Dismantling Cynicism for Lent

Growing up, I had a complicated relationship with worship at church. I was raised in a setting where hands were held high in praise, where we swayed with our eyes closed, and where outwardly expressions of worship were a direct indication of your personal relationship with God. My naturally critical spirit turned toward an unhealthy cynicism as I watched my fellow teenagers literally cry out to Jesus on a Sunday morning and then do nothing to love their neighbors throughout the week. My way of rebelling was to mouth the words with my hands firmly planted at my side. I would not participate in any sort of staged worship, however detrimental it was to my own engagement.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Sadly, this cynicism has stayed with me for decades. In college, I rediscovered a love of singing out loud though the expectations for charisma at an Anglican church are fairly low. As an adult, I attended a variety of churches that featured all sorts of styles, from a robed choir to a leader who is an incredible musician but never invited the congregation to really join in.

At our new church, the worship is reminiscent of my childhood church. Praise music reminding me that God is on my side, a lot of battle imagery, and declarations of prosperity fill our service. When we first started attending, I was struck by the joy of our worship pastor. I had forgotten that worship was supposed to be joyful – that we can connect with God happily and openly.

But I still couldn’t bring myself to participate. A lot of the time, I would interact through quiet prayer. The lyrics often triggered headlines I had read or conversations I had. I used the time to grapple and question and pray. But if I’m honest, I also didn’t participate out of habit. After not singing for so long, it was easy to stand quietly.

One day after the service our worship pastor approached me and asked, Do you not like the worship here? I notice that you never sing along. Yikes! The blessing and curse of going to a well-lit church with an intimate congregation is that people notice. I stammered out a reason but his questions stirred me to really reflect and dig deeper into why I don’t participate.

Lent begins this Wednesday and for a time, I was stumped as to how I would participate in this season of remembering. My practice is to add something to my days, from writing notes to researching politicians leading our nation. Then, I read through Sarah Bessey’s Forty Simple Practices of Lent and paused at Day Thirty: Go to a church or a concert or an evening prayer service and sing your heart out.

So this Lenten season, I decided to sing every song at church. I’ll participate in dismantling my deep-rooted cynicism. But, I also want to recognize and celebrate my curiosity. So, in addition to singing along every Sunday, I’ll research the songs we’re singing. I want to know their origins and the biographies of the authors. Maybe I’ll walk away still unsure about singing along but I hope I’ll rediscover the power of corporate worship, of singing together, regardless of where we are on the journey.

Do you participate in Lent? I’d love to hear how you’re observing these weeks before Easter celebrations.

I’ve written quite a bit about Lent over the years. Here’s a link to previous posts: https://annierim.com/?s=lent
Some of my favorite practices have included writing notes to forty women, letting them know their impact on my life;
Listing forty cabinet members, researching their background, and praying for them (You could do this with presidential candidates or legislation, too);
Changing my phone settings to gray-tones to remind me of the false filters we often put on our lives;
Giving up wine and using that budget to fund Kiva microloans .

What I’ve Learned By Walking to School

Nearly every school day since mid-August we’ve had the same routine: Get up, eat breakfast around 7:00, head upstairs at 7:30 to get dressed and brush teeth, leave the house no later than 7:50 (but 7:45 is better) to walk and arrive at school by 7:55 as the kindergarten lines up to go inside. It’s a routine that works pretty well for us. If we eat earlier and the girls have time to play a bit before getting dressed, it can throw off our entire routine.

IMG_8633Really, anything can throw off our routine. It can quickly go from a well-run schedule to me nagging and asking sarcastically if Bea has ever seen a pair of pants before and if she knows how to put them on. (Model mothering right there…)

On the mornings that unravel, I’m tempted to buckle the girls in the car and drive. Even with the parking lot chaos, it would increase our chances of arriving on time. But more often than not, we still walk. It might mean we miss the second bell and Bea has to go in through the office. But it also means we have some breathing space between the rushed chaos and the start of school. It means we get some fresh air, a short walk, and time to hold hands and talk about the day.

I have to be intentional about putting aside my frustration on those walks. If I remained upset, they would do no good for a reset. I breathe, too, and remember that starting school excited and calm is much better than starting it with a grumpy attitude. So, I leave my last lecture at the door and as soon as we step onto the sidewalk, we talk about the blossoming trees, which specials Bea will have, and who she’d like to play with at recess. We talk about books and activities and notice our neighborhood.

By the time we reach school, even if we do have to go through the front doors rather than the kindergarten entrance, we are calmer, happier, and ready to give hugs and kisses. Elle and I wave to Bea, play on the slides for a few minutes and walk back home, ready to face the day.

This practice was especially important during those cold winter walks when our five minutes to school was a chance to see the sunlight and get outside. Now that it’s spring, it makes sense and this routine has taken on new life.

It’s reminded me that, even though it may make us late, building in space for pause and recalibration is so important. I know this is nothing new – that pause and rest and breathing all help me make better choices. They give space and perspective – both physical and mental. And yet this is something I forget over and over again.

I love May for many reasons but a big one is that it feels like a walk to school. After tax season and winter and going into head-down, hibernation mode, we’re coming up for air. We have a chance to recalibrate before summer when our schedule changes again. We are still in the school year routine but with all the hope and promise of dinners eaten outdoors and playtime extended after homework is finished.

This is the last week of Eastertide, this season of celebration. We are entering into Ordinary Time soon, which I love as much as any feast day. This year, I’m giving space between these seasons. I’m remembering to celebrate, yes. But I’m also remembering to look forward to a season of rest and recentering.

What ordinary habits have taught you extraordinary lessons? How do you pause and breathe during the changing seasons?

Delighting in New Creation

Last weekend was our first normal post-tax season weekend. We went out for brunch with my parents on Saturday morning, headed to Home Depot for gardening supplies, and spend Saturday and Sunday outside digging in the dirt.

garden-1176406_1920Well, Frank spend Saturday and Sunday digging in the dirt. The girls “helped” and played with neighbors. I watched them, reconnected with our neighbors after wintertime, and squeezed in bits of writing and editing as I could.

I love watching Frank prepare our garden each year. After long hours indoors, the weather is cooperative and his schedule is free to be outdoors. Every year he plans our vegetable gardens, moves the pots and redistributes the soil. We decide how many tomato plants we really need and if this is the year cucumbers will grow. After watching our peach tree succumb to frostbite our first year, we’ve tended it and have spotted the first blossoms. I play more of a consulting role – affirming that we’ll probably use five different types of tomatoes; wondering if we really need to try peppers again.

I like gardening but I like reading a book in the hammock better. Frank comes alive in the garden. Watching him this weekend gave me a glimpse into our retirement years: Me with a lemonade by my side watching Frank putter around. I think he’ll be one of those old men who has a magnificent garden, living up to his patron saint’s attributes.

This weekend reminded me of N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised By Hope. When talking about building God’s new kingdom he says,

“You are – strange though it amy seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation… every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings nad for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures… all this will find its way throug the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make” (pg 208).

Wright is saying that when we create and grow and use our passions and gifts, we are bringing about a new heaven here on earth. When I think about my own passions, I sometimes wonder how lounging in a hammock will bring about a shift in our broken world. And then I see Frank happily turning the earth, bringing new life to our garden, teaching the girls about soil and seeds, and I see a glimpse of this new heaven here on earth. I can completely imagine Frank for all eternity teaching others about the magic of our earth and delighting in what life springs from a mix of compost, soil, and water.

Remember, we are still in Easter celebrations. Jesus has risen from the dead but he has not yet ascended into heaven. We are still in the midst of rejoicing and awe. As we continue to emerge from winter and bask in the spring sunshine, I hope to keep this at the forefront – that what we are planting and creating now is a small glimpse at what will be planted and created when our earth is restored.

I am remembering to celebrate and hold this awe of Easter present as we participate in this new creation.

Are you still celebrating Easter? When is the last time you caught a glimpse of God’s redemptive creation?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Champagne for Breakfast

As I learn more about the church calendar, I’m trying to be more intentional about leaning into the different seasons. I’m remembering to pause and breathe in Advent before the celebration of Christmas, to feast for Epiphany before the fasting of Lent, and to really think about what it means to be “Easter people.”

When I hear the phrase, “Easter people,” it usually is in the context of the biggest Sunday celebration – hymns and hallelujahs, fancy dresses and elaborate dinners. We proclaim the risen Christ! And then go back to life as normal on Monday.

Theologian N.T. Wright talks about how the church is really good at remembering and practicing Lent, of taking time to fast and prepare. But we aren’t as good at remembering the 40 days of Easter celebration. He says,

No, we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

(exerpted from Let the Easter Parties Begin! by Internet Monk)

I’ve written before about things that are saving my life. I love that mid-winter practice when it is easy to forget that so many small things bring joy and comfort. But it also takes on a connotation that life itself is not saving me. That I am bogged down. So, in this Eastertide, I want to remember five things that are bringing smile-to-my-face JOY. That are filling me with laughter and hope. That help me remember we are an Easter people.

IMG_85821) My Little Free Library
I had been wanting a Little Free Library ever since we moved into our neighborhood. Our house is on the corner of a cul-de-sac, right around from a busier intersection that leads to our elementary school and is on the way to the middle and high schools. We get a good amount of foot traffic and I wanted to encourage community through books. Last month, my dad built and installed our library and the girls helped paint it. I love watching the ebb and flow of books and the way it’s connected our neighborhood in this short time.

2) Sweet Sister Time
IMG_8615Lately, the girls have been on an awesome streak of playing together and caring for each other. Of course, we still have our sibling moments, but their bond is growing and it is so awesome to watch these girls become friends. They read together, imagine together, ride bikes and hold hands. We were at a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s the other day and they were content spending the entire morning together. Elle misses Bea while she’s at school and can’t wait to pick her up. She runs to Bea, jumps into her arms, and Bea swings her around as they both say, “Sisters!!”

3) Writing Friends
It’s just been in the past few months that I’ve really started stepping into an identity of “writer.” (I know, I know. If I write, I’m a writer. Easier said than done.) I’ve had the opportunity to chat with other moms who are writers, to help friends on their pretty amazing writing project, and am even dipping my toes into bigger and more serious ideas. I still don’t introduce myself as a writer but I’m getting closer…

(Side note: If you want behind-the-scenes news about projects, sign up for my monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap. I also started an author Facebook page and would love it if you gave it a “like.” These things help!)

4) Rosé in the Basement
One of my favorite springtime celebrations is drinking rosé and eating runny cheese out in our yard while the girls run around. For Easter, Frank stocked us up with fun bottles and they’re just waiting for the end of tax season. Even though they haven’t made their way to the fridge yet, just knowing they’re ready and waiting gives me hope and happiness.

5) Generosity of Friends
I know that our community makes every single list of lifesavers but it’s for a good reason. I am blown away by the people who take care of us. A friend took Elle for the morning so I could make traction on a project and those 3 hours made all the difference! We’re heading to the mountains next week to get away and unwind after the tax deadline, thanks to the generosity of other friends. I am always amazed at how well our community cares for us, especially during these stressful seasons.

What about you? What is giving you JOY in this season? What keeps you smiling, even when you don’t realize it?

Building A Foundation of Feasting

I feel like you’d be happier all by yourself in an apartment in Paris than here with us. Frank and I were talking about this stressful season when I’m alone with the girls and he’s alone at work.

paul-dufour-500173-unsplash
Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

My mind drifted to my freshman year in Paris when we would gather in my friend’s chambre de bonne at the very top of a building right in the midst of the city. We’d open her loft window, swing out onto the scaffolding, and climb to the rooftop with glasses of wine in hand. We’d sit and watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle on one side while the dome of Les Invalides glowed in the night. I imagined living in such a spot for a month – just long enough to immerse myself in all the quaint and beautiful pieces of Paris while leaving before the seven-flight trek up the stairs with groceries or walking down the hall for the bathroom would get old.

Frank nudged me and said, Don’t respond too quickly! In his perfect world, he would come home to the exuberant embrace of his family, the pack all piled together. In my perfect world, he’d come home and I’d retreat to an hour or so of absolute silence.

The reflective season of Lent has passed and we’re into the joyful season of Eastertide. For the next fifty days, the church celebrates Christ’s resurrection in this time before Pentecost. It’s a season of feasting and proclamation that Christ has risen, indeed.

We have two more weeks until the end of tax season and then our family will celebrate its own version of feasting and joy. We’ll head out of town to reconnect outside of our normal routines and come home to a period of re-entry when we all learn to function as a family of four again.

In a lot of ways, this tax season has been one of the hardest for our communication. There are a lot of unknowns; the girls are in different phases; I’m involved in different types of things. The only constant with tax season is that every year is different – what we learned last year may or may not apply this year. And so, we need to feast and be joyful. It may not come naturally at first and feasting may look different for each of us. For Frank, he needs to feast on proximity with his family; for me, I’ll need to feast on solitude in the midst of reconnection. We’ll need to be intentional and extend lots of grace.

But the underlying spirit is one of celebration. Just like we’re celebrating spring and resurrection and new life, we’ll be celebrating this time as a family again. It doesn’t mean that every single moment will be happy and picture perfect but I need to remember that the point of it all is redemption and newness.

How do you celebrate this season of spring and redemption? What are things you’d like to be feasting on after Lent?