40 Days

Simply put, Lent is a period of fasting which leads up to Easter. It recalls the 40-day fast of Jesus in the wilderness. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends right before Good Friday. The purpose of Lent is to be a period of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, and simplicity. Essentially, Lent is a spiritual spring cleaning for Christians. It is a time to eliminate things that hinder our personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to Him.

2012 was the first year that I participate in Lent. Some denominations do not put as much emphasis on this season as others, and I grew up attending a church that didn’t press the importance of fasting and self-denial during Lent. Feeling the need to spiritually spring clean, I decided that I would observe it on my own.

Many people choose to give up an array of things during these 40 days. Most people select their favorite foods, while others decide to fast from certain habits. My obvious choice for 2012 was to give up peanut butter. Anyone who knows me (and my family) knows that we have an addiction to Peter Pan peanut butter. We use it as a condiment, we eat is as a protein, we add it onto our desserts… but we are most known for sitting down with a jar and a spoon, and enjoying just it with an ice-cold glass of milk. Giving up all brands and types of peanut butter was a true challenge. I craved it for weeks. Each time I wanted it, I prayed. I found myself speaking to God literally every hour of the day because that is how often I wanted a spoonful. Lent proved to be extremely effective.

For 2013, I pondered giving it up again… but decided that I needed to be more creative in my selection this year. I then considered the “Real Food” pledge, where I would eliminate all proceeds food from my diet. The pledge is to eat only whole grain, fresh fruits and veggies, locally raised meats, nuts and seeds, limited beverages, and no refined sweeteners, including granular sugar. I’m sure to a lot of folks, this could seem like a drastic measure. However, I already eat this way 99% of the time. Although denying myself peanut butter and non-organic foods for 40 days would certainly prove its point again, I felt like there were other things hindering my personal relationship with Jesus. Actually… there was one specific thing.

I have to admit that I have an addiction greater than that of peanut butter, but it isn’t in food. It’s a habit. I abuse the use of my iPhone. At night, it is right by my pillow. I use it’s alarm to wake me in the mornings. As soon as I turn the alarm off, I am checking Facebook and Twitter, my email, and Game Center (because I have several on-going games with friends). I spend at least an hour in the mornings on various apps. Throughout the day, I am constantly checking in, updating, scrolling, and pinning to the point of ignoring friends, co-workers, and family. It doesn’t stop until I am lying in bed at night… and even then, I can stay awake longer than I should if there is a good Google + chat going on.

At first, I tried to talk myself out of giving up my phone for Lent. I had every excuse in the book. What if someone urgently needed to reach me? When I travel to Haiti, how will I communicate with family? How will I let folks know where I am if I don’t Foursquare my location? The more I tried to talk myself out of it… the more apparent that I needed an intervention from the one thing that consumed a large portion of my life.

After many prayers, I realized that I can set my own rules, as long as they were drastic enough to refocus my brain, heart, and time… and help me spring clean my spirit. I don’t have to give up my iPhone entirely… but I do need to give up a large portion of it. This is what I will be fasting from and denying myself to in the next 40 days:

– My iPhone will NOT be within my reach while I’m in bed.
– I will not access ANY games.
– I will only have access to Facebook, Google +, Instagram, and Twitter from any device for one hour per day, probably 8-9pm (although the time may vary when in Haiti.)
– I will not use Get Glue, Foursquare*, or Pinterest.

– I will still answer phone calls, emails, and text messages when time permits. I plan to only respond to emails twice a day, unless there is an emergency. I do still plan to blog, also when time permits. I want to stop my iPhone dependency, live more simply, and spend free time reading books and in prayer.
*I will allow myself to check into MIA & CLT airports ONLY during my travel for my family.

The next 40 days are not going to be easy, but they are going to be worth the sacrifice.

Are you giving up something for Lent? Please comment below. I would love to pray for you during this time!


In Search of the Perfect Blog

I’m a perfectionist. It’s an annoying trait to have, especially now that I have a blog.

I worked as a graphic designer in publishing and print advertising for over a decade. Because of that, I have come to expect drafts and corrections on a regular basis. I have always enjoyed writing but blogging does not come easy for me. I struggle to keep my blog current. I over-analyze topics and wonder if my readers will find them interesting. I am wordy. I spend countless hours editing. I nitpick every aspect until I feel like it is near perfection. Most posts take me several days to produce. You would think I was a copywriter for the World Book Encyclopedia.

Because of this desire to create perfect blogs, I find myself sitting in front of my computer contemplating the effort to write. Is it even worth the time to maintain a blog when I only publish a couple of posts a month? I am blown away by my blogger friends who can crank out multiple scheduled posts weekly. How can they have time to decide on topics, write them, and edit them all a few times before posting them? The more I think about it, the more frustrated I become. Maybe blogging isn’t for me.

I considered making this post my last attempt at blogging, but thought I should research perfectionist blogs just to see if I could find a helpful tip or two. What I found surprised me. There are a lot of folks who struggle with this very problem. It seems those of us in search of the perfect blog are the ones who are least successful in the blogging world. If you happen to be one of those struggling writers, let me share with you some great words of wisdom from folks who have overcome the desire to be perfect.*

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger encourages us to:
Realize that the web is flexible.
Understand that our readers know we’re human.
Recognize the value we can get from using reader feedback to improve our posts.
Respect the importance of our publishing schedule.

Darren states, “Of course, we all want our posts to be factually accurate and typo-free—that’s a given. But there are also considerable advantages to letting go and seeing where a less polished post might lead.” Great advice!

Jennifer Blanchard of Procrastinating Writers believes, “Other than fear, [perfectionism] is the main reason people procrastinate. They get so worried that the blog they create won’t be perfect from the get-go that they don’t even bother starting it. Perfectionism causes serious stress, which is always a recipe for disaster.”

She also reminds us that perfection is an idea, not a reality. No one is or can be perfect. “So rather than berate yourself for not being perfect, remember that life – and blogging – is a journey. And the only way to reach the end goal of that journey is to take the first step: Start your blog!”

Dr. Bob Clarke of Simple Solutions for Part Time Entrepreneurs
actually used a 20-minute exercise to break his perfectionist ways. He set a timer, started writing, and when the timer sounded… it was done. He posted the blog as-is, with no capitalization, no spell check, and no formatting. Who is up for this challenge?

And finally, Tristan at The Backlight writes, “Being perfect is overrated and unnecessary. Apart from the fact that perfection is impossible, your blog doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be better than the other blogs in your niche. No one cares if you’re perfect. Your readers care about your content.” I love this graphic included in his post:

Thanks to these bloggers, who imperfectly shared their advice, I do feel more comfortable. Although changing my habits won’t happen over night, I have decided to give blogging another shot.

If you’re a perfectionist blogger, do you think these suggestions will help you?
How critical are you, as a reader, of finding mistakes in other blogs?
If you’re a successful blogger, are there any additional tips that you’d like to share?

*Be sure to check out the links to each blog post when you’re finished here for even more helpful information.