The season of Lent


     Several years ago, Nathaniel and I began attending Ash Wednesday services  and chose to participate in the season of Lent. Neither of us had ever attended churches that followed the traditional church calendar. I thought the service was beautiful. It was a time to remember just how small we are and how big God is. It was a time, for me, to rededicate my life to the One who created me, and to realize that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, I've been reconciled and accepted by Him. It was a time to remember my imperfect humanness and brokenness. It was a time that I could physically show with the mark of ashes that I was sorrowful for the hurt I have caused God by “the things I have done and the things I have left undone.” It was a time for humility, to remember where I have come from and where I will go.

What’s the use of following Lent? My friend was asked this by some girls in her small group. We don’t have to. Our church doesn’t require it.

Perhaps that’s why: it’s not required. We can choose to follow Lent. The girls are right in that God doesn’t require it. God desires a heart change, not a set of rules followed or a checklist completed. If all we were doing following Lent was hoping to gain God’s favor, we’d have missed the point. But, the season of Easter should be the most important of our year, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t we take the time to appreciate what God has done for us and to meditate of His greatest sacrifice? Of course we should be doing this all year, and that’s the other side of the coin. But there is still something important and good about stopping and remembering, and by participating in this Lenten season, we are joining together with other believers in something infinitely greater than ourselves. By giving something up or focusing on a discipline for these weeks of Lent, we hope to reset the way we’ve ordered our lives, to slow ourselves down.

This year I’ve thought hard about what to give up. What would be a sacrifice to me? What do I spend time on that could be better used for God?  Staying at home, I often will mindlessly search the internet while Zoe is napping. There’s little purpose other than to pass time. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to take a Sabbath each week from the internet. It has been good for me to be disconnected in that way on Sundays, because it allows for connection in so many other ways. My Lenten resolution is to be mindful of all my internet time and to see how it could be better used. This resolution gives me another way to say to my Creator: my time that you’ve given me is important and I choose to be aware of what I spend it on.

My life is so full and immediate. I can have what I want when I want it. I very rarely go without, and almost never by choice. So as I choose to participate in Lent, I am choosing to live life more slowly so as to live more purposefully.


A strong life

Zoë. Life, of Greek origin.
Caroline. Strength, of Latin origin.

Caroline: A name that means strength, inherited from her maternal great-grandmother Carolyn and her paternal great-grandmother Carol. Both strong women with characteristics that I hope she grows into.

This is a story about Zoë’s great grandmother Carolyn, my Nana.

Memories of my Nana start early for me. She’s a jumble of images and sounds and smells: of vinegared cucumbers and suntan lotion, of tomatoes and sourdough bread. She’s forever summer to me, she and Papa the reward at the end of a long two day car ride. When I remember her, I see the basket of Dr. Seuss books that sat on the bottom shelf of the table next to the blue sofa in her living room. We’d read and reread those books until we could recite them: one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.

Her favorite story of me was how I’d point my finger at her and emphatically say, “Nana. Sing!”

or “Nana. Read!”

 or “Nana, Draw me a picture! But not of a house with a tree and birds. Something different.”

And she would sing or read or draw, whenever I asked her to. I never felt that my demands bothered her. She’d just laugh and we’d play.

I was the first grandchild and although I knew she loved us all, I felt treasured by her. Even after there were eight more grandchildren, I still felt like I was the most special. We all did.

I remember boxes of South Carolina peaches and how we’d peel and slice and sugar them and scoop bowls of vanilla ice cream and put those amazing juicy peaches on the top. The juice would pool at the bottom of the bowl and we’d slurp it up. We’d eat that same dessert after supper every single night. I’ve never, ever had peaches as sweet.

I remember the very steep staircase that went down into their cellar basement, open on both sides and the smell of the damp walls and the scent of potatoes. My own house has a cellar that smells the same. Sometimes I’ll open the door and get a whiff of that dampness and smile, remembering her.

Her old family homestead was gone, but the staircase in the old place had been donated to the President James K. Polk Museum in Mecklenberg County, south of Charlotte. Although I’m sure we learned information about President Polk, my childhood memory is of visiting Nana’s staircase. One evening when she was young, Nana was carrying an lit oil lamp and walking down the stairs, which were steep and had a tight corner turn.  She missed a step and came tumbling all the way down. The way she told it, her whole family came running over and the first thing they asked was, “Did you break the lamp?” Nana loved to tell that story. “Can you believe it,” she’d say. “They didn’t ask about me! Just that lamp. Just that darn lamp.”

I remember our summer weeks together at the beach and the collections of shells we’d show her. Beach towels and sand were everywhere. Piles of flipflops and hats toppled by the door, bathing suits drying on the porch banister. She’d cook grits and eggs and livermush and bacon for breakfast every morning. We’d have a huge plate of Papa’s tomatoes. The butter from the grits would run over into the eggs and the tomato juice would pool by the livermush. Every bite was filled with love.

Each evening we’d sit in the rocking chairs listening to the surf and we’d chat. We’d play rummy and she’d usually win but she’d never gloat.

She and Papa had a deep love and respect for each other. She was also matter of fact about their love story.

"Tell me, how’d you meet, Nana?"

"Oh, we’d always known each other. But you know, during the War, all the men went away and there wasn’t anyone here. And after the War, there weren’t many men left. And I was getting old!"

They married when she was in her late twenties. She was the baby of her family and he was the oldest of his. My favorite photo of them shows them right after they got married, Papa in a suit and Nana in a two piece dress, and she’s holding his hand and looking right at the camera and beaming. Papa is squinting a little in the bright sunlight. Their love was steady and sure and full of laughter. Their lives were service in a way rarely seen and they gave of their time and talents without complaint. They were part of that greatest generation and they were some of its greatest.

N.C Grier & Carolyn Kuykendahl Grier
Our song was Chopsticks. She’d play the bottom part and I’d play the top. We’d play it faster and faster, laughing at our clumsy fingers. At one time, she had the entire song memorized. Closer to the end, she needed the music, but could still play it. She’d play hymns and sing for us. Her favorite was One Day at a Time and I can hear her in my mind singing it with her accent. One Day-a At Ah Time…


Oh, Nan. I wish you could have met Zoë. You’d have loved her. Miss you tons.

Carolyn Kuykendahl Grier
January 22, 1919 – February 19, 2011


20 things I wish I'd known

As a wizened (ahem) mom now that we've almost made it ten months, here's some things I wish I had been told before I had Zoë.

1. Sometimes everything gets better when you sit down, put your feet up and pretend that there is no laundry to do.

2. Sometimes everything gets better when you actually start a load of laundry. And if that's all you get done during the day, good for you.

3. Sometimes you just need to sit down with your good friends Facebook and Pinterest.

4. Sometimes you need to just call a friend. A real one.

5. Lonely days are universal, especially at the beginning. Let yourself be lonely sometimes, but don't let it become a habit. Some days are simply bad days.

6. Yes, you love your baby. Yes, he or she is supremely adorable and above average. Make sure you have other things to talk about after you've discussed the above.

7. Everyone has opinions on:
      a) diapering

      b) potty-training
      c) sleep-training
      d) bottles 
      e) introducing solid foods (and making your own)
      f) working outside the home
      g) date nights and their importance

8. Because of said opinions, it's easy to feel overwhelmed because you don't have it figured out. Don't worry: neither do they, they are just louder.

9. It's okay to think about your pre-baby days. It's okay to mourn that you've lost some freedom (okay, most of your freedom.)

10. It's okay to realize that your baby is the best thing that ever happened to you. And it’s okay to come very slowly to that realization.

11. It's okay to cry when the baby is crying.

12. It's okay to not want to be THAT mom.

13. It's okay when you realize that you ARE that mom.

14. It's okay when you realize that you are YOUR mom.

14. It's okay to leave 3 or 4 pages of single-spaced hand-written notes the first time you leave your baby with a non-family member. Realize, though, that the babysitter probably will stop halfway down the first page. Put all the really super important stuff up top.

15. Important people in your life will have lots of opinions about you and your child. Just because they are your parents, boss, pastor, teacher, or Super Nanny doesn't mean that what they think is always right. It might be. It also might not be.

16. You need people to be on your team that support you. Find people like that if you don't have any. There's not a prize for being an island.

17. You don't have to be good at everything.

18. Overloaded diaper bags only make your shoulder hurt. No matter how you try to plan for everything, you can't.

19. Learn to extend grace to other moms. Everyone is trying their hardest. Just because they came to a different opinion on child-raising techniques doesn't mean they are wrong.

20. Quit comparing yourself to others. There's always someone more peaceful/ contented/satisfied/ talented/ stylish. You're perfect the way you are. You can do this.

And one to grow on: 

{21. Everyone struggles, even perfect people. }



Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, O Lord, that I may sing for joy all my days. Psalm 90:14

Is there anything more satisfying than watching a baby and dog watch the world go by? They are satisfied and delighted by the simplest things: the recycle truck, dogs on leashes, a squirrel running along the fence, the neighbor getting into his car, leaves.

This world bombards us with so many loud messages (did you watch the Super Bowl?) and again I'm struck by the simple path my life has taken this year. It has been so hard to just rest in the quietness and simpleness. Lord, expand my heart to be able to linger here. Too soon my world will be loud and busy again, and I ask for your help me to breathe in deep the peace that is here if I'll only accept it.

A verse I've been pondering lately is in 1st Thessalonians:

And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life; 4:11a, NASB

Another translation puts it like this:
Aspire to live quietly;  PHILLIPS
From commentaries I've read, Paul was writing to the church in Thessalonica and there were church goers that were in everyone else's business. He was admonishing them to keep to the task that had been given them.

Could it be that I've confused busyness with significance? If I'm honest, my ambition is not for a quiet life, nor do I usually aspire to live quietly. Oh, I will do these things, but I don't have the ambition for them. My ambition is usually for things that bring me recognition or glory. 

Keep to your task. The simplest tasks are worth doing well if they've been given to you by God. For me, this simplest task of being Zoë's mom has been the most challenging. But there's grace in that as well.