Lent, Fasting and Me

Nearly two months in to 2014 and this is my first post. I am very pleased to tell you that I have been busy reading my chronological Bible as I indicated my intention to do in my last post of 2013. I have read through Genesis, Job and Exodus along with John 1 (alongside Genesis 1) and a few Psalms spattered in here and there. So far its been great. I am very glad to discover this chronological reading of the Bible. It is the fresh perspective I needed to bring these readings to life, especially the tough “books of Law.” I start Leviticus tomorrow. Pray for me.

I have several ideas for blogs whirling around in my mind, alas I have not made time to write. I really enjoyed my “month of writing” last November and I thought it would spur me on to continue writing regularly. It didn’t. I haven’t. But I hope that is about to change.

Growing up Southern Baptist in West Tennessee, I never really knew much about observing Lent. I scarcely recall seeing anyone with ash on their forehead until I moved to Washington, DC. Ash Wednesday on Capitol Hill is probably a bigger day for St. Joseph’s than Christmas or Easter Sunday combined. My first Ash Wednesday on the Hill, I was so fascinated by all the people around me who, apparently, observed Lent. I actually felt I was in the minority because I didn’t have the cross of ash swiped across my brow. This naturally led to some investigating and educating on my part, to learn more about Ash Wednesday, Lent and what it all had to do with Easter.

In my investigating, I began to understand that many of my friends — particularly the non-Catholics/Episcopalians — observed Lent as a way to practice fasting and focus on eternal things leading up to Holy Week and Easter.  In my religious tradition, the teaching on fasting was as scarce as fasting itself. So over the last 10 or so years I have researched this important Christian discipline. I practiced it a few times surrounding my mission trips, but I suppose I am not supposed to tell you that since our fasting should be done in secret (Matthew 6:16-18).

Nonetheless, I have never practiced a fast longer than a day at most (sundown to sundown). I have wanted to. I have prayed about it. But I never did it. At one point I thought I should be “led” to fast, and while the Bible does not expressly command Christians to fast; I am not sure that we should wait on specific “leading” to do what appears to be a beneficial thing for all Christians to do. Fasting and prayer went hand-in-hand for Jesus, and if my goal, as his disciple, is to follow his ways, then perhaps I need to examine why I don’t already practice this spiritual discipline, rather than wonder “if” I should.

I recently read the book “7” by Jen Hatmaker. According to her website, “7″ is the true story of how Jen took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. In other words, she fasted for 7 months, each month fasting from a different area of excess including: media, stress, possessions, shopping, food, clothes, and waste. The book is a journal of her experiences with this fast.

Talk about a page-turner! I read “7″ in about 2 days because I had to know how it ended :) I now plan to go back and reread it slowly and deliberately, and discuss it with some women who are much wiser than me! However, in the process of reading “7″ among other things God has been teaching me, I have decided to do a fast of my own.

Aligning with Lent, I will fast from social media until Easter Sunday. Social media meaning all of it: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, yes, even this blog. At first I thought that eliminating social media from my life may actually enable me to actually do some writing! And I hope that is some of the “fruit” of this time, but as I prayed about it I am certain that God was saying, to really do this in a powerful way, I need to fast from all of it, including the blog. So if writing does come out of this fast, the posts will come after Easter.

Despite Matthew 6:16-18, I am telling you that I am fasting, largely because I don’t want folks to think I fell off the face of the earth. The fact that I would even write that is indicative of the necessity of this fast, as if the world would even notice my voice removed from the online conversation.

Social media is amazing and wonderful and its the standard for how we share information. I am not hating on it and I am not leaving it forever. I am fasting from it because I want to take some time to focus on the most important relationship I have: my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And when I return to social media, my prayer is that I will return with clear boundaries in place to ensure that I do not allow this to become a dominate force in my life. If we are honest, I think that we can all relate to times when Facebook takes over our life. It sounds pathetic, but its true and its a temptation that all of us will face if we haven’t already.

I know this is not an original concept. I am one in a very long line of many who have taken a social media “break” so I know I am in good company here. But for me, I am at a point where I want to go deeper in my walk with the Lord. Reading “7″ really challenged me. I may even consider following her example and fasting from other areas of excess in the coming months. But to start, I knew without a doubt that my BIGGEST area of excess is social media. I recently had this thought, that one day when I stand before the Lord, he may look at me and say, “Really AnnieLaurie? Really?? You spent THAT MUCH TIME on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc etc etc” at the expense of other things that have much more value — especially “in real life” relationships and experiences.

So we will see how this fast goes. As I said, I begin the fast with Lent on Wednesday, March 5 and will continue through Easter Sunday. I really really hope that this time of quieting my mind from all the noise results in many new blog entries. But my primary focus during this fast will be on enriching my relationship with the Lord, and if that includes writing than I will be a very happy girl!

Have any of you fasted like this? Any tips for a beginner? :) Let me know!

Lent

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My Focus for 2014

I began 2013 committing to focus on one word for the year: Believe. This turned into Believing God and a secondary focus on God’s Promises. I set out to scour the Bible to learn about God’s promises and how I could rightly apply those promises to my life. This was, in a way, my mission statement for the year.

As 2013 comes to a close I realize that, while I have learned much and been given many opportunities to “Believe God,” I still have so, so much to learn… about the Bible. In my pursuit of God’s promises I realized that I really have only scratched the surface of the depth and breadth of the Word of God. Perhaps one will never come to the end of this depth but I have come to realize (admit) that, despite my pride, I really don’t know the scriptures as well as I think. Why does this matter?

Some of the other insights gleaned from this year of Believing God, include a proper instruction and total conviction of the living and active power of the Word. As a believer in Jesus, God’s word is the most valuable asset in which to invest my time and on which to build my life. I think that I have done the best I could up until now. I have memorized verses, I have read chapters of the Bible, some verses are highlighted and others are underlined. I have definitely spent alot of time over the years of my life studying the Bible. But I have never read it all. I still have so much to learn.

Furthermore, and I have said this on the blog before, the biggest insight of this year is that the entire Bible is a promise. All of it. A promise of redemption, forgiveness, salvation, freedom, eternal life and more, if there could even be more than those. So for me, what started as a quest to know God’s Promises turned into a realization that, in order to best understand God’s Promises I must obtain a clearer and firmer understanding of the entirety of his Word.

So my focus for 2014 is going to be on God’s Word. Its a broad topic for sure. But I am thrilled about it because I will learn SO MUCH along the way. I am especially looking forward to obtaining a deeper connection and personal application to the concepts of mercy and grace found all throughout the Bible.

To help me in this new quest, for Christmas my husband gave me four extremely valuable resources to get me deeper into my study. I am going to read the Bible chronologically using a method called Read the Bible for Life, written by Dr. George Guthrie, a professor from my alma mater, Union University.  I am so excited to dive into a chronological reading of scripture. The readings are thematically chronological, for example I wont read the entire book of Psalms at once, the Psalms will be placed in chronological order as their context applies to other books of the Bible. I probably didn’t do a great job of explaining that but I hope it makes sense.

So I got the book explaining the method, the Bible laid out in chronological order, the year long reading plan, and the workbook designed to assist the reader in a deeper study of the daily reading.

What I love about this plan is that it lasts all year, unlike other Bible studies that typically only last 8-12 weeks; its all laid out and ready, all I have to do is make the time to read it. The daily readings are not dated like other year-long reading plans so I wont feel super stressed if the calendar doesn’t match up with the day I am on in my reading because lets face it, I am going to fall behind a bit. There is no way around that one, I have baby, a toddler and even more surprises to come in 2014.

So my hope is that this time next year I am celebrating something I’ve never been able to complete in my life: reading through the entire Bible. I can’t wait to discover all the richness that awaits!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

But Jesus answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:8

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

 

Posted in Believe, God, God's Promises, One Word 365 | 4 Comments

Goals

Well, October is gone and I did not write for 31 days. I did good though. I did better than I thought I would and better than I did last year. Despite failing to write for 31 days, I am still proud of what I accomplished. I learned alot about myself through putting together these posts. I also realized that, in order for me to be a “better blogger” I *do* need to write every day. Even if I don’t post every day, I still need to spend time writing each day. I still have many great posts on deck that I wrote last month, they just weren’t ready to post. Writing each day helps me be better and gives me lots of content to work with. Moving forward I do plan on posting more regularly to this blog, it just wont be every day :) We will see what I eventually work up to, but for now three times a week feels like a good goal.

I also enjoyed the freedom of writing about whatever I wanted. I stopped worrying about writing for a niche or on a specific topic. I know that is what good bloggers “do” but for me it was more important to just get some words out there and lets face it, I named this blog “My Living Canvas” because I didn’t want to be boxed into a certain topic. Each day my canvas is clean, just waiting for me to add something to it and I need to freedom to let the words go where they want to go.

So that’s it. #31Days of Life as I Know it may be complete, but for me it was the jump-start I needed to fall back in love with writing. So in that case, I did reach my goal and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.

 

Posted in Life as I Know It | 2 Comments

Yes

I am coming out of a very long season of No. Ever since I became a parent I pretty much said no to everything that had nothing to do with my successfully transitioning to parenthood. That was a little over 2 years ago. But many other things happened in the last two years. Not only did we have 2 children, we moved three times, Brian started working in ministry, I stopped working full time, our annual household income decreased by nearly 70% as we transitioned into our new roles, and I now live far enough away from the friendships I had developed over the years that my friends actually want to bring an overnight bag when they visit. And these are just the biggies.

In hindsight I can honestly say that I have been in a fog. That’s the only way I really know how to describe it. I have friends in my life who met me while I was in the fog. As of late they’ve commented on how I have really changed. I say, no, you’re just getting to know the real me.

About this time last year I decided that it was time for me to come out of my cocoon. LucyKate was nearly a year old, I was finally getting a consistent 8 hours of sleep again, and it was painfully obvious to me that I desperately needed to make some friends. I have a ton of great friends all over the area, but the large majority of them live at minimum a 35 minute commute from me. So I joined two mom’s groups: a Bible study for moms called “Mothering Matters” and Mothers Of PreSchoolers aka MOPS.

At the time of my joining these groups, deep in my heart, my number one goal was attendance. I didn’t really care if I came prepared, participated, or shared a thing about myself I just knew I needed to form the discipline of getting myself out of my house and connected to some other like-minded women in a similar life stage as me. So I joined, and I showed up. And then I got pregnant with #2 which made my goal of just showing up even more challenging.

Praise God that is one goal I didn’t abandon. Fast forward one year later and I am still in both of these groups. I am serving in a small role at MOPS working on our monthly newsletter as well as being challenged to step outside my comfort zone in other areas of leadership that I typically avoid (like leading a devotion for 30 women). MOPS has been great for me, I have enjoyed meeting new people, getting to know some acquaintances better, and even being reunited with a dear friend who was in my first women’s Bible study through Frontline 10 years ago when we were still single gals:) One of the best parts about saying Yes to MOPS has been getting to know more women at my church. I’ve gone to McLean Bible Church for 11 years but now that we are a church with different campus in locations around town, starting at a new campus can feel alot like starting at a brand new church. Ive only been attending my current campus for two years. And MOPS has played an instrumental role in helping me meet other women.

Going to these gatherings is the highlight of my weeks, especially my Mothering Matters Bible study. The group is different from MOPS in that we meet in the mornings each week for Bible study while MOPS is every other Tuesday evening, without kids, and is more of a program with various elements/speaker/craft etc. Many have asked me the difference between the two so I thought it was worth explaining.

My Mothering Matters group recently started studying the book Multiply by Francis Chan and David Platt. This study couldn’t be more well timed for me and where I am right now coming out of my “fog.” The study focuses on Jesus’ command to his followers to go make disciples. The content is challenging and convicting in a way that my heart desperately needed. The discussions we have in our group about each chapter have been both inspired and inspiring. The best part is seeing how God is at work in each of our lives, recognizing that and encouraging one-another in that has been restorative and life-giving to me and I am so thankful for these women.

For the first time in literally YEARS I feel like I have some momentum. Something inside me is continually propelling me forward. For years I felt  strangely stagnant and stale, simply surviving the days. But since the fall began it is clear to me and to others around me who have told me so that God is doing a new thing in me. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I just think back to that small yes, the decision and simple goal to just show up to MOPS and Mothering Matters, and how in such a short period of time I find myself now with all this momentum, moving forward in life, toward God and growing in meaningful community with other believers. Its an exciting season and it all started with one small yes.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19

This post is one of several in the series “31 Days of Life as I Know It.” Click here to see a list of all posts in the series.

Posted in 31 Days of Life as I Know It, Courage | 2 Comments

Seasons

Ok so I have a really good reason for not writing the past several days. I was scheduled to give a devotion at my MOPS meeting. I was having a hard time figuring out what to say and basically poured all of my time and focus into getting that over the finish line. So since I’ve been delinquent in my posts, I thought why not share the devo here. So here ya go. Warning it’s a lot longer than my typical posts because I needed it to be 10 minutes. Also please keep in mind that this was written specifically for mothers of preschoolers :)

Seasons

I don’t know about you but I just love the fall season. It really is my most favorite time of the year. I love the crispness in the air, I love the changing colors of the trees, I love pumpkin picking and hayrides and I REALLY love the pumpkin spice lattes…

But what I love the most about this time of year is that I find it to be the season with the most contrast.

Fall offers days warm enough for shorts and tank tops one day and cold enough for fleece jackets and snow boots the next. Everything around me seems more vibrant as leaves change colors and seem to glow against the sky that always looks bluer to me in the Fall than any other time of the year. And something about the back-to-school vibe gives me the feeling of new beginnings much more so than New Years or Spring Time.

And did I mention the pumpkin spice lattes? Thank God for Starbucks!

Ten years ago, on this very day Oct 22, I found myself in the midst of a brand new season, on a mountain top in Guatemala. I was on my second missions trip to this area in the same year. Earlier in the year, I ventured out on my first Global Missions trip to Guatemala partnering with Compassion International and working with children in a very small rural village high atop a mountain overlooking Lake Atitlan. The experience was one of the most moving and life changing Ive ever had. And when, later that same year, the opportunity emerged to return to to this tiny mountain top town, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer.

As our plane departed DCA for Miami, I couldn’t help but stare in awe out the window as we ascended over the shenandoah, marveling at the vastness of changing colors below me. Seeing the changing leaves from 15-20 thousand feet felt alot like viewing a Monet, all the varying species of trees … like little dots below me … comprised this majestic landscape…
a beautifully woven tapestry of color and light. I couldn’t help but praise the Lord and thank him for allowing me, in that very moment, to enjoy his creation along with him.

So the year was 2003, back then, people still took pictures with actual cameras and film and even had hard copies in photo books, as I am sure you can recall.

Ive been blessed to go on many mission trips over the years and one thing that is always a big hit on these trips is sharing personal photographs with the people who we meet in country. They always enjoy seeing pictures of us with our families and friends, at work, at church, and the communities where we live. It was actually a great segue to discuss more personal matters as we were there — ultimately — to share the gospel. My handy photobook always proved to be a helpful tool in making new friends.

On this October 2003 trip to Guatemala, I had some photos in my photobook that I took from the roofdeck on my apartment. At that time, I was living and working on Capitol Hill. I lived in an efficiency apartment that was once a hotel, it is one of the oldest and tallest buildings on the Hill and has this amazing roof top deck where you can look out over the city.

The pictures I had in my photobook were taken earlier that month, and included shots of the bright white US Capitol dome gleaming against the changing fall colors against a deep blue sky dotted with perfect cotton ball clouds. These are still some of my favorite pictures from that season of life, especially because they really capture the contrast of the changing seasons.

So as I proudly showed these photos of my home to my Guatemalan friends I was excited to see their enthusiastic response. I really thought they must have been excited to see the US Capitol building. But that was not what had captured their attention.

They were amazed by the trees changing colors.

Through a translator, they shared that they had never seen a tree change colors. I couldn’t believe it. It never even occurred to me that there were areas of the world where people could live their whole lives without seeing fall foliage, or snow for that matter. This was simply amazing to me. How strange it must have been for them to see what they have only known to be green, changing into yellow, red, orange and brown.

So we started to talk about seasons. I described the four distinct seasons that we regularly enjoy living in the mid-Atlantic. Then they shared about their seasons. I learned that the basically only have two seasons: rainy and dry.

Now, I am no expert in Guatemalan climatology, but this is how they described their seasons. Not much changed temperature wise for them.

They just had the two seasons… one was dark and rainy the other was bright and sunny. Additionally, trees never change color there. The mountains are always lush and green. We were not in the rain forest but it sure did look like it to me.

Suffice it to say, we were both equally fascinated as we learned more about the seasons where we lived on very different parts of the earth.

So you may be thinking, AnnieLaurie, that sure is a nice story but what does this have to do with the Lord?

What I hope to leave you with tonight is the concept of life’s seasons. I am sure you have heard life described as a collection of various seasons. It really is a great visual to the help us remember that life’s circumstances, whether good or bad, always have a beginning and an end and that they look very different from one person to the next. No matter what season of life we may be in, one thing we can count on is that, in time, that season will change.

One of the more famous Bible passages, thanks to 1950’s Rock Band The Byrds, is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which reads:

A Time for Everything
3 There is a time(A) for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,(B)
3 a time to kill(C) and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent(D) and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

As mothers of preschoolers we are all in a very unique season of life. Empty-nesters will tell us “the days are short” while we think to ourselves “yeah, but the nights are long.”

Well meaning strangers may pass us in the grocery store, and say loudly, in order to be heard over our toddlers melt down: “enjoy this season, it goes by so fast!” while we pull it together long enough to give a gracious smile as we hurry for the safety and privacy of home.

Whoever came up with the saying: dynamite comes in small packages,” must have had their two year old on their mind when they said it.

The truth of the matter is that yes. As moms, we are in a very special season. It is a honored season, even a coveted season, that has an equal measure of hard work and fun, disappointments and rewards. It is an infinitely meaningful time of life and I know that all of us here understand the weight and depth and breadth of the value placed on this sacred season of life.

Yes, we are in this together, this season of raising up children. But even within this season how we experience the season looks very different from mom to mom.

Just as I sat with my Guatemalan friends as we marveled together at the differences in our own geographically distinct seasons, each of us as we sit around these tables and share our stories have an opportunity to marvel together at our own unique seasons. Some of us are in seasons of drought, where life feels cracked and dry and God seems distant. Others of us are in seasons of refreshing where we are finally getting into a manageable groove, our schedules are in sync with our kids and we are even getting a shower every day for the first time in months! Some of us are dealing with seasons of financial crisis or, perhaps, financial abundance. Others may feel you are in a sleep deprived coma, hanging on by a thread while others may be coming to life after a long season of up all night.

Wherever life may have us, lets continue to prioritize this time with other moms and invest in each other as we move through these various seasons. Linger early and often, ask deeper questions and be willing to give honest answers. Get interested in whats happening in the lives of those sitting next to you week to week. We each have something to offer one another, an encouraging word, an understanding nod, even a warm smile can really be significant as we navigate the ups and downs within the various seasons of motherhood.

Something that God is really hammering home to me right now is that we are not meant to do this alone. He designed us to be in community together like we are here tonight, he wants us to share our seasons and describe them in great detail so that we can help each other, cheer each other on, learn from each other and mostly so we can give God praise for the wonderful ways we see him at work in our lives.

Because no matter what season of life we are in, one thing is certain, a promise we can cling to as seasons begin and end: GOD NEVER CHANGES

Hebrews 13:8 says: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

James 1:17 says: Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Romans 8:28 says: God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Isaiah 40:8 says The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

We can be certain that our seasons will change. But our God will never change. We sing a song at church called Your Love Never Fails. A line in the chorus goes:

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There maybe pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
Lets hold tight to that promise and remember that:

God’s word tells us that life will be full of all kinds of seasons
We need to stay in community to help each other as we navigate these changing seasons

Because God never changes, we can trust him and rely on him to carry us through any change a new season may bring.

This post is one of several in the series “31 Days of Life as I Know It.” Click here to see a list of all posts in the series.

Posted in Life as I Know It | 2 Comments

Dear All The Praying People

My kid slept 8 hours last night! Granted, he went to bed at 7 pm and I went to bed around 10:30 pm so I didn’t get 8 hours but 4.5 is a big improvement! Thank you for your prayers and your words. The best part about this blogging challenge has been hearing from so many of you who I haven’t heard from in a while. Thank you for hollerin at a sista.

Last weekend was my daughter’s birthday and it poured rain all weekend. We barely made it out of the house for four days straight. Well the good news is that the weather man is promising that the sun’ll come out tomorrow so this family is going to roll out to the national zoo.

I’ve only been once in the dead cold of February and didn’t see many animals so I am pretty amped about our visit. I have been talking about it all day with both my kids. Lucas loves everything so he’s excited and I can’t wait to see LucyKate’s reaction to all the animals. She is a big fan of the Little People zoo:)

According to the zoo’s Facebook page, in celebration of their being open again (thanx Congress) everything is 10% off and carousel rides are FREE. Oh and the country’s greatest pizza place, 2 Amys, is just up the road.

I am giddy. Tomorrow is going to be awesome!!!!!

The end.

Posted in 31 Days of Life as I Know It, Daily Bright Side, Family | 2 Comments

Life Happens

I wrote a blog post tonight. I spent well over an hour on it. But several things are preventing me from posting it. Remember how I said yesterday that I don’t post a blog unless I feel like God has given it the green light? Lets just say that the light is still red.

Now it is late, I did not get more an 2 hours of sleep at a time last night and my brain is fried. I want to stay true to writing for 31 days. So here it is. Even as I type I must answer the call, or cry, of duty and go feed my baby.

I just wanted to say for the record that I did write, I’m just not ready to post it.

If you are a praying person, please pray that my 5 month old starts sleeping better. I am seriously exhausted.

Thanks for sticking with me.

This post is one of several in the series “31 Days of Life as I Know It.” Click here to see a list of all posts in the series.

Posted in 31 Days of Life as I Know It | 3 Comments