Leap of Faith

It arrives every year, usually quietly and without much fanfare due to the havoc of the day prior.  Sometimes it sneaks up so quietly, I don’t notice until it’s nearly upon me.

Ash Wednesday.

Being raised Catholic – and attending Catholic school for 11 years – I learned a lot about the observance of Lent, which many non-Catholics – particularly non-Christians – have difficulty understanding.  Lent is the 40-day season before Easter, one of the many holidays the Catholic church observes, and is a time for meditation.

Lent is mainly known for two things outside the Catholic faith: the tradition of fasting and abstinence.  Today, I’m going to discuss the practice of abstinence during Lent, which has nothing to do with that kind of abstinence.  Rather, we’ll be discussing this type of abstinence instead.

Every year since I can remember, my parents have made my siblings and I follow the rules of abstinence for Lent.  This means no meat on Fridays, which – when my grandparents were young, so probably before Vatican II – was at one point standard on every Friday for Catholics.  Instead, we had fish or other meals that did not include meat.  Abstinence doesn’t include other animal products, so we often had macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Another abstinence practice is a tradition of “giving up” something for Lent.  I’ve met lots of people who see this as a kind of chore and like to give up things they don’t normally do anyway – a couple smartalecky kids in my grade school gave up “studying” for Lent.  Frequently, Catholics give up things like eating chocolate, drinking pop, or smoking if possible.

Abstinence practices are the one thing I’ve been picked on most about by people who are Christian, but not Catholic.  The most common reason for people to bother me about it is “Why?”  I guess their real question is “Why do you need to give up something for God?”

I’ve given up something every year I can remember, and always the same thing: candy.  Sometimes it’s the more specific chocolate candy, but invariably candy.  It’s not like I eat tons and tons of candy; it’s something I like to have a couple times a week.  Still, I give it up for Lent for one main reason.

Candy is a luxury, and I’m lucky I can have it.

For me, Lent is a season in which I think about how lucky I am.  To be able to make the conscious choice to abstain from meat.  To be able to consciously choose not to eat candy.  How lucky am I, really, to choose to give those things up when there are people all over the world and in my own community who don’t have that choice because they hardly have anything to eat at all?

Though I’m sure not all of my readers are Catholic or even Christian, I invite all of you to take a moment out of your day today to think about the ways in which you’re fortunate.  You may not feel very fortunate; it might be the winter blues, or maybe you’re down on your luck.  But you are fortunate in some way, and sometimes we forget how fortunate or how blessed we really are.

The Unavoidable Pre-Valentine’s Post

* Author’s Note: If you don’t like Valentine’s Day or are one of the 70% of singles who have reported feeling “depression” or “anxiety” because of Valentine’s Day, this post may not be for you.  If you don’t really care about any of that, or if you are interested in somewhat funny or interesting things, do go ahead and read. Continue reading

Year of the Dragon, in Red

The Chinese New Year festival started a few days ago, marking the new Year of the Dragon on the Chinese Zodiac calendar.  While the little I know about the Chinese Zodiac comes from fortune-telling books and Fruits Basket, I did learn something interesting in an e-mail from Polyvore:

Dragons love rubies, the color red, big ideas and flamboyance. Dragons deliver good fortune to all.

That means this year is a Red year.  According to NationsOnline.org, red is a traditional bridal color in China and represents vitality, good luck, creativity, and joy, among other things. Coincidentally, red is my favorite color – and based on its meanings, it seems red would be a great color for writers to keep in mind as they set goals and try to find inspiration.

Check out these red things to inspire you – or just make you grin and procrastinate before you settle at your keyboard to work on that latest chapter or newest revision.

This cute crochet cup of hot chocolate was created by Meredith, who blogs at One Sheepish Girl.  Meredith is one of my favorite bloggers, especially when she posts her outfit blogs.  She did it to help gain confidence, and I admire any young woman who does something like that!

Her Etsy shop, Sheepish Knit Crochet, has lots of adorable and lovely accessories and fun things.  I love the little “drinks” in the shop, from teacups and lattes to several variations of this adorable hot chocolate drink.  You can buy it (and plenty of other delicious and beautiful creations) at her Etsy shop.

This is a digital painting of Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid by alicexz on deviantART.  You can check out the full-sized version here.  Visit Alice on her deviantART site or her Tumblr site.

If you’re a fan of The Little Mermaid (and other Disney movies,) check out Heather Traska’s One Woman A Cappella Disney Medley and Disney’s The Little Mermaid A Cappela Cover on YouTube.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of an Etsy fan – you can find so many beautiful and wonderful things on the site.

One of those things are these cute red items, Burgundy Knitting Fingerless Gloves by Afra.  They were listed in the Valentine’s Day section – it’s coming up, as well – but they’re so lovely I’m sure anyone could find use for them any time of the year.

I talked about inspiration above, and I’d say these probably inspire me the most: I’m a fan of steampunk, and for some reason these fingerless gloves just cry out “Victorian” to me.  (I’m not sure whether the artist would take that as a compliment or an insult.)  I’d love to buy a pair, though, so I guess that makes it a compliment!

What red items inspire you?  Post your links in the comments!

(For added bonus points, write a blog about how the color red inspires you and link it to my blog.  I’d love to read about your CNY inspirations!)

A Story of Giving

About a month ago, the student organization I’m involved with held a used book sale in the Student Union at my university.  The book sale was entirely run by volunteers: the books were all donated by generous sponsors and the table itself was run by volunteers from the UT Writer’s Guild.

There were some really old, dusty books at the sale, but there were also a lot of things any book-lover might pant over, and I found myself staring at quite a few of them with longing: volumes of poetry and a number of novels I’d been wanting to read.

I ended up volunteering several hours for the sale, and I had the opportunity to meet lots of people and hold some really interesting conversations.  One student who walked up to the table spent some time looking through things and eventually chose three books.

While I was ringing up, I took a look through the titles he’d picked.  “Oh!  Reading Lolita in Tehran?” I said as I counted out his change.  “I’ve always wanted to read that book.”

The student smiled a little and said he’d always wanted to read it, too – and as a religious studies major, it was a topic that fascinated him.  I nodded, wondering what he would think of the book.  I figured I would eventually have to read it, since I have a close friend who is Iranian.

I rang up the student’s order and went back to working on homework, which was how I had decided to pass my time while I sat at the book sale alone.  A couple minutes later, the student reappeared.

“You know, I have this awful habit of buying books and never reading them,” he said.  “So here – I think you’d appreciate this more than I would.”

And he handed me Reading Lolita in Tehran.

I didn’t know what to say.  (I like to think I at least managed a stammered “thank you,” but he had me totally speechless.)  I rarely received books as gifts from my friends and family members, much less total strangers!

The kindness of that total stranger has inspired me in so many ways this holiday season.  Penguin Books USA recently ran a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #booksarebetter to inspire followers to give books as gifts this holiday season.  I’ll give you one better: don’t just give books as gifts to your loved ones this holiday season – give books as gifts to everyone.

Here are a few ways you can do that this December – or any time of the year:

  • Go through your library, find a good book you haven’t read in a long time, and give it to a friend, co-worker, family member, or person you always see at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Donate used books to nonprofits collecting them for used book sales – and don’t forget to attend the sale to support that group financially as well.
  • Support charities like Reach Out and Read, which promotes early literacy and helps physicians create literacy-rich waiting rooms as well as provide age-appropriate books to families and children ages 6 months to 5 years.

There are so many things you can do to bring the gift of reading to someone in your life or even someone whose life you barely brush.  This season, and all through next year, give a book new or used to someone who needs it in their life – because, after all, books are better.