Ashes

“From dust you came and to dust
you shall return.” Empty powder
blown into a strong wind.

A hollow city steeped in darkness,
lifeless shell of a kingdom
with no energy to even let itself burn.

Tears streaked in grey and brown,
stomach barren and eyes raw,
sitting in sackcloth and despair.

Grey memories mix with black earth.
Your grief is fertile ground,
rising with no place left to fall.

All welcome in the Holy of Holies
now. Serve with hands smelling
like His, a fragrant offering.

On the altar, only ashes remain.

From Ashes You Come

“Happy Ash Wednesday” always seems a little bit like an oxymoron. Ash Wednesday, while sacred, is not particularly happy. An Ash Wednesday service is solemn, including putting a cross of ashes on the forehead of each member of the congregation and reminding them, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.”

“Lent,” as I just learned from this beautiful article on Relevant, comes from a Latin root that also gives us “lengthen.” In this cold and difficult time of year, the days are slowly lengthening and more light is working its way into every day. Lent is a time to prepare ourselves for the ultimate coming of that light. The more we understand our existence in ashes, the more awe we will find in the coming of the new life.

This Lent, I’m participating in an Instagram project with The Neighborhood Church, my home church in Colorado. Each day, there’s a word to serve as inspiration to take and post a picture. I want to take it a step further, though–writing has always been an important way for me to engage with my faith, so I’m going to endeavor to write a piece each day, or most days, following the theme. “Ashes” is the inspiration for today, so keep an eye out.

I won’t say “Happy Ash Wednesday.” But, along the lines of C.S. Lewis’s Joy with a capital J, I will wish you a Joyous Ash Wednesday and Lenten Season.

Faith, Obedience, and Wonder

Something I’ve always struggled with is always being shocked when God actually comes through with an answer to prayer. Like, doesn’t praying in faith and obedience mean that I expect God will answer, even if it’s answer I don’t want or don’t expect? Why would I be shocked when God does what He says He’ll do?

Last night, though, it occurred to me that I’m probably being a little bit harsh on something that’s actually really amazing. God tells us to approach Him like little children do their fathers, child-like in our faith. I think we have a tendency to focus only on one side of that. Being like a child in our prayers means more than just approaching our Father boldly with our needs and desires, knowing that He has given us the standing to approach Him with everything, no matter how great or how small.

Think about really innocent little kids, the ones who you think most closely mirror the kind of faith and relationship Jesus is talking about. There’s two parts to this story. If a little kid goes and asks her father to go to Disney World, and her father actually takes her, do you think the awe and amazement she feels when they go actually insults her father? Do you think the father goes, “Well, since you’re not totally taking it in stride that we’re at Disney World, you must have thought I wouldn’t make good on my word”?

I don’t think so! God has given us this incredible set of attributes to be both His image-bearers and beings who can receive His love: He gives us this capacity, through His power, for the faith to move mountains and the standing to ask for it, and yet still allows us to be totally awed and blown away when the mountains actually throw themselves into the sea.

I don’t think it’s because we’re short-sighted or lacking in faith (though we certainly can be both). I think God in His wisdom allows us the capacity for faith and awe at the same time. What better way to worship the God who is both perfectly faithful and able to do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine? I don’t think God is annoyed when He amazes us–I think He’s overjoyed.

We used to sing this song at VBS when I was little called “Our God is an Awesome God.” I don’t think at that age I had any idea what “awesome” actually meant. But now, I am incredibly grateful that our God is, in fact, awesome in every sense of the word. So let’s approach our God boldly to ask for the desires of our hearts, but let’s also be grateful that He comes through every time, and that, every time, He still inspires awe.

A Lenten Song, pt. 1: Dusk

Washington Monument at sunsetIf you want to see something beautiful
On the first warm day of spring
Put on a good pair of walking shoes
(Even if you can’t find the right socks)
And turn on some joyful music
As you walk out the door and toward the Capitol

The sun is warm on your skin
(Because your skin can finally see the sun)
And for the first time in what seems like forever
The sky is blue and the city comes alive

Between the music
“Shine Your light” and
the people whose eyes are shining
“let the whole world see”
Joy is infectious in this place
And you don’t care that you’re the crazy girl laughing at everything staring into the sun
And seeing all the kids dressed in the colors of a world finally escaping from winter
Unable to stop themselves from running
Across the green earth and around the budding trees
Waiting for something
But they don’t know what
As the dusky sunlight songs float down the mall
And the people from everywhere breathe life bubbling up from the ground
And sense the something about to burst up into the world
Then the sun makes its dive and the cool wind sweeps your breath away
As night slides through the crowd and silences the people
But they dream of flowers breaking through the stones and the color that seeps back into the sky

And the ground vibrates
With the coming dawn

Lent, Week Two

Another week has come and gone, and things have gotten a little easier. Though this week I did have a day where I went over my screen time (which I rationalized like crazy to myself). That has turned out to be harder than the food part, though that has also been really good for me. But I do find myself glued to the computer during most of my downtime, especially because I’m not in Pittsburgh where I built up a big community. So toning down my computer time is forcing me to do things like read! And write letters! It also makes me less susceptible to doing things like getting sucked into internet games for hours, which really isn’t good for anybody.

The weather is finally starting to get nicer (though it is supposed to snow later this week), which will hopefully make it easier to get out of the house and back into the world, which is part of why I wanted to try to limit my computer time in the first place. I also just want to be more active and take better care of the body (and resources) that God has given me, which is also related to the fact that I just agreed to run a half-marathon in June with my mom! So I’ve got to get running.

It’s important to not get caught up in the details of everything, though, and to remember that ultimately, Lent is there to get us closer to God and help us prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Some of that has to do with confronting our own weakness, which I definitely did this week when I got sick for the fourth time this semester. It’s frustrating because it meant I couldn’t fast yesterday, and I’m having to put off starting to run, which is upsetting. I’m riding the line between knowing that His strength is made perfect in our weakness and also knowing that sickness tends to sabotage me from consistently exercising. Like, every time I start trying to take better care of myself that way, I immediately get sick. So I’d appreciate some prayers for health and resilience in not giving up when things get hard. It’s looking like starting to run is going to end up being part of Lent too, because Lent is also about discipline, and there are two areas in my life that I have the hardest time with that: my prayer life, and keeping myself physically healthy. Hopefully I can use this time remind me to run the race is such a way as to win the prize–in more ways than one.

So that’s my status update! Any tales of victory out there, or else moments of Christ’s strength in your weakness? I’d love to hear any of them. And if anybody needs prayer or encouragement on their own Lent (or other) journey, I’m all ears!

13.1?

I think I just let my mom talk me into running a half-marathon with her…

It’s called the Slacker Half-Marathon because it’s all down hill. It starts in Loveland around 10,000 feet and comes down to about 8,500 feet in Georgetown. My mom has run it in the past and had a ton of fun, and I suppose I was waiting for another dragon to slay anyway…

Anyway, I’m trying to psych myself up. You know, looking at endless pinterest boards with motivational quotes and clever graphics using “13.1.” I found a training plan and I made an excel calendar with every day meticulously marked. I changed my desktop background to a motivational Disney quote. I joined a website that gamifies overcoming large obstacles.

So this is my battle cry. That is, this is my proclamation in public to attempt to keep myself from chickening out. Supposedly if you tell other people your goals, you’re less likely to wimp out on them. I guess I’m running a half-marathon? *ahem* I mean, I guess I’m running a half-marathon!

This is seriously unlike anything I’ve attempted before. I’m really good at launching myself toward big scary goals–except when they involved working out. So this is something new for me.

And hey, if I can run a half-marathon at 10,000 feet, then the Pittsburgh Half at 1,300 next spring should be no problem! Anyone care to join me?

Ban “busy”

I was reading an article in Relevant Magazine the other day about how our default response to the question, “How are you?” has changed. For a long time, the accepted default answer, the one we gave without any thought, was “good” or “fine.” But now, in a culture of constant motion, change, and achievement, that answer has become “busy.”

This wasn’t the first article I’d read that pointed this out, and it probably won’t be the last. But the theme of this semester has been rebalancing my life, so it got me thinking. I’m super guilty of this. Not only am I in the generation that has embraced this whole-heartedly, but I also go to a university that is steeped in this.

We’re not just busy; we’re proud of how busy we are. We brag about it. We compete. We want to know who got the least sleep or is doing the most things.

In addition to the obvious work-life balance issues at play here, it’s also a non-answer to a question.

A personal pet peeve of mine (which I’m aware is very silly) is when people say “How are you?” when they mean “Hey!” Like when you see someone in passing and they throw out a “How are you?” and keep walking. I always start to answer before I realize they can no longer hear me.

But it’s like we do this all the time, because we’re not really answering the question. If you ask me how I am and I just say that I’m busy, that’s a cop-out. If we see each other and that’s my response, smack me.

We’re all busy. It’s a given. There’s school and work and friends and family and relationships and homework and money and everything else. But maybe we should take a step back and try to appreciate the space we can make in our lives and  not to measure our worth by the time we spend running around in circles.

I want to challenge you: for the next week, whenever someone asks you how you are, try to say something other than “busy.” And take a serious look at the things you’ve chosen to include in your life. If you’re busy, maybe it’s time to cut something less important out. Or maybe, when you take it all into consideration, you’re not as busy as you thought you were.

Habit RPG: Your New Best Friend

Okay, it’s official. I’ve found the most fun productivity program ever. It’s called “HabitRPG,” and if you’re obsessed with gamifying things  like me, it’s pretty awesome. It’s like a to-do app, but the functionality is a lot wider. You can add habits, which are things you want to encourage or discourage yourself doing; dailies, which are thing you want to complete on a regular basis (daily, weekly, etc); and to-dos, exactly as they sound.

The program is, as its name suggests, RPG, and completing these things gives you health and XP. As you go, you can level up, find pets, raise them into steeds, buy armor and weapons, pick a class, etc. It’s super addicting, and for me it’s been a really good way to stay on track with habits, particularly ones that don’t take that much time but that I don’t think to do.

Anyway, it’s super fun, especially if you’re nerdy. Check it out!

Lent 2014: Week One

Guys–Lent is hard. Lots of #fail this week.

You may remember that I gave up junk food. This is something that has, so far, been a lot harder for me than it should be (which makes me feel like I gave up the right thing). I’m taking Sundays off, as is traditional, but I’ve also found a remarkable spread of excuses available on non-Sundays as well. I’ve always had a pretty low amount of discipline when it comes to food, but it’s hard to actually confront that for a month and a half. So that’s not going particularly well, but pressing on.

I also decided to limit myself to three hours of computer/tablet time per day (though I don’t count when I’m in the office). This has been tough, but it’s been fabulous. It’s the hardest on days where I actually have free time, because I am the master at getting on the internet and then realizing that the day has somehow disappeared. But it’s been really beneficial. I still procrastinate, but I have to procrastinate in a more productive way. It also has meant that I’ve read more and taken back up the habit of writing in a moleskine (predictable, but still probably my favorite notebook brand–mostly to-do lists, but still. I’ve managed to stick to this limit pretty well. Gotten down to the wire a few times when working on schoolwork and such, but it’s been a good boundary.

I also decided that I wanted to write letters this Lent, which I didn’t mention in my first post. I made a list of (almost) 40 people to write to, and I’ve written exactly zero letters. Part of this, ridiculously enough, was that I didn’t have any full-page notebook paper. Now I do, and no excuses this week to not write at least a few.

Screwing up a fast can be a huge stumbling block by itself–it’s really easy to fall in the thought process of, well, now it’s ruined. No point in continuing forward. It’s a false dichotomy, though: perfection or failure. Part of the whole point of Lent is that we’re not perfect, and we’re preparing our hearts for the death and resurrection of Perfection. Maybe staring our own imperfection in the face is’t such a bad thing.

Flashback: A Messy Christmas Eve

I wrote a blog about Christmas Eve that I managed to never post, so here it is!

Over the last few weeks, my church has been doing an advent series called “God in the mess.” Tonight, we had our Christmas Eve service in a stable, packed with rows of hay bales, Christmas lights, a sound system, and more people than would probably be sanctioned by the fire department. Probably about three quarters of the people there don’t regularly attend our church. 

I sat on the end of the bale of hay that sat a few members of my extended family, mostly my younger cousins. My aunt looked at me like I was crazy. “Who put you on baby duty?”

I laughed. “I just kind of sat here.” The kids all got costumes for the nativity story. My older cousin (10) had a puppy hat, the younger girl had bunny ears, and the boy had a full lion costume, a vest and attached furry hood. These younger cousins, the twins, have one volume setting: loud. Lishy wanted dinner, Bubba was growling and wanted everybody to know he was a lion.

A lot of the families were trying to get their little kids to sit still and stay quiet, but we didn’t come to a stable for a quiet service, or a polished service, or a pretty service. Like our sermon series, we came for a service that was messy–real. 

A real, messy service was exactly what we got. Barking dogs, screaming kids, beautiful carols, a couple of power outages, some nippy air, and a reminder that Christmas, really, is all about mess. God became an infant and allowed himself to be born in a stable, laid as a newborn in a feed trough. Nothing about that night, other than God Himself, was perfect. But it was real.

And singing O Holy Night smelling of horse manure with a little boy in a lion costume crawling all over me (who had a bit of his own manure) is just about as Christmassy as it gets. It was beautiful and gritty and real.