Redeeming this common life

Our wood burning ceramic stove stopped working last week. 24/7 constant burning since November caused a good buildup in the chimney, and one morning, after building a fire, I found my eyes burning with back-drafted smoke.

We have an alternate heat source, so it’s not like we’re walking around in parkas. But it’s been cooler in our normally semi-tropic home. I tell myself this is good for my anger – that cool air has long been a refuge for finding calm, like a smoker retreating to the deck while a family argument overheats the house.

But really, the broken stove is just life. Like so many things overused or late, tired or worn, eventually we all have a moment where we choke.

Confession: I have been angry this week.

I have muttered under my breath about my daughter’s unwillingness to potty train. I bit my lip twice in one meal, ala Jim in The Office Season 9, and allowed it to strangle my morning. I have stomped, yelled, sighed in frustration. Snow has yet again covered our hopes for life outside, and it all feels so sloppy.

Heavy.

I have pray/begged for help, only halfheartedly remembering to think about Jesus carrying the weight of my wrongs up Golgotha.

***

Yesterday, Ellis decided it would be a good day to snap all my chalk sticks in half during art time. So I made it a chance to update my chalkboard, two inch chalk sticks notwithstanding.

IMG_20140320_165351_511It wasn’t hard to pick something – this quote had been cornering me all week.

“By honoring this common life, nurturing it, carrying it steadily in mind, we might renew our households and neighborhoods and cities, and in so doing, might redeem ourselves from the bleakness of private lives spent in frenzied pursuit of sensation and wealth.”

It’s a beautiful quote by Scott Russell Sanders, but strangely enough, what struck me most was how common can mean different things.

I know what Sanders was getting at was common, as in what we share. But I couldn’t help thinking about it the other way. Common as in ordinary.

Life at home with little ones is fraught with ordinary. It’s about repetition and routine. It’s cheerios for breakfast twice a week, and copious amounts of yogurt.

This Lent season, it’s me praying while I nurse in the blue black dawn of the morning. It’s pushing down anger with something heavy enough to sit in its place. But I’m still having a hard time finding an elephant big enough for every job.

My anger is common. But I want to take it out of the ordinary equation.

I want to carry its battle steadily in mind in order to find spiritual renewal. Renewal for those within my house, and those outside of it.  Renewal for my actions, renewal for my mind.

Attacking my common, ordinary anger will redeem my ability to live a common, shared life. And suddenly, it’s clear. This too is a version of the cross – dying to self, living in community with a great cloud of witnesses.

This is Jesus making a way.

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Why I won’t give up sugar for Lent

Picture4It starts with the slide of the door along carpet. The little footsteps. My glance at the clock proves right – it’s too early to be up.

Anger rolls over beside me, rubbing its eyes.

We eat breakfast, and the yogurt is the wrong color. The wind is sending ghostly whips of snow across the yard. The twins wake up in the middle of my first cup of coffee, owlish and out of sorts. The laundry pile has reached epic proportions. There’s enough milk for one more bowl of cereal.

Anger simmers, waiting.

And then it happens. My toddler and I square off against something meaningless – not wanting to wear pants, giving up her nook, taking something from her baby sisters.

Anger EXPLODES.

I fear this ever-present emotion that overtakes me most days. Honestly, it makes me want to give up. Until today. Because today, I’m deciding to give IT up instead.

***

Some people give up sweets for Lent. Others give up coffee, pop, or caffeine in its entirety. Huffington Post suggested fried food, cigars, or devices.

I can’t help this nagging feeling that something about this is all a little off. If I give up something I enjoy in order to remind myself of Jesus, and then I start wanting that thing but can’t have it because I’m remembering Jesus, I’m going to get cranky. And if I’m cranky, I’ll start associating semi-bitter or negative feelings with Easter.

That seems a little, well, backwards.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m not strong enough to work past the unhappy feelings I think I’d have if I gave up something I really enjoyed. Weak character? Faulty theology? Blatant misunderstanding? All very possible.

But if Lent truly is a season “to rid ourselves of all that prevents us from living a truly Christian life”, I have to wonder how far giving up little luxuries like sugar and meat and cigars is going to go.

This year, I want to try something different. This year, I’m giving up anger for Lent.

No more yelling.

No more face flushing, fast pulsing, blood pressure spikes.

No more disappointments that burrow into a den of resentment.

I live with the flashing of anger every day. I also eat sweets and drink caffeine. None of them are particularly good for me. Here’s where I see the difference though. I know how to tame my cravings for sugar and coffee into moderation. But anger is never moderate. I never feel halfheartedly mad.

When anger comes, it overtakes everything. It is mental and it is physical. It affects my ability to love those around me, and it crowds out my capacity to carry grace.

If I’m going to give something up to better remind myself of the meaning of Easter, shouldn’t it be something that Jesus himself asked of his friends? For example – in the garden on the night of his arrest, Jesus told his disciple Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Here’s where I’m going with this. I’ve celebrated Easter since before I could eat Cadbury eggs. But this year, I want it to be different. I want more from the story, because soon I’ll be teaching it to my little girls. And in order to be a good story-teller, I need to engage with the story.

I don’t want to just read a few verses, go to a couple of services, and call it good. If I think this story of redemption and grace is important in my life, I need to LIVE in the mystery of the plot. For me, and for this Lent season, that means cutting out something that separates me from living in grace.

Right. So, it’s all fine and good to talk churchy and idealistic, but I also need to have a plan. Here are some tools I’m hoping to employ.

Going to bed earlier. I can’t stop the girls from getting up in the middle of the night. Nor can I convince Ellis to stop getting up earlier and earlier. But mama, it’s light outside! But my ability to rein in negative emotions is severely impaired when I’m tired. So early bedtime it is. Like 9:00 early. Sigh. I’ll clean my house another year.

Void_Space_by_Maandersen Image replacement. This is a little weird, but I want to have an image in my head to replace my feelings of anger when they come. Call it a new focal point – something to keep me steady. My image is going to be a space void. Yep. A big, open, solar void. I’m smart enough to know I won’t be able to replace mad feelings with happy feelings. But mad feelings with nothing? With space? With silence? With void? I don’t know why, but I think it can work.

Deep breathing. This is completely rote, but it also works. If I can remember to close my eyes and take a solid, in-through-the-nose-out-through-the-mouth breath, I will give myself pause enough to assess the situation, think about the void, and slowly back down.

Prayer. Nothing flowery. Straight up “God REALLY please help me out here” will do the trick.

Redirection. Once I’m off the ledge, I want to remember why I’m doing this in the first place. I want to remember the story of Jesus in the season of Easter. Not to be a better person, but to be a stronger believer. A sturdier story-teller.

It’s a tall order, and to be unabashedly honest, I’m not sure how it’s going to go. Anger comes when I’m tired. It rears after the babies having been screaming in tandem for more than five minutes. It’s red hot when Ellis dumps bowls of spaghetti sauce on the floor, or kicks me in the chin when I’m trying to cajole her into pajamas. It stews quietly when the temperature drops and we’re all faced with another day inside the house.

But Lent was meant to be a challenge. A challenge to deny myself for the sake of the cross. So why not deny a character quality I want to prune out? Why not choose something I want to keep giving up after the 40 days of Lent are over?

Why not do something that makes me more like the Jesus I want to remember?

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Do you have a great idea of something to give up for Lent? I’d love to hear what it is, and why you picked it.