Why “ink”?

Earlier this week, I did something I never thought I’d do…

I got a tattoo.

My youngest, Megan, has been obsessed with getting one ever since she turned 18 last fall. She spent way too much time googling tattoo ideas, which she kept running by me to see my reaction. Most of her initial concepts provoked a roll of my eyes and a sigh. I told her she had to wait until graduation, secretly hoping she would lose interest in the idea, but figuring that at least by then she would have had time to come up with something truly meaningful that she could live with for the rest of her life.

This spring, she finally landed on something: “It is finished” — the last words of Jesus from John 19:30 — in Hebrew (we tried for Aramaic, but it looked basically the same as the Hebrew lettering), inked on her right side to represent where Jesus was speared by the Roman soldier. So it was decided.

And then, she asked if I would get one, too. (Sigh. If you have read my earlier blogs, you know that this child often manages to get me into stuff that’s out of my comfort zone.)

I had to admit that I always thought small ones, especially of religious symbols like Celtic crosses, were kind of cool — but not for me. Besides that, I couldn’t think of anything I would want permanently etched on my body. But I made her a deal: “If you can come up with an idea for something that would really be meaningful to me, I’ll do it.” So, of course, she did.

My favorite scripture is Micah 6:8, which says, “What does God require of us? To do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” To me, this verse sums up the way we should live our lives. It’s the gospel in a nutshell — sweet and simple. And since I’m terrible at memorizing anything, I also love that it’s short enough for me to remember.

On Tuesday, we went to Main Street Tattoos, and a nice young man named Jesse engraved these words in a lovely script on my right foot, from my ankle to just above my little toe: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. (And yes — it hurt. Quite a lot.)

I have to admit — I love it.

As my pastor, Arden Gilmer, commented on my facebook post of my new acquisition, this is my way of living out Deuteronomy 6:6-9: These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Jesus asks us to live in a way that’s often out of our comfort zones. And sometimes, he asks us as individuals to do things that are way out of character for us. I’m not a tattoo kind of person. I don’t ride Harleys, pierce body parts beyond my earlobes, or smoke Hookah pipes. But I’m serious about my faith, and I wanted a tangible, visible symbol of it that’s more permanent than the silver cross I wear on a leather strap around my neck.

I know many of my fellow Christians would disagree with me, and maybe even cite Leviticus 19:28, the one scripture that specifically prohibits tattoos, as evidence. (As we were talking about the meaning behind my choice of tattoo, Jesse-the-tattoo-artist told me that another Christian client of his got a nasty message from someone in her church, who told her that “only whores get tattoos.” Nice. That’s a very Christ-like response, huh?)

If one is going to use Leviticus 19:28 as ammunition, one also has to observe the commands in the rest of that chapter, which include not eating steak, not eating fruit from a tree that’s less than three years old, not harvesting their field a second time if they miss anything (but rather leaving it for the poor to glean), and not mixing two kinds of fibers in their clothing (so no more polyester blends). There’s also a lot of good stuff in that chapter that applies in any situation, but we must always realize that each book of scripture was for a specific time and place, so we have to take time to look at the purpose behind these commandments. Leviticus 19:28 says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am The Lord.” In that time and that place, pagan rituals –such as marking up your body to honor the dead — were an issue. And if today’s Christians were getting tattoos to honor the dead, that would definitely be a problem.

But followers of Jesus getting tattoos to honor him? Let’s let God be the judge of that.

For me, this “ink” will be a constant reminder to walk the talk. To be the hands and feet of Jesus in my community. And to do this with love and humility, not arrogance or condescension.

Maybe it’s foolish. But God wants us to be fools for him.

David celebrated his love for God by dancing in his underwear in public. That’s a bit of a stretch for me… so I just got a tattoo.

Oklahoma, Day 3

Media coverage of the Moore, Oklahoma, disaster relief efforts led us to think that thousands of workers were here, efficiently razing houses, removing debris, and restoring order to the Oklahoma City suburb. Megan and I were somewhat concerned that we would merely be in the way.

The reality, of course, is quite different from the TV version. Volunteers poured in from all over the country, but most came the first week. Although it’s difficult to estimate how many are here now, I can tell you there are certainly not enough. We expected the City Rescue Mission gym to be lined with cots just a few feet apart, packing in a hundred or so workers. Tonight, just 16 of us remain — 12 women (mostly college girls) and four men.

Yesterday morning at Serve Moore, the site that is coordinating volunteer efforts, several clusters of a dozen or so people wearing matching T-shirts (Lutheran Youth League, Southern Baptists of Alabama, and the like) waited for instructions from a couple of 20-something organizers. As we cruised the affected neighborhoods — most of which are sandwiched between 4th Street to the north and 19th street to the south, and stretching over a couple of miles from east to west — looking for our own work site, we passed a half dozen similar groups of volunteers already at work. But the majority of houses sat untouched.

The volunteer work itself can be frustrating and tedious. After a Tuesday afternoon full of false starts and dead ends, I was sharing my frustrations with a couple of Alabama ladies wearing chaplain T-shirts. The women looked at each other and nodded knowingly. “We had the same thing happen to us the first time we did this,” one said. “You need to be trained. Then you can go in immediately, before the organizations take over and make everything more difficult.”

Her words named our reality. We could look around and see an overwhelming amount of work to be done, but the actual tasks we were allowed to complete were limited by insurance processes (evidenced by company names and claim numbers spray painted on garage doors), utility companies, local officials, FEMA, and other powers-that-be, all of which are vital to restoring a community, but most of which combine to create gridlock.

Yesterday ended in frustration. We both prayed for patience, but asked God to please use us and the others who had come so far to help. It didn’t seem right that so many people needed what our group had to offer, but yet connections weren’t being made.

This morning at first appeared to be more of the same. After meeting up with our group at Plaza Elementary to sort a pile of bricks (the Hope Raisers group wanted the good bricks saved to give to the families of school children and teachers), we planned to meet up with some Baptist pastors who had heavy equipment to raze a house for an older woman. We waited at the partially demolished house for a half hour, talking with the woman, who shared her family’s story: Nine of them (including kids and grandkids visiting from out of town) hid in the backyard storm cellar, which had the door sucked off by the twister. They survived unscathed, but the house did not. The front was ripped off, exposing the rooms inside. We could see her bed still sitting in a room upstairs.

The Baptists arrived and decided they couldn’t use us until tomorrow because the heavy equipment needed to be brought in first. So we drove back to Serve Moore to await further instructions.

Our next site was more fruitful: We met Martin, a Harley rider who, along with his wife, survived the storm by putting on his motorcycle helmet and hiding in a closet as the house crashed down around him. His story made CNN. He showed us the spot in the backyard where he planned to build a storm cellar. At Martin’s house, we cleared debris, carrying pieces of wood and metal and random items — including football gear from the neighborhood junior high school — to the curb for the FEMA trucks to pick up.

Finally, our last work site of the day was most productive. We joined another mid-sized group at the home of a retired college professor who had lost everything. Our job was to sort through an incredible amount of rubble to save anything of value. As we did, we hauled larger pieces to the curb to begin clearing the site. The work was painstaking, hot, dusty, and exhausting, but there was something satisfying about helping recover some small pieces of this man’s life. We only made a dent in the pile of splintered wood, twisted metal, and shredded books that used to be his house, so we will go back tomorrow to continue the task.

We are learning that this is what disaster relief is like: there is no completed project, no fulfilling ending. Just many small phases, each tackled by a different group of people from a different place at a different time, one group picking up where the last left off.

To be continued…


Oklahoma, Day 2

Watching the news coverage of a tragedy like the Moore, OK, storm is always difficult. We see the photos. We hear the stories. Our eyes well up at the youtube videos showing the kid reunited with his missing dog.

But today marked the first time I’ve seen a story like this with my own eyes — and discovered that the TV version only skims the surface of the violent reality.

This morning, Meg and I were ready to jump in and start volunteering with the group that we met at the shelter last night, who invited us to join them. After several long days of clearing debris, they were ready for some fresh faces. However, they warned us that we needed to explore the devastated area for a while before going to work. “It’s shocking,” one woman told us. “You will be very emotional, and you’ll need time to process it.”

So we heeded the group’s advice and plugged Plaza Towers Elementary, where seven children perished, into our GPS. The other group said we should start there because the school was in the center of the hardest-hit neighborhood.

Moore is less than 10 minutes south of downtown Oklahoma City via I-35. As we exited the highway, we noticed some debris, and stores with missing signs and roofs. There was significant damage to a shopping center on 19th Street. This was more evidence of nature’s violence than I’ve ever seen, but it was to be expected. Then, a mile or so down the road, the GPS instructed us to turn onto Santa Fe Avenue.

We rounded the corner — and everything changed.

Both of us stopped talking. My foot slipped off the accelerator inadvertently, and the car slowed. At first, my eyes couldn’t even make sense of the scene before me: Tornadoes are known for their randomness — a house ripped apart here, while the one next door is left intact. But on this stretch of road just west of Plaza Towers Elementary, there were no houses. They were simply gone. Piles of rubble remained, punctuated by the occasional tree — not uprooted, as with most storms, but sheared off just above the trunk. Standing like lifeless, limbless sentinels, guarding the debris. Cars were crumpled and strewn about, as if in a junkyard.

“Oh…” Meg choked out. “It’s so…” There were no words.

The devastation continued as we wound through the streets of the housing development surrounding the school. Finding our way there was like solving a maze; rubble barricaded some streets, while huge, noisy FEMA trucks and bulldozers blocked others.

After a few minutes, the GPS told us we had arrived at the school. But there was no school — only a chain-link FEMA fence surrounding piles of brick and dirt. We parked, got out, and walked toward a white tent set up just behind the twisted metal school sign, which proclaimed, “May 20 Awards Day — May 22 Super Kids Day!”

The tent was sponsored by Project Hope, whose volunteers stay for weeks at disaster sites like this one, helping victims process and begin to heal. We talked briefly to a volunteer who had lost her husband and 8-year-old child in the Joplin storms two years ago and learned that the first person she met at the tent was a father whose daughter had died in the school. Talking to the volunteers made us both cry, so we left them to explore the perimeter of the school grounds, where hundreds of stuffed animals, plastic flowers, and messages were tucked into the chain link fence as a makeshift memorial.

Just on the other side of the fence stood seven small crosses, each bearing the name of a child. In the middle, a taller cross with the number “7” at the top stood watch over the rest. We didn’t know what to do, so we just pressed our faces against the chain link, looked at the crosses, and prayed for those families… trying to fathom what they felt when they rushed to the school to find their children and saw the trusted, solid building leveled to the ground.

There was something about that place. Maybe it feels like that anywhere children die. It was unfathomably sad — but not dark. Despite the noise of trucks and dozers clanging in the background, it was peaceful. Serene. Like God was more fully present there. (I found myself wanting to stay, and later in the day I went back. It’s hard to explain.)

After paying our respects at the school, we quietly walked the streets of the neighborhood for a half hour or so. It is a modest neighborhood once filled with simple brick, ranch-style homes. A crew of volunteers wearing matching church T-shirts were hard at work in the front yard of one partially destroyed house. FEMA dozers razed what was left of another house, farther down the street. A police cruiser slowly drove past, carefully weaving around the debris piles that lined both sides of the road. An older woman sitting on a lawn chair in her garage nodded at us, and we waved back. Hers was one of the few houses that still appeared livable; others were boarded up, or demolished down to concrete slabs.

We made our way back to the Hope tent, where we purchased T-shirts to help with their work. On the back of the shirt was space to write a prayer or message of encouragement. We borrowed laundry markers and carefully wrote these words from the prophet Isaiah:

“…bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

And then we got in our car, and drove to join the rest of our group, who were clearing debris from someone’s backyard. Tomorrow I’ll write more about that.


Oklahoma, Day 1

I’m typing this from a cot in the darkened gym of the Oklahoma City Rescue Mission, where my daughter Megan and I, along with roughly 40 other disaster relief volunteers (from 13 different states, one very friendly Texan named Amy tells me) are sleeping tonight.

“Lights out” was at 10 pm, so now the dark corners of the room glow softly with cell phones and laptops as everyone checks in with folks at home. I’ve already called to let my husband know we’ve arrived safely after our thousand-mile drive, which began at 6:00 this morning.

Wait — I should correct that: This little venture actually began a few weeks ago, just after the F-5 tornado leveled Moore, OK. Megan was absorbed by the round-the-clock news coverage, and finally told me she felt compelled to go to Oklahoma and help. At first, I dismissed the idea. Well meaning but untrained volunteers always flock to disaster sites in the days following the event, and usually they seem to just get in the way of the FEMA workers and others who are prepared for crisis intervention. Anyway, Meg was supposed to go with her friends to the beach after her June 9 graduation from high school. And I just started a new job, and had that week-long class in Chicago to prepare for…

As the excuses piled up and the impossibilities interwove, I tried to just push aside the nagging feeling that we were supposed to do this. I told Meg I was sorry, but it just wasn’t going to work.

Not 24 hours later, the two of us were sitting in the living room watching more news coverage of the disaster in Moore. The news showed video of an older woman who, with help from neighbors, was sifting through the rubble of what used to be her home. Suddenly, the neighbors all stopped and started removing debris frantically from one spot. A moment later, the woman scooped up a very dusty, disheveled dog of an uncertain breed — her pet that she obviously thought had perished in the storm. She hugged the animal and, over and over, said, “Bless your heart. Bless your little heart.”

I gulped back tears, looked at Meg, and said, “Do you still want to do this Oklahoma thing?” She nodded. A month later, after some phone calls and web searches to figure out where to stay and how to actually be useful, here we are.

The Oklahoma City Rescue Mission is housing disaster relief volunteers for free in their gym (we’re all lined up on cots as if this is an unusually messy army barracks), letting us use their showers, feeding us, and basically giving us the run of the place. Even after years of leading mission trips and staying in less-than-desirable accommodations, I found myself worrying at the last minute about my choice to stay here: Would the car be safe in this neighborhood? Where would we put our stuff? Do we really want to sleep in a gym with a bunch of strangers? Etc. I almost turned around to go find a cheap hotel.

But I didn’t… so we’re here. And it’s fine. More than fine — it’s great. The neighborhood is quiet, and seems safe. There’s a Sonic right around the corner. The rescue mission provides security to patrol the block, so the car is okay. And we’ve already met dozens of people and have been invited to join their group tomorrow as we work through Serve Moore.

I’ve decided to blog about our week, as I’ve already been told by volunteers who started two days ago that this is an experience like no other. I’m writing it down because I think it will matter — to Meg, to me, and maybe to you.

My laptop glow is starting to annoy people, most of whom are now trying to sleep, so it’s time to stop for now.

Stay tuned…

Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

We live in a culture of frenzy.

Double-shot espressos and sugar-charged energy drinks come in a can so we can grab them without waiting in line at the coffee shop. Gas stations offer pay-at-the-pump so we can fuel up without having to engage in bothersome conversation with the clerk. Our cars now come with Bluetooth so we can multi-task on the way to work and save a few minutes of phone calls in the office. We are enslaved by tasks.

And when we get home, it’s not much better: Dinner is often a frozen entree complete with carbs, meat and veggies so we don’t have to waste time individually preparing separate components, and breakfast can be popped in the toaster and shoved in a hungry kid’s hand as she heads out the door. Television is picture-in-a-picture and TiVo so we can watch all of our favorite shows in the same prime-time span (and, of course, use our iPhones to monitor our social media sites while we do so).

Even our leisure time isn’t leisurely. After that period of shoving food in our mouths that we call “dinner,” we rush off to Kid #1’s soccer game, leave half way through to catch the end of Kid #2’s pee wee football game, drop Kid #3 at a friend’s house so we can make an appearance at our church board meeting, then bluster into mid-week yoga class just in time to say “namaste.”

The most extreme example of our culture of chaos I’ve ever seen is Times Square in New York City. I remember seeing it for the first time when there for a conference, emerging from the subway into the heart of Manhattan, and watching an A.D.D. friend of mine stop dead in his tracks. He just stood there, rooted in one spot, mouth hanging open, eyes glazed over — overwhelmed by the light/color/noise coming at us from every angle. We had to shake him to get his attention. New York City moves at a pace that we Midwesterners just can’t handle.

This morning, all of that came to a halt thanks to a force of nature. As Hurricane Sandy heads toward NYC, the city prepares for a possible 10-foot storm surge, which would flood lower Manhattan, Wall Street, subways, tunnels and more. News cams showed a very unusual Monday morning scene in midtown Manhattan — streets void of buses and taxis, sidewalks with only a handful of pedestrians. It’s like God pushed the “pause” button on NYC.

Sometimes I’d like to do that here.

I am entering a season where life is starting to slow down just a little. But I still live in the midst of the frenzy, and I see my younger friends succumbing to it, and I see how we as a society measure it: The busier you are, the more things you can juggle at once, the more programs you (and your kids) are involved in — well, the more successful you appear. Isn’t that how this game works?

Sometimes I bet God just wants to scream, “STOP IT!!!”

But, because he’s God, he whispers it instead: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message)

Pause (even though you’re trying to read this blog entry quickly because you have a dozen things to do today). Read that last paragraph again. Slowly.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? We ARE tired, worn out, burned out. We DO want to recover our lives. That “unforced rhythms of grace” part sounds especially appealing. And “freely and lightly” — what does that even mean?

I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and I think it boils down to this: God wants us to live according to his rhythm for our lives rather than keeping up with the insane pace set by our culture. I’m always afraid I’m going to miss out on something. So in the past I have tried to pack it all in — every class, every meeting, every activity. And I’m afraid that, looking back, there have been many times I’ve experienced many good things but missed out on the best thing — something God had in mind that I blew right by in my quest for self-fulfillment.

Other versions of this same passage tell us to bear Jesus’ yoke because it’s easy and light, and we’ll find rest for our souls. “Rest” in this passage doesn’t equal “lack of activity.” It doesn’t mean just vegging out on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s watching all of the Twilight movies in a row (er — not that there’s anything wrong with that). I think we’re pretty good at wasting hours in front of the TV, mainly because we’re so tired from the rest of our day that all we can do at the end of it is zone out and let someone else entertain us. I’m not suggesting we need more of that kind of “rest.”

Jesus is talking about real rest in this passage. He is talking about recovering our lives — doing the things that God designed to fulfill and energize us: Work that matters. Unhurried conversation with people we care about. Leisurely activities (whether sports or arts or music or whatever) that challenge us and let us express ourselves. Meals that nourish us and give us time to connect with family. Volunteer activities that we’re passionate about and that really help people. Time worshiping and listening to God.

We can’t do all of those things in the same day, or sometimes even in the same week. But we can do them if we start gradually turning away the stuff that doesn’t matter (and this is me calling myself out here, because I’m just a girl who can’t say “no”), and creating more space in our lives for God to fill up with the stuff that does.

And, when none of that is working and we’re so stressed out we can’t think straight, we can do as one of my former professors suggests when he  says: “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”

Does God care about food?

Note: Sorry for the long span between blogs. A lot has happened. For one thing, I quit my job. Long story, so I’ll save it for another time. Let me just say that it’s amazing how much stuff piles up around the house when everyone is working full time, going to school, and involved in a zillion activities. I spent September wrapping up seven years of work at Park Street Brethren Church, and I spent October catching up on neglected projects around my house. More on that later.

My last blog post was at the start of the “Seven” food fast, which my youngest daughter, Megan, and I took part in throughout September. (If you aren’t familiar with “Seven,” you might want to go back and read my Sept. 7 post first.) Basically, we each picked seven food items (including beverages) and ate only those for an entire month.

So what was the point?

I spent most of the month asking myself that. Usually when we fast, the point is to hear from God or to mourn or repent of something — every time we get hungry, we’re reminded to pray and listen for God’s voice instead of filling our rumbling bellies with food. But this “fast” was different because hunger wasn’t really a major issue (except for the first week, when we were still adjusting to our inability to grab a handful of chips or bowl of cereal to stave off hunger until meal time). We deprived ourselves of certain foods, but we had enough to eat and sufficient calories to get through the day.

I kept waiting for some huge spiritual epiphany, or for some deep emotional connection with the millions of people in the world who don’t have enough to eat every day. Instead, the epiphanies were small and practical. But I don’t think that prevents them from being life changing. (And in some sense, nearly everything is spiritual.)

So here are some of the things I learned by eating only seven foods:

  • I, like most Americans, eat too much — and consume too many empty calories. I did not realize how many times a day I grab a bite of something (a piece of candy from the secretary’s candy dish, a handful of tortilla chips after work, a cookie after dinner) until I couldn’t do it any more. Apples were the only snack-type item on my list of seven foods. So if I got hungry before lunch, I grabbed an apple. If I needed something to nosh on during my drive home, I could munch on . . . an apple. If I wanted something sweet in the evening, I could have — you guessed it — an apple. I realized I’m especially bad at gatherings where there’s a lot of food (like small group night on Wednesdays, when we totally pig out on finger foods); I just hover over the food table, talk to people and graze. All those tiny bites each week add up to a heck of a lot of food. Depriving myself of the ability to do this helped me break that habit. (And although I didn’t drop a lot of weight, I did lose a few pounds over the course of a month, and my muffin top is disappearing. This wasn’t the goal, but it’s a nice side effect.)
  • My family, like most American families, wastes too much. This became obvious almost immediately when I cleaned out the fridge to get rid of all of the non-seven-sanctioned stuff (thereby removing temptation). Most of the stuff in my fridge couldn’t be eaten anyway because it was outdated. Usually this stuff gets shuffled around and ends up in the back of the fridge, hidden behind the stuff we actually eat. I had at least five loaves of half-eaten bread and several stale bags of snacks in the bread drawer, I-have-no-idea-how-many bottles of condiments and salad dressings in the fridge, several boxes of stale cereal and so on. We like variety, so we buy a little bit of everything and probably throw half of it out. A few months ago, a widely reported independent study revealed that Americans throw out 40% of our food. Meanwhile, 1 in 7 people in the world go to bed hungry. You would think that, since I only had to stock up on a few items, I would not be so wasteful. Think again. I still craved variety and tried to find every possible variation on my seven foods. So instead of just buying a couple of sweet potatoes, I also bought sweet potato fries, and — thanks to a discovery in the organic food section — sweet potato chips! I didn’t just buy one loaf of wheat bread — I bought the soft kind for sandwiches, and the hearty kind for toast, and a fresh-baked loaf for dinner. I stocked my freezer with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I also bought frozen chicken nuggets and chicken lunch meat and a rotisserie chicken in case we needed something quick. I also bought at least four different kinds of apples. And this was all in the first week. Thankfully, I repented of my overindulgent ways by week 2 and learned to buy only what we could eat in the span of a few days. This has resulted in more frequent trips to the store, but a lot less waste. And (thank you, God) this habit has also continued.
  • It’s really hard to eat healthfully in a restaurant. I tried to avoid restaurants as much as possible during the fast, mainly because of the temptation to cheat but also because I don’t want to be one of “those people.” You know — the ones who order the crispy chicken salad but then ask the server to grill the chicken instead and to basically remove every other ingredient aside from lettuce. And oh yeah — to put the low-cal, sugar-free dressing on the side. (We all know the server rolls his eyes after turning around, and whoever makes the salad is probably irritated enough to spit in it.) So when I did have to order from a menu, I tried to choose the closest thing possible to my seven list, and then picked off all the non-seven-sanctioned stuff. Which just made me look weird, and — once again– wasteful. And fast food was really tricky, so the seven fast got me away from my go-to fast food places during lunch time and forced me to make better choices. I’m kind of proud to say that I’ve only been to McDonald’s once since my fast ended.
  • Simple, locally grown and/or organic foods are better for you, and they taste better too. (My husband will roll his eyes when he reads this because he thinks “organic” is a total scam.) I first discovered this when trying to find the best-tasting apple. I bought one of every kind in the produce section, and when I bit into the Ohio-grown Honeycrisp, I had a clear winner. (If you’ve never eaten one of these, they are totally worth the extra buck a pound — delicious.) I also tried organic chicken (slightly more expensive, but so much better), veggies from the Local Roots farmer’s market, and bakery bread. Since most of my seven items were individual, stand-alone ingredients, I did a lot more cooking from scratch, and I learned to enjoy the process more. There’s just something about making soup from scratch and eating it with bread baked in the shop downtown. “Seven” slowed down the whole cycle of buying-cooking-eating for me, and I am appreciating meals more and seeing them as a way to connect with people who matter to me.
  • God cares about what we eat. This might sound weird — but throughout the month (and in the weeks since then), I had a growing awareness that God cares about even the simplest choices we make every day. And I feel like it’s honoring God to make good choices about what I feed myself and my family. I am far from a health nut, and I still am terribly self-indulgent when it comes to certain items — coffee, good wine, chocolate. I don’t think it’s about avoiding those things; I think it’s about being aware of those daily choices and feeding ourselves with nutritious, simple, good food. I heard someone say recently that the best way to stay thin and be healthy is to just eat really good quality food. That’s it. Strangely, the foods I craved the most during the seven food month were all vegetables — so I’m buying a lot more of those and building meals around whatever is at the farmer’s market that day. This practice is changing the way I eat, hopefully forever. (It’s not earth-shattering, but I think God likes it.)

In October, the fast is clothing. Meg totally bailed on me this time (can’t blame her — I don’t have to go to high school every day!), so I’m doing it alone. I’ll blog about that soon. Meanwhile, if any of you are interested in joining me in these seven months of fasts, pick up Jen Hatmaker’s book (see previous post for link) and jump in. It’s an interesting journey.

Grace & Peace,


Starting the Seven Fast

My youngest daughter, Meg, and I have decided to take on Jen Hatmaker’s “Seven” fast this year, starting right after the upcoming Labor Day weekend.  If you’re not yet familiar with this fast, you can get the full scoop by reading Jen’s book, Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Each month for seven months (with a one-week break in between each), we will “fast” one area of excess — food, clothing, shopping, waste, possessions, media, and stress. And I’ll probably blog about it so I have someone to whine to.

Most of the fasts have something to do with the number seven. For example, this first month we will choose seven food/beverage items and eat only those for four weeks. The main purpose is to simplify life by minimizing choices, leaving time for more important things (like prayer and relationships). It’s also to create a sense of solidarity with the poor by denying ourselves some of the items they cannot have, but that we take for granted every day. (And I have a feeling I’ll stumble upon other “side effect” blessings as well, but I’m not sure yet what those might be.) Hopefully some of the choices we make over the next seven months will open our eyes to a simpler way to live and help us to make longer-lasting changes to our lifestyle. At the very least, we’ll be more appreciative of what we have.

Monday evening (after the holiday weekend is over, because even I am not dumb enough to try to start a fast on a holiday weekend), Meg and I will stock the fridge and cupboards with our seven items. My poor husband gets to share in the experience as well — or eat a lot of frozen pizza. His choice. (Sorry, honey.)

In the mean time, I’m sitting here licking raw cookie dough off of a wooden spoon as part of my weekend of final indulgences. (Wouldn’t you?)

So… you might be wondering what seven items I’m going to eat for the next month. I was tempted to pick my seven favorite foods, but then realized I would probably ruin my love of them for life. Plus it’s probably not terribly healthy to survive for a month on dark chocolate, coffee, pasta, cheeseburgers, Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, asparagus, and java chip ice cream. Instead, I’m going with stuff that will be reasonably healthy, that I like well enough to eat often (but will probably avoid at all costs for at least six months after this), that comes in a variety of forms, and that’s easy to cook quickly. Here’s my list:

  • Chicken (Because you can grill boneless breasts or a whole fryer, and it comes in lunch meat form.)
  • Sweet potatoes (Because they’re filling but still nutritious and a better alternative than regular ol’ potatoes, and they come in fries and chips!)
  • Coffee (I know — that’s pathetic. But I have to. I just have to.)
  • Leaf lettuce (Boring — but kind of healthy, and can serve as a salad or go on a sandwich.)
  • Whole wheat bread (For toast in the morning or sandwiches at lunch.)
  • Apples (Another versatile food — apple chips, applesauce, etc.)
  • Bell peppers (Because they come in three colors but still sort of count as one item. I had a lot of trouble with this last item. I almost picked another vegetable I like. Asparagus and beets were both in the running. And I thought about cous cous, to get a grain in there. But peppers won out because I can eat them raw or cooked.)

Meg’s list will overlap somewhat, but not much. She is also using chicken, apples, bread, and plain potatoes (instead of sweet potatoes). But she pretty much lives on pasta, so that has to go on her list. Plus as a cross country runner, she needs the carbs. She’s still thinking about her other two items. I’m guessing one of them will be pop tarts, but I’ll try to discourage that.

Meg and I had a lot of discussion about extras, like spices and condiments. Jen Hatmaker was really brutal about those, using only salt, pepper, and olive oil. We’re going to be more liberal and make a list of seven things we can use. Mine will be salt, pepper, peanut butter, honey, balsamic vinaigrette, cinnamon, and barbecue sauce. (I know — peanut butter should probably count as a food item. But give me a break. This is going to be hard enough for me since I have zero self-discipline.)

We will start our fast at sundown on Monday, Sept. 3. If you want to join us, please let me know on this blog or on facebook, and we’ll do this together!

Grace & Peace,