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

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.