You and Me

You and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When Love Invades

When Love Invades

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

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

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

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

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

The Adventure at the Ocean with POTS and Tots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

love

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

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

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

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

My love, my miracle, my husband. 

Surprised by Recovery

I battled anorexia from age 13 to age 30. Seventeen years felt like forever to me.   It was seventeen years of being in and out of hospitals, being terrified of dying and desperate for something just to kill me already.   I was hospitalized over a dozen times, sometimes scraping the bottom of the pit physically, sometimes emotionally. These seventeen years included broken bones due to osteoporosis, three near-fatal suicide attempts, an ongoing agonizing exercise addiction, and constant self-injury.

There was nothing mild or moderate about my struggle. It was severe and chronic, and it was going to kill me. It was just a matter of time. The miracle was that I had lived through it so far, but miracles can only give so much to people who don’t really appreciate them, or so I thought.   Certainly, through the years, I built up skills and gained tools for recovery. I had “stable” times, usually only lasting a month or so here and there. I still had passions, and I somehow still had friends who put up with my crap.   I graduated high school and college at the top of my classes and made it halfway through graduate school. But I was mostly dead.

Then something happened, slowly, gracefully.

I started to come to life, maybe for the first time in my entire life. I think that it happened through relationship. The healing started three years ago when the anorexia was still primary. Someone got through my 10-foot thick shell, and a man at that. Men have never been allowed in my life. But he broke through. I have no idea how that happened. I certainly wasn’t looking for him. I had my sight set on destruction. Slowly, like over two years, as our relationship grew, my relationship with anorexia became more and more distant. It is much more difficult to hurt yourself when that act hurts the one whom you love so much. Years in treatment and therapy had bestowed upon me all of the skills that I needed for recovery, and I began to use them. I finally had a reason to.

Looking back, I feel a little bad that I couldn’t find it in myself to recover for myself, but who are we outside of relationship? Healing occurs in relationship, because that is where the destruction occurred. Now I have three people crowding my heart with love, given and received. The anorexia doesn’t fit anymore. It was eclipsed by his love, and now it is triple-eclipsed. That relationship with the eating disorder is one that I will happily sacrifice for the love of self-giving of marriage and motherhood. I expected that recovery would be agonizing and tedious, but it has been natural and simple. It only made sense. It actually has been a lot simpler than remaining in the anorexia ever was.

 

This has been my experience. There are still some haunting thoughts. I still get angry when I hear about diets and weight loss. Occasionally, like once every few months, I miss it. But I would never give up my new existence in order to return to my old. Now, this is just the anorexia and self-destruction. I have a long way to go in my recovery from my trauma and dissociation. The scape-goat of anorexia is removed, however, so now I can focus, with the support of my loved ones, on the stuff that is at the root. And for that, I am so thankful.