Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year, A New Hope

The first day of a new year usually leads one to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the coming year.  I am no different.  What leads me to want to share this to anyone is beyond me but sometimes the desire to write is overpowering.  I find myself on this first day of 2014 in some places that I am year after year and some places I have never been before.  Maybe you are in one of these places with me or maybe you have already left the place where I am.  I don’t know.  I do know that God uses each one of our lives and circumstances to not just change ourselves but to reach others as well.  There is not one thing that I can either look back on or look forward to that happens without God’s permission.  There is not one thing that I can claim as my success but instead it is due to Him.  I am nothing but a vessel that has been put on this earth to bring glory to the most high God.

The past year for me is unlike any I have ever experienced.  My year began like everyone else’s in January with a return to work.  Unlike others, I had been on a medical leave of absence for the last part of the semester.  Now is not the time for me to share details on that but needless to say returning to a place of work where things you had hoped and desired to remain private had instead been disclosed is not an easy thing to face.  As a deeply reflective and analytical person I couldn’t help but wonder who knew what and who had said what and wonder how it would affect my standing as a first year teacher in a school where I was known as both former student and friend as well as a new colleague.  I was nervous about being able to once again handle the same stress that had so significantly contributed to my medical issues in the previous semester.  It was an incredibly difficult semester for me that I fought through every day to not only survive but to give my students the education they deserved from me.  Maybe it is just me or maybe it is many of us, but I only have so much mental and emotional energy that I can expend every day.  All of my fight was going to my job.  I had no energy to fight any other battles.  So while my heart and mind clung to doing my job and doing it well, the attention to what had been my focus for the previous few years slipped away.

Those of you that know my past know that I have been a morbidly obese person for the majority of my life.  Previously, I had lost 120 pounds and was only 50 pounds away from my goal weight and possible skin removal surgery.  However, life brings twists and turns we can never see coming and things change.  In November of 2012 I weighed my lowest of 218 pounds and yet I was not happy.  As my life began to change and my energy began to be shifted to other areas of life I lost the desire, the energy, the fight, and sometimes even the desire to continue my fight to be healthy.  Slowly but surely I began to exhibit some new tendencies that were not present before.  I became addicted to sugar.  Not just eating a bag of M & Ms but instead in a single day eating a Sonic blast, a piece of cake, a pint of ice cream, etc.  And that is on top of the “normal” food I was eating.  It also became a “hidden” habit.  No one saw me eat this food as I ate in my car or hidden in my room at night.  I had become lost in an addiction that I never saw coming.  

You may say how did you not see that coming, had you ever looked at yourself?  When I weighed 218 pounds I thought I would never be fat again.  I felt sure that this particular demon had been pretty well beaten.   I was incorrect.  So now I sit in January of 2014 weighing more than I did when I first started this journey several years ago.  I don’t know the exact number but I know it is one of my heaviest numbers.  I have gained over 100 pounds in a year.  The same 100 pounds it took me more than a year to lose.  But guess what?  I find myself content.

No, I am not content with my weight.  I am not content that I will once again have to fight this monster on my back.  But God has done something in my heart that is completely new and wonderful and ever-changing.  I have been in counseling off and on for years now but in July at the urging of my best friend I began seeing a new counselor.  This woman has become an unbelievable blessing and through her counseling, teaching, and encouraging I have begun to unwind the knot that was my soul.  Everything was tied together and one thing (my weight) pulled everything else out of whack (relationships, faith, job, health, etc.).  It wasn’t always my weight that threw everything out of control but it was always something and so if I found myself in turmoil in one area, it pulled everything else with it.  I am not saying that I am “fixed.”  I will always have to practice “constant vigilance (Alistair Moody)” but God has done a number on my heart thus far.  I am finding a peace and contentment in spite of my weight.  I am finding assurance and confidence in relationships without being in control.  I am finding a friend in my Jesus that has for so long been ignored and looked over.  I have hope.  Trust me, hope is both a wonderful and scary thing.  I am learning to not seek to control those things around me but to instead do my very best and trust God with the details.  There is so much in this world that we cannot control and the longer we try the more we are unable to be of service to God.

Most people that know me know that my lifelong ambition is to be married and have children.  I want a family.  My desire for that family has caused me to seek it in all the wrong places.  No, not sex and men.  But I have looked for friendship and emotional intimacy in so many people that will never be filled.  I am learning these days what a genuine real life friendship looks like free of the demands of a spouse.  I no longer expect my friends to fill a hole they can never fill.  Am I perfect?  No, I mess up all the time.  You can ask my friends.  They will tell you.  But I am trying and trusting.

Those are a few things from my past, so what do I see in 2014?  I am not sure but I am expecting God to do something great.  I don’t know what that great will be and remember God sent the savior of the world to be born in a stable but I do know there is a plan and I am determined that for me, 2014 will be a time that even while I wait, I will trust in him.  My focus verses for the year are threefold:

1) “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Habakkuk 2:3

2) “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” Psalm 105:19

3) “It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise.” Hebrews 11:11

I hope that each of you instead of a resolution are looking for a verse to build your 2014 on.  His word is the ONLY foundation.  May your 2014 bring honor and glory to our Lord. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chapters of Life

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.
J.M. BARRIE, The Little Minister
            Today I heard someone talk about how our life is a story.  My life as I currently live it is not an accident.  It is not happen stance that I am right where I am at this very moment but is instead being penned by an author who not only can see back to before time even began but to infinity.  Think about that.  Your life, my life, is not chance.  When you think about your life from that perspective it really does change things.  If you go one step further and not just think about it from that perspective but LIVE it from that perspective it changes everything.
            Every story has chapters.  Whether it is one page or a hundred our life is made up of segments.  Some are so glorious and joyful that we wish we could stay and abide there forever.  They make us feel sustained and complete.  We feel like conquerors.  We are encircled with love and it seems like life could not be any richer or more beautifully written.  Then there are those chapters that even one word seems like too many.  Where the pain is so deep and so intense that we feel like we could break into a million pieces if someone merely breathed on us.  Those chapters where life feels like it is crushing us.  Like Atlas who was punished by having to hold the world on his shoulders, it feels like we are chained to a mountain of despair with the burden of every minute pressing further and further in our chest.  Just to breathe is an effort and we do not feel like they are ever going to end but would wish with our very last breath that we could have just one second of reprieve.  Then there are the moments in between.  The chapters where life is not extremely joyful or crushingly sad but instead are mundane, routine, or normal.  The days that roll from one day into two and then suddenly a month has gone by or even a year.  These chapters are made up of small decisions, small tasks, and seemingly small moments.  However, it is in these chapters that most of life is lived.  It is in these chapters that we see our story fleshed out and we see how to live life during both the times of joy and the times of despair.
            I by nature am a reflective person.  I am constantly analyzing and searching for that next thing.  The next thing that will enhance or improve my journey.  I look at my life, my choices, my decisions, my circumstances and search and search for what I could have done or what I should have done.  Like a computer search engine looking for the most relevant solution, my heart and mind are always searching for the key.  What is the key to my life?  To my future?  What is the next line being written into my story?  You see, if I know ahead of time what will be then maybe I will be ready for it.  Maybe I can prepare myself for what is to come.  Because like any storyteller the Master Storyteller knows that life cannot be lived completely in those moments of bliss.  Yes, He is the Prince of Peace and He intends us to live an abundant life but that is IN SPITE of our circumstances not INSTEAD of them. 
The last few weeks I have been reflecting back on the latest chapters of my life still searching for that missing element.  Change, turmoil, and stress always drive me to search.  In the beginning as I looked back on the last few months and all I saw was failure.  The current theme of my life story is health.  For two years, I have poured my time, energy, money, heart, soul, and body into fighting for my life.  That is not taking things to an extreme.  It is the honest truth.  I looked back and I saw weight gain not loss.  I saw pain showing back up after months of none.  I saw my life as stagnant and unmoving.  I saw unwanted change.  The story I saw written before my eyes was dim, dark, depressing.  It was a story of a woman who had lost hope and was searching to renew it.  That is the story I saw written.  However, it is not the true story.
What is the true story?  What was the Master writing not on the pages of a book but on my very heart?  None of what I saw was untrue.  I had gained weight.  I had started hurting again.  I was stagnant and unmoving.  I did have to change things against every fiber of my being.  The difference was that he saw none of that as dim, dark, or depressing.  This chapter of my life was one of developing strength and the beginnings of loosening the dependence I have on others.  You see in my gym there are phases to training.  Stamina is my favorite because in those actions of running, jumping, hopping, spinning, etc. I feel like an athlete and someone who can conquer the world.  There is speed which I have not done before because honestly, I have bigger fish to fry.  There is size which is not necessary and then there is strength.  Strength is boring.  Strength is painful.  Strength is an exercise in monotony.  It takes extreme effort and attention to detail to maximize its benefits.  It is a necessity to stamina.  It builds the muscles which burn the calories more effectively in stamina.  That is what this summer was to me.  The past few months in my story have been boring.  They have not changed from day to day.  They have been painful as I have had stress mount with each passing day about my future.  I have been wounded deeply by the continued delays of my dreams and deepest desires.  I have had to wake up every day and fight against the feelings of failure and the pain and shame that brings.  I have had to bring attention to the exact details of exercise, food consumption, job searches, and relationships.  None of it has been fun.  But it has been necessary.  A time is coming soon when my story will begin a new chapter and it will be one where I need stamina.  Where I need every muscle and life skill burning to make it through.  Where I will face untold challenges and partake in unforeseen joy.  It will be in those times that the challenges of the strength phase and story will come to light.  It will be then that I will see why my Master Storyteller chose for me to live through these pages of life.
All good stories and good characters have relationships.  Even Jesus the ultimate character of all time was surrounded by a family and his disciples.  Harry had Ron and Hermione walk side by side with him as he uncovered truth, love, and defeated evil.  Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy had countless supporters as Kings and Queens of Narnia.  Since Eve was created for Adam, we were always intended to walk in communion and fellowship with others.  What we were not intended to do is find our ultimate happiness in other people.  We were not written to depend on others to get through life but instead to support one another on the individual stories that have been woven together to form one overarching story.  We are all supporting cast members in the lives of others.  This has always been my weakness.  This is a weakness I am determined to break.  So during this chapter of life new characters were introduced to lessen the dependence on others on this journey.  Thankfully, they are not completely removed.  Thankfully, so far my Storyteller has chosen to leave them as great supporting cast members.  If I continue to walk in the ways He has written, then those bonds will become even greater instead of becoming stripped down by wear and tear.
My story is not over.  In reality, in light of eternity, it has only just begun.  When you read a story it is imperative that you know the beginning of the story.  Sometimes as you read chapter after chapter you forget where you started.  I do.  I forget where my story began.  I forget that it was only 21 months ago that I weighed 340 pounds.  I forget that I was so scared to join a gym that I cancelled my very first appointment I made with them.  I forget that I was a 27 year old fat (Sometimes that word sounds so harsh but sometimes it is the only one that can convey the truth) girl just trying to survive.  I had long quit trying to thrive and live out the story that my Master Storyteller was trying to write.  I was everything everyone wanted me to be and did not even know what I was or what I wanted.  The only thing that I knew that day was that I wanted to be different.  Over the 21 months that have passed I have not only shed a tremendous amount of weight but I have changed a lot emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  The person that I was written and created to be has begun to show through bit by bit.  Some of it is slower to develop than others but I see it.  I feel it.  Yes, it is scary.  I cannot see what the next page holds.  I cannot see when my dreams will be fulfilled.  Sometimes I do not like the person I see because that person has started writing her own story.  She has stolen the pen from the Master.  It is in those moments where I start to lose hope.  It is easy to see why.  The characters were not meant to write their own story.  They were meant to live the one written for them.  That is when I must hand the pen back to the Author and trust His loving pen stroke. 
Like the above quote states there are two stories.  The one we intended to write and the one that was actually written.  My question to you is this, which story are you walking in?  You can walk everyday in the story YOU intend to write.  You can walk everyday in the story YOU are writing.  You can get as much out of life as you can come up with.  You can accept the simple story that a finite being can write.  Or you can walk in the story that the Eternal Creator has been writing since the beginning of time.  You can walk in the story that was written expressly for you.  You can walk in the story that is lovingly written not only in the pages of time but the very heart that beats in your chest.  The story that is carved into the hands that stretched out wide on a cross and died so that your story would never end.  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” Isaiah 49:16

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glory in Weakness

"Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 

Thank you Lord for reminding me that almost two years ago you decided to express your power by changing my physical body.  I am reminded that I was a fat little girl in a 27 year old body who was barely hanging on and desperate to be anyone but herself.  You took my ultimate weakness, the bondage in my life that has been passed on for generations in my family, the thorn in my side, and my most obvious sin and have begun a work in me that I most days cannot comprehend.  People compliment me, question me, and praise me and I don't know how to respond because I can't wrap my brain around 120 pounds.  I can’t wrap my brain around the physical changes in my body, the changes in my mind and intellect, and the changes in my soul and spirit.  How do you explain to people how you take someone who considered themselves nothing but a waste of space and turn me into a woman who is trying ( and failing a lot of the time) to live a life that honors you?  How do you explain the independence that is growing inside of a woman who lived her life as a child dependant on others for her happiness? 

Father, I look back and I see that you took my ultimate weakness, something that everyone in the world can see and are using it for you.  I don’t know what this is going to look like in the coming weeks, months, and years.  I know you are calling me to a platform of helping others with the same struggles and I want that desperately.  Help me to continue to be open and honest with those who are just seeking for a bit of hope.  Don’t let me forget how it felt to weigh 350 pounds and to walk into a gym terrified each and every day because of what I looked like.  Teach me how to express the changes you have made.  Teach me how to express the changes that no one can see because they are buried within me.  Unearth the hidden struggles that still lurk in the darkness of my mind and heart.  Don’t let any fear, shame, or regret keep me from the purpose you have for me.  Protect me from the ever swirling circumstances of my life and keep my eyes fixed on you.  

Father, this journey has not been about me.  It isn’t about a number on a scale but it is about people that can be shown your might and your glory.  In the end you are the only reason I succeed.  You are the only reason that I survive and move on one day at a time.  Lord, I am thankful for the past because of the heart that you built inside me.  I praise you that in this journey you have brought unexpected lessons.  That you have broken my heart for what breaks yours.  That you have given me glimpses of your love for humanity.  To see the world as broken and searching.  To not see myself as more than anyone else but that there is no one good.  Lord, my sin is so visible.  No one can mistake me for a perfect person.  But under your blood I am perfect.  I stand in your righteousness Lord and I pray that you always remind me that my sin is not comparable to anyone else.  We are all equally guilty in your eyes.  It is only your sacrifice that saves us.  Father, keep me near your cross.  Thank you for what you have done so far in my life and help me trust the penmanship of the future story of my life.  Help me to trust your love for me.  

“And so, dear brothers and sisters,  I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” Romans 12:1