Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Fasting isn't always fun

So, I am a joiner.  I love new projects, social experiments, and challenges.  I like starting things.  I like learning all about new subjects.  Then - what typically happens is I hit a few roadblocks, find out the project isn't as much fun as I anticipated, and quit to go looking for the next new thing to hit my radar.

A few months ago I quit drinking Diet Coke.  I replaced it with flavored/carbonated water and sweet tea.  I was pondering the idea that it was time to go all the way and get rid of the flavored water too when the 7 Experiment came on my radar.  It seemed like perfect timing.  It seemed exciting!  After all, it was a new project and the perfect way to kick off the new year.  So, about a week ago I quit the flavored water and this week in addition, I cut the sugar out of my tea.  It seemed like a small step, maybe not even glorious enough for the 7 Experiment but I jumped in whole-heartedly.

Then life hit.  See, my typical pattern with fasting is that taking out a comfort item, such as the sugar in my tea, brings me closer to my emotions.  It allows the ugly parts of my personality to surface.  In other words, I get angry and irritated.

Yesterday was a tough day.  Every little thing was ruffling my feathers.  I ended up in an intense argument with my husband.  This is unusual because we both hate conflict.  Because I had no buffer, things I usually overlook really upset me.  I found myself seething over infractions from years ago even.  It seems that some past injuries had not been forgiven but just buried.  So, I guess that is what God wanted to show me.  I spent some time in prayer and was reminded of the time when Jesus told his disciples to forgive 70X7 times.  I decided that all those things that my husband does that really anger me are going on the 70X7 list. If it's on the list, then I don't hold it against him.  It's been forgiven and released.  (and just so you know the list is not on paper, just a fuzzy thing in my head so basically I'll never know if I reach 490 items.)  It's just my way of reminding myself that my husband does not have to be perfect and I have permission to let him off the hook.

So I wanted to just quit this whole experiment yesterday - to cover up my emotions with sugary tea and forget the whole thing.  Instead, I stuck it out and God showed me something important about myself.  It wasn't fun but I grew.  Growth is my word for this year.  If I survive the process, big things might happen.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

7 Experiment - Food Month

I am writing this one week before the planned start of 7.  As I contemplate what type of food fast God wants for me I have already begun to hear his voice.  He's already tapping on an area that needs repentance - my pride.

See - in the past few years I have made many changes in what and how I eat.  I want to list all these accomplishments and get some pats on the back.  I want people to appreciate how far I have come before I lay out the next steps.  However, that is not the blog God wants me to write.  I hear his gentle voice telling me to stop.  My desire for acceptance and my reliance on the approval of others needs to be crucified.

I just read the story of the Rich young ruler and saw something I had not noticed before.  After the man tells Jesus that he has kept all the commandments, he says "what am I still lacking?"  This man was doing so many things right, but he humbly recognized his own need, his own emptiness.  He wanted more of God in his life.

Lord, may I also humbly ask you to search me and tell me where I am lacking.  My I seek more of you, acknowledging how far you have brought me, but never forgetting that we have ever farther to go.

(Warning - that prayer is dangerous. Not one hour after praying it I found myself snapping at my husband over an old grudge I thought I had released years ago. I haven’t even started the fast and God is already shaking out my weaknesses. That is how it works for me. I fast from my comforts and the ugly hidden parts of my spirit start to show. Then I either cover them back up or let God heal them. Let’s hope I choose the second option more often.)

So - with no fanfare or history attached, here is how I will be fasting during food month:
Give up flavored water - only water, juice, unsweetened tea, and milk for beverages.
No graham crackers (my go to snack food)
3-5 meatless lunches a week
Spend as little as possible by using up what we already have (working on food waste)
I am also considering giving up pork and fast food. I don’t eat much fast food but sometimes I’m with the family and we stop there. I’ll have to ponder the exact limits on this. Lastly our family has pizza once a week. Maybe I can add salad to that meal.

I am also super excited to announce that my girls (age 9 and 12) want to travel 7 with me.  This month they will be abstaining from all chips.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What a ride!

Just over a year ago I made some serious changes in my life including joining a 12-step program for compulsive overeaters.  Little did I know that working this program would reshape not just my body but my mind as well.  I have experienced spiritual and physical healing.  Then the changes started to expand into other areas of my life.   I became willing and able to tackle my messy house.  Then I started looking at reducing my belongings.  Recently I've even delved into recycling and reducing waste not to mention living frugally and ministering to the poor.  I have no idea where this roller coaster is taking me, but I'm enjoying the ride.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The 7 Experiment Revisited

Some friends of mine are planning to go through Jenn Hatmaker’s 7 Experiment starting in January and I’ve decided to join them. I went through this amazing social/spiritual experiment a few years ago (skim my blog titles to see what I learned) but it is definitely time for a tune up.

So- what is 7?
It is seven months of various types of fasting from areas of excess in our lives.  Month one starts with food but it moves on to many other important arenas like possessions, media, spending, and stress.  The premise is to let go of some of our comforts and to cut back on our excesses so that God has more room to speak into our lives.  Fasting is an ancient tool that God gave us to increase our spiritual sensitivity and sometimes expedite His intervention.  Jenn Hatmaker's prayer was "Jesus, may there be more of You and Your kingdom and less of me and my junk."

For me personally as a person with an addictive personality,  7 is a chance to break away from those things in my life that are starting to control me.  When I find myself focusing on my cell phone too much and checking it first thing in the morning just in case someone messaged me, then I know it's time to back off and break that hold it is developing over me.  The same can be said for tv, food, money, and so many other things.  It's time to put these things back into perspective and let God have first place.

As I read the introduction to this study, Jenn explains why she felt the need to create it.  She talks about entitlement and privilege and how most of us are so well off and we don't even realize it.  I have to admit that the idea of privilege irks me.  I don't like people assuming that because I'm white and have a full time job that my life is easy and/or that everything was handed to me.  I want to justify that I worked hard for my position and that I only got to go to college through a miracle of God by way of a last minute forgiven loan program.  I want to explain how I wore clothes from thrift stores growing up and my mom worked two jobs to pay the bills.  I wasn't born on easy street and I don't own a silver spoon.  However, as I rant about my not cushy life, I realize that I am doing exactly what Jenn talks about.  I am comparing myself to people who are above me in social economic status.  "See - I'm not like those rich people.  I'm just a normal smuck like you."  But I'm not looking down the ladder.  I'm not seeing the advantages I did/do have.  I was born into a family that valued work and education.  I did not have to dodge bullets or fists to get to school.  God gave me an intelligent mind and the desire to use it.  I was born into a country that does have scholarship opportunities and college programs available to all social statuses.  I am blessed.

I think part of 7 for me is to acknowledge my blessings and ask God how He wants me to use them.  Too often I can fall into the 'glass half full' mentality.  I got rear-ended in a parking lot recently and my inclination was to be angry at the person who drove off and at the fact that my whole plans for the evening where put on hold while I waited for the police.  Only later did I realize how blessed I was to have minor damage to my vehicle and no one hurt.  I need to change my perspective and embrace the blessings that God brings into my life.

The other half is figuring out what to do with my blessings.  That is part of fasting also.  In Isaiah 58 God tells his people that the type of fast he wants is to "loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bonds of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and to let the oppressed go free... to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh"  In other words my blessings are meant to be shared with others.  I'm not talking about wealth redistribution or an obligation to take care of others and I know we need to use our God-given discernment when it comes to social justice issues.  However, I don't think God gave me these blessings to hoard them for myself.  He has a mission for me to serve the world around me.  I only need to look away from my 'stuff' and see His plan.  That is what I hope the 7 experiment will allow me to do.

Lord, I want to hear your voice more clearly and follow your plan with gratitude and joy.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Making Disciples is Messy

I grew up on the tail end of the "drag your friends to church" era.  We thought if we could just get people inside the walls then God could get ahold of them and fix everything - forgiveness, salvation, holiness... the whole package.  We had week long revivals and Sunday school campaigns.  I remember begging my friends to come with me so I could earn points and win prizes.  Thankfully, much of this nonsense has gone by the wayside because it was not effective and it was not truly making disciples.  Very few of my friends came back to church after their first visit.  They attended the party or the event to have fun or to make me happy but it was not a life transformation. 

Later, in high school I heard of something called relationship evangelism.  The idea was that instead of banging Bibles on people's heads, we could befriend them first and bring them into our lives.  Then, if they were interested or searching we would tell them about our faith and explain how they too could have God in their lives.  I'm pretty sure this is much more inline with how Jesus did it.  He met people, interacted with them, saw where their needs were and led them to the Father.  It wasn't about increasing the church role, it was about building relationships.

As an adult, I still believe in this approach.  Many people today are not impressed with fancy programs or contests.  Even if they are you will lose them the next time the church down the street has a glitzier show.  People are hurting and they need a friend, a person to walk with them and share the pain, someone to love them beyond their faults and cherish their strengths.  They need someone to point them to God when and if they are ready, but stay their friend regardless. 

This is a lot harder than planning the perfect event.  This is ...messy.

It may mean ignoring someone's clothes, body art, language, and behavior long enough to get to know them as a person.  It may mean giving them a ride or meeting some other physical need they have, not because you should or because you are richer, smarter, and better than them, but because you want to be their friend.

Discipleship does not mean turning someone into a mirror version of yourself.  They don't have to act, dress and talk like you to be God's friend.  They might have socially unacceptable behaviors and deep scars.  Maybe life has been pretty harsh on them.  They need us to try to understand, to take the time to see what life is like for them.  Then we have the right and privilege of pointing them to God.  Discipleship is the making of disciples.  It is saying - I'm following Christ, and here is how it works for me.  Would you like to join? 

Missionaries who go to other lands and try to make good little American Christians fail.  On the other hand, missionaries who value the culture of the people they meet and join into their lives as they are sharing the Gospel are much better received.  It is no different here in the states.  Why do we give people the idea that they have to get their lives all fixed up before they come to God?  Isn't he the ultimate healer?  Isn't it His job to sort out what in their lives needs changing?  Our job is only to love them and point the way. 

This discipleship takes time.  It may be a year before your friend feels safe enough to tell you why she cringes at the word church.  It may be months before that other friend even mentions a spiritual topic.  It doesn't matter, you are their friend.  Your friendship is not dependent on whether they ever put their name on the church role.  You are there to respect them and be part of their lives.  You will share Jesus with them just as you share other important things in your life and you will not turn your back on them.

One last thing - this messy evangelism/discipleship - it is humbling and eye opening as any good friendship should be.  You may find that the lady cursing during Bible study also has deep theological understanding.  You may find that the stinky person in old clothes is the hardest worker at the church bazaar.  You may hear the uneducated one reminding you to pray instead of worry.  You may find yourself begging God to forgive you for ever judging anyone.  I know I did. 

I'll close with a story.  When I was in middle school, my grand-parents divorced.  Many of the family ostracized my grandmother for some hateful things she had done.  There was a great rift and we did not visit her often.  A few years later I noticed that my mom was talking to grandma more and spending time with her.  Now my grandma was not always easy to get along with.  She could be selfish and demanding.  However, my mom told me that God had asked her to open up her heart to my grandma.  She had already forgiven her but now God was asking her to bridge the distance.  It was not comfortable at first but eventually my mom started to remember the things she liked about her own mother and the visits became more pleasant.  Months later, my grandma started attending church and some time after that she committed her life to God.  I believe she would never have taken that step without my mom's love and friendship. That's how making disciples is lived out.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Darkness Still Returns from Time to Time

I was in a pretty dark place yesterday.  I've felt it coming on for over a week but I did not know why.  Then my old buddy Depression swallowed me.  I wrote a poem about it which  is a first for me.  Poetry is not usually my medium.

Sometimes there is a storm inside my head.
The clouds gather and I hear voices in the wind:
"You don't matter.  You'll never be good enough.  You don't count."
First, I rail against the wind trying to prove my worth,
but then I just curl up in a ball and hope not to drown.

Well - I did not drown, in large part due to dear friends who encouraged me.  Their love and comfort brought healing to my heart.  They told me that I don't have to carry the world and that not everything in life is my fault.  Also, all I can do is my best and there is no shame in that.  They reminded me that the best way to deal with negative thoughts is to ask God if they are true because ugly accusations like that never come from Him. 

I am blessed to be surrounded by such kindness and love.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Shop at the Farmer's Market

   I've been shopping at my local farmer's market for a couple years now.  I started this habit for several reasons.  I wanted to add more vegetables to my diet and eat healthier. Also, I wanted to support the local economy and the local farmers.  In addition, I don't want herbicides and insecticides in my food and I believe these things pollute our environment.  Most of the farmers at the market use very little or none of these chemicals so it's the type of food I'm looking for.  Lastly, their food tastes amazing!!

I have learned that shopping at the farmer's market is very different than shopping at a grocery store.  Through experience, experimentation, and much research I have figured out how to maximize this resource for my family. I've decided to list some tips here.  I wish someone had given me a list like this when I first started exploring the market.

First - Don't make a list before shopping. 
I know this is so counter-intuitive especially for those of us who love lists.  However, if you make your meal plan first and  then go to the farmer's market, you are going to be disappointed.  Unlike a grocery store which has every product every time you enter, the market only has what was harvested that week.  This is actually a benefit because their food is fresh and nutrient rich unlike the stuff we ship all over the country/world before it reaches the store.  So, to maximize your enjoyment of the market, I suggest you go there first and get whatever fruits and vegetables you like.  Then take them home and plan your meals around those items.  The food you buy at the farmer's market will make all your favorite recipes even better.

Second - If you like it - buy it now!
I learned this lesson by making mistakes.  My first summer I was so excited to see a local farmer selling chickens that he had raised and butchered himself.  I knew this meant the animals had been treated with respect and lived a good life.  Not only is this better for the animal, but it is healthier for the eater as well.  I bought one and took it home to cook.  The flavor was amazing!  I hurried back the next week to buy another one and he was sold out.  There would be no more that season.  I was crushed.  That is when I learned that if I see something I like, I need to grab it right away.  This applies to vegetables and fruits as well.  If the zucchini looks good, grab it today, it might not be there next week.  Local food is seasonal and limited.  I had to adjust to that if I wanted all the benefits that come with it.  This year chickens were available again and I bought three right away.  I only wish I could fit more in my freezer.

Third - Buy more than you need and preserve the extra.
This grows out of rule number two.  If you buy something you are not going to use right away, then you need a way to make sure it does not get wasted.  I know people who do canning and freeze-drying.  I have not learned either of those skills yet, so my main preservation system is the freezer.  I do batch cooking, doubling and tripling my favorite recipes and freezing them to have fast meals later.  Also, I have learned which fruits and vegetables can be flash-frozen and which ones need to be blanched first. (This involves boiling the vegetable for a short time and then submerging them in a cold water bath before freezing.)  I have made many mistakes and lost some food, but these mistakes teach me how to do it better the next time.  I'm hoping to have enough vegetables in the freezer this year so I don't have to buy any at the store this winter.

Fourth - Try not to compare the prices with supermarket prices. 
It is very tempting at first to look at the prices of the food at the farmer's market and turn away because it is cheaper at the local big-box store.  However, please remember, this is not the same food.  Those tomatoes may look similar to the ones at your grocery store, but they are, in fact, very different.  They have measurably more nutrients.  They have not been bred for tough skins to allow cross-country transport.  They are fresh and they were picked already ripe.  They are not covered in harmful chemicals.  They were planted and raised by someone in your own community.  They are delicious!!  They are, indeed, worth the cost.

Fifth - Talk to the vendors and try something new.
At the farmer's market you have the opportunity to talk to the people who raised your food.  You can ask them any questions you have.  You can thank them for taking the effort to keep this food system alive.  Then you can pick up an unfamiliar vegetable and ask them what it's called and how to cook it.  You won't get that at the grocery store.

As you can tell, I love the farmer's market!