On the Necessary Dread of Lent

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Pushing the grocery cart into the store, I unzip my coat, press red gloves into pockets, stop and pull a small piece of paper out of my purse; a handwritten list of items I need to purchase. After scanning the list, I look up and what I see makes me gasp.

A stack of open boxes holds bundles of daffodils . . . . in February. Aren’t we still in winter?

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When we moved to London last March, we pulled our suitcases into a virtually empty house. A couch of mismatched cushions and worn bedside table in the living room and a borrowed table and four red plastic chairs in the dining room. Cardboard boxes in the corner held lamps left by a friend.

In the center of the table, a glass vase holding an abundance of cheery daffodils was backlit by shards of sun streaming through a tall window. A simple gesture of welcome was like Christ kissing me on the cheek.

Daffodils are pushing through the ground and waving hello everywhere in London due to warmer than normal temperatures. Brits fear that the premature alacrity nature is boasting means spring will be less vibrant; ruined with one icy exhale of winter.

But for me, those flamboyant yellow mounds are a reminder that hope is not fickle and God is just.

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Last week, on a sunny Saturday, I planted English Primrose in my virtually empty garden. A worm wiggled through a scoop of earth in the shovel and I realized that even worms look different in England.

Yesterday morning I wore an apron and carried plates stacked with warm blueberry pancakes from the kitchen into the dining room.  Nine people sat around the table we purchased before my daughter’s second birthday, eighteen years ago. Daffodils fill vases on all three floors of my house.

“Do you think these pancakes turned out better than last year?” someone asked me while chatting over a sizzling skillet.

“Yes, these turned out perfect. The buttermilk is thicker than I’m used to in the US but I’ve learned to anticipate the quirks of this stove with months of practice.”

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Today is the first day of Lent. The day we mark our foreheads with ash and remember that we are dust.

Tonight in London, there are rumors of frost after the sun goes down.

The daffodils and Ash Wednesday remind me that life is a circle of seasons and seasons don’t ask for permission to begin. They only ask me to wait, accept them, and then live.

As I walk out my turquoise door, onto pavement, yellow ruffles on daffodil stems sway in the wind. Change doesn’t happen unless we are willing to experience the details of life differently.   And that is why I  dread and need the season of Lent.

For more about Lent read The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway and Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement by Kris Camealy.

 

When God Isn’t Laughing

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“I’m coming back about this time next year. When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent opening, just behind the man.

 Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband?”

God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Me? Have a baby? An old woman like me?’ Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back about this time next year and Sarah will have a baby.”

Sarah lied. She said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid.

But he said, “Yes you did; you laughed.” (Genesis 18:10-15, MSG)

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I’ve been thinking about this passage almost every day for over a week now – when I am stirring pots on the stove, soaking my hands in dishwater, when I walk around the city, when I hear people talk, as I fall asleep and as I wake up. All these years later, Sarah’s story is fueling obstreperous thoughts that only calm down and make sense when I write about them.

I imagine Sarah standing in the opening of the tent, a bit slack-jawed, face flushed and laboring to breathe. Her hand trembling as she lifts it slowly up to her face.

I realize I’ve been laughing at God lately.

And slowly backing away from the doors He is opening with a list like Sarah’s of reasons why He might be wrong.

He’s asking me why I’m laughing.

Conviction feels a bit terrifying doesn’t it?

Initially, conviction requires something from us – a change of heart or perspective, making amends, taking risks, surrendering plans, sacrificing comfort or repentance. But after that initial dose of the fear of God, His love makes us brave enough to carry on.

God convicts and then asks these questions, “Will you trust that I love you? Will you trust that my ways are good?”

My friend Christie Purifoy is mentoring me on how to be brave.

I imagine Christie wasn’t laughing when she got the news that her brother-in-law Shawn, a Marine pilot, was on board one of the helicopters that crashed off the coast in Hawaii. In the blink of an eye, her sister becomes a young widow and nieces and nephews, fatherless. I imagine shock and disbelief, not laughter.

But when tragedy happens the very week you are set to launch your first book into the world, I imagine   if there was any laughter, it mimicked Sarah’s.  Laughter that erupts from a place that asks, “How in the world is this going to happen?”

Is anything too hard for God?

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At a time set aside for the promotion of her work, Christie watched her plans crumble. And the communion of the saints come together to lift Roots and Sky up through her cloud of grief.  God always knew that others would carry her words into the world at the appointed hour.

A year ago, if God would’ve shown up at Christie’s house, Maplehurst, saying this time next year the launch of your first book will coincide with the loss of your brother-in-law, I imagine like Sarah, she would’ve laughed in disbelief.

But when it actually happens, this is how she responds instead, “The book I wrote is not diminished by this sorrow. It is more true than I knew, and it has become, for me, an anchor outside this grief. It is, quite literally, the material form of my hope. If I once thought it was my gift to God then it is a gift he has given back to me. I can hold hope in my hands, even if I fail to see it in these circumstances.”

God is telling me to do some hard things and I tend to make lists of reasons why He might want to consider choosing someone else. And then Sarah’s long ago tale in Genesis paired with Christie’s story coming through my inbox remind me why I cannot laugh or pretend that I’m not laughing when I am falling on the floor uproariously inside my head.

The broken, imperfect, messy, stories of life are where we find the courage to hope. We laugh at God only when we eliminate Him from the equation.

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Is anything too hard for the Lord?

“We believe it. We don’t understand it. We are still rocked by loss and grief, but we see God’s goodness everywhere. God is still good.”

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Find Christie’s book, Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons on Amazon (on sale for $7.90, Kindle) and Barnes and Noble.

Read more about Christie’s story here and here.

 

When You Believe the Lies of Your Own Truth

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I learned something new about myself this week, something I don’t like.

When I’m faced with a difficult situation, something I’m responsible for that is beyond my capacity, instead of asking for help, I push people away. I become my own counselor, mentor, best friend and confidante. When it comes to expressing emotion, I don’t. I keep emotions internalized for safekeeping.

I avoid vulnerability by becoming the architect and builder of my own internal house.

And you can probably guess what happens. That house eventually collapses.

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I wrote that first paragraph in my journal a couple of years ago, but recently, as I read those words again, they were equally sobering. It’s easy to believe the lies of your own truth. And in parenting, more than any other area of my life, I see how self-reliance cheats me.

Last week, by 5:00pm London was completely covered in darkness. Harrison and I pulled on layers – wool socks, thermals, scarves, coats and gloves – and walked briskly to the train station, clouds of breath filling  the air between us as we talked.

We slapped our Oyster cards on the kiosk and walked through the gates, meeting up with H, already standing on the quiet platform.  Three of us huddled together and through a thick malaise of yellow lamp light, my eyes were transfixed down an empty stretch of railway, searching for an approaching train and the warmth inside I know will come with it.

But as the train slides into the station, it’s apparent that people are wedged inside like sardines in a tin can. Instead of pushing into a crowd of people, we wait for room to breathe on the next train.

We are on our way to Harrison’s school for his first parent/teacher consultation. You might remember that he was out of school for nine months while we waited through layers of bureaucracy to get to London. I was pushing people away back then, holding my breath, anxiety ridden and living in the swell of my worst case scenarios.

What if I ruin my son’s life? It was the question I was trying to answer internally while suppressing emotions I didn’t trust to come out. I allowed the weight of responsibility to overwhelm me and faith was compromised by uncertainty.

I made God small in the midst of my huge unknowns.

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But ever since we landed in England, I’ve seen my son come alive.

I’ve been surprised and happy to learn that my fears about his transition into new culture were lies I was believing. As we walked around the gym, among parents and students meeting with teachers, I realized back then, in the midst of all the unknowns, my hope wasn’t stretched to maximum capacity. Perspective was compromised by self-reliance.

As a parent, you know how a teacher feels about your child when you watch them make eye contact with him. You know when a teacher is being cordial for the benefit of keeping the peace or genuinely interested in your child’s well-being.

After our final consultation, we walked back out into the cold night air, winds gusting around tall buildings, and I thought this must be what it feels like to be the winner of a lottery. The glowing words uttered by each and every teacher about my son’s character and intelligence had nothing to do with me at all.

God chooses.

The grace of God’s face shining on us feels that way, doesn’t it?

He chooses to look us in the eyes and bless us when we don’t deserve it. And the brightness is humbling and overwhelmingly good.

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In the midst of waiting for God to answer prayers, we are tempted to believe that hope is like a thread connecting us to heaven, and severed when we doubt.

When it comes to parenting, we carry our children’s burdens but heaviness is not of the Kingdom.  He is the architect and builder of our lives.

Self-reliance is a barrier that keeps us from seeing His light shining upon us. And on our children too.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. (Hebrews 11:1, MSG)

My One Word this year is Shine and I’m keeping track of the ways His face is shining on us and sharing some of the stories here with you. Will you join me?

How have you seen His face shining upon you this week? Tell me about it in the comments.

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