Reading this article
about a ninety-five year-old woman who was one of Hitler's food tasters, I was struck by the conclusion: Now at the end of her life, she feels the need to purge the memories by talking about her story. "For decades, I tried to shake off those memories," she said. "But they always came back to haunt me at night."
The walking wounded among us are not just holocaust survivors. Now is the time to begin dealing (with the past) and healing. Not wallowing in it, but praying through it, and in some cases, getting counseling, maybe for a season...or seasons...and not just for yourself, but for those close to you, with whom you are most likely to perpetuate the cycle of pain, if you don't stop it in its tracks.
We are born broken from our inherited sinful nature, and then the broken people who raise us inflict more damage, but when we invite God into the pain of the past, he picks up the pieces and makes us into magnificent mosaics. Fragile but held together by the strength of his love and radiant with his beauty. We are still his image bearers, even with the marks of our brokenness. And he joins us in our scars, his pierced hands and feet reminding us of his limitless love for those who will receive it.
Most people (well, only the lucky few who get them) take a sabbatical every seven years, but in my case, I've taken a sabbatical for seven years. Not from a job, though, but from what I'm doing right now: blogging.
Seven years ago (maybe even to the day), I signed off what was then known as the God blogosphere. I was part of that first wave of Christian bloggers who started talking aloud and then to each other. We created a larger dialogue that manifested itself in posts and comments and blog carnivals and even a convention - GODBLOGCON. Despite different denominations, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more, there was a kinship between us. That's not to say there wasn't also controversy and tension, but it didn't dominate our interactions.
My first blog was called Proverbial Wife. I started it in late 2003 or early 2004 (I had my first baby at that time, so it's a bit hazy, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). The name was a reference to the Proverbs 31 woman, whom I aspired to be, and it was quite catchy, but despite its popularity, I eventually changed it (felt like to much to live up to), and that - changing blog names - was to become a pattern with me. I can't even remember all the names, but the main ones were Marla Swoffer (as in dot com) and Marla's Musings and Always Thirsty. I also had multiple blogs at various times - notably, Olive Cheeses (food blog), GodBlogRoll (a directory of blogs categorized by bloggers' Myers-Briggs personality types), and Intellectuelle, a group blog of Christian women who won a writing contest I dreamed up - it was hosted by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost.
I loved connecting with others who shared my faith and were deep thinkers, since it had rarely happened offline after I finished school. It was as close as I would get to being part of something like the Inklings - that group of Christian writers which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary (and in Lewis' case, spiritual as well) heroes. Speaking of the Inklings, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the way my blog got its wings was when it was noticed by Jared Wilson, ringleader of what was then The Thinklings, a group blog, which though all male, I considered kindred spirits. They were the first ones to spread "the conversation" to my fledgling blog. (mind you, when I use that phrase, it has nothing to do with anything "emergent")
After 2+ years of blogging daily (or more), I had a solid readership, but the nagging feeling (conviction) that I needed to change my priorities finally got through to me with the news that I was pregnant with my third (and last) child. I had sensed that I should quit blogging when I was about to have my second child, a year before, but when an amazing and generous couple who read my blog gifted me with my first apple computer (which totally converted me) - a macbook (after I joked that I would blog during my labor if I only had a laptop) - I felt that I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, that with this second baby perhaps I'd finally master time management.
That was not to be. And instead of writing from inspiration, it had become an obligation to perform fueled by my desire for acceptance/affirmation/admiration as well as a more pure motive of wanting to encourage and connect with others. But there I had trouble as well - I was too transparent and vulnerable. I didn't "overshare" by today's blogging standards, but it was too much for my personality type (we INFJs are extremely private) and there were other factors at the time (see I've learned to censor myself) that made keeping certain deep things offline even more important (hint: never work out stuff on the internet that you haven't worked out with people in real life first).
The other problem was that because of being a crusader for truth, I was attracted to controversy, or it to me, but whatever the case, it got ugly. The stuff I alluded to in the aforementioned paragraph got mingled in with the online drama, which caused me major distress...and did I mention I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy? That brings me back to the biggest reason I had to quit blogging: my family. I had three year-old and one year-old daughters, with a son on the way. I wanted my attention to be focused on them - after all, they were the reason I was staying home. I also wanted to guard their privacy. And of course there was my husband, too. My online life definitely detracted from my real life - I simply couldn't spread myself so thin, especially being the slow, methodical, non multi-tasking person that I am. I won't even mention how my daily hours online affected the housework...
So that is why I quietly exited my public writing life seven years ago, feeling both relief and grief, but believing I would one day return to my writing (since I have always known - well, since high school - that it's a calling/vocation) when the kids were all in school and I would have my mornings free. That was supposed to have happened this last fall, but three years after I quit blogging, we unexpectedly became a homeschooling family, and I knew things would never unfold the way I had planned, but I also didn't (and don't) regret being on this path...and adventure really...that God has marked out for us. I also know how much it will enrich my writing.
Somewhere in there, I started blogging again (what can I say, I couldn't stay away), but not with my real name and not with any consistency. Thus I had no readership until a couple of years ago when I adopted the Literary Mom pseudonym. I was already a regular Facebook customer (see, even quitting my day blog couldn't keep me offline...sigh...), so setting up a writerly page really couldn't be helped. Thus, instead of blogging, I was blurting out thoughts and curating information for others (i.e. amassing lots of interesting links that came into my massive news feed caused by an untold number of page likes). That continues to this day, though I have "unplugged" from Facebook for weeks and months at a time (fasting it from it for Advent or Lent usually) to sort of reset myself. The internet is paradoxically a perpetual source of angst and delight for me as a person and a writer. I have a love-hate relationship with it and its social media offspring.
This past Lent, I gave up white flour and sugar and alcohol (except on feast days of course), and found myself blogging a little more frequently, which was what I set out to do, albeit half-heartedly. It felt surprisingly right and good. That got me thinking about how long it had been since I had left the God blogosphere; I realized it was exactly seven years. Through the working out of various circumstances (including a reconciliation I consider miraculous) in recent months, I had felt a gentle nudging to come out of hiding, so to speak, but also a sense of trepidation. Nothing had changed for me to be able to suddenly devote myself to my writing - my kids aren't little, but they're still young - and homeschooling is very consuming. So I really wasn't sure what the point in using my real name now would be, yet I also started to feel bothered about my picture being a face behind a book. While it had been apt for a season, I sensed that keeping it (and continuing to not use my real name) began to reflect a kind of cowardice that didn't apply to me. In fact, overcoming fear continues to be a major theme in my life.
So the seven year timing (I'm big on patterns and symbols and rhythms), feeling free to be myself, and rediscovering the joy of writing all gave me the inspiration to throw off the anonymity that bound me and cautiously start a new chapter in my blogging life, going forward with the lessons learned from my previous one, as well as what I have learned during these past seven years of relative reclusivity.
Here are some of my blogging resolutions:
I will not market myself or network or have giveaways (not really my personality anyway).
I will not blog out of compulsion or obligation or on any kind of timetable.
I will steer clear of controversial subjects, especially pertaining to other bloggers and their views.
I will write to express what matters, not just to me, but to others, and most of all, to God.
I will keep my family my first priority and not let blogging distract me or steal time from them.
I will be careful about what I share, guarding my family's privacy and not getting too personal.
If I am ever unsure, I will pray about what to say. I will not impulsively blog.
I will not compare myself to other bloggers or compete with them.
I will not feel compelled to respond to every comment. In fact, responding to comments will be the exception rather than the rule.
It all started with a groupon. Half off the price for one hour in a sensory deprivation flotation tank sounded intriguing, especially after I researched the concept - what's not to like about all that soothing epsom salt and 60 minutes of uninterrupted solitude? Plus, I love the sensation of floating
and serenity and relaxation. Long ago in college, I had once gotten a deal on tanning sessions, and although I never repeated that experience, I did actually enjoy the time spent under those lamps in that coffin-like bed - it was warm and peaceful.
So I bought the groupon - a LivingSocial voucher actually - and when it was approaching its expiration, I finally made an appointment, in fact the only one available, since everyone else was cashing theirs in last minute as well. I started to feel a little nervous and thought about cancelling, but I didn't want to flake on a commitment or lose the money...or most importantly - give in to fear.
The day finally arrived. That day was today. I dropped off the kids at my mom's and drove to the establishment with the float tanks. Upon entering the reception area, I was told the rules (basically the grown-up version of "don't pee in the pool" which includes a lot of other stuff), given a healthy, yummy cookie (which I could actually eat
), and then I sat in awkward silence with two men in the waiting room - one reading a book, the other staring off into space, since his only other choices were our eyes or the ceiling or floor. I sipped water and rummaged through my purse for a hair band I knew I didn't have.
A few minutes later, the owner, handed me a hair band and whisked me to the bathroom where I was to shower briefly. When I was all ready to go, I stepped across the hall to the room with the tank, which was actually just a curtained off area next to another curtained off area with another tank. In fact, the reception area, waiting room, and tanks were all in the same room, or seemed to me to be, but it was very dimly lit and I was mildly freaked out, so I'm not totally sure, but such details have no bearing on my tale anyway.
The tank door was open, so I put in ear plugs, and peered inside. It looked very dark. Indeed, as I stepped in, I realized that when I shut the door, it would be almost pitch black. I was in a quandary. I didn't like the idea of not being able to see at all, nor did I realize in advance that it would be unlighted, but my only other choice was to leave the door open, which would create a draft, and more crucially, only a curtain would separate me from being exposed to the world. I couldn't take that chance. Worse than not seeing would be being seen. I really wished I had worn a swimsuit, but everything I read had recommended against that, saying that the fabric would add weight and create an uncomfortable wet/cold feeling.
So I closed the door and I floated and I didn't like it. Actually I liked the floating, but that was all. I tried putting my hands under my head, like the owner had suggested if I have neck/shoulder tension, which I do. Still, I didn't feel relaxed. I felt existential. I started to think that this is how atheists imagine death - simply ceasing to exist - a place of total darkness...but wait, if I'm thinking, that can't be non-existence, so actually this was more like hell, except for one big difference, I'm not separated from God. But even knowing that, and weakly attempting to pray, my intuitive self couldn't shake the creepy vibe, that something was spiritually amiss in this setting. I asked myself why my soul was at peace floating in a pool or the ocean, but not here. My answer: no sky, no sun, no trees, no space even to bask in the beauty of God's creation and to breathe in his grace.
Breathing. That was what happened next. I realized my mouth was closed, so I tried opening it and breathing more intentionally, but it still felt somewhat labored. Combined with the feeling of stuffiness/humidity and an irrational fear that I might suffer from oxygen deprivation (and even a vague paranoid delusion of a hypothetical situation that someone could be trying to kill me this way), I was overcome by an intense desire to breathe freely and deeply. I opened the door and gulped in the delicious air.
That's when I decided it was worth taking the one percent chance that someone would tear open the curtain and see my birthday suit. So I left the door open and went back to floating. Brr. And still no view. Sight yes; anything worth seeing, no. One thing I knew for sure, I couldn't close that door again. I would not face that darkness and feel the muggyness and worry about my breathing. It was all over for me, not more than 15-20 minutes into my hour.
This is not where my tale ends, however. First of all, I would be remiss if I didn't share one other part of my experience, which albeit a little embarrassing, is worth noting. In fact, it may actually have been the one thing I could take home with me. When I first laid down in the tank, the warm water, the dark room, my body stretched out...well, it put me in the mood. My husband is nearly always in the mood - perhaps it's more accurate to say he's on standby - and I'm mostly not, so this was interesting. It made me think that I should try taking a warm bath on those nights when I'm not feeling it, because it might just open up a seat for him if my love jets are all fired up. Sorry, I couldn't resist carrying the airport analogy further, though of course I will not talk about the flight itself, as this is a G-rated blog...well, maybe it's PG-13.
So where was I? Oh yeah, just getting out of the flotation tank. Wrapped in towels, I tiptoed a little ways down the hall toward the reception area, saw a man and woman seated at the reception desk, and called out the owner's name. Thankfully she hustled over to me, and I explained it wasn't working out. She was really nice and suggested I try folding up a towel to put in the door to let a little light and air in (beyond what the air holes were already letting in, which wasn't much). She saw by the look on my face that I was done, and she said understandingly, "it's just not for some people," and I nodded.
After I showered and dressed, I planned to just take off, but the owner came into the reception area, so because I felt like I should make some parting words, I said somewhat laughingly, "I guess I'm just a child of the light." She replied, "but there is light." I said, "There's a little," and she said, "I mean light inside of you." Then she invited me to sit down. So we had a conversation about God and darkness and love and Rumi and stuff like that. Just your every day Buddhist meets Christian kind of dialogue. Except that I was breathing silent prayers of help for what to say. At the end of our five minute chat, she said she wished I had liked floating because she would have enjoyed having me come there on a regular basis. And then she gave me another cookie. The end.
Well, not really the end. When I was in the car, starting to beat myself up for wasting money on another groupon that didn't turn out to be what I expected...I had an epiphany. What if the whole reason I bought the groupon wasn't for me in the first place. What if it was for those five minutes that God wanted to bless another person and draw her toward him...even to do a little name dropping, just in case...the name of my church, that is, because I know I'm biased but I really think it's the most grace-filled place where I live, and I know people there who have found their way in the darkness to light and healing and hope - hope was a word that really lit her up when I said it, as I was talking of God's restoration, of him one day making this broken world whole, but for now we get glimpses of his beauty as a foretaste of what's to come. The idea of community also resonated with her. She has only lived here a year and she said she really misses her spiritual community back east - I could see that longing in her face.
I reflected back on all my "spa" experiences - most of my groupon splurges have been for food or pampering. Nearly every single one was not the quiet "ahh" time I had hoped for (though still usually blissful, I admit), but instead a deep conversation with the aesthetician, always leading to spiritual things. I realized that because of my lifestyle, in which I am fairly consumed by raising and educating my children, it's rare for me to meet, let alone have hour long conversations with total strangers, especially those outside my faith. Rarer still is for that to happen right after I've just read Romans 5:12-21
, one of my favorite passages about sin and grace, which excellently nutshells the gospel. In fact, I had been so moved by it that I read it aloud to my children just before we left the house, and it had sparked a good discussion between my oldest and me.
One last thing. Part of me wrestled with whether I did the right thing in ending my session early. Granted, I wouldn't have had that meaningful conversation with the owner had I not been "unusual," nor would there have been time for it. But still, it caused me to think about my fears and resistance to being absolutely, totally alone with God. Because I had the opportunity, albeit an uncomfortable one (but aren't those the best for growing?), and instead of praying away the distractions of my own body and mind, I pronounced the unfamiliar not good. I'm still unsure about this. Part of me is very convinced it was a light vs. dark experience and that I did the right thing in choosing the light. The other part wonders if I should have persevered longer, if it would have helped me to more fully trust and rely on God. Either way, Romans 8:28
is the final word and I find that comforting.
I was tempted to title this "My Recurring e-Harmony Nightmare" because that's what it feels like. At first it was humorous. Then amusing. Eventually annoying. And now agonizing. Just when I think it's gone for good, that I've worked through whatever issue it stems from, it returns. Again. And again.
It goes like this: I am 40 (before I was 40, it was my late thirties), I am single, I am depressed, I am feeling my biological clock tick. I feel scared and lonely and desperate. Just when I am going through this panic/dread, I have an epiphany: e-Harmony! But of course! Why didn't I think of that sooner?! I need to get online right now and meet the man of my dreams.
Sometimes it ends right there. Other times just as I'm planning to try it, I realize that I am married and have children...and I am very happy to suddenly remember that. The other night - it had been a while since my last e-Harmony dream - I actually didn't even get as far as e-Harmony, and there was a bit of twist, because this time it was all about wanting children, and being afraid I wouldn't be able to. It was a horrible feeling, so I was whimpering in my sleep, and my husband woke me up and comforted me. That was a better ending than usual, but I still can't figure out why I have this dream over and over, albeit sporadically. It's been happening for the last three or four years or maybe even longer. I would say I've dreamt it at least ten times, about once a quarter, sometimes in clusters, sometimes with long stretches in between.My theories thus far:
1. During my decade long quest for my soulmate, searching for "the one" became part of my identity and purpose in life, so those roots are resurfacing (read more here
2. When e-Harmony came out, shortly after I met my husband, I thought it was really cool, since it used Myers-Briggs personality typing to match people. Part of me was disappointed that I didn't get to try it - not because I didn't think my husband was the right guy for me, but because of my insatiable curiosity.
3. It's somehow representative of all my deepest fears - of unfulfilled longings, unmet expectations, abandonment, inadequacy, etc.
4. It's a sign for me to pray for my single friends and to encourage them to sign up for e-Harmony. I've actually done this. Both praying and nudging.
...Well, when I told my husband what my bad dream was, he had the best explanation yet:
It's so that I'll wake up thankful to God for my family.
So since I've failed to have a consistent Bible reading plan for...oh, a number of years...I had hoped to try afresh with the start of the church year, but it didn't happen until the advent of Lent (pun intended), at which point I began following the daily office of the Book of Common Prayer, which takes you through the Bible in two years in a sequential fashion - not in order or chronologically, but through three books of the Bible at a time with each day having a passage from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and an Epistle. It also has several psalms (think it takes you through them twice). Thematically, the readings are patterned after the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea is to read the Word morning, noon, and night, but I usually just do it in the mid-afternoon when my children are having quiet time in their rooms, and if I miss that, then right before I go to sleep, or if I miss that, then two days' worth at once (which is what's happened this week). I haven't yet worked in the psalms, but I'm hoping to read one in the morning and one at night.
Today I read in Deuteronomy and Hebrews about belief vs. unbelief (God's faithless and unfaithful chosen people) , and then Jesus' words in John 3
about baptism and spiritual rebirth...fast forward to tonight when I read The Princess and the Goblin
by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis' favorite author) to my daughters, the chapter was all about belief /unbelief - including the truth that even seeing isn't always believing, and it used the imagery of baptism - the princess submersed in a a magical bath that cleanses and renews her, inducing a peaceful sleep. As we were discussing the Christian symbolism (really the first time it's been obvious and we're pretty deep into the book) of believing the gospel, dying to our sinful self, and becoming born again, which baptism represents, I suddenly realized it was all so evident to me because I had just read it in the Bible! Yet another divine serendipity
I left the debut meeting of a new book club (six women from my church) wondering if Literary Mom is a misnomer. I'm really not all that widely read when it comes to fiction and other forms of creative writing. I love good literature but it's only recently (thanks to classically educating my children) that I've begun to read the classics. As for novels written in the last one hundred years (other than Lewis & Tolkien), I've only read what I was required to in school, so when the other women were bouncing book titles off each other, I was strangely brought back to middle school P.E. where the ball was passed to everyone but me. It didn't take long for them to figure out I wasn't athletic, and after a few rounds of literary back and forth (i.e. have you read xyz?), I was on the sidelines. Of course no one made me feel inferior (except maybe my own self), but it was cause for introspection.
What have I missed by not reading fiction written in the last 50 years? 20 years? Decade? I've read biographies, memoirs, and all sorts of non-fiction, though I admit mainly Christian books, but I do think (and I say this rather sheepishly) there are at least half as many good ones as bad ones out there (but that's sort of an evolving assessment). I've also read many spiritual classics, and I continue to be drawn those kind of books. I'm just now coming to a fuller appreciation of story, but I am skeptical of what modern writers who don't know Christ have to teach me through their imagination. I don't want to invest precious time in their words - honestly, I'd rather just see the movie...and even that has become rare. Instead, I have a strange affinity for serial TV shows. If I'm going for pure entertainment, I don't want to have to do any work, and I prefer the story not to end, so I can chill out with the characters I've come to know and love.
So when I do buckle down and read a work of fiction, I have to believe it will be relevant and redemptive...if not life altering. Who are these authors? What are they filling their minds with? The creators of worlds and peoples and situations...they all draw from their life experiences and beliefs and observations, which they make through the lens of where they come from and what they've been taught to see. Just because someone can tell a good story, does that mean the story is good? Should we be intimately influenced by so many voices? Do we even know how they are affecting and shaping us?
If you're a fellow INFJ (or even if you're not), are you always on a quest to find the perfect ______? Do you enjoy the thrill of the search more than actually finding whatever it is? Once you find it, are you on to looking for the next thing? For me right now it's road trips. We've never camped, so I'm hunting for the perfect spot for a weekend getaway - not too far from home, but not so close it's familiar; not too modern but not too primitive (showers); woods and also water; fishing for the husband and swimming for the kids; not lots of bugs or poison oak...and on it goes.
Before I was married, my quest was finding my "soulmate" - that kept me occupied for about a decade...not that I didn't look for other things in the meantime - research (introverted thinking) is the INFJ's tertiary/hobby function. Once I met my husband, the new "thing" became finding ways to celebrate special occasions - anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, vacations - I'm sure that, combined with the spiritual aspect, is what drew me to all things liturgical. I love the concept of making something new out of the old and of building traditions that are rejuvenated by creative interpretations.
What's interesting is that the brainstorming, the planning, and the anticipation often turn out to be more fulfilling than the thing itself. In the case of something permanent - like marriage and motherhood - thankfully that hasn't been true (though I have a strange recurring dream that I'm turning 40 - which I am shortly - and I'm still single, but just when I'm on the verge of hopelessness, I remember eHarmony - this dream is *very* annoying). With short-term quests, though, I sometimes spend more hours researching (and building up expectations) than actually doing whatever it is. I've read that actually most people enjoy the anticipation of a trip more than the trip itself.
INFJs, with our dominant introverted intuition always idealizing, our extroverted feeling making us want to be emotionally fulfilled while pleasing others, our preference for judging that drives us to perfectionism, planning, and getting everything settled, our introverted thinking function that analyzes everything to death...when all that goes into something that will be realized (lived out) with our inferior function of extroverted sensing - it can be somewhat of a letdown. I'm drawn to camping because it taps into that part of me that's not as developed - the hands-on sensory world - and in the best way, by enjoying God's creation. Still, all of my vicarious virtual camping is not going to translate to the perfect family getaway. I will struggle with setting up tents, getting dirty, lacking creature comforts, hearing the kids whining, quarreling with my husband over the best way to roast marshmellows (just kidding), fighting off mosquitoes, hauling stuff around, etc. Most of all, when it's over, I will feel the urge to look for something new to do, but really I'll be seeking something to think about, dream about, look forward to...
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. ~C.S. Lewis
I wrote this 12 years ago, but every summer it comes back to me, because it's still so true...
June 26, 2000
(if you have the REM song, it makes a nice soundtrack to this)
I am lying on my back, staring up into the great arms of the giant Oak stretched out across the dusky sky. Floating on this bed of water, it is as though I am flying without motion. Beneath me, I feel a light touch, an almost imperceptible grasp from head to toe. Invisible hands wrapped around my body, becoming one with it so that I am barely conscious of my physical self.
My mind, no longer barking out frenzied orders to the rest of me, readily relinquishes control to the unseen forces. My senses, too, are at rest--all except for my vision, and even that is obscured by the darkness that now covers the earth. Gazing into the blue-black expanse above me, I see the faint glow of stars illuminating the night one by one, their distant radiance whispering an other worldly existence. Against this ethereal backdrop, the branches of the Oak spread high and wide; they are strong and real and tangible. Yet this tree, like me, is reaching out for something more.
The perfect stillness purifies my thoughts, making them clearer and simpler. Like taking breathing for granted until you open a window in a stuffy room and take in the unexpected pleasure of delicious, fresh air. Or drinking out of a mountain stream and remembering what water is supposed to taste like. My mind, bathed in tranquility, returns to its oft forgotten childlike faith that trusts and hopes without reserve. I revel in the serenity of this place, imagining heavenly hands holding me up as I surrender my will to my Creator. The moment feels timeless to my soul, but my mind, too finite to comprehend the wonder, doubts. I feel the water begin to cover my face, fear sets in and I sink. I rise and fall again and again, relishing the minutes when I’m not bound by my human frailty.
I cannot stay in God’s calming presence forever but it is just long enough for me to have the strength to swim. As I labor to go across the pool, my arms and legs pumping furiously, my breathing rapidly increasing, I am aware that I am not doing most of the work. He is still carrying me as I travel back and forth, gently reminding me that it’s okay to stop and float.
On this Good Friday, I realized something very good. God giving us the seasons - literal and liturgical - proves that he never gives up on us. We always get another chance, a new beginning, a "next time" to do it differently. Notice I didn't say "do it right." We may have to wait for it, but it won't seem like it since whatever time it is, we'll be starting one of those cycles over again - or be in the middle, perhaps floundering, or even just anticipating the end of a certain season, so that we can move on to the next one.
What I mean is this. The last time I blogged
was the beginning of of Lent. I had thought that by giving up and receiving grace for certain things, like reading the Bible in a year, catching up on past projects, etc., I would be able to more fully enter into the liturgy of Lent - do my devotional readings, spend more time praying, concentrate on repentance, quieting myself before God, finishing "The Celebration of Discipline" which I had been reading (barely) since...well, this post
. What I actually did was pretty much give up on all of it. It wasn't intentional, and therein lies the problem. Somehow I have the best intentions but I fail to be intentional. Paradoxes abound. So does grace. Thank God.
So I failed Lent. And it's even worse than that. I also totally stressed over all the stuff I was trying to let go of thinking about. That's probably connected to my lack of connecting with God during this time. And to be totally honest, I had also decided to give up gluten, but I quit after two weeks. It wasn't that I missed it so much. I just didn't know why I was doing it. It turned out not be a spiritual discipline. I think the only food that would qualify for that would be cheese. But I digress. It wasn't the fasting part that made me feel like a failure. It was the part where I missed Lent. Where I didn't even make myself go through the motions except for a few feeble attempts. But guess what? I have next year. Come Epiphany 2013, I hope to start preparing myself for Lent. Because I think that's part of my failure - not planning ahead. Which leads me to my next point.
The two biggest cycles of the church year have down time in front of each of them. With Advent, we've got scads of Ordinary Time, and with Lent, it's the same deal...or it's Epiphany, but not much going on then, especially for us Protestants who don't have all those feast and saint days to bother about - no offense to those that do - I think it's very cool, but I'm a latecomer to all things liturgical.
My main point, though, with this post, is to marvel at how God redeems our mortality, not only through the gift of grace that gives us eternal life, but also through the way he structures time on this earth. Winter, spring, summer and fall (yes, the James Taylor song is running through my head, too) provide a rhythm for life, as well as a context, or a backdrop, if you will, against which we can see our growth and our need for growth. The world around us changes, yet it stays the same. We can either be a hamster on the wheel or we can be the groundhog...er, like that guy in the movie Groundhog Day (all these pop culture references are dating me, I know) who wakes up in the same day every morning (and to Sonny & Cher singing "I got you, Babe"). When he finally sees it as an opportunity to change, he becomes a new person (and gets the girl, of course). But it took waking up in the same day umpteen times for him to finally realize he could live differently.
Spring will come again. So will Easter. So will tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning. Let's remember that when we're groping around for God in the dark of night...or just sitting there on the couch, eating popcorn and zoning out in front of the screen. He's right there with us, ready to take us as far as we'll go, whether it's now or next year or the year after...
Giving up my best intentions. Giving up my less than best efforts. Giving up legalism. Giving up perfectionism. Giving up my pride. Giving up myself.
...So what am I actually giving up?
My plan to read the Bible chronologically in one year, while also reading it liturgically. After plowing through Genesis and Job - man, was that ground rocky - I completely fell off the wagon around the beginning of this month. I never really did consistently do my readings for Epiphany either, but at least I could pick up with Lent, whereas with the one year plan, I couldn't (or wouldn't) skip Exodus and Deuteronomy to get where I was supposed to be with my reading. That left me no choice but to quit and try again next year...or so my perfectionistic all or nothing mentality almost convinced me...until it dawned on me that I could continue reading where I left off if I would surrender the idea of reading the whole Bible in a year. And if I removed the time constraint, I could even have a chance to study those difficult Old Testament passages that were part of the reason my motivation had waned. Moreover, it would leave space to weave in my church year readings instead of feeling like I had to choose between them. Giving up rigidity was gloriously liberating. I wasn't giving up - I was giving in. Giving in to the God whose plans always turn out better than mine.
Catching up on the Past. I haven't printed photos from the last 6 years. With each upload, my burden to get them sorted and printed grows heavier and more seemingly untenable. So I asked myself what is at the root of this? Guilt and fear. I feel bad that my children (ages 9,7,5) aren't able to see pictures of themselves when they were younger. I fear their memories will fade of special times because they haven't been visually reminded. I even fear my life being cutting short and not having properly documented everything. I finally asked myself, "Is it impossible for them to see these pictures if they aren't in book form?" Not at all. For some reason, I hadn't thought it could work for them to browse through iPhoto, even though they often would do that over my shoulder when it was on my screen. I guess I didn't think it was good enough. I had this picture in my mind of our family gathered around the couch, flipping through pages together, reminiscing. Anything less than that seemed like failure. Now I'm giving up that ideal, as well as the fear its rooted in and the guilt it grows...and giving in to grace. I'm trying to apply that to my other unfinished projects, especially organizational ones - the kids' artwork accumulated over the past five years , a decade (our whole marriage) of filing, and so on. I'm not giving up on dealing with it but I am giving up listening to the ticking clock, surrendering my fears of an unfinished life and guilt over failing to preserve our family's legacy in the "proper" way.
Homeschooling by the Book. Although I love The Well Trained Mind, it sets the bar quite high for providing a classical education. But it's home to me - it's where I started and where I feel safest (there's that fear again) and what feels right. At the same time, its rigorousness is beyond my capacity, so I feel inadequate since I never quite can implement all the reading and projects and subjects, which even the authors tell you not to attempt, but my perfectionism plugs its ears and creates a compulsion to complete every curriculum by the end of the school year. All of this pressure has caused me to overemphasize structure and to quicken our pace. This, of course, drains the joy out of learning, and doesn't give us the time to linger longer over what's most interesting or takes more time to master (for lack of a better word). So I'm loosening up and slowing down and stepping back to look at the big picture. Academics are only one of our reasons for homeschooling, so that shouldn't be steering our course. Once again I'm giving up...giving up the wheel and letting God take the driver's seat, even if that means leaving classical country for new educational lands, or commuting back and forth between them, rather than insisting we stay parked in one spot.
Obviously this isn't just for Lent, but it does seem the perfect (haha) season to start the process of giving up and giving into God's grace, beginning with these tangible areas of my life.