Lent: What to Give?

I find us at the typical halfway point for the school year–the kids no longer sleep with their backpacks on, nor do they dress in one minute flat. They’ve exchanged eagerness for apathy as they lie on their beds in the morning pulling covers over their ears hoping to snatch one more minute of sleep. The freshness of those first few weeks in a new class have given way to the tiredness and doldrom of routine.

Their mother is no better. Most nights, she packs their lunches ahead of time, but there are those nights when she slumps on the couch, fatigued and determined to not do another chore for the day. Ironing the night before becomes part of the morning haste, a haste brought on by one too many swats of the ‘snooze’ button. And at the mid-point for the school year, a new routine has emerged–a routine of frenzy and angst and the general need for a few days of ‘slow.’

I get it. After so many days of the same thing, I test the waters. I try to accomplish more in less time because the need for more sleep presses in hard, yet, all I create is more rush, less harmony, and greater fatigue. When I get to this point, I look to the next break from routine where I can start over fresh, restoring the exhilaration I felt back in August.

Perhaps those who crafted the church calendar had a sense that a break in routine is needed to keep our faith fresh, too. I look back to Christmas and think of the devotions I had with my children. My heart felt full and my love for Christ renewed as I told them the story and purpose of His birth. Now, just as my mornings gave way to rush and routine, so has much of my own time to quiet devotion.

Yet in the midst of my own faith doldrom, along comes Lent. Last week I watched my Facebook feed as friends said ‘goodbye’ for 40 days while others had their last piece of chocolate or glass of soda. In the midst of those updates, a friend posted a quotation that immediately resonated within me:

Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps, by a life more marked by routine than by reflection. After a lifetime of mundane regularity or unconsidered adherence to the trappings of faith, Lent requires me, as a Christian, to stop for awhile, to reflect again on what is going on in me. I am challenged again to decide whether I, myself, do truly believe that Jesus is the Christ-and if I believe, whether I will live accordingly when I can no longer hear the song of angels in my life and the star of Bethlehem has grown dim for me. Lent is not a ritual. It is a time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out. – Joan Chittister

When I read Chittister’s comment, I immediately thought of my own relationship with God and how the newness of Christmas had begun to wane. I thought of my mornings with rushed quiet times and rushed dressings and rushed breakfasts. In my mind, I brought the two together. I have fallen into a “lifetime of mundane regularity” as Chittister writes, and for Lent, something needs to give.

I’ve always wondered about the practice of giving up things for Lent. As a child, I would give up soda or potato chips and feel so proud when I resisted temptation for 40 days. However, now as an adult, I look at the practice a little differently than as a child.

While I have heard that we sacrifice so that we can relate to the sacrifice of Christ, I cannot find anything that I would give up for Lent that could ever cause me to understand what it would feel like to be sinless yet take on the weight and shame of every person’s sin on this earth. I cannot give up anything that would help me understand what Christ felt when the Father turned His back as He hung on the cross.

Honestly, I don’t think God intends for us to give up things merely for the purpose of sacrifice. Rather, I imagine He wants to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. When He tells us to fast and pray for those who are sick, we are not fasting so that we will feel hunger and broken. Instead, we fast as a reminder.

I cannot go without one meal before I feel hunger pains. It is then that I am reminded of who sustains me. When I am tempted by a worthless potato chip, I am reminded of the weakness of my flesh. It is in those moments of weakness that should draw me to God in prayer, for if not, for what purpose did I practice sacrifice?

After prayer, I found what God wants me to give, and I heard Him loud and clear. He doesn’t want me to give up anything for the purpose of taking away my joy. Instead, He wants me to trust that His hands are overflowing with a greater abundance of joy than mine could ever hold, and I have to let go of some things in order to hold His. I cannot fall into routine when it comes to my faith; I have to not only find time but truly use this time to reflect on the goodness of God and the importance of my faith.

Everyone needs a little break from routine. Everyone needs a fresh start. This Lent I’m hoping to find a newness and exhilaration in my faith that will carry me from the first sound of the alarm in the morning to the last lunch I pack at night. And I pray that you find that newness, too.

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today. How do you observe Lent?

 

Lie to Me

I never count it a good sign when I’ve hardly started my day and am already counting the hours until I can go back to bed. Nonetheless, I have found myself in that state this morning, thanks to a voodoo TV that turned on in the middle of the night, a naked, little girl who appeared at my bedside an hour later, and a pathetic boy with a tummy ache who tossed and turned next to me–rather in between his two sisters–while I was clinging to the side of the bed with one hand while trying to rub his tummy with the other.

I couldn’t help but notice that Matt is actually here; typically, this kind of nonsense only happens when he is out-of-town. The first night he was gone on his last trip, my youngest screamed in my bed with an earache until 2:30 a.m. when the liquor, I mean Tylenol, finally kicked in.

I have a suspicion, however, that my children are giving me a taste of what’s to come. Last night, Matt came home from work with the news that he needed to travel quite a bit next month. I’m sure my nervous anticipation of that fact already sent the cosmos in disarray, explaining why my one child took off all her clothes in the middle of the night. And since I know there’s more to come, I want to prepare Matt with a little list I made the last time he was gone.

Now, typically, I hold to the idiom that ‘honesty is the best policy,’ but there are certain circumstances that necessitate a lie. Allow me to elaborate:

If one’s business trip is to a state where people are swimming in February, it is okay to lie to the wife who is at home with the kids.

Matt, if you are in Florida, and the sun is shining, and the warm breeze is running through your hair, please just tell me it’s raining. It rained every stinkin’ day.

If part of one’s day on the above mentioned trip ends with dinner on a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, develop temporary amnesia.

Seriously, dude, for the good of our marriage, do not tell me that you have to go because it’s time to board the boat for your dinner cruise. In fact, if you choose to mention anything about you and the boat, it better only be the details that after you boarded a terrible storm arose. The boat swayed back and forth, and the crew began to panic. “We’re not going to make it!” they screamed, to which you responded, “Yes, you will! Throw me overboard! I’m the reason we’re going to sink!” The crew didn’t want to throw you overboard, a polite, southern gentleman enjoying a nice dinner on the Gulf, but the waves began to rise, and they became convinced that, yes, you were the reason for this storm. They threw you over, and immediately you were swallowed by a great fish. You repented of leaving your wife, were spit up on dry ground, and headed back to Georgia.

Do not call your wife and say, “Hold on a minute; let me step out onto my balcony.”

Seriously? At this point all I’m picturing is my throwing you off of the balcony!

Even if it is true, do not tell your wife, “I really wish you were here with me.”

This statement may sound sweet; it may be 100% sincere. However, now you’ve caused me to lie, or at least deceive you. Yes, I responded, “I wish I were there, too,” but I left off the rest of the sentence. I wish I were there while you were back here with the kids! I wish you were here for four days straight, no dropping the kids off at the grandparents, and no ordering fast food. Just you. And the kids. Four nights.

I’m on a boat sipping a pina colada. Have fun with these crazies!

What lies are you okay hearing?

 

 

Nothing Like Me

Anyone who knows my children knows that they are independent little creatures. I don’t mind bragging that at age two, all my children were making their own beds and getting themselves dressed in the morning. No, I don’t mind bragging because their independence also causes them to scale the pantry for cereal and pour milk all over the floor. I hold on to those bright moments of initiative because heavens know how long until their initiative causes another hair on my head to turn gray or another dollar to go towards a Magic Eraser.

For Valentine’s Day this week, I had the chance to beam again. Caleb was tasked with making a box to hold all his Valentine’s, and I secretly cringed thinking about how difficult this craft would be for me. I don’t do arts and crafts, and I’m not very good at wrapping presents. Wrapping a shoebox in a creative manner and using scissors to cut a hole for the valentines left too many possibilities for disaster.

I had wrongly assumed, of course, that Caleb would be the designer while I would have to help execute his design. Instead, Caleb wanted nothing to do with me, not even the creative juices flowing through my mind. He sat down and told me what he needed–red, pink, and white paper. He decided on his own to tear the paper and glue it in a collage-like fashion, and he masterfully created a box that didn’t look like his mother helped him at all, which I didn’t.

No, if I helped him, the box would’ve looked more like the one I helped make with Chloe. Notice the hearts of all different sizes? Yes, those would be my ingenious creations.

Who am I kidding? I didn’t teach my children independence. They learned it as a survival mechanism.

As I looked over our boxes, I couldn’t help but think about how different we are. I was reminded again when I picked up the kids from school, their boxes filled with valentines and sugar. I knew better than to try to restrain them, even though they just had treats at school. I told each kid to take out a piece of candy and enjoy. They could have one piece every day. By the time the kids changed into their play clothes, Caleb was crying because the girls ate all of his candy.

Their little boxes reminded me  of the one I made in third grade. The only reason I remember this box is that my mom brings something from the basement that she wants out of her house whenever I visit. This last supply of ‘unwanteds’ contained cards and mementos from high school and this worn box from third grade.

I reached inside the box and read the valentines scribed in the pen of eight year olds. I tried to remember the faces of each child who signed a card, and, surprisingly, I could remember most. I then had a bigger surprise when I reached in the box and pulled out a large blue lollipop…and another…and another. My daughter reached out, wide-eyed, toward the treasure I just uncovered from the hidden chest.

“Hannah Grace, no! That candy is 25 years old!”

That day driving down the road while my kids’ hands turned sticky, I thought about my box. That day when Caleb came to me with tears in his eyes, his box near empty, I pictured my own uncovered treasures. I waited 25 years to eat my candy. My children couldn’t wait 25 minutes.

In what ways are your children nothing like you?

 

Rethinking Valentine’s Day

As a young girl in high school, I looked on Valentine’s Day with disdain — mostly because for three out of the four holidays, I didn’t have a boyfriend. However, that special senior year when I received a cheap carnation along with the other girls who had boys willing to pay a dollar, I embraced Valentine’s Day with open arms!

I grew older though, and my fondness for the holiday began to wane again. Spending exorbitant amounts of money on over-priced flowers and chocolate for a day with little spiritual or historical significance just seemed dumb. After all, if I loved a person, I should show him love all the time, not just on Valentine’s Day, right?

Right. Except nine years into a marriage and three small children later, I don’t always do what I’m supposed to do. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I find myself in bed sleeping in between two pillows as three children wormed their way into our bed in the middle of the night. I sleep to the tune of one child grinding her teeth in my ear and another sticking her toe up my nose and a third pushing his elbow in my back. Of course, I could move to sleep in one of their beds if I didn’t find myself pinned in a cocoon of sheets and bedspread by the dog lying on my feet.

Sometimes this tiredness competes with the desire to show love. Sometimes when my husband comes home from work, I greet him with the kid I am no longer going to deal with instead of a passionate kiss and a moment of space for him to breathe. I don’t care about romance; I want a shower by myself in a bed by myself with a book by myself.

And, sometimes, while I don’t like to admit it, I need a reminder.

Honestly, I should have a soft spot in my heart for Valentine’s Day. Twelve years ago when we were poor, college students, Matt and I met over a burrito in Athens as friends, not even realizing the significance of the day at the time. Twelve years later, our friendship has grown as we have weathered many storms and celebrated many joys.

Now, Valentine’s Day for me isn’t about flowers or chocolate. It’s about the moment to pause and remember how blessed I am to have this man who loves me and whom I love. It’s a time to remember that the children we have are a product of our love and a gift from God.

My own father made Valentine’s Day his holiday. Unlike Christmas and birthdays when we knew our mom did all the present shopping and wrapping, Valentine’s Day was all his. Today it still is. Every February 14th, I always receive a card and something special from my dad.

Last year, my husband and I followed his lead. I had a handsome date accompany me for the dinner of his choice at Zaxby’s while my husband took two cute little girls to Shane’s Rib Shack. And while my husband didn’t sweep me away for a romantic dinner for two, on that night, I found him holding those cheap carnations for his family quite sexy.

So I’ve come around to this over-commercialized, insignificant holiday. And while I need to work on greeting my husband at the door daily with a big kiss instead of a disobedient child, I’ll welcome the reminder on February 14th, too.

I took an unintentional blogging break last week, and I’m definitely itching to get out some new blog posts. This post was featured in the ‘Local Voices’ section of the Dacula Patch a couple of weeks ago. During my hiatus, I learned some more differences between my kids and me, and I also developed a list of when it’s okay for my spouse to lie to me. I hope you’ll come back and join me this week as I share!

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Boys and Basketball

Basketball Hoop

Yesterday, the weather was amazing. The temperature topped out at about 70 degrees, and the sky was bright blue most of the day. We could play outside without getting too hot, and I didn’t have to yell at the kids to keep their jackets on–we left them at home.

I love the location of my home, right next to the neighborhood pool and playground. I swear if we had to pack up and load into the minivan to drive to the front of the neighborhood, we’d never get there. Luckily, my little monkeys just need me to open our gate and walk next door.

Yesterday evening, that’s just what we did. We began our journey a little later than planned, missing the most warmth from the sun. Punky Brewster was far too enticing for the kids, and this mama was far too tired to put up a fight. We made it to the playground around five, however, and the kids released their abundance of energy.

I had wished we arrived earlier, though, when I saw the teenaged boy playing basketball. Caleb immediately took off toward him.

“Caleb, leave him alone. He wants to practice.”

But the young man just smiled and encouraged Caleb to come and play. I watched as my five-year-old and this high school-aged boy took turns dribbling and shooting hoops.

I felt a little uneasy, not of this young man, but of my son interfering.

“He’s not going to leave you alone now,” I warned him, but he just smiled and assured me he was okay with Caleb playing.

A few minutes later, another teenaged boy parked his car and joined his friend on the asphalt court. The boys–closer to men than boys, really–showed Caleb how to shoot baskets, teaching him to bend his knees and the proper way to hold the ball.

Frankly, I was impressed, especially when they gave Hannah Grace a try, too.

I’m sure these guys had planned to get together to have a game of one-on-one, and here they were giving lessons to the little boy making granny shots. They wanted to run free on the court, not avoid the little girl dancing to the music in her head and periodically shouting, “I see my shadow! Six more weeks of winter!” Their plans were interrupted–they were inconvenienced–so they simply changed their plans.

They were kind, and they were patient. While I watched them run to Caleb’s aid when the ball rebounded off his head for the second time, I prayed, “God, how I hope Caleb is like them when he’s a teenager!”

And then I thought to myself, “God, make me more like them now.”

On what exceptional young adult would you like to brag? What have they taught you? Have a great weekend!

*photo courtesy of Ben Unleashed via Flickr Creative Commons

And We Keep On Going

I should not be allowed an iPhone. This weekend, I set a willful child on the toilet in an effort to get her to pee when my phone dropped out of my pocket and went for a swim. Typically, I keep my hands out of toilet water, but I amazed myself at how quickly I stuck my hand in that bowl. I’d like to think that my reflexes would be that sharp if I ever had to rescue anything of true value–I scooped that phone out of the watery abyss in .2 seconds flat.

Despite my laser-sharp reflexes, a turn with the hair dryer, and a bag of rice, the screen on my phone went black (but that stupid phone taunted me all day, ringing and dinging to notify me of e-mails that had come in but I would never see), and my iPhone was useless. It was a terrible day to not have my phone.

Saturday, Matt volunteers at church for most of the day, so I was on my own to take Caleb to a roller skating birthday party and occupy the two girls. My attempt to find a ride for Caleb didn’t work, but I was adamant that I was not going to teach three children to skate that day–I would drop Caleb at the party and then take the girls to the toy store to spend some of their allowance, assuming, of course, that the party location was near the toy store.

Caleb would have to leave the party early to ensure we got to church early as I was also volunteering that day. If I had my handy, dandy iPhone, I could’ve figured out my route quickly. Except I didn’t. My iPhone continued to taunt me.

photo by Ian Munroe

I printed off some directions from one of the map websites and rounded up the children into the van, a little later than we planned to leave, of course. Ten minutes later, I neared our destination. But after driving past 1700 Buford Drive four times (twice from each direction), I decided that the directions I was following was not to the location where we were trying to go.

I would’ve called the grandmother hosting the party, but, oh yeah–I couldn’t. At this point, I had a decision to make. We were already 30 minutes late for the party, and I still didn’t know where to go to get to this party. I could go home and make a second attempt at printing off the right directions, or I could tell Caleb that we would take his friend and him roller skating another day. When the latter offer produced tears from the back seat, I decided the former. We would get to that stupid party no matter what. And we kept on going.

I drove home, ran into the house, printed off new directions, printed off directions from the party to church, and got back in the van (did I mention that we don’t have a land line, so I couldn’t call the grandmother from my house, either?). Looking at the directions to this farther away place, I realized that Caleb would only have about 40 minutes at the party. I explained this fact to him, emphasizing that he most likely will have missed the skating part of the party or the cake, depending on the order they chose. Caleb nodded that he understood and blinked back his tears.

As we sat in traffic due to road construction, I felt my blood pressure rise and created new profanities in my mind. We were going to get to that party even if Caleb only got to shake his friend’s hand and give her her present before he turned around to leave! So we kept on going.

At 4:00 p.m. we arrived at the party that was supposed to end at 4:30. Caleb had missed the cake, but the kids were skating again. Caleb had 30 minutes to learn how to skate. I would’ve loved to teach him, but I had a four-year-old holding one hand and a two-year-old holding the other–two girls who would have to wait another day to go to the toy store.

Luckily, a compassionate woman at the party saw my full hands and took Caleb out on the floor. I watched and held my breath as Caleb flailed his arms and legs around in an attempt to catch his balance. I cringed as his legs flew completely out from under him. And with each wild slam to the floor, I fought between the instinct that wanted to laugh at how crazy my son looked and the fear that I would find a limb dangling in an odd direction as he climbed back to his feet. But despite each painful-looking fall, Caleb kept on going.

While he could’ve spent more time learning how to skate on the carpeted floor, Caleb’s competitive drive kept him on the slick rink. In one moment he looked like a kid at a concert body surfing–on-lookers sitting on the edge of the rink took turns holding him up as he threatened to land on them or crash to the floor–yet in the next moment, this little boy was balancing on two skates making his way around the curve by himself.

I couldn’t have been more proud (or terrified).

The time came to turn in the skates, thank the host, and jump back in the van with my printed directions. Unfortunately, the people who make these things think I know the difference between ‘northeast’ and ‘southwest’. Seriously, ‘left’ or ‘right’ works just fine for me. Now, we were going to be late for church, but we kept on going. Watching my son take fall after fall without a grimace made me realize that I could, too.

photo by Ian Munroe

I kept on going because that’s what moms do. We keep going when the logical choice would be to turn back, save gas, and miss the party; we value the smile on our kids’ faces more. We keep going when we’re tired and want to go to bed because we’d rather our family wear clean clothes, instead. We keep going when that little voice in our heads tells us our efforts are not worth it, reminding us of all the wasted time we spent doing tasks that already needed to be redone, reminding us of the life we could have if we lived for ourselves.

We keep going because, the reality is, no matter how tired we are or frustrated we feel, we’re doing exactly what we want to do. We pick ourselves up off our bruised bottoms and dry our hands of toilet water and kiss goodbye to our gas money because, as contradictory as it sounds some day, the bruises and the stress and the loss of money contribute to a beautiful mosaic of stories and the character we need to keep on going the next day.

We keep on going. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do today and the next, with or without my iPhone.

What keeps you going?