A Work Out

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We’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now. Me and my hubby. I’d say we began in earnest just after Labor Day. And there was progress because earlier this month documented the lowest weight I’d seen in years.

YEARS.

Yes, December 6 was a good day.  My weight was finally dropping. Annabelle had her follow up with the cardiologist and was cleared for a full year. And so, after a snow day and a two-hour delay, she went back to school. It was December 11. I thought I’d then resume my weight-loss journey. I thought I’d get back on track.

Alas, my son got sick two days after Annabelle went back to school. Levi had a quick hospital stay (appendicitis), and while there, the seal came off. Meaning, the seal over my mouth. I had chips. And sweets. And other things. And ever since we came back home, I’ve been eating whatever I want at night. Lots of carbs.

Not surprisingly, the pounds are going back up. Nonetheless, me and Jason continue to make daily entries to our log. He’s going up a little bit, too. Like me, added food intake on his end.

However, in contemplating the progress we’ve made in three months time, I can’t help but notice a considerable difference between his and my entries. He’s lost a lot more weight than I have. And I know why…

It’s because he was diligently going to the gym. Three times a week, he was getting a good work out. Me? Before mid-October rolled around, I was walking several times. But ever since then, not a stitch of exercise. And the pounds are coming back.

“Arise [from spiritual depression to a new life], shine [be radiant with the glory and brilliance of the LORD]; for your light has come. And the glory and brilliance of the LORD has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

When I moved home eight years ago, I was a lot smaller. And I felt really good. I’d say I was pretty healthy.

However, during my six month stay in Mom’s basement, I began eating chips. Oh, I’d say about every night. Not surprisingly, I added on some pounds. And by the time we fully settled in our home (after the busyness of moving/unpacking), I found myself in a full-blown depression. It was Spring/Summer of 2011.

And darkness was a constant companion of mine.

But then, something happened. I felt stirred. Movement. God was calling me. And by the time October rolled around, the above verse seemed a promise from God. Arise, shine! Your light has come.

And I thought it did. Because October of 2011 was an awakening of sorts. It’s when I felt a calling from God was confirmed. I tell you, I was full of purpose and aim. And I turned in the direction I felt God beckoned me. It was towards the light…

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

I was ready to serve seven years ago. Chomping at the bit. And when we joined a new church, I thought I had a lot to offer. When the pastor came visiting and asked, “How are you going to serve,” I knew just how to answer. I told him all I wanted to do.

Turns out, they didn’t really need me in that capacity. There were other things for me to do. And honestly, they were things I didn’t want to do. And so, when I think about that question… “How are you gonna serve,” I chuckle. Because back then, the correct answer would have been bitterly.

And selfishly.

Yes, that’s exactly how I “served.” For years.

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Isn’t this the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will appear like the dawn,
and your recovery will come quickly.
Your righteousness will go before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6-8 

I tried to serve God.  I let my light so shine before men and women. I did all the things I thought I should do. Everything prescribed in the above verses. I donated and volunteered. I prepared foods and delivered.

And yet darkness always found me.

But then something in the above verses stood out about a year back. It’s that part about “do not ignore your own flesh and blood.” See, I’d always looked at that in light of my extended family. But last Summer, I finally understood what God was saying to me. He was talking about me.

My flesh and blood. My health. For once I found God’s purpose and calling, I went after it with all my heart and soul. But I let myself go in that I spent every available waking hour going after that. Exercise and healthy eating went out the window.

Also, my flesh and blood meaning my husband. For two became one on our wedding day. He is me and I am Him.

And finally but not least, my own flesh and blood meaning my children. Those on this side of eternity and those beyond. Yes, October of 2011 was an awakening of sorts. Only, it took me years to figure out exactly what God meant.

See, light eluded me for so long because of me and my actions. Darkness surrounded me because of me “ignoring” my own flesh and blood. And that’s what this past year has been all about…

“Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth until now, both we and our fathers [before us].” Genesis 46:34

I tell you what. The spiritual journey can be a confusing one. See, I felt God called me to something specific years ago. And I kept moving that way. Every single time, though, I was thwarted. Delayed. Set back. Stalled.

And it was really hard for me to understand why God wouldn’t just open the door. Because He placed a desire inside for me to do something. And yet, every time I moved towards the light, I was pulled back into the dark. And finally, I realized it was more than the dark sucking me in.

Incredibly, it was God Himself calling me to obscurity. He was telling me to be unseen. And quiet. And it was so hard. Because in placing a burning passion in my heart, it was like the door was cracked open. Light seeped through. But then, He closed the door tight.

This week, though, I made a discovery about shepherds and their own obscure paths. It was through the above verse. I read it in a book and heard it on the radio. Two times, which attuned my ears to the Holy Spirit for I realized He was telling me something.

My epiphany being that God’s chosen people were shepherds. Time and again, you read about them. The children of Israel were shepherds. David, the anointed king, was first a shepherd.

And me? I wasn’t a shepherd when God called me. That’s the discovery. That if you’re not a shepherd when He calls you, He’ll make you into one. That’s what the past seven years have been about…

God transforming my heart into one of a shepherd’s.

A servant’s heart.

I came that they may have and enjoy life and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10

October of this year was a big time for me. It was one of those seasons where God was all over and in everything surrounding my life. Such great revelation. The biggest being I encountered Christ as the Good Shepherd. In this way, I found comfort I’d been seeking for probably most of my life.

Here’s what’s interesting, though. John 10:10 promises abundant life. To me, this is the opposite of a depleted life. The way I’ve been feeling here lately…

Anyway, this verse immediately precedes Jesus calling Himself the Good Shepherd. I think that’s a clue. Abundant life being tied to a person being a good shepherd. And the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For his flock.

Further, Jesus tells about the hired man. The hireling runs away at the first sign of danger. He doesn’t care for the flock. Instead, he ignores the sheep, abandoning them as he runs for his life.

Yep… the hired man runs hoping to save his life. But in the end, he loses it by trying to hold on to it. And in the end, there’s darkness.

But the good shepherd, well, he’ll die for the fold. And in dying, there is life. And light.

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” Luke 17:33

Two of the Bible greats were runners. The first who comes to mind is Moses. God set it in his heart to lead a people out of slavery into a land of promise. However, Moses kind of botched it at first. He murdered an Egyptian and tried to cover up his deed. When Pharaoh learned of it, Moses ran for his life. That’s when he ended up on the backside of the wilderness for forty years.

Know what he did there? He was a shepherd. And so, before doing the thing God called him to do, Moses learned how to be a shepherd.

Then, there’s Peter. Cocky Peter who told Christ he was ready to follow Him anywhere, even to death! When the occasion arose, Peter failed miserably. He denied even knowing Jesus. Basically, running for his life. He was scared so he lied. He didn’t want to die.

This Peter who failed miserably was the one who Christ reinstated and used to build His church. But first, He fed Him…

“Come and have breakfast. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them…” John 21:12, 13

Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And Peter was a fisherman. But he was meant to be a shepherd. So Jesus fed the one who’d feed the church. And He instructed Peter. “Feed My lambs. Shepherd My sheep. Feed My sheep.”

I heard a teaching on this once. Lysa Terkeurst suggested that as a fisherman, Peter would have been quick to throw out fish. He would have measured them and kept only the bigger ones. But a shepherd isn’t meant to throw anything out. Instead, he’s to keep them all…

And Peter needed some growth in this regard. He needed to learn how to shepherd God’s people.

Essentially, this is what I needed, too. God revealed to me in seven years time that I was not a shepherd. Instead, I behaved more like a the hired hand. The worker who’d run for his life in hope of preserving it.

This was me. I ran for my life by doing everything I could to shine my light. I tried to serve God by being visible. To me, visibility meant viability. Value. It counted. It was measurable. This made me a keeper.

In the end, I served bitterly. And selfishly. Because all my works were more about me than God. And feeling compelled to “work” made me bitter. In more ways than one.

 “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32

This is the part that will make me sound really bad. It has to do with all my food prep. At home and elsewhere. But you know, this week, it was like a light bulb went off.

See, I’ve always been quick to volunteer. Brownies? Sure. Casserole? Sure. Sign-up sheet for something at church. Sure. I would always sign up for food. Running for my life (trying to preserve it) by being useful.

But for a year, God said no. He didn’t want me to sign up for one more dish. Man, that was hard. Because in truth, there was nothing measurable on my end. No contribution.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I’d take a dish to someone, I’d smile. I looked good. At home? My family didn’t always get a smile. They’d get the sighs and the huffs when I was overtired from doing too much on the outside.

And when my kids aren’t especially grateful, or when they’re complaining about what I put before them, or when I’m trying to clean up dinner dishes and they’re already asking for a snack, I can be really ugly. Inside and out. That’s what they’d get served.

Oh, I’ve served my family, but it’s not cheerfully. Or thankfully. Or selflessly. Instead, I’ve served bitterly. And this should not be.

To my soul, I believe this is what this past year (a year of no’s and rest) has been all about. See, my light will come when I don’t ignore my own flesh and blood. That means serving my family with my whole heart. With a shepherd’s heart.

It means I serve them first. I give them the best of me. All of me. I lay down my life for my husband and kids. And sometimes, laying down my life can be nothing more than a bowl of sausage gravy. Only, made without grumbling…

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And he will go on before the Lord… to turn hearts of the parents to their children… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

The above verse is about John the Baptist. I find it interesting that he would turn the hearts of parents to their children. I often wondered about that. But you know, I find insight in Jesus’ words to Peter when He said He’d pray for him. He said, “when you turn back.” That word means lots of things, but most revelatory for me is, “to cause to return, to bring back… to the love for the children.”

Wow. That’s staggering to me. It speaks volumes. And it causes me to wonder about the hearts of God’s chosen people at the time Jesus came upon the scene. See, the religious men and women had became very rigid in their lists of do’s and don’ts.

Could it be that in all the attention devoted to what one should and shouldn’t do, the children were ignored? Forgotten? Abandoned?

Could it be the ultra religious held so tightly to law and regulation that they lost their grip on their home life and babies? Looking so good on the outside, but no good on the inside?

This is just what I’ve been pondering…

How the hearts of people needed to be turned to their kids even then.

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Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

Both my children are gifts from God. They’re my kids and I love them dearly. But today, I realize they’re gifts in more than one way. For God has used them to refine me. All my impurities have come to the surface through them. And honestly, had I not had them, I don’t know if I would have discovered my selfishness.

Also, they’ve slowed me down. They go slower than me and I realize, the child’s pace is just how fast I should be moving in life. Unhurried. Focused.

Finally, a child shall lead me. And I realize Annabelle shows me how to serve. Happily and lovingly. She puts her heart into what she prepares and you can feel it. She serves to be my example.

She shows me how I can serve her and Levi. And Jason. Because within my little girl, I see the Shepherd’s heart God is cultivating in me.

It’s true, I’ve been feeling depleted the past few weeks. A couple of hospital stays (one for each kid). Christmas adds extra. I’ve been pouring out and not much has been poured in. I’ve just not allotted enough time to the filling of me before pouring out…

It causes me to serve crankily. Bitterly. Selfishly. But then, there’s Christmas and a child came to us all. And Philippians 2 provides us with a picture of His pure service. It’s Jesus and He’s our model to follow…

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. Regard others as more important than yourself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also the interests of others. Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus – look to Him as your example in selfless humility.

He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God but did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted. He was not afraid of losing it. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a human. He humbled Himself further by becoming obedient to the point of death… death on the cross.

Jesus came to die. Truly, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life… so we can find ours.

Present yourself a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1

That verse is funny. Living. Sacrifice. One is alive and the other is dead. In the end, though, God calls us to die. For in laying down our lives, we really live. It’s the abundant life Jesus promised in the 10th book of John.

Plainly, we die to our selfish wills. Our timelines. And all the other things we hold to, running for our lives. That’s hard to do, though. It’s not easy giving up the reigns. To submit…

That’s when I look to the Bible greats. Young David had to continue shepherding sheep before he became king. After leaving the palace, Moses had to spend 40 years tending a flock before leading a nation. And Peter, well, He just needed some time with Jesus after his colossal failure…

Jesus fed him and restored him. He exhorted Peter to shepherd His people. And that’s what He calls me to do, too. He wants me to give up my life for the sheep.

For my sheep.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:4

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In closing, I’m brought back to food. And to the weight I’ve been trying to lose. If I go all the way back to February, I see I’ve made some progress. And if I add a work out to my regimen, the pounds will drop all the more. And I will. I just need to get through the holiday…

Anyway, I’m also brought back to the food I have to offer my own flesh and blood. See, several years back, I began seeking a Christmas heart. And I think I found that. There has been progress. For a Christmas heart is unhurried and slowed. Focusing on the true reason for the season. I’m really getting there with this.

But now, I realize there’s more to it. It has a lot to do with a shepherd’s heart. And I understand this type of heart takes a great deal of time. It develops through seasons of aloneness. Times of being unseen. Cultivation in the dark. And also, a work out is involved. Just like with losing weight…

Philippians 2:12 says it like this “continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation…]

Yes, self-evaluation is a huge part of the process. But this is what enables one to do everything without murmuring or questioning God (v. 14). In this, we prove ourselves blameless… innocent and uncontaminated… children of God without blemish in a crooked generation, among who we are seen as bright lights [beacons shining out clearly] in the world [of darkness], holding out and offering to everyone the word of life…

Did you catch that? We hold out and offer the word of life. We feed the sheep with the Bread of Life. With the Word become flesh…

However, our insides have to match what we’re offering. Our children have to want what we’re offering them.

And when our insides match what we say, they will. Our kids will want to eat what we give. They’ll want to graze upon us.

Also, when our insides begin to line up with Jesus, we shine. Like stars in the night sky. Maybe even like the star that led the wise men directly to Jesus. That’s what we can do, too.

Leading not just our children, but the world around us, to the One who gives life.

Yes, simply by working out our salvation, allowing Him to work inside us, we shine. Without even trying to. And this is how we let our lights shine before men.

Arise, Shine! For your light has come!

O, Little Town…

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I come from a small town and the above is a familiar site. Roads like this pepper my county. And because it’s Christmas time, I can’t help but think of another small town…

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. Micah 5:2

What wondrous things come from small towns…

https://pamandersonblog.com/2013/12/06/o-little-town-of-bethlehem/

Unfaithful

The fact I polished off a family size bag of Cheetos this week almost deterred me from working out last night. Because I thought, what’s the point? I already screwed up royally. I cheated again on my diet. Forever unfaithful to the healthy lifestyle I seek to nurture. Forever cheating with Cheetos… or whatever other salty/crunchy snack lies in wait on my pantry shelves.

Sigh.

Alas, I exercised anyway. I worked out and was drenched in sweat by the time I finished. And it felt good.

But then, I went home. And unavoidably, the hours of temptation arose. From nine p.m. on marks the hours of my downfall. Because when temptation beckons after dark, and everyone else is asleep, there’s no one to stop me. Or see me. And I just can’t seem to exercise self-control. Chester the cat (this week’s love) is just too darn cool. And too hard to resist. So I don’t.

I run to him…

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After binging, I always feel upset. Guilty. And hypocritical. Because I’m trying to teach my son what is good and healthy and what’s not. I tell him what to eat and not eat. And yet, I don’t follow my own advice. This is 100% do as I say and not as I do. And though I try to sneak things in at night, sometimes I leave clues behind. They’re discovered the next morning.

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The above picture is from last week. Before entrance of aforementioned family sized Cheetos. We buy my son those big bags of smaller bags for lunch. Levi says he prefers the soft cheese curls to the hard ones so that gave me license to dig through his lunch supplies seeking out Chester.

But don’t let that little bag fool you. This was the first of several. I started with one but my voracious appetite for snacks wasn’t satiated. So as I tossed away the trash, I grabbed another. Then repeated the process. Laid out on the couch, I devoured these little bags of chips.

I got chip-faced.

But afterward, I felt shame.

Sigh.

Yesterday my husband noticed a look on my face. “What’s wrong?” I confessed later when I emailed him a small grocery list. I told him I ate the whole bag of family sized Cheetos (the one he specifically said, “these are not for you.”)

cheese, milk, cat litter, gain dish soap

And the reason I looked the way I did this a.m. is I’m ashamed. Past three nights I’ve been chowing down on family sized cheetos, which are all gone now, by the way.

I keep feeling sick but no wonder.

Jason’s reply is priceless…

So just one bag of family sized Cheetos then?  Or 2?

Oh, I love him. Funny guy. And how well my boys know me. Both of them. For my own son has told me, “Don’t eat the whole bag.” Or “Save some for me!” Or “I got some first because I know if you get them there won’t be any left.”

Despite my trying to stealthily eat at night, I’m found out.

Moses saw that the people were out of control, for Aaron had let them get out of control, so that they would be vulnerable to their enemies. Exodus 32:25

So I had this interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. She’s been fasting one day a week and she told me that when hunger comes, she focuses on a situation she’s going through. And she says she finds clarity. She also told me when she eats something unhealthy, like cake, she feels so lethargic. It spoke to me.

See, I’ve been so tired lately. More so than usual. Three cups of coffee have turned to four or five a day. And that’s not good. So I realize I’ve been caught up in a vicious cycle. I eat too much. Carb overload. To compensate, I depend on caffeine. And around and around I go.

Basically, because my eating is out of control… I am out of control. And you know what… that makes me vulnerable.

The LORD then said to Joshua, “Stand up! Why are you on the ground?” Israel has sinned. They have violated My covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart (for destruction). They have stolen, deceived, and put the things with their own belongings. This is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies. Joshua 7:10-12

I just love the Old Testament. And though it’s about God’s chosen people, the Israelites, so much speaks to me today. I look at Joshua, Moses’ successor. How God appeared to Him. He said to be courageous. That He was with Him. And Joshua led the people to take the city of Jericho. The walls came tumbling down…

But you know what. On the heels of victory, Joshua and the people suffered defeat. Failure. A set-back. But it boils down to one thing. The people were unfaithful to God. They made other gods. In Exodus 32, they fashioned a golden calf. In Joshua 7, it was the spoils of war… items set apart to be destroyed were secreted away instead.

And really, this is what I’ve done. Eating is one of my gods. I bow down to it. I adore it. I allow it to control me. Rather than mastering my eating habits, I’ve allowed them to master me. A slave to carbohydrates. And Cheetos Chester. And to King Utz and Lord Lays.

When my household goes down, I go up. To the high place of my pantry. And I sacrifice my health to the god of overeating.

God help me.

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This is one of my battles. Always has been. Ever since my youth. I love salty/crunchy. My mid-section always an issue. Up and down. In the 9th grade, a boy actually commented on my tummy. “If you could get that under control, you’d have a really good body.” In the 11th grade I added about 10 pounds. That’s when an old acquaintance said, “Pam, you’re fat!” It hurt.

Ever since then, it was one failed attempt after another. Diet pills and exercise spurts. The above was taken one year after the birth of my son. I had some baby weight. I decided to do Body for Life. My husband helped me with before pictures…

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I dropped 12 pounds in a couple of months. I felt so good. Healthy. Energetic. Alas, the pounds came back with ten more. And so I’d try something else. Atkins diet. Hydroxycut. Jillian Michaels DVD’s. Up and down. Back and forth…

Up till now. Oh, I’ve lost ground by gaining pounds. More than ever. Most definitely, I’ve been unfaithful to God… choosing another lover. Cheetos. And I almost didn’t work out last night. But I did it.

Regardless of my failure, I took a small step forward. Afterward, I had the courage to say no to Chester. Or whatever other salty/crunchy snack tempted me.

And I find a small victory. Because the sluggishness of my carb coma seems to be wearing off today. And I find clarity. Awareness. I’ve been trapped in that cycle far too long. That vicious cycle. Going in circles.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I choose to move forward today. Onward in my journey with new resolve. Because I don’t want to go down this way. I don’t want food to trip me up any more. Food the cause of my sluggishness. Excess calories weighing me down in every way.

I just get so tired. So very tired. Lethargic. Till I’m immobile and on the ground. But today I hear my one true God. His voice cuts through the din of other false voices… my tempters.

He says, “What are you doing on the ground? Stand up!”

And in His strength, and only by His strength, I shall… I have to.

And not just for my sake. And for His sake. It’s for theirs… I have to stand up so I can be there for them. My babies.

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This won’t be easy. For it’s been a battle. My weight and me. Most of my life, really. But the choice is an easy one to make… it’s them or Chester.

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So this day, instead of Chester, I run to God. I peel myself off the ground and run to my children. Onward in my journey.

A Tale of Two Children (the fruit of my loins)

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15

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My babies are miracles to behold. A little bit of me, a little bit of Jason, and voila… a new creation. My firstborn, a boy child. And from the very start, he captured my heart. My last, a little girl. Equally as captivating. And through these mini me’s… I see my story unfold. By their names, their countenances and attitudes, their upsets and milestones, the real story of God & me comes to life before my eyes. Through them, I see me…

Levi

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The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. Deuteronomy 18:1-2

His name means “joined to.” Or attached. And his very name encapsulates everything about my early journey with God. It began when I said a prayer eighteen years ago and immediately set to work. See, I began working for a God I didn’t know at all. And as the years progressed, I became more and more attached to the outward signs of my sacrifice. For in my mind, it was the visible, the tangible, that validated me. If I worked hard, then I would be rewarded. And my prize would be something I could put my hands on. That was it for me. My hands. Working hands. Proof of how good I was.

And so, I embraced the old covenant whole heartedly. I attached myself to rules and regulations. Bound by law, I joined myself to the church building and all its activities. Tethered more to a religion than to the God who formed me. And so, as time marched on, I marched all the more. I offered up one empty sacrifice after another hoping that one day they would fill me. That one day, I would really be changed. But the harder I worked, the more bitter I became. And the more I judged. Oh, you know what I mean. I think we’ve all heard it… “10% of the people do 100% of the work.” That became my mantra. I wore it on my chest like a badge of honor. Because I was a worker. A hard worker. I made my daily sacrifices at the temple. I was a good Christian. And those who didn’t do what I did, well, they just didn’t measure up. They fell into that 90% category.

And so, the fruit of my labor was fear. Because when Levi came, I thought he was a gift from God. A reward for all that stuff I thought I should be doing. And over time, God gave me a place of my own. My homeland. And because of my actions, I thought for sure He was rewarding me once more. See… I was being such a good girl. At least outwardly. No one could fault me. No sir. My sacrifices were in plain view for all to see. And so, if I slackened my pace, I worried. Would God punish me? If I didn’t work hard enough, would He take what was given?

And so went my life. For the first fifteen years of my Christian journey. Until one night, I had a dream. It was in February of 2013 when I heard God’s word. As I slumbered, Matthew 9:13 settled in my ear: “Go and learn what this means; I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And as fate, or God, would have it… turns out that’s exactly what I did. I went. And I learned. My children teaching me the most.

Annabelle

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Her name is Annabelle. I selected it because it means joy. And in truth, she represents the age of grace that was ushered into my life at the time of her conception. See, I became pregnant at a pivotal moment in time… fertilization occurred after a two-year long in depth spiritual exam. New life in my body in more ways than one. For it was the Fall of 2013 when I felt a sense of peace. Of joy. Of contentment. And closure. And those feelings had everything to do with my past. And everything to do with my future. And the crucial moment that hinged the two.

See, I had clarity for the first time. Just over a year ago, I knew the truth and it set me free. I knew who I was. Then and now. And I knew who He was. Then and forever. I fully comprehended what He had done. For me. It had everything to do with a cross. Nothing at all to do with my sacrifices. And it had everything to do with mercy. And grace. Nothing at all to do with my works. It had everything to do with Jesus. His scarred hands. Not a thing to do with me. And my busy hands.

And so, finally, the cross did a work in my heart. Finally, I understood what He wanted me to know. Mercy and not sacrifice. And that’s when my belongings released their hold on me. Or more accurately, I released my grip on them. Because I was no longer possessed by my possessions. For when the era of mercy graced my life, I found I was attached to this world no more. A stranger in a strange land. Because God Himself became my portion… my inheritance. For the first time I realized He would not give and take away based on a reward system. Fear that God would strike my kids as a form of punishment diminished in the light of His unconditional love. And so finally, after too many years, I came to know my Creator as a loving Father instead of a strict slave master. Finally.

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures. James 1:17-18

For so long, I wondered why there was no change in me. See, I prayed a prayer in February of 1997. But nothing magic took place. There wasn’t this overnight miracle. Instead, I seemed to get worse. As time wore on, I became increasingly bitter and nasty and resentful. Oh, on the outside, I looked good. But inside… rotten. I festered away.

And so, despite knowing something was incredibly wrong, I kept going. Spurred on by select Bible verses and little knowledge. Misinterpreting Scripture on more than one occasion. Incited by a sermon I heard from more than one pulpit, “You’re known by your fruit!”  Well, obviously, I wasn’t producing the right fruit! Surely I wasn’t working hard enough. Because I was the same woman fifteen years later. And so, I lumbered on. I slapped on my badge of honor. Serve! Work! Let your light shine so your works glorify God in heaven! I tried to do all this. And I tried again. I worked so hard. Until one day, I just stopped. I knew there had to be something more. There just had to be. And turns out there was. For it’s just as He says… He desires mercy. Not sacrifice. I just had to learn it.

We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:9-10

It occurs to me today that perhaps we, as Christians, sometimes confuse fruit and works. Because one has to do with the internal while the other has to do with the external. One has to do with the New Covenant… the other the Old. One has to do with mercy… the other sacrifice. In essence, one has to do with life and the other… well, death. Inner and outer. And aren’t we told the outward is perishing anyway? Just like the dead works we’re to turn from…

Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that if we sit still long enough, an outer work will happen anyway? In time? Surely as God’s fruit develops and ripens within us, it’ll eventually make its way to the surface. To our eyes and mouths, His fruit blossoming and blooming on our very countenances? And yes, fruit yielded through our own hands. But not by our feeble attempts. Or by empty works. Instead, a bounty of fruit that begins deep inside us until it flourishes and heaps over the vessels that we are.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 

Yes, it’s true… my babies are miracles to behold. They teach me so much about myself. And through them, I’ve learned about God. About who He is. And as I stand back and look at the big picture, I am awed at how He put this all together. How through the precious faces of my offspring, the fruit of my loins, He gives me a picture of myself… the fruit of His loins. And through my children, I know without a shadow of a doubt how much He loves me. I know it. See, His firstborn was a Son. He was the firstborn over all creation. And then, He had more children. His firstfruits. As many as the stars. For His offspring is like the dust of the earth… if one could count the dust.

Her sons rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: “Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised. Give her the reward of her labor (the fruit of her hands), and let her works praise her at the city gates. Proverbs 31:28-31

Baby Girl

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Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8

My children. How often I see a picture of God and me through their little faces. With Levi. And most recently, with Annabelle. Look at her… drooling and happy in her rolls. This chunky little girl has been fed and fed well. For she loves to eat. Quite different than Levi, who abhorred eating new things. With him, the table was a battleground. I can’t even describe the fit he threw when I tried to get a peanut butter and jelly down his throat at the age of two. But Annabelle, well, she’s another story. See, she’s so interested in food. She watches us intently when we feed ourselves. And whatever is put to her mouth, she’ll taste it. Even if it’s a salty olive, she’ll savor the flavor. I can almost hear her, “Oh, mama, this is good.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or lack compassion for the child of her womb?
Even if these forget,
yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

From the very beginning, Annabelle wanted to be at my breast. Our second night, she spent two or three hours at my chest suckling. Finally, I called the nurse for Annabelle outlasted me. I feared I’d fall asleep. I was told about “cluster feeding,” which was a new term to me. Perhaps because Levi didn’t. Cluster feeding. It was a time for Annabelle to spend hours on my chest… one, to stimulate milk production. But really, it was more about her feeling secure. She’d just exited her home… my womb. And her new surroundings were dark. And cold. She wanted to be where she could feel my warmth… where she could experience my heartbeat. She simply wanted to be close to me.

For us, the cluster feed went on for the first two or three weeks of her life. Me exhausted. She happy only if she were on me. If I tried to lay her down, her cries followed. Quickly, I’d pick her up. I’d hold her tight once more. And she’d quiet.

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Over time, as her appetite increased, she grew rapidly. The still infant that she was became a moving, writhing being. And what I noticed about feeding time was her hands. For as soon as she began to move them, they began to get in her way. She’d put them up to my chest only to interfere with her suckling. Sometimes, I just had to hold them tight so she could feed without interruption. But finally, after getting enough milk, she’d look up at me with a contented look.

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Yes, it’s true, Annabelle was a healthy eater. She still is. Food brings her such comfort. “Oh, Mama, is it good.” And in her extended feeding sessions, those cluster feeds, I see a picture of me. More particularly, it’s a depiction of God & me. And what took place a few years back.

See, I came home in the fall of 2010. And truth is, I thought I knew everything about anything. Honestly. I was a big know it all. No one could tell me anything. They just couldn’t. See, I knew it all already. But something happened in the fall of 2011 that caused me to look back over my life. And as I did, I began to consume voluminous amounts of God’s word. I mean for hours at a time. There were times I had to pull myself away to get to the tasks of my day. All I wanted to do was sit there. Feeding on God’s word. The more I consumed, the more I wanted. Basically, I was cluster feeding. No different from Annabelle in the early days of her infancy. Just as she wanted to feel my warmth, I wanted to feel His. I wanted to lay my head against His chest and experience His heartbeat. Simply, I wanted to be close to Him. And in truth, I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing. Only in hindsight can I see it. Me suckling at the breast of God. Me not being able to get enough. Me crying out when I was pulled away. Cluster feeding. “Oh, mama, is it good!”

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:2-3

You know, I recently went through a home overhaul. And my husband lovingly termed our home as a big playhouse. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, he called it. That’s because of all the colors. Red, orange and yellow. Blue, green and turquoise. Just about every color of the rainbow can be found as I gaze about me. I told him it was fitting. Because of Annabelle. We’ll have a toddler before we know it and she’ll love the bright colors. Funny thing is, after the project was over and I was putting everything back in its place, Annabelle’s car seat caught my eye. And there I saw it. The inspiration for my house makeover was right there in her seat. All those colors. Red and orange and yellow and green and so on…

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Today, I have to laugh at this. See, I said the colors on our walls were fitting for Annabelle. But now, I have to say they’re just as fitting for me. God’s giant toddler. I walk around on shaky legs. I’m just now finding my footing… in Him. I stumble and fall more times than I can count. It’s all right there in front of my eyes. Me and Annabelle, a picture of God & me.

You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. Psalm 139:5

Just over three years ago, my life began to change dramatically. It was a time of stillness. I lay at God’s chest. As He held me in His arms, I savored the milk He offered. I drank it like my life depended on it. Oh, there were times my hands got in the way. For I became busy… the flow of milk interrupted.  But He held my arms tight until I could drink once more. And I gulped and slurped and took in as much as I could. Like Annabelle, it would run out of the sides of my mouth. My milk sliding down her chin… God’s word eking out of me. For three years now, I’ve been cluster feeding.

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These are recent photos of Annabelle. She’s just shy of 6 months and already over 20 pounds. As I said, she’s a healthy eater. Look at those rolls. Look at that chubby baby. Oh, how my heart melts every time I look at her. Again, a picture of God & Me. For He looks at me the same… and oh, how His heart melts when He sees my rolls. He knows I’ve been eating. A lot. Feasting on His word. And I’m growing… just like Annabelle. His baby girl.

Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14

You know, Annabelle’s been teething. And cutting teeth, well, it can be a little painful. But see, the time’s coming. She’ll soon be ready for something more substantial. Solids. And she’ll need her teeth to tear into something a bit more meaty. And once more, I see me. For these past few years have been painful at times. But now I know why… I’ve been cutting teeth, too. I’ve been feasting on milk but the time is coming… I’ll need my big girl teeth in order to tear into something meatier. See, like Annabelle, I’m growing up.

You know, it’s through my children. Their little faces provide a picture of God & me. For I’ve discovered their lives tell my own story. And right now, I’m like Annabelle. Fat and happy in my rolls. This chunky girl has been fed and fed well. For I love to eat. See, I’m so interested in food. In His food. And whatever He puts to my mouth, I taste it. I savor the flavor. And I bet He can hear me when my insides cry out, “Oh, mama, this is good!”

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