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.

 

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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Life, Near-Death, and the Good Shepherd

Life, Near-Death, and the Good Shepherd

It’s a pretty common occurrence to brush shoulders with death. We ride in cars. Those can be dangerous. We shower. We could fall and hit our head. We or someone we know could encounter the next world at any minute. No one is immune. “I almost died” is not an outlandish statement.   It can be scary, but it can be a reality. With that being said, I am not sure how to process my recent encounters with my own “near-death” experiences. I spent a solid week as a wandering soul, stuck somewhere between this life and the next.   I feel strange when people talk to me about it. When they describe the sensation of sitting in my hospital room, watching my sleeping body, teetering on the tightrope between time and eternity, not sure which direction I would fall at any given minute. I have no elaborate out-of-body experience to describe. I only have medical facts, second-hand information from my husband, loved ones, and doctors, and a lingering sense of displacement in a world that seems a bit off and foreign at the moment.

 

It started with a simple outpatient surgery and a body that was more fragile than the doctors had accounted for. They had been told, but they brushed off the warnings of my faltering health as they tossed me into the assembly-style line set up to be prepped for surgery. My one doctor who was keenly aware of my precarious state had made every effort to set the stage for caution, care, and safety, but her words were disregarded by the business side of the medical industry as their hands were somewhat forced by financial constraints imposed by the broken system of insurance-dictated care.

 

Thus, I was sedated normally, operated on as a routine patient, and tossed like rag-doll back into the assembly-line recovery room as my descent into the valley of the shadow of death began. They did not realize that you cannot toss a china doll like you can a rag-doll, and unknowingly, they started a slow shattering of my delicate physiognomy that would usher me up to the gate of heaven.

 

Pain was unmanaged, my lungs could not cope, there was systemic collapse and chaos, shifting the balance of my precarious composition to a place of toxicity and implosion. No one can blame individuals within the system. They are over-extended, with computers full of faceless names, as they carry the lives of these names, into a place of fragility and vulnerability. It is their job. They may or may not care about the faces, about the back-stories, about the countless lives intertwined in the lives of their patients. There are many who do indeed care. But they are slaves to the broken system which is a slave to a broken system called fallen humanity.

 

I am thankful, exceedingly, abundantly thankful, that my life, my real solid substantial life, was never truly in the hands of the broken system. They were never truly in control. Under the master care of the Master Caregiver, I was always safe. He held my hand in the darkest valley of systemic bodily failure, cardiac uncertainty, and roller-coaster blood levels that threatened to send me careening into eternity.   I was never abandoned in the midst of compromised external care, because my Jehovah is the Lord who heals, who holds, whose arms are never too full, who never loses His children in the shuffle, or overlooks a critical lab value. The same would be true if He had carried me into eternity in the midst of the chaos of last week, because HE would have been the one who carried me there. I am not lost or overlooked. I am the beloved of the Most High God, and He holds me in the palm of His careful, tender hand. He knew all about my journey to the precipice of death before I took my first step into the surgeon’s office, and He whispered to my soul, “It is well. I am with you.”

I am so thankful that I am not lost. I’m also very glad to still be on this side of eternity.

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…