ReThinking Lent – Day 29: Water

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary.  20 years.  It’s so hard to believe.  One the one hand, it seems to have gone by so quickly.  On the other, I’ve been with this man for nearly half of my life.  I’ve lived with him longer than I lived with either one of my parents combined.

It was March 12, 1993 and I had just finished up my internship in San Francisco.  Lloyd flew down and we were going to drive back to Washington state together the next day.  He got off the plane with nothing but a bouquet of flowers in his hand and a toothbrush in his pocket and said, “Let’s go get married”.  So, we did.

If you’ve known us for any length of time, you know that we have a reputation for being impetuous.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called a family member or friend and said, “We’re moving!”  In fact, it’s become kind of a joke that if you write our address down, you’d best do it in pencil.  The other day, we were watching one of those DIY shows and somebody was talking about their “dream home”.  I told Lloyd that I don’t understand that concept (not that it’s bad).  I have just never had dreams about houses.  They are just buildings to me.

But the truth is, I never had dreams of  getting married and having kids either.  Oh, there were a couple of times that I tried writing my name with that guy’s last name attached, but it never sounded right and certainly never felt the way I thought it should have.  You see, I had this crazy notion that love was forever.  And, I just hadn’t ever really seen that happen in the lives of the people around me.  Except for my grandparents.  I remember the way my grandfather looked at my grandmother. I remember how he used to pat her butt and she would slap it away saying “Franklin!”, as she looked at me and my cousin and we pretended to be grossed out.  I wanted THAT.  I wanted a man that looked at me and treated me the way that my grandfather looked at and treated my grandmother.  Now that I am an adult, I know that my grandparents marriage wasn’t perfect — far from it, actually.  But, I think I’m in awe of it even more now.  They stuck it out through rough times.  Despite their shortcomings and missteps, they loved each other with an everlasting love.  And everyone around them knew it.

When I met Lloyd, I knew instantly that this was the person I wanted to spend my life with.  I can’t explain it.  It’s one of those cases of “when you know, you know”.   After our first “date” (which wasn’t really a date, but we were together at the same time and place and got there in the same car), I came home and told my roommate that I’d found the man I was going to marry.  She told me she thought that was fabulous but could I please call my boyfriend who had been calling every 10 minutes for the past 2 hours and let him know, too.

And yet, despite my certainty, we did not begin dating right away.  It was several months before we became a couple.  So, as it turns out, we were not all that impetuous after-all.  😉

Now, you might be asking yourself what this has to do with water.  Well, it wasn’t actually even supposed to be my Lenten post.  But, I looked up the meaning of impetuous this morning and this is what had to say:

im·pet·u·ous / imˈpechoōəs/

• adj. acting or done quickly and without thought or care: her friend was headstrong and impetuous.

•  moving forcefully or rapidly: an impetuous but controlled flow of water.

Looking back, I don’t think we approached our marriage without thought or care.  Yes, it was done quickly, but it was something we had talked about for a long time (well, as long as you can talk about it when you’ve known each other just over a year).  Our families might say that it was done without care.  And, I admit that their hurt feelings were justified.  But, despite the fact that we were too young and too poor to get married, this was a guy that looked at me the way my grandfather looked and my grandmother.  And, I didn’t want to waste a moment not being with him.

As we’ve moved rapidly and sometimes forcefully through the last 20 years, our vows have been tested as we have faced the kind of trials that even the strongest marriages can’t endure.  And every year, as we celebrate this day, I think that there is no way that I could love this man any more than I do today. But, I do.  And, I believe that it’s because God has been our controlling force — not in a way that has left us without choices, but in a way that has kept us on our path — the path He has for us.


For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

(Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)

ReThinking Lent – Day 27: Happy

I struggled with yesterday’s word, happy.  My husband’s beloved uncle passed away after a long illness.  It just wasn’t a happy day.   Yes, we can all say that we are relieved that he is no longer suffering — and it’s true…we are — it’s still sad that he is gone.   Jerry was known for his smile and infectious laugh.  As I watched his siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews post their remembrances and pictures on Facebook yesterday, it was definitely a common theme.

Last night, as we had dinner together, we talked about Uncle Jerry to our son.  He had met him before but did not know him very well.  My husband told him about the person that he knew and loved dearly.  And, as I sat listening to stories that I’ve heard before, it hit me that without Uncle Jerry’s presence in Lloyd’s life, it’s unlikely that any of us would have been sitting around that table last night.

I did not get to spend as much time with Jerry as I would have liked.  But, here’s what I know:  He loved Jesus and he loved his family.  And, he was happy.

Tom Thomas, left; Jerry McCarthy, right.

Tom Thomas, left; Jerry McCarthy, right.
© Lloyd D. Brown 2007

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
(Psalm 84:5 ESV)

ReThinking Lent – Day 16: Earthly

I recently had a discussion with a group of people about the parable of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-24).  In a nutshell (and I’m paraphrasing), a guy asks Jesus what it’s going to take to get to heaven because he’s been really good — he’s followed the commandments…he hasn’t murdered, committed adultery, stolen anything, lied or gossiped and he’s honored his parents.  Basically, he’s wondering if that’s enough.  Jesus responds in this way (v. 21):

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And, the guy leaves.  It’s too much to ask.

The question that everyone seems to ask is:  “Am I supposed to actually do that?”

My answer (and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong):  It depends.

I think we get too hung up on what Jesus actually told this guy to do (sell everything and give to the poor) and not what I believe to be the point:  Jesus was exposing what he was lacking in order to fully follow him.

In this guy’s case, his functional savior…the thing that he thought he couldn’t live without…was his money and possessions.  It’s what he valued.  It’s what he thought about.  It’s what made him happy.  It’s what gave him a sense of worth.  It’s the thing that “saved” him.  Jesus was telling the rich young guy that he can’t have two gods and that one had to go. And, we see what he chose.

I think this parable is asking us to look at what our functional savior is.  What is getting in the way of following Christ?  What are our earthly possessions?  What do we think we cannot live without?  What would cause us great distress to lose?  What are we NOT willing to sacrifice under any circumstances?  What are we lacking?

The bottom line is that I don’t think everyone is called to sell everything they own and give it to the poor, although I would argue that it’s probably something we need to be willing to do.  And to be clear, I absolutely believe that we are called to take care of the poor under any and all circumstances.   I don’t think that having material wealth is necessarily a bad thing.  But, if it’s what we put our faith in, that’s when it becomes a problem.  And if it causes you great discomfort to imagine giving everything you have away, it’s probably something worth praying about.

shopping_imgAnd he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
(Luke 12:15 ESV)

ReThinking Lent – Day 15: Hear

A few years ago, I went through an interesting prayer exercise.  We were paired up with another person, whom we did not know very well, for prayer time.  We did not share our prayers and concerns — rather we sat together and prayed for each-other as the Spirit led us.  It was difficult.  I didn’t know what to pray — what to ask for — how to intercede.    I spent the first few minutes rather frustrated.  But, then I remembered that God already knew and I needed him to tell me.  After a period of time, we shared with the other person what our prayers were.  When I heard what this woman had prayed for me, I was blown away — and vice versa.  To be clear, it was not a psychic experience — we didn’t all of a sudden know the names of long lost relatives.  But, in opening up ourselves to the Spirit — and not having the filter of knowing the other person’s perceived wants and needs — we were able to pray things that were much bigger than either of us would have ever prayed for ourselves.

I think we often spend a lot of time regurgitating things we hear from others — or we have presuppositions about what the Bible says or what we think God wants for our lives (or what we want God to want for our lives).  And, they aren’t necessarily always bad things, but we forget to let the Scriptures speak for themselves.  We have conditioned ourselves to hear what we want to hear.  And that can be scary because that’s when we start taking Scripture out of context so that it fits for us.  We can also deprive ourselves from knowing God more fully because our “favorite passages” emphasize only certain attributes and characteristics.  We are in danger of having a lower view of God than we should because we don’t comprehend how big our God is — and what he is capable of doing in our world…and our lives.

I pray that we can all hear God’s words in a new and fresh way this Lenten season.


Ganesh, family dog. Circa 1978

Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
(Isaiah 55:3 ESV)

ReThinking Lent – Day 9: Love

It would be easy for me to post a picture of my son and husband on this day.  But, I wanted to dive deeper into the biblical meaning of the word “love”.  Basically, the bible defines love in several different ways (ready for a Greek lesson?):

  • Eros:  This term doesn’t actually exist in scripture, but the concept does.  It refers to passionate love and is found primarily in the Song of Solomon.  It is where we get the word erotic in our modern English language.
  • Storge:  This term doesn’t exist in the bible either.  But, like eros, the concept certainly does.  It means “affection” in Greek and refers to familial love — the bond that we have with our mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, etc.  It is a naturally occurring love.  There are many examples of this kind of love in scripture and God even gives us a commandment regarding it:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  (Exodus 20:12 ESV)

  • Phileo: The Greek term is Philia and it refers to the brotherly love that occurs in a close friendship.   It involves feelings of warmth and affection.  In modern terms, it’s what would make us call someone a “BFF” or describe a close friendship between men as a “bromance”.

The thing that strikes me about all of these kinds of love is that in our human view, they are conditional.  None of the terms above apply to our enemies….or to people we don’t know.  In fact, I don’t even think that all of us can claim to have a “storge” love toward all of our family members.

Fortunately for us, God loves us with a different kind of love.  He loves us with Agape love, the highest form of love there is.  There really isn’t a term for this kind of love in our modern language.  It is often described as “unconditional love”, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Agape love is the love that is described in 1 Corinthians 13.  It is was is meant when scripture says that  God is love (1 John 4:8) — it is not a feeling, it is an essence.  Everything God does flows from this love.  God doesn’t love us because we are lovable.  He loves us because it is his very nature and character to do so.  This is the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.  It is the kind of love that we are called to.  It is a kind of love that I don’t think any of us are capable apart from Jesus.  It’s the kind of love I pray that God will grip my heart with.

nail at cross

via iStockPhoto

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
(1 John 3:16-18 ESV)

ReThinking Lent – Day 7: Wonder

Every day, I wonder. I wonder what the guy in the car next to me on the GW Parkway was doing this morning as he was snapping his fingers in front of his heater vents (is this some sort of “clapper” method of turning your car heater on)? I wonder why on earth people decided to build their house in that particular spot. I wonder why people spit in public. I wonder why some people smell like mothballs. I wonder what babies think when we stick our faces within inches of theirs and speak a strange language in a high pitched voice. I wonder why my dog barks to be let out at 6am on weekends but not on weekdays. I wonder if the Broncos would have beat the 49’ers in the Superbowl. And, I wonder why Opening Day of baseball season isn’t a national holiday.

These are everyday wonders — curiosities, if you will. There are bigger wonders, too. I put these on my “questions I have for God when I get to Heaven” list. This list is comprised mostly of the “Why are things not fair” and the “I don’t understand” variety. Why was *my* child born with a heart defect? And, why did *their* child die having the same surgery that saved my child’s life? Why do we have to suffer so as we get old? Why do teenagers talk back? And of course the “What on earth does (insert scripture verse here) actually mean? And just today, I found out that somebody we knew passed away last week. It made me wonder if I was always as kind to him as I should have been. The truth is that when I actually do have the opportunity to ask God these questions, the answers likely won’t matter anymore.

And, then there is the wonder of God’s creation.

I remember being in 9th grade and having these mind-blowing discussions with a friend of mine about the universe and how it never ends. We would go round and round about how it *has* to end. Nothing goes on forever. But, it does! And, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Just like I can’t wrap my mind around God. Regardless of whether you believe that God created the world in 6 days or over a period of millions of years (file this question in the second category above)….He created it! And, it’s amazing.

When my son was born and we discovered he had a heart defect, the NICU doctor said to me that he was always the MOST amazed when a baby was born completely healthy. He explained that my baby’s heart was beating before I even knew I was pregnant. And, it already had the defect. We don’t know why — it just didn’t form correctly for one reason or another. But, it is an example of how things must go EXACTLY right — perfectly, really — in order for a baby to be born with no defect.

Another thing that brings me great wonder is the changing of the seasons….particularly spring. We see life begin to burst forth where things seemed so dead. The birds instinctively know that its time to fly north. The earth has made another trip around the sun…just as it was designed to do…and the cycle of life begins again. It takes my breath away when I think about it.

It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

~Jeremiah 10:12-13

ReThinking Lent – Day 3: See

I think it’s easy to find beauty in God’s creation. We need only look toward the sky when the sun rises or sets to see what an artist our God is.

In fact, it is easy to rejoice in and praise God when we see something that is physically beautiful. And as I considered the topic of “seeing” today, I realized that we need to look beyond what we find beautiful and see the world as God sees it. And that can have some troubling implications.

When we think this way, we have to consider that God sees beauty in people and things that we don’t. It also means that we have to see beyond the beautiful things of the world and see how we have destroyed them.

I believe that God is present, everywhere throughout His amazing creation. I also believe that God has created us to care for and steward that creation. And that requires us to see the things that are broken and to be intentional about bringing beauty and restoration in those places. It is a clear and tangible way that we can display the gospel of Jesus in our communities.

In this picture, its easy for our eyes to be drawn to the sky and the clouds and the magnificent bridge. But look closer and you see the graffiti that lines the canal. A clear juxtaposition of the beauty and the brokenness of our world.


ReThinking Lent Day 2: Return

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.  -Luke 4:1-2

Yesterday, I looked ahead at today’s Lenten photo so that I could begin thinking about what I might take a photo of.  Return.  Immediately a couple of photos that I have already taken popped into my head, but I really want these to be intentional.  And, I’m resolved not to look at anyone else’s photos until I have taken mine so I’m not influenced.  I want this to be completely Spirit led.

I had the privilege of attending the most beautiful Ash Wednesday service I’ve ever experienced.  To be fair, I have not attended very many, but this one left me awe-struck.

We were given small pieces of paper on which to write something that we wanted to let go….a sin, a hurt…anything we wanted Jesus to take away.  Then, we placed it in a bowl with dried palm fronds from the previous years Palm Sunday service and burned it.  The pastors then added baptismal water and created ash from the palm.  I’ve been through the ritual of having the ashes imposed on my forehead before, but there was something so powerful about seeing the ashes created from the hurt on those pieces of paper.


Remember that from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.
-Genesis 3:19
Repent, and believe the Gospel.
-Mark 1:15

Rethinking Lent

I’ve never really been an “observer” of Lent — for a lot of reasons.  First and foremost, I am not Catholic and did not grow up in this tradition.  Secondly, I have had mixed feelings about the idea of giving something up for Lent.  I’ve had people describe it to me as joining in Jesus’ suffering…which I categorically reject.  In my not-so-humble opinion, there is NOTHING we could do for one day or forty that would even begin to mirror what Jesus went through in those 40 days leading up to the crucifixion.  Then there are those that don’t really know why they give something up…they just do because that’s what they are supposed to do.  That’s what I call “religion” and I tend to categorically reject that as well.  Finally, I have this annoying habit of being judgmental about what people give up.  I’m not proud of it — I’m just being real.

And, then my 13 year old started asking questions and I had to really start thinking about my answers because they are incredibly important.  We do some of our best talking in the car and this morning, as we were driving to a doctor’s appointment, I was able to address some of his questions and correct some of the thinking that he had (which he inevitably picked up from listening to me jabber on about it over the years).  I basically told him that the reasons people give something up are many — and they are not for us to judge.  I gave him the following example:

Let’s say that somebody is going to give up Diet Coke for Lent.  The point is not that the Diet Coke withdrawl represents anything close to the suffering that Jesus endured.  The point is that whenever that person thinks about Diet Coke or longs for a Diet Coke that it is a reminder to them of what Jesus did.  And, that should send us to prayer and thanksgiving.  Instead of equating with Jesus journey in the desert, it is a way for us to continuously be in tune with Jesus’ journey in the desert.

I saw a light start to go off as he considered this.  And, it made aware of my need to repent for the ways in which I have not shown enough reverence for this time in our Christian calender.  Yes it’s true that Jesus’death and resurrection gives me the freedom not to actively participate in the “religious” rituals.  But, the cross is the reason I am a Christian and I am convicted that it deserves more than I have given it over the years.

I went on to explain that some people choose to add something to their daily lives during this time — again so that we are constantly aware of why we celebrate Easter.   And, I gave him some ideas of things that he might consider doing during this time as well.  And, I shared with him one of the ways in which I plan to observe Lent this year.  And, as you might expect, it is a bit unconventional.  But, I’m joining in with a community of like-minded people in this endeavor.

I love that this will incorporate something I’m passionate about — photography.  And, that it allows for creativity, which God gave us.  It will be fun and interesting to see how other people express themselves in these photos.  I might even add a few of my own in because I have this issue with taking Sundays off.  I get why it is a “rule” in Lenten observances, but I don’t understand it.  Jesus didn’t get a day off — why should we?  Don’t try to convince me….just bear with me on it.  I might come around.

Here is Day One:  Who am I?

I’m a Wife.  Mother.  Lover.  Friend.  Aunt.  Foster Mother.  Comforter. Confidante.  Wearer of color.  Beach lover.  Follower of Jesus (you don’t know this, but I’m at church in the bottom right photo).  These are just a few things that make up who I am.

As I look at these photos, I see so many imperfections.  And, really…what is the point of today’s photo?  It sort of strikes me as prideful at first.  And, then it occurred to me that the descriptions I gave above are how I see myself.  They don’t represent my identity in Christ (entirely).  How humbling that Jesus does not see the imperfections that I do and that He accepts me as I am.  He made me the way I am, so why am I so critical of God’s creation?

And just like that, I find myself praising God and being worshipful.  And that is the point.