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!

Let’s Celebrate Together!

I’ve read the Parable of the Three Servants countless times, in several different translations over the years, but this morning I discovered something new.  In Matthew 25:23, Jesus is telling us – yes, this is Jesus telling the story (sometimes I forget that!) of the Master’s response to the second servant, who had received two bags of silver to invest and earned two more.

The master said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” NLT

If you back up to verse 21 – which I blazed by without noticing, the master gave the very same response to the first servant who was entrusted with five bags of silver and earned five more on that investment.  Let’s celebrate together?  Seriously?  I never saw those words before.  I imagine they have been overshadowed by the more familiar “shoot for the stars, you have arrived” spiritual quest in being graced with the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  And then there is the underpinning of shame I feel at not having handled my personal finances responsibly over the years, and the fear that God will never entrust me with anything bigger.

The Message paraphrases Matthew 25:23 this way –

His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

Good work!  I love that!  It doesn’t have to be perfect work, I don’t have to master the job, prove myself completely responsible -whether we’re talking finances or career, ministry or personal relationships.  I just have to do it well, and that alone is cause for celebration with the one true Master.

And the best part of all?  God wants me to be His partner – He always has, always will.  He just wants me to do my part – my imperfect, sometimes irresponsible, miss-the-mark part, so that He can fill in the spaces and allow me to gain victory over even the smallest things in my life through Him.  That is great cause for celebration, and even in that our Master says “Let’s celebrate together!”

In what area of your life will you let the Master partner with you today, and then celebrate together?

All or Nothing

I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl.  When I don’t have time to blog “right” – that is, a well-developed piece of writing sparked by a Spirit-led connection I make in my prayer time that includes my thoughts, a Scripture passage, maybe a personal story or a song, and always a question for my readers – a “sanity check” really to make sure I’m normal, & then a challenge for you and I to look deeper at what God has laid on my heart, …. well, you know what happens – all kinds of lengthy lapses in blog posts.

This bugs me, because the Holy Spirit still fires up those ideas daily, and sharing my thoughts with you when I blog deepens my growing relationship with God, so I’m missing out on all that God has for me.  I may even be cheating you in withholding the everyday challenges God brings to my attention during my quiet time in the green chair.  I’ve tried to get a little bit of that spiritual bounce going lately by posting a quote from my morning devotions as my Facebook status, but the occasional Like at sharing someone else’s words doesn’t really make me feel like a disciple of Christ.

Today’s daily devotion from The Word for You Today had a quote from Richard Wumbrand, who wrote Tortured For Christ – “What a person really believes is not what he says in his creeds, but what he’s willing to die for.”  The devotion goes on to say that the odds are that I will never be called upon to die for Jesus – right, so believing that’s true, this “all or nothing” God’s girl wouldn’t normally think much beyond that.  But here’s what hit me hard, the line that followed –

“But the question is, if you’re not willing to die for Him, what are the chances you’ll really live for Him?”

Whoa!  Now that gives me pause, seriously, because living for Him should definitely not be thrown out with the unlikelihood that I’ll ever have to face dying for Him.  My all or nothing thinking has to stop here!  I want it to stop here!  I want to live for Him every day.

I have gone through seasons of my life when exercise was an all or nothing venture.  If I didn’t have an hour to go to the gym or a personal trainer or even take a walk outside, I would do nothing at all.  But I began doing Leslie Sansone Walk at Home DVDs almost a year ago, and have been amazed at how easy it is to slim down and tone muscles with a 1 mile walk in just 15 minutes, right in my own living room.  There is a lot in between “all” and “nothing”.

How about you?  Do you have “all or nothing” operating in any areas of your life?  Are you really living for Him?

There is Always Hope

I have on several occasions spoken “lightly” of the hold food has had on me, and the season of my life when I was in treatment for an emotional eating disorder.  It is an ongoing battle not to medicate or self-comfort with food – my “go to” for quick relief in times of anxiety or upset.  I have only recently learned that all types of addiction, without exception, are a non-relational way of dealing with a relational issue, but the pull is fierce and the power is unmistakeable when you can reach for something that won’t abandon, won’t reject, will quietly fill in the spaces and soothe with a constancy that never denies, even though it is a momentary fix.

I am fortunate that I don’t experience anxiety much in my life, grateful that my need rises up only randomly now, yet I am painfully aware that there are many engaged in the battle daily, even hourly, who live in and through the struggle as a lifestyle.  I would like to share the writing of one such friend, Matraca Taylor Moody, as a guest post today.  Will you pray for her, that she stands strong against the lies of the enemy, and keeps her eyes fixed on the One who offers victory in Christ?

Orchestrated bodies move in melody with a harmonious heart, beautifully conducted by the angels themselves. Billowing waves amongst the shoreline of our sanity they test us every living day. Every breath that is lucky enough to make it to our lungs and back out into the conspicuous world is a breath worth breathing. Breathing every day towards the satisfaction of being free should be enough motivation for even the tiniest mind. Treacherous wind builds up towards the galaxy to its highest extent until no more stretch can the arms configure. Outstretched to the maximum Satan becomes angry, jealous that the arms reach and grasp onto the heavens rather than his own purgatory hell. Satan built up ED, constructed him perfectly to fit into our lives at first without notice, but as the hours tick, he becomes more and more boisterous. Arousing any problem he can into the deepest battle known between body and soul. They work coincidentally, ED and Satan. Hand in hand they walk the path of corruption, perpetually destroying lives of the loneliest pursuers. ED strives on vulnerability and turns uncommon scenarios into the most triggering situations. Institutions were built up against him, supplying the needy with classes and tools that everyday citizen’s use. But just as we battle, he matches our integrity. I’m ready to challenge ED, challenge him in battle, war, replicating wounds to use towards my offense. I can take on ED, but as history books and classrooms teach us, wars do not end overnight. Some take months and many take years. I’m fighting the war of my life.

Matraca Taylor Moody

What God delivered in my Daniel Fast

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?

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

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.

My Mom Ate Catfood – Epic!

My Mom has an irreversible, untreatable vision impairment – complete peripheral vision loss creating the sensation of seeing through a narrow tube, a condition commonly referred to as “tunnel vision.” It means relying on my Dad to guide her in many ways- always walking with her arm in his or holding hands, even down now familiar hallways of the senior living residence they moved into a few weeks ago. So it was not unusual, when we arrived at my sister’s last Saturday afternoon for an early family Thanksgiving while I was in town, that Dad walked Mom over to a couch across from the action in the kitchen to be seated after greeting everyone.

And it wasn’t surprising really, since we all came hungry for the traditional Thanksgiving feast, that Dad went in search of something to snack on after settling Mom in. Grabbing a handful of munchies from a bowl on the counter, he offered his open hand to my mother saying, “It’s either rabbit food or nuts.” Having to look past a box on the kitchen counter to a full view of the cat bowl sitting there rendered my other sister a little slow on the uptake, and by the time she called out “That’s catfood!” my Mom already had a mouthful.

My mother’s reaction was impressive – nothing dramatic, she just calmly spit the catfood out into a napkin while the rest of us “lost it” in disbelief of what just happened.  The jokes started flying, but even when I said “good thing it wasn’t catnip, Dad, ’cause Mom might get frisky later” my Mom just meowed – seriously, I cannot imagine having such grace or composure.  I would have been tempted to at least hiss at my Dad or force feed him a few kibbles & bits of his own, but there was no hint of that in her demeanor – clearly he was vindicated without further thought.

As for the rest of us, we couldn’t stop talking about it, laughing about it.  When my brother arrived, my niece and nephew greeted him with “Did you hear Nana ate cat food?” – my daughters had already gotten to their cousins with the news flash moments after it happened. And when my brother-in-law arrived home to a houseful of uncontained laughter, he joined in – almost with a sense of pride that it occurred on his very counter … I can still picture the boyish grin on his face when he asked his kids if they knew that Grandma ate cat food.

Why did we all get such a charge out of it?  Why was it so comical, so worthy of repeating to anyone who may not already know that it happened?  Why were we still laughing about it hours later, talking about it the next day even? Is a human eating food intended for cats really all that funny? Ah, ya, apparently.

How many things do we go after in life that were never meant for us – relationships, jobs, ministries, pursuits that are not part of God’s design for our lives?  And who do we fix our eyes on, lean on – in our limited vision, to faithfully walk us through each step in life?

Julie Ackermann Link tells the story of artist and scientist Michael Flynn, who designed a singing bowl for display in ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  As she observed people trying to make the bowl sing, she was surprised, she says, that none of them bothered to read the directions about rocking it gently.  Instead, impatient to make music, they kept trying their own ideas.  After a few minutes they walked away frustrated and disappointed, as if the bowl was defective. With sweet insight, she says the singing bowl reminds us that we can’t expect life to go well if we ignore the instructions of the Designer.

I couldn’t resist sharing this video of Oskar at play with you. I hope it will be an encouragement to pay attention to the instructions of your Designer, to listen for the sound of God’s voice leading you to all that is meant for you.

Blind Kitten Plays with his Toys for the First Time