Let me explain, first. Almost six years ago Brian Hughes sat down across from me at Rosa's Restaurant. Over a plate of cheese sticks, he invited me to leave my teaching job in Chesterfield County and come work for PCC.
I laughed. I was - I am - the least likely candidate for a full-time ministry position that I could imagine.
But Brian convinced me that God used broken people to reach broken people, and I knew he was right. I saw the evidence in the PCC community - that people far from God were finding hope - and so, with a deep breath, clinging to Godworksallthingstogetherforgood, I accepted the offer.
I left a fairly decent job, with excellent benefits, to work for less money and no benefits. The bonus of working in Powhatan with flexible hours carried a lot of weight, as did the fact that it was, indeed, a calling from God (I moved in faith then; I only recognized it in hindsight). But taking a cue from my brother, who is a creative person working in a church, I asked for some time that I figured I would need to refresh and refuel. Three weeks of "study break", to be used at my discretion, was part of my package, per my request.
I have, every year, used those weeks with gratitude and very tangible results. I'm not sure I'd still be working at the church had I not done so. Amazing things have happened as I changed my scenery, altered my routine, read, pursued art, played music, prayed and otherwise took time to nourish my soul.
(If you are so inclined, you can read about my other break times here, here and here. Also, here and here. I like to re-read them. You? Maybe not so much. But just in case, there they are.)
This year, my break was complicated. Family schedules, crazy weather; nothing quite worked out as planned. I went nowhere. I stayed home, with stacks of books and piles of paper. I cooked for my family. I sat with my husband and my children.
But here's the thing: outside the normal routine, amazing things still happened. It has been a powerful, prayerful week. I will wake up tomorrow, back to work, but different than I was a week okay.
A study break changes my attitude. It brings about powerful paradigm shifts.
This has been an incredible week. There are several reasons. I'm going to process a bit of what I've experienced over the next few days, here on this blog. I hope you'll come back and allow me to share - to bear witness - of what I have learned and who I have encountered.
Today, my break ends. Today is Fat Tuesday - Mardi Gras.
Mardi gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday... Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. In English, the day is called Shrove Tuesday, associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins. - WikipediaI'm not sure I'll celebrate with masks and costumes. There are no particular social conventions I wish to overturn. But today does mark an end, not only of this week apart, but also of some of the more vapid, selfish internal games I play with myself. And I have a few confessions.
I confess this: my faith has been weak, my commitment has wavered. I have struggled in a world of transition, allowing the shallowness of current culture to define the thin, shape-shifting lines of discipline that I daily skirt.
I confess this: that I want more, different, deeper, richer; and that I do very little to obtain that which I desire, except to gaze across the fence at those who appear to possess that which I think I want.
I confess this: that to remain as I am is such a violent disgrace to the One I claim to follow, that I wonder how it is that He has not spit me out of His mouth in disgust.
I confess this: that I long to be part of the kingdom of heaven as it is here on earth, in a way that rises above my weak self-indulgence.
I have spent a week reading, thinking, praying, making art, being still, tending to my family, being me. I have felt fully inhabited, at times, by the spirit of God. I have felt a lightness to my being that has more to do with perspective that busyness. And I am persuaded that this is the life to which I am called, and that I must do all that I can to live this life.
Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. In my current faith community - my church - we do little to commemorate the day or the season. We are yearning for Easter, leaning into the celebration already, anticipating the joy and the music and the victory.
But this year, I am so cognizant of the struggle, of the darkness, of the need for patience and humility as we wait for the coming of the kingdom. I am going to live into Ash Wednesday, into sacrifice and into Lent as best I can. I believe I am called to do so.
I have to go where I'm called.