Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lenten Update (Up Next: 100th Post and the Best Book Giveaway Ever!)

Things have been kind of quiet around here lately as I have been making room for reflection and prayer during this time of Lent. But I did want to give you an update on how our family is doing Lent this year. My original post on Lent is here.

Not eating out has proven to be a great fast for Calvin. As with our Advent traditions, this has helped him to anticipate the glorious feast day. Every time we drive by a Chick-fil-A, he notes that we will get to eat there again on Easter. (No, we aren't having fast food for Easter dinner!) He asks pretty regularly if it is Easter yet, and he is handling the waiting really well.

Going into this fast, I wasn't even sure why we had chosen eating out, other than that we spend too much money eating out and rely on it for convenience. Going with out take-out or a dinner out on a difficult day has helped me to order my day in so many other ways. I am learning again how to plan better, to find balance and let things go that aren't priorities. In the process, I am somehow managing to get more done while spending more quality time with my boys...some days. Other days, I see how much I need to work on discipline in order to focus on my priorities.

Spiritual Development
We are doing a couple of things with the boys that seem to be working well. Hobbes is still a little too small to get it, but Calvin is really picking up on what it means to work on our weaknesses. He helped me create a chart at the beginning of Lent that lists some of the good behaviors he needs to work on, such as doing his chores when asked and getting ready for school without whining. He gets a sticker every time he does one of these "good things." I honestly can't believe how well it is going. I can see him becoming aware of these behaviors and really trying to practice them and becoming less whiny in general, even without the promise of a sticker. I have told Calvin that I am also working on practicing some good behaviors, like patience and gratitude, to prepare my heart for Easter.

In addition to the chart, we have also altered our prayer time during Lent. We are using an icon of the crucifixion and some dark blue candles to set out during prayer. (We will pull out the resurrection icon again at Easter.) We have added a time of confession to the beginning of our prayer time, and Calvin asks every evening to pray on his own for God to forgive him for the bad things he does. He has never prayed on his own before! Not to be left out, Hobbes mutters his own version of prayers while my husband is praying, always ending in a clear "Amen." We are also teaching the boys a few Lenten songs. Both boys love singing "Create in Me a Clean Heart."

Teaching the Story
We are using this excellent booklet, which has a symbol and a part of the passion story for each week of Lent. I am also doing a craft each week to go along with the symbol. Calvin really got into the story being acted out on Holy Week last year, and this is another way to familiarize him with it in preparation for those services.

I have also picked up a few Easter books on different reading levels for the boys. I especially like this one, which is full of symbolism for Ash Wednesday and other holy days of Lent. In addition to specifically Easter books, we are reading a lot of books about new life (eggs to birds, caterpillars to butterflies, and one of my all-time favorites, Make Way for Ducklings.) I'd love some other suggestions for Easter books!

Acts of Service
While this is an important part of Lent, we are not focusing specifically on it this year. We have added enough new aspects to the observance of this season. Since we regularly give things away to charity, take meals to friends in need, and make cards and artwork for others, the boys already have experience in this. I will probably add something extra next year, but in the meantime, I hope they are growing up in an atmosphere of generosity, hospitality, and service.

I had worried how well we could bring the boys along on our Lenten observance. (Advent is so much easier and more fun.) But it has been good so far. Maybe I will let you know how it ends at Easter.

Check back for my next post. Number 100! It will be the best book giveaway ever!!!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Conscientious Words

Maybe this is cheating, but I'm submitting this for Julie's Hump Day Hmm on the topic Using My Words. (Check out her blog for more entries.) Technically, it's Calvin using his words. But his words are so much better than mine! In other news, my 100th post is coming up soon. Check back for a cool book giveaway in celebration.

Calvin's two current obsessions are the Psalms and our hymnal. He loves to ask me to read some random Psalm. "Mommy, let's read Psalm 62 today." He almost always manages to choose one of those troublesome ones about God thwarting David's enemies. He also loves to look through the index of our hymnal and ask the titles of hymns. He was doing this with my sister-in-law the other night.

"Auntie __, what is the name of this one?"

"That one's called How Firm a Foundation."

"Auntie __, this one has the word holy in it. Can we sing this one?"

"Maybe we can sing it after dinner, let's go to the table."

"Auntie__, is there a hymn that starts with conscientious?"

"I don't know any songs with the word conscientious in them, Calvin."

"I'm going to write a new hymn. It's going to be called Conscientious Jesus Christ."

(Let's not get into the theology of that one or it's implications for my faith.)

Where did he even hear that word? Must have been me, though I am sure I wasn't talking about him. His brain is such a sponge, and he is listening to everything everyone says, all of the time. I have written before of his unusual use of vocabulary. I love it that he can memorize the prayers and creeds in church, that he recited the opening lines of Paul Rever's Ride at 18 months old, that he has memorized Shakespeare and Frost without knowing what it all means. I love to hear him sing Bob Dylan lyrics or quote an entire favorite children's book while he is at play. The child has always had a gift of language.

We who are parents know only too well the power of our words. They are the final authority for the little people in our house. They can be words of healing or of great hurt. They can be words of encouragement or of anger. Sometimes we forget that the words we use are also the ones that our children are learning to use, though Calvin tends to combine them in creative ways. I suppose talking about a conscientious Jesus isn't so bad, but I need to watch how I use my words. One of these days Calvin might tell me he is writing a hymn called Stupid Idiot Who Doesn't Know How to Drive.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Green: It's the New Black

"Thank you for being environmentally responsible." That was the message on the little green and white envelope I used to return my print cartridges for recycling.

"It's almost spring. Time to make every room in your home a little greener," screams the cover of the Pottery Barn catalog that now lies in my recycling bin.

Green, green everywhere. I love green. It's my favorite color. Heck, I love the Earth, it's my home. You already know, if you read this blog regularly, that I am more than passionate about saving my mountains. But I am not ready to embrace the "green" movement totally.

My friend Rachel's husband wrote two thoughtful posts on the topic of environmentalism and the gospel that are well worth reading. I think he makes some excellent points, that I will only briefly summarize here. The first is the trendiness of the green movement and how it has become a status symbol of sorts. Hang your clothes out to dry? Use clothe diapers? Take your own bags to the grocery store? Way to go, you! You are so conscientious and relevant. Drive a hybrid? You get a gold star!

The second problem is the way that we can ease our consciences if we choose not to sacrifice in order to care for the planet. If I don't want to downsize my vehicle, I can just buy carbon offsets. If I want to feel good about being green while still buying new furniture every six months and dumping the old, I can just order from that new "green" Pottery Barn catalog. One of the obvious problems here is how this system excuses the wealthier classes, the very ones who have the money and leisure to do more about environmental problems, while making no way for the poor to participate.

I have been a little over the top sarcastic here to make my point. But I am the first to admit that I don't do enough to care for creation. Folks who are jumping on the green bandwagon to be popular are probably doing a lot more for the earth than I am. But I think there are a lot of people like me, too, who are doing a little at a time, changing small things, learning what it means to consume less and re-use more. I think this trend is a good thing. A very good thing. I also think that the posts by my friend's husband show a way forward for Christians who want to get involved.

Green is the new black. It's trendy. But trends that aren't grounded in a deeper philosophy or worldview will never be more than trends. If we can't tie the environmental movement that is sweeping our culture to something more than a vague idea of saving the earth for our grandkids, it won't last. It is unfortunate that Christians have not led the way in this new trend, but they can provide a grounding framework for it. There is a loving God who created this world and cares for it. The decay of creation and its rebirth are intricately tied up in the sin and resurrection of man. Lent is here. We wait for death. But Easter comes, and a new birth. We are reborn into a new creation. This earth will be our home, though in a new form more glorious than we can imagine. And so we have a duty to care for it now, just as we care for our own souls, so that it's glory will be revealed when we are raised up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Living Across Cultures

InterCultural Studies is a subject dear to me heart and one I have not written much about on this blog. I studied it, along with TESOL, in my Master's program, and I was a student of other cultures long before I entered grad school. Since my husband and I are preparing to move overseas, I love reading blogs of folks who live in cultures not their own. I especially love reading blogs of moms raising children in other cultures. A friend of a friend wrote an amazing post about living cross-culturally and trying to embrace a new culture without losing one's own. It is a difficult balance, not without sacrifices and misunderstandings from both cultures.

On the same topic, I highly recommend the movie The Namesake. My husband and I just watched it the other night. The book, by Jhumpa Lahiri, had been sitting in my pile of books to read, and I finally got tired of looking at it and loaned it to my mother-in-law. I might have to get it back now. The story follows the life of Gogol Ganguli, an Indian-American born to first-generation immigrant parents. It is a fascinating exploration of what it means to grow up between two cultures, but it also has wonderful insights into parent-child relationships and the source of one's sense of identity. I admit that the movie lacked something. I think it had to be cut and edited too much to fit into a decent time frame. But that just made me all the more eager to read the book!

My favorite part of the film is at the beginning, when the young married couple first arrives in the US. The husband had been studying there and came home to get a wife. Having left her home and family, her entire support system, to live in a strange country with a man she is just getting to know, the wife experiences great loneliness and isolation. I love this part of the film because we non-immigrants don't often think about this. What would it be like to leave everything you know and move into another culture with no friends and no support structure? This is especially hard for international students and their wives. My husband and I have enjoyed befriending international students, having them in our home, learning about their culture, and helping them to find friendship in what could be a very isolating environment.

So if you want to learn more about living across cultures, read the post, watch the film, and befriend an international student. You have no idea how much it would mean to them to be invited into an American home, to have someone take the time to show them the ropes, to listen to their fears and loneliness. And you will find so much blessing in return. You don't have to live in India to learn to navigate the cross-cultural waters.

Strike One and Candy Hearts

Happy Valentine's Day, I suppose. I'm not trying to be a scrooge here, but we just aren't too much into the holiday around this house. I've not always been like that. I used to love it as a kid, I would have died if my boyfriends hadn't given me flowers in high school, and my mom still sent me Valentine's Day care packages when I was in college. But somewhere along the way I just lost the desire to celebrate with cards and candy and flowers. I think it has something to do with the day being so commercialized. It's not an important enough day in the Church calendar to make me want to redeem it from secular, commercialized society. I did tell Calvin we could go to the drug store tomorrow and stock up on marked down candy and Valentine's goodies.

So imagine my surpise when I walked up to the front door of Calvin's school today to see that kids were trading valentines. Yikes! Strike one for the uninvolved, completely clueless parent. I am way too new to this school parent thing, and I hadn't even thought about sending my little heartthrob to preschool with cards gushing of his love for the cute girls in his class. Besides it's a Chinese preschool. We are having a New Year's party on Saturday. Now there's a holiday I can get into!

Thankfully, there was another mom at the door who had been as clueless-or maybe just as sensible-as I. I mean, three and a half is a little young for declaring one's undying love, isn't it? Or maybe it isn't. Calvin came home with candy hearts plastered in messages like "Kiss Me" and "Sweet Talk" and "New Love." Boy am I glad he was too busy eating them to notice they had words! I can just imagine the conversation.

"Mommy, what does this one say?"
"Mommy, who am I supposed to kiss?"
"Mommy, what is sweet talk?"

No thank you. I'll keep my little boy a little longer. No need to worry about kissing girls yet.

Of course, I realize that this is all just fun and candy for a preschooler, but I remember how quickly it became something more for the little girls in my elementary school growing up. Valentines were chosen carefully for the maximum affect, to declare one's love to a crush, to snub the weird girl who sat alone, to share a secret joke with a best friend. It was all there, the cruel and cliquish and flirty ways that kids, especially girls, so quickly learn to manipulate. It started early.

Wow! That was not where I was going with this post, but I think it is interesting. Maybe I do need to reclaim Valentine's Day, have my boys make sweet cards for all of the kids in their class, help them think of ways to show Christ's love to the weird kid who sits alone. Maybe there is something to using this day to teach them the nature of real, sacrificial, Godly love. If I don't teach them that, they are sure to keep getting candy hearts with suggestive comments that warp their view of love as they grow up.

And then one day they will open a Dove dark chocolate, like I just did, only to read the message "Naughty is Nice" on the inside of the wrapper.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Grammar Lessons

I feel like I have been blogging like crazy lately. Certainly reading and responding to comments has taken up significantly more of my time. Since I am trying to make more room in my life for prayer and reflection during Lent, I am going to tone down the blogging. I'll still be here, and I'll still check in on your blogs. I just won't be writing or commenting as much as I have been these past few weeks. My 100th post is coming up, so keep checking back for some fun way to celebrate that, as well as a book giveaway sometime soon.

In the meantime, I leave you with a grammar lesson from Calvin.

Recently, Calvin has become fond of the construction "I amn't." At first I was correcting him, but then I realized that it made sense in his mind. You aren't. He isn't. We aren't. I amn't. It fits the pattern, anyway. My husband pointed out something that I, being the mountain girl that I am, should have seen. Calvin is just looking for a word that no longer exists in English, a lovely contraction that serves a very important purpose, a word that only the intelligent people of Appalachia and the South have cared to preserve for linguistic geniuses like my son to discover. That's right, folks. I'm talking about the word "ain't." Maybe I'll even teach it to Calvin, and I ain't going to apologize.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On the Roan

I stand at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald, trying to hold my balance in the wind that whips across this mountaintop, rippling the long grass like waves. I look out over the other balds, the rhododendron with blossoms full and pink on their tangled branches, the mountains covered in emerald forests rolling out below, the valleys and towns in the distance. Nothing is so beautiful to me as these mountains, this piece of land that is my home. I breath deep of the mountain air, an air that fills not only my lungs but also my soul, an aroma of hot grass and laurel blossoms, of tulip poplars and mossy mountain streams.

I have been there many times in my life, and many hundreds more in my mind. The colors change with the seasons. They are bright orange and gold in Autumn, purple and gray and covered in rime ice in the winter, pale green and blossoming pink and white in Spring. The smells change to: decaying leaves underfoot, mountain water dripping from icy rocks, and the mountains coming to life again with the first Spring rain.

As I child, I thought foolishly, as most children do, that everyone's existence was as idyllic as mine. I have come to learn, of course, that it is not so. Some people do get to grow up in beautiful places, deserts with amazing creatures, cities full of energy and variety of cultures, rich fields of black dirt and open skies. All are beautiful in their way, but to me, none is as beautiful as my mountains. And when life does get difficult, I always return there, by car or in my mind, to the place where my soul is anchored.

I remember summer picnics on the Roan, crawling through the tangle of rhododendron branches, being chased by my brother and the bumblebees, while my dad and his brothers cooked hamburgers on the grill and my mom and aunts set out the baked beans and potato salad. My Grandma and Great Aunt Mary were overseeing the whole affair, making sure we hadn't forgotten the sweet tea, Mary's homemade rolls, or Grandma's chocolate cake.

I remember other picnics, these not at the top of a mountain but down in the valleys, at a place called the Laurels. Cousins and uncles and I waded barefoot in the mossy creek, jumping across from stone to stone, turning up rocks in search of salamanders, always on the lookout for snakes. We dried out in old lawn chairs while we ate hotdogs with homemade chili and drank more of the requisite sweet tea. Maybe this time we finished it off with a slice of butterscotch pie.

I remember living in a place where my Great-Grandmother had an half acre of rich land in the middle of town, right smack between some houses. My daddy worked that garden, growing tomato plants that turned my skin green and made it itch all over. There were rows of green beans for my Grandma and Mary to can after we strung and broke them. There were new potatoes and pumpkins and greens and hundreds of ears of corn. I never knew what a store bought vegetable was as a child. I only knew the apple trees that I climbed as I watched my daddy till the earth and plant the seeds to grow that year's crop.

I remember being a teenager, hiking along the river up to Laurel Falls with my friends. We would always wear our bathing suits and jump right in, the water so cold it knocked us flat for a few seconds. I remember climbing up the falls and jumping off into the swimming hole, ducking behind the rushing water for a quick kiss from some cute boy, drying out on sunny rocks in the middle of the river before pulling out a picnic lunch.

I remember late nights driving the curvy back roads, listening to oldies or bluegrass, finding a place to camp out and watch the sunrise. We'd drive back down to catch a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and fried potatoes, probably with a glass of sweet tea, even for breakfast.

There is so much more I could remember, that I wish you could see, of this place I love. It is no longer where I live, but it will always be my home. I want it to be my boys' home, too. I am lucky that the place where I grew up is lacking in natural resources and surrounded by a lot of state and national parkland. Even if we had coal, there are a lot of universities in that area and people with the resources to fight manmade ecological disasters. The worst that has happened so far is the invasion of Floridians who think we make a great vacation spot. Overdevelopment is bad, I will admit, but not so bad as what is happening in other parts of Appalachia. A paradise is being destroyed, and the poor of Appalachia are not being heard. Will you add your voice to their cries?

It's Blog for Appalachia week, and my regular readers know this is a cause near to my heart. I hope to do a giveaway related to this sometime in the next few weeks. Check back for the chance to win your choice from a list of great books, fiction and non. To read more posts, click here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday liturgy)

The Value of a Face

The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart. -Saint Jerome
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters...
-William Shakespears, Macbeth, Act I, Scene 5
All action is of the mind and the mirror of the mind is the face, its index the eyes.

Although I was the one who suggested this week's Hump Day Hmm topic on the ethics of social networking, I have no idea what to say. I am sure I am less qualified than anyone else writing on this topic today. But my very inexperience in the world of blogging, online social networking, Facebook, and all of those other things that I don't even know about, may give me a unique perspective.

I was an English major in college. I love books, the smell of a new book, freshly opened to its pages with clean white margins. I could get lost in the dusty and ancient aromas of a used book store, piles of books taking up every available space, the insight into past owners from the scribbles in the margins. Books, paper, nice pens gliding along a blank journal page as my thoughts flow.

I am in ministry. I love people, messy, funny, imperfect, kind, angry, unique people. I love watching people in airports and malls and wondering what their stories are. I love meeting people from other cultures, whose language I don't speak, and communicating with them anyway. People and their stories, faces and books. Reading.

My husband's best friend still goes inside the gas station to pay for his gas. He says we have lost the ability to communicate face-to-face and that it is damaging our culture. I have two kids in car seats, so I am not about to go in to pay every time. On the odd time that I do, however, I always wonder what the story is of the person behind the counter. I love looking into faces. I never use the self-check line in the grocery store unless the lines are extra long and I am in a huge hurry. I prefer the drive-up window over the ATM. I prefer real people and real paper over machines and computer screens.

How did a bibliophile who actually seeks out daily face-to-face encounters with people enter the world of online social networking? I'm not sure I did, really. I mean, I have a blog, mostly because my friends kept telling me I should. I only starting reading blogs to keep up with friends far away, people I actually knew in real life. I joined Facebook because it was the only way to get information about my high school reunion.

Both my blog and Facebook became a fun way to keep up with friends and exercise my mommy-brain a little, so after a friend invited me to join a social networking group for bloggers, I decided to try it. I had no idea what I was getting into! There were groups and rankings and people wanting to be my friends. Now, to be fair, I did meet a lot of nice people with interesting blogs. But the pressure! I felt like I was in a high school popularity contest or a sorority rush (neither of which I cared about in high school or college). I was bombarded with e-mails to check my ranking and approve friendship requests. I felt stressed. I felt I had to keep up with all of these friendships. I could have easily ignored my established relationships with neighbors and friends in order to increase my ranking and keep my online friends happy and returning to my blog. So I stopped.

That was my brief experience with social networking. I don't consider my blog much of a social network, as I have only a few regular readers. I also only comment on blogs when I really feel like contributing to the conversation. Through the online group I joined for a while and some other random links, I have found some bloggers with whom I feel some connection and whom I enjoy conversing with via comments and e-mails. I don't regret "meeting" those people, you who are reading my blog and participating in the Hmm, especially. But let's be honest. If we lost touch, I wouldn't be as sad as I would if I lost touch with a good friend, someone with whom I have shared cups of tea and late night talks and funny movies and good mountain views.

There is a reason that college friendships are often the deepest outside of family. We see those people face-to-face on a daily, or near daily, basis for four years. We don't just share ideas, we share experiences and silent moments of communication. We see one another's eyes and can read one another's souls. We hug, we wrestle, we dance, we high five, we connect. No amount of e-mail can make up for face-to-face interaction. No machine can substitute for a cashier handing you change and a receipt. Even on the most fundamental level, human touch and shared space are connectors in a way that virtual communication cannot be.

And so I enter the world of online social networking cautiously. I have met some interesting people and been able to engage in some fascinating conversations. I have found an excellent media for spilling my random thoughts without the work of writing a full-fledged book. I think that the blogosphere is a good thing, especially for moms who may be isolated at home. I think online social networking may be very useful for small businesses to connect with like-minded people. I think it can be used badly, to prey on people who want desperately to be popular. I think that it is very easy to make "friends" online for personal gain and at no cost to oneself.

Perhaps you could call me a Luddite, if one can be a Luddite and still use a computer. I approach all technology cautiously. If I weren't married to a software engineer, I probably wouldn't even know what a blog was. I may not even have internet at my house. As it stands, I still prefer reading a good book or a friendly face over reading blogs on a glowing screen.

Nothing can substitute for human interaction and shared space, even on the most basic level. I know the checkout people at my local grocery store, and they know me and my boys. I may not know the details of their lives, but they know which boy will want a sticker on his jacket and which prefers to hold it in his hand. If I need a good web designer, I am going to ask my friends who know my face, who have looked into my eyes and know what would suit me best.

We rush by people enough as it is in this hurried life we lead. We don't look into eyes. We miss so much. If the blogosphere helps us to slow down and connect, then it is a good thing, but we must take that into our lives as well. My suggestion? Try going in to pay for your gas next time, and maybe even use the attendant's name and thank her for your change.

Click here to read more posts on this topic.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Education and the Arts

Who is the only presidential candidate who talks consistently about the importance of the arts in education? I checked out all of the websites, and only one even mentioned it in his/her list of the "issues."

From the website:
  • I believe that every child should have the opportunity for a quality education that teaches the fundamental skills needed to compete in a global economy.
  • Music and the arts are not extraneous, extra-curricular, or expendable - I believe they are essential.
  • Our future economy depends on a creative generation.
Click here to find out. I can't believe more people aren't listening. (Well, I can, and maybe I will tell why in the comments. But I don't want to ruin the surprise.) I'm not totally on board with any one candidate yet, and I have been reading material put out by each candidate, listening to debates for both parties, and trying to make up my mind. I have pretty big issues with No Child Left Behind and the general focus on science and math in our schools to the detriment of the arts and humanities. Who knew this candidate would be on my side of this issue?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lent and Chick-fil-A

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday Service)

A New and Contrite Heart

Lent is the forty day period (not counting Sundays) before the celebration of Easter. In preparation for the celebration of Christ's death and resurrection, which culminates at the Easter Vigil service, Christians all over the world use this time to fast and to meditate on God's word. Sadly, much of the tradition of this holy time has been lost in American Christian culture. In fact, this prayer talking about "sins" and "wretchedness" makes many Christians uncomfortable. We prefer to focus
on the love of God and the abundance of His grace while forgetting the serious cost of that grace.

Before I joined the Anglican communion, I had never really thought about Lent. I certainly never heard about it growing up in rural East Tennessee, much less practiced it. But as I wrote in my posts about Advent, I have come to appreciate the church calendar and the rhythms of the church year over the past few years. Lent is no exception. It is the most serious time of the church year, when we prepare for the Passion week, the remembering of Christ's suffering and death and His triumphant resurrection. It is only fitting then, that I enter this time praying the above prayer, seeking a new and contrite heart, which is the only way to see the depth of my sin and the even greater depth of God's forgiveness and love in Christ.

Our Lenten Fast

So how do I do this? How do we as a family with small children do this? Advent is so much easier. It is a fun time, a time of preparing for a birth. We clean and decorate the house, make gifts, have calendars to count down the days, tell stories every night, and generally have good time preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christ's birth. Not that Advent is without its serious side, but overall it is a preparation for a party.

Lent, on the other hand, is a preparation for a death. Of course, we will celebrate God's triumph over death on Easter, with the requisite feast and colored eggs and probably even a chocolate bunny (though I am not sure I can fit that into the Easter story). But we must first prepare and walk through the scenes of Christ's last supper, betrayal, and death in our collective church worship. Since I became an Anglican, Lent for me has usually been a time of fasting from something (not always food) as a way of self-denial and of making room for God to speak to my heart, show me my sins, and lead me toward His grace. I also tend to use it to focus on one virtue I would like to cultivate, such as gratefulness or patience. The times of fasting are great reminders to pray for strength to grow in that area of my life.

This year, my husband and I have decided to fast from eating out. To some of you that may seem silly, either because eating out is something you can't afford anyway or because your life is too busy to do anything else. For us, this fast comes from reflecting on the ways our lifestyle has changed over the past few years. For most of our married life, we have been poor, living rent-free in other people's homes. Both of our boys were born when we were living with other people, and we have never had much money to speak of. That all changed in the past couple of years, but for a while, our lifestyle remained simple. We have noticed our spending habits changing recently, and in order to be better stewards of our resources, we have decided to fast in this one area of eating out, hoping it will reveal to us other ways in which we waste resources.

Chick-fil-A and Lent for Children

"Sounds great," all my mommy friends are saying, " but how do you involve your kids in Lent? Isn't focusing on sin and the cross and little much for a three-year-old, much less a two-year-old?" I admit that I don't expect Hobbes to understand much that is going on at Lent, though I do hope he'll pick up a different tenor in our prayer times. And as for Calvin, on a basic level, this means no more Chick-fil-A for a while. We have talked to him about it a bit, but I am not sure how much he gets yet, since this is his first year participating in a Lenten fast with us. I am sure he will catch on as he did with Advent, especially when we dare to drive by a Chick-fil-A without stopping to get "a four-count kids meal with fruit and a chocolate milk, please." (Yeah, we really do eat there that often.)

So the answer is that I think Calvin will get the fasting part of Lent, and I hope that it will be a way for all of us, including him, to think about ways to conserve our resources and use them to help others. On the level of cultivating a virtue, I think this will help me to be less wasteful and careless in general, planning ahead so that we have quality time over quality meals at home and creating a more simple, peaceful environment for our family.

But I am looking for practical ways to help Calvin participate even more in Lent, and I am hoping to hear from y'all on this one. We have already decided to center our evening prayer times on repentance and to use the Crucifixion icon during our prayers. (We usually lay out an icon of the Resurrection, along with a cross and a lit candle during prayer time.) I am hoping that hearing his parents confess the sins of their day will lead Calvin into confession of his own.

But I think I need to do something else to cultivate an awareness of what sin really means in the life of a three and a half year old. I mean, I want him to understand the love of God above all and to be secure in that. At the same time, he is old enough to understand disobedience and God's guidance and correction. I have wanted to be more intentional about encouraging good behaviors, like doing a job without whining, and I was thinking of using a chart with stickers for good behavior as a visual cue for him. Since Lent is coming up, I thought having Calvin help me to think through a few behaviors and make the chart might be a good way to give him ownership of this time and prepare his own heart. Is this crazy? Theologically unsound? A good idea? Let me know.

That is about all I have for now. Calvin already got really into the Passion and Easter stories last year and loved the services, but I want to bring him even further along this year, helping him to participate in Lent. I'd love to hear what you are doing. And while you are at it, write your own post before midnight on the 3rd (that's tomorrow) and enter it in the Lenten Carnival.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lenten Carnival

A Ten O'Clock Scholar is hosting a Lenten Carnival. No, that's not Carnivale or Mardi Gras. Sorry, you have to travel to Brazil or New Orleans for that. But if you are the sort that observes Lent and would like to write a post about it, click here. Submissions are due Sunday evening, so hurry up! (I'm talking to myself here. I'll post by Sunday, I promise.) The Advent Carnival was fantastic, so I highly recommend it!