Lent in everyday language. Day Thirty-two.

It’s official.

I am free from one of my own worst enemies: my tendency to be mad when I don’t finish something the way I wanted to. Like this blog where I purposed myself to write everyday during the days of Lent. 40 days to be exact that would mark my devotion to the deeper spiritual practices of daily examen. I even offered to share these daily nuggets with my faith community on their homepage. I started strong, was hit mid-stream with a writers dilemma (how much to share and how much not to share), and sort of petered off in my resolve to write everyday.

Usually these starts and stops are quickly followed by some self-debasing language that seems to scold me like some highly critical parent “See. You never finish what you start. See. You always stop before you finish. See. You’re late.”  During this highly introspective and contemplative season of my life, I have not had the time or space to spend with these voices of criticism and control. Instead, other voices have beckoned me onward and forward.

Like one voice from the editor of the company I am doing free-lance work for right now. She said (paraphrased) “Amy, you are a writer. You have the heart of a writer, and that can’t be taught. The other stuff like structure and grammar is easy to work on once you have the heart for writing” Another voice came from my husband who noticed I hadn’t been posting. He said “I miss getting your daily emails. I really like what you write.”  So these two very important people who matter so much in terms of what I am writing were the voices that trumped the other ones who play with my insecurity and fear that I am somehow not allowed to fail. Or to write honestly. Or to fail. Or to pause. Or to write about something controversial.

These are my words, downloaded from a mind full of stories and dreams and poems for a world where I believe authentic living is possible. Where I believe that the God created us to live is in simplicity and unity with God. Where I believe that Jesus is our model for a perfectly authentic spirituality. Where I believe that Jesus left His Spirit to be Our Holy Counselor and Present help to live this life well.

Where I believe that the language we speak and the words we choose can invite healing into a world is too codependent on popular culture to choose for them how they will think and what they will care about.

These words matter. Your words matter. Our words matter.

Daily Examen

1. How do you see God’s provision today?

Today I see the way God is providing time for me to have carved out time to be one on one with my kids. This is a result of the role my husband has been able to play in our family lately since our job transition back in December. My 8 year old son asked me on Monday if we could have a date looked forward to it all week. It took all day for us to finally get out of the house and when we did, I think we held hands for about three hours straight. We He talked about everything. He told me the movies he wanted to see, the girl he liked at school, the way he wanted to learn phonics better because “school isn’t just about grades, Mom. I want to really learn some stuff!” He didn’t ask me any questions. I watched him and noticed things that escape my attention when I am busy wrangling 4 at a time.  I imagine that is the way God wants me to be present with my children more often.

2. How do you need to see God’s provision today?

One of the parts of our date was to head to the Lego store at one of the biggest and nicest malls in Orange County. I am not a mall person. Never have been. It always makes me feel instantly like I am wearing the wrong shoes or my jeans aren’t new enough or that I want to run into the Baby Gap and buy all of my children matching outfits. I also am amazed at the number of messages stores send with their marketing promises of sexy-skinny-rich. It just doesn’t fit me on a normal everyday, let alone in a season where I really can’t afford to buy myself a new pair of jeans. In the mall, we went straight to the Lego store to play and look at Legos. But even there I felt that pull to have more, to have something, to buy something, to validate my love for my son (WHO LOVES LEGOS) by purchasing something for him before we left. My purchase was SMALL. But my need for God in this struggle against stuff is BIG. I need to see God in these little wars against stuff. I need to see how God wants to provide and how to feel less guilty when I do want things.  Do I always have to say no? Am I never allowed to want things? Will I ever be able to buy a new pair of jeans? Will this season of scarcity be the way I will live normally or will there be some balance? God, provide your peace as you provide for every other need in my life.

How do these questions help you notice God in your everyday life?

Lent in everyday language. Day Twenty-nine.

I was sharing with a friend today that I hadn’t been very faithful to my daily posts. The reason is due in large part to the fact that I have been laser focused on a new venture with my chef husband where we hope to provide meals to families. Many, many, families.

My friend commented “It sounds like you are in a season within a season!” How true.

How true always.

Seasons that seem to present us with something specific, like winter for example, often erupt into the most brilliant days of sunshine and people immediately want to throw their boots into the basement (that’s what I did when I lived in Michigan anyway). Winter plus sunshine. A season within a season.

I have shared so much about our financial situation here, calling it L.A.C.K. yet in this season of financial questions, we have lived on less and learned to launch. Forgive the poor alliterations, but Lack and Launch are presenting themselves in a magnificent display of season within season. How is it even possible that we could carry both around with us each day? How do you carry the spiritual and natural polarities around with you each day?

So with that I invite you to embrace whatever season of life is apparent, and the mysterious appearances of diverging sub-seasons that spring up everywhere.

My Examen- My Poem of Noticing

Where do you notice God today?

sunlight through back doors spilling onto kitchen tiles while my husband cooks and cooks and cooks. miracles showing up underfoot. God, give me the ability to let myself look down in unlikely places to see You showing up.

son running in circles with dirty, wet grassy feet and falling into piles of his own laughter and hiccups. the fullness of joy encapsulated in the freedom of a two year old. God, give me the freedom to be that full of joy.

red and yellow and orange peppers eaten raw from a bowl. sweet. crunchy. perfect vegetables grown from seeds that I mostly taste drowned in false flavors and sauces and preservatives. God, help me to learn how to eat from and to enjoy from the Garden again.

Where do I need to notice God today?

broken little bird in the form of a ten-year old girl. a daughter of nobody knows exactly. left behind to fall through cracks of beauracracy and democracy and inefficiency. we watch with our “hands tied”. God, untie our hands to we can untie her abuse.

broken dreams in the form of mental illness on a man who leads the country in a compassionate cry for Uganda. media feasts. citizens speculate. God, grant us the wisdom to know the difference between truth and lies and media spun drama.

hungry people camping outside of grocery stores where there is enough food for everyone. I hand them something simple, but it isn’t enough to feed them their identity.  God. let the last be the first as You let Your Kingdom come.

How are these questions prompting you to see God with new eyes today?

Lent in everyday language. Day Twenty.

i have written a number of posts… all saved in draft form… many unfinished.. over the last several days of my Lenten journey. It has not been difficult for me to find time to become aware of God’s presence in my life, rather it has been extremely difficult for me to protect my practice of writing.

as a mother of four with a toddler still at home, i am reminded of the fight we have to wage in order to carve out sacred time. some of us do this in our practice of exercise and we will not miss a work out that we have scheduled. for others there may be other practices that are completely worth fighting for and take precedence over all other negotiable activities.

what i recognize in this season of my life is that writing is a practice worth fighting for. it is a practice that helps me to peg down some meaning in day to day life and create containers for my wandering thoughts and dreams.

but i will live in the grace and goodness that my days are full of conversations and prayers for others, delighting in and disciplining my children, and sometimes the very thing that i want to do is the last thing that i get to do, for now.

so thank you for wandering along through Lent with me. part of Lent is about reconciliation, and sometimes reconciliation has to begin within us where we tend to be the most critical and unforgiving. live in expectation for great great things to come when Jesus is risen… and with Him our very life will be made new again.. on Easter and in every season of our life that invites renewal.

Examen

1. Where did I notice God’s power today?

Our church is going through a journey through Scripture for about 6 months covering a time line of the history of God’s people. We took time Sunday to discuss the place in history where the Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus. I share with you not from an intellectual but from an experiential position. We experienced something new. We experienced an invitation by God to surrender to the Holy Spirit. So many people came forward to pray and to worship God and to be healed. In a new way, our church said yes. All weekend I had been expectant that something would happen. I called friends to pray, I spent time worshiping at home with my  children, and even wrote down some of the things I felt God was showing me. I was so expectant that God’s power would show up at church on Sunday in ways that might be truly transforming. Have you ever had that sense that God wants to do something immeasurably more? That kind of power is like a tsunami building (thank you Georgia for the analogy) and will at once come crashing into our ordinary lives. That is the power I started to see… the building at least.. and some of the waves beginning to form.

2. Where do I need to notice God’s power?

All day I contemplated the idea of walking in authority. I wondered what it would look like for me to walk through my days if I had already received all that God wanted to give me in terms of authority, organization, conversation, prayer, faith. I am so hungry for more of God and I am missing something.. some critical piece that causes me to give up my truest sense of God and give over to the ideas of others. It comes when people around me don’t have faith and I think “Do I really want to go there?”. It happens when I am ignored and I think “Do I really want to keep putting myself out there?”  It happens when I have a dream over and over again and someone might offer me a dose of disbelief and I take it in and convince myself that the dream is unrealistic. What is more real? God’s power to give me a dream and bring it to pass or fellow humans along the road of formation who themselves have lost their own ability to dream? I need God’s power to simply grab hold of that which He put in front of me.Give me your power to do Your will

Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

 

How do these questions help you notice God today?

Lent in everyday language. Day Fifteen.

wow. it has been an interesting couple of days around here.

when I first determined to take an everyday stab at practicing the examen during Lent, i never anticipated so much self-discovery. i suppose that looking in all the nooks and crannies of my days in order to find God’s presence seemed a pretty safe journey to take. what i forgot was that while i am extra aware and present to God, i am extra aware and present to myself.

that is not always something that is fun to see.

i notice that i still wrestles and lose the battle with trying to be understood all the time (all the time). if i think that perhaps i have been misunderstood in any possible way i quickly become obsessive about how to reverse what i said or re-explain. the danger with words (and especially the ones you attempt to make public) is that you don’t always get a second chance to re-explain or add more clarity to what you have written.

that is not always fun to think about.

but i love the spiritual writere Henri Nouwen who says

“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasinly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
as i journal poorly through my daily almost daily journey, i see so many patterns of my great fear of being imperfect, failing people, failing myself… yet i do that very thing.
how can i allow God to transform my view of self and others through forgiveness?
what does that really look like, to forgive myself and others?
examen
1. where do i see God forgiving me?
my four children are daily reminders from God that i live in unmerited forgiveness and favor. when each one of my children were born, it was like God was saying ” the past is forgiven. now here is your future.  when i am with them, i think in present and future tense. even when i am tempted to be hard on myself because i have been overly harsh or missed opportunities with them, they wake up every day expecting something better. they are living proof that God’s mercies and forgiveness are new every morning.
2. where am in need of God’s forgiveness?
the list is long.. but for today i need God’s forgiveness for my hyper critical paranoia. criticism and paranoia are the paralyzing sister act that come after me in moments of fear and insecurity. when i am feeling insecure, i have a hard time understanding my worth. so instead of going to God and sitting with him until the emotion passes, i become hyper critical of myself and others until i absolutely cannot stop thinking about how wrong i was or how wrong someone else was. I confess and ask for God’s amazing love and grace to flood these barren places of insecure desert lands until they become streams of living water.
how do these questions help you notice God today?

Lent in everyday language. Day Twelve. French Fries and Family Formation

I am so excited about a new writing opportunity that presented itself to me recently. I graduated with an MA in Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Spring Arbor University last May and our alumni group has just started a blog. Here you will find book reviews and other discussions started by fellow graduates on spiritual formation topics.

Please join our discussion here… or at the Spring Arbor blog.

French Fries and Family Formation

I love new words; big giant vocabulary words that sometimes I really wonder if I am using correctly. I am a wordsmith, a talker, a writer, a reader, and a sometimes philosopher who is fluent in Christianese. However, I have four kids ranging in ages from 2-12, so my words often need to be broken down into their least common denominator. This is a story of how we are experiencing Lent in everyday language.

When I started thinking about Lent and how to incorporate my family into the process I went about it by thinking of all the things I wanted to give up for our family so that this could be the most Meaningful Lent Ever.  A bit religiously ambitious, you might say. My first presentation to my family went something like this:

I think it would be very beneficial for us to fast from media in order to pursue other interests that are more life giving. Then everyday we can think of how we are noticing God differently. I am thinking the Examen will be a great spiritual discipline for this.

Blink. Blink. My eight year old said “Can I fast from greasy food?”  So then I went into a short and powerful message about what Lent was intended to do for us as a way of cleaning house spiritually and preparing us for the celebration of the resurrection. In fact, I pointed out, did my children know that in the early origins of Lent, it was intended to prepare new converts for baptism? Hmm? Did they? My son’s new response? “Okay. I will just fast from French fries”, to which my two year old chimed in “ I want Hot Fries!!!!!”  Arg.

For my twelve-year old, fasting from media includes (but is not limited to) her smartphone. (Why do twelve year olds even need smart phones? Is this really a  “smart” idea?) But in her twelve year old experience in 2012, this is the way she stays along the path of communication. She missed a movie night at a friend’s house last weekend because she missed the social media invite. That’s the way it is in some circles. So then I question my motives to eliminate all media when we are already a family that doesn’t own a television. Am I just being harsh for the sake of wanting to go big for Lent? Does Lent require following something that forces us to live separately from the rest of the world for a little while? Is it fair for us to put that onto other people, even if they are our children? Yes, no, and sometimes.

I am not here to make sure these all questions are answered, but as a parent and teacher of spirituality, I am here to make sure that the questions are allowed to be asked.  To do this, I am learning to create space between my views and the views of my children. I am less offended and disappointed when they don’t “get it” yet. I don’t see this as my failure as a parent, but rather the landmark of their spiritual path.  In some ways, my son’s desire to fast from greasy food was just fine and a big enough sacrifice for all of us. So I ask myself:

  • How would it have helped him to just be heard and acknowledged at that point instead of lectured and corrected and put back on the path of my correctness? 
  • What a gift it would be for me to give my children the gift of letting them live in spiritual freedom!
  • What an invitation for them to see God for themselves and seeing their own spiritual disciplines and practices as completely valuable!

This is why I am so interested in family formation. We have the ability to take the simple and the sweet and the separated and make it part of the big picture of what it looks like to talk about God in everyday language- to see God in everyday family life.  I wonder if we could even bring some of this simplicity into the church at large?  When I started to do some research on Lent practices, they vary dramatically from church to church and denomination to denomination. When it comes to Sunday, for example, do you still have to fast? Some say that this is a day of celebrating the bridegroom and so we do not mourn or fast. Others say that there is no reason to give something up for Lent if you are going to dabble with it again every Sunday. Some have elaborate rituals for this season and others are just starting to see what it would look like to stop eating lunch everyday as their fast.

Perhaps for Lent, we could collectively move aside our vision of correct church practices and focus instead on what everyday language we night need to experience the joy set before us on Easter? For some of us, we are living in the deeper realities of prayer and reconciliation and fasting and that is a beautiful reality.  How do we share this depth simply with someone in our neighborhood who doesn’t even know Jesus? And for others, we might have only started this year to consider the idea of Lent as something valuable and practical- like giving up French fries.

Wherever this season meets you, I pray that you take hold of God’s welcoming hand outstretched to you in the days before Easter.  God wants to show us a gift and He does not want us to miss it.  Today there is something new to discover and notice about God in your everyday language, in your everyday life.

 

 

Lent in everyday language. Day Eleven.

I know that I already confessed to breaking my media fast and completely missing an entire day of writing my Lenten journey. To celebrate my perfectly imperfect Lenten journey, here is a little media diversion to help see the simplicity of Lent as a time to fast, pray, and give.

Today I am going to confess that I don’t want to do the examen. I just don’t want to think or sort through my day. I want to eat cake at a baby shower (not supposed to because I can’t eat gluten), eat a piece of garlic bread at same said baby shower, take a nap right before dinner, watch a movie with my family and eat some popcorn while in my pajamas. Are you getting this? It’s that place where the new habit hasn’t had time to become like breathing yet and the old habits are so so so so comfy. So comfy.

For me, when I am willing to choose something comfortable even when it might be harmful (eating gluten right now), I know that there is a disconnect between my deepest desire and my fleeting desires.  My deepest desire is to live in a vibrant and healthy body. Vanilla cake and butter cream frosting do not contribute to that deep desire.

I want to live fully present to God. If I don’t pause, think, or reflect on my life now and then. I will be pulled away by every competing fleeting desire to check my email or snooze on the couch or clean my house (!!) or even talk endlessly about nothing important. So I return to God now to enter intentionally into His presence.

Fr. Joe Tetlow, in an introduction to the Examen says this..

Never, never start examining yourself until you have thanked God for the gifts that God is giving to you—not in general, not in the past, but right now, today. That’s how you start The Examen. I think people who can keep the Examen up often do that.

And I found a beautifully simplified discussion regarding the examen that I would highly recommend reading for more of the history and depth of this practice (on a blog for emerging youth ministry).

God, even though I am dozing off, perhaps there is something better for me and my soul’s direction in the practice of the examen today. And maybe if I wouldn’t have eaten the cake I wouldn’t be so nappy. Anyway….thank you for cake, too.

1. What choices have I made in response to God’s love?

My children are all such unique gifts from God to my life. Each one of them strongly bears a different image of God. My 2 year old little guy (B) is the fullness of joy. The fruit of God’s Spirit in him is unmistakable joy and the love that comes out of that joy. His joy is a celebration to watch — and sometimes I don’t take time to participate in this celebration.  God’s love to me came through B’s persistent request for me to participate in his joy… to play trains, to eat outside, to go to the beach. When I let myself participate in his joy, I feel love for him and love for my role as a mother. Playing on the beach and looking for sticks is the simplest way I could respond to God’s great love for my role as a mother.

2. What choices have I made that dismissed God’s love?

God’s love for the world is contained forgiveness, given through Jesus Christ as a gift for all humanity.  I am struggling to offer this love to people who have hurt me and hurt my family. The issues are petty and not life-threatening, yet when I encounter these people and their behavior, I am brought face to face with the fact that I would rather avoid people who hurt me than seek reconciliation.  Someone who I trusted and befriended for a few years made an abrupt contact with me that brought me back to that insecure place of feeling unimportant, unloved, and rejected.  I operated in pure knee jerk self-defense. I sent an abrupt communication right back and did what the friend requested. I don’t know how to forgive in the truest sense of forgiveness when I feel so betrayed and rejected. I need to find God’s reconciliation in this friendship… not to restore it… but to put it into a beautiful container of forgiveness and offer it back to them somehow.
How do these questions of help you notice God’s love today?

Lent in everyday language. Day Ten

Broken. Disorganized. Misplaced. Messy. Tired. Teary. Thoughtful.

Let’s begin here.

I start this day (early)  wondering how I can push through this heavy feeling of being so behind. Little laundry hills in every bedroom. Beds unmade, dishes unwashed, floors un-vacuumed. I have a friend who compares motherhood to the movie Groundhogs Day. It is somewhere on her blog with a hilarious yet painful tribute to the daily grind of mothering and homemaking starting over at the same way every single morning.  Yesterday I made all sorts of “unproductive” choices in terms of managing my home life:

  1. talking to my husband for two hours after the kids were dropped off from school
  2. watching my husband play with my son (40 minutes)
  3. going to eat lunch with my husband (60 minutes)
  4. going to the craft store with my husband to buy 5 sheets of specialty paper for my daughters project (30 minutes)
  5. talking with a dear dear family friend on our porch. well, mostly just listened to him share his heart. (50 minutes)
  6. listened and encouraged a friend on the phone to believe the dreams God is giving her (34 minutes)
  7. wrote prayers online and via text to people that I love who needed prayer (??? minutes)
  8. walked with my eldest and youngest to the beach and watched them chase birds for an hour
  9. went to a friends house and helped her clean, prep, and pray for a journey she will be taking away from her children for the first time in a long long time
  10. stayed up late late late reading Angela Robinsons blog, my best friend who is now dancing in heaven with Jesus

Jesus, I need you every hour.These are the activities that bring me the greatest joy and sense of fulfilling the plans for Your Kingdom, where relationships matter more than material goods. Where people are not INTERRUPTIONS to our goals and ambitions, people are the goals and ambitions. Where I will have less to manage and distract me from the people that I love so much and want to bless so much and be with so much. Where Heaven and Earth will meet and all will be restored to dancing and chasing birds and long talks with loved ones and the ocean brings a smile and prayer is our natural language and beauty absolutely matters.

But today it is laundry and bills and sticky floors and a late assignment and disordered thinking and hoping that the noise in the car will just go away.

Sigh.

Where do I notice God today?

Today I notice God in people and their pain.  God seems to be stirring up in people I know a Holy discontent for the staus quo and foolishness that popular culture (in and out of the church) has been feeding them. I had lunch earlier this week with two people who just speak the Truth and the way God intended His creation to operate. I agree with them that for the most part, we are not living in any kind of Eden. But for me, when I am in conversations with these “discontent” ones, it is not a complaining and bitterness that they are pouring out. It is a deep deep desire to see life being lived as close to God as possible… in marriages, in friendships, in community life, in church life, in functioning better as a family, in vocational pursuits.  I consider it an absolute God appointed conversation whenever the people I am talking with have such high expectations for what life could be like if we could simply operate in the authority and gifting and purpose and joy that God meant for us.

John Piper says it this way “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”

Frederick Buechner has written that “vocation is where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need”

Where do I need to notice God today?

In these myriad relationships, I need God to speak through me. Therefore, I need to be a quiet listener. I know that in moments God will be able to break through my mini-sermons or speeches, but at the end of the day I am wondering how much God was really able to use me with all of my talking. Or are my words only able to come out of my mouth the way that they do because God has given me the abilities of discernment and leadership and prayer? I am not sure and I know that I can’t ask around about this. My nice friends will tell me I am helpful and my mean friends (oxymoron? I think not) that I do talk too much. SO there is only time and space to ask the God of all creation and communication to show me Himself in my speech. I am far less concerned these days with what other people think of me than what other people think of God when they are with me.

How do these questions help you notice God today?