When we are stripped down to nothing, and see everything more clearly

When we are stripped down to nothing, and see everything more clearly

Some lessons take a long time to learn.

I have always believed that i don’t have to be productive to be valuable, or at least I claimed to believe it. I don’t know how many times I have heard that we are “human beings”, not “human doings”.

But we live in this culture that stresses achievement above all other qualities.  Even the church says out of one side of our mouth, “You are valuable no matter what,”  and on the other side, we sound frighteningly similar to the “do, do, do” mandate of our culture.  If we are not producing, we question our worth.  If we are not accomplishing something, we feel like our time has been wasted.  If, heaven forbid, we watch an entire day lapse where we don’t crank out projects or achieve something, we thrash ourselves to a pulp and feel restless and pointless.  At least, this is my experience.

For me, simply hearing that I am intrinsically valuable has not been sufficient for actual heart change.  I still place unrealistic demands on myself .  I get to the end of my day and tally up what I have accomplished.  My self-worth often depends on the evidence of my productivity for the day.

Last week was one of those weeks that made me question the point of my life.  My kids and husband went to VBS each evening, leaving me home, bed-bound, watching Netflix.  My illnesses were flaring full-force, and I was unable to even think, let alone try to accomplish anything.  I couldn’t manage to call a friend. I couldn’t even read or write. I couldn’t rest because I was in too much pain.   I just vegged out in my bed, with the TV on, trying to distract myself from the pain.

In my highly driven, type-A brain, this was unacceptable.  If I am not accomplishing something,  reaching out to someone, writing a blog post, or enhancing someone else’s life in some way, I might as well not exist.  I know this is extreme, but I have this driving need to “earn my keep”.

VBS spanned Monday through Friday.  By Friday night,  I was sobbing, stricken with self-hate and condemnation.  I had a friend who was also stuck at home, recovering from a surgery, but I still felt too sick to even let my husband drive me to visit her.  I felt like I failed her, my family, the rest of the world, and God.

If you are following this line of faulty beliefs, you have picked up on my distorted self-perception by now.  Or, you can really relate with my works-based sense of self.

Last week, God said clearly that He had more to teach me through my illnesses.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots here and realize that He has some major things to teach me about my value as His beloved child.

It is so easy to say that you are a precious daughter of God when you are “performing” in ways that seem appropriate.  But what about when you are lying in bed, a couple days behind in hygiene,  with dishes piled high in your sink, and a husband who is working like a horse taking care of your children?  This is a situation where I have had to come to terms with my true sense of worth.

Am I just as valuable here, in 2017, with no job and no ability to physically serve others, as I was in 2013, when I was working, generating an income, helping to lead worship at our church, running five miles a day, and actively engaged in mutually beneficial relationships?  It seems so counterintuitive to think that I still have a right to breathe the same air, take up space on this earth, and be loved by God and others.  When I can’t contribute in the ways that I once did, am I still just as valuable?

And yet, God still whispers to my heart that He loves me, that He is delighted in me, that He has made me worthy and valuable.  Can I grasp this?  Can I accept it? Can I see that I am loved and accepted just as I am, with a brain that doesn’t function the way that it once functioned, with legs that don’t always work the way that they are supposed to, as a person on disability who is not actively contributing to the betterment of society in a quantifiable way?

My intrinsic value is one of the most difficult things for me to accept, and I don’t know that I would really be able to learn that God loves me for me if I were not so incapacitated.  I am extremely stubborn and bull-headed.  I obviously need dire situations to learn valuable lessons, and this lie of works-based self-worth needs to be extracted at it’s roots.

This week, if I am stuck in bed,  I choose to lie in bed, resting in the awareness that I am loved and cherished for who I am, not for what I can accomplish.  God created me fearfully and wonderfully, even when I am sick, even when I am stripped down to just me.  There is no place for pretense or performance.  Simply me.  And God says, somehow, that He is proud to call me His child.

We are His masterpieces, no matter what our capacity.   We are His beloved children every day, even on the days when we feel like a waste of space. He loves the able-bodied and the disabled equally, with His overwhelmingly unstoppable, unquenchable love. We know that His eye is on the tiniest sparrow.  Our worth is determined by God’s name for us, not by the name that we make for ourselves. 

So here I am, simply Megan, telling you that God loves me for me, and He loves you for you. 

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Answers that we aren’t looking for, but we really desperately need to hear

Answers that we aren’t looking for, but we really desperately need to hear

I got fed up with being sick.  Like totally fed up.  I decided that maybe I needed to get before the Lord on my face, fasting, like good old Jehoshaphat and his people in 2 Chronicles 20.  So I desperately laid prostrate before God this morning, sobbing, saying, “Lord,  I don’t know what the heck to do, but my eyes are on you.”  Over and over,  I prayed the names of God.  I sang worship songs.  I played Bible-roulette (where you open up the Bible to random pages and ask God to speak to you).  I doused myself with holy oils.  I prayed in English, in tongues, in song, and in scripture.  I stubbornly refused to move until I heard from God.  And I wanted Him to HEAL me.  Everything.  My body, mind, and Spirit.   I began to lament and yell at God.

I accused Him of not listening, not caring, and abandoning me.  I questioned why I was even on my face in the first place. I told God that I was exhausted.  I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.  I couldn’t handle being so sick.  I knew that He has abundance for me and that He wants to use me, but I was literally crippled.  This was when the tears started to flow freely, which showed me that this is indeed where the most raw nerve lives.  I knew that this was the point that I was building up to all morning, and the air was heavy with power and pregnant with possibility.  Knowing that it really was time to open up the Bible,  I opened to Jeremiah 15 and started reading Jeremiah’s lament in verse 18:

Why has my pain been perpetual
And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will you indeed be to me like a deceptive stream
With water that is unreliable?

Umm…didn’t I just say that?  Oh, man, Jeremiah.  I totally get you.  I knew that this was the verse that God had ordained for me this morning, because Jeremiah’s words were pretty much my words verbatim.  My eyes scanned down the page in Jeremiah, and my heart leapt that God responded to Jeremiah’s cry immediately following this statement.  I saw the words, thus says the Lord, and I knew that He had a word for me as well.  I was sure that it was the perfect word.  But sometime “perfect” is not exactly the same thing as what we want to hear.  And this was NOT what I wanted to hear.  So God responds with this perplexing statement:

“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before me, you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become my spokesperson.

Aww, crap, God, really?   Are you going to call me out on my stuff?  No sweet, fluffy, feel-good promises with no strings attached?  I wanted to hear:

“Yes, absolutely, let me end your suffering immediately.  Since you say it like that,  I see your point.  Zap.  No more pain.”

But no.  He doesn’t say that in this passage.  He beckons Jeremiah to return.  He also tells him to let go of the worthless in order to focus on the precious.

Peterson’s The Message refers to this returning as a call to stop complaining.   I’m not sure that this is God’s message to me this morning.  In this passage,  God called me out on my wandering heart.  I have been so disgruntled by my suffering that I took my recovery into my own hands. When my body failed to heal with restored nutrition and weight gain,  I stomped my little foot and said, “Fine!  If I’m not feeling better anyway, then I will not push my tube feeds and not eat what is on my meal plan!  I will hold onto my eating disorder because my body is falling apart anyway.  Why not at least placate myself emotionally while I am physically miserable?”   This has been my internal and not-so-subtle act of rebellion.  Nutrition is a complicated thing with my body, so this process is always one that requires honesty and openness about what my body can and cannot handle. Instead of being completely forthcoming, I have tried to yank they steering wheel away from my skilled providers and go off on my own course.  This can be dangerous. God is beckoning me back to the collaborative process, and even more importantly, He is calling me back to Himself.

Physical healing is not the ultimate goal.  Union with the God of the universe is.   Knowing God as faithful is ultimately more important than desperately seeking something of this world, even physical healing.

I did NOT enter into my prayer time this morning to hear that God wants me to return to a place of complete integrity and trust.  That is not fun, and it is way too practical.  I wanted supernatural wind and a tangible kiss of the Spirit on my nose, followed by total and complete healing.  But He is calling me to extract the precious from the worthless.   

The precious part is knowing Him.  That is enough.

So, no, I didn’t leave this morning’s prayer time with complete healing.   I really hoped that I would.  But I got direction, and it was pretty crystal-clear.  Really, that’s what Jehoshaphat received as well.  A member of his choir gave their army clear directions about how to proceed in battle.  They followed the directions exactly as they were spoken, and their enemies destroyed themselves.   All Jehosophat and his army had to do was show up and see the work of the Lord.

 

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.

 

Freedom Within Borders

Freedom Within Borders

As a child,  I was ultra-submissive.  I never rocked the boat.  I was terrified of breaking the rules.  I was rigid and well-behaved, trembling at the thought of doing anything rebellious.  As an adolescent and teenager,  I was the same meek, timid, rule-following legalist.  I craved structure, rules, and boundaries.  I even made my own arbitrary world of boundaries and structure because the set rules were not rigid enough.  They diagnosed my world of rules as “anorexia.”  I lived and breathed rules.  They defined me.  Without my system of  restriction,  I had no sense of self.  How sad is it when your identity is shaped by what you refuse to do?  I built this prison for myself, and I got way too comfortable in it.

Somewhere along the line, however, I broke.  After a lifetime of worshipping the rules,  I could no longer walk the tightrope that I had strung for myself.   I didn’t turn wild-child or anything, but I did let loose a bit.  I ate desserts.  I had real, legitimate conversations with God and asked Him what seemed like “off-limits” questions.  I allowed myself to get angry and express my anger.  I allowed myself to voice the truth of my suffering.  I risked relationships: real, meaningful relationships.  I watched tough movies.  I said words like “crap” without flinching.  I stopped trying to be absolutely perfect in every way.  And I embraced a new kind of freedom.  I also uncovered this inner rebel whom I had never before encountered.  I stepped out of my box.

Many people around me encouraged this new slightly rebellious side.  In anorexia recovery, it is difficult to really make strides toward freedom without stepping outside of one’s own rigidly structured habits.  I became more spontaneous, which allowed me to experience a new side of my own humanity and made space for joy and excitement.  As restrictive living lessened, my world expanded, and as my world expanded, I realized that I had been hiding from a bunch of phantoms that I had dreamed up.  Many of my fears were nothing but smoke and mirrors.

This rebel was helpful in recovery from an eating disorder, and I am extremely thankful to have tasted the fresh life of freedom.

In an unfortunate turn of events, however,  I find myself trying to navigate a new world of restrictions.  These restrictions are  imposed by doctors and my treatment team as we try to manage my chronic illnesses.  The Megan of my youth would have clung to restrictions and been the most compliant patient on the planet.  She would follow doctors orders at all times and never imagine pushing the envelope.  Unfortunately, this Megan is quite different from the Megan of my youth.

I have this need to push the limits.  Some providers on my treatment team call this going “rogue.”  With the unpredictability of POTS and MCAD, I am supposed to be in a wheelchair when I leave the house.  With the temperature in the 90’s most afternoons,  I need to stay inside because my body cannot regulate its own thermostat.  With my complex set of allergies and motility issues, I am on a strict diet, involving no processed food, refined sugar, artificial colors, animal protein, dairy, gluten, and fiber. Basically, I can eat about five to ten percent of food options out there.

I find myself bucking up against these medical boundaries that have been compassionately placed upon me.  The rebel in me says,  “No one can tell me what I can’t do,” so I sneak in a handful of teddy grahams.  I take the kids out in the backyard on a hot afternoon.  I “forget” to remind my husband to put my wheelchair in back of the car.  I scoff at the rigidity of the rules and try to do my own thing.  The rules seem oppressive.  It seems like people are trying to rob me of life and freedom and fun.  And since my rebellious years are a bit delayed, I act a bit like a typical rebellious teenager, turning on her heels away from those who love her as they summon her to a life that they know is more life-giving. She is convinced, however, that they are trying to rob her of “real life.”

So as I do my own thing, I reap the consequences.  I eat what I feel like eating, and I suffer tremendous pain and sometimes near-anaphalaxis as a result.  I take my children outside to play, and I collapse in the grass when my legs give out due to heat exhaustion.  I “conveniently” forget my wheelchair and end up in bed for a couple days after a simple doctor’s appointment.  I wail that it is not fair, and I all but beat my chest with my fists at the injustice of my life.  I pout, and if I had the energy, I would stomp my stubborn feet all the way to my bed.

I didn’t ask for these restrictions, and I resent them.  But I am reminded that they are there so that I can actually have a chance at life.  These restrictions are not like my self-imposed prison that I created so many years ago.  They are life-giving boundaries, placed around me so that I can move safely and freely in this life that is mine to live.

I have to avoid many foods so that I can be pain-free and empowered to pursue important goals in my life.  I cannot be the mother, friend, and wife that I was created to be if I am in the midst of allergic reaction after allergic reaction.  I have a wheelchair so that I can go out and enjoy the events and activities that other people get to enjoy.  What if I could see my wheelchair as a vehicle that could transport me further into abundance and hope?  I cannot go outside often, but I can be inside in a stable environment, reading stories to my little ones, singing songs, playing my keyboard, and writing so that my life can bring meaning and life to others.

These boundaries that surround my life look different than what I had expected my borders to look like.  That does not mean, however, that they are meant to be disregarded and cast aside.  In my rebellion,  I will suffer.  The rules are not created to chastise me or smother me.  They are created to free me to live more fully.

I still feel like a rebel, and I kind of like the rebel part of me.  I still want to eat chocolate cake, french fries, and maybe a really delicious salad.  But I want to live a meaningful, abundant life, and for me, that means learning to settle into a particular set of boundaries.

In the perfect world, where there is no suffering, pain, or sickness, this lifestyle would be unnecessary.  One day, when I know as I am fully known, I will be unfettered by a failing body.  But that is not today, and this is not the perfect world.  The Kingdom is not fully here on earth, so I will submit and trust that I can still taste the glories of the Kingdom as I navigate life within these new borders.

I am slowly learning to find freedom within these boundaries, and it is beautiful.

 

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 Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

In late November of 2016, we bought our first house.  It was, in my eyes, idyllic.  Murals were painted on the walls of each of the children’s rooms, a blue ocean with a tiny boat sailing on the horizon for Elijah, and a willow tree with a picket fence covered with flowering vines for Lily.  Our walk-in closet and spacious bedroom had me pinching myself twice a day.  The sunrise cascaded over our kitchen table through the bay kitchen window.  We could peer out Elijah’s window to say goodnight to the moon each night.  The carpets were lush, the walls were painted rich, welcoming colors, and we even had our own fire place.  The basement, though unfinished, could house the play room where the kids could play freely whenever they felt so inclined.

The most attractive feature of our new haven, however, was its sprawling yard.  The previous owners clearly had green thumbs in addition to their artistic flair, and they took better care of this yard than any other yard in the entire neighborhood.  In Kansas, the land of sparse trees, we have eight trees around our house.  One is a massive willow, whimsical in every sense of the word.  One is a luscious bradford pear, another an apple tree.  The grass is the richest shade of green that I could imagine, with a built-in sprinkler system, to keep it velvety-soft and fresh.

When we moved in late November, as fall was descending into winter, and colors were fading into grey, white, and black, we had no idea what the garden would look like: if any flowers were perennials, returning in the spring, or if we would have to start from scratch.  All we had were dead stalks, skeletons of flowers, and I am no expert on gardening.  Thus,  I couldn’t even guess what the landscape would look like in the spring. I had no idea the beauty that could rise out of this garden, now my own, that I never planted.

Spring is blossoming into summer, and this garden that I inherited has been a highlight of my year.  As the months of April and May have passed,  I have inhaled the glory of tiger lilies, dark red lilies, marigolds, roses, and hostas.  Each plant blooms on its own time table, and each day is like unwrapping a gift from someone I never knew.  When we toured the house initially before we made our offer,  I whispered to my husband, “I could be friends with these people.  I love them already.”  Amazing how you can feel a kindred spirit in a home, even when those who made it the home are not even present.  It is also amazing the impact a person can have on the life of another person whom they may never meet.  I met the husband briefly.  He brought the extra garage door opener over the day that we first moved in.  I greeted him at our door (his door), our eyes locked, and I gave him the biggest, most appreciative smile that I could muster, and he left, to drive about five hours, to his new house.  This one encounter was the extent of the overlap of our lives.

I am too sick to garden.  Even being outside is a strain.  I could never do to our yard what the previous owners of our house did.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of a crop that I did not sow.  They planted a little vegetable garden in the back yard. My in-laws are keeping it bursting with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.  My life is grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing.  I get to tuck my babies in at night and admire another person’s artwork on their walls.  In God’s special way, He met our needs before we even knew that we had needs through someone that we would never really know.

The lives of those who went before us sing from the walls of this house and burst forth from the soil surrounding it.  Their love, their innovation, their unique giftings and personalities paint shades of color that extend into the life of my little family.  They will never know their impact.  They were just doing what they loved, and it colored the world.

We have a ripple effect that can heal and bring hope.  God has used our home as a picture of His provision and hope.  He knows that I love flowers, murals, and beauty, and He knows that I cannot produce these elements of life that I love at this point in my life.  He used someone else to plant the seeds that would blossom in my life as symbols of providence, hope, and His own Shekinah glory.

Our God is great enough to show up in the little things, like orange crimson carnations and a wistful sail boat painted on a toddler’s wall.   Our Father God gives good, sweet, thoughtful gifts to His children, even, or maybe even especially, in their suffering.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.   James 1:17

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.

OR

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