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.

on listening

The world is incredibly noisy. Social media can be the noisiest of all. No matter the subject, people are shouting their opinions and suggestions and solutions. They feel strongly about whatever their point of view is.

And there are things we should feel strongly about. It may not matter what my favorite movie is or which book you like best, but some things aren’t subjective or inconsequential. Standing up and speaking about these weighty matters is both brave and necessary.

But maybe, just maybe, people might be more willing to hear our thoughts on those important subjects if we did a bit of listening to them first.

Maybe we’d understand the opposing viewpoint a little better, even if we still don’t agree with it.

Maybe we’d have more empathy. Maybe we’d treat those who disagree with us with a little more kindness and compassion.

But all too often, precious little listening occurs amid all the noise.

Why is that? Are we afraid to listen to opposing viewpoints? Afraid they might actually succeed in changing our minds?

Or just too angry that they don’t see it like we do?

Maybe it’s a mixture of both.

A joke I’ve seen making the rounds on Facebook talks about a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, and sometimes an atheist and/or pagan walking into a bar. They sit, chat, and have a lovely time. Because that can happen when you’re not a jerk.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey says to first seek to understand then to be understood.

So listening first is more effective, and it makes you a nicer person. Sounds like a win, right?

I think we could all stand to display the courage to sit and listen a bit more often.

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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.

abundance of color

I have written and rewritten a response to today’s prompt (using the word hope), but I just can’t get it to work. I think my brain is too distracted, my thoughts too scattered. Nothing’s coming together the way I want.

I’ve saved it, because it might gel into something coherent someday. Just not today.

For now, I’ll change to the alternate word abundance. I have an abundance of beauty in my part of the world right now. This photo is actually from a few years ago (when I had a good camera instead of just an iPod camera), but the scenery looks similar now.

fall foliage tree

I love the abundance of color autumn brings–so much beauty to behold. My girls and I get excited pointing out all the gorgeous trees we see on drives. It doesn’t matter that we’ve seen ten already–we still exclaim over the eleventh. I love that they see and appreciate the beauty around us.

color me de-stressed

Like most things, I first saw it online. Someone was talking about some new coloring books they’d gotten.

These were not your children’s coloring books.

Next I saw a sizable collection of coloring books for adults at Books-a-Million. They looked pretty cool. Patterns designed to help with focus or to be calming–couldn’t we all use some of that?

And suddenly adult coloring was everywhere.

Amazon. Facebook ads. Even an author-entrepreneur I read was talking about “cashing in” on this hot trend.

Several of the health problems I struggle with mention the importance of stress reduction. I’ve never been all that good at dealing with stress, to be honest.

So I’ve printed a few of the freebie pages I’ve found (I don’t have a real book yet). They are quite relaxing. I enjoy them.

I see some people who post their coloring work, and they are far better colorers than I will ever be. They know which colors look good in combination. They make pretty patterns. They get these fantastic pieces of artwork when they are done.

That isn’t me.

I have no concept of color or design–I just use the colors I like. Lots of pinks and purples, truthfully, because I like pink and purple.

No one’s ever going to hand me any awards, but the process is enjoyable and the results make me smile.

Which I think is probably the point.

(You can see where the two-year-old scribbled a little on this and also a smudge–I don’t even know what that is! This is real life, baby!)

A Facebook friend posted this article. I found it interesting.

Another friend of mine loves crayons and bought herself her own set to use for her coloring, much like the article recommends. I have colored pencils that I use.

But every time I print a page for me, my two girls request that I print copies for them too. My older actually has more artistic talent than I do, so she may be posting those pretty pages one day. She uses colored pencils as well and puts a great deal of time and effort into it.

The younger uses markers and ends up with about what you’d expect for a six-year-old. But she enjoys it. And again, isn’t that really the point?

Sink reflections

I know, last week I posted my view out the side kitchen window. This week I’m posting this:

Yeah, it’s my kitchen sink.

I promise not to stay stuck in the kitchen every week, okay?

But I love how shiny and clean it looks once the dishes are washed and out of the way.

It gives me a sense of accomplishment–the work is finished. The dishes are dealt with. This pretty, shiny sink is smiling at me for a job well done. (Or done, at least. Maybe not always well.)

Still, I have proof of my labor. And it makes me smile.

Mundane, to be sure.

But still quite lovely.

looking for a good shower cleaner

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “High Noon.”

I’ve made my own cleaners for a long time now. Part of the reason is I’m a cheapskate, and it costs less. Part of it is that commercial cleaners, with their strong smell, tend to make my head hurt. A lot.

Most homemade cleaners involve vinegar in some form. It doesn’t usually take much to get the job done, and the smell of vinegar dissipates quickly. It’s never been a problem before.

Today it was a problem.

For a while now, I’ve been seeing this recipe for shower cleaner. One cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid plus one cup of hot vinegar. Combine in a spray bottle. Thoroughly spray down your shower, wait an hour, then rinse.

From reading the comments, this was supposed to be life-changing. A sparkling clean shower, no scrubbing, no harsh bathroom cleaners.

At noon today, I was thinking that I hate this recipe and I desperately need to rinse off the showers walls–RIGHT. NOW.

Ugh. That is waaaaaaaaay too much vinegar.

So no deep, profound thoughts from me at noon today–just the realization that my quest for a good shower cleaner still continues.

Anyone have any suggestions? Preferably ones that don’t include vinegar–at least not that much. But I really would love a GREAT homemade shower cleaner. Or even a commercial one that doesn’t have a strong smell.

exploring what constitutes whole health

I signed up for WordPress’s “Blogging 101” course. I love courses and learning anyway, and since this poor blog has been rather neglected I thought it might give me some fresh inspiration (read: a swift kick in the pants).

But I’m a few days late getting this assigned post up, so I guess its effectiveness in that regard is debatable.

Um, oops.

But I do still believe in this blog, and I want it to live up to its original purpose–exploring what constitutes true and total health in all areas–mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I think that’s an important topic and one worth discussing.

I just think I might need to tweak things a bit here.

Blogs are by nature personal, so this will still chronicle my journey. It will still be my personal projects and experiments and thoughts and perceptions. But if it’s just me, I think it will get a little boring (not to mention I’ll run out of things to say). So I do want to include other perspectives. My own wisdom is limited anyway–we can all learn together what true and total health looks like, right? I’d love to build a community focused on that.

Goals for the next six months:

1) Blog 2x per week.

2) Have at least one post concerning each of the areas of health mentioned above (I’ve been out of balance thus far, mainly talking about the physical realm).

3) Have a post or two that include an interview–I’d love to share someone else’s knowledge. I get tired of my own yammering, so I’m sure others do too.

In order to ensure that I do update more regularly, here’s a “sneak peek” at what I’ve got planned for upcoming posts:

1) a couple of book reviews (one of them has been sitting in my drafts folder for ages now)

2) an interesting study I came across awhile back

3) a couple of physical health tidbits I stumbled across

4) my own search for liturgy and beauty and ritual

5) Nudge me with any thoughts or ideas you have! We’re all in this together.

 

Sewing Sheaves

Sharing for a friend of mine. Check out her shop!

write away

(She) who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with (her). Psalm 126:6

I don’t know how long you’ve known me to know my special feelings about sheaves. (Which, come to think of it, makes very little sense in the physical considering my inability to eat wheat.) But no matter, the verses have never left my heart.

And so when it came time to choose a name for my current undertaking, I knew it was where I had to land once more.

See, my husband has had a major paycut at work and it’s sent us on another financial tail-spin. Just when we think we have things well in hand, well, we find ourselves surprised once again. We are ever reminded that the things of earth are passing away and what is truly important is the eternal. But in the meantime, we…

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