Amongst My Peers

I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I never asked for anything. I attended thousands of softball games, sweating on the sidelines, playing Tricky-Fingers in the car or re-reading novels during the long drives to traveling tournaments. So when my parents offered to let me attend Trinity Christian School in Stillwater, half an hour from our home, I didn’t even contemplate the inconvenience it would pose for my family.

Years later, I asked my sister, Jennifer, about her mental snapshots of that time in our lives. How had she experienced my eating disorder?

“One of the most aggravating things to me was how much Mom and Dad catered to you. They were grasping at anything to make you happy, anything to bribe to you eat. They were so worried about you. Specifically, the two daily round trips to Stillwater to drop you off and pick you up at school. I couldn’t understand why suddenly all of their efforts to teach us at home weren’t good enough for you.”

Even after a handful of doctor’s visits and the threat of being forced to see a therapist, my weight continued to decline. The number on the scale wasn’t so much of a big deal to me, but the daily numbers of fewer calories and more minutes moving were the gauge of my success.

I was gaining fast in my personal, anorexic challenge of disciplining myself, courting my parents’ concern and drawing the attention of others. But home was such a small playing field. I needed to be among my peers, I needed to see if I was impressive enough, pretty enough, smart enough to compete with them.

Trinity Christian School was a puny school, housed in Hillcrest Baptist Church. I started there my sophomore year. My class was a grand total of 8 students, 5 girls and three boys. Surely among such a small crowd I could make my mark, establish myself as someone worth knowing.

Every church building that I remember from my youth was a labyrinth. Long hallways with dozens of doors on each side made for great hide-and-seek, when my heart was carefree enough to play such games. Anymore, I only engaged in such activities because they burned more calories than sitting in on adult conversations.

Trinity Christian held high school classes in every room on the bottom floor of the south wing of the church. I think younger grades held classes upstairs in the same wing. We dined in the church cafeteria and used the sanctuary for drama classes.

One year, I played Jo when our class chose to perform Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I have no idea how I memorized my lines. Perhaps memorizing the caloric value of every food exercised my memory.

Only a handful of moments wedged themselves into my memory of that time. I recall lunch time. How I loathed cafeteria food. Given that our meals were prepared by plump, cheery church ladies, they probably trumped public high school lunches. By that time, I would have rather died than eat a sloppy joe, spaghetti or grilled cheese. So I packed my lunch of half a sandwich and carrot sticks. I always sat on the end of the bench.

One morning I ran out of time to pack my lunch.

“Abby, we’ve got to go. You can eat in the cafeteria just this once.”

“No, Mom. I can’t. Please, please, just let me take an apple and some Snackwell cookies.”

“That’s not lunch, Abby. Either I’m going to start packing your lunches, or you’re going to have to eat there. I’m pretty sure you haven’t been eating enough.”

I sealed my lips and marched to the garage. The drive to school was wet and seasonably cold for January. I hated these long winter days. Fatless, my muscles clenched against the cold all day long.

I fretted through Oklahoma history, Algebra and Spanish. Lunch was coming. What was on the menu? What was I going to do?

Ms. Wilson, the lunch lady, looked at me with surprise as I pushed my yellow tray down the line.

“So you decided to try my cooking? I’m glad, Honey. Tell you what, you look like you could use some meat on your bones. How about an extra spoon of tots?”

I chomped my tongue to keep from screaming at her, “I don’t eat tots! I don’t want to try your food and you can’t make me eat!” Defiant, I kept the rage inside, smiled hollowly and drifted to my usual table.

Suddenly an idea presented itself between my anxious thoughts.

“Hey Anna, don’t we have a biology quiz next period?”

“Yeah.”

“I completely forgot until just now. I’m going to head on to class and try to study just a bit.”

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” Anna was small all the way around. At least three inches shorter than me, she had shiny, light brown hair and dimples. She kept Brandon, the cutest of the three boys in our class, dangling by a thread, pining for her. Anna’s breasts always pushed the buttons of her regulations blouse. Trinity’s dress code seemed ridiculously strict. I had lost every curve and cushion that had begun to blossom in my adolescent body a mere three years before.

“I’m not hungry really. I forgot to pack my lunch too, and I’m not a fan of tater-tots.”

“Pass it this way,” Brandon suggested.

“Sure.” That was less obvious than throwing it all away.

 

 

The Ghosts of Columbus

Why did she have to ask that? I stared at the blinking cursor in the little box at the bottom of my Facebook page. I had only wanted to leave a message. I wasn’t prepared for this conversation. I knew it was coming, But Lord, I’m not ready!

Are you still running? It blinked again. How on earth to answer? What would she think of me? I have a reputation to uphold!

###

If you’ve been reading around here recently, you know that my husband and I just completed our PCS (the Army’s version of a move) to Columbus, GA. We’ve been here before. In 2006, we moved into a teensy-weensy, one bedroom apartment off of Moon Road. Partly by accident and mostly by deceiving myself, I found myself part of the local running club.

Surely, I can handle it, I told myself. I’m making such good friends here in the running club. All I have to do to “stay recovered” is eat more. 

And I did make such good friends, such very good friends. We didn’t stay in close touch when I moved away, but every now and then we bumped into each other on Facebook and said, “Hi.”

So I thought it was only appropriate to let them know I’m back in town and I’d love to see them again. Hence, my initial message to K, “Hi! How are you? I’d love to meet for coffee and catch up!”

“Love to see you again! Are you still running? We could meet for a morning run!”

How to answer? No, I don’t run much anymore. Leave it at that?
No, I can’t handle running emotionally. I tend to relapse.
No, I started doing other kinds of exercise, so I’m still fit! (justification)

We managed to sign off with a mutual invitation to coffee – sometime. But as I got in my car to go run a couple errands, my nerves stood on end.

When we lived here before, I got into crazy long distance running. I lost weight, almost back to what I weighed before my first hospitalization. Now, every main road, every side street, every gravel turn, bridge, public park, and roadside bush (for bladder emergencies) has a memory.

And they’re not all good memories. Even though I made great friends in the running club, in all honesty, that’s not what it was about for me. Committing to see the group on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday for whatever distance, gave me an excuse to exercise beyond what was good for me. When I won a race, completed a marathon, or was congratulated for my endurance, I pushed that much harder.

Relapse picked up speed.

Exercise addiction…is a chronic loss of perspective of the role of exercise in a full life. A healthy athlete and an exercise addict may share similar levels of training volume — the difference is in the attitude.An addicted individual isn’t able to see value in unrelated activities and pursues his sport even when it is against his best interest. (American Running Association)

Most streets in Columbus, GA, are haunted, for me. This first week in town, my dog andIMG_0656-1 I have made it our mission to banish the ghosts that lurk in Britt David Park, Flat Rock Park and on the Riverwalk.

We’ve walked their trails, stopping at every puddle, funny smell and potential pee-pole. We’ve sat on the rocks and watched other people running. I wonder what their motivation is?

There are still a lot of ghosts here. Like I said, I traversed most of this town in my running shoes. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that these memories scare me a little.

From my journal:
There’s a hole in my heart as I drive around Columbus. It’s such a weird feeling, like a cavern that’s been covered over, sealed and the healing of that gaping hole has felt secure and relieving and good. Or a wound that once scabbed over, healed and remains a white, filmy scar. A bone healed, that again bears weight and mostly, the pain is gone. I feel debris and water slipping beneath the crevices and trying to re-open the hole in my heart. Scar tissue pulls and growth hurts. The weather here is just right, making the bone ache, and I see how and where I was broken once before.

And here is what Abba said:
Abby, those days are long gone. See, not only have I changed your body, I am changing your desires, changing your vision of beautiful.
There is no one like me who has doused you with life. Even in accepting your limits you feel more free than ever before. I have brought you far love. Rest and enjoy wide open spaces, green pastures and fresh water. Love, Father

Glass and Snow-hope

I turned the friendship around in my hands,

Inspecting from all sides.

Love had lingered here, fed by hope

That love would be returned.

And soon, or someday, this snow globe, hourglass fragile friendship

Could act as beacon to others on the verge

Of crashing, guts and sand, life and water spilling on the floor.

Smog from the flames of a trying world licked and spat

Air and atmosphere choke with smoke

Obscuring tomorrow

Our snow globe, hourglass fragile friendship

Grows dingy, clogged and smogged

Hope blackened, light dimming

But tired and regretful fingers

Turn this aging prize, peering for

One last sand of hope or fleck of snow-hope to swirl

I almost cannot see through the smoke-smogged glass,

But wait! One full turn

Where last one finger touched, smeared away the soot of doom

Each full turn reveals again a finger print

A touch-shaped window, size enough

for another hopeful peer

Into dismal glass night, discouraged day

And see hope alive.

Catching up on Gratitude

Sorry I missed yesterday, friends. It’s been a week. I was so proud of myself as I returned from my trip to visit my sister. Last week, I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. I felt like I landed on smooth concrete, wearing roller skates with new ball bearings. Then, this week hit. With Easter choir starting, studying to be a personal trainer, picking up shifts at work, seeing my mentees, meetings for ministries, practicing for choir auditions, addressing wedding invitations, caring for a friend’s dog, hails and farewells, and more things…. good things…but oops – blogging! I hope this is as important to someone else out there as I believe God has laid it on my heart to be.  I don’t feel free to let it go, even though in some ways it seems like the one thing I could set aside and no one would know.  I guess that’s the down-side of virtual friendships.

In truth, I learn as much from my own flying finger tips as I ever know in my own head before I begin writing. And I gain strength and courage from you comments, your blogs, your identification, your friendship. I love you, all and I thank God for you.

Other things I am thankful for…

Corporate worship

Short, extra shifts at work with fun friends

Doggy daycare

Windows rolled down

Globe-shaped grapes and summer-heart strawberries

Paper cuts from letters in my mailbox

Tomorrow I will post the schedule for March!

 

Friendship Poems All Over the Place

A few months ago, we did a Starbucks give away here on Predatory Lies. Well, I thought that recipients would take friends out to coffee and see already established friendships flourish. Boy, was I lucky! I found a new friend in the craziest way! She has commented on this blog before, and then she won a set of gift cards so I had to learn her address and guess what – she lives in my home town!

We’ve still never met, but we have now exchanged cards and small gifts and I have tiny glimpse of her precious, unique personality. How big is our Awesome God!

Here’s my reply poem to her, as she recently posted one that referenced our new-found friendship.

OH my goodness, you make me smile!!
Forget the distance, the space and mile.
It takes hours, minutes or days to see,
Passing time to touch, to reach.

But a thought!
Just a moment, and it’s shared so wide.
Others we’ll never see,
Now share the love ‘tween you and me.

The Velveteen Rabbit once was told,
Reality can’t be bought or sold.
Neither can friendship, it takes belief,
I believe in you and me.

So here’s my kiss, on your precious cheek,
And I’ll squeeze your hand.
This tiny peak,
Into your soul.

Thank you for opening your heart.
Like a flower, your fragrant grace
Escaped the hours.
Of space,
Of distance, of mile.
New, old, REAL friend,
You make me smile.

The Three “E’s” of rElationship

Friday, my husband I returned from a two-week-long adventure. I had told you that the third week of January, I would share with you what God has been faithfully teaching me especially in regard to my marriage. I figured that our 40 hour road trip would be a fishbowl-view, magnifying all the issues and instances of conflict in marriage. Dousing one’s self and one’s spouse in extreme family situations, bookended by 20 hours in the car in each direction has unlimited potential to round off rough edges and polish one’s personality and patience into perfection or oblivion.

With the utmost humility, I am pleased to announce that due to the Holy Spirit’s intervention, the Son’s intercession and the Father’s grace, we have emerged stronger than before! Thanks be to God. God taught me numerous things over these past two weeks but I think I can best sum them all up in three words: Esteem, Endurance and Empathy.

Let’s start with Empathy. I just discovered the primary difference between the friendships that I really enjoy and those that are peripheral to my joy and personal growth. Imagine a conversation that goes like this.

Person 1: HI! I’m so glad I caught you! I’m going to be driving for the next three hours, so I thought I catch up with you.

Person 2: That’s great, thanks for calling.

Person 1: So tell me, how are you?

Person 2: I’m great, blah, blah, blah…. By the way, what’s going on in your life?

Person 1: Oh nothing. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.

That may not be a self-explanatory example, but what if that conversation repeats itself every single time Person 1 calls you? They are minutely interested in your life, knowing your struggles and daily details, but as soon as you seek reciprocation, they curl into a spiny little ball and roll desperately away from you? You just bared your soul, or at the very least, shared from your true self, and yet they repeatedly prove that they don’t trust you enough to do the same.

I have a couple of friends like this. Then, there are the relationships that go both ways. When I pour out my heart – full of joy or sorrow – they respond from their very depths. Empathy. They know how I feel. Even if they have never experienced my exact circumstances, they are comfortable wearing my shoes for the course of a conversation.

I have always prided myself (ooohh… that’s a no no) on being a good friend. I love to listen to people. I long to help bear their burdens. I’ve even joked that I must have the phrase, “Talk to me,” written across my forehead. But that’s not enough. We’ve all heard that, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Very true, but is there such a thing as too much listening?

Where do the ears meet the heart? Can the heart express itself through facial expressions or words of self-divulgence?

It’s easy to sympathize; to let someone poor themselves out in the space between us and then respond with, “I’m so sorry.” But, I submit to you that your friendship will go deeper, your words be heard more clearly and your own heart be more buoyed by joy, if instead of sympathizing, you Empathize.  Be vulnerable. Share your joys and pains. Let the cards away from your chest. Relax your poker face. Be willing to be known.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?