The Knowledge of Wisdom

This past week I attended an AP English workshop, where we 12 teachers sat in a room for 8 hours a day for 4 days straight, discussing Hamlet’s soliloquies, interpreting literary criticisms, and practicing writing answers to the three essay questions students are given for this college entrance exam.  Listening to the presenter describe the intricacies of Graphic Symbols and TP-CASTT was a daunting, mentally exhausting, yet highly eye-opening experience.  Besides learning how I can better teach iambs to students (who doesn’t love iambic pentameter???), more importantly I was able to connect with other English teachers from around the state.  We ranged in age from those fresh out of college to others who were creeping towards retirement, yet all were quite interesting to talk to.  I had lunch most of the days with one such gal from the Big Island, as she participates in BJJ and actually knows of the teachers that instruct at my husband’s school.  We chatted about the sport for a bit in between bites of our sandwiches, but most of our conversation revolved around her introductory year to AP and the fears she has about starting off the course unprepared.

I reassured her that everyone has fears, and no matter how adept one is at creating thematic units and grading papers, teaching truly is a “learn-as-you-go” type of position.  A person can garner much knowledge from college courses, but wisdom about the profession only comes with time.

Knowledge versus wisdom.  Wisdom versus knowledge.

The more we discussed these ideas, I was reminded about our church’s daily reading track, and how this plan had me contemplating and meditating on the book of Proverbs.  During my quiet times, a few questions came to mind:  What constitutes a person having knowledge?  How does one go about gaining wisdom?  Aren’t they both one in the same?

I know I used to use those words interchangeably.  If a person is wise, doesn’t that mean she also has knowledge?  However, I’m beginning to see that there may be a difference.  In Proverbs 1, wisdom is personified as an actual woman, one who shouts out to the crowd to be on the look out for knowledge.  Further on in Proverbs 4, sons are urged to listen to their fathers (because they are wise), and in doing so will reap knowledge.  Interesting.  From these sections (and many other chapters) of this Old Testament book, knowledge is being derived from the wise.  To be wise means that wisdom is INSIDE a person.  It is at his core.  What springs forth from that individual is knowledge, and consequently, when one attains knowledge, he can then walk towards gaining wisdom.

This is no easy feat.

Take the profession of teaching.  I garnered many lesson plan ideas from my colleagues this past week at the workshop (and all of these educators are quite wise, by the way), yet just because I have a digital document of their curriculum maps doesn’t make me any wiser.  I have their knowledge on my flash drive, but until I plan my own lessons, teach it to the students, and see if my kids are able to attain the learning objectives placed before them, I will not truly be “wise”.

One’s past experiences also plays a huge role in differentiating between wisdom and knowledge.  I have sat through many appointments with dietitians, nutritionists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who have all attempted to help me be “recovered” from an eating disorder.  Although they were able to create a meal plan that provided me with the appropriate amount of calories to eat, critiqued my food logs in order to help me gain weight, and offered up CBT terminology to talk down an anorexic thought, their knowledge about the illness was quite different than the wisdom someone who has gone through an eating disorder will have.  It is that personal experience component that makes me turn to my husband or other females who have gone through the throes of anorexia and compulsive exercise when seeking help.

They get it.

They understand.

They are knowledgeable about what it takes to get better.

They are wise to how the disorder can rear its’ ugly head at any minute.

But more importantly, there is connection and familiarity.  When I confide in my husband how I pulled on a pair of shorts and “felt fat”, he immediately understood that that comment meant I was really feeling sad, disappointed, angry, or some other kind of emotion that ended up being projected as “feeling fat”.  My wonderful mate never had anorexia, but he has seen me at my lowest when I my heart could have stopped beating at any minute.  He has seen me hide running shoes in my car so that I could sneak them out for a run.  He knows firsthand the devastating actions an eating disorder could (and would) propel me to do, and he can even repeat to me what ruminating thoughts a starved mind can have when thinking about food.  As a former MMA fighter who had to cut weight for matches, he would describe how he would daydream about inhaling buckets ice cream and cookies because he had been living off of water, vegetables, and meat to shave off pounds.  Those thoughts he had about Ben and Jerry’s and Chips Ahoy were the same type of crazy-starved-brain talk that ran through my mind when I was at an extremely low weight.

My husband is wise when it comes to eating disorders.  In much the same way, there are many women I chat with that also have this same type of wisdom about weight and exercise.  When I am faced with eating another scoop of peanut butter or handful of nuts because I am on a quest to pack pounds onto my small frame (more on that bit in my next post), but then feel that fear of losing what muscular definition I have (which is a crazy idea, I know), I turn to fellow powerlifting females (or other women that share the same love of weightlifting as me), and tell them what thoughts are going through my brain.  And wonderfully, they get it.  They understand that it takes hard training and hard eating to move more weight on the barbell.  They understand that powerlifters need to have healthy and strong bodies in order to improve in the sport, even if that means shirts don’t fit over lat muscles and wearing jeans is ridiculous because they don’t go over round quads.  Moreso, they are wise as to how our warped society deems we women who WANT bigger thighs and more mass as crazy and odd, and that this type of cultural compartmentalization can make the weight gain process that much harder.

Wisdom.  Knowledge.  Both are necessary in order to live a life of clarity, yet attaining wisdom means that one will have to take risks with the knowledge she has–this individual will have to be confident in the knowledge she has been gifted with and step forward into the unknown, ready to use said understanding to better herself.

This is no easy feat.  Whether it be as a teacher, a patient in eating disorder recovery, or a parent, no one wants to feel inadequate or less than competent in any field.  Thankfully it is by God’s grace we are able to take that first step into the unknown, hold up our shield of faith, and use the knowledge we have to find true wisdom.

Pray the Prayer

When I initially started writing this blog, I was suffering.

Physically, I had lost weight, and my gaunt face, lackluster hair, and thin legs showed that the few pounds that had disappeared from my body caused my normally sunny countenance to grey into one of fatigue and frailty.  Granted I was nowhere near a full-blown relapse from anorexia like those that I had experienced in years past, but the amount of training I was doing in the gym, the hectic life I was leading as a full time teacher and mother of two, and the lack of sleep and good nutrition I should have been receiving left me winded and in dire need of rest.

Mentally, I was fried.  The end of the school year was near, and while the students (especially the seniors) were already dreaming of spending their summer days sunning at the beach, I was making a galliant effort to drum up their enthusiasm to find comma splice and pronoun/antecedent agreement errors in preparation for the spring final exam.  It was a Herculian task, and I wracked my brain attempting to find SOMETHING that would curb the students from daydreaming about their summer freedom to instead focus in on grammar lessons.  All of this brain-wracking, however, was for naught as all it did was lead me to having a persistent dull ache in my temples and restless sleep where I’d wake up at 2am every morning, unable to go back to bed.

Spiritually, I felt empty.  I knew the Holy Spirit still lived in me, and that I loved Jesus with all of my heart.  I prayed in the mornings, mostly prayers to bless my children, students, family, and friends hurriedly repeated on the drive in to school, but the words I recited felt flat and rehearsed.  I read scripture because the verse of the day popped up on my Bible App with a “ding!” every morning at 6am, but my eyes just glazed over the words.  Sadly, as much as I loved Jesus and knew Him to be my Savior, I felt distanced from God.

It was during this empty time when I turned to God and asked Him for freedom:  freedom from disordered eating, freedom from negative thought patterns and behaviors, and freedom to be who He wanted me to be.  And low and behold, God answered my prayers immediately, and prompted me to write–write about the physical challenges I was facing, the emotional turmoil going on in my spirit, and how by God’s grace and the power of prayer, He was able to turn my whole being inside out.  Since starting this blog, I’ve found a way to communicate how my past demonstrates the awesomeness of Jesus, and how He truly has the power to heal a person externally and internally.

It would be quite easy to say that since the inception of this blog, I have not been tempted to over-indulge in exercise or skip out on eating a full meal.  Not so.  Yes, I have found amazing freedom when I put my faith in Jesus to heal me, yet the enemy is tricky–I mean, his main purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  And so there have been moments, specifically when I am extremely tired or overwhelmed by other events like preparing my daughter for her first day of summer school, when I hear that eating disorder voice trying to find a foothold back in to my thoughts.  It is times like those when I feel off balance, when my life is not nicely planned out and plotted, when the temptation to gain some semblance of control (and mostly through the means of exercise and eating) occur. But that is where the beauty of God comes in.  Rather than let that sinister voice berate my thoughts or lead me down a slippery slop of diet and obsessive exercise, I instead call upon the power of God to help me.

A few weeks ago at church, one of our friends who also happens to train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with my husband, spoke about his life-altering encounter with God, and how Jesus’s miraculous healing power is relevant and real even today.  As I listened to Pastor RK speak about how shriveled hands became full of working muscle and tendons, how men were set free from drug abuse and addiction, and how numerous individuals’ bodily pains and aches were erased after he prayed for them, I found myself nodding in agreement.  Yes, true healing can be found through Jesus.  But then Pastor RK spoke more about HOW to pray for these types of healings, and what he said was an eye opener:  Pray straight to the point and with intention.  In the Gospels, Jesus directly spoke to pain and commanded healing to occur.  He did not spend hours upon hours chanting or saying words just to say them.  He knew His authority, and spoke life to those in need.  It was at that point that I realized I needed to mimic those same types of prayers.  If I was confident in Jesus’s healing power, why not just command infirmities and addictions to leave?  Why did I feel the need to talk and talk and talk and use more words and more words and more words when I prayed for healing?  Essentially, I was worried that Jesus wouldn’t hear me, and that if I continued to speak to Him, even if they were only with filler words, then and only then would He hear my prayers and grant me complete freedom from whatever physical and mental ailments I suffered from.

Maybe my insecurities about being heard stemmed from the fact that growing up I was told by my mother to not speak until spoken to.  With that kind of mentality, I was quite a shy child, barely saying a whisper to aunts and uncles at gatherings.  I never fully believed that what I had to say, my views and opinions, were of value.  My demure and quiet nature also made it difficult for me to make new friends in intermediate and high school.  Rather than introduce myself to girls that I thought would make good pals, I instead hung around their area with bated breath, attempting to make eye contact with a girl or two, waiting for the one kind soul to say to me, “Hey, Lauren, want to join us at lunch?”  As a result, when I did talk to these individuals, I always felt that I had to say something GRAND and HILARIOUS and INSIGHTFUL, otherwise they would think me to be a boring person, not worthy to spend time around.

Needless to say, I had quite a depressing complex about who I was.

And so when it came time to pray, I constantly felt the need to talk to God and rationalize to Him why I needed His healing hand in my life.  I would gab on and on, but sadly, all of those words didn’t feel like anything special.  They just felt, well, like words.  Empty words.

But when Pastor RK spoke about the direct prayer, and that since we have the Holy Spirit in us, we too can pray the same way as Jesus did, his words made sense.  Yes.  Of course.  Why try to rationalize and plead and be overly verbose to a God who already knows my needs?  Why should I try to “please” the enemy to leave my thoughts, when he is already underfoot and I have the power of God on my side?  Trying to out talk the voice of the enemy (and in my case, it’s an eating disorder voice) will lead to nowhere because that enemy is the king of deception and lies.  Why not just be straight to the point and direct?

Similarly, I harken these short and powerful prayers to be much like how I interact with my toddler:  straight to the point.  Do I ever rationalize with a crying two-year-old why he can’t pick up mud and fling it in the air and then try to roll around in the mess?  Of course not!  Instead, I just say, “Dirty.  No.” and then lead him away from the mud puddle.  Toddlers aren’t able to mentally plot out the why behind their actions–they’re still in the “yes” and “no” phase of life, and as a parent, it’s my duty to teach my son right from wrong.  The “why” of it all will come later when necessary.  In the same way, the enemy doesn’t need to know my “why”.  When that eating disorder voice starts trying to tempt me to skip a meal or spend thirty more minutes in the gym, rather than try to talk myself down from engaging in said behavior by going over the reasons why I need to eat and how much additional training will only rob me of muscle gain, I instead merely say, “No.  Not good for me.  No.”  And then I continue on with my day.

Here’s a disclaimer for all of you reading this blog:  I was taught CBT to combat the eating disorder voice, and this form of psychological treatment can be wonderfully grand.  I know numerous individuals who have benefitted from this type of treatment, and that is wonderful for those people.  For me, however, attempting to “talk down” the negative thoughts just left me brain dead.  Rationalizing a voice that is screaming at you to run another mile or only eat carrots can take up one’s entire day, which is what ended up happening to me for many years of my life.  Thankfully, God showed me that because of His power in me, I am able to combat even the most demanding and negative of eating disorder voices with a simply powerful, straight to the point prayer:

“Eating disorder voice, leave my thoughts now.”

“Spirit of peace, fill me now.”

“Guide my thoughts, Jesus.”

Simple prayers, no more than a sentence long–it has been these types of utterances I’ve said out loud when the addictive and obsessive thoughts come into mind.  And it has been these types of prayers that have given me the most freedom to live a life fully devoted to God.

As I look back on that defining moment when Jesus filled my spirit with true freedom, I realize that I didn’t drone on and on in my prayer for His freedom.  I asked for faith.  I asked that whatever He wanted for my life, to make it clear to me.  I asked that He remove whatever was not in His plan.  And that was it.  Short, sweet, and to the point.  Amazingly, that is the type of God I serve and love–a God who is so powerful, so awe-inspiring, so aware of what His plans are for me, that all I need to do is utter a few words, and He will be faithful and just to hear those words.

What a freeing and faithful God.

I Could Get Used to This Life

I could get used to this life.

I wake up without an alarm, the room still dark and cool.  My daughter is lying on the floor next to our bed, her waist-long hair splayed out around her head like a dark brown halo.  She has taken to laying out the green and blue patchwork blankets on our bedroom carpet at 7:30pm every night, grabbing her favorite fluffy pillow, and camping out there until I turn off the light and lay on our futon mattress.  I should usher her upstairs to the bunk bed that she and her brother share, but there is something comforting about hearing her deep breaths as she nods off to sleep at night.

I could get used to this life.

I softly walk to the kitchen, take out a cup of cold-brewed Deathwish Coffee (yes, that is actually the name of it), and sip it quietly as I start preparing breakfast for the crew.  Sliced cucumbers and aspargus topped with wasabi sauce, cut up turkey slices, half a banana, and a handful of nuts for me–apple slices or fresh red grapes with peanut butter and jelly toast for the kids laid out on matching pink and blue plastic plates.  Like clockwork, as soon as I am done cutting and arranging said food for the little girl and boy, I hear Shogun jabbering away to himself in the bedroom, which is my cue to head up the two flights of stairs and rescue him from the wooden bunk.

I could get used to this life.

I peek my head into the room he and his sister share, and he is already sitting up in the lower bed, handmade patchwork blanket in hand, a big toothy smile on his face.  “Good Morning!” he jabbers, arms suddenly outstretched to me as I make my way to his bed.  I lift Shogun over the bunk bed barriers, and holding his tiny hand, we make our way down the 14 stairs, counting them one by one.

I could get used to this life.

I let go of Shogun’s hand as soon has his feet hit the living room carpet, and he ambles over to the Paw Patrol pillow situated in the middle of the room.  Sitting on the soft cushion, my little guy remarks to me, “Shi-shi.  Shi-shi.  Poop.”  It’s his cue to tell me, “Hey, mom, diaper!  Change me!”, and so I follow suit.  By this time big sister is awoken because of the noise outside, and she staggers out of the bedroom, hair disheveled and eyes bleary.  Misha sits next to her brother, gives him a big hug, and in an almost inaudible voice, she whispers, “Good Morning, Shogunnie.  I love you.”

I could get used to this life.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are days when this scenario is more “Come-on-stop-crying-go-brush-your-teeth-before-we’re-late” than the picturesque scene I just described.  But more often than not, the morning routine is calm.  It’s (dare I say) relaxing.  It is different than the normally hectic actions that occurred during the regular school year when I was attempting to get Misha into her uniform, grab a pop-tart for Shogun to eat in the car, and getting my iPad and bag together–all at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong again.  I love my job, I adore my students, and I find inexplicable joy dialoguing with them about literature, writing, and all things books.  But truth be told, I love the simplicity of being a mother.  It’s a bit oxymoronic to say being a mother is simple, but maybe it’s because this summer break is a time when I don’t have to be “on” that I’m finding all the normally stressful duties of the day aren’t as crazily maginified.  Teaching is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting professions, as one is constantly walking around a classroom, drumming up excitement for subjects as enticing as grammar (that was sarcastic, by the way), and rarely finding a spare minute to sit down to drink water and eat a snack.  It’s no wonder that teachers are often times just as excited as the students for vacation days.  By the end of my work day, after meeting with students about papers, lecturing on Edgar Allen Poe and making copies of upcoming assignments for my ninth graders, I was ready to head home, put my feet up on the coffee table, and zone out to “Full House”.  But there was always Misha’s homework to go over, the dinner that needed to be cooked, and the laundry that should be washed.  I rarely got time to take a breath in between school and home duties, and towards the end of this last month, I was starting to feel delinquent in my role as a mother.  I spent hours planning lessons on short stories, grading essays on Thoreau, and designing new curriculum maps for the incoming freshmen.  But when did I have the time to sit with my son and do an alphabet puzzle with him?  When did I have the time to play restaurant with my daughter?

And so when summer break began two weeks ago, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Literally, as soon as I left campus for the last time for the 2016-2017 school year, I let out a huge exhale that mirrored that of my son attempting to blow out candles on his birthday cake (and side note:  he will be two next month!).  Teaching was done.  Now I could focus totally on mothering.

I know I need more balance between work and home, and sadly, the amount of time I spend doing school stuff outside of the campus has drastically decreased throughout the years.  Despite this change, there has secretly been a little inkling of fear in my spirit that was causing me to look down on my own parenting skills.  What was this fear?  It was a fear of being alone with my children because in my perfectionistic mind, I imagined my mothering skills to be less than up to par.  Although I knew that every parent has her own opinions on how to best raise her child, I always felt uncomfortable in my label as “mom”.  I wasn’t one of those snuggly-types of mothers who always wanted hugs and kisses from their child, nor was I a stern-type who showed no emotion at all.  My mother was known as the disciplinarian, and while I do enforce rules, I rarely yell like my mom, and my daughter and son have never gotten a spanking.  I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what my “style” of parenting was, and since I didn’t know that piece of information, I constantly felt on guard.  Were other people watching me with my children and secretly critiquing the fact that I let my toddler eat ice cream for a snack?  Were other people whispering behind my back because my daughter’s long hair was tangled and not in perfect pigtail braids?

But then I realized that God has blessed me with children for a reason–not to validate my own parenting skills because in the end, He is their true Heavenly Father.  It is my role as a mother to lift my daughter and son up to God each and every morning, bless them with prayers every night before they go to bed, and raise them to seek after Jesus with their whole hearts and bear His light to the world.  In Titus 2:4, the scripture states that mothers are designed to love their husbands and their children–and “loving” another is more than merely making breakfast every morning for the kids or making sure they have clean clothes.  “Loving” another ascertains that a person is emotionally and spiritually there for another, and that individual would also show the same reverence she has for Jesus to another person.  This got me thinking:  Do I love my children the same way I love Jesus?  And vice versa?  How do I show love to my daughter and son?  Do I do the same to God?

When I do actions for my children out of love–cutting their PBJ into cute shapes, gifting them with tiny toys from Target–is it out of compliance to someone else’s expectations or because I WANT to do said actions due to my love for them?  Folding Shogun’s clothes and changing his diaper throughout the day may take on a tiring feel, yet even though those actions are not my favorite, I do it because I WANT to.  I love him and am thus willing to sacrifice sleep or my own desires to bless him.

I think that is the main reason why I am loving this summer so far.  All of the morning routine actions, all of the time I’m getting to spend with my children, are because I WANT to.  I see Jesus in their shinning faces, and no matter how stinky Shogun’s poop is or how much Misha will whine for a cookie, I WANT to be around them.  I am their mother.  I am the person Jesus placed in their lives to grow them into loving children of God.

I still have another twenty-two days with my little girl and little guy before I head back to school.  Twenty-two days to enjoy the early summer mornings, hot afternoons, and calm nights with them before my first teacher meeting.

I still have twenty-two more days to embrace the role of mother, to grow in my knowledge that God will guide me in parenting, and that by loving my kids, I am also showing my love for Jesus.

I could get used to this life.

Love: Wanted. Love: Found.

After writing about my obsession with running this past week, I sat back and thought about all the different types of addictions I had in my short lifetime.  Let me tell you.  Man, the list was LOOONG.  A few highlights here:

  1. Long-distance running (as noted in my previous post), but really any endurance sport became obsessive.  Maybe it’s the nature of the beast, since one has to train hours on end to prepare for a race.
  2. Hot yoga, specifically Bikram yoga (2 classes a days, everyday, anyone?!) because there was something very therapeutic about sweating out all of one’s toxins for 90 minutes.  And in my crazed brain, if one class made me feel tremendous, wouldn’t two classes make me feel beyond awesome?!
  3. Cleaning the house (my fingerprints are literally unrecognizable because I used so many darn Clorox cleaning wipes), which entailed Swiftering daily, vacuuming daily, disinfecting toilets daily…you get the picture.  EVERYTHING daily.
  4. Preparing lesson plans and grading papers in advance. like weeks in advance if applicable.  This may actually not be so negative, since a persevering work ethic at school allowed me more time to do things at home that were NOT English teaching related, yet I ended up causing myself unnecessary mental anguish if the unit plan was not PERFECTLY SO by a certain arbitrary deadline.
  5. And finally…finding true love.

Huh?  Wanting to find true love could be considered an addiction?!  Number five is one that I didn’t really think about as an obsession until just this past week.  What brought it up?  Well, the fact that one of my best friends since high school got engaged.  Yes, she found the man of her dreams and just this past week he “SURPRISE!” proposed to her.  She messaged me the great news the other day while the kids and I were eating sushi, and as soon as I read her text I wanted to jump out of my chair, leap in the air and shriek, “YAYYYYY!!!!”  But instead I calmly went back to eating my salmon nigiri, and as soon as we were out of the restaurant, I called my friend to get the inside scoop on the proposal.

Everyone wants romance, love, and passion–maybe it’s because having that ONE person to share a future with validates something in a girl’s (or guy’s) brain that she (or he) is worthwhile because, hey, someone else is choosing to spend the rest of his/her life with that individual.  For me, I always dreamed of what my significant other would be like and when I’d find him, because I needed to be reassured that someone else (besides my parents) loved me.

Truth was, back in my high school and young adult years, I didn’t really know if I loved myself.  That is not a lie.  I truly was not sure WHO I was, and so how could I be certain that I could love the person God created me to be?  Sure, I was a whiz at writing and could whip up an English essay in an hour flat, but I wasn’t sold on the fact that this character trait was “good.”  People said I was patient, sweet, and fun to be around, but what did that really mean?  Deep inside I secretly thought I wasn’t that “cool”–I didn’t have a hilarious sense of humor, nor was I able to wow friends or acquiantences with my off-the-charts intellect.  I just kind of “was.”  What made me special?  What person  would choose to love a gal like me with no outstanding qualities?

I tried remaking myself to being the girl that all the guys liked.  In high school, that meant I should look “surfer-like”, aka have highlighted hair, wear short denim shorts to show off long tanned legs, and have no blemishes whatsoever on my face.  Uh, that was impossible since I’m only a five feet-something, Japanese female with oily skin.  In college, being the girl that guys liked was very similar to what was presented in high school–but now, there was the added component of being able to go out until all hours and drink the night away.  No bueno.  I didn’t mind nursing a beer or two, but seriously, staying up to 2am (or 3am or 4am) sucking down Bud Light would only make me bloated and zombie-like the next day.  Once I started working, then the ideal girl that guys liked shifted:  Could she cook?  Did she have a stable job?  Did she make her hair nice and wear make-up out?  No.  Kind of.  Heck no.

I was out of luck in the guy department.  Don’t get me wrong–not all guys liked these characteristics in a mate.  But the majority of boys I hung around did, and so I internalized those traits and attempted (to no avail) to implement them in my life.  I highlighted my hair.  I dieted and ran to keep my legs as slender as possible.  I sipped my Bud Lights with the guys.  I did everyhting I assumed a girl “should” do in order to find a man.  But what did I find?  Nada.

Once I hit my mid-twenties, I became very cynical.  Sure, maybe there was a knight in shining armor to sweep me off my feet, but where was he?  How would I find him?  And then the thought came to me.

Jesus.

He was my knight.

He loved me before I was even born.  He loved me when I was going through my awkward braces and glasses stage.  He loved me when I sat in Chemistry with a blank stare on my face.  He loved me when I missed notes during my oboe concerto.  He loved me when I failed miserably and felt like I could do no right.

But Jesus also loved me when I received As on my English essays.  He loved me when I walked across the stage at my high school graduation and was handed my diploma.  He loved me when I was able to travel with the University of Hawaii Wind Ensemble and perform a solo during one of our national performances.  He loved me when my face beamed with pride at what I was able to accomplish in my young adult life.

Jesus was the one that made me special, and He was the one who sacrificed His life so that I could live mine here on earth.  Once I came to that realization, that no other guy regardless of how much he said he would care and love me, could ever compare to the One true God who chose to love me for all eternity.  Similarly, since God created me in His image, how preposterous would it be for me to say that I wasn’t sure if I loved myself.  Did I love Jesus?  Yes!  I sure did.  So, if I loved (and still love) Jesus, and His Holy Spirit was in me, wouldn’t that mean that I was actually loving God since He was a part of me?

Mind.  Blown.

Oddly enough, as soon as I came to that revelation, I met my soon-to-be husband.  It wasn’t love at first sight as I imagined it would be, and in fact, I thought he was cute but that his ears stuck out too much.  But there was no anxiety around our meeting, no hemming and hawing if he was “the one”–because I knew my true love was already deep in my spirit.

Romance, love, passion.  Those are things many people look for because they are signs of intimacy, and who doesn’t want to feel like she is included and belongs?  But there is great joy, a great sense of peace, that the Holy Spirit brings when that individual accepts and loves who God created her to be, because then she can fully love herself and those around her.

 

Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.

At our last English department meeting for this school year, there was a feeling of jubilation in the air as we quickly went through the nitty-gritty administrative details (Don’t forget to turn in keys!  Don’t forget to update your curriculum map!) and chit-chatted about our upcoming summer plans (No summer school!  I get to stay home with the kiddos!).  Eventually we educators got caught into discussing the popularity of graduations, and how preschool and kindergarten ceremonies are now A THING where toddlers parade across stage in construction paper hats to accept certificates of early education merit.  The discussion then turned to whether or not these types of ceremonies are really warranted, and not just for the toddler set.  Why do high schools celebrate the ending of a school year?  Aren’t there more important life events one could throw confetti for?

This past Saturday, one hundred or so of our school’s seniors took part in such a celebration.  They marched across the Blaisdell Concert Hall stage, smiles as wide as the ocean, enthusiastically shook hands with the president of the school as they grabbed their diplomas, and pumped their arms in a victory call.

WE DID IT.  WE DID IT.  YES, WE DID IT.

Seeing these rudy-faced young adults eager to enter life after uniformed class schedules and curfews made me quite excited for them (I’m not embarrassed to admit my eyes welled up with tears of joy), but the questions about the uniqueness and practicality of celebrating graduations still remain.

Why celebrate the ending of a school year when there are still so many more challenging life events yet to come?  Should we as a society award praise to a child who has attended four years of English, science, and math classes (all required, mind you), and emerged from the tests and homework being able to analyze Shakespeare and compute biochemical equations?

Why do parents, family, and friends shed tears of joy when seeing their loved ones parade across stage wearing a black cap and gown, when in truth, said students still have the rest of their lives to fully experience?

Is it really so impressive that students basically followed our society’s rigorous educational rules (i.e. spending hours listening to lectures and even more hours studying in hopes of getting the “A” that will propel them to a good college) and survived it all?  Are we merely celebrating the fact that they were pushed by us adults to do something which was PROBABLY not what the teenagers actually wanted to be doing anyway?

Initially, I agreed with the majority of the educators in the room in response to these questions.   YES!  Life hasn’t really begun for these students.  Lets not delude them into thinking that high school IS IT.  There’s attending college.  There’s finding a job.  There’s working at a job.  There’s dating (UGH).  There’s getting married.  There’s (possibly) having children.  Life has so much more to offer after the cap and gown ceremony!

But then I realized what my high school years were like.

Midway through my sophomore year, I felt the pull of inadequacy tugging on my spirit when I saw classmates acing tests that I received all red marks on.  I struggled through understanding Japanese characters, and no matter how many flashcards I made, the brushstrokes for kanjis never took to my brain.  After one incident when I had to give an oral presentation in history class but stood there in front of my peers, eyes bulging with fear because I didn’t remember what to say, I realized that I still had two more years of being just “mediocre” in my studies. It was a sobering realization that I would not be the valedictorian, salutatorian, or even in the top 10 percent of my graduating class.  I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is meant to be great at everything–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

Ironically, I spent a lot of my breaks completing homework so I could have free time when I got home to practice my oboe.  I thought that since I couldn’t excel in academics, I could at least have SOME talent in music.  Even carving out for myself that chunk of rehearsal time at home, however, didn’t leave me feeling any more relaxed or confident in my musical abilities.  Instead, the more times I played the same run in the Saint-Saens concerto or practiced my chromatic scale, the more my weaknesses were exposed.  And then I got the awful case of the “shoulds”:  I “should” practice at least 2 hours a day to get better.  I “should” play “Metamorphosis” in this manner so that the judges would like it.  I “should” make the first chair of the symphony, otherwise no one will think I’m great at anything.  It was a lot of “shoulds”, and in the end, those “shoulds” left me feeling even more inadequate in my capabilities.  I had to learn that the limitations and expectations I placed on myself could be either helpful (yes, set goals!) or harmful (no, don’t place unnecessary stress on yourself!)–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

In the midst of trying to attain somewhat decent grades and medals in music recitals, I was also highly influenced by my long-legged, tanned, surfer-like female classmates who seemed to exude the sexual appeal that guys at school desired.  I realized that looking the role of a “popular” girl meant that I would have to turn from the person God made me to be into another creature, and maybe once that transformation occurred, I would find acceptance and inclusion.  I, being only 5’1″, Japanese, and inept at water sports, was aesthetically the complete opposite of what I deemed to be the “perfect girl”, but that did not stop me from trying to transform myself to a surfer chic.  As a result, I used self-tanning lotion to make myself darker, flooded my closets with thin-strapped tanks, and bought a pair of reef slippers that didn’t fit me well, but who cared, because all the “popular” girls had them.  Still, my short legs did not compare to the taller Caucasian gals’, and my stick straight hair did not flow in the wind like theirs.  I secretly desired to have the attention those “popular” girls had, because the smiles from boys, the look of envy from other girls, the carefree attitude they encompassed were what I was missing.  One night, I distinctly remember laying on my bed, eyes opened to the Heavens, hypothesizing that only IF I had the perfect exterior, THEN I would feel special and THEN I’d be internally happy.  The fact is that Jesus made each one of us perfect in His sight–sadly, I didn’t realize this during my time as a teenager, but what it means to have self-acceptance (or lack thereof) reared its’ head during my high school years.

So as we teachers talked about the absurdity of graduation, my knee-jerk reaction of “Yeah, that’s right!!!  Life hasn’t started yet!!!” changed to one of “No.  Wait a minute.  High school is HELLA hard.”  In what other time in one’s life will a person have to learn pretty challenging lessons (how to accept oneself, how to set goals), all the while battling teenage insecurities and (gulp) hormones?  What other time besides during high school will students realize that there IS a big world out there beyond the walls of the classroom, and taking that first step to the unknown is tremendously intimidating?  Even more nerve wracking is that they are doing it all as 18 year olds without any previous experience living on their own in the “real world.”

And don’t forget about all the other “stuff” that high schoolers are dealing with that we teachers don’t see:  parent relationships disintegrating, strife between siblings, sports injuries that can knock a kid out for months on end, friendships changing as social circles collide, and teenage hormones running a muck.  It’s almost like these high schoolers are back in the terrible twos stage where toddlers are asserting their independence and personality, except these young adults have pimples, don’t speak in gibberish, and can drive.

Clearly, graduation is a time of celebration.

We are celebrating a monumental time of inner growth and development.

We are celebrating that many students had to endure much emotional and spiritual learning beyond the academic rigor of papers and tests.

We are celebrating how high schoolers are taking that next step to fulfill the call God has upon their lives.

While typing out this post, I’m reminded of all the graduating seniors I saw parade across the stage this past weekend to accept their diplomas.  Some looked enthralled, while others seemed relieved.  Either way, there was satisfaction in the fact that God was there with each one.  He had knit every single student in his mother’s womb, thoughtfully cultivated that individual with His Holy Spirit, and amazingly, we in the crowd were able to see His handiwork there on stage.  Matthew 28:20 urges believers to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”, and that is exactly what this graduating group of 2017 are doing.  They are taking a spiritual (and literal) step from the life they’ve known and are seeking to do God’s will in their lives.

My high school experiences were rough, to say the least, yet those times of trial were made all the sweeter when I stepped on the stage at Blaisdell some 18 years ago and received my diploma.  Yes, it was merely a piece of paper that stated I had accumulated the required amount of credits to graduate, but having that certificate in hand meant more than grades.  It showed that I was a fighter, that I was a survivor.  It demonstrated that I could push myself through great mental, emotional, and physical strife, and by God’s grace emerge on the other side ready to do His will.

So celebrate, class of 2017.  Celebrate your achievements, your failures, and the path God is leading you on.  Celebrate.  Celebrate.

 

My Rice

Friends are a bowl of rice.

Growing up in a Japanese home, rice was the mainstay of practically every meal. Even when my mom made spaghetti with garlic bread for dinner, there was always sticky white rice waiting in the cooker to soak up the marinara sauce. Musubis wrapped with crispy black nori, a pile of steaming jasmine topped with curry–rice was, and still is, an integral part of every dish, and without that scoop of rice on the plate, a meal didn’t feel complete.

The same can be said about friends.

I’ve known many people in my short thirty-five years–some of them ran miles and miles with me while training for marathons. Others sat their yoga mats next to me when I did Bikram yoga classes. A few performed box jumps and pull-ups with me when I dabbled in Crossfit. All of them are wonderfully friendly, considerate, and kind individuals that I still keep in touch with via social media. I see their posts about the newest asanas they are practicing, the last marathon they ran, or how they fared in the recent Crossfit Open–and I’m happy for them. I press my Facebook “like” button when I view their pictures and sometimes post a “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” for their landmark achievements. Unfortunately we don’t hang out at the beach on the weekends or laugh over glasses of wine very often, but their daily adventures (all documented via Facebook or IG) bring a smile to my face.

Then there are other people I recently met through work or other church activities that I also consider friends. A major trait that sets these colleagues apart from the aforementioned friends is that there’s a closeness, a bond, that is formed because of our mutual love for Christ. There is something easy about conversations with these folk because I never worry about being looked down on or condemned by them. Even if I tell them about the irrational eating disorder voice commanding me that I shouldn’t eat dessert or that I don’t need to eat lunch, they will not turn a judgmental eye in my direction. In fact, with a loving and peace giving spirit, these colleagues will stop to pray with me, or while we pass one another in the halls, in an encouraging voice, these co-workers let me know that they are praying for my health and well being during their own quiet times.

Then there are those people I rarely see but still feel a deep connection with. Most of these individuals are my close high school or college classmates, and this group of lovely gals are the ones that randomly message me to see how my day is going and send me birthday cards and well wishes, even if we rarely get to visit with one another because we live in different states and countries. The remarkable thing about these pals is that we may not have dinner or see each other face to face for months, even years, yet we can pick up conversations and laugh, cry, and enjoy life with each other like no time has elapsed at all. Although we reminisce about the teenage crushes we had as pimply high schoolers and chuckle at the photos of us with nineties-inspired haircuts and braces, there is an unspoken bond that we have one another’s backs no matter where life takes us.

All of these friends make my life complete. Like rice, they may look different (fried, instant, sticky, brown), yet all are wonderfully vital to making life (or to continue the metaphor–a meal) complete.

I love my friends. They help me in countless ways that they may not imagine. Here’s the thing though. When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder, no matter how good of a friend a person may be, no matter how many late night phone calls she makes to offer help, no matter how many times she encourages me with hugs and tears, she will never truly comprehend everything I will experience. It’s a sobering reality, but the walk to recovery is so individualized and exceedingly challenging, that it is God and God alone who can give the type of internal strength and support needed to overcome a viciously insidious eating disorder.

Take my situation for example. A handful of my high school and college friends have seen me at my lowest point, which was when I was admitted to an inpatient setting because my heart may have petered out at any moment. At the time I was a weak eighty something pounds and so frail a strong wind could break my bones. These gals went above and beyond what I could have ever imagined true friends to do: they attended support groups where we talked about eating disorder triggers, met with and asked my dietitian questions on how to help me stay on top of my meal plan, and cried with me when I openly shared about the many reasons that contributed to my physical deterioration. Yes, I eventually restored my weight and we celebrated the fact that I no longer ran miles after miles everyday and was FINALLY the old Lauren they knew. Life was grand, but then another major, stressful obstacle entered the picture and suddenly without forwarding I was back to square one–facing hospitalization because I was down to a double digit weight. Again. And then again. And then again. My friends did everything within their loving grasps to help, and I could see that relapse after relapse, time after time, how the emotional roller coaster they were involuntarily placed on was extremely exhausting and tested their limits of our relationship.

It is entirely frustrating. It is gut wrenching difficult to see a person one cares about NOT be able to eat or refrain from exercising even though it’s plainly obvious to even the blindest person that what she is doing is damaging her health. It is painful to see someone dying in front of you. I know. I saw my mom perish before me and I still am at a loss of words to describe the emotions there. It wasn’t until I was weight restored and more emotionally stable that my friends told me how much it pained their hearts to see me suffer.

Their words were like a sharp sword being driven into my gut. I hated the fact that I was putting another person through a crazy amount of stress, frustration, and sadness. I hated having another person feel pain at my expense. But then God revealed that my friends’ words and actions, the late night calls and lunches out to make sure I stayed on meal plan, were their ways of trying to understand what was going on in my convoluted and crazed brain. I know that if I saw my good friend in need, I’d be over to her home with coffee, donuts, and time to talk. They were merely doing the same and attempting to rectify a problem that required more than just their love to overcome.

So here are some words of insight to those who are family and friends of someone battling an eating disorder. I know you want to see your loved one beaming with a vibrant smile and free from the constraints of an eating disorder. You want to help and provide the best type of support. But here’s the kicker: the patient herself doesn’t expect you to know all the right answers, and in fact, the one battling the disease is not totally herself. She has become a hybrid of the real her and a grotesque mask of anorexia and compulsive exercise, and it is only after weight restoration when her cognitions become unfuzzy that she may be able to verbalized how best you CAN help. Until that point, just know the friend, the person you knew to be full of energy and life IS still there. Yes, her rational mind is eclipsed by a sinister eating disorder voice that is trying to do everything within its’ power to keep a hold on its’ victim, but just love her. You don’t need to give advice or attempt to carve out a treatment plan. Just be there. Let her know that you will not leave her side even when she struggles with gaining those last few pounds.

Love her the way you want to be loved. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus commanded us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and while it is entirely normal to want to shake a person going through treatment to “JUST EAT!!! IT’S SO EASY!!!”, it is not so easy for the patient. If the solution was merely to “just eat”, she wouldn’t be at that low weight in the first place. There are psychological and biological factors that contribute to a girl developing an eating disorder, and to recover from such a mental disorder requires nutrition intervention and (more importantly) psycho-social education. Would you tell an alcoholic, “Hey, just stop drinking?” and then automatically assume he’ll refrain from hanging out at the bar or going to the store for a six pack? Obviously not, yet many don’t see that eating disorder treatment is similar to any other kind of addiction recovery–missing coping mechanisms are replaced with negative ones, and the further one engages in them, the more the disorder warps her brain into thinking those destructive tools are the only way to find true happiness.

So to my friends, the ones that I’ve known from our years at Bingham Bench, the ones that taught me about God in InterVarsity, the ones that I talk English and books with, the ones that enjoy sweating in the gym with me, to all of you, thank you for supporting me thus far, even though it is one hell of a challenging and heart wrenching journey. Thank you for the messages and words of affirmation, for taking me out to lunch, and for praying for my needs. My only hope is that even during this challenging time of recovery, I too can be just as good of a friend to you as you have been to me. Thank you for being my bowl of rice–I don’t know what I’d do without your starchy goodness on my plate