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Celery vs. Cookies

“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” Philippians 4:5

November marks the beginning of the holiday season for the Collins family.  We slowly bring down our stash of Christmas music, listening to Bing, Dean and Frank croon our Christmas favorites.  We visit our favorite stores to check out their holiday displays.  We discuss, and sometimes debate, the Thanksgiving menu.  We take our Thanksgiving side dishes very seriously and any elimination of baked beans or corn soufflé’ could cause a feud!

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been contemplating strategies on how to balance healthy eating with enjoying the holidays free from guilt and deprivation.  I put that sentence in bold for a reason: it’s loaded with words like “healthy eating”, “enjoying”, “guilt” and “deprivation”.  And then I have the nerve to think of strategies!  Why in the world would I put all those words together in one sentence and ruin my holidays?  We are Americans and the holidays are about excess: excess spending, excess decorating, excess eating, excess entertaining, etc.  Part of my flesh cries out in a high shriek, “Keep up the exercising, but eat what you want!”  The other part of my flesh speaks in a loud condemning voice, “Stick to your calorie allowance, don’t eat any of your favorites!”  As a Christian, what voice do I listen to and what should be my plan?

Are you ready for the shocking answer?  Imagine a drum roll with a game show host’s voice announcing my answer.  “The voice Sherry chooses to listen to is….NEITHER VOICE!”  In this healthier living journey, I am striving to find balance in all areas of my life.  I should not eat everything I want, no matter how high my level of physical activity.  Neither should I be so strict that I deprive myself of everything and make my friends uncomfortable about their choices.

This leads me back to my bold sentence.  Let’s start with the word “strategies”.  As a Christian, I need to plan for success.  In all areas of life, successful people plan; in business, finances, relationships, etc.  I want to be successful in my healthy journey, not perfect, but successful.  In order for that to happen, I need to set goals and anticipate pitfalls.  These strategies include exercising regularly.  I have found, and there is science to back me up, that exercise keeps me thinking clearly and helps reduce stress.  Many times I overeat when I have brain fog or feel stressed.  I am less likely to reach for another cookie or a second helping of Buffalo Chicken Cheese Dip if my brain is clear.  Another strategy I am including in my arsenal is drinking enough water.  I have found that if I am well hydrated, I do not overeat.  Also, I am going to record what I eat, even if I run over my daily calorie allowance.  Honesty helps me stay on track and focused!

Now, that I have talked about some strategies, I am going to address the phrase “enjoying the holidays free from guilt and deprivation.”  First of all, what are the real reasons for Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Both seasons should reflect my relationship with Jesus: being grateful and celebrating the birth of my Savior.  I say “should”, but all too often, I fail in this area.  I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the seasons, forgetting what is really important.  This year, besides my daily Bible reading, I am planning on reading two books, both by Ann Voskamp, to help me stay focused on the purpose of the seasons.  One Thousand Gifts is a reminder to be grateful, and The Greatest Gift is about celebrating the life of Jesus.  Prayerfully, everything else, like spending time with family, holiday traditions and food, will stay in its rightful place with Jesus in the center.  

Still, I need to recognize that food is a part of our holiday traditions, from Thanksgiving side dishes to cookie baking to the annual Collins family Hot Chocolate Party.  And this is where I need to be free from guilt and deprivation.  I do not want to be the person in the corner eating only celery sticks (by the way, does anyone really like celery?).  I love my Thumbprint cookies and Haystacks.  I enjoy planning the menu for the Hot Chocolate Party with the homemade peppermint marshmallows.  Can I still enjoy these without guilt and deprivation?

Yes, I can!  I can exhibit the fruit of the spirit “temperance” in my life.  Temperance means having self-control, or, in other words, balance in my life.  This is a fruit of the spirit I lack in my life and struggle to develop.  If I am truly balanced, I am not going to indulge in a dozen Haystacks (toasted coconut tossed in melted chocolate) everyday, but I am also not going to exercise two hours every day and eat only celery sticks at the Christmas party.  Balance is enjoying a few haystacks.  Balance is not doubling the Peanut Butter Ball recipe (sorry, Ethan!).  Balance is doing hard math and halving some of the traditional cookie recipes (what is half of 2 1/3 cups?).  Balance is focusing on building relationships at the Hot Chocolate Party instead of just making sure my spread is big enough to feed all of Chambersburg!  Balance is the key for me to be successful.  

I am sure there are some of you who are really good at maintaining balance in your lives.  Yet, I believe there are others who struggle to find balance during the holidays, whether it be in food, spending or just being too busy.  Take a few moments to ponder your holiday goals.  I would love for you to share with me some of your strategies for finding balance.  Feel free to comment on my blog spot and share them with other readers.  Now, I suppose I should figure out what is half of 2 1/3 cups!

Beauty in Failure

My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

A few months ago, I had a conversation with an old friend that impacted me.  From a young age, he was on the path to success; having a strong moral compass, being academically driven, and talented in many areas.  He was the “golden child”, the one everyone voted most likely to succeed! And he has succeeded, holding various leadership positions in his profession.  Yet, he shared with me that he wished he had been allowed to fail on some level as young person.  The pressure of being “perfect” and successful never gave him the opportunity to find beauty in failure.  It is something that he will allow his children to experience: beauty in the context of failure.

Beauty in failure sounds paradoxical.  Even the word failure sounds final and cacophonous to our ears, blaring loudly for everyone to hear! Most of us can vividly remember a time when we failed.  When we were young we cringed at the red ink scrawled across our school papers.  As adults, we cover our failures by saying it’s “a career change” or “a new direction”.  We openly share our successes on social media, but downplay our shortcomings.  Personally, I am inclined to post pictures of the colorful Korean tacos with the Asian slaw, hoping to tantalize people’s taste buds, but quickly dump the bland Kielbasa cabbage soup with no opportunity for Facebook comments.

Some failures can become humorous family legends.  One Collins’ family legend is the time I planned a family excursion to Baltimore.  My teens didn’t want to go, preferring to stay in their rooms on a cold winter day.  My husband was reluctant, not particularly impressed with Baltimore’s tourist attractions.  Yet, I persuaded, cajoled, and then bribed my family, enticing them with a free bookstore and yummy food.  The bookstore turned out to be in a sketchy area with the odors of urine and alcohol permeating the shelves, prompting us to douse our hands in sanitizer as we left.  Still in the sketchy area, the restaurant I had picked was a little too “hippie” for my husband, a neon purple and green building surrounded by abstract lawn ornaments.  The next restaurant I found was a pricier BBQ joint with food that tasted like frozen pulled pork that had been under the heat lamp way too long.  I was desperately trying to redeem the day when I saw the flashing neon light of a donut shop.  My family loves donuts and I thought we could end the day on a high note with a sugar rush; forgetting the smell of urine, toxic colors and bad BBQ!  The first sign that this high note wasn’t going to end well was the sticky floor and the greasy-looking teenager behind the counter.  Yet, I persisted, ordering a dozen specialty donuts.  Needless to say, eight donuts ended up in the trash.  We now tell this story with a few embellishments and a lot of laughter.

This is any easy failure to acknowledge, but not all failures are displayed for public levity.   Recently, I and some people I love, experienced some failures.  There was nothing funny about the experiences.  It was hard, really hard, to face the failures and deal with the consequences.  The details are unimportant, yet, I am sure that most of you can relate to experiencing hard failures in your lives, whether they be relational, financial, spiritual, or professional.  These are the failures that paralyze us for a bit and cause us to reevaluate everything we believe about ourselves, others and God.

Yet, if we allow God to walk us through it, we can find beauty in the midst of the failure, as well as on the other side.  I found beauty in three specific ways:

  • I found beauty in reflecting God’s unconditional love to those who had failed.  It allowed the people I love to grow from their failure instead of letting the failure define their self-worth.  I believe the compassion others showed them positively changed the trajectory of their lives.
  • I found beauty in God refining my character in the midst of the failure.  God uses failures in your life to point out shortcomings.  In my case, it was pride and self-reliance.  Refining gold doesn’t happen by leaving the gold in its natural state.  Refining happens by putting it through fire and removing the impurities, so that it can shine brilliantly.
  • I found beauty on the other side of the failure.  I am a better person because of the failures.  I’ve learned about myself and how my life measures up to the nature of God.  The failures pointed me towards Christ, rather than leaning on my own understanding.  I have also enjoyed the fruits of restoration in people’s lives.  It becomes a beautiful place where brokenness is healed and you see growth in relationships.

One of the greatest examples of failure in the Bible is David.  He has the distinction of being the only person in the Bible known as “a man after God’s own heart.”  This was declared despite the fact he had major life failures: lust, adultery, deception, and murder. This same David is also known as the giant killer, the worshipper, and the greatest king of Israel, all because he had a contrite heart and didn’t let his failures define him!

Before HGTV made it fashionable to re-purpose junk, the Japanese have, for thousands of years, repurposed broken pottery into beautiful art pieces.  This art form, known as kintsugi, uses a mixture of gold dust, resin and lacquer to reattach the broken pieces.  Many of these older pieces can be found in museums.  The process transforms ordinary, broken pottery into a beautiful work that glitters in the broken spots.  Friends, I will fail, and so will you!  Yet, if we allow God to be our strength and portion, He can create “kintsugi” beauty out of our failures!

Army Green Coats, Acorns and Steps

“O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”  Psalms 90:14

I have never been thin.  I was overweight before the concept of a positive body image was in vogue.  In elementary school, I was referred to as a “big-boned girl” by my family to spare my feelings, but I still heard the whisperings of my peers that I was fat, or worse yet, hefty.  I would pour over the gigantic Fall/Winter JC Penney catalog looking at the fashionable clothes, only to be disappointed that they didn’t make the blue oxford shirt and brown corduroys in my size.  I distinctly remember, in the fourth grade, going to school during the frigid Wisconsin winter in a bulky, army green coat while all my classmates were wearing baby blue, hot pink or lavender winter coats.  Almost forty years later, I still shudder when I see army green, even if it is the trendy color of the season.

Middle school came and my weight climbed.  Eating had become a coping mechanism for the abuse that I was hiding.  In spite of this, I made an unconscious decision to not let my weight define me.  I got involved in every activity I could, from drama to forensics, desperately trying to fit in.  This continued throughout high school and college.  I was successful in the academic and extracurricular world, receiving various accolades that helped shape my self-image.

My weight did not stop my life in the bigger sense.  I married a wonderful man who always made me feel beautiful despite the numbers on the scale.  I had two children that loved their mom despite her being morbidly obese.  I had great friends and family who believed in me and supported me.  I was successful as I defined success.  And, most importantly, I had an incredible relationship with God, who loved me unconditionally.

At the end of July, 2018, I woke up one morning and made a decision.  It would be grand to say it was an epiphany where a clear message was written across the sky in gold letters while angelic voices filled the air with a heavenly hymn.  It would be more dramatic to say that a major health crisis led me to this decision.  Some people have those moments that make for good stories or reality shows on weight loss.  For me, the moment was just answering the quiet whispering of God.  Many of our most important decisions are made with no fanfare, away from the clamor of public opinion.  It’s when we listen to the still, small voice of God and face the giants in our lives that real change and healing happen.

I downloaded an app and started holding myself accountable for what I ate.  I made changes in my diet by eating smaller portions and making healthier choices.  I joined a gym and started exercising, both cardio and weights.  Most importantly, I started to read the Bible differently than I had done before, memorizing scriptures and journaling.  I started to be more honest with my feelings and attitudes about food.  Why was I looking to food for comfort or fulfillment?  Why was my relationship with food so unhealthy?  Was this unhealthiness pointing to other areas of my life that still needed healing?

             At the writing of this blog I am down 127 pounds.  That can fluctuate daily and that’s ok.  I don’t define myself by the numbers that glare back at me from my bathroom scale.  They only reflect a part of my journey, not my destination.  Most of my goals are related to healthy decisions and physical activities.  I am learning to be satisfied by God, rather than food.

This weekend, I learned that food should not define my enjoyment of a season.  I can share the family favorite acorn candy freely with friends at a bonfire.  Then I can put the remaining candy in the freezer instead of devouring it piece by piece by the next afternoon.  I can enjoy fall by exploring God’s creation on a hike with my husband.  This past weekend, he and I took a hike that was rated as “hard” on most apps and websites.  We climbed over one thousand rock slab steps up the side of a mountain.  It was difficult, at times grueling, but the sense of accomplishment was exhilarating, as were the views from the top.

The verse in the beginning is written on a note card on my refrigerator.  It is a daily reminder to find my satisfaction in God and his mercy.  Food can still be pleasing to my palate.  I still love a juicy burger, or a homemade chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven.  Yet, the deep satisfaction that fills my soul with completeness and wholeness is found in God.  And for this I can rejoice and be glad.

Passion

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men;” Colossians 3:23

Initially, I was going to write about my journey to being healthier, but some tragic events happened in the last weeks that have caused me to be more reflective. Three different men that I know have passed away. One was a high school classmate that I haven’t seen in years, the second was an elder in our church, and the third was an old friend who was instrumental in God’s plan for our move to Pennsylvania. All three men were very different from each other: a dairy farmer, a logger, an entrepreneur. Yet all three had one common trait: their individual passions drove them to make a difference in their families and in their communities.

What do I mean when I say the word passion? Passion is defined as “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something”. We are all created differently and have had different life experiences which lead to different passions. Some of us are passionate about social injustice, some about our faith, and for some it can be about a simple hobby like gardening. We all have that something that, when we talk about it, our eyes light up, our heart rate increases, and we get excited. Yet some people, like these three men, go above and beyond: cultivating, sharing and leaving behind them a legacy of their passion.

When I first heard about my classmate being moved into hospice, I read the story of his life beyond high school. He cared passionately about the dairy industry and did his best to promote and educate his community about farming. He wrote a blog about his life as a farmer, and most of his posts can speak to you about your own life, farmer, or not. He was innovative, and was recognized by his community, and his industry, with various accolades. He not only had passion, but he gave voice to his passion!

It’s not enough to be passionate about something. Our passions need to be shared with others. Sharing doesn’t mean beating someone down with your opinions and pushing them to believe in your passions. Instead, it means to gently educate them about your passion, helping them to see how it can relate to their lives. Sharing can cause other people to be inspired and set them on a journey to discover their own passions.

When my family attended the visitation of the second man who passed away, I was amazed at how many people came to pay their respects. The elder lived in a small rural community in the mountains, and we waited in line for an hour and a half. It was as if the whole community came. My husband met one gentleman in line who had been a salesman for a logging equipment and had not seen the deceased man for over 50 years. Yet, this elder made such an impression on him that he felt the need to be at the visitation! That tells me that this elder had integrity in his passion.

Integrity is having a firm adherence to a moral foundation. I’m sure the logging industry challenged a person’s integrity with bidding on land, hiring workers, and property disputes. Yet, this elder based his life on the Bible and it was evident in his decision-making. People don’t turn out to pay their respects for someone who is a cheat or a swindler. They came to pay their respects to someone who had contributed to their community in an ethical manner. Our passions need to be based on a firm foundation of moral principles.

The third man, the entrepreneur, was probably one of the most driven men I have ever known. He was driven to succeed in all areas of his life: his relationship with God, being a family man, and a businessman. I have known few men who worship as intensely as he did, always making a joyful noise in praise to God, whether he was on key, or not. He always found an opportunity to talk about how much he loved his wife and children, praising them in their accomplishments and finding ways to make their dreams come true. He started off with little education, but was always finding new ways to improve himself and his situation. He started two companies that, from all accounts, were very successful.

In order for our passions to be more than just casual interests, we must be driven by them. They should shape our lives and fuel our vision. If we have no drive, we end up leading ordinary lives: unfulfilled, lacking passion and leaving no lasting legacy.

Now, I am going to be completely transparent with you. The last few years I have been lacking passion. My previous passion had been to be a good mom who home-educated my children. I was driven to provide my kids with a solid education. I held myself to high standards and shared my passion with other moms as they started their own journeys in homeschooling. Yet, after my daughter’s high school graduation, I found myself wondering, who am I and what do I want to do. I felt stuck and unfulfilled.

It is easy to get caught up in the mundane tasks of living while life passes you by. Yet, I knew there was something more. I started reading books about life transitions and goals, and paid attention to what spoke to my soul and sparked my interest. I asked myself hard questions and faced some fears. And I prayed.

I am still figuring out my path. But I am moving forward. One of my current passions is to be transparent about this journey in order to benefit other women who might be facing some of the same challenges that I am facing. I don’t have all the answers, but God has been dropping nuggets of wisdom along my path.

Three men have been memorialized, honored and buried in the last few weeks. Three families are still mourning their loss. Three groups of friends are still missing their friend. Yet three men lived out their passions and have made our world a better place. I pray, someday, the same will be said of me.

“To everything there is a season”

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the crisp air, the smell of wood burning, the changing leaves and hot apple cider. I anxiously count the days until I can decorate the house for fall and buy my annual bag of seasonal M&M’s.

This year I made my yearly pilgrimage to Target to peek at the pumpkins and gourds, and buy my seasonal bag of M&M’s, full of tan, brown, wine and plum colored candies. To my dismay, Mars company changed their seasonal candy to a ghoul theme! I was borderline irate! Actually, I thought about emailing the company to share my frustrations. Who wants purple and Mr. Yuck green candies in their birch wood ceramic bowl?

And then I read this quote on Pinterest, “Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go”. The quote stuck with me for a few days and marinated in my soul. Is it really beautiful to let things go?

When we are younger, it seems like we are always looking forward to something: our birthday, Christmas, graduation, marriage, etc. We can’t wait to reach the next milestone. Yet, when we have children, we start looking backward and want to hang onto every moment. And then we have to learn to let go: our children’s first day of school (mine was in our home), taking their first drive after getting their license, waving goodbye as they board a train for their first missionary trip, hugging them in the door of their college dorm room, and eventually hearing them say “I do” to their future spouse. At these moments, we want to cling desperately to the past. I have often wondered why God doesn’t allow children to stay younger for at least one more year!

Yet, letting go can be beautiful. You can send your child to the grocery store for a missing item; you feel your child’s passion as they discuss their experience on the mission field; you see them grow in ways they couldn’t if they stayed home; and the beautiful young woman your son chose to marry, you get to call her your daughter-in-love and friend!

This week I had to let go of some things……

These books represent what’s left of 20 years of homeschooling material. They might not mean much to you, but each book was read with anticipation and excitement with my children. Hours were spent sitting on the couch reading history, or pouring over maps and dreaming of far away places. I have to admit I did grieve a little as I took them off my shelves. Even God recognizes the importance of grief when he says in Ecclesiastes 3 that to everything there is a season, including a time to mourn. The important thing to remember is that mourning should only be a season! We can’t stay in that season too long, otherwise we won’t be able to see the beauty of future seasons.

Yes, my season of homeschooling is over. I get to pack these treasures away and prayerfully see my grandchildren delight in these books just as their parents did before them. In the meantime, I have the opportunity to look forward to God’s plan as it unfolds in my life, whether that’s a new career, graduate school (something I’m contemplating, now) or a new ministry. I also have empty space on my bookshelves to fill with new treasures.

As for the ghoulish M&M’s, I decided they had been for a season, but that season was over, now. They had become more of a tradition, no longer my candy of choice when I want something sweet. I also no longer have little hands around me reaching into the bowl for a quick snack. Instead, I filled the bowl with dark chocolate Dove promises with vaguely profound sayings.

Yes, it is beautiful to let things go.

My First Blog Post

Am I really

middle-aged?

“So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

Colossians 1:10

Recently, my husband and I were discussing my desire to write a blog. I was trying to articulate about the audience I was hoping to reach. I kept saying things like empty-nesters, people with adult children, premenopausal women and other definitions. In Terry’s succinct manner, he said, “You mean middle-aged women.” I instantly bristled at that definition. All of these thoughts raged in my head: I’m still young, I’m not even 50 (well 3 years shy of it!), I haven’t joined the AARP yet, I have vivid memories of high school and I’m just now thinking about starting a career after being home for 21 years. Certainly, I am not middle-aged!

Then it hit me. If I double my current age, I will live to be older than my grandfather did! On the timeline of my life, I’m smack dab in the middle of it. No matter how I slice it, I am middle-aged!

Why write a blog for this audience of women in the middle of their life? Cyberspace is full of mommy blogs and millennial adulting memes. Lifestyle blogs abound, especially if you are a foodie or fixing up your home. Yet, in this weird world of social media celebrities and viral videos, there is little to offer a middle-of-life woman (sounds better than middle-aged). Especially to a 47-year-old woman who identifies herself as a Christian.

Yes, there are blogs from Lysa Terkuest, who writes powerful books that have ministered to me. And I can’t forget the soulful, poetic Ann Voskamp’s blog that I read again and again to soak in her words of wisdom. In the Apostolic Pentecostal world there are the blogs, posts and writings from the witty Rachel Colthrap who makes you laugh and brings you to conviction at the same time.

Not to disparage any of these women. In all of their writings, they are honest and transparent about their faults, shortcomings and trials, yet these women all appear to be extraordinary.

Where are the ordinary blogs, about middle-aged women dealing with tough transitions gracefully? Dealing with subjects like adjusting from parenting teens to blessing adult children. Sharing goals with others on how to live your life in healthier manners, both physically and mentally, as you age. Discussing strategies to strengthen your marriage as empty-nesters. Dealing with the nitty gritty, honest details of conquering life-long giants, such as obesity. Health concerns, life adjustments, leaving a legacy…..the list is endless!

This is my blog, my thoughts and, more importantly, my journey to making these transitions gracefully, so that I can bear fruit and increase in the knowledge of God. Please join me and feel free to share with me your thoughts as well.

Brief Biography

Hi! My name is Sherry Collins, and I am a Christian. Although I live south central PA, I identify myself as a Wisconsinite. I’ve been married for 23 years to a wonderful man, Terry (and yes our names rhyme). I have 2 adult children and a daughter-in-law, all of which I adore. In the last year, I’ve been on a journey losing over 100lbs, but more importantly shedding some pride, arrogance and thorns, while gaining insight, victory and new perspective on God.