Monday, July 13, 2015

Sparks May Fly, But May They Not Be My Doing

One of the things I've come to understand deeply in my 30's is the power and value of our tongue. I was a no nonsense person that spoke the first thing that popped in my mind, and I still am more of an unfiltered spokesman than I care to admit. My attitude was, "I was born this way, without a filter. This is me, take it or leave it. I'm just blunt. I'm just honest. What you see is what you get. I can't help it if I speak the truth when no one else will, " and so on.
However, as I grow older and find myself in places I once imagined as a young person-that is in adult situations- wife-ing, parenting, assisting, leading, or teaching, or simply just "adulting", those excuses for speaking my mind became a chain around my neck weighing me down.
 The Bible tells us in James that the tongue is like a flame that can set a whole forest on fire.
As a youth I imagined gossip spreading like fire. I was the target of gossip and hurt deeply by it, but not so painful as the criticism I have received as I try to "adult" in various situations.
Positive criticism is always welcome, but when I am made to feel stupid when I worked my hardest, tried my best, and prayed over my actions, I am crushed in my heart and mind and soul. Every time it happens I wonder, "How many people have I made to feel stupid by being critical or just speaking my mind?"
Some people, like myself, struggle to hold their tongue more than others, but I still believe that this genetic, sinful flaw is no more a reason to proudly wave my sin flag around than the person who struggles with drugs or alcohol and says, "I have a tendency to addiction so it's totally fine", or the glutton that calls themselves simply a "foodie" or the homosexual or pedophile that claims, "I was born this way." We were all born sins, and most of us ARE born with a tendency toward one sin over another. But Jesus never tells us it's okay to sin just because you are born with that tendency. In fact, the Bible talks a lot about resisting temptation. If sin wasn't tempting, we would have no trouble avoiding it.
I WAS born this way with a big mouth shaped like a foot. Every time I am cut down by one of my big mouthed brothers or sisters I am reminded to nail that foot to the ground and tape my mouth shut, no matter how difficult it may be.
Sometimes the spark is the insinuation that I am superior, or someone else is inferior and the forest it sets ablaze is the good heart of a person who is simply trying their best to be obedient to the Lord in what He has called them to do.

 If He thought I could do it better, He would've asked me to do it instead.

I may not agree with everyone. I may not even like what others do or how they do it or what they say. Any adult that puts themselves in any position to be criticized or critiqued has put themselves out there on the line to be praised or to be criticized, even managers, bosses and CEO's.
I hope that no matter how bad someone fails, I am always the person that says, "You were obedient to God. Good job," and NEVER the one that makes them feel small because it is "in my nature" to share my worthless and insignificant opinion of how they carried out the task GOD asked them to do.

When I am obedient, putting myself out there I hope that when I am made to feel small and belittled, I can turn from anger and pray instead that the person responsible will work to build up instead of tear down as well.
Maybe one day I will get it and the hurtful words I've spoken in the past will no longer haunt my mind.  I would pray that we all become encouragers when there is reasons to encourage, instead of discouragers because they "didn't do it like I would have." Because really, just allowing oneself to be vulnerable to criticism in order to be obedient to the only One whose opinion matters, is already more than most of the critics will dare to accomplish, myself included.

Say "Good job at loving your baby, Mama!" Even if you never did "that" with your baby.
Say "Good job, PASTOR!" even though his sermon felt a little forced on Sunday.
Say "Good job, Boss, and thank you for bringing that to my attention. I'll work on it for you." instead of getting angry that you were reprimanded.
Say "Good job, teacher!" even if they singled out your kid.
Say "Good job, waitress!" even when she messes up your order.
Because you know what? We have been forgive for SO. MUCH. We can forgive a slip up or two in others. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dateable? Hardly.

As a young person I was a right and wrong, black and white, no excuses kind of teenager. I had no tolerance for girls who spent all their time in the bathroom trying to paint their faces to look pretty for boys more than they spent studying. I saw it as a futile endeavor, putting on a mask in order to get some boy to turn his head. I wanted nothing to do with that.

 I dated some but eventually gave up on the scene. I hated dates. I hated the way they made me feel, like I was on trial and being judged as to whether or not this person wanted to continue to spend time with me.

The ones that did want to spend time with me didn't want to be with me for the reasons I  wanted or needed. My first serious boyfriend was the perfect type Christian guy, but I was more like a trophy to him. Not because of my undeniable beauty, which fell more into the category of Sarah Plain and [Short] than that of the homecoming beauty queen.

He wanted a good Christian girlfriend. Period. He didn't meet me and fall in love with me. He was looking for a girl to fit into his list of dateable qualities. I was more like a status symbol or a comfort item, to give him self worth and self-esteem. If he had a girlfriend he wasn't the guy sitting at home while all his friends were out on dates. If he dated me, he could take me out and show off his conquest; that is the acquiring of a nice, not ugly, girl. It is rather caveman like when you think about it, but that is exactly how it all felt to me, minus being clubbed over the head and drug back to the cave. I went willingly.

The first moment I realized I was just a trophy was on one of our dates with his friends. They all made plans to go out with their girlfriends. I thought it was just time to meet his closest friends and get to know them, but after an evening of trying to make chit chat and fit in with complete strangers, I got it. He might as well have said, "I'm the winner!" Though he didn't in so many words. I can't remember exactly what he said initially, but I do  remember the conversation that followed.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, I have the cutest girlfriend." He answered. Oh. I get it. It was a competition and I was the game piece. He didn't want his friends to know me. He just wanted to win the "Who has the cutest girlfriend? game".

The problem with this kind of "love" was that I was disposable. Easily disposable. As soon as another girl that was taller, thinner, prettier, or funnier came along, and this guy realized he could have an even better trophy, I was out and she was in. Despite the dozens of letters declaring his undying devotion and love to me; despite the hours he spent telling me how much he loved me and planning out our entire life together, I was easily disposed of. In fact, he planned every detail of our life, without ever consulting me once. I doubt he even knew that my dream was to be an archaeologist. He probably just imagined my dream was to be his girlfriend. I was as important as a kleenex during cold season, serving a purpose for a short time and easily tossed aside after being used before grabbing a brand new, unused tissue.

The next semi-serious boyfriend I had was somewhat the same, but in a different way. He didn't want a status symbol or a trophy, he wanted a bed partner. After months of holding him at bay, I was tired of the fight and willing to admit he didn't really care about me at all. I wasn't thrown away this time, but he easily moved on to another girl that wasn't so stubborn toward his advances. He never looked back and was probably grateful he could move on to someone else.

After a while I went out on a blind date with a great Christian guy. Again, it just felt wrong. He had just gotten out of a long relationship. I felt like a guy who would go out on a blind date was just like the first one I dated, looking for a status instead of truly interested in me. If Facebook had existed back then, these would have been the guys who changed their relationship status as soon as possible, because that is what really mattered, their relationship status, not me. I didn't want to be a girlfriend. I wanted to be someone's passion, friend, and life-long love. I wanted to be the person he can't live without, not the one that makes him feel better about himself just by being present.

Other good Christian guys came along wanting the same thing. They wanted a girlfriend, but she had to be a good Christian. She couldn't be just anyone he liked. More often, I was just the good Christian girl. I wasn't the girl that turned heads, but I  fit their criteria; not ugly, nice, good Christian. And pickins were slim when you tag "good Christian" on the end, so it wasn't like I was anything special. It was more like going to the pet store to acquire one of those fish that clean the tank. They aren't pretty or fun to look at, but they serve a very real purpose, which is the only reason anyone  buys them in the first place. And usually, there are only a couple, but it's not like you really need to pick one out, any which one will do. I was the plain old cleaner fish.

 I didn't want someone who had to try to fall in love with me. And I didn't want someone who needed to try me on like a shoe, wear me for a while while putting lots of wear and tear on my soul, only to decide I didn't fit right or look right and finally take me back to the store.

Likewise, I didn't want to try on one person after another as if they were just a shoe. I didn't want to try to fall in love. I just wanted to fall; unexpectedly and unknowingly. Even more, I didn't want to be put on trial anymore. I wanted to be discovered, like a precious jewel hidden away inside a vast mountain. I knew that if Jesus loved me so much He would die for me, then there had to be a man he put on this earth, that could love me for more than just a trophy or my body. I knew God made me into a precious jewel waiting to be discovered by someone willing to put in the work.

Have you ever seen that show Prospectors? Those people work hard to find those gems. It takes months and years of hard, laborious work. But the second they pull out that gem, that perfect one, it's a moment of pure joy and every moment of work becomes more than worth it.. I wanted to be that to some man.

So I stopped allowing myself to be put on trial or tried on over and over like a shoe. I took myself out of the game and stopped dating. I didn't know how I would fall in love. I just knew I couldn't keep trying to fall.

One day, when I least expected it, completely unaware of my own feelings or his, my very best friend in the whole wide world, reached out and touched my cheek with the back of his hand and asked, "Should we date?"
My whole body spazzed out. To say I had butterflies in my stomach was an understatement. I thought I was going to pee my pants and throw up all at the same time while my thoughts and emotions spun out of control. It sounds terrible, but it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. I think it was like a detox reaction. My love for him had been growing for a very long time and at that moment it was released into my whole body, to be felt at every level by my entire being. It was that moment of unexpectedness. I wasn't waiting for him to declare his love. He just did. If I was that gem hidden away for so long in a mountain, it was like he wiped away the dirt hiding me away, and I saw the sunlight for the first time. Painful, powerful, and glorious... unexpectedly falling in love for the first time.

He had spent more than a year loving me as a friend. He protected me when I needed protecting. He made me laugh when I was sad. He held my hand and told me I was beautiful for no other reason than he truly thinks I am beautiful. He held me as I watched on the news, a tornado go through my hometown and kept me calm until I knew my family was safe. He walked with me and listened to my dreams, never once making fun of me or telling me it was impossible. He made me feel important to him. He bought gifts and took me places and let me bring him lunch almost every day,. We fought and often felt angry at each other, but quickly forgave one another too. He encouraged me in scripture and told me his darkest secrets.

So that's how it happens when you stop trying. I finally understood, friendships are the best way to fall in love. Not dating.
I hadn't been on trial for even one second throughout our friendship, but he had worked and labored to know me, my heart, and all that made me who I was. And in that moment that he touched my cheek, I was that precious jewel, discovered for the first time. I fell fast, hard, and wonderfully into his arms, and never once regretted the decision to wait for him to discover me. Only that I hadn't chosen to do so sooner.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Don't Read Books On Pregnancy and Birth

I hesitate to ever write anything about parenting, or advice on parenting. Just like Dr. Dobson says about his first parenting book, Dare To Discipline, he cringed to think of publishing his parenting advice. After all, it was still yet to be determined how well he raised his own children since they were still so young. I feel the same way. My oldest is nearly 14 and my youngest is 3. I feel like I can give advice on a newborn through 3. I've done it 5 times so I feel like I have a better grasp at this point in life. I know what worked and what did NOT work. Beyond that, it's still yet to be determined.

For instance, read all your parenting books while you are pregnant with your first. Skip the pregnancy books. You're pregnancy isn't going to change much. Eat right, stay active, and make your goal health. Know the decisions you will need to make on behalf of yourself and your child and be prepared. Everything else is gonna happen regardless.

I read the pregnancy books. I was ready for pregnancy while I was pregnant. I was even ready for birth. I had a plan. None of it happened like I planned. My blood pressure shot up and I was diagnosed with pre-eclampisa and put on bed rest. My blood sugar also  shot up and for the last 3 weeks all I could do was lay on the couch on my left side and eat bland chicken and rice.

Then came the birth. I had a plan there too, but my blood pressure shot that plan to pieces. It went according to what was best to save mine and my son's life, and it was awful. Horrible. The worst experience ever. Just imagine some awful horrible torture chamber somewhere in West Texas run by a bunch of nurses that seemed to have no idea how to care for patients, and that was my 26 hours of labor and 48 hours following. Torture chamberesque. 

Not to mention I took home a 3 pound baby the weekend my husband and I were graduating from college. Tons of people wanting to hold my little 3 pounder flooded our little tiny campus apartment. I sat on the floor of my bedroom nursing as my milk came in, discovering all that fun for the first time, while all of our family sat in our tiny little living room waiting on me. My feet and ankles were so swollen my feet barely fit my shoes. My dad even took a picture of my feet after graduation because they looked so bad.

Oh, and I slept through our graduation (pain meds) while my 3 pounder was back at the apartment with my step mother.
I could've burned all my pregnancy books, because really, the cards fell where they lay and I had no control. The next four pregnancies, despite my desperate efforts to control the outcome, were the same. Not as much torture chamberesque, but still, never how I planned.

But parenting, now I have control over that. The only time I ever had time to read all those parenting books was when I was pregnant. I wish I had just enjoyed my box of swiss cake rolls while I read through Dare To Discipline, Raising a Modern Day Knight, Shepherding a Child's Heart, Bringing Up Boys, The Strong Willed Child, Creative Correction and all the other books that sit on my bookshelf still unread or only partially read. And now my 3 pounder is a man who is taller than me, weighs more than me, shaves and is talking about college and life choices. I've run out of time.

The other day I stared at those books on my shelf, wondering, "Did I do it right? If I read those now will I just find out all the things I did wrong? Is he, and the other four, going to be okay? Man I wish I had read all those books while I was pregnant instead of the pregnancy books." 

The pressure to do this parenting thing right is too much sometimes. The pressure of knowing that if I do it wrong, it could mean a lifetime of bad decisions for them, creates in me a feeling of defeat from the starting gate. After all, I have NO idea what I'm doing. Really. And I truly suspect that every other parent is winging it as much as me. Even the ones that act like they have it all figured out. 

I only have two options of  recourse  at this point. 

First, you pregnant, or brand new mommies, read more parenting books than birth books. Yes, be educated on your pregnancy and birth and newborn, but for every pregnancy book you read, read 5 parenting books. You won't regret it, I promise. Teaching baby sign language, though it is good, won't help you when your kid is throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store. Making homemade baby food- book won't be beneficial when your pre-teen is so full of testosterone that he is so angry all he yells and punches things and seems to hate everyone around him. Read the books that will have a life long effect on the kid. The ones that deal with heart issues and becoming a well-balanced adult. Read the ones that will help you to deal with your child's needs, not just a strict, one size fits all discipline book.

Lastly, my only recourse is prayer. For every 5 books you read on parenting, pray a million times over. It won't matter what book you read, you still have a tiny, little human being with a free will and the most powerful tool you have as a parent, are your prayers for them. Those books give great guidelines, but no author has ever had your child in this particular situation at this particular time. That was my problem with parenting books. I wanted to open a book that said, "For the oldest Mykytiuk, when he can not say anything nice, do __________. " But not one book would give that to me. So I would read, get frustrated that it was so vague, and then cry out to the Father, "HELP ME! SOS! Jesus save us ALL!"

 I am sure that after the prayer of a child, God hears the prayers of a mother and father. I looked at those books and wondered if maybe it was time to pass them along to a new mommy and rely more on my prayers, than to continually expose myself to the constant, nagging guilt I carry for not reading all the books on my parenting book list.

Now, almost 14 years into this parenting gig, or more than 15 if you count my pregnancy, my prayer is for wisdom every day. In addition to gaining wisdom I pray for their own struggles, individually. It is surprising that each one struggles with completely different issues. That's why this parenting this is so difficult. It's not like a repeat with each kid. It's like starting all over again and having to come up with a completely new plan of action. Every. Single. Time.

 Maybe in the end, the best we can do is just what Jesus told us to do. Pray and read God's Word.

Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. -Matthew 6:33

Oh, and one last piece of baby advice. You don't need all that stuff. Really. 

Things I wouldn't live without with a newborn: cloth diapers, muslin swaddling blanket, and a gummy pacifier, or a hundred. (Really. Get over the no pacifier thing. God made babies with a desire to suck, and it's a much better option than becoming a human pacifier. Do it for your baby. Do it for your sanity.) Everything else is just fluff. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Guns, Gluten and Sin

This world makes me tired. The arguing, the debates, the who's right and who's wrong. Sometimes I just want to be a hermit on a mountaintop somewhere.

Guns or no guns?
Pot or no pot?
The Ten Commandments or a Satanic statue?
Religion: Peaceful or No?
Creation: God or evolution?

Medicine, treatments, tests, college, save or spend, new or used car, buy or rent, vaccinate or don't vaccinate, breastfeed or bottle feed, natural birth or epidural, socialism or republic, freedom or social responsibility.....

Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has a study to back up their opinion. Everybody is right while everybody else is wrong. We live in a world of opinions that says the only one that is right is the one on my side of the fence while everyone who disagrees is wrong. I get tired of it.

Don't get me wrong. I have opinions on all those things too. I believe I am right and if only everyone had the same stance on everything, we'd live in a world of rainbows, pots of gold and unicorns. Not really. However, I do have an opinion on people being different. It's okay. I don't expect a Muslim to live up to the standard of my Christian beliefs, nor should they expect the same of me as a Muslim. I don't think 50 Shades of Grey is something a woman should indulge herself in, but I know that not everyone looks to the Bible to set their standard for living as I do, so I'm not offended or even surprised when people choose to indulge or not indulge in things I choose in which to indulge or not indulge.

Yesterday, one issue got to me in particular, because it directly affects my whole, entire life.


No, I haven't been tested. I don't know what is wrong with me. I don't claim to be Celiac, gluten intolerant or anything else.

But I DO know that when, last week, after more than a year of not allowing anything containing gluten to intentionally pass over these lips, I ate a roll. My mom gave us the money to take our large and VERY hungry family out to eat. She gave us enough to go eat steak... at Texas Roadhouse; home of steak, peanuts, and divine cinnamon-honey butter and melt- in-your-mouth rolls.

Very little tempts me when it comes to gluten. I know how bad I will feel when I eat it, and I don't want to feel bad, most of the time. Every once in a while something comes along that makes me rethink my philosophy on what gluten does to my body. This was one of those nights.

I didn't intend on eating it. I just wanted to taste the heavenly cinnamon-honey butter, just a little tiny taste... on a little tiny bite... that I'll spit out instead of swallowing, or two... okay, one more.

Within minutes there was only a little tiny bite left. I quickly shoved it in my mouth just as my husband caught me. He stared wide-eyed at me asking, "Are you joking?"
I smiled my prettiest, cutest, sexiest smile I could muster after spitting out the final bite onto my plate, hoping he could find it in his heart to forgive and not be angry.

I had decided, oh well, no big deal. I won't feel 100% for a while, but, oh I really think it was worth it. Maybe I'll find it is all in my head like everyone thinks.

I was good the rest of the meal. I ate my salad, sweet potato, and steak. I was stuffed full.

Much to my disappointment, I did pay the price for my indulgence, in a week long ordeal.

You know that scene in Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom, where the guy reaches into the other guy's chest and pulls out his heart. That's exactly how I felt all week long, starting at my sternum, and then slowly moving through my entire gastrointestinal system. It was like it happened over and over again for days. I was cranky and not the best mother to my children. I was not the best wife or housekeeper or friend. I was a cranky, miserable mess... all because of one little roll. I won't even go into how it all finally ended. Moving on.

Here's the thing. I don't care what some stupid scientist says in Australia says. Gluten hurts me. I don't care what your dumb study shows, gluten makes my life miserable.

Maybe there isn't enough brains in this world to explain why, but I know it does. I don't need an expensive test that results in no cure to tell me gluten acts like Alien in my belly. I have my guts, not to mention the depression, mood swings, muscle and joint pain, and migraines that scream the diagnosis of "NO GLUTEN!" to me anytime I try to forget my plight.

And you know what, this "condition" affects my whole, entire, life.So please don't act like I live this way just to make everyone around me inconvenienced or miserable. You're not. I am the only victim of gluten. You eat your big 'ol burrito and tasty sandwich while I search for a salad that doesn't contain meat seasoned with gluten-ridden seasoning.

My husband and I don't date like normal people. I always get to choose from the small handful of restaurants that are safe. We can't go eat just anywhere. I like adventure and spontaneity. I'm not much on doing the same thing over and over again, and I love trying new food. However, now I take a risk that someone might think my request to have the griddle cleaned, or to get the gluten free chips instead of the regular chips is stupid if I try somewhere new. They might end up giving me the regular chips resulting in my week long gluten exorcist. Or maybe a waiter might say, "Oh ya, it's totally gluten free," not knowing at all what the heck they are talking about. I risk it every single time, and I have trust issues over it.

It affects birthdays with my children. No not the cake. I haven't been a huge fan of cake since I decorated them for extra money a decade ago.
We like to take our kids to the restaurant of their choice, just the one child, for their birthday. You can imagine that if they choose the stupid pizza place with games, or Chinese food covered in soy sauce, I'm not going to be able to enjoy dinner with my kid. I'll have to eat something ( and probably not very healthy since I'm already mad I can't eat out with my family) before we leave the house and pretend to enjoy my salad, or water while they eat egg rolls or cheesy pizza.

It affects my friendships and social outings and yes, even holidays. If there is a meal to be eaten in a social setting, I have to prepare ahead of time or bring my own food. My favorite is when we are at a restaurant and I ask the waitress what I can eat, and everyone at the table then asks; "What that was about... why can't you have gluten... what is gluten... what does it do to you?" Let me spare you the bathroom details at our dinner out please.

No, I don't do it because it is a trend or to lose weight. I've GAINED weight, and I hate trends, especially ones that deny me things like rolls and brownies or cute shoes.

I do it because my doctor told me to, and for the first time in 2 years, I felt like myself again. I do it because my body has made a very loud and bold statement on the topic. I do it because when I eat gluten my husband gives me that scolding look before he pleads with me, "Please... don't ever eat gluten again." I do it because I prefer to be a happy mommy and wife, not a curled up in a ball, mess of a woman, with pain, depression, and... bathroom issues.

So, can we please just say some people are different than me, not wrong when they choose a vegetarian lifestyle or heaven forbid, a gluten free lifestyle. Quit reading and posting on social media stupid stories about one doctor who has decided everyone has lost their mind except His Brilliantness, just so you can take a passive aggressive stab at that gluten-free friend who keeps posting gluten-free recipes of brownies, hoping one day she will find a recipe that might allow her a few minutes of indulgence in a freakin' roll brownie. Some people deal with health issues that no one can understand because our bodies are so very complex that they can't be understood fully, not even by doctors. *Gasp! What? Doctors don't know everything? They aren't god? Shockingly, no, they aren't.

While we are on the subject, I must confess I have another condition that affects me exactly the same way as gluten.


I have been diagnosed with this sin condition. God diagnosed me, and everyone else on earth with this very problem.

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

I hate it. I commit to not sinning anymore. Then something comes along, sweet as honey and tempting as cinnamon and butter. I won't indulge, I'll just enjoy the sweetness, with an itty bitty, teeny, tiny, little taste, and then I'll spit it out, not having taken it fully in.

Before long it's gone, fully consumed into my heart. Now, the process of extracting it from my heart is even more painful than the evacuation of anything gluten from my intestines. That sin will not just cause me suffering and long, drawn out weeks of pain, but it will affect my husband, my kids and my daily life. It will change how I operate, my attitude, my everything. Until it is gone. Even then, sin affects where I go, what I do, with whom I talk and interact, what I watch, read, listen to, and every decision I make.

Choosing to avoid gluten is a daily choice. Sometimes, I just want a cracker, sandwich, brownie. But the longer I don't choose gluten, the easier it gets and the less I think about bread and cookies and long for them. Likewise, the harder I must work to eat healthy and conscientiously. It's easier to not get good nutrition when I cut out the majority of the foods I eat. The elimination of gluten from my diet highlights my decision even more by what I DO choose. I will tell our waiter next time we go to Texas Roadhouse, "No rolls please," so I won't be tempted by that thing that is my weakness.

Sin is the same. It is a minute by minute choice even though sometimes I just want that one second of pleasure or indulgence. The longer I don't choose sin, the easier it gets, the less I think about it, and just as I will avoid the presence of soft, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth rolls, I will avoid those things which tempt me into sin.

I won't always manage it. I'm sure I will forget in a year or two the pain in which my body is suffering right now, and the pain that sin caused me. I will reach for that thing that so tempts me. I pray someone will slap my hand away and remind me.... rolls, and sin, don't do anything good for you except offer you a fleeting moment of pleasure and a lot of pain.

If I continue to eat gluten, despite my condition, I will at best live a miserable life. It could possibly lead to other, more serious conditions, and maybe even cause fatal damage to my body. The only cure is to cut it out completely.

Likewise, sin will do the same. Left to wreak havoc on my heart it will at best, leave me to live a miserable life, but ultimately lead to fatal, forever damming damage to my heart. Sadly, no matter how hard I work at it, I can never completely eliminate sin from my heart. It's like those trick candles, just when you think you have smoldered that sin, it pops right back up full of life again.

Thankfully, unlike whatever gluten problem I have, there is a cure for the condition of sin and a way to put it out for good. Jesus. He is the only one who can wash it all away, and make you brand, spankin' new.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The WAR of the Bulge

I have been fighting this war for almost 30 years. It first started in my prepubescent years. I was an early bloomer as you call it. Girls didn't believe I could actually be wearing a bra at just nine or ten years old, so they would "accidentally" bump into me to see if I stuffed my bra.I didn't. That was a huge boost to my ego though, thanks girls. At 10 years old, I was already "bigger" than the other girls.

Then came puberty at 11. As many girls do, I pudged up. I wasn't fat, but my cheeks got more chubby and my body began to round out a little as more womanly shapes took over the little girl body I was leaving behind. My 5th grade teacher said to me, in front of the whole class (or at least that was my perception at the time), "Amy, you look like you've lost weight. Have you?"

I'm sure my face turned as red as a beet as I shrugged my shoulders. I had no idea I needed to lose weight. But there it was for me to discover in front of my whole class of skinny little girls who weren't yet experiencing the wonderful joys of becoming a woman, and all the boys who had no clue that was going on in my body was anything but weight gain.

At 12 I weighed in PE class in front of the other girls. I weighed more than any of the other girls. While they came in at a whopping 80 or 90 pounds, I was 110. "How could I let myself get so fat already?" I asked myself.

By my freshman year in high school, I felt comfortable with myself. I was dating an older boy that all the other girls wanted to date, and he told me over and over again how much he loved me. So I knew I wasn't completely repulsive. But I still didn't get that confirmation, even from him. He made an effort and said I was "cute". I remember thinking, I don't want to be cute to somebody, puppies are cute. I want to take your breath away and be called beautiful.

At one point I asked him if he would still love me if I were fat. "Yes, but I'd send you to Jenny Craig."

I was a size 6 and 120 pounds. My measurements were the "perfect" measurements of Marilyn Monroe, 36, 28, 36. But I still felt fat and ugly.

As the years went by, I hid behind baggy, too big for me clothes. I never won any best dressed awards, because my clothes were never fashionable or fitted right. I would never want to draw attention to my body in any way. What would the other kids say?

My junior year I went overseas and walked my tail off, or so I thought. Turns out, I gained 10 pounds. Now I was 130 pounds! WHAT? I was only 5ft. tall, but I weighed 30-40 pounds more than my friends who were almost 6ft. tall. I was still just a size 6. It didn't matter because "I weighed a TON".

I gave blood one day at school and the lady asked me how much I weighed, thinking since I was just 5ft and only a size 6, surely I couldn't weigh the required amount of 105. I didn't want to say out loud, especially since so many of peers were in earshot, but I had no choice. With red hot cheeks I answered, "130."

"What? You're kidding! You carry your weight really well," she responded. I wasn't sure how to feel. On one hand I was excited someone might think I only weighed 105 and be shocked that I would weigh so much. On the other hand, she is shocked that I weighed so much..... and what did it mean that I "carry my weight really well"? I'm fat, but I'm good at hiding it?

My senior year I decided to wage war against the scale and I took an aerobics class a few times a week. I gained 10 pounds. Now I was 5ft tall and weighed 140 pounds. To top it off, the BMI scale said I was overweight and my ideal weight should be 120.

I continued to fight it. I took an aerobics class in my freshman year at college and gave my offering of a 6AM aerobic activity class to the god of my goal weight of 120 pounds.  My sacrifices and offerings went unnoticed. I was 140 pounds and a size 8 when I got married at 20 years old.

It has been almost 20 years since those days and I look at my little girl and wonder if she will have the same thoughts I did, the same fears of gaining weight and becoming "fat, flabby, and anything but firm".

Even now, with another 20 pounds on my small frame, a husband that finds me incredibly attractive and calls me beautiful every single day, 5 kids on which to blame all my bulges, I am more often unhappy with the shape of my body. Not to mention a multitude of other issues have joined in the war against my psyche. Wrinkles, stretchmarks, things sagging lower and lower by the year. I am a size 10-12.

Have you ever watched those National Geographic shows on one of those tribes where the women only wear a little skirt. I notice that they all work their butts off and they all look the same, nothing like a Victoria Secret model. They have rolls on their stomach and their body parts are sagging much like my own. Even the young women. Yet, they don't seem to care. They aren't concerned about a Brazilian butt lift, or rock hard abs, or long sexy lean legs like Carrie Underwood. They aren't trying to do push ups to give themselves a breast lift, or running a million miles to remain a size "unrealistic".

I wondered, why are these women so able to walk around with their sagging boobs, falling butt, and their tummy rolls without a second thought. Why aren't the men disgusted by them?

Maybe it's because the only standard they have, the only women with which they have to compare themselves is each other, and none of them care about those things, or have a clue that they are supposed to care.

I compare myself to the woman on TV or in the magazine. I compare myself to the BMI chart and the scale. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! I even compare myself to my younger self, the one that I thought was fat as a size 6!

But when I look around, I see more mamas like me than the latest Hollywood star to grace the cover of a magazine with the headline, "Six weeks postpartum and she has her body back!" In fact, I don't know anyone that looks like a Victoria Secret model. I see mamas in all shapes and sizes, heights and widths, colors and temperaments, and they all are so incredibly beautiful.

I was watching Jada Pinkett Smith on a talk show a while back and anyone that has noticed her lately can see that she is in immaculate shape! She was offered something to eat and reacted as if she was given poison and mentioned something about how it would mess up her calories for the day.

I love a good healthy outlook on my health, but I realized, she is controlled by the desire to keep her body in that kind of shape. It's not a healthy natural shape, it's extreme. I don't want to live life doing math before eating every little morsel, or live life concerned that I didn't get my 2 hours of exercise in. I want to be healthy and make more healthy choices than not. But more than that I want to ENJOY life. I want to eat and not think about my fat rolls or my back fat. (Please don't ever mention the word spillage or back fat to me, it's there, deal with it).
I want to get out and play with my kids, not because I need my 30 minutes of activity but because I love to be with them. I want to sit and watch a movie and eat popcorn and not feel as though I have ruined weeks upon weeks of hard work.

I will stop comparing myself to unrealistic expectations, and start thanking God for the healthy body He has given me today, and promise to care for it. But more than that I promise to enjoy it today. I will have family pictures made now, recording who I am now, instead of saying, "We can have pictures made once I lose 10 pounds." I"ll stop hanging onto older nicer clothes, wearing only ugly clothes now, promising that I will start dressing nicer once I lose another 5 or 10 pounds.

I have fat rolls. Get over it. I have.

My belly carried 5 sweet little lives and stretched to unimaginable boundaries. If it wants to give it up and sag a little, I think it has earned the right. My arms may not be thin, but they are strong, so I will get over the flab that waves when I wave and try not to do the chicken wing to save myself the embarrassment of a little thicker arm in a picture.
My face is rounder, and maybe a little more full, but so is my heart and my life. I promise to be in more pictures and forget that I have a double or triple chin, or a line on my neck I wish I could erase. It's me. It's me now.
I hope and pray I can stop letting the scale and that STUPID BMI chart run my thoughts when I look in the mirror.

Dear 11 Year Old Girl who weighs more than anyone in her class, You are beautiful NOW. Enjoy it.
Dear 16 Year Old Girl who "carries her weight well", You are beautiful NOW. Enjoy it.
Dear 20 Year Old Bride whose BMI says she is overweight, Gosh you look beautiful in that wedding gown, NOW. Enjoy your big day.
Dear Almost 40 Year Old Mama who struggles to regain your youth... you can't. You won't. Your body, your mind, your heart and your soul are forever changed by the miraculous transformation your body went through to give life. You are beautiful NOW.
Enjoy it.
One day it's going to all rot away anyway.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American Heroes and God's Heroes

My Love and I went out to see American Sniper the other night. I have been fascinated by this man's story for the last two years, since I watched his wife give his eulogy at his funeral. This was a well-known warrior, but I had never heard his name until that day I saw his casket placed perfectly over the Dallas Cowboys' star. I was suddenly filled with sorrow that I had never known who he was in life.

The book was always on my "to read" list, but with a household to care for and five kids to homeschool, a home-based business, and an obsession with writing, reading hasn't been priority lately.

But then there was the movie. I had to see it. I needed to see it. I don't know why. I don't like war movies.

Maybe it was because the thought of standing and speaking about my just-murdered husband to thousands, or millions of people, with the strength and courage I saw his wife speak that day, inspires me to face what scares me most. Maybe it's because I want to know what kind of man could have touched so many lives that his funeral should be held in the largest building I have ever seen. Maybe it was that he was Texan, and no matter how much I joke about or make fun of Texans, I know that Texas is still so much of who I am, so I feel a connection to a fallen Texan hero.

I didn't know why, but I had to see the movie.

Honestly, there was a one-dimensionality about his character in the movie, but it was that vacuum I felt in watching it, that drew me in even more, recognizing that that was just a cover for something so much more complicated hiding behind his simplicity. Something about him, was familiar. Something about who he was, what he believed, why he did what he did, the way he loved his wife and his kids, and that "thing" that drove him to be the hero that he lived to be, was so familiar... in my husband.

I still couldn't figure it out. My husband is not a fighter, or a warrior. If you pick a fight with him, he'll most likely walk away or take it without hitting back, not that he couldn't. Given the right circumstances, like someone hurting one of his kids or me, he could do some real damage to someone's face.But he's not the hero type that runs into a burning building. He's not the kind of guy that faces a threat with his own gun. No, he just gives them what he wants and prays he can walk away unharmed. So why in the world would this legendary hero make me think of my gentle husband?

Then it struck me, he is the same kind of hero, in a different realm.

Chris Kyle killed physical enemies from a rooftop, to protect his boys. He went into buildings ahead of them to make sure they stayed safe.

Kyle was driven by his loyalty to his country, and his value and his morals and his beliefs.

Kyle was even driven by his love for his wife and kids, his brother and parents, and all people.

Kyle struggled between his loyalty and love for his wife and kids and his loyalty and love for his country and the soldiers out there fighting.

Even greater, Kyle was driven not just by the love for his fellow Americans, but by a love for all people, especially the innocent, the oppressed and even those related to the enemy trying to kill him.

My husband, a pastor by calling, is a warrior just like Kyle except the enemy he is fighting is in the spiritual world.

When my husband is acting as a pastor, he is fighting and running down enemies in the spiritual world, enemies no one can see, to protect the church, the believers, and his family.

He is driven by his loyalty to the Lord, by his values and morals and his beliefs.

He is driven by his love for me, and the kids and his parents and all people, especially the lost or oppressed.

He struggles daily between his loyalty and love for me and the kids and his loyalty and love for the Lord and the ministry to which he has been called. He struggles because if he drops the ball and doesn't reach that person, they don't just lose their life, they lose their soul.

Just like Kyle, my husband isn't just driven by the ones in his church or other good looking, nice Christians. It's the hard cases that he loves. He once found out a friend had been hurt by the church and no longer attended. His response was so classic as a pastor, "Oh good! I can do something about that!"

He sits on rooftops, shooting those enemies before they can reach the ones he is called to protect. He does it with the Word of God, with teaching the Word of God, and with prayers. Sometimes, he does it with just time or a hug.

When he was a children's pastor, he had an afterschool program at the church where the kids could just come and hang out and play games. There were some little girls that would just wrap their arms around him and not let go. He told me once, "I may be the only man in their life that loves them." He stood between the enemy and that little girl, with a hug. It doesn't seem like much, but in the world today, a man who just hugs a little girl, could be called something ugly, ruining not just his reputation but his life. But he hugged her anyway.
 Sometimes, he stands between the enemy and its target, taking a beating or a shot or two, without anyone ever being the wiser. Most of the time, those beatings come in order to protect his family. One of the worst beatings he ever endured lasted not days, not weeks and not months, but over a year. He took it for our son's sake. He was mistreated, abused mentally and emotionally, bullied and slandered, in order that we might do what was best for our son. But that's what good soldiers do, protect the people silently and without recognition.

You see Kyle didn't shoot down the guy that was aiming the bazooka at the US troops doing their job on the street, and then holler out, "Hey Guys! I got one! Look, right there! I took care of you!"

It was just understood.

In the movie an officer tells Kyle that those boys feel invincible knowing he is on the roof watching out for them. They can't see him, they don't know what it is that he does up there, but they know he's there watching over them and protecting them from the unseen enemy.

A pastor is the same. He doesn't stand in the pulpit and say, "Look at this enemy I destroyed for you, and the injury I sustained while battling him." But almost daily and weekly, a pastor is facing the unseen enemy and protecting his people. It may come in the form of a disgruntled member or something far worse like a flirtatious woman or even the temptation of pornography. He faces it with courage because he knows who is fighting the battle for him. It's when they face those enemies without the Lord being the one fighting the battle for them, when the pastor thinks he can extinguish the enemy all himself, that he loses.

When you watch the movie and you see The Butcher drilling a hole into the head of a child, Kyle trying desperately to get a shot at the monster but finding it impossible while yet another enemy is firing continually at him, you'll cringe. Imagine if you were the pastor, watching as the enemy drills a hole into the soul of a child, but you can't reach him in time because the enemy is firing rampantly at you from another direction. Now imagine you are that shooter, with your complaints and your dislikes and your threats. You are the enemy, preventing your pastor from doing his job because he can't get around you to help the others.

Most offenses people take in the church are stupid. They are.

Very few offenses on which people take action against their pastor are legitimate. Most revolve around something that starts out with "I don't like...." Guess what, a good pastor doesn't make decisions based on what he thinks you will like. He is only interested in pleasing the Lord, and willing to take the shots from people in order to please the Lord.

Most of the battles a pastor faces, are not with unbelievers. It is not a battle between whether or not homosexuality is okay with God. In fact, most unbelievers couldn't care less about what pastors think.

The majority of battles a pastor will face come from his own people, the very people he serves. Imagine if Kyle was trying to save that little boy, but it was his own men firing away at him. Imagine if while Kyle was trying to shoot that man with the Bazooka, the soldier the bazooka was aimed at was firing at Kyle. His job would be impossible. He would probably give up, go home and try to forget about protecting them.

This is happening every single day, every week.

Here is one example from the book Toxic Church.

"One of the greatest pains that wounded pastors have shared is how good friends and godly individuals within the congregation stood by and did nothing to stop the carnage" 

Do you know that most pastors want to quit? Hundreds of pastors choose to leave ministry every week, not because of unbelievers, liberals, democrats, homosexuals, pro-choicers, or any of those people. They leave the ministry because of Christians.

Now imagine, fighting that kind of battle against your very own people, the ones that you thought you were going to protect when you signed on the dotted line. Imagine if there was a scene in the movie where Kyle goes to shoot a bad guy with a bomb, and it is close to one of his soldiers. When the soldier realizes how close he was to the shot Kyle took, despite the fact that it was to protect his life, the soldier becomes angry and starts shooting back at Kyle. Now Kyle is being attacked by his own man and he can't just shoot him down. Not only that, but that soldier gets more soldiers riled up that starting firing away too. Now all a soldier can do is hide behind the wall from the onslaught of gunfire, talking on his walkie to the Commander, asking teh Commander to talk to the guys and get them to stop shooting at him. Meanwhile, the enemies are sitting by laughing at how the US soldiers are killing each other. All they have to do is just sit back and watch.

This is the current state of the American church in more cases than not. The pastor is being attacked by his own people, sometimes by other pastors.

And imagine, after finally escaping your ally that was shooting at you, going home to a wife and children who so desperately want more of you, but the battle has beat you down. Every time you sit down to have dinner, you get a call that someone else's child needs you right then or someone drops by and just wants a minute to talk with the pastor.

There were nights my kids missed out on time with their dad because he was expected to be at other kids' ball games. There were evenings he didn't spend with his children because another parent needed him to talk to their kid about salvation. There were days when he was supposed to be on vacation, but daily the calls came in wanting to know this or that. 
There were even times my kids made comments about how they wished their dad didn't have to spend so much time at the church and with other people so they could see him for a little while. 

When I watched that movie, I could relate to his wife so well. The desire to have my husband home with me, not at the ball game. The desire to go out on a date without having to do visitation first. The desire to let my kids be kids without judgement, or to make decisions for our family without having to get permission from people who care so little about us that they will take a shot to wound every chance they get.

I understood what it was to have my husband home, but not really, because his mind was still "there". I know what it is like to watch his personality disappear into oblivion, wondering how it would change my children and our marriage. I also know what it is like to have him give up the fight for a while, come home and come back to us. 

At the end of the movie, Kyle is caught in the middle of a huge fire fight. In order to take out the enemy that had been taking out many of their men, he reveals their presence on the rooftop of a building when he shoots and kills the enemy. As soon as he fires, extinguishing the enemy with a single bullet, hundreds more descend upon the building, thirsty for blood. This is the life of a pastor. Distinguishing an enemy doesn't bring rest and peace, it reveals your location to the enemy who descends upon you with terror in tow. This is how lives are destroyed. Sometimes he comes out alive, sometimes the whole family goes down in flames. I have seen it first hand more than once, unfortunately.

I am guilty of complaining and starting a sentence with "I don't like..." but the older I get the more I pray and beg God to keep me from being the enemy to my pastor and our church.

 Pray for your pastor the way you pray for our soldiers. God made warriors to fight wars and protect us from enemies. But He also set apart an entire tribe of people to be the spiritual warriors. Pray that God will equip them, strengthen them, and make his arrow true. Pray that God will fill him with courage, and despite whatever enemy he faces, may he never give up fighting for the ones for whom he has been ordained to protect, teach and lead. Pray that he is given adequate time with his wife and kids to lead them as a man of God should.

There is a scene in the movie when Kyle says something like, I wonder why I am here at home, perfectly capable, when there so many more out there that need me. That is the constant struggle of a pastor as well. "My family is home, with the knowledge of Jesus Christ, but there are so many out there that need the Gospel and I have it!"

The fact of the matter is, Kyle seemed to be something beyond human,or a modern day superhero, but he wasn't. He was just man with an extraordinary love for his country and his people. He made mistakes just like you and me. He bled, he got angry, he loved, and he could be hurt.

This is the quandary of a pastor too. The fight is difficult, but it is that question, "I am capable. I am available. How can I just ignore the need. If not me, who will go?" 

Pastors sometimes seem to be spiritual superheros, but they aren't. They are just men and women with an extraordinary love for the Lord and for His people.
Stand by him and pray for him. Love his wife and his children as if they are your own family. Give them grace, even if they don't deserve it. And remember, they are just people too, just like you and me. 

Don't forget all our heroes from military, to pastors, to our first responders and our police officers.They all need our prayers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Love Awakens

I know I write very little, but every day I think of something to write. I just figure I have no reason to really write it.
I know few, if any, people will read the words I write. So I store them up in my mind instead.

I realized today, what a tragedy that is. I want to write these things more than anything.

I discovered my love for writing when I was 17 years old. I wrote a report letter after a mission trip to Peru to all my supporters. I read through the final tale of missionary adventures and thought, "This is good."

My dad read it and asked, "Did you write this by yourself?" I could tell he was surprised by the letter too.

It was then that I thought, maybe I should write?

 I adored, I mean ADORED writing in the first grade. Each Friday our teacher would have us write a story on our Big Chief paper and then draw a picture to go with it. She'd staple the pages together, the picture at the top and the story underneath, hanging them all on the wall.
Those were my favorite days. I can remember how I felt when she told us for the first time to write a story.
"What does she mean write a story? We read stories, not write them." Then it suddenly hit me, "I can write a story!" The excitement I felt came bubbling to the surface as I stared at my blank page, just waiting for words to come between the blue lines. They flowed out of me. I don't remember any stories I wrote, but I do remember drawing a picture of a school bus to go along with one story, so it must've been about school.

I also remember the feeling I got when I wrote my stories, like I was creating this great masterpiece that would touch the world somehow. I'm sure they were silly, incoherent, and seriously lacking, but as a 6 yo writer, I relished the task. When first grade ended, so did my task, and my love was forgotten for the first time.

A few years later it still  its way to the top of my life. I wrote a series of stories about a Kangaroo named Katie when I was home entertaining myself. My mom kept them for a while and I eventually forgot all about them, but she never did.

In my eighth grade year, I entered one of the most glorious classrooms I ever encountered. Mrs. Bleakley. She wore long skirts, socks with her Birkenstocks, and tossed aside her wavy,  medium length,hair that seemed much too silvery for her young age. She was the kind of person that inspired me, and awakened the love inside me as she gave us one composition assignment after another.

She taught me words like azure, and showed me paintings of girls walking on the beach, urging me to dig deep into my imagination and create a story from a single image. It was exhilarating. Every. Single. Class. I worried about people reading my compositions, especially since we always peer graded every assignment. Yet, I couldn't wait for someone to read it, hoping it would be the day my writing would touch the world and change it somehow.
Unfortunately, that class only lasted a meager semester and once again my love was lost in the recesses of my life, forgotten and abandoned.

 It was my father's question at 17 years old, that awakened my love. "Did you write this by yourself?"

It was in that moment I realized my writing had touched one little piece of the world and made it take notice. Could I do it again?

Years drug on.  I tried my hand at journalism, but it was much too boring for me. I wanted to use my imagination.

I tried writing Bible studies for children, but I felt cramped and claustrophobic on the pages.

I wrote a few children's stories for my firstborn, but nothing that awakened my love again.

I told my Beloved that one day I would love to write out my story.
"Do you think it's interesting enough that anyone would want to read it?" He asked.

Oh my. I had never thought in those terms. "Please God, give me an interesting story to tell!" I prayed. Why should I be surprised by the struggles we've faced, after praying such a prayer. Every good story includes the best struggles. But daily I doubted my love. I doubted my story. Maybe it will never be told. Maybe I am just a person with a pencil, and not a writer, much like I could be a person with a microphone, but not a singer.

Soon, I felt like my love was dying, to be forgotten forever, unless I made an effort to awaken it once again, refining it in the depths of days and days of writing and more writing.
"I may be 30 years old, but maybe I could start again, and work at it," I thought. "Maybe one day, I can touch the world and make it feel something new."

I started this blog. Eventually, I penned a story about a traumatic event in my life and suddenly people were asking me, "When are you going to finish it?" One person even told me, "This could be a movie!"

I felt my love awaken to an even greater life. The world was touched and feeling because of the words that flowed from my mind to the keyboard. So I continued on, writing my heart and my soul.

I took some time away while I dealt with a prolonged illness, but recently came back to my love, in the form of teaching the art  and starting my first novel.

Every day I think about my story, I go to bed dreaming it and I wake up planning the next scene. I want to hold it close and protect it from any criticism, and yet I have this deep, driving desire to show it to everyone!
Either way, my love is awake and a powerful driving force in my day to day life, pushing me to write, to spill my heart on the pages of my computer, in the pages of my journal, and along the pages of my mind.

What I have found is that the interest of my life is no matter to the story. Any good writer can take a boring event and spin a tale worth reading. My hope and desire is that here, on my blog, I can spin some truth about God and my relationship to Him, in a way that inspires you. Yet sometimes, I hope to spin a tale that keeps you wanting more and terribly depressed when it is done.

Today, I will no longer hold my words in my heart to be kept for me alone. But I will write them, to be discovered, at the very least, by one lonely reader.