Wednesday, February 29, 2012


May all your expectations be frustrated,
May all your plans be thwarted,
May all your desires be withered into nothingness,
that you may experience the paralysis and poverty of a child,
and sing and dance in the compassion of God
who is Father, Son and Spirit,
Amen and Amen.
-Brennan Manning

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

observing Lent with children

I didn't grow up in a tradition that observes Lent, but I have always been drawn to symbols and seasons, and so I have approached Lent for several years as sort of an outsider, curious and learning as I attempted my own Lenten practices.

Kids love symbols, and Lent is a perfect time to use symbols to teach our kids spiritual truth.

I have found this season to be deeply meaningful, even necessary, and hopefully I will post soon about why I have come to cherish this time of year, and am eager to lead my children through an observance of Lent.

As Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, I thought that I would first write about a few of the ways that I plan to observe Lent with our young children this year.
The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayerpenancerepentancealmsgiving, and self-denial. (Wikipedia)
 I am reluctant to practice any kind of religious observance that will cause dread or fear in my kids.  For this reason I did not intend to ask them to give anything up for Lent.  But last night as we were explaining to Sami what Lent is about, her immediate reaction was to declare that she will be giving up all sugar, and does not want any dessert in her lunch.  This morning she reminded me to not put any sweets in her lunch, but I told her that she doesn't actually begin her fast until tomorrow.  I have mixed feelings about her denying herself as a six year old, but I think that I will just walk with her through this and let her decide how devout she plans to be to her fast.

(Her response also convicted me to at least give up sugar as well!)

I intend to focus more on what we will do for Lent rather than give up: prayer, repentance, and almsgiving.

I removed many of the decorations from our home and replaced them with purple cloth and bare branches.  I also have a pot of aloe on the mantel which I learned is the language for grief or sorrow.  On Easter morning the bare branches will bloom with bright bouquets of flowers.

A dark, wintery painting now hangs in our living room, which on Easter morning will be replaced with a painting of vibrant color.

Tomorrow for Ash Wednesday we will make crosses with ash on paper and talk about why we mourn over our sin.  Then we will put stones and the word "Hallelujah" in a box and bury it.  On Easter morning we will unearth our Hallelujah, and the stones will have turned to sparkly gems or butterflies.

Prayer: I am printing out a calendar for the 40 days of Lent with specific things to pray for: our President, pastors, school, etc.

Almsgiving: We will be talking about ways that we can bless others.   One of the qualities of a seed is that it's whole identity is in it's giving.

Repentance: At some point I will follow Ann's example and pour a bowl of flour and talk about repentance . . . but not to leave out for Lent because I don't want to sweep flour all day long :-).  For now we have printed out Col.3:12-14 to talk about and memorize.

Signs of Spring (resurrection!):  Over the next few weeks we will be on the look-out for signs of spring.  We will bring them home to display on our nature table, or to color in a "spring-sightings" journal.

One of the ways I am most eager to observe Lent is by focusing on singing hymns- as a family, at bedtime, over my children, throughout my day.  I've always felt shy about singing except with my kids- but more about that later . . .

I will do my best to blog our Lenten observance as we journey through it this year.  I feel it is important to keep our family rituals simple and light, always leaving room for a sense of holy beauty and reverence that has been passed down to us from age to age; we are only it's brief participants.

And now I believe there is still chocolate in the house that needs taken care of . . . enjoy your Fat Tuesday!

Great post by Rachel Held Evans: 40 Ideas for Lent.

2 links + 2 books

After stepping back from technology and also reading Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, I wrote about stepping carefully back into technology.  Since then I have wondered if maybe my reaction is too strong, that although there is always something lost with new technology there are of course good things gained as well.  Here is an opposite take on social media: Take it and Tweet it at Q Ideas
So really, the question has never been “if” people congregate in digital spaces, but, given the fact of their online location, it’s a question of “how” grace and the gospel will find them there. . .   “By bringing the fullness of our lives to bear in ministry and social media, we bear witness to the fullness of life in God. After all, the real presence here is God’s, and it is through our real and authentic presence in social media that we most clearly and effectively point to God.”  
I suppose we will be always grappling with finding the right balance and relationship to the internet.  I think that the question of what technology is doing to our humanity is an important and ongoing conversation.

Jesus Creed- Saturday (not a book) Review: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Why would a magazine choose to describe Lisbeth Salander as the “coolest heroine?” What is it about Salander that has fascinated us as a society? What is it about her story that seems to ring so true? . . . You see, in many ways, Lisbeth Salander, as first conceived by Steig Larrsen, represents the next step in the cultural evolution of the female archetype. . .
we also fail to tell a different story! We make sloppy hermeneutical decisions to violate the text and propagate the false idea that Junia was a man. We rarely speak on Huldah. We barely touch on Deborah. In fact, about the only thing we tend to offer is a vision of the “godly wife” from Proverbs 31 – . .. 
The Paris Wife is the fictional perspective of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadly.  It was interesting because I knew nothing about Ernest Hemingway's personal life, and this book revealed him and the period of the 1920's artistic subculture in a fascinating light.  The book was also a fun read to me because the author lives in Cleveland and (supposedly) wrote this book at a Starbucks on Cedar that we pass frequently.  This made me want to read more Ernest Hemingway.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I have a thousand things that I need to do this week, I am so tired and could not wait to go to sleep early last night. . . but this book would not let me put it down until I read that last page in the wee hours this morning.  It's that good.  Intense, moving . .. you will love this book!  Throughout the story is woven the language of flowers, something I had never understood and am inspired now to learn more.  Beautiful book.  Thanks, Jamilyn, for the recommendation!

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  I hope to post later today about some ways our family will be observing Lent with our children, and why.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

a delight

We were out of milk.  We needed milk, a can of tomatoes, and shampoo.  And a birthday card.  And maybe something fun while we’re out.  It was a Monday morning with nowhere we needed to be, I just might even get a chance to browse.  
Is this plan unreasonable?  A morning Target run after I drop our oldest off at school, just long enough to grab a few groceries and scan the clearance aisle.  Don’t I deserve new gloves, maybe a scarf to go with them, and three minutes to enjoy deliberating over the color?
But before we had even left home that Monday I knew that it was going to be one of those days.  First aggressive combat was needed to get out the door, and then there were emphatic opinions about the music in the car and the situation did not improve when we got to Target but only grew louder and more persistent, quickly inspiring the younger sister to do likewise.  And nothing can ruin a sweet deal on layering tanks like two irrational children in the cart.
I was angry.  By the time we left the store I wanted to wail, as well.  There was a time when I would have been embarrassed by the behavior, or stressed-out, but on this day I was just mad.  Didn’t I deserve thirty minutes to shop?   The whole way home I fumed and when we walked in the door I sent one to her rocking chair to chill out, and to give myself a chance to calm down as well.  I knew that she needed discipline, but I needed to think first.  
I have three very different daughters and I haven’t always understood their reactions or what triggers them.  To my great regret I have in the past reacted out of my own frustration rather than understanding.  
 I know by now that this child is easily over-stimulated.  She hates the bright lights and distractions in a store, she always has.  We’d had an especially busy weekend which is always extra hard on this child who prefers home and quiet.  On this Monday morning I’d have been wiser to grab the milk and leave rather than wandering the aisles.
Of course our children need to learn to obey, but there is another equally essential principal which is “Fathers, do not exasperate your children” (Ephesians 6:4).
It helps to remember that I am still a work in progress, that I can be irrational and  triggered by small things. Think of the things we depend on heavily, and how we might react if they were taken from us: our morning coffee, our internet connection, hair gel; if I as a grown adult have certain things that I need to cope with life, why would I expect my four year old to be able to pull herself together when she feels overwhelmed?  
Before I reacted that morning I happened to read this link that my friend Ashley recommended, loving a “wild child:”
“You’re at your wits about what to do. You don’t want her to become a wild out-of-control teenager, but discipline is not working, in fact, she laughs in the face of discipline . . . I mean, what do you do with a child like that? Well, I’ll tell you what I’m learning.You love them like mad.More specifically, Tell your little one that they are a delight.  Sometimes with this one, the words have to come first. I was not delighting my darling Caroline, but I said the words to her, “you, Caroline, are a delight!” and in my head I would pray, ‘Oh Father, please make these words true.’ And He did.”
As parents we are given the responsibility to correct, train, discipline.  Yes.  But these flow out of our delight in them.  They do not earn our delight.  They are a delight because God created them.  Because He delights in them.  Even in their wild moments.  Even when they meltdown at Target.  
Somehow in my mess God is ever patient and merciful toward me; slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.  If only I could parent my children as graciously as my Heavenly Father does me.
Later I went to her rocking in her rocking chair, gathered her onto my lap and told her, “Annie, you are a delight.  You make me so happy.  Do you know that?”   We didn’t need to talk anymore about our angry morning.  Later she came to me, “Mom I’m not going to throw fits anymore.  I’m never going to do that.”  She has promised this before, and so I smiled and hugged her and said, “you know what Annie, even if you do I will still always, always love you.”
“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zepheniah 3:17

(originally published in the Budget- this is the blog version.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

grey: control or create

We wake up and the house is off balance, we're all sliding just a little hanging on a bit.  Oatmeal and tension brewing in the kitchen- black.  I have 666 messages and why does jcrew keep filling up my inbox I do not want twenty percent off knits and tees.  I lunge for control and decide today everything needs reorganized.  I want a hook here but pound the nail off just a hair on this side and then oh-for-the-love- just a hair on the other side.

Yesterday the sun slanted so lovely and this old wood was so glad and familiar that it glowed like a lover.  Today it is grey and every bulb in the house needs changed.  I flip burnt out lights and sigh and look for a ladder, wash the lights change the bulbs put away the ladder and oh-for-the-love one bulb won't shine.

And this is me this week, dark in places, just a little off.
Some days I can cozy into the grey, some days I am drenched in it.  

So I have two options: I can choose to control, or I can choose to create.

I abandon my hammer and ladder, narrow-eyed (mis)calculations.  We go to the store for chocolate and color.  Because some days the only way to deal with yourself is with grace, and the only way to drive out the grey is with color.

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.  I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized.  If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”-German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

seeds: the need to create

I have been thinking about my word for the year, seed, and seeds as our work, our creating.

I once felt some vague need to justify art-making but now I believe that it is not only justified but an absolute necessity.
The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris.  One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.  Therefore, the act of creating- painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story- is a humble act?  This was a new thought to me.  Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else. -Madeleine L'Engle
If the act of creating is a humble act than it is more humble to create than not to create, to desire than not desire, more humble to use our gifts than not to use them.  It is an act of humility and generosity to put our heart into living; to work with all your heart- it is the only way to both die to self and yet be fully Alive unto God.

Of course I am not saying that everyone is an artist in the way that we all should be painting or sculpting or knitting tree cozies.  But creating in the way of bringing redemption to some small corner or problem or ordinary day.

It is hope-seeking.

To create is to give.

Whatever the work, the act of throwing myself away in complete concentration on something or someone else is when life is most satisfying, when I discover God in new ways.

The reverse, when my creating grows stagnant I find that I do, too.  These are seasons when it is easy to become bitter, discouraged, critical.  Hubris.

{Hubris: arrogance, ego, pretension, self-importance.}

But can't even our work become arrogant?  Blogging can slide into narcissism.  Mothering can become competition.  Art can be ego.  Even my faith can become all about me.

This seems like a good test for all things: am I self-conscious or am I creating?  Am I being thrown away in the process, or preserving and protecting myself?  The seed that is not giving is not alive.

Maybe the solution to a lot of our sin struggle is to create . . .

If you have been stealing, stop. (Self.  Hubris.)
Work with your hands. (Create; throw oneself away)
Give. (concentrate on someone else)
(jesstock version: find pure joy in the process)