Thank you for being a listening ear when I just have to explode with the goodness and truth about my Savior Jesus Christ. He has more than saved my soul, He has more than removed the dread of death, He has more than rescued me from the pit of hell – Jesus daily saves me from my personal hell.
Everyone has it. A personal hell. A circular thought pattern of anxiety on an endless loop. Like a hamster on a wheel, the cogs churn all night in your mind, working, twisting, writhing to find some answer you missed before.
A personal hell. A habit you hate that nips at your heels like a rabid dog. It’s breath is death. If you’re lucky, for now, you’re one step ahead of it.
A personal hell. A never fading memory. Faces or words that lurk in your quiet moments, feasting on your peace.
A personal hell. Impending possibilities of unemployment, illness, danger, financial collapse. Everyone has a personal hell.
As most of you know, my hell was born in the form of anorexia. But the habit of starving and compulsive exercise fed on my peace and grew into anxious, relentless thoughts of calories and laziness and bulging body parts. Then, anxiety swelled until it infected my mind with fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of change and of course an every growing fear of food. And finally, even when recovery began blinking sporadically on the horizon, and I began plunging toward it in blind, uncoordinated desperation; then my hell bloomed like licking flames behind me. Memories.
Bless the Lord Oh My Soul! Who becomes my vision and my only thought!
Two weeks ago, I learned that I now weigh as much as I did before I ever dueled with anorexia. That in itself is enough of a change to fan the flames of fear. Then, this weekend, my husband and I attended a marriage retreat in Staunton, VA. It was a chaplain’s event called Strong Bonds.
[Side note, if you have an opportunity to go on one of these retreats - take it! Especially, if for some reason Chaplain Denning is leading it!]
Back to Jesus’ valiant rescue…I always fret over these types of “fun” events. They are anything but fun for me. My regular workouts are threatened by pathetic hotel gyms and no space outside to go running; not to mention early morning obligations. And, nice as everyone seems to think free food is, for an anorexic, the idea of a prepared plate being set in front of you is terrifying.
Who knows how much butter some careless caterer used on the mashed potatoes? What if they serve dessert? How do I say no when everyone is watching and moaning over how sublime the cheesecake is? How am I going to find safe food to eat if these are my only options? On top of all that, a retreat is supposed to be relaxing and fun. For most people that means lingering over good conversation and dark beer. Or, swirling red wine while debating the merits of a restaurant’s barbecue ribs. For me, that means sustained agony in a place of temptation while bound by a bunch of self-woven rules.
The first night there, we went down to dinner. I had told them that I am a vegetarian so the caterer brought me a plate of pasta, drizzled with olive oil and flecked with onions, mushrooms and green pepper. Yikes! Patrick was served chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.
My darling hubby looked at my plate and asked, “Do you want my potatoes and green beans? I’ll eat your pasta.”
So we traded partial plates and I ate. I ate every delicious creamy swirl of potato and every green bean dripping with golden butter. And it was good! But the best part is that fear did not rise up in my throat. Anorexia did not loom behind me all night with a tightening grip on my neck. We finished the evening over beers by the fireplace in the hotel bar.
But Day 2 was even more spectacular! At breakfast, I did not eat the special, safe food I had thrown into my duffle bag “just in case.” Instead, I enjoyed fried potatoes and scrambled eggs! Then, I sat on my derrière for a three hour lecture! After the lecture, lunch was served. I tried to refuse it and Patrick agreed to take me to Subway later.
But when the waitress delivered a veggie wrap the size of a small torpedo, my tummy growled. The thin flour tortilla was crammed with broccoli, mushrooms, sprouts, full-fat cheese… and dressing. Some saucy, delicious, doubtlessly not-light dressing.
OK, OK. I’ll eat half. Oh well, I’ll eat all of it – it’s so good!
I could go on and on about the excitement rumbling against residual fear in my belly. But the tantalizing hope of a different future – holidays not spent skulking in the kitchen to monitor the usage of oil. Date nights not wasted at Subway restaurant so that I can get a 50 calorie salad. What if…. it doesn’t have to be that way forever?
Tiny Staunton is quaint, to be nice it’s historic, but there’s not much to do. So, we found ourselves sitting in a little bar a couple hours later, sampling beers with friends. So much for a low calorie afternoon! Then, of course, dinner time arrived. That merciless hour when every American is supposed to eat…again.
We landed at the Mill Street Grill. (Highly recommended by everyone, if you’re in the area.) Just a salad, I told myself. Just the side salad.
Oh, but I love shrimp. I had lived through Friday night. I had lived through most of Saturday. What if, simply enjoying Saturday night too, isn’t a crime? So I had shrimp and salad. And hot chocolate when we got back to our room.
If you have never argued with yourself about the merits of a certain food, or the innate evil of an extra calorie. If you have never run an extra mile to compensate for a delightful dessert or celebrating your own birthday, then maybe you don’t have any idea the freedom that I enjoyed this weekend.
But, if you have ever skipped a meal so that you could go out to eat later. If you have ever run an extra mile (or two, or three) because you ate four extra crackers. If you have ever stayed awake counting calories instead of sheep – then you know exactly what I mean. You know exactly the type of freedom that we have not danced in for so many years.
The truth is you may not be there yet. The truth is, I didn’t think I was there. But Jesus knew I was. And Jesus is the one who saved me. And Jesus is the one who surprised me by throwing open the gates I have long hidden behind.
Oh the beauty of the view as I stand here in His arms surveying the landscape of blessing He has in store for me – and you.
But now, this is what the Lord says, He who created you Oh Jacob, He who formed you Oh Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name and you are mine.’ Is. 43:1