Friday, August 19, 2016

A Fast End to A Fast

I had to break my fast. In case you didn't read my post the other day, I decided to do a "numbers" fast for three days. Are you wondering how I did? 

Well, on a scale of one to ten, I'd give myself about a five.

I discovered that it's impossible to ignore numbers. I didn't quite make it through the third day.

Hubbles and I decided to take a hike after work yesterday (Day 3). By the time we got home from work and decided on where to go, it was almost 5:30. There was a smaller section of a larger trail in our town that we'd never hiked, so we decided to try it. The only problem was that we didn't know how long it was or how long it would take. We estimated about 4 miles. That was doable before dark.


How could I "fast" numbers? Basically I was trying to ignore them. But if you set out on a hike in the woods a few hours before sunset, ignoring numbers is just plain stupid. How would I sound if I had to call the ranger for help? 

Imagine this scene: We're in the middle of a dense forest, and the sun is quickly fading. Before we can return to the car at the trailhead, we are plunged into darkness. Naturally, we've forgotten to bring flashlights or headlamps. Mary decides to call the park ranger (she just happens to know the number).

Me: Hi, we're out here somewhere and I'm not sure where. Can you come get us? It's dark, and we can't find our way back.

Ranger: What time did you set out? How long have you been hiking?

Me: I'm not sure. Time was irrelevant. We've been out for awhile. I'm not really at liberty to put a number on it.

Ranger: (long pause).

Me:  Are you still there?

Ranger: Yes, ma'am. Uh...what are your GPS coordinates?

Me: I don't know.

Ranger: Look on your phone (Ranger proceeds to tell me how to do that). 

Me: I'm sorry. I can't. I'm fasting numbers.


Ranger decides it would be best to leave the crazy woman in the woods for the night.

I do not suffer from OCD. In fact, I don't obsess over numbers. I obsess over certain things, and I'm not even sure it can be called obsession. Sometimes I dwell on them too long. Think a little too much about them. Like the bank or credit card balance. Wishing I had just a little more in one and a little less in the other. But thinking and wishing won't make money appear or get the card paid down. 

Making wise choices with money will.

Turning off the clock on my run was great because it showed me that I'm too hard on myself. A performance mentality fuels my competitive nature, but I needed to realize that it's not a race and I'm don't need to compete with myself. There is nothing wrong with my being competitive. It's how I'm wired. But, like money, I need to use it wisely. 

When I no longer enjoy something, and it's become work, I know I'm out of balance. 

The decision not to weigh myself was a good one--a practice that I'll continue (or maybe discontinue would be more appropriate). I realized that I am afraid of gaining back all the weight I worked so hard to lose, so weighing myself daily gives me a (false) sense of security. But even my doctor told me, "It's not about numbers. It's about how you feel. Your body will know when it's hit its goal weight." 

She was right. Focusing on the possibility of failure only invites fear. 

Numbers can thrust us into bondage or they can motivate us, keep us accountable (pardon the pun), and help us to stay on track. Numbers are necessary and helpful. As with anything, we can become obsessed if we allow our mind to get stuck.The key is balance. 


Knowing what is good and beneficial. 

You say, "I am allowed to do anything," but not everything is good for you. You say, "I am allowed to do anything, but not everything is beneficial."
Romans 10:23 (NLT)

Oh, and if you happen to go to the Kay Environmental Center where the above sign sits, please don't mention my name to the park ranger.

Kay Environmental Center, Chester, NJ at sunset
Blessings Along the Path,
Mare






Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Flag is Still There

Yesterday I decided not to clock my run, and I'm so glad. If I had been in my typical "numbers obsessed" state of mind, I may not have stopped.

There I was, jogging down Main Street past sleeping shops yet to be opened, when I passed a flag laying on the sidewalk. It was on a pole, so I assumed it must have fallen or was blown off the side of one of the shops. I continued running, but suddenly realized, "Hey, that was an American flag and it was laying on the ground. That's just not right." I was taught that we should never let our flag touch the ground (Flag Etiquette).

Not right, but not wrong enough for me to stop and pick it up. I kept running. But it didn't sit right with me. 

I take pride in my flag. 

I display my own at home. I couldn't leave it there. 

I turned around and ran back. I picked up the flag and looked around. Where do I put it? I found a small rock garden surrounding a tree, and pushed the pole into a hole. It wobbled, but stayed up. I let go, but the flag fell to half-mast and drooped onto the ground. I propped it onto a branch. It would have to do. Then I stepped back and looked at the pitiful thing. It was backwards. 



As I looked at the sad flag, I realized that it was symbolic of the state of our country.

I rarely "preach" or state my opinion on political matters--mostly because I'm a self-professed ignoramus. However, I feel strongly about what follows. Right or wrong, it's what I believe, and it's what my discarded flag showed me.

Our leaders are fallen, our country is at half-mast, and our morals are backwards.

Yet we proudly display this pitiful imitation of a flag for all the world to see--we are politically correct!  And if we prefer not to, we don't have to pledge allegiance to a flag--or a nation that has outdated laws and morals that are measured by what feels right for each individual. 

We are no longer one nation under God. 

How can we be if we keep taking God out of the equation?

We have divided ourselves into opposing camps with insulting criticism and intolerable tolerance as our weapons. 

We give liberty to and demand justice for one group, while another has theirs stripped away. 

Then we argue about which group is better, more powerful, or more entitled. We accuse others of being too narrow-minded or too broad-minded. We point our self-righteous finger at those who believe otherwise--ignoring the three that are pointing back at ourselves. 

We are no longer the united States of America. Sadly, we are becoming the divided States of America. 

I write this through tears. I feel sadness deep in my soul when I see how we've cheapened our flag, ourselves, and our country. Shame on us.

This country was founded on the principles of the Bible and was created to be "under God." In fact, the original pledge was penned by Colonel George Blach in 1887 and said this:

We give our head and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!

But Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance as we know it, called it "too juvenile and lacking in dignity." You can read more here:

Background on The Pledge of Allegiance

We can take God out of the equation and even out of the Pledge of Allegiance, but He will always be on the throne. And during this tumultuous time of turbulence in our nation, it gives me great comfort to know that I need not rely on myself or on corrupt individuals to set things right. I place my trust--my head and my heart--in the one true God, the one I pledge allegiance to.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

He controls the course of world events; 
He removes kings and sets up other kings. 
Daniel 2:21 (NLT)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Numbers Fast

I have an obsessive personality. Is there even such a thing? Or does everyone obsess about something?

I started reading Lisa Harper's, Stumbling into Grace about a week ago. If you're not familiar with her, my goodness, check her out on Youtube. She's hilarious...then packs a theological punch. I don't know how I never knew about her until now!



Anyway, for a change, I decided not to blow through the book so that I could check it off my "I read this!" list (if you're counting, that's obsession #1). After reading chapter three, I realized that by skipping over the discussion questions and journaling suggestions at the end of each chapter, I was missing out on something great that God wanted to do. So I started over. I never expected revelation to come simply from journaling, but boy did it come. 

Nothing that wasn't new. Mostly the perfectionism (I refuse to call it mine, thereby owning it), I constantly battle.

But here was something new: I obsess over numbers.

My weight. My triglycerides number (which I can't see, so that magnifies the obsession--which leads to counting the amount of sugar I allow myself to have). My daily caloric intake. My time when I run. The miles I run. The credit card balance. The number of paychecks it will take to pay that balance off. The bank balance. The number of days I run. The number of days I don't run (giving me an excuse for self-flagellation). The amount of library books in my pile to read (leading to anxiety). The amount of time I write should be writing don't write (leading to guilt). What time it is and how much time I have left to_____. Don't even get me started on social media. 

And then I go to work. Did I mention that I'm a bookkeeper?

I wondered why I have this obsession, and what it has to do with perfection. 

Numbers aren't like emotions or people. They don't lie. They don't change. Yes, my weight or run time might change, but that number itself is definitive. Numbers are reliable. The number three is always the number three. 

If I make a mistake with numbers, I can find the error and fix it. Numbers are something I can control. And when I control things in my life, everything is perfect. Until it's not.

So I decided to do a "numbers fast." 

The idea actually came to me after I decided not to turn on "Map My Run" this morning. For the first time in a year, I didn't clock my jog. I just ran. 

At first, it felt wrong. I long for that automated voice to tell me that I've just run one mile (even though I know where that mile is on my route), and I wait expectantly for this robotic woman whom I rely so much on to tell me I've run that mile in less than the time I expect. Sometimes I do. Often I don't. So I push harder, ignoring the praise music in my ear.

As I started my run in the dark this morning, I thought, I should fast numbers altogether. For like three months, since three is the number of perfection. 

Really, those were my exact thoughts. The irony was not lost on me. 

Then I thought, Well, maybe let's try three weeks...how about we start with three days and see where that goes?

Why am I still putting a number on it???

Because of the extreme heat and humidity, I haven't run in a week (yes, I counted), so I immediately felt the burn. Around the half mile mark, I hit my stride, but I was obviously still counting.

A little over the mile mark, I followed the sidewalk instead of continuing on my normal route, which would cut my run short. But something happened when I turned the corner. I followed my feet instead of my head, and I no longer cared how far I would run. And it seemed that in those seconds, the first glimmer of morning light appeared. I settled into my run and actually enjoyed the exercise, the endorphins, and the joy that suddenly filled my heart, breaking the sadness that had engulfed me when I had awoken.


I felt free and unencumbered by the performance perfection that I so frequently place on myself.

Then I encountered something that, had I been "on the clock," I may have ignored. But since I've already written well over the suggested 500 words for a blog post, you'll just have to wait until tomorrow. (Sorry...it's hard to break those habits). Until tomorrow...

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

Monday, July 18, 2016

Finding Joy in Being Still

My dog, Lucy loves to lay in the sun. 

Sometimes, when I'm home on the weekends, I'll grab a cup of coffee early in the morning and follow her out. I'll sit at the table, pondering life, listening to the birds, and enjoying the feel of the warm sun on my face. I try to clear my mind to hear God, but too often, things like my to-do list creep in, and I get up as soon as I'm finished with my coffee.

This past Saturday I sat and watched Lucy. There was nothing to watch really. She lay in the grass, breathing quietly and steadily. She didn't move for the longest time. It seemed as if she had waited all morning for this moment--this time to just bask in the sun. It gave her such joy, that it was almost as if she were to move, it would ruin the moment.

I never realized that joy could be contained--savored in quiet moments. To me, joy is explosive and expressive. But watching Lucy made me realize that I'm missing a lot by not being still.



Her simple joy of simply being still and basking in the warmth of the sun made me want the same. It is my desire to become so focused on running to the Son to bask in the warmth of His Presence that I can think of nothing else. Why oh why must I always have an agenda--even on a weekend? Why can't I find the joy of just being? The joy of savoring the stillness? Oh to be still and know that He is God! Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult to attain and achieve.

This is my prayer for you and for me. In a time where the world is in turmoil, where fear lurks and threatens to overtake us, where mistrust and hatred run rampant---that we can stand by the door, anxiously awaiting for it to open, where we run into the heat of the Son and allow the rays of His love to shine on us and melt away the fear and anxiety. Only then will we experience joy unspeakable that is savored only in being still and knowing that He is God.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

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Have you read the July issue of Ruby for Women? You can read it here (Be sure to check out my column, Be-a-YOU-tifully YOU-nique where I talk about the freedom to be uniquely YOU!



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Stop Shoulding on Me!

There's a word that people use all the time that makes me cringe when I hear it. It starts with "S-h." No, it's not what you think...it's not the four-letter word that rhymes with spit.

It's the word, "Should."

I hate that word.


You should go to this restaurant.
You should read this book.
You should try Spin/Yoga/Pilates.

I understand that a person might be excited about that restaurant, book, or exercise class and wants others to experience them as well. But to me, should expresses more than a suggestion--it implies an obligation. 

The word should is an auxilliary verb. That means that it is used to form the tense, mood, or voice of another verb. Should eat, should go, should do. The real action is in the eating, going, or doing. But that little auxilliary word often packs a lot more power than the verb it's forming. Sometimes, it's all we hear.

Should, in this form, is used to express obligation, propriety, or expediency. Used correctly, it might imply what is probable or expected...I should be there by noon. But too often, we should on ourselves and should on others. You should do this, I should do that. The obligation part of should.

I should implies guilt at having failed to live up to a certain standard (often self-imposed or unrealistic). 
I shouldn't offers a false sense of guilt.
I should have instills guilt through regret and remorse.



In my opinion, the word should has the implication of guilt hanging on to it.

It's a word that shouldn't be used.

When we understand our words and the impact those words have, we learn to use them differently.

We can remove the guilt that we place on others and on ourselves by simply choosing other words.

Instead of saying, "You should read this book," try saying this (notice I did not say that you should instead say this):

"Have you read this book? No? I did, and I really liked it. Do you like books about____? Yes? I'd be happy to lend it to you if you'd like."

Telling someone that they should try an exercise program simply because you love it might turn someone off to exercise altogether. How about this?

"If you like to cycle, you might like Spin (briefly explain the benefits--key word: briefly). If it's not for you, there are so many other ways to get fit. You could try different classes to see if you prefer one method over another."


Could is a less offensive word than should

Have you been shoulding on people? 
Are you shoulding on yourself?

You should stop.

Choose words that won't foster guilt in yourself or in others. Changing the way you say things causes you to think about the words you choose, and choosing your words before you speak causes you to change your thinking. 

I've eliminated the word should from my vocabulary. Are you with me?

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

The topic of this post is so dear to my heart that I wrote a book about it. Ralph Gouda and the Brothers Oulda (very loosely titled) is about a man (Ralph) who has a set of triplets living in his head. Shoulda, Woulda, and Coulda create havoc with Ralph's thoughts until one day Ralph declares that he's had enough. When he takes action, his whole life changes.

This short book (about 85 pages) is allegorical in nature, with a discussion guide at the end. Perfect for small groups, bible studies, or book clubs. I will be self-publishing sometime in the fall, so if you're not following my blog, sign up now to be sure not to miss the updates!


References: Merriam Webster Dictionary


Monday, July 4, 2016

Embrace the Freedom to Be You

When I was nineteen, my boyfriend invited me to a party. I didn’t know anyone, and I worried about what to wear. After all, this was California, and the protocol could be different from that of New Jersey. And I desperately wanted to be liked. He told me to wear whatever I felt comfortable in—which was shorts and probably a tee shirt.

Never trust a man to fill in the details, especially when it comes to clothes. 

Every single girl there was wearing a cute sundress (along with a perfect tan), sported cute sandals and had glistening hair. And they were all drinking wine way before it was trendy. I wasn’t even old enough to drink! I wanted to leave as soon as I got there.


The day didn’t get any easier. It was an established group, and I wasn’t one of them—especially in my flip flops and cut off shorts. I tried to fit in, but I felt like I just didn’t belong. And I didn’t. Worse, I felt like they knew how uncomfortable I was and didn’t care to attempt to alleviate my discomfort by including me. It wasn’t so much that they excluded me. It was more that they ignored me. I wasn’t sure which was worse. 

Part of me wanted to be embraced by them, and part of me hated them all. I carried that feeling of inadequacy with me for years.

We long for acceptance, especially as young women tying to find our way. I think it’s human nature to desire to be liked and wanted and validated and approved of. We want to fit in. We don’t really want to be different, but when we discover that we are, we erect walls of safety to protect ourselves from the ridicule and rejection we feel sure will follow.  We suppress our uniqueness and try too hard to be like everyone else. The problem with that is that it’s often evident when we’re faking it. We can’t be what we can’t be.

Perhaps you’re struggling with the desire to fit in, but you feel like it’s just too hard to continue the charade. Or maybe you feel empty, now that you’ve been accepted into that group that you longed to be approved by. Do you try to hide your quirks or deny your uniqueness? 

Did it ever occur to you that the very thing you’re trying to cover up may be the best part of you?

Every year on July 4, we celebrate our freedom from the British Empire. That day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, when Congress declared that the thirteen colonies were now a “new nation,” independent of Britain—a cause for celebration, indeed.

What would happen if you declared independence from conforming to who you think you should be?

If you decided to become a “new nation,” and allowed yourself to “wear whatever you’re comfortable in,” how would that change your perspective? Imagine if what you were most comfortable in happened to be your own skin and personality, your unique talents, and even…your quirks.

 What if you simply decided—this July 4—to break free from comparing yourself to everyone else? 

Besides, how do you know those people aren’t doing the same thing? Maybe…just maybe…there is someone who wishes they were you!

            It may not be easy at first—this freedom to be you—but if you call on the name of the Lord like the psalmist, He will not ignore your plea.

            In my anguish, I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free. Psalm 118:5

Try it. I dare you. 

Not only to be different, but to embrace it. Don’t wait on the periphery for someone else to welcome you into the fold or to accept you. Accept yourself, because God accepts you exactly as you are. After all, He’s the one who designed you to be exactly you.

So embrace yourself, your different-ness, your uniqueness. I think you might like it. I even think you just might find that you like…you.


Now that is cause for celebration!

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

Reprinted from Ruby for Women, July 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Say "Yes" to God's Pop-ups

I don't like pop-ups. 

When I'm reading something on a website, I don't want to be interrupted by ads or suggestions that I sign up as a subscriber. Sorry, fellow bloggers--I get what you're doing; I've been told to do the same in order to build my following--but I find it annoying and intrusive. If I'm interested, I'll take the time to sign up on my own, without any prompting. And if I have to keep playing dodge-ball on your site, then you've probably lost a potential subscriber. Chances are, I'll click off your site before I've had an opportunity to read your content.

But what happens when God interrupts like that? I guess you could say that a holy pop-up appears in my thoughts. Or a "God-portunity" to serve breaks my routine. 

Yes, I admit--I often find it annoying and intrusive.

Come one, admit it---sometimes you do too, right?



God's pop-ups often come at the most inopportune times and invade our comfortable routine, don't they?

It's those Holy Spirit moments--those thoughts that pop into your head and you say, "Where did that come from?"

Go visit that person.
Pay for her groceries.
Buy him a cup of coffee.
Call her.
Encourage him.
She likes your earrings. Take them off and give them to her.
He needs a friend. Invite him to join you.
Why don't you cook a meal--or a few--for that neighbor--yes, that one--the grouchy one you don't like.

Sure, He speaks to us about lots of other things too, but it's those pesky acts of service--those things that require us to get out of our self bubble and be "Jesus with skin on"--that we'd prefer to have advance warning about. 

But that's not always how God works. He likes to disrupt our thoughts and interrupt our plans. 

We can play dodge-ball with those thoughts, hoping that the pop-ups will stop if we click on the little 'x' to close the box/thought. But if it's a God Pop-up, it will most likely return. And there's only so much avoiding you can do with the Holy Spirit. Eventually, you have to say "Yes, I will," or "No, thank you. I'm not interested."

Hmmm...have you ever offered the latter response?

I have.

I felt sick afterwards. 

It's not a pretty thing to say "no" to God. He gives us that option, of course. But the times when I have ignored His promptings have always resulted in a feeling of disappointment and deep remorse in my spirit. 

To know that I not only missed an opportunity to bless someone, but a chance to receive a blessing as well is only part of it. 

To know that I let God down feels a hundred times worse.

And then there's the realization that He's moved on to the next willing participant. God asked me, I said "no," so He moved on. If I say "no" enough, will He simply begin skipping over me altogether? Think of the missed opportunities!

My last post dealt with accepting ourselves where we are, and not beating ourselves up over what we may or may not have done to further our Christian walk.

This is one of those times. 

God doesn't force us to do any of those things I mentioned above. He granted Adam and Eve free will, and the last I checked, that's been passed down through the generations to us.

Rather, he invites us to join Him where He is already working.

I was first introduced to that concept when I took part in Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God Bible study some twenty years ago. It's probably one of the only take-aways from a Bible study that I never forgot, maybe because it makes such perfect sense.

The next time the Holy Spirit interrupts your thoughts and disrupts your plans, will you desperately seek to click out of that pop-up box, finding it an annoying interruption, or will you snap to attention in delight, and welcome the change in plans? Think of the double blessing--the one you'll be and the one you'll receive.

Say "yes" to the pop-up. Say "yes" to God today.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare


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