From One Attitude to the Next

A rare Sunday skipping church, home with my boy who has the flu. My world is all Pedialyte,  Tamiflu, vomiting, and Phineas & Ferb.

Outside it looks like the flu too. Blank gray sky, wet brownish ground, still-bare trees. Winter’s leavings. But the goldfinches are starting to shine a sunny yellow and two days ago it topped 70 degrees. We soaked it up with windows down and radios blaring, knowing it wouldn’t last. Yesterday it was 45 and raining. Thirty degree shifts in 24 hours is par for the course in a Michigan spring. But it does seem to make us all a little sick.

As I write this, Sunday school is getting out and people are pouring their coffee and placing cookies on napkins in the library at my church. My husband will be walking between there and his office and the sanctuary, talking with his flock and getting things in place for worship. The kids (minus one) will be bouncing and running through the halls, slaloming past the old ladies with their walkers. Chatting and laughing will filter through the air until people find their way to the sanctuary and settle down as the first notes of the prelude emanate from the piano.

It’s a time of transition from one place to the next, one attitude to the next. Like March. Like Lent. We’re now in the second half of that liturgical season, a time when it is easy to forget about what we intended to do or not do. I have read three of my five books for Lent. Tomorrow I start Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther. I’m excited to begin my armchair pilgrimage, the story of going from one place to the next, one attitude to the next.

It is now fifteen minutes before the service begins. The microphones will be in place. The sound check done. The choir has finished running over their song and are now milling about with friends and grabbing a last cup of coffee or popping throat lozenges. I run upstairs at home to tell my son to take another sip of Pedialyte but he says his stomach doesn’t feel very good, so I decide to wait another fifteen minutes. I wonder when to try the Tamiflu. It’s been a few hours with no vomiting and I don’t want to get him started again, but I also know that if he can keep the nasty stuff down it will help shorten the whole ordeal.

So often we resist what is good for us because it seems unpleasant in the short run. And maybe it is unpleasant. March is unpleasant. The self-denial of Lent is sometimes unpleasant. Certainly contemplating one’s own sinfulness or mortality is unpleasant.

I understand that molting feathers is unpleasant as well. But without sloughing off the old drab colors of winter, the goldfinch will not find a mate, which is his purpose in life. He first needs to lose his old identity as an olive-gray bird before he can embrace his new identity as a drop of sunlight. He doesn’t do this himself. He doesn’t decide one day to molt his old feathers. That is something outside of his control. Just as my son cannot decide to be well and will the flu virus out of his body. Just as we do not simply decide to be holy and then do it in our own strength.

I hear those first notes of the prelude now. The worship service is beginning. So I need to stop my chatting. I need to make that transition from one attitude to the next. I can’t be among the saints and sinners at church this morning. I can’t join my voice to theirs in song. But I can commune with them and with our God in prayer. So that’s what I’ll do now.

Right after I check on my little boy.

40 Days, 40 Chapters

Between the covers of these five books are a total of forty chapters. One chapter for each day of Lent. They’re all books I’ve been meaning to read, books that have been sitting in stacks or on shelves. Each day of Lent, I hope to read one chapter. I probably haven’t read five books in one month since I was on maternity leave, so we’ll see if I can keep up with that ambitious schedule. But I thought that, rather than giving up practices or habits I should not have to begin with and calling that a sacrifice, I might instead feed my mind and soul with devotional readings, memoir/history, science and religion debates, and Bible study. That, in addition to my daily readings (they’re snippets, really) from C. S. Lewis’s classic works.

I’m putting writing on the back burner during Lent. Perhaps a poem or two or three may materialize, but likely little else. And I’ll put off my research reading until after Easter — though I suppose the grim realities of World War I would be in keeping with this somber season. For now I’ll set my mind on things above and hope that it positively affects my world below.

For those of you who begin the observance of Lent tomorrow, may it be a time of fruitful self-examination that brings you to the joy of Easter in the proper mental and spiritual state.

The Hardest Month to Dream

Iced OverFebruary is a month during which we are tempted to dream of the future (probably because the present is so ugly and, frankly, we’re getting sick of it). Whether it’s limited to dreaming about the feel of the warm sun on bare arms and the smell of soil and grass and grilling meat, or if it’s that lake home you want to retire in, February gets us to dreaming. We imagine trips to far-off (warm) places. We think about the goals we have for our working life. We dream of a bigger house, a less stressful schedule, a few days to get caught up.

The cruel reality is that even while February causes us to dream it simultaneously works to crush our spirits, snatch those dreams away, and tell us they are impossible (or at least the timing isn’t quite right yet). The thermometer outside the kitchen window seems to mock our dreams of warmth. Our checkbook solemnly shakes its head when we look to it for some extra money for plane tickets. News of housing markets and job markets drags our dreams down until we realize we are where we are and we will go no further (for now).

February is a hard month in which to practice contentment. And yet, for many it is a time in which we are called to give up a little, to stop thinking so much about our outward selves (like what we have or don’t have, what we can do or can’t do) and focus on our inner selves (our besetting sins, our humble place in the order of things, our desperate need to be washed clean).

I already mentioned to you the 40 Bags in 40 Days thing that I and many others are doing during Lent. And I find as I go through things that I’ve saved (“because I might want to use that later for X, Y, or Z”) that I am an expert at packing away dreams for later. I keep a shelf or a table or a stool, even though I have no place for it in my house, because someday I might have a bigger house and more room and I’ll want it then. I keep books on crafts I will probably never do, as if no one will ever publish another book on the subject. I keep pots for plants I will never have in my house because they would just get eaten and regurgitated by my cat, but I keep them because they are pretty or were a gift.

I pack away all these tiny dreams. But sometimes, it’s best to just let those dreams float away. Sometimes dreams become burdensome. And I think that when they do, it’s a pretty sure sign that they are not the right dream for the time being.

Are there any “somedays” that are making you feel guilty for the procrastinating rather than joyful with anticipation? Any old dreams stuffed in your basement or attic that really ought to be set free? It’s never too early for physical or mental spring cleaning. Maybe it’s time to put on some grubby clothes and get to work clearing out those old dreams to make way for reality–and maybe for one worthy dream you’ll actually pursue.

The Stuff We Keep and the Stuff We Give Away

Today marks the beginning of a season of self-examination and repentance for billions of believers worldwide. Some give up meat or coffee or social media in order to deny themselves, recenter their minds and hearts on Christ, and prompt them to pray.

I’ve given up various things over the years: sleeping in, Facebook, cream and sugar in my coffee. I’ve also added various things: one year I read the four Gospels, another year I made a conscious effort to do something for others every day, whether that was doing the dishes and laundry for my family or writing a note to a friend who needed encouragement.

This year I’m doing both. I will be reading the entire New Testament in the mornings. In the evenings I will be filling 40 grocery bags with stuff to give away, recycle, or trash. I will be attempting to do this sacrificially, not just getting rid of junk we don’t need cluttering up the basement or under the bed, but truly examining each room, each closet, each cupboard and removing things that are simply unnecessary to life–the stuff that takes up the time, thought, and space that could be better put to use in service to other people and to God.

One of the reasons I made this decision was due to a couple I met on Sunday. This man and woman were looking for a new start away from some bad influences from their past. They wanted help from our church to get one way tickets to another city where there is a homeless shelter that accepts married couples (most are men or women only). My husband and I took them out to lunch and heard more of their story. He had been in prison for 20 years during which he turned his life over to Christ, got clean, and got an education. She became his pen pal. They got married. He was released. Things didn’t go smoothly and their living situation became untenable. So they needed a new start.

After lunch, we took them to the bus station, bought their Greyhound tickets with church money set aside for such ministry, and watched as they packed all of their earthly possessions (two rolling suitcases and two shoulder bags full of clothes and toiletries) into a bus and left for a fresh start at life. Two suitcases and two carry-on bags. That’s it. We needed two moving trucks seven years ago when we moved to Lansing and have been accumulating ever since.

Not for the first time, I felt ashamed of all the stuff I have in the house that I never use and don’t need. How much money have I spent on things I don’t need? How much better could I use my time than having to keep all that stuff clean and organized?

So while I fill my 40 bags during the 40 days of Lent, I will remember this couple and pray for their future. I will pray for contentment with what I have and that the desire for more would be removed from my heart. I will pray for the people who will eventually get my stuff, that they would put it to good use and not just shove it in a drawer or cupboard like I did.

(Confession time: I actually couldn’t keep myself from starting a day early so I already have FIVE BAGS from ONE ROOM.)

I may also reread this excellent and very convicting (and freeing) book:


What in your life needs to be weeded out? Are you giving your time and energy to worthy pursuits? Or are you filling up your house with stuff you don’t need (and sometimes don’t even really want)? How would your life be different if you let go of a goodly portion of your earthly possessions?

It’s a tantalizing question.