Tag Archive for Hope and Healing

When You Think You’re Too Good for Hope

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I used to think of hope as wishes, as little bubbles that floated away from you and popped on the way up to some genie in the sky.

Hope seemed ephemeral, insubstantial, the sort of thing you rely on when you’re at your wit’s end.

And I made it a point to never be at my wit’s end. I climbed ladders of A’s, I did the work, I made the team. When I didn’t fit in, I’d find where I did. I’d find the smaller pond to be the biggest fish, where I could be the star.

Hope was the antithesis of the American Dream. It was for the weak, the downtrodden, the poor and the orphan. Although we’d never exactly say so, I came from a lineage where those were the people we helped; we weren’t those people.

I built my white picket fence cozily around me. I laid myself on top of a foundation of success, hard work and my own giftedness. I tucked all the gifts under me like a mother hen sheltering her brood of chicks.

But, if we plaster over our need, we have no need for hope. And if we lose hope, what do we have? We become shadows. Shadows of real human beings, with a stern self-righteousness that spills over into everything and poisons the well.

We’re just whitewashed tombs barricaded behind fences of good deeds and accolades.

But Hope wheedles in whatever way He can. He pushes through fence posts and explodes us from the inside so that we’re left with the debris of our goodness.

Because love, like hope, always starts with need.

Your neediness may come from trauma, or a loss that knocks the wind out of you, or abuse—things that twist and contort hope so that it grows so dim it’s hard to see it, let alone grasp it.

For me, it was motherhood. I was finally birthed into my own need from those born from me, from those babies who felt like little bubbles in the womb.

I was deliriously sleepless with a baby who wouldn’t stop crying. This was not supposed to happen. I was the woman with the advanced degrees, the one who had studied how birth and parenting were supposed to look like. I had always succeeded at the things I had put my mind to. I wanted raw almonds, and soft lighting, and massage in my birthing. Instead I had an emergency C-section. I wanted attachment parenting and blissful naps together. Instead I fell asleep, drooling, nursing a baby while grading papers, with never enough time or energy to devote to either one.  

Seeing my need took awhile. Instead of falling face down, I decided to do better. To be organized. To finally get my life wrapped up into a package of control. I would be supermom in the midst of colic, a Ph.D. dissertation, and a new job.

All the hiding and covering up, all the “I’ll-do-better-next-time’s” was just my version of thinking I was too good for hope.

But hope stole in unawares. It came through play dates and walks around the park. It came in long stretches of noticing how leaves crunched and changed colors. It came in the quiet paths of our mother-and-children days.

Hope materialized in the form of a dear friend who, as we cupped our hands around weekly cups of coffee, said “me, too.” We had a place to admit that we screamed at our children in private. We held open sacred space for one another.  We prayed about fear and shame and how maybe this whole Christian life feels sometimes like a sham. We commiserated about the sleepless nights, the lack of felt purpose to our days, and how we sometimes just wanted to escape. To hop on a plane or just be alone for 24 hours. Anything.

It wasn’t until I realized that the solution wasn’t better children, or less children, or more “me” time. The solution wasn’t healthy eating, exercise and quiet time—though all of those things helped stem the chaos. The solution wasn’t “out there,” as if a quick trip to Fiji would turn me into the ideal I just couldn’t reach.

I needed grounding outside myself. I needed a hope that was built on something unchanging, steady and sure. Hope anchored my soul. And there was firm ground at the end of my rope. Hope would hold me fast and steady when there were bills, and noise and children. When life looked entirely different than how I thought it should be.

Hope was solid. It wasn’t idly floating bubbles, popping as they went just a bit too high. Hope was holding on to a rope I knew was anchored deep, even when I couldn’t try any harder.

Slow Grace

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I think it was the lack of oxygen that jolted me awake, but it might have been the sweating or the too-fast heartbeat. 0 to 60 in one second flat, my heart and lungs and brain were running a marathon at a dead sprint while the rest of my body laid in bed, trying to make sense of something that has no sense.

It was the first time panic had ever woken me up, but it wouldn’t be the last.

It was also 8 months after I’d been diagnosed with a panic disorder, and things weren’t looking up.

Sometimes healing looks more like hiking the Grand Canyon than the steady uphill of Mt. Everest. There’s further down to go than you thought before you can start climbing up, and you might spend a couple of nights camping on the bottom.

“How have things been going for you spiritually lately?”

It’s late and I’ve invited myself over to two of my dearest friends’ house because I haven’t been able to catch my breath for two days and I don’t know what else to do. They’ve asked questions and offered advice and suggested doctors and prayed and held hope for me, and now it’s probably time to go. But he asks it anyway, even though it’s late and we all need sleep.

“I, umm . . . I don’t know. I guess I’m learning that God is love and grace and good, despite my total inability to contribute anything to this relationship. I’m discovering what ‘unconditional’ means.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t read my Bible. Well, I can’t read anything. I can’t focus for very long. I can’t pray more than about 3 words at a time. I have nothing to give, but God has not changed in his care for me.

I am finding that there is a slow grace for those who are hurting and need it most. On the days when my eyes move over the page of my Bible but none of the words register, when I lift my pen to write and get only as far as, “I hate this,” when I start out to pray but find myself counting my breaths instead, I have found nothing but inexplicable grace for that.

I used to do those things so that God would like me more.

It turns out he couldn’t possibly like me any more than he already does.

Jesus isn’t standing at the gates of heaven looking down on my life and keeping track of the minutes I spend in Bible study, prayer, and serving him. There is no cosmic checklist I have to accomplish, despite my affinity for checklists. I am not behind on my debts, or maybe it’s that I am so far behind that we’re not keeping tabs any more.

No, Jesus isn’t looking down on my lack of commitment. He’s gently holding my hand and counting my breaths with me. He is not frustrated that I can’t pull it together and trust him (or anyone) nor surprised when panic takes over at the most inconvenient of times. He softly whispers that he wants all that I have to give, whatever I have to give.

I’m not the soft whispering type, so I yell something about not having anything to give. And he takes my hand again and counts with me: breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold it, hold it, and out, 2, 3, 4. And somehow this is prayer, here, counting and breathing and believing that I am not alone. It is all I have to give, and it is all that He wants from me.

I hate anxiety. I do. It is frustrating and irrational and isolating and exhausting, and I would wish it on exactly zero people in the entire human race. It reminds me that I am human and that sometimes that is a terrible thing.

It has also given me more opportunity to love and be loved by my friends, my family, and my God than any other single part of my life. They have proven more trustworthy than I would ever have believed, and I am daily grateful for their abundant love for me. They remind me that I am human and that is a beautiful thing.

It’s not what I thought it would look like, but maybe this is healing too.

Hope is Too Heavy Sometimes

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At 26 I was miraculously healed, but at 13 I started asking for healing. Sometimes people wonder why more people aren’t experiencing miracles, and I wonder sometimes if it is because we don’t understand how expensive hope is.

I spent most of my teen years believing I would be healed. I went to every healing service, I had hands laid on me more times than I remember. I believed, every single time, that this was the time the Lord would have mercy on me. But it wasn’t. So many of those times it wasn’t. Walking to the front to have hands laid over me was like climbing the ladder of a high dive, only you aren’t totally sure when you are leaping, if the water will be there to catch you. Every time you do it again, add two steps to the ladder.

There comes a point in time when you just stop climbing the ladder, you stop believing in the healing, and you start figuring out how to live with the body you have. This isn’t to say you can’t function well and also believe that healing will come, it is just that that is often a lot, especially if you are functioning in a body that is also sick.

Emily Dickinson said that hope is a thing with feathers, and we often think of it as light and fluffy, but in my experience, there are days when hope was simply too heavy to hold. I simply could not hold the hope while also waking up every morning to a body that ached. Maybe my faith was too weak as some suggested, maybe I wasn’t believing in a God big enough. All I know is I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hold the hope while also living my life. So, I put it down.

Some people weren’t okay with this choice. I often had people pick up the hope and attempt to hand it back to me. All well meaning. All just made me tired. I tried, I did, but I couldn’t figure out a way to wait expectantly while also moving on with my life. It was hard to plan for a prom that I could have fun at while also imagining a prom where I wouldn’t have to sit out some songs. I could not have picked the college I did, with an amazing disabilities services program while also expecting a college experience where I did not have to be driven to class on particularly cold days.

I put my hope down for years, through my prom, my college speech days, my wedding and my newlywed days. I put it down through my first years teaching and my first tries at being an adult in a new city. I put down the hope, and got on with my life, but the hope had not left me.

Quietly, there were people in my life holding that hope for me. My sister just quietly tucked my hope in her heart, and carried it around. My dad, my mom, a friend from church. They knew it was too much, they respected the “not right now.” They held my hope for me when I could not.

I do not believe that we are meant to hope alone. Hope is often a burden best shared.

And then, slowly, it was not too much for me to hold. The hope was not too much, and it was handed back to me. I lived in that weird balance of expectation and contentment, and when I could not I just put the hope down. And that was okay.

I am convinced that allowing for me to work out my wholeness while sick, without the burden of hope burning a hole in my pocket, is the very space that allowed for me to be healed.

And now, I am learning to hold hope for others, when the burden of their shattered marriage, their shattered health, their shattered faith, is simply too much to bear, I send an email, a Voxer, a prayer. I will hold your hope until you want to carry it again. It is okay to put it down. Hope is just too heavy sometimes.

The Untangling

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“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

He was born in early June to a crowded room of doctors, nurses and specialists. I tried counting how many people were there, but I lost track after 15.

I had wanted an intimate, natural birth with my husband, doula, and midwife. Possibly a water birth. This resembled more of a circus.

At our 20 week ultrasound, we learned that our baby had duodenal atresia, a medical condition where the intestines are not properly formed. It would require surgery and a hospital stay. There was also a question of genetic defects and a chance of Down’s Syndrome. A flurry of doctor appointments and a tailspin of worry began.

“Why, Lord?” We had experienced a miscarriage with our first baby at just 10 weeks. The ultrasound technician’s words still haunted me. “I’m sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.” Our baby girl, as quickly as she had entered our lives, was gone.

We were covered in prayer. But what if God allowed another loss? I begged and pleaded. “Please don’t let our baby die. Please let our baby be strong.”

We were praying for healing in utero and hoping the tests were wrong.

It’s funny how God answers prayer. It’s never quite the way you expect.

During his seven week NICU stay, our son endured four surgeries. Each time they wheeled him off, I was confronted with the reality that I was not in control of this situation, his healing, or his life.

I’d like to say that I did nothing but pray and trust God. But that would be a lie. I worried. I paced. I yelled at God. I told him He’d better heal my son or else.

Our baby was hooked up to so many cords that holding him required the assistance of a nurse. The beeping and whirring of machines quickly became familiar. This was our new normal.

Doctors, nurses and specialists constantly floated in and out of his room. More anomalies were unearthed. A couple serious, others of no consequence. It would take us another year to separate one from the other. As first-time parents, it was especially terrifying. We never knew what was around the bend.

After the atresia was repaired and he began recovering, another obstacle was thrown our way. We discovered he had laryngomalacia, floppy airways which prevented him from drinking breast milk without aspirating. It took two surgeries on his larynx for him to be able to drink a tiny amount of milk without choking.

Finally, we were sent home with a G-tube (gastronomy tube) which allowed us to feed him directly through his stomach, and oxygen for sleep apnea. To say that we were not prepared for this would be an understatement.

We were tangled in cords. Leaving the house required precise timing, a portable oxygen tank, a Kangaroo pump, expressed breast milk, and my breast pump. Around the clock G-tube feedings took over our lives. We were walking zombies.

Over the course of a year, our son had over 90 doctor and therapy appointments as we ran down the laundry list of issues to address. Running and documenting G-tube feeds, attempting oral feeds, scheduling and running to appointments, submitting insurance claims, taking copious notes, pumping breast milk every two hours, this was now my life.

I had always taken pride in being self-reliant. I thrived on staying busy and planning ahead. I had deluded myself into thinking I was in control.

Nothing was further from the truth.

God used my son’s medical challenges as an opportunity for me to learn how to live in the moment, to be truly present and rely on Him for strength instead of myself. I had no other choice. I was beyond exhausted. This situation was more than I could handle.

He also taught me to be grateful for small victories and simple joys, even in the midst of waiting, wondering, and suffering.

He answered my prayers for healing my son. And at the same time, He freed me from the lie that I’m in control.

This truth is both terrifying and thrilling. My Savior is in the driver’s seat. I am not.

*****

After gulping down his entire bottle of milk, my son attempts to dive head first off the arm chair. It takes all my strength to keep him from crashing to the ground. A few weeks ago, he discovered he can scale the walls of his play yard using his toes. My husband jokes that our son is secretly a super hero. For a 14-month old, his grip is truly impressive.

He is stronger than I could have ever dreamed.

 

Resources:

Ronald McDonald House

Jackson Chance Foundation

 

Mom, I’m Pregnant

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On my way to a doctor’s appointment this morning, I grabbed Starbucks and then delivered a frappuccino to my daughter. As soon as my hands were empty, I picked up my grandson and smothered him with snuggles. We smiled at each other and laughed. I talked gibberish to him and I am pretty sure he thought I was hilarious.

A year ago, I couldn’t even imagine moments like this and that they would warm my heart. Even though I have four children of my own, I struggled to imagine a life that included a grandchild. Because, you know, I was only thirty-seven years old. My daughter was barely seventeen. And this wasn’t the life I had planned.

I had rehearsed the moment a hundred times in my head. I would not yell or cry or lose my composure. I knew from my own personal experience with that very daughter that she would only need to be hugged, hear she was loved and be reminded that everything will be ok. So when the confession—Mom, I’m pregnant—escaped from my seventeen year old daughters’ lips? I stuck to the script.

Perhaps I never truly expected to use that script and so it ended there. Now off-script with my daughter out the door to school, I lost it. I crumpled to my knees and sobbed my eyes out. When I was finally spent and opened my eyes my four-year-old son was kneeling beside me, nose-to-nose with my face on the floor—”What’s wrong, Mama?”

Suddenly, nothing would ever be the same. Familiarity was a distant stranger. Our surroundings were already unfamiliar due to living in a temporary location after experiencing a fire in our home and now my family was changed forever. Overwhelming waves of shock would fill the next few days. By that I mean actual physical waves of shock that came over me. I would be driving along, attempting to process what the future might hold and an honest-to-God wave of pain would shoot through my chest and take my breath away. I had never experienced that sensation before but it began to be a constant companion.

And the questions. Oh, the questions. The doubts. The second thoughts. The shame. Every single word and action ever rendered concerning my daughter was reviewed in my mind to determine how I could have redirected her path so that she didn’t end up where she did. And, of course, the big one—I thought I had managed to be a pretty decent teenage mom but maybe I had been wrong? I mean—come on—of all the wrong choices my children might make, as my daughter, wasn’t teenage pregnancy THE ONE choice they should know how to make wisely? As my daughters, shouldn’t I have figured out how to raise them in such a way that we would never end up here in a million years? How could this be happening again?

I spent hours mourning the family we used to be. We would never again just be the six of us. I mourned the hopes and dreams that I had for my daughter, not because I wanted her to follow a certain path but because I lived with the countless sacrifices I made when I became pregnant with her. Don’t get me wrong—they were all worth it—but I had hoped to spare my daughter the hard consequences of those choices.

I won’t lie. Things became worse before they eventually came together. There were a few months when, through no choice of my own, we had no contact with our daughter. It was the most gut-wrenching situation I have ever been through. In the middle of it all, my mother wondered aloud why my faith hadn’t wavered. I was surprised to realize I hadn’t even considered being shaken. My faith in God and trust in Him having all things woven together for good, somehow, in some way, was the only solid and constant rock to land on when I was knocked to the ground time and again.

My grandson, Rowan, is now 10 months old and only recently have I been able to rock him to sleep in my arms and feel my heart at peace with the whole situation. Wounds have begun to heal and hearts have begun to mend. For a long while there was a wall up between him and I. I didn’t intend for it to exist; I was practically unaware of it until I felt it come tumbling down the day we decided to “say everything that needed to be said.” And now? It’s amazing to sweep him up in arms and feel free to love him with reckless abandon. It’s not the life I expected. It’s not the life I ever would have dreamed. But I think I could get used to being called grandma.

The Day I Went to a Faith Healer

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I was fifteen, and I remember that the auditorium was huge, and we were up in the balcony. From that height the speaker looked tiny, but his voice was huge and blaring, and each word was shouted. Already there was something in my spirit that didn’t feel right, but when I looked at the friends who had taken me, they just smiled. I decided I would try to keep an open mind. 
 
His talk consisted of stories of incurable cancers that had disappeared when he rebuked the illness, legs that had grown at his touch. Everyone applauded after each story he told. Finally, he opened the Bible and preached from Luke 6:38, “give, and it will be given to you.” 
 
“There are seven adjectives in this verse,” he boomed. “Seven! That means, whatever you give to this ministry it will be given to you seven times over. You can’t lose!” 
 
Even as a fifteen-year-old I knew that’s not how God worked. The most generous givers I knew were not particularly rich. You give because it is good to give, and there was absolutely nothing in that verse that guaranteed a sevenfold-return on a donation to what now seemed like a particularly dodgy faith healer. But it was the next thing he said that enraged me. 
 
“Who is it that needs healing? Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s a loved one. Whoever it is, write their name on the envelope, and then consider carefully how much you want to give. Give generously. Remember—the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Then we will begin the healing.” 
 
I’m sure my eyebrows shot up involuntarily. Claiming to be a man of God, he had implied that you can buy healing. The manipulation was so transparent, so calculated; I wanted to walk out there and then, and turned to my friend to suggest we did just that. 
 
She was emptying her purse into the envelope, tears falling down her cheeks. On her envelope she wrote, “Mum.”
 
***
 
At the end of the meeting, the man gathered three people in wheelchairs to the front, shouted at them, and they got out of their wheelchairs and danced on stage. The crowd clapped in a frenzy, but by this point I was questioning everything. In a crowd this big, who’s to say they were genuine? The man gathered all the envelopes into a huge pot, waved his hands over them, then shark-grinned and proclaimed that healing was there to be claimed and believed.
 
My friend walked out elated, and I didn’t know what to say to her. He claimed to heal, but what he really sold was hope. 
 
***
 
I may have been fifteen at the time, but I knew that you couldn’t put money in an envelope and buy your healing. I couldn’t understand why my friend would believe it. Now, after almost a decade after being diagnosed with a debilitating illness, my mobility limited to a few metres, needing to be in bed 21 hours a day, I understand my friend a little better. Sickness is really, really hard, and as the years go by and the prognosis gets worse, people will do almost anything if they are promised healing at the end of it. 
 
***
 
We think we can buy healing. People of faith do it with earnest prayer; others of us do it with private doctors or alternative healers, fitness regimes and juicing. Of course, sometimes, for some people, it works, and their stories persuade us that it will work for all. Whether by prayer or our own efforts, we want to believe healing is within our control. 
 
But we can’t buy healing, at least not from God.
Can God heal miraculously? Yes.
 
Does he always? No.
 
Does he often? No. (That’s why they’re called miracles, not “everyday”>)  
 
Is this something we can control—by our devotion, our faith, our money? No.
If it were something we could control, it would not be a miracle but a transaction. It turns God into a corrupt salesman who can be bribed. 
 
***
 
Healing miracles happen today: I know this from personal experience. God miraculously healed me from a brain haemorrhage as a baby in answer to my parents’ frantic prayers. Equally, devout people cry out to God for years for healing and their prayers go unanswered. This, too, I know from personal experience. 
 
It would be okay if it were consistent. If prayer for healing either always worked or never worked, we would be happy because we would understand it. We can deal with rules, but miraculous healing is an anomaly and we don’t know what to do with it. We want to know the secret of the miracle, to turn it into a formula so we can possess it. If I just repent enough, pray enough, diet enough, exercise enough, empty my purse into an envelope, then I will get better. 
 
We cannot talk about miraculous healing without acknowledging the cloak of mystery around it. God is not a slick and sharp faith-healer who promises you health if only you give enough. God is bigger, purer, than that.
 
As a child, I knew that God was big because He had the power to heal me when nothing else could. As an adult, I know God is big because He has the power to heal me and yet He doesn’t. I want to understand it, but I don’t. The best I can come up with is there are things I don’t know about God, because He is God, and I am me. After all these years, I’m still learning the Sunday School lesson I thought I already knew at the age of fifteen, “My God is so big.” 

Unwanted Reality

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I had two abortions. They weren’t “crisis pregnancies.” They weren’t “unplanned pregnancies.” They were simply unwanted.

I was a teenaged girl living with her boyfriend, playing house. Our “unplanned pregnancies” were nothing more than “not planning ahead and being responsible pregnancies.” I didn’t use birth control.

So abortion became my birth control.

1987 was the first time I had ever heard the word fetus. When the nurse said it I asked her what she meant . . . “The tissue in your uterus, Dear.” They never called it a baby.

I didn’t have a sonogram. I never heard the heartbeat. Options were not discussed. Doing the math we knew that I was 11 weeks pregnant. The second abortion was at 13 weeks.

I felt so ugly. I felt so ashamed. I felt so angry. My crying woke me after my first abortion, screaming, swinging my arms . . . eventually landing a solid slap across a nurse’s face.

I lost a part of me that day. No . . . I got rid of a part of me.

Tears streaming down my 16 year-old face. Snot dripping from my nose. Feeling the blood gush out of me as I attempted an escape.

Realizing there are other girls in the same room recovering from their abortions, they’re all staring at me, and I hate every one of them. I hate them for seeing me; for knowing what I had just done.

Yet all that turmoil, all that pain, did not stop me from being a repeat offender the following year. I was the “Oh, you’ve been here before” patient during check-in.

This was the abortion that left several more scars. Emotionally, mentally, and physically. Scars that would begin to heal but my guilt was so strong that I wouldn’t allow them to.

The very moment I’d spot healing I would peel the scab back just enough to reveal the reality of what I had done. I didn’t deserve to heal. I deserved the pain.

I made myself pay for it every single second of every single day.

And no one could offer help because I told no one. It was my burden to carry—it was my wound to own.

Oh, but how it owned me.  

If I allowed myself to forgive my actions then that would mean I’d have to let it go. But it was all I knew. What would I turn my attention to? It became my identity, my false security. Even in the dysfunction of my thoughts, it was my normal, it was my self-imposed prison sentence I would have to live out.

I had no healing because I had no hope. Hope. HOPE.

Some of you may be thinking around about now, “That girl needs some Jesus!”

Yah, this girl was missing her some serious Jesus. He would be my missing link to healing and hope.

Still, even after recognizing my need for him, at age 19, I spent several more years in that same self-destructive pattern. Too afraid, too ashamed, too damn prideful to loosen my grip on me.

It was all about me. The abortions, the punishment, and the grave of regret I was digging were all about me.

I eventually got married and gave birth to my first child. One of the hardest things for me to talk about still is how I briefly hated my firstborn. I hated her for reminding me of what I had done. I hated her for looking like what my other two babies may have looked like. All she did was remind me of the pain.

Five months would pass before I’d completely snap out of my self-pity.

In short, God had had it up to His holy ears with me. He struck me to the ground. Literally. I fell to my knees in a visceral heart pain like nothing I had experienced before. It was a soul-deep firm grip to my shoulders as God’s hands rested heavily on me and we had it out, oh-yes-we-did.

Yelling at God I told him I would not confess my secrets to a soul nor would I forgive myself. I was not willing to disturb the “peace.”

God: Oh? This is peace? Look at yourself, Tam. You’re a mess. You have snot all over your face, you can’t even stand from the weight of your guilt. You live in constant fear of being found out. I let you have a beautiful daughter and you resent her. THIS is peace?!

The day I left Planned Parenthood after my second abortion they told me to give it a few days and I’d be back to normal.

No. Nothing was ever normal again. They don’t prepare you for what’s to come. They don’t tell you how this will forever effect your life and the lives around you. They don’t prepare you for the depression. The self harm. The physical consequences.

They take your payment, they take your baby, and you leave a part of your soul there.

Had it not been for that holy whoopin’ from God, I sincerely believe I might not be here today.

My choice to abort my babies wrecked way too many years. I can’t get those babies back. I can’t hit “undo.” But God gave me back something. He gave me Hope. If not for His unrelenting love, forgiveness, and grace I would be a hopeless mess today.

I didn’t find healing. Healing found me.

Tam has recently released a book about her experiences called And Now I Choose. Check it out on the left-hand side of the page.

Soup For the Skinny Girls (With a Recipe for Vegetable Soup)

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FOOD IS NOT MY LOVE LANGUAGE, I said. To the computer screen. With maybe a little more feeling than I had intended. A writer friend had just invited me to participate in a writers’ group cookbook project, and of course I wanted to contribute. I love online community, and I love my hard-earned kitchen skills. But then my friend fairly shimmered, she said she was so excited about it all because food is her love language.

And suddenly I thought, oh wow, this is really going to suck. 

I don’t talk about my eating disorder as much as I talk about a lot of other things on the Internet. I don’t like being defined by it. It’s just plain messy stuff, and in my life it has been an expression of pain rather than a source of pain. It is the issues, but it isn’t where the issues come from.

But when somebody asks me for a recipe? This is where I live. If we’re talking food, this is where I start.

I have been one of the skinny girls.

I have been skinny like bone and muscle is skinny, skinny like a person who is built all angles and not very many curves, skinny like a person who lives without luxuries of wealth and does a lot of chores.

I have also been the skinny/hungry. Maybe because there wasn’t food around or I didn’t have access to food, or it wasn’t my turn to eat or I didn’t think the food was for me. But just as likely because the thing I was thinking was food wasn’t even food and I don’t even know what it was. I don’t know how that happened, but it did.

I have also been skinny like a privilege. I have been skinny like this is the one thing I get, for having limited food security and not a lot of attention and doors that closed when I thought they were going to stay open. At least I’m skinny.

I have been skinny like a princess, skinny like a will to control, skinny because that was the one thing I had. When I didn’t have success or self love or self control, at least I could fit into a tiny dress. And that is something.

I have been skinny like a disease. I have attacked my body, tried to fight it into submission. I have tried to make my body go away. I didn’t always know what it meant, but I have wanted to end my body. I wanted it to go away.

I have been “recovered” now almost ten years. I needed help and I got it. But I still have strange relapses now and then. Especially if I am near members of my immediate family, and if there is any danger of running out of food, I’ll catch myself looking at a block of cheese the way a werewolf looks at the moon.

I feel shadows of anxiety over a number of things . . . a shared kitchen, a loaf of grocery store bread, having somebody watch me eat, having nobody to watch me eat, having somebody tell me that FOOD IS THEIR LOVE LANGUAGE. I am always a little bit afraid of a trigger that will turn me and spin me out, and make me fall off the balance beam I’m walking.

I don’t really like talking about it (because just talking about it can be a trigger) But sometimes somebody asks me for a recipe, and then I have to explain. This is where I start.

When I cook, which isn’t really all the time, I cook for this. I cook for the skinny/hungry, and the hungry/fat, and for alI the hungry/judged. I feel tongue-tied for us, and powerless. But stories are powerful, and so is community, and so is hope. And for me, that’s the soup.

I don’t know why I’m never triggered by soup. But I simply am not. Ever. Triggered by soup. Soup is basically a liquid. And, possibly more importantly, soup isn’t portioned. It’s a some, not a many. I don’t feel afraid that I’ll eat too much, or too little, or run out.

When my children are grown, maybe I’ll eat soup every day. I imagine the soup pot will be bottomless, like the hunger is bottomless. Like a big pot of love.

Maybe food is my love language after all.

Here’s my recipe, for soup.

  1. Take out whatever is in the crisper drawer (or, if you happen to live off the grid, the crisper basket). Look at it. Throw any yucky bits to the worms. Chop up the rest. In the winter this will be potatoes and chunks of squash. In the summer it will be blanched and peeled heirloom tomatoes. Mix colors and cut the things that cook faster into bigger chunks.
  1. Admire your piles of chopped vegetables. Take a good smell. Go smell your spice cabinet, pick some spices that smell right. If uninspired, fall back on the song…parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
  1. Toss a handful of chopped fresh garlic and onion into hot olive oil in the bottom of the soup pot. Sizzle until soft. Add sprinkles of whatever spices you picked.
  1. Add the vegetables. Put a lid on the pot and shake it so the oil gets all over the vegetables. Add broth and water to cover. (It’s even better if you you’re your own homemade broth.) Simmer until vegetables are soft.
  1. Eat with your eyes closed.

Is this really not scientific? Sorry. It is made to fit a really serious neurosis, not a recipe book. I can’t handle stress in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love food. Like hope, my soup is a recipe made to match things that don’t make sense, like fear and passion, with things that do, like the gift of a garden harvest and the chemistry of human happiness.

That’s what hope is like, in my experience. It can be a little hard to grasp, and not quite what you expect. It might like a lot of structure, but not a lot of rules. It might hide when you’re looking for it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Please don’t give up.

The Night I Almost Stopped Being a Christian

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The night I almost stopped being a Christian anymore, I sat alone, at midnight, in the living room of the house I shared with three other women. I was twenty-two, almost six months out of college, depressed, and despairing.

I’d discovered I was depressed in my therapist’s office the summer before. The revelation was like a pin to my natural, balloon-like buoyancy. When my happy-go-lucky image of myself popped, my life imploded. I looked at everything and everyone with suspicion.

Family first. But after that, God.

My faith had been so cheerful, so earnest right before my therapist exploded everything. I thought the Bible was an instruction manual I should follow. I thought if I was filled with the Spirit, rooted in Jesus, immersed in God’s Word, sharing the Gospel, praying without ceasing, and taking every thought captive, nothing could go wrong.

I thought earnestness about Christian things came with a guarantee.

To discover that they did not filled me with rage and bewilderment.

I’d kept going to church, and even to a local twenty-something’s group. I was looking for someone to prove my suspicion wrong. I was looking for God to prove me wrong. I was looking for—God, I didn’t even know what I was looking for.

Perhaps I was looking for hope.

The night I sat alone at midnight, it was almost Christmastime. Christmas had always been painful: as a child, my brother and sister visited for a week around the holiday, bringing their usual absence into sharp relief. As a teenager, when my siblings mostly stopped coming home for the holidays, Christmas emphasized that my “family” was more idea than reality.

Now, estranged from my parents, too, I felt a complete void.

I was alone.

Was God going to do anything about that? Were any Christmas platitudes worth a damn? Was faith just so much whistling in the dark?

I don’t have to be a Christian anymore, if I don’t want to, I thought. I can choose to be something else.

This thought filled me with terror, of course. I’d thought Jesus was going to save me, was going to change everything, and now to admit to myself that he might be a figment of my imagination was like a cold knife in my heart.

But it also filled me with an incredible sense of power.

If I didn’t like this faith anymore, if I didn’t believe it, I could choose.

Can I mention how compliant I’d always been? In high school, when I heard a party I was going to would have alcohol at it, I insisted my friend take me home before we even arrived. I asked my mom for permission before cutting class, and when she said no, I stayed in school.

Also: I kept quiet about our family’s secrets. I kept so quiet about my own feelings I didn’t even realize I had any before I started therapy.

The idea that I didn’t have to be a good Christian girl anymore made me sit up straight and take notice.

Did I want to do all those Christian things? The Bible reading, the evangelism, the beliefs that choked me like a vise? Did I want to carry that heavy yoke of obligation on my back?

The truth was, I didn’t. I couldn’t bear that yoke anymore.

Before that night, I’d sat on that couch in the dark a few times, wishing I was dead. But this midnight, oddly, I saw an open door up ahead, filled with light.

The sign above it said YOU HAVE A CHOICE.

It was then that I had this thought-not-from-myself.

You don’t have to do anything. it said. You don’t have to do anything ever again. All the Christian things. You’ve done more than enough already. You can just be with me.

The thought didn’t blame me for my traitorous ideas. No, it seemed to understand exactly why I wanted to jump ship. I felt its grief for everything I had tried to carry.

Everything of mine is available to you, it said. No matter what you decide. I’m not leaving, no matter what you decide.

I hiccupped, and began to weep.

I’m not leaving, no matter what, it repeated.

The room, so familiar in its insomniac darkness, lost its menace. My terror about Christmas receded a few paces. My life, which in the span of six months had shriveled into something pathetic and shameful, took on the luster of black volcanic glass.

I could choose. I could choose to stay with Jesus without boxing up my heart. I did not have to change into a better person. I did not have to get my act together. God was with me, no matter what.

I wept for a while, and thanking God in the dark. Wondering, with awe, what life with Him would be like if I could be exactly who I was.

Wondering, with a spreading sense of peace in my chest, if this was what real hope felt like.

When We All Just Want to Be Known

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Fifty of us invaded their driveway on Tuesday night.

Card tables and ice chests and camping chairs decorated the pavement, along with stacks of paper plates and plastic silverware and Red Solo cups. The grill sizzled, red and gray coals in wait for chicken apple sausages and hot dogs from the local butcher. We scrawled our names in Sharpies and affixed them to our shirts. My three-year-old zoomed his fire truck over sidewalk cracks, eager for his friends to join him.

As the clock struck seven, nearly every door of every house on our block creaked open: neighbor after neighbor left the comfort of their living rooms for the potential discomfort of shaking hands and greeting those who don’t look like them and act like them, for interactions with those who aren’t them.

Soon the card tables were filled to overflowing, with Sherry’s World Famous Mac and Cheese and Kaleo’s chicken and veggie stir-fry. Ellen, who sports an extra chromosome, beamed with pride as she offered a casserole dish of brownies, and Pierre smiled shyly, beaming over blueberry custard.

We came together, practicing hospitality with those who live within a stone’s throw. We dove into conversations with each other. We asked questions and we gave answers, we let it be awkward and we laughed at the children. We made connections and we practiced being what we already were to each other: Neighbors.

As I’ve gotten older, I like to think that I’ve become just a teensy bit wiser, mostly because I’ve eaten my fair share of humble pie—with every bite of that wisdom-filled dessert a result of the wide variety of humans I’ve interacted with along the way.

For all these humans, regardless of race and age, gender and religion, hold one unifying truth in common: We all just want to be known.

We want to be known and understood.

We want to hear our name spoken from another person’s mouth.

We want to be asked how we’re doing, for someone to take the time to look us in the eyes and really mean it.

And we want to gulp down thirsty mouthfuls of hope and healing when that sacred “me too” is whispered in reply.

I think that’s what made Tuesday night so perfect and holy and downright lovely to me: I experienced the hope that comes with being known.

You see, we’ve only lived on our block for the past five months. A year ago, my family and I lived in a little bedrock community on the California coast. Nine months pregnant with our second son, I felt engulfed by the fog that surrounded us daily. While the gated community we lived within made us feel more-than-safe, feelings of isolation and loneliness came along with it.

We wondered if there was a better fit for us.

Two months later, my husband landed his dream job, but along with it came a two-and-a-half hour daily commute. With newborn in tow, the isolation and the loneliness and even the fog seemed to increase. Day by day, it began chipping away at my marriage and at my family’s ability to actually be a family. Hope in and of itself seemed the farthest thing from our minds, a word we merely breathed aloud on Sunday mornings but didn’t seem to grasp the rest of the week.

Maybe that’s when we knew something had to change, when we let ourselves explore the possibility of a move. So we began to dream and pray and seek out where we might land.

We knew we desired a walk-able, urban environment within twenty minutes of my husband’s office. We wanted a racially diverse community with people who looked like Mama and Daddy. And, although we questioned whether or not we could ask Old Man Suitor about the weather, we asked for sun.

Three months later, after numerous rental applications and rejections alike, we felt like we struck gold with this particular neighborhood. And, as evidenced by Tuesday’s gathering, the bounty only seems to be growing.

For we’ve found hope, and Hope—who’s actually been there all along—has returned with holy exclamation points for his daughter who simply needed to experience the joy of being known.

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