Piloting Through the Storm

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Summer break has officially arrived at our house today!!!

(And wouldn’t you know, it’s raining.)

((So the youngest one is already bored and it’s only 9:20 AM.))

(((Oh, goody.)))

Lucky for me, though,  this gloomy weather provides me with the perfect backdrop for what I wanted to write about today:  storms.

My sister-in-law captured this great photo from a midwest storm brewing near their house a week or two ago, and I thought it was a great illustration of something that is easy to forget when those more invisible, but equally– or sometimes even more severe–storms start to churn on our insides.  Whether it be a spiritual storm that tests your faith, a social storm that tests your integrity, stormy thoughts that test your attitude, or a physical storm that usually tests all three,  I thought this photo was a great reminder of something I read in Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love a while back.  In it, (and I paraphrase here) I read that in every storm, the sky does not go all black or all gray, the gray or the black temporarily blocks out the blue, but the blue is always there.

Now, maybe you’d realized that before, but I hadn’t really thought about it until just then as I read it.  It made me think of the few times I’ve been on an airplane and left the ground in the middle of pouring rain.  It’s not long until the pilot pushes the plane right through the storm and  finds that blue sky– making it a smoother ride for all of us on board– that I realize the vastness of the sky itself was a calm, constant blue all along!  I felt like this photo was such a great illustration of that very thing:  you can see the darkness beginning to creep in and cover the bright light, but you can also see that the light really isn’t going anywhere…it’s just getting covered up!

I thought about this as I walked with my family during the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life this weekend.  I was privileged this year to be joined by my friend, who has survived (and thrived) after a breast cancer diagnosis 18 months ago, along with her mother, a survivor who has been cancer free for 19 years!  I had just gotten to know my friend around the time of her diagnosis a year and a half ago, so I doubt I was much of a “blue sky” in her time of darkness.  But, I know of other friends of hers who were.  And I watched that process as people flocked to take care and help out where they could.  Today, she is healthier, stronger and arguably, “more alive” than ever after her difficult “storm”.

And while it didn’t seem related at the time, as I look back on it now, I realize there were two other events from this weekend that I’ll share because in my mind, they are relevant to this same idea.

The first event was a rather ordinary one for us, because after Relay for Life, we went to our usual Saturday evening Mass (the only difference being that all five of us looked more casual than usual in our flourescent green RFL t-shirts.   But, last year on RFL day, we arrived in rainbow tie-dye, so I think the congregation is getting used to it!)  At any rate, the homily by our deacon that day was about the miracles of Jesus and the variations in the understanding and explaining of these miracles over the last 2000+ years.  I know I’ve heard explanations before that some people feel takes away from the “miracle” of these events– particularly in regards to the feeding of the thousands.  That explanation is that it was through witnessing the action of Jesus’ sharing of the loaves and fish, he prompted others to take what little food they had hidden away in their cloaks and share it, too.  For me personally, I like this second explanation every bit (or maybe even more!) as much as I like the idea of  Jesus  mysteriously and miraculously multiplying the loaves and fish himself.  Because frankly, to me, whether we are fed miraculously by God, or we collectively come into the heart and mind of Christ to feed each other, a miracle has occurred as far as I’m concerned.  The details don’t really matter much to me.

Finally, the third event was the sharing of a story by my husband that one of his co-workers had shared with him.  It was a beautiful essay by Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The essay is a great illustration for learning the difference between an inconvenience in life and a problem.  And the essay summarizes the difference like this:

“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.   If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem.  Everything else is an inconvenience.  Life is inconvenient.  Life is lumpy.  A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump.  One needs to learn the difference.”

And in that moment I thought of my friend, a survivor of breast cancer.

And I thought of Jesus working his miracles.

And I thought of my sister-in-law capturing this photo of the darkness temporarily moving in to cover the light.

And I hoped and I prayed that the next time I find myself in the middle of one of life’s storms, God sends me someone (or several someones) to help pilot me through that storm to be an earthly illustration of his constant light for me.  Because even though I claim to have the faith to get me through anything, like everything else in a storm, even my faith can become lost in darkness  from time to time.

And then I hoped and I prayed that during all the other times– the times of sunshine and brightness and peace in my life–that God gives me the strength and the wisdom and the courage to help pilot others through their storms.  To be a pinpoint of light for them in their darkness.

Because when it’s all said and done, whether I’m piloting others, or they are piloting me… being able to weather any storm life throws our way with the support of others?

Well.

That’s miracle enough for me.

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When God is Silent

I’ve been uneasy lately.

This time of year is always difficult for me, and I can never put my finger on why that is exactly. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia for all the days and years gone by as the kids grow so quickly, mixed with excitement for the wide-open calendar of summer and all the various activities we’ll likely fill those days with.

It’s also a time of year where, very often for me, God goes silent.

Or I get too busy to hear.

Or both.

Today, I felt there was only one solution.  I took a walk along  Baxter’s and my favorite trails this morning for the first time since my solo memorial walk after his death.  It was muggy, warm and overcast, as we are expected to get rain later today.  But God has been silent around here, and so I went off looking for him in the places that I used to hear him best–nature.  Immediately as my feet took to walking, I heard the call of the birds, I saw wildflowers blooming, and I thought of all the miles Bax and I covered along those trails as I huffed and puffed my way through the hills and valleys.

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Before Baxter, I was never really one for the great outdoors.  I was content to slide my thermostat from the warmth of 68 degrees for the winter to the refreshingly cool 72 degrees of summer.  It wasn’t until I had Bax that I suddenly had a reason to be outside every single day, even if only for a moment sometimes.   Because let’s face it, with a dog, getting outside is necessary.  This morning, it was time to admit to myself that I’d been avoiding walks ever since his death.  Without Baxter (or at least without having another dog) the walks seemed pointless somehow.  And I suppose there was at least a small part of me that felt like I’d be betraying him if I walked his favorite trails without him.  Still, God had fallen silent and it had reached a point that I knew I’d need to get back out into nature in order to hear him again.

It didn’t take long.

As I felt the warm breeze on my face, I was reminded of the fiery, windy, breath-filled Spirit of God of Pentecost (which we celebrated this past weekend).  As I stepped into the shade under the canopy of trees on the hills, I was reminded of St. Catherine’s meditation, and I thought about my life and how the Tree of Me must look.  As the sun beat down on me in the wide-open blacktop as I passed over the parking lot, I remembered that this is still  the same sun– so many thousands of years later– that shined for Noah after the flood, working with the sky to make a rainbow of God’s promise that the world would never be destroyed.  (This took my thoughts to animals going in two by two, of course, and I was reminded again of Bax.)  I suddenly realized, though, that while I missed my walking partner terribly, I was happy to have my feet moving again.  The whole process this morning seemed to be nature’s way of saying that things must change.  Life is moving on, and I can either go with it, or resist it, but it’s moving on all the same.

It’s an easy decision.

I’m going with it.

And as I heard the birds calling to each other in the treetops, and watched the squirrels hurried movements up and down the trees, I remembered that while I can get caught up in my head with all kinds of to-do lists and nostalgia and plans for the future, the truth is,  life is always only happening right now.

Yours and mine.

And I took a deep breath.

And I felt the silence.

And I breathed in nature’s perfume.

And I remembered I AM.

My Blog Posts…They are a-Changin’

Oh, boy. Looks like I fell off the blogging wagon again.

*sigh*

I apologize.

I gotta tell you, this blogging thing? It ain’t for sissies.

I must confess that after a year of blogging, taking the time to write is still sometimes harder than I think it should be.  But that being said,  last Lent when I suddenly got a wild hair to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I thought my ability to do that would last forever!

Still, alas, here we are,  a full week gone by without an entry.  (And I still have no real idea what to say.)  But the bigger issue is that I’m finding I don’t really want to make the time right now to do it.  Blog, I mean.

But please know this:  it’s not because of you.

It’s because the kids’ school years are winding down, and their activities are winding up, and I find myself twisting in the wind trying to hold on to every moment between now and their final day before celebrating their summer freedom, and lamenting that another year has come and gone so quickly.  You know, just like I do every year.

SO, on that note, I want to say that I am realizing I can’t keep up the pace of a thrice-a-week blog right now.  (Or I just don’t want to.)  Either way, I’m only committing to one post a week for a while.

I hope you understand.

And because I like to try not to leave my readers hanging (but mostly because I need to have a commitment in order to fill it) let’s say from this point forward to look for my blog on Mondays and I’ll let you know if that doesn’t work for me down the road, OK?

Whew!  Glad to have that cleared up!

In other news, I have to tell you what I was so excited to come across last weekend.  It’s one of the BEST things about moving out here to good ol’ PA.  It’s a massive book sale held once a year at our local college campus.  And for the past two years I have totally SCORED at this sale!

I have such a good time there, that I just walk in and march my little ol’ self up to the religion section, and I start throwing books in my bag.  I hardly have to even think about it…you know why?  Because the books are DIRT CHEAP!  (And by dirt cheap I mean if it’s $3.00, I may just put it back!)

Here are the great books that will keep me company this year, from the sale:

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They cost me a whopping $29.50.

I know!  (Try not to be jealous.)

Anyway, I get so excited about all I find there that I seldom realize how different my “favorite” selections are from those of my younger years.   I’m no longer among the people clamoring for the best sellers.  (In fact, it’s likely I’ve not even heard of them!)  Which may just explain why I’ve been asked on a few occasions  (usually by someone while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office) if I’m reading the book for a class.  (I guess they mean as in college?)  (If so, I’m certain they must think I’m back in school…not in it for the first time!)  Anyway, it’s happened enough times that I’m not as surprised by the inquiry as much now, and I just usually laugh and say, “Nope.  I’m just a big nerd.”  Which usually makes them laugh and we can both just move on from the awkwardness of the moment.

Since that is my “normal” experience,  I was tickled by the response of the older gentleman running the register (OK, it’s really just a calculator) at the book sale as I was checking out at last weekend’s book fair.   He’d either read them and loved them, or really wanted to read them, it seemed.   I couldn’t help but smile at his comments as he was ringing up my tab.   He marveled over and over at what great books I had found.   (Clearly he was a kindred spirit and not just “blowing smoke” as he’d not seemed nearly as fascinated with the previous person’s finding of Raising Cats and Household Handyman.)  No.  He seemed genuinely astonished at all my finds as he put the last book in the bag for me.   I think  it was in an effort to try to understand his and my “reading connection” that made him ask, “Are you in school?”  I chuckled a little but his question caught me a bit off guard.  He’d asked it differently than I’d been asked before, not just in his wording, but also in his tone.  He really seemed like he wanted to know.  (Any past inquiries had all been veiled ways of saying, “That book looks so boring you must be reading it for a class.”)  I was just as curious and impressed as he that we had these books in common.  So how should I answer?

I thought for a moment and flashed him my biggest smile.

“Well…just the School of Life,” I said.

And he smiled then, too.  Understanding, it seemed.

“Ahh…the School of Life, ” he said, “I like that.  The School of Life.”

It wasn’t until I walked away, still thinking about that moment, that I realized the Absolute Truth in my response.

Random Quotes from the Book I’m Reading Now

In an effort to follow through on my one word for 2013 of “Simplify,” I’m reading another book by one of my favorite spiritual authors, Richard Rohr, called Simplicity:  The Freedom of Letting Go.

The title alone is telling, but in classic Rohr style, his words bring not only a sense of peace, but also unrest.  Often at the same time.

From my reading this weekend, here are some of the thoughts he shares that stood out to me and had me either screaming with a resounding “YES!” or thinking, “Oh, boy.  I’d not thought of it like that before.”  In either case, his words resonated with me, on a very  deep level, and have given me much to think about as I continue to try to simplify not just from the standpoint of trying to simplify my life more by going “without,”  but also by taking a good look and “cleaning house” on my life from “within.”

From Richard Rohr’s Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go:

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  • First you agree to give yourself, and then you will understand it, not the other way around.
  • Don’t be afraid!  Fear comes from a need to control.  And we are not in control anyway.
  • When Jesus healed the sick people, he always said:  “Your faith has made you whole.”  He never said, “Your correct doctrine, your orthodoxy, your dogmatism have healed you.”
  • That is the problem of the soul.  I have to do my work and leave the judgment to God.
  • Jesus is a person and at the same time a process.  Jesus is the Son of God, but at the same time he is “the Way.”  He’s the goal, but he’s also the means, and the means is always the way of the cross.
  • The way of the cross looks like a way of failure.
  • The way inward demands that you build bridges with your own soul.  But anyone who builds a bridge always runs the danger of being trampled from both sides, of being misunderstood by both sides.

And finally, I will close with my personal favorite:

  • We become like the God we adore.

Happy Monday, all!

My Perfect Life at 40

I’d hate to jinx things, but it looks like I’m finally growing up a bit.

I know.

And to think it only took me 40 years.

(I’m sure my mom must be very proud.)

But, as I look back at the three months since I’ve turned 40, and the changes I’ve made in my life, it seems like a logical conclusion.  I mean, I’m getting my diet and exercise under control.  I’m more organized.  I’m staying on top of the housework.  I’m making good choices with the time I have each day.   And even though things like having a daughter with a raging stomach virus slow me down for a bit, I find I’m calmer than usual in the midst of the storm.  I understand there are many things beyond my control, and I’ve learned better how to just roll with it.

In fact, prior to last week’s bout of stomach flu, I would have thought last week was going to be one of the busiest weeks of my Spring.  I’d committed to helping with several things at my children’s school (on top of the “normal” things I volunteer for), and I’d made promises to myself to stay on top of eating right and exercising,  in the midst of all of it.  When all was said and done, even the exercise had to fall by the wayside.  But I kept my eating relatively under control so that this morning, when I did my weekly weigh in, I was still pleasantly surprised.

It seems my One Word idea for this year (SIMPLIFY) combined with my Lenten promise to “give up” my excuses, seems to have moved me forward a bit.  Forward in terms of getting things done.  Forward in terms of letting go of the desire to want everything to be “perfect” and then “stay put”.  Forward in terms of trusting that when things go wrong, a solution will be made known to me for where to go from there.

In SIMPLE terms:  discipline, detachment, and trust have allowed me to move forward.  It’s easy to see now that somewhere in the endless loads of laundry, the nonstop homework paper trail and the miles of errands and activities, I’d lost hope that I would ever feel at peace with the rhythm of life.

The best image I can think of to describe what I’ve come to understand isn’t Biblical.  In fact, it’s not even “grown up.”  But it is SIMPLE.  It’s a scene from the movie Finding Nemo.   The scene where Marlin, the clown fish (who’s anything but funny), wakes up after an intense, worrisome, anxiety-ridden journey to find the EAC (East Australian Current) which he knows will lead him to his lost son.  After many mishaps and near misses, he falls unconscious to a jelly fish sting.  So used to searching for the EAC, he wakes up and quickly realizes that in his unconsciousness he’s lost valuable time to get there.  So he begins to panic and quickly asks the very laid-back surfer dude sea turtle, Crush, to point him to the EAC.

And what Crush says next, is how I’ve felt about the “perfect” life I’ve been searching for this whole time.  Most of my life I’ve searched and worried and worn myself out trying to control and think my way into a better way of living.  But, it wasn’t until I got moving (discipline) and let go of my need to control every little thing (detachment)  and believed that Someone bigger than me had the answers (trust), that I was finally able to see what Marlin saw once Crush helped him “open his eyes:”

“You’re looking for the EAC?”  asks Crush, as he laughs his surfer laugh, “You’re riding it, dude!”

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And though my realization was more of a slow unveiling, than a clear-cut statement, Crush’s words ring true all the same.

Because what is the perfect life after all?  Is it not a life full of hills and valleys?  An epic journey fraught with harrowing moments of indecision and bad choices?  But is it not also sprinkled with moments of ridiculous ecstasy like the birth of a child, or at least the birth of a great idea?

That sure sounds like a “perfect” life to me.  In fact, I find it every bit as obvious from this perspective as I did Crush’s answer to Marlin in the movie.  Suddenly, it seems so silly of me to ask, because God’s answer is so obvious:

“You’re looking for a perfect life?  You’re living it.”

Yep.

And to think it only took me 40 years to figure it out.

Overcommitted

With sincere apologies, I am sorry to be so late in typing today’s post.

This has been one of those weeks where no matter how much I get done, there’s still more to do.  You know what I’m talking about?

I have overcommitted myself with volunteer work.  And blogging promises to myself.  And exercise promises.  And lunches with friends.  And planning new events.  And chores.  And running here and there.  And motherhood.  And wifedom.  And such.

It’s been exhausting.

But I don’t want to complain because it’s also been wonderful, all at the same time.  For instance, I am working on some posts for next week already, and have successfully left Monday’s calendar slots BLANK to make sure you all don’t get ignored.

Or lost in the hustle and bustle of it all.

Or forgotten.

After all,  I know I said on Wednesday that I’d show you around here on the new blog design, but now the thrill of it is gone for me.  This is home.  I think you can find your own way just fine.  Feel free to sit back, click on things that interest you, and if you’re looking for a challenge, try to hunt out my typos and mistakes…it probably won’t take long for you to strike gold.

Speaking of gold, let me share with you a treasure I found this week.

This:  IMG_4554

It is one of those books that has changed my life.  You know what I mean?  It has in it the kind of words that veered me slightly from the course I was on, back to the course of my destiny.  It asks many great and wonderful questions.  It bravely shares many challenging and deeply thought-provoking sentiments.  It took me to the wilderness  (from which I’d just returned), and it framed it for me in a new light.

I think my favorite thought of all from it was this:  “At the core of me is God.”

Think on that for the weekend.

Or for the rest of your life.

Whichever.

You let me know what you decide.

Until Monday…

Lisa

How I *Know* Everything

I guess there are at least some benefits to having blogged for over a year now.  One of them being that when your mind is just not able to properly communicate to your fingers what to type, you can just choose to re-post something you’ve written before.  Which is what I’m doing today.  This post was originated on my first ever blog (www.lisachristiansen.blogspot.com) in February of last year.  But I think it’s still one of my favorite posts.  And if I’m lucky, it will inspire me with some new writing for next week.  Until then…enjoy!

Technology is not my friend. 

 

You know how sometimes when you’re writing and you just *know* you’re on to something and you’re typing so fast you’re hardly even thinking about it and you feel electric with energy because you are starting to think you are just Such. A. Flaming. Genius?

 

So then you take a moment to review it and you smile and you think, This is SO GOOD!  I’m just gonna cut it and paste it over here where I can edit it a little better without the worry of accidentally hitting ‘send’ before it’s too soon.

And you go and you cut it. 

 

But then for whatever stinking reason under this side of heaven it Just. Won’t. PASTE.

 

 

Yep, you guessed it.  Somewhere out in cyberspace (or hiding in some tiny irretrievable recesses of my computer) is that sheer genius piece of writing.  From Friday.  When I was trying to ‘work ahead’ and tell you what I *knew*.

 

So let’s just agree that Friday’s lost entry was my Pulitzer Prize winner that unfortunately got lost in a galaxy too large for any of us to find.  And when we see who wins the Prize this year we’ll all *know* it was supposed to be me…OK?

 

Instead, I’m going to use today to clarify something.  Because since some of you have been kind enough to let me know you are, in fact, reading what I’m writing here in Blogland and that I’m not just writing it to myself [which, by the way is incredibly kind of you, and also extremely terrifying for me, but I thank you anyway].  Still, since I’m pretty sure I’ll have at least one reader every day (thanks, Mom) it’s important that we  are of the same mind on something.

 

And that something is what I mean when I write the word know with those cute little asterisks around it like this:

*know*

 

You see, when I write that I *know* something, I’m talking about the kind of *knowing* that me and my women friends had when we were young and newly married and we were SO READY to start a family and have our kids spaced out here. And here.  And here.  And we had it all planned out.  And we *knew* that’s how it would go. 

 

You know what I’m talking about?  Remember that kind of *knowing*?

 

I do. 

 

Any guesses how many times I’ve *known* I was pregnant? 

 

At least 12. 

 

Yep.

 

I’d bet at least that many.

 

Which is, of course, different from how many times I’ve actually been pregnant. Which, for the record is three.  (And believe me, I’m OK with that!) So, you see, when I say I *know* something, I think what I really mean is that I’m being intuitive.  But the stink of it is, that sometimes it’s really hard to separate our intuition (our built-in truth-finder, if you will) from what we really, really want.

 

And what we want may not always be the Truth we’re intended to live.

 

SO…

 

sometimes we have to *know* and be wrong, and sniff (and cry) our way back to our Life Path before we *know* and get it right. 

 

And the reward is that when we *know* and then it’s confirmed for us over and over and over again– through the things we see (ultrasound), and the things others see in us (You are GLOWING!) and the way we feel (over-the-moon-euphoric!)– that we have, in fact, found the Truth. 

 

Or we’ve let it find us.

 

Either way, I’m fairly certain that what happens in that moment is that our minds are finally in tune with our hearts.   Which really isn’t that far of a distance.

 

Still…sometimes it’s a looooooong and crooked road there.

 

*Sigh*

 

Anyway.

 

Now we can at least be on the same page and you will know that when I *know* something I just may be Dead. Wrong.

 

And that stinks.

 

But it’ll be OK.

 

You know why?

 

Because I’ve learned that my being wrong is really just an invitation from God… to wait. 

 

I guess it’s the only way He can make sure He is out in front of me before I go blazing ahead.   He’s real protective like that.  And I REALLY like to blaze!

 

Still. 

 

In my heart I know that it really would be a whole lot easier that way. 

 

You’d think we’d have gotten it awhile back when God sent us Jesus who told us

 

                                                            “Follow me.”

-Matthew 9:9

For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

-Matthew 11:30

 

 

But I’ll be honest, I used to think He was lying.   Not about the following, so much.  More about the easy.

 

I really did. 

 

And trust me, I realize it’s probably not nice to say you think God’s a liar, but since it’s my understanding that God created my heart (and my head… and my soul),  I guess there’s no real sense in my hiding the fact that I may think He’s a liar. 

 

Because He’s got a Front Row seat in there, anyway. 

 

Still. 

 

It’s what I thought.  

 

He was lying. 

 

And I thought that because it seemed like my own personal experience told me otherwise.  And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking this, because how often don’t we say to ourselves and each other that “life isn’t easy”?

 

It seems that way a lot. 

 

But then.

 

I let God weigh in with His two cents (and seriously, that’s about all the more I let Him weigh in because I’m stubborn like that).  And  I realize that it really may not be as hard as I first thought. 

 

I mean, after all…

 

I’m living right now.  And right now.  And right now.  And this isn’t really all that hard. 

 

But you know what’s IS hard? 

 

 

WAITING. 

 

 

At least most of the time. 

 

 

At least for me.

 

 

So that’s why God is sending me (and maybe you, too) this here little postcard today. 

 

It’s to remind me why I need to wait:

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So,  I’m making a choice to listen.

Because if God isn’t there yet…well, I guess I really don’t want to go there yet either. 

 

Even if it means letting someone else get that Pulitzer.

 

So that’s why I’m gonna sit another day or two before I rewrite that sheer genius entry I lost last Friday.

 

Because I may not have to rewrite it at all.

 

You see, I’m still trying to sniff out the Truth, even though I *know* what it is.

 

And that sometimes takes awhile. 

Courting God

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How long do you think a love affair could last between two people if one of them insisted to the other again and again and again, that they were unloveable?

It’s amazing that we can see so quickly it would never work when the question is framed like that.  It seems that so much of the courtship and wooing that goes into finding that “forever mate” is a dance where we show each other just how lovable we can be.

Why do we insist on making our courtship with God so differently?

Those were my thoughts as I read my devotional by Henri Nouwen this week:

God is saying, “I have always loved you and I love you now.  I want you to receive my love.”  And you are saying, “You can’t love me, God, because I’m so bad.  By thinking about my past I will prove to you that I am beyond forgiveness.”

What kind of person would ever put up with that kind of message again and again and again?

None that I know of.

So how can we explain why God would put up with this?

The only answer I have is so trite it seems to lose meaning over time, but it is still so true it needs to be said again.

Because our God?

Our God is an awesome God!

Amen.

Sacred Cows

As you already know, my Lenten journey this year is about “giving up” my excuses. The first excuse that came to my awareness was in regards to my overall health. I realized I could no longer “cheat” my way to good health knowing full well what every American is taught from birth  (but many, like me, continue to deny in the “land of plenty”):  that in order to lose weight I must make smart food choices (diet) and I must move my body more (exercise).

So I had to take a personal inventory: Did I really want to change? Yes. Was I willing to change?  Yes. Was I willing to let go of old habits? Um…I think so…where are we going here?  Was I willing to let go of my idols? Wait….what? How did this get religious all of a sudden? I thought I was trying to look like a super model. Or at least a local ad model. Or at least the best looking girl in the room (when I’m the only one it). How did this get to be about idols?

But my heart knew.  And it did what it always does.  It waited.  It waited for my head to catch up. And eventually my head did.   I realized that if I looked at the past three or four years, I’d worked out pretty consistently in some way or other for all those years,  but, I’d also successfully lost and then gained and then lost and then gained.  Could idols have something to do with it?  In all those years there was ONE thing I could think of that I had absolutely refused to give up.  That ONE THING was now on my heart, and in my head, so I knew it was time for me to let go.  It was the “sacred cow” I’d never been able to let go of  in all my other attempts to get healthy.

And its name is Diet Coke.

And it pours most deliciously from a fountain out of any McDonald’s restaurant.

And it only costs $1 (a dollar!) regardless of how big or small you want it.

(Large, please!)

And I have been addicted to it for over a decade.

ADDICTED.

I know it may seem laughable that I would think that giving up Diet Coke (it’s Diet, for crying out loud!  ONE CALORIE!) would  be a significant step towards good health.  (Though there are lots of articles to say it is a significant step).   The truth is, an addict is an addict. It really doesn’t matter what we’re addicted to. Sure, some things are arguably much more harmful than others, but the behavior is really the same.  In fact, I would argue that the behavior itself is the most harmful of all!  When you look at the definition of an addict: to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively, you can see right there that anything we’re addicted to, other than God, is breaking the first commandment.  I had been addicted for years.

So…with a deep breath, much prayer, a hard look at my lifestyle, (and the reality of having just turned 40), I decided that I needed to stop drinking Diet Coke.  I knew it was my “sacred cow.”

You see, when I think of  “sacred cows,” what I think of are false idols.  And I realized that not only was Diet Coke  a “sacred cow” for me  in the figurative sense —something immune from question or criticism–every time I’d tried to get serious about my health before, but it was also a sacred cow in the Biblical sense, something that takes your focus off of God.  I specifically think of the Biblical story of Moses and Aaron. Remember that one?  Where Moses went up the mountain to talk to God and receive the commandments, while Aaron, his brother, stayed down with the people who grew increasingly doubtful and impatient, so he built them a cow out of gold to worship?  (Exodus 32: 1-35)

Yeah.  It seems so ridiculous in its ancient context that it’s easy to think it has no meaning for us to today.  I mean worshipping a golden cow?  Laughable!

Until you realize that Diet Coke is your golden cow, and you’re a Diet Coke junkie.

Then it’s not so funny.

Then climbing that mountain for God seems really, really hard.

I can finally write about this because it’s been over a month now since I’ve had a Diet Coke or soda of any sort.  And while that may seem like no time at all, those who know me know what a lo-o-o-ong time that is.

And no one is more surprised that I could do it than me.

Even more surprising to me is the fact that I really don’t miss it.

Or at least very rarely.

I have made some other changes, too.  I’m doing this awesome Jillian Michaels workout every day, and out of respect to my last year’s Lenten sacrifice, I eat with more self-respect, consciously making better choices (most of the time).

I wish I had more news than that. You know, something real impressive like, I lost 10 pounds as a result!  But, as of right now, I haven’t.  (An unimpressive 3 pounds?  Yes.  An inspiring 10 pounds?  Not so much).

Even so, something else has changed. Something even more important, I think, and that is this: I’m focusing on the change, and I’m letting the results be whatever they’re going to be.  I trust they will come.  Not in my time frame, but in God’s.

So why am I telling you all this? Is it because I think you should feel guilty for going to McDonald’s or drinking Diet Coke? Of course not.

But I do think you need to look at any “sacred cows” that may be getting in the way of something you say you really want.   (Exodus 24:3)

And then take another look at just what’s stopping you from getting there.

Because no matter how hard you try?

You cannot climb the mountain while holding on to your sacred cow.

My 12-Step Lenten Journey

Despite living all of my 40 years on earth as a Catholic, I tend not to “give up” things for Lent.

You may have noticed that whenever I talk about what I “gave up” for Lent I always put “give up” in these cute little quotation marks like this: “give up “, see?   That’s because my Lenten prayer is not just about a 40 day fast.  At least not anymore.   Sure, for years it was like that.  I’d give up candy, or soda, or a favorite dessert for 40 days…or as long as I could stand…or until I forgot.  But that’s not how I “do” Lent anymore.

Four years ago, I listened to my priest as he encouraged us to not just “give up” some THING for Lent, but to make it matter.  He said that if we were going to “give up” something for Lent, the best thing to “give up” was our sins!  Right then and there, my Lenten prayer changed from my telling myself what I would (try to) “give up” to my asking God what he would like to see changed in me.  In that moment, Lent was changed forever from my “giving up” my favorite things, to my offering God my willingness to change.  And what a difference it has made!

By that count, I can tell you what my last 4 Lents have involved “giving up”:

2010:  Pride

2011:  Judgment and Jealousy

2012:  Negative self-talk/image (i.e. Loving myself)

2013: Excuses

Looking at this  list, you’d think I’d be just about near-perfect by now,  wouldn’t you?  (Ha!)

Of course, through this process, I quickly learned (SPOILER ALERT!) that “giving up” my sins  really needed to be more than a 40 day undertaking.

Now, as a result, Lent is less about spending 40 days in the desert and more about beginning the process that every “12-stepper” already knows.  It means admitting that  I,  myself,  am powerless over the very things I attempt to “give up.” 

Yep.

Pow.Er.Less.

That’s so much nearer the truth!  I have no more power over my pride now that I did in 2010, no more power over my judgments and jealousy now that I did in 2011, no more power over my negative self-talk/image than I did in 2012, and no more power over my own excuses (for doing things I shouldn’t and not doing things I should) than I did when Lent began this year.

So, why bother then? you may be thinking.  Great question!  And the answer is this:  because while I don’t have power, I DO have awareness.

Awareness of how I am weak.  Awareness of how I am imperfect.  Awareness of how I.am.not.God.

And, though it may not sound like it…that is Good News!

The even better news is that, for those who are able to take that “first step” and are fully honest with themselves  about their powerlessness, there is a second step.  And that step is that with my new (and usually painful) awareness:  I came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.  (Because, trust me, as soon as you get honest enough with yourself to see all that exists inside of you that you cannot control…you would quickly be headed for the loony bin, if it weren’t for this second step!)  And  that sanity comes for me in the form of compassion, which God readily puts on my heart, for those who “suffer” the same weakness.

The best way I can think of to describe this process of awareness and compassion is like a river gently washing away the roughest edges of a stone.   Over time, as the “waters” of God’s mercy flow over me,  I find myself, bit by bit, letting go.  And then I take the next step.  And then the next.  And then the next. Until finally you can use your experience to help others in the best possible way:  you can say, I understand what you’re going through.  I struggle with it, too.  I’m here for you.

That’s the best example I can find of what Lent is for me: a lifelong 12-step program whereby God shows me the places in my heart where I need to improve, and I do my best to follow.  And, just like the washed-out drunk who has the courage to get real honest about their weakness with alcohol,  I’ve come to understand that while my journey may begin by my “giving up” something, it’s a decision I have to continue to make day after day after day for the rest.of.my.life.

To be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with fasting from, say, Diet Coke or M&M’s for 40 days to help yourself experience some of what Jesus suffered in the desert.  I’m just saying that, to my understanding, it wasn’t just suffering for 40 days with no food and water that changed Jesus.

It was his choosing not to succumb to his temptations.

And doing that didn’t just change him for 40 days.

It changed him forever.