The 7 Experiment: Media. AKA: Doody-doody-do-over

This is gonna be short. Media week can be summarized in two simple words:

Epic. Fail.

I tried. Or I wanted to try. And I did try. And fail. Over and over and over. It was hard.

Here’s what I did tried:

  • Remove Facebook app from phone
  • Remove Safari app from phone
  • Hide games on phone and only play while sitting on the pot. (See: Lent 2012)
  • Don’t look at phone while in the car.
  • Use phone only for calls, texts, and calendar. Check email only on computer.
  • Check Facebook once a day on the computer.
  • No television during the week and in moderation on the weekends.

All of the above? Cheated. Multiple times. Then I’d start over, claiming the day as a fresh start. And eventually I’d cheat again. Big fat cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater.

Obviously, my phone is my downfall. My Achilles heel. The source of my constant distraction, inattention, and mental clutter. I knew that going into the media fast, which is why I focused my boundaries primarily on my phone. Television wasn’t a big deal because we hardly watch during the week anyway. Seriously, who has the time? But the phone? Mercy.

I didn’t realize what a default it has become. If my mind, hands, or car are idle, my autonomic reflex is to pick up my phone and do…something. Anything. Check my email, check Facebook, play a word, play Solitaire, check the forecast, send a useless text. Whatever. I have crowded out any mental space for just being. I don’t allow myself to be quiet and listen, to think, to utter those sacred breath prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. 

I need a do-over. I need another week or month or year to get this right. Also, a little bit of self-discipline. That would be helpful.

We attempted to limit our kids’ media intake as well. Again, epic fail. Meghan and Griffin have iPhones, and they fall into the same default trap we do. It’s difficult and slightly ineffective to tell your kid to put her phone away while checking your Facebook on your own phone. But we tried. And failed. We had great intentions of family game nights and walks. Failed at that, too.

Sigh.

So we’ll claim grace and start over. Again. And again, and again, and again. At least now we’re aware. That counts, right?

Since this was a depressing failure of a post on a depressing failure of a fast, I’ll leave you with some inspiring thoughts from our dear Jen Hatmaker:

I don’t want to be a slave to media any more than I want to be a slave to the dollar. The first time Paul mentioned permissibility to the Corinthians, he wrote: “I will not be brought under the control of anything.” (I Cor. 6:12b). It will take conscious work to resist the control of the media…But I think if we shut down some of the noise and static, we might find more God, more neighborly love, more family, more life. May we be only under the control of Jesus who fills our minds with hope and truth and grace unending.

Next up: Waste. I’m so all over that. We’re gonna rock this one. Hopefully I can make up for the last two weeks. Boo-yah.

 

What about you? What is your relationship with media? If you are part of the 7 Experiment, what’s your take-away?

 

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The 7 Experiment: Possessions. AKA: Devil’s Snare

Last week was heartbreakingly crazy, no? First Boston, then West, and all kinds of un-newsworthy madness in between.

West is a special place for me because when we were college sweethearts, Michael and I would drive there from Waco to go dancing. Specifically, kicker dancing at the West Fraternal Auditorium (which has since closed) because it wasn’t quite as skanky or smoky as Melody Ranch (which is now a Tejano bar). Never mind that I two-stepped in my tasseled Etienne Aigner loafers instead of real boots. I was a Collins girl. Those familiar with Baylor are now rolling their eyes. I didn’t own my first pair of boots until last year, which I have worn exactly one time. Also? I pronounced the name of my shoes Agner until somewhere close to 2003. That’s my mom’s fault.

None of this has anything to do with West. It has slightly more than nothing to do with this week’s chapter from The 7 Experiment: Possessions.

For this two week fast, I went room-to-room through my house and purged as much as I could. I didn’t set a number because I can’t count that high. Nothing was safe. Shockingly, we still had stuff to purge, even after moving three times in five years and doing a major clean-out each time.

I vividly remember when I was growing up, my mother would walk into a room and screech, “I CAN’T STAND ALL THIS CLUTTER!”—and then she would count (while pointing out) the number of shoes I had scattered over two rooms and threaten tremendous bodily harm if I did not get them put away within 3.7 seconds. Sheesh, woman. Chill out and gag me with a spoon.

You know where this is going, right? We can’t avoid it. We can’t prevent it. No matter how we fight it, WE WILL TURN INTO OUR MOTHERS. So here I am, screeching about shoes and clutter and worthless crap that is taking up space and attracting dust. I want it GONE. All of it. I went through every drawer and cabinet, every closet, every shelf, and if I hadn’t used it in the last year, it got the axe.

It was exhilarating. No second guessing, no regrets. Just chunkage of the crappage. I loved it.

I kept thinking of this clip from Harry Potter. (Seriously, you gotta watch it.)

(Did you watch it? No? I’m going to sit here until you do. I swear I will. I invented stubborn. Go on, then. It’s like a minute and a half. Watch it. Please.)

All my stuff, all these superfluous possessions are just like Devil’s Snare. They wrap themselves around my limbs, choke me, immobilize me, keep me from continuing The Quest and finding the treasure. And I don’t even realize it. In fact, instead of freeing myself from it, I keep accumulating more. Like Ron (bless him), I keep struggling against it and allowing myself to become more and more entangled. That’s just pathetic.

Let’s name it for what it is: more to manage, more to maintain, more to keep track of, more to clean—which obviously, I don’t do well. I didn’t remember getting half this stuff. If I don’t even know I have it, how am I going to use it? What is its purpose?

Whether we realize it or not, our stuff holds power over us. And, oddly, the more we have, the more we think we need. The more we want. It’s never enough. And that kind of imprisonment keeps us from seeing clearly, from having a broad perspective of who we are, who God is, why He entrusts us with so much, how He wants us to use it. It keeps us from recognizing our true treasure.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24)

These passages are sequential. Why? At first glance, one has nothing to do with the other two. But look closely at what Jen Hatmaker points out.

Treasure —> heart —> self-deception —> enslavement

What we treasure steers our hearts. Our hearts (the “eye” through which light flows) are either full of light or full of darkness, depending on what we treasure. What is in our hearts is either good (literally, “generous”), which leads to light, or they can be bad (opposite of generous; selfish, greedy). I’ll gander a guess, in the context of the next verse, and conclude that loving money and false treasure is “bad.” It clouds the window of our hearts so we cannot discern what is light and what is darkness. 

“If the light within me is actually darkness, oh how deep that darkness is.”

Hence, enslavement. If we treasure that which will either rot or be stolen, the accompanying fear and darkness keep us locked up. This is not only about accumulating stuff, but also about keeping stuff. What are we so afraid of? That we will need it? That we will miss it? That at some baby shower fifteen years from now, we won’t be able to find an alternative? Or that our pretty things reflect our value and make a good impression on those who come into our homes? Do we hold on to things so we will be loved? Smells like darkness to me.

But light? Light is generosity. Light is freedom. Light is life. Light loosens the grip of the Devil’s Snare.

I love what Jen Hatmaker says about this:

The more openhanded I became with my stuff, the less power they had over me. A brightness truly began flooding some dark recesses of my heart, ugly places where I wanted to protect my things, shelter my safety net, and harbor my justifications. It was like magic.

And while Jesus insists that we pick a team—God or money—grace allows us to yield ourselves to him one step at a time. It is

a thousand little moments, thousands of small decisions that bit by bit, choice by choice, slowly draw us under the leadership of the correct Master. When you purge your closets and give to a struggling family…that counts. When you skip those new shoes and sponsor a child with that money…that counts. When you help fund your friend’s adoption in some small way…that counts. When you spend more energy on people than decorating…that counts. When you give, share, contribute, provide for someone else…that counts.

Our cleaned-out clothes (and those of my fellow Thursday night Experimenters) are going to a homeless ministry downtown and to a clothing closet that provides clothes for homeless high school students. (Yes. They exist. Even in suburbia.) Some of my kitchen things—baking dishes, utensils, storage containers—will go into the kitchen of a homeless high school senior who is getting her first apartment. The rest of my not-treasures will be sold at a garage sale this weekend to fund Meghan’s work at a Vietnamese orphanage this summer. If anything is left over, it will not come back into my house. Be gone, Devil’s Snare! Lumos! 

…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the crap that so easily entangles. (Hebrews 12:1. Sorta.) Do it. Open up one cabinet. Evaluate. Re-evaluate. Put something in a box and find someone who needs it. Repeat.

Feels good, huh?

Have enough for a garage sale? Use the proceeds to do something meaningful, not just buy more stuff. Check out GarageSale4Orphans. Sponsor a child. Donate the cash to any worthy organization who stands up for the most vulnerable and neglected. Turn your trash into true treasure, a treasure that will last, that rust and moth cannot destroy, that cannot be stolen. Ever.

How about you? What did you learn from Possessions Week? 

Get ready. The next fast involves media. This is gonna hurt…

The 7 Experiment: Clothing. AKA: Knicks plundered heaven

Dear soft lavender shirt from the Loft clearance rack,

I hate you.

Spitefully,

Jennifer

We’re finishing two weeks of the 7 Experiment clothing fast. I wore the same seven(ish) items of clothing for two weeks.

  • Soft lavender long sleeved shirt
  • Navy blue long sleeved shirt
  • Black waffle weave long sleeved shirt
  • Brown RB Eye Foundation short sleeved shirt
  • Dark denim jeans
  • Khaki pants
  • Light brown cardigan sweater

Plus:

  • Black flats
  • Grey flip flops
  • Silver flip flops (for inside my house)
  • Running shoes
  • Beaded necklace
  • Diamond studs
  • Silver hoop earrings
  • Two belts

Socks, undergarments, pajamas, and work-out clothes didn’t count—though my exercise was infrequent enough to only necessitate two or three ensembles. Bonus points?

I only wore my short sleeved shirt once because Texas, which is supposed to be toasty warm and pleasant by the beginning of April, was a freakin’ ice chest. And I didn’t wear my flip-flops too many times for the same reason.

In the spirit of authenticity and full disclosure, I totally cheated last Saturday night and wore a long tube dress and cardigan sweater with gold wedge heels to see Mary Poppins with my hot date. I wore the same outfit for Easter morning. So there. My excuse: I didn’t look at my calendar closely enough when choosing my seven(ish) items. IT’S NOT MY FAULT! I DIDN’T EVEN MEAN TO! I FORGOT!

(Any other parent besides me want to stick a fork in your eyeball when you hear those words for the fifty-seventh time in a day?)

With Jen Hatmaker’s prodding, I counted the number of clothing items in my closet. Her number was 327, which greatly disturbed her. I hypothesized my number slightly higher than hers since I hadn’t cleaned out my closet in a while. I counted all my clothes, pajamas, bathing suits, coats, jackets, shoes, and workout gear. I didn’t count accessories, socks, or undergarments. Four hundred items, I guessed.

Um. It was a little more than that. Somewhere in the neighborhood of a number that rhymes with Knicks plundered heaven.

Which, as much as I wish to the contrary, has nothing to do with New York basketball.

I think I’m gonna throw up.

In the meantime, the sweater that used to be my favorite before wearing it every day for two weeks was also giving me stomach convulsions. I was so stinkin’ tired of wearing the same clothes every day. I was bored. Seriously, seriously bored.

(Cheating on Easter helped. I’ll not lie.)

(Is cheating on Easter Sunday something like an unforgivable sin?)

(Don’t answer that.)

Unlike Hatmaker, I wasn’t at all fearful of other people’s opinions when they saw me in the same clothes again. That didn’t even occur to me. I can pat myself on the back for being secure enough to not be bothered by what others think. Yay me. No, instead I am self-indulgent and spoiled because I want what I want when I want it. That’s all.

If I wore two different items each day for a year (because, let’s face it, some days I stay in my pajamas all day…or go from pajamas to bathing suit & cover-up back to pajamas), I wouldn’t wear the same thing twice.

And if I calculated the value of what hangs in my closet? Let’s assume I spent an average of $15 on each item. That’s more than nine thousand dollars. Which is half of my annual salary my first year out of college. In my closet. Wrapped up in clothes I hardly ever wear, haven’t worn in years, or may not ever wear again.

The $15 estimate is probably spot-on. I think that’s why I own Knicks plundered heaven items—I can totally justify buying one more shirt or sundress or bathing suit because “it’s such a great deal!” I can count on one hand the number of times in the last ten years I’ve bought something full-price. I know how to find a bargain, and bygolly, I’m proud of that.

But how much of a bargain am I really getting if I never wear it? Or wear it once? Or even twice? And—here’s the kicker—what are the global consequences? Is my $5 T-shirt worth the life of a child in a sweatshop or an exploited woman coerced into modern-day slavery?

And does my buying more and more and more clothes help or hurt the global economic divide? The world’s poor cannot afford to be consumers, so

Big Marketing turned to the wallet of the privileged, invented a bunch of fake needs (prepackaged sugar water, collagen moisturizer, bleach pens), and disregarded the people who were actually dying every day for lack of basics, exposed to the seductions of the consumer marketplace but without the means to participate in it…The needy are without income and the wealthy are without needs.

Instead of getting ourselves wrapped up in self-loathing and condemnation because of our miserable, pathetic, indulgent selves, let’s remember this:

We are hugely, greatly, passionately loved by the God and creator of the universe. He is nuts about us. He wants for us so much more than we want for ourselves. He wants us to be detangled from all The Stuff that prevents us from living out our purpose as the beloved, unique, holy kids that we are. He wants to release us for a greater things.

We are never going to have all the answers. We’re never going to figure it out. We only inch along, discovering truth and wisdom along the way, doing the best we can. And that is enough. We are enough. He is enough.

The next two weeks involve a Possessions fast, which sounds like an excellent time to clean out my closets and cabinets and forgotten places hiding forgotten treasures. It sounds like a perfect time to declare myself free.

What about you? What is your relationship with clothing? What did you/could you learn from a clothing fast?

PS: I met THE St. Anne Lamott this week. In my lavender shirt. And she loved my beaded necklace. That’s all.

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PPS: Thing Two has some great thoughts on the clothing fast. Read about it here.

The 7 Experiment: Food. AKA: OW! That didn’t hurt.

We survived Food Weeks. And it wasn’t really hard. And that bothers me.

I decided for this experiment, we would only eat the food we had in our house. I went to Costco, bought what we needed, brought it home, and put it away. Then I realized: this wasn’t going to hurt enough. We had SO MUCH FOOD, even before the Costco run. We have two refrigerators, three freezers (one full size), and two pantries. Seriously, y’all. I never realized how ridiculous this is. Our shelves are overflowing, and yet my kids still complain about having “nothing to eat.”

So we eliminated all restaurants for the next two weeks. No eating out, no fro-yo, no Starbucks. (We did agree to buy milk when we ran out. We drink a lot of milk. Moo.) Michael decided to pay homage to medical school/residency and take his lunch to work every day.

But still. It didn’t seem enough.

So we decided to invest our grocery money for these two weeks with Kiva. This amazing organization funds microloans for people in impoverished countries who, as Jen Hatmaker puts it, need to get their hands on the bottom rung of the ladder to pull themselves out of poverty and feed their families. We, who have food spilling off our shelves, can lend money to farmers and shop owners and artisans so they can put food in their mouths.

Okay. That was a starting point. We talked to our kids about what we were doing, and they jumped on board, especially about Kiva. But again, we didn’t really feel it. Nathan would reconsider a second bowl of cereal, knowing there would not be more when it ran out—but we never ran out. We made waffles for our traditional (read: convenient) Sunday night cereal-and-smoothies in order to conserve the cereal. We found out that, when baking and out of eggs, you can substitute a concoction of water, oil, and baking powder for an egg…but your beautiful Belgian waffles will more closely resemble Waffle Bits. They still taste good.

For the last five years or so, I have stocked pre-assembled Dream Dinners in our upright freezer, and it saves my sanity. I go to Dream Dinners once a month, spend an hour & a half assembling enough meals for the month (and then some). Each week, I thaw out a couple of meals, which only take about thirty minutes to get on the table. The food is tasty, nutritious, and most importantly, convenient. I’m totally down with that.

Last week, I pulled out Parmesan Crusted Salmon with Pesto. Except that I had forgotten to include the small cups of pesto in my freezer bag. I faced a dilemma: prepare the salmon without the pesto, or go buy a jar of pesto? Technically, pesto is a seasoning, right? Not actually a food, even though you eat it? Griffin, who is not at all a fan of salmon but is still forced to choke it down once a month, suggested we chunk the salmon and eat something else. We can’t break the rules, Mom.

Nice try. “A” for effort.

I bought the pesto.

And on our final day of the Food Fast, Michael and I took his widowed mom out to lunch. Because Jesus loves widows. And it was the last day.

Me: I think God will give grace for taking a widow out to lunch.

Michael: I don’t know about that grace thing. Have you seen God’s ninja angels taking out Sodom?

Bible_GuardianAngel_WarriorAngel_37877730-P

Thankfully the ninja angels didn’t show up in the cafe americano, and we ate our chicken salad without being struck down or turned into a pillar of low-sodium Sea Salt.

The “healthy eating” thing wasn’t a big deal for my family—as it was for some in our discussion group—since we dove into that a few years ago. We certainly had our share of chemically-processed, food-like fare before that, but the train hit our station and we jumped on. I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, which has since hugely affected our food choices. So I didn’t feel like I needed to buy more avocados and chicken and whole wheat bread because we had enough of those things waiting for us in our kitchen. We needed to eat all the healthy food we already owned.

Jen Hatmaker’s discussion of the Levitical food laws (pages 36-40 in the workbook) fascinated me. I knew that whole foods are the best foods, and that some foods (especially some meats) are better than others, but I had no idea why. I knew that, according to Michael Pollan, “you are what you eat eats”: the nutritional value of the meat on your plate is affected by what that animal ate. It makes sense that most of the animals God declares “clean” in Leviticus 11 are herbivores, and most of the unclean are carnivores. Additionally

God forbid the consumption of scavengers, predators, and bottom-dwellers. To be sure, these animals serve important roles in ecological cycles as the Environmental Clean-Up Crew of sorts, capable of ingesting and processing tremendous amounts of poison and waste in short periods of time.

Some scavengers, like catfish, crabs, and lobsters, are bottom-feeders. Clams and oysters are filter feeders that purify water by concentrating chemicals and bacteria in their tissues. Others, like vultures and crows, eat dead, rotting flesh. This assists in the breakdown of organic matter and bacteria, so they do not remain toxic to the environment. Hogs actually have specially designed pus ducts located above their hooves to regularly drain poisons from their bodies. Obviously, these animals are ridden with toxins, parasites, and pathogens; great for the earth, terrible for our bodies. By abstaining from these unclean animals, we do not rid the planet of its necessary clean-up crew, nor do we ingest the toxins they were created to filter. God is protecting His entire creation.

Bacon, anyone?

Where does that leave my clan? I think my two-week grocery store fast will affect my future shopping trips. I know now that we can live on what we have, that I do not have to replenish and stockpile a particular food before it is 100% gone, and even if it is gone, we have other options, for crying out loud.

I’m pretty sure I will buy milk and fresh produce every week, and only buy dry goods every other week—or even every two weeks. Seriously, how many snack foods does one family need?

Bottom line: we have a lot. In excess. Overflowing. Unnecessary. And so many have so little. Not enough. And it is not okay for me to be okay with that.

Next up: clothing. I will be wearing the same seven(ish) items of clothing for two weeks. If you smell a stench, feel free to hand me a bottle of Febreeze. I won’t be offended.

What about you? What are your thoughts on food? For those of you joining our 7 Experiment, what did you experience? 

The 7 Experiment: Introduction. AKA: Oh crap

Ready? Set? Go.

No, really. GO. Come on. Please? You can do this. Go.

We are diving head-first into The 7 Experiment. I’m pretty sure it’s going to kick my butt.

I read the book last year after Interrupted hung me upside down and lashed me with a wet noodle. Remember the SAT?

Interrupted : electric shock :: 7 : _____.

A. death

B. starvation

C. waterboarding

D. a spritely walk through a meadow of wildflowers

E. All of the above

But it’s a good, productive, healthy kind of pain—one that opens up a space for fresh breath, new life, new perspective. 7 is all about examining our First World Problems, our excess, our unexamined selfishness, and experimenting with how we can fast from these things in order to realign ourselves with a greater purpose.

We covered the introduction this week. I was reading, nodding, agreeing, reading…

If we are willing to offer these blind spots—indulgence, extravagance, greed, excess—to Jesus, we can believe Him for freedom on the other side. There is a bigger story to live, and God is drawing us into it.

Yes. Bigger story. Count me in.

What have you wished you could ‘just have’ lately?

I paused. I thought. I chewed my cuticle. I thought some more. What do I want? Hmmm…

Y’all. I couldn’t think of a thing. And that is not good.

I don’t want a new house. (We built the most beautiful, perfect house on the planet.) I don’t want a new car. (I just got one.) I don’t want new clothes. (I have five pairs of yoga pants. What else would I need?)

I want for nothing. And that makes me want to vomit.

Admittedly, I don’t like clutter. I don’t like stuff. So I don’t buy a lot of things that we don’t need. But if I think of something I’d like to have—books, black fuzzy boots, a chick flick DVD at Costco, a new camera—I buy it. I might run the idea past Michael, but probably not.

I used to have a long list, back in the days of cheap peanut butter and Hamburger Helper. I had a very long list. And you know what? Ten years later, everything is crossed off. Dream house? Check. Furniture? Check. Vacations? Check. Nice clothes? Check, check, check.

Vomit.

In the introductory chapter of The 7 Experiment, Jen Hatmaker reintroduces to us The Rich Young Ruler. He’s the guy who asked Jesus, “What good thing do I have to do to get eternal life?” Jesus gave him a checklist of commandments: Don’t kill anyone, don’t cheat on your wife, don’t steal, don’t lie, be nice to your parents, love your neighbor. (Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t throw in “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”)

Can you see the wheels turning in this guy’s head? Check, check, check. He knew he was good, but instinctively he knew it was not enough. “Anything else?”

Mark’s account tells us that Jesus “looked at him and loved him,” and then told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. The man’s face dropped, and he walked away.

Jesus paints a picture of a big, fat camel squeezing through the eye of a needle, and tells the disciples that camel has a better chance than the wealthy. The disciples were stunned. I’m pretty sure they were thinking what I am thinking.

OH CRAP.

Because they knew. They knew that they, too, were good. That they wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom. And that they, too, had wealth.

Then, oh blessed words of grace, Jesus tells them:

With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

I want what the Rich Young Ruler wanted. I want what the disciples wanted. I want to be acceptable. I want my worship to please Him. I want my life to be used by Him. I want to be good enough.

So that’s what this experiment is about for me. Freeing myself from all The Stuff that keeps me from being and doing what He wants me to do. Freeing my mind from the clutter that entangles me, even when I don’t know I’m entangled. Opening my eyes to the blind spots of excess and greed and indulgence that prevent me from living a better story.

Our stories aren’t finished yet. We’re just getting started, and the most thrilling chapters have yet to be written.

Video downloads available at www.lifeway.com/jenhatmaker. Scroll down a bit and click on the yellow Video Downloads tab. Our group watched Session 1 (Intro) and Session 2 (Food) last night in preparation for the next two weeks. Oh, by the way, Food is the first fast. Help me, Baby Jesus.

What about you? If you’re doing The 7 Experiment with us, what part of the Introduction struck you? What scares you? What excites you about the next 16 weeks?