I watched my inherited grandson playing with David the other day.  He had come up to me earlier saying, “I wanna make somethin’.”  Without wanting to unleash the box of craft supplies and its unholy possession of glitter and finger paints, I opted for the box of various gift wrapping supplies.  Tape, wrapping paper, scissors, ribbon, and a misshapen collection of bags to be re-gifted all jammed into one plastic bin. 

Sometimes, when life seems particularly out of hand, I think about this box stacked away quietly in a closet and say to myself, “see…you’ve got it together…you have a box at the ready for emergency gift wrapping situations.”  It never fails, however, and I usually end up needing to make a stop to buy another bag in route to an event where a gift is required because none of the ones in said bin fit the particular gift application.  Nevertheless, this box is a great source of pride and comfort for me.  I grabbed a bunch of things that had building potential.  “Here you go!” I said, in my most disarming sing song voice, praying silently that he wouldn’t see the demon glitter bin just underneath, “Go make something!”

He set to work with David’s oversight.  I busily set about doing adult things such as seriously considering getting some laundry done as I curled up on a chair to watch ‘Despicable Me 2.’  In between scenes of Gru learning to access vulnerability,  and my internal considering of the laundry, I watched two generations of men “make somethin’” from the raw materials of my valued wrapping box.  Good thing I have it…

The build project was rife with massive inefficiencies.  Time and resources were mercilessly wasted.  At one point, Trenton asked David to cut the cardboard tube, which once usefully held about 6 foot of wrapping paper (…that I might need at some point),  into three separate segments and then, realizing his mistake, taped them all back together again like it never happened.   Ribbon was wrapped around and stuck through holes, some intentional, some not.  He was focused.  His every decision was carefully weighed in the creation of what he said would be a “crane.”  He chattered away nonstop explaining his plans to David, talking through the project, and asking for assistance when larger hands were needed.  David simply stood over him, letting him think and then obliging with a cut or a tie off as the project demanded. 

David Beamed.

“Look at how he’s thinking through just how he wants it,” he said,  “All I did was help where he needed it, but it’s all his idea…his design…” more beaming.

I nodded in agreement that Trenton was indeed a very special kid, as the cardboard tube held together by scotch tape swung from miles of red Christmas ribbon in a kind of pulley system from my ceiling…a crane.  If it had been presented to you as a prototype for potential investment, you would have declined…strenuously.

I watched my husband, his Papaw, swell with pride.  I saw absolute delight.  If you’ve never seen another person delight in something or someone absolutely, I recommend you start looking for it.  You may need new friends.  You will most likely need a different family.

It’s the look I think God has when He watches us “make something.”  It’s Him huddled over us absorbed in the process of letting us do it, hoping we talk through the strategy and waiting for us to ask for help…because our hands are too small and we can’t reach the ceiling. He doesn’t mind the mess, and He doesn’t get snotty about the overuse of ribbon or needless cuts because He knows where there’s more, and has enough tape to fix it…He’s got a whole box. 

He just delights. With no agenda and no end in sight, He knows we have been created in the image of a creator and He simply likes to see what we come up with.

Perhaps without knowing it, at some point, most of us decided to make something.  We went to college, got married, or started into a career.  Maybe we were brave and tried something big and new, or maybe the normal things of life were enough of a project.  Either way, we thought we’d try.  We were given a set of raw materials, probably the box without the glitter, and now stand in a life of our own making, an ongoing construction site.

There seem to be a couple ways of going about it.  But mostly I think we miss the point.  For whatever reason, we don’t see God like Trenton sees his papaw.  Parents, friends, and churches teach us instead that there isn’t enough goodness in the box to be making sloppy mistakes, or that if God delights in us at all, it’s because we were already good at making cranes in the first place.  I remember growing up with the mantra that “God wasn’t interested in my happiness, He wanted my Holiness”… to this day I wish someone would say that to me again so that I could kick them in the back of the knee.  As an adult, I’ve had many shouting matches with those people in my car and, had they been present for them, they would have reconsidered their theology probably.

The good people I know are mostly afraid of making mistakes.  They stop short, limit their exposure, friend groups, and efforts.  They can’t even get to “I wanna make somethin’” because they don’t trust the God in them that made them “want” in the first place.  They hand the scissors back and say, “I’ll just watch you do it.  I don’t want to mess it up.”  While they make very few mistakes, I tend to think that God agrees with me when I roll my eyes at these kinds of people.

The rest of us isolate the whole process. We don’t want help because that would require a willingness to unclench our jaws and ask…like we don’t know what we’re doing or something.  We don’t chatter along openly like Trenton, communicating without taking a breath, asking for help when needed.  We hide our stupid little project until completely out of hand and then throw it back in despair, begging for the redemption of a mangled cardboard tube…or life…whatever.

The author Gregory Boyle says “How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have…the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval.” How far is that from the God we learn about?  He doesn’t separate happiness and holiness; he winds them so tightly together that to strive for one is to be caught up in the other.  So that to be given life to its full is to mimic a creator, and be joyfully unafraid of building, and growing, and doing in a world that is marked by the failure to get it right all the time.

God put us first in a garden and, while we were still quite capable of choosing life or death said, “Go make something.”  He didn’t hesitate to give us authority, in fact, He insisted on it.  And when we bend to the twisted pursuit of our own holiness, there we go again, making a brazier out of leaves to hide the inevitable shame. 

I just sat there, on holy ground, watching Gru get married surrounded by minions, laundry forgotten, thinking that maybe life is easier than I make it.

  It was always supposed to be a conversation.  We have always been called to create.  The life, the relationships, the business, and the family you have sit in stagnation or wreckage for lack of a vision and the sense to ask for help.  And still, they can be unrecognizably resurrected when we get brave enough to co-create.  He wants you to use your head and He wants you to use His hands.  There is no waste in the mistakes.  He’s got enough tape.

The time I get to sit is rare anymore.  Most of my time these days is spent managing the gym I’m partnered in, working with the nonprofit my husband and I began, and coaching clients both in person and online through the labyrinth that is physical health.  It seems like a lot when I say it like that… especially when I consider how much I actually enjoy sitting and doing relatively nothing with a good book and fluffy blanket.  Alas.

  I wish I could say that I choose to read and meditate on scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew all while marking my Bible up with various colors of highlighter.  I wish that I worked more diligently on my writing or that I studied independent news media to keep an open mind toward the realities of current events.  Mostly, I don’t.  Sometimes I shop, sometimes I watch YouTube videos about how to do yoga for self-care, and then proceed not to do yoga for self-care.  Sometimes, like today, I get caught up in scrolling social platforms and get huffy, or envious, or worse…I start to compare.  

Today was particularly tricky because it was my own feed that got under my skin, and it’s just a bummer to be the source of your own disappointment.  It began innocently enough; I was trying to be productive… (It occurs to me that that sentence should be written on my headstone)…anyway…I was rolling through my Instagram looking for old writing content to move to a different page. 

It should be said here that scrolling to the bottom of one’s social media feed should legally require the oversight of a licensed therapist.  I felt things.  None of those things were that great.  

I don’t know who that girl was six years ago, but she sure was into fitness…and I don’t know who that girl was three years ago, but she sure was into Jesus.  Each frame is unforgiving.  Each little write up is a kind of sweet wound.  Kinda cute.  Kinda painful.  It’s not that I’m no longer into fitness or Jesus anymore…It’s just…different.  

I don’t mind admitting it made me a little sad that I don’t feel like I used to about fitness or ministry.  I know social media is the place where we all say things with lots of passions and agendas, but you get a different feeling when you live in between and long after the frames.  As I scrolled down through years of posts they exposed me as shamefully attention seeking all the way around to an unsophisticated saint.   Looking around for a therapist and finding none, I was left to my own analysis…”you seem kinda stupid” I said to myself and finished the analysis.

Five years ago, in a different marriage, scraping out my own business, I was a girl whose faith was placed in work ethic.   I had grown up in, and had grown out of, church. I believed in God, but was desperate for that God to turn his face away from me.  Up to that season in life, I had learned one thing about faith; whatever it was, I didn’t have enough of it.  I tried really hard to be religious.  I tried to fit in at church.  It always culminated with a big, fat, faithless, failure on my part.  So, five years ago, I had already resolved to lay low, spiritually speaking.  It was a pretty solid strategy.  You can see it in my posting.  You can hear it in my writing. It was a faith that kept heaven out of reach and hoped for God not to notice. 

Years of posts later, I’m different girl.  My current husband and I began a nonprofit ministry.  I had started life over with a new job…all the blessings.  The posts were from a girl steeped in faith.  The things I wrote and the way I thought dripping with scripture.  Faith had awoke in the wide-eyed kind of way one gets when falling in love with the childhood friend who’d been there all along.  Somehow in the space of three years’ worth of posts I had a heart that seemed to beat harder for the sufferings of others.  Somehow being closer to my own pain provided more empathy then than feels like I have right now.   I was quick to serve, energized, and full of the kind of optimism that thinks everyone should care as much as I did.  You can see it in my posting.  You can feel it in my writing.

I seemed like a much better person to me then, than I do right now. I seemed like an entirely different species from the girl of six years ago.  There’s always a bit of melancholy mixed with memories, and this was no exception.  Looking through the past,  I felt like my faith wasn’t what it once was and, if that was true, was it ever what I thought it was?  Yeah…that’s the kinda stuff I think about sitting around.

I don’t feel like I used to.  

I don’t rush to the side of a girl who thinks she sees demons in her room at 10 o’clock at night.  I don’t try to listen to every plea for help or attention.  I don’t push to get involved with other nonprofits because I think they might get me more connected.  I don’t get upset when I can’t give what is asked for.  When I can, I don’t get any feeling of chills or any such tingly thing.  Every one of our volunteers is a much better person than I am, and I am well aware we are nothing without them.  

I used to think everything was such a big deal.  That we were going to change the world by speaking love and life into those who were marginalized and abused.  That never really happened, at least not from my particular vantage point.  In the last three years I have been a guest in the lives of more than a few drug addicts.  I have been stood up on Thanksgiving for hours while the girl I waited for was sleeping off her latest hit.  There have been countless hours of portable workouts and church services, late night hospital visits, baby gifts, and prayer requests.  I have watched merciless cycles of relapse on repeat.  I have been disappointed by people I thought were different than I thought, and humbled by people whose goodness was hidden by what I thought was otherwise.  I am sometimes harshly judgmental of choices I think are foolish from people whose pain I can never fully understand.     I am often changing my opinion about what is holy.  And sometimes, I don’t think all the effort matters at all. 

I don’t think ministry is that big of a deal anymore.  I think it’s just a kind of living where you are in the midst of God in the space of others. It’s simpler and infinitely more difficult.  Every day, sometimes every hour of every day, I am surrounded by people of every kind and I can’t tell which is ministry or who is ministering to whom anymore. 

 I struggle to love, I’m selfish with my time, outcomes are seldom what I think they should be, and I’m often salty.  I can be discouraged by the smallness of what we do but simultaneously, uncomfortably overwhelmed by just how big that smallness really is. I am uncomfortable in church.  And in fact, I get envious and cynical when I see churchy people post or say what I think is vending machine Christianity.  I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t think it’s cute anymore. I can be a relapsing cynic. Like that girl I was so many years ago, I already know I’m not faithful enough, unlike her, I’m not interested in hiding or pretending but I’m also not jumping up and down shoutin’ Hallelujah,  joining a small group. 

The faith I used to have…both the kind that was barely enough to be called a mustard seed and the kind that thought anything good was possible have given way to whatever I have now.  It’s battle tired, sometimes skeptical, but daily renewed. It’s no matter what, and whatever I’ve got. It’s been broken down but it’s far less frail.  Its less flashy but more formed.  It’s not cute or post-able, because it simply is the thing that continues to believe God turns toward us even when He knows we don’t have enough.  

 The faith of the young biblical character, David, who killed a giant, had a kingdom singing his praises…It seemed like a big deal.  But keep scrolling and that same David, many years later, forced to his knees in repentance after moral failure, still had faith… It probably didn’t feel the same.   Yet, it was probably harder for an old man to trust that God would forgive him, than it was for a young man to trust for Gods victory.  His faith actually had to be stronger for him to hold to it in the midst of failure.  A young man full of hope and without as many mistakes has a different kind of faith. But faith over time is thickened and hard like a callous formed to fit the work. It is year after year that one experiences God in all circumstances and finds Him faithful enough to look at us squarely and say “this, still, is one after my own heart.”

What I realized was that much of my sadness over the kind of faith I used to have was just a faulty judgement of what my faith should now be…what it “should” feel like.     Faith, however, is more in the doing than in the feeling.  Sometimes it’s only strong enough to stand still, sometimes its hands in the air singing hallelujah, and sometimes it’s head down and do the thing again.  As the years go by, if you expose it to a world that makes hard demands, it gets tough.  It won’t feel like it used to but it will be stronger than it ever was, not on its own merit, but because it has seen who He is over and over again regardless of who you were.  It has always been small and simple, but it actually is a really big deal.

In conclusion, maybe be more productive in your down time.  And when you’re tired, don’t scroll your own feed digging up what you’ve already buried under years of filters and circumstance.  Expose the faith you have to things that might ugly it up a little bit, but just may toughen it up a lot.

Why do you do whatever it is you do?

I’ve been thinking about that lately.  The world stopped for a precious minute and we’ve all had time to ask ourselves for the first time in the history of probably ever why we do what we do without the eyes of the outside world expecting much.  We have had a literal minute of silence followed by a horrific noise leaving us all speechless, and Silence again.

So, no one is paying attention but everyone is watching.   What matters to you? What do you actually care about?  The world was stopped and now its inflamed.  Everyone is speechless with their mouths hanging open and I ask myself why and what next.

I love transformation.  I seek out people who want transformation.  My life has been a process of slow transformation, and transformation is the kind of work I do with my life.  While I make my living in the physical transformation of bodies, I get to be a part of the spiritual, mental, and emotional  transformation that is all part of a divided whole.

This picture feels like what we so desperately want.  This little girl, arms open wide, shamelessly joining in what she hopes to be good, and where she hopes to be included.  It may just be the warm up to a workout, but she’s all in.  She knows getting it perfect doesn’t matter, she’s already loved.   She has no shame in her.  She’ll do as much as she wants, stop when she wants, and take her shoes off at inappropriate times.  Those of us surrounding her are riddled with obligation, addiction, and bear the consequences of living past her age, but are quietly, desperately trying to get back to her.

While my job is training and helping run a gym and nonprofit ministry, what is it really that I want to do?  Strip down the logo and expose the foundation and what is it that drives me to keep trying?… It took me more than a minute of thinking and staring out of windows serenely, but now I know, when it’s all shut down or burned up,  my heart wants this:

To be a witness to transformation.  To invite strong women who have let life teach them to be small to embrace the bigness of their soul and to feel the even biggerness of God’s grace as they break things on the way. 

And to watch the boarders of privilege blend with poverty.  In the same room…Rich with poor, Weak with strong, sober with addicts…all the colors. To see the pious and the social outcast share life.  To live out stories that ground us to our knees in empathy for the load every one of us is carrying.  

You see?…Its never just a job or a place…or a gym.  It’s  where we meet together to accomplish a thing.  Where we sweat and struggle and lean into what is hard on purpose.  Its where getting to the goal demands getting rid of old habits, fears, and the weight of self-protection.  All in.  Everyone exposed.

I love transformations.  It’s part of what makes me love training the body.  I  love that moment we wake up to recognize that we have strayed far from the little girl who didn’t hide, and didn’t worry, and didn’t try to control.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of jail battling a 20 year drug addiction, or a soccer mom faking your happiness  worrying about what happens to your marriage when the kids leave home. It doesn’t matter if you are black, brown, or white.  A holy thing happens when you start to pay attention…and then you decide…and then you move. Transformation.

It’s really brave, really messy, sometimes inconsistent, and there’s no limit of bartering, begging, or re starting.  It’s all transformation.  It starts sometimes from your hatred for what evil or neglect or sabotage has happened to you…or the apathy you have allowed to happen.  And it tenaciously grows out of what is most hoped for, and the peace you long desperately to recover…and it’s all holy.

It’s a decision point.  A pain point.  The time you try again, or the time you decide NEVER AGAIN.  It wakes you up from numbness to see God, wrestles to break free, sits with failure, and reaches for salvation.

 It’s in the hard labor of breaking a sweat, the fear of not knowing what sober, or thin, or strong, or equality even look like.  It’s fragile and yet it’s terribly strong. 

Its why I do what I do, and no matter what I do, I look for its likeness.   And as long as I do things, I hope they are things that hold space for what is transformational.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved. 

Right now.  You as an individual may be at a pain point or a decision point.  The world has stopped a moment to get your attention.  What is it you really want?   A good body?…Peace on earth?…  all good things.   All things that need you to seize a moment and decide what happens next.  You get to be this girl in the picture, unafraid to say what is true but grounded into a deeper truth of her absolute rightness in taking her place on the floor.

What will you do with a world that is sick and burning or a body that is weak and dying?  You can go numb…or you can begin to move.  It’s my favorite thing…that moment of decision.  It’s the moment where you see your life as a thing that can change.  You have a body, a mind, and a heart that can transform. You are a business, a city, and a culture that can decide.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved.

 

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about what we say yes to.  I spoke about the way our lives are a reflection of our innermost beliefs and desires about who we are and what we ultimately want.  It was big picture, wordy, thought rambling stuff so you may or may not have made it past the first few paragraphs.

Today, I want to break down using the medium to which I am accustomed (health and fitness) just what it is that you actually want to say yes to.  Almost entirely everyone has a body that demands constant attention.  I don’t care who you are or what you do, I’d put good money on the fact you need a body to do it with.  Regardless of that fact, our bodies are for the most part a mess.

In a culture with more food, education, and opportunity than ever, how is it possible that most people who come to me as a trainer in person or online, or to our gym 148 Wellness, and have so little connection with what it takes to subdue the body into a reasonably maintained vessel?

  I’m not going to blame culture here… there have always been snake oil salesmen and lies in the media.  None of that is going to change.  Instagram bunnies, diet culture, and “As seen on TV” devices are going to keep coming.  It’s not personal, they need to make a living too, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be at your expense.  The world isn’t going to spin differently to accommodate your particular weakness, but it also won’t stop you from learning to get stronger…so, that seems like a fair enough arrangement.

Allow me to list a few possible reasons people continue to struggle with their own body:  (This isn’t exhaustive…I’ll probably come up with more)

-They haven’t spent time studying their own life

– They haven’t taken ownership of the current state of their body.

-They intentionally stay helpless by focusing on impossible body images or dieting technique.

-They associate pain, discomfort, or even change with fear, punishment, and failure.

-They struggle with control, self-regulation, and the concept of failure.

-They have become accustomed to instant gratification, and find it difficult to be grateful for what to them seems like a burden.

Does any of that sound familiar?  Is it possible you have camped out in any of these particular head places?

I just turned 40.  The first time I started hating my body, I was around 8 years old when a babysitter said my thighs touched too much…yep, I even had thick thighs at 8…what a blessing.  I was bullied in middle school for being ugly, dumb, and fat. I developed a really fun case of bulimia in my 20s when a boyfriend introduced me to how genuinely inadequate I was…and then decided he was gay…I found not being a man yet another impossible standard to live up to.   On and on it goes.  So I’m not condemning anyone when I list out all of the potential pockets of their dysfunction, I’m simply listing my life experience mingled with my particular profession.

I tend to be long winded.  So this is the first in a series of teasing out just what it is you have agreed to in this life.  If anything in the above list resonates with you, pay attention to that.  Stop what you are doing and think, really think…without a phone…about what it is you want for your health. 

If I can walk up to almost any man or woman in America right now and get a full 20 minute dissertation about the ways they struggle with the body they have been in possession of and directly controlling since birth…maybe simply containing the discussion to “health and fitness” isn’t working.  It may be time to look at yourself as a whole lifetime of decisions, hurts, reactions, desires, and compromises.  It may be time to address your current body with a discerning eye on the past, and hope for its future.

“We Are the sum of every Yes that we utter”…

I just read that in the book “To be Told” by Dan Allender.  He is a thickly wordy, PhD in psychology kind of author who sees God in in the story of humans.  If you like that kind of thing, you’ll love Allender.

Anyway…The sum of every yes…what a pretty way to think about choices. The mundane and dramatic, leading to the total amount of who we are.   Saying yes often takes you out from where you are into a place you may be a little scared and unprepared to be.  The new job, the date, the move…it’s all yes and then hold on.  It’s a word said in a moment where hope outweighed reality.

Sitting here, taking perhaps a little too long to process one sentence, I am the current result of all the things I had the bravery or stupidity to say yes to.  I have used my time on earth in ways that have lead me here and until I’m dead, every decision I make, even in my response to another’s yes, will have an infinite number of possible outcomes…blessed and disastrous.  ‘Yes’ to a new business, ‘Yes’ to a speaking engagement, and ‘yes’ to committing to a life changing habit.  Yes is the reach before falling or flying.  Regardless of the outcome, yes starts the fire to cook or be cooked.

Saying No… that’s always there too.  But its power lies in subtracting and protecting.  It’s the thing we don’t do or believe in order to add value in another direction…another faith.  Saying no is saying yes to unchanging.  Saying no, is to hold the agreement that I’m not going that way, or, I’m not moving, but it doesn’t necessarily know which way to go.  It isn’t bad and may many times be necessary, but it only exists in the absence of desire and it seems static to the kind of movement that is the fallout of “Yes.” No is simply what’s left in the wake and the shadow of your yes.

All of our lives we make agreements.  We say ‘yes’ to more than questions.  We spend our lives deciding who we are going to believe and how we are going to live.  As we live, every Judgement held either for us, or against us, demands our” yes” to hold any power over us.  Every opportunity or challenge we say yes to is in keeping with who we have already agreed that we are. 

So.

Who do you say that you are?

Who or what has drawn a yes from your frightened lips in order for you to answer that question?  Do you even know why you said it?  Can you look back and see what it was that you wanted?…and did it go how you thought it would go?

I’ve said yes to everything from marriage, to divorce, to world travel, to nonprofit work, to business ownership, to marriage again. I’ve said yes to love, and yes to hate.  To wasteful thinking and to what I thought had purpose.

I’ve said yes to good things and bad, and each time was the result of who I agreed that I was, and what I believed would be fulfilling.  I’ve said yes to what I deep down just wanted to do and to what I felt compelled to do for others.  I’ve said yes many times…so have you…

I’m willing to bet each time led to movement. Disruption.  Transition. If you say it often enough, it will turn your life into something unrecognizable and that can either be very bad or very good. It depends very much on the quality of the yes’s preceding it.   When I have said yes to the things that God has carved into my heart and story, it’s always been miraculously disruptive.  You are the sum of a great number of agreements.  Still, every broken decision to agree with what is destructive offers the redemption of another yes.  That’s what grace is…grace is God’s yes.

So where does your yes come from and how do you harness it into what leads toward where you ultimately want to go?

It is your deep desire. Your gut place.  The longings in the heart and hope in the mind.

My unwise ‘yes’ is the result of unhealthy desire and sick hope.  Catastrophically bad decisions are bred in a hundred lesser malignant interactions before them.  Remember, you are the sum of your agreements and therefore the progeny of your dark desire as well as your productive hurt.  It’s why we need grace for others and ourselves in the face of a really stupid yes.  It’s why the next yes is important.

If I bring it down to a practical example, then the cake you binge on tonight is the result of saying yes to the futility of this day, like all days before it.  If you walk the weeks, months and years backward you might see a parade of agreements to body image issues, stress mismanagement, and self-medicating.  Binging on cake then, while common enough…is the sum of all your agreements to self-destruction. Even more seductively, It is your “yes” to comfort and your “no” to health.  It is acknowledging that the world is hard and unpredictable, and cake feels good.  Therefore, feeling good, comforted, social, happy, whatever…those things have your heart…and your heart says yes.

Yes, is a reflection of your value system.

Healthy or unhealthy, the thing you agree to do is a direct expression of the person you agree you are and the deepest desire of that person at any particular moment. 

I am a personal trainer, a weight loss expert, if you will allow such a glorified definition.  When working with anyone, I always ask why, and I continue to ask the same person the same question over and over again, sometimes for years… because most people don’t know their own answer, and many pay no attention to the story their life is telling, even fewer recognize when the two are in contradiction.  Most people don’t realize that they are already living out their highest current value system…they just don’t like the result.  They don’t like the sum of all their previous yes’s.  They hire me to sort it out.

Journeying through body change is essentially an exposure of beliefs, the reality of ones circumstances, inherent values, and integrity.  So it’s always seemed kind of cheap to dumb it down into a before and after picture, but it’s the language of the day so that’s what I sometimes do.  For me however, the point isn’t to get a shockingly magnificent body transformation that allows you to feel confident wearing the latest fashion thing if that doesn’t fill the emptiness of your soul.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep anyone from trying, and social media has infinite evidence of anyone tiring of that anytime soon.

Likewise our daily lives, our jobs, our families, our future hopes and dreams…all reflections of what we have said yes to…all the expression of who we agreed that we are.  Even our social media accounts are an artistic arrangement of the idealized self.  Its not entirely wrong but it is entirely damning in its exposure.

Yet I hope and I wonder, if I were to use a higher question,  if I were to acknowledge my creator, would my yes be the same kind as its been…or can it change?   Can I fix my heart on an unchanging God so that it changes my deepest desire? Sometimes beautifully hidden things come from the desire for love, adventure, meaning, or purpose.  When your heart says yes from your God given desire, however imperfectly executed, it’s usually overwhelmingly accurate.

As we enter a brave new world and leave quarantine, what relationships, what events, what commitments will get our yes?…what foods, what habits, what activities?  There has been an unexpected break in rhythm.  Life is different now and we have an opportunity to change our answer.

Who do people say you are?… and did you agree with them on purpose?  

Yes, to a different pace…that may be slower…or faster if you’re lazy.

Yes, to moving forward with bravery…you’re still alive… so maybe consider why.

Yes, to health in all its forms…try again… but be honest.

Yes, to knowing who God says you are…It may change every yes you say from now on.

If we are the sum of every yes, then what will that equal when all added up?  If you have lived through this, you are still most likely going to die later…most likely.  I think It’s not a bad question to ask yourself if you think you’ll like the answer…I hope. it’s yes.

If not, I hope you know that the numbers aren’t all in yet.  You can change your answer.  You can seek a God who says yes to who He created you to be and let each decision add up to something devastatingly miraculous.  He redeems years that locust have eaten, He is yesterday and tomorrow, He says Yes and Amen.

Sundays are good days. Intentionally quite days. Days David and I rest from the endless cycle of production and expectation. This Sunday was not much different with the exception of my breaking one of those quiet moments to be irrational and insecure…Sometimes, I needlessly chase those thoughts other people seem content to ignore…That just how I roll…like one of those obsessive greyhounds…its charming.

I wake up first from a nap and gaze at my husband, still sleeping peacefully.

He is patient. He is kind. He is the human I trust the most and the place where I can rest.

And yet…looking at him in that moment, like many moments since we’ve been married, my sense of calm is disrupted with inaudible tension. When I should be blissfully grateful I am instead uncomfortably fearful. I hate being afraid, so I move into much more manageable emotions…aggression and insecurity.

He wakes… possibly from my blink-less staring and writhing internal energy, and I start up…

“Are you always going to like me?”
“Where’s the anger?… When is that going to show up?”
“Is this the real you?… when are you going to start shutting down? When are you going to flip the switch?”
“…It’s fine…I know it’s my fault… I just need to know when because I’m getting soft…I’m getting too accustomed to this niceness, and it’s making me nervous”….”When is the other shoe gonna drop?!

To which he responded, “Um, what?…”

So yeah.. I begin the kind of cry that is not cute. His initial confusion giving way to concerned listening. He has no choice. I had to exercise that demon at last and he has already learned that it’s best to be still and wait for the end. When at last I look up, He says,

“You are a blessing to me, and never a burden.”
“This is who I am.”
“I love you like crazy. I see your crazy, and I’m not going anywhere.”

I had spent nine years in another marriage. He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a broken person and I wasn’t much better. Nine years living a cycle that continues in my mind three years later and has now poisoned my nap time.

A week maybe two, into that first marriage, depression, anger and anxiety took him over and would be my real spouse for the remainder of that decade. I remember numbly making an internal calendar where I could keep track of the good to bad day ratios. Where I could prepare to wall up against the inevitable hurt. Where I planned for winter.
One day good: One week bad.
One week good: Three weeks bad.
One month good: Four months bad.

It was the cycle I would come to live by and count on. I could hunker down in the bad and wait for the good. I walked on eggshells in the good because I feared triggering the bad. Every moment was edged with tension as I absorbed the next swing, the next week of silent treatment, the next outburst, the next dark cycle. Just before I felt I might break, he broke back into a moment of normal where I could convince myself that everything was fine. It wasn’t. I tried to be perfect. I tried to be strong. I tried to be pretty, and happy, and awesome. I wasn’t. In the end, I failed…hard…and I was really tired. My pride kept me alone. My insecurity kept me quiet. My grief kept me angry.

Here’s the thing…I am not living that life anymore.

So why am I still re-living that cycle?… Why am I still braced for bad? I struggle to rest in the good I now have because I could never trust the good I had before. And yet… if I continue to live an old life, I let the new life die. I give honor to those broken things instead of pouring energy into the future before me and hope within me.

That thing back there. That relationship, that failure, that hurt, that sin, that embarrassment, that anger…they have no power here. That thing happened, but it is no longer happening.

We all do this in one way or another. We all let the memory of an old pattern bind our forward progress. We operate from places of familiarity even when they are wrong or painful. We make excuses for our hesitation in risk and expect nothing to change. We accept poor treatment or bad behavior because we are convinced its all we’ve known and all we deserve. We drag a lifeless past into the places meant only for the living.

I can stop waiting for the shoe to drop because it already did. I endured that thing. I felt that fear. I lost that fight. I had enough. I was enough. I am enough, because I’m still here…that’s enough now. There is enough danger in the present to need my full attention. There are other opportunities to be brave. There is a good life right here if I am willing to let what was bad die. Not because I’m still angry, but because it’s useless and heavy.

You’re not dead yet, but perhaps you keep dragging what needs to die along, for no other reason than the stench is familiar. Acknowledge it, drag it into the light and have a good long look, then pull the life support you supply and walk away. Perhaps it’s a habit. Perhaps it’s a relationship. Perhaps it’s a job. Perhaps it’s a mindset.

For me… perhaps it’s time. It’s time to stop living old lives. It’s time to let them die. It’s time to kill old fear and starve old hate. It’s time to forget what is behind and press into what is ahead… (Philippians 3:13) It’s time to let my husband love me and live the life ahead of me.

And probably, I will wake him up from many more naps, with many more irrational things to cry about… and he knows that… and he doesn’t ask me to be any other way… I like this life.

As I was preparing to enter 148 Ministries’ first weekend working with the clients at the Hope Center Indy, I had no idea what kind of effect it would have on me personally.  I adhered to my normal sermon prep routine, I prayed for wisdom in an unfamiliar setting, and I stepped out with faith that God would lead.  I had no idea just how unprepared I was for the unsettling reality I would be forced to confront, and that the lesson would be mine to learn.

The Hope Center Indy houses and rehabilitates women of all backgrounds who have been victims of human trafficking.  All through Friday and Saturday we got to know the girls.  I spoke multiple times about the value God places on us, we shared personal testimonies, we shared workouts, and at one point, my wife offered me as a human punching bag.  She has this belief that most women would be better off if they could hit things really hard, so, with my core braced and arms padded, I offered myself up.  And yet for me, one of the most profound things that happened that day was a simple note, casually written on a sticky pad, shoved in an envelope with my name scrawled across it, and handed to me as we were packing to leave.   I had not realized it at the time, but the women and girls had written us each a few sentences anonymously throughout the weekend and it was these that our host had unexpectedly given me as we left.  It wasn’t till I got home that I was able to read them.  They were all unbelievably kind and overwhelmingly precious.

And then I came to the note that changed the way I look at women, the way I see men, and the way I   confront sin.  It revealed to me the true, honest, and very raw perspective these girls have towards the men who should have protected them, but instead, have scarred them.  It read:

“You give me hope that I won’t always feel uncomfortable near men. You seem to be pure in your thoughts and not a predator; which I thought was impossible. I thought all men were perverted. Thank you for not making me feel “looked at.”   I see Christ in you!”

 I finished reading and I froze.  Standing in the kitchen, holding the little sticky note, my stomach turned as my head searched for understanding.  In that moment, just to be honest, I never wanted to look at a woman ever again… ever.  A “predator” can be defined as “an animal that naturally preys on others” or “a person that ruthlessly exploits others.”   So which one of those definitions describes men?  Probably both.

  Satan is also described as a predator…the ultimate predator, a Lion.  In 1 Peter 5:8, the Bible tells us that “Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  In other words, Satan is a methodical hunter who is intentionally looking for ways to cause Jesus’ followers to stumble and sin.  He is quiet. He is calculating.  He is patient.  He is going about his work as if his life depended on it, and He is hungry.  He does not strike when we are healthy and surrounded with protection; He strikes when we are weak, wounded, and alone.

 Men, do we have the courage to confront that kind of predator …and do we have the self-awareness to recognize when it’s us?  Before you dismiss the ugly possibility, examine your heart, your mind, and your motives.  It doesn’t have to be physical or sexual abuse.  There are many ways to devour.

Ask yourself, as a Christian man, do I do the same thing to women?  As a predator, do I seek women out to exploit them and cause them to sin?

…Too strong?

Ok, how do you think of women? Do you hide your thoughts in the safe stalking ground of your mind, using them secretly and justifying it deliberately?

 …Still too strong?

 Ok then…do you manipulate your wife or girlfriend in a way that is demeaning and devaluing to her as a person, as a wife, as a mother, and as a child of God? Do you use guilt to get your way?  Do you use anger and lack of self-control to intimidate? Do you deny her gifting and purpose to pursue your own?   In the hierarchy of your love, are her needs a priority or a pawn?  Do you protect her heart, or do you prey upon her emotions?

I went last weekend to teach these women about how God sees them…I left questioning how I have viewed women all my life.  Questioning how women must navigate this exhausting narrative all their lives.  I left, analyzing my thoughts and actions, and I left with a mind that is reinforced against the schemes of the predator. 

Check your motives men of God. Take every thought captive.  Where we are called to protect, love and cherish, we have earned the title of predators.  We are called to be providers, leaders, or spiritual examples, and yet, most women have learned that we are not worthy of their trust.  This culture has always been a consumer of women and yet we have not stood up against it as protectors.  We are as guilty as the men who abuse, and sell, and exploit our sisters if we continue to refuse or underestimate our God given roll to reflect the heart of Christ in our relationships toward them.

So, which category do you fit into?  Predator or Protector? And will you choose to see where God is calling us all to examine our hearts as we navigate a broken world.

After what was for me, a fairly brutal week, I am driving downtown to the Volunteers of America building where they house their “Fresh Start Recovery” center.  It is a relatively new and desperately needed program where the mothers of opioid addiction are allowed to keep their children through the grueling process of recovery.  It is a beautiful provision in an ugly situation.  It is by grace alone that I have been allowed to work with these women who are far braver than I will ever be.  It is a sweet breaking of my heart, and a bitter reality to face.

I’m wearing a shirt my husband, in his kindness, had made for me, per my specifications, featuring our logo and the word “FEARLESS” embroidered on the front.  I had wanted our ministry to project boldness in a broken world…at least that was my intent…but, as I drive, I am filled with what I can only describe as fear itself.

As usual, I left the house in a series of random scurrying movements, always underestimating the amount of time it takes me to do basic things. My dog-owner guilt is in the red as I leave Sherman without a walk, suffering from an ear infection and food allergy that is costing me more money than I have.

The week behind has been filled with boxes checked and schedules filled.  I completed a certification exam I had expertly procrastinated and had long been dreading.   We had our very first board meeting as a fledgling non-profit.  Up until this point, I had no idea what “bylaws” even were and, after sitting through a two and a half hour meeting Wednesday night, I am discouraged to think that I still don’t really know…I’m cold, I’m behind at work, I’m tired, discouraged with feelings of inadequacy, and despite my best efforts, crying.  Ah yes…just what everyone wants to see as they roll up alongside someone at a stop light…a messy haired, pasty complexioned, white girl… weeping…claiming to be FEARLESS…inspiring.

148 ministries began as a quietly held breath in my mind over 2 years ago as I sat one morning at 4 am in the middle of reading a book by Christine Caine called “Unashamed.”  I had found myself in a circumstance I never expected to be, in a place I didn’t want to be, and working a job I had told myself I would never again be working.

There I sat, divorced after 9 difficult years, in Michigan, on a horse farm.  In those small morning hours, I would read, or pray, or cry, or do all three at the same time in an unexplainable feat of emotional acrobatics. 

There, for the first time, I became aware of the trafficking exploitation of women and children with all of its global proportions, and its moral implications.  And like waking up to a sharp pain, I adjusted my cramped, narrow position.  I am not formally educated, I am not degreed, I am not even easily focused, and yet in that moment I knew I wanted to use the only thing I knew, as the Lord chose to lead, to serve in the healing of His daughters.  As I turns out, I understood only too well the scars of physical and emotional abuse, about the self-inflicted lies that bind all women in fear, and the healing, proving ground that physical stress and unconditional support could have.  I did not know how or when, but I did know God was speaking there, and admittedly with some fear I trusted that He knew the plan, and that it was to give me a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

Still a bit sulky, I haul what feels like 497 pounds of workout equipment onto my person and trudge through sloppy snow to the front door, I’m buzzed in by the always cheery attendant, and without a hesitation force an equally cheery face that must have been on retainer for such occasions as this. 

I rush to clear the all-purpose room of tables, I accidentally set off an alarm that could wake the dead, and follow that up by locking myself out. I am helpless as I wait to be rescued from the hallway…ln defiance, I crank up the grittiest Christian rap I can find on Pandora but get annoyed by it and land on a fairly clean station featuring Jenifer Lopez…whatever…I’m not proud.  

Around 10 minutes past the time I have been scheduled to start, girls uncommittedly filter in.  There are six.  Two are quiet and look like they hate me.  One is pregnant.  Two others are uncontrollably running around and disorienting the equipment I strategically laid out. One leaves because she has reconsidered her choice of pants…she may or may not return. None of them have reasonable shoes.

I don’t know how…every time I’m pretty sure I black out…but the next hour is a mess of introduction, warm-up, explanations, instruction, adaptation, exasperation, laughter, complaining, quitting, explaining again… and again.

They are unconditioned, unmotivated, and pretty unimpressed by my attempt to share my love of fitness.  

Heroine or Meth or some other drug I’ve never even heard of has rung their lives out.  Every day, every moment, for them is suffocated with the overwhelming call of a chemical relationship that can numb their pain and remove their shame.  Every moment they have to fight to love their kids more than they hate themselves.  Every moment they have to be fearless.  

We sit stretching in a circle on the floor.  Some tell their story while I fight for the ability to relate.  I cannot.  I am out of my league here too.  I ask if they want help with workout ideas they can do without equipment, if they have questions about nutrition or weight loss.  Some do.  I ask if they have anything they would like me to pray for or with them.  In doing so, I am asking them to give me the privilege of their trust I don’t yet deserve. Some do, and I pray with and for them.

They filter out. I pick up the 497 estimated pounds of crap I hauled in there…somehow its lighter…and leave the building without setting off an alarm this time. 

I sit in my car and exhale that quietly held breath.  

I am not without fear.  I am not without anxiety, sadness, anger, or complete disorientation.  Somehow I thought this would be easier, but I had no idea just how perfect.  No idea how an incomprehensibly good God could use my clumsy effort to show a few women on a Friday afternoon that hears them when they pray.  148 Ministries was a thought placed by God, a path provided for by God, with a human effort protected by God.  I know for sure just how insufficient I am, but I also know just how sufficient He is. 

Driving home, I know there is infinite work to be done, plans to move forward and expand and to step into a mess I don’t even understand.  Tears start to fill my eyes again, but this time with the overwhelming recognition that I just got schooled in His undeserved faithfulness.  God provided a way for the last thing and He will provide a way through the next thing.  I can step forward, not without fear, but in spite of it.  Not because I am good, but because He is.  Not because I am strong, or smart, or steady under pressure, but because He is steadfast, and patient, and He works all things according to his purpose and timing.  In that promise I can rest fearlessly.