I Don’t Believe in Lent

My friends showed up to volleyball practice with crosses of ash smeared on their foreheads. I looked on with incredulity at the morbid (to me) signs on their forehead as they lamented that it was the beginning of Lent when they couldn’t eat chocolate or candy. The entire purpose of this season to them was a time of loss. I couldn’t understand it. Coming from a Baptist tradition where we didn’t practice Lent, their religious practice leading to Easter didn’t make sense to me and I staunchly declared to myself, if not to them, “I don’t believe in Lent.”

Is not Easter a holiday to celebrate? Does not the cross do away with all acts that seem to earn salvation? Are we to become enslaved once again to the Law, required to participate in rituals to prove our Christian faith? Are we not instead free from all such works?

I patted myself on the back for my arguments and moved on without further reflection. I was not a legalist. I was not trying to prove I was devout. I was not a hypocrite, fasting and hating it.

No. I was merely judgmental, short sighted, and shallow in my understanding of the ancient practices of fasting, Lent, and repentance. Whether these girls were committed to seeking God or not (and am I the one to judge?), the practice of turning to Him during this season is to be treasured.

I did not see the beauty of a contrite heart, the love God has for the humble, or the fruit that comes from a discipline which puts off our selfish motives in order to cling wholly to God. God said, “when you seek me you will find me if you seek me with your whole heart.” Intentionally stopping a behavior for the purpose of focusing that energy on God is definitely a step towards seeking Him with our whole hearts.

I have since fasted over Lent many years. I have given up shopping, sweets, Facebook, and caffeine – some of these more than once. Each time I have fasted I have learned about myself and my tendencies to turn to something other than God to meet my deep need for Him. How I will choose a sugar rush to abate my hurting heart. How I will try to receive “love” through “likes” of my clever posts. How I will try retail therapy in order to convince myself that I am ok.

In the place of these things God has met me in companionship, grace, comfort, abiding love. I have learned that He loved me enough to die for me, despite my turning from Him. That while He appreciates my small sacrifices, He is not sorely disappointed when I slip up and have a bite of sugar. That fasting opens a place in my life for God where I had once excluded Him. And that He is lavish in His forgiveness, mercy, love.

fasting

But, I still don’t “believe in” Lent. We should not participate if we feel that we are saved if we do or damned if we don’t. Participating in Lent will not prove anything to God, earn us brownie points, give us salvation, or make us more holy. We cannot atone for our sins, make it up to God, or earn His favor. Jesus covered all of this on the cross. Jesus continues to make us righteous. We cannot do it through any act of will power, self-deprivation, or good deeds. To believe it does is to deny the power of the cross. The power that raised Christ from the dead. The power that cleanses us and makes us new.

More than that, it is possible to participate in Lent and not worship God. One of the most shocking passages of the Old Testament to me is Amos 5:21-22:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

Why? Because their hearts were far from God. Their actions towards others betrayed their selfish motives, their lack of compassion for the needy, their worship that made themselves feel good, but did not glorify God. It is possible that we can fast from food, caffeine, television, social media, and remain unchanged, untouched by God.

I still don’t believe in Lent. I believe in the power of the cross. I believe that because of Christ’s work I am made new, am whole, am perfected.

Honestly, Lent snuck up on me this year. Wednesday I panicked because I hadn’t picked anything to fast from and felt guilty as I dipped a chocolaty tim-tam in my coffee. But as I wrote this, I felt God prompting me to do something different this year.

I suspect the next 40 days will not be a time to fast, but instead a time to embrace. A time to step out in courage as I face change and some loss over the summer (more on this soon). I want to spend this season in celebration, gratitude, and love. I want to fellowship with my friends, worship with my church, and hope for the future.

What will this season be for you? These 40 days before Easter? A time to fast? To turn from something to turn towards God? Or perhaps it’s a time to celebrate, to be grateful, to rejoice. Maybe it’s a time to rest, or to practice silence. Or, maybe, it’s a time to step out in faith that He is doing something new. There are many different spiritual practices that create room in our lives for God. Fasting is merely one of them. And Lent is an appropriate time for any or all.

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How these Superbowl Ads are Going Against our Culture

The Superbowl commercials have been celebrated for decades. We watch with great expectations. To laugh. To cry. To groan. To cheer. Mini-movies which make us laugh, cry, groan, cheer, fall in love, and of course, want what they’re selling.

And yet, my friends, for years I avoided the commercial breaks. The message many of the ads sold was simply sex. Or rather, men: want these women. Lust after them. This is what you want. This is what will make you happy. A bit of breast. A piece of a$$. We know you only think of one thing. Let’s settle and give you only that.

Let’s forget that you are so much more.

But every day I watch my husband. I see him struggle against this culture which reduces him to one desire. Which forgets that he is a father. Ignores that he is a husband. Neglects that he is a strong, complex, capable, feeling, thinking man.

tim reading to jack

Every day my husband takes care of our kids. He gets them dressed. Drops them off at school. Works HARD at his business to support them. Takes care of their laundry. Feeds them. Snuggles and tickles and wrestles and plays with them. And every evening, I get the front row seat to him reading their bedtime stories before kissing them goodnight.

This year it seems that people have finally noticed: Our men are so much more.

Men love. Men cry. Men have passion. Men fear. Men hope. Men dream. Men make a difference.

Thank you, Nissan. Thank you, Dove. Thank you for affirming the men in our lives. The dads who build up our children. The people we love.

If we can all follow in their footsteps. Stop laughing at the mistakes men make. Stop mocking their different styles of parenting. Stop expecting them to be like women.

Start accepting their tears. Start listening to their fears. Start encouraging their hopes and dreams. If we can start supporting them to change a diaper, hold our child, be an active dad – the dad their kids so desperately need. If we can trust them for a night or a weekend alone to experience 24 hours with their kids, what would happen? They might not do it the same… no, they might do it better.

For once they might be built up in who God created them to be. Not a 2 dimensional character in a godaddy commercial, but a strong man who has gifts, talents and abilities. For once they might shine in their expression of love. For once they might be equipped to support their family beyond their finances. For once they might be seen as respectable contributors to the holistic well being of the family.

What would change in your family if you entrusted your husband with your child? What would change in him if he saw you respect him? What would change in your kids? What would change in you?

** I want to make a note to you friends whose husbands have proved themselves to be untrustworthy because of abuse. Please know, this is not for you. My prayers are with you. Bless you.

How I am rising above shame (and the winner of Fight Back with Joy)

The past week was full. Full of tears, grief, sorrow, and pain. Full of joy, laughter, hope, and excitement. Full of new people, new friends. Abundant. Overflowing.

At times I was overwhelmed, felt behind, wanted to crawl in a hole to sleep, because it was almost too much for this girl who gets over-stimulated. And in all of the goodness and pain (which are not mutually exclusive) I knew I had forgotten something.

fightbackwithjoyI forgot to announce the winner of Margaret’s book. (see below)

Now, this might be a small thing most people would not realize, but to me, in my desire to do things right, shame creeps in. Failure speaks: “You screwed up. Who do you think you are? How could you forget something like that?

I have a choice: I can either listen to the shame, absorb its message of failure, become paralyzed in guilt, horrified by remorse. OR I can accept my inaction. I can acknowledge that I did not follow through, apologize (I’m sorry, my friends, I am), forgive myself, and work to rebuild my integrity.

As I choose the second path, I also choose to see who I am. In the face of shame which puts me down, I can stand and acknowledge how God has built me up. This work is difficult when I am tempted to see only the negative in me. But God has created me and his works are wonderful. I am “wonderfully complex” (Psalm 139:14 NLT). I am vulnerable. I am strong. I am compassionate. I am loving. I am passionate. I am wise.

With humility I see both of my failures and my gifts. I offer them to God. Use them. May I be a blessing to someone today.

What is shame speaking to you, today? What is the truth about who you are? Hold them both in your hands before God. You are his masterpiece. He has created you to do good. And that work He has began in you? He will complete it. Amen.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

 


Thank you everyone who shared your stories of grief and joy on my blog two weeks ago. You blessed me with your truth.

The Winner of Fight Back with Joy is Lynnae McCoy. Congratulations, Lynnae!

 

Why I Have a Dream

my boys

This is my family.

My boys and my cousin’s son, in their Christmas jammies, completely oblivious to the fact that 50 or 60 years ago this would not have been possible.

Unaware that hate between their races exists in the world.

Instead, they embrace each other. They love each other.

Last week, Jack came home from school talking about Martin Luther King Jr. With awe in his voice, he told me, “He changed the world.”

With the faith and simplicity of a child he came up with solutions for segregation – “he could have just taken the signs down!”

With great thought and contemplation he wondered why we don’t have African Americans in our school. (A largely hispanic/white neighborhood)

And with hope he says now, “The world is better because of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Yes, yes it is my son.

And inside I cry out – we still have so far to go!

But I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” 

Much of MLK’s dream has come true. Many have seen the changes take place. Others are still crying out for redemption. For justice. For peace.

Many of the problems in our world feel too big. The hatred. The oppression. The systemic disadvantages. The lack of compassion. Or help.

But this snapshot of my family brings me hope. This is the next generation of world changers. As Jack asks hard questions, “Why did they kill him?” I see his wheels turning. He is working out the problems, seeking solutions. He is already instituting change in the world in his love for his cousin.

I have a dream.

And I have hope.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5

How Grieving Has Brought Me Joy :: A bit of my birth story (and a Giveaway!)

When my son was born, the experience was anything but what I anticipated. We planned for a natural birth, but 12 days before his due date an ultra-sound told us he was breech, amniotic fluid was low, and the cord may or may not have been wrapped around his neck. We were already in the maternity ward for an external version, so within an hour Jack was delivered via c-section.

prepping for surgery

prepping for surgery

My memory of that hour is fuzzy as my eyes blurred, my heart pounded, my anxiety built. I held my breath during the spinal and tried to control my body one last time as I lay down only to be reprimanded by the surgeon. I searched my husband’s eyes for hope as they put the pressure on my belly needed in order to squeeze Jack’s 6 pound 12 ounce body through the incision. My ears strained to hear my baby’s first cries from the other side of the blue sheet which divided me from him.

As they wheeled me from the operating room I wondered, “Did I just give birth?

It was hardly the story I envisioned and, in a state of shock, not one I could rejoice over.

But I had a healthy baby. And that’s all that mattered.

Or so they said.

_______

What do you do when life should be joyful, but it’s not? A fight breaks out the third day of your honeymoon, your beloved infant develops unexplainable colic, a dream job turns out to be beyond your ability to handle?

As Christians we are often taught to bite back the tears, cling to “the joy of the Lord,” put on a happy face, and move on.

But according to Margaret Feinberg, “When we don’t allow ourselves to grieve well, something inside us dies.” (Fight Back with Joy, p 79) Grief is not an experience to be swept aside, but an opportunity that is vital to our ability to have joy.

“Sometimes we need to give space for grief in order to make room for joy. No one is immune to sorrow, and only those who learn to grieve well can recapture the healing it brings. Just as light needs darkness, so joy needs grief.” (FBWJ, p 72)

________

At the end of my pregnancy with Ben, I received the news that he was also breech. After many failed attempts to flip him (including somersaults in the pool, standing on my head, and an external version), I faced my second unwanted c-section. For the first time I let myself feel. Feel the disappointment, the pain of Jack’s delivery. I wept over my sense of failure. I lamented my fear and shock. I mourned the loss of a vaginal birth (which I still inexplicably desired).

Grieving the painful circumstances of Jack’s birth freed me from the negativity of my past. Mourning my experience enabled me to see God’s work at the time. Fear of my feelings was replaced by confidence in the good grief brings. For the first time in three years I was able to say with certainty that I gave birth to Jack. And I would give birth to Ben the same way.

If anyone knows about seeking joy in the midst of the worst circumstances, Margaret Feinberg does. Diagnosed with an aggressive cancer before the age of 40, Margaret decided to not only fight the cancer, but to Fight Back with Joy. Her new book (Fight Back with Joy) documents her journey through the diagnosis, chemotherapy, grief, loss, and pain all with the firm belief in the power of joy.

morethanwhimsy

I am treasuring her words as Margaret shares her story in Fight Back with Joy with vulnerability, courage, and hope. She is teaching me, the often pessimistic, perfectionistic, mother of two, that Joy is possible. Even when it is least expected.

_________

fightbackwithjoyTo win a copy of Fight Back with Joycomment below on how grief and joy have coincided or collided in your life, subscribe to The Toothless Grin blog, share this post through your favorite social media, like my page on Facebook, Follow Me on Twitter. Up to five ways to enter! Be sure to let me know how you have entered by writing a comment below! (if you already subscribe, like, or follow me, then just tell me!) Giveaway ends on January 22, 12:00pm MST.

This post was written as part of Margaret Feinberg’s Partymob blog tour for the release of Fight Back with Joy. To purchase a copy of Fight Back with Joy check out Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. Or for the 6 week bible study DVD series for your small group, click here.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Jesus (Matthew 5:4)

Fight Back With Joy 6-Session DVD Bible Study Promo Video from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.

I am Reclaiming Date Night

Before children we were so good. On Tuesday nights we would get dinner, sharing an entree, going to the cheap theatre, being together. We took walks in the moonlight. We held hands. We chatted. We were together.

16d5 4580_93990421388_562111388_2424922_3889001_n a007 9-16-2006-04.

Then Jack was born. We went on our first date as parents when he was 6 weeks old and struggled to talk about anything except him. A few gracious friends offered to babysit that first year and we got out every once in awhile, but, you know, we were just. so. tired. Going out took energy and money and time.

Slowly, date night fell away. Until it didn’t exist anymore except on that rare occassion when it was unearthed like a rare gem. We stared at it and each other, uncertain what to do with it. We tried to enjoy it, but it was so unique… what do we do with it? Pretty soon, it was buried, forgotten again in business, stress, fatigue.

Until this December when I looked up from my phone to look at my husband and realized I don’t feel I know him right now. He has his inner world of thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears need to be invited to be shared. Unlike my prattling and verbal unloading, Tim is careful with his words. Not one is wasted. If I’m not listening, they won’t be said.

If I don’t take the time to be with him, I might never hear his words.

Common wisdom says that the secret to being good parents is being a good spouse. Or that we love our kids best when we love each other best.

I have fallen into the cyclical pattern of tending to those who are loudest. My kids whine, pout, scream, shout for my attention, while my husband silently waits for his turn. When the day is over, I’ve spent all of my energy on the boys without reserve.

This is not good, friends.

This is a habit that is hard to break. A reaction instead of an intention. Acting without purpose and instead in frantic fear of controlling the littles who are instead controlling me with their outbursts.

So I am turning to dates to break this pattern. A bump in the week that pulls me away from the children in order to gaze solely at my husband. I am hoping to arrange one a week for awhile. That sounds like a lot. But you guys, we need it.

date night

We need to start living out those vows of love and commitment instead of letting the days go by with little more than  peck on the lips or a side hug greeting.

So, on Saturday, I took Tim on a date. I anticipated it. I looked forward to it. I got all dressed up for the movies and Fazoli’s. I danced to “Shake it Off” Radio on Pandora while I dried my hair and did my make-up. I left light hearted, expecting the best. The best of the movie, the best of conversation, the best date in months.

Tim saw me excited and I think it made him a bit more light hearted. I let him see me be happy to be with him. I giggled and flirted and engaged.

For the first time in weeks, we laughed. We talked. We held hands. We snuggled. We kissed.  We were together.

I am looking forward to our future date nights. I am pinning ideas, looking for “at home” solutions, seeking out sitters, and anticipating more great times with my husband. My beloved. My friend.

What about you? What would it take for you to reconnect with your spouse?

sos 6_3