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.