change of address

i'm still writing, but you can now find me at danaemasseycasteel.com. hope to see you at the new website soon!


top 10 -- reasons i still go to camp

i'm in the car with shaun on our way to north carolina to spend a week at carolina bible camp. it's my favorite place in the world & my favorite week of the year. when i tell people i'm going to camp, especially one 11 hours from where i live, i get a lot of odd looks! aren't i too old to still be going to camp? couldn't i go to one closer? well, in the traditional c.b.c. fashion, here is a top 10 list of reasons i still go to camp:

10. tie dye -- where else is it acceptable to have multi-colored hands from tie dye? and what would i do with all my stained t-shirts without it?

9. spades [the game] -- now that i live in the midwest, the home of euchre [or as i call it, pansy spades], i crave the afternoon & late night spades games with old friends. 

8. air-conditioned cabins -- a must in north carolina july heat & humidity [at least in my book!]

7. top 10 lists -- our assistant director, the venerable geoffrey sikes, captures our hearts & minds at dinner every evening with one of his original top 10 lists. these are the stuff of legend, & i often mark different years of camp by a particular top 10. 

6. teaching -- of all things, teaching is my favorite thing to do, especially when i get to teach teens. i learned how to teach at c.b.c. by having great teachers growing up & by being given the opportunity to teach starting 10 years ago by our dear friend & education director, jayson rawley. teaching at camp has been pivotal in my spiritual growth, in great part due to getting to partner with my sister, vanessa, an incredibly gifted teacher. i look forward to doing it again every year. 

5. the singing -- from "arky, arky" led by our beloved chester rainwater to our annual late night all-girls singing. but the best is friday night singing. to me, it's the closest thing to heaven this side of eternity. it's my favorite night of every year. 

4. mountaintop recharge -- while we can't live on the mountaintop, it is necessary that we periodically take time from every day life to unplug from the world & recharge with God. camp is one of those times for me each year. i come away with renewed sense of purpose, conviction, & zeal. 

3. the people -- where to begin? our fun-loving director, dennis conner, who does a great ostrich impression, gathers an amazing staff every year. the regular staff have taught me, challenged me, & mentored me for the past seventeen years. they have poured themselves into my & others' lives in the hopes of helping us live for God with our everything. getting to work alongside them now is a privilege, & they continue to spur me on toward Christ. 

2. the people -- i've grown up with several of my fellow staff. we were campers together. we know where each other has been; we've seen each other grow; we've been part of each others' growing. i get to see so many of my dearest & best friends in the world every year this week at camp. i love our late night talks & spades games, raiding the kitchen leftovers & laughing till we cry. 

1. the people -- out of all my reasons for still going to camp, without contest, the number one reason is the campers. it is my passion to reach out to these teens. they need a safe place & safe people that let them ask questions -- hard ones, that wrestle through the answers & unknowns with them, that show them an example of choosing to follow Christ after high school, that show them it's okay & normal to be imperfect but that it's also possible to change & grow & conquer a particular struggle. others have dine this for me. i came to camp my first year a messed up, rebellious teen who had stopped believing in God. God used camp & the people here to break through my stone heart, to show me the beauty of the church when it works, to start me on a lifelong journey of serving Him. i am forever changed because of this camp, & i want to be an instrument to do the same good in others' lives. i want to pass on what was given to & done for me. my campers are so precious to me. i love spending time with them, learning from them, & seeing them grow over the years. they are the biggest & most important reason i come back every single year. 

i'm at camp now, which means i'll be signing off from the online world for the next week. i would appreciate all prayers you can send Godward for us! may He use this week to do a mighty & transforming work in all of our lives! 


my [JUNE] top 10 list

i can't believe it's the end of yet another month & half way through 2013. i've been out of town almost more than i've been home the past couple months, so it's time for some catch-up. here's what's been going on with me this month.

10. books on my nightstand:
      >> the lost symbol by dan brown
      >> love is an orientation by andrew marin
      >> your pregnancy, week by week by drs. curtis & schuler
      >> body, soul, & baby by dr. tracy gaudet

9. song stuck in my head:
      >> "radioactive" by imagine dragons [unfortunately]

8. latest memory verse:
      >> the Lord Himself watches over you! the Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. [psalm 121:5]

7. can't-do-without accessory:
      >> a headband, any headband, to keep my bangs out of my face [too lazy to actually fix my hair these days]

6. must-see tv [or netflix]:
      >> white collar [why can't i have friends like neal & mozzie??]

5. annual goal i'm most focused on:
      >> making our bedroom a sanctuary [finally painting & decorating it!]

4. annual goals i've recently accomplished:
      >> traveled to greece with shaun! [it's been a dream of ours for over 10 years.]
      >> climbed mount olympus! [seriously one of the hardest things i've ever done]

3. what i'm saving money for:
      >> diapers & college fund

2. heavy on my heart:
      >> the vast chasm between the church & the lgbt community, how the christian community has not generally been loving or listening toward those we don't identify with or understand
      >> the teens in my life who are making poor choices

1. biggest news:
      >> in case you haven't figured it out already from mentions of pregnancy books & diapers, shaun & i are expecting our first biological kiddo. we're looking forward to this new phase of life, but i'm also making the most of my youth, coolness, freedom, & privacy while i still have it!


top 10 -- reasons i don't use capital letters

10. aesthetically & from a graphic designer's perspective, i prefer the look of lower case letters to capital letters.

9. i'm kinda picky about my handwriting. i like it to look like font, & my capital letters just aren't that great.

8. i like to do things differently, sometimes just for the sake of being different. [there you go, mom -- i admit it.]

7. my signature is immensely cooler looking when signed in lowercase letters.

6. e.e. cummings was a good poet & a cool guy. imitation, flattery, etc.

5. when i was in high school, i took a combined literature/history class my senior year. we studied a couple books from the bible as literature & from a historical rather than religious perspective. that's when my habit began. i would capitalize only God's name(s) in my notes as subtle reminder of my beliefs while learning about & addressing the bible academically.

4. what was begun as a sort of coping mechanism in high school became a habit & one that i liked. there seemed to be something poetic & sacred about only capitalizing God's names & pronouns that refer to Him as a way of showing Him honor above all else.

3. i've since learned that ancient scribes showed what we would consider today an insane kind of reverence when writing the name of God. i've heard different versions of what they were required to do, but one example is they had to wipe off the pen & wash their whole bodies before writing the name of God, YHWH, each & every time they wrote it. this practice has not lingered into our times in any form, but i like it, so i practice it via capital letters.

2. i think we overuse capitalization anyways. all caps should only be used for design purposes when appropriate. [or for LORD or YHWH if you like -- some people always write Lord in all caps to indicate the personal name of God.]

1. it has become part of my personal identity that i don't capitalize many words. anyone who knows me well never ever capitalizes my names. [except my mom because she's still in denial & entirely too proper to do otherwise!] it's just me, like my blonde hair or my "obnoxious laugh" or my inability to dance. it's just me.


question about PRAYER

beth moore has posed this question in several of her bible studies & videos, & it has stuck with me for years:

how different would our prayer lives be if Christ suddenly showed up while we were having our quiet time?

i hope i would recognize Him.

i hope i would fall to the floor rather than stay seated in my padded chair.

i hope i would cry out His name in adoration.

i hope i would be afraid to look at His face & at the same time anxious to see it.

i hope i would talk to Him with the shy but unreserved speech of a child before one admired & trusted.

i hope i would ask Him to put His hand of blessing on the suffering people on my prayer list.

i hope i would find the voice & courage to sing a song of praise to Him.

i hope i would listen to Him.

i hope it would mark me with a desperate thirst for & expectancy of His presence for the rest of my days.

how do you think it would change you?


f.l.y. // taking care of yourself, love in action

this is a series of blog posts i'm writing called f.l.y. // finally loving yourself in response to emily wierenga's dare to love yourself challenge. i'm framing my thoughts about the subject through the lens of agape -- unconditional love, God love, love in action. [my previous posts in this series are finally loving yourself & why taking care of yourself is important.]

my main thesis is that we cannot truly love others [& thereby obey Jesus' second greatest command, matthew 22:37-40] until we learn to love ourselves.

agape is nothing if not action, & this applies even to finally loving myself. i wrote last week about why taking care of yourself is important & why it's part of loving yourself [& loving God & others]. today, i want to talk about actually taking care of ourselves. what that means in specific action. i like to categorize everything in my life & to make lists, so here's my areas of self-care:

>> physical -- taking care of my body from the outside in
>> nutritional -- taking care of my body from the inside out
>> mental -- taking care of my brain
>> emotional -- taking care of my heart
>> spiritual -- taking care of my soul

taking care of yourself PHYSICALLY  >> this means exercising, stretching, toning, strengthening, hygiene, taking your makeup off before bed, moisturizing, sleeping enough, going to the doctor for regular check-ups, keeping your nails clean & neat, shaving!

taking care of yourself NUTRITIONALLY  >> this means eating good food, limiting junk food, watching your portions, drinking lots of water, taking a multi-vitamin, taking other needed supplements &/or medications, & for me, giving yourself necessary shots.

taking care of yourself MENTALLY  >> this means learning [never stop learning!], retaining what you know & learn, reading, doing puzzles, challenging yourself, practicing hobbies, taking breaks when needed, setting goals & working towards them.

taking care of yourself EMOTIONALLY  >> this means allowing & recognizing your feelings, not repressing, dealing with your feelings [both past & present], facing your fears, reducing stress, learning to breathe, cultivating healthy coping mechanisms, taking breaks, journaling, loving, forgiving.

taking care of yourself SPIRITUALLY  >> this means [to me] spending time with God every morning before i do anything else, in the middle of the workday, & before i go to bed, reading His word, memorizing & meditating on specific verses or passages of scripture, taking a personal retreat once a year, journaling, praying, praying, praying, listening, learning, practicing the spiritual disciplines, loving.

so, in keeping with my love for list-making, i hereby present:

the top 10 things i'm going to do 
to take care of myself for the next week

10. exercise every day except sunday. 
i'm pretty nervous about this commitment because i'm a notorious slacker in this area, but i'm hoping making a commitment in blogosphere public will help me get up & get going! exercise can include running, circuit training, aerobics videos, yoga, & long walks. i'm signed up for a 5k on april 13th & need to kick my rear in gear!

9. wash my face every single night.
i also stink at this & go to bed more often than not with my makeup on... but in the interest of my skin, my pores, & my self-esteem, i'm going to prioritize this each night. plus, my face washing routine is one of the most relaxing experiences, so it also helps me go to sleep.

8. cut out the junk food completely.
i'm going to define this as non-nutritional sweets [ex: cake vs. granola], fried foods, fast food, & processed snacks [ex: chips]. my sweet tooth is already aching at the thought...

7. drink only water & hot tea.
hi, my name is danae, & i'm addicted to dr. pepper. seriously. when i have a bad day, shaun knows it because he comes home to me sitting on the couch with a 2-liter... i'm really bad about drinking anything except water, although i don't dislike drinking water in the least.

6. read one hour every day.
i've been working on a book for some time, & i really want to finish it this year, but i still have quite a bit of research to get done, so i'd like to set aside some time for working on this goal.

5. paint something at least two times.
i love to paint. it's very therapeutic to me, & it's one of my favorite hobbies. i have hoped to paint more consistently so i can develop my style & skill & so i can produce some art for our home. i even have my easel permanently set up, but i never seem to make it to the stool...

4. decompress three times during the work day.
this just means taking time to breathe & refocus for a minute or two. i'm very task-oriented, & i can get so bogged down in my 2do list that i forget to prioritize or get stressed out. i like to close my eyes, breathe slowly, focus on how i feel physically & emotionally, adjust anything needed, & check my priorities before returning to work.

3. journal every night.
even if it just means a quick sentence about my day, i want to be better about pouring out each evening onto paper because it clears my mind, eases my heart, & prepares me for rest like no other remedy.

2. practicing the discipline of simplicity.
"stuff" can weigh you down & distract you from what is truly important. this is particularly true of me right now. my house has not gone through a good decluttering in too long. this week, i'll spend at least 15 minutes each night culling through my wardrobe, drawers, cabinets, papers, & basement to release things i don't need & don't use. i'll take these to goodwill at the end of the week so they can bless someone else.

1. keeping sabbath on sunday.
for me this means focusing on God, worship, & rest. i don't plan to be legalistic or anything, but i am not going to do work or errands or clean anything. most importantly, i am not going to have a single item on my 2do list! i want to spend the day with my church family, in fellowship, praying, reading, indulging in hobbies, writing, or cooking. these things are restful to me & conducive to my focus on experiencing the presence of God.

you'll notice i have two list items per category of self-care. i've set alarm reminders & created items in my 2do list to help me with my top 10 list. i'd also appreciate any accountability. i'll report back next week with my results -- how successful was i at sticking to my top 10, which actions made the most difference, & how i feel about myself as a result.

i encourage you to come up with your own top 10! or top three, or even just one thing you can do every day this week to take care of yourself & thereby make progress in F.L.Y.ing -- finally loving yourself!


what EASTER means for us today

happy easter!!! the greatest feast day of the christian calendar! in addition to my personal liturgy & daily devotional routines, i am celebrating today by attending early mass at the catholic church down the road [can.not.wait!], worship at my home church [we make a bigger deal out of communion this particular sunday], & a huge lunch with shaun's colleagues [one of my favorite traditions]. how are you celebrating the risen Christ today?

these thoughts from my book of liturgy challenged me to view easter not just as a day but, as it should be in the christian calendar, a season. i especially love how the authors reframe what our holidays are in terms of God's kingdom calendar. i hope you are equally blessed by this!

excerpt from common prayer: a liturgy for ordinary radicals:

"As Paul said in the first century, our faith means little if Jesus isn't risen from the dead. If Advent is our New Year's and Pentecost is the church's birthday, Easter is our Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Presidents' Day all in one. This is when we remember Christ's sacrifice for our sins, celebrate his victory over the powers of evil, and honor him as our true Commander in Chief.

"Holy Week begins with Jesus' inaugural parade on Palm Sunday and takes us through the drama of his last week in Jerusalem. In many ways, this is the week that teaches us our rhythm for every week in God's kingdom. It's often called 'passion week,' because it's full of suffering. (Passio is Latin for 'suffering.') This is one of the harder things to learn about following Jesus: his way to real life isn't easy. In the end, it'll get you killed. And most of us don't want to die. (This is why we have to practice denying ourselves through forty days of Lent, fasting from stuff that we usually enjoy so we can learn to hunger and thirst for God's kingdom.) . . . 

"Resurrection is such a big deal that we don't just take one day to celebrate it. Every Sunday is resurrection day. But we also set aside fifty days for the Easter season, putting aside our normal fasts and taking extra time to celebrate what God has done in our world. Forty days after Easter, we remember Jesus' ascension, when he returned to heaven and told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, so they might become his body in the world. The ascension seals the deal for the disciples. (Up to that point, some of them had headed back to their familiar world of fishing and life as usual.) For us it is a reminder that the resurrection isn't just a miracle that happened two thousand years ago. It's a way of life we practice. Pentecost ends the Easter season, reminding us that we don't practice resurrection by our own strength, but have the Holy Spirit's power among us as a community called church. Jesus' story is now our story. And the next chapter begins today."


top 10 -- reasons to observe the religious calendar

10. any excuse to celebrate!
i have a friend who told me once that one reason she participated in the religious calendar was unabashedly because she loves to celebrate. that resonated with me as a lover of all things parties, & i have indeed enjoyed the preparations & celebrations thus far this year. [our purim feast is one great example.] i thrive on planning a party, inviting friends over, & sharing good conversation & laughter. the religious calendar has given me increased opportunities to do just this!

9. to experience something new
as a student of life, i believe one tenet to guide our "studies" must be the willingness to experience new things on a regular basis, even the proactive seeking of new things, & sometimes doing something new just for the sake of the experience & the story. experience enriches our lives, teaches us important lessons, gives us something to share with others, & helps us grow. when we shy away from a new experience, it is usually due to fear, fear of the unknown, & fear is the enemy of the student of life. we must not let our fears prevent us from living life to the fullest.

8. to learn more about our faith heritage
christianity has a two-thousand year history, & before that it is steeped in thousands of years of jewish history & practice. this is our heritage. to understand Christ's teachings, i must understand the religious audience to whom He spoke & His own life as a jew. to understand the current state of the church in its various sects & traditions, i must know our history, too. in looking to our future, we must first know where we've been to understand where we are going. knowing our faith heritage will enrich our current faith walk.

7. to identify with global christian community
millions of christians worldwide observe the religious calendar. [the same is true of jews observing their religious calendar.] it creates a sense of solidarity among us collectively & within each of us individually when we know there are others all over the world saying the same words, praying the same prayers, reading the same scriptures, meditating on the same thoughts. we become unified by our focus. we become thoughtful of one another. we remember we are not alone.

6. to establish new corporate traditions
i could write a whole post on how my particular faith tradition could learn & grow from incorporating some of the practices used in other churches, at least on occasion. but i'll suffice to say for now that we can all learn from one another, always. just as no individual is perfect, neither is any organization of individuals. every church has need to reflect, to reevaluate, to learn, & to change in some way to more live like the body of Christ. 

5. to reevaluate secular holidays
this is something shane claiborne writes about regularly, & his thoughts have affected my own views. as citizens of the kingdom of God, we define freedom, value, sacrifice, leadership, power, & a host of other concepts radically differently from our surrounding culture. these new ways of thinking should also affect our living & celebrating. while there exists a memorial day, an independence day, & a presidents' day particular to america, when/how to we celebrate ultimate sacrifice [Christ's on the cross], true freedom [found in Christ], & authentic leadership & authority [Christ's as King]? do we hail one kind of holiday as more important than the other kind? should we? what are our reasons & motivations? how should we as christians look different from this world? i wish i had more answers than questions, but it is very important to question & to think on these things.

4. to establish new holiday traditions
there are many holidays we celebrate that have both religious & secular histories & traditions. observing the religious calendar helps us review what secular practices are beneficial & fun, & which ones need to be done away with. observing the religious calendar also helps us learn about new beneficial & fun traditions that we can begin. for example, i have a friend who shared her how grandmother includes easter eggs within the normal egg hunt that contain slips of paper with scripture references written on them. once their family gathers back together, after the eggs have all be found, anyone with a scripture egg reads that passage aloud for everyone. there are hundreds of creative ideas for bringing our minds back to the purpose of these holidays -- some are unique to specific families & some are common in various faith communities -- & we can learn from them.

3. to enrich our personal faith practices
we have probably all been encouraged by various teachers to have a "quiet time" with God each day. but how that quiet time is shaped is unique to each person. for years, i filled it with just bible study from a bought workbook. bible study comes easier to me than any other faith practice. as i've grown older, i've tried to add in areas that i need desperately to grow in, like prayer. over the years, i've used various tools to help me learn how to pray -- informative books on prayer, devotionals that lead you through prayer, prayer journals, prayer lists, prayer schedules. all have taught me something, even though not all have been useful to me in the long-term. and what works for me may not work for you. this year, i added a daily liturgy [common prayer for ordinary radicals] & have been tremendously blessed by the practice. observing the religious calendar has helped me expand my understanding of personal quiet time but also ways to practice my faith in the rhythms of every day life beyond that set-aside morning hour. and so i continue to grow towards Christ as my quiet time evolves & as my daily routine includes putting my faith into action, too. [discalimer: i am not as consistent as i would like to be in having my quiet time or going through the prayer liturgy every day, so please don't be fooled by my speaking in general terms! still, God is faithfully growing me every time i do choose to spend with Him.]

2. to live by kingdom seasons & rhythms
i've written about this before in my post on marking my time by a different calendar, but shane claiborne says it better than i, & this portion deserves reposting:

every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. for some time now, western civilization has used the julian and gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the roman empire's traditions... but if we in the church are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must reshape our minds by marking our calendars differently. we must remember the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the caesars... the church's calendar weaves in and out of the world around us. it is not that we need a "christian" calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the "secular" world... the point is not to be sectarian or to try to put ourselves at odds with non-christians. the point is to keep God's story at the center of our lives and calendar... without liturgical time, we can easily forget our eternal identity. we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of business and efficiency that shapes our culture and society. likewise, without the cosmic calendar, we can become so heaven-bound that we ignore the hells of the world around us. and the glorious goal we are headed toward is not just going up when we die but bringing God's kingdom down -- on earth as it is in heaven.

1. to become increasingly centered on God
this is mentioned in the quote above, so i won't belabor the point. but this is ultimately the reason for observing the religious calendar because ultimately this is the purpose of our lives -- to become ever more focused on God, growing closer to Him, becoming more like His Son, & being Him to a dying world.


f.l.y. // why taking care of yourself is important

this is a series of blog posts i'm writing called f.l.y. // finally loving yourself in response to emily wierenga's dare to love yourself challenge.

my thesis is that we cannot truly love others [& thereby obey Jesus' second greatest command, matthew 22:37-40] until we learn to love ourselves.

part of loving myself is taking care of myself. or, taking it even another step back, believing that taking care of myself is important. women are notorious for not taking care of themselves for one reason or another. some say it's because they don't have time. they have to take care of so many other things & people. some have a distorted view of self-care. eating what they like is taking care of themselves. some are distracted by other interests. some feel "so far gone" they don't see the point anymore. some take it for granted. some think self-care is an unnecessary luxury, selfish in nature.

so, perhaps it would be good to start with a common definition of self-care. what i mean is keeping oneself in good working condition, like a car. my car isn't in perfect condition, & she has over 100,000 miles on her. she's got a few dings, a crack on the back bumper, & i like to use the floorboards as my trash can. one of the doors doesn't open up as easily as the others. the old wipers scratched an arc in the windshield. it doesn't have all the perks, & its gas mileage is only marginally decent. but i love my car. it's fun & comfortable to drive. it can haul tons of stuff & hold lots of people. it has lots of cup holders [which is a big deal to me]. it has a cd player & radio that work. the heat & air conditioning are insanely effective & fast. it's safe & reliable, & it's kinda sporty looking.

[my car back when she was new to us]

i'm not worried about the little dings, but i do touch up the paint when it gets scratched so it doesn't rust. i don't keep it perfectly clean all the time, but periodically, we like to wash it & vacuum it out. [and by we, i mean shaun.] we make sure to take it in for oil changes & tire rotations on time. and for her 100,000 milestone, i had her professionally detailed. not something we splurge on much [or ever], but i want this car to last, & we use it & use it hard. so, in gratitude for its reliable service so far & in hopes for continued reliability for many miles & years to come, i pampered my car a little. i plan to do it again when she turns 150,000 miles because i want to keep her until at least 250,000 miles. she's a good car, & if i want to keep her around, i have to keep her in good working condition.

the same is true of ourselves, body, mind, & spirit. if we want to stick around for very long & be of much use to others, we have to keep ourselves in good working condition. i may have a few blemishes & a few extra pounds hanging on. a few of my parts may have started working less efficiently with time. but i'm fun to be around, & i work hard. i take on lots of stuff & help lots of people. i have some awesome attributes that are unique to me. and i'm still pretty hip for a 31-year-old! i can't get worked up about every little imperfection or extra pound, but i do need to keep myself healthy. if i have too many extra pounds that keep me experiencing life & doing work that i've been called to because i don't have enough energy, it's time to take me in for service. and by service, i mean to the gym. even when i'm in top running order, i need to have regular check-ups & maintenance to keep me in good condition. i don't have to have my nails perfectly manicured, my hair perfectly styled, my clothes perfectly posh, my makeup perfectly radiant every single day. [thank goodness!] but i should keep my nails clean, my hair brushed, my clothes well-fitted, my makeup done when appropriate. and sometimes, when i hit a big milestone, i may need a little extra care! there's nothing wrong with getting your nails done, but that's not critical to self-care. still, it's nice once in a while to pamper yourself because it helps you keep going in top condition.

self-care is important to God.  >> it's one way we worship Him, by caring for His temples. we are collectively, as the church, His temple. don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple & that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? ... for God's temple is sacred, & you together are that temple (1 corinthians 3:16-17). and we are individually each little temples for God Himself to dwell within. do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 corinthians 6:19). God set aside an entire tribe of israel to care for His tabernacle & temple. caring for God's dwelling place is an important act of worship toward Him, even today. 

self-care is important to our loved ones.   >> to serve others, we must have energy, stamina, & longevity. we receive these first & foremost from God above. He blesses us with every breath & every minute of our lives. He strengthens us when we are weak. He heals us when we are sick. the Lord gives & the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). but we too play a part in keeping ourselves well. we choose what we eat, whether to worry, whether to go obey God, whether to exercise, whether to pray, how much we sleep, how we spend our free time... these choices affect how often we get sick, how we feel each day, our stress levels, what we are able to do physically, mentally, & emotionally. these choices affect every person we come into contact with in some way or another, most especially our families.

our God & our loved ones deserve our very best. to give it to them, we must diligently take care of bodies, minds, & souls in appropriate ways.

may God teach us how to love ourselves so that we can more fully love Him & others.


words to LIVE by #6 -- PALM SUNDAY edition

"Let us say to Christ: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Let us wave before him like palm branches the words inscribed above him on the cross. Let us show him honor, not with olive branches, but with the splendor of merciful deeds to one another. Let us spread the thoughts and desires of our hearts under his feet like garments, so that he may draw the whole of our being into himself and place the whole of his in us."

-- Andrew of Crete [8th c. martyr]

this quote reminds me that palm sunday is something i read about taking place in a foreign place & ancient times AND something i can live out in my world today. i can shout Hosana! Hosana in the highest! praising His name today & every day. i can honor Him as my King by living as He decrees i should, acting justly, loving mercy, & walking humbly by His side [micah 6:8]. i can honor my King by preparing the way for the Lord into me, into the church, into the world. i can honor my King by letting Him draw me to Him as He so longs to do. palm sunday is happening today as much as it was two thousand years ago. palm sunday is happening in me. 


readings for HOLY WEEK

as i participate in the lenten season, i have found myself increasingly excited about holy week. the anticipation is palpable. one practice i've wanted to incorporate into my experience of the week is reading through the passion week in the gospels. i looked several places to find a "reading plan." and i never found one that was comprehensive, for lack of a better word. so, i did my own trek through the pages of my bible to figure out the passion week. hopefully, my list is decently accurate. i will be reading through all four gospel accounts this year, but in the future, i may just go through one writer's accounts. i thought i would post it here for anyone else who would like to follow along, too. have a blessed holy week!

>> matthew 26:6-13
>> mark 14:1-9
>> luke 7:36-50
>> john 12:1-11

palm sunday:
>> matthew 21:1-11
>> mark 11:1-11
>> luke 19:28-44
>> john 12:12-19

>> matthew 21:12-17
>> mark 11:12-19
>> luke 19:45-48
>> john 2:13-22

>> matthew 21:18-27
>> mark 11:20-33
>> luke 20:1-8
>> john 12:37-50

[nothing specific is recorded for this day, but these passages are appropriate.]
>> matthew 24
>> mark 13
>> luke 21:5-37

>> matthew 26:17-75
>> mark 14:12-72
>> luke 22:7-65
>> john 13:1 - 18:27

good friday:
>> matthew 27:11-61
>> mark 15
>> luke 22:66 - 23:56
>> john 18:28 - 19:42

>> matthew 27:62-66

easter sunday:
>> matthew 28
>> mark 16
>> luke 24
>> john 20:1 - 21:25


my top 10 list [march]

in case you're interested, here's a smattering of things that occupy my time right now, in the form of my favorite kind of list-making, a top 10 list.

10. books on my nightstand: 
       >> show me the way by henri nouwen
       >> my utmost for His highest by oswald chambers
       >> eclipse by stephanie meyer
       >> wizard's first rule by terry goodkind

9. song stuck in my head:
       >> "50 ways to say goodbye" by train

8. latest memory verse:
       >> "don't be afraid, for I am with you; don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you & help you; I will uphold you with My victorious right hand." [isaiah 41:10]

7. can't-do-without accessory:
       >> my locket with my midday prayer inside

6. next party i'm planning:
       >> a harry potter party for our teens [it's gonna be epic! 13 hours of shopping in diagon alley, getting sorted into our houses, attending magic classes, playing quidditch, & competing for the house cup!]

5. must-see tv [or netflix]:
       >> college basketball [go duke!]
       >> psych, season 7

4. annual goal i'm most focused on:
       >> reading 48 books this year [i'm trying to read 12 books in the first quarter, & i still have 5 to go before the end of the month!]

3. biggest news:
       >> my little sister is getting married! i'm the matron of honor & her wedding coordinator, & i'm loving it.

2. what i'm saving money for:
       >> shaun & i are traveling to greece for our 10th anniversary in may, so every spare cent is set aside for that. i cannot wait!!!

1. heavy on my heart:
       >> people around the world who don't have easy access to clean drinking water [join me in participating in 40 days of water with blood:water mission.]
       >> my friend julien in haiti, struggling to continue his work with the church & to support several orphans without consistent monetary support
       >> my prodigal girl

happy friday!


f.l.y.: finally loving yourself

i discovered the writings of emily wierenga last week via sarah bessey's international women's day sychroblog. on her own site, emily has issued a challenge to fellow writers to participate weekly with her in "a dare to love yourself." her posts thus far have been beautiful, & since my 2013 theme is love, it has really hit home to me along with other various aspects of love that i've been pondering & learning.

i had long forgotten how to f.l.y. it's an acronym that i spent a semester teaching to college girls at our weekly bible study -- finally loving yourself. i taught this to others, & yet, i have forgotten how to live it myself. ouch.

i loved this quote from emily:

Until you learn to like the way your left ear hangs lower than your right; the way you limp a little when you walk, or the way you snort out laughter; until you learn to say "Thank you" to your body for bearing your babies and for carrying you through life and for pumping oxygen through your veins, you'll never be able to truly love another person.

i agree wholeheartedly.

Jesus taught love as the greatest command(s):

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

i've often heard this simplified as "love God & love others." as i've been reading about agape so far this year, these are the words that have echoed over & over in my mind. but conspicuously absent have been Jesus' words about loving myself... if He said i need to love others as i love myself, what happens when i don't really love myself? [this was the premise of that bible class i taught so many years ago.]

it's been so long since i've thought about loving myself, i'm not even sure where to start! years ago, a trusted counselor told me to experiment with treating myself like i was my own mother. what time would she wake me up in the morning? what would she make me for breakfast? what clothes would she lay out for me? how would she take care of me? she suggested i do those very things. what a revolutionary concept: to take care of myself. i think that's the beginning of self-love. even if i don't feel like it, if i go through the motions of the experiment, the feelings will eventually follow the actions. it's true in so many other areas of life, & i believe it to be true here, too.

like emily, i'll be posting for the next several mondays on this topic. next week, i want to talk about taking care of yourself, what it means, what it doesn't mean, how to do it, what to do when you don't feel like it, & how changing your actions changes your mind & heart.

may God teach us how to love ourselves so that we can more fully love Him & others.


gibor chayil! [a tribute to a man of valor]

perhaps you're familiar with the increasingly popular phrase "eshet chayil" which is hebrew for "woman of valor." it is a more accurate translation of the words used to describe the heroine of the poem found in proverbs 31. it's an epithet rachel held evans discovered & embraced during the research for her book "a year of biblical womanhood."

but the title of this post is gibor chayil... in all the precious shout-outs to women of valor via social media, sarah bessey asked what was the hebrew phrase for men of valor because there are men of valor in our lives, too, & they just as surely need this outpour of affirmation & encouragement. so gibor chayil was learned & shared & bestowed.

today, in honor of his day of birth, i would like to bestow this title to a most worthy gibor chayil.

anyone who knows my husband, shaun, likes him. even people who have openly hated &/or distrusted me still like, trust, & respect shaun. he's so friendly & kind, people can't help themselves! even more astonishingly, in the more than ten years that i've known him, i've only known him to dislike two people! [and he still treats them kindly so they would never know.] he is an extroverted introvert, which means he is outgoing & loves talking to people, but at heart, he's quiet & more of a listener. his unaffected & selfless manner is magnetic. he is as genuine as they come. children flock to him, & like Jesus, he relishes it. [he has more girlfriends under the age of 10...] he is gibor chayil because he cares about everyone he meets & actively demonstrates that care to them.

anyone who knows my husband, shaun, can tell you i married up. first of all, his family descended from pirates, so there you go. so cool. also, he's more than a foot taller than me. my family was glad i brought some height into our below six foot clan. but i also landed the sweetest fella. he takes such care of me & puts up with so much. don't shake your head in disagreement because it is painfully true! just last night i was bantering on facebook & twitter with friends about their definition of "doing laundry." shaun disagrees with me that it just means getting clothes into the washing machine & maaaaaybe the dryer. poor boy! a housewife, he did not marry. i "do the laundry" but rarely fold it & please don't make me laugh about putting it away. he does all the dishes in our casa because i won't. [in all fairness, i do cook & i'm pretty good at it.] he keeps gas in my car because i hate pumping my own. he regularly gives me backrubs & footrubs without asking for their return. he carries my pillows up to bed every night just because. and if that weren't enough to convince you that "bless his heart" never applied to any man more than shaun -- he puts up with my extreme moodiness & my temper & my venting about the latest thing that raised my passion [or ire]. he works hard in his work field to provide for me so that i can pursue my vocation that rarely gets paid. he supports me in all my latest schemes & wildest dreams & never tells me it can't be done. he tells me i'm beautiful when i'm a wreck. he takes incredible over-the-top care of me when i'm sick or hurting. he indulges my whims & cravings. he loves me fiercely in his own quiet way, so much so that he willingly speaks out on my behalf in situations his personality would rather avoid. i'm convinced God will take him home first of the two of us, just to give the poor boy much-deserved rest! if that's not gibor chayil, i don't know what is.

but there's more. anyone who knows my husband, shaun, knows he is a man of God. and is there any higher honor that can be spoken? he loves God & loves His written word. shaun's not much for reading, & he has to do so much of it in his work, but he'll read his bible daily anyways. he is always up for that. he loves the church. he is the very definition [other than Jesus] of servant leadership. he's comfortable up front, saying a prayer, teaching & preaching, organizing a group or event. but you'll more likely find him in the back greeting people, or washing dishes, putting away tables, & fixing a broken pew. he's not threatened by my gifts & enjoys complementing them [in the true spirit of complemtarianism!] with his own. he likes to let me take the lead in planning or teaching, offering his ideas & assistance. he also isn't afraid to take the lead so i can have a break! he is confident in who God has made him to be & confident in God to use him accordingly. it is the most attractive quality he has. [& if i may say so, that is saying something!] he is gibor chayil because he pursues Christ with his life & spurs along the rest of us to come follow, too.

so happy birthday to my gibor chayil, shaun nathan casteel! may God bless us with many more years together so i may grow as eshet chayil as you grow as gibor chayil. may we grow in God together.


a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal

what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have each indelibly marked my life in Christ. if they were tattoos, i would be covered head to toe in the ink of their influence.

the pioneer was born a few years after me into the same household, by the same two parents. she is my blood sister. my younger sister. and yet, as she has grown up, she has blazed a trail in the spiritual life that has compelled me to follow. when i was in college and she was still a teenager in high school, i realized she was a mentor to me in the faith. i watched & learned from her how to pursue relationship with Jesus & relationship in a faith community even when your own church lets you down & offers you nothing. i watched & learned from her how to stand up for what you believe in & to challenge your peers to do the same. she was not concerned with converting everyone to believing the same things she did. she just wanted her fellow christians to know why they believed what they believed, rather than to continue being spoon fed by a youth pastor or parents. she challenged her friends, & she challenged me, to take ownership of our faith, our beliefs, our commitments, our actions. i watched & learned from her how to reach out & embrace my friends who were gay. to me, she is an icon for Christ's love to this group of people so often marginalized & despised by the church. these lessons from my younger sister shaped me so much that they become major aspects of my own identity. one of my own mottos has become to stand up for what you believe in no matter what the consequences might be. [we both learned this from watching our father do it growing up, but it took me watching her live it out to put it into action myself.] we both have a plethora of reasons to be cynical about the church & "have every right" to walk away from it. but we don't. one reason i don't is because she spoke so often about her passion for God's kingdom & reminded me that beyond the ugliness of the church, there is also beauty. her passion was contagious. and now it is my consuming passion. and within that overarching passion, one of my deepest desires is to see the church welcome all people with the love of Christ, making the church a safe place to ask questions & to learn about Jesus, even & especially the lgbt community. anyone who knows me well knows these to be three important tenets in my life, yet so few know to whom i am indebted. to this pioneer in the faith, my younger sister, to whom i ought to have been the example, i am humbled & honored to learn from, to imitate, & to now walk alongside on the fiery path to God.

the pacifist was born a few years after me in a state far away into a family i did not know. we did not meet until both in our twenties [me in my late twenties]. she has become my sister in every sense of the word. we have become family by the blood of Christ & by shared ministry. when i moved to lafayette, my husband shaun was sure she would become my best friend. she & i both anticipated it to be so. while we became friends, it wasn't until we had a common ministry that we became best friends & then sisters. we have so much in common -- love for reading, aptitude for design, obsession with shoes, marriage to farm boys... but it has been our differences that have catapulted me along my faith walk. she's a pacifist. i am not. she's an analytical thinker. i am not. she's a deliberate communicator. i am not. and while i still won't claim to be a pacifist [mostly because i won't claim any -ist or -ism], i have come a long way in understanding the nonviolence of our Savior. many of my views & beliefs have been overturned by my exposure to this pacifist sister. she has taught me how to approach people, especially difficult people [as this was our shared ministry -- one very troubled young woman], with more compassion & less condemnation, with more calmness & less calamity, with more wisdom & less assumption, with more deliberateness in word & deed rather than with reactionary anger & frustration. she is my go-to editor & advisor in everything because she always takes me down a notch. [or two, or ten!] she brings me back down to the molehill when i'm insistent on climbing the mountain. she imparts godly perspective. i have not lost an iota of my passion but rather learned how to control that passion in appropriate, more effective, & Christlike ways. everything about who i am -- my conviction of what is right, my passion for the Lord's church, & my love for marginalized people -- has found necessary balance. not balance as in "not going to far with it." oh, no! but in balancing goodness [truth] with kindness, balancing passion with compassion, & balancing love for the marginalized with love for those who have done the marginalizing [whether intentional or not]. the pacifist has brought balance to the passionate.

and the prodigal. oh, my sweet, beautiful, messed up girl. the prodigal was born ten years after me, & yet she is as much a spiritual daughter as a sister. she is the troubled young woman the pacifist & i worked with together. we met her as a late teen, having been through a life no one deserves, having never had a real break, having never really understood God. so we worked with her, we met with her, we listened to her, we studied with her, we prayed with her, we took her in, we kicked her out, we cried with her, we cried for her, we fought with her, we held her, we loved her. after months of incessant drama & effort with her, she chose Christ. we had the privilege to baptize her into Christ together. to date, it is the greatest highlight of my life.

as with any new christian, there were ups & downs that followed. by the end of the year, we hit a major downswing. she was walking deliberately away from God in every decision she was making. we told her we would not keep meeting with her every week while she continued to do that. she walked out, & we didn't see or hear from her for two months. it was agonizing. we were so afraid of what she would do, whether she would live through it, whether she would ever come back to God, to us. i had never understood the parable of the prodigal son so acutely. i am not a parent, so there are many things about being a parent & having a child that i can't understand. but this is one experience that i do understand & i pray most parents never have to. fast forward: what a hallelujah moment when she came home! we all moved in together to help her rehabilitate & rediscover the life in Christ. it was hard, it was messy, but it was worth it. she changed & grew, wrestled & learned. she wrote beautiful psalms nearly every day. she increased prayer in our home one-hundred fold! i learned from this sweet prodigal how to love someone who has hurt you so badly, how God turns mourning into dancing. i learned a new definition of patience. i learned how to yield to & rely on the fruit of the Spirit within me. i learned so much about how God views, loves, treats me. i learned how i am the prodigal, too. our beautiful, messed up girl is wayward again. prodigal again. still, she teaches me: to love long-distance, to pray without ceasing, to hope in the impossible [because that's what God specializes in]. it hasn't turned out like we hoped yet, but i'm still learning that while it was hard, & it was messy, it was absolutely worth it. she was absolutely worth it.

three beautiful women who have written Christ more deeply into my life. what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have all exemplified our God in beautifully unique & desperately needed ways. for me, & now, i hope for you, too.

i have written this as part of sarah bessey's tribute to spiritual midwives & patron saints as we celebrate international women's day & "the spiritual achievements of women, past, present, & future, who have mattered to us." i have written about only three women in my life who have made a difference for Christ. i could have written volumes trying to include every precious women throughout my life & through pages of their writing who have blessed me, taught me, challenged me, & mentored me in the faith. to all of you who make this difference, in my life & in others', THANK YOU. please visit sarah's post & be encouraged by the stories of other women taking the world by storm & by love. 


calendar: PURIM

so when i talked about how one of my goals for 2013 is to observe the religious calendar, i have always meant both the christian calendar & the jewish calendar. at least, any holy days from these two calendars that have some significance & application to my walk with Christ. 

ever since i went through beth moore's esther bible study a couple of years ago, i have wanted to celebrate purim. 

purim is a feast day celebrated by the jewish people in remembrance of their deliverance from the evil haman. the story can be found in the book of esther, also known as the megillah. they were threatened by an edict demanding their destruction & annihilation because of haman's anger & pride. they were saved by God's providence, as He worked through a man of integrity named mordecai & his courageous niece, the queen at the time, esther. when the bad news came, it was a season of repentance & returning to the Lord for the jewish diaspora in babylon. after they were victorious against their enemies, they feasted & celebrated. mordecai then wrote to all jews in the land that they should observe this same day annually with feasting & celebrating, & also by giving presents of food to each other & gifts to the poor. 

there are four main requirements for purim:
1. the reading of the whole book of esther
2. a celebratory meal
3. giving gifts of food to friends & neighbors
4. giving to the poor

purim is not considered a sabbath feast, so you can carry on with business as usual the day of if it falls on a workday. as with all jewish days, it begins at sundown the night before & continues until sunset the next evening. some people will fast that day before in remembrance of the fast that esther called for. traditionally, jews will gather at the synagogue that first evening to hear "the whole megillah" read. my favorite part about this is the "blotting out" of haman's name -- whenever haman's name is said, everyone is supposed to make noise so you can't hear it. this is done by booing & hissing, noisemakers, &/or the stamping of your feet. you can even write haman's name on the soles of your shoes so that as you stamp your feet, his name is literally blotted out! and you cheer for mordecai when his name is read. "cursed be haman!" "blessed be mordecai!" the next day, the people gather to hear the book of esther read again & party it up with a feast, costumes, plays, drinking, laughing, & giving gifts. it is suggested that each adult must give two gifts of food to two different people, & each adult must give generously in some way to two different people in need.

with all this in mind [plus much more information from beth's study than i can keep in my leaky brain or recount here], i decided to have a purim dinner party.

last year, our dear friends bob & nan had us & three other couples over for passover. it was one of the most enriching experiences of my christian walk. shaun & i decided to invite our eight "passover peeps" to celebrate purim with us. we kinda waited till the last minute to do this, so only bob, nan, chuck, & betty were able to come. but did we ever have fun, the six of us!

before we gathered for the feast, we each found ways to give to others in need, whether it be through money or a visit or a meal. and we each brought gifts of food to exchange with one another.

here is a glimpse of the meal in pictures:

[it's important to set a fine table.] 

[blue & white are associated with judaism & mordecai.]

[we used our fine china for the first time ever.]

forgive the funky pictures... most were taken after the dinner!


i forgot to get a picture of the potato dumpling soup...

[sugared almond salad]

[homemade challah, traditional jewish braided bread]


[chickpea fritters served with tzatziki, a cucumber dill yogurt sauce]

i also forgot to take a picture of the roasted veggies: 
sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips & red onions with rosemary & feta]

[poppy seed fruit salad]

[more challah]

[wine & cider -- this is a scuppernong cider made in my home state, north carolina.]

you may have noticed the meal was vegetarian. i chose that so we could be kosher[ish] & still use dairy products like the tzatziki & feta cheese. 

in between the dinner & dessert, we read the whole megillah! we passed the bible around & each read one chapter until we had completed all ten of them. we would often pause between chapters to talk about things that struck us or questions we had. bob is very knowledgeable about the bible & a great teacher, & every one else at the table is an avid student of the bible, & i learned so much from them! i've never laughed so much while reading the bible. between trying to pronounce all the strange names & the blotting out of haman's name, i believe we captured the raucous spirit of purim! we booed & hissed & stamped our feet sometimes every time haman was said. for us christians, having never experienced purim before, it was quite the unique experience in scripture reading. we told bob we thought it should be a continued tradition in his sunday bible class!

[the megillah, the only book in the bible with no mention of God!]


[the buffet set for dessert & coffee]

there are not many foods that are guaranteed purim feast traditions. nuts, seeds, & dried fruits are favored [seen in the sugared almond salad, chickpea fritters, & poppy seed fruit salad]. and there is one item that no purim feast worth its salt would be without: hamantashen. it means "haman's ears" or "haman's hats." according to historical record & legend, a person of position like haman would likely have worn a triangular hat. as for his ears, they are referred to as "twisted" for not listening to God. hamantashen are triangular cookies with some sort of fruit filling [or chocolate sometimes].

[hamantashen filled with cranberry-orange marmalade & peach preserves]

[dried fruit: dates, mango, & figs]

[chocolates topped with caramel & sea salt]

i don't have pictures of our gifts that we exchanged, but i loved it! there were homemade cookies & bars, maple chex mix [which shaun had to restrain himself from eating in one sitting!], wine, cheese & crackers, & more. 

we had a fabulous experience celebrating purim with our friends! as to its spiritual significance as a christian, here are some things we reflected on: God is still present in our lives today, even when He isn't "seen." He still delivers us by His mighty providence. celebration is important. taking the time to remember all the times He has rescued me, provided for me, & blessed me is a vital faith practice. every time i recount what He has done in my past, i am better able to believe He will be with me in my present & future. i can have faith when i can't see Him, when i feel like my prayers are going unanswered, when the unknown future is scary, & when i feel threatened by the enemy. when we remember & celebrate these experiences with God in our lives, we set up a memorial stone unto Him. just like samuel did when the israelites got the ark of the covenant back from the philistines. 

"thus far has the Lord helped us..." and He will help us again!


words to LIVE by #5

procrastination runs in my family. i think it's genetic. my sister & i often excuse this poor habit by saying, "we work better under pressure." maybe. but we would probably work really well using sound time management, too.

i like deadlines, & i function best when there are constant deadlines that keep me working so i don't procrastinate anything. i used to work at a design studio where we designed & assembled custom wedding invitations. i was the production manager. we worked on a 3-4 week turn-around schedule with occasional rush orders thrown in, so nearly every day there was some order that needed to be shipped & often times more than one order. i loved working in that environment. it suited my personality, both strengths & weaknesses, ideally.

but now, i find myself in a job that requires more proactivity in follow-through, not to mention how many personal goals i have that have no timeline or deadline except my own hopes & dreams. the result -- i find myself habitually deferring important but not urgent tasks to attend to "tasks of the moment." 

that word deferring has become both a favorite & most despised word in my life. i organize my entire life in my smart phone 2do list app, & it has this handy function called "defer" by which i can shuffle my 2do list around as fits my schedule & time constraints [& whims] each day. i love it & use it all the time. unfortunately, i use it all the time.

in his book 7 habits of highly effective people, stephen covey talks about organizing our tasks into four categories or quadrants -- 1. important & not urgent [ex: exercising or spending time with family], 2. important & urgent [ex: paying your bills or finishing your newsletter article on time], 3. unimportant & urgent [ex: reading & replying to every single email in your inbox or organizing your filing cabinet right now], & 4. unimportant & not urgent [ex: reading a good book or indulging in your favorite hobby]. this prioritization has been very helpful to me when i've applied it. he suggests trying to focus most of your time in the second category of tasks, to not let yourself be easily derailed by category three, & to purposely carve out time for one & four [important goals & fun stuff]. the best application of this method in my life is calling a "quadrant three" task a three. these are those distracting "tasks of the moment" that mask themselves in urgency & emergency but have no real, lasting need or value. in so naming it, i give myself permission to ignore it, avoid it, or to say no.

another book that has given me very helpful & practical tips on prioritizing my 2do list is 18 minutes by peter bregman. here are my favorite take-aways from it:

>> spend 5 minutes first-thing every morning reviewing your 2do list & getting started.

>> set a simple alarm to go off every hour during the work day [8 times] & take one minute to refocus & reevaluate your priorities & productivity. [my 4:00 p.m. alarm chimed as i was typing this!]

>> spend 5 minutes every evening reviewing, scheduling, & culling your 2do list for the next day.

>> schedule your 2do items in your day planner. assign a time slot to each one. [this has been the most incredible thing to my productivity!]

>> if you have a task that you've deferred for several times, apply the "three-day rule" -- after three days, either do it immediately, schedule it to a specific time in your calendar, delete it, or put it on the "someday list." [i love, love, love this rule!]

>> have a "to don't list" -- we need to prioritize what is not worth our time. [my list is its own tab in my 2do app & includes answering unknown phone numbers, attending events for strangers, & attending product parties of any kind.]

>> have a "someday list" -- someday is NOT a day of the week. but there may be things we want to do that can't be done immediately, can't be scheduled anytime in the near future, & we aren't willing to delete. i have a "maybe" list with its own tab in my 2do app, too. overly-deferred tasks go here, usually to die! i review it every month & reapply the three-day rule. it is such a relief to not have tasks like these  hanging over my head in my daily 2do list.

one last idea: set goals for yourself. [i wrote more about my version of doing this here.] and read those goals every morning! spend time reviewing them & planning how to execute them in various steps each week! keep in front of you constantly what is most important. 

these concepts & practices have helped me use the seven days each week with more purpose & intentionality, the goals of a student of life. God has a plan for each of us, & i don't want to miss out on any of it, especially not because i procrastinated or squandered away my time.

what do you do to prioritize & use your time wisely?


question about REPENTANCE

in my quest for good questions to ask myself & to answer of myself, i came across this question in one of my old lessons for the teen girls at our church, & it struck me as appropriate to ponder on during this time of lent, a time of remembrance, repentance, & return.

why do we often wait so long to repent & return to God after we've sinned?

the context of this question in my lesson is the parable of the prodigal son. why did it take him so long to "come to his senses" before he returned home to his father?

in my life, the answer usually depends on whether i want to return or not... sometimes i'm still enjoying myself to much in the pit & i may not even realize how i've sunk & how filthy dirty i am. but sometimes i'm just so ashamed of where i've been that i can't manage to turn my face upward to God. i might even be too angry at myself to imagine a loving response from God. or perhaps i'm too entrenched in the habit of my sin & godlessness that it's too much work to turn around & journey home to Him. usually, it's not a cut & dry answer but some combination of these.

i think there are as many answers as there are people & as seasons of sinfulness...

i'd really like to hear your answers! it would be ever so helpful to me.

what makes you put off repentance?



i hope you have been preparing for the lenten season with me! i've spent quite a bit of time reflecting on & journaling about the questions posed by rachel held evans last year regarding lent. [she has a new post for lent this year that includes ideas for children & families.] i thought i might share with you the questions i pondered & my thoughts in part on them.

when i wake up on resurrection sunday morning, how will i be different?

i want to be acutely mindful of the real experiences Christ endured as He went to the cross & died for me. i will be desperate for the celebration of His resurrection & the hope it brings me for new life in Him. 

is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? how do i address that habit over the next 40 days?

is there anyone in my life from whom i need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?

what practical steps can i take to carve out time each day for contemplation?
i use a prayer liturgy for morning, midday, & evening prayers [common prayer for ordinary radicals]. i have not been good about stopping for midday prayers, so i've got my locket with the liturgy tucked inside back around my neck, & it will be my constant accessory these next 40+ days. 

what spiritual discipline do i need to improve in or want to try?
fasting, hands down.

what are some things in my life that i tell myself i need but don’t? can i give one or two of them up for 40 days?
stuff. just lots of stuff. i'm going to take advantage of this season of remembrance, repentance, & return to God to declutter not just my spirit but also my surroundings. i hope to donate much of what i get rid or to sell some items & donate the money to those in need somehow. i hope i have the courage to give up many things that i want to keep...

why am i giving this particular thing up? how does giving it up draw me closer to God & prepare me for easter?
i’m giving up things i already own to rid myself of the weight that ties me to this temporal world. i believe it will draw me closer to God by showing me in very visible & tangible ways that He is all i really need. my spirit can become lighter from worldly concerns while it experiences the heaviness of the spiritual realities that are the passion. and when easter comes, my spirit can be buoyant in every way!

what am i going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?
i thought a memory verse would be appropriate. i'm on the siesta scripture memory team with living proof ministries this year, so my next verse [for february 15th] will be 2 corinthians 9:8 [ceb] -- God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. that way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 

is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature of my fast with others or keep it private?
i want to share something i'm doing that you can do, too -- 40 days of water. this is a way to tie our personal spirituality to communal justice. you can join me & hundreds of others who are giving up all beverages except tap water [& in my case, occasionally a tea bag thrown into a mug of hot tap water!] for the lenten season in an effort to raise money for digging wells that provide clean drinking water to people in uganda. you track the beverages you would have drank [drunk?] each day & the money you saved in not doing so. each sunday [feast day, in which you get to drink whatever you want again], you donate your saved money to blood:water mission. i think this is a beautiful way of remembering what Christ came to live & die for -- all people -- to bring to earth love, reconciliation, abundant life, freedom, truth, & justice. you can find more information & join the throngs here.

what do the ashes mean to me this year? what does baptism mean to me this year?
having not grown up in a church that practiced lent, i don’t know what the ashes actually symbolize. i’m tempted to look it up, but i thought it might be better to record my thoughts first. ashes remind me of the legend of the phoenix – the mythical bird that dies in a burst of flames & is reborn from the ashes. it recalls to me the refining fire of God, in which He burns up all that is impure in me. then, i am created a new creature with a new heart, ever more in His image. “imago Dei -- who i am & am becoming.” baptism represents much the same idea, but i think of a continual cleansing so that i live the resurrected life, even here & now. from the ashes, through baptism, i am in the present & powerful kingdom of God here on earth.
i have since researched lent & ash wednesday more, & i have learned that the ashes [which in the catholic church are from the burning of the palm leaves from the previous year's palm sunday] represent our mortality -- "for dust you are and to dust you will return" [gen. 3:19] -- & the act of mourning over our sinfulness -- in the spirit of sackcloth & ashes often mentioned in the bible in association with mourning. i think this is beautiful symbolism, & so i have also chosen to dress simply & in black today. it's a far cry from sack cloth, but it is a visible reminder to me all day to be mindful of my need for repentance & God's grace. 

and then we can't forget the actual ashes! i thought about attending a catholic ash wednesday mass today, but i decided to keep with a little tradition of my own instead. you may think it's sacrilegious, so i'm asking you ahead of time for your grace & understanding as i explain this little ritual.

in past years, i've explored 12 classic spiritual disciplines throughout the year [with the guidance of richard foster's celebration of discipline], & each year, i [theoretically] spend one month focused on confession. [please don't be impressed -- i'm far from consistent in how i practice these disciplines & am a poster child for failure.] one ritual i've come to establish & enjoy during that month is the writing out of my sins each day, then burning the piece of paper to symbolize how God blots out my transgressions. i used to do this in my fireplace, but one day when i was perusing my local thrift store, i found a beat up copper basin that i decided to use for this daily confessional. it's been such a horrifying eye-opener to spend time trying to remember all the ways i messed up in a day. and while it's been painful, it has been good. i've come to practice it long beyond the month i spend focusing on confession, although i haven't been very consistent in it until this year. as part of the prayer liturgy i'm using, evening prayers include a time for confession, so i've been a little better about practicing the listing & burning on a daily basis.

today, i spent time reading the account of Jesus' baptism & subsequent 40 days in the wilderness from matthew 3 - 4:11 & one of the penitential psalms, psalm 51.

then i listed alot of sins...

and i burned them while rereading psalm 51.

it's no catholic mass, but it has meaning to me!

then, [& here's the potentially sacrilegious part], i used the ashes from the past year as the mark of the cross for my forehead. because while i think it's really neat to use last year's palm leaves for ashes, those don't have a particularly personal meaning to me. the ashes in my coppen basin do... they are a visible reminder of every sin i've confessed that God has wiped away, a symbol of His mercies, which are indeed new every morning.

may God bless you as you remember, repent, & return on this ash wednesday!