. Other spiritual directors… And from them all, the message has been the same.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

This is a chapter of your life where things will not get done in the way that you want them to get done, and that is okay. God has called you to this place, to this ministry, to this station in life. You. Are. Enough.

From all these people I respect, I have received the same answer. When you are raising young ones, that is your primary calling. It is ok to feel that this task takes all your free time. BECAUSE IT DOES. This is the time when you need help, not when you are free to help others. This is the time in life where you get through the day and fall into bed exhausted. The time for reading trade paperbacks, not national book award winners. The time when your quiet time looks much more like a whisper of Lord help me than an in depth study of the scriptures. And I say this not as an excuse, but as a benediction. Be where you are, be who you are, and know that that is sufficient. Do what gives you life, and allows you to nourish the lives of the others in your care. Realize that God’s presence and love is a constant, not dependent on what you do or achieve. Lean into that. Rest in it.

Friend, receive this message today. If you are like me, it is a hard one to hear. It involves an element of sacrifice, and humility. But it is true.

You are enough.

Take a deep breath and sit with those words, let them settle into your bones. Allow the truth of that to seep into your soul. You are enough. God has called YOU into the situation in life you find yourself in, and, if you rest in that truth, you realize that your gifts, your availability, your constraints, are all part of God’s good plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-13
I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

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Self Control

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

This is a verse I repeat often to myself.  As I approach a meeting that I am worried about I have not been given a spirit of timidity or fear… As I walk into a conversation that I know will involve conflict.  As I look at daunting work goals.  As I put my almost 3 year old in time out- again.  My spirit is not timid.  I was not created to be fearful.

But of power, love, and self-control.

Power.  Courage and abilities, given from God.  check.

Love.  Overflowing from the Father, a blessing to others. check.

Self-Control.  I’m in charge of my life and things will go according to my plan.  Ummm… not so much.  

So often, this verse makes me feel more centered.  More able to meet life’s challenges.  And yet, for all the times I have read it and repeated it to myself, the concept of self-control is something that is sorely lacking in my life.  When I think of the concept of control, it is appealing, as long as it applies to my external environment.  If control is something I have been given to make sure that life happens according to my plans, then sign me up.

Self control on the other hand?  Whenever I say that phrase to myself, I immediately think of diets.  Of not eating delicious things.  How is it that such a powerful concept has been reduced in my mind to not eating carbs?

I read a quote John Ortberg used in his book Soul Keeping the other day.  He attributed it to an article about “How to Stay Christian in College.”

Make small sacrifices.  Make a vow to wake up and go to breakfast every morning, even if your first class isn’t until eleven a.m.  Choose a plain cheese pizza rather than pepperoni.  You’ll be surprised how these tiny sacrifices work an interior magic, shifting your focus ever so slightly away from  yourself.  Once you are a little bit to the side, God can come to the center.

This resonates with me as a deeply Christian concept.  Living a life formed with me not being at the center.  Living a legacy of small, invisible sacrifices, designed to help us be more aware of others, of our blessings, of God’s tugging on our hearts.  What small sacrifices can I begin to make, so remind myself that life isn’t about my own pleasure?  How will that practice shape my thought life?  How will it shape my actions and reactions?  Where do I begin?