Learning, Changing, Becoming More Like Exercise Barbie….. I Mean God!!

The fateful day Eve handed the fruit to Adam, setting into motion curses for all mankind, one curse was omitted; looking at forbidden carbs would cause a pound of fat to be added to each thigh, and it would take a month of exercise to remove said pounds. I’m fairly certain when naked Eve roamed the Garden, perfect body, sans stretch marks and cellulite, she never gave thought one to the struggles she bequeathed the sisterhood.

Since I met and married my hubby a few years back, I have not exercised like I had prior. He is the most wonderful cook, creating luscious meals, beautifully presented every evening which has added to my overall condition today. Menopause kicked my butt, too; another gift I will leave at the feet of Mother Eve. Notice I have not taken responsibility; I was fine until hubby and menopause came along!

My kids have said they want me to live til I’m 125 years old; not going to guarantee that, but I do come from a line of long-livers, so getting back into shape and watching my diet may just get me close! Time to get busy, even though I assume NO fault! What exercise program to choose? I want what every woman willing to admit she hates exercise and would prefer to sip wine and eat succulent hors devors poolside in a bikini wants; easy, sweatless, and guaranteed results within the week.

One evening while sitting on the couch, I watched an infomercial for a reportedly fun and effective, exercise system. Ever notice everything now is a “system”? Three DVD’s to sculpt and shape my body back to bikini-ready. Well, I’ve never been bikini-ready, so maybe I could shoot for yoga pant-ready. Three Exercise Barbies, not a visible drop of sweat on their toned, graceful bodies, smiled their way through demonstrations of the easy, yoga-inspired movements.  Mesmerized, I watched while sipping my wine and enjoying a bowl of Cappuccino Chocolate Crunch ice cream, a warm puppy in my lap……oh wait, that warm puppy is just my tummy resting comfortably on my upper thighs. Is any more motivation needed? Anyway, the “system”, challenging, but doable, included a gal who performed the “modified” versions of the exercises for those of us who are not as fit as front-and-center Exercise Barbie. I had committed, I was getting back into shape. Round is a shape, right? I used to have a thigh-gap, what the heck? I patiently awaited the exercise system’s arrival.

First night; survival was my goal, and I survived. When I finished I was still breathing, which actually was my primary goal, but still had to get up the stairs from the family room, inconveniently located in the basement. Twelve steps separated me from the top. Our three puppies sat at the top looking down at me with pity in their eyes; at least that is what I saw. If I tossed them a rope, maybe a team effort on their part would pull me to the main level? No, stupid idea; that would require me to search the basement for a rope and I didn’t have that much energy left. I considered calling for my husband, but “I am woman”, dependent on no man, or woman, for that matter, and decided to drag myself up the stairs to the main level. Only 12 steps, but when my foot landed on the main floor it felt like I had conquered Mount Everest. After a week, I was able to walk up the stairs on 2, albeit wobbly, legs. Mind you, the climb did deplete the miniscule reserve of energy left in my body, but I made it all the way to the shower.

Trust me, perfection is nowhere in my personality profile. I have been known to let profanities escape my lips when pushed, and insane remarks from perky Exercise Barbie pushed some major buttons. Most evenings I can be heard adding colorful commentary to her cheerleading encouragement to challenge ourselves. I say “ourselves” as I imagine a sisterhood out there with the same goal – to survive, I mean to get fit. At the end of one video with a particularly grueling set of exercises designed to sculpt and shape my body using my own bodyweight instead of free weights – see I listen to Exercise Barbie – she says something like, “Don’t you love the high you feel after you finish?!” flashing pearly white teeth, no sweat visible anywhere. Expletives flew out of my mouth like machine gun fire. High? What was she talking about? If I felt high it was only because my brain was lacking oxygen!

So what does any of this have to do with our relationship with God? Fortunately, our journey with God needn’t be so grueling! His mercies are renewed every day, giving us another opportunity to get it right, to bless more people than we curse, to praise more than we complain, to see and acknowledge the beauty He brings from the ashes of our lives.

Sometimes our relationship with God gets derailed, some of us experience the ebbs and flows of relationship, and still others have little to no relationship with God, and don’t know how to go about starting one. There is no magic in getting started on a journey with God. No recited prayers, no secret handshakes, no special meeting place, no equipment needed; just start talking to Him. When we have been derailed by a series of events that leave us confused, or an unexpected loss blindsides us, sometimes we think God has left our side, or no longer cares about us. Maybe our church experience left us disillusioned and we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

In any case, a journey with God isn’t like staying fit. When we stop paying attention to a healthy diet and exercising, we lose muscle tone, gain fat, our energy is depleted; we start back at ground zero, or close to it. Relationship with God is always within our grasp despite any circumstances that have kept, or taken us away from Him. He never moves from our side; we move away from His, so God is ever ready to start a journey with us, or pick up where we left off and start anew.

We don’t need to be perfect, or even close to perfect to be acceptable to God. He loves each of us the way we are right at this moment. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows we are going to mess up more times than we think we will mess up. God’s love remains steady, unwavering, and He won’t require us to do this or that before we start the journey because that is what the journey is about; learning, changing, becoming…..

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Depraved and Hopeless……I Don’t Think So!!

Original sin; ever given it much thought? Having been in a church most of my life, fundamental or denominational, one just accepts that Adam and Eve messed up, got kicked out of the Garden, are separated from relationship with God, and we as their descendants, get to partake of the curse with them. Somehow seems unfair, doesn’t it? Then the “Salvation Prayer” comes along and, voila, there is a way out of the consequences of original sin! Say a few words, accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and a spot is guaranteed in heaven. The fundamental, non-denominational churches are more likely to stress the need for the “Sinner’s Prayer” or Prayer of Salvation, but in their own way, denominational churches preach to original sin and it’s consequences. Romans 6:23 is responsible for that mindset; “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV) and is interpreted to mean that without “accepting Jesus as Lord” we are lost and won’t gain entrance to the pearly gates.  I have actually had people ask me whether or not a loved one went to heaven after death because the loved one hadn’t recited the Sinner’s prayer before their death, and their fear and anxiety was real. My heart hurt for them; not only were their hearts torn wide open because of the death, but the thought of their loved one being denied access to heaven only compounded their sorrow.

In context, Paul is speaking to the Roman Christians and letting them know that prior to Yeshua (Jesus) they were “slaves to sin” (verse 17), and now they are slaves to God. Logically speaking, if I am a slave to something, I am held in it’s grip, unable to free myself, in other words, I have no way out. Paul was a Jew, so I am a little confused as to why he taught this.

Judaism does not recognize original sin in the same way that Christianity teaches. The Jewish faith recognizes man’s sinful nature in that we have a choice; to sin or not to sin. Judaism however, does not view man as hopelessly and helplessly chained to sin. God created man in His image affording man the ability to think and reason, to choose good over evil. Christianity often leaves us with the impression we have no choice, we are sinful, depraved creatures in need of salvation, and our only way out is to repeat the Sinner’s Prayer to gain access to Jesus and eternity. In Romans 3:10-12 Paul says this “So are we Jews better off? Not entirely; for I have already made the charge that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin. As the Tanakh (Old Testament) puts it, There is no one righteous, not even one! No one understands, no one seeks God, all have turned away and at the same time become useless; there is no one who shows kindness, not a single one!” Notice Paul says no one is righteous and that we are controlled by sin. Remember Paul is an educated Jew, fully aware that his religion does not believe in original sin the way he is preaching. Makes me wonder if Paul’s words have been massaged a bit by interpreters down through the centuries.

While I would agree that we can choose to sin or not to sin, I do not agree we are controlled. To be controlled implies we don’t have a choice, and clearly, we do. Perhaps Paul is overstating to make a point, if this scripture is accurate, however the vast  majority of Christians believe we are depraved beings with uncontrollable desires to sin and our only way out is to accept Jesus as Savior. I beg to differ. I do believe we have a free will and are able to exercise it, but am I compelled to always choose to sin? Obviously, the answer is no. There are countless millions of people who do good apart from ever reciting the prayer of salvation, sitting in a church pew every Sunday, or carrying around a Bible. Looking at the scriptures, if there is no one righteous, what about Job, Abraham,  Zechariah, Elizabeth, and others? God declared them righteous; was He wrong? Taking that a step further, if the prayer of salvation is necessary for entrance into heaven, what about those prior to the advent of Christianity? The church gets around those questions with long-winded explanations that hold little Biblical water. 

Christians tend to forget that the Old Testament speaks to the New Testament; it is not obsolete. Although man did what God had asked they not do, we are not without hope, depraved, sinful beings, unable to choose good. Neither do we need to recite the Prayer of Salvation, go to church, memorize Bible verses, or whatever conditions church doctrine has added to our journey with God. Moses gave this speech to the Hebrews in the last days of his life, assuring them that God was not far off, righteousness and relationship with God was within their reach. Deuteronomy 30:10-14 says, “However, all this will happen only if you pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, so that you obey his mitzvot (laws) and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah (First 5 books of the Old Testament), if you turn to ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being.  For this mitzvah (commandment) which I am giving you today is not too hard for you, it is not beyond your reach.  It isn’t in the sky, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will go up into the sky for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’  Likewise, it isn’t beyond the sea, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’ On the contrary, the word is very close to you – in your mouth, even in your heart; therefore, you can do it! (The Complete Jewish Bible)

Where does Jesus fit into this? Jesus fulfilled the law; we are no longer bound to its commandments in order to have relationship with God. Jesus opened the door for us to journey with God. We are not depraved, hopeless beings controlled by sin in need of a man made prayer to save us from eternal damnation, as the church teaches. Jesus is referred to as the Word of God, the Bible is the word of God; both are close and we are invited to journey with Him, capable of journeying with God without the need for special prayers or conditions for relationship…..

To My Mother and Children on Mother’s Day…..

Mother’s Day; how many of us know its origins? Most of us know that Anna Jarvis got the holiday on the calendar in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. Before that, Julia Ward Howe championed a day in honor of mothers in the late 1800’s, but did you know that the tradition of honoring mothers can be traced back as far as the ancient Greek and Roman holidays honoring the mother goddesses?

Relationships with our mothers can be difficult at times, life is just that way; we all have our own personalities and bents, and sometimes we disagree. Being a mother is hard. Anyone else feel that way? We don’t truly understand that, however, until we become a mother and  cradle those beautiful, squishy bundles close to our breasts following their birth, and God willing, raise them to adulthood. Despite all I have been through during our abusive years, I am glad that I have my children, and very grateful to God Almighty for having made a way for us to leave. And, I am glad I still have a mother that I get to talk with every day, and who did the best she could to raise my brother and me.

By virtue of having lived a few decades on the earth, and being a student of human nature and our relationships, I have concluded that boy children have easier relationships with their mothers than do girl children. Nothing scientific here, just general observation and my own experience. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my mother or my daughters for anything in the world.

Mothers are the central figure in the majority of homes, and God did plan it that way. In the Jewish home the mother sets the tone and is tasked with teaching the children about their heritage, about God. “They are to make me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them.” (Exodus 25:8 The Complete Jewish Bible) The husband admires his wife and mother of his children, and entrusts her with raising the children to honor and serve God.

Throughout scripture there are many references to a godly woman, the role of women in the marriage and in the home, and Yeshua (Jesus), while He walked the earth, lifted women up to the extent that many became disciples, and were significant to the birth and development of the newly forming theology.  Women were created to stand beside man, to guide and encourage. Too often we blame Chavah (Eve), the first mother, for her deception of Adamah (Adam), but that is an inaccurate depiction of God’s creation, and one the church has promoted; a Christian falsehood. It is time we get back to celebrating women and mothers for their contributions and influence in the home, and in society at large. Proverbs 31: 10 reminds us of our importance, “Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far beyond that of pearls.” (The Complete Jewish Bible)

As a mother I have made mistakes, and still do; plenty of them. I tried, in spite of our circumstances, to raise them to journey with God, and each of them is working out their journey in their own way. When I look into their adult faces I can’t help but be humbled; each has grown into an amazing, loving, compassionate, and generous human. Each of them is a humanitarian in their own right, seeking to leave the world a little bit better at the close of every day. As much as I screwed up, messed up, and missed the mark, the influence I have had in their lives, the prayers I have prayed since the day I knew they were being knit together in the secret place, is evident. By virtue of their intelligence, beauty, grace, compassion and strength, I am leaving the world a better place when it is my time to move from this world to the next.

I am also a daughter, and have made plenty of mistakes in that arena, too. God is merciful, and His mercies are renewed each day, so if we are blessed enough to still have our moms with us, we have the opportunity to draw closer to the one who carried and nurtured us from the moment of conception. Moms are our cheerleaders, the ones who lift us up when we are down, who believe in us, listen to us, and often share wise counsel, even when we don’t always care to hear it!

When God created man, He created them as one to be separated into two beings, each with characteristics representative of the Creator. Woman, it is said, is man twice refined. That being the case, we as women, embody the tender mercies of the Creator, our strength and influence seen in more subtle, yet equally powerful ways. We possess an intuitive nature, and are innately in tune with the emotions of others. In this way we are better equipped to minister healing through an embrace, a kind word, a listening ear, a strong shoulder, and we are able to impart wisdom born of experience. Of the two sexes we are more likely to be slow to anger and quick to forgive, another trait of the Creator. We look beyond the outward and speak to the spirit in our interactions and relationships with others, especially as it pertains to our children.

Each of us is a descendant of our original mother, Chavah (Eve), and will continue to pass on the legacy of motherhood as we touch and influence future generations.The physical act of carrying a child in the womb does not a mother make. A mother’s heart is in all women who nurture, pray, and care for the needs of others, whether they be adopted children, stepchildren, the children of others, or anyone in our sphere of influence who needs a tender touch. Many of us even extend our care and nurturing to fur babies!

As we honor our mothers, let us remember the countless women who have walked beside us through life encouraging and inspiring, caring, teaching and nurturing us as we became the women we are today.

Thank you, Mom, for always being in my corner, for loving me when I haven’t been lovable, for counseling me, encouraging me, forgiving me, and for having put our needs as your children ahead of your own. We do not realize the sacrifices moms make until we are faced with the reality of our own little owns. I am a woman of strength, and courage today because I was blessed to have your strength when I was weak, your courage when I was afraid. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day!

Thank you, children, for being who you are; unique, loving, strong, creative, intelligent, people who look beyond themselves to the world at large, and seek opportunities to touch the lives of others. You have brought immeasurable joy to my life, and the lives of others, and will continue to do so all the days of your lives. I am proud of you, yet humbled to think that God entrusted me with your lives, and saw you through when I could not. I pray for your safety and well being, for your success, and for the spiritual journey you walk. May your lives be filled with love to overflow your hearts, peace to quiet your spirits and know the awesomeness of God, courage to walk through the valleys in life, and strength to stand up one more time than you are knocked down. God brings beauty from ashes; we have lived it, and each of you is that beauty. I love you with all my heart…..

What Did I See You Say…..?

1 Peter 3:15 says, “but treat the Messiah as holy, as Lord in your hearts while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you – yet with humility and fear…..” (The Complete Jewish Bible) This is one of those scriptures containing a wealth of gold and precious treasure, and one that is often misinterpreted. The highlighted text is usually used to justify proselytizing, in other words, evangelizing. Tract in hand we are encouraged to go door-to-door and harvest souls for Jesus, pass out our salvation tracts while standing in line at the grocery store, or tell everyone we come in contact with that we are Christians and belong to said church down the block.

We have all heard stories about people who stopped a stranger in a restaurant, or in the grocery store line, and randomly struck up a Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know conversation, then invited the person to church the following Sunday only to find out if that same person, by virtue of that happenstance encounter, would have ended up homeless, or worse if they hadn’t had the encounter.  I have heard far more stories about encounters that didn’t end so well, in fact, have tarnished the overall Christian reputation.

For example, yesterday on the Christian radio station I listen to during the drive to work, the DJ’s were discussing Christians eating out at restaurants. Several wait staff called in with their stories about people fresh out of church on Sunday morning coming in to break bread with fellow church members. In the course of the meal the Christian patrons were demanding, messy, and often downright rude to the wait staff. Some that were not, left a “Jesus loves you” note and a salvation tract instead of a tip on the table. Mind you, I am a work in progress just like everyone else, and I would like to think that the dazzling gray hair I have gracing my head represents wisdom. I haven’t been the most generous tipper in my lifetime, and I can be sharp with people at times. Alas, I am human! Fortunately, I can say that I am slowly improving in both areas; becoming increasingly mindful of the way I speak to others, whomever they may be, and making a conscious effort to be more generous in general.

Logic would tell us that church people who treat restaurant wait staff like servants and choose to be cheapskates, are not representing Jesus in a positive light. Most of our kids, at one time or another, have been in the service industry and truly dependent upon their tips to make ends meet. As Christians, we are taught to put others first, look for opportunities to help, do what Jesus would do. Unfortunately, those who don’t claim a tight and abiding relationship with the Almighty are far better at generosity in many areas of life than those who wear Christianity like a flashing neon sign.

I have always done a fair amount of self-analysis over the years; I want to understand myself better. Better understanding of self helps us to better understand others. Self-analysis reveals the reasons why we act, speak, or think the way we do, but it does not excuse the behavior or words, it only serves to make us more aware. Once aware, the responsibility is ours to correct the flaws; it sounds cliche, but the goal is to become more like Jesus, or at least a better person.

A portion of my job is teaching new employees, and communication is a big part of the training. One of the most valuable tools we have to offer, on or off the job, is the ability to communicate well. More than  65% of our communication with others is non-verbal; all those things we say without speaking a word. Eye rolling (Lord have mercy!), eye contact, the way we stand, the tone of our voice, to name a few. In truth, words don’t mean that much in conversation, or everyday life. In any encounter we are more in tune with the non-verbal communication of others than we are the verbal, even when we are not aware. Thus, a clue to the meaning of 1 Peter 3:10.

The first part of this verse is important to understanding of the remainder. Treating the Lord as holy is a heart issue; recognizing and acknowledging His Lordship, in other words, to be in awe of Him. In so doing, our thoughts, words, and behavior will align more closely with God and the journey we travel.  When our hearts align with Him our lives will reflect the relationship we have with Him. Words and tracts will not be necessary when we interact with others; our lives will speak volumes. The actions of those who hand out tracts and treat their fellow man badly speaks volumes to others, too. People do notice, and are drawn to those whose lives reflect a true journey with God. They want to know what makes us different, and when we are asked, we have an answer; we have chosen to journey with God.

No one is perfect, we all mess up daily, and the journey is often rocky, yet we continue to put one foot in front of the other as our lives slowly align with our Creator. The goal is to stay in relationship, keep walking the journey and realizing the message people receive from us about our journey, or the lack of it, is spoken loudly through our actions more so than our words…..