40 Days & Nights. Mostly Nights: A Lenten Journey

I am going to give up my nights, my night owl habits, and what I have often referred to as the most productive hours of my day.

Motherhood did not reset my internal clock to the rhythms of infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, etc.  because those seasons never had a set rhythm unless controlled chaos is considered a rhythm. I have never enjoyed the quiet before or during sunrise. I usually only see a sunrise if I was up all night. I love staying up past 1 a.m. when everyone else is asleep. I love the second wind and feeling of productivity when no one else is in my way.

Which is why I am giving up my night owl habits. I need to let go. Everyone needs a certain amount of sleep, and I certainly don’t get enough of it. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I stay up late to get more done, to write one last paragraph, read one more page, clean up one more spot in the house, respond to one more email, check off one more thing off my never-ending list of things to get done, many of which can and should wait.

And then I wake up after I’ve hit the snooze button too many times, feeling exhausted and already behind another day of producing, cleaning, emailing, multitasking purposefulness.

I am not that important.

The house is not that dirty.

Those emails (unless they are from my supervisors or colleagues and correctly have the RN: date on them) are not “DO IT NOW!” urgent.

The book will still be there.

Even as I sit here typing I am thinking and worrying about what isn’t getting done now and wondering how I can get it all done tonight.

No more afternoon coffee. No more burning the midnight oil. Less cranky Kathy, which is far less than what God has invited me to be. No more being too tired to actually be present to what God has for me.

May 40 days simply be.

Grief Takes Form

ribbons of mourning

My father-in-law died on Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent, a season of reflection on Christ’s suffering, death, burial and resurrection.

The morning he died I read out of Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. I chose passage about God knowing and choosing to live into human suffering, how the resurrected Christ invited Thomas to touch his nail-pierced hands. I don’t know what it is to suffer the failing health and body of 87 years, but Jesus does, and that is what I whispered in my father-in-law’s ear. My only regret was that I couldn’t translate the reading into Korean, forever the Korean daughter-in-law.

Four hours later he took his last breaths, and the family moved into a fog of grief, guilty relief, sadness, memories, cultural expectations, and uncertainty about the future.

Paul Si Kun Chang, 87, lived with us for 7 months in 2006. He moved in with us days after my mother-in-law died. Friends of hers thought I wept because I felt guilty for not doing enough as a daughter-in-law. Little did they know I wept because I knew what was coming, and I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be that kind of Korean daughter-in-law.

My father-in-law had many moments worthy of a K-drama. He and I argued over the sheer amount of stuff he wanted to move into his room and into my house. The four-drawer, heavy-duty file cabinet and pleather recliner sent me over the edge. He would come into my office and ask to be served lunch. My favorite was when he looked at his plate of spaghetti (the kids had begged for “American” food after weeks of Korean food), and he told me he wasn’t going to eat it for dinner.

But we had many more moments as he mourned and tried to find his way out of the sadness while living in the company of a family of five on the move. He trimmed the bushes, rinsed out the garbage cans, tried to teach my boys how to swing a golf club, and he shared with me bits and pieces of his story – how he longed for his mother when he saw me love on my kids, how excited he was to receive confirmation of his arranged marriage, and how he couldn’t believe a poor Korean could live such an incredible life as an American.

Stories all spoken to me in Korean, usually when I served him a traditional Korean meal for lunch or dinner.

My grief is not that of a daughter; my memories of our relationship only go as far back as my relationship with Peter. My grief feels distinctly that of a Korean American daughter-in-law – “myu-noo-lree”. My father-in-law did not first meet me as a newborn; he met me at my prime grandson-bearing years. We both saw and knew each other in relationship to our cultural roles.

It took almost 20 years for us to trust each other with our own stories of faith and suffering and hope. That’s why it made sense to read a Lenten devotional to him on Ash Wednesday while wishing I could have done it in Korean. That was the link that helped us understand each other in ways his son and my husband could not.

Death and all of the preparations were a whirlwind until I sat down with the black ribbon to wrap around his portrait and then the white ribbon to make the traditional symbols of mourning the surviving children and grandchildren would wear.

Grief, remembrance and reflection did not begin with ashes this year. It took form in white bows.


Lenten Laundry

I did not give up laundry for Lent. I have given up my gas dryer.

The dryer  (or from here on out, the D) stopped drying on January 29, well in advance of Lent and this intentional season of reflection and sacrifice.

The first two days without the D were a flurry of online searches for reviews and deals. Steam drying? Buy a new washer and D or just the D and wait for the washer to fail later? If we buy a washer should we buy front-loading or top-loading? If we are going to replace the D or both shouldn’t we remove the wallpaper and 40-year-old vinyl flooring? Wait, what is steam washing? What would Jesus do? Never mind. Jesus didn’t have two boys with stinky clothes, a daughter with even stinkier leotards and costumes, and a husband tracking in God knows what germs on scrubs. We were this close to ordering a new washer and dryer and….

Then one week without the D became two, and then my husband and I sat down to reflect.

With the D removed for scrap and the equally sudden loss of not one but two cars (both becoming scrap), we found ourselves with an unplanned opportunity to decide what we could do without and for what purpose. What would it look like, be like, feel like to simply do without what we had simply accepted as necessities of life if only for a short period of time? Instead of 12-months no interest, how about a few more weeks of saving, planning, and doing without so that we could simply purchase later what we thought we couldn’t do without charging right now?

Initially it meant getting used to crunchy towels, socks and underwear. The midwest winter, as mild as it has been, still means dry air that sucks up moisture. For us that has meant all of our clothes are a bit stiff (I’m not a fan of liquid fabric softener) and crunchy, but more than anything it has meant slowing down and being more aware.

No one can expect to have something washed, dried and folded on demand. Some loads take longer to air dry. Jeans can take up to two days. Some days there isn’t enough room to hang that favorite shirt or pair of pants. It’s also made us aware of how many articles of clothing we each have and what it really takes to keep it all clean because it is literally in front of us hanging on the rack in the middle of the family room or on the kitchen island or on the ironing board in my room. Oh, or on the lamp in the office or off the fan in my daughter’s room.

It’s a small sacrifice, but it continues to remind me of what I have assumed as convenient and/or necessary. I crave an ordered, aesthetically pleasing space. I don’t care what your space looks like, but I want mine neat and tidy. But laundry drying all over doesn’t lend itself to neat and tidy. It means my laundry, albeit clean laundry, is out for everyone to see.

Which is exactly why this continues to be a small but good discipline for me.

My laundry is out here for everyone to see, and my friends who knew of the demise of our D ask us about the replacement. I find myself explaining again why we’ve chosen to do without a little convenience – because it is reminding me Christ doesn’t call me to convenience but to Him. Sometimes getting rid of the convenience gives us space to do just that.

I can’t imagine many of you have given up your D, but what are you doing this Lenten season? Did you give us something in order to spend more time reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice? Has the sacrifice turned you more to Christ?