Preparing for Lent

Lent3Normally on Shrove Tuesday, my husband and I would be excited to head to church for the annual Pancake Supper.
This year, we’re in a new town, and I’m attending a new church. There won’t be pancakes–my husband’s favorite food–and the already frigid temperature will be dropping into the teens.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I loathe winter. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I was the kids that hated sledding and hot chocolate. I loved the few months of summer with heat and long days, which is why I moved South. Continue reading

Fighting Demons

I decided to hold off on the post I had planned for this week to take a minute and share with you some recent struggles. Often, when I succeed, I hear, “But it’s so easy for you!” It actually isn’t. I work hard at overcoming my demons just like everyone else. Sometimes, my demons get the best of best of me. My personality type and my personal dysfunctions generally prevent me from letting people see that inner struggle, but it’s there, and I’m working on it.
Lent has always been my favorite time of the year. I love the Gospel readings of Jesus’s teachings. I love all the purple. I love the music. There’s a raw open quality to it that I admire and love, a quality I wish I had more of. It’s a time when grief, pain, and sadness are ok. It’s a time when are limitations are ok. The Christian message is that those things are ok all the time, but that tends to get lost on mainstream Christianity that asks me to say 24/7 that things are well with my soul. The truth is that I need Christ because my emotional insides are a hot mess.
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Stewardship of God's Creation

I am so often disappointed when I look around the world and see the way we treat God’s creation. When God left us in charge of things, I don’t think God intended for us to abuse his creation. I think God intended for us to love and to care for his creation as God loves and cares for us, which we are most certainly not doing. I have several friends who are in the rescue business, either canines or equines, and their Facebook pages are continuously filled with sad stories of abuse and neglect. Don’t get me wrong. I understand what it means to fall on hard times and have to re-home your pets, but the volume of animal abuse and neglect in our so-called Christian society is in no way consistent with Christian teachings.
I witnessed a disturbing incident on the way to work the other day. I was driving my usual 5 miles over the speed limit when–as always happens–60 miles per hour just wasn’t fast enough for some hotshot in his supped up, lifted Chevy truck. Just as he came barreling around me and the person behind me, a squirrel darted into the road. I can’t be sure, but I would swear that the driver intentionally hit the squirrel, who realized his error in judgment and tried to retreat. The poor squirrel rolled under the big truck tires and was thrown into the other lane. He clearly did not die on impact. It was heartbreaking. I have no great love for squirrels or any other of God’s rodents, but I could never imagine being so callous as to not care that I took a life–any life. Continue reading

A Confession

For a Christian, there really is no bigger sin than having hate in your heart.  Christ tells us that the most important commandment is to love God and the second is to love each other.  Pretty clear that hate isn’t a part of a Christian life.
I confess…  I HATE people who have animals and don’t treat them with loving kindness.  I don’t just hate the obvious abusers, but I hate people that don’t treat their animals well.  I can’t pray for them.  I can’t love them.  I just don’t know how.
Yesterday morning as I was pulling in to the local gas station/grocery on my way to work, the truck of one of the regulars was in the parking lot.  No surprise.  But the dog in the bed of the truck was a surprise.  I had never seen a dog in the truck before.  It took all of three seconds for anger to flare up in me.
It was 19 degrees.  Animals struggle as much as we do when the weather see-saws back and forth from 70 degrees to 19 degrees, and any dog who lives in Tennessee isn’t really equipped for 19 degree weather.  What makes this jerk think his dog wants to sit on a cold, metal truck bed when it’s 19 degrees?  Imagine how cold it was back there when they were traveling the 45 miles per hour (or more) on the road to get there.  The poor dog was exposed to subzero windchill for what?  To protect his upholstery?  Meanwhile, he’s in the cab of the truck enjoying heat and no wind.
What was this jerk doing while his poor dog was lonely and cold in the back of his truck?  Eating breakfast in a warm seat across the table from one of his buddies.  How do I know the dog was lonely?  First, his body language screamed Yellow Zone–uncomfortable and unhappy.  Second, dogs are pack animals.  They NEVER want to be alone.  Instinctually, alone equals death.  What dogs crave most is the company of the pack, whether that pack be us, other dogs, or other animals.  So this guy was depriving his dog of the one thing his dog wants most, so he could eat breakfast with his buddy.  Nice.

You can see how quickly I escalate and how angry I get.  God made these animals for the sole purpose of loving and serving us.  I get so angry when I see someone clearly defile that love.  The correct, Christian response would be to pray that through Christ the person’s heart is opened to the love of his animal and through that love to God’s love as well.  Instead, I fume.  Sometimes for days.  Not only does it not bring the guilty party closer to God, but it also separates me from God.  It’s sin.  Plain and simple.
Even with the best of intentions, losing sight of God’s great love for us and all his creation happens in the blink of an eye.  One minute we’re rejoicing in his Grace, and the next, we’re mired in hate and anger.  I shouldn’t stop caring, but I certainly need to find a better way to do it.  I need a way that gives God a chance to show me his wondrous mercy and perform miracles even on heartless jerks who leave their dogs alone in the bed of a pickup when it’s 19 degrees.
No one ever said it would be easy.  Christ only said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NLT)  Possible but not easy.
Today, I pray that God will give me the strength to seek and serve Christ not just in those I want to love but even in those I don’t.  I pray that God will soften my heart to love even my enemies.
Which of your “enemies” do you struggle to love? to pray for?

My Favorite Season

Lent is hands down my favorite liturgical season.  When I say that, people look at me as though I’m crazy or as though I like beating myself up.  Neither is true.  Well…  Maybe the first just a little, but in a good way.  😉
I love Lent because it gives Easter it’s meaning.  How can we rejoice in the resurrection without experiencing the trial and death that preceded it?  More than that though, I love Lent because I can think of no greater intimacy in a relationship that humbling yourself and admitting your shortcomings.  There is something inherently intimate in the act of penance, which can only serve to strengthen your personal relationship with God.  And when that penance is complete, God answers, “I love you.  You’re forgiven.  You will enjoy eternal life.”  What could be more beautiful?
For me, Lent is always a time of positive transformation–a time of spiritual growth.  Growing up in a Roman Catholic family, I’ve been in the habit of giving something up for Lent, but I have always tried to give up something that will ultimately make me a better person and bring me closer to God.

Last year, I gave up most of my earthly possessions.  We moved from a nice, three bedroom house into a travel trailer.  We had minimal storage.  Only those things that I couldn’t replace that had significant personal value were stored or kept.  Everything else was listed on Craigslist or given to Goodwill.  Hard process but a transformative action that refocused my life on more important things.  My gaze shifted from earthly concerns to deeper, divine concerns.
In years past,  I gave up things like hair color, processed foods, and Diet Coke, allowing me to be a healthier, more authentic version of myself. This year, rather than removing something from my life, I’m adding a discipline.  I’m committing to prayer three times a day.  I hope to eventually increase that to 5 times a day, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  😉
Many people see Lent as a sad or dark time, which it can be.  We have to face Christ’s sacrifice and our role in it.  Even more scary…  We have to face ourselves.  Lent requires quiet and stillness, which are contrary to our fast-paced external world.  But Lent can be a time of positive transformation, a journey to prepare us for the risen Lord.  Lent can be a deep, spiritual blessing.
What are you experiencing this Lenten season?

Shrove Tuesday with a Twist

Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a time for us Episcopalians to come together to eat pancakes and burn chrism and palms.  It comes from the tradition of feasting on the contents of your cupboards in preparation for the fasting of Lent, which begins the following day.  For our household, Shrove Tuesday took on new meaning.
I was working from home and got a message from my husband’s aunt.  For the last three years, we have been living in one of her homes, paying the mortgage, and arguing about whether or not to buy the place.  She insisted we treat the place as our own, because she knew I wanted to buy the place, and she had no interest in moving back in.
Things change…
Her circumstances have changed radically in the last three years.  Our intentions have changed radically.  We have spent the last two months stressing out about getting the house ready to sell and making sure we take care of her.  She has spent the last two month living in an apartment while we live in one house and another house remains on the market.  Between a crappy economy and unforeseen family circumstances, she needs her house back.  She contacted us feeling guilty, but we were relieved.  Panicked, but relieved.
Talk must now become action…
CrossofashesOur dream building about downsizing into a travel trailer while we build our dream home is no longer talk.  It is our reality.  I’ve spent the last month trying to discern God’s will and soul-searching for just the right thing to do or to give up for Lent.  God called.  He wants me to give up my stuff.  :p
I joke, but it’s true.  I asked.  God answered.  I know someone who needs to sell her travel trailer.  I know someone who needs our house.  I know two people who are facing an empty, too big nest with too much stuff.  This is a win-win-win for everyone.
I’m scared…
I won’t lie.  My husband and I are terrified about how this is all going to come together.  We’re terrified that we’re going to be stuck in a travel trailer together with 3 dogs and a cat and be completely miserable.  What if we fight?  What if the dogs fight?  What if we can’t get everything done in time?  What if his aunt is upset about something we did to the house?  What if the truck breaks down?  We have a million fears and questions.
But we also have faith…
FortyDaysFortyItemsWe know God provides.  We’ve both seen it.  God has plans for us, and those plans are GOOD.   God has called, and we will answer, knowing that God will be there for us and that this journey is another positive step toward a stronger marriage and a more fulfilling life.
So as Ash Wednesday arrived, I committed to spending Lent parting with many of my material possessions.  When Easter Sunday arrives, we will be living a new life in a new place.  We will be manifesting our new intentions to devote our lives to being a positive force of transformation in the world.  The next 40 days will be full of temptations, but I am sure that with God’s help, we will come out the other side renewed and restored.
What are you committing to this Lent in preparation for the Lord’s death and resurrection?  What fears do you carry with you?  How will you overcome?