My Lenten Practice This Year

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As a Unitarian Universalist, I don’t have a prescribed Lenten practice to follow, but there is a thread of cultural-Catholicism in my husband’s family and so the idea of “giving something up for Lent” entered my life just about when he did.

In past years I’ve given up sugar, or alcohol, but this year that just doesn’t appeal to me. We started a new budget plan this year, and I’ve been struggling with one of the worst bouts of depression I’ve had in years, and more self-restraint or deprivation seems counter-productive.

I’ve been inspired by some of Pope Francis’s messages about Lenten fasting, that what we should fast from might be spiritual attitudes as much as they could be physical things. So this year I am “giving up” easy anger towards others. I’m not giving up all anger, and I’m not going to stop caring about the big injustices in the world, but I am giving up the sort of take-it-out-on-your-nearest-and-dearest “I’m Cranky!” kind of anger.

One cannot simply wave a magic wand and say “I won’t ever be cranky again”, though. So the method I’m using to try and reduce or eliminate my cranky anger levels is to refocus on my own Soul Care and prayer practice.

I’ll get up each morning and spend the first part of my day with my journal and in prayer. Today I set the mood for myself with a hot cup of coffee, the fire and a candle, some classical music, and a cozy afghan, and then I wrote and prayed over all that was bothering me in my life and the world.

So far, so good. I do feel calmer and more focused today. Perhaps in 40 days the habit and re-framing of my attitude will stick!

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The Life-Management Binder: Menu Planning Section

Another section of my life-management binder: the Menu section. I’ve been doing a monthly menu plan for over a year, but previously I posted it on a wall calendar in the kitchen. To move it into the binder, I just ripped apart one of those free calendars I get too many of from various environmentalist groups. No reason to print out calendar pages when I have so many that need to be used!

The whole family gets input into the menu plan, and January ended up being a month of comfort food. February will be a little more adventurous, as we took a dive into these vegetarian cookbooks from the library.

I like being organized!

The Life-Management Binder: Self-Care

Let’s dive into one section of my new Life-Management Binder and see how it’s working a few weeks into the new year!

A very important part of my life reboot is Self-Care. I’ve been depressed and approaching burn-out, and bloody winter is bloody wet, muddy, and hard. 

So I need to deal with my self-care. Self-care is multi-faceted, and I tried to capture as much of that in my vision collage for this binder section as I could (I didn’t find any good magazine pictures of doctor’s visits and flossing my teeth). Self-Care is everything from taking my vitamins and prescriptions to getting my teeth cleaned. It’s the fun stuff (vacations and hobbies) and the not-so-fun-stuff (those darn dentist appointments). It can be free or cheap (exercising at home or taking a bubble bath or a nap) or expensive (getting a massage).

To start the new year off, I thought what would do me the most good would be to Feel Stronger. So I found a 30 Day Whole Body Fitness Challenge, which I had to heavily edit to set the baseline for someone who had not done any strength training for almost a year. The exercises were sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and wall sits.

Oh my goodness, those first three days I was SOOOO Sore! I was clearly very out-of-shape. But it felt so good to hit the new year with a simple (really, it takes less than 15 minutes a day!) and doable fitness challenge. My husband decided to do it with me, and we are slowly building up strength. We’re up to a 1 minute Wall-Sit now, and the plan is to end with 1 1/2 minutes by the end … ouch!

The 30 day challenge is going to take us more than 30 days, what with sick days and other days when things didn’t work out for us, but the little calendar is flexible enough to deal with that. Once we are done with this … what shall I do next? Cardio?

The important thing really, I think, is just to put myself on the list! This section of my binder is helping me do that.

 

Charity or Justice?

 

I’ve just finished reading Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups by Andrew Fisher.

It wasn’t a fun read, but it raised some very important questions for me about charity and justice.

In my life, I spend a lot of time, money, and energy on charity, whether it is through work, community organizations, my children’s community organizations, or as a family or on my own. In December I had two dips into anti-hunger charity, as my family chose to do a Reverse Advent and collect food for donation in a gift box on our dining table all through the Advent season, and as I took the high school youth from my church to work in a community kitchen and serve dinner one evening. In contrast, the only work toward justice that I can think of in that month came in the form of lesson planning to teach kids at my church about justice, and in the form of a check written to an international organization that does some justice work.

Now, I don’t want to completely knock charity. It’s far better to be charitable and kind than it is to be selfish and mean. Charity and service is a good teaching tool for children and youth, building empathy and bringing them into contact with people they wouldn’t otherwise have met in our class-stratified society. Charity and kindness will always be needed to some degree, and softening life’s harsh edges with kindness is usually a good thing to do.

But it’s not enough, by itself, and it’s too easy to stop there.

Charity feels good. It is far too easy for me to amass charitable actions or acts of kindness and add some more sparkle to my halo, coming back home feeling good about myself. Justice work is hard. It often involves arguing and conflict, and taking actions that in some way put me or my status in the world at risk.

Charity is sweet, Justice is audacious. It’s a lot easier for me to be sweet, both based on personality and social-conditioning.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a perfect day to reflect on this question. In recent years I have always participated in some kind of local MLK Day of Service event … usually planting trees in a local environmental restoration project. Planting trees is in no way a bad thing to do … but does it really honor the life of MLK?

Where would justice ask me to spend my day and my energy? I think it’s time for me to find a way to be more audacious with my work for justice!

Planning for Planting

 

It may be wet and muddy and grey here, but it’s also time to plan for spring! Thank goodness for seed catalogs, seed collections, planting calendars, and garden planners, for they truly do keep me sane in this dreary month of January.

The Home Management Binder of My Dreams

I had a dream about a week ago, that I was sitting at my dining table and I had a 3 ring binder in front of me. In my dream, I felt like all was well, all was organized, and all was contained within this binder. It was beautiful, and filled me with a sense of well-being and righteous organization and preparation for whatever life might bring.

In the last few months, I’ve been fighting a fairly bad bout of depression and general bad morale about work, marriage, motherhood, and life. It’s been (and is still) rough. Actually, this whole year has been rough, pretty much since the 2016 election. It’s hard to keep going.

So this dream felt like something I needed to latch onto. I’m going to start off 2018 with a new binder, and a bunch of new efforts to be organized, delegate, and take care of myself. As a visualization of what I want, I also took the time to collage pages for each of the categories in the binder: Work, Menu, Chores, Repairs, Budget, Farm, School, Self-Care, and Emergency.

More to come about how this works!