Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winding Down and Gearing Up

The last couple of days have been really good.  I’ve had the feeling of both winding down our food fast month, and beginning to gear up for the next month of fasting focused on clothing and outward appearance.  I had my first meal out for the month with my friend, Cheryl, yesterday.  Fortunately, the place we chose served breakfast-y choices all day, so ordering was easy:  scrambled eggs, a few thin slices of ham, and a dish of applesauce with water to wash it all down.  There were no funny looks from the waitress, just business as usual.

I also made my seventh and final trip to the grocery store for the month last night, with Tasha in tow and almost no begging!  We made quick work of our shopping list, stopped at Target for a new pair of gym shoes for Tasha and a few other things that were on our list before we got into the store.  I realized a couple of days ago that because of the limitations we put on our food shopping, I have significantly cut down on those impulse purchases that add up, both in the grocery store and other places.  We stopped a few mornings ago to pick up a cup of coffee for a friend, and I realized it was the first cash I had spent all month long (except for our steamed milk date a few weeks ago).  This is absolutely unprecedented behavior for me.  And it is exciting to have trod on new behavioral ground.

I can feel my mind shifting forward now in anticipation of our next month’s adventures.  Cheryl and I talked over lunch about a particular niggling point in my mind on the clothing thing:  what if one of my two pairs of socks gets a hole?  When it comes to socks, I don’t really buy quality – I buy quantity and cheap.  Cheryl wisely and practically suggested that I allow for a change out of socks if one of them pops a hole in it.  Clearly we have enough socks in the house to allow for that.  (For the back story on socks, read this post, if you haven’t already.)  This is why it’s good to have friends supporting you through this process.

I have a few practical objectives that I still want to accomplish this week:  cleaning out and organizing our kitchen draws and agreeing on a dinner/dishes rotation to get everyone involved in the prep and cleanup.  Tom is a great advocate for me in this because he’s always reminding me that I need to ask for help rather than doing it myself.  I often choose the I’ll-just-do-it route for the sake of either expediency or {sometimes, to be honest} martyrdom.   

Lastly, I plan to organize a cereal drive for a ministry, Simpson Housing Services, to have the kids rally around.  Watch for another post on that in the next 24 hours if you have an interest in participating.

Though I’m looking forward to the challenges, learnings, and blessings of the next month, I continue to intentionally open my heart to everything God has planned for us for the duration of these four weeks of our food fast.  Thy will…not mine…be done.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Right-sizing Me

This is not a post about weight loss.

Today was a lovely day of encouragement for me.  (And, oh sweet blessing, my family cooked dinner tonight so I didn’t have to.)  Worship was great this morning and was followed by an all-church potluck lunch and winter-themed party for the little ones.  Tasha was happy as a clam because she had more to eat than just pork and sweet potatoes.  Tom and I had a lovely conversation with 3 friends over {their} lunch.  I was a little in awe that somehow I was completely unfazed by the variety of food that I would otherwise have dug into.  It is so funny how the Lord seems to protect us from our normal cravings during this month.

The encouragement points came mostly during our lunchtime conversation.  We were blessed with kind words about our FFE project and the blog.  It was really lovely to confirm that people are following along and being moved by it in one way or another.  One friend commented that sweet potatoes were never something that she ate much before, and now she’s given them a try.  Another shared how she came home after reading our first post (the one about the ridiculous number of matchless socks we had accumulated) to find that her daughter had lined up stuffed animals, 3 rows deep, across the length of their sofa.

Another blessing is that I remembered in conversation something that I have reflected on and prayed about in the past, and how FFE is a clear answer to prayer.  I had just never really connected the dots specifically until this conversation.  Tom and I have been called to do some things in our life together that required a bold yes or no – adopting and moving to a smaller house.  In a way that is at odds with both of our cautious, measured personalities, we never hesitated to choose obedience and not look back.  On the other hand, I have long realized that I am far from intentional in my day-in-day-out living to seek the Lord’s will and to follow it.  For example, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask Him, “Should I buy myself and my kids drinks and treats from Starbucks?”  “Should I go to Target to buy a new pack of clean white socks because we can find the right matches?”  “Should I run to Cub at 10:45pm to get frozen waffles and yogurt because we’re out and someone will probably want them for breakfast?” 

The answer to my prayer is coming at me big-time with FFE.  I felt the Spirit pretty much conk me on my head to dive into this thing without looking back, hesitating, or negotiating anything.  Committing to FFE has meant radically shifting my behaviors, my frame of reference, and my priorities for daily living.  Gone are any options to just blithely run off to the grocery store in search of the missing ingredient.  I’d be a liar if I claimed that I consulted God on every meal I cooked this month, but I have with God’s help stayed within the Spirit-led guidelines we agreed to for the month.  It’s gotten easier rather than harder over the month, thankfully. 

I guess I think that FFE is starting to pick away at two things for which I say good riddance:  material, practical excess and, more importantly, excess me.  By that I mean that FFE is right-sizing me to serve our out-sized God, and not the other way around.

To Him be the glory, forever.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ham and a New Friend

Our big girls are spending the night with their friends H and J (also sisters) tonight.  Before the sleepover started, we invited for dinner the girls and Melissa, the young woman who is staying with them this weekend.  We had a super fun dinner together, great get-to-know-you conversation, and yummy, super simple food.  We were able to share the best ham we’ve ever had (from the local meat processor shop near my parents’ ranch in Montana) with friends, plus baked sweet potatoes and fresh biscuits.  Cate made some mini chocolate cupcakes (out of bounds for Tom and I due to newly purchased white sugar) that the kids had for dessert.

Melissa told us fascinating and inspiring stories about her childhood and some of the “out of the ordinary” things she and her Christian parents did when she was young, including taking part in segments of a cross country prayer walk when she was a young teenager.  It was refreshing and encouraging to me to see how fondly she told the stories about her family because Tom and I continue to be mindful of the impact that our choice to be obedient has on our girls.  It is our fondest hope that they will increasingly embrace the spirit of FFE in their own special ways in the coming months.

We’ve got one week to go on our food fast, and then we move into the next four weeks of FFE:  clothing.  We’ll be having some lively conversations this coming week, I’m sure, with our kids as we work out the details of our clothing fast month.  I’d love for anyone reading to leave their ideas for how to break the food fast in the comments or on Facebook.   Thanks in advance!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Resounding Echoes

I’ve had a chance to talk to a good number of people over these last few weeks about our project.  What I can say with confidence is that the problem of excess resonates with people.  Pick your area of excess – food, stuff, spending, busyness – just about everyone gets the problem, and, at some level, claims it as their own.  Similarly, just about everyone does some things – good things – to help manage the problem.  But here’s the thing.  Excess is also tolerated as “just the way it is” which also means “I don’t really believe I can change it.”  Trust me, I am not throwing stones…I have tolerated it with the best of them.  Really, we are so immersed in it as a culture that it piles up around us unaddressed until we train our attention on it. 

Excess-as-a-problem resonates with people.  I hopped over to dictionary.com to look up the word resonate.  It means “to be understood or receive a sympathetic response” and also “to amplify sound through the sympathetic vibration of air.”  So, excess seems to strike a chord of sympathetic vibration in our minds and hearts that says, “This is a real problem.  More and extra doesn’t satisfy me.”

Agreeing on the problem of excess, we form a conclusion between us that we have a common enemy.  It’s all well enough that we can agree on what the enemy is, but I don’t want our agreement on the enemy to be that around which we form an identity.  That would make us victims of our own excess.  I am not my excesses, and neither are you.  My identity, and the ultimate source of our common ground, is in our Provider, our Father in Heaven. 

I woke up thinking about the specific part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Jesus doesn’t say give us today’s, tomorrow’s and next week’s daily bread.  He teaches us to ask the Lord to provide for our daily bread – our needs – for today and today only.  It seems to me that the idea of turning to God to provide our daily needs is the part that should really resonate with us.

After I looked up “resonate” (and because I’m a geek), I also looked up the word “resound,” and I loved what I found.  Not surprisingly, it’s a close linguistic cousin to “resonate,” but resound has more volume and weight to it.  It’s about loud, echoing sounds that you can’t help but hear. 

A big part of me believes that something truly God-sized is happening with this “7” movement (read Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7:  An Experimental Mutiny from Excess).  It’s how He moved our hearts to fasting from excess.  In my mind’s eye, intentionally turning from excess (and then freely sharing God’s wonderful provision – more on that another day) strikes a chord in others, and maybe moves them to action, and then more hear it and join in.  Can you hear the resounding echo?   Wouldn’t it be something if others rallied to turn away from excess and our own persistent tries at mountainous self-provision?  It would be like an echo resounding throughout American culture.  It would be music in the heavens.

P.S.  On a much lighter note, tonight’s dinner ribs that were a tish overcooked, gluten free toast that was a tish overbrown, and corn from the freezer that tasted a tish stale.  You can’t win ‘em all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ravi on Passion

I tried, I really did, to write a post last night.  I even had an idea, but I just couldn’t get it to come out as anything more than gibberish.  So, I threw in the towel and figured that post wasn’t ready to be written yet and that I must be rushing it.  Tonight’s a new night, and different ideas are percolating through my brain this evening.

When I drove Sydney to school this morning, I happened to catch the brief morning segment by Ravi Zacharias on the radio.  I love him.  He’s got such a gift for framing and phrasing complex issues of Christian living in ways that are both rooted in Scripture and tied to our common experience.  This morning’s segment was about passion, want and need.  His whole idea was that our passions are God-given, but because we are prone to let our focus wander off of God, our passions are prone to being tied in our minds to earthly pleasures (instead of our heavenly treasure).  He talked about how easily our minds fixate on and associate our passions and pleasures with gratifying our physical desires.  We are terribly prone to believing that what we want is actually a need.  The correction to that thinking is to right our focus on God, and to claim our passions as gifts from God.  We are wayward when we let our wants scream “Need me!” in our heads.  I’ve probably taken license with his message from this morning, but it’s these thoughts that I’ve been meditating and praying on today.

I’ve been struck by how this first month of fasting from excess food has served a hugely important role in my understanding of how to live with enough.  Enough fills our needs and effectively filters our wants.  We are blessed just by having enough food on the table for every meal, and even more blessed when we can share it with others.  I’ve lived a fat, dumb and happy life in many ways.  It seems so silly, but I had grown skilled at convincing myself that I needed to eat, which is a thin veil for the fact that I just wanted to eat to fill some other part of me.  In a weird way, I’ve rediscovered my hunger signals.  (And my pants thank me.) 

I’ve also discovered in new and fun ways that I really do have a passion for cooking, and I really do believe it is God-given.  I’ve often thought of cooking as simply a creative outlet, but I think it’s more than that. Cooking for me is a way to celebrate the wonderful, pure foods that God created for us to enjoy.  It is a tangible expression of love.  Well-cooked, simple dishes are a tasty reminder of the beauty found in transformation.  And God is a God of transformation.

What I’ve really, really discovered thus far in FFE is that I keep my passions in right focus when I treat them as a gift from my creator.  Cultivating my passion for God first, and pursuing any other passion I’ve been given second, lets me stay focused on what’s more real, more lasting, and more perfect than anything self-directed passion might bring me. 

I wouldn’t have guessed that this food fast month would have me ruminating about God-given passion and linking it so directly to the distinction between wants and needs.  I pray that the clarity I feel right now will stick with me as we move forward with FFE to fast from other areas of excess in our lives.  We’ve got a week and a half to go with our food fast, and I look forward to how God uses these next days to work His purposes in me and in our family.
To God be the glory.  Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Treat from God

I will let Tom tell the story of his meal when he has time to write about it, but I take it as a blessing on Tom's obedience during our food fast month.  He needed to eat out tonight and the restaurant he was pointed to served him up this.  I love how God cares for us.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Marshmallows and Grace

It occurred to me that I should have taken a photo of our fridge, freezer, and pantry on day 1.  It’s starting to look noticeably skimpier.  That’s a good thing because it means we’re working through our excess rather than letting it sit there.  But I gotta say, it makes me sort of swallow hard.  This food fast is no game.   

I’m fancying myself to be like a pioneer who is getting to the part of winter where food supplies are dwindling and you have to make good decisions on everything you choose to eat.  And you better not make many mistakes.  Like, for example, you should try really hard not to burn anything.  Tonight is a case in point.  Sydney (who is embracing the spirit of this thing, bless her heart), requested sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on the kid end of the casserole.  I whipped up a lovely batch, sprinkled our last two precious handfuls of marshmallows on one end, popped the pan in for a quick broil, and walked away.  A moment later, I asked Cate to check.  Cate was met by a poof of smoke in her face as she opened the oven.  Oops.

I get that pioneers probably didn’t have marshmallows to burn in the first place, but I’m sure Ma burned something that totally bummed Half-Pint, Mary and Carrie out.  My point is doing your best with what you have matters.  Big or small, choices motivated by love matter.  They matter, I think, because love is in the details.  And when the loving details aren’t perfect, that’s where grace comes in.  Sydney ate them anyway, and she told me she liked the marshmallows that way.  Bless her fibbing heart.

So, I will continue to do my best with what we have, without grumbling, and throw my love into whatever goes on the table.  I will be grateful for the love -- and grace -- of my family that is returned.  I will welcome each day by asking the Lord to lead me and I will listen for His counsel. I will love more, give more grace, worry less, and end the day grateful for the gifts of the Unchanging One.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

A Lovely Evening with Friends

“We were just talking about how this thing that you’re doing shouldn’t be isolating, it should be community building.”  That’s what our friend, Dave, told us last night as we shared a lovely “FFE-certified” meal at their home.  We couldn’t agree more.  It was a lovely God moment, considering what was on my heart yesterday about how I needed to get out in the world with this rather than stay in the comfy confines of my home kitchen.  Dave talked about how he loved spending the day in his kitchen getting ready, not as a chore but as a fun, creative break from his seminary studies.

It was lovely to feel cared for and to feel like our call from God was being honored by someone else in a tangible way.  They weren’t tolerating it like “Oh you sweet, idealistic people”, but embracing FFE as something that is from God.  They were encouraging to us and they shared stories about some of the transition points around which their lives are turning at the moment.  God is so gracious, using our particular set of circumstances to call us onto a certain path.  Those paths are unique to each of us, but if we’re listening and looking for the commonalities, we’ll see how He is shaping us similarly to draw us closer to Him.

So, Dave, Kimpa, and Alexey, thank you so much for your love, hospitality, and friendship.  We had a blast, loved the thought and care that you put into the menu, and all in all had a great evening!

PS  I currently have a non-working sink in my kitchen, so I am schlepping all my dirty dishes elsewhere in the house for rinsing until it is fixed.  It is another reminder of what a blessing it is to have clean, fresh, running water at our fingertips.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Of 2:30 p.m. Sugar Fixes and Irish Grandparents

Once 2:30 p.m. rolls around while I’m at my office working, it’s been my habit to go in search of a sugar and caffeine fix to get me through the next few hours of work.  The sugar fix usually takes the form of a Coke Classic and a handful of peanut M&Ms.  If I am trying to get done five or more things at once (which seems like most days), I typically add a double dose of sugar to my own adrenaline surge to get me through the deadlines at a sprint. 
We’re now two weeks into the food fast of the FFE (fasting from excess) and I’ve gone two weeks without the 2:30 p.m. sugar fix.  I replaced the fix with a 2:30 p.m. snack of a ripe avocado and a ripe apple and washed it down with water or milk.  While there was definitely an energy lull the first two or three days of the first week, the lull is now long gone.  I can only attribute the disappearance to our change in diet to the 7 foods and replacing the timed intake with a healthy natural food.  The lull being gone is itself significant.  Its absence speaks to either my body’s dependence on the sugar boost or at least my behavioral habit of putting the, let’s just call it “excess”, into my body.      
I began thinking this week about what my grandparents ate.  It’s only two generations ago that there was no widespread refrigeration.  My grandparents (on my Mom’s side) immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.  What I know from the stories that were told is that my grandparents came from large families that had a ton of kids and that they were poor farmers.  I have to speculate of course, but I can imagine that the (poor) farmer’s diet in Ireland back then probably consisted of a couple of types of meat, maybe fish, vegetables from the garden, milk from their animals, cheese, bread, and no avocados.  (I’m feeling moved to go and research this now.)   I’m speculating, too, that the majority of what they ate was seasonal.  So perhaps their diet was closer to 7 than say, 70, types of food year round and that the varieties revolved around the seasons.  I’m going to further speculate that my grandparents’ prayers of thanks for their daily bread were a bit more sincere than have been my own.
This fasting from excess food is a blessing because it is not only drawing us closer to God, but I’m feeling like it is drawing me closer to the experience of my ancestors. 
P.S.  Only two weeks into this and I’ve already had to tighten my belt a notch, and by bringing my own lunch for two weeks I have about an extra $70 in my wallet (e.g., savings of eating lunch out of $7/day x 10 business days equals $70; not including the Coca-Cola and M&Ms).

A Steamy Date

Tom and I enjoyed a little together time out last night.  Tasha was in bed, and the big girls had friends over for a sleepover.  So, we snuck away to a favorite spot – Mocha Monkey in Waconia.  We laughed on the way in because we realized there wasn’t really much we could actually order.  So we landed on something that actually “had the ring” of a real order – 2 cups of steamed milk. 

So, $7 (crazy for 2 cups of milk, I know) and a few minutes later, we were sitting at a quiet table upstairs.  We chuckled about the fact that it felt sort of awkward for two grownups to order a kid’s sleepy-time drink.  But that – in a very small way -- is the cost of obedience.

With potential business travel on the horizon for both of us, we also talked about how to stay within our 7 foods when we’re away from home.  It’s not easy to navigate how to do it, but, of course, it can be done.  It’s funny how I anticipate the social norms that say go along, order what sounds good, fit in, don’t draw skeptical attention.  Whether I travel in the last days of our food month or not, it occurs to me that I need to challenge myself to be out in the world rather than stay in the comfy confines of my own kitchen.  I have proven to myself that we can not only survive but thrive with a little ingenuity in what and how I cook.  So, I’m feeling called to up the challenge by emerging from the cocoon of my kitchen.  I challenge myself to face the world with a smile that reflects the joy that comes with obedience and not the awkwardness that comes with doing something that’s out of the ordinary.

A few days ago, Tom shared a provocative devotional with me from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest.  In it, he proposes the following:
If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins.  If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything – it is a delight.  But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal.  If we obey God, it will mean that other people’s plans are upset.  They will ridicule us as if to say, “You call this Christianity?”  We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God.  We must let the cost be paid.
I’m still turning that over in my mind.  I find it radical, and I want to disagree with it for all sorts of reasons.  But, I don’t think I can.

Here’s how Chambers concludes that same devotional:
Beware of the inclination to dictate to God what consequences you would allow as a condition of your obedience to Him.
Lord, remove my desire to be a dictator of the terms and conditions of my obedience to you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Blemishes have been on my mind today, and not because I have a teenager in the house.    My dad came through town and brought us a lovely big box of oranges and grapefruit.  Tom and I will abstain for now, though I’m secretly hoping that the girls don’t finish them all before the end of our food fasting month.  Sydney cut orange wedges for a snack last night and she said, “Oh my gosh, these are the juiciest oranges ever!”  My mom warned me that I would be bummed that we didn’t have oranges on our list because they were the best oranges she had ever eaten in her life.

What really caught my attention, though, wasn’t the beautiful, orange juiciness on the inside.  It was the outside of the oranges.  They weren’t all that pretty.  I would have passed them over at the store.  They were blemished and imperfect -- spotty and slightly pitted in some places, smooth and shiny in others.  It reminded of what I heard on a special broadcast on Food Network a few weeks ago called, “The Big Waste.”  

Statistics from the broadcast were shocking:
  • 40% of the food produced in the US is never eaten
  • For every American, 200 pounds of food are wasted each year

That’s 1,000 pounds of perfectly edible food for our family alone that goes to waste.  I haven’t translated these numbers into wasted labor, energy, transportation and the like.  Nor have I done the math on how many could have been fed in other parts of the world were resources distributed more equitably.  I’m sure they are huge, ugly numbers.

Beyond these sobering stats, what stuck with me from the broadcast were several grocery operators’ comments that American consumers won’t buy blemished fruits and veggies, so the grocers are forced to discard huge amounts of otherwise perfectly edible food.  Said another way, American consumers want exteriors that speak of perfection, regardless of internal condition.  The growers, it stands to reason, are forced into over-production in an effort to fill the demand for perfection because the market bears the waste.

At our old house, we had a good sized garden and for several years running had a huge supply of incredibly delicious produce.  I’m telling you, when you have a hand in growing, nurturing and bringing those fruits and vegetables to peak ripeness, you are more than willing to delight in the pure goodness of the bounty and overlook the sometimes ugly exteriors.  

Which gets me thinking:  If exterior, surface perfection were God’s standard for who among us is “worthy,” we’d all be in deep dooey.   And keep in mind, God isn’t just our gardener tending us along to fruition.  He is our almighty creator.  As creator, how much more delight can you imagine He takes in savoring the fruit of our lives, blemishes and all, when we spend ourselves in worship of Him and love of others?  He is willing to forgive us our blemished lives.  Can I, American perfectionist that I am, not forgive a blemished apple?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Super Couponer

There was a little incident at the grocery store late this afternoon (trip 4 out of a possible 7 this month, by the way).  It provoked a couple of realizations:  I have a lot to learn about being a good shepherd of our grocery dollar, and, well, I just have a lot to learn.  Period.  Here’s how it played out.

  1. Beca has 20 minutes to buy her 7 ingredients in a quantity that will see the family through Saturday.
  2. Beca races through the store, buying what was on her list without any regard for price.
  3. Beca zooms up to the front of the store, strategically screens which line will be fastest for checkout, picks one, and unloads her cart onto the conveyor belt.
  4. The nice older woman who is preparing to pay pulls out a wad of coupons and waits for her neatly arranged groceries to be beeped.
  5. Beca notices that the woman is buying a ton of the same food items and wonders why the heck she needs 10 packages of Lipton rice side dishes, 16 frozen pizzas, etc.  Beca conveniently forgets that others may be looking at her own basket and wondering what the heck anyone needs 12 sweet potatoes and 12 avocados.
  6. Cashier starts to process the woman’s coupons, making good progress through the stack he is handed.  He tells her a total, and she pulls out more coupons!
  7. Beca looks at her watch…19 out of 20 minutes elapsed.  Tapping her fingers in exasperation, she realizes that there is no escape route because groceries are already unloaded and people are in line behind.
  8. Cashier appears flummoxed by what he sees on his screen and calls manager several times.
  9. Manager looks, beeps her badge, presses one key, and walks away.
  10. Beca texts daughter with a message that says something like:  “Aaaargh.  This is driving me crazy!  There’s a super couponer ahead of me and it’s taking forever.”
  11. Manager double checks total by checking paper receipt, and then says, “I don’t know how you did it, but your total is $1.86.”
  12. Lady hands him $2 dollar bills, receives her 14 cents change and walks out.
  13. Beca is not impressed. She is annoyed and thinks things in her head like:  “Really that seems like a lot of effort and scheming just to save a few bucks, taking advantage of Rainbow Foods like that.  And, does she not realize that there are people behind her who would like to pay?”
  14. Beca moves ahead to begin bagging and paying for her load of God-ordained ingredients.
  15. When asked, Beca says, “No, I don’t have any coupons,” and thinks smugly in her own head, “And I bet you’re glad because I am a much easier customer paying full price for everything.”
  16. Beca heads to her car, walking quickly because now she is nearly 10 minutes off schedule.  She spots the woman and two younger women who could well be her daughters carefully divvying up the $1.86 in food and carrying them to their modest, late model cars.
  17. Beca hangs her head, realizing that she just witnessed something quite remarkable.

What I saw today was a couple of important things.  I saw a lovely woman...
  • taking stewarding of the family food budget to an art form
  • sharing in the provision willingly
  • coordinating, cooperating, planning, and executing with skill…and with a smile

Today I also saw a couple of important things in me:
  • I am quick to judge motivations and value, when I don’t really have the context in which to make the judgment
  • I am impatient and very time driven
  • I may be learning something about making food last, but I’ve still got a ton to learn about making a dollar last

A sweet friend gave me a devotional, Jesus Calling (by Sarah Young), when she visited last week.  Here is an excerpt of today’s entry:  “I am leading you along the high road, but there are descents as well as ascents.  In the distance you see snow-covered peaks glistening in brilliant sunlight.  Your longing to reach those peaks is good, but you must not take shortcuts.  Your assignment is to follow Me, allowing Me to direct your path.  Let the heights beckon you onward, but stay close to Me.”

Its accompanying scripture reference is this:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  2 Corinthians 4:17

Every light and momentary trouble throughout this journey is not an annoyance and it does not mean “look for a shortcut.”  It is a teaching moment achieving for me an eternal glory.  I pray that I am teachable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Today was remarkable if only for its normalcy. It started with the usual race to get the girls fed and out the door to school.  Cate was the treat person for her after school vocal practice, and though I knew about it, I hadn’t planned treat buying into my weekend grocery shopping trip.  Cate, I’m happy to report, asked, “Uh oh, can we get treats even with our 7 project?” I told her I thought it was fine since the treats were a service to others, not for us.  I’m glad that even those little decisions that would otherwise go unnoticed in the flurry of our day are, at least briefly, under the microscope of FFE.  And I’m glad that she thought of it first.

Tasha was proud to report that she ate all of the lunch that she made for herself.  I asked the girls to commit to making their own lunches since they know better than I what they will actually eat.  They often bring home a lot of uneaten food.  It seems sort of silly to pack a balanced, healthy lunch that comes back home and has a high probability of being dumped.  So, my standard is now is “arguably healthy, but will be eaten.”  I’m okay with that.  The trick on the lunch thing will be to stick to my guns and to help the girls make packing their own lunch a habit.  I don’t know if I have the heart to say, “Tough noogies if you didn’t have time to make your lunch.  You’ll remember tomorrow.”  So, we’ll work on getting stuff together the night before and hope for the best.

Sydney took it upon herself to bake a loaf of gluten free bread, and it turned out great.  She even got a compliment from her chef-y younger sister.  I’m not sure if it was boredom or hunger that motivated her, but it was productive and I was grateful.

My friend Cheryl asked if I wanted to have lunch today.  My first thought was, “Great!”  My second thought was, “Oh man!  There’s no place I can go that serves my 7 ingredients.  That sucks.”  So, she graciously accepted my offer to bring her lunch to my house so she could watch me eat my leftover half pork chop, avocado, and apple.  We had a fun, brief catch-up conversation.  And I only wanted the shredded rotisserie chicken and mixed greens salad she was eating a little bit more than a little bit.  One thing I told her is that I felt like the I’m-so-hungry-I-can’t-stand-it days were behind me.  Like a true FFE soldier, I bragged, I could march on with this thing for a long time.

I was wrong.  Really wrong.  I totally have the munchies tonight.  How fickle our cravings are.  So I am munching an apple instead.  God knew what he was doing when he made apples.

And now I’m off to make my grocery list for my fourth shopping trip of the month.  We are out of milk and avocados, and short on pork and sweet potatoes.  Oh there.  I guess my grocery list is done.  Good night and God bless.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What?!?!? and other FAQs

Since our family project is not your average, everyday thing to do, you’re not alone if you’re wondering, really, what the heck we’re up to with FFE.  So, I decided it was time to do a very bloggy thing and answer a few frequently asked questions.

Why are you doing this?!?!

We didn’t just dream it up, and can’t claim any originality for the idea or general structure of FFE.  First and foremost, we believe God is the author of this for our family.  Backtracking just a bit, two years ago it was very clear to us, in a Spirit led way, that we were supposed to sell our house and move to something smaller, both financially and practically.  So, in obedience, we did, and within a few months all was said and done.  It was a great feeling to give or dispose of a ton of our possessions.  So, we had a less stuff and a smaller box, but we didn’t really reform a lot of habits and the excess just kept creeping up on us.  Fast forward to Christmas 2011 and I “stumbled” onto the blog of Jen Hatmaker from Austin, TX.  She is a Christian author and speaker, and she was just releasing her latest book:  7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  After reading the intro chapter, I was totally captured by her mutiny against the excess, greed and selfishness of contemporary American consumer culture.  I was utterly convicted of my own buy-in and participation in the very things that Jesus Christ would have been against.  I shared about 5 minutes of it with Tom as we walked together one night and he said, “Okay.  Let’s do it.”  And so, Fasting from Excess was born.

What do your kids think?

Brutal honesty here.  Their initial reaction was not good.  Not good at all.  We heard things like:  “This is a terrible idea.”  “I don’t want to do this.  Don’t make us do this.”  “This is the stupidest idea you have ever had.”  “Can I still have candy?”  After our initial talk about it with the girls, Tom said, “Well, that didn’t go very well.”  But, since we’re about being parents first and friends second with our kids, we persisted and told them that they don’t have a choice about what we’re doing, but they do have a lot of choices in how we do it.  Since we’ve started, there have been remarkably few complaints about food.  We’ve also had good conversations about things that matter to them.  They have each, in their own way, acknowledged a new sensitivity to food being wasted – at school, in their own lunches, etc.  They have also thrown out suggestions for how we can serve others during our food fasting month.  More about that in the coming week.

How are other people reacting?

It’s interesting.  I’d put the reactions into 3 camps:  (1) the ones who totally get it; (2) the ones who get the waste and excess part of it but don’t necessarily connect with the Jesus-roots of it; and (3) the ones who hear about it, don’t ask a single follow up question, and deftly move on to a different subject.  I am very mindful of my own influence on how others react.  I have caught myself more than once, sadly, not sharing “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” about FFE because I assume or expect a certain kind of reaction.  I think this is an important growing edge for me in the whole scope of FFE, because at some level, I am denying Christ when I don’t describe what we’re doing in a way that honors God and is sensitive to the receiver.  This is my issue, not theirs, and I appreciate your prayers on this. 

What else are you going to fast from?

We think there is a lot of wisdom in the 7 areas that Jen Hatmaker fasted from in her experiment:  food, clothing, possessions, media, spending, waste and stress.  We may change up something on that list depending on how things shape up, but for now it feels pretty on target for us.  We have already varied in some significant ways as far as how we are doing our food month, so we won’t necessarily pattern each month’s fast after her book.  What we try to keep in front of us is a sense of personal and family call to do this, and we trust that we will be led to fast in the way we are supposed to.  For example, as Tom and I pray about and discuss the clothing month, we may each structure our fasts differently, and the girls will do something different as well.  This is not about legalism, it is about personal obedience.  At the end of each month, I hope we’ll plan a special break the fast event, and we’ll figure out what we’ll keep doing, stop doing, and start doing based on what we’ve learned from the month.

Why blog about it?

I think there are two answers to this question:  reflection and accountability.  It helps us to capture, process, and reflect on the experience when we are intentional about putting words around it.  We benefit from the “public” nature of it in that it ups the ante on our commitment and gives us some sense of accountability for doing what we have committed to the Lord to do.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sweet Potato Pancakes and Big Toes

This has been an eventful day, starting with church and ending with a trip to the ER.  Worship was great, and Tom was ordained and installed as an elder at our church.  Our pastor advised him that he ought to walk six steps behind me for at least the next few weeks since I am the ranking elder in the house.  We were blessed to have some dear friends join us for worship and to celebrate Tom’s ordination, and they and another family joined us for a 7-ingredient brunch at our house following worship.

We had a lovely meal together.  I put my girlfriends and any kids who were interested to work in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on everything.  I told them both that the first visit you get served, and after that you have to work to eat.  The rest of the afternoon was fueled by this wonderful, almost chaos, and buoyed by great conversation and lots of laughter.  I did realize that our 7 ingredients work great for brunch.  We had sweet potato pancakes with applesauce, biscuits with sausage gravy, and scrambled eggs with crumbled bacon and diced avocado on top.  The only dip into pre-FFE food stocks {allowed in our “rules”} were for a small amount of sugar, baking powder, and some seasoning to make the sausage. 

It felt really great to share from our food stocks, without going completely nutso and over-the-top on the food prep as I am prone to do.  It has been pointed out to me that I have a noticeable tendency to over-function.   Noticeable to others, that is, but not always so noticeable to me. This is not so much your garden variety over-achieving as it is me doing more than anyone would reasonably expect from any normal person without my giving any serious consideration to asking for clearly needed help. 

There are lots of reasons for this over-functioning thing that, like most people, tie back to my early years.  I’ll save the soul-searching on this issue for another setting, but suffice it to say that since our family commitment to FFE is “public”, it gives me the structure and encouragement I need to finally admit three things:
  • Small is good
  • Boundaries are helpful
  • A few simple, quality things on the menu are just like giving your friends happy medicine

So, I get the same personal outcome – feeding people food that adds a little happy to their day – with less self-imposed pressure.  It’s funny that I didn’t until now really connect these dots.  God is working on my over-functioning, perfectionistic self as much as He is my heart for good stewardship and generosity.

I mentioned that our day also involved a trip to the ER.  In a cartwheel-gone-bad moment, Cate’s big toe had a run in with the couch.  Seconds after she landed, I looked and knew that her toe shouldn’t be pointing the direction it was.  Her hollering was a dead giveaway that she was a 10 on the pain charts.  So a few x-rays, a little medical tape, and a super-fashionable Velcro shoe, and we were on our way home again.

Tomorrow I’ll post on Frequently Asked Questions.  If there’s something you’re curious about our FFE project, leave a comment or a post on Facebook and I’ll do my best to answer it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Grocery Store

Today I had my second of seven possible trips to the grocery store for this month.  I had {of course} a short list of things to get, just a lot of each one.  It was a strangely eye opening trip for me.  

I am largely buying organic this month, trying to keep our food simple and clean.  Organic food is more expensive by a wide, wide margin over typical food.  It sets up a strange tension between being responsible stewards of our bodies and responsible stewards of our pocket books.  I need to reflect on that more before I state any particular view.  I’ve never been inclined to really research where it’s advisable to buy organic, and where you can fudge.  Then there’s the whole chickens-running-free-with-no-cage-to-call-their-own issue.  Again, I don’t know how I feel about that and where being good stewards of God’s creatures falls in the mix.  But, I am grateful that my eyes are opening and I’m actually grappling with the balance of factors.

My second eye opener was obvious {had I really thought about it} but instead I found it kind of shocking.  I realized that a very large majority of products in the grocery store are processed to some degree or another.  Since we are gluten free in our house, there are already entire aisles and categories that I skip, and now there are even more.  Other than picking up some gluten free flours, I literally only had to walk the perimeter of the store for produce, meat, and dairy.  I was shocked at how in the course of a week, the vast majority of the store had become completely irrelevant to me.  And I liked that.

The number of choices American consumers have at the grocery store is astounding.  Today it seemed downright absurd to me.  Intentionally limiting my choices, before I ever even set foot in the store, is a great thing for me.  There are no surprises, no impulse purchases.  I just got what I came for and headed home.  Simple.  Efficient.  Unequivocal for my kids, so no need to beg.  I realize that there are many much wiser shoppers than I who have already figured this out.  Probably some smart-shopper-healthy-eating guru already tried to tell me this, but I was too busy looking for something that might be yummy. 

In the end, my biggest realization is about stewardship.  I’m lazy because I can be.  I’m impulsive because instant gratification feels good.  I’m unplanned because I’m undisciplined.  Lazy, impulsive and unplanned do not equal good steward.  I’m not being hard on myself, just honest.  Thank goodness for love and grace, or I’d be at my wit’s end.  My prayer tonight is simply that this new sensitivity and awareness becomes a part of me so that when this month is over I don’t lose these gains.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I Plan to Say Yes

We’ve got 6 days of this under our belts now, and I’ve let sweet potatoes back into my life.  Turns out that variety really is the spice of life. Cut them into wedges, toss in a little oil, salt and pepper, roast, and they turn from something that tastes like dessert to the savory something I’ve been craving.  I’ve had a few recipe suggestions from friends which does a couple of lovely things for me:  it reminds me that people are following along and cheering and praying us on; it reminds me that people love to help even if it’s as simple as providing a recipe suggestion; and it reminds me that sweet potatoes are supposed to be my nutritious, colorful friend, not my nemesis.  So, sweet potatoes and I have found our peace.

Despite the conscious limits that we’ve placed on our diet for month 1, I continue to realize the amazing privileges I have in my American kitchen.  Just to name a few:
  1. I have clean running water whenever I want it.
  2. I have ample refrigerator and freezer space to keep our food fresh.
  3. I have enough dishes to feed 4 dozen people, and, I’m sure, more than enough food {still} to accomplish that.
  4. I have no less than 7 ways to cook, heat and reheat food.
  5. I have 4 gadgets for mixing, chopping, and blending stuff with the flip of a switch.
  6. I have reliable electricity to accomplish all of said tasks.
  7. I have all sorts of goodies for making food pretty, something I am particularly fond of.
  8. I have 3 or 4 different ways to make coffee for crying out loud.

I remember as a kid being keenly aware that I could not imagine being born somewhere else in the world, like a fish can’t know anything other than its own water.  I find myself imagining what it would be like if I really had only 7 foods {or less} on hand, plus an open fire, pot, spoon and bowl.  I guess I either romanticize it a la Ma Ingalls, or I wonder how I could ever, ever cope and still, steadfastly, be grateful to the Lord for His provision.  What must that be like?  I imagine that it is very clear that you must be grateful for today's provision, that you must be a good steward of every morsel you are given, that you couldn’t fathom wasting a single bit of that gift.  Now that’s something that makes me aware of my excess and waste. 

I am so grateful that our hearts were moved to this journey.  I am grateful that the Lord is sharpening my awareness of the privileges he has given me.  I have been meditating today on the idea that we are called to more, not for our sake but for the sake of others.  Not to fill our bellies and leave others unfilled.  Not to be only aware of our privilege and then sit back and enjoy it, but to use our privilege for a greater purpose, a kingdom purpose.

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.  Luke 12:48

I am everyone.  I am the one.  I have been entrusted and more will be asked.  I plan to say yes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Want and Wavering

I do not know want, but I love someone who does.  We had the lovely privilege of adopting an orphan girl into our family, our sweet, sassy Tasha.  She knew want – want of love, want of care, want of kindness, and surely want of food.  When we would visit her at her orphanage, she was just a little bit of a thing (less than the third percentile of American kids her age) and we watched with a mixture of sadness and awe how she knew to make things last.  At 18 months old, she would take the little biscuit crackers we brought her for treats, and she would nibble, nibble, nibble the crackers down to a tiny little nub.  It would easily take her 10 minutes to work her way through a cracker that would take any other child I know three bites to finish.  She knew what it was to want for food, and you can bet she savored and appreciated every sweet, little bite.  Even more poignant, we often saw her put her hand to her mouth when she would start to urp up her juice and then swallow it back down.  It seemed to me to be a learned trick to conserve every little bit of nutrition that made its way into her tummy.  It breaks my heart just to think about it.

So, our dear girl knows more about want than I probably ever will.  In ridiculous contrast, all I can claim to know today is this.  I want what I can’t have, and I don’t want what I can have.  Sweet potatoes have lost their appeal…already.  So, today I either fasted from sweet potatoes, or I outright rejected them, depending on your perspective. 

My menu today consisted of milk and an apple for breakfast.  Another apple, an avocado, and a hard-boiled egg were my lunch.  Dinner was gluten free waffles, with homemade butter, a quick sauce from strawberries pilfered from the freezer, and homemade breakfast sausage.  Today was the first day that I really dipped into our food reserves, especially to make the waffles.  Using what is in our cabinets already is “approved” in the rules for this month, but I felt a little guilty about it today.  I think I did it to satisfy my want (and maybe my kids’ we-want-breakfast-for-dinner cries), more than as an honest attempt to use what was deemed “excess” on day 1.  Worse, I dragged my family along on my misguided ride.

It was a misstep for two reasons.  I didn’t really pray about it when I felt those feelings.  I just did it, even though my motives were wrong.  Second, and in a way that is not at all unusual for me, I didn’t seek anyone’s counsel as I was wavering.  We’ve had a few folks say they would gladly participate in a “council” of sorts, but I haven’t really put that into action yet.  A quick text to Tom and a few good counselors would have been a good check for me.

And so, I end this day by repenting of a few things: acting out of impulse rather than prayerfully and with intention, and dragging my family along with me on this little detour.

I also end this day with resolve.  I resolve to put a little form and substance around this council idea, and then to seek their counsel when I wonder or waver.  More importantly, I embrace God’s forgiveness and look forward to waking up to a new day tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

FOOD: 3 days into it

Less isn’t worse.  It’s just less.  Less means fewer choices and, happily, fewer dishes to do.  Less means more advance planning and making some trade-offs.   It means more cooking big and saving some for something different next week.  Less means you can still have a few friends over for dinner, and they will walk away from the table full enough and happy to have been with you.  

These first few days have me thinking about transformation.  The foods we picked are humble:  pork, milk/cream, eggs, sweet potatoes, avocados, apples, and gluten free flour.  They are simple ingredients, but all foods that willingly transform to something even better.  Milk is fine, but add salt, vinegar and heat and you have fresh cheese.  Braise and shred boneless country pork ribs, squish up some avocados and plop them on top and you get a plate full of yum that even kids gobble up.  Borrowing from a lovely French chef I heard on the Food Network a few months back:  “The key is to take something humble and elevate it and make it noble.”

I looked up noble to find its meaning.  Here’s what I found:  gracious, fine, decent, righteous, good, splendid.  I like that because I have hopes that this Fasting from Excess experiment will first humble me, then make me gracious, fine, decent, righteous, good -- maybe even a teensy splendid every so often.  :)  That can only come through transformation.

The verse I’ve been meditating on today is Romans 12:2:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Monday, January 9, 2012

It Creeps Up on You

Saturday night our friends invited us over for what my girlfriend called “The Last Supper.”  This involved takeout from Buca di Beppo (supplemented by some gluten free pasta and sauce for Tom and Sydney).  The food was yummy, copious and very much appreciated.  My friend, Janet, is getting ready to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, so after dinner, we went through her packing list, and fired up by my Fasting from Excess fervor, we debated how many shoes, which clothes, which medicines and personal hygiene goodies to bring, and which bag to stuff it all in.  She showed me her suitcase options and the quite largish rolling duffel she was planning on bringing.  I helpfully pointed out that her packing list said “one medium bag” and “one carry on”, not “one giant rolling duffel bag.”  Having traveled heavy to Ukraine when we adopted Tasha, I know of what I speak when you are getting on and off of various modes of transportation, in and out of hotels, at airports, etc.  And, as for the lovely Christians she is traveling with, they will all be in the same boat, so she can’t really count on them helping schlep her baggage around, no matter how nice they are.

She told me I could use two examples of excess uncovered during the packing exercise last night.  First, our friends have a closet, dubbed “the shoe closet,” that is one of those open-at-your-own-peril deals.  It is filled with shoes on the floor, approximately 24 inches deep, plus hanging bags with more shoes.  Though we do not have a dedicated shoe closet in our house, I suspect that if we took the time to make one, it would look the same way.  It reminded me a little bit of our now defunct deep freeze – last-in-first-out, with the shoes on the bottom never to be seen again.  Of course all kids present thought it was a terrible idea to go through them and give them away (that would involve work followed by saying bye-bye).

When we were going through some medicines figuring out what would be good to bring along to the DR, she handed me 3 half-full tubes of Neosporin with instructions to pick one for her to bring.  I figured the newest, freshest tube would be best to bring in case of owies in the DR.  I decided on one criterium:  newest one goes.  But there was a teensy little problem.  One expired 2 years ago, one expired 4 years, and one expired 11 years ago. 

After we had our chuckles, something hit me.  This excess thing, it creeps up on you. 

I don’t know that there are a whole lot of people who set out to have 3 partial tubes of expired antibiotic ointment in their cabinets.  Admittedly, it’s a blessing that they didn’t burn through more Neosporin than that in the last 11 years with two active kids, but still. I don’t know that there are a whole lot of people who set out to have 8 cubic feet of shoes piled into a closet.  Or 62 unmatched socks.  Or a deep freeze half full of frozen food.

Our excess, it just creeps right on up, unused, unnoticed, unappreciated by us, and completely unusable by anyone else.  I think I’ve probably come up with every in-the-moment reason in the book to justify purchasing:  not sure if I have it, not sure where it is, not sure if it’s good anymore, might need more, someone is begging me for it, looks like a good price, if we have some more would be even better, and so on and on.

It’s silly, maybe, to glom onto 3 old tubes of Neosporin to make my point, but it’s a clear example of how we buy because we can, then we forget, and we buy some more.  It’s self-interest run amok, and good stewardship run aground.

In Luke 12:15, Jesus said:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
I like the phrase “does not consist in”.  It doesn’t say “does not consist of”.  If life doesn’t consist in something, it sounds like it has nothing to do with an abundance of possessions.

Food month is underway.  I will fill you in on the first few days of our food month tomorrow.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Discernment and the Coming Around by the Body of Christ

A bit of wisdom that was passed on to Beca and I at some point in our lives is to seek the feedback of others as part of the decision making process when making big, life-changing and extraordinary decisions.  We generally engage those who we believe know us well and who will both challenge us in our decision-making rationale and give us additional information to consider based on their own life experiences. 

For those decisions that we believe we are being led by the Holy Spirit to make, we also engage our brothers and sisters in Christ who know us well and who will come along side us to prayerfully discern whether what has been put on our minds and hearts is indeed from the Spirit.  We also engage our brothers and sisters since we have come to know that if this is Spirit-led, then they will come around us and see us through this journey.  

The responses we received from those close to us reveal the beauty of the Spirit at work in that they reveal that the Spirit in each of us recognizes the Spirit in the other.  The responses were all affirming and collectively provide us with the simple message of – Yes, we affirm that the call placed on you to take these steps to remove excess from your lives at this time to be Spirit-led.

So our family obediently embarked today on this path, assured of it being a Spirit-led call and with the body of Christ having come around us for the journey - to pray for and with us, to encourage us, and to help us to witness and remember some important things.  Following are excerpts from some e-mails we’ve been blessed to receive this week about what we need to keep before us on this journey:
"…that the picture that is painted in Genesis is one of ABUNDANCE but that we (humans) tend to see everything through the lens of scarcity and competition.  So as you are shifting your resources, be sure to look for what you are gaining - in time, relationships, ability to be even more generous, etc. and keep this in front of you (and your kids) as well."
 “…that family Bible reading/study and prayer be a part of it all. It makes more sense to kids when they see the connection between God's Word and the present plan of action in the home.”
 “…Anytime we break away from the world's way and into His Kingdom way, it's a wonderful thing!  I think you are setting an incredible example to your kids not to just go along with the status quo but to think about - and make changes - intentionally to bring our lives more into alignment with Him.”
Peace in Christ,

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Tale of Two Inner Dialogs

Saturday morning, 10:30ish, after scanning cabinets, freezer, and fridge.

Me:  This is going to be so cool.  We’re going to be like pioneers, having just what we need.  Not too much, but enough.  No more living like there is an infinite supply of food without even a second thought.  Those partial bags of berries in the freezer will make such a fun treat someday.  Who cares if the girls think this is the stupidest thing ever.  They are going to learn so much about not being selfish and about sharing.  They will look back on this and think we weren’t so stupid after all.  Ahhhh.  I love this thing we’re doing.

Saturday afternoon, 1:30ish, when Sydney and two of her soccer friends come home after practice.

Sydney:  We’re starving.  What is there to eat?  Can you make us smoothies?

Me (out loud):  Let me see if I even have what we need to make smoothies.

Me (in my head while looking in the freezer):  No.  Not smoothies.  We need those berries for us!  Oh man, I was counting on having them.  [Brain pause.]  Aggghh.  What is wrong with me?!?!  Food is love.  I love hospitality.  It's a gift, you big dummy.  We will have enough.

Me (out loud):  Oh good.  We actually do have what we need to make some.  Do you want yogurt in your smoothie, too?

I’m going to learn so much.  I love this thing we’re doing.

The First Time I Ever Fasted

The first time I fasted was about 6 ½ years ago.  It was during Lent on Good Friday, I think.  For whatever reason, I was really nervous about fasting.  I wasn’t sure why I was fasting exactly, and I definitely didn’t get the spiritual discipline around it.  I went to bed on Thursday night late, just after having a snack.  You know, sort of topping my tummy off, since the next day promised to be a hungry day.  Did I mention that I didn’t really understand why I was fasting?  A bunch of people from my church were fasting that year, so I decided I would fast too.

That night I had some seriously freaky dreams.  I had repeated dreams of bad guys taunting me with food.  They were waving various foods in front of my face, laughing and telling me I couldn’t have any.  I woke up in the morning sort of laughing at how my anxiousness about fasting had gotten into my head, but cringing at how self absorbed my focus obviously was.  I clearly remember praying that the Lord would show me in scripture why I should fast that day, so that I wasn’t doing it just because I thought it was the thing to do.

In that moment, the Lord laid Philippians 3:10 on my heart:  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  That nailed it for me.  If suffering in such a minor way as being hungry for a day -- not even the teensiest little fraction of what Christ suffered for me --  delivered the privilege of being in fellowship with Christ, then sign me up.

Then this week, Cate was working on her scripture memory in preparation for writing out Psalm 51 by memory.  (This is an amazing thing to me to have that discipline and ability to memorize scripture.)  As I was coaching her through it in a few places, the words that were quickened to my heart were these:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I
would bring it;
You do not take pleasure in burnt
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17

And that is my prayer as we move into this time of fasting from excess, beginning with food. 

I pray, Lord, that you would take my broken and contrite heart
and knit it with yours. 
Break my heart with the things that break yours
that I might use my excess for your kingdom,
that by intentionally removing excess from my life,
I would make more room for you. In Jesus’ name.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Month 1: FOOD

Sunday is the start of our first month.  Our focus for the next 30 days will be on food.  Here’s the way we plan to approach the month. 

  1. As a family, we’ve agreed to a list of 7 foods that we’ll build our dinners around.  Tom and I will do all 7 foods all the time, and the girls will have breakfasts and lunches pretty much like they always do.
  2. So that we don’t have our refrigerator, freezer and cabinets sitting there full of food all month, we will use what is already in the house to supplement our dinner meals.
  3. We’ll shop for groceries no more than 7 times all month.  This is to push us into meal planning and cutting down on random trips to the grocery store for one thing or another.
  4. We won’t do any purchasing of snacks/drinks outside of the house.  Again, planning ahead will be key.
  5. Ditto for going out to dinner, I think.  It just seems too hard. (It’s hard enough doing it gluten free normally, much less telling a server that we need gluten free and only 7 other possible ingredients.)   If we do find ourselves in need of meals out due to work commitments or travel, Tom and I will choose carefully to stay within our 7 foods.
  6. For the girls’ food, we will minimize the amount of processed foods they eat.
  7. We will look for opportunities to share and donate food.  A trip to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children may be in order.  Maybe we’ll get a group organized to go together.  Let us know in the comments if you’re interested!
Now for the big reveal!  Our 7 foods for the month are:

  1. Pork
  2. Milk/cream
  3. Eggs
  4. Gluten free flour (brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, almond flour, potato starch, tapioca starch)
  5. Sweet potatoes
  6. Avocaos
  7. Apples
Being a bit of a foodie, it was actually really fun to think about the items we should include on our list.  The factors we considered included pure, unprocessed ingredients, overall nutritional balance, foods everyone will eat, and foods that I know I can transform and combine.  So, all my foodie friends out there, send me your recipes and suggestions, pretty please!

Tomorrow is shopping trip #1, and the fun begins on Sunday at the breakfast table.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Deep Freeze

Among many reasons for this little project this year is this.  In all candidness, we are big, dumb, lazy, thoughtless wasters.  We are.  Here’s a little story that makes my point.

We arrived home from our Christmas travels fired up to get started.  I discovered a few hours after arriving home that our trusty deep freeze in the garage was barely functioning as a refrigerator.  In other words, all of the contents of the deep freeze were soft -- not rotten, but certainly not reliably edible.  So, when it is trash day this week, we will be dumping.  A lot.

Most of the food had been in there for a long time.  We sort of did the last-in-first-out method of freezer management which means that we skimmed what we wanted off the top, and left the bottom layers to sit frozen for eternity.  That’s what I mean:  lazy, thoughtless wasters.  Why would I buy a pound of ground beef from the grocery store when there is a perfectly good supply of hamburger from our family’s ranch in our freezer?  Because, apparently, I’m too short-sighted to think about pulling it out of the freezer to thaw so it’s ready when I need it.

About that gift of meat from my parents’ ranch:  There most of it sat, frozen and unopened, for a long time which means I really wasn’t a gracious receiver of their free gift.  Sound like a familiar theme?  It reminds me of how long and how cavalierly we hear the message about the free gift of salvation without really receiving it and allowing it to nourish and become a part of us.  How long, really, can any of us put free gifts on ice, believing they’ll be there someday when we decide we’re ready?  And another thing…there was enough in our deep freeze that we could easily have passed beef and fish on to others – amplifying the value of the gift.  We did a few times, but not nearly as often as there would have been opportunities had we really just thought about it.

So, to my great Dad and Mom, I’m sorry to waste your gift.  I pray I get it through my thick skull that I bless the giver when I receive gratefully and don’t put the gift on ice.

I also think this freezer situation is a nudge by God to get on with it.  Turn away from the old, and move into a time of pursuing the Lord’s will without the backup of a deep freeze full of unappreciated gifts.

So many lessons already, and we haven’t even begun this thing yet!  Sunday is the day.  I’ll post tomorrow about the “rules of engagement” for month #1:  FOOD.

P.S.  We won’t be replacing the deep freeze.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


62 lonely socks.  They are a symptom, and I am not proud.  A symptom of our own excess.  A symptom of overstuffed, seemingly bottomless drawers.  A symptom of lack of a laundry system.  A symptom of the ease and thoughtlessness with which we race through life.  Can’t find any more white socks?  Nothing the next trip to Target won’t solve.

I dumped those socks on our kitchen table the other night, with the preface that they were not meant to deliver a message of guilt.  The pile was intended as the first skirmish in a shock and awe campaign.  Here’s what I wrote on my sticky note:  62 unmatched socks X $2.50 per pair = $155 of unusable socks.  62 socks is just over 12 pairs of unusable socks per person in our 5 member family.  That’s about a week and a half’s worth of socks per person that will end up in sock purgatory (otherwise known as a paper grocery bag) unless it is happily reunited with its missing partner.  Sadly, these socks may be just feet away from their forsaken partner.  Maybe their mate is shoved to the back of a disorganized drawer, maybe it’s in a partially empty sleepover bag.  Or lost in a toybox. Or, or, or…

I couldn’t even get to my next wave of shock and awe because by this point the two big girls were nearly teary eyed and moaning, “Mom, you said this wasn’t a guilt thing!”  I assured them it was for shock value only and that if they were feeling badly, it was God poking their conscience. 

I didn’t even get to make my more meaningful point.  That same $155 invested (in the loosest sense of the word) in matchless socks can now only be repurposed as sock monkeys or dusting cloths.   What I wanted to say is that, at 24 cents a pop, that $155 would have been enough to pay for 646 meals at Feed My Starving Children.  One meal packs the equivalent of a day’s nutrition for a child.  Keep working the numbers and it means that one child could eat for an entire year, and another child for 9 months more.  All for the price of 62 unmatched socks in our house.  That’s ridiculous.

But the point is really not about socks.  It’s about unused, unnoticed, unappreciated excess.  It’s about partnerless socks as a catalyst for change.  {You don't get to 62 socks over night.}  It’s about good stewardship of all that God gives us, even socks.  Think about what “all” means.  It means the whole ball of wax – all of our money and possessions, the 24 hours of each day, the gifts and talents we are born with or cultivate, our passions, the people around us, all of creation.  What we do with that “all” is our gift back to God. 

Let me say right now, that I am saved by God’s grace through faith, not now and not ever by what I do.  Jesus died on the cross for me.  And my husband.  And our girls.  And you.  And our neighbors.  And 143 million orphans.  That free gift, unmerited and imbued with love and grace, ties to an economy of stewardship of which I am barely scratching the surface.

That’s what 2012 will be about for the McPherson family:  good stewardship of the gift of Jesus.  For the next months {form and substance to be determined as we discern what God has in store for us}, our family will be embarking on a journey of good stewardship, not for our sakes, but for the sake of Jesus.