Recalibrating Expectations

One of Bea’s favorite books is Good Night, Philadelphia. It’s part of that series of board books that focuses on a city and greets the famous landmarks: Good morning, Museum of Art. Good afternoon, Betsy Ross House and Old Glory. Hello, Reading Terminal Market and cheesesteaks. For a solid year, we read it multiple times per day. Even now that the love has ebbed a bit, I still have it memorized. One of the benefits of knowing it so well is that when we visit Philly, Bea has an idea of what she wants to do on the day we go into the city.

IMG_8964A couple years ago, she really wanted to see The Liberty Bell. We took the train from the suburbs into Reading Terminal Market and walked toward Independence Hall. We walked through modern glass doorways of Independence National Park and through the crowds of middle school students toward the Liberty Bell.

When Bea saw it, she started to cry. It could be that she saw an older boy put in “time out” by one of the park rangers for messing around. Or that she had expectations of ringing it herself. Whatever the reason, we walked around this large, old bell, roped off from small hands and then we were done. Besides the museum and history videos, there wasn’t much else to do with a 3-year-old.

We quickly remedied the problem with a carriage ride around Independence Square and back to Reading Terminal Market for cheesesteaks and ice cream.

I had seen Bea’s type of reaction before, most notably by da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. Tourists would flock to this portrait expecting a gigantic painting, only to be disappointed by its small scale. I often remind people that few of us have larger-than-life-sized paintings of ourselves in our homes. Why would this be any different?

I think about times when I’ve built up an experience or event to the point that any reality will be disappointing. Whenever I envision the perfect date night or an incredible dinner or even a clean house for more than a minute, I am quickly reminded that I live with other humans and our reality is sweet but far from perfect.

This week’s Lenten theme is expectation and I have been thinking about this tendency in relation to these weeks leading up to Easter. What am I hoping from this Lenten practice? Are my expectations realistic?

And, more importantly, are my expectations within this practice drawing me closer to the redemption of Easter? Because, Lent isn’t about giving something up for the sake of fasting for 40 days. It’s about remembering the celebration; about being mindful that we actually don’t have to earn this grace.

I’ve been learning a lot these past two weeks and yet, I’ve been trying to keep my expectations tempered. I’m remembering that this practice isn’t to change my mind or anyone else’s about politics and those elected. It’s about loving my neighbor and remembering to pray for our government. It can be easy to get bogged down in the details of the exercise, forgetting the ultimate purpose.

So, with another month to go and 30 more politicians to pray for, I’m remembering my own expectations and realigning them with a much larger purpose than any 40 day practice will produce.

How do you keep your expectations realistic? Have you ever been disappointed by something famous?

Balancing Solitude with Engagement

When Frank and I were first married, we went on a weekend backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Never Summer Range. One of the most amazing things about this western side of the park is that there are far fewer tourists and hikers. During our entire excursion, we saw one other couple descending into the parking lot just as we started out on the trail.

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One of the scariest parts about this side of the park is that there are far fewer hikers. When we set up camp, we were extra cautious in placing our bear canister far from our campsite. The only noises we heard were those of our hidden forest neighbors.

I had been backpacking before, but always to locations where we were near other hikers. It was rare to step out of my tent without seeing another camper close by. Even after hiking miles into the mountains, I found comfort in knowing I had neighbors.

This time, I was thankful I had Frank and wondered at the appeal of spending time all alone in the wilderness. While I love solitude and appreciate those moments alone in nature, I also desire the safety of proximity to others. Frank, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine a more wonderful way to spend his time than being completely alone in the woods. Even hiking and camping with others pales to a solo trip. (Something he hasn’t had in years…)

This first week of Lent focuses on Jesus’s time in the wilderness, where he spent 40 days fasting and praying before he started teaching. His 40 days alone in the wilderness is mirrored in these 40 days of Lenten observation.

Forty days in the Middle Eastern wilderness looks a lot different than a weekend of camping in the Colorado Rockies. We know very little about what happened during that time. Of course, the biggest event is when, after Jesus has already been gone long enough to be quite hungry, the Devil tempts him to the point that Angels need to care for him in the aftermath (Matthew 4:1-11). But what happened after? When I read the text, it seems unclear when this temptation happened. Does Jesus go back alone and spend another 15 days in the wilderness?

What this reminds me of is that, while I need to be intentional about taking time for myself in quiet and solitude, I am stronger when I am with others. The accountability of reading the Bible, of a book club, of mothering groups and texts from friends remind me that no matter what activity I’m doing or phase of life I’m in, I need others to help me along the way.

I think about Jesus in his weakened state being tempted by Satan. I want to know more. How would this have looked different if he had support around him? Would he have been as prepared to start walking and teaching without this solitude? It is a reminder of this balancing act between taking time alone with God and depending on the community that God has given me.

As I continue with my own Lenten practice of praying through President Trump’s new cabinet, I’m reminded that, while I may be taking time to research and pray for these men and women alone, I need to engage my community with what I’m learning. What is the point of these 40 days of prayer if it is only for myself? As I work through this practice, I am keeping the So What? part of Lent at the forefront of my thoughts. Where will this lead? How will I engage?

How do you combine time in the wilderness with the necessity of community? How do you intentionally engage your quiet spiritual practices with something bigger?

Why Bother With Lent?

On Wednesday, we leave the Epiphany and Ordinary Time in the church calendar and move into Lent, that period that prepares us for Easter. Lent is a 40 day practice (excluding Sundays) that encourages fasting, preparation, and mindfulness as Christians consider the celebration and importance of Easter.

img_3829I’ve come to look forward to this time of the year. Not so much because it gives me structure for removing myself from distractions, but because it really has helped me to pause and understand the joyful celebration of Easter. In the past, I’ve written notes to women, taken social media off my phone, and given up something in order to use those resources to give to something else. All those were good and (surprisingly) sustaining practices. But does Jesus really care if I give up wine in order to give a Kiva loan? Does it make Easter any more meaningful when I don’t scroll through Instagram for the weeks leading up to that Sunday?

Honestly, not really. And, shouldn’t I practicing these better ways of living regardless of the season? Twitter isn’t exactly life-giving in June, either. I can send a note to a friend regardless of the season.

For me, the reason Lent has become a season to anticipate is that I know I need structure. I need guidelines and a timeframe to create good habits. Just like I knew that processed food isn’t great for my body, I needed the structure and timeframe of Whole30 to help me reset to habits I knew were good but lacked the self-discipline to simply change on my own.

Similarly, I look toward Lent as a time to reflect on ways in which I could better reflect Jesus and his mission. What are areas in which I could live out this radical message better? How can I use this structure and timeframe to help me better understand and form habits that reflect my values?

I’ve found that I need to not only fast from something but I need to add to something in its place. When Frank & I gave up wine, we added donations to Kiva. When I gave up social media, I added the Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals to my day. Without the addition of something valuable, I think giving up loses some of its power.

This year, I’ve again taken social media off my phone. I debated this decision because it is a way I get my news and information and I don’t want to be uninformed. But, on my phone, it’s easy to get lost to the world of rabbit trails. So, I’m committing to checking the news daily from my computer, to staying informed, but also staying present in my real life activities.

I’m adding a prayer list. I’ve written down President Trump’s cabinet and appointments – both those already confirmed and those up for nomination. I’ve committed to learning more about each of the members of this new cabinet. I want to know their background and policies. And then, I’m going to pray for them. Not that they’ll conform to my own ideology (after all, I’m not the one nominated for these positions) but that they’ll take this job seriously. That they’ll seek wisdom and guidance from a variety of sources and backgrounds. That they’ll consider what is best for all of the population, not just a group of constituents.

I’m also praying that, as I learn about these cabinet members, I’ll learn through a lens of grace and sympathy. That I’ll look for the best, not the worst. And that my perspective will shift. I may not agree with them at the end of these 40 days, but I want a new perspective. Not one of frustration or fear but one of empowerment and resolve. And that this practice creates a new way in how I pray for our government and our leaders.

Do you observe Lent? How do you find it most helpful?

Don’t Let the Light Go Out

The presents are opened. Visitors have gone home. Frank is back at work. Toys and metallic glitter markers and new books are still piled on surfaces, waiting to find a home. (Or, as much of a home as a constantly used playroom allows…)

img_2942On Christmas Day, we burned our Advent candles down to small stubs. This year, I bought a giant pillar candle for the Jesus candle. It doesn’t go with the rest of our Advent wreath, but I needed a giant reminder that this candle continues to light our way.

In some ways, I’ve been looking more forward to Epiphany than I did to Advent. This idea of the light guiding the wisemen to the baby. (Or toddler? I don’t really know the exact timeline.) We’re not a liturgical family – we put up our tree and decorations after Thanksgiving; we celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6; Christmas was our culmination.

And yet, even though we’ll slowly take down decorations this week and put the tree outside after New Year’s, we’ll keep the outdoor lights up through January 6. We’ll order a King’s Cake from the French bakery by Frank’s office. And we’ll keep the Jesus candle going.

I have friends who light candles to pray – a symbol that a small flame can make such a different. Maybe there’s something greater to the Catholic tradition of lighting candles as prayers than a mere habit. I’ll keep the Jesus candle lit through Epiphany but maybe I need to keep it going longer. Maybe we need to enter Lent with lights going rather than in darkness. Maybe we need to keep this candle lit as a symbol that our world is still groaning and waiting for a miracle.

Maybe this candle will be a reminder not only to pray but to do. I have a feeling that this year will need a lot of us doing more – living our faith louder and more clearer. Being better neighbors, kinder humans.

We lit the Shabbat candles with our neighbors a few weeks ago. As we covered our eyes and followed the ancient prayers, we were told that the candles aren’t extinguished; they’re left through the meal and into the evening to burn down. A reminder to not let the light go out.

As this year comes to a close and we begin 2017 with a fresh perspective, I’ll keep the candle going. Because Advent brought hope and I’m not ready to forget that.

Do you observe Epiphany? How do you remember Christmas throughout the year?

Praying in Anticipation – Join Me this Advent

I love living in the technology age. Staying in touch with friends, feeling connected to the world, getting news easily from a variety of sources all fills my “connectivity” strength. At times, the instant access to news can be overwhelming – I have to take a break because the world can seem so heavy. And yet, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Finding out about Michael Brown and Ferguson to elections in Zimbabwe to the attacks on Paris to news of refugees and the crisis in the Middle East allow me to remember that our world is groaning in anticipation of peace.

Right after the attacks on Paris, people began posting a prayer saying yes, but

Yes, praying for Paris is important… But attacks on Beirut happened two days prior.

Yes, we are concerned for the families… But what about the massacre of Kenyan students?

Yes, we feel connected to Western tragedy… But what about the rest of the world – the world that doesn’t look like us or hold romantic memories?

Yes, terrorism is tragic… But what about the daily tragedy of trafficking and slavery?

My initial reaction to this prayer was How insensitive! Yes, tragedy happens the world over but in this moment, Paris is the most recent. Just as I do believe all lives matter, in this moment in history we must focus on the importance of black lives. Just as I believe one death is as tragic as one hundred, in this moment we remember one hundred and one. As more and more people questioned our response to news, fingers were pointed. It’s not me – it’s the media not giving me information! It’s not me – it’s the fact that my Facebook newsfeed doesn’t highlight other crises. It’s not me…

Praying in-4So I thought, why not make it me? If we need to pray daily for conflict and crisis and tragedy – and we do – then let’s start highlighting these places that are overlooked. Why wait for the media to tell us when to mourn and when to raise awareness?

Advent begins in just a couple weeks. As we prepare for Christmas and wait in anticipation of peace permeating the world; As we wait in anticipation of reconciliation and the end of conflict, I want to stop and remember the places that need prayer, that need highlighting, that need us to remember.

Each day for the season of Advent, I’ll post a prayer or a picture or a reflection to highlight an area of our world that needs remembering. And I need your help! This won’t be powerful unless we raise our voices together. If there’s an area of the world or a conflict or a people group you feel should be represented, please write a prayer or reflection or create a piece of art. I’ll include it in our daily prayers as we wait in anticipation together.

If you’d like to participate, here’s what I need:
1) Pick a country or a conflict or a cause – anything you feel called to pray for.
2) Create a prayer or reflection in any media (writing, painting, photography…) that represents your prayer.
3) Email me your contribution by Monday, November 30: anniehrim @gmail.com and I’ll compile our prayers into a daily Advent post.

Feel free to invite friends, share the button, write on your own blog and link up… Rather than waiting for one tragedy to remind us of all the tragedies we’ve missed, let’s take a moment to remember now.

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Outgrowing Insecurity

Recently, I had one of those days. When junior high insecurities surface. When I felt unloved, unappreciated and unsure of how I fit into my community. Add those feelings to being nearly 8-months pregnant, and I allowed myself a good pity party.

As I got in bed that night, I opened my Common Prayer to read the nightly Compline prayer. Instead, I flipped to this:

Deliver me, O Jesus,
from the desire to be esteemed,
from the desire to be loved,
from the desire to be honored,
from the desire to be praised,
from the desire to be preferred to others,
from the desire to be consulted,
from the desire to be approved,
and from the desire to be popular.

The prayer went on, asking for deliverance from fears and asking that,

in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease…

that others may be preferred to me in everything…

The prayer reminded me of all the feelings I thought I had outgrown. That junior high insecurities last into my thirties. And that community isn’t perfect. That even though I may feel let down on occasion, the point is not to do it to raise myself – to be loved or honored or popular – but to serve others, to lift them up, and to show them that they are loved.

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Faith Like a Child

Bea is in a phase of wanting large amounts of food on her plate. She is a very active eater, so this food doesn’t usually get eaten because she’s running around, distracted. However, she always asks for “a BIG one!” of whatever we’re having.

Lunchtime conversation often looks like this:
Me: Bea, do you want peanut butter and jelly or avocado and cheese?
Bea: I want a BIG one!
Me: Ok, but which sandwich?
Bea: A BIG one!

To her, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s a lot. I usually fill our smallest containers full of snacks or meals so that it looks like there’s a lot more than is actually there.

I was reflecting on this need for excess and her scarcity complex and was reminded of how I often view God. Instead of focusing on what God is offering, I just want more. And, often, what I want more of is completely off topic to what God is trying to give.

I wonder if God views our conversations like this:
God: I’m giving you the tools to listen and work towards reconciliation.
Me: I want a BIG (house, car, salary…)!
God: Ok, but how are you going to use the gifts I’ve given you to help build my Kingdom?
Me: I just want a BIG one!

I know we’re supposed to approach faith with childlike learning and wonder. And, when I look at how Bea learns I totally get it. Every day is an amazing new adventure. It’s so cool watching her discover her world and her untainted faith in how it works.

But, I’m looking forward to new phases, as well: To being able to go on outings without having to worry about nap time; To grapple through life and faith when she’s a teenager; To sit down over a beer and solve the world’s problems as an adult. I’m absolutely enjoying these years of small wonders, but I think the years when we’re able to connect on deeper, more meaningful levels will be amazing, too.

Again, I wonder if that’s how God views our relationship. While approaching God with childlike wonder is amazing, moving beyond the “I want” phase into more maturity is amazing, too. My guess is that God looks forward to the day when we can sit down over a drink and truly solve the world’s problems. Or, when we can actually get up and go do things that will bring about Kingdom reconciliation and peace right now.

As I’ve grown in my faith, my conversations with God have definitely shifted from a list of wants and thank-yous to sitting in the moment, grappling with world issues, and listening to that deep silence that often leads to new perspectives.

Biggest question here: Over what kind of drink would you and God solve the world’s problems?