Control-Top or Hidding the Problem

Confession time! I love my babies! But I do not love what pregnancy has done to my body. I just had baby #6 three months ago… and I reached the biggest I have ever been! Slowly the pounds are coming off, but that means I am now in the awkward in between stage… You know the one where your maternity clothes are baggy, but your pre-pregnancy clothes leave you looking like there’s a flat tire floating on top… yeah… that in between stage… and I am way too cheap to go out and buy clothes that I hopefully won’t need much longer.

So, what’s a girl to do? I started thinking, `Man I wish my B-band wouldn’t have ripped… you know I don’t think those are actually supposed to last six pregnancies… Why not go get some controlled-top underwear.’ So, that’s exactly what I did.

What do you know! They worked. My pre-pregnancy pants went on with no problem… but the real problem was still there… the fat just got pushed up to the middle of my stomach…

Instead of fixing the problem, I just covered it up, moved it around, and pretended like it was not there.

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It seems like this is an easy thing to do in our culture. Instead of taking the time needed to fix the problem, we look for an easy fix. But that easy fix does nothing but push the real problem off to the side for a moment. It’s like putting a band aide on a broken bone and just pretending like everything is ok.

There was a time in our marriage that we were broken. I mean like, the world would have justified a divorce- broken.

Both of us pointed the finger at the other person. I definitely was not willing to take responsibility for my shortcomings and couldn’t see beyond his. Every argument ended the same way, but never with a resolve.

By the grace of God, we were pointed to a Christian counselor. My husband and I went into the counselor determined to work on our relationship and tell the complete truth… except one little detail… that one we couldn’t share.

We saw improvement. We did. We began to communicate better and fight less. But there were still issues. Issues that we didn’t talk about.  We just put those “controlled-top underwear” on and worked on the issues people could see, not the issues that were really affecting us.

Well, luckily for me, the counselor was able to see I had issues below the surface that needed to be dealt with, and she began to see me as an individual. So much growth it was amazing.

As the weeds were being pruned out, I was more and more willing to open my heart to fully accepting Christ. The seed was falling, just not quite on fertile soil yet.

There was still a thorn, a weed, in the path. We still didn’t talk about that one little thing…

Then it happened. The night that our counselor released us from her care. We had the biggest, most epic fight.

We went into her office the next morning. In my anger, I spewed all the details. I thought for sure she was going to tell us we needed to get divorced.

Instead, the most amazing thing happened. When the truth came out, God was able to move. The Holy Spirit got a hold of my husband and in tears he was convicted and filled with the Spirit.

Noticing what was taking place, our counselor invited God into the situation, prayed with us, and for us. And then sent us on our way. I’m telling you it was an instant change. We had been married for almost three years, and now God was finally part of the marriage. I knew things were going to be radically different.

As we left the office, I looked at my husband in a completely different light. This man had every right to leave me, but he chose to stay. He chose to fight for me, to fight for us. For the first time in my life I understood what unconditional love meant. And in that moment, I cannot even explain the emotions I felt. I had a desire burning in my heart to become a real Christian wife and love him as best as I humanly could. But I didn’t have a clue how to do that. This was the very beginning of my walk with Christ. I was still uncomfortable opening my Bible. It would take a lot of mentoring, many blogs to follow, books to read, people to watch, people to grow with, and open communication with my husband.

But that growth couldn’t happen while I was pretending like the problem didn’t exist. It had to be confronted, so that we could overcome it together. We learned a very important (not-so-secret) secret during this whole thing. Marriage takes three. Until we could fully admit our brokenness, we could not surrender to God. Without surrender, God was unable to move.

God is a good God. And He’s always with us. However, when we try to control our own lives, our image, and surroundings we are putting God in a box restricting His room to move. So many times, we want things to go our way. We want God to be our “controlled top underwear.” Our prayers quickly turn into wish list and expecting God to do our will. When we are the one blessed to be part of His will.

Please! Don’t try to live life your way. Live it His way. Surrender. Just like those control top underwear only hide the problem for only so long before the fat rolls over the top. Don’t try to hide your problems; they will surface. Surrender those problem at the foot of the cross. God already knows they are there. He’s just waiting for you to let Him out of that box giving Him room to radically change your life.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

James 5:16 (ESV)

 

Guarded

While at the library Thursday, my daughter checked out a bunch of books. Since she forgot her library bag, the librarian gave her a plastic grocery bag to carry her books. As she was walking out of the library, the bag ripped, and her books fell all over the ground. She scrambled to pick them up, but since they were all different shapes and scattered, it was no easy task. Her brother went over to help her, but she quickly covered her books and said, “These are my books.”

“I know,” he said. “Would you like me to help you and carry some out to the car for you?”

Immediately her expression changed from anger to relief.

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Oh, what a perfect image of how I must be when people are trying to help me. I’m so overwhelmed by the problem at hand, that an act of help has me responding poorly.

For whatever reason I’m guarded. I’m prideful. I don’t even realize they’re trying to help.

My poor, poor husband. As I am typing this, I can recall so many instances where he offers me help, but I hover over my scattered books and say, “Leave me alone. I’ve got this.”

In my defense, no one likes being told your wrong. Even if that’s not exactly what is said, that’s how I internalize it.

Internalizing messages has been a major heart ache in my life. I learned from a young age to “read people,” but not based on their words. More like their emotions, facial expressions, and body language. Sadly, I thought there were two conversations being had. The one that was being spoken and the one that was meant.

It took me a long time to realize, most people say what they mean and mean what they say. You don’t have to read between the lines. But I still do it.

I still try to find the hidden message in what’s being said. And it causes my heart so much agony.

I suddenly think people don’t like me, when they barely engaged in conversation with me.  Now I am wondering what I did wrong, when maybe they just had a bad day, a headache, a problem, or lacked the time to actually talk to me.

When I’m running late, I start the negative talk wondering why I can’t ever be on time. When I say something dumb, I feel dumb. When someone makes a joke and it takes me a minute to get it, I feel stupid. If I make a Pinterest dinner flop, I think I’m a horrible cook. When I fail, I tell myself I am a failure.

It has taken me some time to realize that I internalize things because I place other people’s opinions higher than my own. I place other people’s opinions higher than God’s.

I need to see myself as God sees me. “Perfectly and wonderfully made.” I need to recognize the good work that He has started in me and know that He is faithful to carry it out to completion.

Yes, we are going to mess up, but we are not a mess. Yes, we will fail, that doesn’t mean we are failures.

We are daughters and sons of the God! Our creator! Our Lord. He cares for us. He knows us by name. He has a plan for our lives! Once we can wrap our heads around all that, we can begin to see ourselves as image bearers of God. After all that is the way God sees us. The good news is that we do not have to see ourselves that way before we can begin a relationship with Him through His son Jesus Christ.

Let me take a bit of burden off of you for a moment and tell you something that maybe you haven’t heard before. Your worth and your identity is not in your marital status, family achievements, occupation, accomplishments, or any other worldly things. Your worth is in Christ! You were bought with a price. Christ paid that ransom. God loves you so much and he knows what you are worth and that is exactly why He was willing to die for you personally. As you go on with your life, I want to encourage you to remember that Jesus died once and for all. There is no need to stick Him back on the cross to die a second time. Once was enough.

Let down your guard. Accept help from those offering it. And look up. Thank God for what He has done in your life. Walk in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Embrace your identity in Christ!

“The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are his children. The reason the people in the world do not know us is that they have not known him.”  1 John 3:1

The Splinter

One of my children recently had a splinter in his foot. Now this child is extremely sensitive to touch and pretty much all sensory inputs. He showed me the splinter. I pushed the skin slightly around it and he started crying, “Owwey Owww.”

I took a look at him and said, “Son, I’m not cutting your arm off. Do you want the splinter out, or do you want it to stay in there and keep hurting?”

He thought about it for a minute. Then he asked, “If you don’t get it out, when will it come out?”

“Well, not anytime soon. You can either let me get it out now, and it will stop hurting. Or you can leave it alone and let it keep bothering you. But if you want me to get it out, it’s gonna hurt for a minute.”

I honestly thought he was going to tell me to leave it alone, so I didn’t give him a choice. I grabbed his foot, endured the tears, and pulled the splinter out in about 30 seconds.

Once it was out, he said, “Thanks mom. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Imagine that. Once the splinter was out, the pain was gone. But the immediate pain of removing the splinter actually had my son considering leaving it alone.

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Come on. I know we can all relate to this. We all have that guilty pleasure, secret sin, that we know is hurting us but can’t let go of.

For some of us, it’s gossip. We get sucked into that real-life soap opera and crave the details. (more on this in a little bit…)

Maybe it’s lust. Watching those romantic comedy movies has you secretly wishing your significant other was more romantic, funnier, or better looking, so every time you are alone or bored, Netflix has you sucked into another movie.

For others, it’s food. We know that those sugary treats are no good for us, but hey no one is watching. A donut for lunch is just fine for now.

I do not know your personal struggle, but I know you have one. The Holy Spirit has slowly shown me areas in my life that need pruning. If you have been following my blog, you may recall some post about my struggle with gossip and drama. Let me just say, this is an area I continually need reeled back in on.

First, I was convicted to turn off the television. Then I was convicted to redirect conversations that do not honor those who were not present. But the next step was a hard one. I had to distance myself from people who would not respect my boundaries around drama.

“Bad company corrupts good character.” Wait God… there’s no way you were talking about them… what will people think when I distance myself from them?

Oh man! You can see my next conviction in that statement- why are you trying to please man rather than God? Whose approval do you really seek, Renee?

Obedience is rarely easy. God’s word is not something that is popular. Many people want the Bible to be a buffet that you can pick and choose from. But it’s not. It’s one big love story between God and His creation. We cannot just choose the parts of the story we want to hear.

Let me be honest, it was painful to put up those boundaries. It was even more painful to stand firm in my convictions. I literally tore myself up inside. I knew what people would think. I kept trying to convince myself that these people needed me to point them to God… But all they were doing was stealing my joy, keeping me on guard, and continually disrespecting my boundaries. Sadly, that showed me I had remove the part of my body that caused me to stumble. God gave me peace over the situation. And once I distanced myself from the company that kept dragging me back into my sin, the struggle with this particular sin lessened.

It’s no different than an alcoholic choosing to no longer go to a bar or hang out with his partying friends. If you are going to grow, you must remove the weeds that are choking your growth.

Removing things or people who are bad influences is hard. But the peace that comes from being free to walk with God is unexplainable. If you are feeling the Spirit prompting you to remove a splinter, do it. But know it won’t be easy. You will have to lean into God. You will most definitely need to ask for prayers and support from your Christian friends. It will hurt. But, if it is from the Holy Spirit, you will be better for it.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell. “

Matthew 5:29-30

Breaking Down those Boxes

“Mom, the recycling trash can is already full!” my son told me after bringing the trash cans around after Trash Pick Up.

“What? The trash truck just came this morning!”

“We had some boxes to put in there. Now it’s overfilling,” he explained.

Well, we went outside to the trash can, and I realized that this overflowing trash can would make it the rest of the week with no problems at all. “Boys, we have to break down the boxes.”

I showed them to pull the tape off and fold the box back up into a flat shape. In no time at all our recycling trash can’s lid closed with some room still left on top.

This so clearly reminds me of my schedule. Overflowing. Full. I couldn’t squeeze another thing in there if I wanted to.

But when I start to break down the boxes, I see that not so much energy is needed in some spots. If I can just rearrange the boxes that are broken down, I will have more than enough room.

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Growing up, my life was full of boxes. We were constantly on-the-go. This sport. That sport. This activity. That activity. Volunteer here. If there was an unplanned day we had to go “do something.” Shopping, movies, bowling, arcade (yes, I’m that old), out to eat, Six Flags, the Zoo… it didn’t matter what- we just had to “do something.”

This mentality was great when I started dating my husband. I mean that’s the whole point of dating, to go out on dates- right? But once we got married and life started, the urgency to be on-the-go was still there. But the reality was not. Let me just say this in an off-topic rant- American dating culture does not prepare you for marriage… suddenly instead of going out to eat, your eating at home. Instead of “doing something” every time you see each other, you sit together in a room doing two separate hobbies. Yes, we still went out on dates, but not every day… not every time we saw each other…

Ok back to the topic- I had to learn the art of only saying yes to meaningful. And yes, I was saying no to myself. Prior to this, I said yes to every opportunity I could. I busied my schedule. I was constantly on-the-go. When I did have some time, I was looking for the next thing to do.

Emotionally I was drained. I was beat. I was snippy with my husband and kids. I was putting all this energy into things that didn’t matter and taking it out on my family. I was convicted that the people who mean the most to me should also get the most of me.
God slowly stirred my heart and showed me that less is sometimes more. If you go out and “do something” every day, those outings are no longer meaningful; they’re expected. Additionally, I didn’t have the time, money or energy to do that any longer. Instead of being on-the-go, stay put and make the most of your time where you are. Doing this, instantly broke down the majority of those boxes.

I will say, I do still tend to feel the urgency to go do something. But I have learned, that doesn’t mean make a trip to Six Flags, the Zoo, or some other attraction; it means spend some time with the people you love on purpose. Go push your kids on the swing. Pull out a deck of cards. Start a crafty project.

You know, when the boys and I were breaking down those boxes, our other trash can lid was also open receiving the trash that was mistakenly put in the recycling bin. My schedule is no different. There are things on my schedule that are not necessary. There are other things that I fill my time with that are really just a waste of time… like games on my phone… mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.

Before I know it, those mindless games, scrolling through newsfeeds, and such have filled my day.

Sadly, I’ve known this was going on, but it still took a hard conviction to do something about it. After this, I started thinking about the fact that my kids are only allowed 30 minutes of tablet time, and 30-60 minutes of educational television. We made this decision because we want our kids to experience life, not be consumed by electronics. Why should my time be any different?

Something that has taken me a long time to fully understand is that this life is not mine but God’s. My time is only mine because God has given it to me. It is my job to steward that time appropriately. We can’t get back the day once we close our eyes at night. Therefore, I need to make the most out of days. I need to be sure that I am doing my part in pointing everyone who comes in contact with me to the love of Jesus Christ.

One of the things that I hear from fellow Christians more frequently than not, is that they just don’t have time to focus on things that help us to grow closer to God. I get it, reading our bible takes time, prayer takes time, serving in our church takes time. The truth is if we were to really access our daily lives and get rid of meaningless activities, we would likely find plenty of time to develop our personal relationship with God.

So, if this post has spoken to you- awesome! Please know, you are not alone. I am still breaking down boxes and sorting out the trash that I allow to consume my time. However, I know with the Holy Spirit’s help we can both use our time to glorify God in all that we do! Be blessed my friend!

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

Living Without Training Wheels

“Mom! Mom! Mom!” I see my five-year-old happily running towards me. “I rode Gabriel’s bike! WITHOUT training wheels!!!”

“Good job! That’s awesome!”

“Can I call dad and ask him to take off my training wheels? Please mom! Please!!!”

Wow! My little girl is ready to ride her bike without training wheels. Not that I didn’t see this day coming, but I didn’t realize she would be the one telling me she was ready before I was ready for her to do it.

Just a few weeks ago, she brought me the only pair of tennis shoes she owns that contain laces. “Mom, I’m ready to learn how to tie shoes. Please teach me.”

WHAT! No! You don’t even wear those shoes. Put them back. Put on your flip-flops.

But why would I hold my daughter back from growing when she is so clearly interested and ready?

The answer- because I don’t want to do it right now. Sometimes it’s easier just to keep things the way they are. Let her use her bike with training wheels. Then I know she’s not going to fall. Make her keep wearing shoes without laces, then I don’t have to take the time to teach her a task that doesn’t exactly come naturally. Then getting ready to leave will only take 1 minute instead of 5 while she tries to tie her shoes.

But by doing this, what am I accomplishing? Nothing. I get to be lazy for a few more days. Luckily for me, (or not so luckily…) she’s persistent. She wants to learn to tie her shoes, she’s going to remind me to practice with her every day. She wants to ride her bike without training wheels, she will just ride her brother’s bike.

My daughter is fearless, determined, persistent… and she’s five. She’s never expressed concern about what if I fail, or what if I can’t? She keeps trying. She keeps practicing. And when she falls, she gets up and does it again.

No matter how much I want to, how hard I try- life will happen. She will grow. She will strive to move forward. Who am I to force her to keep those training wheels on?

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How many times in my life have I let the fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of being unable affect me? Too many?  I like comfortable. I like knowing what’s going on. I like control. But my own desires for comfort and control can actually prevent me (and my children) from growing.

Let’s just take praying out loud for example. I grew up in a religion that was a lot of memorized prayers. When we prayed over the meal, everyone said the exact same prayer. When it was time for bed, we had a selection of about 4 prayers to choose from. Sadly, I never learned anything past saying these memorized prayers. They were comfortable. They were easy. They were a check off the list, now-go-about-your-day prayer.

When my husband suggested praying together, it was scary. Seriously, I didn’t know what to do. I pretty much just let him pray and said “Amen.”

The enemy tried to get in my head. He tried to convince me it was unnecessary to grow. My prayer life was just fine the way it was. He tried to cause me to stumble.

Learning to open up and pray out loud was so uncomfortable… no one would ever notice if I didn’t do it… it’s personal… All the reasons not to do, but I could still feel God pulling me in this direction.

Praise God that He put opportunities in front of me to grow in prayer! He surrounded me with people who were willing to teach me and guide me. He provided the resources to help me learn and become comfortable. Once I was willing to pray out-loud, my relationship with God truly grew in a whole new and beautiful direction.

My flesh wanted to rely on my training wheel, but when those training wheels came off I was free.

If I had chosen to stay in my comfort zone, I would not be willing to pray out loud at all. I would not walk up to a hurting person and offer to pray for them. I would not be willing to pray over my husband and my children. I would have not grown towards God. I would have been stuck.

We all have stumbling blocks. The enemy- he’s sneaky.  Maybe your stumbling block- like mine- is prayer. Maybe it’s attending church regularly, or maybe it’s participating and not just going through the motions. Maybe it’s fellowship. Whatever your stumbling block-lean into God, and let go of your training wheels.

There’s going to be stumbling blocks. The enemy does not want us growing towards God. But God is consistent, persistent, and faithful. When we have our eyes on Him, we will grow towards Him. We will get past these stumbling blocks. We will not rely on our training wheels.

When we take off the training wheels, we learn to let the Holy Spirit take the handle bars. We learn to trust and obey God. Instead of relying on what we know, we are willing to step out in faith, help another, pray for the stranger, witness to the man on the street, show love to others.

Life is going to happen. Don’t be the reason someone else stumbles. Take off your training wheels and allow your daughter to do the same!

 

 

Everyone who lives on milk is still an infant, inexperienced in the message of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained their sensibilities to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:14