You Want to Believe…

…that there’s one relationship in life that’s beyond betrayal. A relationship that is beyond that kind of hurt. And there isn’t.  –Caleb Carr

There is a feeling of betrayal sitting deep in my gut.  Which is strange because, in the strictest of terms, I was not the one betrayed.  But when a spiritual leader is the one who is in the spot of betrayer, there is some sort of trickle down to the rest of us who believed so deeply in him.  It is hard not to see everything you have been taught over the long course of the betrayal as tainted.

Basically, crazy stuff is going on at my home church — no, not crazy stuff.  Human stuff. The stuff we all struggle with, but might not have exposed to public forums because we don’t hold positions that carry that weight.

I think, perhaps, this is hitting me so deeply because it exposes just how shallow my roots are.  This information does not lead me to believe in God any less, but it shows me how disconnected I have been.  How I let roots that had been holding me steady wither away over the past year.  It reiterates how my “home church” hasn’t felt like home in over a year.

And yet, that idea of my church being “home” was the only thing really tethering me to a relationship with God.  I pray – sometimes.  I worship – on Sunday mornings. I read my Bible – when there’s nothing else around.  So the recent revelations feel less like headlines scrolling across the bottom of the screen and more like earthquakes, shaking my already unsteady foundation.

In his address to our church, our pastor said that if we find ourselves turning to Jesus in this, that is “good and right.”

And really, I’ve got nowhere else to go.  Every human relationship will experience betrayal eventually.

If you’re not the betrayed, you’re the betrayer. I have betrayed others many, many times.  It is the only reason that I can look at this situation without judgment, knowing that it could have just as easily been me.

And perhaps because I have been the betrayer so often, it hurts on more levels than one to be betrayed.

Chin Up, Buttercup

This week has been miserable.  And I’ve only really been making it worse by isolating and staying away from people.  Then, of course, I freak out that everybody hates me because they don’t want to hang up with me when…uh, I’m the one who refuses to hang out?  Or who is a total Debbie Downer while doing so?  Get a grip, kid.

The flashbacks on Monday really, really shook me up.  I honestly think that has played a big role in my mood this week.  I’ve never had such intense, uncontrollable flashbacks before.  Not even in the months after the rape.  And while I did talk about it, I also found myself ruminating on the thoughts and the images and the fear I felt in those hours.  This has made me a not-so-fun person to be around.  A friend phrased it today as my being “melancholy” as of late.  I think he was kind in that assessment and didn’t want to say, “You’ve been a fucking pain in the ass to be around the past week, please cheer up.”  But I digress.

A friend of mine led a conference call tonight for Good Friday and we went through the stations of the cross.  I didn’t know how much I needed it.  I love old spiritual practices and the rhythm that liturgy provides to the year.  It has been a long time since I have done the stations of the cross, and all those times, they were self-led.  My friend read the stations to us and I just laid back and absorbed the reality of what this day commemorates. I contemplated Jesus on his walk to his death and how many times he stumbled, how he had to humble himself not only to death on a cross – but to accepting help with someone else.  I was struck by the the level of human suffering he endured – by choice – and how the walk to the hill made him even more acutely aware of the human condition and human suffering.

He’s been through it.  He’s been beaten down and stripped of his honour and dignity and died a shameful death.  And he overcame it.

He went through it so that he could walk us through it, knowing exactly the depth of that suffering. He desires to be with us, to lead us, ultimately, to our own crosses – to kill self and take on the resurrection life that we celebrate on Easter.

Dinner Time? Again?!

It’s not like I should be surprised by dinner. It does, after all, occur every day. But some days it sort of sneaks up on me. I will be doing what I do and all of a sudden it’s six, or seven, or eight o’clock at night and I have to consider some sort of meal.

Meals have been difficult lately. Not in the sense that…no, scratch that. They’ve been difficult in every sense.  I have very little appetite, so nothing sounds appealing.  I am too tired (and often depressed) to put together a full meal that actually looks like a meal.  Some meals lately have been bizarre mish-mashes of what I’ve got in the snack box.  And, of course, my eating disorder is screaming at me that a meal is completely unnecessary, why not just a nice salad (hold the dressing and everything else) or a piece of fruit?

I haven’t updated in weeks, mainly because there’s nothing to say.  I haven’t even really been trying to recover for the past two weeks.  I’ve just been coasting.  Oh, not really hungry and don’t want to eat that snack?  Eh.  Why bother fighting it, just go with the eating disorder.

Furthermore, when I do think of things to post, I quickly reconsider when I take into account my readership.  I don’t want to be triggering to anyone, so hearing about how I’m engaging in x or y behaviour or have lost z pounds is not helpful to any of us.  It triggers those who are vulnerable, and it allows me to bitch and whine without actually doing anything about it.  It allows it to appear as if I’m concerned about these behaviours when, in fact, if I were actually concerned, I’d be doing something about it.

Treatment is always a possibility.  One of my friends was shocked to hear that my therapist didn’t insist on sending me to residential again after another week of weight loss.  My dietitian said I need to start fighting or I’ll be back at CFC in the near future.

Let’s be clear:  I like treatment.  It’s easy.  I thrive there (well, after a few stays on Caution, anyway).  I don’t have to deal with real life.  And while I’m dealing with tough stuff in therapy, my therapist in Utah never pushed me the way my therapist at home does.

My therapist here at home is also very good at reminding me the role God has to play if I ever expect to be fully recovered.  Do I believe that a full recovery is possible without God?  Sure.  But at my core, I am a spiritual being and I am desperate for Jesus and trying to ignore that while recovering from my eating disorder is a joke.  I feel like shit and hate myself and hate walking through shame and I’ve got the cushiest landing anybody could ever ask for in Christ and I ignore it.  I refuse to talk to Him about it, refuse to take Him up on His offer to walk with me and comfort me.

What kind of idiot must I be?

But that kind of self-defeating thought isn’t helpful either.

My therapist held a mirror up to me this week (not literally — God let us never do that sort of body work please!) and basically repeated back all the bullshit I’ve been telling her for a month.  That I’m fine.  That my eating disorder is not that bad.  That my set point is huge and fat.  That it is totally okay to keep losing weight.  That I don’t need to work on my recovery, I just need to work on those parts of my life that I’m unhappy with.  Hearing her say all that, play devil’s advocate, pissed me off, quite frankly.  And when I told her how frustrated I was, she intimated just how frustrated and angry she was.

All this to say, I’m fighting again.  I’m sitting on my ass instead of going to the gym.  I’m drinking a supplement (sometimes two) every day.  I’m cooking food and eating it, even though sometimes it feels like I’m choking as I try to get it down.

And I’m wrestling it out with God.  Telling Him how pissed I am.  Telling Him how much I need Him.  Coming to Him broken and hurting and hoping He’ll show up.

This is Real

I think today was a turning point in my recovery.

To this point, I’ve done a lot of work.  I’ve fought hard (and less-than-hard), eaten meals through tears, sat on my hands instead of running, journaled through traumatic experiences.  I’ve done it all:  residential treatment, outpatient therapist, dietitian, Christian Bible study, DBT workbooks, blah blah blah.  Yet through it all, I’ve attempted to hold on to some small measure of control.

I had yet to submit.

Today, in a posture of submission, I let friends and pastors pray over me.  I trusted that this meeting was ordained, submitted to the truths these dear people were speaking over me.

I listened to these pastors, who have been praying for me privately for weeks, reveal truths to me that God had revealed to them.  One of my pastors fought back tears as he described how he felt God wanted some sort of sacrifice.  This pastor offered himself in my place, much to his own surprise and mine.  I cried at the thought that someone in front of me could love me so very much as to take this from me.  I cried at the thought that 2,000 years ago, someone did.

I cried as I confessed the lies I have been believing (I am fat, I am ugly, I am worthless, I am crazy) and fought back tears as I confessed the trauma and abuse that allowed these messages to take hold.

I could not stop the tears as, one by one, they spoke truth over me.

I am beautiful.

The Lord delights in me.

I am not a disappointment.

There is nothing to be ashamed of.

I am an important part the body.

Occasionally, in disbelief, I would look to my dear friend who organized this.  Almost reading my thoughts she would whisper, That is truth.

It is truth whether I believe it or not.  Whether I continue to engage in ED behaviours or not.  It is truth.

Today was a reality check.  And I listened to one of my pastors repeat to me, “This is real.  This is real.”  I didn’t imagine it, didn’t conjure it up to make myself feel better.  It is reality.

Today was my first glimpse of true reality in a long time.

I want more.

The Long Road to the Kingdom, Part 3

Thanks for your continued support as I write out this disturbingly long story, friends. It’s so lovely to open my e-mail and see your comments and know that you survived the entire post!

If you’re just joining us, be sure to catch Parts One and Two before reading any further.

Finally, after much ado and entirely too long a break – the story of my engagement.

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From the very beginning, my relationship with Steven was dysfunctional. Neither of us was in a place to be even casually dating – he was depressed and drinking too much, I was depressed, drinking too much, and battling the worst (to that point) occurrence of my eating disorder. I wanted very much die, but was quickly intoxicated by his kind words, knowing glances, gentle demeanor, and the fact that he was not at all scared of my crazy. I was his reason to live, he was my reason to eat (and therefore live), and we very suddenly found ourselves enmeshed and codependent.

I say this all very matter-of-factly only because hindsight is 20/20. At the time, I thought this was the healthiest relationship I had ever been in and grew increasingly fond of Steven despite my attempts to never ever ever fall for a boy ever again. I can look back on this beginning time rather fondly and I still very much love that boy.

After our first real date

It was that boy that hooked up a webcam to his computer so we could play Risk once a week, despite living 200 miles apart. It was that boy who cried when he called to tell me that one of our turtles had died. It was that boy who lay next to me in bed and kissed the scars on my abdomen after realizing they were self-inflicted.

Less than two years later, he would be the cause of the open wounds and would barely acknowledge me when I asked if he had butterfly bandages to try and reduce the scarring.

We met through a mutual friend – and when I say “mutual friend,” I mean my best friend, his ex. To be fair, my best friend is the one who introduced me to her ex, in part because I think she was simply tired of hearing the two of us whine to her about our love life woes. She gave us permission to date (and then rescinded it after two months, but that’s a different story) and we did so.

I don’t know that the details are necessary. I loved him fiercely. I gave him everything and trusted him with my entire person. It was months before I could do so and I spent much of the early part of our relationship in tears, sure that he would use me and leave me as was the pattern in my relationships up to that point. It was a risk and one that paid off, at least for a time.

We got engaged quickly, after only six months of dating. In month seven, he withdrew from school due to his depression. In month eight, I dropped all my classes save for one due to a crippling depression that prevented me from moving from the bed. (As it turns out, staying in bed was very, very fun at times. And very, very awkward for the roommate that shared a wall with me.)

On our engagement trip to a B & B in West Virginia

I met his family, he met mine. We started planning a wedding to follow a long engagement. In May of 2007, shortly after our one year anniversary, we attended the wedding of a friend of mine and stayed in a hotel in a small town in South Carolina. As we were packing up to leave the morning after the festivities, I found it: a baggie of weed, a lighter, some papers.

Steven thought I was overreacting when I told him how upset I was. Before we ever started dating, I told him that I never again wanted to date someone who did drugs. The guy I “dated” (slept with on a regular basis) before him was a pothead and a drug dealer. I constantly felt like I was playing second fiddle to an addiction. For Steven to start doing drugs felt like a personal attack and betrayal.

The following months are a blur of arguments, deals, more arguments and my move to the city where he lived. Shortly after I moved there, he took me to a party with his friends and then abandoned me to go and smoke with them upstairs. And yet, he was still sweet and loving, curling up next to me as my untreated depression left me in bed for days at a time. Unfortunately, we were both so emotionally stunted that he had no real way to comfort me except physically. While the sex was amazing (Seriously. AMAZING.), it did nothing to comfort the ache of my heart that multiplied by leaps and bounds when I found his profile on a dating site.

Shortly after Christmas, I found e-mails on his computers sending nude or nearly nude photos back and forth between he and other women. It was not the first time. I was heart-broken. This was the man I was sure I would marry. The man that I intended to see at the end of the aisle in a church that was already booked wearing a dress I had already bought.

I left him the ring and a note asking him to call me when he grew up.

We stopped talking for weeks, tried to make it work, had make-up sex and break-up sex and “what the hell do you do when you love the person but can’t figure out how to make it work” sex and eventually called it quits. He was spending more time with his drug dealer than me and I couldn’t do it any longer. I can only assume that it was the Holy Spirit that helped me realize in that moment that I was worth more than what he was giving me.

I love this photo, but erm, won't tell you why

I never found a church when I moved to his city, and never gave much of a thought to church – until I broke up with him. I was working for a Christian company, where church was part of the culture and regular attendance was practically expected of the employees. Company meetings began with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer. I thought about church, about God, about what I had grown up with. I didn’t particularly care about Him, but showed up on Easter Sunday anyway to appease my mother.  I didn’t know what God had to do with anything, though I craved the peace and community that I saw amongst my Christian friends.

The truth is I was hurt and I was angry. After finally breaking up with Steven for good, I became so angry that it began to eat at me from the inside out. I drank heavily. I ran mile after mile. I watched more movies on Netflix than I could count. None of made the hurt and anger any better. I couldn’t take it any longer and I had bottles of pills and liquor prepared to take it all away.

I can’t be sure what caused me to pause that night when I came up with my plan – most likely the Holy Spirit again. My hand throbbed from where I punched the wall and bloodied it and I knew I couldn’t live one more day with this anger. The anger had to go or I had to go.

God, I said. IF you exist, you have to take this anger. I can’t do it any more. You have to take it or I am killing myself tomorrow.

It was a ballsy prayer – IF you exist. IF you care. IF you are capable.

He exists. He cares. He is capable.

I woke up the next morning completely at peace. I held no anger toward Steven, no ill will. I wanted him to be happy and I wanted to know this God that cured me of the anger and heartache that no substance could.

I bought a Bible and started reading.

———-

Just one final installment to come: how I found a home.

Storm Chasing

As I was driving into work today (Yes, work!  Like a normal human being!  I digress.), I caught sight of a storm in my rear view mirror.  It was miles off, slowly making its way toward me and the guy riding my bumper was acting as if he was trying to race the storm.  I thought briefly about speeding up and racing forward so the storm couldn’t catch me.  Then I realized how silly that would be.

Why waste energy outrunning a storm that isn’t there yet?  Why live your life in a highly anxious state where the next disaster is always just around the corner or just catching up to you?

I chose instead to enjoy the drive.  To drive slowly and mindfully, noticing the color of the sky, the feel of the wind coming through the windows, the sound of the music on the radio.  I arrived at my destination calm, much calmer than if I had raced a storm that never caught up with me.

That’s sort of where I am in my recovery.  The storm is in the background, but I have been granted this rest, this period where things are not so imminently threatening and I can drive slowly.  Perhaps even enjoy the drive.  I can take time to praise God for this rest, knowing that the storm is still there, but for once it’s not right on top of me.  I can breathe.

Later, the storm did come.  I was driving in the car, wondering how I was going to get everything I’d just bought for the shop into the shop without getting drenched.  I briefly wondered if I shouldn’t have tried to outrun the storm this time, knowing that it had been coming when I left the shop to run errands.  Now I was stuck in the storm, with no way out but through.

I wondered if this is where my happy-recovery-metaphor fell apart.  I wondered if eventually I wouldn’t find myself in the midst of torrential downpours all over again because I refused to run further away from the storm when I had the chance.  I wondered if this storm wouldn’t leave me soaked to the bone like a drowned rat, desperately grasping on to the log that is my eating disorder.

I raced back to the shop, lunch for the guys in hand, ready to run through the storm.  But when I arrived, one of the guys had opened the large garage door in the shop, allowing me to pull my car in.  I emptied my car from errands and was never hit by a single raindrop.

Then I remembered:  there is shelter in the storm.  If the eating disorder storm eventually catches up to me, there is shelter.

I just have to know Who He is and enter through the door He has already opened.

The Long Road to the Kingdom, Part 2

(Erm, I didn’t really say “tomorrow” did I?  Oops.  Funny week, long entry, etc. etc.  This series is turning out to be a three or four parter.  You can find part one HERE.)

God bless all of you who actually read Part One – and even commented!  Because I’m wordy, and everything seems important, these are longer than I might have anticipated.  On to Part Two, wherein God pursues me with words.

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The same year that I began going to Catholic Mass, I also finally shared my story with a long-time friend.  She was precious and understanding and never once looked at me like I was insane.  She looked at me like a beautiful, broken, daughter of God who was struggling to find her way.  That year for Christmas, she gave me Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What.  It sat on my bookshelf, untouched for months, until one of the many nights that year when I found myself up at four in the morning, with no desire or ability to write my assignments for class.

I was captivated by his writing – he wrote with an urgency and an understanding.  He wrote like I thought – in long, muddled sentences that struggled to express exactly the core thing but expressed it nonetheless.  By the end of chapter two, Miller tells God that He doesn’t exist.  I was floored.  Finally, on page 82 there was this:

 

“War is complicated; it isn’t black and white.  That is what the Bible teaches.  And I thought about that for a long time and realized it meant all our civilizations, our personalities, our families, our souls, are walking through the wreckage of a war, running from Tokyo, running from Hiroshima, our mouths gaping, the fire burning behind us, our wounds wet with blood and muddied with ash.  This is Sarajevo all over again, only this time it’s the walls of our hearts that are littered with bullet holes, it’s our souls that are feeling the aftershock.”

The last sentence of that passage hurts my heart as much today as it did the first time that I read it almost six years ago.  “This guy gets it,” I thought.  My heart was shattered and broken in a hundred places, but I always assumed I was alone in feeling that.  Or, at the very least, assumed I was alone in the church in feeling that.  But here was a man who was well-respected in Christian circles, who very much believes in the man and message of Jesus Christ – admitting these feelings.  Maybe I wasn’t alone after all – and maybe my struggles weren’t indicative of a lack of faith or trust or anything else on my part.  Maybe my struggles were completely normal and human.

I finished the book and put it back on the bookshelf, but that sentence stayed with me.  The idea that Miller develops – that maybe the formulas and rituals we are raised to believe lead to God actually do more to separate us – stuck with me as well.  Miller talked about relationship with God.  I wasn’t sold immediately, but I began to wonder if maybe God did care about my mess and perhaps others might care, too.

My junior year of college, I lived with two girls that I had gone through youth group with.  Both were still heavily involved in the church and had a number of Christian friends, who were often coming over.  It was a strange year – being surrounded by women who obviously loved the Lord and who knew that I had too, and who loved me in spite of the string of guys who were in and out, in spite of the newly empty bottles of wine each morning, in spite of the giant, terrible mistakes I made.  I couldn’t understand how they could love and continue to engage me so freely.  They rarely tried to convince me that I needed to go back to the church or find Jesus or anything of the sort, but their actions spoke louder than those words ever could have.

Two nights after the event which I do not call rape because I still maintain it was my fault even though there was no way I could have consented and any cour twould call it rape, they invited me to a youth event.  They had watched me lay on the sofa all weekend, doing little else but sleep and drink and more than anything, I think, wanted to get me out and force me into human contact. I, figuring that my weekend could not possibly get any worse, agreed.

I stayed in the back of the church the most of the time, not wanting to even pretend to praise God after what I’d gone through, but fully aware that God could still change these kids’ lives.  When the youth pastor took the stage to speak, I settled in and warmed up for plenty of eye rolling.  I’d survived six years in youth group and knew all the cheesy “True Love Waits” and “God Loves You” schlock that usually came in youth group teaching.  I was not prepared for the message he gave.  Actually, I remember very little of the message, as I was choking back tears the entire time.  There were piles of luggage on the stage – baggage that he encouraged us to hand over to God.  Cliched, perhaps, but the part that shocked me was the names that he gave to the baggage.  In the middle of a church, this man stated out loud that his students might be struggling with sexual promiscuity, eating disorders, self-injury, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and all manner of “junk.”

He gets it, I thought.  He. Freaking. Gets it. And then I thought, Wait.  If he’s calling it out, then I must not be the only one feeling this way.  And he’s saying that God doesn’t care how badly I’ve screwed it up or how badly I hurt.  He still wants me.

That idea was new, shocking, and nothing that I’d ever really heard.  Before that moment, the only thing I heard when people discussed sin was condemnation.  And yes, there is condemnation for those who sin and do not repent and accept the gift of grace – but the kind of condemnation I was accustomed to hearing played right into my all-or-nothing thinking.  I had sinned once and now I was marred – I would never be good enough for God and He was tired of cleaning up my messes.  But that is not the case at all!  Here was a pastor telling this group of students, that even if they were messing up in really big ways, it was okay.  It could be redeemed.  God still wanted them.  Still wanted me.

Again – I heard this message and stuck it on the proverbial bookshelf.  I continued to drink, smoke, starve, and do plenty of other sordid things.  I got back together with the guy I was dating, then got my heart shattered.  I got a little too friendly with a guy who would wind up stalking me.  I made an A in a nutrition class by lying about what I ate.  I cried for weeks.  I met the man who would become my fiance’.  I let him feed me and tell me I was beautiful while I struggled with gaining necessary weight.  I made plans for my senior year and spent the summer of my 21st birthday drinking, hiking, camping, and letting myself fall in love.

Senior year was full of highs and lows.  I got engaged and S did a wonderful job at surprising me with the ring.  I completely withdrew from school because my depression was so severe that even weekly counseling and high doses of antidepressants couldn’t drag me from bed.  I struggled to maintain a job and pay the bills.  I met the fiancé’s family and was immediately accepted as one of theirs.

Small, subtle shifts in my beliefs began to occur.  When S and I started talking about having a family, I asked if we would raise them in the church.  I asked and if he’d said no, it would have been a deal breaker.  When we got engaged, I wanted us to do premarital counseling with a Christian pastor and I wanted us to pray.  When I visited his place on weekends, I would visit churches while he worked on Sundays.

We started planning a wedding and a life.  I applied and was accepted to graduate school and secured an internship as a grant writer in the city where he lived.  I spent the summer preparing to move and begin a life with the man I loved.

Over that summer, I read a book, which I can only assume was given to me by the same friend who gave me the Donald Miller book two years before.  I read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell.  It is, to this day, the book that I credit with completely changing my views on God.  Bell had two major points:

1.  Doctrine is a jumping-off point for understanding God.

2.  All Truth and Beauty come from God – the world and God are not mutually exclusive.

And while the first point was big (an acknowledgment that I did not have to buy my childhood church’s theology hook, line, and sinker), it was the second that had the most relevance to me as an academic and critical thinker.  God was the author of ALL truth – science was not in opposition to God.  Literature was not in opposition to God.  Secular nonprofits were not in opposition to God.  Fighting for the oppressed was not in opposition to God.  I got excited about the possibility of a God so big that He could scatter truth everywhere – a God who was not so tightly boxed in and who might be able to deal with my and my past and present.

I got excited about the idea of finding a church in my new city where my fiance’ and I could explore this God together.  We agreed to start looking for a church as soon as I moved.

I moved to Raleigh in July.

By August, it was all falling apart.

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Stay tuned Part 3 – the down and dirty story of my engagement and how I finally began to believe in God again.

The Long Road to the Kingdom, Part 1

I generally do very poorly with open-ended assignments or questions. My counselor asked me on Monday to “tell [her] about relapsing — what does it look like” and I proceeded to stare blankly at her for a solid 30 seconds. I finally managed to speak up and tell her that I am happy to answer questions about what this relapse is entailing, but I, in general, need specific points you want me talk on because I do not do well to prioritize and organize information on my own, especially when my brain is half-starved.

So when Sarah left a comment on my first day’s entry and said she wanted to know more about me, I stared blankly at the computer for a solid 30 seconds. And continued to stare blankly for the next forty minutes or so, until I finally decided I needed to pare the assignment down a little. I knew what I didn’t want to talk about: my eating disorder, my alcohol abuse, my self-injury, my rape. I know that there are probably a lot of unanswered questions around all of these things, and while I do at some point want to give a more complete picture of my struggle, I am really trying to find myself and who I am outside of all that.

Finally, I realized that there is actually something I would very much like to see all of you write about, so this is both a way for me to tell my own story and a challenge for you to write your own. One of the things I love most about our God is the way that cares and seeks after each of us individually. Nobody’s story of faith is the same, so while I know that most of you are believers, I don’t have any idea of how you came to be that way. It’s something I’m genuinely curious about — how you came to know God, how you continue to grow in your knowing Him, and how things have changed since that moment that you decided to take on His yoke. So here is my [abbreviated] story. I can’t wait to hear yours.

—–

I was raised in the church – literally. I was there at least three times a week and spent as much time in the halls of that old church as I did in my own bedroom. I should be clear and state that I wasn’t always happy about it. More than once, the precious souls in children’s church had to deal with my screaming and crying because I wanted my mother (I actually have memory of this), and there was one Sunday where I was forced to go to church in my pajamas because we were going, dang it, whether you get dressed or not, young lady.

I spent the years from birth to 11 at a very traditional United Methodist Church. And, children’s church and pajama day aside, I really did love it. I sang in the children’s choir, drank lemonade at the covered dish luncheons, earned girl scout badges in the small brown building next to the playground. When I was 11, my parents decided that the church we were attending was too far away – we had moved when I was four, but continued to make the half-hour commute multiple days each week. The commute wasn’t the issue, though. I was just about to start middle school and my mother wanted me to be in youth group with the same people I was in class with. She was very serious about my being able to look around the classroom and know who the other Christians were so I could know that I was not alone in facing peer pressure, etc. (This theory might have gone over better if half the kids in my youth group weren’t drinking, doing drugs, and having sex by ninth grade – but that’s an entirely different story.)

I wasn’t particularly happy about this new, contemporary church. I missed the hymnals, stained glass, and wooden pews of my first church and furthermore, didn’t really fit in with my youth group. The same social strata that existed in my middle school and high school existed in my youth group — I was an outcast at school and in the church. I still believed, fiercely, and tried to find a place – I sang in the adult choir, watched kids in the nursery, ran the prayer club at my school, went on missions trips every year. I “became” a Christian at age 12 – which is to say that I “asked Jesus into my heart,” a phrase which still confuses me to this day.

Not long after that confession of faith, I began to struggle in ways that nobody was primed to look for. The depression, the disordered eating, the self-injury: nobody expected these things from the first chair flautist with straight A’s and plans to go to Harvard. I won the scripture memory contest every week at youth group, thus solidifying my reputation as the “holier-than-thou-goody-two-shoes-know-it-all.” Nobody knew that I was crying out in my journals on youth retreats for God to please kill me, or that I slipped away to the bathroom between conference sessions to use the knife that was ever in my pocket.

I was very good at playing the role — last year I got the opportunity to meet with one of my old youth pastors for the first time since high school and when she heard me talk about those years, she looked at me with a pained expression and apologized. People assumed that I was stressed out over schoolwork, not suicidal. Looking back, I can see that I never felt safe with them – never felt like I had seen or heard anything that made me believe God was big enough to handle what I was feeling. This was the same group of leaders who were shocked and dismayed at my willingness to say a curse word as part of a literature reading and who dealt with my belief in evolution by telling me, simply, that I was wrong and needed to read the Bible.

I went to a boarding school briefly when I was 16 and never got plugged into a church there. When I returned home after a [miserable] semester [where I very nearly killed myself], I never went back to youth group. No, that’s not true – I went once, but the span of six months made the feeling of division between me and the rest of my classmates too great for a girl who was suffering a very severe depression and debilitating social anxiety. I went to church every Sunday morning, sang in the choir, prayed the prayers – and kept hoping God would show up.

When I went off to college, I stopped going to church altogether. By the end of my first semester freshman year, I ceased to call myself a Christian. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in who God was and what He was doing around the world – I just didn’t think it had any relevance to my life. Where in the Bible did it teach me how to deal with crushing depression that kept me holed up in a dark dorm room for days? Where in the Bible was the parable about self-injury? (Other than the one where Jesus casts demons into pigs, which was wildly irrelevant to an 18-year-old in a city with no pigs.) Where could I find the teachings about genocide and Darfur? Why wasn’t my church involved in boycotting the School of the Americas?

My unwillingness to call myself a Christian became even more pronounced by my sophomore year, when I was aware that I was not living a life at all within God’s will. It amazes me that even then, in some of the darkest days, I knew that I could not shame the name of Christianity — Jesus might not be for me, but He was the Saviour of the world and I wasn’t going to give Him a bad reputation. (I look back on this now as evidence that God was always there – for “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” – 1 Corinth 12:3).  He could do His thing for other people, but I would continue to drink, starve, run, and flirt.

So you may find it interesting that this was the same year I started to attend Catholic Mass.  I read the Bible.  Both were, in fact, intellectual pursuits.  I was a history and music major at the time and anybody who knows anything about either of those knows that the Catholic Church has played major roles in both arenas.  I also had a terrible fear that my roommate, a devout Catholic, was going to be brutally raped in the winter during her four block walk in the dark to the local Catholic Church.  I agreed to go with her one Sunday evening, as a bodyguard of sorts.

I wish I had words to describe how terrifying my sophomore year of college was – how I couldn’t sleep, didn’t eat, ran a million miles a minute trying to keep up with some goal that I couldn’t articulate, all the while sure that it going to fall apart before I could attain it, that I would kill myself before I ever had a chance to know what I was doing.  The first time I stepped in to the Oratory near our campus, all of that fell away.  It was the first time in months, and perhaps years, that I felt peace.  Everything stopped.  I was confused, an ex-Methodist in a Catholic service, trying to figure out where my hands go, what the order is, when to sit and when to stand – and yet, I was at peace.

The Oratory remains, to this day, a sacred space to me.  I still visit often, especially during Holy Week and Advent.  It is one of the most beautiful, emotional places to me and I place that I can go again and again and know that God is there.  It is the place that God began His slow and loving pursuit of me, began to show me what a fullness of life could be with Him, and began opening my eyes to who He really is.

——–

Tomorrow:  God as hunter and pursuer.  (This was getting long and the next part is too good to gloss over.)

For When Words Won’t Come

Sometimes, when I’m lacking the words to pray, I sing.  Specifically, I sing Gregorian Chant – truths and prayers I know to be true and that have always acted as a salve for my aching soul.

Driving into work yesterday, I turned off the CD player and began to sing.

Kyrie eleison  — Christe eleison — Kyrie eleison

(Lord, have mercy — Christ, have mercy — Lord, have mercy)

I followed the Kyrie with the Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei, Qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere nobis

Agnus Dei, Qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere nobis

Agnus Dei, Qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona nobis pacem

(Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us)

(Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us)

(Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace)

 

And as I sang, I prayed – Lord, please.  Have mercy.  Soothe my soul.  Comfort my heart.  Have mercy God, on me – a sinner.  Christ, please help.  Please.  I don’t want to be stuck in this any more.  Lord, have mercy.

This continues to be my prayer – peppered with thanksgiving, when I see Him come though with the mercy and peace I’ve requested.  The hour-long coffee with the pastor I used to intern with, the friends who stand with me through thick and thin (heh), the brief moments when I remember who I am outside this struggle, the hope I find in the perfect Bible verse.  These are tangible reminders of the mercy and grace I’m promised as a daughter, if I will but grasp on to it and believe.

We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NIV

I Don’t Know If You Can Properly Call It A Relapse…

If I was never really “recovered.”  But reading Carrie Arnold’s series on relapse prevention is forcing me to take an honest look.

And if we’re being honest, things have been going downhill for a couple of weeks, and today I found myself face-to-face (or face-to-plate) with a couple of “red light” signs.  So now, knowing that, I have to decide what to do about it. 

Do I confess to my counselor and nutritionist that we’re back at square one?  That I’m not so sure I want to try again? Do I yell and scream at my next nutrition appointment and tell her she was SO VERY WRONG and I broke one of the ED’s rules and everything went to hell and so now I’m refusing to eat more than X calories a day because dang it, that’s SAFE.

And part of me thinks that I’m entitled to make that decision if I want.  I tried.  I really tried and followed my nutritonist’s advice and plans and ATE BREAD and everything sucked and so I’ll stick to my original plan, thanks.

But healthy brain knows it’s not my choice, that this life and this chance to get healthy are a gift.  A really big gift from a Father God who loves me and desires me healthy and whole and has great plans for me.  And so my choice is one between life or death, between being obedient and owning the call on my life or uttering a great big “Eff you, God – I refuse to believe you love me.”

This is another disjointed phone post. Another attempt to talk myself into recovery.  Eh.