Monday, November 25, 2013

In Case You've Forgotten: Beautiful Things

I want to follow up the last post with something that's difficult to learn, but wonderful to receive when you finally allow yourself to receive it...

No matter what you've done, how deep of a hole you're in, who you've become, what you've endured YOU CAN BE MADE NEW.  Your life can change.  You can find joy and peace.  HE MAKES BEAUTIFUL THINGS OUT OF US!

Here's a song.  I feel like someone needs to hear it and make it the soundtrack of their lives.  Is it you?

Beautiful Things by Gungor

All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all.

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

You make beautiful things.
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things.
You make beautiful things
out of us.

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground.
Out of chaos life is being found
in You.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things
Out of us.

You make me new.
You are making me new!
You make me new.
You are making me new!

He makes all things new.....even you, dear one.  Even me.  Even us.

Confessions of the Damaging Place: A Path to Healing

Words paint meager pictures for the hell one endures when experiencing eating disorders or severe body-issue trauma.  I have to try, though.  I have to take your hand and lead you down to the Damaging Place and ask you to please look upon the hurt of another so that your compassion can grow, and healing can become complete for me, for you, for us.  This is not a pity party.  This isn't an over-dramatization.  I don't want you to feel bad for me, or for we who have endured such things; I want you to be aware and loving-minded.

Imagine a force so evil and so cunning that it sneaks upon you like a big cat on a lovely hike.  The force can be sudden, but it can also be gradual.  It can strike in the middle of sorrow.  It can beat you down in the middle of the most joyful day.  It is a tight grip that strangles you after you've fallen from the first blow; the familiar choke around the neck squeezes ever tighter, evoking the pain you've been stuffing into all the caverns of your heart.  You look around in anguish and panic, seeing life go on around you as usual.  To protect those around you in the "real" world, you shut down so that this experience is yours and yours alone; the shame, mixed with the likelihood of hurting those you love, keep you from screaming for the one thing you most desperately want....HELP, PLEASE!  But no - you don't cry out.  You walk down to the Damaging Place all alone.  With head down, heart forlorn, spirit trying to pull you back up from the stone steps of torture, you trudge down darkly-painted steps toward your torment.  You know this place as your place now, without knowing how you let it get this far.  All around you, life is happening normally, but you are sucked inside of another dimension; being two places at once, people see a look in your eyes of sickness, of eeriness, and they wonder whether to ask about it.  But, being polite and loving of you, they don't ask, so to spare you any embarrassment.  It's an act of kindness they don't ask, but you want them to ask so bad; you are clawing the sides of the pit of torture and need a way out -- but you will not ask for help; it NEEDS to come to you.  Strangely, you don't even know if you would be honest about your goings-on, and on the rare occasion someone does ask, you lie because you are afraid and ashamed.  This hell is yours, and no one should be exposed to it because they will either hurt or they won't understand, and either scenario is too painful for you to imagine.  When purging your dark secrets, the most frightful thing to endure is someone looking at you with confusion and offering a simple solution ("I'll pray for you."  "I'm sorry to hear what you're going through."  "Well, couldn't you try ____[something too surprisingly simple that you tried as an infant in this struggle___]?").  That means you failed to describe this pain, to the point that it seems trivial to the outsiders.  And this adds to the shame.  The force attacks you stronger after such conversations, and it is no one's fault as far as you can tell.  You want to have them imagine this:

This invisible force picks you up by one leg and dangles you over the pit of raging, vicious, biting, scorching, unbearable suffering.  You are forced to look at images that make you feel weak and ugly and tired and overwhelmed.  You look down into the moving pictures beneath you and see yourself squeezing the fat on your stomach, arms, thighs.  It bulges between your fingers mockingly. You are injected by the biggest needle with the desire to have that "fat" all gone so that bones grin evilly through your skin.  You see images of those more beautiful than you, laughing with their fake-white teeth, their bronzed and thin bodies; you see your boyfriend or your husband looking at them lustfully.  You are shown the things you've done wrong - the times you lost your patience while mothering, the moment you chose to be lazy instead of do an extra workout, the way your fat rolls over your pants when you slouch, the times you spoke disrespectfully to someone you love, every morsel of food you ate that day (if you chose to eat at all).  The words ugly, weak, unworthy, fat, lazy, undeserving, bad mom, b*tch, stupid, hate myself hate myself hate myself are all planted in your mind and labeled "REAL".  And you cry and you cry and say stop stop stop, but you feel you are all alone.  No one is there to heroically swing from a branch and swoop down and save you because you've blocked them all out from this place.  The people saw your barricades, said "okay", and respectfully walked away.  So here you are, and you don't know how long this will last, or how frightfully-altered you will be when you finally leave the Damaging Place for awhile (never long enough).

Pretty soon, you become used to this Place and you start owning it, pulling in your couches, chairs, draperies, and cosmetics; you're going to be living here.  I used to be so scared when my aunt started saying "my cancer" when talking about the cancer attacking her body.  "NO!" I wanted to yell, "It is not yours!"  But I now realize it was the same when I would accept these attacks as something for me, a struggle of mine alone.  The injections of thin-desire coursed through my veins, and the images shown to me in the pit were now persistently running through my mind like an old picture movie.  I let this life choose me instead of choosing against it.  I didn't know there were options. Even my counselors told me that I would NEVER live without ED (eating disorders) again; I would simply learn how to fight "him."  Do you know what incredible pressure that puts on a young woman?  I know they didn't mean to, but they made me think I had to take ownership of my eating disorders instead of disown them.  I believed that every day of my life would be a fight and a battle.  How did I get so tired as such a young girl?  So cynical?  So easily-offended?  So angry?  When you believe you're fighting a battle of your own every day, one that you can't even describe to other people (even your counselors), you become a different sort of person.  I thought everything else was fading: joy, kindness, laughter, friendships -- when you think you're fighting for your life (and I was), you believe that the good things are fleeting and the bad return like a promised future.  You own a life of fear.  And I was so scared.

I was scared of gaining weight.  I was scared of my family commenting about my looks.  I was scared of what would happen if I skipped a day of exercise.  I was scared I would have to buy new jeans.  I was scared of grocery stores.  I was scared of driving alone.  I was scared that something terrible would happen to my son while he was gone from me (control is very important to a person with eating disorders).  I was scared that my friends would abandon me.  I was afraid if I gained weight, and someone saw me, they would wonder what happened to the beautiful girl (the skinny one).  I was scared of cupboards, refrigerators, crowded places, restaurants... I was scared of most things.  I was even scared of God.

I told NO ONE of my fears.  I didn't even tell God for a few years.  He knew, as He always does, but He was waiting for me to confess.  You see, He chose not to heal me until I truly wanted it and admitted my weaknesses, because His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  After owning the Damaging Place, I even tried to keep Jesus out.  If I am honest with you, I really did "see" Him and feel His
presence as I was dangling above the pit of torment, but I wouldn't take His hand because I thought He would make me do the things that I regarded as too difficult: face my fears, eat more, become radically healed and different...gain weight.  Not understanding the Lord enough, I thought He would make me do those things alone, at a pace too quick for me.  Knowing the Lord now, I know that taking His hand meant that He would restore me in His perfect way and not let go of my hand.  It took years of unneeded horror for me to realize this, to give Him the control over this area of my life.

But OH!  The glory of His presence and hand in my life is more than I can even describe!  The deliverance of that ugly disease was at a perfect pace, a manageable pace, to where I look back and think, I don't even remember going from not eating and counting every calorie, to the point where I am now.  I don't remember realizing my brain is working normally again, giving signals for hunger and fullness, when that function used to be totally lost.  God is sensitive to us, even in our weaknesses in which we fail many times on our own.  He is patient and kind and good, and to Him be the glory for my deliverance.  It is nothing I did, but all His doing.  All I did was give up, and ask Him for help sincerely.  He picked me up and helped me walk through the dust and blood of my loneliness, showered me in His grace and holiness, and guided me down the right paths, battling the danger for me along the way.  He provided the right people to be my friends, He showed me the good food that He made and helped me to enjoy it (go natural!), He provided me enough time to have a balanced exercise routine, He kept pointing toward hope whenever I would falter.  I finally realize it's not about me, but about God's love and restoration, so that I can help others and bring more people to Him.  He loves us, and calls us to do more than live for ourselves.  And for these things and more, I will praise Him my whole life and point others to Him.

Speaking of others, God taught me things about healing through other people.  I had partners (friends!) to walk alongside me because He put them in my path.  I experienced unconditional love in heavenly proportions, and through this, I learned to love myself and others more deeply and thoroughly.  I did not meet one person who also had eating disorders, but people who were magnificently healthy in their way of thinking about and "doing" eating.  Through these people, I learned about organic and whole foods, eating when hungry and stopping when full, gardening, eating on special occasions, eating everyday foods, homemade cooking, and how to see God's design in how we nourish ourselves.  That may sound like the silliest thing you've ever heard, but eating disorders had maliciously stolen all of my abilities to rationalize nourishment.  Everything I had learned about eating in the 16 years before eating disorders was lost, and I have just recently regained the ability to eat "normally" -- TEN years later.  Because of God's sensitivity to my human concerns and weakness, He allowed this process to be gradually transformational.  I could not have done it without the friends he sent my way, along with the relentless love of my family.

It wasn't until I started confessing my pain and torture and, let's just call it like it is...SIN, to others that I felt the fresh breeze of healing begin to wash over me.  I wish I could say that I was healed in private, still able to hide my cuts, gashes, and scars from those closest to me, but I wasn't.  I was healed on the battleground.  James 5:16 says this: "Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."  When I began opening up to others, and praying to God for healing in the meantime, He started to use those people to lift my eyelids to reveal the truth.  They lovingly stitched my gaping wounds, calling me "beautiful" the whole time, while stroking my hair and reteaching me about the world around me.  Some people prayed with me and for me; others were God's instruments of healing in other ways.  I tell you the truth: James 5:16 is alive and real.  Find someone to share your pain with, a righteous person who will pray for you, who will keep it confidential (no gossip!), and will love you unconditionally.  You don't have to battle this on your own; this is not your battle.  God is more powerful than any struggle we face...ANY STRUGGLE.  And He is for you, not against you, even if you're filled with shame.  How would you treat your son or daughter in the midst of a life-changing trial?  With love.  And how much greater is God?  Infinitely.  Again, He is for you.

If you have been a true friend, a family member, or a loving acquaintance of mine (or my husband! Wink, wink, Ben!) anytime from when I was 16 until now... I want you to know that God used you as a powerful tool in my life, even if you weren't aware of it.  I have learned from each and every one of you what it is to be free and lovely.  God looked down and said, "That person!  She needs that person!" and our paths crossed.  Your impact in my life is eternal, and because of you, I am now able to help others in this struggle.  Thank you.  With all my loving heart, I thank you.

So I challenge you, dear reader, confess.  You might not have eating disorders or body image problems, but you might struggle with depression, addiction, self-doubt, faith, relationships, motherhood, a too-busy schedule, commitment, adultery, anger ... the list goes on.  Confess to God and receive His grace, and then find someone to talk to about your struggles.  It's not a pity party to tell someone about the demons raging against you; it's a path to healing, and a certain way to quiet those demons forever.  You don't have to whine or over-dramatize anything.  You just have to say it -- get it out of your soul and let the angels slay it in mid-air.  You aren't alone.  You. Aren't. Alone.

Please watch the link below.  You may have seen this.
How do you see yourself?  What beauty about you can be revealed through the eyes of another?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Letter of Remembrance and Encouragement

Dear Friends,

Recently, my beloved Aunt Sue passed away.  I remember the first night I started praying for her over 13 years ago.  My dad told me that she had breast cancer, and in anguish I felt the first taste of cancer's bitterness.  The "it's-not-fair", the "anyone-but-her", the "God-why-can't-you-just-take-it-away"... I made a bed on the floor in my room and let salt water gush from my eyes while praying that Sue would be healed, that I wouldn't lose my loving aunt.  I prayed for her almost every night for over 13 years.

Sue and Matt
Sue and Sarah
She did overcome breast cancer, and was in remission for a few years.  We were happy and inspired for a time.  Then, she was afflicted by a different, much more rare type of cancer.  She was miraculously healed (we gave thanks to God).  But then cancer attacked her again...and again.  I'd be lying if I didn't sometimes say, "WHY, GOD?!  Why would You heal her, and then take her healing away?  WHY!  I don't understand..."  To me, evil people could have such torment, but not Aunt Sue; she wasn't evil, she was lovely and kind.  

After years of on-and-off treatments for various types of cancer, Sue recently had one last shot at remission.  She took it, knowing that the outcome would either equal life...or death.  They did it!  They got rid of the cancer!  But it wasn't enough.  In the end, cancer didn't take her earthly life.  Her body just sort of shut down, and I understand how that could happen with all she's been through!  The last month really just had me praying, "God, let Your will be done.  If You are calling her Home, take her Home without suffering.  Your will, not ours."  Even though it made me feel pain to pray that, I knew that everything she would experience in heaven would be SO MUCH GREATER than anything Earth had to provide.  

Sue's funeral was beautiful.  People talked about her unconditional, endless love.  People sang her songs.  People joked about her love of peacocks and purple, and "anything obnoxious."  Her children (all grown up) recounted stories of her joy over them...even about the snacks they ate!  Her husband, my uncle, talked about her faith.  Everyone agreed that Sue had heavenly love for everyone she encountered.  She had the heart of Jesus.

My cousin Matt told us that in Sue's last days, she had awoken for brief moments.  One time she said that she had seen Jesus.  The next time she said she wanted to go back and be with God.  My heart nearly stops when I think about this.  Sue had held on for SO LONG, battling with all her might every day so that she could continue to be with her family...and now she had found something for which it was worth letting go; she found her Home.  What would she say if she could speak to us from her side of heaven?

I think she would weep and tell us it's all real.  She would encourage us to remain true to our faith.  She would beg us to evangelize, to bring the lost back to the Father.  I think she would make it seem like it's the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS..... because it's true.  I can't say any of this for sure.  But I knew my Aunt Sue; she would want everyone to experience the joy that she now has.

I have a friend named Alex who respectfully challenged Christianity (many times).  He once argued that Christians don't really believe in heaven and hell, or they at least don't believe in hell.  I said, "I do.  Why do you think Christians don't believe in that?  It's in the Bible."   Let me paraphrase his response:
Ok, let's just say I'm a Jewish person in Nazi Germany.  I live in a Jewish community, my family is Jewish, and I know what the Nazis do to my people.  Now, let's imagine that I've been told information about an upcoming Nazi rampage on our community; they are secretly plotting to come and get us - to either kill us or take us to a concentration camp.  Wouldn't I run to my people, screaming at the top of my lungs that we HAVE TO GET OUT OF THERE!  I would make sure every single person knew what was going to happen to them so that they could get out and be saved.  I would die trying if I had to.  Christians don't do that.  If they believed in hell, they would be like that Jewish person who knew the Nazis were coming.

WOW.  My perspective changed in that moment.  WOW.  Wowowowowowow! I had never thought of it like that.  My friends have always known I'm a Christian -- but was I trying to save them if they didn't know Christ?  No.  I was always afraid of bull-dozing people with my faith.  I thought that too many Christians come off as condemning, judgmental hypocrites.  I didn't want to be like that!  But apathetic about their eternal souls?!  No way.  I didn't want to be like that, either!

So, friends, here I am to tell you that I believe that Jesus died for our sins and he is THE way to heaven.  I believe that to know him is to be saved.  I believe that if you accept him into your life, you will experience eternity in heaven; your soul will not perish, and you will not suffer in hell.  But you have to answer to God's call to your heart.  He already knows you; He's already been trying to speak to you.  You have to answer.  Furthermore, there is a very REAL evil force in the world, a force that desires to forsake your soul.  There is an entire army that is without God and against God, and they want you to join their side.  They are speaking to you, too, if you let them.  They are telling you you're not good enough, you're not pretty enough, you're not smart enough, you're talent-less and useless...or maybe they're even telling you that you're TOO smart for that stuff; only an illogical, needy imbecile would believe an invisible Being created everything and also loves you.  If you've read my other blog entries, you know that I have suffered at the hands of the evil army.  I still call upon the Lord to help me fight them each day.  He wins.  Every.  Time.

In any case, there's a battle raging for your soul.  Can't you feel it sometimes, the discontent, the irritability, the there-must-be-something-more?  We can't ignore it.

If you are reading this and you're a nonbeliever, or even a compromising believer (i.e. One who says, "I believe in all that, but I also believe in many other 'roads.'"), then I want to be the Christian that my friend didn't believe was out there.

I am running to your village. I am screaming down every street. I am crying out to you: There is an eternity, and you have two choices!  If you stay this way, you will suffer.  If you stay here, you will die.  But, friends, I love you too much to let that happen!  I have but one earthly life to tell you the things of heaven, to tell you there's a Savior -- there's a way out of this mess of doom!  This Savior restores, he knows your name, he protects you from evil.  He does not make your life perfect, but he is perfect and will guide you through every struggle.  I would not say this if I didn't believe it with all that I am.  You are too precious to pass up!   Your life is at stake!  Choose life

It's about the ultimate Love Story:

"This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:13-19 [emphasis mine]

I can't wait to meet my Lord face-to-face someday. I can't wait to see Sue, my grandmothers, and many others in heaven. I believe that I will. God wants a relationship with His people because He loves us. He welcomes us into the Kingdom, and we will have a dwelling place that is full of joy.

There, I've said it. I pray that anything I've said matters to God, so that He can speak to you more clearly about His purpose for your life. You were bought at a price because you're precious to Him. He cares. He speaks from the sunrise and the stars, from the oceans and trees, from your heart and mine.

Dedicated to my aunt, Susan Vinson: a message I know she would want me to send.
Susan Vinson, the woman who loved like Jesus does