8077920518If you had to choose just seven foods for a week, which ones would you choose?

By the way, the author of the book that inspired this challenge, Jen Hatmaker, chose

chicken, eggs, avocado, spinach, sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread and apples

I’ve chosen

eggs, chicken, broccoli, mango, plain Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes and almonds

We start tomorrow! By “we” I mean me, of course, but I feel better saying “we.”

What’s the point again? I’m acknowledging the excess and comfort and gluttony I’ve allowed into my life and I’m going to spend a week eating simply and allowing God to fill me. It’s difficult to acknowledge the disparity between my normal dinner plate (or lunch plate or snack options) and the dinner plates of a large percentage of people who live in the world. I realize that this does not give me solidarity with the millions who go hungry or go without choices, as I still got to choose my foods and there’s no chance I’m going to starve this week, but I hope this will keep me mindful of the disparity.

Note: Yesterday, March 6, Henderson’s Riverbend Toastmasters Club attended the Henderson Rotary Club meeting to present a demonstration meeting. LouAnn Clark was the Toastmaster, I was the speaker, Brad Staton was my evaluator, Stacey Howell was the timer and Kacie Mattox was our Topicsmaster. Upon finishing my speech, I completed all of the requirements for my first award as a Toastmaster: Competent Communicator. Here is the manuscript version of my speech. The actual speech deviated some from this text and there’s always an awkwardness when one presents a reader with words that were originally meant to be heard, rather than read.

rbtm rotary demo 1A few years ago, I attended a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit here in Henderson. Shortly after I arrived at the affair, I was approached by the leader of the organization. He had a simple request. Would I be willing to go to the stage, say a few words of welcome and offer the grace before the meal?

I froze.

“Could you find someone else?” I asked. He did.

And I’ve regretted that ever since.

Mr Toastmaster, Rotarians, fellow Toastmasters and guests, even before I joined Toastmasters, I spoke in public quite regularly. My job in ministry requires me to be a leader, to give directions and to hold a microphone on an almost weekly basis. Yet I was unable to summon the confidence that would allow me to speak, unrehearsed, in front of a large group on that occasion.

When I was asked to come to the first meeting of Riverbend Toastmasters, I came to support our organizer and sponsoring member, LouAnn Clark. I stayed because I realized how much I needed the group. Today, I want to share some of the many reasons to say yes to Toastmasters.

You anticipate that I’ll tell you about how toastmasters will improve your speaking skills, so we’ll start there.  If you often find yourself at a podium, in front of a microphone, on a stage, or in the head position at a meeting–OR if you would like to be a person in any of these positions, you would benefit from being a Toastmaster! During each meeting, many people have the opportunity to address the group. Several times a year, yes, you will have the opportunity to give a speech on a topic of your choosing, but much more often than that, you’ll have the opportunity to fill other speaking roles that are important in our meeting environment, which means we all get lots of practice. if you say “ah” or “um” often when you speak, forget to stand up straight, have trouble speaking slowly or loudly enough, have trouble staying on topic or simply wish you had a better presence when addressing a group, Toastmasters can help!

Toastmasters will improve your ability to carry conversations in all situations. Most of the speaking you do in life is conversational and not prepared ahead of time. At toastmasters we practice this every week. In a few minutes, our Table Topics master will lead us in an exercise of impromptu speaking. For some, it’s the most challenging part of the meeting, yet we can all admit it’s a very useful part of the meeting as we practice being able to respond to questions we have not prepared to answer. If you would like to become better at speaking around the water cooler, in your boss’ office or when making small talk at parties or networking functions, Toastmasters will most definitely help you!

Often in life, listening and being able to give effective feedback is important. At Toastmasters we give attention and feedback each week in the form of our paper evaluation ballots, our Ah Counter, Grammarian and Timer reports and our speaker evaluations from the podium—you’ll see that later when …… evaluates this speech. At Toastmasters, we all start out offering “I liked your speech” types of comments. as we get more comfortable we learn how to bring out the good words alongside of suggestions for improvement. At Toastmasters we learn how to constructively criticize and help each other become better communicators. If you are someone who regularly offers feedback and evaluation, you will develop those skills and learn how to do it in a way that effectively brings improvement.

Riverbend Toastmasters not only offers all of the development opportunities I’ve already mentioned, it does it in an environment that is fun and encouraging. Coming to Toastmasters each week is a pick-me-up. The room is often filled with laughter and it is always filled with applause. In this group, I’ve expanded my professional network and I’ve made new friends who are helping me become the best version of myself.

A couple of months ago, I was at another dinner, standing in a room full of people. A familiar thing happened—the host asked if I would say grace. I flashed back to the fundraiser several years ago, remembering my refusal. But this time, I said yes. I said it confidently. I said it without fear. I know it’s because of Toastmasters. I hope that if you have not already, that you will join me on this journey and become better able to say ‘yes’ to the things that challenge you!

hours1Note: During Lent, I’m doing a version of Jen Hatmaker’s “7” challenge. To read about my plan, click here.

At 5:30 every morning my phone will ding an alarm. That’s not as early as I woke up last year during Lent, but it’s earlier than I woke up any day last week..

It is The Awakening Hour. I will pray for the first time (or the second time depending how you want to count the night watch).

How? I wondered when I decided to do this. Will I lay in bed and pray and then fall back asleep if I want to? Will I get up and use my prayer book? What will it look like for me to intentionally stop seven times a day to pray? I’m not trying to sound like a spiritual slacker, but I’ve honestly never planned to on purpose stop and pray at seven specific times a day. I’ve prayed every morning. I’ve prayed before every meal. I’ve prayed at bedtime. I’ve had “Quiet Time” daily.

But I have never set six alarms on my phone (the seventh time will happen whenever I wake up in the middle of the night–which almost always happens) to remind me to stop and pray. It will be interesting to see how this either becomes a natural habit or if the alarms will continue to surprise me as they call me to pray.

hours2

Here’s the plan for now: When the alarm dings, I’ll stop what I’m doing (or make a plan for stopping what I’m doing very soon–I won’t use my Lenten disciplines to alienate my loved ones, so if I’m in the middle of dinner with my family when the twilight hour arrives, I’ll plan to pray after dinner) and place myself in a space where I’ll be able to pray. I plan to go old-school in two ways. I’ll carry my prayer book and I’ll carry a notebook to record prayer concerns. At each prayer space, I’ll either pray along with my Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer or I’ll pray about the things on my list (or both) and then I’ll take time to sit in silence and listen.

I’ve always admired the devotion to prayer that practitioners of other religions or faith practices or holy vocations observe and I’ve always struggled to be so devoted to prayer myself. I’m excited to attempt this journey. Hatmaker writes, “Those humble enough to pause and touch the grace of the hour have hallowed these rhythms for centuries.” Monastic and contemplative pray-ers, ancient and modern, have observed these pauses for ages, every single day.

So, is there anything I can pray about? 

tofuLast year for Fat Tuesday, I posted a list of ten indulgences.

Today, I bring you ten thing not to bother with on the day when you’re supposed to wallow in decadence and celebrate enormously.

1. Tofu

2. Kale

3. Rice Cakes

4. Fat free yogurt

5. Decaffeinated coffee

6. Grape Nuts cereal

7. Unsalted peanuts

8. Canned spinach

9. Chicken broth

10. Skim milk

 

Lenten Practices 2014

March 3, 2014 — 2 Comments

IMG_3236I love Lent. Not in the same way I love things like pizza and new books and rainbows. Those things are all wonderful and fun to smell or touch or look at.

I love Lent because it challenges me and gives me the opportunity to focus on the places in my life that have grown rough and unholy. It’s a chance to start over, to allow God to again have all of me, to practice discipline and seek God in a journey that leads to a garden, cross and, thanks be to God, an empty tomb and victory over death’s grip and sting.

Every year, I pray about my Lenten practice. I ask God to show me what it is running amok in my life and I do my best to listen and discern what God is leading me to do. Usually, God gets me just in time and I find myself doing things I really don’t want to do, but I fully understand are my Lenten calling. In the past few years, I’ve given up sugar, given up all beverages but water, given up multi-tasking, and last year I arose before the sun each morning to spend extra time in reflection and prayer.

This year, Lent is arriving quickly. Last week, when I was at lunch with my local youth minister friends and we were planning out our Fat Tuesday Lunch ExcessTravaganza, I marveled at how soon Lent would arrive and felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t even bothered to think about what I should do to mark the impending 40 days.

I mean, forty days ago, I gave up wheat and although I’m eating some sugar again, it’s very limited. That’s pretty good discipline right there! I’ll just keep that going!

Oh, but what does the Lord require of me? To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

No wheat, no sugar ain’t gonna cut it. Whether I wanted to pray about it or not, God found me. God always finds me.

(Thank God.) (Literally.)

In the midst of everything, I’m nearly done with Jen Hatmaker’s book called “7.” This is a fantastic book that includes Jen’s journey to combat excess and complacency in her life. For each of seven months, she takes on a new challenge. The first month, she only eats seven foods. Another month, she only wears seven items of clothing. It’s a great book and Jen is a fantastic writer. I completely recommend it.

It hit me hard, that book. I was completely convicted and her words resonated with me in a way I can’t put out of my mind. I wasn’t looking for or praying about Lenten discipline, but it found me anyway.

Based on her ideas, I’ve prayerfully considered the nearly seven weeks of Lent. Here’s how I plan to spend them.

March 5-9–Seven Pauses. Throughout Lent, I want to pray the hours. I’ve heard this presented lots of ways (Lauds to Compline, for example), but I’m going to go with the Seven Sacred Pauses that Jen used (attributed to Macrina Wiederkehr).

The Night Watch (midnight or late night); The Awakening Hour (dawn); The Blessing Hour (midmorning); The Hour of Illumination (noon); The Wisdom Hour (midafternoon); The Twilight Hour (early evening); The Great Silence (bedtime).

I want this to be a practice that does not just last for this first half-week of Lent, but throughout the season. That’s why I’m starting with it. I want to get my new schedule down before I add in each of the other six practices. I’m setting alarms on my phone daily to remind me to pause and pray.

March 10-16–Seven Foods. I’ll give you my specific list on March 9, but I’ll only eat the seven foods I choose for that week.

March 17-23–Seven Items Of Clothing. I’m not much of a clotheshorse, but I’m pretty sure this will be a challenge. Again, I’ll share a specific list on March 16.

March 24-30–Give Away Seven Possessions Daily. In an effort to cut the excess in my life, I’ll fill a box with seven items each day to give away. Lest my family panic, only items that actually belong to me will count.

March 31-April 6–Write Seven Thank You Notes Each Day. Gratitude is important and I’m going to practice it intentionally this week.

April 7-April 13–Use only Seven Electronic Devices. You’ll get the list for accountability purposes on April 6. My hair straightener and the coffee maker both count, so if my hair is not a frizzy mess or I appear to be appropriately caffeinated, those items better be on my list.

April 14-April 19–Spend money Seven Places Only. I realize this is one that would be much harder over the course of a month rather than the week I’m giving it, but I still think it will cause me to be mindful about money I spend carelessly. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll build the list ahead of time or just report at the end as I discern during the week about where I’ll spend money.

So, what’s the point? I want to seek God, but I have to admit that I’ve filled my life with lots of distractions and little regard to the simplicity that Jesus calls his disciples to live. There are so many things that I depend on to make my life fun, flavorful or convenient that have nothing to do with the call to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly. I know that as a follower of Jesus, living in the USA, I am complacent and comfortable, but I have no idea what it means to be content with the comfort God alone can offer, as many of my brothers and sisters living and serving God around the world understand much better.

As usual, I post publicly so I have accountability. I’m also posting as an invitation for you to consider or share your own Lenten journey with me. I hope you will!

But first comes Fat Tuesday! Try to behave a little bit.

41TGDvaQLJL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Title: This is a Book

Author: Demetri Martin

Date Started: March 2, 2014   Date Finished: March 3, 2014

Number of Pages: 268    Total for 2014: 5,714

What It’s About: Demetri Martin is a comedian. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him on Comedy Central and he told his class, often quoted joke about glitter, the herpes of craft supplies. His humor is subtle and smart. This book contains stories, drawings, charts, the longest palindrome I’ve ever read, statistics and hilarious observations about life in the form of comedic prose. Martin is incredibly creative and originally surprising.

Why I Read It: Jason got it at the library for me, which was sweet. So I read it (and loved it)!

516gbDKJLjL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Title: I’d Like To Apologize To Every Teacher I’ve Ever Had

Author: Tony Danza

Date Started: February 27, 2014   Date Finished: March 2, 2014

Number of Pages: 272   Total Pages for 2014: 5,446

What It’s About: Before he was a boxer or an actor, Tony Danza wanted to be a teacher. On the heels of a failed talk show, Tony decides to begin a third act career of sorts. He wants to teach in an inner city school. A&E signs on for a reality show that will showcase complex issues in inner city education as Mr. Danza signs on to teach students who have never heard of him before in a Philadelphia High School. He teaches one period of tenth grade English. He wrestles with engaging the students, teaching them complicated curriculum in ways that are creative and exciting. He mentors tough kids, works long hours, allows for debate, ties the literature he’s sharing with current social justice issues, does his best to befriend and mollify fellow teachers and principals, learns about his own shortcomings as a teacher, friend, father and husband and keeps the students first even when the reality show threatens to go belly-up. This book features students who are smart, creative and kind, willing to learn and hopeful about the world. It features teachers who work hard under tough circumstances when parents aren’t always engaging and students can be tough to reach.

Why I Read It: I like Tony Danza! And his willingness to teach for a year and passion for reaching students was something I could relate to, even though I’m not a school teacher.

super freakonomicsTitle: SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

Authors: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Started: February 23, 2014    Finished: March 1, 2014

Number of Pages: 320   Total for 2014: 5,174

What It’s About: The authors use original studies to challenge the way we think about various “truths” we’ve learned. Do car seats really keep kids safer than seatbelts? Did 38 people really watch Kitty Genovese’s brutal murder and not call the police? How does television affect kids from a young age? How do we catch terrorists? Is prostitution seasonal work? Which kinds of doctors should we choose? Global “warming?” Can a simple, relatively inexpensive fix really prevent devastation from hurricanes?

In their willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, the authors provide a series of “huh!” and “huh?” moments.

Why I Read It: I loved “Freakonomics” and refer to it all the time when various topics arise, especially baby names. I was excited to read this follow-up.

imperfect birdsTitle: Imperfect Birds

Author: Anne Lamott

Started: February 8, 2014  Finished: February 27, 2014

Number of Pages: 278   Total for 2014: 4,854

What it’s about: Writer James and recovering addict and stay-at-home Mom Elizabeth are raising Elizabeth’s daughter Rosie. Rosie is almost eighteen and it’s the summer before her senior year of high school. The couple struggle with parenting a child who is using drugs, alcohol and sex casually. Elizabeth and Rosie both try to figure out life, themselves and what the future looks like.

Why I read it: I love Anne Lamott and had never read any of her fiction. As a parent struggling with a teenage child who makes choices I wouldn’t choose for him, I found this book fascinating.

walking deadThe good, the bad and the downright stupid:

1. Preparing my speech for Toastmasters tomorrow.

2. Binge watching “The Walking Dead.”

3. Searching for new crock pot recipes my family will eat.

4. Helping my mom get her house ready to sell.

5. Selling Girl Scout Cookies, delivering Girl Scout Cookies, collecting cash for Girl Scout Cookies.

6. Reading 3 books (“Super Freakonomics,” “Imperfect Birds” and “The Giver.”).

7. Candy Crush Saga. Yes, still.

8. Preparing two lessons on John 3 (one for a middle school small group; one for our high school youth group).

9. Reorganizing Children’s Church curriculum in preparation for Lent.

10. Scholarship applications!