A Different Kind of Ash Wednesday

 

This afternoon, I got goosebumps as I reflected on the beginning of Lent. I look forward to Lent as a time of closeness with the Lord, as He walks alongside each of us in our personal wildernesses.

pexels-photo-216692.jpeg

I did not attend Ash Wednesday service at church this evening, because I am trying to avoid bringing the flu home to my husband and my mom — both at high risk for serious flu complications. My heart is both at home and at church, however, as I look forward to returning to church soon.

So back to the goosebumps. Maybe Lent has an even richer meaning for me after the past year, when my family trekked through the wildernesses of heart failure, depression, and anxiety. We lean on Jesus in the desert of grief as news headlines announce yet another mass shooting. Sometime plain old despair is the temptation we face in our desert.

But blessings have also abounded in recent months. Prayers for healing and recovery draw us close to the Lord and to each other.

pexels-photo-556666.jpeg

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’“ Matthew 4:4

“and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor”
Isaiah 63:1

I love to observe this sacred day in community, at church. Today was a different kind of Ash Wednesday, but no less rich in meaning. And Easter is on its way.

 

Advertisements

Star Word for the Year: Tough

IMG_1686

After Christmas and New Year’s Day, we celebrate the Epiphany at my church by selecting our Star Words for the year. Since I’m a great believer in the power of language, I look forward to finding out what my word will be for the new year. I’ve had lovely Star Words in previous years, such as “perception” and “individuality.”

As I walked up to the table at church where the Star Words were placed face down, I wondered what creative, challenging, inspiring word would be my focus for 2018. As I walked back to my pew and turned over the paper star, I saw my word:

TOUGH.

The word scared me. Did it mean I was going to see tough times? Or that I would have to be tough to survive? Our pastor reminded us not to overthink our Star Words, so when I got home, I put mine under a stack of papers on my desk, so it couldn’t escape.

My mental state at that time no doubt contributed to my fear. A few days before that church service, I had received a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. I was relieved to be able to understand the reasons for the symptoms that have plagued me since I was a kid.

I felt a little braver after a few weeks of prescription medication and my first appointment with my counselor. So I took another look at my Star Word.

I read definitions: 

“Strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling,” Like everyone, I’ve seen my share of adverse conditions and careless handling — in my case, years of pain and bewilderment from the lack of awareness of mental illness in children.

“Strong or firm in texture but flexible and not brittle.” I’m getting stronger — yes, tougher. But I pray for a softened heart and open mind.

Tough. It sounds less like a harsh threat and more like a pat on the back for living and learning through the challenges. So now my Star Word is held by a magnet on our refrigerator door. I can’t wait to see what it teaches me this year.

 

Book Review: The Startup Way, by Eric Ries

Startup Way Cover

The term “startup” has always brought to my mind images of two or three people in a garage, creating a new small business. But multinational corporations, governments, and other large organizations, now apply startup principles to foster innovation. In his book The Startup Way, Eric Ries explains that established enterprises must make room for innovative teams, risk-taking leaders, and the inevitable failed ideas. He notes that in a world of continuous innovation, “we’ve always done it this way” no longer works.

In The Startup Way, Ries applies principles from his previous bestseller, The Lean Startup, to large companies such as GE, Amazon, and Airbnb. For example, he outlines how “corporate entrepreneurs” can follow the same lean process by brainstorming “leap of faith assumptions” and creating “minimum viable products” to test in potential markets. He notes that businesses must periodically conduct “pivot or persevere” meetings to decide whether to change course. Throughout the book, he provides practical examples that make his startup principles readily accessible.

I am not usually drawn to books about business, but I enjoyed reading The Startup Way. I I appreciate the insight into corporate entrepreneurship, and look forward to reading The Lean Startup as well. I highly recommend The Startup Way by Eric Ries to readers — entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike.

For more information about The Startup Way by Eric Ries, click here. To read about the author, click here.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Great Spiritual Migration, by Brian D. McLaren

9781601427922

Christianity appears to be on the move, as it has been for centuries. Readers who wish to explore this story can start with Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. McLaren explains that Christianity has long been an evolving faith, which has challenged outdated religious and political systems since its earliest days. We are now seeing, he writes, a shift from a belief-based system to a system based on redemption and love.

Many readers will identify with McLaren’s account of his own crisis in faith, in which he questioned his own system of beliefs during a retreat. He compares the need to “question long-held beliefs” with science’s willingness to change its mind when it discovers new facts. The scientific method emphasizes the search for truth, rather than adherence to outdated beliefs in the face of newly discovered facts.

The Great Spiritual Migration contains examples of Christianity’s history of spiritual, theological, and missional migration. For example, he notes that in the United States, slavery and white supremacy were considered to be “consistent with ‘biblical’ Christianity.” Scholars are still coming to terms with Christianity’s violent history. He outlines the need for “new questions” as Christianity migrates from “fear, violence, exploitation, misinformation, and the plundering of the planet” toward working for a “just and lasting peace in the larger ‘us’ of the kingdom or commonwealth of God.”

As a Christian with a progressive and inclusive world view, I welcomed the opportunity to read Brian McLaren’s latest thoughts on my faith. The Great Spiritual Migration assures me that I am not alone in my questions about the direction Christianity has taken in the past, and my hopes for a new direction in the future. I highly recommend this book to readers who are searching for hope and guidance in these often troubling times.

For more information about Brian McLaren, click here, and for more information about the book, click here.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. All opinions in this review are my own.

Book Review: The Book of Esther, by Emily Barton

Book of Esther

In The Book of Esther, Emily Barton delivers an imaginative blend of alternative history, steampunk, and feminism. The story takes place in Khazaria, where a Jewish refugees have fled from oppression in Germania. The main character, Esther, is a courageous girl who, like the Esther of the Old Testament, makes a bold decision to fight for her people. Accompanied by a mechanical horse named Seleme and a young slave, she searches for a kabbalistic village in hopes that the residents will turn her into a man.

Elements of magical realism appear in the story. Esther is not transformed into a man, but an army of golems, which are mythical creatures formed by humans from clay, join Esther’s cause. When the golems want to pray and give thanks to the creator, questions arise concerning what it means to be fully human. Gender, religious, and social identities are called into question throughout the story.

I enjoyed reading The Book of Esther, although I found the many themes and obscure histories overwhelming. All in all, I appreciated this story of a bold, courageous girl who questions her role — and roles forced on others — in Khazar society. Readers who enjoy magical realism and alternative history should give this book a read, as they will not be disappointed.

To learn more about author Emily Barton and this book, read this author bio and this book summary page.

FTC disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.in character, Esther, is a courageous girl who, like the Esther of the Old Testament, makes a bold decision to fight for her people.

Adding and Subtracting

Even now, Labor Day weekend reminds me of the first day of school, and still feels like the beginning of a new year. This year finds me adding and subtracting once again.

I’m not sure why I felt blindsided by this past year. I shouldn’t have been surprised when family health emergencies, a graduate school workload, and running multiple businesses took a mental and physical toll. For months, my approach was to just try harder. But wise counsel from my dear husband John helped me to untangle my thoughts and begin to listen to my own inner wisdom.

It starts in the garden, or a walk with our dog. A patch of earth, a solitary flower, or a ripening apple will catch my eye.

IMG_0855

My mom taught me to silently thank the flowers when I see them. I recall what my teacher and mentor, herbalist Susun Weed said: “Every breath is a giveaway dance between you and the plants.”

Here’s what else I’ve learned:

Not everything I like to do has to turn into a business. So I am closing my online handcraft shop and returning to what I love to do most — make things by hand for my home, my family and friends, and myself. Now it’s fun again!

IMG_0073

I can redirect the energy that I had spread among three businesses into my independent recruiting business — a new and real blessing! I can feel my blood pressure decreasing already.

I am a member of the body of Christ, who reminds me to rest in Him. I’ve returned to my home church here in Boise, where I was baptized in 2015. After many months away from church, I began to feel a tug and went to Maundy Thursday service this year. Haven’t looked back.

IMG_1145

I don’t have to force every moment into “something productive,” as if nothing else is enough. And isn’t that a thing that manages to nag at all of us — “am I enough?”

I’m returning to me, beginning to believe that just maybe, I am enough.

I pray the same for you — because you are enough.

 

 

 

Looking For Things

“You see, I like to look for things” — one of my favorite lines by poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I’m learning to look with renewed eyes, thanks to a series of journal prompts I am reading. Today’s prompt tells us to look for feathers, as a sign of wisdom.

IMG_1233

Since reading The Iliad in college, I’ve loved the stories of the goddess Minerva / Athena, protector of many things that are dear to me: justice, poetry, crafts, weaving, and owls. Feathers. Things that I had forgotten until recent days.

IMG_0968

So our dog Paavo and I were on our usual morning walk in the grove near my church. Of course, I smiled a little as I found a feather…

IMG_1230

but then I found another…

IMG_1231

and another…

IMG_1232

this one is my favorite…

IMG_1233

…and then one more on our way home…

IMG_1234

So today, I am grateful for this sprinkling of reminders to look, see, and value my wisdom.

What have you looked for today?

I highly recommend this series of journal prompts, for exploring inner wisdom. Be well and be blessed!