Friday, March 25, 2016

My Lent Failure

This isn't my first failing.  Goodness, no. I'm actually a pretty fine failer.  I do it regularly, daily.

I'm also a Lent failure.  

I wonder how many people can relate.

Lent isn't something I grew up practicing. My Southern Baptist roots never sprouted into this row of the religious garden.  We are big on communion and baptism (and potlucks), but Lent is typically left to my friends of other denominations.

A few years ago, however, I became interested in this little four-letter word. Honestly, Lent just sounds spiritual, and I was curious.  I started reading about it and began following a few people who practiced it. That was five or six years ago, so I still only have limited experience.

I'm not a Lent expert, but I know it starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. I know it's meant to represent a time of reflection and repentance. It should ready us for a rich celebration of the Savior. I love that. I love the idea of focusing my mind and heart on Jesus for the forty days leading up to the day we celebrate His resurrection. My wandering mind needs focus.

I also love the representation of sacrificing something, anything, in order to more fully understand the sacrifice of Christ.

One year I gave up sodas. Another year I gave up sweets. One year I gave up buying new clothes for myself during Lent - not even for Easter Sunday.  I know what my Baptist peeps are thinking....."Clearly, she's lost her mind. Buying a new Easter dress is surely the unwritten 11th Commandment. Sinner." I hear ya. 

Every year that I've practiced Lent, I've learned something new. And every year, I have failed. Every year, without fail, I have failed.

This year, Lent caught me a little by surprise. The first day of Lent fell on February 10th, right in the middle of a busy basketball season, and just a couple weeks before leaving for a vacation.  My mind was on overload with needing to get all the things done with normal life. I remember thinking, "Lent already? Didn't I just take the Christmas tree down?" 

Halfheartedly, I decided what I would give up and went on about my day. It was something that I'd tried giving up for Lent before. Tried and failed. It was a good fit for me, so I felt the need to try again.

For this year, I would refrain (sacrifice!) from buying any new beauty products. 

Now, before you laugh and suggest that I please don't give up wrinkle cream, for goodness sake, let me explain. You see, if there's an area where I seriously struggle, it's that of Beauty Product Overload - I'll call it BPO for short. My cabinets can barely shut from all the products I buy and try. Every new jar or lotion or tube gives me hope and unrelenting anticipation of silky hair or flawless complexion. 

Hello, my name is Dana, and I am a product junky.  

I buy cheap shoes and purses on clearance at JCPenney, but I'll break the bank if I think something is going to tame this coarse and curly mane of mine.  My clothes are usually not all name-brand, but my nighttime serum always is, and I spare no expense if I think it'll do what the jar claims.

So for me to give up buying not even ONE product for forty days, well, that's a total sacrifice, I assure you. 

The year I tried this for Lent previously, I made it about two weeks before realizing I was going to run out of my favorite hairspray.  I rationed and scrimped as much as I could but finally sprayed the last drop somewhere around early March. I lasted about three days before hitting the salon for its purchase. I justified that no one needed to see me with unkempt hair on Easter. Somehow, that seemed unholy. Besides the hairspray that year, the only other product I bought was a tube of mascara. There was no justifying that one. I won't be caught walking around with bare lashes. I'm not that righteous.

So this year, I reasoned that this particular fast was still appropriate. I still suffer from BPO and sacrificing in that area would be a good way to focus on Easter. 

Done. Settled. That's what I'll do. Moving on.

Settled....until two days later. 

Let me take a minute to explain a little about my hair

It's wavy, coarse, and looks like every strand has been cut with a bad pair of scissors. To manage it, I use no less than three products regardless if I let it go curly or dry it straight. It's high-maintenance either way I go. 

I get compliments about it sometimes, and my natural response is "yeah, well, it takes a village with this mop, don't be jealous" and I mean it. From wash to wear, it never takes me less than 45 minutes unless I wear it in a ponytail or a bun. "Cut it short," some might suggest. Nooooo. Short is even worse. The waves are uncontrollable and buns aren't an option. 

Because of this, products are my friends. They help me fight the battle, and I'm always grateful to them.

So, two days into this year's beauty-product-Lent fast, I realized I was almost out of a very important part of my curly hair regime. Some of my products are come-off-the-bench role players and some are starters. This particular product was an all-state candidate. I could not go without it. 

I let the thought of going without it distantly roll around in my head for a few minutes. 

Lent. Hair. Lent. Hair. Lent. Hair. Sacrifice...give something up...focus on Jesus...look at all He's sacrificed for's just one's no big deal....I won't go to hell for going to Walgreens later for this...I refuse to be legalistic, good grief.

Finally the day came. I had officially run out of Big Sexy Hair Curl Creme. For a few days I dried my hair straight to avoid the spiritual conflict. And then Humidity made its return appearance to the neighborhood. Those with curly hair know that when we're blessed with a day of low humidity, it is worth the trouble to dry and straighten. But if we choose to flat iron on humid days, its nothing but a waste of precious time and our hair resembles a chia pet gone wrong.

For a couple days, I tried other products, but they just weren't the same. So I gave in. I drove myself to the store and bought my curl creme.....and new lip gloss....and gel fingernail polish....and a new shampoo.

Lent failure. 

So much for my sacrifice. So much for my focus on Jesus and all He's done for me.

"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it...."

I pretty much stink at sacrifice.  And focus.  

So I gave it up for this year. I gave up Lent. I failed so I gave up. I'm a Lent failure.

And sometimes our failing tells us we will never be good enough.

I listened to the failure talk inside my head for a bit. I wondered why I couldn't be disciplined enough to do without one silly thing. Why couldn't I rest my mind on Jesus' eternal sacrifice on the cross and let that thought override my longing for something of temporary value. Why couldn't I go the distance this time. It's just forty days, not forty years.

Lent failure.

And then, my heart heard the words that over-ruled the failing thoughts I was wrestling with. 

"Your sacrifice will never exceed mine. It's ok that you have failed. You're failing proves to you that you need Me. Your imperfection is the reason I came." 

It was then that I grasped the truth that no amount of giving up would ever come close to comparing to the letting go Jesus portrayed on the Cross.

He let go of His very life that I might have forgiveness. He let go of His place at the right hand of the Father that I could experience eternal life in heaven.

He let go, shed and spilled His blood that I might be washed clean of my sin, and my failures.

He came to live, die, and rise because I'm a failure and you're a failure.  

Our failures make us need a Savior. 

It was at that moment that I knew Lent had not been a failure this year. Sure, I had failed, but the purpose of it had not. I was more aware of my own inadequacies and weaknesses. I was more in awe of the One who never fails or gives up on me or gives in to the world. I was more sure that I could never be "good enough" in my own strength. 

He came as Emmanuel, God with us. 
He lived as the perfect and unblemished sacrifice. 
He died in our place so that we might not perish.
And He rose, defeating death and sin. My sin and yours. My failures and yours.

That's the Savior in which I believe.  

Nothing is more important than that belief.
Especially not curl creme.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Instant That Changes Everything

My big man-boy left the house this morning and I was pretty much an emotional wreck.  I held it together and asked to take a picture.  He politely said, "You can take one at the game, Mom." I knew that would be his answer, but it was worth asking.

His red jersey with number 13 on the back was neatly tucked into his khaki pants. Unlucky number 13. That's what he chose for this year.  He can't have number 7, the number he's worn on his back ever since his chubby little legs ran around the bases the very first time at six years old.

The number that most men in this baseball-loving family have worn is no longer available.  His cousin was the last to wear it around here. Out of respect for Heath's tragic death twelve years ago, no one wears it now. His name and number hang on the fence at the VFW field instead.

As I watched him walk out the door, I was flooded with thoughts and tears and ramblings.  He's waited for this day for what seems like all his life. His first day of high school baseball.

But that's not what drove my emotion today. No, it's something far heavier.

On the same day that my boy looks forward to taking the field as a Bulldog, another boy lies in a hospital bed.  

That's what has the tears flowing today.

This other boy.  The same age as mine, less than a week apart in birthdays.  He loves baseball as much as my own.  We have played both with him and against him over the years.  He's a fierce competitor, small in stature, but big on the pitcher's mound.  He's a lefty and throws a mean curve ball.

But now things are so different. In a blink, so much is different.

Today he's recovering from an accident that has altered the course of his life.  His left hand, that very pitching hand, is now forever mangled and missing the three middle fingers due to a freak accident over the weekend.

As my boy walks out of the house, it's on his mind, too, I know it.  He's excited for today, but the stark reality of Layne's accident is present all around us in the silence.

"Everything can change so quickly," were his words yesterday as he talked about it.  "I can't even imagine."

It's so heavy when life throws the knuckle ball when you're primed and expecting the fast ball to knock out of the park.

It's heavy because when you contemplate the brevity of life and the interruption of plans, it bears the weight of a thousand tons on your mind and heart.

Watching him leave the house today, my mind was splattered with all the ways life could change in an instant for all of us.

The whole reason he wears 13 on his back is because 7 isn't available.

Heath left the house that afternoon planning on riding his motorcycle roughly a mile down the road to the baseball complex.  In an instant, that plan was changed and he was gone.

Layne left his house Saturday night looking forward to baseball in the coming week.  That plan got side-swiped and parts of him are gone.

So I'll reconcile this the way I do when life doesn't make light of God's sovereignty.

I don't do this simply or flippantly, but most often with clinched teeth, tight fists, and tear-stained cheeks. Not because I fully understand and accept, but because I choose to trust as best as I can, sometimes often by just a thread of hope.

Our Creator and Maker knows our days and the number of hairs on our head.  He knows the accidents that haven't yet happened and the rugs that haven't been pulled out from under us.  He knows the phone calls that will come bringing the bad news or the diagnosis that will be told to change our lives.  If we knew them all, it would simply be too much to handle.

It catches us by complete and total surprise, but not Him.

He Who designed the very atoms and cells and organs that make up our bodies, does not get caught by surprise when something goes awry.

He is also the very One to whom we run when the heaviness hits like a boulder.  He can handle it because He knew it in advance, before the foundation of the world.  He is the only constant in our ever-changing lives.

Does He allow it?  I have to believe a solid Yes.  If I believe He's in complete control, then I ultimately believe nothing is out of his control.  Because sin entered the world, it brought death and destruction in all its forms.  He had a plan for that, too.

If He would send His perfect Son to die a ruthless and painful death on a cross for a world of undeserving sinners, then I must believe He allows us to suffer pain as well, for our good and His glory, even when we can't understand it.

This world is not our home, thankfully.  This world, of baseball games and motorcycles and cancer and miscarriages and bankruptcy and political unrest, is temporary.  The good and the bad are fleeting. He is saving the perfect home, with no sadness or tears, for eternity.  For those who believe in Him.

Regardless of the number my son might wear on his back, there is no luck in this - or anything else, for that matter.  It's not a roll of the dice.  We will all face hardships and difficulties, loss and grief. We will have our plans changed and our lives wrecked, in ways big and small.  Ultimately, it matters not if our whole world is wrapped up in baseball or in crocheting, but in whether our lives make much of the Savior. 

If suddenly our outward identity changes - if we were once a baseball player, a mom, a business man, or an astronaut - and it all comes crashing down around us - it doesn't change who we are at our core if we are a child of the one true God.  That can never be changed - no matter the phone call or the diagnosis.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, He gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Beauty from Brokenness

It was a cold Friday morning.  I had talked to her on the phone just a couple hours earlier. We had exchanged our plans for the day and hung up.  And now I had just been told the news she hadn't yet heard.
Her husband had been tragically killed.

My legs gave way and I lowered myself to the floor.  My head started to spin as I thought about what she would face in just a few minutes. My fingers starting tingling and I realized I needed to start breathing or I might pass out.  She was about to hear the news that her life would be forever different.

As I left to try to find her, tears dripped down my cheeks.  I wasn't thinking clearly, so I found myself driving in circles.  At some point my phone rang, and I saw that it was her. And I knew she knew.

"Where are you?" was the first thing I heard her say.

"I'm trying to find you," was all I could muster. And then we both sobbed.

This is it, I thought.

This is the beginning of brokenness.  

Her house filled with more people than anyone could count, and more food than could be eaten.  It's what people do when there's nothing that can be done.  They come and they cry and they bring food.

She was numb with every emotion known to man.  She was confused and mad and engulfed with the heaviness of grief.  She went through the motions of the day and evening without realizing time was even passing. She had to tell her son that his daddy had gone to heaven to be with Jesus and try to help his almost three-year-old mind comprehend what adults still couldn't.

While hugging a friend goodbye, she glanced at me over the shoulder and mouthed, "Do not leave me."  With eyes that instinctively went wet again, I shook my head and mouthed back, "I won't."

Long after dark, the house finally got quiet and all that was left were the two of us and her mom.  We talked long into the wee hours as our minds began to fully soak in the weight of the day.  It was the beginning of her brokenness, and she allowed me to walk through it with her.

The next six days brought all kinds of mess and the next six months brought daily reminders that life would never be the same.  The next six years brought a new marriage and eventually twin baby girls. Beauty after brokenness. 

We had been friends before the tragedy, but after it, something was palpably different. We were different. Our friendship blossomed into something we still don't take for granted.  There is complete transparency and honesty between us that only comes from experiencing a broken mess together.

She gave me the privilege of walking with her through her most intimate brokenness, and in return, I got to experience friendship on the deepest level.

Without walking through the brokenness of life, we might not be privy to the beauty that it births in its unexpected ways.

My friend and I barely go a day without texting or a week without a coffee date.  We share inside jokes and ridiculous memes and priceless memories.  We still shed occasional tears over that Friday several years ago, but more often than that, we share laughs and fun times in the present. Her faith is stronger, her skin is thicker, and her God is more real now than before.  And I've gotten to have a front-row seat in seeing all of that take place. And it's been beautiful.

I learned a lot during that time.

I learned to talk less and pray more. I learned that my presence is more essential than my opinion. I learned to judge lightly and love more freely. I learned to appreciate the different ways people grieve because we are all created uniquely with different bends.  I learned that time does not heal all wounds, it simply makes them a little more bearable.

Who needs you in their mess today?  Not everyone does, but someone might.

Who around you is hurting and is saying to you, "Do not leave me"? 

Who is broken and begs you to reach out and fill them with a glimpse of beauty?

Who is mad or confused or angry and needs you to sit and listen and offer no opinions, only quiet and fervent prayer?

What brokenness in you or in someone else has the potential for unexpected beauty? 

You might be surprised at the answers. 

We serve a God that can bring beauty from brokenness.

Only Jesus can heal the broken, but sometimes He graciously allows us to be His band aids and tourniquets.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17-18