ARE YOU CHISELED OR CHUBBY?

I have a friend who is incredibly self-motivated in a way that I’m not sure I could ever be. He’s more persistent, more passionate and more resilient than most of the people I know. He’s an inspiration to a lot of people, and recently, as he was gearing up for a new level of physical fitness, he posted this on his Facebook page:

NINE MONTHS

And I knew that in nine months, there would be a new Chris emerging. Because Chris wants to succeed. He wants his life and his body to be different, better.

Me? Yeah, I want those things, too – just not enough to really work very hard at them. And I accept the consequences of that mentality.

Three years ago, Chris faced a unique challenge. He was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – flesh-eating bacteria. He was fortunate to have it diagnosed and treated as quickly as it was, but it was still a steep hill for him to climb and it took its toll on him. But he was beautifully resilient!

So I’ve been thinking about the vast difference between his determination to work hard and my determination to keep a low heart-rate and not perspire if I can help it. I began to consider the characters in the Bible who were so desperate for the healing touch of Jesus – the woman with the issue of blood, the man whose friends lowered him from the roof into the room where Jesus was teaching, the blind man at the pool of Siloam, the lepers who begged for pity, the daughter of Jairus, the multitudes He and the disciples fed on the hillsides.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and He healed them” (Matthew 4:23-24). 

But I’ve always been curious about the man at the pool of Bethesda in John Chapter 5. This man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and realized that he had spent a long time in this condition, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Now, I’ve admitted before that I am not a Biblical scholar, so I may very well be wrong, but I’ve long believed that this is the only time that Jesus didn’t just “hand out” a healing. I believe this is the only recorded incident where Jesus asks directly if the person wanted to get well. And the recipient didn’t ask to be healed.

That seems like a silly question, right? Who doesn’t want to be well? Who really wants to be sick or infirmed or physically challenged when they can be whole, healthy and capable? But the man doesn’t say he wants to be healed. He gives Jesus an excuse for why he can’t be healed. Maybe he just didn’t know that the man before him could heal him.

Or maybe – just maybe – he wasn’t really committed to a life free of poor health.

Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am on my way, someone else goes in before me.”

That didn’t answer Jesus’ question, did it? Jesus simply let it slide, apparently, and told the man to get up and walk. And the man did just that; he walked. On legs that had atrophied over decades, he miraculously walked.

That meant he was no longer a prisoner to pity or a servant to shame or a miserable recipient of mercy. He was no longer dependent on the kindness of others. He could take care of himself now. He could now get a job, have a home, be worthy of marriage, have a family, be a contributing member of the community. In short, Jesus had just redefined who this man was – to himself and to everyone in his town.

That can be a little scary, can’t it? No doubt, this man had dreamt of what a life would be like if he were healthy and able bodied. But now he had to actually walk. Where would he walk to? What would he do once he got there? Along with health, this man was given purpose, responsibility, independence. And I think that’s what Jesus was asking him: “Do you want to be responsible for yourself?”

So often, we say things like, “I’d give anything to be able to afford what I want.” Really? Are you willing to do without an immediate gratification? “I’d give anything to look like that!” Are you willing to get up an hour earlier every day to exercise? “I want to be a more Godly person?” Are you willing to be loving instead of right?

I’m not judging! Trust me, I am not self-disciplined. I’m with the kids in the Stanford marshmallow experiment who went ahead and ate the marshmallow before the tester returned. I don’t do well with delayed gratification. At all. It’s not fun and, honestly, it’s hard.

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That’s why this summer – in nine months – my friend, Chris, will be an incredibly healthy, fit father of three energetic kids and I will be wondering if I really have to shave my legs if I don’t plan to wear a pair of shorts – because, let’s face it, chubby thighs are only cute on babies!

What about you? In nine months, will you be a new person? Do you want to be healed?

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RISE UP AND STAND FIRM

For a devotional today, I read Psalm 20. It was incredibly encouraging!

Psalm 20:4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”

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I really like that part! Who doesn’t want God to give us the desire of our heart? Who wouldn’t appreciate having all their plans succeed?

But there’s such a temptation to limit God, isn’t there? I look at my present situation and think, “If only God would….” I see my immediate need and pray that God will meet it. But what if meeting my immediate need in the way I think is best isn’t what would glorify God? Then God becomes little more than a Santa Bunny, there to make all our dreams come true and give us a pony if we beg long enough.

First of all, God is so much bigger than we let him be. He is able to do all things and to give us an abundant life. Too often, we settle for a little blessing because we’re in a hurry, when we could have a greater blessing and a genuine heart overhaul if we would only trust and wait on his timing.

The second mistake we make is in expecting his blessing to glorify us rather than Him. We don’t really mean to, but it’s our nature to be self-focused most of the time. God loves us dearly and wants to bless us, but he owes us nothing. The way I see the scripture, he has a victory planned – but for “his anointed” and for His kingdom. I believe all of God’s children have been anointed for something. His anointed have been set apart for a sacred and divine purpose. It is the anointed who will bring glory to the kingdom of God:

Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call! (Psalm 20:6-9)

When you are anointed and you go to battle in the name of God, there is nothing and no one who can stand in the way. God has already established His victory. The only question is when and how. And what are we to do as the enemy falls in defeat? Rise up and stand firm!

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What an awesome God we serve when His name is stronger than chariots or horses, whispers or doubts, or whatever weapon the enemy chooses to use against us. We’re not told to put our faith in our checking balance or our relationships. And we’re not told to fidget and worry. We’re told to rise up and stand firm.

I pray that today I can do that. I pray that I can put my worries in God’s hands and let the victory over my circumstances be for God’s glory not mine. And I pray that I can simply rise up and stand firm.

JUST ONE OF US REGULAR FOLK

For most of my life, I dreaded reading the Bible. It seemed so boring! All those doth sayth’s and verily’s can really get to a person after a while. God always seemed to be smiting some tribe or another.

But at some point in the last year, I had a refreshing perspective of the Bible.

First, I realized that this is a collection of some of the most flawed people you could imagine. The fact is that they were just like us!

Second, I realized that God loved them dearly and used them in mighty ways in spite of, or actually through, their weaknesses. Jonah was kicking and screaming while God used him; but he used him! Abraham and Sarah got ahead of God’s timetable and decided to take things into their own hands and “help” God.

Have you ever felt like that? Like you’re bursting full of God-ordained potential, but you don’t feel like you have a starting place? You’ve been sent on a mission without a road map or a timeline? You don’t know when to start or where to stop. Maybe you think you heard God wrong! You know there’s a big plan for you, but the plans are anywhere from sketchy to questionable.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the patience for that. To me, that’s a whole lot of nothin’ that leaves me standing in the middle of nowhere looking like a confused Minion.

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I want a plan, an Excel spreadsheet, a T-shirt…something! Because if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, I don’t know if I’m doing it right or not.

But if there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s this: God is as merciful as he is sovereign!

He can take whatever mess we’ve made and still work things to fit His plan because His word never returns void. And it never gets readjusted. He didn’t look at Ishmael and say, “Well, that’s not what I was thinking, but it’ll work.” No. He didn’t listen to Jonah and say, “Fine! Someone else can do it instead.”

So rest assured that if God has planted a seed in you, it will grow to fullness in His time and in His way for His purpose. You might go kicking and screaming. You might try to “help” him. You might even try to get ahead of the game and do the wrong thing. But you cannot make an irredeemable mess of what God has spoken over you.

Just remember who ends up getting the glory here. Oh, God’s going to use you and the talents he’s given you, but the glory will be His. After all, where’s the glory if he lets you do what anyone else can do without his help?

 

MY CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL STORY

In a couple of weeks, Chicken Soup for the Soul will be selling it’s latest book, The Miracle of Love. Thanks to God’s goodness, I had a story they liked enough to publish. This is my second in 10 years, and sometime I’ll share the other one with you. But I want to share this one now because 1) I’m super excited about it and 2) it will tell you a little more about me. I hope you enjoy it!

A DREAM COME TRUE

I looked down the petal-strewn gauntlet. It occurred to me that this was either the dumbest thing I’d ever done or the smartest. Either way, it was certain to be the most memorable. This was my wedding day.

At the other end of the aisle stood the man who had asked me to marry him. He looked terrified. I could see sweat glistening above his eyebrows. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t terror he was feeling as much as the humidity in the sanctuary. This was unquestionably the hottest, most humid day Missouri had seen this year.

The church was one of the most breathtaking places in town, primarily because it was one of the oldest. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me that the cooling system hadn’t been updated. However, I didn’t know that it still relied on a swamp cooler. I learned that day that swamp coolers take a great deal of time to cool the room, and this particular swamp cooler had not been given enough time to compete with the miserable heat and humidity of the day.

So there I stood, sweating in a wedding gown that cost more than my first car and high heels that I never would have worn at any other time and would never wear again. Those sitting on the left were complete strangers to me and were undoubtedly concerned about the groom’s mental capacity to enter into legal contracts such as marriage. And those on the right were good friends, most of whom were already quite confident that my mental capacity was questionable.

They weren’t the only ones who were concerned. They couldn’t be thinking anything I hadn’t already considered. Will he be able to settle down with a family after being a bachelor all these years? What will happen to my daughter and me if this turns out to be a mistake? Are we insane? I pondered that last question the most.

There wasn’t much about our courtship that was ordinary.

My four-year-old daughter Sophie and I lived in Kansas, and we were pretty much on our own. She’d begun to ask when she would get a daddy and insisted that he would drive a truck because that’s what the father of every other child in daycare drove.

My groom, on the other hand, had always been the single uncle who played with His nieces and nephews while their parents enjoyed adult conversations. In Minnesota, 415 miles away, John had been alone for a long time. He’d never been married and he had no children.

We had only two things in common. First, we each felt we were missing something without a spouse. Second, we both knew Rob and Tracy. I had gone to high school with Rob, and John had gotten to know the couple in college. And it was those relationships that would be key to the future of John, Sophie and me.

In Minnesota, summer had finally given way to fall. John lay in his bed and prayed, “Lord, will I always be this lonely? Isn’t there someone out there for me?” This prayer played over and over in his head as he fell asleep. Once asleep, he had three separate but connected dreams.

In his first dream, he was dating a woman with a little girl. In his second dream, he was standing at the alter with Rob as his best man. In his last dream, he was opening wedding gifts with his wife on one side and one of his sisters on the other.

Later in the week, John called his former college roommate.

“Rob, I had the weirdest dream, and you were in it. I was dating a woman with a little girl. We got married, and you were my best man!”

“Well,” Rob grinned, “I happen to know a woman with a little girl, and she’s looking for someone.”

The next time I saw Rob, he mentioned casually that he had a friend who was single and might like to meet me. At the risk of inflating my ego, he left out the details of the dream. After all, who needs a prima donna who thinks she may be someone’s dream-come-true?

“Seriously, Rob! He’s in Minnesota, and I’m in Kansas. What are we supposed to do?”

Rob wasn’t worried. “Oh, you meet, you fall in love, and you get married.”

Nine months later, John and I stood on opposite ends of the aisle at the beginning of a new life together. And my daughter would have a father – the first man to tell her how incredible and beautiful she was.

In less than 24 hours, the three of us would drive to Minnesota, where I had no job and knew no one except John. I took a deep breath and began my walk down the aisle. I knew only one thing with relative confidence: I would agree to absolutely anything if it got me out of this dress and these heels!

Twenty years later, I’m happy to say that God planned a successful marriage. It hasn’t been a simple marriage – certainly not one without many challenges – but those challenges have strengthened our love and appreciation for each other.

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!

I love quotes. I know a lot of people don’t. But I find that in each great quote is an entire philosophy, a unique take on life, that someone has managed to put into one or two sentences. Of course, Marianne Williamson’s quote is longer than one or two sentences, so forgive me for straying from the norm this once. I think its value justifies its length:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that in order to move forward, people need two things: validation and permission. I consider this my permission to be more than I’ve thought I could or should be.

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It’s often been hard for me to play small, actually. I seem to have needed the affirmation too badly to let an opportunity to succeed pass me by. It doesn’t usually start out that way, though. Each time I’ve done well with something, it’s begun with, “Hey, why don’t you _________________!” The word ‘no’ was never really in my vocabulary, so I did _________________ whether I wanted to or not.

From that point, there were always nudges and encouragement from someone to move to a new level. And, to be honest, I was always my own greatest competition. If I could be a leader at a local level, maybe I could be a leader at a state level, or a national level. No one else around me wanted to do it and were very encouraging, so I ended up being on a national leadership team for Business Professionals of America – the second from the state of Kansas.

This blog is something entirely new for me, and I wouldn’t be doing it if my teenage daughter hadn’t told me to. She doesn’t suggest or encourage; she just tells you to do it. And so I’m doing it. Still don’t know why I’m doing it.

I suppose that’s not entirely true. I know why I’m doing it. I want to write a book someday, and I know that to be a writer, you have to write. Ten years ago, I had a story published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul edition. It was pretty cool, but by the time I found out it was going to be published, I’d forgotten all about it. I’d done it on a whim, I’d never submitted anything for publication before, and I had no expectations of ever being published. But then something happened.

I stood in the aisle of a local Barnes & Noble, looking at the single copy of the book with my story in it. I wanted to stop the first person who walked by and tell them, “My story is in that book!” But that would have been weird, so I silently squealed in my head while running my finger lovingly down the spine of the book. Then I looked inside – you know, just to be sure it was still in there.

Then a single thought began to form in my mind. I found my husband, looked him straight in the eyes and firmly told him, “I want my own book.” Then I didn’t write another thing until my daughter told me to start a blog. I have no idea how I thought a book was going to materialize without words on paper, but that’s where things stayed for 10 years.

However, I never stopped wanting to write something, anything, that could affect people. I want to write something that will show people who feel unloved that they are loved, and the people who feel unlovable that they are lovable. And I want them to know that they are loved by a good God. I want to show people that they can do more than just survive a bad life, that they can actually thrive with a really good life because that’s what Christ died for us to have. And I want to show people that while they may have had a rough beginning – even a rough middle – they can still have an epic end starting now.

Has this been done before? Thank God it has been! Has it been done by me? Not yet. But I believe (and this is hard to put out there in case someone disagrees – and they probably will) that God has given me a past and a talent that I can put to good use for Him.

One more quote and I’ll be done for the day. Erma Bombeck was my favorite humorist when I was growing up. I treasured using her books as selections when I was in high school speech. She said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”

Now I don’t expect to be an Erma Bombeck, but I can be a LaRonda Bourn – the first of my kind. I’ll start sentences and even paragraphs with conjunctions when I probably shouldn’t. I may use sentence fragments. And by golly, I will use commas like they’re on sale. But if I put those conjunctions, fragments and commas in God’s hands, maybe – just maybe – something new and beautiful can come from them all.

Wow! I really said all that, huh?