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.

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.

Running the Good Race

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, running was my life.  I know that is a pretty cliched saying, that “ABCDE is my life,” but in all seriousness, strapping on my pair of Brooks and hitting the pavement was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, the image that replayed in my mind while sitting in class, and the last mental cue that popped up in my brain before falling asleep at night.

My high school boyfriend joked that I’d be one of “those” mothers who would lace up her sneakers until the day she was in labor and a few weeks later would be out pushing around an all-terrain jogging stroller at Ala Moana Park.  Small talk with family and friends revolved around the latest running news, and more often than not acquaintances would gawk at my twig-like legs and state with awe, “Wow, still running I see!  What is it?  Did you do four marathons already?”

During college I worked part-time at a running shoe store, where I was able to test run the newest styles, measure people’s feet, and fit them with appropriate sneakers.  I felt a LITTLE like Al Bundy, retying shoes for customers and passing them the box of try on socks, but to me, being in the store was Heaven on earth.

Outwardly I was a devoted athlete, doing fartleks and tempo runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, incorporating long, slow distances on the weekends, and signing up for every local race I could.  Adorned in Nike shorts and finisher t-shirts, I was the epitome of what it meant to be a “runner.”

But inwardly, running was dangerous.  Physically, cardiovascular exercise is tremendous for the body–it helps keep the heart healthy and protects it from disease and degeneration.  But like anything else in life, too much of a good thing becomes, well, dangerous.  When my obsession with accumulating miles and trying to be faster and faster with every run morphed into me losing 15 pounds from my already small frame, running became dangerous.  However, despite my body’s need for fuel and rest (two things I never gave it during my stint in long-distance racing), I neglected to see the folly of my actions, and instead focused on the immediate gratification I got from completing a cool ten miles.  Running was my drug of choice, yet at the time I was blind to how the pavement pounding and wind in my face could be such a detrimental addiction.

I remember the first time I ran three miles with my high school cross country team.  The feeling of my legs hitting the grass in the Manoa neighborhood and the blood rushing through my thighs was exhilarating.  But what was even better was the endorphin rush at the end, the feeling of calmness and (oddly enough) tranquility in my bones that came when I collapsed on the ground with my friends to stretch and chatter about the short training jaunt.  Back then, three miles felt like an eternity.  During the run I even contemplated turning back early, as all I could think was that there was no way I’d be able to make it to the turn around point and then retrace my steps to campus without hyperventilating.

Flash forward a few years, and three miles was my warm up.  I was up to an easy ten miles a day, clicking away at a 8 minute or less pace.

Ten.  Miles.  A.  Day.  Every.  Day.

Well, except for Saturdays when I’d log between 15-20 miles.  In one session.

Writing that now, my knees ache.  Literally, my patellas cry out in pain at the amount of pounding they used to take day in and day out.  Praise God I never sustained a traumatic injury of any kind–with that much output and no rest, I’m shocked that I didn’t develop some kind of bone spur, strain, or tear.

Why was I so compelled to log in that many miles?  Why???

It may seem like a cop-out answer, but 99% of the reason why I sacrificed sleep, time with friends, and my health to run was because of the eating disorder.  Along with restricting and being highly selective of my intake (hey, it was the nineties and the low fat rage was booming), I also saw long distance running as a way to form the ideal body–which in effect, was a way to numb and distract myself from the real issues at hand that were out of my control, namely my mother’s illness, graduating college, finding a real job, and meeting a guy that I could end up marrying.

The fear of the unknown left me with a multitude of questions:  What am I going to do after college?  What if I hate my job?  Will my mother be able to see me graduate?  What if I never find anyone who will love me?  What if I never become a mother?  There were times at night when I’d wake up, my room cool and dark, and yet I’d be sweating.  Seriously, beads of perspiration would drip down my head as these thoughts and questions filled my perplexed brain.

Basically, I was scared to grow up and be a woman.  So instead, I fixated on changing SOMETHING about myself that I did have control over and eased my mental turmoil:  my body.  Long distance running was one activity that could tune out the noise, relive me of the anxiety, and grant me some kind of serenity.

Runners often claim of getting that “runner’s high”, when one feels like her legs could turn over and over for miles on end, breathing even and unlabored, mind clear.  That “runner’s high” was what I aimed for every time I hit the pavement.  Ironically, the more and more I ran, the longer and longer it took for me to achieve that state of euphoria.  Whereas I could once get that calmness after a short three miles, the following month I’d have to go five miles to receive that same feeling.  And then five miles turned to seven.  And so on.  And so on.

Those people who have met me within the last few years would be astonished to know that I once spent close to twenty hours a week JUST RUNNING.  Why?  Because I now can’t go more than 2.5 miles on a treadmill or the road without feeling like my head is going to explode from boredom.  What made the change?  God.

I tried willing myself to stop running cold turkey, especially when I weighed 88 pounds and was still attempting to huff and puff around Diamond Head under the blistering noon sun.  My husband even went so far as to hide all of my shoes (and boy, did I have SO MANY shoes!), shorts, socks, sports bras, and shirts in his office so that I wouldn’t be tempted to run.  Sadly, the eating disorder voice would speak to me when the itch to lace up hit, and I’d end up spending God knows how much money on second hand clothing and gear–and then hide them around the house and in my car so I’d still be able to run in secret.

It was only Jesus–the same God who healed the deaf and mute, who cast out demons and walked on water–who was able to change my thinking around overnight.  I remember the time very clearly:  I had just come back from a secret run around the neighborhood before heading off to work, and the overwhelming feeling of guilt burdened my spirit so much that I broke down into tears.  Why couldn’t I just WILL myself to stop?  If I could restrict food in a world full of hamburgers, shakes, and ice cream, how come I couldn’t just stop running?  And then I felt the Holy Spirit urge me:  Pray.  Pray that Jesus would guide my actions. Pray that whatever Jesus would want me to do in life I would do, and that everything else He didn’t want me to partake in be pushed aside.  Pray for His heart and His will, not my desires and wants.

Truthfully, it’s a scary prayer.  Give up everything that I wanted?  It’s a misnomer to think that what one desires is more than what God would want.  In Isaiah 55:8-9, the scripture states, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”  God is more in tune with a person’s needs and wants–even moreso than the individual himself.  If that is true, then who am I to say that I know what’s better for my life than the God who created the world and my existence?  Didn’t He knit me in my mother’s womb, and am I not fearfully and wonderfully made by Him?  

So on my knees in the middle of the living room, tears rolling down my face, I prayed that prayer.  Lord, let Your will be done in my life.  Not mine.  Whatever is not of You, in my spirit, take it away.

And like a switch that was in the off position, with those words the lights went “on” and I had no desire to run.  Seriously, I kid you not, the lure of the road, the feeling of sweat dripping down my brow, my legs pumping full of blood as I gasped through mile after mile, disintegrated.  I’m sure this may sound quite “easy” or unbelievable to you who are reading this blog (“What?  Lauren just prayed?  And her addiction lifted?”), but in all honesty, there is a spiritual power at work when one prays.  Jesus is not a liar, and when He said to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), He will be faithful and just to follow through on His word.  Jesus did and can do miraculous physical healings, and in that same way he gave sight to the blind and rose people from the dead, so can He take away an addiction that had plagued my life for years on end.

Don’t get me wrong.  The enemy, the eating disorder voice, would love for me to relapse into a full-blown marathon running spree.  There are moments since that day when I feel like I want to run, and when that urge comes up, I ask, “Lord, is this ok?  Do you mind if I go for a jog around the neighborhood?”  The majority of the time, I feel a sense of peace in my spirit, and so I pop on my shoes and 20 minutes later the deed is done.  And if I don’t feel that sense of peace?  Well, I don’t go.  Honestly, there have been a few times when I didn’t listen and strapped on my Mizunos anyway, and let me tell you, those runs were HELL.  If I can imagine what hell is like, those runs were it.  Dead legs.  Gasping for air.  Counting down every second until the distance was reached.  With God, there is a peace that transcends all understanding.  Without Him, there is much struggle.

In the end, I look back on all those marathons I completed and am thankful.  I don’t miss the blisters on my toes, the millions of Clif Shots I’d buy a year, or waking up at the crack of dawn to file to the starting line of a race.  What I am thankful for is that through all of those miles, through the years of me not listening to God and instead choosing to listen to myself, Jesus nonetheless still loved me and was there for me.  And when the time came to return to Him, He welcomed me with open arms.  No medal, no race PR, no amount of miles I logged could ever compare to the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God–because unlike the fleeting records and trophies of this world, the prize from running a race for Him reaps eternal and everlasting rewards.

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.

 

Truth Here

This may be one of the hardest posts I will ever have to write.

Now that this blog is a few weeks old, and people have told me how great it is to read about how I overcame anorexia and excessive exercising, I have a confession to make.

My family and friends see me as a vibrant, healthy mother who has battled through and conquered the destructive effects of an eating disorder. My students see me as the strong English teacher who can lift a lot of weights and eats “healthy.”  My children see me as the mommy who makes them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tucks them into bed at night.  I seemingly have everything all together.  What many fail to know, however, is that while the intensely incessant eating disorder voice that troubled me throughout my young adult years has quieted down to almost a barely-there whisper, it still manages to sneak in and wreck havoc on my thoughts.  And even right now, I’m battling that tiring and malicious voice.

It is humbling to say.  The prideful voice in my head fears what my colleagues, acquaintances, and fellow gym-goers will think when they know that I still have appointments with a dietitian and psychiatrist to combat the lure to restrict.

But I need to share this struggle.

In fact, I MUST share.  I must share that while the majority of the day I can distinguish between the reasonable, healthy me and the sinister anorexic thoughts, the eating disorder voice has found a way back into my brain (albeit not as ravenously as in years past), and that only good nutrition, talking with a doctor, and the grace of God can help me find true and complete recovery.  After my initial diagnosis and stint in outpatient treatment with Kailey, I discovered true freedom in eating, exercising, and fulfilling the plans Jesus had for me.  But then I found that during times of emotional stress, whether they be positive or negative, the anorexic voice would try to entice me back into its’ dark cave of restriction and compulsivity.

“Do you really need to eat that cookie?  You didn’t work out today.”

“What’s 10 more minutes swimming at the pool?  That’s only, like, 7 more laps.”

About 75% of the time, I’d turn to Jesus to help me combat against these irrational thoughts.  I would pray to Him to help me ignore the compulsion to restrict or over exercise, and He would come through by giving me a great inner peace.  Other times, however, I’d be so mentally and emotionally drained to start, that it was just easier to give into the eating disorder voice.  One missed meal would soon equal two, and spending ten minutes after yoga class to “work on postures” ended up being another thirty minutes of asanas.  Ultimately I’d find that a month later my clothes were looser, my normally clear thinking muddled to a grey hue, and my relationship with Jesus dwindled to three minute “Hey, thanks, yeah?” conversations before I went to bed.  There are not many people that I confide to about my issues because understanding what it’s like to have an eating disorder is a foreign concept to many individuals.  Case in point:  During a conversation about this topic with someone I had considered a close friend, this individual remarked, “Why do you need to write a blog about all this?  Can’t you just DO IT?  I mean, just eat.”

Well, in fact, no, I can’t.  Writing has always been therapeutic, and sharing my journey is one way the anorexic voice quiets down.  Like I wrote about in a previous post, eating disorders thrive on lies and deceit.  Answering co-workers with an “Everything is OK!” grin when we pass by one another in the halls, engaging in talk about nutrition and dieting with my gym friends, and hiding the fact that I still am fearful of eating certain desserts (uh, cheesecake) because I think I will get fat from them are ways anorexia is still in my life–and if I don’t do something about it now, then that insidious disease will just continue to grow and grow until I find myself shrunken into an eighty pound weakling.

Beside being open with others about my struggles, prayer is another action God has urged me to do more regularly.  With this past month, it was through quiet times with Him that I was prompted to journal and talk with others about my continuing journey in eating disorder recovery.  During one such moment I was meditating on Romans 12:1-2, and the idea that my body is an “act of worship unto the Lord” struck a nerve in me.  When I picture true worship, I think of a person’s hands raised, eyes closed, her whole being opened up to Jesus–this individual is surrendering all to God so that she can fully step forward into the calling He has for her.

It was then that I realized I was only 90% living the life God had for me, and my worship consisted of me sitting in a chair, humming along with open eyes and folded hands.  While I felt like it was ok to muddle through work, home, family, and life (basically just “getting by”), God spoke to my spirit that He wanted me to do more than just “settle”.  I should be thriving, and I couldn’t do so if I was still holding onto any part of anorexia.  I was reminded of the times that I spent running on the roads,performing asanas in back to back yoga classes, or swimming miles at the pool–I could have spent all of those hours playing blocks with my son, pushing my daughter on the swing, or sharing some laughs with my husband.  The energy I could have used to journal and develop a deeper relationship with Christ was whittled away when my physical body deteriorated to a two-digit weight that was on the verge of collapse.  The incessant eating disorder voice that would talk me out of munching on popcorn at the movies or drinking a milkshake with the kids invaded my emotional self so much that I had very little love to give to my family, friends, or the Lord.

It was that realization that I was not fully 100% “recovered” that made me break down in tears.  I had had an inkling of this fact for awhile, and so attempted to “get better” in my own way and on my own terms.  I researched how to gain mass the “right” way, aka putting on muscle size with limited fat accumulation, and I structured my day around what I could eat and when I could eat it.  Ironically, this obsessive type of diet compelled me deeper into the eating disorder, and I was soon measuring out nuts with a serving cup, getting anxious if I didn’t eat a certain amount of protein at a meal, and refusing to lick a spoon I had just used to scoop peanut butter with.

It wasn’t until I saw a picture of my husband and I on Easter that the cold hard truth that I needed someone (namely a professional) to guide me to full physical, mental, and spiritual health manifested.  Although I was smiling, my husband and I with arms linked around one another’s waists, there was a slight emptiness in that grin.  I knew that on the outside I radiated happiness, but internally there was a sense of joy and freedom that was missing.  I still loved Jesus, still turned to Him for help, but He was clearly showing me that trying to control my own life (planning and plotting meals, obsessively agonizing over missed workouts) was negating His power.  If I truly trusted and had faith that He could (and would) help me, why not give all control over to Him?  Matthew 6:25 specifically states to not worry about “…what you will eat or drink…Is not life more than food?”, yet I was attempting to take the reins away from the almighty God who knit me together in my mother’s womb and knows me better than I even know myself.  I then heard Him speak loud and clear:  Follow me.  Wherever I will take you, trust me, have faith in me.  And there you will find freedom.

To be able to share this part of my eating disorder journey is extremely trying, as many see me as having everything together.  I am far from that perfect person, yet radiate that image so as not to make other people judge or pity me.  Ultimately, I didn’t want my family and friends to think that I was weak, or that I couldn’t handle a problem that was seemingly resolved years ago.

I had, and still do have, a great deal of pride in this area.

Pride, however, is insidious, and thinking that I could mask my irrational “fat” thoughts or attempt to gain weight by merely adding in an extra scoop of protein powder or drinking more milk was ludacris.  In actuality I was initially hesitant to seek God in the matter because doing so would require me to strip away all of the eating disorder’s lies, and then I’d have to face the real issues behind why anorexia would still have any strongholds in my thoughts.

This past week I challenged myself to break the mold and eat a dinner I wouldn’t normally cook or order for myself.  The meal was at a well-known sandwich shop that specializes in exquisite desserts, and throughout the dinner I knew every bite of the pastrami sandwich on my plate, every lick of the chocolate mousse served after, was one step closer towards complete freedom from anorexia.  I am going to continue to document on this blog all of the ups and downs of my journey to full and total recovery, the insights into why this negative anorexic voice reappears, and what it feels like to find total freedom in Christ from an eating disorder.  Thank you for being a part of this journey and taking the time to read this post.  This blog has turned into a very cathartic way to expel those anorexic thoughts, and hopefully you are also able to see and be blessed by God’s grace and faithfulness through my recovery story.

The Meeting

Aside from teaching driver’s education or being a stray dog wrangler for the Human Society, I can imagine that being a dietitian and working with eating disorder patients must be one of the most stressful and demanding jobs. Ever. Sure, talking to people about food all day may seem like loads of fun for some, but try coercing a malnourished, defiant teenager to have a glass of milk with her lunch, only to be met with screaming, crying, yelling, and (possibly) threats of bodily harm. All over one tall glass of milk.

Thankfully I never verbally or physically threatened my dietitian (or myself for that matter) when faced with having to eat a double scoop ice cream sundae or an additional serving of meat loaf because my weight was down. I was always
a pretty compliant patient, most likely because God had given me an internal feeling of freedom and faith, so I felt relief and joy at the prospect of having to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. I had been starved for so long that giving myself permission to enjoy meals with family and friends again felt like a little slice of heaven.

God’s faith has been at the core of my recovery, but full health cannot be achieved without a great support system, and the professionals I saw were just that. Interestingly enough, considering all of the years I’ve known the members of my treatment team, I still vividly remember the first day I met my nutritionist. After that initial appointment I had upon returning home from college, my doctor referred me to a special trio of professionals that specialized in recovery from eating disorders. My pediatrician warned me about “Kailey”, the dietitian he wanted me to see, but even with his forewarnings (and they were positive, mind you), I never expected Kailey to be as fiery and passionate about eating disorder recovery as she portrayed on that fateful summer morning.

I had a mid-morning appointment, right about snack time, and given the breakfast of cereal I had three hours earlier, my stomach was making obscene noises by the time our family stepped into her office. The space emitted an auburn hue, probably because of the orange-yellow painted walls, and I recall thinking she should throw some leaves in the corner and put a pumpkin near the door, and THEN it would feel like autumn, not sweltering hot like the beginning of June.

“HELLO there, you must be Lauren!” Kailey boomed as she stepped into the waiting room to face my parents and I. I was perched surreptitiously on the edge of a cushioned sofa, back rigid, fingers already cold from the air-conditioning. My parents automatically stood up with hands extended, and I almost laughed. Kailey towered over my father, and at almost six feet tall, she eclipsed my dad’s small frame and most definitely loomed over my five foot high mother. Intimidating in deed. As I eased myself up off the seat and held my hand out, I realized how warm and enveloping her shake was. Veins criss-crossed around my bony wrists and the backs of my hands, whereas Kailey’s were a smooth almond cookie hue. Although her large stature would lead even the strongest of men to shrink back in trepidation and cautiousness, I wasn’t in fear of her. Wait, let me correct that. My rational mind wasn’t scared–the eating disorder part of my brain, however, was shaking in its’ boots. Yes, even with God’s peace and prayer, the enemy was trying to find a loophole, a small entryway to worm back into my mind. That’s the interesting thing about freedom. After a wonderful prayer session with my mom, I had discovered what it felt like to have the shackles removed from my thoughts. Romans 12:12 says to be to be diligent in prayer, and just like any kind of relationship where communication is key for it to prosper and flourish, I needed to continue to seek His face daily. Hourly. Whenever I felt over-the-moon with joy or deep in the depths of despair. The relapse rate for eating disorder recovery is tremendously high, and I can only assume that part of the reason why is because patients and supporters see a physical weight gain, but fail to acknowledge that the mental, emotional, and spiritual person needs to be completely whole as well–and one key component in reaching that aim is consistently rejoicing in the pounds gained and food eaten and asking God for help when the eating disorder voice wants one to go for a ten mile run or only eat a bowl of cereal all day.

I never used to like to say that I was in treatment for an eating disorder because most people automatically assumed that I restricted food or exercised for hours on end because I was vain and just wanted to be “skinny.” Yes, I did care about my appearance to a degree, but doesn’t everyone? Don’t we all brush our teeth, buy nice clothes, cut our hair, and clip our nails so that we are seen as responsible and respectable individuals that can function in society? What the majority of the population doesn’t understand is that anorexia, bulimia, or any type of eating disorder for that matter is an actual mental illness, and patients dealing with it are not solely focused on appearance. How humbling it is to say that I have issues with my brain chemistry, and seeing along legged model on a magazine cover would not only lead me to compare my thicker thighs to hers, but to then become obsessed with that fact and strategize ways to whittle away said leg fat.

So when I actually met Kailey for the first time, the healthy part of me was ecstatic because NOW I could finally find hope and recovery from an eating disorder voice that would have tormented me for eating a cookie or berated me for missing a day running. The part of my brain, however, that was fixated on the miles I logged and the calories I ate knew that soon it would no longer have control over my actions, and like a toddler throwing a tantrum because he couldn’t get its’ way, it wanted to toss itself on the ground and have a screaming meltdown.

But the power of God is awesome. I felt that urge to run, the urge to turn right around and bolt out the door, but instead I just prayed.

“Lord Jesus, help me. Help me please. I’m incredibly frightened, but I trust that the person before me, Kailey, was put into my life by you to help me. Please help me.”

And wouldn’t you know, the apprehension, the turning in my gut, the anxiousness in my legs, they all vanished in an instant. And so the four of us–mom, dad, dietitian and me–began treatment.

“Well, why are you here?”

Such a loaded question, one with so many possible answers. Because I’m scared to eat. Because I can’t make myself stop running. Because I may die soon if I don’t gain weight. Because I don’t know how to deal with all the hard issues in my life.

“Um, I need to gain weight.”

“Well, that’s true. You do. And you will. And probably, you won’t like it very much. But first, let me tell you about my approach to recover.”

Boom. Right off the bat, Kailey confirmed to me the truth I knew I’d have to hear: I would gain weight, I may not like it, but it was inevitable. For the next thirty minutes or so Kailey discussed why weight restoration was important and some of the effects of malnourishment on the body. I was briefly entertained by her words, but my stomach was REALLY starting to gurgle by that point, and that gnawing pit of hunger was eating a larger and larger hole in my gut.

“Right. So, now here is the meal plan.”

Meal plan?! My ears perked up with that phrase. I had been on a meal plan too, but I highly doubted Kailey’s diet would be anything like mine.

“These are the requirements for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plus there will be snacks in between, so we’re aiming for close to 3000 calories a day.”

Here is where I know God’s faithfulness and freedom are true. Give me that meal plan a month ago, I would have balked at the notion of eating that much. When Kailey handed me that sheet with the pre-approved foods listed on it, I was like a child at Christmas. What?! I’d be able to eat Ben and Jerry’s and it was ok? I could have hamburgers and fries everyday if I wanted?

“What do you think?” Kailey asked after my eyes glazed over the list of peanut butter crackers and Pop-tarts that constituted appropriate afternoon snacks.
“It looks fine!” I said enthusiastically. Maybe it was a bit too enthusiastic because I saw Kailey raise her eye at my grin.

“Ok, well, there’s a food group tonight I expect you to be at. So get lunch. From the list. Get a snack. From the list. And we’ll see you at Hungry Lion at 5:30.”

Hungry Lion. It was serendipitous that the first experience I’d have with group treatment would be at a restaurant named after what I felt most of the day (hungry) and an animal that represented the God I knew that would quench said hunger.

“Thank you, thank you.” My mother was beside herself with gratitude, a tear starting to form at the corner of her eye.

Group. Food group.  I smiled a true honest to goodness smile of relief and joy as my parents and I stood to leave. Besides the fact that I had a great sense of physical hunger–by that point my stomach was ready to eat itself I was so starved–I was ready. Like a runner, cued in the blocks waiting for the gun to go off, I was ready to start running this race, this road to recovery