Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not Just Good Enough

What is it about my personality that keeps me hugging the edge of the cliff? Well, if you know me at all, you most certainly know I'm NOT talking literally here. (You will NOT see me hugging the edge of any real cliffs ever...as in NEVER!) I'm talking about the edge of the "good enough" cliff. Do you know the one? In my quest to finish losing the rest of my desired weight, I am constantly seeing just how bad I can be but still have it be "good enough." Seeing how much I can slack off of what I know are the best choices yet still see a small amount of weight loss. And, therein lies the problem: my weight loss has just about come to a screeching halt. And I know why. Good enough - well, it just...isn't!

As I finish leading another "Made to Crave" Bible study in my home (MTC the fall edition - since MTC the winter edition was so much fun), I was struck this time by my need for repentance in this area of good enough. It's been interesting to do this study again several months (and several pounds) after I first did it, because I am seeing things jumping out at me that are very different from what jumped out at me nine months ago. That tells me a couple things: first, God has graciously given me freedom & growth in areas that I used to struggle in (praise the Lord!); and second, Made to Crave is NOT a study that you can just do once and be done. This journey of finding the proper relationship between us and food (and our spiritual walk) is not one that is a quick fix. I can tell it's going to be a long-term process. Yet that doesn't scare me. It's somewhat a relief. Why? "I am on a journey with Jesus to learn the fine art of self-discipline for the purpose of holiness." (Lysa TerKeurst) That is a journey that I never want to end! From now until my first moment in heaven, I want to be continually pruned to become more holy...in every one of the fruits of the Spirit. Right now, self-control just happens to be at the very top of the list.

I love this quote from Chapter 18 of "Made to Crave":
I can make the choice to identify my shortcomings and, instead of using them against myself, hand them over to Jesus and let Him chisel my rough places. The grace-filled way Jesus chisels is so vastly different than the way I beat on myself. My beatings are full of exaggerated lies that defeat. His chiseling is full of truth that sets me free.
Amen.

The freedom I grabbed a hold of early on in this journey is that of learning to love myself.  A year ago when I was ending my "argument" with God about making this a spiritual matter, I clearly felt God telling me it was time to stop doing the enemy's dirty work for him. That every time I showered myself with guilt and condemnation...those things were NOT from God. That was not God's voice speaking to me. It was the enemy's. I am so glad that was the first chain God broke in my life. Why? Well, partly because it was the catalyst to gaining freedom from a lot of head stuff. Head stuff that had me stuck in more areas than just my weight. But ultimately, gaining freedom in this area meant that I had to strengthen my relationship with God. Oh why would that be, you ask? Because my internal self-talk was so incredibly messed up, the only way to correct it was to be in an almost constant state of prayer. I would wake up each day and ask God to open my eyes to the areas I needed to work on. Well, open them He did. There was a lot of eye-opening and a lot of praying going on. And for that, I'm so grateful.

And you know what? That's a place I still need to be. No longer because of my destructive self-talk. Nope. Now it's that I need God to regularly help me to see my edge-of-the-"good enough" cliff-hugging tendencies. We can't change what we don't know exists. I know that it exists, and I know that its existence is what is stalling my weight loss.

Every time I'm tempted to eat something I know I shouldn't just because I find a way to justify it - that's hugging the edge. Every time I convince myself it's OK if I don't exercise because of excuse A, B, or C - that's hugging the edge. Every time I hit snooze on the alarm (which means I know I won't have time to do something that really ought to get done) - that's hugging the edge. None of these things will mean I fail or completely screw up. But they usually mean I'm not walking in 100% obedience. That's what we're really talking about here. Full-on, sold-out, 100% obedience.

I'm not talking perfection. I'm talking about making the best choices - instead of the good enough choices. I'm tired of good enough. Good enough in this weight loss journey makes me want to settle in right here. The differences from 55 pounds ago are obvious. The positive comments are plentiful. Good enough could easily be the place I choose to stay. But I'm not in this journey for "good enough." I don't want God to say, "Good enough." I want Him to say, "Well done." And for that...good enough just isn't, well, good enough!

Where is God asking you to go beyond "good enough"? Let's move forward together. It's all about taking that next courageous step. Ready? Let's go...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mandisa: "Shackles"

The perfect song for today's post...

Letting Go of the Shackles

I love it when God gives a fresh perspective. I'll admit it, I've been having a fair number of pity parties for myself lately in relation to our financial journey. It feels like we have been climbing the Dave Ramsey debt-free mountain for SO long. We thought for sure we'd be over the "hump" by now. But, we're feeling kind of like Lewis & Clark in their maiden journey West: the mountain is big and seemingly right over the next hill...yet over the next hill isn't the base of the mountain - it's another hill. How much longer? How BIG is it?!

Lately, much to my embarrassment, my internal conversations with God have all too much resembled the Israelites in the wilderness. It's so easy to read their story and laugh at how childish and unreasonable they sound. Yet, without even realizing it, we can sound just like the 21st century version of them. Whiny. Un-thankful. Stubborn. Clueless. Yep...it makes me sad to think how often I mimic their actions.

Here's the thing that I want to share with you. The thing that has helped me to get my focus back in the proper place. Just like in the weight loss journey...following the right financial path doesn't always mean quick results. Or maybe, just like an out-of-whack metabolism from too many years of failed weight loss attempts, perhaps we've gotten an out-of-whack financial "metabolism" too. What do I mean by that? Well, depending on how bad the financial picture was when we began the journey towards repairing it...we may have dug ourselves a lot of financial holes. It's hard to show a lot of progress up the hill if we have to spend a lot of the beginning of the journey just getting back on solid ground. So, here's the ah-ha moment: even when we aren't getting the desired outcome (lower number on the scale or higher number in the bank account)...we still need to do what's right. Why? Because our goal isn't a number on the scale or a specific amount in our bank account. Our goal is to obey God.

Does God have an opinion on our weight and on our relationship with food? Why yes, He does. For details on that, read Lysa TerKeurst's book Made to Crave. Does God have an opinion on our finances? Well, I'm sure you know the answer to that too (a resounding "YES!").

I was able to get the "do-the-right-thing-whether-the-scale-is-moving-or-not" concept into my head. But lately, the feeling of working really hard but getting (seemingly) nowhere in our financial picture has gotten me down. Until God reminded me otherwise.

Past failures, no matter what area of our lives they were in, are still in the past. Nothing we can do now can ever un-do those things. So, therefore, no amount of guilt, condemnation, or shame is going to change them. All those things do is keep us locked up in the enemy's chains. Except, here's the thing about those chains: they aren't really locked. God has long ago broken those off. The only thing that keeps us in bondage, is our own willingness to remain there. Ouch. Did that sting your ears as much as it did mine? (If not, maybe you need to read it one more time.) The only thing that keeps us in bondage, is our own willingness to remain there. Yep. Still stung.

Can you imagine choosing to stay imprisoned when the door isn't locked and the way to freedom is right within your grasp? Who would do that? Oh, my friend. You and I choose to do that every single day. It's just that our chains aren't visible. Well, not except for the despair in our eyes. The guilt and shame we wear on our faces. The fear that furrows our brows and weighs us down. Nope. Our chains are where no one can see them. They're on our hearts and minds. But God has given us the gift of freedom. Freedom from ALL the things of this world that want to imprison us. Not just freedom in one area. Freedom in EVERY area! How many shackles are you still wearing? No, really. How many? I hope we can take some serious time of reflection to let God get in our face about this issue. This is the real deal, folks. This is where living life as a Christian should make us stand out. It should make us FREE! My prayer is that we'll have our eyes opened to our shackles this week. Every last one of them. And then...that God will give us the courage to leave them behind and walk through the freedom door. Did your heart leap for joy just now? Mine sure did.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Re-Programming Our Habits

I've been reflecting a lot on my "Made to Crave" journey the last few days. God has gently reminded me of a few things that I thought might be encouraging to some of my blog readers as well. Whether you're struggling to lose weight, build a positive body image, or just get on track with your relationship with food...listen to some of what is running through my mind on the topic.

#1~ Everything mentioned above has to start with getting our heads on straight. I honestly can't stress enough how important this step is. This is the step that the study "Made to Crave" has helped me with the most. Every other time when I've tried to lose weight, I only partially dealt with the head stuff. And then it was never too far into the journey that my lack of dealing with that emotional baggage stopped my weight loss dead in its tracks. We HAVE to get our heads on straight in this area. God's Word has a LOT to say on the matter. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll pick up Lysa TerKeurst's book "Made to Crave" and start letting her open your eyes to the Truths of God's Word. It is really life-changing stuff.

Want to know why this step is so hard?  Because the enemy would like nothing less than for us to continue to be stuck in the crazy cycle (bad choices/guilt & condemnation/more bad choices). He loves it when we shower guilt and condemnation onto ourselves. He loves it when we call ourselves "fat, ugly, loser, weight loss failure" (or whatever else we can call ourselves). If we're all being honest, we know that when we're stuck on this horrible emotional "crazy cycle", we are NOT giving God our best each day. There's no way we could be! How can God use us to the extent He wants to when we're walking around not talking to ourselves in a very Christian manner? I know first-hand how years of negative self-talk can damage our soul. I was a walking war-zone. When I started the Made to Crave journey one year ago, I had to work the hardest at first on just speaking lovingly to myself. I had to, word by word, change my internal dialogue. I was a serious kind of messed up. When I look at pictures of me that are over a year old, I see the hurt in my eyes. I may have put on a smile on the outside. I may have been quick to laugh and sound cheerful. But I was one broken-hearted, sad, self-loathing person on the inside. Just thinking about the healing God has given me in this one area, makes me want to shout from the rooftops. Just a few short months ago, I was a prisoner in my own body. I couldn't break free from the chains of this emotional baggage. But through God...I am FREE! I'm singing the song as I type: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, THERE IS FREEDOM!"

One more thought on this first step. Since Satan does NOT want you to gain freedom in this area (you'd become dangerous to him!), I caution you to be careful what you say out loud about your struggles. If you are starting this journey as messed up emotionally as I was, there is a LOT of changes to your internal dialogue that have to happen. A LOT of emotional healing that must begin. Since Satan is not omniscient and cannot read our minds, he can only use against us what he hears us saying/sees us doing. My advice at first (when the healing needed seems so large) is to keep your struggles in this area a private issue between you and God. When you're really struggling with some kind of negative self-talk and your first thought is to talk about it with your friends (or even pray about it out loud), at first I would suggest to just pray about it silently. I felt like I didn't want to give Satan a clue of my weakness. Or if I was having a really bad day, I didn't want Satan to know that either! Call me crazy, but I really think this helped make the healing go faster. God could help re-direct my thinking and heal my tender soul without the enemy having a clue that the healing was happening. Oh sure, later on Satan must have figured it out - based upon my lifestyle changes and things. But at first, when I was an emotional wreck and walking war zone...I didn't want to give the enemy any extra ammunition to use against me. Give it a shot. I really felt I needed that extra "secret" dose of healing. Eventually, you will be strong enough to fight the enemy's attacks (you'll recognize them as lies). At first, though, I was so wounded I needed some strength built up before I was ready for that fight.

#2~ The next step is to make sure we've got a healthy eating plan in place. Maybe you're floundering around just because you've never settled on an eating plan that you can stick to. Or maybe it's one that doesn't work well with your lifestyle. I found that I needed one where I didn't have to think about food too much. As I was trying to overcome my food addictions, the whole process of having to weigh everything and write everything down seemed like too much focus on the very thing I was trying to "get over." For me, I found a healthy plan where for two meals a day (if I chose to follow it exactly), I had either a protein bar or a protein shake. It was perfectly balanced and healthy. It knew that for two meals a day, I could eat without any guilt or extra planning. Then one meal a day was a healthy, balanced one that I cooked and shared with my family. Find what works for you. If you think you're making some good headway on the head stuff, but the scale isn't moving...maybe it's time to take a hard look at your eating plan. Oh, and one last thing on this one - I HIGHLY encourage you to find a plan that is not a "diet." Make these permanent, life-long healthy eating plan changes. Diets don't work. I should know. Find the healthy changes to your eating that you can (literally) live with for a long, long, time. Looking at it as a lifestyle change helps to take away the diet deprivation mind-set.

#3~ Are you moving enough? This is the obvious next step, right? We can't conquer everything in a day or a week...or maybe even a month or more. The head stuff has to come first. Then once you've started to get some of that addressed, you begin to focus more on what's going into your mouth. Once that is set, I think it's time to focus full force on exercise. This is especially true if you're mostly a couch potato right now. Don't try to change everything about your lifestyle at once or you'll put too much pressure on yourself and set yourself up for burn-out. But at the same time, you have to know that regular exercise must happen - and not just for now. Regular exercise should happen for the rest of our lives.

As you begin to workout, maybe you're like me and you have some false ideas about yourself and what you can/cannot do. Don't be afraid to push yourself! Now is the time to break free from those comfort zones (that really weren't so comfortable) and challenge yourself to do things you never thought you could do. For me, it was becoming a runner. What's it for you? Build up your cardiovascular health and you'll be surprised what your body can do. It's really exciting when you start using your body more and pushing it to levels you never knew you could. Just one more way to stand in awe of God and His Majesty.

#4~ Ask God to daily help you in one specific area. Are you negative? Are you un-disciplined? Are you rebellious? I know that for me, often what leaves me struggling for every pound of weight loss is my desire to get as close to the edge of my healthy eating plan as I think I can get away with. Why would I do that? Rebellion (a.k.a PRIDE!). That whole thing of not wanting to be defined by boundaries. Being upset that x, y, and z should really be off limits to me. Especially if I feel that others aren't held to the same boundaries. I was thinking this morning in church about what God has called each of us to. If we are Christians, our bodies are to be treated as temples - because, after all, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us! Whether we're trying to lose weight or not, we need to treat our bodies with respect. Don't defile ourselves. Whether it's in relation to drugs, alcohol, sex, physical mutilation, what we think about, or our eating/exercise habits - we are to take care of these temples! I know that, for me, when I really think about my body in those terms it makes me want to eat lots more veggies and fruits. Stay away from junk food and empty calories. So when I ask God to help me to crave those healthy things - He is happy to help me do just that! When we ask for things that are in line with God's will, He loves to bless us with our request. My goal this month of October is to take a daily inventory of how well I'm doing with taking care of myself. I want to ask God each morning to show me what my area of greatest need for improvement is. I'm going to be bold and pray for Him to change my cravings and turn around my rebellious tendencies.

Let's stop thinking that God doesn't care about this part of our spiritual walk. If our relationship with food or our body image/self-talk are getting in the way of us being fully used by God...then you bet He cares deeply about this struggle. Oh how I can't wait to be fully free from these chains. Many of them have been broken, and I feel incredibly empowered in this area now. But I know God's not done with me yet. My deepest prayer now is that I won't allow pride, rebellion, or fear to keep me from reaching the finish line. If you're at the beginning stages of this journey and feeling overwhelmed by the length of the road ahead (or how high the mountain feels) - just start making better choices today than you did yesterday. Pray like crazy. Re-program your self-talk. Eat a little less. Move a little more. I promise you - all of those little things start adding up to big results. And I'm not just talking about the number on the scale.

Blessings friends! Until next time...