Into the Desert–A different way to think about Lent

I have always tried to find a better way to come at Lent with my kids.

This year is no different, as we are 1 day out and Annie is settled on giving up the monkey bars.

God bless her little heart, she loves her some monkey bars.

It’s probably too much to expect a 7-year-old to be reflective, but Gabe and Kate are now old enough to learn something from Lent.

And the idea of a token “sacrifice” of chocolate or cursing for 40 days has left me wanting more. Maybe because it was always presented to me as a small thing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

But what if that’s the wrong way to think about it?

Nothing I can do will ever match what Jesus did for me.

On Sunday, a solid catechism Bible Scavenger Hunt from my partner teacher Megan dropped a new way to frame Lent into my lap.

All three of the Temptation stories in the Gospels tell us Jesus went into the desert after his baptism to prepare for his ministry.

Why the desert? If the goal was solitude, why not a boat on the sea for forty days? Or a trek into the mountains?

Why the desperate, relentless austerity of the desert?

Yes, it calls back to the forty days Moses spent on the Mount before receiving the Ten Commandments and the forty years the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert and refutes the temptation, staying faithful to God, in contrast to both Adam and the Israelites. There’s a whole world of theological scholarship out there about these forty days.

But I’m just a mom in front of a laptop trying to figure out a way to grow faith in my kids, so I’m going with a boots on the ground application: Jesus went into the desert so he could focus.

In the desert, there are no distractions.

We are running with that this year: Focus—not on what we’re not doing, but on removing the distractions that turn us away from our relationship with God. Making our lives more like a desert for the next 40 days.

Pack up the toys, clothes, stuff that surrounds us. Clear out the clutter. Save money by forgoing nights out, expensive dinners, new things. Use less words, especially of the cursing and gossiping kind. Spend less time online wanting what we don’t have, or what someone else has. Spend less time watching news that is designed to scare, addict, divide. Reject all the ways we are tempted, as the devil tried to tempt Jesus, by the things of this world.

Practice simplicity. Prayer. Contemplation. Fasting.

Listen for the angels who will minister to us.

Open our hearts and hands every day to the word and will of God.

This will be our Lent, our walk in the desert. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew 4:1-2

All the Devils are Here

The idea of Satan used to be unpalatable to me.

He felt mythological, fairy tale-ish. A way to scare children.

But that was when I wasn’t such a good listener.

Since I have tried to let God be the Alpha Dog in my life, the existence of dynamic evil is something I can’t ignore. At the risk of sounding all Jonathan Edwards, I need to share this story.

I have a colleague who has been a successful realtor for 16 years. The last few months have been dry, which is normal for the market—buyers and sellers tend to hibernate for the winter—but in a smaller town with 1200 agents, those months can be long and dark and start to feel like there will never be customers again.

Like any good veteran agent, in the meantime, she has taken advantage of the classes our brokerage offers on marketing and social media and farming and what not. She could probably teach the classes, but she knows that there is always something new to learn.

So she picked a farming strategy for her favorite neighborhood and sent a letter out, introducing herself and talking about the market. Her letter was light and kind and full of experience, because that’s the kind of agent she is.

She sent out 500 letters.

This week she got one back.

It came from a man named Clint in Nevada. By his perfect cursive, I will guess he is in his 70s or 80s and at some point in his elementary years, was taught by the good sisters at a Catholic school.

I can tell you though, the only thing he learned from those sisters was handwriting.

Clint took it upon himself to copy her letter, correct it like he knew what he was talking about, and send it back to her with this charming note at the bottom:

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It crushed her.

“I have great faith”, she told me in tears, “and I have prayed and prayed and asked God if this is what I should be doing and promised to follow His plan. Every time I think I’m going to do something else, I feel that I should stick with it. And then this happens. What kind of a person does this?”

The fact that her letter fell into the hands of a nasty old man in Nevada who was so bent on hurting someone that he copied the letter, corrected it and mailed it back to her in Oregon says that this is more than coincidence.

For one hard, tear-filled hour this morning, she was filled with doubt and hurt. Those feelings tried to teach her a lesson about the world, that people are mean and selfish, and she should pack it up and go home because the world is a nasty place. That also is not coincidence. That is what Clint meant her to feel.

Satan works in big ways, like despots and starving babies and chemical weapons.

But he also works all the time to steal the joy, faith and love right out of our hearts, and he uses people like Clint to do it.

Luckily, there is a large contingent of faithful women at our brokerage and one by one, after hearing the story, we said the same thing to her: “That letter is Satan trying to derail you. Don’t let him.”

She didn’t.

She made the changes to her letter that Clint suggested.

Then she copied that sucker and sent out 100 more letters.

 

 

 

What If Judas Had Lived?

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Three weeks ago, I did a walk through Holy Week for the Sunday School kids.

In order to get it right, I had to sit down with all four Gospels next to each other. I’ve never looked at the Passion that way before. Having all four together helped me see some things I didn’t remember.

For instance, the naked dude in Mark.

But also, how in Luke 22, it says “Satan entered Judas”.

It was a Huh moment for me. I contemplated that—to be fair—Satan was going to be stronger than Judas since this was before Jesus died for our sins so…what is Judas’ culpability in the betrayal of Jesus?

Then I decided it was above my spiritual paygrade and moved on.

Until Easter Sunday when I sat down to watch Jesus Christ Superstar.

We don’t know much about Judas, other then he committed the nastiest betrayal of all time. We don’t know why he did it, other than those words from Luke. We can, and do, speculate that when the Gospels talk of an Apostle questioning Jesus especially in terms of money, acts of service and inclusion of Gentiles, that perhaps this is Judas beginning to feel that Jesus was not what he had said he was.

(See what I did there?)

This is Superstar’s interpretation for sure. Judas sings:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned –

One thing we absolutely know about Judas?  He was human and let his fear outweigh his faith.  I like the tidy Superstar presentation of Judas’ fears driving his disillusionment because I can relate to that. I’ve said before that given my personality, it would have been hard for me to follow Jesus in his day. Jesus’ ministry was on a “need to know” basis and I’m more a “know, then go” kind of gal. I think I would have been exhausted by all the mystery.

The question though is this: Would I have been converted by the Resurrection?

The answer—and I know this with every fiber of my heart—is yes.

Because Jesus kept his word. And that would have been enough for me to let go of what I didn’t understand, lay down my fears and never look back.

So I wonder—what would have happened if Judas had lived? Would his remorse have become conversion?

The greater point of course is this—there was a plan, the greatest plan of all. It had to play out and needed the benefit of hindsight before it made sense, but I think we can all agree the wait was worth it.

Judas couldn’t wait and missed it all. Maybe beyond the vilification of 2000 years—Dante was especially tough on the guy—that’s the real lesson we can learn from Judas.

 

Big Things

 

 

Last week, I watched my 9 year old swim out to an anchored platform on a lake, climb up the mossy ladder and jump off again. By herself. Two days later, I took this picture. It was 9:30 pm and the water was pitch black, but their feet did not falter. They flew off the end of that dock like there wasn’t a giant lake monster lurking just below the surface. Then they taunted the monster by swimming out another 50 feet and diving down to see how deep it was. Their laughter echoed across the lake.

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These kids. They’re not scared of monsters. They’re going to be alright.

Which is why I am going back to work.

You can imagine the amount of prayer that has gone into this. Staying home with my kids has been the greatest gift of my marriage. I feel so blessed and grateful to my husband for making these 5 years happen.

But I always knew this was a season. My babies aren’t babies anymore. They jump off docks into dark water with complete confidence.  We’ve given them a solid foundation of me. Now they need to learn about we. How a family is a team and works together to get things done. How this mama is more than laundry and dishes and coffee dates. I have loved that life. I have seen the bounty and goodness of that life.

But it’s time to move on. Jump into the dark waters. Dive down and see how deep it is.

I’m ready.

Election Day

 

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Here we are.

I voted and you voted and lots and lots of people have voted. Democracy has run its course.

But I kind of feel like the teenager who crashed the car and then tried to cover up the big dent in the fender. It’s an exercise in futility. We can’t hide the damage.

And we did it. We let it get to this place even though we know better, and are called to better. We’re complicit.

What do we really wake up to tomorrow? Wounds. Mistrust. Faithlessness. They are the elephants, and donkeys, in the room and they are hungry.

What are we going to feed them?

Two weeks ago, I went to Walgreens. I had just said to my brother “When I know that people are going to vote for that candidate, I feel like it tells me something about them. Something flawed. Something false. Something damaging.”

And then I parked next to a car with bumper stickers for that candidate all over it. I had seen it before, in the parking lot at church. Great, I thought. Hope I don’t know them.

But as I was standing in front of the cold remedies, a sweet voice said “Jen?” I turned and it was a woman I know well, a woman I have prayed with, a woman who hugged me hello. It hit me that it was her car.

Sh*t.

That is what I thought, I swear to goodness.

Then I was ashamed. What am I doing?

This election has not been our best moment. We have damaged ourselves as Americans, as people of faith, as a light shining in the darkness. The false prophets and kingdom builders have been exposed as the charlatans they are.

And we can either carry on as we have, self-serving and self-righteous, feeding what we want to hear and be.

Or we can decide that this was our wake-up call, and feed what we need to hear and be.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

The Mother Becomes a Saint

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When I sit at Mass and listen to the scripture readings, I try to quiet my mind and be led.

But things pop up anyway. Like Sunday, I got stuck on Paul’s letter to Philemon. Onesimus?? Who’s that guy???

But then we got to the Gospel and I was swept into the concept of “pick up your cross and follow me”.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Sunday marked the canonization of St. Teresa. The woman knew a thing or two about leaving everything she had behind to follow God’s call on her life.

In her obedience, she faced down suffering so profound that it could not be conquered—not by her work, awards, recognition, celebration or even her sainthood. She served it anyway, in confusion, depression and spiritual darkness. I wonder if that was her cross, having to accept that God had not called her to save the starving baby, the mother with leprosy, the child bride laboring to bring forth a child, but only to witness and love.

Maybe it was to carry the criticism of those who wanted her to do more, to change the very fabric of human nature and condition.

Or maybe it was that she believed God called her to this service and then abandoned her there.

But here’s the thought that humbled my soul on Sunday. What if it was all three?

My God in Heaven…How did she do it?

Could I?

Teresa is named after Mother Teresa. She wrote a beautiful reflection for her company, MySaintMyHero. You can find it here

The Power of Mothers

 

Grace

You know we have great moms. You know we aspire to be great like them. On Sunday we will celebrate them in love and thanksgiving.

We will also patiently endure the love offerings of our own chicken nuggets. At the dinner table this week, Kate asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I said “No jewelry. No appliances. Nothing for the kitchen.” And she turned her face to me, sweet forehead all scrunched up and asked “Well, what’s left?”

Did you know that the original idea for Mother’s Day was never meant to be about mothers?

It was supposed to be for mothers, a day when mothers all over the world came together to use their collective voice for peace.

I learned this from Glennon at Momastery.

Julia Ward Howe issued “An Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World” in 1870. It reads:

Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

— Julia Ward Howe

What happened next was that, because she was a woman and a suffragette and she spoke the family business of her repressive marriage outside the bedroom, she was generally ignored.

Almost 40 years later, on May 10, 1908, Anna Jarvis observed the first Mother’s Day at her church. It was in honor of her mother, and again an effort to put the role and voice of mothers in the forefront of society. Her version was more palatable, and Mother’s Day became an official observance in 1914.

Then Hallmark realized there was money to be made and the rest is ugly history.

I don’t know any mother who says “Yippee! Mother’s Day!” For me, that’s because the rewards of my motherhood seem to flow towards me more than from me on any given day, to the point that I honestly feel I should thank my children for the love and joy they bring to my life.

But this iteration of Mother’s Day, as a call to action and justice—that feels real to me. It feels important. It feels powerful.

Mothers are powerful. Yes, we are. Helicopter moms and grizzly bear moms and tree hugger moms and granola moms and stay at home moms and working moms—we have some power.

This year, let’s use it. After church and the brunch and the school crafts and the “gifts” have been attended, eaten and opened—find a way to use your power.

Donate to Glennon’s Compassion Collective, which is feeding 6000 families every day.

Adopt a child from World Vision and become a “mother” for a child stuck in grinding poverty.

Send an email to the presidential candidate you support and the one you dislike the most and tell them why. Ask them to advocate for kids and peace.

Decide that this is the year you will become a Sunday School teacher or choir director or troop leader or coach and be an important adult in the lives of someone else’s kids.

Commit to a month of rosaries, asking the Blessed Mother to bring peace and love to this world.

Mothers are powerful and the world needs us.

Happy Mother’s Day.