Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fighting "Feel Good" Faith

I'm looking at my closet right now: dresses shoved on one side, shirts and jackets on the other, some hangers dangling and askew. But mostly, I was looking at the big, blank stretch of wall just above it.

A while back, I had the idea to make a LARGE sign for that spot that says, "She is clothed in strength and dignity." You when I'm standing in front of my closet in my underwear crying because I have nothing to wear, I'll remember the important things to be clothed in.

At least that's the idea. I may still cry.

However, it also made me think of something else: am I really? Am I really clothed in strength and dignity?

I know there are a lot of y'all ready to hop to my defense, but hear me out on this. It might be my new soapbox.

In his letters in the Bible, Paul wrote often to warn his readers about the dangers of inaccurate theology. He wanted them to know how to sniff out a fake. At the time, much of this was centered around circumcision and "the law." These days, we call it legalism.

However, in our modern-day churches, though some are RIFE with legalism, I believe one issue has begun to outpace it. Indeed, this may be even more dangerous: Feel Good Faith.

I see it everywhere I look these days. I hear:

"God says I am enough."
"God says I am perfect just the way I am."
"God says I am strong.
"God says I can accomplish anything."

The problem with those statements? They are false. God doesn't say those things. As a matter of fact, those things are completely counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ because if we were enough, perfect just the way we are, etc. we would not have needed salvation.

But we did. We do.

In every situation in the Bible, if someone needed strength or courage, God did not say, "Go get 'em, Tiger. I know you can do it." He said, "Stand back, son, and watch how I do this THROUGH you."

Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid,
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be
with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

He didn't say, "You got this!" He said, "Trust me; I got this." The distinction is subtle but vital.

Joseph did not save millions from famine. God saved millions through Joseph.
Moses did not part the Red Sea. God parted the sea through Moses.
David did not slay Goliath. God slayed Goliath through David.

In these cases, and all the others in the Bible, it isn't the individuals ability that comes to the rescue, it's their faith in the God who saves.

Even the name Jesus means, "God is salvation."

"But what's the harm?" you might ask? "Why is it an issue if people want to say that? We know what they mean, and it makes them feel good. It empowers them!"

Unfortunately, it may feel good, but it's building your house on the sand. Time and again, I see people who say these things fall prey to their own philosophies. Life is hard. Spiritual attack is hard.

I keep watching as the people espousing these philosophies come to remarkably difficult junctures in their lives, and instead of leaning on the ONE who can give them the strength and courage they need to follow God into the dark places, leaning and depending upon Him, they lean heavily on their own understanding, thinking God would never want them to be unhappy or uncomfortable.

They make decisions, not based on scripture, but on what feels good because, after all, that's what gets them through. They trade the worship of God for worship of themselves, and their homes and lives fall like a house of cards. Only houses built on the rock can withstand the wind and waves.

It's sad and tragic and, honestly, just really bad theology.

So, when I look at my blank wall, thinking about the "clothed in strength and dignity" sign, I wonder if I actually am. The answer? If I have chosen to be.

When you read about the Proverbs 31 wife (which is who the quote refers to), there's a pretty formidable woman there. But why? Why is she so amazing? Because she walks through each day with God by her side.

  • She works hard because she works to please the Lord.
  • She makes good decisions because she trusts the wisdom of God.
  • She gives unselfishly because she mirrors the God who gives.
  • She is clothed in strength and dignity with no fear of the future because she knows whose hands its in...and it isn't hers.

Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.
Proverbs 31: 30

To be frank, I don't know if that's who I am every day...probably not if I'm crying about not having any clothes in front of a loaded closet. I'm super glad I don't have to earn my salvation because if I did, I'd probably have a one-way ticket to Hell.

But I know it's who I aspire to be. It's who, thanks to the Holy Spirit, I look more like as time goes on. But I also know it's not me on my own.

I know I'm really excited to make the sign, not because of who I am, but of who God is, and He is calling me to be a woman fully dependent upon Him, every moment of every day. That's a theology I'm willing to stand on. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Breaking Free

*sigh* I really don't know what to say here, except some seasons just beat you up.

There's a scene toward the beginning of Moana where she tries to take a boat out into the water for the first time. She's doing okay until a wave capsizes her and shoves her under. With her ankle stuck fast in coral, wave after wave plows into her until, finally, she grabs a rock, smashes the coral, and breaks free.

That's this season for me. In one particular area of my life, it feels like I keep climbing back into the boat, and time and again, waves hurl me into the sea. I've been caught by the coral so often that my entire being is bloodied and bruised, and my water-logged lungs ache for air.

And yet, I climb back on the boat. That's all that can be done, really. Sometimes, there's just no going back to the shore.

I thought about this as I jogged yesterday. I prayed and thought...and prayed some more.

Yesterday was a interesting day for me. The first couple weeks of the Couch to 5K program you only run for 60-90 seconds at a time. But yesterday was supposed to be the first day of week 3, which contains a couple 3 minutes runs.

I almost skipped it and when back to the week before. No shame in that right? A jog is a jog.

But something about it felt like cheating, and let's be honest, you never know what you can do until you try. Thus, week three, day one commenced.

The first 3 minute block was LONG. I didn't know 3 minutes could last that long. I got through, though, by praying and refusing to look at how long I'd gone.

But then the second 3 minute block came. This time, it was it was hard. MUCH HARDER. The only thing that got me through that time was the scene in the movie "Facing the Giants," when the coach has the kid crawl from one end of the field to the other blindfolded with another kid on his back. He just keeps saying, "You promised to give it your best! I know it hurts! But you've got more in you!" (Or something like that)

I felt like God was saying that: "With my help, you can do this. I know it hurts, but you have My strength in you. Give it all you've got. I'm here." 

And I got through. I hurt some, and I'm not entirely sure I was breathing by the end, but it got done. Then, I was home free! All the jogs were done, and I was down to a 3 minute walk, followed by a 5 minute cool down. 

However, once I recovered my breath, I felt God telling me He wanted me to jog again. He and I then had a little chat.

"I don't want to run anymore, though, God. I've done what I said I would do!"

But he whispered, "But with Me, you can do so much more than you can even ask or imagine. Run again."

"Fine," I grumbled. "I'll run from this car to that one down there, but that's it."

The second I started to run, the app told me I had a minute left of my workout before the cool down started...and as soon as I passed the second car, the app told my my workout was complete.

I cried tears of joy then...and even now. I hear you, God: with You, all things are possible. Sometimes you calm the storm, and sometimes, you just give us the strength to get through it. I know even when I feel like I can't go on, in you, there's hope.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

I wish I could say my hard season was over. In fact, even now I feel the waves crashing over me as I grope the seabed for something to break myself free. 

However, God has reminded me that no matter how long this lasts - a month, two months, or ten years - He is always with me, and one day, I'll break free from the waves that threaten to tear me to pieces. But to do that, I just have to keep getting back in the boat.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Running Behind

"There he goes,"
I sighed to myself, as my husband's figure moved further and further away. "The distance between us just continues to grow."

No, Josiah isn't leaving, and I'm not writing a soap opera. I just can't keep up with him when we run.

I'm training for this 5K (although we have yet to actually choose one), and on Josiah's last day off, I asked him if he would run with me. The man hates cardio, but he loves me a lot, so he agreed.

It's been a while since we worked out together, however, and I forgot how much faster he is. At 6'5", he's a foot and a couple inches taller than I am, and I'm convinced at least 75% of the difference is in the length of our legs. 

Normally, I look like a Chihuahua, trying to keep up with a Great Dane, but because he was being really considerate, in this case, he looked more like a kangaroo - just bobbing up and down next to me. Of course, I told him to go ahead and run. We'd come back together during the walking stretches, but I had to let him actually stretch his legs.

As the space grew between us, for a brief minute, I started to get sad and put myself down. "He never does cardio, and he's legit kicking my butt. Why do I bother?"

Then, the Holy Spirit checked me. He said, "Run your race." 

Here's the thing, ya'll, God did not make me a 6'5" man with the legs of Michaelangelo's "David." He made me a 5'3" mother of seven with a propensity toward weight gain. I was not made to run as fast as Josiah. I was not made to run faster than most people.

But I have a race to run that's all my own.

We need people with us on our journeys toward our goals, but while we're traveling together, never forget for one second that we each have our own races to run - races God designed us for, and paying too much attention to where someone else is in their race compared to you will only distract you from running yours well.

So, I let Josiah run. I smiled when he turned around to check in on me, cheered him on from behind, and if I'm honest, allowed myself to enjoy the view. Then, when we walked, I'd catch up. In the end, our workouts looked different, but we finished together and our bodies, minds, and spirits were the better for it.

I doesn't matter who's ahead on the journey; it just matters that you're traveling with people you love. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Slow Down and Finish Well

Recently, a friend of mine told me she wanted to run a 5K, and she asked me to hold her accountable. I'm all about a bandwagon, so I said, "Hey! Better than that, we'll do it together."

Just to let ya'll know, I have been avoiding anything that even looks like running for quite some time. I tell myself it's because it's too much pressure on my joints, but really it's just because I'm scared of the massive jiggle wave that would ensue...and that I might fall on my face. 

Look, I'm not trying to be "body negative" or anything, but if you've ever actually TRIED to run when you're overweight, you know what I mean. You have body parts that are on a full 5 second delay.

But I decided to download the Couch to 5K app, don my worn out compression tank, and get my butt out there anyway.

The first day I planned to run, I was TERRIFIED. What if I can't do it, I thought? What if I get out there and look ridiculous and can't even finish half of the first day? What if the whole neighborhood is laughing at me? What if I pass out?

Those first few running steps felt like chains falling off. 

I can do this, I thought. I'm not going to die! 

However, right around the halfway mark in the program, ish got real. I started to have to hardcore talk/pray myself through each 60 second run.

Dear God, it's only 60 seconds. Please help me not pass out. Please help me not to vomit. Please help me not to pass out in my own vomit. 

And then I also had to pray myself through my walks. "Please, God, help me catch my breath. My breath feels so far away."

I had to cut a couple of the running segments a few seconds short, and the final run by about half, but I made it through the 30 minute workout without dying, puking, or peeing myself so I thought it was a pretty strong win.

When I tried to roll over the next morning, my whole body rebelled. I thought I was just going to have to parent from bed all day.

Nevertheless, I found the strength to make it out of bed, and anyone who has ever worked out knows you HAVE to move when you're sore. The best way to treat soreness is to MOVE.

So, even though I was so sore I felt like I couldn't put one foot in front of the other, once again, my feet hit the pavement. I was still really worried about falling on my face, though.

When the running segment came, I was able to do it, but I was sluggish. I felt like my whole body was a full second behind my brain's commands.

But something very interesting happened as a result of my body's sluggishness: I was able to actually keep up.

Instead of huffing, puffing, and panting, I was able to focus on breathing through my runs. Instead of frantically trying to catch my breath in between, I was able to recover well and enjoy the view. Instead of praying to God he'd help me not vomit and die, I was able to pray and thank Him for helping me through - even at the end of my workout, on the long stretch before my house where there's no shade, and the heat of the sun beats down on me.

I ended the run on the second day feeling amazing, and I didn't cut ANY segments short. I didn't just finish, I finished well - and all because I had the courage to get back out there and take it slow.

Sometimes, we just want to get there, so we try to go as fast as possible. But that's just not sustainable. We run out of steam, we take shortcuts, and we finish, but it leaves us feeling depleted and sick.

Today, choose to go slow. Fully embrace each moment. Focus on breathing and praying. Run slowly and well, then make sure to take time to recover in between. You won't need to take the shortcuts, and at the end, you'll feel energized instead of depleted.

Friends, my prayer for you today is that you would finish the race set before you, not just falling across the finish line, but finishing your race well. 

Talk to you all later. I've gotta run. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Fit, Fat, and the Temple of the Living God

This morning I walked through a weekly ritual. I locked the bedroom door, took a deep breath, exhaled, and stepped onto the bathroom scale.

The number on the scale was right around the same as it has been. No change.

Then, with another deep breath, I went to my dresser and got out my tape measure. I wrapped it around my body in all the different places. With each new wrap I noted the numbers, right around the same as they have been. No change.

I've been doing this dance for more than a month at this stretch, but in reality, it's been a lifelong endeavor - the effort to make this body of mine change into something I can more fully appreciate.

For the last month or so, I have watched my calories carefully, been drinking more water (although still not the gallon I should be drinking every day), and committed myself to being more active.

I tried going low carb/carb cycling, with disastrous results. It didn't make me lose weight, but it did make me an emotional and psychological train wreck. Not everything is for everybody, apparently.

However, carb cycling or no, physical laws dictate that a calorie deficit over a prolonged period of time should lead to weight loss.

Apparently, I'm a law breaker.

Also, for the last 3 years, I've been taking supplements that, typically, aid people in weight management (if that's what their bodies need). They've changed my entire life, helping me through two pregnancies, and giving me back energy and great sleep when I thought I'd never feel great again. But unlike others, I haven't lost weight.

Recently, because of all this difficulty, I started to look into weight loss surgery. I mean, the weight HAS to come off somehow right? The temple of God, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, can't STAY fat, can it? I can't just stay this way forever...right?

But wait. Why not? What is truly at the heart of my desperation to lose weight and be thinner?

Other people's opinions

My "target audience" may have changed some over the years, but it doesn't really change the fact that I'm worried about how my body looks because of how I might be perceived. Now, as I sit on the cusp of some sort of ministry, I fear how those listening will think about my witness.

Will they ignore my words because they think I'm a hypocrite? As I speak about identity, calling, and purpose, will my message get lost because, to the world, my body screams louder "gluttony" and "sloth"?

Maybe, but those are really the wrong questions. They're firmly rooted in pride and selfishness. What if we change it up a bit?

What if, instead, the question is, "If I'm doing everything reasonable to take care of my body, and it still looks this way, is there a possibility God wants it to look this way?"

It almost sounds like an impossibility, given the aversion to fat in our society. Weight loss is practically synonymous with piety, and there are entire ministries (even churches) devoted to the practice.

I'm not knocking those things. Some of them are amazing, Biblically-focused ministries that help people regain a healthy perspective on food and their bodies. I think they're great, but I also think one very important component is missing from the discussion: my body is holy, just the way it is.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters,
in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God-
this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1

I used to read that verse and feel pressure and shame, thinking, in order for my body to be a holy and pleasing sacrifice, it needed to look different; or at least, I needed to be moving in the right direction. It felt like the Holy Spirit had to just be ACHING to live in a body that was thinner and more pleasing to God.

But y'all, that is just crap theology, and let me tell you why.

Before I was saved by the blood of Christ, there was nothing in the world I could do, no matter how "good" I was (or how good I looked) to make my body "holy and pleasing to God." Apart from God, none of it is good enough.

But, as soon as I recognized sacrifice of Christ in my life, my body became holy and pleasing. I was washed clean, and nothing can change that.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation.
The old has passed away;
behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

I'm doing what I can to be healthy, but even if I wasn't, even if I was stewarding my body poorly, that would be sad, and God might work through the Holy Spirit to convict me and change my path, but my body would still be holy and pleasing to Him because it's covered by the blood of Christ. 

And that is precisely why I present my body as a sacrifice, because He has saved me and made me pure, no matter what. His great forgiveness, grace, and mercy inspire me to make changes because He has made me clean when no amount of my own behavior could do it.

Furthermore, there is no place in the Bible that says God prefers one body type over another. What it DOES say, however, is that God doesn't look at physical appearance, but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He says that I have been remarkably and distinctly made, knit together in my mother's womb, that He sees me, knows me, and loves me (which is a whole conglomeration of verses - if you want references, let me know). 

Maybe, just maybe, my body looks just like it should at this moment in time, in His timing and for His purposes. Maybe, "All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28) REALLY means "all things" and my appearance is part of that.

Maybe, just maybe, I can look just like I do, and still be walking in God's will, or even, actively fulfilling a purpose in it.

Maybe, if I finally learn to accept my body in this moment, just as it is, God can use me to inspire someone else to see themselves as God sees them - as fully known, seen, and loved. Then maybe, just maybe, they can inspire someone else, too.

And those "maybes" are enough for me.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Plot Twist

What is it about your favorite book or story that makes it your favorite? Seriously. Think about it. I'll wait. *insert Jeopardy music here*

My friend John-Erik Moseler often says, "Just remember, all your favorite stories have plot twists," and he's right. Our favorite stories ARE our favorites because good triumphs over evil, the hero prevails, or the couple overcomes insurmountable obstacles. 

What we often fail to comprehend is that it's the very presence of evil, enemies, and obstacles that brings life to those stories, and that otherwise, they wouldn't be very interesting at all.

A good pot of beans is bland and, honestly, pretty gross without some meat, salt, and pepper (at the very least) to flavor it. But once, my hand slipped and I added FAR too much pepper. It made the entire pot completely inedible. 

Plot twists add flavor to our lives, but we also often have the ability to control whether we allow them to season our days well or make them completely "inedible."

 The last few days, I've experienced a plot twist of sorts - not one of the ginormous tragic ones, but instead, one that just seems to shift everything. Words are said, truths and feelings are revealed, and suddenly you find yourself at a crossroads of sorts.

For those of you who don't know me well or haven't known me long, I'm a fighter. I don't mean that in the positive sense, either. Words are my gift, but that also means I can spew venom and spit fire in the worst of ways when I feel backed into a corner.

But I'm also a work in progress - a new creation in Christ Jesus, becoming more like Him every day. So this time, I handled my plot twist in a different way. I went to church, spoke to a mentor, and most importantly, sought out time alone with God.

I drove to Fort Monroe yesterday, thinking I was going to seek God on the beach. I parked gathered my things and began to walk towards sand and waves, but it just didn't feel right. I stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk, turned in a couple circles, ad decided to go back to the car. I didn't know where God wanted me to go, but I knew it wasn't there.

I followed God's leading to another beach parking lot, but instead of going towards the beach, I walked in the other direction, under the shade of a tree, watching the slow, quiet waters of the fort "moat." And there, I prayed and studied God's word.

And He met me there, powerfully.

He reminded me through His word, while I stared at an old fort, that He is my strong tower, my stronghold, my fortress. 

He reminded me there in the shade that I rest in the shadow of His mighty wings.

He reminded me, as I sat in the grass by the water, that He is my shepherd who makes me lie down in green pastures and that he leads me beside quiet waters.

He reminded me that He will always lead me down the right paths for the sake of whatever brings Him glory, and that should be my aim.

He reminded me that, in Him, I have everything I need.

He quieted my soul.

I don't know where your story right now: if you're fresh off a plot twist, drowning in the middle, or on your way in. I don't know if your plot twist is a tiny turn or an implosion. But friend, what I DO know is that you have a choice in how you handle it. You have a choice in your perspective.

We all have different stories, but the same choice: who we allow to be the author. Personally, I choose Him - my Creator, the One who knows the beginning and the end. I am merely a character in His story, but I trust Him enough to know He'll write a far better version than I could ever imagine.

Who's writing your story? Are you muddling through, trying in every earthly way to make the next right turn? Or are you trusting God to guide your path, knowing He can take you places in this adventure that are beyond your wildest dreams?

We all have plot twists. How will you handle yours?

Friday, May 11, 2018

On the Edge of the Promise: The Right Battles with the Right Focus

In Community Bible Study this year, we studied Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. I have to admit, when we started, I was not overly enthusiastic. Nevertheless, as we began studying, I saw multiple parallels in my life and the journey of Moses and the Israelites.

Because of those parallels, now that CBS is over, I decided I should probably continue into Deuteronomy. Might as well follow journey to its conclusion, right?

This morning, God showed me a verse I would previously have easily ignored and gave me not just one lesson, but TWO.

God is so faithful.

When you get close to the Ammonites,
don't show any hostility to them or provoke them,
for I will not give you any of the Ammonites land as a possession;
I have given it as a possess to the descendents of Lot.

This too used to be regarded as the land of the Rephaim.
The Rephaim lived there previously,
though the Ammonites called them Zamzummim,
a great and numerous people, tall as the Anakim.
The Lord destroyed the Rephaim at the advance of the Ammonites,
so that they drove them out and settled in their place.

Deuteronomy 2:19-21

First, let's talk about what's going on here. The Israelites have defied God and failed to trust in Him numerous times, but none with such dire consequences as turning back from the Promised Land because they were afraid of its inhabitants. That defiance was costly: all but two people from the entire generation would pass away before their children would take possession of the land.

God's promises would still be fulfilled, but they wouldn't see it.

Now, that faithless generation has died and, having already won a couple of the battles God would have them face, the next generation stands at the brink of the Promised Land...and God has Moses give them a little history lesson.

First. in verse 19, it's very clear that God told them precisely which fights to pick and which ones to avoid altogether. At the end of Numbers, He very specifically outlined the borders of the Promised Land for them, and this land was not included. This is someone else's promise.

Where in your life are you picking the wrong battles? Where are you ignoring the voice of God that says, "That's not your fight"? Where are you coveting someone else's promise?

When we fight the wrong battles, we lose very precious time and energy, and consequently, instead of facing our own battles healthy, we stagger into them already bloodied and torn. Instead of facing the fight with our armor secure, weakened hands grip our shields of faith and tattered threads hold up our belts of truth. The victory may still be won, but not without undue pain and sacrifice.

Second, in verses 20-21, God wants Moses to clearly illustrate to His people that He's done it before, and He'll do it again. There were giants in the land Lot's descendants inhabit, but "The Lord destroyed the Rephaim at the advance of the Ammonites." The Lord made a promise, and HE fulfilled it.

Lot's descendants had faith that God would fulfill His promise to them. They didn't look at the so-called giants they faced, but at the God who faced the giants with them. God wanted his people to see the stark contrast of faith verses fear. Lot's descendants walked in faith, while the Israelites' previous generation walked in fear, despite God's many miracles and blessings.

Where in your life are you looking at the giants before you instead of the God who faces the giants with you?

There is one thing that is sure, no matter the giants in front of you, now or in the future, our God is bigger than them all.

So be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid
and do not panic before them.
For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you.
He will neither fail nor abandon you.
Deuteronomy 31:6