I Refuse to Say Another Empty Prayer

I began my Lenten fast with one mission in mind – to transform the QUALITY of my GIVING to others in such a way that I communicate the love, truth, and compassion of Jesus Christ in my giving.  My primary focus was on time – who gets it, how I give it, what I communicate to others in how I use my time.  As I scribbled exploratory notes in my journal, I knew from the start that I would have to give up time I was spending on meaningless and me-centered activities if I was to develop new relationships, reconnect with existing relationships, and respond to those in need, in deeper, more meaningful ways.

The standard measure of evaluation I settled on was to continue asking myself the same question – Am I communicating value and caring in each relationship, or is the other person hearing I’m too busy for them? I wanted to know, without a doubt, that my offered investment of time said to others you are valued, you matter to me, you are not alone, you are worth my time. And the litmus test for me was the absence of an email or voice mail message that began something like “I know you’re really busy, but ….”

I started strong – meeting a friend for coffee and conversation (and 1/2 of a red velvet cupcake and a chocolate cake truffle) … it felt so good, so different, warm and wonderful, to have this girlfriend time to chat long and hard instead of piecing together bits of conversation following Sunday worship with some Facebook messaging thrown in between Sundays, and her name in my prayer journal.  I learned so much more about my sister in Christ, shared more of my life with her and we discovered common struggles, some of the same fears, and the sheer joy of spending quality time in relationship.

That same week, after a bit of a stutter step in scheduling (hey, is it my fault that I only get a 1/2 hour lunch break and she wanted to get together over lunch?), I walked miles around the track with another friend, catching up on what God was doing in each of our lives, talking about issues of faith and purpose, confessing weaknesses and searching for God’s lessons as we laughed about how annoying some people are.

I was feeling good about running a Zumba Fitness class Monday nights after work to encourage women who are part of our Biggest Loser Team Competition, using Zumba DVD’s I purchased to exercise in the privacy of my home.  It was fabulous to be a part of this community, each of us sharing a weight loss goal to become more healthy, and several other co-workers joined in the Zumba workouts, creating new bonds of friendship.  But oh no, I hadn’t talked to my own kids in over two weeks, I couldn’t find the time to call one of my best friends that I had assured on Facebook I would be calling soon because our relationship is high priority, and my Dad sent me an email saying “Don’t you want to talk about my Kindle?” because I hadn’t responded to his lengthy email about how exciting his new Kindle was.  Something wasn’t working.

And then, the bomb … I went to a wake for the husband of a woman who used to be a part of my Community Bible Study core group – I hadn’t seen her in the two years that passed since I left CBS.  She told me her husband had been in and out of the hospital for more than a year, doctors having difficulty diagnosing just what the problem was, but she had to leave her job as a nurse at a charter school to care for him.  And when she embraced me, and told me she almost called me so many times in the past year, I sobbed in her arms – not for the loss of her beloved husband, but because I was not there for her in the darkest of days and I knew why she didn’t call me … plain and simple, she thought I was too busy for her.  It was a crushing blow, a painful lesson, and there was no do-over.  I went home and put her name in my prayer journal, but I decided right then and there, that I would not say another empty prayer for her or anyone else on my prayer list – that my prayer journal was only to serve as a reminder for those I wanted to be praying for daily in addition to ministering to or connecting with personally on a regular basis.

So when a friend of mine sent an invitation to pray for and help out as we were led, an unemployed single-mom in TN, struggling financially and who our community group had prayed for during a few different seasons in the past few years, I asked for her contact information.  I wanted to do more than send a check.  I wanted to connect with her personally, to trust God to allow me to walk alongside her in love, truth and compassion, to meet her in the same place Jesus was.  I wrote her name in my prayer journal, along with known needs I could begin praying for, and I emailed her to ask her what I could be praying for specifically.  I tried to encourage her, to assure her that she was held in God’s embrace and mine, and told her I had dropped a card in the mail to her.  I sent her an encouraging card from Max Lucado, along with a WalMart gift card and my business card, offering to coach her through this challenging time in her life.  I felt wonderfully connected to my Lenten fast mission, understanding why Jesus walked among the broken and hurting.  And I praised God when I listened to her voice mail messages thanking me first and foremost for my prayers, saying that meant more than anything.  I loved hearing from this godly woman who trusts El Shaddai, All Sufficient, as the Lord of her life, and yet was able to confess the room she sometimes gave the enemy to move in among the fear and waiting for God’s provision.  It was great to come home and play her messages, and I was still praying for her daily … and then, the bubble burst.  Time ran out – there were at least 4 days when I had a phone call to her on my things-to-do list … moved only to the things not done list.  I got an email from her that made me cringe – she said it I know you’re really busy – oh darn, I failed the litmus test …  she wanted to know if there was a time we could talk.  I was so ashamed that I hadn’t reached out to her, that I let her feel I was too busy for her.  Wrapped up in my own self-disappointment and failure, I began to feel pressured and unjustly accused (though I was clearly the only accuser) – there are just too many people with needs, I can’t do this Lord, You’re asking me for more than I have to give, how can I help this woman with so many needs, especially financial ones?  Okay, now I’m on my own prayer list, where I probably should have been all along, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in transforming the quality of my time giving.

We had a life-giving, Spirit-breathed, yaya sisterhood conversation Saturday morning that left me in awe of our Father’s goodness and energized to give quality time to other relationships in waiting.  I couldn’t give this sister the $1600 she was served a civil warrant for on a Visa debt she cannot pay, but I could use my life coaching experience to help her see that the local bank allowing her to pay off a $1400 loan at $20 a month, and the landlord – herself unemployed, extending my sister grace in the $300 she was still behind on this month’s rent both came out of a personal relationship she had with them.  So if we could together work on a plan for her to have a relationship-building conversation with the attorney who served the warrant, there is hope and possibility that an arrangement could be made to pay down the credit card debt and avoid the court hearing.  I can’t send her the money to buy a reliable car, and I can’t find a job for her in Tennessee, but I can send her clothes that no longer fit me and ask my daughters to give me clothes they no longer wear to send so that she and her 15-year old daughter can take what they need and turn the rest over to the consignment shop where she is working part-time for just this next month, making a little money when the clothing sells.  When we make ourselves available to others in Christ’s name, God will make a way to use us even when we can’t imagine how He will provide through us.

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.  Matthew 16:24

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of the Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.  Matthew 16:27

You Tube – Meredith Andrews – Show Me What It Means

You don't want my perfection
All You ask of me
Is that I show up broken at Your feet
You don't want my religion
You are looking for devotion
That is more than just routine

So show me what it means

To take up my cross
And count it all as lost
All for the sake
Of knowing You
To love my enemies
And care for those in need
Show me what it means
To follow You

Have I become like the Pharisee?
Passing by the needy
While I'm speaking Jesus on my lips
Will I walk with You on raging seas?
Or will I turn away
When You want more than what I want to give

So show me what it means
What it means

To take up my cross
And count it all as lost
All for the sake
Of knowing You
To love my enemies
And care for those in need
Show me what it means
To follow You

To love as You love
And live as You lived
To never give up
On giving You my life
To love as You love
And live as You lived
To find out what it means
To be alive
To be alive

Who will take care of u?

I was text chatting with my daughter the other night, as I was getting ready for bed and she was packing for a weekend getaway to visit a college friend..  Somewhere in the exchange of text messages, I let her know that I needed to have hammer toe surgery on my right foot (I had the same surgery on my left foot 5 years ago).  Her return text came quickly … who will take care of u?

I was struck by the sweetness of her response, this 23-year old woman who just began her “real” grown-up life in this past year – graduating from college last May, beginning her first full-time job and moving into her first apartment last August.  She remembered the surgery on my left foot, how she and her sister took me to the emergency room with a painful groin pull as the result of walking unevenly with a walking boot on my left foot in the aftermath.

But something else struck me – the recognition that her question “who will take care of u?” was always a question for me, one of those BIG haunting questions that colored my life journey and though unseen, defined some of my darkest seasons.  It’s a question only uncovered 3 years ago while I was in treatment for an emotional eating disorder, when my therapist abruptly halted the condensed version of my childhood I was offering, with a “WHOA … you just said your mother died when you were 10 yrs old and went right on to say that your Dad remarried when you were 12 yrs., like your mother’s death was nothing.  Do you realize how huge that is for a child to lose a parent?”  Well, probably for most kids it would be huge – I understand that, but my Dad remarried 2 years later so I had a mom growing up, I had someone to take care of me … that was pretty much my M.O. anytime I shared that info with anyone – to minimize my mom’s death as though it had no impact on who I am now, to dispense the story void of feeling and utterly ignorant of the recurrent theme that had played out my whole life since.  Who would take care of me after Mama died …  me – a middle child, not worthy of the attention the “baby” of the family got, not capable of the responsibility that the oldest would  have to take on to run the household?  My Dad of course, that is if you define care-taking as providing a roof over my head, food on the table, an education …

But then there was the move I made to New Jersey for the man of my dreams, leaving behind my family, friends, job and home – I traded in everything familiar to chase true love.  And it was good, until we made a move back to Boston where he was from and I felt alone and abandoned.  He resumed life where he left off – not that he was doing anything wrong – but I had different ideas of what marriage was supposed to look like, and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t commute together, why he would want to stop for drinks after work with his buddies, why he would choose golf over time with me on weekends, why it wasn’t important enough to him to visit my family in WI when we spent so much time with his family.  I wanted him to help me make my way in this new place of strangers where he easily slipped back into the coziness of family, friends, work relationships and familiar surroundings, but arguments only left me feeling needy and high maintenance in the relationship department.

Back in New Jersey, 13 years later we divorced – now more alone than ever with my entire family in WI, isolated from our “coupled” friends, a single parent struggling financially, the muted question ruled my heart and fueled my behavior … who will take care of me?   That seems so long ago, and I guess it was, but  in the sweetness of my daughter’s text message, I also felt a sense of pride – pride that who will take care of me post-op was not a question on my mind.  Do you ever just feel really good about yourself when you recognize that you’ve grown in some area, that something that used to trip you up has somehow lost its power?  That’s what I was thinking – no worries about who will take care of me (I have a wonderful church family and community that I know is there for me without question) so I guess recurrent themes from the past can be dealt with.

Or so I thought.  This morning I opened up an email from a good friend of mind, one that over the years I had received many times in different versions from different people …. you know the cutesy “send this to all your friends” kind – rarely do I send these emails on.  But as I read this email, something happened to me – I had a total meltdown, started sobbing … something about this FRIEND email touched such a deep place of sadness, resonated with comfort like a salve on an area of pain I didn’t know was there.

When you are sad,  I will jump on the person who made you sad like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!

When you are blue,  I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you…

When you smile, I will know that you are plotting something that I must be involved in.

When you’re scared, we will high tail it out of here.

When you are worried,  I will tell you horrible stories about how much worse it could be until you quit whining, ya big baby!!!!

When you are confused, I will use little words.

When you are sick, stay away from me until you are well again – I don’t want whatever you have….

When you fall, I’ll pick you up and dust you off – after I laugh my rear off!!

This is my oath and  I pledge it to the end. ‘Why?’ you may ask – because you are my FRIEND!

I had been reading Milan & Kay Yerkovich’s “How We Love” – a book and workbook I highly recommend, and I listened to a CD teaching on the Vacillator love style this afternoon, hoping to discover what brought on all the tears earlier when I opened the email.  According to Kay, a vacillator is raised in a home where connection is there, but it’s inconsistent.  It is based more on a parent’s mood than on a child’s needs, so when a child experiences something really good from a parent and then the parent goes away for a period of time, the child gets mad as they wait and wait for the parent to reengage.  The child feels both in need of the parent and anger at the parent for making them wait, for not being available as much as they’d like.  How does this play out as a vacillator begins dating or interacting in adult relationships?

Milan & Kay tell us vacillators that our longing for love gets stuck on HIGH, and we set off on a quest to find consistent connection we missed as a kid.  We like it intense, we want to feel it, and we want it to last on that passionate level.  When “the honeymoon is over” and our relationship settles into a normalcy as all relationships do sooner or later, we eventually get to that place where we have to wait for the attention we want … and when the waiting happens and disappointments come along, we get mad – just like when we were a kid and our parents weren’t meeting our needs the way we wanted them to.  So what are we so afraid of?  We’re afraid of feeling in our current relationships what we felt growing up – abandoned, unseen, invisible, misunderstood, unknown … we’re afraid of feeling those childhood feelings again, afraid to let the past flood into the present, so it’s easier to get mad, to cover our fear by idealizing our future (I’ll find someone who does love me and is available to me all the time) – in either place we don’t have to feel sad or hurt or feel those painful childhood feelings again.

I thought listening to this teaching would explain my morning tears,  but it only added to them as Kay described the picture one of her vacillator clients produced when she asked him to use shapes and colors on a piece of paper to draw his childhood.   He took just a moment to draw one small dot with a black marker before handing the paper back to Kay … that was how he felt as a child – small, insignificant, unseen, unimportant.  That dot was me as a child, and it’s still me on some days as an adult … this morning, reading that email,  connected with my “dot identity” and I felt like someone saw me, was there for me.   It hurt to remember how long I had searched outside the dot to find someone else to love me like I wanted to be loved, to become something so I would be noticed, to do something new, find something better – anyone, anything, to avoid the pain of facing that smallness, those feelings of insignificance again.

Thankfully Kay offered some direction to enlarge the shape and color of my adult landscape on paper.  She said if a vacillator is going to grow and really face their fear, they have to be willing to go back and realize the pain they felt as a kid is what they’re trying to avoid in every relationship and in every moment of every day.  The solution is connection – the healing from childhood wounds can only be found in a group of people supporting you to face your childhood feelings, providing comfort in memories of pain from the past.

Milan sums it up this way … we’re all afraid to go back and feel the feelings we had as a child, facing the fears that we may experience as adults.  But we have to remember that we have an adult version of ourselves now, and we have a relationship with God that can fill in the holes as people miss us.  So true … God in His extravagant love is with us, and we are perfected in His love.  And so I finished off the afternoon with one more good cry as I listened to JJ Heller’s “What Love Really Means” knowing I am loved and held in His grip.

I will love you for you

Not for what you have done or what you will become

I will love you for you

I will give you the love, the love that you never knew

You Tube – JJ Heller – What Love Really Means

Who Would You Die For?

As I was driving to work this morning, channel surfing on the radio, the lyrics to Bruno Mars’ song “Grenade” really captured my attention …

I’d catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Throw my hand on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I’d jump in front of a train for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
You know I’d do anything for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Oh, oh
I would go through all this pain,
Take a bullet straight through my brain,
Yes, I would die for ya baby;
But you won’t do the same

Wow, that is some kind of love … unimaginable really, to think that someone could love somebody so much that they would die for that other person.  Does that kind of love really exist?  I don’t think of myself as a skeptic, and you can’t know how much I long to be loved that way, but after two failed marriages and still living with the haunting question “Do I matter?”  I really cannot get my head – or heart – around that kind of love.

Isn’t that the kind of love we all crave, to know that we are valued so much that someone would put our life before their own?  Please say yes – I don’t want to be standing alone on this … that only makes the void echo louder in the emptiness of my love bank.  But who would I die for?  Who would I catch a grenade for?  My children immediately come to mind, but would I really under all circumstances, given the opportunity to be on the scene, take a bullet for them, without thought, unconditionally?  Or might I weigh out what the heck they were doing in harm’s way to begin with before I gallantly step forward in the line of fire?  What if one of my children could only live by me giving up an organ that would ultimately lead to my death … would I do it willingly, sacrifice my life for my child?  I would like to think yes, but I just don’t know with any degree of certainty.

If you don’t know the name Bruno Mars, he is an American singer-songwriter and record producer.  You will not find his songs played on Christian radio, yet his passionate vocals on “Grenade” filled me this morning, swept over my heart like a love ballad coming straight from Jesus.   Take a moment to listen and watch this video of Bruno Mars performing “Grenade” … what resonates with you as you watch the images, or with eyes closed imagine Jesus singing these words to you?

You Tube – Bruno Mars – Grenade

Fil Anderson in “Breaking the Rules” tells us “Jesus’ life on earth was a revelation of a God who consistently goes overboard in lavishing His mercy and love.  In his parables alone, we see God in various images of such grace: a lender shockingly dismissing an enormous, unpayable debt; a shepherd going out into the night just to search for one stray lamb; a merciful judge hearing the appeal of an undeserving tax collector … The love of God is unlike any other love.  It’s not based on anything we do.  If it were, and that “anything” somehow gave way, then wouldn’t His love disintegrate as well?  And that’s the furthest thing from what could possibly happen.  Nothing is stronger or deeper than His love.”

So, yes, as I think about the enormity of God’s gift to us, I know that He would catch a grenade for me, throw His hand on a blade for me, jump in front of a train for me … do anything for me …. I know because He did – He gave His life for me, and you, on the cross.  The  question is whether I’m stubbornly refusing to do the same.  God is not asking me to face death on a cross – He is only asking me to die to myself and to give my life over to Him, and to share His love with others.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God.  Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.  This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

We love each other because he loved us first.  1 John 4:7-10, 19

Who would you die for?  Who do you think would die for you?

Why Aren’t Catholics Christians?

Years ago as we made our way towards Cape Cod for me to meet my future mother-in-law, my fiance’ said “Don’t tell my mom that your family is Catholic”.  Well, that came out of nowhere!  When I asked why – though I hadn’t really planned on announcing it (nor was I expecting to be in a position of denying any part of my identity either), he said it was hard to explain, mumbling as I recall something about a Catholic friend of hers that had made their differing faiths an issue.  Such a strange request, I thought, but I was starry-eyed and in love, and since he assured me he would tell his mother at a future time, I let it go.  I still remember this sweet, godly woman coming to me in an embrace months later after I was “outed” for my faith, so embarrassed and apologetic that her son would have thought that she would not have accepted me, much less having asked me to conceal it.

I feel like I should apologize for the title of this blog post – I am not trying to be provocative, but this “thing” has been troubling me for so long that the other titles I considered just tap danced around the real question on my heart.  I don’t get why some people exclude Catholics when they talk about Christians, especially disturbing in my mind during this season of Lent.  Aren’t we all preparing to stand at the foot of the cross, understanding Christ died for our sins – all of ours, readying ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday?  I was raised Catholic, went to parochial school, and don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that Christ was the son of God, that he died for our sins.  I’ve never doubted that,  never felt that I was less than anyone else in God’s eyes, never questioned if living my life each day as Jesus modeled would mean falling short of eternal life with my Creator.

I’m well aware that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is seen as a distinguishing characteristic of a Christ-follower of a mainline Protestant or Evangelical church, set apart from the Roman Catholic Church where followers are presumed to be under the law, believing good works pave the road to heaven.  But isn’t it arrogant of us to assume that Catholics, simply by virtue of their church affiliation, don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  Some of the godliest women I know are in the Catholic church, and they have an incredibly intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

I am not looking for a theological debate or explanation for how we define the word “Christian” and why it excludes the Roman Catholic Church.  I have talked some with my Pastor about this, have Googled and read up on the topic.  But I’m trying to understand why a friend of mine, knowing our mutual friend recently returned to the Catholic church, would say “she needs to get into a church”, completely dismissing the fact that she has a church.  Why would another Catholic friend of mine ask if she would be welcome to attend a conference for Christian speakers and writers?  Where did this great divide come from, and who gets to draw the dividing line?

There is no exclusivity in the writings about the early church – Paul tells us that “God knows people’s hearts” in Acts 15:8, so why do we need to get involved in God’s business, judging whether someone’s heart meets the qualifications for inclusion among the saved?  Fil Anderson in “Breaking the Rules” says –

The apostle John wrote this powerful declaration toward the end of his life: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us” (1 John 4:16)  Possibly the most consequential question we’ll ever have to answer is this: Can we declare this truth with absolute conviction?  These words turn an abstract proposition into a personal relationship; they are the heart and soul of the Christian faith, and the fundamental decision of your life.

Being a Christian isn’t the result of a moral choice or belief in lofty ideals, but an ongoing encounter with a person – Jesus – who gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.  Will you believe God and believe in the love He has for you?

If you believe in the love He has for you, will you hear Him beckoning you to come, all of you, to the foot of the cross this Lent?

Will you consider that if you desperately want your family, your friends to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that you might begin by simply being in relationship with them, by loving them as Christ loves them right where they are?

You Tube – Please Come

Here are the words – “Please Come” by Nichole Nordeman

Oh the days when I drew lines around
my faith to keep you out, to keep me in, to keep it safe.
Oh the sense of my own self-entitlement
to say who’s wrong, who won’t be long, or cannot stay.
Cause somebody somewhere decided we’d be better off divided.
And somehow, despite the damage done He says come:

There is room enough for all of us
Please come, and the arms are open wide enough
Please come, and our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the one who
stands before the open door and bids us come.

Oh the times when I have failed to
recognize how many chairs are
gathered there around the feast.
To break the bread and break these
boundries that have kept us
from our only common ground the
invitation to sit down if we will come:

Come from the best of humanity
Come from the depths of depravity
Come now and see how we need every
different beat on this same street.

A Purpose Driven Lent

On March 7, 2007, ABC News reported that “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren, was translated into 56 languages and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide since 2002, making it the bestselling nonfiction hardcover book in history.  And yet, I don’t know anybody – myself included, that took the time to write down their answers to Life’s Five Great Questions, crafting a Life Purpose Statement as suggested on Day Forty – the culminating chapter of the book.

I invited you last week to join me in the Lenten fast our church is doing – that is, for each of us to give up something (in typical Lent fashion) in order to give back to someone – our local communities, our families, our friends, our church community.  This new twist – to give up to give out – carries the hope and possibility of transforming relationships within your family, your neighborhood, your community, your church, and making a difference to those in need.  Ideally, whatever you sacrifice during these 40 days of Lent, you want to turn into a blessing for someone else.  That takes some thinking, some intentionality, even some creativity.  So I’m thinking that maybe as a practice run for writing a Life Purpose Statement, it may be a good idea to start small and write a Lent Purpose Statement – you know, to answer those five great questions about my purpose for the Lenten fast.

What will be the center of my life during Lent? (Question of Worship)  Okay, that one is easy – definitely God.

What will be the character of my life during Lent? (Question of discipleship) I want to have a Christlike character during the Lenten season – loving, giving, compassionate.

What will be the contribution of my life during Lent? (Question of service)  If I were answering this question about my life, I would give long and serious thought to some of what Rick Warren calls your SHAPE – spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences.  After all, a life purpose should be something grand, shouldn’t it? … something that really points to a ministry in the Body of Christ, the best custom-made role for serving in the family of God?  But I only have to decide who to serve and how for the next 33 days – I’m not locked in for a lifetime.  And as Rick Warren points out “even Jesus didn’t meet the needs of everyone while on earth.  You have to choose whom you can best help, based on your shape.”  Well, I’m going with GIVING TIME – reconnecting  with family and friends (often the most overlooked group of people in my life), and making new connections with neighbors and co-workers.  Max Lucado in “Out Live Your Life” says we can each make a significant difference, even by doing something small – like practicing hospitality.

Especially now, hospitality is the untapped resource of the church.  Think about how isolated we are:  because of garage doors and cars and cubicles and earphones, we can succeed in having no human contact.  The result is severe loneliness throughout our communities.  … people are hungry for hospitality, excited to be invited over.  And there’s something wonderfully “New Testament” (Acts 2) about that.

I want to be a New Testament girl!  I want to be intentional about inviting neighbors in to my house, hosting game nights or movie nights or karaoke.  I want to know my co-workers outside of the office, extend some work relationships beyond 5 o’clock and develop personal relationships with those I spend more time with than anybody these days.

So, how am I gonna do that?  What’s the plan for being available, having time, to connect and reconnect?  Remember, the litmus test for the fast is that it must involve sacrifice on my part, giving something up in order to turn that around and give it out.  Here’s my commitment:  After dinner and on Saturdays, I will not be spending time in my living room unless someone is there with me … since I live alone, that means no one will be in the living room unless I invite someone over, throw a party, usher a neighbor in impromptu style.  The living room has all the trappings Max Lucado referred to for avoiding human contact …  I can veg out in front of the TV, catch up on that stack of Sports Illustrated and Us Weeky magazines, read one of the six books I’ve started, or just sit and daydream in front of the fire …. ah, there’s no place like home!  And the close proximity to the kitchen makes it so easy to grab a snack while I’m doing any of those things.  I’ll be spending my evenings and Saturdays – when I don’t have plans to connect in-house or out, upstairs with a focus on reconnecting with family and friends … by telephone, with a handwritten note, yes – even email and Facebook for some.  So, I’m giving up time in the living room to give time to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

There are so many needs and causes to help with these days, especially now as we witness so many in Japan reeling from the effects of the horrific earthquake and tsunami late last week.  So I do want to help someone in a tangible way in my community, and I’ve decided to GIVE FOOD during the Lenten fast to our local food bank The Center for Food Action.

What will be the communication of my life during Lent? (Question of mission)  The most important thing I want to communicate to people during Lent is that they matter, they are cared for and valued … I want to communicate the love, truth, and compassion of Jesus Christ.  As I give up time I’m spending on meaningless activities like TV to create new relationships and deepen existing relationships, I want to communicate to each person that they are important to me, they matter, they are worth my time, and I want to be connected to them, to know what they’re struggling with, what they’re celebrating, to understand what brings them joy, what trips them up in life.  I don’t ever want anyone to say what I’ve heard a million times, “I know you’re busy, but …”  No, I don’t want anyone thinking my life is too busy for them.  I want to be wholly and totally available, approachable, and interested in them.

I want my food donations to The Center for Food Action to communicate that same kind of caring and love and worth.  Several years ago I took a group of middle school kids to CFA to drop off canned goods we had collected on Souper Bowl Sunday.  One of the boys looked around at what was stocked on the shelves and said something like “Oh man, look at all this generic stuff and all the cheap food – we would never eat that stuff at our house.”  I’ve never forgotten that, and isn’t that so true that our food donations usually come from what’s leftover from our own kitchen shelves or the soup that’s on sale, the generic brand canned vegetables, or the proverbial inexpensive meal in a box – macaroni & cheese?  What does that communicate to those served by the food bank?  When they unpack their bag of these items, I’m sure they feel lucky, grateful, but do they feel worthy?  Do they feel valued?  Do they feel loved?  I’ve made a commitment to reduce my grocery budget by $20 weekly and to use that money to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for The Center for Food Action.  I also decided that instead of the two trips I usually make to the grocery store each week (sometimes more – you know there’s always those 2 or 3 items you just need to pick up and you end up walking out of the store with 2 or 3 bags), I am going to do my shopping on one trip, and the second trip each week will be solely to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables for CFA.  I will not allow myself to pick up even one thing for my personal kitchen on the CFA grocery store run – I want to be focused on and thinking about – maybe even praying for – the people of the community being served while I shop.

What will be the community of my life during Lent? (Question of fellowship)  No question here – The Plant … where we live out community meeting in member homes during the week to engage in relationships with one another, learn God’s truth in the Scriptures, find a place of belonging, and together serve the community locally and in Uganda.

The MISSION of my PURPOSE DRIVEN LENT is to transform the quality of my giving to others in a way that communicates the love, truth, & compassion of Jesus Christ.

What will you give up this Lenten season?  What will you give out?

Can you answer the FIVE GREATEST QUESTIONS about your purpose during Lent?

You Tube – Josh Wilson-I Refuse

Standing in Disobedience & Not Sure WHY

I have a history with the Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference, a history that began long before attending the annual conference for the first time in 2009, and one that continues to be scripted by God even in the disappointment I feel in deciding not to attend the 2011 Conference this July.  The disappointment lies in the mad desire to go, in the childlike tantrum of my heart that says “I wanna go!” and even in the Spirit-filled knowing that the new Become a Better Story Teller Track for Speakers and Writers would equip me in deeper ways to be a voice for God in my writing, blogging, speaking, and life coaching.

My desire to encourage and challenge others for the Kingdom has never been called into question.  My follow-through … well that’s another issue entirely – even when the One I profess to love and serve has been eminently clear in what He is asking of me, and despite the training and people He has used to invest in His plan for me to make Christ known to a broken and hurting world.  He has spoken to me boldly and repeatedly – why can’t I respond in like fashion?  I sometimes wonder what is the matter with me … what will it take for me to do ALL of what God has asked me to do for Him?  Not just to step out – oh, I am so good at that, seriously – I’m off with the starting gun, but whoa there, if something distracts me coming around that turn in the second lap, I just never cross the finish line.  I’m wondering if Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 apply to me.

And I am certain that God who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So, Paul, you’re sure about that?  You’re certain?  Really?  Well, one of us has dropped the ball apparently … unless you’re telling me that I won’t finish the work God has assigned me until Christ Jesus returns!  Not a fan of that 411 – this race horse is 57 years old, running with spiritual shin splints I think!  Well, if any of you have ever had shin splints, you know the treatment called for is rest, ice, stretching, and strengthening.  Having heard clearly from God during my Daniel Fast, and again during my Give God 5 AM for 30 Days adventure, that He will not bless me with additional income from life coaching, speaking, or writing until I learn to manage what He has already given me financially, I have decided for now to rest in Him for a time, to ice my plans to attend She Speaks 2011, to stretch my self-judgment and self-disappointment in all of my unfinished ministry business to understand – as my sister says – who God has designed me to be, instead of what I think God made me to do.

A few years back, I felt God pressing down on me to enlarge my Christian Life Coaching practice to include a speaking and writing ministry, so when I learned that I would be laid off from my daytime corporate job sometime in the following six months, I thought God had orchestrated the layoff to push me into speaking and writing for Him, and I was quick to register for She Speaks in 2009.  I only knew about the conference because the year before a friend of mine dropped an issue of Proverbs 31 magazine in my mailbox after hearing Lysa TerKeurst speak at a local women’s spring conference.  That issue contained an article written by a Christian Life Coach, and my friend thought it might interest me.

That first year I registered for the Speakers Track and signed up to take part in a Speaker Evaluation Group.  I was feeling so encouraged after giving my 3-minute testimony on Friday evening, like I may actually have what it takes to be a Christian speaker.  But it was the Saturday night peer evaluation that had me flying high, feeling anointed and affirmed in His gifting to speak.  As I read the evaluations from my group, I was like “yes, Lord, I hear you now Lord, I will speak for you!”  But here’s the thing … I had spent hours preparing a 5-minute teaching on The Prodigal Son from Luke 15 to present Saturday night, but that wasn’t the message I gave.  The night before, Marybeth Whalen – our P31 evaluation group leader, told us to be open to getting our message from God, as she had, as late as Saturday afternoon.  That was my story, unscripted, unplanned, but a graced life lesson to be sure.

I went to the Prayer Room 2 hours before I was to speak, with the intent of getting a message from God.  Among the many distractions was the sound of a sobbing woman rushing in and throwing herself onto a couch in tears – I mean, seriously, I’m trying to get a message here, I was thinking.  I immediately thought of the Galatians passage “Share each other’s burdens …” but mentally waved that off like a pitcher that doesn’t like the sign the catcher is giving.  She wouldn’t stop wailing, so I finally opened my Bible to see exactly what Paul says in that verse.  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (6:2)  Oh great, it would have to be the law of Christ … in my frustration and anxious spirit about not having a message, I reluctantly went over to comfort – well okay, to obey the law of Christ, and check on the crying woman.  Thankfully, she wanted to be alone with her God …. until I was ready to leave, empty-handed, without a message, to retreat to my hotel room to figure out what in the world I would say standing in front of my group in 30 minutes.  Now she wants me to pray with her – she didn’t want prayer when I wanted to pray for her … and then, the bomb – she didn’t even have a burden!  She was sobbing in amazement of God’s goodness (could use a little bit of that myself, I’m thinking) that a publisher would be interested in her story of brokenness and redemption … oh, Lord have mercy!

After I prayed for her, hand-in-hand, with tears falling (perhaps for different reasons) in His mighty presence, she announced she wanted to pray for me and asked what brought me to the Prayer Room that afternoon.  When I confessed I had come seeking a message from God that would speak into the life of just one woman in my speaker evaluation group, she began to pray for me …. but it was all wrong – she was praying for the wrong things, for courage to be still?  No, I needed a message, not stillness, not even courage.  But in the stillness, the tears came faster, like a watershed, and I knew that God had called me not to share her burden, but to allow her to share mine.  So powerful, I had fought against it so long, that it exhausted me as I leaned into her for an embrace and meekly asked if I could share our story in the Prayer Room as my message.  It was not the rave reviews on my 5-minute teaching that I brought home from the conference.  No, it was the lesson I learned in the Prayer Room, the teaching that I have shared with so many givers that are uncomfortable being given to, myself included – that God is not always asking me to share someone else’s burden, but sometimes He is just asking me to let someone share mine.

Last year I chose the Writers Track at She Speaks, and prepared a one-sheet for a book proposal “Hot Flashes Don’t Kill Dreams – Meet the God of Post-Menopausal Beginnings”.  I had the opportunity to meet with best-selling author Cecil Murphey and his enthusiasm for my book idea was alarming.  When he said “this is a book that must be written”, I was stunned, and further overwhelmed when he suggested I write two chapters and offered to personally review them with an editor’s eye.  This was an incredible offer, definitely a God-thing, a total affirmation that God is serious about me writing and speaking.  I guess I don’t have to tell you that I never followed through on this.  In fact, when registration opened for this year’s conference and I saw that Cecil would again be there, I thought “what if I run into him and he asks me why I never sent him the two sample chapters?” You have to know this isn’t an arrogance thing – it’s not like I would expect a busy, well-known author to remember meeting with little old me for 15 minutes a year ago to talk about a book idea I have, but we’re talking about God here, and He keeps reminding me about writing and speaking for Him in the most unexpected ways – it would not surprise me a bit to find myself stuck in an elevator with Cecil, being called on the carpet in Jesus’ name.

After attending a session with Jeannie Burlowski – a nationally known speaker, consultant, and writer on the subject of effective, persuasive communication – “How to Prepare a Powerful, Effective 15-Minute Publisher Meeting”, I took advantage of her offer to consult personally with me about my one-sheet for a book idea.  She loved the book idea, stressing that nobody is writing for mid-life Christian women even though there is such a need, and with lightening speed and laser sharp skill, she quickly reframed the heart of the book for me, suggesting a format built around the life coaching process so that I would actually coach readers in the book using the same principles, steps, and homework exercises I use with my coaching clients – brilliant!  Jeannie sent me into a group publisher meeting ready to pitch my book idea in under one minute with full confidence of the points I had to hit on, and encouraged me to complete a full book proposal when I got home for editing and submission to a publisher.  Have I done any work on the book proposal?  Nope!

I continued stepping out – just not over the finish line – this past year, working with Amy Carroll on message development through Next Step Speaker Services.  Our weekly calls kept me accountable to doing the work, following the steps, and I learned how to craft a message – most importantly, I learned how to get started – to get off that “paralysis by analysis” track, and I was relieved to send off my 30 minute message “No Expiration Date on Dreams” for evaluation, excited that I was almost ready to complete something from my “God things to do” list.  The evaluation was glowing, encouraging, just a few tweaks to lengthen the message, teach the lesson fully, add in a success story.  I had almost arrived at the point of having a message to offer to churches and women’s ministry groups, to know I had obeyed the call God had delivered a full two years ago – yep, you guessed it – failure to launch!

I don’t know why I haven’t finished my “No Expiration Date on Dreams” message so I could offer it to churches and Women’s Ministry Groups.  I don’t know why I didn’t write two sample chapters of “Hot Flashes Don’t Kill Dreams” to send to Cecil Murphey for his keen editing eye.  Or why I didn’t write and submit a complete book proposal at the encouragement and advice of Jeannie Burlowski.  Why didn’t I script a 1-minute video testimonial for Next Step Speaker Services as Amy asked me to, trusting God to provide the video camera to record it?   And when Lysa TerKeurst posted a chance to win one of the Cecil Murphey scholarships to She Speaks right after I decided to honor God with my money and not register for this year’s conference, why was I on the phone talking with my sister about it till after midnight on the March 11th submission deadline, so it was too late to submit a blog post that may have blessed me with a paid scholarship to the conference?

I don’t have answers for these questions.  I can only tell God I’m trying to be obedient, that I want more than anything to be His voice, to deliver the messages I was born to tell the world in this season of life.  I am thinking about Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 again I am certain that God who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished and I’m reading it differently now.  I think Paul is talking about God’s work IN me – not through me; the remodeling work God is doing on the inside that allows me to let someone share my burdens where once I couldn’t, the reconstruction of impulse spending into financial choices that are intentional, God-honoring decisions, even if it means missing a conference that I think has my name written all over it to equip me for Kingdom work.  That’s the work God has begun in me – His work, and that’s the work – the “inside” job He will continue until it is finally finished.  I know now why I have those spiritual shin splints – I am “under construction” and the strengthening that follows rest, ice, and stretching will only be found by paying attention to the flagman in the road and waiting for my turn to pass through.

What about you?  Are you seeing any detours in the road to doing God’s work?

Invitation – The Lenten Fast “Sacrifice to Gift”

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was raised – even as a young child, to give up something for Lent.  It was never framed as fasting or referred to as a fast – heaven forbid, even now as an adult, the word “fast” conjures up an image of someone weak with hunger, stumbling to reach water before perishing.  The focus was on sacrifice – that as Christ sacrificed his life, endured suffering for our sins, we enter into a season of sacrifice, where we give up (and suffer doing it!) something we enjoy or value.  It sounds so stupid now … Christ gave up his life, so I gave up candy?  Really?

Probably about 15 years ago or so, there seemed to be a shift in thinking, at least in the Lutheran Church I was a part of, and I suspect in many mainline churches, downplaying the negative “giving up” part and instead encouraging people to do something good or positive for others.  Fast forward to 2011 and my church – cultivating the love, truth, and compassion of Jesus Christ, has challenged everyone within our church community to journey together during the Lenten season for a 40-day fast.  Since you’ve all been such good sports walking through the 21 days of The Daniel Fast and the “Give God 5 AM for 30 Days” adventure with me, I want to invite you to come along – not only to follow my journey, but to be a part of it, to join me.  Let me encourage you with the details.

In terms of background for those unfamiliar with practicing any Lenten observance, Lent is a 40-day period of fasting before Easter.  It is a time when the Church journeys with Christ through his forty day fast in the wilderness that prepared him for his ministry and death.  The forty days of Lent start on Ash Wednesday, March 9th this year, and end on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.  Here’s the good news … each Sunday during Lent is a break in the fast, to remind us that the somberness of Lent that culminates in Good Friday, leads to a joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Most often when we fast, we give up something in order to get something in return from God.  During the 21 days of The Daniel Fast, for instance, I gave up all meat and dairy products, sugar, preservatives, caffeine (I came up a little short on this one), leavened breads or crackers, alcohol, … removing all the distractions of food, for the purpose of hearing from God on specific things I was praying about and to deepen my relationship with Him.  The point of this fast is a little different – it is to give something up in order to give back … give back to our local communities, our families, our friends, and our church community.  This is not only about personal spiritual growth – it is about empowering us through the Holy Spirit to set up God’s kingdom in our midst.  It is about the possibility of transforming relationships with your family, your neighbors, your community, your church, and especially those in need.

So what does that look like?  Basically, whatever you take away from yourself, you want to find a way to give to someone else.  If you give up certain foods or cut your weekly grocery budget, then bless someone on a fixed income with a care package of food, or donate food to a local food bank or soup kitchen.  If you give up “screen time” at home – TV, internet, Facebook, Email, etc. don’t fill your time with other activities like catching up on that stack of magazines or books to read … use the time to connect with your family.  Maybe your sacrifice is to give up reading the morning newspaper – no, don’t go back to bed to fill the time … take a walk over and deliver your paper to a neighbor who doesn’t get one.  Or ask the neighbor to share a morning walk with you.  If you’re looking forward to settling down on the couch to watch March Madness basketball games, make a deal with yourself to give up watching any games unless you have a group of friends over to watch with you … or better yet, a couple of neighbors you don’t know very well – what a great chance to get to know them.  If you’re a workaholic that goes in early and stays late at the office, promise yourself during Lent that you’ll cut your hours to a regular 9 to 5 business day … and then use your early morning time to pray, spend time in the Word, and at the other end of the day, surprise one of your kids at a sports practice or game that you never get to because you’re too busy, go home and cook dinner for the family or invite a co-worker who’s struggling to stop after work for coffee and conversation.  Disconnect the Nintendo Wii sports and actually play tennis, go bowling, workout with the family – in real fresh air, or play a board game with your kids – every night.  Trust me – they will never forget it!  Can you turn the heat down a few notches, turn off the space heater that warms the bathroom floor, forget about using the electric mattress pad to warm your bed before getting in, and find your way in the dark without that lamp on the timer?  Consider trying it, and give the money you save on utilities to a community service organization that helps people who can’t pay their gas and electric bills.  Go through the clothes in your closet – yes, spring is coming soon! – and instead of stuffing the floppy bag into the chute of one of those clothing donation bins, decide that you will seek out and personally hand each piece of clothing to someone who needs it.

The real question we all want to be asking as we enter into this season of Lent is How can fasting from _________ deepen my connection with others or God?

If you are one of my regular blog readers, I suspect you are already trying to live a godly life – I know I am, but it’s sometimes hard, isn’t it, when we lead such busy lives?  The Israelites thought they were living a pious life – going to Temple every day, following God’s laws, even fasting, as Isaiah tells us in the opening verses of Chapter 58.  And they couldn’t understand why Isaiah wasn’t impressed with them, why he didn’t notice or acknowledge their fasting. Here in Isaiah 58:3-5 from The Message is his response:

3-5“Well, here’s why:”The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

So if Isaiah is speaking for God, what kind of fast is God after?  What would He like?  Let’s continue reading at verse 6 –

6-9“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

9-12“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Where is there injustice, exploitation, hunger, material need, loneliness in your community, your family, your church, that demands your presence and attention?  Are you willing to become known as a Christ-follower empowered to restore, rebuild, renovate, and make the community livable again? As you think about what you can sacrifice and consequently give, ask God to lead you in the discovery process.  And then, I pray, you will listen to the sound of His voice.