Category Archives: religion

Lent. And Taking Yourself to the Challenge. Part II

Take yourself to the challenge. If you don’t, the challenge will come to you. It always does. The challenge will WRECK the unprepared.

The girl can run the hills

Do you celebrate lent? In 2014 I first wrote about my lenten experience. I was trying it 40 days before I flew to the base of the Rocky Mountains to run a marathon. Glad that’s over.

This year my brother, Patrick, and I are accountability buddies. There are no marathons in sight. He gave up caffeine: “the first week was rough but I’m feeling better now.” At the moment he’s…struggling. I refuse to accept his defeat. Get back on that Lenten train, buddy!

I gave up some of my addictive technology practices: I can only check phone/email/computer at four specific times a day. Sound easy? Well, it’s not! I’m a chronic user abuser. I get so much email! To stay on top of it, I check when I’m bored, when I’m not bored, when I’m sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, when it’s been over an hour, when I’m waiting for a play to start, etc etc. Since I like to BE PRODUCTIVE ALL THE TIME I feel antsy just sitting. So, this has been a great challenge.

Well.

It’s been life-changing, she said dramatically. YES IT HAS. Now. I check email once in the morning before awaking children, once at lunch time, sometimes after dinner, and once after I put the kids to bed. Writing this feels ridiculous because it’s still A LOT. But it’s working. My mind is less frazzled. I feel calmer. I’m getting more important writing done. I’m actually cleaning more. Hallelujah, her husband said.

I even daydream more. I no longer keep my phone by my bed so I can’t reach over and check it when I can’t sleep or want a dopamine hit right before sleeping. I feel like I have so much more time! It’s also led to me deleting emails and unsubscribing to newsletter I just don’t have time to read, leaving only the most important. It’s a really, really good feeling.

I’ve experienced some physical withdrawal symptoms. Where at first my brain was anxious and antsy, feeling the need for a phone hit, only to BE DENIED, I’m now a little more whatever. It can wait.

Thanks to KJ’s advice (of NYT Motherlode column), I installed the app Moment, which tracks the amount of time I’m on my phone (the kids also installed!) and RescueTime on my laptop. Both are free and have completely revolutionized my thinking, time, and productivity.

All because of lent!

Sometimes I’m tempted to cheat – I remember I have to write a really important email RIGHT NOW. So I do something else: I write it down on paper. And on my next tech moment, I write the email. The sky has not fallen yet.

I thought lent it was a Catholic holiday, but actually, it’s a Christian tradition that many different religions practice. I know this because I Googled, “Lent for Dummies.”

I love the idea of lent, of how it can be a holy period that leads up to Easter.

In the Christian tradition, after the great party of Mardi Gras, where everyone sins and has their riotous fun, there is to be 40 days of prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and periods of fasting.

Well, I think we’ve had some riotous fun, and wouldn’t it be nice – and doesn’t the world need – some time for the holy? My heart is breaking for Syria and the people of Allepo. The images of children…aside from donating money, what can I do? I pray mightily. There is great power in prayer. Miracles, even. I have felt them in my own life.

2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. – Doctrine & Covenants 8

Lent’s significance is supposed to be heightened during the Holy Week leading up to Easter, marking the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In our house we always celebrate Easter, but I sometimes fear that all my children will remember about Easter are addictive, sugary, pink marshmellow bunnies. Yuck.

But the spirit of lent is something I’m familiar with.

In the Mormon religion, each first Sunday of the month is designated as “Fast Sunday.” This is a time of prayer, scripture, and going without food and water for 24 hours (as health and circumstance permits.) It’s voluntary and, for a society that really likes food – really hard.

I find it most interesting that it is during these hard, hungry days, that clarity often comes.

Why, I wonder, must we suffer to come closer to the divine? All I know, is that as we descend, we are somehow lifted. It just works.

This year the calendar says that lent began on Ash Wednesday, March 1 and ends on Thursday,

April 13. I know this because The Idiot’s Guide to Lent told me.
In my 2014 post, my friend, Julia wrote in the comments:

I am Catholic, and I must say you covered the bases pretty well. We fast so that we can make more room for God in our lives. In my house, we always give up sweets/desserts for Lent. I call it detox. Now that the kids are older, they are feeling the sacrifice more. (Example: 12 year old daughter gets into van after school yesterday and says, “Sebastian brought cupcakes to school for his birthday.” Glare. “And for pi day on Friday (celebrating that wonderful mathematical construct) everyone is bringing in pies.” Another, more venomous, glare.
I smile. “It’s not supposed to be easy,” I say. This sacrifice is supposed to turn our dependence back to God and away from worldly things, or worse, our own sense of accomplishment. It should bring challenges that will make us better people. I hope. The Catholic Church also encourages Christians to use this time for increased prayer and works of charity- anything that will increase the amount of love in the world. Goodness knows we need it!
I’m also trying to fast from worry. Pretty hard for this mama.

Just love this.

We give up something good for something better. This is the true meaning of sacrifice. And in a world that hates to be uncomfortable and has become increasingly more self-centered, we could use a bit more sacrifice. For our family, our marriages, our neighbors. Ironically, it ultimately benefits our own selves.

So. Have you taken yourself to the challenge? My daffodils have:

Daffodils are insistent

Are you practicing lent? Do tell!

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Seminary: What Those Mormon Kids Are Doing Every Morning

As a Mormon girl, I am asked the best questions:

Can you use electricity? (yes, I am not Amish)

Do you have magic underwear? (um, I don’t think so?)

Do you celebrate Christmas and birthday? (YES!)

Are you Christian? (YES!)

Can anyone attend your church? (Heck yes!)

I really don’t get asked these questions that often anymore. But my children do! And believe me, many of those questions I cannot type out in this forum…:)

But hey, at least they are asking and we are discussing.

Here’s another question we get all the time: Your kids are taking what?

Seminary.

“What’s seminary? Are they monks or something?”

Seminary is a religion class for high school age students.

Does everyone have to do it?

No. Only about half of my children’s Mormon friends are enrolled.

Not everyone thinks it’s important. Or, they think it’s important, but it’s not worth the time and effort. But for our kids growing up in this world, I think it’s essential.

So I say: LET’S DO SEMINARY!

If you live in Utah, Idaho, some parts of Arizona, and other regions of the United States with large concentrations of Mormon high schoolers, you actually get to take a religion class during the day, in a separate building close to your school. You lucky ducks.

But for the majority of LDS teens, class starts before school. I’m sure your teens would shout for joy at the prospect; teenagers love to get up early!

Typically this religion class begins at the beautiful hour of 6 a.m. That’s right, 6 a.m. five days a week. I participated in seminary when I was in high school and luckily, the church was five minutes away. Even as an early bird, it was about the hardest thing I did for four years, especially on the cold Nebraska winter days when it was black as night and I was a frozen, really skinny ice cube.

And there was always the issue of my hair. No matter my grand intentions to look stellar at 6, (uh, there were BOYS in the class!) typically I would roll out of bed mere minutes before rolling out of the driveway looking…like I just rolled out of bed.

It was a happy day for my mother when we had our license. My siblings and I may have broken a few speeding laws and rolled through a few stop signs…and popped a few tires…oh, those were the early morning days that we used to call “cemetery.”

The seminary program has continued. Since we live far away from civilization, I do not have to drive my children to seminary (oh, happy day) but they still get to participate! The internet is one amazing thing. My two teens are enrolled in on-line seminary. They have a real teacher and a real class they connect with every Thursday evening. The other days of the school week they complete a lesson that typically takes between 30-40 minutes.

What exactly are they studying?

DSC_0786For Mormon youth, they rotate every four years between: The Old Testament, The New Testament, The Book of Mormon, and The Doctrine and Covenants.

img_2217 This year they are studying The Old Testament.

img_2222They can complete the lesson at any time during the day; they don’t have to get up really early, but they sometimes do, to get it done. And yes, they are often very tired.

img_2225 I especially like when they sit and complete a lesson together. img_2212 Enough with the pictures, Mom. I’m trying to concentrate.img_2234Seminary is best done with cozy blankets. And if you’re really lucky, Mom or Dad might bring you a snack or make you breakfast (but admittedly, #slackermom.)

Why would you do such a thing?

Well, here’s my thing.

I want my children to know and love the Lord. I want to raise my children to not only be good, but spiritual. I want them to know that God speaks to us through the scriptures. I want them to know for themselves, that they are not alone on this earth, but that there is a higher power who will get them through their darkest days.

The New Testament tells about the greatest man who ever walked the earth. It tells of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It gives us lessons from the past and hope of things to come.

Last night I considered the wisdom of these scriptures as I peeked over my children’s shoulders:

Matthew 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthes 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

The language is not only beautiful but inspiring. Sometimes I start to lose hope and faith in this world that we live in. The political climate is toxic. But I hold on to the words I read in my youth from Isaiah: Do not fear, for I am with you.

A few weeks ago one of my children had a really hard day at school. As I worried, this child said: “But I remembered a scripture I had read from seminary. It just came to my mind.” And my heart was filled. This strong, good child was going to be okay.

Honestly, with the things our kids have to deal with, sometimes I wonder how I would get through high school now. Today’s youth are part of a strong and good generation, but they need us to help them be good and strong. Reading the scriptures helps our family and our children. There is a great spirit that fills our home when we read individually and together. We are kinder, closer, better.

As for seminary? What could be better than starting the day with prayer, personal scripture study, and meditation?

Seminary had other consequences I didn’t appreciate until much later: I learned that I could do hard things like get up every morning at 5:30. It helped me go to bed earlier. It challenged my willpower. I became much more disciplined. It raised my confidence in myself. It helped me be obedient to the other things I knew were right. It helped me not be so vain about my hair 🙂

It helped me learn and know this principle: God Honors Those Who Honor Him.

Seminary is early and it’s hard and hardly convenient – and it’s worth it.

So that’s a little insight into our world. I’d love to hear from yours!

Any more questions? Ask!

 

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Why I Don’t Play On Sunday

            Let me set the scene.           

On Saturday morning my one and only son, Nelson, played in a basketball game that kicked off a tournament.  Single elimination.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love sports?  Well.  My heart beats at a quicker pace when I watch any of my children play; we are connected out there against the competition.  His basket is mine, her shot is my near-miss.  Their victory validates me (a little too much) and their defeat makes me pull my hair. I take great pleasure (and way too much pride) in their athleticism, but also take it personally when they fall short.  Yes, mama needs to get a grip.  But all I can say is, sports are a great joy to me. I’m always pushing those sweet things to try sports I never played, to practice their soccer moves, and for heaven’s sake, hydrate. 

Let us pause here a moment.

 We thought we knew what Daddy did on Saturday until I received this picture from a person who shall remain in protective custody.  Daddy says he’s coaching basketball when he’s gone to faraway places…but really…he’s playing Starsky and Hutch dress-up? 

Let’s not go there today.  It’s Sunday.
            So.  While driving Nelson to his basketball tournament on Saturday, we had a little pep talk about heart and soul.  Of being aggressive and smart and yeah, be a good sport, too.  He made his mama proud and played his heart out on the basketball court.  His defense was at its best.  His offense was at its peak.  At 11-years-old, he lives for a basket; it can make or break his mood for hours after.  Me?  I want to win, but I get over it quickly.  I’m finally maturing enough to see how FUN it is just to play.  How FUN it is to turn without your knees hurting.  Sniff.  I chirp about how “fun” it is even if we get our butt kicked.  I’m obnoxious on many levels. 

Saturday he dribbled, passed, and shot.  Though none of his shots were going in, he was my hero; I saw the heart and soul.

His team was ahead and the clock was counting down and my Nellie had the ball, five, four…”Shoot the ball” the crowd cried.  “Go, Nelson!”  My hands clenched, I stopped breathing though my heart pounded.  His team didn’t need him to score, but I prayed, please God, please let this shot go in for my Nellie…please…he neeeeeds this!  Probably God thinks I’m obnoxious, too.

Three, two…He went up for the shot but was blocked.  Dang!  “Shoot the ball!” the crowd cried again.  One.. He went right, dribble step, and let the ball fly while getting hit in the face.  The ball soared through the air as the buzzer went off.  And then it swished through the net for a 2-pointer. 

I almost cried. 

The shot didn’t win the game, but it won my son.  Knees skinned, shins bruised, face clawed, he was exultant.  And need you ask?  So was I.

            The team advanced to the next round, which was held the next day.  And even though I was prepared, my heart sank a bit.  The next day was Sunday.  His whole team would advance to the championship games together.  Without Nelson.  Without me in the stands – and who wouldn’t be sad about that??

Picture taking, bonding, rough housing, high fives.  Perhaps a few would ask, “Where’s Nelson?  Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.”  Some think it’s weird, some think it’s dumb, some even think it selfish to let a team down after practicing and competing together for three months and we can’t be there “just because it’s Sunday.”

I have wanted to write this post for a long time, but I always got stuck, worried about offending.  Let me say, I’d be horrified to come across as self-righteous.  That is not my intention, friends.  I’m just going to explain my “Why.”

As a Christian I interpret “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy” as a day that I should keep the Sabbath day holy.  What does that mean to me?  Sunday is a day we go to church as a family.  We don’t watch the Disney Channel or play with friends (and that’s easy because none live on our road.)  We don’t go to restaurants or out for ice-cream or to movie theatres because that would mean we are making someone else work.  And gosh darn it, it kills me sometimes, but it also means no basketball tournaments.

It also means I’ll never run the New York City Marathon even if I qualify or win the running lottery.  I’ll never run the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon in Vermont – something I’m supposed to do as a New England runner.  Marine Corps marathon?  Nope.  Dallas?  Pittsburgh?  Well, I’ve never wanted to go there anyway.  It means a lot for the future, as so many thing are now being scheduled for Sunday.

            Some “no’s” are harder than others, but in this case it’s easier to be all or nothing.  If I run one race on Sunday, why not another?  If we go to one birthday party, then why not the next?  If anything, I’m trying to be consistent.  I can’t be the hypocrite.  I just want to do the right thing and not have my kids wonder what crazy mama is going to change her mind about next.

            It’s not something I ever agonized over; it’s just something we always did.  I suspected for a long time it was because my mother liked napping so much.  And the Sabbath is the day of rest.  Bingo!  I get it now! If there is anything that is more appealing than sleep to a woman with children, well, I’d like to hear it.  Sorry, honey.  And anyway, if the Lord himself needed to rest on the seventh day, then why can’t I?

            When I was a kid our church was located right next to the swimming pool we belonged too.  We swam there everyday except on Sundays.  On hot summer days my dad would drive past that beautiful blue pool, us kids shoved in the back seat of the olive green station wagon that never had air-conditioning and say wistfully, “Look at all those sinners having a terrible time.”  Meanwhile my best friend would be canon-balling off the diving board and shrieking with glee.  They sure looked like they were having a terrible time.  We’d sulk and scowl and my dad would laugh his head off.  I guess I’ve continued the tradition of torturing my children, too.

            In college it occurred to me that I didn’t have to go to church.  I didn’t have to keep anything holy!  I could sleep.  I could skip.  I could hop on the back of that motorcycle and drive to Tennessee.  Yee-haw, I miss those Idaho days!  But the guilt complex was too much for me.  And anyway, I like my naps, remember?  These days, I rarely get a Sunday nap.  I’m busy being mama or getting a lesson ready. 

My ma or pa aren’t here to tell me not to go swimming on the Sabbath.  My husband and I had to decide a long time ago what family life was going to look like on the Sabbath.  And we had to think:  Why?  Why doest it matter at all?

Why I don’t play.

1.  Physical regeneration.  I’m exhausted by Sunday.  I need the Sabbath to get rested for the onslaught of the coming week.  I give the world six of my days.  Can’t I just give the Lord, one?  “Come unto me, all ye heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  I need that rest.

2.  Spiritual growth.  I don’t think you need to go to church to feel the Lord’s spirit, but it is a very rare Sunday that I wish I had stayed home after I go.  I always leave with a better feeling than when I arrived.  I need it.  I crave it.  I need to remember who I am and what my purpose in life is.  A prayer, a scripture, a thought…it all helps me, especially when I’m surrounded by people who believe the same.  Their spirits feed mine.

3.  Obedience.  The way I keep the Sabbath day holy is my personal interpretation of how I love God on that day.  Heaven forbid that church becomes drive-through church, where I enter and leave unchanged.  I can’t be a brat to my neighbor and completely unchrist-like the rest of the week.  No, the Sabbath sets the stage for the rest of the week.  The way I keep the Sabbath day holy is my outward manifestation of my inner commitment to God.
 “Your neighbor’s vision is as true for him as your own vision is true for you.”

– Miguel de Unamuno. 

And whatever your vision, I respect that.  Each of us must decide what we stand for and then do that thing.

There are conflicts.  Because we don’t have gas stations just around the corner, and because I don’t plan well, sometimes I have to fill the gas tank.  I don’t like that. Sometimes my husband has to work on Sundays because he works at a boarding school and students need him.  Sometimes he can’t go to church with us.  When we lived on campus we went to church and then came home to be dorm parents to twelve teenage boys.  It was our job.  But it was still the Sabbath and the boys knew it.  Some would ask who that picture of Jesus was and why we went to church.  Once a student said to me, “I’ve heard of Moses – wasn’t he a really great actor?”  I always thought that very funny.  And a little sad, too.

            A woman I recently interviewed is a printmaker named J.Ann Eldridge.  Her light is strong.  You can tell by the thoughtful way she speaks that she means to do live with purpose.  She is not of my faith and I have no idea what she does on Sundays.  One of her prints is entitled, “My Religion Has Something to Do With Compost.”  The earth is her greatest passion and she takes care of it, recognizing its gift.  I find that holy.

            Once, when we were at church it was announced from the pulpit that a member of the congregation was having a water issue at their farm.  It was a dire situation and they needed help immediately.  The service was cancelled so we could go home and change and go to the farm with our shovels and trowels.  I’ll never forget my dear friend telling me how much it meant for her, as she sat in the middle of her farm, worried that all was lost, to see her church friends show up with shovels, food, and ready to work.  The farm was saved by brothers and sisters working side by side.  That’s holy.

            The Sabbath was meant for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

-Mark 2:27

            I have to admit, I had a moment of wavering yesterday.  As I drove my son home, I thought of how badly I wanted to be at that game.  How badly I wanted to see us win – surely we would!  How badly I wanted to see my son dribble and pass and play in the championship.  I looked over at my son and told him how awesome he was.  I even sang him a little Alecia Key’s, “This Nellie’s on fiiirre!”  

“Man, it stinks that the game in on Sunday,” I said, whacking the steering wheel. 

            “That’s why I played so hard,” he said.  “Because I knew it was probably my last game.”

            I wondered if it was unfair of me to make this decision for him.  After all, I hadn’t even asked if he wanted to play.  And he hadn’t asked either.  He hadn’t begged or cried or said one word about it.  And the game didn’t actually overlap with church.  He could play in the game and we could watch him as a family.  Then, as a family we could drive to church together.

            “What do you think, buddy?” I asked.  “Do you want to play?”  What would I do if he said yes? I wondered.  I think I would have to take him.  Perhaps it could be just this one time and we wouldn’t do it again because it really wasn’t what felt right to us.  But as I looked at him, I knew he had to make the decision for himself.

            He shrugged.  “Well, it just wouldn’t work,” he said.  “It’s Sunday.”  True that.  Thank you, son, I thought.  For helping me be strong.  For saying no when mama almost wanted you to say yes.  But not really.

Killer, how badly I wanted to go to that game.

As I recounted my son’s buzzer-boy-basket to his dad this morning I was animated and lively.  “I probably care more than Nelson does!” I said, looking at the clock.  It was one hour before game time.  Nelson put his arm around my shoulder and said, “That’s probably true.”

            So we didn’t go.  In-between hair-combing and picking out the church dresses and gathering our Sunday stuff, I checked my phone anxiously as a friend sent texts of the play-by-play nail-biter.  They lost by 8. 

Would I do it any differently?  Nah.  We drank smoothies for breakfast, dressed for church, squabbled in the car, heard two of the best talks I’ve heard this year, and drove home together with less squabbling because we were all feeling the spirit a little better and a little louder.  And then we had dinner, a short family night and played Pounce and ate Thin Mints for dessert.  As a family.  I guess it’s just the way we roll. 

I often wonder, if I died tomorrow and found out everything I ever thought was true, wasn’t, would it have been worth it?  Would I be mad I missed the tournament?  I’ve decided not. 

The Sabbath day has served me well and so I do with that as I will, and keep it the best I know how.  How, I wonder, do you do it differently?

Here’s something I believe with all my heart:  We are all brothers and sisters made in the image of the same God who loves us all.  We are here to learn how to be happy, but we must all find out how to do that for ourselves.  I’ve felt the power of God and his spirit.  It is very real to me.  My adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ might set me apart from the world, but it’s also the one thing that unites us all.  I know I am a child of God and I also know that so is everyone else. 

It was on the Sabbath day and at the feet of my mother and father that I truly learned that.  I was also taught to honor God.  In return, God would honor me.  He hasn’t let me down yet.

So tomorrow is Monday.  And then I shall play.

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