Media and Eating Disorders:  What the heck are you thinking, Netflix?

Media and Eating Disorders: What the heck are you thinking, Netflix?

I stumbled upon the trailer for Netflix’s movie To the Bone this morning.  It will be aired in July, and it details a young woman’s struggle with and recovery from Anorexia.  My stomach leapt to my throat as I viewed the two-minute long preview.  I felt a deep panic, sorrow, and indignation as I watched the dramatization of something so devastating.  Later,  I was greatly disturbed to discover an article circulating about how the main actress Lily Collins was able to “lose the weight” for her anorexic role in the movie.  I will not cite this article, because I believe that it offers horrendously unhealthy subject matter.  I was further distressed by the fact that she has struggled with an eating disorder of her own.

I desperately pray that this movie will simply open up healthy discussion about an often shameful and misunderstood illness.  I suspect, however, that the motives behind this film are more sinister and self-serving, as money-hungry producers choose to make movies about sensationalized topics that will ultimately bring in the most revenue possible.  They will do this even at the expense of the lives that will, in fact, be lost because of the ideas that are propagandized as a result of the deadly behaviors that are presented in this film. I am sure that To the Bone will open up conversations.  Some might be enlightening and helpful to those who are in mentally and emotionally stable places.  Other conversations will be tragic, and those who are vulnerable and broken will cling to the behaviors and strategies presented in this film, following the main actress into deadly patterns of self-destruction. Profit for this film will, without a doubt, cost many susceptible individuals their lives.

Twenty-one years ago,  I viewed a movie that served as one of the  catalysts of my own self-destruction.  As an impressionable ninth grader,  I watched a movie on TV.  I was alone, in a dysfunctional family,  being tormented by bullies at school, and I absolutely despised everything about my body.  I was entrenched in eating disordered thoughts and desperate to lose weight.   I watched the movie A Secret Between Friends (Contnor, James, 1996), and my broken mind clung to every disordered behavior presented in this movie.  I watched the main actress, Kate, engage in the “secret” behaviors of anorexia, and I took notes.  The movie assisted me in developing strategies to further my weight loss, and it set an unattainable standard of the “anorexic appearance” to emulate.  Throughout the following 17 years,  I pursued this goal.  I was hospitalized at least 12 times (honestly,  I lost count, and for some of the hospitalizations,  I was too sick to remember even being admitted).  Medically, I brushed shoulders with death more times than I will ever know.

I am not solely blaming media on my eating disorder, but it served to perpetuate my cycle of self-destruction.  The fact that I clearly remember scenes from that film 20 years after viewing it says that it influenced the trajectory of my life.  It’s influence was not helpful, enlightening, or “educational”.  It did not “open up healthy conversations about destructive behaviors” for me.  It spurred me on in my pursuit of an unattainable ideal.  It hung a standard in front of my face like a carrot, dangling, just out of my reach.  That movie was indeed one of the catalysts in my own personal implosion.

I am confident that Netflix’s To the Bone will be wildly popular.  I am confident that it will enhance Netflix’s profit margin and bring in a massive amount of revenue.  I am also confident that the media will continue to capitalize on the tenuous relationship that western women have with our bodies and publish more articles about how main actress Lily Collins lost weight for the part.  If, heaven forbid, playing this part propels this hopefully well-meaning actress back into her deadly eating disorder,  I am also sure that the media will cover this as well, clinging like hungry leaches to her deadly illness to bring in the big bucks.  I hope that she got a truck-load of therapy throughout the making of this film and follows up with professional help in the aftermath.

The trailer draws the viewer into the story.  Those who are not susceptible may watch it with open and rational eyes and be better educated on the world of eating disorders.  It will bring tears and heartache for those suffering from these deadly illnesses.  Some good may come out of this film.  Hopefully, those who suffer in silence will not feel alone and seek help.

My heart breaks for those who are susceptible, however, and my stomach leaps to my throat as I remember myself as a horribly sick ninth grader, ravenously clinging to every scene and behavior presented in A Secret Between Friends,  as I watched Lexi Archer’s body waste away, praying that I could someday be that thin.

Friends, I was not rational when I was in the depths of my brokenness.  I was further broken by the movie, A Secret Between Friends, and I went on to further destroy my life.  That was 1996.   Ten percent of the US population, including males and females, struggle with some form of an eating disorder.  What this means is that there are a lot of very vulnerable individuals who will view this movie and potentially dive deeper into their eating disorders as a result.  I pray that this film does not further sky-rocket the prevalence of Eating Disorders in the Western World.  I am grieved.  My heart feels like it will burst with the brokenness that is represented in these statistics and the effects of media capitalizing on the disordered chaos of our culture.

I know that there are a lot of opinions, positive and negative, out there regarding the dramatization of mental illness in the media, especially on Netflix’s daring and potentially dangerous new shows and movies.  I only speak from experience regarding the role of the media and movies in the furthering and developing of my severe and deadly eating disorder.  From my perspective and based on my personal testimony, I am beyond brokenhearted for the state of our society and our relationships with our bodies, and I am physically sickened by the media’s role in perpetuating our distorted belief systems.

I believe that the moral dilemma of the TV and film industry is larger than we realize. Those in the media produce what sells.  They pursue to create films that will get the most views possible.  I fear that they disregard the possible casualties that can follow the production of some of these hot releases.  In my opinion, if the production of a film involves even one life lost, it is a morally bankrupt pursuit.  How far will media go in order to entice viewers?  Are they willing to sacrifice the vulnerable, broken individuals that might fall victim to the ideas presented in the industry’s pursuit of sensationalism? It is a slippery slope, and I am afraid that we are careening headlong into a dangerous place where certain lives stop mattering.

Lord, have mercy.   I pray that our minds may be wrapped in supernatural teflon as we navigate existence in a world that is backwards and inside out.

 

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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Consider THIS Joy?

Consider THIS Joy?

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.                                                              James 1:2-3

“Consider it all joy“…..This stage of life does not feel at all joyful.  This mess of tube-feeding, fluid retention, physical changes, passing out, agonizing physical pain and emotional turmoil.  Not only are we attacking my physical illnesses head-on, but we are challenging my comfort zone of thinness.  In light of what I have been through over the recent years, one would rationally assume that I could easily let go of the size of my jeans.  Going up a few sizes, developing a layer of body fat, and not being teeny-tiny anymore would be a minimal cost to pay to feel better.  To me, however,  this process is excruciating.  One would think that after almost dying and being in substantial physical pain for so long,  I would not even wince at the discomfort of gaining a few pounds.  Can I not stand up under this burden of weight gain as I have stood up under much “heavier” burdens in the not-so-distant past?  Oh,  I pray that I can.

Various trials“….Our lives are filled with all sorts of trials, aren’t they?  Devastating loss, emotional agony, personal physical illness, betrayal, abuse, poverty…the list goes on as far as the day is long.  Some of us handle different trials with greater ease than others.  I do know that for me, physical illness and physical suffering seem to be small beans compared to the mental and emotional suffering that I have been through.  After having battled mental illness for my whole life and physical illness for the past four years,  if I had to pick between the two, I would pick physical illness any day.  That’s just me.  I am not making a blanket judgment on the universal nature of suffering, but only speaking from my personal experience.  With that being said,  I find myself facing my old emotional demons, the old trials that I thought were much more peripheral than they seem to be at the moment.  This fear of weight gain has migrated back to center stage and is staggering. The agony of being in a body that is simultaneously sick and getting larger seems to be too much to bear.

The testing of your faith“….Let it be known that James clarifies later that God does not tempt.  And we also know that the Greek word used in verse two for trials is also used in verse 13 for tempt.  God is not the author of our hurt, suffering, trials, or temptations.  God Himself is not pouring this painful life situation on me to make me stronger, to punish me, or to test me. Our hurt and trials grieve God because He hurts with us. This suffering is the result of living in a fallen, broken world.  It is the tragedy that we all have been born into, and He is not the author of our pain (There is much greater theological depth that I can go into on this subject, but now is not the time). God is, however the redeemer.  He can make our lives phenomenally beautiful if we allow Him access to our stories.

Produces endurance“….I can, with the power of the Spirit, endure this trial.  I can push through, maintain my tube feeds, push the solid foods as I can tolerate them, and allow my body to re-regulate.  I can allow my weight to move up, sit in the discomfort and pain that is stirred in weight restoration, and I can see this trial as an opportunity.  You see, because God is so wonderful, He can birth greater endurance within my spirit through this trial.  I can press into Him, march forward into the pain of the scariest reality in my life (dreaded weight gain), and experience His all-sufficient presence once more.  This will add to my history of faith,  and God’s history of heroics in my life.  I will, as a result, have a stronger faith, because I have seen God’s faithfulness once more.

Perfect result, making you mature and complete“….This is where God turns evil on it’s head.  Trials can be temptations, and I can go the other way.  I can decide that this is too difficult, that I just can’t push through, and I can retreat into my safety zone.  I can turn down the rate of my feeds, lower the calories, and never come out on the other side.  This is an option.  The problem with this option is that this, for me, will result in some form of death.  James spells the end result out clearly in chapter 1, verse 14-15.  The death may be death of trust, of relationships, or an aspect of faith.  It could indeed be a physical death.

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I can accept this trial as a road to life.  I can press through.  I can cry,  I can whine, I can face the discomfort with courage, because I know that God is redeeming it.  He is maturing me through it.  When I feel like I have had it up to my eyebrows, and I cannot bear another moment,  I can hold on for the next moment, and the next, because I’m not holding on alone.  I am holding on as God is holding me in the palm of His hand.

I will follow the plan laid out for me by my very qualified team of medical professionals. This plan leads to life, and I’m not necessarily referring to wonderfully perfect physical life.  That is a not-entirely-probable possibility.  But this plan is one that will further set me free to live a fully devoted, chain-free life.  They want to push me up above my ideal weight because that is my best bet at managing the symptoms of my chronic illnesses?  So be it.  In the power of God,  I will go there.  Not only will it allow me to hopefully function at a higher level physically, but it will also set me free from the destructive thinness-worshipping mentality of a horribly sick and distorted culture.

Life awaits beyond this trial, or temptation, or whatever you want to call it.  James considers them synonymous.  I love James because he doesn’t beat around the bush.  He doesn’t tickle ears or tell people what they want to hear.  Sometimes I need that slap in the face, just enough of a jolt to get my head on straight enough to see the difference between life and death.  I need to be shaken back into focus, so I remember my goals, values, and God-given dreams, not one of which involve being the thinnest person in every room.  I want to ooze Jesus.  I want to pour forth love and life like a bubbling-over stream of living water.  I want my children, physical and spiritual, to feel loved, nurtured, and strengthened by my presence.

consider this trial joy because it is the path that I get the privilege of walking to be more like Jesus. 

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.                   James 1:12

I almost forgot about you

I almost forgot about you

Once upon a time,  I suffered from a raging eating disorder.  It feels as though it were lifetimes ago, yet it has only been about five years.  A blink of an eye really.  Once upon a time,  I had simple (if you could ever call an eating disorder simple) eating disorder.  It was straightforward.  Anorexia Nervosa.  Restriction type only.

I kept it painfully simple.

My life was very simple: Do not eat.  Lose weight.

Even a starved brain could wrap itself around my restrictive lifestyle.  Eighteen years is a long time to starve, but I was single-minded, and I held on relentlessly to my disordered pursuit.  Many worked to keep me alive, and a couple times, I joined them in their efforts.

Then, in the most unlikely way,  even as few expected it,  I recovered.  I started eating.  I became comfortable with food.  I became comfortable with people, engaged in meaningful relationships with friends, my husband, I allowed my body to expand and stretch with pregnancy and (for the most part) embraced the changes.  These changes meant new life–new life inside of me, and a new life for me.  There was hope.  I finally became me, no longer a walking personification of anorexia.  I gained purpose, meaning, passion, energy, connection.

Over time,  life became more complicated.  I discovered that as I had recovered behaviorally, my body was still sick, even more sick than it had been before.  How could it be?  My body became a medical anomaly, unable to hold onto weight, unable to maintain consciousness, unable to do what bodies that are well-cared for are supposed to do.  Recovery did not look the way that I expected recovery  to look. I was a puzzle.  No one could figure me out.  “Simple” went out the window.

I remember going into the doctor in mid-November of 2014, two months after my youngest was born, sitting on her table, and with tears running down my face, begging for her to explain to me why my body was so sick when I was finally so “healthy.”  Testing began, diagnoses piled on,  and maintenance of eating disorder recovery took backseat.

Though I believed that it was vital to be vigilant to protect our recovery from the eating disorder, therapy work, nutrition work, and treatment focused on keeping me alive, discovering why my body was malfunctioning, and increasing my quality of life.  There was very little space to fine-tune recovery or challenge the thoughts that echoed my former ways of thinking.  When one is in recovery from decades of disordered eating, she needs to recognize that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.  That marathon will take years.

As there are only 24 hours in a day,  I was unable to really give the marathon of prolonged recovery the attention that it deserved, so the seed of anorexia rested unassumingly in a pocket of my mind, not taking the forefront, but never too far from consciousness.  My illnesses made me thin, so the seed was satisfied enough to not have to make too many waves.  I hoped that it had disappeared, that I was miraculously cured of the anorexia, and that it would never bother me again, but I suspected that it was somewhere close, keeping a careful eye on things.

The illnesses accelerated.  My weight dropped lower, to a more dangerous level, and my doctors decided that a feeding tube would be the best medical intervention for my body as it was not absorbing or tolerating food.  The eating disorder was cornered.  When illness keeps you thin, you can pretend that you don’t really like it, that you would prefer to be a “healthy size,” and no one really challenges you, because, really, it’s not in your control anyway.   I even tricked myself into thinking that the skeletal place that I had sunken to was deplorable, unpleasant, and unwanted.   I did, however, deep down, feel most comfortable there, because, after all,  I spent almost 20 years intentionally living an emaciated existence.

Weight loss triggered those old blasted neuropathways: you remember, those really myelinated ones? The ones that I had traveled so many times before?  And though the weight loss was not intentional, it was still weight loss, and though it was the result of malfunctions of my body,  my brain had a difficult time distinguishing it from the weight loss of anorexia.

The first five weeks of the feeding tube were unexceptional.  Continual, around-the-clock feeding did not trigger too much anxiety about weight. I could maintain the illusion that my body would not really have to get larger.   About five weeks in, however, the words that I had dreaded hearing graced my ears:  “You definitely look like you’ve gained weight!” These words are meant to be complementary, usually coming from a place of love and compassion and desire for my well-being.  I try desperately to tell myself this, reminding myself of my near-death state only five weeks prior.  This is the goal.  Weight gain is the goal.  BUT I HATE WEIGHT GAIN.  And my knee-jerk reaction to the beautiful, kind, sweet, encouraging statement acknowledging healthy weight restoration was the urge to usher a swift left-hook to the nose.

No,  I did not punch anyone in the face, but in that moment, my world shifted.  I questioned the medical necessity of weight gain, feeding tubes, high calorie formulas, doctors in general, and I questioned the meaning of my life.  No joke.

Thus, in the past week,  I have observed my once docile, quiet eating disorder take the reigns of my brain and turn me into a raving mad-woman.  My dietician is thrilled that we finally get to talk about body image.  She is ecstatic that I get to sit in the discomfort of a body that seems to be quickly blowing up right under my nose.  “We finally get to do more work,”  she says.   Who needs more work?  I’m exhausted!!

Oh, I know that this needs to happen.  I know that my chances of physical healing and increased quality of life are higher when I am at a healthy weight.  I know that this is undoubtedly the path that I must travel to see at least a few of my dreams actualized.  (Remember that post earlier this week where a lamented the dreams that I lost?  This may be my shot at regaining some of those dreams. That can’t be bad!)…

And yet….

There is that familiar, unwanted voice that has all of the sudden gotten a bit louder.  That old “friend” has crawled out of the rafters in my mind and leapt onto center stage.

And I have a choice.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where I have the chance to fully, completely, embrace recovery. Or I can hold on to that little bugger that has such an obnoxiously convincing voice.   So here I go.  Time to pick a side of the fence I’ve been inadvertently straddling for too long.

Broken to be Free

Broken to be Free

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. What if I have packed away unsavory parts of my life in such airtight containers that I have not allowed the Spirit of the Lord to breathe freedom into the complete story of my life? My life hosts many hideous, unsavory, incredibly broken moments. In my pursuit of freedom from those atrocious moments, I erroneously decided that packing them away into oblivion would release me from their power.

I have lived a compartmentalized life. My childhood has been neatly packed away in an attic, stacked in locked trunks. According to my previously existing belief system, I have seen myself as an adult living an adult life, and my childhood has been of no value to my current existence.

This approach to life has been limited at best, and complete fragmentation at worst. I want to walk in truth regarding my entire existence. I desire integration and light, in all areas of my past, present and future.

I don’t want some chapters of my life hidden away in locked boxes, with the keys long destroyed. This is not real life. As a whole, integrated being, I want to carry a life narrative that is valuable and beneficial, as it informs my present and can benefit the narratives of those surrounding me. I want to allow the Spirit of freedom to breathe truth and light into my airtight boxes that house my unsavory past. In order for that to happen, I need to open them up to the Spirit.

I allowed the fog to obscure my past for a reason. I locked fragments of my life away in trunks in order to protect others and myself.

At least, I thought that protection would be found in hiding. I have discovered, however, that I can’t really hide from the truth. It comes rushing in like a tidal wave when my defenses are down: in the depths of the night, in my deepest REM dreams, in the moments when I am most vulnerable, in glimpses of my child-self in the faces of my beloved children. The fingers of the fog that obscure my past reach into my present to rob me of the life that God has designed for me to live. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I have been so afraid that in the process of breaking open the trunks of my fragmented past, I will break myself forever, beyond repair. I didn’t trust truth to set me free. I thought it would unleash a monster, instead.

I was wrong.

I am starting to tie a rope around my waist, securely fastened in the present, and with the guidance of God and his word, alongside the help of trusted friends, navigate the dense fog of my obscured past.

It has been vital for me to allow God to illuminate the hidden, secret places in the safety of a counselor’s office, or over coffee in my living room with a trusted mentor or friend. This is a delicate process, and there is no obvious time frame. It takes as long as it takes, and sometimes the heart can only handle a tiny step at a time.

I am learning, however, that shining the light bit by bit is not unleashing a monster, but knitting my fragments together. It is allowing me to see my story as a whole, and setting me free to enter into a more abundant, meaningful, comprehensive life.

We don’t need to be afraid of being broken open, because when we finally break open, our spirits can break free. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

She’s carrying a million heavy burdens silently, wearing a brave mask. Knowing her well, I see past her mask and into her fear. I tell her about my struggle with resistance, brokenness, tears and healing, and I encourage her not to be afraid of breaking open.

She says, “But Megan, what if I break open and can’t be put back together?” And I wonder, what if breaking open and not being able to be put back together is what we all need in order to really be free?

What if in breaking open, we allow the Spirit of the Lord to bring freedom? In being unwilling to break open, we often avoid truth in our lives.

Truth and freedom are intimately connected. Have we built our walls high in order to protect others and ourselves from certain truths that seem to be too much to carry? Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes unintentional, but avoidance of truth places us in bondage.

The truth can be painful. Sometimes, we can only take it in tiny little bites, like with a toddler-sized spoon. Sometimes, we can only handle one bite a week, but we need to be pursuing the truth in our lives.

It can get messy. There are weeks when I let little bits of truth in, and it can feel overwhelming at times. I step into the unknown of the truth and hope that God can handle my shattering heart and broken-open life.

He has yet to show himself to be unreliable with my intimate places.

Yes, being shattered and broken is terrifying. It can look ugly and messy and sometimes interrupts my day, week, month, or year. Sometimes it seems inconvenient and nauseating. I am convinced, however, that this path of brokenness is the path to healing and freedom. In breaking open, I make space for the Spirit of the Lord to invade, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I believe what the Bible says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV

The Old Thoughts in the New Life

The Old Thoughts in the New Life

I had an old thought last night. It was about ending my life. That thought does not fit in my today-life. It was part of an old story that was my life a long time ago. My today-life has become stressful and overwhelming. We are being hit on all sides and at every angle as a family. It is all that I can do sometimes to keep breathing and moving forward minute to minute, second to second.

I sent my husband to the ER with my poor sick three-year-old, and stayed home to tend to my also sick two-year-old.   Lily had collapsed in the hall. Croup and asthma don’t work well together. I collapsed with her. My husband swept her up, buckled her in her car seat, and barreled off to the emergency room while I sat with my youngest and wept in anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. She will be fine, but last night, neither of us was fine. My life became too heavy for a moment. As I cuddled with my youngest in my king-size bed, I felt my heart ripped in half. I wanted, needed, to be at the hospital with my eldest. Yet I couldn’t. I’m too sick. And my youngest needed me. We are at T-minus 48 hours until my husband goes out of town for a week, and I feel the crud that has attacked my children descending on my own vulnerable body. How will we survive this one? Will we survive this one?

Waiting for my sleeping medicine to kick in, that old thought assaulted me for the first time in years. You could end it all. Shocked, I guffawed at the absurdity of that thought in the context of my meaningful and fulfilling life. At the same time, a part of me leaned into its familiarity. Horrified at my inclination toward this suicidal thought, I prayed that my sleeping medication would kick in and knock me out so that I could wake up the next morning fully planted in the present again.   It did. I slipped into sleep, in that massive bed with a tiny two-year-old and no husband, next door to an empty room where my three-year-old should be sleeping.

Oh, the speed bumps in life are brutal.   When half of your family is not under your roof with you when you so desperately need them. When you are not under the same roof of the pediatric wing of the hospital with your sick child when you feel that she so desperately needs you. Someone told me today ,”It’s not fair,” when I told her the medical drama that is occurring in my family.   I know that fairness is just a construct of our fallen human minds that leads to nasty comparison, leading to either pride or envy. With that said, it certainly doesn’t feel fair at times. To move from hellish situation to hellish situation, squeezing in quick breaths every once in a while. To feel like you are standing on the tips of your tip toes in an unsteady ocean, with your nose bobbing in and out of the choppy water as you spit and sputter, trying to come up for air. It does not feel fair.

Suffering never feels fair. To pursue suffering would be utter insanity. And yet, suffering can serve as a sharpening tool, as a refining fire, burning and destroying any sense of self-sufficiency or pride in our own resources. If I ever thought I could do life on my own, that notion is snuffed out when I collapse on the floor daily, when my daughter is whisked off my husband in the middle of the night unable to breathe, when I come up against that same old thought that haunted me for years. I can’t do this. Not in my own strength. I’m at the end of me. I’m exhausted, spent, maxed out. It has to be God. Suffering is a quick trip to the end of ourselves, where we find at the end either despair or God. Out of those two options, I don’t know what inclines some people to end with despair and others to land on God. I do know, however, that I have had seasons of my life where despair seemed to be the clearest answer. This is not one of those seasons. Suffering is driving me to the cross. The old thoughts of suicide drive me not to actual attempts, but to my knees in confession of my dependence on my life-source. Thomas Merton states, “ Suffering becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God.”

It is no good to worship the actual suffering in life. In suffering and in abundance, we can know God. We worship and believe in a God who can transform suffering into mercy. This knowledge transforms the phrase “God is good all the time” into so much more than a mere cliché. It gives me the assurance that no matter what floods my life, even if the mountains give way and fall into the heart of the sea, even if I lose my own life, my Lord loves me and is for me. His presence is good, and He never leaves. Therefore, wherever I go, I am safe.

Psalm 46: 1-3

God is our refuge and strength,

    a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

The Fellowship of the Suffering

The Fellowship of the Suffering

Two weeks ago, I was a beaming face of hospitality at the welcome center of our little, crisp church. I greeted members and guests by name with exuberance and Christmas cheer. I wore my favorite red dress and made sure that I was an approachable presence for our parishioners and neighbors. I was sick, desperate for healing, but on Sundays, I strove to present myself as a picture of health and vitality.

I sit now, experiencing a different form of fellowship. I have identified this as the fellowship of the suffering. We are huddled in a group room of an inpatient unit for adults with eating disorders. It is Christmas night. The lights are glimmering on Christmas trees somewhere, and families are celebrating in distant living rooms somewhere other than where we are. A token wreathe and a menorah decorate our unit. Staff has confiscated my makeup and hair products, proving them to be futile. We are stripped to the bare minimum of our selves. Sweats and Pajama bottoms are the norm, even on this night where the world celebrates. We play a haphazard game of Scattergories, filling the anxious space where we all feel the agony of the unknown. Will we heal? Is there hope? We await our Christmas dinner, served on hospital trays in portions that stretch our refeeding bellies to the edge of their physical limits, as they monitor our phosphorous levels, making sure that the food isn’t actually going to kill us rather than heal us. I exchange anguished glances with these new friends, relationships forged through the furnace of the initial agonizing steps of physical recovery. We hold hands as we dangle on the edges of medical instability and emotional uncertainty. We, the broken, the underweight, the malnourished, the sick, look out the narrow windows of our fifth floor unit to the twinkling lights lining the down town streets below us. Many tears have been shed today, and with our masks forced off, we sit, barefaced, without pretense. Some of us lean into the vulnerability, opening up in ways that we thought were off limits. In our fellowship of the suffering, we have an unspoken understanding that our socioeconomic statuses are of little significance. Our degrees, job titles, and achievements sit piled in the admissions office, waiting for us to pick them back up at discharge. For now, for this evening, we sit on even ground.

Not everyone has this unique “opportunity.” I am not sure how to replicate it in the real world, but on this Christmas night, I am encouraged with the though that Jesus would be inclined to check in as a visitor to our little locked unit. He, “God with us,” gravitated to the uncomfortable situations of suffering and agony. He would pull up a chair to our “Christmas feast,” where individuals sit wide-eyed, staring at the daunting plates of turkey and sweet potatoes in front of them.

I sit with the suffering, and I think back again to two weeks ago. I forgot about the importance of transparency. I forgot about the joy of journeying the rocky road of life honestly with others. I forgot that being real is one of the best gifts that I can give Jesus, others, and myself. I am reminded of this here, in this obscenely unlikely Christmas “retreat.” With the weight of my accessories, achievements, and attachments lifted, I can breathe again. I can genuinely breathe life into the dead places in my heart, and I can connect genuinely with others.