Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion, Health & Wellness

Getting Back on the Wagon

As I slowly work my way out of the pit I had gotten myself into during the Covid crisis, which you can read about here, I find that my life has become a series of change. Being cooped up for two months without being able to see my oldest daughter or elderly grandparents spun me right into a depression.  (The fact that I spent my days in pajamas, because I didn’t have to go anywhere, didn’t help.)  When I returned to work and realized that most of my pants no longer fit comfortably, I had a come-to-Jesus meeting and realized I had to get back on the wagon, and fast!

Before now, I always thought I would leave all of my journals to my three daughters.  I imagined that having something so personal, and in my own handwriting, might become something they would cherish someday.  I’ve been keeping journals for longer than I can remember.  From the beginning stages of my marriage when I first learned of my horrifying childhood experiences, to my battle with food addiction, to the long and painful medical journey we took with our oldest daughter, to my battle with food addiction, to our financial stresses, to my battle with food addiction, to the devastating venture with our middle daughter when she suffered a traumatic event at college, to my battle with food addiction…  you see where I’m going with this right?

I have since decided that I am not leaving all of my journals to my girls, after all.  I am going to be throwing most of them into the burn barrel, because they all contain the same thing.  “I did it again, Lord.”  “What is wrong with me, Lord?”  “Maybe this time will be different, Lord!”  Well, my current journal entries are no different.  I fell off the wagon yet again.  I gained back all of the weight I’d lost since I began my healthy lifestyle journey four years ago, and I am completely and utterly back at Square One.

I’d like to blame the whole thing on Covid-19, because I fully admit that I completely let myself go during the time I was cooped up in the house, but if I’m being totally honest, I had started to gain weight back long before that.  I have begged the Lord to reveal to me the reason behind this ongoing struggle, and I thought I had found my answer.  But, if it has anything to do with past childhood traumas like I thought it did, I am out of luck, because I’ve made peace with all of that, and nothing has changed…. until now.

This one little thing happened to me recently….  I found out that I’m going to be a grandmother!  And a grandmother of twin boys no less!  My goodness, I’ll have to get in shape just so I can chase them all over the place.  My dream has come true; my WHY is quickly becoming a current reality.

My “why” is the reason I want to have a successful business—so I can quit my day job and enjoy spending as much time as I can with my grandchildren.  My “why” is the reason I want to be more lean and fit—so I can get on the floor to play with my grandchildren and not have any trouble getting back up.  My “why” is the reason I want to live a long and healthy life—so I can watch my grandchildren grow up and have children of their own.

I decided with this new, exciting future just six short months away, I needed to take a new and exciting approach to getting back on the wagon and staying healthy permanently!  In the past, my bible studies have been about trying to reveal some deep dark secret that may have been the cause of my food addiction.  Most of my bible studies have been about trying to drudge up the past, because I always thought I would find answers there.  But the answers aren’t in my past; they are in God’s Word.  It’s time to leave the past where it belongs and try a new method of bondage breaking—learning how to love God more than I love food.

Understand that I am not saying if you have skeletons in your closet you have yet to awaken, you should just leave them buried there because it’s easier than facing them.  On the contrary, if there is something in those deep, dark corners of your mind preventing you from becoming the best version of yourself that you can be, I encourage you to face it.  I have spent over twenty years cleaning out the cobwebs and opening the windows to let in some light.  I am 100% on board with facing your past when it’s necessary to do so, but I am also a believer that there is no benefit in beating a dead horse.

There comes a time in your life when it’s evident that your focus should lie with the future, not the past, and this is that time for me.  (Finally!)  Honestly, because of my history with repeatedly falling off the wagon and getting back on again, learning to love God more than I love food is not a completely new concept to me.  I have been chasing the “food freedom” dream since the late nineties, but nowadays it’s called “Intuitive Eating.”  It’s high time to make that dream come true, too!  If I can just learn to obey my body’s hunger and fullness cues, and finally learn how to let the Holy Spirit guide my decisions instead of letting my own fleshly desires do it, I can make it happen.

Galatians 5:16 states, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” (NLT) I don’t know about you, but my sinful nature isn’t happy with one brownie; it wants four brownies!  I am certainly not implying that eating brownies is a sin; of course it isn’t, or there wouldn’t be a pan of brownies at almost every church function you ever attend.  Actually, brownies are a good gift from God.  He created cocoa beans, and He gave wisdom and creativity to the first person who ever decided to pound them down and mix sugar cane into them.  Over-indulgence is the sin.  I’ve talked about this in another post, so if you’d like to dissect this concept a little further when you’re finished here, visit Food Freedom for another good read.

The good news about getting back on the wagon for the eight hundred ninety-fifth time is knowing that I am not alone.  In fact, one of the most spiritual leaders to have ever walked the earth experienced this yo-yo cycle long before falling off the wagon became a coined phrase.  Consider this passage in Romans that was written by Paul, a villain-turned-hero who went on to write most of the New Testament after his own life-changing come-to-Jesus meeting!

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate.  But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature, I am a slave to sin.”  Romans 7:15-25 (NLT)

Wow!  How powerful is it to know that someone like Paul shared the same struggles that we do?  Let’s dissect this passage for a minute.  Paul states he really doesn’t understand himself, because he wants to do what is right but does instead what he hates.  How many times have we dealt with self-condemnation– beating ourselves up because, as much as we hate giving into our craving for Doritos or Double Stuff Oreos at one in the morning, we do it anyway, knowing full well that we will regret it as soon as we’ve done it?

Paul states that he agrees the law is good and that he loves God’s law with all his heart.  Me, too!  How many of us can express our undying love and devotion to our Lord and His Word one minute, then question that love and devotion when we make bad choices which prove opposite of what that Word tells us?

Paul states that it is sin living within him that makes him do the things which he knows are wrong.  Now, I’m not about to tell you that you’re possessed by the devil, but let it be known that every one of us has fallen short of the glory of God.  Not one of us is righteous by our own merit.  When Paul talks about the sin within him, he’s referring to the sinful nature—the fleshly desires.  That’s why Jesus came to earth and died on a cross for us—so we could be reconciled unto God and be blameless in His sight.  (See Colossians 1:22)

Furthermore, there is a real, true blue enemy of our souls who will stop at nothing to kill, steal, and destroy.  (See John 10:10) How many of us can admit that we’ve experienced the “devil on the my shoulder” scenario? Don’t tell me I’m the only one who has an angel on one shoulder telling me to eat the Chicken Ceasar Salad I brought for lunch and a devil on the other telling me to order a Cheese Steak on homemade Italian Bread with a side of fried cauliflower? Well, cauliflower is a vegetable after all, right?

Finally, I told you earlier in this post that my past no longer holds any answers for me, but that the answers I need are found within God’s Word.  Well lo and behold, Paul agrees with me!  He states in verse 25 that the answers are in Jesus Christ our Lord!

I love the book of Romans; it is perhaps my favorite book of the New Testament.  This letter that Paul writes to the Romans is chock-full of the Lord’s promises of redemption and restoration.  This is the book I refer to the most when I remind myself that I am valued. (Romans 5:8) This is the book I refer to the most when I remind myself that I am an heiress. (Romans 8:17) This is the book I refer to the most when I remind myself that my battle with food addiction is not just physical. (Romans 12:2)

But as much as I love Romans, and even though it is typically my go-to for times such as these, let me remind you that Jesus is central from Genesis to Revelation.  The answers are in there, if we know where to look.  God’s Word is true, and I have made it my mission to share that truth with other women like me who have been fighting the enemy of our souls for far too long.

Stay with me, and we will continue to traverse this journey together.  In the meantime, remember that even Paul fell off the wagon when dealing with his own personal struggles and temptations.  Remember that this is now, and might always be, an ongoing process.  There will be good days, and there will be bad days, and that’s okay.  Rather than focus on the destination, focus on the journey– one day at a time. Although my whole story will be sprinkled throughout this website and throughout my blog posts, I encourage you to read my About Me page if you haven’t already done so. It will not only give you some insight into where I’ve been, but it will give you some more insight into where I’m going, and I would love it if you would come along for the ride!

Before you know it, the good days will outweigh the bad, the numbers on the scale will be nothing but just numbers, and you won’t have to hold your breath to pull on your favorite pair of jeans.  These are all great achievements worth celebrating, and each one begins with baby steps!  If you are looking for some more faith-filled help along the way, there are lots of Christian resources available to help you jump on the Intuitive Eating/Food Freedom wagon.  Check out my Shop/Resources page for links to some of my favorites, and feel free to share some of your own favorites below.

Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

Princess and the P

“P?  What is P?  Like, pea?  What does she mean by that? Did she spell it wrong?”  Well, readers, for all intents and purposes, this particular “P” stands for the Prince of Peace- the Promise Keeper- the Great Physician- the Good ShePherd!  The truth is, there are more names for Jesus than I could possibly count!  And He lives up to every single one of them.  Redeemer is another one of my personal favorites.  Deliverer.  Mighty Counselor.  The list goes on and on.  So now that we know the “P” is a Who and not a what, who is the Princess in this scenario?  (We’ll get to that part.)

As time is constantly marching on, and life is constantly changing, and people are constantly evolving, so, in fact, must my blog.  As near and dear to my heart as my “Blooming Onion Theory” post is, because it was the first I had ever written, I finally had to archive it.  It was time for a new post to take center stage, because as I’ve honed in on what bloggers like to refer to as “their niche,” I have come to realize that my blog now has more of a central theme than when I first started out.  I want my new “sticky” post to be about this blog’s purpose.

First of all, some of you might be asking, “What is a niche?”  According to Dictionary.com, the definition that best suits the type of niche I’m talking about is “a distinct segment of a market.”  Simply put, a niche for a blogger is sort of their main topic, or their specialty, if you will.  It’s something specific that they write about.  Now when I first started researching the things I needed to know about writing a blog, I distinctly remember that most of the books I read on the subject inevitably stated at one time or another, “Everyone is an expert at something.”  Ha!  Me, an expert?  I’m not an expert at anything!  It was enough to make me break out into a cold sweat.

I wanted to make sure that anyone who visited my blog was well aware that I was no expert.  I didn’t have the answers to all of life’s questions, so I didn’t want to profess that I did.  I came up with the original blog name, Learning Life Together, because I wanted my readers to understand that we were in this together.  Did I have lots of life experiences to share?  I sure did!  But did that make me an expert?  It surely did not.  The one thing I knew, though, is that I wanted to encourage, educate, and edify other women like me who shared the same struggles.  I may not be an expert in anything, but I sure have a lot of experiences under my belt that taught me a life lesson or two.

If you check out my More About Me page, you’ll get the synopsis of my life story, but honestly, my story isn’t nearly as important as what I’ve learned from it- and what I’m still learning!  To put it mildly, a traumatic childhood and a lifelong addiction to food caused chronic self-loathing, self-condemnation, depression, guilt, and shame.  I felt I was too unworthy to receive love and respect, and frankly, I didn’t believe anyone would ever truly fall in love with me anyway.

But someone did!  Not only do I have an awesome husband and three incredible kids who love me unconditionally, but there is Someone who has loved me since before time began!  Jeremiah 1:5 says, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.  Before you were born, I set you apart…” (NLT) Wait, what was that?  I was set apart?  Could I really be that special?  The answer to that, my friend, is YES!  And the good news is that so are you!  And I have made it my mission to prove it to you.

For more years than I could count, my Aunt and I tried to start a ministry at our home church.  We had a passion for women who struggled with “identity crisis” just like me, and although we weren’t sure how to go about it, we knew we wanted to share God’s truth and hope with those women.  Believing God put the name on my heart, I called it the Sparrow Ministry- the Savior’s Promises and Advocacy for the Redemption and Restoration Of Women.

Our theme verse came from Luke 12:7, “…Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Our mission statement was this: “Our purpose is to bring God’s truth to His daughters and His hope to their situations by helping women feel worthy, loved, confident, and encouraged.”  We had several meetings with our Pastoral leadership, and we had their full support.  But for all of our efforts, we just could never get the ministry off the ground for one reason or another.  I have since made it my mission to bring the ministry to you, my readers.

Do you have any idea how valuable you are?  I’d like to refer you to a previous blog post of mine called “His Princess.”  Please check it out when you have a chance, because it is definitely full of some gospel truth that you might need!  Here is some more truth for you: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”  (Romans 8:16-17a NIV) I ask you, if you are a daughter of a King, what does that make you?  A princess of course! 

And because we are all princesses just trying our best each day to live up to our title, I have decided to change the name of my blog from Learning Life Together to Princess and the P—because none of us are doing this alone.  My Prince of Peace is your Prince of Peace.  My Promise Keeper is your Promise Keeper.  The Great Physician and the Good Shepherd Who heals my heart, protects, teaches, and guides me, does the same for you.

In this blog, I will share candid stories and life experiences with you, because I want you to fully understand and believe that we truly are in this together.  In fact, you will still be able to find me on Twitter @LearnLife2gethr and on Instagram @LearningLife2gethr, because I am still learning every day, just like you. That much has not changed; I am still no expert, and even when I think I’ve got it all down pat, that pesky enemy will do everything in his power to make me doubt or forget.

I will also share some of God’s truth with you in every post, because the Sword of the Spirit is our greatest weapon against attacks from the enemy.  Know that, although I won’t know your specific struggles, I am making a commitment to pray for all of my readers.  I pray that God will sustain you, heal you, restore you, and empower you, and if my blog can play even one small part in that, then I will be the one that is blessed!

My beloved Sister, know at this very moment that you are not just a daughter of a king.  You are a daughter of THE KING!  As you explore my website, and particularly my blog posts, my prayer is that you will feel worthy, loved, confident, and encouraged.  Not one little sparrow is forgotten before God, and you, my friend, are more valuable than a whole flock of sparrows!

Be blessed, my Sister, and happy reading!

Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

2020 Vision

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for…

Covid-19 is much more than a special news report, and if you’re anything like me, it has interrupted much more than a television program or two. It has interrupted our work schedules, our family gatherings, our shopping trips, our activities, our school system…. it has pretty much interrupted our entire lives.

While these are unprecedented times for all of us, we are all handling the unknown in different ways. During the stay at home mandates, some were staying cooped up in their homes because they were living in fear. Others were staying home and making the most of a bad situation. Still, there are some that continued to go to work every day, my husband and 22-year-old daughter included, but they had to do so following a whole new set of rules and procedures, such as wearing protective masks. As we all proceed with the re-entry process, those of us who are just now starting back to work are following suit.

I admire those who are making the most of a bad situation. I know those who, while spending the last two or three months cooped up at home, were doing their long-avoided spring cleaning, remodeling projects, and even starting new health and wellness routines. Me- not so much. Unfortunately, I was more in the former category. Not that I was living in fear, because we weren’t given a spirit of fear according to 2 Timothy 1:7, however, I will admit that depression had reared its ugly head since all of this began.

Because of my asthma (which, if my Pastor heard me say that, would tell me not to claim it), my husband and children put me under house arrest. Although I am more susceptible to bronchitis and upper respiratory infections, I can’t say for sure that automatically makes me more susceptible to contracting the Coronavirus. However, I do know that if I were to contract the virus, it would be harder for me to fight it off due to my compromised lungs. That being said, I had been holed up for over two months, and it did not serve me well.

Being out of my routine has certainly had its effects on my overall well-being. My sleep schedule had been off, I’d been consistently living off of carbs and sugar for some reason, and regretfully, I wasn’t even writing consistently. (As I’m sure you all have noticed!)  I found it impossible to write something positive for my blog, when I was feeling anything but positive.  In fact, I was beginning to feel lethargic, unmotivated, and irritable, and because I had bitten all of my fingernails to the quick, I felt ugly and less feminine, too.  My clothes were getting tighter, and all my aches and pains were back with a vengeance.

Being away from my family took an even bigger toll on my emotional health, though.  We were taking the advice of our Pastoral leadership and obeying the mandate put out by the authorities, so I was unable to go see my parents, and I definitely couldn’t go see my elderly grandparents because of their compromised health.  With my grandmother in the early stages of dementia, she was having trouble understanding the severity of the situation. She was agitated and emotional, because her family couldn’t come to see her.

I was also missing my oldest daughter terribly.  I had gotten used to seeing Brittany every day when I became a receptionist at the daycare where she works, and now I hadn’t seen her for weeks.  Married for going on four years, Brittany now has her own home in which she was cooped up.  The constant news coverage had caused her to have three anxiety attacks in just as many weeks, and I was growing increasingly worried about her.

By the time Easter Sunday arrived, it had been almost four weeks since I’d seen her, and the day was a difficult one for all of us.  It would be the first year our whole family wouldn’t be able to spend the holiday together, which was a hard pill to swallow for my Italian grandmother who believes her life’s purpose is to cook for and serve her family.  As we saw people posting pictures of their holiday festivities on social media, Brittany was at home crying because, in all her 25 years, it was the first Easter she wasn’t able to spend with her parents and siblings.

This new reality was becoming a great source of stress and heartache for me, and I wasn’t handling it well.  I have a good friend who is constantly sending me uplifting messages, and she was trying her hardest to not only keep me encouraged and motivated, but to also hold me accountable for taking care of my health. But for all of her efforts, it just wasn’t working. I knew it all came down to my state of mind, and frankly, it was a good thing she knew that, too, or she might’ve thought I was avoiding her.

I also felt very far away from the Lord, because I had even stopped spending time with Him every morning like I had grown so accustomed to when my normal routine was in full swing.  Now God?  Him I was definitely avoiding!  I was headed down a slippery slope.  I was already mad at myself for undoing all of the hard work I’d invested in my health, and I was getting worse as time marched on with no end of Covid-19 in sight.  I knew if I kept going the way I was going, I would be much worse off than I already was, and that wasn’t a pretty picture.  Yet for all my logical reasoning for why I should make a change, I remained unable to do so.

Not seeing Brittany for four weeks had soon turned into five weeks, and then six; it was the most time we’d ever spent apart from each other.  We tried to FaceTime regularly, but that was nowhere near the same as seeing her in person.  Depression engulfed me in waves, and the more depressed I felt about what was happening and what I had done to myself, the worse it got.

I stopped listening to Christian music, and I withdrew from God instead of running to Him.  I began to waste more time than I care to admit on mindless computer games and Netflix binges, because it took me away from my current reality.  Because I was feeling so unattractive and so disgusted with myself, I withdrew from my husband, too.  When it came to intimacy, I could take it or leave it, so I hadn’t been there for Greg in the way a wife would want to be there for her husband under normal circumstances.

Mondays were coming and going, and with each passing Sunday evening, I would resolve to make the new week better than the last, but to no avail.  It seems that the overall theme for 2020 is “Vision,” and most of us started the new year off with hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  But in the blink of an eye, all of that changed for me.  We were heading into June, and the way I saw it, half of the year was gone already.  Although I’m not trying to be the glass-half-empty type, I do bend towards being a realist.

A few days before the next “Fresh Start” Monday began looming over my head for the umpteenth time, the Lord was once again beginning to pierce my thoughts.  I had put Him on the back burner long enough, and with God’s gentle prodding, my heart and spirit were beginning to fight back.  I tried to avoid the impending battle instead of trying to embrace it.

But when Monday morning came, and I had to try on three different outfits for work before I found something that actually fit comfortably, I found myself at the proverbial rock bottom.  I looked at myself in the full-length mirror behind my door, but being all cried out from the years of repetitively being in this same predicament, all I could do was stare.

The usual feelings of regret and disgust ushered in, followed by defeat.  After I was finished getting ready for work, I collapsed in my kitchen chair and uttered, “Okay, God, You win.”  Instead of turning on my computer, I opened up my Bible app.  I would normally turn right to Psalms when I needed to be encouraged, but I couldn’t quite identify which emotion was weighing the most heavily on me.  I checked out my saved reading plans and clicked on one about God’s grace.  Although I wasn’t necessarily feeling it in my heart, I knew in my head that God’s grace was unconditional and unending.

About halfway through the devotion, a familiar sting in my nose signaled the sudden onslaught of tears.  There, right in the middle of my devotion, was the word that identified which emotion I had been feeling… guilt.  I realized I had withdrawn from God, not because I was angry with Him or living in fear, but because I felt like I had let Him down by not taking care of myself during this trial.  I felt that I had disappointed God yet again, because I allowed my circumstances and emotions to dictate my behaviors.  I was depressed, and so I became uncaring.

I didn’t care about what I ate, how I spent my time, or when I slept, and knowing I had “done it again” made me feel as though I had no right talking to God or spending time with Him.  I felt like the black sheep of God’s family, and rather than run into God’s arms, I chose to hide from Him instead.  I felt, dare I say, unworthy of His unconditional love.  The words of Matthew 17:17 must have been distorting what I know as truth.  In this verse, Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?” (NLT) The silent cries of my own heart were, “Oh, Lord!  How long will You put up with me?!”

The answer is, as long as it takes!  The answer is, forever and ever, Amen!  I understand that Jesus found Himself feeling frustrated sometimes; after all, we were created in His image, so I have no doubt that Jesus, at one time or another, felt every emotion that we humans ever feel.  But the good news is that, above all, our Lord is kind, loving, and forgiving!  And not just today, but every day, forever and always.

The words in my devotion that struck my heart were this: “Guilt is not part of God’s plan.  It drains the life out of us and separates us from reality.  Yet, we keep guilt around never looking to see how much it steals or controls.  God wants more for us!  He wants us to be free.”

The author, Markey Motsinger, goes on to say, “Guilt is a mental and emotional experience that occurs when a person thinks or realizes they have compromised their standards of conduct and accept responsibility.  When we don’t give these experiences over to God, they can quickly turn into shame.  Shame, in return, attacks our identity, causing us to feel unworthy or not good enough.  Guilt and shame take us away from the heart of God.”

Have truer words ever been spoken?  For someone who devotes an entire website to our identity in Christ, I sure do forget God’s truths much more often than I should!  How easy it is for me to allow self-condemnation to breed guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness!  Oh, Lord!  I am so weary from this ongoing battle! Can any of you relate to this hamster wheel experience?  Yet, in those moments when I was reading my devotion, I felt anything but condemnation.  I felt warmth, peace, and love.

As I allowed God’s grace and forgiveness to wash over me, I made the conscious decision to lick my self-inflicted wounds and get my act together.  I began planning out some healthy lunches for the work week.  Greg was stopping at the grocery store after work anyway, so I asked him to pick me up some no-sugar-added strawberry preserves.  Apparently, our local grocery store no longer carries the brand I wanted, and Greg arrived home that evening feeling frustrated and disappointed because he was unable to find what I desired.  I know his comment wasn’t meant to sound harsh, but I was hurt nonetheless when he said, “You didn’t care about sugar last week when you were eating ice cream!”

In the moment, I wanted to retaliate.  But before I spoke, I took time to reflect on the variables.  For one thing, I know the underlying issue was really that my dear hubby felt bad for not being able to deliver.  For another, I was fresh off the Self-Destruct Express, so I immediately took offense to his words.  My first instinct was to take it personally, as if Greg were insulting my inability to stop the vicious cycle.  But the Holy Spirit instantly made me realize it was my own frustrations that caused me to feel angry with Greg.  I’m the one who felt self-conscious about not being able to stop the cycle.

I calmly told him that if I were going to eat refined sugar, I would choose to have it in my ice cream, not in my fruit preserves!  And really, that’s all life really is, after all.  A series of daily choices.  Instead of choosing to be strong during a difficult time, I chose to succumb to my weaknesses, which started a domino effect of repercussions.  Given what’s happened, I have a new choice to make.  I can choose to not forgive myself and sink deeper into the pit of despair that I’ve created for myself, or I can choose to accept God’s grace and forgiveness, pull myself up by my bootstraps, and start again.

I talked to Greg later that evening and told him that I can understand why he gets frustrated with me sometimes.  I admitted that I have times of weakness, and people that don’t struggle with food addiction will probably never understand how difficult it is to not give into certain impulses.  Enjoying chips and soda while watching a favorite television program is something about which Greg will never have to give a second thought.  I explained that that’s not the case for me, and I tend to slip up now and again- especially on the weekends when things are much more relaxed at home.  But I also told him that one thing I know for sure is that I never give up!

Hebrews 12:1b-2a states, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith….” (NIV) This is the race that is marked out for me.  This is my cross to bear.  Although I get frustrated more times than I can count, I am grateful, too, because it could always be worse.  I have a great job, a great purpose in life, and a great family who faithfully gives me their unconditional love and support.  Although this race makes me weary, God gives me the strength and endurance I need to keep going.

What is the race marked out for you?  What choices will you make when the going gets tough?  Will you give into guilt and shame the next time you take two steps back instead of one step forward?  Or will you pull yourself and remember God’s promises?  I know I’ve shared this verse in other posts, but it is one of my favorite promises, and it is worth repeating: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6 (NIV) Don’t throw in the towel, my friend.  2020 still has a long way to go, so bring that vision into focus and carry on, because God is not done with you yet!

Posted in Alicia & Goliath, Blog, Faith & Religion, Health & Wellness

Food Freedom

“Lemon Blueberry scones are not from the devil.  They are of the Father- a way to reflect the image of God in our creative use of the ingredients He has given us.”  Wow, I had never heard it put quite like that before, but in her book, Full- Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction, Asheritah CiuCiu uncovered another lie that, disguised as a sense of strength, I had been using in place of God’s truth. 

I could play fill-in-the-blank with that statement.  Be it blueberry scones, chocolate cake, or peanut butter pie, I was one who often tried to “fight the urge” by reciting that these things were from devil.  No wonder it seldom worked; it’s not true!  A big one for me is bagels.  I love bagels.  Lots and lots of cream cheese on top of a toasty “everything” bagel that’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Yum!  Add a mocha latte to that order, and I’m in Heaven.  You have no idea how often the notion crosses my mind, my mouth watering like Oliver Twist’s, and I tell myself for a good minute or two, “Bagels are from the devil!”

I’ve been able to resist the temptation on occasion, but did that make me stop wanting it or thinking about it?  Nope!  In fact, I often went back days later and got my “usual” anyway.  (Have you ever noticed that the more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more you want it?)  Good!  I’m not the only one!

I shared with you in my last post, Locked Doors, that I was currently working on a bible study called “The Missing Commandment: Love Yourself.”  What I didn’t mention was that I am simultaneously listening to this food freedom book on Audible, and it has been so worth every penny and every minute.  I bought this book in paperback years ago but never got around to reading it, and when I saw that there was an audible version, I was ecstatic!  I can listen to the book while I’m cooking dinner, getting ready for work, or folding laundry.  As I share this Love Yourself bible study journey with you, I would also like to enlighten you with some of the golden nuggets I am gleaning from Asheritah’s Full book, because they are just too good not to share.

In the latest chapter, I started to feel as though this book were written just for me.  The author reminded me that God declared all food clean.  (See Mark 7:19) Not only did He declare all food clean, but He enjoys providing it for us.  In Matthew 7:9 we read, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (NIV) If we are made in God’s image, does that not imply that if we would never do that to our children, God certainly would never do that to us?  Food is a good gift from our Father in Heaven, and in fact, He created us with taste buds.

Here is a little Science lesson for you:  According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Taste receptor cells, with which incoming chemicals from food and other sources interact, occur on the tongue in groups of 50–150.  Each of these groups form a [one] taste bud, which is grouped together with other taste buds.”  It goes on to state that, “On average, the human tongue has 2,000-8,000 taste buds, implying that there are hundreds of thousands of taste receptor cells.”  I don’t know about you, but that blows my mind!  Not only does God count every hair on our head, but He gave us hundreds of thousands of little receptors on our tongue so we could taste the food He has provided for our nourishment.  If we weren’t supposed to enjoy our food, why would He have gone through all the trouble?

Now here is where this chapter really made me chuckle, and not in a ha-ha kind of way, either.  When the author started talking about “Information Overload,” I had to stop dead in my tracks and give the narrator my undivided attention.  How many of you can relate to allowing nutrition labels to dictate your food consumption?  When I changed to a healthy lifestyle almost four years ago and learned about eating as green and as natural as possible, I became obsessed with reading food labels.  I dreaded anything that contained high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or anything in the “ose” family that indicated artificial sweeteners.  I avoided artificial anything like the plague.  I would google ingredients I never heard of or couldn’t pronounce, and sometimes I would quickly throw packages back on the shelf as if I had just discovered they had cooties.  In one book I read, it stated that when eating processed foods, sometimes the box that the food came in was better for us to eat than what was inside!

As if that weren’t bad enough, we had the FDA and other food & nutrition companies filling our heads with their latest discoveries which just seemed to cause more confusion.  For those of us who really tried to pay attention to this stuff, it could cause a state of sheer panic in some cases.  Remember the egg fiasco from years ago?  First, eggs were a good source of protein for you, then, uh-oh, too much cholesterol.  Then they were fine again, and on and on it went in circles.  Once upon a time, breakfast was the most important meal of the day; now intermittent fasting has taken the world by storm.  I can remember my kiddos learning about the food pyramid when they were in elementary school.  Back then, which really wasn’t all that long ago, rice, cereal, and grains were a good source of energy, and they took up the largest section of the pyramid.  Nowadays, carbs are considered a mortal enemy. 

We’ve heard of every “healthy plan” under the sun from Richard Simmons’ deal-a-meal to Atkins’ no-carb diet to South Beach and back again.  This “Information Overload” causes our heads to spin, and we need to stop the madness!  Even being healthy can lead to dangerous territory if we are using our minds to think about food more than we are using them to meditate on God’s Word.  Being preoccupied with food isn’t always about caving to cravings; it can also be about spending way too much time over-analyzing every little thing we plan to put in our mouths- and the things we didn’t plan.

I’m paraphrasing from Asheritah’s food book here, but consider this breakfast conundrum:  You’re standing in your kitchen staring at the pantry, then to the fridge, then back to the pantry again trying to decide what you’re going to have for breakfast.  Cereal?  Nope, too much sugar.  Eggs?  Nope, too much cholesterol.  Fruit smoothie?  Nope, not enough protein.  Bagel?  Nope, way too many carbs.  Do you see what I mean?  Before you know it, you’ve wasted ten minutes pondering your food choices, when you could’ve spent that ten minutes pondering a Psalm or two.  Overthinking your food is just as bad as overeating it! 

Unless we’re rabbits living on lettuce and carrots, we are bound to eat something that isn’t approved by someone’s standards, be it our own standards or those of the most popular nutrition guru at the time.  And actually, even our produce today has less nutrients than the produce our parents ate when they were our age.  (You can read an entire NBC news article about this subject at nbcnews.com.)

Let’s not forget the amount of chemicals and preservatives on the produce we buy that’s not labeled “organic.”  You know the white stuff on our pre-packaged baby carrots?  I was horrified when someone told me it was chlorine and can cause cancer.  Luckily, that myth was busted.  According to waterandhealth.org, ““The white film in question, sometimes referred to as “white blush” or “carrot blush,” is not chlorine, but a thin layer of dehydrated carrot.  The film develops when baby carrots are exposed to the atmosphere and the outer layer of carrot becomes dry.  Baby carrots, unlike their full-sized counterparts, do not have a protective skin that helps prevent drying.”  (Phew!) 

After further investigation, I learned that while these carrots are washed in a chlorine water solution to prevent contamination, they are rinsed before packaging and do not pose an immediate threat like the media would lead us to believe.  While knowledge is a wonderful thing, too much of it can cause more harm than good, at least where our food is concerned.  Have you ever heard of the saying, “too much of a good thing is still too much?”

I have a confession to make.  I have to tell you that the more I learned about what was in my food, the more neurotic I became.  It quickly became an obsessive habit that I’m now trying to break, because if I’m not careful, I will trade a life lived in bondage for a life lived in fear.  There is no sense in breaking one bad habit if you’re just going to replace it with another. 

Friends, food is not the enemy; overindulgence is where the problem lies.  When I say I want to live in freedom, I mean freedom in every way, shape, and form that I can get it.  Jesus died to give us a life of abundance, and I never want to take that for granted!  My prayer is no longer about asking for a miraculous deliverance.  I believe that God is still in the miracle business, and although it would be an amazing experience and testimony to be instantaneously delivered from this stronghold, I don’t think that would serve a purpose.  It is God’s will to heal me, yes, but even more so, I believe it is His will for me to learn how to unwrap the gift of freedom and then share my experiences and revelations with others like me.

I want to learn how to listen to (and obey!) my body’s signals that tell me when I’m truly hungry, not head-hungry, and when I’m truly satisfied- not so full that I can’t even move around comfortably.  Those naturally God-given limits are the only limits I want to have placed on my life.

That’s not to say I can’t set healthy boundaries for myself.  I don’t want to deprive myself, but I still want to honor God by making good choices for my temple.  I want to make conscious decisions about when I’m going to allow myself a little more liberty and when I’m not.  When I crave chocolate, for instance, I can split my candy bar into four smaller servings the way it was meant to be, and I can enjoy one of those servings more slowly so I can savor it.  If I concentrate on savoring that one portion more slowly instead of inhaling the whole candy bar in one go, I will have satisfied my craving AND limited my calories.  I can also decide to not partake just because it’s there, but to save it for a time when I’m really desiring it.  And even then, to make sure I enjoy it before a certain time in the evening so I’m not eating the candy too closely to bedtime.    

I have written out a daily prayer using the Sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, as my guide, and I want to share it with you should you decide you’d like to use this prayer for yourself at any time.  Don’t worry about trying to write it all down; it is my free gift to you to print out by accessing the PDF under my Freebies tab 😊.  You can post it up in your personal war room where you spend your quiet, concentrated time with God, or you can fold it up and tuck it safely within the pages of your Bible.  Either way, I pray it will become the daily prayer of your heart like it has become mine.

The prayer is as follows: (Quotation marks indicate Scripture verses.)

Lord God, how awesome and creative You are!  And how kind and loving You are to provide things that bring us pleasure!  You created us with taste buds, Father, and although we should eat to live and not live to eat, You wouldn’t have given us taste buds if we weren’t supposed to enjoy our food.

You created wheat for bread; help me to remember that bread itself is not the enemy, but also help me to remember that, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  You created spices to make our food taste better, and You created wonderful things like cocoa beans and sugar cane.  Help me to remember, Lord, that eating something the diet world says I shouldn’t is not the sin- overindulgence is.  Help me to live by Your truth that says, “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

You declared all food clean, Lord; food is a good gift!  Teach me to enjoy Your good gifts in moderation.  We were never meant to enjoy food more than we enjoy a rich, full relationship with You.  Please forgive me for the times I don’t put food in its proper place, and help me to crave more of You instead.

The food freedom I desire is not just about no longer being a slave to food addiction, Lord, but it’s also about no longer being a slave to the scale, to food prepping, or to nutrition labels.  The more I learn, the more neurotic I become. Protect me from “Information Overload,” so I don’t trade a life spent in bondage for a life spent in fear.

Father in Heaven, “release me from this prison that I may praise Your name!”  I don’t want anything to occupy my mind more than You.  Free me from being held captive to meal plans, because I want to live my life by Your grace and guidance, not by man-made food rules.  I want to take better care of my temple by naturally making healthier choices, listening to my body’s hunger and fullness cues, and setting healthy boundaries.  Help me to live the life of freedom that Christ died to give me!

Give me a greater hunger for Your Word and truth and a greater thirst for Your Living Water.  Awaken in me a desire for You like I’ve never known, Lord.  As I learn to get Your truth into my spirit, help me to remember that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that my value and worthiness are not defined by my size or weight.  Father God, heal me from the inside-out; reveal to me the root cause of this struggle, and help me to cut it off.   

Your Word promises, “He has sent Me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released, and prisoners will be freed.”  I receive that truth with a grateful and humble heart, Lord Jesus.  I claim that truth for my life because “I have overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony!”  Thank you, Jesus, that because of Your sacrifice on Calvary, I can live a life in victory!

In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Friends, as I write this post, my prayer is that you can begin to view food as the gift that it is, and that you can begin to realize how food can be a reflection of the image of God by our creative use of the ingredients He has given us.  If you’d like your own copy of Asheritah’s book, you can find it here.  I promise it will be worth it!

If your mind is preoccupied more with food than with God and His Word, I pray that true food freedom will become a desire of your heart like it did mine.  No matter what your strongholds and struggles may be, I encourage you to delight yourself in Him!  And let me remind you, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4 (NIV)  

Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

Locked Doors

The fact that I suddenly had an unexpected, very tearful breakdown, was evidence that there was still much work to be done.  It was clear that the pains from my past were still much bigger than I thought.

I had truly believed that I’d put my past behind me, and I was much better for it.  I was growing in my faith and in my relationship with God, and I was learning about my true identity.  It’s been a very long road, and I knew it wasn’t over yet, but as I embarked on a 21-day Daniel Fast with the start of the new year, God was revealing to me that I was going to have to unlock some doors that have since grown covered in cobwebs due to lack of use.

As I began the 21-day journey, my prayer was to simply grow closer to God.  I wanted to hear from Him as clearly as my Pastor had on the day God told him to take a tuna sandwich to a stranger around the corner.  I wanted to hear from Him as clearly as my Pastor’s wife had on the day she ended up in the ER with a broken finger because God wanted her to stop, not one, but two people there from ending their lives.  God knew the horrible thing they had each been contemplating, and He sent His faithful servant to tell them that their lives mattered.

Of course, God knew the long-time desire of my heart was to be freed from this issue I’ve always had with food, but I purposely did not want to make that the sole focus of my fast this time. 

It was evident that God was with me on each of those 21 days in those quiet moments, because He had been revealing His presence to me time and again, day after day.  He was speaking to me in ways that were so clear, there was no room for doubt!  I spent some time every day journaling about my journey and about the things God had been revealing to me, and I have decided to share this journey with you in a very transparent way.  I would like to share bits and pieces of my journal entries with you, because it’s much easier than trying to explain the way God was making His presence known to me.

About a week into the 21 days, I had already begun looking for the next bible study I would do after the completion of my fast.  I knew it would take me a good week or two to decide, because I would agonize over my choice- wanting to be sure I was making the right one.  I would pour over book descriptions and customer reviews for days on end, praying that God would reveal His choice for me.  It was odd this time, though, as I came across a study called “The Missing Commandment: Love Yourself.”  Without even reading the back cover, I placed the title into my shopping cart and made the purchase.  I never really gave it another thought after that, and then continued to peruse other titles that might pertain to me.

When my package arrived several days later, I placed the study guide on my shelf, intending to “get to it later” because I had still been searching for the title that God wanted me to do next.  Then Day 18 happened.

I was journaling about a conversation I had with my Daniel Fast accountability partner.  I told her about the three new bible study titles I had been kicking around; one was about living to your fullest potential, one was about personal growth, and one was about the power of daily affirmations.  I was excited to hear her response and thought that if one of them sounded interesting to her, we might be able to do it together.  I was a bit taken aback when her reply was, “Hmm, why do you always feel like you can be better?  You are already an amazing wife, mother, and friend.”

Wow.  It had never occurred to me how obsessed I was with “being better.”  I began to jot down my thoughts in a written prayer.  “Am I trying too hard, Lord?  Is it that old lie of never being enough that keeps me striving for perfection and then berating myself when I miss the mark?  I thought I was past all that.  Why can’t I get free from it?  Will I ever be satisfied with just being me?”  Cue the unexpected, tearful breakdown.

Friends, when I started this blog, I made it no secret that I did not have all the answers, and that we would be “learning together.”  This is a perfect example of that truth.  I really did believe I had overcome my past hurts.  I really did believe I had moved on.  And I have; I have made strides in my healing over the years.  I have forgiven and forgotten, and I have risen above my past hurts by doing a lot of learning about my true identity in Christ.  Unfortunately, some of the pain and negative behaviors are still there, and it’s going to take a little more work before they are no longer an issue.

I continued my journaling after I dried my tears and regained my composure: “I see now that the Love Yourself bible study I impulsively bought over a week ago was no accident.  While I was still browsing other titles, Lord, You kept bringing this to my mind, and now I know why.”  I finished writing out my heartfelt prayer with a renewed sense of hope.    

I made a new commitment to depend even more on Jesus as I prepared to delve deeper.  My bookshelves are covered in bible study materials about health, addiction, a desire for God, battles of the mind, bondage and freedom, and so on and so on.  Never once have I ever entertained the thought of doing a bible study about loving myself.  I had finally gotten the memo, and it was settled!  I had made my decision about what bible study was “on deck” after my Daniel Fast was over.  Then Day 21 happened.

As I was journaling in response to Day Twenty-One’s reading, I reflected on that past Sunday’s church service.  I had an incredible moment at the alter that day, and I had been wanting to share with Greg everything that God had been speaking to me over the last three weeks during my fast.

Although my husband loves the Lord and is ever grateful for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us, his relationship with the Lord has a different dynamic than my relationship with the Lord.  Although Greg spends his own personal time with God on a regular basis, he rarely has time to “go deep” with God like I desire to do for my own walk with Him.  I wanted to share this part of myself with Greg, but “spiritual” conversations with my husband never really come easy for me; I often feel like he wouldn’t understand.  Greg’s faith and trust aren’t quite, for lack of better terms, on the same “level” as mine, and if I’m being completely honest, I sometimes wondered if it was possible for a husband and wife to grow apart in that area while they are thriving everywhere else.

I decided I needed to talk to Greg about how I was feeling, and while this blog post isn’t about dissecting my husband’s relationship with God, I share this very personal conversation with you because it’s very relevant to what happened next.

When I told Greg that God was supposed to be first in his life, then his spouse, then his children, he said something I never expected.  He looked me dead in the eye and confessed, “Well if that’s true, then I’m in the wrong, because the idea of making you ‘number two’ behind anyone or anything is a foreign concept to me.”

I didn’t know how to react to that statement in the moment, though my gut instinct was to crumble into his arms.  I sat in silence for a minute, because I could tell there was something else he wanted to say.  He was fighting the urge but finally gave in when he realized this conversation wasn’t over.  “When you talk about this stuff,” he began, “it makes me…”  he paused there.  I patiently waited for him to voice what he was apparently afraid to put out into the universe.  Then these words came out of his mouth, “Whenever you start talking like this, I’m afraid you’re going to leave me because you think we’re incompatible or something.”

Oh my.  For a split second, I was speechless, then logic kicked in and made me respond with, “Well that will never happen.  I can’t even imagine my life without you.”  When my own words went out into the universe, my floodgates opened.  Something deep inside of him made him worry I might leave him?  I didn’t even know how to process that.  I was always the one who was afraid of people leaving me.  I had never been ‘number one’ in anyone’s life until now.

I wrapped my arms around Greg and curled up into his chest as I reflected on how blessed I truly was to have him as my life partner.  God knew exactly what He was doing, and suddenly I was overflowing with gratitude….

And chastising myself for being so picky.  God brought me a true, blue knight in shining armor, but leave it to me to focus on the flaws.  Wait, back up, there I go again.  Chastising.  “Rebuking or severely reprimanding.”  Well that negative behavior of beating myself up had reared its ugly head once again.

Perhaps the real question, though, is, “Why did I reprimand myself for bringing up a legitimate concern?”  Was I truly being picky, or was I just trying to have an adult conversation about something that was troubling me?  And why did I feel that doing so was not okay?  Did I feel I didn’t deserve to have my concerns addressed because Greg is so good to me?  Of course I did!  And I felt that way because a part of me still believes I’m not worthy.

I’ve spent several years- more than I can count- learning how to reverse these negative behaviors and learning how to dispel the lies of the enemy, but here I am, still learning.  Evidence of my spiritual growth, though, is that I’m starting to recognize it now.  I am learning to hold those thoughts captive as soon as they come, and I’m learning how to make a conscious effort to combat Satan’s lies with God’s truths.

I returned to my journal a little later, recounting the conversation and documenting my feelings and revelations.  I realized that God must think I’m ready to go back “there” again.  He is ready to use His master key on some of those old, locked doors.

I often talk about baby steps when I’m writing for my blog, and I want to take a moment here to remind you that God is constantly working in and through us now, and He will continue to do so until Christ’s return.  During the many years I’ve been working on my Christian research about facing and overcoming past trauma, trials and tribulations, I learned that if God were to give us everything all at once, we would never be able to handle it.  I believe it is by God’s design that He works on us in baby steps.  In John 15:2, we are told, “He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (NLT)

According to Harmony Gardens Landscaping, “Pruning is the cutting away of unwanted parts of a plant for more fruitful growth and shaping.  You should prune a plant or shrub to remove crossed, damaged or diseased branches which will stress the plant. Pruning also improves air flow through the plant and can encourage better branch distribution which results in a healthier, more vigorous plant that is more disease tolerant.”  Is that relevant to how Christ cares for us, or what?

For us to be able to bear good fruit, we need to cut off the “diseased branches” that produce anything opposite of what Galatians 5 teaches us about the Fruits of the Spirit.  And just like a growing tree, it takes times to grow into what God has designed us to be.  Sometimes it will take some pruning and cutting to get there, and that means there will likely be seasons of pain or difficulty.  But consider this truth: “…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NKJV)

That being said, I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  While this may be comforting in times of suffering, it’s not entirely true.  (Don’t shoot the messenger!)  If you reference 1 Corinthians 10:13, you will see that Paul was specifically referring to temptation when he said that, not trials and tribulations. 

Here is what God does promise us through His pruning process, however:

  • Strength– “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
  • Courage– “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8-9 (NKJV)
  • Comfort– “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  Psalms 23:4 (NKJV)
  • Wisdom- “For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  Proverbs 2:6 (NKJV)
  • Peace- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 (NIV)
  • Freedom- “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (NIV)
  • Hope- “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Sharing my journey with you is not meant to make you feel like you’ll never get to the light at the end of the tunnel.  My purpose is to encourage and inspire you.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that, although it might not seem like it right now, something good can, and will, come from whatever it is that the devil used to harm you.  God promises to use our pain for good.  In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (NLT) What a great example of faith and servanthood!

In a nutshell, God helps us to help others.  When we share our stories with the people who need to hear them, we are doing our part to further God’s kingdom by offering hope.  Christ is hope, and that is what my blog is all about.  Letting you know that God is about to do some more “pruning” within me is not meant to discourage you.  My intention is not to diminish your hope, but to ignite it!

We were never promised that our lives would be easy once we’ve turned them over to Jesus, but we are encouraged to stay the course and walk in faith.  Just like a business owner can’t open shop until he gets the loan, and the doctor can’t perform surgery until she gets the education, we can’t bless others until we get an understanding that this isn’t about us.  And don’t think that you have to have it all figured out before you can help others, because that’s just another lie from the pit.  Although we learn our life lessons in baby steps, we can still use what we learned to make a difference in the life of another.

I want to take a moment to thank you for walking through this journey with me, and I want to encourage you to “stay the course!”  God isn’t finished with us yet, so when you feel like you can no longer walk by sight, walk by faith!  He promises that He has a plan for each one of us.  That is the truth I hold onto whenever I begin to feel anxious or discouraged.

*What about you?  What are some of your favorite truths that get you through times of pain, doubt, or fear?  Share them below, because they just might help me out, too!

Posted in Blog, Faith & Religion

THE “Health & Wellness Coach”

Let me start by saying that when I call myself a “Health & Wellness” Coach, I am referring to not only physical health, but emotional and spiritual health as well– perhaps even moreso.  Not that physical health isn’t as important as the other two, but if we’re being honest here, it’s not really possible to achieve the physical health on a permanent basis, if the emotional and spiritual health are not addressed first.  Okay, well, maybe you can strive for all three simultaneously, because that is exactly what God is helping me do every single day.

For me, these three things go hand-in-hand, and I simply cannot have one without the other two.  I stated above that you cannot truly achieve optimal physical health without the emotional and spiritual health, but it really works both ways.  If your physical health isn’t up to par, it can ultimately affect your emotional and spiritual health.

Okay, now I’m talking in circles, and I’ve probably just confused you.  Let me try to show you what I mean.  If you aren’t spiritually healthy, chances are you are not going to put “taking care of your temple” at the top of your priority list.  If you are facing other battles in your life, and you are spiritually unsteady because of what you’re going through, your physical health may seem less important to you as you traverse through your current trials and tribulations.  It could even just be a case of simply not caring.  If your spiritual health isn’t in the right place, you may not even give your physical health a second thought.  Perhaps you didn’t even know that physical health was important to God, and this is a completely new concept to you.

Faith and religion aside, maybe you’re just not as emotionally healthy as you would like to be.  You might be facing demons from your past or a current crisis that you can’t see past at the moment.  The bottom line is if you’re not emotionally healthy, you probably aren’t able to make a commitment to your physical health even if you wanted to. 

All of that might make perfect sense to the average human being, but what about the flipside of that coin?  How can being physically unhealthy affect your spiritual and emotional health?  Well, for one thing, when I’m not taking care of myself physically, those negative self-talk tapes start replaying in my head.  They tell me I’m a failure, I’m destined to be this way, and I’m unattractive and unworthy of love.  It directly affects my emotional health when I start believing those lies again that God worked so hard to squelch.  When I start telling myself those things, it’s very easy for me to fall back into a depressed or hopeless state, because I begin to believe that nothing will ever change.

In addition, my spiritual health suffers, because I feel convicted by the Holy Spirit.  (Conviction is not to be confused with condemnation, by the way.)  The Holy Spirit gently and lovingly reminds me that I’m not treating my body the way God has asked me to, and I end up feeling badly about not taking good care of my temple.  I feel I am not honoring God with what I eat and drink.  1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (NLT) I am not glorifying God if I am over-stuffing myself at mealtimes or overindulging in sweets instead of treating myself to them in moderation.    

But because I view my addiction to food as great sin, I have spent years taking the Holy Spirit’s gentle conviction and turning it into self-condemnation.  Not only have I battled a faulty belief system that told me I loved food more than I loved God, but I also believed I was such a horrible sinner that nothing could make me acceptable and pleasing to God.  If this sounds like you, my friend, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth!

Did you know that when Jesus bought us with the price He paid on Calvary, He made us righteous in God’s sight?  Righteous, by definition, means morally right and virtuous.  In Ephesians 1:4, we are told, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” (NLT) Did you catch that?  “Without fault.”  Blameless.  When God looks upon us, He sees perfection.  I can’t even wrap my brain around that!

As long as I’ve been at this, I still have trouble seeing myself the way that God sees me, so believe me, I get it.  But one of the things that helps me besides reading God’s truth repeatedly, is worshiping Him in song.  When I first became a Christian in 1996, I thought I’d never listen to Christian Contemporary music.  I believed it to be slow and “boring.”  Can I admit to you now that I never even tried it when I made that assessment?  I might have turned to a Christian radio station one time and they happened to play something “slow,” so I judged it immediately.

But then I tried it a second time… and a third.  This was in the days of Twila Paris, Jars of Clay, and Point of Grace, and one of the very first songs I remember absolutely loving was a Twila Paris song called “Not Afraid Anymore.”  For one thing, it wasn’t slow at all.  In fact, I remember belting it out while dancing around my kitchen as if unto the Lord.  (What I was afraid of at the time, I didn’t know, but nonetheless, the song made me unafraid and downright joyful!)

From that point on, I listened to as much Christian Contemporary music as I could.  I discovered it wasn’t slow and boring at all, but in fact, was a great way to connect to God when I couldn’t be spending quiet, alone time with Him in prayer.  I was new to Christianity, and while the bible seemed intimidating to me at first, worship music gave me a fresh, new way to get to know God.  Much of it has God’s Word right in the lyrics, so committing lyrics to memory came in very handy!

Back then, I was a “baby Christian” trying to learn who I was, who God was, how to follow in Christ’s footsteps, and how to cope with things from having a bad day to dealing with a crippling self-image.  I was battling depression, anxiety, and food addiction for as long as I could remember, and then I came across a song by Susan Ashton.

This one song…. It spoke to me in a way I could never forget.  I knew it had to be written just for me, and it’s been an anthem of mine ever since.  It’s called “Body and Soul,” and the lyrics still pierce my heart today as much as they did when I heard it for the first time so long ago.

Too young to know any Christian Contemporary records from the 90’s?  No worries!  I got you!  Take a deep breath, sit back, and take it in… the lyrics are as follows:

“Once I was lost; hurting inside; dangling over the edge.  But the history of pain barely remains.  Once I was blind, but could it be that the excess of light is shading the weary past with the shadows it casts?  And as sin gives way to atoning blood, and a debt is paid with the riches of love, there’s a hope that I see.  There’s a freedom in me!  “There’s a comfort in death and in life knowing that I belong to the Savior who’s making me whole… body and soul.

 Now I can feel a sense of resolve, choosing a new point of view; going against the grain; breaking the chain!  And the shackles fall on the road to peace, and I lose them all as I find my release.

And hope eternal springs in me.  And freedom seems to willingly carry me through a world of fears I’ve stored inside of me; Lord, abide in me.

And as sin gives way to atoning blood, and a debt is paid with the riches of love, there’s a hope that I see.  There’s a freedom in me.  There’s a comfort in death and in life knowing that I belong to the Savior who’s making me whole… body and soul.

Wow.  Just wow.  As a brand new Christian, this song was not only the epitome of what Christ did for me, but it addressed the freedom that was my birthright.  It told me that when I died to sin and found new life in Christ, He was breaking the bondage that my painful past had been keeping me in for all those years.  Even back then, He was letting me know that He was going to be there for me, helping me through what seemed was going to be an insurmountable giant.

That was over twenty years ago, and I still don’t have all the answers.  I’m not a supermodel now, and I still love brownies just as much as the next person.  But you know what?  I’m a much better version of myself than I was twenty years ago, and maybe not as great as I’ll be ten years from now.  God is constantly working in us and through us, helping us to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, one day at a time.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul assures us, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (NLT) Read it again; understand what it is saying.  “until it is finally finished on the day when Christ returns.”  Hello!  That means we will always be a work in progress until Jesus comes back to take us with Him!  In no uncertain terms, that means stop beating yourself up for not being perfect!  Even though you’re not perfect in your own eyes, you are perfect in His eyes.  And aren’t God’s eyes the only ones that really matter?

Look at the lyrics of the song again.  It says, “the Savior who is making me whole.”  Not, “the Savior who made me whole.”  Do you see the difference?  So you’re not always 100% emotionally healthy?  So you’re not always 100% spiritually healthy?  So you’re still battling a physical stronghold in your life like I am?  So what.  As long as you are striving every day to do better, be better… that’s all that matters.  Are you going to fail sometimes?  Of course. But that does not make you a failure. If you’re doing your best, that is what God sees.  He sees your heart. 

On the rare occasion when one or more of my girls came home with a low “B” on their report cards, or, Heaven forbid, a “C” in, perhaps, their least favorite class, they would beat themselves up.  I would always ask, “Did you do your best?”  When they replied with unwavering certainty that they had, I told them that’s all that mattered to me.  

God is the same way with us.  But unlike us Moms who might make a mistake once in a while because we are imperfect humans, God will never make a mistake in His care for us. God is always there… helping, holding, inspiring, guiding, strengthening… you get the idea.  His timing is always perfect, and He always knows just the right thing to say. There is nothing too big for Him to handle, and there is nothing too small for Him to care about.

What is most important to you right now- today?  You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with striving to reach too many goals at once.  Just remember that God is our ultimate health & wellness coach!  To hear the “Body and Soul” song for yourself, click here. Soak it in; take time to reflect on Who God is, and what He can offer you. Let Him help you reach the goals that you can’t reach in your own strength.  Be it physical or otherwise, that’s His job, and He loves doing it.  How can He help you start becoming wholly healthy?  He’s always listening, and He is the only One who will never let you down.

Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

‘Tis the Season for Writer’s Block

Due to my brain being preoccupied with decorating, and wrapping, and visions of sugar plums, I am suffering with a temporary case of writer’s block.  I’ll keep this one short and sweet, so all of you can spend more time enjoying your prepping and planning, too!  I’d like to share why Christmastime is so special to me, and to embrace this season of giving, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the giving heart of God.

We all know that God gave us the ultimate gift, when He gave us His One and Only Son as a living sacrifice on Calvary.  That is no little trinket or stocking-stuffer!  However, the “season” of giving began long ago with three kings who also had giving hearts.  There is some confusion about birth dates and about whether or not the Three Wise Men should be a part of our holiday nativity display, but this isn’t that kind of blog post.  Suffice it to say, this is the time of year that most of us celebrate the birth of our Savior, and the three kings who wanted to find baby Jesus to worship Him and lavish Him with gifts of love and adoration are a big part of that story.

I’d like to say that the example the three kings set for us is the reason I like to bestow gifts upon my children at this time of year, but that just isn’t my truth.  Remember, I did not grow up in a Christian home, and although I knew that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, that’s pretty much all I knew.  I grew up with the magic of Santa, and reindeer, and overflowing stockings of goodness.  Until my mother remarried, we weren’t very well off. I found out later in my adulthood that she would often have toast and hot tea for dinner, so I could have a full meal. But for as long as I can remember, my mom made Christmas the most magical day of the year for me.  Somehow, despite being a woman of very little means, lots of beautiful, wonderful gift boxes covered in bright, festive wrapping paper managed to suddenly appear under our tree every Christmas morning.  It didn’t stop when she remarried, either… it may have gotten even better!

Because of my sketchy memory, I obviously don’t remember specifics.  I would assume that very few people do remember specifics from that age, save for the really special Christmases when a shiny new bike would appear or perhaps that beautiful new baby doll.  But it isn’t the specifics that really matter to me.  It was the feeling I got.  That feeling of joy and excitement that made its way from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.  It wasn’t just on Christmas day that I began to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it was ongoing throughout the entire season itself.  Everyone seemed a little more joyful, there were festive lights everywhere, and it was a pretty big deal back then to see cartoon specials on TV at nighttime!  Even the songs on the radio were jolly, and to this day, I’m ready for Christmas music as early as the first day of Autumn! 

It wasn’t so much the gifts under the tree that I wanted to pass down to my children, though that was a big part of the magic for me, but it was the spirit of Christmas.  It was that build of excitement and the feeling that all was right with the world.

I followed in my mother’s footsteps, and every Christmas morning, brightly wrapped packages were strewn from under the tree to the tops of the living room furniture.  (I had three children, after all.)  It was so exciting for me that I started our own tradition of letting the girls open up one little gift on Christmas Eve simply because I couldn’t wait for morning any more than they could. 

Although their Mom and Dad surely contributed to the piles of wishes-come-true every Christmas, the really “good” stuff always came from Santa Claus.  The one or two really big, exciting things that were the desires of my girls’ hearts were always from Santa, and that’s not to say that they didn’t know the true meaning of Christmas.  We were always sure to tell them the story of Jesus’ birth, and our oldest, who was about five or six at the time, went as far as to leave a note for Santa making sure that even he knew that Christmas was really all about Baby Jesus, and Mary, and “Jofess.”

One of my favorite images that floats around this time of year is of Santa Claus, hat in hand, kneeling down beside the manger where Baby Jesus lay.  Even Santa was giving honor where honor was due!

But in my mind, what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t let my kiddos feel the magic that I cherished so dearly growing up?  I know there is a debate among Christians about whether or not letting your children believe in Santa is just like lying to them.  I suppose it is, for all intents and purposes, but this isn’t that kind of blog post, either.  Suffice it to say, there really was a Saint Nicholas long ago, so I didn’t really see any harm in keeping his spirit alive.

There is also the ongoing debate that some parents who go crazy trying to find that hot , hard-to-find holiday toy item should get the credit for all their efforts- not some old guy in a red suit who gets flown around by magical reindeer.  But I must tell you, no matter what time I had to get up in the morning on “Black Friday,” and no matter how many stores I had to travel to in order to get my hands on that one special thing, it was always Santa who had come to the rescue.

For me, it wasn’t about taking credit for making sure I nabbed the freckle-faced Cabbage Patch doll with the purple dress, green eyes, and red corn silk hair.  For me, it was about the magic that I got to feel every time I saw that look on those precious faces.  The smiles that went all the way up to their eyes.  Sometimes, a gift was so special that it brought tears of joy along with the wide, toothy grin.  Doing that for my children is what kept the magic alive for me well into my adulthood.

Why do I tell you all this?  Because God honors those with giving hearts.  I’m not just talking about the people who give to charities or put extra offerings in the collection bags at church, either. Although, yes-of course, God honors those givers abundantly! But the bible straight out tells us that we love to give good gifts to our children.  (See Matthew 7:11) God knows we love to bestow gifts upon our children, because He made us that way! He knew how much it meant to me to give my children magical Christmases, and that means it was important to Him, too. And He provided those for us more times than I can count.

One year, we were one of the chosen families to receive a large trash bag full of brand new, unwrapped toys from our church.  Then in 2009, we were going through financial hardship due to traveling back and forth to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland with a sick child.  Someone shared our story with a local Lion’s Club Association, and we were chosen to receive over $400 in checks and gift cards that were donated by club members.  Still another time, we were visiting an uncle, and without even having to ask him, he loaned us $1000 cash so we could give our children a great Christmas that year.  We didn’t have to pay him back until we got our income tax return a couple months later.

Years ago, we were purchasing a van from a different family member who no longer needed it.  The van was in like-new condition at the time, and we needed a larger vehicle for our growing family.  He was selling it to us for a fraction of what he had paid, but it was still a significant amount on which we had to make payments.   We had been paying on it for a while- at least a year or so, and it was going to be paid off soon.  One day in late November, out of the blue, he decided to not only wipe out the rest of the debt, but he paid us back, in full, for all the payments we had made up until that point!  He ended up giving us, not only the van, but God used him to give us a great Christmas, too!

There are dozens of stories just like these that I could share, and it’s not just at Christmastime, either.  When my husband lost his job this past May, he attended a men’s fellowship breakfast, which he hadn’t ever been able to do before because of having to be at work so early.  Our Pastor handed Greg an envelope, and in it was a gift from an anonymous donor who had asked Pastor not to reveal his identity.

Greg waited until we were together to open it, and when we did, we found $700 in cash!  It may sound like an odd number, but to us, it was very significant.  Greg had always remembered that the number seven meant completion, and he took it as a sign from God that he no longer had to worry about finding employment.  We knew that God had a plan, and it was a “done-deal” no matter how many other applicants there were!  Besides that, $700 was the exact amount of money we needed to pay an important bill that was coming up due before we had a chance to defer the payment because of the job loss.

God is good all of the time!  And He has so many different ways of blessing us!  God works in mysterious ways, and He often uses other people as His vessels of blessing.  Wouldn’t you love to be one of those people?  I heard in an old movie once, “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.”  Even a smile to someone who isn’t expecting it can be a big blessing in their day.  Think of our poor department store workers who are dealing every day with grumpy shoppers, layaway pickups, sticky carts, and swarms of children who are begging their parents for toys as they walk through the store.   

In this season of magic and joy and giving, challenge yourself to think of a way to be a blessing in someone’s life.  Maybe even think twice about walking by the bell ringer’s bucket without dropping in a few coins.  If you can’t give monetarily, maybe you can offer your time to someone in need.  If nothing else, you can always pray for those who are less fortunate. 🙂

Give a little bit more of yourself this holiday season, and keep your eyes open for blessings that might come back your way, too!  God loves a joyful giver, and He loves to lavish gifts upon His children.  Besides this being the season for writer’s block, it is also the season of giving!  So, keep your heart and mind open to receive, because you just might be surprised to see where your next blessing might come from!  

If you have any miraculous stories of God’s giving heart, we would love to have you share them! Please comment below if God has ever provided for you in an unexpected way!

Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

Attitude of Gratitude

With this being the week of Thanksgiving, it is only natural for us to think about the things for which we are thankful.  Of course, we will always be thankful for our family, friends, etc.  I love when our family sits around the table and takes turns announcing what we are thankful for- trying not to repeat everyone else’s answer!  But in addition to those awesome blessings, I like to think about the things that make me grateful unto God that are a little less obvious.  If there were nothing else, the sacrifice on Calvary would be enough for me.  If there weren’t one other thing I could think of, God sending His only Son to die on my behalf would be more than enough.  Oh, but there is so much more…

Sadly, many people focus on the negative.  For some, they only turn to God when they need something, instead of thanking Him every day for the “little things.”  For others, they might wonder why God allows so much suffering in the world.  Some people don’t even believe that God exists!  But let me assure you… there not only is a God, but He is alive, and He cares about His children- big and small.  The fact remains that there is evil in this world; it’s just that simple.  We have a real enemy who will stop at nothing to steal, kill, and destroy.  God doesn’t “make” bad things happen.  The truth is that God gives us free will to make decisions- good or bad, and the devil will use that free will to lead people into making bad choices.  Unfortunately, those bad choices, more often than not, affect others.

Why such negativity at a time of year when we should be filled with happiness, peace, and gratitude?  Because thinking of how God spared me from far worse fates during those times when evil was wreaking havoc in my life makes me want to jump for joy!  My story is a little different from others who have suffered such great trauma and tragedy in their lives.  For me, it was never about how God “let me down” or “wasn’t there for me.”  I was never, not once, angry with God because of the things that happened to me in my childhood.  In fact, I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t angry with God!  I didn’t realize it then, but God had my fragile heart in the palm of His hand from Day One, and He knew I was going to need Him.

For starters, there is the fact that I suffered with Dissociative Amnesia for a number of years- I still do.  I just could not remember any sexual abuse or trauma, and when I started to realize I “fit the bill” for such events, I was obsessed with trying to remember every sordid detail.  I didn’t want to remember the details in order to dwell in the abuse, but I realized that remembering details was more like my way of feeling validated.  Like, somehow if I remembered the actual events themselves, I wouldn’t be “crazy.”  I was one of those who thought, “something like that could never have happened to me.”  It absolutely tormented me.

I was not a survivor who remembered mental pictures, but rather, I remembered sounds, smells, circumstances.  My therapist made me realize that maybe I didn’t have “visual” memories because I could have had my eyes closed the whole time.  I had never given that a thought.  I had been in and out of therapy for over ten years putting all the pieces together, and when I finally found out what had happened to me, I was shocked and horrified, but all of a sudden, things about me and my life finally started to make sense.

I was attending an intense spiritual retreat in 2009 when the Lord finally delivered me from the heavy oppression I had been living with every day.  If you can imagine a fifteen-year-old boy having full-blown sexual relations with an 8-year-old little girl, that was me.  After much calculating and deducing, I learned that it started around the time I was just five years old, and he was twelve.  I was going through this assault and violation repeatedly for at least three years; no wonder I couldn’t remember anything!  And why would I want to?

I no longer needed those visual memories to feel validated.  God knew the truth, and that’s all that mattered.  I finally gave that part of myself up to God at that retreat, and I felt lighter than air!  I couldn’t even walk back to my room that night without help, and it is an experience I will cherish as long as I live.  God protected me from those visual memories because He didn’t want me to have to relive it all, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

There are more instances like this than I can count.  Instances of God’s protection have been evident in my life all along, and although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I can look back over my life and see where He was in every moment.  Not only did God protect my heart and mind while I was the target of someone else’s bad choices, but He gave me a supernatural ability to forgive.  In my Psychology studies, I learned that it was my perpetrator’s way of feeling in control.  God gave me the supernatural understanding that he was only doing to me what others were doing to him.  God also freed me from the burden of unforgiveness, so He could protect me from living a life filled with anger and bitterness.

When Greg and I first got together, I went to a hypnotist because I so desperately wanted to remember what exactly had happened to me to make me the way I was- neurotic, insecure, and depressed.  Back then, I was overwhelmed with the need to have some kind of proof that there was a reason behind my emotions and negative behaviors.  We weren’t Christians then, and I didn’t know that being hypnotized was a big no-no!  But God was with me even then- years after the trauma- in more than one way. 

I was having a great deal of trouble going “under,” and I wasn’t sure what was hindering the process.  I wanted it so badly, but I just couldn’t relax.  I know now that God protected me from being subjected to, not only that kind of vulnerability, but also from letting Satan have his way with me.  No matter how long or how hard he tried, the hypnotherapist just couldn’t succeed in getting me to “sleep.”

The icing on the cake?  This was at this man’s personal home, and he had sent Greg to pick up our take-out that we’d ordered.  I was alone with this stranger on his own stomping ground, not even in an office, but on his couch.  Greg didn’t want to leave me there, but I insisted.  I believed that I couldn’t relax enough for the hypnosis to work, because I was embarrassed that this was happening in front of my future husband.  I convinced myself that I was just afraid Greg would learn something about me that I didn’t want him to know.  The bottom line is that the hypnosis failed, and I never tried it again.  Was God with me in that moment or what?

As a teenager, God protected me from being assaulted more times than I can count.  When I was younger, I was often called nasty names because I would let the boys believe one thing about me, but then I wouldn’t live up to their expectations when they wanted to take things too far.  As an older, more promiscuous teen, God protected me from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.  Even more spectacular is that He went as far as to let me find my one true love early in life.  Greg and I were married by the time I was nineteen, and we are still like newlyweds over twenty-five years later!  I was headed down a slippery slope, and God redirected my path.

God not only redirected my path, but He has blessed me in ways I never could have imagined.  In Jeremiah chapter 30, verse 17, the Lord says, “For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds.” (NKJV)  In Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 3, we learn that, “God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered.” (MSG)  Isaiah, in chapter 61, verse 7, proclaims, “Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace, you will rejoice in your inheritance.  And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” (NIV)

There are so many more verses than just these that tell us of the restitution God promises.  I grew up fatherless (at least without a good example of fatherhood) and learning about intimate love in all the wrong places, with all the wrong people.  When God brought Greg into my life all those years ago, little did I know how God was going to pick up all my scattered pieces and restore what I had lost.  Greg is such a loving husband and wonderful father that he ended up being so much more than a double portion!

I don’t want to be misleading here.  I am not trying to pretend there were no repercussions from the trauma; that is far from the truth.  As a young adult, I spent what felt like an eternity dealing with distrust, insecurity issues, paranoia, claustrophobia, and of course, depression and anxiety to name a few.  I exhibited negative behaviors and thought patterns, too, but with God’s help, I was able to be freed from those damaging emotions after a lot of time and hard work.  He was with me every step of the way- before, during, and after.  And He is with me still.  I know that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

After all I’ve mentioned in this post, I must let it be known that these are just a few examples of why I am grateful unto God.  He has done so much more for me than I could ever tell.  From giving me a supernatural understanding that He was not to blame for my past trauma, to giving me daily blessings today, God has continually shown me His faithfulness, provision, and unconditional love.  That is a lot for which to be thankful!

One story I hold near and dear to my heart is of a particularly bad day when I had been struggling, yet again, with poor self-esteem and body image.  Greg has always been faithful in telling me I was beautiful and that he loved me so much, and on this particular day, I had a break down in the bathroom and asked God to show me what people were seeing in me that I didn’t see in myself.

As I was staring intently into the mirror, my reflection suddenly went out of focus.  Right before my eyes, I watched as long, dark wavy hair began to frame my face.  My nose somehow grew slightly pointier, and my eyes became a bright, piercing color I couldn’t quite identify.  Even my skin seemed to darken a bit, and I thought the light had somehow shifted in the room.  It seemed to happen in slow motion, but yet so quickly, too.  I blinked in shock, and everything had gone back to normal just as suddenly as it had changed.  Oh my goodness… Jesus was showing me Himself!  He was telling me that people saw Him when they looked at me!  It was similar to the experiences that, until then, I had only read about.

On another day, I was on my way to a job that I had grown to dread.  It had gotten to the point where my work ethic and willingness to help others was taken for granted, and I had begun to feel taken advantage of more often than not.  I had been praying for God’s direction in making a decision about whether or not to seek employment elsewhere, and I found myself stopped at a red light.  Right in front of me, hovering above my car, was an eagle in flight.  I had rarely even seen an eagle in passing let alone hovering over my vehicle for the duration of the red traffic light!  God was reminding me, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Even in moments that aren’t quite as intense, there are evidences of God’s presence and faithfulness all around if you know where to look for them.  Even if you aren’t consciously looking for them, just being aware of your surroundings will help you see them.  One crisp Autumn morning when I left the house, the car windows were all frosted over- save for one little spot right in my line of sight when I got into my vehicle to start it up and put on the defroster.  There was one little clear spot- in the shape of a perfect heart- singled out amidst a whole windshield of thick frost.  God was sending me a little love note, and I didn’t even have to ask Him for it!

I am grateful unto God for always taking a moment to remind me of His love and of His presence in my life.  Although the earth is His footstool, He is El Roi, the God who sees me.  He sees little old Alicia from a map dot in Pennsylvania, and He cares about me in the big things and in the little things.  He has never let me down, and He never will.  He feels the same way about you, and He wants you to know that He is everywhere, in every moment.  He promises, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13)  How thankful I am that God makes Himself so readily available to us!

Have an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving, and take time to remember who God is and what He means to you.  Look back over your life, and challenge yourself to point out those moments when you doubted His presence but now realize He was there all along.  And if you can’t think of one other thing He has ever done for you… remember to lift up a thanksgiving for His sacrifice on Calvary that made you free! 

 

 

Posted in Alicia & Goliath, Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion, Health & Wellness

Stressful Stuff & a Cocoa Puff

You’re not the only one who thinks chocolate fixes everything! Need some encouragement and motivation when it comes to fighting the urge to cave into cravings? Read my newest blog post, published on my Alicia & Goliath page, and keep your chin up!

Posted in Blog, Faith & Religion, Health & Wellness

Toxic

As someone who has ridden the “Diet Roller Coaster” since she was fourteen years old, I’ve been through a plethora of fad diets.  You know the story… you’re motivated and on fire when you first start a new diet, and you even do really well for a week or two.  But when something gets in the way of that initial motivation, or when you’re faced with all kinds of sugary temptations at a family function or birthday party, you throw in the towel.  Ultimately, you end up gaining back the weight you lost and then some.  I assure you, friends, if I had a dime for every time I said “I’ll start fresh on Monday,” I would be rich by now.

As I’ve mentioned in my All About Me page, I am now a health and wellness coach.  Now, I may not have that title as a certified professional in the industry, but with what I do for my “side hustle” these days, that is exactly what I am.  If you would’ve told me three years ago that I would one day be a health and wellness coach, I would have died laughing.

But isn’t that just how God works?  I know someone who was mercilessly teased when he was a boy for a speech impediment, and today he is well-known motivational speaker and preacher.  In one of her books, Joyce Meyer tells us that she was lucky to pass English classes with D’s year after year, and now she teaches, preaches, studies the Word of God like nobody’s business, and has written more books than I can count.  Of course, let’s not forget God’s shining example, Paul.  (Read Acts for that miraculous story about Saul’s conversion.)

It’s taken me three years, but I finally embraced the reality that God turned this food addict into a health and wellness coach!  I not only help people stay motivated when they’ve decided to make healthy changes, but I educate them about what they put into their bodies and how it affects their health.  For example, I teach people how toxic it is for your body when you drink highly acidic beverages like coffee and soda, and eat processed foods and too much refined sugar.  There are also the “fun facts” I share such as, your body needs fat to burn fat, and, anything light or fat free is filled with chemicals and sugars.  There are many other golden nuggets like these that I share with my clients, and I love doing it.

What I do is not about taking miracle pills that offer a quick fix, and it’s not about slapping on band-aids that offer a temporary fix.  To truly be healthy- body, mind, and soul- I try to encourage people to change the mindset that got them unhealthy in the first place.  I also teach them about eating as clean and natural as possible- the way God always intended it!  In fact, with all the green juice, grapefruit essential oil, alkaline water, and liquid chlorophyll I drink in a day, I must be the least toxic person on the planet!

Since I jumped off of the diet roller coaster three years ago and instead boarded the new healthy lifestyle train, I’ve learned a lot about why fad diets don’t work.  I’ve changed my reading habits from romantic suspense fiction to non-fiction health and wellness books.  In Eat & Stay Thin by Joyce Meyer, she states, “When they [people who struggle with weight loss] are afraid that anything they put in their mouths carries the potential for ‘making them fat,’ they would much rather follow the list of rules and regulations in a diet than have liberty.”  That struck a chord with me, because that is my true heart’s desire- liberty!

Ever since I tried (and failed) the program that made the most sense to me years and years ago, The Weigh Down Diet by Gwen Shamblin, I have felt like a complete and utter failure.  What I loved about Gwen’s program was that it wasn’t based on what you were eating as much as it was based on listening to God and our body’s God-given cues.  Basically, you were taught to eat whatever you’re truly craving, but to only eat when you’re truly hungry.  You’re also supposed to… and this is where I struggled the most… stop when you’re pleasantly satisfied, not stuffed.  In today’s terms, you may hear it referred to as “intuitive eating.”  Honesty, I’ve been chasing that dream since it was first introduced to me over twenty years ago!

Like Joyce Meyer, Gwen talked about how society tries to “make the food behave” instead of making ourselves behave.  We think that if something is fat free, we can have double portions of it.  The truth is, when you take a look at the real reasons behind overeating, and there could be many, no amount of diet rules can help us overcome the surface problem.

I constantly tell people that my battle with food is more spiritual for me than it is physical.  And that’s because I’ve always looked at overeating as sinful.  I wasn’t taking care of my temple, and I felt I loved food more than I loved God.  I was ashamed, and I was definitely stuck in bondage.  When I wasn’t a slave to the food itself because I was on a diet, I was a slave to the diet’s rules, meal plans, and limitations.  Even to this day, I often feel like I’m a slave to the scale, because I let its numbers dictate my mood, my motivation, my self-worth, and even my sanity.  Dare I say… my relationship with the scale is toxic!  I have to remind myself every single day that this is about me and God, not about me and that scale.

For me, this journey is truly about finding the freedom that Christ died to give me.  There are days I honestly feel like I could burn out from stressing so much about food, and toxicity, and meal plans, and carbs, and sugar, and right and wrong.

In Mark 7, verses 18 and 19, we read, “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you?  Food doesn’t go into the heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.’ By saying this, He declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.” (NLT) Jesus has plainly told us that there IS NO right and wrong!

Let’s dig a little deeper, though.  We also learn in the New Testament where the real problem lies.  Consider this: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, NKJV)  Ahhh, there it is.  Most people today take the first part of this verse and run with it.  Jesus said you could have a 16-ounce steak, loaded baked potato, and a hot fudge sundae, true… but is that really helping you?

Now, I would never tell anyone that they can’t enjoy these things, so please don’t misunderstand me.  The key to good physical health and taking care of your temple is to adopt a healthy lifestyle where you make healthy choices approximately 80% percent of the time, and treat yourself 20% of the time- not the other way around.  And instead of over-indulging like in my scenario above, try having an 8-ounce steak, a baked sweet potato with butter and cinnamon, and if that satisfies you, skip the hot fudge sundae.  You could always go out for a small ice cream cone later that night or sometime the next day.

Let’s examine the second part of this verse.  “I will not be brought under the power of any.”  Now this is where I’ve truly had my struggle.  I can remember many, many times crying out to the Lord asking, “Why does food have such power over me?”  The pull of food in my life was always so prevalent that I wondered what was wrong with me.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized I am not alone in this fight.

The reason I believed this problem to be a sin in my life is because, as an emotional eater, I should be turning to God and His Word for comfort, not a pan of brownies.  When I’m angry about something, I should be turning to God and His Word to calm me down, not taking my frustrations out on a bag of Doritos.  When I’m stressed out about various circumstances in my life, I should ask the Prince of Peace to help me trust in Him, not visit the nearest drive-through.  Above all, I wasn’t honoring God with my body and with what I was eating and drinking.

It’s actually strange to think about how something as simple as food can have such control over your actions.  When you get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and then take an unplanned detour to the kitchen before returning to bed, you’re under the power of food.  When you stop for gas but just have to run into the convenience store for a candy bar, you’re under the power of food.  When you’ve had a wonderful dinner out and still order the chocolate lava cake despite being full, you’re under the power of food.  Do you see a pattern here?

I know what I’m talking about, because I’ve lived through every one of these scenarios more than once, and hated myself for it every time I did it.  I truly had a love-hate relationship with food.  But here’s a newsflash for you: food is not the enemy!  There is a true, blue enemy that “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV) He will not only take advantage of your weaknesses, but he will surely kick you while you’re down.  After you down that candy bar or that greasy burger from the drive-thru, you will, if you’re anything like me, proceed to beat yourself up for hours afterwards because you “did it again.”

The devil likes to tell us we are failures.  He loves to remind us how weak we are.  He takes absolute delight in making us feel miserable about ourselves by illuminating our flaws.  He knows us well, and he will gladly use the information to keep us as far from God and His truth as possible.  

But, here is one truth from Romans 3:23-24, NKJV, that you should keep in your heart every moment of every day… “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  Woo-hoo!  Doesn’t that make you want to shout and dance?!  Listen, not one of us is worthy of receiving God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and there is nothing we can ever do to earn or deserve those good gifts, that’s all true.  But when the enemy takes that truth and twists it into something that makes you feel bad about yourself, that’s taking it way too far.  Christ came to reconcile us unto God, and through His sacrifice, we are holy, righteous, and redeemed!  Amen!

Listen, I’ve been fighting this giant for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been beating myself up for “being a failure” for even longer than that.  Can I be brutally honest with you about something?  You are a child of God!  That means that when you make nasty faces at your reflection, talk down to yourself, call yourself names, or any other thing you do to beat yourself up, you are BULLYING one of God’s daughters!  (How’s that for perspective, right?)  Wow!  A daughter of The King is the LAST person I would ever want to bully!

The bible frequently tells us how much power we have in the tongue.  We can use it to tear down or to build up.  Which one do you think glorifies God?  Proverbs 15:4 states, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” (NIV) Be soothing, my friends!  When I say I’m a health and wellness coach, I’m not just referring to physical health.  Your spiritual and emotional health & wellness are just as important, if not more so, because without those, you can’t have the other.

Do you know that when we are in Christ, we have a supernatural power within us to accomplish things we can’t do in our own strength?  Acts 1:8b reads, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (NKJV) 2 Timothy 1:7 reads, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV) There are many more where they came from, too.  The Bible is chock full of wonderful truths that we should be telling ourselves (and telling the enemy!) every single day!

To this day, I have a stack of index cards that each contain powerful truths I’ve used at one time or another during this battle.  They are attached to a book ring and kept in a little filing box so I can review them often!  The Bible says the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. (See Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12) The Word is our weapon against the attacks from the enemy, and we should be able to use it at any given moment.  But I use them to not only fight the enemy, but also to embrace the freedom that Christ died to give me.

I would like to share these Scripture verses with you, so if you would like your own printable copy of these flash cards, visit my Freebies page!  I color-coded them for easy sorting, too!  I have included 36 life-giving verses to start with, but I encourage you to begin adding your own as you study more of God’s Word and find the truths that specifically speak to you.  You can carry these little “flash cards” with you so you have them readily available, or you can use them as study guides to practice memorization.

I began this post by talking about body toxicity, and then I mentioned that my relationship with the scale is toxic.  For a very, very long time, my relationship with myself was toxic, too.  I can’t even begin to tell you how often God “hit me over the head” with His truth about my true identity, and that is why I am so passionate about sharing what I learned with other women like me.

What is your relationship like with you?  Do you have a toxic relationship with yourself like I did?  How do you treat your body?  Are you taking care of God’s temple by using food for fuel instead of for comfort?  What kinds of things are you telling yourself?  Are you using your tongue to crush or to soothe?  To hurt or to heal?

If you are a mother, you know how terribly painful it is when your children have trouble with peers in school.  It is a very sad and helpless feeling to watch your child suffer with such torment.  Imagine how much more painful it is for God to see one of His children suffer with that torment.  YOU are one of those children.  Don’t be a bully.

To find out more about Joyce Meyer’s book Eat & Stay Thin, or to learn more about Gwen Shamblin-Lara’s Weigh Down Diet, visit my Resources page.  If you have any Scripture verses that have encouraged you along the way, reminded you of who you are in Christ, or helped you ward off attacks from the enemy, I’d love for you to share them with us.  In fact, if this post related to you in any way, I would love for you to share your comments below.  Thanks, and God bless!