Friday, October 31, 2014

Eyes Wide Open

How can it be?  I think I know myself, but really, I am blind.  I wash the outside, polish the surface, and put on an impressive front,

                                                                                    but inside my heart is full of slimy gunk. 

Who can deliver me from this dilemma?  I try to have an honest heart, but it turns out, I'm not even nice.

Though the carving tools are frightening, I cry out for them, because my heart is so desperate to be free of this muck.  My heart longs for freedom from myself. 

As members of the family of God, "Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers." [sisters]  He claims us as His own.  How can it be, that "both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family"?  It is all because Jesus was willing to identify with us, enduring the cross, to secure our inward cleansing.  He even "shared in our humanity so that by his death, he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil."  (Heb. 2:11-14)

Since Jesus Himself suffered, should not I?  Gratefulness, humility, selflessness, gentleness, and restraint, are some of the carving tools required to rid the yuck from my life.  Yet, in and of myself, I lack the power to implement these tools.  I need the blood of Jesus to cleanse my heart and God's Holy Spirit to take hold of the knife, carving His image on my soul. 

Jesus, be the center, be my source, be my light.  Without Him, there is only darkness, for "all my righteousness is as filthy rags." (Isa. 64:6) But with Him, darkness is dispelled.

I want my eyes wide open, so I can see the cuts with God's perspective, that they are only windows for His light to shine through.   

This transformation that occurs is miraculous.  How can it be?  Babies, though cute, wallow in immaturity, but everyone knows babies are not expected to stay that way. 

They grow up into beautiful sons and daughters. 

For this reason, "I put childish ways behind me," for I want the beauty of Christ to rest upon me, radiant with His likeness.  (1 Cor. 13:11) 

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."  (1 Cor.13:1-2)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Finding Balance

Being fit does not make a person happy.  In fact, for those who are people pleasers, it does quite the opposite.  Instead of 'winning friends and influencing people', it produces envy and an isolation in perceived perfection.  Strength is viewed as an ideal rather than an inspiration because no one can relate to it.

I sought fitness for my health, or so I thought.  In truth, I am accountable to my insurance company, and that was my prime motivation.  But now I'm realizing that there may have been other factors which spurred me on, such as thinking I would be more accepted, not only by others, but especially of myself.  Not true.  Why did I go through all that effort only to push people away?  

Somewhere in all of this, there lies a balance. 

My mom died of leukemia.  Being her eighth child, I never knew her frame any other way than overweight.  But she gave her life for her family.  Sure, she could have spent hours at the gym or hiking the hills, but at what expense?  Instead, most every day she cooked three sit down meals for her family.  (Seriously, I'm not exaggerating with that fact.)  She did mountains of laundry and cleaned the house countless times.  She was intelligent, sharp, and quick on her feet.  She used those skills in ministry at her local church, and to train her children in godliness.  She died with little earthly possessions, but rich in eternal rewards, and although her physical body never measured up to any chart, she spent her energy and time on the right things.

But no one should be placed on a pedestal and it's so easy to do that with dead people.  She was not a superwoman.  I'm certain my Dad would have appreciated more of her devotion and energy spent taking care of her physical body.  And us children would have liked more of her time than her completion of tasks.   But she erred on the side of serving her family because that was how she communicated love.  And if we must default to one or the other, unselfishness is a noble route. 

Success at any endeavor requires a certain amount of obsession.  It is commonly called our passion.  But what good is the shape of our bodies in the light of eternity?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I think of those who devote a significant portion of their lives to exercise and denial so they might enjoy quality of life or add a few extra years.  But at what expense?  What is neglected in order to accomplish this goal? 

When my two oldest children were in middle school, I often left the house early to run with a friend.  Meanwhile, they got up and ready for school.  They made their own lunch and ate their own breakfast.  I called it, 'learning to be capable and grown up'.  But it was really my own selfishness and neglect.  I do not regret the time with my friend, but I am very ashamed of my poor mothering and sorry I ever put exercise in that place.  The exercise itself was not wrong, but the timing was off.

Yet, now I have entered a season where I have the time to devote toward fitness without neglecting my family.  To take care of my body is, indeed, honoring to God.  He created me and desires that I take care of His creation to the best of my ability.  But until I cross that line from being controlled by food, to controlling it, the battle does need to be front center, a priority.  I have to be insane about the exercise and intense over denial until it is conquered.   It will not always be this way, because other things in life are far more important.  

As a result of this season of dedication to my health, there have been consequences.  The garden never got weeded, the clutter piled up in the house, some projects were left undone, and a few good intentions never came to fruition.   I had to be okay with these things left awry in order to focus on the goal.  Otherwise the objective would never have been accomplished.  And so there has to be seasons to some priorities. 

However, exercise can easily become something we worship.  Even discipline itself can be a source of pride and idolatry.  At that point, we become out of balance.  Yet, I hope at the end of my life, my children will say, "Mom spent her life on the right things." 

Every aspect of our lives needs to have the right balance, but this is the hardest thing of all to achieve.  And so I trust those who read this blog will understand that these posts in October have actually been a series, starting with spiritual wrestling and surrender, resulting in a step of faith into obedience, and ending in tangible action.  The spiritual side of the battle, I'm assured, will reap eternal reward, even though the physical will perish.  But most of all, my relationship with God has deepened.  And for that, it is all worth it. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Tools

I like this new place, but I don't know how long I will be staying.  I'm hoping it will be permanent, but I do not trust myself, for I know my own weakness.  So I'm holding onto God who is faithful.  He is able to keep me in this place if I am willing to cooperate with Him and do my part.

I don't really have answers to weight loss.  There is no easy solution and no guarantee that tomorrow I will walk my own talk.  All I can do is share with you some habits which have produced results for me. Yet, these are only tools, which, in and of themselves, lack the power to motivate for change. In order for these tools to be effective, I have to pick them up, but then lean hard into the Lord for the strength to put them into action.   

I will be honest, it is a struggle.  Every day I fight.  But the more I train my body, the more practiced I become at making the right choices and it does get considerably easier.  But still, that does not mean I can relax and let down my guard, especially when it comes to food, for I am especially weak in that area.   

In my younger years, I could get away with eating anything.  I justified it knowing I could just run a few miles and keep a trim body.  But the older I get the more that balance is tipped the other way.  The right food matters just as much as the exercise.   That said, I've made some major changes in my diet, switching to only good fats (coconut and olive oil, fish, avacodo, walnuts/almonds) and to only complex carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes).  Protein is a building block rather than a fuel which is why I have a little with every meal and snack.

My favorite breakfast

My favorite snack
My favorite lunch or dinner.  About every 3 days, I switch to serious carbs. Then return back to this.

Refined sugar is still my biggest enemy and so I have gone off of it almost completely.  However, I still crave sweets and allow myself to have some now and then, but only with great caution since it is so addictive.  To solve this sweet tooth dilemma, I generally use Truvia instead.  It is derived from the leaf of stevia rather than chemicals and has zero calories. 

Besides the Mediterranean diet, I try to follow principles from a book called Trim Healthy Mama by Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett.  Their theory is this.  Our bodies burn two kinds of fuel, fats and sugars.  (Carbs = sugars) The combination of these two fuels together is what puts on the pounds.  However, it does not mean I have to eliminate one or the other, but rather eat only one fuel source at a time leaving at least 3 hours before switching to the other.  To move back and forth from one fuel source to the other creates confusion in the body, resulting in weight loss.   I try to stick with this principle as much as possible, but I break the rules more often than I would like to admit. 

Along with my change in diet, I have also changed my method of exercise.  I used to run a slow jog for miles, but it never did anything to make me smaller.  The reason is that our muscles adapt to  continuous movement.  Furthermore, running only uses a few muscles in the body. If that is all I do, I have neglected to work other areas.  And so I've learned to mix things up to create muscle confusion.

One way I do that, is through some exercise dvds called Ten Minute Solutions published by Anchor Bay.  I do their 30 day, six day a week chart religiously, rarely missing a workout.

The program is designed to do 4-6, 10 minute sections a day.
I like this set of five dvds for several reasons.  First of all, it combines kick boxing, pilates, strength training (weights), cardio, and coordination, producing an all around fitness.  Secondly, they treat me with respect, not with a superior attitude or unrealistic expectations. Thirdly, I've repeated the cycle non stop for five months and still enjoy it.  That's saying something as I usually get bored with dvd workouts.  And lastly, I like to follow a chart.  They do the thinking for me so I don't have to figure out what I'm doing on what day.  I find great satisfaction in checking off each day, plus it records my progress. 
Seeking rapid results, I chose their 6 day/week program.  There is also a 3 day/week chart that is less intense.

Besides that, I try to get outdoors for some sunshine and cardio.  My favorites are hiking, biking, or running. (With running, I do sprint intervals and stadium stairs, never going more than three miles.)

Then I usually take a walk late evening with my husband.  This gives us a chance to talk and I hardly even realize we are exercising.    

All this exercise amounts to almost three hours a day.  You are probably wondering how on earth anyone has that much time to work out.  Most people don't and there were seasons of my life where I did not either.  Start small and build up to what your body needs.  But the key is to start.  Do something you love.  Enjoyment is the key to keeping a habit for life.  If I hate what I do, I will quit.  But it might take some suffering and discipline to work up to the place where it becomes an enjoyable activity.   If exercise is not your thing, it is possible to train yourself to like it.  An accountability system is helpful as well. 

A lot of people lose weight with no exercise at all, only dieting.  This has never worked for me.  I must have both factors incorporated into my daily life, especially as I get older.  

Often I spend time with friends while I exercise, but I am one who enjoys being alone as well.  I usually pray or memorize Scripture on my hikes or while running, and so it is not wasted time. I keep my memory work in a tiny composition book which fits in my pocket.  I take this with me wherever I go.  This helps to keep my mind fit as well. 

Whew!  Okay, that is my long answer to the question, "What is your secret to weight loss?"  It is no secret, just the same old fashioned diet and exercise answer.  I hope that satisfies the curious and will inspire others in their goals as well. 

"I can do all things through Him who gives me strength."  Phil. 4:13

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Battle

We all know about David and Goliath, but did you know that Goliath had a brother?   And there really was a man with six fingers and six toes.  David's mighty men came face to face with these lesser known giants and defeated them.  (1 Chron. 20:4-8)

Likewise, we all have something with which we struggle, our own personal giants, but not everyone's is the same.  Yours might be cancer or diabetes, autism or depression.  It might even be a personality trait such as shyness or anger.  I have some dear friends, mighty warriors, who are fighting hard at their battles, which encourages me in mine.

Last spring God brought me face to face with a giant of my own, that is, my weight.  For years I've known that I needed to make some changes, but our culture's obsession with skinny caused me to resist diets and the 'starve-yourself-to-fit-a-certain-image' mentality.  Hollywood has set an airbrushed expectation which cannot realistically be met.

That was just one excuse.  I had many others.  Genetics, giving birth to four children, and growing older were among them.  But God was telling me plain and simple that if I was to overcome in this area, I must first take full responsibility for my condition.  I had to stop making excuses.

Yet still, I wondered, where is the power to overcome?   My brain might know what to do but that does nothing for my motivation.  I still desire to eat the wrong foods, eat excessively, or sit on the couch.  Knowledge does not necessarily produce change.  I've been there, done that. 

At the time, I was reading from the life of Joshua where he gave the children of Israel a charge, "Choose you this day, whom you will serve," and it clicked.  (Josh. 24:15) That was my ticket to power.   I did not have to worry about next week, next month, or even next year.  All I need do was choose life for this day.  Those daily, seemingly insignificant decisions, matter.  Real living is encased in making the right choice.  Rather than restricting my freedom, these choices actually set me free.  It was empowering.  I did not have to be a slave to my own desires.

God also brought me to passages in Hebrews which speak of the suffering of Christ. (Heb.2:10-11, 17-18; 4:15; 5:7-8)  Even Jesus, by dying, chose the path of life.  And if the victory Jesus secured required denying Himself, should not mine as well?   He calls us to "take up our cross and follow Him." (Lk. 9:23)  This is a daily discipline. 

We are created to live in righteousness.  Surrender to God's terms is not only pleasing to God, but is also where I find true joy.  It is the best place for me. 

Through the Lord's enabling, I have lost 40 lbs.  I tell you this with great fear and trepidation because my journey is not yet over.  I have 5 more to lose and these last pounds are the hardest yet.  Furthermore, I know my own weakness.  How easy it is to compromise and regress right back to where I started.  Only by the grace of God am I where I am today. My faith does not rest in a particular diet or exercise plan, but in His strength which continues to sustain me each day.  It is Christ who gives me the power to remain on this path of life.

Before (Fall 2013)

After  (Fall 2014)

After  (Fall 2014)
However, surrender to the Lord does not mean that I do nothing.  The consistent, tenacious fighting is my surrender.  I see this scattered all through the Scriptures.  The sword of the Lord and Gideon.  God brought down the walls of Jericho, but Joshua and the people expended themselves in obedient marching.  God brought down Goliath, but David stepped boldly into battle having spent years in the pasture, honing his skill with a sling shot.  I could give countless other examples.

I have a part in this equation, and that is to fight with all my might.  Yet, at times I have fought aimlessly, and so I'm learning that it is important to educate myself in order to fight smarter.  My metabolism is not the same as it was at 20 years of age, 30, or dare I say it, even 40.  I have to fight differently than I did then in order to fit this season of my life.  For that reason, my next post will be about the tools God is using to help me in this fight. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Of Chickens and Courage

Roosters might decorate our weather vanes, and hens contribute to our kitchens, but chickens do not fight giants.  Furthermore, I have never known a chicken to be a school mascot.  Go chickens!  It just does not carry the right ring or implications.

At our recent ladies' retreat, I received a door prize.  And it was none other than, drum roll . . . a chicken.  Others received cute little notebooks, ceramic paper weights, or chocolate.  I thought, how appropriate, since the talk I am about to present has much to do with courage.  God does have a sense of humor.  

Since April I've been engaged on the front lines of a battle.   Very real and tangible, it has required a tremendous amount of courage.  However, now that I am on the tail end of it, when I would like to sit back and enjoy the spoils, God has called me to yet another.  Only this one is not quite so visible or easily measured.

Sometimes God brings me right up to the edge of an issue and I say, "No, I just cannot tackle that battle right now."  My heart quivers with fear and all I can see is this enormous giant.  Overwhelmed, I turn back to my complacent state, content with my wilderness wandering.  It is safe here, requiring no risk. 

God is so very understanding and filled with compassion.  He gently leads, sometimes waiting years before turning us to once again face that same giant.  Aware of our weakness and fears, He knows that ultimately real joy is found in the place of victory and obedience.   

If only we could see who's side we are on!  Sometimes I live in pathetic defeat, not because God is unwilling or unable to come through for me, but because I refuse to surrender to the steps required to overcome. 

Surely, when God says, "sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet," referring to Jesus, He is not just giving lip service.  (Heb. 1:13)  And when God says, "all authority in heaven and on earth is given to me," He means it.  (Matt. 28:19)

What if I dared to trust God for the impossibility?  What if I took a step of faith . . . and another . . .  and another.  What if I dared to face the giant and expend the energy required to fight?  What if I dared to believe change could happen? 

Although it is crucial to pray and depend on the Lord, trust does not mean I expend no effort on my part. 

When Joshua led the children of Israel into the promised land, there were impossible road blocks to overcome, enemies to fight, and hard work to sweat.  And yet, this was the place of joy!  Those who wandered in the desert for another 40 years, refusing to fight, never really lived.  In fact, they died for lack of faith.

Never have I known so much delight as in this place of fighting giants.  We say that "in God's presence is fullness of joy," without thinking about what it really means.  (Psa. 16:11)  The surrendered life, and the one willing to take a risk into scary obedience is the one who lives in His presence.  That is where I want to be. 

Over the last few months, God has been making these truths a reality in my experience.  Although I spoke of this at our recent ladies' retreat, I've been struggling to share it here due to the delicate nature of the topic.  Furthermore, I have not arrived and could easily regress.  Yet, to share my own personal story is in itself a step of faith, and I believe God would have me take that risk.  In the coming days, be looking for my testimony on overcoming a giant. 

After all, I don't want to be a chicken!   

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Get Up and Walk

Have you ever had an 'aha' moment of spiritual understanding?  Suddenly, when you are least expecting it, the light bulb goes on in your brain and trickles down into your heart.  That's what happened to me last night during youth group.  I am so elated that I have to tell you about it.

My husband was teaching a lesson on the paralytic who was lowered down through the roof by his four friends.  To those with Bible teaching in their background, this passage from Luke 5 is a familiar story.  The house was packed.  Prestigious religious leaders crammed in close to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the miracle worker.  So close, in fact, that no one could get through, thus the radical entrance through the roof.

Everyone expected Jesus to heal this man's legs.  Instead Jesus said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."  (Lk. 5:20)

The religious leaders knew, as do we, that only God has the authority to forgive sins and so they accused Jesus of blasphemy.  Jesus, wanting to show them that He was indeed truly God, then went on to heal the man's legs.  For which is easier, to wash away sins or to perform miracles?

But the peculiar thing about this passage is the order in which it happened.  First Jesus forgave the man's sins, then said, "get up, and walk".  (Lk. 5:23) 

We were challenged to live what we believe, to walk the walk.  If we have placed our faith in Jesus to forgive our sins, then go on to live in righteousness. 

Yet, so often, like the legalistic Pharisees, we get it backwards.  We expect that our works should come first and then we will be acceptable to God.  But in reality, our trust is not in our good deeds, but rather in the shed blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

I had a rough weekend.  Excited about leading the middle school girls in our first chapter of a brand new study, I biffed badly.  Most of them left confused.  Although I spent all of last week writing and rewriting, still it fell short of the goal.  I felt I had let the girls down and squandered an opportunity.  

I tend to dwell on my mistakes, rehearsing them over and over in my mind, beating myself up for being so thoughtless.  The encouragement came when I heard the words of Jesus, "Take heart friend, your sins have been forgiven."  And God snatched that shame right out of my heart.  I was reminded to stand on His forgiveness, trusting that He can redeem what was lost.  Now I need to "get up and walk," moving on from here.

I have much work to do, especially in this area of writing, but I have renewed passion and courage, knowing that the past is in the past.  God is not mad at me, nor did I let Him down.  Those thoughts are only lies, all lies.  He knows that I worked in faith believing it was just what He desired.  I stand accepted in Christ based on His forgiveness.

Maybe today you too are hung up on a mistake that haunts your subconscious, shame pushing you down.  Accept God's forgiveness and "get up and walk", for He makes all things new.