Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ready for battle?

Yesterday I stood on the scale in the doctor's office and held my breath as the nurse moved the metal pieces up and down, side to side, to, once again, determine my weight. This is now my twice a week routine. At first I dreaded this moment. The number went up and down like a child playing with a yo-yo - a lot more downs then ups. After a few weeks of disappointing and unpredictable numbers I began to get used to the reality of this roller coaster ride I'm on. It isn't always pleasant and there are days I get frustrated at the lack of progress or absence of any gains whatsoever. But most days I accept that this is where I'm at and I'm okay with it.
What I've learned in the last few months, and really over the past two years, is that I am engaged in a battle for my life - and not just my physical life. When you look at the number on the scale it is obvious that there is a crisis of sorts taking place in my body. Many people have perished at weights higher then mine. A dangerously low BMI is anything under 16 or so. I'd love a BMI of 16. Right now I'm looking forward to hitting 15. That is the war on my body and the severity of its attack is extreme. It has ripped away from me my cushioning, padding and comfort. It has left me cold, weak, and tired. The physical toll has been dramatic. If you looked at me you would see only the outward struggles and the physical ailments that are plaguing me. Yet, the war that is being waged isn't really about all the physical that can be seen with the naked eye. In fact, the physical is the least of the battle.
The war being waged is truly one of spiritual proportions. The Bible warns us of this kind of attack. The Bible tells us that we will come under attack because there is a spiritual battle being waged for our souls. This battle doesn't stop at the spiritual - it hits us right where it hurts (literally). 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." There is no getting around it. When we are one with Christ we will be one with his suffering. When we give our lives over to him we are signing on to bearing a cross that won't always be pleasant and certainly won't be easy.
Satan wants our soul and he will use any and all tactics to grab hold of it. His desire to control our spiritual being cannot be separated from the physical. He attacks on the physical level to break down the spiritual. He uses the one thing we can't escape - our bodies - in an attempt to pull us away from God. He wants the very core of us. And he knows the physical body is a darn good way to get it. 
The battle that we see from the outside is just the tip of the iceberg and it isn't where the true war is being waged. If we fight as if all we are up against is a physical ailment or disease then we are certain to lose. We must first see our enemy for WHO he is: Satan; and WHAT he wants: our soul. He is alive and well. He came to steal and destroy. And he wants God's people. If you are a follower of Christ consider yourself a name on Satan's hit-list. 
Our only hope in a clear, concise victory is to enter the fight fit for a spiritual battle. The word of God, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit are to be our go-to weapons in our arsenal. Blood work, surgery and medications just muddy the waters if we aren't grabbing the right weaponry first and foremost. Satan wants us to miss the true purpose of the attack. He knows that if we miss what he's after we are defenseless. But, if we see the truth of why we are under attack we will know how to fight. And more importantly, we will know how to win.
The key to winning in the fight for our soul isn't finding the right doctor or checking in at the right hospital. It is in coming prepared to fight for the spiritual. When we wear the right armor and carry the right weapons God will take care of the physical.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Life....liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Americans we love to quote these words with all the patriotism we can muster, yet the way we live and the decisions we make as a country poorly portray such principles and values.
The trouble arises with the pursuit of happiness. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they want happiness, although they disagree as to the best way to achieve it. Some believe government should provide safeguards and bumpers for the falls in life so that its citizens and residents don't have to suffer. Others believe that pursuing happiness requires that the government remains hands off, allowing people to pursue their dreams and aspirations without the threat of regulation, roadblocks and red tape that is associated with increased government intervention. As a country and a people we want to be happy but we don't always agree on the path to getting there.
Liberty is another matter of contention. Liberty is all about freedom. This is the word that embodies rights. This is the word that makes America purely American. But again, it raises argument and disagreement between Americans. Ronald Regan said it best: "Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty." Part of the country wants more power in the hands of the government while the the other part sees that as the slow degeneration of their liberties.
Trying to convince someone on the other side of the ideological aisle to see things differently is like trying to persuade a two year old to give up their candy: good luck.
These two big principles, although fundamental to our country, are nothing compared to the first principle in our patriotic mantra. They pale in comparison to the most basic, most essential value laid forth by our founding fathers.
Life. Without it we are nothing. Without the right to life... to be born... there is no possibility of enjoying liberty and there is no happiness to pursue.
If someone can choose to take away our lives we have a bigger issue then accumulating wealth or growing the entrepreneurial spirit. People need the security that their life is safe and protected to be able to move onto higher values and aspirations.
In Africa, genocide has run rampant. Men and women have been killed simply because of their family tree, residential location or skin color. Children have been seperated from their parents, orphaned and left searching for a safe haven. In the book, "A Long Way Gone," a boy from Sierra Leone experiences the burning of his town and the displacement of his family. He becomes separated from them and then is taken by the enemy to be a boy soldier. He is forced to perform acts that are horrifying and pure evil.  Escaping was inconceivable. He had no safety. Each day was simply another day to survive. He couldn't think about a future or accomplishing something of value. All he could focus on was living till tomorrow. It was not until he was rescued that he could begin to dream again. He needed to be secure and safe in the physical sense before he could concern himself with higher aspirations of liberty and happiness.
This security starts before a child hits a certain age or a certain mental capacity. People need this security and guarantee of a life before a breath can even be taken in this world. Life must be so valued and so sacred that it is put above all else from the very start. This is the way God created us. Before we were formed in our mother's womb we were created in the image of God. He made plans for us before we ever showed up on a pregnancy test or ultrasound machine. God values us and our lives so much that he planned ahead for it and prepared for it. Isaiah 49:1 says, "Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name." God acknowledges His children before they ever reach this earth. They are special and set apart before they even make their first cry of welcome into this world. 
God doesn't take life lightly. It is so precious to him that he plans and prepares long before the date of birth. If God puts such a high value on life, who are we to devalue it? Who are we to say that it doesn't matter until we can put a face on it? Who are we to say that a certain moment in the womb is "the" moment that there is actual life? God already named that person. God already made plans for that person! 
The time that life begins is not ours to debate and it is not ours to set. God already set the time. By the time we know about a pregnancy God knows about the life. He already set it apart and gave that person a name. Each and every person, created in God's image, is alive and forming while still in the womb. God is using that time to grow his creation. The formation of cells is no accident. They are all part of his handiwork to grow the person God already created. 
Life must be secured. It cannot be subject to human opinion and emotion. The security of life trumps all else. It gives us a foundation to pursue our dreams, enjoy our freedoms and find true happiness. Without life the rest is impossible.  A country that denies that first freedom to the most innocent and helpless of their citizenry deserves not the other two.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remember 9/11

Eleven years later and the news stations, local papers and political talking heads are telling its viewers, readers, and listeners that we aren't going to remember or take the time to care what happened on this day. I beg to differ. How could we, as a nation, forget?
Nine-eleven is engraved in my mind. I remember sitting in my sixthth grade class when an announcement came over the loud speaker alerting the teachers of a national emergency and asking them to turn their tvs on. We briefly watched the horror. I don't remember how long we watched or what specific moments I witnessed. But I do remember being in shock that this was happening in our country. That night at home my Mom and I watched the continuous news coverage. Mom ironed in the basement in front of the tv which was something she never did. I had never seen her iron in that room before that day and I've never seen her do it since. It added to the strangeness of that day for me.
I don't know if all kids were affected by that day the way I was. It has always stuck with me. When I see the time 9:11 on the clock my heart skips a beat. I couldn't possibly forget what this day means, what happened, and how many people were robbed of something that day. For some people they lost a person. Thousands died in the horror of falling buildings, crashing planes and attempted rescue missions. The loss of life was devestating and it impacted so many families. Others didn't lose a person but they did lose a sense of security that used to be fundamentally American. When that second plane hit the World Trade Towers the US watched that security go up in smoke. We all lost something that day.
When I opened the newspaper this morning I expected to find an article about the heros of 9/11. I was hoping for a unifying message that reminded this country how it came together in the aftermath of that tragedy. But that wasn't the message. Instead the article focused on how many people wouldn't take time to remember today or do anything special to commemerate the tragedy. Some of the people interviewed for the article sounded disgusted with fellow Americans for their lack of somberness on this day. The heart of the message wasn't unifying at all. Instead, it focused on the disparity of the American people.  A division between those who honor the day and those who ignore it.
I can't help but wonder if the article got the whole story right. Are we really that blind to the past? The author sites studies showing shockingly low percentages of Americans even reflect on the events of this day 11 years ago. I doubt the numbers are as low as they claim. That day shook this country to its core. No matter where you lived or who you were you watched what happened. It didn't matter if you knew someone in the towers or had never even seen the city before, your heart broke for the loss of life and devestation. Everyone was united in something: grief.
Now, 11 years later, the horror of that day is no less striking. What shakes me now is how far from that day we have come and how much we have forgotten about the unity that followed the attack. We were a country standing together against evil and injustice. We stood for something bigger then ourselves - no matter what our political party or beliefs. We were gripped by something bigger than politics.
Today we are in the midst of a heated election that could very well define the future of this country. The attacks now aren't from the outside; they are party against party, American against American. The United States of America couldn't be more divided.
America hasn't forgotten 9/11, no matter what the polls say. Those 3 numbers will forever mean something to those that lived through it. What America has forgotten is the lessons we learned that day. We learned that this country can come together and unite for a common purpose. We learned that there are forces outside the US that are against us. We learned that in the midst of terrible circumstances, people can show true compassions, heroism and goodness. We learned that who we are as a nation is not defined by social class, tax bracket or race. We learned that America is great because of the way we can band together, fight for the common good and rise about tragedy and difficulty.
The lessons of 9/11 are as true and relevant today as they were eleven years ago. We must not forget what this country was founded on and what has carried us through the most difficult moments of our nation's history. We haven't come this far by divisive meaures and internal attacks. We have become great because of the moments when we came together as a nation, pulled our selves up by our boot straps, and pushed toward the common good. It all started with our founding fathers who wanted a better nation for themselves and their families. It was once again proven to be the American way in the days of WWII and the unthinkable horrors of Hitler. Then, on 9/11, our generation witnessed American values in action once again. We came together as one. We united because that is who we were founded to be: These United States of America.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spiritual Fitness

Physical fitness is pretty easy to test. I remember the days of elementary school gym fitness testing. I must admit I dreaded those days. I was never very athletically gifted - at least in comparison to my peers. The gym teacher would have us go through a series of tests such as the long jump, sprints, pull ups, and one of my least favorites - the sit and reach. Oh, how I hated the sit and reach! I've always had terrible flexibility. When other kids were sliding down into splits I was busy blaming the cut of my pants for my lack of bend-ability. From a young age I've been aware that athletic prowess isn't my thing. Oh well! Some people have physical fitness talent and others, not so much. I'm in the not so much category and I've come to accept it.
There is another kind of fitness that I'm not so willing to let become out of shape. Spiritual fitness.
I never thought about my spiritual fitness very much - especially in elementary school. Like so many other Christians, I suppose I assumed that having faith was enough and, if bad times every befell me, I would rise to the occasion as needed. I didn't worry much about preparation - "stretching" and "working out" if you will. Yet, just like with physical fitness, spiritual fitness takes work. It doesn't take the kind of work that focuses on how good you can be and how close to perfect you can come. It has to do with becoming in tune with God, learning to die to self, practicing the principle of obedience in the small things. The work we must do to grow our spiritual fitness has to do with learning how to draw on the Holy Spirit. That isn't easy for our human nature that wants to be in charge and has the tendency to focus solely on the "self". But the workouts we are doing (aka walking through life) are growing our ability to be God focused in all things and in all circumstances.

When life is good what are we praising? Are we praising God or are we forgetting that we are living in the midst of his blessings?
When we encounter difficult people how are we reacting? Do we forget God's love for people or are we resorting to frustration and a short temper?
When we make a mistake on the job what is our reaction? Are we just looking to place blame or are we humbly admitting our failure and seeking to correct it?
When it rains and our plans for a day outside are ruined what is our plan B? Or are we too busy complaining to even acknowledge that an enjoyable plan B even exists?

These small, seemingly insignificant daily life situations are opportunities to become more spiritual fit. If we aren't drawing on God's power in these exercises how will we ever draw on his power for the big race? Just like an Olympic athlete, you can't show up for the competition of a lifetime without spending some serious time training. Take, for example, Gabby Douglas - the Olympic gymnast who took gold this year for the US team. She had been training her whole life for that moment and even moved across the country, away from her family, four years earlier to train with a particular coach. She devoted her life to being fit and ready to compete with the best of the best. She had to sacrifice. Her life looked and, looks, so much different then most girls her age because of the intense training she choose to take on. Her life has been shaped by her physical fitness.
We have that option with our spiritual fitness. We can choose to live it out each and every day - making sacrifices, taking the road less traveled and having a life that looks far from normal. In the end it will all pay off. When the tough trials and true tests of our faith come, we will be ready. This is the only way to prepare for such a day. We cannot expect to know how to handle these difficulties if we haven't trained and worked our spiritual muscles.
Each day is a day at the "gym". Will you give it your all and push yourself to the limit by continually giving yourself over to God's power and living a life of obedience? Or will you trudge through the day on your own steam and stamina? Put into practice now the principle of drawing on God's Holy Spirit and you will face each day with the peace and security of having the ultimate power guiding and directing your life. You will be ready to take on the toughest challenges and walk with God's strength through the most difficult of circumstances. The training will not always be easy and there will be times when it will stretch you beyond what you thought you could ever handle. Push on, run the race, keep your eye on the power of the Holy Spirit. In the end, all your training will prove to be worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears. It is all worth it when you know you are training for the glory of God.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome the fall and the fruit flies

It is now officially September which means that summer is past and fall is ushering in changing colors, a bountiful harvest and freshly sharpened pencils. This time of year is nostalgic. It brings back the memories of school shopping and new beginnings in the classroom. I remember the days of standing in the front yard with my backpack in place, smile reluctantly plastered on my face as my Mom would take my picture on the first day of school. Those moments were filled with anxiety and excitement as a new phase of life began and the relaxing, lazy days of summer were once again just a memory until next June.
For me, the toughest part of school shopping was always finding the right pair of shoes. Funny, because now I have absolutely no trouble finding shoes. My problem is finding too many pairs of shoes. Shoes can become an addiction. Have you seen the women who has thousands of shoes in her closet and is now having to go to court over them in her divorce settlement? I think she may have a problem. Fortunately, I am no where near her level, although I think a problem was probably detected before she hit the 4-digit mark in her shoe collection. I'm safely still under the 3-digit mark. This is acceptable, right?
Don't answer that.
The memory is a curious thing because I can remember with detailed precision the difficulties of shoe shopping and the excitement of putting together folders, binders and an array of pencils, pens and highlighters. Those memories are imprinted on my mind. Yet, every time summer comes to a close and fall draws near, there is one thing that I am surprised by year after year: fruit flies. I don't know what it is about these little intruders but they just love the last three days of August and the beginning of September. They are in their glory. Every year they swarm in like a swat team on a mission to take out an assailant and still every year I am caught off guard.
All summer fruit flies are in too much supply for my liking. They may be small but they give me the crawling feeling in a big way. By the time fall comes around my skin is in a perpetual state of itch simply by walking near the kitchen. It doesn't seem to matter that all the fruit is put away and bananas aren't even in the general vicinity of the house, the fruit flies still abound. Bananas really do seem to be the worst (or the best, if you're a fruit fly) for attracting these pests. A banana in a mile radius seems to send the alert messages in the minute brain of the fly and sends them descending on the entire tri-state area. Maybe we should put a ban on bananas in the months of August and September. Come on people, it is for the good of the community at large! Okay, so maybe that is a little bit extreme. Just the last few days of August? Compromise?
Well, even if the rest of the town isn't getting on board - I'm not buying bananas till fruit flies have left the building. I'm sticking to it especially after reading what those little buggers do to the yellow fruit. The lady flies get under the fruit's skin and lay eggs. Can you say "yum"? My aunt has always told me that fruit flies won't kill you. "They just add protein," she says. I guess she's right. But I think I'll pass on that protein source, thank you very much. Some people are vegans or vegetarians - banning all animal proteins. Well, I'm a fruitfly-tarian (I'm working on the name). I don't eat foods that have been the breeding ground for fruit flies. I know what you're thinking: impossible. You may be right, but it is worth a shot! At least I can store my fruit in the fridge the moment it comes home from the store. I can be stringent on not leaving my produce out for even a moment. And lastly, I can wash and scrub EVERYTHING before I eat it. These are the practices of my fruitfly-tarian lifestyle.
When asked why the ban on all things fruit fly I can explain that the fruit has become a breeding ground for young fruit fly families. How do you feel about eating such a thing? Destroying a family in the process. This is the reasoning behind vegans and vegetarians eating habits, isn't it? The animals have feelings and so forth. Well, maybe fruit flies have feelings, too?
Or maybe I'm over reacting just a tad. Fall is a joy, really. Even with all the fruit flies. 
The beautiful changes of fall are in such abundance that a fruit fly or two (or a thousand) is actually a small price to pay. There is so much about fall to savor and enjoy. I, for one, count this as one of my favorite times of year. With the dropping temperatures comes thick sweaters that add a coziness and comfort to the season that is unmatched. Best of all is the fall foliage. Gold, yellow, orange, red - nature is in its glory and we are blessed to watch its stunning display. As bothersome as the fruit flies can be, they are worth the trouble for the overwhelming goodness that fall brings. So, come in fruit flies. Just be sure to bring the rest of fall with you and we'll get along just fine.