Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ready for Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of the season of Lent on the Christian calendar. A day that we are reminded "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return."

As Christians, this is a time of reflection and introspection. It is a 40-day journey that is representative of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. He fasted and was tempted, but most importantly, he prayed. He was preparing himself for a life of ministry beyond what we ever imagined. For us, we spend these symbolic 40 days preparing ourselves - of seeking restoration - as we anticipate Christ's Resurrection, which marks the end of this season.

As we prepare ourselves, we have the tradition of making some sacrifices during Lent. Whether we give something up (a food, bad habit, or some material item we really don't need) or add something (spiritual practice such as devotions or prayers), please remember the reason we do so. I encourage you not to make a change because you feel you have to, only to return to your "old ways" on Sundays ("mini-Easters") or the day the season ends (Easter). I hope instead, we can make changes to our lives that will hold lasting effects, that will truly help us to grow in and strengthen our faith. That whatever choices we make in this season will have everlasting effects and carry over beyond Lent, and that most importantly, it will help us to refocus our energies and take a risk by diving into an even deeper relationship with Christ who calls us to this place - who restores us.

Far more than any year ever before, this year, I am ready for Lent. So much has happened already this year, and it is almost as if there has been no time for it all to catch up and sink in. From ongoing economic problems to discovering the root of my back problems are because I have Degenerative Disc Disease to friends in need hundreds of miles away, to the tragic and heartbreaking premature birth and death of friends' infant son only last week, I have spent this year in ceaseless prayer for crisis after crisis.

This year I have set goals for this season, as always one "sacrifice" and one spiritual practice to work on. More important than these, though, I pray whatever our goals are, we are able to collectively keep up an attitude of ceaseless prayer, even when we aren't in crisis to remind us (and I hope that day will be soon). I pray that whatever changes we make to our lives this season, they are changes that allow for us the opportunity to find rest and inner peace, and to find the restoration we so often speak of this season being affiliated with.

Come, O God, and restore our souls as we remember on this day that "From Dust we came, and to dust we shall return."

Monday, February 9, 2009

To New Beginnings

SO much... the year is off to a roaring start, for better and worse.

Costa Rica. An incredible trip, I was surprised and blessed by the make up of the group of the mission team Hyemin and I were invited to travel to and work in Costa Rica with. The average age of the group nearing 70, the stamina and incredibly hard work with such impressive results of this group blew me away. With any trip, this one brought with it highs and lows, and I am certainly a better person for this trip. I was unfortunately able to do very little (manual) labor/work while there, but the work I did in conversation (I picked up Spanish again much quicker than I anticipated, thankfully!) and in spending time with folks in the community were great. My first international mission trip (first trip with a mission team, that is), I learned a great deal about missions, etc. My favorite part? Witnessing the love, fellowship, friendships, and family that our group (specifically our trip leaders) shared with this community. They have been working together for 14 years, and their relationships are incredible gifts as a result of such efforts.

Promptly upon returning to forms of communication such as email and phone, I was alerted to a difficult and scary situation of my close friends, Ross and Amanda Baker. You may recall my great celebration in their first child just one month ago... and James Bennett is still doing great! Unfortunately, it is Mom who has been having some major troubles. It is public knowledge by now... and I could perhaps spend hours filling in details, but sparring them I say only that this family has been on a terrible rollercoaster. When James was only two weeks old, Amanda discovered a tumor that was initially believed to be cancer, and was later discovered to be a rare genetic disease known as Juvenile Polyposis... making this long story short, she has had major surgery and had her colon removed... all things considered she is doing very well! She was even released from the hospital on Friday, and will now be getting care from the comfort of "home" - they are residing back in Kansas with family.

I am so thankful she is doing well, and could not begin to articulate here how very difficult even this past week has been. I miss my dear friends so much, and while I am VERY thankful they are in Kansas surrounded by a great many friends and family who can support them, I miss them very much and wish there were more we could do for them from here. It sure is encouraging, though, to know that "literally thousands of people are praying" for them, as Ross pointed out. Incredible! (you're welcome to join in the prayers... they need them!). In the middle of all of this, James has turned one month old and the pictures prove he is healthy and rapidly growing!!

The spring semester has begun, and I am already deep into spring texts. There are many other things to update on in this crazy life I lead, but these must wait for another night. Tonight, I just needed to express my great thanksgiving for incredible people in my life. This weekend alone I was able to catch up with NINE friends I hold dear (including a surprise visit form Ross who was here to pick up somethings they left behind). I hope this is symbolic of the new semester to come, full of friends, fellowship, prayer and community. Without these things, I cannot imagine where I (we) would be.