So, Lent happened.
It wasn’t perfect. But, it was good. By perfect, I mean, I didn’t succeed in sticking with the 40 Acts. However, those 40 Acts….the daily emails and Instgram reminders of folks around the globe making Lent personal and real in their lives, inspired a journey in my own.
I Fired Donald Trump
In my last blog post, I shared my commitment to ‘give up Donald Trump’ for Lent. I was inspired by Diana Butler Bass, who wrote in the Washington Post on Ash Wednesday, about how her mind had been ‘politically colonized’ by Trump. She vowed to reclaim her mental geography during the 40 days leading up to Easter. I took the pledge with her…..and, it worked.
Trump had become my gateway drug to a daily overdose of worry and stress. During Lent, I permitted myself to still read the news. But, guided by my new abstention, I steered clear of anything that was solely about Trump. It wasn’t easy! Yet, as the days passed, I could feel my anxiety level going down. Mind you, I was absolutely not falling into a mindset of ‘God’s in control, therefore, I don’t need to do anything’. Rather, to go back to the mental geography analogy – I had to create ‘real estate’ for God to come in and show me where and how He wanted me to respond to the world around. It was a little hard to do that, when my mind perpetually horrified over Trump’s latest executive order or offensive tweet. It didn’t take me long to find answers to the HOW and WHERE. God definitely had a few nobler alternatives to Trump.
More often than a booming voice from heaven, the voice of God typically comes as a gentle prompting or ‘still small voice’, as 1 Kings describes it (when God spoke to Elijah). I could fire Trump but I couldn’t fire myself from the job of being a mom. Even as I created space for God, during the 40 days of Lent, I was still doing mundane mommy stuff, like shuttling my kids to their countless activists, playdates, doctor appointments, birthday parties, etc. In the midst of shuttling little people, I began to get frustrated with my car – more than I ever had in times prior. Something had to change.
We purchased our Volvo XC90 in 2007, WHEN THERE WAS ONLY ONE CHILD. Now, there are THREE cherubs riding along. And, not just three tinies….there are kids who steal and actually fit into MY clothes (not saying which one, but there’s only one girl…..). When we bought the Volvo, I was convinced those three rows would suffice for as long as the car ran. But, talk to my poor mother, who endured a few road trips with us, and she will tell you that rows two and three are as bad or worse as an economy seat on United. Even quick trips around town seem long enough for WWIII to break out in the rows behind me. Still, while I have long suspected that we’d one day need to trade our medium-sized SUV for a mini-van, 2017 was NOT the year our spreadsheet said we should make a change.
Why is any of this rambling relevant? I had a perfectly good, low-mileage vehicle – it worked, even if we were all about to kill each other. Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car? The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.
Here’s the long answer…..
God bless Bill Hybels. Truly. I remember vividly, being an adolescent Chicago-girl going into Willow Creek for the first time. I’d grown up in the Pentecostal church, where faith manifested itself as a list of rules and standards blended with charismatic worship. This place was almost other-wordly to me; it was a complete 180 degree shift in what I’d known.
Exhibit A: we left the Pentecostal church because we were no longer welcome. My mom was getting a divorce, and that was a sin. I always tell the story, with the emphasis on my mom. But, a friend recently pointed out to me that the injury was also to my brother and me…we were part of the collateral damage, stemming from this kind of dogma. On the flip side, here was Willow Creek. Not only was there a support community for folks going through divorce, but instead of showing you the door, they’d give you a car. Literally. They had a cars ministry, where donated cars would get fixed up and distributed to single moms from the community in need. WOW!
My mom didn’t need a car. But, we DID need compassion and a safe space to sort out our ‘next-steps’, after losing our church, house and father/husband. Willow Creek gave us that. And, many years later, my mom was able to donate her car.
Since then, I’ve dreamed of donating a car. Maybe it is because of this personal history. Maybe it is because of the shrieks of joy when an Oprah audience hears those fabled words, “YOU get a car and YOU get a car….”. Maybe it is because of my growing heartache for those who’d been dealt a really rough hand. To give someone a car….it seems so tangible. It’s a vehicle. IT TAKES YOU PLACES. Literally, and figuratively.
The last few months, I’ve been connecting with an organization in East Palo Alto, called Able Works. They equip individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty. On a whim, I asked they whether they ever took vehicle donations. It’s not on their website, so I suspected they probably did not. But, that ‘still, small voice’ was unrelenting. ASK. So, I did. And, they DO. And, better yet – they don’t just sell them at auction via a 3rd party – they actually allocate them to people from our community in need. In fact, they had a woman in their LiveAble program, who desperately needed and had been praying for a car. It’s hard to win an argument with the Holy Spirit. This pretty much sealed the deal, in my heart, at least.
I still had to persuade my husband. But, here’s the crazy part. Even though we’re both Type-A Control Freaks…..even though ‘The Plan’ had not included a new car anytime soon (let alone the donation of our old car), my husband and I both felt an odd (for us!) peace, as we quickly switched course. In the span of just a few days (which is faster than we ever make major decisions!) we signed on the dotted line for a new minivan and committed to the gifting of our old car. Looking back, it makes complete sense (especially, with the multiple road trips we plan to take this summer with our 3 kids + 1 dog!). But, before Lent, we had no such plans. And, I’m not sure my constant fretting over Trump would have ever facilitated such a decision process…..actually, scratch that – I am sure, it wouldn’t.
Lent was messy. On Day 1, I confidently created a spreadsheet for tracking my #40Acts…..I only got to day 5 or 6. Pathetic. Right? By my old standards, yes. Lent is about confession. So, here is my mine: the ‘Over Achiever’ me was already planning on day 2, the Easter blog post where I’d share my beautiful #40Acts spreadsheet. No wonder, God derailed my grand plans after just a couple days! They were my plans – not His. But, in those early days, God planted seeds for my ‘No Trump’ rule, which opened the door for our car donation.
Still, it didn’t happen overnight. As the days and weeks passed, the blogger in me struggled…. I had nothing to say, nothing to write. Everything was a jumble in my head. There were so many moving parts and lingering question marks. It didn’t fit into a neat, pretty package that I could easily translate into a coherent blog post. That’s my ugly truth. Even as I wholeheartedly build my life around justice, mercy and humility – I perpetually trip over myself. No wonder, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we must die DAILY to our sins. God wasn’t looking for 40 entries on my little spreadsheet.
In the midst of my mess, Jen Hatmaker posted a quote from her upcoming book, Of Mess and Moxie,
You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art. It isn’t valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact. It can be simply for the love of it. That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest. If the only person it saves is you, that’s enough.
Whoa. That quote was like a life-preserver, thrown into a sea of doubt and confusion. I remembered that I started blogging, as a way to have public accountability for my personal spiritual journey. Period. It wasn’t about how often I posted or how many hits I got or even whether my writing opened doors down the road. It was about making faith real, for my family and for me. God put me in this world for a reason, to go OUT to the least, and live a Micah 6:8 life. But….I must look UP….often. Soon after this quote, Jen published a brutally honest blog post – her first in many months. She wrote,
This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.
The Old Me put the cart before the horse. I wanted the blog post script that I could reverse engineer from a list or some sort superficial spiritual practice. But, here’s the thing: I don’t think my blog is very high up on God’s priority list – especially, if it becomes a vehicle of the Christian Machine. My soul, however, is. God had called me to lean into Lent, which meant embracing some soul-level messiness. CS Lewis taught that, if you want to live in God’s image, then you have to live a truthful existence. It turns out, the only way to truly experience God’s love is to bring my own story and brokenness into the light.
So, here’s where things stand now. We are STILL WAITING for the new minivan. I haven’t yet donated my car – it still sits in my garage. (Hopefully, that will change in the next couple weeks!). But…. The Me that felt I should say nothing till the whole thing was a done deal, and I could present my complete journey as a pretty package….that ME lost. The Me that felt anxious over the weeks going by with nothing to write about, opted to ‘be still’ in the silence. God had graciously entered my mess, and answered my HOW (create space for God) & WHERE (give a car to Able Works) Lent Prayer. God reminded me that the death and brokenness of Good Friday always precedes beauty and provision of Resurrection Sunday.
Remember that? Easter Bunny. Cross. Lilies. Peeps. Ring any bells?
Funny, how fast we move on. I’m sure a professional ‘blog consultant’ would say that there’s no sense writing about Easter, a whopping week after the holiday has come and gone. But, see, that’s the problem. Easter isn’t a holiday. It’s everything.
Easter is not only the cornerstone of Christian faith, it’s also the day, over 60 years ago, that my grandmother was murdered. Every year, when I celebrate a Risen Savior, I remember a lost mother and grandmother, a women I never knew, yet desperately miss. If ever there were a motivation to find beauty in the broken, this has been it. I’ve wanted my life to somehow bring meaning, inspiration and purpose out of her death. Parts of my life look neat and tidy. But, many parts are a big mess. Sometimes, you lose someone you love, waaaaay too soon. Sometimes, marriages end and dads disappear. Sometimes, the doctor confirms your worst fear, and you join the cancer club. Sometimes, ‘religion and politics’ clash in ways that are messy and painful to untangle or understand. Sometimes, life reminds us, ‘why Easter’.
This post wasn’t intended to be an ‘Ode to Jen Hatmaker’. But, the words from her last blog cut to my core, on so many levels.
I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.
Every. Single. Time.
Every time I read that paragraph, I cry. That’s why I had to share the whole freakin’ thing. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. He did it once, so that we can claim it over and over and over again…..like, when your Grandma is taken on Easter Sunday. God still wins.
Redemption is defined as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. Only God can do that. But, now He has extra help. I believe that my Grandma watches over me….that her spirit is no longer where her tombstone sits, but that she is in heaven, with Jesus. Now, she is one of the angels. And, over sixty years later, her story propels me to nobler heights.
Daily, we die. That’s surrender. Some days, it’s Donald Trump. Other days (if you’re crazy planners with detailed financial spreadsheets, like my husband and me), it’s a car. Sometimes, the Trumps and the cars remind you of that verse in Romans:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Indeed, when we pause long enough to stop tripping over ourselves, God shows up in the most unexpected ways. That’s the most concrete thing I can say. This story isn’t finished, but I’m trying to let it be God’s story – not mine. I’m trying to let the lessons of Lent and significance of Easter seep into the deepest parts of me. It’s the only way to write the next chapter in my Micah 6:8 life.