The Eighty-Seventh Letter: Lent & Unseasonable Weather

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Dear Daughters,

“It’s not SUPER cool, Mom. It’s AWESOMELY cool.”

That’s what the 5 year old said, watching the storm clouds moving in this morning while we sat outside on the deck in the unseasonably warm weather before the rest of the family was up. We were listening to the birds, admiring the colors strewn across the sky, watching the squirrels dance in the trees.

What is “unseasonable” weather anyway? Well, probably 80 degrees in February with your kids playing in the sandbox in shorts while you sit out at the picnic table trying to finish up a freelance project.

That was us yesterday. Obviously.

But I’m not complaining about it.

What I have been complaining about in my heart is how unseasonal my heart is feeling about Lent.

But then I had an epiphany in my letters to God this week.

I was asking what it’s means to be thoughtful during Lent, to be intentional in this season of life and this season of liturgy, and this is what I started to write:

Lent — it comes from words about lengthening, about Spring, about lengthening days.

Lengthening days mean plants leaning toward the light. The ground and the world waking from slumber. Our hearts awakening from winter.

Is it somber? Sure, we acknowledge our own finitude and our utter dependence on God, that it isn’t all of our striving and achieving that brings the trees to blossom but God’s utter transforming, life-giving, ever-creating, ever-new power.

And God doesn’t just do the minimum. God doesn’t just create a world in which water and sunlight miraculously cause plants tho break out of their seed pods and burst up through the mud of early spring, but a world in which the byproduct of human breath is the exact thing plants “breathe in” and vice versa. And the same word for that breath is the Holy Spirit, not coincidentally.

No, God remains graciously able and willing to transform ash into green palms, while we are only able to live a life of the opposite—green palms turning to ash. We are unable to keep the world spinning. We are unable to burst forth blooms. We are unable to turn death into life.

We are unable.

But we live the season of Lent, and that is not only ash and death and sin and mourning. That is a season of lengthening days and new life and hope and giving up our independence in favor of unseasonably warm weather and rain storms and barefoot-in-the-sandbox.

Lent is not just singing “Were You There?” at the Ash Wednesday service, it is also learning “What Wondrous Love Is This?” as a new bedtime hymn.

Lent is not just a finger sliced open from the serated bread knife yesterday, it is also the tulips bursting through the ground over the weekend.

Lent is not just the broken egg in the carton leaking all over the frig, but the beauty of the thwp-thwp-thwp of the flock of birds circling overhead this morning.

Lent is not just the anxiety and pink eyes and snotty noses and allergy medicines and children’s nightmares and waking to find Billy Graham had passed away, but a child who loves our current readaloud book because, she says, “I can picture everything that is happening!”

Lent is ash, but Lent is palms.

Lent is death, but Lent is life.

It’s a both/and.

Every year.

No matter the weather.

And there’s nothing unseasonable about that.

Love,
Your Momma

The Thirty-Eighth Letter: God Helps Us

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Dear Daughters,

On a warm, sunny day this week, I slathered you both with sunscreen before driving to the church’s community garden for some late-afternoon weeding. The truth is I had also discovered some sprouting onions in our cupboard that I thought I’d try burying in the ground.

You don’t have much patience for the amount of rubbing it takes to get the mineral-based sunscreen absorbed into your skin, especially around your nose and cheeks, but I’d told you that you’d be able to play on the new playground at church, which is within view of the garden plots.

You knew how the routine would go, because we’d done it before. I laid out a blanket in the shade near the playground, and set out water and snacks, so you could get out of the sun as necessary.

But the lack of shade on the playground was an issue today. Since it was late afternoon, all of the slides were too hot to slide down. And because the slides are your favorite part of the playground, your attention spans were shorter than usual.

You kept coming over to the garden, wanting to wear my gardening gloves, wanting to help pull weeds and use the small trowel, wanting to stomp all over the dirt I was trying to till by hand.

I let you. Why not?

I was sweating and pretty uncomfortable myself, but I’ve learned that getting your hands dirty in a garden, even if it means sweat is dripping off your nose, makes just about any day a good day.

I am not, in general, someone who likes being gross, and I am, in general, someone who sweats lot. I had a headband and visor on, my sunglasses, my own sunscreen, cut-off jeans, and a sweated-through T-shirt in no time.

After trying, fruitlessly, to dig a hole bigger than one of the onions, the 4 year old told me once again how hard it was to work outside and how hot she was. She’d probably mentioned it a dozen times at that point. (The toddler, if she happened to be nearby, echoed the sentiment monosyllabically: “hot.” Or, sometimes, “sweat.”)

“Momma’s hot, too,” I said, “but sometimes we have to do things, even when we’re hot and uncomfortable. Gardening is one of those things. We get hot and dirty, but it’s worth it.”

Then, patting myself silently on the back and thinking I would get a mother-of-the-year award for this, I added, “And you know what? Gardening can teach us about God. Did you know that? What do you think it can teach us?

Without even a pause, you squeal, because you’re sure you have the right answer: “That God helps us!!”

And you are right, of course.

I didn’t know what answer I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. I had thought more along the lines of patience and provision and lack of control. More gardening-like metaphors of sowing and reaping, and needing both rain and sunshine.

But, as usual, you cut right to the chase.

God does help us.

It’s not a “God’s on our side” kind of help, not a “God won’t let anything bad happen to me” kind of help, not a me-and-God-we’re-buddies kind of help, and certainly not a “put in the work, and you’ll be blessed” kind of help.

No, what I’m thinking is the fact that seeds sprout at all, girls, is a miracle.

A miracle.

That the thyme my mom transplanted five years ago from her garden in Pennsylvania, put in her trunk, and then drove to Kentucky is still taking over my herb garden is a miracle.

That we save all that compost–tea bags, egg shells, banana peels–and it breaks down into something that can nourish the soil is a miracle.

That God has actually given us an opportunity to participate in the act of creation is a miracle.

It’s all kind of crazy.

But, and this is the annoying part, we have to get dirty and sweaty first. And we have to keep those weeds under control or they choke out the good stuff.

There are so many gardening, farming, seed-laden, dirt-encrusted metaphors in Scripture, girls. It’s a powerful thing to kneel down in the dirt and feel that moist soil underneath the cracking, dried-out dirt on the surface.

You know, there’s probably a metaphor in that act of kneeling, too, because if you try to weed just bending at the waist, you’ll run out of back strength long before you run out of weeds.

God helps us.

And, here’s a side note: If you just can’t keep up with the garden, if you let those tomatoes rot on the vine or fall on the ground and get so gross you don’t want to even pick them up to throw them into the compost, you know what happens?

You get volunteers next year.

Love,

Your Momma