A Struggle for Lent

I will admit, I don’t really know what to do with Lent this year. “Umm…shouldn’t you have thought about this sooner,” you say. I have. I’ve thought about it a lot, long and hard and I’m still not sure as I write these words.

I didn’t grow up in a culture that practiced Lent, but I have participated for several years as an adult, however. This year, I’m just not sure how to approach it. Since last year, I have experienced Inner Healing Prayer and have been freed from co-dependency in a most amazing way! There is a new freedom in Christ and in me that I love!

So now what? I know Lent is not a biblical command or even suggestion. I know participating in Lent doesn’t save me, make God like or love me any more or “get” me anything from God—no extra star in crown. Got it. I also already know I was a sinner, loved by my amazing Creator, and saved from eternity without Him, and that my eternal life started the minute I cried out to Him to save me. I don’t want to wallow in my sin and be sorry for them. They are done. If He doesn’t see them or remember, why should I? And I am no longer that same orphan. I am a daughter of the King, a co-heir with Christ!

So back to Lent. What to do? I can participate or not. My college friend mentioned an online Lenten Retreat she was interested in attending. Hmmm…an online retreat? What on earth? I checked it out and enjoyed both the website and the author, who is a Methodist priest and artist in residence. I LOVE her work. Love it. It resonates within me and makes me want to run to my palette knife, canvas and easel. What I appreciated about her intro to the retreat were Jan Richardson’s words about Lent:

 From the rending of Ash Wednesday to the resurrection of Easter Sunday, the path through Lent encompasses every aspect of who we are. Most of all, Lent invites us to know how completely God loves us, and to let go of all that would keep us from recognizing, receiving, and responding to that love.

 Letting go of all that would keep us from the Love of God? Yes, please. This is a Lent I could get behind, that I could be a part of, meditate upon. Not giving up wheat, sugar, caffeine, fast food (I already did that last month!), but giving up that which I try to hold onto that keeps me from “recognizing, receiving, and responding” to the complete love of God.

And in Ann Voskamp’s words that I nod in agreement:

 Let the things of this world fall away so the soul can fall in love with God. 

I pull my favorite Lenten Devotional, Bread and Wine, off the shelf and read the introduction.

“We ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges. …put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ…Lent is a good time so…let go of excuses for failings and shortcomings; a time to stop hanging on to whatever shreds of goodness we perceive in ourselves; a time to ask God to show us what we really look like…He (Jesus) reveals the appalling strangeness of divine mercy and the Love from which it springs. Such Love could not stay imprisoned in a cold tomb. Nor need we, if we truly surrender our lives to it.”

 And so, I am ready to let go. I am ready to let go of what is holding me back from receiving all He has for me—all His love, His promises, Him. I want all that He is willing to give, if only I will receive it. I am ready to celebrate Lent–to admit my weakness and rejoice in His power and strength; to acknowledge my lack in all I do on my own and marvel at the abundance of grace and mercy in all He does; to confront my shortcomings and realize His overcoming. I am ready to meet the One who Isaiah prophesied (Is. 61:1-3):

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

 

So today, on Ash Wednesday, I am ready for him to give me a garland instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of fainting, so that He may be glorified. I am ready to decrease so He may increase. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

 

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Struggling with gratitude…but glad to find it

The thought of one more coat of oil paint on my last set of cabinets is about to put me out of my ever-loving mind…Four weeks of my kitchen contents spread all over the house and coming up with things I can make in a toaster oven has made my gratitude run kinda thin. I thought I was done. Then I lifted my last set of freshly painted and need to be installed cabinets into position to admire the effect. I missed 2 huge spots. Two. Very noticeable. ANd the grain on this last net is much more pronounced that the two sets already installed, painted, and filled. Another coat? Really? I am tired of being cheerful and happy about this. I can’t stand it. I can’t find anything. it’s a mess. The last weeks have been filled with this journey. On top of all that there were two delays installing the oven. For the last four days, the oven was actually in my house, but uninstalled. Even one more meal out of the toaster oven seemed unbearable. But it wasn’t.

Most of the kitchen has been re-assembled. The painting is done. The oven is in. In the midst of all that, it seemed to much to deal with, but there were so many other things going on with other people, that really…it was just an oven. I wasn’t fighting for my life from cancer. My adopted children weren’t being held virtual hostages by their country of origin. My baby wasn’t diagnosed with leukemia…all things people I knew were going through. It was just an oven and a mess.

So I have much to be grateful for. Sometimes you have to hear about others battles to realize your own is not nearly as big as you thought. My list for at least the last two weeks :)

  • the chaos of progressIMG_2925
  • afternoon out of the mess to soothe my weary soul with art and friendshipIMG_2959 IMG_2960 IMG_2964
  • friends to call on when I need their guidance
  • Chai tea and talk with Donna
  • a warm house in bitter cold
  • no frozen pipes!
  • fuzzy socks
  • flannel sheets
  • old quilts
  • snoring dogs
  • starting a new path with friends
  • a beautiful, sunny warm day; such a respite from the gray, overcast, freezing month of January!IMG_2990 IMG_2989
  • pattering and dripping of rain
  • huge box for the kids to play inIMG_2971
  • sunset of pinkIMG_2998
  • an almost unbelievable find amidst the dead leaves and icy cold–the promise that winter WILL end, spring is on the way, and new life is growingIMG_2979

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Gratitude in the new year

Well, 2013 ended three months of illness–suspected whooping-cough and perhaps flu, plus other respiratory illnesses galore. I’m grateful for new beginnings, aren’t you? My new year’s gratitude list:

  • Ending well
  • Beginning with expectation
  • Burning the “Old Man”

    Burning the "Old Man" indoors--too cold outside!

    Burning the “Old Man” indoors–too cold outside!

  • Hundreds of robins, stripping our holly tree bare in one day. They were so full they sat around digesting for a couple of hours after they finished!IMG_2891
  • Hearing Papa Don preach the first Sunday of the year.
  • trip for three to the aquarium
  • Monopoly for the rest of us–time to hang out while we watch the storm come in
  • A warm house in absolutely frigid temperatures
  • Sound of water dripping through the night=no frozen pipes!
  • A close call realized–oven instructions tucked behind the panel nearly caught on fire!IMG_2894 IMG_2895
  • A great deal on a new oven

    Out with the hold, waiting for the new...

    Out with the hold, waiting for the new…

  • Coffee hazelnut steamer (kid temperature!) with Stacy
  • Healthy kids growing well
  • Frost on the windows and doorsIMG_2913
  • a sort-of snow, about all we get around here :)
  • new storage in the kitchen
  • afternoon with Valeria
  • Beth and her birthday–so grateful to have you in my life!
  • Play date for Blue Eyes
  • grateful my family is NOT dependent on my gardening skills for their next meal. Everything froze…:(
  • Encouragement by Ann to start to collect gratitude lists. What a gift to us all!
  • New youth pastor, new beginnings for our Sr. pastor, new hopes for the future
  • Friends finally on their way to Ethiopia after waiting over six months for clearance by the Embassy. Godspeed, Jeff and Julie!

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Emmanuel, God With Us

You hear it alot this time of year–Emmanuel, God with us. I was working on something and listening to my Christmas playlist and heard it again.

 

 

 

God. With. Us.

 

 

 

I have many friends going through very hard times right now: the death of parents, divorce, cancer, unemployment, financial uncertainty. Lots of people with stuff going on that makes the “Merry Christmas” season less than merry. A sweet friend was talking about her grief and the holidays, how the grief comes over her in waves, sometimes out of the blue. I’ve had those moments, though for different reasons, and I expect most people have. How on earth do I deal with those waves of sadness or uncertainty? It’s even better than God just being with us corporately–get this:

 

 

God. With. Me.

 

 

 

To dissect this, it doesn’t say God with me so all the bad things in the world will stop, and my life will be like a trip to Disney World. Nope. Nowhere does it say that. Not even close. He never says “I will bar the gate of the valley of the shadow of death and not let you experience that. Nothing about “all the annoying people in your life will vanish.” Not a hint of an easy life, at least in the eyes of the world. None. Actually, it’s the opposite. His people were thrown to the lions, tossed in blazing furnaces, and told of they would be in the presence of enemies, the valley of the shadow. Jesus told his disciples plainly, “In this world YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE.” and “WHEN people persecute you for my sake” (Matthew 5:11) and “You WILL be hated by all because of my name.” (Matthew 10:22) This is not a life for the faint of heart.

 

 

 

But what is also mentioned? I will be with you. I will prepare a table for you in the presence of those enemies. He walked with the men in the furnace. He’s in the valley of the shadow-with us. Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world!” The Holy Spirit is in us as believers–always. Always. And the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

 

 

 

So for those of us who mourn for loved ones, who walk the valley, who are in the furnace, who seem to live in the presence of the enemy: we are not alone. You are not alone. In the pain, grief, sickness, loneliness, isolation or whatever you face this week, you are not alone. That’s what this Christmas is all about. God–with us.

 

Nativity

Nativity (Photo credit: sbrent)

 

 

 

 

 

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Help Princess Rania!

Hey everyone, it’s Happy Girl again.

For the past couple years, I’ve been involved in the Christmas Angel Tree program from Reece’s Rainbow. You can click the links to learn more, but basically the Angel Tree program is a fundraiser, a bit similar to the Kroger version.

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 Every year, orphaned children with Down Syndrome aged 2 years and younger and other children are assigned to different people. From November 1st to December 31st, it is the goal of these people to $1,000 for their child. 

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I have done this for 3 years now, and this year part of my fundraising is through my parents’ blogs. Let me introduce to you to my child this year, Princess Rania.

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Adoption in general is expensive. Adopting an overseas child with Down Syndrome is even more expensive, and it is hard for a family to commit. But as an older child with Down Syndrome, Rania’s chances to get adopted are especially slim. That’s what the Angel Tree program does: it lowers the daunting expenses and makes it easier for families to adopt. In addition, most children often find their families during the fundraising period.

In this next month of thanksgiving, I’m helping to make it easier for Rania’s future family. If you want to help too, you can click this link and donate via Paypal. Even if you can’t donate a lot, every dollar helps. Thanks for helping!

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 5.43.58 PM

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Grateful in November

Well, I have some sort of respiratory something. I fought it the beginning of last week and it’s still hanging around this week…but here’s my gratitude list for the week:

  • Surprising last bit of summer on a stem, contrasted by the fall leavesIMG_2528
  • gold on blueIMG_2523

IMG_2529

  • my wonderful 4 kidsIMG_2596
  • 42 years on this earth
  • long phone call with Stacy
  • thoughtful birthday gift from my husband
  • kindness of brothers-in-Christ, who helped me jump off the van, when I went to church sick to pick up my daughter and the battery died. Thanks Kelly, Rod and Tony!
  • a warm house with heat
  • packing Operation Christmas Child boxes with American Heritage Girls
  • flannel sheets
  • family quilts

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Intentional Holidays: Celebrating Advent

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;

Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

For me, Advent is this verse, Isaiah 40:3–clearing the way for the Lord, smoothing the highway in the desert. In a season that is often over-commercialized, hyped beyond anyone’s expectations, this is it. Clearing a way for Him. Smoothing the desert or wasteland of the world. Loving Him. Preparing myself for His coming.

My children look forward to this every year. It’s a big deal at our house. Last week I heard them discussing who was going to get to open the last door of The Advent Book on Christmas morning, trying to remember who got to do it the last previous years.  We started a long time ago, when we only had one child. My brother-in-law, who is a preacher, was astonished to hear my two-year old recite from memory almost the entire account of the birth of Christ. When you hear it everyday, a little at a time, it is hidden in your heart.Caleb and the Advent wreath

We started simply. A prayer, a Christmas carol (just one a week with wee ones), four candles, and a book. That was it. For a two-year old, that’s all we needed and it was a good place to start. We had pink, purple and white candles as some wreaths traditionally use, but we didn’t really even talk about the symbolism of the candles. Just the candles, a song and the story. That’s all you really need. We moved up to a circular wreath a few years later. Just plain and wooden and I decorated it with greenery and ribbon. The candles made a lovely spiral by the end of the month. A few years ago I received one of Ann Voskamp’s son’s Cradle to Cross wreaths that we use during Advent and Lent as well. I love it. Very simple, with Mary on a donkey circling her way around. It all culminates on Christmas morning. After we open our stockings and have breakfast, we light the wreath, sing, and open the book for the last time. Because this door is only opened once, it seems even more exciting to our kids. It’s a beautiful way to usher in Christmas!DSCN1227

We still use The Advent Book. In addition, after Advent, we read other books as well. Jotham’s Journey was exciting to read, as well as the sequels in following years. It’s a story of a boy who ends up in Bethlehem and witnesses what happened there. There are all kinds of stories you can read to add another layer to Advent. One of my favorites is an anthology of stories and poems, A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems edited by James Charlton. The book belonged to my great-grandfather, and I love to sit down with a cup of tea and a candle and dive in. It seems to be out of print, but you can get them, starting at a penny on Amazon. I have a link in my Amazon store, along with lots of other lovely books.DSCN1243

Some of my fondest memories of my children’s childhood is Advent. They aren’t perfect.  There’s been arguing about who gets to light the candles, pick the song, turn the page (I have 4 kids!). There’s been wiggly babies and toddlers, sick kids, you name it, it’s happened. But it’s worth doing. Start to think now about Advent and what you want to make it in your home.

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