Return to the Lord

Hosea 6:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.”

Yesterday I celebrated my 50th birthday by going to the gym, shopping with my husband, and going out to dinner.  All day long family and friends sent me their well-wishes.  If ever I felt loved, yesterday was the day.  I was flying high and enjoying every minute of it.  However, you know the saying, “what goes up, must come down.”

Today is not my birthday.  I woke to my typical aches and pains; maybe they were even a little worse than usual after all my merry-making yesterday.  I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment, then traveled to meet my in-laws for a birthday lunch.   It was once last glimpse at the mountaintop before I got a long look at the valley.

Just a little while ago, a phone call signaled a continuing family conflict, the taxman affirmed what we thought would be bad news, and then the baking project I was working on didn’t yield as much as I was hoping it would.  Three strikes and I plummeted fast off that mountain of love into the valley of “how am I going to fix this mess?”

Fortunately, I was quick to acknowledge my helplessness and remember to look back “to the hills from whence cometh my help.”  God, why do you seem so far from me when just yesterday you seemed so close?  I mean, didn’t I celebrate Easter two days ago with shouts of “He is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia”? Didn’t I go straight from celebrating Your victory over sin, death, and the grave into a virtual love-fest? Why is my faithfulness so fleeting?  Why Am I so quick to forget your goodness?  Why do I think that the God of the Universe, who willingly sent His only Son to die for my sins, won’t also walk with me through family difficulties, financial trials, and a tiny little thing like mis-sized cinnamon rolls?

Because I am bent on turning.  When the road gets a little rough, I assume I’ve got to get tough.  I don’t often consider that God has placed a rough road in front of me so that He can assure me of His presence and provision.  I forget that He has carried us through sickness, joblessness, tragedy, and loss to much better places than we ever thought possible.

Just this morning, a mere nine hours ago, I read in my Bible study of Hosea the words posted above, that “God has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us.”  I read that way before the triple threat of a mere hour ago.

Jennifer Rothschild asked me in the Hosea study, “What is the greatest affliction God has placed or allowed in your life?” I listed a few things that have been quite challenging.  Her next question, “Can you see how that wounding has been part of greater healing?”  My response? “Absolutely.”

Can I see how the situations placed before us right now might be part of greater healing?  Yes.  Do I wish that they weren’t happening? Yes.  Do I trust God enough to watch and see how He works even in these difficult times?  Obediently, at this moment, I say yes.

I refuse to lose hope just because I am sitting in the valley after a delightful trip to the mountaintop.  I’m not going to fashion a golden calf.  I’m going to trust that God is still working, just like He was Sunday and yesterday.  I’m going to to believe that any bumps in our path have been crafted by Him to draw us closer to, not further from, Him.  I’m going to believe that although right now we seem wounded, in just a little while He will heal us.

And won’t He just do it.

Danger! Danger! Danger!

One dichotomy of thinking that I have clung to in various ways for most of my life is a bit embarrassing to admit:

If I am thin, I am valuable; if I am fat, I am detestable.

This belief led to a certain degree of self-loathing in my adolescent and young adult years and then propelled me into the disordered thinking and distorted body image that supported an eating disorder and remnants of one for much longer than I would care to admit.

‘Thin’ as defined by me has meant a variety of things. Its worst definition was a denial of self — a refusal to care for my needs in favor of controlling my body to attain and maintain a particular size.  Over the years, the definition morphed into something more socially acceptable — a particular dress size, for instance, that could be maintained through regular exercise, an aversion to excess, and a more private critical eye that was still always trying to find a way to weigh just a little bit less.

‘Fat’ as defined by me has meant anything over a particular number on a scale, laziness, apathy, and a refusal to take charge of one’s life.  I had been ‘fat’ in my younger years.  I didn’t like myself then, and I wasn’t going back.  I had control over my body.  Fat people were simply ‘less than’ me.

See why I am embarrassed?  I had put myself into a category, ‘thin people’, and, in so doing, had positioned myself in opposition to those outside of that category.  Now, in my defense, this was not conscious.  I would have never admitted this out loud.  I pride myself in treating people fairly, not judging a book by its cover, but looking on the inside to find value and worth.

But, I’m admitting here that I have been a hypocrite. And, as with almost every other judgment I have made in my life, my judgment of ‘non-thin’ people has had more to do with what is inside of me than what is inside of them.

I know this because in the last three and a half years that I have been dealing with health issues, I have been slowly putting on weight.  It’s now up to twenty pounds.  My clothing size has changed.  The number on the scale has exceeded my ‘safe number’.  I don’t like how I look.  I don’t like how I feel.

I’ve been trying to accept it.  I have bought some new clothes.  I have done a lot of self-talk.  I have continued to exercise.  I have continued to watch what I eat.  I keep telling myself, “this is not a failure; it is a disease.” Or, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt.”

So last week when I went to see my doctor, I said, “My weight keeps climbing.  It edged up again this time, didn’t it?”  I think inside I was hoping she would say, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt, it’s part of the disease.” But do you know what she said?  She said, “I want you to keep track of everything you eat for a while, so that I can see what is causing this.”

Gasp. You mean it’s something I am doing? I might be able to control this?

Danger! Danger! Danger!  All the alerts are going off in my head.  Keeping track of what I eat was a gateway to anorexia over thirty years ago.  Each day I tried to eat less and write down less. If I write down what I eat now, I will fall back into this disorder.  I can’t do that!  I have to let myself eat whatever I want.

Did you hear the dichotomy? Either I eat whatever I want, or I will have an eating disorder. It’s simply not true, but this is challenging territory.

Can I be attentive to what I eat without being restrictive? Can I assess what I am eating without the pressure to trim down? Can I trim down without dieting? Am I comfortable allowing my doctor to see everything I eat (or don’t eat)?  Am I willing to let her speak into this?

Before I could go too far down the rabbit hole, I blurted out in her office, “I used to be anorexic….” Phew! I got it out.  “Well,” she said, “we don’t want to get anywhere close to that, but we do want to make sure that what you are eating has a healthy ratio of fat to protein to carbohydrate.”

I didn’t initially want to follow her directions.  And then, I wanted too badly to follow her directions.  I started thinking, “well, I could lose those twenty pounds and get back into all of my old clothes….” That’s all it takes for me, really.  Just a quick thought and I am off and restricting.  Quietly.  In private.  Hiding my plans from others who might want to stand in my way.

For the first three days I recorded what I ate quietly on my phone app without telling anyone.  And, of course, I limited what I was eating so as to ‘eat less’ than the prescribed number on the app. Sigh.

Then, I told my husband about the app.  Now I am telling you.  I am not going to believe the dichotomy any longer.  I have value and purpose regardless of a number on a scale or a dress size.  My weight does not define me.  I can watch what I eat without being restrictive.

I can evolve past this dichotomous thinking.  God has so much more for me.

Romans 12:2

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Just add this to the pot

So, do you know what simmering does?  It cooks slowly and gently so as not to damage.

Yesterday, a lot of ingredients were tossed into my brain.  I was thinking about pain and illness.  I was wondering about healing. I encountered the idea of spiritual warfare.  I read about pride, identity,  and temptation.  All of these ingredients were sitting there in my brain, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Often, the recipe is clear — knead, bake, slice, serve. But yesterday, I had no idea what I was ‘making’.  Probably because I wasn’t intended to ‘make’ anything at all.  I felt the nudge to put the pot on simmer and walk away.

Sometimes I do this in our house.  I have a lovely crock pot that I fill with a pale chunk of pork or chicken, a couple tablespoons of slimy olive oil, some sea salt and other dry pungent spices.  I turn the dial to ‘simmer’, and I walk away.  It’s lazy cooking, yes, but’s it’s pretty effective.  Those ingredients, which look less than appetizing at the start, start to simmer, and as they do, they give off a pleasing aroma that fills my house and greets my husband when he walks into the house after a long day.

So, yesterday, as I was taking in some thoughts that were less than pleasing — pain, illness, temptation, spiritual warfare, pride, sin — instead of tossing them all into the trash, I decided to allow them to simmer for a while.  I mean, it couldn’t hurt.

While they were simmering, I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill for a half an hour or so.  Then, I submersed myself in the warm bubbling waters of the jacuzzi.  I showered, dressed, then drove to meet with two students in a neighboring town.

I drove home, ate some dinner, watched some television, crocheted, read, and went to bed.  And the ideas were still simmering.  I didn’t open the pot to stir.  I didn’t turn the heat up or down.  I just let them cook slowly and gently.

This morning, the battalion met to continue in our study of Hosea. I think I was hoping that I would be able to open the crock pot and see that all the ingredients were ‘done’ simmering.  That didn’t happen.

Instead, as they continued to simmer, I observed this sisterhood that I have been plunked down into.  I watched as they cared for one another — observing a swollen toe, praying for an ailing husband, applauding successful surgeries, and joining in to sing together.

Today’s topic was the idea that we often wander from God because we don’t truly know Him — really know His character and appreciate His love for us.  We acknowledged together that we are “prone to leave the God we love,” and learned together that this is because we know of God, but we don’t fully know Him.

Yet, in spite of our wandering ways, God continuously pursues us.  He puts obstacles in our self-destructive paths so that we will turn around and wander back toward Him.  Sometimes when we are redirected in this way, we get close enough to see His face beaming with love for usHis beloved.  And if we can get our eyes off the distracting shiny objects long enough, we can look into His eyes and see ourselves reflected there.  And that, my friends, is when we get a glimpse at our identity.  Not our estimation of ourselves in relationship to our peers, but our true identity as children loved by God.

I think I’ll let that simmer a little longer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Jeremiah 31: 3

Two kinds of battle

It’s funny, I just reread my post from yesterday, about doing physical battle against illness.  I got to the scripture verse and practically laughed out loud. “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though a war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” 

I am laughing at myself because I was thinking for a minute that the physical battle was the one I needed to be focused on.  Oh, silly me.  I forget so easily.  I stayed lost in that physical battle most of the day.  I am still not feeling great, and I had to see my new rheumatologist today, too. I was poked, prodded, examined, and x-rayed.   But that was the easy part. 

The tougher part was the spiritual/emotional battle that has been subtly building over the last several days.  There’s nothing extraordinary going on, really.  It’s just that, like everyone else who lives and breathes, I have a steady stream of stuff coming at me.  Stuff like daily details, family relationships, health information, … just stuff.  Not one piece is overwhelming on its own.  Especially not if I carefully lift each item up and release it.  But if I hang on to stuff, plot and plan and maneuver it just so, try to own it, try to solve it…then it owns me.  It’s psychological warfare.  It’s covert. I don’t even know I’m being attacked until I’ve got myself in knots.  

The first symptom is usually sarcasm.  Little snide comments start slipping out of my mouth.  At first I laugh them off, but then, I notice that they are actually painful barbs directed mostly at those closest to me.  But this one symptom doesn’t usually get my full attention.  

I usually have to progress to midnight wakefulness and fevered internet searching, trying to find the answers to my problems through information, or services, or a job (oy, vey!).  It happened again tonight. After sending several emails and searching numerous medical websites,  I almost filled out an online form to receive job notifications for Pete’s sake!  Like a job, doing more, will actually make me feel better! 

Thankfully, I woke up and closed out the screen and turned to my blog.  “Ho, hum, if I can’t sleep anyway, I might as well blog…” I read what I wrote yesterday, then I got to the scripture…”Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though a war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” 

Oh, yeah, that’s who I am. I am confident. I am the girl whose confirmation verse is Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.”  I am the fighter with no earrings and a ponytail who has put on the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the sandals of peace, and the belt of truth.  I am carrying the sword of the Spirit.

Come at me. 

Emotional/spiritual warfare?  You are nothing. I’m not afraid of you.  The Lord, my God, is with me wherever I go…and He has promised to “keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in [Him]” (Isaiah 26:3).  I trust Him. 

That is all.  Goodnight.