In the Wake of the Storm–Protecting Our Own

I write as one blooming in puddles the aftermath of a tempest. In the wake a horrific storm—the kind that turns the sky sallow, rips roots from the ground, lifts homes and drops them in strange places, I am watching it. I am watching the clouds recede but know they are merely bearing their cruel chaos forward to other homes and lives.

My readers here know my story. For more than a decade I was caught up in the storm of anorexia. Some could see it happening; those close enough could see the toll taken by, even feel the gusts of metaphorical winds. Others, a bit farther way saw the storm as one watching it on the horizon. It looked menacing enough that some took shelter, took precautions to guard their daughters and loved ones from this tsunami.

It finally dropped me. A bit ragged—worn, but whole. And in it’s wake, there are huge puddles, inches of water and the sun has come up and a rainbow welcomes me to life again. And so it’s from this place of awakening, this place of stretching wide in the clear blue of freedom that I now watch the receding clouds and wonder of the havoc they will wreak on someone else.

Storms have varying impacts. Growing up in Oklahoma, on more than one occasion we saw side-by-side homes—one left the other taken. Winds vary and shift; what struck from the north may swing wide and assault from the south next.

And so when I read this story, my heart shook. The memories of shame, fear, confusion, anxiety and loneliness are fresh enough that I empathize with a broken heart.

I was 14 when insecurity and shame overtook me. In response, I constricted my entire being hoping to control at least what remained of me. But this little girl, this little Fern, hasn’t yet taken first steps. She has not yet said, “Mama” or beheld her own face in a mirror. She hasn’t picked a favorite food or color or experimented with a hobby and already the vicious storm that is our world is assaulting her. Already, the cacophony of personal opinions, thoughtless remarks and ignorant stereotypes are pounding on her tiny doorstep. Already the mold has been cast into which she will never fit.

The storm against identity, individuality, sacred life and undefinable beauty was already raging when she arrived—has been raging for all time. From the day Satan persuaded Eve that she was not created with all that she needed for a full, God-intended life—since then we have been searching, sure that God’s design of and for us is deficient.

Let this not be our legacy. We cannot control the weather; no more can we control the ebb and flow of societal opinion and cultural paradigms. But, within our homes, beginning within our own hearts, we can practice, preach and promote the truth that God has done all things well, every one of us is exquisite in His Creator-eyes. Who is the world to say otherwise?

I love the words of Fern’s mother:
“She is not abnormal. She is not normal. She is individually her and as she grows into a girl, a teen, a woman, she needs to always know to her core that she is exquisite and indefinable by the words of people and by the standards of this world.”

Lonelier to Leave

It started in the hair salon.

Tears pricked my eyelids so I tilted my nose the ceiling, hoping they’d go back where they came from. Instead they leaked out and down my hair line. A few deep breaths and I felt better.

But the feeling swamped me again the next day as I sat in church. The associate pastor announced an upcoming marriage retreat in November. Couples were going to take a short cruise together while studying Scripture and listening to good speakers.

At first I thought, I’d love to do that. Then it hit me—I won’t be here anymore.

My husband is in the Army. We have packed up and moved away from every church I’ve begun to love, left every set of couple friends we’ve made and terminated every job I’ve ever held—usually just as I begin to sink in.

What’s worse—to be the leaver or the left? Which is more lonely?

That’s been a topic of frequent consideration when my husband deployed in years past. Did I have the greater challenge still sleeping the bed he had suddenly abandoned? Was it harder to face the daily routine of “together” things by myself? Or, was it more painful for him to walk away from home, from routine, from comfort, familiar and family?

For the rest of that Sunday afternoon, I allowed the pending loneliness to marinate my heart. Perhaps I should just pull up stakes now, abandon my volunteer projects, stop going to church, begin to shut off my heart so that it hurts a little less when I walk away.

We often say that Jesus knows our weaknesses. He knows how we feel. He experienced our pain and has compassion for our wounded hearts. But I had never before considered how it must have broken Jesus’ heart to leave earth.

The disciples stood around Him as he ascended into Heaven. I’m sure He was excited to stand again at the Father’s right hand surrounded by the glory and splendor that was His before the foundation of the world.

But I wonder…

Was it hard for Him to say goodbye to his disciples? He had walked with them, eaten with them, debated with them. He knew their families, their occupations, their hangups and their habits. And when He left earth, He told them that He didn’t know when He would return. Only the Father knew. It was an indefinite goodbye.

Not only was Jesus leaving these men, but the very creation—would He miss this earth in someway? He was the God who sculpted trees and rivers and mountains with His words. Before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, it was His great delight to walk with them daily in the beauty of nature. Then, for a brief 33 years, He had touched that soil again. He had left His footprints next to man’s.

None of this contemplation is deny or bring into questions Christ’s complete deity. However, in the mysteriousness of prayer, and the difficult act of abiding in Him, I think we often lose sight of our Savior’s complete humanity.

Jesus tried to prepare the disciples for the day He would leave. Even as He did, He promised them, “I will come back for you!” I wonder if He took comfort in those words too, reminding His flesh and blood heart that this sacrifice He was about to make for the redemption of man would reinstate garden walks and side-by-side foot prints, shared meals and laughter.

There’s something about sinking my heart into the truth of Christ’s brief vulnerability, the truth that His human heart comprehends my loss and loneliness and the ache of leaving. Yes, He does go with me. He never leaves me and I cannot leave Him, as I am held in the palm of His hand. But He does not deny or try to dismiss my earth-hurt.

Oh for the day when I can bury my face in His chest, look up into His eyes, hold His hand and walk in the garden.

*This piece was first published in the print issue of “WHOA Women“.

Book Review, Crash the Chatterbox

He was my constant companion for almost 15 years and I didn’t even know his name. That’s how I felt when Steven Furtick officially introduced me to The Chatterbox. At first the title of Furtick’s new book and sermon series didn’t appeal to me. But finally, when it was either that or listen to reruns of old sermons on my iTunes list, I decided to give it a shot.

Instantly I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for each Sunday as Furtick slowly made his way through six sermons about this mysterious, ever-present menace cleverly camouflaged within my own thoughts.

It sounded like Furtick was telling my story, as if he’d been listening to my own percussive, demoralizing, internal dialogue. In a vulnerable manner, with extremely personal anecdotes, Furtick extended empathy and encouragement. If this renowned, eloquent pastor hears The Chatterbox in his own mind, then certainly The Chatterbox isn’t a figment of my imagination.

I’m sorry, I haven’t done a sufficient job of intruding The Chatterbox. Allow me to let Steven Furtick do so: “…this ceaseless war going on inside my heart and head. I’m waging it every millisecond of every minute of every hour of every day—the kind of chatter that can derail [a] day before it even gets started…[it] bombards [you] with thoughts, feelings, and even facts about why you can’t do it. Why you shouldn’t do it. And why you’ll never be able to do it. Why you’re too dysfunctional, too petty, too immature, too melancholy, too impulsive…”.

So you’re familiar with that voice? Me too. And after years of inpatient and outpatient counseling for an eating disorder, I am pretty numb to canned suggestions about how to shut it up.

I know I’m supposed to believe “what God says about me”. But often, those phrases just seem like randomly plucked passages, strung together with hyphens and ellipsis, all manipulated just to make me feel better: I am beautiful. I am special. I am strong… All true, but not very powerful in my experience.

Just as I finished listening to the sermon series, Furtick’s book, Crash the Chatterbox, became available. I had to have it. I was on the cusp of understanding and employing a new, fail-proof strategy to Crash the Chatterbox—permanently.

Furtick’s book is based on four confessions: God says I am, God says He will, God says He has, God says I can.

Furtick devotes three chapters to thoroughly explain each confession. The book concludes with relevant discussion questions and an invitation to visit the related website, http://www.crashthechatterbox.com. The website offers highlights, interviews, study materials and more, making the book useful for small groups and in home study.

There’s no way I can encapsulate in a simple book review what took Steven Furtick over 200 pages to say. But I will attempt to share what made the concept of crashing the chatterbox such an epiphany. Far from an outside-in approach to boosting self-esteem and improving my opinion of and respect for myself, Furtick takes an inside-out approach.

Confession, Furtick points out, actually means to “say with”, in this case, “to say with God”. God’s self-revelatory name, which He told Moses from a flaming bush, is I AM. All of the confessions begin there. It was in that same conversation with Moses that God insisted He was enough to overcome all of Moses’ insufficiencies, and that, yes, God had indeed chosen Moses to play the most pivotal roll in all of Israel’s history.

The point is not who God says I am, but that God says, I AM.

When we understand the incomparable power of the God who has given us Himself through Jesus Christ, The Chatterbox’s voice becomes feeble, weak and distant.

The only draw back to this book is Furtick’s own strength: it is well written, but Furtick is a charismatic, one-of-a-kind orator. I highly recommend listening to the six sermons as well as reading the book. It’s like seeing the outtakes of a great movie. There’s so much more you don’t want to miss.

One Race to Run

horse

Maybe I’m conjuring up the spirit of National Velvet or some other famous race horse. A filmy image of one such beauty floats through my imagination when I try to describe this place of anxiety, excitement, freedom, healing and fear that courses through my body. Others might simply call it adrenaline, but I know it’s so much more. I’ve never felt this way before.

Several years ago, I took the first permanent steps away from anorexia. As I did, I turned and quickly tossed a proverbial match onto the proverbial bridge of old behaviors. There’s no going back. No matter the fear, no matter the temptation, no matter the uncertainty, I will never again entertain the seductive, demonic voice of an eating disorder.

Now, in most recent days, God has opened up the field in front of me. I am that race horse, leaning into the wind, shot from the starting gate, fueled by memories of the terrible confinement of anorexia. There is no going back.

The track is wide, muddy, the congestion of competition fades beside and then behind me. The faster I go, the farther from the gate, there is more and more potential, more and more possibility, more and more surety that I will win this race. And now, the others are on my heels, they follow, picking up speed. It seems as if they are energized by my passion, pulling ahead.

God penned a book with my fingers. He has brought me an agent and a publisher and an audience. He has done all these good things. But they scare me. The field is so wide, the race is so long and those close behind are drafting, following me, trusting me in some way. I’ve never run this course before. What if I fall, what if I fail?

But the truth is,

The faster run, the farther I stretch.

With each lengthening stride,

I’m farther from that prison.

I kick up more dust over that confining starting gate.

I bury it in the rush of my enthusiasm for freedom.

The wind is cool.

I am scared.

But the more I lean into the wind,

The more I stretch,

The farther I leave fear,

The more beautiful, compelling, the future.

Hereditary, Painful Privilege

My friend knelt beside her 10-year-old son. She was torn between shaking him and crying right along with him. He didn’t want her to know he was crying; she wished she didn’t know.

It’s my fault, she moaned silently.

Wednesday, after our workout, Delaney relayed this story to me. She hadn’t told her husband, and didn’t plan to tell him. He had just returned from a year-long deployment, during which the depression that had been mounting in her since her own childhood collided with the anxiety of being a single parent while he was gone, the fear of losing her husband in battle, the loneliness of establishing “temporary” homes every two years.

“My fears, anxiety and depression must have bubbled over to Tim,” she told me through reserved tears. “I don’t want him to suffer with this the same way I have.” Delaney had bravely shared with me her brief suicidal impulses during the last year. “Selfishly though, I don’t want to deal with him dealing with depression. I scared myself when I registered the thought, I wish I had another son.”

Delaney drudged through the pain in her heart, piling big shovelfuls of muck to the side her pit of despair. It helped to air out the anxiety, before it sucked her down into its tomb. Watching Tim, she feared that she could spiral back into her old depression.

A Bible verse came to me.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. 2 Cor. 1:3-7

I am no stranger to depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, despair. In fact, if you’ve read this blog with any regularity, or if you’ve even just selected a random post, you probably understand that most of what I write are the shovelfuls of my own muck, thrown up on the side of my pit to air out my own anxiety.

“Delaney,” I said. “God has specifically prepared you to be Tim’s mom, more perfectly than anyone else. You can empathize with his weakness, comfort him as you have been comforted. You will know the right things to say. You can rest in the fact that God has delivered you from this pit and He will just as assuredly deliver Tim.

“It is absolutely not your fault that he feels this way. It can’t be. Tim is Tim and is in charge of his own decisions and feelings. Besides, if he observed your pain, he will observe your deliverance.”

Actually, I wish I had thought to say all that. I did say most of it, but as usual, when I write, I gain greater understanding of my own thoughts. At the time, I didn’t even know the whole passage, but I looked it up to share with you. Amazingly, in Great-Godness, the whole passage is more relevant than part of it.

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,b about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” 2 Cor. 1:8-11

There is a privilege in pain – it is preparedness. If our prodigy is a blessing, then so is the pain that fills us with the wisdom and understanding to love them fully.