Monday, April 21, 2014

Celebrating the 50 Days of Easter

I haven't written much this Lent. My heart wasn't really in it after one of my dogs died. It felt like I had to write about it, or something.

It is Easter now. The Lord is risen! Do I forget what I practiced (or not) in Lent?  I had more than one Lenten discipline of unplugging. The others?

Lent Madness: stuck it out to the end with a decreasing level of enthusiasm -- not in the mood for the silliness really, although I was very happy Charles Wesley won the Golden Halo. I missed two days of voting due to being sick with a bad cold.

Dancing: barely made it out of the gate. A couple of days and I abandoned it. Couldn't tell you why. A case of having too many new disciplines to remember to do probably.

Sh'ma Daily: I made it into the fifth week before I stopped. The bad cold and grief did it in. I would fall asleep in bed chanting it too, so not entirely sure how many of them were "completed" :).

There are 50 days of Easter, ending in Pentecost. 50 days of:

Dancing. I grooved my way through our up-tempo gospel piece yesterday and sang my heart out. Maybe it'll be easier to dance in the light of the risen Christ than in the darkness of Lent.

I'm sticking to the unplugging but moving it to the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) instead.

We're in the 50 days of Easter. How are you celebrating?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Unplugging for Lent: How it Went

I did, very briefly, consider making this a rhyming post.

First, my definition of unplugging meant no computer, no iPhone. I could use my iPod to play music but couldn't plug it into the computer to change up the playlists. I still have Christmas on my iPod, which is a pretty clear suggestion of how rarely I update it anyway.

An opinion piece in the New Yorker posted back toward the beginning of Lent got me started writing this post. Basically, the article, entitled "The Pointlessness of Unplugging", goes on in a polarizing fashion to put those who choose to take a day off from the internet into the same camp as those who want nothing to do with the internet ever. This not the case. The author, Casey Cep, points this out later.

Choosing to take a day off from the internet is not an intent to abandon it. As someone who met her husband (before there was, discovered new friendships and rediscovered old ones, has taken lots of online classes, and is all for social media, the idea of not being on the internet at all is a bit, well, silly.

So why take a day off?  It goes deeper than the pithy one-liners the National Day of Unplugging asked its participants to use (which included me).

It is saying that it's okay to take a breath. It's okay to take time for oneself. It's okay to step back from the rush of life and daily living: both work and play, and make some space for, well, God. To listen for God, to rest with God, to simply be with God, whether that's through quiet reflection, or some act of co-creation, of whatever.

Intentionally setting aside an entire day, might mean that I'll set aside other time, other moments to take a breath, take time for myself, to listen to God.

A day of unplugging is to experience a day free from online distractions, the procrastinating that so often is the internet. That is a gift to myself. It's equivalent to a spa day, perhaps, but don't think I'm going to spend my entire life there.

That little rant over, here's what did happen on my unplugged days during Lent.

Week 1: Build A Miracle in Tijuana. I wrote about that here. I loved it.

Week 2: Quiet Day, making art (learning a new technique to shade faces using pencils) and an epic nap. Made a really delicious dinner.

Week 3: My first week without any major events planned for the day. Groceries (list pre-printed because normally I use a Groceries app), vet visit, chopped back passionfruit vine, baked a cake and made cream cheese frosting for the first time, watched the BBC edition of The Voice (this was sort of cheating as it was on the TV but via wireless connection to YouTube), had conversation and dinner with a friend.

Week 4: Harder this week. Managed to stay off by chanting Lauds, doing a little bit of cleanup in the backyard, worked on putting together a new handmade book to show off my fairy card collection (gorgeous colors), read some cookbooks which was bittersweet as I don't have time to cook much any more. And as the sun went down, left my phone at home and went to my church's karaoke dinner. Yeah. I got a group of people to sing Bohemian Rhapsody and it was epic.

Week 5: Even harder this week. This was the week we put our dog Pete to sleep and I came down with a cold. When I have a cold, I usually mindlessly surf the web and watch Food Network. I watched a lot of Food Network. I worked on my pages of the handmade book and ran out of double-sided tape. And then gluestick. *sigh* I fudged and used my iPhone to take a picture of daffodils that a co-worker had given me the day before before they went to God.

Week 6: Hubby told me to keep my phone on for updates from the ER. (Everything is ok.) I blearily made a cup of tea and headed for the computer, and one hour later, realized that I was supposed to be unplugging today. In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. After that, managed to stay off the computer while being tethered to my cell phone

Week 7: prayed the Hours (well, from Lauds to The One Before Vespers), did a little bit of art, mopped the kitchen, dining room and bathroom floors, watched some TV, made dinner and headed to Easter Vigil.

Unplugging once a week is good for  me, as I can sit in front of a computer or on my iPhone and very successfully procrastinate. But did I make more contemplative time the rest of the week? No. In fact, I spent a lot of time on most Sundays "catching up", which I think defeats the purpose.

As a result of unplugging, I:
  • Prayed more
  • Did more chores 
  • Watched a lot of TV

It also adversely impacted my day, especially in preparing the weekly menu and shopping list as I would check Pinterest for new recipes, use the grocery store app for e-coupons, and another app that sorted my shopping list into the correct aisle order.

Instead I would have to write a shopping list out twice (tragic!) and miss out on coupons. The upside was I started working through a Rachel Ray cookbook again.

Am I going to keep up with the unplugging? Tune in tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Revisiting World Vision

Yesterday, the internet buzzed with the Human Resources policy change at World Vision. I read plenty about it, from the announcement in Christianity Today to various bloggers, but this post really hit home.

When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me by Benjamin Moburg at Registered Runaway

Please read it.

I am already a World Vision sponsor. (I posted about my process in deciding last year.) I am planning to make an additional donation to help offset those dropped sponsorships, but I'm praying that folks won't actually go through with it and will think of the child they committed to helping.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why Somebody Else Giving Up Mirrors For Lent Means I Don't Have to Give Up Mine...

Mirrors have been coming up a lot lately and in two opposing viewpoints.

The first that came to my awareness was during the 8-week course I recently completed, Coming Home to the Body (from Abbey of the Arts), which was all about getting out of my head and to start listening and trusting my body. One of the exercises involved standing in front of a full length mirror naked. (In the privacy of my home, thanks.)

The second came about at the start of Lent when Jennifer Dukes Lee gave up mirrors for Lent. You can read all her reasons at her blog, but this spun out of her writing her just released book Love Idols. Her appearance was an idol and she's giving it up for Lent in order to see herself as a reflection of God.

Having just done the course on dwelling in my body, I baulked at this denial of self. (I know, I'm of the monastic bent, but self-denial isn't really my bag.)

But maybe this stemmed from my lack of understanding. I look in the mirror to see if I absolutely must floss my teeth (yeah yeah I know), to see if the colors of my outfit actually work, and to comb my hair. I don't wear makeup so there is really no lingering in the mirror.

I kept reading posts, one by Elisa Pulliam about taking on the "no mirrors" challenge and giving up that one last mirror, another by Claudia about looking in the mirror at this strange older person who is her.

And I started thinking about what I'm doing when I look in the mirror, and maybe that's all it takes. That nudge to think about what it is I'm doing, why I am doing it and who I am doing it for. Being intentional.

The longest I spend in front of the mirror, every day, is combing my hair. It's naturally curly so it should just be scrunch and go. But it is thinning, especially along my part and so the hair is combed this way and that and forward ... and well, let's just say that opening scene with Christian Bale in American Hustle really resonated with me.

I remember wanting to shave my head to be in solidarity with a gal whose rare cancer had come back again. But I didn't. I was afraid. What if it didn't grow back? (How stupid is that?)

I miss her.

My one vanity and if I'm honest it isn't my only one. So, Jennifer Dukes Lee, I understand now.



This is the body that God knit and formed in the womb. To deny it exists, is to deny God's work.

At my church's quiet day, there was an exercise where we were asked to believe we are how God created us:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -- Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
We were asked to go look at one of the many mirrors that were on and around the altar, and to look, really look at ourselves even when it became uncomfortable.

And on each mirror was a word:




(etc etc)

Could we hold the word on the mirror and our own reflection and trust ... and believe ... that God believes, no, God knows, that we are:




(etc etc)

I won't lie. Really looking at myself was hard. Really looking at myself with the word on the mirror was hard. But I made myself look, really look, in that mirror.

To deny my body is to deny God. And to fret over wrinkles, bald spots, hair growing where it shouldn't, curves too great, skinny too straight, that also is to deny God.

So let's stop denying. Let's start accepting, start loving. That this is me and I am loved by God. I am whole in God's eyes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When Unplugging Makes a Miracle

"When Unplugging Makes a Miracle" is a great headline, but honestly, I had forgotten I had already signed up for this particular activity when I chose my Lenten discipline of unplugging from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, so I would've been doing it anyway. 

But it also caused some first world problems like: I'm unplugging, how on earth can I call you if the pickup plans change? (answer, use somebody else's phone...) I decided a happy husband who wasn't waiting for me at the wrong place would be better than keeping the fast.

A miracle did happen though ... both through hard work and opened eyes.

Where to start the story? Let's start with a handful of youth group kids who went to an Indian reservation one summer and came back transformed, energized to start making a difference. Two of the youth and their parents found a non-profit that builds houses (among other things) in Tijuana, Mexico. They presented this idea to my church's vestry (basically, a governing board), who gave them some funds, and they raised the rest.

And then we went to Mexico for three days spread out over a month. I could only go on the last trip, which was a hot day because apparently winters no longer happen in Southern California. I spent time working on a mural and hand mixing concrete.

Here's a photo I nabbed from my church's e-bulletin. The yellow arrow is where I was hiding out in the photo, you can just make out the top of my hat. The family we built the house for is front and center.

The new house is the green building behind. The youth raised enough money to build it and furnish it, and then one of the moms opened up a house warming registry at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It was quite a sight to see all those bags being walked across the border!

Also the tarp to the right? That's part of a wall of their original house. You can see examples of other homes that have been replaced by newer ones at Build a Miracle's website. The week before it had rained and the water had rushed through their tiny home and destroyed one of the two mattresses the family of five slept on. They'd been sleeping all on one mattress all week.

And now they have a roof and walls that doesn't leak, new bedding to sleep in... I'm so glad we were able to help.

This is the mural I helped with. That tall cement block wall is their view out their kitchen window. So one of the Good Sam artists was enlisted to help. She planned out the painting and I was one of her two helpers to speed it along. It also helped that it was in the shade and that the narrow walkway we worked in also created a bit of a breeze.

We worked by guessing the view as the windows were all covered up with paper to protect the glass from the inside and outside painting scheduled to be done that day, so we didn't quite succeed in covering up the entire view....

I've visited Mexico twice, once on a cruise and one brief visit to a border town across from Arizona. This trip, while other folks on the bus around me chatted about their lives, I stared out the window. 

The huge contrast between the haves and have-nots is gigantic. Every house is a fortress, whether it was iron gates or pieces of broken palettes. Even the modern homes, small units really, seemed purely functional in their cube shapes and were barricaded by high walls.

My eyes gravitated toward the light: 
  • dusty, weed-ridden lots between factories, where men improvised games of soccer; 
  • the farmer's market, a ribbon of blue and red tent covers spanning several streets. (We drove through one: they sell everything from fresh meat to television sets); 
  • the stream that flowed down the hillside and through an impoverished village at once both a gift and a danger for the earth was cut out broadly on either side of it from earlier flash floods; 
  • the churches, built like warehouses broadcasting their names with big white letters: "Jesu Christos Te Ama";
  • the children playing soccer at the community center (built by Build A Miracle), and the teens gathering to strum guitars, not one head bowed over a screen or a computer game.
I'm not sure how all these observations will meld together yet. I've been holding and honoring it off and on in the weeks since then.

Everyone from the family, to the Norths who run Build A Miracle, to we volunteers were deeply touched as the family walked into their home and saw everything.

This was an Extreme Home Makeover worth watching and participating in.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Photobiography ... or, what I've been up to recently

Before I get started, there was one video I forgot to include in Sunday's list of God's Stories. I'm going to edit it and put it in there, but in case that doesn't show up on blog readers, etc. Here it is. It's really very moving (and I'm not even CatholicSuspect my Mum will be about the only one interested in this post.

First, Disneyland, which was at the end of February. The hat I did not buy (but kind of wish I did), with my brother-in-law in the Mad Hatter Shop:

The next day getting soaking wet on the Rapids ride at California Adventure (first time through stayed pretty dry, got soaked the second time):

My hubby's creation at our "Legos for Lent", happening every Sunday after church this Lent:

The scene is the temptations of Jesus from Matthew. That's an Ewok Jesus holding off the Lizard-Man-devil, with an angel watching on. The grey thing to the right is a solar collector (to help signify this started out in the desert wilderness). The flesh colored blob on the red brick is the head of John the Baptist. As Revbecca commented on that last bit, "That's creepy!"

So that's a little bit of what I've been up to, how about you?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

God's Love Stories ... or I have too many tabs open in my browser

In order to reduce the clutter, I thought I should start saving some of these stories and videos that I wanted to save for the next God's Love Stories.
I've a couple of posts to write yet, so stay tuned for posts that'll include a brief photographic review of the past month.