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?

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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?

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 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?