What God delivered in my Daniel Fast

It’s funny re-reading this post from 2012 today as I would probably entitle it “When Things Don’t Go So Well During Your Fast”. There are plenty of reasons to feel agitated – some of which are physical, particularly at the beginning when your body is going through caffeine and sugar withdrawal. If you read my previous post about What You Can Eat on the Daniel Fast, you know I had to make some adjustments in order to hear from God and get out of my own deprivation mindset … that and the whopping headache that left me without focus or a clear thought in my head, except for COFFEE! But there are other things that come up even when you’ve handled the food part of the fast well. As God shows you things He perhaps wants to change in you or develop in your character, the view isn’t always pretty. And even though God’s intentions and desires are wholly for you, don’t forget there is an enemy that absolutely hates you fasting and trying to get closer to God. So be aware, be gentle with yourself, ask God what he is telling you through this, and cast out the enemy from your thoughts, your home, and tell him in bold terms to stop messing with you because you are His!

I began the Daniel Fast on January 8th for two reasons: to know what God wanted to accomplish through me, and to ask Him to spread His wide hand of healing through a family that has been on my heart.

At the end of last week, I was feeling antsy, disappointed, and unsettled.  I was not feeling the same deep personal connection with God during this fast as I did last year, I wasn’t really hearing anything from Him about what He wanted to accomplish through me, and I confess I had growing doubts that healing was happening or would happen for the family I was praying for during my fast.  I have to acknowledge that God had certainly done alot with personal relationships in my life the past few weeks, but that’s not what I was going for.  Did you ever just feel like saying to God “Nice, but that wasn’t the question!”?

Saturday morning I got so worked up about a voice mail message from Pat at Verizon Wireless.  I had submitted an online contact form 2 days earlier explaining that I had not received an electronic copy of my Verizon statement for the last two months, and asked that someone look into it and reinstate it.  Well Pat left a message saying that she was following up on the email contact form I submitted, however she could not assist me because I did not provide the account password in my email.  Seriously? If they wanted the password, they should have asked for it – even required it, on the submit form, right?

I was already annoyed, but Pat had left the 800 customer service telephone number as well as her direct line for me, so I decided to call her right back and get the issue taken care of.  I dialed her number and it immediately went to voice mail, and it didn’t even give the courtesy “I’m assisting another customer …” message – it sounded like she wasn’t even planning on answering at that number.  Well, I just flipped out.  Seriously, that triggered something in me, that just set me off in an uncontrollable rant.  And in my mind I heard a voice saying Don’t do it, but I couldn’t stop myself from leaving an angry voice mail message.  I tried to soften the blow of my wrath by starting, “I’m sure it’s not your fault” … but even that was lost in what followed, “if a password is needed to assist me, the contact submit form should have stated that, and by the way, I didn’t get the response within the 24 hrs.  promised, so I’m a little frustrated that I’ve waited two days, and I wasn’t expecting to get your voice mail when I called right back, I didn’t change anything on my account to stop the electronic bill from coming, so now I’m at the same place as I was before I contacted you online.”

I ended the call, steam coming out of my ears by then I’m sure, and an email notification popped up on my phone – guess who?  That’s right – Pat from Verizon sent me a confirming email that she had attempted to reach me but could not assist me with my account because I did not provide the password, so she suggested I resubmit the contact form.  I was livid, so angry at being dismissed without the issue being resolved – I had to calm down.  There is nothing worse than being all jacked up about something and knowing at the same time that you are being totally irrational.

How do I spell relief? FOOD! I went to the kitchen to stuff down the rage and self-comfort with something to eat, but big problem – I’m on the Daniel Fast so there is absolutely no chocolate in the house!  Like a prowling cat, I opened cabinets, the frig, scanned the countertops – nothing sweet, nothing naughty, only fruits, vegetables, boring whole grains & nuts, …. I was beside myself!  I mean you have to get the irony of this moment – I am fasting to hear from God about what He wants to accomplish through me.  I have pledged obedience, I have said “I will make disciples of all the nations, I will go to the ends of the earth for You” … and then “but please don’t make me deal with the incompetence of Verizon Wireless!”

I plopped in my green chair and wrote in my journal LORD, SHOW ME, WHY AM I SO UPSET?  With everything (food) stripped away, sitting alone with my anger before God, I BECAME that wounded 10 year old girl, the middle of 5 kids when my mom died, who lost any consistent connection with an adult in my life, and I felt small, overlooked, unseen, insignificant.  And then I BECAME the wounded 40-year old woman and wife who felt like my opinion didn’t count, like I didn’t matter, when my husband took a job in Boston against my will, and I isolated and became disconnected from friends because I was ashamed that I didn’t want to follow my husband to Boston.  God brought me then to just a month ago when I BECAME that 58-year old Community Group leader feeling unimportant, not valued, and abandoned by members who attended small group regularly last year but hadn’t made it a priority this year.

So with Pat from Verizon Wireless, I responded and did what I did with every other relationship over the years when people weren’t available to me as I wanted them to be – I got mad, and I decided “If you don’t need me, I will not need you either.  I will find someone else who will value me.” And I shut them out, made them wrong for letting me down, for making their attention inaccessible to me.

I don’t know what God wants to accomplish through me on a grand scale or in the days ahead, but I do know this for today:  God often wants to do something IN us before He will do something THROUGH us or even FOR us.

Maybe you’ve been fasting and feeling discouraged, too, if you haven’t heard from God.  Or maybe you feel like your prayers are not being answered, or even heard.  I can assure you, dear one, that with His tender heart and craving for you to draw close, He is listening, He is longing to heal you, to grow you into all He designed you to be.

Is there something God wants to do IN you before He can do something THROUGH you or FOR you?

We must remember that the enemy hates our prayers and fasting, and wants nothing more than to distract us from our growing relationship with God by planting doubt and lies where we are most vulnerable.  The chorus from Demi Lovato’s hit “Skyscraper” runs through my mind in response, and reminds me that our victory is in Christ – that is the truth for which there is no doubt.

You can take everything I have, you can break everything I am, like I’m made of glass, like I”m made of paper.  Go on and try to tear me down, I will be rising from the ground, like a skyscraper, like a skyscraper!

What can you eat on the Daniel Fast?

This is a repost from 2012, but the most asked question I get every year … I know what I can’t eat on the Daniel Fast, but what CAN I eat? So here you go ….

What is it about the human mind that always goes to that negative place,  to what we can’t have?  Whenever I tell someone about the Daniel Fast,  I always lead with the restriction “no meat, no dairy, no sweeteners, no processed foods, no solid fats, no beverages except water”.  Sure, I am quick to follow with what foods are included: all fruits and vegetables, all whole grains, all nuts & seeds, all legumes, all quality oils.  But the best most can conjure up from merging these two pieces – what’s in, what’s out –  is a picture of consuming large quantities of raw vegetables, bananas, apples & the staple of all restrictive eating plans – the salad.

The question I’m asked more than any other is:  So what CAN you eat on the fast?  Let me give you a few ideas,  and share some recipes that go a long way to get you through a fast week.

Staples that I keep in the house: olive oil, vegetable broth, variety of nuts, apples

Favorite snacks: Sage Valley Lite Organic Popcorn, peanuts, almonds, SPIKES Salsa & Scoops, celery with peanut butter or almond butter, peanut butter on warm (microwaved) whole wheat tortilla.  REMEMBER TO READ LABELS – you will be amazed that there is sugar in almost everything!

Favorite Meals

Breakfast – Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oatmeal made with cinnamon, ground flax, dash of sea salt, & walnuts.  Sometimes I add chopped apple to the mix.

Lunch – I take a lunch to work where there is a microwave available, so one of my favs is Black Bean Chili (recipe below) with Scoops.  I love to make a pot of the chili over the weekend, so it’s available to pack for lunch or have for a quick dinner throughout the week.

Dinner – any kind of vegetable oven roasted with olive oil & sea salt is probably my #1 choice: eggplant, brussels sprouts, potatoes, asparagus, or a mix of potatoes, yams, mushrooms, carrots.

Other dinner ideas –

  • Barley & Mushroom Pilaf – recipe below
  • Stir fry of broccoli, cherry tomatoes, garlic & olive oil over whole grain shell pasta
  • Baked potato – white or sweet with mix of vegetables oven roasted with vegetable broth added over the top

Favorite Treat – baked apples with cinnamon and chopped pecans

Black Bean Chili Recipe

Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, saute the following ingredients together until softened:

  • Red onion, chopped
  • Garlic, minced
  • Red & green bell pepper
  • Whole kernel corn (bag of frozen corn)
  • Portabella mushrooms diced
  • Can of petite diced tomatoes
  • Chili powder
  • 1 tsp. chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

After sauteing the vegetables, move them to a large saucepan and add 1 can (150z size) of Goya black beans – blue label.

Add 1 or 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth or water, and salt & pepper to taste.  Simmer on low to medium heat for a minimum of 15-20 minutes – the longer you allow the chili to simmer over low heat, the more flavorful it will be.

Serve with tortilla chips, or over brown rice.

Barley & Mushroom Pilaf Recipe

Ingredients: 1/2 cup fresh sliced mushrooms, 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 cup pearl barley, 3 cups vegetable broth, 2 tbsp. chopped green onions (scallions), 1/4 tsp crushed dried rosemary, 1/4 cup pine nuts

Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add mushrooms and saute until limp. Add barley, vegetable broth, green onion, and rosemary.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Bon appetit!  Be blessed in your fast!

TOP 10 Ways to Prepare for the Daniel Fast

It’s that time of the year again when many churches embark on a corporate fast together – often the Daniel Fast. Whether you are doing it as a faith community or as a personal retreat, I thought it might encourage you for me to repost some posts on the Daniel Fast from 2012. Praying that you will be blessed and hear from God in big ways.

Whether you have committed to the Daniel Fast as part of a corporate fast with literally tens of thousands of men and women joining in the January movement, or you have decided to “give it a go” on your own, there are countless online resources available to help you understand the basis for this 21-day spiritual fast, and provide everything from study tools to recipes to equip you for a successful fast.  Preparation is essential!  Think about it … we’ve just come out of the season of Advent, having prepared for 4 weeks to receive again the birth of our Lord & Savior.  Doesn’t it make sense that we should prepare fully to receive the birth of something magnificent God wants to do in our lives through the fast?  May I share with you my TOP 10 list of important ways to prepare for the Daniel Fast?

  1. Decide on a purpose for your fast – actually,  I’d like to suggest that you come up with a dual purpose – a reason for fasting for yourself, and a purpose in fasting  for someone else.  Do you have a specific need, situation, or decision that you want to hear about from the Lord?  Are you seeking wisdom, discernment, revelation of God’s will in a particular area of your life? Are you, or someone close to you, struggling with a physical or emotional health issue that you desperately want God to heal?  What keeps you up at night?  What do you go to bed thinking about and wake up with still on your mind?  Take some time to boldly consider what you would most like God to to do in your life and in the life of someone else – that is your purpose for the fast.
  2. Examine your heart to see if there is anything standing in the way of God responding – do you believe that God can and will perform miraculous healing, that He speaks to us today, that He does answer prayer, blesses obedience … ?  If you have any doubts, meditate on Mark 9:24 and ask God to help you overcome your unbelief.  Is there a broken relationship you have not tended to, a grudge you are holding on to, are you living outside of God’s will in your daily life?  Matthew 5:34 says “leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  Share your purpose in fasting for someone else with that person. Let the person know when you will begin, how long the fast will last, specifically how you will be asking God to intervene in their life.  Depending on your relationship with the person, you may want to check their level of belief that God will answer your fasting prayer for them.  This may be an opportunity to share your reasons for believing that our God can do what seems impossible and ask the person to trust you in this fast even if they are not up to trusting God yet in their life.
  3. Become familiar with Daniel Fast food guidelines, and “customize”- determine what foods you will include and exclude in your fasting eating plan.  There are many sources of information for The Daniel Fast Food List, but here are the basics: Foods to include in your diet during the Daniel Fast – all fruits, all vegetables, all whole grains, all nuts & seeds, all legumes, all quality oils.  Foods to avoid on the Daniel Fast – all meat & animal products, all dairy products, all sweeteners, all leavened bread, all refined and processed food products, all deep fried foods, all solid fats, all beverages except water.  Ask yourself which Daniel Fast food guidelines you can commit to and follow without legitimately compromising your health or your ability to work, serve, or relate to others in a God-honoring way. For example, I attempted to do my first Daniel Fast by adopting all of the standard food guidelines associated with the 21-day fast, including no caffeine.  I am a regular morning coffee drinker, having 2 full mugs of coffee during my “freestyle prayer” in my quiet time with God, and the absence of the caffeine burst washing over me brought on a whopping, debilitating headache by Day 2 of the fast.  I felt seriously handicapped, I could not focus on my purpose for the fast during my prayer time, I was muddle headed at work, indecisive about what to do when I got home, and was ready to “go off” on anybody at the smallest infraction or hint of incompetence.  It was clearly not working for me to eliminate caffeine no matter how badly I wanted to do the fast perfectly.  When I made the decision to reduce instead of eliminate, allowing myself one mug of coffee in the morning the first week, then cut that further to 3/4 of a mug week 2, and 1/2 a mug the final week, I experienced the restrictive discipline of fasting along with the freedom to notice and claim what God had for me in the fast.  Remember that the goal of fasting is not just to do without food – it is to draw closer to God, and while there should be some level of discomfort in the abstinence you choose, different fasting combinations work better for different people.

    4. Assemble a prayer team – 3 people to pray for one week each about your purpose, and 3 people to pray for one week each about your purpose for fasting for someone else. You’ll want to share your purpose for fasting and be very specific about what you are asking God to do, so be sure to select prayer warriors that will keep your fasting purpose for someone else in the strictest confidence. Ask those you’ve chosen to pray specifically for your fasting purpose on set dates for weeks 1, 2, & 3 so you are covered in prayer for the entire fast.
    5. Make a grocery list of Daniel Fast foods you will include in your eating plan. Research recipes from websites and blogs about the Daniel Fast, or do a google search of vegan recipes and eliminate any ingredients to be avoided in the fast. Add ingredients for any recipes to your grocery list. If you work during the day, be sure to plan for meals and snacks you can take to work, and put those items on your grocery list. Wait to shop until 1 or 2 days before your fast begins so fruits & vegetables are fresh.
    6. Cut down your food intake and start weaning yourself off of sweeteners, dairy products, meats, and other non-fast foods you usually consume a large quantity of in the 3 to 5 days before your fast start date. Use the foods in your refrigerator and cabinet that will be on lock-down once the fast begins. You may find that you don’t have a desire for these foods any longer after the fast ends.
    7. Decide on and gather your quiet time prayer and study tools. Plan what time and where you will meet with God daily. Purchase a journal or download a fasting prayer journal from one of the Daniel Fast blogs or websites. You will want to chronicle all that God reveals to you in this journey so find a way to capture it in print. You may have an amazing testimony to share when it comes time to break your fast.
    8. 1 Day before your fast begins, make a pot of vegetarian chili, vegetable soup, mushroom barley pilaf or other dish so something is available for a quick meal to get you started eating the right foods, or to have on hand when you can’t think of anything to eat and you’re hungry. I was surprised how often I craved roasted vegetables upon awakening (remember you can have olive oil so roast away!) and often had them for breakfast the last time I did the fast.
    9. Take inventory – a “BEFORE” picture of your physical and spiritual health. Spend some time in your journal crafting your “before” picture … physically – how much do you weigh? how much energy do you have? how do you feel? what physical limitations do you have? what health concerns do you have? what medications do you take regularly? does your physical health support all you want to do in life, what God is asking you to do? what about stress? do you feel convicted to get more sleep, drink less alcohol, stop smoking, eat healthier foods, get some exercise, or change other habits to honor the body God gave you? … spiritually – do you have a daily discipline of prayer and time in the Word? do you involve God in the decisions you make? do you call upon God throughout the day in even the smallest of matters? are you growing in your spiritual journey or stalled out at the same place as you were last year? how do you live out your faith in your family, at work, with friends? do you seek revelation of God’s will or move forward with your own agenda? are you connected with other believers? can you see evidence of God working in your life? are you pursuing a deeper relationship with God continually? are you serving God by serving others? do you take seriously and act on the charge to make disciples of all the nations?
    10. Pray for this period of preparation. Father, I want to draw closer to You. I want to know You and experience You. In a few days I will start on the Daniel Fast. I ask now that You open my heart. Prepare me. Show me the things You want me to see about myself. Teach me more about You and Your Word. Help me to see Your wisdom, Your grace, and Your purpose for my life. Amen. (From Susan Gregory’s “The Daniel Fast for the Body, Soul and Spirit”). Pray a Prayer of Dedication on your fast start date. Father, I am starting the Daniel Fast today and dedicate this time to You. Your word says that if I will draw near to You, that You will in turn draw near to me. Father, I want to experience You. I want to increase in my relationship with You. I want to learn more about how I can delight in You and submit to You more than ever. I want You to be Lord over all my life. I thank You for bringing me to this very moment, and I look forward to being with You each and every day during this consecrated fasting time. Amen. (Also from Susan Gregory’s “The Daniel Fast for the Body, Soul and Spirit”).

    I pray that each of you will hear from God in mighty and miraculous ways during your fast, and that this will be a time of unparallelled intimacy with Him. Be blessed and nourished by El Shaddai, All Sufficient! He is Emmanuel, God with us.

What would your Christian Experience Statement Look Like?

If you were asked to write a Christian Experience Statement, what would it look like? What would it say? What pieces of your life would it reflect? Would it include a future, a vision, or just the past?

When I applied to Alliance Graduate School of Counseling for their Mental Health Counseling program earlier this year, I was asked to provide a written Christian Experience Statement, using these two questions as a guideline:

Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? If yes, please state your conversion experience, fundamentals of your personal faith and present pattern of personal growth as a Christian.

Present a personal biography including a discussion of significant events and influences which have helped develop your present values and approach to life. What is God’s call upon your life? How do you see Alliance Graduate School of Counseling fitting into God’s call on your life? What do you visualize your ministry/profession looking like five years after graduation?

Here’s what I found … when you’re truly living your story, writing a Christian Experience Statement is surprisingly easy to do. 

The middle of five children, I was 10 years old when my mama died. My dad pretty much shaped who I thought I was after that – small, insignificant, a child; and who I thought I needed to be – brave, responsible, self-sufficient, independent, submissive to authority, perfect. I got my value and identity from obedience, performance, achievements, accomplishments, recognition, and attention.

I didn’t grow up in a church or family where Christ was part of everyday life, where we sought out God’s help to get through hard times, or prayed through problems or struggles. We went to Mass Sundays, I attended a parochial school, and we prayed before dinner – that was pretty much it. If there was a problem, we fixed it ourselves or accepted that life wasn’t fair, we didn’t ask God to intervene. I was raised with lots of rules, a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility, self-reliance, high expectations for achievement & behavior.

I’ve been hiding out most of my life … hiding low self-worth behind credentials and accomplishments, hiding loneliness and fears behind an outgoing personality, sense of humor, busy schedule. At 50 years old, I was the woman at the well, isolated, hiding out from the shame of two failed marriages. I felt alone, insecure, like I didn’t matter, and everything in my life seemed out of control. But I wore a completely different mask: I was a businesswoman, single mom with 3 smart kids – all good athletes, Youth Leader that led youth mission trips, took kids to soup kitchens, counseled parents of teens. I was a soccer coach & referee – that’s the me I let other people see, and the image I desperately tried to keep intact, hoping no one would discover the real me:  lost, broken & falling apart on the inside. My entire family was in WI, and I had distanced myself from friends, thinking they were judging me for not following my husband to Boston for a job he accepted on his own, and painfully, against my wishes.

My journey to redemption started in 2003 when a stranger sitting next to me at a Christian weight loss conference invited me to join her at a Women of Faith Conference. My randomly assigned roommate at that same conference happened to be a Community Bible Study core group leader in VA, and at confessing I had never done a bible study of any sort, she encouraged me to sign up for a local CBS class, which I did. Both Women of Faith and CBS were important steps in launching my spiritual journey, but more importantly they set me on a path of connection and emotional healing as others reached out to me. Being a part of The Plant core team, missional community leader, & later serving on the leadership team, all deeply affected me as I developed a relationship with Christ in everyday life, to look to Him in all things, devote myself to Him, and to grow in community. The heart of it was not in a salvation moment, but in being drawn into authentic relationships with others that led to a deeper relationship with Christ.

I have worked in a corporate setting by day, and done some type of ministry by night, for most of my adult life. My heart for teenagers and the desire for them to feel safe, seen, and valued has never wavered. Whereas I used to see teenage girls struggling with cutting & eating disorders, today I see a generation of overstressed, overcommitted, highly anxious teens with epidemic levels of depression, substance abuse & suicide. And I feel like the church should be leading the charge on mental health of our teens! We focus on spiritual development, cultivating a heart of mission & service, equipping them to know Christ & make Him known, and yet so many are hurting and wondering where God really is in their life.

I have wanted to be an adolescent therapist for as long as I can remember, and this year as I prayed through the word THRIVE, I decided I would not take graduate school off the table because I thought I couldn’t quit my job – God would have to! He had awakened such a desire in me, not only to counsel teens, but also to advocate for mental health of our teens in the church. God has put people and circumstances in my life to affirm the call to Alliance Graduate School of Counseling and the vision for the church He has stitched in my soul, challenging me to trust Him for financial provision.

Five years after graduation, I see myself as an Adolescent Therapist at a biblically based Christian Counseling Center, helping teenagers to settle their worth, coaching youth leaders through current mental health issues in their ministries, writing and speaking to church leaders on awareness, education, and role of the church in mental health for teens.

For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long. –Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Standing on the Edge of Betrayal

Just about everyone is familiar with the “opening act” of the Passion story – Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but Mark 14:10 gives us an unusual glimpse of that moment when Judas actually decides to betray Jesus.  The first word is key – Then. The sequence of events that precede it set the scene for the moment of decision.

Jesus was dining at the home of Simon, and a woman (John names her as Mary, sister of Lazarus in his account of the story) cracks open the seal of an alabaster jar containing an exquisite and fragrant perfume and pours it out over the head of Jesus. Some are outraged, thinking this to be wastefully extravagant – again Mark differs by referring to “some” objecting while John specifically names Judas as the one to object to this woman’s actions, citing the value of the perfume equal to one year’s wages and how that could be better used to serve the poor. Jesus goes on a bit of a rant telling them to leave the woman alone, and he praises her for the beautiful, worshipful act, saying the poor will always be with them while he will not, and predicts this anointing for burial will long be remembered.

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

What was it about what Jesus said in verses 6-9 that made Judas so indignant and triggered him, in that moment, to decide to betray him?  I can almost hear him saying “That’s it!” “I’m done here!”  “I’m outta here!”  Have you ever reacted that way when someone’s gotten on your last nerve?

We know from John 12 that Judas was in charge of the Treasury, and often helped himself to the money that was in there, so we might assume he wanted the perfume sold so the money – about a year’s wages, could be put in his care (more in the till to dip into). But it’s deeper than that.  Judas expected Jesus to lead a political rebellion to overthrow Rome – not to be talking about his death to come yet again.

So when Jesus praises this woman’s extravagant anointing and rebukes those who objected, Judas finally gets it – after 3 years of following Jesus, he realizes his kingdom is not a physical or a political one. He is confronted with the stark reality that Jesus is not – and will never be, the kind of Messiah he expects. In his disappointment, and feeling himself betrayed by Jesus, Judas decides to hand Jesus over to be killed.

How do we react when God is not the God we want Him to be, or expect Him to be, in our lives? Are we done with Him, outta here? Are we maybe standing on the edge of betrayal, too?  When we become disappointed with God, we have a choice to make – to desert, as Judas did, or continue to follow.

Following Jesus doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t assume we understand what’s going on.  Peter was disappointed and disillusioned, too, to hear that Jesus’ kingdom would involve shame & death – not power & glory as he imagined. Earlier in Mark, we see Peter pulling Jesus aside to admonish him for all this crazy talk about dying and then rising from the dead 3 days later, right after he declared Jesus was the Messiah. He was confused, and Jesus actually called him Satan in that exchange – harsh! But Peter overcomes his disappointment and confusion and lets go of the need to understand. With a simple trust, he continues to follow – not perfectly as we know, but he continues to follow nonetheless.

Life is just too tough to navigate in isolation – because that’s where greed, pride, and self-righteousness can so easily take root. In order to follow Jesus well in our disappointments requires us to be in the company of other doubting disciples.  The real tragedy in this story is that Judas was so isolated by his greed and desire for status, that he had no one to turn to in his disappointment, so he turned instead to the company of the religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus.

What does this mean for us? Well, here’s what I think …

Unless you are anchored in a community where cracks in your character can be seen and filled by other imperfect followers, you are standing on the edge of betrayal at every disappointment in your life. Whether, like Judas, your disappointment is with God – not coming through as you expected or wanted Him to, or whether it lies with your spouse, your children, your boss, a friend, parent, maybe even your pastor for not living up to your expectation for them.

The choice is yours:  desert or continue to follow.  What I want for you is to choose community with other imperfect Christ followers!

  • Give them access to your life, invite their influence, allow the cracks in your character to be not only seen, but also filled.
  • Step away from the edge of betrayal and towards Christ who will never betray you, who will never be done with you, who will never be outta here, who will never say “That’s it!” no matter how many times you are disappointed in Him.
  • You are God’s Masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do all the things he planned for you long ago. Ephesians 2:10
  • You just have to continue to follow … with a simple trust, and a band of other imperfect followers surrounding you, just follow!

What Season Are You In?

Remember the days when being “color analyzed” was all the rage? It didn’t matter if it happened at a home party, a department store counter, or a fashion expo – as long as you had your color swatches with you, and knew what shades of eye shadow, blush & lipstick presented the best you, you were ready to step out and rock it! Oh, and the best part was being able to toss out that question understood by every real woman in your circles – What season are you?

I actually remember praying before my first color analysis that I would not be deemed “a winter” (my prayers were for such simple things in those days).  I hated the color red for some reason.  It just seemed so basic and plain – my sister who was far more conservative than me always wore red or navy … nope, I wanted to make a splash, not some quiet unassuming entrance into a room – me & my season wanted to be noticed! Praise God, I was an autumn!

As I thought about the next link on the bracelet – Health, and what God may be wanting me to share with you about it, the topic just felt too big.  I mean, seriously, what are we talking here … physical health (ah, yah, that’s important to give attention to), mental health, emotional health (now there’s a cavern to get lost in), spiritual health (nah, always the risk that I’ll come off preachy), so what then? There was a momentary temptation to reverse direction and go the other way around the bracelet .. I mean who says I had to go right?  There’s that catchy song “To the left, to the left …” and everybody knows in a card game or board game, play always goes to the person on your left.  But if you take a look at the bracelet, you’ll notice, I’m sure, what I saw as a clear sign that I need to tackle Health – there is a circular piece of metal with a squiggly line that inexplicably links Serenity to Health.  Take a look!

So what about Health, and what does it have to do with seasons? Ecclesiastes 3:1 has always resonated with me “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens”. If you live in the Northeast as I do, you know we are so ready to be done with winter! We are anxious for signs of spring, even as snow blanketed the streets and grass again last night while we slept, and a random snowfall with big cotton ball size flakes surprised us mid-day to taunt the still wet pavement that would not engage & allow the flakes to settle there. But did you know that, despite all appearances, even in the harshest winters, the trees don’t stop growing? Beneath the bark, their sap is silently moving to fortify the tree for the coming months. Life is still in process, but in different ways than during the rest of the year.

“Spring is for beginnings. There’s a freshness, hope and vibrancy to it. So in the springtimes of our life, we have the opportunity to see God initiate new things in us. Summer is a time for labor and growth. Fall is for harvest. Winter is for withdrawal from activity, rest, and even death of what has come to the end of its time. To be fully healthy, our lives require each one of these seasons at its due time. The key is to recognize what season we’re in and then embrace it to the full.

We all know that in nature, sometimes winter seems like it drags on forever. Some summers can seem extremely brief. Seasons vary from year to year. Sometimes God chooses to prolong them to fully accomplish His work. Sometimes so much needs to die in us before we can embrace spring that we need an unusually long winter. We have no idea how brief or long each season will be this time, but we can also learn to embrace and find the good in each season as it comes, instead of being impatient to move on to the next one that we think will be better.”  -Richard Blackaby

This has been a tough winter – not for me particularly, but for friends crushed beneath an all-consuming heartache of loss, unanswered questions, unrelenting pain, and unseen possibilities of hope, believing even the coming spring will be inadequate to mend their broken spirits. This is the perfect season to ask God to take this cup, as Jesus did, but also to remember that in order to accomplish His greater purpose, He may need you to linger in this season of  life, to discover what He wants you to learn, to fortify your spiritual health for the coming season where all things are made new in Christ.  Cry out to Him, confess your need for Him, believe this season of life is charged with divine purpose for you, sing along to Plumb’s song and let the tears wash over you like the waters of baptism.

Need You Now (How Many Times) Plumb

What about you … what season of life are you in?

Pathway to Serenity

I had no intention of waiting so long to blog about SERENITY, but the truth and irony is that I could not find a sense of serenity in writing, and I wanted that, I needed that to feel authentic.  Oh dear sweet, patient, readers, has there ever been a time when you just kept putting something off that you needed to do?  Can you relate?

Maybe a conversation -one of those “truth in love” talks, that you’ve been mentally rehearsing for awhile, or a resume that’s been haunting & daunting you. It might be a decision you’ve made about a relationship that you’ve failed to act on, a choice to do what is right & good and in alignment with God’s desire for your life – to stop enabling, set boundaries, take responsibility for what God has given you to steward & get the heck out of what God has given others to steward for themselves – in other words, land the helicopter, parents!  Whatever it is, if you’re there with me, you know the feeling of angst, the daily awakening of self-disappointment – and even shame, that you have not done what you intended to do for yet another day. Ugh!

My mind is no different than yours apparently as I think of images & feelings of serenity – peace, calm, stillness, a quiet hush that honestly I experience most often in aloneness, not in “the village”. Yes, the beach is there in my mind, too – isn’t it funny how we all think beach or ocean?  I know if I can stand at the water’s edge with waves crashing and the feel of sand underneath my feet, wind blowing across my face so that I have to brush hair back across my face, that no matter what’s going on in my life, no matter what grief or emptiness I’m carrying for a friend, I can let the tears flow, release it all, while feeling grounded and steady and loved and protected in the presence of God’s great creation. But where is the beach in the midst of my work day, in a disconnected relationship, in resounding unescapable grief ? How do I capture peace and calm and stillness and inject it into my day when I wake to a Things to Do list streaming live in my head, when the noise and demands to ready myself for the day tempts me to cut short my much needed time with my Creator, Redeemer & Guide?

I found the answer this week in the familiar – actually, one answer & one key.  The answer – ACCEPTING HARDSHIP AS A PATHWAY TO PEACE … it’s right there in the Serenity Prayer, but how many of us have ever read beyond the “wisdom to know the difference” line? And one of the most “calming” passages people cling to in times of struggle & worry, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10  follows verses about God bringing destruction on the world.  Mark 4:39 when Jesus calms the storm, how could I have missed that without a storm, God could not display his mighty rebuke to the wind, He could not have ordered stillness out of chaos and fear and unbelief. So the answer is that we have to walk through the hardships, the struggle, the everyday annoyances in the workplace, in messy unsatisfying relationships, in fears, dashed hopes, unmet expectations, our deepest longings.

But the KEY is to create periods of stillness to bring those hardships to the Lord, to allow Jesus to calm the storm, to receive the guidance, the steps, even the words the Holy Spirit longs to give you on the pathway to serenity.  Stillness begets stillness … you must have stillness with God to have stillness in your life.  Otherwise you might as well take up residence on the beach ’cause that’s the only Way to claim it.

My friend Curt offers this suggestion for reflection: Allow God’s Spirit to speak to you in the stillness of a moment today.  What message does he have for you? What risks are involved in the call Jesus is placing on your life in this season?

There is an important footnote I need to add – it struck me shortly after I hit Publish to send the post your way, but it is more than an afterthought.  It really is the exclamation mark God used to punctuate my path in discovering serenity in blogging … it is the truth that IT TAKES A VILLAGE! I could not tolerate my day after day frustration & self-disappointment at not finishing & publishing a blog post … well, okay, so maybe I knocked myself around for a couple of weeks, and then took it to God in prayer, thanking Him for the gift of writing, asking Him to make me worthy of the influence He has given me, begging Him to reveal what was standing in the way of me getting His messages out.  The daily grind of self-disappointment began to weigh more as I took on the shame of disobedience – God has been very clear about His design & desire for me to challenge women to claim all He has for them, and I was letting Him down; I was being the downright obstinate child of God … pretty tough to write from that posture of failure.

The light went on in my morning prayer time on Martin Luther King Day – a day off from work, as I ask God to bless my friend and I over a planned catch-up lunch, and beg Him in almost the same breath to fill me in on what is keeping me from blogging.  I give God some options (love to do that!) … is it ego – am I afraid it will bring attention to me instead of Him & His message (oh Lord, I desire only to be your conduit), is it fear of failure or judgment, maybe expectation that I have to keep up a level of quality writing (as though that would be a problem for God, right?), am I worthy, do I deserve to have influence in women’s lives when I’ve screwed up my own life so badly in the past?  The soft, calming voice of the Spirit catches me off guard and arrests my high-pitched game of “Is it?” with the Lord … “Kathy will give you insight” I hear – whoa, are you talking to me?

And so it was that I came to this place of finishing & publishing my blog post this morning.  I shared the struggle with Kathy at lunch that day, she has been praying over the issue since, and on Sun. morning she gave me her thoughts – both on my blog and on the reconnaissance mission of the enemy to snatch what God has ordained for me to give to you, she prayed over me with two other sisters that God would release my gift of writing and that I could stand strong against the enemy.  There was that extra burst (oh minty fresh!) of admonishment that sealed the deal and made all things right and possible again in the blogging world when she looked me in the eye with her “I really mean it” pointer finger aglow and said, “You are to get up and have your morning coffee and blog first – nothing else until you have blogged!” Well, alrighty then!


The Bracelet

I get very reflective at the end of each year, looking back on the best & the worst, the people & events that changed me, the situations and circumstances that shaped me into a different person than I was one year before.  While Hurricane Sandy had the most impact in my community & circle of friends, and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting troubled me with a level of sadness I had never known, nothing held more power in 2012 than the suicide of my friend’s son.

Nothing held more power because it is where I saw God’s Power firsthand, where I took part in the master craftsmanship of His plan -though I only recognized that in hindsight.  God became real & present to me, His tender mercies evident at work in and among our little Charlie Brown group of women.   We began meeting to walk the pages of a “Parenting Prodigals” study together, became invested in each others’ stories & familiar with the pain and struggle of navigating relationships with our adult children.  When Nick took his life, we all lost a beloved child.

To recognize that if God had not pressed down on me to lead this summer study, that if He had not knowingly given me the exact names of women to invite, even that if I had not been obedient to respond (you all know I have a tendency to argue with God & can easily go rogue) … to think that my dear friend who is now both sister & confidante to me, would have had to walk the grievous unimaginable path alone makes me shake it is so unfathomable.  I only knew this woman for 9 months before the study, and not well at all. But God knew exactly what was to come in her life. He knew she would need us to know her story & guided by the study, that we would be the ones to encourage her to share her heart with Nick & ask for forgiveness for anything that stood between them.  Hundreds of times I have thanked God for the gift of that conversation, that healing grace, between mother & son.  God knew that deepening bonds between us, and a purpose greater than each of our individual selves, would undergird the grieving process, forging sweet & tender lasting relationships for some of us, built for growth and laced with His amazing grace.

So no, as I look back upon 2012 for the lessons God has taught me and ponder how I will apply those lessons in the new year, I will not be making any New Year’s resolutions.  Most of what typically comes to mind anyway is a list of things I will do – like exercise regularly or blog 3 times a week, and then there’s that other list of things I won’t do – like spend money I don’t have, eat junk food or stay up so late.  Nope, I don’t want to be bound by wills & won’ts, by shoulds & shouldn’ts, by what I do or don’t do.  I want to be harnessed into the place of “being” that God has for me in this opening winter season of 2013.

I want to follow the path of “the bracelet” and lean in to all that God has for me in the new year, all that He designed me to be.  And I want to invite you to journey with me. Now hold on girls – I know you don’t know what “the bracelet’ is all about … so cool your hormones & I’m gonna tell you!  I can count 5 influential women in my life right now who were mere acquaintances last year at this time.  Coincidentally, two of them gifted me with meaningful bracelets this Christmas, another with a heart-within-an-open-heart ornament that penetrates my soul, that I will surely blog about at another time because it’s not the kind of ornament you put away with the Christmas decorations.  The other two women in the ya ya sisterhood of God’s blessings in 2012 gave to me of themselves – one was a re-connection clearly orchestrated by God (of course, what isn’t?), & her infectious laughter is all that surpasses the insight and godly wisdom she shares so selflessly; the other, a more recent & concentrated developing friendship, has been a partner in community and in navigating the gaps & spaces left open in mid-life by grown children who have their own lives.

Back to the bracelet and the path I want to take us on!  I am captivated by the cuff bracelet my girlfriend gave me, not surprising since it represents all that I want in my life, but have not necessarily pursued.  It is made up of alternating gold & silver decorative panels with different words and symbols etched into the metal – it is poignant and rich in the invitation to pursue.  I promise to post a picture after we get a few steps down the path, but I don’t want to spoil the journey for anyone by laying temptation to rush to the next panel when the Lord is beckoning us to linger a while longer where we are.

Serenity is our first place to dwell.  What picture, thoughts, sounds does the word “serenity” trigger for you?  What do you imagine the Serenity link of the bracelet looks like?  Just play in it for awhile, stay in it for awhile.  I’ll share my reflections on serenity shortly as we set upon the path of the bracelet together.

Note to Self

So here it is – Day 3 of the working girl’s dream … a 3-day weekend!  There were just two things I wanted to make sure I “got in” this Labor Day weekend – catching some sun on these final days of the pool season at my condo complex, and some significant exercise – I’m talking a plan (well okay, maybe a thought) for 5 mile walks each day.

Now here I sit in my green chair, morning coffee right beside me, with a microwaveable heat compress on my lower back to warm & work out the stiffness that comes quite naturally from not stretching or doing core strengthening exercises, staring out in disbelief at a completely overcast,  not-a-break-in-the solid gray sky.  Aside from walking with a friend for an hour on Sat. morning, I pretty much have a big L across my forehead – LOSER!

What is it that Paul says in Romans about not understanding himself, “for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it … I want to do what is good, but I don’t”?  I’m with you, bro!  And now, there is no possibility of catching some rays – I should have claimed my spot in the sun on a chaise lounge poolside yesterday or the day before when skies were blue & the sun shone so brightly you needed sunglasses to see … a far cry from the need to flip the light switch this morning to illuminate my time with God in the green chair.  Darn it!  And with our Biggest Loser Team Competition final weigh-in at work on Thursday, my failure to exercise is gonna cost me … and my team!  Double darn it!  If only regret could burn calories!  I’m not even sure what happened, how I spent my time the last few days – like Paul, I don’t really understand myself.

Pretty hard to come up with my next move.  Hmmm … I could pray boldly for God to do what I know He can do – command the sun to crash through the cloud covering to give me the sunny day I want today, the one I’m ready for now, the one that I turned my back on yesterday because of something I presumably wanted more.  I could still take that 5 mile walk today, but what if the clouds unleashed rain when I was too far from home?  I could do a Leslie Sansone Walk-at-Home DVD right here in my living room, even without getting out of my nightgown, but I don’t really want to – I want to lay in the sun at the pool!

Not a dramatic spiritual awakening to be sure, but here’s what ran through my head in the midst of my mini-tantrum – Snap out of it! (for full effect, you really must click on this link)

Note to self: There are some things I can control in life, and some things I cannot.  I have control over whether or not I exercise today.  I can choose when, what type of exercise I will do, how long I will exercise, if I will blow it off  – God has given me control over that area of my life, to choose wisely, or to sabotage myself.  Control over the sun belongs to my Creator and I would do well to – as my son once told me, “stay in your box” … how’s that for a boundary buster?  Funny how we often try to take control over things we have no business trying to control, but fail to take control over those things God has given us responsibility for.

What about you?  Anything going on with you these days that could use a little Moonstruck slap?

Forever Kiss

I got a tattoo yesterday.  Following aftercare instructions to leave my forearm wrapped overnight, I removed the covering and cleaned up the ink that had come to the surface this morning.  I kept staring at my forearm, taking in the beauty of the artisan text, wanting to hold onto it as though I was admiring a new haircut or a new outfit fitted to my size smaller body after losing weight, until it occurred to me – it isn’t going away, it won’t grow out or morph to a bigger size, …. it’s permanent!

How many things in our earthly life are permanent?  I remember the sweet good-byes at my son’s preschool on the last day before we moved from MA to NJ, and a silly little 4-year old girl in his “Chipmunks” class boldly kissed him on the cheek. As Josh brought his hand to his cheek to wipe off the cooties, the little chipmunk was quick to add “It’s a forever kiss!”  I’ve never forgotten that moment, that line “It’s a forever kiss!”, even though it happened 24 years ago last week.

Isn’t that what any of us wants, to be loved forever, to be marked as beloved in a permanent way?  Yes, my tattoo is permanent, but so are the promises that lay beneath the words on my arm.  I wanted to be branded as belonging to God, and so the forever kiss on my arms identifies what fruit the Spirit produces in me when I will give myself over to His forever love.  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, & Self-Control.  Definitely the fruit of a forever kiss!