Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On the Road to Calvary

Image from

As we enter the third week of Lent, I find myself plodding a bit. Tired. My eyes feel gritty, as if dust has descended, drying them. It isn't comfortable, but it's not painful, either.

It's Lenten.

The Lenten disciplines God directed me to this wintry spring are difficult, yet with Him all things are possible, and I continue on, allowing His discipline to shape my heart, permitting Him to carve away my excesses.

I fail, though. I sometimes forget Vespers so combine it with Compline at bedtime, and a few days have seen Morning Prayer fade into Midday, but His Word lightens the burden, enlightens the path.

So I ask forgiveness, and His grace envelopes.

And I trod on.

Today I read an incredible post about something dear to my heart--written by the wonderful Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience (my favorite blog). She shared about the process of making Easter as meaningful in our lives as Christmas.

That's a convicting thought, isn't it?

If we invest all this effort, time, money into Christmas, celebrating the Incarnation, how can we not do at least the same, if not more, to celebrate the Resurrection?

Ann writes:
And Advent completes at Lent.

When Christ completes what He came to do.

She continues:
We call it the “spirit of Christmas,” the spirit of giving, and we try to contain it to holly and poinsettias, when it is holy and it is more. The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of Easter, the Love that so loved the world, that He gave.

And the words that stings heart and motivates soul:
The Incarnation of Christ was meant for the Crucifixion of Christ and we never incarnate Christ until we abdicate self.

And "abdicat[ing] self" is the whole meaning behind the practice of Lent.

And I think it's perhaps why Lent feels so precious to me. For in the abdication of self, we may gain the merest glimpse of His glory--the swirl of His cloak, His whisper in the wind, His hand on our shoulder as He nudges us onward in His holiness.

And thus Lent is one way to join Christ on His journey to Calvary. It's a gift, really--to become one of the weeping women of His beloved city, the city He wept over, clad in dusty garments and worn sandals, the women of Jerusalem whom He took the time to greet and to warn despite searing pain and the weight of the world on His shoulders--beaten raw, seeping blood.

"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming...." (Luke 23:28-29, ESV)
Lent allows us to join Jesus on the Road to Calvary, sharing a minuscule bit of His pain as we follow in His footsteps, only imagining what He willingly bore for us--the agony, the betrayals, the sin of past, present, and future generations--of all humanity. Even the mere visualization stabs my heart...much less the real experience of Christ's obedient suffering.

During this Lent, may we walk with Him as He stumbles forward, humanly-weak but divinely-strong, as "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8, ESV).

And may we be so obedient in our Lenten disciplines, empowered by Christ and not ourselves as He molds us into His image, cutting away the sinful dross that accumulates in our lives all-too-easily.

Stumbling ever onward in His sacred footfalls,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Returning to Gratitude....

"Sourgrass" photo from

I haven't posted to the Gratitude Community at A Holy Experience since the last day of January. So on this rainy/haily/snowy day, I again am gathering thanks as we used to gather bunches of the yellow clover flowers we called "sourgrass" when we were growing up. There are so many--they're so beautiful--and I can't be content with sharing just a few. They need to be in thick bunches, stems sticky with juice, bright sunshiny blooms crushed together in little, dirty hands. That's the way gratitude works, after all: once we pick one, we see more and more and more at hand, ready for the plucking. And the sharing.

So again I rejoin the pilgrims on the pathway to One Thousand Gifts, thanking our Lord this day for:

491. Rain seeping deep into the earth, springing spring on this first day of the season

492. My beloved husband whose artistic talent leaves me awed on a daily basis and whose love surrounds me each day

493. The shy daffodils peeping their heads out along our front porch

494. The prayer books being printed and hopefully on their way to us!

495. Lenten disciplines shaping my heart to His

496. Tiny flecks of snow drifting down this morning, still a rare sight in Southern California

497. Studying C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves and Scott's Ivanhoe with my oldest son this week

498. My day of quiet and solitude last Wednesday in which I met with my Father for extended times of prayer throughout the day (and basked in the spring sunshine)

499. The most beautiful, joyous, and quirky wedding I've ever attended, and being still rather sore after (unwisely and wonderfully) dancing the afternoon away with church friends--such freedom in dancing, especially to The Beatles, Black-Eyed Peas, and the B-52s!

500. Reaching #500, the halfway mark on my journey to One Thousand Gifts, knowing also that my copy of Ann's book is wending its way to me as I type....

Joyfully halfway to the goal (and hoping to exceed it),

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Poems for Spring

Daffodils in front of our porch

Spring creeps slowly into our mountain valley. This morning the clouds shield us from the sun, and winds buffet the vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines that surround our mountain cabin home. Rain is forecast, and the memory of basking in the sun while reading and writing in a beach chair on the front lawn Wednesday seems unreal. The house carries the chill of last night's cold this morning, and I reach for a second cardigan with a shiver.

But our town's main street is flanked with cheerful daffodil banners, and the flowers themselves wave happily each time a car passes. Despite the fact that we receive the vast majority of our snow in March (and did this year as well), March still heralds spring as minuscule buds form on the branches of our Pippin tree and pale blooms emerge on the young peach tree, which we hope will fruit for the first time. I inspect the lilac bushes and am heartened by the greenish-brown buds forming, a promise of fragrant white boughs to come.

And so with spring in the air despite the storm marching its way up the mountain, I thought I'd post a couple of spring poems for your enjoyment.

This one appeared in my inbox this morning, a daily offering from Academy of American Poets:

The Enkindled Spring
by D. H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, ashadow that's gone astray, and is lost.
And, of course, my favorite spring poem of all time, written by my favorite poet of all time:

in Just-
by e.e. cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan whistles
So I bid you all a happy spring, whether the actual conditions agree with the month of March...or not. And please feel free to share your favorite spring poems in the comments section. We can always use more spring!!

Spring blessings,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Celebrating Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

I have often written about Saint Patrick, one of my favorite saints, on this blog. Rather than rewriting, I thought that in remembrance of this amazing man of God I would direct you to some of my posts of years past.

So feel free to join me in remembering and celebrating Saint Patrick, Apostle to Ireland, with these posts:

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick, British Missionary to Ireland

The Breastplate Prayer of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick's Prayer for the Faithful

One of my favorite sermons ever was one by our former youth/worship pastor, now Pastor of La Vina Community Church in Miami, Rollo Casiple, who preached on Saint Patrick during Advent, of all times. But he helped us to visualize so clearly Patrick's relaying of the Gospel to the pagan Irish King that I almost felt as if I were there at Slane Castle myself on that Resurrection Sunday 1500+ years ago. Of course, having just watched U2's Slane Castle concert on DVD earlier that week aided my visualization greatly, but that's another post....

From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, a Collect for "A Saint's Day":

O Almighty God, who hast called us to faith in Thee, and hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses; Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of thy Saints, and especially of Thy servant Saint Patrick, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through Thy mercy, we, with them, attain to Thine eternal joy; through Him who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So I wish you all a blessed remembrance and joyous celebration of the life, ministry, and prayers of this incredible missionary. May we serve our Lord with similar devotion, submission, courage, and bravery as we walk in the footsteps of Saint Patrick and countless Christians along the Pilgrim Pathway that leads to eternal communion with Christ our Lord.

God's blessings be upon each of you this Saint Patrick's Day, my friends,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Lenten Rule for 2011

Each year as the season of Lent approaches, I seek God's plan for my Lent. For me, Lent is the most precious time of the year--a time for spiritual spring cleaning, a time to draw closer to God.

I've been familiar with Lent since I was a young child, but I didn't start practicing it until my last couple of years of college. And over the last twelve years, I have practiced Lent with all seriousness and devotion.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Lent, I have a page above that I wrote as a presentation for last Shrove Tuesday which I gave to a Bible study group at Lake Murray Community Church. It has always seemed odd to me that we celebrate Advent at our Evangelical Free Church, but not Lent. But I was asked to share my Lenten experiences, and so I have. You may click on the "On Lent" page under the header or simply click here: Ash Wednesday and Lent.

So this year I knew that God was going to want to address my food issues. I know that I've been depending on sugar and caffeine to get me through my chronic fatigue, and it's also keeping me from losing the excess 60 pounds that I gained from steroids for inflammation control when I was wheelchair bound with my autoimmune issues. I lost ten pounds late last year, so I now have 50 more to go.

I had several ideas for fasting from certain foods or tracking food and keeping below a certain daily caloric or points intake. But when my husband, who has struggled with candida since November, e-mailed me information about the candida diet and chronic pain, I felt immediately that this was the way I should go for Lent and beyond. So I am not eating any grains or sugars, only certain low-sugar fruits combined with protein, and only certain dairy products (yogurt and non-aged cheeses). I've lost five pounds since Ash Wednesday--not bad for seven days!

My fasting goal is not merely vanity. Partly I chose this diet so I can eat more like my husband who had to go through Thanksgiving and Christmas without sugars or grains and continues to eat this way; he's lost 35 pounds over the past five months. His diet is not the maintenance-level mine is; it's much stricter, and I may tighten mine as I go along, too. But mostly I felt convicted about turning to sugar and decadent foods for comfort rather than to prayer and God, so that's the main reason behind this fasting plan.

I've also added more prayer into my days, using the Book of Common Prayer 2011, The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, The Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie, and the Magnificat Lenten Devotional. So I have different readings and prayers set up for Morning Prayer, Family Devotions, Midday Prayer, Vespers/Evening Prayer, and Compline. I've allowed my prayer life to kind of wander off the last couple of months, so I'm desiring to renew my time with God.

Also, Keith has been kind in offering to take all three boys with him on Wednesdays so I can have a day--wait for it--to myself!!! Each week!!!! As a homeschooling mom for the past 13 years, I have rarely had a day alone once every six months, much less every week!!! I am planning to use my day for journaling, writing, contemplative prayer (extra time meditating on Scripture and its application to my life), and rest. I am SOOOO excited about this opportunity and am vastly grateful for a dear husband who recognizes my need and makes it possible!!! Woo--hoooo!!!!

I will also be helping with a Lenten study of C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves with Father Acker of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity for four of the Thursdays leading to Holy Week. I'm really looking forward to this study. I love reading Lewis!!!

So these are my Lenten plans, what Father Acker calls "A Lenten Rule," arrived at through much prayer and soul-searching. I pray that during this Lenten season, I may draw closer to God, may more thoroughly study and apply His Word, and may glorify Him more in all aspects of my life. Yes, we can do these things any time of the year, but when we're anticipating Holy Week, it makes these disciplines all the more important and my relationship with my Lord all the sweeter.

Wishing you all a blessed and holy Lent through Christ Jesus,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ash Wednesday Retreat

On Ash Wednesday my dear friend Carmen and I arrived at the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, about 75 miles from my mountain home. The Mission hosted an Ash Wednesday Mini-Retreat, led by Father Larry Dolan, OFM, on Lenten Silence. Carmen, who attended graduate school with me twenty years ago, treated me to the retreat as a lovely birthday gift.

Garbed in the traditional brown Franciscan habit, Fr. Dolan is one of those people who exude the joyfulness of the Holy Spirit in their every glance, every word, every laugh. And he certainly had us laughing while teaching us deep spiritual truths at the same time.

We were told to bring our Bibles to the retreat, and we gave them quite a workout as Father Dolan had us flipping here, there, and everywhere, seeking Scriptures on God's silence in the morning and on our silence in the afternoon. In the morning session, Father Dolan told us to pray through the silence, when we can't hear God speaking as He continues to work through the silence, or what we perceive as silence.

After he spoke for an hour in the morning on God's silence and how God is always working even while we perceive silence, Father Dolan sent us out into the lovely retreat grounds (see above photo) to spend 90 minutes with God. I used the time to write in my journal and pray Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer 2011. The weather was perfect--seventy degrees and beautifully sunny. Birdsong fluttered across the manicured lawns and blooming flower beds as I wrote, read, and prayed.

Carmen and I met for lunch in the dining hall where we met up with her friend Tanya, and then we returned to our retreat hall for another hour of talks with Father Dolan, this time about the value of our own silence, of quieting ourselves so we can hear God's voice speaking to us. Father Dolan stated, "Encountering silence is encountering God" and "Silence is being." When distracting thoughts occur while we pray, he advised us to look upon distracting thoughts as not being negative but rather as an impetus toward prayer, "something to be put on the altar."  He also provided us with a prayer guide very similar to lectio divina, using many of the contemplative prayer tools I advocated in the retreat I led for Lake Murray several years ago. We were sent out to use the prayer guide or pray in our own way for another hour, and I settled into the corner pictured above, under a tree, to pray and read.

I most valued Father Dolan's sincere reminder that "Contemplative prayer is for everyone, not merely for mystics, clergy, etc. Contemplation is for all Christians." YEEESSSSSSS!!!!

At three o'clock we all met in the retreat chapel for Ash Wednesday Mass and Imposition of Ashes. Father Dolan placed the ashes on my forehead, with the traditional words, "Remember O man, that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return" (from Genesis 3:19). The ashes, he told us, remind us of our mortality, our sinfulness, and our being made Christ's own, marked with His sign, the cross on our foreheads.

Carmen, Tanya, and I walked through the grounds at 4:00, watching the shadows of the mission buildings stretch across the lawns and admiring the beautiful flower gardens as we chatted about the retreat and what we learned.

Spending Ash Wednesday at an all-day retreat in such a beautiful setting was the perfect way to begin the Lenten Season.

***If you would like to learn more about Ash Wednesday and Lent, please see my page above On Lent--a talk I gave last Shrove Tuesday to a small group Bible study at Lake Murray Community Church.***

Lenten blessings,

Monday, March 7, 2011


I have never been away from this blog for as long as I have lately. Yes, I've been busy, but not that busy. It's more than that.

It's more than the family issues--my dad's melanoma, my mom's severe and debilitating back pain, my 17 year old cousin's severe injuries when she was hit by a car while walking across a busy street, the deaths of several friends' parents, and the ever-challenging financial needs that swirl around us in an ever-tightening maelstrom...a storm of dark clouds and raging winds that cause me to seek the protection of hearth and home.

My chronic health issues are definitely part of the problem. I've had very little energy, and the pain has been much worse than usual. And when I don't feel well, I tend to fold in on myself and not want to talk to friends or even post here. Sometimes it's just too hard sometimes to keep up the facade of peace and wellness I raise to comfort family and friends, hoping they remain unworried, unconcerned--at peace themselves....

And I know that I can't live behind a facade. In my latest fiction, I've been writing about facades, and in the fiction I've been reading lately, facades have been a nearly-constant theme. I know that I can be "real." But at times I fear worrying family and friends with the extent of my pain and disability, especially on days when just walking across the living room seems too daunting a task for the moment....

So I'm pushing through my facade today, and I'm posting, even though part of me wants to snuggle into my familial cocoon of my wonderful husband and terrific kids and spend this lazy, rainy day reading and writing and not pushing myself outward. But I know that I need to stop folding in on myself and push myself out into public again.

So on Ash Wednesday this week, I'm attending an Ash Wednesday Retreat at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, a gift from my dear friend from grad school. We'll spend the entire day at the mission, from 9AM to 4PM, finishing with Mass. And much of the focus will be on silence.

I so desperately need this time to focus on God in solitude and silence, especially on the first day of Lent. God is working on my heart in several areas, and I know today how He wants me to spend my Lent, which discipline He wants me to develop. And although I'm not looking forward to the process, I am excited about the results.

This poem appeared in my inbox on Saturday, and I wanted to share it with you, not merely because Poe is one of my favorite poets, but because silence is something God has been knocking on my heart about lately. I have had very little interior silence going on in my spiritual life lately--and that's not good for me, for my relationship with God. I crave silence, but I haven't been making room for it to happen. And the words of my friend Judith in this month's edition of our small-town newspaper reinforced the necessity of solitude and silence in our lives, and in my life in particular.

So ponder these wise words with me:

by Edgar Allan Poe

There are some qualities—some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence—sea and shore—
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!

So as we approach Lent this week, I know where my heart needs to be. I need to wrench off the facade and rest in the silence and solitude that bring me face-to-face with my Lord and Master, where I can ponder and pray His Holy Word, where I can learn again to listen to His still, small voice. I pray for the maelstrom that has encircled and spiralled my life lately to calm for these forty days of Lent so that I can refocus my heart, mind, and soul on the One who suffered and died and rose again so that we might live in His loving grace.

Pulling away the facade and seeking Him,


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