LENT

If you come from a liturgical background you might want to stop reading right here.

I’ve no idea how much of what I’m about to write may be actually sacrilegious if you are passionately liturgical, but I strongly suspect some of it might.

If it is, I sincerely apologise, that is not my intention at all; but as might be obvious I did not come from a liturgical background.

So, I arrived at adulthood with no intuitive understanding of, and precious little knowledge about, the Liturgical calendar or its observances. Lent had to do with fasting, and somehow with Mardi Gras, which seemed a VERY strange combination. That was about the extent of my relationship with it.

Sounded cool, though. And I tried to fast things a couple times, but I’m sort an out-of-sight, out-of-mind, kind of girl, so I can’t say the fasting did much for my focus on God.

This year as Lent approached yet again, I thought … yet again… “Should I do the Lent thing? What should I fast?”.

Since I’m in the middle of redesigning my life, Lent observance seemed especially timely. But still, I felt no specific connection to Lent.

Then I happened to see an article on what Christians get wrong about Lent, which included the statement

“It’s also important to remember in times of fasting, such as Lent, that we’re not just “giving something up,” but we’re “giving something over…””

and though this was not the author’s point, his statement sparked the thought:

Lent is not just about what we GIVE UP, but about what we ADD in its place.

 

Just as someone might fast food for a day and use the hunger pangs as a reminder to stop and pray for something important, I could do the Lenten fast and use that 40 whole days to remind me to pray first; stress / panic / freak out about how to fix it on my own, second.

I have absolutely no idea if that is the intention of Lent, but, having spent most of my early Christian walk making it up as I went along, little things like precise definitions when it comes to man-made traditions seldom deter me.

Three things DID stand in my way though.

  1. I still had no idea what to give up,
  2. I am still struggling the effects of the Great Life Wreck and while I’m progressing well, I still have deep dips in the faith EKG, so I wasn’t even sure what prayer focus to ADD,
  3. and, I had all these thoughts several days into the Lent season.

Then it occurred to me: I could simply give up the fear, the doubt, the faithlessness, for Lent, and specifically focus on the opposite of it for 40 days!

PERFECT!!!

This did not, alas, provide a time machine back to the start of Lent.

Should I just jump in for the time left?

Do a 40 day fast unrelated to Lent?

Somehow I hated to give up doing my experiment for Lent, now that I had something REAL to devote Lent to.

One of the interesting effects of my day job, which is in a multi-national, multi-denominational, Christian organisation, is that I have to regularly determine not just when ‘regular’ Easter is, but also Orthodox Easter.

They rarely coincide exactly, and one must take that into consideration when planning meetings. It therefore occurred to me that Orthodox Easter was probably preceded by Orthodox LENT.

It was! And Orthodox Lent hadn’t started yet. 

So, that is the long story of how a strictly non-denominational Irish American girl ended up observing Orthodox Lent.

 

When I went through the recent Great Life Wreck, my faith took a solid hit.

This really shocked me, because faith has always be the strongest thing about me, and I’d weathered a dozen storms FAR worse than the Great Life Wreck without a faith related qualm. To now suddenly be doubting and confused over something relatively trivial… this did not sit well!

Not that I ever doubted who God is, or what he’s capable of – I am blessed that those seem to be unshakable in me.

But my sense that he would lead me, that I’d get the message right, that he even CARED where or how I wandered; those got shaken in ways I never would have dreamed possible.

And while I’ve gotten largely back on track, I still have my days. One day I found myself, for all intents and purposes, wondering if thinking well of God was a sinful attitude! THAT is a point where you know you have officially lost it.

So, for Lent this year I am giving up doubting, and negative views of God.

Odd? Almost certainly, though I do not actually know. But odd suits me.

And since my approach here is that it’s not just what you give up, but what you put in its place, I’m using any moments of uncertainty I run into, to remember his promises about what he thinks of me and wants for me, and focusing on the rational truths of my dreams and goals and desires – not the least being that HE designed them into me.

I’m meditating on various verses that I find encouraging and praying for light, and help, with the most sincere trust that is within my current capacity.

And I am expecting transformation and restoration … which is what Easter is all about anyway.

 

Holy Week

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How are you celebrating Holy Week?

Or, if you are like me and come from a background that barely knows there IS something called ‘Holy Week’: What are you doing for Easter?

I am not doing anything especially fancy, but I have come to really relish holidays and celebrations as time set aside to just focus. I find it a special treat to just have one thing to do at a time, especially when that one thing is slow, peaceful enjoyment of friends or family, or being fully present in the celebration of the important things.

And to just focus on restoration, renewal, being freed, being made holy when I could never possibly manage that myself; this is an especially lovely ‘set apart’ time! : )

I have never been a big fan of huge crowds, so I seldom attend Easter services, even when I am more fully connected to my community than I am this current one, but I will certainly plan some peaceful times of reflection and find some ways to make the day special, and the weekend itself a little more special than the usual chores-and-errands.

I wish you great joy in whatever you do through the rest of this week and the Easter holiday!!

Be well.  

Resources: TWLOHA – help and hope

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My first ‘People and Organisations’ resource is

 To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).

From their website:

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

I am not as familiar with TWLOHA as I am with some of the resources I’ll list in these pages, having only encountered them a couple years ago, and only really started paying attention about a year ago, but I respect what they do enormously, and I’ve also come to respect how they do it.

They are able to extend far beyond where I am at on the Your-Life-Matters-More-Than-My-Comfort-Zone scale, and they are making a difference in – and saving – lives because of it.

I am adding TWLOHA because I believe in what they are doing, but also because people from every walk of life, and in every stage of life, may stumble across this blog, and if you happen to be someone who needs some hope, needs some help, today, I want to make sure that you have access to a resource that may be able to provide it.

Main Website to learn about TWLOHA: https://twloha.com

Resource page, to find local help, by state: https://twloha.com/find-help/local-resources/

Resource Page to find help based on the problem for which you need help: https://twloha.com/find-help/help-by-topic/

Please note that they also have a section specific to Veterans on the topic page.

You can also find the numbers for local and national, 24 hour, free helplines on all the local pages.

Resources / Further Reading: Relevant Magazine

technology-792180_640    Relevant Magazine 

This is one of the most appropriately named products I’ve ever run into. I find SO MUCH of what Relevant produces to be just that: relevant.

If you are looking for a Christian media source that deals with the real world, rather than existing in a little Christian bubble, Relevant may be just the ticket. The magazine itself is fabulous, but the online resources, the blogs in particular, are where Relevant really came alive for me.

They cover every topic imaginable, including the tough stuff and they do it (usually) with sensitivity and decency. Unlike some progressive Christian resources, I’ve never read anything in a Relevant post that I found unbiblical, which is important to me, but they definitely deal with all the grey-area topics, and they pull no punches when it comes to cultural, rather than specifically Biblical Christian concerns.

Sections I love include ‘Life‘, ‘God‘, and ‘Culture‘. They also have a podcast section, if you are into that. Not my thing, but I expect it’s just as good as the rest!

 

Resources / Further Reading: Margin

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For my VERY FIRST Further Reading Resource, I’d like to introduce Margin, by one of my heroes, Dr. Richard Swenson.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, okay, is was actually an afternoon and early evening, but it was delightfully dark and stormy. I was on my way home from a business trip, driving through a mountainous area with radio towers apparently few and far between.  Flipping through channels (this was LONG before the iPod enabled stereo, or even the iPod) I came across a static-y voice giving a talk to the American Medical Association, of all things.

One of the most RIVETING talks I had ever heard.

Even as I waded around static and through terrifying puddles of silence before the signal thankfully resumed!

I listened through to the applause, and the thank yous, and on through to the announcer of the broadcast, desperate to learn

WHO IS THIS GUY?!? 

HOW DO I FIND OUT MORE?!?!

FINALLY! Today’s speaker was …. Dr. Richard Swenson … who had written a book(… !! …) called… … finally … Margin!  

I don’t recall if I even unpacked the car before setting off to find the book.

Actually, what I found that day was two of Dr. Swenson’s books in one, Margin and The Overload Syndrome. And while I was crabby about that at the start, in the end I found them a great complement to each other, so now I would definitely recommend that specific edition.

Dr. Swenson’s message is that we are not designed for constant acceleration and that unless we build Margin  – in physical, financial, social, and other critical areas – into our lives intentionally, we will find ourselves too depleted or distracted to contribute meaningfully to the truly important, but usually not urgent, things in life. He does a great job of outlining the transformation of our society to one of constant overwhelm, and of demonstrating the individual, family, and social impacts of that transformation. Then he gives splendid prescriptions for curing what ails us.

Much of the abundance I am seeking in life comes from what I have learned from Dr. Swenson. I’ve now read all of his books but one, and each has been valuable.

I will eventually do mini-reveiws for others of them, but for now, if you enjoy Margin, here are other great works by Dr. Swenson.

Many may be available at your public library. I’ve included the Amazon links, because those I am sure will be up for awhile, but at the time I’m writing this you can also buy these books directly from Dr. Swenson’s site. I’ve included those details too, at the end.

For a quick, no commitment introduction to Dr. Swenson’s work, here is a nice little interview with him: http://www.citygatesinitiative.org/upload/documents/richard_swenson_podcast_transcript.pdf

Margin / The Overload Syndrome (I’ve listed the two separate books here, for the combo book, use the link toward the beginning of this post.)

There is also a very well designed workbook based on Margin and The Overload Syndrome, called Restoring Margin to Overloaded Lives. It isn’t necessary to implement the concepts, but it is a handy resource if you like a bit of structure to your contemplation. I go back through it periodically as I seek an increased abundance in my life.

Minute of Margin – this tiny book is actually based on several of Dr. Swenson’s books, not just Margin, and is one of the most delightful and thought provoking ‘daily devotional’ type books I’ve run into. here is an excerpt of it from Dr. Swenson’s site.

More Than Meets the: Fascinating Glimpses of God’s Power and Design – This is why physicists turned physicians, who happen to be Christians, should write books. An absolutely lovely book on the wonder of creation from the tiniest atom to the largest galaxy.

In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life – Like Margin and The OverLoad Syndrome, this books discusses the cultural and societal ‘disease’, and prescriptions to heal it. In this case Dr. Swenson looks at the other side of the margin equation: balance in life.

Contentment: the Secret to Lasting Calm – I actually just found this one while doing the research for this post! It’s on the way here as I type. More later!

Hurtling Toward Oblivion: A Logical Argument for the End of the Age – This one is far more intense, and a good deal more mathematical, than most of the others. I read it because of my respect for the other books and Dr. Swenson himself, but it would definitely not be my suggestion for the first one you read. If you enjoy the others, give this one a shot too.

You can find out more about Dr. Swenson’s work at his website, and when last I was on it you could buy all of his books there as well: http://richardswenson.org 

 

 

Quote for today (and, indeed, for this time):

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“Confront power with gentleness, humility, and kindness. But do not bend and do not turn aside from your direction.”

From one of my heroes, Dr. Richard Swenson, in his book In Search of Balance

MY Abundant Life

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In a prior post  I asked about YOUR version of an abundant life.

Thank you so much to those who chose to share some of your thoughts with me! I am honoured that you would share your abundance, and your struggles toward it, with me, and pleased that my questions were of some use.

I figure that anyone who was going to take time to ponder their own version of abundance will have done so by now, so I’ll add some of my own thoughts on abundance. (If you are coming into this post cold, check out THIS ONE first, to avoid cluttering up your abundance with mine.)

I tend to be a little odd (those who know me are currently rolling on the floor laughing at the understatement there), but for me an abundant life has never been about the big house, the new car,  granite counter tops, career advancement. By far the most important elements of an abundant life for me have always been TIME and PEACE.

Time has always been far more valuable to me than money, or things, or status. The richest I could ever be would be having no obligations on my time except those I choose. Time to linger over coffee and deep conversation, time to walk in the woods, time to read, to lend a hand; that is wealth beyond measure.

PEACE is the other critical ingredient in MY abundant life. I like for life to be low stress, quiet, calm. I love to move slowly through the days, finishing what I start and enjoying the process.

Aren’t I boring? I am. I know. I would be even more boring if I could afford it, trust me.

I was enormously gratified though, when I first noticed 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and 1 Timothy 2:2. Mine is certainly not an ‘ambition’ I’d heard encouraged here in the US of A, but God, at least, seems to be cool with it. Who knew?!?

So, then:

1)   What does ‘an abundant life’ mean to me?

  • Having an abundance of time! (Big shock there, right?) Not living for work, not filling my free time with a host of activities morning to night, but using it on the things I truly value.
  • Living fairly frugally and simply, in a way that does as little harm as possible to the world around me, and preferably even improves the world a bit.
  • Taking great pleasure in the decadence of simplicity – eating simple, delicious meals, walking in the woods, growing a garden, savouring a perfect cappuccino, talking far into the night with dear friends.
  • Not being in pain every day. (If you’ve not lived it, that may sound like a given, but trust me, it’s a luxury of enormous value.)
  • It’s not important to me to make a lot of money, but I do feel that handling it well, and making enough so that I am not stressing over how to pay the bills every month, are requisite to abundance.
  • I want to buy a house again once I get settled somewhere. I miss feeling that my home is truly mine.
  • Maintaining strong friendships, and contributing to community. I will never be a social butterfly, but I love that I have a strong group of friends (some of whom are family) from many different parts of my life, and I want to be part of building the kind of society I want to live in.
  • Having a broad margin in all the critical areas of life, so that I am able to invest myself in what I value rather than wishing I could have, but being too broke, too busy, too ill, or whatever.

2)   Am I living it?

Some pieces of it, yes, but I am far from the whole picture right now.

I hit a significant road block on the path toward my idea abundance and it’s taking me far more time to dig my way out of that than I’d have preferred. I imagine it will ultimately set me back 3-5 years. I am slowly getting back on track now though, and once again looking forward (mostly) hopefully toward buying a house in a place I truly enjoy, realigning my time to my values, hiking more, contributing to like minded community, and enjoying FAR more quiet than I do where I am at right now.

3)   If so, what brought me to it?

SOMEDAY I’ll be able to fill this in! Hopefully soon!

4)   If not, what is the next thing that will inch me closer to it?

Well, this blog is one thing. I hope that if I keep at it I’ll eventually stumble across like minded community here, maybe some mentors, maybe I’ll even help someone else reach whatever step I’ve gotten to on this path.

I’m getting ready to vote in my state’s primary.

And I am currently planning a trip of exploration to the area I really want to live. I don’t know if I can afford to live there, I fear that I simply can’t, but I’m going to at least go see.  🙂

We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.

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We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.  TobyMac

 

This quote came through my Facebook feed back when I was first trying to figure out how to shape this blog. I knew a lot of what I wanted to write about was this really high controversy stuff, and the last thing I had the energy for was devoting a large chunk of my very precious free time to inciting contentious brawls. 

Mr. McKeehan’s comment reminded me that tough topics have to be talked about, but how you talk about them can make all the difference.

We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.

Splendid! I had, thankfully, grown into this concept prior to Mr. McKeehan’s note, but I’ve got to tell you, it didn’t come naturally.

I was pretty familiar with the ‘Do Anything, Agree With Everything, Rather Than Face Any Conflict’ camp.

And I had always been more of a fight than flight kind of girl, so while I didn’t view disagreement as necessarily scratching and pulling hair, brittle civility was a much closer image than kindness.

I did eventually meet people who somehow had the gift of standing their ground but still being lovely, and loving, people. I’m not quite one of them yet, but by my 90s I may have it down. 

At just this point in writing this post, I found myself in a Facebook comments conversation on this very topic.

Most of the commenters were in agreement with a meme about being kind whether we agree or not, but one woman, who had been terribly hurt by really appalling racism was adamant that she could not be kind to people on ‘the other side’. From the comments that she related, I could certainly understand why; I was embarrassed just to share skin colour with the people who had said these things to her.

This conversation gave me a lot of food for thought. Belabouring the point with a complete stranger in serious pain just for the sake of my research didn’t seem quite, well, kind, but I thought I’d ask everyone here: 

What does it look like to be kind when we, perhaps vehemently, disagree?

I definitely do not believe in placing oneself, or remaining, in a situation where someone demeans or abuses you. I don’t believe in pretending to have no opinions just to avoid conflict. I do not respect people who do not, by their character and actions merit respect. But I think I do have an obligation to TREAT them with respect – which I define as being decent and kind to them.

To me this looks like arguing the issue rather than attacking the person. Like not insulting or belittling the person I disagree with, or trashing them to others. It looks like treating them with human decency throughout, and despite, the argument. Listening in an effort to understand. Speaking quietly and calmly, if I can; apologising and regrouping if I can’t.

For Christians, I also see it as praying for them – and NO, not just that  prayer for God whack them upside the head! I mean truly seeking God’s best for them.

Sometimes it means agreeing to disagree; sometimes it means agreeing to not touch on that topic to preserve the relationship.

And for those who truly are abusive and uninterested in civil discussion, I see it as walking away from them, the argument, without having to attack them as human beings, without having to hurt or humiliate them, simply doing what is necessary to avoid them harming you or others. (*see footnote though!!)

But my brief conversation with this lady on Facebook reminded me that it doesn’t look the same to other people.

So how about it?  

What does it look like to you to be kind to one another even if we disagree?

Is it even possible?

Do you think it has merit?

 

 

 Let me be clear, I am talking here about normal disagreements between people who have the same degree of power, which have turned nasty in the heat of the argument; not about  actual physical, sexual, or verbal/emotional abuse. True abuse does not necessarily obligate you to be cruel to the abuser, but PLEASE do whatever is necessary, physically, and legally, to stop the abuse and prevent it from happening again. And seek support to recover from it, and whatever made you vulnerable to it.