Yearly Lessons

To copy a short explanation from my January 2018 post, God has given me a word for the year since 2011. It’s my “theme” for the year; it’s always a word that encapsulates the lessons God winds up working on with me that year.

2011 was my year of grace.

2012 was my year of hope.

2013 was my year of love.

2014 was my year of trust.

2015 was my year of faith.

2016 was my year of surrender.

2017 was my year to learn to follow (God) in a deeper way.

2018 was my year of change.

2019 – 2021 were “dark nights of the soul” years and I did not ask God for a word for the year during this time. But I started the practice again and 2022 gets two words!

2022 is my year of sacrifice and discipline.

Sacrifice: I need to sacrifice some things to attain other/better things (for example, and not limited to this, sacrificing eating the way I want to eat for eating in a much healthier way to attain better health).

“Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to.”  ―Mitch Albom

“There is no progress or accomplishment without sacrifice.” ― Idowu Koyenikan

Discipline: I need to learn to employ (better, stronger) discipline to have the life I want – the life I know God wants for me. There’s a lot encompassed here and I don’t want to get off track, so won’t elaborate now. I will probably do that with a wrap-up post at the end of the year though.

You know, it just struck me that’s what’s been missing from this. It’s not enough to put my word (or “words”) of the year out there – I also need to share what God used them to teach me after all is said and done. I will do that this year.

“Sacrifice, discipline and prayer are essential. We gain strength through God’s word. We receive grace from the sacrament. And when we fumble due to sin – and it’s gonna happen – confession puts us back on the field.” ―Lou Holtz

“Discipline begins where you are, and the key to sustaining the level of discipline you need lies in developing daily habits and routines which mirror the life you want to have.” Mensah Oteh

We’re three and a half months into 2022, but it’s like this year is just beginning for me. I feel like I’ve been hibernating (which may be one reason bears have become nearer and dearer to my heart over the past few years). But I’m slowly waking up, stretching, and rubbing the sleep from my eyes. And the future, like the spring-time sun, appears warm and bright.

Thoughts and Stuff

Approaching my 54th revolution around the sun is making me more introspective than I can adequately describe. I would love nothing more than to take a solid week right now, grab my bible, journal, and a couple of books I feel the need to read through, and go to some scenic, secluded location with no electricity or cell signal and just be completely still.

I’ve been praying a lot lately about some things and I need to make some serious changes in my life. I’ve already begun working towards them, but I will be buckling down going forward in a way I never have before. I’m quite determined that by the time I hit 55 my life will look very different.

***

My heart hurts because I know I’ve hurt God. I’ve compromised my faith. Oh, not in any major ways – but even those small ways (like allowing myself to swear once in a while when it’s just NOT ME anymore to talk that way) can creep inside you, settle in, and make themselves at home, making it easier and easier to “slip” each time and begin to turn back into someone you left behind a long time ago. The most embarrassing part of it is that I deliberately allowed myself to do it in some half-baked attempt to not appear too different or too weird, thinking I’d be more acceptable. But the fact is that I AM different. And in allowing myself to slip back into old patterns I was misrepresenting myself – who I’ve become and Who I belong to.


“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.’”

Isaiah 43:1

I am His. There’s just no two ways about it.


I used to be comfortable swearing like a drunken sailor. And I did. Often. And I’m not saying I will never slip up again. But deliberately allowing myself to swear to “fit in,” hoping someone will like me more if I behave more like them, just isn’t me. How can I represent Jesus to the world around me if I reflect the world around me more than I reflect Him?


I am not perfect (!!!). Not a single one of us are. I will continue to sin, make an untold number of mistakes, and unintentionally hurt God and people I care about for the rest of my life. But God knows my heart and it is a heart that loves Him and loves others, so I will always seek forgiveness for and growth from these things.


I will not deliberately compromise my faith again though. Especially for acceptance from another person. If someone can’t accept me for who I am – a (flawed) woman who deeply loves and treasures the Lord and wants to live in a way that’s pleasing to Him – that’s their choice.

“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.”

Galatians 2:20

***

It’s been really easy, almost a relief in some ways, to be able to indulge the “loner” in me during this whole Covid-19 mess. But I am feeling very much that I need to quit opting to be alone so often – it’s hurting me more than helping. I have periodically pushed myself to initiate getting together with friends or family, but far too seldom. Granted I need to be careful not to fill up my schedule too much otherwise I wind up in bed with a Fibromyalgia flare-up (and sometimes this happens even when I am meticulously careful), but speaking health-wise, when I’m able to socialize I need to do that more often. There are people I care about that I need to make sure know I care about them. I am going to make that a much bigger priority this year. (You heard it here first, folks!) 😀

***

Last night I commented on someone else’s comment in a Christian discussion group I belong to on Facebook. I don’t think I’m going to do that anymore. It’s just not worth the emotional energy I expended.

The woman I commented to, I’ll call her “Tina,” inaccurately referenced Leviticus 19:19 where it says we are not to wear garments of cloth made with more than one material. (To interpret that in a way that’s easily understandable by modern thinking, wearing 100% cotton or 100% wool is ok, for example, but wearing a cotton/poly blend is not.) The whole post was actually about tattoos. “Tina” was responding to a comment made by someone who was condemning the person who posted for getting a tattoo inspired by the show “The Chosen.”

I understood and actually supported “Tina’s” point (which was we are no longer under the law. If you want to live by the law, then you also can’t eat meat, cut your hair, plant more than one kind of seed in your garden, and you can’t wear cotton – which is the part I kindly (I thought!) corrected her on because it’s mixed materials that are not allowed), yet also let her know I agreed with her. The “I agreed with her” part must have gotten lost somewhere in translation because she got very defensive and mean, totally misconstrued what I said, and copped a major superiority attitude. I was blown away that a fellow Christian would react this way. “Tina” (who, I will add, appears to be roughly in her mid-30’s) ended by saying that since I’m clearly not a Christian (WHAT???) if I want to live under the law I’m welcome to, but SHE is living under grace which means she has freedom in Christ.

Um… freedom… to be a bully? See THIS is why so many people have problems with Christians – because of nasty, mean-spirited, judgmental, wagging their finger in your face and beating you over the head with their bibles attitude that so many (well-meaning) brothers and sisters take (and I have a lot more to say on this topic but will refrain for now). And yes, deep down inside I do believe they mean well. They are trying, in their own, messed up, bull-in-a-China-shop way, to open people’s eyes and hearts to the truths in the Bible (although sadly it has the opposite effect). When I encounter these brothers and sisters, and start getting upset, I have to keep reminding myself that we are all deeply flawed and that it took me 34 years to get to where I’m at. And I’m loathe to admit it, but I went through that same, judgmental, finger-wagging phase myself many (many!) moons ago, so this is pretty much a glass houses and stones situation for me.

Ultimately I know I was right (because I know my intentions in posting the comments I did and she got me all wrong), but I deleted my comments and blocked her (she just wouldn’t stop with the parting shots this morning even though I stopped commenting last night), and I added her to my prayer list. I will pray God’s blessings and peace, and His love and wisdom in abundance for her. Hopefully one day (if God doesn’t call us all home to Heaven first) she will be in a position to do the same for someone else.

I Choose Joy

I love Christmas. I mean, what’s not to love? The scent of pine/evergreen in the air, beautiful trees decorated and sparkling with lights, “good will toward men” mindset a bit more prevalent than usual, surprising family and friends with presents that make them smile, festive Christmas music, peppermint all the things (!!!), yummy food, get-togethers with family and friends, and delectable. desserts. for. days. To name a few things.


But even though I absolute love Christmas (it’s my favorite time of year) I’m not feeling very Christmassy this year. I’m actually feeling pretty depressed. There are several reasons for this, yet instead of sitting and wallowing in how crappy and depressed I feel, I’ve decided to focus on the fact that, while I truly enjoy all those aspects of Christmas I just named (and others I didn’t), as the Grinch learned, “Christmas… means a little bit more.”


I have decided to choose joy instead of allowing depression to steal my Christmas. It may take a while for my emotions to line up with my choice (if ever), but I also know it’s ok to not feel ok. So I’m not going to pressure myself or make myself feel ‘less than’ somehow because I don’t feel things I want very much to feel. Here’s the thing though. Joy isn’t just a feeling. We CAN feel joy, sure. But it’s also a choice.


I remember calling a friend one day several years ago. I was upset about a particular circumstance in which I found myself and he said something that has jumped to mind many times over the intervening years. He said, “Lauren, your joy is yours to have. Choose it.” That simple yet profound perspective had quite an effect on me. My circumstances that day didn’t change, but how I reacted to them did because I chose joy. I wasn’t feeling joy at the time (that came later), but the choices I made in my self-talk and in my spoken words and my actions all reflected my choice to choose joy, so the day turned out much differently (better!) than it probably would have if I hadn’t made that phone call.


There’s an old story about a Cherokee grandfather having a conversation with his grandson when the grandson came to him angry over an injustice he’d suffered. The Grandfather said: “It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one wolf is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger because his anger will change nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, because both of the wolves try to dominate my spirit.”


The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”


The Grandfather smiled and said, “The one I feed.”


So I will feed my “better wolf” a diet of gratitude for the many (many!) blessings in my life. I will make time to sit down and list 3-5 things every day for which I am thankful. I will be specific, will read my list out loud after I make it, and take a moment to (also out loud) thank God for them. (Writing these things, even saying them, is important, I believe, but hearing them is even more powerful.)

However, most importantly, I will focus on celebrating the miraculous birth of the One true God Who loved us enough to come to earth in human form (admittedly not in December), and died so all who believe in Him can be forgiven of our sins and spend eternity with Him one day. For this I am more thankful than I can begin to express.


I choose joy.


A very Merry Christmas to you and your family!

An open letter to my friends and family for when they’re grieving the loss of someone they love

I wish I knew what to say. I’m so unbelievably sorry that someone close to you is gone and my heart genuinely hurts for you. Beyond this though, I’m at a total loss for words. Yeah, I know. I’m surprised too. ME. I love words – I’m the most longwinded person I know – so reaching for them and finding they’re not there is disconcerting. It makes me feel like I’m not myself and like I have nothing of substance to offer. To be completely honest, I’m literally frozen up inside from fear. Fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Fear of not doing or saying the right thing. Fear of not being the kind of friend/support you need. I always fail as a friend when someone dies – every. single. time. I know this, but I don’t know what to do about it.

And I’m not writing this for anyone to try to try to make me feel better. DON’T DO THAT! Just. Don’t. Seriously. You experiencing the death of someone you love is not about me. This is just me sharing my heart to let you know that I’m not failing because I don’t care. I’m failing because I care so much that I simply don’t trust my instincts and I don’t know how to fix it. My instincts are to pick up the phone and call you immediately. My instincts are to jump in my car and go straight to your house to hug you. My instincts are to sit and pray with you (if you’re comfortable with that). My instincts are to bring you comfort food. My instincts are to try to take little things (that I’m physically able to do) off your plate so you don’t need to worry about them – like doing your dishes, cleaning your bathroom, running the vacuum cleaner, doing a load of laundry, etc. My instincts are to make us a cup of tea and just sit and listen if you need to talk. Or just sit and hold your hand if you don’t.

But everyone is so different. Grieving is so, so deeply personal. I don’t ever (EVER) want to intrude on anyone’s grief, and I don’t know if any of my instincts are what you need from me so I wind up freezing and not doing any of these things. Daily I’ve had to (literally) fight my innate instinct to jump in my car and just show up at your door (no exaggeration). I can text and call, but I don’t want to call too soon or too often because I know it can be overwhelming. And I don’t want to text too much because I don’t want to be a pest and make you feel like you have to call or text back if you don’t feel up to it. But then at what point do unreturned texts and voicemails become annoying to you instead of making you feel like “I’m so glad she cares – I’ll text back or call when I can?”

I know there’s absolutely nothing I can do or say that will make you feel better, but I don’t want to add to your grief by inserting myself where I’m not wanted or needed. (Not saying you don’t want or need my friendship, just that my presence may not be what’s wanted or needed right then.) I want to help you however I can, however would be beneficial for you, but as I said, it’s not about me. It’s not your job to make me feel better by allowing me to give you something you don’t need. I would even be happy to simply sit with you in total silence if that’s what you need. But even asking “how can I help?” seems like it’d probably be overwhelming for you. You may not even know how I (or anyone) can help. You may not be able to articulate it. But I also don’t want to make things worse for you by just barging in in the midst of your grief and deciding how to help. I want to be there and help however you need me to be. But I’m having trouble figuring out how to do that. I need to figure out a way out of this vicious cycle I’ve caught myself in (wanting to help but not wanting to intrude and not wanting to pressure you, but wanting to help…) In the meantime, please know I love you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care about any of this. And please forgive me. I will try to do better.

~Lauren

Taking Up My Sword

I always start out a blog post with a title that winds up shaping how I write the post. Not this time though. The title will come last. That’s unusual for me, but it’s ok. God is ‘doing a new thing’ in my life. After tons of trial and error (T-O-N-S…) and lots of research over the last couple of months, I finally (FINALLY!) figured out the eating plan that’s right for me, that will help me to reach my weight loss and health goals. But it can’t end with simply knowing what I should eat and following the plan. If it was that simple, I’d never have gained weight back in the first place.

I’m a food addict. I habitually take comfort in food even while I’m loathing myself for doing same. Food is my drug of choice.

And no, it’s not harmless because it’s food. In fact, it’s pretty darned harmful. You can learn to live without drugs or alcohol, but you can’t live without food. So while I admit it’s not at all the same as being addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s also not easy to overcome and it’s definitely not harmless. Quite honestly, I’ve created additional health challenges for myself with my weight gain and with the poor food choices I’ve been making. Comfort, for me, has come at a very high cost.

Then there’s the whole guy thing. I’ve been divorced for 7 1/2 years and living on my own for 8 1/2. In that time I’ve been on two dates with two different guys (and one that was date-like, but was defined ahead of time as more hanging out with a friend and getting to know each other a little better with an eye to maybe dating in the future – which it turned out he wasn’t ready for). One thing I realized a while ago is that even though I’d love to be in a relationship, staying overweight, while painful for other reasons, insulates me from being hurt. Guys are very visual, so it’s easy for me to blame my weight (and the resulting mobility issues) for why guys just aren’t interested in me romantically. But now I find myself faced with the fact that losing weight will mean losing that insulation/excuse. It’s a scary proposition, but one I finally feel brave enough to face with a renewed knowing that I won’t be facing it alone.

So on top of the eating plan I’ll be starting over the next couple of weeks as I clean out my fridge and cupboards and replace things with only plan-friendly food, I’m confronting and dealing with the food addiction head on. I’m not doing it alone though. Deepening my relationship with God and relearning to find my comfort in Him instead of food is the only way I know I’ll be victorious.

I’ve also committed (to God and myself) to writing daily again – something I haven’t done for far too long. It’s who I am – a writer. Just saying that, admitting that’s what God created me to be, is more freeing than I can begin to tell you. I’m not saying I’m good at it mind you, but like breathing, I need to do it. Not doing it has made me feel a bit lost. I’ve allowed myself to feel unworthy of my calling for the last few years and haven’t sat down to do any real writing in that time. I’ve written in my journal and dabbled a bit with minor projects, but nothing serious. I have at least four books I started years ago that need to be dusted off, the ideas re-evaluated. But I’m going to do that. Soon. Once I reorganize and make a good-sized dent in the book I just started, that is.

I went to Maine last week thoroughly burned out – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I needed to lie low this weekend to recover from the trip, but even in the midst of a debilitating, exhausting, painful Fibro flare-up I could still feel the residual effects of the week. I spent hours (HOURS!) reading the bible and an equal amount of time outlining, researching, and starting a novel (with a harbor view, no less). It was the best thing I could possibly have done for myself. Renewing my mind in such a beautiful, peaceful spot, away from all the distractions of home, affected every other part of me as well. The salt air was invigorating, being so close to the water rested and refreshed my soul, and a few places unexpectedly triggered my imagination. But most importantly, because this was very much a spiritual battle, I was reminded that I know how to fight burnout and the resulting numbness I was experiencing; the same way to fight anything – with my sword – God’s Word.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Ephesians 6:11-17

sunset

Sunset – view from my balcony in East Boothbay, Maine 10/8/2019

Love Thy (Sick) Neighbor as Thyself

“Jesus demonstrated selfless and sacrificial love to us which we did not deserve or even want. When this same love flows from us it is evidence that Christ is at work in us.” –Pastor Tim Cochrell

Among other things, this morning in church Pastor Tim spoke about community. How “church is not just somewhere we go or something we do. It is who we are.” He talked about how brothers and sisters in Christ shouldn’t just come together on Sunday mornings to sing a few songs and listen to a message together, but that, like the believers of old, we should be doing life together (we are part of the same family after all); and how the way we relate to and interact with each other, the unconditional love we show for each other, should stand out to others – it should set us apart.

Now I’m going to sound like a bit of a crazy person – jumping from one topic to a seemingly unrelated one. But please bear with me – I do have a point.

My immune system hasn’t been that great for a very long time. I’m working on trying to improve it, but it’s taking a while. So basically, what that boils down to is I catch everything that comes down the pike. I was in bed for three days just last weekend with a fever and head/chest cold. Fortunately my cold is almost gone, but I’m still not quite back to 100%.

About 20 years ago, Kevin and I were horrendously sick with the flu for at least a week because someone came to a pre-Christmas gathering with the flu, bringing their sick kids (who also had the flu). So by the time Christmas Eve/Day rolled around they were all feeling much better, but Kevin and I were both so sick, our fevers went up so high, we felt like we were dying. This was important for me to mention because this was when my rather vehement opinion initially formed that it is the height of selfishness for someone to go someplace when they’re sick and expose everyone else to what they have. (Granted, I was pretty upset at the time, still, the opinion stuck.) So anyway, because of my weaker immune system, if I’m around sick people I inevitably get sick.

Fast-forward to this morning. Keep in mind I am JUST feeling better after being sick (to varying degrees) for a little over a week. As I’m listening to Pastor Tim preach, all around me people are coughing. But the worst one of all was literally sitting right in back of me. They coughed incessantly through the whole service. Listening to all the coughing all I could think about was how one of the reasons I stayed home last Sunday (heck, why I stay home whenever I’m sick) was so I wouldn’t expose anyone else to my germs. No matter how much I may want to go somewhere, I have simply never been able to reconcile loving others with disregarding their health for my own agenda.

So I’m sitting in church this morning, listening to the coughing, getting more and more irritated. But then Pastor Tim mentioned diversity in the body – how we all bring our own cultures, customs, and unique expressions of God to the proverbial table (I’m paraphrasing here, but that was the essence of the statement) and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, something just “clicked.” Just because I think something is right doesn’t necessarily make it so. (I know – I was surprised too!) 😉

Seriously though, we’re all different and come at things from different (not wrong – just different) directions. Staying home when I’m sick may be the way I need to express love, but maybe the loving thing for them, their sacrifice of praise to God, is to go to church no matter how awful they’re feeling. (Heck, maybe it’s a cultural difference.) Whatever their reasons, they chose to be there this morning, worshipping and soaking in the Word with the rest of our church family. And just like that my irritation melted, love took its place, and I was able to pray for them.

When all is said and done I know I’ll still stay home if I’m sick, but I know I can go to church without an attitude now, even knowing others may not do the same, because that’s the loving thing for me to do. Being there – being part of our church family – loving them regardless of what’s going on with them. Isn’t that what families do? As soon as I embraced that this morning there was nothing but peace.

A whole new chapter

I really don’t like it when I let my blog sit for long periods of time without writing an entry, but honestly it was too much effort for many months. I’ve been dealing with near constant Fibro flare-ups since the middle of the summer, and because of that I got very depressed. While the symptoms I deal with when depressed are pretty much the same, I don’t have chronic depression – the kind that can be helped with medication. (Trust me – I’ve tried different medications when this has happened before and it just makes it worse.) When I get depressed it’s situational – there is always a particular reason for it, so resolve the issue and the depression goes away. I finally snapped out of the worst of it around late November but there has been some mild, lingering malaise. I’m starting to feel better though. I’m on day 6 of a 30-day cleanse to rid my body of toxins, and I feel like my whole body is slowly waking up from a deep sleep. It’s a kind of a wild feeling so I’m really looking forward to how I’ll feel on day 30.

January 2018. I always find January a little exciting to be honest. There’s a whole new year stretched out in front of me with limitless possibilities. It’s like opening a brand-new notebook filled with blank pages yet to be written on. Is there anything more exciting?

God has given me a word for the year since 2011. It’s my “theme” for the year; it’s always a word that encapsulates the lessons God winds up working on with me that year.

2011 was my year of grace.

2012 was my year of hope.

2013 was my year of love.

2014 was my year of trust.

2015 was my year of faith.

2016 was my year of surrender.

2017 was my year to learn to follow (God) in a deeper way.

2018 is my year of change.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. –Maya Angelou

This will be uncomfortable for me because I’m not a huge fan of change in general. Some change is definitely good, but it can also leave you feeling unsettled. I like to feel settled, on stable, solid ground…safe. Fortunately God doesn’t change, so I will need to depend on Him more than ever to be my stable, solid ground.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  –Hebrews 13:8

“For I, the Lord, do not change” –Malachi 3:6

I sat down recently and prayerfully constructed a faith vision of what I want my life to look like, but the fact is that in order to get there a lot of things in my life, ways I’ve been doing things, etc. that haven’t been working need to change.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. –Lao Tzu

Reexamining my whole life and determining exactly what needs to change to get me where I want to be is a good bit daunting, but I’m always up for a challenge.

How about you?

Everything I know about loving myself I learned at a gas station

Ok, not really (but kinda). Eh, read on.

God has been working overtime on me lately it seems. As an intro I want to share something I posted in my personal blog a few weeks ago:

I got the most amazing compliment of my life a couple of days ago.

After a very busy weekend and getting to bed later than I anticipated on Sunday night, working all day Monday, going straight from work to a meeting then running to the store for a few groceries, very tired, I stopped for gas on my way home. When I was at Trader Joe’s I bought myself some pretty white and purple (daisies?) because, well, I’m a girl and I need flowers sometimes.

The flowers were sticking out of the grocery bag on the back seat and when I rolled down the window to speak with the gas station attendant, I smiled and made a comment about the weather. He smiled back, responded to my comment, then nodded toward the flowers and said with a wink, “are those flowers for me?” Without missing a beat I nodded in the affirmative and said, “Absolutely – if they’d make you happy…” and I reached around to the back seat, grabbed them, and held them out the window to him.

You could’ve knocked him over with a feather. I sincerely tried to get him to take them, and though he grinned and thanked me, he declined. When I had put them back he held out his hand and introduced himself (Cedric? Fredrick? Drat this memory of mine!). He expressed incredulity that I would do something like that for a perfect stranger and told me he can tell a truly beautiful person when he sees one. He said that most people aren’t like that and told me several times that I was “a beautiful girl” then (and here’s the amazing part) he said I “exemplify humanity – or what humanity should be.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been so tired for the last few days, but that a stranger would say something like that to me…it just touched me very deeply. I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. When he finished pumping the gas and I was pulling the cash out of my wallet he said, “you tell your boyfriend I said he is a very lucky man to have such a treasure and he should hold you tight.” I chuckled and said, “if I ever get one, I’ll be sure to let him know.” He looked surprised and said, “what? No boyfriend?! What is wrong with them?!” (Preaching to the choir, buddy…) Shaking his head and “tsk, tsk-ing” he said, “you’re looking in the wrong places, girl…the wrong places.”

At this point I was all set and ready to go so he smiled, waved, and wished me a good night.

It was one of those extra-special encounters with a stranger that puts me in mind of that bible verse about “entertaining angels unaware.” I’ll never forget it or how special he made me feel in those few moments.

Thank you, Father.

This was a life changing experience, but the reason for that didn’t really hit me fully until a couple of days later.

Just over nine years ago I weighed 325 lbs. And let me tell you – I truly hated being so heavy. But even more than I hated the weight and the limitations it placed on my physical abilities, I hated myself. More than one person told me I was pretty (or more accurately, that I had “a pretty face”) but I couldn’t see it. Finally though, one day in May 2008, after more than 20 years of being morbidly obese, it was like a switch was flipped and I was just “ready” to lose weight. I joined Weight Watchers and my weight started to come down. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time (too long in my estimation – especially since my ex-husband lost over 100 lbs in the time it took me to lose 50) but I was doing it. And when my ex and I first split up in 2011, miracle of all miracles, I didn’t regain the 75-ish lbs I’d lost – I maintained. Eventually I lost an additional 39 lbs bringing my total weight loss to 114 lbs. That was in the spring of 2015 and I was 36 lbs away from my goal weight. (36 pounds!!!) But here we are on the cusp of summer 2017 and I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost, so I find myself faced with the daunting task of needing to work to lose it again.

Such a thing should have me feeling pretty horrible, shouldn’t it? I mean – I failed, right?

I’ll be honest. I did feel really bad about myself for a long time. Horrible even. I berated myself (even as I slowly kept gaining weight over the past year and a half), felt like utter crap, and cried whenever I looked in the mirror and tried on clothes that were practically falling off me two years ago but are now too small. I’ve celebrated, rewarded, comforted, and punished myself with food for years – convinced that no guy worth having will ever see past my weight to the woman inside, so what difference did it make? (As if finding Mr. Right is the only reason to lose weight.) <insert sigh & eyeroll here>

“You can’t give away what you don’t have – if you want to love others you need to be filled with love. Period.” — Valorie Burton

But you know what God used that encounter with the kind fella at the gas station to teach me? That I am beautiful. Yep. You heard me. I am beautiful just as I am. You know why?

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3: 3-4)

According to the Word of God, I’m beautiful inside (even if my overweight body, with stretch marks everywhere, isn’t). I am not, nor may ever be, a size 10, but if I had to make a choice I would rather have a beautiful heart being made more and more like Christ’s every day than a beautiful body (as defined by Hollywood/society).

You know what’s funny though? The weight is coming off again. Not anywhere near as quickly as I would like, but it is definitely coming off. Truthfully I haven’t stepped on a scale for a while, but a pair of pants I couldn’t even pull on a few weeks ago went on easily and fit comfortably two days ago. God has done some major healing on the inside so food just isn’t as important to me as it used to be.

I guess the bottom line is that, for many reasons I won’t get into here, I never felt like I was enough and couldn’t see any beauty in me at all, so I didn’t think I was worth very much. From the time I was in my early teens until somewhat recently I actually felt as though I had to practically apologize for my existence. I felt like I was intruding on people’s lives just by breathing (no exaggeration).

But I don’t believe that anymore. God has changed me.

I am enough.

I am beautiful.

I am valuable.

And I most certainly have nothing to apologize for – I add to, not detract from, the world.

It’s important to note here that I’m not saying any of this in a conceited “I’m all that and a bag of chips” kind of way. With some help from a terrific therapist, some healing love from some truly wonderful people in my life, but mostly from God (reading His Word and reminding myself frequently who I am in Him), I can honestly say, for the first time E-V-E-R, that I love myself. Again, not in a vain, arrogant way – I just recognize my value as a human being and beloved daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (which, incidentally, makes me a princess), believing I am worth the time, effort, and resources to take care of myself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Thanks to my Heavenly Father, I can, at long last, hold my head high and look the world in the eye. And not because of me – but because of who my Creator made me. I am His.

So while I am definitely going to continue working to lose this excess weight I’m finally, at long last, doing it just for me – not in the hopes of snagging some great guy (because let’s face it – if he’s really all that great he’ll recognize the treasure inherent in winning my heart no matter how much I weigh). I want to move more easily. I want to be able to walk long distances without losing sleep because I’m so much pain I simply can’t get comfortable. I want to be able to be on my feet for long periods of time without needing to ice my knees for hours afterward. But more than anything I want to be able to dance at powwows.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

I’m not stressing about it anymore though because I know I’ll finish it and get down to my goal weight this time. I’ll get there because of my ‘why.’

I’m doing it for me.

And that is enough.

 

Rain, pain, and gratitude – a major “aha!” moment

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians. 5:16-18)

God is changing me.

Again.

Still.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Monday was a rainy day. For me, rain = pain. It’s been that way for years and years because of the bursitis in my knees and shoulders (worse in my right knee and right shoulder). I’m one of those human barometers who can tell you when it’s going to rain (or snow) even if there isn’t any in the forecast. Although I (really, really!) wanted to call into work because the pain was pretty intense when I woke up, I pulled on my big girl panties and went anyway, determined to smile my way through the day without complaining.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

I prayed on my way to work as I normally do and, reacting to something God stirred up in my heart, made the decision to be thankful for the pain. No, I’m not crazy (not yet anyway) – I decided to be thankful because experiencing pain means I’m alive and as far as I’m concerned that’s something to be thankful for. (Right?) Really – how awesome is that? I get to be here for another day loving on people and doing what God wants me to do. What an honor! I also decided to use the pain as a reminder to pray for people; every time I feel a throb of pain I lift up whoever God calls to mind right then.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

And then I got a surprise. It would appear as though making the choice to smile, be thankful, and focus my prayers on others, even though I was really hurting, did…something (?)…in the spiritual realm which in turn affected my body.

I think.

Maybe.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

I’m still pretty bowled over by it, but the pain quickly began to recede after making those choices – and following through. Although still a bit stiff and sore for a minute or two as usual when I got up from my chair after sitting for a long time – I’m always fine after I move around for a minute – my knees and shoulders were almost totally pain-free by mid-late morning even though it was rainy all day and into the evening. It’s important to note here that the bursitis flare-ups don’t usually dissipate until the rain is done – and even then it’s not at all unusual for there to be residual soreness for day or two. While I won’t presume upon God by declaring myself completely physically healed without clear confirmation from Him (there are still occasional twinges), I can’t help but wonder if the God-inspired change in my attitude from “oh poor me” while staying in bed and babying myself to “thank you, God, for this pain because it means I’m alive” and “please use this pain to remind me to pray for others” while going to work with a smile, didn’t somehow break some hold the enemy of our souls had on my body (?). I’m no theologian so I can’t say with any degree of certainty that’s why it happened; it’s just an educated guess.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30)

The more I think about it though, the more sense it makes to me. Scripture clearly states that a heart at peace gives life to the body and that envy rots the bones – and I don’t believe this is even remotely metaphorical. Matthew Henry agrees: “An upright, contented, and benevolent mind, tends to health.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary) I didn’t waste even a second of my day wistfully watching anyone else walk down the hall wishing I could move with such little effort. In fact, for the first time ever, I was at peace and truly content right where I was at in the midst of some pretty nasty pain. (Which, honestly, is a small miracle in and of itself – I’m not one who normally does well with that level of pain – which is why I usually just stay home and shut out the world if I have to deal with it.)

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

While I don’t believe words themselves have magic powers, I do believe that the things we say affect us – they come out of our mouths, go into our ears, and we internalize them. Our words affect our thought life, which affect our emotions, which affect our belief systems, which affect our actions, which ultimately results in negative consequences in our lives. So if we routinely say negative things about ourselves or someone else, we’re “speaking death” and killing a part of our/their spirit. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that rather than “oh-my-gawding” and complaining about my pain (I don’t usually complain out loud all that much, but I think it’s safe to say I had a grumbling spirit about it as far as God was concerned), I chose instead to be positive, speaking life.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Whatever the “why” though, God is very clearly behind this and I am more grateful than I can put into words.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” (Psalm 28:7)

Addendum: Today, Wednesday, we have more rain moving in, so ordinarily the bursae in my knees and shoulders would be swollen and painful.

They’re not.

Thank you, Jesus!

Well, my Father knows I love surprises…

“Sometimes what you’re looking for comes when you’re not looking at all.” –Unknown

Something pretty awesome happened this morning.

I need to back up a few years first though. My friend Eileen’s mother-in-law, Anne, has a friend who gave her a prophetic word years and years ago, but it wasn’t for Anne and she didn’t know who it was for. The Holy Spirit impressed the message on her friend, she wrote it out, gave it to Anne, and Anne put it in a pile of papers somewhere and promptly forgot about it.

Then one day many years later, in spring 2014, I was at Anne’s house. We spent some time visiting and some time in prayer together. Afterward she got up and headed for the kitchen, but she suddenly turned and walked over to her dining room table and pulled a piece of paper off the top of a pile of books and papers and said, as she handed the paper to me, “oh! I almost forgot… This is for you. I was going through some of my papers a few weeks ago and I found this – hadn’t even thought about it for years – and God said ‘this is for Lauren.’”

When I read it I was so overwhelmed I cried. I couldn’t help it. That God loves me (ME!) enough to give me that message… There are simply no words.

As much as I loved what I read and hoped it was for then, I knew deep down inside that it was a reassurance for the future. I really feel like God made sure I got it when I did though so I’d know He hadn’t forgotten about me (I had been feeling pretty discouraged) and that no matter what things look like He is at work in and for me. I had it in my purse and let a couple of close friends read it, then, to my dismay, it vanished so I thought I had accidentally thrown it out when I cleaned out my purse. I was devastated because, due to decades of sleep problems, my memory isn’t what it once was. I couldn’t remember it word-for-word. I could remember the general gist, but that was it. I told God that if He wanted me to get the message again at some point that I knew He could make sure it found its way back to me somehow when the time was right. I’ve thought about it from time to time since then, and every time my heart ached over how irresponsible I had been with such a precious gift.

Then this morning, three years later, I went to my bookshelf to find a bible study to do. I wanted to bring it to work in case I was able to go to the library on my lunch break (I wasn’t). But this one book I haven’t read yet caught my eye, tugged at my heart, and I just had to grab it: Seeking the Face of God by Gary Thomas. When I opened it to glance inside a folded piece of paper fell out into my hands. It was the prophetic word I lost three years ago! (How the heck it ended up in that book I have absolutely no idea…)

I was on my way out the door to work so I didn’t have a lot of time, but, thrilled because it’s exactly what I needed right now, I had to stop and thank Him from the bottom of my heart. My cup overflows.

And I’m definitely reading that book!