Fit For The Challenge

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I can remember the day Guide Dogs for the Blind decided to no longer use German Shepherds in their program. I was a little bummed. They are beautiful creatures and I had hoped to one day raise one. But it was determined that it was no longer worthwhile to the school, the clients, and the puppy raisers to continue training German Shepherds as guides. The reason for their being dropped from our program was described to me in how they observe and take in the world around them. When walking down the street with a German Shepherd, one notices how much of their environment they soak in and react to. For instance, let us say that you notice police activity in the distance about two blocks ahead. Some German Shepherds would begin to show signs of stress and/or fear even though they are not yet close to the source of the issue. Labrador Retrievers on the other hand live in about a five foot diameter circle. If there is stress or fear within that sphere they are likely to react to it, but anything outside of that parameter is of no concern.

They live in the moment.

Shepherds (bless their little hearts) take it all in, what is behind, in front, and to the sides like a little sponge soaking in whatever emotion anyone else may be feeling or going through. This is not to say that all Shepherds are terrible guides, or that all Labrador Retrievers never struggle with stress. Some Shepherds love to guide and are not bothered by their surroundings and some Labradors cannot handle stress very well. However, a majority of Shepherds just didn’t make the cut, and it was no longer worthwhile to continue a program that wasn’t working as effectively as the program with the Labradors and Goldens.

I have often thought about this decision in regards to my own life, and the lives of those I care about. As the Shepherds were pulled from their service, I wondered if I too might be pulled from ministry, service, or the ability to make a difference in the community because of my anxiety level – because of how I reacted to the environment around me. I wondered why those I cared about would often balk at the face of adversity or trials, running the other way, instead of standing firm amidst the trial and coming through it on the other side.

This is a topic I have thought long and hard about. I have pulled resources to help me understand it better. I have prayed for exactly the right words to say to try and bring this reality to light, and encourage those to courageously press on amidst the difficulties in their life. I will admit, as I began to process this dilemma, my immediate response was anger and frustration towards those that would rather throw in the towel than stick it through. I have really tried to sympathize with your feelings and try to understand why you might resort to this course of action. I want this post to challenge you, not belittle you. Because on any given day, I am prone to the exact same response. So I hope the following words are encouraging. This is a topic I have come to find I am extremely passionate about. It is my prayer that it is a humble passion, igniting a fire of revival and bravery that I have not seen in many believers (including myself) for some time.

Take Up Your Cross

My first thought regarding this topic immediately wants to quench any thought of using “Christianity” as a shield against difficulties. To those who have tried to force themselves to believe this to be true, let me tell you, you have been grossly misinformed. If Jesus Christ – God in the flesh – had to endure much trial and suffering, how much more might we have to encounter and endure? He repeatedly told His followers, as well as those who desired to follow Him, that they needed to take up their cross and leave all behind in order to follow Him. Sadly, Scripture recounts that many could not meet that first requirement and left disheartened.

Here in America, we Christians really have no idea what it means to take up our cross and follow Christ. There may come a time very soon where we will, and I don’t think we are ready. Sure, we may pray for and petition for the freedom of those enslaved or persecuted for their belief, but that is about as strong of a stance we take. The next morning when we wake up and purchase our Trenta-sized Starbucks coffee and find ourselves in a conversation with a fellow customer about the growing evil in our world, we hold our tongue for fear of retaliation instead of sharing the gospel message. Like Peter, we all too easily hold up our white flag of surrender and deny Christ before others. Whether it is an open denial in which we verbally agree with our societies view of the acceptance of sinful behavior, or the secret denial of quietly not speaking up when others make fun of our Lord and have misinterpreted why our society seems to be getting worse; it is still a denial of the commitment we have made before our Creator.

Heroism

We as humans have a natural desire to look up to heroes. To witness an act of heroism is not something seen everyday, so we’ve invented superheros who save the world from destruction and evil powers. Even the bible dedicates a whole chapter in the book of Hebrews to those who many would call heroes. We look up to and want to be like these individuals. Do we really understand though exactly what they go through to receive the honor of the title of “hero”? A hero is never born by laying on the beach getting a nice tan. A hero is born through overcoming a seemingly impossible circumstance that effects many others. You see, true heroism is the ability to stand amidst the struggle and overcome – not by standing beside it. Each of the individuals described in the “hall of faith” in the book of Hebrews went through much trial and suffering. Their faith was born not in the escape of pain, but in the enduring of it.

I think each of us can name one person in our lives who embodies these characteristics. They are not just another Christian. They are an extraordinary Christian! They are the ones who cry out “Bring it on!” when the trial begins and are willingly crushed for the sake of the gospel of Christ. They are not rich according to the standards of the world – in fact many of them are unknown – and yet secretly we want to be like them, because they are so different from anyone else we have ever met! They are the ones who come out of their trials rejoicing that they were so crushed in body and spirit that nothing could possibly crush them more – because they overcame! They fight not for the immediate release of pain, but for the prize awaiting them on the other side of the trial.

Our world may laugh and mock them just like they did our Lord many years ago. But deep down, the world is looking – no, longing – for someone like this. Longing for someone who is fit for the challenge to overcome trials. Ultimately, they long for the void to be filled where only Christ can fill, but I believe that sometimes He allows that longing to first be recognized by witnessing first-hand one who has endured a trial and has made it to the other side. There is no denying the one that has overcome is bruised and battered; that there are scars they will carry for the rest of their lives as a result of the trial; but if we’re all honest, we’d recognize that none of us leave this world unscarred. I recently read a blog that stated, “Where there is intensity, there is history.” This is so true, and we all know it. Only the struggles and events of overcoming obstacles make it into the new editions of our history books.

Fit For The Challenge

I used to feel relief knowing that my life is thankfully not as structured as a guide dog. The idea of having a one track option in life that I could possibly fail is pretty stressful. But the more I thought about it, the Christian life is a lot like that. Not that I could fail somehow and “fall out of grace” so to speak, but there is a sense of a limited number of people that get to enter into the joy of the Master. It is not a wide gate into eternity, but a narrow one – like threading a camel into an eye of a needle. Scripture talks about how few will actually get to enter into eternal life. What we do here during the limited time we have on earth really does make an impact for eternity. So it begs the question of what exactly are we doing here on earth that will have an impact for all eternity?

The whole idea of being “fit for a challenge” does not suggest a way around the challenge. To be fit for it, one must be practicing to go through it – subjugating one’s mind and body to be ready to face whatever may be ahead. I hope I am driving this point home. This means: submitting yourself, denying yourself, and pushing through the pain, all to be prepared for whatever the challenge may bring. We eagerly drive ourselves to the gym and limit our diets so we can have the toned body we’ve always wanted, but the moment our Lord brings us a trial, we run for the hills, begging Him to please remove the suffering we find ourselves faced with. We pray that the Lord may remove our trial instead of asking Him to give us a stronger will to endure it!

The Tenderness of our Heavenly Father

At this point you may be grateful you did not sign up for this Christianity thing, because obviously it sounds way more challenging than you expected. It is just further proof that the Christian life consists of psychotic self-mutilation and worship of an angry God who pours wrath on people that don’t even deserve it. I honestly think this is one of the biggest misconceptions of the Christian life. It is difficult to explain spiritual things to those whose hearts are hardened, but I will try. The beauty and ability to endure trials is only possible through the power of our God who has promised to never leave or forsake us. Even in those moments when we don’t feel Him at work, we know He is still there – like knowing the light switch is in the room even if we can’t see it because of the darkness surrounding us. The trials we all face don’t just grow us or to show us how strong we really are. They are also an opportunity to realize just how much our Heavenly Father cares for us. If we were able to limit God to our finite understanding, I think we would see Him as a small business owner working in the industry of brokenness. He loves to take the shameful, broken, and outcast of this world, and turn them into something beautiful. Remember, our Creator made the sun and the rain. He didn’t say “Oopsie!” when the rain suddenly poured out on the earth. He called it just as good as the sun that brightens our days. If our days were all sunshine, we would never grow in the downpour of the rain that nourishes, nor would we understand the meaning of the word “comfort” during difficulty. We would never feel the warmth of being wrapped up in His love like we get to experience on a cold and rainy day wrapped up in our warm homes and blankets, safe from the elements. No, Non-Christians are really the ones to be pitied. Their life is the shallow one, purely based on the impulse of the moment, versus the profound that looks beyond all circumstances and does not rest until the dawn of a new day has appeared, bringing rest and victory.

Conclusion

Romans 8:37 says, “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” I just love this verse. At the end of our race and battle against the flesh, when our Heavenly Father tells us “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Master” we will be more than just conquerors. The word “conquer” is a conjunction of two words: con – meaning “with” and quaerer – meaning “to seek, strive, endeavor, ask, require, demand”.  This verse tells us we are more than just a conqueror. How cool to know that heaven will not be divided between those who conquered and those who barely made it in. We will all be conquerors, but as if that wasn’t enough, we will all be more than conquerors because of the incredible work and sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for our behalf – because He loves us so much!! I think this is important to consider in light of this topic. Everyone’s cross to bear on this earth will be uniquely different. For one person to bear their cross will mean only having to sacrifice one thing for the sake of the gospel; for another, it will mean having to sacrifice their whole life for the same reason. This does not lessen or increase the “worthiness” of either person’s life – but just shows how we are all grown and tested in uniquely sovereign ways that our Heavenly Father has pre-ordained for us to endure before the foundations of the world were even laid. This means that both the “ordinary life” and the “extraordinary life” according to our world’s standards are both equally precious to our Father, as well as how well of a steward we were in those circumstances.

The picture at the top of this blog beautifully describes this struggle to live fit for the challenge despite our fleshly weakness to actually put that desire into action. The studly dog in the picture is the first puppy I raised with Guide Dogs for the Blind. He is now retired from guiding and my forever pet. His personality can be summed up in one word: lazy. One day my brother thought it would be funny to outfit him in full workout attire and place a dumbbell at his feet like he was about to work out. I think his expression says it all. Mr. Tweed would never be caught working out. Tweed is anything but fit for the challenge, even if his attire screams otherwise. Are we Christians like that? We may very well look the part, but our expressions and actions just may very well scream the exact opposite.

I feel like I have said more than enough to last for years regarding this topic. I applaud you if you have made it this far, lol! You get a gold star!

I will just leave you with some profound words from others who I think have said the same thing, in a much more condensed form, and so much more eloquently than I have. I hope they impact you as much as they have me.

“…let me tell you, dear ones, the things that cause us to be sanctified (to be set apart, to be made holy) aren’t typically the fun, easy, or exciting things. More often than not, they are the hard, painful, grievous things.” – Heidi “Do You REALLY Want God’s Will?” fast.pray blog article

“Above all let us pray that our own Christianity may at any rate be genuine, real, sincere, and true. Our faith may be feeble, our hope dim, our knowledge small, our failures frequent, our faults many. But at all events let it be real and true. Le us be able to say with the poor, weak, and erring Peter, ‘Thou Lord who knows all things, knows that I love Thee'” – J.C. Ryle

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When The World Is Bigger Than ‘Room’

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Last night I had the privilege of watching the film adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel ‘Room’. This small budget, limited release indie film was never supposed to garner much attention, but the critics and film industry award season have proven otherwise. From the moment I first saw the trailer to this film, I knew it was going to be something special, but could never have imagined the wide acclaim this film has recently received.

‘Room’ transports its viewers to a story of survival for a mother who had been abducted at a young age, and her five year old son – a child conceived by rape. Trapped in their “home” (which is actually a garden shed) we see them live life between the four walls of their confinement. This story draws us into their “life” in the “Room” (as they refer to it), and follows them through a successful escape and integration back into the real world.

What I was shocked to discover was the examination of one of the most controversial topics our society wrestles with. A topic that is also not widely portrayed, or awarded, within Hollywood. ‘Room’ beautifully, honestly, and delicately examines the harsh reality of a women victimized by rape, and the child conceived by said rape. Throughout the film we see the unconditional love of a mother for her son; the anger of a grandfather who cannot look past her daughter’s maltreatment and refuses to accept his grandson as anything other than the product of rape; the joy of a grandmother in experiencing life with her grandchild; and the reality of a five year old boy making his way through this great big world.

Regardless of whether the author originally intended to spark discussion regarding this topic of rape and the consequences of a child conceived by it; it is impossible to overlook its ramifications within this story.

It is ironic that little Jack thinks the world is the size of his garden shed house. It is the place he was born in and the only thing he has ever known. It is where he feels safe, where he is loved, where he eats and plays and sleeps, where all of his memories and learning has taken place thus far in his short lifespan. His idea of the world is shattered when he steps foot outside of the shed and he begins to see things for what they really are – in all of their beauty and ugliness. Although he realizes he will never be able to go back to the comfort of “Room”, he learns to adapt in the real world. He narrates his discovery in realizing that the real world is full of two conflicting realities in which we could never imagine anything so beautiful and yet so terrifying and dangerous all at the same time.

How true is this idea for the life of a child conceived by rape. We should be horrified that anyone would have to begin life in that way, but like the grandfather in this story, we also can’t seem to look past the horrifying four walls that four letter word shoves us into. No matter how unfair or humiliating it may be to live with the fact that someone was created through such a horrible act of violence, we cannot overlook that fact that a human was still created nonetheless. If you take little Jack out of the film, you are left with a very depressing story that may not come with the happily ever after ending we enjoy.

In the film, Jack begins to describe his discoveries of this conundrum. For instance, he sees leaves both green and brown. One bursting with life, the other wilting away at its very end. He questions their existence with a common “Why?”, and his mother begins to explain to him that it is just the way things are. New life and death often on the same tree, reflecting the full picture of life here on earth. In one of the most beautiful moments of the film, little Jack shares his new knowledge:

“I’ve been in the world 37 hours. I’ve seen pancakes, and a stairs, and birds, and windows, and hundreds of cars. And clouds, and police, and doctors, and grandma and grandpa…I’ve seen persons with different faces, and bigness, and smells, talking all together…There’s doors and…more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. It never stops. Plus the world’s always changing brightness, and hotness. And there’s invisible germs floating everywhere…”

In another scene, Jack describes that the real world he now lives in can be quite scary, but he knows not to be afraid because he has his mom, and what he calls his “strong”. This strong saves him and his mom on a couple of occasions, and often helps them both overcome some of the major obstacles in the adjustment back to the real world.

You see, just as the world is bigger than Room, so too is a human life bigger than the stamp of rape in which it was conceived. Although it may be terrifying to step out from within its walls, it is the healthiest option and brings forth a greater quality of life in which a strong can save the world – or can save the world of one life. A strong that could have easily been squelched before it ever took its first breath in the world.

If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. It does have an “R” rating for language which surprised me a bit as I am pretty sure I have seen some PG-13 films with more language than this film, making me wonder if it just barely slipped into the R category. Films like this need to be made, need to be seen, and need to be shared. It is a raw, and real look at a topic not widely discussed.

We need to advocate for these precious lives effected by this horrendous act. We need to be their shoulders to cry on, their ears to listen to, their safety net of comfort, and their trust when depression sinks in. We need to be their world when all they can see in the moment is a room. Like Jack and his mom, we need to help them say good-bye to the things of the past, and look with anticipation and courage to the unknown of the future, in all of its glorious shades.

 

 

When Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

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If you read my About page you will notice that it was initially my desire to focus on three categories of writing for this blog. That is still my plan, and I guess technically this post would fit into one of those categories, but as I sit here typing in each letter, I never would have imagined I would be writing a post on this topic.

Three weeks ago today, there was a mass shooting upon unsuspecting individuals who were enjoying a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA. Before this attack, all the other horrible stories of shootings, attacks, etc., were just another piece of unfortunate news to read about. Not this time though. This time it hit close to my hometown, and forever changed my little portion of the world.

When tragedies like this happen in our country or around the world, we hear about them, mourn those who lost their lives or are fighting to keep them, and within a matter of a few short days, they fades into history, and are gradually seen less and less on the internet and social media. Never did I really stop to think about the ongoing effect on individuals and communities forever changed by such events. Obviously, now that I have had the experience of walking through such a tragedy much closer to home, that “fading into history” takes a lot longer to experience.

This post is dedicated to any community who has been through the front lines, and a tribute to the countless untold stories of people trying to resume some sense of normalcy in the wake of tragic events.

Just a few mornings ago on my way to work I realized just how true this process of healing and moving forward would take – and keep in mind, I personally, and no one that I know, was directly involved in the tragedy that occurred in San Bernardino. The events that took place just happen to be close to where I live and work.

I hear the loud sirens of emergency vehicles often enough. Typically my response is to obviously get out of their way as they travel down the street, but I realized how tense my body became as I saw vehicle after vehicle pass me by. Instead of sending up a prayer for safety for anyone effected by this emergency, my first thought was wondering if another tragedy had taken place. Whatever emergency those vehicles were heading too, it ended up not being another mass tragedy, but I had already re-trained myself to assume it was, just one week after one occurred close to my hometown.

After the shooting that took place in San Bernardino, there was no public announcement via media outlets to warn those living in or near the effected area to expect certain things to take place following the tragedy. Now I have a glimpse into what exactly happens to a community healing from such an event.

The initial reaction I experienced just two days after the shooting was a strong sense of quiet – like a cloud had hovered over us all. The places I went to and the people I interacted with just buildings away from the Inland Regional Center no longer had their lighthearted atmosphere. We all just quietly went about our business. I am sure that if a pin was dropped to the ground we not only would have all heard it, but we would have all jumped at such a sudden outburst of noise, no matter how subtle. The conversations at the local coffee shops were all about how everyone was dealing with the aftermath. There was graciousness displayed by all customers and employees. There were extensions of thankfulness and gratitude that the baristas were recovering and safe. Even the reaction of customers waiting in long lines at the shopping centers close to the shooting site had a different vibe. Instead of the normal complaining and impatient waiting for help from employees, everyone extended more grace than usual. Patience was extended to all, complaints were not uttered, and there was a general vibe of slowing down and soaking in even these seemingly mundane moments of waiting in line with other strangers in a store.

On the flip side, I was quite surprised to discover how much more on edge our surrounding communities had become. Since the shooting, I have never heard of so many false alarms, close encounters, and never ending rumors of more shootings, bomb threats, unruly individuals, etc. Most of these incidents were just rumors that local authorities could not keep up with fast enough to disprove their reality and quiet untrue ramblings that were spreading around. There may have been a couple of close calls or heightened precautions because of what had just transpired, but even those events probably wouldn’t have been broadcast all over social media and local news outlets had there not just recently been a mass shooting.

Perhaps these observations are just a result of study as a Sociology major in college. But I think they have more to do with how a community heals from an experience like this. I do not think I would be stating a lie if I said that every other community who has endured similar events has gone through circumstances like those I just detailed. We just never hear about them because we are not close enough for them to be relevant to us all. That doesn’t mean though that these stories of recovery are not important, or shouldn’t be told. I think the opposite should be done. How can we heal and move forward if we cannot share our experiences? The community of San Bernardino can now empathize with others who have endured – or will endure in the future – similar circumstances. If anything, we have become more united.

It is likely that over time, our community will resume a sense of “normalcy” in complaining about long lines, and returning to lighthearted conversations at the local coffee shops, but we will never forget. In some ways, that normalcy will be good, and in others I wish we wouldn’t have to revert back to “old ways”. We are forever changed though. Those who were directly impacted, and those like me, who have observed on the sidelines.

I think the biggest piece of hope I am able to take away regarding this situation is knowing that each day that passes brings me closer to my last day on earth. Whether I die tomorrow or live to be 101; whether I pass into eternity peacefully in my sleep, or at the hands of terrorists in a gruesome standoff; I know that nothing can separate me from the grip of my heavenly father’s hand. Knowing as a Christian that to die would be gain, makes life less scary, and my trust in God’s sovereign plan even stronger.

Learning To Be Content…

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It’s been quiet here lately…

I have been mulling over a profoundly-worded-eloquently-stated-excuse-riddled apology as to why I have been so out of touch. Then I recently read a blogger’s reason for not meeting the “weekly quota” of pushing out life-changing blog posts and I decided I wanted to be more like her – to publish blog posts of worth – not quantity – even if that meant I only posted once a quarter instead of once a week.

And then life happened. Or in my case has come to a screeching halt. Like I am treading water and am wondering when/if I will ever plant my feet on solid ground again instead of bobbing up and down in the waves, holding my breath and waiting to find out what the next wave may have in store for me.

On a recent trip to Disneyland with family friends, I went on the Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure with a little guy. As the ride began to weave its way “under the sea” my companion took the deepest breath he could muster and held it in for as long as he could stand. About 30 second later, he gasped for breath and let out a disgruntled sigh followed by the following remark,

“Ugh! I still can’t hold my breath the entire time we are under the sea!”

Granted, most of the ride consists of time “under the sea”, so the probability of my companion’s ability to even fulfill his desire of holding his breath the entire time we were below sea level, was quite impossible. But in his little mind, he struggled to grasp the idea of being able to hold his breath with the reality that it is quite absurd to try such a feat as we were actually never under water and had no need to hold our breath.

This little experience though hilarious in the moment, got me thinking about how I handle different experiences in my life. Sometimes when I find myself in a “holding pattern” I assume that the obvious reaction is to hold my breath until the outcome is known, but usually I can only last about 30 seconds before I need to take a breath again, like my little friend. I struggle with my inability to fulfill a seemingly easy task, only to realize later that my grand idea of holding my breath to see if that would somehow help my situation is actually quite ridiculous and most unhelpful.

Holding patterns are my least favorite thing to endure. Because there is nothing else I can do to make things stop for good, or start up again.

 It is like waiting in line for your favorite ride at Disneyland when it suddenly shuts down. You have to decide if you are going to commit and stick it out even if that means you are standing there for the rest of the day, and then risking that whatever issue the ride experienced was never really fixed resulting in the last ride of your life; or if you should bail and not enjoy the thrill you experience, but lean on the side of safety and try to enjoy the rest of your day on other less exhilarating rides.

As I stand in this holding pattern, it doesn’t help that the life of other young adults surrounding me are getting green lights to do the things they have been waiting for – being hired by clients who love their work; getting scholarships to their top college because of high academic or athletic abilities; marrying their childhood sweetheart; giving birth to another precious child; spending a week with friends on a much needed vacation. I could go on…

No green lights for me. You see, the signals sensors are for some reason not recognizing me, and so cycle after cycle continues to go by, skipping my green light. I am now holding up traffic behind me, and causing road rage as each second passes by. If you have a number to a maintenance crew who specializes in the function of stop lights I would appreciate the referral – my light seems to be broken. Do I break the law and run the light, or stay put and aggravate everyone else behind me? (Okay, okay, this is probably not the greatest analogy to use, but it’s what came to mind, so there.)

I just recently celebrated my 24th year of life (I know, I’m getting old…my dad even told me so the other day…). Although I cannot say that I have actually written down a timeline of my life, I admit, I kind of had an idea of what it was supposed to look like in my head. Honestly, I am about as close to my #lifegoals as a turtle is to the finish line after the race has begun. (Translation: everyone else is nearing the finish line of one or more of their goals and I have only taken the painstakingly challenging two steps forward just to have to back up because something blocked my path resulting in even more of a delay.) As I look down my life goal checklist, I am running out of “alternate ending” scenarios to replace milestones that haven’t taken place. I am running out of options for myself and am scared at what I might experience when the alternate endings are all viewed.

At this point you’re probably thinking I am the most ungrateful, depressed, twenty-something, single, young adult that has ever walked the planet. If that is the case, it was not my intention. The whole reason I decided to start blogging was to share the details of my life in a way I think I express it best. I have found that I can relate to so many others when I read the blog of their life story. Maybe you can relate to mine. I don’t pretend to have it all-together. I probably never will. What I do know is this is the raw and real stirrings of my heart – a constant struggle of contentment.

Like learning to be content in the inability of holding one’s breath during the duration of the Little Mermaid ride.

Like being content when my Facebook feed is full of new “Life Events” from friends and family when mine has been dormant for years.

Like being content when the signal I am sitting at won’t turn green, cycle after cycle.

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I recently read the following quote regarding contentment that really spoke to my heart. May it be as encouraging to you as it was to me:

“[Contentment is] not a gift or fruit of the spirit. Paul simply said that he learned to be content. A person who’s learning contentment is a person who is honest about how they feel when they don’t have something they would like but are consistently looking for ways to find themselves with enough.” – Ryan and Amanda Leak, YouTube Documentary creators and authors of “The One: An Amazing Love Story Starts With You” as quoted in a “Single Matters” interview

“You are dust…”

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**AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second post I have written in regards to holistic health, and how I am dealing with Celiac Disease. To read the first post click here.**

I just realized it has been over four months since I have posted an update to the changes I have made in order to live a healthier life via means of more natural, holistic options. Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday I clicked “publish” on that post and the days have dragged on, while other times I can’t believe that it has been that long since I last posted an update on this topic!

Over the last six weeks I have been trying some more holistic detoxification approaches to see if they might help with some of the issues I have been experiencing. My mom has done a lot of research in this area, and we have gleaned a lot of the “ideas” in this post from the internet.

Although I might have been medically diagnosed with Celiac Disease, based on my symptoms (and especially the blemishes I still struggle with on my face), my mom was pretty persuaded that I was dealing with what is called Leaky Gut. I had heard of it before, and if there was a checklist to determine if you are struggling in this area, I think I could probably check mark “All of the above”.

My restricted diet became even more strict *grin*. In addition to removing all carbs, sugars, and processed food (including the use of a microwave), along with any food I am allergic to (or have reacted to lately), I also removed all dairy products. I have been limited to a high protein (without pork), veggie and fruit diet, with one meal each week set aside as a “cheat” meal.

Every morning for the first three weeks of this new detox I was on, I did what is called “oil pulling”. This term is a method of swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for approximately 20 minutes first thing in the morning and then spitting it out in either a trash can or in my case the dirt in the backyard 🙂 This is a process of detoxification where the coconut oil naturally begins to pull all of the toxins in your mouth as you swish, and then you spit out all of those toxins that have just been released from your body. I will admit, the process was not fun most days. I likened it to having a melted mold used to get an accurate shape of your mouth for retainers, swished around in there each day. There was gagging involved. My mouth is VERY sensitive to anything it determines should not be in there. For instance, I still struggle with the ability to swallow pills. It just doesn’t work most days. But back to my point…After three weeks, I did it every other day for the last two weeks. It seemed to really help. I will now use it if I feel like my mouth has reacted to a food I just ate. The other day I had fresh green beans (which I have never reacted to before), but the rest of the day my mouth felt very itchy and irritated. The next morning I did the oil pull, and felt much better with no reaction.

Next on the detox list was drinking lemon water mixed with honey every morning – another natural way to detox your body. This was less intense than the oil pulling in my opinion but still different. I mean, it wasn’t like I was drinking a shake, so it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world.

I have tried to consistently take the supplements the iridologist recommending specifically for me as well which included: essential enzymes, a nightly probiotic, chromium, and slippery elm. I did have to swallow these massive pills. Some days were better than others. After the first two weeks, I would forget to take them sometimes, but they did help calm my stomach down quite a bit especially during those “cheat meals”. I haven’t quite finished them all, and need to remind myself to take them each day and finish what I purchased.

Another method I used was drinking fresh chicken, beef, and lamb broth made at home from the bones leftover from when I ate meals with these meats. It didn’t taste as wonderful as chicken noodle soup broth which I assume is because all the other stuff wasn’t in it, but the marrow from the bones is supposed to be a great source of helping your body naturally detox.

One other method I used during this time was taking as hot of a bath as I could stand mixed with bentonite clay. This clay is in its natural form and it has been known to treat and help detoxify the body of foreign contaminants. This was probably the best bath I have ever taken! It was so nice to just soak for a while, but the clay also made my skin very soft. The clay will draw out any toxins into the water, and you can see how “dirty” the water is when you are done and drain it.

You might be wondering at this point, besides mentally trying to get used to ingesting and experiencing these new “treats”, how I was physically feeling? The first week I honestly felt horrible, almost as sick as a dog. My immune system was down from my body trying to release all of the toxins locked inside, and I almost developed a cold. Thankfully, I stuck with the plan, and I know what I was taking helped beef up my immune system as it was attacking all of the foreign material. The first week, I mostly stayed at home, too tired to do anything, and just rested. After that first week, I felt much better and know I released some of the toxins, so I resumed my normal activities and began going to the gym 2-3 days a week as working out would also be another way for my body to naturally release other toxins through my sweat.

Six weeks later, I have lost another approximately 8 pounds, and feel much better than I did before. I feel like I have more energy, and adding the additional workouts has made me stronger and increased my metabolism as well. I have decided to stick to the diet as much as possible and still restrict myself from eating things I know I was allergic or have reacted to in the past. But I do know that I don’t feel half as bad on the “cheat meals” as I had been previously.

As far as keeping up the other options, I think for now I am ready for a break 🙂 and may or may not maintain them on a regular basis. Definitely as I feel needed like I have done with the oil pulling, or if I start to feel less great than I have been. The bath with the clay is definitely something I see myself using regularly. Would I recommend doing all the things listed above at the same time like I did for someone else? Probably not. I also think a part of why I wasn’t feeling well the first week was because my body was in complete shock from the drastic lifestyle change I was forcing it to go through. I think if I was to do it all over, I would have stuck with a couple of methods at a time, and then either added, or switched one out for the other. Also, each person is different, with the level of toxicity in their body ranging from less to what I was experiencing, to possibly worse. Because I had seen my holistic doctor, and made an appointment with an iridologist, I already had an idea of what was happening with my body, and how aggressively I needed to help it release these harmful toxins. For someone else though, this protocol might be too much, or too little. Working with your doctor/health professional, as well as making wise personal decisions for yourself and your body is the key. I would like to go back to both my doctor and the iridologist in the near future to see if there is any improvement in my blood since I have taken these measures. Of course, the results of that will be shared in another post, on another day as well 🙂

I should probably stop at this point, though there is so much more I would love to discuss. In my next post I would really like to focus more on what changes I have made in my home to help expose myself less to toxins that will seep into my body thwarting the change I have been trying to make over these last few weeks. That post should be a lot of fun and very practical, so stay tuned!

In closing though, I thought it very interesting that the natural approaches I have taken over these last few weeks are not what your “normal” doctor would recommend to you if you are not feeling well, and yet they have helped me so much! I was constantly reminded of the passage of Scripture in Gen. 3:19 where God explains that as man was created from the dust of the ground, one day at his death, he would return to being dust once more. Our bodies are natural beings. We enjoy digging our feet in the sand at the beach, sloshing around in the mud, and swimming in the water, because it is those things that make up our bodies and make us feel good! It makes sense then that using natural means to help your body overcome the toxic bombardment it deals with on a day to day basis extremely effective!

When Life Feels Like Jury Duty

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I recently had the pleasure of being a part of the selection process for an upcoming court case. This was the first time I had made it to this point in the juror selection process, and only the second time I had actually been called in for jury duty.

I am one of those weird individuals who actually enjoy fulfilling my civic duty. Perhaps I have all those years competing in debate to thank for my love of how the judicial system works and is conducted. Regardless, in my mind I secretly let out a “yesshhhh!” and pretended to throw my hands up in the air in anticipation.

I think the words “Jury Duty” are probably synonyms for “waiting-a-long-time” or at the very least are a way for citizens to practice their patience. At least the holding room was comfortable and accommodated our lesson in the art of patience. My group was finally called up to begin the selection process, and I felt like I had entered a reality tv show screening room where the possible contestants shared their most depressing sob story of why they could not fulfill their civic duty. I’m sure some of them were sincere, but by the time the last story had been shared, the rest of us were all a little less sympathetic and had turned into depression-riddled zombies who had been locked up in a dark room for far too long and were about to get ravenous.Recognizing our impending dilemma, the Judge graciously excused us for the day to resume the next morning when we had all returned to our normal state.

The next day we sat through more depressing stories and finally had enough people for the prosecutor and the defense attorney to begin their screening. I was the sixth of twelve potential jurors to be questioned. By the end of the day, I felt like we were all one huge family that had just come out of a counseling session where all of our personal information and past baggage was placed on the table for all to hear.

The final portion of our interrogation consisted of quite a few extremely vague hypothetical scenarios. I don’t like hypothetical examples all that much. They are just that – hypothetical and vague. Not real people, with real problems, and real scenarios. Thankfully, despite this portion of our interrogation, I thought I did very well, and tried my best to answer each question as truthfully, or at least as accurately, as I thought possible. Then both the defense attorney and the prosecutor took turns dismissing those they no longer wanted on the case.

I was shocked to discover that my name was the third called to be dismissed. I believe the prosecutor’s exact words were “I wish to dismiss juror #6 Miss Keefer (he never once got my last name right), and thank her for her time”. The judge and defense attorney agreed, and I was escorted out the door and released back into civilization. No harm, no foul, it just wasn’t meant to be, right?

I tried to persuade myself of this reality, but no matter how hard I tried, I have to admit, I was hurt. And badly. I mean really?!?!? After I literally gave all of my resources to the judicial system via my time, money, emotions, thoughts, common sense, mileage, attention, and any other physical and mental ability not already listed, they had the nerve to just dismiss me? Done. Gone. End of story.

I will probably never know what (if anything) was the tip-off that plummeted me over the edge and caused me to be dismissed. Maybe it was just what I was wearing (or not wearing). Whatever it might have been, I don’t know. But it has bothered me. What if I answered a certain question differently – would I not have been dismissed?

As the day came to a close, I used what little mental processors I had left to come to a startling realization.

My life all too often reminds me of my dismissal from jury duty.

Whether it’s trying my best to work at a relationship with a young man who may one day be my husband; devoting time to invest in friendships; making sacrifices so I can be an available blessing to mommies with little ones; or diligently working hard on to-do lists both personal and for the well-being of my household; I feel like despite all of the resources I have given to say, do, react, and learn in the appropriate manner, all too often I find myself being dismissed from opportunities I have poured myself in. A young man’s friendship moves no further; friend’s schedules do not work with mine; mommies have better options to turn to for help; and the to-do lists are a never ending reminder that my work never ends.

It’s like running in a wind storm – no matter how hard I try, I move nowhere. Like God has told me “Thank you for your service in [insert area], but you have been dismissed.” I question my hard work and begin to wonder if I had said/not said certain things; if I had reorganized my schedule better; if I had sacrificed myself just a little bit more; would I have been selected for service? Is there something about me that is hindering my ability to be of service in the greater good of those who mean the most to me?

I may never know why I feel like I am in a holding pattern in my life while others are being selected to do things I would love to do, but I am learning to trust that my dismissal is the best thing for me right now. That in the grand scheme of things, it is better for me not to be selected while others are.

Perhaps one day I will actually be selected to serve on a jury, but even if that never happens, it is comforting to know that at the very least, I will hear my God tell me one day “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:21)

A Carolina Chronicle

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One of the two Associate’s Degrees I earned was a Liberal Arts Major with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences. We’re talking Sociology, Geography, History, and the like. Stuff that really intrigues me. So I found myself quite amused when I took a recent trip to North Carolina to visit some friends for a week. This blog is a compilation of the great time I had, and some of the interesting things I observed and noted about my travels and stay on the east coast.

Airports. You got to love ’em. I think this was the most nerve-wracking part of planning my trip as I was traveling alone, and it had been six years since I had last flown. How much time do I give myself to get through the horrible experience of security? Will they confiscate anything? Will my flight be delayed? What if I am in the wrong terminal and don’t realize it until it is too late? How am I supposed to navigate through an airport I had never been to before? Despite these insecurities, I reminded myself that I am a “big girl” now, and could surely travel on my own without too much concern. So I searched for the cheapest tickets at the right times without obscure layovers, mapped out each airport I would be walking through, and left tracking information for my mom and friends should the worst happen and I couldn’t be reached 😉 I must say, the worst thing that happened to me at the airport never happened! When I was leaving the airport in Charlotte, apparently the President was about to as well, but I was able to get up in my plane before they shut down the whole airport for his arrival *whew*! Other than this major catastrophe I was able to avoid, the second and only other awful thing that happened to me was that my water bottle was confiscated at security. I almost made it through! Thankfully I wasn’t detained, and just bought a $5 bottle of water once I was on the other side. I also must say that as far as how navigating each airport went, I am pretty sure I owe my ability to travel with ease to my four years practicing navigating HUGE college campuses when I competed in speech and debate tournaments in high school. I learned pretty quickly how to memorize and/or navigate around the WHOLE campus, because of course one of my events would be all the way at the other end of campus, and I would only have a few minutes to get there, still be presentable, and on top of it all give an enamoring speech that wowed all my judges. So navigating through an airport was actually child’s play compared to what I’ve been through 😉 One final observation I discovered as a Sociology major about the airports I traveled in were their uniquely different demographics/cultures. For instance, Ontario smelled heavily of fresh ground coffee. I thought at first it was just a morning rush kind of thing, but it still smelled of coffee when I came back a week later in the evening. Let’s just say that most residents in SoCal cannot survive more than a couple of hours without their cup of joe. When I landed in Dallas and stepped foot in the airport, I just about fell back. There wasn’t just a slight whiff of a certain smell I inhaled, it was practically a brick wall. What was this smell you say? None other than Texas barbecue. It was everywhere! And boy did it smell good! When I landed in Charlotte, the first smell I encountered was good homemade southern cooking! I was officially in the south! The other striking demographic difference I experienced was in the different nationalities of people coming and going. Granted, I was in an airport with millions of people from all over the world traveling here and there, but there was a noticeable increase in people of both African and Indian decent. I came to find our later that Charlotte is home to many African Americans as well as an exponential growth in Indians moving to this part of North Carolina.

The friends I stayed with had just recently moved to North Carolina from California, so I felt right at home, and they were gracious to inform me beforehand the many cultural and demographical differences they had experienced since moving there. The biggest change for me, which I think would take me a long while to get used to was the layout of the greater Charlotte area verses life in the Inland Empire. Here in SoCal, everything is a grid set up by blocks of square or rectangular shapes, with such prominent landmarks you are almost always conscious of which direction you are facing. We’re so infatuated with our little grid system we even like to name (or number) our streets in a chronological fashion. This means that if I live on 1st street, and you live on 22nd street, I can likely gather that I live south of you in perhaps not the best areas of town, and that you live in the higher end section near the foothills north of where I live. It’s very confusing though, especially when you cross into different cities that have freed themselves of this awful practice, and frankly it’s quite boring and unoriginal. So, transplant a California born girl, in the heart of Charlotte, and I realize I am no longer in a grid system. No, in Charlotte you experience life in the inner and outer circles of the towns. No more grids, no more major landmarks, just the infinitely endless possibility of driving in circles (literally) around town trying to figure out where in the world you actually are! Speaking of transportation here are a few more little facts I picked up that are different from life in Southern California. First, if you thought the “crazy driver” award went to the state of California, you have been duped. I heard from my friends, and experienced first hand that you do not mess around with Carolinian drivers. And they have no idea what they’re doing. An accident on a freeway in Charlotte is as common a site as it is here (if not more so) in California. Second, everyone (and by everyone I literally mean everyone) drives one of three vehicles: a Honda Odyssey, a Toyota Sienna, or a Ford Escape. I never found out if it is a state law that requires every driver to own one of (or all) of these vehicles, but I am serious, literally everyone drives one! I would fit right in if I had to move to Charlotte because I drive an Escape, so that’s one less thing I have to worry about 😉 And finally, the last observation was that vehicles are not required to have a front license plate. It was kind of weird, because here in California it is required. Not sure what the pros and cons are, but there you have it!

So we’ve touched on transportation quite a bit, and I bet by the time you have made it to this point in the blog (assuming you’re still reading) you’re aching to know what city life is like. Well, in typical southern fashion, I have saved the best for last, and drawn out all other aspects forcing you to wait to indulge your curiosity on this topic till the end. I think my first observation would be how quiet it is there. Remember, I live in the greater LA area otherwise known as the concrete jungle that never sleeps. In Charlotte, people actually eat dinner with their families, and go to sleep in the bedrooms of their own homes. There is no such thing as going to the grocery store for a midnight snack. Everyone is at home sleeping. How exactly do I define quiet? Well, how’s this for starters: even the birds go to sleep at night. Yep. They sing beautifully sweet melodies throughout the day, singing to their Creator, but as soon as the sun goes down you begin to wonder if they all were struck with some kind of mass virus that killed them all because they all stop singing, and they stay quiet until the next morning. There are also no planes, no helicopters, and no cars driving down the street once the sun goes down. I’m not kidding you, everything goes to sleep at night there! This beautifully quiet stillness was almost magical. It provided a very relaxing and peaceful environment that felt like you were miles away from civilization when in reality it was all still just down the street. During daylight hours though, people do go to work and school, and shops are open for business, but still, the population difference is staggering between the two states. There were no long lines, no jampacked freeways, and parking spots are easy to come by. If you’re a Starbucks fan, you might not want to move to Charlotte. I am afraid our on-every-street-corner addiction is not as easy to come by. Instead they have been replaced (literally on every corner) with a Chick-fil-A and a McDonald’s. If you’re a fan of either restaurant chain, you will never go hungry. And if you’re hoping to listen to your favorite pop artists play from the speakers of your favorite restaurants or stores, you will be sorely disappointed. The norm is the local Christian music station, and it plays in a majority of public places you visit. We are talking about life in the good old Bible Belt for crying out loud! I was a bit shocked though, because here in tolerant Southern California, it is discriminatory to play Christian music over the speakers and could offend someone, so you just never hear it in public places. Oh, I almost forgot! Did you notice the picture of the dangling lights at the top of my blog? Those are actually stop lights folks. I am pretty sure I bust out in laughter when I first saw them. I live in wind city, where gust in upwards of 50-60mph are a norm and a part of our often daily lives. Our street lights are bunkered down like they have prepared for a zombie apocalypse, but in the south, they just dangle from cute little strands of wire. The mental picture of seeing those things blow away in the wind here in SoCal was quite amusing, and if I had any artistic talent, you just might see a picture inserted here of what that would look like! The other big difference exploring city life out in Charlotte again was noticed at night. They don’t have street lights guiding you along the way on every street. In fact, most don’t have them at all, so once the sun goes down you better hope your headlights work, otherwise you can’t see a thing in front or behind you. It is quite eery actually. On one of the days, we went exploring at the McDowell Nature Preserve and walked a couple of their hikes. Here’s a picture:

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Remind you of anything? If you’re a Hunger Games fan it should. Throughout the hike, and just walking around in the backyard and in town, I often felt like I had just been dropped into the Hunger Games arena and needed to be on the lookout for incoming fire bombs that would send me to my death. Turns out Hunger Games was filmed in the Charlotte area in several locations, and now I know why. It’s not really a scary observation of impending death, but in the few moments you see Katniss peacefully hunting in the woods, or making her way alone through the arena, you get a sense of a quiet rest in the surroundings, and that is really what life is like in Charlotte.

Heading back home to California ended up being more difficult than I imagined. Yes I was rested. Yes I was eager to get back to my life here in SoCal, but I think I left a bit of my heart in Charlotte – with my friends, and with the city. I wouldn’t call myself an ardent traveler, but I have seen parts of our great country, and I have never really felt struck to the core with a sense of peace and accomplishment in finding what I would define as “home”. All that changed with my visit to Charlotte. As funny as the dangling traffic lights are to me, I think they appropriately sum up my feelings of my visit to North Carolina. They are a reminder of a peaceful and quiet place to live. Where the American Dream is I think a little bit closer to being a reality, far from the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolitan lifestyle. Where a family can grow, explore, and build close bonds with one anther and the neighbors and co-workers they interact with on a daily basis. Where “In God We Trust” is still the norm and the expected lifestyle of its residents.

North Carolina’s state motto is a Latin phrase translated, “To be, rather than to seem.” I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to travel there this spring. I really had no idea though what I was going to experience. I don’t think any number of descriptions could do the state justice. To experience North Carolina you have to be there to see it. I highly recommend it, and I am sure this trip will not be my last.

The Prince Charming Delusion

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I have often been bothered by the fact that a majority of fairy tale stories end with the wedding day – a couple who are about to spend the rest of their days living happily ever after. No sickness, no miscommunication, no kids, no stress. Just a simple little phrase to carry them till the end of their days.

But then I saw the recent musical-turned-blockbuster-film “Into The Woods”.

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I’ve seen the film and much of my previous conception of fairy tales and storybooks that I have grown up hearing and seeing were turned on their heads. One scene in particular stood out to me when Prince Charming (who had just recently married Cinderella), and the Baker’s Wife, have a

*clears throat*

“moment” in the woods. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I was afraid I was going to have to cover my eyes, begging the characters on screen to not go through with it. It ended up not being as bad as I first imagined, but I think I was so shocked not because of how the scene played out, but the fact that it even existed! I never would have imagined Prince Charming drifting from his happily ever after! How could he?!?!? Not only is he a charming prince, but he is the epitome of charming! It’s his name for crying out loud!!! It’s not rocket science folks; it’s a fairy tale! We all know Prince Charming lives happily ever after with Cinderella. Period. End of story. There is no such thing as drifting, or taking a glance, or wishing for something better. It just wouldn’t happen.

After a few minutes, I calmed myself down, the scene ended, and the movie went on. The movie finished, my life resumed, no big deal.

And then it hit me (yeah it happens a lot..)

I had been programmed to expect, enjoy, and assume that fairy tales always end in happily ever after. I know it’s not reality, but wasn’t that the point? To be able to imagine a world where happily ever after was actually possible? And then somehow turn off the switch like I turn off my television and resume living in the real world, where it is a known fact that happily ever after is a lie. What if we changed our fairy tales to make them more like real life? That way we wouldn’t have to turn a switch at all, and then these heroes and heroines could actually be role models.

Hence my discovery which I have labeled as “The Prince Charming Delusion”. The delusion is that Prince Charming is perfect, and the discovery is that I have bought into the delusion that Prince Charming is perfect 🙂

How can I be so sure that I was deluded? Perhaps you should re-read the first part of this blog post again. I was dumbfounded that Prince Charming had a “moment” in the woods with someone who was married to someone else right after he himself just got married!

So like any good music lover, I broke down and bought the soundtrack to this film and listened to it over and over again.

Perhaps I became desensitized.

I think it is more likely however that my eyes were opened to the discovery of this delusion.

After her moment in the woods, the Baker’s Wife sings a solo entitled (you guessed it), “Moments In The Woods”. I really think this is one of the best songs in the film. Why? Because it’s raw. It’s real. It’s genuine. In a nutshell, it’s the real deal.

The Baker’s Wife had it all – a caring husband who loved her, a blessing of a child after years of infertility, job security in the business her and her husband owned, a roof over her head, warmth and shelter from the cold, and someone to hold her at night. Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like a dream come true! And yet despite all of the blessings the Baker’s Wife had, she found herself struggling emotionally and physically when she stumbled upon Prince Charming alone in the woods. Suddenly, she realized the grass just might be greener on the other side, and she wanted to experience it for herself. In one single moment, the life she had been content with before was no longer enough.

The Baker’s Wife struggled, was tempted, gave in, recognized her error, repented from her ways, and ultimately chose to live life in the real world with her husband and child, instead of riding off into the sunset with the Prince. The same cannot be said for the Prince however. The movie doesn’t go into detail about the Prince’s reaction to this “moment” after it was over, but you also don’t see much of him after it either. He doesn’t have a solo rendition of his views of the “moment in the woods”. There is no reflection, and no repentance on his part. For all I know, Prince Charming waltzed away from this moment, and no doubt made himself “charming” to another enamored passerby in the woods. Suddenly, Prince Charming doesn’t seem to be so charming after all.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not perfect. After getting over the initial shock of a less-than-perfect encounter in the woods, I was relieved to find that characters in fairy tales are not perfect either, and make much of the same mistakes I do. In the words of the Baker’s Wife in her song “Moments In The Woods”:

Back to life, back to sense

Back to child, back to husband

You can’t live in the woods.

There are vows, there are ties,

There are needs, there are standards

There are shouldn’ts and shoulds.

Today, our culture is telling us we can enjoy our grass and the greener grass on the other side too. That feelings must come above morals, and that somehow this is going to make us happy. Yet why do our statistics show an increase in depression and a decrease in the overall happiness we feel in this life?

The Baker’s Wife may not have lived the quintessential happily ever after life we envisioned for her, but I think with her dying breath she could say with pride she lived happily ever after despite her shortcomings. Because she chose the path that took her home to where she was meant to be. She could have followed her heart and run away with the Prince, but she chose to repent of her wrongdoing, and go back to live in the real world with all of its beauty and blessings; all of its shame and ugliness.

The Baker’s Wife chose to live life – in all of its fulness. And that folks, is a life truly lived happily ever after.

Freedom In Restriction

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Talk to anyone who is not a Christian, and they would probably say that we are crazy. The bible tells us that the world thinks we are fools, but I’m not even sure that that is a strong enough word. We are probably more like psychopaths to them. No wonder, because everything that we think, say, and do, is SO contrary to the world. It’s like we’re from different planets, and yet somehow both stuck in the present on this planet together for an undisclosed period of time.

How are we so different? Well, let’s just look at one minor example of what are views are on “freedom”. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of this word? I don’t know about you, but for me the United States of America comes to mind. We are a country, a people, a culture, that screams, lives, eats, breathes, gives our lives for, and fights for freedom like no other people I have ever learned about in history. If it weren’t enough to declare a land of freedom for its citizens, we also fight around the globe for others to experience the reality of the ideal of a life of freedom. You can expect persecution, the loss of a job, restricted rights, and a whole list of other punishments should you choose to impose on the freedom of another, or restrict their right to do whatever they like. Freedom tells me I can drive however fast I want on the freeway, and can sue whoever dares to cut me off and causes my speed to go below 75 mph. In contrast, a Christian understands the concept of laying down our rights for the benefit of another, and the glorification of our Father in heaven. A Christian desires to drive within the safe speeding limits set forth on our freeways, willingly lets others merge in front of them, and is not bothered by the fact that they are now driving very slowly behind a car just cruising along. The bible is filled with such commands for us like: submit to leaders, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and lay down your life. The battle Americans wage everyday for the fight for the right to freedom for themselves and others is vastly different from the battle Christians wage everyday with their flesh to give up their rights and count another as better, and greater than themselves. These two lifestyles could not butt heads any harder.

I used to think that it would be impossible to explain to someone why I choose to wage a battle with my flesh every day to lay down my rights. But the Lord was gracious to give me a little glimpse of what that is like. Where did I find this example? I had to look no further than the piercing glances from a four-legged creature eagerly waiting for me to finish this post with a wagging tail so I could focus on her. That’s right; my guide dog puppies have shown me how to exhibit such joy in the midst of a restricted lifestyle.

This idea dawned on me one day after I called one of my pups back inside the house from exploring and romping around loose in my backyard. In that moment, they are about as free as they ever could be. Sure I am monitoring their behavior to make sure they don’t inhale every stick and stone, plant and flower in my backyard. But they are off leash, running sometimes at 100 mph like a race car on a track, as free as a bird. As much as my pups enjoy spending time being “dogs” in my backyard, the moment I bring out the leash, call them back to me, and we head back inside to get ready to run some errands, they run even faster back into my arms then they did roaming free on their own. Their tail wags even faster when I clip my leash on their collar, restricting their freedom to do what they wanted. In that moment I realized, my guide dog puppies in training would rather spend a day of “restriction” with me, then spend the whole day running around loose and free in the backyard on their own. This trait is a mark of a guide dog. Some pups could care less and run away when the leash comes out to restrain them, but those dogs usually don’t end up with a lifelong career as a guide.

The rest of that day, I spent contemplating how I react to the restriction of my freedom and my rights. Am I ecstatic like my pup when the leash of restraint comes out, or do I run the other direction dreading the loss of my freedom? Would I rather relinquish all my freedom and my dreams to God and spend time by His side, or run around on my own doing my own thing?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we will realize that the freedom we fight for can never be attained. You see, we are all slaves to something. Despite what you might think, even in the United States, slavery has not been eradicated. Whether someone is forcefully enslaved by human trafficking, an alcohol addiction, or a slave of righteousness, no one is free. We may be striving for freedom, but none of us have it. In the bible, the apostle Paul spoke to such individuals in Rome who though they understood they were great sinners; that Christ is a great Savior; and that their freedom in Christ and His unending grace was all-sufficient for them; they assumed they could then live a life completely free from all restriction. The apostle Paul’s response to them is classic. In Romans chapter 6 beginning in verse 15, I can just imagine Paul yelling with force at the top of his lungs as he exclaims, “May it never be!”. The remainder of that chapter is an explanation of why Paul felt so strongly about this topic.

I can remember when I competed in debate tournaments in high school, there was always that one debater whose value to support his or her idea in their case was the word “freedom”. Those rounds never went well for either the debaters or the judges. They usually resulted in a confusing topic of anarchy vs. freedom with restriction. I even fell into that trap once, but repented of my sin, and vowed never to have the value of freedom again in any of my cases. Syndrome in the Disney/Pixar animated film “The Incredibles” has a line in the movie that has stuck with me since I first watched it. He states, “When everyone is super, no one will be.” Since hearing that line, I have often replaced the word “super” with other words, and they fit just as well. The word freedom fits in their nicely too. Because when everyone is free, no one will be. I believe we are getting more glimpses as to exactly what this looks like in our society.

No one can be free, because everyone is a slave to something. When people think they have attained freedom, they are actually putting a restraint on something else in order to feel that way. Freedom is a tug-of-war reality that constantly gives and takes in order to attain.

I don’t expect everyone to believe the things I have written here. If you are not a slave to Christ, what I have just written will sound psychotic to you, because the Lord has not allowed you to see the foolish things the Christian culture believes and acts upon, with eyes born again in Him. I just felt a strong urge to share another beautiful example of the impact these precious pups have had on my life. They have not only made me a better person, they have left deep spiritual examples to me about different things that relate to my submission to my Lord Jesus Christ.

The House Of Revere

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Once upon a time, there was a small village filled with a tight knit community of people, surrounded by a large metropolis full of many people from all different backgrounds and cultures. In this small village lived a well-respected family in the house of Revere. A house long established in that town that had withstood many trials and changing seasons. This house had the respect, love, and admiration from not only the other townspeople, but from travelers far and wide, who knew this house would always be welcoming to them at any time. In this particular story, we examine three members who abide in this home, and the life lessons we can learn about how to live and interact with each other. This allegory depicts the joys and struggles women face on their journey to find contentment, fulfilled longing, and dignity in their person.

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Contentment

Oh, what a happy child Contentment is! She is still so young, and has much of her life yet to live with so many adventures to encounter! Yet, she is close to adolescence and will begin to see many changes in herself and her outlook of life. What she learns in these next crucial years of her life, will either make or break her, and leave a lasting impression for eternity. Contentment has been taught by her mother to be satisfied and full of joy, in whatever circumstance she faces. She is blessed to grow up in the safety and security of a loving home. She cannot stay here forever though. One day she will leave her home and live in the world as a grown woman interacting with and encountering others. Contentment sees what marriage is like through others and hopes for it someday. She gathers wisdom on the subject and stores it for safe keeping until an appropriate time. As we spend more and more time with Contentment, and as she begins to spend time with us, we have a huge role in how we shape her character. We don’t realize how much of an influence we have on her little mind and heart! She is just like a sponge soaking up everything we teach and share with her. Contentment’s married friends share with her the importance of keeping Christ at the center of everything she does. She has learned from them, that one cannot expect to get the desires of her heart without first being so consumed by Christ. If she wants to be married one day, then she must have such an intimate relationship with Him before that can happen; if she wants to travel, she must first have a firm foundation of the teachings in scripture to help guide her way; and if she wants true joy, she must be satisfied with whatever God gives her, whether great or small, in order to find fulfillment. The knowledge she has gained from her married friends seems invaluable to her; but Contentment is also experiencing confusion. You see, Contentment has an older sister named Longing. Contentment can recall very well some of the situations Longing found herself in; in fact, she had a front row seat to the experiences her sister had to endure. Struggling to understand, Contentment talked with her single friends to find out more information about why her sister’s life was so different from the way her married friends had described life to be like. Contentment’s single friends had a very close relationship with Longing and willingly shared how similar their lives were. It was hard for all the single friends and married friends to hang out together, because their lives seemed so different that there was no way for them to be compatible. All the single friends were strong Christians who loved the Lord just as much as those who were married, but they had no life partner. The life formula that Contentment’s married friends had shared with her, did not seem to work in the life of her unmarried friends. They had just as intimate a relationship with the Lord; they had just as strong of a biblical foundation; and they had learned how to juggle joy in the midst of want and plenty – and yet they remained unmarried. That night Contentment went to bed a little more uneasy than the night before. Our response to Contentment will either drive her towards a greater intimacy with Christ, or turn her into her older sister Longing. Contentment knows she needs a firm and solid foundation built on the work of Christ, but we must not promise Contentment that the desires of her heart will be granted when she is completely sold-out for Christ. We must remind Contentment that God in His goodness and infinite wisdom and creativity made all people unique, and made the experiences in their life just as unique and special. No two people in the world will have all of the exact same experiences in the exact same timeline as another. Her life is like a fingerprint – none other are like her – and to try and force her into a mold of how we might have lived our life could crush her delicate spirit. Contentment can never be replaced by a better substitute. She is a child in the house of Revere, and so very special. May our prayers be drenched in her example. Oh that we would be more like her! For we could change the world if we used her properly!

Longing

Contentment as mentioned earlier has a older sister, who, though taught the same principles, has seen herself walk a very different path than what she envisioned herself on; because her struggle for contentment is put into practice day-by-day, and even moment-by-moment. Someday, Contentment may grow up to be like her older sister. Only time will tell whether that will be the case. Where Contentment was fair-skinned, delicate, and pure, her sister Longing was not often characterized in the same manner. Longing has been through the trenches in life, and has not emerged unscathed. Her beauty may not be as apparent on the outside, but inside she is a woman of courage and steel. Longing not only received some of the same advice as her younger sister, she lived through some practical experiences that showed her exactly what they meant. Longing understands the importance of an intimate relationship with Christ, but has also lived through the loneliness of being a single woman desiring to be married. This is what makes her such a great friend to both those who are married and single. However, as the days pass by, Longing becomes more fearful that her childhood dreams may never become a reality. Although strong and full of perseverance, if not careful, we may cause her to feel squashed and defeated by how we respond to her. Longing, like her sister, lives in all of us, and often leads her little sister through the challenges this life has to offer.  She has the same desire as us – to experience a deep connection with another person. This desire is hardwired into most of us and why God says in the book of Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone. How much of an effect do we have on her? Longing has the potential to turn to shame and despair if we tell her that she is sin and must be removed from our lives. Longing itself is not sin. Remember, it is what we do with her that determines that factor. Therefore she has two options to live by. She can be so consumed by a desire that it overtakes her and turns into idolatry where she will never be satisfied; or she can place herself at the feet of Jesus and wait to hear how the story of her life unfolds. All of us struggle with something in this life. The bible is filled with such terms as: running, enduring, wrestling, struggling, contending, sacrificing, and the like. If we forced Longing to live the cookie-cutter lifestyle, she would have a very weak faith because it never would be tested by fire to see how strong she really is, and her relationship with God would be so superficial, there would be no need for Him to prove Himself faithful. I truly believe the Lord has a special place in His heart for Longing. Where joy comes easy to Contentment and sitting at His feet is where she would rather be; Longing has to struggle for that same joy. She openly voices her concerns to Jesus, and is not content with a superficial faith that lets her get by in this life. She is a beloved daughter in the house of Revere. The bible speaks many times about how the weak things of this world will shame the wise, and that the prize will be given to the one who runs the race with endurance. That is the kind of life Longing lives. Her name earns her our respect. Her example earns her our love.

Dignity

Dignity has lived long in the house of Revere, and bears the physical and emotional presence of a life lived in such a worthy manner to be called a child of that house. As the mother of Contentment and Longing, the house of Revere would not be whole without her guidance. She has named her daughter’s after lessons she herself has learned, and continually imparts stories of wisdom to them about how she navigated the trenches of life and battled to have those two important traits. Without Dignity, Contentment and Longing would never have been born in the first place. Dignity is a rare gem, who understood from a very young age to be proud of who she is, even when others laughed at her and told her she was obsolete. You see, Dignity like her daughter’s, longed to be married and have a family of her own since she was a little girl. As she grew, she was bullied by those who had taken their contentment in singleness to the extreme or who had longed so much for a dream that could never be. Dignity however, pressed on, and believed that the Lord would grant her whatever He had planned, which would be the best for her. Dignity’s dream did come true and she married a wonderful man named Honor. She was such a treasure to him! He loved her like no one ever did before because she was so valuable to him; and he was respected everywhere he went because Dignity respected him. Dignity was once a single girl. She climbed the corporate ladder and was very good at her work. She grew in the understanding of herself when she learned not to be shy about her true desires and her longing to be a wife and mother. In fact, the reason her and her household were so well respected was because she often shared with others her belief in the importance of family. She believed it is not degrading for a woman to leave the workforce, but empowering and life-giving to not only her immediate family, but to her community as well in such a way she could never do on her own. Dignity now encourages her husband to be the best husband and father possible, helping him in this endeavor. She teaches her daughters that in whatever path they find themselves on in life, they are important and needed. She teaches them by example and warns of the inherent dangers their natures encompass.

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Women in the 21st century are not very different from the women depicted in this story. We are surrounded by a metropolis of ideas and values as vast and different as the ever-changing colors of a sunset. We are pushed and pulled and shoved into so many ideas that tell us where our value lies. Even among Christian circles, the ideas of how to be a godly Proverbs 31 woman differ depending on whom you speak to. This story is a collection of thoughts and ideas that have bounced in my mind as I interact with people on a day-by-day basis. It is a result of the influence culture has had on me – both good and bad. It is a call to question and check why we believe what we believe and to examine how our ideas impact others in the following areas:

 – Contentment and the promise of a companion

 – Longing and the sense of shamefulness, leading us to believe we are in sin

– Dignity’s success dependent on the standards of our culture

How we utilize and respond to contentment, longing, and dignity in our lives will say much about who we really are. We are fighting a battle in these areas that have a global impact, and will infiltrate every person and every culture for either better or worse, depending on who prevails.

Victor Hugo in his timeless book “Les Miserables” beautifully captures in words the summarization of the story above. He wrote:

“You look at a star for two reasons,

because it is luminous,

and because it is impenetrable.

You have beside you a sweeter radiance

and a greater mystery – woman.”