Here we are mid February and on the cusp of entering into the Lenten Season. Lent brings about a lot of different feelings for people...and, depending on the year it stirs up different emotions for me too. This year, as reminders of Lent's impending arrival showed up in my inbox from different sources starting in mid January, I found myself feeling anxious. (and deleting many of the emails without even reading them.) I wasn't ready to face another season of penance.
In a lot of ways, it feels like Lent 2020 never really ended. There are still lots of restrictions. Places that are open have capacity limits, mask rules, and table limits. There is still a lot of fear. You can't travel freely between states and you need a covid test for everything. Peter has a somewhat hybrid schedule with one day of home learning...which for kids with significant special needs is kind of a joke. He does not work independently no matter how much his wonderful teachers work on it during school days. And thanks to two Mondays in a row with snow, he had even shorter weeks with an extra "home learning" day. Lucky me!(insert eye roll here...or maybe two!)
Luke and Kate go to a local Catholic School that has been in person since the beginning of the year. There are some families that have chosen to do home learning, which they accommodate, but the majority of kids have been in school. For the last two weeks, Kate and Luke have been home learning because of an uptick in covid numbers at their school. It was an unpleasant reminder of how hard the end of last year's school was. I'm grateful that we've made it this far into the school year without any major problems, but as many parents are experiencing, home learning has its challenges.
A year ago at this time, our little space in the world was still "normal". Coronavirus was something that was far away and I don't think anyone could have imagined how it would change our lives...and continue to affect us so greatly almost an entire year later! I think fear and burnout have been the two biggest stressors for me over the past year...and I still haven't recovered from either. This has been such a hard 11 months...and I don't feel any motivation to give things up and enter into a time of penance after all the turmoil we continue to live through on so many different levels.
Even during Advent, I felt more connection to standing with Mary at the foot of the cross on Calvary than sitting in a stable with a newborn Savior.
Yet, Lent is starting on Wednesday and I'm trying to be open to the areas God wants me to work on. It's a challenge because I'm already feeling stretched thin...especially after the last two weeks of home learning and now having the kids home for vacation week. The bitter cold and snow we've been having doesn't help, either! I feel trapped inside and, with all the restrictions in place, there's not much to outside the house anyway. I daydream about escaping on a plane to Florida...where the weather is warmer and the restrictions are lighter...but with twin grandbabies arriving sometime in the next 5 weeks, travel seems selfish right now. (But, I have to admit, that I might have looked at available Southwest flights a few times!)
I know that while some of my desires to escape are for good reasons, not all of my motives are healthy. While I'm sure a week in Florida would feel amazing in some ways, it's not going to fill what's really missing inside of my heart. Only God can do that....and getting away would just be me trying to fill myself. Unfortunately, I know from past experience that it won't work. It's just a distraction and keeps me from focusing on the issue(s?) God wants me to address. In the short term, distractions can seem a whole lot more attractive.
I'm in the midst of a traumatic season. In my heart, I know I need to simplify.What does that mean to me? It means working on the basics: sleeping, eating, exercising, and praying....not necessarily in that order. I plan on using Lent to focus on these four area.
I have been sleep deprived for years. The majority of my kids have been lousy sleepers. Luke still wakes up a couple times a week because of nightmares.(he's 11) I've been struggling with my own nightmares and vivid dreams for a while, too. I know I need to stick to a better schedule so that I have time to wind down at night and give myself an opportunity to get the amount of rest I need. For me, that means no more mindless scrolling after 9:15. Jay and I usually relax together on the couch once we get Kate and Luke in bed around 8:30. We tend to watch Hallmark, The Food Network, or a football/Celtics/Red Sox game depending on the season. At 10, we put the dog out one more time, lock up, put Peter to bed, and head to bed ourselves. I like to read until 10:30ish and recently made a personal rule not to start a new chapter after 10:30! I recently found a couple of new to me authors I'm enjoying, Rachel Hauck and Katherine Reay.(good reads, nothing too traumatic, and clean!...if you have any author recommendations please leave them in the comments:)
I also give myself some time to rest most afternoons. I try to give myself 30-60 minutes to read something enjoyable and take a 15 minute power nap if I need it.
Does anyone not have issues with food? Between too many months of "comfort eating" combined with being in my mid 40's has left me in a place of not being comfortable in my own skin. I have also found that some food...particularly packaged snack foods....tend to give me headaches. For Lent, I usually give up snacking but this year I want to also focus on eating more whole foods. It's never easy to focus on healthy choices, but my body needs it.
This part isn't as hard for me. My parents gave us a recumbent bike they never used much last year and I have used it consistently since then...especially in the winter weather when I can't walk outside. My goal is 5 days a week. I also want to add in daily stretching exercises and some simple ab exercises a couple times a week. I don't love to exercise...quite the opposite really! I do love listening to podcasts, so when I use the bike I distract myself with my favorite speakers. I'll share my favorites in #4.
What's one problem area that has come up multiple times in the last month or two that highlighted a weakness or brokenness in your life? Try making a sacrifice or adding something in based on that.
Have more than one? Me, too! If I had to pick the most prominent issue, mine would be hopelessness. It's been a tough year. So, I need to work on trust. I'm thinking about rereading The Life of Faustina Kowalska....because trust and Divine Mercy go hand in hand...and adding in a Divine Mercy Chaplet at the 3pm hour each day.
I want to go to daily Mass as much as I can...which is dependent upon the kids being able to attend school. Having some time before or after each Mass to read scripture, a spiritual book(like St. Faustina or my current read, Falling Home by Hallie Lord), and spending a little time journaling is a goal as well. On the days I can't do the reading in Church, I will set aside time to do at home.
Part of my plan for Lent is to not plan everything. Sometimes what I think I'm supposed to work on is very different from what God has planned. When I allow God to lead, He presents me with opportunities to grow that I didn't plan on. This way, I don't look at things, (like home learning), that I wasn't planning on as distractions to "my" Lenten plans, but as opportunities. I want to resolve to offer up the unplanned struggles, frustrations or suffering for whoever God puts on my heart at those moments. Let's face it, there are plenty of people in our lives that could use extra prayers and grace right now!
Need some ideas for good Podcasts? Here are some of my current favorites:
The Bible in a Year...I'm learning a lot from this one with Fr. Mike Schmitz. It started January 1st, but you can start any time. Definitely a good one for Lent.
UMD Newman Catholic also Fr. Mike...he shares his Sunday homily every week. Always lots to ponder.
Abiding Together...my favorite podcast I listen to every week. It's almost always my Monday morning workout go to!
Poco A Poco...a newly found favorite. I love the banter of the CFR brothers who host this podcast. There's a lot of good conversation and camaraderie between them and in every episode, there are 15 min where one of them shares something incredible deep and meaningful that I find myself rewinding to listen to and write down.
Blessed is She, Girlfriends, Called and Caffeinated, A Seeking Heart, and Not Lukewarm are also podcasts I enjoy listening to.
Have any favorite podcasts to share? What are your plans for Lent?
I would love to hear...please share in the comments.
P.S. Can I make a plug for community?!? Many of us are feeling isolated and we can't be a part of the regular in person groups we have been missing for a long time now. Find a friend or two (or three) and meet regularly in whatever way everyone is comfortable with. Share your Lenten journey together...because, in this crazy time, we all need connection more than ever.