All on the page

In the interest of transparency, full vulnerability and honoring the One Word Naked, here is an exert from my journal last week. It’s short, but I sat in my prayer chair in tears last week:

It feels like there is so much on my plate with trips home to visit family, uprooting my home in VA, setting up house in GA, saying goodbye over and over and over, while still trying to keep up with writing my book, my blog and for other Christian publications like Haven Journal and She Loves, and Finding Balance. I feel swamped. I’m overwhelmed and tired beyond the point of sleep.

This conversation with Abba actually began the night before as I lay corpse-like in my bed, trying to fall into a dead sleep and resulting only in a more lively mind than before, like fireflies dancing behind my eyelids, lightbulb thoughts popping above my head.

Father, I’m tempted to ask for more time. I need more hours to get ready for an overwhelming move, and more time here in this chair and more time with family and more time to write and and mostly more time to know you, the Etcher of time, the Hand of time, the closer of day and shutter of sun. To know you is to know the container of time, the perfect seed of moments and tender shoots of future.

Abby, I know. Do you remember what I spoke to you last night? Daughter, I love you so much. Remember, when you asked about each thing that worried you? I told you, ‘That’s not yours, this is.’ And I lifted your concerns, placing my Father-hand in yours.

Redemption Birthdays

Monday was my birthday.

I was raised right –  you always write snail mail thank you letters. My morning quiet time didn’t start out to be such, but as I sat cross-legged in my monstrous, blue prayer chair, it just kind of bubbled out of my heart.

I promised this year that I would be naked with you. That includes unveiling private prayers and praise. That includes confession met with kindness which leads to repentance. And it includes the birthdays of redemption stories. So, here is my journal entry on Monday.

Jesus,images

Seventeen years ago, I woke in an angular, gray-blue bedroom, in a treatment center because I was starving myself. I wished away the emotional power of the day and the exacerbated loneliness, the sense of abandonment by my parents and sister asleep in a nearby hotel room. Monday.

Since then, there was my 30th year, crying alone over a rumble of boiling noodles while my husband spent his energy on a computer game.

And so many other March 11th’s. Year 23, at Fort Bragg, at work. Loneliness always tempered by your presence.

How is it that you have never failed me? Never even left me to myself and my upturned, shaky hands crying, “I’m done, completely, all done.”

I do truly love you more every single day. Maybe really, it’s a sharper knowing of how much I need you, that I couldn’t live or breathe without you. The priceless beauty and value you have put into my life, Savior.

My heart would drain out on this page. How you contain and spill your love for me through vessels of a tender husband, his daily deeper understanding the needs of my heart. You warm the morning air and tinge the skies, ochre, amber, slate to clear. As if you hold my shoulders and spin me round to drink that pressed of patience; feast on the produce of your passion.

I am overwhelmed by your love, Savior.
Overcome by your awareness of me.
In you, I have seen my own created beauty, the blossom
and flourish of your skilled heart, touch, breath,
That I live!
That lungs still spread in my chest,
And suck in gifts and glories,
I would have turned away.
It is your mercy.
It is your…nay,
It is you.
Only you.
All of you,
That I live in and for.

Me, a glutton?

Being Naked is nothing if not humbling. As God would have it, the brilliant theologian, C.S. Lewis has struck me where it hurts the most.

In so many ways, I have healed from anorexia. In so many ways, I am walking free of the chains of food fears, starvation and compulsive exercise. And even in the throws of my disorder, no one, least of all myself would have considered me a glutton. So as Screwtape began to instruct his evil nephew in the art of deception by means of gluttony, I thought, This is so utterly new to me, it should be interesting!

Interesting it was, but not because I’ve never experienced such temptations. It was interesting particularly because it could have been written about me, so convicting was it.

[Our goals] have largely been [accomplished]by the concentrating all our efforts on glutton of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess.

Anorexia is chiefly defined by not eating much. For me, that included a desire not to need much. But I glutted on all my own selfish desires. Quite literally, I binged on exercise. I pushed my personal desires upon all who entertained me. My gluttony was on being accommodated by all who should understand the nature of my disorder. I fully expected my family to provide the foods I would eat, understand when my love affair with myself interrupted their lives. Hosts should cater to my specific food requirements. My husband should go out of his way to stop at hotels with gyms whenever we traveled.

Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.

Oh, and Lewis would not feign to ignore my affection for myself in the realm of exercise.

…feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favorable to this virtue.

Ouch.

So, the naked truth, confession at the deepest level, even my recovery is incomplete. And I brought that to my Father this morning.

God, how can I pretend to write a book on how you have walked me through the Valley of the Shadow of anorexia and how I have grown in you and been strengthened by the journey, when my journey isn’t over yet?

And He, Sweet Father, always answers.

Beloved, you ask why the journey is not complete. Your journey with anorexia is long over. Your walk with me is only beginning. Precious one, can you define a single step that you have already taken? You will not have a mark to define your successful recovery. It is a part of OUR journey. 

More than you know

The Prodigal Son charged into his father’s chambers and demanded, “I want all that you have for me right now. I don’t want it within the confines of your authority. I don’t want to wait for your perfect timing and I don’t plan to spend it on anything that would please you.” Essentially, give me my eternity now, I’d rather have a full and frivolous today than wait for the revelation of your mysterious promise of eternal riches.

Plodding my way through this familiar story on my “through the Bible in a year” plan, I was suddenly hit with a new perspective. I am not immune to society’s constant quest for youthfulness, perfection, wealth, security and self-preservation. My eating disorder is proof that I fell for the lie that today is all that matters and that I am the only person who can create my perfect destiny.

So I stole my inheritance from my Heavenly Father, this body, created personally for me. I took this brief, beautiful life and charged into the world determined to make the most of this moment, this life, right now and do it my way. It didn’t take long.

The Prodigal quickly wasted his inheritance. There is only so much to be purchased, briefly enjoyed and used up in this world. In no time, I too discovered limited returns on my ventures and unsuccessful attempts to obtain my imagined perfect life. I was unable to craft perfection, incapable of establishing my own lasting value.

Is that the critical error of man, to struggle for the fountain of youth, convinced that this is all there is to live for? What if we returned?

The Prodigal Son gathered  the remnant of his miserable days and trudged home. He planned to offer himself to his father for hire. He knew that even a second rate life, under the care of his father was better than he could do for himself.

So I gathered the scraps of my body, the tendrils of my sanity and limped back to my Father. There, I promised to clean myself up, hoping then He would take me back. I’ll try really hard, just please, please take me back. I’m dying. 

Our stories meld together. Just like in the story, my Heavenly Father laughed with joy and ran to meet me. He exclaimed that I would never have to work for his favor and that my squandered inheritance was pennies compared to the abundance I would partake of in his home.

The story of the Prodigal Son is the story of my recovery. I confess that I forfeited the good inheritance that my Father gave me. This body that is mine, ultimately belongs to Him. But I took it and manipulated it. I ravaged it for the sake of my own longings.

It took years for me to return. I languished in my misery, too humiliated to return to my good and loving Father. But when I did, I discovered that all He has is mine. He has spread a bountiful life before me. From now on, I plan to dig in.

Truth – in the other half of the story

The Prodigal Son has been bugging me lately – because I’m not him. I think most Christians read this story and try to fit themselves into his shoes. They bemoan their wayward habits; then praise the good Father who welcomes them home with forgiveness. Honestly, the more I read this familiar story, I am starting to think the Prodigal had it more “right” than his good-guy big brother.

Years ago, I remember being irritated with my younger sister who seemed to get everything she wanted. Jen got the go-cart she asked for, the kitty, the overnight at a friend’s house, her favorite story at night and on and on. I remember asking her once, “How on earth do you do that? Why do Mom and Dad always say, ‘Yes,’ to you?”

“They don’t,” she insisted, “but they’d tell you, ‘Yes,’ more often too if you just asked.”

At the time, I huffed that I was too mature, I didn’t need to impose upon my parents’ generosity. I wasn’t going to beg for things. I was simply grown-up, dignified, self-sufficient and respectful. It wasn’t polite to ask for things.

Well… Now I think I had my theology wrong. 

Most of the time, when we read the brothers’ parable in Luke 15, we focus on the younger boy, the rebel. He’s the one who barged into his dad’s office and demanded to have what was coming to him. At this point, we don’t know anything about big brother. He’s probably out in the field, working his weary little fingers to the bone, thinking about how disciplined he is, how he must be Daddy’s favorite, how he deserves everything he gets.

You know the rest of the youngest’s story, the philandering, the famine, the pig food, his devastation and finally his return and groveling before Daddy. But do you remember where big brother was when the youngest showed up on the porch? He was out in the field – again, probably working his weary little fingers, thinking about how disciplined he was, how proud Daddy must be of him – especially since that good-for-nothing little brother of his ran off.

And the party started without him.

I don’t think Jesus intended for us to tune out the rest of the story. A full eight more verses round out the parable. Big brother (me) finally came in from the field sweaty and tired. The sound of revelry grated on his nerves, exacerbating his fatigue. When he found out that his little brother had come home safe and sound, he staunchly (on principle I’m sure) refused to join the party.

After a few minutes, Daddy came out to encourage his oldest. He got an earful. “How dare you! I’ve been the good son! I’m the one who has never asked you for anything. I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed all the rules – and you never did anything special for me!”

“All that I have is yours.”

What do you think of that? All along, all of Daddy’s store houses, fields and wealth were available to his oldest son. All of Daddy’s riches, servants and companionship was simply there for the ASKING.

I realize that’s how I behaved toward my parents in many respects and certainly how I (and I venture most life-long Christians) behave toward my Heavenly Father. I believe the reason we don’t see more miracles, the reason we don’t enjoy more abundant life and full joy, the reason that we do not have peace, wisdom and contentment – is because we do not ask.

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and you will receive…”.

Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

I wonder how much God has stored up for our inheritance, that we’ve never even seen, dreamed of or dared to ask for. Do you realize that since Jesus came and died and redeemed us, we are sons of God and heirs of promise (Galatians 3:29), heirs of all that Christ purchased for us – life and joy and peace.

In the story Jesus told just before the story of the Prodigal son, he spoke of a shepherd who was more excited about finding a lost lamb than he was about 99 sheep who stayed obediently within their stall. I don’t think that’s because of simple relief. I don’t think it’s because he loved that stray so much more than the others. I think it’s because suddenly, that little stray sheep realized how rich and privileged he was to belong to a shepherd. After his rebellion, he knew how good his shepherd was and how safe he was in the shepherd’s arms.

Anyone in any relationship knows how good it feels to be appreciated. God finds His greatest joy in us, His children, when we acknowledge, ask for and enjoy all that He is for us. Don’t miss out!

The Greatest Miracle in History?

What do you think was the biggest miracle of all time? Creation? Every sunrise? The resurrection of Jesus Christ? If I had to answer that question right off the top of my head I probably would have said the resurrection. But recently, during my quiet time, my thinking was challenged. I am still not sure where I fall on this issue, so I welcome your thoughts:

The greatest miracle of all time was the death of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;'” John 11:25

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6

If Jesus actually IS life, how could He die? Jesus, physical Jesus, was perfect. Jesus was from the beginning (John 1). The truth that our Almighty God, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor loved a rebellious world, of whom every single one had gone astray – loved that world enough to die for it – THAT is the miracle. We were doomed to die for our sin, but the Immortal chose, with an absolute act of will to DIE for us, in our stead.

It seems to me that it took a greater miracle for the Author of Life to choose to die for His own creation, than for the very God who IS life to rise from the dead. Sin and death are diabolical opposites of life and holiness – therefore Jesus Christ could not be contained by a grave.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers,” 1 John 3:16

God did not compromise one iota of His holiness to redeem a wicked world. God did not extend a second chance to sinners, He offered a perfect, infallible rescue.

 

Progressive God

What if we didn’t serve a progressive God?

No, I don’t intend to imply that He changes with the times, or improves or adapts to our whims. But He doesn’t just fix one little thing about me and let the others slide or degrade me continually. God doesn’t just pluck my marriage from the pits, set it on the brink of survival and walk away. No.

I [God] leads [her] with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from [her] neck and bent down to feed [her].”

Hosea 11:4

This weekend, my husband and I enjoyed time together that in years past never would have even taken place. This weekend, I emailed back and forth with a former counselor for my eating disorder and I was able to share joy with her and good news and hope. This weekend, I talked to my in-laws and was able to say, “No” to a wonderful by poorly timed invitation even though I feared letting them down. This weekend, I found myself on the verge of self-deprication and suddenly I realized that it didn’t feel sincere – the words that started to echo in my mind were hollow and insignificant. I didn’t feel worthless and quickly I silenced Satan’s lies and rested in the progressive, eternal redemption and love of my heavenly Father.

Praise the Lord!

I am thankful.

Good For Explaining the Good News

Foundational, mind-boggling principles becoming clear.

Have you ever found yourself in such a conundrum: Someone you dearly love and long to share eternity with has questioned your faith?

Well, um… I believe that Jesus died for my sins. He was buried and rose again. Now he lives eternally, and as my sins have been paid for, I can spend eternity with him in heaven.

“Well, that’s just great,” they rejoin, “but what is true faith? Why do you call God ‘Father’ and why does a God who loves me let bad things happen to me?”

I distinctly recall being in that position about seven years ago. I worked with one of my best friends. I’ll call her Kelly. Kelly was never hostile to my faith, in fact she was genuinely curious. But she never lobbed easy questions at me. Whenever work was slow, we’d be organizing and checking dates on millions of supplement bottles (we worked at GNC) and she would begin asking the tough questions. Kelly wanted to know all about the Trinity. She wanted to know why Jesus had to die. She wanted to know if God really listened to and answered prayer. She wanted to know if he offered peace of mind concerning her husband who was currently deployed. Kelly wondered what made Jesus of the Bible any different from the founders of other religions.

I did my best to answer her questions. I remember going home at night and calling my mom tearfully. “What if I don’t have the right answer? I know what I believe, but how do I explain it?” Praise our good and loving God. He had already marked Kelly with his name. Despite my bumbling answers, two years later, Kelly called me with explosive enthusiasm. “I’m getting baptized tomorrow! I accepted Jesus as my savior! I know I’m going to heaven.” Convictingly, since that day, I have had to humbly accept rebuke, training, teaching and affirmation from this once baby Christian. Kelly has found the Bible to be the living source of nourishment that God promises His word is. She as grown like a tree firmly planted by streams of water and has borne much fruit.

As I have slowly plowed through Kevin DeYoung’s book, “The Good News We Almost Forgot” I have unearthed a wonderful resource for sharing my faith. DeYoung is a compelling author, making even potentially dry subjects seem humorous and interesting. However, I don’t recommend simply handing the book to your questioning friends and expecting the proverbial lightbulb to blink above their head. As a historic Christian document, the catechism employees many terms specific to the Christian faith. The questions themselves are pretty heady.

Perhaps the best use of the book is personal. A Christian (speaking to myself) has no business attempting to explain the good news of the Gospel, if he has lost its wonder in his own heart and mind. Read to remember. Remember that…

True faith is not only knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in Scripture is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.

I trust Him so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world.

That I am not my own, but belong –  body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

These are just snippets of answers offered in the catechism and expounded upon my DeYoung. Additionally, the catechism addresses the 10 Commandments, one at a time, and the Lord’s Prayer. Each is afforded useful answers.

The Heidelberg Catechism is not an infallible document. And DeYoung does not profess to be a new source of truth. The Catechism is based fully and unashamedly on the infallible truth of the Bible. It is a trustworthy source of instruction and useful for training in righteousness – and for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. The Good News We Almost Forgot, takes this ancient resource and repackages it in a less-intimidating paperback. Don’t miss this. 

P.S. To make sure you don’t miss it, I’m giving away a copy at the end of this week. Make sure to comment and repost the link for a chance to win your copy!

It’s Personal

I am quite skilled at containing two opinions in my own head and lobbying for dissenting convictions.

For many years, I hosted the little red devil on my left shoulder and the gleaming, screaming angel on my right.Simultaneously, they fed me suggestions. For a moment my head would cock to the right, imperceptibly to my acquaintances, then shift slightly to the left. My whole body would lean into one persuasion or the next, convinced of polar viewpoints, to the marrow of my bones with each new thought.

In the heat of an eating disorder, I couldn’t tell up from down as my very life hung in the balance. I often walked away from conversations unable to recall what someone had confided me; too consumed by the disagreement raging in my mind.

A counselor once told me to write out the dialogue. Maybe, if I could present the arguments to myself logically, on a page, then I could choose the merits of each opinion and come to a composite truth.

“You’re fat and ugly. You’re worthless and dispensable. In your sick obsession with anorexia, you’re a liability to your family. 

Talent? Don’t kid yourself. Did you see your sister? She’s capable of ten times what you can do.”

“Precious One! Don’t listen to that lie! You are a child of God. Eat, Dear One. God created you for His good purpose and He has promised to care for you physically as much as spiritually. You trust Jesus with eternity, you can trust Him with your weight today.”

“Your workout barely counted this morning. Three miles? Are you kidding me?”

“Rest, Child of God. Be still and know that God and cares for you intimately. He made you and knows your body inside out.”

The wrestling between my ears was agonizing. The war seethed, leaving my body a ravaged battle field and my mind wounded by fear. What ends a war? Only a victory. Peace is never found in the middle ground, the center of the battlefield, or in this case in my mind. So I simply gave up.

I don’t mean that I relinquished my life and succumbed to the death knell of self-starvation, depression and skewed pride. I quit searching for my own form of truth, a combination of the voices in my head. I quit trying to make peace between two mortal enemies.

Satan paints a pretty picture. He is the master of disguise. Genesis tells us that when Satan directed Eve’s gaze to the forbidden fruit, “it looked good to her.” Just like Eve, I can be convinced that his arguments make sense. Sometimes God’s law seems harsh and tolerance of sin seems like the easiest option.

“So I’ve discovered this truth: Evil is present with me even when I want to do what God’s standards say is good. I take pleasure in God’s standards in my inner being. However, I see a different standard at work throughout my body. It is at war with the standards my mind sets and tries to take me captive to sin’s standards which still exist throughout my body. What a miserable person I am! Who will rescue me from my dying body?”

What to do? I’m exhausted. I’m not strong enough to get it right, to banish sinful behaviors or stand up for truth one more time. I am in good company. The apostle Paul understood this internal argument. But he didn’t tell me to suck it up, tighten my belt, or try harder. He simply told me, let the best man win.

“I thank God that our Lord Jesus Christ rescues me!”

Romans 7:21-25a