Thanks for stopping by. If this is your first time you're here, you'll notice that this blog is about a 40-day experiment that I did. The problem is, the posts start at Day 40, and this blog site won't let me reverse the order of the posts. So, if you're interested, go ahead and start at the beginning, in the July posts. It will make a lot more sense. I promise.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


My Pick Five experiment was over 2 years ago. It's amazing to me. It's been a thread throughout the last two years of my life. There are times when I feel like I have too much, I need to have it too much, or I think about it too much, whatever 'it' may be. And then I remember. I remember that God takes away the need and replaces it with a desire for more of Himself. If I'm listening. If I stop for the moment, He nudges and says, "Okay, Susana. Um... need? Did you really just say 'need'? You really need it? Nah uh." Not God's actual voice, by the way. That's just how I hear Him in my valley girl inner voice. And then I think about it. I stop my crazy frenzied busy life and just think. And it takes about two seconds to realize I'm being selfish, wasteful, excessive, etc etc. All the things I wanted not to be when I started Pick Five. And all the things God painstakingly and lovingly wrung from my being over 40 days.

Last year, I had another lesson in humility. I went in for a quick trim, wanting to punk up my hair a little with some shorter layers and long lengths. A little miscommunication and yada yada yada I walked out with a mullet. Let me repeat. I had a mullet. A real, genuine mullet. Like, the top half of my head of hair was 2" long. Uh huh. A mullet. I took it in stride, tried to rock it a few times unsuccessfully, and basically just wore my hair up for EIGHT MONTHS until my Jack and the Beanstalk magic growing hair grew out long enough to call it normal. I wore it down one day after the grieving period had passed and I was feeling confident again, and this woman stopped me at my kids' swim practice and said, "You have such beautiful hair." I completely lost it. The tears flowing, I explained that I hadn't heard that in eight months. Since 'the incident'. That poor woman was just trying to pay me a compliment, and I unloaded on how difficult and stressful the time had passed. In hindsight, I'm realizing that I may have a problem with hair vanity. Mmmmkay. Get a grip, Suz.

I've put on like 10 or 12 (or 20) pounds since then, with times that I wish I could see myself for all the ridiculous amounts of food I've eaten. I had to move up to my fat pants over October's annual resurgence of candy corn. Whatever. That stuff's insanely good. I started working again, stopped working out, and let some important life habits dwindle away. It's probably time for a little overhaul. I was flipping my hair the other day around the house. I had just done a number with the straightening iron and was looking like I'd just stepped out of a "Just stepped out of a salon" commercial. I was ACTUALLY thinking that God should have given my hair to someone with more humility because I couldn't get over JUST HOW BEAUTIFUL my own hair was. (Okay, I get it. Hair vanity.) It was just at this moment, as I'm swinging my hair and rocking my hips back and forth through my living room that I hear from the innocent 9-year old voice behind me, "Mom, your butt jiggles every time you walk. That's hilarious." Yeah. Good feeling's gone.

So, I think God's still working on me.

In exciting news, Pick Five had a baby! My friend Jen Hatmaker, whom I wrote about in a couple of the first posts from Pick Five, wrote a book whose first line is, get this,

"This is all Susana's fault."

That's how the book starts! You see, God had been working on Jen and her family, too. In many many ways. And her book Interrupted was one of the books that I had been reading before I started Pick Five. When I started Pick Five, she -in turn- had been reading some of my blog posts and people in our circles were talking about it. And over a six month period, she planned and began her own experiment in wringing out excess. And she wrote a book. "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess." She does SEVEN pick fives, except hers are pick sevens. Food, clothes, money, lots of good stuff that you're going to laugh and cry over. She's an amazing writer. And "7" is available for preorder on Amazon. Cool, right? And even though I haven't read it all yet, I can't wait to have it in my hands, because I know it's going to bring back some serious memories and revive the feelings that were born of those moments. (Jen did send me an advanced text copy, and I read a couple of pages before deciding to wait for the real book -- because I prefer real books any day of the week -- so I did a little word search for my name, because I'm a narcissist, and called it a day.) (22 times.) So, you should totally buy her book. It comes out in January. It's an extension of what I did here, and should be so so good.

God is good. And He's faithful when we say to Him, "I don't want to care about what the world around me cares about. Take away the excess. I want to care about what is close to your heart."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 40: The Prize

Calves burning, she wills her body forward. Beads of sweat have gathered on her forehead, on her hairline. Fists pump back and forth as the final stretch of blacktop lays before her like a red carpet. The cheering crowd takes second place to the thumping of her heart, the rhythm of her blood pulsing through her body, her head, her ears. Push, push. Her face is stretched back, her mouth is dry, but she keeps going, sees the end ever nearing. Almost there, almost there. Push, push. An euphoric tingle starts in her ankles, makes its way up to her knees, her shoulders, her neck. Her vision blurs as the noise of the crowd becomes sharper, louder. Her eyes narrow and she sees it. The finish line. Her muscles get the message and reenergize, pushing forward, propelling itself at will, finding the lost adrenaline in every pocket in which it was hiding as finally, finally the thin ribbon cuts into her chest, her arms as she tears through and slows to a painful, breathless walk, a steady pulsation of blood, sweat, saliva, tears. And her body starts the internal assessment of damage, begins making a list of repairs. Muscles, tendons, water level. Check, check, check. But she is finished. The race is won.

I wish I could say that I was talking about me. But the truth is, I haven't finished yet. I've barely even started. I got stopped a ways back. I couldn't catch my breath, my feet hurt, and I was getting blisters. I wasn't really ready for the race. And I knew I needed help. So, over the last 40 days, I got myself a personal trainer, my body became my slave, and I earned enough salt to buy a new pair of running shoes. I'm lacing them up now. I'm stretching. I'll run better now, I can feel it. And tomorrow, I hit the pavement once again. I may not be the best runner, but thanks to Pick Five, I'm better equipped now than I was 40 days ago. And I'm running with intent to win. For the glory of the Lord my God, and for the sake of His kingdom.

I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 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." I Corinthians 9:23-27

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 39: The Totals

Recipe for Pick Five. Over the last 39 days, I have eaten:
  • 18 pounds of almonds
  • 89 apples
  • 10 pounds rice (uncooked weight)
  • 14 pounds edamame
  • 52 cups spinach
  • 14.5 teaspoons salt
  • 16.25 gallons of water
(I think the apples have it. Although, I don't know. 52 cups of spinach is a heck of a lot. And 14 pounds edamame... don't get me started.)

Temptations. During the course of Pick Five, I made (for various occasions):
14 custom cakes
10 dozen cookies (including ginger-molasses, chocolate chip, oatmeal cranberry and peanut butter)
3 dozen brownies
I think this is the busiest cake/cookie season I've ever had. Nary a finger licked. I hope you never have to watch cookie dough wash off your fingers into the sink. It's not for the faint of heart.

Appetite for edamame.
12 pounds.
Half my head of hair (though that stopped when I started eating more spinach and almonds. It was an iron deficiency. Getting thicker already. Thank you for your prayers and concern.)
A few pieces of my "self" that weren't going to make it through the 40 days.

Appreciation, empathy, humility (am I allowed to say that? I guess so.), sobriety, simplicity, preparedness.

And tomorrow, I will give you some parting thoughts. But that's enough to digest for today. (Hardy har har.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 38: Seek and You Will Find

"Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..." (See title box for reference. This has been an important scripture for me for the last 38 days.)

Anyone up for a last minute word study?

Seek: ζητέω (Greek: zeteo)

1. to seek in order to find

a. to seek a thing

b. to seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning

c. to seek after, strive for

2. to seek i.e. require

a. to crave, demand something from someone

I love all of these definitions of seek. The meditation one is interesting. It's the only one that's "be still". The others require an action. But they all work. The last one, to crave. Well, you know that hits home. But demand something... that reminds me of Jacob wrestling with God. "I will not let you go unless you bless me," Jacob says to the figure in Genesis 32:26. It's bold.

I feel like these four definitions are like my "five stages of grief" for Pick Five. Dealing with grief, according to the Kubler-Ross model, takes you through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Pick Five, on the other hand, is about seeking, about a search. It has taken me through seeking a thing, meditation, striving for, and demanding.

1a. To seek a thing

When I began Pick Five, I wasn't sure what that thing was. I knew that I was gluttonous and unappreciative. But I wasn't seeking to only correct those things. I knew that I was going to learn from the experience, but couldn't put my finger on what it was. I was seeking a thing. And I think that thing was, quite simply, change.

1b. To seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning

This is by far the hardest thing a mother of three can try to do with her time. Room to think and meditate is a rare commodity. But it was during the quiet car rides, it was early in the morning before the children woke, and it was late in the evening when the children slept that I was able to commune with God on a realistic scale. These were the moments where I remembered to ask Him what He would have me say, and what He would have me learn. These times were the seconds and minutes that I actually got to ask myself the question that I got bombarded with all day long, "Well, how is it going?" and be able to give myself an honest answer. Leaving room in the margins for thinking, meditating, reasoning was the only way for me to seek in order to find out.

1c. To seek after, to strive for

seek a thing : strive for :: being healthy : exercise

A little bit of SAT lingo for you. "Seek a thing" is to "strive for" as "being healthy" is to "exercise". Let me break it down. We all want to be healthy, right? Anyone saying different is looking for an excuse to eat a donut. But we say it: I want to be healthy. Then it comes time to eat right and exercise, and you get to the put-up-or-shut-up stage. You step on the treadmill. You start it up, it accelerates. Cool, I'm exercising. Yep, I can do this. Getting healthier already. Whoo... Okay... Healthy me.... healthy, healthy, healthy... whoo... how long do I have to do this before I can go get a Chick-fil-A milkshake? That's how I felt at about day seven. Pick Five started with a desire to change. I wanted to seek that thing. But forty days. Was I willing to strive for, to seek after that change with passion, with earnestness. Day five, day seven, day 11, day 12, day 13, day 18, day 19, day 21, day 28, and day 31 all have something in common. That's when I wanted to throw in the towel. (And those were just the days I admitted it.) But God gave me the gifts of patience and persistence (if only for this season), so I wouldn't just seek a thing, but I would seek after it, strive for it.

2a. To crave, demand something from someone

Now, here I am at the end of this journey. Two days left. And I feel like I'm Jacob, wrestling with God. "I will not let go unless you bless me." I'm not asking for blessINGS. In fact, the word bless here is the Hebrew word ברך (barak), which means to bless, or to kneel. The most primitive usages of the word involve bending of the knees or a literal breaking. I've had some breaking down during this time, and it's not fun, but now I'm craving more. The fruit of His breaking, His causing us to kneel before Him, His blessing, is unbelievable. And it's addictive. But now I've convinced myself that God is only able to do a work in me in the next two days or time's up. You might think it's silly for me to feel that way. But looking at it, I guess that's how I should feel every day. Like Jacob. There was an urgency that Jacob had. He knew that he had something special in his grasp, and he didn't want to let it go. So God blessed Jacob (oh yeah, and threw his hip out of joint). And Jacob walked away limping. It is this craving, this demanding nature that we need to have with God on a daily basis. If our relationship is so real with God that we can respectfully demand blessing, we will walk away limping, every day. And that limp reminds us that God touched our life, and we are forever changed.

Mat 6:25, 31-33 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?... So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But SEEK first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Days 36&37: It's Not About the Food

Yeah, right.

This is like Leonard Nimoy's book "I Am Not Spock," or Lance Armstrong's "It's Not About The Bike." (Nimoy wrote a follow up book 20 years later. The title: "I Am Spock." I guess he changed his mind.)

But, really, it's not about the food.

I know I talked a lot about what I ate, what I was going through with food. Pick Five is, by it's own definition, about food. Pick five what? Pick five foods to eat.

But it's not about the food.

Mostly, it has been a lesson in discipline. A lesson in leaning on the Lord. Looking back at some of my posts that I wrote before I started, I realized the Lord had accomplished some serious work with me.
I wanted to care more, and I do.
I wanted to appreciate, and I do.
I wanted to be motivated to help, and I am.
I wanted the Lord to work some stuff out in me, and He has/is.
I wanted to simplify life, and it's getting there.

All of it is from the Lord. All of it.

And besides the coffee, I honestly have not thought past day 40. (Okay, fine. I considered a bowl of oatmeal. I miss breakfast!) But if I were to plan all the things I'm going to eat, and start to make my list, I would be right back to my Veruca Salt self. I'm pretty sure that I'll keep it simple for a while. I want to. I'll cook what I have at hand, and I'll eat what is put in front of me. And I'll try not to go to the grocery store when I'm hungry.

With only three days left, I want to give God my all. I don't want to neglect what He's trying to say because I'm too busy dreaming of cookies or cheese or a fully-loaded baked potato. (Thanks, Greg. Now I can't get that potato out of my head. Except Greg purposefully spells it "potata". This was #2 on my friend's husband's proposed Pick Five list. Right between steak and beer.)

It's not about the food.

I'm hoping that if I keep saying that, I can squeeze out the small-but-obstinate minority vote in me that's still obsessing about the food. There's much bigger issues on the table, after all.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 35: Serve Somebody

I had a friend in fourth grade named Rachel. She and I, along with our friend Larissa, formed a girl club trio. "The Colorful Hearts." (It was fourth grade, okay?) But we were official -- we had jackets with our name and club logo on them, thanks to Larissa's mom who owned an embroidery shop. We swore our loyalty to each other, and were inseparable at every free moment. But let's just be clear, Rachel ran our lives. (I may be a pushy broad now, but it came later in life.) We did whatever that girl said.

Rachel: Go tell Luke you think he's cute.
Larissa: But you think he's cute, not me.
Rachel: Go tell him. I just want to see what he says.
Larissa: Okay.

Rachel: Let's have a play fight at recess.
Me: What do you mean?
Rachel: It'll be funny, and everyone will watch.
Me: Are you going to really hit?
Rachel: No. I said play fight.

To her credit, she didn't actually hit me. But she did pull my hair and kick my shins like a caged donkey. Real funny. One memory of Rachel that most sticks out in my mind was when the three of us decided we were going to dress up in costume the next day for school. Just for the fun of it. I was going to wear my soccer outfit and they would wear their Pop-Warner cheerleader outfits. (This should have been my first clue. One of these things is not like the other.) Well, I missed the memo that said that they had changed their minds. I wore knee-high soccer socks and short black shorts to school. This was not cool. People were staring at me the second I got out of the van. To a fourth grader, humiliating. But when I saw my friends not wearing their end of the deal, my heart sank. I started to take off the socks.

Rachel: What are you doing?
Me: I'm taking off my socks.
Rachel: No.
Me: Huh?
Rachel: No. We just forgot to wear ours. You still have to wear that. All day.

I remember sitting in my elementary school bathroom crying enormous tears over my silly soccer socks. Why did I listen to that girl? Because she was a leader, and I guess I needed someone to follow. And when you put yourself in the hands of another, you are at their mercy.

How much greater is our vulnerability, then, when we put ourselves at the mercy of the Lord? His power, believe it or not, exceeds that of my fourth-grade friend Rachel. When you put yourself out there for the Lord to do His work, when you say words like, "If you can use anything, Lord, use me," or like my friend Jen Hatmaker said, "God, raise up in me a holy passion," there is the possibility of a life turned upside down. Comfort: gone. Security: gone. Identity: gone. Expectations: pssht. Servanthood requires emptying of self and a filling up with the will of another. Now, I know God can wipe out life from the planet (hello, Noah?) and strike people dead in His anger (Nadab, Abihu), but I also know that he can deliver His people from the mighty hand of the Egyptians, preserve them through the ages, and send a Redeemer to save Israel and the nations. I'll take His will over Rachel's any day.

With that surrender comes a certain rawness. Because I've knocked down my walls and shelters and buffers, I feel a certain sobriety and helplessness that pushes me to trust God entirely. It's the stripped down self I asked for, I know. And compared to many modern day disciples across the globe, His calling on my life has required very little. Thus far. But let me tell you, Pick Five hasn't been a walk in the park, either.

One comfort I find is that I know, without a doubt, I'm in good hands.

"My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:8

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 34: Act of Kindness

Thank you, my friend, for the wonderful act of kindness you showed me tonight. As our group gathered around the snack table, folks oohed and ahed over your spread. And my cup overflowed.

You see, for our Restore Community meeting, a group of over a dozen adults, my friend and hostess had set out the following snacks:
1. Edamame
2. Apple slices (with optional dip)
3. Spinach salad with strawberries and some other delicious looking stuff, and a small bowl of plain spinach to the side.
4. Homemade applesauce (made only from apples)
5. Almonds

And, you won't believe this, but people actually ate!

I am so grateful that during your hectic crazy day, and in the process of getting your house ready to have guests, that you thought of me. That made me feel so special. You are a gem. A really sparkly gem.

(And while I'm at it, thank you to all of you friends and family who have been really supportive. From the "Want an apple? I think I have an apple," all the way to the brown rice pasta and multiple accommodations from my mom, and the crackers from my sister-in-law. You guys are the best.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 33: Getting Creative

So, I wanted to share with you some of the lovely (and not-so-lovely) combinations of the Five Foods that I have eaten over the last 33 days.

The Good:
1. Apples sliced horizontally (in circles) with almond butter*. Yum. Okay, I'm getting up right now to go make some before I go on... standby... okay muff bewwah. (That's me saying "much better" with apples and almond butter in my mouth.)
2. Diced apples, almond butter and sliced almonds mixed together for the morning meal formerly known as "breakfast".
3. Apple-spinach popsicles. This is a hard sell, I know. But if there's any of you out there who "juice" (with a juicer, not steroids), you understand that fruit + vegetable in the juicer = delicious. Frozen = deliciouser.
4. Apple-spinach-almond slaw salad. Match sticked (julienne cut) apples, raw spinach leaves cut into strips, sliced almonds (don't try to do this yourself. ouch). Toss and eat. I can't wait to try this with an actual dressing, like a raspberry vinaigrette, but it's pretty delicious as is.
5. Edamame in pods, dry sautéed then flash steamed with lightly salted water. Topped with kosher salt. There's a reason why P.F. Changs sells this stuff by the bucketload.
6. My sister-in-law, God love her, made a delicious cheesecake topped with handmade chocolate ruffles for an extended-family dinner. Riddled with guilt, she made me brown rice and almond crackers in consolation. She food-processed the two and smushed them into shape (A, did you bake them after? or just let them dry?). Anyway, they were pretty dry (it's not your fault! look what you were working with!) but when I topped them with almond butter and apple slices -- c'est magnifique!

The Bad:
1. Brown rice with diced apples and sliced almonds. I thought this would be good for breakfast, an oatmeal of sorts. Not good. Did I eat it anyway? Yes, yes I did.
2. Undercooked brown rice. And I had forgotten the salt. (It was a to-go.) Like eating a mouthful of roly-polies.
3. Bowl of edamame already out of pods. No better than a bowl of lima beans. Drink lots of water.
4. I accidently bought "extra fine chopped spinach" from the freezer section. Let me correct that. It was: Buy any premium frozen veg (i.e. edamame), and receive a free "extra fine chopped spinach". FREE. I bought seven sets. How could I pass that up? Well, except that the extra fine you-know-what was... extra fine. If I wanted to make a spinach pesto, this would have been perfect. It might as well have been spinach paste. Yuck.

The Ugly
These are the suggestions that some of my "friends" gave me. I contain the "friends" in quotes, because I detected a hint of a smirk under their suggestion, and I question their true intentions.
1. Edamame-apple-spinach smoothie. "It's like a protein shake!"
2. Brown rice pudding. "Well, you couldn't use sugar or milk or eggs. But I'd bet you could sweeten it with apple juice!"
3. Soy milk. As in, "You could make your own soy milk from edamame!"
And, no, I did not try any of these. Geez, give me some credit.

But, mostly I ate the Pick Five foods in their simplest form. And only cried over a bowl of edamame two or three times. I thanked God for the food, as I still do now, on day 33.

*Not all almond butters are created equally. Some have oils and sugar in them. The two that I used were MaraNatha Natural Almond Butter, ingredients: dry roasted almonds, and also the kind at the grocery store, where you flip the switch and watch the machine turn almonds into almond butter.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 32: That Which Comes After

I so wanted to make this day light reading. For your sake. For my own sanity. But I can't. There's some things weighing so heavily, I would be faking it by trying to do a post about my on-again-off-again with edamame or my blissful regularity.




There are only eight days left in this Pick Five simplification. So few a number that AP guidelines says I have to spell it out instead of using the number 8. So few days I can use my hands to count. So little time that I can feel it sifting faster through the hourglass, narrowing its top half, becoming speedy and efficient in the final seconds.

And I don't want to leave Pick Five. I have developed Stockholm syndrome for my five captors. Although there were times I felt threatened by this process, there have been many acts of kindness, mercy, and protection that God has offered me through the experience. How can I go back? How can I eat fried chicken wings and chips and dip and pizza and wash it all down with a couple of beers at the next football game? (Well, I can't do that yet. My stomach would definitely fight back at this point.) How can I look at an ice cream sundae? How can I not feel a pang in my stomach for the hungry all over the world the next time I wolf down a pile of pasta?

Let me just say this. My dad said it to me in love. And it completely crushed me.


I hold that phrase in my hands like a child holds a dead bird or a dying puppy that was too weak to make it past birth. All I can do is stare at it and feel pain. I feel helpless. Lost. What do I do with this? Daddy, fix it.

And I guess that's just it. One more lesson. I can't fix it all. But I care. I care more now than I ever have. And if I care, it moves me to do something. If I think about the abundance when I get overwhelmed at the grocery store or in a restaurant, it will bring me back to this place right here, and I can choose simplicity over extravagance. If I think about the hungry here and abroad, I will narrow my grocery budget and use the difference to help someone else eat. If I think I need this one more thing to make my life complete, I can think of the millions of people who are without it and doing just fine. And I will pray and petition to the Creator of the Universe about the rest of it, to do what only He can. Daddy, fix it.

Which brings about a new fear. (I think I need post-traumatic Pick Five counseling.) What if that which I feel right now, this pain, this caring, this raw and basic desire to simplify and help others... what if it goes away?

So, for those of you who pray for Pick Five, who pray for me, don't worry about whether or not I'll be able to finish out my final days. At this point, I'm all in. I'm more concerned about what comes after. Please pray for that.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Day 31: Walking the Line

Up to half of my kingdom for a cup of coffee.

Now that I've got that out of the way...

Can I be honest here? Can I just say it and be exposed? I will. There is this really dangerous line in doing righteous acts. There is this fuzzy, squirmy line that slips under your feet while you're not looking. That when we do something good and worthy, suddenly we find ourselves in a place of our own honoring, looking smartly at our reflections, clicking and pointing our gun-fingers at ourselves with an attaboy and a wink. And we look at others differently.

The scribes and the pharisees had good intentions. Their desire was to follow the law and honor the commandments. But somewhere along the way, some of them allowed this line to make it's way under their lifted feet like a jump rope. And when they came face to face with the promised seed of Abraham, some of them were too busy patting themselves on the back and ignoring the masses to realize Jesus was who he claimed to be. And boy did they get an earful from the chosen one.

There have been a couple of moments for me, during this Pick Five season, where I have thought too highly of myself. Where I thought, Gee, Me, you're pretty impressive. Very quickly I realized my error and repented. But then there's the second part. Others.

We live in a world and in a society of all kinds of people, all kinds of socioeconomic standard, and all kinds of personal convictions. My conviction to live simpler and appreciate more is not for everyone. It happens to fit well for me, since I have little choice in the matter anyway. :) But doing Pick Five and learning to live without and appreciate and help out in no way allows me to look down my nose and click my silent tongue at those whose convictions are different. It is not fair to judge someone in my heart who seems to spend money on useless things, or waste time on fruitless efforts, just because I think I know how better to steward their income or time. Who am I? Nobody.

But that line, that tricky tricky line. It's the same one that we slide across when we have a good stint of exercise. And by that I mean like three or four gym visits within a two week period, when we're suddenly "in shape" and healthy and Goodness Gracious, you're not really going to eat that cheeseburger, are you? God, I couldn't do that after that really hard cardio kickboxing class I took today. The line. Or when we're in the grocery store, and for some miracle from heaven our children are behaving themselves and following closely and not fighting or taking things off the shelves. And we hear the shout from two aisles down. Mommy, I want it! No, don't take it! It's mine! IT'S MINE!!! Our children's halos appear and we smirk and puff up our chest at every passerby, because Look at me. I'm the good mom. The line.

So, forgive me friends. Once again. Because even though I can put on the righteous front, inside I am filled with dead men's bones and everything unclean. And God sees the me that I cover up, and God sees the me that I don't even know I'm covering up.

But I thank Him for that. It is such a relief that someone knows me, knows every secret I keep, knows the things that would mortify if released. And that He still loves me, and is ever waiting for me to return to Him, and wants to do the things through me that I so desperately try to do on my own.

I cannot love if I have put a wedge between me and others, even the lowest of the low of society. Because we are all the same. Broken. And I think I just got my reminder.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Days 29&30: Action

I can't believe how easy it has been to serve in my community lately.

Look at me! Am I just too great?!

No... trust me. I know all about humility. I struggle with it daily. I'm really telling you this to be an encouragement to you, because for so long I felt stagnant. I felt like I could barely keep my life, my house, and my family in order, and couldn't figure out how I could possibly drop everything to go serve dinner at the soup kitchen. I have kids, I have a job, I'm too busy, I don't have extra money to give. I had all the excuses.

But when I started Pick Five on August 1st, one of the goals was to teach my kids and become more aware myself about the need in the world, and the need in my own community. So, I felt I had better pony up the goods and start looking around for stuff to do.

Turns out, there's plenty. And every one has been more blessing than burden. Right off the bat, me and the kids swung by Capital Area Food Bank and picked up 3 large donation boxes. They each hold around 150 lbs of food. They have been sitting in the foyer of the gym where I work, since August 1st. I'll tell you the final poundage tomorrow when I weigh them, but after one month ALL THREE BOXES are full. Tomorrow I'll drive them back over to CAFB. How easy was that? A 1/2 hour one day, and a 1/2 hour 31 days later. And likely over 400 lbs of food for the hungry in my community.

And today, I participated in a Communities in Schools classroom makeover at a local high school. This classroom/office space is home to three or four vital counselors, from crisis intervention to pregnancy management and prevention to at-risk counseling. All of them are committed to lower high school drop out numbers. So our team of a dozen or so volunteers went in and turned a closet-like storage room space into six private office spaces and a group therapy room with the most peaceful and calm atmosphere. My kids came too. Now, I could watch HGTV all day, but to be able to do a room makeover that blesses an entire community of high schoolers and those dedicated to help them... sign me up any day of the week. I get why Ty Pennington loves his job.

Tuesday, some friends of mine are hosting a Great American Bake Sale. They're setting up a table at the south Austin Lifetime near the Life Cafe and selling homemade baked goods by the dozens. All proceeds benefit No Kid Hungry, a program that supports meal programs for kids who wouldn't otherwise have anything to eat, and makes sure that local donations help local kids. So, I threw some cookies in the oven, and I'll drop them by when they set up. Stop by after work and pick up a cake or some cookies! (No need to be a member.)

One of the cool things about serving locally and encouraging others to walk along side of you, is that slowly you begin to build a community where you are all offering each other opportunities to serve, championing one another in your efforts, and making the weight of the world a little lighter by bearing the burden together. I just love the folks at ANC for giving me a jump start.

A young co-worker of mine stopped me the other day. His words are still tied up in a little locket with a red satin bow and tucked away in my heart. "You're, like, changing your little corner of the world. That's cool."
"Well," I said back, "God is changing me, you know?"

Isaiah 58 9-10

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."

Mar 12:28-31

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

Need some ideas for your own life? See the MOVE ME INTO ACTION section for some suggestions.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 28: Are We There Yet?

11 days, 2 hours, 22 minutes... but who's counting?

Feeling a little antsy today. I couldn't sit down with my family for dinner. It all looked too good. Which I guess is my own fault. I mean, I'm the one who cooked. I just kept myself busy with serving the kids and cleaning up the kitchen and then packing up the leftovers. I ate afterward. Something about eating rice and edamame for the 56th time, (No, really. Do the math.) when the rest of the family is eating steak, potatoes, fresh veggies and french bread. It's like going to the Louvre with your art class to do some sketches and breaking out the 24-pack of Crayolas. Doesn't quite measure up.

My 5-year old asked me, "Do you still have Pick Five?" When I answered him yes, he looked frustrated. "You should just give that away. Someone else can have Pick Five." Well, today I would have agreed.

But, as I look back on these past four weeks -- wait, let's just take a moment here. FOUR WEEKS. You with me? Okay. Now back to the previously scheduled sentence -- I have come to realize that I have felt this way at the end of each week. Friday brings a Pick Five depression of sorts. It's the mounting of the week's responsibility and vulnerability and irritability all wrapped tightly into a TGIF doggie bag. And it starts to stink. And yet by Sunday, I'm usually doing markedly better. But wait -- that means that Saturday must be special. Oh yeah, it is.

So, bring on the Sabbath. Bring on the rest and peace and time of refreshing. 'Cause I need it. Bad.

Psalm 92 "A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day. It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 27: Be Glorified

It is so humbling to think that what started out as a belly ache over 4300 calories, and a heartache over Zambians and their single bowl of nshima, has morphed its way into Day 27 of this thing called Pick Five, where I sit right now, in a life-pause holding pattern, developing my mind and heart, and eating an apple-spinach popsicle. (Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.) I would so love to take credit for the 736 views and the 193 absolute unique visitors to Pick Five and the dozens of people who have told me personally that this is making a change in their lives. But the reality is, this is way bigger than me. I am just riding this wave and letting the barrel roll over me. All I did was paddle out when I saw a big one coming.

There are these moments in life that present themselves, and you have the unique opportunity to make a difference. Not so that you can feel better. Not so that you can contribute. Not even so that someone else might benefit. But so that God can say, "I did that." And we can say, "Yes you did. Thanks."

God, the God of the Universe, the God of time, space, and eternity, is here in the now. He is present with us right now. And in order to pick up the waves he's spinning out there every day, we've got to paddle out. We've got to make ourselves available. We've got to say, "Send me, God. I'll do it."

Being a part of this experience has opened my eyes to small joys, to small sacrifices, to small betterments of which I can also take part. I have revived an old song I used to sing in Sunday school. I taught it to my kids. It is a simple song, and yet it's simple message is a prayer, a request, a reminder to us that we ought to be seeking not our own glory or accolades (we will always fail to deliver the goods) but the fame and notoriety for the One who sets it all into motion. Singing the message out loud sets our minds on course for the day; it lays out the readiness carpet, that we might walk in it.

In my life, Lord, be glorified. Be glorified. In my life, Lord, be glorified today.
In my work, Lord, be glorified. Be glorified. In my work, Lord, be glorified today.
In my school, Lord, be glorified. Be glorified. In my school, Lord, be glorified today.
In my words, Lord, be glorified. Be glorified. In my words, Lord, be glorified today.

For those of us less traditional, there's this.

(Updates: still doing fine, hair's starting to look better.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 26: Fidelity

fi⋅del⋅i⋅ty, noun.
faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support

Today is my parents 36th wedding anniversary. They were married in 1973. My dad wore a ruffled shirt, Napoleon Dynamite hair, and a 'stache you could only get away with in the '70s. My mom's hair was long and center-parted. Under her floor-length, empire-waist dress, she wore leather sandals at the reception. We call 'em the Jesus Walkers. She still has them. They raised six lovely (if I do say so myself) children, and stood side by side through times of plenty and times of need, emergency room visits (four of the six are boys), pastoring a fellowship, moving their family halfway across the country, more than a dozen graduations, their six children's weddings and now enjoy the company of THIRTEEN grandchildren when the family gets together. Which is often.

Fidelity is from the Latin fidelis, which means faithfulness. It reminds me of the scripture, Proverbs 3:3 "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."

When God gives a good gift, many times it also requires something of you. There is work and discipline and upkeep on your end. This is our spiritual act of stewardship. How we treat what we have been given. When my parents got married, it wasn't just a blessing they took on easily and lightly. We don't live in a two-dimensional world where we have a paper doll outfit that gets tacked onto our own personal paper doll for each gift and stays until we decide to remove it. Marriage, fold back the tabs. Children, add them on... fold back the tabs. No. Instead we walk, carrying our gifts and burdens and pressing onward. We have dynamic relationships between those around us, who sometimes make our burdens lighter or heavier. We bend and move and make decisions that affect our eternity. Our faithfulness to uphold the gifts can be hard. Many times it requires sacrifice. And we don't always do everything right. We can never do justly and mercifully what we ought to, and we forget to be thankful and appreciative of our gifts as we must be. We do our best.

But then there's our Saviour, the Messiah Jesus. And His fidelity to us is stronger than anything we might try to wedge in between. Psalm 100:5 "For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations."

God has stuck with us for so long, for so many generations. For all of the infidelity and unfaithfulness that the world seems to vomit onto our lives, God has always been faithful. He will always be our devoted spouse, drawing us ever nearer to himself.

There is something so beautiful about being committed to uphold the gifts that God has given me. My marriage, my children, my faith, and also with Pick Five. It isn't always easy. The burden of the gift can sometimes outweigh the benefits. But our returned fidelity to the gifts that God has given us comes with unbelievable rewards. I see it in my parents' relationship. I see it in my own marriage and in the eyes of my children. And as I press onward, carrying Pick Five in the backpack of my life's journey, being faithful to this small gift of discipline and growth that the Lord has given me, I am beginning to see its rewards as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 25: In Training

My friend Betsy adopted her son out of a small village in Ethiopia. There, the local women and children are sent to fetch water for daily use. They have to walk miles to get to the closest water source. Not closest CLEAN WATER source, just water source. Let's just forget about food for today. Let's talk in the most simple terms.

Clean water.

"In rural Ethiopia, only 1 person in 3 has access to clean water. Millions of people die every year because they don’t have access to their most simple and basic need – clean water... Children are especially vulnerable to the consequences of unsafe water. Of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation, 90% are children under 5 years old." From the Water To Thrive website.

Water To Thrive is an organization dedicated to getting clean water to those in need. They build clean water wells in Ethiopia. My friend Betsy has been working closely with them and has hopes that they will build a well in her son's hometown.

On September 19th, Water To Thrive is hosting a 5K and Kids K at the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave, TX.

This will be my first race.

Just as Pick Five is a training for my life to come, a discipline exercise in simplicity, appreciation, and empathy, so now I'm also training my body to run 3.125 miles. This is harder than it sounds. (For me.) But if it saves a woman or child a daily walk just to get water that might do more harm than good, I'd say it's worth it.

So, how 'bout it? Ready to lace up the sneakers with me?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 24: The Power Nap

Don't underestimate the power of good sleep.

I, too, used to use coffee as liquid sleep replacement.

But now that I don't have that option, even with a good night's sleep, I am forced into one of two circumstances. Either I take a nap in the middle of the day and have the energy to make it through until bedtime, or I fall asleep at 8:30pm on the couch while reading with my seven year old.

I did not take a nap today.

And I have been asleep on the couch for the last hour.

And I'm going to go back to sleep when I'm through typing.

This new process has taught me that my body has actual, natural need to cease and recover. This is a hard reality to accept. I'm of the five-a-day breed (cups of coffee). I don't like to stop. Ever. There's too much to do. But, I have come to terms with this new rhythm. I have embraced it. I have learned to utilize my awake time better, and not store everything on my to-do list until the kids are asleep. Because, well, the list won't get done if I'm crashed on the couch.

It came to a head the other night when I was forced to bed by fatigue and had to leave a note for my husband, who comes home at 4:45am from his night beat. It read:

"About the house: I can do better. I promise."

Learning this natural rhythm is important to me as a person. It means that instead of letting my body break down so that I can be "productive", I must learn to be efficient with the time that I am given, and allow my body to take care of itself. Previously ignored by the next cup of coffee. Now more important. That's good. I like that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Days 22&23: The Edamame Saga

Something has changed -- physically, chemically, biologically -- with the way my taste receptor cells are receiving edamame. Dare I say it?

I like edamame again.

I know that my thoughts on Pick Five, and my emotional highs and lows have been fickle, fluctuating. (To say the least. If you charted my emotions on paper, you'd need a seismograph.) Life is full of these ups and downs, but in real life, I usually tend to downplay the mercurial extremes so as to appear more sane. I obviously have not done that here, so don't go calling the state hospital on me.

But for the last few days, I have really enjoyed edamame. It tastes buttery and rich, and the texture is actually quite pleasing when combined with the nutty, al dente brown rice. I can't explain it, other than to give God the glory for granting me this small mercy.

It's as if all the foods have taken on a heightened taste. The almonds have been extremely fragrant. The apples, sweeter. The spinach, creamy and savory. The rice, more filling. The water, more satisfying. What kind of world is this?!

I realize now that what God has given me for these 40 days is enough. These five simple foods that he created with his hand are pleasing to my body. My response can be none other than thanks.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for rice. Thank you for edamame. Thank you for spinach. Thank you for apples. Thank you for almonds. Thank you for salt. Thank you for water.

Dayenu. It would have been enough.

Romans 12: 1-2 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your reasonable act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."