Giving Up My Wife for Lent

sunHow embarrassing is it to go to add a new post and discover it has been a YEAR!  It was at Lent last year when I last wrote on this blog.  And this time I am even deeper into the Lenten season before I begin to write.

As I look over the last post, I see were very little has changed and once again, Lent becomes the time to refocus.  For me, Lent is a lot like other folks New Year.  It’s a time I evaluate, choose my direction and implement changes – at least spiritually speaking, however, it often merges into health, family and life in general.

This year is also unique in that I have given up my wife for Lent.

That isn’t what it may sound like.  It is only for 10 days, not 40, as she spends time with her folks to help them through surgery and recovery.  But I have learned so much in this time apart.

First, single parenting is tough.  I’ve experienced this before and I have a great deal of respect for all the single parents out there, but I needed the reminder.  I appreciate my wife so much more as I run from place to place and scramble to get most things done before I fall into bed.  The unending list of tasks begins at 5:30am and rarely ends before 9:30pm.  It’s crazy.  Yet, I manage.

Second, there is no time for ritual.  There is no “Sabbath rest” or daily time of quiet contemplation.  There is not retreat to a sacred place for a couple hours spent with God.  There is only life.  And a lot of it seems to be happening right now.  Fast and unrelenting.

But, it has been an interesting experience and I think maybe meaningful.

I find that it is possible to choose God in the midst of every day life.

Because there is no “sacred space” for me to enter and completely set my mind on Him, I must create it as I move through the schedule.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t grab 20 to 30 minutes of “devotional time” before 6am, but that isn’t particularly “Lenten”; I’ve always done that.  What I have been unable to do is to set aside a full day each week to spend with Him as I have in the past or even 2 or 3 hours.  But that doesn’t let me off the hook.  This is Lent!

Heaven meets Earth every time I choose to acknowledge my need of God in the next moment, whether it is delivering a son to soccer practice or picking one up from work.  He is just as fully present in house painting, web site maintenance, customer service calls, sweeping and mopping, preparing meals or washing clothes as He is in quiet contemplation.  I’ve had to become more conscious of Him in the ordinary simply because that is where I must spend my time for this moment.  And I believe this is my lesson for Lent.

I expect when Laura returns, I will be able to find some “sacred space.”  But I don’t want to forget this part of the journey.  I don’t want to lose the sacred moments interwoven with the mundane.  His touch makes even the most menial task divine!

What a gift it is to catch a glimpse of His hand in the most insignificant tasks.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:15-17 NIV)

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Lent 2015

This year Lent started on Monday, February 23.

Palm leaf cross and roses

Cross and roses made by Suzie, a homeless woman I once knew.

Yes, I know Ash Wednesday, Feb 18, is the traditional beginning of Lent.  We did have an Ash Wednesday service, but it was more of an introductory discussion about the history and tradition of Lent and to share some encouragement to really engage with it as a faith community as well as individually.

It’s not a very “Baptist” thing.  We usually relegate it to “those Catholics.”  But I have personally found a lot of meaning in deliberately slowing down the pace of life and concentrating on the things of God as we approach Holy Week (which is also not really all that “Baptist” either).

Usually it involves some sort of daily reading and a devotional guide plus something “sacrificed” or “given up for Lent”.  These are all good assuming they bring increased devotion to God and attention to conforming our lives to His Kingdom.  This year, however, I suggested that we look at some aspects of it a little differently.  Actually, none of it is unique to me or particularly new; it’s just rarely practiced in this manner.

First is the daily reading.

In the past, I have used the daily readings from the various lectionaries  – Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.  Since we have been reading through the Bible together (a read the Bible in a year plan that is coming up on it’s third year), I decided to adapt the reading plan we are currently in to bring us to Easter in the Gospels on Easter Sunday.  Many of our congregants have been keeping up with the weekly readings as we have moved through the Old Testament, but I really wanted to emphasize the importance of scripture in the community and made a push for commitment to read the same passages of scripture during this time.  Also, the Common Lectionary often felt disjointed to me as it skipped through so many different passages.  Our current reading plan is a psuedo-harmony of the Gospels as it attempts to be “chronological”.

Generally, in the past few years, I have supplied a devotional guide.

This year, there was no specific devotion given, however, I have no objection to these.  They have been very useful to our faith family in the past.  This year I asked simply that individuals would journal their thoughts, realizations and prayers as they relate to the passages they read.  Each Sunday we will have an opportunity for one or two folks to share this aspect of their Lenten journey.

Fasting was really opened up this year with a multitude of suggestions.

We usually talk about fasting chocolate, coffee, meet, sweets, coke or something of that sort.  Sometimes we fast video games, facebook, television, secular music or some other entertainment.  I’m all for that type of thing if it can lead us into a deeper relationship with God through Christ.  This year I suggested some other things that might be fasted, i.e. insecurity, bitterness, selfishness, over-commitment … (you’ll find a great list of them here!).

The idea in our fasting this year was a thoughtful effort to push out of our lives things that are not honoring to our God and bring into our lives things that increase our conscious contact with Him.  Whether we fast something that reminds us in those moments of craving that we should be longing for God, or another thing that has been a distraction and turn our new found time to seeking Him, the purpose is the same.  More of Him.  Less of me.

Every significant action requires encouragement.

Since I was looking for a big commitment to meaningful engagement, we thought it would be useful to add another time when we can specifically engage with our Lenten journey in community.  Thus Saturdays Surrendered was born.

Saturday at 7pm we gather in a home to talk about our travels in this strange land of Lent.  We share encouragements for specific fasts.  We share our journals and insights.  We share our struggles and failures.  We pray.  A lot.

For me personally.

I’ve invested in this journey many times and in many ways.  When I was receiving a substantial wage from the church, it was much easier to commit to days of fasting and a true “sabbath day’s rest”.  Now that I am fully bi-vocational again, some of my options are limited, but I still have plenty of room for more of Him.

I do the same daily reading as my faith family.

Since we have been reading through the Bible together, I have been doing the same reading that is given to the congregation at large.  However, I often read four to six weeks ahead as I think through the sermons I will preach.  I would also read a weeks worth in one day rather than breaking it up throughout the week.

For Lent 2015, I read each day’s reading in the morning.  I meditate on those passages.  I let then speak to me on their own without competing with other scriptures in that moment.  I guess it is a way of saying, “I slow down and savor the scriptures.”

I journal my thoughts.

As I meditate on the passage read, I ask Spirit to reveal to me more of God.  I note things that I never really thought about (sometimes I note things that I have never even noticed before even though I may have read a particular passage 50 times or more!).  I write things that inspire me to a higher view of God.  I write things that convict me.  I try to repeat what I hear of Him through the scriptures.  Only a few days in and already I have had the opportunity to share something He has shown me with at least one other person each day.

I fast.

In the past, the Lenten fast for me was a strict fast observed during my “sabbath rest” on a week day.  This year as I work 3 jobs and do some work on the side, I struggled with this concept.  In the end I settled for a strict fast from Saturday Surrendered until Sunday evening.  This really isn’t a stretch for me as I have fasted from Saturday evening until after the Sunday service for years.  Also, I have shied away from calling Sunday my sabbath.  For me, Sunday is devoted to God, but it is not a day of rest, however, since I am employed in secular occupations the other six days a week, it is my best option at the moment.

In addition, I am also fasting things watched on television, whether it is a broadcast show or a dvd.  The only exception to that is if we have a family movie night, I will still participate.  This was complicated.  My desk is in the same room as the TV.  So far, I have taken up residence on the kitchen table to avoid the distraction, but I hope to soon relocate into another area of the house.  I’d like to report that this has given me so much more time for correspondence, reading, prayer, etc.  Unfortunately, I have been working, at meetings, visiting, at soccer practice or otherwise out of the house so I haven’t realized any significant results yet.  But I am hopeful.

How will you journey this Lent?

Whether it is your tradition or not, I highly recommend it as a means to put deliberate thought and purpose into your relationship with God.  It’s not too late to start!

No, you are not more holy if you do all these things and more.  No, you are not less holy if you do none of these things or attempt something and fail.  It is simply an opportunity to join with our Family of Faith as we learn to be His children in spirit and in truth.

May God richly bless the efforts you extend in knowing Him more.

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After the Grey

quiet pleaseInteresting how the noise died down once 50 Shades of Grey finally hit the screens.  There was an unending torrent of discussion prior to the release, but I guess the movie didn’t live up (or down) to it’s pre-release hype.

I remember an interview once with Supreme Court Justice David Souter.  He was speaking about public debate and open discussion in the media.  He said something along the lines of, “In the past when we disagreed on an issue our opponent was merely uniformed or incorrect, now he is evil.”

As I watched and read the debate, I saw all sorts of venom poured out, but very little thoughtful discussion.  There were many emotional tirades, but virtually no reason was evident in the majority of the posts.  Sure there was plenty of name calling, explicatives and aspersions, and at times it was quite entertaining, but I don’t recall anything that really took the discussion to a higher level.

But at least we were talking . . .

The silence is deafening.

Portions of this were written as a comment on a blog by Teryn O’Brien, “Love, He Told Her (A Poem on Abuse & 50 Shades of Grey)”. After various conversations, it evolved into the following:

I often read things in which I am not the least bit interested as they become popular and talked about in many circles. They give me illustrations and metaphors to use. That led me to read the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games series as well as parts of the first book of the 50 Shades series.
Harry Potter gave me illustrations of perseverance, staying true to your own identity, friendship and loyalty. I was able to talk to a middle school boy about peer pressure using Harry’s first few days at Hogwarts and his interaction with Draco Malfoy. His Cinderella-like experience with the Dursley’s gave plenty of illustrations in being true to who you are and persevering in less than ideal circumstances.
Twilight gave me the picture of Bella who did not understand her worth and the damage it did in seeking it outside herself – not to mention the pain of the “gotta have a guy to complete me” mindset. It was useful in discussing a history that kept a very successful woman trapped in a pit of insecurity. Bella also served as an intro to a conversation about personal identity and external validation not to mention numerous conversations about body image issues.
50 Shades of Grey provides illustrations in brokenness and redemption, but as with the others mentioned above, they have to be tempered with great caution. Often any underlying “good” message of hope or healing is completely obliterated by the overt themes of the story line. It is easy to fall into the humanist fantasy that there is some utopia of self-esteem, mutual acceptance and meaning available to us if we simply become enlightened (that’s socially enlightened which has little to do with actual “truth” or wisdom) when you are desperately searching for love, purpose or meaning.

Here’s the problem:

If the story is read by an emotionally healthy, reasonably mature person, they can very quickly see the traps and blind alleys the philosophies of hedonism and humanism lead into. They have the necessary experience to counter the fantasy with personal evidence. They know who they are, how to show and receive love, their own worth and the value in others. The story does not lead them into danger, because they recognize it for what it is – a fanciful story with a contradictory ending.
Unfortunately, the healthy are not reading it. The ones reading it are those who are searching for identity, love, acceptance, meaning, etc. They look at the pretty girl who got the handsome guy (or the other way around). They so desperately want this to be them and they see a pattern to follow. Many of them actually believe that this is how romance and passion are done. They don’t have any experience with non-sexual physical affection, sacrificial love, mutual submission, truth, authenticity, etc. Having never seeing a contradictory example, they have little hope of being able to see the deception and they blissfully begin their travel into the horror, isolation and insecurity never connecting the resulting pain with the first causes.

What’s Real?

For some reason, we have lost the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality.
The reality is that neither of these characters actually exists and no relationship begun in this manner would reach the conclusion presented by the author. Relationships born of obsession, rebellion or desperation always end badly (sometimes unbelievably, horribly bad). That’s what makes this fantasy/entertainment (albeit poor entertainment) and not a documentary or instructional video. But, for people bred on “reality” TV that isn’t “real”, it is small wonder that they fall for this.
Actually, that’s not fair. They are thirsty, craving something they don’t know, crawling through the desert of their existence, desperate for water. In the end, they drink the sand not knowing any difference.

What’s love?

My wife shared a blog post with me by Miriam Grossman, MD – A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People About “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I recommend you read it in it’s entirety along with a half dozen other posts she has on the subject. She makes the statement:

Years of careful listening have taught me a lot. One thing I’ve learned is that young people are utterly confused about love – finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.

I couldn’t agree more.

Confused and abused.

For years I have dealt with the aftermath of poor choices in relationships. I’ve sat with women, ages 15 to 62, who have told me that in their own eyes they are “a worthless piece of shit”. For those of you offended by a Baptist minister using such a word, I simply want to be honest about the self-image of the 7 different women who used that exact phrase in a three week period of time – four drug addicts all from vastly different social circumstances in a recovery program, 1 academically successful college student, 1 grandmother and 1 successful by all outward indicators, mother, wife and professional woman. Seven women, with seven different stories all arrived at exactly the same self-image as the result of relational carnage and all of them involved in abusive relationships.
They just didn’t feel they “deserved” to be loved.
Our media culture makes it clear that a woman has no value until she is attractive to the opposite sex. She can be fabulously successful in the business world but if men don’t fall over themselves to demonstrate their lust, there is something wrong with her. It doesn’t matter if she is talented, beautiful, intelligent or creative, she is never good enough if she doesn’t have a guy. To confuse things even more, she has been sold the lie that love equals obsession which always leads to isolation, insecurity and abuse. And when it doesn’t work, she is left with the message, “There’s something wrong with you.”

It’s not just the girls.

It is definitely far worse for women both physically and emotionally, but men are not exempt.
The young man harms himself at the same time. He robs himself of true intimacy, companionship and respect. I would even say that he abdicates his “manhood”. As he grows up, he stays childish and self-absorbed. Actually, he ages, but he doesn’t “grow up”. Just like a child, the world revolves around him. He demands immediate gratification regardless of the long term consequences. He has no vision for something greater than himself. He becomes a selfish consumer, bolstering his self-importance by berating and abusing others.
A man is not a man until he is responsible for himself and provides for and protects another. Provision is so much more than the stuff we have and protection includes nurturing and empowering those we love. All Christian does is use someone to meet his own exaggerated and distorted needs. That is not something to aspire to.
That isn’t love.

Should you read the books?

Probably not. The movie? Given the inability of the medium to sustain a complex plot, the odds of it portraying any of the redeeming aspects of the storyline (especially since they are sooooooooooo small) are virtually nil.
My heart aches for the young men and women who live their lives according to this pattern – who drink the sand.

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Missing Mom

I was recently invited by a family to help them share the life celebration of a wife and mother with friends and family gathered for a memorial service.  I was well acquainted with one of her children, but had almost no dealings with the rest of the family.  In fact, I only had one fully lucid conversation with the deceased in a hospital room for just a few minutes.

It’s hard to “preach” a memorial when you don’t really know the deceased.  Yes, there are numerous generic outlines one can follow, general guides for bring hope and initiating healing and sharing the hope and healing found in the Truth of the Gospel.  But that is not the same as engaging with the family memories and leading them to the joy of relationship and the living connection that extends well beyond the separation brought about by death.

I lost my mom a little over 13 years ago and I have not written much about that grief.  In fact, up to this point, I believe I have only written about it in contrast to the grief of losing dad.  It’s not that I’ve been in denial and I’m not languishing in depression and despair.  I also haven’t forgotten her and the deep meaning she holds in so many of my relationships even to this moment.  It was just different from dad’s passing and at a different stage of my own life.

Speaking with this family caused me to reengage with these memories, emotions, joys and pains.  And, in the context of discussing their family memories, I found a profound intersection with my memories of mom.  The two words that surfaced time and time again were Family and Love.  And so, the net result was 13 years later, while eulogizing someone else, I also had a chance to eulogize my mom.

I’ve never heard Prov 31 or 1 Cor 13 used in a memorial service, but they are the passages that demanded inclusions in any discussion of these two women.  Though socially, economically and circumstantially these women shared virtually nothing in common, they shared one of the most important things – a life well lived as described by Proverbs 31:10-31 and a love as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:3-7,12-13.

Though it would be inappropriate to post the eulogy here as it really was about another woman, I will include the follow up letter I sent to the family below.  It was good for me to read these words as I wrote them – even though I am doing fine after 13 years.

In the days and weeks ahead, there will be good days and not so good days. That’s natural. It will surprise you what will remind you of her. It will also surprise you what doesn’t seem to bother you. That’s natural, too. There is no one right way to grieve. We all experience grief differently. We don’t even experience grief the same way every time. This is also natural. You are allowed to be sad, angry, happy, silly, lonely, scared, distracted, determined, joyful, numb, etc. Whatever you feel is what you feel. Pretty much everything is normal.

But it won’t always be this way.

The firsts are the hardest. Obviously the first birthdays and anniversaries without her will be tough. Holidays are hard, too. Special life moments will also remind you of your loss. Two that surprised me are when my youngest son was born (he is the only grandchild my mother never held) and my ordination (I know she would have been so proud). It will be hard when you look for her in the celebrations and she isn’t there.

But it won’t always be this way.

Healing comes. New memories are made. Other relationships continue to grow. We continue on with meaning and purpose. We create. We work. We play. We love. We laugh. We live.

All in good time.

I’ve read that “normal” grieving time is 18 months to 7 years. That’s a pretty big range. You’ve got time. It’s not that it hurts this much for the whole time or the emptiness is unfilled, but during this process it will back up on you from time to time. You’ll have some bad days after you thought you were through to the other side. It doesn’t mean that you will never make it through. It just means you aren’t there yet.

Take all the time you need.

We don’t mourn today as those who have no hope, but we do mourn. Encourage each other with these words.

God’s got you.

You can find other post I have written related to grief here: Posts on grief.

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