One. More. Day. Homestretch of a 40-day Fast.

We started at 3:00 am. The blackness at the trail head to Long’s Peak grew even thicker as we left the ranger station and made our way into the section of the trail known as the Goblin’s Forest. The tree branches were beaded with water, and every time we brushed against one of them, miniature showers fell on our heads. Not that we noticed. All attention was focused on the ground, where tree roots lay in a constant tangle, silent, petrified snakes across our path.

Over and over, we banged our toes. Shifted our packs. Squinted ahead into the darkness, wanting to see the ink of night fade to rust, which meant sunrise was approaching. It wasn’t until we hit the switchbacks that dawn started to wash the horizon. We climbed back and forth, a literal zigzag up the mountainside. It’s normally my least favorite part of climbing, but on Long’s Peak, the switchbacks are above treeline, which meant that we had an unobstructed view of the entire progression of the sunrise somewhere around 11,000 feet.

The entire morning was a fight to keep my breath. The air was cold and thin, and my windpipe felt every breath as it warmed on the way into my lungs. The views put words like amazing and spectacular to shame. Light eventually came, and we made it past the major trail milestones: the Boulder Field, the Keyhole, the Trough, the Narrows.


Photo courtesy Eleven years ago, we still had a film camera.

And suddenly, I was facing the last section of the trail, the one called the Homestretch.

It was vertical. It required scrambling. I don’t remember if there was a rope, but I do remember the distinct feeling that if I slipped, I would die. I would take out the climbers below me, and I would do a complete and horror-filled free fall off the north face of Long’s Peak.

At that moment, I made what felt like an easy, justifiable decision. I was exhausted, shaking, sore. I was mentally shot. I didn’t need to see the top of the mountain. I was okay with the view from the bottom of the Homestretch.

So I quit.

I crossed my legs, assumed Sitting Bull stubbornness, and reasoned with Jason that I was okay. I wasn’t going to regret not going to the top. Yes, I’d stay right here and wait for him. (Where the stink else would I go?) He gave me about ten minutes to change my mind, and then, with an eye to the clouds and the clock, grabbed the camera, kissed my head, and started climbing.

For the first few minutes, I was content in my decision. I made it this far. It was lovely HERE. I didn’t need to go any further. I talked up my accomplishments to myself, and reclined a little deeper into the rocks behind me.

And then.

An eight year old boy.

Climbed the Homestretch.

In five minutes.

And dang if I was going to be bested by a scrawny-legged-eight-year-old boy.

I attached myself to the next group, and surrounded by their laughter and encouragement and excitement, I climbed the Homestretch. I made it to the summit, which was surprisingly flat. I jumped over prehistoric boulders and surprised my husband with all the stealth of a sixty year old mountain goat with a lame leg. We stood side by side, and stared at the glory of uninhibited landscape views, our eyes traversing miles in milliseconds.

Unforgettable. Truly.

This is the long way of telling you that this has been my last week of the 40-day fast, and yesterday, I told myself I was ready to quit. I listed all the reasons, and I sat by our backyard bonfire and ate pretzels and dip and savored every sweet, sour cream-filled bite.

Except for one thing. Today, (Saturday) is my last day. And when I woke up this morning, all I could think about was Long’s Peak, and a lesson I learned eleven years ago.

Flesh is weak. But weakness can, and should continue, to be overcome.

2 Peter 1:5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of Jesus.

Saying no to the self for the sake of another, growing to understand prayer in a new, more effective way, learning to love lives half way across the world – these things are a priceless experience.

They are worth one more day.


Why I Disciplined my Daughter for Eating Kiwi

My daughter said something yesterday that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. We were talking after a timeout, one which she’d earned for getting into the fridge without asking.


Check out the number of implements my three-year-old used to get into this kiwi. Impressive.

The culprit? Kiwi. Sweet, luscious green kiwi. (It’s day 25 of my 40-day fast. Forgive me if I wax poetic about anything food-related.)

Okay. I know. Who punishes their child for snacking on health food? Well, me. Why? Because my daughter doesn’t just stop at the fruit drawer. Yesterday alone I caught her sneaking a juice box, graham crackers, a kiwi, and carrots. All harmless, really, but it’s the principle that I’m worried about. I don’t want her taking things without asking.

At this stage, she has no concept of the need for self-control.

So after her third mistake/timeout session, I sat down on the stairs next to her and said something like, “Don’t you care that mama told you to ASK for something that you want, instead of just taking it?” Her response was so close to human nature that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Well, sometimes I do care, but sometimes I don’t.

Bless my baby. At least she’s honest.

That’s simply the black and white of it. Sometimes we care about doing the right thing, and sometimes, we just don’t.

For children, it seems to be an issue of motivation. In my house, the consequences of getting caught with contraband food usually aren’t that bad. Timeout. Discussion. Besides. What mom wants to punish her daughter for eating a carrot?

For adults, it’s another story. Most of us know right from wrong. Motivation still plays a role, but it’s different sort of reward we’re after now. And self-control?  Not if we can help it.

No one wants to tell themselves no. It’s like a rite of passage for adults. Maybe we went without when we were kids, or teens, in our twenties or as newlyweds, but dang it NOW we should be able to have everything we want.

We earned it. We deserve it. We think we need it, because want and need have become two inextricable things in our mind.

But when did want become as honorable as need?

Twice yesterday, the topic of self-control came up. The first was my best friend telling me that Katy Perry prays for self-control every day. (Katy Perry is the LAST person I’d think would be praying for self-control, so I was shocked, and also a little envious at her brilliance for praying for something that could make all the difference in the course of one’s day.)

There’s also a matter of this verse, which God pulled into the conversation when I was talking with my high school small group girls last night about what faith in real life looks like. It’s from the new testament book of Galatians 5:22 & 23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I’m learning a few things as a result of my fast. One of them is this: I REALLY don’t like to tell myself no. And when it comes to food, I don’t know that I EVER really tell myself no. If I want it, I make it, buy it, drive to a restaurant and order it.

Should I be surprised then that my daughter does the same thing on a smaller scale?

I think Katy Perry is onto something.

Stumbling Into my Need for a Better Sabbath

IMG_8038 (1280x853)

In third or fourth grade, on “bring your parent to school day”, my mom came and taught my class how to set a table. It wasn’t anything crazy. There weren’t multiple layers of special use forks or plates of varying sizes and functions. It was simply a lesson in basic table setting etiquette, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Start with the plate in the center of the setting. Next, the fork, which goes to the left of the plate. The knife flanks the plate on the right side, cutting edge turned in, and is followed by the spoon. The cup nestles in above the knife and spoon on the upper right side of the plate – not quite touching anything, but pulled in close enough to belong to the setting.

This is the format we followed most days during my growing up years. Plate, cup, fork, knife, spoon. A simple ritual in the rhythm of our day to day.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a feast day in my 40-day fasting journey, an amazing break in the rhythm of fasting that happens every seventh day. To me, it meant one glorious thing. For one beautiful day, I could eat whatever I wanted.

Last Sunday I was shocked by the bounty of a feast day. After four days of millet, bananas, rice, chicken, bread and spinach, I was physically exhausted. Friday and Saturday night I went to bed before nine pm. Then came Sunday.

My food brain went into overdrive. I started with my favorite Bon Appetit  Ham and Cheese waffles with maple syrup. (If you haven’t tried these, set aside a weekend morning, give yourself a pass on how much butter you’ll be consuming, and go wild.)

The rest of the day was a beautiful blur of feta and spinach chicken sausages, veggie hash, sopapillas and sangria and cupcakes. Church felt, for the first time in a long time, celebratory. The amazing friends who came over that night (many who were also fasting/feasting) sat around our big, wide kitchen table and talked over the sounds of our crazy, giggling children running wild through the living room.

Heaven on earth, all of it.

In the natural cycle of spiritual life, there’s this thing called Sabbath. It started as remembrance of God’s day of rest and enjoyment after six days of creating the world. Later on, in the book of Exodus 20, the Isrealites are told to “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God.”

Sounds great, right? A prescribed day of rest.  Except that usually, the idea of a Sabbath is a little like an estranged friend in my vocabulary. Sunday is no different than any other day in terms of mothering work. There are still messes to pick up, diapers to change, squabbles to sort out.

In fact, if I were to be completely honest, Sunday is usually anything but restful. Usually, either Jason or I are playing on worship team at church. The girls are shuttled into nursery and Sunday school. We get home well after nap time was supposed to start, and still haven’t had lunch yet. The house is usually in shambles, and the last thing on my mind is claiming a holy Sabbath.

And yet.

Somewhere, somehow in this journey, I feel myself waiting to lay a better claim to Sunday rest, to the idea of Sabbath or Shabbat. I don’t want my feast day to just pay homage to all the food I can eat, or worse yet, just be a giant day of gluttony before I go back into couscous mode.

Here’s what I’m thinking. I need a better way to observe the idea of a Sabbath feast. So I started digging around the interwebs and, after wading through a lot of interesting sites, found myself pulled up short with these words.

This is a Sabbath reading from Rabbi Naomi Levy. I felt a little creeped out, like this stranger had a glimpse into my kitchen window for a day and then said hey, friend. I wrote something for you.

Regardless of how they reveal all my flaws, these lines are simple and straight, like small arrows pointing the right direction out the back of my pierced and defective heart.

“I love to change the world,
But I rarely appreciate things as they are.
I know how to give,
But I don’t always know how to receive.
I know how to keep busy,
But I don’t often listen.
I look, but I don’t often see.
I yearn to succeed,
But I often forget what is truly important.
Teach me, God, to slow down. May my resting revive me.
May it lead me to wisdom, to holiness
To peace and to You.

– Rabbi Naomi Levy

Next Sunday, I will prepare for Sabbath. It might be simple – a candle on Saturday night and a quiet, purposeful prayer time. An early morning wake up to get ready before the family is up. A meal that’s ready right after we get home from church. A table that’s been set the way I was taught. A nap for every member of the family – not just the four and under crowd. Another candle at the end of the day, another pause to pray, write, or read.

Shabbat shalom. (Hopefully.)

Do you have any Sunday, Sabbath, or Shabbat habits, routines, or practices that you observe? I’d love to hear about them!

Commonly Asked Questions re: a 40-day fast

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I’ve been asked a few questions about my choice to enter a 40-day fast, so I wanted to take a second to lay it out for you. Oh, and after a quick double-check, I realized I had my dates wrong and our group is starting on Wednesday, April 8. Phew. I still have to figure out how I’m going to cook millet.

What is a 40-day fast?

The 40-day fast I’m participating in is a decision to step back from my normal, American diet and eat a diet similar to what the people in Mali, Africa eat for forty days.

Wait. I thought a fast meant NOT eating at all?

In some cases, that’s the truth. When Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, he went completely without food. However, fasts can also be a person choosing to “eat only sparingly or of certain kinds of food, especially as a religious observance.”

Where did you get this idea?

My church is doing a study together on A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay. Seay describes his book as “a passionate journey of radical faith, personal action, solidarity, and extravagant grace.” The group studying the book will meet weekly, and although I know I won’t be able to make it all the time, I’m going to try to go when I can.


Hands of Honor program participants

Why did you choose Mali

I’ve always felt called to ministry opportunities that encourage and strengthen the faith of young women. Recently, my Christian Missionary Alliance church family became partners with a program called Hands of Honor, which serves vulnerable girls in Segou, Mali.  Below is an overview that Becky, one of the program founders, emailed to me.

Hands of Honor, a literacy, skills, health, and discipleship training program, was launched last spring as a ministry to vulnerable domestic workers in the city of Segou, Mali. My colleagues and I started this outreach because of stories we heard from the girls in our prison ministry, who had arrived in Segou from rural communities to seek employment as domestic workers. They were vulnerable to abuse from their employers and naïve to the dangers of life in a big city. Each of the young women had become pregnant; out of desperation, they abandoned or killed their babies at birth. They were serving five years for this crime.

Becky went on to tell me a few of the girls’ stories. They broke my heart. As a young woman and a mother of daughters, I read their plights with dual understanding. It became clear that praying for the girls in this program was supposed to be the focus of my fast.

How is this going to make any difference?

This has a two-fold answer, and the first part is pretty practical. I’m planning to use the money I save in groceries to help the Hands of Honor program. It won’t be a lot, but it should be enough to sponsor one of the young women for a few months. I’m also planning to pray for the very specific needs that the girls have.

Then there’s me. My heart. My desire to see change come awake in my own life. This Richard Rohr quote from Simplicity does a good job summing up my thoughts as he talks about Jesus’ own forty-day fast.

“Jesus went into the wilderness, ate nothing for forty days, and made himself empty… Of course, emptiness in and of itself isn’t enough. The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up.”

As a result of that filling, I hope to find a way to alter how I live and start making a better practice of, like Seay says at the end of chapter one, “taking only what I need and sharing the rest.”

Isn’t it a little ironic that you’re choosing to fast? Malians don’t have a choice.

I struggle with this question, because I don’t want anyone to come away with the wrong idea about why I’m doing this. Yes, I’m a privileged American who can go to WalMart and buy the staples of a Malian diet without blinking.  Yes, it’s ironic that I can choose to fast. I get it.

But that irony and privilege is costing me a few things, namely, my ability to remember that I can get by with less so that other can have more.

I want this fast to break my habits and open my eyes to the excess in my life so I can start reducing it. It is more than just raising awareness – it’s choosing to act now that I am aware, and doing so in a way that directly helps someone in need.

So what are you going to eat?

Here’s my list of ten Malian staples that I’m adopting for the next forty days. After consulting with our missionaries and reading up on Mali cuisine and food stuffs, this list seems pretty accurate of the whole foods I’d find accessible at market.

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Banana/plantain
  • Mango
  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Couscous
  • White bread

Is this just a Christian version of a fad diet?

No. You won’t find me posting any before and after pictures. I don’t own a scale, I don’t know how much I weight right now, and I won’t know what I weigh when I’m done. I still plan to eat three meals a day and exercise as usual.

This fast has nothing to do with my outside appearance, but everything to do with the inside of my heart.

I’m interested and want to know more.

Fantastic! If you are local to the Chisago Lakes, MN/St. Croix Falls, WI area, the group is planning to meet on Sunday mornings from 9:45 – 10:45 am in the Alliance Church of the Valley student center auditorium.

If you’re thinking about doing this on your own, with friends, in a small group, or with your church, go check out the resources that Chris has for the book at So much good stuff.

If you want to join me online and interact through my blog, I’d love to have you come alongside. I’d also be happy to share more about Hands of Honor program and the girls involved. Feel free to email me for more information.

Planning a 40-Day Fast


If life is a river, I’ve hit a snag with my easy-going motor boat ways.

I told you that last week, I felt a current of change in my life. Most of it was because of the combination of reading this book Seven, and spending a lot of time talking things over with God and feeling that something was amiss.

Then I started doing some reconnaissance. I’m watching my life, seeing its areas of excess. I’m noticing how often I let my toddlers turn on the faucet and play in the sink. I’m noticing how many times a day I want to open the fridge or the cupboards for something to snack on. I’m noticing that I tend to throw clothes that aren’t dirty in the laundry instead of putting them away.

I’m noticing how much food we throw away. I’m also becoming aware of how much of my life is spent consuming or thinking about consuming, food or otherwise. And I know this is the place to start, for me. This book – A Place at the Table – and the commitment to a 40-day fast.

And then I read this today. Isaiah 58: 6-9.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Well then. Sounds a little like divine placement in my day.

My country is still up in the air, but I’m leaning towards Mali, Africa. Our church has a partnership with them, and I have a strong interest in their Hands of Honor program, which works with young women who don’t have much of a future. More on that later. PS. I’m going to ask for your help brainstorming something.

Side note: I’m not planning on roping my family into this. As the head chef and grocery shopper in the house, I’m the one who has the most to learn about my perceptions, preparations, and mindfulness surrounding food. What I buy, the habits I keep, the food I serve – everything I do pours into my family.

This will mean extra work on my part, which is fine. It will also mean going into BEAST fasting mode in order to keep myself from snagging bites of my girls’ sandwiches and snacks, or whatever off-limits deliciousness I concoct for everyone else for supper.

What it mostly means is that I’m going to have to figure out this self-denial thing, which is probably the flabbiest part of my brain. I don’t really deny myself much of anything right now. I also have a strange habit of eating bowls of cereal before bed, because I think I sleep better on an occupied stomach.

Both of those things are going to have to change AND I somehow have to change them gracefully, because it won’t be fair to my family if I turn into a zombie. I probably won’t get any good writing done either, because I’ll mostly just be shaking out the keyboard looking for cookie crumbs THAT I WONT EAT. I swear. I just want to smell them.

Start date: After Easter. That means April 6, if I can research my foods, figure out how/where to get them (within reason) and get a hold of the book. A group of lovely people from my church are doing this as well, so I’ll have a good support group (read: people I can text and whine to about the gastrointestinal effects of eating so many beans.)

Wish me luck.

Better yet, if you’re interested, join me? Leave a message in the comments or email me if you’re interested in taking part. 

Change afoot

IMG_4161 (1280x853)Something is moving in my life.

I could call it spring awakening, and perhaps that’s part of it. My outside world has been become broad and welcoming again, the snow replaced with soft brown grass and earth that gives beneath my rain boots. The landscape is damp with life and the promise that in another month or so, my backyard will look like this again.

I could also call it mental awakening. True confession: I used my birthday money to order books. It’s been a while since I felt this hungry for words, but suddenly, I can’t get enough. Consequently, my brain is on overtime, processing stories I’m can’t put down, ideas I don’t want to escape from. The one that’s had the biggest impact thus far is a title called Seven. Don’t read it unless you’re ready to confront the excess in your life HARDCORE.

These new ideas are dovetailing with things I learned from the Bible a long time ago, and I’m suddenly I find myself looking those old stories up in their entirety and spending more time sitting inside God’s words (thank you,

IMG_4449 (800x533)I feel strangely alive in the same way it feels before a giant thunderstorm, an unnamed current in the air and everything eerily quiet, waiting.

Something is afoot. And I wish I could tell you what it is.

The scary part is this: I don’t know.

I’m still praying, wrestling a few things out. (Read: arguing with God and trying to lose gracefully.)

But I think it involves a few things that are pretty far outside my physical comfort zone. One of them is a 40 day fast in solidarity with the poor. Don’t choke on your coffee. I’ll eat, but the foods I eat will be the same as the day to day foods the people in X country survive on. More on that later.

It also involves me digging deeper into the idea of who is poor and who isn’t, and what it means when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.”

I might ask a few people to join me in an event to give away our extras and better outfit a local organization that’s doing some great work with women in transition.

I have the feeling all of this is going to involve spending my fringe hours at the computer, writing. It might also involve me reading the book The Fringe Hours to see just how that author went about using her time in such a way as to serve and honor everything she loved.

Best I can say is stay tuned. Keep your heart open. Pray for me if you think of it. And if anything I’m about to say in the next week or two makes sense, please feel free to chime in. Ask questions.

In the meantime, I’m stealing a new line from Linda, my friend and pastor’s wife of our church.

Carry on.

In Plenty and In Want


Thanksgiving came in a beautiful tide, activities and planning washing in and out of our weekend. There was family, there were friends, there were two gallon ziplock bags of the best leftover smoked turkey ever.

Somewhere in the middle of my celebrating, a family down the road from us faced a tide of their own, one that took their daughter away and wouldn’t give her back.

Gratitude is like a beach full of startled gulls, lifting and swooping in unison. They settle and the beach is thick with their presence. They leave and the emptiness is wide. Deafening.

Peru 124Some days, a house is brimming with life and activity. Others, the afternoon sky turns gray and everything falls to sadness.

The awful truth is that we must somehow live with them both.

The times of feasting and fasting.

The places where gratitude washes over our souls with all the goodness in the world, and the places left when the tide goes out, waterlogged sand crumbling beneath our feet.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Reality gives us no other choice but to accept it. The table is full. The bed lies empty.

But we have a harder time with the next sentence. The one where Job says, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Because whether it’s in plenty or in want, we get overwhelmed. Finishing the phrase is the last thing on our minds.

Goodness carries us into laughter and revelry, busyness and schedules, making it easy for the heart to forget its praise.

Sadness takes our breath away. We are rocked with confusion, questioning everything, our eyelids burning with salty tears.

In both circumstances, we often find it easier to say nothing.

And then Love steps in.

The party dies down, and friends begin helping with the dishes. Seeing their hands scraping plates draws gratitude back to the table.

A community gathers. Floods a sorrowing threshold with meals and cards. Offers anything. Everything. Slowly, heads are lifted.

Love goes to work, and somehow, our mouths remember the rhythm of the word Blessed.

Because rhythm leads to movement. Movement to awakening.

And Love stretches out its nail-scarred hands, teaching us how to be present to one another wherever we are.

Whole or broken.

Full or empty.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.