Lent in everyday language. Day (WHAT???) Thirty-nine.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I have been writing meaningful posts everyday for the entire Lenten season. Today I would be on the eve of my last post since tomorrow is day 40 and then we being Holy Week. Wow. That would have been something to write home about.

So where have I noticed God most?Where am I having a hard time noticing God?

I can say this. Being mindful of the days proceeding Holy Week was something that I have always intended to do but have not typically done very well. Over the last @40 days-ish, I have absolutely seen a difference in the ways in which I notice God in everyday happenings. I am expectant. I’ve watched people for signs of the God-life in them, I’ve listened for stories that scream out “GOD IS HERE” and I’ve sat more and rested in the presence of the One who is constantly asking me to be still and simply KNOW that He is God. I’ve listened to my children and their lovely view of the world and their place in it. I have enjoyed my husband and enjoyed being a bigger part of our shared dream to feed people.  I have been overwhelmed by ordinary graces of new and not so new friends who make time for me in their compacted and crazy lives.  In all of this, I see the power of God still working to break through this chaotic world and remind of us the peaceful way we were designed to live.

But I have also missed God. I have missed God in a culture where materialism and want want have have spend spend have want are constant companion in our would-be contented existence. I have missed God in the stories of girls in 13 different foster homes before the age of 11 and girls who have seen one parent shoot the other right in front of them. I have missed God in marriages of people who should have joy and peace and trust and mutual respect for each other but it eludes them like trying to hold onto slippery soap in the bathtub. I have missed God in the movies our co-dependent culture rushes to see by the millions, movies that are violent and sexy and trendy and somehow “important”. I have missed God in the places where prayers are no longer prayed with true faith. Places like church, where I believe that once there were people following Christ who really believed that their Father God would answer every.single.prayer. I miss God in the places where I feel most tired.. where I spin endless plates that other people toss at me instead of trusting that God may be calling me to something simpler, with less plates to juggle.

Looking back over the last 40 days, how did you notice God differently? How are you still needing to see or hear or experience more of God in your everyday language?

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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 Nine

I cannot put too fine a point on this.

Spiritual disciples require something of us.

Whether it is a new intention or carving out a new place in our day or giving up something we desire for the God we desire more…. Spiritual disciplines are meant to cause a bit of tension.

I noticed this yesterday when I woke up early and noticed that my husband was also awake and getting ready for work. He left before the kids were even awake and so my morning for examen was neglected. After dropping three kids at school with their lunches and backpacks and gear and homework, I had to grab a few things from the store and take something to my husband’s work. Time is passing by and now the morning is halfway over. The more I engage with people and problems and conversations and plans, it is harder and harder for me to remember the gifts from the last 24 hours. I try to formulate my examen as I am driving but the interruptions of my toddler and all the stops I have to make are too distracting. I can’t get to a quiet mind space in order to review the last 24 hours.

I cannot put too fine a point on this.

Spiritual Disciplines give back to us more than they require from us.

So the question I am asking here is, am I willing to be disciplined in the little things in order to receive to everything from God? Or will I allow the tyranny of distractions and demands and even responsibilities become what masters me?

This is my Lenten journey.

Questions of Examen

1. Where am I trusting God today?
A simple trip through the grocery store is a whole new experience now that our groceries are being purchased mostly through gift cards that generous friends have put into our hands. I feel a deeper responsibility as I am making choices to purchase items that I never would have questioned in the past. Is syrup a luxury or necessity? What about cleaning products? Tea? I stood in the syrup section for a long long time until I finally chose a middle range priced syrup bottle and put it in my cart. Mindfulness, I heard God say. Just. Be. Mindful. Somewhere in this store, simple shopping became a conversation, a place where I saw that God was telling me we could trust each other, that I could be honest with God about how much it meant to me that my kids could open up the pantry and have syrup on their waffles. That is was hard for me to have to ask for help for food. That I never imagined myself landing here. I am trusting Gods provision, certainly, but more than that I am trusting that God will provide a place for me to be honest.

2. Where do I need to trust God today?
Today I walked through some awkward financial conversations with my husband. Awkward is my nice way of saying tense. We were not mad at each other, rather frustrated with our present situation regarding finances. As carefully as we are living and planning for each dollar to be spent, things fall through the cracks. How easy it is for me to see these shortcomings in us and feel such condemnation! It is as if Satan himself is writing down a list of financial failures and handing a copy to my husband and I. I must trust God in this process of transforming our identity. There is nothing we can do in this moment to erase our past shortcomings. Nothing. And during this season of Lent, I wonder if I can see that the cross was for this day, the day that I would need Jesus to go to His Father and intercede for me. I need to see this picture today. I need to see that my identity in Christ is one of a highly favored daughter, not the daughter who can’t get it right.

How do these questions about trusting God help you enter into a different relationship with God?

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?

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?