25 August 2009

Becoming rich, becoming poor.

Sunday night, we broke bread together. On the living room floor dotted with specks of pecan shells and bread crumbs, we had our third Poverty Meal. Our dinner: whole pecans in the shell foraged by Terrica in East Texas, and a loaf of whole wheat bread.

Bread and grains are not exactly a part of this 40 day cleanse. Yet, when we got two freshly baked loaves from the matriarch, Debbie, at Full Quiver Farm on Saturday morning, we began salivating. And rationalizing. Oh, just the thought of a hunk of that spongy bread slathered in fresh butter and jam. Soups, french toast, buttered sandwiches. C'mon, how could we resist? And it's homemade, right? It sounded like the ultimate indulgence.

And then we had an idea. What if we used the bread as dinner? Not as a "cheat" that we would gobble up wide-eyed, but as dinner for all of us, as the main course of our meal. And as we sat on the hard living room floor, passing around the ceramic platter and each pulling off our share, it didn't feel like an indulgence at all. It felt like sustenance.

It might sound silly, but it was good to experience the feeling of working for each small bite of pecan as we cracked the stubborn shells ourselves, littering the living room carpet, much to the delight of Greta and Heidi who were on our heels to devour the remnants.

These times that we spend on Sunday nights have become the richest part of my week. As we learn how to make our souls poor, I can see how each of us are changing. I feel more "rich" than ever - that I have everything I need, and not possessions. We might not have been born in poverty-stricken families - most of us grew up in suburbia, playing in the yard with our neighbor friends, being called in at 5:30pm to a hot supper. We haven't spent our childhood days playing beside open sewers in a slum or on a dirty city street. Most likely, our children won't either. But we are asking for compassion now, so we can be changed. We want to understand.

As the late summer sun set and the natural light in the room grew dim, we sat in lantern-light and candlelight, discussing our weeks and how this small meal on Sunday nights is somehow changing all of us, in small and big ways. And what are we doing to take action?

I had a revelation. It's our tendency to make comparisons: "Let's be honest - most of us in this room will never know what it's like to live in poverty." While it may be true, what purpose does it serve? To me, it only continues to breed a feeling of separation between us and those who live with that reality. Instead, what if we asked God, "Will you give us compassion to feel what they are feeling?" Here, we ask for a heart to somehow understand their world, and compassion moves us to action.

As we reflected on the purpose of these dinners and our greater purpose in the city of Dallas, TX, we found this blog that spoke it perfectly...
  • We share life
  • We break bread
  • We celebrate growth
  • We share our resources
  • We serve those in need
  • We challenge stagnancy
  • We pray fervently
  • We listen intently
  • We talk intentionally
  • We laugh uncontrollably
  • We cry unapologetically
  • We party regularly
  • We live authentically
What will be for dinner next Sunday? I have no idea. But I hope more people will gather with us and encourage each one of us to multiply our love and compassion for this city. And for the world.

20 August 2009

Patch of beauty.

This is an ode to my garden and all the beauty she brought into our lives this spring and summer.

Oh, she had some shining moments. After four years of laboring and learning, we can celebrate all the food produced by the work of our hands and the blessings of earth, wind and rain: bulging tomatoes, foot-long squash, peppery lettuce, savory and sweet herbs, fuzzy okra, shiny green bell peppers, and spiny canning cucumbers that were crunchier than any I've tasted before. And then the wildflowers...it seemed that new ones sprouted up each morning - a different variety, a different shade. The whole place hummed with color and life. A haven in our own backyard.

There was much hard work and struggle. We composted, dug, planted, weeded, pruned, prayed for rain, and had a moment of silence for our beloved pole beans that shriveled up and died a few weeks after the first harvest. But as the metaphor always is with growing things, with the struggle, there has been beauty. And community, too, as we got to share our garden bounty and discoveries with so many others {photo of me and Mary in the garden one June evening}.

And then, a recent discovery: with the sweltering, uncomfortable weather that can be so burdensome in Texas, there's a unexpected gift on the flip-side: a second growing season! When everyone else is retiring their gardens for the fall, we haul out more compost, turn the soil again, and replant a bunch of seeds for a second harvest! Fall is coming. I can feel it - beneath the heat that has finally begun to relent, a subtle breeze and coolness is rising. Perhaps this fall, our pole beans will be successful...

For now, we will keep doing our part: tending our garden, feeding people, using the ability given by our Creator to go on creating. We'll keep cultivating our own little patch of beauty nestled behind our home and between three fenced walls. Here, we grow things and in our own little way, take part in redeeming the earth.

Life is indescribably beautiful.
Enjoy it today, and say thank you.

18 August 2009

Orange Strawberry Smoothie.

Sometimes, it's just the simple things in life...namely, an orange strawberry smoothie with the perfect frosty consistency for a late summer afternoon. It's so easy to make your own!


Juice of 1 1/2 big organic oranges {Plastic hand juicer works great}
About 1/2 can of organic coconut milk {I like Whole Foods 365 brand best}
Big handful of frozen organic strawberries
Big handful of ice
Couple sprinkles of cinnamon
About 5 drops Vanilla Crème Stevia

Blend it all together until the ice is completely mixed in. Eat with a spoon! MMMMMMM!

11 August 2009

Tonight, I cooked.

With each toss of salt from the red ceramic salt well, I cooked and cooked with an enthusiasm that would have put Rachael Ray to shame. Yes, we do enjoy food around the Bailey home, but in less than 30 minutes, I whipped up three entire dishes from scratch, lit candles on the dining room table, and dished everything into three servings: one for myself, one for my husband, and one for our friend Justin.

You see, for the last five days, I have only consumed juice, and chicken broth with eggs. Several of those in our community, including my husband and I, have been engaged in a 40-day "cleanse" of mind, body, and spirit: no TV or movies at all, no eating out, no sugar {even honey}, no grains, no starchy vegetables, and a daily discipline of prayer, reading, and meditation.

Ultimately, the reasons are different for each of us, but for me, there was a need for cleansing on many levels. I decided to start my 40 days by taking it a step further - with a Parasite Cleanse/Juice Fast – a liquid diet. I’ve recently learned that 80-85% of people have parasites in their bodies. Ewww. Having been to several countries where the food I've eaten has ranged from slightly to extremely questionable {i.e. Is this even meat?}, as well as daily living with two dogs who love to slobber my hands and face immediately after licking their water bowl, I figured it was a good idea. Parasites can live in your body for years, and I wanted to get those mean little guys out. I also had a desire to do something that was different than everyone else, where I couldn't just go with the crowd. I needed something that would take my focus off enjoying food and planning out my next big meal, even if there was no bread or sugar involved.

I’ve kind of fallen off the bandwagon lately, too. As my husband put it so eloquently on his blog, "Knowing the cleanse was coming up, I was shoveling in dairy, grains, and sugar as if I were in a pie-eating contest." And I felt horrific. We had a night a week ago - actually last Thursday when we went to see an advanced screening of Julie & Julia {more on that later} - when I positively binged. Two Julie's organic ice cream sandwiches {when it's an ice cream sandwich, does “organic” really matter?}, 1 1/2 huge walnut chocolate chip cookies, several handful's of movie popcorn, organic cheese puffs {again,“organic”? really?}, and "Oh My God" cake from The Kozy, one of our favorite restaurants in Dallas. This was all between noon and about 11pm. That night, I went to bed ashamed of myself and my stomach puffed out to kingdom come. At that point, I knew I was ready to get things right again – food is for sustenance and for enjoyment to a certain point, but it can easily turn to abuse and worship.

So over the last 5 days, I went to bed hungry every night and awoke in the morning with hunger pangs. I did not get to have what I wanted when I wanted it. I slurped bland chicken broth while the kitchen was filled with intoxicating smells of grass-fed beef sautéeing in a pan with onions, and eggs with chicken sausage. I was reminded of a story from a Sudan ministry we work through my job at Mocha Club where an orphan boy from the bush asked, “Mama Kimberly, what does meat taste like?” It was a humbling experience because I began to understand how pathetic I am...that I have to "put myself on a fast" to even experience real hunger and sacrifice. How far am I from the world's reality that freshly squeezed juice and homemade chicken broth are even considered a sacrifice?

Ultimately, this isn't about parasites or overeating. It's about the spirit. I have felt utterly hopeless lately, unable to manage my own anxiety to the point that I thought I might need to get serious help. Nothing has brought me joy. Excitement...gone. I told Steven I thought I was going through an identity crisis. And even watching When Harry Met Sally for the hundredth time or whipping up another batch of coconut macaroons was not going to solve that. I knew, deep in my bones, that is was a spiritual problem. I was worried, so worried, that God has forgotten about me. That the plan for my life was long forgotten.

On Sunday night, we hosted our first “Poverty Dinner” in our home. We perched the “Sabbath basket” on top of a bar stool by the front door so everyone who entered could immediately deposit their keys, cell phones, and any other distractions. And then in the candlelit living room, seven of us gathered in a circle on the floor and ate a small serving of rice and beans as a reminder of what the majority of the world has for a meal {which, compared to this photo of what the orphans ate everyday in India, was a pretty good serving}. We read stories of what God is doing in different countries - amidst hunger, genocide, unimaginable horrors. We processed some difficult thoughts and let others hang there like a big question mark between the seven of us, as we didn’t have all the answers. Then, we sang. Kyle brought her guitar and led us in “We Believe in God” by Amy Grant. It was the truest picture of community I’ve had in my life in awhile. There was a spirit in the room of, “I'm not sure why I'm here, but I'm just showing up." And God met us there. I felt it in my soul.

Today, I read this passage in Matthew that deeply encouraged me - I love how it says in The Message...

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met."

~ Matthew 16:30-33

God-provisions. Well, that's not very easy to receive when I'm trying so hard to take care of myself, and "feed" myself with all kinds of distractions.

After five days, I ended my juice fast. I guess it started to get easier, more "routine" to survive on juice and chicken broth, and that's when I decided it was over.

And tonight, I cooked. Chicken breast coated with crispy almonds, green bean salad, and sunburst squash sautéed with red onions.

And then I ate. After I ate, I looked down at my stomach that had shrunken over the last 5 days of liquid, and it was full to the brim. I looked at my empty plate, and for some reason I felt sad.

Maybe it was kind of like buyer’s remorse when you wander through the store wide-eyed, picking out all these items that are going to change your life and make you happy again. But when you get home, you still feel empty and go back to the store and return everything. Or maybe it's the disconnection you feel when you get back from a mission trip, when you want to go back to the way it was there - where life was more honest and simple. Or maybe it was guilt. One thing I do know - it was not food that I have been craving.

I’m a fool to think that five days – or forty - is going to permanently fix all the things that are wrong with my heart. But I do think these days will remind me once again how much God provides for me and how much I don't deserve this grace, and my heart might be in the right place again. Until next time.

09 August 2009

I need fall.

Dear Fall,

Please come quickly. I don't think I can take another 107 degree day. My garden has wilted. My ferns have dried to a crisp. All I am asking for is weather cool enough that I can sit on the front steps for more than five minutes without roasting. Please. And thank you.