Pain As Preparation

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It should come as exactly zero surprise to me that just as soon as I climbed out of the postpartum trenches, God would have me dive right into another one.  There I was, enjoying the bliss that is daily life sans the fog, and God started bringing thoughts into my head.  I’ll spare you the details but God was very specifically calling me to give attention to an area of my life that I had kept secret (even from myself, which is impressive).  I was not exactly the most enthusiastic participant but I am blessed with great accountability in my life, and by telling my husband and my therapist (God bless these two.  They put up with a level of crazy that makes a Trump-Twitter-Tantrum seem reasonable) that meant I had to be brave and do the work.  I went from almost going bi-weekly with therapy to twice a week because I was a hot freakin’ mess.  I had long bouts of depression, thoughts of suicide, and nearly broke my 3 1/2 years of sobriety.

But something about this was different.

Had God called me through this 3 years ago I would have been convinced that He hated me and was punishing me.  God had used the challenges of the last few years to prepare me for this.  I trusted Him in a way I could not have before.  I knew I could call out in my shattered state and find sweet relief in the God Of All Comfort.  I knew I could bring my brokenness to Him and ask Him to bring healing to it.  I knew that God was doing something beautiful, even though it hurt worse and on a deeper level than I had ever experienced before.  He brought lies to the surface and spoke His tender truths to me, even when I could not believe Him.  I prayed for vulnerability and surrender before Him so He could have His way.  This wasn’t about punishment, this was about freedom.  God wanted me to be more His, and I couldn’t be with this burden I was carrying with me.

I worshiped deeper and more freely because now I knew the character of God; that He was big, mighty, and good.  God’s goodness is not defined by circumstances but by the truth of His Word and the accomplished work of the cross.  I knew these truths, I knew them deeply, despite the fact that none of these truths felt true.  My heart and mind didn’t know they were true, but my spirit surely did.  I kept telling myself in those I-can’t-take-any-more-of-this-I-want-to-quit moments that God has been faithful before, He will be faithful again.  I can trust Him.

So I dug and uncovered and wrote and cried and processed for nearly 6 weeks.  Imagine having to function when you feel like your body is full of bullet wounds.  That’s super neat.  But I had my closest friends, my sister, my husband…all praying me through this and pushing me to keep digging.  When I grasped at straws to take the pain away, they stood by me and helped me stand.  A season that is hard no longer means a season of destruction and self-defeat.  It means a season in which I get to know the very heart of God better and watch Him make beauty from a heap of ash.

Listen to me: God is for you.  He is for your healing; be it physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, whatever.  He wants all of you, and will compassionately but unequivocally tear down whatever stands in His way of the intimacy afforded you by the work of the cross.  His love is reckless and overwhelming and the cross proves that He stops at nothing to redeem His beloved.  If we let Him (heck, even if we don’t) He will demolish every stronghold that cuts us off from full intimacy with Jesus.  It is scary and painful to lay down the garments and marks that have fit us so comfortably, even though they’re slowly killing us.  But God rewards this surrender by covering us with His dignity and righteousness, and offers an abundant, intimate relationship with Himself for which there is no substitute.  I’ll leave you with lyrics that the Lord has sung over me in this season:

“There’s no shadow You won’t light up, mountain You Won’t Climb Up coming after me There’s no wall You won’t kick down, lie You won’t tear down coming after me” (Reckless Love, Cory Asbury)

Press on, dear ones.

 

 

 

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Pushing Through

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Something peculiar is happening.  About 2-3 weeks ago I realized that my thoughts were getting clearer, I was less compulsive about eating, I had the mental space to make decisions, and could string words together to make a sentence.

OH.MY.GOSH.YOU.GUYS

It’s happening!

I (finally) feel like I’m pushing up through the fog that has been over and around me for the last two years!  Things that would make me anxious and rage-y are but annoyances.  I have the desire to create again, to write again, and to connect again.  Having an awareness of what I was coming out of gives me a lot of perspective on that period of prenatal/postpartum craziness.  No freakin’ wonder I struggled so much with food!  I literally did not have the brain capacity for that level of thought processing.  I liken it to me asking my toddler to give me her dissertation on the social implications of Sesame Street and old-school Mr. Rogers.  She simply does not have the capacity because her brain isn’t there yet.  It would be cruel to expect that of her.  What she needs is nurturing, love, acceptance, discipline, and knowledge in order to grow into a healthy, strong woman who can give that dissertation if she so chooses (which would be pretty rad, not gonna lie).  My 2018 self wants to go back to my 2017 self and snuggle her tight; her mind and body were fighting for survival!  She wasn’t lazy, sloppy, gluttonous, or greedy.  She was a mother******* warrior that fought every day to be alive for her husband and kids.  Oh, the things I wish I could go back and tell her.

God has been so good, I could just shout.  He allowed that two-year, fog-covered hole where every attempt to get out of it was like trudging through molasses in winter.  He allowed it because I needed to see His faithfulness when my life was falling apart.  God allowed that season so I could experience what it felt like to hold on for dear life, with His arms holding me up, and His hands holding my brokenness together.  I needed that season when everyone seemed to have checked out, so I could work to create strong bonds with the people that matter.  God rendered me incapable of doing what I loved most so I could see that HE is what matters.  I know I still have a long, long way to go but I know the goodness of God in a way I never would have had I not gone on this detour.

Friends, I don’t know what season God has asked you to walk through but I will tell you this: He is faithful.  He has never let His people go, and He won’t start with you. But hope, dangerous word that it is, when placed in Christ Jesus does not disappoint.  Taste and see that He is good.

Hebrews 6:19a: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast.”

A Little Piece of My Heart

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I have a problem knowing I’m loved.  It’s a thorn in my side, if you will.  I went through a rough patch about 3 years ago when a set of circumstances had me shaken and stirred.

“God can’t possibly love me, I’m a hot mess.”  “His love is for others, not for me.”  “I am unlovable.”

This was the narrative that actively ran through my thoughts for what seemed like an eternity.  Satan was having his way with my heart and God was bringing out lie after lie that I had believed about Him, myself, and His goodness.  It was a necessary, albeit unpleasant, period of my life.  During this season we had one of the missionaries our church supports preach one Sunday.  50 cool points if you can guess the topic!  I sat both stunned and like a sponge soaking up the sweetness of the words that flooded my soul.  God, in His nature, is love.  His love is everlasting, steadfast, unyielding.  God’s love is merciful and unfailing in His lovingkindness and covenant devotion.   Matt shared the Hebrew word that encompassed, as best as humans can, the depth and breadth of God’s love:

“Chesed”   the Hebrew word looks like this: hebrew-mercy-grace

No, I didn’t spell cheese wrong; that’s an actual word.  If you need a crash course in the history of the Israelites, let me give you a summary: they were like a chronically unfaithful spouse that only comes around when they’ve gotten themselves into a pickle.  Israel was God’s chosen people, He loved them relentlessly in their wandering and unfaithfulness.  He let them sit in the consequences of their actions yet rescued them from the pit of utter despair so they would not be consumed.

Here is the Hebrew definition of chesed (translated as unfailing or lovingkindness in English):

“God’s unfailing love is that sure love that will not let Israel go.  Not all Israel’s persistent waywardness could ever destroy it.  Though Israel be faithless, God remains faithful still.  This love is the steady, persistent refusal of God to wash His hands of wayward Israel”

(If you’d like to read this in it’s entirety, here’s the link: www.bible-researcher.com/chesed.html)

Seriously, it was like I had been taken in and surrounded by wave after wave of the overwhelming love afforded me by God through Jesus Christ.  Nothing I could ever chase after would fill the void in my soul like the knowledge that I was not eligible to be rejected by God.  I quickly wrote the definition down in the back of my Bible where I write things I simply MUST remember.  I turned to that frequently in the coming year to reinforce in my spirit what my heart could not quite grasp.

Friends, this is the good news of the Gospel.  This love, this impossible-to-escape-from love is available to everyone who belongs to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  This void-filling love compelled God to send the very best of Himself in Jesus to die in our place so we could be called children and heirs of God Himself.  I’ve chased many, many things in my 32 years on this earth and nothing satisfies like Jesus.  He takes us where we are; we don’t have to clean ourselves up to be good enough for Jesus.  His love is free and freeing and let this wayward girl tell you: there’s nothing like it.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”   Romans 5:8

 

Acceptance and the Photo Shoot.

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Sometimes, we need to get out of our own heads.  I’ve been on that food struggle bus for months and so uncomfortable in my own skin.  I recently had a set of head shots done for another blog I’m writing for.  That was so, so hard.  I kept thinking back to 18 months ago when I was roughly 100 lbs lighter and at peace with my body (despite my hair falling out and being constantly cold.  We’ll get to that part later).  How was I supposed to be accepting of myself when I knew I was about to be surrounded by 30 other beautiful women?  It took a lot of convincing to not stay in bed and send a stick-figure drawing in my place.  I’m so glad I took part in this shoot.  Sometimes it’s good to sit in our discomfort, to acknowledge that we are not what we’d ought to be or think we should be, and still show up.  That day I showed up for the woman who, the year before, wasn’t sure she’d make it to this November.  I showed up for my girls who needed to see that you don’t have to be perfect to accept yourself.  I showed up for that other mom completely destroyed by mental illness.

I’m coming to accept that I am where I am.  My next attempt at being obedient with food will not look like my first.  I learned SO much in that first year.  I learned that I can make changes and live on far less than I was eating.  However, I learned that it is NOT normal to lose 80 pounds in 5 months.  It is NOT normal to lose your hair and the ability to control your body temperature.  It is NOT normal to be so nutrient-deficient that you’re dizzy and your fingernails are thin and breaking.  Oh, and I was a sanctimonious hag.  Yeah, my britches fit better but the changes I had made were way too sudden and not sustainable.

I look toward 2018 with knowledge that I did not have before.  I’m thinking “what changes are sustainable?”, “what can my lifestyle tolerate at this time?”, “what affect do my PPD meds have on my ability to ‘will’ myself to eat better?”  I swore up and down I’d never go back to my old ways, to be ketopaleovegansnuffalupagus for life.  I’d never touch dessert or carbs again.  You know what?  That works for people all over the world, which is great.  But that’s not what works long-term for me.  I’m not accountable to those people whom that lifestyle does work for.  I’m accountable to God.  And my fitness before God has everything to do with the cross and zero to do with me or my ability to survive on kale.

Press on, friends.  We’ll get this.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”   -Philippians 1:6

 

Some Perspective

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Whew!  I am 4 days into a better diet and I’ve been keeping a running list in my head of how eating crap makes me feel versus how eating nourishing things makes me feel.  I’ve tried to pretend that there wasn’t any difference except the level of deprivation.  That’s cute and all, but it didn’t change the fact that I was still riding the bus to the land of Denial.  So I kept this list in my head and decided to put it on paper so I could visualize it.

Good night, Nancy.

When I’m eating garbage my mind isn’t right, my emotions aren’t right, my body acts a dang fool.  When I’m eating well I feel more in control of my thoughts and emotions.  I can use those coping skills I’m sure I have somewhere.  I have less anxiety about food because I am not looking for a fix to make my brain shut up, I am looking for something to nourish my body because the Temple of the Holy Spirit needs nourishment rather than poison masquerading as nourishment.

Now, let’s be real for a minute.  You’ll see that deprivation is in both columns.  That’s because I am hungry all.the.time.  I think my body is broken in that sense but at least I can tell myself that I’ve nourished my body and I will be just fine.  Also, I’ve learned that my danger zone is after the kids go to bed because I can have a little space and not be a human jungle gym.  This time is my danger zone because it’s when I tend to eat garbage.  I’ve tried being a nice-hot-cup-of-tea kind of gal, a sparkling-water kind of gal, a little-treat-turned-whole-pan-of-chickpea-blondies kind of gal, and I’ve come to accept that this will always be a hard time of day for me.  Some nights I make good choices and just try to enjoy the time alone with reruns of Big Bang Theory and others I rage clean the house that has been destroyed by both small humans and big dog, while others I make crappy–very crappy–choices.  Hopefully I’ll get a little consistency, someday.  But, there are things I know will always end in disaster like portion control (I hate that word) and moderation (that one, too).  But really, none of this is actually about food; it’s about learning to cope with life in ways that honor God–with God–out of the abundance of relationship with Him rather than in effort to have communion with Him.

Press on.

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Unseen

I love retreat weekend.  It’s been a wonderful time to get with other women, have great fellowship, laughs, and encounter God.  I missed last year’s because I was 59 months pregnant and it was out of town but this year it was close to home and I was so excited.  It had been a busy Friday and I thew the kids at the husband, sprayed some perfume to make sure I didn’t smell like diapers, and left.  The PPD/PPA had been SO much better and I was ready to rejoice in that.  But as I walked into the room, I saw a sea of beautifully adorned, sane women and I immediately felt out of place.  I made conversation with people and had my table laughing because it was the best defense against the lies that were filling my mind in those moments.  Worship started, my favorite time, and I knew something was wrong.  My eyes started welling up, my throat got tight, and it felt like a bowling ball was going to lodge itself in my throat.  I was having a panic attack.  I darted into an empty room and cried and heaved until there was nothing left.  I had never had a panic attack before (I’ve seen plenty of them in my work; it really does feel like a heart attack!)  I took my seat when I heard there was transition in activity, only to grab my purse and leave.  But there was no way to do this gracefully.  The speaker got up and I tried to pay attention.  She kept calling me out and while I’m totally fine with it normally, all I could think was “please, you can do this any other time, just not NOW!”  I prayed for the next transition, and I ran.  I ran away from something I loved.

And nobody noticed.  Not one person.

This was a stark reminder that I am not the same person I was 2 years ago.  I felt so totally out of place physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  I had nothing to offer, so it felt like I started every conversation.  I felt like a stranger among friends.  Nevermind that I just survived 1 1/2 years of the psychiatric hell that nearly killed me on a number of occasions.  Nevermind that I’ve drawn boundaries on toxic relationships and have really great friends and family.  Nevermind that I’m able to serve and give back, something that I have so missed when my mind was on vacation.  I felt irreparably broken, and nobody noticed.  I sat in that for a few days until I realized that I have been the one, on far too many occasions, who didn’t notice that person in the room struggling.  The one who was smiling through terror and pain, because it interfered with my schedule, my spiritual high, my priorities.  My.  Me.  I.

Heaven help me, I can be so blind and selfish.  I’ve spent the last year being ignored and I am not a fan of how it feels.  I can’t take those experiences and do nothing with them.  I have an understanding now that I didn’t have before.

Stumbling on grace

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Growing up, my family bred cocker spaniels and later, basset hounds (and by bred I mean nature took it’s course and we had a litter of puppies every year).  My sister and I loved the puppies and treated them like we were going to keep them forever.  My favorite thing was watching puppies learn to walk.  Bless their little hearts, they would get all 4 feet up just to have all 4 feet slide out from underneath them in a defeated little ‘thump’.  My child’s heart wanted to pick those puppies up and carry them wherever they needed to go for the rest of their furry little lives.  However, dad knew that the puppies had to stumble if they were ever going to learn to walk.  The compassionate thing was to let them try and try again, tripping over their basset hound ears and flomping on to the newspaper in their room.  It’s a “give a man a fish” situation, if you will.

I’m feeling like a puppy.  Somewhere in me found the strength to get off sugar again.  However, something is different.  Where my feet stumble and I eat my feelings, I don’t have to stay down and God’s view of me is no different than if I did the Daniel and lived on vegetables.  I don’t have to do this perfectly nor is my worth dependent on what I eat.  I’m like a little pup who gets up on their feet and runs excitedly only to trip on his ears; only now I’m falling into a soft place.  A soft place where I better understand that this is a process, and a messy one at that.  A place where I don’t have to mirror anyone else’s journey just like they don’t have to mirror mine (I don’t recommend it).  This soft space cushions the blow of failure and assures me that I can try again.  This soft place is grace.  There is such freedom in knowing that my failures and God’s love are not mutually exclusive.

This week, we had a potluck at work.  My sweet coworker unknowingly brought in my Achilles Heel: the cookie cake.  I believe my reaction upon seeing it was an audible “get thee behind me Satan!” as I sat down with my giggling work mates and munched on strawberries like a daggum squirrel.  Literally, the entire time I was at the table there was this war in my brain of “how can I plot and scheme to get my fix” and “I don’t have to have that.  I don’t have to give into the compulsion; I won’t die and it is ok”.   I simultaneously wanted to eat that cookie and light the thing on fire.  but in the end, I chose freedom.  Did my flesh and raging brain regret that?  You bet your sweet Aspercream it did.  Did my spirit?  No.  The quiet place inside of me was comforted, and I felt strong for the first time in nearly a year.  I was up on all 4 legs and it felt good.

So these newborn puppy legs will keep pressing on, learning how to walk while falling onto the soft pillow of grace when I stumble.

Press on, friends.