Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Inside the Margin

I pulled on my pants yesterday morning. "Hmm...these are awfully loose," I thought.

I decided to add my belt. Accessorize it, yeah that will help. Since the beginning of March, my belt has been one hole tighter. But yesterday morning, it is went one more. My belt is in its tightest hole!

Now, you're asking questions. "Are you eating? Are you working out? Are you OK?"

My answer: "Margin."

Margin is the space you put in your life for what is necessary for you to live responsibly. It's the boundary that I never had and never wanted because I thought it would be boring. After hearing innumerable sermons about margin, I knew what the ministers were all getting at: discipline.

I decided in January to start living under these guidelines they were talking about, just try them out. I would tithe consistently, give my day the God, eat healthier, work out, spend less money on myself and more on others and save. If it didn't affect my life, I would go back to my old way of doing things, which caused me to stress and worry nearly everyday. If they were right, I’d find a life I always wanted.

So after two months, what do I have to show for it?

Before January:
Bible reading: Rarely, maybe once a week. I couldn't tell you that there were any promises in my life. I was worried, sad, tired and unsatisfied.
Tithing: When I remembered, and not always 10 percent.
Exercise: Never
I weighed 183 lbs. when I began working at Lifetime Fitness January 6, 2010.
Eating healthy: If you count lettuce and tomato on a California Burger: yes. But in reality: no.
Saving money: None
I had $75 in savings as of February 1, 2010 and just as much in my checking.
Entertainment: Twice a week, expensive, typically unsatisfying.

As of March 28:
Bible reading: Everyday, twice a day if possible. If I can have more time, I take it. I have peace and calm. And when things are stressful and causing me anxiety, I have a place to turn. Now I put my faith and hope in the Lord and not in the situations.
Tithing: Every check I get paid, the tithe is in the bucket at church. Do I miss the money? NO! I am way to blessed.
Exercise: Two to three times a week.
I weigh 155 lbs. Clothes do not fit, which is beautiful. Though, I'm not spending money on new ones...hmm...a new problem. Praying for divine alterations. I’m also starting to train in June for a 10K in September, something I never thought in a million years I would even want to do. I’ll talk about this more in future posts.
Eating healthy: I hit two areas of margin: finances and health. I spend $30 a week on fresh foods that I eat throughout the week. I have really planned meals of food I actually like and eat. I get the things I like, I leave the grazing alone, and the results are in. I have lost more than 15 pounds and have saved DOLLAZ by not buying lunch each day at work. I still eat out once in a while, but I don’t feel the need to eat out all the time as I did in the past. It’s a treat, not an expectation and I don’t feel ripped off.
Saving money: I have $440 in savings. Tomorrow I’ll get paid and add more. In two months I have more than tripled my savings. Who would’ve known?
Entertainment: It includes things I already enjoy. Spending time with girlfriends, staying in, making food, socializing with friends at the gym. I mean, if anything really is entertaining, it has to be from the inside out. You wouldn’t be satisfied even at the best party if you weren’t with the people you care about.

So my advice to you is this: You want to lose weight? Make a plan now and DO IT. You want to tithe? Take out your check book now and WRITE THE CHECK. You want to have peace and clarity about the future? Read the Word. Don’t make excuses. What have you got to lose? I guarantee that the moment you put margin or discipline into your life, you will see changes.

It’s just as Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Run the race. Train correctly. Be rewarded.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shower Songs

"Pick the drain of any hair," Leah said to me the first day of shower cleaning training at Lifetime Fitness. "Then, spray with water and wash away more hair. After that, spray with cleaner and scrub with a brush. Rinse. That's it."

She looked at me with a look that asked, "You got it? It's not rocket science."

I had it. Easy peasy.

At first, I saw the showers as a chore, which is my whole job I suppose as a cleaning lady. Scrubbing and spraying, spraying and scrubbing some more. But after a few weeks, I found it quite pleasing to work in the quiet and warm stalls. It was a place to think, a place to be alone, well almost alone. Typically one or two patrons of the gym would shower while I cleaned the open stalls.

In January, I found myself praying quietly each time I cleaned the showers. "God, please be with me. I know you're here." I'd bring my cares and concerns to him each time and he made it obvious that he was hearing me. Sometimes I'd pray with such intensity that I tear up and take a time out in the stalls so that patrons don't have to see the weepy-eyed shower cleaning lady. This hasn't really changed.

However, a few weeks ago, I decided I'd sing songs to God while I cleaned. I figured if someone was uncomfortable with me singing in the showers, the only place my voice is appropriate, then they would say something.

One particular night, I was singing bits of worship songs that I could remember. Typically transitioning quickly from one song to the next because I can only remember a verse or two of most songs sung at church. I began to feel this deep sense of loneliness, which was something I didn't really feel anymore on a daily basis whether I had been solitary for moments or hours. So I prayed, "God, you've been with me all day. Maybe it's me. Maybe my gaze is off of you. I don't want that. So please reveal to me that you are here with me."

(I have begun to realize that God is not far from us. We put walls between ourselves and him on our own. It's up to us to say, "I don't want to be far from you. I want to be close," and he comes.)

I felt in my heart God was saying, "Sing 'It is Well.'"

One of the only hymns that I can remember at least a few verses of is "It is Well."

If you're unfamiliar, it goes like this.

"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul."

So I sang the first verse and the verse about Jesus taking our sin, thinking all the while, "Is anyone else praising you, O God? I feel so alone on this road with you." I continued singing, but my voice began to falter. I was getting too choked up. I stopped after finishing the first verse once more. I listened in the silence. But a moment later a woman in the first stall picked up right where I left off singing, "It is well, with my soul. It is well, with my soul."

I began to cry.

God knew I needed that. He knew I needed someone else to confirm that I'm not alone in praising him while I'm at a health club.

Sometimes it's going to feel like you're alone as you press in closer to God; its how many of the saints and Jesus felt. I've been feeling this way lately, like I can't relate, so I stay quiet and listen to those around me, which is good and better. But I feel strange because I'm not concerned about little things I used to care about.

While I was reading yesterday, I felt great encouragement from a passage in one of the books. As AW Tozer wrote in an article in the Alliance Witness, compiled in the book Man: the Dwelling Place of God,

"...the lonely man of whom we speak is not a haughty man, nor is he a holier-than-thou, austere saint so bitterly satirized in popular literature. He is likely to feel that he is the least of all men and is sure to blame himself for his very loneliness. He wants to share his feelings with others and to open his heart to some like-minded soul who will understand him, but the spiritual climate around him does not encourage it, so he remains silent and tells his grief to God alone...[though he] is not the withdrawn man who hardens himself against human suffering and spends his days contemplating the heavens. Just the opposite is true. His loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of the brokenhearted and the fallen and the sin-bruised. Because he is detached from the world, he is all the more able to help it."

This is right where I'm at, disconnecting myself from this world and finding solace in it, while joyfully hoisting other's burdens over my shoulder to take it to the foot of the cross where they can feel peace.

So if you feel this way, or want to feel a joyful estrangement, I encourage you to seek the Lord. Just do it. The more you seek, the more you find. The more alone and different you become, the closer you will be to the creator, and that's the best place to be to be used.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Actively Patient: a Rewarding Struggle

Things are popping up for me. Instead of being a journalist in the conventional sense, God is calling me to something different. I am still very much a writer. But, he's telling me what he's been saying all along. I pushed it away saying, "God can't use me." The truth is, he's already using me for his good purposes. Here's the deal, I never thought I would work with women. But the more I wait for God's timing, the more he is teaching me to reach out to them.

As I waited for the Lord, he brought me to a place of complete submission. In that state, he's said, "Joy, go to seminary." You may think I'm crazy. Some days I think I am. I began filling out my application to Bethel Seminary a few weeks ago. I thought of all the things I needed to do; people I needed to network with; who needed to get reference forms to; What I need to do currently to be prepared for ministry, etc. All the details began to cloud my mind. Instead of fretting and whining, wondering what was next and not allowing God to make me feel content right here, I gave it over, which was very difficult. It took quite a few nights of weeping in my car, wrestling with God until I finally gave up. "God, I am nothing and can do nothing without you. Please take these things I feel I want to hold on to. Just use me." And I waited. No voices screamed in my head on this issue, but a calm presence saying, "Right here, just like this. This is what I ask of you. You get it."

Here's where it gets interesting. A week after I began filling out my application to Bethel Seminary, my pastor announced that our church was getting a deal with the school. Anyone who has been an attender for the past year can qualify for a 30 percent discount on tuition. 30 PERCENT! Now, if that isn't one sign of confirmation, I don't know what is. Then I was unsure about the letters of recommendation. Within the past week I was able to meet with the pastor's wife, not an easy meeting to get, she's a busy gal. She was excited to fill it out for me. I was also able to pass my church Elder form off to the only Elder I know pretty well. Now, all I have to do is get my last professional reference to my editor at the Star Tribune. Things fall into place when God allows them to.

And he's opening doors for other things, including modeling, something I'll write more on later if it pans out. For now, actively waiting.

So now it's a waiting game for seminary. I have been asked to be actively patient. I am called to wait on God while being content, but also knowing something exciting is coming up gets me revved up the next thing. Its a huge paradox. How do I let things just fall into place while serving and seeking and wait without looking too far ahead?

I'm a firm believer that today is all of the future that I am guaranteed. I could go to sleep tonight forever. I could be hit by a bus downtown. Sheesh, I could die right here at my computer. But tomorrow is something I have to plan for in the world. I can't sit back on my laurels when things begin falling into place. I have to seize the opportunities as God brings them. So that active patience is something I'm developing.

And as I process this, sometimes I get nervous. I feel myself beginning to worry. Prime example, at 10:15 am, I feel some anxiety inside. I know it's not coffee, I gave that away to a homeless guy this morning. So I took my break. Still feeling restless, I opened up my Bible and there it was, just staring at me.

2 Peter 3:8-9, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

I'm not waiting on Him, well I am. But he's waiting patiently for me to come to Him, as it says in vs. 9, and admit that I can't do this and that He is in control.

So, now, as far as you know, I am contented though so much is in the works. I will continue to actively wait, knowing that this isn't a time to sit back, but to prepare. And if things don't work out the way I think they should, then that's exactly what's supposed to happen. I'll know things will work out how God wants them to be. And knowing that things aren't up to me takes a lot of pressure off me. Thanks God.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Losing it

In the fall I lost my jacket. It was a nice jacket, cool and trendy, with a lightness that transitions the seasons from winter to summer and summer to winter with ease. I really liked that jacket, but quickly I forgot about it.

A few weeks ago I get a call on the phone, “Hi Joy. Guess what I found? My roommate thought your jacket was hers and had it in her closet. Oops. Sorry. I’ll return it to you.”

Though it was just a jacket, it felt nice to have it back. But what I thought about this was something a bit deeper.

I read this passage intently a few weeks ago.

"Whoever finds his life will lose it. And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:39

Imagine if you lost your life and you didn’t realize that it was missing. You stopped being your job. You stopped being your school. You stopped being your stuff and your food. And you actually gave it all up. You started being God’s.

Some of us are only willing to give what we think is required to make it to heaven.

“I’ll volunteer on Sunday mornings, but when I see a homeless person I’ll wish them well and pray for them as I pass them by on my way to lunch.” Or “I’ll work out at the gym to make myself fit and practice endurance, but I’ll give God only 5 minutes of actual Bible comprehension each week.” Or, “I’ll give money to my church, but the mall deserves more of it.”

I’m not saying you should live a life of poverty. Jesus is.

Jesus promises that you find life when you lose it. He’s got you covered.

Lately I’ve found that the more I give away. The more I rid myself of this world, I don’t get more out of touch. I get more in touch with what actually matters. I care about people. I love God. I don’t have a bad self-esteem. I don’t feel alone. I don’t want to sin. I want to be with God in real ways, every moment of EVERY DAY.

Take some time. Realize. We are not our jobs. We are not our families. We are not our activities. We are not our food. We are not our clothes. We are not our flesh. We are God’s.

So I pray this for myself, "Take my stomach, Lord, so that only my heart would hunger for you. Fill my throat with sand, for I want to thirst for you. You are the living God. Only your waters can quench this thirst. Take this skin. Peel it off. I don’t want it anymore. Rip from me these muscles that pin themselves to my bones that I would stand in your presence a skeleton of a person, gaunt and emaciated, peeled from the world with only the light of your life shining from my heart. Because I only long to love you. I long to love others. For I pray to die so that I might live. I pray to be only alive because you make me alive. Be lost so you can find me. I long to be dead to this world, suffering the affliction and persecution that Christ endured knowing that Christ is walking alongside me, my hand in his, as I walk toward glory. Giving everything, EVERYDAY is my one desire."

If you want to lose something that you won’t miss once you realize you are alive, pray this, “Jesus I surrender my life, my will, my needs, my wants, my desires, my love. I give them up to you. And I ask that you will come in and fill that whole that the world has filled. Peel off my flesh so I can be holy and righteous. I love you and want to be with you only. Thank you for making me alive. In Jesus name, Amen.”

It takes small things. Eventually losing yourself will be the best thing you do.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lent? Don't worry about it.

I remember one Lent, years ago, that I said I would give up worrying. Now, I don't traditionally do anything during lent. I grew up in a very nontraditional Christian home. So, my classmates thought I was crazy. They must’ve thought, “No one can give up worrying. That’s not something you can tangibly give up for God.” I had tests coming up, prom, graduation, parties, basketball games and everything in between. And though life seemed very stress free, now looking back, I remember myself often worrying about small things, things that don’t really matter. I tried not to worry by avoiding the situations, not getting involved or putting off the stress by leaving it for another day. It was all in my own strength and I failed consistently. So I sat in worry, though I played it off like I wasn't thinking about it.

Now, I’m working through things that seem harder. I’d like to find a reasonable apartment in a convenient location. I’m not sure what my future holds and from the outside I should probably try to find a different job. I’m trying to give up character flaws, or as I like to call it, unrighteousness. Before, I would have tried to put these worries off, or tried to make them less stressful by searching on Craigslist or Monster.com. However, as I read through Jesus’ teachings, I can’t help but realize that He tells us not to be anxious, and when we worry and fester we aren’t trusting in Him. Whoa! Not trusting in Him?

You might be thinking, “Oh, hey. I’m trusting in God, but I need to worry about this because it’s a big deal!” or “In the past this thing happened, so I have the right to worry.”

I can understand those points. It’s natural to worry. It’s how we’re taught to handle stress. But what if I told you that you could have peace in all situations? What if I told you God wants you to live a carefree life? Your rent check bounces? No worries, God has it worked out. Your car breaks down? Peace, the Lord is with you.

I read this passage by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book the Cost of Discipleship and it gave me something to think about. He writes, “Anxiety is characteristic of the Gentile, for they rely on their own strength and work instead of relying on God. They do not know that the Father knows that we have need of all these things, and so they try to do for themselves what they do not except from God. But the disciples know that the rule is ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’”

Wait. We’re the disciples, not the Gentiles. Take a minute to think about how often do you worry. Think now about who you believe God is. Do you really believe he cares about every one of your needs?

If you answer no, that’s ok. God wants you to trust Him. He wants you to know that he cares for all your needs. Just do as he instructs and the trusting comes more naturally.

Bonhoeffer goes on to write, “…The kingdom is none other than the righteousness of Matthew 5 and 6, the righteousness of the cross of following Christ beneath the cross. Fellowship with Jesus and obedience to his commandment come first, and all else follows. Worldly cares are not a part of our discipleship, but distinct and subordinate concerns. Before we start thinking thought for our life, our food and clothing, our work and families, we must seek the righteousness of Christ.”

It only takes trusting God to meet our needs.

So this week when you’re worrying, here’s a practical application. Do what Paul instructs. In Philippians 4:6-7 he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Just lift it up. Say, “God, I don’t know what to do in this situation. I’m weak, but I trust in you because you are my strength. I thank you in advance for being with me and giving me peace. Thank you for caring about my needs. Thank you for being with me.” And say this every time you worry.

Eventually it will be as Bonhoeffer writes.

“After he has been following Christ for a long time, the disciple of Jesus will be asked, ‘Lacking ye anything?’ and he will answer, ‘Nothing, Lord.’ How could he when he knows that despite hunger and nakedness, persecution and danger, the Lord is always at his side?”

He’s with you. Now, go in peace and serve the Lord.