Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Radically Loved

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”  - Brennan Manning

It’s that time of year again – my son’s “Gotcha Day”.  For those not familiar with the adoption world, that is the celebration of the day that we first met him – a birthday of sorts symbolizing when our lives began with each other.  I’ve written quite a few blogposts about what adopting Tariku was like over the past three years.  I really don't feel like each annual “Gotcha Day” demands a blog post, but every single year April 9th rolls around and I feel compelled to write one.  Maybe it’s because my son’s presence in our lives absolutely amazes me when I take time out from the daily grind to think about it. He spent the first four years of his life in a mud hut on the other side of the world sleeping next to a donkey and now he sleeps down the hall from me - it takes my breath away sometimes.  Don’t get me wrong.  This boy has an ability like no other to rub me the wrong way and exasperate me every day.  Our family life is not all roses and sunshine, trust me.  I lose my temper with him, I sigh and shake my head at him plenty of times and there are days I look at the challenges he has in front of him and I think “Um, God… you chose the wrong person for this journey… this is waaaaaay beyond me.”
But here’s the thing… God took a really broken, complicated situation in which my son wasn’t properly cared for, and he brought a whole lot of life and love and happiness from all the wreckage.  And don’t get me wrong… it wasn’t just my son’s life that was headed for destruction – it was mine too.  While he was a victim of circumstance, I was headed toward a life of selfishness and ignorance. But adoption changed so much of that for me, for which I am so incredibly grateful.

I was putting T to bed last night and I was telling him about the first time I learned his name and saw his face load ever so slowly on my computer screen.  I told him how I was holding the phone to my ear as I saw his picture for the first time, and with tears running down my face I said to my friend Lindsey “He’s mine.  This little boy was meant for our family.  I just know it. I can tell just by looking in his eyes.  He’s really, really mine.” I tried to explain to Tariku last night how we had waited for years for a referral and how amazing it was to finally see a face and know a name four years ago… how in that moment, I knew both our lives had changed forever.
I’m not sure why it is, but I have these moments of absolute raw tenderness with my son that I didn’t know were even possible.  As I was laying in bed beside him telling him about how overjoyed we are that he is our family forever and always, he reached over and wiped the tears that were trickling down my face and said “You’re crying because you are happy, right mom?  I know what that’s like.”  And I’m just so relieved that he does.  I’m glad that he knows what it means to cry because he’s happy, because there are so many children who don’t or can’t or won’t let themselves know that feeling. He said “I am so glad that you are my mommy now… because you are kind and you help people, but mostly because you love God.”  Well, okay…. there went an entire box of Kleenex.  Isn’t that all we can ever, ever hope for as parents?? That our kids see us as kind and helpful, but most importantly – lovers of God?  All those moments of my failure as a parent and a human being… every second I have snapped at him or had a bad attitude or been unsympathetic… he still sees my true self – the person covered in grace who just wants to love people and God no matter how much I fail at it.  He sees the me that God sees.  How amazing is that??

When Tariku came into our lives four Aprils ago, I wasn’t thinking about all the ways he might fail in life, how he might disappoint or hurt me, or the struggles that he would have.  I was just overtaken by the sight of his face.  I was in love with his four year old little arms that reached out to me and his precious little heart that was just so ready to be loved. There was nothing like it.  And it has taken me a lifetime –literally my entire life, to realize that that’s just how God looks at me - He's overtaken by the very sight of me - He's not worried about all the "what if's".  I’ll be darned if God doesn’t look down at me with my arms wide open and think “Look at her! Just look at her!  That one right there – she’s mine and I am SO stinking proud of her.  I see her for who she really is and she’s beautiful.  Nevermind the failures.  Nevermind the inconsistencies.  Nevermind the mess.  I see beauty and power and grace when I look at her.  I made her just right and I’m head over heels for her.”  That one thought right there is absolutely life changing if we let it be.

When I look at Tariku I see a pure gift. He was literally placed in my hands to love, comfort, guide and grow with.  I had ZERO idea how much he would teach me about how my Daddy looks at me.  Tariku just showed up that day on April 9th as he was… nothing fake about him – no pretense - he brought all of who he was to the table.  And we responded to his little outstretched arms instinctively with our own arms wide open. There’s nothing Tariku did to make us love him – we just loved him because he belonged to us. He was ours and that was enough.  God’s love for me and for you is just the same. It’s not contingent on anything we do – we belong to Him... every last one of us. God's great big arms are without fail, always open and coming towards us - always. There's just never a time when they're not. 

Most every night I put Tariku to bed I tell him all the special things I see in him – I name all the gifts that God has given him so that he won’t grow up to doubt his value or how loved he is.  I pray out loud over him that God would use his gifts of compassion and his heart for justice to change the world and help people catch glimpses of the God who is crazy for them.  And I wrap my arms around him and squeeze him tight and tell him that there’s nothing he can ever do to make me love him less or more. I tell him that he is so very loved just as he is – right now (at which point he normally farts and laughs so loud I have to cover my ears).  

It’s this same comfort level that I think God craves from us (okay, maybe he could do without the farting, but)… our ability to let down and just be who we are, without fear or shame or pretense must stir his heart the same way Tariku stirs mine – and then some.  God’s got his arms wrapped around us saying “Geez… I just freaking love you!!  Do you know that?  Do you REALLY KNOW that??”  Love like that has changed everything for Tariku, and Love like that has changed everything for me in recent years. My heart aches when I think about all the years I have spent striving, fighting and clawing my way to ensure I had that love when the whole entire time my Daddy was there saying “I’ve got you.  You belong to me.  Stop trying to earn my love – you HAVE it… you always have.  Just enjoy it."

Someone once said that God is never just doing one thing through a circumstance – He’s always working to accomplish many things through the one. And so it goes with our adoption of Tariku.  Not only was God providing T a home to be safe, cared for and loved in, but He was teaching me what His love really looked like.  God was showing me what my true home looked like in that same way.  I cannot tell you the amount of peace and satisfaction I have now knowing that I am God's beloved.... that there are no lengths He won't go to to show me that.  Watching my son grow in compassion has stirred and grown my own heart toward compassion.  My son might be my greatest teacher thus far in life, and I am just so grateful for his beautiful, miraculous presence in my life.  Thank you, God, for knowing just how much we needed each other and for bringing us together.  Life will always be richer because of it.

I’ll leave you with Tariku's “Gotcha Day” video from April of 2010. Fair warning though…get some tissues first - love like this makes you cry sometimes, but oh it's worth it!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Just Show Up

Over the years, I’ve written quite a bit about what it means to suffer with others.  Most of it has been in the context of my experiences in Africa where I’ve seen excruciating poverty rob children of parents and parents the opportunity to provide for their children in even the most basic ways.  I have never personally suffered at the hands of poverty, but as human beings, we carry an innate ability to suffer with others as they suffer even if we aren’t experiencing the same circumstance they are.  I have shed many tears over the pain that people have had to endure, but I haven’t always wanted to engage in feeling that depth of hurt for others because it’s painful and it costs us.  But coming alongside and choosing to suffer with someone else in the midst of their anguish or difficulty is not only a place where beauty is born – it is a privilege of the highest degree. 

I was gently reminded of this last week as I spent time with a dear friend whose brother lost his battle with depression last month.  There is no describing that kind of pain, honestly.  As I drove through four states on my way to see her, I kept wondering how in the world to help her.  What do you even say in circumstances where there are just no easy answers?  How do you be a good friend when your heart can’t fathom what she must be feeling? I felt small and inadequate – mostly because I was exactly that. 

Yet, we go anyway.  We show up for each other even if it feels like we have nothing to offer.  We run to where the suffering is because that is what God has built us for – engagement with a broken, messy world where things don’t make any sense and we have more questions than answers on most days.  We go because we need each other.  We don’t necessarily need each other’s words – we need each other’s hearts and presence.  And I think more than anything, that’s what I wanted Lindsey to know – that I was there.  There are so many, many times where our words need to be limited to “I’m so sorry” and “I love you”, then we need to shut up and throw our arms around our people and just let them get it all out.  Because sometimes love looks like letting your friend sob and wail as you hold her on the bathroom floor while your heart feels like it will explode. 

I was talking last night with some friends about the mystery of compassion and how our hearts are made to connect with other people’s pain and emotion – in a way, it becomes our own when we choose to connect with it.  While sometimes this can feel burdensome simply because of the nature of pain, I am convinced that suffering with others and embracing them in the struggle is actually one of the most important gifts we can (and must) give each other.  The thing about pain and suffering is that while the ache never seems to fully go away, it heals.  People are permanently marked by whatever they have survived, but they heal.  And as we watch the healing process in others, we start to hope just a little bit more.  We in fact, might even heal a little bit ourselves. I know my own heart healed a little this past weekend as I spent time with my precious friend.

Lindsey has become an avid gardener over the past few years.  I walked with her through her garden as she showed me where certain plants were going to go in, and told me about how her raspberries grew last summer and her kid’s joy at popping them in their mouths.

She bought a greenhouse so she could get her seedlings started before planting season arrived. 

The more she talked about what she was going to grow, the more her face lit up.  I realized that this garden had quickly gone from a place to simply grow and gather a harvest to a place of hope for her.  Last year, a tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma where Lindsey lives.  What a stark reminder that there will always be something that threatens our hope.  Always.  Yet we build anyway.  We bend low and sink our hands into the dirt and we choose to hope.  The storms may come.  There may be wreckage, but we help each other rebuild. The soil may be frozen, but the cold ground thaws.

Flowers thought long gone make an appearance again.

Life grows out of brown dirt.

I glanced over at her heaping compost pile.  Amazing how the rot of our lives is the catalyst for growth and beauty. 

We spent hours on Friday moving two tons of mulch and dirt into their proper place.  We were making the ground ready and we were doing it together. 

As we worked side by side I was keenly aware that flinging that mulch and pouring that dirt was likely the best way I could have loved Lindsey that day.  No words necessary. We built a little bit of hope together in that garden on Friday and I learned that no matter what, you always show up.  Always.  Even when  you feel you have nothing to offer, you do.   

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I came downstairs last night in tears after putting Tariku to bed.  As a parent, you get a few, precious moments with your children when they are feeling particularly tender and open about what's going on in their hearts.  I had snuggled down under the covers with him to say prayers and go through our night time routine. He asked me if I would tell him a story about myself when I was little.  Instead, I asked him if he wanted to hear a story about him when he was little.  We have very few of those, as we adopted Tariku from Ethiopia when he was 4 1/2.  In fact, the earliest story I know about him that wouldn't be painful for him to hear is of the day we first laid eyes on each other.  So I told him the story of a mommy and daddy who flew across the ocean to meet a precious little boy and how nervous they were.  I told him how the little boy jumped up and down when he saw us; how he came to us with open arms and kissed our faces.  I told him how he went over and got a chair for me when I was sitting on the ground and insisted I sit on it. I told him about how sweet it was that he picked flowers out of the ground and brought them to me that first day.  I told him how we were scared that maybe he wouldn't like us or want to come with us, and how overjoyed we were that he loved us right away.  

He was holding my hand and stroking it with his fingers the whole time I was telling him the story.  When I finished, he said "I'm so glad you are my mommy" in a tender, quiet voice that made my eyes fill up.  And then it all came flooding out of him.  

"Mommy, sometimes I cry for all the kids in Africa who don't have mommies or daddies.  Sometimes... about right now... I want to be a grown up so I can go to Africa and adopt as many kids as I can.  But it's hard to adopt kids, right, mom?  There are special papers you have to have and you have to go to court. Mommy, will you help me go to the court and sign all the papers to adopt the kids?  ...Mommy, what if all the kids get adopted? How will I be able to adopt then? Will there still be kids who need families?  I think there will. ...Maybe I can be President of Africa someday. Can I be President?  If I can be President of Africa then maybe I can make sure all the kids have medicine they need and clean water to drink.  Do you think I can do that, mommy?"

That's just a snapshot of the 25 minutes we spent talking together.  Much of it was too precious and intimate to put on a blog.  We both had tears running down our cheeks as we laid there with our arms wrapped around each other tightly, whispering the deepest longings of our hearts.  An 8 year old and a 39 year old... completely bound together by Love, glimpsing each other's desires, hurts and dreams...tears falling over the injustice in this world and the ache to do something about it.  

And I told him, not just with my mouth, but with all of the energy of my heart, "Yes, son. You can adopt kids.  You can help these kids. And you don't have to wait until you are an adult."  And immediately, I was smacked in the face with the reality of the challenges my son faces.  I had just come out of an IEP meeting with his teachers earlier in the week where we had talked about all the learning challenges he faces due to his severe starvation during the formative years of the brain as well as the head trauma he suffered. Our hope is that he can read some day... that his brain will start to function in such a way that the pieces will fall together for him to make the necessary connections.  
But, here is the reality - he IS making the truly necessary connections.  He is making the connections that matter.  His connection to compassion and to the very heartbeat of God is real and thriving and it WILL change the world.  It already has.  And THAT connection to compassion and love will take him places most of us adults would never dare go.  I look at my son and I see years of sadness, struggle, abuse and pain turned into fuel for love and justice and compassion.  I see how his precious heart has healed and is continuing to heal. I see in him a genuine and authentic desire to believe that he can, should, and will make a difference for suffering children in Africa.  And I see that no matter what challenges he might have on paper, God's plans for my son are real and big and bold, as they are for all of our children.    

It would serve us well to start looking past the challenges our children are faced with and truly SEE them for who they really are.  That child who lashes out at you, that child who pushes your every button, that child who retreats in fear and anxiety, that child who suffers with disabilities, that child who just can't make friends for some reason, that child who struggles with unhealthy responses, that child who doesn't seem to be attaching to you, that child who by every standard of this world seems less than the others around them... SEE them for who they really are.  See them for who they can become.  See in them the gifts that are there.  

As I was laying there next to T last night, dealing with an ocean of emotions, it struck me: This is the very thing God does for us.  He looks past my perceived hindrances.  He looks past my struggles with fear and doubt.  He sees past all my insufficiency.  And as my heart dares to whisper the question "Do you think I can?", his eyes light up and the corners of his mouth turn up and he leans in and whispers back - "Of course you can".  He looks at all our junk and baggage and says "So what?  Are you really going to let that stop you?".   He's made all of us for great things... He has put love and desire and passion in our hearts for the very things that move his own.  Tariku, at age 8 is paying attention to those things.  I truly believe he sees the potential of what he can do more than he sees any impossibility. What if we adults lived more like that?  What if we began to breathe that sort of attitude and life into our children?  

Somebody once said that we can only give what we have.  That leaves a very important question out there for me, as a parent.  How do I give the belief to my children that they have been given power to not only dream, but to act on those dreams if I don't believe it for myself?  I think I need to say this again because I can hear the virtual crickets from here. :)

How do we give the belief to our children that they have been given power to not only dream, but to act on those dreams if we don't believe it for ourselves?

At some point, our kids will begin to see the sham of us living shallow, fearful, unfulfilled lives while telling them they can do anything and that they have been set apart for a special purpose, and they will stop believing us.  

This beautiful, important encounter with my son last night caused me to stop and catch my breath.  At age 39 I've wanted to ask the same question of God that Tariku was asking of me... "Do you think I can?"  But I've been afraid to ask it because I have been certain of the answer and it's terrifying to me.  But it's time to stop being terrified and start being sure of the fact that "The One who calls us is faithful and HE WILL DO IT".  The outcome isn't on me, but the obedience to dream, to try, to dare, to risk is.  My 8 year old is ready and willing.  It's time his mama jumped on board.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Laying Down Our Weapons of Self Destruction

I'm quite sure I would be appalled if I truly knew how many crazy things I have given my kids permission to do while I was under the influence of my phone. You know how it goes... you are beat from a day of work, laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, schlepping your kids from one place to another, and you reach for your phone or laptop to just disengage from life for one sweet second via social media. But it is never one sweet second. The kids come in halfway through whatever video you have been sucked into watching and all you hear come out of their mouths is some sort of sound that seems to have an inflection at the end, which tells your brain they are asking you a question, to which you mumble "sure" to them without raising an eyebrow so you can keep on concentrating on your video.  A few minutes later you slowly register that there is hysterical screaming and total chaos coming from the kitchen and you march in and ask "what in the world is going on in here?" only to be told by your children that they are "just trying to get ice cream to eat at 5:30p.m. like I said they could".  Wait.  What?  

But it really just gets worse.  My phone is always on me - literally.  It's an attachment to my body.  Whenever there's a lull in whatever might be going on in my world, I reach for it habitually.  Just a quick scroll through Instagram or email or FaceBook or Pinterest or Tumblr or... or...or...  What in the world am I looking for there???  And that, my friends, is a very hard, very worthy question.  Am I looking for proof of how great my life is compared to everyone else's?  Am I looking for approval from people?  Am I just trying to fill myself with noise so that I don't have to get quiet with myself?  In all the reaching for, the swiping, the scrolling, the "liking", the posting... what am I really doing it all for?  To stay connected with other people?  That's what we tell ourselves.  But I'm becoming more convinced there's something deeper going on there, at least for me there is. 

Comparison is indeed the thief of joy.  There is just no doubt about it. Scrolling through other people's "internet" lives can give us the feeling that we are not measuring up... that we are somehow lacking because our lives don't look like someone else's.  It even takes us to the point of being unable to rejoice with others when things are going well for them, because we are too busy thinking about all the ways our lives don't look like theirs and how we wish what happened to Suzy down the street or Fred across the country would just happen to us.  There have been days I've walked away from my FaceBook feed wondering what in the world I'm doing with my life because everyone else seems so... together.  And so technology that can be used in a healthy manner for connecting with people at some level, becomes a breeding ground for discontentment. It makes us wonder if we are doing enough... it makes us wonder if we have enough... it makes us question if we are enough.

But perhaps the bigger, deeper question I need to be asking is what I am modeling for my children.  We have these beautiful little people around us all the time.  They are watching us.  They are emulating us.  I didn't grow up with technology like this.  I have never had modeled for me what a healthy balance of it looks like.  But I don't have to have it modeled to know that I am addicted to it. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to take a look around and see that we have become connected to our technology (and all the praise or criticism that comes with it) and disconnected from the people right in front of us, or next door to us. What is this teaching my children?  How will they learn to interact in the world in a healthy way if their mommy doesn't know herself?

This isn't meant to start a debate about the wonders or evils of technology. It's meant as a confession.  As a wife, I am sorry that the glow of my phone or my iPad or my computer takes away from face to face time with the love of my life. As a mom, my heart aches that my kids may sometimes get the feeling I'm too "busy" with whatever device is within reach to stop and really see them - to really hear them.  As a friend, I long to have more face to face coffees or phone conversations instead of text exchanges.  I long to be fully present.

One of my closest friends in the world received the news over the weekend that her baby brother took his life.  She is eulogizing him the day after Valentine's Day.  I just can't imagine.  I was thinking about all this stuff the few days prior to her telling me this horrific news, and all week long I have not been able to shake this thought: Life is short.  None of us are guaranteed our next breath or a next interaction with those we love.  If ever there was a time and a need to be fully present with those around us, the time is now.  

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day... it's the day we show our love.  So this week, my family laid down our weapons.

We now have a "Be All Here" bowl.  Starting at 5:00p.m. every day, no electronics are allowed until the next afternoon.  It's only been a few days, but there have been more games played together as a family, more conversations and more snuggles than there have been in a long time.  The kids are ecstatic.  They willingly toss their iPod Touches in the bowl.  It only goes to prove the point... we hunger for real live connection, real live touch, real live words being spoken to us, real live eyes looking into our own.  

We will ask the same of people who enter our home as our guests. This bowl is a communal bowl where we collectively will choose each other over anything else.  I cannot tell you the number of times we have had people in our home and I look around and most of us are on our phones (myself included).  It's like we've forgotten how to actually BE with the people in front of our faces.  Love is presence.  Caring for each other and truly seeing each other looks like laying aside any distractions.  People matter.  They matter more than anything happening on the internet - not just sometimes, but always.

As I think of my precious friend Lindsey today and the daunting task that lies ahead of her on Saturday, I choose love.  I choose presence.  I choose people.  God, give us grace to do it more.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Breaking Free

Somebody once said that loving other people well starts with loving ourselves.  I'm pretty sure most of my life has been spent trying to love others while hating myself, if I'm being honest. Much of that self hatred has revealed itself through my abuse of food - on both ends of the spectrum.  My sophomore year of high school I started starving myself.  I was friends with a girl who was starving herself and made it a point not to ever eat more than her.

Then in college I started putting on weight until I was healthy by the time of my wedding.  

But by a few years into my marriage I started putting on pounds.

And I have qualified as obese for the past ten years. 

Imagine my embarrassment walking through Ethiopia for the past three years incredibly overweight as I held the hands and hugged the necks of people who were literally starving.  I felt like a fraud.

The embarrassment of putting on the weight in the first place has been a source of really deep shame for me. I have felt like people must look at me and wonder how I could let myself get so out of control. It has caused me to not even be able to really look people in the eye because I'm just so ashamed of who I am. 

I'll never forget being in Ethiopia with my sweet, petite friend, Abbey, and having a random stranger come up to us on the street and ask me why I was so big while she was so small.  He asked me if I ate different food than her even though we lived in the same country.  I laughed it off, while wanting to absolutely die on the inside.  He hit a nerve because he asked me the question I had been so afraid to ask myself - why?  I haven't wanted to think about the deeper things that have made me get so out of control.  I haven't wanted to admit that food is where I go for comfort. It's where I go to hide.  I haven't wanted to admit that I have thrived on the instant gratification that comes from eating whatever whenever.  I haven't wanted to admit that on my best day, I am a complete glutton, covering up my pain and insecurity with food. 

My issues with my weight and with food have robbed me.  I live in a beautiful state where the mountains beckon for a hike or a bike ride, but I don't go because I become exhausted too quickly from being out of shape and overweight.  My kids want to go to the park or do something active outside but I make up a lame excuse because what mom wants to say to their kid "Mommy's too fat to play outside with you"? 

But most notably, as my body has gotten bigger, who I am on the inside has shrunk - I have allowed myself to disappear in many ways. It has been brutal mentally to be smothered by my weight.  I battle thoughts daily of "Well, I couldn't possibly do that - look at me."  The gifts that God has given me have been squelched because the beast of being overweight has completely overwhelmed me.  I feel like I will catch glimpses sometimes of the person God has created me to be on the inside and I think "just maybe I can actually BE that person", but it's never long before doubt and insecurity take over any glimmer of hope.  I literally hide behind people in pictures - doing my best to only let my face show.  My smile really is just masking my insecurity.

If someone tags me in a picture on FaceBook that shows more than just my face, I delete it.  I don't want to be seen.  It's just so heart-breaking. 

I have been on so many diets only to watch any pound lost come back.  Failure after failure after failure.  It has been a very long battle that I have not won.  The sense of failure and despair every time has honestly been too much to bear, and has caused me to settle into the mentality that this is just how it is for me - I'll always be bound by this. 

This past year or so has been a process of internal transformation and realization for me about the good and beauty that exists in me.  I was brought to the lowest place of my life so that God could help me realize who I really am as His beloved, and that He longs for me to dream again and fully embrace who He's created me to be.  I have spent hours and hours in counseling and have done the brutal, beautiful work of unpacking lies I've believed about myself and ultimately, discovering that I have had a bogus view of God all my life, which has made me feel so much less than.  There is some sort of stark raving mad idea being spread around that we should live our lives with our heads hanging all the time because of how bad we are and how much we fail.  And so we stay small and ashamed instead of living in the reality that "God is a wild man who is knocked out by who we are".  As I started to realize what this means for my life, things started changing inside of me and I began to hope.  As I have gotten "healthy" emotionally and spiritually, I have begun to realize that Maryann Williamson was oh so very right when she said:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is
that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our
darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be
brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not
to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the
world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people
won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the
glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in
all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our
own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I think I've used my weight issues as an excuse to keep myself "small" on the inside and to hide from the responsibility I have to live out who I am to the fullest.  I haven't feared my weight issues - I've embraced them far too fast and too easily accepted them as just part of my life.  But what I have feared is the power and the beauty of who God has created me to be.  I have been unable to embrace that and have hidden myself away in excess pounds so that I wouldn't have to be courageous enough to be myself.  Who I was on the outside was a reflection of the sickness inside of me.  It wasn't until I took this past year to look inward and figure out just what it was I trying to hide from that I finally found some peace. Nobody likes to take the time to deal with the muck inside of us, but it's so very necessary; otherwise, we just stay sick.  Being on a journey of loving, valuing and embracing who I am caused me immediate discomfort with my food struggle. 

In September, I decided I was done being a prisoner to food.  Physical health was the next logical step on my path to living free.  And it was terrifying, people!  But the possibility that I could be free, caused me to take a step of faith and just beg God to help me do it this time.  I was tired of shrinking back and saying no to life.  Inwardly, I was new, and it was time to reflect that outwardly by the grace of God and a whole lot of belief that I was indeed worth it.

Four and a half months ago, when I decided I was going to try to break free from this food addiction, I only told a hand full of people because I was scared to death this would just be "one more thing" I tried and failed miserably at.  At age 38, I weighed 215 pounds and was wearing a size 18W. (How's that for vulnerability?!)  I had 80 pounds to lose to get to a healthy weight. 80 POUNDS. It might as well have been 500, it seemed so out of reach.  It's practically a whole person! 

Before I go on, please hear me - it does not matter one iota what you look like or how much or little you weigh.  What matters is that you are free and fully alive.  I am sure that somewhere out there are women who are 215 pounds and free as a bird.  Good for them!!  That is not my story.  For me, my abuse of food has taken away my joy and fullness of life.  For you, it might be something else.  The important thing here is that we break free from whatever prison we might find ourselves in.  I have said for years and years that this is just how my life is and that I don't have any power to change it.  I call bulls***.  That's a helpless, victim mentality that is ultimately rooted in fear.  It was with a whole lot of fear of failure, a whole lot of prayer and a whole lot of encouragement that I started my journey to health and wholeness. 

In the past four and a half months I have lost over half the weight I need to lose and have gone down 4 sizes.  You guys.  I just wish I could convey the power of it all.  Food has lost its hold on me. God's grace has been absolutely overwhelming to me on this journey.  I am humbled and in awe.  But most importantly, I am free.  Even though I have more weight to lose to be healthy according to my doctor, if I never lost another pound I'd still feel free.  It's not about a number on the scale - my quality of life is better, my energy is better, and I find myself dreaming again about my life.  It's such a gift.

You might be expecting an "after" picture, given all the "before" shots above.  But the point of this post isn't for you to look at my body and tell me what a great job I've done.  I have debated even publishing this post because I haven't wanted people to get the idea that I'm looking for accolades - I'm not.  I am very aware that people's struggle with food is a very sensitive one (on either end of the spectrum), and I pray that nothing has been said here that rubs salt in any wound. I'm simply hoping that something about my journey might touch some of you in some way to aspire for freedom, whatever that looks like for you.

It would have been easier and far less embarrassing for me not to address this issue at all here on my blog.  But, I believe in the power of sharing our stories.  I believe in vulnerability and letting people into our struggle.  I share it because my friend shared her struggle and then her victory with me - she made me hope and then take action for myself.  I share it because Maryann is right when she says "As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  I share it with you because I have always been that person who watches other people lose weight and get healthy - it has never been for me. But here's the deal - freedom IS for me.  It's for all of us.  It doesn't matter if it's weight issues, crushing anxiety, relational problems, guilt, shame or feelings that you're not enough - you CAN be free.  You are worth getting free.  Your loved ones deserve you finding freedom.  You are not an observer of your own life - you get to choose how to respond to circumstances, problems and addictions.  You are worthy of health and freedom. And there's a God who believes that about you too.  And He WILL help you. 

Psalm 10:17 says "You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you
encourage them, and you listen to their cry."

So, be bold and brave, friends.  This life is too short to stay small and imprisoned.  You have so much to offer the world.  When we let our light shine, we do, indeed give others the permission to do the same.  So, shine!  And may your own freedom inspire the freedom of others.

the free me

**How I did it isn't the point of this post, but for any of you who share this struggle with me, you can go HERE to learn more about what has worked for me.  Of course, feel free to ask me any questions you like.  Basically, cellular cleansing, switching to all clean eating, and a ton of grace is how I've gotten free.