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Into the Dark

Unexpected Friendship
Our first meeting seemed simply by chance, sitting side by side in a small café in Indianapolis. Our separate conversations held in close proximity carried the same thread of interest, locations, names, and subject matter. I couldn’t stop my interruption as I leaned 6 inches to my left and said, “I can’t believe we are both talking about mission trips to India, the Church of God denomination, and shoe shopping. How do I not know you? Who are you?!”

Two months later, she walked through the front door of a mutual friend. We were both shocked. We laughed as we remembered our crowded dining experience and jokingly said, “God must want us to be friends! Let’s have lunch.”

Kimberly Majeski and I went to lunch. And that led to another lunch and then some shopping, and more lunches, and more shopping, and then to strip clubs. Turns out, my new friend likes to frequent some pretty dark places and I’m fairly sure that’s the reason God was the maître ‘de in the café last spring.

This is my story of going into the dark.

A Flashlight in the daytime
When you have a friend who makes a habit of going to strip clubs, there are going to be conversations. Conversations ranging from how to choose an “appropriate” outfit to wear when visiting a club to what happens when the dancer tells you she needs diapers for her toddler, a ride to the BMV, or a place to live. During those conversations, I always used my best supportive head nods and encouraging smiles. Because we all know that encouraging someone else without actually getting involved with what they are doing can be mitigated with the appropriate amount of nods and smiles.

One day, when we were talking about her growing ministry dreams, Kimberly said this, “When we walk through the door of a smoky and dark strip club, the light of Jesus inside us shifts everything. You can feel it.”

It was the “shifts everything” that caught my attention.

She went on to explain, “In strip clubs, the windows are blacked out or bricked shut so no light and no hope can get in….but when a believer walks through the door, every element of darkness (seen and unseen) cannot overcome the light. Everything shifts.”

And that’s the conversation that launched my memory bank back into 38 years of well-lit rooms. My Christian parents and home-church that molded my heart, ensuring there was never a day in my life I didn’t know Jesus loved me. I recalled mission trips my church took to help other churches build and grow their ministries domestically and overseas. There were summer camps and Christ loving counselors that instilled confidence and depth into my faith. As an adult, I’ve spent 15 years working in churches as worship leader, recording artist, and teacher. Sure, I’ve seen a few dark places…but often more stumbling on them by accident rather than going on purpose.

John 1:4-5 says, ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

By the grace of God, Jesus’s light lives in every believer. There is nothing we can do to change that miraculous truth. But then it occurred to me. I’m a flashlight in the daytime.

Imagine using a flashlight all day long, every day. It would be helpful at times. When things get grey or dim, the light brings clarity just when you need it. On a stormy day, the lights may even go out completely for a while. Thankfully, you’ve got the security and peace that a beam of light brings to the situation.

I think this is how I’ve been living. My Christ-light shines and gives hope to daily shadows and even occasional storms. But I’ve started to imagine what it would be like to take that light into a dark place. A really dark place. What would happen if I went into the dark on purpose?

Strip Clubs
I decided to give it a try. I told Kimberly I’d visit the clubs with her. Imagine the day when I sent a text to my pastor that read, “So….I went to two strip clubs last night.”

I enjoyed visiting the clubs. The women were friendly and nearly giddy when we came through the door as they exclaimed “The church ladies are here!” We delivered small gift bags with lip gloss and candy.  I watched a way-too-young girl devour the chocolate in hungry gratitude. I sat with another woman my age and discussed the local high school merger, her grandbaby on the way, and favorite fast food. I spent time swapping stories and hanging out with women at the top of their shift. When the men started to arrive, our time was over. We left and I prayed the light would stick with them through the night.

Finding my Dark
Finding darkness is not hard. All we have to do is open our eyes to the sin and brokenness of the world around us. There are literally hundreds of options. Orphans, Widows, and Grieving Parents can’t remember what a warm light feels like. The Depressed, Poor, Hungry, Enslaved, Uneducated, Abused, Addicted, War-torn and Powerless are living every day in thick, heavy, darkness. So, how do we know where to go blazing with our light? For months now, I’ve been wrestling this single question.

Luke 10:1 After this, the Lord appointed seventy two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

In this story, Jesus is sending out believers to places he has not yet been. These were not mission trips to the inner-city synagogue to re-paint the Sunday school rooms. These were dark places filled with evil spirits and demons (see Luke 10:17). But they were places he was ABOUT to go, and herein lies our answer.

We must allow Jesus to appoint us to the dark places he is about to go.

We can stumble into darkness every day. We often do. But we can’t miss our appointment to a specific place. (He didn’t send all 72 to the same place!!) There is a darkness that needs the unique nature of the way Jesus’s light mixes with our life experience, passion, and gifts.

Into the Dark
I’m still asking God to show me the dark places he wants to go with me. My heart has always been especially broken for the vulnerable and voiceless children in our community, so I’m investigating CASA. For now, what I know is that I’m not supposed to hang out in the comfortable daylight all the time. I’m going back into the dark, on purpose. It will be more strip clubs. But I think it will be other places too.

Where are you going to go? I’d love to hear about it.

When we walk into the dark, the light of Jesus will shift the darkness.  Did I feel it?    Did I know it was true?   Yes, I did.

 

Learn more about Stripped Love

-See more at: http://www.kimberlymajeski.com/stripped-love.html

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My first WOD.

crossfit 5.22.13

May 22nd……or 37 years, 4 months,  &22 days as I’ve come to think about my countdown to being more fit at 40 than 30.  Of course, I hope it doesn’t take me 2+ years to accomplish this!  But instead of my typical mindset wanting instant results (or at least to lose 10 pounds after two workouts), setting my sights ‘down the road’ is healthy for me.  It is good perspective and a reminder that I intend to stick with this journey. 

 

I did my first WOD (workout of the day) with some of the Arsenal folks this morning at 5:30am, a time on the clock I despise.  Because our gym is not open yet, we are using another place in Muncie and have to be done before it opens!  It was a team challenge to 1000 reps consisting of 400 squats, 300 box jumps, 200 push ups, and 100 ramp sprints.  We had 4 women on my team verses two teams of three men.  Our team ‘won’ the challenge with 17:16 finish. And we even had to wear our shirts the whole time.  We laughed as one by one the men’s teams were losing their t-shirts.  Wimps.   

 

Was it fun?  Hmmm……even though my quads are begging to differ, I would have to answer yes.  Not eat chocolate birthday cake and go shopping with friends type of fun, but fun nonetheless.  It was fun to workout with 10 people of various fitness levels, ages, and abilities.  It was fun to arrive before dawn and beat the sun to work today.  It was fun to cheer others on and to be cheered on.  It was fun to finish and realize that despite feeling nervous that I would let my team down, we did it together.  It was fun to walk into the house feeling proud of what I did. 

 

We leave for 11 days of vacation tomorrow!  So…no Crossfit WOD for me for awhile.  My goal is to do 50 pushups every day on vacation because that was my weakest contribution today.  Well, that and sprinting…but not sure I can sprint on a crowded cruise ship without knocking Mickey Mouse over!  When I get back, our new gym will be very close to finished!  Grand opening is June 21st and it will be an open to the public party.  I’m proud of BJ McKay for his vision and John Hill for his commitment to the workouts. 

I promise to not only blog about Crossfit.  I’m actually working on something else now too…but I want to document this process and thought my first ever WOD deserved a post. 

Fit440: Deciding to Crossfit

I joined a Crossfit box that hasn’t opened yet. (‘Box’ is the Crossfit word for gym). I started telling people this exciting news about 6 weeks ago. Reactions from innocent curiosity to concerned shock are pretty normal. I’m used to the head tilted interest in Crossfit as I stammer through a description of a workout I’ve never done. For those who have heard about Crossfit or watched the games on ESPN, I’m usually met with the raised eyebrow of doubt and worry. These people either know me and my flirtacious relationship with fitness, or they can take one look at my gut and triceps, and let’s just say I don’t blame them for the eyebrow thing.

But I’m doing it. I made my payment for a year-long membership and now I am officially a founding member of The Arsenal. http://www.munciecrossfit.com Watching too many Youtube videos of professional Crossfitters and these conversations are forcing the reality to set in. My gut, triceps, and the rest of me are going to be Crossfitting soon. And honestly, of all the raised eyebrows I’ve come across, mine are arched the highest. I have big doubts and my cynical side likes to taunt me. “I’m going to be the only one who can’t lift a truck above my head. The others in my group will be on their lunch break by the time I finish a workout. I’m probably going to simultaneously vomit and pee my pants while doing box jumps.” These are the the fears that live behind my enthusiastic announcement that I’ve just joined a box.

Occasionally though, I get the reaction that reminds me why I made this decision. When I talk to a Crossfitter, rather than crinkle their forehead, they stretch a wide smile and say “That’s awesome. You are going to love it.” Of course I always want to know more and hear about their experience, but the replies are all generally the same. With an I-know-someting-you-don’t grin, their replies note friendships, a deeper sense of self, and confidence that comes by way of conquering the day’s workout (WOD). They also nonchalantly warn me that I’ll probably hate it for the first month.

Our Crossfit box is under construction so it likely won’t open until July but the trainer has promised he will get us together for some workouts soon. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty freaked out. But I’m also totally intrigued and giddy about the possibility of what can happen when a person is brave enough to try something that scares them. What if we played it safe all the time, only doing familiar routines? Isn’t if fun to see a person strive for something beyond their reach? I’m going to be that person. But I know I won’t be able to do it without the ones striving and sweating alongside me. I am so happy that one of those people will be my husband. It is going to be humbling and thrilling. (37 years, 4 months, 19 days)

Fit440 (Fit For Forty)

Fit440 is a new category in this site dedicated to blogging my progress toward being fit, strong, and healthier than ever in my 40s. Considering I have never been fit, strong, or an athlete of any kind, this really isn’t saying too much. Fifteen to twenty extra pounds have haunted me most of my life, sparing a few years after college and before babies. Anyway, this isn’t about being thin. It’s about being fit. I’ve really neglected my health during my 30s and I don’t like where it has taken me. I don’t exercise regularly. I don’t eat very healthy meals. And, we all know I’m addicted to diet coke. So….over the next few weeks, months, and years I’m going to stop this trajectory and go for a healthy future. Why not be in better shape and healthier at 40 than 30? As with everything in this blog….it just helps me to write about it. I’d love to have you join me for mutual encouragement!

Happy Mother’s Day…my gift to myself.

50There is not much better than a Saturday night with the kids at sleep-overs (elsewhere), me organizing closets, drinking a glass of wine with chocolate chip cookies, and taking some time to blog. And while this does sound like a gift I would give myself for mother’s day, I’ve been working on something different.

Today, in honor of mother’s day, I’ve decided to like myself. This might sound selfish and arrogant on a day I should be humbly honoring the woman who pushed me into 1975, but if you read on, I hope you are tempted to give the same gift.

I doubt I am alone when I admit there is a long list of things I wish I did better as a mom, a wife, a friend, and a woman. It doesn’t take much for me to notice my inadequacies. Just put me in a room with other moms and pretty soon I’m wondering why I don’t grow food for them on my porch, teach them a second language on the weekends, and study the Bible with them every morning before school. I wish I did those things…but I don’t. In fact, I don’t do a lot of things I’d like to do for my kids and my family. And, if I’m not careful, my favorite pair of boxing gloves, aquired somewhere in my adolescent years, come out and the bruises to my confidence come quick.

Why do we beat ourselves up? Why the upper-cut to our pride and the left hook to our heart?

My son is learning Taekwondo and Master Kim tells him that kicks and punches are for defense and protection. The stronger person never starts the fight. But here we are; strong, capable, intellegent women starting fights with ourselves because we don’t measure up to the mom-we-thought-we’d-be. Well, at least I do anyway.

So, today (and hopefully beyond today), when I am tempted to feel insecure or badly about my ability to be Anna and John’s mom, I’m going to stop and refuse to throw the first punch. How is that possible when I’ve gotten so much use from those boxing gloves over the years? I like to visualize taking the gloves off and opening my hands to THANKS and TRUST. I must give thanks to God for who I am, even the parts He’s still working on. Then I must trust that he has chosen me as the mom he wants for my kids. With all my faults, I still must be the perfect imperfect mom for them.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (shortened) says this “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus”

As best I can tell, when I feel insecure and inadequate, when the boxing gloves start throwing punches, it really slows me down. In those moments, I don’t get better, I always get worse. My attitude suffers and my motivation dies. I throw my hands up and say, “I can’t do this, so why try?”

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging us to drop the stuff that slows us down, like doubt, fear, guilt, and sin. Instead he says, keep your eyes on Jesus and do the thing that was put before you. For moms, our race can feel like a sprint and a marathon all in one day! So if anything is slowing us down, beating us up, or causing us to sin, get rid of it. Let’s put the gloves down and open our heart to thanking God and trusting Him. (If you want some examples of how I’m trying to do this, you can read the second part of the post.)

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Today, I’m going to like myself for who I am and the mom that I am today. I am going to stay focused on who I am becoming rather than who I am not yet. I am giving doubt, fear, and guilt the day off. I hope you will join me. Don’t be afraid…Go ahead…like yourself! It’s a gift to your Creator, yourself, your kids, and I think your own mom would be pretty happy about that too!

_________________________part two…personal, unedited journal on my own “stuff”______

Here are a few things that cause me to feel insecure and inadequate as a parent. I’m sure we all have different triggers, but maybe if I can toss the gloves first, you will too.

CHOSING TO WORK OUTSIDE HOME: More than once I’ve decided I would stay home with the kids without any full time employment or part time job. But I did not adapt well. Something in me loves the personal challenge, reward, and relationships that come with having a job. So, I choose to work even though financially we could get by if I were to stop. With me working, our house is not always clean. We rarely have meals with all four food groups. Our laundry gets way behind! My job right now requries that I travel a few times a year and work 6 nights a month. I miss some baseball games and field trips. My kids go to after school care two days a week. Sometimes I really beat myself up about this because it feels selfish and greedy. I hear a liar telling me that I love making money more than my children! It is easy to beat myself up over this one because I genuinely enjoy working. Anyone else?

WHEN I LOSE MY PATIENCE: I’m not a patient person. I don’t like driving the speed limit, crockpots, or letting my nails dry after a manicure. The majority of the time, if I ‘lose it’ with my kids, its when I’ve lost my patience. My heart breaks when my anxiety and brokeness cause me to lash out at them too quickly and too harshly. After realizing they didn’t deserve the exasperated display of drama from their mama, I feel really low. Like, “how could I be so selfish and ugly?” low.

LIFE’S MISTAKES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS: My kids don’t know my every mistake and disappointment of my life, but I do. They love me, trust me, and accept me so completely. Sometimes I feel I don’t deserve it. Sometimes I wonder why I was allowed such beautiful blessings as them. Sometimes I doubt I can possibly help them navigate this big world because I know the wrong turns I’ve taken along the way. Sometimes I feel unable to match their optimisim and enthusiasm about their dreams because I want to protect them from disapointment. Sometimes I worry that I am just not healthy enough or strong enough or good enough to be what they need. All this leads to the idea that maybe someone else could do this job better than I can. Maybe another mom is more qualified and more deserving of these perfect, beautiful humans entrusted to me.

THANKS AND TRUST:

God made me very motivated, active, and relational. Therefore, my schedule is always going to be full of things I am passionate about and challenge me. I will naturally chose work outside of the home because working with people inspires me and keeps me growing. I can trust God that by my example, my children (especially my daughter) will understand the challenges and rewards that come with a strong work ethic balanced with family life. I am guessing that due to our economy she may not have a choice about working when she a mother. I’m glad to be an example she can learn from in that area.

My patience needs work, no doubt. But because I’ve been so embarassed by ugly behavior, over the years I’ve had a lot of practice apologizing to my children. A friend once counseled me to apologize even when they were babies so that it would become natural. I know adults who have never heard their parent say “I’m sorry.” I am grateful that I know how to show my children what a genuine apology is and that I’ve asked them to help me get better with my patience. I’ve had to apologize for other things too, and I trust that our relationships are stronger because we have asked and recieved forgiveness from one another. Make-up hugs are the best!

Finally, I am grateful that God wastes nothing. My story, my mistakes, my disappointments, my victories, and my blessings are being brought together to help my children become who God desires them to be. If there is a promise I cling to it is that God is love and love is good. God loves me. God loves my children. He has chosen me to raise them this far. He is using all of who I am (mistakes and all) to move us closer to His grace and purposes for our lives. The privilege of being chosen to walk alongside my children as they do this journey is an amazing gift and I have to stop wasting time on regrets.

When the casket is too small.

OliverI drove my habitual route to the memorial today. My mind and emotions were somewhere between dread and disbelief when I looked up and noticed I was stopped in a long line of traffic on University Ave. Out my window, just yards away I could see hundreds of people gathering for Ball State graduation today. Parents and family members walking toward the accomplishment of another chapter complete, another milestone checked off, and another long awaited moment commenced. It was there, in a caravan of caps and gowns, that the stark reality hit. They won’t see him graduate from college. They won’t see him start Kindergarten. They won’t soothe and swaddle his way into this world. So…much…loss, wrapped up in a 34 week boy born into heaven before he was delivered onto earth.

It’s days like today I need my blog. Days when the human condition turns cold with sorrow and injustice. For me, the best comfort is to open a blank sheet and let the words spell out new hope.

The memorial was a loving tribute to a short life. The parents of the boy in the urn held each other and we held them. It was honest and hopeful, sad and beautiful. In our collective presence, we acknowledged that the right words wouldn’t be found. Words were not our gift. Our presence is what mattered.

As I drove home, the BSU graduation ceremony had ended. The caps had been thrown, the gowns discarded for shorts and flip flops. Another tear fell because today is for crying and grieving and feeling deeply.

At home, I was greeted by a seven year old boy with a mission. A mission to hug me so hard I would fall over. (I guess because that’s what sounds great to 7 year old boys and he isn’t allowed to karate kick me). In the process he managed to laugh and kiss and hug away the tears that were still fresh. I locked him in my arms and realized I was wrestling with my purest love wrapped in skin. And it scared me. The ‘what if’ game started to play. What if he gets hurt? What if he hurts someone else? What if his casket comes before mine? On a day like today, fear sets in. How could it not?

Somewhere today there is a mom laying on a bathroom floor trying to get through first trimester nausea. Another is experiencing a restless night caused from an over-active goal kicker in the womb. Parents of unborn babies everywhere are counting down the days, making plans, rearranging life as they know it…all for love. And yet, there is also sometimes fear. I suppose because that’s what comes with loving someone else more than yourself.

Somewhere else there is a mom with a baby in heaven who is choosing between taking a risk or playing it safe. Can she trust her body to carry a life again? Can she trust God? Can she handle 38 weeks of pregnancy after what she knows? After what happened? Can she let herself love another unborn child? Her heart wants to love again…but there is fear.

Fear is a natural and appropriate response today. Fear means that we care deeply. But there is something beyond the fear, waiting for us. A place beyond the mind-games and what-if scenarios. 1st John 4:17 says “There is no fear in love”. LOVE Wait…not just any love. Don’t I prove that over and over? I fear and fret and worry over my kids riding their bike on the street, going to school with germs and jerks, and ok, really anything where they are not asleep with no covers or pillows, on theirs backs, in their beds. And…even then.

The love John speaks of here is Perfect Love. Perfect love is the very essence of God. He goes on to say, “Perfect Love casts out fear.” God welcomes us into the safe embrace of His perfect love and declares there is no room for fear here. Here, where His grace is enough. Here, where He can be trusted. Here, where His Love is bigger, deeper, and stronger than our own.

In a way, every casket is too small. Too small for the memories. Too small for the lifetime of experiences and joy it holds. Too small to give back the hopes and dreams piled high inside. Age doesn’t matter when we sit together knowing that life on earth is short.

My heart aches today. I ache for parents who held their babies for a moment instead of years and for widows and orphans and….. But, even with an achey heart and weak words, I am praying against fear. I am praying we all press in closer to God’s perfect love rather than our own flawed, injured, human version. I pray our love to those in sorrow and grief would be a barrier against fear. Let our friendship and presence and love be a layer against anything that would stand in the way of God’s safe embrace.

Written with loving thoughts for Oliver, Carter, Amelia, Zoe Dawn, my baby brother Davis, our own middle daughter or son and the others gone too soon. I hope you are all singing and playing in heaven today. We will see you soon.

Let it Snow…post from Manhattan

fireI’m sitting in the comforts of friendship. The fire is glowing. The conversation lulls only when knowing silence takes over. She is a delicious cook. I am an enthusiastic diner. And the snow is DUMPING.  Everything in this purple college town has been cancelled, closed, and covered in white.  The grocery store shelves are so bare that even the frozen bagels are gone.  Yes, it is a snow day on the Konza prairie.

I’m in Manhattan, Kansas and I always laugh at the irony of the name. Manhattan Kansas is far different from Manhattan, NY…but I love it here! This is my third visit to see a dear friend who moved from Muncie 5 years ago. Last February I came to do some CAbi work and met an adorable and sweet woman who has become a co-worker and friend. So, I’m visiting my “old” friend and my new friend and my heart is full.

Several people have asked why I’m on this trip? Why am I taking 4 days away from home, driving alone in a ridiculously long straight line west?  I have had to pause to think about my answer which is very unlike me since I usually have an over-analyzed reason for everything I do! I can’t say I’m here on official work business. I’m not here to celebrate any big event of life. I’m not here with any other strung out friends in need of a mommy-break.

I am here to be here. That’s it. I want to meet the husband and kids I haven’t met yet. I want to hear about the new adventures of a family I’ve known for many years. I want to sit on the couch and talk about everything and nothing. I want to BE here. I can hear about the supportive sweetness of a husband, kids graduating out of braces, kids graduating out of high school, new chandeliers, and Pinterest projects. But, for the cost of only 11 hours one way on Interstate 70, I can see and hug and hear the sights and sounds of family life in Manhattan. And, for old friends and new, that matters to me. In relationships, it is important to be.

There is something about a snow day that causes all of us to slow down. In a weird way, we look forward to a blizzard now and then for permission to just be. I wonder why we don’t feel that permission in the busy and chaotic days of routine? I’m not sure…but I can say that I’m reminded that being is a very important part of friendship and family. Lesson reflected on today is take time to be…with or without the blizzard.

Five Minute Friday: Beloved

Kids in BedFive Minute Friday
A favorite writer of mine, Lisa Jo Baker, has a great idea for Fridays. She gives a one word prompt and lets us just write the stream of thoughts that enter our heads and hearts. We can link back to her site and encourage eachother…or not. Pretty cool. Here is what Lisa says, “On Fridays around these parts we like to write. Not for comments or traffic or anyone else’s agenda. But for pure love of the written word. For joy at the sound of syllables, sentences and paragraphs all strung together by the voice of the speaker. We love to just write without worrying if it’s just right or not. For five minutes flat.”

If you are a blogger or just like to write…I invite you to join me in this challenge and write for 5 minutes today!! Here is mine….un-critiqued. :-/

Beloved

GO:

The laughing is actually louder than the band. Louder than drums and two electric guitars. Maybe my ears are tuned in to hear them no matter what noise and decibel level is filling my lobes, but I hear them, laughing.

The are playing together. Playing like they did 2 years ago…before she was into ipods and hoodies, before he refused to do girl-stuff anymore. Tonight’s game is wild, taking turns squealing across the bare church floor on a small board with 4 spinning wheels. This moment of silliness reminds me that though time is changing their stature and their favorite things, it really hasn’t changed them much at all. They love each other and if all the electronics and peers and toys and programs are taken away, they have each other.

They both fell asleep in my big bed last night. And the dog too. I tried to climb in, but there were so many arms and paws and I had to retreat to her room.

When I went to wake them this morning, they were still. No laughing. No silliness. No arguing either. Just two sweet beloved children I get to adventure with one more day.

STOP:

Happy Valentine’s Day

first kissI found a picture of my husband “stealing a kiss” during our wedding party (the reception after the reception). This is the 17th Valentine’s Day since we first met. Seventeen February 14ths for me and the boy with the silver Firebird. Clearly, I recall the afternoon he pulled into my apartment complex with his sports car for an impromptu ‘date’ in Broadripple. OK, I shouldn’t lie. I called it a date. He called it “stop by for dinner at Arby’s on the way to a concert at the Vogue.” But….whatever it was, I’m sure I did not come down from the high of a roast beef & curly fry supper for several days.

“Bummer Valentine’s Day” 1997 we did not go out. He was having a hard time realizing that we were in love and getting married. I knew…He did not.
“Ecstatic Valentine’s Day” 1998 we went to dinner and a Tap Dogs concert. He was starting to understand our future together!
“Apprehensive Valentine’s Day” 1999 we made an Italian dinner for our parents to let them know I was leaving for a year-long contract with Royal Caribbean. We had so many questions about how our relationship would fare! This, by the way, prompted our engagement!
“Optimistic Valentine’s Day” 2000 we were deep into wedding plans.

Every Valentine’s Day since falling in love with one, A. Casey Stanley, marks another year on a journey with the man I love, respect, and adore.

But not all days along the way have been “happy.”   Nope. Some days have been hard, sad, disappointing, and less like the perfect smiling couples that model for Hallmark cards. Others days have been fulfilling, blessed, crazy, and hectic. So, “Happy Valentine’s Day” just doesn’t seem to sum up a day devoted to my soul-mate, counterpart, co-parent, love, and best friend.

Today, I’m wishing you a “Grateful Valentine’s Day” because its important to stop and give thanks for the ups, downs, spins, and curves of our relationships. To be grateful for what has survived through all kinds of days. With God’s grace, we can celebrate messy, difficult, beautiful, possible LOVE.

This is real love — not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son… 1 John 4.10

The Ashes: Reconsidering Lent

Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday…beautiful dust.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Its the day after Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, and drink all the beer in the fridge after work day. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season we know as Lent. Lent means “spring”, with its root in the German, Lenz, or Dutch, Lente.

It is interesting to me, when I hear from non-catholic friends “Lent is for Catholics”. What?! That is like saying “Advent is for Methodists” or “Weddings are for Presbyterians.” Can you imagine not decorating for Christmas, hearing Christmas carols, shopping for gifts, getting together with friends, and anticipating the birth of Jesus until December 25th? What would happen if there were no thought or preparations for a wedding until the day set on the calendar? Of course, there are some who prefer to do Christmas and weddings in this way, but for me, the anticipation is what makes the event so special!

There is no Biblical command regarding how we observe the 40 days prior to Easter. And, while the Catholic church does a great job emphasizing the importance of Lent and regulating some all church practices, it is not just for Catholics. Just like ignoring the days leading up to Dec 25t would diminish my Christmas joy, to ignore Lent would lessen the impact of Easter on my heart.

So what do we do? And more importantly, why do we do it?!

A good place to start is reading a very short passage in scripture, Matthew 4:1-11 (also in Mark 1, & Luke 4). Here we read of Jesus, shortly after his baptism being led by Holy Spirit into the desert. During those 40 days, He ate nothing. At the end of the fasting, the Bible says Jesus was ‘hungry’…ummm…hello understatement?! I’m guessing its there in case someone tries to speculate that a 40 day fast was easy since Jesus is the son of God. I think it should have said, ‘Jesus was fully human, fueled by calories, tempted by carbs, underweight, dehydrated, and hungry!’ At the end of the fast, Satan comes to tempt him with food, validation, and power. But, Jesus stands firm, clings to God and scripture, and Satan leaves. This is how Jesus began his formal ministry. Before He started calling fisherman and tax collectors to be disciples, He fasted for 40 days.

Fasting

I was having fun reading Facebook posts about what people are ‘giving up’ for Lent. Common fasts are alcohol, chocolate, baked goods, fast food, swearing, TV, and Facebook. These are great! But I wonder (because this has definitely been true in my life) if the choosing of what to ‘give up’ was done with the desert, and Jesus, and Springtime in mind? Giving up sweets and alcohol is a healthy choice, but is it a diet or a path to true fulfillment? Spending less time with TV or FB is efficient and smart. We will waste less time, be less tempted toward jealousy, and get more done. But is it a discipline or an opportunity for discipleship?

Diets and disciplines are good and yield good results. Weight loss, beating sugar or caffeine addition, more productive work time, and more focused attention on people rather than screens are things many of us want! Lent is a time to go even deeper.

The Ashes

On Ash Wednesday, those who routinely observe the start of Lent will go to corporate worship and receive a cross of ashes on their head. For centuries, the dust of the ashes has represented our need to die to self. Where I live, in Indiana, its easy to look around and remember that all things die. The trees are bare, the grass is crispy, anything that once had a bloom is slumped over or hiding in the frosty ground. This is Lent. A time to die to ourselves so that way down deep, in the spaces only God sees, life can be brought forth again. New life requires death. Spring require winter. Resurrection requires crucifixion.

Reconsidering Lent

If you read this on February 13, a week later, or right before Easter Sunday, I’m inviting you to join me in reconsidering Lent. It’s not about 40+ days, so don’t let that stop you. Lent is about spring, about finding life after death. It is about knowing that in the deep, dark, dying places, God is preparing new beginnings and life.

3 Questions

1. How does what I’ve chosen to fast from during Lent cause me to die to myself and make room for Christ?

1b.  What should I chose to fast from during Lent to cause me to die to myself and make room for Christ?

2. In the most vulnerable time of His fast, Jesus faced tremendously difficult temptation. If, at the end of Lent, my toughest temptation or circumstance is put before me, will my inclination to cling to God and scripture be stronger than it is today?

3. Jesus began his formal ministry after 40 day of fasting, prayer, and temptation.  Does God have a ‘new beginnings’ or another step forward in His plan for my life?  (He does!) How can I best listen to His voice during my fast?

Thank you for sharing your Lenten experience with me.  My prayer for us all is that we go deeper and hear His voice.

Ash Wednesday…beautiful dust.

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