Fastings of Lent

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God speaking: [W]hat I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family. –Isaiah 58:6-7 (The Voice translation)

Lent began last week.  Last year, I wrote about doing what we can.  This year, I want to expound on the idea of fasting and sacrifice.  Traditionally, fasting of meat was the sacrifice of choice.  However, in recent decades, as people wanted to connect more with the ritual, Lenten sacrifices have become more broad.  I know some who fast just from sugars or other delicacies, media of all sorts, consumerism.  Some fast from things difficult to give up … others from easier habits.  Religious or spiritual fasting should enliven our spirits and deepen our connection to God.  The discomfort we feel in giving up something in our daily lives can help us focus on those who, not by choice, give up necessities and niceties … Every. Day. Of. Their. Existence.  Because many of us in Western nations enjoy a privileged life of having access to food, water and health care, we forget how many more in other countries (or down our own streets) live in want–want of shelter, clothing, food, water, medications, companionship.

I’d like to encourage us all to participate in the 40 days of Lent in some way.  However, let’s participate in the fast God calls us to in Isaiah.  I’ve got some ideas to get us started.  Pick one, more than one, or come up with your own:

  • If you fast from food, consider giving to Heifer International, deliver Meals on Wheels, serve at a soup kitchen, donate to a clean water project, or donate to a medical charity like Doctors Without Borders.  In this world, we throw away enough food to feed 3 billion people … almost half our planet’s population.  We really can (and should) end world hunger.
  • If you fast from consumerism, consider donating gently used (or unused) clothes to domestic abuse shelters or thrift stores that employ challenged people, volunteer at a homeless shelter or domestic abuse shelter, volunteer at a food pantry.  Often consumerism makes us self-absorbed, so branching out to experience other stories of those who don’t have physical wealth can help us see our own poverty of soul and spirit.
  • If you fast from social media, electronic media, paper media, consider visiting with an older or lonely person in your neighborhood, volunteer at a neighborhood school to help children read, offer tutoring for math or other subjects, or help a teacher grade some papers.  Get out and have actual conversations with flesh-and-blood people.  If you physically cannot get out, pick up a phone.  In our ‘virtual’ world, we often forget how to have conversations out loud and not just at our keyboards or in our heads.
  • If you fast from entertainment, consider giving to organizations that pay for schooling, fund a project for a documentary that brings awareness, volunteer as a coach or coach’s assistant with boys and girls clubs or YMCA.  Too many children in the United States go to school hungry.  I know teachers who work in disadvantaged schools in my city and accept non-perishable food donations so their hungry classroom kids can have a meal over the weekend.  The more-than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram remain missing.  Their story haunts me 9 months later.  The terrorist group targeted them because they went to school, sought an educated life.  Many wanted to be doctors, lawyers, teachers to help their communities grow and succeed.  Now some of the girls who escaped are courageously accepting scholarships to continue their studies amidst the threat that Boko Haram will come for their families.  Often we make education entertaining in Western civilization.  We forget what it costs many families in other parts of the world.  Let’s use some of our wealth and privilege to make learning easier for those less fortunate.

The charities and non-profits I’ve mentioned are not exclusive and very possibly not the best ones.  There are so many smaller groups who tirelessly work in their local and global communities.  The ones I mention are a springboard to help us begin to live a life worth living … a life that makes a difference in another’s life.  The more we make a difference in our corners of the world, the more global change has a chance to succeed.

Whether you participate in Lent or not, consider sacrificing to make life better for someone.  However you live, pray for peace in your neighborhood, your community and our world.  Lent is about Jesus’ life and how he lived.  He made the most of his life … so much more than 40 days.  Let’s make the most of our lives.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Life’s Love Letters

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I am deep in the throes of planning for my daughter’s wedding in April.  So, I will be less-than consistent with my blog each week (did you miss me last week when I didn’t post?).  I will post when I’m inspired, but am giving myself freedom to take a break when wedding details overwhelm me.

But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love. –1 Corinthians 13:13

Valentine’s Day has come and gone again.  I’m not big on celebrating it–not because I’m against love or fun or chocolate; but because it just doesn’t hold any significance for me.  I never really dated before I met Jud, and our ‘dating’ life involved long-distance communication for most of the year and a half before we got married.  I still remember our phone ‘dates.’  We would both order the same pizza (pepperoni and pineapple) and talk on the phone for hours.  That was back in the day when you actually had to pay for the long-distance minutes you used.  I think we topped out at $650 one month. I nearly choked when my dad showed me the bill and told me I needed to pay it within the week….  But, with our anniversary in January and the holidays so close to that event, Valentine’s just seemed like too much work.

However, this year, I started getting really excited for Valentine’s Day–or at least the post-Valentine’s-chocolate sales.  With our daughter’s wedding in April, I need to amass some pretty chocolate hearts wrapped in pretty red or purple foil for some gift bags.  This week, they will all be on sale!  And I like the idea of not having to pay full-price for anything wedding-related these days!  As I’ve scoured some of the ads to try to find good deals throughout the city, I have thought about love in our lives.

As I’ve said, Jud and I had a mostly long-distance relationship before we got married.  A week after we started dating, the military, in all it’s wisdom, transferred Jud from Arizona to New Mexico.  We still have all the snail-mail letters we wrote during that time, since the internet didn’t exist.  Someday, our kids will find the boxes that hold those cards, letters, cassette tapes and drawings and see how our relationship developed.  But those items only hold the beginning of our love story.  Most romantic comedies confuse romance with love, and then they end at the beginning of love.  Ah, those beautiful times when love is new.  The grass has forsaken the winter snow and hibernation and has become green again.  The trees are brimming with birds singing and new leaves unfolding.  Can we take a moment to deeply sigh longingly in the romance of young love?

Okay, that’s enough.

The reality that those of us who have lived-longer-than-our-teens know is that love encompasses so much more than the shallow depths of its newness.  Love grows to depths we couldn’t imagine in the beginning–and would completely scare us off if we knew the ugly paths we’d have to traverse to strengthen love for one another.  We find an everlasting beauty and depth of love in our scars–the times others had to help us, and the times we had to shore up our own strength to help another.  I think of the parent who tries to talk a child off a literal ledge to (hopefully) save the child’s life.  The spouse who takes care of a dying partner.  The woman who courageously chooses to leave an abusive relationship, rather than have her daughter grow up thinking that love destroys the body, mind and soul.  The man who embodies integrity, kindness, gentleness when he’s at his best, and humility when he fails.  The couple who weather the decades of life-issues, children-issues, health-issues, job-issues and allow those circumstances to grow them up individually and bond them collectively.

If you’re in love’s newness stage, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you’re well-rooted in love, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you express your love for others as a single, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you have lost a loved one, remember the heart-soaring, heart-breaking times, and let the remembrance of deep love accompany you in your grief and allow your heart to heal, in its time.

Too much of the news fills us with the knowledge of evil, injustice, dream-squashing in this world of ours.  It’s easy to forget that God’s image in us makes us capable of brilliant acts of courage:  staring down the powerful when they forget the breaking backs upon whom they stand, gently caring for the orphans and diseased, tirelessly teaching the challenged ones who are often overlooked.  Those who vulnerably open their hearts to receive the pain and fear of others to show that God’s love really can bring hope to mirthless places and rekindle faith that God has not forgotten us.  Those are love letters we all need to find!  Those are love letters we need to live!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Celebrating Life!

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So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1 (The Voice version)

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. –Philippians 3:12 (The Voice version)

This past week, I went to the funeral of one of my mom’s dearest friends.  I used to babysit for him and his wife before they moved out of the Phoenix area.  While my mom kept up with them–through fairly consistent weekly phone calls with his wife–I only heard bits and pieces of news from my mom through the years.  Missions trips, marriages, birth of a baby for the now-grown children; and retirement, travel and spiritual epiphanies for her friends.  Traveling to the funeral, memories from childhood to adolescence flooded my heart.

Funerals gather an interesting assortment of people–people who knew the person from all aspects of his life.  My mom’s friends had started attending a church with Messianic influences several years ago (I don’t know if it’s an official ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregation or not).  They had studied Hebrew and travelled to Israel.  I didn’t know them in this context.  As photos of them and their family scrolled on an overhead, I didn’t recognize the later pictures of their life.  Then, the earlier pictures repeated.  Ah, there was the man I knew.  There were the kids I remembered.  There was his wife whose laugh always sounded so musical.  There was the family I went to the drive-in with during a rainstorm and ate popcorn while watching The Cat From Outer Space.

As people told stories of his influence in their lives, almost all of them (except for his children’s stories) came from people who only knew him in recent years.  They described a man who sounded bigger than life.  A great man.  An encouraging man.  A giving  and selfless man.  His daughter finally spoke and reminded everyone that he was human–with faults and insecurities.

That was the man I knew:  the human one.  Not that he wasn’t a great guy when I knew him; but he hadn’t yet matured into the man these people knew.  He still had edges that needed softening.  His God-given gifts needed some humility and training.  His life in Christ was new and uncultivated.  I recognized a piece of the man his friends described–his best qualities had been well-seasoned with humility over the years.

I thought of another death of a family friend from long ago.  I remember my mom and dad talking about his funeral.  I knew him from a child’s perspective and loved him.  He asked my mom if she would call me ‘Maggie.’  (‘No’ was the answer.  I had to wait until I moved out of the house to take on that nickname.  Another story for another time…)  He was loud, funny and wore bow ties.  At his funeral, his first wife came and said, “You all act like you really liked him.”  She knew him as an unkind alcoholic.  We knew the person he became, and he looked precious little like his former self.

I reflected that night on the conversation my parents had about their other friend’s death, and the conversations I had with family and friends at this recent funeral.  I knew the man he was becoming.  His friends from later years knew the man he became.  I got to see some of the hard-work-of-his-soul.  They experienced the fruit of his journey with Christ.  Together, our memories contained a fullness of his total person.  I began to feel so much joy from the knowledge that he continued to mature and didn’t stay static–even though in my mind he remained a young father.  That joy overflowed through my being as I realized we all have the opportunity to change.  No season of our lives, no event in our lives, no person in our lives has to define our identity.  We can grow.  We can change.  We can become our best selves.  In my belief system, we need the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to develop that identity and constantly revise our thinking to become more like Christ.  We need God to remind us what His image looks like and that all of us carry His imprint. I appreciate the reminder to once again celebrate the people we once were, the people we are now, and the people God has yet to reveal in us.

I grieve my mom’s loss of a friend, his wife’s loss of her beloved husband, his children’s loss of their honored father, his community’s loss of his wisdom and generous spirit.  I rejoice that he now stands with the cloud of witnesses, having run his race well.  I pray we can all live our lives in similar fashion–with integrity, humility, wonder, and reverence–leaving a legacy worthy of celebration!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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