Monday, May 25, 2015

To Whom Too Much Has Been Given

Some of the things that came out of that craft room.
Only some.
My daughter and I have been embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. This is my weekly progress check in.

For May20-June 20, the plan is to give seven things away. Every day. That's approximately 210 things just for me. This does not count the daughter. Or, potentially, the other daughter who is coming home from college this week and may want to join us. Or not. She probably feels deprived enough already having just spent the last year eating dorm cafeteria food. Still, she should read last month's conclusions on food, I guess.

OK, so you have to know, I started this giving away stuff long before the beginning of this month of Possessions. Like, over spring break, when I enlisted a friend of mine who had foolishly offered to help clean my craft room. She offered. I needed the drill sergeant to make me toss stuff. It was a match made in, well, second grade when our daughters became best friends.

We gave away/threw away five garbage bags of stuff. And trust me, that room is still full. I promised myself that a year from now, if I haven't used it, more is going to go. The girls are done with matchstick eiffel towers and unidentified clay creations. 4H years are over. Get a grip, mom. It's time.

Then the linen closet. At least ten old towels and various wash clothes donated to the wildlife center. Just in time for baby animal birthing. And I don't miss them at all. About seventeen sheets and pillowcases. Why? Why? I have no idea where some of these even came from or whose bed they ever graced. Out.

Next came clothes. Again, three huge bags of them. Losing 45 pounds does something to your wardrobe, namely, causes most of it to hang on you like a needy girlfriend. Not to mention expose parts of your underwear that are not, sorry ladies, for public view. Necklines that used to sit right just . . . don't now. So, out they all went. Yeah, are you ready? 60 pieces of clothing. And one winter coat. I am not done yet. Why do I have so many clothes? How can one person wear that much? When the washer was broken for a month, I still had enough clean shirts to wear every day—and that's just depressing. Yes, most of them are $5 Old Navy specials, but still. Who needs that much?

When someone has been given much, much will be 

required in return; and when someone has been entrusted

 with much, even more will be required.” (Luke 12.48)

I know, in context this is not talking about possessions, per se. But I think it is still applicable for those of us to whom so much has been given. I've not just been given things. I've been entrusted. Am I acting in ways worthy of God's trust? Do I think about my things in a way that makes Him glad He trusted me? I'm doubtful.

So now, after all that, we are starting the month of giving away seven things every day. You'd think I would be out of things to toss. Sadly, I am quite sure this won't even be difficult. The thing is, I want it to be difficult. I'm not sure how to really feel this one. But I am sure God will have it figured out. Time to listen. And toss. And give. I am excited.

After. So wish I had taken a before. You would have been
suitably appalled.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Four Weeks, Seven Foods, Still Alive

My daughter and I have been embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here.

So here is the wrap of of month one, seven foods. Only. All. Month. For me, that means: chicken, fish, eggs, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, and rice.

What a month of eating nothing but seven foods has taught me:

  • That it's still “me” appearing prominently in that sentence. How do we change that? I think this is key to the entire experiment.

  • That my whining about developing celiac disease and therefore no longer getting to eat (in approximate order of importance): Culver's fish sandwich, cheese curds, and flavor-of-the-day custard, crab rangoon, Cinnabon, shrimp tempura, Aunt Annie's pretzel sticks, etc. is exactly that. Whining. Poor me. 

Most of the world gets one choice for food. Rice. Or yams. Or mud cakes. Every. Stinking. Day. Get over it, self. But yes, I will probably still petition Culver's to make their custard celiac friendly. That's the least they could do for this formerly loyal customer.

  • That I can change the way I spend money on food. Yes, things are kind of tight around here, what with paying for school for (potentially) four people, one wedding, and one business buy in. It's a crazy time. But we get to do those things. We have a choice. We are fortunate. Do I dare try this experiment?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Does that extend to what I spend at the grocery store? What if I loved my poor neighbors enough to spend as much on them as I do on me? Food banks, feeding programs, here I come. We can do this. We have to do this. There are starving people, and despite not being able to eat a cinnamon roll, I am not one of them.

  • That eating out is great fun and a nice break, especially for this “did someone say no cooking?!” girl. But I do it too much. Yeah, I did already know that. Not only will cutting down here free up the budget for giving, it will help the celiac. Because seriously, when a waiter responds to my request for gluten free options with “you want what free?," I am clearly in a danger zone anyway.

  • That I haven't felt this good in months, and I need to avoid the reentry binge on gluten free pies, brownies, and pasta. But most likely? I won't.

I am excited about this new idea. Cannot wait to try it and see what works and what doesn't. For now, moving on to the month of possessions. Getting rid of things. Yay! This is the month I have been waiting for. Stay tuned.

I'd love to hear if you are interested in making this journey, too.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Choices Are Limited

The month of May. OK, April 20-May 20 to be exact, because we don't like to start projects when normal people would. Our month for eating only seven different foods. All month.

As a reminder, my daughter and I are embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. We are tired of excess. And we want to find our hidden caches of it that sneak up on us. Most of all, we want to find what God is saying in the searching.

The first month of this seven, we are concentrating on food. How many food choices do we typically have? How much does the average person waste? How many stinking times do I grab something out without even thinking once, let alone twice? How does that assumed abundance ultimately affect the expectations I believe for what I deserve?

And what if we self-limited our choices to just seven? How would that teach me something about the lives of others, and the life I believe I should get to keep?

Now, abundance of food choices has not really been an issue for me lately. In fact, in the past ten months, I've been what you might call “dietetically limited.” (I wasn't even sure dietetically was a word. But spellcheck does not deny me the pleasure.) After a virus that triggered a latent case of celiac disease, I have spent nearly a year unable to eat much food and unable to process most. It's been an experience.

Many people have gushed over how good I look. (I.e., no longer forty pounds overweight.) One of my dearest friends, who can always be counted on to be real, put it differently last week.

Friend: So, are you stabilizing now? Like, not losing any more weight? Because you look a little . . .

Me: Concentration camp chic?

Friend: No, that's not the way I'd put it. Exactly . . .

Yeah. So, too much food has not really been an issue.

In fact, I welcomed the chance to narrow it down to seven foods I know my body can work with. Maybe, by the end of a month, things would get a jump start back toward normal if I avoided anything that might upset the system. (Which is, well, just about anything.)

And I do feel better. Much better.

Which is why it's funny that I'm being a little bipolar about the whole 7 foods thing. One minute, I'm all “I could do this forever—I love how easy it is!” and ten minutes later it's more, “I would sell my firstborn child for the tiniest corner of a (gluten free) brownie!”

You can't please some people.

OK, so I wonder. The things about this month I rejoice in: 

  • The ease of shopping. (7 things. I don't even need a list.) 
  • The simplicity of meal prep. (A sliced tomato for dinner vegetable/fruit. Always. A banana and egg for lunch. Soooo easy.) 
  • The mindlessness of menu planning. (Chicken, fish, or fried rice for dinner tonight? And . . . a tomato.) 

These, to me, are huge bonuses. So much space in my refrigerator, schedule, and mental life is freed up.

But what about the people I'm supposed to be thinking about—the ones for whom this is every day? The ones who never get to think “what shall I cook today?” because the choice is always the same. If there is anything at all. The people who would consider my seven things a list so spectacularly varied and nutritious they could scarcely imagine eating off it all the time.

All those amazing lessons I'm supposed to learn from “depriving myself”? When I think about these people, it all seems so . . . so . . . still All. About. Me. 

Any conclusions I come away with still seem so minimal compared the the one huge conclusion that no matter what I take away, I will still be privileged compared to most of the other images of God on this planet. If I flat out starved myself, I would still be exercising a choice to do that, something so many do not have. The very fact that I have choices at all. And, that I am of (reasonably) sound mind and body to make them. Have you ever really thought about that??

So maybe that the lesson I'm taking away from month one? That my mere existence in this time and place puts me at an incalculable advantage no matter what. And what does that mean? Because surely God did not give me that gift to watch me say a (sort of) grateful grace at every meal and go on with life as usual.

I'm getting what Jen says in her book Interrupted: 

“I started hearing my gospel narrative through the ears of the Other, and a giant whole bunch of it didn’t even make sense. Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context, and I’m no theologian, but surely that is problematic.

There is a biblical benchmark I now use. Here it is:

If it isn’t also true for a poor

 single Christian mom in 

Haiti, it isn’t true. Theology 

is either true everywhere or it isn’t true 


I don't think a theology of “God thank you for all my blessings you've blessed me with, The End,” would make sense to that Haitian mom. I don't think she'd understand at all if I assumed I just have so much because He just loves me so stinkin' much. I'm incredibly adorable, after all. 

What would that be saying He thinks of her?

I think if she ever read Isaiah 58 or much of the gospels she'd wonder if I ever had.

I don't know where this is going to go. But I know I've got to ask the hard questions of why I have so many choices. And I know that when God starts getting us to ask why, anything can happen. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Guilt, Gales, and Going Where the Wind Blows

I've been doing a lot of things lately with the potential to throw me under the guilt bus. Writing a sermon this week on “The Gospel for the Weak.” Reading Jen Hatmaker's Interrupted. Re-reading her book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Seeing Baltimore. Can't really write this sermon without walking through Baltimore. Mentally. Going through all my summer clothes and realizing how many I have. Just after posting on Facebook that I have no summer clothes that fit and no money to buy any more. Both lies.


Now before you lecture me on the finer points of why we should not feel guilty (or why we should), please note that I have finally developed a pretty good sense of when guilt is from Satan and when it's conviction from God. I know the former is about as necessary to my life as putting tapioca pudding in the gas tank would be necessary for my car.

Yes, sometimes storms can be crazy.
But holy conviction is good. It's painful as heck, but it's good. At first, you feel constricted and buffeted, like a tornado is approaching, and you can feel the vacuum created before the storm. But then, giving in to the wind, you get lifted on it and taken to new places. Good places you didn't imagine gong before and aren't sure you would have gone on your own. Holy conviction is emancipating.

And that's what I'm feeling.

All this to say, my middle daughter and I have decided to go through the book 7 again. We did it as a family a few years ago. The premise of the book is that our lives are too full. Packed full. Full of things we don't need that suck the life out of us, not to mention the compassion. So sometimes, we need to take stock of those things and jettison large portions of them, at least for a time. One hopes, it becomes a way of life.

  • Food.
  • Clothes.
  • Possessions.
  • Media.
  • Waste.
  • Spending.
  • Stress.

These are the seven things we're going to, once again, narrow down in an attempt to focus our lives on . . . on what? Just having less? No, that would not be sustainable as a motivation. On feeling the “enoughness” of God. On growing closer to knowing His heart by cutting out the things that distract us from it. Things that we amass all around us that we don't realize are choking our spirits.

Because they feel so good.

I want to know, not just esoterically believe, that God is enough.  [tweet this]. Then, I want to let that hurricane wind blow me wherever it will in its holy conviction about what I own, or what owns me. About how I spend my time and money, or how it spends me. Sometimes, I am tired of being spent.  [tweet this].

Join me in going wherever the wind blows? I'm so ready.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound.” (John 3.8)

This month, we're eating only seven things. That's correct. Seven things. For me, it's chicken, fish, eggs, tomatoes, bananas, rice, and strawberries. Limiting? Yes. But for a girl who hates cooking? Well, there are some perks there. We'll talk about it more.

Already, though, there is freedom. Shopping? A breeze. Cooking? No time at all. Focus on things other than how much food we have, how to use it up before it goes bad, what we “need” from the grocery store, and what to make that is at all interesting when I have about as much interest in cooking as I do in body piercing? None. No need to expend any energy on food. At All. I love it. What are we learning? How are we changing? Stay tuned.

You can read about the experiment in more depth here.

You can even purchase the book 7 here. Then, let's keep each other on track with encouragement and talk about what we're learning. At least, this month, I'm learning to cook chicken and eggs. A lot. (And asking myself the question--are they really the same thing? So, should they only count as one thing? This is important wrestling, people.)

Wind is crazy. And beautiful.

I Am Not Mrs. Havisham

My oldest daughter and I spent a couple hours every week last spring doing something that could be considered strange. We came to our church building and organized. We put things in plastic boxes (I have a bit of a plastic box obsession), labeled them, tossed junk, and generally created some order in a place where, just like home, things had been randomly torpedoed anywhere and everywhere after use. 

Why strange? Because we knew there was at least a 50/50 shot that we were going to be leaving the building and becoming a mobil church. It seemed to make little sense to organize a moving target.

What was the point if we're going to pack up and leave? Why make sense of the place we're in if it's not our place to stay? I've made peace with it, theologically. It's because of something I heard preached not long ago, and something that swirls around in my head often.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29.4-7)

Consider wherever you are home. That it is not permanent is no reason not to unpack.

I listened to this Switchfoot song not long ago, and I pondered this idea of unpacking.

Until I die I'll sing these songs

On the shores of Babylon

Still looking for a home

In a world where I belong

Where the weak are finally strong
Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong.

The "Not Yet" is out there. But right now,
I'll get my feet wet.
We live in a tension between the now and the not yet. Now is what we see and feel and know. Not yet is the world God has promised, the reconciliation of all things broken by the Fall, the regeneration of a Garden that held all perfection. Jesus awakened us to this promise, also promising that the Kingdom was here now, seeable and knowable, but not complete. It is not yet, but yet it is.

We cannot grasp this paradox.

But still, we must live in it. And we must not live as those who refuse to unpack and organize. With Jeremiah and his kin, we have to learn to put down our roots, plant our crops, and seek the welfare of our world. In a manner only God can orchestrate, perhaps that is precisely the way the Kingdom will show itself in the now.

I tried not to unpack when we moved to Chicagoland. The plan was to be here for a year and then to move on. To just about anywhere else. I hated it, and I intended to follow through on that plan.

Should I mention now that we've been here almost twenty years? It's not where I want to be forever, but can you imagine if I was still living unpacked? Can you picture the strangeness if I had decided not to leave my house, not to make friends, not to become attached to anything because I was leaving soon? I read about Mrs. Havisham in 9th grade. (Great Expectations, Charles Dickens. Sorry if you didn't have the pleasure/torture.) I do not want that level of weird.

Yet that is what so many Christians do. This world is not our home. In fact, this world is a downright scary place out to get us. At least, that's the narrative playing on many an evangelical playlist. We circle the wagons and pull in, fearing the city we live in rather than seeking its welfare. We grow cobwebs around our souls Mrs. Havisham would envy.

But what if going into the city (town, farmland, foreign country, fill in the blank) around us is the only way God ever planned for His Kingdom to come here and now? What if we are Plan A, and there is no Plan B?  [tweet this]. And what if we sit in our homes (churches) protecting ourselves, waiting for the signal that it's time to go, and that kingdom is still crying to be realized? What if we're missing a LOT of chances to see His power displayed here and now because we're so afraid to go out in its strength and see what happens?

Seek the welfare of the city you are in. 

That means learning about it. Finding out who lives there, what they dream of, what they need, how they think. Seeking welfare implies finding the brokenness around us and joining people to heal it.  [tweet this].It is people who go out their doors to do what Jesus did—heal, feed, teach, forgive, love.

I want to be able to say I unpacked. I stayed. I did all I could to organize and make sense of the place I was put in so that others could find what they needed. I made it my home and made my home a better place. Not because I don't know there is something better coming. Rather, because I do. I know about that place where the righteous right the wrongs. I know how unspeakably beautiful it will be. Well, I don't know. I can't know. But I can imagine.

While we will always live in the God-given tension of longing for home, we are also already there. I don't understand this. But I know what to do when I'm at home. I unpack and get to work.