The Mountaintop

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Since I was a little girl, I have skied… downhill… water… whatever you prefer.

But here’s the thing. I have always been TERRIFIED of skiing.

It may have had something to do with the 6am wakeup call, shoving steel cut old fashioned oats down my throat because “they stick to your stomach,” followed by the ever nauseating car ride, topped off with skiing till I could no longer feel my fingers or toes.

Or maybe it had something more to do with this:

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Or the time I was run off the trail by a snowboarder…

Or the fact that since I’ve had my ankle surgery I have been terrified of re-injuring it.

Most recently, it is the fear of hurting myself and damaging my ability to run.

But nevertheless, about once a year for the last few years the mountains have called my name. There is something about the mountaintop. Several of those yearly escapades have taken place in Switzerland. Today’s destination is not quite so glamorous (and brings back memories of the time I came here with my family and spent the entire day puking in the parking lot). But the lure remains.

There is something about being “on top of the mountains where everything makes sense.”

Because somehow up here everything does make sense… the world slows down… problems and work are forgotten… and all that matters is the wind rushing past as I race down the hill.

I’m constantly afraid of falling. But for some reason I keep going, riding the lift up, and coming down the hill again and again. And isn’t life a little bit like that, a risk we dare to keep taking? A challenge worth facing?

Today I fell… and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!

What about God?

For a long time I didn’t know how to relate to God in the midst of my eating disorder.

I’d had a strong relationship with God since I was a little girl, something I didn’t find on my own. He had drawn me to himself.

My eating disorder began nine years ago.

For many years I grappled with the question of my guilt in the situation. There are so many messages out there about an eating disorder being a mental disorder, about it being a coping mechanism for a situation that I couldn’t handle, that I had shown strength by fighting, etc, etc, etc. At different moments one or another of those answers has helped me and encouraged me.

But also for a long time I felt so, so guilty. I remember making choices not to eat. I remember going against my better judgment. I remember being told, “I was playing with fire” and simply not caring. How was I expected not to blame myself when I clearly had screwed up?

Little by little, I had to learn to let go. To stop blaming myself regardless of how much I had made a mistake or not. Feeling guilty and blaming myself over and over again was only feeding the negative thought patterns rather than helping me move forward.

My therapist often challenged me, “You need to talk to yourself internally with the same love and care you talk to the little kids you used to nanny.” I would spit back an answer, “They don’t know better and I do.” I didn’t know how to have mercy on myself, be understanding towards the challenges I had faced, or how to stop being angry with myself for my culpability (however great or small it might be).

Somehow I seemed to think that if I could really truly blame myself. If I could convince myself and everyone in my life who knew that it was all my fault it would somehow make it better. In a large part, I think that desire was fueled by an avoidance of accepting the other factors at play in the development of my eating disorder. It is hard to accept what was hurting so deeply inside that it was easier to feel piercing hunger than face that emotional pain.

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Over the summer, after my therapist couldn’t continue to see me I had to turn to God. What had begun a few months earlier with my meeting with a spiritual mentor and her encouragement to “see myself as God sees me” turned into a full-blown need to rely on God. I needed him. I couldn’t do it on my own. I found myself on my knees begging for his strength.

The months that have followed have been a journey of letting God into my life. He has gently and insistently asked me to let him into those parts of me that are wounded. I have gone over them in therapy, acknowledged the hurt, permitted myself to feel the emotions… but now God wants to touch those parts of me.

“Are we willing to have our capacity to receive from God expanded?” -Bob Schuchts, Be Healed

I have been reading the book, Be Healed. I spend a lot of time on my knees asking God to help me trust him, help me to allow him into the experiences I have had and to heal them. And I have begged for the grace to trust that he can and will heal the hurt I have experienced.

Yet, all the while, in the back of my mind has remained the doubt. Do I see this eating disorder as sin? When I give in and relapse how can I dare to present myself before God? How can I talk to God when I know I am not doing all I can do? And little by little I am learning to see myself as he sees me.

Last week I found an answer in prayer. God is not looking at the past or trying to point a finger about what I am or am not culpable for. On the contrary, I can see the opportunities when I am strong enough to choose as opportunities to love him. It is not about looking at the past as sin or not sin, guilt or not guilt… It is not about beating myself up when I fail now… It is about turning the moments when I am strong enough to make the right decision into acts of love.

The nuance is slight… but the perspective change is huge. My recovery can be an act of love. And when I am not strong enough, it is not because I don’t love. I am weak. I am frail. I need God. So I praise him through the moments I find the necessarily strength to love him through my weakness or through my progress.

“Do you know what it feels like to be healed by Jesus; pierced to your depths by his gaze; deeply touched by his kindness; comforted by his authority; and relieved of your longstanding affliction by his powerful anointing? … My heart raced with fear, wondering whether I would lose control if I allowed Jesus to heal the deeper places of my heart. Can you relate to any of these experiences?” -Bob Schuchts, Be Healed

God’s Providence Delivered by Snail Mail

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Sometimes life is just busy… recovering from the stomach flu, finishing a ten page research paper, trying to catch up on laundry, marathon training, late nights, surprising the parents for breakfast early Sunday morning after dropping off a colleague at the airport on four hours of sleep… You know, a day in the life.

On a few late nights recently I’ve stopped by the mailbox – sometimes dreading the cold and other times marveling at the temperate weather – oh and staring in awe at the full moon. (You always look for the full moon when you are an educator – because the kids go CRAZY!)

And I have received not one, not two, but seven snail mail treasures in the last few weeks. Between that an a small Amazon problem I may have, I think I’m actually beating the bills hands down. Snail mail is one of my favorite things. Those little treasures mean more than ever in this day and age when to shoot an email or a text response is so convenient.

And this particular month it was such a support to feel myself so LOVED that these people took time out of their busy lives to send me a little love. Not only their words and their time but many of the packages contained meaningful gifts that they had thought of just for me.

Of course I tell them thank you… But perhaps they will never know the true weight of their kindness. Because as I’ve learned to love myself, I’ve also learned to let others love me. I’ve learned to recognize and accept their love and kindness and to feel good about being loved.

Looking back, these people have always been there. They have stood by me and most of them knew my story without me having to tell them. For so long I felt so alone. And I still certainly have moments of loneliness, but beyond a shadow of a doubt I know I am loved.

But most surprising of all, had I not been through all I’ve been through, I’m not sure they could love me as I am because I probably wouldn’t have let them. All the pain and all the challenges I’ve faced have made me very vulnerable. And through healing I’ve learned to let people in.

I can’t tell you how many people in the past year have told me that I am more at ease, more approachable, calmer. And I could not have gotten here without the process I have been through.

God writes straight with crooked lines.

 

Gone…

I used to (may be still do on occasion, don’t judge) lie in bed as a little girl with my mind wandering on what would happen if I died. There was something about imagining this world without me. Invariably I would end up crying and changing my train of thought. Imagining my own funeral always put me over the edge. It wasn’t about sadness for my absence. It was sadness because of the imagined sadness of others.

Reading Gone Girl brought back those memories. It isn’t a spoiler to share that it is about a woman who disappears from one day to the next. (You discover that in the first page of the book.)

I often tell my students, “If God stopped thinking about you even for an instant, you would simply cease to exist.” It is difficult to imagine a world without myself. I used to think of this more frequently at a point in my career when a lot rested on my shoulders and it had been a while since I’d backed up my computer. I would drive home thinking, “If I crash and my computer doesn’t make it out of the rubble, they are really going to be in trouble at work.”

The book is well written. The story line is enticing. So enticing in fact that despite my distaste for the sexual content of the book, I continued reading because I was hooked and wanted to find out what happened. The characters are well developed.

I would not recommend the book – so strong is my distaste for the sexual content – but it did leave me thinking… What is my place in this world? How authentic am I in my daily living? What is the impact I am leaving on those around me? How do I treat those I deal with in my daily life – particularly those whom I deal with on a daily basis who I can become more accustomed to seeing?

The truth is this life is brief. Last October I lost a friend. He was 27 years old. I drive by the exit where he was found dead on the side of the road without cause. I wonder when my moment will be. We have to move on. But the truth is people do not simply disappear, because their legacies live on.

What legacy am I leaving? And how aware am I of the precious time I have with those I love?

Life is like…

I have a thing for analogies. They are so useful. You have these concepts or experiences that you want to explain to other people so you use an image that they can understand to convey the idea.

But here is the thing, analogies are limited.

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And every now and again I think I choose the wrong analogy –  for explaining my life.

Because I will have a bad day and think that everything is gone, all the work I’ve done has come to naught and I’m left empty-handed.

That is the life is like dropping a basket full of eggs/pitcher of water analogy.

It is through that lens that all the work I’ve done up till now doesn’t count because what has happened now has ruined it all. (I’m a visual person and I like to have my analogies pretty vivid, so bear with me.) So in this particular analogy I walk all the way down to the village (perhaps with a basket on my head). I make it there, do my shopping, pay for it, and head back up the mountain. (I told you it was going to be far-fetched.) And then I trip… I fall… the water is spilled… the eggs are cracked… I have nothing to show for my journey. Everything is lost.

That is typically the analogy I “go with” on a bad day. Can you say melodramatic much?

So today’s challenge is to find a better analogy for my rough days. And why not going with my favorite life analogy – running?

Life is like running a marathon.

In a marathon there is anything can happen. I’m not talking about running the way Cragg, Linden, and Flanagan did in the Olympic Trials Marathon. (As a side note I never knew what it was to start to love sports heroes because of sheer love of the sport until I started following the Olympic Trials. More on that some other time.) I’m talking about running a marathon and needing to stop to pee, or walk through your water breaks, or whatever other obstacle may come along the way.

Any of those obstacles, first of all, do not prevent you from reaching your goal, nor do they pick you up and set up back at the start line. (This isn’t Mario Kart, people.) Even if they did mean not finishing the race, they still don’t erase the months of training, hard work, and character formation that brought you to the start line.

Further, often these so called obstacles actually are necessary to complete the rest of the marathon.

Sometimes we need those moments to pause as we continue on our journey. They are not failures nor mistakes. They are part of life.

It is hard to convince myself of that – as I bawled my eyes out on the phone to my friend this morning – worrying that the flu I’ve had this weekend is going to send me backwards in my recovery, worried about when is the right time to switch jobs, worried about how I am going to manage to cut off communication with this guy who isn’t getting the message, worried about if my mentor will be there for me, worried about if I should go back to therapy, worried about my ten page research paper I should be writing instead of blogging… etc, etc, etc. Worried if all this worry is what made me get sick in the first place and if it has become that deeply rooted in my subconscious that I’m getting sick without even wanting to?

What if?

I can’t worry about the next mile if I’m not there yet. Life isn’t like the pretty painted picture I had in my mind since I was a little girl. Life isn’t perfect. But life is beautiful; life is full of ups and downs and advances and setbacks. That is the beauty of the thing. It can be terrifying at times. But in the end, it is about who is walking through life not about it being perfect.

There is little I can change about life. But I can decide who I want to be.

Rewriting My Story

Often we are afraid to look back. We are afraid it will hurt. In my case, I’m often afraid it will trigger.

I hadn’t thrown up since Holy Week of last year. My eating disorder never became bulimia. But as I worked myself through the first steps towards beginning recovery and tried to start eating better, I found my need to control escaping through other outlets – throwing up occasionally, picking at my arms and face until they bled, exercising for longer, etc. The truth is without dealing with the underlying issues, the need for control will find some way to express itself. As I faced with horror these new uprisings of need to control, I finally understood my therapists insistence that we focus on the other situations in my life, not just the eating.

This weekend I got sick. I was up every thirty to forty-five minutes all night, my body doing everything in its power to eject everything from my digestive system. It freaked me out. Partly because I hadn’t throw up for nearly a year. But more so because the last time I was sick like that it triggered my biggest relapse I’ve ever had.

It was just over six years ago. I was in Switzerland. I was sick all night and then proceeded on my way with the group I was chaperoning to Italy the following morning. Being in Italy for ten days and having no appetite is one of the saddest things that could be imagined.

But sadder yet were the months that followed, pounds melting off of me. Until I remember vividly the battle of the wills I had with a dear friend/mentor over eating a yogurt. Promising her that I would never drop below XX lbs… and watching that weight pass me buy… Seeing numbers on the scale that I’d never seen before… wasting away to a shadow of my former self.

In some way the relapse was a blessing. It finally convinced me to get the help I needed. To actually overcome the eating disorder not just bury it.

As I sit here I feel shaky. There isn’t a food in this world that sounds appetizing right now. And it can freak me out a little bit.

But the truth is I’m not going back. I’ve learned that I am stronger. I’ve learned tools to cope. Yes, there is still pain inside. Yes, it still seems enticing to find a way to avoid feeling that pain. However, I am a different person.

I am a person who knows what that pain is.

I am a person who is patiently awaiting and working towards healing daily.

I am a person who is not alone.

I am a person who is loved and worthy of love.

I am a person who has dreams and motivations.

I am a person who wants to be different.

I am a person who is not defined by her past.

I am a person who is stronger than this disorder.

Above all, I’m a different person than I was before that relapse. I am a fighter. I am stronger. I am more beautiful inside and out because of the battle I have fought. And that battle was not fought in vain.

There is no doubt this week will be a struggle to get back to where I need to be. But I do not need to be afraid of the struggle. And just like the last time I was sick like this, there was a blessing in disguise… Hopefully through this week I can form better, healthier habits and take yet another step forward towards who I want to be.

Waiting or Preparing?

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I really love Verily Magazine. I miss their print version, but nonetheless enjoy perusing their online articles daily. Invariably I get sucked into titles that have anything to do with taking advantage of your twenties and not just waiting for life to start when you get married. In fact it was this article that convinced me last summer that I am worth spending money on and to plan a solo vacation to the beach – drink cocktails, sleep, and read a good book. I knew I would either have a great time or be terribly depressed, but either way I was sure it would be a learning experience.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with an individual involved in running a dating website. This particular one happens to be religious in nature. And I promptly informed him that he needs to pray harder, because the site just isn’t working for me.

He asked if I had read his latest post on their blog. (I hadn’t, despite all my good intentions to do so.) He also asked if I had any suggestions on what he should write about. A few days later I ran into him again. Having given some thought to his question, I told him that I personally was interested by anything that talked about what to do with this time before marriage or anything that talked about the beauty of marriage and God’s vision of marriage.

The truth is I am dying, longing, waiting for the day when I will get married. Yet, without fail as soon as a guy so much glances in my direction – I FREAK OUT! (Ok, maybe not quite that dramatic… maybe…) I believe God is calling me to marriage. I think I am ready (at least as ready as I’ll ever be and definitely not “not ready”). I value marriage. But relationships are work. When possibility becomes reality and I have to start adjusting my perfectly-under-control single life, it can be more challenging than one might expect. (Don’t get me wrong, I think it is totally worth it. But there is no denying that there is an adjustment that has to take place.)

So there I was standing in a hallway at work, pouring out my dating woes to a total stranger. I was impressed. He not only thanked me for my input, but he gave me some advice that possibly changed my entire view of where I am right now.

He told me a story of a young couple that lived in Houston. They had been married for three years and were very happy, but were longing to have children. The mother received advice from her parish priest, “Pray to love and practicing loving with the love of a mother.” She did so and shortly thereafter they conceived their first child.

He looked at me and said, “Pray to love and practice loving as you will have to love a spouse.”

What an absolutely beautiful way to look at this moment! I am not waiting. I am not getting ready. I am not being patient. I am not trusting that God has his time. (Okay, yes, maybe there is a little of all that going on too.) For so long I looked at myself and thought I wasn’t ready because I was such a mess. It was a negative view of preparation, getting my s*** together so I could be ready for marriage. But from that conversation forward I am also preparing and practicing. I am forming my heart to love my spouse with all the love that he deserves.

And maybe I’ll have to take another solo trip to the beach too… because my brother and his girlfriend tagged along on the last one. And with this paradigm shift, I’m almost guaranteed not to be depressed.