May I Be One Who Laughs

Back in February I spent several hours by myself in Stephen’s office, writing and thinking in the quiet of the university library where he works. I already spend a lot of time thinking–too much time, if I’m being honest–but very few of my thoughts are actually productive or constructive. I wanted to set aside some time to be intentionally reflective. I found some reflection questions in a book I had just read (Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray–highly recommend) and online (from a website that I have already forgotten). I wanted some structure to guide me so I didn’t end up with wandering thoughts. The questions ended up being really helpful for me, as they made me stop and consider various aspects of my life and what I think and feel about where I am and where I have been and where I want to be. 

One question asked, “What do you think about the future?”, and this question has stuck with me ever since. There are many ways you could answer this, but I immediately thought, “I don’t like thinking about the future.” In fact, the thought of the future didn’t appeal to me at all but instead filled me with dread. 

I don’t know precisely when I stopped looking forward to the future, but I think it was after I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Before ulcerative colitis (UC), life was relatively uncomplicated. I had struggles, but nothing that altered my life in such a profound way as being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Being so sick for an extended period of time caused a shift in my thinking. I started to fear future flares and started to expect the next unwelcome event. The disappointments that came after my UC diagnosis (hip surgeries, chronic pain, weight gain, other things listed in my last post) became debits that were being drawn from my hope account, and as far as I could see, no credits were coming in. I started believing that the future would be just like my present reality. I wrestled with my thoughts and tried to cling to the truths of Scripture, but I missed the way fear crept in and took up residence in my heart and mind. Even as I read verses that talked about all things working together for good (Romans 8:28) or suffering producing endurance which produces character and hope(Romans 5:3-4), deep down I did not have hope, but apprehension. Looking back I see the many blessings that accompanied these difficult years, but most of the time I allowed the pain I experienced to overshadow anything good. 

Now, I dread the future because I am afraid. I’m afraid the hints of joy I have seen the past few weeks won’t last, and so the future will be just as painful as most of the past year has been. That is not a hopeful picture to me. All of this is complicated by the fact that much of what I’m afraid of is outside of my control: I don’t know when my disease will flare (it’s flaring now, in fact) or if the depression will subside completely or how long I will have hip pain. However, unpleasant circumstances don’t excuse me from obeying the commands of Scripture, and Scripture calls me to rejoice always and pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). ALL. Even though my circumstances may not change, I can change my perspective. I want to be like the woman in Proverbs 31 who laughs at things to come instead of dreading them. I want to embrace whatever lies in front of me because I know the One who is preparing the way for me. I want to live in confident assurance that He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion (Philippians 1:6). I need to put aside the lie that only bad will befall me. Realistically, no one’s life is 100% bad.

The truth is that my future couldn’t be more hopeful. Because the righteousness of Christ has been imparted to me, I know that I will spend eternity with God in heaven. I will be healed and whole and lovely because He loves me. There will be no more tears and no more pain and only love and light and joy. What future could be better than that?

When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Feelings

On Tuesday night I received the link to the family pictures we had taken a couple of weeks ago. These were our first professional pictures since we became a family of four, and I couldn’t wait to see them. I scrolled through sweet pictures of my two girls, but then I got to pictures with all four of us, and my heart dropped. I could not believe how HUGE I looked in the pictures. It’s ridiculous that I was blindsided by this because I own a scale and have been on it recently, so it’s not as though I was unaware of how much I weigh or what size clothing I currently wear. I think in my mind I was still picturing myself at a lower weight, but pictures don’t lie. Seeing these pictures woke me up to the fact that I have allowed myself to reach a weight I never thought I would see again. I’m currently the heaviest I’ve been in nine years, and that is a tough truth to acknowledge. I love the pictures of my sweet family, but I can’t help but wish that I looked a lot thinner.

Mount 7 (Sans Tissue)

I know I had a baby two months ago, but even before I got pregnant I was heavier than I wanted to be and yet doing little about it. I used the pain in my hips and the depression that accompanied that pain as an excuse to eat poorly and not exercise. Instead, I fed my sadness and hopelessness with food. I knew what I was doing, I saw the number on the scale gradually go up, and yet it was hard to stop. After I got pregnant with Ava, I let pregnancy be my excuse for eating sweets more often and generally being a lazy bum. I told myself that after I had Ava I would get serious about losing weight. If I lost the weight before, there is no reason I can’t lose it again, and yet I look at pictures of me when I was at my lowest weight and feel like I don’t even know who that person is anymore.

So here I find myself, completely overwhelmed by how much weight I have to lose and disgusted with how I look, but have I done anything about it? Not yet. I keep telling myself that something has to change, and then I keep on doing the same things that got me where I am today and then feel sad that I’m this fat.

However, moping about my weight isn’t going to make me thinner. Moping about my weight isn’t going to make my clothes fit better. Moping about my weight isn’t going to make me pick healthier foods. Moping isn’t going to change anything, except maybe to make me feel even worse about myself. Dwelling on the past has rarely served me well. Instead, I want to dwell on this fact: God doesn’t want me to be skinny as much as He wants me to be holy. I have to stop being so self-absorbed and remember the truth of the gospel: I am approved before God because of the work of Jesus on my behalf. How I look has absolutely nothing to do with God’s love and acceptance of me. When I remember who I am in Christ, I can let go of the feelings of despair and hopelessness. When I remember who I am in Christ, I can fight the temptation to eat to excess. When I remember who I am in Christ, I can have confidence not in myself, but in the power of the Holy Spirit at work in me. Food does not love me back. Food will not satisfy the deepest longings of my heart, but God will.

The battle I am fighting is a spiritual battle as well as a physical one, and it’s time I put on my armor.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10-11

“With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26 with the purified you show yourself pure;
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
27 For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 18:25-30

Fight or Flight

I haven’t updated on my hips in a while, and for a while that’s because there wasn’t much to tell. My recovery was going well, my pain was manageable, and I felt really good about things. I last saw Dr. P for a check up on May 11, and he confirmed that I was doing great at 6 weeks post-op and that I should continue doing physical therapy. However, somewhere along the way since then, things have gotten worse. The pain started to creep up. I ignored it at first, thinking it was temporary. But then I started to have problems in physical therapy. I didn’t feel like my pain was getting any better, and any time the therapist tried to add new exercises, I struggled and had increased pain. This week my therapist actually called my surgeon and explained the situation, and now I’m scheduled to go see Dr. P this Friday morning. At 12 weeks post-op, I didn’t expect to be in this situation, especially since the surgery on my left hip was less extensive than on my right hip. I had already been discharged from physical therapy at this point post-op with my right hip. To complicate things further, the pain I’m feeling is different than what I’ve felt with my right hip, AND my right hip has been quite achy as well. Basically, things are discouraging in every possible way, and so with the physical pain has been added emotional pain.

I have found myself wishing that I could just run away from my problems, but it’s hard to do that when my problems are within my own body. I’m tired, deep-deep-down-in-my-bones tired, and I want to forget all of these problems exist, if just for a day. Unfortunately, I can’t run away from my pain because it’s literally a part of me. If I can’t run away, what choice is left? I have to fight:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. -Ephesians 6:10-18, ESV

Though I am weak and do not feel like fighting, my Lord is strong, and He will be my strength. I have to focus on what I know to be true when my feelings are lying to me and telling me that I’m all alone, that no one understands, that there’s no hope. So I fight by choosing to believe that God is good and loves me and wants good for me. I fight by choosing to stay in His Word when I’d rather do anything but read it. I fight by choosing to pray when sometimes I feel like all I can do is cry, for I know that even when I do not know what to pray, the Spirit prays on my behalf with groans too deep for words.

What is the result of all of this fighting (besides lots of crying)? The Lord has met me in my place of despair. He has been kindly and gently showing me that He walks with me. I am not alone in even my darkest nights of the soul, for there is nowhere my mind can go that Christ has not already traveled. There is nothing that He cannot understand. He was tempted fully and yet resisted completely. Not only that, but He suffered in ways I can never begin to fathom, so that I could be rescued from hell and spend eternity with Him. Jesus asks much less of me than what He gave for me. What a comfort, what a gift!

I will be honest: the temptation to sit and wallow in my misery has been great, and I have done my share of that. The only thing that has kept me from succumbing to it completely has been the grace of God, holding me fast. He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion. He wants me to grow in Christ-likeness, and this path is an opportunity to learn that most important of lessons. And honestly, would I learn any of this during a season of relative ease and comfort? Maybe, but probably not. Charles Spurgeon said it well when he said, “I have found that there is a sweetness in bitterness not to be found in honey; a safety with Christ in a storm which may be lost in a calm. It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” It is only when I am at the end of myself that I know I can do nothing without Him. It is only when I am so desperately in need of Him that I realize I needed Him desperately all along.

I wish I knew if one day all of this will be a distant memory. But it is not for me to know the future, only to trust in the One who does know. So I trust, and I fight.


Just Do Something

Yesterday was one of THOSE days. I apparently left my brain at home that morning because I acted like an airhead on more than one occasion, and a bunch of little things at work added up to make one frustrating day. I came home feeling tired and defeated. Then I made dinner, which was poppyseed chicken that I had taken out of the freezer. I was so proud for having a meal stashed away that I could just whip out and put in the oven, but then I ended up cooking it too long, and it tasted dry and unsatisfying. That means that of course after dinner, I wanted something else. So I had a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and that wasn’t satisfying either. Instead of distracting myself with something besides food (like, I don’t know, PRAYER), I just finished off the container (there was probably about 2 scoops left in there, so 3 scoops in all). Then I sat there feeling weak and pathetic. I had planned to do a quick 2 mile workout using an oldie but goodie fitness DVD, but after eating all that ice cream, I just felt gross. The thought crossed my mind: “I’ve already blown it today, so why bother?”

WHY do I think this way? I am sure anyone else who has tried to lose weight has experienced similar moments (please tell me I am not alone in this!). If I don’t follow my plan to the letter, then the temptation to abandon it altogether is strong. If I don’t have time for a solid 45- or 60-minute workout, then I often skip exercising altogether because I can’t do as much as I would like. I tell myself it has to be all or nothing, and when I can’t do it all, far too often I choose to do nothing.

Of course, this whole mindset is ridiculous! As I’ve written before, I wouldn’t do this in other areas of my life. If I overslept for work, I wouldn’t just miss the whole day. If I failed a test, I certainly wouldn’t quit going to class (well, except for that one time in college when I dropped Advanced Spanish Literature, but I digress). I realized last night that the problem is perfectionism. I set these lofty, often impossible expectations for myself, and if I don’t think I can perfectly meet them, then I stop trying. Even though I know I know I KNOW I will never be perfect, I still insist on having this perfectionist mentality. The reality, however, is that I am just setting myself up for failure because perfection is not attainable. I will lose that contest every time.

So I’m changing the rules. Instead of trying to be perfect, I am just going to do something. Last night I may have overeaten, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t redeem the evening by also exercising. So even though it was 8:30, I pulled out that DVD, and I did 25 minutes of “power walking.” No, it wasn’t an hour. No, it probably didn’t even come close to burning the amount of calories needed to make up for that ice cream. But it was better than nothing, and I will take something over nothing any day.

The wonderful thing about each day that we are given is that we don’t have to end it in failure. By God’s grace, we can find redemption, whether that’s in the form of a quick run around the block, or an apology to your spouse or friend, or a much-needed phone call with a loved one.

What about you? Do you struggle with perfectionism, and if so, how do you combat it?