Lent- The Season to Give

Lenten Journey

Lenten Journey

“That’s not the price, ” I say emphatically, shaking my head.

I’m in the line at Walmart, trying to buy a binder for our son to organize his geography notes. It’s my second time in 10 minutes going through the check out, binder in hand. Again,  I’m in an argument with cashier. I intend to spend $8.00 for the binder, no more. That’s what the yellow clearance tag  told me it costs. Now here she was saying, $12.99. The previous one scanned at $14.00.

This time I am prepared for the price discrepancy. I’ve brought two binders from the same section. Two different green binders.

” Check the price on the other one, ” I insist.

There is a rustle from the two people behind me. They are restless Saturday afternoon shoppers. It’s snowing outside.

“Lady, are you buying the binder for your child?”

“Yes, I…”

“I’ll pay for it,” he says, abruptly, but not unkindly. He’s not the one next to me in line. He’s one customer over. I cannot see his eyes.

“No,  It’s fine. I just want to know the real price. I’m okay.” I say this frantically searching through my wallet, sorting twoonies and dimes, glancing up quickly at the price display to verify amount.

“No, no no. Here,” he says to the cashier, reaching for the second discarded green binder.  “Just check it out with my stuff.”

A West African accent, about 44 years old, 5’7”, medium built, authoritative voice I’m registering all this in a nano-second trying to decipher the stranger’s identity and intent.

Finally it dawned on me. He was serious. The cashier is relieved. She’s finished with me.

“Thank you, but can I ask why you want to buy me a binder?”

I say this across the top of the head of customer beside me as she hasitly grabs her plastic bag from the cahier.

“Don’t ask,” he says. It’s okay.”

He’s waving his hands,waving away my questions and potential rejection of the offer, his brow furrowed in a look of fatherly concern.

“God bless you.” I say. the benediction flowing instinctively from my lips,  but my one hand raised in the universal, voiceless position asking , “Why?” The other hand clutches the grey and yellow Walmart  bag with the two green binders. Two for the price of one.

Lent,  ‘Tis also the season to give, I thought as I walked away.  The stranger’s gestures would have made sense two months earlier, just before Christmas. But now?

Today, in an online Lenten devotional, I read: “Lent also is a journey–a journey with Jesus from his temptation by Satan to his death on the cross. This journey lives from God’s promises and is clothed in God’s grace.” —Marc Kolden Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary  Master of Divinity , 1966

If the Lenten journey is one of grace, culminating in the most grace-giving act on the cross, then Lent is truly the “the season to give.”

It’s the season then, not only to give up something, but to give away some things such as  my pride in not wanting to accept a stranger’s gift, such as my selfishness in insisting I’m right; you must be wrong.

It’s the season to give all of oneself to Someone who in one garguntuous  act of grace gave everything.

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Road to Rio

Road to Rio Resolution and Revolution

January 31, 2013

Road to Rio, my journal-blog  for goal-achieving changes in my life was born in our living room floor during the 2012 Summer Olympics when I watched Simon Whitfield tumble off his bike  and heard the CBC announcer pronounce the death of Simon’s triathlon dream.

“Imagine that! I recall myself saying, tears welling up in me. Imagine four years of gruelling training. It’s not like he’s going to make it to Rio for the next Olympics. This was his last.” Haunted by the image of the fall, I sat quietly, letting more images wash over me, images of athletes with the fire of focus burning in their eyes, athletes executing their training regime, acting with purpose, with a plan.

“Suppose,”  I’d  said, “just suppose each of us had a four-year Olympic goal so that by the next Olympics in Rio, we we’d able to say, here is what I trained for.”

“Interesting,” my daughter intoned in a voice that implied, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

Pray. Write. Walk. Each action for at least 15 minutes daily. That has become my Road to Rio mantra, my Olympic dream in bite sized day-by-day training.

On Day 31 of the New Year, I want to review my Road to Rio progress and chart the path for the next training level.

Note, this is not a New Year’s resolution. I’ve long given up on making resolutions . They don’t work for me.  I’ve since learned why.  Even a goal is not enough. What’s needed is a plan—the mission for the vision.

In his  Storyline blog dated December 27, 2012, Donald Miller wrote a useful piece on why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. In it he says there needs to be a personal motivation for the resolution, a storyline, if you will:

“Without a narrative context, we have little motivation to become different people than we are. When God created the Garden of Eden, He didn’t put a gym in the middle of it. Instead, He gave Adam an ambition that made him come alive. He told Adam to name the animals. Then he motivated Adam with a love story, then a family. He launched man into a story and man has been designed to live within a story ever since.”

I guess I’m living and writing my Road to Rio story.

Miller also explains why a resolution without a plan will not become a revolution. He contends: “We think a goal is going to pull us through, but it won’t. We need to make a plan…. Without a plan, resolutions most certainly fail.”

http://www.storylineblog.com/email/storyline-new-years-resolutions.html

Mr. Miller is right. Like a marked trail through a dense forest, so is a plan, or one will likely get lost.

In revisiting my Road to Rio life map, I’m encouraged to see the beginnings of a journey. I now pray, write and walk for at least 4 days a week. I now know that when I feel out of sorts I need to go to my tri-part list and do one or more of the training components.

How is your planned journey so far this year? It’s Day 31.

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Advent Event: Faith

“His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:5 (The Living Bible)

Advent Event: Faith — Candlelight, Candle Life

Jolted awake in the pre-dawn darkness, Joseph lit the candle quickly, his hands shaking. The urgency of the crisis in the dream still sent adrenalin shooting through his body. Just like the first dream, the command was clear. “Take Mary and the Child. Go now, to Egypt. ” Fastening the tongs of his sandals, and straightening up, he reached for the hidden sacks. Beware Herod. He’s searching for the child. That warning, more than anything else, made him shiver. Herod had killed his own child, his own sons.
First, tell Mary, he thinks, but he can barely think of what to say.
“Egypt?” she answered, cradling the Child’s head against her shawl, the Child that was not his Child. “Joseph, are you sure? We know nobody there.”
Sure? Of course he wasn’t sure. But the same voice had spoken, with the same reassurance that all would be well, that he had only to act, to carry out Yaweh’s divine order, for just like Mary had been chosen as Messiah’s mother, he too was chosen to carry Messiah’s light, his life a candle, candlelight in cosmic darkness. And he had chosen to put his faith in the God of the dreams. Of course he wasn’t sure. But Someone was sure of what was happening. He had seen evidence of that. Hadn’t they been given gold for such a journey?
They packed and left that morning, the baby bundled between them on the old grey donkey. On the edge of Bethlehem, at the crest of the hill, Joseph spotted the unmistakable red plumes of Herod’s soldiers approaching. The Child is asleep in her shawl he thinks, breathing heavily. Closer and closer the riders came. A thunderstorm. An entire battalion by the looks of it.
“Door to door. Two and under. Herod’s orders,” the front rider shouted.
Joseph coughed as the dust from the galloping stallions swirled around them.
And still more came. Slowly the donkey made its way west until the echoes of the death riders were faint in the distance.
“Oh Joseph, it’s true. The dream. What he told you.”
“Did you take the candles, Mary?”
“Yes. And the myrrh.”

* * * * * * * * * * *
On Sunday, we lit the third Advent candle, the Faith candle. The event that is Advent is on its way. And like the young couple, we too are on a journey this Advent, a journey that requires faith, a journey that requires light, literally and symbolically.
Lighting the Advent wreath likely had its origins in pagan winter solstice rituals, as many Christmas traditions have, but it is, nonetheless, a significant symbolic reminder. As we light it, we remind ourselves that Jesus is the Light, the Light in us, the Light shining through us. Will the darkness overpower the light? It takes faith to believe that it will not. And what will we do if the journey requires going to Egypt? It’s a long, lonely journey. It will take the light of His presence to make it. Make no mistake; the Advent event is a faith journey.

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Advent Event: HOPE

Advent Event : HOPE

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent and in some churches and homes the hope candle was lit; however, my Advent wreath is still buried in a box downstairs somewhere. Perhaps that is what happens to hope. Sometimes it gets buried orJamaica 50th 1067 lost in the crushing clutter of our lives.

This Advent, I’ve decided to de-clutter Christmas, to take time not just to untangle the lights for the tree, and bargain hunt for presents, but to strip away all the non-essentials and leave room in my heart’s inn to ponder the magnitude of the Incarnation—God coming to visit earthlings, God galvanizing His angelic hosts for His pre-emptive, redemptive strike. First, a birth before a death that delivers freedom.

Using the thematic lighting of the Advent candles as a guide, I want to journey through Advent, and attend the events God has orchestrated through Christmas.

Attending to hope has me wondering what the word, hope is all about.  Beyond the dictionary definition, what does it really mean to hope?  What do you hope for? Last night at the dinner table when I asked that question, our 13 year old son said, “I hope to be a millionaire.”  There was a long silence after that.

And there was silence in the 400 years between the Old and New Testament, when the Battered, conquered nation of Israel waited in hope for Messiah. God, through Isaiah, describes their hope and its fulfillment in this way: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” The image of being in darkness and then shown light is for me, a helpful one to describe hope.  And I wonder, do the lights at Christmas in the dark of winter point to hope? Is that why the streets in my neighbourhood have been aglow since Halloween? We have, it seems, a love affair with lights.

Is hope then the tenacious belief that the thing we most desperately need or want will come to be despite the dark threat of it not becoming? Is it the warm internal glow that keeps us waking up and getting out of bed , if you have a bed, and putting one foot in front of the other, if you have a foot because there is a thing, a someone, a reason to  keep doing so, a purpose, a meaning that defies the presence of despair?

Despair. Now there’s another way to understand hope. The absence of it. To the jobless father, the homeless teen , the helpless victim of violence, the hapless partner reeling from divorce, or the penniless single parent, I want to ask, do you still hope? And to you I ask this first week of Advent, what gives you hope?  What would cause you to lose all hope? It seems that in the darkness of the human heart God has lit a candle and continues to attend to the flickering flame that is Hope.

 

 

 

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Summer School

Summer School

“School’s out for summer” as the rock song goes, and for a teacher, married to a teacher, that’s just music to my ears.

Well, sort of. Because already, on Day 4 of Week 1, I’m feeling, not so much the joy of holydays, yes that’s what they were before the “y”  got replaced by the “i”; I’m feeling the tension of living on shortened,

School’s Out; Yard’s Empty

borrowed time, aka, summer time that is not timeless.

The brevity of summer, and the admonition to suck all the sweetness one can out of a season that will inevitably be replaced by cooler autumn and then colder winter is the literal and symbolic subject of many poems and prose pieces.  So that’s not my intent here.

My intent is to try to figure out how not to “do summer school,” not the way I’ve done it before,  not to schedule each day as if I had a curriculum to complete and an exam to take at the end. Instead, I want to learn to laugh and live and love in a whole new way this summer without looking over my shoulder for old man winter watching me, ready to remind me, “I’m coming.”

You may laugh at my summer paranoia, but I assure you, it’s no laughing matter.  “Summeritis” strikes me every summer. Just this morning, I panicked thinking how short summer is, so I lengthened my do list for today. As if… As if I could compete with the inexorable turning of the tides, and  the spinning of the earth on its axis.

After the anxiety attack passed, I asked myself, “What would summer school be like if the class was being taught to learn how to live, love and laugh, to live authentically, meaningfully in the moment and yet for eternity?”

Because living in the moment is not Drake’s version of YOLO (You Only Live Once). That’s hedonism at best and anarchy at worst. It is not sitting in a beatific yoga pose blissfully unaware of others around you. That’s self-centredness.

So what is it? I’m not sure yet, but I think if I were teaching such a class, I’d give a summer assignment  to do at least two favourite, inexpensive things a day. Period. No excuse. No neglecting simple pleasures.  That means making lists of favourite things rather than “Do Lists.”

I’d assign more reading—just for the love of it.  And I’d ask the class to share what they’re reading and hearing from books and hear what others are reading. That’s meaningful learning.

And yes, I’d recommend having more mango smoothies, mango salsa, mango cheesecake, mango anything. ‘Cause mangoes just make summer sweeter.

Mango Summer

And I’d assign more loving.  Safe, healthy loving. I’d recommend calling up or texting someone just to say, “I love you.”  I’d suggest being loving more often with the people you share the closest summer space with since they are the hardest to convince that you are actually loving.

And I’d find a summer anthem. Not “Summer Time” mind you ‘cause that just makes me too darn sad thinking of its context and all that jazz, but I’d find a summer song to sing and sing along to again and again. And maybe even dance to it.

Yes, before you know it, summer school will be out also. But that’s okay. So cheers. Here’s to summer, school and all. May you learn, love and laugh, lots.

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Love Hunger

“When do you want to book your next session? ” I ask her.

“Two weeks from now will be,  let’s see– February 14th, Valentine’s Day,” she says tentatively, looking at her Blackberry. “For me nothing is happening, but maybe you have something, so I don’t know if it works for you…” Her voice trails off, the wistful way it does when she talks about the angst in her marriage.

‘No it’s fine, for me,” I hasten to assure her. “We’re having dinner with another couple  on the Saturday, so the Tuesday works for me.”

Okay,  marriage has worked for me.  After 25 plus years we’re still married; we still enjoy each  other’s company– most of the time, and we still demonstrate, ” I love you,” –most of the time.   Sowhy am I writing about love hunger on the eve of Valentine’s highly over-rated day? And why am I writing another blog on the same issue? ( See “He loves me, he loves me not).

I’m writing about  love hunger  again because it still is one of the leading causes of soul death among women of all ages,  and possibly men too. I haven’t taken the survey with the male species, but I have plenty of evidence for the “fairer sex.”

I’m writing about love hunger again  because it’s such a menace to marriage,  to any relationship for that mater. 

“I don’t know if he ever loved me. I think he wanted me to be just like his mother,” she says.

She’s 70 plus and she’s decided to leave him. Love hunger starved her soul over the years, especially after marriage and has pushed her over the precipice into the void  of depression where she made the decision.

Two weeks ago I heard a tragic story through a mutual friend. Her 13 year-old daughter is in Sick Kids’ hospital fighting an eating disorder that saw her heart rate plummet to dangerously low levels.  Among other things, anorexia has diagnostic links to love hunger. Its deceptively sweet message says, “I will love my body, love myself when it’s perfect, and others will love me too.  Or they’ll love me even more.”

I see love hunger  in the faces of the teen girls I work with daily and the women who come to group therapy in the evening.  In the classroom, the girls talk about who has  “dumped” who, and how ‘hot’ one has to be to catch his eye and keep his love.   In the circle, the women talk about the death of dreams and the hunger for wholeness.

“I don’t know what it’s like to want something just for me. And he’s never asked me what I want. I’ve just tried to make him happy, to make everybody happy. I know I’m not happy.”

So now she’s thinking of leaving too. Three kids later, and lots of hungry, angry nights between them.

 Another day, another woman asks, “Why couldn’t I be enough for him? I still wanted to work it out. Why couldn’t he give her up for me?”

He’s left. And there’s a new baby on the way with the new woman.  Love hunger leaves a trail of crumbs.

But if I’m really honest, and I’m trying to be,  I’m talking about love hunger because I’m recognizing hunger pangs in me too. Yes, in me. Me with the “most-of-the-time-happy marriage.” I’d be a fool not to recognize hunger pangs: the need for affirmation; the need for understanding what I couldn’t or didn’t  even express; the need for more of …something.   Something more than the day-to-day diet of doing,  and being, something more than  any human can or has ever offered me.  Not that I know  exactly what that craving is.

And there’s the rub.                      

Love Feast

Love hunger,  mine and yours  must be acknowledged to self and to others. Starvation will ravage the soul and sap strength from any relationship if one does not, will not say, “I’m hungry.”

 But ultimately, the hunger must be satisfied by Love Himself . This statement  is not meant to minimize the nurturing power of a loving relationship. It is meant to put love’s limits in perspective, so  that disappointments and yearnings do not lead us to wonder whether leaving is an answer or the answer.  Many a woman  has been made to believe that a man can do what only God’s healing love can do.

Lately when I feel soul hunger I’ve been  reminding myself to feed on love passages– God’s love revealed in the love letters compiled in the Bible. The Psalms provide excellent fare:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Psalm 90:14

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love O Lord, endures forever — do not abandon the works of your hands.” Psalm 138:8

 That God loves us does not negate our need for human love. And I don’t want to over simplify the issue of love hunger; it is real and it is deep. I’m well aware that this is no treatise on love, no twelve step program for recovery from addiction, no solution for the pain that does not go away.   And no, I  haven’t even scratched the soil from the surface of the  tangled roots of twisted love in our family trees. That is another blog story.

For today though,  it is enough to say, “I’m hungry.” That’s all.

Are you hungry?

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Beauty Basking

As I write, from my backyard deck , I think of the line, “Beauty saved me,”  a quote I once heard on a CBC documentary a few summers ago.  In it the narrator spoke of her long struggle with depression and then one day hearing an exquisite piece of classical music floating out the doors of a chapel as she walked across a university  campus head bowed, heart heavy. The music’s aching beauty touched  jangled chords in her soul  tuning them, healing the brokeness  in her and enabling her to become alert to  other beauty around her. The moment, the music, was transformational. In essence, beauty saved her from certain suicide.

I do not remember the name of the documentary, but I do remember thinking then, and now, “That’s true, beauty has saved me.”

Deck Duty and Beauty

As a child growing up in  rural Jamaica in poverty, beauty was bountiful in the landscape that embraced me. But I also discovered the beauty of “well wrought words” in books, in songs, in sermons, and that beauty fed body and soul, nurturing my imagination and fuelling my drive for academic excellence.

Later,  as a teenager, the beauty and tenacity of my parent’s love saved me from  the  madness of adolescence angst and the folly of certain relationship choices as a young adult. Still later, as a  not-so-young  mother, beauty saved me when our first two babies died. Beauty came in the form of people caring for me, and beauty came too in the form of  a  great job teaching ESL to some of the most beautiful students from around the world, bringing their beautiful hopes and dreams to Canada.

Beauty continues to save me. How so? Every morning when I wake up I’m alert to the truth and wonder of the psalmist’s words,”Let the morning bring me word of  your unfailing love.”

Daily I’m awed by the beauty of God’s love displayed in redemption– rescuing sin slaves such as me; in creation– designing and colour coding the universe; in relationship– giving us people to love and people who love us.

The beauty of God’s love displayed in creation is what sends me  to  check out my deck again and again.  Though it’s not Everest, the early morning view from there is stunning! Light filters through millions of leaf openings, green gold glistens on  grassy park  mounds, and  arching over the towering oaks, hues of blue beckon you to behold beauty– a Cistern Chapel  sky ceiling outdoors.

Burger Beauty

Sometimes though when the ugliness of life seeps into my soul, I  head for the mall and go beauty buying, aka, “retail therapy.” I go from store to store in search  of some beautiful thing  I may or may not need, often just settling for fresh flowers.  What I really need of course is Beauty beyond me, His Beauty within me, saving me from toxins ingested in the course of the day, or week: a quarrel with someone, an exhausting commute, a disappointment, an arduous task; a news item so atrocious, so sad it defies human comprehension.   But soon I remind myself, “That’s pseudo beauty; it cannot save you.”

Today, I want to be reminded of true beauty. I want to be beauty basking, revelling in God’s love shown in His creation, and in His creatures.How about you? What beautiful thing are you seeing or doing today?

Beauty Beyond

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