Does God care about food?

25 10 2012

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,

Wende





People Who Have Wrecked My Life, Part 2 – Ken & Tracey

7 09 2012

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. – Isaiah 1:17

Twenty-four hours into our church’s annual youth summer mission trip, I met two people who instantly changed my outlook on life. (I started to write “changed my life”… but I guess that will depend on what I do with what I learned from them.)

After a full day of orientation to our destination of Las Vegas, our team was ready to go actually do something useful. So we were excited to learn that we would be spending the evening hanging out with and praying for a local foster family whom we were assigned to through a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) organization called “Foster Connect.” Foster Connect — as a 30-ish, perky woman named Clare explained to us through role plays and Q & A — recruits foster parents through local churches in order to get more Christians involved in this broken system. Host churches support the foster families connected to their church by praying for them, helping financially, and offering childcare relief so tired foster parents can take a much-needed break.

YWAM staffers Brett and Lydia, and Deja — Clare’s 14-year-old foster daughter (who had been with their family less than a month), joined our team and piled into the unwieldy toaster-oven-on-wheels that YWAM called a vehicle for the 20-minute drive to Ken and Tracey’s home. On the ride over, I awkwardly quizzed Deja about being a foster kid.

“So… do you like living with Clare?”

“Yeah. They’re really nice. I’ve had lots who weren’t.”

“Really? That must be tough.” (No kidding. Could I not think of something more compassionate to say?)

“Yeah… ”

“So… have you been in a lot of different homes?”

“When I was little. Some of them were really bad. Then I got adopted, so I’ve been in the same place since I was six.”

“Oh, that’s good — I didn’t realize you were adopted. But wait… you can’t stay there anymore?”

“No. They started abusing me a couple of years ago. So the courts took me away.”

[Awkward silence.] “But… it’s good at Clare’s house?” (Pathetic comeback.)

“Yeah. I hope I get to stay there. I have to go back to court in a couple of weeks, and they might send me someplace else.”

[More awkward silence. What do you say to that? “Gee, Deja, it must be awful to be 14 and have no stability in your life because as soon as you find a place you can call home, the courts might yank you out of it and send you somewhere that totally sucks.”]

But I didn’t say what I was thinking. I just mumbled a feeble, “I’m sorry. I hope you get to stay.”

And mercifully, the conversation came to a screeching halt along with the van as Brett squinted at house numbers in search of Ken and Tracey’s. He pulled over and parked along the curb in a cul-de-sac; we climbed out and looked around at dozens of modest, look-a-like, two-story adobe homes. Brett chose one and marched toward it. We followed, standing in the front yard as he bounded up the front steps and pushed the door bell.

No answer. Brett pushed it again.

Nothing. He knocked. And knocked again.

Shoulders slumped, we were in the process of turning away when the door opened and a tall, friendly looking middle-aged guy poked his head out. “Can I help you?”

He obviously wasn’t expecting us.

After a few awkward moments of trying to explain why we were standing en masse on his front lawn, and deciding whether we should come in anyway or reschedule for another time or just pray for them in the yard so as not to disrupt their dinner, Tracey intervened and saved us, yelling from some unseen location, “Honey, I forgot to tell you they were coming… let them in, for heaven’s sake.”

So in we went, the twelve of us taking over their small (but air conditioned — thank you, God!) living room, perching on the edges of couches and chairs or sprawling on the floor. Tracey was standing in the kitchen, stirring something on the stove and gently giving instructions to five little people who instantly stopped eating to stare at us. Our jaws dropped. There were five of them?

As the kids — three boys and two girls all under age 8 — giggled shyly at us, Tracey introduced them, pointing to each as she said their names: “The littlest one is Riley… and Summer is his sister… and that’s Ezra… and Cody and Crissy are siblings, too.” A squawk came from around the corner, and she quickly disappeared. Ken took over the introductions, explaining that they were in the process of trying to adopt Riley and Summer.

Tracey came back a moment later, holding a tiny brown baby with a head full of curly black hair. “And this is Jamal.” He smiled a toothless baby smile. Our hearts melted and we sighed in unison. Tracey told us that Jamal was four months old and came to them shortly after birth. Despite being born with five illegal substances in his little body, he was doing well. He seemed to be developing normally except for being a little stiff — for some reason, he held his body straight like a board. “Not jello-y, like babies should be,” she said. He was beautiful.

Tracey and Ken (mostly Tracey, as she seemed to be the talker in the family) joined us in the living room and shared their story over the next hour. They told us how they couldn’t have children of their own, so in their 40s (in their forties? That’s my age, and I’m already thinking about that retirement cottage on the beach!) they felt God telling them to foster parent. They were reluctant, but finally gave in and agreed to take one child. Tracey pointed to a photo of a beautiful little girl: “She was our first. We had her for a couple of years and tried to adopt her, but she ended up going to a relative instead.” I felt myself choking back tears, and as I looked around the room, I saw several teenagers doing the same. But Tracey and Ken kept smiling.

They had fostered more than 30 children over the past decade, some for years and some for a few weeks. They never knew how long a child would stay. They never planned to care for so many — it just happened. They never took vacations, rarely went out to dinner, struggled to pay the bills, and trusted God on a daily basis to provide for their emotional and physical needs — including the strength needed to tend to six children.

Brett finally tried to wrap up up the conversation by asking how we could pray for them.  And then we prayed, taking turns interceding for this incredible patchwork quilt of a family. We asked God to take care of their adoption process and give them Summer and Riley. We asked Him to grant them energy and patience. We asked Him to bless them with a new van (because their current one was on its last legs, and how do you transport six kids in Vegas with no van?). We asked that Jamal become more jello-y. As we prayed, I cried. (And as I write this, I’m crying again.)

When we finished praying, we talked some more. And as we talked, the kids gradually grew bolder. They hid around corners at first, playing peek-a-boo with Danny, one of our teenagers who sat at the bottom of the stairs. Danny became the gatekeeper: Once they decided he was safe, they tumbled all over him, and then all over us — sitting on laps and doing flips and letting us tickle them. The boys rough-housed with the older kids, who asked if we could stay over. (Tracey explained that they had hosted missions teams before and had a dozen teenagers sleep in their living room, so the kids were used to guests.) The teenage girls told the little girls how pretty they were and took turns holding baby Jamal.

After extended goodbyes that took nearly a half hour, we ambled back to our van with a melancholy mix of emotions that were hard to sort out. “Ken and Tracey are my new heroes,” I told one of the teenagers. I meant it.

I felt like I finally understood fully what Jesus meant when He said these words:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)

I think we Christians all think we’re doing that. I think we think that if we read the Bible enough, and pray enough, and tithe enough, we’re good to go. That idea has left me unsettled for a very long time… and now I know why. Because I’ve now seen people who are doing what Jesus said. And I know that most of the rest of us are not even close.

THIS is what it looks like to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus: It’s to give up your time, your money, your vacation, your retirement travel plans, your home, your peace, and your quiet so that you can obey God’s voice telling you to take in little children who need a mom and a dad and a safe place to stay for however long the courts decide. It’s to enter into a broken system like foster care and be a light on the inside instead of picketing or petitioning or complaining from the outside. It’s to give from the deepest part of yourself to love others in a purely selfless way that can only come from God.

I hope one day soon I can do that, too.

My niece, Kylie, holding baby Jamal.





Starting the Seven Fast

31 08 2012

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,

Wende





Becoming Uncomfortable

22 08 2012

My comfort zone is fairly wide. It has been stretched, twisted and beaten into submission over the years by experiences God has dragged me into or that I’ve unwittingly plunged myself into. (Unless we’re talking bodily harm here, in which case the zone is significantly smaller, although still probably bigger than the average 45-year-old woman’s. Chaperoning mission trips gets me into all kinds of predicaments — rock climbing, caving, whitewater rafting, rappelling — in an attempt to save face before a bunch of teenagers. Yes, I’m still vain enough to care what they think.)

However, this summer God forced me to confront new levels of discomfort I didn’t even realize I had. And, of course, He did so via one of His usual methods — the mid-summer mission trip.

When our new youth pastor, Cory, asked if I’d chaperone once again, I didn’t even hesitate. I’ve co-led our church’s winter weekend and summer week-long trips for teenagers for the past few years. I love watching the kids experience God in new ways and learn to serve Him by loving on people whom our society considers “the least of these.” By now teenagers, homeless people, earthy 20-year-old mission guides, soup kitchens, public prayer, and driving our church’s 15-passenger conversion van on urban freeways or Appalachian mountain roads are all within that comfort zone of mine. So I said, “Sure. I’d love to. Where are we going?”

And he said, “Vegas.”

Vegas. In July.

I wanted to ask a lot more questions, but I think I just said something like, “K. Sounds good.”

So off to Vegas we went — six high school seniors, one college sophomore, Cory and me — to spend a week in Sin City with an organization called Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Things were about to get uncomfortable. Rather than try to recap the whole trip, I’ll explain each episode by the level of discomfort it caused, from mild chafing to serious churning.

Discomfort #1: Vegas itself. There really is no other place like it. The Strip is a superficial Mecca for pleasure seekers of all kinds — a strange blend of glassy-eyed gamblers, wide-eyed foreigners, stressed out parents with toddlers in tow, and upper middle class vacationers with maxed-out credit cards. In contrast to the strip’s massive casinos and cacophony of lights/sounds/people, the neighborhood surrounding the YWAM base on F Street was barren and silent. Blocks of flat-roofed beige buildings on dirt lots bordered by rusted metal fences. Dust-coated people sleeping in alleys or camped out under highway bridges. Abandoned cars. Glass-ridden playgrounds void of children. I felt like our group was part of some bizarre social experiment, traipsing through the world’s largest H&M and dining at the Bellagio buffet one day, then eating day-old pastries and rice & beans at the Vegas Rescue Mission the next. We criss-crossed these two worlds all week, retreating to our bullet-proofed, gated base at night. I found myself wondering where my daily life fell on this continuum and wrestling with the discomfort of that question.

Discomfort #2: Heat. One of the first things I did after learning of our Vegas destination was Google the average summer temperature, so I went in prepared for it to hit a hundred degrees, or maybe a little more. But since everyone knows Vegas has a “dry heat” rather than the dripping humidity typical of summers in my home state of Ohio, I figured it couldn’t be that bad…right? Our first night there, the YWAMers took us to the top of a mountain for worship overlooking the city. It was 10 o’clock at night, and it was still 104 degrees. The steady wind felt like a full-body blowdryer set on “high,” and we squinted to keep it from blowing dust into our eyes. By Tuesday (the day that, of course, we were outside for more hours than any other day) it was 117 in the shade, and locals were complaining that it was the hottest day in five or ten years. That was the day we had a dance party with 50 or so kids on the unshaded playground of a local housing project and fed them spaghetti for lunch. (Yes — spaghetti. The perfect food for a blistering summer day.) Fortunately we were drinking gallons of water, and no one went to the hospital. But that night, while we cooled off in front of air conditioners back at the base and slurped tepid water from our Camelbacks, I thought of the very pregnant homeless woman I’d prayed with in the park that morning and wondered how she was staying hydrated and where she was sleeping that night in the miserable heat.

Discomfort #3: Social awkwardness. YWAMers, I soon discovered, are quite comfortable with social awkwardness. They can rapid-fire unfunny jokes and go unphased by the groans of teenage listeners. They laugh loudly and often and at everything. And they will talk to anyone on the street about Jesus, even if it brings on public ridicule. After giving us a crash course in street evangelism, the YWAMers loaded us 17-deep in their 15-passenger, poorly air conditioned vans and dumped us in the parking lot of a nearby outdoor mall, where in pairs we gave belief surveys to unsuspecting shoppers until security politely but firmly asked us to stop. The next day, we did “free prayer” on Fremont Street in the older section of Vegas, approaching street vendors, tourists, and others passers by, asking if we could pray for them. (Surprisingly, about half of them let us.) There we managed to draw the attention of a very angry and slightly crazy religious zealot who harassed us off and on for more than an hour and told us we were representing Satan. The next day, we did similar stuff at an enclosed mall, which was by far the worst place to approach people. My teammate and I got lots of rejections but did have an interesting conversation with an Orthodox Jew; however, our only actual prayer was with an elderly black woman sitting on a bench who turned out to be sleeping behind her dark glasses. That same evening, we did “cross walk” on the strip; this involved two of us carrying a giant wooden cross back and forth between the Harley Davidson Cafe and the MGM while the rest trailed behind looking for people to talk with and pray for. (Believe me, there is something really disturbing about seeing people mock or even run from the cross.) Finally, the grand finale of social awkwardness — our team led a worship service on the Strip in front of Bally’s. With less than 30 minutes of prep, we prayed, sang, shared testimonies, and preached — sandwiched in between an amazingly talented hip-hop dance troupe and a professional grade Motown performer. (I found myself interpreting what was happening for some Norwegian tourists, and also had a great conversation with a slightly high homeless woman who thought the blond girl in our skit was Jesus’ girlfriend.) Although every single one of those experiences challenged us (and I would probably never try any of them at home), I realized by the end of the week that we had all been forced to get over ourselves and our fear of what others think of us. Instead of dwelling on our own insecurities, we started hearing people’s stories and having positive conversations about faith. It was still awkward… but we were okay with it. And by comparison it was a piece of cake to initiate conversation with the man sitting beside me on the flight home.

Discomfort #4: Humility. I met so many different people that week whose spiritual strength made my faith look flimsy. There were the Foster Connect people who talked to us about their ministry of supporting foster families (for more on that, see my next post — People Who Have Wrecked My Life, Part 2) and who sacrificed personal time and comfort for the sake of kids with no place to go. There were the YWAM staffers: Sara, who grew up Muslim until her father died, who led a Bible study for 50 teenagers in her basement (while a teenager herself), and who was struggling to help her family get back on their feet after they lost everything due to her mother’s illness. Kenny, the bearded biker and spoken-word artist who shared his life with us through poetry. Lauren, who as a teenager was the go-to prayer warrior in her school and who challenged our kids to do likewise. There were the often nameless folks at the rescue mission who so willingly came forward to let teenagers pray for their deepest needs: “That I could stop drinking.” “That my son will stop having seizures.” “That we can become citizens.” “That my baby will be okay.” There were the “Burners” (as we dubbed them) — a group of teens and 20-somethings who stayed at the YWAM base with us doing street ministry in Vegas as part of their summer-long journey across the Southwest. These people and others helped me realize how superficial my spirituality can be, and how little I’ve sacrificed.

Discomfort #5: True freedom. Our last night in Vegas, the YWAMers held a “commitment service” for the kids, and the Burners joined in the worship time. About a hundred of us crammed into the YWAM base common room where we prayed and sang, and sang and prayed, and prayed some more. I don’t know what it was — the uninhibited way the worship leaders played their music, the Burners praying passionately in a half circle behind us, the kids sprawled all over the floor… or if it’s just that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — but I have never felt such freedom in worship. A few songs in, even jaded, middle-aged chaperones (like me) were jumping up and down, waving our arms over our heads, singing loudly, “We were made for – we were made for – we were made for love….” We didn’t care who was watching. We were celebrating an amazing week of seeing God do incredible, uncomfortable things through us. And it just felt right to worship Him with everything we had. So I danced, and I sang, and I prayed for kids in ways I never had. And I found myself wondering why worship in church was never like this, and wishing I could stay in that moment for a very long time. Because I felt free. And if that was what freedom felt like… then what was holding us back the rest of the time?

But perhaps the most uncomfortable experience of all was returning home, and easing right back into my life like I would a well worn pair of slippers. Realizing that, just six weeks after one of the most powerful weeks of my life, I had started to forget the lessons I learned and retreat back into my old comfort zone. (We’ve all done this, haven’t we?)

So my prayer today is that when God expands our comfort zone, we don’t let it shrink back to its former size. That we learn, and we keep learning, and we put into action the stuff that we learn.

And that we stay uncomfortable.

Our youth summer mission team in the Vegas airport.





People Who Have Wrecked My Life – Part 1

10 08 2012

Some Christians just make the rest of us look bad.

And no — I’m not talking about those who claim to be Christian but who make all Christ-followers look bad by leaving tracts about hell under windshield wipers, or picketing funerals, or shouting through bullhorns on college campuses.  (I’m quite convinced that those tactics send non-believers sprinting in the opposite direction. Really — don’t even those of us who believe in Jesus dodge those people in the supermarket?)

I mean just the opposite. I’m talking about those few-and-far-between followers of Jesus who are the epitome of “salt and light” — who have perfected the art of living skillfully and actually obeying Christ’s commands. And who make most of us look wimpy and superficial in comparison.

Several people are or have been incredible examples to me and hundreds/thousands/maybe millions of others in how to walk the Christian talk. In order to do each of their stories justice, I’ll spread them out over a few blog entries, in no particular order.

The first people who come to mind (mainly because I heard one of them speak at a conference and read the other’s books this past month) are Brandon and Jen Hatmaker, who pastor Austin New Church in Austin, Texas (check it out at http://www.austinnewchurch.com).

I first heard Brandon’s story — detailed in the book Barefoot Church — about a year ago at a workshop. Basically, Brandon left an established position at a more traditional church — along with the corresponding comfortable, middle-class lifestyle — to serve the poor in his city. Austin New Church started through regular cookouts that the Hatmakers and friends held for the homeless community — a practice that continues today. The church spends as little as possible on itself, its staff, and its facilities in order to give away half of its income to the poor. (By comparison, my church — Park Street — gives away about 15-20% of what it takes in, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve bragged about that.)

The Hatmakers strive to live up to the same high standards they’ve established in their church. For example, they adopted two children from Ethiopia — and not because they couldn’t have children. (They also have two children who were born to them.) They did so because they trust God when He tells us to take care of the orphan.

Most of us would just send a check. I guess I can stop patting myself on the back for that 30 bucks a month I send to World Vision. (I’ve never even sent a birthday card to Onyango, the boy our family “adopted” several years ago after being moved to tears at a Barlow Girl concert.)

The Hatmaker family has shown me that any of us can do this. We can take God’s words seriously and make radical changes in our lives (and often in a remarkably short span of time). But sometimes those radical changes start with a series of smaller changes that open us up to what God wants to do.

Luke 16:10 says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”

This tells me that maybe God isn’t quite ready to entrust me with the care of an Ethiopian orphan. But if I get serious about the hundreds of little choices I make every day, I might soon be prepared to handle greater responsibility.

Jen Hatmaker’s most recent book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, gave me a starting point. This book chronicles Jen’s seven-month-long commitment to simplifying her life and obeying God’s commands. Her extended “fast” is really seven fasts — each lasting a month:

  • Month One: Food — Choose seven food items and eat only those for a month.
  • Month Two: Clothes — Choose seven pieces of clothing (under garments don’t count, but shoes do!) and wear only those for a month.
  • Month Three: Possessions — Give away seven things every day for a month. (This sounds hard — but think about how many pieces of clothing, how many books, how many collectibles, how many electronic items, etc., we all own.)
  • Month Four: Media — Eliminate TV, video games, internet (except for work and school-related communication and research), texting, and all social media for a month. (And maybe rediscover the art of conversation in the process.) Er — does blogging count?
  • Month Five: Waste — Practice seven good habits that eliminate waste and take better care of creation this month (recycling, gardening, composting, and the like).
  • Month Six: Spending — Spend money with only seven vendors this month.
  • Month Seven: Stress — Observe the Sabbath every week for a month.

At the start of Jen’s book, I simply thought she was crazy. By the end, I decided she was a crazy genius. Being radical in the small things of day-to-day life, obeying God in the drudgery of the every day, and eliminating some of the noise so we can hear from Him just plain makes sense.

So… I’m thinking of trying this, starting in September. (I would have procrastinated until October, but Month One is food and I’m scheduled for a long weekend at the beach that month. There is no way I’m passing up seafood. See how I’m already manipulating this to fit my selfish needs? Or should I say shellfish needs…)

Anyway… who wants to join me?





Why this blog?

6 08 2012

Lately God has been messing with my life. 

By most people’s standards, I’m a good Christian girl. I spend time with God (most mornings, bleary-eyed over my first cup of coffee), I lead a small group, I chaperone youth mission trips, I serve the poor, I pray a lot, and I gave up a respectable career and decent money to work for the church for a much smaller paycheck. That should be enough, right?

Maybe not.

These last few months, I’ve had this nagging feeling that God expects me to give Him everything. All of it. Not just the parts I’ve neatly classified as “church stuff” and devote what I consider a significant portion of my life to doing. Not only the things that are comfortably “just beyond” my comfort zone. Not just what fits in with my plans, my budget, my cozy middle-class life. All of it — my money, my house, my time, my lifestyle, my kids, my husband, my job… even the seemingly inconsequential, day-to-day choices I make like what to wear and what to eat and what to do with that leftover couple of hours at the end of the day that I usually spend mindlessly watching Top Chef wannabes churn out braised pork belly and creamy polenta on my flat screen TV.

All of it? Really, God?

Last Sunday a guest preacher named Rickey Bolden (awesome guy — a former NFL player turned pastor) challenged our congregation to pray that line in the Lord’s prayer — “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…” — for ourselves. He asked us to stop asking God for what we want and start asking God to make His Kingdom real in our lives. To stop making selfish choices and start living each day for Him. Then Rickey told us to stand up if we wanted to pray that prayer for the first time.

I didn’t stand up. Not because I don’t want that very thing, but because that’s the prayer I’ve been saying every day for months now. It wasn’t my first time; it was my hundredth time muttering, “God, help me get over myself. Show me how you want me to live. And give me the strength to change whatever I have to in order to follow you.”

Matthew 7:14 says, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I always wondered how that could be true when so many churchgoers fill the pews every Sunday. There are more than “a few” of us who profess faith in Christ and perform our churchly duties on a regular basis. So maybe Jesus was talking about something more.

In that same section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that only those who do the will of His Father will enter the kingdom of heaven, and only those who hear His words and put them into practice are considered wise. So how are we as Christians doing with that? Are we focused too much on avoiding the “wrong” things rather than doing the right ones? Are we so enamored with our way of “doing church” that we think it’s the be all, end all?

I’m on a journey to figure this out. I’m asking God what it looks like to follow Him, to be on mission right where I live, and to find a new (and hopefully better) way to be His Church in this beautiful (thanks to God) mess (thanks to us) of a world we live in. Recently some friends and I started a “missional community” because it’s always better to travel together than alone.

Consider this blog a sort of “travel log” for that journey. I have a feeling many of you are on the same journey, and I’d love to compare notes. So please join me, check in from time to time, and leave a comment if something strikes a chord with you.

Grace & Peace,

Wende








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