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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Not on my own, not really

At the Ash Wednesday service this week, Tom and I shared a bit about our fasting from excess journey so far. Tom shared about how we we're moved to start FFE. His words were lovely, and I hope he will agree to share them as a post here. I spoke a bit more off the cuff, and shared 3 simple stories that illustrate the baby steps in our learning. It was difficult, as you might imagine, to distill these first weeks into something that was honest and not too heady to sound relatable.

One of the stories that I shared was the one about two inner dialogs from the day before we started our first month of food fasting. It was all about how ridiculously selfish I can be, and how that selfishness sneaks up unawares even with the best intentions. I realized the morning after Ash Wednesday that I overlooked a big message about fasting with that particular story. The message? I can't do it on my own, not really.

I've been circling around that truth, and it wasn't until I was talking with a friend the next morning (who had been at the service the evening before) that I was really able to articulate it clearly. My friend was relating a story about how her daughter was discerning what to fast from during Lent. She decided to fast from something that was personal to her, and had a certain level of aspiration and challenge with it. My friend and I talked about how, with fasting, it is tempting to hold yourself to a level of perfection that makes it about you and mastering your own will, rather than relying on God to give you the strength to persevere and the grace to cover slips.

That's when it came together in a clear way for me. Fasting is not about me mastering and dominating my own willful habits. The first time I fasted, years and years ago, I totally didn't get that. Tom and I have chuckled that we thought fasting was more or less deciding not to eat for a day, like it was the act of not eating that was the end in itself. Unless and until I look at fasting as a means to a greater end, an end that can only be experienced in relationship with the Lord, I am not really fasting. Self-denial as an act of my will alone might be disciplined, and it might be done with the best intentions, but it is missing the point. I can only truly fast, from whatever I will experience as "sacrificed" for a time, when I turn to my Savior for communion and share fellowship in His suffering. His suffering. Not my own temporary discomfort.

Philippians 3:10 says: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I referred to this version in an earlier post because I was led to it when I first fasted quite a few years ago. The words "participation in his suffering" are also also translated as "fellowship in his suffering". The idea of being in fellowship with Christ in his suffering really jumped out at me all those years ago. In the context of fasting, denying myself for the sake of Christ -- and thereby participating in His suffering -- is a way to become more Christ-like. That I definitely can't do on my own.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

...good news from a distant land

Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.  Proverbs 25:25

Tom and I were delighted and blessed to get an e-mail from our friend Tracy the other day.  Tracy and her husband, Zhenya, are missionaries in Kyrgyzstan.  Their work is supported by our church, and we came to know Tracy when she was still serving in Ukraine and we were there adopting Natasha.  We're so happy to know that she is following our fasting journey from "a distant land."  Her e-mail reminded me that excess (large or small) is excess no matter where you are, and we can all spot needs and find a way to give if we just set our hearts and minds to it.

I asked Tracy's permission to share the following excerpts from her e-mail.  I was humbled that the Spirit, through our little project in suburban America, has prompted a little ripple of giving in far away Kyrgyzstan.  Who would have thought?
Since you are focusing on clothes this month, I thought I would just share some of a conversation I had a month ago with a friend here in church. Gulnara is Kyrgyz and is a teacher by profession, but recently has taken a job as a "housemother"  with an international organization that cares for 6 "orphan" teens. One of the girls was complaining because had no pajamas. She just slept in a T-shirt or something. Gulnara answered by saying "well, I don't have pajamas either!" I was so surprised. Partly, this is cultural. Practically speaking, there is no need for sets of cute PJ's. Gulnara got some PJ's for the teen from the give away section at church (some local ladies in the church here started it and it's such a blessing!). I felt so convicted that Gulnara had no PJs that I went right to my closet and gave her a pair of mine that I had been meaning to bring to church for give away. Here I was, sitting with abundance and not realizing that my dear friend, Gulnara didn't even have pajamas! 
Another time, recently, we were talking again and she said that the girls didn't have any warm socks. Now, I know that this will amaze you, in light of your first post and the socks that launched the great FFE journey :)  Many people in Kyrgyzstan (and in Ukraine for that matter) do not have many socks or undies. They have maybe 5 on average. This was very noticeable to me when I first moved to Ukraine and was at prayer meetings in a studio apartment filled with 40 people who hadn't washed their socks for 3 days, in 80 degree heat. Yes, I gagged and then was rebuked by a fellow missionary. "Tracy, some of these people only have 3 pairs of socks and they don't have washing machines!" At that time in Ukraine, only alcoholics and "outcasts" would not wear socks, even with sandals. Times have changed now and flip flops abound. Anyways, I was again convicted by the conversation with Gulnara and again went to my closet where I had already set aside a bag of warm socks to give away. Why was I so slow to get them into the hands of those who needed them! In one way, I see that our conversations with Gulnara were orchestrated by God. He wanted me to give them the socks and maybe it was a way for Gulnara to see a direct and immediate answer to prayer. For me it was a lesson in being ready to give and to be aware of the basic needs of people around me. 
So, my prayer tonight is that we would all be ready to give and aware of the needs, so easy to overlook, of those whose paths we cross.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the eve of Ash Wednesday

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  Cate told me today that her Chapel discussion group from school have all decided to give up sweets together for Lent.  I reminded her that "giving up something" is the same as fasting from it.  She groaned and said, "So, you're telling me that our fasting project is like having Lent for seven whole months!"  Yep.  That's what I'm tellin' you.

Tom and I have been asked to share a little bit about FFE at our Ash Wednesday service tomorrow night.  We are humbled and a little nervous.  {I am anyway.  I am not a natural born public speaker.}  Though we're not even 2 full months into it, I know I won't be able to do anything more than skim the surface of what we're experiencing.  In our few minutes of talking we'll also invite people to participate in a study on fasting that Tom and I will be leading during Lent.  We'll tie together the scriptural and historical roots of fasting with some great passages from Jen Hatmaker's book, seasoned with a few of our own experiences as well.  All I know is I'm expecting the Spirit to show up tomorrow night since, on my own, I'm sorely lacking.  Please pray that our Pastor's and our own words will touch people's hearts, moving them to experience Lenten fasting in ways that reflect the Lord's will for them.

We pray that this Lenten season brings you "to know Christ -- to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings."  (Philippians 3:10)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And then his jaw dropped

Tom was gone for the weekend for a visit with his dad, but he got back just as I had finished our clothing purge. He walked to the top of the steps and this is what greeted him.

Yes, that is 21 banker's boxes full of clothes and shoes.  I am somewhere between mortified and tickled pink.

Some little cutie pie, somewhere, will get get to wear this!

Then Tom walked into our closet to put something away.  He turned and did a double take in our closet.  His jaw literally dropped because this, my friends, is what he saw.

I should have taken a "before" picture.  My big girls thought I was a complete wacko to get rid of all that I did.  But I was going for "enough", not "more than enough."
Someone else said, "The opposite of poverty is enough." 
My addition to that bit of wisdom is, "The antidote to poverty is giving until it feels sacrificial."  
{Maybe somebody else has said that second part too.  If they did, I agree and I am sorry for plagiarizing.}

So, there you have it.  Clothes + PJs + socks + undies + shoes = 108

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What I learned from Madeleine

It's been a treat to know that this is a day that God has chosen to bless Tom's family.  Last spring, Tom's mom, Madeleine, died at the age of 82.  Today is her birthday.  Tom's dad, Bob, had been in the hospital earlier this week with a recurrent health problem.  He was released on Friday, and didn't know that Tom was planning to take the train to visit him for the weekend.  So, he surprised Bob by showing up at his house.  They were both surprised a short time later when Tom's sister, Heather, also showed up from North Carolina to be there for the long weekend.  So, it was surprises all around!

Madeleine was a wonderful, caring mother-in-law to me.  She was also a woman of strong, quiet faith.  Despite life's inevitable ups and downs, joys and challenges, she knew to turn to the Lord in prayer.  She had been in poor health for a number of years, and when she died it was comforting to know that she was restored in body and spirit in Heaven, free of the aches and heartaches of this world.

She also loved her family with a deep and abiding finality.  Finality might seem like a strange choice of words.  What I mean is that her love was just there, whatever happened, it was there.  None of us are perfect people, and none of us live, love or relate perfectly to each other.  But if we would just decide to love with finality, so much of this world's struggles, in the end, would just fall away.  When all was said and done, Madeleine loved her family fiercely.

Madeleine was a faithful sender of cards (something that I am not).  Every major holiday or birthday would ensure that a card would be in our mailbox.  I think her cards were an act of love -- a way to demonstrate love through a small act of remembrance and kindness, a way to put words to thoughts and feelings that might otherwise go unsaid.

Madeleine's tangible acts of service spoke a language of love all their own.  We're about half-way through our own act of love -- going through our closets and drawers to find the things we are preparing to gift to others.  It was a bittersweet moment for me to go through some of our girls' things with them today.  It's funny how clothes can evoke certain memories.  When those memories make me say, "Oh, remember when…" (rather than, "What the heck was I thinking buying this?"), it feels like we are bequeathing the possibility of new treasured memories to someone else. 

So, as I close out this day remembering my one-of-a-kind mother-in-law, Madeleine, I am blessed to have known her.  I am blessed that part of her lives on in my husband and in our girls.  I believe that somehow she knows that Bob, Tom and Heather are together, remembering, honoring and sharing the unexpected pleasure of being together on her birthday.

May you pause today to remember those who have imbued your days and your soul with their own, special way of loving you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

mo den plenny sparrow birds

A few Sundays ago, our friend Julie, who has a glorious voice that stirs my soul, sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. It was awesome. {Julie, I hope you’re reading this.} For whatever reason, I’ve been humming that song today. I don’t really even know all the words, but I do know the gist of the song and I can hmm-hmm-hmm with the best of them when I don’t know the words. (As an aside, I have one kid who has a freakish ability to remember lyrics and scripture. I do not. Such abilities must skip a generation.) Back to “that sparrow song,” as my kids refer to it. I took some time tonight to find the lyrics, and I listened to 6 or 7 versions of it on YouTube. Sister Act 2 may have been a dumb movie, but the Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount version is breathtaking. I also took some time to find out the history of the song, and it’s pretty cool and spoke to my heart.

First, the lyrics:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.


I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,

For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,

When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,

I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

The story behind the lyrics is pretty cool. Civilla Durfee Martin penned the lyrics in 1905. She wrote it after visiting friends who had severe physical disabilities. Here is how she tells it:

Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.

I’ve been dogged by worries, large and small, this week. I’m not a particularly anxious person by nature, but throw some unexplained mystery symptoms at one of my kids, and I go to Dr. Google instead of the Great Physician. I hate that my worries rob me of my focus, and I have to will myself to stop searching and start seeking His peace instead. I’ve heard Him whisper to me that we will find answers, and truly that is what I want most right now.

I think that’s why the song has been running through my head. It’s there as a reminder not to worry. Ours is a God who provides for and watches over every sparrow. Of course He watches over me. Of course He watches over my husband and my kids. When I rest on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears. When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies, I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I’ll close this post with the scripture that "His Eye is on the Sparrow" is rooted in. But, I’m going quirky on you. I love the whole parallel thing you can do in Bible Gateway. Tonight I paralleled Matthew 10:29-31 in the NIV and Hawai’i Pidgin version. Here’s the Pidgin version.

Dey sell two sparrow birds in da market fo one penny. But not even one sparrow bird goin fall down from da sky on top da groun if yoa Fadda no like. Yoa Fadda, he even know how much hairs you get on top yoa head! No scared! Cuz God know you guys worth mo den plenny sparrow birds.

Doesn’t get any simpler than that! No scared! Cuz God know you guys worth mo den plenny sparrow birds.

PS Tomorrow commences the closet cleaning. I am chopping my wardrobe by about two thirds, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Next opportunity is finding people to share with. We’ll have lots of women’s size 12, teen 0s and extra smalls, and kids 10/12 and 6/6x. I have a particular desire to meet the people we are blessed to share with, and I pray that the Lord makes the way clear for that. If you are aware of people who have a particular need, please e-mail me.

Lots on my mind

For a variety of reasons unrelated to FFE, this week has been really stressful. {That stress is directly related to my low blogging output this week. Thanks for understanding.} On the clothing front, this has been a week when I have appreciated the low level of effort it takes to get ready every morning. One load of laundry every few days and I am good to go. While 7 articles of clothing, plus my other “approved” items is unlikely to be sustainable, for now I love that it is easy, easy, easy. I will admit to putting on slightly damp clothing a few times, which isn’t that much fun in February, but whatever.

This has also been a week where I have had to discipline my mind and heart to remember God’s faithful presence and provision in our lives. We have this thing in our living room called a “memorial box.” Like most really great things in our life, the memorial box isn’t my idea. I read about it on a great blog that I follow: (If you want inspiration, encouragement, prayer, and a steady stream of testimony about God’s faithful provision -- and His love for the orphan -- Linny Saunders is your gal.) The whole idea of the memorial box is to use it to collect small items that are reminders of God’s faithfulness in your life. Then, whenever you are worried, overwhelmed, or just need a reminder that God always has your back, take a look in your memorial box and recall what He has done for you.

In my quiet time last night, I was led to Joshua 3 and 4, which is the true inspiration for the memorial box. This is the story of the entire nation of Israel crossing the Jordan River (when it is at flood stage, no less). God stops the flow of the river (the waters “stand up in a heap” some 20 miles upstream) so that the Israelites can cross safely behind the Ark of the Covenant. One man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel is then tapped to bring a rock from the riverbed in the middle of the Jordan to be stacked up at their campsite. The rocks were to serve as a memorial and reminder to the Israelites of what the Lord did for them. Joshua 4:4-7 says this:

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
I was tickled to remember that I have a little wooden block in our memorial box with the number 7 on it. It is my reminder of when I, silly woman, let my van’s “distance until empty” meter get to ZERO. I was a new Christian and prayed in haste and desperation, “Please don’t let me run out of gas with my babies in the car. Just let me make it to the gas station.” I no sooner had uttered my prayer when my meter popped up to 7. I made it to the gas station, and I have never let my tank get that low again. What a little pick me up it was then to know that God heard my little cry for help and responded by reassuring me with 7 miles until I was empty.

I love that the number on the block is 7 because it fits perfectly with our fast from excess. I love even more the reassurance that God hears and He is near. That’s what I needed to be reminded of this week, big time. Praise be to God.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How easily I forget

Habits.  They are hard to break.  Sydney texted me yesterday...could I please bring her $10 for a shirt that they are selling at school?  I did not even think, didn't question, didn't remember that we said, "No new clothes this month."  Didn't this for a fundraiser? (Which would make me marginally better with buying a new t-shirt that we don't need.)  I just texted back and said, "Ok".

It wasn't until 2 hours later that it even occurred to me how thoughtlessly I agreed and that it was totally contrary to one of our agreements for the month.  The funny thing is that after school, she came out to the car and said, "That's okay.  I decided I didn't want one."

Thank you, God, for working on my daughter's heart.  Thank you, Sydney, for saving me from myself.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shame vs. Conviction

First, I want to introduce you to a new friend of mine, Melissa.  We met when she joined us for dinner at our house a few weeks ago.  In the course of explaining why we were only having ham, sweet potatoes, and biscuits, we shared with her about FFE.  I am delighted to share that she is launching her own 7 month fast from excess – beginning tomorrow!  Hop on over to her blog and encourage her in her journey.  I am so tickled to have played a small part in getting someone else launched on a similar path.

This post has been on my heart for a while.  At various times I’ve been told, it’s been implied, or I have just pondered how those who are following our journey are feeling.  I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I can speak of my personal experience of reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7:  An Experiment Mutiny against Excess.  This is the book that, by the Spirit, set this thing in motion for us.  As I read it, I was alternately challenged, offended, inspired, ashamed, and convicted.  I thought she was weird in the best possible ways.  I would not and could not recreate her experience, but I did want to adopt and adapt her “experimental mutiny” to our own lives.  To be honest, after reading her book, it didn’t really even feel like an option not to do something.  It was a calling that was unequivocal and unavoidable…for me and for Tom.  I have only been “called” in a similar way two other times – to adopt and to move from our previous home to our current home.  I can only describe the feeling as a knowing that comes with a certain giddiness.

Fasting from Excess is not a calling that is for everyone.  It is deeply personal.  Some part of me hopes that that anyone following along with us will feel similar feelings to those I experienced reading Jen’s book.  I want to speak to two of the most powerful feelings I had as I read:  shame and conviction.  Her profound and challenging insights into the intermingling of American consumerism and the American Christian church made me squirm even as I Amen-ed.  Her distinction between a want-fueled American economy and God’s economy made me mad, defensive, and ultimately heartbroken. 

I first went to a place of feeling ashamed and guilty.  But, here’s the thing my life’s experience has taught me about shame.  If you are a squatter in the land of shame, you are stuck in victimhood.  That is not of God.  God is a God of grace, forgiveness, redemption and hope.  He transformed shame to glory on the cross.  The guilt and shame I felt in reading Jen’s book was not intended by God to leave me swirling in my “embarrassment of riches.”  I believe God’s intent was to transform those feelings into something more powerful, more freeing, and more holy – conviction.

Let’s talk about shame versus conviction.  Shame says I am stuck.  Conviction says the here and now is unacceptable and stirs me to action.  Shame says I am guilty.  Conviction says the Lord will redeem my guilt for something better.  Shame says I have no choices.  Conviction lets me stare the ugly truth in the face and see opportunity. 

And now, for my ugly truth.  This weekend I went through my closet and counted – clothes, shoes, jackets, socks, undies.  I guessed 183 items.  I was wrong.  By a lot.  The truth?  257.  I guessed for Tasha too before we counted.  Guess:  280.  Truth:  334.  Sydney and Cate guessed 377 and 350 respectively.  They didn’t finished counting because the truth was staring them in the face.  Tom, my dear Tom, was both more accurate and more modest in his tally.  I think it was around 175. 

This closet audit led to a talk about the difference between shame and conviction.  Cate was convinced that this was an exercise on my part to make her feel guilty.  She said, “Mom, this is just like the thing with the socks!” {For the back story, see this post.}  Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth.  It was an exercise in conviction spurring action.  It was a chance to redeem excess by spotting a beautiful opportunity to spend our excess on behalf of others.  Next weekend Tom and I will have the emptiest closet we have probably ever had in our married life.  We will work with our girls to go through all of their clothes.  I will not cajole or strong arm our girls into giving more than they are inclined to give.  I want their own conviction to take them where it will.

For my friends out there who feel stirred by our Fast from Excess, please, please, do not to squat in the land of shame and guilt.  Seek God and ask what He would have you do with the stirrings in your heart.  If it’s simply to read and question – you will know.  If it’s to pray and encourage us – we are grateful.  If it’s to fast from one thing – He will use that in wonderful, unexpected ways.  If it’s something more – to Him be the glory.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thank you, God, for cowboy boots

My wonderful, wise friend, Bridget, left me a lovely comment the other day which reminded me of how much we are loved by God.  Bridget is one of the most vibrant, colorful personalities I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  The verse she shared is one I had meditated on in preparation for this clothing  fast month, and it was great to have a reminder of it again from a friend.  The verse is this:
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  Matthew 6:28-29
I realized when I choose my 7 clothes for this month that I pretty much had to stay in the same color palette so that I could coordinate, layer and do the mixy-matchy thing.  That’s all well and good, if by color palette you mean brown.  I did not choose colorful.  I chose matching, could work for a professional event, sensible clothes, with sensible brown loafers.

I have worn one particular thing more than any other single item:  my super fun cowboy boots with colorful floral stitching all over them.  They were an awesome gift from my mom and dad for Christmas this year.  My boring, practical side said, “Why would you choose cowboy boots?  There must be a better choice.”  But, thankfully, I let my right brain win.  The cowboy boots were in.  Now I know why.

They are bright and cheerful and add a dash of fun to my dullsville wardrobe.  Please understand I am not complaining about my clothing or my clothing choices.  I am privileged to own even 7 articles of clothing plus two pairs of shoes.  (I read something startling a year or so ago:  if you own shoes, can read a book, and have access to clean drinking water, you are rich.)  I am just saying that I used my privilege to choose basically bland, brown clothes.

Because I’ve felt a little starved for color in my wardrobe, I am so glad to have my sassy boots to wear.  I had not connected the “flowers of the field” verse to my boots until tonight when I sat down to write.  I’m so tickled that now, whenever I put on my boots, I will be wearing a reminder!  My boots are a reminder that if God cared enough about his creation to dress the flowers in a beautiful wardrobe of color, texture, shape and scent, how much more he must care about His children who are created in His own image.

Thank you, God, for cowboy boots.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thank you

My dear, sweet friend Lisa stopped by tonight for a little church work and catching up.  She didn’t stay long but her visit fed my heart.  We talked about what our fasting experience is stirring in me, and the ripple effect that it seems to be having on other people as well.  We talked about how I need to continually remind myself that this is not about me or for me.  This is for Jesus.  This is about His kingdom coming, on earth as it is in heaven.

We have been phenomenally blessed by the encouraging words, written and spoken, that we have received from people about Fasting from Excess.  It is particularly fun to hear how God is using our telling of our experience to move people’s hearts, to cause them to pause and reflect, to challenge them, and so on.  This is not my doing, but I love being a part of His work.

I asked Lisa to continue to pray for me that FFE not be about me and that this blog not be an achievement thing for me.  I find writing my little posts to be a lovely and therapeutic way to end most days.  It is a way to process how the Lord is working on my spirit, and it always causes me to end the day on a grateful note.  I often don’t even know what I will write when I sit down at my computer.  Or, I start thinking I’ll say one thing and my writing takes a left turn in another direction.  I am blessed by the encouragement to continue sharing through our little blog, and I am humbled (and a little amused) that I have “followers.”  Really, that’s just weird.

What I do not want this blog to become is some sort of internal competition where each post should be “better” than the last.  I am a classic achiever: “Did you like that thing I just did?  Okay, I’ll do more.”  What I really want to do is to strive to work for Him, not for me.  Any achievement is His, not mine.  I love the now-classic opening line of Rick Warren’s A Purpose Driven Life:  “It’s not about you.”  That stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it because it’s true.  It is not a self-defeating statement, it is a path to freedom.

I spent a lot of years living and acting as if it was about me.  I was basically nice and kind, and, gosh darnit, people liked me!  (I think.)  But I was motivated by fundamentally selfish things like achieving, performing, what other people thought of me, blah, blah, blah.  It wasn’t until Jesus really got ahold of me in 2002 that my heart turned.  There was no one salvation moment like some people have but it was a clear shift, a yearning toward Him and away from myself.

Fasting now feels like a natural extension in my faith journey.  It is part self-denial, part contemplation, and part service.  It is deeply humbling, revealing, and motivating.  It isn’t easy but it is surprisingly energizing. 
My most humble thanks for sharing in this journey with us.  It is a joy to “report” from the frontlines, and your encouragement is deeply appreciated.  In those moments when I feel more like a kook than a faithful follower, I remind myself that it is in the authentic telling of our story that God touches others. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Remember story problems?

Remember the days of doing story problems in math class? This is one of those kinds of posts. If you are not in the numbers-are-my-friends category, feel free to skip the math problem and jump to the answer key.

* 5 people
* 5 clothes/pajamas per day
* 7 days in a week
* 2 towels per person per week
* 5 sets of sheets on a random basis
* Enough clothes to allow us to not have to do laundry more than once a week if we so choose (and we often so choose)
* Getting only 7 of 10 loads per week done, resulting in a backlog of laundry for next week

How much laundry is done in week 1? Week 2? How much is left undone at the end of week 2?

The answer:
* 140 pieces washed in week 1
* 182 pieces washed in week 2
* 78 pieces left over to be washed some other time

That answer is depressing and exhausting and stupid.

But -- arms up and ta da! -- I have spotted a light at the end of the tunnel. Light, thy name is 7 clothes. I am not even kidding.

My laundry pile when I got home from my trip last night was thrillingly teensy, and I am equally thrilled that it WILL NOT be getting any bigger because that is all I have to wear! This does not remove me from the oppression of teenagers who have not bought into wearing only 7 clothes, but their laundry slacker days are numbered. (I think I will make them read this post.)

The other part of the equation is to pass along our surplus clothes to others so that we do not have the option of doing laundry "when we get around to it". It is a win-win.

Radically fewer clothes is a freakishly simple solution to a devilishly nagging problem. I do not think that I will be cutting back to only 7 clothes in my whole closet, but 40? That's a lovely round number that seems like enough to me. I will keep you informed. (But I won't spring anymore story problems on you for a while.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hold on loosely

Over the last few years, I have been reminded repeatedly in different contexts to "hold on loosely." Those words, and that idea, have had a profound impact on the way I think about parenting and possession. They relate very clearly in my heart to FFE.

Indulge me for a tangent onto a parenting topic. Our youngest arrived in our family through the blessing of adoption. What I have always known about our treasured girl is that she was first, last, and always a child of God, given over to our tender-loving care. She is almost always a flurry of intensity and activity. This means that in places where having your child stay close is a safety thing (parking lots, stores, and the like) she could try my last nerve. Several years ago, I figured out what was really going on. The tighter I held her hand, the more she fought and pulled away. But, when I finally tried a different tact -- suggesting that we "hold on loosely" to each other's hands -- we stopped tugging against each other. It was a give-to-get thing. I gave her freedom from overt physical control in the form of a clamped on hand, and she gave me what I really wanted which was the knowledge that she was safely in my presence.

Isn't that very much like the kind of relationship God desires with us? I confess very childish desires in my relationship with God. Often I want to bolt away from Him seeking pleasure or distraction, or I squeeze His hand tightly so that I can yank Him along with me wherever I decide I want to go. I believe my Father desires something different from our relationship. I think He wants to hold my hand in loose, loving communion, giving me the comfort of His safe presence and the choice to be in His will, following Him where He wants to lead me.

In a similar way, I can choose a different relationship with my stuff. If I hold on loosely to it, it is in my keeping, but I am not being controlled by it or running after it. I no more want to be controlled by my stuff than I want my arm yanked around by a willful little girl (who I love beyond all measure). I picture some kind of crazy tug-o-war going on: one of my hands in God's, the other grasping the things of this world. If I'm holding tightly to worldly things, those things will yank me right out of God's grasp. But change the picture to one of follow-the-leader, and I see a better ordering of things. God lovingly leads me to the situations He plans for me, and I steward my possessions in keeping with His plan. Freed of the need to cling tightly to worldly things, I can let them go for a better purpose than they could ever serve for me alone.

Take clothes as a case in point. 11 sweaters on my shelf? Someone, somewhere is cold. 14 pairs of shoes I haven't worn in who knows how long? Someone has holes in theirs and needs my shoes for their job interview next week. Let go, Beca. Give freely, Beca. There is a better way.

Jesus, lead me to opportunities that test my willingness to sacrifice the things of this world. Teach me to shepherd my resources for your purposes. Show me a need. Loosen my grasp. Make me ready.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Okay, so last night's post must have made God laugh at the little joke He pulled in my suitcase. Remember Luke 9:3? Jesus told the Disciples, "Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, NO EXTRA SHIRT." That was my confirmation to look ahead, not over prepare and just follow Him on this journey.

Well, I opened my suitcases this morning, extra shirt. Anywhere. I have 7 pieces of clothing to wear all month long, and somehow I managed to only bring 6 on my business trip. I left my extra shirt, the shirt I was "planning" to wear today, at home. Ahh, the irony.

First I was peeved, then I just laughed. Thank you, Lord, for driving the point home. I get it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chapstick and legalism

Oh man. I forgot about Chapstick and I want some of its waxy comfort in the worst way. It is not anywhere on my list of clothing and outward appearance items for the month. Actually, I didn't totally forget, I just thought, "Oh, lotion will work as a substitute. Chapstick can't be lotion, but lotion can moisturize my lips. So lotion lets me kill two birds with one stone." But, here I am, winging my way halfway across the country on an airplane, with my ziploc bag of liquids and gels unreachable, convinced that the only thing that can cure my dry lips is Chapstick.

Which got me thinking about my options. Which got me thinking about rules. Which got me thinking about what grounds I have to add or substitute from my list of "sanctioned" items for the month. Which ultimately got me thinking about legalisms versus commitment. It is not the end of the world if I buy myself a tube of lip balm and slather it on my lips, I get that. And I'm sure that most people reading could really give a rip if I use Chapstick or not. But I care.

If I indulge my personal desire to lube up my lips, it had better be for the right reason. And if I don't, it had also better be for the right reason. I prayed and was led to Luke chapter 9. I got my answer. Turns out the answer hinges on the question of all in commitment and a willingness to follow Jesus without over preparing, or second guessing. It is not a question of following rules, in my case somewhat arbitrary rules, for rules' sake. It is a question of trusting in Christ's provision, not my preparation.

When Jesus sent the twelve out to proclaim the kingdom of God He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt." (vs. 3) He was not specific on the Chapstick question, but you get the point. He further emphasized that His disciples were not to go back home and have everything in order before embarking on their kingdom work. Jesus said: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (vs. 62). I other words, if I am committed to this FFE work and my hand is on the plow, I need to look forward, not in the rear view mirror to spot a tube of Chapstick for my bag.

In the midst of this chapter is also the story of feeding the 5,000. Woefully underprepared to feed 5,000 men (plus women and children), they rustled up 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Jesus, who is always enough, fed the whole crowd, with baskets of scraps left over.

So, tonight as I lay down to sleep, me and my chapped lips are glad we have enough lotion to see us through the month.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Fasting from clothing doesn’t mean runnin’ around au naturel.  Here’s what it means:
  1. Tom and I (not the girls) have each come up with our own clothing fast scheme.  For simplicity’s sake, it basically means that we are each limiting our clothing choices to 7 pieces for the month.  This does not include shoes or undergarments.  We are allowing ourselves the luxury of undies, socks and shoes outside of the 7 pieces.  (More details about my plan at the end of this post.)
  2. We will be aggressively going through our clothes and chopping our wardrobes down considerably.  This will mark the first opportunity to really share meaningfully from our surplus and we are super excited about the possibilities.
  3. The girls will also be going through their clothing stockpiles and skinnying their wardrobes down.  The question we will put to them is, “How much of each type of clothing is enough?”  Because really, that’s all we need.  It doesn’t mean you can’t dress cute.  It doesn’t mean you’re in trouble if your idea of enough is different than mom and dad’s idea.  It does mean that sharing clothes and accessories when you can is encouraged.
  4. None of us will buy new clothes during the month.  Sydney almost went into apoplexy when she realized this meant she would not be able to buy any clothing on or around her birthday, which is this month.  We assured her that gift cards work just as well 4 weeks from now as they do today, and there would be more spring clothes in the stores by then.  We think she will survive and probably won’t even be emotionally scarred.
  5. We need to figure out a laundry system this month.  We have so many clothes that we, unfortunately, are not very disciplined about getting laundry done at a measured pace.  Frankly, we can let it pile up for a while before we feel compelled to do laundry.  Imagine how little laundry Tom or I will have with only 7 pieces of clothing to wash.  It makes me almost giddy.

I can’t speak for Tom on this, but I am truly looking forward to the simplicity of this month.  I’m not stressed about having only a few combos to choose from.  Maybe I’ll be singing another tune in a week, but until the reality sets in, I choose to live happily in my self-delusion. 

Because I’m a girl and this month really goes to my whole outward appearance and presentation, I’ve come up with my own fasting boundaries that fall into 7 categories.  I think they’ll serve to make me aware of how little I really need to be suitably presentable for darn near everything, short of meeting the President of the United States or something.  (I’m not expecting any calls from the White House this month.)  If you’re interested, here’s the full rundown on my personal clothing/appearance menu of choices for the month:

7 clothes:  skirt, slacks, jeans, white blouse, vest, 2 turtlenecks

6 undergarments:  particulars withheld because that’s my prerogative

5 tools:  powder, blush, mascara, curling iron, hairspray

4 personal hygiene:  shampoo/bodywash combo, lotion, toothpaste, deodorant

3 cold weather gear:  coat, boots, gloves

2 shoes:  loafers, cowboy boots

1 symbol:  cross necklace

And that’s it.  7 categories, 28 items to the simplified, streamlined, no fuss me.

Bring it on.

Month 1 is a wrap

Month 1 of Fasting from Excess is a wrap.  We broke our food fast with a family dinner out at Biaggi’s.  Biaggi’s was the choice because it has something for all of us – gluten free, kid’s menu, nice salads and entrees.  It was a real treat to enjoy some family time and be grateful for the blessing of a full tummy and laughter.  The big hits tonight were bread and salad.  Interestingly, each of us brought home a doggy bag (except for Tasha who cleaned up her bowl of pasta).   At the end of the meal, Cate said, “I am so full my stomach feels like it’s going to explode.  But I still want chocolate cake.”  In the end, she took a rain check on the dessert.

What a way to start FFE!  I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about the order of the monthly fasts that we are doing.  Starting with the food month, and then following with the clothing month seems like such a natural transition.  The beauty of starting with food is that it sets up the dynamic of focusing our fasting from the inside out.  There is little more personal than how we choose to nourish our bodies.  It’s given me a chance to consider deeply Paul’s question to the Corinthian church: 

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

I’m realizing that FFE, for me at least, is unfolding a path before me that leads towards shedding excess and using our surplus for His kingdom, and it is a path that starts from the core of my being and works its way out.  By relearning eating habits that are moderate, balanced, simple and healthy, I treated my body better than I have in a long time.  Treating myself well as a way of glorifying God shouldn’t feel like a revelation to me…but it does. 

And, yet, as we end our food fast, I realize that I still have a long way to go with regards to living in way that befits the Holy Spirit living in the {chubby} temple of me.  I need more exercise.  I need to continue my moderated eating habits.  I need to focus on enjoying the outcomes of eating healthy, moderate amounts and savoring the pure, wonderful assortment of deliciousness that God created for us to enjoy.  Overindulging me and my tastes underindulges the Spirit dwelling in me.  Overindulging is instant gratification for me, not glorification of God.

So, this month long lesson in treating my body as a temple is really just a baby step towards bringing glory to the One who made me and His Son who bought me with a price.  Moving into clothing month is a great bridge from the interior work that is now started to the external me -- my presentation of myself to the world.  Tomorrow I will post about the first day of our clothing fast and how we’ve planned our Fasting from Excess month focused on clothing.

To those of you who are following us regularly, we are blessed to have you joining us in our journey.  May God bless you as he moves you in deeply personal ways to grow closer to Him.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lessons from our journey {so far}

I had a great conversation a few nights ago night with my dad.  He is working really hard right now on his diet, health and fitness.  I am really proud of him.  He committed to his hard work at just about the same we started FFE.  I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that the timing lined up that way.  It was fun to be encouraging of each other, and to hear about the ways in which he is pushing himself towards his goals. 

I also shared with him about some of the blessings I’ve received from our food month.  I cannot overstate the exquisite, God-led awareness and thankfulness that this is stirring in me. 
  • I have relied on God in the last month and turned to Him FAR more than I have in quite some time.  This is a beautiful thing.
  • I feel better physically after losing some weight and cutting out mindless snacking.  No more mid-afternoon energy lulls.
  • I feel unexpectedly better about myself, not directly from my own efforts, but as if the weight of doing it all myself is off of me.  My over-functioning nob has been turned a little lower, and I hope lower still in the coming months.  (This is a biggie for me.  Thanks be to God.)
  • There is a HUGE upside to having drastically fewer options:  less stress.  If the option of going to the grocery store is not there, if the option of getting takeout is not there, if the option of a zillion potential meal choices is not there, things are A LOT less complicated.  Voila -- less stress.  (As an aside:  it makes me realize how much stress is completely self-created and self-imposed in suburban America.  What a mess we make of ourselves!)
  • I have been stretched in delightfully creative ways as a cook.  Case in point:  sweet potato gnocchi with browned butter maple glaze.  Who knew?
  • Sharing and fellowshipping over a meal is awesome!  The number or complexity of the ingredients on the plate is completely beside the point.  I got an odd kick out of sharing from our dwindling supplies.  The sharing meant just a little bit more that way.
  • We’ve had lots of family meals together because we haven’t had lots of “made up” reasons to run around on errands.  (We also have had a relatively slow month of kid activities which helps a ton on the family meal front.)
  • We are proud of our kids for rising to the challenge with us.  They have been troopers when they could have chosen to complain endlessly about the sweet potatoes and pork again.  They have each showed a sensitivity and awareness of waste and excess that I don’t know that they would have voiced otherwise.
  • The we’re-in-this-together spirit of FFE has been good for Tom and me.  We’ve had really great conversations about what we’re doing, why, what it all means, and what it’s preparing us for.

The biggest thing for me is that I’ve discovered at a profound level that less really is more.  More God.  Better health.  Clearer boundaries.  Less stress.  More creativity.  Sincere generosity.  More face time.  Growth as a family and as a couple.

I love this journey we’re on.