10.06.2013

A Little White Swish in a Sea of Black

Today I found the stash of Little Mouse's sonogram pictures and videos.

We were fortunate to have an OB who teaches young medical students through OSF Hospital and is also a good friend of ours. Much to my enjoyment, this meant being the guinea pig at several of the OB appointments I had throughout my pregnancy!
2 months pregnant with our little boy...
When at 5 weeks pregnant I began having unexplained bleeding, I panicked. I had been seeing a naturopathic nurse practitioner specialist while we were trying to conceive because of my PCOS, and the office she practiced in was closed that weekend. She only offers OB services for the first 12 weeks anyway, so the need for a dedicated OB was rapidly approaching.  Naturally, this was also the day we were traveling an hour an a half north to reveal to my immediate family that we were expecting. 

So, like a chicken with my head cut off, I ran around the apartment frantically plotting our next move. Do we rush to the hospital? Is this normal?

My husband, always the cool-headed thinker, handed me his phone. "Call Tom," he said confidently. "He'll know what to do." Tom explained every possible scenario with care and compassion, and sent us to the hospital for a quick blood test (much cheaper than a visit to the ER!). Within a few hours, we got the results (numbers were in the rock star category, indicating a super viable pregnancy!) and our marching orders. I called his office on Monday and set up the first of our of many sonograms.

I can't even explain the emotions I felt when I first saw that little squiggle on the screen. It was mesmerizing. I stared and stared, trying to wrap my head around the fact that that smudge on the monitor - that little white swish in a sea of black - was the start of a life inside of me. 

That was the answer to all of our prayers. That was the fruit of our hard work. 

And then, when I thought it couldn't get any more amazing, we saw a small flicker of pixels. Then another. Then a rhythm began. 

Flicker, flicker, flicker, flicker...

"You are witnessing your baby's first heartbeats," Tom said in a hushed voice.


Love doesn't even come close to the emotion I felt in that moment. The sight of our sweet baby's heart beginning to pulse made mine jump. My stomach fluttered. My eyes teared up. I squeezed Lucas's hand a little tighter. That is our baby! 
As the weeks wore on, the morning all-day sickness intensified and our little miracle continued to grow. At the next sonogram, though it was too early to tell based on anatomy, Tom predicted it would be a boy based on the location of the yolk sac in my uterus (how wild!). I even got to see our baby "dancing" as he wiggled his tiny arms in reaction to feeling vibrations as I spoke. And because Lucas couldn't be there that day, the session was recorded, so we forever have proof that Little Mouse started life dancing!
At 16 weeks, we were referred to Dr. Egley, a perinatologist in Peoria, for a routine anatomy scan. He had a "textbook perfect" heart and was growing wonderfully! In their attempts to snag a good profile picture, he started being a little stinker and turning constantly to face the transducer. He was our little Terminator baby for those pictures.
16 weeks pregnant: Terminator Baby in Repose
Not everything was picture-perfect, though. At that appointment, it was found that our baby had a blockage in his kidneys, stopping urine from flowing freely through his ureters. We were told, however, that it is something that normally clears up in utero and is more common with boys. They were right on both counts!

After several more OB appointments and surprise "guinea pig" sonograms with Tom, we returned to Dr. Egley at 32 weeks to check on baby's kidneys. One had cleared completely and the other showed marked improvement (kidneys et al ended up being PERFECT at birth).
32 weeks pregnant - FINALLY a good profile picture!

During the sonogram, the technician turned on the 3D and allowed us the special treat of seeing our baby's face for the very first time. It was magical!
We wondered endlessly who baby would look more like...
We spent hours after that sonogram studying the print-out we were given and comparing it to our baby photos. Who does baby look like? Does baby look more like a girl or a boy? We were captivated by our little wonder.

At 39 weeks exactly, my water broke and 12 hours later, we met the baby we had until that point been getting to know only through grainy black-and-white pictures.

Looking back at those snapshots of our baby before we knew him as "Little Mouse" fills my heart with so much emotion. I can't explain it, really. It's not love. It's not wonder. It's something so much deeper than I've ever felt. 

It's experiencing the Father in a whole new way.

My bold prayer while I was pregnant with Little Mouse is that he would bring people closer to God in his time here on Earth. I never in a million years dreamed that God would fulfill that prayer by impacting ME. And yet here we are, exactly one year since our baby boy came into existence, my relationship with the Father stronger than it ever has been - all because of him. God is so good!
It is amazing and so special that we got to know our baby so intimately before he arrived in our arms, and it is my prayer for his life that he will be for this world what we knew him first as: A little white swish in a sea of black.

 


Until Little Mouse lets me write again,

10.01.2013

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

"But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 
abstain from every form (or appearance) of evil."  
1 Thessalonians 5: 21-22

The Question is Asked... 

In February of this year, my husband worked as the sound engineer for EQUIP Ministries, an annual conference held for Christian teachers of all walks of life, from Sunday school teachers to ministers and everything in-between. After the event wrapped up, we had the honor of meeting and conversing with Christian apologist Eric Barger. We spoke at length about the direction of our country, the direction of the church, and a few questions that were on our minds at the time.

One of the questions we had been struggling with concerned decidedly "Eastern" practices (martial arts and yoga, specifically) and how I had believed that my "Scripture-centered yoga routine" helped heal my body and aided in our efforts to conceive. It wasn't until about a week before our discussion that I felt a giant question mark elbowing its way into that area; I had given a lot of credit to the yoga routine I had adopted and how it helped us get pregnant, but in retrospect, I wondered how much it actually deserved that praise.

Eric was very clear about yoga: NO. There is no such thing as "Christian yoga" or "non-Hindu" yoga. The fundamental intent of yoga is to obtain oneness with the universe through yoking with Hinduism's highest god, Brahman.  I asked how the positions could be harmful if, while doing them, I wasn't following what the instructor was iterating - empty your mind and breathe in strength and light, breathe out fear and negativity - but rather was focusing on my daily devotional and using the time as God-centered prayer meditation. He chuckled, "I've talked with so many Yogis who laugh in the face of that mindset, as well as the whole idea of this new 'exercise yoga' fad! They've been very clear that there's no breaking the two apart; with the positions comes the spirituality."

After a long discussion about yoga, its place in the New Age movement, and other implications, he directed me to his website which lists links and resources covering just such concerns. And, with that, I sat on my hands for several months before finally listening to the Holy Spirit's motivations and looking a little more into what seemed to me like nothing more than harmless stretching. 
(Romans 3:4)

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"Glossy" yoga, stripped
of its spiritual roots.
What's the harm in a little stretching?
(Because that's what they tell us we're doing - just some very intense stretching.)

Once I gave up trying to justify my actions, set in my routine and content to continue feigning ignorance, the answer was clear. What's the harm in "a little stretching?" The fact that yoga is not just "a little stretching" at all! Marcia Montenegro said it best in her 2004 article, "Yoga: From Hippies to Hip":
"Yoga has become so well packaged as an exercise that people even believe this was the original intent of yoga, often calling yoga 'stretching exercises.' People in the U.S. and other Western countries often do not realize that the yoga they call an exercise, actually hatha yoga ("ha" means "sun" and "tha" means "moon"), is just one of many forms of yoga designed for specific spiritual purposes."
But don't just take my or Ms. Montenegro's word for it - Hindu teachers the world over have spoken out against yoga's popular and "spiritually confused" status in YWCAs and gyms across the Western world:
“The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it
The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised
Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga."
          Professor Subhas Tiwari of Hindu University of America,
                                                   HinduismToday.com – 9/13/09
Even the Hindu American Foundation has taken a firm stance on the inseparability of yoga and its spiritual goals.[1] [2] Suffice it to say, all of the research that I did on yoga's roots and its fundamental intent led continually to the same conclusion: The physical exercises of yoga, however seemingly detached from Hindu spirituality, are designed specifically to prepare the body for the spiritual changes which yoga produces. Even the routines of the less overtly spiritual yoga offered at your local gym are fundamentally based on a series of postures that are offered to the 330 million Hindu gods.

With each new resource, the belief that one could somehow separate the mystical meditation from the physical stretches dissolved further, to the point that I finally saw the truth: the physicality and the spirituality go hand-in-hand. PERIOD.

So, what about the spiritual implications?

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Opening the door...to what?

While there may not be a "demon behind every bush," there genuinely are spirits, good and bad, behind every spiritual door we choose to open. This is why God warns us in 1 John 4:1 to "test the spirits" before opening ourselves and trusting things (whether it be in our daily practices, in prophecy, in entertainment, or otherwise). So, we have to wonder: what spirits are we potentially inviting into our lives by opening the spiritual door to our very beings through yoga?
Yoga's sole purpose is "enlightenment," defined by the Hindu religion as union with Brahman, Hinduism's highest god; in fact, the very word "yoga" means "union" or "to yoke" with the false gods of Hinduism. Yoga aims at complete numbness of the mind with the ultimate goal of transforming human consciousness in order to experience the Hindu god, which is a false god. That numbness of mind and exit from your physical being that yoga and deep meditation strives for opens the spiritual doorway, leaving the yoga practitioner vulnerable to whatever spirits come through that door...even (and more likely than not) unwanted ones.

When we compare the original, core purpose of yoga with God's desire for our lives, there is glaring conflict. God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through His Word (Romans 12:2). He does not want us to empty our minds to experience Him; quite the contrary, actually! He wants us to dig into His Word daily, both by reading our Bibles as well as through our daily walk and acts of worship.

So, contrary to what I had for so long believed, God will not honor your yoga routine any more than he would accept food that had already been sacrificed to idols. Is yoga a sin? Perhaps not, but consider 1 Corinthians 8:1-13:
"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled [how true is this in today's world??]But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 
When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall."
The words of the apostle Paul (inspired by God) are very clear here about how we are to lead others to Christ. Eating food that appears to be sacrificed to idols - or, in this case, taking part in a ritual that prepares the body to accept false gods - serves only as a stumbling block to those around us. It stands to reason, then, that if God does not want us to partake in activities that lead souls astray, he would not "meet us" during our yoga routines. 

And so, any spiritual experiences we feel in the midst of a yoga routine are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, but by something else entirely. Certainly we do not want to open the door to anyone other than the One True God!

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3 things to consider:

1. Well-known New Age guru Deepak Chopra admits to purposely sanitizing yoga to make it more palatable to "...evolve [yoga] to a secular spirituality that still addresses our deepest longings." [4] As Christians, our deepest longings are fulfilled through our relationship with God the Father through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior. Filling that God-shaped longing with anything less (in this case, the "peace" or "enlightenment" sought through yoga) is not only a disservice to our walk with Christ, but also teetering dangerously on the edge of spiritual upheaval. 

2. Romans 12:1 says we are to offer our body as a living sacrifice to God. Yoga practitioners do something similar by practicing the various yoga postures, as these postures were originally conceived of to open the individual to the 330 million gods of the Hindu faith. Acts 15:29 tells us to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, among other things; if we are to abstain from food offered to idols of false gods, shouldn't we treat our very souls as something even more precious and abstain from practicing postures and poses whose original intent was to offer our bodies to these false gods?

3. The very idea of seeking out enlightenment as defined by Hinduism and yoga runs counter to Christianity. "Enlightenment" in this context does not mean "full and complete knowledge or comprehension of a situation"; rather, enlightenment is defined as moksha. "Moksha" is the final extrication of the soul and the end of the suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and rebirth.[3] As Christians, we know that once our worldly walk is complete, there are no "do-overs." We are created in God's own image (Genesis 1:27) with one soul and one life to live.

And, even if the "enlightenment" sought was "full and complete knowledge or comprehension of a situation," it would still conflict with God's teachings and purpose for us. Evidence of this can be found in the very first book of the Bible. In an effort to be like God, Adam and Eve were tricked into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and subsequently brought the curse onto all of mankind (Genesis 3).

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So, why should we avoid yoga?  
(everything is lawful, but not everything edifies, right?)

1. It can affect our spiritual walk.
The angels of God are at war with the powers of darkness. Satan and his minions will use whatever they can to get to us. And while they can't possess believers, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit the moment we trust our salvation to Jesus Christ our Messiah & Savior, they CAN affect us & our spiritual life if we let them. I believe that they are more than capable of using a pagan religious practice we have convinced ourselves is "only exercise" to negatively affect our impact as soldiers of Christ.

2. Because our God covets our time.
As with any spiritual matter, we should look at what both sides have to say about it - what do the Hindus say about it, and what does the Bible say? It is tempting to entertain worldly arguments, but truly those only serve to muddy the waters. The Hindus say it is spiritual and that it is worship; God abhors the worship of false gods (demons, Deut 32:17); therefore,we should avoid yoga.

3. “I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's...”

Hindus believe it is a holy act and have been outspoken to this end. As such, we can no longer claim ignorance, and should therefore avoid yoga so as not to use our liberty to the hurt of others. (1 Cor 10:23-33)

4. To avoid being a stumbling block to Christian brothers & sisters AND unbelievers alike.
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” (1 Cor 8:9-11)

“Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Cor 8:13)

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”... “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:13, 16b)

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Our world runs rife with the lies of the evil one, perpetuated by a culture seeking something more, but running in the wrong direction. Striving always for self-fulfillment instead of residing in God's perfect grace, is it any wonder that our country is sprinting into darkness? Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6, NASB). Not through yoga. Not through meditation. Not even through church membership. Through JESUS. Accepting anything less is a farce.

My prayer is that you do not take what any one person says as incontrovertible fact - not even me! Test EVERYTHING against scripture. Ask the questions that too many are afraid to ask and in all things seek the truth that God has to offer. Never judge things against the standards of this world, for the world lies. The Word, however, never lies.

And so, I leave you with this:
"When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so."
Deuteronomy 18:9-14
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Citations:
[1] "Yoga Beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice." Hindu American Foundation. Hindu American Foundation, 2013. Web. 
          16 Sep 2013. <http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/yoga-hindu-origins>.
[2] "Take Back Yoga." Hindu American Foundation. Hindu American Foundation, 2013. Web. 16 Sep 2013. 
          <http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/takeyogaback>. 
[3]  Olson, David. "Remember yoga's roots, Hindus ask." The Record [North Jersey] 17 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Sep. 2013. 
          <http://www.northjersey.com/news/116383134_Remember_yoga_s_roots__Hindus_ask.html?page=all>.
[4] Miller , Lisa. "Clash of the Yogis." Newsweek. 14 May 2010. Web. 16 Sep. 2013. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/05/15/the-clash-of-the-yogis.html>.

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Scripture to consider:
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be heir God, and they will be my people."
              "Therefore come out from them
                and be separate,
                                                                      says the Lord,
                Touch no unclean thing,
                 and I will receive you."
                "I will be a Father to you,
                 and you will be my sons and
                 daughters,
                                                         says the Lord Almighty."
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (talking about sexual immorality, but this is applicable here, too)

1 Corinthians 10:18-22
"Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

1 Corinthians 10:23-31
"Everything is permissible" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" - but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake - the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

Colossians 2:8
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

1 Timothy 4:7-8
"Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."

1 Timothy 4:16
"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."

1 Peter 1:13-16
"Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy.""

1 John 4:1
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Romans 12:1-2
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed b the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Acts 15:29
"You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meet of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form (or appearance) of evil.

Deuteronomy 18:9-14
When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. 

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Suggested Reading:
Entertaining Spirits Unaware by Eric Barger & David Benoit