Making the Grade

A few weeks ago in my bible study group, we read and reflected on the story of the rich young man in the gospel of Matthew.

If you’re not familiar with this story, I’ll warn you now, it can be unsettling.  Especially for those of you who are, like me, all caught up in our First World problems.

The story goes like this:

Now someone approached [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”  He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

I, too, have many possessions.

I may not have as many as my neighbor.  Or some of my friends.  Or Oprah.  But I have many.  Clearly, more than I need. (Otherwise why would I have missed blogging last week to have a garage sale?)

So, it’s easy to think that there’s no hope for anyone who has many possessions.  But when my group was reading this story in my bible study class, another story came to my mind that I thought had a similar message.  It’s a story about my brother, who is a college professor (having grown up with him and his antics, I have to stifle laughter when I say “brother” and “professor” in the same breath, but it’s true!)   And he’s a professor who has earned his job through a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and discipline.  He’s a professor of graphic design at a distinguished art school and he’s passionate about his work and his teaching. He’s worked long hard hours to hone the skills he both uses and teaches.  And like any great teacher, he is also always learning.

For some reason, as I read the story of the rich young man, I remembered this story my brother told me during one of his first years of teaching.  It was about a young girl who’d come up to him with a question about the grade she’d received on her project.  As my brother began to critique her work and explain to her the ways in which she would need to improve her skills in future projects, she interrupted him with a loud sigh and said (carrying with her a certain attitude and air of having lived a life full of only getting what she wants),  “Just tell me what I need to do to get an A!”

My brother looked at her and smiled and said, “Unless you change your attitude, you already can’t get higher than a B.”

My brother’s message to his student, and Jesus’ message to the young man, I think, are one in the same: change your heart.  To be an artist you need to be willing to take on the heart of an artist.  That means going to the tender, rawest parts of yourself, and offering them up in the form of art to others.  It also means exposing yourself to others’ criticism.  You must also keep in mind that your work and who you are not necessarily one in the same, but that you will not discover the artist in you  unless you make yourself vulnerable to criticism.

In a similar way, as Christians, we are called to take on the heart of Jesus.  This means allowing our own hearts to change.  We must examine  how we feel about ourselves, observe our actions, and examine our possessions.   And we must allow God to critique them all.

Just like the girl in my brother’s story, I think it’s easy for us to want to know what we have to do to get the Christian equivalent of an A: eternal life in heaven.  And in the essence of the question posed by the girl and the rich young man is the truth of what we’re really asking:  what’s the minimum I have to do to get the best grade possible?  Or, what’s the minimum amount I need to change in order for me to get into heaven?  In both stories, the teacher is quick to point out that to become what we’re trying to become, we need to do more than just follow a rubric, we need to be willing to give up everything we believe about who we are, and what we are capable of.   And for the artist, it is in that most vulnerable state of deep inner offering, that her best works are created.

And for the Christian?

For the Christian, it is in that most vulnerable state of emptiness and void– detached from all earthly things– that we are finally able to discover the eternal Being that lives within us all.

The Pharisee In Me

Of all the characters throughout the Gospels, the least relatable to me are the Pharisees.  Those well-to-do, high-and-mighty, laa-dee-da, goody-two-shoes men who have taken their jobs of upholding the law (Their God-given law! The Church’s law!  Man’s law!)  so seriously that they do not see what we, some 2000 years later, have the full benefit of seeing:

They are killing God.

And so I look for the Pharisees around me, and I speak out against them when I see fit.  “Get behind me, Satan!”  I say.  (Only it sounds more like, ”  “That’s just stupid!”  or  “You are so blind to the Truth!” or “How can you say that?”)

And when I’ve successfully changed their hearts and minds, I walk away feeling triumphant in my battle.  I have won!  I have shown “them” the way of Truth!  (Because I know it).

I am impressed with myself.  And sometimes, I can see others are, too.

And I smile to myself, “Look what I’m doing for you, God!”  I say.  (And secretly, I think I’m his favorite).

Until today.

Good Friday.

The day I see what God’s love really looks like:

…the buzzing coud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up….  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.   -C.S. Lewis, from The Four Loves

Today I see that if this is what love looks like, I am more like the Pharisees than any other character.  Me, still thinking God’s love is “earned” through careful score-keeping.  Me, still thinking I can “see” God’s truth better than anyone else.  Me, still thinking it is my duty (and my God-given right!) to uphold the Law.

But not willing to open my arms, and my mind, and my heart to those who think differently.  Who live differently.  Who sin differently. And who love differently than I do.

Not willing, despite the fact that I say I am.

Who else can I be in these stories, if not the Pharisees?  Why am I so willing to see myself in any other character of these stories–even Judas, who at least has enough sense to just get rid of himself!–but not the Pharisees?

I don’t know…probably because it stinks to admit that I’m killing God?

I. am. killing. God.

And my breath catches at that realization.

I am a Pharisee.

And the thought sinks into my core.  The awareness dawns that even though I am just now beginning to see the Pharisee in me, our Triune God has seen it there in me the whole time.

And I wonder at that for a while.

I am speechless.

The tears begin to fall, as I want so desperately to hate myself for God.  But how can you hate yourself when God has commanded you only to love?

I don’t know how to remedy that.  In fact, if I understand the stories right, I don’t even think *I* can.

But, what I see in Jesus on the cross, is an act of love.

“Follow me,” he says.  And I want to.

What will my act of love be?

Today, it will be that I will go to liturgy, and I will kiss Jesus on the cross.

And I will ask for forgiveness.  (Again).

And I will feel his love. (Again).

And I will accept his love. (Again).

And I will cry.

Because my heart spills over with this impossible realization:

I am a Pharisee…and he loves me, anyway.

Every Knee Shall Bend

I knew this would happen.

Me and my big mouth.  Or big words from my keyboard.

Or whatever.

Remember three weeks ago when I had the brilliant idea that I needed to discipline myself to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Lent (but really, if I’m honest my intention was through forever, I was just too chicken to admit it)?   Well, here we are at the day I feared as soon as I published those words…the day I’m too full of thoughts about my unending To Do list to really settle down and put thoughts together to share.  (I was hoping for a short thought at least, but so far, I got nothin’!).  I even laid the groundwork for a topic to write about today on Monday’s post but can’t seem to focus my mind enough to even tie into what I thought I was going to say clear back then.

And now, instead of being able to put any thoughts together about Mary and the women’s roles in the story of Christ’s Passion, I am instead  full of thoughts about volunteer work I’m behind on, laundry that needs to be done, and housework and groceries and upcoming meetings and Easter and Mass times and fasting.

The good news is that in writing this post, I have succeeded in my discipline of blogging every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (so far).

The bad news is that other than sharing my To Do list with you, I’ve failed at writing anything even remotely significant.

Fortunately, I have been taught that failure is always a good thing.  And I can see it right now as I fail before you.  What you may see right now are my meaningless ramblings and a half-hearted attempt to fulfill an obligation to discipline myself and my writing.  But what I see is me allowing myself for the first time to step out of the room, completely naked (speaking figuratively here, folks!) , and show you my true self:  scatter-brained, with nothing to offer you except evidence that I have made a promise to you and I will keep it.

On that note, it has occurred to me that perhaps “showing up” today wasn’t really about me at all.

Perhaps it was about you.

And what I can offer you. (Despite my long To Do list).

And the one thing I could offer you as we prepare for Maundy Thursday, the traditional day of the “washing of the feet”– a reenactment of one of the greatest acts of service in Scripture–is my prayer.

I offer you my prayer.

Sure, my To Do list is long, but I do my best to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).  I would be happy to pray with you as I work through my To Do list today.  If you have anything or anyone special to pray for drop it in the comments below.  Though I’m not overly talented at multi-tasking, prayer is the one thing I can do well with anything!  (Even if you just “like” it, I’ll be sure to pray!)

I believe that Jesus set this example for us– bending down to offer us his service in the most humbling way–so that we would in turn go out and do the same.

After all, he never did become a king the way his followers expected, so what else could it meant that “at the name of Jesus, even knee shall bend.” (Phil 2:10)?

Garden Moments

IMG_0880

Yesterday, for the start of the Christian Holy Week, I watched for the second time in my life, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  This week, in celebration of Holy Week, I’d like to share some random thoughts I had as I watched the movie.

  • I like that Gibson’s portrayal depicted Jesus’ time in the garden as one of an ongoing internal struggle.  In the past, it’s been far too easy for me when reading Scripture to think that Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine” (Luke 22:42) with a lot of strength and certitude.   My thinking had long been that because Jesus is also God, somehow facing his own impending doom was easier than it would be for us “mere humans”, but in that thinking, it also makes Jesus very distant from our own struggles.   Instead, Gibson nicely casts the human side of Jesus for us, struggling with putting his own personal agenda aside, letting God work through him as the darkness surrounds him.  In this depiction, Jesus is much more relatable to us, much more understanding of our own struggles, making our own suffering perhaps more tolerable because we know that he, too, has “been there.”
  • Gibson’s portrayal depicts Satan as a soft, gentle tempter.  I think very often the challenges that God lays out for us are often the more difficult for us to choose (Remember “choose always the hardest”?), and so this makes Satan’s job much more easy, because he is simply appealing to our own human weakness.  If you don’t believe me, look again at Genesis and the story of Eve.  Have you ever noticed that she doesn’t ever question the serpent?  Never says, “Where did you hear that?”  or “What would make you say such a thing about God?”  No.  There’s no need to question because she’s already thought it for herself.  The serpent’s gentle suggestion that God is not being completely honest with her was all she needed to act in vain.
  • I like the fact that when Jesus was looking to the moon and praying for God to take away his burden, a cloud immediately passes in front of the moon.  I’ve had experiences like this in nature before and I personally believe God speaks to us all the time in nature, but we rarely listen, or we slough it off as coincidence.  I remember one particular incident last year when I was really angry with God about our having been relocated again.  Why was I being called away from the work I had grown to love in my old town and the friendships I’d formed?  Why was I being asked again to start over, knowing that this location, too, would likely not be permanent?  And the whole time I was letting God have it!  (If you’ve never done this before, you may want to try it.  I’ve learned he can take it!)   As I was demanding answers to these questions, the sun was parked hidden behind a cloud.  The cloudy sky seemed to fit my mood perfectly.  As I rounded the church building that was part of my dog’s and my daily route, the sun and cloud were blocked entirely, but just as I rounded the corner of the building on the other side (and was really letting God have it), the sun popped up real big from behind that cloud  and I heard (in the quiet of my heart) the ringing laughter of my grandpa who’s been gone for over 20 years, and the words, “It’s OK, I’ll leave the light on for you.”  And just like that, my anger was gone.  Gone!  And I was ready to move forward.  It was the perfect “sign” for me, and the perfect “thing to say” to my heart.  It made me laugh out loud!  In a similar way, Gibson’s version of the cloud covering the moon at the time that Jesus is praying for relief, seems to be the perfect “sign” for Jesus, too.  It seems to confirm what Jesus already knows, that he will not be relieved from his fate.  And just after that, when the soldiers arrive, Jesus meets them with a new resolve that he was missing earlier.  I like this depiction. From my own experience, it makes sense to me.
  • My thoughts on this final topic are jumbled, but I’ll do the best I can to explain…. If there were one thing I would change about the garden scene, it would be to try to draw us into what I see as the deeper meaning of Jesus’ request to the disciples to “stay awake.”  I’ll admit I wouldn’t have the first clue how to show it.   But, I personally  contrast Jesus’ ability to do this with the inability of Adam & Eve to do so in the Garden of Eden.  True, Adam & Eve never literally “fell asleep” there, but it seems to me that if they had been “awake” to the serpent’s suggestions in the garden, and not “fallen”  into blaming others (and each other) for their own bad choices, our whole salvation history would probably be written much differently.  To me, it is every bit as disappointing to “fall asleep” in the hour of another’s need like the disciples did  (I’ve heard many a divorcée or ill person lament about the so-called friends that left them in the hour of their greatest need), as it is to “fall asleep”  and abandon ourselves, as I believe Adam & Eve did, in our hours of greatest need.  The times we really should question the gentle, coaxing voice that says, “There’s always tomorrow,” or “God wouldn’t mind,” (am I the only one who hear’s that voice?)  are, as I see it,  all “garden moments” because somewhere deep down we know that tomorrow is never guaranteed, and that if we are seeking reassurance that God “wouldn’t mind” something we are about to do, it is only because we already know that he would.  I’ve come to believe that the only real difference in a garden moment is whether we choose to follow Adam & Eve’s example, or follow Jesus.  This is, I believe, why it is only proper that Jesus is the only one fit to “stay awake.” (Of course, eventually all of the disciples did “wake up”– providing hope for us that we can do the same– and then went out to spread God’s Word instead of blaming “the crowds” for putting God to death…and that is, in fact, Good News!)

Join me on Wednesday as I take a closer look at Gibson’s depiction of some of the other characters in the story of the Passion.  And if you haven’t yet seen the movie, or it’s been awhile, I encourage you to revisit this movie for Holy Week, as well as reading about the Passion in Scripture which begins in each of the four Gospels at the following chapters:  Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 12.

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:

 footprints_in_sand_wallpaper

 

 

 

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. 

Going Deep

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Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.  Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  (Luke 5:3-4)

So it’s been just over a year and a half since we uprooted ourselves from Packerland USA and settled here in Steelers Country.  And one of the hardest parts of moving is happening again.  Right now as I type:

I’m starting to get to know and care about and really like the people here.

I love them, even.

I know. Cry me a river, right?

I know.

But here’s the thing about moving around every couple of years or so:   it hurts.

It hurts to start over.  It hurts to say goodbye.  It hurts to leave the place where “everybody knows your name” and go to a place where nobody does.  It hurts especially because when I’m making new friends, I know something that most of them don’t (even though I tell them right away).  I know that they’re going to get to know me–really know me–just in time to say goodbye.

So unfortunately, what happens, to me at least, (not to everyone, because I’ve learned it really depends on your personality, and some people really love being nomads.  I’m just not one of those people.), is that I try not to get to know too many people.

Which is just wrong.  Because I really, really like people.

(Most of them, anyway).

(Most of the time).

I love them even.

I’m fascinated by them.

Fascinated by what they think, how they feel, how they act, the things they say, and how they say them.  What makes them mad, or happy, or relaxed or defensive.

I love watching it all, hearing it all, and learning from it.

But it’s safer from a distance.  Because then it doesn’t hurt so much to say goodbye.

But, now,  I’ve been getting signs pointing me into the direction of The Deep.

I’ve found myself getting phone calls or emails to volunteer more.  (I was going to cut back on that “this time around” here in PA.  Though I can’t help but wonder… did I really think I could cut back on getting involved in activities and helping out with school and church functions for two or three years?)  I have more lunch dates with friends, and more GNO’s.   (Sidebar here:  when I first saw someone post on Facebook that they were having a “GNO Tonight!”  I thought they had an appointment with their GyNecOlogist, and wondered why in the world they felt the need to announce it to the rest of us.  Then I learned that GNO stands for Girls’ Night Out which makes more sense.  But I still don’t like the acronym).

Anyway, like I said, it’s happening.  I’m making connections.  I’m getting involved.  I’m making more friends than before.

And it already hurts to think about saying goodbye.

Again.

*sigh*

But.

Here’s the thing.

Getting involved and helping others is still the best way to effectively share your story.  I can write for days and weeks and months and years about how God has changed me, how much I love God, how I believe that we are ALL God’s children.

But those are just words.

And words?  As much as I love them?  All by themselves, they seldom transform people.  Transformed people transform people, says Richard Rohr.   And, hard as I’ve tried to keep my distance, it’s difficult to make a difference in someone’s life if you aren’t involved in it.  And I know he’s right.

Sure, I’ve enjoyed teaching here “from the shore.” And I hope I’ve said some words that have maybe touched some hearts from time to time.  And that is good. In return, many people whose hearts have been touched by my words have turned around and touched mine right back.  So, of course, I will continue this work.  It feeds me!

But it is not enough.

So, now, after a year and a half, I know it’s time to do what I was led here to do.

I’m realizing now that more is being asked of me here in the land that I’m trying so desperately to dwell on, rather than in.  It’s time for me to share myself– all of me– and whatever gifts I have to offer.   In the past those gifts involved creating new ways for others to learn and grow in their faith, and working closely with others… and…making lifelong friends.   It’s time for me to open my heart and do what I can in that capacity here, and share with others who I am.  And Whose I am.

Not with my words, but with…me.

So…even though I still carry the sadness of having done that before… in my last towns… (right before I left), it’s been a year and half now.  And it is time to “cast” again.  Cast out my doubts.  Cast open my heart. Plunge into the Mystery of the new waters around me. And share my gifts.

Because the only way to make a good catch?

Is to go deep.

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.

Little Rays of Light

Every once in a while we moms have a moment where we are caught off-guard and realize that maybe we’ve not done EVERYTHING wrong.

This morning I had one such moment.

Between bustling one kid off to the dentist and dragging another along who woke up with a fever, I felt like this was going to be one of those mornings where I just couldn’t win.  But then, after dropping the Middle One at school after his appointment, there I was with my Little Bean in the van when I noticed off in the distance, through our overcast, cloudy, sky a hole in the clouds where a bright ray of sun shone down.

“Look over there, Bean, isn’t that pretty?” I asked.

She looked up.  “Wow!,” she said, “It looks like Heaven!”

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She read my mind, I thought.

There was a pause.

And then, “I bet it’s Baxter looking down on us from Heaven,” she said with a smile.

“Hmmm.  That’s a beautiful thought,” I said, “I bet you’re right.  He probably dug a hole through the clouds to peak at us.”

She giggled.  “Hi, Baxter!  Hi, Jesus!”  she shouted from the back seat.  She was so happy and matter-of-fact about her greeting–so sure of herself and her faith–that for a moment, I wondered if she might actually see something I didn’t.

But then.

Then,  God pressed down on my heart real hard, and said, “Or maybe she just remembers everything you’ve taught her.”

Amen.

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” – Mark 10:14

A JOYful “To Do” List

It’s been a looong time coming, but I finally did it.

I took the day off.

As a housewife, some people may think that that’s all I ever do– have “days off.”  And that’s fine for them to think, but I know it’s not my reality.  Before I became a housewife, I may have even thought that myself.  Instead, what’s been my reality in my 12 1/2 years as a housewife, is that since my “work” is my life and my life is my “work,” when I’m doing nothing, I feel guilty (even all weekend long), and when I’m doing something, I can only think about all the other things I still need to do.   Sure, I’ve spent many days getting nothing done.  And I’ve had many “off” days where things just didn’t go right.  What I’ve never done, ever before, is picked a day that would otherwise be a “work day” and just taken the day off.  You know what that requires?  It requires permission from yourself.  And that can be a challenge.  Especially when the laundry is mounting, the Christmas shopping has only a dent in it, and (in my case this year) there is a trip to plan.

Today, I decided it didn’t matter.  In fact, I kind of had to decide it, or very quickly I think LIFE would have decided it for me, by making me sick.  You see,  I was already feeling run-down, stressed out, ragged, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

All last week, I didn’t post here on my blog one time (you may have noticed), because I had the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had.  And THAT was stressing me out, too.

So last night, I went to bed with the intention that after a good night’s sleep, I would wake up revitalized today and start knocking things of my very long and very demanding “To Do” list.

But guess what?  I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.  I had a terrible night’s sleep.

I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and NEVER got back to sleep.  I could have slept in, but I had so much “To Do”, that I didn’t think sleeping in was possible.  So, at 6:30 AM, I did what I always do and spent some time reading Scripture and meditating.  At 7:30 AM, once I got the first child off to school, I decided to do what I normally do, and I did a quick workout.  I knew if I was going to have any energy today, it would only come from taking care of myself.  Then I got myself showered and ready, got the other kids off to school and walked the dog.  After that, I normally start the “To Do” list of the day and I don’t stop again until the kids get back home, which usually involves more stuff “To Do,” just with others involved.

Not today.  Today, I decided when I got home from walking the dog, that everything I’d done up until then was really all I could “Do” on so little sleep.  So I gave myself permission to sit, watch TV (very life-affirming TV, I might add, as I had DVR’d “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, yesterday) and I sat down and watched hours…literally hours…of uplifting stories of faith, spirituality and healing.

Then I wrote in my journal for a bit, did a little more meditation, and took a nap.

I woke up just in time for my kids to get home from school.  And you know what?  Aside from their homework, I’m going to give them a day off, too.  No chores for anybody tonight.  No need to race and rush and struggle to “get it all done” for tomorrow.  No harping and nagging to put this away, do this, do that.

I spent all last week desperately hoping and praying to channel some brilliant message from God (as if I can control that), to share with you this week, and it just didn’t happen.

So I knew something had to change.

What changed was that, after a “day off,”  I realized I needed to actively put into practice  the message and lesson I’ve been learning (and re-learning) all year:  love yourself.

And you know what?  About the time the kids got home from school, I realized that in taking a day off, I’d succeeded in completing the very form of “loving myself” that was needed.  It felt good!

So good, in fact, that I feel I am better equipped now to handle all that this season demands of us…both the” inner” work required of the religious season of Advent, and the “outer” work of the secular world and all it’s hustle and bustle.  I feel more clear of mind and more loving of heart than I have since the first signs of Christmas appeared in the stores before Halloween.  For the first time in awhile, in fact, I feel like I’m in the rightful spot of giving from love and  receiving love as it comes my way.

And that’s when I realized that God’s message doesn’t change for this season.  We change.  We look inward.  We wait and watch.  But the message is as old as time:  love Jesus, Others, Yourself.  Do this and you will know JOY for this– and every– season.

It’s a simple message, but I sure do try to make it complicated.

Not today, though.

Today, after giving myself permission to do nothing else,  it was the only thing left that was still acceptable “To Do.”