Thankful Thursday – Life is More than Worry

As Church Communication Director, this week before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest work weeks of the year as we rush to get Christmas PR printed, in the mail, up around town, in the newspaper, you name it. The creative work, writing and designing, is mostly done, so this week is all about details – proofing and making sure each design in all its necessary formats gets to the right place and people at the right time. The devil is in the details and I am no devil.

I can’t get stressed, though. The irony? This year’s theme is PEACE. No sense at all worrying about peace.

Today I got a kick in the tail in the best way. One of my favorite weekly activities, I have the privilege of leading a small group of delightful women in our moms’ group at church. I love these women. They are light and bright and smart and deep. Our speakers today talked about change and taking intentional steps toward positive change in our lives. Several of my gals are engaged in total life upheaval, not entirely by choice. And yet even in difficult situations, our response is our responsibility. We can still choose to make changes that make us better.moms 15

The gal seated next to me almost died from a fluke illness this fall. I kept rubbing her back, teary eyed, so grateful for her life. And to hear her talk about the peace that sustained her during her illness, the overwhelming sense of angels watching over her, the comfort that whatever happened God held her in His hands… Me, choking back tears because she couldn’t have said those words when we met a couple years ago. I am grateful for her life and for the joy of watching her grow in faith.

Listening to my gals encourage one another in situations I haven’t had to endure encouraged my heart. As I looked on, the words of Matthew 6 rolled around in my head:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

A few of the staff studied this passage earlier this week. We noticed that most people we see daily aren’t worried about food; even when kids complain that “There is NO FOOD in this house!” there truly is, and no one will starve this week, or month, even if we stopped grocery shopping altogether. So I replaced “food” with “worry” in v. 25:

Is not life more than worry…?

Life is so much more than worry!

I am thankful for my friendships with these precious women who encourage one another and me. They add so much joy and love to my life.

I am thankful for a day off with my love after a season of working too hard and missing one another along the way. We walked the beach with our happy dog on a perfect San Francisco day, followed by a spontaneous splurge lunch at a marina-view restaurant.SF dog

I am thankful for an opportunity to serve with one of our church’s mission partners, Harbor House Ministries. All three of my guys have been there more than once, but today was my first time. Our middle school group plus a few parent chaperones served a Thanksgiving meal prepared by church folks; we also built relationships, did a craft, packed up leftovers for people to take home, and cleaned up. I talked with a mom of two darling girls; I don’t easily talk with people I don’t know, but we so easily connected over kids and this blessed place where her older daughter is safely cared for. Tween enthused about the “amazing” place called Harbor House and can’t wait to go back. I got to tag along while my kid’s heart changed. So good!

HH Thanksgiving

Life is so much more than worry. Life is love, encouragement, connection, work and rest in balance, service, and community. Life is our creative response to life’s own twists. Life is our responsibility to create, and life is our creative God’s good gift. He already said, “It is good.” Now it’s our turn.

Uncluttering Our Lives: Simplicity

Oh, the irony of the day set aside to consider simplicity being more complicated than any typical day! Between church, sports, and school commitments, this family set off running in multiple directions. Some of us said goodbye more than twelve hours ago and haven’t been face-to-face since. And before bedtime one kid suddenly started puking. Nope, nothing simple about this day.

Let’s face it: simplicity is simply a struggle for most of us. Culture pushes us to be more, do more, buy more, more, MORE! We measure our worth – consciously or not – by the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the gadgets we carry, the black space (as opposed to blank space) on our calendars.

I am not a simple gal, though I long to be. I dreamily page through each issue of Real Simple magazine, knowing it is not now nor ever will be my life’s reality.

I am dramatic and disorganized, complicated and continually overwhelmed. I fight hard, and maybe not hard enough, against the entropy determined to rule our home. As much as I dislike being a stuff manager, I spend a fair share of every day shuffling our belongings (backpacks, shoes, laundry, dishes…) from here to there and another fair share ignoring belongings that ought to be shuffled. No matter the organizational systems set in place (yes, we have key bowls and shoe baskets, not to mention laundry baskets and towel hooks), it still feels like a sisyphean battle.

After remodeling bids came in way too high, dear friends have recently taken advantage of the economic upturn to sell their house. Any move prompts a purge, and they purged prior to putting their home on the market and again more thoroughly once it sold. Watching the process has initiated something in me, and I have begun to ask myself (and Guy, who might be a tad overwhelmed at this turn of ‘tude): “If we were moving, would we move this?”

We opened the garage for just one hour this weekend and came up with an obscene number of things we could donate or sell, some stuff in good usable condition but so well put away (read: ignored) that we hadn’t seen it in years. We’ve listed only a fraction on a local ‘garage sale’ listserve, and took a trunk-full to the Rescue Mission drop-box. We have so much more to do!

A laundry basket filled with items to sell/donate

A laundry basket overflowing with items to sell/donate

Why do I hang on to stuff I don’t use when it could be precisely the thing someone else needs? Why do I hang on to earthly treasures I have ceased to treasure when they might form a wobbly barricade separating me from Jesus?

Jesus wants to be my treasure. He wants my heart, but it’s pinned beneath towers of cascading clutter.

Guy and I married when we were 23 years old. We lived in small spaces and moved every few years, and so we left my archivally-preserved wedding dress in a corner of my grandmother’s closet. Some years ago during a Chinese Checkers marathon, I asked her if I could at long last have it back. She sat up straighter, made a funny face, and confessed: “It’s gone.”

My wedding dress had been stolen when she moved from an upstairs to a downstairs unit in the same building.

While I felt strong disdain for whomever would steal boxes from a 96-year-old woman as she belatedly moved to a downstairs apartment in a building she had occupied for 30-some years, I also experienced heartbreak for my lost wedding dress.

And yet…
* I had no plans to wear it;
* I have no daughters for whom I should save it;
* And, most importantly, its loss has in no way affected the quality of our marriage.

That loss has affected my view of stuff, however. If I can release my wedding dress into the great wide world (of dirty rotten grandma’s-box stealing thieves… oops, sorry), then I can certainly let go of items far less sentimental.

As a family, we have done a few things to counter the cultural tide, to anchor our hearts solidly in Jesus’ kingdom:

1) Among our posted family values: “Boredom = Opportunity” and “Play!”
We try hard not to over-schedule our kids. One sport at a time, and mostly rec leagues, and no more than three weekly activities each season (sport, church, music) has been our MO. We also don’t allow screen time during the school week, so the kids have plenty of time to get bored, to be creative, and to simply be kids who play. One Mother’s Day when Teen was still in elementary school he made me a home-made card that read, “Thank you for not over-scheduling us so that we get stressed out!” Melt a mama’s heart!

2) Another family value: “Need vs. Want.”
We don’t buy just because we want. We weigh desires against needs. We can easily convince ourselves that we need more, but honestly we need far less than we think we do. Staying out of stores is also a big deterrent against shopping for entertainment.

Creating margin on the calendar and on our counter tops will be an ongoing process, but it’s one to which I’m committed. Here are a few of my recent and regular steps:

1) Set a timer for 20 minutes, choose one cluttered space, and attack. When possible, set aside a longer block of time.

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

2) Continually winnow. I’m not one for taking everything out of a space and only putting back the essentials. That approach feels too drastic, too large, too time-consuming. And so I try to look fresh at each space as I come to it: what do I see today that I can let go of? Same goes for the calendar: do we need that activity? and likewise: what good activities are missing because we seem to be overscheduled?

It's tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

It’s tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

3) The Art of Simple has become one of my favorite blogs. The posts tend to be short and to the point of simplifying so many areas of life.

4) A book I expect to come back to again and again: Throw Out 50 Things. Gail Blanke walks you through each room/area of your living space and your brain and examines why we hold on to our stuff and our unhelpful thinking patterns.

And a Bible study for you, as together we treasure our relationship with Jesus.

Connect
Reflect on an example from your life when you lost (in some way) a precious possession. What was it and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Matthew 6:19-21.
Give three examples of someone storing up treasures on earth. What do you think Jesus meant by storing up treasures in heaven?
What problems result from storing up treasures on earth (v. 19)?
What are the benefits of storing up treasures in heaven (vv. 20-21)?

Live
In what ways can earthly treasures get in the way of storing up heavenly treasures? Explain.
How does storing up treasures in heaven help you simplify on earth? (cf. Mt. 6:33)
Where would you put yourself on a spectrum from hermit to hoarder? Explain.
Describe a time in your life when you lived simply. What were some of the advantages?
Name one or two obstacles to simplicity that you might be able to remove from your life, and how you might begin to address them this week.
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will use a discipline of simplicity to draw you nearer to God.

Curb Your Appetite

As the day began, I didn’t intend to fast.

Hustling the kids off to school, I rushed out the door to meet a friend for coffee and conversation. Heading on to work, I realized I hadn’t packed lunch. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” the Spirit nudged. “Do without. Spend time with me.”

One of the spiritual practices ideas I’d provided for our church included skipping a meal and spending time in prayer. I hadn’t thought God would mean it for me. Apparently He did.

When I was more directly involved in leading youth ministries, I used to fast once a year for World Vision‘s 30 Hour Famine. Adults and students together raised support for World Vision’s work around the world and then went without food for 30 hours while we also engaged in learning and service activities. We broke the fast with a simple meal together and communion. It was one of my favorite ministry events of the year.

More recently I have taken on different kinds of fasts during Lent, giving up sweets or alcohol or Facebook. But not food, because I like food and one of my primary Mom-jobs is providing food for my guys.

So yes, I was surprised that God called me back to a food fast, albeit a pretty short one. I skipped lunch on Ash Wednesday. Just long enough to feel hungry and pray instead of eat.

7 - a great book on what fasting can look like

7 – a great book on what fasting can look like

Jen Hatmaker defines a fast this way: “…an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center” (7: an experimental mutiny against excess, p4).

I wasn’t fasting to ask God to move mountains. I fasted because I felt like God asked me to and I want to listen and obey.

All in all the day went surprisingly well. In our staff meeting devotion, during prayer time, honestly, Jesus and I got close. Like the end of An Affair to Remember, when the lovers realize their separation has mostly been a misunderstanding (not that sin is a misunderstanding, but go with me) and they fall into each other’s arms, embracing and mushy-gushy kissing, that was me and Jesus. We’re having a steamy affair. It’s hot.

Typically, fasting is supposed to be “in secret” (Matthew 6:16-18) but my stomach dramatically declared its emptiness to two co-workers who giggled. Oh well. Extra temptation presented itself when Guy called to offer me take-out from one of my favorite local joints. Ouch, but no thanks.

What surprised me most were the conversations God and I had throughout the day. Hatmaker quotes Richard Rohr: “The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up” (7, p43). Earlier in the week I had solidified Psalm 46:10 in my memory: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” When I got hungry I repeated those words to still myself before God so He could fill me up.

Each time I prayed, I became extremely conscious of my physical body. On the one hand that makes perfect sense: I denied my body the food it wanted and I felt it. But this was different. I have at best an uncomfortable relationship with the physical shell that houses my mind/spirit, but instead of feeling the usual criticism, God impressed upon me that He gave me my body as His gift to me. I know that to be true, but I don’t always feel it. That day I felt it, and it was good.

I might even try fasting again this Lent, but I’m not telling.

One more thing: the gal who read Scripture in church this morning mispronounced “stones” in the following passage as “stories.” Go ahead, read it both ways.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones [stories] to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

She went back and corrected her mistake, but I think it was a divine mispronunciation. Yes, Lord, may these stories become bread, the stories of Scripture and the stories of our lives. A final Hatmaker quote: “Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. …the story of God’s people comprises a billion little moments when an average believer pressed on, carried through, stepped up” (7, p114).

So here we go, people, pressing on, carrying through, stepping up, and along the way, sharing our stories of God’s faithfulness. Amen!

Connect
Reflect on an experience when you denied yourself something you really wanted.

Study
Read Matthew 4:1-4.
How did God’s Word sustain Jesus in the desert? How is this like/unlike the sustenance of food?
Read Matthew 6:16-18.
What does Jesus expect His followers to do/not do when they fast, and why?
Read Isaiah 58:3-7.
What was wrong with the way the people approached fasting (vv. 3-5)?
What do vv. 6-7 mean? Is this a different kind of fasting or fasting with a different attitude or outcome?

Live
How is fasting different from dieting?
Reflect on your past experiences (if any) with fasting.
How does fasting focus your prayers and help you to seek God’s face?
What practical considerations would you need to take into account in order to implement a discipline of fasting?
Which Faith Training Exercises might God call you to this week, and why? Reflect on joys and struggles with any Faith Training Exercises you’ve tried so far.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.