Lent Experiment 2013

'Lent Logo 2008' photo (c) 2008, jezobeljones - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So this year I’ve decided to do something kind of typical, something a lot of other people will be giving up: Facebook (except for posting my blog).

There are several reasons why I’m giving it up:

  1. I use it to compare myself to others WAY too often
  2. I end up trying to feel connected to others in this rather disconnected way, by constantly checking status updates throughout the day when I end up alone in my house caring for my small child.
  3. I stalk Facebook when I should be stalking God.  I have a Common Prayer app on my phone that alerts me when to pray the offices of the day.  Lately, when the buzzer sounds, I don’t pray.  I look at Facebook.  I know.  Pretty bad.

In the past, I’ve given up things that were much more difficult for me, much more central to my life, like TV and reading.  I’ve only been at it for two days, but not checking Facebook hasn’t been that big a deal.  It was just a bad habit I was developing, and getting in the way of a more important habit I want to cultivate:  talking with real people in my neighborhood in real time.

I figure that the time I spent trying to feel connected on Facebook is time I can use to go walking in my neighborhood, venturing out, nurturing new relationships.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Does my House own my Heart?

Christmas Lights

A few months ago, I had to find the perfect couch for our living room.  Any spare moment, I would whip out the ipad and search online.  I made pinterest boards.  I found other pieces of furniture that we just had to have.  I was obsessed.

I was tired of our house looking like a bunch of college guys lived in it: mismatched, hand-me down chairs; ancient tables falling apart; the Kramer on the mantle (though I still think that is kinda fun).  I am nearing 30.  I have a child.  I should have grown-up furniture.

There was a time when I didn’t care about furniture.  When we rented our tiny duplex, the mismatched chairs were charming, the ancient table a family heirloom, the Kramer — just a kitschy piece of our personality.  If I didn’t have the right curtains or the right piece of furniture there, I didn’t care.  It wasn’t our forever home.  What we had was good enough.

But as soon as we bought a house, what we had was suddenly not good enough anymore.  I spent countless hours online and in Home Depot and Home Goods finding rugs and curtains and couches.  I was a bit whiney and extremely agitated until we got the perfect rug or the right couch for upstairs.  But it didn’t seem to end.

I was itching for more, until one day I realized that my house had taken over valuable real estate in my heart.  I was so focused on prettying up my house that I had no room in my heart for others in need.  I was the one who needed…another pillow cushion for the couch.  I realized that Matthew 6:21 was right: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  I didn’t want to be the kind of person whose heart was focused only on the material.  My discontent was becoming all of me.

So I stopped searching on the internet.  I started repurposing furniture we already had.  I started to see our mismatched furniture as quirks of our personality.  I started to be thankful for the fact that we have a house and furniture.  Somewhere in all the blessings I was given, I had forgotten to be grateful.

I am grateful now.  And ashamed — not for wanting a nice house with pretty things, but for allowing my house to own me instead of the other way around.

Waiting for Baby Jesus

This is a post I wrote last year about advent, about waiting.  My waiting for Henry culminated in his wonderful birth, his wonderful, happy, silly life.  But I also know that there are others whose wait did not turn out as expected or whose waiting came to an abrupt end.  My heart goes out to all those tonight who are still waiting, waiting for hope, for goodness, for life.  Merry Christmas and enjoy.

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This time of advent is a time for waiting, waiting for wonderful miracles, waiting for the Son of God to be born.  Being pregnant during advent really brings this idea of waiting into an interesting light.  I am eagerly awaiting Christmas, the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I’m also eagerly awaiting the birth of another life — that of my son.

I find it curious that Christmas is more celebrated than Easter (though the cynic in me feels that it is probably because we have attached Christmas to materialism and things).  Easter is the holiday where we celebrate the fact that Jesus finished the work he came to do, the work that changed the world.  But I also think there is good reason for Christmas to be the “bigger” holiday.  It is the holiday of mystery and wonder.  The holiday where we celebrate not what Jesus has done, but the holiday where we celebrate hope for what he could do.  The baby Jesus is not a symbol of accomplishment, but a symbol of potential, and potential holds a great mystery.

I very much identify with this mystery because I find myself wondering what Henry will look like, whose personality quirks he’ll get, and what kind of man he will grow up to be.  I have high hopes for him, and am honored that I will get to watch this little person grow, this mystery unfold before me.

But at this time of wonder, I also feel a tinge of sadness for all those whose mystery has ended.  The little girl Ted and I sponsor at the Village of Hope died on Sunday night.  Her name was Elizabeth, and she was seven.  I met her when she was about five and wanted to be held and carried constantly.  I wonder if she still always wanted to be held, but I know for certain that she is being held now.

Jesus’s life was cut short so that he could do his greatest work.  I know Elizabeth was not taken away to accomplish some divine purpose.  Her death is beyond sadness and sense, but I know God can work miracles through tiny babies, through men laying down their lives, and through seven-year-old Ghanaian girls dying.  I don’t know what will come of her death, but I hope, I hope for light to shine in this darkness, just as baby Jesus shined light on the hope to come.

Waiting for Baby Jesus and Baby Henry

This time of advent is a time for waiting, waiting for wonderful miracles, waiting for the Son of God to be born.  Being pregnant during advent really brings this idea of waiting into an interesting light.  I am eagerly awaiting Christmas, the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I’m also eagerly awaiting the birth of another life — that of my son.

I find it curious that Christmas is more celebrated than Easter (though the cynic in me feels that it is probably because we have attached Christmas to materialism and things).  Easter is the holiday where we celebrate the fact that Jesus finished the work he came to do, the work that changed the world.  But I also think there is good reason for Christmas to be the “bigger” holiday.  It is the holiday of mystery and wonder.  The holiday where we celebrate not what Jesus has done, but the holiday where we celebrate hope for what he could do.  The baby Jesus is not a symbol of accomplishment, but a symbol of potential, and potential holds a great mystery.

I very much identify with this mystery because I find myself wondering what Henry will look like, whose personality quirks he’ll get, and what kind of man he will grow up to be.  I have high hopes for him, and am honored that I will get to watch this little person grow, this mystery unfold before me.

But at this time of wonder, I also feel a tinge of sadness for all those whose mystery has ended.  The little girl Ted and I sponsor at the Village of Hope died on Sunday night.  Her name was Elizabeth, and she was seven.  I met her when she was about five and wanted to be held and carried constantly.  I wonder if she still always wanted to be held, but I know for certain that she is being held now.

Jesus’s life was cut short so that he could do his greatest work.  I know Elizabeth was not taken away to accomplish some divine purpose.  Her death is beyond sadness and sense, but I know God can work miracles through tiny babies, through men laying down their lives, and through seven-year-old Ghanaian girls dying.  I don’t know what will come of her death, but I hope, I hope for light to shine in this darkness, just as baby Jesus shined light on the hope to come.

Sabbath Saturday #2 or The Difference A Candle Makes

Confession time:  I haven’t written on my blog in 3 weeks (you probably noticed that already).  I tried to write off my lack of writing as taking a break, taking a true Sabbath, not doing anything.  Last weekend, that is exactly what I did: nothing.  But I didn’t feel rested or rejuvenated.  I actually felt more tired.  I watched Rick Steves take me to Croatia and Greece.  I watched a movie (I don’t even remember what).  I looked online for things to buy.  I wasted my day away.  At first I thought, “Wow, I am really letting myself rest.”  But no, I was just letting myself be distracted.

Today — this morning, in fact, I truly rested and had a true Sabbath.  I feel ready for the day ahead of me, focused on what is truly important.  I feel rested because I lit a candle.

Flickr user R!E

Well, that’s not all I did.  Wayne Muller, in Sabbath, suggests the practice of lighting a candle to begin “sacred time.”  I lit a candle, pumpkin spice to be exact, read my Bible and prayed.  Lately, when I’ve spent mornings with God, I’ve felt like He was another thing I had to do on my checklist for that day.  I’d read the passage for the day, read the meditation, considered writing down my prayer and thought it will take too long (I’ve got things to do after all), and ended up not praying at all.  Then comes the really silly part:  I’d turn on some random TV show that I didn’t really want to watch, to eat breakfast and “rest” before I have to focus on the real part of my day.

Needless to say, I’ve felt very unfocused the past couple of weeks.  This time with God meant to center me and my actions for the day became just a part to get through and not the reason for the day.  And that is something I realized.  My reason for the day should be to spend time with God, not to go to work or run errands, to check things off my list.  The reason for the day is God.  But sometimes I need a little external help to remind me of that fact: thus, the candle.

Lighting the candle, helped me set up my “sacred time.”  Any time my mind wandered, my eye was drawn to the still, small flame.  It was a constant reminder that I have set aside this time to spend with my God.  The Jews begin every Sabbath with lighting a candle, and I am beginning to understand why.  It helps make this time of rest seem different from every other moment.  As soon as the flicker of the candle begins, a time away from time itself begins.  I enter into God’s time, and it is expansive and comforting.  From now on, every morning, my Sabbath moment for the day, will begin with the flame of a candle.

Sabbath Saturday #1

So this title might seem redundant, but I’m going with it anyway.  I’m starting a new series of posts all about the Sabbath.  After the awesome church ladies’ retreat I went to last month where we focused on rest and Sabbath moments, I was inspired to read this book: Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. 

So, I started reading this book – actually the more accurate term would be tearing through the book.  I realized I was reading it to get it finished so that I could go on to the next book.  (Do you see why I need to read a book about Sabbath in the first place?)  I decided to slow down and blog about every chapter each Saturday, the traditional Jewish day for Sabbath rest.  Saturday’s usually aren’t very relaxing days for me — full of errands and events, but I want to make the effort to make at least part of every Saturday a true Sabbath.

First, I want to start off with Muller’s definition of Sabbath.  It’s so much more than a day or moment of rest: “Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands.  It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true.  It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”

This book is really more of a devotional to meditate on rather than something to finish.  It comes complete with chapters about different aspects of Sabbath, poems for reflection, and even Sabbath practices you can try.  I will (readers hold me to it) attempt each of the suggested practices each week, quote a section I find meaningful, and give my overall thoughts for that section.

More on the next chapter next Shabbat, but now it’s time to rest.

Lent Update: No TV…ever?

I’ve been without TV for 3 weeks now.  I’ve discovered that when TV is not an option, I just don’t miss it.  Even when Ted is away on business trips, when I would usually turn on the TV just to have another voice in the house, I find comfort in the silence of reading a book.

This discovery has caused me to have a serious conversation with Ted about giving up TV all together.  Ted really only watches TV when a Cowboy game is on, but I, in my pre-Lenten life, would come home, turn on the tube and not really do much of anything else.  With no TV, the world has opened up to me.  That conversation forced me to ask this question of myself:  is watching TV preventing me from doing something useful, purposeful, and for the glory of God?  I’m afraid to say, that the answer has been yes.

My world really has changed for the better without TV.  Because I don’t watch TV, I have time to blog.  I am no longer a consumer but a creator.  Because I don’t watch TV, I pray more often.  I have the time to think of others and what I should be doing for them.  Because I don’t watch TV, I’ve finished 6 books!  Because I don’t watch TV, I don’t look at the TiVo and see what shows “must” be watched, like an entertainment to-do list.  Because I don’t watch TV, I didn’t renew my subscription to Entertainment Weekly magazine.  Because I don’t watch TV, Ted and I are able to talk for hours on end.

Yes, there are some downsides to not watching TV: I won’t talk or even know about the latest catchphrases (“I want to go to there” will date my last TV viewing); I won’t have an easy conversation starter (I suppose I’ll have to talk about something more real — eeks!); I’ll miss some really interesting shows and good writing (If a new version of Lost ever emerges or when Downton Abbey returns to PBS); I’ll really miss watching my version of sports (So You Think You Can Dance); and I really want to know what happens to Angela and Hodgins on Bones!

But are these parts of watching TV worth it?

6 weeks of no TV is easy, but can I really go a lifetime?  I don’t know, nor do I know if I really want to cut myself off completely.  Maybe I’ll know when Easter rolls around.

Have you ever given up something for Lent that you considered giving up forever?

Fridays, 5:30am

Every Friday for the last six months, I have been meeting with four incredible women on a conference call bridge.  In preparation for that call, we work through a devotional book that requires meditation on scripture and prayer everyday.

On our calls we discuss our gratitude, our needs, and how we will apply the Word to our lives.  I’ve never been a part of a group like this before, and I honestly don’t know how I could grow in my faith without it.  I feel as if I’ve been stagnant for years, but with these women, confessing, discussing and laughing, I think I’m starting to get how God changes us.  Our Lord is meant to be experienced and understood in community, but that doesn’t mean our transformation is easy.

Some weeks, we read out of habit rather than wonderment.  We are on auto pilot, not even looking out the glass to the destination point.  And sometimes that’s okay.  We’re still moving forward on the same plane.  But some weeks, like last Friday, I’ll feel a certain amount of clarity.  That clarity wasn’t some new understanding of scripture, but the realization that I loved these women and they loved me, truly loved me for who I am.  I suddenly knew that we needed each other for this journey of becoming who God designed us to be.

This is why, every Friday, I wake up with joy and anticipation at the unGodly hour we meet because this is the time I feel we are truly finding God, with each other.

Rewriting the Bible

A while back, my Bible class started using something called the 3 Column Bible Study as a tool to better understand scripture.  Here’s how it works: You pick a small passage, copy the scripture in your own hand, rewrite the scripture in your own words, and then create an “I will” statement based on what you learned.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this in the past, always discovering something new about a passage each time I do it, gaining a better understand of who God is and how I can best be His servant.

This week in my devotional, I came across a short passage about anxiety (Philipians 4: 6-7) that I decided to rewrite.

Here’s the actual scripture from the NIV:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Now here is my rewrite (I always seem to be more long-winded than the authors of the Bible):

“Do not worry about anything — not about your job, not whether your children are safe, not whether your loved one might die.  But in all these circumstances, pray to God.  Show him you are thankful for what he has given you.  Give this worry to God.  He might not change your circumstances, but he will send you the gift of peace.  He will help you change your attitude about whatever you are going through.  This peace that he sends you will work on you in a mysterious way.  Suddenly your world seems blessed instead of down-trodden, suddenly the center of the universe is not your concerns but God’s concerns.”

Honestly, I’m not brave enough to put down an “I will” statement yet.  “I will’s” are a commitment.  I don’t know if I’m honestly ready to give up my anxiety.  Sometimes it forms a security blanket around me because it is all I know, and I trust it.  I would rather trust God, but He is a mysterious character.  I don’t know him as well as I know my anxiety.  Perhaps if I did, my anxiety would be transformed into peace.

Forget about Heaven

I’m infamous for saying this once at a small group Bible study in my formative college years.  The context in which I said this shocking statement was in a heated discussion about whether baptism was necessary “to get into Heaven.”  The idea that we, as a group, were so focused on what happened to us after we died and not on the power of God’s transformation in our lives on this earth, didn’t sit well with me.  It was at that moment that God started leading me on a path to explore what Christ’s power can do for us and to us in this life.  At that moment, after I said those fateful words, I realized, that to me, Heaven just doesn’t seem like the point.

The kingdom of God is not near — it’s here!  We are ushering in God’s Kingdom — right now!  We are doing it by taking care of the poor, feeding those who are hungry, educating students so they can strive for a better future.  Our hope, our salvation lies in obeying God on this earth, doing his will for those who are suffering now.  Our salvation lies in allowing God to transform us, to free us from sin — in this life–not just the next.

I’ve been thinking about this idea for years, but only recently has it become a passion of mine to help others understand the saving work that God is doing for us today, on this earth.   In my 24:7 class at church, Bill Buckley Jr. has been teaching us lessons on the works of Christ in this life, and for that I am so thankful.  This discussion is already beginning.   Just yesterday, I read an excellent post by my former psychology professor,  Dr. Richard Beck, about this very issue. If you read this post, don’t freak out about the title that includes the word Universalism.  I’m not a Universalist — at least not yet 🙂 I’m so glad that this discussion is being had in Sunday school, on blog posts, and among friends.

Now don’t get me wrong: I still like the idea of Heaven (though my views on what the afterlife will really be like have been heavily influenced by N. T Wright’s Surprised by Hope).  I hope to go there when I die, but I would also hope that we focus more on bringing Heaven to earth right now.