Lent 2020

I’ve been reading, studying, digesting, listening to and learning from the Bible over my entire life. I’ve been glad and mad, confused and convicted, by its words. I’ve had conversations and arguments with God and others about what it says and doesn’t say. I’ve read scores of books about the Bible. I’ve attended Bible studies, taken classes on the Bible—I have a seminary graduate degree—and written about the Bible.

One of my goals for 2020 is to interact with a different translation of the Bible. I need to shake things up. I’m still studying and reading and writing about the more traditional/adult versions of the Bible, but the Spirit is nudging me to bring some joy back into my dedicated time with Him.

So here I am, during Lent, picking up one of my very favorite Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

We discovered this Bible when our youngest son was four years old. As I read the first few stories aloud to him, I delighted in the words and illustrations. This is no ordinary kids’ Bible. This is a work of art.

I have since recommended this Bible to everyone I know who is even slightly at all interested in the Bible. Because of my enthusiasm, our church preschool gives one to every graduate and our sanctuary pew racks contain copies, indicating to families that children are always welcome. It is also our go-to new baby gift.

This Lent, I’m going to read for five minutes a day, as many stories as that allows, and then write for another five minutes about what stood out to me, and then I’ll share posts a few times a week. A sort of lectio divina light, playing and creating with God. Play with me?

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Laugh More

Last week our family saw a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CalShakes, my favorite Shakespeare play at one of my favorite theatres.

CalShakes always makes for a great family outing: time together over a picnic in the grove and a good show, and my kids both enjoy live theatre which feels like a parenting win. This wasn’t a perfect production, but it contained some terrific performances. Best of all, I heard myself belly laughing throughout the show.

Laughter is the best medicine, right? But somewhere along the winding path of personal and professional stress, I fear I misplaced my sense of humor. I may have become too serious for my own good. I used to be silly and laugh easily; I need to unearth that version of myself.

Besides, laughter is healthy, and life is too short not to enjoy; there will be plenty of time for being grave, well, in the grave. (Although, I just wrote a ridiculous line because I plan to spend every non-second of the afterlife whoopin’ it up for a grand ol’ eternity).

How about these quotes:

Laughter is an instant vacation. –Milton Berle
I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter; it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong. –WEB DuBois
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. –William Thackeray
A day without laughter is a day wasted. –Charlie Chaplin
Laughter may not add years to your life but adds life to your years.
You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.
Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my leg.

[Are you laughing yet?]

Psychology Today outlines some of laughter’s benefits for body and mind:

Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. They abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience. Of course, laughter also enriches social experience, by strengthening relationships, helping to defuse conflict, and allowing people to successfully operate as a team. The benefits of laughter, for both bodies and minds, show that contagious convulsions are anything but frivolous.

To that end, I am making play my work. I am actively eliminating stress from my life and spending time with my pets and my loves, outdoors and in. I am looking for opportunities to laugh, whether I’m cracking myself up or laughing at funny things outside myself.

Like this clip from The Ellen Show:

And who doesn’t laugh at laughing babies?

So how about you? What makes you laugh?

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Advent 2018 Wk3 – Faith

The year C20 had his first birthday, Guy and I both turned 30 a few weeks before and after. Our birthdays span November to January so Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s got wrapped up in the fun. We created a list of small celebrations we could enjoy each day during those eight weeks, simple activities like sweetening a mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane, going for a walk together, or watching an animated Christmas movie. We celebrated our lives and the holidays with flair.

As I spent this last week reflecting on joy, I realized that I might be doing Advent wrong. Or, at least, wrong for me at this time.

Other than chomping the daily chocolates in our Advent calendar, I didn’t grow up with an Advent tradition. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was simply Christmastime, when we listened to Christmas music and shopped and wrapped and enjoyed the season.

I appreciate Advent for its thematic focus, its intentionality, its lens on waiting for Jesus. But over the years, our church has adopted a fuller Advent tradition, limiting Christmas music to Christmas Eve and the following Sunday (and the annual Christmas concert, the one exception to the rule) in favor of Advent hymns. And since there are only two popular Advent hymnsCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel–the music sounds like the rest of the year. So even though I used to start listening to Christmas music in October while I planned the church Christmas materials, I have mostly stopped listening to Christmas music before Christmas.

And I’m missing it. I’m missing the joy. I’ve employed the discipline without reaping the benefit, and I’m sorrier for it. I feel dry and dour.

Perhaps traditional Advent observance might also necessitate the observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas–Christmas celebrations commencing on Christmas and lasting until King’s Day on January 6. But I’m not there; when Christmas is over, it’s over. And since so much of life necessarily involves waiting for Jesus, I want to enjoy Him now. I want to celebrate Him today. I don’t want to wait any longer.

Besides, there is way too much good Christmas music to limit it to a day.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in tension between the already and not yet. Jesus has come, and He will come again. We have the joy of salvation now, but we won’t experience the fullness of life in His Kingdom until the second coming. So we wait.

But why in the world am I intentionally limiting the joy of celebrating His birth? Sure, His birthday is next week, but He’s already here. This year the discipline feels a little absurd, like not talking to my son for the month before his birthday just because his birthday hadn’t yet happened… What sense would that make?

This week’s focus is faith, that God will direct our paths even (especially) when the way seems foggy. I’m staring intently down some foggy paths of my own, and I do believe that Jesus will show up, that He will hold my hand and walk gently with me. And I’m going to celebrate that reality today, with some Christmas music, even as I wait for His eventual arrival.

Week 3 – Joseph’s Faith 

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Read: A good man, Joseph found himself in what looked like a bad situation. While he quietly planned a way out, an angel assured him that he had no reason for fear: what seemed like bad news would be good news for everyone. Mary’s baby wasn’t just any baby—this would be God’s baby, Immanuel, God with us! When we accept God’s plan, God turns our fear to faith and our faith to joy.

Pray: Holy Spirit, where we feel fear, plant your seed of faith. Grow our faith into joy in your presence. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 7:8-9 How does God’s faithfulness inspire your faithfulness to Him?
Tuesday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Wednesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Thursday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Friday Colossians 1:3-4 Who can you thank God for as an example of faith in Christ?
Saturday Hebrews 11:1 How do you define faith?

Suggested Activities
Make a list of things in which you put your faith, for example, that your alarm will go off in the morning or that the lights will come on when you flick the switch. Try to count as least ten. Then ask: Is it (or, why is it) sometimes easier to trust in these mundane things than to trust in the God who sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior?

Incorporate silence into your daily routine and use it as a chance to talk with God. Drive with the radio off. Go for a quiet hike. Sit in silence with your morning cup of coffee. Read your Bible, and let God share with you His perspective on what you’re facing each day.

Journal
When have you seen God show up in your unexpected or unwanted circumstances? Where do you need to experience His presence currently?

“It is faith that what happens to me matters to God as well as to me that gives me joy, that promises me that I am eternally the subject of God’s compassion, and that assures me that the compassion was manifested most brilliantly when God came to us in a stable in Bethlehem.” –Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace

Advent 2018 Wk 2 – Joy

Lately I have been impressed with stories of joy: people enduring difficult circumstances with genuine smiles lighting their faces and claims of, “Laugh or cry, I choose to laugh,” or “I was born a happy child,” or “I choose to do something I enjoy every day.” People who, in witness to others’ difficult circumstances, decide to get their hands dirty and serve, to make life that much easier or better for someone else, and discover joy in the shared experience.

Unlike happiness, tied to experiences that easily elicit smiles and laughter, joy is a choice. A decision to rejoice even when the circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. A connection to God who is the source of all true joy.

Like young Mary who, when greeted by a mysterious messenger with mind-boggling news–Hey, Mary, you’re going to birth God’s baby…–responded, Let it be, and My spirit rejoices in God who has remembered His humble servant…

Happy comes easy. Joy requires intention, effort.

I wore an audaciously bright pink scarf to church today (atop a gray/black pant/sweater set) and mentioned to someone that the scarf was in honor of Mary’s joy. Eyes wide, she chuckled, incredulous that I would match my outfit to Advent. Well, I suppose that’s an insight to the odd workings of my mind!

And, yes. We can find hot pink joy against a dark background. We can find joy in a cute Christmas mug filled with messy clumps of hot chocolate. We can find joy in the homemade and gifted decoration even though the mirror has cracked. We can seek–and discover–joy in the clumpy, broken, messy, difficult parts of life… That’s kind of the whole point: we rejoice in God with us, because God walks with us through life.

 

Week 2 – Mary’s Joy

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light two candles (purple): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-49

Read: The angel announced, “Mary, highly favored one, the Lord is with you,” and Mary rejoiced at the role she would play in the coming of the Son of the Most High. God’s Spirit whispers to each one of us, “You, too, are God’s servant, with a special role to play in God’s story.” The story may turn and twist in ways we can’t anticipate but let us say “Yes!” to God’s calling and rejoice in His presence.

Pray: We rejoice in God our Savior who has been mindful of His humble servants. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you rejoice in Jesus your King today?
Tuesday Psalm 5:11 How does God’s protection increase your joy?
Wednesday Habakkuk 3:17-19 How can God increase your joy even when times are difficult?
Thursday Acts 16:33-34 How does believing in God give you joy?
Friday Galatians 5:22-23 Ask the Spirit to increase your joy.
Saturday Jude 24-25 Read these verses aloud as joy-filled praise to our good God!

Suggested Activities
Make a list of ways you can spread Christmas joy, such as:
Take a Christmas treat or poinsettia to someone who lives alone.
Find a way to serve someone, for instance, clean an older neighbor’s gutters.
Invite friends to join you for a cookie decorating party and/or viewing of a favorite Christmas movie.
Create handmade thank you cards and attach candy canes for your teachers or church leaders.
Gather a group and go caroling.
Pray over each Christmas card you receive, inviting God to rain joy over each household.

J.O.Y.

I attended Jr. High at the beginning of the 80’s when Preppies ruled the school. I had one white Izod shirt and, though I stood several rungs down the social ladder from Popular, wearing it made me feel pretty.

I had a crush on an 8th grade boy who had expressed interest in me despite my 7th grade status. We talked on the phone for hours, the curly phone cord stretched taut from the kitchen across the hallway and into my bedroom.

When he invited me to join him at the roller rink, I wore my Izod and a pale pink lip gloss. I felt cute until I stepped out of my mom’s car. The boy’s eyes took in the little alligator logo high on my chest and his whole face fell. His disappointed eyes found mine, and I wanted to sink into a crack in the pavement.

I had blown it. The one thing the boy didn’t like: Preppies. Easygoing as he was, he hated Izods. I had heard him express disdain for people using money and status symbols to gain popularity and, despite the long phone calls and my interest in him, I had worn the one thing that marked me as not like him.

We skated for a couple hours. We talked a few more times. The relationship ended.

My Izod shirt was no moral failure, but wearing it on that occasion demonstrated that I had put myself before my friend. My desire to look cute outweighed his youthful stance on a social issue he felt concerned us both.

When we care about someone, we take into consideration the things about which they feel strongly.

Big segue: If we love God, we care about what He cares about.

God has taken great care to give us an entire Book filled with descriptions of what He cares about. He even boiled it all down a few times, in the Ten Commandments and even further in the Great Commandment.

Love God. Love others.

A few years before I wore an Izod shirt to a roller rink, I learned a Sunday school song that taught me that J.O.Y. came from loving Jesus, Others, and You, in that order. I no longer remember the tune, but the acrostic stuck.

We demonstrate that we love God by obeying Him, by getting involved in the things (and restraining ourselves from others) about which He feels strongly.

Chief among those: loving others.

Some people in God’s family can be hard for me to like, let alone love (of course others may feel the same about me). But God made them, God loves them, God included them in His family. God asks me to love them, so I work at it. I pray for a change of heart. I pray for them. I bite my tongue. I choose to serve them. I resist the temptation to judge them.

John wrote to help his readers know that God wants us to love Him–and so obey Him–and that an important way we obey Him is by loving those He loves.

Which we don’t do if we apply John’s message to others: See that guy? He says he’s a Christian, but look at his life! If he really knew God, he wouldn’t do that, and that, and that…

Nope. My job is to examine my life, to love God and let Him lead me to obedience. Some days, judging others comes far more easily than loving them. And that’s when I need to return to JOY–Jesus take the wheel, and help me love others as you have loved me.

Walk in Love
Week 3: Obey God
1 John 2:3-11

Connect
Reflect on the process of getting to know someone with whom you are close.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:3-11.
How does John describe believers (vv3-4, 6, 9) and what do those descriptions mean?
What assurance do we have of our relationship with God (vv3-6)?
Read John 14:15-17. Why does John emphasize the Truth of God?
How must believers live (in other words, how did Jesus live? v6)?
Why is it important to love other believers (vv9-11)?

Live
What’s the difference between knowing about God and knowing God?
How would you explain the correlation between knowing God and obeying God? Between knowing God and loving other believers?
Does John write to encourage self-reflection or judgment? What potential risks lie in applying this passage to others?
What actions have you taken to love those you find it difficult to love?
What will you do this week to obey God and love others?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with the strength and courage that come from knowing Him to help you obey Him and love others.

Thankful Thursday – Puppy Joy

Our neighbors moved away, and of course they took their darling black lab with them. But as we more or less co-parented our dogs, it felt like losing not just our friends but also our pet.

Izzy, who had never known life without her next door bestie, became depressed. Her appetite dropped off. Several times a day she’d walk outside and look toward the fence to see if her friend was coming. No matter how much we walked her and loved on her, it still wasn’t the same as having the love of two families.

So we began puppy discussions. Maybe spring, perhaps (definitely?) by summer, when life is more flexible.

But then Tween and I spent a weekend visiting Teen in college. During breakfast in the hotel, a woman holding a puppy walked through the lobby. Teen looked at me and ran. I looked at Tween and ran. Tween followed us both. In an instant all three of us had ditched breakfast in favor of sprawling across a lobby floor to let an eleven-week old dachshund/terrier mix jump and lick and love all over us.

Lowrider had the body of a dachshund and the chocolate-brindle coloring of a terrier. To sit, he scooted backward and did a funny twist-flop with his hindquarters. He was sweet and loveable–and we loved him. A “foster fail,” his mom arrived pregnant to foster care and she and all his siblings had been adopted, leaving him behind in his now-forever home.

Both my boys lit up with puppy joy. Teen’s had (so we’ve all had) a stressful, difficult college transition. Not enough joy in his life, which is so not what you want for your kid in their first semester of college. I thought, maybe puppy-time is now, for the boys, for Izzy, for all of us…

Petfinder.com is my go-to. Other than our four snakes, all our pets are adopted–from neighbors whose kids ‘outgrew’ their pet companions or from shelters. Just over eight years ago, Petfinder found us our darling Izzy.

Izzy was our dog from the moment we saw her sweet picture. Even when I had a middle-of-the-night panic attack, waking Guy to say I wasn’t sure I could do this, that I was afraid I’d be banished to the back deck, outside forevermore with a puppy who would otherwise stain our beautiful hardwood floors. He said, “Too late. We’re going to meet her in the morning. We’ll figure it out,” and we both went back to sleep.

He was right. We fell head-over-heels immediately. So I checked Petfinder, and found a chocolate-brindle version of Izzy. By the time we got home and discussed her with Guy, she’d been adopted. A few days later, I found another sweet face; and again, she was gone by that evening.

The puppy-hunt felt discouraging on top of a discouraging season. I couldn’t do it for long.

I didn’t have to.

After a quick Saturday conversation with our new neighbors, they texted us a puppy picture on Sunday. Within an hour, they had adopted a six-month old puppy and we had adopted a ten-week old puppy.

Meet Jasper, our boxer-shepherd.

He’s a big dog in the making who believes he’s a lap dog. The moment I took him in my arms, he snuggled into my arm pit and fell asleep–well, hello there! With a towel over his (cat carrier) crate, he sleeps through the night; and he’s learning to potty appropriately, though at ten weeks, it will take time.

He wants to play with Izzy, the cats (chasing is so much fun!), the rabbit (more chasing!). Initially, Izzy looked annoyed at Jasper, turning her head sideways with an I could step on him expression. Slowly, she is learning to play with him. The cats mostly hide in our bedroom, although even they, having grown up with two big dogs in the house, recognize he doesn’t pose too much of a threat. Our animal rescue will eventually again achieve equilibrium.

And when Jasper’s had all his shots, when Izzy has grown accustomed to another pet-love under our roof, we’ll re-open the fence and see if our old lady dog won’t mind teaching some younger pups how to be besties.

Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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