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.”

I Do Declare: Most days I aim for humble and modest, but today is not one of those days

There are moments in one’s life when it is entirely acceptable to set aside efforts toward humility and restraint and to take up ownership of bragging rights with a flourish. Placing high in a prestigious screenwriting competition is one of those moments.

As I mentioned in my breaking news on Friday, I am 2nd runner up in the Kairos competition for my screenplay, The Bridge.

The logline (as I entered it in the competition) is:

A church shooting reopens old wounds for a family – and it takes the community coming together to heal them.

It takes place in the days after the Charleston Nine shooting. The main characters are fictional, though the setting and backdrop are real.

The Bridge is a faith-based story, which is not an easy thing to market in today’s entertainment landscape. I’m not whining; I’m highlighting a fact of life. And I said: “not easy,” not “impossible.” It takes a little more work to find the right avenue to get my screenplay noticed and hopefully made into a movie. Because there are film and production companies looking for such material, and there are audiences (more and more every day) that want to watch it.

The Kairos competition is one of those avenues for faith-based works. In fact, the full name of the competition is: The Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays. And if that doesn’t clearly outline their mission, the description (from the website) reads: “Established by Movieguide in 2005, the primary purpose of the Kairos Prize is to further the influence of moral and spiritual values within the film and television industries. Seeking to promote a spiritually uplifting, redemptive worldview, the prize was founded to inspire first-time and beginning screenwriters to produce compelling, entertaining, spiritually uplifting scripts that result in a greater increase in either man’s love or understanding of God.”

I am grateful that Movieguide had the vision to create this competition, and I am grateful that my script was judged in the top three. And while a high placement in a prestigious competition like Kairos doesn’t guarantee a contract, a bit of recognition certainly doesn’t hurt.

At very least, it’s a huge boost to my creativity.

A comment from one of the contest organizers was most kind and quite flattering: “I want to congratulate you on an exceptional script. … This year’s contest was exceptionally tight, and your submission was highly rated. … It is an incredibly moving story, and the judges agree that is has great potential.”

I can go a whole year on a compliment like that. It certainly propels me back into my seat and gets my fingers on the keyboard, ready to generate more “compelling, entertaining, spiritually uplifting” works.

And as I do, I return to my “natural” state – humble, modest, and fully aware that I am on a mission and that only through God am I able to accomplish anything of worth.

I Do Declare: Rabbit holes are cozy little places and I want to live there

Back in November, I got a book contract – Yes, you may applaud! I’m excited about it too! – and ever since I signed, I’ve been digging deeper and deeper into the subject matter.

Without going into too much detail (not yet … not while I’m in the research/writing phase), it has to do with historical events, and I am not exaggerating when I say this is the happiest place on Earth for me.

Some of the digging is online, at least for initial information, and everyone knows what a rabbit hole the online search can be. You start in one place and before you know it you’ve hyperlinked over to the other side of the world and a century or two back in time. I love every minute of it.

But an even better rabbit hole to fall down is digging into original sources at places like the historical society and the special sections in the libraries. It’s such a thrill to discover tidbits about a person or a place. Like a sentence in someone’s diary that sheds new light on a famous incident. Or finding a guest list that uncovers connections that weren’t known before.

They’re cozy places, these historical research rabbit holes. And they’re magical. I snuggle down into them, transported to another time, where I can, for a moment, bring people to life again and relive it with them.

Though that’s only half the magic. The other half is coming up out of the hole and seeing present-day with new eyes.

Spend enough time in yesterday, and today will have a sense of timelessness about it. Tomorrow too. As if everything has already happened before, and the contemporary is just a repeat, as the future will be.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, said it far better than I: “History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man.”

It may sound strange, but that’s actually an encouraging thought. No need to worry about the current state of affairs in the world. Similar – and worse – things happened years ago, and we lived through them. Well, maybe not “we,” but someone did. (Unless you’re doing the research, and then you get to live through it too.)

When I started this project, I thought it was a fabulous writing opportunity. I had no idea the research phase would bring with it such a sense of peace and comfort. What a fabulous discovery. Something I can use to decorate my rabbit hole. I might stay a while.

I Do Declare: Every Lent, it seems the question is “Where is God in all this?”

My guided journal for Lent is available in Kindle/Amazon (click here). And until Thursday, 2/18, it’s FREE. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free anyway.)

On any given day, we can find ourselves preoccupied with financial or relational challenges, physical or emotional trials, or vocational or social issues – sometimes several at once. Such concerns can sidetrack us and keep us from enjoying a fulfilling relationship with God and with each other.

Each week in this guided journal, the focus is on a different area where we tend to encounter distractions. The aim is to help you become aware so you can deal with them and turn your attention to God.

This booklet is designed to be a prompt to get you into the Word and into a conversation with God to explore your relationship more deeply.

Only the Bible verse is given (rather than the entire passage) so you can get into the Word yourself and see what God wants to tell you.

Here are a few sample prompts:

I Do Declare: Snark-watching entertainment is becoming my new favorite hobby

Everything I ever needed to know about snark-watching I learned from Vim & Verve, expert snark-watchers.

Bored from frequent quarantines? Tired of the never-ending job hunt? Inability to gather with friends got you down?

I have a suggestion that might perk you up.

Turn on the TV and start snark-watching. There are no limitations. TV shows, movies, documentaries, commercials – it’s all good. You can even snark-watch the news. In fact, I highly recommend it just to keep from throwing things at your TV in frustration.

And now that awards season is upon us, there’s no better time to take up snark-watching and get really good at it. (At very least, it’s a great skill to have for the pre-show red carpet.)

Snark-watching has become one of my favorite activities. Over the holidays, our household snark-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Three movies back-to-back. The extended version. That’s roughly 14 hours of “That was a stupid thing to say” and “They have to know they’ll end up in trouble going that way” and “Gee, if only there was something like giant eagles in this universe that they could call on to help out.”

It’s best with shows and movies you’ve already seen, so you know what’s coming. It’s more difficult to snark-watch something on a first watch. Unless the production values are that cringe-worthy. Then snarking is to be expected.

Now, here’s something to keep in mind. It doesn’t have to be a TV show or movie you don’t like. In fact, it’s better if it’s something you love. Lord of the Rings is one of my all-time favorites. This makes the snarking even better. Plus, all the snarking won’t stop me from watching it again – with or without snarking during that viewing. That’s the beauty of snark-watching. You can turn it on and off at will. And it’s free.

Pro Tip: It helps to have a mimosa or three when watching. The snarking will get really creative.

Do you participate in snark-watching? Tell me all about it in the comments.

I Do Declare: Being mistaken for Naval Intelligence isn’t as great as it sounds

The following is an excerpt from a book I wrote with my dad, from a chapter titled “When you’re mistaken for NIS simply because you commute to the ship via helicopter.”

~ ~ ~

After Dad made chief in New Jersey, he was stationed on the U.S.S. Guam, a helicopter carrier. Even though it was based in Norfolk, every Monday it went down off the coast of South Carolina to test the new vertical-lift helicopter (now known as the Harrier) that were being developed in Beaufort.

And that’s where he was involved in a rather amusing case of mistaken identity.

But I’ll let him tell the story:

It just so happened that Pete was stationed on the ship the same day I was. He and I had a lot in common. Not only were we both in communications and both chiefs, but we also were both from South Carolina (he was from Florence).

We also had the same NEC (Navy Enlisted Classification) code for classified equipment, and that got us into different places on the ship that not everyone had access to.

Because we were repairing teletype machines, it was better for us to work in the middle of the night (when incoming messages were less frequent), and the captain let us do as we pleased as long as we kept the machines running.

Most of the time we worked about three hours a night, and otherwise we just wandered around not doing any other work. There were other chiefs on board, so we rarely went into the radio room.

All of that – odd hours, having free reign, the captain leaving us alone – led some people to believe we were with Naval Intelligence.

At first, we didn’t notice. But before long we had a hard time finding people to play pinochle with. And then people started giving us worried looks when we tried to strike up conversations.

Well, by then we knew something was up. Finally, one of the men in communications told us why some people were wary of us.

And then our reputation was sealed when Pete and I requested – and received approval – from the captain to take the mail helicopter out on Fridays to Charleston and come back on Monday mornings.

Who else could do that except somebody working undercover?

Pete and I figured it wasn’t all bad. Being mistaken for NIS did keep the aggravation to a minimum. The officer on watch never bothered us. No one nagged us for reports. We could do pretty much anything we wanted.

Except make any money on cards. For some reason we couldn’t find anyone who would admit to playing the game.

~ ~ ~

Want to read more? You can order it here.

Click here to see my other books.

I Do Declare: No one proves the power of words like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights activist who delivered one of the most powerful speeches in history in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

The speech is a total of 1667 words, every one of them meaningful, and not one of them wasted.

You can hear the speech thanks to this recording from the U.S. Archives.

Learn more here, here, and here about the occasion of the speech, the man, and his legacy.

I’m hard pressed to come up with a favorite part, because all of it is magnificent. However, if I HAD to choose, these two would be among the top contenders:

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

This one too:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”