Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the Beauty Series: Diet and Exercise

I love to eat. Hasn't always been that way, but once I was out of childhood, I really started to get the whole food-is-good thing! All throughout my teens, into my twenties and even thirties, I could eat and eat and eat, and never gain a pound! Now? Well, now in my forties is a very different story... One that eerily parallels to my spiritual walk.

We have all heard the saying, "You get out what you put in." When you are used to eating whatever and whenever you want, that comes to fruition rather quickly and alarmingly once middle age hits. What I was used to putting in during my youthful years was tons of sugar, processed flour and red meat. What I am now getting out of that is thicker thighs, a muffin top and general roundness in all as-pects! I have to modify my diet drastically before I turn into two-ton Tilly and that takes discipline. Discipline I frankly don't have from years of being very, well - undisciplined.

God is much the same way in my life. For a very long time I was not a Christian and I was not disciplined. I didn't have the slightest clue what my spirit needed to keep my heart tied to my Lord and to help me on the path of becoming more and more like Christ. Once I became a Christian I didn't immediately become disciplined either. I had to work at it - I have to exercise!

If there are two very distinct things I dislike in this life they are dieting and exercising. Dieting is an act of discipline and a denying of one's personal desires and comfort. Exercise is also an act of discipline and it takes practice, coordination and persistence. When I deny my tongue the delight of ice cream or potato chips, my body begins to thank me by not taking on the shape of apples, pears or any other fruity shape not befitting a woman. When I exercise my body also thanks me by doing lots of things, not all of them readily viewable on a scale, including toning my muscles, revving up my metabolism and strengthening my heart.

With our bodies we can often see physical results of our efforts. We view what we put on our dinner plates and we watch the scale and the mirror for results. How do we know when we spiritually diet and exercise what to look for and how to tone up? Take a look and see if any of this sounds familiar...

I diet spiritually when I keep my mind free from television shows that aren't appropriate viewing for my Christian self. I diet when I deny my anger and my "right" to feel mistreated and abused. I diet when I decide to do for others before I do for me. It isn't easy. Dieting never is. It is an act of my will to diet and keep myself from the things that give me pleasure if only for a short time. Like nutrition for the body, feeding my soul is a lifestyle change and a choice I will have to make for a lifetime, not something I can do on a weekend, or just until I get to my goal. I have to continue to make the decision to deny my earthly flesh those things that once satisfied me but now are just empty calories taking up valuable real-estate in my heart.

Putting in the good stuff is also a part of my diet. In place of the sugary snacks I now choose real food for my soul. I choose instead to fill my tank with the Word of God, television that uplifts, and time with my kids playing games. In place of the emptiness of my old habits I now have a fullness that produces in me a sweetness that is truer to who God desires me to be. I know that feeling of loss for a moment when we decide to give up something that we once held so dear, and trust me it is a struggle I still fall victim to on occasion. But just like any other diet, don't throw it all to the wind if you fail. Simply ask for forgiveness and start again. It takes time to develop habits that last a lifetime, but the reward is crucial. It can save your life.

Exercise is a necessary extension of our dieting and similarly is not an easy task to undertake. Exercise takes practice, a repetitive motion that eventually becomes like muscle memory that we do almost without thinking. Like remembering to say "thank you" when we were children, now we are tasked with remembering not to say too much as adults. Exercising our prayer muscles instead of our doing muscles when things don't go our way. Exercising our smiles when we really want to just throw ourselves in the dirt and tantrum like a toddler.

Exercise is a habit that takes a good amount of coordination too. We cannot constantly be tripping over our "rights" if we are trying to exercise our love of others. We have to time our desires with the desires and will of God, or we will land flat on our faces in the mud puddle of sin, rather shamefaced and hurting.

While exercise can be painful, it produces in us a beauty and healthful heart attitude that diet alone cannot deliver. Exercise is a hand-in-hand partner with our diet. It produces the real fruit, but only if we stick to it. We have to be persistent in our exercise routine and we have to change it up when we get stagnant. We are to be continually checking in with our Head Trainer to make sure we are on the right regimen and that we haven't slipped in our push to sweat it out.

Just as I have struggled with a way to find a quick fix for my physical form, there is no valid short cut with my spiritual body either. I have to put in the time, the good nutrition and I have to be unfailingly consistent in order to see results. Diet pills and arrow prayers may work for a short time, but in the long run if I want lasting results I have to make lasting changes. Exercise your spiritual muscles and cut out the empty calories, those are changes that will last and your heart will thank you for it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the Beauty series: Weight Control

Being forty has not been kind to my ego. I used to be able to eat anything, exercise NEVER, and not gain a pound. I smugly used to quip that it was because I didn't diet, I ate all the time and my metabolism thanked me for it. ahem... Now that I am hitting the middle of my life, life is hitting my middle. No, for those that know me personally, I am not overtly heavy. I am just softer around the middle, a bit thicker in the thigh and nothing I seem to do will make this change. Some have said stress is the reason, some have giggled and chided me for not sticking to a routine. Whatever the reason, it isn't leaving and it has brought to mind another aspect of my life.

As we age, we gather things. Remember your grandmother's house? Mine was packed with trinkets, furniture, odds and ends... Stuff that had been collecting over a lifetime lived and enjoyed. (My grandmother also gathered around her middle too... But we won't think about that.) The things I remember about my Grandma are not the things that she had sitting on shelves or tucked away in drawers and closets, however. The memories I have of her are the stories she told, the times I was allowed to sit in her lap even when I was way too big, the advice she would give me when I seemed to be about to come apart at the seems. A favorite was when she told me that there will always be laundry to do, always dishes to be washed, but the time we spend with our kids when they are little we can never get back. It taught me to take time to look up, enjoy the moment and keep life in perspective. It is the cornerstone of my book as well.

We keep ourselves in constant motion in this modern day. It isn't "efficient" to just drive our cars any more. We need to be talking on our phones, making connections, listening to the news. Multitasking has become a way of life and we miss so darned much when we don't look up and take in the beauty that God created to keep us sane and productive. If you have been in the market for a job these days you know how important it is do be able to multitask. If you can't, you are likely still looking. Living on the edge of insanity has somehow become the norm, doing too many things and not doing anything well.

In theory, it's necessary, it's a benefit... it's all great. But in practice, can I be so bold as to say, it's somewhat disastrous. We end up carrying around a lot of baggage in our little Bag Lady carts that we are frankly not supposed to be carrying. We begin to pile so much on our cart that we can't see over the mess of it. We bump into folks and don't say excuse me because we never see them coming or going! We run right over the purpose of God in our lives when we take on so much it clouds our vision of Him as well.

It's time to lose some weight! It's time to take stock of all that stuff in our carts and determine if it is there because God put it there or because we thought we could handle it. Do you have enough time in your day to stop and kiss your wife or husband? Does your family know you'd come running if called? Would you answer if the call was from a family member? If you have any doubts, it's time to inventory your cart. Take the first step and pray God would shine a light on things that you can chuck to get a clearer vision of His purpose. He wants you to see the bright and wonderful world He created just for you, not the mounds of things that have been stacked to the ceiling around you.

Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ - that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. (Colossians 3:2)

Monday, April 11, 2011

For Sale: One slightly over used pedestal...

There are some things that haunt me still. Though they have passed and I have been forgiven, I am hunted down and flayed open by these things standing like skeletons all about me. Words spoken in anger, choices made in the heat of the moment, looks shot and attitudes taken... I know that I am forgiven these lapses of judgement, especially because I recognize them as such and want to change, but still they haunt me. They haunt me because I have not changed. At my very core, I am still the sinful and hateful person I have always been, dancing with my boney friends to the funeral dirge of my inner joy.

Just because I decide I want to change doesn't always mean that I do change. Some things are so ingrained in me that I wonder if it is even possible to change any more. Like my habit of putting myself and my desire for comfort above others, I still struggle through moments that leave me angry and hurt and sadly unproductive.

I put myself on a pedestal.

Absurd, right? I thought so too when God gave me the title to this post. "But Lord," I argued, "I would never do such a thing! I don't want to be worshipped or hailed above others. I am no example to be looked upon with admiration." "And yet," the Lord whispered to my heart, "You insist on acting the way you do when you are wronged. If you don't put yourself up there, who does?" Wow. It stung me right to the core, but as always, my God is absolutely right.

At the basis of my bad behavior is pride, the very thing that lifts me onto that pedestal and shouts for all to come and see. I am prideful when I think that I don't deserve to be mistreated. It is pride that wants to shout my hurts and be validated in my crappy attitude. It is pride that brings me low when I am compared to others and find myself lacking. It is pride that has lifted me onto that pedestal every time.

Remember how we talked about Satan being a very unimaginative assailant? Well, pride is a way that he gets right into my heart and wreaks havoc once more. It isn't a new attack, in fact it is as old as the beginning of man. Just ask Eve. Pride is what felled her relationship with the Father right there in the garden under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pride caused her to doubt that God knew how to keep her safe and happy. Pride told her that God was keeping good things from her for no reason at all. Pride destroyed her chance of reaching the potential God had designed for her.

Pride has attacked others as well. Look up Job and his trials before God, check out David and his love affair with another man's wife, don't forget Moses and the Israelites in the desert for FORTY years... Are you picking up what I am putting down? Pride is nothing to court, rehearse or sing loudly to the crowd! It destroys our relationship with God because it puts us on our pedestals above the garden where He has longed to walk with us for centuries. Pride separates us from accepting His love in a free and trusting manner.

When I am tempted to think that "I don't deserve this treatment," I need to remember only one thing. Truly, I deserve nothing. Yes, you heard me correctly. I don't deserve anything but death because I am a sinful and hurtful and hateful human being and at every turn I will choose to sin in pride again. I deserve punishment for my abhorrent behavior. I deserve the fires of hell.

Luckily, I don't get what I deserve. Gratefully, I rejoice that God has chosen to grant me grace. Grace. Its nature is antithetical to my sense of justice, and thank goodness for that! God chooses to overlook my filthy rags of prideful behavior and He sees only the white and shining robes of His Son, lent to me because I have dirtied my own with sins galore. Christ readily hands me his robes and says, "Here, He will like this. Put it on, instead of your own. I don't mind, I gave all so that you can enter into His presence." I am humbled by that.

Humility is something that we have come to look upon as weakness in this day and age. Quite a shame, don't you think? I do. Humility is that one thing that combats Satan's pride attacks and it is what we run from because we are reticent to look weak. Hilarious! Funny only because we are absolutely weakest when we allow pride to dictate our reactions and not the true humility of God in our hearts. We are only as strong as our trust in the Lord to right the wrongs, mend our hearts and champion or causes. When we can lay those prideful burdens at His almighty throne we become so much stronger than any of Satan's attacks. When we are humble enough to admit our weaknesses to Christ and beg His grace fall upon us, we are then as strong as the one who is our true Champion. He alone is able, and I am incredibly grateful. Aren't you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

PX90 for the soul

In a society that is very focused on outward appearances we have all become very familiar with those obnoxious informercials that tout the latest and greatest way to exercise, the newest diet fad and the next miracle additive that will keep us thin and desirable with no effort at all. I know I am not the last nor have I been the first to fall for some pretty kooky ways to lose weight.

Becoming a member of the over forty crowd has been hard on my ego. I don't lose weight as easily as I used to. In fact, in the last three attempts I have lost nothing at all! How's that for an ego-buster? I was so desperate that I even trooped off to the store to buy a supplement I saw on television... Sprinkle it on my food and miraculously I would start to shed the pounds that exercise and deprivation had so far failed to deliver. I stopped short of spending the exorbitant amount of money, however, once I saw the ingredient list consisted of some very common and non-weight-loss-related items. I guess my age did me some good... It saved me some cash!

Reading the labels helped me see that my desire for a quick fix consisted of nothing more than a great marketing campaign and a glossy package containing little more than salt... I walked away disappointed, but feeling good about my choice. Losing weight was going to have to be done the old fashioned way - Through some hard work and discipline.

The same can be said of my spiritual body. How many times have I wanted God to hand me some quick results instead of doing the work to make my desires come to fruition? Exercising my spiritual body to keep it healthy is as important as my physical needs and it too means doing some hard work that takes my time and my energy to complete. What's more is the underlying fact that I don't always get quick results. Exercising my spiritual muscles means doing it over and over and over, until I am proficient at it and it is a habit of choice. It is also WORK!

I wish it was as easy as those television endorsements say it is to lose weight, but building a sound spiritual body takes time and lots of effort. It takes wanting to make myself be the person that I am not naturally inclined to be. It means putting God before my desire to sleep in or meet with friends on Worship nights. It means that I will have to sacrifice my desire for comfort to fulfill my desire to be more of God's child. It means that I need to educate myself on how to become a better Christian each and every day.

Like so many things in this world there is a lot of misinformation out there. If I didn't know something about ingredients and weight loss to start with, I might have fallen for the scheme of the sprinkle diet. Because I do know the truth, I was able to side-step that pitfall, but how many others have not? The same follows for our spiritual lives. How many folks can you think of right now that have been misled about what a Christian person should or should not look like? Even one is too many, isn't it?

Do you look like a Christian? What does a Christian look like? Would folks be able to recognize that you even are one? I think about that quite a bit. I want people to know that I love the Lord, but I am also a very flawed and fallen individual. I get concerned with whether or not someone might take a look at my life and reject Christ because I have bouts of hypocritical and sinful behavior. I have researched this very dilemma and God has been faithful to provide some beautiful and simple pictures.

In Matthew chapter 13, the Lord delivers the parable of the sower. A farmer goes out to his fields and begins to spread his seed. Some falls on the ground and the birds come and eat it up, some lands in rocky soil and springs up quickly at first but whithers and dies when the sun beats down upon it because it hasn't got deep roots. Other seed is choked out by weeds and yet others fall on good soil and produce well beyond what the farmer had hoped. The meaning is explained later to mean that our only job is to throw out the seed of God's story and good news, He is the one who is responsible for it's landing in the right place at the right time. We cannot dictate how someone will react to the Word. We cannot know if it will be tossed aside (as in the birds eating it up), whether it will look like it took root, but in times of stress wither and die, or whether it will get choked out by the busyness of life. We can only be responsible for throwing it out there as commanded and for making sure that what we throw out is the true and unadulterated instruction of God - NOT our man-made imposition of perfection.

In the same respect I do need to be aware of my actions and my words when I am in the company of non or new believers. There is a lot of misinformation out there and if they haven't been taught correctly (or at all, for that matter) they could misconstrue my freedoms in Christ as sinful or "non-Christian" behavior and become discouraged. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. He explains that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. I should be on constant alert to make sure that my choices would benefit those around me, not cause them to stumble or become confused. At times that means exercising restraint on my freedoms and curtailing my desires, even when I know they aren't sinful.

Bottom line, just like all the kooky, crazy myths surrounding dieting out there, there are even more frustrating and unfounded ideas about Christianity. It isn't our job to right every wrong, but being armed with the true and clarifying Word of God can go a long way to halting some devastating misconceptions. Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven. Our greatest asset lies in the absolute grace of God that forgives us when we confess our sins to Him with a repentant heart. We have the luxury of tapping into that grace each and every moment of every day. Don't we owe it to others to be considerate enough to discipline our hearts so they can learn that too?

Friday, April 1, 2011

MYOB: Wherein She is Reminded... Again!

Yup. Happens. I have to be reminded again and again and again to Mind Your Own Business (MYOB). Let me clarify before your imagination runs amuck. I haven't been caught reading someone's journal, or eavesdropping on someone's conversation (again), no more cyber-stalking... Nope. It's more critical than that.

There's a place in the Bible, late in Jesus' return from the tomb and just before He returns to the Heavenly Father, where our Lord gives Peter a swift kick in the back-side about MYOB. Check out the verses in John 21:21. Peter is asking about one of his comrades after being told some pretty disturbing news by the Son of God. Jesus doesn't hesitate when He pointedly tells Peter that John is simply none of his business, his only job is to do exactly as Christ has asked of HIM.

Boils it right down to the nub of the matter, doesn't it? Our job is to keep our ears open, our eyes peeled and frankly, most of the time, our mouths shut! God wants us to be listening very carefully to the instructions He has for each and every one of us, INDIVIDUALLY. It boggles my mind when I think about the fact that God has planned out every detail in my life and that He has a specific plan for each and every day I am on Earth. Not only does He plan out for me and mine, but ALL of his children have a page in His daily planner, even when they don't profess to be His.

Whew! My brain is smoking... Is yours? Well then, let's simplify shall we? I need it...

In Hebrews 12:1 Paul encourages us to take a look around us. Every person gone before us, even those that are mighty in the eyes of the Lord, should be an encouragement to us in running the race that has been specifically marked out for us and us alone. No one can run our race for us, but each of us can take encouragement from those that have run their own race and realize that we are just as loved and cherished as they were. The more encouraging part for me personally, is that my race course has been personally marked out by the Lord especially for me. That is incredible!

My life, its choices, its mistakes, its successes - all of it - have been touched and massaged and loved into fruition by the Heavenly Master Planner. He walked my course before I was set upon it and He knows its pitfalls and rewards. He knows where I will stumble and where I will soar. He planned it for me to grow and mature and learn to trust more wholly in Him. My course isn't your course, and yours isn't mine. God isn't about making cookie-cutter-Christians. He's into haute-couture! One of a kind designs and special orders...

As humans and sinful ones at that, it is so very easy to take a look over your own backyard fence and start coveting the lush green grass of a neighbor's lawn. The pitfall is that we truly have no idea what it took to make their lawn that lush, we don't have the luxury of time to waste in not cultivating our own back yards and frankly, we cannot see into their home to discover that while the yard might be truly lovely, the kitchen may be a disaster! Where am I going with this??

I can spend a lot of time comparing my race to the race of my spouse, my family and my friends or I can get busy making sure that I am doing the very best I can to keep my own finish line firmly in sight. If you are a runner, you can relate to how unsteady your gait can become if you are constantly looking around at the other runners. Concentration is key and if you don't keep your eye on the goal, you will stumble and you may fall.

The course God has planned for you is so individualized that no one else can complete it. God chose you especially for the task you have before you. He is waiting for you at that finish line to congratulate and reward you for your efforts. Keep your eyes up, your feet steady and your faith strong - It's all yours to win!