3 ways to honor Ash Wednesday at home

I really wanted to attend an Ash Wednesday service today. It would have been my first time doing so. I scouted out churches in the area who’d be open and welcoming to a newbie, and I was really looking forward to it.

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men…” and all that. We are having massive storm systems in our area (most of the local area school systems dismissed classes early today. The storms are that severe).

A normal storm usually triggers a migraine for me. This crazy intense storm?

It’s not pretty. Removing my own head sounds good right now.

Our homeschool “dismissed early” today too.

So I won’t be attending any services this evening like I’d planned. But I still wanted to acknowledge Ash Wednesday somehow.

If you’re unable to attend a service today but still would like to participate in some small way, perhaps one of these ideas will work for you.

1. Use a Lenten devotional.

I tend not to be a fan of devotionals. I prefer Bible studies. But a local church offered to email devotional readings for Lent. I went ahead and signed up, and now I’m glad I did. Today’s reading might not be exactly the same as being presence at a service, but it at least gave me some thoughts to ponder. It reminded me of my sinful condition as fallen man and of the Savior who loves me and redeemed me.

I found the image below on Twitter. I don’t have an ashy cross on my forehead today, since I’m unable to be at a service, but I still loved seeing this. I won’t pretend looking at a picture is the same as participating in a church service, but it did speak truth to me and gave me something to reflect on and pray over.

Which brings me to Point 2.

2. Pray Scriptures.

Sackcloth and ashes were a symbol of sorrow and/or repentance  in the Old Testament. Repentance, prayer, and fasting are all important aspects of Lent.

I wanted to spend time in prayer and repentance today. I often find it helpful to use various Scripture passages in my prayer time. Today I used Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

And Psalm 51 (NASB)

A Contrite Sinner’s Prayer for Pardon.

For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when [a]Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For [b]I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You [c]are justified [d]when You speak
And [e]blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the [f]innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
[g]Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
[h]Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
[i]Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create [j]in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew [k]a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will [l]be converted to You.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, [m]open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

18 By Your favor do good to Zion;
[n]Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You will delight in [o]righteous sacrifices,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then [p]young bulls will be offered on Your altar.

3. Do as much of a worship service as at home as possible.

I can’t replicate an entire church service in my house. It isn’t even remotely the same.

But I did talk with my daughters about the symbolism of the ashes. I did read a Bible passage and sing a hymn with them. We did talk about sin and confession and repentance.

It’s not the same, but it is something.

I hope to make it to a real Ash Wednesday service next year. I look forward to experiencing it for the first time. This year, the above 3 things at least helped me acknowledge today.

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step by tiny step

I want to write. I want to keep this blog updated. I am passionate about the topic. I feel strongly, down to the depths of my soul, that people are whole, integrated human beings. And until you address all aspects of health and well-being–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, societal, etc.–you are aren’t really healthy at all. It all matters.

But I feel like I’m failing utterly in pretty much all of those areas, so what would I write about anyway? I’m tired. I’m physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted.

And I know the original  premise of this blog was that I wasn’t coming from a place of knowledge or authority. I’ve never claimed to be some teacher or guru with it all figured out. This whole thing was supposed to be about the journey, about taking those small steps and seeing where they led. I was supposed to be a fellow sojourner, stumbling along with everyone else.

Only I think I stumbled straight off the cliff. So definitely don’t follow me.

But I guess I need to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and admit that I don’t have it all together. Admit that sometimes I don’t have any of it together. And sometimes I can’t even bring myself to care a whole heck of a lot.

It really is a journey. And it has a whole lot of detours and switchbacks.

But maybe if I go back to just taking baby steps–teeny, tiny, wobbly baby steps–I can find my way back to the right path.

Fall down seven times; get up eight.

–Japanese proverb

Today I went back to basics–I did yoga and drank water. I journaled, did my Bible study, and prayed.

And I stood back up.

learning to love Lent

Not growing up liturgical, I’m relatively new to the seasons of Advent and Lent.

But I love them. I love the focused intensity of those weeks. I love the depth and richness they can add to Christmas and Easter.

I find Easter is far more joyful and celebratory if I’ve gone through the preparation of Lent first.

I don’t usually “give up” things for Lent but rather try to be more focused and intentional. I try to reflect more deeply on Jesus’ sacrifice and my need for Him and grace and the gospel.

I find Psalm 51 helpful as I examine my heart and life.

I also think Isaiah 58:3-12 speaks to the whole idea of what seasons of fasting ought to look like. (Hint: God’s more concerned about our hearts than our outward show. And it isn’t always what you fast from–you can fast to something as well.)

I’m using several studies and reading plans for Lent this year. I won’t bore you posting them all here, but I will highlight a few.

Resources:

  1. Lenten Study This gives some basic background on Lent then readings from the Bible starting on Ash Wednesday.
  2. His Mercy Is New. This gives a few verses from Matthew to read, write, and pray over each day. Also check out 31 Verses That Lead Us to the Cross. Love the concept of really just chewing over a few verses at a time.
  3. Lent Verses for Reflection.
  4. Prayers and Liturgies for Lent. I love this site. So much beauty here.

I’ve printed some stuff from other sites to go over with the girls. Today’s devotional included a reading of the Lord’s Prayer from Matt. 6 and a short responsive reading.

My Lenten fast:

I read last year that if you do choose to give up something for Lent, there are some guidelines to make it more meaningful. I’m not legalistic about it, and I’m not going to tell anyone how to do (or not do) Lent, but I admit I found this post to be good food for thought. I also like the companion post that you’ll probably fail at whatever your Lenten sacrifice is–and that’s kind of the point. It’s a constant reminder of how desperately we need grace.

I like that.

So this year, I’m tackling what has recently become a rather bad habit in my life: poor meal planning.

Particularly supper.

I used to be a good meal planner. I knew what I was cooking for supper each night. I was a grocery shopping ninja, feeling us for relatively little.

Lately, I’ve been hit and miss with the grocery shopping. I’ve been tired, and I haven’t felt well, and I don’t know what to fix anyway. Nor do I care that much. And my my very understanding husband offers to pick up something quick for supper. And it’s easy, so I agree. And then there’s no money to grocery shop, and I’m more tired, and I feel worse, and it’s all just overwhelming.

So I want to give up fast food. Or at least unplanned fast food. We can work some fun outings into the budget. I just want to get back to being intentional with meals and having a plan and not taking the easy way out.

I also want to try something I saw on Facebook: finding one thing each day that I don’t need anymore so that at the end of 40 days, I have 40 things to give away to others who could use it. I’m think I could get the girls involved with this.

So…your turn! Do you do Lent? Hate Lent? Not really sure how you feel about Lent? I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

thinking about the seasonal depression

I ran across an article awhile back regarding SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I just kind of mentally noted, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and went on with life.

Then January hit. And the bottom dropped out of my mental health.

My worst bout of depression was post-partum. But I do struggle with “winter blues” as well. A full-spectrum light bulb and a high octane vitamin D supplement usually enable me to survive until spring.

Not this year.

Several things happened at once. I was trying a new type of progesterone supplement (bad idea; I’ll be going back to my old one). I had to replace my light bulb. And we had a snowstorm that left me housebound for days.

I reached a point where I just wanted to sleep all the time. Or cry. Or sleep and cry. And eat.

I wasn’t functioning very well. If at all.

Eventually sunshine returned, and I remembered the article I’d found weeks and weeks before.

I decided to read it again.

I’m even more fascinated now. I first learned of cognitive therapy in college, and I’ve always felt drawn to it. It’s a highly effective form of therapy, especially in combination with anti-depressants or other medication.

And I had the crazy idea that I could fit it in with my Christian faith. The Bible tells us to meditate on Scripture and to “take every thought captive.”

Someone else had that same crazy idea and did a study on it.

So I’m recovering now. Still taking my vitamin D. Still using the light bulb. The snow melted,so I’m getting out more. Even weak winter sunshine helps.

And I’m doing a devotional chock-full of Bible verses specifically for depression. I’m also making my own list of verses and passages to think on, recite, etc.

I still want to learn more about the specific cognitive therapy used in the SAD study, but for now I’m going to stick with what I’m doing. And I think I’ll be okay.

Advent thoughts

I wrote this following Christmas of 2013. Some of you may have read it already. But I’m posting here at the beginning of the season, partly as a reminder to myself, partly in case anyone else needs it as we move into Advent 2015. I hope you have a joyful and blessed Advent and a very merry Christmas!

Each year, I go into the Christmas season thinking this will be the year.  This will be the year of the perfect holiday experience.  I’ll procure thoughtful yet inexpensive gifts for everyone on my list.  We’ll bake cookies and make ornaments and actually finish our Advent study.  Also, my children will not fight with each other, will not be selfish and greedy, will not be consumed with the stuff they’re getting rather than the joy of giving and serving.  It will be peace on earth and goodwill toward men–a holy season of worship and wonder.

Somehow it never happens.

I plan it every year.  I download the Advent studies.  I make the to-do lists and the shopping lists and the budget outline.  And it still falls apart.

We made a few ornaments this year but no cookies.  My Christmas shopping all took place the weekend before the day itself and was rather uninspired.  We spent all of Advent being behind on our study, and we never did finish the whole thing.  My daughters longed for nearly every item they saw advertised–and a few other things to boot.  I lost my temper a few times, and we never quite achieved holiness or peace or even a whole lot of goodwill.

I am a failure at the whole perfect Christmas thing.

However, I’m coming to see that failure as the most perfect Christmas celebration of all.

For Christians, this holiday is the remembrance of God himself taking on human flesh and coming to this world as a baby.  Did he come to perfect people or perfect circumstances?  No.  His native country was under foreign control.  His parents were in a strange town and had no place to stay.  A manger subbed as his baby bed.

And why did he come in the first place?  Was it because we were all such decent folk?  Such a joy to be around?  No.  He came to save us from our sins.  He came to keep the law we could not keep and to be the perfection we could never attain.

Each time I flop and fail and scramble, I am reminded I am not perfect.  I will never be perfect.  But there is One who is perfect on my behalf.  He bestows on me his righteousness (now there’s a perfect Christmas gift).  And he meets me in all of my shortcomings because this is the very reason he came.

So take heart if your own Christmas was less than perfect.  Let it remind you that it doesn’t have to  be–and even more importantly, you don’t have to be.  Even today, the Christ Child comes to dirty feeding troughs and cluttered homes and harried people.  When we don’t quite get it all right, we can rejoice because he did.

And in that, I find peace.  Maybe not peace on earth, but peace within my own weary heart.

And a heart filled with peace can give goodwill toward men in the year to come.

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The assignment yesterday (yes, I’m a day behind–I’m going to try to catch up this weekend) was to use a photo to inspire a post. The above picture was one of the options given.

It immediately made me think of this song.

(I’m sorry–I know linking a random YouTube of the song isn’t the best. But I can’t get Spotify to work at the moment, and I got tired trying to figure out why.)

I really can’t think of anything more profound than what the song says–it sums it up pretty perfectly. So I hope you enjoy.

the one with the lists

Yeah, I’ve been watching too many episodes of Friends on Netflix. Sorry.

But when your assignment is to make a list, what else is there to title this post?

Besides, I like Friends. So you can put that on my list.

Actually, since the goal of this blog is to explore the various aspects of health, I’ll list things that help me stay sane, healthy, and whole. Three separate lists for your reading enjoyment (although some things obviously overlap and could fit on more than one list).

Things that make me feel healthy spiritually:

  1. a good, in-depth, inductive Bible study–lots of “meat”
  2. singing hymns
  3. reading and/or praying Psalms
  4. a good church service, with powerful worship and teaching and Communion
  5. a deep discussion of theology
  6. being able to help someone in some way
  7. reading a piece of rich Christian writing
  8. seeing beautiful stained glass windows
  9. seeing answered prayer
  10. seeing God’s handiwork in nature (especially fall leaves and spring blossoms)

Things that make me feel healthy physically:

  1. remembering to drink adequate water
  2. walking
  3. yoga (I’m not really good at it. It doesn’t really matter.)
  4. being well-rested (No, it doesn’t happen often.)
  5. green smoothies
  6. big green salads
  7. grilled fish
  8. being outside (fresh air and sunshine)
  9. not having a headache (I cherish those days!)
  10. herbal teas, supplements, essential oils

Things that make me feel mentally and/or emotionally healthy:

  1. coffee (Seriously, you don’t want to deal with me if I haven’t had coffee.)
  2. a long chat with a friend
  3. a good novel, where the characters seem real and I can get lost in the story
  4. a good nonfiction book, where I learn something or I’m challenged in some way
  5. writing (You knew it had to show up somewhere.)
  6. music
  7. remembering to be thankful for all that I have
  8. laughing–really, really hard
  9. the various fandoms I’m involved with–really. I need my fellow geeks and nerds and flailing fangirls.
  10. coloring! What did I ever do before adult coloring books were a thing? I’m sure I don’t know.

What keeps you sane, healthy, and whole?

lessons learned from fasting

The church we attend started thirty days of fasting. I just completed Week 1.

This isn’t a “don’t eat anything for thirty days” (thankfully). Instead it gives recommendations for each day–fast one meal, fast two meals, fast from technology, etc.

Some things I’ve learned about fasting:

  1. Most people don’t like fasting.
  2.  Many feel they can’t fast from food. Dizziness, headaches, and other ill effects seem to be common side effects.
  3. Jesus seems to indicate that fasting will be a regular component of the Christian life. (Matt 6:16-18)
  4. The fact that fasting makes me weak and needy is probably a large part of the point. Every time my stomach growls, every time I shake or feel faint and foggy, I am reminded of how utterly dependent I am on God. I am reminded of how much I need Him and His provision.
  5. Fasting doesn’t obligate God to do anything for us–but sometimes He does choose to honor our dedication and grant our requests.

By the end of the second day, I was pretty much falling apart. In attempting to prepare supper, I spilled beans, milk, pasta water, and finally the pasta itself.

And then I swore. A lot. Fasting certainly wasn’t making me holy.

But isn’t that the very heart of the gospel? I’m weak, I’m a mess, I’m falling apart, and I’m far from holy.

And God is there in the mess and the muck, redeeming and providing and sustaining.

It made me think of the song “If I Stand” by Rich Mullins. If we stand, if we manage to obey or to be holy, it’s because God is working in us. And when we blow it (when, not if), He’s there with the same grace that saved us in the first place. Either way, it’s all about

Him. It’s all through Him and because of Him.

And if you’re wondering about point #5 up there–God did answer part of a prayer I’ve been praying for about six years now. No idea on when the rest of that prayer might get answered (if it does at all), but it was still pretty neat to see a piece of it answered in the midst of a time of fasting and seeking Him.

how to get your kids excited about Bible study

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I had a post planned for today. It’s partly written.

It will have to appear later this week. It’s been preempted.

The church we attend is doing a period of prayer and fasting. Each day has various instructions–fast from one meal, fast from non-work-related technology, fast a certain number of hours.

I don’t do overly well with fasting, but I’m doing my best and participating as much as I can or with modifications.

As a result, my girls have seen me missing meals and doing extra time in Bible study.

I had a birthday recently and used some gift card credit to order some pens and highlighters designed for those thin Bible pages. They don’t bleed through. I’ve had my current Bible long enough that it’s a little late to address this, but it’s still nice to have good supplies.

The highlighters

The pens

Both girls have been intrigued by the new tools. Today Sarah (age 10) asked if she could use the highlighters in her own Bible as she studied.

Then she asked how I used them, what I marked.

We talked about the importance of observation, interpretation, and application–and the importance of that order.

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I don’t know how I managed to take a mirror-image photo. It looks weird! Sorry about that!

I had grabbed this book at a homeschool sale a couple of years ago. Today I pulled it out. Sarah really wanted to read the whole thing in one sitting and absorb all there was to know about Bible study at once. I told her she couldn’t eat the whole elephant in one go and added that even though I’ve been at this for years, I’m still learning new things about Bible study and about the Bible itself.

And that’s the point.

So she did the first lesson. And she’s excited to do more. She wants to do her Bible study at the table each morning, just like her mom.

Natalie (6) pulled out a Bible of her own and had me read a few verses to her so that she could highlight as well.

I’m crying. It’s true what they say–it’s caught rather than taught. I myself caught the Bible study bug from my dad years ago. (Thanks, Dad!)

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as [b]frontals [c]on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4-9, NASB)

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation (Exodus 34:6-7a, NRSV)

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be careful what you pray for…you might just get it (and not in the way you’d expect)

I’m a writer.

Not a published one or anything (unless you count a letter to the editor in a magazine years ago and several stories posted to the internet), but I write. A lot.

I finished the first draft of a novel last year, and I’m now in the editing/revising process.

I love stories, and I believe in their power. Stories connect us to each other. Stories touch our hearts, change our minds, shape our communities. When I was a kid and first declared that I wanted to be a writer someday, my brother told me to write something meaningful. I guess it’s stuck with me all these years because that it is what I want more than anything–to write a story that would matter to someone. A story God could use in a person’s life–a story that might, in some small way, point them to Jesus.

So I’ve been praying for a while now that God might choose to use my writing in this way–to somehow bring Him glory and to speak words of life to someone who needed it.

Recently our pastor preached a sermon on evangelism. The lovely lady and dear friend whose son I baby-sit during the week later told me that the sermon had inspired her to pray for me. She was praying that God would use my writing as a witness.

Well. She is clearly one of those righteous people whose prayers are effective (James 5:16).

See, I always thought I’d polish up this novel and get it out in the world somehow, and THAT would be how God would use me. Or maybe I’d write devotionals or Bible study helps or something similar for magazines and journals, and THAT would be how God would use me.

That isn’t exactly how it happened.

Those stories I mentioned posting on the internet? They’re fan fiction. They’re good fun to write, you get to play in a universe you love, you get valuable feedback to improve your craft (because internet readers are brutally honest), and I’ve made friends in the process. An all-around win.

You also post a brief bio, to let people know a little about who you are. Just a short little thing that most readers don’t pay attention to.

I got a private message from a reader of one of my stories. She’d read my bio, and she had a question. She wanted to know why I mentioned being a Christian there. Certainly that tidbit has nothing to do with fandom or fan fiction or anything else. Why had I felt the need to include it? Did my faith really matter that much? Did it really affect my life that much? And if so, why?

So I’m doing my best to reply to her questions. Absolutely nothing whatsoever may come from the exchange. But it’s an open door, an opportunity. And I’m laughing at myself for thinking God would ever do anything the way I expect. Really, you’d think I’d know better by now.

So yeah…God answers prayer. And it’s not always with a yes. And sometimes even the yes you get isn’t the yes you thought it would be.