How do you find the balance between embracing all the beauty the Christmas season has to offer while keeping your expectations realistic? Sometimes, God works in the most unexpected ways. Read on…
I’m giving up Donald Trump for Lent
Let me explain.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season, which for churchgoers—or anyone with a little history of the church—means the 40-day period leading up to Easter.
For those of you who don’t have the benefit of a lifetime of church attendance, allow me to give you just a bit of background. It’s important. Consider this your Reader’s Digest Condensed version.
The history of Lent can be traced as far back at 325 AD when the Council of Nicaea made it a thing. The Council issued 20 some statements or canons for practical faith, one of which included the mention of Lent. Although there had been recognition and celebration of Holy week and Easter in the Christian church long before, it was the council which declared the 40 days beforehand to be of significance.
The background features the Israelites—God’s chosen people according to the Bible—who were given a litany of instructions regarding sacrifice as atonement for their sins. The first five books of the bible (but really Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) read like a detailed instruction manual straight from God to his people. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. Stay in God’s good books. It’s a bit dry. I totally get why people view the church as legalistic.
Today, many churches still observe the Lenten traditions, but it likely looks a little different than it did some 1700 years ago. The idea behind it is this: it’s the life and death of Christ that forever transforms the Christian church. You see, in his death (which is written in the gospels of the New Testament) resides the ultimate sacrifice, which effectively sets mankind free from all the Old Testament rituals that bound them. One sacrifice pays for all the sin. Freedom!
And so, in observing the 40 days leading up to that period of sacrifice, the modern churchgoer attempts to put themselves in the shoes of Christ himself, when he uttered the words “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42 NLT)
In Christian jargon, we choose to die to self. Live according to God’s will, not our own.
For practical purposes during Lent, that looks a lot like sacrificing something we enjoy or cherish. Something that will make us uncomfortable. Some people give up chocolate. Others forego social media for 40 days. I recently heard about a woman who gave up the comfort of her bed for 40 days and slept on the floor. (That’s sacrifice!)
About a decade ago, I tried giving up coffee; it was then—after two straight days of headache and withdrawal symptoms—that I realized how utterly addicted I am. That “sacrifice” ended pretty quickly and although I think about Lent every year, I’ve yet to come up with something I’m willing to give up for that length of time.
But I digress. The actual benefit of Lent is that every time we think about or crave that thing we’ve chosen to sacrifice, it drives us into God’s arms.
To remember that Christ’s ultimate sacrifice was his life. After all, what’s a bit of chocolate compared to a life? It is to cause us to draw near to God, to depend on his strength to get us through the discomfort, whatever that looks like.
I do think there is merit in the perspective that making some sort of sacrifice can offer. I live in a city and country and during a period of time that is pretty affluent and comfortable. My daily life is generally not characterized by sacrifice or going without. When my cupboards are empty, I can go to the grocery store to fill them. When I want to go to that grocery store, I can take one of the two vehicles I have at my disposal. I can load those groceries into my oversized fridge in my gas-heated home with low E argon windows and energy efficient furnace. My life is pretty good. There are lots of things I could give up for 40 days that will cause me a little discomfort; but only a little in the grand scheme of things. (And no, I’m not willing to try caffeine again.)
Recently, I’ve heard people talk about the notion of adding something TO their lives for 40 days, instead of taking away. Things like setting aside daily latte money for 40 days and making donation to a worthy cause instead, or 40 days of random acts of kindness. These are great ideas! They require one to be deliberate in thought and action for a period of time. Over the years, I’ve considered this approach too. But I’m not a super disciplined person, so I would likely buy the latte because I need caffeine, and at the end of 40 days, send a lump sum cheque to some organization, without doing the actual work of sacrifice and reflection and prayer.
And so, as with all the years, this year is no different for me. In the lead up to Lent, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the significance of personal sacrifice and what I could potentially give. Plus, I’ve spent a bit of time reading about the history of it. Probably because I feel moderately guilty that I don’t actually observe it in any traditional manner and I’m trying to justify that the practice is a creation of the church, not actually biblical instruction.
And then, today I had an epiphany.
This year for Lent, I’m giving up Donald Trump.
What could be better for me spiritually than to determine that for the next 40 days, I will not read one news article or click bait that contains the man’s name?
No Jimmy Kimmel or Alec Baldwin, no SNL, New York Times, or Huffington Post.
Instead, every time I see his name in my newsfeed, I will pray for America. (Though I fear this will keep me on my knees more often than not–which is maybe the point.) I think most would agree that they need our prayers more than ever these days.
You don’t have to look far to see the tremendous fallout in that country on the heels of his election. From the outside looking in, America appears to be a country that has never been more divided. And regardless of what I personally think of the man or his agenda, there are some 320 million people south of my border who are now living in a dramatic resurgence of racism, intimidation, intolerance, disrespect, fear, and violence. And that’s not right. Or good.
While Lent is a manmade way of reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice for us, Scripture does tell us to pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2). And so, that is what I’m going to do for these next 40 days.
Wish me luck.
Or, if you’re so inclined, pray for me.
Better yet, join me.
Between you and me, I think this might actually be more difficult than giving up caffeine.
I visited an exhibition of some works of the Dutch and Flemish Masters a few years ago, during a short visit to Amsterdam. There were works by Van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Rubens, to name a few. These are considered priceless pieces of art, held under lock and key, deemed museum-worthy by someone’s standard.
Crowds line up to see these masterpieces, and though some of these meticulously painted canvases are breathtaking in their detail and portrayal of subject, occasionally, I fail to see what all the fuss is about.
I am the beholder and I don’t see beauty. My eyes see crude brushstrokes and muddy colour, lack of depth, distorted faces and shapes.
I guess that’s why I’m not curating any museum collections.
One of the pieces I had the pleasure of viewing was a little known work by Dutch artist Egon Schiele, called Portrait of Edith. Edith is the artist’s wife.
By earthly standards, as Schiele depicts her, she could hardly be described as beautiful. Her hair is a little askew, she is oddly shaped, her pale face is mottled and she holds only the faintest hint of a smile. Her husband has painted her on an empty background, in which she almost appears to be hanging. Her hands dangle uselessly.
But her eyes tell a different story. They are warm and inviting. Her dress is vivid, stripes of exuberant colour that jump off the neutral canvas.
All I could think as I looked at this woman was her husband’s love for her. The adoration that is so evident in this painting of a plain-looking, flawed, ordinary woman, elevated to radiance through the eyes of her husband.
It causes me to consider God’s role in art. After all, He is the original master artist, creator of everything in and of this earth. Including me.
Have you ever stopped for a moment and considered that? You are a masterpiece.
But, whose eyes do you see yourself through? Are you a reflection of the artist who made you? Or are you looking through a different lens?
The media tells us how we should look, how we should dress, how we should act, and that age is simply a thing to defy. Do you measure up to society’s standard?
So many women are dissatisfied with themselves. Their bodies. Their hair. Their clothes. And the only people that benefit are the industries that feed our dissatisfaction. Those marketing gurus that tell us if we wear this makeup, or those clothes, or lose that weight, then everything will be better. Our life will be brighter.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that all women just start letting themselves go. I’m all for mascara, lip gloss and cover up; heaven knows that sometimes the dark circles beneath my eyes need a little help!
And despite my general disdain for exercise, I know the importance of being healthy and fit.
I certainly don’t want to be defined by how I look–because by society’s standard, my grey hair and plain face already miss the mark. Edith and I have that in common.
Instead, I want to embrace all the wonderful things that age brings with it: wisdom, perspective, authenticity, security, contentment. These things are true beauty.
Look at Psalm 139:13- 18
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!”
What a picture of how God, the master artist, sees the author!
We live in a world filled with plain-looking, flawed and broken people. We are all brushed with different strokes; our colours are muddy and our faces and shapes distorted. This is who we are.
And God thinks you are beautiful!
By His standard you are museum-worthy.
Sixteen years ago this week, my husband got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I answered yes (obviously). But the bigger question here is, who remembers an engagement anniversary?
(Except for my niece, whose engagement video (yes, video) went viral on Youtube and ended up on syndicated television in the US. I can see how maybe she might remember that 16 years on.)
But the rest of us. Really?
Or maybe it’s just me?
I’m not really great with dates in general. But for some reason this one has made its way into my love’s Blackberry calendar. (He’s evidently not that great with dates either.) So, we celebrate the engagement. I won’t ever complain about dinner out.
While I don’t have any recall on the date, I do remember the occasion perfectly. He hatched the plan one evening, getting my two daughters—who were eight and 10 at the time—to scheme along with him.
I was taking evening classes, finishing up the last few requirements of my degree program while working full-time, so every Tuesday evening, he would come over to my place and watch the girls while I was at school.
In my absence, they concocted a plan that involved a tin foil ring (and a couple of prototypes).
When I got home from school, they ambushed me, so I didn’t have time to be annoyed that they weren’t in bed yet. (Well played, kids!)
Giggling, the girls greeted me at the door and led me to where Chris was waiting with a ring box in his pocket. When I was positioned in just the right spot (masking tape x on the carpet?) he dropped to one knee and took my hand.
He pulled the box out of his pocket and proceeded to open it, revealing the most beautiful tin foil engagement ring I had ever seen. (In fact, it was likely the only tinfoil engagement ring I had ever seen… for reasons which will quickly become apparent.)
As he attempted to slip it onto my ring finger, it fell apart—which is where the prototypes came in handy. Quickly, the kids whipped out another one, hopefully sturdier than the last. Note to self: back-up engagement rings should be a thing!
They instructed me to close my eyes and swapped out the tinfoil beauty for an actual real engagement ring. And I knew when I opened my eyes that we weren’t playing anymore. Suddenly, this was real.
We had talked about marriage, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. We hadn’t talked timing, so a Tuesday evening in October was a surprise. But it was a welcome surprise.
It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. My yes didn’t just impact him and me and the fluttery butterflies of new love. My yes was a commitment on behalf of my daughters too. I had to decide that I was willing to take a chance on love again and this time had to consider there were three hearts involved. No longer just one.
There were some people in my life who, for one reason or another, thought I was making a mistake. Another mistake, perhaps. After all, look how well the first marriage worked out for me. By that token, maybe I should have been more skeptical of the symbolic properties of a ring that promptly fell apart?
But 16 years on, this man has cherished and loved not only me, but my daughters too, more than I ever could have hoped for or imagined.
It had nothing at all to do with the ring and—tinfoil or gold—the promise it held is what counts.
During our wedding ceremony four months later, he included vows to both my daughters also, presenting them each with a keepsake box marking a day that was significant for all of us. (Tucked inside each box resides one of the tin foil prototypes.)
Two more daughters now round out our estrogen-heavy family. And I could not ask for a more kind, gentle, loving guy to wrap his arms around us all.
These days, his knees aren’t quite what they used to be. A lifetime of soccer is taking a toll on his body, piece by piece. But if he happened to bend awkwardly down in front of me with a twisted up piece of tinfoil in hand, I’d say yes all over again. (And then help him up.)
I’m not much of a jewelry wearer. Though I love the sparkle of diamonds and can seldom walk purposefully past a shop window glittering with gemstones, I’m not dripping in diamonds and most days can be found with the same pair of little studs in my ears. My wedding rings usually stay on. Occasionally I’ll wear a necklace. Almost never a watch.
But I have this bracelet. I wear it most days. It’s not gold or silver. It’s not expensive nor does it glitter. But it is precious to me. Because it carries a simple message that whispers to my heart.
Life is crazy, isn’t it? Do you feel like that sometimes?
You’re in a season of life and it’s full and busy. And we think there’s salvation in the next stage. But each stage has its own crazy and busy. Each is different and yet so much the same.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is so much good in each season too. The crazy and the busy aren’t necessarily bad. Our lives are full of activity and relationship and work and things that challenge us, mold us and shape us.
It’s just that it all happens so fast.
We always seem to find what it takes to get through each stage, even though when we’re in the trenches it’s hard to see the big picture.
And then, just when the big picture comes into view, sometimes life throws you a curveball.
- You lose your job.
- Money is tight.
- You have kids.
- Someone gets sick.
- A diagnosis of some kind.
- Marriage ends.
- A loved one dies.
- Parents age.
- Something happens with the kids.
The curveball looks different to everyone. It rolls in like a tidal wave, sheer size and force and power. And it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotion of it all. It moves quickly. It’s overwhelming.
Four little words that carry with them the reminder that I’m not alone in the midst of the crazy.
The ability to sit in stillness—to find rest and peace and contentment there—is a lost art for most and I am no exception.
In the grocery store line, I whip out my phone to check my Facebook feed or the latest Instagram photos. In the doctor’s office waiting room, I check my email. If I’m waiting in the car for my daughter to come out after school, I can be found scrolling local news sites or reading my ibook. A steady stream of stimulation keeps my mind tossing and turning.
I may tune out the tsunami of my life for a moment or two, but I fill the deafening silence with other clutter.
And so I wear this little reminder.
The words are rooted in scripture.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
Sounds like a curveball doesn’t it? And yet, in the midst of it all—earth moving, mountains trembling, waters roaring—there is the invitation to simply be still.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Four little words that remind me to just chill.
Trust that no matter what I’m going through, and no matter which season I’m in, I can know without a doubt that I am loved.
And I will find what I need to get through it.
And I will come out the other side a different person—better, stronger, perhaps more humble, but certainly changed.
Four kilometers in four months. That’s how far I’ve managed to get to since I “started over” back in April. It seems like a lifetime ago that I resolved to become a beginner again when I wrote this post.
I was no longer starting a fitness regime from a place of being relatively fit. Instead, I swallowed a heaping dose of humility and mentally and physically put myself back on square one.
I laced up my sneakers and started running from lamppost to lamppost, literally. At the start, I could maybe run a stretch of about 25 metres at a time. Walking the 25 metres in between. My total distance was a humbling 2 km. All the while, the voices in my head—like a tiny angel perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other—competed for my attention.
“This is embarrassing! You are so out of shape! Go home, sit down.” My inner naysayer reminded me over and over again all the reasons I couldn’t and shouldn’t be out pounding the pavement in lycra leggings; all of my love handles on display for passing motorists.
Straining to be heard above the din, my inner encourager (who, sadly, lacks volume and presence) whispered, “Look at you go! You’re out here moving your body! Good for you!” But she’s oh so quiet and hard to hear most days.
Thankfully, she’s persistent.
It wasn’t long before I was able to run the distance between two lamp posts. And then three. And then a whole block between cross streets. Each run, pushing myself to go a little farther than I had the time before.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. By “pushing myself” I actually mean, praying desperately to reach the arbitrary landmark I had set as a goal.
“Please get me to the stop sign.”
“Please get me to the next corner.”
Breathing heavily. Panting. Gasping for air with lungs that refuse to expand. Legs aching: lactic acid flooding the muscle cells, also gasping for oxygen that isn’t coming. There’s simply not enough to go around.
It’s still not pretty. But, here I am almost five months in and I am able to run about 4 km at a stretch. Depending on the elevation gain or loss of my route, sometimes a bit more, occasionally a bit less.
But the most important point that I don’t want to get lost in the story is that I’m still doing it! (Insert sounds of celebration here!)
I’ll be honest though, some days it’s a tough slog just to get out the door. Besides understanding the biology and physiology of pain and lactic acid build-up, learning to run again has also been a physics lesson. Specifically one addressing inertia: “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.”
In other words, an object at rest tends to stay at rest.
Can inertia be considered a medical condition? Because, if so, I definitely suffer from it. Apparently, I LOVE rest. Thankfully that external force required to change my behaviour lives inside my head and mind over matter occasionally wins the day.
With that in mind, I’m looking ahead to a loose goal I set for myself back in April. Built-in accountability—a 5 km run. On Sunday, October 2nd, I’m going to be participating in the CIBC Run for the Cure. And, I’ve officially registered, so there’s no turning back!
It will be an anniversary of sorts for me. My very first formal run was also a Run for the Cure—21 years ago—in 1995. It was another “starting over” for me, only four months after my husband at the time had walked out on our marriage.
It was a tough slog then too. I was younger, undoubtedly in better shape than I am now, but I was still gasping for oxygen – struggling through circumstances that took my breath away. Gut-punched regularly by the rejection that characterized my days.
And yet, I did it. Set a goal. Worked diligently toward it—faith carrying me when I didn’t have the strength to carry myself—and proved to myself that there was good in me. Not only that, but God brought alongside good friends who ran with me, encouraged me, cheered me on.
And now, 21 years and another four months later, I’m doing it again.
I’m still terribly hard on myself. I still have another kilometer I need to get under my belt. I’m glacially slow when I run. (You may think I’m exaggerating, but trust me, I’m NOT!)
But I can see that finish line on October 2 and I’m going to cross it.
The tag line on the registration package for the run this year is “We are all changemakers!” That phrase resonates with me deeply. I know that in this case, it refers to the powerful impact that fundraising and awareness can have on a disease.
But, I take it more personally than that. I am not the same person I was 21 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or two years ago. Or even four months ago. I believe that change is implicit in growth. And change and growth for the good needs to be celebrated.
This year, I’ll celebrate with a run. Who’s with me?