The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

Paul’s life was a constant reminder that his own strength could accomplish very little.  That dang thorn in his flesh never gave him much wiggle room.  I imagine Paul trying to take a few steps in his own power, in some self-reliant deviance, only to fall face-down, back into dependence on his Maker. 

Paul, I feel you, brother. I keep forgetting this God-dependence thing, and I keep trying to walk in this soul-amnesia.  I foolishly think that I can stand on my own two feet and white-knuckle through this life in my own feeble strength.  As soon as I start to act a little cocky, wobbling along in my own power, I receive a sucker-punch to the gut, and find myself trembling on my face, totally helpless in the presence of my own thorns in the flesh. 

And there you are, saying, “I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  And here I am, asking, “what in the world is this upside-down kingdom about, where we praise God for our weaknesses, and glory when we reach the end of ourselves?” 


What counter-intuitive calculations lead us to the conclusion that the meek shall inherit the earth; that those who weep will rise in joy; that when I am weak, then I am strong; that the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven; that the King of the universe came into the world in a cattle stall? 

And yet, here-in lies our hope: Paul asked three times for healing, and God said, “MY grace is sufficient for you, MY strength is perfected in your weakness.”  So Paul, head bowed and hands raised in submission, said, ” I surrender.” 

So here I am, flat on my back, at the end of myself, reminded for the 134,582nd time that I am, indeed, weak.  And, Paul, you say this: 

Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I will celebrate in my weaknesses for this reason: They create space in my life for the power of the Almighty God.  And I will be content in my suffering for this reason: it opens me up to deep communion with my suffering Savior. 

And yes, Paul, we can laugh together along with rest of beat-up, face-to-the-floor humanity, because in Christ, all of this mess is simply grace. 

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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.

 

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

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.

when life does not pan out the way we expect it to (or the story of humanity)

when life does not pan out the way we expect it to (or the story of humanity)

From my limited viewpoint,  I have observed that pockets of the church have accepted and even embraced lament and authenticity.  I may have felt as a child that I had to enter into worship with a  beaming face and contentment written all over my being, but I no longer feel the pressure to maintain an impossibly unsustainable bubbly character.  I no longer feel the need to “never complain.”  I see others weep in my congregation and find comfort, love, and acceptance.  I even see them encouraged and applauded for their transparency, and I see the church doing what we are called to do, to be a hospital for the sick at heart (every human on the planet, in some way or another).  I am thankful for the ministry of the body of Christ for the sad, broken, and hurting.  This is not an “us and them” concept.  This broken and hurting state is universal, and until we can lament the hurt, we will struggle to grasp the joy and contentment of true, authentic living.

With this being said, allow me to enter into a lament of my own.

Mother’s day has come and gone.  Before children, through pregnancies, and during my children’ s stages of infancy,  I dreamt about motherhood.  Planning to be a stay-at-home-momma,  I researched parenting methods, fun activities for kids, homeschool curriculums if we decided to go that route.  I couldn’t believe that I could spend days taking my kids to the park, the zoo, museums, botanical gardens, playgroups and playdates.  I imagined the days that I would walk them up to their first day of school, with their little hands in mine.  I looked at the sidewalks in our neighborhood and thought how perfect they were for mid-morning walks.  I dreamt of running through sprinklers with them, splashing in the ocean on beach trips, fun road trips, and dancing around the house with them in my arms.  My dreams weren’t exquisite.  They weren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams.  They didn’t involve great achievement or massive amounts of money.  They were simple. They seemed entirely attainable.

I could never nail down a career goal.  I could never settle on a type of work that seemed to call me and drive me forward.  When I finally held my first baby and realized that I wanted mainly to be a mommy,  my heart leapt with delight:  I had found what I was created for.  I had recovered from my eating disorder, and it was beyond worth it.  I began to really live.  Life infused my once dry bones, and they became animated and mobilized for the first time.  I had a dream that I could live into.

This dream, however, has been put on hold, possibly indefinitely.  And I am crushed. I am devastated.  I am too sick to drive, wheel-chair bound, with tubes coming out of my body.  Every waking hour,  I am hooked up to a feeding tube, and for four hours a day,  I am tethered to an IV-infusion.  Some days,  I am too sick to think.  Some days,  I am too dizzy and out of breath to read stories to my children.  Many days,  I am too sick to even be wheeled around the zoo.  I have so many allergies that I have to avoid many seemingly benign environments,  including indoor pools.  I cannot even sit at the side of the pool to watch my family swim.  Homeschool is out the window.  Super-duper-awesome-soccer-dance-gymnastic-hero mommy dreams careen into oblivion as I lie in bed, in too much pain to move.

I am told that most people in my condition would be in a nursing home.  WAIT! Away from their families?  Never to sleep under the same roof as their husband and babies?  Who will wake me from this nightmare?   Adulthood is being stripped away from me long before I even had a chance at a mid-life crisis!  This nightmare of never being able to look anyone in the eye because my face is at waist-level as I sit in a wheelchair.  The nightmare of being scolded for trying to pick up my two-year-old son who just wants to be in his mommy’s arms.  The nightmare of having to have home-health nurses come to our home, medical supply companies make frequent visits, bags of fluids and tube-feed becoming my sustenance as I watch my family eat spaghetti and garlic toast.

I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS.  NOT EVER.

And my heart is broken.  It is broken for me, that after overcoming a childhood of suffering and abuse, followed by an 18-year crippling eating disorder, I would recover only to be nearly suffocated by not one, but four chronic illnesses.  My heart is broken for my husband, who also did not sign up for a life of care-taking a sickly wife, watching her brush shoulders with death, trying to love her while her body is wasted and riddled with holes and tubes, while also shepherding a church and caring for two children under the age of four.  My heart is broken for my babies, who have to ask every day,  “mommy, how sick are you today? Can you play with me?  Can you eat with me today? Who will be coming over to take care of all of us today?”.  These babies who have to grow up too early with the knowledge of illness, pain, and suffering, and with the awareness that mommy is not able to care for them as well as they want and need.  THIS SUCKS.

But you know what?  I’m not alone.  We all carry dreams that have been unrealized.  We all nurse broken hearts and deep disappointments.  We all sometimes sing songs in a minor key that sound a bit like our hearts are being ripped open and drained before our very eyes.  And somehow, that song rises to the ears of a loving Father,  the song that was once sung by His Son on the cross.  The lyrics sound something like: “Father, why have you forsaken me?”

We wail with the Son in lament and betrayal for a while.  As long as we need.  God doesn’t rush us.  Sometimes it is for five minutes a day.  Sometimes it is lament that lasts for five months straight. There is no formula.  And then our Father, with tears streaming down His face in deep sorrow for our finally spoken broken, gently bends down and beckons us to rise.  He infuses our spirits with the joy that comes only after what seems like ages of weeping, and we lift our chins to give Him a weak smile.  And we take the next breath.