How I’m Flunking Lent

Dear Evan Hanson and John Oliver, thank you for saving my Easter.

Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, You can reach, reach out your hand…

It’s the story of tonight and the story of practically everyday since November 8th, 2016.  It’s an ache that has ebbed and flowed but could never be fully shaken.  The death of what I once knew as my country and my church has shaken me to the core and forever changed me.  These posts are where I chronicle my Micah 6:8 Journey.  These posts are where I process.  To say that there’s been A LOT of *processing* in the last year-plus would be the understatement of the century.  Writing helps me sort the myriad of thoughts and feelings.

Confession: as cathartic as writing has been, there have been many more moments when I don’t feel strong enough to stand or write or do anything.

I Gave Up Donald Trump

A year ago, I gave up Donald Trump for Lent.  No, it wasn’t a joke.  It was a serious and deliberate effort to manage my election-induced anxiety and create space for God to remind me of the hope and promise of Easter Sunday.  I first got the idea after reading Diana Butler Bass’s article in the Washington Post.  It was an effort to actually understand a well established and Biblically based tradition that I’d somehow ignored during my evangelical years.  This year, though… my spirit is too weary for a program or plan – just sitting with my dog and listening to Found Tonight on repeat.  I need a new practice, a different kind of fasting as I find “myself craving a God who would meet me in lament and silence and darkness,” as Sarah Bessey puts it.

Wrong Test

I can’t blame Donald Trump entirely for the craziness of recent weeks.  Just over a month ago, my husband had a heart attack.  One minute, we’re walking around town while our boys are at karate.  The next minute (okay, 90 minutes), he’s being wheeled into the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital.

Screenshot 2018-03-20 13.42.08By most measures, he was healthy.  Cholesterol, weight, blood pressure – all within normal limits.  Diet and exercise – decent.  He’d even done a stress test about a year prior and he passed with flying colors.  Every test he and/or the doctors had done pointed to a healthy heart.

But he was wrong. They were wrong. They had the wrong tests and measurements.  And ,that wrongness nearly killed him.  You see, most of us can pass stress tests, even run marathons and live life without much difficulty – until the blockage is more than 70%.

My husband likes to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Something had to change.  His very survival required it.  For weeks, he poured over stacks of books, reading everything about cardiac health.  One gut-wrenching realization: this *new* information was there ALL ALONG.  Literally.  Two of the most impactful books he read had been sitting on our bookshelves for YEARS – untouched.  I guess they waiting for a time when life slowed down or we made a New Year’s resolution to ‘eat healthier’.  Or, as proved to be the case, we were *truly* motivated to change.

As Oprah likes to say, ‘When you know better, you do better.’  And, we were ready to ‘do better’ by making major changes.  We wanted to not only prevent further heart disease but also reverse it by prioritizing diet, exercise…even mental health.  In a nutshell, we needed to decide this mattered.

 

 

The American Church (especially, white, evangelical) has some serious health issues, including heart ones.  We’ve forgotten to love what He loves or let our heart be broken by what breaks His.  We’re addicted to power clothed pseudo religiosity and we’ve turned faith communities for serving the world into legalistic clans that serve ourselves.  And, we’ve done it without a guilty conscience by Screenshot 2018-03-24 20.14.37using the wrong measurements and taking the wrong tests.

For decades, Americans surveyed have described Christians as ‘judgmental’ or ‘hypocritical’ – a far cry any of the nine ‘fruits of the spirits’ Paul lists in Galatians when saying how we will be known.  Instead, we see “misogynistic,” “colonial,” and “white supremacist” added more recently to the list.   Put simply, we are better at preaching about love than actually doing it – especially when it comes to loving the least.

Newsflash: the world isn’t fooled.

Don’t get me started on continued support for Donald Trump, even as the onslaught of Cabinet resignations, porn-star lawsuits and Mueller indictments continue at an alarming rate.  It shouldn’t be shocking that the latest Pew reports indicate Americans have warmed up to every religious group EXCEPT evangelicals.

Hybels & Zuckerberg

The *usual suspects* on the far right are not the only ones who have made mistakes.  For progressive believers seeking change, our credibility is on the line if we do not advocate for truth and justice – no matter what.  It’s not easy, but it’s essential.

Case in point: Bill Hybels and Mark Zuckerberg.  In just the last two days, these two leaders, have both come under intense scrutiny in the face of serious accusations of gross misjudgments.

Facebook is facing tough questions related to the Cambridge Analytica debacle.  While I never thought Facebook was perfect, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some pride living in Silicon Valley, residing in the very town where Facebook has its headquarters.  This is undoubtably the biggest ‘hit’ that Facebook (and its founder!) has taken since its founding.

Screenshot 2018-03-24 16.00.10.pngIn the same way that Facebook revolutionized social media, so did Willow Creek blaze a trail for churches around the globe.  I spent my young adult years at Willow, discovering a faith that put faith into action.  I mention or quote Bill Hybels in at least four of my blog posts.  He was a pastor that I respected and saw as an example for leaders around the globe.  I was shocked when I read that for many years, he’d been the subject of investigations into sexual abuse/harassment.

I was even more heartbroken when I read an email from Willow to friends/members (I’m still on their distribution list).  Its content and tone denigrated those who had brought the accusations and/or had pushed for more thorough inquiries (which included, my current pastor, John Ortberg).  In the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, my stomach turned as I saw pastor protection elevated above pursuing truth and affirming victims.  I thought of the sexual assault and abuse victims I know and love.

There can be no sacred cows (or golden calf’s).  No exceptions if we are serious about the Micah 6:8 life; truth and humility are essential to justice.

 

How Are YOU?

400dpiLogo (1)Equity and justice have become central themes over the last year plus, with my holy discontent manifesting as work with  Community Equity Collaborative.  (Interesting things happen when you study white privilege and racism….).  Our three focus areas are:

  • Encouraging equity in education by promoting greater early childhood/preschool access
  • Creating career pathways for early childhood educators
  • Increasing family engagement at K-12 schools through PTO/PTA Roundtables, along with other resources that facilitate greater diversity and inclusion.

At our latest Roundtable, PTO reps sat around tables, brainstorming ways to recruit more leaders through a more inclusive process.  We talked about the steady decline in volunteerism and the challenge in recruiting new leaders.  Maybe folks are overwhelmed and tired.  Maybe some moms have gone back to work.  Maybe volunteers who helped in the past are now burnt out.  Then, a leader from a predominantly Hispanic school spoke up.

At my school, we make a point of asking parents, ‘How are you?’.  We want them to know we care more about how they’re *actually doing* than trying to sign them up for our project or ask them to do something.

Screenshot 2018-03-20 13.49.04We all just sat there.  It was as if she’d simultaneously revealed the most profound yet blatantly obvious mindset flaw….  We’re all just marching towards glorious goals without pausing to reflect on the gap between our best intentions versus our actual impact.

In a room where most of the representatives came from wealthy and/or white communities, I was reminded of how much we gain when we are intentional about building a bigger table where people/relationships prevail above programs or privilege.

So, church – do you ask?  Are you opening your eyes to our *actual impact* as opposed to our pretty programs and best intentions? Do you connect with marginalized people or communities and ask them how they are?  I didn’t ask whether a black person sings in your choir or you’ve created a special Spanish-language advertisement to your Easter Sunday service or collected an offering last month for your favorite Christian charity.  I asked if you’re getting out of the pews and to the people, with an authentic interest in finding out when you get there – how are they doing?

March for our lives

IMG_1791My little boy marched.

I hadn’t made a big deal about the #NationalWalkout.  He’s ten.  He loves Legos and Star Wars.  But, on the morning of the Walkout, I made a last-minute decision to mention the walkout to him, in case it became the topic of conversation or even action at school.  Our drive to school is short, but it only took him a few seconds to decide how he felt – he wanted to join.  I was honestly surprised, so I hastily said I’d let his teacher know.  As soon as I got back home, I sent her a note and she replied back to me that if he wanted to participate in the Walkout, he’d need to go to the middle school.  I quickly changed out of the plaid pajamas I’d driven him to school in (Lord, may I never need to get out of the car during school commutes!) and into my yoga gear (standard issue mom uniform).  I printed a picture of my grandmother, with the words #NeverForget, then ran out the door.

Soon, my son and I were joining hundreds of middle schoolers, marching around the school campus.  He didn’t need instructions.  There are moments when opportunity and purpose converge in such a way that instinct naturally takes over.  And, this was one of those moments for him.  He held up high the picture of his great-grandmother.  He was evidence of pain and horror that had rippled through the generations, from the Easter Sunday when she was murdered over 60 years ago – to this moment, as he marched in the rain.    At the end of the march, students read prepared speeches and poems.  They said the names of Parkland students killed, followed by a moment of silence.  I could see it in his eyes; a fire was lit.

These kids….they ARE making a difference.  They ARE changing the world.  #NeverAgain #Enough 

Vegan Easter

So, my bacon loving, steak eating husband made a bold decision to become a vegan.  The evidence for improving his cardiac wellness and overall health with better nutrition was undeniable.  It’s not a miracle cure or a guarantee – but it’s the right choice, in light of all he now knows.  The rest of us joined him.  It wasn’t just an act of solidarity but rather of sanity.  How could we not?  Now we knew!  We not only realized that the old tests and measurements had been wrong but also that there was a better way.

Lenten sacrifices are intended to grow compassion, not simply be a reluctant exercise in giving up chocolate or swearing.  The fact that I didn’t have a program did not mean that He did not have a plan.  Last year, He met me in the spaces I carved out for Him, by eschewing my daily doses of political satire and news.  This year, He’s showing up EVEN in the midst of the madness, teaching me that Jesus is more interested in changing my spiritual diet (and measurements!) 365 days a year than He is a token gesture for forty.  He’s reminding me that it doesn’t matter if I ace my own test but fail in every aspect by which He measures faith.

I can almost picture God up in heaven, chuckling at my misguided attempts to jump through so many hoops, check so many boxes.  Easter is the ultimate new covenant.  It’s not the day for ham dinners or egg hunts or fancy dresses.  And so, our family is remaking Easter, not just with vegan recipes but with new practices and different measurements.

Maybe we need a redefinition of ‘right’

Bill Hybels always said that there’s nothing like the local church when the local church it works right.  I agree.  (Still!)

But….

Screenshot 2018-03-24 15.35.14Maybe ‘right’ looks less like mega churches with celebrity pastors and more like my friend who worked quietly behind the limelight to bring kids affected by gun violence in Chicago together with the Parkland kids so that together they could march this weekend in DC.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like the fancy programs we do on Sunday morning and more like the people we serve in our communities Monday through Friday.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less ‘blessing the blessed’ and more like advocating for the poor or marginalized.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like sleek videos and hip worship leaders and more like true allyship with POC or LGBTQ communities.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like upgrades to our own infrastructure (whether a new sanctuary building or fancy remodel) and more like support for more just systems in our communities, whether that’s clean water in Flint or early childhood education for kids across America.   Maybe ‘right’ looks less like building shoebox campaigns and more like campaigning for investments in education and livable wages for teachers across America.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like vinyl wall decals in our Pinterest worthy-kitchen and more like teaching our kids about white privilege and systemic racism.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a pro-life platform that is obsessed with my uterus and more like a people who are willing to stand with the thousands of kids marching through the streets today, begging that they not be slaughtered with military assault weapons.  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like fancy Easter outfits and more likeScreenshot 2018-03-23 14.26.50 books that teach us about love in all its forms (thank you, Marlon Bundo and John Oliver).  Maybe ‘right’ looks less like a Tesla and more like a donkey.

My boys want a Tesla.  The Tesla Roadster, to be precise.  (Unless we win the lottery, we’re not getting it!)  But, you can’t fault my boys for wanting one.  Tesla’s abound in Menlo Park.  And, they’re pretty cool.  I’ll admit.  But, the biggest problem with the church right now is that we have become vehicles for power and privilege and we think that by slapping a ‘blessed’ or ‘grateful’ decal on the back, the world will recognize our good intentions and forget our impact.  The world’s not stupid.

The world sees the true fruits of our efforts, the impact of our power and privilege.  And, while they might be okay with our Jesus, they’re less impressed with us.

This Sunday, we remember the day that Jesus, Son of God, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only days later to wash the feet of His disciples before carrying a cross to Calvary.  We wear the cross, but do we carry it?  Do we wash the feet?  Instead of just waving palm branches for a moment this Sunday, would we take the time to also remember what Jesus did so long ago AFTER he rode that donkey?  He cleared the temple courts.  It’s telling that the bookends of His ministry have Jesus teaching us that His house is not a place for power and privilege or profit but a place for prayer and for His purposes.

As we begin Holy Week, it is clear I am flunking lent.  By conventional standards, I’ve failed the test.  All my good intentions for reading a Lenten devotional or joining #40 acts or picking something to ‘give up’ have fallen by the wayside.  And, then I remember….”for all have sinned and fallen short…”  No amount of good works or best efforts could ever help us ‘pass the test’ or bridge the gap between ourselves and a holy God…for 40 days or 365, let alone a lifetime….which is why He so loved the world that He sent His only Son.

Jesus held the first March For Our Lives; one man carried a cross up a hill to save all our lives, and in so doing, bridged that gap.

Maybe *this* IS Lent.

To nobler heights

My grandmother was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class.  Her laura2commencement speech was titled, To Nobler Heights.

Tonight as we pause at this worthy goal, our hearts are gladdened for we feel we have accomplished something worth while on our march thus far…Our hopes like towering falcons aim at objects in airy heights, for we realize that upon, the youth of today, rests that great responsibility as citizens of tomorrow.  As we look forward into the future we see great and noble heights that we may attain if we but climb steadfastly onward.  We know not how much time we are given and must constantly move onward if we would not fall back.  To those who are older and perhaps great than we, it may possibly seem that our progress is slow and our achievement nothing.  But we are not discouraged, for we desire above everything else to climb upward; to give our lives in service to humanity, and thus in a measure repay the world and our Master for what has been done for us. 

 

Screenshot 2018-03-24 16.18.09As Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt’s song Found Tonight begins…

We may not yet have reached our glory, but I will gladly join the fight….and when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.

 

To nobler heights!  Let’s be broken, together.  Let’s be stronger, together.  Let’s be better, together.

This is the march for our lives.

This is the march for her life.

For God so loved the world that He marched first, so that you could be found.

Surrender

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

FullSizeRender 2In 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.

Cars

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…..

Willow

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.

Able Works

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.

Messes

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.  

FullSizeRenderSo, 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.

Redemption

FullSizeRender 4Easter.

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.

FullSizeRender 5Every 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.

Surrender

FullSizeRender 6Daily, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaning into Lent

Leaning into Lent

Running

No joke, I could employ someone nearly full-time JUST to deal with my family’s health issues.  It’s not that we’re a super sick bunch!  But, it all adds up!  My daughter, who broke her ankle in three places, right after Christmas, is STILL in an orthopedic boot and needing regular trips to the specialist.  This same lovely child, also has ear issues, so has been making near weekly trips to the ENT.  Just this morning, she asked me at the breakfast table, if I could make her an appointment with the Pediatrician, to freeze off a plantar wart.  (Side-note: am I the only mom who’s given up eating breakfast on school days?  Just give me my STRONG coffee, so I can be half awake to drive you to school.  I’ll eat when I get you little monsters, I mean loves, to school.). Anyways, my middle child is at the orthodontist almost weekly, these days.  Thank God for my youngest, who has zero health issues….well, that we’ve noticed.  That kid has learned out of necessity, how to ‘go with the flow’.

This is the first year that my three kids have been at school ALL day, so you would think that I’d have tons of time as a stay at home mom.  Think again.  Life is still crazy, whether it’s with these never-ending doctor and dentist visits, in addition to the usual assortment of after school activities.  Every mom, whether she works in or out of the home, can tell you that the BUCK STOPS WITH US, when it comes to family life.  When you learn that cute kid who came over yesterday has lice, guess who does 20 loads on the sanitary cycle THAT DAY?  MOM.  When you need someone to take you to the doctor to get that wart frozen off, who takes you?  MOM.

This is not intended to be a slight to men.  My husband is an amazing cook.  From the first day my kids entered this world, he’s been the designated nail clipper.  (I’ll never forget him showing up at the hospital with about 3 baby clippers, not sure which one would be best for our little bundle – we all remember how sharp yet how delicate those tiny fingers nails can be!).  He helps around the house and he’s an excellent provider.  But, at any given moment, it’s MOM who carries the insanely long ‘to do’ list related to the people they love.  We never stop running, for there is always someone or something to catch.

Day 1

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  What is lent?  Not too long ago, I could not have told you.  As I’ve written here, I grew up Pentecostal.  We did not follow a liturgical calendar.  Heck, we doubted Catholics were true Christians, and were probably not going to heaven, since they weren’t ‘born again’, as we were.  I’ve come a long way since then!  These days, whether it’s the writings of Nadia Boltz-Weber or the latest statements from Pope Francis, I’ve found my brothers and sisters from the Catholic and Episcopal faiths to be some of the most inspiring and faith-filled figures in Christianity today.  Yet, the Liturgical Calendar eludes me.

Since it was never my practice to eat fish on Fridays or celebrate Lent, I’ve often given myself a ‘free pass’ on these traditions, even as I’ve attended a Presbyterian church for the last 10 years, where services for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday (among others) are offered.  But, as I pursue a deeper, more authentic faith, I have to ask myself, ‘why not’?  Why not practice Lent?

What is Lent?

Part of the reason I didn’t practice Lent, is because I didn’t understand it.  Ignorance isn’t always bliss – often, it’s just ignorance.  And, this is also true in faith.  So, here’s the answer: Lent is an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter.  I love the way Katelyn Beaty describes it, with what it is NOT, in her recent Christianity Today article:

Lent is not about making ourselves miserable for its own sake, inflicting pain for sins committed throughout the year….The crazy and wonderful news is that, in Christ, we have been declared fit before God….A Lenten observance without this knowledge can easily reinforce common Protestant critiques (and caricatures) of Catholic or Catholic-ish rituals.

Beaty goes on, quoting Puritan theologian, John Owen, to explain what Lent IS:

Lent can become a practice in calling Christians to mortification instead of believing.  It goes without saying, anyone who chooses to observe Lent must do so in a way that puts front and center “the power of God and the mystery of the gospel.”

fullsizerender-34Now, I understand lent to be a season for remembering, in word and deed, the primary pillars of the gospel.  One of the pillars I hold most dear, is grace.  But, grace can so easily be cheapened when we skip confession.  Confession is at the heart of today, Ash Wednesday.  Nadia Boltz-Weber explains this first day of lent:

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Truth showed up big time, over a recent cup of coffee at Mademoiselle Colette.  We were supposed to be having a ‘happy birthday’ luncheon.  But, somehow, we ended up talking about death.  We talked about our own mortality and that of people we love…about what really matters and whether we’re living our lives and raising our families in ways that align with our core beliefs and values.  And, I don’t mean this in the way Christians often interpret *values* or *morality*…that I don’t swear or drink too much alcohol or skip church….I mean it more in the, do I pray for those that offend me  (Donald Trump) or do I give sacrificially to those in need (even those of a different religion, like Muslim refugees) or am I willing to see my comfortable life get turned upside down for the sake of justice and mercy (to advocate for the undocumented or fight racism)?  Lately, I’m leaning into the prickly places.

My Confession

I intentionally said ‘lean’ and not ‘jump’.  I am not jumping into these things.  Control freaks, like me, rarely jump.  But, I am leaning.  Serving lunch to the homeless has been one of the ways I’m trying to ‘lean into’ loving the least.  But, let’s be clear – God’s still got a lot of work to do in me.  Here’s an embarrassing example.  The homeless shelter has asked that volunteers, like me, fill out a bunch of forms.  I mean…A BUNCH.  I’ve still not finished my Live Scan (background check) or the TB test, because, honestly, it’s inconvenient.  I’ve not had time.  This weekend, I was running through my mental checklist for the week, and remembered these two items for the shelter, which I STILL need to do.  And, there was this moment, when my thoughts went to that dark place….“they’re JUST homeless people….why must I do so much for THEM….I don’t even do that much to volunteer at school!!!!!”

Not pretty, I know.

But, sometimes we need to see the truth in ourselves.  In the next moment, God quietly and gently reminded me of just how much He loves them (the homeless who come to the shelter).  He reminded me of the posts I’ve written, where I waxed eloquent on the immeasurable worth of each one of us, and how God’s gospel, over and over again, is one of love for the least….for that is where God’s heart is.  He reminded me of the truth I know, but so often forget.

Who needs Lent?  Me.

My Practice

Generosity

So, how to practice lent when you don’t have any traditions, and you REALLY don’t want to give up chocolate, coffee or wine for 4o days?  Well, a couple of days ago, the same friend who  invited me to the shelter, posted a link on Facebook to a movement centered around Lent, called 40 Acts of Generosity.  She asked folks to join her.  Confession (yes, another one): my first thought was, I’m too busy, and I really don’t want to fail.  Not only am I a control freak, but I’m also a perfectionist.  If I’m going to sign-up, I want to get an A, goddamnit.  But, today, God tugged at my heart with a tenderness I don’t deserve.  He nudged me to go back to the link, and just check it out.  As I watched the video, I realized that this was the kind of thing I was saying I wanted to build my life and faith around….now, here was a chance to bridge the ‘knowing/doing’ gap….to turn my words into action.  So, I’ve signed up!

A Different Denial

In writing this post, I stumbled upon an article published today in the Washington Post, titled, Seriously, I am giving up Donald Trump for Lent. Here’s how. Reading it, I knew – this is something I need to do.  Diana Butler Bass writes, “In recent years, more of my friends have taken something distracting out of their life to add a practice that is more life-giving.”  She explains WHY Donald Trump, confessing, “For the past three months, I had gone to bed thinking about the president and often woke up in the morning doing the same. I realized my soul had been politically colonized, and that it was taking huge effort to think and talk about other things with family and friends.”  

When I read this, I immediately thought of the wise words a friend, who recently told me it was okay, even as you seek God’s guidance on where He wants you in the world, to pull away for a time.  She encouraged me to simply draw near to God, that maybe my life and present pursuit were starving me of His love.  I know, I know, I know….this sounds like typical ‘Christianese Speak’.  But, I assure you , it was not; she read my heart and offered me an invitation to let God find me in the midst of a difficult faith season.  Lately, I question why evangelicals are silent when the world is hurting or how I can best to navigate conversations with my own pastors about what the role of the church should be, etc. or if my ‘best yes’ is in partnering with community organizations, rather than the usual ‘church service projects’????  As I grapple with these questions, and more, she gave me two great questions to ponder:

Lord, who are you?

AND

Where are you?

The Word(s)

Another dear friend, who loves me like a sister, unilaterally decided that the two of us would do an NT Wright study of Romans.  And, can I just insert here, that while I hate what’s happening in our country and the suffering across the globe, I cannot deny the way God has rallied the most dear friends during these difficult times?  I’m not sure we would have bonded the way we have, if we weren’t collectively heartbroken for the same things.  Anyways, back to the study….  we are just beginning, but this season of Lent is surely a time for shifting my gaze away from the words….countless tweets and articles… things that are not life-giving… to digging deep into the Word.  I am reminded so clearly of WHO God is and WHERE He is.

To go back to ‘Giving up Trump’….  I like the way Diana offers a nuanced approach to this abstinence.  Lord knows, a political junkie like me might not survive a complete severing with all current events ties.  She explains:

Politics is about finding new connections between people and working for the common good. If I stop fretting over a single individual, I can be more engaged in creating a community where love of neighbor matters. That is the purpose of Lent: giving up distraction and finding space for what gives life.     

This sounds like Lent, to me.  It is what my soul needs for a season.  In 41 days, I will return.  God did not make me to perpetually put my head in the sand.  But, today, I will make space for God’s love to lean into me.

Come as you are party

I will start with confession, and then move to a place of surrender to the power of God’s love and mystery of the gospel.  Out of that, I pray there’s a sincere outpouring of generosity.  I’m gonna give the 40 Acts my best shot.  Another confession: I’m sure to miss a few days.  But, I’m trying to be okay with the fact that this isn’t about ticking boxes – it’s about cultivating discipleship and practicing love.  It’s about remembering that God actually loves me.  As Anne Lamott tweeted on All Things Considered (for my fellow NPR lovers): “God loves us absolutely unconditionally as is.  It’s a come as you are Party.”  God takes us, plantar warts, and all.  When we’re ready to stop running, He’s ready to catch us.  The cross, which is what Lent prepares us for, is God catching us – now, and forever.