We Need Lent

In my spare time, I enjoy listening to the videos on the St. Elias Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s YouTube Channel. I find the music to beautiful and prayerful in a way that enriches my life. In particular, I enjoy listening to the videos from Holy Week and Pascha. I’ve been finding myself getting really excited as I realize that this coming Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday. Now, as a Lent-hating child, I hated Cheesefare Sunday. It (like the liturgical season it precedes) ruined all my fun.

As an adult with a better appreciation of Lent, I adore Cheesefare Sunday. My favorite thing about Cheesefare Sunday is Forgiveness Vespers. During Forgiveness Vespers, we as a parish forgive one another. “Forgive me, a sinner, and I forgive you,” we say to one another. It is, to me, utterly beautiful. During this Ritual of Forgiveness, we sing the Odes of the Resurrection, music that we will hear again during Resurrection Matins (my absolute favorite service of the year) on Pascha Sunday and throughout the Paschal season. Now, I love love LOVE these odes. I’m so excited to get to sing these beautiful odes, these beautiful truths on Sunday.

But not only do I love Pascha, I love Holy Thursday and Good Friday. I cannot explain to you how much I love Good Friday’s Reading of the Twelve Gospels and Entombment Vespers. They are so beautiful to me. I canNOT wait to sing “Having suffered the Passion for us, Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on us” throughout Lent. And then, we’ll get to sing of the Noble Joseph (of Arimathea) who took down the Spotless Body of the Master from the Cross and laid Him in a new tomb on Good Friday. Love. I love singing of the Noble Joseph because I love the Noble Joseph.

I love this celebration. It is utterly beautiful. Over the course of several days, we journey with Christ from Bethany where He raises His friend, Lazarus, from the dead to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem through Holy Week to Holy Thursday and the Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood to the Agony in the Garden into Friday and the Carrying of the Cross and His Passion and Death and then comes Pascha-His Glorious Resurrection on the Third Day. Christ is victorious through it all. He is the Victor. I love it.

You, O King and Lord, have fallen asleep in the flesh as a mortal man but on the third day you arose. You have raised Adam from his corruption and made death powerless. You are the Pasch of incorruption. You are the salvation of the world.

I recently confessed my love of Holy Week to my roommate. I told her that I wanted it to be Holy Week now because I want that beauty. I want that glory in my life. But her response was perfect. She told me that I couldn’t have them yet because Holy Week wouldn’t be the same without Lent. If I don’t go through forty days of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, the majesty of Holy Week is NOT the same. Lent leads us to Holy Week. We need to work our way through Lent to the glory and majesty of the Sacred and Holy Pasch. We need to prepare our hearts and minds to rightly celebrate the Great Feast.

From the Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom

From the Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom

I love Holy Week. I love Pascha. But I need to spend some time preparing for those celebrations. I need to take time (forty days sounds good) to focus my mind on the message of Holy Week and Pascha so that I can properly celebrate the feasts. I need my heart and mind to be focused on the love and mercy of Christ’s Victorious Passion. Prayer can do that. Fasting can do that. Almsgiving can do that. I need to focus my heart and my mind. I need to work on my relationship with God. And then, I can celebrate the Feast well.

And if you’re wondering, I do need to do this every year. Every year, I can grow more. Every year, I can find areas for improvement in my relationship with God and in my understanding of His love and mercy. I will never be perfect on this side of paradise. But the beauty of God is that He is always there for me to draw closer to and to know more fully. We all need this. We all need the opportunity to meet God in the wilderness and to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection.

Finding Your Spot

A while back (I don’t exactly remember when), a friend of mine recommended that we meet up at a local bar she likes. I agreed, plugged the address into my GPS, and went on my merry way. I parked my car in the nearest parking lot and started walking towards where (my darling) Google Maps told me to go.

And there was a dark wall. It was your standard dark exterior wall, just another wall of another building in my city. In the middle of this wall was a doorway, but at first glance I thought it was a service entrance to another establishment. Then I realized that it wasn’t; this more or less unmarked  door was in fact the door that I was looking for. (There’s a small, unobtrusive sign near the door, but I didn’t notice that until at least my tenth visit.) This isn’t the kind of place that you stumble upon. This is like a speakeasy; you have to be looking for it to find it. And you go looking for it because someone (probably someone you really like and respect) told you about it.

I tentatively went through this door, and the bouncer directed me to my friend. The bar is dimly lit and pleasantly decorated. (The speakeasy vibe created by the door continues inside the bar.) The menus are designed to look like book covers. The drinks menu is divided into “chapters.” I loved it, and I’ve grown to love it more each subsequent time that I visit it. The service is excellent. The seats are comfortable. The food is delightful. (Please let me tell you about the lamb sliders.) And the drinks…oh man…the drinks, they are amazing.

This bar (The Last Word) is one of my favorite spots. The ambiance suits my personality. It can be loud on the weekend, but it can also be a quiet place to read a book or have a serious conversation on a weeknight. For me, that’s a delightful option. I like having a place where I can go and read with a cocktail. Yes, I can do that at home, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery and do that somewhere other than my house.

In this particular bar, I’ve found a “spot” for myself. I’ve found a place that suits me, and I like to think that I suit it too. I think it’s important to find “spots” for oneself in life. It’s good to find places where you feel safe, comfortable, and wanted. There’s a bookstore in my city that I find to be utterly magical, and part of that is because it’s a place where I feel safe and wanted. I once had a great conversation with one of the owners of the store about books that we were supposed to read in high school but didn’t. Another visit found a salesperson telling me about the time she met Julia Child. These conversations have helped me to feel connected to the people in the store. They promote my feeling of comfort and ease in the store.

I recommend seeking out these sorts of places. Find places where you feel wanted and comfortable, places where you feel free to be yourself. Find places where you can curl up with a good book or a have a random brilliant conversation with a stranger. Find places where the barista or bartender or waiter can give you beverage recommendations that might take you out of your comfort zone-and you trust those recommendations.

Your spot might not look like mine. The speakeasy thing might not be your style. Maybe you don’t want to go curl up in a coffeeshop and read with a mug of tea. That’s fine. Maybe the places that you like will be places that I wouldn’t like. That’s great. You find your place, and I’ll find mine. The important thing is that you find your spot(s). We all need our little refuges from the craziness of life. Find yours and enjoy it.

Saying Thank You

When it’s cold or raining outside, I help with dismissal at work. I go outside and help make sure that kids get safely and quickly to their cars. I might get cold or wet-or both. My hair might get messed up. But really, it’s not a big deal; it’s part of my job. One recent morning, my boss gave me a bag of caramel corn as a thank-you for helping with dismissal.

It’s not a big deal. I don’t mind going outside for a short amount of time to help the kiddos. Yes, my fingers or toes might get cold. My hair might get messed up. But I don’t really mind it. Who cares what my hair looks like after 3pm? I can put it in a ponytail or messy bun.

The thing that struck me is the act of thanking me. This is a situation where it really is the thought that counts. A bag of caramel corn is a simple way of saying “Hey, I noticed that thing that you did.” It’s important to acknowledge people when you notice them doing something.

This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s important to acknowledge people. Thanking people who help you, acknowledging people who work in stores-these things are important. At some point in my early twenties, I started making a point of saying “You too” to every person who said “Have a nice day” to me. Next, I started meaning it. And then, I started saying it to people who hadn’t said it to me. I’m no better or worse than the people who stock shelves at Target. People who make drinks at Starbucks are doing something for you. Yes, they’re getting paid for it, but they’re doing a service for you.

It’s important to treat people with respect and dignity. We need to make a habit of noticing other people. One of the things that I’ve really learned in the past few months is how easy it is to get focused in our own worlds and ignore the world around us. It’s easy to ignore or shut out people who disagree with us. It’s easy to overlook people.

But if we want to make the world a better place, we need to treat people better. We need to be more respectful of other people. Sometimes, that just means asking someone how they’re doing or wishing them a good day. If we treat others with intentional kindness, we will contribute to making the world a better place. And that’s what will really change the world-small acts stemming from genuine kindness.

Let’s do that. Let’s live with genuine kindness. Let’s make the world a better place.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

-St. Teresa of Calcutta

Galentine’s Day

It’s Galentine’s Day, the day when I make waffles for dinner and eat them with Strong Female Drinks (not girly drinks) while watching the appropriate episodes of Parks and Recreation. It’s a day that Amy Poehler gave us to celebrate female friendship and sisterhood.

I’ve been thinking about female friendship and strong women of late. The world needs strong women. It needs strong people to begin with, but we really need strong women. We need women who aren’t afraid to be themselves.

“Female friendship has been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women.”

-Rebecca Traister, New York Times, February 27, 2016

It’s also really important to encourage women to be friends with one another rather than competing with one another. One of the things that I love about Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation is that she builds relationships with the strong women in her life. She seeks out female friends and encourages each of those women to become the best version of herself. She can be a bit overzealous at times, but she means well. Leslie wants to see her friends succeed; it’s one of her greatest strengths.

Image from BuzzFeed

Image from BuzzFeed

As women, we need to do this for one another. We need to build one another up and encourage them. Life isn’t just about romance; friendship is at least as important as romance. Friendship is there to nourish and sustain us. It reminds us that we are not alone, that each of our lives has value. One of the beauties of Ann and Leslie’s friendship on Parks and Rec is how it endures regardless of relationship status or job situation or emotional state. They love each other, and they are there for one another. They’re not afraid to call each other on their crap or to question decisions that they don’t understand. But they’re always there for one another. Yes, Leslie can be overbearing. Yes, Ann has some flaw somewhere in that

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

-Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Galentine’s Day isn’t really about waffles or Strong Female Drinks. It’s about friendship with women. It’s about building up your fellow women, encouraging them to be their best selves, and being there for one another. We need that. We need strong women, and we need strong friendships between women. So make some waffles, mix up a Suffragette Soda, and enjoy some female bonding…because females are strong as hell.