Easter, faith, liturgical year, Uncategorized

Easter Vigil

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That first Easter was made in stillness…

in empty spaces where a scattered people once gathered

in uncertainty, unknowing, and unprepared how-in-the-world-did-we-get-here unsureness.

And this one is made in keeping each other company within the silence of our hearts as we go through the motions we can while mourning the ones we can’t.

 

That first Easter was made in darkness…

in stumbling together on the way to a tomb that contained everything they thought they’d been living for.

And this one is made in walking together-while-apart, virtual companions on a path we can’t even see yet.

 

That first Easter was made in grief…

in crushing sadness over what was lost and with no idea how anything could ever be the same again.

And this one is made in admitting that no, things are not the same…

but also in reminding each other that in these parallel Easter stories, we have the advantage.

We know already how this Story will end.

 

My friend says, “It’s the Lentiest Lent that ever lented.” I repeat her words in the kitchen and wonder aloud––what’s Easter if your cross is just as heavy when you wake up Sunday morning as it was on Friday afternoon?

My husband, still quick with a sermon title after all these years, reminds me: not all Easter Alleluias come easily. The first ones certainly didn’t. But Alleluia, anyway.

 

Christ isn’t in that tomb, or in any other one––

except as the One who never lets Death have the last word.

Where he is present isn’t in the stillness of defeat––

except to whisper, “This isn’t over yet.”

 

Some Easters are made of Alleluias borne on golden, soaring chords toward heaven, carried by the singing of children and the scent of lilies, effortless, effervescent.

This one is made of Alleluias murmured through tears, pressed out from between clenched teeth, spoken with a full knowledge of what we’ve lost but without knowing just how much more we’ve got to let go.

Some Alleluias are hard-fought.

 

Yes, it’s the Lentiest Lent we’ve ever lived. And when the first morning light begins to shift the sky from black toward grey this Easter, our penances won’t all dissolve

our sorrow won’t evaporate with the night

our losses won’t be magically restored as the sun rises.

But

He is still risen.

We are still His Body––fingers, eyes, ears––all still connected whether we feel it or not.

This, this moment, is where our faith defines us.

This moment––this very one––is what faith is for.

We have faith. And it is enough to sustain us.

We are still an Easter people.

He is risen, indeed.

Alleluia, anyway.

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Minnesota nice

I’m wondering if I might need cultural competency training to live in Minnesota. I feel like I don’t come across well here.

I wouldn’t have expected to need a major adjustment to figure out how to talk to people, but I feel like I’m misunderstood about 75% of the time. I end up scrambling to correct someone’s misinterpretation while they stand there looking sort of offended, and I’m not ever sure where I’m going wrong. It is not less jarring than being misunderstood in France or Canada or Mexico or London. It might actually be more unpleasant, because it surprises me every single time.

Probably, I’ll figure it out. I’ll become an avid observer of central Minnesota culture and figure out where I’m going wrong. The biggest mistake we can make in cultural misunderstandings is thinking we have no culture of our own. Somehow, my Virginia must be getting in my way, and through a process of trial and error, I’ll hopefully be able to find out why (or at least figure out how to fake it until I do!). As George said this afternoon, if the only way to learn is through trial and error, I should be well on my way. And while I know it’s probably better to learn these things gradually, I do find myself wishing a little bit for a Matrix-style instant upload of Everything You Need to Know to Live Happily in Central Minnesota.

 

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Once upon a time, I had a blog.

Dear friends,
I’ve been thinking it might be time to bring back this blog.

In some ways, it seems like a weird time to start writing here again, since I have way more reading and writing to do at present than I have in recent memory. There is a stack of books half a meter high on the side table (which isn’t unusual for me) and all of them have to be read basically right now (which is a new development). I’m a fairly fast reader, but becoming a full-time grad student when I already have a full reading life is still going to be a challenge.


Maybe I need to figure out how to read while walking, like I used to do in elementary and middle school. Or maybe this wouldn’t be safe at all, since I’m also still learning how to walk on ice, which is everywhere in patches on the ground and sometimes covering entire swaths of sidewalk.

Anyway, you might start hearing from me again…probably not a lot, and certainly not in polished and witty form…but some words, anyway. I’ll try to write a bit about what I’m doing and learning, what we as a family are doing and learning, and the new places we go and discover. I’ll probably write about how much colder it is here than in Virginia. And otherwise, it will probably be kind of like it was before, when I used to write here – just with the developments of older children and more life experience and possibly a more developed theological lens.

See you around.

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To Nora, who has finally become Six

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You’ve been waiting for Six for a long time…the way you wait for everything, equal parts anticipatory excitement and grumpy irritability that the object of your desire has not yet been granted to you. You’ve been musing over this birthday, turning it over and over in your mind as you help me fold socks or unload the dishwasher or water the garden, sharing little tidbits of your thoughts as you tumble them around.

“When I’m six, I’ll read chapter books to myself, completely to myself, like Sam does.”

“When I’m six, I won’t need any help to put my hair in a ponytail.”

“When I’m six, I’ll be able to weave and knit without any assistance.”

“When I’m six, I’m going to make dinner all by myself.”

“When I’m six, could I possibly have my own room?”

Well, as much as I’d love to grant all your birthday wishes and give you the desires of your heart, you can’t have your own room. We’re simply out of bedrooms. Also, for all your blustery rhetoric about not liking to share your things or your space, I’m not sure you’d be entirely happy all alone at night without your sister’s company.

Yes, sharing space is hard, and sharing your things with someone who doesn’t always treat them the same way as you do is a challenge. You like things the way you like them- lined up neatly in rows, carefully arranged to meet your artistic preferences, color-coded and grouped by size and shape. I watch you carefully choose shells to outline a path over the wall around your sandcastle, and I know each one has meaning to you- nothing you do is accidental. You have plans, and they all fit into a bigger plan, and other people’s unwitting blunders sometimes completely ruin your plans and therefore ruin your life.

As you said at the end of the day on your birthday, “Nothing at all went the way I had hoped it would on this birthday, and it’s the most horrible birthday I’ve ever had!”

We never need to ask you how you feel, my girl. You are always quick to tell us.

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And I’m so grateful that you can tell us- that you don’t stuff your feelings down inside and pretend that things are okay when they simply aren’t. Your feelings are enormous, after all! They explode out of you with giggles and whoops and leaps and sometimes sobs and gulps and tears and sometimes even eye rolls and door slams. What would happen to a girl like you if she stuffed her feelings inside and didn’t let them out? She’d be a walking volcano, waiting to blow at any second.

I know it can be scary to be such a feeler. You never quite know when something might leap out of nowhere and make you weep- a story read aloud at the library, a butterfly on the ground with a wing missing, a crushed seashell, a broken crayon. When your tooth came out yesterday, you brought it to me with tears welling up in your eyes. I thought you were hurt, but as you wept in my lap, you told me you were just sad…”and I have no idea why!”

Sometimes, we just don’t know why, do we?

I have never been very good at pretending things are okay when they aren’t, so maybe you got your big feelings from me. Regardless of where they came from, they are here, and they are part and parcel of who you are, and I would not change them even on the days when they are not easy to manage. You have the rest of your life to figure out how to keep your feelings from exploding onto other people. I am still trying to figure that out, myself, but I’ll help you in any way I can. For now, you are safe. I love you, just as you are, large feelings and all. And no matter how many times you slam the door in frustration, I will always be waiting on the other side of it when you’re ready to talk.

Happy birthday, dear one. You will always have my heart.

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To Lucy, on your last day of being 5

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My dear girl,
I am standing on the sand, watching you run away from me. There is a perfect evening glow and your hair is even curlier than usual. It bounces around your shoulders as you race around, heading toward the crashing waves and then away from them, shrieking with glee or terror or maybe both whenever the water approaches your toes. Your feet are bare, your dress is pink, your eyes are the same blue as the sky behind you and just as sparkly. The beach is narrow here, but we have it to ourselves, and so you run as fast as you can, as far as you want.
So much about you mystifies me. You are constantly unexpected. Sometimes when you were a baby, I would hold you and gaze into your impossibly blue eyes and wonder where you came from. You seem to be taking everything in, your eyes wide and questioning, absorbing all the things you see and pondering them someplace inside yourself. I wonder if pondering is part of what you do when you are not sleeping, when the rest of the world is exhausted from the day. Whatever it is that drives you seems unwilling to be turned off just because it’s bedtime. I wonder if I will ever plumb the depths of your energy, your questions, your relentless quest to see and understand everything.
A couple of weeks ago, you decided it was time for you to learn to ride your bike. Watching you do this was almost exactly like watching you when you finally decided to start walking. No one could convince you to try it until the day you decided you were ready, and then there was no stopping you. I was afraid- afraid you’d catch your foot in the pedals and fall, afraid you’d pitch forward over the handlebars and fall, afraid you’d topple over sideways and fall, that you’d be hurt, that you’d knock out another tooth, that you’d scrape up your face or break your arm. I didn’t tell you, but I was afraid.
Often when I’m most afraid for you, it’s because I know you are about to do something and that there’s no way I can stop you. I’m not so much afraid of what is going to happen to you as I am of the knowledge that you will, in those moments, only listen to yourself. My fear is because I know from knowing you for six years now that once you’ve gone out to do something, you won’t stop until you’ve finished it, no matter what.
Were you afraid, that day on the bike? You say you’re afraid of so many things (stinkbugs in the car, spiders at the science museum, the page of icky insects in the encyclopedia on the living room shelf) but no one was going to stop you from riding that bike that day, by yourself, without help. You dragged it up to the top of the driveway, tugging at the pedals until they were where you wanted them, threw your leg over the top and coasted a few wobbly feet before putting your sandals flat on the ground again. “Again,” you said, and pulled the bike back to the top for another try.
I’m not sure how long you worked at it that day, but I watched you for at least an hour. I heard you tell yourself over and over, “One more time!” and “1, 2, 3 go!” and even once, “Don’t worry, you can do this!” I fetched three band-aids and one ice pack for a few brutal falls. I saw you almost get it so many times before you finally managed to get your feet up to the pedals and pedal down the driveway, beaming. And I was so proud. You got frustrated, but you didn’t quit. Getting the hang of things because you work hard at them is so much better than getting them because you are naturally good at them. You didn’t learn to ride a bike that day because you have a natural gift at balancing or pedaling. You got it from sheer will, because you decided you would, and you did.
This is the most encouraging thing to me as your parent.
Sometimes, as I watch you floating through the world with your feet barely touching the ground, singing a little song to yourself and taking it all in with your wide wonder-filled eyes, I worry for you. I worry that you’ll be hurt. I wonder how we can protect you forever from pain and suffering, because you seem so lovely and fragile.
But you’re not fragile. You’re gritty and determined, and you’re going to be more than fine. Life will knock you down sometimes, but you’ll get back up again, because at your core, you’re made of strong stuff. And if you ever forget that, I’m going to be right here to remind you.
Happy sixth birthday, my brave girl. I can’t wait to see what amazing things you’ll do in this next year.IMG_1819

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To Felix, on the eve of your third birthday

This morning, we made play dough together.

You’ve been asking for days, since early last week, to play with play dough. We didn’t have any. I told you we could make some…but there was laundry to do and dishes to clean and errands to run and school curriculum to order. You were outside with your brother and sisters, or I was trying to convince you to take a nap, and we never seemed to get around to the play dough.

This morning is your last morning of being two years old, and if we can’t make time for it now, when will we? So I said “yes,” and we spent half an hour dumping flour and oil and cream of tartar and Kool-Aid and salt, mixing and stirring and tasting (yes, you did, and although it must taste awful it can’t hurt you, I guess) and kneading and rolling and patting and playing.

This, I suppose, is the difference in my parenting of you, my fourth child. I know now that now is as good a time as any. As hectic as it feels sometimes to have a two-year-old, things don’t necessarily get less hectic when he turns three, or four, or any other age. You’ll get better and better at cleaning up your own messes, and eventually you’ll be able to read Where the Wild Things Are to yourself every single night before bed instead of asking me to do it for you. You’ll pop into the bathroom and take your own shower and pop out again, maybe even remembering to hang up your towel, and I won’t sit by the side of the tub and watch you pour cups of water over your own head while you sing songs from the Moana soundtrack, all chubby cheeks and glistening skin and your sister’s heart-shaped sunglasses.

I’ll do less and less of the ordinary for you. You can already dress yourself and wash your hands and face and basically get your own breakfast. Somehow, though, your budding independence doesn’t result in our having more time to just hang out together.

Is it that you have more to do that doesn’t involve me? Or is it that I fill all those small moments when I would have been cleaning your hands with mopping the floor? Our house is tidier than it used to be when you were an infant, but I still feel like all I ever do is clean it up…and in exchange, I have a lot less time of smelling the top of your head in the rocking chair. You tag along with the big kids…out to the driveway to ride your tricycle or to the backyard to build a fort or to play hide and seek…and instead of hanging out and watching you, I run to the sewing machine or the computer or grab a book or my knitting and try to carve out a few minutes for myself to work or sing or create something that will remind me that I still exist apart from all that laundry. Your brother grabs himself a snack and gets you one, too. Your sister gives you a push on the swing or reads you that tiresome Clifford book for the thirteenth time today. You have people to do these things for you- people other than me.

Still, when you bump your head or scrape your knee, it’s my lap that comforts you, and my kisses still mostly work as the best way to take the sting out of your injuries. Although you’re quick to correct anyone who calls you “little,” you still pretend to be a baby monkey, climbing up my body and dangling from me as I shuffle down the hall.

I treasure your exuberance, your silly stories, your determination to tell knock-knock jokes even though you don’t quite understand the form. I always save you the orange cup and the purple ice pop and almost all of my croutons. You don’t like the way my reading glasses look and constantly ask me to “push those glasses up” on top of my head. If I have the book memorized, I do it just to oblige you.

You’re my “yes” kid. We said “yes” to the possibility of you, and I find myself saying “yes” to everyone else more often than I might have if you hadn’t joined our family. I’m older and wiser now on my fourth two-year-old than I was when I had just one two-year-old for reference. Beyond that, though, I know that wonderful things can happen when people say yes. Wonderful things and wonderful people, like you.

Happiest of birthdays to you, my littlest man. You’re sunshine in my heart.

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This Lent, know thyself (and thy temperament, too)

There are so many good ways to do Lent.

Every year around this time, I find myself overwhelmed by all the choices and wanting to do everything. I tell myself that I can, in fact, do everything…that I’m a little bit superhuman and that I can rock this Lent like no other.

I’m good at pushing myself just a little harder and stretching just a little further…until something snaps, and I find myself someplace around the end of February in tears and feeling like a big, fat failure at Lent.

For years, I thought this was just another way in which I am deficient- another weakness that I should be working with due diligence to overcome.

Then I learned about temperament.

Each of us has a temperament- a set of attributes and characteristics that makes us who we are. The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett does a wonderful job of explaining the four classic temperaments and how they affect our lives. Reading this book helped me to see that temperaments do come from God. They are how God made us in His image, with love. My own temperament (melancholic-choleric) tempts me sometimes to think that I have all negative characteristics and that the other temperaments are more desirable than mine…but temperament itself is neutral. It is how we learn to manage and work with what we’ve been given that matters.

Choosing our Lenten disciplines with temperament in mind can make them a lot more fruitful. One person might gain a lot by fasting from all sweets and coffee. Another person might benefit more from reading a spiritual classic. I tend to be very hard on myself about lots of things, so setting up opportunities where I’ll have lots of chances to judge myself harshly could actually backfire and put up barriers to my relationship with Jesus.

That’s the opposite of what we want, here.

So, this Lent, I’m taking my temperament and my life situation into account as I make my plans.

What I am doing:

cultivating a habit of praying throughout the day

My days run more smoothly when they are liberally sprinkled with prayer. I’ve never gone so far as to develop a rule for myself, but there are moments in the day when prayer is a natural fit. I have an alarm set at noon on my phone to remind us to pray along with our Angelus video while we get lunch ready. This Lent, I’m adding an alarm at 3pm to remind me to pray for mercy. I probably won’t always have time for the Divine Mercy chaplet, but that’s okay…thanks to a wise suggestion from a friend, I have labeled the alarm with “Lord, have mercy on us”- so even the act of turning off the alarm will be a prayer.

Thank goodness for smart friends.

I’ve snuck some other little prayers into spaces on the margin, like putting on my chap-stick (labeled with “set a guard over my mouth, O Lord- keep watch over the door of my lips!”) and drinking coffee (“my cup runneth over!”) I am trying to stop yelling when I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, so these little prayers help me to remember to keep my voice gentle and quiet.

practicing the daily discipline of finding God in the small things

I’m so excited about doing #HolyLens again with many of you. The community on Instagram has grown to become one of my favorite places to hang out. The discipline of finding God’s presence in everyday moments has really deepened my appreciation for the “thin places” where the holy and the mundane are rubbing against each other. These moments are all over the place- we just have to pay attention. Taking photos helps me do that.

practicing lectio divina…in the dark…on my phone

It is a true gift to have a scripture study written by busy moms for busy moms. My friends Nell, Laura and Nancy have put together a really wonderful study for Lent that centers on the practice of lectio divina, a focused, attentive, prayerful reading of a short scripture passage. There are written reflections for the beginning and ending of each week, but the heart of the study is just each woman alone with the word of God. It’s available as a pdf, so I can read it on my phone when I’m nursing a baby to sleep. That’s the only way it could work for me right now, as those seem to be the only quiet moments in my day.

If little, bite-sized chunks of thought-provoking scripture might work well for you, it’s not too late to join in this study. They even have an active facebook group where you can connect with other women who are participating. I haven’t found many minutes to get over there, but I love watching the conversation unfold.

What I am not doing:

giving up coffee

This is one sacrifice that would be harder on my family than on me. Since it’s not up to me to make their Lent miserable, I’m going to keep having that coffee in the morning. I do really love it, and it would definitely feel like a sacrifice to go without it, but as long as I have a baby who is waking up every night, I’m going to be tired…and as long as my children and I are together all day, I’m going to need that caffeine boost. It’s how it is.

studying all the writings of St. Francis de Sales

When I heard about the open online course that deSales University is offering exploring all the writing of Francis deSales, I was really excited to do it. I’ve long wanted to read some of his work, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. However, I’ve since realized that actually doing this would be too much for me right now with everything else that’s going on. I may still read some of his work this Lent, but it’s not going to be a focus for me.

With my family:

chaining together 40 days worth of prayer intentions

We always make a Lenten prayer chain with the kids, where we put the name of one person or family on each link and commit to pray for him or her on that day. We usually contact that person and ask if there is any special intention for which we can pray (and often, there is). It’s been a great way to remember our friends and family and to take extra time to hold their concerns before Jesus as we prepare for Easter.

limiting sweets to Sundays

We’ve become aware recently that our kids feel they “deserve” treats for almost everything. Whether we’d gotten overly reliant on treats as rewards or whether it’s just a stage our kids are going through, we decided as parents that it is best to nip it in the bud. So, no treats except on Sundays (which are little Easters and are exempt from our fasts). The kids are basically on board. We’ll see how it goes.

What are you working on this Lent? Are you well underway, or are you still trying to figure it out?