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Security

My husband recently admitted to a funny but embarrassing reality. Last time he had been to our storage unit to unload some things; he finished his task, shut the door, and snapped the lock to. Just as he felt the lock snap in his hands, he realized he left the keys inside the unit. When he confessed his accidental mishap to me, I replied, “Well, at least the stuff is super secure. We can’t even get in!”

We both had a good laugh at his expense. As I reflected over this little incident later, with a smile on my face, I began to think about nature of security. That is, the nature of our internal security. What makes us feel secure in relationships, in places, and most importantly in ourselves?

For many of us, we feel most secure when we are comfortable or relaxed. Being in a state of rest and calm though does not come easily for us 21st century dwellers. It usually takes something external to us to give us an adequate sense of well-being. Sometimes we look to positive externals to bolster our comfort. Our job, hobbies, our intellect, our personality, or even our relationships can seem so well locked down as to keep us comfortable for the foreseeable future. Chances are these things might deliver for a while, “might” being the operative word here. Problem is jobs change, hobbies fluctuate, intellects fade, personalities shift emphasis, and relationships, well, we know what can happen to them. There’s a reason these things don’t work.

Sometimes, when desperate times call for desperate measure, we turn to more negative externals like drugs, affairs, abuse of alcohol, isolation, or adrenaline rushes that are not healthy like stealing. In these cases, externals meant to ease tension from stressful situations become veils over our eyes blinding us to the life-threatening cliff on the other side. Temporary fixes like these become chains that bind us to dependency on them. Don’t think these externals are negative and binding? Try to quit them. You’ll find you don’t want to and their pull is so strong you feel like you can’t control them. That’s because you can’t.

We even seek to find our security on our own steam – self-esteem that is. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself, standing up for yourself or taking a healthy pride in what you do and who you are. When, however, you hang your sense of security in life on feeling good about yourself, you are left empty-handed when life hands you something too big to handle. No amount of self-esteem can you keep you safe through life’s storm-tossing winds. For instance, if someone you care about dies, feeling good about yourself will give you no sense of comfort at all in the face of human loss.

So where do we turn for security, and what is security exactly? When we think of security, probably our first thought is a sense of safety, calm, or reassurance. Those are all good definitions, but how do we know how secure our security is? In other words, in the storms of life, will it hold? Back to my husband’s lock issue: the storage space people had to work for a while to cut the lock off the door because the hubs had used a really strong lock to hold the door shut. We didn’t want anyone but us getting behind that lock.

The above “locks” that we’ve named will compromise our security. Why? They are not strong enough! Be they positive or negative, external or internal, there is no lock made by human hands or hearts strong enough to hold our well-being secure from life’s storms. So where do we turn?

The only lock I know that will hold, keeping you dry, safe and secure is an ongoing daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, you may be saying, “I knew you were going to say that.” Well, yes, you may have but it doesn’t make it any less true. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, all bets were off. On the cross, Jesus definitively won every battle, passed every test, and conquered every problem humanity could ever do or think of. The intervening grace of God took on human form, offered humanity real and lasting security, and then delivered real power to make that happen: Resurrection power. Yes, we still lose loved ones, have bitter fights, and just fall apart sometimes. But with Jesus as our security guard, we are locked into Him for life by the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit. Having the God of the universe provide your security may be free, but it wasn’t cheap. After all, God in human form (Jesus) had to choose to die to secure the keys to the lock. The strength of the lock requires some maintenance, daily maintenance in fact.

As we live our lives moment by moment, we tend to begin a slow move away from God. By spending time in prayer and reading His Word while asking God to speak with us, we tend to stay closer to God and therefore keep experiencing the closeness of God holding us secure. With Jesus locking us up with his power, we really are secure as the storm passes by.

That Old Familiar Ache

Hi! Remember me?

Yes, I know it has been awhile. I’ve had some difficulties to deal with that have taken my focus off my writing and distracted me from some important things in life. To my faithful friends and readers, I apologize.

Conflicts have made life difficult of late. It is heartbreaking to be in conflict with people you love and treasure. Mistakes, harsh words, arrogance, selfishness, bitterness and all kinds of other negative actions and emotions spark more hatefulness, harshness, and hardness of heart. Next thing you know, this one won’t speak to that one, the other one starts throwing out labels and accusations, and everyone has a litany of wrongdoing the length of their arm. We are backed into a corner and set at odds because humanity as a whole is set up toward destruction, to defend first and listen later.

While I admit I hate conflict, it can have a way of revealing our hearts as nothing else. After we cool our heels and get some distance from the conflict, we can begin to reflect on what was said and how we said it. Was I too harsh? Did I state my position in a gentle, soft way since Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a soft answer turns away wrath? How did my words, the content of what I said, and the way I said them, make the other person feel? How was my timing? Was it the right time for this conversation? If we can begin to see our words, actions, and attitudes through the eyes of the offended, a light is lit and a mirror held up that sometimes shows all of us to be arrogant, defensive dunderheads. Often we act like we would rather defend our position and try to make our point than try to understand the position of another. However, sometimes that lit mirror reflects a clear conscience and gives us a certainty that we did and said the right thing.

I won’t lie here. It has been very frustrating and heartbreaking. I see how each person is protecting his or her heartache (me included).

May I be even more honest? I feel rejected, sad, and lonely.

I’m a little tired of my own bellyaching. Except this old familiar ache keeps visiting me, knocking down my hearts door and trashing the place. I’m broken for all of us at times, for none of us at other times, and just for me at other times.

As I have prayed about this, the sense I get is to be patient as God does His work in all of us. I’m doing a lot of soul searching and asking God to show me where my arrogance lies and where I may need to repent. I just want the problems to be resolved. However, it is not that simple.

Ultimately, I have to look into the mirror of conflict and see in my reflection the face of a judgmental woman. It has been said that the amount of freedom we experience may be equal to the amount of freedom we give others. Even if I think someone is dead wrong, they have every right to live their lives without the “head o’ judgment” raising its ugly, condescending self and passing judgment on everyone. There is some real freedom in realizing that no one has to answer to me. A Higher authority looks over us all and judges and gives grace as He sees fit. After all, His first words from the cross were: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NLT)

I offer this prayer, modeled after the Lord’s Prayer. Will you pray it with me for those in conflict with me and for me? Does your family need this prayer? Offer it to the Lord.  Allow Him to fill our hearts with peace knowing that when there are no easy answers, there is Love, Faith, and Hope.

Father, our Father, who dwells in the beauty of holiness, perfect and holy is Your Name. You are above our pettiness and problems. More than ever, our Father, we need to see Your Kingdom advance in our homes and families and, oh, that we would do Your Will and adopt Your Agenda with the speed and accuracy of heaven, just as Your Will is accomplished before Your Throne. As you look upon our situation, Father, give us this day what we need from you to sustain us. May we be ever mindful that we are dependent on You for all of our daily needs. May we remember that yesterday is a vapor, and tomorrow is an elusive dream. May clarity, real clarity be found today. Most of all, help us to remember that our debts are wiped clean by the highest sacrifice in Jesus Christ. Help us to forgive as generously as we have been forgiven. Keep us from being led by our own flesh, the world’s values, or the devil himself into temptation to propagate this mess we’ve made. Deliver us, our Father, from this evil we have wrought. For we have no other purpose, but to glorify You and enjoy you forever. Thine Oh Lord, is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen

Food for Mind, Body, and Spirit

I just watched a 90 minute video that made me terribly angry, surprised me, scared me, made me sick, hopeful, encouraged, enlightened, curious, and amazed. It wasn’t your standard Hollywood production. This was a documentary. Now before you yawn and leave the blog, please give me a chance to go where I’m going.

“Hungry for Change” is the name of this short film (hungryforchange.com). At the web site you can see the first 20 minutes of the film for free. To see the whole thing you have to buy it.

For any of you concerned with your health and the health of your family, the information, suggestions, and tips in this video are as enlightening as they are disturbing at times. Most importantly, they tell the truth about one of the biggest lies our country believes right now. With so many people in our nation (me included) being overweight, obese, or worse, we have accepted dieting as big business and we choose from the many diet plans like we were choosing from a buffet (I’ll takes some of this diet with the other diet on the side and a glass of that dumb grapefruit diet to go.). Now here is the rub, the elephant in the room you might say.

Diets don’t work, not for long term health and not for long term weight loss. I am officially announcing to the world that I am through dieting!!! My spirit, mind, body and money have been set free from the diet trap. I will never “try” this temporary solution to solve a permanent problem. I am changing the way I eat (have been for a while), and I’m not looking back. It feels so good to know that I only make permanent changes to my diet and that I can choose what to eat. I don’t have to be told by some list of rules. I eat until I satisfied and the rest goes in the fridge or the garbage. I’m adding foods to my daily feast that are as close to the way God made them as I can find. I’m dropping foods that exist in the chemically manufactured center of the grocery store. Most important, I’m cleansing as much refined sugar (America’s acceptable cocaine) from my diet as I possibly can.

Let me give some love and credit where credit is due here. I’ve also been going through the “Am I Hungry” workshop (amihungry.com) which teaches the sensible principles Mindful eating (mindfuleating.com). This teaching has helped me tremendously by setting me free from dieting and putting me on the path to really enjoying my food.

I don’t want to spoil anymore of what is in the “Hungry for Change” video. I’ll just say that everyone in America needs to see this video. Even if you don’t juice or become a vegetarian or vegan, there are reasons for us to change our diet to look more like it looked a hundred years ago.

Why am I hitting this issue with Thor’s Hammers? Losing your life to a plate of curly fries makes no sense to me anymore. I’ve sacrificed many years on the altar of food addiction. I’ve lost many valuable things and relationships to a pizza box and a large Dr. Pepper. I may have even shortened the years of my life. Only the Lord knows for sure.
I’ve come to understand also that my food idolatry, gluttony (thin people can be gluttons too), or whatever you want to call it is a sin against my own body! That’s right. I said it. Abusing your body, the one God gave you, is a sin against the Creator and the created. Paul states clearly to the Corinthian church, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As believers in Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit at our rebirth. Now, thinking back to the Old Testament, the Temple was filled with beautiful furniture, gold bowls, platters, etc., and the amazing, beautiful, and powerful ark of the covenant. When you think of the Temple of old, you think of splendor, opulence, and a well-maintained interior by the priests. If that is how the Old Testament Temple was, that cherished, well-taken-care-of, beautiful, and honored, how much more should our body be treated the same? I’ve forced the Holy Spirit to live in a beautiful home on the inside and a run down, unkempt, hovel on the outside. I was wrong. I want you to know that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I also am sure of God’s forgiveness and my own need to forgive myself. I thought one challenge in the video was particularly inspired for this task. After showering for 30 days, each day look in the mirror and say the following, “I accept myself just like I am right now.” God does; why shouldn’t I?

Not My Bag, Baby!

We talk a lot about baggage in our culture. I almost think that we’ve rubbed the word in psychological terms bald of its meaning. We talk about the “baggage” we carry from childhood and into our present relationships. We want to unpack our “baggage” and sort through the contents in order to finally put our bags up! But a friend of mine used this term in a different way this week, and it bears repeating and a bit of rumination.
My friend, Lisa Capehart, in a piece of writing she’s been working on posed this question: Whose baggage are you really carrying? Is it yours or someone else’s? How do you know? Well, we could open it up and see if there is anything of ours in there. We could see if our name’s on it if we don’t feel particularly predisposed to opening other people’s baggage. But wait a minute, I thought. Before I assume the latter is the best answer, maybe I should think this through.
How do we end up with someone else’s baggage, anyway? Somehow, we are either made to feel responsible for additional baggage and/or you are just naturally bent toward picking up the baggage of others if you think they can’t “handle it” well enough. Either way, you have to determine which one or both you may tend to be, there is an interesting phenomenon that happens when we pick up other’s baggage. We end up stuffing something of ours or some part of ourselves inside.
Let me give a personal example. There is one person above all others that I have tended to want their approval most in my whole life. Every time I have felt I disappointed this person or made them mad or made them happy even, I’ve realized that I have picked up a piece of their baggage that said “responsible for ____________’s feelings.” So it would seem the answer to my dilemma would be to simply stop feeling responsible for their feelings and move it along. However, if I did that (and I have done that), I can easily leave something of myself behind; in this case, my own responsibility for my feelings. Sound like a bunch of psychological mumbo jumbo? Allow me to unpack this bag and it won’t.
I realize logically that I can in no way be responsible for the feelings and well-being of others. However, I still find that I tend to respond emotionally to this person’s emotional state. For example, when they are mad, I tend to start feeling more anger. When they are happy, I am relieved and happy beyond belief. When they are disappointed in me, I feel depressed and sad. In other words, although my brain tells me, “You’re not responsible,” my emotions didn’t get the memo. So why is this and what’s a girl to do?
Somehow, back there in the past, I stuffed my emotional well-being in their suitcase! What a dumb thing to do, right?! But here’s the thing, if there is anyone in our lives that we feel this way about, like they are holding our emotions hostage until you do it their way, then we are not being the new creation inside us, and worst, not authentically respecting the new us before God.
You see when God commanded us to love our neighbors just like we love ourselves, He seems to assume that loving ourselves would not be a problem. On the contrary, Jesus is trying to motivate us to love ourselves rightly, not selfishly or stingily, by loving our neighbor rightly. Indirectly, Jesus is saying love yourself rightly. He does not condemn loving ourselves, instead He, Paul, and the other New Testament writers seem to point out that we should love ourselves because Christ does and because we are a new creation in Him. Love the new man; kill the old man (the selfish, or stingy one). (see Mark 12:30-31; Romans 6, 7:4-6; Galatians 2:20, etc.)
Therefore, we are in need, not only of dropping luggage that doesn’t belong to us, but also making sure we didn’t stuff something important in someone else’s luggage. Before you walk away from baggage that is not yours, you better be sure you have your belongings with you. You might need them some day on the long journey of life.

Staying on course

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Since I am the Way, staying close to Me is staying on course. – Jesus Calling, August 3

Promises, Promises

Remember the days when you were a kid that making an adult “promise” seemed like some magical binding contract to force them to do what was promised. Now, of course, we know there is no “power to the promise.” Or is there?

Why do we keep some promises with gritted teeth, yet toss others away like yesterday’s garbage? Why are some promises so central to who we are and others are so disconnected or cumbersome that we drop them off and forget about them?

I’ve been asking myself these questions lately because I want to understand what made some promises more significant to me than others. There were promises I made myself when I was young that defined me as a person. Then there are the unmemorable promises that I can’t count or really remember. However, there are also those promises that I can’t seem to keep no matter what I do. How or what can be learned about promises broken from promises kept?

WARNING: This writing contains issues of a deeply personal nature. It is not for those who never want to hear the negative and always want things upbeat. This is a real and honest reflection.

When I think back to those significant promises, there are a few examples that come to mind:

-        I promised myself as a young Christian that I would always try to hold on to my faith, and would press hard into it when challenged by circumstances.

-        I promised myself I would never drink or do drugs to the point of losing my ability to be mindful of my actions. Since I’m being honest, I must say that I’ve let myself get tipsy a handful of times in my life, but not drunk. I’ve never done drugs. Now, I choose not to be given to either one.

-        I promised myself I would be a virgin when I married, and I was.

Yes, I was a virgin when I married, but it took a miracle of God and tenacity on my part to be sure that happened. Let me briefly explain. Don’t worry, no gory details, just some hard truths.

I was sexually abused as a child. For that matter, I was abused every other way as a child. However, the sexual abuse is most significant to this topic. Please hear this: Sexual abuse does not equal a child losing their virginity! Abuse of this kind takes many things from you, but virginity is a love gift you give only once in a loving act. Sexual abuse, especially the kind that leads to rape, is not an act of love nor is it ever freely given. It is enticed, threatened, groomed, seduced, mortified, etc. from the abused child.  Its significance here is in the damage abuse does (which I will write more about in the future). Abuse of any kind creates a “wormhole” of neediness in a person. Like a wormhole in space, anything that comes close to meeting that person’s neediness is sucked in like rain on land in a drought. This “wormhole” of the heart craves love and affection. Thus the set up:

Here’s a young child who loves God and becomes a Christian in the middle of some of her most harsh abuse. Let’s see how she manages raging hormones with the addition of a love and affection wormhole in her heart. Can she keep anything to give to a husband when her needs could seemingly be met so quickly in a moment of passion?

Fortunately, and I guess this is one of the keys, I had made the first promise above. No matter how hard it got, I would press into my faith in order to find hope, strength, and answers. While I recognize this is an interpretive issue, from my own study it is clear that the Bible calls for celibacy outside of marriage. Since that was His standard, I knew it needed to be mine as well. Second key, I committed myself to God’s standard for me and held it as sacred. This was not a negotiable thing. I knew I wouldn’t go to hell for it, but I also sensed that there would be a loss of some kind if I didn’t follow this standard. I didn’t want to miss a reward.

Key three, I suppose would be that throughout my dating years, I made my passions a matter of pray. Because I didn’t grow up in church, I never knew that sense of “God shouldn’t know about some things.” I prayed very frankly with God about all my feelings, fears, and desires. In each relationship, God gave me great grace in this area. Did I always take God’s grace? No! Remember, I had the wormhole for love and affection and I tasted from counterfeits and the real thing from time to time. However, I always confessed those moments to God because they missed His standard and I knew God was watching all the time.

I suppose, key four, was that I had prayer support and encouragement from others. Many adults that I considered role models encouraged me and prayed over me regarding staying close to the Lord and not being distracted by other things. When God called me to ministry, my commitment went deeper and I continued to get prayer support and encouragement from peers and older adults.

In the moment, when push came to shove so to speak, I had to depend on the previous keys to make the right decision. Like I said, I wasn’t perfect, but with each fall I learned new ways to run away or push back. Sometimes a shove was necessary.

Another key was learning to forgive myself when I failed. My life tendency has been to wallow in guilt until I felt my penance was paid. Guilt that leads to wallowing or self-abuse is not productive and leads to places like depression. I realize that the Bible doesn’t talk much about “forgiving yourself” specifically, but that is because “receiving grace” implies the realization that you couldn’t do better and even if you could, your best would never be enough. Grace is the undeserved gift that can’t be opened until you realize there is nothing left to do but open it.

Lastly, I suppose that I had to recommit myself each time I failed to remind myself of my goal. I really wanted to be a virgin when I married. It wasn’t just an “obedience to God thing;” it was what my heart desired. There are always areas in our hearts that call to us, where we want to change. We want to make that “magical promise.” However, we are sometimes left with something standing in the way. We may want to meet a certain goal, but we are unwilling to live without that “dear payoff” we get when we give into ourselves. The payoff looks something like this – when we act the opposite of our promise and feel for even a moment a sense of peace and bliss. I have to be honest and say that making out felt so close to the love that I longed for it. Yet something told me inside my heart that the wait would be worth it and it was. We must believe that putting off the temporary fix leads to a permanent pleasure down the road. It always does because that is just how God operates.

Well, no real promise comes without paying a price, which is why Jesus challenged us to “count the cost” of discipleship before we commit. There is a promise I want to make. There are probably promises you want to make too. Where are you in this process? Where am I? I’m almost ready to make that magical binding contract!

A Not So Distant Choice

I had an epiphany this afternoon. I really do have free choice. That may not seem like much of an epiphany, but there is so much more to free will than just choosing this or that. In fact, I am persuaded that free will, which ironically cost us everything when we chose to disobey God, is now the cross upon which we must die. In other words, the choices I make each day determine whether I’m building up the “new life in Christ” or simply continuing to build up the old life that keeps me dragged down and depressed.

As a Christian, God has asked me to do two things daily: Love Him and Love my neighbor. So when I wake up in the morning, significant choices I make either moves me toward God’s goal for me or those choices move me away from God’s goal and cause me to stray from the path God has set before me (Pro. 3:5,6). So how do we know which decisions are substantive or not? Substantive decisions are the ones that affect our character or God’s goals for us. For instance, what you eat for breakfast may not be a substantive choice for one person, but for me it is a substantive choice because I struggle with managing food intake and my weight. Greeting people with a smile is not a substantive choice for me, but for someone who struggles to socialize with others, it’s a substantive choice. These substantive choices, over time, add up to habits, and habits add up to a person’s character. (Ro. 5:1-5.) Therefore, it becomes important that I look at my life, my choices, down to the smallest choice to determine which choices bare the weight of being substantive.

So, how do substantive choices become a matter of eternal life or death and decay? Certainly, each substantive choice holds within it the potential to move you in a positive or negative direction. Just like in the Garden of Eden, choosing to eat a piece of fruit became one of the most substantive choices a man and a woman could ever make! For 21st century Christians, each substantive choice we make has the potential to move us from point A in life to point B or worst case, to point A-!

Substantive choice becomes the cross on which we choose to die daily to sin or not by way of forcing us to choose for our betterment or our demise. Again, as someone who struggles with weight, continually choosing to eat an unhealthy, imbalanced meal will move me closer and closer to an unhealthy life and may rush my demise. However, choosing to eat a well-balanced, healthy meal serves as a stepping stone, moving me closer and closer to God’s goal for me, a healthy life so that I can serve Him.

Every day, as I am given the choice to choose for God or not, I am given the opportunity to take up my cross (Substantive Choices) and choose the better path rather than the path of immediate gratification or selfishness. God created us with the ability to choose so that we would choose Him!

For me, my epiphany is that I really do have a choice in things. I don’t have to “go with the flow” or give in to my urges. I am empowered by God to choose. Lord, help me to choose well today and every day.

Welcome to my brain on paper!

Welcome to my brain of paper, or, er, device screens! From time to time you’ll find me, Marla Rogers, a born and bred Arkansan, sharing honestly my thoughts, feelings, random peculiar meanderings, candy cane wishes and… well, you get the picture.

Will you like this blog? Unequivocally, I say yes. If you like stories with great dramatic twists, well-formed, interesting characters, and a killer plot — that’s my life. If it were a novel, the promo might read like this:

Survival – Marla’s watch word. She had survived so much as a child: the mysterious death of her father at 41, the drama that followed as her family imploded and she became lost in the rubble, and the secrets she has hidden from everyone for forty years. Now that Marla’s an adult and married to the man of her dreams, will she survive all that life throws at her as an adult like she survived the fallout of her father’s death or will she perish amidst the scattered rubble of memories of her broken childhood?

Okay so my pitch achieves a modicum of overwrought emotions. There was nothing mysterious about my father’s death. He died of a heart attack. My family did implode which I plan to share some about here. Rubble, oh I’ve got rubble, right here in River City…. Seriously, I’m still finding and cleaning rubble which I plan to talk about here. I am married to the man of my dreams, and I’m sure I’ll be talking about him! Life has thrown a lot at me as an adult which will no doubt be part of what I talk about here (chronic migraines, infertility, anger, frustration, joy, etc.). Secrets, you say. Not many, but if it’s there and worth writing about, you’ll find it here. Will I survive? Well, we will find out together.

You will also find things here about cats, dieting, religion, recipes, tips for living, Christianity, self-discovery, writing, poetry, heartwarming stories, and honest reflection.

If this is up your alley, join me. I promise a ride worth talking about.

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