February 2010


It dawned on me this morning that my heart is very spongy.

This Lenten journey, for me, has been about looking at the places of anger in my heart and it has not really been fun.  I feel like over the last few years I’ve become more critical, less trusting, and less willing to give grace.  I want to believe the best in people, but I don’t.  I want to rejoice when they rejoice, but I struggle.  I want them to have the freedom to be themselves, but I find in me a criticalness that wants to control  them.  I am usually a pretty hopeful person, but I find myself wrestling with bouts of extreme grumpiness.

As I read Psalm 50, 69 and 70 this morning, the recurring theme that jumped out at me is to continually give thanks to Lord.  “Let God be magnified”….”I will praise the name of God with song” – phrases like this seem to weave in and out of the painful petitions and hurts recounted in these psalms.  And I was convicted of my lack of singing songs of praise or even rejoicing and being glad.  Then I wondered why…and this is what God seemed to say.

He told me that my heart is spongy.  And then He gave me this picture of a drop of blue dye falling onto a paper towel.  Of course, the dye stains the spot it hits, but because of the properties of the paper towel, the dye continues to saturate it and soak in.  This, He seemed to be telling me, is my anger.  It falls upon my heart and doesn’t just affect that one area, but seeps into other corners and crevices until it stains all areas.

So I find myself grumpy or distrustful or even angry when there is no reason to be.  Anger has permeated my heart, touches many other areas and darkens my world so I cannot sing God’s praises or be truly loving to others.

And the answer?  Well…I’d like to wring out my heart and tell it to quit being spongy, but I don’t think that is even an option.  So I think as I repent and acknowledge these areas, as I choose forgiveness, the Spirit comes and drops His life into me and into places of anger.  As I sing His praise in the midst of pain, then my spongy heart absorbs the Spirit’s coloring into all those other corners and cracks.  I am colored once again, but this time by Him.  And my spongy heart works for me, not against me.

The journey of Lent is long and lonely and difficult sometimes.  A few years ago I asked God what He wanted me to give up for Lent.  He answered back, “I want you to give up fear”…. I haven’t asked Him since.

This year He didn’t wait for me to ask the question.  He has just started prompting my heart toward the areas of anger that lurk there.  It is not a pretty picture.  The one above is much more beautiful than the war that is raging in my heart right now!

As Psalm 51 was read yesterday during the Ash Wednesday service, I realized that I had participated in an Ash Wednesday service a few days prior.  Sure… it wasn’t on a Wednesday, there were no ashes to be placed on our foreheads, we were a VERY ecumenical group, and most of us were not even supposed to be there.  What we did though was a solemn call to repentance, a renewed vision to prayer and forgiveness, and a stated desire to follow Jesus wherever He leads us – even into the wilderness.

My husband and I had just been a part of an amazing week at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.  We were supposed to fly out on a Sunday but because of a snowstorm, we were stuck in the city…well, actually the hotel!  Many other friends – some international, some from the US – were in the same predicament.  So we decided to make the best of it, and the Sunday morning gathering that unfolded is probably one of my favorite moments of the entire trip.

As we gathered in a suite, a Palestinian pastor lead us in a service of song and prayer.  The group gathered was diverse –  Orthodox, Evangelical, Muslim, those trying to figure out this thing called faith.  We sang some worship songs, people prayed in their own languages, and then we read Psalm 51.

It slowly dawned on me that the psalm was the story of that room.  We all came having sinned against God and one another and our heart’s cry was that God would create in us a clean heart.  I smiled when I  read “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow”.  As I looked out the window I wondered if  God had  “trapped” us with that white snow to give us a visual example of His desire for those who walk after Him.

I watched the pastor speak eloquently and open the text in new ways to those in the room, but most of all I watched him.   From the days previous, I found him to be one of the most humble and kind men I have ever met.  He lives in Bethlehem, Palestine  in the middle of conflict, and hatred, and contempt and yet he doesn’t seem to be jaded by it.  His demeanor is that of one washed in God’s mercy and forgiveness, desiring justice and peace in land full of turmoil.  He is a pretty important man in the area ( my Lutheran pastor friend even knew of him) and yet I never would have known it.  The more I think about it…he reminded me a lot of Jesus!

I left that room with my Lenten charge, though a few days early…to confess, to forgive, to be reconciled, to not dehumanize, to love – my brother, my enemy, my neighbor, my world.

(the pastor’s website is www.mitriraheb.org)

Well, it is Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season has officially begun.  AND once again, I feel like I just need one more week before I’ll be ready.   Not sure what is wrong with me this year…I have lots of good ideas to write about but my times on the computer often get interrupted (like right now the phone is ringing!) and then I lose my concentration.  However, since I didn’t pick up the ringing phone, I have a few moments of quiet and just thought I’d share a few things we are going to do as a family to observe this Lenten season together:

During a conversation around our breakfast table, we discussed Lent and the stories or images that are often associated with it.  From these stories we decided to form some activities that our family will engage in during the next 40 days.

1.  Prayer – this is a no brainer, but prayer is at the very heart of Lent.  We ask God to “create in us a clean heart”, to help us see ourselves and Him ever more clearly, and to deepen our union with Him.  Because of this, we are going to set up a little prayer space in our house.  It will be a corner with a little table, a candle, a prayer book, a bible and whatever else our kids decide to add to it.  Both of them struggle with prayer (they think it is boring!) so there may be some unconventional items in our prayer space.  However, the point is to create a space that reminds us to pray and helps take us further into our prayer practice.

2.  Tie-Dye – As we talked about the imagery of Lent being the dying to self and Easter being the risen to new life, baptism naturally came up.  In the process of the conversation, my husband shared with us that “baptism” was the word they used when they dyed fabric.  What went in one color took on a new color after being dipped in the dye.  I thought that was a beautiful picture of us sharing in the life of Christ – of being baptized into Him – and coming out colored by His life, death and resurrection.  So….we are going to do a couple types of dyeing experiments.  The first will be taking black shirts and using bleach on them (the idea being that He has washed us whiter than snow).  The second will be taking white shirts and tie dyeing them to give us a physical picture of our lives taking on the colors of Jesus.

3.  $2 a Day Challenge – we have decided as a family to attempt to live on $2/day per person 2 days a week during the Lenten season.  Now this may not seem like much to you if you’ve done something like this before, but we have two growing children and this challenge is frightening the heck out of our 10 year old.  He is an active boy who needs lots of snacks during the day and so this is going to be his greatest act of faith.  We read the story of how Daniel and friends were sustained by only vegetables and water rather than the choicest foods from the kings table, and made sure he knew that the God of Daniel is still GOD!!  We’ll see how it goes…But at the end of Lent we’d love to take what we have saved over those handful of days and donate it to some organization doing Kingdom work.  (Got the $2/day challenge from Mustard Seed Associates).

4.  Planting in the Darkness – often times Lent can seem lonely, and dark; we are asked to do the hard work of digging in the dirt of our hearts, identifying the weeds and trusting that God is planting seeds of transformation in us even when we don’t see it.  So we are going to plant seeds in the dirt as a way to say that we will trust God’s process of growing us even in the darkness.  We are going to plant ours inside (after all the Pacific Northwest is not that warm yet), they will grace our vegetable garden in the spring and even become the food we harvest and eat in the summer.  (Is there any better picture of the slow, steady growth of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives?)

I end with shoes.  It is the picture I have as I am invited by Jesus to walk into Lent with Him.  It is the picture I get as I think about our kids being formed by the Story of Lent and being able to walk through it together.  And as I feel ill prepared, a little too busy, not godly enough, and a little discombobulated…shoes are a comforting picture.  They remind me that in Lent, the important thing is not how we come, but how we leave the journey that matters.