Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Broken & Beautiful

This is my last post on Mexico City, and I have saved what impacted me the most for last.  Maybe because it touched me to the very core.

We went to a place in Mexico City that I had not been to before this year. It is a Christian home for mentally and physically disabled women.

Some of the group had been before, but I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I have been in institutions like this in the US before – they are not always the most pleasant places to be. I was expecting that hospital / institutional smell. I was expecting controlled chaos. I was expecting residents that were not that well cared for.  I was expecting to be saddened.

That is NOT what I found.

This was the most peaceful, joyful place! The staff was happy, the residents were happy. It was amazing to see the residents helping in whatever way they could. But you see, these women are not just "residents". The woman who started this facility has personally ADOPTED each one of the women there - somewhere around 80 women. Her birth children help her to run this facility and another for men.  And we could have several other posts about the ongoing miracles at this place.  But I will stick, for not, to my story of the day...

I had been asked to share my testimony with these women. This in itself was an answer to a personal prayer. I shared Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them.

I wanted these women to know that even with their disabilities, they are God’s workmanship, created for good works!  And that word "workmanship" did not just mean something put together & functional.  It implies a piece of art, fine craftsmanship - even a poem.  I shared with them ways that I was broken and how God had spoken to me with this scripture. Funny thing, is when I was done, many of the women came forward and prayed for me!  I am still at a loss for ways to explain how that felt. 

As our time together broke up, we were instructed to go talk with some of the other ladies. I was amazed by God’s faithfulness. You see, my brother in law, Joe, was both physically & mentally disabled. When I joined my husband's family, I really had no experience with someone like Joe. It was hard to adjust to him and his sometimes funny, sometimes irritating ways. When he passed away, I knew he had taught me so much.  I knew that I was a better person because of him.

 As I wandered through the women,   looking them in the eye,      talking with them,
                hugging them,  shaking their hands,  my mind was on Joe.

  The ability to connect with these women demonstrated God’s faithfulness as He turned


brokenness into something beautiful

 – his workmanship.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thankfulness in Tepito

Every year we visit our friends Felipe & Sonya in Tepito. This year is the church’s 10 year anniversary. They have renamed the church “Solo por Gracias” which means For Grace Alone.

Tepito is very busy with open air markets. And there are homeless people all over the place – men sleeping on street corners, benches, where ever. And it is dirty. There is one corner that, honestly, has had a mountain of trash at it every time we go to Tepito.

Felipe & Sonya minister to the people of Tepito despite all of the odds. And our group has been helping them for a long time doing all sorts of things. One year, when Felipe was told they no longer had the building they were in, our group literally moved the rubble from an empty lot next door so that a new church could be built there. That is where their current building is. The first year I visited, there were walls in the new church and some lights. But the walls were just bare concrete block and the floor was bare concrete. Over the years, they continue to improve the building – but it is nothing like our building at Re3. They’ve painted the walls and put tile on the floor. But the ceiling is corrugated tin. Their bathrooms are literally stalls off the main room.

And their kitchen, that they run a soup kitchen out of, is about one quarter the size of the one at Re3. They have cabinets, but the upper cabinets were sitting on the counter top, so there was no work space. They had no running water. Their stove is run off of a propane tank – what we would call a really nice camp stove.

This year, part of our group put the cabinets on the wall and got the sink in working order. Believe me when I say it would never meet building code in Forsyth County. And I think it is safe to say that not one woman in Project:Re3 would give her kitchen up for the kitchen that Sonya uses – even with the improvements our folks made. But – if you could have seen the gratefulness in Sonya’s face. To have a sink in her kitchen that works – never mind it only has cold water. To have kitchen cabinets on the wall so that she could use the counter top. Her face just shone.

And maybe that is why I love going to Tepito. It is not Tepito itself, but this bright light that shines through Felipe & Sonya. The contrast between the dark and the light is so apparent at Tepito is makes me crave more. I want that for myself and those around me. I want to be thankful like they are thankful.

We complain if our cabinets are the wrong color. 

            Or we covet the kitchen with the granite countertops. 

                            We wonder how they did it in the old days with out a microwave.

 And yet this woman was thrilled with old used cabinets and countertop from the 60’s maybe?!

I want to be thankful.

                                              For running water.
 For the miracle of HOT running water.

 For a refrigerator.              For a stove and an oven.

                                                             For a church with clean white walls.

 And bathrooms.

And clean streets.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Common Ground

Every year, at least the women in the group go to the Merced to visit Bella Esperanza. Bella Esperanza is a hair salon that our very own Angie Fuentes started. It was & is her vision to reach out to the prostitutes in Christ’s love by building relationships with them. What better way than having a hair salon. Groups from North Carolina actually help build the salon by putting up walls, painting – even installing sinks! Since Angie is with us now, it is under the direction of her friend Betsy.

Amazing things have been happening recently, as first 8, and then another 7 women left the sex trade. The girls have been taught a new trade – making jewelry. Last year when we visited, the jewelry making business was housed in the back of the salon and we were able to meet with the first 8 women and hear some of their stories.

Briana, Paige, Kayla & Laura organizing
As more women joined the jewelry making business, it took over the entire salon. Hair cutting stations were taken apart and room was made for the ladies to make their jewelry. Because the staff was so busy with the jewelry business, the salon and meeting new girls was put to the side. Now, the jewelry making has moved to another location and the salon was empty. So we were given a task – put the salon back into order so that the work of building relationships with more girls could begin.

I have to say, I was so proud of our little group. With very little direction, we put the salon back into order – everyone doing their part. And then some of our group went out with Angie and Betsy to talk with the girls out on the street and invite them to lunch. We were not sure if they would come or not – but three of them did. These girls were hungry and had no money to buy lunch. In reality, they make very little money, and what they do make goes to their ‘boss’. Angie and Betsy spoke with them and told them how much God loved them. They were invited to come back to the safety of Bella Esperanza to rest and eat again.

The finished product
Can I say how out of my comfort zone to think about sitting at a table and eating lunch with prostitutes? And yet we did – and it is hard to describe how we could find common ground with these women. They were young – as one of the younger gals in our group remarked – her age. Young enough to be my daughters. Being with them made me realize that I make assumptions about why women are prostitutes and why they continue in that life style. I want to think that they are ‘bad’ , but really? What if I were in their shoes? Could I really say I would refuse to do what they have done? Especially before I knew Christ? In many cases, it is not a choice they made, but a lifestyle that was forced upon them. A lifestyle that they cannot leave for various reasons. Slavery. Not an easy thing to see. But really – they are just women – like me. Hurt. Rejected. Insecure. Just trying to make life work.

As I go about my life at home – I want to remember this. I want to remember that there are many forms of slavery. In the U.S., our slavery is usually hidden – or at least looks ‘better’. It may be financial, emotional or spiritual. It is slavery nonetheless. I make assumptions about why a person acts the way they do – and most of the time I am wrong. I would be much better off to assume we have common ground and to find it.

Oh – if you are interested in the lovely jewelry these ladies make, the organization is called Nunayu.
 You can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Nunay%C3%BA-481127285377829/

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Future Belongs To Me

Do you really think what you are doing matters? 

This is a well-meaning question that I often get from friends when I tell them that I am going on another short-term mission trip. 

I am not angry when I am asked this question because I get it.  When you look at Mexico City, Uganda, or El Salvador, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the need. For example, according to UNICEF, more than half of Uganda's children live in poverty.  This doesn't just mean that they live in a household with low income but it includes being deprived of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clean water and education. 

When I recently took a trip to Uganda with Fields of Dreams Uganda, I was overwhelmed by the need that I observed.  For every child that we assisted by paying school fees, many others still could not afford an education.  Even if we could help the children stay in school, many of the children are starving and go the entire day without food.  If the children are in school and have some food, they may be abused at home, or they may not even have a home and live at the school. 

At times, when I only saw what was right in front of me, I felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up.  However, serving on short term mission trips and serving on the Board of Directors of Fields of Dreams Uganda have taught me that progress is  slow and takes time and dedication, but much progress is being made. 

If we go into an environment and try to "fix" every issue, we will quickly burn out and lose hope, but if we focus on the individuals that are impacted by our work, that is where true progress is observed.

When I was in Gulu, Uganda, I briefly met a young man and we connected.  We chatted for a few minutes, and I gave him a picture of my family that had my contact information on the back.  This was in late February.

Just this week, I received a message from this young man through Facebook.  Somehow, despite having no electricity or running water, he was able to gain internet access.  He had kept the picture that I gave him, and he messaged me. He told me he is studying hard to reach his dreams.  Then he asked how his brothers and sister in the USA are doing.  He specifically mentioned each of my children by name.

In that moment, I knew the answer to the question, "Do you really think what you are doing matters?"  My trip to Uganda may not matter to the country of Uganda, or even the town of Gulu.  But when I just showed up at one school and met one boy, I mattered so much to him that he cherished a picture of my family for months.  He held onto my contact information until he could find a way to contact me.  

If my trip meant nothing to anyone else, it mattered to this boy.  This boy who has dreams and hope.  I matter to him. 

Isn't that all that really matters?  When you read about Jesus and his ministry, most of Jesus' miracles focused on the individual.  Sure, he preached to the masses, but when he healed, he healed the individual.  He didn't ride into town and end hunger.  He didn't eradicate leprosy and disease.  Jesus met the need of the individual that he was with at that moment.  If someone needed food, he fed the individual.  If someone needed healing, he healed the individual. 

We are not called to save the world or solve the world's problems.  We are called to just show up. And when we just show up, our job is to be present in the moment and love the people that stand before us. 

Skeptics may say that we have done nothing that matters, but if you talk to the boy in Gulu that I am messaging daily, I think he would say otherwise.  I think he would tell you that just by showing up, he knows that someone cares. Someone loves him.  It gives him hope.

For more reflections by Beth Gianopulos, check out www.PWLawyerMom.org

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Heart Check at the Children's Home

This year was my 3rd trip to Mexico.  Each year we help at the Salvation Orphanage Home.

The first year I visited, our arrival was greeted as if we were Santa Claus. ALL of the kids were in the lobby to see us, climbing on guys, hugging us. They were starved for affection. Any time we had free time and were sitting in the lobby, you could bet that we each had 2 or 3 kids on our laps or sitting around us. There were no people other than the staff at the home except for our group. Other people who had been on the trip before told me it was like this every year.

That same year, the home was put under the direction of Captain Luis. Captain Luis is a man of vision. People from our group who had been to the home in previous years said there was a difference in the atmosphere of the home that year.

The second year I went, the kids were plenty excited to see us – but not quite as much as the year before. One day a lady from a local church was there tutoring some kids. And a taekwon-do instructor came a couple of times a week to give classes to ALL of the kids. There were musical instruments and band practice. The kids called the Captain “Cappy” and you could tell they truly liked him.

This year, we arrived while the kids were on summer vacation, so the home was not as full as usual. (Some of the children still have family and are able to go home on weekends and vacations.) But the kids there - well, they were happy to see us. But they were not starving for affection and attention. They had something planned almost every day we were there – field trips, service trips, etc. While we were there another large group came and entertained the kids. Many of them were dressed as clowns and did funny routines.

I know that the kids still need us, but not like before. We no longer are the highlight of their year. This is awesome, right? These kids are being fed emotionally, physically and spiritually – all year long.

But can I be brutally honest? It was kind of disappointing. It feels good to be the highlight of someone’s year, never mind an entire orphanage. And so, while the realization was that these kids don’t need us like they did is a wonderful thing, but kind of its kind of bittersweet. It made me look at why I go on these trips. Is it really to help others – or is it to make myself feel good – about myself?? Truthfully, I’m not sure I have the complete answer. But maybe this is the advantage of going to the same place multiple times. We get to see things change and grow, knowing we helped along the way. And maybe, just maybe God uses this to remind us that He works through others to rebuild, restore & renovate.

Later I will share more lessons from my trip to Mexico City.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Project:Re3 Mission Trips For 2017 Announced!

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Have you often wished you could travel on a short term mission trip?  Do you want to go with a group of amazing people that share your passion for people, service, and serving the Lord? Are you excited about the idea of a short term mission trip, but you don't know where to start?  If you answered, "Yes!", then this post is for you!

Project:Re3 has just announced the short term mission trips for 2017.  As you pray about whether one of the trips is the trip for you, consider the following:
• Registration for the trips will occur January 1st-31st. You will need to pay a $100 deposit in January to hold your spot.
• We have an early bird discount - If you sign-up AND pay your deposit by January 15th, you will get a $200 discount on the total cost of the trip. If you sign-up AND pay your deposit by January 16th-31st, you will get a $100 discount. If you sign-up after January you will not receive any discounts.
• Half of the balance of your trip is due April 1st. The remaining balance is due June 1st.
• Once airline tickets are purchased, you are responsible for the cost of your plane ticket even if you must drop out.
• Each trip is limited to 15 people

Now for the EXCITING part!  The trips for 2017!

Peru (Relational/Service)
May 19th-29th
Cost: $600 plus airfare

Are you interested in sharing the good news of Christ with indigenous people high in the rural mountains of Curahuasi, Peru?

Are you interested in partnering with a missionary family for a week, doing whatever ministries God places before you?
Do you love children?
If you answered yes, then this is the trip for you.
Curahuasi is the land of “ANIS” (aniseed), which is used to make scented, well flavored teas, pastries and breads, as well as used for medicinal properties in helping stomach issues. Curahasi is located in the heart of "Quechua country”. The city of Curahuasi is 9,000 feet above sea level (high-altitude). If you have heart problems, please consult your doctor prior to booking this trip due to the high altitude.
We will travel between the dates of May 19-29. The exact dates will be determined based on flights. The trip will most likely be 8-9 days.
On this trip, the work will vary daily based on the needs of our host missionary family, the Heath Family (http://heathfamilyjustlovejesus.blogspot.com/). There is a possibility that we will travel to rural villages to deliver shoeboxes that were shipped over Christmas. We may work on the Children's Home that the Heath family is building (the building will house 56 children), we could lead VBS and play with children doing children's ministry, or we may minister to the men and women of the village.
The approximate cost of this trip will vary greatly depending on the price of airline tickets. At this time, there are some red eye flights departing from Raleigh that are approximately $1,000. The cost of daily lodging, meals, and transportation is $35 per day. Additionally, if the group plans to spend 2 days on a cultural excursion to Macchu Picchu, the cost for the excursion is $300. I estimate that if we find a flight for $1000, the total cost of the trip will be approximately $1600. However, the trip could cost as much as $2,500 if the flights are more expensive. We will make every effort to find the most cost effective flight.
If you are interested in this trip, please contact Beth Gianopulos for more information.

Guatemala (Medical)
June 24th-July 1st
Cost: $550 plus airfare
What if you could combine the DNA of Indiana Jones, Albert Sweitzer and Saint Mother Teresa into one mission trip?
It Could Be You!!
Imagine traveling in a 4-wheel drive vehicle around active volcanoes and rolling the windows up to avoid the splash of water while crossing rivers and streams. Seeing ancient Mayan ruins as you pull into a dirt road sleepy little Guatemalan village. You will enter cinder block, dirt floor homes, and perform first aid on an elderly woman, fit a teen with severe CP with a wheelchair or be a shoulder for a young mom, whose husband has abandoned her and her children. You will also be able to deliver food and medicine to those in need.
If going door to door doesn’t interest you, then if you have medical training or just want to greet and mingle then a medical clinic is just the right fit. We will setup in a village for a day or two and treat the local Mayan community of all ages. You will be treating respiratory conditions to machete wounds. You will be busy, so busy that you will have to be reminded to drink water and eat. Before you know it, night has fallen, Buenos Noches.
If adventure and band aids is not your thing, you can have a play day at Hogar de la Esperanza. You will be able to assist in the care and feeding of orphaned children who love to play and have individual attention. If you are not careful you won’t want to leave them. Watch out for Yeni, she will steal your heart.
You will be guaranteed that this is not your typical mission trip. You will return home with the realization that what took place in the past week of your life was greater than yourself and that you will never be the same.

Chillicothe, OH (Youth Workcamp/Home Repair)
June 24th-July 1st
Cost: $450
Explore the true meaning of your faith in this exciting, small city where the Appalachian mountains meet the sweeping plains of the Midwest.
Within sight of the western edge of the Appalachian foothills, the first capitol of Ohio has a population of about 22,000 warm and friendly people. But like so many towns, too many of those people struggle with the challenges of aging—or the pain of having to choose between food, medicine and clothing, or badly-needed maintenance on their crumbling, aching homes.
A local church—whose members have served in many Workcamps in other communities—invites your group to join with them to bring the love of Christ to their home town. Joining together in faith, you and your students will reach out to the needy by fixing leaky roofs, building wheelchair ramps and handrails, reconstructing sagging, dangerous porches, and tackling significant painting projects.

Pine Ridge, SD (Home Repair / Native American)
Week One - July 8th-15th
Week Two - July 15th-22nd
Cost: $475 plus airfare/travel
Project:Re3 began serving in Pine Ridge in 2013. Not only is this one of the largest reservations in the nation, but it is also the poorest. The living conditions are desolate and there is a great need for prayer, love, and hope in the name of Jesus. On your trip to the Pine Ridge, you will have the opportunity to participate in many home repair projects such as roofing, siding, flooring, building wheel chair ramps, and much more. In addition to the construction work there is much opportunity for growing in friendship with many local community members. You can expect to learn much about the Lakota Sioux Tribe history and culture.

Mexico City (Relational/Service)
July 29th-August 4th
Cost: $300 plus airfare
Does traveling to a foreign country, working with orphans and abandoned women, and serving in the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the largest cities in the world either excite you or scare you to death? If you said yes then this trip is for you! We will spend the week serving at a Salvation Army children's home, ministering to kids in Tepito, and sharing the love of Jesus with the women of Centro el Recobro.

I hope that you will pray about participating in some way in one of the Project:Re3 mission experiences. If you cannot travel, but you feel drawn to one of the trips, let us know.  There are so many ways that you can support the teams that travel and be involved in the ministry even if you cannot travel.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

There's joy still ahead ...

I wrote a blog post before I went to bed about frustrations with a dose of hope sprinkled in. I awoke in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to read some of a book, The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd. (A fictional book by the same author who wrote A Snicker of Magic). She has such a way with words!
Here are a few sentences that seemed to jump off the page at me, especially in relation to my experiences this week in Uganda:
"Just a pinch of wishing stardust in someones's drink fills them with hope no matter how sad their days have been"
"Because people need hope. You'd be amazed at what a person can do with just a pinch of it."
"I wanted permanent reminders that it's possible to bloom, even when you feel defeated."
"It took many years for me to see that hope doesn't take the sadness away, ... but hope reminds you there's something good in spite of the sadness. There's joy still ahead, still yours for the taking."

Tugging at my heart

I keep having to remind myself that I can't fix everything ...

And for someone who likes to put the pieces together to make things work even if it is sometimes an odd way to do it, that can be frustrating,

But it is frustrating with a dose of hope sprinkled in ...

Seeing students hungry that first day at a school tugged on my heart. I know how it is for me to focus on and learn anything when I am hungry (I can always tell when my daughter is hungry too ... her personality seems to change).  I see this to a degree in the students I teach each day ... although there is really no comparison.

The sprinkle of hope is that there is already the beginning of a plan to meet that need!  Solving problems like this can't be done by one person or group working in isolation. I have a feeling the cooperation, creativity, communication, and critical thinking will all come in to play in addressing this need.

I was already thinking of ways that I could continue doing art parties like I did to raise money for my trip to a little.

But it can't be done alone ...

Then on days 2 and 3, I found another issue that tugged at my heart ...

(That seems to be a theme for me this week ...)

On day 2, we met and talked with a groups of girls about the things that could prevent them from coming to school. The thought of not being able to afford school fees was repeated a number of times. On day 3, we heard the same thing from the parents.

The sprinkle of hope for me was that these students and parents saw the importance of education and wanted to be able to come to school. Beth Gianopolus shared with us that her group on day 2 talked not only about the difficulties students have but also about the joys they have.  We got to hear about the joys both students and parents have on day 3.  Education, friends at school, reading, and Fields of Dreams were just a few of the joys that stood out to me. That made my heart smile!

Although I know I can't tackle solving the problem of school fees myself, I do know that there is something I can do!  I can make a monthly contribution to the Fields of Dreams scholarship program.

And you know it may not be much, but it could make the difference for one student!

I may not be able to fix everything, but for me this trip has reinforced how important it is for me to be a Woman of Substance and do my part in helping others!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fingernail Polish and a Point and Click Camera

A note from Uganda (I have pictures to add later!):

While visiting New Kabaale Busega, I saw a student sitting at a table with her composition notebook. Curiosity was sparked in the teacher in me, so I sat down beside her. She began showing me her work and very neat hand writing.  By this time 4 or 5 other girls joined us at the small bench table. I asked if I could take a picture of the girl and her notebook. She smiled and shook her head to indicate that I could.

After taking the picture, I saw back down with the girls and asked if anyone would like to have one fingernail painted since I had some colorful polish with me.  My 9 year old daughter enjoyed having me paint her nails, so I thought these 8, 9, and 10 year olds might too, after all kids are kids!

The pink and purple polish came out of the bag first. And one nail quickly became one hand and eventually both hands! The reason I said one nail in the beginning was because I was not sure how much longer we were staying, but I quickly realized that painting 10 fingernails is a task that can be done in a short amount of time.  By this time, the sparkly teal polish and the silver polish had also emerged from my small bag.

Some wanted all their nails the same color, while others opted for more variety.

When I first started painting nails, one of the little girls asked me if she could use my camera, a small point and click camera, to take a picture of me. I smiled and said yes. After taking one picture, she asked if she could take more. I laughed and nodded in agreement. As I was painting nails of the girls who were at the table originally and the others who came over, my camera was used to take all sorts of wonderful shots! Every once in a while, I would ask where my camera was and the children always knew. I was able to look at the pictures taken while on the bus leaving and was quite impressed to see the special moments captured from the point of view of a child.

After painting nails for those originally at the table, we stopped to take pictures of our fingernails all freshly painted! After that we took some group shots and I think the ones that were the most fun were when we were all shouting. One girl looked at me and asked to have her picture taken with just me. I happily obliged! Another girl wanted us to pose back to back for a picture.

One girl said she would miss me. I smiled and replied that since I now had pictures of her and her friends, I would remember them and our time together!

Making a connection with people, any age, is such an important process. That process does not have to be a complicated one. I was able to make a connection with these children and show them that they matter simply using fingernail polish and a point and click camera!

*Names are not an easy thing for me to remember, which is not a good quality for a teacher! I did ask each child her name. If I get this chance again, I will ask each one to write it down for me in my notebook to help me better remember.  But I do remember their faces, their smiles, their hugs, and the joy they caused for me! Plus I have lots of pictures too!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Spring Fling!!!!

Join us for our inaugural Project Re:3 Spring Fling! All proceeds from this event will go to our upcoming mission trip to Pine Ridge, SD.

Saturday, April 9th from 10am until 2pm
1474 Kerner Road, Kernersville, NC

- Local crafters, direct sale representatives, and baked goods for sale!
- Lots of children’s games, free face-painting and activities!
- Spring Mini Photo Sessions (by appointment only)! Sign-up for a 15 minute mini-session! You will receive 3 edited images sent to you via e-mail and all rights to photos from one of our photographers. $25.00 per session. Photos will be taken outside at a spring scene. Sign-ups are on a first come, first serve basis.
- Lunch! We will be serving Indian tacos, drinks, and baked goods!
To sign-up for a photo session or if you’re interested in being a vendor, contact Lauren Reel at dancejust4kicks@yahoo.com or 336-409-0705 for more information!

You vs Your Circumstances

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

LENT 2016

Tomorrow, February 10th, will be Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Join us for a special Re3 Lent Challenge to read the scriptures together over the next 47 days.

This year you are encouraged to read along daily with a Lent devotional entitled, "Lent for Everyone" by N.T. Wright.  For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright.

If you were like me and raised in a church / denomination that never mentioned the words Ash Wednesday or Lent, then you're probably wondering what the heck is all this stuff about. I was first introduced to the concept of Ash Wednesday and Lent 19 years ago when I took a youth pastor's job at a United Methodist Church. For all the things the UMC gets wrong, this is one particular thing they get right. So what is Lent? I'm glad you asked...

Lent is forty days long because forty days is a traditional number of discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible. Moses stayed on the Mountain of God forty days (Exodus 24:18 and 34:28), the spies were in the land of Canna for forty days (Numbers 13:25), Elijah traveled forty days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kings 19:8), Nineveh was given forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4), and most importantly, prior to undertaking his ministry, Jesus spent forty days in wilderness praying and fasting (Matthew 4:2). Since Lent is a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting for Christians to imitate their Lord with a forty day period. Christ used a forty day period of prayer and fasting to prepare for his ministry which culminated in his death and resurrection.

Ash Wednesday is the official start of the Season of Lent. A season for penance, reflection and fasting in order to prepare ourselves for Christ's Resurrection and for our Redemption. Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church to help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. The ashes are made from the previous years blessed palms from Palm Sunday.

Do not bother looking for Lent in your Bible dictionary. There was no such thing in biblical times. There is some evidence that early Christians fasted 40 hours between Good Friday and Easter, but the custom of spending 40 days in prayer and self-denial did not arise until later, when the initial rush of Christian adrenaline was over and believers had gotten very ho-hum about their faith.

When the world did not end as Jesus himself had said it would, his followers stopped expecting so much from God or from themselves. They hung a wooden cross on the wall and settled back into their more or less comfortable routines, remembering their once passionate devotion to God the way they remembered the other enthusiasms of their youth.

Little by little, Christians became devoted to their comforts instead: the soft couch, the flannel sheets, the leg of lamb roasted with rosemary. These things made them feel safe and cared for -- if not by God, then by themselves. They decided there was no contradiction between being comfortable and being Christian, and before long it was very hard to pick them out from the population at large. They no longer distinguished themselves by their bold love for one another. They did not get arrested for championing the poor. They blended in. They avoided extremes. They decided to be nice instead of holy, and God moaned out loud.

Hearing that, someone suggested it was time to call Christians back to their senses, and the Bible offered some clues about how to do that. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness learning to trust the Lord. Elijah spent 40 days there before hearing the still, small voice of God on the same mountain where Moses spent 40 days listening to God give the law. There was also Luke’s story about Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness during which he was sorely tested by the devil. It was hard. It was awful. It was necessary, if only for the story. Those of us who believe it have proof that it is humanly possible to remain loyal to God.

So the early church announced a season of Lent, from the old English word lenten, meaning "spring" -- not only a reference to the season before Easter, but also an invitation to a springtime for the soul. Forty days to cleanse the system and open the eyes to what remains when all comfort is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves.

I am convinced that 99 percent of us are addicted to something, whether it is eating, shopping, blaming or taking care of other people. The simplest definition of an addiction is anything we use to fill the empty place inside of us that belongs to God alone.

That hollowness we sometimes feel is not a sign of something gone wrong. It is the holy of holies inside of us, the uncluttered throne room of the Lord our God. Nothing on earth can fill it, but that does not stop us from trying. Whenever we start feeling too empty inside, we stick our pacifiers into our mouths and suck for all we are worth. They do not nourish us, but at least they plug the hole.

To enter the wilderness is to leave them behind, and nothing is too small to give up. Even a chocolate bar will do. For 40 days, simply pay attention to how often your mind travels in that direction. Ask yourself why it happens when it happens. What is going on when you start craving a Mars bar? Are you hungry? Well, what is wrong with being hungry? Are you lonely? What is so bad about being alone? Try sitting with the feeling instead of fixing it and see what you find out.

Chances are you will hear a voice in your head that keeps warning you what will happen if you give up your pacifier. "You’ll starve. You’ll go nuts. You won’t be you anymore." If that does not work, the voice will move to level two: "That’s not a pacifier. That’s a power tool. Can’t you tell the difference?" If you do not fall for that one, there is always level three: "If God really loves you, you can do whatever you want. Why waste your time on this dumb exercise?"

If you do not know whom that voice belongs to, read Luke’s story again. Then tell the devil to get lost and decide what you will do for Lent. Better yet, decide whose you will be. Worship the Lord your God and serve no one else. Expect great things, from God and from yourself. Believe that everything is possible. Why should any of us settle for less?

Join us this season of lent as we spend the next several weeks focused on a time of repentance, grace, and renewal.

Mike G.