Day 28: first day of school! …tomorrow.

I’m going back to school tomorrow.

Let me clarify: I’m going to attend classes at a seminary in town for the next four days as I work my way toward a certificate in environmental ministry and leadership. I’m one of ten or so students, and we have three instructors who will walk us through lecture, readings, and field trips. I’ll do project work over the summer and return to the seminary in October for another round of classes.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I can’t wait to meet my fellow tree huggers and dig into the readings we were assigned and ask hard questions about what we, as Christians, are obligated to do to care for creation.

I will be busy and likely tired, but my current plan is to blog 3-5 of the most interesting tidbits I learn each day!

And now… to bible study! My friend Amanda invited me over early so we could eat vegan food and talk about veganism together! She’s also a distance athlete and wants to talk about diet things. She’s making sweet potato chickpea curry. I can’t wait.

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Day 27: my future?

A quick anecdote:

A woman I work with was walking two of her friends, a married couple, around the office today on a little tour. They stopped by to say hi and said they were from Portland, Oregon.

“Oh, awesome!” I said. “I’ve always wanted to go Portland. I’m a vegan – “

“SO ARE WE!”

Immediate friendship.

It’s such a blessing to meet fellow vegans. When I decided to go vegan, plenty of people warned me that it would be a lonely life. I went into this fully aware that my fellow kale munchers were few and far between, but it’s given me a great appreciation for the rare occasions when I do bump into them. This couple was no exception.

We exchanged a few stories about our decisions to go vegan and the cookbooks we liked before they launched into tales of the vegan clubs they frequent in Portland. My face hurt from smiling so much. What an inspiration to see a happily married couple in their sixties engaging in an active vegan community! It was amazing!

I confided in them that I harbored fantasies of spending a week this summer working on a farm sanctuary with rescue animals, just shadowing the staff, working hard in exchange for learning about their work. This incredible couple immediately listed half a dozen sanctuaries near the Portland area and offered to ask their vegan friends if anyone had a connection.

See, it’s little things like this that make me believe God is at work in my life. Here is a random couple I’ve never met who just happened to be touring the office at a time when I’m not usually at my desk. I randomly mention my vegan diet, and suddenly I’m a hundred steps closer to my dream of working for an animal sanctuary.

The older I get, the more I see how God works. If you pray sincerely and often and regularly take small steps toward that which sets your heart to dancing, God takes care of the rest.

I’ll keep you posted. Keep your eyes peeled for God in the details. He’s there.

Day 26: that time I got rid of over 20 DVDs

Today my pastor preached about living abundantly, freely giving of ourselves and our resources, living with open hands. If we live with open hands, we are open to giving as well as receiving. If our hands are closed, we take and take and take and keep our fists wrapped around our things. Open your hands, he said. Give and receive freely.

And with that, I decided to start purging my belongings.

It’s an attempt to simplify, to live happily with less. The things that truly bring me joy – my books, my running shoes, my kitchen supplies – are the things I should cherish. The things that suck my time – my DVDs, my clothes that I never wear – should be pared down to the few that truly make me happy and purged of the ones that draw me away from a simple, thankful life.

Today was step one. I bought a pack of jewel CD cases on the way home from church so I had everything I needed to get started. I went through my CD wallet and shelf of DVDs, pulling out everything that I rarely watched or didn’t enjoy or – get this – had never watched. I actually owned DVDs that I had never even seen! What waste!

As I went through, I thought, do I really enjoy this? Do I watch it? Do I like the story or is it merely a distraction? If it doesn’t bring me joy, all it’s doing is distracting me from the things that do, from things that would better serve God. So why should I keep it?

The movies I kept were favorites that I watched regularly, enjoyed, found value in. They’re kept as treats, occasional indulgences in something I really like. My smaller collection has a pleasant variety to it, but it also represents me better. I can’t explain it, but… that’s what it feels like.

I think I could (and will) go through my collection again in a few months and get rid of even more, but I wound up culling 26 movies and six TV seasons! I think that’s a good start!

I’m making a little list in my head of other places where I can simplify. Next up: my closet! It’ll be a challenge, but it will bring me closer to God.

Where have you simplified? More challenging: where should you simplify?

Day 25: good things.

A lot of good things happened today. Like one of those days where God just throws a grab bag of good stuff at you. Know what I mean? Since I’m not exactly firing on all pistons after my big day (ahem, see #3), I decided to cheap out and write a list. Hey, YOU try banging out 40 straight days of excellent posts!

GOOD THINGS:

1. I volunteer at an animal shelter nearby, and I was there for an hour or two this morning. I typically help clean out cat cages on Saturday mornings, which means I share a sink with the woman in charge of small critters such as bunnies, guinea pigs, etc. This morning she told me she admired my work ethic and gentleness and asked if I would be willing to receive special training so I could work more closely with the little fluffers. How could I say no? I was so touched and so thankful that I could help her. Plus: bunny snuggles!

2. I joined a online message board nearly ten years ago that was made for young fans of a certain fantasy author (don’t judge me for being a nerd, that’s God’s job). I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of the girls, one of whom messaged me today with a very special request. She and I have both recently connected more closely with our faith, and she wanted to strike up a relationship where we could talk about God and his workings in our life. It was the best kind of surprise, and what a blessing! I’m so excited to talk with her!

3. I ran 16 miles today. Did you hear that? Sixteen. Two eights. Four squared. Ten miles, and then half again, and then a little more. It took forever in the slush, and I’m hobbling more than walking, but still. SIXTEEN. AMEN.

4. The peanut butter oatmeal banana smoothie I drank after was the greatest smoothie of my life. I may start a petition demanding that it replace wine at communion. I’m only sort of kidding.

5. I went to a CD release party tonight! It’s a brother-sister pair here in Illinois. I don’t really do artsy things like this, so it was a really, really fun new thing to do! This was three-fold good:

a. My boyfriend opened for them. I don’t know if you have a guitar-playing boyfriend, but it turns you into a major groupie fangirl. Watching him sing and play was so much fun!

b. The duo’s whole family was at the party, and I made friends with their mother. Turns out she and I share a love of athletics! We wound up chatting for at least an hour, swapping stories about our favorite races and talking about “our” respective musicians. I tell you, befriending someone unexpected is the best part of events like this.

c. Kendel and Shep were incredible! Kendel has such a unique voice, and their music was refreshingly original. The lyrics were fun and clever, and the sound was new and different without being intentionally weird. I also want to reiterate how much I enjoyed spending my Saturday night at a local music event like this. Dating a musician has its perks!

6. The leader of my Tuesday bible study invited me over to have supper before group this week. She’s training for a major bike trip (check out her blog!), so we have our distance athletics in common. She wants to chat about veganism and my choice to eschew animal products. I’m really looking forward to spending time with her, and I’m thankful that she reached out! Also: she’s making chickpea sweet potato curry. YUM.

God is good. Little blessings are still blessings, and we must be thankful for each and every one. Right now, I am thankful for the blessing that is my bed, and off I hobble for some restorative sleep. Good night, all.

Day 24: prep.

I’m running 16 miles tomorrow.

It’s part of my marathon training. I knew it was coming. I’ve already run 10 miles, and 12 miles, and 14 miles, but 16 seems… big. Important. Meaningful. A little scary.

I’ve been thinking about it all day. I googled a few trails and picked one that I like. I’ve mentally planned out my meals leading up to the run (oatmeal when I wake up, smoothie after volunteering and my meeting) and my meals for after (giant stack of pancakes, smoothie with peanut butter and oats for extra carbs). I’ve picked out my outfit and gear. I have a plan for mid-run fuel (dates, nuts, cut-up Clif bar). Technically speaking, I’m all set.

But planning only means so much. I can buy fancy gear and read running blogs and pick routes, but I’m not a runner until I start putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m not a runner until I run.

Tomorrow, none of my planning and prep will matter. It will help, but it won’t mean anything. The true value comes from reaching deep inside my heart, reaching up to God, finding whatever he and I can create together that keeps me going for sixteen miles.

God is a lamp unto my feet. God made my feet. God powers my feet. God is the reason I put one foot after the other. I run for him. I run for me. I run for us.

I also run for pancakes. God loves honesty, right?

Day 23: assessment.

So I’m over halfway through the lenten blogging challenge. I’ve made some observations over the last three weeks or so, and I’m assessing my thoughts about this blog and its future post-lent.

1. Blogging is an absolute chore on busy days. I didn’t set up the challenge in a way that allows for advanced posting or using an editorial calendar, so I have to write every single day. If I get busy or forget until the last minute, it costs me sleep! Once the challenge is over, I doubt I’ll write daily, and I’ll definitely plan around my schedule.

2. At this point, the focus of this blog has been Christianity and my own thoughts on faith. It fits with the theme of the challenge, but I definitely want to expand more into topics such as veganism, recipes, running, and more.

3. I regularly get ideas for posts that I want to spend a little more time on, like recipes or lists or advice posts. I hope to use an editorial calendar once the challenge is over so I can plan posts more carefully. Also, it means I can write several at a time and schedule them to post over the course of the week.

4. Writing about God so often has definitely forced me to think about him as well. I’ll start with a sentence and wind up with a whole post full of thoughts I didn’t even know I had. It’s a blessing and has brought me closer to him.

5. Also: I don’t have many readers… but they’re cool :)

6. All in all, this blog has fulfilled its purpose of making me write. It’s like Anne Lamott’s idea of the shitty first draft: just get it out. Write it down. Get your fingers used to stringing words together. Who cares if it isn’t good? You’re still writing. Crawling is still forward motion. So even when I’m tired, busy, stressed, or what have you, I’m writing. I’m building the habit. And every post I write, I think afterward, “I’m glad I wrote that.”

So that’s where I’m at, folks. Building the habit of writing. Come Easter Monday, the real fun will begin. But for now, I’m just a woman with a computer, stringing words together one at a time, following God one baby step at a time.

Days 21 & 22: room in the inn.

I didn’t write yesterday. Let me tell you why.

Snowstorm Saturn hit Chicago with a vengeance yesterday, and my work building closed at 2:00 p.m. I assumed I’d spend the entire evening snuggled up at home with books and movies, maybe cook myself a nice dinner, catch up on bible study readings.

And then my phone rang around 6:00.

The storm was still rip-roaring away as my boyfriend Jackson explained that his friend from college, Laura, was stranded at the airport due to a canceled flight. She had called him in search of help and, hopefully, somewhere to stay other than an expensive hotel or – worse – the airport floor. Jackson lives 45 minutes away from the airport in good weather, so his hands were tied, but could she possibly stay the night at my place?

I live a hop, a skip, and a jump from the airport and have driven through over half a dozen Minnesota winters, so I was a perfect candidate for the job. I got dressed, shoved the growing snow pile off my car, and drove slooowly to the airport to fetch her.

It never really occurred to me that I was doing something a little crazy. Looking back, I see I knew nothing about Laura other than some fast facts from Jackson, and now I was going to let her sleep on my couch, which isn’t even separated from my bed by a locked door since I live in a studio apartment. She could’ve turned up her nose at my vegan kitchen. She could’ve complained nonstop. She could’ve spent the whole night texting or facebooking on her phone. She could’ve been all manner of awful.

But she was Jackson’s friend, so off I went. And let me tell you, what a blessing!

Laura was a fun, easy guest. She was an adventurous eater and picked risotto from the list of dinner options I rattled off because she’d never had it before, giving me the gift of speaking in my love language. She was interesting and friendly and a very enjoyable conversation partner. She left absolutely no trace in the bathroom other than a perfectly folded towel. She was totally game to Skype with Jackson while we had dessert so he could “hang out” with her too. She slept under a fleece tie blanket on my couch without complaint. She was a good sport about our 4:00 a.m. wake-up call (so she would beat the airport rush). She was, in a nutshell, a fun, unexpected blessing.

The bible is full of stories about taking in the weary traveler, opening your home to others, sharing what you have with those in need. In this culture, we don’t have much opportunity to show this kind of hospitality. Hotels and express travel remove the need for stops along the way, robbing us of the joy of caring for someone this way.

This is why I’m all the more thankful for the opportunity to share my home with Laura for even a short time. What a rare gift to welcome a fellow sister in Christ into the inn when so often we have no room! And what a blessing to drive away from the train station this morning with a new friend and a renewed sense of the way God brings his people together to care for each other.

So… I didn’t write yesterday. But I think my excuse is valid.

Has God given you a surprise opportunity to care for others recently? Tell me about it!

 

Day 20: my thoughts on this book

Today is the first day of assigned reading from this book I wrote about the other day. It’s a “soul fast” over forty days. Except it’s actually 56 days: eight weeks with the weekends off for… soul gorging? Soul gluttony? I don’t know.

Anyway. I left the computer open while I read and recorded my thoughts. Here they are. Enjoy.

The book says this is my first day of my “journey to a more authentic life.” Authentic by whose definition? Mine? God’s? The author’s so I buy more of her stuff? And is that her real hair?

Stop being so cynical, Maggie.

First step is self-awareness. That’s actually good. Very zen. I admire that and am working on cultivating that.

Grammatical error. Strike one.

On to the action steps! This looks promising!

First “action step” is a declarative sentence with a question mark at the end. Strike two.

I’m supposed to describe “outstanding” characteristics about myself. Do I have to think big picture, like, “I love animals so much that I eat a vegan diet and voluntarily scrub out kitty litterboxes on Saturday morning”? Or can it be, “I make really good cookies”? Does God appreciate little things like cookie mastery? I’ve always wondered.

“How have you capitalized on those [outstanding characteristics] and harnessed the inherent power of you?” What the hell does that even mean? Like, okay, I know what the words mean, but what is she saying? Do you see why that video made me so mad?!

She wants me to listen to what God is saying to me. Can I get some instruction on listening to God? I still suck at that. Majorly suck. Please, just give me a little how-to. That would be a great action step. One I desperately need.

Wait a second, this is the first time this chapter has mentioned God other than the little epitaph bible verse on the top of the first page! Isn’t this supposed to be God-centered? Where’s God in this? Why is it all about me me me?

Maybe if she mentioned God more I would be reminded to not be so cynical about this book.

…no, I can’t blame her. My attitude is my problem, not hers. Sigh.

Hey! Look! Self awareness!

I’m really hoping I can have a good attitude about this book (or at least keep my attitude in check). I need to get over the empty chatter factor, I think. My love for clear, no-BS God-talk is getting in the way of my appreciating this book. There are some good things in here, I think… just gotta dig to find them.

Which is a disgustingly accurate metaphor for life, am I right?

Day 19: is it wrong to miss the classics?

I go to a contemporary church service here in Chicago. You know the drill: worship is led by plaid-wearing guys in their twenties and their guitars, communion bread is homemade, people volunteer to run the slideshow during the sermon.

I really enjoy it, actually. The music is uplifting and engaging. Worship requires enough hands that even we non-musical folk can be involved. The communion bread is delicious. And yeah, one of the aforementioned guitar-playing plaid-bearers happens to be my boyfriend. 90% of the time, I love the contemporary style. It suits me and my generation and my relationship with God.

But sometimes… I miss the old school. Very specific things about the old school.

One of the songs we sang in worship today was an old favorite: “How can I keep from singing?” What a beautiful, beautiful song. The singer places total faith in God, clinging to him in spite of it all. And what greater celebration is there than this? What is greater than the joy of knowing you can depend on him, hold onto him, fall into him in face of any trial and trust that he will fill your heart with his light and his hope?

Pretty much nothing. Which is why we cannot keep from singing.

The tune is equally beautiful, and yet… we didn’t sing it today. We sang a new alternative tune. A different tune. And it felt weird.

I liked the new tune well enough, but as a tune in general, not as the tune to my beloved hymn. I was off-kilter the whole time, trying to match this unfamiliar set of notes with the lyrics I knew by heart.

And then they weren’t even the same lyrics anymore! They were new and different and certainly not the song I was promised by that title. I was suddenly in the position of fumbling through a new tune, mumbling new lyrics, and puzzling over why my darling song was now completely different.

I tried to sing along, I really did, but in the end, I wasn’t really singing my song the right way. I wasn’t worshipping, I was just trying to keep up!

Is it so wrong for me to miss the classics? Contemporary service is wonderful, and new songs are a gift, but can’t we still sing old favorites? Can we leave them the way they are, timeless and beautiful?

I hope so.

No storm can shake my inmost calm

while to this rock I’m clinging

since Christ is lord of heav’n and earth

how can I keep from singing?

Day 18: an errant thought.

I’m not feeling very wordy tonight, but I’ve been thinking a lot about doing God’s work. My true passion lies in environmental conservation and animal care, which I already honor in my everyday life. I eat a vegan diet, I bring my own bags to the grocery store, I recycle obsessively, I never use disposable kitchenware, etc. Creation care is my calling, my joy, my mission.

But I wonder:

If I really, truly surrendered everything and said to God, “I want to go where your creation needs me most,” where would he send me?