About Me

Florida, United States
I'm a mother of two children, an inspirational and motivational Author and Minister. My greatest joy is to see people gain new insight and understanding about the amazing possibilities that life holds when we put put our faith to action. 'Shoes For The Spirit, is a book filled with real-life stories of people who have walked through great difficulty and have found the right pair of shoes for their personal journey. Whether or not you are a person of faith, there is something uplifting, guiding and compelling in this little book, for everyone. The accompanying CD, 'Songs For the Soul,' is a compliation of original orchestrated tunes, with voice-over verse layered on top of the music. This CD has great encouragement for all who take the time to listen. I hope all of you bloggers will read the new sequel to 'Shoes For The Spirit,' listed in the blog posts below, and if you're so inclined, will purchase my book and CD. You won't be sorry! Be blessed. Love, Tamra

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We Are Extremely Valuable to the Heart of God

And because you have become His children, God has sent the spirit of His son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father. Now you are no longer a slave ( to sin and to the law) but God’s own child, everything He has belongs to you. Galatians 4:6&7

My son Jordan turned thirteen this past October and he felt it was time to purge his closet of the “little boy” toys he had accumulated over the years. I watched, my heart aching and a knot in my throat, as he carefully took the large plastic containers from the closet shelves and began to go through every Lego, Bionacle, Hot Wheels car, book, and Beanie Baby. He tossed them in the large, white plastic garbage bag as though they were worthless junk, while all those toys had a story and a particular memory for me- each more valuable than gold.
While he was sorting out the toys, deciding which would go to Goodwill and which to trash, I was working my way through his closet, taking down the shirts, shorts and pants that he had outgrown over the past year. I glanced over at my son, who when standing, was eye to eye with me, and wondered how we got here so fast.
I remember the day he was born. I can still hear his first piercing cry and how his father comforted him in the birthing room by singing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ Jim sang that song to Jordan every day he was growing in my womb. In clear recognition, Jordan stopped crying and lay peacefully on the warming table, his tiny hand gripping Jim’s finger.
Jordan’s manly voice interrupted my stroll down memory lane.
“Mom, what do you want to do with this? Throw it out?” I glanced over my shoulder as Jordan held up a small, azure blue shirt, with painted angels on the front- the eyes made of those little plastic disks with the movable black center. My son created that work of art in his kindergarten class and kept it as a sleep shirt over the years. It was so big on him when he first fashioned it, that it reached past his knees, and now he couldn’t get it over his chest.
“Put it in the shirt pile, babe. I’ll figure out what to do with it later.” I knew that little, blue angel shirt was a keepsake. I planned to tuck it away in my drawer and never part with it, but for now, my hands were full of clothes that needed to be boxed up and taken to Goodwill.
In the middle of the mayhem, the doorbell rang. It was the air conditioning repair man there to work on our failing AC system. I left Jordan to himself to finish the purging.
Returning a few hours later, I found my son triumphant, surrounded by big white trash bags overflowing with items to be taken to charity. I swooped up the bags and headed to the nearest drop center placing the plastic bags in a bin filled with discarded treasures. I wondered if other mothers had felt the same sadness in parting with a piece of their offspring’s childhood. A deep sense of loss settled over me as I drove away from Goodwill that day, knowing my son had reached a milestone in his life, one I wasn’t ready for, but one I had to face. Jordan was becoming a man.
I went up to his room that evening to give him a kiss good night, when I remembered the blue angel shirt and frantically glanced over at the corner where I’d seen Jordan place it. All gone. Everything was gone…including that wonderful little shirt. Tears welled up in my eyes and I thought my heart would break as I stood helpless in his bedroom. There was no keepsake to hold onto, just an empty closet with only a few books remaining in those big plastic bins that once held the wonders of childhood.
“Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” Jordan asked, absolutely bewildered at my tears.
“Oh, Jordie, I was really hoping to keep that angel shirt you made in Kindergarten. I wanted to add it to the things I kept of your sister’s to help me remember you both as babies.”
“Oh man, Mom….I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you wanted that shirt. I was so busy cleaning out the things I didn’t need anymore, I just threw it in with the other stuff in the plastic bags.” I could see the painful look on his face as he realized how much my heart was breaking. I lay down in his bunk bed with him, put my arms around him and wept. I wasn’t crying so much for the loss of the shirt, but for the passing of Jordan’s childhood. He was my last, and there wouldn’t be another. Mothers have a hard time letting go.
As I was lying there, I imagined trying to describe that angel shirt to the ladies at Goodwill, as I dug through mountains of discarded clothing. Suddenly, Jordan sat straight up in the bed, a look of hope in his eyes.
“Mom, I put one bag of trash downstairs in the garage container. Why don’t you go and see if the shirt is in it?
With a half-hearted effort, I made my way down the stairs and pulled out the white plastic bag with broken toys, all the things that were unfit to give away. I dug, and pulled and rummaged through that bag with very little hope of finding the angel shirt. When I finished, I retied the knot and reached up to place the bag back in the garbage bin. A tiny reflection of azure blue shone through the bottom tip of the translucent white bag. Not stopping to untie it, I tore into the bag with gusto and watched with amazement as little plastic angel eyes looked up at me. It was there! Jordan’s little boy shirt. Not another piece of clothing was in that bag.
I sat on the cold concrete floor of my garage and laughed and cried and held that shirt to my heart. There wasn’t a thing in this world that could have possibly meant more to me.
I began to thank God for allowing me to find Jordan’s shirt, and in that moment I gained new insight and understanding about the depth and height of the love of God for His children.
The Word says He knew us before we took our first breath- even before we were conceived in our mother’s womb. God loved us when we were just a thought- a plan in His heart. He’s always known the number of days we would live, how many hairs on our heads, how many times our heart would beat, where we would go, what we would do, and all the decisions we would make, both for good and for evil.
He knew I’d be sitting on the garage floor, holding Jordan’s tiny blue angel shirt at that moment in time. The overwhelming love I felt and will always feel for my son and daughter is a reflection of the immeasurable love God has for all of us. Jordan’s worth, his value to me knows no boundaries or limitations and neither does our Heavenly Father’s. What a revelation of our significance.
And because you have become His children, God has sent the spirit of His son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father. Now you are no longer a slave to sin and to the law, but God’s own child, everything He has belongs to you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Self Esteem, the path and the process

O Lord you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. Psalms 139:1-3

It was an extremely cold January day in St. Louis, and I was bundled head to toe in a plaid, wooly winter coat, fuzzy gloves, tall black leather boots, and a red woolen cap. All that was visible was the tip of my frozen nose and my blood-shot eyes weary from hours of studying for final exams.
It was mid-week service night and I was the piano player at church. It was necessary to get out on this cold, snowy evening and make the twenty- five minute trek to the assembly or the poor saints would have to do the hymns accapella. As miserable as I was, I didn’t want the Lord to have to endure such an assault on his divine ears.
I drove through the snowy, winding roads from Webster University, through the little town of Kirkwood, before finally reached highway 44 when I noticed my car was pulling hard to the left. The undeniable struggle of a flat tire was not a welcome problem for me on that cold, dismal evening.
I pulled the car to the side of the road and sat there for a long while, not sure what to do. Believe me- I had never changed a tire in my life, and was in no mood to learn in the freezing cold, being more given to high heels and frilly blouses, than lug nuts and motor oil. Cell phones were not available in those days and it’s not very often you find a pay phone neatly parked on the side of the interstate. So, I did what seemed the only logical thing to do. I prayed! Long and hard, fast and furious, I asked God to help me figure out what in the world to do about the flat tire.
Thoughts of being found frozen and snow-covered in my car shadowed my mind, but I had to push those growing fears aside. I sat for nearly an hour hoping a police officer would see my hazard blinkers and come to my rescue. Where’s the knight in shining amour when you really need him? I usually only had the honor of meeting my soldier in blue when I was ignoring a stop sign or exceeding the speed limit, (unfortunately, a common occurrence in those years.)
I knew I didn’t deserve to have my prayers answered. I couldn’t blame God if he left me out there on the highway to freeze to death. Even though I had faith in him and considered myself a Christian, I’d certainly made some blunders. In those times of need when we call on God, it’s our sins that run through the mind like a motion picture in living color- reminding us of our unworthiness. At that moment, all I could think of was what I’d done wrong- the lies I told, my lack of kindness and compassion, the blatant and rebellious choices I knew were against God and his word- they all ran through my mind while I sat in a cold car with a flat tire on a snowy evening.
Another hour passed and I knew the service was over and the hymns sung without me. It’s amazing how insignificant one can feel all alone in the cold. I was beginning to feel pretty sorry for myself when the headlights of a car, pulled up behind me. My heart began pounding so fast I could hardly catch my breath. I was excited that someone had finally come to my rescue and at the same time, frightened because I didn’t know the identity of my rescuer. I opened the car door and frozen snow and sleet blew into my face as a large man in a heavy brown coat approached me.
“Looks like you have a flat there, M’am.”
“Yes, I do, and I sure hope you can help me,” I replied, the anxiety and the cold causing my voice to shake.
“I saw your car on the side of the road as I was driving east, and felt like I should turn around and come back to help you. I’m not sure why I did, because I’ve never done this before, but I just felt like I had to.”
Without another word he popped my trunk, pulled out the spare, jacked my car up and in twenty minutes had my tire changed.
I didn’t have a dime in my pocket or a dollar in my wallet to give this wonderful man, but I thanked him profusely and offered my fuzzy-gloved hand to him in appreciation for his kindness. He just smiled at me, shook my hand and returned to his vehicle. I watched as he drove away and asked God to give him a special blessing for his amazing compassion on such a miserable night.
As I drove away, all I could think of was God’s mercy and his love for me, in spite of my shortcomings and mistakes. Why did he value me so much? I knew it wasn’t justified. I hadn’t earned his favor, and never could. And yet, he loved me just the same- as though I was pure and perfect with no fault.
O Lord you have examined my heart and know everything about me. (And even so, you love me still.) You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. (Even in a car with a flat tire by the side of the road.)
In those times when I doubt myself and wonder if my life will ever amount to much, I think back to that snowy night by the roadside. My self- esteem will never be defined by my accomplishments or my failures, but rather by a loving God who knows everything about me and still calls me his own.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The First Steps toward Self Esteem

Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. The very hairs on your head are all numbered so don’t be afraid. You are more valuable to Him than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

My father, a beautiful man with thick, dark, wavy hair and a towering stature of 6’3”, was my hero and my mentor. Whatever Dad was interested in, also intrigued me. I have vivid memories as a child of five of my brother Richard purchasing a Harley Davidson motorcycle. His enthusiasm was so contagious that it didn’t take long for Dad to catch the bike bug, and procure a motorcycle of his own.
When he first drove up the driveway with his beautifully chromed out, vivid gold Honda Road Cruiser, I could hardly wait to jump on behind him and go for a ride around the block. The wind whipped my hair in knots and my tiny white blouse flapped in the breeze as we sped around the corner. I held on to Dad with all my might, my petite hands barely reaching half way around his middle. He drove all the way to Herrin Park, with one hand on the handle bars and the other clasped firmly to my forearms. I couldn’t have been more proud or more entertained. This was sure to be a wonderful adventure we could all enjoy!
One fine Sunday, Dad and my brother Richard, decided to take a three day trip to the lush, green hills of Kentucky and see God’s wonders and the beauty of life on the road. I watched intently as he loaded the saddlebags on the sides of the bike with clothing, food and beverages, all the while pacing back and forth in a jealous stupor, fully aware this trip did not include me.
“Daddy, are you sure you have to go away? I asked. “I really wish you’d stay home. I don’t want you to go.”
“Now, you know your brother and I have planned this for several weeks, and you’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ll be back by Wednesday.”
“But, Daddy, I really don’t feel good about this trip. Something’s going to happen to you if you go. I just know it.” There was a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that had nothing to do with the growing envy in my little heart. I was genuinely concerned about his safety and had a strong sense that something was going to happen to him if he chose to leave.
Dad and Richard waved goodbye to Mother and me, as they made their way out of our
driveway and onto the road. Mother and I watched as they finally became so small they
slipped from our sight. Mother turned with a pat on my head and walked into the house, but I couldn’t budge from my spot. Standing tip toe, my small hands shading my eyes, I strained to see the tiniest glimpse of that gold Honda road cruise, hoping against hope that Dad would turn around and come back home to me.
The call came on Monday around noon and as the color drained from Mother’s face and her hand began to shake, I could see that whoever was on the other end of the phone had nothing good to say.
As Dad was merging onto the highway, a speeding car didn’t see his road cruiser in time, and although the driver made a sincere attempt to miss him, slammed into the back end of that beautiful bike, sending my father thirty feet into the air, and coming down to land on the roof of the car that hit him. He rolled onto the pavement and lay motionless on the road. Richard heard the squealing tires and turned his bike around to witness a terrible sight.
Richard knelt by Dad and tried to find a pulse, but there was nothing. He wasn’t breathing and his heart had stopped. Cell phones weren’t in existence in those days and there was no pay phone in sight. Strangely a man began to approach on foot from the distance and as he got closer, Richard could see he was carrying what appeared to be a little black medical bag. The man didn’t speak a word, but knelt down by my father, checking for a pulse and listening for a breath. Without warning, he began to beat on Dad’s chest, then reached into his black bag and pulled out a syringe. He filled it with liquid from a bottle and gave Dad a shot directly into his heart. Seconds after, Dad’s heart began to beat and he took a deep and desperate breath. Slowly the man stood, shook my brother’s hand, and introduced himself as Dr. Smith. He told Richard my father would be fine.
The scream of an ambulance siren pierced the air, catching my brother’s attention along with all the onlookers of the accident scene. As Richard turned back to thank Dr. Smith, he was no where to be found. Richard pushed through the crowd, and asked if anyone had seen where the doctor had gone, but no one saw him leave.
Dad ended up in the hospital for several weeks with broken bones, nasty bruises and a concussion, but otherwise very fortunate. Richard tried for several months to locate Dr. Smith. No one in the two state area had heard of a Dr. Smith that matched Richard’s description.
It was after this event that I first realized my importance to God. I understood He genuinely cared about the things that were of value to me. I asked sincerely for my father to return home safely and he did. Dad could easily have been killed in that trauma, but God sent an angel, a guardian in the form of a doctor to answer the prayers of a five year old child.
God hears all of our prayers, knows the cries of our heart and is willing and able to answer our petitions. We are the most important thing to Him, near and dear to His heart. When we grasp our importance to the Father, we begin the journey toward the development of our spiritual self esteem.
Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. The very hairs on your head are all numbered so don’t be afraid.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's Tempting to Play the Blame-Game

“Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat?” “Yes,” Adam admitted, “but it was the woman you gave me who brought me the fruit and I ate it.” Then the Lord God asked the woman, “How could you do such a thing?” “The serpent tricked me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.” Genesis 3:11b-13 NLT

My son Jordan had an important Science Fair project to complete over a period of a few weeks. He was running tests to find out which consumable product was more damaging to the teeth. He put each tooth into a different solution such as Sprite, Coca-Cola, lemon juice and canned Iced Tea, and each week made careful notes about the visible changes in the deterioration. We drove all over town searching for shark’s teeth to be used in the experiment, because they were the most attainable and a good substitute for human teeth.
You’d think shark’s teeth would be readily available in Florida but, most sharks teeth are treated with a coating or petrified, and consequently are unable to be used in this type of research. After a long and exhausting hunt, driving to every little shell shop and sea creature boutique we could locate, we finally found the uncompromised, sharp incisors and Jordan went to work on his project.
I want you to picture clear plastic cups set up on the kitchen counter, each with a tooth floating in various colors of liquids. Over the days and weeks, the project began to stink, and I was having a hard time making dinner each night with smelly shark’s teeth on my counter. By this time, it was hard to tell what Jordan had poured into those cups!
Each time I inquired of him how the assignment was coming along, he’d say, “Don’t worry Mom, I’ve got it all under control.” Since that was usually true and Jordan wasn’t the kind of kid to be irresponsible, I gave the Science Fair project little thought, doing my best to just ignore the aroma.
The days sped by and before we both knew it, the time was upon us and we had to lug his project board, research logs and the teeth in question to the school. I was confident Jordan would obtain a good grade on his endeavor, because he usually received high marks for his work. Imagine my surprise when he walked through the door at the end of the day, forlorn and despondent and announced he’d received a ‘C’ on his Science Fair task.
My first reaction, like other mothers reading this story, was to pick up the phone and make some heated inquiries into the reason for his low grade. I was ready to put on my boxing gloves and take someone out in the first round. (And to think, I was forced to smell that odor for weeks—how could he possibly have scored so low?)
Fortunately, I choose the wiser road and sat down with my son to discuss the issue at hand.
“Mr. Taylor didn’t explain what he wanted, Mom. He wasn’t clear with us on the requirements of the project. Steve and Alex and Jim needed me to help them, so I really didn’t have the time to work on mine as much as I wanted to. Besides, Mom, you know I haven’t felt so good lately.”
I listened to his explanation and then stood and walked over to his black and red backpack. After a few moments of searching through broken pencils, wadded up paper and half-used erasers, I pulled out the instruction sheet for the Science Fair Project. Wouldn’t you know it- everything that was required for an ‘A’ was clearly outlined on the assignment list.
I sat down next to Jordan and handed him the paper. He looked at it, then looked at me and the expression on his face was priceless -much like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
He was to take pictures each week of the visible changes in the teeth, and record everything in detail in a log. Also, he was to be prepared to give an informed and educated speech before his instructors about the project, the process and the outcome. Because he didn’t follow the rules carefully, his grade was lowered. There wasn’t an excuse in the world that he could offer to make up for his carelessness.
Ever since Adam blamed Eve for eating the apple, lack of responsibility has been a pandemic in our culture. We have all looked for a scapegoat for our bad behavior. Isn’t it always someone else’s fault when we make a mistake? It’s incredibly tempting to point the finger in a direction away from us, whenever our actions are brought into question. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Who hasn’t?
Legitimately, our actions can be the result of someone else’s choice, but nevertheless, we are always responsible for what we choose to say and do, regardless of the deeds of those around us. We are accountable to those we interact with, to the laws of the land, and most importantly, to God.
I’ve learned over the years, that it’s far better to simply stand up and take the hit for my poor choices than to try to elude reprimand. I want my son to understand that he is accountable for the path he chooses to walk. Every choice he makes has a consequence for either good or evil. Nothing is hidden from God, and I really believe when we admit our mistakes and take the high road instead of the road most traveled, our Father is proud of us.
Jordan never spoke a word of regret or remorse over his actions, but the next time a project was due, I noticed the assignment sheet was right next to the computer, adhered to with careful calculation. Now, what more could a mother want?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Temptation by Chocolate

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses for he faced all the same temptations we do and yet he did not sin. Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy and find grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT

I still remember the first chocolate cake my mother made from scratch for the family at my brother Richard’s birthday party. It was one of those delicious double Decker cream-filled types with the chocolate icing. The layers were so thick you had to stick your finger deep in the swooping waves of chocolate to get a stealthy taste. Pray Mother didn’t see you sneak a dip. It was absolutely prohibited to touch her cake before the unveiling, and though I was the angel of the family, it was impossible for me to resist slipping the tip of my tiny index finger into the side of that warm, silky, luscious cake! I’m still mystified as to how she could possibly know about my clandestine taste, but I’m certain God and my mother had a direct channel of communication that was second to none. Even when I was absolutely certain no one had seen the sneak, Mother always knew.
I thought perhaps God revealed my indiscretion to keep me honorable and upright, but really I think He knew that I’d have a serious difficulty with temptation-by-chocolate in my adult years, and in His great compassion was attempting to spare me from my own demise. How merciful.
The first time I ate an entire bag of fat-free tootsie rolls, I felt so guilty I couldn’t decide whether I needed to throw up or run a relay race. The only consolation for my indulgence was the comforting words fat free. And still, I wondered why I didn’t have the will power to put that compelling bag back in the cupboard. But, I’ve never been a girl who was satisfied with just one chocolate. It had to be at least two or three to silence the demons. And so, it stands to reason, that a whole bag of chocolate cream-filled Oreo cookies is far more preferable than a measly two or three. It wasn’t uncommon for me to skip lunch if the possibility of chocolate anything was lurking nearby. Chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner was a perfectly acceptable choice as far I was concerned. Isn’t chocolate one of the six food groups?
We’re all created beings and are always looking to fulfill that deep-seated longing in our hearts. I don’t think chocolate is the cure. As much of it as I’ve eaten over the years, if a hole could be filled with that delectable temptation, mine would be full to the brim and overflowing. Whether our indulgence of choice is cocoa, hamburgers and French fries, foie gras, or fried chicken, the bottom line is simply this: overindulgence of any kind will never fill the longing of our soul. Whatever controls us, owns us.
I believe that women overeat to gain a sense of comfort, a protection from the world and its abuses. Whether we struggle in a difficult marriage, our children are testing our limits and patience, our jobs are filled with stressful demands that are difficult to meet, whatever the outside source of our distress, one of the things we can always depend on to comfort us is food. It’s readily available and accessible, it doesn’t argue with us, or test our endurance, it doesn’t cause undue anxiety- at least not while we’re consuming it, and it gives us a sense of temporary satisfaction and safety.
Food, though accessible is only a momentary fix for a deeper underlying problem. It will never be able to offer us a long-term solution to the things that trouble us. We can either continue to address our hurts by using substitutions, or we can get the help we really need to reach the source of our distress. I’ve never yet met a woman who hasn’t needed some in-depth counsel to help her deal with the offences of the heart.
When we let these abrasions and spiritual injuries go untreated, we set ourselves up for a long and painful journey. I really believe forgiveness is key to healing. Matthew 6:14 &15 says, ‘If you forgive those who sin against you, (hurt you, misuse you) your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father God will not forgive your sins.”
Let’s examine this briefly. Forgiveness is a choice, often difficult to make, but God requires it. He knows our spirit is set free by acquittal. He understands that it is a choice of our will and one He can not make for us. When we hold on to blame and refuse to release the ones who have wounded us, a barrier is formed between our spirit and God’s. He cannot forgive us because we have chosen not to forgive. Our hearts then become hard and embittered, and the longer we wait to let go of the pain the more difficult it becomes to relinquish it.
Believe me, I know it’s easier to sit down and eat a full bag of Tootsie Rolls than it is to address the areas of unforgiveness that we carry in our hearts and to spiritually face those who have inflicted the injuries. It’s much easier to cover the pain with outside sources and placate our bodes with a false sense of security.
The indescribable joy of release obtained through the gift of forgiveness is worth more than gold. The spirit soars to the heights God intended when gifted with absolution. There is nothing more liberating than to be in right-relationship with the Father and nothing more valuable to our overall well being: spirit, soul and body.
I’ve been in the position many times to choose between the bag of Tootsie Rolls, or time on my knees before God. I must tell you, the allure of chocolate has been the winner more times than I care to admit, but I’m finally in a place where I realize the temptation to over-indulge is masking a deeper issue, and it’s easier now and certainly more fulfilling to choose the better path.
But let me tell you, there are just times a girl needs her chocolate! All things in moderation, so the Word says.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Truthful Temptation

Even some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following. Acts 20:30

It’s very tempting to tell a partial truth, omit parts of the truth, or to exaggerate the truth from time to time in order to make ourselves appear more appealing to those around us. We’ve all done it, and we’ve certainly known people who have, as well.
My husband had a competitor in his business who loved to brag to everyone who’d listen about his numerous exploits and gargantuan business dealings. But, in truth, everyone knew of his compulsion to strike a grandiose pose and to posture like a peacock at every opportunity. He took great pleasure in calculating the departure of all his business partners so that only his name remained on the billboards for everyone to see.
My husband came through the door laughing on more than one occasion, holding in his hand yet another business magazine with Ralph’s face plastered in living color on the cover; a legend in his own mind. Ralph paid for this honor, of course, out of the funds from his own company.
We had some social gatherings with Ralph and his wife on a few occasions and found it difficult to get a word in edgewise, as he spent most of the evening bragging about his numerous deals and chattering endlessly about his deeds. Jim had actually been involved with Ralph on a couple of the deals he discussed and had intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the cost, financing and sale price. Ralph apparently forgot of Jim’s first-hand knowledge and exaggerated the details to enormous proportions. Jim kept glancing over at me with a knowing wink as Ralph rambled on.
There’s not an individual reading this who at one time or another hasn’t exaggerated the truth to gain admiration from others. We’re all guilty. It’s enormously tempting to exalt ourselves to a position of high regard in front of our peers and associates.
However, I doubt Jesus ever fell victim to His own press, or used His position as an excuse to alter the truth. Never has another man in history accomplished the level of greatness achieved by this humble carpenter. Healing the sick and raising the dead were daily acts of kindness. Turning the water into wine was an endowment of His fun-loving benevolence, laying His sinless life on the line for you and me-- a complete and utter sacrifice of self. Even the slightest omission might have saved Him from a brutal death.
Which of us would discard human pride to take on the dark and dishonorable transgressions of the world? Which of us would freely give our bodies over to be tormented and crucified? I dare say no one. If salvation had been left to you or me, the world would be lost.
The most valuable thing we have to offer anyone is truth, honesty and our genuine love. All else is of no eternal worth. The Bible says in Proverbs 12:19, Truth stands the test of time, lies are soon exposed. And Psalms 24:3-5 says this; Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies.
I think we choose to place blatant liars in a category all their own, and feel the above verses don’t really apply to those of us who live a moral and upright life. However, we need to ask ourselves some important questions. Do we ever omit facts in order to achieve a goal, or gain recognition in our work? Do we tell partial truths to protect ourselves from having to take responsibility in certain situations? Do we exaggerate the truth in order to gain sympathy or admiration? I know I have.
I’ve seen ministers lie to their congregations from the podium, and political leaders share only half truths with citizens under their leadership. This has been going on since Eve first took a bite of the apple and shared it with Adam. It is within the human nature to protect itself and to exalt itself by whatever means possible
God didn’t categorize untruth into acceptable and unacceptable columns. He simply stated in Proverbs 6:17 that He hates a lying tongue. I believe that is an all-inclusive statement. There are no degrees of lying. Only truth, or falsehood.
Is this to say that we always need to tell everything we know? Ecclesiastes 3:7 states that There is a time to be quiet and a time to speak up. There will be situations where we need to prayerfully choose when to speak about what we know in truth, or to lay it at the foot of the cross, and allow God to show us when to bring our information to the forefront. Sometimes we simply have to leave what we know at the cross and never speak of it.
If we are in an intimate relationship with our God, we are all the more responsible to speak factual words. We are fully aware of those times when we are not being truthful, to whatever degree. The Holy Spirit gives a quick prompting, a tap on our shoulder which we can either disregard with a lame excuse, or we can make right. God requires integrity in our relationship with Him and with others. It’s often painful and many times it’s costly, but God requires it. He knows that dishonesty breeds more deception and takes our souls captive, where truth sets us completely free.
All we have of value in this life is our character and integrity. Proverbs 22:1 says A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Temptations trials

The temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptations from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. He will show you a way out so that you will not give into it. First Corinthians 10:13 NLT

I’ve only met a few women in my life who don’t like to shop: a true anomaly. It’s difficult to imagine a female without the compelling urge to step into a beautiful, richly decorated boutique. I can hardly stand to pass by the mall without going in to take a peak at the newest seasonal accessories, shoes, purses and clothing. I wake in the middle of the night dreaming about the latest designer bag and trying to figure out ways to purchase it, without my husband finding out about my trespasses.
In truth, shopping is my addiction. It’s my way to relax and unwind, at the same time to get an adrenaline rush from the latest great sale or outrageous discount. Shopping is a form of recreational competition, as women love to share about their deals. It’s a luncheon club of clandestine members who elect their president of the moment based on the amount of money she saved on her most recent and fashionable purchase.
Therein lies the oxymoron. To spend is certainly not to save, is it? And yet, the irrefutable logic of women has always been the opposite.
“But Honey, I bought this bag for only (a very important word to use) twenty five dollars on sale. The original price was one hundred and twenty five!” The smaller the purchase number in comparison to the much larger original price is a very important selling point when presenting the shopping extravaganza to the husband. That is, if you feel you must disclose.
Another essential and key word every professional shopper knows to use is: need.
That word worked incredibly with my father. As a sophisticated five year old consumer, I came to appreciate his quick and timely response to it. It has continued to have optimum impact on the noteworthy men in my life.
“But, Honey, I really need a new brown bag to complete my fall wardrobe.” Of course, the husband doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know that I already have three other perfectly suitable brown purses already tucked away on the shelf in my overly crowded closet.
Retail Therapy. I’ll just bet RT has its own chapter in the Psychology books, written with calculating accuracy by a woman who knows exactly what she’s talking about from first hand experience. I could be the author.
I’ve come to this very uncomfortable place in my life where I’m quite certain the Holy Spirit is attempting to get my attention about my spending habits. I know this, because of the niggling deep in my soul each and every time I hit the stores. A still, small voice whispers to my uneasy heart...what is it you’re really searching for?
I know it’s not another purse, or pair of shoes. I know it’s not another blouse, or frilly dress. And don’t misunderstand me. I love all those things, I really do. I like to dress beautifully and wear the most up to date fashions. But I also have learned that those things, those possessions, fill me with joy only for the moment. Then the moment is gone, and I’m left with the same emptiness that I went into the store with in the first place.
Last year I felt God speaking to my heart to refrain from purchasing anything I didn’t truly need for one year. He impressed that on my spirit in April, shortly after the death of my father. I inherited a small amount of money from Dad’s estate that I used to pay off all my charge cards and was virtually, and for the first time in many years, debt free. It was a phenomenally liberating feeling.
But, by the first of March I was back to my old habits- spending the money I had, and using credit cards to purchase what I lacked in cash. A year later, rather than being free of unnecessary debt and reaping the rewards of obedience to the request of the Lord, I was right back where I started…my credit cards to their limits once again, and a closet overflowing with items I neither needed nor wanted.
Why did the Lord ask me to refrain for a specific period of time, from making unnecessary purchases? Now that I’ve blown it, I’m beginning to understand his divine form of logic. Had I been obedient, I would know the freedom of owing money to no one. I would not be in captivity to interest rates and monthly payments. Those twelve months of steering clear of the stores would have allowed me valuable time to spend in other more worthy causes. I would have set an important precedent for my daughter and shown my husband that he could trust me to be a woman with self control, not given over to detrimental temptations. I would have learned to overcome a strong persuasion in my life, and I would have gained a spiritual maturity that only comes from obedience to the promptings of God.

But I am comforted by this verse in Corinthians. The temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. (I’m not the only woman with this addiction.) And God is faithful. (He still loves me, even though I’ve failed Him.) He will keep the temptations from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. ( He knows my weaknesses, and if I seek His face in that moment of temptation, He will do a work in my heart.) He will show you a way out so that you will not give into it. (If I request His help, God will enable me in that crucial instant, to select a better path for my feet.)
Realizing you have a problem is the first step toward resolve. So, today, I give the Lord my heart, my desires, my supposed needs and yearnings and I trust Him to direct my steps and order my ways according to His good plan and purpose for my life.
All the credit cards are tucked neatly away in the drawer, and as I slowly pay them off yet again, I do so with newfound maturity knowing that Paul’s words found in Philippians are as true today as they were thousands of years ago. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Perfect Dream Home

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. Philippians 3:12 NLT

I had been tearing pictures from design magazines for years, and had quite a portfolio of ideas collected in anticipation of building my dream home. There were lovely images of warm, elegant bedrooms, functional, inviting kitchens, efficient, well designed offices and fun-filled family rooms. I even had a bag of stones in the colors I love: red, green, yellow, brown, gold, and copper.
We purchased our home two and a half years ago. I still remember the mixed emotions I had the first time I drove up to, parked my car and gazed at the possibilities. I had no trouble seeing beyond the dreary color of paint and the pitiful shrubbery. When I stepped through the front doors, the immediate potential of the structure was staggering. Without question, the task was monumental- far bigger than I had imagined. In truth, I felt overwhelmed at the magnitude of the job I had chosen to undertake. Where to begin?
The bathrooms and kitchen were full of outdated cabinetry, and, were finished with a white, shiny-type coating that didn’t match my decorating plans. The tubs and showers were leaking; the kitchen looked like aliens had designed the cooking area, and the carpeting showed years of cigar-induced burns and other unpleasant mishaps. Some of the doors were warped and in need of replacing, the stairwell carpeting was unraveling in places to the point that you could see the bare, unfinished wood beneath.
The entire house, floor to ceiling was beige. Not a speck of color anywhere, and I’m a girl who loves color. The plastic chandeliers had that Eighties disco feel...very groovy. All I needed to complete the scene was a mirrored disco ball hanging from the ceiling in my living room and Andy Gibbs piped in on the stereo.
I enjoy a challenge, but I was beginning to think I had bitten off more than I could chew. The look of absolute delight on the contractor’s face as he took a gander told me the rest of the story…this was going to be expensive. Cha-ching.
With every change we made, a new problem surfaced. Sometimes it was a plumbing issue, sometimes an electrical glitch, but it didn’t take long to realize we were in over our heads, financially and emotionally. We wanted this house, but could we afford it? Renovations we thought we take us four months, ended up requiring nearly a year and cost three times what we had originally budgeted.
In spite of the fact that the whole project was beyond exhausting, the glad day arrived when we packed up our belongings from the cramped little condo we’d been living in for months, grabbed the dog and cat, and made the exciting trip to our newly renovated dream home.
We were amazed at the finished product. It was all I had ever hoped for and more. Down to the last detail of the artistic touches on the kitchen cabinets to the faux paint on the entry pillars...everything was just as I had imagined, only better.
Jordan’s room is painted with wall murals of trees, grass and lions, and offers the illusion of stepping into a jungle. Meagan’s room is finished in European flair with embellished touches of gold and orange. The living room has angels painted on the entryway ceiling, an inviting welcome to any guests who enter our home.
As I stood looking at the vast transformation, remembering what the house looked like originally and marveling at the majesty of its conversion, I began to think about our journey with God.
When first we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, He must see the monumental task of all that needs to happen. And yet, we are His dream home, the place where His Sprit desires to abide.
Jesus moves through the rooms of our hearts, one by one, with careful examination. When He’s taken a full inventory, He begins cleaning out the unnecessary burden of false expectation, erroneous beliefs and human imperfections. He sweeps all of our mistakes into a heap and washes them away by the power of His Word. He never remembers those errors in judgment again. He heals the wounds of our hearts and strips all the old wallpaper and paint from our fractured souls. And only when He’s completed the cleansing of the old, does He begin the development of the new.
Jesus knows our potential. He is patient as He changes us bit by bit, knowing it is a life-long journey. I renovated my dream home in months. Jesus transforms us over a lifetime. He’s in no hurry, because He’s interested in our journey and already sees the finished product before we take even the first step.
Budgets and cost over-runs are no issue for our Savior. Jesus pre-paid it all. He had the perfect plan for the price of our spiritual renovations. He gave His life, the flawless, sinless sacrifice for all our mistakes. Our reconstruction cost Him everything and He gladly gave it, so that we may become that complete and finished creation He knew we would one day be.
I can agree with the great Apostle Paul as he said, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”
I now understand that the perfection is in the journey. How grateful I am that the Lord has a vision for me…one He painstakingly will pursue from the day I invited Him into the rooms of my heart, until He’s finished the good work He began in me. I’m glad Jesus doesn’t get exhausted or frustrated with the process, and throw up his hands and quit! Because of His patient endurance, I’m on my way to becoming His dream house; the perfect work of His hands that continually shapes me into the glorious image of Christ.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Perfection of Significance

Punting Perfection

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:21 NLT

Wasn’t it that great philosopher, Andy Warhol, who once said, “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes?” The culture we live in flaunts the importance of popularity, fame and money without apology. Everyone, it seems, has a desire for notoriety. In truth, I think it’s an innate yearning to be worshipped. I wouldn’t doubt it’s that same fatal flaw that sent Lucifer careening out of Heaven’s door a millennia ago.
American Idol, and every other reality television show, sends the same deliberate message- you’re nobody unless you’re somebody.
As painful as it is for me to admit, I’ve entertained the same dream as a million others- to have my name up in lights, my own television show, to sell a gazillion records and accomplish great things.
Not long ago, Pastor Tommy stopped me as I was heading out the door after church and said something that made me take pause. “You’ve always wanted your life to count, Tamra, to do something of value, to be someone others could admire. But, let me challenge you with this: live a life of significance rather than importance.”
I actually went home and looked up those two words in my Webster’s dictionary. Significance expresses a life full of value or worth…Importance relates more to having power or authority. I wasn’t sure why Pastor Tommy felt the need to share his thoughts with me. I’ve always thought that my life had been centered on the idea of helping others. I write books, I compose music and sing songs. Somehow this seemed to me the perfect path by which to touch lives for Jesus. But perhaps the motivation of the heart is really the issue in question. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it takes a while for me to find the light switch. If our goal is the praise and admiration of those around us, then we may find exactly what we’re looking for: importance. But if our intent is to have the heart and character of God
revealed in and through our lives, and to have our words and actions reflect the love of God above all else, then we will live a life of significance.
There aren’t many kudos for the prayer warrior who spends hours on his or her knees before God. There’s no mob of screaming fans for the woman who takes dinner to the widow, and yet Jesus said, “As you do this unto one of these, you do this unto me.”
I believe pride is the obstacle that stands in the way of our ability to live that life of significance Pastor Tommy spoke of. We see ourselves in the light of human understanding and often place values on our lives that are predicated by world views. However, there comes a time in the life of every true seeker of God, when he or she must lay down all that we think we are and all that we hope to be, in order to be transformed into that vessel that God has planned us to be before the foundations of the world.
I remember the moment when I came to the painful realization that I would never accomplish the level of greatness I thought I was entitled to. I would likely never stand on a stage and sing for thousands of people, or have my name in lights on Broadway.
The sense of failure that overwhelmed me was palatable and I experienced a feeling of great loss, almost like a death. The transformation of a dream is often accompanied by a deep sense of bereavement. Yet out of death comes rebirth and an opportunity to explore avenues we never previously considered. The Lord’s definition of our perfection is entirely different than our own, and often requires the relinquishment of our hopes and dreams in order to see His plan unfold.
After months of dealing with my sense of loss, I was prepared to ask the difficult questions. What motivates me? What makes me feel important? What defines me? Why do I have these talents and for what purpose do I use them? In truth, the answers surprised me. I was motivated by the accolades of others. I felt important when I was appreciated for my talents. I realized I was defined not by who I am, but by what I do.
And these acknowledgements brought me to the foot of the cross of Christ. It was there that I laid down my abilities, my talents, my dreams and goals and requested God’s heart in my journey. I wanted Jesus to redefine me, and to make this vessel of human clay into the work of art He desired to look upon. It was a huge step of faith, and not one I took without great thought and consideration. Once we relinquish our definition of self, and offer it up, then we must be redefined by the One receiving our sacrifice. Since we’re not exactly sure what form that new individual will take, it’s a bit frightening.
Here’s what I know for sure- nothing is wasted with God! He uses every gift and talent He’s given us, perhaps in different venues than we would like or hope, but He utilizes those unique and individual endowments in ways we can’t imagine. It’s much like giving up a cubic zirconium to receive a flawless diamond.
I can say with absolute certainty that I have no disappointment in the path I now walk. When Jesus told the rich, young ruler to sell all his possessions and give all he had to the poor, He was really asking him to trade the life he knew for a far more perfect existence. Today, I find myself grateful to be living this life of significance, rather than importance, and I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to understand the difference.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Perfectly Planned

Punting Perfection

God is my strong fortress and he makes my way perfect. Second Samuel 22:3
Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill? Job 37:16 NLT

I don’t know about you, but I’m a real control freak. I’m the type of individual who has to know exactly what’s going on, where the road leads and what will be the outcome. I drive my husband to the edge of insanity, with the need to have our vacations carefully ordered and every day planned to the near minute. He thinks I’m a micro-manager, and I think he’s disorganized. And somehow we’ve learned to deal with our idiosyncrasies.
One summer we escaped the Florida humidity with a trip to Colorado. As I breathed in the cool mountain air, and let my eyes feast on the majesty of the Rockies, I could feel the tension melt away. The drive from Denver to Beaver Creek is beautiful with winding roads, tight turns, and daring drop offs.
This particular trip Jim wanted to do some paragliding. I’d never even heard of paragliding, and looked at him with the usual skepticism. He said, “Don’t worry Hon, you’ll love this. It will be a great adventure for the family.” I always know when he says things like that, and doesn’t bother to elaborate on the details that I’m going to be involved in something I don’t want to be.
The drive up the mountain for the paragliding adventure was inordinately steep, so I tried to keep my mind occupied with the massive green trees, and little furry animals scurrying about the bushes. It seemed to take forever to get there, but when we finally arrived we were greeted by three mountain-men, complete with the hairy beards, back-pack equipment and well-worn hiking boots. I was already getting nervous, my breathing coming in short fast spurts. Of course, that could have been from the altitude in preparation for what was to come.
Meg and Jordan were following close behind the guides, excited about the prospect of experiencing something completely new, and I was tagging behind saying the Lord’s Prayer. Jim was up front asking a lot of questions and glancing back at me with a smile of assurance. Let me tell you, I felt anything but assured! As we arrived at the peak and I got a look at the tiny, bug- sized cars in the valley far below, I swallowed hard and fought to keep my composure.
“We’re going to do what?” I asked incredulously. Jim stepped back- a very wise maneuver, and allowed Mike, Mountain-man Number One to do all the talking.
“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of, Mrs. Nashman.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes, please, if we’re going to be this near death, by all means call me Tamra.”
“I’ve been paragliding for years, and it’s quite easy to do. You merely run toward the edge of the cliff, the chute will inflate and allow the wind to pick you up and carry you. It’s like a bird. You’ll just float off the mountain.”
At this point I was absolutely speechless. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head: Is our life insurance premium up to date? Who will take care of the kids when I’m dead? And what about the laundry; no one does the laundry but me. You see, I’m a very pragmatic woman, not inclined to take crazy life-threatening risks. I looked over at the kids, faces full of wild anticipation, nodding affirmatively at me, like I should accept my fate without question.
“There is absolutely no way I’m running toward a two thousand foot drop- off and trusting the wind to pick me up and carry me. Are you completely out of your mind? Come on kids, we’re out of here.” I turned on my heels and headed back toward the car.
“Babe, wait a minute,..you can just watch us take a turn, then you can decide if you want to do it or not.”
“You expect me to watch while my babies run off the side of a mountain?” Now I was getting very angry at my husband for this monumental assumption.
While we were arguing, halfway back to the car, my kids were getting suited up for the flight. Jim took my arm and gently led me back to the launch point. Meg was set to go, her helmet on, her safety harness strapped to her body and legs, and the instructor suited up behind her. Fortunately, it was to be a tandem ride, so that was comforting to me. Somewhat.
Mountain Man Mike waited until the wind was just right then counted off: “One, two, three, go! Run, Run, don’t stop!” And I saw my baby girl pulling with all her might as the huge wing-like canopy lifted in the wind, and raised them off the ground just as their feet hit the edge of the precipice. I crumbled in a heap on the ground, watching in absolute wonder as they floated gracefully through the air, gently moving with the currents of the wind. For twenty minutes I watched them make circles and melt into the clouds, the gold and white canopy angling and soaring with the airstreams.
Next it was Jordan’s turn, and he ran off that mountain like he was taking a jog in the park. “No problem, Mom!’ he shouted as he waved with glee. All this time, I never took a breath and my finger nails were blue from a lack of oxygen. Jim turned to me, pleased with himself for this latest adventure. “See, Hon, it’s no big deal. You can do this.” And I fainted, right where I stood.
It took me three days to get up the courage to strap on that gear and prepare to jump off the mountain ledge. As Mike was suiting me up I was crying, the tears streaming down my cheeks, explaining to Meagan the location of my gold necklace tucked away in the bedroom drawer at home, should I never see her again. Poor Mountain Man Mike had to explain every strap, buckle and harness to me in vivid detail as it was being placed around my body. I must have asked a hundred questions before we took our stance waiting for the perfect gust of wind. And when it came I ran harder than I’ve ever run in my life, and before I knew it I was airborne, floating weightless through the sky. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. Finally I understood why my daredevil husband wanted me to experience it.
While I was carried through the air, no sound but the wind moving in the canopy above us, I began to think about my life and my obsessive need to know every step of the journey. Near death experiences have the fortunate side effect of introspection. My dream was to become a professional musician, travel the world, sing and play and make albums for millions of people to hear. That was the journey I planned to take. But here I am, a woman who writes books and shares her stories with people for the purpose of spiritual inspiration and encouragement. Not exactly how I expected God to use me. However, in relinquishing control to Him, and laying down my perfect plan, I have found great fulfillment and deep- seated peace. My joy is in the knowledge that I’m on the path Jesus choose for me, long before I took my first breath. I can rest in the understanding that His way is flawless. And I can trust Him to carry me through my life journey as completely as I can trust him while floating from a canopy off the side of a mountain. It’s all in His perfectly capable hands.

Monday, July 23, 2007

It's by Grace Alone

Punting Perfection

God is love and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them…Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid it is for fear of judgment and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us. First John 4:16&18 NLT

I grew up in a small town in Southern Illinois similar to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, where there is common familiarity and no strangers wander the streets. When I was five years old my dad gave me a nickel for ice cream and I casually made my way downtown alone; blonde curls bouncing, black patent leather shoes clicking on the concrete sidewalk for seven or eight blocks in search of the cone. The local cab driver picked me up and took me to the police station and there I sat in a huge wooden chair, entertaining the officers with my childish antics until my frantic father arrived to take me home. Children were safe in Herrin, and crime was virtually non-existent. There was a warmth about that town that you don’t very often find today. In truth, small towns have their benefits and their detriments.
My parents attended a house of worship, one where unusual occurrences were commonplace. People often came to the front of the church for prayer for various assortments of ailments and many of them left completely whole, relieved of their pain and suffering. It wasn’t at all unusual to see someone come in a wheelchair and leave without it. Afterwards, the ominous steel chair placed at the front of the house…a constant reminder to those who entered that hallowed place of God’s miracle working power.
I’m sure the music I heard in that church left a lifelong impression on me, and I still remember the words and chords to every old hymn sung there. The choir bellowed fervently with such great enthusiasm that it was hard for the congregation to stay in their seats. We’d all rise, hands clapping, hearts lifted toward heaven, spirits soaring, caught up in the deep and genuine emotion of praise to the Creator.
The minister had a theatrical approach to sermonizing that kept all of us enraptured. He painted a vivid picture of heaven and hell, and I’m quite certain there wasn’t a single soul in that house who hadn’t made a clear cut choice for their eternal home at the completion of the pastor’s message. It seemed all his messages had something to do with living right and behaving in an appropriate manner that would insure our heavenly home.
Expectations and rules of conduct were laid out precisely, most of them directed toward women and girls. The do’s and don’ts of that particular sect of Christianity were severe and when I was a child, I didn’t question them. But, as I became a teenager I struggled with the set of laws I was expected to adhere to. We couldn’t cut or trim our hair, no make-up was allowed, no long pants, or shorts. Therefore, I couldn’t participate in my high school marching band as pants were part of the uniform. No swimming with people of the opposite sex (called “mixed bathing”) in or around public pools, and we couldn’t go to movie theaters or parties, unless the party was thrown by people within our particular church. High School prom was absolutely taboo. Our clothing had to meet specific standards- high necks, long sleeves and dresses to or below the knee.
As long as we met the specifications, we were accepted with warmth and fellowship, but if the rules were broken in the slightest measure, the punishment was swift and sure.
When I was 16, I played the piano for the church and the minister noticed that I had trimmed an inch or two off of my waist length hair. He removed me from the platform, called me into his office and explained my disrespect had cost me my position. He promised to show me scriptural proof of my sin, but as the days and weeks progressed, the only proof of my hell-bound rebellion was his fiery sermons demanding absolute subservience to his interpretation of scripture. Love, grace, tolerance and acceptance were not a part of that denominational code, so as you can well imagine, I had a skewed understanding and interpretation of God and spirituality. In fact, the only real knowledge I had of God was one of fear, and strict expectation. I lived everyday with the apprehension that I would go to hell for this infraction or that one. I was completely unaware of the true nature of God’s grace and benevolence.
And with that particular belief system shaping my life, I came into adulthood with a driving need for perfection. I had to make myself perfect in order to please God, and to be accepted by those around me. I was a people- pleaser in every since of the word. Every aspect of my life was impacted by this gripping need for acceptance. I had no concept of my own identity, as it had been so wrapped up and defined by rules and expectations of my church.
This need for perfection and its illusive control over my life battered my self- confidence into the ground. Everything I did, or attempted to do, was from a point of searching for acceptance and love. When you feel that love from God and others is predicated on your ability to earn that love and acceptance by the perfection of your deeds, then you have no idea how to be yourself or find who you really are. Every move and decision is based on the need for approval. I was completely imprisoned by my misinformed beliefs, and unfortunately took some dreadful roads in my quest for love. The truth is, there is no perfection within the human effort, only the effort itself.
I moved to St. Louis to attend university and found a house of worship that intrigued me. The minister stood to deliver his sermon and I braced myself for the expected lashing. But instead, this man spoke of the love of God...of the gift purchased for us by Jesus death on the cross, how we are no longer subject to the law, as grace took its place at Calvary. He went on to say we would never be perfect, as there was only one perfect sinless lamb offered up for the mistakes of all mankind and it is in Jesus’ perfection alone that our imperfections are forgiven. I listened with an intent ear, never having heard such things before and wondering if somehow this grace was enough for a hopeless sinner like me. God is love and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them…Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear.
What a life changing revelation. Could it be true? I would never, could never earn my way into Heaven by the perfection of my deeds. Was it really through Christ alone and my faith in Him that I was forgiven and whole to walk in this new life I’d been given? What a freedom that came to my heart through the understanding of forgiveness. I felt like a one hundred pound weight of fear and needless expectation had been lifted from my soul. I could live, and be, and choose for myself how I would express my life before God. And He would direct my path each day. Such freedom was completely foreign to me, but joyously welcome.
This is how my journey began; it is one I live each day with the intimate understanding of His mercies, His power and His presence, all fresh every morning. And although I continue to struggle and will likely always have some challenge in the area of overcoming my need to be perfect, and to make everything around me perfect, still, I am a child of God, unique, gifted and talented in ways that are meant to bring Him glory and honor. My prayer is that I grow in His grace each day and that my experiences will enrich the lives of those around me. I choose to embrace the freedom to live my life in love, to give and receive that love freely, without the needless imprisonment of perfection and the fear of failure.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Self Control, Segment five

Skating Toward Self Control from ‘Shoes For The Spirit, Inspirations'


‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure, lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ Philippians 4:8

My father and I were connected at the hip from the time he first held me in his arms to the day I gave him my last kiss. If he told the story of my birth once, he must have told it a thousand times to anyone who would listen. How the nurse brought me out of the delivery room, wrapped in a little pink blanket and carefully placed me in my father’s outstretched arms.
“Congratulations, Mr. Hampton…you have a baby girl!”
“Now, don’t tease me, because this is not a bit funny.”
He’d explain, with a serious and concerned face: “I’ve been waiting for a little girl my whole life and you’d better not be kidding me.”
“No sir, no joking here. This is your little girl.”
Dad would hold out his arms just like he must have done a half century ago, a look of wonder and excitement on his face. He’d then mimic taking me in his arms, and then quickly hand me back to the nurse. “Take her now; I sure don’t want to drop her!”
One of my earliest memories of my father was skating on a lake, on a small property my parents owned in the country. The Lost Sixty, as they fondly called it, was no luxury resort…more like a few wooded acres with a small travel trailer parked on a hill, overlooking a pond. But in the winter, it froze over and my dad would take me out on the pond in my ankle high, red rubber boots and we’d skate around that frozen wonderland like it was the Olympics in Salt Lake City. We’d spin and twirl and Dad would clap with exuberance at my childish antics.
I have vivid memories of him coming in the house after a long day of work at the tool and dye factory, and me leaping into his arms with glee as he laughed that big belly laugh of his and swung me through the air. My personal flying trapeze. The best part of my day was the moment Dad came through that door.
We’d find any excuse at all to take a walk together, or get on his beautiful Honda Gold Wing touring bike for a ride through the country. Many times we’d find ourselves in Paducah, Kentucky having been on the bike for a couple hours, and predictably parked in front of the ‘Fish and Chips’ restaurant. We’d always order our favorite; fried catfish and hush puppies with a big glass of iced tea.
And these are the thoughts I fix my mind upon, now that Dad is gone. It was incredibly difficult to watch him get old. Such a vibrant active man, he always had a joke to tell and a funny way of looking at life. I could barely stand to see his body bent over by the deteriorating effects of osteoporosis, and the once whip-sharp mind altered by the relentless pursuit of Alzheimer’s disease.
During this season of change and aging, Dad and I had a few cross words. He never seemed to be happy with his surroundings, always looking to move and I just wanted him to settle in and find contentment. We argued from time to time and I said some things to him I can’t forget. That’s the trouble with spoken words; they come back to haunt us.
He came to stay with us in Florida for six weeks over the Christmas and New Year Holiday and during that time we were able to do some of his favorite things. We ate breakfast at Mel’s Diner- the biscuits and gravy were always calling his name. We took long rides in my little red car, the faster the better. We sat outside and watched the pelicans dive in the bay, hungry for their daily meal. But most of all, we talked about all the wonderful people we’d known over the years and the many adventures we’d experienced in life together. Dad had no problem with the past…it was the present that threw him.
He couldn’t remember how to turn on the light switch, or the water faucet in the bathroom, couldn’t recall how to find his way to the kitchen table, or back to his bedroom at the end of the day. He’d lose his wallet and accuse me of stealing it, which of course I’d never do. But, that’s one of the sad and hurtful issues of Alzheimer’s. It slowly steals away the person you’ve known and replaces them with a stranger.
Dad took a fall in the early morning hours attempting to find the bathroom and broke his hip. We ambulanced him to the hospital and got him settled into a private room while he awaited hip replacement surgery. I sat next to Dad’s bed, holding his hand and listened as he spoke of years gone by, and as he laughed at silly stories he loved to remember. I stood to leave and as I did, I leaned forward and gave him a kiss on those withered lips. He smiled his great big funny smile and said, “You’re the best daughter a fella could ever have!” That was Dad’s last lucid moment, and my last memory of my father.
And now that Dad is gone my natural inclination is to return to those painful words I spoke in haste, and relive angry moments between us, berating myself for each one of them. Why is it we can always remember our failures, but so easily forget our victories?
‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right, Think about things that are pure, lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ And this is what I choose to do. I choose to laugh rather than to cry, to rejoice rather than mourn, and to be thankful for every wonderful picture that still lingers in my memory. This takes a strong measure of self control to order my thoughts in a lovely and admirable way, but so worth the task.
Today my thoughts are fixed on those little red rubber boots and me, skating across the Lost Sixty pond, the darling of my father’s heart.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Skating Toward Self Control (4)

Skating Toward Self Control

‘And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.’ Ephesians 4:26

Most of the time, I love living in the bright and sunny, terminally green state of Florida. But when all the snow birds fly north and the rainy season kicks in, the humidity can get so thick you could cut it with a knife. Rain comes suddenly and without warning. In a moment’s time it can turn your lovely coif and neatly pressed suit into a drenched vignette from ‘Singing in the Rain.’
Not long ago, my husband purchased an expensive umbrella for me from one of those couture luggage places in the mall. He knows I love red, so he bought the prettiest bright red umbrella he could buy. It was the kind with a push-button release to shoot the umbrella high over your head in a protective stance of guaranteed dehumidification. And with the same simple gesture could reduce itself to ten percent of its full blown stature, a marvel of modern technology.
Feeling amply protected and assured of staying dry with my new high-tech umbrella, I got ready for some important meetings, did the serious-business makeup, took more time with the hair than usual and put on my brand new dress. Let’s not even talk about the shoes; my saved-in-the-closet, never-worn-before, shoes.
When I left the house that morning, the sky was blue and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. But as unpredictably certain as the weather in Florida can be, barely did I get to my first meeting and step out of the car, when it came a deluge. Reaching in the back seat to take hold of my secret weapon I swung it toward the heavens with a sure and trusted gesture, only to find the blasted release button was stuck. Pushing frantically on that silver button of promise, I was so engrossed in the failure of my secret weapon, I didn’t notice how wet I was getting…when my thumb was exhausted from pushing, I used my never-worn-before, now completely saturated shoes to help me out. Women can be so resourceful when necessary. I took off my shoe, and used the heel to pound lose that exasperating button. Suddenly the umbrella shot open, taking my purse in its liftoff and scattering the contents all over the parking lot that now resembled a small lake. Standing in a half inch of water, one shoe off the other on, the personal effects of my bag strewn about everywhere, there was one ray of light in the midst of this wet, dreary day…. the umbrella, my strong and sure protector…was open. Let’s not forget to be thankful for the small things in life.
I was blissfully happy with my three dollar push-up Walmart umbrella. What is it with guys and gadgets? I went into my meeting soaked from head to toe and more than a little angry at my husband for buying me that high tech piece of junk.
And I was angry at the umbrella for failing me. I was angry at God for sending the rain at a most inopportune time. I was angry at myself for bothering to make the effort to look nice when a girl should know better during the rainy season in Florida. Sometimes a person just gets angry. There were a few names I called that evil umbrella on that wet day that I won’t write here for kind and trusting eyes to see, but believe me when I tell you, the story didn’t end there.
Coming out of my meeting, the deluge had become a sprinkle and I made a quick jog back to my car. As I reached in my purse to pull out the car keys, I accidentally hit the silver button on that blasted umbrella, and wouldn’t you know it…now that I had no emergency, it sprang open like a misplaced Knight in shining red amour prepared to protect the damsel no longer in distress. And do you think for one minute I could get that piece of polyester wrapped tinsel to close? Not a chance. I must have stood there for fifteen minutes trying to shut down that possessed umbrella, when the rain made an unwanted return. Unbelieveable!
All I wanted at this point in time was to get home, to take off my wet clothes, dry my stringy hair and wipe off the mascara that was stuck to my cheeks. In utter exasperation, I opened the car door, sat down in the driver’s seat and slid it as far back as possible to accommodate the obnoxious red monster. I literally had to maneuver that open umbrella into my little car and somehow drive home with it.
I had my speech prepared for my husband before he stepped one foot through the door. I let him have it about his gadget obsession and the red techno tyrant that ruined my morning. There was steam coming out of my ears when I began my angry rant.
We all know that rage is a powerful, divisive force. It has the ability to separate hearts, drive wedges in relationships and terminate communication. God knows how indignation affects the spirit and wreaks havoc with the soul, and that’s why he says in his word ‘Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.’ I don’t know about you, but when examining my past, most every time I’ve been truly angry, I’ve sinned; either in word or deed. How do we avoid that? My adventure with the umbrella that fateful day taught me a valuable lesson in discovering the flip-side of anger.
Something happened about half way through my indignant rant at my husband. Jim started to snigger. And the snigger became a full blown guffaw and before you know it we were both in the floor rolling with laughter over the events of my day.
I realize there are certainly vexing situations that have little humor to offer, but if we take a few moments, enlist the self control needed to see the situation through different eyes, or a contrasting vantage point, the all-encompassing emotion of wrath can take a back seat to what’s really important in life. Most of the time, anger is simply a small inconvenience, or a misunderstanding that has needlessly blown itself out of proportion. Bottom line; my relationship with my husband meant far more to me than some ridiculous umbrella.
Thank God I kept that three dollar push-up Walmart special, because when it comes to gadgets? Women have it all goin’ on.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Skating Toward Self Control


Then Joshua asked them, “How long are you going to wait before taking possession of the remaining land the Lord, the God of your ancestors has given to you?” Joshua 18:3

My mother used to always tell me to ‘never put off until tomorrow what you can accomplish today.’ I can always think of a hundred things that need to be done in the house and the yard alone. Our adorable little Chihuahua, Salsa, needs a bath. The rose bushes are in desperate need of a good trimming. Paint is chipping on the old garage door, the pool is full of June bugs and this is October. And that is exactly my problem. I can always think of a multitude of other tasks in order to avoid the one thing I need to do the most. Yes, sadly it’s true. I am a procrastinator. There should be an organization similar to AA for people like me who always want to put off until tomorrow the thing we need to do today. Procrastinator’s Anonymous. I could be the President.
I’m always telling my husband, ‘Look at everything I accomplished today!’ And he sits in wonder at the tasks that have been finished. I actually make lists in the evening before the next day and check them off one by one as I complete them. How could a person this organized be a procrastinator? Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But it’s the one thing I don’t want to do that stands ominously in the way of my peace of mind and truest success. It’s the thing I most need to do that slips through my fingers day after day. And that thing I need to do, but don’t is what keeps me awake at night, haunts me during the day and makes me a certified member of PA whether I want to be or not.
I bet you’re laughing right now, because you see yourself in precisely the same light. There are numerous members of Procrastinators Anonymous. I’ve met many souls of similar persuasion whose closets are running over with clothes that are crying to be boxed up for Good Will, newspapers from years ago they’ve never read that should be in the recycle bin, documents that still have not been signed but are collecting dust instead on the corner of some desk with a broken drawer.
Procrastinators have a moral code they live by and rarely is it broken- Never do today what can wait until tomorrow. Since I’m the rightful President of this club let me be the first to tell you this important truth; self control is the virtue which all true procrastinators lack; the one they need the most.
People often ask me where I got my musical talent. I have vivid childhood memories of my father sitting at the piano, teaching me to play “Little Brown Jug.” It’s a short, simple song with no more then three chords, the lyrics portraying the life of a fellow more interested in his booze than his wife. My Dad, who never took a drop of liquor himself, sang this song like he was auditioning for American Idol, and it was interesting how he could take those same three chords and apply them to any hymn you’d ever want to sing. Ingenious. My mother, on the other hand, sang in the church choir….and everyone could pick her out, because she was the person who enthusiastically belted out every song on the same note, regardless of the key of the music.
This was my musical heritage. “Little Brown Jug,” however, didn’t get me very far in college when I needed to play a Beethoven Sonata or a Bach Fugue. My Mother’s monotone voice did little for me when it came to singing Operatic Arias, and German Art Songs. I had much to learn and the discipline of time and effort required was monumental. Each week, there was a new piano piece to perfect and a new art song to learn, and worst of all, I had to perform them in front of the Webster University music faculty and other students.
When time came for final exams, they usually entailed a recital performance as a large part of our final grade. I cleaned my dorm room. I cleaned it six times. I worked on my other non-pertinent classes- studied psychology, memorized history facts, volunteered in the lunchroom- anything at all to avoid facing the workload I knew I needed to attack.
What was wrong with me? When finally I got down to business and hit the practice room to prepare for my recital, I had only days left to complete the task. Now, unless one is a genius, it’s quite impossible to memorize twenty to thirty pages of music in just a few days. Needless to say, my performance was less than stellar, and my German Art Song, took on a familiar monotone, reminiscent of my mother’s glory days in the church choir.
I have to admit, it was an enlightening moment for this bonafide procrastinator. I had to weigh the consequences of my lack of discipline, and self-control. Like it or not, there is a painful price to pay for putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today.
Paul addressed this particular issue in the second book of Timothy, the second chapter, starting at verse 5 when he says this; “Follow the Lord’s rules for doing his work, just as an athlete either follows the rules or is disqualified and wins no prize. The hardworking farmers are the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.” When we can grasp the discipline of priority, and gain through God’s enablement the power to tackle those tasks that are most needful and necessary in our lives, we reap the benefits of that self control.
I honestly never gave myself license to procrastinate practice for another recital after the painful lesson I learned at Webster University. I decided the humiliation wasn’t worth dragging my heels. Of course, applying that precept to all the other areas of my life has been a challenge. Once a procrastinator……
If I knew how to defeat the demon of delay, I’d reveal the secret in this book. But, I know the One who is ready and able to help us prioritize our lives and who genuinely wants us to win the prize of purpose fulfilled. I now start each morning requesting God’s assistance in my quest to order my day and seek his collaboration in my effort to accomplish those tasks most needful. It’s amazing how simple the mission can be when the Lord puts his particular spin on it. What seemed daunting suddenly appears attainable. God has this miraculous way of turning mountains into molehills. Don’t you love that?
So, “How long are you going to wait before taking possession of the remaining land the Lord the God of your ancestors has given to you?” Well Lord, by your grace, I’ll get to it first thing tomorrow.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Skating Toward Self Control (2)

I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me…Philippians 4:13

My husband and I took a kid-less vacation to Aruba one summer when there was a special on airfare and hotel. We were in desperate need of some uninterrupted adult time and we’d never been there before. As we were flying in over the island I was enthralled with the beauty of the surrounding water…the vivid blues and deep greens were like nothing I’d ever seen. It looked like millions of tiny jewels dancing in sparkling symmetry on the water’s surface, as the sun shone through tiny, wispy clouds.
It was a short jaunt to the hotel from the airport and I was taken with how clean everything appeared. The shops and the streets were filled with people from all over the world. I was expecting lush green grass and lovely swaying palm trees, but found myself instead looking at cactus, and sand. Aruba is merely a small desert island.
We unpacked and went to talk to the concierge at the hotel about all the fun activities available to us in Aruba. We settled on a kayaking trip to Palm Island, an adjacent strip of land just off the Aruba coastline. I’d never been kayaking before, and this sounded like loads of fun. We hopped on the bus the next morning for the short trip to the launch site, and waited for our tour guide to appear.
In a few moments a deeply suntanned fellow sauntered up, shirtless, barefoot and with very long dreadlocks. I’d been looking for a man in a crisp white shirt and khaki shorts.
‘Good morning to you my friends! Are you ready for an adventure?” The impish smile on his face told me everything I needed to know. This was going to be interesting.
George, as our island tour guide was called, pointed us toward our bright red, fiberglass kayak, strapped us into our flotation devices and gave everyone a quick on- land lesson about ‘how to paddle a kayak.’
I’ve never been particularly co-coordinated, and in fact was always the last one picked for the softball team, after all other possibilities were exhausted. It wasn’t long before my husband became exasperated with my lack of paddle timing skills. Now tell me, who can successfully paddle in sand? Excuse me, but the last I checked, you need water to accomplish that goal. George, agreeing this might be of help to me, gave our little kayak a gentle push into the soft blue water. And off we went….in every direction you can imagine, but the right one. Who choose this kayak adventure? I was beginning to dislike the whole idea of it, and I hadn’t even mastered my paddle timing as yet.
While all the other kayakers were successfully making their way across the water to Palm Island, Jim and I were still paddling in circles, and all the while getting more and more aggravated with each other. So much for romantic getaways. George, being a kind- hearted fellow, took pity on us, lined his bright green kayak up with ours and shouted directions to us all the way to Palm Island. My husband was so humiliated. Men hate to take directions.
But it was worth the trip. Palm Island was a great place to snorkel and it wasn’t long until we were bedecked in all the necessary eye gear and breathing apparatus, and were ready to dive into the water. I have never in my life seen such glorious fish! Every color of the rainbow was represented in the most unusual shapes and sizes. These fellows were accustomed to being gawked at and would literally come up to you and eat right out of your hand. I couldn’t help but wonder how God comes up with such unique creatures.
All too soon, it was time to head back on our bright red kayak. After we were suited up into our flotation devices, George began to explain the challenges of our return voyage. It seems the water is easily paddled going to Palm Island, but there are four foot waves to navigate on the return. Funny, but George was looking straight at me the entire time he was explaining the perils awaiting us. I leaned over to Jim and said, “Are you noticing George is looking right at me?” “Yea hon, I think he wants you to ride in the kayak with him, and forget the idea of trying to paddle back.”
Incensed, I marched right up to George, and let him know in no uncertain terms that I could handle this trip back, and had no intention of riding in his bright green kayak. I would soon come to regret that decision.
I believe God gives us special gifts in that moment when we need them most….I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And there have been more times than I can count that I have needed that unction, that supernatural strength to get me through the difficulties of life. When my baby spent endless hours in the hospital, when my father had a stroke, when Mother passed away, when our plane went down in the Missouri Ozarks… Those were life-altering events, and I would not have gotten through those times without God’s divine strength. No matter what my fortitude, or self-discipline, I could not have survived the onslaught without God’s help. I think there are lesser trials that also require holy intervention, strengthening our self-control. Surviving my daughter’s rebellious teenage years, my son’s obsession with skate boarding, my husband’s endless stress with work…. Whatever our particular brand of tribulation may be, God is always faithful. He is there to give us the stamina to endure our momentary trials and to bolster us up when our own strength and mastery are not enough. With His help we come out on the other side, wiser, stronger, more patient and more intimately connected to His heart.
It didn’t take me long to see that the idea of paddling a kayak in four foot waves was not a job for a novice. This took skill, strength and experience that neither I, nor Jim, possessed. While everyone else was stripping off their gear and loading back onto the bus, Jim and I were slowly making our way back to shore, one painful, laborious stroke after another, intent on the goal. George stood, hands on hip, with a gaze of genuine concern, watching our belabored effort to get that little red boat back to the Arubian shore. Every stroke brought us a bit closer, but the next wave took us a step back. We finally made it, and with a triumphant gesture, fell face forward on the sand, unable to move.
My self-control is only as refined as the Christ who gives me strength. All the tenacity in the world cannot replace the need for divine intervention in those moments where confidence is not enough. I thank God for that kayaking adventure and every time I think of it, I remember those four foot waves. If the Lord can strengthen my self- control, and gift me with the tenacity to make it across that water, I know He can help me in every other formidable battle I face.
Wonder what I’ll glean from our next romantic getaway?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Shoes for the Sprit, Inspirations

Skating Toward Self Control

When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. - Galatians 5:22

Isn’t it a breeze to do the things we want to do, but a raging battle to accomplish the tasks we dread? Seems the number on the scale is never quite what I want it to be, and the treadmill is always beckoning from the corner of the bedroom. The thing has cobwebs growing from one pedal to the other and the handlebars have an inch of dust on them. At night, I dream I’m pedaling away and sweat is pouring down my neck, only to wake up with the painful realization that I’m having one of those horrid hot flashes, and I swear, the treadmill looks like it’s laughing at me from the shadows of the moonlit bedroom.

Self Control. I really hate those two little words. Particularly when I’m out to dinner and the hot, flaky, sour-dough bread has just been placed before me, wrapped beautifully in a white linen napkin, more tantalizing than a red-bowed Christmas present under the tree. Let’s not even discuss the soft pads of butter served on the side, just waiting to be slathered on that luscious piece of bread. Making you hungry? And that’s a chronic and predictable state for me, always hungry. Everyone has answers for their diet dilemma, and try as I may, the bottom line really comes down to this; you can attempt every diet on the planet but none of them will be successful without the primary ingredient for success. Self Control. Egads. The very sound of those two little words makes me shudder.

I’m really not the sort of woman who likes to fast, though I was raised with the spiritual philosophy that fasting brings you closer to God….the ability to control the body in submission to the spirit, and hopefully in this state of sacrifice, to draw God’s pity and attention to the reason for the fast. After I’ve gone without food for one meal I feel like I’m in a state of starvation. My head hurts, my stomach is doing the rumba and I’m light headed and dizzy. Pathetic to think I can’t go without one meal, isn’t it? It must be psychological, considering factual evidence that children are starving in Africa and other parts of the world most every day. I hardly think they came to that desperate situation by missing one breakfast.

I think the operative word here is control, and the obvious question we must ask ourselves is ‘who is the Captain of this ship?’ I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent plenty of time heading my own directions, making my own choices and sailing down my own rivers, the self-assured skipper of my own dingy. But I’ve found I am the least able to stick with personal choices and after repeated failures, have gladly handed over the helm to the One who is far more able to direct the course of my life and who knows what’s truly best for it.

Why is it I struggle so painfully over the numbers on the scale? I’d really like to throw it out the window and stop peeking through half closed eyes and spread fingers at the ominous number mocking me. My mother was a voluptuous, plump woman who was always struggling with those twenty-five or so unwanted pounds. I think I’m scared to death that I will unwillingly follow in her shoes. I have to admit, I care what people think, and I’m just vain enough to want to fit into my smallest size jeans.

And here I am again, faced with the dilemma of releasing control of my over-bearing, stubborn appetite and my fear of the opinions of others. Though all of this seems simple in comparison to the larger issues of life, it is nevertheless troublesome to a woman who enjoys her food, and loves to eat.

What to do, when the hot, flaky sourdough bread is sweetly calling my name? Weigh the consequences, quite literally. And ask for some Divine type of intervention to help navigate my ship toward a direction better for my health, my body mass, and my self esteem. Seems to me that when we choose to stand with another in our struggle, the load becomes easier to bear and the self-control necessary to achieve the goal falls more readily into place. I think that’s why Jesus said to ‘Cast your cares upon me, because I care for you.’ Right now, I’m caring a little too much for that sour dough bread and need Jesus to direct my ship to the tread mill waiting patiently in the corner of my bedroom. What ever did I do with that dust mop?