‘Tis the season… of Lent

It’s been over a year since I started keeping this blog, a year in which I have seen God’s incredible faithfulness to us through many things – the Match, house-buying, moving, starting school again, work, and residency.  And now it is that time of year again. Lent!

As I wrote in this post from a year ago, I was not very aware of Lent growing up. As a devout non-denominationalist, I thought Lent was a Catholic event and undesirable because it required deprivation. But now that we are Presbyterian, my eyes have been opened to the wonderful parts of Lent; it is a season of prayer and thoughtfulness and reflection.  Recently one of my friends mentioned that Lent is her husband’s favorite time of the year, and I can understand why.

But let’s back up. To kick Lent off in style, I went to a MFC Girls Night Out Mardi Gras party the night before. Chris was working an evening shift, and the location was literally around the corner, so even though I didn’t know the ladies well, I had no reason not to go! I wore all the Mardi Gras beads I owned and acquired a few more during the party.

There were a couple wonderful international ladies there who were quite surprised that Mardi Gras is an American “holiday.” That led to a long explanation about how, in most cases, it is really just an excuse to party, like St. Patrick’s Day. “But isn’t that Irish?” asked one of the ladies in surprise. Yes, I explained… and it too is a convenient excuse to party.

Mardi Gras was a rather sober party for me because I had given blood that day and, in case you don’t know, it’s a bad idea to drink alcohol the same day you give blood. However, I really enjoyed the two different kinds of king cake they had, and of course Girl Scout cookies were present. It was a great social time with some lovely Rochester ladies, and a good send-off to the Epiphany season.

So… what to do for Lent? I added this blog last year, so I decided to give up something this year. After lots of thought and reflection, I decided: CNN.

CNN has become my autopilot. When I’m bored, I’ll type in CNN, even though the articles haven’t changed from a few days before… even though all the news is at a 2nd grade reading level and skewed to the left… even though some of the proofreaders could use another day job. Sorry, CNN fans, you know it’s true. And after all, those things never kept me from going back to the website. Of course it’s good to be well-informed about the world, and helpful to know about pop-culture, but what I was doing wasn’t research. It was… addiction.

Instead of turning to CNN in a moment of boredom or frustration – instead of filling every waking minute with something to read – I need to be still. And that’s what I’ll be doing for the next 43 days.

***

I had to work on Ash Wednesday, but I came home to find my husband waiting up for me with something on his forehead.  On Thursday we went to handbells together and played some of the beautiful minor-key music of Lent. Today we had Bible study and discussed our Lenten observations.

Everybody observes Lent differently. Some ignore it; it’s not part of their spiritual culture, and that’s fine. Some people give up cheese or chocolate. (!!!!) And some add a Bible study or a devotional.

Whatever you add or give up or continue doing, I pray that this Lenten season will be a rich experience. I hope that it will draw you closer to God and that you will celebrate Easter, God’s ultimate gift to us, with your faith strengthened by your time in the desert.

Music and EAs

I worked an overnight shift on Saturday on a unit I had spent relatively little time on… and it went fine! Overnight shifts are very busy from 7-11 and then quiet down until around 5. I don’t mind them, except for the fact that they are overnight and mess with my sleep schedule. Thankfully I only do them every 6th weekend (for now). 

I slept until 1:30 and then got up to face the day. I had the special opportunity to perform with several other talented musicians and dear friends at the Festival of Music. Our church hosts this series every year and one “episode” is always “Lee Afdahl and Friends,” featuring our talented music director and organist, Lee, and other local musicians. This year, I was one of Lee’s friends!

Our “flute” choir, composed of 4 flautists from our church (one with a piccolo and one with a bass flute!) and a clarinetist, performed a cheerful Celtic ditty. I loved it and in fact it is still stuck in my head. We also had some excellent performances by trumpets, soprano saxophone, clarinet, and voice in a range of styles. Nevertheless throughout the whole concert I had the weight of work hanging over my head. I love my job but on this celebratory Sunday I was dreading having to leave the fold of musicians and go to the hospital.

However by 6:00 I felt ready to head in. I donned my scrubs and headed out to the car. As I started to drive away, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything. I decided I would eat my sandwich while I did my prep work.

Then, as I was about to pull into the parking garage, I got the call. “We had an opening and we can give you an EA. And we’ll give you twelve hours.”

“Awesome!” I cried, turning my car around and heading back to the church to change and then attend a delightful evening with the Festival of Music committee…

***

“Hold on,” you’re saying. “What’s an EA?”

An EA, or Excused Absence, is like Christmas in July. It only occurs when 1) you have signed up to take an excused absence, and 2) they have enough nurses and don’t need you that particular shift.

In this case it occurred at the last minute. And it was PERFECT! I went to the party, drank champagne, and had a lovely evening.

Of course I couldn’t go to sleep until 1:30 because I had slept all day but you know what? It was worth it.

Cleaning the Mental Refrigerator

In church today, we played Gospel Mass by Robert Ray. It’s an excellent piece of music. Our director loves the jazzy piano part, and the singers enjoy the rockin’ gospelly riffs. As the solo flute, and not a professional musician I was a bit confused by my part, but enjoyed listening to everything from the heart of the orchestra.

But the deepest part of the day for me happened during children’s time at church when the pastor began talking about the difference between Lent and Lint. He was discussing how no matter how many times you clean the lint trap or do the dishes you have to do them again and my mind went to cleaning house…

I just had a good house-cleaning yesterday – I try to clean once a  week but it usually gets stretched out longer than that. You know, thorough moving of everything and vacuuming, counters and floors in the bathroom. I’m not the type to scrub my blinds but I do find light housekeeping satisfying, although only if I can see my progress.

But no matter how thoroughly I do it I have to do it again a couple weeks later… <sigh>…

Anyway, as I pondered the repetitive and liturgical nature of house cleaning, I thought about cleaning mental house. I had never really considered that before but sometimes we do need to sit down and go through what’s on our hearts. As Protestants we no longer do Confession and, although that’s good in it’s way, although we LIVE in grace, I somewhat miss that mandatory time to catalog my sins and be accountable to another human being.

Instead on a weekly basis as Presbyterians we have our private moment for confession and unison prayer of confession. Today I had them twice because I played in both services. With my eyes closed, I thought, before God, about all the sins sitting inside, like old food in the refrigerator – a cloudy broth of envy, a moldy block of bitterness, a sour vat of anger.

But they don’t have to sit there forever. He forgives them. He throws them away. Just like, once in  a great while, I go through and throw away all the tiny bits of leftovers still hanging out, all the mushy grapes and curdled yogurt. But if I’m willing, God will go through and clean more frequently!

No matter how thoroughly we do this (myself going through the refrigerator and he throwing sins away), we will have to do it again. As long as I’m human, envy, bitterness, anger, and other dark sins will reaccumulate on the shelves. (Just like we always have a ton of old pizza sauce when I go through the fridge. We just never use it all up!)

But he is faithful and just to forgive my sins, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

I just have to take the time to go through my heart, to repent, regularly, so I don’t become overwhelmed.

Now just to clarify, I’m not talking about being “saved” over and over again. No,  I gave my life to God once and opened the door for Him to go in. Right now, I’m talking about the maintenance part of being a Christian, about confessing and repenting and keeping the lines of communication with God open.

I’m glad mental housekeeping isn’t something I have to do by myself. It’s something God will help me with, every step of the way.