The Thanksgiving Thing

I’ve made Thanksgiving too much of a thing. You know, the thing that you pull out of your tradition closet once a year that’s covered in pilgrims, orange candles and turkey. That thing wrapped around family, fireplaces, candy corn and pumpkin pie, not to be outdone shortly by red and white candy canes and peppermint. You make the most of it, for even in the retail stores, it’s truly short lived. Before the day even happens, all the fall looking decorations are on sale and Santa’s, lights and stockings are overflowing the bins in the aisle. Thanksgiving has its moments, but I’ve still made it a thing. A thing I miss, a thing I resent, a thing I have a hard time looking forward to. Because, it’s not really a thing, anymore.

 The thing it used to be was weeks of preparation and anticipation. Recipe folders opened on the table, hours of reminiscing about last year’s stuffing, marinate for the turkey or which was the absolute best dessert and can it get any better. Organized lists of everyone’s favorites; who makes that special dish the best and could they bring it again, is there something new we can try. What’s Rachel Ray’s doing this year. Check it out. That’s the thing. It has to be tradition but feel fresh for the new year.

The thing used to be the table arrangements, place settings and gifts that graced each plate. Specially chosen tokens of gratitude carefully wrapped and tagged, hoping to bring a smile, a surprise and a feeling of thankfulness as we gathered. During the waiting period while the turkey was carved, there were special table activities. Sometimes it was a task that would last until Christmas, sometimes, it was just writing down what we were thankful for this year. One of the things was writing down for the person next to you what you were grateful for about them. Affirmation, thankfulness, kindness in that moment was a thing.

The thing used to be the smell of roasting turkey on the grill for blocks around the neighborhood. Guests would arrive and know they were in the right place because of the wafting aroma that was so familiar. This thing, the roasting turkey, would start early in the morning with the cleaning, mixing the marinate that would be brushed on every 30 minutes and aluminum foil, lots of aluminum foil. The basting was timed religiously. For this made the best turkey ever. And who wouldn’t like to check the degree of browning and doneness hourly until the magic moment when it was declared ready to eat. Sizzling sauce in the bottom of the pan would be music to the ears. It was second away from becoming the center of everyone’s attention.

This thing, these traditions seem light-years away. What with everyone logistically separated by thousands of miles and divided into many different moving pieces, faces and places. My heart misses this thing, this gathering of inner circle family and/or closest friends. This year, it’s not a thing. I’m trying to redefine this thing called Thanksgiving.  Is it easy to do? Absolutely not. And so far I’m failing. If it’s not all those things, then is the only thing I have to do is be thankful? Can I do just that thing? It should start there to begin with. And I’m sure it does, or it did. All the things that I made it to be were just a creative part of me, from the culinary to the ambiance, to the thankful spirit that lingers, wanting the traditional to be what was expected. And not disappointing. Wanting no one to leave thinking that Thanksgiving thing didn’t happen. No regrets, only memories and thankfulness.

Remaking, reshaping, rethinking that thing called Thanksgiving is going to take a while as it’s not everyone’s heart that is bothered by this question “Can I just be thankful?” Of course you want to think and believe that it’s possible, but time will tell if I’m strong enough. Strong enough to let go of the thing I’ve made it, that society has made it and just be. Thankful. Filled. With. Thanks. It’s an internal fight to defeat all the feelings that park themselves in the way, along this path. But one year, that thing, that Thanksgiving thing, just might be another kind of thing. One that will become a new icon, a replacement for the other thing, or maybe, at least, it will look and feel like a different thing.

Now I'm wondering if Christmas is a thing, too.

The Grace of Giving

Captivating. Radiant. Beautiful. Graceful. Stunning. Pretty.
Absolutely gorgeous. Lovely.  Ravishing.

These are words that one would use to describe a blushing bride on her wedding day. Walking down the aisle, everyone who is watching has a thought, a word, or a gasp of expression for the beauty that is synonymous with a bride in a wedding dress. There's something about the lace overlay, tiny buttons lined up down the middle of the back, the white flowing Chiffon, Charmeuse or Satin fabric, the plunging neckline, cinched in waistline or the trailing veil. It's a complete package of nothing less than amazing beauty, every element seemingly necessary to help you feel as special as you are on your day. Wearing a garment as special as a wedding dress creates a punctuation mark on the journey to cross over from life alone to life with another person. The walk through this threshold is brief but meaningful, filled with emotions, it’s definitely a pivotal moment in your life and every detail matters.
Shopping for that one dress, though, is the chore of a lifetime. Especially if you do it with friends or family attached. No offense, but it’s not the easiest thing to search for something as special as this dress will be, with opinions, voices, critiques, dare I say judgments all swirling around the bridal shop or the changing room and eventually working their way into your head. And then there’s the sales people who are trying to be there for you, but having you try on a dress that makes you look like you’re wearing an oversized tutu doesn’t help. You know what I’m talking about! And it takes approximately 20 minutes and four pairs of hands to help you get one dress off and another dress on. Only to realize that it doesn’t zip or button in the back but the dear salesperson says, “Don’t worry, we’ll take your measurements and fit one to your exact size.” That’s great, but already, my mind has interpreted that as “What do you mean I can’t wear a size 6, I always do.” Which incidentally, in wedding dress world, your perfectly normal, everyday size is at least two or more sizes higher. Talk about playing emotional mind games. It would be enough to have any bride-to-be break down on the platform in front of the largest three way mirrors you’ve ever seen.

Regardless of the stress involved, there’s a day when you say yes, to the dress and everything falls into place. You get married in front of your friends and family, have a beautiful and romantic honeymoon, return home to open gifts, then the dress goes in a box or in storage never to be worn again and life goes on. But that doesn’t have to be the end of your beautiful dress. Unless you are just so sentimental and hold on to everything, there are other options for repurposing that dress that will bless others. Not all of them are as joy-filled as a wedding day. But they are grace filled and just as beautiful, definitely pivotal moments and every detail matters. At least to the parents it does. Let me explain.

For about a year, I have been on such a journey to repurpose a wedding dress. It would have been mine if I had absolutely loved it and were in the right frame of mind when I purchased it. High stress moment, filled with voices that weren’t my own, I succumbed to purchasing a dress that in the end I didn’t like or want. I blame the Nazi lady, but we won’t go there right now. So, the overwhelming guilt of spending money uselessly has haunted me but motivated me to find another user, wearer, owner for this dress. I contacted many places that turned it down, placed ads in the various places, with no or at best frivolous replies. So there it hung in the closet, still in the dress bag. Still waiting to be passed on.  I prayed over this dress many times that the Spirit would lead me to the next rightful owner, whoever that person is, wherever they are at that moment. I envisioned connecting with a future bride who might not be able to afford a dress but desperately needed one to make her feel special. It would have been my utmost pleasure to do the right thing and gift her this dress. Just for the joy of knowing that it changed someone’s life. But that wasn’t the plan the universe handed me. It gave me one that I wasn’t quite prepared for, but knew immediately was the reason I hadn’t been able to gift it until now.
A few months ago I ran across a news video from a Facebook page, 11Alive in Atlanta. My friend Julie Wolfe works there and her news team posted a story about a group called Rachel’s Gift. I was captivated by it, but by the time it was over, I was crying buckets, went right into the ugly cry, knowing in my heart that I needed to send them my dress. Rachel’s Gift is a non-profit organization named after a little baby named Rachel. About 7 weeks before Rachel was born her parents were in a car accident. They were immediately rushed to the hospital, but Rachel died 2 hours later and was stillborn the next day. The grief stricken parents had to prepare to bury their baby rather than bring her home to the nursery that had been prepared for her. One thing you never want to think about is how to dress a baby that you’ll never see again. As you can imagine leaving the hospital in order to find that special outfit must have been excruciatingly painful, emotional and you would just feel wrecked. Necessary but difficult. It was out of pain that this group was started so other parents wouldn’t have to go through the same experience. They have a group of volunteers who create burial gowns. They make these out of donated wedding dresses. The soft satin material with tender details of lace is carefully crafted into clothing, and then donated to hospitals, then given to parents for their baby. Adorned in these gowns, creating a punctuation mark on their journey, they cross over their own threshold, however brief, into heaven, safe and sound, the day filled with emotion, a never-to-be-forgotten pivotal moment for the family. But every detail matters.

The group also provides grief counseling for families, a package of keepsakes of their child, including plaster kits to collect hand and footprints, pictures, a photo album, and a guide book to help through the process. They are committed to walking through this experience with parents and want none of them to feel alone ever. It’s quite a network of resources to help in this special time. Go to their website,, if you want to know more, donate or volunteer.

I’m at peace now, knowing my dress that previously had so many negative memories attached can now have brand new ones. I prayed over the dress one last time as I laid it carefully in the box for shipping. This time it was different, it was not for the bride to be, but instead for the tiny little babies who would be wrapped in the fabric and held by their parents one last final moment. That they would look beautiful, peaceful, sweet and graceful in every way.  I prayed for the parents and the comfort they would need. And for them to find solace in knowing they would soon be reunited. And if they didn’t know this, someone close to them would muster up the courage to open their heart, embrace those parents and give them hope and assurance that their baby is safe, at peace and being cuddled and loved in heaven.

Mission accomplished. Gift given with grace.

Photography Session #2

Inspired from the previous weekend lesson from an amazing Photographer, Amanda Borozinski, Michael and I set out this weekend to find an interesting place to shoot. Looking through our Groupon folder, we happen to have one certificate that was about to expire. It was for two tickets to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Having never been there, we ventured out to see what it was all about. Little did I realize we were going to be taking a step back into the early 1800's. This is a community that was built to resemble a farm community from the 1700-1800's. All of the buildings on the over 250 acres are originals from that era that were moved to this location. It's pretty amazing.

This day started out to be a photo shoot, an exercise in light, leading lines, shutter speeds, rule of thirds, etc. What it turned into was a day to reset, reconnect with Michael and take a look at what life was like many years ago for some. There was a romantic element as we walked into the village and the snow began to fall. In one minute there was a blizzard, driving wind and snow, and in the next, the sun was out and the dark clouds were moving away. Having to snuggle to keep warm, bundle up with scarf, hat and gloves and massage our fingers around hot apple cider, were the making of some sweet moments between us. But a strange thing happened, as I saw the small homes that some lived in, the open fires that heated them, and the way firewood was stored and their belongings were kept in the home, I realized, it's not unlike many in the world today. In fact, people in the early 1800's lived better than many in other war-torn or under-resourced countries. Not a lot has changed....for some.

 I'm not going to dwell on this right now, more will be said in future blogs. For now, the focus is on the beauty of the Village and the spirit that moved through once upon a time. Many had walked through those same doors of the buildings and looked out the same exact windows. 

 Someone held onto the same rail as they climbed up or descended down the stairs. Little feet ran across the wide-wooden plank floors, creaking in much the same way. The black soot on the fireplaces were put there by the many logs burning to keep them warm or cook their food. Evidence of their presence is everywhere

Without a doubt, I was drawn to the windows and doors of many buildings. The contrast in color, the texture of the wood, the milkiness of the glass, were all so appealing, almost artistic. But for them, this was the style of the day.

Did the panes of glass in these windows really keep out the cold? Did they let in enough light to work by? Was looking out these windows a happy moment or a sad one? Did they like the color red? Inside this small building was a room with a bed, a table and chairs, a trunk, and a fireplace.

The wood homes were surprisingly warm, if not by the heat, then by the sun coming through the windows. Realizing that we were just out of the cold wind was enough to make us feel that we could make it. That we could actually warm up enough to continue on the walk. The light of the sun also created a warm ambient light reflecting off the wood.

Part of a small general store had goods stacked neatly on the shelf. Next to the window, there seemed to be a glow that spotlighted these particular products. Again, I was crazy for the lines and softness created by the glass.

Looking for leading lines, I found all of these. Not just on the wood, but on the shadows as well. Very soft corner of a very large room.

Loved the color red. Whatever shade it is really, contrasts perfectly with the weathered wood siding the house.

I'd love to see photographs of those who walked through these doors. Was life hard, interesting, did they laugh?

If the condition of this door is any indication of the life people led from this time period, it had to be rough. The texture was amazing.

Light, color, contrast, were all attractive to me for this photo. This was a game board with well worn pieces.

As we stood in the doorway of the barn, I could see the snow filling the air and coating the trees. I loved the lines of this fence. What looks like a black and white, was really a play on light and dark. One was in the shadows, one was rolling up the slight hill in the light.

One of the few moments the wind was still and the sun came out. The reflection of the covered bridge didn't last long, but it's eerily reflective in pond.

There's nothing that compares to walking in nature, the contemplative moments that occur between the steps you take down the path. Alone, but not lonely. As I'm just steps behind.

20 Days and Counting

Tuesday, March 25th. Significant because 20 days ago, my sugar free adventure for lent began.  Already, it feels like it's been months.  The first two weeks were craziness, as my body adjusted to the less than sweet menu of foods. Headaches daily, constantly felt anxious and every other post on Facebook had a picture of a cake, cupcakes or cookies on it. I guess, for now, I should hide Taste of Home, Pioneer Woman or  Williams Sonoma daily recipes. It’s a lot harder than than I could have predicted. Diving into this challenge straight on causes me to wonder did I make the right choice.

My reasons were good for trying this, my motivation was noble, my heart was in the right place. But now, my body is cursing and screaming at me from the time I get up, until the time I go to sleep. It's sheer torture walking down each aisle of the grocery store, my eyes landing on everything sweet, wanting to get the calendar out and see exactly which week CAN I buy these for now forbidden foods. My reactions to anything and everything have become so irrational that I don’t even recognize myself some days. Hy-per-sen-si-tive I call it.  In fact, every part of my life seems as though it’s under a microscope and all things appear larger than they really are and I’m feeling crushed by them.  Headaches persist. Making decisions is difficult, which isn’t usually the case. I’m talking even the small ones, like what to wear in the morning, what to pack for lunch, whether or not I want to pack a lunch, what should I do after work,  read a book, watch TV, go workout, clean, play Candy Crush. My emotions feel like they’re on steroids and everyone is a target. I feel bad for my poor husband who has to be in the same room with me when a meltdown occurs. My next thought is, somehow I have to explain this.  Never would I have thought that doing without something could wreak havoc on me to the point of wanting to just stay home under a blanket most days.

After nearly three weeks I decided that perhaps my body isn't supposed to do without sugar, completely. Perhaps there's a need for some kind of sucrose, fructose, glucose, sugar, or whatever form you like and my system is trying to tell me. So, my plan is to try to introduce something sweet not necessarily sugar in the form we think of it, i.e. the granular sweetness you would spoon into your tea, or add by the cup full to a recipe, or pour over your pancakes. I'm thinking more along the lines of fruit and fruit juice, naturally occurring, not a blend or mix or concentrated or sugar added. Not so much to satisfy the craving for sugar, but to help my body realize it will get the nutrition it needs, so as to achieve a balance once again. So far I have two successfully simple recipes I can share that are  delicious. All the while, keeping true to my giving up sugar for Lent.

The first one is Apple Oatmeal that I make for breakfast. Simple, delicious, I may make it like this from now on.  I use regular old fashioned Oatmeal, the kind you have to cook for 5 minutes.

For two servings use the following:
1 cup oats
1 cup water
3/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs chopped walnuts

Boil the water and apple juice, vanilla and salt. Stir in the oats. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Add chopped walnuts to cooked oats. At this point you could add raisins if you like. Adding the apple juice actually gives it a light, naturally sweetened flavor, without adding sugar. 

The second one is Baked Pears that I made as a side dish or dessert. I used Bosc pears because of the firm but delicate texture.

For two servings use the following:

2 Bosc pears, washed, peeled, quartered length-wise
1 Tbs coconut butter
1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice

Place the pears in a single layer in a glass dish.  Melt the coconut butter and pour over the pears. Bake in a 375 oven for 15-20 minutes. Turn over occasionally to evenly (lightly) brown on both sides. Use a fork to test. If they are still too firm, add an additional 5-10 minutes more if necessary. Once pears are semi soft, pour in apple juice. Bake an extra 5-10 minutes or until juice is absorbed and pears are lightly glazed from the apple juice. Remove and eat warm. Now I would suggest that any other time of the year, it would be delicious with ice cream on top. 

Also, I found that since adding a spoonful of sugar to my morning tea isn't on the plan right now, I have had to search for teas that are naturally sweet. My favorite is by Aveda Comforting Teabags or loose tea. The special ingredient in this is licorice root and peppermint, which is very mild and has a sweet aftertaste.  You will never want to add sugar to this tea, the taste is impeccable without it. It's caffeine free, so it's a great bedtime tea as well. 

But don't get the idea that this giving up sugar for Lent is just about food. It isn't. With each and every day that has passed, the temptation is always right in front of me. You just can't turn in any direction and not find sugar, something made with sugar or an ad for sweets. But, rather than consider this a fight to see which part of my conscience would win, I made a decision early on to let these be a reminder of what this season is all about. I try hard not to get obsessive about it, but I am reminded of a religious practice from my early church days.

Around this season we would be preparing for the Days of Unleavened Bread. Biblical holyday from the Old Testament, Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23. The teaching in these verses was for the people of Israel to eat unleavened bread for seven days. It was our practice to make sure that before the sun set on the beginning of the first day, every bit of leavened bread was to be removed from our homes, cars, and off our property. This was very much like spring cleaning, only much more OCD. We would search in, around, under and on top of everything in our homes, beginning with the outlying rooms, working our way to the kitchen. And then the hard work would begin. Imagine every place in your kitchen where crumbs could fall, hide, get pushed around, slide under, or get trapped in. These are the places we had to search for and when we'd find them, meticulously remove them by vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping, or whatever method possible. My house was never, ever so clean as that sacred night when the Days began. And even though it was a bit ceremonial, there was something clean, refreshing, peaceful that happened not just to our homes, but to our spirit. Going through the ritual of cleaning was, well, cleansing. It kept us focused on the purpose of the days, which was to see sin in our lives as these crumbs. They are everywhere and difficult to get rid of. It's a feeling that you've accomplished a huge task, actually rid your entire home of this "sin" stuff and are ready for what's next. Then there was the anticipation of something new, a new season of growth, of church gatherings, of deepening friendships, of gatherings around the table. All for the Days of Unleavened Bread. Which by the way meant the only bread we would eat for seven days were breads made with no leavening, i.e. matzos, wheat thins, homemade breads or desserts. There's an entire recipe book for just this season. 

The practice of Lent doesn't feel quite as pure as those Days were. First of all, it isn't biblical, nor was it ever commanded to be observed. But allowing something to be used in a tangible way on a daily basis to remind us of Jesus and his sacrifice isn't all bad. It's not a comparison by any means, it's only a reminder. I don't feel anymore spiritual for having made the choice to do this. I do feel that I have thought more about Jesus these days than perhaps in the past. This everyday, every hour, every minute Jesus who said he would never leave us. I have to believe that my thoughts aren't random, or were just a result of my hunger,  these reminders are nothing short of grace-filled moments, going from 'oh my gosh I would do anything right now for something sweet,' to 'oh my gosh, did He do that for me, how sweet?'

A big test came yesterday when Michael and I decided to visit a Maple Syrup house on Maple Syrup weekend. It's traditional for us to find a local farm where maple syrup is being made, take a tour, sample the sweets and purchase a couple gallons of this freshly made deliciousness. As soon as we get out of the car the fragrance coming from the vented boilers blows through the air, always in our direction. Walking into the building, it's warm, steamy and smells just like what I would imagine heaven smelling like, softly sweet, delicately maple scented. Scattered about the rooms are samples of everything maple, maple syrup, maple candy, maple sugar, maple brittle, maple granola, maple milk, maple donuts. And some years, we've gone early enough to enjoy the pancake breakfast, with of course, maple syrup. But not this year. Our afternoon trip to several sugar houses, could have yielded dozens of little samples. And indeed, Michael had his share. I was tempted and conflicted all at the same time. But the one thing that made me say no, was that I'd made a commitment. Would Jesus have been mad at me if I decided to indulge? No, I don't think so. But I did remind myself that there's a purpose for making this decision and I'm going to stick with it. Walking out, I thanked God for such a beautiful hidden treasure he created in the maple trees, and thankful that someone figured out how to bottle it. Oh, and I walked out with my little samples, which are now in a ziploc bag, waiting for Lent to be over. The gallons of syrup I bought will keep all year, there's no rush to taste those.

With 20 days to go, I'd like to say I've got this down but I'm not so sure.  What I do have is hope that they bring more meaning, more reminders, more connections to what the season represents. It really does need to be about more than just food.

Twitter Trackers, Lent and Cadbury Eggs

Think about this for a minute. Have you ever made the decision that you were going to buy a new/used car, decided on the kind of car, let's say a mint green Fiat, and for the next month or until you actually buy a car, you see nothing but mint green Fiat's on the highway?

Or how about this, you absolutely love and adore chocolate, but your diet doesn't. So, you decide that for the next month, you were going to avoid anything chocolate, i.e. candy bars, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate shakes, even chocolate croissants. I know, that's the worst. But as soon as you made that decision, everything you see, smell and think about resembles chocolate. All you have to do is see a picture of a chocolate cupcakes and your mouth waters and you can smell them baking in the oven. But the point is your mind is fixated on it until the buzzer goes off on the clock and you're free to eat that chocolate once again.

I'm convinced that our mind plays tricks on us, thoughtless, heartless tricks, that make us crazy. It's dangles everything we struggle with right in front of our faces, to be taunted over and over again, until you relent, give in or succumb to that thing we try to avoid, do without or give up. We end up obsessing over it, laying awake counting the clicks on the second hand of a clock, in a torturous, sleepless night asking, 'why does time have to go so slowly?' You're not prepared with anything to takes it's place in your mind, and because of the void you are one step away from running through the house screaming, or taking it out on the next unsuspecting victim that crosses your path. And yes, this could even be the family pet, dog or cat, goldfish, it doesn't matter. The point is, that which you decided you did not want or could not have, becomes the object of your most intense focus.

 In some small way, these examples are a part of the main idea for this blog. Something I had been thinking about for a while, and trying to decide about participating. Like these two decisions, have you ever decided to give something up for Lent? All over Facebook right now, I see people declaring what they're willing to give up for Lent, everything from Facebook to electronic devices, to food, you name it.

On blog this week and on, they published Steven Smiths stats on what Twitter follower are giving up for Lent, here's a top 21 list, (I had to include the Starbucks) as of Wednesday (it's a live Twitter Lent Tracker):

RankWhatNumber of Tweets
5.swearing2,833 networking2,726
8.sweets2,030 food1,782
10.junk food1,306

The top 100 list is even more entertaining.  Continuing down the list I see things like smoking, carbs, my phone, fizzy drinks, procrastination, selfies, complaining, sarcasm, negativity, OneDirection, and Tumblr. Quite a list. I always wonder if there's any amount of seriousness in those answers. I wonder what it means when 383 people say they are giving up 'life?'  It's easy to understand people giving up Dunkin Donuts, exercise, sarcasm or cake, but 119 people said hope, 115 said caring. A bit of sadness rings in those answers.

Wikipedia states that "The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial." It's a preparation of the heart and mind for the Easter season, for remembering Christ and his suffering and sacrifice. To participate is a choice. To believe it's significance is a choice. That's why making the decision to participate took time. I didn't want to participate to be like everyone else. I didn't want to participate because some church said I have to. I wanted to find meaning for myself and for God to lead my thinking about what and why.

If this is a season to remember and reflect, then  part of the significance needed to be that it would be a constant reminder. I wanted this to be something that was so much a part of my life already that I didn't give it any thought, and that to do without it would be a reminder that in those moments, which I was hoping would be many, I could reflect on the true meaning and purpose of Jesus, my relationship with him and the significance of this season. The choice was made with a bit of hesitation because I didn't want to feel like I was faking it or that people would judge me or think less of me for choosing something that might not be hugely spiritual or not as important as something they might choose. I had to come to grips with my own motivation for my choice. And then make it.

But I did wrestle with myself whether or not I could do this? Can I go the 40 days without? At times I told myself I couldn't, this would be too hard, what if I started and failed? Then the question became I can't or ... I won't? Thinking about the reason, all I had to do was ask whether Jesus, when making the decision to fast for 40 days or even the daily decision to keep walking towards the cross for us, did he ask himself  those same questions? I'm sure he did not wrestle with it the same way I do. How pathetic of me to compare my giving up something to his giving up everything. And of course he never thought for one second that he could not nor would not do it. He was Jesus, he had all power to do anything.

For my first time ever, choosing to give up something for Lent feels a bit strange, not necessarily in my comfortable space, shrouded in a little fear that I might not get it right. But I'm doing it anyway. I made the decision to give up sugar. A simple 5 letter word, not at all connected to Jesus, not flashy, not one shred of spiritual connotation. Just sugar. The reason is it has become one of those things that in the past had infiltrated my life, built a fortress wall around it and demanded that I pay attention to it. It dared me to make decisions for myself, sent cravings at all the wrong times, and detracted from basic sense of good health. But all the while, it was there, in everything, on everything, subtle, seductive, and delicious. This past year I have been very intentional about removing a number of items from my eating plan, including most sugar, but not all. It's still there, something I think about giving up once in a while, but never commit to in any measureable way.

So why for Lent? Well, I can already tell you, after two days, it was the perfect thing to do to create an awareness that I'm doing without. Ever cut out sugar from your diet? Just like the two examples at the top, it's all I think about. I catch myself bumping into those moments where before there wasn't a thought or consideration about having sugar. Making tea in the morning, reaching for the sugar spoon and even opening the jar, realize that I made that commitment to give it up. Take that moment to pause and remember why. Looking for a midmorning snack and realizing that many of the things I ate before, while very healthy, contained sugar. Put it back. I made a commitment to give it up. Take a moment to pause and remember why. This goes on each time there's hunger, which happens more often without sugar added to your food. I've noticed that even on Facebook, all I see are recipes for eye appealing desserts which are no doubt made with sugar. No I can't make it now. But I do save the recipe for later. Needless to say, sugar was a good choice for me.

I have thought during several of those moments how thankful I am that Jesus didn't say "sorry, I can't do this." In my humanness, I've already wanted to quit. But the gentle reminder hits me that I'm just giving up something, he gave up everything, let's build some character and get to the finish line. This is possible, I've done it before. But this time, it's intentional for a completely different reason and I feel the commitment is for more than just my health. At the end of this 40 days (which is actually more than 40 days because technically Lent doesn't include Sundays) I know I will have thought about Jesus at least 500-1000 times, probably more. which is exactly how many times I will have also thought about sugar, something sweet and delicious. Each time is a moment where I connect with Him, thank Him, and I'm reminded of just how much more important that relationship is to me, than sugar. It feels good to reprioritize.

So don't tempt me with Cadbury Eggs, Easter bunny cinnamon rolls, chocolate bunnies, hot cross buns, or Easter Egg cookies. Unless, of course, it's on Easter.

True Love - My Gift

There are only a few times in your life that you truly fall in love. You know, the completely-head-over-heels-smitten with something or someone, the kind of feelings that keep you dreaming awake at night, or a visible nervousness or anxiousness, or even a huge urge to throw up. You know that’s true love when that happens. Your stomach is essentially one big knot. You bolt out of bed in the morning because this new found love will hopefully bring opportunities, none of which can be missed.  It’s the kind of feeling that causes you to say ‘my life has changed; things will never be the same.’ Ever. And when you’re feeling this way, who would ever want it to be the same?

Take for instance the last time you went shopping for new shoes or a new pair of jeans. The moment you slipped those shoes on to your feet, that feeling of complete awe and wonder, could there ever be a more perfect pair, starts to emerge. It collides with your already over stimulated temporal lobe and you decide at that moment those shoes are yours to keep, no matter the cost. Break the bank, go ahead, you’re worth it. Even more so with a great pair of jeans. When those pieces of beautifully crafted fabric slide perfectly over those curves you have forever been examining in the mirror each day and criticizing, you scream inside “OMG they fit,” you know they are the ones. THE ones that you will wear this day and every day, if you could. Could you give yourself permission? Would anyone really notice if you did? It’s totally worth the risk. For these are THE jeans that cause your latent figure to be realized. To you, and to everyone, in the world. This is love.

You also know the feeling of love the second you cradle a newborn, especially your own. If not yours, then someone close to you, your own child’s newborn, a niece or nephew, a dear friend’s baby. Your heart grows exponentially at that moment in a way that says everything you’ve loved up till that point is nothing compared to this. Your arms folded gently around this little body as if it’s made of delicate porcelain. This tiny creation that is so perfect, smells perfect, sounds perfect, feels perfect. Love and perfection are intertwined and wrapped completely around your heart and spirit. You cry you’re so happy, so filled with joy. It’s overwhelming. Baby eyes looking back up at yours, as if their eyes are searching into yours, reaching for a connection on a level you didn’t know you even had, but quickly find. Life could not reflect love more perfectly if it tried. And you know. This is love.

Those are amazing kinds of love. And there are many more that could be written about, love for bright sunny weather, for rain or snow, for the ocean, forests or mountains. Love for animals, dogs, cats, horses. Love you feel when you hear a great song, the notes causing you to float right above reality. Love you feel when you take a walk in the springtime fresh air. Or the love you feel when you eat a juicy sweet strawberry, dipped in warm chocolate, sprinkled with flakes of coconut or finely chopped nuts, or taste something that is so delicious you literally can’t stop eating it because you don’t want the feeling to end. There’s also love of the friendship kind, like a best friend you’ve had since grade school, who knows you and loves you anyway. Who is always next to you when you can’t stand alone, who reassures you that where you are at any given time is ok, and whose smile or hugs can calm your worst inner storm. That is love.

There is another kind of love that you feel when God places someone in your path so unexpectedly, that when you ask Him a thousand times is this for real, the only answer you receive is yes. Truly, yes. It’s almost like the love you think you feel when you’re a young child, as your eyes begin to notice the girl or boy sitting next to you and that inevitable crush just happens. But this time, you’re a grown up. And whether you are looking for it or not, God will surprise you with the most unimaginable love.

This happened to me, May, 2006. None of the back details are important right now, except to say that after feeling alone and emotionally disconnected for many years, it was like walking into a waterfall and getting drenched with more love than I thought possible. I knew what love was when my children were born. With the first, it was truly an awakening. With the second, it was a complete refresher. Same love all over again. And to this day, it hasn’t diminished. Never has, never will. But even that love is different than this. To really understand God’s love is to see it, feel it, experience it through another human being, one of God’s children, who is also in love with Him. It wrecks you, it rocks your world, it makes you prove over and over again to yourself that you are worthy and deserve being loved because this love is here to stay.

This kind of love completely skips the infatuation kind of love and goes straight to the soul-to-soul kind of love. It’s as if your spirit connects with another spirit that is filled with love, who shares it with you unconditionally. There is a sense of peace. The inner turmoil of loneliness, the strain of miscommunication, and the never ending effort to make right what isn’t, is just gone. Those layers that created huge gaps in relationships have dissolved and the true you, the real you can emerge. Even though this love is on a level you’ve never experienced, the confidence and realization of the sincerity of it, takes time. Much is inadvertently compared and contrasted with the past, until you realize you’re not living there anymore. The past is over; the present, the now is where you learn to be yourself. Being present, fully present, is easy and the inner conflict that once existed is gone. 

God’s love, through another individual, takes over your consciousness, your every action, your conversation, your motivations, your spirit in a very real and deep way. You only have to accept it, confidently. Embrace it fully. Live it outrageously. Exchange it freely. Share it unselfishly. Nurture it diligently. Protect it gently. Appreciate it wholeheartedly. For there is nothing greater. This is love.