How Sweet It Is

You may eat freely from every tree in the garden…but one.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize God’s voice when He speaks. It is usually profound, concise, and startling in its clarity. He most often takes a Scripture and applies it to a current situation in my life.

So when I kept hearing this verse repeating in my mind one mid-October morning, I recognized the Messenger. I just didn’t like the message. 

I knew that God had given Adam and Eve these instructions when He placed the pair in the garden. They were free to eat from any tree but the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” We all know how well THAT went. (See Genesis 2.)

But now those words were directed at MeMy garden. My tree.

I even knew the name of the tree He was referring to.

“Sugar.”

No, I didn’t like this message at all.

In my work at our local pregnancy center I’ve encountered alcoholics and drug addicts. Some are in recovery; others are in denial. One pregnant client admitted that she was a heroin addict, but was reluctant to pursue treatment, even though she knew her baby would be born addicted. When I hear the word “addict,” stories like these come to mind.

But there are many kinds of addictions. Some are perfectly legal and socially acceptable. Like my own.

I’ve always said I have a “sweet tooth,” and have often joked about being a “chocoholic.” I’m a “Life’s uncertain. Eat dessert first.” kind of gal. Did you know that most alcoholics can remember exactly when they took their first sip? Well, I can recall the taste of my first chocolate Easter egg.

I’ve fasted from chocolate a few times in the past. But give up Sugar? You’ve got to be kidding!

I googled “sugar addiction.” At the top of the results page, in bold, was this:

Scientists have found that sugar is addictive and stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as cocaine or heroin.”*

In fact, studies showed rats preferred sugar over cocaine**.

Whoa. This was no joking matter! Sugar was my drug of choice. Could I be addicted?

The Holy Spirit was clearly convicting me. But He was also pointing the way to freedom. It was drastic, but it was beginning to make sense.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you…” (Jesus, in Matthew 18:8, NAS)

Ouch. This is a difficult teaching. But when dealing with an addiction, there is no middle ground. When hearing from God, there is no place for compromise.

So I did something I never thought I’d do. I cut down the cane tree, and cut processed sugar out of my life.

Next week will mark five months “sober.”

Going sugar-free has had its bitter moments. Five weeks into my journey, my family went on a Thanksgiving cruise, and I had to navigate around the ever-present desserts. Then came the sweets-laden Christmas season. But I learned that I could enjoy baking–without partaking! With every “chocolate holiday” on the calendar, I’ve bid a fond farewell to each of my holiday favorites. (So long, Hershey’s Candy Coated Milk Chocolate Eggs.)

But you know what? It’s actually been much easier than I thought it would be! After I heard so clearly from God, it became a simple issue of obedience. There is sacrifice, but also great joy in surrender. I’ve experienced a freedom I’ve never known before. Once I accepted that this particular tree was off limits for me (at least for this season), I felt at peace.

I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this addiction. Perhaps the Lord is using my story to put His finger on this–or some other–area in your life. If so, here’s what I would say to you, my friend:

When God speaks, listen! Even if you don’t like what He’s saying. Even if He asks you to give up the one thing you think you can’t live without.

You can do it! He will help you.

On the other side of a hard obedience is an amazing freedom.

Oh, how sweet it is!

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, NAS)

 

*From an article titled “Are You Addicted to Sugar? Here’s How to Break the Cycle” by Sarah Elizabeth Richards at www.dailyburn.com.

**From a NCBI–National Institutes of Health report: “Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward” by M. Lenoir, 2007.

 

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The Gospel According to Beau

We kept hoping he’d figure it out.  Sleep on this side of the Pack ‘n Play.  Poop on the other side.  It was so simple even a puppy could understand it.  But after seven long weeks of hoping (along with almost daily baths!) we finally had to admit that it just wasn’t working.  It was time to try something new.

So we put away the Pack ‘n Play and invited this untrained puppy into…our bedroom.

It felt foolish.  Risky.  Counterintuitive.  He certainly hadn’t earned the privilege or proven himself trustworthy.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  So we did it anyway.

We scattered a few puppy pads around the room, praying that he would choose them over the carpet.  We made him a little bed next to ours and held our breath as he curled up, without whining, in a contented ball.  He slept peacefully, happy just to be near us.

I slept, fitfully, fearfully.  The next morning I cautiously peered over the side of the bed, dreading what I might find.  But lo and behold, he was clean and dry!  And so was the carpet!  We jokingly called it our Christmas Miracle.  In fact, he’s now gone an entire week with nary an accident or a bath!

It’s AMAZING.

Yet isn’t this how Grace works?

We, too, couldn’t help ourselves.  Try as we might we just couldn’t stay clean.  Then, one day, the Father lifted us out of the confines of the Law, which we had been unable to keep, and set it aside.  It was time for something new.  Jesus came, took our filth in exchange for His righteousness, and escorted us right into the very throne room of God.

We did not deserve such kindness.  We had not earned this trust.  Yet it was given to us anyway.

Grace.  AMAZING.

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law.  Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”  (Romans 6:14, NLT)

When we gave Beau the run of our room, we weren’t sure how he would handle his newfound freedom.  We knew he could abuse it.  That’s the risk grace takes.  But being in our presence calmed and settled him.  It changed him.

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?  Of course not!  Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT)

Grace changes us, too.  When we experience the thrill of being in God’s gracious, holy presence, sin loses its pull.  His law is now written on our hearts.  (See Hebrews 8:10.)  We want  to please Him.

We don’t do it perfectly.  Accidents still happen.  But our hearts are inclined in a new direction:  to stay near this One who has showered us with such extravagant grace.

As I lifted Beau onto my pillow for a snuggle the morning of The Miracle, a tear slipped down my cheek.  If I could love a helpless, ignorant puppy through this messy process, how much more must God love me?  If being brought near to us could change him, how might nestling even closer to God’s heart change me?

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

Chris' pillow--his favorite spot!

Chris’ pillow–his favorite spot!

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Freedom and Fences

I let up on the accelerator when I spotted the two young antelope out the left window of my mini van this afternoon.  Now antelope are not an unusual sight on the Wyoming prairie.  Hundreds of pronghorn antelope roam freely on the gated community we currently call home.  But these two had wandered outside the gate and were grazing on the grass median between the on-ramp and the highway, oblivious to the danger speeding past them at 65 mph.

I breathed a silent prayer, wishing there was some way to shoo them back under the overpass and into the safe confines behind the gate.  Didn’t their mama warn them not to play near the highway?  Weren’t they free to move about wherever they wished as long as they stayed within their boundaries?  Didn’t they understand that the fences were there to protect them?

I don’t suppose we humans are all that different when it comes to boundaries.  We truly have been given “a spacious place” (Psalm 18:19) in which to graze and roam.  But the grass always looks so much greener on the other side of that fence.  Surely a quick trip to check it out won’t hurt anything.  And next thing you know we’re dodging semis out on a four-lane highway.

Here are a few things our Father God has been trying to teach His prone-to-wander children since the beginning of time:

1)  His desire is that we experience freedom and provision under His loving care.  “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…”

2)  In His wisdom He has established certain boundaries.  “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…”

3)  These perimeters are for our good and for our protection.  “For when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  (Genesis 2:16-17)

We mistakenly equate freedom with a complete lack of restrictions.  But the fences are the very things that guarantee our continued ability to enjoy our freedom.  To live contentedly within the perimeters God has laid out for us in His Word, we must trust His heart towards us.  If He says “No” to something, it is only because He wants to protect us and provide for us.

Temptation will call out to you from across the fence.  Our culture will try to convince you that following God is too restrictive and that you will miss out on all the fun.  The enemy will put his own spin on God’s instructions:  “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Don’t be fooled.  An interstate is no place for antelope.  Or people.  True freedom is found in listening to God’s voice, and remaining within the protective confines of His love and care.

“Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”  (Proverbs 1:33)

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