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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The Adventure at the Ocean with POTS and Tots

Once upon a time, I understood a certain concept in theory.  Today,  I understand it fully in the experiential sense:  A vacation with two toddlers is, indeed, not a vacation.  In fact, parents need a minimum of a week of recovery time in order to heal from the traumas incurred during said “vacation” with tiny tyrants who have been so rudely jerked out of their routine and thrown into a foreign (and often very wet) environment.

I had this crazy dream that we would all just be relaxing on a nice white-sanded beach with clear blue ocean waters lapping at our little toes, and we would giggle and splash and build colossal mideival sand castles, and go skipping down the beach hand-in-hand until we all tumbled down in rapturous laughter and delight.   I think that I stepped out of the realm of idealistic into the realm of psychotic-sleep-deprived-desperate-for-a-break-mommy-brain.

Hold your breath.  I have some shocking news for you all:  It did not go as I had planned.  Child one did not like the ocean for a while.  Child two loved the ocean and promptly got a nasty eye infection on the first day.  Mommy (sometimes known by daddy as child number three) forgot that she needs to carry around oxygen tanks, which are not conducive to any sort of happy family frolicking and certainly not ocean and sand-proof.

In addition, our 17-hour-overnight drive did not involve much sleep for anyone involved.  Our eight-passenger rental van did NOT comfortably seat 8 passengers when three of those passengers are well over 250 pounds and two of those passengers are in car seats that take up one and a half seats.  And who willingly squeezes into the middle seats in the back except for the moms of the bunch who are so adapted to sacrificing themselves that they don’t even register the horrific sacrifice of sanity and overall proprietary ownership of our bodies that is involved in the death-sentence that is the middle seat of a minivan wedged between a teenager and a toddler’s car-seat for 17 hours?  Over the course of our over-night drive across Oklahoma and Texas, I bargained with God quite frequently.  Blood, tears, and sweat were shed (maybe not blood–I can’t remember).  Body odors were rampant (remember, two teenagers).  I had brought a book to read, not considering the fact that there would not be nearly enough space to even open the book in my squished little lap.  I don’t know what I was thinking anyway:  I had tiny children to entertain.

We made it to the ocean at 10 AM, after an agonizing 17 hours .  Our rental house did not allow check-in until 3 PM.  We had with us an almost 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 19-year-old.  And they were DELIRIOUS.  I was just a little nutty myself (understatement).  It has been a long time since I have seen my beloved ocean, but that day at that time, really, all I wanted was a bed.  We dug our swimsuits out of our shredded car-top-carrier (that will teach us to buy cheap travel equipment), and loaded our arms with buckets, umbrellas, swim diapers, chairs, oxygen tanks, power aides, juice boxes, books (haha), and like 85 towels. (Overkill much??).  An hour later, we were settled on a beach full of 500 other families, none who spoke our language.  The baby-children were begging for their pacifiers, and the adult-children were begging for a bed.  And thus began our beach adventure.

It really truly got better from there. We survived the drive, the first interminable day in the sun resulting in at least second degree burns for all the adults (if only we put sunscreen on ourselves the way that we lather up our babies!!!), and unloading our ridiculously overpacked van-load into the ant-infested rental house.  We slept well that night, and the next day we found a much more calm, sparsely populated beach access on the other part of the island.  We packed more appropriately (No one stumbled and fell under the load of the beach toys, floats, and chairs on the way to the ocean).  We feasted and Whataburger while watching the beautiful undulation of the very blue waves.  The children and daddy did walk up and down the shore collecting shells for Grandma and Grandpa, and mommy got a chance to sit with her babies in the shallow surf.  There were moments of pure bliss interspersed between the realities of going to the beach with two toddlers and a disabling chronic illness.  85 percent of the time I was keenly aware of the fever that kept me shivering even while sitting in the humid 90-degree beach air.  I had to chose between breathing well and going out into the ocean with the kids, and sometimes I chose the ocean.  The walk from the boardwalk to the beach was agonizing, and there were moments where I wasn’t entirely sure that I could stay upright long enough to get from one place to the other.  I tried to communicate these discomforts as infrequently as possible so that no one would feel unnecessarily burdened or inconvenienced by my disability.  They had enough to worry about.

Along with my idealistic idea of what the beach with toddlers would look like, I also clung to an idealistic idea of what the beach with POTS would look like.  I was convinced that the ocean breeze, the warm sunlight, and the salt water would be like a salve to my weary and broken body.  I thought that somehow, magically, my illness would dissolve into the sand under my feet as I walked down to the ocean.  I learned that the beach isn’t really that magical.  It was wonderful, still as beautiful as ever.  The ever-present rhythm of the ocean waves soothed my anxious heart.  The warmth of the sun did indeed soften my spirit.  The joy that my children communicated as they chased the waves and let the waves chase them back was unprecedented by any joy that I’ve seen them experience before.  I was so glad to be there.  And I was still sick.  I was shivering, gasping at times, dizzy constantly, and utterly exhausted.  My bones and joints screamed while I watched my family play happily.  I had to decline certain activities because I couldn’t move.  The beach did not fixed me, but it offered moments that breathed life into my heart and soul.  It gave my children fresh experiences and family memories that were worth the hours of travel and blistering sunburns.

When describing our trip, I told people that I hadn’t decided if it was worth it yet.  I think that I’ve decided.  It was worth it.  It was worth all of it.  It was worth it to see the delight in those little eyes.  It was worth it to sit on the ocean’s edge holding my babies.  It was worth it to watch my sweet husband tenderly hold my daughter’s hand as he helped her pick out the perfect sea shells and carry my rambunctious son into the deeper ocean because he just couldn’t get enough of the pounding waves.  We may re-evaluate the eight-passenger van deal for next time and who driving over night thinking that the babies gonna sleep, but our souls needed a fresh glimpse of majesty, glory, and connectedness.  And what’s a good story without some dramatic elements anyway?

 

 

 

Even in the Trenches

We are just emerging out of the witching hour for parents of toddlers as five PM approaches.  It is Friday, the day on which we parents take the final agonizing steps to the finish line of the week, only to discover that the weekend days are a repeat of the weekdays.  No one sleeps in.  Everyone is actually even more cranky than they were during the week, if that is even possible.

The family has passed around an anachronistic virus in the middle of summer, starting with the three-year-old last week. The one-year-old caught it a few days later, and now the husband, the worst patient of all, has contracted the contagion.  My other half is pathetic, and his fever is no higher than mine is on my best days.  One would think that chronic illness would give you more compassion on those who are sick.  Instead, it makes me want to scream at my husband, “Suck it up!! I have to suck it up everyday of my life!! Take tylenol, and get your rear-end off that couch, soldier! These kids can’t fend for themselves!”  I remind myself that this is not how Jesus would act, and this is irrational rage that I should contain and not communicate.  In no way could that spoken diatribe enhance my marriage.  So I bring him medicine and a cup of water and ask how his head is feeling.  I pray for more compassion and repent for my critical and unloving spirit.  (Other days, I may scream his head off.  I’m not perfect, jeeze!!)

I think that I feel particularly awful today. The pain is just a little bit more acute.  I’ve hit the floor a few extra times.  Walking across the living room feels a bit like running a marathon, and my heart may pound out of my chest with this tachycardia.  I may feel worse than usual, but I’m never sure anymore.  I may feel this bad every day, but the brain fog of POTS blessedly helps me forget my agony.  I try not to think about how bad I am feeling.  It is pointless.  I try not to think about the possible reasons.  Over the past two years, that has proved futile.  I employ my militant strategies with myself rather than spewing them at my poor sick husband.  “You’re not as sick as you think you are.  It’s all in your head.  Suck it up.  Get off the couch and do something productive.  This is your life. What are you going to do?  Cry a river of tears every day that you think you are dying?  You’ll never get anything done, and you will be super pathetic.”

The late afternoon, the close of the witching hour, carries with it a torrential downpour.  It is majestic.  I call the unruly, wild, maniac children over to the window. They are both in t-shirts, diapers, and no pants.  Who needs pants when you are under four and running circles in your living room?  They stand on the sofa, feet firmly planted in daddy’s calves watching, captivated by the river of tears pouring from the darkened heavens.  It really is amazing.   Later, we find out that we got almost eight inches that night.  The short time frame in which it accumulates is the kicker, though.  It is like God is dumping olympic-size swimming pools down onto our house!   Relieved that the kids are occupied for a few seconds, I sit,  trying to lower my heart rate below 100 bmp for a few minutes.  A friend texts, offering to pick up some chicken noodle soup for our patient and dinosaur nuggets for the kids.  They are at Walmart, and when your pastor husband gets sick on a Sunday, the whole church obviously knows.  I am learning to accept help, and I tell her that we would love for them to bring some soul food by the house.  They even are braving this torrential emptying of the heavens for the feeding of my family.  I am humbled, and fight off the shame of the needing help.

I look out the window at the rain still pouring, and I see a golden glow lighting the lines of water driving from the sky.  The sun has broken through, not weakly, but with such fervor that it is as light as a cloudless day outside.  For a few seconds, I ponder how odd this phenomenon seems, and then I remember the whole science of prisms and rainbows.  My children have never seen a real rainbow, so I squeal with childish delight and drag them, neither one wearing pants, out through the garage, into the pouring rain.  This is a bad idea, my rational side is warning me.  This will trigger a major POTS flare-up. Don’t get too excited.  Don’t walk that fast.  Don’t you dare go all the way down the driveway to the road. You shouldn’t walk that far. That’s why they got you a scooter.  I disregard the rules. Majestic acts of God trump the rules of chronic illness, and in a split second decision, I decide that this one is worth paying for physically for the rest of the night if I have to.

My son runs down the driveway to the side of the road to wade in the river of rainwater washing down the gully.  My daughter tentatively tiptoes down the driveway with my prompting with the promise of a view of the most beautiful rainbow she’s ever seen.  I reach the end of the driveway with my little girl’s hand clutching mine as she prepares to glance at her first real rainbow.  My not-yet-two-year-old son is yards away splashing with the abandon that only a one-year-old can muster, and I suck in the fresh air sharply (maybe with a bit of a gasp-wheeze, but still with awe).  My babies and I look to our left to see the thickest, most brilliant rainbow that I have ever had the privilege to witness.  My sweet girl grasps tighter onto my fingers and says, “AHHHH!! Mommy, it is just beautiful! It’s gorgeous!”  In instant, she lets go and races after her brother, splashing gleefully away.  We watch the rainbow through to the end of its life and beg for it to stay as it disappears from one end of the sky to the other as the sky grows dark again and the rain starts to sting our skin with its increased power.  My children run back to the refuge of my arms as we hurry inside, and our friends pull into our driveway with their generous food offerings for the sick and the hungry.  I apologize for my pantless children and happily accept dinner.

As they hurry back to their car and drive away, my babies and I watch them and the rain from the refuge of the garage. The rainbow is seared in my vision for a bit longer before it fades in my mind as it did from the sky.  We climb the steps and return inside to daddy with his chicken noodle soup.

And God whispers to my soul, “My child, even in the trenches, life is beautiful.”

A Different Kind of Miracle

It was only two weeks ago that I was riding in the car with my husband, gazing across the coal-tinted, snow sprinkled flint hills, thinking about the miracle of my healing from anorexia. I was reveling in the glory of the transformation of my life.  My last four years have been nothing short of awe-inspiring. I’m stunned by my freedom. I was struggling to attribute my healing to something that I had done or hadn’t done, but I came up empty-handed. Maybe it was a culmination of all of the years of work, empowered by the power of the Spirit and prayers of those committed to me.  My husband asked why I was so reluctant to accept it as a miracle. I decided that accepting my healing as a miracle took it out of my control and caused my to feel scared and vulnerable.  What if the miracle decides to fly away as swiftly as it descended? How can I retain it? 

Just four days after our reflective drive through the glorious hills of Kansas, I ventured to the mall to spend some Christmas money on myself. I rarely buy clothes retail, and spend very little time in dressing rooms. I was glad to get some moments away, however, and sales are the best in January. I don’t just buy clothing on sale. It has to be a sale piled on a sale, like 60 percent off clearance. I found some good sales, squared! In the dressing rooms, however, faced with the reality of full-length mirrors, I was met with a figure that I recognized from years past, before the healing and growth of the child-bearing.

 The curves have disappeared. My boobs are gone, and the angles of bones have pushed their way back into prominence. I sucked in deeply as I recognized the body in the mirror, edging back into the dangerous underweight zone.  Part of me recoiled in sadness at what illness has done to my body and resolved to work to restore health. Another part reveled in the angles and blushed with pleasure at the bones.  

I came home and approached one of the most reliable mirrors that I know: my husband. I told him of the visage in the dressing rooms and asked him if it was true. Am I withering again? He said, “are you kidding me? Yeah. I’ve been trying to tell you for a while.”

Well, shoot. How did I miss that??

As the days have progressed, and I have gone to other mirrors, including my dietician and friends, the conclusion has been reached: my weight has declined. I’m approaching dangerous territory. My intake has been solid, but still not enough. It’s not necessarily the eating disorder that brought me here, but it would be eating disordered to resist the help that is being offered to get me out. 

My mind is still more whole than ever. Instead of being primarily delighted at weight loss, it grieves me. I feel sad when someone says that I’ve lost weight. Honestly. I haven’t been intentionally restricting, so my behavior is miles from where it was four years ago. The miracle is secure. 

I do have responsibility to maintain the ground that I have covered. Now that I know, I can’t claim ignorance. That was bliss, and now I know better. I have to eat more. Intentionally.  It is not enough to claim that I’m sad about the weight loss. If I stay there and don’t move, then I might be insincere. 

It’s not all lost. This is the journey. These are the undulations of the rhythm of healing. Miracles, I believe, are often less linear than we might imagine. They sometimes involve our cooperation and faith. God is why I am healed and continue to heal, and I am charged with the stewardship of tending to the healing. What an exciting calling! And we continue…