Reconstruction: Phase One

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

I found the story captivating and the characters compelling. I empathized with the mother’s desperation to find a cure for her daughter. I marveled at the sister’s bravery in defending herself. In the last chapter, I was hoping for a satisfying ending when the author, Jodi Picoult, did the unexpected. As my eyes and brain connected with the words on the page, a guttural sound emerged from me as I threw the paperback across the room. I had the urge to step on the book, stamping out the betrayal I felt. Jodi Picoult had lost me with her ending!

A year ago, I heard Jodi Picoult talk about her ending to “My Sister’s Keeper” on a podcast. She shared that even her son had had a strong reaction saying, “You! You did this, how could you!” But Picoult explained her ending in a way that finally made sense. The family had to have something tragic happen to change their world. This moved them towards reconstructing what a family should be.

Four years ago, I woke with a persistent thought, “It’s time.” I recognized God’s voice, not with a harsh condemning tone, but with a tone full of compassion and encouragement. It was time for me to start addressing some hard things in my life, starting with my weight. I was tipping close to four hundred pounds, finding it more challenging to move around. A year previously, I felt the utter humiliation of my surgeon’s concern about whether I would fit in the MRI machine. Additionally, my blood pressure was out of control, filling me with constant fear of dying young. I knew that I wanted to live, and to do so, I had to address my health. Little did I know that my “It’s time” moment had so much more to do with my spiritual life, not just my physical health.

Pounds started dropping regularly as I made better choices both in food and exercise. But within a few months, my world started crashing, revealing that my professed Christianity was built on a shaky foundation. In the past, I ate bagels and bars to soothe hard emotions. I hid the shame of my morbid obesity by being an over-achiever in church work. I prided myself on the principled, family-oriented life I had constructed. But when this was all stripped away, I felt naked and ashamed. And I no longer understood who God really was in my life or how to move forward. For the first time in my adult life, I felt lost, alone, and unsure. And for the second time in my life, I came to God in utter need, completely broken.

The first time I was broken was in my mid-teens. I had just reported the abuse to a counselor, an arrest was made, and I was navigating life while dealing with post-traumatic stress. Soon afterward, I had a life-changing experience with God, where I was ushered into this faith journey as a Christian. A holy peace transformed my life, giving me hope where I had felt none. It was my starting point, and in my latest crisis, I couldn’t explain away that initial experience.  A recent article* I read included a quote from J.J Packer.  He says in Fundamentalism and the Word of God, “Faith first, sight afterwards, is God’s order, not vice versa, and the proof of the sincerity of our faith is our willingness to have it so.” The faith in my experience, in the integrity of God was the center, and I knew I had to build upon that place.

For the next few years, I started to unpack my beliefs. I discovered my shaky foundation had been supported by structures that emphasized the law of God, ignoring His mercy and grace. I believed in a distant God, who did love me but was more interested in my performance not my relationship. I was afraid to tell God and others that I felt lonely, sad, and angry. I didn’t live the abundant life, and joy manifested as a fake smile to convince God and others that I was content. I equated my political leanings with faith, intertwining conservative thinking with the truths of the Bible.

So many of my beliefs contradicted what I was learning about God. But describing this experience was tricky. Many evangelicals are leaving their faith through a process they call deconstruction. I sometimes wondered if that’s what I was doing, but this trendy hashtag didn’t seem to fit my experience because the one thing I was sure of was a faith in God. A friend of mine connected the dots when she shared about her “journey of reconstructing her faith.” She was rebuilding her foundation by examining God, dealing with trauma and truth together.

 Reconstruction resonated with me.  And I realize this was God’s plan all along. In 1 Peter 5:10, Peter says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Like Jodi Picoult’s ending, this crashing of my world, this persistent urging to deal with hard issues, and this questioning of my faith was to reconstruct my faith. That was the purpose of God’s gentle voice, gently nudging me to wholeness.

 I plan to share with you some more thoughts I have on this reconstruction process in next week’s post. It’s been a journey of discovery, curiosity, and examination. And it is leading me deeper into wholeness and healing.

*The link to the article is included. It is a book review written by Brittany Shields, based on the book Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church.  I have not read the book but will soon.  The article is a good read and helped solidify my position on reconstruction.

Distortion to Health and Wholeness

“Behold, I will bring it health and healing: I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” Jeremiah 33:6

After recording what I ate at my daughter’s wedding shower, including the cupcake, this message popped up on my screen from the food tracking program I had just joined. “Life is hard. Go easy on yourself. Slip-ups can feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Take a breath, listen to a 5-Min Coaching session.” What was meant to be a word of encouragement frustrated me. Although it wasn’t their intention, I felt shamed for making a conscious decision to enjoy my daughter’s shower by making sensible choices. I had one cupcake, and a Panini sandwich. I was aware that this would put me over the suggested calorie intake. But an application only sees what you record, not your thought process.

Once again, I am having to address a small weight gain. The weight gain was enough to make my clothes uncomfortable and for me to notice the difference. It was a tough winter, and I found myself creeping back into old habits, using food as a comfort. I knew I needed to address it and my old methods of tracking didn’t seem to be enough. I needed another form of accountability, so I joined a weight loss program I had used before, hoping a different system would inspire me to be more faithful.

This latest program has me asking some deeper questions: what is healthy eating? and how do we change our habits to eat healthy? As I am counting according to this new program’s system, I am finding myself frustrated. It does personalize it to your lifestyle, so currently eggs, avocados, quinoa, and chickpeas are not counted. But nuts, which are a good source of protein and fat, are penalized. Just ¼ cup of sea salt assorted nuts cost me almost 1/3 of my suggested daily intake of food. I find myself “cheating” by not being as diligent according to the program’s rules. And why do I see this as cheating?

I found this picture a few years ago, and I feel that my position and expression indicate some of the trauma that I was experiencing. It is about this time that I started gaining weight, moving towards obesity.

Like most sensible weight loss programs, they use some scientific research for their program, and are trying to help you become more self-aware of what you are putting in your mouth. Over the course of the winter, I had forgotten that my beloved pistachio lattes with oat milks are a huge percentage of my suggested daily intake of food. The program is doing its job, reminding me that I need to be more conscious of what I eat. But it doesn’t answer the deeper questions.

I noticed something with my almost 2-year-old grandson. He loves to eat, and mealtimes are one of his favorite parts of the day. It is not enough for him to be sitting at the table by himself, he likes to be with his family and interact with them at the table. He also likes a variety of things: fruits, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains. But when he is done, he is done! He tells his parents “aught” which is his way of saying “all done”. He eats enough to fuel himself up and then is done with mealtime and ready to move.

Do I know when I am done? Do I eat a variety of things, and turn down things I don’t enjoy? Do I focus on the company or on my food? What has interrupted my God-given internal sense of knowing when enough is enough? And how often, when I am done with a meal, do I feel like taking a nap instead of moving? And is it possible to get back to that same place where my grandson resides?

All weight-loss programs are businesses at their core. They are businesses with the goal of helping people get to a healthier version of themselves with the additional goal of making a profit. I don’t believe they are trying to take advantage of people and I believe that the programs can help you get started on your journey to being healthy. But I don’t think any single program is the answer.

I just started reading “It Was Me All Along”, a memoir by Andie Mitchell. It is about a woman who decided to lose weight and find happiness in her twenties. I am in the early chapters but one thing she said resonated with me so far. She said, “That whenever I start to feel even one inkling of boredom, doubt, anxiety, or anger, food would soothe me.” Food has habitually covered all my emotions over the course fifty years. I may have started out with a healthy relationship with food, but my pictures from two years old and beyond mirror the distortion I had with food along with the distorted life I was living. Trying to address that distortion and have a healthy relationship with food was a journey I started four years ago. But habits are hardwired and take lots of consistent and deliberate actions to change. And sometimes I just get tired, angry, and anxious, and use pistachio lattes to soothe the difficult emotions.

And sometimes I get it right, like I did at my daughter’s shower in April, and external sources, even if it’s an automated response, shame me into thinking I did it wrong. This post has taken me since April to write. I thought maybe I would come up with a solution to share, or an epiphany of thoughts. Instead, I am still in the same place I was earlier, still trying to grapple with the answers to the questions I asked earlier.

Maybe I am not in the exact same place. I am no longer mindlessly using pistachio lattes to soothe me. I could joke and say I have switched to iced lattes since it is summer. And although that is my drink of choice right now, I am consciously choosing when to have that drink and when to set it aside. And as far as that weight loss program, at the end of July, I will cancel my contract and continue with the program that seems sensible to me.

Finally, I recently showed my niece and nephew a picture of me when I was at my heaviest, neither of them recognized me. I also don’t recognize the young girl in the photo in this post. It is so easy for me to look at the scale or clothes that don’t fit as well as they used to and become discouraged. But numbers and sizes don’t show the transformation that God has been doing in me both internally and in my journey to healthier living. What has been distorted in the past, God is making whole, where I can enjoy a cupcake without shame, eat for nourishment, and move towards freedom.

Body Shame and Leg Warmers

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalms 139:14

                In the 1980s, leg warmers were the fashion rage.  The JC Penney Fall/Winter catalog featured 5’10” models wearing knitted leg warmers over their jeans with suede ankle boots.  Often, the patterns or colors would coordinate with the slightly oversize sweater the model was wearing.  Like all middle-school students, I desperately wanted to fit in, so I bought a pair of leg warmers.  Leg warmers came one size fits all meaning that they were a good fit for the general population.  But I was not the general population, so it was a bit challenging to fit them over my plus size jeans.  After getting them on, I tried to scrunch them down to make them look casually slumpy, trying to recreate the look the mannequins wore in the stores.  Feeling stylish, I headed over to my grandmother’s house.  This feeling lasted only for a few hours when a great aunt broke out of her conversation and looked at me saying, “You are too fat for leg warmers!”  She continued with her conversation, while I sat mortified, feeling like a fashion misfit.

                After thirty-five years, I cannot tell you how many times I have tried something on and found myself still echoing her words, “You are too fat for this!”  Worse yet, I thought I was protecting my daughter by pointing out a hairstyle that I deemed as less than flattering, hoping she would avoid someone else’s unwanted criticism.  Little did I realize that my words would be even more harmful, causing her shame, leading me to apologize for the pain I caused her.

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins

                 For the past few weeks, I have been listening to Jess Connolly talk about her book, “Breaking Free from Body Shame” on several different podcasts.  I have not yet read the book, but her interviews have challenged me in so many ways.  She broke free from body shame by implementing some strategies she shares in the book.  One of these strategies involves eliminating negative criticism of herself and of others.  For example, she no longer looks at pictures of herself and says to friends, “Please delete that picture, it makes me look bad.”  She also gently speaks truth to her friends when they are being harsh about themselves by saying, “Please don’t say that about my friend, I love her!”.

                This is not a feel-good positivity message Jess Connolly is trying to peddle.  Instead, it is rooted in the principle that we are made in God’s image and that what He made is very good, including our bodies.  Too often, we live in a place where we are dissatisfied with how we look, and these feelings capture our attention, energy, and imagination.  We live in a place where we feel “less than.”  We determine our self-worth by how we look in the mirror, or whether the latest fashion flatters us.  We insist on being the one taking the pictures in order not to be captured by the camera in ways we deem as unflattering.  And if we do take pictures, we use filters to soften wrinkles, take off pounds, and make us look better.  Connolly is working to change her internal messages so that she can accept being fully known and loved by God.  This place of acceptance creates space for her to grow, bless others and be confident in what God has called her to do.

                I frequently struggle with this sense of shame in my own body.  I have lost a significant amount of weight, but I look at the hanging skin on my arms and feel “less than”, looking for sleeves that are three-quarter length to cover up my shame.  I look at the BMI chart and still find myself in the obesity category, even though I am the most fit I have ever been in my life.  I see the effects of long-term obesity as flashing red lights warning me that I will never be enough.  I hear my friends echoing the same issues with their own bodies as well, no matter their size or shape.

                This August, I am challenging myself to consciously work on finding my worth in God; not in the tightness of my skin, not in the BMI charts, and not in the scale that I step on every few days.  I am going to work on reframing my negative body messages by first paying attention to what I am internally saying.  When it is negative, I am going to remind myself what God thinks, replacing my messages with the truth found in His word.  I will still choose to eat healthy and exercise regularly because it is what my body needs to perform optimally the way God intended.  But I am going to show myself some grace.  I am going to put away my scale for the month because my health is not found in the numbers on the scale.  I am going to look at the skin on my arms and remind myself that hanging skin is evidence of God helping me conquer some strongholds in my life!

                Recently, I wrote about what a life free from body shame and food fixation would look like for me.  I wrote that the amount of mental energy I spend feeling ashamed and focused on food could be spent being creative with the gifts God has given me.  I could walk into rooms feeling confident in God, not feeling “less than”.  This confidence could be a witness to others, giving testimony to God’s unconditional love for us.  By no means, do I think that one month will erase decades of body shame…but I must start somewhere!

Empty on Bread

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

I made a tough decision the other day: I quit the gym that I have been attending for almost two years.  It is a temporary decision based on a state mandate of wearing masks while working out.  I agonized over the it, desperately trying to figure out if I could make it work.  I did okay with the masks during the weight circuit but struggled with breathing during my normal cardio routine.  Ultimately, I had no choice but to quit the gym and find a different way to stay fit.  Although I felt panicky as I signed the paperwork, I heard God speak these words “Trust Me”.  I walked out of the gym, confident that I would continue my path of healthy living.

I know some may think that this weight loss journey has been all about my ability and my willpower.  For those of you who know me, I won’t deny that I have a strong will, some may say I’m a force of nature.  Yet, this healthy journey has not been about my will, my ability, or my knowledge.  If it were all about will, I would never been morbidly obese.  If it were all about my ability, I would never have struggled with exercise.  If it was all about knowledge, I have known for years the science about healthy living yet, never applied the information regularly to my life.

This healthy journey, losing 167 lbs., has been less about me and more about letting God into the process.  You see, one other time, in my mid-thirties, I lost a significant amount of weight.  That time, the journey was all about my ability.  But because I didn’t let God deal with my motives, my heart and my reasons for gaining the weight in the first place, when I hit a plateau and stopped being successful, I quickly gained all the weight back.  When my ability failed, when my will faltered, and when my knowledge did not work, I shoveled food in my mouth to avoiding dealing with problems.

                We all have default coping mechanisms for dealing with crises.  Some coping skills are healthy, but often, most of us use unhealthy coping methods.  I used food to deal with childhood abuse and it later became my default way of dealing with life, in general.  No matter what situation came up in my life: stressful parenting situations, marriage challenges, busy schedules, relationship struggles, or even just wanting to reward myself for a good job, I turned to food.  Food became the center of all major events in my life, from planning parties, hanging out with friends, holidays, and seasonal changes.  I defined my life by what I was eating!

 Not only was I stuffing my face with food, I was stuffing all my emotions with food.  More significantly, I was trying to avoid feeling empty.  When I was empty, I not only felt hunger pains, I struggled with emotions like loneliness, frustration, anger, and disappointment.  I was uncomfortable with these emotions because they made me feel exposed and vulnerable.  So, I avoided this emptiness by eating another slice of pizza, another magic cookie bar, or another of whatever else was nearby.

                Food was an easy fix to the feeling of emptiness.  Food is everywhere!  Even in the Bible there are many references to food.  For instance, the Hebrews wanted to return to slavery in Egypt because they remembered the fish, cucumbers, and melons.  David met Goliath on the battlefield because he was delivering cheese to his brothers.  Daniel and his friends turned down a diet of rich food for vegetables to please God.  Even in the book of Revelation, John sees a vision of the marriage supper of the lamb.  It is obvious that God created food for us to enjoy.  As Asheritah Cuicui says in her book, “Full: Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction”, “Food is a good gift from a good God.”

Yet, God never intended food to satisfy our emotional needs.  Asheritah Cuicui remarks in the same book, “Food cannot fix anything—God is the only one who can satisfy us because He created us to find our satisfaction in Him.”  This is illustrated early in the ministry of Jesus.  After a forty-day fast, Jesus, weak with intense hunger pains was tempted by Satan.  He, having all power, could have easily turned stones into bread.  Yet, he declared in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The word “live” is translated from the Greek word “zao”.  According to Strong’s Concordance, “zao” means “to enjoy a real life, to be active, blessed, and endless in the kingdom of God.”  God’s word helps us to lead an active, full life that is blessed, whereas a candy bar creates a longing for more and never satisfies.  God never intended for us to fill our emptiness with food.  Our emptiness can only be filled by activating His word in our life.

I have “about” twenty-five pounds more to lose.  I say “about” because I am letting my body dictate the stopping point rather than some arbitrary goal that I have in mind.  I also am not defining success based on whether I achieve that goal.  Instead, success for me is defined as learning to cope with my emotions in a healthy manner.  It is learning to find new strategies to stay fit instead of letting circumstances derail me.  It is learning to find my completeness in God instead of a cheeseburger.  It’s learning to make relationships, not food, the focus of celebrations.  Ultimately, success is not a piece of bread, but living a full, active life that is blessed by God!

My First Blog Post

Am I really

middle-aged?

“So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

Colossians 1:10

Recently, my husband and I were discussing my desire to write a blog. I was trying to articulate about the audience I was hoping to reach. I kept saying things like empty-nesters, people with adult children, premenopausal women and other definitions. In Terry’s succinct manner, he said, “You mean middle-aged women.” I instantly bristled at that definition. All of these thoughts raged in my head: I’m still young, I’m not even 50 (well 3 years shy of it!), I haven’t joined the AARP yet, I have vivid memories of high school and I’m just now thinking about starting a career after being home for 21 years. Certainly, I am not middle-aged!

Then it hit me. If I double my current age, I will live to be older than my grandfather did! On the timeline of my life, I’m smack dab in the middle of it. No matter how I slice it, I am middle-aged!

Why write a blog for this audience of women in the middle of their life? Cyberspace is full of mommy blogs and millennial adulting memes. Lifestyle blogs abound, especially if you are a foodie or fixing up your home. Yet, in this weird world of social media celebrities and viral videos, there is little to offer a middle-of-life woman (sounds better than middle-aged). Especially to a 47-year-old woman who identifies herself as a Christian.

Yes, there are blogs from Lysa Terkuest, who writes powerful books that have ministered to me. And I can’t forget the soulful, poetic Ann Voskamp’s blog that I read again and again to soak in her words of wisdom. In the Apostolic Pentecostal world there are the blogs, posts and writings from the witty Rachel Colthrap who makes you laugh and brings you to conviction at the same time.

Not to disparage any of these women. In all of their writings, they are honest and transparent about their faults, shortcomings and trials, yet these women all appear to be extraordinary.

Where are the ordinary blogs, about middle-aged women dealing with tough transitions gracefully? Dealing with subjects like adjusting from parenting teens to blessing adult children. Sharing goals with others on how to live your life in healthier manners, both physically and mentally, as you age. Discussing strategies to strengthen your marriage as empty-nesters. Dealing with the nitty gritty, honest details of conquering life-long giants, such as obesity. Health concerns, life adjustments, leaving a legacy…..the list is endless!

This is my blog, my thoughts and, more importantly, my journey to making these transitions gracefully, so that I can bear fruit and increase in the knowledge of God. Please join me and feel free to share with me your thoughts as well.