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Archive for the tag “Bible”

Dark Night of the Soul Part 2: My Journey to Physical Fitness

Tomorrow is a year since I embarked on my physical fitness journey. Since August 24, 2016, I have lost 65 pounds, gone from a size 16/18 to a size 4/6. I have a resting heart rate of 57. I am off blood pressure medicine and a whole host of other health benefits. I can run nine miles without stopping. I am actually training for a half-marathon that I will be running in the fall. I did it by completely changing the way I eat. I have cut out all processed sugar and grains. My doctor is the one who suggested this way of living to me. Sounds harder than it really is. I have never felt nor looked as healthy as I do now. I wrote about my struggle with losing weight and the “why” in a previous blog.

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August 24, 2016, through August 24, 2017

 

Yet these past couple of weeks have been the hardest of the whole journey. I don’t know why…scratch that….yes, yes, I do. God has gotten to the very heart of my stuff. And it has been painful. I have had the choice of facing it or ignoring it. There have been numerous times, especially these past few weeks, that I have wanted to ignore my stuff, put hands over my ears, tightly shut my eyes, and pretend everything was okay. l recently blogged about this difficult part of my journey in the Dark Night of the Soul.

I am daily amazed at the response I have received from that blog. It is my most viewed blog ever, times 600. My dark night of the soul resonated with so many people. The texts, e-mails, phone calls, and messages have been overwhelming and humbling. When I wrote it, I was simply processing where I was. But my honesty gave others permission to be honest. And that is where healing begins, in the acknowledgment of who we are and where we are.  I knew that as the responses poured in, that I would need to do a follow-up blog. I have gone back and re-read it numerous times, trying to understand the impact. This is the follow-up. It is not coincidental that it coincides with the anniversary of taking control of my physical health. This decision to becoming physically fit was birthed spiritually.

I wish I could say that I have come through the night…I am still walking through it but I am beginning to hear the birds chirp and know that dawn will soon be here.

But back to my choice on whether to face it or ignore it.

Deep down, I know I won’t ignore or pretend. Not this time. I can’t go around this mountain one more time. I can’t. I won’t.

I will not accept this as normal. I will not coast through the rest of my life saying, “Well this is how it has always been and will always be.” When you stop growing and transforming, you start dying.

I want to be the best version of me I can be.

I want to fulfill all the good works God has for me (Ephesians 2:10).

I want my life to express the wonderful grace of God (Acts 20:22)

The only way to overcome in a HEALTHY way, in a way that promotes healthy growth, is to face it. As painful as it is.

It is so important to me that the way that I LIVE first and foremost demonstrates the wonderful grace of God. I am not striving for perfection or to please people but I genuinely want to live the abundant life Jesus offers and wring out every purpose and plan He has for me. I want to do it authentically. Who I am on the inside needs to match the person everyone sees. That is called integrated living. Integrity is living out your beliefs. And I want my life to be an invitation to others to see how good God really is.

Last Monday night, I was hosting a family night. I started family nights a few years back. Normally we get together on a Sunday night and eat and play cards and celebrate birthdays. I always get an ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen and get sparkling grape juice. Everyone gets a glass and we have to say why we are glad the person we are celebrating was born. My family moans and groans about it but I know they secretly love it. Why wait until someone is dead to let them know why they are important to you? Once everyone is done, we lift our glasses and toast to them. I say something to the effect, “May this year be their best yet, full of love, happiness, joy and God’s blessings”. This particular one, we were celebrating my sister’s 50th and my goddaughter’s 28th. Sidenote: The best family night we ever had was last August when my god-daughter and husband used the toast and cake to announce they were expecting their first baby. So this year, having baby Luke with us, was absolutely perfect!!!

 

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Baby Luke with his parents!

And the family that comes is not all blood family. It says in the Bible that God puts the lonely in families. I love the family God has created for me over the years. (And how many boyfriends have my nieces brought to family night? 😉 That’s how you know it may be serious. Once, one of my nieces brought a boyfriend and they broke up not long after family night. We are loud, obnoxious and a little overwhelming and we all hate to lose. It has been known to happen that when someone wins, they run up and down my street barefoot in the middle of winter…not mentioning any names Mckinley. 🙂

 

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Family Night Pic

 

 

During family night on Monday, I commented on how my house is a little tacky as I was plugging in my palm tree. 😉 My house is decorated with flip-flops, palm trees, and pink flamingos on the outside as well as the inside. My niece, McKinley, said “Your house is perfect. The inside looks exactly like you would expect it to look based on the outside.” I don’t know if she was saying I was tacky or what 😉 …but God really used that comment to drive a point home.  That comment demonstrates authentic living to me…the inside of my life, my inner life matching the outside.

 

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My beautiful niece, McKinley and me.

 

 

So striving to be the authentic person I long to be, here are some things I have learned about myself in this year-long journey towards physical fitness:

  1. I can do anything I set my mind to do. I am stronger and way more powerful than I ever thought I was.
  2. Eating healthy is expensive. I have had to completely re-adjust my budget. Real food should not be more expensive than processed food. Poor nutrition and obesity will continue to be higher among poverty-stricken populations. This should not be.
  3. I don’t need Ben and Jerry’s or Romp’s or Reese Cups to deal with my emotions. I can now eat all those things without feeling guilty…I just choose not to do so as often.
  4. Counting calories gives food control over me. It makes me fixate on something that has bound me for years. I broke that. In this past year, I have not counted one single calorie or fat gram or carb. NOT ONE. And it is glorious.
  5. The worst reason to exercise is to lose weight. You exercise to strengthen your heart, build endurance, handle stress, etc. Once I really understood that exercise became my friend. I actually love going to the gym and running now (thanks, Vinnie – my NSNG guru).
  6. My self-esteem is not as strong as I thought it was. The insecure, 15-year-old teenager is still inside me. There’s some positive to that but a lot of negative as well.
  7. Jesus is not enough. (Shocking statement from a follower of Jesus but hear me out). Jesus never meant for us to live this life alone.I started experiencing true freedom when I found a tribe to confess my real thoughts, my real fears, my real struggles, my real sins, and my real wins.

    There are seasons we need to learn to trust God but isolation is never His intent. The world Jesus walked in – discipleship, growth, and life happened in community. When I went to Israel a few years back, I learned the importance of having a “haverim” which is a group of friends. In the Jewish world, it is a group you learned, studied, and lived life with. Our culture teaches that we mainly encounter God through solitary times of prayer and study. Jesus seems to imply in Scripture that His presence is most often felt in a community.

    I strongly believe that community is a spiritual discipline we neglect. We need friends.

    I read a book that having a “haverim” is like having a training partner. They help you train harder than you thought you could, go faster than you thought possible, and go further than you thought you could ever go. They also make it more fun.

    We need each other. (The night my last blog came out, I went to dinner with three friends and that night was so healing and cathartic to me…just as much as writing that blog was so thanks, Liz, Tonya, and Carey. And thanks to Cristi who has continually been real with me and allowed me to be real).

  1. Eating real food is actually enjoyable.
  2. I love clothes. I love shopping.
  3. The SAD (standard American diet) is killing us as a nation. White sugar will one day be identified as the nicotine of our generation. Our health care system is not collapsing from the Affordable Health Care Act but from the weight of our obesity.
  4. Though I am a size 4/6 now, I still see fat Heidi in the mirror.
  5. Being overweight was a protection for me. When I finally lost the weight and had more confidence and the boy still did not ask me out, I thought, “The problem must be me. There’s something inherently wrong with me. I am not enough. I will never be enough.” I completely spiraled out of control emotionally.  (How’s that for honesty?) And honestly, that is the crux of my issue. Dealing with my addiction to food stripped away my coping mechanism. It made me deal with the stuff. The painful stuff. Due to circumstances that happened when I was younger, I never felt like I was enough. I never felt like I mattered or was worth fighting for. And you know what? I really didn’t like the boy that much, I just wanted to be asked, to be validated. (Seriously, he dodged a bullet!) It reminded me of how crazy I could be and that there was still much in me that needs to die and be healed.
  6. I want to get married. Up until three years ago, I was happy and content being single. I don’t know what changed but something has. I have come to understand that it is not a sign of weakness to desire it. Marriage is a good thing (I have not always felt that way).
  7. I love Brussel sprouts. And hamburgers. And dark chocolate.
  8. There are other areas of my life that need to be addressed as I continue to follow Jesus (hear that financial fitness…we are coming after you next! 😉 )
  9. I love Jesus so much more than I did a year ago and am so grateful for His presence in my life. He has been there every step of the way, guiding and protecting me; especially from myself and my own self-destructive ways. In Him, I am truly finding who I am.

It is important to me that those who have followed this journey of mine, especially since that last blog, understand that as I have dealt with all this crap, I have never stopped living. I have never stopped loving and serving people. I have never blamed God. We so often want to take a time-out while we “re-group”. Life is too short to take a time-out. Serve God, serve people, live life with your limp. With your stuff. Healing comes along the way.

I am not through this darkness yet. I am still wrestling. But I am still going to Niger, Africa in November. I am still calling that homebound lady from our church that needs to know she is not forgotten. I am still helping plan a huge church/family celebration this weekend for our church. I am still praying for people and sending encouraging cards. I am still serving my community. I am still having family night.

I am still living. With tears streaming down my face sometimes. Limping. But I am still living. And following Jesus.

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Dark Night of the Soul

I know most of the time I come across as positive and that everything is always going well. After all my blog is named “Faith In Flip Flops”! What’s happier than summer and flip flops?  This is not Sunny and Happy Heidi. This is raw. This is real. This is me. I do not know if I will actually publish this or not on my blog. I am transparent but this is even deeply personal for me.

I was up all night crying. I rarely do that. I can count on one hand the times I have done that (the death of my mom, my dad, and my brother are three of them). I cry easily when it comes to things that move and inspire me, but not from pain and anguish. I hate the empty feeling that envelopes me when I am all cried out. So I avoid at all costs.

Last night was triggered by a discovery that is quite personal and not really important to the story. The trigger is just what re-awakened a part of me that has been lying dormant in me for years, the broken part – the part of me that is so full of pain, hurt, anguish, and anger that it makes it difficult to breathe. It is the part of me that drove me to party in high school before I encountered Jesus. It is the part of me that drives me to find comfort in food, spending, and every other self-sabotaging behavior that helps me keep the pain at bay…to keep it from crashing over me like a tsunami.

Last night was a dark night of my soul. It came so suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

All I want to do is withdraw from people and life and lick my wounds.

I have been on this journey to wholeness my whole life. And as God has peeled off layer after layer, He has brought me peace and comfort. But He has never brought me healing.

This past year has been a journey of overcoming self-destructive behavior, especially in regards to food and how I treat my body. The attacks have intensified this summer. Our church is currently in the midst of a month long season of prayer and fasting. My last time of an extended time of prayer and fasting (a complete food fast for 40 days back in 1999) led to one of the most difficult seasons of my life. I haven’t really fasted consistently since. I know what it brings to the surface. And it ain’t pretty.

I feel so broken and helpless. And crazy.

While showering this morning, I had a moment of clarity. This broken part of me cannot be healed. God can comfort and bring insight, but the pain, hurt, and anguish is real and has had a real impact on my life.

Sidenote: I come from a denomination whose theology believes in healing. I believe in healing. It is a gift of the Spirit. But the reality is no one gets out of here alive and no one gets through life unscathed. When God heals it is for His name sake and out of compassion. This me-centered Gospel Western Christianity has embraced is frustrating and does not work in most parts of the world.

Back to the shower…the realization that this part of me cannot be undone, or healed, or erased. It has to be faced. I thought of Jacob from the Bible who wrestled with God. I read the story again this morning.

Jacob’s name means deceiver. He was a deceiver. His whole life he had consistently made poor choices and done some shady things. He betrayed his twin brother Esau. The story finds Jacob having to face his brother in the morning. This is the first time in years encountering him since he betrayed and screwed Esau over (with the help of his mother).

Jacob truly thought his brother could kill him the next day and rightfully so. He sent everyone and everything else ahead and he stayed in camp by himself for the night. And wrestled with God. All night long. Jacob would not give up.  When God saw this (Jacob’s tenacity) and that He could not win (God couldn’t win? What an amazing thought)…He gave up. Scripture says God had to say to Jacob, “Let me go”. Jacob insisted on a blessing before letting God go. Before God blessed him, He asked Jacob “What is your name”. Jacob had to say “Jacob”. Basically, Jacob stood before God, dripping sweat, bloody, hip hurt, scared, and tired and he confessed, “I am a deceiver”. He didn’t hide it from God. He was honest and raw. God changes his name from Jacob to Israel, from deceiver to one who fought with God and man and won. How do you beat God?

But God also marked him. He touched his hip. Jacob had a limp from that day forward. So he would remember. The pain was a reminder that the deceiving part of him died that night…that dark night of his soul.

Everyone knew Jacob’s deceptive ways.

Jacob could have blamed the way he grew up. He grew up in a dysfunctional home. His dad favored his brother, Esau, because he was a hunter and a manly man. His mom favored Jacob and pitted the two against each other. But he didn’t play the blame game. He was a deceiver because he chose to be. And God brought Jacob to the end of himself so he could rename him.

I will always walk with a bit of a limp – with pain and anguish that sometimes gushes out. But I take responsibility for the wrong ways in which I have tried to cover and appease the pain. The sinful ways. The ways that have left me empty and hurt and even more broken.

God has always been in the business of changing names. He changed

  •             Abram to Abraham
  •             Jacob to Israel
  •             Saul to Paul
  •             Simon to Peter (John 1:42)

All had broken, less than stellar pasts.

What would God change my name to? Am I ready to have my name changed?

I don’t know where I go from here but I am completely undone. The pain and hurt still come crashing over me in waves. I have to trust as every wave that is crashing over me, it is cleansing and taking the parts out of me that need to go. Following Jesus isn’t easy, safe, pretty, or graceful.

 

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The waves crashing over the break wall at the mouth of the Vermilion River. Depicts how the waves of pain and anguish feel.

It is actually, at times, heart-wrenching, hard as a hell, and ugly. My ugly cry last night was not for weak of heart. My puffy eyes this morning are not attractive. Nor is my mood.

But it is worth it. I want the tenacity of Jacob or as my friend, Cristi texted me today, I want to be fierce, strong, and brave. I want to wrestle with God and win. Pain will mark that journey. No way around it.

I want to be like Peter and come to the conclusion he did, “Where else would I go? Jesus, you alone have the words of life?”

I may not know where to go but I do know the starting place even as frustrated, angry, and hurt as I am and that is to the foot of the Cross. I take my hurt, my broken pieces, and thoughts there. I find it ironic that I am leading our congregation in communion this Sunday morning.

I feel so ugly and insecure and trying to hide all of that at the same time as trying to fix it myself leads to self-destructive behavior. I want to be free. I want to be enough. I want to be valued. I want to be fought for. (How’s that for real?).

God has brought me full circle. It is 20 years since I graduated from College and went into ministry. For the most part, I have enjoyed every moment. It has been hard and messy but amazing and fruitful at the same time. I would choose it over and over again though it has cost me a lot.

Eighteen years ago, after a dark season, instead of admitting I was broken and wounded, I indulged in self-destructive behavior. I don’t want to do that again.

I have spent most of the day in the sanctuary of our church, setting up for Sunday, preparing for communion, and writing. I am reminded how much I need a tribe of people around me. I am thankful for Pastor Jim and my friend Cristi who have allowed me to be incredibly raw and real. I haven’t been fired yet. And especially Cristi, who gets my inappropriate way of talking about things. I am an open person but in my life, I have never experienced a friendship in which I can confess my sins, fears, and insecurities and not feel judged. Or have it used against me. That is what James was talking about in Scripture when he admonished us to confess our sins one to another so we can be healed. I am also thankful for another unexpected friend that has helped me through this season in ways in which they have no idea. Their impact has been immeasurable. I hope I can someday repay the favor.

Texting Pastor Jim I eventually said this, “God is good but He is definitely not safe”.  (From a quote from my favorite book by C.S. Lewis). He responded “No He is not safe and we are not either. I wore a T-shirt yesterday that said “Pursue peace – Prepare for war” words to live by”. He went on to say, “You are that kind of dangerous also. Don’t be surprised or over reflective of your weakness. Rely on your strength…it is what makes you dangerous”

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I now understand why King David wrote so many Psalms. He wrote himself off the ledge. I write myself off the ledge. Even in the midst of this, God is good and He is worth it all. And I am grateful He allowed waterproof mascara and foundation to be invented.

It Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive

I love the beginning of a new year. I love reflecting on all God did in the previous year and look forward to all the challenges and adventures that await in the coming year. My birthday is January 10th so it seems like everything is new at the beginning of the year. I love it. It truly is a new page. Every year, I pray to God for a Scripture and word that will set my path for growth for the year. I ask Him, “What new thing do you want to do in me this year? In what area do I need to grow?”

Last July I started working on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. (I have discussed much of this in a previous blog). It is the best decision I have made in a long time. I love learning and I am very impressed with the program I am in. The very first class we took was The Personal Life of a Leader. Basically, the premise is if you want to be a great leader and lead others well, you first need to learn how to lead yourself. This class changed my life. My dear friend and mentor, Harriet Mouer, always tells me that you cannot say something is life changing until six months have passed. It is only then if you can see if the event’s impact went beyond your emotional reaction and led to changed behavior. This class met her criteria for changing your life. At our residency and in our reading there was a lot of talk about finishing well; ministry and life. We had to identify things that would keep us from finishing well and make a plan with measurable goals for the next two years (the duration of the program) on how to grow in these areas. After prayer and contemplation, the two areas I identified were physical and financial fitness.

Since I was in middle school, I have struggled with my weight. I have tried every diet known to mankind. Atkins, Southbeach, Cabbage Soup (what?!?), Weight Watchers (multiple times), the apple diet (made that one up on my own…don’t ask…I was 13), starving myself, and the list goes on and on. I knew if I was going to finish well, I needed to get serious about taking care of my body. I want my body to last as long as my mind. I want to be able to serve Jesus with all of me until my last breath…as much as it depends on me. I also want to be an example to my nieces and youth that watch me. It matters how we treat our bodies. So I made an appointment with my doctor.

I just have to say that I have the best doctor in the world. He is compassionate, honest, and firm. I told him everything I wrote in the previous paragraph. I asked him to send me to a nutritionist (and I have tried this before as well). He told me “no”. I was shocked. He went on to explain that I would count calories, get frustrated, and give up. He was right. This was my pattern my whole life. He wrote down a podcast to listen to and asked me to give NSNG (no sugar, no grain) a try. He explained the science of it and why he thought it would help me. After much research (that is still ongoing),  I changed how I ate beginning August 24. I have lost 40 pounds, dropped 4 sizes and feel the best I have ever felt in my life, and it seems so easy. Non-restrictive. My schedule is pretty busy and I now have endless energy. I am way more productive and happy. I am working my plan on financial fitness. That is a little harder simply because my profession does not pay as well as others (but there is no way I would do anything else).

At the end of December, I led a team of 19 on a missions trip to Jamaica. Before we left, I was praying for the trip and some of the teaching I would be doing. My Scripture for the year came to me one morning in the shower right after a time of studying for the trip. The Scripture was Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19 which says:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the height

If I were to put this is today’s language it would say something like this:

Even though I have no money in my bank account,

And I have no idea how I am going to pay for groceries,

Even though my family life is in ruins and my car won’t start,

Even though the doctor has given me a bad report and I don’t know what the future holds,

YET I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me not only able to stand firm like a deer on a steep mountain,

He also helps me to walk through it without slipping.

My word came for 2017 as well. There were actually two of them. The words were “more” and “healing”.

 

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Our missions team. This is the third trip I have led there. We live as one with our Jamaican brothers and sisters up in the bush. I will blog more about the trip later. ❤ Love each person in this picture. This was at an infirmary we visited. There is nothing like it in America. Very sad.

 

I felt the Lord speak to me that this coming year would have some challenges and from the beginning, I needed to determine that no matter what comes my way, I will be thankful to God and choose joy. Every day. How I walk and honor God in adversity is important. He will not let me slip and He will give me the leg strength to climb the mountains in my way. A couple weeks before Christmas I had my first mammogram. On Christmas Eve (after God had given me the Scripture) I received a letter that they found something suspicious and I needed further diagnostic testing. No phone call, just a letter. On December 27, nineteen of us from my church left for a missions trip to Jamaica. I was leading the team. The last phone call I made before boarding for Montego Bay and being off the grid for ten days, was to schedule further testing when I got home. I didn’t think much about it while I was gone. The trip was physically challenging and very busy. And healing was a primary focus of the trip. God taught us a lot. It was an amazing time. God did so much in and through the team.

The Monday after I got back from Jamaica, I had further testing done. The doctor informed me that what they saw required a biopsy to be scheduled. I have microcalcification in my right breast. More than likely it is not cancerous. Even if it is, it will have been caught so early that all that will need to be done is surgery removing the area affected with no chemo or radiation. I was very surprised. Breast cancer does not run in my family. Diabetes, heart disease, and alcoholism 😉 do, but not breast cancer. My biopsy is next week.

I am not afraid or overly worried. I am surprised. And frustrated. I don’t have time for this. It has made me think through some things. I have always loved life. The great poet of our day, Bruce Springsteen, has a line in one of my favorite songs, Badlands, that states, “For those who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Earlier in the song he sings, “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything”. I think Bruce’s point is to enjoy where you are. Don’t keep wishing for more. You end up wishing your life away. Be glad you’re alive. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy hanging with your kids instead of doing the dishes. Stop and appreciate a sunset. Count the blessings you have, not fixating on what you don’t have.  I truly am grateful every day to be alive. I think because I have lost so many family members and have walked through the valley of the shadow of death numerous times and grief has been a constant companion to me that I have learned cherish life. I am not in a hurry to get out of here. I know the purpose for which I was born has not been completely fulfilled.  And there are still so many dreams that I believe God has given me. A couple of months ago, Pastor Jim was talking about a picture God had given him during worship. It was a picture of someone wringing out a towel or a sponge. You know when you spill water and you are cleaning it up, you have to wring the water out so you can fill up with more water? That’s the picture of how God wants us to live our lives. He wants us to wring out every possible purpose, plan, and gift He gives us. Nothing is wasted. He wants to get the most out of our lives. I want to get the most out of my life so I can give it away.

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So this year I have started telling people what I admire and appreciate about them. (Some of my family and friends have already received sappy texts or cards or a Facebook message from me). When I get good service at a restaurant, I am emailing the manager. I wanted to hug my doctor today when I saw him, but I thought that might be inappropriate ;). And you know those thoughts you sometimes have when you notice a kind act? “Wow, that was sweet” “He’s a good man” “She’s a great mom” but we never say them? I am choosing to say them. In the moment. I think 2017 may be filled with a lot of kumbaya moments 😉 I am choosing kindness and joy over hate and despair. I am choosing to learn once again what it means to die to myself and live for Jesus and others.

I marvel on how back in July how God got my attention to begin to take care of my body.If it were not for that two-year plan, I probably would not have had the physical and mammogram done this year. I marvel at the people He has strategically placed in my life to help me along the way…my doctor, my professors, Vinnie Tortorich (the NSNG guru)…and the list goes on. I pray and thank God for them daily.

No matter what happens this year, I am thankful for Jesus and this amazing life He has given me, I will daily choose joy and love over despair and hate. I will wring every moment of this life God has so graciously given me. Will you join me?

Mid-Life Crisis: Good or Bad?

I have been thinking a lot about mid-life crises. By definition, a mid-life crisis is an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age. I witnessed a good friend of mine go through one years ago leaving a wake of destruction in its aftermath. I have seen others go through them successfully. I don’t think mid-life crisis are bad things unless handled badly. I think there is something healthy about reassessing your life periodically. I tend to be extremely introspective. One of my life mottos is “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. It hangs in my office so it must be true. 😉 Scripture talks about examining ourselves in several places. An examined life is a healthy life.

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I think I have been pondering it because over the past two months I have had four different people say something to me that struck a chord. Two of the four were in the form of a question and the other two were observations about my life. Three out of the four were basically asking the same thing, “What are you doing with your life?” They obviously took root and have been germinating in my spirit. I honestly believe God is trying to get me to see something so I can grow. My daily prayer is to be more like Jesus in all areas of my life and to daily walk out the good works He has for me (Ephesians 2:10). These are prayers He delights in answering.

Before I get to the four things people have said to me, let me give a little back-story. In July I began to work on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. I have wanted to continue my education for years. The idea of going into debt did not appeal to me at all. I had a friend tell me that I needed to not look at it as going into debt but as an investment in my future. That resonated with me so I went for it. And I am so glad that I did. Our first class and residency were on the personal life of a leader. The premise is if you are going to be a great leader, you need to be able to lead yourself well. How can you lead others if you cannot lead yourself? We learned a lot of great theory and practical tools in that class. We talked a lot about finishing well: life and ministry. We had to identify what would keep us from finishing well. My two areas were physical and financial health. Our final paper was thirteen pages. The last two pages had to be a personal growth plan for the next two years (the duration of the MASL program). It was a painful process. But healthy and life-giving.

I have two goals to be physically and financially fit by 50. There are concrete goals that I am working on. I will probably blog more on these two areas in the future. Needless to say, after scheduling an appointment with my doctor and some very frank and honest conversation, he set me on the right path of cutting out sugar and grains. I have lost 30 pounds in twelve weeks and feel the best I have in my life. I have a way to go but the accountability and desire are there. I do not want my body to give out on me before my mind and my dreams. Finishing well means taking care of the one body God has given me to do all He has called me to do.

I read a quote somewhere that said, “Men with dead eyes, dead hearts, just waiting for the rest of their bodies to catch up and die as well.” I don’t want to be like that. I think when we hit mid-life, we can choose to tread water (security) until retirement, thinking then we will do what we want or we choose to continue to take risks and grow in the present. We cannot wait for someday to do what God has put in our hearts to do.

In September, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography came out. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge, huge fan. There was a companion album that came out with it. The album had a tag line describing it as, “a hard-working Jersey boy living out his wildest dreams”. I wrote in my journal, “Am I living out my wildest dreams? What are my wildest dreams?” God has given me so many.

At the church I serve at, we are going through some restructuring. It is healthy and exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I love it! In September, I met with our youth pastor to discuss a change in roles and responsibilities. He would be taking some of mine and we were discussing what that would look like and where I would fit into all of that. He asked me the first question that has been causing me to think about the next season of my life. It came the day after I had read the tagline from Bruce’s album. He asked, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” He’s 26. I’m 46. And he so hit the nail on the head. (Side note: our future is in good hands. God is raising up a generation that can fix the things we have messed up. Do not fret! Our best days are ahead!) I have done about everything in church life from children to youth to missions to women to senior pastoring to pastoral care and I love it all. I am living out my wildest dreams. But I sense God is refining my wildest dreams (I am sounding like a Taylor Swift song). I have said from the time I graduated from college that I want to do it all before I die. I wanted to experience every aspect of ministry and life. But I feel God is doing a refining.

In pursuit of living a healthier lifestyle, my doctor encouraged me to listen to some podcasts. There’s a guy I have been listening to plus reading his stuff. The information is so good and makes so much sense. It’s all about the why you should not eat sugar and grains. It has changed my life. I am convinced God has used this to save my life. I believe we will look back on white sugar and it will be this generation’s version of nicotine. My mom and dad’s generation started smoking in the day in which nicotine was “good” for you. It wasn’t until the 70s the government admitted how terrible nicotine was for you. White sugar is killing us. Our health care system will break under the weight of our obesity not the Affordable Health Care Act (though that needs help, too).

I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I remember being in seventh grade and starving myself. I would eat an apple a day because you know what they say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. I have lost the same sixty pounds five times during my life. I have done Weight Watchers, the cabbage soup diet, Atkins, South Beach, counted calories, and on and on. I was honestly quite concerned that I had permanently messed up my metabolism with all the yo-yo dieting. I was on the phone with one of my sisters talking about this new way of eating and working on my Masters. And she said the next thing that made me think. She said, “Heidi, any goal you have ever set, you always achieve it. You do whatever you set your mind to do. You are great at setting goals and meeting them. You are driven. Your problem is once you achieve it, you are lost, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.” That hit me like a ton of bricks. I am so thankful I have people in my life who are honest with me. God uses them to push me and examine my life.

As a result of my conversation with my sister, I began to think through my new lifestyle of eating. I was not viewing it as a diet but I knew eventually I would. What could I do now to prevent slipping back into my old behavior? The guy I have been listening to on the podcast offers paid consults. I have never done anything like that in my life. And remember my goal of being financially fit by 50? This did not fit into the budget. But I knew I needed to do something different if this was going to be lasting so I scheduled it. And I am so glad I did. He was so incredibly helpful. He was firm but genuinely caring. It was like having a personal trainer to get you started. The only way I can describe him is he is the Howard Stern of fitness. Growing up Strickler prepared me for that 😉 He asked me a question on the consult when I told him I was working on my Masters (he wanted a snapshot of my life…age, height, weight, what your schedule was like, etc). He seemed shocked that I was going back to school at 46. I thought it was normal. He asked, “What made you go back for your Masters at the age of 46?” The emphasis was on the age. I never once thought about my age when deciding whether or not I was going to go back for my Masters. It was always money and time. I never want to get intellectually lazy. And I don’t want to coast on what I have learned previously. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our strength, all of our souls, and all of our minds. And I think it is part of whatever God has for me in the future.

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The last incident that happened was a dear friend called me a couple of weeks ago to inform me he had re-married. I jokingly said, “Maybe it’s time for me to think about getting married.” I remember a couple of years ago I woke up one day and thought, “How did I end up at the age 44 not married?” I knew I never wanted children but marriage had always been an option. I just never thought about it much until two years ago. Life has been so fun and so full and time just marched on and before you knew it, here I am. His reply to me was, “You have such a unique life, and it would be hard for someone to come alongside it.” In my journal that night, I wrote, “It (his statement) caused me to think what am I doing with my life?” At first, it stung. That statement made me feel like a freak. For a nano second. In the end, it caused me to appreciate the uniqueness of my life. I have never been lonely. I have amazing friends and family. The community I get to live in and serve is full of great people. I am not rich in material things but I am with the things that matter (now I feel like I’m going all George Bailey on you).

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As I contemplate those four incidents, I am so filled with excitement. God says in His Word, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

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Re-assessing your life mid-way through can be a good thing. It becomes a crisis when you fill it with things that will rob your soul and hurt those around you. The self-examined life is the healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

Readers are Leaders…Or are they?

I am rethinking one of my favorite sayings. “Leaders are readers.” Not all readers are leaders but I have never met a good leader who doesn’t read a lot. I have heard this a lot in the circles of church leadership development that I run in. And it is true, leaders are readers but I don’t believe it is in the way we think. When I hear this or say it myself, it gives people a sense that they must only read leadership or spiritual development books. And there are SO MANY books out there on leadership development. And I am reading a lot of them since I started working on my Masters of Strategic Leadership in July. I think what is meant when we say leaders are readers is that a characteristic of a good leader is someone who reads a lot of different types of books. It’s kind of like the age old question…what came first? The chicken or the egg? Does reading a lot make good leaders or do good leaders read? I think of reading as a characteristic of a good leader, not necessarily a prerequisite. Reading develops critical thinking and gives us different perspectives and expands our mind.

I love reading and writing.  I don’t just want to read about life, I actually want to live it and I don’t want to just write about life, I want to experience it. There is a balance in all things. I am trying to maintain a balance between reading, writing, and living (with school, reading is winning right now ;).

I have composed a list of my favorite books. I thought I would share and would love to hear some of your favorite books.

  1. The Bible – no book has changed my life like this has. It has shown me who God is, what He has done for me and how He wants me to live my life. I am in this book daily.
  2. Elie Wiesel’s Night. All of the books I had read on the holocaust before this book mentioned the atrocities of the concentration camps and loss of loved ones but always highlighted the hope and the good that came out of it. This book made me see the reality of the evil and terrible things that happened inside the concentration camps. I believe every high school student should read this. Mankind is capable of great evil. 9780553272536-us-300
  3. The Nancy Drew books -I know this sounds silly. Of all the books to be able to make it to the top 10, these make it? (I still have all the hardcover books.) I read them all multiple times as a kid/pre-teen. The hero of the story was a GIRL who could think  and solve problems on her own. She was also brave and independent. I was going through an exercise a few months back in a book I was reading and realized the significant impact these books had on me. I could be the heroine of my own life.
  4. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. He is my favorite author. This is the first book I read after I became a Christian besides the Bible. He impacted me profoundly. I discovered Christians do not have to check their brain at the door. Christianity really is a thinking person’s religion. Faith and the brain are compatible. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our MIND, and all of our strength. Lewis also introduced me to apologetics. 927275-_uy200_
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I try to read this series every couple of years. He was brilliant with apologetics, science fiction, and fiction. The allegories and spiritual truths portrayed in these books are phenomenal. I never get tired of reading these books. My favorite quotes come from them.
    1. “Aslan,” said Lucy. “You’re bigger.” “that is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” Prince Caspian
    2. All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning chapter one of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever in which every chapter is better than the one before.  The Last Battle
    3. “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…” “come further up, come further in.”
    4. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!” The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. img_0646bookbox2.jpg
  6.  How People Grow by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This book has had more impact on me in my ministry and view of how people grow spiritually than any other book I have read. The one issue as a pastor I have always struggled with is why do some people really get what it means to follow Jesus and live a full, productive, joyful life while others remain stuck. This was life to me.yhst-20550167876698_2167_8150648
  7. Risk is Right by John Piper. His teaching on the supremacy of God and finding satisfaction in God that leads to joy have deeply impacted me. In this short pamphlet, Mr. Piper teaches on taking risks and Romans 8. So good. I have probably bought and given away 20+ copies of this book.4369a1167ecd879969b6075e83738285
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I am a romantic at heart. This may surprise many but it is true. A couple of summers ago, I read through every book Jane Austen wrote. I loved every single one of them though this will always be my favorite. prideprejudice423x630
  9. Love Does by Bob Goff. I read this book about two years ago. It is a story of an ordinary man and how he chooses to live his life actually loving people instead of just talking about it. He lives such a BIG life. This book set into motion a lot of things for me. I took some risks and made some changes. I also became a stalker of his and got him to speak on a conference call to a WIML group I was helping lead at the time. I have bought this book over 10 times to give away. 41sigmrxqal-_sy344_bo1204203200_
  10. Winds of War/War and Remembrance by Hermann Wouk. He also wrote The Caine Mutiny but these are the two books of his that I absolutely loved. He wrote them in the 70s. I read them both in the mid-80s as a teenager. The first book is about the lead up to World War 2 (I love history). The sequel is about the war, the holocaust (which is why he said he wrote the book),  and the birth of Israel as a nation. These books have stuck with me since then. f0bbdcc0bdd0cb5c04d9c5302f6c08ce
  11. Honorable Mention: These next two books I have read in the past year and have made me think. Time will tell if they remain in my top 12. I think they will. The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. This book is mom and son e-mailing back and forth getting to know one another later in life. It made me wish I could have known my mom better. And there is a quote that has resonated with me. It is Gloria who writes it. She says                                                                                         “I find it reassuring knowing the rainbow comes and goes. It helps me accept the way things often are. In every life, you have moments of blinding beauty and happiness, and then you land in a dark cave and there is no  color, no sky. Then the rainbow returns, sometimes only briefly, but it always does come back. You have to believe that it will, even in the darkest of times. That belief is what is really important. Nothing is meant to last forever. Our lives are fleeting. We surround ourselves with objects, collect things, try to hold on to people and money and status, but it doesn’t last. We are not meant always to be happy, and who would want to be? Happiness would become meaningless if it were a constant state. If you accept that, then you will not be surprised when something bad occurs, you will not gnash your teeth and ask, “Why me? Why has this happened to me?” It has happened to you because that is the nature of things. No one escapes. The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns. There is much to be joyful about, so many different kinds of rainbows in one’s life: making love is an incredible rainbow, as is falling in love; knowing friendship; being able to really talk with someone who has a problem and say something that will help; waking up in the morning, looking out, and seeing a tree that has suddenly blossomed, like the one I have outside my window-what joy that brings. It may seem a small thing, but rainbows come in all sizes….the searching, that’s what I think life is really all about. Don’t you? 27859751
  12. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book is so good. It is about a shepherd boy going on an adventure to find his personal legend (follow his dream). Such a powerful allegory with an incredible twist in the end. A personal legend is,               “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend…There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 9780062315007_p0_v2_s192x300

So what are some of your favorite books?

 

Beach Encounters

September is a busy month for me. I was in Pennsylvania this weekend speaking at a women’s retreat. I got home yesterday afternoon and had to write a three-page paper by midnight. I think I finally fell into bed about one in the morning, exhausted. This week is a busy one as well with Women’s Bible study starting back up and a Variety Show at our church on Sunday evening for missions plus another three-page paper due on Sunday (I love this pace…so not complaining).

I planned on sleeping in but I remembered I needed to go order my glasses…(I am wiping away a tear as I mourn the deterioration of my eyesight). I also looked at the forecast and saw today was supposed to be gorgeous. Summer is slowly fading away and I did not want to waste one minute of this amazing weather. So I decided that after I did my errands, I would head to the beach. The beach has been my haven this summer. I do some of my best thinking (and resting) there. My last blog was inspired by one of my  visits to the beach.

Since I had to go to a different city to order my glasses I decided to go to a different beach. I am so glad I did! When I got to the beach, there was hardly anyone there. School is back in session so weekdays are pretty desolate at the beach. The birds outnumbered the people about 100 to 1. Lake Erie was so blue and was like a sea of glass.

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Lake Erie was like so blue and clear and like glass.

I found my spot, put my blanket on the sand and grabbed my books out of my bag. I really intended to get some homework done (and I did…just not very much).

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Ready to soak up some rays.

Not too far from me were two older men and a woman.  As I was reading, I could not help but hear their conversation. The wind was blowing right. I knew they were about 67 because one commented on how the summer of 66 was his best ever. He was 17.  I did the math because I was curious (or nosey…take your pick). They were in such great shape. At one point they were playing frisbee like teenagers in the sand. One of them dove into the sand to catch it! I was beyond impressed.

As I listened to them talk, one of the men was recounting a story of a time he had a near death experience by drowning. It was very intense. He said he blacked out for three minutes and during that time everything that ever happened to him and everything that was going to happen to him flashed before his eyes. The lady asked him, “So what’s going to happen to you? What did you see?”

His answer was simple but profound.

“I’m going to live until I die.” 

And they were living this. Have you ever known people you wish you could get to know better? Their zest for life and joy is a magnet? Maybe, just maybe, if you spend enough time with them, you’ll catch it through osmosis?

I texted my niece and told her about these three cool older people I was watching. I told her I was working my nerve up to go talk to them. I am the opposite of shy. Her response “DO IT DO IT”. But I didn’t want to freak them out.

While they were playing frisbee and I was gathering up the nerve to introduce myself, we all noticed an eagle. He was circling the shoreline fishing. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch this amazing sight. After a few minutes, the eagle finally dove headfirst into the lake and came out victorious with a fish in his claws. We applauded!!! It was amazing!!!

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The best picture I could capture on my phone of the eagle.

The eagle broke the ice. I marched myself over to their blanket and introduced myself. I confessed to eavesdropping. They introduced themselves as Klaus, Marilyn (they were married), and Chas. They were friends from their freshman year of high school. I asked them how old they were and told them how I hope I am like them at their age. They were feisty and adventurous. Chas commented on how he has some regrets. I assured him there is no room for regrets because everything up until that point has shaped him into the person he was today. They appreciated that perspective.  Chas said I sounded like I was in the military and the Klaus said I sounded like I was a pastor. 🙂

Their love of life and activity level and freshness of mind was inspirational. They were so grateful I came over. Klaus told me a story of how he almost caught Manny Ramirez’s ball in 1995 (for those Cleveland Indians fans). He is such a great storyteller. He wrote a poem about it. I gave him my address and he is going to send it to me.

Klaus showed me a book he was reading. It is very similar to the diet I have just switched to three weeks ago. Chas is already following it (and it shows). I told them the reason I switched is I want to be able to finish ministry and  life well. How I treat my body will be my biggest problem if I don’t get it together.

Klaus replied, “You have already finished well.” Tears sprang to my eyes.

I knew he meant me coming over and telling them I so appreciated their adventurous spirit and how they seemed to be living life to the fullest. Not everybody understands just because you body ages, your mind doesn’t have to nor your soul. When I see examples of it, it moves me to my core. Life is so short and fleeting.

Because of their example, I texted three of my closest friends from middle/high school just to say that I am praying for them, I am grateful for them, and I love them.

Because of their example, I resolved to continue to work hard to get my physical body fit.

Because of their example, I was glad to be alive.

 

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Next to Jesus, people/relationships are the biggest gift from God. I told these three that they would make my blog!

Jesus says he came to give us abundant life.  “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10)

I’m going to LIVE until I die. 

And like Klaus, I will hopefully be diving for frisbees at 67.

 

Death: A Reminder to Live Life Fully

I lost my Aunt Wilma this week. She was my dad’s sister and was 97. She was the last of 7. With her passing, I have no parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents left. It makes me sad. I have lost a lot of family over the past 15 years since I moved back home including my dad and one of my brothers. And I have officiated most of the funerals.

 

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The seven Strickler siblings: Uncle Jake, Uncle Bob, my dad, Aunt Wilma, Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Jerry, Uncle Claude and their Uncle Stub. I officiated 5 of the 7 sibling’s funerals.

These past few  weeks, I have missed my brother, Jerry, terribly. His birthday and death anniversary have both been within the past month.  When I read through my journals from when I was a kid and teen, he was the one I would always talk to about family stuff. He always listened and made me feel like what I felt mattered. And he let me do some crazy things.

 

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My brother Jerry and my dad.

I also lost my mom the summer before my Senior year of high school. She was 46. I just turned 46 this year. I never realized how young 46 was until I was 46. I faced this year with some angst and trepidation. I knew it was irrational but I was relieved when I passed the mark of having lived longer than my mom.

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Me and my mom a month before she died.

Death and loss have marked my life. But not in the way you may think.

King Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart.”

The 23rd Psalm says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death many times. Each time, God walked with me. He never left. Each time, I learned to rely on and trust Him more. And instead of living a life of sadness and depression, it has made me enjoy life to the fullest. It has taught me to be grateful for each day I have because I know how fleeting and precious life is. Living in the shadow of death has pushed me to take risks. Life is too short to wonder “what if?”. Walking through the valley has also taught me to forgive quickly and let go of offenses right away. You have no idea when someone will no longer be with you.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to see a man I respect and love deeply in the nursing home. He has only been in a short time. And he knows he is not going home. As I visited with him, he asked me about a certain Scripture in the Bible that talks about Heaven. And he asked what I thought it would be like. And we just talked. And cried. I asked him if he was afraid to die. He said “no but it is not as easy as you think it is when you are younger. When it’s far off, it doesn’t seem real but now…” He didn’t deny he was having a hard time but in the midst of the pain and grief, he honored God. I think that is how we are all supposed to live! Honoring God and people even when it’s hard. He knows he will be with Jesus when he passes and as I prayed for him and said “Amen”, he just continued on praying Psalm 103 “Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Death is real. No one gets out alive. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, male, female…no one.

I think King Solomon was onto something in the book of Ecclesiastes. If you live with the end in mind in a healthy, hopeful, purposeful, grateful way, life can be truly enjoyed and savored.

Two weeks ago, there was a Perseid Meteor shower that happens every August. This year was supposed to be exceptionally bright. I probably should have slept but 14 of us laid on the beach until 3 in the morning and saw 150+ meteors!!! It was fantastic! As we laid on the beach and told jokes and pointed out the constellations and the north star and marveled at God’s creation, I was overwhelmed with joy,  contentment, and gratitude.

You rarely regret the things you do…it’s the things you don’t do that you regret!

At the funeral dinner yesterday, a family member and I were talking. I was telling her that I started my Masters at the end of July and how difficult it has been with my schedule. I told her I was second guessing myself because of the cost. And there’s my age. She said to me, “In five years from now, you would regret not doing it because it would have been finished. I tell my boys all the time to think 5 years ahead…and see if you would regret not doing it.” You cannot have too much education. Learning is a good thing.

Each family member whose funeral I have officiated, I have gotten to know them better and in turn gotten to know myself better. They each left a legacy. Some were ordinary people living quiet, extraordinary lives. I say all of this to say this: Enjoy life. Don’t waste this one life you have been given on things that don’t matter.Love God, love people, take risks, and leave a legacy that adds goodness and kindness to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

How Does Jesus Fit Into Politics?

I started writing this blog back in December. I have hesitated pushing the publishing button because I have not wanted to offend anyone. Witnessing what is going on in our political process in this season has convinced me I need to continue to wrestle with this. And encourage other believers to wrestle with it as well. I hope you hang in there until the last line and choose to join the crusade to be kind. In the midst of our differences, let us err on the side of kindness. 

Today I am sad. And frustrated.  And  hopeful. Always hopeful.

Anger has gripped our country in ways I have never seen before. It has been percolating for a long time. I believe the anger stems from fear. The terrorist attack in San Bernardino a couple of months ago seems to have been a tipping point. And the fear is manifesting itself in anger.

Everyone seems so angry. I see it in our politicians, in our presidential candidates, and on our news shows and social media. The hateful rhetoric being thrown around causes me great alarm.

The most troubling place I am noticing the anger is in those who call themselves Christians.

Let me clarify something here. When I talk about Christians I am talking about my people, my tribe.

I am a believer.

I believe the Bible. I believe it is the inerrant Word of God. I am an ardent student of the Bible. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe Jesus is still calling people to follow Him. In fact, I have given my life to serve His church and to make Him known. I am one of those Christians. Jesus is everything to me. He has completely changed my life. I believe He still changes lives and is relevant to this world we live in.

I also believe Jesus is concerned about a lot more than our politics. The primary Christian witness since the late 80s have been a political witness. God help us. No wonder people have a warped view of who Jesus is. We are putting way too much hope in the political process. We are way too invested in it. We are sending people to our State Capitals and Washington D.C. expecting them to solve every issue. And we get mad when it does not happen. And we lash out at each other. We don’t even listen to one another anymore. We just want to be right. And fight.

I am not one of those who put their heads in the sand. I vote in every election. I keep up on current events. I have served 8 years on City Council and currently serve on Planning Commission. I have loved politics since I was a kid. In 7th grade, my research paper was on the Great Depression. I wrote about the economic and social factors that led to it. I was 13. In 8th grade, my research paper was on Watergate and how the events surrounding it led to President Nixon’s resignation. But over the past 5 years, I have been wrestling with what I believe politically. The first mayor (a mentor) I served with on City Council asked me “How does Jesus fit into politics?” I have been asking myself that very question a lot lately.  Does what I believe politically  line up with what the Bible teaches?  I grew up in a democratic household. I switched in my early 20s to the Republican party. I have gone back and forth since then. I currently am a registered independent. People may say I am wishy-washy. I say I am trying to be authentic and figure out how my political beliefs line up with the Word of God.

I still have my research paper from 8th grade. :)

I still have my research paper from 8th grade. 🙂

I am ardently pro-life. Or let me re-phrase that. I believe in fostering a culture of life. I have begun to filter every issue through this lens. This may seem very simplistic or naive to some reading this. I am ok with that. (One of the conclusions I have come to over the past 5 years is we are all hypocrites in the political realm. No matter what side of the aisle you are on.)

I began to apply a culture of life philosophy to every issue we face as a nation:

Immigration: I am most appalled at the conversation surrounding this issue. I understand the safety issues. I agree taxes must  be paid. But most of “those” people coming over the border are kids and teenagers fleeing drug cartel infested nations which our American drug habit is feeding. We bear some of the responsibility. I also remember reading somewhere instructions to take care of the alien, the widow and the fatherless among us (tongue in cheek 😉 I’m referring to the Bible. And when the government comes out and wants to increase the number of LEGAL immigrants by only 10,000 this year, we are upset about that as well.

The Statue of Liberty has the inscription:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

We are a nation of immigrants. It is part of our DNA.

I recently read over 10,000 migrant children are missing in Europe. The fear is many have been absorbed into the sex trafficking trade. Christians should be leading the efforts to rescue and care for these kids. And our policies as a nation should assist in these efforts.

Environment: I am a firm believer in taking care of what God has entrusted to us. If I really believe in a culture of life, I want safeguards to help protect people from getting cancer as much as possible so people can live the best, most fruitful and fulfilling life possible. I have been to several third world countries that do not have the regulations we have here in America. Burning garbage is the norm in most countries. I am grateful for the regulated air we breathe and the water we drink. What is happening in Flint, Michigan affects us all. It can happen to any community. No child should be dying in 21st century America of lead poisoning.  Being a follower of Jesus and being green really are compatible. God called us to be caretakers of the planet, not destroy it. I hope someday followers of Jesus would have the best reputation for loving people and taking care of the planet that houses those very same people. (Pleases recycle 😉  )

Abortion: The right to life is THE fundamental basic right. Every life is valuable and created in the image of God. We wonder why life does not seem to be valued anymore in our country. It starts here. And politicians who change their stance on this issue just to win votes will never get my vote. You respect life or you don’t. All lives matter. Especially life in the womb. How we treat those who cannot help themselves show us the true character of our nation. The elderly, disabled, addicts, the unborn, the poor all deserve our care and concern. That is fostering a culture of life.

Welfare, health care, social security: God helps those who helps themselves is not in the Bible. The Bible also does not put conditions on taking care of the poor. If I have to err, I am erring on the side of taking care of the poor. But with that being said, we have to be fiscally responsible and wise stewards of our resources. As a nation, we have to live within our means. But we elect who we are…individually we are not living within in our means, should we be surprised those who represent us are not as well?

Foreign Policy: We have been blessed as a country. We have the obligation to help people who cannot help themselves. If we do not lead, someone else will. And if we cannot defend ourselves, we cannot defend others.  Our responsibility does not stop at our borders.

Gun control: I believe we have the right to protect our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I grew up in a hunter’s home. I also believe we need to have a common sense approach to gun laws. But saying the right to bear arms is a God-given right is incorrect. It is a Constitutional Right. The Constitution is a very important document and adhering to it as a nation is important. But the Constitution is not the Bible.

It seems to me the Church has merged Nationalism and Christianity together. In the Old Testament, this would be called syncretism. And the result is an ugly hybrid of what following Jesus should look like.

I could go on and on with other issues. I know people could poke holes in all of this or disagree. And I am okay with that.

I love my country. I am grateful to be born in America. I understand in other parts of the world I would not even be able to express my thoughts and opinions.

A good friend called me the day after the shooting in San Bernardino. He is a “little” cynical. His response to the shootings was “we are screwed now. There is no hope of things getting better.” I disagreed and still do.

I may not have control over current events but I know the One who does.

The only person I do have control over is me. I choose not to live in fear. I choose to be kind and to make a difference in people’s lives. One person at a time.

I choose to be kind when people are cruel. I choose to be kind and listen to people who look differently than me, who act differently than me and who think differently than me.

I choose to try to understand people and not judge based on snapshots of their lives.

I choose to make a difference.

I will always stay informed on what is going on around me — the good, the bad and the ugly. I will fight on my knees for my country.

BUT I WILL CHOOSE TO DWELL ON GOOD THINGS. ALWAYS. 

What happened in California was horrendous. Two individuals killing 14 people in the name of their ideology and God. So needless and barbaric. My heart grieved for the families  who faced the holidays without their loved ones around the table. My heart also grieves for the 6 month old baby girl growing up in the shadow of what her parents did.

What I will dwell on is the man who shielded his co-worker and said “I got you” and gave his life protecting her. I will dwell on Dr. Michael Neeki  who ran into the unknown to save lives before the area was secured. I will think about the first responders who time after time put others first.

At the end of the book Mocking Jay (the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy) , Katniss who had and witnessed horrible atrocities and experienced terrible things says fear still grips her. Fear her kids will be ripped away from her and her life she has built will be destroyed. She combats this fear by playing a game. She recounts every good act she ever witnessed.

The apostle Paul says something similar in the Bible, Philippians 4:8:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

I choose to focus on the good in the world. I will not ignore the evil and put my head in the sand but I will not let it change me or become my focus. I will not cower in fear. When fear and anger dictate how we act, we have already lost.

I will live life to the fullest, celebrate the good things I witness,  and love people. I will be kind. Even to people who think differently than me. Especially to those who think differently than me. Will you join me?

 

Bike & Baggage

A few weeks back I began chronicling the adventures I had this summer and the lessons learned. Once I began writing I realized one blog would not be enough. This is the fourth and last installment. I am ready to leave summer behind me and embrace all God has for me this fall. Ministering in Africa and North Carolina are just a few of the things to come!

At the beginning of the summer,  I went for a 17 mile bike ride on a trail not far from my house. The trail extends from rural Kipton, Ohio to the city of Elyria. It is a gorgeous ride. The trail winds through farmland, woods, a golf course, the city of Oberlin plus more. I usually pack a lunch, take my Bible and journal and ride to the city of Oberlin and eat lunch and read and write in a park in Oberlin. I decided to go further along the trail before turning around and heading back.

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

On the way back, I got tired so I stopped at CVS (a drug store) to get crackers and something to drink. I ended up buying two facial washes, a huge bottle of body lotion (they were on sale) plus two drinks. Mind you, I still had five miles to go and the grade is higher going back. These purchases added an extra 5 pounds.

It made no sense for me to buy facial wash and body lotion on a scenic, long bike ride.

Not one of my brightest moves.

As I was peddling my heart out with an added five pounds of baggage, I thought about my walk with Jesus and the Scripture I had just read in the letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2, verse 14 said “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.”

Early summer was the end of a tough season for me. I was tired. Spiritually and physically. And frustrated. And angry.  Did I mention how tired I was? Bone-weary tired.  When I’m tired I end up picking up stuff/baggage I don’t need.  I begin to think in my heart “this is too hard, this season is going to kill me, I have it harder than anyone else, God where are you?” I had picked up grumbling and complaining.

I had to stop my bike and pray. And confess and apologize to the Lord for my current frame of mind and how I had been acting.

It was amazing. Once I confessed, peace and joy flooded my soul. This act of confession and repentance set me up for one of the best summers of my life. God was able to move in and through me once I put the baggage down. The ride has been smoother and easier and way more fun and fruitful!

What have you picked up? What is weighing you down in your walk with the Lord? What is God asking you to lay down so you can freely live this life He has given you with joy and peace? Confession is really good for the soul.

Heart Shaped Rocks: A Tale of an Optimist

Mondays are my day off. I sleep in and unplug for most of the day. I try to go for a long walk or bike ride somewhere new. I stuff a blanket in my back pack along with my journal and Bible and just go.

Today I went to a place I just discovered a few weeks ago. Sheldon’s Marsh is in the next town over I never knew existed. You walk for about a mile and a half through a beautiful marsh and come out at a barrier beach on Lake Erie. The beach stretches for over a mile. Absolutely amazing. I spent most of my time today walking the beach.

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Flowers in the marsh

Flowers in the marsh

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Beautiful butterfly

Beautiful butterfly!

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Sheldon Marsh

Sheldon Marsh

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Find the heron

As I was walking I noticed a heart-shaped rock. I stopped and took a picture of it. As I continued to walk down the beach, I saw about 6 or 7 more rocks in the shape of a heart. It’s interesting after you first notice something, you begin to see it everywhere. Maybe it’s because you’re actually looking for it.

Heart-shaped rocks

Heart-shaped rocks

Heart

Heart

You find what you are looking for!

You find what you are looking for!

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As I continued walking, I began to think of all the Scripture I knew with the word heart or love in it. What a great exercise. It helped me center on God and His love. God’s love is evident all around us if we are looking for it.

And I thought about church. I love church. I get so frustrated with people who constantly criticize and make fun of the church. The Bible teaches that the church is not a building, it is the people who accepted Jesus and everything He claimed to be and have chosen to follow Him. Scriptures also teaches how much Christ loves the Church. She (the church) may be imperfect and not always live up to her potential but she is who Christ has chosen to represent Him.

As I discovered more heart-shaped rocks on my walk, it reminded me of people who say they do not like going to church or use the excuse of not going to church because the church is filled with nothing but “hypocrites”. My answer to that is whatever you are looking for you will find. If you are looking for a hypocrite in church you most definitely will find them. If you are looking for a man or woman who sincerely loves God, you will find them as well. And you know what? They are probably the same person.

I am an optimist by nature. I recently took a strengths finder test for some coaching I am doing. One of my top 5 strengths is positivity. I understand that a person can be a hypocrite and a person who loves Jesus at the very same time. I am such a person. The heart-shaped rocks I found today reminded me to keep looking for positive. Because you really do find what you are looking for. If you are looking for negative stuff, negative is what you will find. If you are looking for positive, positive is what you will find. What are you looking for?

 

 

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