Category Archives: ordinary life

Fasting gives me a headache…

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In case you haven’t heard there’s a lot of talk about fasting this month.  It’s Ramadan, but Muslims aren’t the only ones who fast.

 

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I would fast with her and pray for some friends, pray for her work, and pray about the “stuff” of life.

 

“Sure!” I said on the outside.  “ugh… “ I said on this inside.  And so, like the angels and demons I’d seen on peoples’ shoulders in the cartoons of my youth – my internal war began – again.

 

Fasting gives me a headache.  A serious, throbbing, cannot-ignore-it sort of headache.  I feel grumpy and distracted and completely out of sorts.  I can’t believe how much I think about eating when I’m fasting!  It’s astounding to me that I can spend so much time thinking about what I could be eating – when my goal is to forget about eating!

 

Have you tried it?  Have you struggled?  Have you quit in the middle and said, “This is STUPID!!”?  I have.  I hate to have to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has had to come face to face with how weak and distractable and cowardly I really am.

 

But that is precisely the point.  It is because each and every one of us is weak and selfish and filled up to the brim with lies that we believe about our own abilities that we need to fast.  Contrary to what many believe:

 

We do not fast to make ourselves clean before God.

We do not fast because it somehow convinces God to accept us.

We do not fast to pay for the wrong things we’ve done.

We do not fast to atone for the wrong thoughts we’ve had.

We do not fast to in any way clean up our act, straighten ourselves out, or try in some way to “get things right with the Man Upstairs” (as some of my childhood friends explained their fasting during Lent).

 

Fasting will show you how woefully short you fall of being in any way clean before the Lord.

Fasting will show you how prone you are to pleasing yourself rather than God.

Fasting will reveal to you how many more wrong things you do than you ever wanted to admit.

Fasting will kick up the settled dust of wrong thinking, and show you just how prone you are to thinking about ridiculous things that don’t matter – at the very least – if it doesn’t also reveal to you how prejudiced, sneaky, snarky, and just downright mean you can be.

 

By now you might be saying, “Um, and why is this a good thing?”  It’s good because we need to know these things about ourselves.  We need to know our sinfulness more and more completely, because doing so reveals to us the beauty of the cross and the glory of our Savior in ways that we can’t comprehend without it.

 

How else can the sacrifice of a perfect lamb become truly precious to us if we don’t understand that Christ died for us while we were swimming around in a sewage-filled ocean of our own making?  How else will we treasure the gifts of redemption and adoption if we never realize how far we have alienated ourselves from God and chosen instead to dirty ourselves by continuing to wallow around in and fill up our ocean with more and more insanity?  We lie to ourselves about ourselves far too easily.  We need disciplines like fasting to shake us awake to reality and remind us why we needed a Savior in the first place.  As it turns out, quietly sitting next to Jesus for any length of time will make you want to slither away from Him rather than present your “cleaned up” life to him, because we all know what it’s like to try to clean ourselves up from that kind of mess with a hanky that we’ve had in our pockets the whole time – it’s impossible.  

 

And that is why we fast.

 

When we get to the place where we realize the very best we might possibly hope for is to sneak away unnoticed by the brilliant Son of God, it is then that we can see clearly that He is coming after us – pursuing us with gentleness and love and forgiveness that we know we don’t deserve.  And yet, he brings us to stand there in His presence and accept His thorough cleansing from top to bottom, inside and out.  

 

Do you know that He loves you this way?  Do you want to know?  Come and fast with me.

 

There’s no formula – you will likely need to experience some failures and successes on your own in this because that is part of the discipline.  But we all need someone to disciple us.  It will become painfully clear to you – within about the first 20 minutes or so – that this is going to be harder than you thought.  But here are some practical things that have helped me keep my focus through the struggle to fast.

 

Hunger Pangs:  Saying “no” to food shows us how much we need to say yes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5).  Hunger is a powerful drive that God has given us.  He has intended it for our survival, but He has also intended it to teach us to hunger and thirst for Him.  When I’m fasting and I want to eat something, I pray, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst after you even more than food.  Help me to know you in such a way that you fill me up and I am satisfied, no matter my circumstance, no matter if my belly is full or empty.  Lord show me what you want me to learn about you through this fast and help me to see you clearly.”  In practical terms though, I have to steer clear of the kitchen and keep my fast elsewhere.

 

Distractions:  It’s usually about half-way through that prayer that I find myself thinking about other things!  It’s as if my heart says, “Fine, if you’re not going to give in on the food front how about we talk about the laundry that needs to get done, or the dishes, or …that stinkin’ kid didn’t take the trash out… again!”  Maybe for you it will be your boss, or the incompetent drivers on the road, or your classmate’s weird outfit, or your coworker’s bad breath, or… you get the idea.  I can be distracted by anything when it comes time to pray.  I have to have a plan.  I have found that writing out my prayers is enormously helpful, and writing out what I want to pray about first, so that my “prayers” don’t become a rambling stream of consciousness instead, is almost critical.  (go ahead, laugh, but you know it’s true…)

 

Sometimes sitting and praying close to electronics is too distracting.  I use prayers written on index cards that I can take into another room or into the car or on a walk or anywhere that I won’t be tempted to “just check real quick.”

 

Boredom:  Yeah, I know – we shouldn’t get bored when we’re trying to talk to God.  But since I’ve already been brutally honest, I figure I might as well go all the way.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve run out of things to talk with God about.  I get bored with the whole idea of focusing on Him and I just want to do something mindless and easy.  This, too, can lead me to pray, “Lord – teach me to want you!”  And if that doesn’t spark some other requests, then simply spending some time doing ordinary tasks and then thanking and praising Him for them is unbelievably helpful.  “Lord, thank you for this laundry to do for it means you have blessed me with clothing to keep me warm and covered.  Thank you for the family members who wear these things and forgive me for grumbling about serving them.  Thank you for ordering the world in such a way that families are your design that we can learn to trust and grow and know you.  I praise you Lord for you have formed me and each of these whom I love so dearly in wonderful ways.  I praise you Lord for you have created beauty and goodness and truth that surrounds us everywhere.  Help me, Lord, to point others to you so that they, too, can worship you in Spirit and in Truth.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to simply keep your hands busy while your mind is refocusing on why you’re fasting.

 

Sleepiness: Yes, it’s tempting to just go and take a nap rather than try to keep alert and focused – especially when everything is warring against that.  Sometimes I have to absolutely command myself not to give in, but because I am doing most of my work at home, my bed or that comfy chair can be really tempting. If you’re working somewhere else, you might not have this trouble during your work hours, but when you get home you will.  When it happens, you’ll need a plan:  take a walk, put on some worship music, clean the bathroom if you have to, and commit to talking with your Heavenly Father while you’re doing them.  

 

Headache:  Yes, I really do get whopper headaches when I fast.  Sometimes I push through them, and ask God to use them to draw me closer to Him.  If they’re helping me do that, I deal with the headache.  But sometimes, I take some pain reliever.  It’s not about the headache – it’s about my heart’s cry.  Sometimes the headaches helps me to cry out to God, sometimes it really is a distraction.  Talk to God about that, too, and ask him for wisdom to discern which it is.

 

The key to all of this is that we see how much we need Jesus.  Fasting confronts us with our utter incapability of doing all that God requires of us – and realizing that we are hopelessly trapped in that condition is the first step on the journey of sweet, satisfying communion with God for eternity.

 

Come and fast with me as I hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can supply.  Come fast with me as I seek to put to death all the loves in my life that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Come fast with me as I ask for wisdom to know what those things are and look for ways to be thankful and joyful right where God has me now.  Come fast with me as I ache to be reminded of the One who loves me enough to rescue me from my own willful wickedness.  And come fast with me to rejoice in a salvation that is complete and glorious and free – for we have been loved with an everlasting love and fasting helps us know it.

Let me know how you have learned how to fast – or what you’re struggling with.  Let’s encourage one another as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

(image credit: https://www.magnoliabox.com/search?q=sad&type=product)

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On Love and Lather…

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On Love and Lather…

Learning new skills is a blast for me.   I’m not “young” anymore – when learning things all the time is expected, but learning new things gives me great joy, even if it might be challenging, frustrating, expensive, and just down right hard.  In fact, learning it in spite of those things, is probably the most fun part.

But as I try to talk with people about my passion for taking on new challenges two things often happen.  

The first is I see that look.  You know the one – they’re trying to be supportive, but they’re bored.  They can’t relate and they don’t really want to.

The other thing that happens is that I encounter people who start to listen to my new idea, and then tell me all the reasons why I shouldn’t even try.  Ironically, these are usually people close to me.  Maybe the others are thinking it, but they’re not engaged enough to try to save me from my own folly.

But it’s not folly.  Lots of things don’t turn out the way I want them to, or thought they would.  But it’s very rare that I truly regret trying something.

I’ve been engaging in two bigger pursuits lately.  The first started about two and a half years ago when we knew we were going to go to France for a few weeks to work with some missionaries.  We decided it would be helpful to us, and polite to our hosts, if we tried to learn some basic French phrases.  I did some investigating and because of the beautifully connected network of home educators around the world was able to find a lovely woman in France who was willing to teach my family French via Skype calls three times per week for a few months.  It sounded perfect!

But guess what?  People tried to talk me out of it!  They said it would be too hard.  They said we weren’t going to be there long enough to make it worthwhile.  They said we wouldn’t be able to practice with anyone.  And craziest of all, they said that we shouldn’t attempt to do this without a teacher – and by “teacher” they meant a college professor.

Thankfully, I ignored them and said, “Why not take lessons from a native French speaking home schooling mom?”

And guess what – we learned French.  My kids learned basic phrases and at least enough to show that we were trying hard to engage in the French culture.  And guess what else.  Even though I’m a grandmother, and everyone EVERYWHERE says you can’t learn a new language after age 40, I did learn it – and I found out that I LOVED learning it!  So after our trip was over and we were all back in the States, I continued learning French, and I continue to love it.

(My efforts paid off big-time, too, when I went to a French-speaking country in Africa last year and had to get through airport security during the Ebola outbreak with only French.  That was no easy task!)

The thing is – no one thought it was really worth doing.  No one thought I was serious, and NO ONE really thought I would be able to do it.

But I did.  

Because I just never listened to them.  It’s not that I didn’t hear them – I just didn’t pay any attention to them.

My sister-in-law asked me a long time ago how my siblings and I got such “I can do that” spirits.  I didn’t really have an answer for her then, because, to be frank, I never knew that our attitudes about facing challenges were anything other than ordinary.  But that question has stuck with me over the years and I think I’ve come to a conclusion.

Why do we look at life and think, “I can do that”?  

Because no one was ever around to tell us we couldn’t.  

Now, I’m not advocating leaving your children alone for extended periods of time the way we were – we got into a lot of trouble that having an adult in the general vicinity might have spared us from.  But my mom was working and we were often – usually – on our own.  We didn’t really run in a pack – we each did our own things.  And no one was around to tell us we couldn’t.

If we wanted to cook something we did.  We burned things (and ourselves) but we learned how.  And then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor — because no one told us we couldn’t.

If we wanted to build something we found a way to do it (and knew the neighbors who would give us scraps of wood and bits of this or that that could be used).  I remember figuring out that I could take drawers out of discarded furniture and make miniature rooms out of them.  I stacked them on top of each other and made whole houses.  I used old clothing for curtain material and learned how to use an electric jig saw (God only knows why the neighbor trusted me with that on my own – I was 9!) to make decorative “roofing.”  I braided rugs out of blue jean hems that my aunt cut off of her jeans that were too long.  I’m sure these creations were ghastly looking in reality, but to me they were castles that any queen would have been honored to live in.  I built them — because no one told me I couldn’t.

When I wanted to learn how to sew I found someone who would show me the basics and then I sewed my little fingers off using any and every scrap of fabric I could hustle out of anyone — because no one told me I couldn’t.

I was a terrible reader – actually, I still am.  I have to say the words I read in my head or I can’t understand what I’m reading, so I am s.l.o.w.  But I love to read.  (I think I like knowing what is in the books better than the actual reading of them, but you get the picture.)  I want to know, and slowness means I can’t read as fast as someone else, but I figured out along the way that I could still end up reading a lot of books in 15 minute increments — because no one told me I couldn’t.

Now being without any parental supervision wasn’t the best for us for a whole host of other reasons, but one good thing that came out of it was that (when my grandmother wasn’t around at least) there was also no one being critical of us.  We had the freedom to dream and experiment and fail and try again.  We made colossal messes (yeah – we got in big trouble) but that never seemed to deter us from trying the next great idea that came into our minds.  If something sounded like a great idea the only question that ever came up was, “Why not?”

So when I became a mother I decided early on that I was going to ask myself “why not?” when my kids wanted to do something rather than just say “no.”  

Sometimes there are good reasons not to do something – but mostly there aren’t.

Fear of failure, of what others will think, of doing something unnecessary or “foolish,” or even of making colossal messes – none of these are good reasons to say, “no.”

And I’m going to shock some of you by telling you that even “safety” isn’t always a good reason to say, “no.”  Scrapes and bruises are part of the learning process.  Falling down and failing are part of the learning process.  Dealing with disappointing results, frustrations, defeats, and even losses are all part of the learning process.  OK – I’m not talking about the life-and-death things you really do need to say “no” to – I’m talking about the things like climbing trees and swinging on rope swings out over the pond and sitting on the porch roof and shooting BB guns kind of stuff.  Why would we want to keep that from our children?  Why not walk through those things with our children instead?

Giving my kids the freedom to dream and try and fail and fly was good and right.  It taught them to keep working at things even when it was hard.  It taught them that hard work and tenacity pays off in expected and unexpected ways.  It taught them to be courageous enough to take the right kinds of risks, and that failing at something is not the same as being a failure.  

But most of all, I believe it taught them that I love them not their performance.  They knew that I would be there to rejoice in their successes, but that I would also be there to pick up the pieces when things fell apart – and that tomorrow I would encourage them to try again.  Isn’t that how God loves us?

You see I believe with all of my heart that God gave us an imagination so that we could dream big thoughts and then do big things.  We were not created for the ordinary only – we were created for the extra-ordinary, too.  Our created world is full of wonder and brilliance that a stifled, critical, “safe” childhood will never allow to be revealed..  I have made lots of mistakes over the years to be sure, but I do not regret having a “why not?” attitude while discipling my children into young men and women.

I wouldn’t change that for the world.

And now that my kids are almost all out of the house and grown, it doesn’t need to end – I can still live life in a “why not?” kind of way.

My latest adventure?  Starting my own soap-making business!  Lovely Bee Soaps (in French lovely bee is La Jolie Abeille — because I know you were wondering and it’s WAY cool that I know!) began as a way to bless my neighbors last Christmas.  Making hundreds of little bars of lovely, luxury, oh-so-beautifully-smelling soaps was not a business idea at all, but an affordable way to give something hand-made to our whole neighborhood.

But after we gave them out to neighbors and family and friends, people began asking me to sell them some.  Truthfully, at first I was inclined to say, “Oh no – I just did that as a little hobby sort of thing… just to be nice.”  But after years of training my mind I caught myself and said, “Why not?” instead.

Going from hobby to business is much harder than I thought it would be.  The work that needs to go into learning things that I never dreamed I would need to know is crushing sometimes.  Trying recipes and fragrances is great fun, but labeling things so that the FDA doesn’t come and shut me down, or so that my customers know what they’re getting and want to come back – are all new things!  The website needs work – a LOT… (www.lovelybeesoaps.com – if you look and it’s not up yet you’ll know I’m still learning that, too!), and marketing is a new game… and accounting and pricing…. It’s all brand new to me.  But why not?

If this works it will be a way to earn income without me leaving our home.  If this works I have the opportunity to enrich people’s lives through the small luxury (or la petite jolie) of really, really nice soaps.  If this works I’ve created at least one job (mine) and maybe more!  If this works it could be GREAT!  And if it doesn’t, oh well.  I tried and failed.  I’ll still get up as long as I have breath and pour myself into whatever it is the Lord has in front of me to do.  It won’t be the end of the world.

Love your kids enough to let them dream and try and succeed and fail.  They will love you for it.
And if you know anyone who is looking for shaving soap, no lie, I found the BEST recipe ever — everyone who uses it raves about it and comes back for more!  (Seriously – I tested the foam on this stuff and it was still stiff and luxurious after 20 minutes!)  Send me a note and I’ll hook you up!

And the next time inspiration hits you (or one of your kids!) stifle the urge to protest and give the gift instead of asking, “hey – why not?”

Through Gates of Splendor – Goodbye to my friend…

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I’m far away from home right now – in a place that is as beautiful as it gets – but my heart has carried around the grief of loss ever since my daughter called to tell me that Elisabeth Elliot passed away two days ago.  As I watched a most spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean tonight I was enthralled by the colors and indescribable beauty that is almost commonplace here, but I kept thinking about how much more dazzling and exhilarating it will be to see the Glory of the Almighty Maker of the Universe.  Splendor is a good word, and Elisabeth Elliot has just been ushered through the Gates of Splendor that she often talked about.

While I can celebrate her release from the pain and toil and struggles of this life, I do grieve the loss of her.

You see, she was my friend.

And while I always felt like I was her friend – she didn’t know me.

But she was my friend.  I knew her.  I knew her life because she openly talked about it in her books and on her radio show.  I knew the parts of her heart that she was willing to share, so openly and plainly, through the same means.  And I knew she was my friend because every time I heard her on the radio she told me so – she said, “You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot,” and I believed her.

As a young mother I read her book, Discipline, The Glad Surrender, and I was instantly sure that this woman could very well become my spiritual “mother.”  I grew so much from the perspective she lovingly shared.  I saw things in new ways.  And I was helped in the practical, ordinary things – from ordering my day to include time to know God to getting the laundry done.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and no one showed me how to be a disciplined disciple, but my friend, Elisabeth helped.   In fact, she helped decide the name of this blog, for it was through her counsel that I learned that there is great honor shown to God in doing the ordinary things in our lives well – as if we were doing them for him, for indeed we are.  And God continues to surprise me with great depths of insight into his character and love through the very ordinary, common things in daily living.

Later, I learned what a Christian home might look like through the Shaping of a Christian Family.  Desperately seeking an older, wiser woman who would be willing to mentor me through the intensely difficult terrain of disciple-ing our young brood into godly men and women, yet finding few who wanted or dared to take on the task, there was my friend, Elisabeth, always there with wisdom and practical tips alike.  She taught me to be patient, but persistent with my darlings.  She showed me that I wasn’t raising children, but men and women.  She reminded me that the condition of their souls was infinitely more important than their behavior on any given day.  And she taught me how to be an older woman to the younger women around me.

When I read Through Gates of Splendor, In The Shadow of the Almighty, and other books I learned of her losses – and how she saw God rooting out the sinfulness in her heart through them.  “Who talks like this?” I remember thinking.  My friend, Elisabeth, did, and I wanted to be that kind of woman.

I heard her speak once – I honestly don’t remember what the talk was about.  But I do remember this one thing that she said.  She was talking about growing older and the challenges that come with each stage in life.  She said she’d overheard some younger women in the restroom talking about her saying what a “nice, godly old woman she was.”  A little amused at their perspective of her, it gave us all a good chuckle. But then she went on to describe how these two women immediately started talking about one of their friends in a cutting and unkind way.  Ever looking for a teachable moment, she said to all of us, “Ladies, if you want to be godly older women, you’d better start by becoming godly younger women right now.”  I was thankful I hadn’t been one of the women in the restroom that day, but I knew it could have easily been me on any other day.  The lesson hit home and I took her seriously.

Some of her most lasting lessons to me were things she quoted often (and I have followed suit):

“When you don’t know what to do, just look around and do the next thing.”

“Leave it all in the hands that were wounded for you.”

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things then you have to believe in one who controls the little things as well.”

“When asked how he got up every morning very early to pray my grandfather responded – ‘I get up!'”

(sorry all – I don’t have my books at hand to tell you where those quotes are from – and some of them may be paraphrased for I’ve used them over the years – but they are all from Elisabeth Elliot.)

I wrote to my friend Elisabeth, after reading The Shaping of a Christian Family for the third or fourth time, and told her how much it had helped me – us.  I told her how much I appreciated that she had been willing to share not just the seeming successes in her life, but the reality of the struggles – and that that had helped me, too.  I told her that in reading her books I knew that God was teaching me many of the same lessons, but because I had read about her struggles I was looking for his purposes in the pain and the struggles rather than railing against them.

She wrote me back a hand-written note to tell me that my note was encouraging to her.  Imagine – I encouraged Elisabeth Elliot.  But isn’t that how God works – one friend encourages another and together we build each other up?

I’ve read many more of Elisabeth Elliot’s books over the years.  I’ve passed them on to others, given them as gifts, and encouraged others to read her simple, straightforward words.

I know she wasn’t perfect – no friend is except One.  But I valued her a great deal.  I am sad that she is no longer with us, but rejoice that she is in heaven with Jesus.  I’m sure she is rejoicing with many saints who have stories to share with her similar to mine.  What a lovely reward for a life lived in faithful service to her King.

I am indebted to this woman who God used in such a profound way in my life.  I still hope to be like her – faithful to the end and used by God in the simple living out of an ordinary life.  I know she will be sorely missed, as she was greatly loved.

Praying for her family and friends – all of us – who have lost someone dear.