I Shall Not Want

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

Those are two sentences I’ve repeated over and over again, so much so, that they are emblazoned on my heart and in my brain. But in reality, do I really think about what those words mean?

No. I don’t. Prior to this Fall Break, my prayer and quiet time life was in a solid rut. I still read my Bible every morning and shouted out a few “Amens!” on the way to school with Misha and Shogun. But the “thank yous” and “please watch overs” were becoming rote. Monotonous. So much so, that with glazed eyes, staring off out of the car window at 6:30am every morning, even Misha was imitating my lacksidasical “…and please watch over mommy and daddy and Shogun and Puna and Papa and Grandma and Grandpa and amen.”

Eek.

So when D’Lissa from Breath of Life Ministries suggested that I spend time throughout the day meditating on scripture to heal my fractured, stressed, and overworked spirit, I immediately felt a pull to start reading His word. Now. For the past week I’ve looked at Psalm 23, one of the most well known passages and one that my mother dearly loved. When dealing with the possibility of cancer taking over her life, my mom clung to this psalm and found extreme comfort in David’s words. I still remember her furrowed brow relaxing into a content smile as she read and reread the six lines over and over again.

And so on a quiet Monday morning last week, when the husband and kids were still nestled in their Kauai hotel room beds, I stared at the first verse. And read it. And stared. And read it again.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

“What are you saying, Jesus? What exactly should I ‘get’ out of you being my shepherd?” The thoughts roamed in my head and the more I stared at those black printed lines, the revelation came to me.

I want many things in life. Achievements in work, achievements in the gym, achievements with my family. I want to come home and not feel the uncomfortableness that I have a zillion problems and issues to deal with, but rather, I want to be perfectly at peace and to let the worries fall off my shoulders like a waterfall cascading down worn and weathered rocks. I want to feel loved and accepted even when I’m awkward and fail. There are so many things that I “want” and if I were to dwell over each of these items (Did I achieve all of the goals I set out for myself? Am I being the best mother, teacher, wife, and friend I can be?), I’d be a BIG MESS.

Sadly, I was hemming and hawing over these details from the moment my eyes opened to when I laid my head down at night: What if I don’t plan my English lessons perfectly and the students end up not being able to analyze a piece of fiction effectively? What if I miss this set of deadlifts and end up injuring myself? What if I don’t spend enough time reading with Shogun or talking with Misha? Can my relationship with my husband be stronger? What am I doing wrong?

The “what ifs” were killing me, causing my already tired brain to work overtime. It was only when I sat with this first verse from Psalm 23, that I realized that David was feeling the same as me, yet he did the complete opposite of what I was doing. Rather than attempt to handle all the questions himself, he turned to God, the shepherd.

I live in Hawaii and rarely (if at all) do I see sheep, so I had to actually look up what a shepherd’s job entails. Basically, this man guides and directs the flock to where they need to go–sometimes he must ward off predators to ensure the sheeps’ safety and other times he must discipline the sheep so they don’t stray. Either way, the shepherd is there to do the “hard work”, all the steering and rearing. If God is my shepherd, and he will be guiding me to a place of safety with His mighty hand, why SHOULD I “want”? Do sheep worry about wolves coming and attacking them? No. Do sheep worry about where there next meal will come from? No. Why so? Because they have complete and total trust that the shepherd will be there. If sheep can have that kind of trust in their shepherd, why can’t I have that same type of trust in mine?

It’s a process I am still learning and growing in. I am used to wanting to do any and everything on my own terms. Giving control to my shepherd is challenging, especially when it comes to situations that I have no control over but want control in (more on that in another post). But hour by hour, day by day, the more I sit with these two sentences, the more I am leaning on God rather than my own actions and thoughts to bring peace.

One last quick example of Psalm 23 in action: After returning from Kauai, I took the two kiddos to a crazily crowded mall for lunch. By myself. I was at my wit’s end, what with a person stealing a parking spot from me, the toddler whining for juice, and the six-year old saying she wanted pizza RIGHT NOW. Besides being completely overwhelmed with all the noise and stress, I started questioning myself. “What are you doing? You should be more prepared. Why didn’t you bring the juice from home? Your child shouldn’t be crying this much.” But then as soon as that incessant negative voice started its’ tyrannical talk, I thought about the Lord being my shepherd. Yes, the little guy was crying and yes, it totally got my blood boiling when a Mustang swooped in and grabbed the parking spot I was waiting for. But why worry? God was watching over me. He was guiding me. He was protecting from way back when and will continue to help me. So I repeated that first verse over and over, over and over. And you know what? The tension in my head, the knots in my shoulders, the overwhelming urge I had to cry out in frustration dissipated. We found a parking, the boy got some OJ, and the girl got her cheese slice. Jesus provided peace (and food and drink), and although it was for something as small and incidental as a crazy shopping expedition, there is solace in knowing that I DON’T need to “want” because God is truly the only thing I “want” and need.

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Fall Break Renewal

Fall Break.

Fall Break.

Fall Break.

Three weeks ago, when I was knee deep reading sophomore essays and writing comments on students’ report card, just the thought of those two words made my heart flutter in whitsful anticipation.  The ending of the quarter was a particularly stressful period, what with grading, planning, parenting, and adulting taking its’ toll.  My stress level got so high that I resorted to finding solace and peace by doing what came naturally to me:  distracting myself with unnecessary things so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the real issue, or issues, at hand.  Obviously, as evidenced by the fact that by the time October 5th rolled around, I still had knots of tension throughout my body, and I felt like I wanted to just sit in a room and do nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  It was at that moment that I knew I needed something, a miraculous God intervention.

Thankfully at just that moment our Fall Break began.  I was ready to kick my feet up and veg out watching reruns of “Entourage”, but of course, the kids kept me occupied.  Spending days running around the park or traversing the Honolulu Zoo with a six and two year old are not the most calming and restful activities to engage in.  So when my husband suggested we go to Kauai for the weekend to visit my cousin and his family, I was excited but also apprehensive.  Traveling with two kids under the age of 10?  Packing for all of us?  Making sure we brought the toy cars for the little guy and enough snacks for the little girl?  It was a stress just thinking about all the preparations.  But I agreed to the trip, knowing that I missed seeing my long-lost Kauai relatives and getting the opportunity to just slow down.  Eventually the big travel day rolled around, and just like that we were off on a forty minute plane ride to the Garden Isle.

And what a vacation it was.  We just returned from a three day stay, and I’ll detail more about the great activities we did at the exquisite Marriott Waiohai (Create your own cupcake!  Temporary tattoo fun!) and the adventures we had with my cousin, his wife, and their two kids (Visiting Kamalani Park!  Eating at all the hot local spots!) in another post.  One highlight of this three day jaunt that I must share about now, however, was attending Breath of Life Ministries for church service the day before our departure.

Normally when we are on vacation we don’t attend church (I know, I know) as it’s too much hustle to get everyone ready for a service before noon.  But on this trip, we wanted to check out Pastor Tom’s service, so we made the quick drive over to Rice Street and listened to an impassioned teaching on the book of Revelations on a very humid Sunday morning.  The worship got my feet tapping, as there was a mix of original songs and a Van Morrison classic being played, but what really spoke to me was a conversation I had with the D’Lissa, the pastor’s wife.  After service was over I approached her to talk about an upcoming small group she was going to run.  It is going to be centered around psychology, and how when the mind is fractured and unhealthy, this spiritual and emotional illness leaks into the body and spirit.

So.  Me.  Right.  Now.

Hearing D’Lissa speak about the different components of the study and how the basis of it will be focused around meditating on God’s word throughout the day, I felt the Holy Spirit opening my heart, saying, “THIS.  THIS is what I want you to hear.”

During moments of stress, I’m akin to resort to my own means of finding peace, whether it’s engaging in another activity to get my mind off what’s really bothering me or yelling and crying in frustration at the challenging situation.  Either way, I never really feel like those actions are things God wants me to do.  I know that I should stop and seek Him in prayer during those trying times, but it’s hard to do so when I’m instead tempted to clean the house or go on social media (distraction, anyone???). Or even worse, I just curl into the fetal position on my bed and bawl and swear and cry. Letting the pent up emotions out isn’t necessarily bad, but after my moaning and crying, I never actually resolve the feelings of frustration that I feel. So when D’Lissa started talking about prayer and meditation being like medicine–a person takes it when she is not feeling well–I felt a pull in my heart that yes, in fact, I need God’s medicine in my life. If I were depressed and the psychiatrist gave me Zoloft to combat my illness, I’d take it everyday at a certain prescribed time. Why not do the same with my prayer life?

And so from that morning, I resolved to focus on a certain passage of scripture every day for one week, and like my medicine or food, I would seek the Holy Spirit to show me what He wants me to find from His word. I started looking at Psalm 23 on Monday, and just from carving out instances throughout the day when I am stopping, reading, praying, and focusing on the Lord as my shepherd, I already am feeling my heart more calm and steady and my tense shoulders releasing.

As the week progresses, I will certainly keep you updated on what God is showing me through His word. Fall Break. It is certainly shaping up to be one of greatest and most renewing vacations to date.

Words of Life

It has been awhile.

How long has it been since I last wrote?  A month?  Two months?  Even more?

Regardless of how long I’ve been away from writing, the good news is that I am back (insert smiley face emoji)!!!  The end of the first quarter is winding down, and I am able to take a momentary break from lecturing on Romantic poetry and literary devices in short stories to instead write a bit about the newest lesson God is teaching me.

And what a lesson it is.

I started off the school year determined.  I was refreshed from spending a summer lounging around with the little guy (no agenda to adhere to–yay!), while big sister had fun swimming, reading, cooking, and drawing at summer school.  My days consisted of dozing off on the living room carpet for an afternoon nap, creating freshly made breakfasts for the kids, and reading my favorite Bible passages in the early mornings.  I was calm.  I was relaxed.  I was so relaxed, in fact, that I didn’t even need to set my alarm to wake up in the morning.  I sufficed on half a cup of coffee a day.  HALF A CUP.

Life was grand.

So when the first week of school got underway, I was pretty confident in my ability to maintain balance with my work life, home duties, spiritual walk, and powerlifting training.

Lets just say, by the end of the first month of school, I was back to chugging down two to three cups of coffee a day and begrudgingly hitting the “5 more minutes” button on my phone alarm.  It wasn’t that I was necessarily too busy or physically tired to keep on going–I still refrained from checking work emails at home, and I still made sure to get to bed when the kids were tucked in–but it was a spiritual feeling of tiredness.  I read my Bible daily and continued to pray to God during those times when I was in need of comfort, but it felt like there was something missing.  My eyes glazed over passages, and it sometimes took me rereading the same scripture three times before I finally knew what the author was saying.  Something was missing.  Only after a chapel talk a few weeks ago (thank you, Mrs. Sim for the wonderful message!) did I realize what that missing “thing” was.

Gratitude.

I was not thanking God for the richness and life He blessed me with, but instead I was resigning myself to complaining about all the things that WEREN’T going well:  the student that didn’t turn in his homework, the car that cut me off on the freeway, the aches and pains my body experienced from training with a new powerlifting coach.

Complaining.  Grumbling.  Whatever you want to call it, I was doing it.  Every.  Single.  Day.  My negative outlook got so bad that at one point I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and my first thought was, “Dang.  It’s so hot.  I’m sweating.  How can it be so hot when it’s already September?!”

Even the beautiful environment outside–who could say anything bad about the vibrant indigo sunrise and chirping birds outside my window?–couldn’t deter my negative attitude.  Rather than thanking God that He provided a sunny day versus one wracked with wind, rain, or hail, I had to rant about the fact that my skin felt sticky from sweat.

Wow.

That morning God showed me how that negative outlook, the whining and complaining I was doing, was causing my spiritual blinders to be put up–and if I wanted those eye shields down and my walk with him to strengthen, I needed to stop and see the goodness He was placing right in front of me.

I tried to justify my rants and raves with the idea that “I just need to get this off my chest!  It’ll be ok after I do!”  That may be a totally justifiable statement, but the danger occurred when I would complain to a co-worker about the crazy comments my students gave about an upcoming homework task, BUT THEN NEVER RESOLVE THE ISSUE.  I still continued to fume over the situation on the way home, complaining once again to my husband and then moaning to friends via text messages.  The negativity did not end when it should have.

No wonder I felt constantly exhausted.

And so I made a vow a few weeks ago, a promise that for one day (just one day!) to speak life to a person or situation when I would normally be tempted to complain.  Needless to say, I have yet to go a full day without saying one negative comment.  Yes, moment of honesty in effect.  Although I am still apt to sprout out my frustrations in the moment without fully thinking about what I’m truly irritated about (Was it the comment from a colleague that enraged me?  Or the fact that I felt like I was being misunderstood?), the amount of times I have automatically grabbed my phone to shoot my husband a “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS JUST HAPPENED!!!” text has greatly diminished.

In fact, so far today, I’ve gone without any negative comment coming out of my mouth.

I am excited to have this day, September 22, 2017, be the first day in a looong time when I have sought God’s peace and presence first before letting the signs of complaining and negativity exit my mouth.  Who knows what the rest of this day holds?  One thing is for sure–I will keep you updated on this situation (and many more situations!) in the upcoming weeks, and I will continue detailing how God is continually shaping and molding me by His freeing faith.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

By faith, I did it.

I couldn’t believe it.  Was I dreaming?  What was I doing?  Was this for real?

Take a journey with me, back to a week ago.  Picture it:  It was a warm summer Saturday night, and the hubby and I were winding down a dinner date where we munched on burgers (venison for me, beet and veggie patty for him), breadfruit fries, and cheesy cauliflower at a local downtown burger and pub-style restaurant.  After the meal, we decided to take a walk around the local shopping area, where there were numerous dessert shops and boutiques.  Maybe it was the two glasses of adult beverage I had at dinner or the fact that I was feeling sublimely relaxed with no motherhood responsibilities (the kids were sleeping over at the in-laws), but either way, I saw it on the shelf in one of the shops we were walking through, picked it up, and bought it.

“It” was a nondescript yoga mat.  Nothing incredibly special, as in this day and age, yoga mats are a dime a dozen.  But purchasing that pale pink-purple rectangular piece of cushion was a signal of some sort.  I was ready to venture back into the yoga routine.

As described in my previous posts, I was an extremely addicted long-distance runner.  Well, “addicted” is one term to describe the hours I spent hitting the pavement, trying to whittle my thighs down through miles or jogging in the beating sun or hailing rain.  “Obsessive” may be a more accurate term to highlight how marathons took over all my thoughts and cognitions, as I owned close to 10 running shoes, scoured “Runner’s World” magazine daily, and spoke about Deena Kastor like she was my best friend.  Eventually I saw the err of my ways in regards to long-distance running, but similar to what many individuals battling eating disorders figure out, they trade the one addiction (restrictive eating, purging, obsessive exercising) for another addiction (alcoholism, cutting, excessive shopping).  Following suit, I decided to turn in my running shoes for a yoga mat.

Ironically, it was at the suggestion of my eating disorder dietitian almost 10+ years ago that I take up a new sport, one that did not require me to be outdoors in running shoes, one that had a definitive beginning and end, one that was in the company of others.  She suggested Bikram Yoga, as doing Hatha yoga postures in a heated room for 90 minutes would conjure up the same type of sweat and euphoria that running for 90 minutes would induce.

Little did she (or I) know that Bikram Yoga would become take the place of long-distance running, and in due time I’d end up doing two classes a day everyday, showing up to the studio at least 30 minutes early to do extra postures before, spend up to 30 minutes after class doing extra postures and crunches, and having a fit if I were unable to make it down to the hot room.  I distinctly remember one such incident, when my husband’s good friends from Japan were in town, and he made last minute dinner plans with them.  My initial reaction?  No, I can’t go because I have to go to yoga.  My second reaction?  Well, maybe I can meet everyone late for dinner after I go to yoga.  It took a lot of argumentative conversation between my husband and I (well, about 30 minutes of him talking and me crying a toddler-like tantrum) before I rescinded into saying that yes, missing one class would not be the end of the world.

My addiction to Bikram Yoga, however, eventually spilled into my eating habits, and I created rules around what I could and could not eat.

I couldn’t eat at least 3 hours before yoga.  And I couldn’t eat anything with fat in it.

I couldn’t drink any liquid of any kind during or after class.

I couldn’t eat anything right after yoga.  I had to wait until I could feel my stomach growling before consuming any type of food.

Needless to say, those rules plus all of the extreme amounts of yoga I was doing made it so that I was doing a heck of a lot of output and barely getting any input.  And so I started to lose weight.  And then I lost more weight.  And then more.  Granted, part of it was probably dehydration as I didn’t drink a lot of liquids before, during, or after class–on weekends, in fact, I would try to not eat the whole day if possible, take a steamy afternoon class, and then have 2 glasses of wine at dinner.  Why 2 glasses?  I’m not sure.  But the fact is, I was already sucked dry from no water plus a heated yoga class, and consuming alcoholic beverages soon thereafter did not help my hydration levels.  It got to a point where the owner of the studio I frequented actually put a hold on my membership, as she and many other individuals noticed my disintegrating weight and compulsivity.

Needless to say, much like the obsession with running, I eventually realized that I needed to stop.  Stop yoga, stop the compulsion, stop the insanity (ha ha, throwback to Susan Powter right there), and find balance.  I am a person of extremes, and although now I am much more balanced in my approach to, well, everything, the times when I do swing from one end to another results in my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual demise.  At a recent sermon, the preacher reflected on how what our minds are focused on, that is what our “god” or “God” is.  Thankfully now I do not wake up thinking about yoga postures, nor do I sit in traffic daydreaming about how to perfect my camel posture or headstands.  Yoga is no longer my “god”, but back when I was constantly in the hot room, the 26 Hatha postures WERE.

So how did I stop?  Basically, it was all God.  Philippians 3:15 states, “So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet!”  It could only have been by God’s sovereign hand that I was able to resist packing my towel, mat, and clothes, driving down to the studio, and partaking in a 90 minute session.  Sure, my membership at a studio was put on hold, but I very easily went to another Bikram place, took class, and no one besides me knew that I was “breaking the rules.”  Eating disorders and addictions are very crafty, and they know how to get a person to be stealthily sly and conniving in order to continue growing the obsession.  My husband couldn’t police me during the day, and neither could my family or friends.  In the end, it was only a supernatural God that could have released me from the bondages of compulsivity.

Since that time when I prayed to God to help me overcome my yoga addiction, I had no real compulsion to take a class. Stretch after working out?  Sure.  Try doing some postures with the hubby for fun?  Yeah.  But no formal classes, since the drive to WANT to go to a class wasn’t there.  After a few years of focusing more on weightlifting and getting stronger, the numerous yoga mats I accumulated throughout the years became stained with oil as they were used when my hubby fixed the cars.  One mat was cut in half so that my daughter could use it as an exercise mat in our garage.  I relegated yoga to “that thing I used to do back in the day”–it was in my past, something that I didn’t give a second thought about.

It wasn’t until I started training with a new powerlifting coach, that he recommended that one day a week I focus on stretching.  Internally, I laughed at the idea because I’m naturally hyper-mobile and can touch my toes with straight legs even after not taking a yoga class for the past 5 years.  Stretching?  What for?  And then after working with this coach for the past three weeks (ironically, he pointed out my lack of ankle mobility after our first video conference, which I didn’t realize was an issue when I squatted), it dawned on me why stretching was so important.  Like anything in life, there needs to be balance.  Monday through Friday I work my major muscles HARD, tearing down the fibers in hopes that they grow back stronger, denser, and bigger.  Come Saturday and Sunday, my body wants to recover.  It’s cool to be able to heft gigantic weights overhead or squat way more than my bodyweight, but what good is it if I can barely move after because my knees are stiff and my back aches?  The body needs a chance to recuperate, and what better way to achieve a mind-body balance than yoga?

So I did it.  I bought a yoga mat, and with that purchase, it solidified the fact that I am going to give myself that weekly refreshing and give my body a break from the barbell.  More importantly, it broke a fear I had for numerous years, that if I happened to return to a yoga class, the same compulsivity that haunted me years ago would start to echo in my thoughts, and I’d soon end up living in the yoga studio doing inversions all day.  But therein lies the difference between the yogini I was versus the yogini I am:  I know that while yoga can become competitive because I’m a natural Gumby, yoga is actually a relaxing and calming practice that gets me more in touch with my breath and alignment.  My main purpose in practicing is to feel my muscles lengthening, to be astounded by the wonderful body God created–it’s not for pride to be able to say I can wrap my foot around my head in lotus or bite my toes in a seated forward bend.

Here’s another disclaimer too:  I appreciate all styles of yoga, yet I am a strong Christian, and I don’t believe in the religious aspects of the practice.  I am certified in sports yoga, and know all about the importance of meditation and the definitions of the different limbs and such–but I don’t chant.  I don’t pray to any other god other than Jesus.  And I don’t find my god in yoga.  As much as I know meditating and chanting in yoga are a part of bringing together the spirit, mind, and body, I don’t do it, merely because I don’t believe in it.  I believe in Jesus as Lord, and that His peace transcends all understanding.  Don’t get me wrong–I love savassana as much as the next person, but while laying there on my mat, I’m not thinking about Vishnu.  Instead, I am feeling the breath go in and out of my lungs, and I’m thanking Jesus for the body He gave me and His strength in my being.

So the mat I bought two Saturdays ago?  It was put to use yesterday at a friend’s new hot yoga studio.  And can I just say, I loved it.  My yoga teacher friend is a wonderfully down to earth gal and her classes are always remarkable (look it up–her new studio is R3d Hot Yoga on Kapahulu Ave.), but what I loved more was that I wasn’t competing with anyone in class.  I was breathing.  I was feeling my spine move in ways it hasn’t moved in awhile.  I felt my hamstrings lengthen with each forward fold, and I felt the oxygen rush in and out of my lungs as I moved in and out of camel pose.  It was lovely.  It was peaceful.  And in the final relaxation pose, I thanked God for the health and life He has blessed me with.

I felt no compulsions, no addictive voice trying to pervade my thoughts.  And by faith, I know that finding balance in my training (and in life) is making me a more sound and whole person.

 

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.