How to fail at Lent

And so Lent begins. Another Lent full of dreams of transformation. Or maybe just survival.

I wonder at the people who get excited about Lent. Lent has been rebranded in recent years. Parish programs promise a “Lent you will love” or the “Best Lent Ever!”

Yes, Lent is good. Fruitful. Necessary. Even beautiful. But I find every year that it is also grueling. It is following Our Lord into the desert for 40 days. For 40 days I come face-to-face with my faults, lack of charity, all the thin spots of my personality that I have so conveniently filled in with the noise or temporary pleasures of the world. Rilke tells us that it is not our acceptance of sensual pleasures that is bad, rather “the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as a distraction.”

My footprints in the Gobi Desert

Lent is the hardest work we do all year.

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I got in my car, alone. Put it in drive and headed down the road. I adjusted the thermostat and settled in for the hour and a half drive. About 30 seconds later, the tears came. They came in great waves of grief. They came in the kind of shedding that you can feel coming up from your center. Those pent up tears that feel like a great exhale.

I have been in a long season of letting go—a long season of being redefined. I had to let go of my Protestantism in order to embrace the Catholic Church. Although joyful and wonderful and I wouldn’t change a thing—there was a letting go, a goodbye, and a kind of grief. I knew that by saying “Yes” to Jesus’ call to follow him into the Church many people would say goodbye to me. Not everyone could hang with me, I knew it. Counting the cost, you know?

That was a warm-up to all the letting go that was to come. And there has been a lot of letting go. And each letting go comes with its own grief, its own goodbye, its own invitation to count the cost and to take a step of faith.

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Building the life you want…with the stuff you have

When I moved to Mongolia twenty years ago, like any new bride, I brought my collection of family recipes to my new home—those trusty old standbys of comfort foods. Problem was, I was now living in the frozen tundra, a post-soviet country that was just finding her beautiful way. Half the ingredients in my recipes were not to be found. Holidays were the most challenging. Those are the times you really want your traditional foods, but if they don’t exist in the country in which you abide, you have to learn to let it go and to do without.

Or maybe you just find a work-around.

I became the queen of substitutions. I learned to adapt and adjust and get the end result I wanted with the stuff I could actually find.

My kids do the same thing with their LEGO blocks. If they decide that they are building a ship and don’t have the pieces they need, they improvise brilliantly.

It’s like life.

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January Highlights

Just a few bits from the Tribe’s highlight reel for January.

Went to evening prayers at the Russian Orthodox Church.
Climbed a little mountain under the full moon with these adventurers!
Epiphany blessed the house
Celebrated this birthday
And this one.
Took these beauties to the Bean Boot
Hiked Kearsarge Mountain with this little brother
Adopted this darling into the family. Meet Madame Zeroni!
Watched the inauguration and cried so many heartbroken tears for the world, lit candles, and prayed acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This young man started guitar lessons with my big brother
Made some herbal magic. No really. I did.
Went to a little rebel March For Life after Hands Around The Capitol was canceled.
Did yoga nearly every day and found my home in my body again.

You know the date of the calendar whether 2020 or 2021 does not matter. How much better to spend time doing interior work of conversion than to wait fo the calendar to deliver us from the present evil. There are mountains to climb, dear friends. There is work to do. There is magic to be made. Let us begin. And as Rilke says, “Resolve to be always beginning—to be a beginner.”

Hello February. What lessons do you have for us?

On Grief and Bliss

Social media has this delightful little gimmick that reminds you of what you posted on this day in past years. All is well and good when the memory was a refreshing green smoothie enjoyed after a run. It’s a little tougher when the memory hits a raw spot in your heart.

Thomas Merton wrote that short of perfection, “created things do not bring us joy but pain. Until we love God perfectly, everything in the world will be able to hurt us. And the greatest misfortune is to be dead to the pain they inflict on us, and not realize what it is.” [New Seeds of Contemplation]

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An Inconvenient Life

As I grate cheese by hand, “You know the store sells cheese that is already grated, right?”

As I chop piles of vegetables for fermenting, “Why don’t you own a food processor?”

As I light dozens of candles in the evening, “Why don’t you just turn on the lights?”

As I mix herbs and store them in jars and soak them in vodka to use later, “You know there is such a thing as Advil?”

My choices are not always the easy ones, the quick ones, or the convenient ones. However, I am far from being the self-sufficient die-hard. I like my hot showers, my WiFi, and my Kitchen Aid mixer. Yet, often I find myself doing things the inconvenient way. And I like it. I choose it. I wouldn’t trade it, even if you offered to buy me a microwave.

I had dinner out with one of my teenage sons last night. I love those longish car rides when we just talk about anything and everything. I asked him why he wasn’t interested in a certain youth activity much anymore. He said it was because they try too hard to be cool and to appeal to teens. “They try to make everything fun. I mean, if we were doing something boring like praying the Rosary, I would be there for that. But, trying to make religion into something entertaining doesn’t interest me. I can play games at home.”

“Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!” (St. Josemaria Escriva)

My heart was so convicted. Yes, it is true. We were not given a very convenient religion that caters to our feelings, the trends, or that cares about being cool. Christianity has never been perceived as relevant by the world. Which is precisely why the world needs it.

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Reasonable Illusions

“Between the forces of terror and the forces of dialogue, a great unequal battle has begun. I have nothing but reasonable illusions as to the outcome of that battle. But I believe it must be fought, and I know that certain men at least have resolved to do so. I merely fear that they will occasionally feel somewhat alone, that they are in fact alone, and that after an interval of two thousand years we may see the sacrifice of Socrates repeated several times. The program for the future is either a permanent dialogue or the solemn and significant putting to death of any who have experienced dialogue.” (Albert Camus, The Unbeliever and Christians)

About a decade ago when my kids were still quite small, I felt the need to prepare them for potential martyrdom. I read the story of Blessed Miguel Pro, a martyr of the Revolution in Mexico and I started thinking. And once I get to thinking…

How could such a thing happen?

Less than 100 years ago.

In a Christian country.

With a democratically elected president.

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The Glorification of Grit

Today I had to read the first chapter of a book called De-Romanticizing the Domestic Church by Timothy O’Malley. I say “had to” because there is no way I would have picked up a book with this title. Today I read that first chapter and disliked it just as much, if not more, than I thought I would.

O’Malley begins by creating a false dichotomy between romance and mundane. He pits the idyllic family times spent in the embrace of hearth and home against the hard work of hard-loving. He pits obligation against affinity, as if the two cannot co-exist. 

What he describes as “affinity” could rightly be called storge, which CS Lewis so highly praises. “In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there.’” In fact CS Lewis says affection is “responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”

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Maybe we are missing the point

It seems to me that the waters are getting muddy as a myriad of things are being redefined and labeled incorrectly.

Yes, we can believe it’s not butter.

And we also don’t buy that wearing a mask and masking our children is the most pro-life thing we can do.

I have taught my children that at its most basic level the pro-life position is that each person has an inherent dignity and the right to exist without having their freedom to do so impeded. I tell my kids that they are valuable and they are a force for good in the world, that their existence is celebrated not only by me but by the world itself and by the God who made and loves them.

How is that message compatible with, “By your very living and breathing you are a danger to the world. Your very breath could literally kill someone without you knowing it. So, put a mask on and hide your face”?

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