Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crap. Just Crap.

I hope there is no one with delicate sensibilities on this blog. If so, I apologize profusely if my title offended. Please forgive.

I had a crappy, crappy day today. It started off relatively fine. Alarm went off at 6:30, up and out of the door by 7:15. I was at work by 7:30 with coffee in hand, warming my hands and awakening my sleepy brain. I don’t have class on Thursdays, (I’m a seminary student) so I decided to spend most of my day at the church working on special graphic projects, such as the poster and logo for our Sunrise Service, the weekly email blast we send out to the congregation, etc, etc.

Let me make this clear: I work with an amazing group of people. They are fun and I love them dearly. Yet the magnitude of what we must do together as a church staff is overwhelming sometimes. And you have those “hallway” conversations with people you are in ministry with (I also teach at the church) and you seek to work out the tension between things like vision and reality and what you want to be and what can actually be.

Those conversations can hit hard, and maybe not even in the moment you are having them. So the crap in my day didn’t come (at least not on the surface) from these conversations or even these people. They came from spilling my fountain soda all over the floor before I’ve even had any, and from loosing some really, really important notes (pages of them) I can’t finish a project without. Those little things aggravate the big things… and the next thing I know my mind is racing with all the crap in my life I can’t control and my heart breaks with the brokenness that is in me and is in the world.


For me, this Lenten season has not been what I should have made it. I am not thoughtfully preparing myself for Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And in that, I discovered that I have given up the significant importance of what help makes me a whole and spiritually healthy person: reflection on God’s goodness. I didn’t intentionally “give” this up for Lent (not that anyone ever should) but I, in my crazy, screwed-up and misdirected ways, might as well have. Because the Lord’s goodness is not in the front of my mind… it seem that I have given that up.

Part of the Lenten process is sacrificing – fasting from certain foods or media. And I love that part of Lent. I love the call to sacrifice a normal, everyday comfort for the sake of something outside yourself. This often brings sadness into the heart. And our sin rightfully should bring that sadness. But today I am looking at this process of preparation and sacrifice differently.

I am looking for the joy.

Joy is a funny word, because we know it’s possible to be joyful without expressing happiness. Feelings of joy often come from with the heart, whereas an expression of happiness is more temporal and outward. When I think of joy I think of contentment. And when I think of contentment, I don’t automatically think of “Lent”. But today I have a new Lenten goal: to find the joy in this sorrowful season, to find the joy in my heart. To give up the downward spiral I brought myself to in this season... and be reminded that God is good. Even when my day is not.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not "Doing" Lent?

Our church board announced a month or two ago that we were not "doing" Lent this year. To them, that meant we were not having an Ash Wednesday service, or Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday. We were not getting into the "liturgical" thing, but just doing Palm Sunday and Easter.

Now, I'm sure they had the best of intentions with this. But I'm not sure we're really doing ourselves any favors. Usually, Lent helps get the mind and heart prepared for Easter. Isn't that what the time is usually about? But instead, this year we are not going to really think about it. We are going to rush head-long on with our busy lives, and not take time for church.

Sunday morning, our pastor asked the congregation if we knew what last Wednesday was. Surprise, surprise, no one knew. So our pastor has decided (thankfully) to focus his sermons on the season of Lent. (hahaha to those who thought we were doing away with any lenten connection)

Usually, my kids have talked about what they were giving up for Lent. Last year, my son gave up Star Wars, GI Joe, and Transformers. (He was brave -- and he made it through Lent without them.) But neither of my kids have said anything this year. Nor have I made any effort myself. I guess I have just "gone along" with the crowd.

So, now what? Where am I going from here? I have no idea. And Easter will be here before we know it. In our church, that is truer than we expect.

Sugar Addicts Anonymous

I'm on day seven of my Lenten sugar fast, and let me tell you... only the power of Christ compels me. I have been sugar-free for almost a week, and it's definitely a struggle.

Here are things that I have been doing:

I gave up all desserts (even fruity ones... just to be safe).
I gave up all boxed cereals (except Kashi)
I gave up all sodas and sweet drinks
I gave up all sweets (even sugar-free ones... just to be safe).
I gave up all juices (just to be safe).

At first, I thought it would be fine for me to do things like have sugar-free chocolate, or sugar-free ice cream. But what I noticed after having a couple of those on the second day... I craved sugar even more. So I just decided to try cold turkey and see if that worked.

Instead I am:

Drinking coffee/tea/espresso with no sugar.
Eating a lot more fruit.
Chewing a lot of gum.

It has been really interesting. I definitely can feel the difference sometimes. Well, I know the difference because I'm craving sugar a lot, but I can also feel the difference in that I'm not as tired in the afternoons, and I tend to sleep better. I'm wondering if this might not be a good lifestyle choice for me to just make. It seems drastic, but I wonder if it wouldn't be better for me physiologically (forget weight/health issues associated with sugar) to not have anymore refined sugar.

It is really hard, with the cravings. I don't know how I'm doing it, other than by the grace of God. Because there are some times I want sugar so bad, I can taste it. I've even gone to Starbucks a couple of times and just said to myself, if I get a scone or something, it's not really sugar, right? But I know it is. And I made a commitment. I want to honor that commitment. No momentary indulgence is going to be as sweet as honoring that commitment. 

I'm trying to steer as clear as I can of foods that I know are high in hfcs, as well. But it's hard to avoid syrup of any kind. It's been interesting. The post that Clint put up about legalism is one that has been eating at me a bit. I still need to think about it more, and I hope to post on it later.

I'm looking forward to seeing how everyone else's Lent is going.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lent and the Temptation of Legalism

Each time I approach the season of Lent, I approach it with either goals of relinquishment or goals of addition. This year I am trying both. Each year, as I go through my Lenten journey, I struggle with some sort of legalism.

When most of us think of the struggle of legalism, we often really think of judgmentalism. We think of someone who spend all their time attempting to live by the rules, and looking down on those who do not. With Lent, we might think of the danger of legalism as being too hard on ourselves. This is not the kind of legalism I struggle with during Lent.

The kind of legalism that I struggle with during Lent is the kind of legalism that looks for exceptions and loopholes. For instance, for years in the past I would give up fast food for Lent. Then, for weeks I would struggle with which restaurant counts as "fast food" and which does not. Did Panda Express count? What about Chipotle or Qdoba? Subway? Or is fast food really just McDonalds and Taco Bell?

When I attempt to fast, I start pondering after about 12 hours whether a milkshake is a food or a drink. What about a candy I do not chew on, but just suck on, like Jolly Ranchers? Is that a break of the fast? Whenever I set a rule, it is not long before I look for loopholes and exceptions.

I think this form of legalism is kind of sad for two reasons. First of all,I think it quickly moves me away from relationship. Instead of getting closer to God, I work on being good enough and not disappointing God and myself. And when I get in the position of a child trying to earn love from my Heavenly Father I miss the love God is reaching out to me with.

Second, it exposes my lack of willingness to embrace the spirit of the discipline I am working on. I wish I were a person who was not tempted to quit so much. I wish I was a person that avoided the hard and painful stuff so much. But often I leave myself open to these temptations through my weakness.

Lent: That 40-day Period When You Get Ugly Looks for Saying Alleluia in Church.

Lent is actually my favorite liturgical season. Yes, Christmas is nice, and Easter has wonderful music, but Lent has its own characteristics that make it special too. Being raised with both Southern Baptist and Episcopal beliefs and values, I was a little more than confused about the whole "Lent" thing for quite a while. For years the beginning of Lent simply meant I gave up something I loved for forty days, because "that's what you do in Lent". It was also the time of year when my brother and I looked forward to going to a very public place after the Ash Wednesday service so we could count how many weird looks we got because of the black smudges on our foreheads. Long story short, I didn't get it. Over the years however, I have come to fully appreciate Lent and all that it stands for.

Something that really helped me in the process of understanding Lent was the program Godly Play. It's a Montessori based children's program through the Episcopal Church. Just this week I got to tell the "Mystery of Easter" story in the younger's room (three and four year-olds). They were enthralled. The story gives a simple, yet excellent definition of Lent, "Lent helps us to get ready. It is a time to know more about the One who is Easter. It is also a time to learn more about who we really are." The time of Lent does give me time to think about who I am. I ask myself questions like, "What do I stand for? What things in my life could I improve on? What things am I doing right?" Not that any person can conquer all their problems in forty days, but having this time set aside, which is specifically dedicated to the meditation and reflection of our lives does help further me in my spiritual journey.

Now for my favorite part of Lent, the changing of the colors. The color of Lent is purple, which is the color of kings, and we're getting ready for the coming of a king. Purple is also a serious color, because something serious is going to happen. The color of Easter is white. You see, as we approach Easter, "The color of getting ready, becomes the color of pure celebration." The end of the Godly Play story goes like this, "The sad seriousness and the happiness join together and make joy." I love happy endings like this, they make all the sad parts worth it, just like the process of Lent. So even though we go through this serious time, in the end, we are better people because of it. I'm eager to see how I far I will go, and how much I will change this Lenten season, and I can't wait for Easter morning when I will hear the words, "Alleluia. Christ is risen." and I will have the privilege of enthusiastically responding, "The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia."

Sunday, February 21, 2010


My idea of Lent is not just the sacrificing of something I enjoy but also the sacrificial act of adding something to my life that I may not be good at or may not enjoy or be good at remembering.

Since I was in college, I started writing to my grandparents and great aunt once a week during Lent. I have done that probably more often than not each Lenten season since. I have to take time away from facebook and blogging and reading and movies and cleaning (ok, I don't mind that part) to sit down and write something caring and thoughtful and genuine. This practice means that I'm giving of myself to someone who has given so much to me. People who love me unconditionally and whom Jesus has used to teach me. Writing a postcard or letter to these people is a reminder of who I am as a child of my earthly family and how they have taught me that I am also a child of God.

This year is different. There is one less letter to write each week. Gran passed away in October and it's still sad and different. I just called my Aunt Loly to wish her a happy 94th birthday and it was strange to not talk about Gran and how she's doing. The way I grew up, Aunt Loly was really like another gramma and talking to her tonight makes me miss Gran even more.

God uses everything to His Glory. I believe that. I don't always see it but I believe it.

So this year for Lent I am committing to two things for sure: no more pop and write a letter a week each to Grandad James and Aunt Loly. I think I'll add my folks this year and maybe my two sisters as well. Everyone loves real mail, right? And this is a great way to show love, I think.

Time to write a couple of letters!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Accountability post

I actually did ok on my first day:

I met all my daily exercise goals
I met my diet goals (w/exceptions written in)
I met my daily enjoyment goal w/ a "heart-healthy" beverage

This weekend's craziness is built in to my goals. I have a lock-in this evening, and for the next couple days everything will be haywire. But we are looking at long-term growth with my lenten goals anyway.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where I got the title....

Because as a child I got the words LINT and LENT mixed up. I thought Ash Wednesday was a day for chimney cleaning and the stuff in dryer and the day "catholics celebrated" were the same. Then I went to college and learned better. Strange things you learn in college...huh?

Lenten Goals

This year for Lent, I've decided to give up sugar. A time-honored tradition exists in the liturgy of the church of giving up things for the season of Lent in order to learn the discipline of self control, and to identify with the sufferings of Christ. I've never really done this before, but I've been convicted lately that I have an addiction that I need to address that's getting in the way of making God the #1 priority in my life.

I am addicted to sugar. Like many Americans, I do the high-low of sugar addiction. And those lows are low. They can impede my ability to concentrate and work. I would love to get out of this cycle. I crave the high, the energy, the general up-ness of sugar. The endorphin rush. Even just talking about it, I can feel how much I want sugar right now (and I'm only on Day Two).

So I've decided to give up processed sugar of all kinds. I would love to give up all sugar, but that's just not reasonable for me. It's hard to throw a rock in your kitchen without hitting something that has high fructose corn syrup in it. But I'm going to be as careful as I can about that, as well. So my official goal is to avoid all sweets and sugars (sugar includes soda, coffee flavoring, non-fruit juices, all sugary drinks, all desserts--unless they are sugar free, and even then, I have to be careful about the HF-CS--all candy, chocolate, and baked goods). This is going to be intense for me. It's already been hard. But I think, with God's help, I can do it.

But since I'm doing one "abjuring", I thought I should do one "adding", too. So in addition to giving something up for Lent, I'm also adding something. I'm taking sugar out of my diet and putting fruit in. So I'm trying to eat 3-5 servings of fruit every day (not including juices, because most fruit juices are mostly sugar).

I'm also adding in a devotional reading, to support the changes I've made. I bought a Lenten Study on "freedom" that I will talk more about later. So my other addition is that I'm trying to do my one-day devotional reading every day of the 40 days until Easter.

God, please be with me. I will need it...

Lenten Quote

There is nothing more common among those of us who hang out in the company of the men and women that follow Jesus than using what everyone agrees is a good thing and essential to the kingdom of God to hide our sin.--Eugene Peterson (Tell It Slant, p. 57)


One of the things that I am always reminded of during Lent is my lack of belief in God's abundance. I believe in God's abundance toward me intellectually, but when it comes to feeling a sense of God's abundance deep in my heart I often fall short.

I eat too much because internally I doubt I will have the opportunity to taste something quite this good again. I need to tell myself that I will get to eat what I eat again, so I can savor what I have now and not overeat. I misuse my time because I don't trust I will have the opportunity to do the other things I am doing again. Often, I struggle in making a decision for work based on wondering about if a similar opportunity will ever arise.

One of the emotional issues I need to deal with in my Lenten journey has to do with my trust in God's provision and abundant gifts.