lenten journeys: self-control

Self-control is a big deal in Lent. I mean, you give up coffee for forty-seven days and you learn how automatically you tend to head for the kitchen first thing in the morning. You start to hear yourself say "NO!" a little more often, and (realizing this is very negative) begin to teach yourself to look at that nice healthy green tea and say "Yes...." (in a very cajoling "I know you don't want it, but it's good for you" sort of way). Thank heaven for soy chai tea lattes!

This year I'm finding the Lenten season to be teaching me self-control on a deeper, and probably more lasting level than the usual "giving something up" routine, tho, and I'm really glad for it. Part of what I'm doing this year, rather than simply giving things up, is trying to become a better steward of what I have - and so to begin, I made a decision to not go to the store until I'd eaten the food I already have.

Can I tell you how sick I am of frozen soup?

I love to cook. I don't have a ton of time to do it, so I tend to cook a lot over the weekend and eat leftovers all week. I also tend to make ginormous crock pots full of soup and freeze half of it for later. Kashi frozen entrees are also a staple item - and living 10 minutes from two really nice grocery stores is also handy.

It's been incredibly challenging these past couple of weeks. I don't think I realized how often I would just run to the store because I wanted something. So, after two weeks of eating mostly frozen soup, I have become a menu planner. Yes, there is still a week's worth of soup in my freezer. No, I would not starve. Yes, I might go batty if I don't eat something else. So I am going shopping today. At the small grocery store half an hour away that sells mostly organic and locally produced food, at far lower prices than the bigger and more convenient stores down the road. And I have a list.

Already, in just two weeks, I am watching my diet and my finances change for the better, just by exercising a little bit of self-control: a fruit of the Spirit that, while not absent from my life, did need a little tending to help it grow in some areas. It's been a good - if soup-y - journey thus far. And I am so looking forward to something different for dinner tonight! (Tho I will confess, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have been to the store a couple of times to pick up frozen pizza. But that was more because a frozen Kashi pizza is my Friday night thing, and not having one on hand was the result of very poor pre-Lenten planning. Next Friday's pizza is already in the freezer. And I am choosing not to have it for lunch...)

lenten journeys: rediscovering sabbath rest

Over the past couple of years, the rhythm of my life has changed frequently. A little less than two years ago, I was leading worship at another church on Sundays. A year ago, I wasn't going to church at all. Now I'm... well, I don't really have a title, but I do stuff for Torch.

Finding Sabbath rest in the varied rhythms of each of these three seasons has looked a little different. Two years ago, I think I sort of took a Sabbath on Saturdays, and once a month, tried to take a whole afternoon as a "Geneva Day." Last year, being temporarily "unchurched," I generally had all day Sunday, and was pretty serious about making that a Sabbath day. Now, being very churched on Sundays (and often several evenings per week), I've been pretty disciplined about taking a Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. I don't do it perfectly. Occasionally I sneak in a few emails and whatnot - but I do try really hard to make sure I have a large chunk of time that I'm not doing church stuff, and am intentionally resting, reading, reflecting, relaxing, etc. I spend time with friends, I watch movies, I cook dinner. It's nice.

Yesterday... yesterday, I did not do that. Yesterday I woke up, turned on the computer, and started catching up on a lot of administrative whatnot that I've been putting off, partly because I knew it was going to time-consuming and I didn't have time to get it done, and partly because I tend to procrastinate. I spent probably a good eight hours of my day yesterday getting stuff done that I needed to get done. I also talked to my mom, and watched the Olympics, and had dinner. I'd been up late on Friday, and toward evening, I began to get a little crabby because I was tired, but I caught a second wind and got back to work, and the evening ended up being really fun, rehearsing for what turned out to be a really good service this morning, and building a slideshow. It was fun and creative, worshipful even, and I went to bed tired, but happy - and feeling rested.

How did that happen? Is it possible that, while not keeping the Sabbath as I usually do, I didn't completely break it either? I'm not sure. There are all kinds of legalistic arguments running through my head on both sides of the issue. But here's what I know: I had a lot of stuff hanging over my head that really needed to get done, and it's done now, and I can relax and not worry about it anymore. I had an early and busy, but super-worshipful and fun day today, and then I got to come home and watch a movie and have some tea and blog for awhile, and today - for all that I "worked" in the morning" has been a super-restful day, at least internally. Yes, I'm tired. I can also go to bed early, because all my stuff is done.

So which day was my Sabbath? Yesterday, when I stayed home and got stuff done, but didn't have to go anywhere and was able to spend half the day in my pjs drinking tea and being productive? Or today, when I had to be out the door early and serve at my church, but spent quality time with people and had some down-time too?

I have no idea. Maybe they were both a bit of Sabbath and a bit not. But as I wrestled with guilt over not being lazy yesterday, I went back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees about Sabbath-keeping. No, my inbox wasn't a sheep in a pit that needed to be rescued. But honestly - I kind of felt like a sheep in a pit, and that pit is way less deep now than it was at midnight on Friday. I'm not intending to make a habit out of making Saturdays my catch-up days. As a matter of fact, next Saturday I am sleeping in, going to the grocery store (with a list), and meeting my friend Eric for coffee at a book store. (And by "coffee", I mean a soy chai tea latte.)

But for this week - well, as Jesus reminded the Pharisees, the Levites broke a lot of Sabbath laws. They had to, to do their jobs. God knew how much I needed a day just to plow through and get my stuff done, and while far from lazy, it was a really good day - and so was today.

lenten journeys: learning to breathe

Today is the first day of Lent, and as usual, I'm a little reflective. This is the beginning of a long season. 40 days (47 if you count Sundays) until we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus - one of the absolute best parts of the amazing Story we live in. I am looking forward to Holy Week! But between now and then.... 47 days.

Julie wrote a beautiful post this week about Lent and her journey with the practice of "giving something up" for Lent. Giving something up is, as she says, about sacrifice - but you're not supposed to do it just for the sake of doing it. The point is to allow the discipline of sacrificing something to be a tool in God's hands, to allow Him to transform you. It was a timely reminder as I begin my own Lenten journey: I am not giving up coffee and junk food and all the other various and sundry things I feel led to cut out of my diet just for the sake of doing it - nor even for the sake of becoming more healthy, tho that will likely happen. I am giving them up because the very act of doing so will teach me discipline and self-control and point me to Jesus, and in His presence, I will be changed for the better. I will become more of the person He means me to be. I will learn some things along this stretch of the road that, while it's possible I could learn elsewhere, I am choosing to learn here.

Lent often feels a little desert-like. I had a dream the other night, and in it was this vast desert-scape: mesas painted glorious shades of reds and browns and khakis, and tufts of dying grass. It was beautiful and barren. And I heard Him say, "I am the one who speaks life to the desert." And then I sensed, rather than saw, that it was all about to change. The desert was about to become a lush valley, full of trees in bloom and rushing streams. It was just about to happen...

And I believe this is part of what my journey this Lenten season will be - watching God speak life into me. It begins, I discovered this morning, with learning to breathe (again). Breathing out my contrition. Breathing in His mercy. Breathing out my frustration with how packed my schedule is right now. Breathing in His ability to walk with me through it and lead me to still waters, even in the midst of it all. Breathing out my whacked perspectives. Breathing in His wisdom. And sometimes - simply sitting still in the middle of all the chaos for 20 seconds and remembering to breathe. God once hovered over the chaos of the deep - and spoke life into it. So I pray with the words of this hymn:

Hover oe'r me, Holy Spirit,
Bathe my trembling heart and brow;
Fill me with Thy Hallowed Presence
Come, oh, come and fill me now.

Fill me now, fill me now,
Holy Spirit, fill me now.
Fill me with Thy Hallowed Presence,
Come, oh, come, and fill me now.

- Elwood H. Stokes, 1879
(c. Public Domain)

Come, oh, come, and fill me now. Amen.

*sidenote: courtesy of The Upper Room and The Uncluttered Heart, I found The Awkward Season this morning. I'll be using this as my devotional for Lent this year, if anyone wants to join me. (some of my thoughts here were sparked by her post this morning.)