A couple weeks ago I bought a paint-by-number. You can stop laughing now. I had a week off but couldn’t afford to go anywhere. I knew I had a goal to organize my garage that week, but that was something so NOT enjoyable that I would need frequent breaks doing something I DID enjoy to maintain my motivation. (Ok, I confess. I do enjoy organizing things and I have received many “What were you thinking?” looks or comments about spending my vacation having gone through 91 secretary boxes of stuff being stored while I’m renting a room at a friend’s house. I was tired of having to go through a dozen boxes every time I needed to find something, so I went through them each with a voice recorder next to me, speaking out what was in each box as I numbered them; then I went inside and wrote each number and list of items on an index card. Very satisfying when you are done, not so fun when you are in process.)

As I would take a break, I’d allow myself a half hour or so of time to work on the paint-by-number. It’s pretty large. An authorized copy of a much larger work by a recognizable artist. While it’s not in my preferred palette of colors it’s a beautiful Parisian street scene set in the 1940s. I found it enchanting….
paint by number box
and frustrating. As I began to work on it, I enjoyed not having to think about what I wanted to do or accomplish or did it look enough like what I wanted it to look like that people knew what it was…like I do when I do my own artwork. I focused on finding clusters of the number that corresponded to the tiny tub of paint in my hand. I ended up having to buy “cheaters” (reading glasses) from the local drugstore as I was going cross-eyed trying to read the small, detail patches. I became increasingly frustrated with being able to see the numbers through the paint. I became more frustrated by the way you had to try to lay the strokes of paint alongside each other perfectly, so the lines didn’t show and so the shape of the color didn’t overlap onto the territories meant for a different hue. I lost track of the times I mistakenly covered up the number for an adjacent space because the brush they gave me was too big, and the smallest one I had among my own supplies was still too big.

As I held the painting up close enough to read the numbers, all I saw was the mistakes. The bleed throughs, the overlaps, the ugly brushstrokes that had been forced into play by trying to cover up the numbers. My jaw was tensing up every time I sat down to work at it. About halfway through I was ready to quit, it just wasn’t turning out like I had hoped.

Then, one night, after a few days of ignoring the painting, I glimpsed it from across the room and realized it actually looked pretty good. The distance, both in time from my last sit down with it, and from across the room, made all those flaws imperceptible. All I could see is what the original artist had captured (-ish).

I had been caught up in all the tiny little details, frustrated by all the tiny little problems. I missed the intention of beauty. I literally missed the bigger picture.
paint by number van gogh
I do this a lot. In life, especially when my emotions are swinging like a pendulum, I tend to let the little problems become big ones. They add up, one on top of the other, until something as small as dropping my pencil becomes the dam-breaker and I end up in tears, convinced that it was the worst day ever. It’s something I’ve always done, and likely will continue to have to keep in check the rest of my life.

But the bigger picture is that I’m getting better at it. Now, instead of a year of gloom and doom, trying to glimpse any ray of light at the end of the tunnel (and likely shooting it down as an oncoming train) within half an hour I am reminded of the bigger picture. I look for the truth of the matter, like that my focus is in the wrong place or that I’m looking for something where I shouldn’t. Once I recognize that truth, I am almost instantly comforted and at peace. Granted, this has been an exercise I’ve been working on for over 20 years now…I’m just glad that as I’m getting older, the battles in this war last far less time. I guess that proves that point. That I am improving. That I am becoming stronger, more adept at fighting lies and finding truth. At least I hope so. I know I still have far to go, but I’m getting there.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on here. My world has been a little cock-eyed of late. Crooked. Askew. Like the tilt-o-whirl rides at the traveling carnivals that were so enticing when I was young (and now look like a hellish collection of deathtraps in my middle age).
tilt a whirl

First the vet told me my beloved dog of 14 years is likely dying. The xray showed fluid building up around his lungs. She said it’s likely cancer or valley fever, but that the tests to diagnose either were not only prohibitively expensive, given his age they would likely kill him. So I brought him home. I researched everything I could try. Nothing worked. I’m just trying to keep him happy and comfortable…and keep praying that somehow the vet was wrong. He has good days and bad days. I cry a lot.

Then my mom fell and broke her leg. We were told the surgery was dangerous, but she’d be confined to bed if she didn’t have it. Anyone who knows my mom knows how miserable she’d be with that. The surgery was successful, but then there were the clots. Another round of what-ifs and please prays. She’s now back at the assisted living center on increased blood thinners and able to continue her physical therapy. But we still worry and pray. I worry about my dad who doesn’t sleep or eat well when she’s not home. I worry about my sister who has a stressful job and has to deal with this herself since our other sister and I are so many miles away. So we call a lot and feel helpless. We hope and pray that it all works out well. And I cry some more.

There’s so much weight to life. So much heaviness. The burden of responsibility that makes you long for the carelessness of youth (when you wanted nothing but to grow up fast so you could be free…ignoring everything your parents and teachers and everyone over the age of 20 told you about the truth of growing up).

Then it occurred to me. There is one thing that is lighter. One burden of weight that I have lost that makes this time so much more bearable. I’m not alone. After 14 years of living alone, I’m now renting a room from a friend. While there have been a lot of adjustments for us both after such long periods of aloneness…we both realize that things are so much easier when you aren’t alone. You don’t worry about choking on a hot dog and no one finding you for days…or weeks. If your back goes out or you have a cold, there’s someone to help you (and someone for you to help when they need you back). There’s someone to listen to your bad day report. There’s someone to share Thai food with. There’s someone to encourage you to eat a salad instead of something full of cheese and salt and fat.

And I have some exceptional friends. The ones who, when they don’t know what to say, just stand there with their arm around you and it somehow makes everything better. The ones who start crying before you do, and call to check on you to see how you are doing. The long distance family that you reconnected with on facebook who make you remember that there are others out there who care about the same people you do, and even cared about them before you were around.

Being alone was a mantle around my shoulders for so many years I had given up on being otherwise. But for now it’s gone, and I’m glad. I’m so glad. And thankful. So to any of you reading this, who took a few minutes out of your day to care about my thoughts and think about my cares, thank you. You make the world a little less lonely too.

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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.
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?
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.

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” ( 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.

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.

Intercede is defined as “to plead on another’s behalf” ( 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.


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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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.

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?

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.
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.

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.

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 I’m still going through my things and giving them away. These lessons are taking deep root. Prayerfully, permanent ones.

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