What to give up for Lent (3/2/2016)

Growing up Baptist, Lent was not something we did.

We didn’t dance, we hid the wine my Granny used in her fruitcakes, and we didn’t do Lent.

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

I remember one of my friends asking me in maybe 5th or 6th grade what I was giving up for Lent.

I gave her a long blank stare for two solid minutes – I didn’t want to look like I was so uncool I had missed out on some super trend of giving something up for this never before heard event.

“I haven’t decided yet,” I said.

She was shocked and maybe a little horrified. It was the second week and I hadn’t decided on my sacrifice.

“Um…sacrifice? What do you mean exactly?”

“You give something up for 40 days to symbolize the 40 days Jesus fasted,” she said.

“Does it have to be food?” I asked.

“Well, I guess it could be something else but usually, it’s food related. I’m giving up chocolate.”

I shook my head empathically. “I’m Baptist; we don’t give up food.”

Us Baptists were not going to give up the opportunity to fry –or subsequently eat – something for any length of time, let alone 40 days. The best way to get the preacher to stop the sermon on time or maybe a few minutes early was to know our fellowship hall tables were loaded down with potluck dishes.

I asked Granny about Lent later that week.

“We don’t do that,” was all she said.

I was surprised to find out we didn’t partake in these traditions that others did. It made me feel a little bit like the rest of the world was doing this great important thing and we were left out.

I mentioned this to Granny and she said, “We Baptist. We just don’t do Lent, and that’s that.”

Mama didn’t have a good answer either, saying, “Lent is something people follow leading up to Easter.”

“Why don’t we do it?”

“We’re Baptist.”

Apparently, us being Baptist was our answer for everything we couldn’t come up with a better explanation for.

We may have had our Red Velvet Cake and our Hershey bars but were we missing out on being a part of something greater than us?

As I grew older, I found myself visiting other churches to find out more about some of those differences and found myself drawn to Episcopal, Presbyterian, and the Methodist faiths before settling on the latter. Upon doing so, I found myself learning about things I had missed out on – with Lent just being one.

I found out about Shrove Tuesday – a day to eat pancakes for supper. My grandfather would have loved that.

And I found out a little bit more about Lent.

The more I found out, the more confused I grew.

I don’t see how me giving up my Dove bars would mean anything spiritually speaking. It may make me drop a few pounds but I don’t think it represents anything to Jesus at all.

So when Lent rolled around and everyone started talking about what to give up, I still didn’t have an answer beyond my two minute blank stare.

“Red meat,” was one suggestion someone gave me.

I haven’t had red meat in months so that was out.

“What about bread?” was another. Nope, gave that up years ago.

“Coffee?”

My blood type is pretty much Dark Italian roast, so no. And people may get hurt.

Wine, chocolate, gum, and Keanu Reeves binge-a-thons (my child’s suggestion for me) were all offered as reasonable things to give up for Lent.

I stalled by saying I would give up something meaningful and significant.

And I hope I have.

Instead of chocolate, wine, or Keanu, I wanted to give up something that would make a difference.

Old grudges, jealousy, and bitterness seemed like better alternatives to me.

I was going to try to forgive a little quicker, and judge less — a bad trait I have that was passed down through generations.

I thought it might work and that it would mean a little more spiritually than leaving off candy for 40 days.

I told Mama my intentions. She thought they sounded good but questioned if I could stick to them.

She knew I couldn’t go without my food vices, but she wondered about these just as much.

“You really think you are going to give up grudges for Lent?”

“I have,” I told her. “And being judgmental. Maybe even sarcasm, too.”

“You think that will work?”

I honestly wasn’t sure. A few days later, I called her to give her an update.

“Mama, bad news. I don’t think I can do this,” I said.

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Because, it’s just harder than I thought.”

“What’s making it so hard?”

I sighed. How could I explain?

“If I give up grudges and all that stuff, then some people are going to have to give up being jerks for Lent first.”

Mama was silent for a while. “I’m still Baptist, Kitten, so this is all new to me, but I don’t think that’s how this works.”

It may not be, but it would make these remaining days easier.

Probably make the rest of the year easier, too.

 

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God Bless the Child Who’s Got His Own (11/11/2015)

The last few weeks, I have been participating in a daily gratitude exercise.

I think I am grateful for what I have in my life but I am not going to lie – this exercise is sometimes a challenge.

Don’t get me wrong: I am immensely grateful for everything I have in my life. I have gentle, daily reminders of grace, but there are times I struggle with those feelings of want.

Our cabin is far too small and cramped. I want a bigger, newer house. I want to have more than one bathroom, for many reasons but the most selfish is so I can put on my makeup without someone knocking on the door telling me to hurry up.

I think of how my car is old and was used when I bought it. It’s small and it wasn’t the car of my choice– but it was what I could afford.

I think of all the things I want, and don’t have.

In other words, I am more focused on what I don’t want than what I do.

And I let petty little occurrences completely steal my joy.

I get disappointed about something and it ruins my day.

Again, it’s not because I am not grateful, because I am.

But I think I have that Depression-consciousness that came from Granny, who was grateful for what she had but also was scared to talk much about having anything out of fear of jinxing herself.

She was thankful once for getting some money and then turned around and had an unexpected expense come up. She just sighed and said she never could have what she wanted.

My uncle Bobby, ever believing he’s going to hit a jackpot, won $160 on a lottery ticket one day and gave half to his favorite – and only – niece. I was going to go to Ulta, to the bookstore, and maybe even the shoe store. I could stretch that money to the inth degree.

The next day, my car battery was dead and needed to be replaced.

I was deflated.

“Story of my life, old gal,” Granny said. “I get some unexpected money, and unexpected bill comes up. I can’t get ahead.”

Of course, that didn’t help; I had always been told Granny and I were just alike.

“Maybe consider it a blessing you had that money to begin with,” Mama said to balance out Granny’s negative spin. “Maybe that’s why Bobby was led to give it to you – to pay for that battery.”

Perhaps, but it was a huge disappointment to me. I had been so excited and was looking forward to going shopping with some ‘mad money.’

Flash forward through the rest of my adult life and just like Granny, I was thankful and grateful but had an underlying sense of fear of losing what little I had.

“I worried about my GPA in college, I made good grades, and I am not scared to work hard; I don’t know why I am not a flippin’ millionaire, Mama,” I cried one day.

She didn’t know what to tell me, other than she wasn’t sure either. She wondered herself.

“Granny and Pop worked hard, too, Kitten,” she said softly.

I knew what she meant. They worked hard, too, and neither were close to being a millionaire.

“Remember what Barry told you about Granny though? Maybe that is how we are supposed to live.” Mama was referring to how a family friend who had known Granny all his life described her, saying, “She was not wealthy by earthly means, but you never knew it the way she loved. She loved generously and deeply.”

True. If the old gal wasn’t wanting to shoot you, she loved you.

There was no in-between.

“I know, Mama,” I said, still wallowing in the deep pool of self-mire. “I just thought for sure, I would be a millionaire by now, given how hard I work.”

I was in one of those funks that neither Mama nor chocolate could pull me from.

These funks come and go over the years, too.
After a few years of not being able to get Cole nearly what he wanted for Christmas, I have started shopping a little bit earlier, even if he sees it.

“Why are you starting so early?” he asked me a few weeks ago as ghosts and goblins were still on display.

“Because, baby,” was my reply.

My child is able to pick up on my moods and sensed there was something deeper. “Why, Mama? Are you OK?”

“Yes,” I assured him, seeing his worried face. “I just, I-” I searched for words.
“Last year I waited almost too late to get your stuff and everything was almost gone — that was a huge disappointment for you. And there’s been a few years your gifts were not that great.”

There had been a few years, his gifts were pretty lean and skimpy to be truthful.

“I just want to be able to get you stuff you want and like, is all. If I was rich, I could get you everything but since I am not, I am getting you a little bit as I can.”

He looked up at me, his face wrinkled in only the confusion pure childlike innocence can invoke. “Oh, sweet girl,” he said. “Don’t you see how rich we are? We have a house, we have three dogs who love us, we have a car, a van, and I have tons of toys. I’ve never not liked anything I got at Christmas – each year has been perfect and the best Christmas ever.

We have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. If we went and asked people in other countries, they would think we were millionaires! But don’t you see how rich we really are? We’ve just got to be thankful for it…”

And, just like that, my heart was full.

The habit of worrying (10/21/2015)

“Worrying is just praying for what you don’t want to happen,” is an often used quote about worrying.

An English proverb describes worrying as being like sitting in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere.

My friend Ginny told me when we were still in high school that worrying didn’t take away tomorrow’s sorrow, but robbed us of our joy today.

Did you catch that? High school.

I was worrying and stressing over something in high school.

I had an ulcer in 12th grade, and trust me, it wasn’t because I was worried about my grades.

“What are you so worried about?” Granny asked me one day as she snapped peas into a big metal tub.

“Everything.”

She snorted. “Everything, my tail. You ain’t got the first thing to be worried about.”

“I just feel like my nerves are worn thin,” I said.

Had Granny been one to roll her eyes, she would have. But she was not an eye roller. She was an eye bulger, however, and she bulged her eye out at me and pointed a long, green bean at me and declared for me to, “Stop it.”

“I don’t know how,” I replied.

Granny was quiet for a while, probably thinking I was a fragile thing to be so worked up as a teenager that I was on a higher dose of Zantac and Tagamet than she was.

“Let me ask you this, old gal,” she began. “Is worrying going to change the outcome?”

I shrugged. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was specifically worried about, other than I was just a worry wart in general.

“Do you worry?” I asked her.

“What good will it do?” she answered.

How could she not worry? That seemed like such a foreign concept to me – not worrying.

“You know when I should have worried?” she asked. “When your uncle was sitting on a tree stump, by himself, in the middle of the jungle of Vietnam, waiting for his platoon to come along and tell them which way to go.

“But I didn’t then and I didn’t when your mother’s one good kidney shut down when she was pregnant with you and had to have emergency surgery. The doctor said neither one of you may make it – gave you both 1 out of 100 odds.”

“You weren’t worried then?” I asked.

Granny kept snapping peas. “No. Them odds was better than the 100 percent chance you both were going to die if her kidney wasn’t fixed. I didn’t worry. I told the doctor to make her kidney work again.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to make that decision. How did you not worry about Uncle Bobby?”

“‘Cause, I knew he was going to be OK,” she said simply. “I prayed every day and told him when he left he was going to come home. I couldn’t worry about him. I just kept waiting until he came home.”

“I couldn’t have done that,” I said. “I would have gone crazy. I don’t understand how you couldn’t worry.”

Granny looked up from her lap of beans. “Then you don’t have a lick of faith, old gal.”

Maybe she was right. During the course of her 90 plus years, Granny went through a lot of things, but I never saw her really worry. Part of me likes to think it was because the old woman was so darn stubborn she knew things would work out in her favor – and if they didn’t, she was determined enough to change them.

“Now, you stop this worrying,” she scolded. “The doctor said you can’t have any of my fried chicken until you get this ulcer healed. So stop it. And I mean it.”
That was over 20 years ago. I am still worrying.

Mama is the consummate worrier, calling over the craziest things, and coming up with unimaginable worst case scenarios.

“What if the bears come into the house?”

I tell her I hope they pick up a broom and some Pledge and clean.

“What if Cole likes skateboarding and he decides he wants to be a professional one? They go up something called a pike…”

I tell her Tony Hawk has a net worth of $140 million; if Cole could make that much and be happy, I would be thrilled. It would mean my child had done incredibly well for himself and I may have done a little something right.

“What if..?”

“What if what?” I asked. “Please, stop worrying – trust me, I worry enough for the both of us. Heck, I worry enough for the world. But worrying doesn’t help.”

It doesn’t help. And I wish I could stop. It has become almost a habit – if I am not worrying about something, I wonder what is going to go wrong. I think Mama does that, too. Maybe she started worrying because she didn’t understand how Granny couldn’t.

But I’ve worried about things that never happened. I’ve worried about things that happened that worrying didn’t change. I’ve worried about things that turned out better than I thought. Worrying didn’t help. Instead, it made me not enjoy the present because I was worrying about something I had no control over.

“It may not help, but I don’t know what would,” Mama said.

I thought of Granny and what she would say.

“Then you don’t have a lick of faith, old gal,” I told her. And I knew, Granny was absolutely right.