Fasting and praying day-by-day

Day 6 – Our women’s ministry team hosted our last event of the ministry year on Saturday night, which included a clothing exchange, a potluck and a time of worship.  The evening was a success, but I am not here to talk about it, other than these two things:

  • I know I’ve told all of you by internet that I am fasting, but it’s quite another thing to tell people to their face.  I’d decided I wouldn’t, that I’d keep myself busy while the potluck was on and people wouldn’t figure it out.  Except they did figure it out because ours is a loving group of women who care that everyone gets fed, plus seconds.  When one woman insisted that I try the potato salad, I had to tell her why I, the carb-lover, wouldn’t.  With great empathy she told me of a time that he had fasted – an inopportune time, between Christmas and New Years – but that God had honoured that sacrifice.  She looked off in the distance that thanked me for reminding her about that very specific answer to prayer she received, which she didn’t feel necessary to disclose.  When people find out that I’m fasting, they often share their fasting stories which involves growing deeper in their walk with God and answers to prayer. I hope that I will remember this fast years from now and the way that God provides.
  • After the event, when our team was cleaning up and ready to leave, the prayer team carried on, interceding for those who would come to them with their problems and worries.  They were doing their own thing and I was happy to let them do it.  But the prayer team leader came outside to grab me before I left.  “We’d like you to come for prayer.  God laid it on my heart to pray for you with the team.”  While I believe entirely in the power of prayer and the prayer team made up of Godly woman, I will tell you that my first reaction was to put my guard up.  Do I need prayer?  I’m tired, it’s the end of a long day, can’t I just go home?  But they sat me down in the hot seat and eight beautiful ladies opened up to pray for me.  With hands laid on me, they asked aloud for my renewal and strength, direction and peace, wisdom and anticipation for the year ahead.  They prayed for me.  I don’t remember all their words, but their love made a huge impact.  I’ve never known this kind of prayer support before, but from now on I will seek it out.

Day 7 – On Sunday, all three pastors spoke on 1 Corinthians 4:20, a short little verse that packs a punch,  “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.”  I’ve been mulling over it after the pastors explained, respectively, the kingdom of God can only be entered through the cross, faith in Jesus Christ; it is an eternal kingdom that starts in now; the power is what happens when we put that faith into action.  I considered how when you dwell in this kingdom, when you claim full citizenship status, the cares of this world, while they still exist, also disappear.

Day 8 – On a mini road trip, I absent-mindedly asked one friend for a couple of the delicious grapes she had brought from home.   It was after 2 p.m.  Things got awkward for a moment when she reluctantly asked if I should.  When I got home, I made sure she was on my Close Friends list on Facebook.

Also, I received this brilliant word, by two-part Twitter feed no less:

Your prayer for your job is not merely that it be stable and prosperous, but that it truly serves the needs of society and that in all your labor and all your relationships your joy in Christ and your love for people would make a name for Jesus. (John Piper)

Saying Goodbye to a Ghanaian Friend

The Africa Area Director sent us several photographs of the church in Ghana when we first considered entering a partnership with them seven years ago.  In a couple of photos, there was a lady sitting at the front of the church, to the right.  Her face seemed familiar before I even knew her.

When we moved to Ghana and attended our first church service there, I recognized her instantly.  She was sitting in the same place as she was in the photograph.  She didn’t know the relief she gave me simply by being there.  In a world that was so strange and far from home, I knew that woman from the picture.

Eventually I was introduced to Rosemary.  She was timid, but kind.  She was among the first to welcome me into the women’s group.  She took pity on me when I didn’t know the language.  With the little English she knew, she would let me in on what was happening and the back and forth dialogue at the meetings.

She always offered me a seat beside her at the church functions.  She made obvious efforts to ease my transition.  I can remember when she asked me what I liked to eat.  It seemed so out of the blue, out of context.  I answered her anyway… and discovered all those things – eggs, bread and milk – in a care package given to me the following week.

Over time, we built a friendship.  Language was always a barrier, but her character shone through.  She was always serving, always thoughtful, always present.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you Rosemary passed away today.  She had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.  I found this out on the day I was leaving Ghana on this most recent trip.  This news follows on the heels of the death of her sister, Angelina, who died of throat cancer last year. Another amazing woman and special friend.

Rosemary has made her way into many of our pictures both from our time in Ghana and pictures from past teams who have visited the church.  It’s hard to think she won’t occupy that space in Ghana anymore.

I suppose this is the part you can’t prepare for when you agree to take part in a missions partnership.  There is excitement and anticipation about forming friendships in the name of Christ and working with ministry partners who share a passion to serve God despite cultural differences.

You expect the blessings from the union, but the heartache is difficult.

I also suppose this is evidence of a true partnership.  We love our sister church, we mourn with them because Rosemary was our friend too.

My memories of her aren’t necessarily large, momentous occasions, but of her ongoing diligence and kindness to me as a foreigner in a strange land and her constant and faithful service in the church.  She was an inspiration.

Heaven will receive her well.


Rosemary was a single mother of four children, now late teens and young adults.  She was a step-daughter to Pastor Charles, daughter to his wife, Fredericka.  Please pray for the whole family as they mourn.

Everything Old

On Day Five, I ate a delicious supper.  J-M helped me choose Fridays as the day of the week I would eat during my fast because that’s the day we pretend we’re athletes by participating in a Christian baseball house league. I need all the sustenance I can get to keep up the act.

Let me first say that I have not played baseball competitively since Grade 8.  I have not played baseball recreationally since I was 18.  On Friday, I was trying to play like I hadn’t missed the last 20 years of practice. I swung the bat furiously, threw the ball energetically, sprinted around the bases zealously.  By the third inning, my body started rebelling.

I was pitcher in the fourth inning because I have no idea why.  I’d been able to load the bases like a pro.  The pressure was on. When the next batter got up to bat, you can imagine I was getting desperate for an out.  The batter was hungry and swung at what was clearly not even close to the plate.  The ball, skimmed by the bat, came skidding toward me. I lunged at it with every ounce of energy I had.  In that moment, I felt a rip in my thigh, but it was so much more important to me to snag the ball and get the batter out.  I limp-dashed toward first base and tossed it for the out.  Woohoo! I was in major pain, but did you see?  Did you see? I GOT THE BATTER OUT.

When I doddered to bat at the bottom of the inning, the umpire asked if I need a runner.  Cha-right!  I swung furiously but got just a piece of the ball; it remained within reach of the infield.  I pumped it to first base like a maniac (not unlike my sprint at KLM airport) and felt the kind of pain the shoots through your body and catches your breath.  In that moment, all my brain would say it, YOU ARE NOT 18!  NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!

My sister, who is a coach and phys. ed. teacher tells me that this is called Weekend Warrior Syndrome.  I thought it sounded pretty cool until she defined it.  When people over the age of 35 engage in sports just once a week, without stretching or regular exercise, they often have muscle injury, like pulls, tears, sprains.  I am a Weekend Warrior and it is nothing to be proud of.  She suggested I ice the injury for 24 hours, take it easy for a couple weeks and start building my exercise regime during the week.

In another story, J-M pulled his groin crossing the street.  He’s not 18 either.

That night, we lay in bed with ice packs on our parts, looked at each other and asked, This? THIS is what we’ve come to?

Fasting – Day Four

Something interesting has happened on Day Four of my fast.  There’s a serenity in my spirit that this was the right thing to do.

Sometimes you can feel like a spiritual flake when you come up with a course of action that involves self-imposed deprivation.  Deprivation usually only happens in crisis.  I’m volunteering myself into crisis.  But there is an urgency to this prayer and I know I’m being heard.  I have no answers, but I have The Calm.  The Calm is as good as any answer will be.

Know what else has happened on Day Four?  Prayer has become a first reaction.  Kids fighting?  Pray.  Grumpy today? Pray.  Love the sunshine?  Pray.  Someone irritating you?  Pray.  Watering the plants? Pray.  Stressed out? Pray. Driving to the corner store? Pray.  Going to a rock concert?  Pray.  Posting on Facebook?  Pray.  I find myself naturally moving into prayer with the Father about absolutely everything.  Be warned: if you call me up right now, I will pray with you.

And then there’s the flip side, the other stuff the enemy tries to sneak in on Day Four.  There are the “rules” of the fast and how I might manipulate them to my advantage.  You see, Satan targets the rules instead of the spirit of the rules.  He loves legalism because he knows it will either make us judgmental toward others who are not doing it our way… or he’ll get to call us a failure when we break them.

First of all, I felt like it might have been a mistake to tell the world about my fast on my blog.  And by “the world,” I mean the five faithful readers, including Mom and Dad… and I’ll find out after this post if they’re faithful.  But I have made this public and have this tension about it, that this should have been a secret between me and God.  That’s because of this verse:

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt. 6:17-18)

If you read the verse in context, it reveals the sinful spirit of wanting recognition from other people, not God.  Please know that I am not doing this to receive either sympathy nor to be placed on a spiritual pedestal.  My search may help your search and vice versa.  I’ve already received some encouraging comments from friends and strangers who feel like this lines up with where they’re at.  If we can have some transparency about why and how we fall on our knees before our Father and take our fears and doubts to him, that is a good thing.

I also fall prey to this game of justifying my way through the parameters I’ve set up for myself, which is completely ridiculous. In this case, it’s not enough to say no eating after 2 p.m.  What about my conduct the whole day before 2 p.m. and what about in the evening after supper’s been served?  I’ve found ways to bend the rules I set for myself which – I KNOW! – makes no sense.

For example, I eat more than I normally would before 2 p.m.  Breakfast and lunch have second servings and snacks in between.  This feasting and depriving each day becomes a roller-coaster ride.   Snack therapy never will be effective and the cost of it must be comparable to a real counsellor (and it’s a good thing J-M said no to the book expense at this point).  Plus, I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I believe it makes me hungrier at night.  Expand and contract, expand, contract.  It’s the best work out I’ve had in a while, with little results.

Also, last night, when J-M made a yummy dinner, I ask him to save me some for lunch for the today, of which I had two helpings.  I’m not kidding.

There’s this other thing.  When I’m too hungry, I want to make it go away by going to bed early.  This becomes the grey area of the fast.  These hunger pangs, are they not to trigger me to prayer?  This rumbling stomach, does it not to reveal my great need for God?  Is 6 p.m. not a reasonable time to hit the hay?

I believe much of this minutiae gets sorted out simply by keeping on.  There’s something about getting in the groove of it, which will, of its own accord, figure out what is working (or not) and maintain the goal of walking closely with God.

In the meantime, I embrace The Calm.

Thoughts on fasting for the second whole day in a row

Because I’m underemployed, my husband has me on a strict budget.  No extras. No incidentals. No spending without express permission from him, and only under certain categories.  Other certain categories have been removed from the budget altogether, like magazines and clothing accessories.  How horrible is that?  I thought SURELY, because I’m fasting remember, the decrease in actual spending in the grocery category alone would allow me to purchase this very inspiring book, which would go far in helping me on my journey to find gainful employment and/or fruitful ministry.

You see the progression of my logic, right?

Well, he doesn’t.

Good thing RSS Feeds are FREE!  Check out the blog of Mary Jo Sharp at Confident Christianity, a Christian Apologetics ministry that addresses the hard questions of Christianity through research, writing, training, and debate. (I do find some irony in the fact that I can’t convince my husband to buy me a book that will teach me how to debate.)  I’m inspired by this woman who is using her brain in powerful ways.

Unemployed – Day Two

I’ve written too many Day One entries whether on a blog or in a journal, full of enthusiasm and optimism for specialized goals I’ve conjured up for myself, only to find that on Day Two the spirit wanes and the resolve weakens. I remember writing about homeschooling the girls in Ghana on Day One.  Something along the lines of, “Look how organized I am!  Look how well-behaved my kids are!  Look how much we’re getting done!”  You can only imagine what Days Two – 500 looked like.

In order to avoid the Day Two denial stage, I’ve added an accountability option – to tell you about it.

So, to explain, despite the title, this is not Day Two of my being unemployed (I think we’re on Day 92. I’m not even technically unemployed.), nor is it Day Two of a job search in earnest.  Ah heck, why didn’t I just name this post, “Loreli – Day 14,023”?

Because. This is Day Two of a 40-day self-prescribed fast/quest to hear from God about where he is leading me, as far as my employment situation is concerned.   Right now I would technically call myself “underemployed.”  I wish to be fully employed, as in certain and disciplined about how I occupy my time each day, hopefully resulting in a pay cheque in my bank account. Although that is not my primary motivation; that’s my husband’s.

During these 40 days, I intend to spend a lot of time clearing out the detritus of my heart in order to hear God more clearly.  I feel like my head is fuzzy, full of stuff I want to do, can do, must do! Plans! Ideas! What ifs!  But there’s no clarity of vision.

I’ve been feeling a little lost since making the final decision to sell my business.  My reasons were valid – not burn-out, not loss of interest in the business, but an understanding that God was pulling me deeper into ministry.  I feel this call, it’s just undefined at the moment.  When something you feel so deeply is undefined, you get a little restless.  I believe that if you were to rev the engine in your car, plus your car had no wheels, it might feel something like this.

I find myself in this no man’s land of wanting to work, but not willing to compromise.  That’s a dangerous place.  I honestly worry that I might do something stupid in my eagerness to get a move on.  I’m already a ministry hog, leading women’s ministry, doing communications for our missions project, managing social media for a few different organizations, plus the assemblage of duties one acquires as a “Pastor’s Wife.” Plus, hello, I blog.  Besides this personal one, I write a weekly blog for our denomination, which gives me technical “employed” status.

Here’s the thing: if I am excited about what you’re doing and I can get involved, I most definitely will.  The dangerous part is that I overbook and overwork myself and miss out on what’s important: listening to God’s voice, spending time with my family, making meaningful connections, and Sabbath.

In her book, 7, Jen Hatmaker talks about fasting.  I agree with her findings.

According to scripture, fasting was commanded or initiated during one of six extreme circumstances:

  • Mourning
  • Inquiry
  • Repentance
  • Preparation
  • Crisis
  • Worship

I believe my circumstances fit into the category of Inquiry – which we Canadians spell enquiry, so I’ll make that small change – which involves me asking God a lot of “What about…?” questions.  More so, this is about Preparation. I believe God is preparing me for… something.  That’s all I’ve got for now.  But I know from experience that at the end of a period of uncertainty or crisis, we can usually  look back and say, “So that’s what this was all about!”

Fasting increases my reliance on and desire for God. My physical hunger alerts me to my spiritual hunger.

I just want to home in on what God has in the works.  I want to be a part of his plan, not the other way around.

Just so you don’t worry that this is a hunger strike,I will only be skipping supper.  I won’t eat after 2 p.m.  As provider for our family and cooker of our meals, my husband is so annoyed by this.  I did this for Lent and he felt like he was forced to fast too, from my company, because it was just him and the girls at the dinner table each night.  So I’ve made some changes, that I will still sit with the family and engage in conversation as we usually do – and it can’t be about my wishing I could eat.  I will have one day a week where I will eat supper (which will be Fridays).

I feel it has to be a supper thing because that’s where the hunger hits the hardest.  I want to eat the most then.  There’s the proviso that the family feels this is an imposition on them, I will change my fast to suit their needs.  Next option is giving up Diet Coke, so I’m really hoping this supper thing works out.

These 40 days are about hearing from God.

Just today, I had a few interesting nudges.  Check this out.

We should take the stigma out of being unemployed so that people won’t have to say they have a blog.
-Andy Borowitz

OK, I just found that incredibly funny in a nervous laughter kind of way, since I do tell people I blog when they ask me what I do, which they always ask.  And I always hope they don’t think I’m as delusional as I might actually be.

For real though. I struggle like most people with where I find my worth.  Blogging falls short.  So this was timely:

So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.
Jesus (Mark 9:35)

I don’t even hardly know what that means, but I want to. I think it’s a Best Kept Secret about fulfillment and purpose.

If you’re a fellow believer on this path that we travel, seeking God’s will, I would love you to walk with me.  I’d sure appreciate your prayers if you feel so inclined.  I intend to write about the experience.  Writing helps me process my thoughts.  Writing keeps me accountable. Writing will help me work through Days Two – 40.

Asking the impossible

Leisha, Karen and I had some good discussions in Ghana about what we were experiencing during our visit.  It was painfully obvious of the lifestyle we are accustomed to is worlds apart from the women in Bolgatanga who make the baskets.

While we stayed here,

they slept here.

It didn’t feel right for our differences to be in such close proximity to one another.

The hotel where we were staying is in the process of building a pool, which will be open next year.  The 40 degree heat made us wish that it was ready right now please.  On the other hand, we’d have to ignore some realities very close by in order to feel the freedom to enjoy it.

And yet, is the answer for us to sleep where they sleep?  Would it make sense for us to give up our homes, our jobs, our businesses in order to start farming the land or living in a mud hut?

Inevitably, after a visit to this reality, one brings a new perspective home as a souvenir.  I return to my home, look around and ask, why do I have all this stuff?  What do I really need?

I remember when it surprised me to discover that I was needier than a Ghanaian in a mud hut.  Modern day conveniences have incapacitated me, so that I rely on so much just to get through the day.  If we had a food shortage, I’d have no idea how to grow my own veggies or raise my own livestock.  If I didn’t have electricity, how would I do my work?  How would I Facebook?  If I didn’t have access to running water, how would I brush my teeth or shower or wash my clothes or…  If I didn’t have Google, how would I know anything?

There was a wicked thunderstorm one of the nights we were in Bolga. The next morning I saw our host use the water from a puddle that had accumulated in a plastic chair to wash his hands.  It came naturally to him.  I can honestly say I would never have thought of a puddle on my patio furniture as useful.

Perhaps that would change if I were forced to live in the situation.  But would I choose it?  Should I choose it?

In the passage of the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus instructed him to sell all he had and give it to the poor.  I believe the passage is intended to challenge us all to release the things we hold onto tightly, the things we put in place of God, in order for God to be at the centre of our lives.  Jesus’ instructions were about what it takes to be perfect.  They were about generosity.

Jesus acknowledges that he’s asking the impossible of the rich man.  He always asks the impossible – to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God and others.  He knows that in our humanness, we can’t possibly do it.  But he also promises that with God it is possible!

A human response to poverty is to feel fearful or threatened by it.

A Godly response to poverty is to see our fellow humans with value beyond their circumstances, to minister to them and meet their needs.

A human response for the rich is to hold on tightly to our wealth and trust in it as security.

A Godly response for the rich is to be generous, understanding we’ve been entrusted with a blessing that was meant to be given.

I certainly don’t have the particulars of what this Godly challenge looks like for every individual. Lord knows I’ve struggled with the details for many years.

I do not believe it means the world living in mud huts, without electricity.  But it does mean letting go of the hold our wealth has on us (and in some cases that literally means selling what we have).   It means listening to the wisdom of Jesus and letting it resound above all other voices.  It means practicing true generosity, putting others above ourselves.  It means relying on God to see us through.

It means accepting the challenge of doing the impossible.

Different sides of the same lens

I spent most of the trip like this,

or like this,

and like this.

To see what was at the other end of my lens, check out my Flickr site with a gallery of photos from my trip.

Although I’ve only posted 53 of the 1,000,000 we took, I’ve exceeded my bandwidth for the month!  Feel free to subscribe to my Flickr RSS Feed for updates.

I will post more in June to save myself a whole $24.95 for the year.   That $600 ticket really did me in.

Offloading some stress

I’m writing this at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam because I missed my flight.

Who does that?  For many years, up until a couple of hours ago, I was all, Who are those people they are calling over the intercom and what the heck would they be doing to miss their flight?  It turns out it can be as easy as: sitting at the wrong gate like a nitwit for an hour and a half; freaking out like a ninny when you hear your name called on the PA system; and running like a nincompoop for 25 minutes to get to the other end of this massive terminal…  only be told that they’re offloading your luggage and you’re SOL in Schiphol.

At first I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one.  Another girl and I arrived breathless at the boarding gate.  They even gave us hope as they re-opened security.  Then I was not so relieved when this girl started giving security a hard time, blaming them for getting it wrong, which made them to decide to shut both of us down.  The girl started crying, “But it’s an EMERGENCY!”


A very dramatic scene. Quite disappointing.

I thought this gal and I could then at least join forces to figure out what our next step would be, but my delinquent companion was clearly traumatized and couldn’t get over the fact that this was actually happening to her.  She ran ahead of me into the crowd yelling to no one in particular, “How could they do that? How could they do that?!” I’m curious to see if she’ll rejoin me on the next flight Toronto and, if so, what state of mind she’ll be in.

Rebooking a missed flight is a lesson in humility.  I now know not to expect sympathy from anyone along the road to finding a way home.  Each KLM agent made sure to tell me that I had committed an almost unpardonable sin.  Did I know that I had kept other passengers waiting?  Did I know I had created endless work for them?  Did I know how much of an inconvenience this was?  Did I know that I had personally offended them, their children and their children’s children? Like beating myself up and waiting for another 8 hours wasn’t penance enough.  I nodded meekly not wanting to provoke further wrath and paid $600 to get myself a seat on the next flight out of here (for which I will be 4 hours early at the boarding gate so as not to miss it) in Economy PLUS.  Oh, the perks!

The idea of Economy PLUS makes me laugh.  Mostly because there was a very intoxicated Texan at the Ghana airport last night, trying to impress the ladies by telling us he had a seat in Economy PLUS.  Don’t worry, we didn’t fall for it.

This missing a flight thing is that last in a series of unfortunate events that started happening yesterday, at the end of a brilliant trip to Ghana with the new owners of Big Village.  At around lunch time, Leisha, Karen and I were smiling and sighing, thinking about getting ready to leave.  We wanted to go and we wanted to stay.  It had been a great time meeting the Big Village partners, seeing new and exciting things and laughing a heckuvalot together.  But we all missed our friends, family and life in Canada too.  Plus, we were tired out from pushing it hard the whole 10 days.  We decided to cheers the trip with my Coke and their malt drinks and do some last minute souvenir shopping.

But yesterday afternoon didn’t co-operate. The city seemed to be on edge and we saw and experienced all kinds of difficult scenes.  Without going into detail, the world around us wasn’t on its best behaviour, with crazy traffic, pushy vendors, and aggressive behaviour at every turn.  Or was it because we were so tired that we were no longer interested, patient, or accepting?   We might have taken one picture yesterday, as opposed to the kajillion we took earlier in the week, simply because we lacked the energy.  One of us would ask the other to take a picture of a scene out the window we were noticing through half-opened eyes. The other would say it’s too far away – referring to the camera. In her lap.

But then Leisha had a bad physical run-in with an aggressive person on the street.  No one was hurt, thankfully, but we all shut down after that (other than being totally impressed with Leisha’s Kung Fu skills and Karen’s vocal chords).   Felt a little like that boarding gate security guard, “GET OUT! ALL OF YOU!”

Now the extra hilarious thing – and by extra hilarious I mean totally upsetting – is that Leisha and Karen are right now exploring the city of Amsterdam.  They had actually planned a longer layover in order to enjoy a sweet little tour of the city and shop at the market.  Here I sit bleary-eyed and plane-faced pulling a Facebook faux pas and using my status to beg people for their sympathy.  Some of my friends fall for it.  Others tell me there are worse places to be stuck.  Well, I am in a European cafe, preceded by the words “Schiphol” and “Internet.”  I’m going to take advantage of my wifi day pass and upload some of those pictures we took of our trip when we were energetic, positive and curious.  Good memories, from just or a day or two ago, will see me through.

Before I do that, Constance Amartey, you need to know that, “You are delaying your flight.  Please proceed immediately to Gate B14 or they will proceed to offload your baggage.”  That threat is very real. Run like the wind!!!

But if you miss it, you know where to find me.