10/26/11

Memories of The Pumpkin Patch

One of my favorite memories back in the Midwest ~ I now live in Southern California ~ is of visits to the "The Pumpkin Patch." It was such a time of joy.

The one I visited in Indiana was more than just rows and rows of pumpkins of all sizes. There were also:

  • Pumpkin treats (pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, packets of roasted pumpkin seeds, etc.)
  • Bushels of apples, apple cider, jars of apple butter, and apple treats (pies and cobblers, jars of apple sauce, etc.),
  • Bushels of corn, cornbread, and gift items made from corn cobs.
But The Pumpkin Patch was more than a smorgasbord of food items. It was a tradition. It was a family gathering place. Children walked up and down the rows outside, looking for the "perfect" pumpkin. Women sold homespun items, pretty aprons, and "countrified" craft items. Farmers competed for the "largest pumpkin" and "prettiest pumpkin." Sometimes there was a punkin' chuckin' contest ~ people seeing how far they could throw a purchased pumpkin ~ trying to win a prize.

I always liked to find a pumpkin with a strong stem, so I could turn it on its side to make a "face" instead of carving the pumpkin. (The stem was the nose.) I love to get creative beyond the typical "jack-o-lantern" cut-out pumpkins with all sorts of pumpkin "pets." (Here are some ideas.)

The opening of the Pumpkin Patch in September was more than the beginning of joy-filled days. It always signaled that all the festivities of fall were right around the corner, and we'd better get hoppin' and buyin' if we wanted to be prepared. So we stocked up. We got ready.

[In the same way, I've always appreciated the "signs and signals" in all areas of life that alert me to what's coming, so I can be prepared. For example, there have been plenty of warnings in California to be prepared for "the big one" ~ a huge earthquake. Smart Californians have what they will need for weeks, maybe months, "just in case." And as a Christian, I also see the "signs" of Christ's return. Though I don't know the day nor hour when He'll return (Matthew 25:13), I need to be getting ready for that day (Luke 12:40; Matthew 24:44).

But back to the Pumpkin Patch ...
So much about the Halloween holiday deals with scary things.
.. ghosts and goblins, vampires and witches ... and even death. But I saw a picture of a carved pumpkin online that flies in the face of all of that. It was a pumpkin showing Jesus, coming out of the tomb, and it said, "Jesus Defeats Death!"

Love it!

There is much debate among Christians about whether we should celebrate Halloween. It's a matter of conscience, for many. It's hard to avoid in our culture.

Many churches offer a Halloween alternative, redeeming this holiday from the agenda of the evil one. Some have a fall or harvest festival' or a "Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser" for a good cause; or they get friends and families together for pumpkin carving and a skating party or hayride; or host a special evangelistic outreach. Some prefer to celebrate "Reformation Day" on October 31st. Here's an example of how one woman does that with her family. I wish I'd started that tradition with my sons, years ago.

But here's how I've handled it in recent days... pretty simple. September and October always take me back to memories of the Pumpkin Patch that I carry in my heart, signaling that good things are ahead to celebrate:
  • In September, I celebrate the fall season (and some relief from California heat!) as I decorate with autumn's colors;
  • In October, I celebrate the good harvest God gives us in the fall, and I do a lot of yummy baking;
  • During Thanksgiving, I celebrate and praise God for the many blessings from my Father's hand ~ provision, protection, peace, power, etc.;
  • At Christmas, I celebrate the truth that Jesus came to ultimately conquer sin and death ~ my Savior;
  • And all year long, I can anticipate a heavenly celebration and a reward, because I look forward to and "love His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8; Acts 1:11b)
There's a lot of JOY in all these celebrations, and
I'm not going to let the enemy rob me of that joy!

So make the choice. Come with me to the Pumpkin Patch, Friend.


Linger awhile. Savor the season.

Anticipate the celebrations.


10/19/11

Are Donuts Your Bread of Life?

This title, taken from a book on weight loss, is all too true for many. In America's abundance, we've substituted the temporary satisfaction of "sweets" ~ passing fancies ~ for the true, lasting bread from heaven, and with devastating results. Overeating is just one sign of our indulgence.

Overeating is a growing problem ~ pun intended.


According to statistics, nearly two-thirds of US adults are overweight (with a BMI, body mass index, greater than 25, including those who are obese). Nearly one-third are obese (BMI greater than 30). Approximately 19 percent of children (ages 6-11) and 17 percent of adolescents (ages 12-19) were overweight in 2000, and another 15 percent of children and teens were at risk for being overweight (based on BMI measures). The percentage of children and adolescents who are defined as overweight has more than doubled since the early 1970s. (1)

It's easy to ignore the problem. Don't we see what we're doing to ourselves? Weight loss books line shelves at bookstores ~ oddly enough, often near cookbooks! Magazines at store check-out registers bring smiles... there are giant desserts pictured right next to an article about "Fighting Fat" or "Surviving Sugar Attacks."

The truth is, conquering gluttony or dealing with the emotional reasons behind overeating begins with a surrendered heart and ends with commitment to maintain discipline. Tools that help us do those things are valuable and appreciated.

Guided by Him to a Thinner, Not So Stressed-Out You! by Julie Morris, R.N and Sarah Morris Cherry, M.Ed., L.PC., is a lighthearted approach to weight loss ~ positive and fun ~ but it's not a bunch of fluff. Each chapter is truth-based and freedom-promoting. While some chapters are geared more to adults, it would be a wonderful resource to use with seriously overweight children and teenagers, too. It's useful for groups, classes, with accountability partners, or even motivated individuals.

Morris, a nurse, struggled with her weight until she took the Christian 12 Steps some 25 years ago. Cherry, her daughter, loves teaching people ways to deal with stress and "overwhelming health problems." Teaming up, they created a program to help people get rid of unwanted pounds by learning how to draw closer to God. It's a matter of appropriating His power, not human will power.

Guided by Him includes encouraging "12 Steps" based on biblical truth and practical tips. Some of the Quiet Time titles illustrate the humor behind their health focus:

  • "Tootsie Roll Tug-of-War"
  • "Do Broken Cookies Count?"
  • "Stinkin' Thinkin' Keeps Me from Shrinkin,'" and
  • "Is Fudge My Fortress?"
Each weekly lesson includes a question to consider, a "Step" to take (biblical motivator for action), and practical tips (like "Plateau Busters," food and fitness facts, and Relapse Cautions) to remember to lose weight and keep it off. Rounding out the Quiet Times are stories about people who have lost weight taking the 12 steps and suggested prayers.

Though fun, Guided by Him isn't "soft."

As I read the book, I realized I've been playing Tug-of-War with God, not letting go of the sugary foods I crave. I wasn't very healthy, because I seldom ate healthy foods.

The authors illustrated this convicting concept through the story of the Israelites who complained about God's provision of manna (Numbers 11:4-6). The truth is, God doesn't play Tug-of-War with us for long. He may give us what we demand ~ like when the Israelites demanded quail ~ but then He allows us to suffer the consequences for our foolishness. (2)

The root of my problem is that I keep "squirming off the altar" (Romans 12:1) ~ demanding my own way instead of surrendering to God's choices for me. While the authors' Quiet Time devotional about this made me laugh, it also made me uncomfortable enough to pray the Prayer of Surrender. (3) It's a prayer that must be repeated, again and again, I believe.

There are rich insights throughout the book. One that made me think for quite a while was this statement: "Humility helps me lose weight; humiliation makes me gain." Humiliation is a tool our enemy uses to keep us stuffing our faces. We think that we can never change. But humility helps us rely on God, who is the only One who can change us. (4)

I tend to be an emotional eater. When I get stressed, it's easy for me to reach for candy or something sweet. I found plenty of encouraging words in this book... like a list of scriptures to post on the refrigerator ~ titled, "I will cast my cares on the Lord, not the refrigerator!"

The Lord is my refuge, not a plate of See's fudge; and M &M's can never feed my soul.

By the way, I made the wise choice, recently, to cut 95 percent of the sugar out of my diet. (I'm not dieting, but I am eliminating junk from my diet.) I feel healthier, stronger, and more "alive."

Guided by Him is a resource that can help readers eliminate negative thinking and root out bad habits while filling up on the "fruit" of God's Spirit and the power of the Word of God.

If you want a fresh approach to weight loss, put down the donuts and get to the roots of your overeating with Guided by Him.

(1) Statistics at Overweight Teen
(2) Julie Morris and Sarah Morris Cherry, Guided by Him to a Thinner, Not So Stressed-Out You! (GBH Press, 2008), pp. 57-59
(3) Ibid., p. 115
(4) Ibid., p. 116

10/12/11

Riding Life's Roller Coaster

My husband, son, daughter-in-love and I sat in the backyard a few weeks ago, laughing hard. My oldest granddaughter Megan, enjoying a day at Magic Mountain with the church youth group, apparently made an accidental call on her cell phone while riding a roller coaster. We heard the delighted squeals and screams and she and a friend went up and down on the scary coaster.

Later, she sent me a cell phone photo, to remind me of the memorable call. Her roller coaster ride was fun, but many people experience roller coasters in life with their finances, relationships, habits, etc. that are far from fun. They are frustrating and sometimes scary.

I recently read a devotional in Revive Our Hearts' "Daily Reflections" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.* The devotional dealt with the emotions we feel when life's circumstances suddenly change and our emotions "fluctuate wildly."

Emotions are fickle. They can't be trusted.

"The truth is that, due to our fallen condition, our feelings often have very little to do with reality," DeMoss wrote. "In many instances, feelings are simply not a reliable gauge of what is actually true."

Last year, when I struggled with severe health issues, my emotions kicked in big time, and the enemy took me on a roller coaster ride of scary loops and ups and downs ~ faith and courage one minute, and anxious thoughts the next.

"I want to trust you, Lord, but what if I can't minister anymore?"

"Yeah, you're washed up," the enemy whispered.

"Nobody really cares about me," I complained.

"Yeah," the enemy agreed, "God's not paying attention."

"I can't take this anymore," I insisted (when my eyes and lips were swollen and I looked grotesque).

"Yeah, life's unfair ... God's not good," the enemy hissed.

I admit that my emotions went wild for a while, and as my pity-party kicked in, the enemy celebrated.

Then one afternoon, I remembered two scripture I'd learned. The first was from the book of Job ~ the patriarch's confident proclamation in the midst of his suffering: "But he [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). God reminded me that He was not turning a blind eye to my circumstances. He saw and cared, but He was aiming to transform me through my circumstances.

The second scripture spoke of God's peace, and I envisioned it circling me, protecting me (Philippians 4:7). God's peace is like nothing this world can offer, because it is grounded in the truth of who our Father God is. God is sovereign in the affairs of this life (Psalm 103:19; Proverbs 16:1-4), and He is the God of goodness, purpose, and love. I can rest in God's sovereignty. I can relax and turn my heart toward worshiping Him, because He is great and totally in control (Psalm 95:3-6). My Father cares about me and doesn't let anything touch me without sifting it through His eternal purposes for my life (Philippians 1:6, Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11-12).

Did you get that? Strong, biblical truth is what calmed the roller coaster in my thoughts and emotions. When I committed my circumstances to Him, He established my thoughts and helped me move forward with confidence in Him (see Proverbs 16:3, Amplified.) In other words, I stood, once again, on solid ground.

This is exactly what DeMoss is saying: "In the midst of the roller coaster ride our emotions sometimes take us on, we have to constantly bring our minds and thoughts back to the truth."

Friend, are you riding a scary, heart-shaking roller coaster of emotions today? Don't give up; there is hope for you! Make the wise choice to place your trust in God's sovereignty and love, and in the sure Word of God and His promises. Your circumstances may linger, but your perspective surely will change, and thus, your ability to cope.

* "Daily Reflections" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (September 4, 2011). Devotionals available through Revive Our Hearts, www.ReviveOurHearts.com

10/5/11

God's Design for Marriage is Countercultural

In 1976, a woman named Janeane Swift of Los Angeles married a 50-pound rock! The ceremony was witnessed by around 20 people.

A woman who calls herself "Erika La Tour Eiffel" married the Eiffel Tower in a ceremony in 2008 in Paris. In the ceremony, she promised to love, honor, and obey the iron monument. (In Erika's case, she has a psychological disorder. Objects, unlike people, won't let them down.) Erika admitted, "There is a huge problem with being in love with a public object. The issue of intimacy ~ or rather lack of it ~ is forever present."

Janet Downes from Omaha, Nebraska, said she found the secret for a happy marriage ~ being happy with herself regardless of the men in her life. On June 27, 1998, she married herself on her 40th birthday, exchanging vows with herself in the mirror ~ "I, Janet Downes, take myself with all my strengths and faults...." She wore a wedding gown. She had flowers, a traditional cake, and even a "choir." Some 200 friends and relatives attended. The wedding ceremony celebrated the fact that she is "happy with herself," though she didn't rule out a legal wedding with her fiance at a future date.

Another woman, Chen Wei-yih, posed for a set of photos in her wedding dress. She enlisted a wedding planner and rented a banquet hall for a marriage celebration with 30 friends. She, too, married herself in October, 2010. She said, "I was just hoping that more people would love themselves." But she added, "If I had a steady boyfriend, I wouldn't do this."

As I read about these different situations, I had mixed reactions. I laughed, wondered, considered, and grieved.

On the one hand, I'm glad that a woman can be content within herself and "not need a man" to feel complete. As a Christian, I know that all I need as a woman is my relationship with Christ. Having a husband, within the will of God, is an added blessing.

On the other hand, some women are arrogant regarding their attitudes toward men. The phrase "I don't need a man," for them, means, "Men ~ who needs them!" It's sad, but the biblical pattern for male/female relationships ~ especially in marriage ~ is often mocked. Men and women are fallen creatures, and they tend to abuse and twist the biblical model to their own ends.

In a godly-yet-imperfect marriage, man and woman are united in a covenant commitment for a lifetime (Genesis 2:24) ~ in a relationship that is designed and blessed by God. There are wonderful opportunities for companionship (Genesis 2:18-20, 22-24), holy sexual expression (Hebrews 13:4), and founding a home with children (Genesis 1:27-28a; 9:1; Psalm 127:3).

Husband and wife, each created in the image of God and equal before Him, have special roles in their relationship that complement each other in the plan of God (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7). The roles, properly understood, are liberating and good for both parties.

There are plenty of books, and magazine and Internet articles with tips for how to have a happy marriage; but I believe if we get the foundations of a marriage wrong, then no matter how we build on the "I do," true happiness will be elusive. True happiness in marriage is not found in getting ones needs met, but rather in following the design of God, working through areas that do not align with that design, and centering individual lives and the marriage in Him.

I acknowledge that there are times when marriages bring suffering, and these marriages ~ whenever possible ~ need counseling and support in the family of God. But I question, sometimes, whether we completely understand what the picture of marriage looks like ~ the picture of Christ and His Bride.

The husband, like Christ, is to love to the extent of dying for his beloved. A man who is willing to die for his wife would find living for her easy (even if living with her gets difficult at times). There is a spirit of sacrifice and love. A magnet on my refrigerator says, "Women are made to be loved, not understood." It's funny, but not entirely the truth. Husbands are to live with their wives "with understanding" (1 Peter 3:7). They are to be considerate and respectful.

In the second part of the picture of marriage, the church is to submit to the leadership of Christ... to be a congregation of Christ-followers. This exemplifies the wife, following the leadership of her husband with purity, reverence, modesty, and a proper spirit (1 Peter 3:1-6).

These points are not new ... they are the traditional interpretation of Ephesians 5:22-33. But I think that men and women today, unschooled in the power of God's design, would find them new and even distasteful, perhaps. God's design runs counter to most of the culture's agenda. But it's still a design that works. God doesn't speak without purpose; He doesn't make mistakes.

I signed the True Woman Manifesto last year, because I believe in its truth statements about men, women, marriage, and so much more ~ as embodied in the True Woman movement. I encourage my readers to check it out.

We're likely to hear many strange and distorted stories about marriage in the days to come; but the pattern of God in the Word of God has never changed, in spite of the attempts of man (or woman) to re-write His book.