Lenten Journey

Lent. It’s not just for the Catholics, it’s not just a period on the calendar, and it’s more than sacrificing chocolate or soda. The goal, as John Wesley would say, is to reclaim the one thing needful–becoming Christ-like.

We are in the second full week of Lent and I’ve started to question if I had given up something worthy of the season, something that truly keeps me from God. Last year, 2013, I gave up worry and anxiety. When asked how that even makes sense at the time, I said I didn’t know. I would pray sometimes in the morning, sometimes during the day, and sometimes at night to God to help me surrender my worries. I named the ones I could muster. Then I took a trip, first on the plane and then by car. A friend from my college years had passed. I joined my college friends to show our support to the family. Around the same time my younger brother asked if he could stay with me for his college spring break. I happily said yes and at my expense.

He came to pick me up in his car from the memorial service. We stopped for gas an hour later in a town located right before a two zero gas stations toll road, Joplin. It’s simple, we fuel up the car and turn on the engine. It made some weird sound, he shifts gears to drive, nothing happens, and he starts to panic. So we turn off the car then try again. None of the gears works except neutral. After several repeated tries with some time in between he does what most of us would do…curse at the car and worry. I start to become worried too but then remember it’s what I gave up for Lent. Our family always has AAA, so I ask him if he is still on the Parent’s AAA account for dependents. Yes he is. So we call for a tow. I call my manager to let him know I will not make it into work the next day because of our road trip. He said to arrive safely and to return the following day. I call my friends in the Springfield looking for a place to stay. “We would have been hurt if you didn’t think to call us, of course you guys can stay.” That generous response was just perfect.

The next day the couple loans us one of their cars for getting around. In we early afternoon we get the call from the shop about my younger brother’s car…$3,000. Over lunch at the moment I admit to him that I have been saving up for occasions like these for him and my twin. I call it “the fuck up fund.” Unfortunately this was my first year to save for it, and I only had half the money to happily give to fix this situation and move on. Time to be worried again…what to do. Okay I gave up worry for Lent and it’s still Lent. So I talk to him about his options and mine, fly or drive, fix or leave the car stranded at the shop, spring break with me or at grandma’s? Ultimately I have to return to work the next day so we dropped off our friends car, rented one for the 3.5 hour drive back to grandma’s in St. Louis, and he books a plane flight for my trip back to Dallas.

It was a small case of struggle and worry and practicing my Lenten promise, but I would remember it later as major events after Lent would occur. Was this a test or mere reality of how my brother didn’t keep his car in normal working condition? I do not know but regardless we know that “shit happens,” and what matters more is our response. In this case it was not dwelling in worry, anxiety, or fear but finding practical solutions and moving forward. These past struggles, no matter how minor, become building blocks for overcoming adversity, both internal and external, and preparing us for much bigger challenges.

Help us to surrender that which keeps us from you and not to take it back. In your mercy Lord, hear our prayer.

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Valentine’s Day

Today is Friday, February 2014 or Valentine’s Day. My plans fell through for a quasi romantic evening due to icy roads, so I went with the next best alternative….cooking dinner for grandma, baking brownies together, and sipping red wine. Cheers!

Today’s New York Times posted an article: “What Makes Older People Happy.” The major point is this: “When we are young and believe we have a long future ahead, we prefer extraordinary experiences outside the realm of our day-to-day routines. But when we are older and believe that our time is limited, we put more value on ordinary experiences, the stuff of which our daily lives are made.” Marinating chicken overnight, sautéing garlic in butter then cooking down the spinach, and baking brownies is fairly easy, however, setting aside time to be with grandma or grandpa may not. Pope Francis pointed out that one of his gravest concerns is the loneliness of the elderly.

Living several states away and only returning for holidays each year has changed my perspective in life towards family. Although I was not the prodigal son, I feel like some of the same lessons can be gleaned from being distant from home. At home my sister discussed being eager to visit our maternal grandparents but never seemed to set aside the time. The same goes for my parents and brothers. So a week ago I called the maternal grandparents to ask to visit with her the next day and happily they agreed. On the way over we picked up soup from Panera to eat with them. It was like walking into the past since their 1950s house with mid-modern furniture and furnishing felt space age. The blond stained wood, the conic light fixtures, and the geometrical windows all reminded one of the Cold War era. This was the house they grew old in together and likely their stronghold of independent living. None of the grandparents wants to be in an elderly home.

Although our maternal grandma could only join us for an hour at a time before going back to lay down, our maternal grandpa was alive with stories for the World War, streetcar days, and his days working for the electric company. During holidays both of them smile on occasion but during our afternoon visit they each laughed and smiled more than occasionally. It was like Thanksgiving all over again when they didn’t make it to the parent’s house due to he ice and snow but I brought over leftovers and spent an hour with them. I would be the only one to visit until they made it to the parent’s house for Christmas. On both my visit with my sister this past weekend and Thanksgiving their expressions were lively…well as best as can be for 88 and 92.

Living 12 hours distant made a 30 minute drive well worth the visit. They’re both in their last few years and holding on despite Parkinson’s, hearing loss, and limited mobility. Hopefully one of my brothers can join for the next visit.

In reading the Gospels Jesus talks about caring for the elderly. The point of sharing these two stories was to explore what Jesus means by his call to us to care for he elderly. A supporting point was that being distant then coming home somewhat like the parable of the prodigal son helps one transition towards more Christlike living. Lastly engaging in ordinary activities like spending time together with grandparents is what the New York Times author pointed out as happiness for the elderly.

Indeed and what a blessing, thanks be to God.