Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Little Bit of Fasting in A Season of Feasting


      I love Thanksgiving. I was talking to a friend about it yesterday and realized that has been true since I was a child. There is something so warm and comforting about that holiday-and even when I was young, I was intrigued by the concept of contentment: being thankful for where you are and what you have, not longing for more, or better, or different. My parents did an excellent job of helping us (I'm one of eight) see that "every good and perfect gift is from Above" (James 1:17), so it was always easy for me to attribute any blessing in my life to the Lord.

    As a young teenager, I wrote a children's book (complete with my own horrible illustrations, my drawing abilities have not improved since second grade) about the history of Thanksgiving. There was something absolutely fascinating to me about the Pilgrims. The horrible trials they suffered, and their intense gratitude when they were saved. Of course, that gratitude was placed squarely at the feet of that same God from James 1:17. They knew He had given them the opportunity to continue to live and serve Him. And they were thankful. I learned that "Thanksgiving" as a the holiday we know it, was many years in coming (it was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863), but those seeds were planted by those first humble settlers at Plymouth in 1621.

   However, I was fascinated to discover that in 1623 there a series of events (a drought, the unexpected arrival of more settlers that had no provisions) that again left those poor immigrants absolutely devastated.  In July of that year, they fell prostrate before the only One who can truly save and they fasted and prayed-for relief from the drought and hunger. And the Lord answered, as only He can. He provided rain, the crops grew and the people were nourished-in spirit and body. And so they again celebrated a holy day of giving thanks.

    I was struck by how periods of fasting-whether intentional or not, preceded these forefathers most heartfelt celebrations of thanks. What? Is that really so far-fetched?

   I remember as a child, my mother encouraged us to fast before Thanksgiving. One year in particular, I remember having a bowl of plain oatmeal (quite the trial to a brown sugar, cinnamon, loving girl) and then fasting solid food the remainder of the day-until Thanksgiving morning. Once I woke (I was probably 11 or 12 at the time) and I remember thinking that the breakfast we had was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. Who cared about turkey and mashed potatoes? I didn't need fancy-I just needed filling!

  See, the thing is, sometimes we get so caught up in "more" we don't take the time to feel the emptiness. the longing. And then we never get that amazing warm feeling of "enough" -of being filled from a point of emptiness. And that's why I think that sometimes a little fasting is what we need most in this season of feasting.

   Fasting is all over the Old Testament. It preceded many important events (the Day of Atonement, Esther fasted before seeking the relief of the Jews). But it is also in the New Testament. We are all aware of Jesus' fast in the desert. 40 DAYS! Good grief. There are times when I feel like I can't fast for 40 minutes. But isn't that the beauty of fasting? It isn't really supposed to be about what I can do at all. It is about signifying that with my heart and with my body, that I fully trust that the Lord can provide-that He can do what I cannot. Jesus says in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast..." Not, "if" but when.

  Now, I am not proclaiming myself a Biblical expert of any kind. But I have grown up in church, and my understanding is that the true meaning of fasting is abstaining from something, usually something that you do or consume every day. It is meant to be a little trying. And in that difficulty of the wanting and maybe even the needing, you will be reminded that much more than any food or drink, we need Jesus.

"Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35
   Fasting isn't to be done to see what I can obtain from God-it is to remind me that everything I need has already been obtained through Jesus. It is to remind me of my humanity, and my failings.

  I have been fasting, for about five weeks now. I won't go into detail, but it has been harder than I thought it would be. I chose a specific category of food to fast and I mistakenly thought it wouldn't change my routine too much. That wasn't probably the best mindset for starting a fast, but the Lord has used it to remind me that I don't have as much self-control as perhaps I would like. I have definitely been reminded how frail I am. Every time I want that thing-I have to remember that He can help me conquer all things (Romans 8:37) and that has inspired an intense gratitude in me.

   I can't really remember the last time I was without something I needed. And so, because I live in the land of plenty, I am glad that I can fast-that little pinch of desire unfulfilled gives me the tiniest taste of the gaping hole of hunger that I would be suffering from constantly without the power of Christ. It renews my desire to only be filled by Him and refreshes my belief that only He can truly fill.

  And that fills me with gratitude beyond expression. To know my Savior loves me and lives in me-what more could I desire?

"Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds,    they would be too many to declare." Psalm 40:5

    Nothing can compare. All my gratitude must be to Him-and if doing without for a little while, just a blink in the span of time, reminds me how deep my thankfulness is, isn't it worthwhile? Perhaps, in this season of feasting, you will take a little time for fasting. Because the stark comparison of lack with enough is just the right way to remind us to say, "Thank You, Lord" in the way we really should.
So, at this time of the year when excess seems to be unavoidable, would you be willing to truly have less in order to have more? I think a little bit of fasting makes the feasting that much sweeter!

 Looking for a place to start? Here are some ideas to "dip your toes in the water":

1. Choose a set time period for your fast- a meal, a day, a week. Start small so that you won't be overwhelmed.

2. Choose what you will fast. Some ideas:
-a beloved food item (soda, desserts, fried foods)
-a technological item (TV, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, your phone. Or the internet all together!)
-a specific meal each day
-a pastime (reading, knitting)

3. Choose something that will alter your daily routine slightly. The point of fasting is to remind us of our reliance on God, and that leads us to prayer. You want to be provided with opportunities that remind you to pray. Reaching for that can of soda? Or just really craving it? Fill that time with prayer-thanking God for your blessings and for His ability to provide for all your needs. Choosing something that you would do several times throughout the day is always a good way to incorporate more "praying without ceasing".

4. Don't run around bemoaning your "loss"- the hypocrites were chastised by Jesus for "disfiguring their faces" (Matthew 6:16-17). They wanted to ensure that everyone was aware of their great sacrifice. Your fast needn't be completely private (sometimes you need accountability, or it is just impossible not to reveal what you are doing) but you don't have to proclaim to everyone you meet or put your chosen restriction on Facebook.:) Also the Lord to humble you through this time.

5. When you have completed your fast take some time to record your thoughts and feelings. It is easy to forget what you have learned or been shown even a few days later, so writing it down will help keep those insights fresh.

Monday, November 24, 2014

To Jocelyn, On Your 9th Birthday

Dear Jocelyn,
           Today, you are nine. And, as you are delighting to tell everyone, it is your "last year in single digits". I'm in no hurry for double-digits, and honestly, I don't think you are, either. I'm glad, too. You are really finding your way, and you haven't lost your joy and zest for life. Everyone always loves to be around you because you are just so happy!

     Don't get me wrong, you have had some blue times. Our move from Colorado this year has been pretty tough on you. You had lots of great friends there, and you especially miss our old church. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it was worth it. But, you have already made so many good memories here, and you asked a lot of great questions about why we thought it was God's will, and I think you are really starting to understand that.

   You are so interested in learning and sharing about God. You were so excited to invite everyone in the apartment complex to VBS, and you could not have been more delighted when the neighbor boy came as your friend to Awana. You love the Lord so much, and you just want to tell everyone about Jesus. You fought your way through the Awana silver AND gold review in T & T, and you made it-it was tough! I am so proud of how you are hiding God's Word in your heart-and also sharing it through your words and life.

    You have matured so much, and it makes me so proud of who you are becoming. School has really been fun this year. You love history and reading, and you attack your subjects and get them done. It is all clicking! You have loved experimenting at co-op and have taken all kinds of things: acting, DIY & problem-solving, science, secret codes...and you are starting to make new friends, even if it doesn't feel that way.

   And the crafting...where do I start? Everything is a creative challenge in your mind...you see a project everywhere! You created an entire nativity out of *trash* during service one Sunday. It cracked me up! Crayons, paint, glue, sewing, taping...and scissors...

   Can I not mention how you sliced your hand two days ago while "creating" and needed FOUR stitches in your pinky finger?! But you took it in a stride, even smiling and joking with the doctor while the anesthesia was injected. You cried some, but you were so brave. And now you are happy to display your "cat's whiskers" for all to see. You don't let much get you down!

    In all, you have had quite the year. You learned how to swim, you stayed a week at Grams', you have become great friends with cousin Autumn, you are learning cursive, you are typing, you are reading so much, you sold all the baked goods at the youth yard sale, loved on Billy and George and you have endeared everyone to you with your cheerfulness and happy smile. And you made me love you even more than I thought was possible.

    So here's to another wonderful year: of learning, of loving, and as always with you, laughing. May you grow to love Jesus even more (if that's possible) and continue to spread your Josie-happiness everywhere you go. I love you so much.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To My Sister, That Time Your Baby Needed a Heart Transplant

I so appreciate you, dear readers, for coming alongside me during this time. Your prayers mean more than you will ever know. I feel so vulnerable sharing these things, but I also feel compelled to-sometimes just because it seems it is the only way to keep from completely breaking down...

Dear Robyn,
              We've been sisters a long time now. My whole life, really, since you are the oldest. You never let me forget that fact growing up. And secretly, that made me glad. Glad that went things went wrong *you* were the responsible one, when our parents tried out new disciplinary tactics, you were the guinea pig, when chores needed to be done, you had the lion's share.

    And once we became "adults" (whatever that horrid word means) I liked it even more, and not so secretly. You had the first boyfriend, and I learned how to interact with guys, you got the first job (and then got me a job), you got married first and I was the terrible maid of honor, you had the first baby, and made me a little less afraid to be a mom. And then, we were in it together, new moms, military wives, far from our family. But we had each other. Through babies and deployments, and moves, and crises big and small. We talked for hours on the phone, about everything and nothing.

   And I have never stopped looking up to you. You have always been the put-together one, the organizer, the mother-er, the planner. You do everything with such amazing finesse. And you have always been so strong. I knew you would be there for me any time I needed you. And I took advantage of that, for sure!

   And now, this. Who knew that the Lord had a such a thing in life for you as a sweet, tiny, helpless baby who would need a *heart* transplant? You have always loved babies-for as long as I can remember. When I haplessly tossed my Cabbage Patch kids on the bed, you would tenderly rescue them and chide me for my lack of caring. You loved to babysit, and did it for the chance to love on other people's babies. I was the childcare mercenary-anything for the money. And when you finally had your own sweet little ones, you had reached Nirvana-achieving your lifelong dream of motherhood.

   And now, your maternal instinct is screaming at you, relentlessly. This tiny thing, it needs you, but you can't be everything. You can't heal her with anything you possess. And I know it is the hardest thing you've ever done-to stand waiting. I know because watching this mercilessly pound you is the hardest thing I've ever done. You're my big sister, and I can't make it go away the way you have so many times for me. I can't fix it-like the many times you have remedied things for me.

   I don't know how to make this better. Pretty much because I can't. I say, "I'm sorry" and I quote Scripture and I pray. Oh, how I pray! And pray! And pray. I have become intimately aware of what 1 Thessalonians 5:17 really means. But only God can fix this, only God can see you through it. And I am learning, because of you, what it really means to trust God.

    And so, in this too, you are still going ahead of me. Showing me what grace in the face of great tragedy looks like, what fully relying on an unseen God means. How to give glory while suffering, and do so in a way that draws others closer to the One who deserves all the glory. You claimed these verses for little Gracelyn, but *you* are the one making Scripture true with your life:

"Yet I am always with You;     You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel,    and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?    And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart    and my portion forever."
                                                                                    Psalm 73:23-26 (NIV)

  And there is no way that you could be setting a better example for me in this, my dearest "big" sister. You are hope, faith, love, and patience-even though I know there have been many days that you haven't feel that way. You are strong-not of yourself, but because of Whose you are. I wish that I could make this go away... oh, I don't think even you could comprehend how my heart longs to fix this all, not just for sweet Gracey, but for you. I believe, though, that my prayers are reaching the Throne of Grace, and I know that He who began this work in you, He is the One who will be faithful to complete it. And in the meanwhile, know that I am here-however you need me, whenever you need me. Because no one knows like a sister knows, right?

Friday, October 3, 2014

To Gracelyn, When You Were Born

Dear Gracey,
                           I'm your Aunt Clare. We haven't met yet, a fact that makes me super sad, especially since I was there for all of your siblings' births. But it just didn't work out this time. But that doesn't keep me from loving you and wishing I was there to kiss your chubby cheeks!

      And I also wish I was there for your mom. We've been through a lot together, she and I. And what she is going through with you is probably the hardest road she has ever had to travel. Because you have a "special" heart. It isn't quite what it is supposed to be, and in your short few days here you've had more medical tests and procedures done than I have had in my whole life. I don't understand it all, but literally part of your heart is missing, and that has caused so many other problems...

    But never doubt for a moment these things: you were WANTED and you are LOVED. Your mom and Dad found out this summer that your heart was"broken" and they never for one second thought about anything but how to help you. All they ever have wanted is to care for you and love you. Your mom's heart is breaking in it's own way because she can't fix this.

   And your Dad, well, I am sure that he is just trying to figure out how to be there for your mom without falling apart himself. He would give his own heart for you, I know. He would give anything to make this better, to make it go away...

   And how do I know this? Because that is how I feel, and I'm not even your mom. But I love your mom, she's my big sister. And its tearing me up that I can't *do* anything. But you better believe, I haven't for one minute quit praying for you. I know the Lord keeps bringing this Scripture to mind for a reason:

"As He (Jesus) went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:1-4 (NIV)

    I don't know what is going to happen to you, sweet Gracey. I would love to think that you will be allowed to meet your brother and sisters, know their love, sleep in your own bed, get to try ice cream, fight with your siblings, swing on a swing...  But I don't know that. But I can promise you-your life will be for God's glory. How do I know that? Because it already is! You have been so prayed for-you and your whole family. All of your doctors and medical professionals. Everyone around you has been covered in prayer long before you were born.

   And I believe that you can be healed. That you will get to do all those things and so much more. I have hope-and that is so much more than wishing on a star. My hope is concrete-based on the Truth that is Jesus, and so I don't have to fear. I am sad,sad for your parents, sad for you-this is so hard. But I don't have to fear, because you were created in His image, and not one thing that has happened to you has escaped His notice, never for even a part of a second have you been out of His care. And if I love you so much that I can't hardly stand it, imagine how He feels?

   When we found out about your heart your Aunt Katy shared these verses with your mom, and they became "yours". And today, especially, they hold so much meaning and comfort.

"Whom have I in heaven but you?    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  
My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart    and my portion forever." 
                                     Psalm 73:25-26

       He is, Gracey, He is! The strength of your "broken" heart, and mine. I'm so glad that I don't have to rely on my own strength. It is worthless, and so feeble. But the Lord? He is strong enough. Strong enough to heal you, strong enough to see us through whatever happens, strong enough to show His glory through any circumstance, no matter how hard. More than strong enough to be there for you and all our family.

     Strong enough to bear my worries and fears, and strong enough dry all my crying. He loves you, Gracey, and so do I. I won't stop praying...
                                                                                         Aunt Clare

If you are curious about Gracey's condition, or just want to know how to join us in prayer, consider following her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/prayersforg4 
Thank you for praying with us!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Practically Perfect" Smoothies

       I hate breakfast. Well, I probably shouldn't put it exactly that way. I just have this weird thing about not wanting to chew that early in the morning. I am fine at about 9:30-10:00 am, but honestly, it just doesn't work to wait that long to eat. If I have pancakes, or waffles, or an omelet, I want them for lunch or dinner. I basically just want to drink my breakfast. I used to always have a Carnation Instant Breakfast drink, but I have been slowly trying to clean up my eating, and while that is fine occasionally, I have decided that having a smoothie in the morning is really ideal. Unfortunately, it took me a really long time to hone my smoothie making technique, mostly because everyone has a different opinion on what a smoothie should be.I had to play around with fresh and frozen fruit, amounts of liquids, and blending times and techniques. So, this isn't so much a recipe, as a how-to fine tune your smoothie to make it perfect for you!

First, the proportions that I use are almost always the same. I add:
-1 c. frozen fruit
-1/2  a fresh banana
-1/2 c. non-fat plain Greek yogurt
-1/2 c. 1% milk
-1/2 c. loosely packed spinach (basically a handful of spinach leaves, baby or regular)
-1 tbsp. chia seeds or ground flax
Serves 1.

   I wanted a smoothie that was really cold, but I hated adding ice, which a lot of smoothie recipes recommend. It takes me a while to drink the whole thing, and I didn't like that it would get watered down. I also didn't like the little ice chunks. So that is why you need to use frozen fruit. You can freeze any type of berry, cherry or melon that you want! I love to buy the triple berry blend from Costco, and also frozen pineapple. You can use any combination that you like.

   Using frozen fruit makes for a really thick smoothie. I don't have a high-powered blender (Someday, I would love to!) but the Oster I have works just fine, as long as I am careful with it. I add my fresh banana first, then the fruit. After that, milk, yogurt, spinach. I turn it on high liquefy. I watch to see if it is mixing-if not, lift the frozen fruit up-*away* from the blades. This allows the machine to draw the fruit in from a different angle. It sounds kind of technical, but I was just wished that someone had told me that it doesn't work as well to try to shove the fruit onto the blades! I let it blend for about 30 seconds, re-arrange with a spatula, and then blend again. When everything is evenly colored, there are no visible chunks and it is pulling down in the center it is done.

   One of the most important things to know is: if you want a thinner smoothie that isn't as cold, use more fresh fruit (say, 1/2 c. fresh berries, 1/2 c frozen berries). If you want a thinner, cold smoothie add more liquid. You can swap out the milk for anything, occasionally I will add half milk and half orange juice, but you could use all juice.

   I don't like my smoothies to be super sweet, either. However, sometimes I will use Tillamook Vanilla Bean Greek yogurt-that stuff is amazing! You can use regular yogurt instead of Greek, but you will be sacrificing a lot of protein. And honestly, you won't be able to tell the difference! Once it is all blended together, it is liquid anyway.

   If you are having problems with your spinach not being completely blended in, try blending it with just the milk before you add anything else. Once your milk is smooth and green you are good to go! If you are tasting the spinach, just decrease the amount initially. I have never really had a problem with it. I have never tried adding kale, I have heard that is a little stronger. I just figure that if I don't notice the spinach it is a great way to get some veggies first thing in the morning!

   I also love that it is easy to freeze berries that are past their prime for eating, and they still taste great in smoothies. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries-they are so delicate! Once they are headed downhill, I just wash them, lay them out on a tray, freeze them for 30 minutes to an hour and then put them in labeled ziplocs. Don't skip this "flash-freezing" step, or you will end up with a giant lump of berries that you can't measure. And it will be beastly to blend!

    I have seen where you can freeze your ingredients in individual baggies so that you just have to dump it all in, but I haven't found that to be especially time saving for me, and it also prevents me from being spontaneous with my fruit combinations. I usually have a least two or three different types and I like to mix up the quantities.

   You can also use frozen bananas in place of fresh, I usually cut mine into 1 inch chunks before freezing. That will make your smoothie really thick! I love to use a fat smoothie straw, my sister gave me these great reusable ones. Be warned though: freezing your bananas seems to intensify the banana flavor, and if your banana is overripe it will taste even more that way. Just use those bananas for baking!

    You can also switch things up by adding peanut butter, or protein powder. I also find that smoothies are a great way to use up leftover fruit salad-that usually isn't appetizing to look at, but throw it in a smoothie and you won't even know!

   So, hopefully this will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made. Smoothies are really one of the best breakfast foods ever-protein, fruit, some veggies, and all those omegas, minerals and vitamins for around 300 calories? Yes, please!

    If you have any great smoothie tips-especially for those of us without $200 blenders, please share!

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