This suitcase has been with me for eleven years. It was one of the two I packed to move overseas for a year. It was quite an investment at the time because I wanted it to last and because I wanted features like dual wheels.
But I haven’t traveled overseas in quite a while nor have I gone on a trip where a suitcase this size would even be reasonable to pack. Seriously our four-year-old and one-year-old could both fit in this suitcase comfortably.
So why is it still with me?
Because we get attached to stuff.
Objects remind us of experiences and people and new identities. For me, this suitcase was a reminder of my courage in moving to a foreign country for a year. This suitcase reminded me that I really didn’t need as much stuff as I thought I needed to live for a year somewhere. This suitcase reminded me of the clarity and call I received while overseas to become a preacher and pastor. And so I have kept it.
Lent invites us to look at things differently, yes even suitcases. This morning I dropped off this suitcase at a local nonprofit that offers sanctuary and shelter for children who have to be removed from their homes and are awaiting foster care families. They have asked for suitcases because many times the children are relocated quickly and only have a trash bag or grocery sack of belongings. They don’t have sturdy bags that they can move from place to place.
When I dropped off this suitcase, the woman said, “Thank you. This is a nice big one. Oh and it rolls!”
This is where this suitcase needs to be, not in my closet.
Leaning into Lent means letting go of stuff, even stuff that served really important roles in our lives and in our transformation.
I love Lent. I know that sounds crazy, but I do.
Maybe it’s because it is a bit of a novelty since I didn’t grow up remembering Lent at all. Maybe it’s because in my experience as a pastor, Lent is a season in which so many people have open hearts and open minds to the way the Divine is moving and working in the world.
Maybe it’s because for me personally, it provides a good excuse to engage in spiritual disciplines that have maybe fallen out of practice in day to day living.
Whatever it is, this year I am leaning in Lent with an open mind and open heart ready to see the way that Divine is inviting us into deeper communion and deeper understanding.
May the Spirit protect you, challenge you, and restore you in this season.
After school as the sun begins to set and the day is coming to a close, our four-year-old asks, “Is it light/dark yet?” He’s asking if the time is coming where it will be time to get ready for bed and rest. Most of us call it an evening. If we are feeling poetic, we might call it twilight.
But I’m partial to light/dark, especially this time of year. This time of ordinary times wedged in between the Light of the World coming during Advent and the darkness that reminds us of our dustiness during Lent. Yes, this is light/dark.
And perhaps, too, we are light/dark. Capable of both spreading love and hope and healing as well as hate and loneliness and hurt. Yes, we are light/dark.
As we sit in the season waiting for the darkness while basking in the light, maybe we should take the opportunity to ask ourselves, “Did I spread more light or dark today?”
And then get ready and go to sleep hoping and praying for the light to come again and again and again.
At four, everything seems pressing. As soon as our four-year-old wakes up, he has a list of questions or reflections he wants to share. His little mind has always been like this even before we could understand the babbles he was sharing. There was an urgency to his need to comment on the world, his dreams, and really every thought that pops into his head.
In the midst of these pressing questions, I often respond, “Patience, grasshopper.” He always asks, “Why are you calling me a grasshopper.” I joke it’s because he is hopping from one thought to another or one request to another.
But this phrase has deeper connotations of centering oneself’s and deciding what is the most important priority for the moment. I have to admit I have to say this phrase to myself quite often. It is easy to jump from one thing to next never considering or reflecting on the way we are spending our time, attention, and money. It is easy to move, move, move and never be present in one space or moment of time.
As we creep closer to the Lenten Season, I hear that still, small voice echoing within:
One of the hardest aspects of the Lenten season is to the constant reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. As a preacher, I welcome the times in the church calendar like now where scripture lends itself to the promise and hope of resurrection and will come again.
For some, the Lenten season is not one that matches the church calendar but begins instead with the darkness of a diagnosis or the sudden decline of a loved one. These reminders in the middle of the church calendar catch us off guard. Because although we all know that we are dust and to dust, we shall return, we often push this realization to our subconscious.
We are life and death in one. Always moving towards death, but also living and breathing. It the paradox of our humanity.
When we have these moments when we are reminded of just how fragile life is and how much we can’t control how much time we have, we wake up to death moving this reality from our subconscious to our conscious thoughts. When this move happens, we tend to find time for what’s most important. We tend to treasure moments that would have been commonplace. We tend to worry less about clothes, money, and possessions because in matters of life and death those become unimportant.
For those of us who have lost someone, we love deeply and have found sleep, waking up to the realization that their physical presence is gone is so very difficult. And we have to wake up to the death of that loved one, again and again, day after day.
Waking up to death actually wakes up to life…and gratitude…and hope.
We’ve walked in darkness for the last 40 day.
We’ve longed and hoped for light.
But here we sit –
in the darkness,
in the hopelessness,
in the disappointment.
I didn’t understand this part for so long.
Perhaps I don’t even really understand it now.
I was taught Good Friday was good because it was about me.
my sins being forgiven.
my eternal life.
This is NOT about me or my salvation.
This is the kingdom of God here on earth.
A kingdom where all have food.
A kingdom where all are welcomed in.
A kingdom where all have shelter and sanctuary.
A kingdom so radically different
than the one here on earth
that the one
who was preaching and sharing the good news
would be put to death
in hopes that this idea wouldn’t spread
In hopes that power would remain in the hands of the powerful.
In hopes that systems would not change.
This is good news –
there is so much more.
Even in our dustiness,
we can be a part of something so much bigger.
Thanks be to God.
I’ve always found it a bit unsettling that the season of Lent coincides with beautiful Spring days like today in the South. While the physical world is beckoning for us to come out and see evidence of new life and the signs that Spring is coming, the spiritual world is calling for us to come within and see evidence of the darkness that resides in each of us.
Perhaps that is the beauty of the season. Perhaps that’s the reason that denominations who haven’t traditionally celebrated fasting and reminders that “we are dust and to dust, we shall return,” have taken on the spiritual practices and rituals of the Lenten Season. Perhaps that is why even cultural Christians can be heard making claims of giving something up during this season.
The paradox of light and dark resides within each of us, but this season especially allows us to acknowledge and live into that paradox. We rise in the morning to darkness awaiting the light. We find ourselves chasing the longer lingerings of light at the end of the day answering yes to our kids’ desire to play just a little longer outside. We crave the light because it gives us hope. We fear the dark because it reminds us of our dustiness. We walk this season with the memory of the cross etched on our foreheads marked as imperfect and mortal.
We walk into the darkness towards the revelation that it is in our imperfections that we become whole.
Have you ever been in a meeting talking about someone only to have them walk into the same place where you are sitting?
Have you watched a rose bush bloom for the first time this season just as Holy Week?
Have you walked into a store and heard one of your favorite songs just beginning?
Have you searched high and low for your car keys in the midst of Holy Week only to be met with a mischievous toddler grin?
Have you seen the sun and moon clearly at the same time hanging in the sky?
Have you seen two rescue pups unrelated, but raised as brothers, snuggle so it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends?
Have you smelled the aroma of dinner wafting through the air?
Whispers of the Divine, calling, “Come and follow me.”
I didn’t grow up in a baptist tradition where the ministers robed. I knew it was a part of other faith traditions. I knew there was a rich history of why clergy robed and that it was a way to distinguish the person as a person who was not only trustworthy, but also a servant to people and communities. It was also a way that the pastor or minister recognizes that his or her life is dedicated not to individual gain, but to peace and healing in the world.
In my current minsitry context, I robe during high holy seasons and on high holy days. Being back in the routine of robing has been a minute of respite between the Sunday School hour and our time of worship. It is a moment of reflection: Are the words I am about to utter my own or God’s word for God’s people? Am I offering peace and healing? Am I following after Christ as I am asking these people to do?
This week my robe has been on the go as I preached at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and then at New Hope to celebrate Palm Sunday. As most things that are in my car (also known as the Great Abyss by my husband), my robe has been moved from the front seat to the backseat and back again. On Friday afternoon as we drove to Asheville, it ended up next to the car seat where Ben found it useful as a blanket during his car nap.
I looked at him and thought about the children and teens marching during the March for Our Lives rally. I thought about what a different world he was born into than I was. I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face. I wish his reality didn’t include school shootings at elementary schools and a high schools and music festivals and bombs mailed in packages. I wish his reality didn’t include lock down drills and assault weapons. I wish with all my heart that there was something as a mother I could cover him with that would keep him and all other children safe so that they could not only grow, but thrive.
It is the same feeling of helplessness I felt as a teacher in high poverty schools. The same feeling that overwhelmed me as I discovered that some of my students didn’t have homes, some of them didn’t have beds, and many of them didn’t know whether they were going to have food for dinner or not.
As Holy Week begins, I wonder if just maybe there is something for us in the cries of these children and students and indeed in a toddler reaching for a ministerial robe as a blanket. Perhaps instead of demanding that our voice is heard and that our opinions are law, we should instead shift our concentration to covering our children with care and love and most of all safety. Maybe we should stop talking, stop debating, stop assuming, and just listen and repsond to their needs before our own.
Lord, listen to your chidren praying. Lord, send your spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Give us love, give us power, give us grace.
Three years ago during the Lenten Season, I felt such strong compassion for a bush in our yard that was being strangled by weeds. I could tell the weeds had so entangled this bush that the weed was literally taking the life from the bush. There were no blooms on the bush, but only dead limbs. I decided part of my Lenten practice was going to be to free that bush from the weed that was strangling it.
I am not a gardener. I do not have a green thumb, but I was determined. The weed was thorny and hardy. It didn’t come away from the bush easily. It put up a fight. In fact, it took me two sessions and numerous pricks in this bed to extract the weed from the bush. I watered this bush wanting so much for it to bloom. But it didn’t. I could see that there was life in the limbs again in the hints of green, but there were no blooms. The following Springs were the same, no blooms, but small pieces of evidence of life and growth.
I was disappointed. There were no Easter blooms. There were no butterflies that Spring to come to the butterfly bush. I was even more disappointed when I found out that what I had actually helped to resurrect wasn’t a butterfly bush at all, but rather a Bradford Pear tree that had been struck by lightning years ago. The tree had been removed, but the stump and roots remained.
My sweat and toil had accidentally resurrected a tree, not a bush. See I told you, I am not a gardener. This accidental resurrection has been a running joke between me and Sam and the congregations I have pastored of my lack of gardening ability.
Yesterday as I pulled into the driveway, my breath caught. I spotted this white bloom. One bloom next to the rose bush we planted for our one year wedding anniversary. One bloom in the midst of a rainy and dreary day. One bloom after three years of no blooms. One bloom of hope in the midst of the darkness and wilderness of Lent.
For me, this is the picture of my own journey to weed out the effects of spiritual abuse in my life. The spiritual abuse that almost strangled me. The spiritual abuse that made me doubt who I am and my own worth. The spiritual abuse that threatened to overtake me. It’s been a long painful journey, but that one bloom is the perfect picture of the journey. I never thought I would be where I am, just as I never thought I was helping out a tree. What I’ve found on this journey of healing and wholeness is that my roots are strong. There is still life and hope. Resurrection does indeed come accidentally in the most unexpected and surprising ways.