Be glad and rejoice — it’s Lent!

I know that’s a tough sell. Lent has always been perceived as a trying time, a time for sacrifice and teeth gritting, fasting and selflessness. Not exactly joyous concepts. But my pastor has convinced me differently. He says that Lent is the most joyous season in the Church calendar, a time for transformation and salvation. And what could be happier than that?

We all start off the year with resolutions; few of us stick by them. One of the problems is time: A year is an awfully long time to commit to anything on a daily basis. Life gets in the way. But forty days? That’s hardly more than a month. If you use Lent as a time to change/better/renew your self and your soul, you have a real chance of succeeding. And that’s exactly what these forty days are for!

There’s long been a perception that Lent, in the Catholic Church, is about “giving up” something. That’s only partly true. If (as my pastor also explained), you give up chocolate for Lent, only to rip open a three-pound bag of M&Ms on Easter Sunday and gorge yourself, you’ve missed the point entirely. The idea is to improve yourself and your soul. Giving up cigarettes for forty days, if you can convert this trial into a long-term plan to salvage your health and live longer for those who love you — now there’s a proper challenge. Or if you can give up using plastic water bottles for Lent, then continue this small kindness to the planet in the days that follow Easter — that is what Lent is about.

Moreover, Lent is about addition, rather than subtraction. It is about adding forgiveness to your daily schedule. Or being kinder to others, more charitable, more positive in our interactions. It is about taking on new behaviors that will improve the state of your soul on a permanent basis. Lent is a step forward in a year — in a lifetime — that we seem to spend going in circles. It is spit-polish for the soul.

And we want to get our souls shined up. Because the other element of Lent is salvation, specifically the salvific act of Jesus, who died to save our souls. The promise of Heaven has been given; it is up to us to hold onto it. How are we doing that, if indeed we are doing it at all? Lent is a time for self-examination, a yearly check-up of sorts.

Most of all, Lent is about love, God’s love for us and our love for each other. Let us be loving this Lenten season. And rejoice! A “new you” has just begun.

journey

humanSorry that I’m so late getting this one up. Let’s just say that if something can avoid going as planned it will.

Today’s word is Human.  As part of our Ash Wednesday service, we read Now you can’t actually see the human in this photo but in the center of the image is a snowplow.  What does this have to do with Lent or God or faith?

So often when we go about God’s work or go into worship, we are able to do so only because of the efforts of men and women who we do not know.  They may not do their work in secret but we simply don’t encounter them.

At about noon today, it started snowing.  It snowed on and off through rush hour.  As we arrived for choir rehearsal before our Ash Wednesday service, this man was plowing our parking lot so that we could enter worship safely.

Many people impact our worship and our time with God even though we may be unaware of the work that they do.  Tonight, I asked God to help me be more aware of his helpers at work in my community.  Please take a moment to thank God for those who are in the background but in some way make your own worship possible.

–SueBE

Contractors had come to my house to fix some shingles on the roof, and after they left, I noticed a single tiny nail, sitting above the glass of my skylight.

Of course, it’s only one small nail, but, for a moment, it was disconcerting. What should that be holding together? And how many other nails may have just flown off, unnoticed? Will the effect eventually be cumulative, and then one day, it makes the entire house collapse?!? I’d better call the emergency random tiny nail restoration hotline. They’ll know what to do! :)

It’s amazing what we can find to worry about in the course of any given day.

That got me thinking of all the little hinges we perceive to be holding the world together, like the double yellow lines on the highway. The flu shot. The ozone layer. These protective layers we wrap around us as we head out into the world to keep traffic and germs and gravity at bay.

Sometimes I think that if I don’t inoculate myself with prayer before I venture out into the world, I may have used up the faith-fuel in my tank. Maybe God will say, Oops! You should have asked if you wanted my protection. Sorry! You’re out of luck.

But I know that it isn’t what I do, nor the words I speak (or don’t speak) that keeps me covered by the umbrella of Providence. It’s nothing that I’ve done to earn such favor. Just grace.

Otherwise known as the hinge holding you, me, and the whole world together. It’s good to know that I don’t need to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” I just need to remember I’m not on this journey alone.  

photo a dayWhat are you giving up for Lent?

I have to admit I’ve never been wild for this particular practice.  Intellectually, I understand it.  You are sacrificing as God/Christ sacrificed. On one level I get it.  I can repeat the words.  On another level I just don’t care.

In part the problem is that I wasn’t raised with this tradition. As a child, it was carefully explained to me that this was a Catholic practice. The picture that you should be getting here is that this is something they do.  It is not something we do.

As an adult, I’ve never accepted that explanation. I have given things up for Lent in the past when I felt that doing so would help me focus. One year I gave up soda. Lent without soda ruined my relationship with this now too-sweet beverage.

A big part of the problem this year is the loss of my friend. And my father just had surgery. And our choir director quit. And I realized how close my son is to leaving for college. I guess I’m just a tad tapped out.

I’ve been praying again but I’m just not feeling that connection with God. It isn’t Him.  It’s me.  Although that sounds like a break up line, we aren’t breaking up.  We aren’t even having a trial separation.

So how do I go about restoring the connection? My plan is to look for God in the everyday.  I don’t expect it will be easy and I will probably need several dozen nudges.  Because of this, I’m taking part in the Alive Now Lent Photo-a-Day Practice.

Because so many people are visual and actively “looking” for God, the challenge is to look for Him in a particular area each day, take a photo, and share it on social media.  I plan to show mine here.  Where do you to look for God each day?  Beth Richardson, editor of Alive Now, and her team created a list.

I know that reestablishing my connection will take time.  It’s like filling an empty vessel.  But photo by photo, drop by drop, I’m going to seek that connection in the coming weeks.  I know He’s there. I just need to look.

–SueBE

As a child, I imagined a world of eventualities for myself. I would be a famous writer (of course). I would probably live in New York, because that’s where writers lived (or so I believed). When I was terribly young, I accepted the fact that I might marry and have kids, because that’s what people do. By the time I was teenager, however, I’d changed my mind: I would never marry and never have kids. I was a product of the late ‘60s and ‘70s — a proto-feminist, cultural daughter of Ms. magazine and Free to Be, You and Me. I was woman!

The one thing I never expected became the thing I got — a love story of the grandest and rarest sort. I met my (now) husband shortly after my 20th birthday, and married him at 23. We have, in many ways, grown up together. After 31 years together, we are still ecstatically in love. My husband is my best friend, my “happily ever after.” He is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

Until we were well into our 30s, strangers would ask if we were newlyweds; we still walk hand-in-hand everywhere we go. When I finish a slice of pizza, he cuts me another of the exact size and proportion that I am craving — sometimes comprising just the crust — and when I cut him a quizzical look, he says, “Well, duh!” or “Like I’m a separate person from you!” We engage in mental telepathy on a regular basis, crack each other up with inside jokes that bewilder outsiders. We don’t socialize. We don’t go to parties. We prefer each other’s company over any other in all the world.

I know this is a terrifyingly rare and fragile gift. The idea of losing him, ever, leaves me breathless. I’ve sworn him, on many occasions, to a pact in which I get to die first. Ideally, however, we would die within moments of each other, when we are quite elderly, having lived out one of the world’s greatest romances. You know, the kind of thing they used to write up in newspapers, the sort of phenomenon that still makes a splash on social media.

I can also honestly say that my husband has brought me into closer relationship with God. His decision to convert to Catholicism (having spent most of his life as an agnostic) reengaged me with my own faith, made me fall in love with the Church all over again. My husband encourages me to follow my heart — to give money to strangers, even if they turn out to be disingenuous, to serve a community of women religious despite their geographical distance from us, to pray for other people because he believes my prayers are strong ones. I once heard a priest remark that the primary function of a marriage is to make sure one’s spouse makes it into heaven. If I ever achieve such lofty heights, it is due at least in part to my husband. (Though my mother deserves a big shout-out here, too. Thanks, Mom.)

A former co-worker once dismissed my marriage as “boring,” as compared to her “rollercoaster” of a union (which ended shortly thereafter). I tried to explain it to her: How I married Owen because he is a good person, and, as Socrates once explained, true love can only be love of the good. Good is enduring. Good is of God. Can a marriage really be both sacred and sanctifying? Yes. Yes, it can.

Happy birthday, honey.

Came to a realization the other day. Maybe my job as a mother is to go through life being pleasantly befuddled.

It gives my son the chance to set me straight about what’s cool. How to set up my smart phone. What’s new and exciting in EDM music. Things like that.

So, my son ordered a pair of “distressed jeans” recently, and when he opened the package, I was momentarily fertummelt (that’s Yiddish for befuddled/puzzled.)

“Okay, honey…so…they’re supposed to look like that?”

Cue the teen-age eyeroll.

“Oh, Ma. This is how they’re made.”

I told him that we’d had distressed jeans when I was a teen, also, but the jeans my son bought were all but ventilated. Corrugated clothing must be a thing now. They were so torn up, I’d surmise they were involved in some sort of industrial accident.

Moment of silence, please.

This morning, I woke up with the “Tousled Look.” Not just “bedhead,” mind you – it was like a whole herd of cowlicks, stampeding across my head. Press them down and boing! They’d spring right back up again. Lovely.

But the thing is, when I go to the salon, my stylist gives me a razor-cut, blow-dries and styles me for an hour and I end up with… pretty much the same Tousled Look.

Sometimes, it’s not the circumstances or conditions that affect us, but our attitudes.

Maybe it’s possible to choose to feel good about life the way we choose cool clothes and a flattering hairstyle.

When you shop online, you can select the attributes of the item you’re looking for: price range, cut, sleeve-length, etc. If you don’t want it, you don’t put it into your online shopping cart. You don’t put it onto your credit card. You don’t put it into your life.

If we could do that with our feelings, we’d have a lot more time to actually live well and be happy. Jealousy? Delete from cart! Gossiping? Cross it out. Stubborness? Declined!

As a bonus – it’ll leave us more time to be taught by our kids how out of touch we really are!

hillsWhen we are in the midst of trouble, whether it is illness or the death of a friend, it can be hard not to focus on our agony and our worries.  I tend to hold my pain close, too close to focus on it but also not letting it go. Fortunately, my husband is better at looking into the distance.

My friend died last Friday and although we had plans to go eagle watching, I wanted to cancel. Wouldn’t it be disrespectful? Staying home sounded really good.

My husband took me along when we dropped our son off at his friend’s, but we didn’t turn toward home.  Instead, we drove through the bottoms and between the rivers. We ended up at a historic fort for . . . can you guess? . . . eagle watching.

We stood on the bluff top in the icy wind and gazed up and down the river.  Geese.  A duck.  Song birds. Conservation agents with spotting scopes peered up and down the nearby riverbank.

Then my husband squinted into the distance. He’d caught sight of long, dark wings. He looked through our binoculars. An eagle! It perched in a tree, all but disappearing from sight. We watched the eagle for an hour, periodically scanning the trees for other telltale signs – white heads and flashes of white tails. Each time we looked back, there was our eagle, perched in the distance.

When we went to the wake, we looked at the pictures of our friend rafting, hiking, and at the Grand Canyon. Out in God’s world, sharing what she loved with those she loved.

Finding God and what is good when times are tough can be tricky. Close at hand, you may not be able to see anything but heartache.  But He is it out there, in the distance. All you have to do is spot Him.

–SueBE

I’m not going to lie: January 2016 has been — pardon my French — a crapfest. My last surviving uncle was laid to rest, my friend Mary passed away, my best friend’s brother died — suddenly and without warning — and two of my cats are sick, one near death. My father-in-law has been unwell and in the hospital, and I have cellulitis, a staph infection of the skin and tissue, but neither the doctor nor I know why. Bills are mounting; emergencies continue to emerge. What’d I tell you? Crapfest.

Once, many years ago, I was walking through a “haunted house,” staged for Halloween. Some dim bulb decided to paper over the staircase, and I slipped walking down it. Fortunately, the walls were also lined with paper, with hands groping through cut-out holes, in an attempt to scare people. One of these kindly disembodied hands caught me as I fell and held me up. It was a lesson in an unlikely place.

It is hard, when one is in the dark, to imagine light. And yet I believe that February will turn this impending trainwreck of a year around. Or, more precisely, I believe that God will. In any case, I am moving forward.

What lies ahead may be
a pebble or a boulder,
slope or sheer drop.
It is not for me to know.
Faith whispers only this:
put one foot out at a time,
test the air,
put it down. Repeat.
The light will find you.
The floor will hold you.
The roof will not collapse.
There is a hand
waiting in the dark,
fingers tensing for your touch.
Find it.

⌧ Let the cat out. 😺

⌧ Wake my son up. 😑

Checking things off my daily to-do list, I went through my morning routine.

Hold it. That should be “let out the cat.” And, “wake up my son.”

I remembered what my English professor would write in red pen on my papers: “Keep related words together!”

Any language can be hard to learn, but English seems to break its own rules. For instance, all of these words have “ough” in them, yet each is pronounced differently:  

  • doughnut
  • through
  • enough
  • bough
  • thought

And another thing. Why is it: commit perjury yet perform surgery? I think surgery takes more of a commitment than telling a lie. Don’t you? I mean, who wants a non-committal surgeon operating on their spleen? Just saying.

The whole point of language is communication. To connect with people, to hear and be heard. To create a community and listen to each others’ stories.

In the same way, faith is not about the letter of the law. It’s about grace. It’s not about being a stickler for the rules and making sure everyone around you worships, works and walks the same way. It’s about being a blessing and keeping a positive spirit.

So go ahead. Split the infinitive if you choose. Speak in sentence fragments. Like this one. 😉 Dangle that participle! Use emojis. Alk-tay in-yay ig-pay atin-lay. (Talk in Pig Latin!) Whatever words you may speak, it’s manna from heaven when you say it from the heart. 💗

Tell me your story, in your own words. I’d love to hear where you’ve been.

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