Ashes to ashes . . .

Late winter-early spring was different before I knew about Lent. I think that my introduction to Lent may have actually been my introduction to spiritual disciplines in general. Before when I didn’t know about any spiritual disciplines – besides praying and reading my Bible, neither of which were accomplished with anything resembling “discipline” – I didn’t think about any of my indulgences. I’m talking about the way I spent my money, the things I chose to eat and drink, or how I chose to spend my time. I didn’t worry so much about how I could be a better neighbor or even a randomly-kind stranger.

Those things didn’t matter to me because I saw my faith in Jesus as something very personal. I didn’t see myself as part of a faith community. Frankly, I didn’t trust a lot of the people I went to church with. I learned not to trust church people when I was old enough to have a different social opinion from most of the ones I knew – because they turned on me in ways that I believed were unjustifiable for folks who claim to know Jesus. That sort of thing happens more than most people would like to acknowledge. I am grateful that God continued to pursue me, knowing how I felt about some of His other children and what I saw as their offenses and failures. Living life as an offended person is not a happy life.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…that’s what most of us heard who received the imposition of ashes on Wednesday of this week. It sounds so “funeralish”. [My spell-checker hates it when I make up words!] But that’s what it’s about for me now: death and renewal until we get to the resurrection. I’ve been reading some of Fred Craddock’s sermons for a project and in one of those sermons, Fred said that he didn’t understand how any Christian expected to be invited to the resurrection party if they never attended the funeral. During this season, we have the privilege – all of us, collectively – to experience again through spiritual disciplines the suffering that Jesus experienced, even to the gut-wrenching death, all for the sake of our reconciliation with God.

So, in light of that understanding, I am compelled – more happily than ever – to let die some of my indulgences and stinkin’ thinkin’ as the Holy Spirit reveals those things to me. One of the first things that had to go in order to get to this place was my misguided notion that I could follow Jesus in isolation. A faith that turns inward is no faith at all. It is when we reach out in faith to share something of ourselves with others that we encounter Jesus. He didn’t stay dead, remember? That is a deal-breaker for determining whether you’re a Christian or not. We talk and sing about His resurrection, but many of us live like Jesus just died. When you encounter the risen Savior, the only possible response is to be changed. Transformed! It’s easy to change personal habits, but I’m convinced that only encounters with Jesus can change our bad attitudes and misguided beliefs.

Once you know something, you can’t un-know it. So, I carry the ash mark with me through this Lenten season along with Christians around the world. It reminds me of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, the history of the Church, and my journey with Jesus as I meet so many friends on the path with me.

Thriving or Surviving?

I’ve had several opportunities over the last several days to think long and hard about the way we choose to live our life and how much we all take for granted. I’ve sung at the funeral of one of my dear cousins, completed a critical book review of “An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love,” and am still reeling from my brother’s new cancer diagnosis. He is the second sibling in my family of four children to have received a cancer diagnosis. (My sister remains in remission – thank you, God!) Surely, if I have been awake on any level over these past two weeks, there is some important message screaming out at me.

It could be the legacy that my cousin Becky left that was so nicely spoken at her funeral: Be quick to forgive and quick to laugh at yourself. After all, unforgiveness really only hurts you, and if you’re anything like me, then you give yourself your best comedic material. Use it.

Perhaps it’s the message of the book I had to review: Tell the people who are important to you how much they mean and why you appreciate them – tell them now. Don’t waste time thinking about, talking about, or fussing over things that wouldn’t matter on your last day of living if you were privileged to know when that day would be.

I don’t know yet what the lesson is in my brother’s cancer diagnosis. Perhaps it could be: Go for your recommended screenings – detection is always better than not knowing! My brother surely didn’t anticipate the outcome of his very first colonoscopy, but I shudder to think of what could have happened had he not taken his physician’s suggestion to have it done.

I think, for me, the things that are most important are 1) that I am living out my assignment in the kingdom of God, 2) that I demonstrate unconditional love and prepare my family for their own calling, and 3) that I live in a way that testifies to the fact that God is still in the business of transforming human lives.

If anyone shares that wish-list with me, the beauty of it is that, lived out, it looks very different for each of us. There is so much beauty and mystery in this world – so much variety and uncertainty. Surviving, we focus on ourselves and what we need the most. In thriving, we appreciate all the beauty, all the variety, all the mystery, and dare to focus on others.

God, grant us all a heart that desires to thrive.

Organic Living

Have you ever wondered what the real difference is between “organic” produce and the rest of the produce in the grocery store? Beyond the price difference, what is so different? Basically speaking, it’s the way it was grown and handled that differs, with organic products being grown with organic methods that avoid fertilizers and chemical preservatives. You would think that this method costs less, but for whatever reason, it apparently costs more.

I had an opportunity this week – for the first time in a long time – to witness the beauty of seeing a bright, full moon on one side of the horizon give way to the spectacular brilliance of sunrise on the opposite horizon. It was so beautiful, I could only cry, and say “thank you” to our Creator.

The fact that it had been so long since I witnessed a sunrise stayed with me. I haven’t watched it, not because I am not awake at that hour, but because . . .well . . . I’m so busy. Every minute of every day is either scheduled or wrought with lists of “oughts” – the things I should be doing. It would cost too much of my time to just sit somewhere and watch a sunrise. I mentioned in a previous post my interactions with the book, “The Sacred Romance”. The authors of that book also make reference to a false self we create throughout life. This false self develops out of our need to fit in better to our culture or environment – to be more productive, more attractive, more marketable. We do things to ourselves that aren’t . . . natural. We add our own varieties of preservatives and hormones to give us the edge we perceive to need, until we have lost the essential nature of who we are.

In that sense, we aren’t much different from the cheaper produce at the grocery store. We look essentially the same but we have developed in less organic ways.

Funny how the sunrise triggered such a thought. There is something incredibly reassuring about sunrise. Of course, these days we know that the sun is actually the entity around which our earth turns, and “sunrise” is just a word we use to describe our earthly experience of each new day. Just seeing the grand entrance of that brilliant sun reminds me that, even after we’ve turned away from our true selves during our dark moments in life, we are constantly drawn back to the glory of God, our Creator, and reminded of who we really are.

Give Me Your Eyes

Have you ever listened to Brandon Heath’s song, “Give Me Your Eyes?” For those who have not, the lyrics include these lines: “Give me Your eyes for just one second, give me Your eyes so I can see everything that I keep missing, give me Your love for humanity.” I have often wondered how it is that those of us who profess Christ as the object of our faith are also among the most likely to lose sight of the value of other people.

I caught myself not only demonstrating this tendency, but teaching it to my child this week. The story went like this: My 5-year-old heard another child make a negative comment about his hair that hurt his feelings and made him feel self-conscious. My reaction to my son’s hurt feelings was to find out who the perpetrator was and to quickly make my child feel better at the expense of the other child. Our conversations that night revolved around my child’s sense of confidence and worth and resolved with a lesson that basically said “pay no attention to kids like that.” Pay no attention.

That has obviously been my method for a very long time. The more that people have hurt me, the more I have chosen to pay no attention to them. Or people who remind me of them. And after a while, there are large groups of people to whom I might pay no attention. One of my lifers (a life-long friend) gave me a book to read recently titled “The Sacred Romance.” It speaks at length about how our story with God – our Romance with Him – is countered throughout life by the story of our Arrows. Our Arrows are those things that hurt us, that stay with us, that mold us as we live and grow. I was confronted with my own story of Arrows when I witnessed my child receiving one of his first social Arrows. Rather than teaching him the larger story of how God loves us all with a love we cannot fathom and that story of Romance, I chose to teach him how to deal with the smaller story of the Arrows. . . by learning to ignore/avoid/dismiss those who would hurt us.

We are all a work in progress and I am certainly in that category. I have asked God in my prayers to give me a heart for all people and to remove some of the fear and detachment I have learned to use as a way to deal with my story of Arrows. This realization is part of that process. Every single person has the same two stories: the story of God’s Romance with him or her AND their own story of Arrows that tries to call into question God’s love or our personal worth. Knowing that, we should always strive to feed the Romance story and not give any more fuel to the story of Arrows.

I have seen a preview on television the past few days that speaks to our Romance with God. It shows a guy walking past and a girl dreamily watching him while saying, “I want to date him!” Another guy jumps up and says, “I want to BE him!” For me, it speaks to the fact that so many times, Christians just want to “date” Jesus. We want to hang out, have fun, without any real commitments. What he wants from us, though, is to be ONE WITH HIM. Now, that is INTIMATE – to have His mind, His heart, His eyes. . . “Give me Your eyes for just one second . . . “

Perfect Joy

For those of us who are married or have been married, the memory of our engagement day is usually one of sheer joy. Often, it is more joyous than the wedding day, simply because of all the stress surrounding wedding plans and arrangements. But the engagement day…that one takes us by surprise and takes our breath away!

It’s bowl season now and teams and fans are geared up for some high stakes joy as well. I’ve never been a huge fan of any sport, but I can remember getting caught up in college tournaments and how exhilarating it is to experience “the big win” with your favorite team. Ah, the big win. But then there’s always the other team – and if you’re a compassionate person on any level, you have to feel sorry for those guys, right? My mother used to say, “There’s no perfect joy on earth.” I understand what she meant.

My daughter got engaged just before Christmas this year and it was surely a joyous time for our family! Great kids who have made good decisions and are making good progress toward their educational goals getting engaged is something to celebrate! Several days later, the couple made an unsettling discovery: a diamond had fallen out of the ring after being resized . . . then a second one fell out. Heartbroken they were – both of them! It didn’t really matter that everything would end up fine because the ring would be repaired, etc. Perfect joy was tarnished. Imperfection had raised its ugly head and ruined a perfectly beautiful ring and perfectly joyous moment in life.

Jesus spoke about joy this way:

John 15:10-12 (NIV, ©2010)
10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

I think we get “joy” and “happiness” confused too often. Perhaps it would have been more correct to say that there is no perfect happiness on earth. It is possible to experience joy, even in an unhappy situation… when we experience love the way Jesus commanded us. In that sense, our joy can be perfect.

Marking Time

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Hurry up and wait!” It seems as though a lot of our time in this culture is consumed by the “wait” portion of our big hurry. The problem is that we don’t seem to know how to handle the waiting. Common examples that come to mind include traffic issues in our fine little metro or the weekly work ritual of wishing the week away by looking forward to Friday. One of my favorite movie scenes is from “Meet the Parents” when Greg and Jack are trying to beat each other back to the house as they burn and screech their way block by block, traffic light by traffic light back to Jack’s house. Clip from Meet the Parents

We experience a variety of responses to this waiting time: anger, anxiety, confusion, frustration. . . perhaps even discouragement and sadness. It is an exception when we welcome times of waiting as a chance to catch our breath or reflect on what we are experiencing.

Sometimes the waiting times are found in more serious contexts: hurry up and get all these tests done, then wait for a diagnosis; hurry up and get engaged, then wait for the right wedding date; hurry up and get to the airport, then wait to reunite with your loved one. Perhaps if we can learn to engage these times of waiting, we can also learn to live more fully. Reflecting and journaling are great ways to process our thoughts and feelings during times of worry, confusion or frustration. When we fail to process thoughts and feelings, we fail to learn anything or grow from our experiences.

Back in high school, I was in the marching band. I remember marching in parades and how, even when we couldn’t move forward, we had to march in place or “mark time”. My memory of that experience is that it was exhausting. We were working very hard to cover very little ground.

I suspect that happens in our lives often. We use up vital energy during our times of waiting by marching in place rather than being still and reflecting on our experience and listening to God’s voice. Here’s a challenge for the coming week: When faced with a hurry-up-and-wait scenario, take an “at-ease” posture instead of marking time and engage the waiting time. Let me know what you experience!

Somewhere where you are


I’m one of those moms who had a child at a “later age” in life. My first two children were born during my early twenties and my third child came when I was in my 40th year. Parenting is challenging at any life stage, so I can’t say that it is any easier now than it was twenty-plus years ago or that it was easier then when I was a younger mom. I can say that I am a different person than I was twenty years ago and life circumstances are different…at least some of them are different.

When my older children were around the ages of 6 and 7, we established our own Christmas tradition called, “Special Day”. My reasons for implementing this tradition were partly because of my wish to downplay the whole Santa Claus thing and to focus on Jesus’ birthday celebration and partly to set up some boundaries against the spending frenzy that Christmas could become. As a single mom, I was constantly balancing or defending against one thing or another. Special Day was simply a day spent with each of my children individually to do things together. It was my Christmas gift to them and the only one they would get from me. We had a set amount of money to spend and spend we did! In those early years, we would go bowling, ice skating, horseback riding, arcading, movie-watching and more all in one day. (Of course, whoever went first would set the bar, so day two would be all those things plus one extra something to win bragging rights.) Special Day has changed over the years, but it’s still a really special thing for us. I suspect we’ll always do it…I truly hope we do.

The youngest hasn’t yet had his first Special Day, but the seeds have been planted to get him ready, too. This weekend we were having some snuggle time and I told him how much I enjoy our quiet time at home together. He replied, “yeah, I just like to be somewhere where you are.” I think he is beginning to grasp the concept of Special Day: our days together are our best gift to each other.