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!


calendar: preparing for LENT

we have just a week until the lenten season is upon us! for those who follow the christian calendar, the two big seasons of the year are lent & advent. 

i never grew up celebrating either of them, & i didn't even know the words "lent" & "advent" until i was in high school or college. when i learned about lent, it was reduced to being defined as giving up something for a few weeks before easter. ok, fasting's good, so that's neat. but that's all i ever thought of it.

i've given up things a couple times in the past for lent, but i don't feel like i've ever fully participated in it. as i observe the religious calendar this year, i want to get to the heart of each holy day & season. i want to understand how they draw us closer to God, enrich our faith, & keep us more mindful of the kingdom at all times. in recent years, i've learned more about the spirit behind the lenten fast & the season as a whole.

it's somewhat ironic to talk about preparing for lent because lent is itself a season of preparation. starting on ash wednesday, many christians spend 40 days, not including sundays, preparing for easter. [easter is another holiday i never really celebrated growing up, except easter egg hunts & ham for lunch.] while i believe that in partaking of the Lord's supper, christians remember the death, burial, & resurrection of Jesus Christ every Sunday [at least in many traditions, including mine], i also understand the benefit of setting aside one day a year to particularly celebrate this most important event of all time. and the lenten season is a time for moderation, fasting, confession, & other spiritual disciplines, all to help us focus acutely on the life & death of Jesus in which He suffered & sacrificed for us & taught us a better way of life. then it culminates into a glorious celebration of Christ's resurrection on easter sunday! [it is important to note that lent is never mentioned in the bible, but it is a long-standing tradition in the history of the church, & it is based on many practices like repentance, mourning in ashes, fasting, & prayer told of repeatedly in scripture.]

i don't want to just "do lent" come next wednesday. i want to prepare for it these next few days. and i invite you to prepare with me. as a guide, i've chosen to ruminate on the 40 ideas for lent compiled by rachel held evans. she has done this for the past few years, so you can find several lists on her blog. i imagine she'll put together another for this year, but i'm going to work off of 2012's list. i like how she has broken up her suggestions into four categories: questions to ask yourself, book recommendations, disciplines/fasts/rituals, & meditations. i believe partnering this with prayers for guidance will help me be intentional about lent & benefit from it to the fullest extent.

i'll post again wednesday about where God has led me in my preparation & how i'll be participating in this important spiritual season. i'd love to hear your suggestions & if/how you plan to practice lent!


a different calendar: CANDLEMAS

i had hoped to write this post before february 2nd so those who might be interested in observing candlemas, too, would have some information & motivation. however, i found this particular holy day to baffle me a bit as to how i should experience it. and so it wasn't until after the fact that i had anything potentially meaningful to share.

as i understand candlemas -- also referred to as the presentation of Jesus at the temple, the feast of the purification of the virgin, & the meeting of the Lord -- it is a major feast day, especially in the roman catholic tradition. the event remembered is told in luke 2:22-40, telling not only of the necessary sacrifice given on behalf of the newly born son, but of the prophetic interactions with simeon & anna.

there are many traditions tied to candlemas, especially several that have been phased out over time. it derives its name from the practice of the priests blessing the beeswax candles that are to be used throughout the year. however, many of the associated cultural rituals seem very superstitious to me, & while i love ritual & tradition, i am not superstitious in the least.

i've shared my various reasons for observing religious calendar, & so as i learned about candlemas, i wasn't sure how to bring it into my life. blessing candles did not seem to be a necessary or appropriate or in any way enriching practice for me to do. reading the story is fine & always beneficial, but i desired something more to mark the season. for some sects of christianity, it marks the end of the epiphany season [more can be read about my experience of epiphany here]. and it is shortly followed by the lenten season. [this year, ash wednesday is february 13th -- next week!]

as i read on, i stumbled upon one small fact that piqued my interest & heart more than all the others. apparently, pope john paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows. and in the presence of the Messiah, we would surely do so!

i've had many lively conversations about whether christians do or do not, should or should not make vows. it's a subject i enjoy discussing! i personally believe that accepting Christ as Savior & committing to live under His Lordship is itself a vow. therefore, every believer has taken a religious vow. i'm also a fan of short-term vows & renewing one's commitment to the Lord.

i have often shared with others that i accepted Christ as my Savior & was baptized at age 12. and while i spent most of my years after that trying to "live right" [minus a couple rebellious teenage years], i did not truly understand the "Lord" part of the relationship or how it was a relationship at all! i'd heard it taught, so there is no fault in my parents or bible teachers, but i didn't really understand what it meant to live for Him rather than to try to live right. i was very pharisaic. until a breaking point when i was 25. [it is so sad to me that it took so long!] i experienced a crisis of faith & had to make a choice. a new choice. a new vow. and so i vowed to seek & serve Him rather than to seek my own righteousness & rightness. i put it into writing, sealed it, & dated it. i've kept that written covenant ever since. of course, i've failed in keeping up my end of the bargain. more than once. but each time i fail, He does not fail me! He woos me back to repentance, healing, & wholeness in Him. and each time, i break the seal on my written vow, reread it, recommit myself to Him in prayer, reseal it, & add the new date.

so with that background on my self-imposed rituals in my relationship with God, you might imagine that the idea of renewing one's religious vows would indeed pique my interest & heart! and i thought perhaps it would be just as healthy & helpful to reread my vow to God every year, even if i haven't failed miserably in it. so for me, candlemas is an opportunity to do just that. and it was immensely rewarding! we actually do this renewing of commitment every week when we corporately partake in the Lord's supper together. why not also do it with longer time for deeper reflection once a year?

well, take it as you like. i have certainly been enriched by the experience & feel a refreshment in my relationship with God! [i guess it must feel something like renewing one's marriage vows or going on a second honeymoon with your spouse.] may we all find intentional ways of being & staying committed to the Living God, our Redeemer & Friend.


words to LIVE by #4

i have a dear friend who once told me that she had lived so much of her life in fear that she was resolved [in her late 40s] to do anything & everything she was afraid of doing. she refused to let any more opportunities pass her by because of fear. that fear can come from many things -- fear of consequences, fear of not being perfect, fear of judgment, fear of the unknown, fear of disappointing someone, fear of failure, even fear of success...

we all experience fear. it is a deeply personal thing. the sources of & reasons for our fears differ from person to person. i have a fear of being alone in my house at night. well, really, i'm afraid of burglars or worse that could break in when i'm alone in my house at night. since shaun travels frequently, i stay home alone regularly, & i've gotten better about going to bed without weird rituals of staying awake until i'm exhausted & locking the animals in my bedroom with me! so that's not really a fear i have to proactively face because it comes whether i want it or not. i'm also afraid of rock climbing... i had a dear friend who was an experienced climber die in a rock climbing accident while we were in college. losing a peer so young is a devastating experience. rock climbing is now on my "top 100" list of things to do before i die.

i'm not going to go rock climbing just for the sake of it, but because fear can rob us of "sucking the marrow out of life." i don't want to miss life because i was afraid to face it & let it pass me by. taking chances, whether it be in our relationships, our vocations, or our dreams, is a necessary part of life. without taking chances -- that "leap of faith" -- we are standing stagnant.

there are reasons that stagnant water is considered a danger: it is a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects; it is unfit for drinking due to bacteria & parasites; & it is often contaminated with other things better left unsaid. a stagnant life is just as dangerous: a place for breeding self-pity, jealousy, bitterness, & other emotional diseases; a source of poisonous thoughts fueling our fears & prejudices; not to mention contaminated by sins we'd rather not list.

but the refreshing movement of the Living water flowing through our lives flushes out the pestilence & fills us with sound minds ready to learn, right motives ready to act, & pure hearts ready to love. and that is the goal of the student of Life. to learn, to live, to love. a student of Life can never be governed by fear. this does not mean the absence of fear, just that a student of Life must have the courage to face their fears & be governed by love.

"there is no fear in love. but perfect love drives out fear..."  -- I john 4:18

what are you afraid of?