Lent in everyday language. Day Seven.

God Save Us

Someone asked me a very good question about Lent. I realize that in an effort to keep things very simple over here, I may have been too vague about how I am setting up this Lent Examen. Here are some simple guidelines that are in no way meant to control or stifle you, but perhaps will be helpful:

  1. the examen has been likened to rummaging through the contents of the last 24 hours like you would through a messy drawer. notice what is inside, what emotions and responses come about for you.
  2. if you were to attempt this practice at night in review of the day that was just before you, you would miss that opportunity to see how your dreams might speak to you, how the space between the actual event and your response to it has helped you to be a bit more objective. there is something about reviewing the previous 24 hours in the morning that seems to work
  3. the idea of examen is to look back SO THAT we can look forward. i have not included this step formally, but some suggest bringing out your calendar planner after the prayers of examen in order to make some suggestions to your future self.
  4. for more in depth and helpful resources, I recommend the Ignatian Spirituality site for a truly informative and enjoyable read on just about every spiritual topic you desire (including a little video about Lent and the Examen just posted today. perfect)

Examen

1. Where do you notice God saving you today?

Our faith community engaged in the topic of salvation on Sunday. It was another look at a word that we can tend to gloss over in our Christian circles and ignore if we haven’t made the decision to let God save us. I have been trying to formulate what about this message was really affecting me and it came to me clearly at last. God has saved me from my need to live life on my own terms. Specifically, Jesus Christ stands ready to be the Lord and Leader and Guide for my life if I will agree with Him.  Even as I reflect on the day, God is saving me from having to figure out the whole of my financial future with His promise to never leave me or forget about my needs.  In the daily question “How will we pay for this?” God has shown our family a better way, a wiser way, a more peaceful way… because I have given God the full authority to be in charge of how He will distribute our finances to us. Only in a truly surrendered state of being like this one will we see how much we need Jesus to save us from the messes we have made.

2. Where do you need God to save you today?

Instead of thinking of salvation as a one-time event where we are magically transported from a state of imperfection into a state of perfection, we engaged on Sunday with the idea that salvation has to do with our orientation- where we are focusing our attention. I notice that my attention with my daughters lately has been to offer friendship suggestions based on my experience or what I observe in girl friendships in their life.  I need God to save me from my desire to protect them and offer these young girls into the all-knowing, all-comforting arms of God. When I try to protect them, it is messy and emotional. I don’t listen to them because I think I already have the answers.  I need God to save me from trying to control them and instead point them to the only One who can- Jesus!

How do you need God to save you today? How do these questions help you notice your need for God?

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Lent in everyday language. Day Six.

Motherhood is not a full-time job. Please do not let anyone fool you.

Motherhood is overtime, all holidays, and weekends.

During the last few nights my 2 year old has been experiencing what I would dramatically call “night terrors”. Screaming out, night sweats, unable to be awakened. Several times a night. Poor buddy. So in the darkness of the morning when God was kind enough to rouse me, I was still holding my small little son in in just-the-right-way so that he would not wake up again. I laid there for what felt like hours… just holding him and wondering why he was so troubled during his sleeping hours. And I prayed quietly over his soul, that it would be well with his soul, that God would help him to lie down in green pastures, that he would have a sound mind.

It occurred to me in those moments how grateful I was for God’s words in me to pray over my small little son. I don’t have words all the time for what I need, for what my children need, for what other people need. I have words, but not for what people need. Make sense?

So an hour later when my (still) heartbroken middle daughter lamented again about her friendship woes… I had another word for her… from God.  I told her that she was the light of the world, she was a peacemaker and she would be blessed, that she was the apple of God’s eye and God was aware of her trouble.  God’s words for her needs, through me.

So in this way, we become for people what they need from God.. we become for people what we can never be without God’s great power to heal and bring reconciliation. This is our Lenten journey… to move our own desires aside for bits of days and weeks and to be for others what they cannot be for themselves. In Christ alone we have access to this.

Daily Examen

1. Where do you notice God’s grace through others? At church today I was aware of how many people in our congregation have become part of our life in the last few months. So many people have prayed, offered support and care, been amazing to our children, and invited us to share in a meal. We have also watched people get baptized, had people in our house for a meal, prayed for others, met them one-on-one for counseling, prayed for healing in marriages and invited neighbors to church. Our family has been the blessed recipients of heaps and heaps of gracious and generous gifts of time and resources and prayer from others. None of this would be possible if God had not designed His church this way… to care for one another like a good family should.

2. Where do you notice that you need God’s grace from others? In relationships with friends, misunderstanding can lead me to build protective walls around myself to keep those people from hurting me again. I know I am not alone in this. Some of these relationships can be avoided and the pain will diminish, but the walls of protection stay firmly built inside of me. I realize that I am unable to break these walls down by myself. I realize that they may be there for a good reason or a very bad one, but they are walls none the less. Walls keep out pain, sure, but they keep out light and can even lock us into a part of ourselves.  That is where I sit with past hurts from the recent ending of two important friendships.  I need God’s grace here… for myself… for others… for the human condition of imperfection.  I need God’s grace to build a bridge, a ladder, a wrecking ball against these protective walls that keep me from fully forgiving and moving out again in grace in these relationships.  I don’t know how, or I am unwilling. Either way, I need fresh grace in these season of reconciliation.

How do these questions help you to notice God today?

Lent in everyday language. Day Five.

I already love Sunday but Sunday during Lent is even more of a celebration. If you’ve been fasting from sugar, today you can have cake! The reason behind this that Sunday is the day we always partake in the celebration of Jesus resurrection, we are spiritually in the presence of our Lord and Friend…so why would we be dragging around trying to replicate a posture of mourning. I simply love this beautiful way to view the Sundays during Lent. Love it.

I was thinking about how to explain this way of moving through a rhythm of denial and celebration, grace and repentance,personal prayer and community. Like so many of the spiritual practices that form us, we need to be aware of our human tendency to focus so much on the practice that we forget the purpose. Our purpose of practicing Lent is to make us aware of Christ and our journey with Him, becoming more like Him— not to develop another impossible tool that only the super super devout can attain. Be aware that Lent, in everyday language, is a time for talking with God, cleaning up some wounds that you have or ways you have wounded others, and allowing yourself the freedom to be renewed. Easter will be the ultimate celebration, but Lent is like getting ready for the party!

I let myself sleep in today and woke up with the sun. So with coffee in hand and birds chirping madly outside my window I offer this daily examen to you.

1. Where do you find God providing for you today?
In our family we are experiencing a place of extreme financial lack. We believe that we are on our way out of this as my husband starts a new business, but it is still a daily leap of faith to see how God is creatively bringing the money into our hands and our daily needs being met. I share this as vulnerably as I can here. There is no mistake that God desires to be our ample provider. We sat down with all of our bills and a calendar today and the modest pay that my husband had received. We added up the cash the gift cards for groceries the money in our account and instead it turned into a multiplication problem. It is as if we are being invited to simply sit and acknowledge that every good and perfect is coming outside of ourselves. Humbling, a bit. Mysterious, absolutely. Displaying God’s ability to provide for all we need? Yes!

2. Where do you need God to provide for you today?
We have two cars with varying issues and rattles and car payments. At this season, it feels like we are driving around a house of cars. I feel anxious that we won’t be able to make the car payments. I feel my heart racing when there is a mysterious squeal or squeak that won’t stop. Before I would have simply taken them in for whatever ailed them, but today I can’t. My husbands car needs tires and struts and service and NEEDS to drive a reliable car to his clients homes. Do we need two cars? Are we being invited to live with one? What is your answer for our family? What makes the most sense? Where do you want to show us a miracle and where are we supposed to show great wisdom? I have no answer.

How do these questions help you to notice God as your provider?

Lent in everyday language. Day Four

So on day four of my Lenten pilgrimage, I come with a bit of desolation. Through a heartbreak of my middle daughter, I am reliving and reentering memories of friendships that have been my own heartache. I hold these things before God, but it is another thing to hold them out in public places. Whether my fault or theirs, when friendships end abruptly, it brings a polarity of response: 1. It’s my fault. 2. It’s their fault.

What I want, what I deeply desire, is a new parable ((for girl relationships in particular)) where friends can move in and out of friendships without crushing or being crushed by others. I proposed to my young daughter this metaphor. FRIENDS are so much like shoes. We see them. We are drawn to them. We begin by trying them on and then wearing them. Some are a perfect fit. Some aren’t but we love them anyway. Some we outgrow. Some we loose. ( you get the picture). But if the shoes pinch our toes or give us a blister, it is time to pass them on to someone whose feet will fit them better than ours. Kindly and without malice. And when someone else is wearing those shoes that we thought would always be ours, let’s fight the temptations to be jealous or resentful. We are now closer to finding our favorite and comfortable pair of shoes.

Dear friends, do any of you need a new view on some tricky friendships? How do you lovingly let go of someone?

Daily Examen

1. Where did I find God today?
Today I found God in my patient response to interruptions. What grace to let other people need something from you that requires a sacrifice of your agenda. And what grace to have a cheerful attitude about it. My list of hopes and plans for my day were all but left untouched and for some uncommon reason, it did not rob me of my peace. I saw these interruptions as my loving Father showing me a better way for my day than I could have planned for myself.

2. Where did I miss God today?
Today I was heightened in awareness of the deeply broken relationships between people who claim to follow after God. I will include myself in this mess. We know that God offers us paths to unity, but God must know our free will and egos win out generally. If marital brokeness, deep friendship wounds, parent-child estrangement are occurring in the Church, where is God? How do two people so uniquely interpret the path of right living, of love for each other, of marriage? Where are you in all of this unending brokeness between your people? Bring a remedy, please, that I can effectively use to see Your will for our relationships with those who are supposed to be brothers and sisters.


How do theses questions help you notice God today?

Lent in Everyday Language. Day Three.

For some uncommon reason, I have been awake by 4:30 am or so for the last three days. Without an alarm. This makes me wonder if anyone of you are praying for me to have a gentle transition into this whole getting up in the dark business. At any rate, it is so beautiful and peaceful to simply find oneself awake and have a completely silent house with nothing to do but listen to God. No alarm necessary.

So on Day 3 of Lent I am exploring two more questions to help me pay attention to God in everyday life. If you are just joining today, welcome. You are not behind and you don’t need to catch up. But if you want a teeny bit more info, scroll back through a few entries and find out why I am doing this along with a very very very brief bit about Lent in general.

Examen

1. Where did I find myself most loving today?
This question is such a great question to ask throughout the day and a great question to teach our children to ask. Today I noticed my love for strangers. I spent the larger part of my day in a lovely little urban coffee/tea shop called Milk and Honey. If you live anywhere within an hour of this place, find a reason to spend a morning there. It is tiny. The teas are complex and creative. The people stream in and out and sometimes edge their way into little tiny outdoor tables or sofas to enjoy a vanilla bergamot tea or a fresh fruit parfait or a Nutella and banana sandwich. In environments like this, I feel instantly connected to the many types of people that wander in for a bit of solace in a cup of hot tea. I imagine their stories, the types of days that face them, the way they bring their little toddlers in and then end up quickly shuffling them out after one of them spills their tea or yogurt into the gravel patio. I always smile knowingly at these incidents that are so common to my own experience. Or the couples that come in so carefree (young) and remind me of earlier dating days with my husband. Something about their posture and the absolute joy of getting to know each other and simply enjoy a cup of coffee is so refreshing to my soul. In this very small environment, you pick up on bits of conversation. Today I noticed how many people were talking directly and boldly about their faith and love and belief in God. I felt as if God had orchestrated so many of us to arrive in this tea house and the same exact moment to be a great witness and expression of loving Him and loving one another.
2. Where did I find myself least loving today?
Ahem. Well…..
This is hard to say but it was with my family at the library. In our media fast, we are exploring other activities that will help us to replace old behaviors with new and more enriching ones. Library was top of the list for everyone. It is worth mentioning here that my husband has never (in our memory) been to the library with all of 6 of us. It is also worth mentioning that my 2 1/2 year old is not so awesome at the idea of a “library voice”. And did I mention we went just before dinner? So we head to the library full of expectations ( mine ) and we immediately scatter into all directions. But my toddler and I remained in the section near some little playthings and piles and piles and piles of picture books where I periodically had to chase after him as he tried to find the elevator. I am and have always been a book nerd. I love everything about libraries. Everything that has to do with quiet reading. But something happened when we got to the library and I could feel myself losing the joy of the experience. My middle son picked up a pile of comic type books that were way too evilly graphic for my comfort. Irritated. My eldest daughter was allowed to head over to the young adult section and returned with a pile of books whose covers looked appropriate but as I flipped through the pages were full of rated R material. Disheartened. My middle daughter was wisely studying her science and vocabulary and every time I tried to sit and help her I was distracted and pulled away by my toddler on the loose. Frustrated. My husband finally returned happily with a whole pile of new cookbooks to show me and I was just done. Nothing went as I had hoped or imagined. And why? We’ve been to the library zillions of times. It made no sense. So in an extremely unloving way, I made sure that everyone knew, through my carefully placed passive aggressive behavior, how very very disappointed I was. Ug.

Lent in everyday language. Day Two

Welcome to Lent! If you have no idea what that means, the simple explanation can be found over here.

Our family is collectively fasting from entertainment media (no movies, no hanging out online).

Each week during Lent we are pursuing new habits and hobbies.  Since the ages of my children range from 2-12, our list of new pursuits is pretty simple:

  • play cards
  • paint
  • exercise
  • go to the library
  • play board games
  • go to bed earlier (that’s mine)
  • go to a new museum
  • go on a hike
  • fly kites at the beach
  • have people over for dinner more often
  • learn how to cook some new things together
  • read stories to one another
  • get our homework done earlier
  • serve people in new ways
  • enjoy our neighbors
  • go for walks around the neighborhood

Confession: I broke the fast DAY ONE when I got a phone call from the director of my masters program and I didn’t want my 2 year old interrupting my call.

So what this has shown me is that I need to be prepared and mindful of new activities that I can have on hand to move my busybusybusy toddler through his mornings without using the famous media-as-babysitter tactic. Or maybe this is an invitation to simply slow and be more present with him during the day and not take important phone calls until he is zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I am spending a little time every morning with a spiritual discipline called the examen.

Daily Examen

  1. Where did I notice God answering my prayers today?Today was a day where  I noticed that many of the long roads I’ve been traveling (writing, spiritual formation leadership, academia, family unity, church collaboration) all convened together like the final pieces in a frustrating jigsaw puzzle. The sort of puzzle where you are sure near the end that you have lost some of the pieces or they were never in the box to begin with.   It was as if God was pouring new courage into my spirit to remind me that He is the One who has put all of these pieces into the box of my life and these pieces will work together to serve a greater purpose.  In a brainstorming meeting, we were reading through the very very last chapters of the Bible and I was struck by God’s description of what our home will be with Him.  In particular, I noticed that God is telling us even now that He is making all things new. Even when all I notice is the scrambled up pieces, He is making my life new.
  2. Where did I need to God answer my prayers today? Our family is at a place of extreme financial lack.  While my husband is diligently pursuing a new chef business and working a bit for a former boss, we have nothing near what we need to take care of our monthly expenses. I have seen God provide miracle after daily miracle for food, shelter, transportation. Yet, I don’t know individually what I am supposed to be doing to contribute to this ever growing debt. Do I return to full time work? Do I continue to pursue other free lance job opportunities? Do I take in children and do babysitting at home? Do I work alongside my husband in his new business? I can’t even find space or time to listen properly to what the best path will be for the future and as the days and weeks pass by, I need God to speak and invite and confirm His best plan for me in this season. Today I have little idea about what that could be.

How do these questions help you notice God today?

Lent in everyday language. Day One.

Lent in everyday language is written off of the pages of my own story where I play the leading role of wife, mother, author, and sometimes-scholar of spiritual formation/soul care and prayer. For each day of Lent, I am committing to fast from my coveted morning sleep ( yikes) and practice the daily examen. Simply put, the examen is a centuries old practice that helps us notice where God is working in our everyday-ordinary-activity filled lives.

If you have even a small desire to join in this 40-day journey, please know that you do not have to get up in the dark like I am! But perhaps in this season of Lent where we might be tempted to give up eating sugar ((again)) or not participate in Lent at all ((again)).. perhaps we can make a change in the way we commonly spend 30 minutes or more of our day and simply ask ourselves two questions about our day.

That’s it. Two questions.

Give up some time spent on pleasurable activities for 40 days. Read through some reflective questions. Respond here or in a journal or on your own blog. And the hope for all of us is that we will learn together how to recognize what things in life are life giving and what things in our lives are more likely to bring us despair and disconnection.  Hint: If you are doing the examen in the morning hours, you may want to reflect on the day that has just passed. If you are doing these exercises in the evening, you would review the events of the day you are in. Just saying.

Day One Questions

  1. For what moment today am I most grateful?
    Today I am most grateful for the moment I was able to have with my nine year old daughter who is hurting from a difficult friendship. She asked me to walk her up to the school building but then told me ” That’s good mama. I’m fine now”. I stood and watched her walk straight into the place where her heart could surely be bruised again- across the pavement– getting smaller and smaller in the distance. She never turned back. It is a tug for me when I want to be perfectly available to fight against all of my children’s painful moments, that somehow my grown-up presence will protect their little souls from damage. I am deeply grateful that God is growing both of us in our ability to walk through pain without letting the pain walk its way all over us.
  2. For what moment today am I least grateful?
    I am least grateful for the moment when I was late for an appointment ((again)). I stayed in the parking lot just a few minutes too late talking about nothing of consequence while the margin grew less and less for me to leave and be on time. I arrived over 15 minutes late and I noticed how often this is the case for me. I justify this behavior by telling myself that I just live “in the present” and ” I have no concept of time”. But today when I walked in to the small room where the meeting had already started, I recognized a lack of care for others when I consistently show up late. This is old behavior and it generally puts mean in a cycle of guilt/shame/feeling immature. Not fun.

How does this practice of examen help you notice God today?