– A Word for Lent

I know, Lent is still a little more than a month away. Don’t get me wrong, Ordinary Time is definitely important and usually anything but ordinary, but I’m considering a new approach to Lent this year that I wanted to share. A few weeks ago, I posted on my own blog about choosing a word or theme for the new year, rather than making resolutions. I am taking that same concept and want to offer it as a new way to approach Lent.

We all know Lent is coming. We usually remember that means a time for fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. How many of us take dedicated time to discern what we are going to “give up” or “do more of?” I’ll be completely honest here: Usually I finalize my Lenten plans on or slightly before Ash Wednesday. And typically, they are things that I know are going to be good for me, but I haven’t given them a whole lot of thought. It’s the low-hanging fruit — say a Rosary a day, give up snacks between meals, read a Psalm every day, give $5 extra at Mass, and so on. All good things, but maybe not the most challenging or even the most personal for my spiritual life….

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Daily Graces.

Be a Good Past Self Lenten Resolutions, Be a Good Past Self #DailyGraces
My husband has a funny habit of talking about himself in 3 versions: Past Self, Present Self and Future Self. He will have a dilemma, a project or task that Present Self does not want to deal with but he knows he will have to do eventually. There is a choice, do the task and move on, or, let Future Self deal with it. Then, when Present Self catches up with Future Self and the task cannot be put off any longer, something like “Past Self sure is a jerk sometimes” will be uttered before he gets to work.

I love these little debates and have actually started having them myself sometimes. As I was reflecting on what to do for Lent this year (yes, I’m sorry to bring up the fact that Lent is already coming! It seems like it came too quickly this year, probably because we’ve been practicing Lent songs in choir for what feels like weeks now), I kept thinking about this whole Past Self/Future Self quandary.

We all have things we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Maybe for you it’s cooking breakfast. Maybe for someone else it’s folding laundry. Maybe for someone else it’s cleaning the bathroom (I’ll raise my hand for that one). Maybe for someone else it’s mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. Whatever your something is, you know you’ve got it.

Now imagine (or maybe just reflect on reality depending on the task – I’ll probably be doing that for this exercise) what the task in question would be like if you put it off for a week. You did nothing to help yourself out, you didn’t do a little piece at a time. Maybe you felt you didn’t have time, maybe you chose not to make time. How much more difficult is your task going to be and how much longer is it going to take because you have avoided it entirely? Your job will most likely take longer, be more difficult, and you are more likely to do it with a grimace on your face.

Now, imagine a different scenario. Let’s say your unpleasant task is doing the dishes. Rather than letting them pile up throughout the day you explore an alternative option. When you wake up, you immediately unload the dishwasher (yes, you can get your coffee going first). Then, after breakfast, your dishes immediately go in the already emptied dishwasher. Your kids want a snack a while later. No problem, especially if you ask them to bring their dishes to the counter or if they are big enough, to put them in the dishwasher themselves. No dishes on the table and none in the sink and it’s already lunch time! Continue the trend. Most importantly, you clean up as you go with as you make dinner. Dirty a spoon? Straight into the dishwasher. Finished with a pan? You’ve got a bowl of hot soapy water waiting in the sink. Evening comes and your dishes are basically done, maybe just a few ice cream bowls to celebrate a dishes day well spent. You were a good Past Self, so Future Self gets to relax and enjoy her Downton Abbey and not have to scrub the living daylights off the crusty oatmeal bowls from breakfast.

Most of life works like this. We can do a little at a time, or let things pile up. Personally, the higher the pile, the less likely I’m going to do it (kind of like the pile of laundry I’m presently avoiding because, sometimes, my Past Self is a jerk too).

So, Lent this year: Be a good Past Self. Hopefully it will mean I ultimately have more time for prayer and I will do my tasks with a happier disposition.

What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?

As we approach New Year’s Day, everyone’s thoughts are inevitably turning to resolutions – both the ones we broke in late January/early February this year and the new ones we hope will last in 2016. Maybe this year they will keep – maybe this year I’ll really start x, y, and z.

I’ve never been big on resolutions, but this year I think I’ve been inspired to make one. I recently called my grandmother. Affectionately called Grandma J, she is my dad’s mom and my only grandmother still alive. While we talked, we reminisced about my mother’s mom. My mother’s mom (Grandma) passed away just about two years ago and our family still grieves the loss of her physical presence with us. I recognize as an adult what a special family I have and how well everyone gets along, even crossing between my mom and dad’s family. My grandmothers were very close, they called one another often, visited when they could, and wrote letters to one another.

When my Grandma became sick, we were all shocked. None so much so, I think, then Grandma J. At least 15 years senior and already struggling with macular degeneration, Grandma J was struggling to live on her own. Because of her eyes, she could no longer drive and writing and reading were daily struggles. A few years ago, she decided to move into an assisted living community. Grandma, however, was still living on her own, driving wherever she needed, cooking her delicious Italian dishes and volunteering. Her transition from active to unwell to unable to care for herself was rapid. She lost the ability to swallow, then eat and talk. She had to write down everything and became very weak. It was an extremely difficult reality for all of us to adjust to.

As I’ve said, the decline of my Grandma was troubling for my Grandma J. She absolutely and completely loved my Grandma. To her, Grandma was a saint. Whenever I talk with Grandma J about Grandma, she always recalls how lovely, caring, and thoughtful she was. When I was last speaking with her, we started down this familiar road. But then, Grandma J veered off in a new direction.

She told me her eyes were becoming more troublesome and she was really struggling with reading, writing, and her general eyesight. But, instead of dwelling on this significant issue, she said to me, “It’s OK though, I just think about your dear Grandma Marilyn and how she had to write everything down. She really showed us all how to keep grace about her, even with everything she had to suffer though.”

All of us, each day, is dying in some way. It’s part of being human. Each day takes us closer to the day that we will die. This may seem harsh but it is the reality of our situation. My Grandma found a way to die gracefully and peacefully. She could have been angry or agitated – and I know she did have days where feelings of frustration, grief and anger welled up. She allowed herself to feel these emotions, accept them, and then offer them back to God. She prayed, she took comfort in the Rosary, she embraced her family and ultimately, she placed her trust in God’s plan for her life, regardless of how many days she had left on Earth.

Grandma J, I think, found something in Grandma’s death. She found an example of someone who embraced the life they had, regardless of how imperfect or hard it was at the time. I’m so glad that Grandma J shared these thoughts with me.

So what’s my New Year’s Resolution? To find a way, each day, to be at peace with where God has placed me.