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.

 

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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.

 

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.

Sacred Beauty

Sacred Beauty

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns.”   Isaiah 52:7

Sweet Sylvia stands in my life as the grandmother that I never had. In her upper 70’s, or maybe early 80’s, she represents unquestionable beauty. We spend Friday mornings together, as she picks me up at eight AM for my weekly doctor’s appointment and subsequent infusion at the local hospital. She has “adopted” me and loved me through a season of uncertainty and suffering. She tells me of God’s work in her life, and mirrors back where she sees God working in my life. She is the most beautiful woman I know.

Before I really knew what beauty was, long before I met Sylvia, I was brainwashed regarding beauty. At 11 years old, I was recovering from having my tonsils removed. I hadn’t been able to eat solid food for a little over a week, and I had just returned to school as a newly tonsil-free sixth grader. I walked into my math class, and my teacher greeted me with a smile. “Wow, Megan! You lost a lot of weight. You look just like a princess.” I beamed. My false narrative of beauty was confirmed. With the lies of my childhood further validated, I marched forward into adolescence with a commitment to “beauty” that would involve relentless weight-loss leading to a severe eating disorder. As a result, I would be hospitalized so many times that I lost count of treatment stays. I would break five bones before the age of 30, and spend about 5,250 hours at the gym or pounding the pavement in a span of seven years. I thought that this was the road to beauty.

For the vast majority of my early life, I believed whole-heartedly that beauty was rooted in thinness. I knelt at the altar of “skinny” for 20 solid years, sacrificing my entire life for the number on the scale. Please understand, eating disorders are much more complex than simply worshipping thinness.   My eating disorder encompassed many levels of brokenness, from chemical imbalances, reenactment of childhood abuse and trauma, to deep self-hatred. In the midst of the broken terrain of my life, beauty did, however, become synonymous with thinness.

The echoes of those deeply ingrained stories still bounce off the walls of my soul at times, and I search the mirror for signs of thinness that the ghost-voices still whisper to be beauty.   A new concept of beauty is slowly emerging, however, and the Holy Spirit is whispering a new story into my heart as I engage in relationship with God and with others. This beauty has nothing to do with a number sewn onto my pants or bouncing around on a scale. It is irrelevant to prominent cheek-bones or thigh gaps.

This beauty is etched in laugh-lines, gray hairs, sparkling eyes, and stretch marks. This is the beauty where the image of Christ radiates through the cracks in surrendered, broken veneers. This is the beauty that evokes the statement, “When I am with you, I feel the presence of God.” This is the beauty that draws others into a warm embrace when they feel isolated and lonely. This is the beauty of self-giving, pouring out the overflow of the abundance of Christ. This beauty is the opposite of exclusivity; it is a welcoming, warm, comforting beauty that makes those around it feel profoundly valuable. This beauty is found in unlikely places, in the eyes of the weathered and elderly, in the hands of the sick and feeble, in the words of the vulnerable and unmasked.

Just as it has done with so many sacred, God-authored elements of life, culture through the power of the enemy has obscured, perverted, and reversed beauty. We almost cannot even remember what beauty truly means. C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory (1965), says:

We do not merely want to see beauty, thought, even God knows, that is beauty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

This beauty is true beauty, as we are formed into “little Christs,” as Lewis frequently calls Christians through the process of sanctification.

I am 34. I have found a few grey hairs over the past year. Childbirth and illness have weathered my visage. It has also formed me more into the image of my true love, Christ. According to my understanding of beauty, this has only made me more beautiful. I am not excellent at make-up application. I don’t always have the energy to fix my hair or the resources to maintain freshly shaped eyebrows, but God has assured me of this truth:

“You are altogether beautiful my darling. There is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7).

No matter how I manipulate my appearance, there is no assurance that the mirror will reflect cultural standards of beauty. What I do know without a doubt, however, is that when I enter into communion with my Lord, He shows me His beauty. I am able to enter into that beauty, to embody it, and as Lewis so elegantly states, to bathe in it, and to carry it into the world. In the presence of the Beautiful One, I can become part of the beauty of Christ, and I can draw others into true beauty.

And here is the sacred secret of beauty: The more the beauty of Christ shines upon us, the more we can see Christ’s beauty in others. As we incarnate Christ and we see His incarnation in others, we do what Lewis alludes to. We allow others to see the beauty of Christ and see themselves as truly beautiful. We become beautiful and spread beauty to the rest of the world, just as my precious friend Sylvia does. As I see Jesus in her face, I see beauty, am set free from the lies of what I once believed beauty to be, and I realize how truly beautiful I am.

My friends, we are beautiful because we represent the image of Christ. We draw others into that beauty when they see Christ in us. There is no greater beauty than the Imago Dei, and praise the Lord, we can all stand in the truth that we bear this beauty.

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.

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…