Quiet Places

Gentle Reader,

…He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

– Luke 5:16 (CSB)

I have a complicated relationship with food. Some of it, I’m not supposed to eat, but I eat it anyway, just not all the time. Some of it makes me sick, a list that grows longer each year. Some of it is deeply disappointing, like carrots, which I love but didn’t improve my eyesight even though I ate them religiously as a child. (Grin to my parents). Some of it is just disgusting; cilantro, which takes like soap, and meatloaf top of this category. (I will not eat meatloaf, ever, even if it is your great-grandmother’s amazing recipe).

At this point my diet is fairly limited. Lots of vegetables, lots of fruit, some grains. Dessert more often than I care to admit, but I do try to exercise some self-control over my raging sweet tooth. While this all really does help me in the fight against liver disease, and has led to amazing cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, there is a boredom factor. A woman can only eat so many salads before she wants to throw something.

Thinking about this in light of today being Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season.

Believers are not supposed to draw attention to ourselves when we choose to fast (see Matthew 6:16-18), but this day naturally brings about the discussion of what to give up for Lent. (Note: Observing Lent is not required, and is a matter of personal conviction). Some people choose to give up sugar. Some coffee (God bless them). Others let go of social media or television. There are a lot of options and no one choice is better than the other. Fasting isn’t about the thing being given up, but rather about using energy and time to refocus on the Lord.

Fasting from food isn’t the best option for me. It’s not totally out of the ballpark; I could skip a meal and probably be fine. In fact, I have days when the train wreck that is my internal organs decides to get messier and I simply can’t eat. In the past, I’ve given up sugar – real talk, not completely successfully – and learned a lot about how I turn to food for comfort when I should be turning to Jesus. But overall, if I don’t want to end up passing out or in the hospital, I have to stick to a pretty regimented system. God knows that.

God also knows that I’ve been real lax in my time with Him lately.

It’s odd, because I genuinely love to study the Bible. Once I’m in there, rustling the pages between the battered faux leather cover, I’ll stay there for hours. One verse leads to another leads to another and then I’m looking up obscure Greek words. It’s fantastic. I love the way the story of redemption spans centuries, continents and peoples. I am deeply, eternally grateful that God took the time to speak to us through the different authors.

But…I’m also human. And it doesn’t take a lot to throw me off track.

I’m a week behind in my “read through the Bible in a year chronologically because you’re a big nerd” plan. A month behind in my study of Isaiah. At first I was exhausted after helping at winter retreat. Then I got the flu. Then some other stuff happened. Instead of carving out time with the King of Kings, from Whom comes my strength, I just…kind of floated along.

Then I wonder why I’ve felt crabby the last few days.

This year, Lent is less about what I’m giving up and more about to what I am returning. Jesus, our model in all things, needed time away. He needed to disconnect from the noise and the crowds. He needed to hear the heart of His Father. So, too, myself.

I don’t need to binge watch that show.

I don’t need to mindlessly scroll through social media.

I don’t need to ignore my alarm in the morning and then panic because I slept late.

I need God. Need time spent at His feet, listening to His voice. Need to allow Him to decide how I spend the hours. Need to allow myself to move away from the noise and bustle. Need to remember that He is in charge, no me. Need to remember that He has the wisdom, not me.

Maybe you don’t observe Lent. That’s fine. But if I were a betting woman, I’d say there’s a good chance that you, like me, need to set down your smartphone and pick up your Bible. And if that’s not you, if you’re engaged in good habits and keeping Jesus at the center, then please find someone who needs your gentle encouragement.

Because as we move toward Easter, we remember that Jesus walked alone so that we don’t have to.

We walk, together, with Him.

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New Woman, New Wardrobe

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Gentle Reader,

December 12.

Nineteen days

Skolops will be evicted in 19 days.

I can’t wait to break up. It’s not me. It’s him.

Getting a surgery date is a huge load off of my mind. It’s surprising how much clarity knowing when you’re going to be sliced open can bring. I have a plan now. I know what I need to do over the next three weeks to get ready. The Christmas tree goes up this weekend. Shopping will get done and presents wrapped. I’ll be scoping out sales on chocolate pudding and cranapple juice.

I’m ready.

This clear-headedness has brought me smashing into the reality of how distracted I’ve been for the last month or so. There’s a way in which this is justified; major medical issues will draw anyone’s attention. But in a bigger way, this distraction hasn’t been understandable at all. There’s no defending it. And it’s all because of this:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” – Colossians 3:12-17 (NKJV)

My pastor preached on this passage yesterday. These words follow hard after Paul’s admonition in 3:1-11 to kill the old nature. We are to “put off” things like anger, blasphemy, filthy language and lying. We who know Christ are no longer to live the way we always have. Our lives are “hidden in Christ” (vs. 3). Totally swallowed up by Him.

We “put off” the old and “put on” the new. We live according to our true identity as beloved sons and daughters of the King. Our old wardrobe of selfishness and immorality is replaced by the garments of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, thankfulness, praise and love.

So when my pastor asked us if we’re “wearing” the appropriate “clothes,” I felt the stab of conviction.

More often than not these weeks past, I’ve been living like my old self. No, nothing extreme. Nothing than anyone other than me would point out as an obvious sin. But my attitude, my thoughts…

Yikes.

I haven’t been engaged in the process of killing the old nature at all. I’ve been letting her come out to play.

My eyes are drawn to another verse in this chapter:

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” – vs. 2

I love how God makes things so decidedly simple. When I let my mind go astray, I don’t see that I’m picking up old, stinking, filthy rags and wearing them like I’m strutting down the runway at a Ralph Lauren show. The ridiculousness doesn’t register. If I respond to His command and submit to Him so that my mind is disciplined, I see the nasty things for what they are. I want to throw them in the trash. I delight in trying on the new outfits He has for me. Clean. Fresh. Never out-of-style.

Colossians 3:2 is my verse for the next 19 days. When I’m tempted to lace up the duct-taped, putrid tennis-shoes of contention, I’ll set my mind on things above. When I’m ready to slip into the moth-eaten, stained coat of jealousy, I’ll set my mind on things above. When I’m about to pull the holey, two-sizes-too-small jeans of fear off the shelf, I’ll set my mind on things above.

I’m a new woman.

I get a new wardrobe.

My journey to faith. (15)Note: I’m not sure where the image featured in this post comes from. I took it from my Pinterest style board. If you have a link for it, let me know.