Making Space for God: 40 Bags in 40 Days

This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of the season of Lent.

What is Lent? Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.

Growing up, I associated giving things up for Lent as something my friends who went to the Catholic Church did each year. I learned about Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the season of Lent as a time of preparation for Easter, but the idea of giving up something for Lent was a foreign concept. I only grew more confused when as a teen my friends stopped eating pizza or drinking soda or eating chocolate during Lent. What was the relationship between these foods and Lent?

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize there is more to this season of Lent. As a time of self-reflection, each of us has a very personal way in which we can focus on God. So maybe giving up some well-loved food can have meaning if prayer or some other God centered activity occurs in place of that food; but I don’t see this as a way for me.


Last year I decided to seriously look for a way to participate in Lent, and I found an article by Phil Ressler, 40 Things to Give Up for Lent: The List. The list included great ideas like over-commitment, apathy, negativity, complaint and distraction. But before I settled on one of those, a friend posted a link suggesting de-cluttering as a challenge for Lent. I knew immediately that participating in the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge was what I needed to do to observe Lent. Each day I would focus on one space to eliminate stuff that was no longer serving any useful purpose. And while some of the bags contained items to be hauled off to the landfill or the shredder, many more bags were filled with items to be given to others. Bags of clothing, shoes, dishes, cooking utensils, books, games, and sporting goods were donated to our church’s Tuesday Morning ministry, the Ocklawaha United Methodist Church’s Thrift Store, the Friends of the Library and Goodwill. Every drawer, closet and cabinet was emptied as part of this process. Only those things that were being used and needed were kept. The cars’ glove compartments and trunks contributed to the 40 bags. The more items we bagged, the more we found to give away. Way more than forty bags…a trailer full of furniture for newlyweds, a bookcase for a classroom and another for a nursery and furniture for a nephew’s first apartment.

Luke 12:15 “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed: a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”


Filling 40 bags in 40 days may seem simply like a new name for spring cleaning, a way to get rid of the excess, the unused and unwanted; but to be honest the excess distracts from our relationship with God. Lent is not just about giving up something; it’s about doing something…something to make space for God. Discarded items serve as reminders to be less materialistic and more generous. The act of de-cluttering is good for the soul. It creates space in your home. Space in your mind. Space in your heart. Space for reflection.

This year, I’ll fill another 40 bags in the 40 days of Lent to make more space and look for ways the excess in my life can be a blessing to others. It’s a small start, but it’s a start.

Make space for God: 40 Bags in 40 Days



Today when I finished writing, I picked up my phone and clicked on Twitter to find the following:

2/4/16 tweet from Pope Francis @Pontifex: God wants to live amidst his sons and daughters. Let us make space for him in our hearts.

TBT Lesson #87

Yesterday we were invited to a friend’s house where got an up close look at the Winnebago Travato motor home she and another friend have been using as their headquarters for camping adventures. The vehicle provides all the comforts of home in a compact space, perfect for two people.

After touring Amy’s home on wheels, the four of us talked about favorite camping places, especially ones in Florida. So what better picture for today than one from 1990, taken in a motor home we purchased on the day after our youngest daughter’s birth. This motor home made it possible for us to continue traveling and make lots of memories on the road, even with three children under six.


TBT Lesson #87: Children make good traveling companions.

Prepare to Vote

You’d have to be living in a cave to not know the Presidential Primaries begin today. The year 2016 is truly an election year with the Presidential preference, municipal elections, primaries and a general election on the calendar. It’s time to prepare for the upcoming elections.


First, check your registration status. This can easily be accomplished by going to your county’s supervisor of elections website. If you need to change your address or party affiliation, you can do it online. However, name changes require a visit to the office so don’t delay if you haven’t changed your name on your voter registration. February 16 is the deadline (in Florida) for making changes before the Presidential primary.

Second, know the dates of upcoming elections. In Florida:

3/15 Presidential Preference as well as some municipal elections

8/30 Primaries

11/8 General Election

In addition, there are deadlines for updating registration data before each election, as well as dates for early voting and requesting mail ballots. Check the website of your county’s Supervisor of Election for details.


Finally, don’t forget to know the candidates and issues. Your vote is only as valuable as the effort you put into preparing for an election.

Tune out the theater regarding the elections, do your own research and prepare to vote.




TBT Lesson #86

Today is the 30th birthday of my nephew, Matt. This special only child status didn’t last as Matt became the big brother to seven siblings, five brothers and two sisters…most of whom will be able to share this milestone birthday.

Happy birthday, Matt!


TBT Lesson #86: Remember, your Mom always has your back.

Don’t Forget to Play


It’s good to see so many people have discovered something I’ve known for years. Coloring is a great way to relax. There have been numerous stories about the popularity of adult coloring books this past year, and if you check the current list of best selling books on Amazon, you’ll find that half of the top twenty titles are adult coloring books.

As a college student, instead of spending all my time buried in textbooks at the end of every semester, I’d go to the store and buy coloring books and crayons and then devote as much time to coloring as to studying. After their initial surprise subsided, others joined in the coloring breaks providing much needed stress relief during exam week.


While all of the attention has focused on adults coloring, there are plenty of ways to bring play back into your life.

  • Build a snowman or sand castle (pretty popular this weekend)
  • Toss a frisbee
  • Play with a pet
  • Go to a playground and swing
  • Play a board game
  • Ride a bike

It’s so easy to get in the habit of zoning out in front of the television or computer screen, but participating in play helps you forget about work and other adult responsibilities. Play fuels your imagination and relieves stress. It can even help you connect with others and be more energetic.

Who wouldn’t want to swing on one of these?

Recognizing the benefits of play, the city of Boston built a playground especially for adults with glow-in-the-dark swings, corn hole, ping pong, bocce and a giant Jenga. What a great idea!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

Stay young and make time to play.






TBT Lesson #85

Snow has dominated this morning’s news. Stories about a blizzard moving toward Washington, DC and historic snowfall expected in the northeast part of the country are not only part of weather reports, but they’re making news. Then I saw online that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed to visitors today due to snowfall.

These reports reminded me of a quick trip we took to Smokemont Campground in the Smoky Mountains in 1989. With a five year old, two year old and a three month old, we drove our camper to North Carolina so the girls could see snow for the first time. Well, at least so the older two could play in the snow.

Snowballs, snow angels, a small snowman and a chance to enjoy all the fun associated with snow…guess we’ve always been a little crazy when it comes to travel.


TBT Lesson #85: Even kids who grow up in Florida need to play in the snow.

Use Gas Prepaid Cards

It seems like I get a call every month from a credit card company informing me that my account has been compromised. I should know the routine by now:

  1. Receive a text asking that I verify a purchase.
  2. When I respond no, I did not make the purchase, a second text asks me to call at my earliest convenience.
  3. The call again inquires about a suspicious purchase.
  4. Result: card cancelled and a new card issued to be received in about ten days.
  5. Finally, changes to any automatic payments made on the card.

The credit card company never reveals where the card was compromised, but in most cases the most recent legitimate purchase was made at a gas pump; and it seems every week or so another story about a skimming device being found at a gas station is reported.

Of course the easiest way to avoid this problem is to pay cash, but this is such a pain. Go inside. Wait in line. And make one of two less than desirable choices: either pay more than the gas will cost and then return to wait in another line to get change or pay less than you know you’ll need and leave without a full tank. Neither good choices.


Another solution to this problem: purchase gas prepaid cards when you buy your groceries and then use these cards when you fill your tank. I started doing this when Publix offers $50 gas cards for only $40 with a purchase of $50 of groceries – a great deal, as well as a way to avoid credit card fraud.


I admit I haven’t made a complete switch to paying using this method, but I know it’s a smart move. Let’s start using prepaid gas cards.



Even if you decide not to use the prepaid gas card option, remember your debit card does not offer protection from fraud like your credit card.

TBT Lesson #84

This week we purchased airline tickets for a spring trip which will include camping in Iceland for a few days. We’re excited about an adventure in a foreign country  without the assistance of tour guides or buses packed with sightseers, but to be honest I’m a little nervous about sleeping in a van in a country with the word ice in its name. Are we going to be able to handle being outside exploring the natural wonders of this country 24 hours a day?

Just when I convinced myself the answer to this question is, yes we can; I find this picture of John wearing a down jacket taken on a winter day in Florida back in the ’80s. Good thing we got new down jackets for Christmas!


TBT Lesson #84: Don’t let the weather prevent you from enjoying time outdoors.

Kick the Sugar Habit

Sugar made headlines last week with the release of new nutrition guidelines. The big news: sugar should only be 10% of daily caloric intake. As my mom would say, “That’s about as clear as mud.”

What’s meant by this 10% news? Based on a 2000 calorie diet, sugar intake should be limited to 50 grams or about 12 teaspoons. That’s a little more helpful, but then when I read that one soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar, I really got the picture.

I’ve cut way back on soda, but knowing that one soda contains enough sugar for an entire day makes me think about those unlimited soda refills at restaurants. That sounds dangerous for someone like me who is a self diagnosed sugar addict. I love sugar…not only in soda, but in cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream and candy. Cereal for breakfast is just another excuse for some added sugar, and when you consider things like syrup and jelly, not to mention the sugar hidden in dressings and other processed foods, I’m in trouble.


Walking through Target yesterday, I saw a super-sized box of Lemonheads, and I wanted to buy it badly. I tried to remember of the last time I’d eaten a Lemonhead and kept thinking about how I like the soft super sour outer layer as well as the sweet inner core. I’m proud to say I did not succumb to the temptation and left the store empty handed.

A diet limited to only 50g of sugar is going to be tough considering the information I found on the following containers in the refrigerator and cabinet:

  • can of soda – 39g
  • box of apple juice – 22g
  • fat free yogurt – 13g
  • ketchup – 4g
  • lite dressing – 4g
  • strawberry preserves – 12g
  • pancake syrup – 33g
  • M&Ms – 31g

Looks like I’m in trouble, but I’m committed to cutting back on sugar. Not sure if I can reduce to only 50g, but I’m going to work on it. Hope you’ll join me in an effort to kick the sugar habit.





TBT Lesson #83

Career Day was a staple at most elementary schools in the ’80s and ’90s. Each year a variety of people shared information about their jobs, the skills required and education or special training needed. Career Day included a hairdresser who washed, cut and styled hair while she spoke, a photo restoration expert who tore a photo and then did her magic, and a restaurant owner who cooked and served students Chinese food as part of her presentation. Of course, these were always popular with students since it changed up the school routine.

One year students and teachers were encouraged to dress to represent an occupation. Never ones to pass up an opportunity to dress casually, Connie came as a Publix employee while I dressed as a referee. The 1990s were a good time to be a teacher.


TBT Lesson #83: Teaching is as much about sharing experiences as taking and preparing for tests.

(And don’t forget to look up in a photo to avoid the double chin effect.)