Friday, March 9, 2012

Proverbs 24:12

I had the pleasure of chatting with the youth from our church (along with a bunch of their friends) this evening.  Every year our youth participate in the 30 Hour Famine, sponsored by World Vision.  The Famine kids fast for 30 hours and raise funds to help eradicate hunger across the planet.  This year’s focus is on the famine in the Horn of Africa.  I spent 20 or 25 minutes sharing a little of our experience, learning more about theirs, and encouraging them in their journey.  At the time I joined them, they were about 8 hours into their 30 hour fast.

I asked the 38 kids a few questions about their fasting experience.
  • What had they noticed or learned so far?
  • How did their friends react?

Their answers were candid, mature and encouraging.  Several kids, in one way or another, acknowledged the power of habits in their relationship with food.  But, they were clever in how they dealt with their urge to eat.  One girl had spelled famine on her fingertips, and when she was unwrapping a piece of candy she had received in class, she was reminded by her hands that now was not the time to eat.  Another shared that she used her hunger as an opportunity to make time and space for God.

On the topic of other’s reactions, they all said they had experienced a range of reactions -- some encouraging, some not so much.  “Why would you want to do that to yourself?”  “That’s so great.  You’re such a good person.”  “That’s awesome, but I could never do that.”  “Don’t you realize what you’re like to be around when you get too hungry?”

I shared a bit about our FFE journey and told them that we’ve received similar kinds of questions and reactions.  I shared that it’s not necessarily a simple, direct connection that people make between fasting (and the self-denial that it requires) and the social justice dimension of caring for and serving “the least of these” half a world away.  But when we deny ourselves, God honors and uses our action in amazing and unexpected ways.

I encouraged them not to treat the 30 Hour Famine as just an event, but as a stepping off point for a life of action in Jesus' name.  There is a great passage from Proverbs that has been paraphrased in a way that I think is really powerful.  I started and ended my time with the youth with this paraphrase of Proverbs 24:12:
Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows what we know, and holds us responsible to act.
We may be appalled and weighed down by the suffering and heartbreak of this world.  But we dare not think that it is irretrievably broken.  We are not called to stand idly by, watching it unfold.  His word exhorts us to act. 

And so tonight, I praise God for the youth of Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church and their willingness to step up, deny the power of personal habit and indifferent culture, and act on the conviction that one person making a difference counts.

Am I privileged or blessed?

I’m sitting here in front of my computer thinking about something.  How’s that for an opener?  More specifically, I’m thinking about something that makes me feel like either barfing or crying.  Or, honestly, maybe sticking my head in the sand for a little while longer.  But then I remember that I’ve more or less had my head in the sand for the last 2.5 decades of adulthood.  What I have known, but carefully avoided, is that I have led a privileged life, and all around me are the trophies of that privilege:  our possessions, experiences, and options.  Among my privileges are having been born in the United States to a family that remained intact, to a family that valued hard work and whose hard work paved the way to some financial success.  I got a great education that opened the door to, not surprisingly, more privilege.  Tom and I have together been privileged to have a nice house, the ability to send our girls to good schools, and so on and so forth.

Consider the way the privilege of possessions has a way of possessing us.  In my living room alone, I count 147 things that would fit the definition of “possessions.”  If I had the gumption to open up the doors on the wall of built-in cabinets, I’m pretty sure that I would find 75+ movies, 100+ CDs, 25+ games and puzzles.  If we don’t even know what we have and it is more frustrating than fun to find some entertainment or activity to immerse ourselves in, it’s time to skinny down and reprioritize.

I believe some things about privilege:  God placed me in privilege for His good purposes.  I also believe it’s really, really important to distinguish privilege from blessing.  Because, let’s face it, privilege can also be a curse.  Privilege is only a few short steps away from feeling entitled, superior, protected, deserving.   Privilege breeds the troubling conviction that as long as I claim my privilege to be self-made, my use of that privilege is justified.

Privilege leads us to form all sorts of suspect opinions about our place in the corner of the world that we occupy, and the troubles we should therefore be able to avoid.  I took a few minutes to grab a few tongue-in-cheek examples of the kind of thought life in which it is shockingly easy to catch myself.  From
  • There was no soy milk left to make my latte this morning.  I had to drive 15 minutes to the supermarket and ended up spending $100 on groceries.  It made me so moody.
  • This bottled artesian spring water tastes weird.
  • I need to find a hairdresser who can help me through that in-between-hairstyles phase.
  • The rain is falling just fast enough to require windshield wipers, but just slow enough to where the first speed setting seems like overkill.

That site’s sideways nod to the folly of 21st century American life makes me laugh and squirm at the same time.  It’s a humbling reminder that my thoughts often – too often – veer that direction.  I could add my own {if I tweeted}.  “Can this light last any longer?  Five minutes late now and goodbye on time for the rest of the day.”  “I think I need a bigger linen closet.  I can’t even get all of our blankets in.”  Can you feel me rolling my eyes at myself?  Lord, draw my eyes to you.

So, how do we respond to privilege in a way that honors God?  With humility, and with hearts and hands willing to use our privilege for something other than our own advantage.  Self-serving privilege is no blessing.  Privilege tuned to other’s needs unlocks that beautiful truth:  we are blessed to be a blessing.

Time and again in FFE, I am drawn to Luke chapter 12.  Jesus speaks right to the heart of the matter in Luke 12:48.

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Lord, since I cannot claim to not know and because I have been given much, I surrender to your demands of me.  You have entrusted me with much, and I delight in responding to what you ask of me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


After a couple of very full days, I am just now sitting down again to write about our current month’s fast from possessions.  I am still delighted at how God ushered in this month with such a personally meaningful opportunity to share a treasured possession with a young woman who needed blessing and encouragement in her burdened life.

During this month focused on fasting from possessions, we will do the following:
  1. Go through room by room in our house and decide what we need or regularly use, and what is excess.  Then we will make a plan to share that excess with others.
  2. We will focus on intentionally stewarding our possessions.  That means caring for our possessions as if they really matter to us and as if we want them to last.
  3. We will be intentional about every purchase of “stuff” to be sure that we truly need it.  This includes not only Tom’s and my purchases, but reminding our kids to be intentional about using their own money for needs instead of wants.
  4. We will study our behavior and spending habits regarding “stuff.”  This will also be a great way of preparing ourselves for next month’s fast from spending.

Pausing to think for a moment about this month’s fasting commitments, I am asking myself how I can dedicate these things to the Lord.  At some level, each of these things has a very specific benefit or payoff to me.  #1 let’s me de-clutter.  #2 helps me keep my house tidy and reduce wear and tear.  #3 reigns in our spending, and #4 shines a spotlight on spending history and habits. 

But that’s not enough.  True fasting needs to focus on denying myself not for my sake, but for Christ’s sake.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thank you, God, for cowboy boots, Part II

Wow.  It’s been several days since I blogged, and I’m not even quite sure where to begin.  I’ll start with a summary of the biggies over the last week 5 days or so.
  1. I got together with a small study group from church last Wednesday to talk about fasting from excess (not our FFE specifically, but a study of the ideas and practices in a Biblical context).  I’ll post about this in the coming week.
  2. I went away with a group of 70 women on a retreat from Friday evening through mid-day Sunday.  This largely explains the dearth of posts in the last few days.
  3. The FFE calendar rolled over into a new month. Saturday was the break the fast day for our clothing fast month.  This morning marked the beginning of our fasting from possessions month.
  5. I gave away my very-most-favorite-ever cowboy boots today.
Did you read #5?  I’ll write it again.  I gave away my very-most-favorite-ever cowboy boots today.  It is such a wonderful story that I’ll have to get to 1 through 4 above in the coming days.  I’m warning you now, it’s long.  There are so many awesome God moments throughout that I really hope you’ll just hang out with me for a while and read it all the way through.

So the beginning of this story actually started this past Christmas.  I got a gift of the most beautiful pair of brown, floral stitched cowboy boots.  They were awesome.  I loved them because they were pretty.  I loved them because they were a gift from my mom and dad.  I loved them because my mom, my sister-in-law and my two older girls were with me when I picked them out.

My love story with my boots continued in a really poignant way during our clothes fast month.  For the real back story, read this.  But, suffice it to say, that in the middle of a month that involved only 7 articles of clothing, the majority of which were brown, unremarkable, and serviceable, I got the blessing of a loving reminder from God.  I had meditated on Matthew 6:28-29.  Then my dear friend, Bridget, left a comment about that verse too, and it hit me:  my boots are a tangible reminder that if God clothes even the flowers in such beauty and splendor, and they do no labor to “earn” it, we need never worry that God would care for us and our needs even more. 

While my meditation then was on the Matthew scripture, Christ’s words in Luke’s gospel were the ones that struck me over and over during this retreat weekend.  On Saturday evening at the retreat, the Spirit whispered to me that I should give my boots away.  I started thumbing through my Bible for the bit of scripture about how the lilies grow.  I landed on the version in Luke which amplifies further Christ’s teaching on the issue of worries, and how God cares for us and meets our needs.  The Luke version goes like this:
Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!  (Luke 12:27-28)
At that same time, two women shared some things that had been meaningful to them at that point in the retreat.  One was a young woman, sitting in the row just behind me, who was sharing that she was sensing God calling her to Montana for a service/mission opportunity over the summer months.  The next woman stood up and began to share about how she didn’t feel her clothes were right for the weekend, and how God was helping her get clarity on why that was an issue of image management (one of the themes of the weekend).

Was one of them the one I was supposed to give my boots to?  If so, my hunch was that it was the young woman with the possible Montana connection since that’s where my boots came from.  I scribbled a quick note to her that said something like, “This is a total weirdo question, but do you happen to wear size 9 shoes?”  She said “No, size 11.”  Nope.  Not her.  I set it aside for the night, unsure what I was supposed to do next about the boots.

Keep in mind also that Saturday evening was the “breaking of the fast” so to speak from our 4 week clothing fast, which meant that Sunday morning, I could bust out in new (old) clothes!  My blue jeans are like an old friend, so I wore them anyway, but I brought my purple shirt for Sunday so I could look forward to a little pop of color after a month of brown.  Woo hoo for me!

But, and this is important, with the turning of the fasting calendar to a new month, it also meant that in some way that I can’t quite understand, the “status” of my boots had change from necessity to privileged possession overnight in my mind and heart.  This brand new third month of fasting is focused on fasting from possessions, which means (I’m pretty sure) that we’re heading for a month of purging so we can gift, share, and redistribute our excess.  For as much as I love those boots and what they represent, it was God’s timing to have the breaking of the clothing fast and the start of the possessions fast happen on this retreat weekend.

So {and I really hope you’re still with me} this is where it starts to get really good!  Sunday morning rolled around with some lovely quiet time, during which, again, I was drawn to the lilies passage.  I knew, knew, knew someone else there was supposed to go home with those boots.  I sought out my friend, Shelly, to explain what I knew I needed to do and that I needed an answer as to how.  Because, really, it’s not normal, everyday stuff to just pop up in a group of 70 women and say, “Hey, how ‘bout I give you my cowboy boots?  Anyone?  Anyone?”

After talking to Shelly, I went and sat again, and felt the Lord poking me to go look at the only reflection activity station that I hadn’t gone to last night.  I should have noticed, but didn’t, that there was a giant vase of beautiful lilies – yellow, orange and pink.  That would have been a dead giveaway that the scripture reflection for that table was…you guessed it…Luke 12:27-28.  Yup, there it was, “consider how the lilies grow….”  If it weren’t still quiet time, I would have hooted out loud.  God is funny, He really is.

So, I sought out the speaker for our event, Danielle Jones, and explained what was up and she agreed to give me a moment to share with the group when she was done speaking.  In the minutes before her talk started, I reconnected with my roomies and told them what I needed to do.  Two others in the room then shared that their devotional for the morning, from Luke, had spoken to them about some worries that are burdening them.  One of them started to read the scripture from Luke, which turned out to be Luke 12:25-26, the verses immediately before the lilies passage.  I mean, really, what are the chances out of the whole entire Holy Bible those would be the passages that would grab us at exactly the same time?  Jesus might as well have been standing in our room looking them in the eye saying “Don’t worry.  I’ve got your back,” and then turning to me and saying, “If God loves the lilies enough to clothe them in such beauty, how much more does he love you?  Now go give your boots to someone and bless them with this same message.”

So, up we went to hear our last talk and close out our retreat weekend.  After Danielle’s talk, I walked to the front and said my piece about the fast, the boots, the lilies passage, and that I struck out last night with the note to the woman with size 11 feet.  Then I said that I just really felt led to give my size 9 boots to someone who needed a reminder that God cares for them even more than the lilies of the field, and did anyone need a reminder of that in the form of size 9 boots?  I invited my friend up to tell the significance of her Luke verses about worry and how our two passages related, and then we sat down.  Several other women shared, and then a young woman whom I had met briefly the day before walked to the front and took the microphone.

She started by saying she thought the boots were meant for her.  I’m sure I won’t get the words verbatim, but this is the gist of what she said:  “I am a roommate of the woman you gave the note to last night whose feet were too big for your boots.  I overheard you talking about the boots this morning, and I even turned my shoe over to see what size they were.  They were a size 9.  I put my foot next to my roommate’s slipper, and I could see that my feet were smaller than hers.  I even thought about coming into your room to see if I could try the boots, but I didn’t.  But I think God is telling me that He wants me to have these boots.”

I was grinning and practically sobbing at the same time.  We gave each other a tight hug, and I whispered in her ear, “Wear them well.”  I looked around and saw people reaching for Kleenex, so I know it wasn’t just my heart that was touched.  Ahhh.  Such a sweet, wonderful moment that only God could orchestrate.

I sought out the new owner of the boots afterwards, and she was sitting with a friend.  I told her how delighted I was that she had taken them and that I had been wondering if anyone would even claim them.  Her friend said quietly, looking me straight in the eye, “You have no idea how much she needed to hear those words and have that message spoken into her life.  She needs these boots so much.  They were meant for her.”  I wished her well, and that was that.

My friend Shelly told me after that she watched as the young woman tried on her boots and moved her feet this way and that, admiring them.  She said she had a great big smile on her face.  Me too.  And God is smiling, too, I think.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Reflection on Isaiah 58, by Cate

Cate had to pick a chapter out of Isaiah to write a brief reflection for her Bible class.  I suggested Isaiah 58 since it's been a big deal for me since FFE started.  We had a nice little conversation to help her connect the dots on how helping someone else is "true fasting."  

She said, "But I thought fasting was giving up something." 

I said, "It is.  When we give up power and control, or our food, our money or our time, to help someone else, that's fasting."  I don't think it's necessarily an easy or natural connection to link our modern day notions of fasting to acts of service or to Christian social justice.  But it's right there in Isaiah 58.

Here's what she wrote for her reflection:

The big idea of Isaiah 58 is that true fasting is what the Lord desires of us.  Fasting is not acting like we are fasting, but then doing what we want anyway.  True fasting is loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, feeding the hungry, and satisfying other people’s needs.  That is how our light shines in the darkness. 
I will respond to this by helping other people and God will recognize it as true fasting.  If someone is really down about something, I could "fast" by helping them with what they need rather than letting them deal with it on their own.  If people are struggling, I can help them instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
Exactly, my girl. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't forget

I knew my last (whiny) post would lead me to a response from God that would set me straight.  Tom and I are preparing to lead a study on fasting for our church over the next four weeks.  In preparing for that study, I did some reading on manna.  That’s the flaky, white bread-like food that God provided to the Israelites as they journeyed out of Egypt to the Promised Land.  For 40 years that’s what they ate.  40 years!  At one point, the “rabble” among the Israelites began to “crave other food.”  They wanted meat.  They remembered that they had access to lots of tasty food in Egypt.  They got what they asked for…an overrun of quail.  They gathered obscene amounts of the little birds, had quail in their mouths (“between their teeth” to be precise), were struck by plague before swallowing, and died (see Numbers 11).

So the first thing God laid on my heart was a humble perspective.  I only had 4 weeks of 7 foods that could be combined in lots of different ways.  I’ve only had 3 out of 4 weeks of wearing the same 7 clothes that also can be combined in a few different ways.  So, I got the “quit your whining” message loud and clear.

I kept reading into Deuteronomy, and I’m glad I did.  For me, God made a much bigger point than to just grow up and quit whining.  What I got to was a stark, clear message:  don’t forget.  Don’t forget that fasting from excess means something to the Lord.  Don’t forget that fasting from excess is taking us somewhere different than where we’re at today.  Don’t forget that this fast – this life -- is temporary.  Don’t forget that we are not our providers – He is.  Don’t forget that it is by Him and through Him that we receive our portion.

This don’t forget message came to me as I continued reading about the 40 years in the wilderness.  In Deuteronomy 8, just as the Israelites are about to enter the promised land, they received a vital “don’t forget” message.  God knew the bounty that lay before them.  He knew their humanness, despite their “chosen” status, and their tendencies.  Among these tendencies were some that seem just as relevant today as they were to the ancients.  Here’s a rundown of the many things that we are likely to forget about: 

While He is testing what's in our hearts, He actively protects us
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:2)
We should use our hunger as a reminder that we need Him more than bread to truly live
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
As we wander, He keeps us clothed and kept from undue suffering
Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.  (Deuteronomy 8:4)
God’s discipline is necessary, valuable and rooted in love
Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:5)
We are to praise God when we are satisfied
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)
We must take care not to forget about God altogether and replace Him with selfish pride
Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  (Deuteronomy 8:11-14) 
God’s testing leaves us better off
He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.  (Deuteronomy 8:15)
Since God is the means, He deserves the credit for the outcomes
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.  (Deuteronomy 8:16-18)
There are consequences when we put idols (money, stuff, busy-ness – all forms of excess) ahead of God
If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.  (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)
This passage really, deeply, profoundly grabbed my attention – heart, mind and soul.  I am forgetful of these things and more.  I repent.  And I will repent again because I will stumble again.  I am so grateful for my loving, forgiving God, who is abounding in steadfast love.  I praise His holy name.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I’ve taken up residence in grumpville today.  I don’t really know why.  Well, maybe I do if I ‘fess up. 
  • I’m pretty much bored with my clothes.  I would like to wear something else tomorrow.  But I won’t.  I will put on brown tomorrow, just like I did today and the day before that.
  • I still don’t like to do laundry, and we had a half-hearted conversation about a “laundry system” at the dinner table.  It wasn’t really that fun.  Actually, it wasn’t fun at all.
  • Our kids aren’t really grooving on the upcoming “possessions” month, though we still have a lot to talk about before we even know exactly how we’ll do it.

So, on the one hand, the clothing month hasn’t been that hard from a “just do it” standpoint.  It’s been way easier than the food month.  But, it’s becoming more difficult because, honestly, I just have a bad attitude that been building about my clothes.  I think it is a boredom-born-of-privilege thing.  And I need to be rid of it.

I don’t think I’ve grasped how much choice and variety, color and texture, style and shape are just an assumed part of my wardrobe, and ultimately my presentation of myself to the world.  I will never light the fashion world on fire with my snazzy dressing, but I have many choices to suit the mood du jour or the event.  But tonight, I’m dismayed at how much a sense of entitlement has seeped into my inner being.  We’ve worked really hard with our kids to avoid the entitlement-itis that pervades our high-achieving suburban existence.  Some days I look and think we’ve done well by them, but then I look at my own stinky mood today, and I realize that I should be working on the same entitlement issue myself.

I think back to Tasha and her early days in the orphanage.  She did not own a piece of clothing to her name.  Clothes were communal to her group.  They didn’t necessarily match, and they weren’t necessarily fresh and clean every day.  But she was kept warm and dry, and I never once thought, “Oh that poor dear, wearing the same smelly baby clothes every day.”  It was just the way it was.  No judgment.  It was enough, and there were so many much bigger issues to confront than what she wore every day.  I really need to apply the same thought to myself – honestly and with no self-pity. 

Pray with me, if you would.

Lord, forgive me for my attitude of entitlement and self-pity.  Help me to appreciate, deeply appreciate, the things I am privileged to have.  Focus my mind and heart on the important things, and let the unimportant, temporary trappings fall away.