What’s Making Me Happy This Week

pexels-photo-106223Well, folks, you win some, you lose some.  In the past 8 days, I failed to post not 1 but 2 scheduled blog entries.  There is no dramatic circumstance to explain my failures.  It was just good-old-fashioned imperfection.  

My natural instinct to failure is to withdraw or isolate.  Ask any of my close friends.  Ask my husband.  Ask my dog.  Failures, big and small, paralyze me with shame.  This is not a healthy response.  This is not a Christian response.  

The blog, however, has challenged me to change my response.  It has forced me to move forward, regardless of my setbacks, regardless of my shame.  And, since “shaking it off” isn’t my first instinct, I’m trying to make it my habit, instead.

So, today, I’m back at bat.  Some of what is below made me happy last week, but I hope it brings you a smile just the same.  And, if you’re holding on to any shame that is keeping you from smiling, consider giving yourself a little grace… God already has. 

What’s Making Me Happy (Last) Week

My husband and I spent some time at Madeira Beach recently.  In addition to visiting Bubba Gumps (perhaps my favorite chain restaurant of all time), I devoured the past few issues of Vanity Fair.  It was amazing.

The Dave-Ramsey-Love-Bug recently bit my husband, and he passed it along to me.  Thanks to Dave, we have already had some really important conversations about our money and our marriage.  I’m so excited to see where this journey leads up both financially and spiritually.

This is the best (only?) commercial for insurance I’ve ever seen.  If you’re looking for some warm-and-fuzzies, watch this video of a little girl dancing joyfully and carelessly around the house.  She makes me want to do some dancing of my own.

Where my married ladies at?  Politics aside (and, believe me, I ramble on for days about Trump-Pence politics), I admire the Vice President’s the strong commitment and close connection to his wife.  Andrew Exum’s recent essay in The Atlantic thoughtfully examines the pro’s and con’s of the so-called Billy Graham Rule. 

Finally, the last week has seen a lot of depressing news about the environment (even the Pope is upset!).  Manatees, however, just came off the Endangered Species List, so let’s cling to that happy news and keep the hope.  #seacowsmakemesmile

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine.

The Radical Relief of Repentance

pexels-photo-54566Today, millions of men and women around the world will begin preparing for Easter by celebrating Ash Wednesday.  Christians from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions will line up to hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They will close their eyes as the minister scratches a cross of ashes onto their foreheads. They will acknowledge their weakness and ask God’s forgiveness.

As anyone who has ever celebrated Ash Wednesday can likely attest, the service is surprisingly popular.  Its appeal, I think, lies in its counter-cultural message.  It shares with us a truth that we are desperate to hear.  It tells us that the God who created and controls the universe is good.  It tells us that the world does not rest on our shoulders alone.  It tells that we are unconditionally loved.

Modern American culture, as described by David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise, tells us something different.  It rewards us according to our accomplishments.  It values us according to our achievements.  Any failures can be catastrophic.  Failures don’t just threaten our social or professional standing; they threaten our very identity and dignity. The result is a generation of men and women low on self-worth and high on anxiety.

As Ash Wednesday attests, however, there is room for imperfection in the Christian tradition.  In fact, there is an assumption of imperfection.  

Ash Wednesday is a reminder that no accomplishment or failure can add to or subtract from our God-given worth.  

For those of us caught up in the relentless pursuit of perfection, Ash Wednesday offers immense and immediate relief.  We can to admit our shortcomings without risking our dignity.  We can confess our sins without losing God’s love.  

Acknowledging our weakness and asking for forgiveness does not mire us in guilt.  It washes us in grace.  

Repentance, as epitomized in Ash Wednesday, does not destroy; it heals.

The Ash Wednesday service I attended at noon today was crowded.  People were packed in the pews, standing and squeezed into the foyer.  Some were in suits.  Some in police uniforms.  Some in scrubs.  People of various ages, of various races.  All burdened by the pursuit of perfection.  All worried their worth was lost.  All seeking salvation from their sins.  And, in one voice they echoed the words of the Psalmist, “have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”

Amen.

 

Finding Real Hope After A False Start

 

Finding Real Hope After A False StartAs it does every year, the New Year begins with an ending.  Later tonight, just a few miles away from our house in Tampa, Clemson and Alabama will conclude the college football season with the National Championship. College football is a tradition (religion?) in the South; and, on each Saturday throughout the fall, Sean and I routinely (faithfully?) woke up with ESPN, carefully followed the midday games, and fell asleep to the West Coast match-up.  

During one such weekend, as I sorted laundry in front of the TV, I heard an announcer bemoan a false start penalty.  “Oh geez,” he said in that smooth, southern voice, “we’ve got another false start here.”  As any football fan knows, the all-too-common false start takes place in the few seconds after the players line up on the field but before they start moving the ball.  According to the NCAA’s Rule 7, improperly flexing your elbows, dipping your buttocks, or twitching your thumbs can earn you a false start flag.  When I half-heard that announcer call the false start, however, what came to my mind had nothing to do with dipping buttocks.  Instead, I imagined that deep drawl commentating not on a football game but on my life.  

Finding Real Hope After A False Start

 

All of us, I imagine, have committed false starts.  In relationships.  At work.  With health and finances.  This blog is perhaps my most notable false start.  When I started it last summer, I had such good intentions and grand plans.  My reasons for not continuing with it are many, but, for now, I’ll just say that, while I knew the play, I lacked the skill and the stamina to carry it out. Before long, I felt like I had failed too greatly to begin again.  That announcer’s misplaced commentary, however, broke through the failure I felt, and something finally, mercifully, clicked.  

You don’t lose a game because of a false start.  The guilty player doesn’t get thrown off the field.  The team loses five yards.  Only five – out of one hundred – yards!  They don’t even lose the chance to make the play again; they just make the same play five yards away.  Football fans, don’t hate me.  I’m not belittling the potential damage of multiple false starts.  I’m just saying: don’t confuse a false start with a full stop.  It’s not the end of the game.  It’s just the beginning of the play.

So, I’m going to give it another go.  I am five yards (and about a year) farther from the goal line, but I have a renewed sense of humility and hope.  

Here’s the good news: last year, the University of Alabama made 6.5 penalties, including false starts, PER game and they STILL won the National Championship.  Our lives may be full of false starts, but they are also full of grace.  

And, here’s more good news: after losing to Alabama 40 to 45 in last year’s National Championship, Clemson will play Alabama again in tonight’s Championship.  They earned a second chance.  

Finding Real Hope After A False Start

 

At first glance, the New Year appears like an appropriate time to look back on our false starts. Upon further reflection, however, the New Year seems more like an appropriate time to consider that moment after the false start.  The players jog back onto the field, find their place in the formation and dig in their cleats.  They hunch their backs, clench their thighs, bow their heads, touch their fingertips to the turf, and then hold perfectly, breathlessly still for those few sacred seconds.  Only then do they snap the ball and begin again.  After all, the false start is just the penalty.  The second chance is the prize.

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