Monthly Archives: February 2014

Stronger

“Be strong and very courageous. Obey all the laws Moses gave you. Do not turn away from them, and you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed. I command you – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7-9

Have you ever sensed that God was speaking directly to you? Maybe you read something in your Bible that almost jumped off the page at you, or you listened to a sermon and you thought the pastor simply must have known what’s going on in your life because it’s exactly what you needed.

Yesterday was a day in my life simply full of big and little reminders that God cares even about the smallest details in our lives. My husband was traveling for work, and I prayed for the strength and courage to be a good parent to my kids and also have peace throughout my own day. It was amazing as I saw multiple answers to that prayer! One minor example was that all my kids ate dinner really well last night without fighting and my son oldest even thanked me for cooking it, saying “this is the best meal you ever made!” I can assure you that it wasn’t, but our evening was so full of peace and grace that I almost felt like God was there with us.

Another example was that I had been debating about doing my double digit run tomorrow because the windchill is supposed to be -7! But then I read a friend’s post on Facebook from Luke 8:25 where Jesus rebuked the storm and His disciples asked one another in fear and amazement, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him.” I was reminded again that nothing (especially wind!) is too difficult for God.

This morning in my reading, I came to the above verses in Joshua to be “strong and courageous.” I underlined them and made a mental note to come back and share them with others. Then after dropping my older two off at school I went to my Moms in Prayer meeting to pray for our elementary school. The theme of the day was “God is our Strength” and the three verses were: 1) 2 Samuel 22:33 “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my ways secure”; 2) Nehemiah 8:10 which ends with “the joy of the Lord is your strength” and 3) Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” The definition of God is our strength was “One who has firmness of will, character, mind or purpose; power to resist force” (giving credit where it’s due: this is from the prayer sheet of Moms in Prayer International).

I was again overwhelmed at the God of the Universe speaking to me about His strength. One of the moms said she had just been reminded that we as Christians should take the word “impossible” out of our vocabulary. Because truly, NOTHING is impossible with God. God IS our strength! He is our help! He empowers us to have a firm will and character and to resist forces.

So, how can we apply this in our lives? Going back to those verses from Joshua that I started with, we need to be meditating on the Bible day and night. Only by knowing what’s in it can we obey. Sometimes we think we know what we’re to do, and it’s not actually written anywhere in the Bible but just an old teaching. Rather than following rules and regulations or traditions that have been created over the years, let’s meditate on what God actually has to say! And this is what we’re told is necessary to succeed (Joshua 1:8)! I love that we’re not to be afraid or discouraged but rather strong and courageous. The Lord our God is with us wherever we go (thank You, Jesus!). He fights for us when we surrender to His will and obey His commands.

I felt very strongly like this was something I needed to share. Could you use a double portion of strength to get through your day? If so, be courageous! God is your strength. And He is all powerful! Nothing is too difficult for Him! Allow His joy to strengthen you. Stand firm. Remember it isn’t over until it’s over.

Dear Father God, thank You for being with us. Lord, we don’t deserve Your grace or Your compassion. Like the Israelites, we have been sinful and rebellious and unfaithful. Please forgive our sins and draw us to You again! We confess that we need Your strength to survive some days (okay, every day!). When we’re feeling discouraged, please remind us again to be strong and courageous because YOU are our strength. Thank You that there is nothing too difficult for You. You will grant us success when we obey Your words. Draw us near to You – may we meditate on Your Book all day long. May we know the words but also know Your heart. Lord, may we know You in all Your glory. May we live our lives for You. Please teach us as a loving parent. We submit to Your authority and to Your truth. Thank You, God, for being so faithful and so…YOU! We love You and praise You. Be honored today in our lives – in our speech, our actions, our choices and all that we are. In Jesus’ Name we pray, AMEN!

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Defining Moments

“He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the Lord your God loves you” Deuteronomy 23:5b.

What are things in your life that have defined you or made you the person you are today?

I recently had a friend ask me if my weight has been a defining factor of my life. Really, it’s been such a struggle for such a long time that it has shaped the way I think about myself. We often see our imperfections and areas of struggle and then compare them to others who seem to have it all together.

But, our glorious God can take these things – these “curses” in our life – and turn them into blessings. Why? Because He LOVES us! Only the Lord can bestow on us a crown of beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

Romans 8:28 reminds us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Sometimes it’s easy to see God at work in the positive parts of our lives. But, what about the hard times? What about the areas where we struggle? Do we see these times as He sees them? Do we realize that He’s producing character in us or pruning back the areas that don’t glorify Him?

What if, I mean WHAT IF, the struggles we’re facing today are really for our own good? What don’t we see coming in the future – maybe right around the corner – that only God knows? What if our present suffering is revealing a future glory that we wouldn’t otherwise obtain?

James 1:2 tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials. I used to roll my eyes (forgive me, Lord!) when I’d read this verse. Really, is it a joy to struggle financially? Does it feel good to barely squeeze into plus size clothing? Is it a joy when your child gets hurt? Is it really ‘joy’ when you lose a job or face an unknown move?

But…maybe it really is or should be. I’m learning that as we trust God with even the deepest, darkest moments, we begin to see how only He can work in our lives! When we have nothing left and have to rely on His strength, it’s amazing what He can do! Did I think it was even possible to lose weight? I truly wasn’t sure, but I leaned toward it not being possible for my body type and structure. But, glory to God, He turned the curses into blessings for me.

I met a girl today who has struggled for years (maybe even a decade or more) to get pregnant, but glory to God she has finally conceived. We rejoiced at what only God can do! And while everyone who is expecting understands that this is nothing short of a miracle, I think there is even extra celebrating for the barren woman who God has healed!

As Moses was recording the journey of the Israelites (at the Lord’s direction, according to Numbers 33:2), he marked down certain points along the way. I noticed the other day as I was reading this chapter that several of them were places where they had no water and had to ask the Lord for His provision (Numbers 33:14). While the Israelites had grumbled at many of these places, these were “defining moments” in their journey that they recorded as specific stops along the way.

May I encourage you to think about where you are in your own journey of life. What is your area of biggest struggle? What has the enemy meant for a curse that God can turn into a blessing because He loves you? What is an area that you can hand over to God and ask Him to do what ONLY He can do? Let’s rejoice together as God can work it all out for our good and His glory!!!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word and Your little (and BIG!) reminders to us that You love us. This verse jumped off the page at me this morning – You turn even the curses into blessings. What an awesome Lord You are! Thank You for working all things for our good. Please help us consider it joy to go through trials and suffering. We humbly ask that You produce character within us, that you refine our faith and make us the person You had in mind when we were conceived. Please forgive our sin and even remove the blemishes that comes from our disobedience. Please make us holy and pure, just as You are. Thank You, Father, for giving us beauty instead of ashes. Thank You for being all-powerful and able to do anything we ask on our behalf. We believe You, and we trust You. Have Your way in our lives and our situations today…may they be defining moments that we look back and say “this is a spot where we had to stop and simply trust God.” Thank You for being faithful! May we be healthy and thin, financially well off and not have any gods in our lives but You, the One true God. We love You and praise You, with hearts full of thanksgiving for all You’ve done for us! In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

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Before, After and Most Importantly DURING

“He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and to test you for your own good. He did it so you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy.” ~Deuteronomy 8:16-17

A friend of mine recently asked me to post a “before and after” picture of my journey. I don’t show these pictures with pride. In no way do I want to take credit for my reformation. If anything, I’m embarrassed by how I looked for most of my life! I don’t have too many pictures of my entire body because I wanted to keep things face and up. But, certain pictures you can’t destroy, like the one on the left where we were thanking the church for praying for our son who had been through multiple surgeries in his little life. This was his dedication when he was seven months old. On the right is a picture of my husband and me before we left to celebrate my birthday dinner this past June. Sadly, the picture on the left wasn’t even at the peak of my highest weight, and I’m probably close to 10 lbs lighter than the picture on the right. But, it gives you an idea of just what God has done for me!

Before AfterAs I was digging back through old pictures, I remembered what it felt like to look like that. And my readings this morning were all about remembering and obeying. Deuteronomy 8:2 says REMEMBER how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would really obey His commands.”

 

Valerie Pregnant w CalebI’ve heard all sorts of nasty comments about people who are overweight, like: if they would just stop eating, they wouldn’t look like that. But, until you experience it, you have no idea how difficult it is. I would liken it to seeing an animal stuck in a bear trap. Should they have avoided the route that led them there? Absolutely! But, are they hurting and do they need help? YES! I recently read that the combination of sugar and fat together is as addictive to the brain as crack cocaine. Once you have it, it’s extraordinarily difficult to not crave more and more and more of it. And, once you are bigger, it’s more painful and difficult to exercise. You don’t have the energy or the willpower. And being obese can also feel very isolating… you don’t have the desire to go to the beach with friends or be seen in certain social settings (or at least I didn’t). I was embarrassed, and I sought my comfort in food.
Valerie KidsI was overweight most of my life.  Eating large amounts of unhealthy food was “normal.” I thought that it was my burden to carry to just be obese forever. I really didn’t think that change was possible. I was without hope in this area. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to give up the good feeling that came with eating things I loved.

It wasn’t until I read the Bible study called “Breaking Free” by Beth Moore that I thought maybe I could change. If I believed God still worked miracles, could He make me healthy and thin for His glory? I prayed and asked. And I took my first step to read the Bible and start highlighting (in green) anything I read that pertained to being healthy. I was surprised at how much I found!

Valerie BabiesEach step forward was small. While I would have loved to go to bed fat and wake up thin, my experience has been a journey. Deuteronomy 8:3 goes on to say, “Yes, He humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life; real life comes by feeding on every word of the Lord.” I am still learning how to feast on God’s word and use food just for fuel and energy. I’m not yet where I’d like to be, but I can say without a doubt that God is working on me!

I started by reading my Bible every morning. It’s the first thing I do – before I eat breakfast. And I pray. These two were probably THE most important steps that I took toward learning discipline and changing my overall lifestyle. The next step I took was actually a series of smaller steps toward being healthy. When my second son was born, I tried to walk my kids around the neighborhood. I was huffing and puffing to make it on a slow walk on our streets. But, I told myself it wasn’t about being skinny. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted my loving husband to have a wife he could be proud of. I wanted my boys to have a Mom who could keep up with them. I wanted to be able to not feel the need to shy away from social settings because of how I looked. And I prayed and asked God to help give me strength.

Valerie Joshua

While I had read tons of diet books and programs, I truly didn’t do a specific one. I knew about cutting carbs from the South Beach Diet program. I also tried some medifast snacks because they are low-calorie and high protein and more healthy than many snack foods on the market. But, I knew that long-term I wasn’t going to be able to follow any program too strictly for the rest of my life. I had to re-evaluate my goals. What was I seeking? The answer was that I wanted to be healthy long-term. So, I tried cutting back my portions, saying no to bread along with dinner, trying not to eat as late at night. It wasn’t the same each day, but as I felt God prompting me to say no to something, I would try to obey. I didn’t always do well, but each time I said no to something I wanted and didn’t really need, it felt like a HUGE victory. The scale didn’t always represent the victories I was seeing in my life, but sometimes it did. I had to keep reminding myself that it was about being healthy overall. I want my body, where God’s Spirit dwells, to be healthy and holy for His purposes and use.

Valerie 28 BdayI did exercise videos at home. I ran outside when the weather was nice. Eventually we even joined a gym.  All those steps were great, but I quickly found that you can’t out-exercise poor eating habits. You have to learn moderation. You have to be willing to say no to overindulging. Exercise helps keep you healthy (and that IS my goal) so I continue to do it. I actually enjoy running now and have signed up for another half marathon and a full one. I also love the classes at my gym. But, it’s not about the exercise. It’s not about the eating. It’s about God’s inspiration and strength in my life to make me healthy for His glory.

Purple2

You see, I could still eat an entire pizza myself. Most days I choose not to. But I don’t take it for granted that that’s God’s power in my life. I have no self-control apart from the fruit of His Spirit in me. I’m the most selfish and lazy person I know.

My devotions this morning were about remembering what God has done so that we continue to obey Him. That is the cry of my heart. I had to recognize that NOTHING is impossible for God. If I could be overweight for nearly 30 years and then see major successes in this area, then you can, too, IF you rely on His strength. Verse 17, which I posted above, says “He did it so you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy.” While I would love if it said “healthy” vs. “wealthy” the point is the same. It wasn’t my strength and energy but God who graciously saved me!

Bar Me SwimsuitWhen my children were invited to go to a vacation Bible school at a local church, I researched the beliefs of the church (and then said no to the offer). One of the core beliefs on the website was that with Jesus’ ascension into heaven, all miracles on earth stopped. WHAT!?!?! I must (with all humility and respect) wholeheartedly disagree. With all glory to God, I will confess that I AM A MIRACLE!!!FamDoes that mean I’m perfect? Far from it! I still struggle. I see what I would call “goddesses”  at the gym and know that I’m nowhere close. But, I can jump into the average class and hold my own these days, which is something that I don’t take for granted. I don’t plan my day around when I’m going to eat or get headaches if I have less than multiple thousands of calories each day. I do still love food, but I’m learning that it’s a gift to be enjoyed rather than an idol to be worshiped. I’m trusting that God will see my journey to completion. I still rely on His strength each and every day to make choices to be healthy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it!

If you struggle in this area or can relate, may I humbly suggest that you press into God with everything you have? He can change you (your heart, your habits, and even your desires) if you allow Him to and rely on His strength. Really, that’s the only hope any of us has.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your mercy and grace. Thank You for being all-powerful and yet so loving. You know us and yet you love us anyway. You see us in our shortcomings, and You still surround us with Your holiness. We humbly give ourselves to You – our minds, our hearts and our bodies. Will You take us all and transform us to be the person who You want us to be? Will You help us be our best, for Your honor and glory? Will You use us to help others and take us out of slavery to food to the promised place of goodness? And may we never forget that it’s YOUR strength and Your energy that took care of us each step of our journey. May we not just say “thanks” when someone compliments us, but can we glorify You by obeying what Your Spirit asks of us? Thank You for continuing to work miracles today! We praise You and worship You! In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Growing Impatient? Change Your Focus!

As I was reading my Bible yesterday, an ‘old’ story took on new meaning for me. First, read the story from the Bible below (after all it’s God’s words, not mine, that have the power to transform!):

“Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient along the way, and they began to murmur against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this wretched manna!

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away these snakes.’ So Moses prayed for the people.

Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to the top of a pole. Those who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to the top of a pole. Whenever those who were bitten looked at the bronze snake, they recovered!” ~Numbers 21:4-9, emphasis mine

Have you ever grumbled when you were trying to lose weight? I know I’ve whined that I have “nothing to eat” when healthy options sound tasteless and boring and I’m experiencing a hardcore craving for something I know I shouldn’t indulge in. While it may not have been manna that I called wretched or said I hated, I may or may not have had some choice words over vegetables that God created for us to eat (and yes, there are plenty of great options out there and plenty of great ways to prepare them… I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not a fantastic cook or extremely creative in the kitchen).

More than that, though, have you ever just felt grumpy over where God has you at in life? Are there days that you’re ready for the next adventure and feel like you’re stuck in the same old spot (or worse)? The Israelites grew impatient along the way, the Bible tells us. God had saved them from so much and provided for them, and yet they were feeling irritable. And I can relate! While I should be feeling grateful, there are days when I feel like ‘enough already.’

Well, it was God who decided ‘enough already,’ as you can see above.

Like the Israelites, when reminded of our frailty, we often come to a place where we recognize our sin and cry out for help. But, the best part of this story for me was how the Israelites were saved – they simply had to change where they were looking!

I felt like God was saying: take your eyes off yourself, remember what God has done, focus your attention on where God tells you to. When the Israelites looked at the bronze snake, they recovered. It wasn’t based on their hard-working effort, and it certainly wasn’t based on them deserving it. They confessed their sin, they prayed and asked for God’s help, and then if they obeyed these seemingly simple instructions to change their focus, GOD was the One who saved them.

Today, if you’re growing impatient along the way, if you feel like grumbling over what God has given you, then I invite you to change your focus. Remember what God has done for you, confess your sin, pray and ask God to change you, and then focus your attention where God tells you to look. And see how you will live like never before!

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You first for being a holy God. I confess that I sometimes picture you in my mind like a loving grandfather who lets us get away with anything we want to do. But, Lord, in addition to being loving and compassionate, You are also just, jealous, holy, powerful and awe-inspiring. You can say “ENOUGH!” Please forgive the times that our attitudes and perspectives have not honored You. We recognize all that You have done for us. You saved us from the power of sin through the blood of Jesus. You have given us plenty to eat and drink and provided for all our needs. You have rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into Your light. We are grateful! Please take away the consequences for our sin, oh Lord. Please help us focus on You and teach us where to look. How can we remember what You’ve done rather than having a pity party for ourselves? How can we take our eyes off ourselves and focus on loving You and the people You’ve asked us to serve? We humbly pray that You would make us healthy and thin, giving us holy temples to do Your will and Your work, not for our own glory but for Yours alone. We pray that You would help us each step of the way so that we would hear “well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of our time. We love You and give You all praise and honor. Be glorified through our thoughts, speech and actions today and forever. In Jesus’ Name we pray, AMEN!

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