The Thorn in My Side

I was pretty stoked: God had given me an out! I had discovered the Bible verse that indicated anorexia was something I could struggle with my whole life.

Now, that sounds discouraging, but then, as someone who had fought the battle with anorexia for over a decade and continued to lose, it seemed like a welcome release. Perhaps I didn’t need to fight so hard, maybe this was something God had given me; my personal struggle. Maybe God wasn’t going to heal me or rescue me, maybe I could quit hoping and waiting and trying because this was just “my thing”.

Second Corinthians 12:6-10 says, “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

See, I thought, even Paul had something that he struggled with his whole life.

But as I prayed about this and tried to find the peace that proved I had found the solution to my struggle, it wasn’t there.

Paul’s thorn served a specific purpose. In the preceding verses, Paul says that the thorn was given to him to keep him from boasting in himself; it was not a random affliction such that “everyone has one”.

Paul had become an untimely apostle, having seen the risen Jesus after his ascension. After that, with many visions, his extensive schooling in The Law, his dual citizenship and rightful authority and notoriety as an evangelist, Paul had good reason to be proud. God gave him this “thorn” as a reminder that he was not self-sufficient and perhaps even as a physically humiliating attribute that kept others from idolizing him.

My eating disorder can never be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. First, the Bible says that God tempts no one. I believe that my anorexic behaviors were evidence of idolatry—worshipping myself. God frequently commands us to have no god besides Him. He will not “give” me an idol.

Second, Paul closes this passage by saying that he rejoices in his weakness so that the power of Christ might rest on him. To resign myself to an eating disorder as simply “my thorn” does not express the power of Christ and honor Him as the supreme one and only God, as The Redeemer.

Indeed, my eating disorder kept me on my knees before Jesus, more aware daily of how much I need Him. However, His power is made evident in my surrender to Him, not in my resignation to anorexia.

This article was first published at FINDINGbalance.com

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Is Yoga Sinful?

It’s no secret–I love exercising. It used to be an absolute, unhealthy obsession. And I will admit that yoga helped to break that for me. Yoga brought me to place of movement that didn’t equate calories; yoga some how melted stillness and activity together; yoga makes me strong in ways that nothing else ever has; yoga calls itself a practice and not a workout … and really, when I finish a yoga class, I can often hear the Lord whispering to me. As I lay in shavasana, Scripture washes my mind, prayers come easily and peace reigns. (Of course, this doesn’t happen every time without fail, but it’s more often than not.)

And then, someone (more that one someone) told me that yoga is sinful. They seemed like they knew so much about it. I heard that the poses were offerings to false gods, I heard that it was based on false, eastern religions. I heard that Christianity and yoga were mutually exclusive.

And then I heard otherwise … so what to believe?

So, finally, I just made my own call. I love yoga. I know that God healed me from anorexia–it was all Him–and I also know that yoga was a big part of that. But truthfully, I didn’t tell a lot of people about my home practice. I wasn’t sure how to defend it. I wasn’t prepared to be criticized for my decision. 

Enter, a podcast that I stumbled upon today: Faithful Wellness interviewed Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga, and it made sense! Rather than try to restate everything that Brooke said with such clarity, I’ll simply post the podcast and link here for you.

This blog started as a chronicle of my recovery from anorexia then, it hosted the launch of my book: The Predatory Lies of Anorexia, so it only seems fitting that it continue to proclaim Christ, freedom, health, hope and clarity to those who are looking for freedom from body image, weight issues and eating disorders.

Love!

CS Lewis and Complete Freedom from Anorexia

I hereby designate C.S. Lewis “My Favorite Author”. But then, maybe by simply reading Predatory Lies, you figured that out before I did.

This morning, I got an email called, CS Lewis Daily. Never one to disappoint:

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run. Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.

It is like that here. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way — centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

When I was fighting for freedom from my eating disorder, I ran up against this conundrum.

Could I not retain “myself” or the habits I had established that afforded me some imaginary modicum of control?

Could I give up counting calories but continue obsessively exercising?

What if I was willing to get treatment, as long as I could weigh myself everyday?

Could I continue to pursue the self-centered desires of my heart and keep personal “happiness” as the great goal of my life and at the same time surrender my will, my life, my eternal salvation to a God that I claim to love and trust?

And this is what I found: Just like cutting the grass can keep it short, but will not produce real, nutritious wheat; managing aspects of my eating disorder might keep me alive but would never result in freedom.

To mature and blossom in freedom, I must necessarily uproot the  grass and allow Christ to remake me–to make all things new. The change must be complete, a destruction of the old to allow the new to take root and flourish.

Was, Is and Will Be

moving-forward-1445758-mIn March of last year, my parents threw a big party. It was a special event to show off their grandkids who live out of state and to celebrate the publication of my first book, The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story. When they chose the date, no one realized that it would land neatly on top of the same weekend they began moving from the house they’ve lived in for seventeen years.

It was a bit maddening for my mother! Half of her life had already migrated to a new address, while she was expecting up to 80 guests at the old house! But, the dynamics created by the convoluted schedule were magical; it was in the chaos that I found redemption.

Part of moving is inevitably going through piles of old “stuff”—letters buried at the back of the desk and forgotten five years before, stuffed animals loved right out of their fur, photo albums lovingly created and abandoned on book shelves, paperbacks enjoyed once but not worth reading again, dusty silk flower arrangements, school year books, gymnastics trophies…but, among the mundane, we found precious things like blankets crocheted by Grandma and handmade baby dresses.

I plucked a photo album from the stack and flipped through the first several pages. My own face, barely recognizable stared back at me. There I was, sitting in this same room, ten Christmases past, a shell of myself, a skeleton of a woman. My eyes were haunted by dark gray shadows and ringed with fatigue. Though I must have been watching someone open a gift, there was no light in my eyes. I remember now, calculating how many calories were in that cinnamon roll my mother made me eat and wondering if anyone would notice if I left and went for a run.

God says He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Praise Him that I am not so! Because He is, my was, is not my is. And my will be is even better.

One reason for the party was to celebrate the publication of my book. As I wrote the book, I effectively closed my “was” chapter, and stepped bravely into “is”. That weekend, plowing through my parents’ closets brought the differences between was and is into distinct contrast. I can see clearly what God has done to redeem my past.

Some things that marked this final stay in my parents’ old home as the dawning of a glorious is:

Every morning, I sat and sipped coffee with my Dad instead of leaving the house to go for a 20 mile run.

I took cat naps with my mother instead of fearing how many pounds I would accumulate while resting.

I looked at my baby pictures and thought, “I was adorable!” instead of despising my appearance.

I walked my mom’s dog and stopped to smell her neighbor’s flowers instead of trying to turn it into a power walk.

I ate some of my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies.

I didn’t fall asleep in church because my brain was starved for energy. Instead I relished the pastor’s sermon and lifted my hands in worship.

I didn’t overhear my parents discussing my illness in anxious, hushed tones.

All of these observances culminated on the Saturday afternoon of the party. Almost 80 of my parents’ friends poured through the house. These were people who had prayed for me and held my parents’ hands when I went to college, and when they received worried phone calls from my dorm supervisor. These people prayed for me even though they didn’t know me. These people knew my story, knew my family’s pain in the middle of my eating disorder and held us before the throne. These people are part of the reason I am here today.

Today is new. I am fuller, happier. I am free from fear of food and compulsory exercise. Today, I see the world as so much bigger than myself. Thank God that I am not the same as I was.

And even more glorious? I’m the not same as I will be. God has promised that I cannot conceive of the good things He has planned for me. He has promised that one day I will behold the face of my Savior and I will be like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). He has promised me a future and hope.

Last year, I recognized redemption. One weekend was a microcosm of the span of my life and I can see clearly how God redeemed me. It is in that context that I am more excited than ever, more grateful than ever that God has redeemed my soul. I love is and new, I am joyful now, but I am ever so excited about what will be.

Questions:

What is one evidence that Christ has made your life new? How is your “is” different than your “was”? Can you use this to share the Gospel with others?
2. Are you still struggling with the guilt and fears of “was”? What do you think you need to truly feel new?
3. If you let your imagination run, what do you think “will be” will look like?

 

Change the Standard

The second my feet hit the floor, I felt overwhelmed.

“Lord, the house feels like such a mess!”

Now, I’m a confessed compulsive cleaner. But I justify that little character flaw by saying, “I have two cats and a dog! How could I possibly keep up with all the hair?”

Chalking it up to necessity, you’ll often find me on my hands and knees picking up individual pet hairs. I sweep the house two or three times a day. But more than anything, it’s in my head. It’s something I obsess over, think about and worry about. It’s an idol.

My eating disorder was the same way. I was a compulsive exerciser and calorie counter. But I justified it saying, “Exercise is a good thing. And I’m only being careful about what I eat.”

Chalking it up to healthy mindfulness, I checked out of countless conversations while counting calories in my head. I spent hours calculating and then executing the toughest workouts. It developed into full-blown anorexia, but the most agonizing part was the mind game. Never at rest, anxiety ran laps in my head. I obsessed over everything to do with food and weight. It was an idol.

But this morning, at the same second that overwhelming feelings swamped me, Jesus spoke, “Change the standard.” It took me a while to get it, but as I pulled out my journal and Bible for morning devotions, God worked in my heart.

Abby, you have struggled so hard with perfection when it comes to cleaning the house. You’ve tried lists and routines, professional cleaners, podcasts and new gadgets. Stop devising new ways to pick up every single hair. Learn to see 10 hairs on the floor—and leave them there.

He continued:

In the eating disorder, you tried every new way to meet an unrealistic standard: New workout routines, new gyms, new diets. Then, when you began to recover, in order to prove yourself, you created endless rules about “healthy” behaviors. 

I picked up the pen; poised it above an empty page in my journal. This was beginning to make sense.

When it came to the eating disorder, I learned to stop looking for every new tool to create washboard abs. Now, I’m learning to let go of what I imagine a “perfectly recovered” person looks like. Change the standard.

I still exercise. I practice moderation with food. But the standard is no longer physical perfection, thinness or control. Instead, it is a long healthy life and a body able to enjoy—yes, even taste—the Lord’s goodness.

When it comes to a clean house, I need to let go of my ideal standard of hairless floors, but, I will still need to vacuum and scrub the toilets. Change the standard.

As I finished my quiet time with prayer, I realized this concept also applies to salvation. Since Jesus came, we are no longer held to the impossible standard of the Mosaic law in order to be saved. God’s law, the things that please Him, have not changed, but now the standard is to reflect the one who has already saved me.

 

Walking in Season

hdr-autumn-1252757-mIt used to be, when I was “well”.

Then it was, “When I’m am confident.”

Next came, “When I discover what God wants me to do.”

Then, “When I’m finally brave enough to  do what God wants me to do.”

Next came, “When God blesses what I am doing.”

And then He did.

Now, I’m feeling topsy-turvy in the chaos of all His goodness. Oh not that He wasn’t good before, but only in this season am I finally appreciating the cultivation of the earlier ones. Only when I am caught in the fear that this season provokes do I recognize the beauty of seasons past.

Not so many months ago, I spewed random words on a page, of interest to no one. I collected sheets of private musings, pedantic stories, journal entries and heart murmurs. I posted them in obscure places, submitted them to a few magazines, folded them up in Christmas cards, tucked them into “love you” letters and sent them out to everyone brave enough to be in my address book.

At that time I was between the seasons of, “When I discover what God wants me to do,” and, “When I’m brave enough to do what God wants me to do.” But that’s just the thing, I kept looking for, chasing after some nebulous goal that I believed God had hung in my foggy future. I imagined God standing just behind me, a fatherly hand on my shoulder wondering if I’d ever try hard enough, peer deep enough, have enough faith to strike out in that darkness and unveil my life’s purpose.

In the very first book of the Bible, in the very first chapter, God intentionally created seasons. Isn’t that staggering? It’s not as if He’s pacing upstairs waiting for me to reach the climax of my life. He’s not wondering when I’ll discover my purpose and get about the business of pleasing Him. That was, THIS IS my season.

I told you about not so many months ago, but if I’m honest, not so many hours ago, I was fretting my hands about this season. I’m feeling snowballed with all of the tiny things to do in the process of publishing and publicizing a book.

I prayed for this, right? I determined that God wants me to be an author and declared that I’d honed in on my calling, facetiously deprecated myself for taking more than 30 years to find out what God made me to do. And now?

I’m worried about not having enough creative juices or time to write for all the opportunities. I’m concerned about not having enough hours in the day to speak life to, and receive encouragement from, the relationships that God is giving me.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about nature’s seasons? Is it the crunch of lifeless leaves when you walk down the park trail? Is it the beckoning, long shadows of summer when you walk to the mailbox late in the evening? Is it the deep impressions lingering in the snow when you walk your dog in the winter time? Is it the cacophony of indiscernible, sweet fragrances when you walk through the garden in springtime?

I always see myself walking when I think of seasons. Slowly meandering through their measured window of time, experiencing each one in all its splendor, beholding it from every angle, walking.

Soon after God designated seasons, He placed man in the Garden of Eden. And do you know what He did? Every single evening, He invited Adam and Eve to come walk with Him.

There’s no rushing seasons. Sure, sometimes the lines seem blurred and winter keeps a firm grasp on the thermometer a little longer than we prefer, but it gives way. And then, when we’re tired of resting in the folds of spring, like buds held closed by an invisible hand, there’s still nothing to hasten summer. It’s a steady walk through these seasons.

And there’s bounty in every season, bounty and cultivation. When my options seemed few and my creativity abounded, God was cultivating excitement in me—ideas for the words He would share through my fingers. The bounty then was rest and time and freedom. Now, the bounty is opportunity to bless others, wide doors to use the gift and treasure of writing that He has given me. Now, I am cultivating trust, recalling rest and realizing confidence as I see the beauty behind each door He opens.

Simply, I worry when I need to be walking—steadily, following Christ. He’s the one who opened once invisible doors and He will show me which ones to enter and which ones to pass by.

Sinful or Sick?

waiting-1428907-mThere has always been tension between two questions: Do I suffer because I sin–or do, and why do, good people suffer? If it’s not punishment, why do some get cancer and innocent children get raped or kidnapped?

As I wrestled with my eating disorder, these questions tore at me. Was I sinning or was I suffering? Was anorexia some clinical disease that even good people “contract”? Or was this a penalty for my rebellious will, pridefulness or an idolatrous heart—or even some more blatant, ignored sin in my life, like lying or slander, some time-eclipsed behavior?

Jesus answered this for us is one critical encounter with a sufferer. The blind man of John 9 becomes a proof case for us. From a snapshot of his life, we understand Christ’s position, the ultimate answer, to sin and suffering.

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam,’ (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” John 9:1-7

We are not told this blind beggar was penitent of any sin. He was not pleading at the roadside for healing. Rather it was Jesus’ disciples who longed to find fault or cause somewhere. The surrounding crowd clamored for an explanation for this man’s blindness.

Jesus wasn’t indulging; He offered up no satisfactory culprit. Instead, Jesus spit, made clay and anointed the man’s eyes…then, even once the healing began, it wasn’t instantaneous. The Healer instructed the man to go wash.

Meanwhile, an argument continued to rage about the situation, but now, it was not only, “Whose sin made this man blind?” but, “Who made him well?”

The first answer is found in verse three, “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

If the New Testament had been written then, our indignant question would have been stolen by the disciples, “But, you said that death and pain came into the world because of man’s sin!”

Romans 5:12 does tell us that sin entered the world through man and sin bears consequences. Our pain does have a purpose, though not always a unique cause. It is not always due to personal sin. Suffering and death entered the world through corporate sin. But the redemptive reason for pain is that Christ’s power shows through us.

There is no one to blame.

Perhaps it was just plain suffering, but even that evokes questions. First Corinthians 13:10 says, “God will not allow more than we can handle,” right? I’m sure blindness felt like an excessive burden. Anorexia did.

No, the Bible promises not too much temptation, we are still wide and vulnerable to be swamped by suffering.

In the course of my slow recovery from anorexia, I fought to choose one of these persuasions: Sin or sickness. Well intending people supported both theories. It seemed that each belief warranted a new approach to healing. But finally, supernatural healing seemed to overtake me and a blending of these philosophies emerged. Today, I still say, “I suffered from anorexia”, but equally I struggled with it as an addiction or false god.

What do I mean by ”supernatural” healing or recovery? I mean that I never consciously broke. I cannot point to a moment, a turning point when I began to do all things differently—as in turning from an old sinful behavior or leaving a hospital cured. There were breakthrough moments when  Christ’s presence became more real, His support more affirming, His patience more felt but none when I immediately threw away the crutches of restriction, calorie counting and exercise. Those behaviors slowly sloughed off; the healthy, life-giving pounds came on gradually while I became mysteriously preoccupied with Jesus and surprisingly lost interest in the scale.

Aren’t we always that way? We want to know if the suffering, the eating disorder or other addiction was caused by past trauma, abuse, the culture or bullying. Especially those of us watching want to scream, “God we need a reason!”

I, like the blind man, was in many ways past believing that healing would come, past seriously doing any moral inventory of my failures and past consulting expensive doctors. Was I sick or sinful? It didn’t seem to matter.

But here’s the beauty of Jesus: When I quit asking, He healed me. When the blind man wasn’t asking, Jesus healed him.

Jesus stood quietly for a moment, while the disciples searched for somewhere to cast blame. The blind man couldn’t see Him. Maybe Jesus snuck up behind him and said over his shoulder, “Hang on, in a short time, this will all be over.”

I have often felt like this blind man when people ask me, “What happened? How did you get well?” And I ached with the painfully plain response, “I don’t know.”

But again, here’s the beauty of Jesus.

Even as we suffer, drowning in our too-much, pressed down and weighted under the curse of a fallen world, Jesus steps in to prove God’s rich mercy and the great love with which He loves us and His awesome power. In His perfect time, He makes all people and circumstances beautiful and works things for the good of those who love Him. In the blind man’s case and my own, He chose give sight and to restore my body.

There is also an answer to the “more than we can bear” and it is the power of a Savior who sneaks up, touches our shoulder and says, “It will all be over soon.”