Careful, that Fence Could Give You a Massive Wedgie: CHOICES {Part 2}

Surely God understood my plight, after all, He knew my heart, He knew our financial situation, He knew we wanted to get married—eventually, so did it really matter that we were living and sleeping together at this point? I mean, we’d been sleeping in the same bed for a couple of years by this time, we even had a child together, it’s not like we had much to “save” ourselves for.

 
It was quite the dilemma. I had recently “come back” to God, after nearly a decade of “debauchery” and rebellion. Our situation wasn’t the greatest, either; we had a new baby, debt out of our eyeballs (tens of thousands of which I hauled along from my first marriage), we lived in a roach-infested apartment, had to spend oodles of money on special formula for our daughter who had digestive issues…it wasn’t the most “fun” we’d had in our relationship.

 
Many times I prayed—begged—God to help us. I was sorry, so sorry for the mess I had made of my life. Please, God, please help us, I want to do what’s right. But rather than answer that request, God began to convict me. He started with the “big” things and immediately my dedication to obedience was tested. I wrestled with the issue for a little while, even calling my dad (who had been a Pastor) to ask his advice, I remember reasoning with him, “We’ve had sex so many times, I mean, we have a kid together! God knows my heart, He knows how I want to do the right thing, but we just don’t have the money for a wedding. What would you tell someone in this situation, if you were counseling them?” He sympathized with me, but still told it like it was. The Bible was clear about sex outside of marriage. It was simply not acceptable, and God would not bless me with peace, and other spiritual blessings, until I was obedient.

 
Keep in mind, at the time I chose to come back to God (or rather, develop a new relationship with Him), my husband was not what you’d consider a man of faith, nor did he care to be. So, you can see how tricky this situation was. But I knew what needed to happen. I informed him that I would have to sleep in a separate room, and we could no longer have sex until we were married. As you can well imagine, the response wasn’t super great.

 
Ultimately, my husband (still “fiancé” at the time) respected my faith and that I wanted to change, so he complied without too much of a fight. Of course, it wasn’t long before we found a way to get married. Six days after our daughters first birthday, a deacon from the tiny Baptist church next to our apartment married us and signed our marriage license, with the mandatory two witnesses in our presence (thanks Mom). The peace I felt once we were officially married can’t be described. It’s the kind of peace you experience when you know you’re walking in God’s will. It was a difficult choice to make, and I had plenty of good reasons (excuses) as to why I shouldn’t obey what I knew was right, but in the end, the desire to walk with God and be at peace won over my physical desires.

 
I can’t emphasize enough just how difficult it is to make the right choice, to follow God’s word, to be “sold out”, recklessly abandoned to Him and His will—it’s not an easy path. The above example is only one of many difficult things God required of me in order to walk in His will. After all, He was taking me from the “world” and re-shaping my thought life one thing at a time, which of course, systematically changed my behavior. This brought about new challenges, especially within my marriage. We were “unequally yoked” now, and our worldviews were significantly different. Each choice I made was not only about my desire to obey God’s word, but also my desire to show my husband that the change in my heart was real, not a “phase” that would pass like so many others (I had previously tried out a Jehovah’s Witness church as well as Wiccan practices…I was searching for something to fill a void only God could fill!). I wanted to live the kind of life and have the type of attitude that was attractive to my husband. It didn’t happen overnight, it took many years of trial and error—but mostly prayer for God to continue to change me (not my husband).

 
In this entire journey, one thing was not an option for me—fence-sitting. I had seen plenty of that growing up, Christians who behaved one way on Sunday but lived an entirely different life Monday through Saturday. I never understood it. Many of these people were quick to judge the lives and choices of others, while failing to see their own issues for what they were. They believed themselves to be “sold out” God-fearing Christians when, in fact, they were nothing more than Pharisees.

 
On the other hand were the “worldly” Christians. They were the ones that looked, talked, and acted like everyone else. There was no noticeable difference in them, other than the fact that they went to church. They could say all the right words, teach Sunday School, quote the verses, and dress the part, but on a day to day basis, God was nowhere to be found. One foot in the world, the other in the church. That was not the Christianity I was “returning” to. So repeatedly I found myself praying in earnest that God would teach me how to love Him with my whole heart.

 
It was during this time God led me to Psalm 119, and I began writing my thoughts (which eventually turned into a short published  Bible study). I wanted the words of that Psalm to be true in my life, so I dedicated over a year to studying it, which served to completely change my heart in ways I never thought possible. Still though, God is not “done” with me. Every time I ask him to cleanse my heart or show me where I need “work” He reveals more. I am thankful He doesn’t show me all the crud in my heart at once, but gently works on me one small step at a time. Some days I choose to follow, and some days I sit on the fence. Sometimes I’m on the fence so long, the painful realty of the spiritual wedgie drives me to one side or the other. Ultimately I just can’t go the other way again because it led to nothing but heartache and pain, and a complete lack of peace and purpose. So, I fall back over the side of Truth and dust myself off and try again.

 
I’m convinced that this “fence-sitting” is an epidemic in the Church today, that and the judgmental segment of Pharisees that are certain everyone except for them are going to hell. Both extremes are equally damaging and have only helped the church look like more of a joke than anything. We need to choose this day who we will serve, but for goodness’ sake, stick with whatever we choice we make instead of oscillating back and forth. Either we’re for God or against Him; either we’re willing to follow Him at all cost, or we need to jump back over to the other side of the fence and abandon our faith, ’cause this fence-sitting crap has got to stop.

 
One of my husband’s chief complaints about Christians (and why he didn’t want to go to church) was how much they “judge” everyone while failing to see their own faults. Or, that they were quick to preach about “heaven” while living like the “devil”. We actually experienced people close to us falling into this category. They would go to church on Sunday and drink and party Friday nights. There was an enormous disconnect from what they said they believed to how they actually lived. These same people were extremely bitter towards God for the hardships He allowed in their lives. Yet, they were never willing to “forsake” the world and cling to Him 100%. This type of thing is killing Christianity, seriously, (our persistent fence-sitting could even be the very thing that keeps someone from coming to Christ!); regrettably, I have been guilty of both extremes.

 
I’m not saying that obedience to God automatically results in perfect circumstances and material blessings. Not at all. In fact, I think I showed with an example from my own life that making the right choice is often much more difficult and can even result in conflict or loss. But choosing the “hard” path of a life completely (like, actually 100%) is much more rewarding both here and after our lives have ended. We shouldn’t ride the fence and then whine about how God isn’t blessing us. He wants to bless us, but He will not reward our complacency and indifference to His word and will.

 
Has God been convicting you of a change? Have you been straddling the fence with a list of reasons why it’s ok to do so? Do you have children or loved ones watching you? (Of course you do, whether you realize it or not). The world is watching us, and we’re kind of sucking at the mission here, folks. Either we want to follow Him or we don’t. Often we’re like Lot’s wife, we turn back with longing, unable to give up something good, or even “fun” for something much greater—abundant life, freedom from bondage, true lasting peace, (and maybe even the opportunity for our lives to be the very thing that influences someone to choose eternal life through Jesus!).

 
I no longer want to contribute to this problem but I can’t make choices for anyone else other than myself. One day I hope my daughter will be able to say with conviction that her mother stood for something, and had a purpose—mainly to share the love of Christ with others through her life. That her mother not only said she believed something, but demonstrated that belief through her choices. That her mother wasn’t perfect, but admitted quickly when she was wrong and asked for forgiveness. That her mother was honest about her struggles, and didn’t take pleasure in pointing out the wrongness in everyone else, but rather chose to seek God’s change in her own life. That is what I hope my daughter will say about me some day. One thing I know I don’t want to hear, “My mom, she said she believed and she took me to church, but during the week, she wasn’t any different than anyone else. I don’t understand what good her faith really did.” Or perhaps even worse, “My mom was always talking about what was wrong with everyone. She couldn’t drive to the grocery store without complaining about all the awfulness in everyone else. Everyone was going to hell, according to her. She seemed to think she had it all together, but she was the only one who couldn’t see herself as she really was.” I can’t think of which scenario terrifies me more.

 
God, help me avoid both extremes and find balance within your grace. Let my life be something my daughter wants to emulate, not because she admires me, but because she wants to emulate You, who she sees in me.

 
Be careful how long you choose to sit on that fence, the wedgie gets worse the longer you let it go on, and the results are far more painful for both you and the ones you love most. Choose today who you will serve, and pray for the will to do it with all your heart, mind, and soul.

 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” (1 John 3:18-19, NIV)

“With my whole heart have I sought You; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! (Psalm 119:10, NKJV)

“Make me walk along the paths of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.” (Psalm 119:35, NLT)

 

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See also CHOICES PART 1: Freedom to Choose

 
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!

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!

Waiting For Redemption

 

Waiting for Redemption

I’m not particularly looking forward to sharing what I’m about to share with you. In fact, I’ve been fighting it for some time, which, as you may have noticed, is why I haven’t written anything in a couple of months. But the Holy Spirit keeps pressing so, reluctantly (yeah, I don’t always obey cheerfully, shocker!) I am sharing an extremely difficult journey in hopes that someone else out there will make better choices as a result of reading this, and perhaps, save themselves and their loved ones unnecessary pain, heartache, and grief.

 

 
About four years ago my life was completely different than it is today. I was abusing prescription pain killers; I was also taking other mind-altering prescriptions that left me, as my husband later shared, in a state of what he considered the “crazies”. I was emotionally all over the place but mostly in a deep dark depression that left me suicidal on many occasions.

 

 
At the same time, I was struggling with my faith. I had only “come back” to God two years earlier, and was fumbling through the logistics of how to cope with being in an “unequally yoked” marriage. I harbored a great deal of bitterness and resentment towards my husband as well. But, rather than communicate with him about my struggles, I chose to talk about my problems in somewhat of a venting manner, within the confines of a twelve step program (even in the twelve step program, I continued to abuse the drugs). I had no idea how to cope with the things in my life, not just the present situation but my past choices.

 

 
I vented to anyone and everyone except my husband and received varying degrees of advice. I had some Christians advise me to divorce and start over; after all, God would want me to be happy (that’s a load of crap, by the way). I had a lot of voices whispering in my ear, but the one voice I wasn’t hearing or even looking for was God’s. I didn’t pray about it, I talked to people about it. In turn, I followed human reasoning.

 

 
So, one day I made my decision. I told my husband what I was doing, and that it was my body, I didn’t give a damn about his opinion (what a great Christian influence I was!). I refused to pray about this decision because I knew God’s answer wouldn’t be the same as what the people in my life were giving me. I liked their advice, it suited my purposes better. So, in somewhat of a selfish fit of anger, I stormed off and willingly made my choice.

 

 
This decision was made based on emotions and current circumstances, without any regard for the fact that God is all-powerful, and maybe, just maybe, He could and would change the circumstances, my husband’s heart, or my own heart (which was in desperate need of an overhaul!). I didn’t take any of that into consideration though, and by making the decision I did, I deeply wounded my husband in a way that very well could have ended our marriage.

 

 
Over the next two years I got sober, and discovered what a real relationship with Christ is like (as opposed to the legalistic way I was accustomed to). My heart was changing, and in that change, God gave me a glimpse of what I had done through His eyes. I’ll never forget that moment driving home from church in tears. I felt like Jesus was in the passenger seat with me, it was a presence I had never felt so clearly before. I looked in the rearview mirror and there it was, in an instant, my decision laid before me in all its awfulness. I saw my husband’s hurt for the first time. I have no words to describe it other than sheer mortification over what I had done.

 

 
Over the next year my husband and I talked about what happened for the first time, trying to work through it. Then last year the unexplained medical problems kept coming in waves. We went through thousands in medical bills only to never get a straight answer or diagnosis. During that time, my husband made a decision of his own. He started coming to church and told me he “prayed and something happened”. He had a change of heart and it was more than just a prayer. His whole attitude and demeanor changed. We began communicating with each other in absolute honesty for the first time. Ten years of anger and resentment over all the unspoken “issues” was laid out. Several weeks went by where my husband and I cried with each other and dealt with these things one by one until healing could take place in each area.

 

 
What’s happened in our marriage, in my heart, and now my husband’s heart, is nothing short of a miracle. Many have prayed for him and I over the years, and now these prayers are being answered. To hear my husband say, “I want to be the spiritual leader of this family” is, well, it’s a dream come true! Four years ago, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe I would see him change or hear those words spoken in sincerity. I could only see what my immediate surroundings were dishing out, and what my emotions were screaming at me. It’s a dangerous thing to make life-altering decisions in times like those.

 

 
A couple of months ago I finally received an answer to the medical problems that had caused me and my family so much heartache and stress over the past year. It could all be traced back to that choice I made four years ago. Yes, it was all because of that choice, the choice I made.

 

 
And friends, I can’t tell you how that feels in words. I can’t articulate the pain, guilt, and shame from realizing you’ve caused your own pain in such a way. And not just for me, but for my family. The stress and financial burden, the doctors, the prayer requests, and it all came back to that one choice. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the words, “This is all your fault” hasn’t swept through my head a few million times over the past eight weeks.

 

 
So, where does that leave me now? I guess I am in a place of waiting. A place of mourning, a place of grief as I realize my child and husband have been irreparably damaged by a stupid choice I made four years ago. That our family is forever changed by it. That my day to day life is changed as I continue to suffer the physical symptoms that will not just magically go away.

 

 
During this time of grief and sorrow, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read how God redeems things, and I’ve tried to take hope in that. But honestly, hope wanes most days because in my humanness I can’t fathom how God could redeem this situation nor do I expect Him to. The sad fact is, some of our choices won’t get “redeemed”. Just because we repent does not mean everything is magically fixed with a God sized band-aide.

 

 
So, I’m here to ask you, to plead with you, please please don’t make choices, big or small, in the heat of emotion or in the depths of desperate circumstances. You may think things (or people’s hearts) will never change, but they can.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but just in the last several months I’ve talked to several women who are making terrible choices based on current circumstances. Oh, I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart. One day I know they will grieve those same choices and gnash their teeth in frustration over playing god in their life, instead of stepping aside and trusting and fully surrendering to His perfect plan.

 

 
So, there’s been a lot of crying and wondering if, when, or how God will fix this, understanding He owes me nothing but taking comfort in the fact that He knows my heart. And despite this I am so thankful for the radical change that has come over my marriage. Wow, it’s more than I can comprehend. God is healing our hurts little by little and drawing us closer together every day.
I know I haven’t been specific about what I “did”, but at this point it’s just too painful to talk about. I only share this because I know some of you are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances, wondering when God will show up and just “fix” stuff or make life easier for a second. While you’re in that time of waiting and wondering, tune out the noise of the people around you and tune in to the Holy Spirit. As hard is it may seem to do what He’s asking, He knows the future, and whatever He leads you in will be for your greatest good. The heartache and grief of choosing to walk in your own way or listen to the advice of people who are content to tell you only what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear will never be worth it.

 

 
As I continue to grieve this loss, I am holding on, if only by the tips of my fingers, that hope is out there somewhere, and God will someday turn this pile of ashes into something meaningful, even if it seems impossible as to how that would come about.

 

 
This post isn’t filled with Scriptures or Christianese, just a simple message from my heart to yours. Choices matter, in our lives and the lives of those we love most. Our choices will affect others. Seek God’s counsel above all else, trust Him, and for crying out loud, listen to Him! Don’t turn back, friends, don’t even look back. Press on, follow Him, and don’t force your will upon His. He’s God, He actually knows what He’s doing. He wants what’s best for you. What I am experiencing now is something God wanted to protect me from. The pain my husband is experiencing is something God wanted to protect him from. The questions and confusion and hurt this has caused my little daughter, is something God wanted to protect her from. . He knew the second I made that choice the ramifications, even though years would pass in the interim. How I wish I had trusted Him!

 

 
And if you’re currently where I’m at, grieving the losses of your choices and watching those around you hurt because of what you’ve done, take heart, Hope is there, it’s just hard to see through the fog of shame and remorse. Eventually the fog lifts. No matter what, don’t give up on your faith making a bad situation even worse. The best thing you can do for your family now is to surrender to Christ 100%, learn from this, and trust Him to bring something good out of it, as He promises to all who love Him and surrender to Him (Romans 8:28).

 

 
Plugging this story into my website is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, it’s embarrassing to some degree, and painful to open up to others in such a deep and personal way, but I am learning, albeit slowly, to trust God in all things, even in something as mundane as a blog post. So, with that being said, I would love to hear your stories of redemption and hope, if nothing more than to encourage me in my sorrow (yes, it’s true, I don’t always have it all together!). Please share your experiences in the comments or email me @ RebeccaAarup@mail.com

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

 

            Admittedly, I’m an Olympic nerd. I love the drama, the personal stories, the action and intensity of the individual events, and of course, I love rooting for my home country. Normally I tune in to my favorite events, usually whatever is shown on the major networks in prime-time. But this year was different. So far my 2014 has been wrought with more physical nightmares than 2013 delivered. Both my daughter and I contracted a rarer type of flu, one that sent us both to the hospital, one that had us sick for two weeks, and one that eventually gave me pneumonia (which I still have). So, aptly timed, the Olympics aired while I was on bed rest; quite convenient! Having the opportunity to watch not only my favorite events, but all of the events (yes, I even watched Curling!) afforded some great learning opportunities.

 

Shut Up and Own It

           

            After an abysmal performance in Speed Skating, an athlete provided an explanation in an on-camera interview, “I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t me!” Um, ok bud, thank you for clearing up the confusion, because I’m pretty sure I just saw you put up a not-so-stellar time, in more than one race. But it’s ok, it’s not you. It’s the ice, the elevation, or the whacky design on your evidently not so aerodynamic skating suit. But it’s not you. Even worse, this was an American athlete. Not a proud USA moment for me but a clear reflection of how most of society thinks—blame someone else and avoid personal ownership, no matter how ignorant.

            But as much as I want to get down on the guy, I have to admit, I do the same thing. I get defensive about my performance as a Christian, as a wife, or as a mother and I make excuses for my behavior. It’s just easier to heap the blame on someone or something else than it is to own my mistakes, short-comings, or outright blatant meltdowns of maturity. Seeing that interview was like seeing my own reflection. I wanted to judge the guy, but I saw his excuses within my own heart. Maybe there are reasons, circumstances, or outside influences affecting my behavior, but in the end, what I say and do is my own choice. How I perform (behave) is my choice, how I respond to adversity is my choice, how I react to conflict is my choice. It boils down to an attitude and response that either attracts or repels others. Squashing pride, owning our choices, and humbly admitting our faults will attract the right attention (and people) in our lives. Making excuses, blaming everything and everyone, and refusing to take personal responsibility will only serve to show our immaturity and pride, while simultaneously poisoning the relationships in our lives. So, let’s all do each other a favor the next time our attitudes and behavior fall short; let’s shut up and own it, and move on.

Keep a Golden Perspective

 

            Dozens of athletes compete in each Olympic event, but only three walk away with hardware around their necks. Over the last two weeks of competition I’ve seen every range of reaction to a given outcome. Some athletes were overjoyed beyond comprehension just to get on that Olympic podium, they didn’t care what color they got, while others had no trouble hiding their disdain over the color of the medal around their necks (think USA women’s hockey medal ceremony—you would have thought that silver medal was battery acid). By far the attitudes of gratitude spoke volumes more to me than the whiny, it’s-not-good-enough looks of resentment. But again, I find myself looking in the mirror, seeing the reflection of my own heart.

            Truth is (I know, it’ll come as a shock, because we all know I’m perfect…) more often than not I have a spiritual attitude of ingratitude. I compare my circumstances (i.e. what medal I’ve received) and gripe about what the other guy got that I deserved. I studied hard, obeyed a lot, and tithed my paycheck, so why didn’t I get God’s golden favor of physical health and material wealth? But alas, in the real world it simply doesn’t work that way. Christianity is not a vending machine religion, where you dial up a result, put in your coins, and know what you’re going to get. You can do everything “right” and still end up as a widow, a grieving parent, or permanently physically handicapped. Our obedience to God, our choice to follow Him and choose to live from Truth guarantees us nothing (as far as circumstances goes) while we’re walking around on this earth (but it does guarantee a whole heck of a lot in eternity!). No, in this world we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have peace at the same time. That’s the promise of a golden perspective. When we keep our eyes focused on Truth we live and breathe the peace that passes all understanding. That other guy can get the gold medal, we’re fine with the bronze, because we know we’ve been promised much more in a time not too far from now. It’s easy to say but hard to practice, yet maintaining a golden perspective is what will determine how we react to the success of others (as well as our own failures).

 

Well, What Do You Expect?

 

            Don’t even get me started on this issue of unmet expectations. Well I guess I got myself started. Anyways, I could easily be the poster child for this problem, but watching the Olympics reassured me that I’m not alone in the fight. As I listened to the announcers talk about the athletes I was left with an expectation of who was going to come away with the shut-out victory. I mean, the way some of these athletes were discussed, you would have thought everyone else should have just forfeited and handed them the medal. But then the competition would begin and whatever the announcers just said seemed, well, foolish. In some ways, it was humorous as the announcers would be just as shocked as everyone watching. But hey, the unpredictability of the games is part of the excitement. On one hand you’ve got an athlete who can scarce believe their own performance and the gold medal they’ve unexpectedly received, and on the other hand you’ve got a gold medal “favorite” sitting in 4th, 5th, or even 30th place, wallowing in disappointment and “what-ifs”.

            If there’s one thing nearly every conversation about disappointment and despair (“I want to quit!”) has in common, it’s the issue of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations. Someone didn’t respond to us the way we thought they would (or should), the person we thought was our best friend turned out not to be a friend at all, our financial security was blown out of the water with an unexpected job loss, the happily ever after was cut short by a death…on and on we could go. Like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves and others, and when those expectations aren’t met we get grumpy. There’s a little phrase I learned as a kid, “Give all your expectations to God.” I wish I had paid more attention to it, because it could have saved me a lot of depression, despair, hopelessness, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, and lost relationships. Sometimes people won’t treat us the way they should, sometimes we won’t treat others the way we should—it happens. One way to avoid the trap of despair (and self-loathing and self-pity and living life as a victim) is to literally release all our expectations to God. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Stanley, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”

We have control only of ourselves, our own choices, and our integrity (that is, whether or not we have integrity). So then, the only thing we can reasonably expect is the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it will be easy, or we should stuff our feelings down when things don’t go as planned, it just means we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Whenever we’re struck with feelings of resentment, hurt, despair, feeling like the world is out to get us, etc. it can likely be traced back to an unmet expectation. Like tracing our steps as we search for our lost car keys, we need to trace the pain back to its source and then give that “source” to God. We can try to manipulate others or our circumstances to fit our expectations, but we will never have peace until we relinquish the idea that we have control over anything other than our own free will.

 

Closing Ceremonies

 

            I actually had a longer list than this but I’m tired of typing and you’re probably falling asleep reading. So I’ll end it here. I hope the next time the Olympics rolls around you’ll watch and look for the lessons, because there are many to be found. So, this is Bob Costas bidding you a good night from Sochi…

Alright, it’s just Rebecca, and I bid you a “thanks” for reading, as well as inviting you to share what lessons you may have learned as you watched (or read about) the 2014 Winter Olympics.

When the Past Collides with the Present and Little Hearts are Broken

 

I was at my wits end. Throughout the day I had told my child to do one thing or another, and over and over again she flat—out—refused! Now, my daughter is typically described (by teachers and babysitters) as a well-behaved, well mannered, obedient child. And normally I would agree. Disrespect, lying, and especially disobedience are not tolerated in this household. Having an only child and not being able to have more, it’s sometimes difficult to be consistent with discipline, but overall my husband and I agree about most things in that area and stick with our bottom lines.

And now I had come to that moment of extreme frustration. Baffled by my child’s blatant disobedience I knew she needed a punishment that would get her attention to the seriousness of the situation. “There will be NO Easter basket tomorrow,” I told her, “And NO restaurant.” The only thing Samantha had wanted for Easter was to visit her favorite restaurant and of course, get an Easter basket like nearly every other young child on the planet. But it wasn’t happening this year. With only hours to go until Easter, I phoned my husband, who was still working out of town, and relayed the message. He was disappointed because, like me, he enjoys giving things to our daughter. But he agreed with me (and despite our “faith” differences, one thing we agreed on from the beginning was to raise a calm, well-behaved, obedient, and respectful child because they are quite hard to find these days).

In an instant, as the sentence was laid down, my little girl’s heart broke. She cried for several hours repeatedly recounting her sorrow for her disobedience. With her sorrow came the request, “Can I get an Easter basket now? And go to the restaurant tomorrow?” And each time my reply was, “No.” And I would be met with a fresh wave of tears.

In that moment, holding my daughter’s sobbing body in my arms, I knew it was time. It was time to tell her what Mommy had done so very long ago. It was time to tell her, though she was still young, how serious sin is and why sometimes the consequences of our choices are not removed.

“You know, Samantha, when I was young I made a very bad choice. I not only disobeyed my parents, but even worse, I disobeyed God. My sin was very serious.”

“What did you do, Mommy?” Her eyes were wide with curiosity. She was realizing her Mommy wasn’t perfect after all.

“Well, I can’t tell you what I did just yet. It was very bad. Maybe when you’re older I will tell you exactly what happened. But for now, all you need to know is that I disobeyed God’s commands as well as the instruction of my parents. I wanted my own way, but what I got instead was a very serious consequence.”

(And, after a few moments of explaining what a “consequence” was, our conversation continued.)

“So, after your Mommy sinned, I received a bad consequence for my choice. I became sick with a disease, something that will never go away.”

Samantha began to cry again, “Are you going to die?!”

“No, no, no. I’m not that sick. It’s just something that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and it causes me a great deal of pain at times. Even though I told God how sorry I was, and even though I asked Him to take away the sickness, He chose not to remove it. Now the sickness reminds me of how important it is to follow God’s word and how God gives me ‘rules’ in order to protect me. ‘Rules’ like obeying my parents even when I don’t like what they’re telling me to do.”

“Ohhh…” She nodded in understanding.

“So, tomorrow, you will not get an Easter basket and we will not go to the restaurant. I know you’re sorry and God knows you’re sorry. I forgive you and God has forgiven you. But that doesn’t take away the consequence of your choice to disobey. Sometimes God doesn’t take away the consequences. And you know what? If I didn’t discipline you for your disobedience, then I would be disobeying God’s instructions. And I will not do that. So, unfortunately, we will not be doing the things you want to do tomorrow.”

We proceeded to discuss examples of people in the Bible who sinned, and whose consequence was not taken away (Adam and Eve, Lot’s wife…etc.). But we didn’t stop there, we also discussed the concept of mercy, and how when Jesus died for us, He showed us mercy in not giving us what we deserved. So now, because we believe in Him, we get to live with Him forever, even though we don’t deserve it. Sometimes we get mercy, and sometimes we need to experience the consequences of our choices to help us remember to listen to God.

We also talked about how our sin not only affects us, but others as well. Her daddy and I were both disappointed that we couldn’t give her the things we wanted. Not only does sin hurt us, it hurts others.

It was a great opportunity not only for Samantha, but for me as her parent. I admit, I was struggling with the idea of not getting her something for Easter, because I knew she would likely be met with a class full of children in Sunday School excitedly talking about all the neat things they received. I didn’t want her to feel left out. But I knew this life lesson was far more important than a few pieces of candy and some plastic eggs.

And you know what? Easter came, and she and I went to church with joy. In Sunday School she received a pencil and a single plastic egg filled with candy. She was so ecstatic at this gift! She practically skipped to the car as we left the church exclaiming, “God showed me mercy and I got something for Easter!”

As a Jesus-loving parent, I cannot tell you how much those words warmed my heart. It wasn’t easy to stick to my guns, as a parent, and enforce this punishment. After all, Easter only comes once a year. But in the end, God was faithful as I was faithful to obey Him (in disciplining my child and actually enforcing it). We both learned that obeying God is better. For her, she realized that the consequence is so not worth the temporary choice to have her own way (and now she’d have to wait another whole year to receive an Easter basket!). And for me, I learned that good discipline goes beyond making sure my child “fits in” or gets what all the other kids are getting. What’s more important than her measuring up to other kids is that she knows Jesus, loves Him, worships Him, and obeys Him even when it goes against what everyone else is doing. These are the life-lessons that will benefit her for an eternity, and that she will remember for years to come. Compared to a candy-filled plastic egg, that’s a pretty nice reward, wouldn’t you say?

I hope you all had a blessed Easter (Resurrection Sunday). In the Aarup household, it was the best we have ever shared together.

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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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Unconventional

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

I walked toward my garden as a flock of birds shot into the sky. I hurried to find out what they were doing and my heart sank as I saw my new cantaloupe plants ravaged by sharp beaks.

My first reaction was to go to the store and buy fencing wire or screens to protect the plants. Only problem was my husband was out of town for a week and my daughter was very sick, so leaving was out of the question. On the other hand, if I allowed the plants to go unprotected-even one more day-they would certainly die. I stood in the hot sun gazing around my yard trying to work out a solution.

Finally, my eyes rested on the collapsible wire dog crate on the porch. I got to work breaking the cage down and hauling it to my garden. It was only big enough to cover the cantaloupe so I used some other yard items, plus an old baby gate, to surround the rest of the melon plants.

The next day the vines had already begun growing new leaves. I didn’t have to buy anything (yet) and I successfully protected the young plants, though my method was certainly unconventional. Because I invested so much time and money cultivating my garden, I was highly motivated to do whatever it took to protect it.

My spiritual garden is far more important than my physical garden, and I must do whatever is necessary to protect it from harm. Often that means using unconventional methods scoffed at by the world (and sometimes other Christians). Maybe I won’t eat certain foods, watch certain movies, read certain books, or spend money on certain items. Following an unconventional Jesus means making unconventional choices.

“Don’t copy the customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how His ways will really satisfy you.” Romans 12:2 (TLB) (emphasis mine)

Breaking Up is Hard to Do…

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:9-10

Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit I recently made several dramatic changes to my lifestyle (1 Cor. 6:12-13, 19-20). I’ve found, through the implementation of these new habits, many “bad” habits came to light I was unaware of. As I mediated on such things I discovered three sources of influence over my choices:

#1-Parents

Some of the things I’ve done my whole life are a direct result of how I was raised (this is not a ding against my parents but merely a fact-see Proverbs 22:6). It’s extremely difficult to replace habits practiced for more than twenty years-but it can be done. The Holy Spirit has strengthened and enabled me to follow His will for my life today. (Phil. 4:13)

#2-Media

If I spend too much time reading/viewing secular media, I find it tempting to become overwhelmed with a wide variety of opinions (Rom. 12:1-2).  One week something is bad for you and the next week that same thing is good for you. If I choose to believe everything I read without seeking the will of God through His word and prayer, I will be on a constant roller-coaster of frustration.

#3-Christians

Many well-meaning Christians have a variety of opinions based on their interpretation of Scripture and their own experiences in life (often relating to how they were raised-something we all do). More often than not, I have experienced a great deal of criticism within Christianity regarding lifestyle choices, especially anything that contradicts what someone else is doing. Everyone has an opinion, interpretation, and a judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5) The only way I can really know what is best for me is to spend time in the word and prayer. (Phil. 4:6-7)

This isn’t the first time I’ve received negative feedback regarding a personal choice, but I do believe I am following God’s will for my life (recognizing this is not His specific calling for every believer). I’ve done research and made, what I believe to be, an informed decision based on that research and my relationship with God. I am the one who will answer for my choices; it is imperative I do whatever it takes to maintain a clear conscience before God. (James 4:17)

I’m now questioning every choice I make under this light: is it God’s word and Spirit guiding me or the habits and opinions of others?