Lent, Money, and Games

Lent image

Lent is just around the corner. Ash Wednesday is in two days! I know myself well enough to know that when I write something down, it helps me to remember, and in this case, stick to it. So, even though it’s in my journal, I’m sharing my Lenten commitments/practices here.

This is the first time in forever that I’m not including something to do with food or drink. I’ve already started trying to eat in a healthier way, so to slide it into Lent just didn’t seem fair. (Although I was tempted!)

One of my commitments this year is to not buy anything new that I don’t need. Now, that should be a given for all of my life, but let’s just say it isn’t. Especially since my husband David died. I think that my brain is sabotaging me. It says, very subtly, “Here, you like that. Buy it. You’ll feel better and won’t miss David so much.” We’ll, let me tell you, my brain is lying to me! So for me, at this time, this practice/commitment is what will help me focus on what I really do need: to stay close to God, not to buy more stuff. To take this a step further, if there’s something I see that I know I’d buy under “normal” circumstances, I’m going to donate that money to a cause.

My second commitment is not to play any computer (or tablet) games. Instead, I will read more. I’m finally getting to the place in my life where I enjoy reading and can actually concentrate on a book. That hasn’t happened since David died. I seem to have substituted playing games, a no-brainer activity, for reading, an activity that involves the brain. I think I’m ready to involve my brain more! So, I will read–a book, an article, the scriptures–instead of playing games. This doesn’t mean I will only play 30 minutes a day, because that would quickly move into an hour or more. It means NO computer games. Which also means, not so much TV watching. The two sort of go together for me. (Does anyone else feel like you’re not wasting time if you’re doing two things at once, even if it’s TV watching and computer games?)

Those are my two commitments/practices for Lent. With God’s help, my mindfulness during Lent in these areas will transform my everyday life after Lent. And God will have more of me being who God wants me to be.

And, if you see me, be sure to ask me how things are going with my Lenten commitments/practices.



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“Joy to the World”

IMG_2095The pastor of the church where I work stepped into my office last week (3rd week of Advent) and asked, “What do you think if we sing ‘Joy to the World’ this week?” He knows that I think Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of the Christ child; it’s not a time of celebrating Christmas; it’s Advent. But, also, he was preaching on the Philippians 4 Lectionary text, “rejoice in the Lord always”; and it was, after all, the Sunday of the “pink” candle of joy. But still, I was surprised that my answer of “yes” came so quickly.

In part I gave that answer because I had just read a blog posted by my daughter [“Confessions of a Part-time Pastor: Thanksgiving Edition”; see #4]. She actually thanked people for turning on their Christmas lights early this year, because of all the horror that are going on around us. I resonated with the blog, even though I’m usually complain about Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.

And, then, as I reflect on my life right now, it’s no wonder I said “yes” to “Joy to the World”so quickly.

I have experienced the last four Christmas seasons in totally different spaces. All of us are different every year, so each Christmas we are in different places. I get that. But I have physically and emotionally been in different places each of the last four years.

  • 2012—celebrating with my husband, living in Winfield, KS
  • 2013—celebrating without my husband, living in a temporary house in Lawrence, KS
  • 2014—celebrating without my husband, living in a permanent house in Lawrence, KS, with my daughter and her family
  • 2015—celebrating without my husband, living in a permanent apartment in Lawrence, KS, on my own (for the first time as an adult, since I was married at 18!)

So, yes, despite all I believe about the importance of Advent and waiting and preparing, I am ready to sing “Joy to the World.” And yesterday, I do so, with much gusto.

Don’t judge me too harshly.


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Here I Go Again . . . Christmas Decorating

IMG_20151205_164440630_HDRLast Saturday, I decorated for Christmas. If you read last week’s blog, you know that this simple statement means so much more than the few words it contains.

It’s the first time that I’ve decorated my own place. It was difficult, but I learned some life lessons from this seemingly fun, usually joyful activity.

  1. It’s important to keep things in perspective. Know the context. A poem I read more than 30 years ago sticks with me. It listed lots of “yucky” things, like vomit. Then in the second stanza, it turned those words around. It said something like, “to a mother whose child has just swallowed [a button], vomit is beautiful.” Know the context for yourself and for those around you.
  2. It’s important to know what you want to do. Often this is harder than we might thIMG_20151205_164518630ink! Balancing our needs and wants; balancing other’s needs and wants with ours; none of that is ever easy. And if we are living through a major transition–a move, living with the death of a loved one, a new birth–then we are navigating a new path, and what we believe to be important may be different than anything we’ve ever thought. And that’s ok. have the strength to be honest with yourself.
  3. It’s important to know why you want to do it! Do you just want people to look at you and say, “Isn’t she a good person?” Or do you want to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”? (Micah 6:8) Do you want people to say, “Isn’t he a good dad?” Or do you want to do the hard work of parenting, even when those around you have no idea why are do what you do, so your children have a chance to grow up healthy? Again, be honest with yourself.

It’s easy for me to get carried away, so I’m going to stop here for now. There will be a few other “life lessons” that I will share next week.

And believe me, this is definitely one time that I feel like, “Here I go again.” Only, somehow, everything is different.

I want to remember those men, women and children whose lives were forever changed by the bombings in Hawaii. May they know God’s peace and love in their lives. And may you, too, experience God’s peace and love.

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Ready or Not, It’s that Time of Year

This grieving stuff is unrelenting! And just plain hard. You go along feeling actually great for quite awhile, then, BAM, you are crying uncontrollably and you can’t point to a single thing that brought you to that place. And you can’t leave that place until you give in; it is uncontrollable, after all.

And that’s just the beginning.

Now is the time of decorating the house for Christmas. It’s different than seeing and enjoying the festive decorations that adorn the homes of friends and family, or that are on display downtown or in another public place.

I’m experiencing my third holiday season without my spouse, David. But it is the first one that I’ve had my own space to decorate. (I lived with my daughter and her family for the previous two years.) And so this process complicates the grieving. (I’m moving to the plural here, because many of you face this, too.)

How do we decide? And do we talk with our children? Because we know they are hurting, too, and we want to take the pain away, not add to it. (Or, do we write a blog entry and tell them they need to read it?)

I’ve been told, and I’ve told others, not to force yourself in situations. When you’re ready, you do it. If you’re not ready, you don’t. But what if you don’t know if you’re ready or not? I mean, I love decorating for Christmas. It brings me joy to put out Grandma’s decorations: the singing candle carolers (that never get lit), the hand-crocheted holly, the set of seven lovely, pastel angels, and the glass ornaments on the tree. (Oh, and should it be a real tree or not?).

It brings me joy to set out the decorations from my mother (who died in 1978) and hang the Christmas stocking that she made for me when I was a kid and the one she mIMG_0011-001ade for my husband after we were married. And I love setting up the nativity that I remember from childhood.

It is fun to set out the picture of me on Santa’s knee when I was maybe four, and the one of our dog Branston being held on Santa’s lap.

How can I not put those things out?

Then, again, how much do I want to? I mean, it is difficult.

But they bring so much joy. But they make me cry. But . . .

Ok. You get the idea. How do you make decisions when you’re grieving? Well, I don’t know about you; your healing and living with grief will probably look extremely different than mine. But I think that this year I will start putting up the decorations. If it’s too much, I’ll stop. That makes sense to me now. Who knows about tomorrow!

Either way, I will thoroughly enjoy this season with my family, a season of hope, joy, peace and love — the things that aren’t things, and that those of us who grieve (which would be 99% of you reading this!) need an abundance of on a daily basis.

May you experience God’s hope, joy, peace and love this season in ways that make you laugh, that make you cry, and that remind you of how much you are loved.

P.S. Thanks for listening as I struggle with this. And Merry Christmas!

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On Standing and Flying

IMG_20151030_193336337I have a plaque in my room that says, “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known and are about to step into the darkness, faith is knowing one of two things. There will be something to stand on or you will be taught to fly.”*

I had tears in my eyes as I read it at an artisan’s booth in one of the merchandise buildings at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS, in September 2013. I know the date because the bluegrass Festival is held every 3rd weekend in September, and my husband, David, had just died the previous March. I was intentionally looking for something that would “speak to me” at that time in my life. I looked at pottery, I look at scarves, I looked at CDs, I looked at wood carvings. I had looked at many beautiful and inspiring items before seeing this plaque. As soon as I read it, I knew it was what I was looking for. It has inspired me, and it has reminded me that even in the darkest times, I have something to stand on; my faith in a God who loves me and who loves all of creation; my faith in a God whose Spirit is at work for Shalom in this world.

For two years and seven months, I stood—often in the darkness—on my faith. And standing was enough. It was all I had energy for. I constantly thanked God for being with me, for bringing joy and sunshine and butterflies into the very center of my experience. God’s comforting presence in so many ways has been (and I’m sure will continue to be) more than I could ever hope for. As Rich Mullins, and many others, has said, “Our God is an Awesome God!”

At about two years and six months after David’s death, I read that quote and prayed, “God, I want to fly.” I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I had prayed it, and I knew I meant it.

It just so happens (I love how God thinks ahead!) that I had registered for a conference at the American Baptist Assembly at Green Lake, WI. The conference was titled, “Rhythms of the Spirit.” Obviously, its emphasis was an extended opportunity for spiritual experience and growth. Here are a few details about that week (Monday night through Thursday night, actually): every day we shared in Morning, Noon, and Evening prayers, extremely similar to Taize services, usually with eight minutes of silence; three times of Lectio Divina; teachings on Discernment, Circles of Trust, and Pilgrimage; and experiences after each of the three teaching times.

These days were filled with input, yes, but more importantly, they were filled with space for God to work. They were days when I was available to God in ways that are extremely difficult in the “work, eat, and sleep” world I usually live in.

At the end of those days, on the very last night, I walked a Labyrinth for the second time. (The first time was amazing, too, but another whole story!) In the middle of the Labyrinth, what is sometimes referred to as the “heart of God,” I simply stood still and prayed.

It happened gradually, but it was like all at once I realized that my arms were crossing in front of me, moving from side to side. I was flying.

I can’t explain any more than that. Something happened to me in those few days. I will never forget that experience, and I will not forget the leaders who allowed time for space for me to meet God anew.

There’s one more word on the plaque. It’s down the left side. It says “Gratitude.”

Yes. Gratitude!


* I found similar quotes attributed to at least three people. There is no name on the plaque.

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Space for God

windmillsWhen will I learn that if I just give God some space to work, I am changed?

I just experienced one of the most amazing weeks of my life. And these wind turbines started it all.

I was driving from Lawrence, KS, to the American Baptist Assembly, Green Lake, WI, when I noticed these tall, magnificent machines. It was like they plopped down in the field all at once. Which, of course, they didn’t, but that’s the way it seemed. Then, I looked on the other side of the road and saw another field. I was surrounded by power. Wind power. Spirit power.

These three-armed machines were being moved by something that I couldn’t even see. At the time, I couldn’t even feel the wind against my car. But I knew it was there. The proof was in the movement of the arms. It seemed almost magical. What it was, was holy.

I thought, “That’s my life. Our life. As God’s people. The Spirit moves us. We – I – just have to be willing.”

One turbine can power about 500 homes, according to one source I read. But when you have a whole field of them, the power creates light and activity for a whole community. Again, like our walk with God. Alone, we can share some of God’s power, but when we are community, look out world! That’s God’s plan, anyway.

But it doesn’t always happen that way. When we look at a field of wind turbines, we notice that some of them aren’t turning. In every field I saw, I found that to be the case. The “natural” state is for the arms to turn with the power of the wind and create electricity, but sometimes the “brakes” are engaged, and it stops turning in the wind.

The wind of God’s Spirit can be stopped by—or at least slowed down by—the “brakes” we engage. Maybe we engage them because we are scared of the power; maybe we engage them because we want to be in control; maybe we engage them because we’re tired, or lazy, or . . . . Well, you get the idea. We can’t control God, but we can put the brakes on allowing God to breathe into our lives.

The image of wind turbines as the way I relate to God have become important to me in my daily walk with God. I have more to learn from this image, I know.


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“It is well . . . isn’t it?”

Fall tree2003I listen to the scratching of the fall leaves on the sidewalk outside my window; as I see the beautiful fall colors and bright sunshine; and as I feel the cool breeze on my face, it seems that all’s well with the world.

But, of course, that feeling doesn’t last long. There’s a lot that isn’t right. And what saddens me this morning is how much of what isn’t right we can control. This was highlighted by a monologue I heard this morning on, of all places, “Bones,” a crime drama. The monologue was delivered by a Muslim young man to a white, southern young man, when the latter made a comment that was meant to show concern but really showed deep-seated assumptions and generalizations. (It’s something I think we all can relate to, if we’re honest.) The comment was about the Muslim young man having the same religion as the men who flew into the trade center on 9/11. Here is his response:
“What about the vengeance and the blood shed in the Old Testament? The Crusades, the Inquisition? Are these events guided by a religion of peace? No, they were guided by self-important men who think they know more than the God they claim to know. This [9/11] wasn’t the work of religion: it was arrogance; it was hypocrisy; it was hate. They hijacked my religion that day. They hijacked my God.”
These sobering words highlighted for me this morning why I need to learn more about people who are different from me. They reminded me that the choice to label people or not is up to me. And, they reminded me that I need to speak up when those who call themselves “Christian” hijack the God I believe in by portraying a judgmental God of hate and war.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, they were from two cultures that had made many negative assumptions and generalizations about each other. Yet, they learned from each other, they shared living water, and God’s love prevailed.
This week, I will try to pay attention to my assumptions and generalizations. I will try to first and foremost see God and God’s work in everyone.CMills BigSandyCreek S off Bridge - Copy
And then, perhaps, I’ll see that more is “well with this world” than I thought.

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