Archives for December 2011

What’s Your Picture for 2012?

This morning my friend, Jenny, posted this question on her Facebook:  What was the most important/memorable event of your 2011?

I spent some time thinking back.  The years pass so quickly; I feel it’s a missed opportunity to press on to 2012 without reflecting on 2011.

In 2011 my life – my family’s life – changed radically.  I met new people that I now hold near and dear.  My son, Owen, accepted Christ and both my children proclaimed their faith publicly through baptism.  I finished a half-marathon (really, if you’d have said this time last year that I’d complete a half-marathon in 2011, I’d have cracked up!) My faith has grown by leaps and bounds through some painful events, amazing occurrences, and life-altering decisions.

I won’t bore you with the rest of my reflection, but…wow!  This year was quite eventful.

As the New Year begins, Mary DeMuth (an author I love) challenged her readers to ask God for a picture for the year.  I decided to join her.  I love to take pictures and often capture God’s awesome creation on my morning walk/runs.  I began praying for a picture to symbolize my 2012.

Here’s the picture God chose for me:

 

I took this a few months ago.  I cross this bridge every morning, and most days, my walk home includes watching the sunrise here.  It’s a breathtaking view almost every morning.   [I also accidentally kicked my phone off this bridge (far right to be exact), but that’s another story!]

I think God sent me this picture for so many reasons.  Mostly, this picture serves as a reminder to me of the old and the new.  On one side of the bridge is the old.  On the other side is the new.   I know deep down 2012 will be a “crossing” year for me, bridging those life changes He began in me in 2011 to something He has for me in 2013 – and beyond.

Best of all, He reminded me that I won’t cross alone.  I don’t have to do all the work; I don’t have to be in control.  While I have known this in my head for years, I have only recently begun to accept it in my heart.

For the first time in my 36 years of life, I have finally come to understand utter dependence on God, not self.  I have much more to learn, but God has taught me grace this year.  Grace not works.  He is enough.  Really, nothing else is needed.

For a control freak like me (or anyone really), that’s life changing.  I no longer feel compelled to explain myself and decisions, to have the latest and greatest, to buy into culture’s ideas about who and what I should be.  I simply need Him.  Nothing can separate me from Him – from His love.  It’s incredibly freeing.

Here two passages from God’s word that I have grown to love:

Romans 8: 37-39  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Galatians 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

Nothing – no one – can separate me from him.  He made me for no other purpose than to bring Him glory.  What an amazing privilege!

As you begin a new year, consider asking God for a picture and a verse (or two).

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to see what God has in store in 2012 for me and you!

 

Links

Mary DeMuth – Pic for the Year

 

Resolving to Lose Weight This Year? Do More and Try Harder is Bad Advice

It’s a New Year, and time for half of America to make resolutions. In fact, the statistics I found online guesstimated that about 48% of us will make at least one resolution.  The top resolution?  Of the articles I read, two resolutions competed for the number one slot:

1. Spend more time with family and friends

2. Lose weight/get fit.

 

I am part of that stat – sort of.

I am looking at resolutions a little differently this year.  Since I was a teen, I have made the same resolution each January 1:  Lose weight.  A cursory flip through my photo albums will prove both my success and failure.

No more “resolving” for me.  I am not going to do more and try harder.  Not this year.

Two things have changed my approach:  preparing to lead a Bible study about weight loss and reading through Ecclesiastes.

In November I was wrapping up a meeting at a local coffee shop.  As we walked out, I looked at my friend and said, “I think God’s calling me to teach Made to Crave at our church.”  The friend smiled and said something to the effect of  “duh.”

I didn’t want to lead the study.  Part of me still doesn’t.  When you lead a Bible study about marriage, your marriage can be a train wreck and no one will know.  When you lead a study about the book of John, you can pretend to know what you’re talking about by reading commentaries and articles online and no one will know.  When you lead a Bible study about almost anything, you can fake it.  I am not saying you should, just that it’s possible.

But, when you lead a study about WEIGHT, there’s no hiding your success or failure.  You wear it (literally) daily.  I just didn’t/don’t want to be that person.  The “leader” that everyone is watching  – will she lose or gain?  Ugh!

That’s why in that moment at Stoked, I confessed to my friend that my biggest fear was that the enemy…Satan…would become (or create) an even bigger obstacle in my weight struggle if I committed to leading the study.  Again, the friend knowingly answered, “that’s a safe bet.”  Sigh.

I expressed to my sister how I felt as if leading a Bible study about weight loss when I still need to lose about 30 pounds probably wasn’t a good idea.  Her response?  “That’s Satan, Sarah.  He’s already winning.”  Yeah, I guess so.

Admittedly, Satan has been quite successful in derailing me since my decision in November to lead the study.  Since that day, I’ve lost and gained.  I am the same weight today as I was in November.

Sad, sad, sad.  Why?  Because my exercise regimen has not changed.  I still average 30-40 miles a week, depending on my training schedule.

My eating? Some days nothing.  Some days?  Sad, sad, sad.  Greedy, greedy, greedy.

What happened?  What changed?

I decided to take back the control I’d given to God.  Instead of leaning into Him (as I had been since the start of my weight loss journey in June), I decided I could muster enough will power and run enough miles to do this on my own.  No need to bother God any longer.  I mean, I completed a half-marathon! I no longer needed help…I am successful.

What a lie.

As I prepare to lead Made to Crave at my church, I have found myself in some turmoil.  In my heart, I think:  this used to be my life, leaning in to God when I had no will power, no want to – gathering my strength from Him hour by hour.  He was my motivation and my “want to/ have to.”

It was so clear in my mind that He had a plan for me, and He could not carry out the plan as long as I weighed 235 pounds.  He even gave me a glimpse of the plan.  He even provided me an opportunity as a direct result of the weight loss.

And, what did I do?  Turned my back on His offering.  Allowed pride to creep in.  Stepped out on my own.

So, here I am.  Excited beyond belief to share with even just one woman that God loves her beyond belief just as she is – body issues and all – He has so much more for her and wants to help her crave Him instead of food.  But, the excited is conflicting with my own failure of late.

On Monday, I was putting off more prep because of this conflict in my heart.  So, while running in the rain, I literally cried out to God.  (So glad no one was around:)

He gave me Ecclesiastes.

Here’s Ecclesiastes 1:1-12.  I usually link Scripture, but I am including it this time because I don’t want you to miss it!

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: 2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes,  ever returning on its course. 7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. (NIV)

I can’t begin to share the impact these 12 verses have had on me this week.  I hope to share more specifically in future posts, but for this time, I hope you understand that there is simply nothing new under the sun.

As the New Year begins, our culture will zealously seek new products and approaches to weight loss.  There is nothing new.  I’ve been keeping up with the weight loss market for 20 years.  It’s all the same – repackaged and repurposed year after year.

Again, nothing is new.  We live in a world in which the sun rises and sets.  The wind blows this way and that day in and day out.  The streams flow – there may be some flooding for a time – but they never really fill.  It really is all wearisome without God.  We NEVER hear enough or see enough.  What has been will be again – life is very cyclical.  Nothing’s new.  You won’t be remembered in a 100 years – probably less.

Depressing, huh?  Yes, it would be if the story ended there.  But, it doesn’t.  We have Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection. We have God who sent His only son to die in our place. With the gospel,  the meaningless can become meaningful.

There’s no amount of food or exercise or will power or products or plans or supporters that can turn the meaningless to meaningful.  You can do more and try harder all you want.  But, without Him, you will toil in vain – or more accurately – misery.  Oh, you may have some success for a season, but apart from Him  – a daily leaning into Him  – that success will be fleeting and joyless at best.

I should know.  I’ve toiled in vain for over a month.  The lack of weight loss isn’t even the biggest repercussion of my self-sufficiency and pride.  My lack of joy is.  There’s no joy in willing yourself not to eat the Christmas cookies – and I have had plenty of Christmas treats.

But, there is joy in God coming to your rescue when you can’t say no.  Knowing it’s all Him and not you?  So humbling and amazing that your faith becomes bigger and bigger…you are so in awe of God and His work in your life that you can barely speak about it.  Incredibly undeserving but unbelievably grateful.

I pray if you’re resolving to take off extra pounds, get fit, spend more time with family and friends, quit smoking, get organized, or [fill in resolution here], that you don’t go it alone.  First, spend time in prayer and in His Word, asking God to take the journey with you.  Second, find a friend or family member to help – to walk with you. I promise, with Him, the meaningless, purposeless, mundane can be transformed into meaningful, purposeful, and extraordinary.

I have decided to quit toiling on my own and lean back into Him. I am sure they’ll be plenty of blogging this year as I daily turn my control-freak self over to Him:)

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Christmas is Really About – From a Soldier’s Wife

Over the past year, I’ve been blessed to make a new friend, Jennifer Ireland.  She’s been featured in this blog many times as she’s often “the friend” to which I refer.  The entire time I’ve been friends with Jen her husband, Nate, has been deployed to Kosovo with the Army National Guard.  Each week, Jen and I – along with another friend – meet for Bible study and prayer.  We’re also in the same care group at church and like to text about….well, anything:)  Through this growing friendship, my eyes have been opened to the daily life of a military family.  Jen’s life, struggles, perseverance, and (most of all) faith have changed me this past year.  I hope you’ll read her story below and be changed too.  

As we get close to Christmas we feel a sense of urgency to get the tree up, decorate the house, fulfill our Christmas list, and make this year the ‘best Christmas ever.’ We stress ourselves with all the things we need to have for December 25th.  All of this so our families, and let’s face it ourselves, are happy and filled with warm fuzzy feelings on Christmas day.

This year my anxiety has quadrupled  as I try to get into a new house, get all the normal Christmas ‘stuff’ done, and wait for my husband to return from deployment.  This sentence all but spirals me into an anxiety attack because as I sit here writing none of these is completed. In all actuality, I just received news that my husband’s day to come home has been drawn out making the anxiety in me grow. The new house is still ripped apart, my Christmas tree is still sitting in a field somewhere, presents are not purchased, cards are not sent, and my husband is still sitting in Europe frustrated and tired.

Because we don’t live near a military base, much of our community is unaware of the lifestyle military families live. Sarah asked me to write this blog to bring some perspective to those who might not know a military family. Without living it, I would have never known the real depth of service and sacrifice these men and women in uniform make.

My husband, Nate, is in a Blackhawk unit based in Wheeling, West Virginia. He started his journey with the military the week after we began dating.  So, essentially, our entire relationship has catered to the Army National Guard. Our wedding was planned in four days so we could marry before his Iraq deployment. Our first daughter, Launa, whom Nate affectionately refers to as our pre-deployment daughter, was born 24 hours after he landed for his two-week leave.  In between deployments, Nate came home to a woman whose entire life had changed from single college student to married momma.  My husband, who had seen death and destruction, who had lived a life of rank and military orders for 18 months, came home unable to convert back to ‘normal’ life for several, anger-filled months.  Then, we had our post-deployment baby, Briege, and our family started to become ‘normal’ through lots of prayer and family time.

Three years passed, and Nate was deployed again last January. Only this time Nate had two little girls clinging to his leg not understanding what ‘Goodbye’ would mean for their lives in 2011 while he deployed to Kosovo. Nights of crying, sobbing, screaming for daddy engulfed my life.  When the girls see the American flag, they now excitedly yell “it’s Daddy’s flag!”  – usually followed by tears and tantrums.

One afternoon we passed Da Vinci’s restaurant in Williamstown and several men in uniform were standing in the parking lot. I tried to distract my girls as we drove by, but Launa spotted the uniforms and was convinced we were driving by daddy.  Holidays, birthdays, anniversary, graduation from college – all our milestones this year were missed by Daddy. We try to make some fun out of it.  We have missed two Thanksgivings together, so we now have two photos of Nate with cardboard signs saying  “Happy Thanksgiving from Iraq” and “Kosovo.”

One of the hardest parts of deployment for me is taking over all the duties that Nate typically does while home and piling those duties on top of my typical responsibilities.  For example, trash night is not my duty–so every Tuesday evening you can find me grumbling down the drive, garbage can bouncing down the gravel behind me….always in the rain. Did I mention that it only rains when garbage night is my duty? One year of every Tuesday evening pouring the rain.  Cars – again not my duty – and not normally a big deal because,  really,  how many times a year can there be a car problem from two well-maintained foreign cars from this decade? Well, when Nate is gone magically this becomes a part of our year several times, leaving me with two rambunctious impatient kids in a dirty waiting room wondering if this will be the guy to take advantage of my pocketbook because I’m a girl who knows nothing about cars.

Then, when Nate does return home, it’s hard for him to accept the fact that these duties weren’t done the way he would have done them. And I become resentful and mad at Nate while I’m doing double duties even though he has no choice. In fact, recognizing this tendency to resent him and processing it before he calls home is the biggest hurdle to deployment. The days he calls during a bad moment or before the processing is over….dangerous.

So far, it sounds like deployment is nothing but ugly. And, there are days that I truly feel this way. However, there also has been amazing, beautiful, and humbling parts to deployment.  This single word “deployment,” requires my family to truly embrace and experience the word “community.” Before deployment, I lived very much in the bubble of my immediate family, venturing out into the church only for prayer and socializing…never truly allowing anyone in from the church to really know the inside and weaknesses of the Irelands.

This year the church has become real for me and my girls. Our care group, the youth kids, the Vine student ministry volunteers, and the other people who have ‘adopted’ us through their love of Christ have surrounded us and carried us through one of the hardest years of my life.  While my biological family has been splintered and is trying to heal through the death of both of my parents due to cancer, the church has carried us through – supplying everyday needs and prayer.

Another beautiful aspect of these trials and struggles this year – my husband has begun his walk with Christ. Through the rollercoaster of Army life, the imperfections of his wife, and the death of a dear friend, Nate’s heart was awakened to the need and desire for his Creator.

Finally, as I wait for this crazy year to come to an end and the anxiety builds, God continues to put people and things into my life to remind me that despite the yoyo of the Army timeline,  the Christmas ‘stuff’ that I feel needs done, and the house that’s not ready, I am truly His and He is enough.

Yesterday, I listened to Matt Chandler’s sermon “Substance over Shadows.” Through his sermon and God’s word, I was reminded that the Christmas season –beautiful shadow; my husband –loving devoted shadow; and my girls –joyous shadow. Christ alone is our substance and everything else that was given to us through Him is merely a shadow of what we have in him. It’s so easy to focus on what I don’t have in this moment: the house, Christmas, my parents, my husband…but when I focus on Jesus, the anxiety falls away and everything else becomes a lovely shadow reminding me of all His glorious promises as I wait.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head, the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:15-18

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

Both Jen and I  pray that this season you remember He is all you need – He is the substance. All else?  Merely shadows. 

Do You Want (or Need) a Change of Heart? (Advent Week 1)

Our celebration of Advent began last Monday as we read the family devotional for the week from the Village Church’s advent guide.

The devotional focused on the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:1-14.

A father willing to sacrfice his son on an altar – not the easiest action to explain to a 9-year-old and 11-year-old – or anyone!

My goal was for my kiddos to get the heart lesson:  Am I willing to sacrifice ANYTHING for Him?  Anything.  My children.  My husband.  My family.  My home.  My job.  My retirement.  My [insert anything here].

Will I…can I give up whatever He asks me to?   Is Christ centered in my heart so much that sacrifice for His glory is not only doable but an honor?  Ultimately, I say God is ALL I need, but I do deeply believe that?  Does my life demonstrate that?

I so desperately want to answer these questions with an unequivocal yes.  But, when the time comes to sacrifice.  When God calls me to place ______ on the altar, will I follow Him?  Will I do it?

I think I will.  I pray I will.

Abraham planned to.  He would have.

Genesis 22: 9-11 “When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

Simply, God was Abraham’s greatest treasure.  Above his son, his family, the approval of others, the size of his jeans (or tunic:), his position in life, the size of his bank account, the number of presents he got for Christmas…ok, maybe this is now about me (and maybe you) and not Abraham.  Still, it’s the same.  God must be our greatest treasure.

As we talked about this story and the sacrifices God has called us to and may call us to in the future, Owen asked if sacrificing “anything” included his Wii.  I said, “Yes, Owen, if God asks you to give up your Wii then you should do it – not because Mom said so, but because you love God so much that you’d do anything for Him.”

Owen replied, “Well, I really like playing Wii, and I hope God never calls me to give it up.”  Hannah interjected, “But, if God does, Owen, are you willing?  In your heart, do you love God so much that you’d give it up?”  Owen’s response?  An unconvincing yes:)

Hannah explained to Owen that it’s really about our hearts.  In Abraham’s heart, he knew God’s command was greater than even his love for his son.  Abraham was willing to give up even his son to follow God.  She reminded our family that we have to be willing to give up anything to follow Him, but “that doesn’t mean we WILL have to give it all up, but maybe.”

As I listened to Hannah and watched Owen struggle with this new idea (heck, I was/am struggling too!), I thought, “How, Lord, do I get an Abraham heart?  How can I get a heart that loves You so so much that it trumps all other loves in my life? ”

While I know there’s probably some deep theological responses to these questions, I don’t have them.  For now, my family’s found that a deeper, authentic love for God can be fostered in three ways.

Reading His Word together.  Praying together and making note of both answered and unanswered prayer.  Involving ourselves in each others’ lives and the lives of others (both intentionally and unintentionally) as servants and/or friends.

As we read, pray, and serve, I see all of our hearts changing. I feel changed.

But, it’s the busiest time of the year!! When does one find time to read, pray, serve, and on and on. Really, who has time?

Maybe you can’t do all three everyday.  We don’t.  We ususally plan to, but it never works out that way.  Somedays my time goes to friends and serving more than it goes to reading His Word.  Somedays we don’t serve others, but we pray together and read His Word together.  Somedays we’ve all read our YouVersion separately, we’ve all prayed individually, and we’ve all served, but we’ve done none of these together. Somedays, we do none of them and accept God’s grace:)

Specifically, this week we made  Advent chains to help us focus more on Him.  We take a loop off daily and write something for which we’re grateful.  We’re keeping these loops of gratitude in a Gratitude Bag, so we can dump out a whole lot of “grateful” on December 25:)

There’s no formula.  There’s no right or wrong way to fall in love with God more deeply.  And, if you beat yourself up trying to measure up to any other person or family, God won’t be loved or honored more because HE won’t be your focus. (Yes, I speak from experience on this one:)

Just start somewhere.  Prayers before bed.  Conversations in the car as you travel to and from practice or dance class.  Downloading a YouVersion plan to your smart phone (Me and Hannah) or picking up the Daily Bread (Steve).

Just start  – because if you do – this season will look different.  You’ll be different.  And, above all, God will be loved, honored, and glorified.