returning to Lent. one moment at a time.

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 typical outward communication 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 or commit hours and hours of time.  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 distracting activities for 40 days. Read through some reflective questions. Respond here (if you dare 🙂 ) 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 fragmentation.  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.

In preparation for Day One, here are your two questions

  1. For what moment today am I most grateful?
  2. For what moment today am I least grateful?

Looking forward to returning to God together

Palm Sunday. Hosana in the highest.

I offer you the following devotion as a love song that must have been so close to the sentiments of those who greeted Christ when He walked triumphantly into their city, when He walked into their lives and souls. They knew He was their only rescue and they hailed Him on that day as King. Never mind that many of them would deny it all in about a week… in this moment on Palm Sunday they worshiped Him and laid down branches of palms so that the Jesus wouldn’t touch the ground.

How beautiful that we get a chance each and every Sunday to become these sorts of worshipers. I am struck in this season of Holy Week how much I want to walk like those devout followers who continue to walk with Jesus. Not just on Sunday when everything is magical and majestic. Not just when the crowds around me agree that Jesus is the King. But Monday and Tuesday. And Wednesday. And at the Last Supper when some people start arguing about who is the greatest in the Kingdom. And in the dark garden of Gethsemane when some people fall asleep instead of keeping watch. And in the crowds that deny His authority. And on the road to the cross, may I be like Simon of Cyrene who helps to lift the burden with Jesus for awhile. And lead me then to the cross, and not some other distracted place. Help me sit with the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday and wait in proper expectation for Resurrection Sunday.

From a daily devotion by Charles Spurgeon.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.
—Song 1:2
For several days we have been dwelling upon the Saviour’s passion, and for some little time to come we shall linger there. In beginning a new month, let us seek the same desires after our Lord as those which glowed in the heart of the elect spouse. See how she leaps at once to Him; there are no prefatory words; she does not even mention His name; she is in the heart of her theme at once, for she speaks of Him who was the only Him in the world to her. How bold is her love! it was much condescension which permitted the weeping penitent to anoint His feet with spikenard—it was rich love which allowed the gentle Mary to sit at His feet and learn of Him—but here, love, strong, fervent love, aspires to higher tokens of regard, and closer signs of fellowship. Esther trembled in the presence of Ahasuerus, but the spouse in joyful liberty of perfect love knows no fear. If we have received the same free spirit, we also may ask the like. By kisses we suppose to be intended those varied manifestations of affection by which the believer is made to enjoy the love of Jesus. The kiss of reconciliation we enjoyed at our conversion, and it was sweet as honey dropping from the comb. The kiss of acceptance is still warm on our brow, as we know that He hath accepted our persons and our works through rich grace. The kiss of daily, present communion, is that which we pant after to be repeated day after day, till it is changed into the kiss of reception, which removes the soul from earth, and the kiss of consummation which fills it with the joy of heaven. Faith is our walk, but fellowship sensibly felt is our rest. Faith is the road, but communion with Jesus is the well from which the pilgrim drinks. O lover of our souls, be not strange to us; let the lips of Thy blessing meet the lips of our asking; let the lips of Thy fulness touch the lips of our need, and straightway the kiss will be effected.

Hosana in the Highest

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?

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 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?