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. 

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

Over the last few weeks, my mood has gotten increasingly dark. Hope has proven itself to be scarce, and deep despair has sprung up like unwelcome weeds in my mind and heart. I’ve grown bitter, grumpy, antagonistic, and jaded.  

Part of the cause of my dark season has been pure exhaustion. No one in our house is sleeping well. Part of the cause of my soul-darkness is medication mishaps. Prednisone, psychologically speaking, is clearly not my friend. In addition, my treatment team has been having conversations about their own fear of the potential fatality of my conditions and what long-term prognosis looks like. With all of these factors at play, my typical resilient ability to reframe my daily suffering has been less than stellar. 

I find myself tired of fighting what feels like a losing battle for my body, I feel tired of desperately trying to maintain my tenuous grip on hope in a situation that appears hopeless, and I am tired of living this life of passing out, unexpected and unexplained reactivity,  chronic pain, and total dependency.  I am tired of playing wack-a-mole with 15 symptoms at once, wielding faulty mallets. I am bone-exhausted. 

I wrestle with God over healing, and I read of the “severe mercies” of God: when God withholds something good because He possibly knows something that we don’t (St. Augustine, Confessions XI, 25). 

But really, God? I’m too tired to see good in this. I’m too sick to feel hope.  And, if I’m really honest, I’m almost offended by this “severe mercy” concept right now. It seems a little bit like mockery.  And yet I know that God is good, that He is for me, not against me, that He loves me. 

I know that I will continue to pray for healing, and I know that for reasons that can’t always be grasped by my measly human brain, He doesn’t always heal. And I have my toddler-style tantrums when the medical tests yeild no clear-cut answers, when treatment is a continual crap-shoot because no one seems to know what to do with me. I sit and pout, looking longingly at the sky for that one rain cloud that will bring the much-needed refreshment for my body and soul. And I have snarky, angry comments for God when not even a single measly cloud floats in to give me a sign of possible rain.  

My humble honesty of the past when I approached God in grief on my knees is precariously teetering on the edge of a cliff called cynicism. I am entering into the danger-zone of hostile, accusing, finger-pointing.  The result of humble, grief-stricken, heart-wide-open brokenness is communion with God in suffering. When we come to God with  fist-throwing, accusation-hurling fury, we run the risk of walking away in entitled bitterness, estranged from our life-source. 

In this season, I am tempted to choose to be offended by God and interpret lack of healing as abandonment.  I am inclined to curl in a ball and believe that it is God who continues to hit me when I am down. Worse yet, I start to believe that He has walked away, apathetic to my agony.

But this is my opportunity to employ some sound DBT strategies. I can choose to engage in the opposite-to-emotion tool that I know has carried me through difficult times. God has a host of promises that are unchanging. These are the promises that I can count on:

Never will He leave me or forsake me. ( Hebrews 13:5)

Because of His great love we are not consumed. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. ( Lamentations 3:22)

Neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor demons, nor anything else in all creation is able to separate me from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. ( 2 Corinthians 4:8)

My heart has grown uncomfortably hard, and I am ready for some softening. God’s promises knead my heart and soften it just enough for the fog of disillusionment to lift and for me to rememember the Father’s deep, deep love for me.  

Don’t get me wrong, God can handle our anger and accusations. He will not turn from us when we bring whatever broken mess we carry to Him, even when we are furious with Him.  He also wants to show us how deeply and unbelievably loved we are. And when we cling to the anger, resentment, and offense like they are our best friends, we tend to build walls up against the loving God of the universe (from our side). 

It is time for me to lay down my God-thrashing weapons and come to Him on my knees once again,  open to whatever healing may look like.  It’s time to drop the cold, bitter cynicism.  God wants to wash my offense away with His love.  

What if I’m not physically healed? I will not fear, because I will still have Jesus, and He is more than enough. 

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

White-hot Forgiveness

White-hot Forgiveness

I wrote this article back in March, in the middle of the Lenten season.  It was shared here at Annesley Writers. I realized that I have not shared it here, on my personal site with you guys. 

I have this propensity to explode. When my blood pressure fluctuates, when blood doesn’t adequately pump to my brain, when my pain medications are wearing off, I am unpredictable.

The most difficult part of this issue is that I am agonizingly aware of my irrational temper-tantrums, and I live in fear of my explosions. One of my family’s biggest complaints about my struggle with my chronic illnesses (aside from my horrific memory) is that I have anger issues.

No amount of awareness of the neurological basis for this weakness can relieve me of the guilt that comes after snapping at my empathetic kids or my beloved husband.

I try to stay seated as this position helps with the blood flowing to the brain issue. I take medications to help regulate heart rate and blood pressure and to reduce the gallons of adrenaline my broken nervous system dumps into my body. These physiological interventions only work minimally.

I still fall into non-coherent, flames-shooting-out-of-ears nuclear blasts. They usually end with a humiliated chuckle, and an embarrassed muttering of, “Sorry, Mommy’s head turned into a volcano again.”

Internally, I am thrashing myself, resolving to control my temper better. Externally, I am emailing my doctor, desperately begging for some kind of medical intervention that will stabilize my labile physiology that seems to have my psychology hanging by a thread.

Cognitive decline, neurological conditions, and anger outbursts can bring even the greatest saint to her knees, and these deficits pull out the parts of me that I never want to have exposed to the light of day.

Lent seems to do the same thing, and the season of Lent this year has corresponded with a heightened awareness of my short-comings.

Hot tears, intermingled with hot bath water, Epsom salts, and essential oils, meet me in the rare moments of solitude and reflection during my Lenten morning bath times. Bathing is tricky with toddlers around, so I strategically schedule shower and bath time for early in the morning before my husband leaves for work. The tears flow more freely these days, triggered by my wrestling-matches with my volatile temper.

As my body is wrapped in the warmth and comfort of oil, magnesium, and sulfate-infused water, my spirit feels cracked and raw. I squeeze my eyes shut to find my heart hemorrhaging into this cleansing pool.  I can’t do this on my own.  I am at the end of my pathetically limited internal resources, self-sufficiency, functionality, and medical options.  My false sense of self dissolves with the salts in these purifying waters, and I ugly-cry until my fingers and toes are wrinkled and the water is luke-warm.

Lent is a time of preparation for Jesus’ cross.  We let go of something that feels important to us, and we take on spiritual disciplines that may have fallen to the wayside over the year.  We strip away the flesh in order to put on Christ.

I am so quick to judge these 40 days as tedious, but Lent, in fact, is designed to be the church’s springtime, as we pull back winter’s layers of death and rise with a spirit of repentance, embracing the full gift of forgiveness through the cross of Christ, and experience a fresh empowerment of the Holy Spirit to embody and further the Kingdom of God.

How many nights do I cuddle with my precious three-year-old daughter in her bed, whispering words of repentance into her ear? “I am so sorry that I yelled at you tonight, Baby. Mommy lost her temper again, and I was wrong.” Or how many times do I have to sit down with my husband after accusing him of something completely absurd to ask his forgiveness?

I keep asking forgiveness, and they keep forgiving.

My temper issues are only one example of a deeper condition. One thing has become certain over this Lenten season:  I am in desperate need of forgiveness and grace, every day, every hour, every minute. 

I frequently feel like Paul: I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes … Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7: 17-20, The Message).

My illnesses are getting the better of me. They capitalize on my weakness. This is such a hopeless feeling, except, except, I can hear a whisper…

  “Come now, let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18).

Lord, what reasoning do you have to offer? I whisper back. I’m a white-hot flame, ready to singe the next victim. I am lost in this chaos of a broken body and broken brain. The weight of it is smothering.

I died for this too. I died for you, with all of your struggles and all of your illnesses. I beat death for you too, Megan, my beloved child.

My tearful bath time comes to a close, I cannot lament any longer, and I feel a sense of closure, or exhaustion, as I rise to face the day.  Pandora switches songs as I wrap my diseased body in a towel.  God sings the second verse like a fresh breath of life.  I laugh out loud with the joy that only can come in the morning following a long night of weeping:

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.”

(Before the Throne of God Above, Charitee Lees Bancroft, 1841)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Surfing

The Art of Surfing

Two weeks ago,  I had a good few days.  I felt stronger.  I went outside with the kids.  I was upright more frequently.  I was thinking, “The feeding tube has helped! We might be getting somewhere!” I was not falling over when I stood up.  I didn’t have to lie in bed all day.  I hadn’t felt so well in months, maybe even years.  Ground has been covered.  There is hope for improvement, maybe even healing.  We finally found an intervention that really seems to be helping me to gain some forward momentum.

It was great.

Then, five days ago,  the fevers started again.  Every 8 hours, lasting for about two hours.  The pain starts in my fingers and toes and slowly spreads inward, through my body, like a poison, until it infiltrates my entire being.  My stomach, my core, shoots searing pain like a volcano, sending me gasping and retreating to my safe place in my mind to escape the agony.  With the fevers come the chills, which seem more appropriately labeled convulsions based on their intensity.

The POTS symptoms have escalated, and we suspect that I have a new allergy–to my tube feed formula, the stuff that is being pumped into me for 15 hours a day.  I am allergic to the formula that is helping to restore me back to health.  And insurance will not cover any other formula.

And everything crashes again.

I am a surfer.

I’m not a surfer in reality.  That would be disastrous. I only surf theoretically.  I surf the waves of chronic illness.  Some illnesses have consistent, predictable symptoms, though, I suspect that most illnesses do not feel very predictable.  My illnesses, however, are highly unpredictable.  I feel better one day, go out with the family, and I get slapped in the face with a reaction in the middle of a perfectly normal outing.  I am laughing with friends at noon, and by dinner time, I am moaning in bed in pain.  And the next day, when someone asks me what happened yesterday, I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary.  The waves are frequent, and the tide is choppy.  But I am getting better at surfing.

With unpredictable chronic illness, I find myself forced into extreme flexibility.

I have to be able to adjust quickly. Got something planned for today?  Can’t move?  Okay, so we take a rain check.  My actual health is not the only thing that forces flexibility.  Finances and insurance are almost as, if not more, difficult to deal with than the illnesses themselves.  I can do my infusions at home until I am forced to switch to a new insurance, that no longer covers home infusions.  Then I have to find someone to drive me to the hospital for three hours, three times a week.  Okay.  No biggie.  Shuffle the schedule.  It may be a little inconvenient, but at least I have access to modern medicine and a multitude of folks willing to shuttle me around.

Sometimes,  I long for the waves to just settle down.  I long for peaceful, quiet, calm waters in which I could simply peacefully float.  Maybe just for a span of seven days.

And yet,  here I am in this ocean, learning to ride the waves.

I am learning the skills of surfing on this ocean called life.  (I’m pretty positive that most people feel like his or her life is marked by some pretty unreal waves).  Some of the skills that help me navigate the waves of unpredictability are lament, gratitude, and laughter.

My friend Esther Fleece,  in her book No More Faking Fine, pours out her heart, which is a reflection of God’s heart, about the necessity of the process of lament. “When we lament to God,” she says, “we see Him more clearly on the other side.”  To chose to not communicate to God our brokenness, disappointment, and frustration, we miss out on actual spiritual intimacy with God.  It is not self-pity to cry out to God when life is difficult and painful.  To lament and weep before God is actually life-giving, and in doing so, we can regain our balance on that surf-board.  So I know it seems counter-intuitive, but my first skill in riding the waves of this health-storm is my ability to express my frustration.

My writing role model Ann Voskamp knows all about gratitude.  She was called by God to change her life through daily acts of gratitude, and she collected blessings like wildflowers in a never-ending feild.  She counted a thousand gifts in her life, and her life was forever changed.  It is the secret that Paul let out in Philippians 4:11-12:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing, or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”

Paul’s secret was thanksgiving, so Ann picked up a pen every day and wrote down her gifts.  And she says that there is always room for gratitude.  There is.  Every day of my life, in bed, or out of bed, in pain or pain-free, verticle or horizontal, there is always something to be thankful for:  Crisp bed sheets, a window to look out,  the sound of the birds, access to running water,  the presence of my God And on the days where I can only know for sure that God is present, when I know nothing else for sure,  I can be thankful.  I would rather spend a day suffering knowing that God is by my side, than spend that day free of suffering but in the absence of God.  God is good.  I choose gratitude.  I steady my balance on the board, and ride on.

Laughter is wonderful medicine, and it helps me hold steady on some of largest, most terrifying waves.  God knew how much I would need humor when God gave me my husband.  He is hard pressed to be serious, and in our conversations, I can be confident that at least 80 percent of the time, he is joking.  With a simple witty quip, he can stabilize me when I am struggling to maintain footing. We laugh more than anything else together, and it is balm to my soul.  I feel that sometimes, the choice to laugh is the choice to hold onto hope that the world is not crashing in on me at this very moment.  This moment will pass, and there will be joy.  For me, laughter screams “hope” when life looks quite dreary.

Lament, gratitude, and laughter:  These are vital parts of my survival kit for my topsy-turvy life.  It is okay to cry,  it is okay to count blessings, and it is okay to laugh.  God is here, on the bad weeks, when my body is so reactive that I can’t function.  God is here, on the good days, when I try to test the limits a bit and see what life could look like when I am healthy.  God is here, in the in between, when I am holding my breath and hoping that treatments will work.  God is here, when I am completely certain that He is NOT here because I can’t seem to find him anywhere.  And God is here, calming the waters of my soul, even when the waters of my life seem violent and difficult to navigate.

And because He is here, I can surf these waves and have some fun. I’m getting pretty good at it.

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.