Monday, April 23, 2012

The Great Gain

The wind sucked and swished my hair around like a vacuum first then a twister.  "35 miles per hour winds, Sarah," my neighbor admonished.  "Should we cover our plants?  The temperature's gonna drop."  It did drop.  And soccer practice went long on the one night when the temperature plummeted, and the wind raged her fury.  I was cold.  We walked--my son, his friend and I--to keep warm.  Nate shared his too-small-for-me black fuzzy gloves, and I gladly accepted the woolen warmth of his giving heart.

Still chilled in our bones with the kind of cold that doesn't give you goose bumps, but leaves  you stiff, corpsish even, we elbowed our way through the entrance to our home.  Our 70 degree home.  The temperature was set.  I had keyed in 70 degrees earlier in the day thinking what was the use in freezing to death when I didn't have to.  I have that choice.

I thought of pouring a steaming bubble bath and using some of my 9 year old green-tea bath salts my sister gave me after Cort was born.  I hoard them for special moments because they smell like spring and heaven and grass and rivers, and I want to have them for as long as I live.  We keep our thermostat for hot water set HOT.  I like hot water.  Tepid water doesn't clean, doesn't warm, doesn't refresh.  I have that choice.

Taking the red kettle mom gave me for my birthday, I filled it with a steady stream of water from our tap.  I turned the storm-grey knob on our gas stove and watched as flames licked the belly of the kettle.  A mug of clear, hot water blanketed me from the inside out.  I had that choice.

Dinner hour had long since slipped away.  Suppertime too had slipped beyond the grasp of our busy Monday schedule.  We were all hungry.  We'd agreed ahead of time on the menu for the week.  All of us had said we were in, but when the moment came . . . we may have regretted our zeal.  Beans and rice.  One small scoop of each at supper.  For the week.  It's true, chicken, sausage, beef roast, ground chuck, fish, hot dogs, pork chops, bacon, and a myriad of other choices clogged my cavernous freezer.  We had that choice.

I told the boys to chew slowly.  Don't rush, there are no seconds tonight.  And I looked in my eldest's eyes.  Disappointment.  He knew he wouldn't be full.  I knew he wouldn't be full.  You don't have to do this; you know I know your heart.  I don't expect this from you.  He wanted to.  But his face showed what his lips refused to speak:  shock at the reality of hunger.  The first night in his life he will have gone to bed hungry.  He had that choice.

But not everyone does.  Have that choice.  Have a home with temperature set just so.  Have clean water to drink much less pour lavishly into an antique claw-foot tub.  Even have beans.  Even have rice.  Not everyone has that choice.
My first month of SEVEN is winding down.  I've chosen to focus this month on food in an attempt to wrap my senses around world hunger, around the reality that 18,000 people die every day just from hunger, and that's not including those who die from lack of clean drinking water.  Some will call me crazy, and I'm okay with that.  What I can't seem to be okay with, though, is the reality that while I've cushioned my backside with a pantry three feet deep and then gone out and bought bigger pants to contain my greed, children were dying every five seconds.  I needed a radical realignment.  This month has been a good beginning.  A good beginning.

Not having my usual comfortable foods has forced me to remember the faces of children I've never met--children who have never had a single comfort.  It's caused me to think of the anguish that must swallow their mothers' and fathers' hearts in single gulps when they look into hungry, pained eyes and can do nothing to help them.  I want to be a part of their hope.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . .I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "  Matthew 25:3,40

Did it for Him.  The nameless children of hundreds of destitute regions are not just someones children.  They're God's creation, His masterpieces.  He formed them in their mother's wombs, knows the number of hairs on their sweet heads, and you know what?  Forget the number of hairs on their heads.  He numbers the ones that flitter and flutter to the ground as their scalps bald from malnourishment.  They're His babies, and he planned for them to be a part of this wonderful world He worded into existence.  When I withhold, hoard, keep for myself, I keep from Him.  And when I open palms and purse, release plans and purpose, I do it unto Him.  And wasn't it He who specifically said, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  (II Corinthians 10:31)  All of it. For His glory?
And while Marie Antoinette cries out, "Let them have cake . . ."  am I just the same as she?  A Christian bellowing in holy tones, "Let them have Jesus."  Let me not insist all they need is Jesus and ignore their bellies bulging with starvation and mud cookies made with oil and water. Jesus himself did not ignore the physical needs of the people He loved.  What of manna, and fish and loaves multiplied?  He made us physical beings.  Dare I ignore His sacred creation's needs under the shiny-cellophane packaging of "purely sharing the gospel and leaving their physical needs to some other organization?"  We are that organization.  We.  The Church.  Me.  I'm broken, undone by that reality.  I'm just one person; we're just one small family.  Could we actually make any difference?  A dent in all this suffering?
In the early moments of day's breaking, before school lessons and ringing phones, emails and music lessons,  I read from I Timothy 6.  "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. "
If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. With just that? 
Are you, Sarah?
Am I, God?

Because godliness with contentment is great gain, and the Greek meaning of this word gain is the best thing you can procure for yourself.  It must be important. 

I hear of people's investments yielding great gains, but what if we have missed it?  What if while we build our fortunes and pad our retirement funds we have missed The Great Gain?  Is it possible in our haste to be financially responsible citizens, in our hurry to build comfortable, seeker friendly churches with pleasing, paved parking lots, in our fervor to give our children every opportunity, we have somehow missed our purpose?  What if our comfort costs someone else's life? 

What if The Great Gain is discovering the sufficient nature of a God who promised to supply all our NEEDS according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, and realizing He Is Enough?

And if the best thing I can get in this life is godliness with contentment, then this, THIS is The Great Gain:  That we cease to search for the next best high and realize The High lives within us.  We have all we need pertaining to life, to godliness.  We have HIM.  In HIM is life.  In HIM is satisfaction.  In HIM is contentment.  "And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (II Corinthians 9:8)

And when we gain this contentment it is for a purpose--so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  We are not blessed to spend on ourselves but to abound in every good work.  Every.  In all things.  At all times.
I can't help but think about Timothy's words again.  Content with food and clothing.  Is that how you define Paul's words, having all that you need?

Just food?  Just clothing?
Which food? Rice and beans?  Every day?  Surely not.  We've been given all things to enjoy.  Haven't we?  Where is the cap?  Where do we stop?  When do we say we have given enough?  Can we really ever say, "This much is for you God, and no more.  The rest is for me."?  Can we?  Do we all go out and buy 1990's-hunter-green-water-proof-Ozark-Trail tents from Walmart, sell our homes and find a field to squat in, giving the rest to Haiti or Africa?  Is this what we do? 

These are the questions that wash ashore in my mind like waves on the Atlantic coastline.  They've repeated themselves a thousand times a day this month, and I don't yet have answers.  This I know, Jesus said the path is narrow and few will choose it.  Speaking of sacrifice doesn't sit well with me.  I'd like to cut a check for ten percent and call it a day.  The rest I can find plenty of good uses for.  I've got a bucket list, plans for a fifteenth wedding anniversary romantic getaway.  And could I say, if I dared, that perhaps we who call ourselves Christians have created some form of Jesus-following that doesn't really follow Him at all?  Are we not really just white-washed, sweet-speaking selfish hearts?  Some of us?  Me?  (I don't dare say it.  Sorry I  mentioned it.)
Too though, I know this.  Jesus came to freely give us that thing we lost in Eden--that abundant life.  That walking in the garden with God in the cool of the evenings.  That unlimited access to all the splendor of His creation without fear, without sickness, without pain.  In Him we get that abundance.  I haven't suffered this month.  Not once.  Giving up coffee had to be like losing my right arm--maybe even both arms.  And sugar?  On dear Lord, please restore to my the joy of my sugar . . . I mean salvation. (Ps. 51.  It's in there.)  What I have seen is that I miss the abundance of God because I'm too busy feeding myself.  And not just with food do I fill.  It's television, computer, people, activities, events, projects, things . . . oh dear things.  So many possessions.  And this filling creates a numbness.  I don't feel my great need of God, nor do I feel my great blessings of God.  I miss The Abundance.  The Great Gain. 
It is a beautiful journey--this walking with God--and I'm too distracted by the choices I have to notice it.
Tonight at bedtime, my eldest prayed, "Lord, thank you that we can feel what it is like for the starving children.  Please help the ones in Haiti and Africa . . ."  Thank you for hunger?  Yes, I too am thankful.  Somehow the hunger awakens my sleeping senses to the heart of God.  I'm still searching for answers.  We're ambling, embarking, seeking, learning, and stumbling through.  But for now, at least we are glimpsing some of The Great Gain.

Pray with me:  Jesus, you are life.  YOU are life.  Teach me to seek fullness in YOU.  Align me to your heart.  I'm sorry I miss the way when it is YOU who IS the way.  Help me to see YOU are the GAIN.  Help me to hunger not for more stuff, more food, more places to go, more mountains to conquer, but for the person of YOU.  Fill me.  Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter All Year: The Yielded Journey

If we could have been there, sandaled toes sifting dusty paths, with Him that week, I wonder if we would have noticed.  I wonder if we would have realized something was up, not right.  I wonder if we could have sensed an intensity about Jesus in the days that preceded his arrest.  Would his hair have shown a stray grey strand or two that certainly weren't there the week before?  (Like the presidents who enter office auburn, black, and blond, shades, but leave dyed the same shade--stressed grey.) Would one eye have sagged slightly, like my grandfather's, under the emotional weight?  Though the sky was blue, barometric pressure fine, and the pollen count low would he have complained just once of a headache--an ache only death would alleviate?  And I wonder how it must have been for him in that hushed upper room as he sat side by side, surrounded by twelve and yet entirely, utterly alone?

Sometimes I suspect it wasn't the fear of physical pain that caused capillaries to burst, a face to sweat blood.  Don't you think that just maybe it was the relational pain of knowing he would be betrayed by the very man he had poured years of ministry into?  The only way I can relate to Christ this weekend is to imagine something similar.  What if, when their bones have reached the extent of breadth and height and their shoulders are broad, one of my sweet boys-slivers of my heart, chose to walk from our family?  Turn their back on me?  Believe they could do better elsewhere?  Sold out for some silver?  What if it was my son?  Because though Jesus bore none biological, weren't the disciples really like his children?  He poured his life into them, teaching them, feeding them, guiding them, preparing them.  Isn't it probable that he could bare the wicked strap he knew they'd use to punish Him for His deity, but what caused him to go back and pray three times in one night was the suffocating sadness of surrendering his relationships with those twelve who would scatter when soldiers came?  Oh, Jesus, if my own children scattered at the moment I needed them, how I would crumble, disintegrate. Yet you stood.

"My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me!"

That was his plea, and I'll never fully grasp its depth.  As though he said, "God, I can't fathom baring this plan You have asked of me. I want to run in the other direction.  I want to hide, go to another city, keep a low profile for a while.  I want to live."  What if he really did want to live?  What if he knew that he would conquer death, conquer hell, conquer the grave, and get the prize of a return trip to the heavenly presence of God in the end, but somehow still . . . he wanted to live? Because it is hard to understand the reality that this temporary life is only the casing of eternal souls in mortals frames.  The everlasting living? The real party? That begins when we shed these frames and enter the realm where moth and rust no longer destroy.  But that's all heady knowledge--fills me with understanding.  To live out that knowledge.  That is hard.  Was it hard for him too?   He had a mother.  A father.  Twelve disciples.  He had people he loved.

If those were his feelings--even a teensy weensy little bit--then I understand that God/Man.  I do.  Because I know the end of the story.  I know in the end, I get the prize of the presence of God, the streets of gold, the gate of pearl, the face of Creator God. I mean can you even begin to fathom what the face of God will be like?  He speaks and mountains literally melt.  He utters words and birds of a thousand colors stretch wings, fill air.  So I get it.  I do. And yet I long to linger here a little while.  Long to keep loving those I call mine--sweet, sweaty, summer-freckled boys with dirt glued beneath their fingernails and a man whose square jutted jaw still makes my tummy somersault. 

He himself said these words:  "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me . . ." (Matthew 10:37) And being God, he had to know when he spoke them it would be he that would have to walk away from his mother and father.  It was him who would never have the chance for a son or a daughter.  Surely when he "threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed . . . "  (Matthew 26:39) he recalled the very words he had uttered about loving fathers, loving mothers.  Are we to assume that because he was a man filled with God-head deity, he was exempt from the very things culture dictates, temps us with throughout all time?  Was he exempt from the longings of earthly things?  Scripture tells us he was tempted in every way.  Surely, he was tempted just to live an ordinary life, like all the other people.  Just to live.

Father if it be possible, let this cup pass . . .

Yet not what I will, but what you will.

And sometimes I wonder if, though he had no biological children of his own, Jesus isn't the best model of parenting we could follow.  He lived with one singular purpose--to accomplish God's will.  God's will.  That was it.  What if, as we coaxed the growing up in our children, we followed this singular mantra:  You were made for God's purpose; yield to it.

alive, they were like helium balloons and time was the gas that filled them.  Once time ceased, they would deflate and sink to the ground.  They were not HIS LIFE.  His life was a narrow path that carried him through the hungry, the thirsty, the diseased, the crippled, the destitute, the sinful tax collectors, the pharisees, the Sadducees, Pilate, Golgotha's hill, and a cross.  All things that appeared like death but in the end meant life.  He yielded every single time to God's will.  And I wonder how often yielding might seem like death to us too; I wonder how often the very thing that would truly fill us, elevate us, is clothed in a road so narrow few will truly travel it.

Jesus himself said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me." (John 4:34)  The very thing that sustained him was actually doing the very things God sent him to do.  That sustained him like food.  And I think of SEVEN, and how right in this moment, I'm hungry.  Hungry because I've chosen to change a few things for just thirty days, an emptying of myself so that there is room to be fed by the purposes of God. And Jesus ate the will of His Father.  Hungry and yet full.  Full because when we live out God's purposes we enter the realm of spiritual food--a manna of the heart.  When in John 10:10 Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full,"   did he mean this kind of eternal fullness of yielding?

Because knowing that we are made for a purpose isn't completely enough.  Knowing is not a substitute for yielding.  Jesus knew the cup--even wished it away--and yet he accepted that He must drink it.  If my purpose is to glorify God (Is. 43:7) then am I yielding to His glory?  Am I living to make him famous?  Am I buying things that will reflect him?  Am I treating my neighbors, my family, my children in such a way that they want that great God?  Am I? 

Gosh I get torn.  Do you?  I want so many things sometimes my life must resemble a refrigerator turned on it's side, rolled down a hill, and then opened.  Pick up where I left off with piano lessons when I was ten years old.  Mozart is still throbbing behind my finger tips, isn't he? (Okay, probably not.)  And what about learning water color?  And a bed and breakfast?  What about an organic orchard?  I drove by one--dilapidated, trees untended--and longed to make a career out of it.  Apple Juice.  Apple Pies.  Apple turnovers. Apple Butter.  And traveling to every continent?  Where is the line, the boundary?

Sarah, I made you for my plans.  Seek me.  Yield. 

 But what about our goals?  Our ambitions? What about finding more work to make more money to give my kids more opportunities?   What about amassing more?  Just yesterday I squawked to Jeff, with if-I-am-being-honest-tears-clogging-my-vision, "Do you know how long it has been since I got to spend an entire day in Atlanta shopping without interruption? I can't even remember!" Jeff is clothed.  The boys are clothed.  I am clothed.  We need nothing.  What in the world would I even spend an entire day in Atlanta shopping for?  Yet I long for it because somehow it has become a Grizzly that growls in the face of my heart. 

What about ME?

God, I want to have fun too.  It can't all be serious and straight as an arrow, can it?

"He who loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew10:38)

Will find it?

Will find it.

And there, my friends is the crux of this thing.  Somehow, we think if we choose a narrow path we will lose out, miss out, have no fun.  There's no wrong in abundance of life here--in the thrill of new pursuits, new learning, new hobbies, new things.  We are blessed with all things.  But if we wish to find our life,  then the choosing needs to be sifted through the purposes of God--the keeping of our eyes fixed on Jesus.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. (Matthew 6:22,23)

We are a nation of parents with unhealthy eyes, aren't we?  We try to stuff the balloons of our children's lives with year round sports for our children, music lessons, gymnastics, art lessons, Iphones, pods,  and pads, with bigger homes, summer camps, programs, opportunities, and . . . more opportunities.  And in the end, they don't fly.  They're not filled with life.  They . . . WE . . .all sink under the weight of it.  We don't keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. 

We are a people with unhealthy eyes too.  I am.  I focus on the things and people in this world when Jesus whispers Seek me first.  Nope.  I don't always fix my eyes on him.

And if I did, would he remove all the things and people?  I think that's what we're really afraid of, isn't it?  Missing out? Losing relationships?  Surely, it was this loss that caused Jesus to resist the cup His Father offered.

What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?


And I came to give you life to the full.  If you lose your life--what you see as life--you will gain the great Life, the abundant Life.  Unless a kernel of wheat cracks open and dies, there is no fruit, no life. 

Isn't this what Easter is really about?  Whether or not you celebrate this holiday, isn't commemorating the resurrection--whenever it occurred--about gratitude for the Man who lost his life?  Offering thanks for the man who cracked open?

On Good Friday, we circled around the restored elm table we rescued from an Ontario barn and shared the communion of Jesus' death together.  In church, when we take communion, there are these little wafers (they taste like sawdust and wood glue) and we pick them out of a silver platter.  We don't break them.  But, as a family, we broke the bread we shared.  It was significant to me.  I broke Jesus.  My choices.  That was part of his purpose--paying once and for all time for every single one of the times I would choose not to yield. 

We say we want to live life to the fullest, but how can it be full if it is apart from God's purposes?  Apart from me, you can do nothing.

This narrow path, this keeping the eye healthy by fixing it on Jesus, this yielding to the Creator's way, it is life

Taking the cup, the cup offered of God, and drinking it, slowly, one day at a time, one decision at a time, one moment at a time, is the way we celebrate Easter year round.  Measuring my decisions based on their return value in eternity despite the roaring grizzly in front of me--it may in the end, make all the difference.  It may.

It will.

May I yield to Life.

Pray with me: 
Jesus, thank you for breaking open for me, for mankind.  Thank you for showing me the way to parent.  Thank you for yielding.  Thank you for staying the course though the loss was great.  Thank you for gaining LIFE for all mankind, for me, through your brokenness.  Help me, Jesus, to yield. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Mug of Boiled Water

I can promise you, I'm not happy.  I have only two habits--one of which is extremely annoying--that have stuck throughout the years.  Playing with my hair (that's the annoying one which leaves both my husband and my brother-in-law cringing and renders my hair perpetually uneven in length due to the breakage caused by said habit) and drinking coffee first thing in the morning.  Rain, shine, spring, fall, 100 degrees or twenty,  Preferably two mugs. Supersized ones.  Period.  I have exchanged vanity for coffee stained teeth, and frankly (because I'm sure you'd like to know this) it prevents me from ever needing to buy Metamucil.  So, that's the redemptive thing behind the habit.

When spring climbs her way into the north Georgia mountains sprinkling her colors, her drops of green and blackberry-foam purple on violets, her salmon and sangria on the tulips, I like to be present.  I do not want to miss one millimeter of growth, of new life exploding as she passes by.  I have a routine.
Wake up.
Look out the window and thank God for another day.
Acknowledge Nathan. (who is already awake no matter how early I rise)
Make coffee. (I'm not telling you how many cups.  I already told you about the Metamucil)
Get the dog leash. (By now, Jango is shoving me out the door)
Pour coffee.
Walk Jango . . . while sipping coffee.
View Spring as she drips and drops about the hills . . . while sipping coffee.
Examine her work closely in my garden . . . while sipping coffee.
That's it.  The rest of the day may not commence until I've done this routine.

So I am sure you will understand my dilemma when I tell you that the first month of my personal SEVEN is food.  (If you're wondering what in the world I'm talking about, read my blog post from a couple days ago.)  And guess what God just insisted I give up first?  Yeah, redundant, I know.  Coffee.
Hence the first sentence of this little post.  I'm in an extremely agitated-would-bite-someones-head-off-if-I-wasn't-also-in-deep-brain-fog-due-to-caffeine-withdrawal state. Did I mention I have a headache?

For seven months I will commit to seven different themes.  The purpose will be in essence a fast with the chief aim being to empty myself that Christ might fill me with His thoughts, His desires, His plans, His goals.  Because I really feel strongly about being characterized by what I do and not what I don't do, I've phrased my list for this first month--The Food Month--in this slant.  These are things that, after some prayer and good old fashioned honesty with myself, (Yes, self, you are indeed a greedy glutton.) I want to commit a month to pursuing.

1. Do eat organic/unprocessed foods (With a budget that lacks wiggle room, the organic part is going to have to be a little flexible, but I will give it a hearty attempt.  Does anyone know if Ramen Noodles come unprocessed and organic?)

2. Do eat only whole grains. (Sadness.  I'm baking fresh  WHITE bread tomorrow for a friend's birthday, and I would normally double the batch and keep a loaf for us.)

3. Do eat fruit/veggie with every meal, and only fruits and veggies for snacks.  (Here I will try to use things from my garden every day.  We are in salad season, so this will help offset some of the organic cost since I keep my garden pretty much organic.)

4. Do walk away from caffeine. (I’m going to die, starting now.)

5. Do walk away from all sweeteners. (This month has nothing to do with dieting for me.  There have been times--like when Cort left a few of his infant pounds in my stomach after he was born--when I needed to kick sugar to the curb from a calorie standpoint.  This is different.  I'm leaving sweetness, period.  I think to live in hunger must be a very bitter thing, and I don't want to sweeten this month artificially, organically, or any other way.  I love sweets.  Have you ever seen my pictures?  My profile picture on facebook was a cake for 2 months for crying out loud! Ignoring that box of Krispy Kremes, the homemade sour cream coffee cake, and the two logs of double chocolate cookie dough in my freezer will be a very...VERY constant reminder of the blessings I have, and the hunger of over 85% of the world.)

6. Do eat before 7PM (I chose 7 PM for obvious reasons—seven. Also, because it gives us time to get late dinners in.  We aren't much of a schedule family so I’m not going to be legalistic about supper. The real reason I'm choosing to do this is because I want to cull the savory snacks I treat myself to when the boys have finally settled under their IKEA comforters for the night.  I hesitated on this particular one because I didn't want it to be about not eating after seven.  You always hear you shouldn't do that if you are dieting.  But this is NOT a diet.  The bottom line is this is a snack I don't need--a luxury--and there are children in the world who don't get snacks period. I want to feel that.  I want to go to bed a little bit hungry.  I want, somehow, in some small, microscopic, way to understand what it means to go without something I want.)

7. Do read either In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto or Animal Vegetable Miracle: A year of Food Life (I did the Omnivore's Dilemma thing and it was great for about the first three chapters.  Then I started falling asleep.  He made his point . . . more than once.  I'm hoping these books will give me a little more understanding of the reality of what we eat and its impact on the world as a whole and on my family's bodies too.)

I also hope to visit or view online a processing plant for meat. And I intend to take one day each week and attempt to eat like the poor of Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and Ecuador. These are four countries that pinch at my heart.  This part I will do with the boys; we'll go online to learn more about the conditions of these particular nations.  And speaking of the boys, so far, they've been very kind.  I had anticipated them giving me the mom, you are going to slowly torture us for an entire month? look, but they haven't.  Already, they're willing to quit the processed/fast food stuff for the month, though one of them is begging for the remaining Dr. Bob (I know, I'm cheap) that's been sitting on the counter over a week.
Basically, I've chosen to do food for a few reasons.  One--I'm a glutton, and I know it.  Two--every five seconds a child dies from hunger or preventable disease.  I need to get my head wrapped around that from a compassion standpoint.  I also need to process that fact in light of the fact that I just might be able to sponsor a child from Compassion if I am willing to eliminate/drastically reduce consumption of things like coffee.  Three--Jen Hatmaker says in her book Seven that we get to vote every day with our fork.  And we do.  I do.  I'm guilty of supporting some not so great, definitely not ethical (But who cares about animals and the environment...right? Apparently God.) practices when it comes to growing and butchering meat.  When I eat foods laden with high fructose corn syrup, again, I'm voting.  And I need to explore that from a stewardship of my body and the earth standpoint.

I have no idea where I will land, and I'm not making any granola'ish promises that I will become a wild mushroom, poke salad eating vegan.  That's pretty unlikely.  Some of you may think I'm a little off my rocker and others of you may be thinking my SEVEN are pretty lame.  No matter--you don't have to read :-)  I really debated even posting any of this.  Do they even care about this sort of thing?  Do they want to read about my addiction to coffee and sweets?  Does anyone read the blog at all?Probably not.  But, maybe, just maybe there are a few of you out there who understand where I'm coming from.  See for me, food can be my life, and my only concern is that I don't get too fat. (What? I'm being honest.)  So, if I eat what I want, have a jog, and can still fit in my Ann Taylor jeans, then it's all good.  But is it?  Really?  Because for some people in our world, food really is their life.  And they haven't any.  And Jesus said He came that they might have life.  Dare I withhold the very thing Christ came to give?  I stole this Thomas More quote from a friend's facebook page because he says it better than me.  “It's wrong to deprive someone else of a pleasure so that you can enjoy one yourself, but to deprive yourself of a pleasure so that you can add to someone else's enjoyment is an act of humanity by which you always gain more than you lose.”

A theme for me this month will be this verse.
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,"  (II Cor. 6:19-20)
You are not your own.
Really?  Because I'm afraid I've been eating like I am entirely my own and that I'm entitled to have what I want.  I'm afraid I've eaten from a vain perspective instead of a tending of the frame that God crafted approach.
Therefore honor God with your body.
The choices I make either honor my God or mar His image.  Just because I can get away with eating whatever I want from a physical standpoint doesn't mean I have honored God.  And if what I eat causes another person to have less, than I have in fact, dishonored Him.
So, here I am beginning.  Already today while sipping my boiled water from a Tim Horton's (the best coffee place in the world for my American friends who don't know) mug, I doubted this entire thing.  Why would anyone want to torture themselves?  God allowed me to be born in North America; He must have wanted me to have these things.  At church tonight I had to bring my own supper because I wasn't very confident that their meal would be SEVEN approved.  Someone immediately noticed my organic Greek yogurt and said . . . and I kid you not, "Yogurt? Really?  You live in North America with all these choices and you pick yogurt?"  (She had no idea I was doing this . . . otherwise she'd have been a thousand percent supportive.)  But, it proves my point exactly.

I do live in North America ,and I have so many choices that I no longer understand what it means to live without any choices.  Here we are in what some call Holy Week . . . those sacred days that we've placed on the calendar to remind us of the brokenness of Christ.  Surely Jesus ached with thoughts of what He would face, what He would endure that we might have life. 

 "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."  (II Cor. 8:9) 

He became poor.  Gave up.  Sacrificed.  Relinquished.
That I might gain the riches of eternity.
May I become poor that someone else may gain those same blessings.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

SEVEN: A New Kind of Fast

     I like to blame things on my parents.  They gave me their genes--wide feet, chubby cheeks (all four), and the-caterpillar-for-eyebrows.  Thanks for that, Mom and Dad.  They nurtured me too.  That meant tea parties with Mom, endless hours soaking sun at the lake (so yeah, that's gonna mean skin cancer), loving food, loving the outcasts and misfits (never a holiday where we didn't sit elbow to elbow with some eclectic conglomeration of people who may not have had any other place to celebrate that year), and loving Jesus.  With Dad it has always been about the underdogs of the world.  His heart is tender; he cries over chickens squashed in cages and about went bankrupt feeding stray cats who I swear migrated from all six other continents when they heard he was filling Rubbermaid bins with food for them.  He is color blind for real, but it wouldn't matter if he could see color correctly.  He still wouldn't see it.  The world, for him, is shaded by justice, inequality/equality, and thinking critically about what we believe to be true.  So, what you are about to read is entirely their fault.  You've been warned.
      I just can't accept status quo.  I can't NOT rock the boat.  Not in my nature.  I think about things. (I explained this in the first paragraph.)  For quite some time now I've been uncomfortable with a few things--namely, I don't go hungry, nor do my children, but starvation manages to murder a child every five seconds, I live in a large, comfortable, 72 degree house while almost 1.5 million (can't even fathom that number) were without shelter in 2011 in the US alone, and a few pesky verses like that one about how religion that's pure and faultless tends to look after widows and orphans, and there are something like 15 million without mother or father in the world. So, while most of us are thinking about where we are taking our annual beach vacay, I'm haunted by the justice gene, the loving of the downtrodden gene, and I can't manage to pull the trigger on all the new GROUPON vacation bargains to viva la Mexico.  Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Dad.  
      In reality, I'm a tough nut to crack.  God has to peel back the scales that seal my eyes to the truths of His Word and how He intended them to be applied.  If I'm being honest, both spiritually speaking and economically speaking, in comparison with the rest of the world, I'm a saturated sponge.  Completely saturated.  I grew up in church, learned to read using the King James Bible as my primary text, and I've never gone hungry a day in my life.  Never.  So, that puts me in a privileged category.  Privileged and so full, I can't always fathom what it means to need, to want, to hunger, to thirst.  And in a spiritual sense, I've read the red words of Jesus so many times, heard the sermons so many times, sung the songs, that they have become like white noise in the background.  So, God has to peel back these scales, cause a bit of a ruckus until I'm raw, squeeze the sponge until it thirsts again for Living Water.
     Enter a chance post from a dear Canadian friend (Hi, Dani!) that linked me to a random blog that tugged at scales like you tug at a Band-Aid when you're trying to rip it off fast.  Ouch and Wow!  It was here, at Jen Hatmaker's website that I first saw her book Sevenan experimental mutiny against excess.  (Leave me alone grammar police; she didn't capitalize the letters in her title, and she has an editor!  K?)  Jen's premise?  We have far more say in what happens in our world than we realize.  We vote everyday with our wallets, with our forks, with our garbage, with our time.  We are called to love God and love others, and we are doing a shoddy job at best.  She started with herself and decided to commit seven months to purge seven specific areas of excess in her life.
     Her words:  "I started praying about what God wanted; what would move me closer to His agenda and further from mine?  How could this be meaningful, not just narcissistic and futile?  What areas needed the most renovation?  How am I blind and why?  Where have I substituted The American Dream for God's kingdom?  What in my life, in the lives of most westerners, is just too stinking much?
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Possessions
  • Media
  • Waste
  • Spending
  • Stress
     Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices.  I'm embarking on a journey of less.  It's time to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble.  7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal:  to create space for God's kingdom to break through.
     I approach this project in the spirit of a fast:  an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in my life.  A fast creates margin for God to move."  (pg. 4)
    How am I blind and why?  Mmmm.  Most people unable to see are aware of their deficiency, but I'm afraid I've been a blind gal thinking she knew where she was going.  And when Jesus said, "Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God," (Matt. 6:33) I'm afraid I understood Him to mean, "As long as you seek me a lot, squeeze in everything else you possibly can, Sarah."
     Where have I substituted the American Dream for God's kingdom?  Okay, I'm reading Radical for the second time through.  This whole American Dream vs. God's kingdom business?  Just.Starting.To.Sink.In.  Just starting.  I don't even know if I should say it's sinking in--remember the saturated sponge problem?  We can spend so much time listening, reading, hearing about God loving us that we become sopping,heavy, wet with love and yet it is that very love that "compels us" (II Cor. 5:14) to motion.  Mary, sweet Mary (I kinda hate her) may have chosen the more excellent thing when she sat, soaking at Jesus' feet, but I can promise you that if she remained at his feet, he would have eventually told her to get up, go pick up her cross, and FOLLOW Him.  Surely He didn't praise her choice because she was sitting; I have to believe it had to do with the fact that she was filling herself up.  But, fellow Americans, our threshold for fullness is broken.  We are so prone to excess we no longer even know how to stop feeding.  We are a engorged people.  I am an engorged woman.
     Follow Me.   "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  (Luke 9:23)  Jesus called us into action, motion.  And in truth, He modelled it for us, didn't He?  At the cross?  Like dressing the the sun or the moon, Christ clothed his holiness in the cloak of mortality, and walked among wayward, willful, wandering humanity.  And though there were only a few steps up the Golgotha's hill where carried his crucifixion cross, he had carried it his entire earthly life, hadn't he?
     So I'm thinking of His words--the follow me words--and wondering, where?  Where will I follow Him?  When I was young I thought the ultimate test of my willingness to follow would be geographical.  Would I go to Africa?  Would I?  But now I'm not so sure.  It turns out Africa might have been easier for me than denying myself here in the have-it-your-way-right-away culture of North America.  In fact, it turns out, you can run clear across the globe shouting the salvation of Jesus and never once pick up your cross and follow Him. 
     And what, my friends, if that's me?  Plucking at keys and yakking in small groups and I'm only a resounding gong, a clanging symbol whose sound causes Christ to cringe?
     What if when we post Joshua's Words in walnut frames on the walls of our homes, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord..." (Joshua 24:15) we are foolish enough to think that our commitment to go to church on Sunday, maybe teach a Sunday School class, attend a small group, and tithe exactly ten percent reads as a life of solidarity with the man who obeyed God in CRAZY ways (Would you fight a battle by walking around some city walls in silence repeatedly, day after day?)  when in reality we are really hiding behind a modern version of the Mosaic Law?   Solidarity?  I'm thinking not.
     What if I raise my hands in worship on Sunday, but my life is a pair of hands clenched into fists grasping, gripping, groping for my American Dream when the world is hungry for true worship.  The worship of a life lived out of love.  A life of motion.  A life that sacrifices in this life to gain that which cannot be taken in the next life.
     What if I'm a part of a corporate body of Christ that has gone into a sugared-life induced coma and we lay, lifeless, motionless while the world dies?
     What if my two cup of coffee a morning habit is the cause of a Compassion child NOT being sponsored because I say there's no room in the budget.  I mean are you kidding me?  I can't give up coffee in this temporary life so a child will have a chance to live, period? To one day hear of Jesus' love?  I mean don't the rivers flow Columbian brew in heaven?  Could I not wait 'til eternity to continue the habbit? Yeah, what if?
     I read her entire book in a very short amount of time.  (Okay, it may have been a good distraction from the ten million pages of our Family Book Club book, Atlas Shrugged.  Sorry, guys, I'll get back to it, I promise.)  You should too. (Read her book--The verdict's still out on Atlas)  Go here to find out more about SEVEN.  Three words in and I knew I'd have to do this.  Knew I needed to do this.  Knew God brought me to this.  And the timing is perfect.  One week before Easter, I'm a little late for Lent, but maybe I'm right on time to Follow Him into the Garden.  I see Him there, praying.  I see his face, washed red with blood vessels broken--a foreshadowing of what would come.  I see Him there, releasing every single ounce of personal ambition and desire.  My Savior, planting surrender.  My Savior, watering it with drops of bloody sweat so it would grow into a ransom for my muddy mired heart, and not just for mine, but for mankind's.
     I too want that level of surrender, and I wonder if a fasting time might not be the way to train myself.  In her book, Jen Hatmaker says, "After saying "no" to things I wanted for nearly a year, I guess I gained some control over my emotions and impulses.  God used fasting as a tool to curb my appetites and regulate my reactions.  It was a concise realization:  "Something in  me has deeply changed." 
     Perhaps this is why Scripture calls us to the practise of fasting--from food, from greed, from selfishness, from luxuries.  It isn't just the experience; it's the discipline.  It changes us.  Fasting helps us develop mastery over the competing voices in our heads that urge us toward more, toward indulgence, toward emotional volatility.  Like consistent discipline eventually shapes our children's behavior, so it is with us.  Believe it or not, God can still change us.  Not just our habits but our hearts.  Say "no" for a year and see for yourself." (Seven, pg. 219)
     I'm going to see for myself, friends.  Along the way, I hope to share with you what I'm learning, what I'm seeing.  For now, I'm standing aware of the thousands of competing voices demanding I seek them first, but my hands are open, my ears are strained.  I'm listening for the still, small voice.

Pray with me:
Lord, what are my SEVEN?