March 2017: What I’m Into

March. proper noun. The month of spring break and continuing to dream of tropical locales where it’s not still. freaking. snowing. And of Lent.

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I unfolded from my car and crept into the Maundy Thursday service. The sanctuary was unfamiliar, a service selected at random from the Internet at a town midway between the Cities and my parents’ house. I felt a little dazed, and not because I’d been in a car for four hours. I just didn’t feel like I was ready for this, the high point of the church calendar.

That’s not to say I hadn’t tried. I did the Lenten fast and waved away unnecessary purchases for 40 days. The hand creams and books and Trader Joe’s daffodils stayed on their shelves. I added to my online clothes shopping cart but didn’t purchase anything. I tried to free up my mental space for more holy things. It sort of worked. But I didn’t feel like I found more room for Jesus. I didn’t feel like I got holier. Mostly, I just saw how petty and shallow I am, and I felt bad that I didn’t know how to fix it.

I’m sorry I’m not better, Lord, I thought, as I sat through the song I didn’t recognize and the sermon about Jesus’s sacrifice. I’m sorry that I waste so much of my time on the Internet. I’m sorry that I care so much about stupid things. I’m sorry I don’t pray more, or read theology more, or sit in stillness more. I’m sorry that I didn’t solve my sins. I’m sorry you still had to die for them.

And then I was walloped by how completely I had missed the point.

Lent is to help me see my need for a savior. It is not to help me save myself.

Jesus knew I would be more Pharisee than Peter, more spic and span outside than in. He knew I would absolutely care about the things man cares about. He knew I would believe my plans were better than his. He looked into my eyes, knowing they would too often shift away from all that blood and all that undeserved agony.

And then he died. For me.

I still don’t understand it, this Jesus, this grace. Daily, my brokenness splashes everywhere, and I wonder what the heck he was thinking.

This mystery is one I will never solve fully. A love this deep, that asks nothing and gives everything, is incomprehensible. There will never be a way for me to earn it, no matter how many striped t-shirts I avoid buying or how many chapters of John I read. There will always be more to discover, through all the Lents into eternity.

His grace is sufficient for imperfect me, indeed.

 

When I’m not contemplating the state of my soul, here’s what I’ve been loving this month.

Reading

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green. I once had a theory that it will never take me longer than one day to finish a John Green novel. That theory is still going strong. This story is told by Aza Holmes, who has OCD. The plotline itself is fine ­– the resolution seemed a bit rushed, and I thought the romance element had a clunky start. The real gem here is the front-seat view into Aza’s thoughts. It’s what makes this book 100% worth reading. You see her perspective on life and hear her questions about what makes a person human and how much choice we have about our own lives. It also made me realize straight-up how wrong the picture in my head is of mental illness. Though I know that “just getting over it” isn’t an option, I’ve never had such clarity about what it actually feels like to have a “thought spiral,” as might happen to someone with mental health issues. It nearly made me cry, in moments. John Green’s insight into teenagers’ brains is striking, and it’s even more so than usual in this one.

English Creek – Ivan Doig. I read this as a study of how to write historical fiction for another writing project I’m working on, and because I loved The Whistling Season. The detail that went into this 1939 Montana setting was astounding. I was surprised to find out Doig had made up the entire English Creek area, mountain ranges and nearby towns included. Admittedly, the level of scenic detail and description made this one a bit slow-going in spots. But the narration feels like a collection of winding old-time tales that Jick, the fourteen year old narrator, might tell around a fire during a blizzard to his some-day grandchildren. I especially enjoyed the characters – they felt like spot-on caricatures, in the way that the individuals in small towns become reduced to a few stories that somehow tell you everything important about them.

Chasing Slow – Erin Loechner. I went to hear Erin Loecher speak through the Faith & Life lectures here in the Twin Cities, and my mom’s theory that we could be friends with her was absolutely confirmed. I bought this book to pass on as a gift…but I definitely read it myself first. Reading about her journey to pursuing less – in terms of both prestige and possessions – aligned incredibly well with what I’ve been contemplating this Lent. It reminded me that striving to accumulate less is nice – but it’s only truly good when we use the remaining time and resources and energy to pour into loving others well.

Moon Over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool. This is a reread from a year or two ago, about a girl in the Depression who is left in an unfamiliar town who stumbles upon a mystery from the past. I still adore this one. I’m realizing how picky I am about endings, and this one nails it. It’s a beautiful mix of sad and hopeful and tender.

Warcross – Marie Lu. This book tells the story of Emika, a broke hacker who hacks into a world tournament video game, gets found out, and accidentally gets herself hired by the head of the video game to be a spy. While reading, I enjoyed this one a lot. Then I finished it, and I couldn’t figure out why I was disappointed. Until I realized that I wanted this book to be Ready Player One, and it wasn’t, and I would suggest just reading that one, which has more action and more depth and a more interesting and clear virtual world. The end.

 

Listening

One – Sleeping At Last. Sleeping at Last is in the middle of a project where he creates a song for each number of the Enneagram. It should be abundantly clear that I am a One after reading the introduction to this post. The first time I listened to the One song, I thought it was fine (typical). But then I couldn’t get the line “As if I could earn God’s favor given time/or at least “Congratulations,” out of my head. And then I listened to the podcast explaining this song, and it became even more meaningful.

 

Bridges Burn – NEEDTOBREATHE. They have new music and an updated concert schedule releasing soon and I am not excitedly messaging my brother every time they post updates on Instagram. Not at all.

 

Ain’t No Man – The Avett Brothers. It makes me feel like I should be at a barn raising, in the best way.

The Liturgists podcast has made a comeback, and they make me think really hard about things that I always thought were true.

 

Watching

Baking with Josh and Ange. I’ve only watched a few episodes of this, but it’s a cute how-to YouTube channel where the Ange half of the duo is the actress who plays Angela in The Office. She seems so…nice? and normal? in real life. Naturally, the episodes with guests from The Office are my favorites.

 

Loving

Allbirds. I needed some comfy sneakers for traveling last month, and Allbirds caught my attention. The alleged benefits? They’re comfy, sustainably made from wool, they don’t get smelly, and socks are unnecessary. After nearly two months of wear, I’m happy to report all those claims are actually true. I was worried that they wouldn’t be supportive enough for my old lady, high-arched feet, but I walked for most of a day in San Francisco in them and have worn them all day at school with no complaints. Plus, I don’t have to wear socks. Praise hands. I have the natural gray wool runners, and they go with nearly everything.

Being off Accutane. Last spring, my skin went bonkers. I’ve struggled with spotty acne since high school, but toward the end of college, I started getting painful cystic breakouts where I would actually ice my face because it would feel so sore. I tried medication and topical products, and for a stint, eliminating milk and low-fat milk products. Whatever I tried would work for a while, and then all the spots would come back. My dermatologist recommended isotretinoin (more popularly known as Accutane), and I’ve been on it since August. And friends? It was entirely worth it. There are some definite downsides to that stuff. My lips and the skin on my face have never been so dry (thank goodness for Aquaphor and argan oil), and I did have more joint and muscle stiffness than normal. But I’ve been done for almost 3 weeks and my skin has never looked better. Everything – from the big breakouts to the little blackheads around my noes – has been healed. I haven’t regularly worn any foundation or concealer to school since December. Dermatologists are magic workers.

This bread recipe. I’ve been attempting to make bread lately, and this turned out the best of any of the loaves I’ve made. The King Arthur Flour Baking Company Bread 101 videos are also incredibly helpful.

Library cookbooks. Did you know that you can check out cookbooks from the library and take pictures of the recipes and then make them even after you returned the physical book to the library? This world is a wonderful place. I’ve checked out The Pioneer Woman’s Dinnertime and Come and Get It! and am looking forward to trying some new things.

 

Doing

Spring breaking! At the beginning of the break, a dear college friend and I met up in Chicago and drove to the Ohio-Kentucky border to hang out with another friend for a long weekend. Those two are the best. In addition to the required staying up way too late talking, we hit up Cincinnati for a concert, experienced some quirky local Kentucky culture and then went to Louisville to see Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Please & Thank You (a coffee shop with the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten – good recommendation, Modern Mrs. Darcy). We also saw the Indianapolis Zoo on our way back north, which had a fantastic orangutan exhibit and would be worth visiting again when it’s warm.

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I capped off spring break by hanging out with Adam in Chicago. Even though he was in the midst of finals week, we managed to squeeze in a viewing of the opera Cosi fan Tutti, which is funny and thus a little more my speed than Wagner. Other than that, we mostly hung out in libraries. At least they were pretty libraries!

Heading home for Easter. Having the whole family in one place is sweet – as is eating a lot of good food. I will never tire of angel pie.

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What have you been into this month?

 

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February 2018 – What I’m Into

February. proper noun. The month of love. And also the month where I consider moving somewhere not this cold.

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This month was the Tale of Two Februaries.

There was the Vacation February. For one blessed long weekend at the beginning of the month, I flew to San Francisco to see my mom and sister. Brita gets to live somewhere with palm trees, you guys. This is great because, you know, good for her, but also because it gives me an excuse to leave Minnesota in February. I got to get the tiniest bit sunburned. I got to not wear a parka. I got to hike in a forest where there were actual leaves, and they were green.

The next blessed long weekend of Vacation February, Adam came to Minnesota for President’s Weekend. Thank you, presidents, for being born and giving us the day off. We ate good food. We danced. We got to sit next to each other. It was a delight.

And then there was Ordinary February. Ordinary February is even worse than Ordinary January because in February, it’s still freaking cold. And my tolerance of it is even lower. In Ordinary February, the hormone monsters also take over the 7th grade. The kids get weird and squirrely, and while they’re sometimes hilarious, they also make me very tired.

The moral of the story?

Take every February off. Entirely.

(I wish.)

And also, fine. Remind myself that there is good in the ordinary, for the 10,927 time. (That is not hyperbole.) Even when I have to get up before 6:00 am and even when it’s snowing again and even when I can’t handle one more interruption during class. There is still beauty and goodness here.

Here is some of that good from this month.

 

Reading

Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry. I first discovered Wendell Berry when I read Jayber Crow a few summers ago. I liked it enough to buy a collection of his Sabbath poems. And even those did not prepare me for how much I would love and adore Hannah Coulter.  I have never underlined so much and texted so many pictures of paragraphs to Adam, especially in a fiction book. This is simply the story of one woman’s life. Her words and story are ordinary. But her insights are striking and beautiful. This moved up high on the list of my favorites, and I might tell every woman I know to read it.

Refugee – Alan Gratz. This book tells the stories of 3 different refugees – Josef is a Jew escaping the Nazis on the St. Louis, Isabel is a Cuban leaving the Castro regime on a homemade raft, and Mahmoud is a Syrian fleeing from war. This book is gripping and heartbreaking, while still being entirely appropriate for a young adult audience. I kept feeling like the author should just give these characters a break already – how could so many terrible things happen to a handful of people? But that’s also real life. Highly recommended.

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon. This book ramps up the awkward-teenage-love thing – by introducting an arranged marriage. Dimple Shah heads to InsomniaCon, a coding camp, with plans to develop her app. Instead, she discovers that her parents planned for her to meet her future husband. I loved this book. Until the last quarter. Rishi is the cutest awkward boy-in-love, and I thought the tug of war between how Rishi and Dimple handled their Indian heritage was handled well. However. In the last quarter, there was a steamy scene that, while not especially explicit, just seemed unnecessary. I also didn’t entirely buy the ending. I wanted to be able to recommend this one to my students without reservations. But alas. If you’re older than 12, it’s entirely enjoyable.

Garlic and Sapphires – Ruth Reichl. Food memoirs are just scrumptious. (Or scrummy, as Mary from The Great British Baking Show would say.) This book tells about Ruth Reichl’s experiences as the food critic at the New York Times. It involves more wigs than you might expect. Besides making me hungry for things I’ve never even tasted (squid ink? Truffles?), this story has surprising reflections on how we create identities for ourselves and how society treats different women differently.

A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. This isn’t exactly my type of book. But when a student hands her very own copy of a book to me and tells me that I simply must read it, I can’t not. And this book was very dear. A dog is reborn into multiple settings to discover what is it, exactly, that dogs are here for. If you don’t cry at least once while reading this (a dog dies…multiple times…), you don’t have a heart. I managed to not weep while reading in front of students – but that’s because I got lucky and read the ending at home.

 

Watching

Folks, I finally started watching The Office. I’m just 10 years or so behind the times. My excuse is that I once had to watch 4 hours of the later seasons of this show with no context and it wrecked everything – until now. I’m glad I got over it. Michael still makes me so uncomfortable, but I am holding out for Jim and Pam. I’m just a few episodes into Season 3 (!!!!) and it looks like there’s no hope for them.

 

Listening

Havana, especially this cover by Pentatonix.

Fields of Gold by Drew and Ellie Holcomb. They are both so talented.

Random love songs, you know, for Valentine’s Day. And for any day when I have to grade things during my prep. Think L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours by Stevie Wonder.

 

Loving

Letterfolk Instagram. They share the best quotes. Case in point:

 

Cross country skiing. Well, this is a love-hate relationship. Skiing during a winter weather advisory is fantastic – until the falling snow actually freezes to your eyelashes. Heading out into untapped wilderness (okay, fine, onto fresh powder where track hasn’t been laid yet) with a friend who doesn’t mock your ineptitude is also great. But falling down icy hills (still. Again.) makes me question that I can be the next Jessie Diggins. Probably with good reason.

Speaking of Jessie Diggins – the Olympics. I get overly invested in people I’ve never heard of before the Olympic games begin, and I almost cried when I read the headlines that a fellow Minnesota girl had finally gotten gold in cross country skiing. And then this ice dance? Holy mackerel.

 

Doing

Watching the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Superbowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.  Well, I wasn’t in U.S. Bank Stadium. I was a few miles up 35W eating chili with church folks. I did not venture downtown once that entire week, and I am only mildly regret it.

As mentioned above, traveling to San Francisco! My mom and I flew out to visit my sister and had the best of times. Highlights:

  • Golden Gate Park, especially the observatory of the city in the art museum and the albino crocodile in the science museum
  • Dinner at the Cliff House, which had the best views (and the most delicious seafood)
  • Playing arcade games at the Musee Mechanique. Julie Andrews and “little Annie Hathaway,” as the guy on rollerskates who runs the place called her, filmed the arcade scene in the Princess Diaries there. That place is the weirdest and best.

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  • The chilly hike through Muir Woods (especially Cathedral Grove) and to Muir Beach

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  • Having traveling companions who agree that eating Boudin bread with Nutella in the car counts as an acceptable dinner and whom you still like at the end of a trip

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Observing Lent. For our Valentine’s Day Skype date, Adam and I both had ashes smeared across our foreheads. It was a strange collision. The kinds of reflections stirred up by Ash Wednesday and Lent don’t come naturally to me – it’s not often I contemplate my own mortality and the ways my heart’s idols need removing. I still don’t know what to do with what I’m noticing. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the noticing and the turning my noticings over to God is sort of the point.

As also mentioned above, Adam visited! I hadn’t seen him in 5 weeks, which turned me into a sappy weirdo when I finally did get to see him. There’s no one with whom I would rather eat a belated Valentine’s Day dinner at the University Club or go swimming at a community center while we pretend it’s summer or be adopted by random strangers at Loring Pasta Bar who want to teach us how to dance the bachata.

 

What were you into this month? Head to Leigh Kramer’s link-up for more recommendations to see you through these final weeks of winter.

Slow: Thoughts on Social Media

Slow. adjective. “Requiring or taking a long time for growing, changing, or occurring; gradual.”

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I was the last person in the world to get Facebook. Almost.

It was June, 2011, at the cabin. We borrowed the lake neighbor’s wifi because we did not have Internet at home yet. (We were the last people in the world to get wifi. Almost.)

I filled out my profile, deliberated over a picture, and added my future college roommates. Getting to know them was the whole reason that I joined Facebook in the first place. I sent friend requests. Then I got friend requests. My attention-seeking heart thrilled. People cared that I existed! They wanted to know what I had to say! They wanted to see pictures of my exciting life! I checked back often, wanting the accepted requests, the likes, the comments roll in. It was addicting.

It stayed addicting.

//

Lenten disciplines were new to me this year. Giving up anything meaningful seemed too hard. Chocolate? Please God, no. I saw the glory of God in dark chocolate regularly. Shopping for clothes? I just gave that up a month ago. Plus, my ancient skinny jeans were about to lose a battle with the dryer and need replacing. Social media? I blogged (kind of)….and I needed Instagram for inspiration…and I’m going on a trip and I want the world to know…and…and…

The niggling feeling that maybe it would be good to go without social media didn’t go away. My headstrong, irrational opposition to the whole idea was my first clue. After all, I’d survived 18 years without status updates. So I moved Instagram from its prominent place on my phone and deleted Messenger and mustered up my self-control.

I thought it would be easy.

I was not correct.

At first, especially, I felt the ache of boredom. After work, when I’d checked my email and read the few blog posts sitting in my feed, I had to choose between staring at the ceiling or doing productive things. It made me antsy.

I noticed it especially on slow Saturday mornings. I couldn’t reach for Instagram to wake up my sleepy brain. So I stared at the light slanting through my blinds. Or checked my email, again. (What 23-year-old obsessively checks non-urgent non-work email?) Or wondered how many days it was until Easter. And then I finally picked up a book, or wrote, or did the dishes, or moved on with my life.

There was no moment of picturesque clarity during those 40 days. No rush of satisfaction. No pell-mell deleting of accounts.

But books I’d been meaning to read got picked up, and read. Questions got asked, and their answers became clearer. For the first time in years, I started reading the Bible before bed again. My room was cleaner than usual.

Maybe it’s all coincidence. Maybe not.

//

“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness,” Rebecca Solnit says. If I have had any small revelations during my forty days in the wilderness, it is this.

I have been convinced of my need for less. Less fast and furious consumption. Less surface-level engagement in the lives of others. Less comparison to others’ relationships and lifestyles and photogenic chops. Less of what I won’t remember in a week. Less of what won’t really matter, now or in 5 years.

And this emptying and slowing makes space for thought and thoughtfulness. I actually read an article and discuss it with the man who devours deep conversation. The question that wrinkles my faith gets a fraction smoother. Books move to the finished stack, and I pass on their names to students. These things take work and energy and thought. They are worth it.

//

Lent has passed, Jesus has risen, and I have broken the fast.

On Saturday morning, I let myself scroll aimlessly through Facebook. I was content, at first. When I finished, just 10 minutes later, I was restless. My Friday night had been peaceful, and my life seemed fine. But everyone else was getting married and going interesting places and having more fun.

Hello, procrastination. Howdy, comparison.

We were back to square 1, where I started before Lent, and where I started on that June day when I first opened my account.

As I realized this, I stopped browsing. I closed the computer, and picked up a book.

 

Ashes: On the Weight of Sin

ashes. noun. “The remains of something destroyed.”

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We arrive at church on Wednesday at 7. We are shockingly on time. Our rustling echoes in the stark sanctuary, where crosses are covered.

Ash Wednesday is new to me. So is this form of church, with its thees and thous and ringing bells and kneeling at times I can’t yet anticipate. I feel shifty under the weight of its liturgy, shiftier still when we get in line for the imposition of the ashes. The priest intones, over and over, “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return.” His thumb is smudged black.

I walk back to my seat, forehead smeared, uncomfortable. It’s not often I contemplate my own mortality. It’s not often that I ponder how my sin has separated me from my God.

Adam flips through the missal to the confession, and I realize how, now that I’m saved, sin seems a minor inconvenience. Yep, we mess up. We apologize, to God or neighbors or ourselves. We face the consequences. But mostly, we’re doing just fine. Sin is a hangnail, ignorable. It is no great welt across the soul.

We confess, and I hesitantly pray that God would show me the gravity of my sin. It is a halfhearted prayer, like the ones I often whisper that God would show me his presence and want to then take back. The hardest days are often the ones where I see his presence most. I don’t know what this request will bring me.

I forget this prayer. But two days later, I see it answered.

I am waiting outside Adam’s apartment after school. He calls. Our plans have suddenly changed. He needs sympathy, kindness, love. Instead, I am irritated at minor inconveniences. I rarely deal gracefully with changed plans. Often, I can brush off this tendency as a character quirk. This evening, it manifests itself as selfishness. I am nasty.

I see my error, almost as soon as I hang up the phone, and with increasing clarity as the evening goes on. Apologies are made. So are wounds. I want to ask Adam to not hold this against me, to not think of this moment as he considers the future of our relationship. But he should. If he is going to truly love me, he needs to know it all: my capacity for pride, my selfish heart, the control-seeking that makes me desperate. These are the sides that make me wince and rattle off justifications for myself. These are things I want to hide.

And these are things that God already sees.

God is very aware of the idol I mold of control. He knows my irrational angst when interruptions snatch my precious free time. He hears the cocktail of excuses I mix to say that I’m not that bad and given the circumstances and if that miscommunication hadn’t happened and…and…and..

I want these excuses to stand. I want to believe that I am okay, that I’m mostly self-sufficient after the initial salvation stuff, that I have my act together. All evidence stands toward the contrary. My inconveniences do not include being crucified. Jesus bore that with less grumbling than I bear heavy traffic.

The fact remains that I am sinful.

And so, Lent.

I am learning the tandem gravity and joy of this season. Repentance is due. No excuses. We drove ourselves from the Garden and drove Jesus to his death. So we must confess that we have sinned, in thought word, and deed. We fast, believing that it shows us with sharper clarity our need for God. We pray. We beg for reconciliation, from God and from man, after our blunders. We whisper, “Lord, have mercy.”

We wait for Easter, and victory.

 

 We have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

In your mercy

forgive what we have been,

help us to amend what we are,

and direct what we shall be;

that we may do justly,

love mercy,

and walk humbly with you, our God.

Amen.*

 

 

 

*from the Liturgy of the Church of England