CHOICES {PART 1}: Freedom to Choose

CHOICES {PART 1}: Freedom to Choose

“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”—Romans 14:13 NIV

There’s a saying floating around the internet, I’m not sure where it originated but it speaks truth in volumes for so few words, it goes something like:

“We have the freedom to choose, but not the freedom to choose the consequences of those choices.”

Growing up I wasn’t allowed to make many choices, it was just a matter of doing what my parents told me to do because either “The Bible says so” or “I’m your parent and I say so”. Neither of those answers pleased me much, nevertheless, I complied. I was afraid of the consequences of not complying. I was afraid of the belt, afraid of my parent’s disapproval. So, out of fear (not freedom) I obeyed. However, once I turned sixteen, I began to realize my parents had less control over my choices, and I could get away with a lot of things without them knowing (I had my own job and car, and with that came some added “freedoms”). Of course, as a sixteen year old with raging hormones, not many, if any, of my choices were well thought out.

It didn’t take more than a few “bad” choices before I became overwhelmed with shame, a real “failure” as a Christian. No longer was I the compliant, obedient “good girl”, but the rebellious, self-centered “prodigal”. Instead of repentance, my shame led me farther into the pit of stupidity, until nearly a decade later when I found myself pregnant, living in a shack of a home (no running water, windows broken out, roof falling apart…etc.) with my boyfriend. When sharing my testimony I often start with this scene because that is what God used to catapult a major life change in me.

Did I want my daughter to grow up with an eating disorder? Did I want her having sex with whomever she pleased on any given day? Did I want her contracting STDs? Did I want her growing up so insecure she felt the only answer was to take a blade and cut her body? Did I want her to decide one day that suicide was the only reasonable choice? Did I want her to turn to drugs to ease her pain? Did I want her turning out like me? Did I want her spending an eternity separated from God because I never taught her the truth about Him? The answer to those questions was a resounding, NO!

I knew if there was any hope for my daughter, I was in fact the one who needed to change. I knew she would follow my example, and that is the last thing I wanted. So, over the years following, God changed my heart one issue at a time. However, despite having a change of heart and re-committing my life to following God, I still continued to make dumb choices (and still do). Some of these choices have had catastrophic consequences (more on that will be discussed in later posts). It really is a miracle that, despite my ignorance, my husband is now a Christian, and our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been. It very easily could have ended much differently.

One of the things I struggle with is an eating disorder (began 16 years ago) and intense insecurity. Understanding who I am in Christ has gone a long way in helping with those issues, nevertheless, I still struggle. One of the things that triggers anxiety and temptation to revert back to the eating disorder is wearing revealing or tight clothes. The insecurity is so intense, that despite living in Arizona where the summers often reach 120 degrees, I wear pants all the time (unless I am swimming, which I will only do in the presence of good, trusted friends, and even then, I wear shorts). I usually wear baggy t-shirts as well. I hate the feeling of clothes on my skin. (It’s hard to explain or understand unless you’ve had an eating disorder).

I’ve prayed about this issue repeatedly, as it gets to be quite tiresome dealing with such emotions and anxiety (even something as simple as eating a meal can turn into an emotional ordeal if I let my focus shift from the truth of God’s word). The Holy Spirit produced and answer that, after careful contemplation (asking the questions near the end of this post), I decided to implement. Dress differently. Novel concept, I know. For me, that meant wearing long, modest skirts instead of jeans, shorts, or pants.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Great, another ultra conservative nut-job who thinks it’s a sin to wear pants”. Actually, no, that is not the case. I don’t believe God is too concerned with what we are wearing, other than it needs to be modest (not causing a “brother” to stumble). Pants, shorts, whatever, I don’t really care what you wear, that’s between you and God. But for me, the long skirts are a personal conviction that has nothing to do with whether or not is a “sin” for a female to wear pants. So please, no comments about that. (And no, I am not forcing my daughter to wear skirts. I explained why I was chose to do so, and told her she could decide for herself what she wanted to do. My only requirement for her clothing is that it be modest.)

When it comes to making choices, from the clothing we wear, the food we eat, or the type of activities we engage in, we must recognize our freedom to choose while also understanding we do not have the freedom to choose the consequences of those choices.

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”—1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love…For I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”—Galatians 5:13, 16

In a nutshell, we all have free will. God gives us His word to protect us, but it is our choice whether or not to read it and follow it. For many years I chose to ignore it, and for the rest of my life I will have to experience the consequences of my “free will”. I can’t undo the consequences, some of which have deeply affected my family. Our consequences will affect others, either positively or negatively. These days I am erring on the side of caution. For some this may come across as being too “uptight”. But, I know that I am making these choices because of my freedom, not to obtain freedom or acceptance from God or others.

Will we use our freedom to choose to encourage others, help others, love others, and serve others, or will we use it to serve and please ourselves? Coming back to the example of clothing, by choosing to dress modestly, I am accomplishing a few things: first and foremost I am no longer dealing with the anxieties and temptations I dealt with wearing other types of clothing. I am more comfortable and more relaxed. As an added bonus, I am protecting others from “stumbling” by doing my best in covering what needs to be covered and leaving everything to the imagination (as opposed to leaving nothing to the imagination, as it seems the majority of women, even Christians, are doing these days). My body is for my husband, not for anyone else. But again, this is a personal conviction, not a “rule” for everyone to follow. I have peace knowing I am doing all that I can to protect myself from temptation and others as well. I am also setting a good example for my daughter, showing her that she is more than a pretty face or a good body; she should be noticed and appreciated for her character, not her appearance.

While this is just one example, the principles that led to this choice apply to any choice we can make. My dad used to tell me, “When in doubt, do without”. That little phrase has come in handy, especially now that I am committed to following God’s plan for my life. From major choices to seemingly insignificant ones, we can be assured of making the right choice if we:

1) Seek God’s word on the issue first and commit to following his Word (after all, He wants to protect us from the consequences of bad choices, which is why He gave us His word!)
2) Pray about what God would have us do (if this is not already made clear in his word)
3) Ask and answer honestly a few questions about the choice:

●Will it hurt me or anyone else?
●Is there any possibility this choice could be a “stumbling block” to someone else?
●Does this choice encourage me and those around me to think on what is good, lovely, pure, and acceptable (Phil. 4:8)?
●Do I have peace about this choice?
●Am I shining God’s light, love, and truth to the world through this choice?
●Am I making a choice I would want my child (or loved one) to make?

If you have any doubts about your decision, “do without”. In other words, say “no” and trust God has something better in mind for you. Pray for patience and wisdom to make the right choices, the ones that will reap consequences of joy, not sorrow.

 

 

**NOTE: This was not intended to be a post about modesty or clothing; that is simply a recent example from my life I chose to use as an illustration. Please do not feel the need to defend your choice of clothing to me. Truthfully, I don’t care what you choose to wear or do. It really is between you and God. My choice is a personal one, and that’s the extent of it. I am merely sharing my journey and experience as I stumble through life attempting to walk in grace the best I know how.**

 

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I will be continuing this series on choices in much greater detail, if you haven’t already, please enter your email under the “Follow” tab to receive new posts in your inbox. No spam! Just new posts, (usually two to four posts a month at most). If you found this website to be of encouragement to you, please share it with your friends!

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Parents in Recovery

Do As I Say, Not As I Do:

Parents in Recovery

By

Rebecca Aarup

     “Mommy, I’m fat.” At the innocent age of five, my daughter stepped off the bathroom scale, patted her belly and gazed at the floor in disappointment.

     She was serious.

     Oh my God, what have I done? A thousand emotions flooded my core in an instant.

Shock. Horror. Guilt. Regret. Shame.

It must have been only been milliseconds of real time, but it felt like several minutes. My thoughts morphed into a flashback of haunting memories.

     On my knees in the bathroom, staring at the toilet with vomit streaked across my face.

And how many memories did I have like this? How many times had I stepped on my bathroom scale after twenty minutes of purging and said, “Just two more pounds”?  It appeared as though my psyche could recount each event with striking clarity.

After years of teasing and insecurity, I had started my first diet at the age of fourteen, and by the time I was eighteen I was purging everything from carrots to crackers. Self-hatred had become my normal and I believed my inner torment was well-deserved, though I wouldn’t have wished it upon my worst enemy.  The scale was a constant companion through all of this; I lived and died by its every word.

     Only lost one pound today?

     No problem, I reasoned, I’ll use more laxatives.

And then I met him. The man of my dreams—well, the best dreams I could muster in an oppressive fog of self-abuse. He was aware of my problems, though, and he wanted to help me. I would let him try.

Over time both he and I believed I was getting better, and eventually we decided to start a life together. A family. After a few months of trying, we found out we were pregnant.

I wanted the best for the baby growing inside of me, I really did. I changed everything about my lifestyle. No more drinking, of course, and the smokes were in the trash in a heartbeat. But I knew something else was inevitable–weight gain. Well, maybe it was inevitable, but I would do my best to avoid it. I would carefully portion my meals, eat all the recommended fruits and vegetables, drink a ton of water, and exercise every day.

For nine months it seemed as if the self-abuse disappeared. I was magically cured by this thing called pregnancy. I had actually lost weight in my first trimester, which thrilled me to no end. But by the eighth month I was really popping like a birthday balloon. As the pants grew tighter and tighter around my hips, old feelings of insecurity began to surface.

Push! Push!

And then that blissful day arrived. Samantha Jean took her first breath and my capacity to love grew a thousand-fold. I had forgotten all about the shame of my past and could only focus on her beauty, her perfection—her innocence. In that moment I knew I had to do better for her. I had to do better for her than I had done for myself. The last thing I wanted was for her to turn out as I had—a broken and tormented woman.

     There she was, cooing and kicking.

Hunched over the toilet I was at it again. This time with my baby next to me on the bathroom floor, comfortably playing in her bouncy chair. She was so innocent, so unaware of what her mommy was doing. But she was still watching me. Those big blue eyes watching mommy with intent.

The irony of the moment wasn’t lost on me. I couldn’t bear to leave my baby alone in another room, so I had brought her into the bathroom with me. I wanted to protect her. Was I really accomplishing that, though?

     She doesn’t understand, I reasoned, she’s only four months old.

But something about that moment lingered. I had done so many awful things in my life, but this one seemed to top the charts. Purging in front of my child, what depths of depravity would this illness take me to?

     Countless shopping carts filled with organic produce.

I wanted to be a good mom, I wanted to do everything right. I decided I couldn’t practice bulimia without psychologically damaging my child, so I had to try something else. This time I would drag my husband and child into my misery. I spent hundreds of dollars on organic produce. I juiced, I ate sprouted grains and I gave up dairy and meat. Meanwhile, I charted every ounce of food my daughter consumed in the first two years of her life.

I had found my new obsession. I would teach Samantha proper eating habits. I would teach her how to enjoy exercise. I would carefully monitor every item she consumed to ensure she was getting the appropriate nutrition for optimal growth.

Through all of this the scale remained a close “friend”. But now this friend had a new purpose. Now it was helping me keep my daughter “healthy”. I would step on the scale alone, then again as I held her in my arms. She was a chunky baby like most, and I wanted to keep an eye on it. I could not allow her to live the same life I had. I wanted to protect her from the teasing and torment of being an overweight child. I wanted so much better for her.

Occasionally my husband would notice my obsessiveness over Samantha’s eating habits and weight. He would lovingly point it out and I would naturally get defensive.  No, I was just doing what was best, I was being a good parent; I had convinced myself like the proudest addict in denial.

In the end I was guilty of leading by example, though silently, and teaching my daughter what I had feared most. Through my actions I taught her the same message delivered to me my whole life—outward appearance matters most.

“No! You are not fat!” Back in the present moment, I shook off the feelings of remorse to grab hold of my precious little girl. As much as I thought I had controlled what she saw and heard it was my insecurities that had spoken louder. Every time I told her she was beautiful, she was loved, she was valued, she had a purpose, and everything about her was perfect, all she saw was her mommy’s attitude. I had never believed those things about myself, and therefore she was unable to accept it as a reality in her own life.

Every time I had refused to let her take my picture, every morning that I stepped on the scale, every new diet I tried and every time I cried when my pants no longer fit—that is what had taught my daughter. That is the example she learned from.

     Do as I say, not as I do.

Only it doesn’t work that way. Not in the life of a recovering bulimic, at least. I’m not perfect, I do fail, and I try my best yet come up short. But the one thing I learned that day in the bathroom as my five-year-old stepped off the scale: it’s never too late to try again. If God doesn’t give up on me, then I can’t give up on me either.

I looked her in the eyes, with tears of a changed heart flowing freely, “Samantha, you are beautiful. You are not fat. I love your little tummy, I love everything about you. And you know what? We’re not using that scale anymore.”

“But Mommy, we use the scale every day.”

     Ouch.

“I know, honey, but not anymore. We don’t need it.”

And so a new beginning was born.

In that moment I realized I was not a bad mom or a failure as a parent. All along I had done the best I could, and this situation was only a catalyst into becoming a better person. It was a chiseling tool further refining me into the woman God designed me to be.

My story is not the same as the next parent’s story. What works for them might not work for me. The best evidence of good parenting is not found in the lack of mistakes, but in the lessons learned from such errors. Being a good parent, I am learning, is more about forward progress.

I can’t change the past but I can allow God to change my future; not only my future, but the future of my child.

We are all parents in recovery, messing up and moving on and learning to adapt. No one has it all figured out. As the sun wakes up and a new day begins, I don’t just look at my daughter differently, I see myself in a new light. I have no choice but to allow God to change my thinking. My child’s emotional welfare depends on it. Because like it or not, she will do as I do.

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This article was originally written for an essay writing contest (which I obviously didn’t win) and I finally decided, after nine months of sitting in my computer, it needed to be shared. I hope it helps someone out there.

~Rebecca  

W.W.J.T.?

**Originally published in The Christian Online Magazine, June 2013**

W.W.J.T.

By Rebecca Aarup

W.W.J.D. was all the rage during my teens. Everyone had a wristband, t-shirt, keychain, or coffee mug with the abbreviation of the question, “What would Jesus do?” It was meant to inspire change, to cause us to question our actions and think about what Jesus would say or do in a situation. I suppose it was meant to motivate us towards positive behavior, but I’m not sure it was completely effective in that regard. After all, Proverbs 23:7 reminds us, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” And Jesus told us, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart (Matthew 15:18).” Gritting our teeth and committing to behavioral change will only get us so far.

According to Science Daily, only 20% of people who lose weight will keep it off. Which means the other 80% will fail. Why is that so? Because we’re asking the wrong question and addressing the wrong issue. We’re attempting to alter our behavior without altering our thinking. We think we need more will power or self-control, and maybe we do need those things, but that is only half of the equation.

We also need to ask the question, “why?” and discover the thinking or beliefs that lead to the behavior we want to change. For many years I struggled with an eating disorder; gaining freedom from such a sickness involved a lot more than taking a medication or “just stopping” the behavior. In order to correct the action, I needed to allow God to correct my heart and mind. Once I began to understand how God viewed me as His child, and what an “identity in Christ” meant, I was able to experience a lasting freedom from the bondage of bulimia. But the healing began in my mind before it could be evident in my behavior.

The same concept applies to any undesirable behavior, whether it’s over-eating, laziness, or procrastination. If we want to see a lasting behavioral change, we must first uncover the lies we believe about ourselves or our circumstances. If we struggle with over-eating or unhealthy eating, for example, we may want to ask what we believe about ourselves. Do we believe our body is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 619)? Do we believe God created us for a purpose, and that being healthy will help us fulfill that purpose (Ephesians 2:10)? Do we believe God cares about us—mind, body, and spirit (Psalm 139; 1 Peter 5:7)? Most of us would answer “yes” to these questions, but if that’s the case, we must also ask ourselves if our behavior reflects what we say we believe. If it does not, then we might have some heart-work to do.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).” Rather than asking, “What would Jesus do,” it’s time to ask, “What would Jesus think?” Instead of focusing on the behavior, we need to focus on the thinking. Right thinking will lead to right behavior.

So, what would Jesus think? He thinks we are valuable (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), we cannot be separated from His love (Romans 8:38-39), we are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), we can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13), he will never give up on us, no matter how many times we fail (Philippians 1:6), and He wants us to come to Him with all our concerns so He can direct our steps in His perfect will (Ephesians 3:12; Proverbs 3:5-6). And of course, He thinks many other wonderful things about us; we need only open His word to discover those precious thoughts as well as choosing to believe those things even when our feelings or circumstances tempt us to believe (and behave) something else.

The essence of being “transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2)” is finding out what Jesus thinks, and asking Him to align our thinking with His—in every area of our lives, even diet and exercise. It’s a prayer we can be certain Jesus is waiting to hear and answer.

© Rebecca Aarup

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profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is a redeemed prodigal, set free from over a decade of mental illness, eating disorders, addiction, and more. She now enjoys sharing her story of freedom and transformation with a lost and hurting world, as well as teaching about spiritual warfare and the importance of understanding our identity in Christ.

Rebecca is also an author and freelance writer, having written devotionals and teaching articles for a variety of publications including The Secret Place (Judson press), Evangel (Light and Life Communications), and Mustard Seed Ministries. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Az with her husband Chris and daughter, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by following her on twitter and facebook.

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