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Embracing Lent


Affirmation: Lent is a time dedicated to strengthening my faith. 
Today, February 14th, is not only Valentines Day it’s Ash Wednesday.  For Catholics it marks the beginning of one of the holiest seasons of the church year.  Practicing Catholics go to Mass or at least to a Lenten service and have a thumbprint of ashes smeared on their forehead.  The words accompanying the ritual are “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19) The ashes normally come from the palms that were blessed for the previous Easter season.  At my church, St. Michael the Archangel, here in Cary, NC, the practice includes sprinkling holy water into the dishes holding the ashes.  That makes them pastier and then the priest or the minister can really smear them on.  I don’t remember them being so black and pronounced when I was a child.  We are then encouraged not to rub or wash them off until we would normally cleanse our faces.  I found myself eating lunch today at a local cafe and was charmed by the number of Catholics who proudly proclaimed their faith that day.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to miss a big black smudge on someone’s forehead and it’s the perfect opportunity to share your faith without saying a word. 
I live in the Bible Belt which I understand to mean we have a lot of practicing Christians in this area, many of whom are evangelical.  They have a mission to convert the world, the whole world to Christianity.  This is not the place to live if you are wishy-washy about your faith, unless you’re living in Chapel Hill.  (That’s a little hint for anyone reading this who is thinking of moving to our beautiful state.) I’ve lived in the Bible Belt now since 1976.  First, I was in Cincinnati, Ohio for ten years and now, I’m here.  How is that different from other parts of the United States?  If you look at one of USA Today’s graphs, you will see that the south-east and mid-west areas are shaded darker when the shading represents the number of people calling themselves Christians.  As the map expands to the west, California, Oregon etc., the shading becomes lighter and lighter.  My experience with this part of the world has been wonderful.  I have noticed that the people here who are working to be faith filled are kind, caring and compassionate.  I don’t think one need be religious or perhaps even spiritual to have those qualities but when your faith is an integral part of your life, I believe you are enjoined to raise yourself up to a higher level of responsibility to lead a more exemplary life. 
I know all about the hypocrites, those who show up at services all holy and righteous only to lead small, mean lives.  My experience has not led me to be surrounded by that type of practitioner.  My experience, especially that of living here in NC, has been one of support and kindness and compassion from the people who are actively participating in their faith.  Perhaps, I’ve just been lucky because even some of my friends who don’t belong to an established religion are loving and compassionate. Could it be, however, that the God energy of this area has permeated more souls than elsewhere?  It’s a nice thought.  It brings me comfort and hope.  Maybe mindfulness in itself encourages people to live lives of caring and service.  Supposedly there was a study done many years ago that showed when a Transcendental Meditation seminar was being held, that section of the country had less crime.   
Lent is my favorite time of the year. My part of the world is gray and wet and soft right now but I know that in just a few weeks everything will be in full bloom, the Dogwoods, Azaleas, and Daffodils to name a few will come forth and brighten and color our entire area.  It goes from dreary to delightful.  It’s slow and deliberate and if you pay close attention, you can see the metamorphosis taking place.  That’s what I like to imagine is happening to my inner life too.  Lent offers me the opportunity to grow and blossom, to go from dreary to colorful.  It’s up to me how I use the time.  For me, it’s a more deliberate time, an opportunity to be even more mindful, than any other time of the year.  I always hope the changes I’m making stay with me, as I move into the rest of the year, and hopefully some of my Lenten practices do just that and that’s exactly the reason we are called upon to set aside this time to develop more self-discipline and to be of greater service.  We are called to pray more, give alms and to practice acts of denial.  We are called to be more mindful, more intentional about our lives.  It’s a practice we could use every day not just during Lent but with Lent comes the deliberate intention to grow our inner lives, to make us and our world kinder, gentler and more compassionate. 
The main question at Lent is, “What are you giving up for Lent?”  I know I could give up wine or chocolate or some such food item and have the added benefit of reducing my waistline. In 2014, however, I chose a more difficult practice. I decided to give up doubt and now, in 2018,  I confess I still have “work” to do.  I must say, I feel I am now stronger in my faith than in the past but for me, it seems to be the work of a lifetime. When Oprah interviewed the famed televangelist, Joel Osteen, she asked him if he had ever doubted his belief in Jesus Christ.  He emphatically answered, “No.”  I am still not a Joel Osteen.  I am more of a Thomas.  After all these many years of practicing my faith I still have my doubts.  Let’s face it, it’s quite a story! That however, is not how I want to live my faith, the promises are too great.  I want to believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and that I can have a personal relationship with Him that will enhance my life and lead me to a place where I reach out to others with pure love.  I want to believe that with Him, not only will I and my loved ones have eternal rest and peace, but that this life will be a more rewarding experience.  I haven’t yet had any direct messages from the spirit world that would allay my doubts but I don’t care.  This is how I want to live my life and for me it seems to require practice and Lent, my favorite time of the year, offers me that perfect opportunity.  “Loving Father, help me to better know and love Your Son.  Amen.”

God’s Garmin


Affirmation: I am in awe of the guidance God sends me, through people as I travel down a new and difficult path.
What is needed in order to navigate through new territory?  Lewis and Clark, Columbus and Magellan and Dr. Livingston are a few examples of pioneers who headed out into the world without any foreknowledge of what lied ahead and created trails for others to follow.  There are now maps for most anywhere one wants to go.  There is even Google Earth, where we can examine almost every square foot of our planet without leaving our home. 
When my daughter, Ellen, moved to London I desperately wanted to see where she would be living but flying over there was not in our plans.  She sent me a video from Google Earth with her apartment circled in red.  I could then move the cursor around on the page and see everything she could see from her front window.  It was miraculous.  Since then I have occasionally gone to the site to see the areas where I resided when I was younger.  It was fascinating to see how the areas had changed and to share the photos of the neighborhood with my children or with my friends.
Yes, it seems as if the whole world is mapped out and we aren’t in need of pioneers any longer.  Even the moon and Mars have “rovers” with cameras on them.  Of course there is the rest of the Universe “where no man has ever gone before.”  I don’t believe many of us will be faced with an adventure into outer space.  In addition to outer space, however, there are also the Olympics.  Right now, the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi Russia.  No one needed a map to get to Sochi and no one is following a geographical path that hasn’t been carefully laid out but these gifted, dedicated and determined young people are definitely blazing new trails.  The new gold medal winner for the Men’s Snow Boarding Half Pipe, Iouri Podladtchikov, not only performed an almost flawless run, he created and executed a new maneuver called the YOLO.  The men and women skiers and skaters broke all time speed records, and the Russian figure skating pairs gold medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the 2013 world champions, broke at least four world records with their performances.  There were also many other records set.  All the athletes needed guidance to reach the peak of their skill.  They went higher and further along the path of their craft than anyone had gone before.  Their coaches and families helped them lay out the map for their successes.
I’ve always loved a map.  Maybe it’s because it’s a little like a puzzle, a maze which can help get you to your set destination.  I’ve usually been the navigator when my husband and I traveled.  My expertise wasn’t always in evidence.  For example, from my reading of the map, I once insisted we were are on the right road to reach the main highway when it dead-ended in someone’s driveway.  At one time, I used to contact AAA for little map booklets that had a different section of the road on each page to lay out our path.  I’m sure they don’t have them anymore. Now, my husband and I don’t use maps at all.  First we graduated to Map-quest and would have sheets of paper listing the twists and turns and the distances and the estimated arrival time.   We even used Map-quest for one of our European trips.  It was a lot easier than trying to read maps in a foreign language.  Then we went to a Nuvi or a Garmin and we had audible turn by turn instructions.  I must say in the beginning it would seem to me the device would sometimes take me to my final destination by way of another continent.  Now, we have the smart phone. The technology now seems to be much more accurate and I can rely on it anywhere I travel.  I’ve also become so used to having a computer map on my dashboard that I feel “lost” when I’m in a car without one even if I’m going around my neighborhood. Recently, however, I have had to chart a new path. 
There wasn’t a map or a Garmin for this journey.  My 91 year old mother left the hospital after her first two surgeries ever, a hip replacement and a pacemaker and was admitted to a rehab unit.  I needed a map or an audio guide.  I needed any direction and guidance that was available and there was very little “out there.”  I did do some research on the web to determine the best facility in the area and I did make the necessary phone calls to make sure that’s where she was admitted but after that I felt like I had just landed on an alien planet, not country, but a planet beyond our solar system.  I have never been so intimately involved in the care of a seriously ill individual, and to be honest my mom has led a very independent lifestyle up until her fall.  I wish someone wise and experienced had taken my hand and led me step by step down this road. 
I wish I knew in the beginning of this journey what I know now.  I’ve prayed for years for dignity for my mom and mother in law in their old age.  Now, I’m seeing what dignity can look like and may not look like.  After entering the rehab, mom contracted C.diff.  One more thing I knew nothing about, another huge detour on the road.  I’ve reached out to God and to everyone I know.  I actually sent an email to several of my communities that was titled “Help!”  Help has come and hopefully will keep coming.  Help not just for my mom but for me, the main caregiver.  Yes, I am seeing the blessings.  Some of the best help has been what I now consider to be “God’s Garmins.”  They are all those people in the know who have taken the time and effort to share with me what I need to be doing and in what direction I should be going. 
When Sandy and I traveled to Ireland several years ago, we found the most joyful part of the trip was getting lost because we would stop and ask an always delightful, friendly Irish man or woman for directions.  We stopped once on a back road and were invited in for tea!  That’s been my experience here with my mom and her illness, the people who have reached out to me explaining the path best chosen have brought clarity and joy to a very frightening and strange road.  I’ve decided there is very seldom an easy way through chronic illness or the dying process but like all our adversities there are blessings to be found and usually, they come in the form of loving, caring people who take our hands and our hearts and lead us along the path of what we call life.  I like to think of them as God’s Garmin, audibly directing us down the road to our final destination, Peace.