Lenten Reflections, Week 3

Growing up in church, answering what I believed was a call to full-time ministry, marrying a pastor and entering full-time ministry through an alternate route, serving in pastoral ministry with John for 19 years, following the wind of the Spirit out west as stateside missionaries… At some point, or at several points along the way, the vision becomes blurry. Weariness sets in. Disillusionment is for real.

I’ve never chucked it all. Well, not officially, and not for long. For a dark stretch about ten years ago, I took my usual seat with my kids in the front row on the left hand side of the sanctuary, and I prayed that no one would know I didn’t believe any of it on any given Sunday. Scandalous for the pastor’s wife to be a wandering atheist. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word: a [without] theos [God]. At times, on a Sunday morning or any other day, I was without God, wrestling with every neatly packaged doctrine I had ever been taught or given directly or indirectly. Somehow, in the midst of it God wasn’t aShannon; God kept love for me. Apparently, nothing could separate me from the love of God.

I prayed two prayers during that undoing. I clung to them with white knuckles, looking back over my shoulder and spitting them at unanswered questions and at the Accuser (I never doubted the existence of the evil one). It was an act of faith (what little I could muster), an act of rebellion against the crisis rumbling in my core. I let them rise up and spill out in exhale, as release, a sigh, and sometimes a gasp. Then I inhaled a tiny bit of hope, like oxygen to my dried out cells.

“I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9)

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6–The story here is of Jesus talking about his body and his blood. The disciples looked at one another and noted to Jesus that what he had told the gathered crowd was just not easy to grasp. Many left him that day. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked if they are going to go away also. Their response is what served as my prayer. I imagine, though I don’t know for sure, that the discliples shrugged their shoulders and answered Jesus with quiet words, with questions still in their voices, but with the only reply they knew to give–“I don’t know where else we would go. We’re with you. Even if it doesn’t always make sense.” That’s my observation. Proper scholars and exegetes will likely have a purer commentary.)

Many elements of my life, my self, my faith underwent a sifting during those days and months. Excess junk got tossed by the wayside. God, in infinite wisdom and intimate care, knew my heart needed blockages cleared, arteries widened and opened up, my whole vascular system flushed with Living Water. With all that calcification in the way, my growth had become stunted, my insides stale and withering from the debris. The words of Isaiah to the people of Israel resonated as the light began to break through the darkness.

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43)

Lent is an open door to a journey. Of our own free will, we enter the wilderness. We confess that we believe, and we ask for help in our unbelief. We shrug our shoulders and sigh that we don’t know where else to go. And then, we keep walking, in faith. We let Jesus be for us the Bread of Life and the Living Water. Cleansing comes. Our restored systems give way to green and growth. Little by little, weariness wanes, disillusionment fades, our sight grows clear again. Of course, there will be more points along the way, another Lenten season or an extended stay in barren or overgrown places. When the time comes, it carries the invitation to enter into the mystery of God’s love, to travel into the depths of a love that will not let us go.





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Lenten Reflection, week 2

When we lived and pastored in Kentucky, motivating my son to go to church was aided and abetted by the doughnut people. If ever Aidan gave me grief (which came mainly in the form of dilly dallying), I used the doughnuts as leverage. He was littler, younger. During services, he endured the singing and praying part, because he knew that children’s church would soon offer an escape from sitting still beside me in the pew. His smaller self was dear, though. Even during the longest two hours of his week.

Yesterday, I stood between one of my adult daughters and my almost 15-year old son. Well, not at first. I was on the outside, Audrey in the middle. I saw that Audrey sitting by Aidan and trying to help him stay awake would not be helpful, for anyone. Audrey and I switched places.

I watched the family a few rows in front of us. Mom, small blond boy (probably age 7 or 8), very tall dad holding tousle-haired girl (she, probably 5 or 6). They swayed gently to the music. The little girl, one hand clasping her other bracelet-ed wrist, held on to her daddy. She rested her chin and cheek on his shoulder. The boy, his arm around his mother’s waist, leaned his head into her side. She rubbed his still-soft hair and then put her arm around his shoulders, squeezing him to her. I found myself slightly teary.

In the middle of the second song, the girl slid down her dad’s frame. The brother put his arm around sister and kissed her forehead. They traded parents. Momma picked up her girl, and the son reached higher to put his arm around Dad’s waist. They resumed swaying and singing.

I don’t know what song. I was lost in my own thoughts, wistful and sad that my son wasn’t a boy any longer. He slumped in the seat beside me. He hadn’t wanted to go to church, and I had no doughnut people to help me out. Those days are gone. But I had a thought, a hopeful vision for the remaining hour.

After the passing of the peace, I sat down beside Aidan and placed my arm along the top of his chair. I knew what to expect, as he had already made it known in words and mannerisms that the previous night’s sleep hadn’t been enough. He leaned his head back and was pleasantly surprised to find a pillow of sorts. He shifted in his seat so that he was almost, but not quite, resting on my shoulder. He slept soundly until time for communion. And, for just a moment, he was dear.

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Lenten Reflection, week 1

It’s so cliche, “I gave up chocolate for Lent.” But it’s also true this year. Right about now, I wish I had chosen something else.

In a kitchen drawer, the one near the pantry on the left hand side above the pots-and-pans cabinets, a stash of dark chocolate (60+% cocoa with sea salt, and sometimes almonds) waits for those who have a hankering for it. Everyone who visits or has visited our home knows where to find the treasure trove. I buy extra for company, because sometimes people need a square of good chocolate, just a taste.

Since last Wednesday, the drawer sits empty. No unopened bars underneath the one already-opened bar missing a half of its neatly divided sections. “Mom, did you give up chocolate for Lent? Ugh,” my son said, shutting the drawer and then turning to check the freezer for the usual back-up of dark chocolate chips.* None there either.

Dark chocolate isn’t my only Lenten practice this year. I’m putting aside a couple of other things and adding a few intentional practices to pay more attention to the world around me and my interior life.

My interior life appears to be particularly noisy. Getting into the drawer by the pantry shuts that up for a second, or a few hours. I don’t have to listen to what is really unsatisfied in my gut, what I’m avoiding, what aches in my soul when old voices tempt me to cater to fear and anxiety.

But isn’t that the point of the wilderness journey? Not to sacrifice a habit and/or comfort for the sake of punishment or some kind of merit badge earning, but to enter into a space and a time where the usual distractions are absent? Not to a self-bludgeoning routine whereby the sinful self can be herded into submission, but to be present to the broken pieces within us that need healing salve?

It seems rather small and silly, being undone by dark chocolate. Let it be so, I guess. I’ve got much to learn, and it can begin with giving up chocolate for Lent.


*The rest of my family did not give up chocolate for Lent, so I will make sure that I purchase restock chocolate at the grocery this week.

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women inside a tent

Some years ago, after a long spell of not reading fiction (because Christian growth and discipleship books are the only and most valuable resources for transformation, right?), a dear friend passed a book to me. “Read this,” she said. I opened it and walked with some manner of timidity into the story of The Red Tent. While one little kiddo slept and the other two worked hard at preschool and third grade, I turned the pages and discovered the power of fiction to mark me, to challenge me, to call me to a fuller relationship with God as I allowed God to be my companion and teacher in every detail and not just the moments of devotional reading or church attendance.

20141007_183042I have returned over and again to The Red Tent, to the longing for a tribe of women I may trek with on this nomadic journey, to the safety of a place where women cloister together without fear of intrusion from the outside world—for just a week, as the moon empties itself once again. What draws me back to the narrative is the imagery of the red tent, which was (before modern conveniences of pads, tampons, cups, or hormone therapies) a private tent set up for women during their menstrual cycle; the men kept their distance for the sake of sanitation laws and perhaps prevailing superstitions.*

In this current season of great cultural upheaval, and in a time of personal transition with regard to parenting and mission/purpose, my heart yearns for places where I belong, where I know that being a woman among other women provides solace and sanctuary not comparison and competition. I long to sit in the company of a diverse set of females who reflect back to me the beauty and power of our artistic and ever-shaping Creator-God, where the retelling of stories brings us to our callings as well as pushes us toward power of Christ within us to be faithful stewards of those same callings. And when the last drop of blood slips into the earth, we emerge from the tent freer, ready to hit the dirt road again with renewed strength and clarity.

Of course, I experience a red tent, just not in one location and not only during my cycle. I see now, in my mind’s eye, the faces of women who accompany me on the road. I hear their voices, their laughter, their cries, their heartaches, their prayers and dreams. They range in age from 18 to 80. There are moms, widows, grandmas, marrieds with no children, singles, work force women, work from home women, farmers, activists, counselors, dancers, teachers, health care providers, nannies, students, missionaries, and advocates. Some of them voted for Trump, some voted for Clinton, some voted for none of the above. They hold powerful convictions, possess stout faith, and carry different beliefs. Every single one of them reflects the love of Jesus to me; they mark me with their own love. They remind me that I’m not crazy (not completely so anyway), and they let me hold their hands and tell them they’re not crazy either. Every woman in the red tent beckons me to more authenticity, to a fuller and truer relationship with others and with God who made us beautiful and unique and female.


* Written by Anita Diamant in 1997, The Red Tent explores a fictional imagining of the story of Dinah, the sister of the famous 12 sons of Jacob. A quick search in Google uncovers no shortage of opinions on the book (everywhere on the spectrum), none of which are my concern here. Let me also say that my point is not to glamorize and over-romanticize the notion of a tent full of menstruating women, nor to be dreamy about periods themselves. I do not wish to diminish cultures where this practice remains a reality, nor to trivialize the almost inconceivable truth that the lack of understanding of menstruation and the unavailability of feminine hygiene products still causes shunning of females and prevents furthering of education in some places on the planet. Check out The Red Tent, and also read more about how you may get involved in the work of freeing and empowering young girls and women all over the globe.

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Same stuff, different game

Growing up in Kentucky, I never knew that sports outside of basketball, baseball, football, and softball caught the attention of regular folks. When I married a non-native, we continued watching and following the Wildcats and various other collegiate and professional teams. But my dear John, who spent his formative years in upstate New York, also watched and followed other teams, new-to-me kinds of teams. The summer after we married, the New York Rangers broke a 54-year championship drought to win the Stanley Cup in a game 7 battle against the Vancouver Canucks. We still say “Save Richter!” from time to time, a random and appropriate response to any number of situations. That initial inundation to the riveting sport of hockey foretold our connection to the game, long before our son was a gleam in our eyes.

This time of year–23-years post- Rangers winning of the Cup–signifies the ending of the season for Aidan and his Bantam teammates, and for John who coaches as well as plays. We spente50be951-14df-4925-ad19-9aaaa5d9ec0d the last three days at one rink or another, plus the initial game last Wednesday night. Yesterday, President’s Day and a no-school given, we headed to our home ice for the semi-final game in a yearly, pre-playoff tournament hosted by our organization.

I love the game of hockey. Given my bluegrass roots, I didn’t know this could be a thing. Aidan’s participation in Northern Kentucky and now in Central Colorado surely fueled my interest and passion. Watching my son grow into larger equipment from season to season, observing his development as a player and a leader, and continuing to savor the specific smell of the rink (before the locker rooms overflow with the stench of sweat-blanched equipment) all keep me glued to the fast pace and energy of a sheet of ice sliced and snowed by skate blades.

Except for games like yesterday. And any game like yesterday, when the tensions rise and hover above the chill of the rink. When I watch the body language and head-nodding of the players change from “play our game” to “pummel that dude who broke my twig,” my palms start sweating. My nature of over-sensing the possible danger flies into an undercurrent of panic as the parents get in on the back-and-forth bantering, hollering at refs and opposing team players. I start looking toward the exits. And I’m mad as fire that the game I love so much has been hijacked by a bunch of out-of-hand crap and f-saying coaches who encourage their players to play dirty. Then, when I find that my son’s verbal retaliation was, “You look like Sid in Toy Story,” something is redeemed, if only at a tiny level. At least, that time, he curbed his language and found a classy way to chirp.

Whether it’s about the game of hockey (icing, the signals indicating penalties, what constitutes a major penalty, when it’s cool for a parent to dab or dance in the stands), or about how geographical locations come with their own sets of demographics (and languages, dialects, sporting events, social concerns, political variables), or about how my skin is just factually thinner than I’m comfortable with (my heart outside my body, my sensors heightened, my mercy meter conflicting with my justice meter)—every single day presents a classroom where I can change or be changed, or refuse to change. As it turns out, taking up a new sport stretched me, continues to stretch and teach me. Like buying or trading for new shoulder pads or gloves or skates for Aidan, I am likewise growing past just a few sports, learning beyond what I knew when I was a kid, what I knew yesterday. And yesterday, in reality, was one game. Our next game will offer another chance to play the game or get caught up in the fray.


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