I Do Declare: I think about that sprinkling of water on my head all the time

Last Friday (April 9) was my baptism birthday. That day would end up affecting every other day of my life, though I didn’t know it at the time because I was 3½. Being baptized into the Christian Faith and in the Lutheran Church has done more to shape my world view — how I relate to others, how I understand myself, how deeply instilled in me is the need we all have for mercy and forgiveness — than any other event.

Here’s a photo of me that day at the church — along with my older sister and younger brother who were baptized at the same time.

I’m the one in front, holding my Bible. With us are my grandfather (standing behind me), my grandmother (holding my brother), and my mother (on the far right, with a fabulous hat). My dad was overseas at the time.

The image is blurry, but I’m glad it was taken.

The set of circumstances that led to my baptism (full insights on that will be a post for another day) are interesting, one of those things where you can see God’s thumbprint all over it. I don’t think I’m unusual in this respect — God is interested in all of our journeys — but the fact is that my coming to be baptized represents one huge cosmic connect-the-dots of God’s design. And I mull over this quite often. More so the older I get.

Last Friday is also the commemoration date for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of my heroes. For many years, I wasn’t aware that I was baptized on the date of his death, and I’m positive that it wasn’t planned that way. But I like that this is my baptism date. It adds a layer to my reflections.

Here’s an image of him, along with one of his quotes, which I like to meditate on.

I Do Declare: People will make a meme out of anything, and I think that’s a good thing

I was going to make a meme out of the ship that’s stuck in the Suez Canal, but I came across a news story that shows lots of people beat me to it.

And I think that’s fine. With all the bitterness and anger out there, I like that people reach for humor, even in the case of a maritime “oopsy” that’s costing tons of money in trade.

Click here to see the memes.

And lighten up.

I Do Declare: Mother Nature has no clue what season it is

You’ve probably seen those memes floating around that talk about the 12 (or 15 or some crazy number) of seasons we have in the South. And it comes with a “you are here” arrow — because most of the time it’s hard to tell.

Very funny.

Except not really, because it’s true.

I think Mother Nature has no idea what season we’re in for the most part, so she just randomly picks one and drops it on us. At least that’s the best idea I’ve come up with so far. If I ever hear a better one, I’ll adopt that as gospel.

Inspired by all those other memes, I’ve come up with my own, specifically for Charleston. I don’t dare put an arrow in, because that could change by noon.

I Do Declare: Lent is kinder than it used to be

I was going to start this post by saying, “We’re XX days into Lent, and I …” – but the fact that I didn’t have that number at the forefront of my brain meant I wasn’t counting the days until Easter.

And that, my friends, is what we call progress – in a spiritual-albeit-askew kind of way. By which, of course, I mean my relationship with Lent.

I often say, right around Shrove Tuesday, that Lent is hard on me, and then I explain it’s because I take it so seriously.

Which we’re supposed to do. Lent isn’t a fun exercise, like contemplating the start of the next season a la Groundhog Day or wearing spirituality colors like it’s St. Patrick’s Day.

I know all that. I know it’s serious, thoughtful, introspective. And yet, I used to do my “giving-up-for-Lent” exercise like I was in an endurance race. Some of the things I gave up over the years – chocolate, TV, eating out – were means of taking away things I enjoyed, but without any purpose or spiritual benefit.

Two years in a row I gave up chocolate, and you’d have thought I lost an eye or a leg. Both times the incessant whining almost did me in (not to mention everyone around me). The first year I made it all the way to Easter morning, at which point I gobbled down all the chocolate bunnies and eggs I could get my hands on. Despite that, I felt empty.

The next year, when I – at a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, of course – related the story from the previous year, someone told me that Sundays aren’t included in the Lenten fast. Whoa … fabulous news! Chocolate reprieve on Sundays – I’m in! Yet when I reached that Easter morning, I had the same empty feeling.

I realized I had been trying to ace an endurance test with God – one that I initiated – and the empty feeling was due to the futility of the exercise. God really isn’t interested in how well I can stay away from chocolate. Lesson learned.

After that, I began doing two-part Lenten disciplines: give up something physical and add something spiritual. So I talked the family into giving up our Friday night pizza take-out and instead make our own pizzas at home while watching a wholesome movie. Plus, whatever we would have spent on the pizza we donated to a food kitchen on Easter morning.

Those were nice things – family time, clean entertainment, giving to the food kitchen – but something still felt a bit off for me. I continued to approach Lent with a vague dread and had to muscle my way through it, determined to grin and bear until the bitter end.

I went on this way for years: Deep breath on Ash Wednesday, hold until I could exhale on Easter morning.

And then, a few years ago, I was inspired to write a guided journal for Lent. Initially I wrote it for myself, but after mentioning it to a few friends, I decided to put it up on Kindle and share it (I give it away free for the five days leading up to Ash Wednesday, and then it stays at .99). This year for the first time I offered it in paperback form (which unfortunately I cannot give away because there’s a cost with print production, and Amazon will not let me go in the hole even for a good cause).

The prompts deal with a variety of issues – physical, financial, vocational, social, spiritual – and the ways in which we can get lost in the distractions. The way I did for years when I got distracted by what I thought were the “must-do” disciplines during Lent. (I talked about the structure of it in more detail here.)

What this did for me – and I hope for the readers who use it – was to refocus what Lent means. Instead of running an endurance test, I no longer give anything up for Lent. I just write my way through the season using the writing prompts I created. This is the third year of this guided journal, and even though the prompts are the same, the journaling is different every year.

In this way, Lent has become more of a spiritual retreat where I spend time with God every day instead of staying rigid until the end. It’s the difference between pushing your way through a thick forest and walking a path that was already cut and paved for you. Same destination, a much easier journey.

The title of the journal – “Where is God in all this?” – is a kickstart to each day’s writing. Sometimes I even say it out loud. And God answers: “Here I am. Let’s talk.”