New Year’s Resolutions, Uncertainty, and God’s Sovereignty

Christmas is over. Yesterday marked my last day of festivities. This morning I took my daughter to get her ears pierced, one of her Christmas presents. As of 12:27pm today, I was officially done with celebrating Christmas. As far as taking down Christmas ornaments and cleaning up the debris from all the celebrating, well that falls more into New Year’s activities. And I am getting all geared up for New Years. 

Without fail, every year, I get excited about New Years. Every single year I think, this is the year. This is the year I will lose weight. This is the year I will become more disciplined. This is the year I will grow exponentially in my spiritual disciplines. This is the Year!!

I start making plans. This is the diet I’m going to try. This is the exercise plan I will attempt. These are the Good Habits I’m going to start. These are the Bad Habits I’m going to get rid of. 

RIght now, I’m pretty convinced that starting Jan 5th, I will be waking up at 6 am every day, getting on my elliptical with a sun lamp pointed at my face, working hard for thirty minutes while I listen to scripture being read out loud from my Bible App. Then I will go eat a small breakfast of vegetables and rice and maybe some fish thrown in. (And all these things will lead to inner peace, weight loss and lots of energy.) 

Hey, a woman can dream right? 

Interestingly, I was reading “The Atlantic” magazine today (a stocking-stuffer from my husband!) and the very first pages had an advertisement/article whose headline said, “Uncertain about the future?” and then at the end of the article, also in big letters, “Make a Plan”. The article of course had scientific evidence of how uncertainty stresses us out, and making a plan alleviates a lot of that stress. I think this is a coping skill I have been using for a long time. Making plans always makes me feel better. 

Uncertainty may be why we always face a new year with lots of New Year’s Resolutions. We have no idea what the New Year is going to bring, so we cope with that uncertainty by making all kinds of plans that should bring us health and prosperity. Almost like a good luck charm. If I just do A, B, and C, then I am guaranteed a good year. 

In the end, I know that I will not follow all my “plans” perfectly. I’m still hopeful. But, I know I will mess up. And even if I do succeed it will be a series of ups and downs. I also know that I have no way of predicting what is going to happen in this upcoming year. We still have election uncertainties, covid, vaccines, shaky economies, schools opening and shutting, lots of shifting in the world governments and systems. I have no guarantees that this upcoming year will be better than the one we just weathered. And yet, I am feeling hopeful. 

We had a very good Christmas. We ended up with a lot of snow, which for many people in our area ended up causing a lot of trouble, but for us, it was just pretty white stuff on the ground. Everything went smoothly. No sickness. (We’ve had several Christmases where we’ve been hit with the stomach bug.) The kids enjoyed each other’s company. My oldest daughter has been able to be with us. Everyone liked their presents. I have felt like this time has been a gift from God. A gift of Peace and Joy. And I really don’t know if I’m getting this gift because it will be a good memory to hang on to when things get rough again, or if it’s just the beginning of a better year. Only God knows. But, it made me feel seen. Made me feel like God was watching out for me. Made me remember that God is still in control. I’m in his hands. 

In the end, we live in uncertain times. All humanity has always lived in uncertain times. And we can make all the plans we want, but we have no guarantees that those plans will come to fruition. Psalm 20 verse 7 says, 

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” 

God has our future in his hands. The great drama of world history that is playing out before our eyes is also in his hands. And that is our true source of hope. For those who have put their trust in God, his hands are the safest place to be. 

You Have Not Yet Resisted

This week and last, I have been reading a chapter a day in Hebrews. It has been more of an academic/discipline type of reading than reading to gain deep insights. I have been trying to be faithful to read every day, and think about what I have read, but it has been more a gathering of interesting information than anything spiritual. Until… Yesterday morning. I have been struggling with a feeling of unease and lack of peace for a couple weeks now and I have been skirting around the reason why. Not wanting to face it head on. But knowing that I needed to. And then I opened the Bible yesterday morning and I felt like I had opened a room and unexpectedly found Jesus sitting in a chair, waiting for me, and his face was a bit stern and he said, We need to talk. 

And this is what he said:

Hebrews 12: 4-11

12  4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

I have been struggling for a long time with my health. My body simply can’t handle sugar and lots of carbs. I am prediabetic. And whenever I hit periods of stress, I throw health out the window: 

I don’t care if this is bad for me. It’s going to help me unwind. It’s going to make me feel happy for a minute. Fighting my cravings is too much to handle right now. I deserve a treat. 

And this past week I have not been feeling well. My bad habits are quickly catching up with me. And I have been whining about it. It’s not fair. I can’t do everything. How am I supposed to homeschool and also go on a diet? It’s a psychological thing, I’ve got to figure out how to deal with that part first before I try to abstain. Etc etc. Lots of excuses. 

The verse that struck me the hardest from Hebrews 12 was verse four,  “ In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

For the record, I do not think that being overweight or having diabetes or any other sickness is a sin. But for myself, I know that refusing to take care of the body that God gave me is a sin. When I know the right thing to do and refuse to do it, that’s sin. And all of my excuses looked pretty pathetic when I read verse four. I have not tried to resist to the point of shedding blood. I have actually offered up very little resistance when it comes to temptation and my eating habits. 

After my morning devotions, I went and found a black sharpie pen. I wrote on my wrist, “You have not yet resisted” so that every time I went to reach for the cookie or popsicle or whatever temptation was waiting for me I would see it on my wrist. It’s been a good reminder. 

All that to say, reading a chapter of the Bible every day is always a good idea. My kids ask me often, How do you know what God wants you to do? How do you hear Jesus speaking to you? And I always tell them, the best way to hear God’s voice is to read his word. The Holy Spirit will lead you to the right places, he’ll open your eyes to see what you need to see and understand what you need to understand. 

And I’m thankful that he did that for me this week.

Settling In and Reaching Out

Since December, my rallying cry has been, as soon as things calm down, we’ll settle into a good routine. That’s all we need.  A good routine. Since December we have also dealt with sickness that kept us out of school for a week, then school being closed for flu for a week, then missing who knows how many days for floods and crazy weather. And now the world has shut down, school is closed and we are all home. 

 

In a sense, I’ve got a better chance now of setting up a routine than I did before. Make a schedule for our house. I’ve got at least three weeks, minimum, to get us settled into a good routine. Most of our appointments have been cancelled. No pressure to get out and do things. Just home. 

 

Who knows, we might have such an awesome experience that we just decide to keep homeschooling, at least some of the kids. 

 

Or I might go insane. 

 

It’s a toss up. 

 

This week is our Spring Break and I told the kids I wouldn’t make them do any school work. Yesterday I took the kids to a playground. It had rained recently. When we got there, there was only one other family with two kids. Perfect. We are not interacting socially with anyone, just playing outside. Then a couple more families showed up, then more. And suddenly I felt like I was breaking a national covenant to not be near other people. We headed home. I told the kids we probably would have to skip playgrounds for a while. 

 

So, this morning I went to the Dollar Tree and picked up some puzzles and some school supplies. I sat down with the kids and we put puzzles together and then played Uno while some of the little kids played with building blocks and played Snakes and Ladders. Everyone co-operated. So nice. 

 

Of course, I’ve also dealt with some discipline issues that were so intense, one child is now spending the day with dad, sitting at a construction site. We’ve had some long time-out sessions. One child just put up a curtain around her bed to ensure privacy from pesky siblings. It’s a big mix of good and bad. Really, just life. 

 

Right now I am optimistic about how this will all play out for our family. 

 

I am also very aware that a large segment of society just lost their income as restaurants and bars were ordered closed. A bunch of small business owners are heading into a financial crisis. The entire economy of our country is just one big Question Mark right now. There are also a whole multitude of working parents who suddenly have to figure out childcare because their child’s school is closed. 

 

Last night I was dreaming about foster babies. In my dream I came home from being out and found three little babies just crying in my house. I was supposed to be taking care of them and feeding them, but no one had told me that they were dropping the babies off, and I had no idea how long they had just been sitting in my house crying. I was angry and devastated and frantically looking around for bottles and formula, trying to feed these hungry babies. 

 

I think the dream kind of mirrors how I’m feeling as I read about how many people have been put into a crisis with this pandemic. I feel the community-need to be stepping up and helping in whatever way I can. But, at the same time I feel like I’m completely maxed out. Could I babysit someone’s kids while they work? I’m not sure. I’m feeling the weight of eleven kids already. Could I donate money? Well, I give a tithe of our income every paycheck, but that little bit won’t go far. And I’m feeling the financial crunch as I’m suddenly not able to take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch at our schools. These kids eat a lot. 

 

I feel impotent. People need help. I should be helping. I’m already helping. I don’t think I can do more. Except maybe ask all of you to look around and see if you are doing all that you can. Maybe you could babysit for your friend. Maybe you can make a donation to a small business. Maybe you are in a position to offer help to someone in need. 

 

I know right now, this situation is so unexpected and different, that we are all scrambling to get our own families situated. But, if you can, I encourage you to look for some tangible way to reach out and help. It’s the only way we’re all going to make it. 

 

Fat Fridays: Week 27 Esther Tries out Intermittent Fasting

Hello Internet Friends, hope you all are doing well! I have had an interesting week. This past weekend I finally came to that realization that my life was not going to get “normal” any time soon, the stress was not going to back off and if I was serious about my health, I needed to do something despite circumstances being crazy. I’ve been seeing all kinds of articles about Intermittent Fasting, and so I thought, Hey, that sounds like a good idea! Why not? It seemed to fit with my desire to hit the restart button on my diet plan, so I set a day and went for it. I ate supper and snacked a bit till about 8pm on Sunday night and then I didn’t eat again till Tuesday morning. A thirty-six hour fast. Aside from when I had morning sickness, I have never done that before.

I kept a diary throughout the day. It was kind of a way to keep myself from going crazy. An outlet of sorts. I’m not going to share it with you because basically, it was the same theme throughout the whole day. I’m hungry. I have a headache. This is totally not fair that I still have to grocery shop and cook for 16 other people while I am fasting. And then hit repeat. That was the sum of my diary. Except that by Monday night I was feeling so sick that I couldn’t journal any more. I went to bed around 8pm and every time I woke up in the night, I still felt bad. But, when I woke up Tuesday morning, it had passed. I really didn’t feel very hungry. I was up at 6:30 am and I sat and ate a bowl of blueberries. Then around 9am I started feeling really hungry and so I heated up a plate of leftovers from the amazing supper I had made the night before that I wasn’t able to eat. I thought that the day after fasting I would probably be gorging myself, but really, I didn’t eat. I think I ate less on Tuesday than I usually do. I didn’t feel like snacking and I was feeling full a lot faster.

I’ve been trying to do more research on fasting this week. I was really surprised that I had the discipline to fast. I didn’t think I could do it. And actually, it did get easier as the day went by. I would like to know more about this whole Intermittent Fasting thing. As I research though, I am running into the problem of everyone wanting to charge me money so I can read their “specialized” version of how to lose lots of weight while doing Intermittent Fasting. Uggh. I don’t have any extra money to be spending on this right now. That said, I was really excited today to find an email in my inbox today from a health site that I trust, sharing a link to a session with Dr. Jocker as he explained the “Top 7 Things that Sabotage a Fast”. I clicked on the link to watch this “free webinar”. Free! Yay! I watched about fifteen minutes, it was very fascinating and helpful. And then all my kids ran into the room where I was and there was no way it was going to get quiet enough to watch anything so I hit pause and figured I’d come back to it this evening when I actually had some time alone to watch it. Alas. When I tried to open the site again, my time had run out. I now was supposed to pay money to access the same information. But, hurray for YouTube. I found it over there and watched it, or at least skimmed through it, for free.

Apparently my big mistake in fasting was that I tried to do too much too soon. You’re supposed to work your way up to a longer fast. Start with twelve hours, then fourteen, then sixteen, etc.  I’m learning. I’m glad that I did a longer fast right away though, because I proved to myself that I could actually do it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

For whatever reason, trying to stick to a separate diet as I take care of my family, and another family that is with us, is just too hard for me. But simply not eating for periods of time seems doable. I’ve dropped two pounds this week. It’s worth trying it out for a while.

So, that’s what I’m going to be doing this week. I’ll let you know how it goes next time.

See you later!