In this life there will be pain

It’s a strange time of life when you start attending the funerals of your friend’s parents, and watching your own grow more frail. It’s one of those defining moments of adulthood that rails against that internal part of you that still feels a child. It’s even stranger when your own friends, people your age that you’ve known for years; or even people you’ve only met a few times, are the ones being laid to rest.

I watched my sister go through it just a couple weeks ago. A lovely gal, one who radiated genuine love in the way fake people try to emulate, lost her battle to cancer. I listened as my sister grieved and helped her children grieve. I witnessed many loved ones post their thoughts and prayers and emotionally-burdened words online in an effort to find peace together.
funeral
Then last week I opened an email. In it was the memorial service information and a picture…of my friend. We went to the same church years ago. I listened to her cry and yell when her husband left her. I welcomed her into a single women’s Bible study I led when she felt out of place in the married women’s study she had been in. I helped her find a new job to support herself.

But the thing we had most in common, aside from our love of the Lord, was the pain we lived in. She had been in an accident and suffered from chronic pain and chronic migraines. I lived with both of those too. We often compared notes on what brought relief and what didn’t. We shared our fears about trying to deal with pain when there was no one to help us. We both knew what it was like to be looked at by others who didn’t live with chronic pain. The ones who thought, if it was a good day and you were managing well, that you weren’t really in that much pain. The others who would, when you weren’t dealing well, rather be anywhere else than near you. We both knew the power of a positive attitude, and how much worse the pain seemed when you allowed yourself to think of it as never, ever going away.

I didn’t find out until the middle of her memorial service that she had killed herself. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to stand up and say, “Wait, what? She what?” I wanted to run out of the service, and I did leave as soon as I could. I’ve never been good at processing emotion in front of other people. I drove off to a parking lot and cried and screamed and sobbed. She just got married. She seemed so happy. Why? What could have robbed that from her?
pain
But I knew. I knew from the number of times they mentioned how much pain she lived with at the service. I knew from the friend who said, after I mentioned she lived in chronic pain, “That’s why. It was the pain.” But mostly I knew because I’d been there. I’d been in that place. When you are lying there in so much pain that you have to focus to breathe and you can’t find one position that gives you relief and the best of the medication you’ve been prescribed does nothing but make you nauseous. I’ve begged God to just take me home.

I think that’s what’s been the hardest. To know that place, to know exactly where she was and to know that I’ll be there again one day, or many days…and to know that sometimes, in that moment, nothing else matters but ending the pain.
It’s the thing that makes me long for heaven the most. “…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev 21:4 NAS). No more pain. No more death. No more.

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Getting Real About Online Friends

A friend asked recently about whether I thought it was possible to have a true, deep, real friendship with someone online.

While a few years back I would have jumped on the “absolutely not, facebook and all social networks are really superficial and you have to be face-to-face with a human being to really be friends” bandwagon.
get real
Then I went to school online.

I didn’t expect much from my online university experience. I figured it would be mostly me being left alone to study when I had the time and get as much out of it as I put in. I thought I might like it more than a land-based university experience. I already had one of those for my undergrad. It involved paying to park nearly 2 miles from my classes, walking through copious amounts of allergens in 100+ heat to arrive wheezing and sweaty outside a classroom where a group of students crammed inside to listen to the professor talk about anything from the subject we were paying for to their favorite day of fishing, and then we’d leave again to run off to our next class. We’d never speak to each other (unless the prof forced us into a debate-type situation). Most profs gave up on getting us to talk, discuss, contribute since there were only a few geeks like myself who would have something to say and everyone else sat in stony silence.

My online classes kept the same group of us in classes together for over a year (some through the entire program). It quickly became clear from online classroom posts which students were there to encourage each other, which were there to sabotage each other, and which really shouldn’t be there at all. Those of us in the first category quickly formed a Facebook group and began helping each other. Initially it was the student camaraderie that I had hoped for and never found at the land-based institution; but it became more. We started sharing personal difficulties with each other, and encouraging each other. The first time a few of us met at our Residency, we embraced each other like old friends. Others I’ve still never met, but even though I’ve graduated over a year ago, we are still in touch via Facebook; not just in touch, but they are often the first to message me encouragement or prayers when I post about a difficulty; and I do the same for them. These people are precious to me. Yes, you can be on Facebook and have nothing but superficiality with those you “friend”; but with these people, we have found a way for it to be more than that.

This last week, I watched another Facebook phenomenon. A dear friend of my sister had been battling cancer. There was a Facebook page created to keep everyone praying for her advised of her status. A few days ago, her husband posted that they were back at chemo, hoping it would deal with the fluid around her lungs. Many responded back with words of support. A short time later he posted that his precious wife would soon be going “home”; and it pulled the rug out from under us. An outpouring of love and support began being posted on the page. People started sharing messages directly to the dear woman, thanking her for love, her friendship, her example. It allowed people who couldn’t be there a chance to say what they wanted to her, to find a kind of closure. It allowed everyone to grieve together.
online friend special
I think an online friendship is what you make of it. Absolutely you have to be careful, there are nuts out there, not to mention predators; but most of us can also see some value to social networking. The way it reconnects you with people you haven’t seen in ages, the way you can keep up with family who live thousands of miles away; but there is also the potential for many great things. Birthday reminders for those who would otherwise be forgotten. Prayer requests spread like wildfire. A chance to type out your heart when you tend to trip over your tongue. If you choose to be real, genuine…and take the time to find the others like that out there…I absolutely believe you can have deep, meaningful friendships with people online. I do. We cry together, pray for each other, and hope to be neighbors in heaven so we can finally meet. Our schedules and the miles between us would never allow us to connect in person, at least not with the regularity needed to develop a close face-to-face friendship; but the choice to be real online with each other has allowed us something precious. And I’m thankful.

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Flaws of Beauty

Flaws. I hate them. I think I always have.

As a first-born, my artistic and perfectionist temperaments have always been at odds. Flaws have been the bane of my existence. Since I was a small child I have been reluctant to do anything I could not do perfectly. Even as I was learning to draw or paint or sew, I would cry tears of frustration and destroy all the work I had done to that point if I saw even the slightest flaw in it. My mother, in her wisdom, would calmly tell me that she (also a first-born, creative, artistic person) had come to learn that when you are making something, it is the flaws in the creation that show that it was hand-made. “It gives it character,” she would say. I still struggle to see it that way.
flaws and all

Today, a friend posted a brilliant blog article about how women see their bodies.
This Is My Body

As most women do, I have also waged a life-long battle with hating my body. When I look back at pictures of myself when I was younger I remember how much I had hated this lump, or that thickness, or my stickie-outie-chin. Of course now I’d give anything to look like I did then.

But as I read the above linked blog article, a thought occurred to me. What if we looked at what we perceive as flaws in our body as marks of our Creator? Not flaws, but distinctions of character. My crooked pinkies and sweet grandmother’s chin are signs of being lovingly made. The sags and crinkles and blotches that come to all women with age, instead of being hateful, are marks of distinction, like the craquelure of a painting. They are marks of our uniqueness and our value.
craquelure

Could we do that? Could we change our mindset from flaws to value? Can we remove the big “defective” label we have put on our own foreheads and replace it with “priceless”? I think if we truly saw us as our Creator did, it would change everything.

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On Suffering

An online dictionary defines suffering as “the bearing of pain or distress…the state or an instance of enduring pain” (thefreedictionary.com/suffering). It doesn’t classify it or categorize it by the degree of the pain or distress being experienced; but instead defines it by any instance of pain or distress. Ever notice that most people don’t view it that way?

I can be perfectly content to label my own circumstance as suffering, and by the above definition it may be; but then I watch someone else go through something so much worse and suddenly my perspective changes. My own suffering seems to shrink back and I feel ashamed to have labelled it “suffering” in the first place.

suffering
It’s one of the first things we learn in counseling, you don’t allow your clients (especially in a group setting) to compare their suffering to someone else’s. You validate their pain.
Imagine you go to a grief support group because your best friend was killed in an accident and it rattled everything in your life down to the core. You question how someone so young could be killed, why your friend’s family has to suffer that loss, and now you can’t even get in a car without having a panic attack. You are suffering. Now imagine you get to your grief support group and find out that the person across from you lost a child. Could it get worse than that? The person next to you watched her husband be murdered and he died in her arms. The person on the other side of you lost a spouse and 2 children in a plane crash. Each person in that group could feel that someone else had it worse; and each person could feel that no one had pain like theirs. So instead of comparing who suffered the most, we instead acknowledged that everyone suffered and is suffering. You acknowledge that each person there is experiencing the worst that they’ve ever suffered, and listen to their cries of pain.

I was reminded today of a verse, Hebrews 5:7, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (NIV). Take a second to re-read it. I did. It made me do a double take. Do you see it? First, during Jesus’ life he begged and pleaded with his Father, knowing God could save him from death. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to suffer. It weighed on him not just near the end when his suffering was imminent, but throughout his life.

But that’s not the most profound part to me. What hits me so hard is where it says, “and he was heard.” He was heard; but being heard did NOT remove the suffering. It did NOT take away the death he faced. It did NOT change the plan. But he WAS heard.

How often do we assume we are not heard because the plan hasn’t changed, because we are still suffering, because our friend is still battling cancer, because the surgery didn’t work, because the loved one died, because the pain still continues? Suffering doesn’t mean we weren’t heard any more than feeling alone means that God has abandoned us.

I’ve had clients that I just didn’t know what to do for them any more. I had seen them for over 6 months and felt like zero progress was made; but they kept coming back. They refused to see someone else. They liked me because I made them feel heard and they didn’t have anyone else in their life that made them feel that way. My supervisor told me, “Never underestimate the power of feeling heard. It can be healing in and of itself.”

I wonder what it would be like if we allowed God to do that for us. If we allowed the knowledge that He heard us to truly and deeply sink into our beings. If we could feel healed by that even though our circumstances haven’t changed, even though we are still suffering…we know that God has heard us. He drew near. The Spirit offers those same prayers and petitions fervently on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27). Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34). We are not only seen in our suffering, our cries are heard; Jesus and the Spirit intercede for us.
helivestointercede

Intercede is defined as “to plead on another’s behalf” (thefreedictionary.com/intercede). Intercession does not mean the plan changes or the suffering goes away. It means that God heard you. If you know God’s heart and you trust Him with His plan…can you let being heard be enough? Can you let it bring you healing? Can the miracle be not the removal of your suffering, but the healing within you DESPITE your suffering? Can you trust God’s love as you stand in the furnace? Can I?

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Simple Words

Nice. Kind. Sweet. By 5th grade I deeply hated those words, especially when they were ascribed to me.

I remember my 5th grade teacher would select 2 student’s names every week and we would all write down what we liked about them. She then collected those words and wrote them on a large piece of paper with our name in bold at the top, and hung the pages on the wall for all to read.

5th grade girl

I always felt terribly for the kids with small lists, the kids no one liked or no one really knew well enough to say anything beyond “quiet” or “nice hair”. The popular kids usually had such long lists that the teacher had to squish the last few words together on the bottom of the page. The rest of us had small lists that barely extended to the 2nd line. You could practically hear crickets in the room as kids strained their brains to come up with adjectives for the quiet kids. Didn’t the teachers see? Didn’t they realize that their efforts to boost our self-esteem were actually making things worse? Didn’t they think we could tell which words the teachers added on their own to the shortest of lists, out of pity?

It was then that I realized how much I hated those words. My short list: nice, quiet, sweet, kind, pretty eyes. That was me. That was so me that over 20 kids couldn’t come up with any words other than those for me. And what did I see in those words? The louder unspoken words that weren’t written on the page but were thought by most in the class “nerd”, “unpopular”, “nothing special”.

It’s funny how those things stick with you throughout your life. Any time I go to meet up with someone I went to school with, I feel like that short-listed 5th grader again, my mind filling in the blanks for what that old friend must surely be thinking when she sees me.

I met an old friend for lunch today. We hadn’t seen each other since high school. We had shared one class together. I remembered her as a gentle-yet-spunky gal that I found instantly likeable. She was fun to talk to. She made you feel like what you said was important (and how rare a thing is that when you are in high school?).

She is an artist now; a real life, shows her works in galleries and in art magazines, artist. When we reconnected on facebook we chatted about her art and how I use art therapy in counseling. She had asked me to bring some of my art therapy work to our lunch for her to see. I almost didn’t; but I did. In true “me” fashion I began with a caveat about how my stuff wasn’t real art like her stuff and I knew that; but she graciously looked through it and asked me about it.

As our conversation continued a man in a wheelchair rolled up to our table and began touching my drawings. He said, “Yes” and he started paging through what I brought, adding another “Yes” to each page. My friend introduced us and asked him his name, to which he answered “No.” There was something in his eyes that pained him when he said this. He began to gesture largely with his hand and my friend spoke his words for him, “You can’t tell us your name.” “Yes.” He turned back to me and pointed at the art and said, “Yes” again, and then back at us. That was when I saw his right hand laying useless in his lap. His eyes were trying so hard to communicate what his mind wouldn’t allow him to. My friend said, “Yes, these are her drawings.” He looked at me and pointed at the page and then at me and said, “Yes.” He continued to pick up my pastels as a young girl of 10 or so came up behind him. “Hi Dad,” she said. Then as he continued to “Yes” through my pages she explained, “Dad loves paintings.” She joined him in looking at them, finding a couple of india ink experiments I did and his word changed to “Wow.” He looked at me and said, “Yes” again.

wheelchair

When all the pages were thoroughly examined and yes’d, he reached his hand out to my friend and she took it and he said, “yes” and she said, “nice to meet you”. He reached out his hand to me and I took it and he pointed to my art and to me and said “Yes.” His daughter wheeled him back over to his wife and their lunch. After he finished he came back over to “Yes” his goodbyes and grabbed our hands again. He pointed again at my closed art book and gave me a final “Yes” before leaving.

My friend and I were overwhelmed. We talked about how hard it would be to be trapped in a body that wouldn’t allow you to express the words you wanted. How glad we were to take the time to connect with this stranger when we could have looked on him as an intrusion. We talked about how few people bother to take the time to connect with each other any more.

“That wasn’t an accident,” she said. “No,” I agreed. I doubt that these words can even come close to expressing the power of those moments, the strength of the “Yes” from that man. “That was for you,” my friend said. “For your art.”

After we parted and drove our separate ways, I am left with that indelible experience. I started this blog last night, talking about the little words I hated since childhood. They weren’t bad words, they just weren’t “special.” But let me tell you this…there is nothing more special than a “yes” from a stranger. A stranger with a useless right hand and a brain that thinks everything but allows only “yes” and “no” and “wow” to escape. A stranger who took the time to come into our lives for a few moments, and change everything.

I wonder if he knows how well he still communicates. How much power he still has. I wish I could have told him.

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Anti-climactic

So, just to wrap up The 7 Experiment, it ended. The last week, on the topic of stress, ended up not being something that impacted me at the present moment in my life. I may at one point feel the need to go back and revisit it and find it deeply meaningful. Just not right now.

The challenge was to stop, 7 times a day, at appointed times, and read a verse and pray. And I fully admit, I didn’t do it. It was not only not feasible with my schedule (when you go to bed between 7:30 and 8pm to get up at 4am, you just are not going to set you alarm for 9pm and midnight to read a verse and pray), it just felt a little too ritualistic to me. Too compulsory; and that is not how I like to think about my communications with God. I live alone and talk to God throughout my day quite regularly, conversationally; to the point people who didn’t know Who I was talking to might think I’m a little loopy. I didn’t feel compelled to set my alarm 7 times a day to do it because I was being required to. I would find the alarm bells stressful. It just wouldn’t work, for ME.

That week may have profoundly impacted thousands of people, so don’t see this as me knocking the study in any way. But it did have the benefit of driving me to think more deeply about how God would have ME deal with stress in my life.

I have carried away so much from Jen Hatmaker’s study that I am truly grateful for the experience. I am compelled to live differently. I think now is just the time for me to study more deeply on my own and see what God has for me directly.

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Waste Not

The success of this week’s “The 7 Challenge” was hard to measure. Many of my goals for this week (gardening, composting, recycling) are things that I’m very limited in my ability to do. I live in an apartment so I have no land on which to plant or compost, no recycling bins that I have direct access to. While I have secured containers to begin a container garden, it is taking me quite awhile to get everything in place to plant, much less see growth. (Have I mentioned I live in Phoenix and it is July???) I have been keeping compost items in a sealed container in my fridge until I can drop them off with my friend who composts. I am GLAD to report that when you are eating whole foods, composting really becomes a form of recycling; and you have far fewer items (paper, plastic, cans) to recycle.
handsincompost

This week is truly something that I intend to carry into the future with me, because I really don’t feel like I’ve even begun to do all that I can. Given that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t turned on my car radio (last week’s fast challenge) until yesterday, I think it will not be hard to keep on keeping on with all of these. The major of the conviction of this week’s lesson came not from what I was doing, but what I read.

The book of Isaiah is filled with reminders of our disobedience. It pulls together the threads of our arrogance, pride, depriving the poor, storing up treasures, and having no respect for the work of His hands and says (in Is 24:6), “Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.” The earth is suffering because of our sin, our greed. As Jen Hatmaker said, “I have harmed others by refusing responsibility here, prioritizing convenience over good citizenship.” We are a wealthy nation who assumes resources are always available for purchase. We exploit poor countries to take what we want (oil, gold, gems) and leave them with a land stripped bear. Most shameful of all, we leave these people to fend for themselves when they are the least financially capable of doing it. What do we care as long as we get reams of paper to waste ad nauseum or pretty rings that came at the cost of someone else’s blood?
blooddiamonds

This week has not only taught me how easy it is to waste less, but how necessary it is. Again, it comes down to being aware, making a conscious effort. Am I doing everything I can to be responsible with the resources I have been given (whether it’s the soil at my feet or the money in my wallet)? Am I choosing convenience over considering how my choices affect humankind? This week has been a heavy one, or maybe it’s a cumulative effect of all of the weeks up ’til now. At any rate, I fully feel the responsibility of walking on this planet; of living a life of obedience so that my sin doesn’t exploit the poor and cause the earth to suffer; of not causing harm by my mindless choices.
spend
Next week’s challenge is on spending. I can only spend money at 7 different vendors for the week. It sounds easy, but think about it. Look at your checkbook or your credit card statement and see how many different places you have made purchases in the last month. My 7 places are: the gas station, online bill pay, the local farmer’s market, emergency medical care (just in case), Fry’s Marketplace, Fletcher’s Auto (just in case), and Sprouts. One bonus, that I absolutely love, is that you are free to spend charitably to your heart’s content; but the spending must benefit someone else, and not my own wants. Unfortunately my bank account will be rather limiting in that area, but we’ll see what happens!

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The hardest week…

It seems fitting that on this, Independence Day, my week-long fast from media has come to an end. It has been, without question, the hardest week of Jen Hatmaker’s The 7 Challenge…so far. This day of freedom reminds me that while “everything is allowable, but not everything is profitable. Everything is allowable but everything does not build others up (1 Cor. 10:23 WNT).” This has been the only week where I caught myself, unconsciously, doing the very thing I wasn’t supposed to be doing. Driving into the office (an infrequent occurrence for me) at 4:30am, it took until somewhere in the second song on the radio before I screamed, “NO RADIO!” and clicked it off. It is unbelievably hard to drive to work in the dark of 4:30am with no radio. I found myself CRAVING news, music, programs…anything I wasn’t supposed to have. I even wanted to play the Wii! Learning to be conscious of what I’m letting into my unconscious mind has been a significant challenge, and a significant learning experience. A freeing experience.
GodblessAmerica

When you take a single, extremely introverted woman who lives alone and works from home and remove from her all connections to other human beings aside from face-to-face contact and the telephone, life becomes very…quiet. My sweet sister kept calling me to ask me how I was doing. “It’s very lonely,” I said. I hadn’t realized how much our society has substituted fast and frivolous communication for deep and meaningful contact until now. Aside from my sister (and one friend that I called to check on when she missed church) I couldn’t get anyone to talk to me on the phone. I received a variety of reasons (it takes too long, I’m too busy, I don’t want to get stuck talking all day, I’m not a phone person). I’m not a phone person either, but believe me…when that’s your only permitted means of communication that doesn’t require you to physically go to the person…you do it! I even had one person text me to ask if I was still not texting!!! It cracked me up. (A big thank you so much to my friend who not only had me over for dinner, but went so out of her way to provide gluten-free deliciousness for me to enjoy along with the much craved company!)

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about why we just don’t want to talk to each other any more. Why are we content with a text or an IM or an email? I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with keeping things on our own terms, with the least effort. Texting/IMing/emailing is one-sided. There are no interruptions, no competing to speak, no patiently waiting for the other person to finish what they are saying. I can say what I want, when I want, and for as long as I want…and you can’t stop me. An actual conversation requires us to give as well as take. To respect and consider the other person at least as equally as we respect and consider our own thoughts and words. It also requires that sometimes we assert ourselves in ways that might make things awkward for us. For example: “I only have a minute to talk before I have to leave for a meeting, but I needed to call and ask you this…..”; setting up boundaries that prevent rambling conversation. I know I have a hard time with this…but does that mean I should completely give up on trying? Or should I spend more time trying until I am comfortable establishing and maintaining these boundaries?

One of the main goals of The 7 Challenge is to remove things from your life to allow God room. That certainly happened this week. With nothing else to occupy the silence in my apartment, I poured myself into Bible study. I finished Priscilla Shirer’s Gideon study and began Kelly Minter’s No Other gods study, which (not coincidentally I’m sure) also focuses on removing things from your life and making room for God. But even after doing 3 weeks in a row of that study in a few hours, I still wanted more. (Thank you GOD I’m no longer that teenage girl who sighed heavily and grumbled through her teeth over having to read one Scripture verse and a paragraph of devotional to go with it. I asked you to make me hungry for Your Word and I can’t get enough…thank You!). I grabbed Beth Moore’s Wising Up study on Proverbs, and wouldn’t you know it…a verse in the first lesson was identical to a verse that hit me over the head from the No Other gods study. I’m convinced it’s one of those things I’ve allowed in my life for far too long and this time of silence was meant to reveal it to me so I can get it out!

2 Timothy 3:1-6. The passage starts with listing how messed up with sin the men of this age are…and we’ll pick things up toward the end of verse 5: “Avoid such men as these. 6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses…”

This is one of those verses that always made me cringe as a woman. It always felt like it was condemning all women for being weak when the truth is 1) it doesn’t make men look any stronger given the lists of offenses in the previous verses, and 2) it’s a warning, in love, so that women will NOT be weak. More insight into this weakness is gained by coupling it with the definition of the “simple” in need of wisdom in Proverbs…meaning those who are gullible, naive, and SEDUCIBLE. Women aren’t all “weak”; but all women have in them something that CAN make them weak…and that is the need we have to be desired, to be wanted, to be loved. No, there’s nothing wrong with those needs; but if we expect any human being to be the fulfillment of those needs…we aren’t just being weak, we are being seducible. It is unwise. It is a train-wreak waiting to happen. There are those out there who sense this weakness and are drawn to it like a shark is drawn to blood in the water. The more desperate you are for it, the more thrashing about you do in search of it, the more sharks will be circling you. The next thing you know they will be in your home and you, being led by those impulses, will be spiritual dead meat.

This isn’t limited simply to men seeking to seduce women into bed, but anyone seeking to seduce you away from where you should be. Look at how the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines seduce- “to persuade to disobedience or disloyalty, to lead astray usually by persuasion or false promises”. Talk about falling under conviction. How many times have I allowed myself to be led astray because of persuasion or false promises? Isn’t this exactly what happened to Eve? She knew the truth. God Himself told her she could eat of every seed-bearing plant, except the one. Enter Satan. He didn’t tell her anything untrue. He just told her what she wanted to hear. She saw the tree had fruit, the tree looked good…and he persuaded her…seduced her…deceived her. This is NOT who we are called to be. God warns us against being weak women because He loves us and wants us NOT to be seduced, not to be led astray. So no more being gullible or naive. Let’s be strong willed woman. Not void of kindness or compassion, but not willing to be seduced.
strongwilledwoman

So what’s up for this next week? Waste. This week, I will be eliminating waste in my life by gardening, composting, conserving energy and water, recycling, not using paper towels, not using disposable plastic water bottles, and not using plastic grocery bags. This is a blend of the suggested and alternate 7 items as some of the original I already do. Some of those I’ve chosen for this week I already do, but falteringly. I have been raised in a desert where conserving water and energy has been drilled into my head most of my life, but I’ve become lax with it, as I have with remembering to bring the reusable grocery bags I have, or using my reusable water bottle. Gardening, composting, and recycling have always been on my to do list, but living in an apartment is not conducive to any of these. Thankfully a friend is allowing me to contribute to her compost pile in exchange for some of her composted soil to try to start my container herb garden; and my sister is allowing me to bring my recyclables to her recycle bin. I’m excited. I love how this study is forcing me to finally put my boots to the ground in areas I’ve always meant to. Best of all, I’ve noticed that the fasts from weeks past have stuck. I’m still eating simply, focusing on whole foods (with occasional exceptions). I just used some of my grocery money to buy a purse made in Rwanda (the money supporting the people there…see http://www.allacrossafrica.org). I’m still going through my things and giving them away. These lessons are taking deep root. Prayerfully, permanent ones.

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What I learned by giving things away…and on to week 4

Shame- “a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.” (thefreedictionary.com) Yup. That’s what it is. Shameful.

I started this week strong. Cleaning out my closet. It leveled me. Why? Because I am embarrassed by how many things I had in my closet that were just sitting there, unused. Things that could have been being used by someone else, had I not recognized sooner that I didn’t need or wouldn’t use those things. Some things I never used at all; other things I used once or twice and then, content they were in my possession, tucked them away never to be used again. Shameful.

The point was driven home a few days later when I pulled out a few “collector’s edition” dolls I had in that closet. They had been sitting there so long I couldn’t even remember when I got them. I was debating what to do with them when a friend invited me to her church’s version of Craig’s list. People were not only posting things they had to sell or give away; but they were also posting ISO(in search of) comments. The first one to catch my eye was someone looking for the type of dolls I had. I knew right away what to do. I told her I had a few I’d be happy to give her and would even drive over to the other side of town to bring them to her. She offered to pay but I refused. This week is about giving away. I am embarrassed to admit I did think about a low price, after all I could use the money right now…but isn’t that the point of a fast? To make it about doing without?

At any rate she met me at the appointed time and again offered to pay me. Again I declined. I told her that knowing that the child would love them is all I needed to hear. She then told me how the child was the daughter of a single mom, who couldn’t really afford to buy the little girl these dolls. Again shame came knocking. A single mom. Someone working so hard just to make ends meet and I had these dolls just sitting there.
dollandgirl

I got back in my car and wrestled with my shame for part of the drive home. And then I stopped. Then I chose to be thankful. I thanked the Lord for using me to bring those dolls to that precious little girl. I thanked the Lord for opening my eyes to how careless I had become about what I bought, and how little I was giving away. Proverbs 13:18 says, “Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored.” I had been neglectful. This was my reproof. And I choose to be thankful for it.

The gal to whom I gave the dolls sent me the sweetest picture of the happy little girl with her new dolls. I would post it, but she’s not my little girl and I wouldn’t want to do that without the mom’s permission. (The picture I used above was from an online free photo site.)

At the end of this week of giving, I was able to give away 70 items (instead of the required 49). It’s so easy to keep going once you start. It’s freeing. And best of all, when you take the time to deliver things to people directly, you get the opportunity to hear about the struggling single moms and their precious little girls. That motivation alone makes it worth it, and makes it easy to continue giving. I know I have only begun. I have a lot more giving to do before my place reflects a more appropriate scale of possessions. Once again, my mind has latched onto a more conscious way of living…by giving. I will be mindful when I do purchase something. I will remember the difference between needs and wants. I will give more freely and be slow to possess.

media
For the coming week of The 7 Challenge, the fast will be from media. The challenge is to abstain from TV, Gaming, Facebook/Twitter/Social Media, iPhone apps, Radio, Textings, and Internet. Begin panic attack. No, no…I know I can do it. My first thought is, “Wow, it’s gonna be a boring week.” My second thought is, “Wow, how am I gonna get people to NOT text me?”

Facebook I can go without for a week. TV isn’t hard at all since I don’t get regular TV or cable. Gaming I never do except with my nephews and I’m so pathetically bad at it that it’s often easier for them to play without me anyway. iPhone apps…that one is harder. But I’ll live. Radio….ouch, owie…ugh. I don’t have the radio on except when in the car, but I LOVE my car radio…I sing in the car. Loudly. I always have. So, I guess I’ll be singing a cappella for a week. Texting…I’ll be happy to go without, but it’s become the preferred route of communication for so many with whom I communicate that getting them to not text me will be a challenge. (So hear ye, hear ye…those of you who text me….if you do so, starting tomorrow for 7 days…I will be calling you back instead of texting you back. Be prepared, and don’t get mad.) The internet…aye, there’s the rub. No researching for fun (I’m a nerd), no Hulu, no blogs, no art or travel sites. (sigh). Ok…it’s gotta hurt for it to count. And it’s only 7 days. I’ll live.

This week is about more than tuning out…it’s also about tuning in. Instead of replacing the above media items with thumb twiddling and reading until my eyes are crossed, Jen Hatmaker also challenges me to connect with the people in my life. I live alone…so that’ll be a challenge. But it’s on! Let’s see what I learn this coming week.

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End week 2: Clothing Results and on to Possessions

Defense. Normally it’s a good thing. It prevents the enemy from capturing your flag, your home, your country. It’s rooted in protecting the people, places, and things we love.

Where defense goes wrong is when the walls of protection are preventing the truth from getting through. Where it becomes sin is when you refuse to hear what God is telling you in lieu of justifying your actions.

If anyone would have told me I had too many clothes before this last week, I would have laughed. My closet is small. Half of it is filled with coats and jackets that I’ve had for over 20 years and didn’t want to get rid of because they are so expensive. I’ve never been a fashion plate. I look more for practical clothes, professional looking enough to please the bosses but comfortable enough that I’m not tugging or scratching at what I’m wearing every 5 seconds. I care more about owning stuff I don’t have to iron (my least favorite chore EVER) than I do about what label it is or if it’s “in” this season. When I buy jeans the only thing I care about is finding the least expensive pair that fits comfortably. But that’s a very different thing than whether or not you have enough.
fashion
It’s impossible to read Jen Hatmaker’s The 7 Challenge chapter on clothing and NOT feel convicted. She does it with as much humor as possible; but the truth hurts. If you go into your closet and realize how much you have that you do not wear; or worse, that you’ve NEVER worn, and then realize how much good could have been done with that money if you had instead sponsored a child, or supported clean water. Even if you had donated that item to a charity instead of letting it sit, unused, in a closet….

It would be easy to get defensive. It would be easy to say, “Hey, I live simply and responsibly…why can’t I have all the cute tops/cute shoes/cute purses I want?” Why? Get ready to lower your defenses…let this soak in…be willing to accept the truth of it….because Isaiah 3:14 says, “The plunder from the poor is in your houses.” Anyone else feel the giant baseball bat upside the head other than me?

When we buy for ourselves beyond what we need, we are choosing ourselves over the poor. Plunder is a pretty strong word. It implies that we are deliberately taking what belongs to the poor and keeping it for ourselves. Replay the rich man through the eye of a needle scenario. It’s not so easy to give away what we don’t need, especially when you live in the land of plenty. And let’s face it, even in the midst of economic recession, our country is STILL the land of plenty. If I imagine myself back in Thailand, surrounded by those sweet orphans with one outfit to their names aside from their school uniform…I remember how my heart felt. Every cent I had I wanted to use to buy something for them. The money we raised to give them wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to buy them clothes and give them a toy (the only thing of their own they’ve ever had). Holding their hands, hugging them as they fought over who got to crawl on up on my lap…nothing else was important. They had need. It was right there in front of me. I couldn’t keep myself from doing something. But here, in the States, I forget about those children and the millions (if not billions) like them in the world. I can look away from the commercials that beg me to help, skip past the support requests from friends or non-profits. “I don’t have enough for that.” I turn my focus on what I need. Let’s be honest…it’s really just what I want. No, I’m not saying it’s wrong to buy yourself a nice cup of tea somewhere or make the shoes you buy out of need cute ones; I’m saying I have recognized that my spending has become more about spending what I have because I can, and not about spending it with careful consideration about the best ways I can use the resources at my disposal.

What I learned this week wasn’t just a reminder of how often I drip, spill, and glop myself on a regular basis (I can be a real schlub); it was really about remembering how much I have. How careless I am with separating my needs from my wants…and how careless I am to remember those with genuine needs.

I don’t think Jen Hatmaker could have planned it any better than to have the next week’s fast on possessions. It’s time. I am ready. It’s time to unclutter my closet, my apartment, my life. It’s time to start living consciously. It’s time to start recognizing the need vs the want BEFORE I reach for my wallet.
noclutter
I’ve come to realize two things so far. Each of these fasts has reminded me of the joy of simplicity. When my initial defensiveness dissolves, life is much more enjoyable with fewer choices. An abundance of choice often leads to indecisiveness, complications, waste. Limited choices makes meal preparation simple; dressing in the morning is easy. Life is less frustrating. The second thing I’ve learned is when you are mindful of these choices, it leads you into more community. In a day and age when we are losing our personal connections, I’ve enjoyed chatting with a stranger in the market about how to choose a good avocado. I’ve been relieved to know that most people couldn’t care less if I wear the same shirt more than once in a week. Most importantly, I’m rediscovering my identity as “fellow human being”. My everyday choices in this land of plenty CAN impact the lives of people in other parts of the world with nothing. No more unconscious purchases. I will consider and care.

The goal starting tomorrow is to give away at least 7 things a day. I’m choosing to limit clothing from counting for more than 2 days of that. I’m also going to try to personally give some of those things away, instead of just dropping them off at a local charity. I want to meet the people who need the thing I have. I want to pray with them and remember them and be mindful that there are those who can benefit from what I have at my disposal to give. I have been given much. I need to be more responsible with it.

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