I embrace the Lenten season. Encouraged to turn my attention from the world which tried to bury me young, I shift focus toward Jesus Christ who saved me. He does that; victory over death. Through Lent I get to take time for intentional living honoring who Jesus was, what Jesus did, how Jesus died, that Jesus IS.
Proverbs 15:8 "The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him."
I pray daily anyway. However, throughout the Lenten season I elect to pray specifically for a person, a place, a concern, for myself. This prayerful practice during Lent is different than usual. I am mindful of the atmosphere within which I pray; both somber and celebratory. Lent invites me to keenly observe and acknowledge the paradox of Christianity, Jesus dead and among us, Jesus ascended and near, Jesus Lamb and Savior. Lent affords me awareness of praying in such a space - BOTH AND.
Matthew 6:16 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."
For years I would fast from a food or a beverage (hoping to shed a few pounds too). I stopped messing with such "sacrifices;" ironically I became more aware of myself than Jesus. When I would fast from a food I felt myself playing a game of sorts and I wrestled with pride thinking myself somehow better than another who continued to consume what I had nobly put down (for Jesus' sake). Since discovering I personally could not handle such an approach to Lent, I've taken to fasting from what robs me of quality or creative time. I surrender a time-use habit for a time-enhancing practice. Some Lenten seasons I've journaled more when I otherwise would watch a show. Other Lenten seasons I've made phone calls to friends and family when I would otherwise keep to myself. Lent is such a personal journey, I discover that no matter what I fast the temptation of self, vanity, pride, resistance, and giving up remains. Fasting requires my conscious dependence on Jesus; yay!
Luke 5:32 "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Before Christ snatched me from the edge of hell, I loathed the term "sinner." What a nasty, unbecoming term to an unbeliever. I totally embrace the term sinner now, gratefully. I credit my reality as a sinner for keeping me desperately engaged with Christ daily, like an ongoing conversation Jesus nudging me, "Whoa!" Tempted, I plead "Help!" I humbly navigate Lent with a spirit of gratitude, but not guilt. My sin-nature is a gift not for my indulgence, but for my admission that I am completely at His mercy. Of course!
Proverbs 25:28 "Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control."
Wreckage, the absence of self-control. For six weeks of the Lenten season can I not abide by the speed limit? What about showing up on time (discipline would be my friend to this end)? For six weeks can I commit to eight hours of sleep each night? What about turning from a task to face the person who is speaking to me? Self-control for the sake of consistent grace; a lovely manner in which to honor Jesus, prepare for Easter.
Galatians 5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness."
Faithful to the faith. Faithful to Jesus. Lent demands from me best-practice. Lent demands of me my best-self. Lent demands that I quiet all that distracts me from my Savior. Lent demands that I consider someone or something other than myself. Lent demands that I admit I am lost without Jesus finding me each moment, that I admit I will die without His life within my life. My sole complaint about this annual Christian ritual is that it is only six weeks long. Preparation for celebration of Christ's victory over death is my privilege, my honor, my luxury.
Prayer, fasting, repentance, self-control, and faithfulness this Lenten season, enjoy!
In preparation for writing this post, I consulted four love-filled constants for inspiration. Below are a sample from each with my reflections on each sample. May these meditations on love inspire you as much.
My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers: "I am sorry for the Christian who has not something in his circumstances he wishes was not there . . . Let tribulation be what it may - exhausting, galling, it is not able to separate us from the love of God." Chambers begins this piece with scripture, Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Nothing, no one. When I consider tribulations which threaded my years before awakening to the reality of Jesus Christ, I see with Windex-wiped clarity how Jesus was reaching into all of my tumult. Nothing, no one could separate His reach for me, nor does anything or anyone now separate Him from me. The paradox of tribulation is that God's love is the propulsion which moves me (you) through tribulation. Thank you, God.
One Day at a Time in Al-Anon, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters Inc.: "An Al-Anon member of long-standing writes of a tragic estrangement between beloved grown daughter and herself . . . We have learned again to love, by accepting each other as we are." The entry in this book of daily meditations ends with a quote from Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island "The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them."
The resentment I felt for my relative who did not behave as I wanted him to behave was a long, miserable twenty-six years. I resented him for not behaving as I believed he should. The evening of my thirty-sixth birthday I was overcome with forgiveness while completing a collage and poem inspired by the collage. I thank Jesus Christ for this gift of forgiveness and how through my love of Christ and Christ's love for me, I became able to love this relative as he is. We now have a unique and loving father-daughter relationship. I could not accomplish forgiveness of my dad without accepting the depths to which Jesus Christ forgives me. Through utter comprehension of this divine reality I became able to forgive and love my father.
For Today, Overeaters Anonymous Inc.: "A sense of loving and being loved is not restricted to one's spouse, children, parents, friends or associates. It can be applied to everything and everyone in God's world. To love and feel loved is nothing less than to have a reverence for life . . . To love unconditionally is a difficult concept for many. Only spiritual recovery can give us an understanding of what it means." There is more to this daily entry from For Today, specifically the opening quote from George Sand, "There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved."
I chose this as inspiration for mediation on love because I liked the writer's suggestion reverence for life gives way to feeling love and giving love. I recall vividly the twenty-four hours within which my spiritual awakening occurred. In the initial twelve hours the world within which I lived was a bleak, drab, and dreary world. Although surrounded by spring blooms and budding trees, I perceived grey as the backdrop for my existence. The twelve hours after (and ever since) my spiritual awakening, I could see for the first time the bright pink of fuchsia azaleas, the vibrant yellow of daffodils, the blue sky, and the rich green of English laurel bush. I had reverence for life for the very first time and through reverence I could see, feel, and know love. God gave me reverence, eyes to see, and the capacity to experience His love.
Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Groups Inc.: "One sweltering summer day, I sought escape from the heat at a nearby beach. Lying there with my lemonade, I looked at all the people soaking up the sun. No matter how many people were in that beach, there would be enough sun for everyone. I realized that the same was true of God's love and guidance. No matter how many people seek God's help, there is always enough to go around. To someone who believed that there was never enough time, money, love, or anything else, this was amazing news!" The publisher added a quote from one of their other publications to conclude this daily reader entry, "I can learn to avail myself of the immense, inexhaustible, power of God, if I am willing to be continually conscious of God's nearness."
What I miss the most about my mother is her nearness. Being near to who I love is important, I crave nearness because when I love someone so much I want to be even closer to them. That's the hardest part for me about mom's death, her body cannot be next to mine on the couch while watching Wheel of Fortune. Her hand cannot hold mine, nor mine hers. Her arms cannot hug me, nor my arms her. It's rough not being near who I love so, so much. But what sustains me through my grief is the almighty presence of Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, God. The nearness of who is beyond me, yet totally for me, and with me all of the time; God, love is near.
In this month of February as you navigate romance, greeting cards, chocolate, and flowers, may you feel comfort in the near and abundant love of Jesus Christ.
metaphor - a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract
Kristen and David hosted New Year’s Eve last year. As I prepared for my time with them and our friend Monica, I was intentional about my outfit, make-up, hairstyle, and accoutrements. Although a quaint occasion at a home with a few friends, New Year’s Eve occurs only once annually and I enjoy getting dressed for the occasion.
Typically, when we gather together, we dine potluck style. Each of us brings a dish to create our shared meal. Kristen and David were insistent on providing the main dish, a vegan Pad-Thai. They also provided beverages, including a pineapple juice cocktail or wine from the local winery. I put together simple hors d'oeuvres and light dessert, Monica provided the same. For certain the table would be thick with food, a prop for the fellowship which would truly fill us.
Kristen and David live off a county road in Whitley County. I began my drive out their way at sunset. If you recall, New Year’s Eve last year was cold and blustery. As I drove away from Fort Wayne toward Kristen and David’s home, I navigated a dusting of snow criss-crossing the dim-lit roads as New Year’s Eve traffic passed on my left heading in directions opposite me. As well, traffic passed me on my left going my same direction eager to get to their destinations faster than my law-abiding speed permitted.
I relied whole-heartedly on my GPS to assist me with arriving safely to my destination. I was making gains and nearly there. I turned onto county road 200W closing in on my friends’ home when in front of me was not only train tracks, but a train. This would not have been a big deal, as trains come and trains go. However, this particular train on New Year’s Eve was parked. Parked as in sitting there for the foreseeable future, stayed, still, stationary, not moving any time soon.
I stopped my car at the tracks, eyes fixed on what felt like a very personal obstacle. I phoned Kristen. She did not answer. I felt my face create an expression revealing sincere frustration. I searched my maps app on my phone for an alternate route when my phone rang and I heard Kristen on the line. “Train on the tracks?” she asked. “Yes,” I said in a tone she recognized as disheartened. “It’s just sitting there, correct? Not moving,” she confirmed. “Yes,” I confirmed. “There is an alternate route,” she continued to give me directions as I turned my car around listening to her while I drove along the unfamiliar route. I listened to Kristen through the phone as she directed me. I felt my frustration change to hope. As I drove, making left turns, then right turns, then left again, then right again according to Kristen’s directions, I recognized the intersection I would have met earlier had the train not disrupted my route. I made it my hosts’ driveway and parked my car. I made it.
Our evening together was festive, fun, and filling. Time with friends can offer such satisfaction and this occasion with my friends did just that, especially after overcoming a seeming obstacle to a celebratory evening. But what this particular New Year’s Eve offered me in addition to previously mentioned, was the gift of metaphor. I trust this gift was purposeful for my use throughout 2018. I recall several instances in 2018 when in route, committed to plans of which I was conscious, when something disrupted my route and my plans. I can remember a few specific instances when I was met with the metaphorical “parked train.” Feeling frustrated was my appropriate human response. But what else did I do other than meet my circumstance with feelings of frustration ? I made a call for help, reaching out to a friend, a family member, my Mentor, Jesus . . .
Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
As I transition into 2019 I trust this “parked train” metaphor will continue to serve me. Consciously living through each moment, day, week, and month of 2019, I wonder which perceived obstacle will I receive as a gift for the purpose of deepening my relationships with friends, family, Mentor, and Jesus. I am invited to turn from obstacle to answers available through relationships I have with people who are willing to help me and Jesus who loves me and wants to help me. New Year’s Eve last year I could not get around the parked train without help. I made it to where I was meant to be, but only with help.
In the 2019 New Year, may you find yourself where you are meant to be, hopeful, receiving the gift of help from your friends, family, Mentors, and Jesus wherever you are met with a “parked train.”
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. -Luke 2:9–11
The first day of December through the twenty-fourth day in December...
What does Act I entail for you and your family? When I consider Act I for me and my family, thoughtful consideration of gifts, gatherings, and preparations for each are involved. My memories of Act I include my delayed flight while transferring planes in Utah between flights from Portland, OR to Fort Wayne. I watched other travelers relay messages to and from their families about changes in plans. My family adjusted their plans in preparation for my near-midnight arrival instead of my arrival on time for holiday dinner with them.
Act I December 2010, Steve uprooted a small Arborvitea from his yard which served as my tiny Christmas tree, sparsely decorated, but aglow with the thoughtful consideration of a loved-one.
Another Act I memory is the homemade Christmas card I made out of shreds of multi-colored paper, shaping each with the others into a Christmas tree. I folded a tiny piece of red paper into a square adorned with a tiny bow on top serving as a gift under the handcrafted tree. My mother framed this Christmas card she received from me and exclaimed, “Maggie-Margaret, how lovely!”
The twenty-fifth day of December
Who is part of Act II with you and your family? An Act II treasure was the time I could not return home for Christmas with family, but remained cozy in the comfort of my studio apartment on NW Glisan St. in Portland. Although I had invitations to share Christmas day with friends, I chose to remain home in my flannels and a number of warm blankets. I had purchased foods for my very own Christmas meal and was surrounded by gifts mom had mailed to me in time for my holiday alone. When I felt ready to open my gifts, I phoned home. I listened to mom share about their day together in Fort Wayne and told about my Christmas day. As I unwrapped her gifts to me during our phone chat, I describe the details about wrapping paper, box, and each gift. Although not together physically, mom, family, and I were very much together in spirit. Although alone, I did not feel lonely.
For years, Act II memories have been created with my brother and his family who host Christmas morning. We gather first for a leisurely brunch around their quaint table, younger members of the family eager to take last bites and start in on the gifts. Their always tall, beautifully adorned Christmas tree is surrounded by well-wrapped packages. We gather around the gifts, brimming coffee mugs within reach, as gifts are passed out to their expectant recipient. It’s a lovely occasion; we’re so fortunate.
December 25, 2016 was the first Christmas without mom. I was fierce about preparing her favorite foods for our Christmas brunch at my home, around her table (now mine). Our menu in mom’s honor included red, molded Jello with walnuts, celery, grapes, and mandarin orange slices. Dad made the traditional coffee cake shaped like a candy-cane. Sister picked up a quiche. I served mom’s favorite Christmas cookies such as treasure balls, bourdon balls, secret kiss cookies, and roll-n-cut frosted with sprinkles on each. We acknowledged mom’s absence, but with each taste of her favorite foods, we kept her close to heart and body. We missed her, we miss her.
The twenty-sixth day of December through the thirty-first day of December
How does Act III bring closure for you and your family? New Year’s Eve with friends 2015. Jennie and Brad hosted. We each brought food and beverage, gathered in a tiny room of their home which felt cramped and dark (other than the crackling fire streaming on their TV). Frankly, I did not understand the cramped arrangements considering the number of us who had gathered. But at that sweet moment between “well, gotta go” and “NO WAY, I’M STAYING!” Jennie lit up her large living-room featuring a homemade dance floor with DJ lights, soundboard, and dance moves to match. Such a silly, fun Act III memory for me.
Act III 2012 between three retail jobs and living with my brother’s family in their basement, I was eager for closure to this particular season. Life had unwrapped an outcome I could not have anticipated and there I was starting my life over again. December 2012 felt so challenging, the anticipation of Christmas cheer was overcome by haste to work a few jobs, earn as much money as I could, and get back out on my own again. I did not want to remember that I could not give gifts that year. December 31st 2012 was humbling. My brother’s family encouraged me to join them and a few of their neighbors with the countdown to midnight, 10 . . ., 9 . . ., 8 . . ., . . . As I watched six-year-old Peter fighting to keep his eyes open, wrought between “I’m so sleepy” and “but everyone else gets to stay up late,” together we exclaimed “Happy New Year!” My brother hugged me, reminding me it’s going to be better in the New Year.
Vivid is the memory of my Act III last year. I hastily packed up the Christmas decorations, stuffing awkwardly the ornaments into boxes they had not known before. My new kittens thought the clean-up process to be the purpose of Christmas! The best part for them was reaching for strewn ribbons, fallen round ornaments, and boxes too small for their furry, plump bodies. It’s all over until next year.
I love Christmas. I love the lights, gift giving, gift receiving, and how the meaning of Christmas changes from year to year. December 2011 felt enchanting, December 2012 felt heart breaking, December 2016 felt sorrowful, but this December feels fun! As for Christ, His coming, it seems to me Christ entails, includes, and shares three parts. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Parents, child, community, and beginning, middle, end for each of us.
He is coming, He is come, and He is to come again. Merry Christmas!
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”
Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Wow! My initial 30 days with Trinity English Lutheran Church have been filled with life-giving activity on behalf of children, youth, and families. I have met amazing grandparents, parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and kiddos through various opportunities:
To highlight a few of the above . . .
The Inter-Generational Communication Workshop informed me about the use of technology and social media as a means to communicate AND “community” (verb) with Millennials and Gen Z generations.
Community Dinners served at TELC Wednesdays at 6:15pm are a powerful ministry providing a hot meal AND friendly “hello, how are you . . . so glad you are here.” The smiles I have seen from folks grateful to be served a meal made with care is WONDERFUL.
Sunday School Classes are led by TELC Sunday School Teachers who are AWESOME! The kiddos with whom I’ve spent class time are also AWESOME and HILARIOUS! Faith through the minds of young ones delights me to my soul. The simplicity each kiddo shows me about relating with Jesus is refreshing. For example, when the Pre-K & K kiddos were asked what each would ask Jesus if needing help, I heard requests such as:
“I would ask Jesus for a snack,” and
“I would ask Jesus to help me get coffee,” and
“I would ask Jesus to help me do better with my video game,” and
“I would ask Jesus to help me charge my phone.” This request conjured a response from his pal who exclaimed, “You have a phone?! Me too! Ugh, I should have asked Jesus to help me charge my phone!”
Although I could write more sharing about each activity above, I will conclude with the good news that Sign-Up Genius for Family Ministries Team(s) Discussions has thus far netted twenty-seven (27) participants and counting. This is THRILLING, as it speaks to the level of interests TELC members have in child, youth, and family ministry. Please come if you can (click here)
My time with Trinity English Lutheran Church has been productive and fun. I can’t wait to see what we endeavor to create together in the next 30 days!
I had the fortune of attending a one-day conference (Orange Tour 2018 Indianapolis) which addressed the "how" about integrating church life with family life while "doing life." How can church and family be better integrated? The presenters at the conference had the utmost respect and praise for family, specifically parents. Parents serve day in and day out to the depths of exhaustion for their family, their children. Parents say “Yes!” to the noble call of raising children to be the best they can be. Thank you, parents!
Here are links to resources that were shared at the conference:
PARENT CUE BLOG
PARENT CUE PODCAST
I hope you find something affirming, encouraging, and informative.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it
One of the breakout sessions I attended during the conference address recruiting and maintaining Team Leaders, Team Members, and Back-Up Team Members who serve children, youth, and family within the Family Ministries Department. A Team Leader is the point-person for the Family Ministry program they serve. One example I think about at Trinity English is our Acolyte program. One TELC member currently serves in a Team Lead capacity for youth Acolytes. The Team Lead coordinates which youth will serve as Acolytes each week, ensures youth interested in serving as an Acolyte are properly oriented and trained. Other TELC adults assisting the Acolyte Team Lead are considered Team Members. Team Members assists with the Family Ministry programs acting as a support to the Acolyte Team Lead. Instances the Team Lead or Team Member is unable to assist Acolytes for Sunday service or another Acolyte occasion, a Back-Up Team Member would fill in. Back-Up Team Members serve in a “substitute” capacity in the absence of Team Lead or Team Member. The goal of the TELC Family Ministries Department is to create, encourage, and sustain an enthusiastic group of Team Leads (10), Team Members (40), and Back-Up Team Members (40). Family Ministry programs include Sunday School (pre-K & K, 1st & 2nd grades, 3rd 4th & 5th grades, Middle School), Trinity Theater for Middle Schoolers, High School Youth Group, High School Bible Study, Family Night, Women’s Group, Men’s Group, and whatever other groups TELC members are interested in.
To get involved connect with Me! We can choose a time to sit and chat about how you wish to be involved, chat on the phone, exchange texts, or even email. All TELC Family Ministries programs will “launch” January 2019, so let’s connect soon. I look forward to getting to know as many Trinity English members as possible, especially as we serve together on behalf of children, youth, and families.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. - 1 Peter 4:10