Keeping my eyes open to glimpses of God

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Something About Indie Coffeehouses . . .

I'm sitting in an easy, simple, joyful coffeehouse. With four different coffees brewing--including a coffee of the day and a house blend of the day. They also serve over 50 teas, each delivered in a small, personal teapot. The menu is written in chalk, ready for a quick redo tomorrow morning when they feature a different specialty roast. As I sit at a well-loved table with mismatched chairs, I admire the mix of vintage decorations and artwork from local artists. The theme right now is bikes and the countless colorful wheels seem to happily spin around me.

The sounds of grinding and steaming are accompanied by jazz recordings from another era. The baristas strike up conversations with the yet-to-be-caffeinated people streaming through the doors. But everyone is happy--despite their lack of caffeine as they wait for their drinks. The atmosphere puts you at ease, honors your soul, recognizes your humanity.

Amidst the tables of laptops and school books and card games, I sit with a book, feeling the creativity  around me, the humanity . . . and I feel God's presence. People are reading, reflecting, creating, laughing, experiencing. The atmosphere beckons, "Be as God has created you: creative, communal, contemplative. Feel the weight of your worth and simply be."

It's places like this that fill me with hope for the church. It's possible to be a place that welcomes, beckons, and honors: that says "I recognize you as one created in God's image, and I invite you to simply be, soaking up the goodness of God all around you."

Monday, August 27, 2012


Over halfway through my spending fast, and I reached the depressing hump of negativity. I've caught myself pouting as I drive past favorite restaurants, discontent with my possessions and wanting what's new, and being tempted to browse through Target for something other than necessary food or toiletries. Two words: no good.

I've had a bad attitude, focusing on what I can't have. Ridiculous, right? But it's true. I'm more than a little spoiled.

Slowly but surely, though, I've been seeing spiritual breakthroughs. For instance, during a recent meeting with other church leaders (where I tend to stay quiet), I found myself speaking up continuously. I was passionate about the topic (spiritual formation), and I just couldn't hold back. Plus, I had a clarity that I don't normally have in those busy, loud meetings.
A few days later I found myself really focused on my devotional reading, chewing on the information. In fact, I doubled the amount of time I normally spend on an entry because I wanted to keep thinking it through. (I don't think it was a coincidence that the devotional was on desire.)

I'm also finding that I'm more in tune with my body—specifically, knowing when I need rest. As an introvert, I tend to run myself down as I pretend to be outgoing and bubbly all the time. With this new awareness, I've been able to take time to slow down and rest. I've been reading more, and doing individual activities like sewing. Plus, additional rest gives me more energy to give others when I am with them.

I'm appreciating food more, too. Simple meals are ok with me, and we're having more of them. Plus, my parents took us out for dinner this weekend, and I absolutely savored my food. And I saved some to create two more meals. Restaurant food was such a treat!

I'm still not through this fast, but I think I've made it to the other side of depressing. And that's a breakthrough in my book.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cinnabon Is Stupid

Ok. Yesterday and today have been hard. It all started yesterday when I had to walk past Cinnabon after my eye appointment at the mall. Now I can't stop thinking about how I want pizza, a burger, or ice cream--from a restaurant, not from home. Oh, discontent. You're no good to me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

10 Days In

Today completes 10 days of our spending experiment, and I'm learning a lot. Sometimes it feels no different than our regular rhythms—I still get groceries, take my lunch to work, and spend time doing things I enjoy. Other moments are stark reminders that I'm out of my norm.

Take last week for example. Wednesday I was happy to take advantage of a free breakfast coupon at Corner Bakery . . . only to realize on the way there that I wouldn't be able to purchase coffee to go with my free oatmeal. Thursday I attended an all-day conference and I brought my lunch . . . then realized everyone else was going out to eat. I sat with them at Potbelly's while they ate, eating my lunch when we got back. Friday my coworkers went on their weekly coffee run . . . and I went with and had to explain why I wasn't ordering coffee. I'm getting better at navigating these awkward moments—both by knowing what to say to others and by learning to rest in the discomfort.

I've also craved Dairy Queen and wanted to stop at Starbucks countless times. I've forgotten a key recipe ingredient and couldn't run out to the neighborhood grocery store. I've run my car near empty because I was far from home and realized my agreed-upon gas station was far away. I've started on crafting projects only to realize I don't have all the materials . . . and I can't buy them.

However, our bills have gone down, and our diets are made up of more whole foods and whole grains than ever before. Plus, I've found that I'm more connected to God lately. As I've been working through my current devotional book, Seeking Spiritual Intimacy by Glenn E. Myers, I've found myself really thinking and applying. I've found myself resting in God's presence more. And I've found that my passion for spiritual formation is being reignited--as evidenced in a meeting I attended yesterday. I kept bringing these church leaders back to the facts of spiritual formation: we can't measure it through numbers, it won't happen accidentally, and we have to work on it in ourselves as we help others in their journey.

I'm feeling more like myself—like a better version of myself. Plus, I feel confident to tackle other things, like cleaning out our home office. As I think about this process, part of me wonders if it will get easier and easier as I go along this month. Another part wonders if it'll only get harder to say no to my desire for a cold brew from one of our local establishments.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Starting My Spending Adventure

Well, I'm on day two of this spending adventure . . . and I already cheated.

In my defense, we had no food! I was out of town all weekend, and when I got back late Sunday night, our electricity had just come back on. And our entire fridge and freezer had to be dumped. That means we basically had no food. Nothing. So making lunch to take to work yesterday was a little difficult. My husband and I both had to eat peanut butter sandwiches. Problem was that there was about two tablespoons left for the two of us to share. So we both had two pieces of bread with an extremely thin layer of peanut butter. I looked through the cabinets for something to bring with my sandwich.

No produce left.
No yogurt.
A peanut butter granola bar.

That's a lot of peanut butter and carbs—even for me. Maybe if I brought a good breakfast I'd be okay. So, I looked around. Cereal? No milk. Eggs? Nope. Looks like I was back to that peanut butter granola bar. I threw it in my bag.

On the way to work, I passed a Dominick's. I was compelled to stop and add to my lunch. I couldn't believe I was already cheating at 8 am, but I was desperate. I couldn't survive on a peanut butter granola bar (mini-size, by the way) and a peanut butter sandwich! I bought a carton of raspberries on sale and two nectarines. I'm just too used to the convenience of stores at every corner.

After work I went to Trader Joe's—one of our approved stores—to get lots of groceries. And I really stocked up. I intentionally planned lots of easy, healthy meals to prepare, things that we could quickly make instead of being tempted to run to McDonalds.

Other than my fruit-buying, so far, so good. I got up early to make a Greek pasta salad today to take for lunch and have with our turkey burgers at dinner. I knew tonight would be tight because we have small group an hour after I get home from work. Looks like I'm already starting to plan ahead.

I'm realizing how tough this month will be, though. So far today, I've received six e-mails from stores telling me about their sales and promotions—things I have to take advantage of. Well, guess what? I can't. None of those stores are Trader Joes, Target, or our farmer's market. They're not approved. That's it. So I've started deleting the e-mails.

As a side note, I really have to applaud my husband. He was super skeptical about this. He kept saying, Really?? Only the gas stations in our neighborhood? Only Trader Joe's? Only going out to eat four times?

But he's already thrown himself in head first. He's a good guy. Good thing I have his support. J I know God's going to be teaching us a lot this month.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What I'd Say to My About-to-Be-Married Self

It's been over five years since my husband and I said "I do." I'll admit we were super young when we got married, but it was the right decision for us. We'd been dating for over five years, and we were ready to begin the rest of our lives together. As I've reflected on our married life, I've realized that we've learned a lot . . . and we're still learning so much. All this reflection got me thinking: what would I tell my night-before-wedding self? Here goes:

1. This marriage thing really will be harder than you expect. I know you've got happy thoughts of sleepovers and decorating and making dinner together—and those are all good things, and they will happen—but I want you to know that you're going to be super irritated about how he squeezes his toothpaste out of the tube . . . and how half of it ends up in the sink. Seriously. Take a deep breath and remember that this is just the beginning. And take a chill pill, too.

2. You are not a homemaker . . . and neither is Jim. And that's okay. You'll pick up tips along the way, and you'll figure it out. In the meantime, have grace with yourself. Some shirts will shrink (thanks for doing the laundry, honey . . .) and some things will go uncleaned for years (hello, office!), but it's not the end of the world. It is what it is. Talk early on about who will do what . . . regardless of what society says men and women should do. Find a system that works for the two of you.

3. You're going to run into tough times. As you grow together, you're going to learn some things about Jim and about yourself that you don't like at all—serious things (not the toothpaste habits from #1). It's okay. Plus, I know you think you're healthy, but you're not. You're quite sickly. You will run into health problems early on. They will be an opportunity to grow—both yourself and as a couple. You'll also hit hardships in career and otherwise. Don't fight the hard times. Heap on extra grace, and trust in God. Remember that God is able to deal with anything and everything. Lean on him for strength, courage, and joy. And pray regularly for Jim to do the same. Learn to cling to one another instead of pushing one another away.

4. Communication really is key. You're used to living separate lives (you have dated long distance for years!!), but suddenly you'll be thrown together . . . all the time. Communicate how you're feeling, communicate what you're doing, and for goodness sake, get a calendar and actually write on it. Set aside regular times for catching up and keeping each other informed.

5. You have to keep the love alive. Yes, even in the so-called newlywed stage. Schedule in real date nights where you talk and share your dreams and feelings. Take advantage of long weekends. Get away and enjoy the car ride to your destination. Learn his love language. Keep trying to make him laugh. Do things together—other than watch TV. Encourage him in his hobbies and in his work. Speak lovingly about him in public. Go out of your way to serve him and show you care.

6. Last but not least, you really are building a new family together, and it's a beautiful thing. Enjoy each moment, don't take a single kiss for granted, share lots of laughs, and don't be afraid to dream big together. And while you can't imagine loving Jim any more than you do right now, believe me: that love will grow and deepen in ways you can't imagine.

Making Some Changes

Well, I finished 7. I spent my Friday afternoon taking a long bike ride, praying through what I've read. I had a multitude of feelings swirling around, and I brought them before God, asking him to give me a clear vision for my next steps, the steps I need to take after reading Jen Hatmaker's powerful words.

I found myself doing something I do far too easily: making excuses. I could only eat 7 foods for a month, but we've got weddings to go to and a trip to Boston . . . how would that work? I could wear only 7 items of clothing for a month, but I have to wear work-appropriate clothes, too . . . maybe I could up that to 14 items? On and on my excuses went. I had to release them to God and welcome the challenge.

So, I've decided to start with a major spending change. From August 4-September 7, we're greatly reducing our spending. In order to do so, we'll only be buying from the Aurora Farmer's Market, Trader Joe's, and Target—in that order. So in other words, we'll try to get everything at the farmer's market and Trader Joe's before stopping at Target. We'll also be trying to reuse and rework what we already have. We've also allowed ourselves to eat out up to four times—but only in special circumstances. Sadly, while this may not seem like much of a challenge, it really will be. No Starbucks? No unlimited stops through the drive-thru? No stopping to get a new, cute shirt from Loft? No ice cream from DQ? Really, this will be a challenge.

At the same time, I'm excited. I'm ready to see what God will do with this month of less. And I'm thrilled to see how my idea of "enough" changes. With a few weeks until this change, we're trying to prepare ourselves, ease ourselves into it, especially by mentally preparing ourselves. And, let's be honest. We both have birthdays this month, a wedding, and a trip to Boston. We knew we'd cheat if we started before August 6. :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Shaken and Stirred

It's been just under a year since I got the job at Christianity Today. The many lessons God taught me while I was waiting came to a close, and a time of relaxation set in. I've learned that it's far too easy to fall back into comfortable patterns and forget how desperately we need God.

But God has a way of shaking us out of our patterns and stirring up passions in our hearts. That's where I find myself today. God has been using my small group to stretch me, to test if my heart really trusts what I believe in my mind. As we've served alongside the under-resourced, I've found mixed emotions. I've been overjoyed to do what I know God calls his followers to. On the other hand, I feel awkward and clumsy and a little scared. I'm not good at this, I think. I'm messing this all up. I've also found myself much more emotional than usual. The thing is, when I read verses about the oppressed and the poor, I now have real people in my mind. People I know and care about.

All this missional living really is messy. It would be a beautiful thing if our efforts to help others always resulted in their transformation and their choosing to follow Jesus. But that's not how it works. Instead, we're called to obey God--regardless of the outcome.

On top of all this, I've been reading 7 by Jen Hatmaker. It's a great book, written like a collection of blog posts. But it's also really convicting. I find that I need to think about her words, chew on them. Not because they're difficult to understand, but because they're incredibly challenging to middle-class, American Christians like me.

I feel like I'm on the cusp of something big, so I'm giving several hours to God today, to listen for how he wants all these experiences to impact me. What does he want me to do with this information? What changes is he asking me to make?

Sometimes it's painful to be shaken up, to have our hearts stirred. But isn't it beautiful that God continually comes to us, wanting us to know him better, to serve him more, and to experience him more deeply?

What's the last thing that shook you or stirred up passions within you? Did you push it back, or did you allow God to transform you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Change of Scenery

I don't know about you, but I find myself often in need of a change of scenery. I go to the coffee shop to read instead of reading at home, I want to get home to get out of the office, and I want to get to the office because I'm tired of being at home. Every few months I want to change my surroundings--paint a room, change out hanging pictures, rearrange furniture. Ever since I was in elementary school I've been like this. I need a change, and when that urge strikes, I need it right then.

The problem is that this isn't always seen as a positive thing. I mean, rearranging furniture is one thing, but spending the work day rearranging my office might be seen as wasting time. And even if I'm happy with something, I need the freedom to do it a different way from time to time. I need the freedom to work from home or make dinner at a different time or take a different route to the store. I get tired of doing the same ol' thing. And sometimes, this is seen as a need to constantly be changing--to throw the good out with the bad, to flit from one thing to the next, to never focus or be consistent, to be addicted to trying everything once. I see the point.

This need for change is also something that frustrates me from time to time. It's why doing the same Bible devotional or journal for an entire year will always fail and doing a monotonous task over and over will make me super irritable and the thought of setting up a cleaning schedule (clean the bedroom every Monday) rubs me the wrong way. In my highly scheduled life, I like to believe I'm a little spontaneous.

Sometimes I wonder God, why did you make me like this? But I'm reminded that I'm not a robot. And that my openness to change and freshening up and trying new things really can be assets.

Here's to remembering that God created us all to be unique beings--and he did it intentionally. :)