Thursday, September 30, 2010

Goal #2: Life Updates - September

This post marks month six of six for Goal #2 -  Blog a personal/life update once-a-month for six months.  Whoo-hooo! Twenty-one goals down, eighty more to go, 798 days left on this Project 101 in 1001 journey!

So here's what you missed (or didn't if you keep up with my blog) for the month of September:

It's hot. It may be "officially autumn", but in the great city of Phoenix, we are still frying our eggs on the sidewalk. (Okay, not really, because - gross. But I did hear a story from a friend who has chickens that one of her hens laid an egg on a black tarp and the egg became so hot that it cracked, oozed out of the shell and fried itself right there on the tarp. Not even joking.)

And in other news, we are down to being a one-car family once again as our dear Subaru has passed on to another life with another owner who bought the crippled vehicle "As Is." Stay tuned for late-breaking information on whether or not we'll be able to get a second car.

The unemployment rate is still holding at a steady 50% in the Hanson household, but the outlook is hopeful as the husband pounds the pavement to bring home the bacon (to go with the aforementioned eggs).

Mental health is on the rise in the brain of one, Jennifer Hanson, and while the Radical Read-Along has posed some mild challenges to said metal health, there is a considerable amount of growth being shown. Witnesses say that a dependence on God and His Word are at the core of this new growth trend.

And finally - An invasion of ants has swept its way through regions of the Hanson kitchen and special forces are being brought in to hold the line. Ant causalities are on the rise and averaging one-to-two-hundred daily. Minor injuries have been sustained by the Hansons in the form of throbbing bites, but nothing fatal has been reported. Ant forces have been spotted on counter tops, in the sink, on the stove and most recently a pocket of the rebellion was discovered in the microwave. This portion of the colony was immediately nuked. Analysts are hopeful that the advancing army will not reach the pantry.

And that's your September update folks! Thanks for tuning in and we hope to see you next time!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chick-fil-A Crazies

If you thought we were crazy before for dressing like Cowz for a free chicken sandwich, I hope you saved a few eye rolls for this one, because Devin and I have officially crossed the line from being Chick-fil-A Fans to being Chick-fil-A Crazies.

September 15th I took a vacation day from work so that Devin and I could could get up at 4:15am for the chance at winning some Chick-fil-A sandwiches. But wait - it gets better (worse?). We also stood in line (as in camped out) for 24-hours in order to win said sandwiches. However, before you judge us too harshly, did I mention that "some sandwiches" actually meant free Chick-fil-A for a YEAR (one meal a week).

We participated in the First 100 event and camped out at one of the newest Chick-fil-A restaurants in Casa Grande, Arizona. Because Chick-fil-A is pretty much the best company in the world, they make an entire event out of their grand openings. This wasn't just a "stay in line or you loose your spot" kind of gig. No, no,no - that would not be fun. And if Chick-fil-A is anything (beside completely delicious) it is fun! 

After winning the right to be one of the First 100, we were given wristbands and had free reign to hang out in the parking lot (which had been transformed into Tent City). We were fed breakfast, lunch and dinner (with Chick-fil-A goodness of course), we played games which won us even more free food, we met and hung out with lots of other Crazies from all over the country and though it was 109˚ out, we had a blast! Chick-fil-A even brought in a local radio station to play music for us while we waiting. All in all, we won 104 free meals and during the event were given six sandwiches, three milkshakes, two waffle fries and two ice cream sundaes. Sure, after it was over I felt like someone had beat me with a stick (sleeping on concrete and being in the sun all day is a bad combination), but the experience (and all that free food) was well worth it! 

Best of all, it was a wonderful "first year of marriage" adventure to add to our resumé!

Whose Got the Power?

*Part Three of the Radical Read-Along with Marla Taviano

"My grace is sufficient for you,  
for my power is made perfect in weakness." - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I have sat myself down to write this post about five times and each time I come up lost for words. I ended chapter three in Radical with the same sort of dazed "okay, but now what?" feeling that I've had at the end of each chapter so far. This chapter, perhaps more than any other, has left me the most baffled.

Perhaps it is because this chapter uproots one of the most deeply-set beliefs of my country:  With enough work, confidence and know-how, you can achieve anything. It’s the American Dream after all. 

Now, I don't claim that the American Dream is not without its practical faults - especially when the economy is less-than-ripe-for-opportunity; especially when reaching a dream sometimes means pridefully and selfishly stomping on someone else’s; and especially when that inconvenient truth of “reality” doesn’t line up with our American Dream fantasies. I can also see the danger in such a self-focused, self-dependent drive to better oneself by our own power. It does seem that this "dream it, achieve it" way of thinking harvests pride and removes our dependence on God while also bestowing the glory of our achievements on ourselves.  

But what bothered me (for better or worse, I’m not sure) about this chapter is that Platt seems to suggest that because the lives of American Christians aren’t marked by desperation for God, perhaps we are relying on our own power rather than God’s. If this is true, it presents two huge conflicts between the American Dream and the Gospel:

“While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God.” (Radical, page 47)

“As along as we achieve our desires in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory.” (Radical, page 46)

Both of these statements made me say, “Wow - How true!” However, I was still left wondering what this means practically speaking. (This seems to be my biggest struggle with this book.) 

How do I make the most of the skills, opportunities and resources that (I’ve always assumed) God has blessed me with, without giving into what Platt describes as “the dangerous assumption” of the American Dream – the belief that our greatest asset is our own ability? I do not believe I am my greatest asset. I believe that it is through God’s work in my life that I can achieve anything of lasting value, but now I wonder if my life shows differently.

The fact is that my life here in America is not marked by the dependence on God’s power that I read about in Acts or the desperation for His provision that I hear about in the modern, persecuted Church or from believers in more destitute countries. I acknowledge that living in America makes me less desperate for God's provision/power, but is this a blessing or a curse? Is my lack of desperation a lack of faith or have I just been placed in a land were I am not in as desperate circumstances as most? Is it only lip service to for me to say, “God has blessed me with this ability and that resource,” when in reality, maybe I am relying more on these things than on God’s power? How can I tell the difference? How do I depend desperately on God, while not neglecting hard work or wisdom and while making the most out of the talents that He seems to have given me?

I feel like this chapter has produced more open-ended questions than any of the others and I’m trying not to be frustrated by that fact. Frustration is continually causing ineffectiveness in my life and I am trying to focus on what I can do and understand, rather than be incapacitated by what I can’t do or understand. I don’t really know what conclusions, if any, I have come to after reading this chapter. I can say though, that it will cause me to take a second look at my motives when I achieve things and will make me, once again, ask God to search my heart and show me where I can rely more on His power rather than my own. 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting."

- Psalm 139:23-24

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Time for a Time Out

Last night, just as we were heading out the door for Bible study, my husband announced that he thought we should stay home because we needed a time out. Not the "you've been bad, go sit in the corner" time out, but the kind a coach calls during an intense game. This kind of time out is not just to refresh the players and give them a chance to breathe -  it is most importantly a moment for the players to refocus and figure out, with the coach, a strategy before returning the game. So that is what we did.

You see, we've both been feeling rather (understatement) overwhelmed lately in regards to what it looks like to really live a life focused on God and what it means to really follow Christ and how to really love others. We've been frustrated and burnt out and going in a million directions all at once. As a result, we have been much less effective than we could be.

So we took a time out and spent our evening talking and sharing our hearts and looking up Bible verses and writing down ideas and praying. We talked about our spiritual strengths and how they shape the way we can best serve God. We talked about our talents and how those can best be used to serve God. We talked about where we are right now - with our jobs, our neighborhood, our church, our social sphere - and looked at ways that we can honor God in those areas daily.

We realized how caught up we've been in looking for something "huge" to do for God all the while neglecting the daily moments that can bring God glory. Those daily moments - the daily laying down of our lives, our desires, our preferences, our attitudes for the benefit of someone else and for the glory of God - that is a huge thing. While the Bible is full of "big stories" of people doing (and God asking them to do) huge things, it is also bursting with verses on how to live daily in a way that pleases the Lord (don't quarrel, honor those in authority, work as unto the Lord, speak words that will benefit those who hear them).

We also came to the admission that serving God does not look the same for everyone. He created us all differently, with different circumstances, personalities, talents and spiritual gifts. Whatever circumstances - rich, poor, Africa or America; Whatever personalities - talkative, quiet or bold; Whatever talents - art, cooking or building; Whatever spiritual gifts - teaching, evangelism, encouragement; Whatever pieces God has put into each of us, the way in which those pieces come together as service to God will vary for every person. So if I am consumed with guilt over not living my life exactly like the missionary with fourteen adopted kids, or the guy who sold everything to move to the Ukraine and build an orphanage, or the author who challenges everyone to live radically - I could be seriously missing out on the opportunities that God has put in my path for me to fill.

Do I think that, regardless of everybody's "whatevers", we should still care for those in need and live off of less so that others can simply live?  You bet. (1 John 3:17-18)

Do I think that we should still live radically with everything we have and everything we are in order to bring glory to and know better the the God of the Universe? Absolutely. (Matthew 22:36-40)

Do I think that this looks the same for everyone? No, I don't. (Romans 12:3-8)

At time same time, I also have to be on guard because there is great risk in the attitude of "we all have different roles." This mindset can easily lead to a comfortable apathy that avoids truly giving my life over to God. 

Below are just a few specific ways that Devin and I have chosen to honor God and where we have agreed to focus our efforts to serve Him. How this will play out or change as we continue to seek God for direction and as our future as a couple continues to develop, I don't know. But we both feel confident moving forward with the "game plan" we established during out time out last night. 

  • Living frugally in order to give generously 
  • Adoption 
  • Working cheerfully at our jobs, avoiding the "patterns of this world" by not giving into or contributing to negative attitudes and complaining.
  • Treating our clients with respect, love, patience and integrity
  • Giving of our time to reach out to our neighbors and to encourage those God has placed in our lives
  • Influence this culture (Church-goers and otherwise) through the way we live, spend our time and money, and by how we speak about what God is doing in our lives, in order to bring glory to God and in order to draw others to Him
  • Being open to opportunities to give of ourselves - our time, money, possessions, home - whenever they arise.
So that's just a glimpse into how God is putting our pieces together. It is likely very different from the pieces God might be putting together in your life. And I think that's okay, as long as we are all constantly seeking God through prayer and through His Word and asking Him to search our hearts for how we are or aren't truly serving Him. And most importantly, that when He does call us to action, we say YES!
Q4U - What is something you can do daily to bring God glory?

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Whole Lot of Drivel

*Part Two of the Radical Read-Along with Marla Taviano
When I get truly overwhelmed with something – whether my work load, my schedule, my emotions or just life in general – I have a tendency to switch into a kind of inactive denial mode. This of course does nothing but intensify the problem (as things continue to pile up) and does not deal with the core issue (whether lack of planning, being over-committed, or needing to face some deep, emotional struggles). But when I don’t feel that I can face those difficult situations, I just completely shut down.  

After reading chapter two in Radical, I am feeling that desire to shut down creep back into my life. At the same time, I am (perhaps for the first time) ready to admit how often I’ve let this over-whelmed inactivity take hold of my spiritual growth and my response to the Bible.

“We don’t like what we see of ourselves in the gospel, so we shrink back from it.”  (Radical, page 31)

How true this has been in my own life! How much of the Bible I have ignored because it was too hard, or it didn’t make sense (but I was too lazy and disinterested to seek an answer) or it made me realize how wretched I am (which, instead of causing me to depend on God more, would spawn denial).

“The gospel reveals eternal realities about God that we would sometimes rather not face. We prefer to sit back, enjoy our clichés and picture God as a Father who might help us, all the while ignoring God as a Judge who might damn us. Maybe this is why we fill out lives with the constant drivel of entertainment in our culture – and in the church. We are afraid that if we stop and really look at God in his Word, we might discover that he evokes greater awe and demands deeper worship that we are ready to give him.” (Radical, page 29)

There are so many things that I use to distract myself from what the gospel tells me my response to God and to Christ should be –  namely reading novels, perusing the Internet and watching movies. Oftentimes, I justify this empty entertainment with excuses of “boredom” or the need to “vedge out.” But hold on there – if I’m seeking after God with all my whole heart, mind and soul, then there shouldn’t be room in my life for boredom! There shouldn’t be the need to vedge out when my soul is being refreshed through resting in God’s presence. 

Am I ready to give God the awe and worship He deserves? I want to say, “yes,” but I feel my heart hesitating. My “deceitfully wicked” heart is shrinking back from the full truth of the gospel. I don’t know what to do, especially when I know that there is nothing I can do. I’m a doer by nature and I’m struggling with this paradox. I guess what I can “do” is to ask God to change my heart, to draw me to Him and pray that He will prepare me to be able to handle what I discover in His presence. I also need to devour the Word of God like the believers Platt mentions in chapter two. If I truly want to follow God, I need to know Him better, which would mean I'd need to spend some desperate time with Him. This is one area of change I can start with. But will I? That is the question I keep wrestling with.

I'm having a hard time articulating all this, I know. I'm sorry that I'm so muddled. All I really know at this point is that I don't want things to stay the same. My issue is that don't know what "not the same" looks like yet.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Can't Get Enough of This Stuff!

Goal #18: Attend five plays, musicals, or symphonies (4 of 5)

If you live in Phoenix, before you read this post, check your calendar and see if you are open tonight, tomorrow night or Sunday afternoon. Oh, you are open you say? Perfect. Then you have no excuse not to go see this show...

After our side-splitting good time at the last Brelby Theatre Company production, Devin and I decided to hit up their current show - Shakespeare's As You Like It. We were generously given free admission to the show when we volunteered to usher, so this date night was perfect for our Living Frugal project. (For more living frugal tips, check out yesterday's post.)

The production, set in modern time and relying on a minimalist set (which the actors made excellent use of), was impressively professional for such a young company. It was seriously good theatre and I kept thinking, If this is only their first season, I can't wait to see the quality they produce a few years from now! 

A strong ensemble cast was headed up by twenty-year-old Ellyn Heald, who carried the role of Rosalind with seasoned ease. The energy, charm and grace that Ellyn exuded during her exquisite performance showed a level of talent that I did not expect from someone so young, let alone expect to find in a newly christened theatre company. I tell you, this girl was born to perform Shakespeare. Ellyn was well-supported by the comedic timing and winsome antics of Leah Nemecek, who played Rosalind's cousin and near-constant companion, Celia.

Brian Maticic portrayed the ever-lovable Fool that is so common in Shakespeare's plays and did so with brilliant physical comedy that made one wonder if he had springs loaded into his tennis shoes. And his knees. And arms. And backside. He was a near Tigger will all of his bouncing, bounding, rolling, sliding and leap-frogging all over the set... and all over the other actors. It was hilariously entertaining.

This was truly a wonderful show with spirited acting and directing. Devin (even with his limited Shakespeare exposure) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to the whole Brebly cast and crew for a wonderful night out!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lovin' Livin' on Less

Don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found.
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it,
I'll tell you something true -
The bare necessities of life will come to you.
- Disney’s Jungle Book (1967)

That’s right – I just pulled this profound quote from a cartoon. But ya know what? That Balbo is one smart dude... er... bear. Aaaaa the good ol' days when Disney movies were full of moral character and virtue...

Moving on.

Devin and I are finishing our final month of living radically frugal and now that I’ve “found out [I] can live without it” - I really don’t worry thinkin’ about it. And I really doubt much will change after I check this baby off the list. I don't want to go back to spending - I want to continue to save and continue to give. In fact, I want to give more than what we have been giving. So, I guess we'll be living off of even less. (Don't worry, my husband is in full support/leading the change on this venture.)

Here are a few more living frugal tips that have really helped me: 

Stop Impulse Buying: Make a "30-day Wait List" of things you want. By the time a month has passed it will probably be clear whether those purchases are wants or needs. And shoot! If you can live without it for a month, you can probably do without it period. For me, a helpful tip was to make my "wait list" my birthday list - it gave me ideas when my family and friends asked what I wanted and I didn't have to spend money on those items. Even when my birthday rolled around, I had removed a lot of the items on the list as I realized I didn't really need or even want them anymore.  

Fun-n-Free Events: Most cities have some free events every once in a while. In the last few months we've been able to go to an art museum, a concert, a science museum and a play for F-R-E-E. Over $120.00 worth of fun nights out for nada'penny. Other ideas include: parades, festivals, art fairs, local symphonies (they often have free preview nights) and league sporting events. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for free events in your area. You might be surprised how much is out there. 

Be Socially Frugal (no I don't mean be stingy with the time you spend with other people): Personally, I really love to eat food with people - whether it is inviting people over to our apartment or going out to eat with them, there is just something about good friends and good fun that I can't get enough of. However, going out to eat is pricey and even having people over for dinner can add up if things are really tight. So, instead, why not go out for a coffee rather than dinner, or invite people over for dessert instead of a full meal? I've also found that most people are more than willing to bring something to contribute to the meal. My girl friends and I have started hosting themed "potluck" style dinners (Italian night, Mexican night, etc.) and it has been so fun to see what everyone comes up with. Plus we get to swap recipes which is always great!

Generosity: I'm not kidding. There is something very satisfying and intoxicating about giving to people in need that causes you to want to live more frugally. Like I mentioned above, the more you give, the more you want to give. There are frugal results too. Firstly, generosity makes you more grateful and content for what you have. Secondly, it makes you realize how much less you can live on. Thirdly, you get to bless someone else which is so much better than the temporary satisfaction of a new purchase. (Plus, generosity is one of the only areas where God challenges us to test Him.)

For even more tips check out this (slightly Zen, I apologize) article: The Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips for Frugal Living
Q4U - What is your favorite tip for living frugal?

Monday, September 13, 2010


This will be my first "Radical Response" post as I comment on the things I'm learning during the Radical Read-Along. If this, or future Radical posts seem to ramble, my apologies up front - I am all kinda of overwhelmed by what I'm reading and am having a hard time processing it.

* * *

"The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel requires a response.” (Radical, page 20)

I remember the first time I started feeling "uneasy" about the American brand of Christianity. I was in the beginning of my Sophomore year of college and had just read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. I felt a sense of relief that I was not the only one who thought that American Christianity was somehow missing something incredibly important. I began to cautiously mention my feelings to my peers and was surprised to find that a number of them felt the same kind of discontent with the shallow, self-indulgent, feel-good Christianity we had grown up with. But for the most part, there was a whole lot of discussion between us and not a whole lot of action.

Fast forward seven years to the present and it seems that very little has changed in my life. I am still discussing what it really means to be a Christ-follower, but not doing a whole lot of following after Christ (turns out the word "following" is an action verb that indicates doing). There have been little glimmers of action, but nothing extreme, nothing that would indicate radical abandon and obedience to Christ. In the last few months however, I feel like the call to action is becoming more and more overwhelming. I feel more and more uncomfortable with the comfortable life I'm accustomed to. 

Now I am, once again, at a crossroad with one sign reading "Self" and the other "Christ." If I choose "Self," I will continue to live a comfortable, self-preserving spin on Christianity and I am certain that I will never make the kind of difference in the world that Christ called those who followed after him to make.

If I choose "Christ," I will undoubtedly find myself desperately clinging to the promise that while those who follow after Christ will face difficulties in this world, they will find their treasure in heaven. I don't think until this moment, I have really understood how much faith that takes. To be willing to give up everything in this life based on faith that there is something better in eternity, in a place I can never comprehend until I'm there, takes far more faith then I've ever thought possible. I'm understanding now why Paul said, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor 15:19). If Christ's claims, which Christians profess to believe, are true however, then no response other than radical abandon seems appropriate.

I am tired of discussion. I am tried of trying to rationalize Jesus' word to fit my own comforts. But at this point, I am also scared of what action in my life will look like. I am stuck in a very uncomfortable limbo right now - I'm uncomfortable with not doing and I'm uncomfortable with doing.

But limbo indicates inaction, and I do not want to sit in that rut again.

As I look back at the last seven years, I can't say that I haven't done anything; that there haven't been some changes in my life, because there certainly have been. I don't feel like I've done enough however, and while I probably haven't, I had to ask myself why I felt that way. The first thing that popped in my head was, "Because I haven't felt like I've really sacrificed anything." The theology behind this statement made me pause. I thought back on all the ways that God has moved in my heart over the past seven years and the things he's called me to give up. I realized that giving up those things never really felt like a sacrifice because I had joy as I "gave up" things for God out of love and obedience to Him.

Certainly I can give up more for Christ, but I don't think that I should base my "enough" meter on whether or not I feel like I've sacrificed. I believe this mindset has the potential to cross a dangerous line into feeling prideful and into an attitude of "look at how much I gave up for Christ" self-martyrdom. 

As I process what I'm reading in scripture and what I'm reading in Radical, I'm realizing that much of my fear in truly following Christ is the fear that I will be miserable and that if I'm not miserable then I must not be following him hard enough. These two warring thoughts make me, well, miserable. Instead of beating myself up however, I think I need to realize that when I am doing what Christ called me to do, it shouldn't necessarily feel like a sacrifice- it is a joyful thing. Even though it might seem crazy and difficult and cause me to give up things and take a whole lot of faith to sacrifice for Christ, it brings joy. This is an encouraging and much-less-scary thought as I enter into this Radical journey.

The crux of the matter, for me, is that I am far too easily distracted by things that bring me joy based on the world's standards and not focused enough on pursuing the kind of joy that Christ promises. This quote from Radical sums it up nicely:

"If Jesus is who he said he is and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claim they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what culture deems most important but in a radical abandonment to Jesus." (page 3)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reaching Population Two

Stopped at the red light, looked out my window
Saw a cardboard sign said “Help this homeless widow”
Just above this sign was the face of a human
I thought to myself, “God, what have I been doing?”
So I rolled down my window and I looked her in the eye
Oh how many times have I just passed her by
I gave her some money then I drove on through
and my own little world reached
Population two
 - My Own Little World, by Matthew West

Last week, I posted the full lyrics to this song and this morning as I was getting ready for work, those lyrics were running through my head. I was praying that God wouldn't let my heart get distracted from those in need and that reading Radical would impact me in a lasting way that truly showed life change. I prayed that God would help me to be more others-focused and bring me opportunities to show people kindness and love. Boy did He answer!

During this time of year, when the blazing heat of Phoenix begins to cool and the nights are still warm, there are usually homeless people begging on the main intersections and on the freeway ramps. As many of them have addiction problems, I don't like to give them cash but I also don't ever want to turn away from someone who could very well have a legitimate need. So I keep "care packages" in my car - gallon Ziplocks filled with a pair of sock, a comb, a tooth brush and toothpaste, water, some food and a New Testament. I've given out a lot of these over the years, but honestly I don't generally have much personal interaction with the people I hand them out to.

But this morning was different. I was reading Radical. I had the above lyrics stuck in my head. I had ask God to open my eyes to the needs of others. And God was faithful. In this case, just ten minutes after I had prayed for opportunities to love others.

As I got off the freeway, I saw an older lady with her cardboard sign sitting on the side of the road. I switched lanes so that I could give her one of my goodie bags. I rolled down my window but instead of just handing off the bag with a quick, "God bless," and rolling my window back up, I stopped and I looked at her, really looked at her. I then found myself in the middle of an amazing, unexpected interaction.

I handed her the bag and I could see her genuine excitement as she glanced over the contents. "Oh, this is so nice. Oh wow. Oh thank you," she kept saying.

I asked her what her name was and she replied, "Holly." 

Without the hesitation that typically laces my interactions with the homeless, I reached out my hand and shook hers, "I'm Jen. It's nice to meet you, Holly." 

When I looked Holly in the eye, I saw tears forming and I wondered when the last time she had received a friendly handshake. It made me sad to image my life without that sort of basic human kindness.

"My husband Ted was murdered a few years back," Holly said suddenly, the moisture in her eyes increasing, "and I've been homeless since." She leaned in closer towards my car, "Would you pray for Ted? Would you pray for me?" There was such desperation in her voice, such a need for hope and for someone to care. " I miss him so much, but I know he's dancing with the angels now." She tried to smile, but it was cloaked in sadness.

I placed my hand on Holly's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, "I will pray for you, Holly." And I meant it this time, oh how I meant it.

The tears that had been hovering on her lids began to fall and, clutching the care package close, Holly choked out, "Thank you. Thank you so much." Sensing the traffic light was about to change, she started to back away from my car, trying to mouth "Thank you" once more through her tears. She smiled a little and a sob escaped as she turned her cardboard sign around. On the backside, it read, "SMILE." 

The light changed to green and I drove away from Holly, holding back sobs of my own. It was then that I realize how specifically God had answered my morning prayer. Not only had He put someone in my path that needed kindness, He had brought me to a homeless widow. Exactly like the song I had been singing just a few moments before. 

I am so grateful that God used me to bless Holly this morning. I am such a messy pile of selfish human and that He used me as a tool for His glory is incredibly humbling. I feel unworthy. I am unworthy! It never ceases to amaze me that God chooses to bless those in need through the love and action of His Church. It is such an honor to be the hands and feet of Christ and yet I neglect that privilege so often. It is a privilege and I want to make the most of it. 

"I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called me to do myself." 
- I Refuse, by Josh Wilson

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Goal #13 - The Daniel Diet

Devin was kind enough to participate in Goal #13 with me (voluntarily might I add), which made it much easy to get through: Go on the “Daniel Diet” – eat only fresh fruits, vegetables and water for 10 days.

(This is what is pretty much what our diet consisted of for ten days)

This diet, or fast, is based around the following verses:

"The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank... But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself....Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 'Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink.'" - Daniel 1:5, 8, 11-13

Upon further (albeit limited) research, it seems that back in the big O.T. days, "vegetables" would have included fruit. And, according to the version of the diet we did, Daniel would have likely eaten other natural, Jewish kosher foods such as whole grains, seeds and nuts. The big kicker was however, that we couldn't have salt, butter, dairy, sugar, meat, caffeine (!) or any preservatives. Heaven help my I-drink-milk-for-ever-meal, butter-and-salt-lovin' soul!

Here was one of the first meals we had:

(brown rice, pinto beans, onion, tomatoes, garlic, spinach and green peppers)

This fast was an interesting experience for me. One, because I don't eat fruits and veggies regularly and am unfortunately a very picky eater when it comes to vegetables in particular. And two, because I did not grow up in a church that practiced or spoke much of the spiritual discipline of fasting. I have never fasted before and wasn't sure how to do it or what to expect.

What I was NOT expecting was an intense spiritual, emotional and mental attack the night before the fasting started. Coincidence? I think not.

Devin and I wanted to do this fast together in order to seek direction during the turning-point season of life we find ourselves in right now. I also wanted some extra focus-my-heart-on-God time in preparation for the Radical Read Along. While I can't really say that I felt "more spiritual" or "closer to God" because of the fast, it certainly was an interesting 10-days in which I had three crazy-hard bouts with my depression, which did cause me to draw closer to God in desperation.

When I was tempted (and when I gave into that temptation) to grumble about eating the same insipid foods every day, I found myself thinking a lot about Nabakoza and the other million+ people who are starving to death while I turn up my nose at some bland brown rice. It was a good experience for me and I even learned to like some new foods.

Brand new foods which I bravely set aside my childish, picky-eater ways to try for the first time or re-try after deciding at some point in the past that I hated them:

  • Newly-Discovered-Yumminess: Spinach, plums, raisins
  • Okay-So-This-Isn't-That-Bad: Beets, green and red peppers, mangoes, Romain lettuce
  • Gag-a-lious: Raw tomatoes of many (any) shapes and sizes

Also, you know that verse about how Christians are the salt of the earth? I have a new appreciation for that passage after ten days without salt to flavor my food - it makes a HUGE difference and I really noticed when it wasn't there. Yes, spiritual analogizes can be found in salt. Way to go Jesus. 

We broke our fast with this:

Whole wheat pancakes with walnuts and blueberries (we didn't want to shock our systems)... but then I figured, "What the hey!" and smothered my pancake in peanut butter, syrup and whipped cream. 

And it was glorious.

P.S. I am ever so grateful for the following contributors of flavor: Garlic, Onion, Basil, Oregano. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Dreams May Come

I've never had a vision. By that I mean, I've never awaken to see an angel at the foot of my bed proclaiming my God-ordained future and I've never had a flaming bush tell me to take my shoes off and I've never dreamed about stacks of wheat bowing down to me. I've always thought "visions" were something of the Bible days or something that really, really spiritual people experienced or that really, really not-so-spiritual people made up because of spiritual peer pressure. Visions didn't happen to me, nor did I expect them to. But the dream that I had last night can only adequately be described as a vivid sub-conscience scene constructed by God to teach me something... or yes, a vision of sorts.

In the dream I was traveling. Wherever it was I was going, I was getting there by plane and in order to get to the airport, I had to hop on a bus. In true-to-reality fashion, I was running late and hurriedly purchased my ticket and boarded the bus. 

When I arrived at the airport, the airline attendant asked me if I had any bags to check. 

"Yes, one,"  I replied. At which point I realized that I had left my suitcase at the bus depot. With panic-stricken chagrin, I grabbed the next available bus that would returned me to the station.

After what seemed like an eternity, one seeped in anxiety as I recounted all of the possessions that might now be lost to me, I arrived back at the depot. Racing from the bus, my gaze darted from one end of the platform to another in search of my suitcase. I was startled by the unexpected scene before me. 

There were children everywhere. They were dirty and dressed in rags and sat huddled together in the dirt and on piles of garbage. They had sunken cheeks and their small bodies were out of proportion with their bloated bellies. I wondered why I hadn't noticed them before.

Then I saw it. My suitcase was sitting in the far left corner of the station platform. Washed with relief, I whispered a quick, "Thank you, Jesus!" and rushed past the children to retrieve my belongings. As I got closer however, I noticed something was askew. All of the zippers of my suitcase where unzipped.

"Oh, crap." 

I knew even before I picked up the suitcase that it was empty. I had been robbed.

Frustrated, I marched into the bus depot to see if the station manager had seen who had pinched the contents of my suitcase. Entering the station, I noticed something odd once again. There were no other passengers. There were no station employees. There were no adults anywhere. Just children. Dirty, skinny children of all ages and they were wearing my clothes. My clothes! The little thieves had riffled through my belongings and where now wearing them. 

I approached a group of young girls who were giggling as they tried on the contents of my jewelery bag. I gasped in dismay as one little girl pulled out one of my favorite necklaces and looped it around her neck. Grinning, she turned and looked directly at me. Her eyes were glimmering and full of innocence. "Do I look beautiful?" she asked me sincerely.

And somehow I knew. I knew that this precious little girl with the long, dark hair had never been told she was beautiful. Not once. Not ever. Now, she wanted to know what I thought of her as she proudly modeled my necklace. What was I to do? Tell her that she looked lovely, but that she would have to return the necklace because it was mine?

Once again, I glanced around the station at all of the children wearing my clothes. All of the children who were reading my books and playing with my electronics and munching on my travel snacks. The indignation was suddenly drained from me and I was struck by a realization. They were not the thieves.

I was. 

It was I who had horded the abundance I had been given. The abundance that was meant to be shared with these children. I had kept it for myself and had, as a result, stolen from these poor, hungry children. While I still had an entire closet full of clothes at home, I had been angry that they had taken the contents of one small suitcase in order to clothe their naked bodies. How could I have been so selfish?

I awoke from the dream slowly. I felt myself fading in and out of the presence of these children who seemed so real to me. I wanted so badly to stay and care for them and when I became fully aware that this had been a only dream, I felt a sense of loss. The sort of loss you feel when you allow an opportunity to slip through your fingers. But mixed with that feeling of loss, was a strange sense of peace at the realization that I had dreamed this scene for a reason and that while the children in my dream where forever lost to me, there were still nearly 147 million orphans in the world that I could still help. Having been fully awaken to them, I would not let this opportunity slip through my fingers again. And now, as I recount this dream for you, I feel joy that God chose to bless me with this look inside myself.

(A photo from my trip to Uganda, Africa in 2006 while at an orphanage outside of Kampala © Jennifer Hanson 2006)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Today is a BIG day for checking off goals!

My "dream job" is to be at home with my (future) babies. I studied the field of graphic design because I wanted to be a stay at home mom (and still be able to contribute to the family income through freelance design work). Thus, many of my goals for this Project 101 journey are meant to pave the way for that dream to become reality. Today, one small step to that dream has been accomplished! (No, not the baby part. I said small step. Sheesh.)

Devin and I have officially launched our graphic design company Off Beat Graphics!

I don't know if I've ever mentioned that my husband, a gifted photographer, is also a talented graphic artist. Being that he is out of a full-time job right now, we were, by necessity, given an earlier-than-we-planned kick-start to our freelance design business. Between job searches, Devin has been picking up some supplemental design work and it just seemed the right time for us to get out there and get some more! Well, when I say "us" I really mean mostly Devin as I'm still working full-time out of the home. For now, my part in Off Beat Graphics will focus mostly on the wedding design portion of the company, as I want to be ethical in regards to conflict-of-interest at my day job.

I am so excited to introduce Off Beat Graphics and hope you'll take a peek at our website:

I am also rather proud (and relieved) to mark the following goals as complete! 

Goal: 80. Create samples of wedding invitations, announcements and cards (check!) 

Goal #81: Launch invitation-designing side of business (check!) 

Goal #84: Create freelance design website (check!) 

Goal #85: Launch freelance design business (check!)