Spirit-Imposed Aloneness

I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been unable to cull lessons from my own life. In the past, a single day might lend me a hundred ideas to share, and a dozen little things that God taught me and I felt compelled to ask if he was sharing them with you too. But lately, maybe it’s pregnancy brain, I feel stuffed with cotton–writer’s block at its absolute worst–almost unidentifiable. Just plain, “I got nothing.”

But this morning I recognized myself in an anecdote Lysa TerKeurst shared on Focus on the Family.  She had been invited to share the crux of her new book, Uninvited. (Pun intended.) And I decided that if I saw myself in her story, I might find some deeper meaning, some richer lesson by writing about it and, hopefully, you might find yourself there too.

Lysa was attending a banquet for leaders. Dozens of tables were spread for numerous guests of high calling–to lead, teach and mentor others. She looked forward to hobnobbing with them, sharing stories, gleaning ideas and mingling with others of the same ilk. The facility had gone all out, there were name cards for every seat.

For a while, she milled about uncomfortably looking for her name. It had to be there! Finally, she found it on a table in the very back of the room but to her disappointment, she didn’t recognize a single other name at her table. No matter, she’d meet new people. But no one showed up. There she sat by herself at a lovely, decorated table set for 10, in a room full of influential people–alone.

Please finish reading this article at My Daily Armor …

 

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The 3 “P’s” of Shame

It all started with shame. I was ashamed of who I was. No, I wasn’t a terrible person and I never endured much of what other women have that evokes shame. But I wasn’t super smart or super pretty or super athletic or super funny. I was simply plain, run-of-the-mill average. And I was ashamed.

For fourteen years, anorexia allowed me to excel at something. No one wanted to compete with me, but I competed with everyone. In my malnourished mind, I “won” every time I was thinner than another girl, every time I turned down food that another person simply couldn’t resist, every time I went for a long run in the rain while others pulled the sheets over their head and enjoyed the warmth of a cozy bed. I was an excellent anorexic.

Finally, I surrendered. I quit trying to make myself into someone I could be proud of—someone with a strong self will, a perfect figure and uncompromising strength. I finally relinquished the my pursuit of “excellence”. But then, shame reared its ugly head again; this time, he had a double-edged sword.

You’re still average—average weight, average strength, normal temptations. Did you just have seconds? You’re pathetic.

I can’t believe how much of your parents’ money you wasted. It’s shameful the emotional toll your behavior took on your sisters and friends. I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian and you couldn’t even summon the faith to get “healthy” in less than 14 years. You’ll always be pathetic.

Henry Cloud says that shame has three characteristics that distinguish it from God’s gentle correcting voice. He says shame is always personal, permanent and pervasive.

I ran the diagnostics on the voice that kept accusing me. You are pathetic. Pretty personal. In 1 Corinthians 6, even as Paul points out the Corinthians’ shortcomings, he also reminds them whose they are. “Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Pervasive. It’s shameful the emotional toll your behavior took on your family and friends. I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian. The enemy’s accusation encompassed my whole life, my faith and all of my relationships. However, Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” If sin and shame pervaded my life before, they do no longer because I have Christ’s life.

Permanent. You’ll always be pathetic. But the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” No sin or mistake is permanent. God holds nothing against me.

Today I walk free of those specific lies, but I know that times will come when I feel ashamed again. But I have learned to recognized the voice of truth and I choose to listen to what my Father says about me: “You have made [me] a little lower than the angels and crowned [me] with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:5

(This was first published at http://www.findingbalance.com)

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.”

Welcome to Clarksville!

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Hello Lovlies!

Welcome to Clarksville! It’s my plan to be more spontaneous with our posts again here very soon, now that life is settling into its new, “normal”.

As I peeled my heart away from Columbus, GA and the friends I’ve made there and reacquainted with, the hobbies I’ve begun, my chair at church, the park that I frequented on sunny days and the one more conducive to rainy ones–as I gently wiggled my heart like a well-stuck sticker and tried to loosen it’s adhesive, I realized something. I mean no offense to friends, but I think I grieved the loss of routine more than anything. Does that make sense?

Of course, that routine included dear ones. I am sad for the end of weekly coffee visits with Johanna, for true-southern hospitality at Nanny and Katherine’s house. I am sad for Tuesday/Thursday visits on regular floors at TMC–for smiles with Mailey, Shanna, Nancy, Barbara, Megan, Penny, Daisy, Alex and Amy and others.

But here’s what I’m learning:

God has recently been speaking to me of exposure. My favorite therapist of all time (how many people can say that?) once told me that recovery would become easier with time, that walking in freedom would become my “new normal”. Stacy explained, “When water flows down one side of a hill over and over it creates a channel and nothing will divert it, unless the water is forced down the other side of the hill enough times. Then, it will create a deeper, more compelling channel on the other side. Over time, the water will naturally flow down that opposite side.”

Stacy was right about recovery. Today, healthy feels normal and right to me. But her lesson applies to so many other aspects of life, too.

The day after we arrived in Clarksville, Brave and I ventured to the Upland Trail, their version of a riverwalk. My heart sank. The trail is less than two miles long. Our home is lovely, but it’s situated in a neighborhood with no safe places to walk the dog. There’s more traffic than I expected, no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or farmer’s market.

When our furniture didn’t arrive as early as I hoped, I felt my mood slipping and along with it a half dozen tears down my grimy cheeks. (Did I mention that it’s every bit as humid as Georgia? That leads to grimy cheeks quickly!)

Quietly, my Father started speaking to me about exposure. 

Lord, what can that possibly have to do with me, here, now and this achy sense of loss. I have no routine here, no way to plan or expect what happens next. I have no friends to call for coffee or familiar parks to stroll. What does exposure have to do with it?

One week later, from Thursday, May 29 to Thursday, June 5, I understand. You see, in one week I’ve been exposed to spectacular Tennessee thunder storms, friendly neighbors, a new state park with a few miles of trails that emulate a rain forest. I’ve been exposed to new patterns of streets and today found my way home without the GPS. I’ve been exposed to “camping” with my husband for (too many) nights and the welcome hug of a comfy bed again. I’ve been exposed to
wide—–open—spaces that remind me of Oklahoma–ranches, farms and fields of wildflowers between every building, bridge or street. I’ve been exposed to new accents and a different version of southern hospitality. I’ve been exposed to a new side of the hill.

The course of my life has been redirected. In only seven days I’ve begun to wallow out a different bed for my stream. My life is bubbling over new stones, around mysterious curves and tumbling down unexpected bluffs.

Are you getting this?

Exposure is what makes normal. Exposure is what makes familiar and acceptable and good. How does a child know that the neighbor’s mom can’t make chocolate chip cookies? Because they don’t taste “right” like the ones that Grandma makes.

So, I’m discovering our new town, our new home and forming new habits. They will feel deliciously comfortable and right, until it’s time to move again. Then, with a gentle nudge, God will redirect the course of my life again, expose me to what only He foresees and I’ll fall in love all over again.

The One In Whom

At 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned
(2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

Poem secret place

arnsberg-617991-mTake me into the secret place, Father.

A hidden place of muted song and raging melody,

Of solace and passion.

That same place, with You,

I find that pours and presses peace into oft unwilling mind.

But that pulls me to my feet and sweeps me in ecstatic circles.

That place,

Only You know the way.

It’s never the same path twice,

To trace my steps or share a code:

“Two steps, a prayer, a toughened knee, three songs, a verse by heart.”

So I come, as far as I can go, the threshold of Your throne room.

So close.

I can taste Your goodness

Swoon with the sweet fragrance of a thousand prayers,

Peer at Your beautiful strength,

But freeze in awe of contained majesty.

In flesh!

A hand pierced, extended.

Please, please take me to the secret place,

Where no one else can see my tears today.

I need the sound of Your breath,

Even in the absence of Your words.

I need the thunder of Your heart,

Even when You do not lead me forward.

Oh, that secret place.

Where tears, shy of human comment,

Flow freely from waves of pent fears and awe.

Book Review of “Inside/Out” by Jenny Hayworth

PP Cover.4483770.inddWe’ve all gone through something. We all can recall at least one unfair hand that life has dealt. We know of hurdles mastered, mountains climbed, uphill battles and broken wings. And from a certain vantage point, it’s true—we are all survivors of life. But sooner or later perspective arrives always followed by its fair companion, humility.

Most recently, perspective arrived for me in the form of a new book by Jenny Hayworth, Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery from Abuse and a Religious Cult. This gripping story was so poignant simply because it revealed a battle field I have never faced. It shed light on shadowy places I never knew existed; or if I had heard of them, they remained dimly mysterious. Her book put my own painful experiences in perspective.

Inside/Out is unique, gutsy and raw. After growing up intrenched in the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jenny bravely details her emancipation, the causes that led to it and the painful aftermath. My eyes stung with tears as I read of her sexual abuse, physical and emotional abandonment, clinical depression, suicidal thoughts and loneliness. Jenny shares without reservation about her own shortcomings, stating courageously that her only motive is to spare others her same pain.

The audience for this book, those who will find themselves in the pages, is vast. Some portion of Jenny’s story will undoubtedly resonate with everyone. And everyone who reads it, will find a second wind beneath their own wings, a new light on their own troubles. Jenny’s bravery, hope, determination and survival will be the encouragement many need to go forward one more day, to reach for the light at the end of the tunnel.