Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Things I have loved in this unfair and beautiful world

Another excellent piece of advice from the book I mentioned yesterday,
Survival Lessons, is this: Choose the Evidence. 
Write it down. Even if it's a few sentences. Because you won't remember.
You think you will never forget, but you will. Write down your life story
or a poem. Sometimes shorter is better. Make a list of what all you have 
loved in this unfair and beautiful world. Fireflies. Blue herons. Fresh coffee.
Manhattan as dusk. The man waiting in the other room. The woman
with dark eyes. 

So today, I'm gonna share a partial list of a few things and people and places I have loved in this life of mine. This list fits in with Thankful Thursday, right?

* Pistachios and cashews and pumpkin seeds
* the library
* journals and pens and watercolor paper
* candles and incense
* riding the bus and the subway, especially in foreign cities
* walking through airports
* wearing a backpack
* trips that require a passport
* seeing women with babies in slings and other close carriers
* redheads
* being pregnant and nursing my own babies
* vegan chocolate chip cookies from Karen's recipe
* every single place I have ever lived
* the movie "The English Patient"
* movie - Out of Africa
* movie - The Apostle
* movie - When a Man Loves a Woman
* cardio funk classes with Andre and his cardio crazies
* automatic dishwashers
* Eileen Fisher clothing, especially when it's on sale
* yoga
* long walks on warm days
* making love
* dancing
* car rides of all lengths
* wandering through museums, especially the Prado in Madrid
* scarves and mittens
* holding hands
* singing and listening to hymns
* teaching
* eating candy and other goodies with my Dad
* watching Karen's children being born
* pineapple: cutting it open and devouring it
* oatmeal with blueberries and mango
* green smoothies
* going to the zoo
* ancient cathedrals
* taking communion
* watching baptisms
* Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, Roma, Firenze, Siena, Orvieto, Bologna
* those old records, The Bible in Living Sound, that I listened to as a child
* hot showers, clean hair, shaved legs
* swimming pools
* riding a bike on the beach at Hilton Head
* watching television
* Roger Federer
* Serena Williams
* Peyton Manning
* planning trips
* getting email and snail mail
* hearing good news
* caller ID on my cell phone and our house phone
* laughter, belly laughs
* babysitting
* learning new things
* being a student
* when people ask me how I'm doing and really want to know the answer
* solitude and silence and prayer
* Caravaggio's paintings
* recognizing and being able to identify paintings and their creators
* ripe bananas
* watching track and field meets and the memories of when I was a runner
* reading to my children
* bacon and sausage and pepperoni
* Reese's peanut butter cups and Snickers bars
* Cherry Coke and Pepsi and Diet Dr. Pepper
* sweet tea, Southern style
* balsamic glaze from Trader Joe's
* their Sublime ice cream sandwiches
* Menchie's frozen yogurt
* going to the movies with Steve or Kristiana or Heather or Antonio
* knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guides who also happen to be great friends
* Hindi movies
* almond butter and peanut butter
* daffodils and irises in the spring
* screened in porches
* bungalows on tree-lined streets
* swings, in playgrounds and backyards
* blue corn chips with mango salsa
* Anne Lamott
* Sue Monk Kidd
* Henri Nouwen
* Alice Walker
* Rebecca Walker
* Barbara Brown Taylor
* bookshelves filled to overflowing
* sleeping late on Saturday mornings
* staying in my pajamas all day
* lifting weights
* being remembered
* being loved
* being invited to speak or teach
* thank you notes, sending them and receiving them
* India Arie
* Kevin Hart
* Oprah's Super Soul Sunday show
* Huey Lewis and the News
* James Taylor
* Gavin Degraw
* outdoor concerts during the summer
* hugs and kisses
* olive oil and balsamic vinegar on salads
* veggie burgers, lemon drop martinis, and key lime pie from 131 Main
* running into friends unexpectedly
* making plans to meet up with friends
* paper towels and cloth napkins
* water with lemon
* synchronicity
* the way in which my pulse and my breathing slow down when I make lists like this.

Gratitude and love and contentment and joy seem to grow together in bunches.

Sometimes when I make these lists, I include the same things and people more than once. I guess I love those things and people a lot. The things that I am grateful for and the people and places I have loved come to mind frequently and repeatedly. I have so much to be grateful for. And I'm enormously grateful for that fact.

Sometimes when I think about my favorite things, I wonder if my tastes are too simple and ordinary. Then I remember - these are my pleasures and they certainly aren't too simple for me. And by no means are they ordinary.

Here's an example of why I say that: when I think about all the stories that have to coincide, all the details that have to come together perfectly, all the people who have to be at exactly the right place at the right time in order for key lime pie to be made at my favorite restaurant and brought to my table, I am moved nearly to tears.

Buy the land. Cultivate the land. Raise chickens and harvest their eggs. Grow the key limes. Grow the sugar. Grow the wheat to make the crust. Harvest it. Process it. Ship it. Distribute it. Measure it. Bake it. Cut it. Someplace else in the world, plates are made. So are forks and knives and ovens and baking tins. Someplace else, chefs are trained, recipes are created, and restaurants are established. Then somebody creates a menu, hires cooks and bakers, trains the servers, and makes sure that there are enough of all of the above to keep the pies coming. See what I mean?

Is there really such a thing as "a simple pleasure?"
Or is every moment, every meal, every encounter, every conversation
truly a series of inconceivable and inexplicable miracles?

As I ponder that final question, I'm gonna eat a few clementines.
Isn't fresh fruit simply fabulous?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Survival Lessons

On a recent trip to the library, (Have I mentioned how much I love going to the library?) I found a book by Alice Hoffman called Survival Lessons. I liked the brief synopsis on the book flap and it was a small book so I figured I would bring it home and see what it was all about. I like small books - silly little admission, I know, but it's true.

From the book flap - Survival Lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to reenvision everything - from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. As Alice Hoffman says, "In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that's all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make." Wise, gentle and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches all of us how to choose what matters most.

Of course, I was reminded of my kanswer journey - of the lessons I learned about sorrow and happiness, beauty and baldness, laughter and tears, and how to choose hope, joy, and peace in the face of surgery, chemo, and hot flashes.

We do not always have a choice about what happens to us, but we always have a choice about how we will respond to what happens to us. And every time we choose bitterness, anger, complaining, and resentment, we also get to change our minds - and choose joy, forgiveness, acceptance, and to take deep breaths until all that stuff passes.

When I found myself battling fear, wrestling with doubts about how strong I didn't think I was,
when I find myself battling fear now, wrestling with doubts about how strong I still don't feel,
when I find myself dealing with jealousy, worry, disappointment,
I knew then and I know now that I have a choice.
I have many choices.

Here's what I found on the page between the Preface and the first chapter.
"There is always a before and an after.
My advice, travel light.
Choose only what you need most to see you through."

Before and after the doubt,
before and after the apprehension,
before and after the angst,
before and after the pain,
before and after every step I take,
I can choose what I will carry into the next phase of my journey.

Alice Hoffman's book reminded me - and reminds all of us - of some of the things that we get to choose even in the face of breast kanswer - which she also battled. Here are a few of the lessons she included in her list of lively little book -

* Choose your heroes - she described a friend about who battled kanswer this way: "She, herself, remained the same beautiful person she'd always been, with or without hair. You could take one look at her face and know she understood joy. In a last card to me, she wrote: Life is beautiful, just very unfair."

May that be said of more of us - that one look at our faces will reveal that we understand joy.
May more of us accept the truth of her final statement - life is so very beautiful, and so very unfair.

* Choose to enjoy yourself - "Start by eating chocolate," she suggests. "In fact, if you can, eat whatever you want. Any time. Any place. Cook your dream dinner."

Certainly that suggestion won't sit well with some people for very good reasons, but there is definitely a lot to be said for choosing to eat things we love and love what we eat. For choosing to enjoy our meals, our friendships, our conversations, our bodies, our relationships, the beauty of spring, and even the wildness of the weather. I choose to be grateful. I choose to be joyfull.

* About friends, she writes this - "If people aren't there for you now, when you really need them, they never will be, and it's time to move on. You'll be amazed by how many new friends you have in the after. They'll be the ones who aren't afraid of sorrow, who know we can't avoid it. The best we can do is face it together."

The first part of that description is sad, but true. Some folks that used to be good friends, that used to regularly check in with me, stopped doing so when I got sick. I am sorry to have lost contact with them. I wish them well. I wish them peace.

The good news is that I have many old friends and a few new ones that I met during the darkest time of my life who have flooded my life with light and laughter. Friends who aren't afraid of my tears or their own. Friends who are committed to facing their own battles bravely and willing to walk alongside me as I face my own with whatever bravery I can muster.

Enjoying life day by day, hour by hour,
spending time with friends, talking and looking up to my heroes,
eating chocolate every now and then, drinking tea and kombucha and fresh juices,
doing yoga, lifting weights, going for long, meditative walks
reading, journaling, sewing, painting, baking,
spending time in solitude and silence and prayer,
being honest with myself about how I'm feeling, what I need, and what I want,
asking for help, for support, for forgiveness, for a hug, and for time with my loved ones,
reclaiming every aspect of my life and also giving it over more fully to God,
these are a few of joys I have chosen and the lessons I have learned.

PS. I choose more than survival. I choose to thrive.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Not that it was any of her business...

Yesterday, I did some shopping at Trader Joe's. I love that story. It is my favorite supermarket.

I arrived at the register and discovered yet another super friendly cashier, as nearly all the employees tend to be. There was one young woman who used to work there who managed to never say "hello" to me. Now that may not be a big deal in some supermarkets, but in Trader Joe's that is a rarity. That chick used to greet everybody around me and near me, but look away and never even acknowledge my presence. I have no idea what that was about. But once I made the intentional decision to ask her for help finding something. She had to talk to me then. I haven't seen her much lately. Perhaps Trader Joe's was too friendly a place for her.

Back to yesterday's story. I got to the cash register and she started unloading and scanning my stuff. She asked if I just really liked carrots or was I going to juice them?
Not that it was any of her business.
I told her I was going to juice them.

Then she pulled the two packs of bacon out of my carriage.
With a judgmental and sarcastic tone, she inquired: "Juice with a side of bacon?"
I said, "The bacon is for my son."
Which it is... mostly. He loves bacon. I do to.
The packs only have eight slices, so he eats five or six and I eat two or three.

She asked how old he is.
I told her, "He's 17."
She continued, "So he's old enough to eat everything."
"Yup, he sure is."
Not that it was any of her business.

I have thought a lot about that conversation since it happened.
Why did she have to use such a judgmental tone?
Why did I care what she thought?

What on earth is wrong with drinking a juice and having "a side of bacon"?
Isn't it better to have a juice if I'm gonna eat bacon?
Not that it was any of her business.
It's my story. It's my body. It's my choice.

Why am I still stewing over her comments and questions?
Why expend so much mental and emotional energy on such a small exchange?
Why do I care so much what she thought or whether or not that other employee spoke to me?

It is because I, like everyone else, want to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be accepted as I am. I don't want to be ignored or belittled, judged or dismissed. I want my choices to be accepted and trusted as well-thought out and, even if they are not, they are my choices to make. What I decide to eat or wear, think or believe, read or write is up to me. It's between me and God, me and my sweet Momma Jesus, me and the ones with whom I choose to share myself, my heart, my thoughts, my fears, my doubts, my inconsistencies, and my questions.

I hope that the next time someone asks me if I'm having a juice with a side of bacon,
if I'm gonna be teaching a Sunday School class about contentment to women AND men,
if I'm gonna keep my hair short even though some say that "long hair is a womans's crowning glory,"
if I'm upset with or embarrassed by the decisions and choices my children make in their lives,
if I'm afraid to die or afraid to live,
I hope I will be courageous enough to say, "Yes" or "No" with strength, courage, determination, and without apology, explanation, or any sense of embarrassment.
Not that it is anybody else's business!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday

So much to give thanks for today.

* Spring has sprung around here with trees in bright bloom, daffodils bending in the breeze and warming temperatures predicted over the next three days. I plan to get out for a few long walks.
* Rain, long-lasting, earth-soaking rains.
* Two excellent college visits in the past ten days with my son.
* Confirmation that homeschooling as gone well over the years and that he is very close to be ready for college.
* Safe travel, not only to the colleges we've visited, but also back and forth to the supermarket, to church, to doctor's appointments, to pick Kristiana up for spring break, taking her back to school, and everywhere else we have gone, ever.
* An enjoyable and busy week with my daughter when she was home for spring break last week.
* How well the four-month follow up visit with my oncologist went on Monday.
* Seeing the nurses in the chemo treatment room and getting warm hugs from two of them.

* The pleasure of wearing clothes that I have made. (Have I mentioned that I have learned how to make infinity scarves, maxi skirts, and maxi dresses? What a challenge and what fun!)
* Teaching my daughter to make skirts for herself as well.
* The fact that my son still likes when I read to him - at he's 17.
* Emails that let me know that I am being thought of and that this blog is affecting the lives of other people. (Thanks so much, MM.)
* The promise of a few days alone - time to write, to read, to eat whatever I want and not have to feed anybody else, to sleep late, to go for walks, to do a solo Lenten retreat, to paint, to prepare for upcoming teaching and speaking engagements... but also to not overplan.
* Opportunities to do what I love so much - teach and lead groups in prayer and Bible study.
* Finding great uses for coconut oil and baking soda and hydrogen peroxide in my cleaning and beauty routines. Sometimes the simplest stuff is the best and most effective stuff.
* Fresh juices, cold water, clay face masks, pedicures, and sugar and salt scrubs.

* Glowing, healthy skin.
* Bifocals - yes, I've graduated to wearing bifocals.
* Being able to afford new glasses for myself and my daughter.
* Laughing at how much I can see now. We have really high quality televisions in this house. The images on the screens aren't as fuzzy as I thought they were. I realize that I couldn't even see myself clearly in the mirror before, but now I can. I once was blurry-eyed, but now I see.
* Laughter - I love to laugh.
* The courageous people I know who are taking on big issues and dealing with all the flak related to their choices to stand up for the oppressed and stand up against bullies. Like Anthony and Toni trying to get the people of Salisbury involved in local politics. Like Glennon encouraging all parents to see the giftedness and strengths of their children. Like Kathy out in Colorado who is working with folks who are often left out on the margins of faith communities. Those who are working to free slaves and prostitutes. Those who are working with refugees and immigrants here in the States and also in war-torn parts of the world. Those who provide health care, malaria nets, and food to those in need.
* The book that has taken me to a deeper, more meaningful, potentially life-changing way of writing. More than journaling, it is called Writing Down Your Soul. I bought it in Asheville back in January and I'm slowly working through it. Truthfully, it is working through me.
* How getting new glasses and seeing my physical world more clearly has lent itself to the recognition that there are many things in my spiritual, emotional, marital, parental, and relational life that I haven't seen clearly for a long time. Having to decide that I can act on these new insights. Deciding on what changes I want and need to make. Looking forward to those changes and their impact on my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I think about when I'm on the road

About an hour and a half ago, my son and I arrived back at home after going on a college visit trip. It was a two hour drive from here to one of the state universities of the great state of North Carolina. I love to travel - whether it is to Spain, New York, Italy, or a mid-sized city here in my home state.

As we made our way home, my mind pondered dozens of questions.

* Who was the person who came up with the idea of highways?
* How many millions of trees had to be cut down in order to make highways?
* How many houses had to be demolished?
* How many farms were dismantled so that we could have roads to drive on?
* Who decided where the roads would be?
* How the heck do they build exit ramps and those amazingly tall and strong pilings that hold up the roadways?
* What is it like to be a construction worker with cars flying past you at excessive speeds all day?
* Who decided to plant wildflower seeds along the highway?
* Why do people throw garbage out of their cars and trucks onto the highway?
* Why do smokers think that it's okay to throw their lit cigarette butts out onto the highway?
* Who thought it was a good idea to put fake branches on cell phone towers?
* Am I the only one who thinks that cruise control was one of the best inventions in automobiles in many years?
* How much fun must it be to lay down the lane markings and those little reflector thingies on the road? To sit on the back of the truck and guide that paint gun thing?
* What does it feel like to be involved in the production of a street, a road, a highway, and know that countless cars will make their way to countless destinations because of your hard work?
* Who came up with the idea of making runaway truck ramps? And after a truck uses one, how does it get out of that deep sand?
* What happened to bring speed limits into being?
* How fast would people drive if there weren't any posted limits?
* When the speed limit is 70 mph, why do people feel the need to drive faster than that?
* How many people drove off of roads and hills before somebody invented and installed guard rails?
* When I see skid marks go from one lane off onto the shoulder, I wonder: What happened? Was there an accident? Is that person okay?
* Twelve days ago, when Kristiana and I were on the road, we saw two four-car accidents within half a mile from each other. I definitely wondered and still wonder: how the heck did that happen, two such serious accidents so close to one another?
* When did my son grow old enough to be looking at colleges?
* How is it possible that I was a freshman in college 30 years ago right now?
* How many more road trips will I get to take in my life?
* How many more wonder-filled places will I get to explore?
* Will I continue to appreciate and be grateful for the wonder of travel and of road trips?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

One year later...

Which was brighter - the sunlight or the glare off my forehead?

One year ago tonight, I was recovering from my final round of chemotherapy.
One year later, I am recovering from running errands all day with my children.

One year ago tonight, I was looking ahead to a week of aches and pains and exhaustion.
One year later, the only aches and pains I deal with are after working out.

One year ago tonight, I was figuring out how long I would have to wait until surgery.
One year later, my chest is as flat as a 12-year-old boy, the scars are healed, and I'm still glad I didn't have reconstructive surgery.

Thank you, everybody, for not telling me how puffy my face was.

One year ago tonight, I ordered my tickets to go to Spain in the fall.
One year later, that trip is behind me and I'm already dreaming about the next one.

I sure did!

I remember lying in bed three or four days after the first round of chemotherapy in November of 2012. I was in agony. Every joint ached. My mouth was sore. My head hurt. It felt like all systems were down or on their way there. I remember thinking, "If every round is worse than this, I am not going to survive six rounds." Over the next two weeks, I researched side effects and effective remedies for those side effects on the internet. I asked friends and nurses and anyone who seemed like they might know anything about chemotherapy. By the time the sixth round began, I was a pro at chemo. I knew when to take the right pain relief, when to take sleeping pills, when to eat and drink, when to give in and give over to the waves of exhaustion and just rest.

If you're gonna be bald, you may as well be fiercely bald.

I learned about taking claritin to relieve the aches and pain. The oncologist and the nurses don't know why it works, but it does. I can testify to that.

I learned about mouthwashes that relieve chemo-mouth. Who knew there was such a thing as chemo-mouth? I sure didn't.

I learned about the love, loyalty, and wonder of good friends and caring family members.

I learned that baldness is pretty awesome, that water feels amazing on a bald head, and that there are a lot of great hats in the world.

I learned that hot flashes are real!

I learned to savor and appreciate the ordinary details of life - from the comfort of a robe and slippers, to the deliciousness of my neighbor's matzo ball soup and banana bread, to the smiles of cashiers at the supermarket, to the beauty of the full moon, to the miracles that medicine, chiropractic adjustments, supplements, healthy food, kombucha tea, filtered water, Juice Plus capsules, and prayer can produce.

My most recent haircut. Yup, I'm keeping my hair short. No more locs for me.

One year ago tonight, I was celebrating the end of chemotherapy and the beginning of my (steep) uphill climb back to health and well-being.
One year later, the celebration and the uphill climb continue!
Thanks be to God!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Can I like you too much?

I like facebook. A lot. I like seeing what my friends are up to in their lives.

One woman I know posts photos of the food she makes with her husband and I drool over every single one.
Another one posts photos of herself and her children, skiing and hiking in Vermont, and I wish I were more of an outdoorsy person.
There is the horse and goat lover who runs a farm outside of Charlotte.
The Zen priest posts her words of wisdom.
The two poets share their latest creations.
The Reiki master finds the best quotes about parenting and autism and stress.
A woman who started teaching the same year I did, back in 1989, is now the head of a school in New York State. I love looking at the photos of her beautiful headmaster's house, and the photos of the fabulous trip she and her family took to France last year.
Another former colleague who recently attended a conference on the adolescent brain posted lists of the some of the things she learned there.
A college classmate who lives in Oslo takes THE MOST AMAZING VACATIONS of anyone I know - Bali, Italy, Singapore, India, and many more of the most colorful places in the world. She is beautiful. Her husband is handsome. Their children are more of the same.
Several of my cousins and a couple of friends from church post Bible verses almost exclusively.
Then there is the former student who is now a model - gorgeous woman. Amazing abs.
My nieces and nephews and their partners in life, on trips, at home, in church.
The blogger who has begun a Lenten gratitude practice with some of her 100,000+ followers.
The friend out in Arizona whose beautiful daughter steals her food and her heart every day.
Her friend and mine, who now lives and works as an advocate for refugees in the Middle East.
Photos of weddings and newborn babies and art projects and performances...
No matter how much my family and friends post, I want to see more. I want to read more. I want to know more.

I could spend hours every day looking at their posts and their photos. I click on the links they put on their timelines and laugh or groan, alternately, at the blogs, websites, photos, videos, and articles I land on. I have clever, funny, generous, interesting, witty friends. At least, that's the side of themselves that they post on facebook...

I like almost everything my friends post.
And I want to like it all. You know, "like" it.
Hit the "like" button and add my bright blue thumb to all the other likers.

But how much is too much? Can I like their posts too much? Can I like my facebook friends too much? If I like every photo and every post, then I worry that my friends will think I'm a stalker and a creeper. Then again, isn't that why people tell their stories and post their favorite photos? Don't we all tell our stories because we want our friends and family to like us, to hit that button, to boost our ego, and let us know that we are seen and liked.

That's why I blog too. To tell my story, to share my photos, to get affirmation and confirmation that I'm okay, that I'm not crazy, and that I'm not alone on this life journey.

But that's not the only reason I'm on facebook. That's not the only reason I blog. I pour my heart out here because I want you to know that you are not alone, that you are not crazy, and that there is another person out here on the information superhighway trying to slow myself, my thoughts, and my soul down enough to notice the details and appreciate them. I want you to laugh and groan with me. I want us to find ways to connect with each other even though we can't always be together. I want to look more closely at the world around me and within me - and share some of what I see with you, my friends and readers. I want to share the good parts of my life, of course, but also the messy parts - the sickness and health, the better and the worst. I want to show you who I am, share what I believe, and offer you the opportunity to show me who you are and share what you believe.

Can I like you too much? I hope not.  Am I willing to be considered a stalker by liking you a lot? Yes, I am willing. After all, no one has ever liked my posts or my writing too much. No one has ever liked me too much. No one has ever loved me too much, too passionately, or too frequently. And I don't think that anyone has ever been told how liked and loved they are often enough.*

So here goes - I like you.**
I like you because you come here and read my ramblings.
I like you because (some of) you have come to my home and visited with me in person.
I like you because you walked with me through my kanswer journey.
I like you because you are your beautiful, funny, witty, present, loving, kind self.
I like you because you are generous and patient, messy and silly.
I like you because you are alive and attentive and affectionate.
I like you because you are my friend, my family, and my companion.
I like you because you are fully, uniquely, irreducibly you.
I like you a lot.**

* Except for people who have real stalkers. And I promise I am not one.
** Seriously, I promise. I'm NOT a stalker.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

It's Ash Wednesday...

For the past fifteen years or so, on this day, I have begun a series of readings or prayers or actions or stoppage of actions "for Lent." In past years, I have given up candy, coffee, dessert, certain activities, and certain television shows. Often I have shared with others what I have given up and taken on, usually because I wanted to get their support and but partly to gain their admiration.

This morning, while listening to Rezandovoy, I was reminded of the challenging words of Jesus taken from Matther chapter 6. Jesus, the one whose life, death, and resurrection are the reason for Lent, told his disciples,
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites , for they love to pray standing in the synagoges and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father who is unseen; and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

As I listened to today's prayers, I was confronted with a question about this very topic: do I do this, do I share my Lent-related decisions and activities with others in order to be applauded and adored by them? Do I want to live this Lent in order to draw closer to God and move deeper into my walk of faith? Or do I want to receive some kind of external, visible and tangible reward for all of this?

Does my desire to publish or share a list of what I'm going to do and not do for Lent come from a yearning to impress people and get their attention or from a yearning to engage the Gospel story more fully and in greater depth? Truthfully, I would probably get more blog readers if I made a promise to write a post every day or carry out some random act of kindness or give something away or serve the homeless everyday of Lent. All of those are good things to do and fine things to have done at the end of these 40 days. But if I tell everybody ahead of time, who am I doing it for? If I keep a daily and public record of all that I do during Lent, whose attention and praise am I seeking? What reward will I receive? I have to wonder - am I doing this for a reward?

If doing stuff to be seen by others is the mark of a hypocrite, then I am guilty of being a hypocrite. I cannot and will not deny that I do a lot of what I do to be seen by men and women and children. For example, every time I sit down to write a blog post, I think about some of the people that I imagine are reading it. "What will she think? What will he think? Am I being too blatantly religious? Am I not being religious enough? What does "being religious" even mean in this context? It's my blog; I can write whatever I want... but still - what if ______________ reads this post? Will she think I've lost my mind and become a fundamentalist? Will Pastor __________ think I have lost my mind and become a liberal? Will they think I'm not serious enough or dedicated enough?" I sometimes get so completely bogged down in what other people will think of me that I write nothing at all and watch the days slip by silently as I talk myself out of sharing what is on my heart.

This Lent, I plam to spend less time worrying about what people think of me and more time wondering what God thinks of me and I think of God. I plan to worry less about being the recipient of admiration, attention, rewards and readership from the outside in order to be more aware of and receptive to the voice of the Spirit of God on the inside.

What am I giving up for Lent this year? My habit of talking about what I'm giving up for Lent.

Lord, please help me to remember that all of this - Ash Wednesday, the many weeks of Lent, and the triumph that is Easter -  is about you, your love, your life, your death, and most importantly, your resurrection from the dead. Please stop me before I do or say or write anything that makes a mockery of your love or makes it more about me than about you. Thank you for the reminder that sometimes keeping things a secret is the best thing I can do. Thank you for the challenge of these words and the challenge of living a life that pleases and honors you, not only during Lent but all life long.