Over the last week or so, I have been in observation of the Lent season in preparation for Easter Sunday in April.
Lent was something I always grew up around, but I more saw as a time to maybe shed a few pounds before the summer if I gave up sugar, gluten, or some other type of food that is considered to be “bad” for you. Lent, as of recent years, has become much more to me. It is a time to be present with the Lord, to grow in my prayer, and to be in relation with Him as I prepare my heart for Easter.
This year, I decided to take it a step further and I purchased myself a $1.99 daily devotional on iBooks to do in preparation for Easter Sunday. I am currently on day six of this devotional (written on Monday, March 11) titled Lasting Hope: Devotions for Lent 2019. We have begun this devotional by reading scripture from Psalm, one of my favorite books in the Bible.
The scripture for today’s devotion was Psalm 91:9-10 “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation, no evil will befall you, not shall affliction come near your dwelling.”
I’ve lived in the Northwest nearly all my life. In this place where the weather is typically a bit on the boring side, our responses to anything out of the ordinary can be truly dramatic. I love the way we embrace sunshine like it may never come again and treat snowstorms like hurricanes. And this year’s snowstorm did not disappoint. The snowflakes arrived at almost exactly the moment they were supposed to, piling up inch by inch just as predicted.
Most years, when February rolls around, I am in full-on hibernation mode. If I could join the bears and sleep from Christmas until Spring, I probably would. Once the Christmas tree comes down, the long, slow wait begins. I never learned to appreciate the short days, mud, and general dampness that accompany our Northwest winters, and last year was no exception.
In January 2018, I was promoted to a new position at work. It came with a nice raise and exponential increase in responsibility. Last winter flew by in a fog of long hours, countless meetings, thousands of emails, and long, sleepless nights. My fear of getting it all wrong was completely overwhelming. I constantly replayed each day in my mind, second guessing most of my decisions and wondering if I was even coming close to what was expected of me.
As what happens at the close of every year, we begin to look back on the 365 days we lived and we reflect on what that year held.
We think about the highs, the lows, the mountains, and the valleys. And in more recent years, our social media accounts, which begin to reflect those things as well. Our Facebook accounts pull up memories from three years prior. Our Instagram show us our “top nine” photos of the year. Spotify tells us our most streamed genres, artists, and songs.
I personally enjoy seeing these year-end round-ups; my Instagram top nine included photos of my 21st birthday, my transformation photo after losing thirty pounds, and photos when my best friend from Boston came to visit me after the tragic loss of twelve lives in our hometown. It truly showed some wonderful mountains and some really low and dark valleys, but in the end, it reminded me of some wonderful milestones that 2018 held for me and made me excited for what is to come in 2019.
My Spotify account reflected a similar round-up: a mix of songs that got me through some serious waves of grief, a tough break up, and a multitude of other events of 2018.
I was not surprised to see my top song of 2018 was “You Say” by Lauren Daigle.
If you haven’t heard this song, drop everything right now and listen to it. I discovered this song in August when I began my senior year of college, a year that I truly did not think I would make it to, after the hardships that 2017 and 2018 brought to me and my family. As I went through the first semester of my senior year, I was constantly bombarded with questions, doubts, and anxieties about things in daily life, things from the past, and the unknown of the future.
It was a sunny day, the kind that is perfect unless you are running around in heels, setting up for an event.
Which is exactly what I was doing, regretting the heels and starting to sweat–just a little bit. That evening, I was trying to make sure my three kids weren’t bothering the actors who were also trying to get ready for their performance. It was an event like any other event; if I’ve done one, I’ve done a million. But this time, as I watched my kids fold programs and chat with the actors, I knew this was different and I was especially grateful for the experience. The actors, who were eating pizza and getting their mics fitted, were members of the homeless community, here to share their experience of what it means to be unseen and unknown in Tacoma.
Our family has tried to serve people who are in the midst of poverty and homelessness for quite a while now. We’ll donate turkeys, even assemble a meal. We have served at Tacoma Rescue Mission, bought socks for clothing drives. We often will purchase a water bottle for someone outside of Target, say a prayer for people as we drive by in our car, and carry extra gloves and blankets to hand out if we see a need.
But to be honest, anyone can do those simple actions. My heart was not affected – these actions cost me little. But about a year ago, I committed to do something simple, but much more costly. I committed to stop what I was doing, look into the eyes of the person, and acknowledge their presence. It made a world of difference and it brought me to the performance on that hot sunny day.
Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday growing up. I have endless memories of times with family; cooking and watching football all day, to then gather around the table and say Grace: thanking God for another holiday together, another year of good health and good times.
No matter what that year held, nothing compared to this moment of Thanksgiving Day.
I spent Thanksgiving of 2017 in California, as usual. I remember being thankful that year, for Tacoma truly felt like home. I was thankful for my sorority sisters, my Young Life family, my classmates, my professors, and of course, my church. Discovery rooted me in Tacoma in more ways than I ever fathomed to be possible.
I left my home in Ventura after that holiday weekend and I didn’t know that when I walked out of that front door that Sunday morning to travel to Tacoma that it would be the last time I would step out of my home. We lost our home in the Thomas Fire just a few weeks later. My entire neighborhood, my entire town, even the whole county was demolished by flame. We lost everything that day and any sense of normalcy. This season of my life was a true test of my faith. I felt so vulnerable, so alone, and so unstable that I truly did not see how it was possible to wake up each day and continue on. But I did. Truly, by the Grace of God.
It took a while, but I eventually found my way back to Ventura this summer even when I thought it was the last place I wanted to be. Truth be told, it was exactly where I needed to be. It was hard coming back to an empty lot that once held my home and to the burnt hillsides that once held so much Ventura pride, but it was so good to come home to my family, friends, and my community. It was so good to go back to my home church, to my work place, and to Borderline: my line dancing hall.
Borderline is a special place in Ventura county. It is not just a place to dance, it is a second home. It is where my best friend met her fiancé. It is where I went to dance and escape my reality of grief and sorrow for a few hours a night, a few nights a week. My Borderline family and I were there three nights a week, every single week, without a doubt.
Borderline was home while home was being rebuilt.
The focus of our attention indicates who and what we will become—both as an individual and as a people. Reflecting on the monuments of our past, then — monuments of both good and of evil — can build in us resolve and direction for the character of our future. And for the follower of Jesus, these monuments serve also to build in us gratitude and confidence in the activity of God — as well as to build a horror of the ways that the ‘normal’ sins of pride and self-indulgence and mindless conformity inevitably work to compound into monstrosity. We do not look back to become mired in the past — we look back to build into ourselves character that propels us forward.
This weekend, Americans celebrate a magnificent monument of our past — a monument that reminds us both of the haunting expanse of evil and of the brilliant momentum of good. For much of my life, I missed what that meant, and, aside from an obligatory school assembly, I gave little thought to the significance of the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday.
The result of my white privilege? Absolutely. Of the self-centeredness of my youth? Yeah… that too.
A number of years ago, however, I began to recognize an opportunity — the opportunity to honor a noble man, certainly, and thereby to honor and strengthen the values for which he stood … and in doing so, to build for myself and my family a forward-propelling character.
Here are some ideas, from my family to yours, for honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr — and perhaps, for gleaning some of his character to build into your own:
I am by nature a person of action. If something needs to be done, it should be done NOW. When presented with a problem, my mind immediately goes to work figuring out what I need to do. Sitting quietly does not come easily for me and, if I have a choice, I would rather not […]
The parent wound is very real. I even think someone coined it, “The Father Wound.” This wound is the lingering void in the life of a person traced back to a broken relationship with a parent.
In our culture most fingers point back to an absent father, but the blame can also fall on mom. There are experts who can carefully explain how all my present problems lie at the feet of that less-than-perfect parent. They assert that depression, anxiety, addiction, and even the brokenness in my adult relationships all stem from my parents’ failure.