Lent: 40+ Days of Searching for God’s Hidden Grace

I had a really cool Ash Wednesday  I realize that Ash Wednesday isn’t supposed to be “cool,” in the way we normally describe things, but let me explain. Yesterday I got to meet a writer who I really admire.  Like a millions-of-books-in-publication, award-winning, I’ve-read-them-all writer who I follow on Facebook and Twitter and borderline stalk.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that allowed me material for reflection on how I feel about reading but mostly writing.  She really emphasized the importance of writing — and writing a lot — something I also hoped to work on this new year.  (I want to add that this post ties me with last year in number of posts, so I hope I’m on my way to improvement where that’s concerned!)  Anyway,  I was so busy rushing from place to place that the day was almost over before I really had time to sit and think about the beginning of Lent.  This is usually a stressful decision for me:  Do I give something up?  Do I try to kick a bad habit? Do I make time for something new?  None of these have worked well for me in the past because if I don’t follow through all 40 days, I feel really let down, which defeats the real purpose of observing Lent, which is to improve my relationship with God.  I talked about it a little and let it go; I have time before Easter to think about these things.  Well….sometimes God thrusts these things right under our noses….

I have this notebook I keep at work.  It’s an odd combination between a teacher’s reflection notebook, a diary, and a scrapbook. I jot down quotes, song lyrics, to do lists.  I’ve glued in notes, articles, emails.  I had an intern once to ask me, “Is that a requirement, or something you choose to do?”  The answer is yes.  I choose to require myself to keep it.  It’s where I can write things I want to remember, doodle, pray, reflect on what I’m reading or going through, etc.  It’s a cool little book, and it includes several years worth of “stuff” I’ve deemed important enough to write down or attach.  So, I was going through this book today because I had a little time.  And I came across a quote that apparently I found pretty meaningful because I’d included it in three different places:  “Perhaps if we all treated our lives like a scavenger hunt for secret grace, we would never stop being amazed and surprised at what finds its way to us.” (Tyler Knott Gregson)  Aside from being a beautifully written sentence which has apparently made me stop and think more than once, it seemed I had my idea for Lent right in front of me.

Here’s what I can do.  To allude to another work I enjoyed, I can work at finding a silver lining.  (“You have to do everything you can.  You have to work your hardest, and if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”)  When I am tempted to grumble about a situation (which is A LOT), I can train myself to find the blessing in it.  The result can only be a deepening in my understanding of God’s love and mercy.   I can make an effort this season to look at my life and experiences as a “scavenger hunt” for God’s grace (because it is always ALWAYS there), and I can hold myself accountable by….writing.  It’s like my New Year’s Resolution and my Lenten Reflection are working together.  Isn’t it nice when that happens?
I guess I’ll just do this like I did my 30 days of thankfulness a few years ago.  I’ll post and repost as I add to it, understanding that perhaps no one will have read what I’m writing, but that’s ok.  I will have written, which is half the goal, while the process of finding the content is the other.

2/18 Day 1: A coworker sat across from me yesterday and said, “Isn’t there something that you like about junior high?” I responded (in the sarcastic way that I tend to do), “I like the principal,” and looked back at my work.  Of course, this was meant jokingly because 1)The principal and I were friends because of our kids before I ever came to work there, and 2)I obviously like my coworkers, or I wouldn’t have been having that personal of a conversation with her to begin with.  We laughed and continued to discuss the differences in junior high and high school.  I told her my reasons for returning to high school, and in vocalizing them, I came to better understand them myself.  In what seemed at the time to be a grumble, I taught myself a lesson.
I feel like here is where I should insert a small disclaimer in defense of the junior high:  It is a great school.  I love teaching, and I love my students; however, the move from senior to junior level is one that pushed me out of an 8-year comfort zone, and the blow to my confidence in the classroom hasn’t been easy for me.  In addition, I believe the younger the students, the more patience required of the teacher, and I am not pleased with the lack of patience I’ve demonstrated this year.  If I am frustrated with anyone in my school, it is myself for not being flexible enough to adapt the way that I needed to. Let’s just say it’s been a hard year.
Get on to the hidden grace part you’re probably screaming at this point, so here it is:  Because I’ve (until this year) never taught anything besides 9th grade, my year in 8th has helped me to fall hopelessly in love with what I used to teach.  My standards, my texts, my pacing, my projects, my assessments, my classroom….all of these were things that I had grown to take for granted, and by experiencing something else, I can better appreciate them.  Furthermore, when I return to my comfort zone next year, it will be with a better understanding of where my students are coming from because I have briefly been a part of it.  I prayed very hard about the move to begin with, and I feel like I’ve really gleaned what I was supposed to from this experience:  some good friends, a better understanding of my students, a deeper knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and a true appreciation for what I’m best at.  Thanks be to God for putting us right where we’re supposed to be and leading us back to where we’re needed.

2/19 Day 2:  My husband and my best friend would agree that I’m a little sensitive.  I can overthink things with the best of them.  And to get right to the point, today’s hidden grace was in the responses to me as I overthought something.
One particular area of sensitivity to me is my children.  Like any parent, I want to protect them from hurt and disappointment; however, unlike every parent, I often see injustice in simple oversights and get my feelings hurt when I don’t have to.  Today was no exception, and I texted lengthy vents to both my husband and my best friend outlining exactly why I was upset and why I thought the kids were being treated unfairly. One thing that separates me from other over-thinkers, though, is that I know when I’m overthinking, and I told both of them that I realized I was reading too much into this situation just to let them know that I was needing to blow off some steam.  Best friend did what he usually does and let me finish then followed it up with the texting equivalent of a pat on the back, and our conversation turned to other stuff.  I felt thankful both that he listened to me and that he was able to lift my mood by turning my attention to other subjects.
Husband, however, knocked it out of the park.  He said that the reason it looks sometimes like the kids aren’t being treated fairly is because we are pretty dang effective as parents.  Our children need nothing, want for very little, and we are almost always able to handle their business, only occasionally having to ask for help.  So it’s only natural that it would seem that the attention of others (teachers, friends, even family to a certain extent) seems to hop over our kids.  They’re the center of our world already.  It’s unrealistic to expect them to be the center of every other person’s world too.  They are loved well by us, and they know it, and that is enough. Woah.  Way to solve the problem and fluff my ego all at once! That guy sure does know me.Even as I’m overthinking my way to being profoundly upset about a topic that can get me more upset than anything else, I have these people who not only allow me to share my feelings, but they also tell me exactly what I need to hear. Boom. Blessing in the mess.

2/20 Day 3:  Inclement weather day! Well, sort of.  The school district erred on the side of caution anticipating ice storms that didn’t happen.  And while I totally understood their decision, I couldn’t help but picture my summer vacation slipping away.  Oh well, I will never turn my nose up at an opportunity to sit on the couch with my kindle in my PJs.  Right?  Wrong.  Tessa got invited to a playdate first which resulted in Talan insisting that his friend come over.  “Why not,” I decided.  They’ll play video games, and I’ll read this book.  Wrong again.  Once I returned home with Talan and his friend, the neighborhood kids showed up.  Suddenly, I had the noise of six or seven kids and three dogs as the background for my day of “quiet” reading.  I had just been exiled to my bedroom to make room for their coats and shoes and gadgets, and then the noise followed me as they had moved their activity to the basketball court outside my window.

I was beginning a grumbling text message and rolling my eyes when I had a Zack Morris-style “time out” moment of clarity.  In the various places Joe and I have lived, we’ve encountered a variety of neighborly noise:  the shocking shouts of domestic abuse, the revving motors of all-terrain vehicles, the pops of fireworks when it wasn’t seasonably appropriate, the drunken music selection of karaoke loving partiers, the scream of a police siren in the middle of the night, the hopeless whining of a dog who was twice my size….just to name a few.  I’m serious.  We’ve really worked in our quest for peaceful surroundings.  To be completely honest, it is the pure and delicious silence of this neighborhood that first made me fall in love with our new home.  So, now from my cozy bed in my quiet neighborhood, I was getting irritated about….the laughter of children? Oh, no ma’am.
I looked out the window at them.  They were six little people, with rosy cheeks and messy hair, and they were having fun.  The activity making so much noise wasn’t violent or dangerous or inappropriate or painful; it was the simple happiness of children.  Specifically my children.  It meant they were home, healthy, happy, and loved.  They have friends who like them and want to play with them.  We live in a place where it is perfectly safe for them to all play together like this.  And, as trite as it might sound, one day I will long for the laughter of my children and their friends outside my bedroom window, and they will be somewhere else, probably living amongst noisy neighbors of their own.  Their childhood really is short, and compared to some of the other racket I’ve known, this sound is….sweet.
I sat back, resumed my reading, and decided that I can deal with this type of noise.  I am so thankful for the happy noise in my life.

2/21 Day 4:  An entire day of peewee basketball isn’t exactly fertile ground for being reflective.  I’ve found basketball to be a particularly mouthy sport, and it seems worse when protective parents are crammed in close quarters.  Especially because this was a tournament with a trophy on the line, and there were 800 people crammed in a gym meant for 200, the tension was high.  Today’s glimpse of God’s love has very little to do with basketball though.  I admit I’m going to be deliberately vague because I HATE when people brag about good deeds.  I’m not trying to make this to be a “look at me moment” for me or for my husband.  I also should mention something about my husband.  He is a quiet, stoic, private person who doesn’t really ever do anything in public to draw attention to himself.  That makes this so much more difficult to write about.  What I will say, though, is that in the middle of a stressful day where the focus was on winning, Joe took an opportunity to help one of our son’s teammates with something not totally related to basketball.  I was so surprised at his generosity and so proud that he didn’t even question; he saw a need and took care of it. I see every day how much he loves and cares and provides for us; however, it was particularly heartwarming to see this love freely given to someone we don’t really even know.  So as the day went on, and things came to an ugly devastating loss (and it was more ugly and more devastating than usual, but that story is for another day), I rode home with the satisfaction of having seen God’s love shining through my husband.  Who needs a trophy?

2/22 Day 5:  Our chocolate lab is a roamer.  The first time I ever hugged his big brown neck was when he showed up in our yard after running away from his original home and shortly before our neighbors called the dog catcher on him.  When we decided to adopt him, we had the perfect fenced in yard; however, we’re not there yet at the new house.  He has a pen, and when we let him out, we have to keep him close so he won’t end up in doggy jail again.  In fact, he’s been sleeping on our screened in porch since the weather’s been so bad.  Last night, he didn’t return to the porch after his usual 10-20 minutes of running and bathroom time.  I shook the food.  I filled the water bowl.  I shouted his name.  i even left our house dogs out longer than usual hoping they could lure him back tot he door.  Nothing.  And — no surprise — I started to worry.  I went to bed thinking about him freezing to death, picturing him playing in the road and getting hit, worrying that someone would see a perfectly good lab and not care if he had a family, deciding what we’d tell the pound about his return after a year of adoption….  We didn’t set an alarm, but I popped up at 7 a.m. to look for him.  I did all my tricks again, and once again, he didn’t come.  Ugh.  I went back to bed and tried to read, but I kept running through possible scenarios and ways to explain to the kids what happened.  A little while later, I heard a bedroom door open, and little footsteps across the house.  The backdoor opened.  After a second, I heard Talan yell the dog’s name and clap.  Oh boy.  I’m going to have an upset kiddo on my hands.  I crept cautiously to the back door.  Guess what I saw on the back porch.  There was Riggins with one happy boy draped around his neck!  He knew better than to upset his boy, I guess.  When Joe woke up, I told him that Talan called and Riggins came home.  “Of course he did, ” Joe said.  “He knows where his people are.” And we have God’s goodness (and a smart dog) to thank for that.

2/23 Day 6:  I am a tough crowd when it comes to books.  If it doesn’t catch my interest and catch it quickly, I will begin to skim or quit the book altogether.  I also tend to shy away from books that other people rave about.  I guess it’s my own version of being a hipster; I don’t want to seem a bandwagon reader.  When I saw a couple book lists and a couple of friends recommend We Were Liars, I was skeptical.  I’m not above reading young adults books, so it wasn’t the label that concerned me.  I just didn’t think a young adult book could be THAT good.  When I researched it a little more, I found that the book is very divisive.  People either loved it or hated it. However, I also found it being compared to several books I adore, so what did I have to lose?  I’ve been quite the reader since New Year’s (12 books!!!), so I decided to give it a shot.

Oh my goodness.  It may be my new favorite book ever.  It was so hard to put down, and when I did, it was impossible to stop thinking about it.  I cannot gush enough about how beautifully written this book is, how much I cared about the characters, how reading it seemed to magically transport me to another place.  It was so nice, so reassuring, to have my love for reading renewed by a book.  I am so excited to look for more books to love this much.  I do not love everything I read, but it’s nice to be reminded of what I love about reading to begin with.

2/24 Day 7:  I have this Facebook friend.  She’s an atheist.  I am OK with her being different from me.   Atheism is something I didn’t really tolerate in my youth, probably because I didn’t understand it….probably because I didn’t make an effort to understand things different from myself. I think that the ability to accept people despite how different they are from oneself is an ability that comes with age and education…and for some people, it is an ability they never get.  And that’s OK with me too.   Anyway, in my old age,  I’ve come to an agreement with atheism in the name of tolerance:  they don’t push;  I don’t push.  I do try to do my part in helping my fellow Christians understand that atheism isn’t an attack on our beliefs, and when I get the opportunity, I try to explain that not all Christians hate or bristle at the mention of atheists.

Back to my story — this “friend” is super active on Facebook.  She does all the typical posts, right down to the prayer request. Except when she requests prayer, she pretty much demands that it not be called a prayer; she asks specifically for “no prayers, but positive thoughts.”
Now, my questions is what is a prayer, really, if not a positive thought?  Has the prayer of another ever hurt her, in order for her to be so adamant that she prefers positive thoughts instead of prayers? She even, before a medical procedure, when everyone was commenting “Prayers!” went as far as to tell specific people “No prayers for me!” Why?!?  So I began to put myself in her position.  What if people who believed differently than I did were offering to ask their god to intervene and aid me in a difficult time or to heal me?  Christian though I am, I still think I’d be totally ok with a heartfelt prayer or positive thought, not matter what god it was addressed to, or even if it was just that — a kind thought not religious in nature at all.  Because when you covet the well wishes of others, can you really be picky about how they choose to send them?
It’s been two days now since the first time I saw her reject the good intentions of others which did not suit her, and today I’ve come to a satisfying conclusion.  You see, the great thing about prayer is that the people we pray for don’t have to ask for it, they don’t have to want it, and they don’t even have to know about it.  We can give the gift of prayer without approval or limits, and it helps us as much as it helps the person we pray for.  Did I pray for my Facebook friend who was very specific about not wanting my prayers or anyone else’s?  Sure.  Do I have to confront her about our difference of opinion in the nature of her request?  Nope.  What a blessing that prayer is a gift freely and anonymously (if we choose) given.

2/25 Day 8: Flash back to Day 5 and the roaming chocolate lab.  Prodigal son round 2 at our house:  He escaped his refuge from the snow (aka the back porch) again this evening.  I managed not to freak out this time, and I left for the basketball game.  In fact, I got so swept up in my niece’s final home game that I managed to forget that Riggins was even missing.  Then my phone rang.  “Yes ma’am.  I have a chocolate lab here…” Insert panic.  Was he hurt?  Far from home?  Had he bitten someone, or scratched their car?  Well, it was none of those things.  A neighbor just down the street was cooking in his garage when Riggins made himself at home. He wanted to call in case we were looking or worried. It was loud while we tried to talk, so I told my neighbor we wouldn’t be long.  After talking to Joe, I texted the neighbor saying that Riggins would be fine outside until we made it back, but that I really appreciated him calling.  He responded,a couple of times even, to tell me what a sweet and good-looking dog he is. (Awwwww! I know right?!?) After the game, we drove down our street more slowly than usual.  As we approached the house, here came our furry son to greet us.  And this time, we were not only thankful to get our restless Riggins back home, but also that we have neighbors whose kindness extends to our four-legged children.

2/26 Day 9: Joe has a new job! It’s with a new company, but it’s also a promotion.  He has to dress a little bit more professionally and keep different hours.  There are many new benefits, but with them come a whole new set of daily expectations and responsibilities.  Today he received his computer, and he needed me to teach him how to do a few things on it.  I certainly took all my post-windows computer classes for granted.  He has so much to learn.  (In his defense he’s learning on Windows 8.  What IS that mess?!?!)  But with a few notes jotted down, I think I’ve got him where he needs to be — and with a cute picture of the kids as his desktop background too.  I’m obviously proud that he’s making these important advancements in his career, but more than that, I’m proud of his resiliency and willingness to learn.  He has always been, hands down, the hardest worker I know; however, watching him grow into his new position is providing me neat perspective on the grown-up professional he’s become while we’ve been otherwise preoccupied with marriage and kids and life.  I hope he loves being a boss! (And I hope they get him an iPad or a Mac really soon too! PCs are for the birds!)

2/27 Day 10: Tonight was my niece’s last high school basketball game.  It was truly a bittersweet moment for her, her teammates, and their families.  That group of seniors has played together since they were in grade school, and it was a really sad feeling to know that our days of cheering for them as a team are over.  For Tori, we have the blessing of knowing we will watch her play again in college; however, for some of her teammates, basketball is over.  I tend to not get too sentimental, but I cannot watch other people cry without tearing up a little myself.  We all went to dinner after, and someone said, “Tori, you’ve got quite a cheering section here.”  It’s true.  There were 15 of us there to celebrate this transition with her.  It was a nice meal, and we laughed and enjoyed the time together.  It did give me reason to pause.  That little silly, stubborn girl is all grown up.  And while I know she’s nervous about the big changes coming her way, isn’t it nice to know that she has so many people who love her? What more can we send her out into the world with, but the love and support of her family?  She is a lucky girl.

 2/28 Day 11: I went to the grocery store alone today.  It was seriously like a mini-vacation to not have to keep up with children and say no to a thousand silly requests.  I just looked and shopped.  Alone.  Alone, unless you count the 5 or 6 former students I stopped to visit with.  I was genuinely glad to see them, and it sure beats the ones I see who act like they don’t remember or recognize me.  But I did find myself grumbling at how long it was taking me to get out of the store.  “I should’ve gone to Conway,” I thought.  I wouldn’t have known anyone, I would’ve had a better selection, and even with the drive, I would’ve made better time.”  Since those thoughts aren’t that unusual, I went on with my day.  Then Tessa and I had to run back to Wal-Mart later for something I forgot.  In the short time we were there, I visited with three former students.  Tessa said, “Why do you know everybody?”  Oh.  There’s my moment of insight.  Because my job is important and far-reaching, I will always run into people I know.  By now, I’ve taught somewhere around 1,300 students, not counting the ones I’ve come to know from being at the school in general.  While my influence hasn’t always resulted in a visit-at-WalMart relationship, that’s still around 1,300 times I’ve at least tried to improve their lives.  Would I trade that for a job where I can maintain my anonymity and grocery shop in peace?  No chance.

3/1 Day 12: I have had just the type of weekend I needed.  We’ve stayed around the house, rested, and enjoyed each other’s company.  I got some cleaning and some laundry done.  We watched movies.  I read some.  Sunday is a day where we go to church (usually- we skipped today; Tessa’s puny), eat lunch with one side of the family, then eat dinner with the other side.  I love not cooking on Sundays!

This has been our routine for so long that sometimes I think we take it for granted.  How many people actually sit down and eat with their entire family every week?  Being surrounded by grandparents and cousins that frequently is not how I grew up because we all lived in different towns.  Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had enjoyed the luxury of family that close growing up.  We do not always agree (in fact, we disagree a lot), but I am so thankful that my kids see their grandparents and cousins regularly.  I hope they grow to realize the true value of these scheduled meals.

3/2 Day 13:  So.  I applied to graduate school today.  I am currently in the process of flipping out, and even typing that sentence makes me feel like I’m going to throw up.  What in the world am I doing???  I already have one master’s degree, and it was painful; therefore, the reason I would consider seeking another eludes me. Except that I need to take a few more classes to get a raise….except that I know I’d like to have the option to do something different….except that I think I’d really enjoy the something different….

I have already though of a million reasons why I shouldn’t go through with this. I may have to take the GRE again.  Those books and fees and classes are really expensive. I will miss ballgames and books and lounging pool side.  I will have to camp out in front of the computer when I’d rather be living my life.  Yet, even with all these excuses, I still think I should do this.  I’m not really a go-with-my-gut type of person (remember, the overthinking?), so the “hunch” I’m acting on is pretty significant.   But really, I know I’m smart enough to do it.  And it will not last forever.  And if it doesn’t work out, at least I tried.
So today I celebrate an impulsiveness that I didn’t know I had.  Let’s see how this goes.  I’m proud of myself for taking the first step and for continuing to learn and improve.

 3/3 Day 14:  Today stunk.  People were ridiculous.  I was impatient.  What could go wrong, did.  In my little notebook, I actually found myself listing mishaps instead of blessings from today.  How in the world would I find grace, when I really need mercy?  Well, sometimes you have to make your own silver lining.  Mine came in the form of a pack of fruit snacks during a stressful meeting,  loud music during alone time in the car, a warm coffee from Starbucks, and freshly cut and colored hair.  By the time I got home, I’d almost (almost) forgotten how dreadful my day was.  Mind over matter.  We’re about as happy as we make up our mind to be, right?

 3/4 Day 15:  At his previous job, Joe got sent out of town a lot.  I never, no matter where we lived, felt afraid or unsafe without him home.  However, a home security system is something we’d put off until we felt like we were somewhere we’d stay.  Well, that day was today.  Several people we know had experienced thefts and burglaries lately, and we decided we’d might as well do what we can to prevent it.  An awkward little guy braved the winter weather to come and install our security system this evening.  I know now for sure that they make their money off people like me.  With that thing on the wall, I feel instantly safer, which is odd because I’ve never really felt unsafe.  It’s humorous to watch us adjust to setting and unsetting it, but it really does provide a sense of safety that I didn’t know we were missing.  I’m glad we are able to protect our family, home, and belongings; however, more than that, I’m glad that the feelings of comfort in our new house continue to increase.  Home sweet (safe) home.

3/5 Day 16: Snow day! Again.  This is supposed to be the last of this year’s winter weather, and while the kids are excited, I’ve never been so ready for spring.  I didn’t grumble all day though.  Because of the nature of Joe’s job, he was able to stay home with us instead of driving to Little Rock.  I used the day as a gift — a midweek opportunity to spend time with my family, eat home-cooked food, and just relax.  We bounced back and forth between watching Netflix, reading, and napping.  It was deliciously lazy.  And since it is supposed to be the last of our snow days, I was able to savor it because I may not have a “free midweek lazy day” with Joe again for a while.  We’ll all groan about the snow days when we’re making them up, but this one was worth it.

3/6 Day 17:  The good news today is that Joe and I finally got a night out with friends.  The bad news is that we had a car wreck before we even made it there!  Nothing major: a woman sideswiped us by trying to merge into our lane.  As you can imagine, words were muttered.  We were tempted to bemoan our bad luck, the inconvenience, the cosmetic damage to my car….. But really.  How lucky are we that, if we had to have an accident, no one was hurt, and the car is still drivable?  We just assume a safe trip every time we get in the car, and when we don’t have one — even when it’s just a small ordeal that makes us late — we are upset…like some spoiled brats.  Tonight I am thankful for our safety.  It could have been much worse.

3/7 Day 18:  For Joe’s birthday weekend, we piled the kids in the car and headed to Little Rock today.  Because this month’s billing cycle is almost up on our phone plan, and we’re still showing an abundance of data, we hooked the kids’ gadgets up to our hotspots, and let them entertain themselves all the way there.  It was the happiest car ride we’ve had in a long time.  Because the ride wasn’t tense, it was also the most peaceful shopping trip we’d had in a long time also.  It’s so rare that we go somewhere without fighting and complaining….all thanks to hoarded data.  I got valuable family time AND a useful tip for our next long car ride: be sure I’ve stored up my data!

3/8 Day 19: I hate cleaning, but I love my house.  I got to reflect on both these things today.  Instead of our usual Sunday afternoon napping or TV, Joe and I really cleaned for the first time since we moved in.  We swept, mopped, vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed, straightened…And it was miserable.  It proved to me that your house doesn’t even have to be that dirty; even slightly lived in houses are no fun to clean.  The result, though, was the sparkling reminder of why we bought the house to begin with.  Sometimes to find a blessing, I guess you just need to wipe it off.

3/9 Day 20: I am officially a UCA bear again!  Upon being unable to log in to their website, I assumed that whatever letter the college sent me would come with strings attached; for example, take the GRE again, or wait a semester for full admission.  However, there were no stipulations.  I am fully admitted, with an orientation date, and an advising appointment.  Though part of me might have been hoping to be handed an excuse, I am thankful that sometimes grace whispers Go ahead and get through this. You can do it!

3/10 Day 21: Today I got the awesome opportunity to take some students to hear a holocaust survivor speak.  We are nearing a time in history where these people will no longer be able to share their stories, and I was so very blessed to hear his message.  Aside from being historically fascinating, he placed on his audience the responsibility of speaking up against oppression, of maintaining awareness of what’s going on around us, of doing what we know to be right.  One quote he referenced really spoke to me.  He attributed it to JFK; however, it was actually Dante who said it, although JFK did cite it as one of his favorites:  “The hottest spots in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”  Wow.  If that doesn’t make you want to be an agent of positive change, what will?  I’m not yet sure of the impact of the speaker upon my difficult-to-impress students, but I am in awe of someone who has maintained his sense of humor and more importantly his servant’s heart while living with memories from the most inhumane period of modern history.  He is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and proves to me, today, that good really does win.

3/11 Day 22: Happy birthday to Joe!  It was a beautiful day — sunny and warm — and we made  delicious food and enjoyed our yard (something we really haven’t had time to do since we moved in during cold weather).  His presents got delayed in the mail, but he had a productive day at work, got to come home earlier than usual, and we ate his favorite meal together.  It was absolutely a great afternoon.  We celebrate birthdays all the time in a number of ways:  meals, presents, parties, cake.  But it’s worth it to reflect on a loved one’s birthday too.  Aren’t you glad they were born?  Really.   Stop and think about what that person adds to the world just by being in it.  What would your life be like if you didn’t have cause for celebration today?  Aside from the usual festivities, I did some thinking like this today, and it made Joe’s birthday even more special in my mind.  He is such a blessing in the lives of people who know him; he’s a hard worker, a wonderful husband, a great father, a caring friend….What better time than his birthday to stop and really appreciate God’s grace in putting Joe in our lives.  It gives a whole new meaning to “Happy Birthday!”

3/12 Day 23: People make me mad on Facebook.  Really mad.  Like, most of the posts on this blog are in some way related to stupidity I see on some kind of social media.  Today was no exception.  A random political post by someone I already have a strained relationship with couldn’t have come at a worse time.  I had a long day, dinner wasn’t great, I argued with the kids before bed, and decided to check my phone…..boom.  Ignorance on my feed from someone who likes to present themselves to be open-minded and fair.  Now I am no saint.  I lack compassion in many situations, but I do not think it behooves a Christian to lash out at outsiders of any kind, and this post did just that.  I’m sure if I’d checked the mirror, I would have seen my face growing red; it was that kind of mad.  And where is God’s loving mercy during my moment of anger?  It had to have been Him who guided me to put the phone down and keep my mouth shut.  One may argue that I’m not exactly staying quiet if I’m writing about it — and I may have grumbled a little to a friend via text message — but I think that knowing when to not pick a fight is a gift, and it was a gift I had last night.  Thank you, God, for keeping your hand over my mouth.

3/13 Day 24: Today was a bear of a day.  The kids fought all morning, I was frazzled when I got to school, it seemed like very little went right all day long, the kids resumed their fighting as soon as they got off the bus, Tessa had gotten her feelings hurt by a friend, because of her bad mood she made Talan cry in the car, I didn’t get to run my errands after school because of their fighting….. I headed straight home and into a bubble bath.  Joe, who had to work late, realized the storm he was coming into and came home armed with a bottle of my favorite wine.  I ate leftover Chinese in my pajamas with my glass of wine and fell asleep on the couch.  Some day the only silver lining is that you’re successfully converting oxygen to carbon dioxide.

3/14 Day 25:  Yesterday’s bad day continued when Joe’s phone rang around 7 a.m.  On the one day a week I’m used to get to hang out with him, he was off to work.  I delivered Talan to a friend’s birthday party and went about my day of laundry and housework.  As the day passed, I realized Joe wasn’t going to be home to take care of some things that evening that he’d promised me he’d do.  Will the bad luck ever end???

Dragging Tessa along, I took care of the errands myself.  We finished up with sandwiches and a big ice cream sundae.  We danced like crazy people all the way home to our current favorite song. Joe and I watch Grey’s Anatomy, and I couldn’t help but think of Meredith and Christina “dancing it out” they way they would do when they were stressed out.   Their relationship stood the test of time because of silly rituals like this.  Could “dancing it out” in the car with a 7-year-old be the reminder I need that life should be fun, and I should chill?  Once we got home, we played some Uno and waited on Joe.  It was a pretty good night even though it wasn’t what I expected.

I suppose I really do get wrapped up in expectations — even down to what I plan to do on a Saturday.  I guess it’s ok to occasionally lay down the plan, and dance it out.

3/15 Day 26: I don’t brag on my husband enough.  Some days, he’s very nearly the only person I can stand, which is a big job for him.  Because I’m this reliant on him, when even he gets on my nerves, it’s bad.  So without revealing too much personal information, I’ll suffice to say that Joe and I bickered today.

You might be wondering how this is relevant to the topic.  Marital bickering is not a gift from God.  But here’s what is:  being reminded during the storm (and make no mistake; I am a temperamental storm of irrationality) that God gave me just the calm I needed in my level-headed spouse.

I do not tell him enough how thankful I am that he tolerates — and embraces — my crazy.  If his love for and patience with me isn’t a glimpse of the unconditional and undeserved grace of God, I don’t know what is.

3/16 Day 27: Today was wild.  I had to get to school early, tested all morning, supervised all afternoon, attended a faculty meeting until 5, quickly fixed dinner, helped with homework, and rushed the gang to the ball field.  True exhaustion had set in by the time I got settled in the bleachers.  I was a little nervous as this was Tessa’s first practice, but I was excited to see how they handled the big switch from coach-pitch to pitching machine.  The girls actually had a really good practice, even if it was long.  At 9:30 (that’s right; 9:30 p.m. for a bunch of little girls), we climbed in the car and started home.  Tessa was understandably exhausted, but the first thing she said was, “Momma, I love the pitching machine.”  So  there’s the gift in this stressful day:  Not only did I get to end the day by watching my child do something she loves; I also get to go home with a happy girl and a reminder of why I love being at the ball park.

3/17 Day 28: Making decisions is hard.  For example, Joe and I have always wanted to build a house on a big piece of land; however, we settled on an existing house in a quiet subdivision because it was more financially responsible and practical for our future.  We have these decision talks all the time.  Everything from “We’d really like to go out to eat, but it makes more sense to eat at home tonight because…..” to “We should designate this money for doing this since…..” requires significant thinking and discussion.  And even though it’s hard, our ability to make pretty ok decisions (or at least not devastating ones) is something I’m proud of.  We tackle things as a team, think things through, and for the most part, we’re pretty dang responsible.

Similarly, it’s hard to watch other people make irresponsible decisions.  I’m not talking about splurging on bad shoes or skipping the gym.  I’m talking about decisions which neglect their obligations and make them burdens to those around them.  It is so frustrating to work hard to make good choices for yourself, but watch others make irresponsible choices like it’s not a big deal.  There is no immediate prize for being responsible, yet it looks super fun to only think about now.

It really is a question of when you want your gratification.  If you are wise now, you can enjoy the benefits later.  If you make thoughtless decisions now, you’ll regret them later.  So yes.  Deciding to tackle life’s decisions as a team with Joe in a manner that will hopefully minimize regrets in the future is hard… .right now.  Watching others get instant gratification when we’re choosing to delay our own is hard…..right now.  But God’s grace whispers Blessed are those who endure, and that seems to make it easier.

3/18 Day 29:  I found a quote I thought was appropriate for today:  “As soon as I saw you, I knew a grand adventure was about to happen.” (Winnie the Pooh).  This reminded me of my oldest niece for several reasons.  First, she was seriously obsessed with Pooh when she was younger. Second, I might have used a similar Pooh quote in her senior add, so now they all make me think of her.    Third and most of all, this quote specifically reminds me of what an adventure her whole life has been for the people who love her.  She is such a gift to us.
Today, at her signing for a basketball scholarship, we got to reflect on the adventure to this point and look forward to the next step.  While it’s hard not to be sad about how quickly she’s grown, it’s exciting to think about all the potential she has.  She gets to go to a school she picked (and one who picked her too; how often does that happen?), she gets to continue to play the sport she loves, and we get the gift of front row seats for her wide-open future.  Does it get any better?  May she enjoy this new part of her adventure!

3/19 Day 30: I joke a lot that I don’t have friends, but I spend a lot of time whining to Joe about why we don’t have friends.  The reality is that we do have friends; we just don’t have a ton of time to devote to them. Who wants to schedule an outing several weeks out around two ball schedules and Joe’s unpredictable work schedule?  So even though, realistically, I know that this is just a busy period of my life where I spend time rushing place to place as mom while my role as friend gets pushed to the back burner, I still think about friendship (or lack there of) a lot.  When I opened my devotional this morning, and it was titled “I Need a Friend,” I expected it to be about relationship with God.  I was surprised to find a difficult message that seemed as if it were written for me personally about how we were created to live in relationship with other people and (get this) no one is too busy or too strong for friendships.  The author explained that she used her busy job and healthy marriage and crazy schedule as excuses for “not needing” friends.  In reality, she found that friendships are too important to not carve out time to nurture them.

I cannot tell you I ran home, called my friends, and made plans.  It’s not going to be that easy.  However, making more of an effort to be a friend is something I plan to work on.  The idea that I’m too strong or too busy or too self-sufficient to need friends is one I’ve had for so long that I am really going to have to make an effort to change it.  But I’m going to try.
Sometimes I think those devotionals are too general or too cheesy.  And some days, like today, they’re exactly what I need to hear.

3/20 Day 31: My children have been so easy to this point.  I don’t mean that I’ve loved every second of their little lives; that’s unrealistic, and anyone who says that is lying.  But we’ve been fortunate enough to not have anything that isn’t typical.  The terrible twos weren’t any more terrible than usual.  They adjusted well to starting school.  They have nice friends and productive hobbies.  Even though they’re a tad spoiled, I’ve never gotten the feeling that anyone fears having to be around them.  (You know a kid who hoped into your mind when I said that….the kid that makes you think “Ughhhh.  We have to be around him?!?” at church/school/social outings.)

Anyway.  The point of this isn’t to brag.  It’s to adequately explain my surprise when my children quit listening.  My easy, no-severe-behavior-issues children just stopped hearing all instruction.  It’s like they had a meeting and said, “Let’s quit doing what they say.  Today.  Let’s just stop and begin doing whatever we want.”  Thus, we started this Friday-before-spring-break with both kids being grounded.  Not “you can’t go to a friend’s house” grounded, but “you can’t do anything unless it’s my idea” grounded.  We took the gadgets, restricted TV, and instructed them they are to say no to any invitations they might receive.
This grounding has yet to prove if they’ll reconvene their meeting and decide to start listening to us again, but it has taught me several lessons as a mother.  First, it does hurt the parent more than the kid to punish.  I lost my fun-filled spring break agenda when I grounded them.  I lost my peaceful rides in the car when they lost their iPods.  I lost my ability to shrug and say “Fine with me,” when they get invited to a friend’s house.  It is hard to say no all the time.  That’s lesson two:  In saying no all the time, I realize how much I normally say yes.  This goes from letting them pick where we grab dinner after practice to agreeing to buy candy in the Wal-Mart check out.  My kids hear yes a lotand if I hadn’t decided to say no this week, I might never have realized how indulged they really are.  Last, I’ve become aware that Joe is definitely the stronger-willed parent.  I have been ready to unground since the day after we grounded.  This stinks.  Joe insists we stay the course, though, and I know that he’s right.  We have to follow through on what we said we’d do.  I’m so thankful that we can balance each other as parents this way because I cannot imagine what the kids would be like if they had two suckers for parents instead of just one.
I guess the secret grace in this parenting lesson is a better understanding of myself as a parent, my own parents, and my kids.  If it were easy, everyone would keep their kids grounded all the time.  Frederick Douglas said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”  Let’s hope this grounding helps us all progress a little.

3/21 Day 32: I am getting more joy from my March Madness brackets than I probably should be.  Joe requested that I be open to liking basketball, so I agreed.  Not being one to do anything half-way, part of this effort to like basketball was to follow the Razorback basketball team as closely as I follow the football team….and to fill out 10 NCAA brackets once the Hogs made the tournament.  10.  Since the round of 64 began, I’ve meant business: checking the app on my phone, highlighting my paper copies, watching games, looking up scores, conferring with my brother and niece about their brackets…. Joe has laughed at me, but it has really helped me appreciate what all the hype is about.  Who knew this process I’ve rolled my eyes at all these years is actually a pretty good time?  Here’s to finding fun in new things, even things I thought were a waste of time.

3/22 Day 33: When Joe’s oldest uncle died this weekend, I began to get nervous about the family together time that I was sure would follow.  Since Joe’s dad’s death, his family hadn’t spent much time with that side, and I’d only been around them a handful of times.  I’m not sure the kids had ever been around them.  What I found with this family together time was what I usually find when I’m nervous about something — it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated.  In fact, we really enjoyed ourselves.  Joe and the kids and I stayed much longer than his mother and sisters, Joe visiting with cousins he rarely sees, and me looking at old pictures I’d never seen and hearing stories about Joe when he was younger.  The kids had fun playing with their “new cousins,” and didn’t want to leave.  We learned that Talan probably gets his left-handedness from Joe’s side of the family as many of his Bratton cousins are also left-handed.  I saw pictures of my father-in-law which help explain Tessa’s lighter hair and full face.

It was like we’d forgotten that there was this whole group of people tied to the kids who love them and want to know them.  While it’s sad that it took a death in the family to get us all together, it was so nice to know of more people who love my kids and are interested in watching them grow (even if it is on Facebook).  One can never have too much family, and I’m so glad the kids got to meet more of theirs.

3/23 Day 34: Grounded Spring Break 2015 began today.  I really planned to clean house, do laundry, and wash the car.  Exciting, huh?  As we were working on chores, my sister called about going to see the daffodils on Wye Mountain.  Thinking it would be a nice treat for the kids since I’d been working them pretty hard, I agreed.  The kids had never seen the daffodils, and it was a beautiful day.  We enjoyed each other’s company, the flowers were gorgeous, we snapped adorable pictures, and we finished the trip with a milk-shake stop.  It was a spontaneously perfect afternoon.  Who says you can’t squeeze a little bit of fun into a grounded/housework day?

3/24 Day 35: Today’s venture out of the house was to Hobby Lobby.  I wanted to buy a few things to spruce up the house.  We’ve been here almost 6 months, yet decorating still isn’t complete.  I could spend an eternity in Hobby Lobby, and the kids really hung in there with me as I browsed and re-browsed the isles waiting for inspiration.  Once I checked out and spent too much, I came home and began arranging my purchases.  And rearranging them.  And rearranging some more.  In fact, I’m still not completely happy with the tops of the kitchen cabinets.  As I grew frustrated and climbed up and down from the counter asking Joe for input, he finally said, “You’ve got time to add to and take away from that for as long as you want, you know.”  And that is such a comforting thought:  the house doesn’t have to be “Better Homes & Gardens” perfect today because we’re here forever, and it’s a work in progress.  I am so thankful for there not being a due date on home-making.

3/25 Day 36: Today was beautiful.  It was warm and sunny, and despite their being grounded, I let the kids outside until dinner.  After dinner, Joe wanted to play playstation for a little while to blow off steam from his bad day.  I poured a glass of wine and headed to the back porch for some quiet time.  It was beautiful.  As the sun went down, the crickets began chirping, and the frogs began croaking.  It was such a peaceful and relaxing time.  I don’t normally make quiet time for myself, but I should do it more.  It was like a mini-vacation to slip away for a peaceful few moments and come back to the wildness of my life reenergized.  I look forward to many more spring and summer evenings on the porch.

3/26 Day 37:  One of God’s biggest blessings is the birth of a child.  Today the kids and I went to visit a former student of mine (and their old babysitter) and her one-week-old daughter.  She is perfection.  It was nice to see the kids love on a baby, of course, but it was also so great to see Korrie as a mother.  She was absolutely glowing with love and happiness.  The visit was both a reminder of how much my children have grown and how much we love the people we’ve shared them with.  Baby Clementine is such a blessing, and we are so excited to watch her grow.

3/27 Day 38:  I sometimes grumble about the amount of time we spend at the ballpark. However, it is one of the few times that there isn’t any truth in my grumbling.  Though it makes appropriate conversation to act like there is somewhere I’d rather be than at a game or practice, third only to my comfortable home or a beautiful beach, the ballpark is actually one of my favorite places.  So I went gladly to the ballpark today for Tessa’s batting practice.  Because we had staggered the girls’ times, there were some lulls during which we were visiting.  What started as a joke turned into a challenge when I ended up putting on Tessa’s helmet and stepping into the batting cage myself.  I wasn’t half bad! Out of the bucket of softballs, I only missed two.  And while it was just a silly way to pass time, it was an important reminder of why I love being out there:  it was harmless and happy fun, a time with friends, and a precious memory for my kids….it was probably the only time I’ll ever get to impress them with any type of athletic skill too, but that’s ok!

3/28 Day 39:   Because it rained today, we had a lazy morning.  We drank coffee and read and played video games — all our favorite things — and in our pajamas, which doesn’t happen very often.  When we finally ventured out of the house this afternoon, we bought food to grill.  Why not make the most of a day at home by eating at home too?  By the time we finally got home with the groceries, the sun was out, and the kids were dying to play outside.  The neighbor kids came over.  There was dodgeball, basketball, kickball, whiffle ball….maybe other kinds of ball too, but I’m no expert.  The play marathon resulted in Talan having two friends spend the night and Tessa spending the night with a neighbor.  While at one time I would’ve maybe complained about the interruption to our family downtime, it was a welcome reminder that our kids are well-liked, and sweet friends are a blessing.  The truth is that there are friends I’d rather not have over (but these aren’t them), and there will be a time that sweaty little faces won’t be begging to play Minecraft in my kitchen until the wee hours….so tonight, I enjoyed it.  After a week of being grounded, the kids were delighted for us to say yes.  And happy kids make happy parents.

3/29 Day 40:  That awkward moment when you’ve committed to a 40-day blogging project, but then you realize that Lent is actually 47 days this year….  If I hadn’t done this, I probably never would have know that “40 Days” is, in reality, just something we say; Lent is really pretty variable depending on the calendar.  And because today was a very normal (although beautiful) day, I think this might be my secret grace today.  Maybe I need a little bit longer to search for God’s gifts to me and reflect on them.  Perhaps I’m not finished yet.  Just maybe I’m not supposed to every be finished…. No, I’m not saying that I’m going to forever blog about my blessings.  But I am saying that God might not be finished working through my Lenten project, and hopefully it will be something I continue to do both on and off the blog.

Update – 4/8/15: So I didn’t exactly finish Lent.  I mean, I kept thinking about hidden grace and silver linings, but what I found didn’t make it here.  Coincidentally, at the same time I failed at keeping my Lenten obligation, I failed at part of my New Year’s Resolution (trying one new recipe a week) also.  The actual reason is that ball season started, but the bigger picture is…..Life got in the way.  I stopped reflecting in writing about small blessings, and focused my attention on serving my biggest ones.  This time of year, every year, every second of my spare time goes to a schedule so hectic that I don’t cook or clean, and I certainly cannot find time to try new recipes or post daily.  

But the truth is that the lesson from this Lent is really an exercise in the way I think in stead of the way I act.  There is always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for, and in order to reflect the joy I should have if I believe what I say I believe, I have to turn my attention to those things instead of the little, usually insignificant, things which cause me to complain.  Will I always be positive and thankful? Nope.  No one’s perfect.  But can I start again every day with the goal of doing better, of finding God’s grace in my everyday life?  Absolutely.  And that’s the gift in the way that I’ve challenged myself:  it was a method of training myself to look for and think about the way God shows His love for me in the little things.  

So was I successful?  Yes and no.  I fail at carving out time to sit and reflect in writing here.  But I feel like I succeeded in training myself to think differently, at making an honest attempt to view my life with a thankful heart.  May I never stop being surprised at what finds its way to me.  


One thought on “Lent: 40+ Days of Searching for God’s Hidden Grace

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