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

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Choosing Love: Defining Beauty

Okay, a day late and a dollar short, but here it is – my definition of beauty.  I thought long and hard and finally settled on writing a letter to the girls I love the most, because it seemed to be the easiest way for me to frame it in my mind.
——-

Precious Girls,

I worry about you. I worry about the culture you’re growing into. I worry about the messages that you receive about what makes you beautiful and what makes you worthy. I know your parents worry, too, because we’ve had the conversations about how much we love and care for you.

But I worry more than most, I think, because I know just how hard it is to dig yourself out of the hole once you’ve spent so long believing that you have to look a certain way to be beautiful. That you have to match up to some “ideal” to be worthy of time or care. You don’t, I assure you – and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You are worthy of time and care because you are here. Because you are a beloved daughter of the most high King. You are worthy, dear hearts.

And you are beautiful.

Your confidence is beautiful.
Your perseverance is beautiful
Your honesty is beautiful.
Your generous heart is beautiful.
Your humour is beautiful.
Your passion is beautiful.
Your faith is beautiful.
The way you love is beautiful.
The way you trust is beautiful.

Do not lose those things. They are more important than any physical definition of beauty. And while we’re on the subject of physical beauty, if there were only one thing I could tell you, it would be this:

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you.” –Song of Solomon 4:7

No blemish. Please don’t mistake this to mean that you are “perfect” in your beauty in the way that the world would like you to believe “perfect” beauty exists. We all have quirks about our appearance.

To say that there is no blemish in you means that there is nothing – let me repeat that – NOTHING about your physical appearance that makes you any less than someone else. There is NOTHING about the way that you were created that spoils your appearance or makes you unlovely.

In fact, it is those very flaws that are the hallmarks of your beauty. Your beauty is not wrapped up in the fact that you are six feet tall with perfect skin and blonde hair and blue eyes – though perhaps that will be true for you, and you will, for a time, get by with relative ease in this culture. But there will come a day when you will see a “flaw” – something that those perfect, airbrushed models don’t have – and you will be faced with a choice. You can either believe the culture or believe the One who made you.

There is no blemish in you.

It is the scars from the times you fell off your bike that are precisely your beauty, because they tell the story of how you got up and kept going. It is the way that your left foot turns in ever so slightly, showing your perseverance and strength as you learned to walk. The way that your nose crinkles just before you sneeze is beauty. Your crooked smile. Your curly, kinky hair. Your long fingers. Your short toes. Your big hips. Your wide shoulders.

Beautiful.
Beautiful.
Beautiful.

Take care of that beauty, girls. Take care of those hips that love to shake and dance, and those legs that are strong and powerful as you run across the playground. Spend time every day acknowledging that you are beautiful now – not five pounds from now, not when you get your braces off, not when you grow a few more inches – NOW. Because you are, beautiful, my darlings – and you have to know that in the core of your being so you will not be shaken when the storms come.

They will come – maybe sooner, maybe later – but they will come. And when they come, you have to be able to stand solidly in the middle of them and know who and what you are. You have to be able to look the storms in the face and tell them that you are a daughter of the King. That you are beautiful and there is no blemish in you. You have to be able to hide that truth in your heart and guard it with your life.

That is my prayer for you, sweet girls.

I love you.
You are beautiful.

Back on the Table

Residential treatment, that is.

When I was at the ANAD support group two weeks ago discussing my food rules, the conversation had turned to another person when suddenly the social worker who leads the group broke in.

I’m sorry, she said. I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, but you’re doing counseling once a week, right?  And seeing a dietician once a week?  And coming here every other week?  That’s all?

Yes, I answer.

Do you think that’s enough?

Enter the old party line:  Well, I know everyone else thinks I’ve got a problem and I know I’m sort of funny about food, but it’s not like that.  It’s really not that bad.

Monday, in counseling, I tell my counselor about the past week in the fuzziest of details.  I avoid the shameful truth where possible and gloss over the details.  Tell her about the near-breakdown I had on Sunday, how I felt like I had exhausted all my options:  I prayed.  I read the Bible.  I cried.  I screamed.  I called a friend.  I went for a run.  And I was still left with self-hatred that burned a hole from the inside out and that I couldn’t and can’t get rid of.  I tell her I couldn’t do that again.  Screw the meal plan – if this is what eating is going to mean, I’m out.  I can’t function in the world and attempt recovery simultaneously.  Something’s gotta give and I’ve got too many responsibilities to be screaming and crying and breaking down on an hourly basis.

What your nutritionist and I are asking you to do is hard, Jessica. It is really, really hard.  And yes, it is going to mean feeling a whole lot of emotions. I grimace.  And I see you making a lot of effort, but maybe it’s not enough in this context.  Maybe you need the kind of help that residential treatment offers.  And that’s not shameful, but you have to admit that you don’t have control of this any more.

She talks about eating disorders as addictions.  Talks about me as an addict.  Me, with an eating disorder.  Me, unable to fight my way out of this thing without some serious help.  We talk about the option of adding a second counseling session each week.  She tells me that what I need right now is a point of contact every. single. day.  Someone professional to sit down with me, ask me the hard questions, and force me to answer them.  I tell her I’ll think about it.  But my mind goes automatically to the money, to the question of how the heck I would pay for a second counseling session when I’m already stretched thin.  How the heck would I pay for residential treatment?  Or even intensive outpatient?

Tuesday, I find myself in my pastor’s office, talking to his wife.  A strange series of events and moments of clarity have brought me here and when she asks me what’s going on, there is this:

I, um, well…it seems that I have an eating disorder.  Which, I mean, I’ve been fighting since last fall and I’ve been throwing everything at it that I can.  But it seems to be getting worse.

For the next hour, I talk in circles, try to avoid the details, but she asks all the right questions and I am too tired to lie.  We talk about the options, about how I may need to go away to really heal.  We talk about my value in the Kingdom of God and my call to missions, which I have all but forgotten the past month, about how Satan desperately desires me dead so I can do nothing.  We talk about how to make it through the next days and we pray.

We pray for hope.  We pray for peace.  We pray for clarity.  And we pray for financial provision for residential treatment.

F**k You, God!

Did your heart  stop when you read that?  Because I know my heart did when I heard my counselor say that during my session today.  Then my heart dropped when the full force of shame set in:  this is, in fact, what I have been non-verbally communicating to God the past few months.

We were discussing the contempt issue – which is to say, the fact that I harbor extremely murderous hate toward myself.  And, occasionally (and to a far lesser degree), toward others.  I was more disturbed by the fact that I express this anger and hatred toward others – it is almost always unintentional and always undeserved on the part of those who are on the receiving end (often my counselor, nutritionist, and well-intentioned friends).  My counselor asked me if I even wanted to change this.  I thought about for a moment.

Well, I mean, I don’t really care so much that I hate myself.  But I am really upset that I give that vibe to others – I have some really fantastic people in my life and I don’t want to treat them like that, even unintentionally.  They deserve better.

That’s when she let me have it.  My counselor has given me a couple of rather serious, slightly heated words of truth before.  But I have never seen her this upset.  She went on for at least five minutes about how this sort of attitude toward myself is killing my soul – I am murdering myself every time I speak these things over myself (and incidentally, thou shalt not murder).  I am refusing Christ’s love and uttering a great big “Fuck you, God!” every time I tell myself I am unworthy, unlovable, undesirable.  God has told me the exact opposite and I keep shoving it back in His face.  And until I let myself actually experience the love of Christ and allow it to affect me, I cannot possibly love the people He has put in my life.  And if I’m not loving them – I’m simply using them.

(So put that in your pipe and smoke it, eh, Jessica?)

I sat in stunned silence for two minutes.  When I finally found my voice again, it was small and barely audible and my eyes remain fixed on the man with the leaf-blower outside.:

That was…helpful.  Thank you.

And truthfully, it was.  Sometimes, I need someone to shove the truth in my face and make me look at it, even if it leaves me feeling incredibly small and worthless and stupid.  We talked about this, the fact that I was clearly having an emotional reaction to her words as she spoke, even if I were unaware of it.  It was written all over my face.

My description for how I was feeling was “little and stupid” – that I was frustrated with myself because I can tell myself intellectually exactly what God says about me.  I know exactly how stupid I’m being.  I am the beloved.  I am a daughter of the King.  I am worthy and desirable and deserve to be healthy and whole.  So why do I continually act like the prodigal come home preparing to make himself a slave?

Contempt contempt contempt.  Borne out of shame.  I hate shame.  I can go from shame to self-contempt faster than it takes to exhale the last breath.  Contempt is so much easier.  Contempt has action, punishment, retribution.  Restrict, purge, cut, run, bruise, kill, die.

My counselor points out that this shame is what I really felt, before contempt set in.  I agree with her when she outlines the other responses I might have been having, but unable to express:  Wow, that was really hard to hear.  I don’t know how to receive that.  I am really ashamed that I am sending those messages to God and other people.

What she says next is the part that I have difficulty with:  that it’s OKAY to stop at the shame, that I need not go directly to self-flagellation.  That in this case, shame is a legitimate, healthy response to having someone point out your sin and bring it into light.  She dragged out my sin, my utter refusal to trust and believe God and exposed it for all to see (and hear throughout the office) and shame is absolutely an appropriate response to that.  Without that legitimate shame, there is no push toward repentance and no openness to growth.

I left my session nearly in tears, begging God to keep me in that place, keep processing, keep feeling legitimately shamed until I could find myself in a place to write all this down.  I spent the next hour and a half at the local 24-7 prayer room writing and praying and thinking.  I took five pages of notes in my journal, part desperate prayers, part apologies, part reminders of what happened today.

My counselor told me at the end of my session today that this was a fight much bigger than my physical life.  That she is fighting for me in the spiritual realm because my soul is on the line and she is not letting the enemy take me.

The final page of notes from my time in the prayer room is a reminder of that. In large, bold letters is one word:

FIGHT

Followed by a statement:  this is not just about you, kid.

So tonight, I’m thanking God for hope – which is slowly breaking into the dark places – and for the people who are standing next to me in the trenches – fighting with me and for me when I lose sight of just how important this is.

—–

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, שהחינו וקימנו והגענו לזמן הזה.‏

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, she‑hehiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higi’anu la‑z’man ha‑ze.

Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.

The State of My Prayers Lately

A sampling:

Dear Jesus,

I would be willing to consider actual recovery if we could do it on my terms.  They’re really quite simple.  I would be willing to eat normally under the following conditions:

1. If the re-feeding process weren’t so incredibly physically painfully.  Seriously?!  As if dealing with the emotional anxiety part isn’t enough, I also need to cope with the fact that I am in so much pain I would like to die?

2. I would still like to lose five to ten pounds.  How can we make this happen while I maintain a normal caloric intake?

3. I understand that you gave me two X chromosomes for a reason, however I’m not really sure what that reason is, given that I never want to have children.  On that note, I am less willing to recover if it means that I have to get a period again.

See, Jesus?  I’m not asking for the world here.  Just for a little wiggle room on this “dying to self” thing.

Amen.