How to Celebrate the Lenten Season

Easter gardenOkay, so not many folks think of Lent, which starts this Wednesday, as a celebration. This is, after all, a serious time when we’re meant to reflect, repent, and ponder Christ’s sacrifice for us.

But I love Lent and, for me, it’s a somber celebration. I relish the notion of having a time set aside to actively anticipate and prepare for the best worst thing that ever happened. It’s the ultimate looking forward to.

So, how to celebrate Lent?

First, I like to consider whether to give up/sacrifice something or add something. I’ve given up specific foods (French fries!), credit cards, shopping, checking reviews of my books, and one year I even gave up fear. That one was tough! I think I’ve only added something once–it was the fruits of the Spirit. Now that was a good year!

If you’re giving something up, it should be a challenge. If it’s not hard, what’s the point? One year I gave up candy. Where I work there’s a candy dish in every office. It was tough not even snagging a mint! On the flip side, this probably isn’t the time to stop smoking if you’ve been a pack-a-day smoker for years. I’ve toyed with giving up sugar, but recognize that would be setting myself up for failure.

If you’re adding something, make sure it’s something you can stick to as well. Pray as you drive to work each morning. Read one of the Psalms before bed each night. A friend told me she’s setting aside an item to donate to charity each day of Lent (and not just stuff she doesn’t want!).

Next, each time you crave the thing you gave up, or participate in the thing you added, let that moment turn your focus toward God. Consider the ways you’ve turned away from Him and refocus your heart and mind. It’s not about beating yourself up, but gently redirecting your attention towards grace.

Next, if you slip up, don’t quit. If you just can’t resist that slice of cake or forget to say that prayer–don’t let it ruin Lent for you. Use it as yet another opportunity to turn your heart toward God again. And again. And again. Lent is 40 days for a reason. God knows how slow, obstinate, and hard-headed we are. (Or is that just me??)

Finally, when Easter arrives (the BEST celebration ever!!), consider indulging in the thing you sacrificed. If you gave up chocolate, get a Lindt bunny. If you haven’t looked at Facebook in six weeks, check in to see what your friends are up to. Of course, it might be that you gave up something you now realize you can do without. I still don’t have a credit card. If you did gave up cigarettes, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to them forever. If so, celebrate that.

And if you added something? Consider the fruit you’ve harvested. Has your prayer life improved? Do you know scripture better? Have you made a difference in someone else’s life? If so, celebrate that.

How about you? Have you given up or added something for Lent? Do you plan to this year? Let’s cheer one another on!

Mustard Seed Faith – At Last!

mustard seedFor a long time now I’ve assumed, based on Matthew 17:20, that my faith is pretty pitiful. Not even a mustard seed’s worth. That scripture suggests that if my faith were as much as even a BB-sized seed, I could move mountains or cast mulberry bushes into the sea. And I can’t. Goodness knows I’ve tried.

It’s long been a discouragement.

And then I heard Susie Larson talking about planting apple seeds. She talked about how one seed produces a tree with, say, 100 apples. And each of those apples has multiple seeds with the capacity to produce another 100 apples. And so on and so on until you have millions of apples.

And just like that the light bulb lit! I had been focused on the SIZE of the mustard seed and had overlooked the fact that it’s a SEED. What do you do with seeds? You plant them.

In other scripture Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. It’s something tiny that grows into a tree as much as 20-feet tall and almost that wide.

So, in order to move mountains, it’s not about summoning up a tiny seed’s worth of faith. It’s a question of where I plant what faith I have. Jesus didn’t say the mountain and the mulberry tree would move TODAY.

I do have a seed’s worth of faith. Lots of seed’s worth of faith. And I can plant them wherever I go. At work, in the community, among friends and family. And some of those seeds will take root and eventually produce fruit. And then their seeds will do the same. And so on until mountains have shifted and entire forests have been cast into the sea.

Like so much of what I learn on this journey, it’s not about me. My role is small and often goes unnoticed. But taken as part of God’s glorious, intricate whole—it’s integral. Planting seeds matters.

Come sow with me. Nothing is impossible.

He replied, Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

Live Like You’re Dying

crocusYou’ve probably heard the advice to live like you’re dying . . . because you are. And it’s true, so far as it goes. We’re all going to die one day.

One day. You know it, I know it, we all know it.

Or do we?

I have a friend who has a fatal illness. She’s already lived longer than the doctors thought she would. She IS living like she’s dying. And it isn’t necessarily what I imagine when I think about living as though my time here were short.

I visited her recently and she made an observation that really stuck with me. It  was about how we say we’ll do things, “for the rest of our lives.”

As in, “You’ll need to take this medicine for the rest of your life.” Or, “I’m going to wear this ring for the rest of my life.” Or, “I’m going to live here for the rest of my life.”

Well sure. But that assumes the medicine will be helpful right up until the moment you take your last breath. Unfortunately, medicines stop working. It assumes that the ring will always fit and you’ll always want to wear it. Grandma gave me her engagement ring when she could no longer slide it over her arthritic knuckle. It assumes you’ll be able to live in the same place until the end. Which would put a lot of assisted living and nursing homes out of business.

It would seem there’s nothing like nearing the actual end of your life to make you realize how tenuous and fragile any future plan is. It also makes me realize how foolish worry is. I take a medication to regulate my heart rate and the consensus is I will need it “for the rest of my life.” Except the first medication quit working back in September. And while the new medication is working just fine . . . who knows? Will I take it for the rest of my life? Probably not. And that’s a bridge I’ll cross when the time comes.

When I say, “for the rest of my life,” I suspect I’m exercising a measure of denial. I know nothing is forever and change is inevitable, but imagining that this one thing will remain true and steady no matter what . . . that’s consoling.

Which brings me to the only thing . . . the only ONE . . . that really is forever. And the thought of spending eternity with Him is consoling, indeed.

So how DO you live like you’re dying? I don’t think there’s a formula. My friend seems to just do it one day, one moment at a time. Taking life as it comes with thought and prayer doing the best she can. I’m pretty sure that you can’t plan for dying. You just see what each day brings, living, loving, and hoping as best you can . . .

Christmas Eve 50 Years Ago

Five decades ago on Christmas Eve astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first men to orbit the moon. This flight–Apollo 8–is the one during which Anders snapped the famous “Earth rise” photo. But they did something else as well.

They broadcast to the largest audience that ever listened to a human voice. And all the instructions NASA gave them was that they should say something “appropriate.” I can imagine people all around the world waiting, holding a collective breath, to hear what these men would say.

And so, three men drifting through the vastness of space with the moon below them and the blue swirl of Earth so far away it fit behind Anders’ thumb, read the first ten verses of Genesis from the King James Bible.

Anders – “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  

LovellAnd God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.  

BormanAnd God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas–and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

I can’t think of anything they could have said that would be more perfect.

Merry Christmas.

Appalachian Thursday – Autumn Treasure

I didn’t think we were going to have fall this year. The weather stayed summer so long. I figured we’d get a few mild days and then winter would pounce. And as for the autumn color? The prediction was that we would go from green to brown to gone.

Which just demonstrates how bad our ability to predict what nature will do really is. While autumn has lasted maybe two weeks instead of four to six, it has been SPECTAULAR. I was fortunate to spend some time at home in WV just as peak color was hitting. Which meant I got back to NC just in time to enjoy it here.

I love fall. The tobacco, caramel smell of the woods. The russets and golds of the trees. The incredible blue of the sky. Crisp, sunshiny days. Ahhhh. This year all of that seems to have been condensed and intensified. Here’s a sampling for you:

 

Why is Asking for Prayer Hard?

church ladies

Some of my prayer warriors.

Pride.

That’s the short answer.

Last week I asked a group of friends to pray for me as a sort of last resort. Why in the world would that be my last resort??

I tried all sorts of things to resolve my challenge on my own. When nothing worked and I began to feel desperate, I asked for prayer.

Why did it take me so long? Basically, because I’m too proud to air my weakness. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m being all dramatic. Now, I’ll be honest, I like attention. But I like positive attention. You know, the kind where people look at me with admiration rather than pity.

I’ve confessed before to my praise addiction. Asking for prayer does NOT feed it. As a matter of fact, it does just the opposite. Having a challenge I’m unable to overcome on my own does not make me feel competent or admirable.

could flip this and say it takes courage to ask for prayer–and that’s admirable. Except . . . it shouldn’t take courage to ask for prayer. Asking for prayer should be our go-to, gut reaction to problems.

In our ladies’ Bible study we share prayer requests and have a sort of “rule” that you can’t pass and say all is well, you don’t need prayer. Because we ALL need prayer pretty much ALL the time. Big issues, little conflicts, medium-sized problems–we’re never without at least a few. And if there is a day without a challenge, well then, prayers of praise are equally in order!

The response to my request for prayer had me in tears. Lovely words of support and even a friend with a similar problem. Why, oh why, didn’t I start here?

Romans 12:12 – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Appalachian Thursday – Wild Critters

Spring 12 bears 051There are people who have never seen an animal in the wild. Oh, maybe a city squirrel or some pigeons, but I’d argue they’re not really wild.

My mountains are a veritable zoo of wildlife. Just yesterday Thistle and I encountered a teenage bear on our evening hike. She was easily persuaded to abandon the trail for the deeper woods where she melted into the rhododendron like she’d been a dream. Thistle knows better than to give chase.

But she will chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits all day long. As well fed as she is, I suspect it’s just for sport. We’re also knee-deep in turkeys and see the occasional deer. Back in WV you can’t NOT see a deer. They’re frankly too plentiful.

We’re also treated to sitings of raccoons, possums, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and the truly rare bobcat. I saw more skunks back in WV where we had one living under the back porch for a while. He would come out after dusk and see if there were any scraps left in the dog dish. We’d stand behind the screen door, watching, and he’d squint at us (I think skunks may not have the best eyesight). Adorable, but we knew better than to go out there.

I suppose there are folks who would rather NOT encounter wildlife every time they go outside, but it’s one of the reasons I love these mountains so much. Bears on the back deck can be a bit of an inconvenience, but they’re also a living, breathing example of God’s miraculous creation–a reminder I’m glad to have.