You and Me

You and Me

Seven years ago, you came to my birthday party.  We posed for a picture on our friend’s couch–our first picture together.  I had known you for about nine months, but my 28th birthday was when I really saw you for the first time–your gentle eyes, your welcoming, slightly unsure smile, your genuine spirit.

I went to treatment that summer, and when I returned in the fall, you would drive through my Starbucks on your way back to the Seminary dorms from the gym.  I would vehemently bash the “money-hungry, manipulative, scheming” local gym as I handed you your coffee out the drive through window, and you would good-naturedly chuckle and wave goodbye.  I thought you were sweet and cute, but you seemed too kind and wonderful for someone like me, someone wrestling a ferocious eating disorder, nagging depression, and the mind-vice of anxiety.  I was someone with a million ghosts following her around, not nearly holy enough for you, a committed missionary, student of the Word, and overall wonderful guy.  And yet…

I told my co-worker that I liked you while he and I were switching over the coffee urns.  I imagine it was that same day that you were bargaining with God, asking Him to either give you a sign that I could possibly like you, or to take your attraction to me away entirely.  Because really, when we whittle it down, we are all insecure in our own ways.  While I was busy thinking that you were too good for me, you were having the same self-depreciating thoughts.  You thought that I would never date anyone like you.  It’s silly, isn’t it?  The way we almost wrote one another off because we disliked ourselves so much?

So you had your little “once-and-for-all” with God, and I, in a not-so-holy or prayerful way, gave Justyn permission to set us up.

You were sitting at Panera when Justyn ran into you.  He mentioned that I liked you, and you breathed a “thank-you” prayer to God.

We argue about who asked who out first.  We made our first date arrangements through Facebook messenger.  I was sitting at Solomon’s Porch, our local coffee shop beside the Seminary, and you were hanging out at the Starbucks where I worked.  I said that we should get together sometime, and you said, “Great! How about Friday night?”   I think that we both kind of asked each other out at the same time, but I did bring up the topic.  You set the date.  I think that we both get credit for setting the first date.

We went on our first date in the beginning of October, 2010, and I knew that I could marry you. Me, the girl who didn’t trust anyone, especially males.  Me, the girl who up until that moment was fully in love with her eating disorder and her rigid routine, who couldn’t be disturbed by something as binding as a relationship.  Me, the girl who couldn’t help but gag at the thought of holding hands with a man. Yet, there you were, the man that would change my life entirely.

You asked permission to hold my hand in November, and I said yes.

You asked permission to kiss me in December, and I said yes.

You asked permission to marry me in January, and I said yes.

My world was expanding.  That seems to be what relationships do to a person–make them bigger.  

 

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Things like eating disorders are threatened by relationships, however, and mine decided to throw a curve ball.  As we planned our wedding, we also planned for me to go back to treatment for a while to get back on track.  Our wedding was scheduled for the end of May, and  I entered treatment in mid-March.  We didn’t expect for my stay in treatment to span as long as it did.  Our wedding day came and went, and I remained in the hospital, much sicker than we thought that I was.  Our wedding colors were silver and plum.  The invitations were beautiful.  Everything was ready, except for me.  I was trapped.  You encouraged me to stay in treatment for as long as the team felt was best, and I complied.  I wanted a chance at a real life with you more than I wanted an elaborate wedding, so I fought with all of my might to heal.   We knew that our marriage was not about the ceremony, but I did have to grieve the loss of my dream wedding.

I was discharged from the hospital on August 18, 2011, almost three months after our wedding had initially been scheduled, and we were wed in a courthouse in the presence of three of our very best friends on August 19th.   There was no wedding party, no plum or silver decorations, and we didn’t even have any family attend. We were wed nonetheless, and I became your wife–one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

My love, our life has been so beautifully messy.  Your light invaded a pretty  dark story.  And your light has illuminated my life so greatly that it seems that the darkness has fled. All is grace, and you are no exception, my dear.  You are a picture of God’s grace.  Your presence is evidence that we have a miracle-working God, and since you came into my life,  I have become keenly aware of the beauty of the miraculous.

It is chaos,  with two wild children, 2-5 bunnies depending on the day, two cats (to whom we are all probably allergic), and a fish that we never really signed up for.  We didn’t expect for the eating disorder to rear it’s ugly head again during our first year of marriage and sweep me off to five more months of treatment, and we certainly did not anticipate diagnosis upon diagnosis that we have receive since the births of our children.   We continue to, however, come out stronger and more complete as the years of obstacles pile one upon the next. As God’s gift of grace to me, you are a picture of grace as you weather these storms with courage, compassion, and wisdom.

I tried to warn you before you married me.  I remember sitting in the Panera with you–the same Panera where God used Justyn to answer your ultimatum.   I told you that I was a mess, and I couldn’t promise that life with me would be simple.   I felt the need to give you as much of a head’s up as possible, so you could back out with complete dignity if you didn’t feel up to the challenge of me.  I was shocked when you unflinchingly maintained my eye contact and assured me that you loved me and would navigate life with me, no matter what might arise.  You weren’t scared of my ugly, and you didn’t run away.  I never had dreamed that I was worth fighting for.

You haven’t run away, and frankly, I am still shocked.  I never ventured to hope that my life could be as rich and meaningful as it is today, only seven years after that birthday party where we had our first picture taken together.

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When Love Invades

When Love Invades

“The only way to avoid brokenness is to avoid love.” Ann Voskamp

My life was much simpler before I surrendered myself to love.   I felt in control. There were fewer risks. I seemed to dodge profound suffering by remaining disconnected. I could focus on tasks, schedules, rules, and navel-gazing. I filled all the relationship-holes with to-do lists and perfectionistic standards.   My walls were solid, thick, and sky-high. I called them boundaries, but they created an air-tight fortress. I pushed away the nagging inkling that my fortress was actually a prison. I ignored the signs that in my effort to avoid the risk of suffering, I was creating a suffocating environment of agonizing emptiness. I believed that I was protecting myself, but I was actually killing myself by starving my spirit of the community that it so desperately needed.

Without the influx of unsolicited grace, I would have remained in this emotional paralysis, pretending that I was safe and sound in my isolation. In the way that only the King of love can accomplish, love nudged its way into my fortress. I unassumingly yielded to its influence and slowly allowed it to help me transform my fortress into a lovely little cottage with a white picket fence. As I had feared, love came with hurt and suffering. I also discovered that love is profoundly worth the suffering that holds its hand. You cannot enter into love without the risk of loss, and this is terrifying. My fortress came down. I chose to respond to the unsolicited grace of love, and I risked everything. To my surprise, I gained the keys to the Kingdom by choosing love. Love became the key that unlocked my heart of fear and darkness. With the turn of the love in keyhole of my heart, the light of true life invaded and allowed heaven into my earthly existence. Where my world was flat, it gained dimensions. Where it was shades of grey, it flooded with brilliance and color.

It is terrifying to step out onto the uncertainty of letting ourselves be known and caring for others. It is terrifying, but it is absolutely what we were created to do. We were created to love and to receive love, imaged after the Triune God, the perfect picture of inter-dependent community.

C. S. Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” Yet. He. Loved. He loved and lost, and he would have done it again. Jesus loved, and He was crucified. “There is no fear in love” because love is the code that breaks fear and death.

When You are Broken and Untouchable

I am typing this post with about 30 percent vision in my left eye, fingers trembling because of my body’s crazy reactions to Percocet, and with a mid-grade fever.  Do you want a taste of what an end-of-the-world outbreak might look like?  Brush shoulders (or share some breathing space) with someone with EKC. Epidemic Karatoconjunctivitis is a freak version of pink eye, completely viral, resistant to all antibiotics and virtually any form of treatment.  In most of its victims, it attacks both eyes and shoots tiny razors into your corneas until you scream and run, begging someone to dig your eyes out of your head with melon scoopers (Well, at least that is my response).

Our youngest began his journey with this beastly mutation of pink-eye on the first day of our vacation, roughly two and a half weeks ago.  I watched as his eye disappeared. His cheek and eyelid slowly swelled to the point that they swallowed up his poor flaming red eye. 17 hours away from home and with no out-of-state insurance coverage, we sent pictures to every medical professional we knew. We began with eye drops, to no avail.  We progressed to oral antibiotics and watched the poor baby continue to suffer.  We breathed a corporate sigh of relief as we cross state lines back into our home state and promptly took him straight to the doctor the day after we arrived home.

After unnecessary delay, they admitted the poor child to the pediatric unit of our hospital with a diagnosis of pre-septal cellulitis, and a plan to run a round of IV antibiotics.  Evidently, you don’t mess around with eyes and babies.  I am glad.  I felt better to have him under more consistent care.  In addition, giving a child under the age of two burning steroid eye drops is not a feat for the faint of heart (or weak of arm muscles).  By this point, my husband had the infection in both eyes.  He spent the night in the hospital with our baby, while I stayed at home with our three-year-old daughter. My heart was ripped in half to leave our sweet little one, but his daddy was taking great care of him.  And I got to cuddle with my darling girl for two nights in a row.

My infection began 11 days ago, and of course, as evidenced clearly in the history of our family illnesses, I had to get hit the hardest.  As pointed out by our eye doctor and good friend, there is no “normal progression of an illness” for me.  I am so far beyond normal that no one knows what to expect when I get sick.  Our daughter’s eye began to get pink when my eyes started to manifest symptoms, and thankfully, hers has been the most mild case of the family.

It has been documented that in several other countries, EKC is a category IV communicable illness where all cases must be reported and quarantined for 2-3 weeks.  Our country is not as strict, but it probably should be.  You know that no one wants you around when the eye doctor doesn’t allow you to sit in his waiting room, and your PCP sweeps you back before you can say hello when you walk into her office.  I would say that it makes me feel special, but that would be the wrong word.  Talk about feeling like an “untouchable!” Maybe this is what leprosy felt like.  Thank goodness, this diagnosis only secures a quarantine of 14 days!

The day that I crossed the line into end-of-the-world-epidemic-level-scared was the day that my eyes started to BLEED.  When you start crying blood, you start envisioning all of those apocalyptic contagion movies that you saw as a teenager and young adult, or start wondering if you are becoming a zombie who may develop an insatiable craving for brains when she wakes up in the morning. Please note, no one else in my family had the pleasure of blood for tears.  That was unique to me.  About three days ago, I crossed another line.  I decided at that point that I could no longer look in the mirror without a precursor of a calm, encouraging pep-talk that that deformed, swollen-faced person with blood-red eyes is not an accurate representation of normal Megan, and than in a few weeks, I will hopefully have human eyes surrounded by peach, healthy skin, not purple, inflated rubber.

In seriousness, this has been a scary time. Vision is important. Uncontrolled infections are scary. It difficult and painful to be cut off from the rest of the world, even if it is for a couple of weeks.  I would never blame people for staying away. I would stay away also if I were in their shoes.  Let me not forget to mention that there have been a few generous spirits who have braved our quarantined home and loved us by bringing in happy meals for the kids and groceries.  We’ve even had a couple people drive us places, which was really risky on their part.  We’ve enjoyed a couple fun games of “ding-dong-ditch” as people have brought groceries and left them on the door-step.  We have been loved well by some special people in the midst of our crisis as “untouchables.”  It causes me to step back and wonder if I would love well in the midst of potential risks that loving well might hold.  I hope that I would.  I hope that I would step out of my safe comfort zone to love those leprous ones in our community who might “contaminate” us.  I hope that I could look the disfigured in the eyes and say, “I love you and am here for you.” I am infinitely thankful for those in our community who have bravely stepped past the boundaries and loved us in our potentially contagious brokenness. They have housed the spirit of Christ for us.

It is lonely and isolating to be sick, broken, and untouchable.  And just another opportunity to become one of the “least of these.”  Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to identify as one in such deep, desperate, agonizing need.  Help me, one day soon, to be in a position to be Jesus to those whom society deems untouchable.

 

Wonderfully Made

Ten years ago, On the evening of my first suicide attempt, I drove home from work to the house that I shared with three other roommates, rehearsing an apology. I had no intention of ending my life at this point; I just felt the need to apologize to one of my roommates for living it poorly. I felt that I had mistreated her, been unkind, and unfairly judged her. I wanted to make it right. Assuming that I was in the wrong, I planned to approach her and beg for her forgiveness. Surely, if I grovelled enough, she would relieve me of my guilt and accept me, the offender, back into relationship.

My schema that informed all of my interactions was this: I am in very nature wrong. I was not meant to exist. I am a mistake and have to pay for my life. I cannot earn my right to exist. The only thing that I can hope to achieve is some form of damage control.  

I have learned that this is the deepest, earliest, most core damaging belief from attachment abuse. It permeates into the heart of a person’s existence. It precedes the lie that I am unlovable (usually established age zero to one), and the lie that the world is not to be trusted (age three). This lie is what programmed me for self-destruction. 

Generally, the vast majority of the population may feel compassion or at least pity on the poor, beaten, grovelling dog. They would at least dismiss the pathetic creature while trying to avoid doing further damage. Others, for whatever reason, find some sort of fulfillment in beating the weak creature. My roommate fit the profile of the less compassionate portion of the population. 

I sat down with my roommate that evening,  three hours before trying to end my life, and she cut me off before I could even fully ask for her forgiveness. The venom that spewed from her mouth I can see now to be her own self-hate. That evening, I saw her accusations and hateful names as proof that I was unredeemable, a blight on the earth that needed obliteration. I retreated to my room, and decided that I needed to extinguish a fire that was doing irreparable damage to the planet. It seemed like the only choice. It seemed noble. It felt like my responsibility to right the wrong that I had started 24 years prior when I shoved my way inappropriately into the universe. 

At that time, I didn’t have words for this process. I couldn’t entirely conceptualize the belief that drove my actions or identify the source of my fatally flawed thinking.  I only felt that it was my duty to die. I was wrong, of course, but I was convinced that my place on this planet was one that really didn’t belong to me and that I had to give it up before I did more damage. The funny, infuriating, and utterly tragic thing about suicide attempts is that they are labeled selfish. I have no idea how many times I was told how selfish I was being. I was dumbfounded by this statement. In my deepest heart, I believed that I was loving everyone the best way that I could–by removing myself. I was only trying to help.

It took 34 years to come to the place where I could say that my life has value. God did not say “oops” when He made me. He never looked at me and said, “this one is evil.” My parents said that, not my God.  To believe that I am wrong to exist is entirely inconsistent with my theology. This is not a new cognitive realization for me. What is new is the experience of being valuable. 

For me, it took looking into the eyes of my children, bearing my DNA, flawless, beautiful, beloved, so unbelievably beloved. I carried them inside my body for almost ten months each. That body that I thought was too evil to dwell among humans was the body that housed the cherubic cherished humans, so obviously knit together by the hand of the Divine, loving Father God. I can’t be all wrong if they came out of me.

This is truly just the beginning of my re-orientation. I would love to see myself the way God sees me, or at least the way my husband, children, and friends see me. I still wade through self-hate daily. I still wrestle with my grovelling beaten dog syndrome, but even in my worst moments, I cannot be convinced that I am a mistake.  My heart is just softened enough, through scripture, prayer, healing relationships, and motherhood, to the voice of a loving God who whispers that He made me well and cherishes me more that I can even imagine loving my own babies. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; You formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God–you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration–what a creation!”

Psalm 139:13-14, The Message

Trading darkness for darkness and a trip to the light

Almost a year and a half ago, I closed the door on my parents. I set up the most extreme set of boundaries: no contact whatsoever. I changed my phone number, email, and Facebook. Obviously, they could still make contact if they really wanted. They know where I live. My husband didn’t change his contact information. They haven’t tried, however, and I’m not sure what to make of that. 

I’ve written about this frequently, so this is not new, it’s just fresh at the moment. I truly believe that God called me to make the decision to set boundaries. They were intended to be avenues to further healing in my life–to create a place of safety and security to really explore my areas of woundedness, attachment injuries, and deeper, darker trauma. Those areas did not feel safe to traverse while feeling a sense of obligation to maintain contact with the sources of injury. I was barely treading water. 

The problem with cutting off physical contact, however, especially with primary care givers, is that they haunt you relentlessly. My guards are so strong in my waking hours, but in my sleeping hours, I am at the mercy of the internalized messages and billowing fears.  No one physically rapes me nightly. I am safe, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when the demons of the past meet me in the darkest hours of early morning or the twilight stages of nap times. I don’t feel safe and protected from them, even now.

In addition, I have allowed myself to perpetuate the lie that I must pay astronomical penance for harming my parents by cutting them off.  The payment is something similar to chopping my legs off at the knees. I don’t know that I can articulate this in a way that makes sense because it is purely based on irrational beliefs.  When I sent my parents the “break-up” email, I also had to delete the first twenty years of my life. The lie that mandated this self-imposed consequence goes something like this, “if you hurt your parents’ feelings or injure them, you must pay exponentailly for the rest of your life.” Thus, I cut off everyone from the first twenty years of my life, created a rule that I could never return to my hometown, speak to or see the people I loved (some of whom kept me alive through hell), meet new nieces and nephews, or even think about anything positive from my childhood, adolescence, or teenage years.  It is gone. Compartmentalized. Packed in boxes a buried twenty feet underground. 

This payment is ridiculous. I know this on some level. It also only leads to a spirit of fear and denial, the very spirits that I was trying to counter in my decision to end contact with my parents.  The lies, brainwashing, and shame are evident in my subconscious reaction to this decision.  

So prayerfully, gently, and cautiously, I am beginning to step out past the caution tape in my life. I am going to pursue contact with those whom I love and miss. I will lay down this spirit of fear and allow the Spirit to cloak me with an identity that says “loved, accepted, forgiven.”  This is not as black- and-white as I once thought. I could explore the possibility to visiting my brother, his wife, and newborn son without terror of the consequences. The monsters hold no power anymore. It is time to step into the healing that was God’s intention a year and a half ago. I don’t have to pay penance for trying to protect myself and my family. We have a right to safety, and I have greater responsibility than ever before. 

Please pray that I can continue down this path of complete healing without unnecessary casualties and sacrifices at the altar of lies.  I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I envision the breaking of the chains of fear through deeper love.

The Music Teacher

You were the music teacher at a private, Christian, upper-class school.  I am sure that you weren’t on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect in your students.  You met the rush of children ages five through thirteen with grace, enthusiasm, compassion, and a love that cannot be forced.  You were nurturing and committed to your students. You kindled the sparks of talent and love for music and birthed flames that grew into wildfires in the children that you cared for so gracefully.  You probably weren’t too concerned for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and which children were unsafe in their homes.  You were focused on breaking through the exteriors and hitting that chord in each heart that the Spirit created for music.

I don’t know if you ever think of that girl from the mid-nineties, the one with frizzy hair, unable to look you in the eye.  She was slightly overweight, but in her appraisal, she was obese.  She was the one who just didn’t fit in with many of the other kids, but she kept her head down and didn’t try too hard to be known.  Being known carried with it its own set of risks. I wonder if you noticed that she was the first to show up and that she lingered extra long, waiting to be the last to leave your once-a-week music class, hoping for one last encouraging smile.  Or if you caught a glimmer of the deep, desperate longing in her eyes as she silently pleaded with you to rescue her.  Or if you saw the deep shadow of shame that fell over her as she warred within herself over the need for connection and the belief that she was not allowed to reach out to adults.

I wonder what you thought when you, in the midst of packing up your bag at the end of the day, found that same frizzy-haired, awkward eleven-year-old girl shuffling into your always-open door for no apparent reason. You probably had better things to do and places to be.  You were incredibly busy. Did you read between the lines at all?  Did you hear the words that were unspoken?  That her home was unsafe, that she prayed every night that Jesus would make you her mom, and then repent for praying such a horrendous prayer that dishonored her own mother?  Did you know that the love that you showed this girl in that one hour a week plus some after-school chats was about the extent of the love that she knew in the entirety of her life? Did you know that you were her life-line?  That without you, she might have just drowned in the stormy sea of her tortured existence?

Did you know that you were Jesus to this girl?  Did you know that you saved this little girl’s life?  She may have seemed inconvenient or difficult to love.  But you cherished her in a way that she had never before been cherished.  You saw her when she thought that she really wanted to be invisible.  You were a nurturer when those who were supposed to nurture were in the business of torture.

It has been 22 years since you entered that private school to teach music, and it has been that long since this lonely broken girl showed up in your classroom.  There is so much that you don’t know about her.  But you didn’t have to know it.  You were the heart of Jesus for her, and she cannot and will not ever forget you.

 

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You came like a beacon in the night–the night that seemed so infinitely interminable. I wasn’t looking for you. I never had dared to hope for you. I had brushed you off, written you off the moment we met, just knowing that you were way too good for the likes of a broken mess of a pathetically selfish human being like me. You were just too wonderful.

The lighthouse that you were—I had long before closed my eyes, convinced that no light could ever be visible again on my death-bound voyage of darkness. 

But grace, only grace, swept me into your arms. I certainly never would have thrown myself into them. You, the one who was so far beyond me, wanted me. And the second miracle was that I actually opened to you. I was the one who sent out the “stay the hell away from me or else I will punch you in the face” signal to every dude on the planet. But you made it in. You disarmed my armor. You made it in with your chicken noodle soup and out-of-the-way trips through my drive thru window. 

You, through grace, ever-so-gracefully came into my life on a chariot of redemption and gently and patiently helped me up into that grace. With your love, you drove out the toxicity of self-hatred. You hold up a mirror of truth and compassion.  You will never know and I can never express the fullness of the redemption that you have brought to my story, our story. 

My love, my miracle, my husband.