Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lesson Learned from Feast Day #3

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It had been brewing all week, that strange sensation behind the eyes and in the throat. Then I woke up yesterday feeling lousy; you know it’s bad when I cancel on singing at church. 😦 I hate doing that, but I needed to stay home and rest as I am flying to Chicago in a couple of days for the final leg of the counseling certification program I’m in. Traveling while sick is the pits. So is trying to pay attention in class and participating in group therapy.

Apparently, so is what passed for feasting yesterday.

I had hoped to see the new Muppet movie but that would have to wait. All I was really up for was resting in my comfy chair under a blanket and sipping hot tea. (My sweet husband knew to bring me Decaf Ginger Peach with half a packet of stevia, my go-to elixir when I feel rotten.) I had plenty of entertainment recorded on the DVR, enough for an entire day’s media feast. And while I can’t say I didn’t enjoy some of it, I mostly floated in a fog, with various comedies and singing competitions intermingled with some episodes of “Chopped” shining brightly on the screen in front of me. At the moment I can’t remember much of it at all, except for some shared laughs with Glenn.

I also spent WAY too much time on Facebook trying to make sense of too many controversies. Why I thought I could manage any of that while under the weather is beyond me. I should have caught up with a few friends, taken the “Which character from ‘Frozen’ are you?” quiz (I’m Olaf) and signed off.

On the food front, Chinese take-out came to our aid at dinner. In front of the TV, I ate way too much and wound up feeling worse when I went to bed, and then didn’t fall asleep until around 4 a.m. Overeating might not have caused the problem, but it certainly didn’t help.

I still feel yucky, but I learned something the hard way, the way I usually learn — feasting isn’t supposed to be a glut. Chris Seay warned me and I listened until I was sick and it became too easy to throw caution to the wind. A couple of shows would have been fine. I could have turned on music and rested, or listened to a book, or tried to sleep. A reasonable plate of noodles and a couple of fried shrimp would have been a delight. But it was too much, and when it was all over, really wasn’t all that enjoyable or memorable (except for the prawns wrapped in wonton skins and deep fried; THOSE were a revelation, but I digress…)

I need to remember this for future feast days, and not just during Lent: there’s a reason why it’s called OVERindulgence.

I’m so grateful to be back on the fast today.

(I need to remember that, too!)

 

 

 

 

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Day 21: How Did My Garden Grow?

Last year was the first year we planted a full garden. My friends, Christine and Aaron, worked tirelessly to till the soil, weed, and plant vegetables and flowers in our backyard beds; I’m so grateful for them, as my body can’t do the necessary bending and squatting. Our growing garden brought me hours of delight; I enjoyed the task of watering (that much I could do!) and watching all the plants mature and begin to bear their “fruit.” We enjoyed tomatoes well into the Fall; I made fresh salads from the lettuce and herbs; our most surprising success was with the four corn stalks we planted, never expecting such a fantastic little crop.

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The only plants that didn’t do well were our foxgloves. We put in three, each a different color; one of them did not survive the planting. We removed it and planted another. The three foxglove plants at the back of the flowerbed limped through the season, each sprouting a small stalk of flowers, but never really taking hold and growing into their full glory. I was bummed because I really love plants that grow tall and have multiple flowers on a stalk — each bloom its own beauty adding to the stalk’s lovely bouquet. They grow tall, reaching for the sun, with each flower a trumpet, calling forth worship to its Creator. Yeah, I love foxgloves.

The rest of the flowers did so well that I didn’t mourn for long. We had the most gorgeous sunflowers that seemed to turn into sunflower “trees,” each stalk bearing about a dozen of those big, beautiful ladies, all in view from the window above my kitchen sink.

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Winter came and most of the plants died. We had a bit of an early spring and I noticed a few plants maturing in the flower bed that I was sure we hadn’t planted last year. Several of the flowers wintered over — the gerbera daisies are in bloom now and the African daisies became a huge bush of lavender lovelies, enjoying their second season in our yard. 20140328_105928
But I had no idea what those other plants were; maybe they were weeds? They kept maturing, and getting bigger, with huge, sturdy foliage. There were so many of them, too! Soon there was a small stalk growing out of the center of most of those plants. I wondered for a moment, but I was busy with school and not really paying much attention to the garden.

The time came to dig up the old and put in the new. Christine and Aaron again worked their magic and “we” planted an assortment of vegetables and herbs; next to the tomatoes are jalapeños for pickling and for the first time, red Thai peppers; I do love to set my mouth on fire. 🙂
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The flower bed was practically full already, with those possibly-weeds-possibly-not plants taking up much of the space. We tucked in some sunflower plants and a couple of California poppies (love that bright orange under the sun!) and we removed an large ugly plant from
the corner of the bed (it predated us) and put in a callalily, which is already providing us with its graceful blooms.

On planting day, I looked more closely at the mystery plants in the flower bed. The base foliage was so strong and healthy, the stalks taller than the previous week, and I noticed buds on most of them. I called Aaron over to move some of the plants around as they were crowded together and I asked him the question that had floated through my mind a few times:

Could those be foxgloves?

Google confirmed our suspicions.

And now most of them are blooming — light pink, white, deep purply-pink. Healthy. Vibrant. Huge. Some don’t have a stalk yet and I’m eagerly waiting to see which colors will burst forth. The flower bed looks like the beginnings of a small foxglove forest, each bloom trumpeting rebirth. Apparently last year’s failed foxgloves, with some help from the wind, scattered some seeds which took hold.

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How many things have I “planted” over the years that have not done well? I have failed on many important fronts and wish I could rewind and have some do-overs. Failure is anathema in our culture; we idolize success.

But God has other ideas.

The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me…lives in all of us who proclaim “Jesus is Lord.” If I hold my failures up to God, and surrender them to Him, the wind of His Spirit will plant something new, something stronger, something that will glorify Him far more than my own efforts and successes. Sometimes it’s nothing anyone else can see; the new growth is often hidden in my relationship with Him. More gratitude, more worship, more peace, more trust, more love.

As I look out my kitchen window, I see flowers, yes. I also see mercy.

And resurrection.

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Day 20: Please Squeeze Me

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It is uncanny.

Every time I make a cup of hot lemon water in the morning, or dress my daily salad with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, I cut a lemon in half, and use the tip of the knife to flick out the seeds. And then I squeeze the half lemon into the cup or bowl and always…

ALWAYS…

At least one more seed comes out.

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I have tried to poke deeper with my knife to get out all the seeds, but no matter how many I manage to pull out, there is always at least ONE MORE because I can neither see nor reach them all.

The lemon must be squeezed in order to remove the deeper pits.

Need I say more?

 

 

 

 

 

Day 18: Blame It on the Blog?

A-bad-day-for-your-ego-is-great-day-for-soul

When I started this Lenten journey, I really thought my biggest struggle would be with the food changes. I’m eating the same thing every day — oatmeal with seeds and banana for breakfast; green salad with tomato, hard-boiled egg and onion for lunch; brown rice, black beans and a small piece of skinless chicken with 1/4 of an avocado for dinner; about half the time I have a tangelo for dessert — and even during times of emotional distress, I haven’t felt a pull to go off the plan. Lent isn’t even half over, so I make no promises that tomorrow I won’t wake up and be rabidly craving bacon and coffee.

What has been surprisingly a struggle is to stick to my plans of less online connection. I was doing OK at first, but then I started checking email more to see if anyone had responded to the blog; a quick check in the morning and another at night wasn’t enough. Checking my “Lent newsfeed” on Facebook, which consists only of my husband and sons, began to slowly include a quick peek to see if anyone had said anything on my page. And since I can’t figure out how to change my default newsfeed to the Lent one (it might not even be possible), it was easy to let myself get sucked into the regular newsfeed for a bit before I even realized what I was doing.

Where I thought I would be weak, I am strong, and where I thought I’d be strong, I am weak…at least at this moment.

Fortunately, I serve a God who embraces weakness and shows His glory through my weakness. In this moment, as the lies of shame and condemnation are winging their way to my heart, I am pulling out the sword of truth to strike them down before they even get close:

 “‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

What I am coming face to face with is my EGO. Here’s a thought, and I could be wrong — If I wasn’t writing this blog so intently during Lent, the online pull wouldn’t be as great. Limiting my food choices has only served to show me the pull, and what’s going on underneath it. I’m not really “blaming it on the blog” as I can only blame myself! I want to see who’s reading, who’s commenting, who’s liking, and if there are any new readers who aren’t my friends or family. It’s undeniably exciting to have my musings find a *slightly* wider audience — two followers and three likes from people I don’t know at all! But it’s one thing to be delighted about this and GIVE THE GLORY TO GOD and another to have it feed some kind of ego/insecurity — two sides of the same coin.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

What if no one reads the blog? Would it still be worth doing? YES, absolutely. My heart knows this. And if only a handful of friends and family read it and are blessed, that is ENOUGH. I don’t think I’m supposed to be the next Ann Voskamp, or Rachel Held Evans (two bloggers worth reading, by the way). And on the off-chance this blog were to go viral one day, it wouldn’t be my doing anyway.

So today I am tightening up my online ship and telling you (yes, you) that I will check email only after lunch and after dinner. I will go to my FB account once a day to paste in a new post’s URL and if I don’t write on a given day, I won’t go to FB. While on FB, I will check my Lenten newsfeed and Ann Voskamp’s page (the one exception I made at the very beginning, as she feeds my soul deeply) and then GET OFF. And I will be honest here if I get off-track.

If the temptation for “more” starts hounding me, then I will need to name it for what it is, and take a walk, or put on music, or put away laundry, or read a book. Better yet, I should first get with God and ask Him what I’m really “hungry” for. Maybe what I need is to call a friend, or write a letter, or pray for someone. Connection can come in all different ways.

What I know is this — I do not need to feed my ego or insecurities; it only makes them bigger.

 

 

 

 

Pondering the Feast

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I knew exactly what I wanted for yesterday’s feast day dinner: steak frites. That’s steak and French fries, but not just any steak and fries; hanger steak on the rare side of medium-rare with Bernaise sauce, and shoestring fries with some kind of aioli for dipping, and a glass of red wine. A classic French meal.

So I did what I do best and searched the interwebs for a restaurant in the city where I could find what I was looking for at the last minute on a Sunday night. The Bay Area is foodie Mecca, so there were plenty of places that came up on my screen. I read a few reviews, and it only took a few clicks before a reservation was made at Florio, and off we went.

The meal did not disappoint. I ate slowly and mindfully, and savored each bite, grateful that the portion wasn’t too large, as leftovers would do me no good! (Though I could have given them to Glenn, but still….) I loved the interplay of flavors — beef and red wine and the creamy Bernaise with just the right amount of tarragon. The fries were crispy perfection and the lemon aioli for dipping was delish. I love French food, there is no denying it.

Over cappuccinos and a scoop of tangerine sorbet for me, chocolate gelato for Glenn, I soaked in the dim-lit ambience of this French-Italian oasis in the middle of San Francisco, imagining we had been transported to Paris, delighted to have found yet another wonderful eatery in our City by the Bay.

I have walked into restaurants like this, ordered food like this, and eaten every molecule on my plate like I did last night, and enjoyed dim-lit ambiences probably hundreds of times. I have swooned over sumptuous French meals more times that I can count, both in the U.S. and, for one magical week, in Paris. Without batting an eye.

And then the check came.

Before tip, our meal was $90, which for San Francisco and the quality of food, was not exorbitant. But when third-world families are spending $1 per day on food…well, that math is easy. Suddenly $90 for one meal seems over the top. When I thought of how many times we’ve dropped that much (or more) on a meal, it gave me pause.

I’m still pausing, wondering how to move forward after this Lenten season. Glenn and I enjoy trying new restaurants.  Half the fun for me is researching those restaurants, looking at menus, and reading reviews. I’m a self-proclaimed, card-carrying foodie, who loves to read cookbooks and watch cooking shows and chef competitions, and to try my hand at gourmet cooking of all sorts. “Julie and Julia,” “Ratatouille,” and “Babette’s Feast” are among my all-time favorite movies.

I don’t think God is asking me to cease and desist all of the above, but perhaps to consider some restraint. What that looks like, I do not yet know. But I do know this Lenten journey is changing my perspective on food. “Think globally, act locally” comes to mind.

I remain paused, pondering and praying.
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Would love to hear your thoughts on these questions or anything else you’d like to add:
• How much is “too much” to spend on one meal?
• What was the most you’ve ever spent on a meal and would you do that again?
Why or why not?
• Does the “foodie culture” need restraint? And if so, how so?

Day 15: Lenten Mealtime Poetry

Inspired by my friend, Michael Toy.

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Lenten Wreath
Handcrafted by a teenage boy in Canada
Who gives all the money to Compassion
A way to travel through time
Journeying slowly the last days of Jesus
Lighting a candle each day at each meal
Remembering.
Not because I have to
But because I want to
Because it brings me closer to His heart
And brings His heart closer to mine

 

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Breakfast Table
Thank You, Lord, for oatmeal,
Hemp and chia and flax seeds,
And banana to eat;
And for fresh, clean water to drink.
And for vitamins, supplements, and medication
Which most people on this planet
Have no idea exist.

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Lenten Luncheon
Daily I reach into the refrigerator
And pull out plastic tubs of
Pre-washed organic greens;
Today it’s spinach and arugula.
So quick and easy
To not notice how quick and easy it is.
Add a tomato, and today some avocado,
A bit of red onion, oil and vinegar;
Nutrients of all kinds, micro and macro
Taken for granted for so many years.
Never again, I pray.

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Dinnertime Feast
If anyone had told me
That a half-cup of rice
Plus a half-cup of beans
And a chicken thigh
(Today with kernels from the last corn cob)
Would be welcomed as a feast,
I might have chuckled in disbelief;
I’d have wolfed it all down in less than two minutes
And gone for seconds, maybe thirds,
Shoveling, not savoring.
These evenings have been different:
A candle lit, soft music playing,
Prayers for the hungry,
Prayers of thanksgiving.
Savoring
Each bite a reminder
I am more blessed than I ever knew.

photo 2-1Dessert
Cakes and pies
And ice cream treats
And candies and cookies
And all things sweet
I shudder to think how many pounds
Of flour and sugar I’ve easily ingested
And all of the money I’ve easily invested
In this thing called dessert

Each evening after my simple meal
I slowly open an orange or tangelo
It takes effort to peel
And I think of the efforts of millions of women
Lugging heavy buckets
To bring water to their families
And I bite into the juicy-sweet fruit
And swallow hard

Day 14: Dying to Know

Question-Markguy(picture from rcaeagles.org)

When I started this Lenten fast, I knew it would tap into my weight issues. How could it not? Weight has been the main thorn in my side my entire life. Not just weight itself, but all of the issues surrounding it. I’ve been on just about every diet there is, had great success losing weight a few times and was even successful at keeping it off for a couple of years. But I’ve never had “success” in this area over the long haul. I didn’t want to be fat when I turned 50, but 50 came and went, and now I’m 52, rounding the bend toward 53 (in August) and I so want to deal with this issue once and for all…which means making different choices every day of my life until I take my final breath. I do know there is no quick fix, though how I wish there was.

2013 started with 90 pounds to lose. Over the course of the year, with many ups and downs, I lost 35 and then gained 15 of it back in a six-week holiday binge-a-thon from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. 2014 started with 70 pounds to lose, and with me crying out to God for mercy and for help. I started seeing a therapist who specializes in disordered eating and was beginning to make some headway, but the major breakthrough came at the beginning of February during one of the group therapy times in my counseling program. That’s a story for another day; suffice it to say, I have been given the gift of a new lens to look through as I continue my journey with food and weight.

This Lenten fast is showing me that I can change my eating, and radically so, if I have a sharp focus. I worked with a life coach (Randy Chase, who is fantastic!) for awhile and he told me that I need to focus every day on the larger goal…what do I REALLY want? So when I’m faced with a chocolate cake that seems irresistible, I need to take a breath and remind myself that what I REALLY want is to be healthy, active, thriving, full of life and energy, and to take good care of this one temple God has given me to house my soul. This doesn’t mean I can’t have a bite of cake, or even a small piece, but I always need to keep the larger goal in mind. I’ve not done very well with that, but…always we begin again!

In light of this, it is both odd and interesting that the larger goal during Lent has NOTHING to do with my weight. It is all about drawing closer to the Lord and joining in solidarity with the majority of the people on this planet who live in poverty. Right?

Well…that’s what it’s *supposed* to be.

True confession — Every morning I look in the mirror and notice that I’m shrinking, and I’m happy about it. I tried on some jeans that haven’t fit in awhile and they zipped and buttoned (but are still too tight to wear). As I stepped into the shower this morning, I said out loud to no one (Ha! As if God isn’t listening!) “I’m dying to know how much weight I’ve lost.”

Uh oh.

See, the first day of Lent I was out for a walk talking to God about the plan and asking Him to have His way in me (my favorite short prayer for myself and others). I casually mentioned that I imagined a by-product of this journey would be some weight loss and immediately I felt that quickening in my spirit that can only be the voice of God — “Nina, you’re not going to weigh yourself during Lent.”

*gulp*

Of course! That made total sense. He knows (and so do I) how easy it is for me to slip into a “diet mentality.” So I took the scale out of the bathroom and slid it under our bedroom dresser, not to be touched again until after Easter, or beyond. And I had a bit of self-satisfaction that should have tipped me off to how the issue was not going to stay hidden along with the scale.

“Dying to know…”? Really? Hmm. I’m not dying. Not literally. But I hope there are parts of me that are dying…God’s in the business of death and resurrection. And there is plenty of dross in me that needs to be burned off (aka “die”).

“Dying to know….” That phrase has been swirling around in my brain all day, and here’s where I’ve landed:

Two meanings — The first is that I need to die to knowing. We don’t seem to talk much anymore about “dying” to things. Maybe it smacks of “Christianese.” But in my younger days, especially when I was with YWAM (Youth with a Mission), we talked a lot about things we needed to “die to.” Maybe a better word is “surrender.” However I phrase it, I know this is true — I don’t need to know how much weight I’m losing on this journey. I don’t need to know a whole lot of things. Being one of those “figurer outers” I mentioned in the last post, I am always wanting to “know” and understand and figure things out. God continually brings me back to a place of surrender. Yeah, I’m great with reading books and doing research to get more information, and often that can be helpful. But there are so many complexities and paradoxes in life, especially in the journey of faith. And the Lord showed me today that He’s had me on a journey for quite awhile of “dying to knowing.” I just didn’t realize it.

Second meaning — I need to die in order to know. I need to die to myself to know God more. I need to die to myself to know others more. I need to surrender my longings and agenda and ideas of what I think “should” be and accept what is so I can know peace in the midst of any circumstance. (This does not mean I KILL my longings and desires, but hold them before the Lord with hope of what *could be* even as I surrender to what *is*).

A counselor I saw for a few sessions last year said this nugget which turned out to be all I needed at the time, and it has stayed with me since — “Nina, you need to make the Serenity Prayer your best friend.” When she said it, I knew it was straight from the mouth of God.

Most of us can rattle off this popular prayer. But the original has so much more to it:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

I need to die in order to know peace. I need to die in order to know how to love unselfishly. I need to die in order to know God more intimately.

Dying…to know.

That’s part of what this Lent is all about.