Friday, May 20, 2011

One Hundred and One Pounds

The air was cool and soft on my skin as I walked. I was gliding what felt like effortlessly with an inner energy I hadn’t felt in so long, maybe even never. The voice of Todd Agnew singing a modern version of the most profound words ever written in a song was passing through my eardrums…

“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear…”

A memory hit me. It was February 24, 2007. Unknowingly, God’s Spirit within me (whom I can only guess was there through the miracle of baptism) had been chipping away diligently at the highly durable, heavy-duty,  strong, crusty Damn of my Denial. With one last blow from The Spirit’s chisel, the Damn I had built so meticulously to contain all of my secrets and shame came crumbling down. My soul became flooded with awareness of what an immeasurable wretch I was. I was consumed with recognition of the truth… yes… this was the person I had become. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I was indeed the wretch the song was written about. Consumed with inconsolable grief, loss and total fear to the consequences of who I really was, I lost all hope for a future. Life was too much to bear. Stifled by a type of fear that transcended terror, I knew there was no way I could face the truth before me, there was no way I could ever face anyone in my life again... or myself.

The very same Spirit who had just destroyed my Damn and exposed my eyes to the real nightmare of my life stayed, even though I didn’t want Him there. I wanted Him to leave me be and let me do this my way. “You’ve done Your job now get out!... Are You proud of Yourself? You’ve broken me… You’ve made my blind eyes see and I can’t deny it anymore.” He remained. “Go… I don’t want You here. I hate You.” He said nothing. I imagined it would only be a matter of time before He gathered His things and left so I hurled more insults His way wanting to hurry it along.  I just wanted Him gone. All this awareness was too much. “Fine, if You won’t leave… I will!” With all the disobedience and disrespect I could muster, I grabbed the pills and swallowed them, all of them. “See, You’re not so tough. It will only be a matter of time and I’ll be gone and there won’t be anything You can do about it. I’m in control. I’m NOT going to let You make me feel this way for another moment.”

The clocked ticked loudly and slowly.  Anger and unrest swarmed around me until finally I closed my eyes and began to get woozy.  I lay there awaiting my final act of defiance to become real, satisfied by my stubbornness yet somehow... sad.  I knew He was still there. My heart began to race a little and I began to feel a little strange. My satisfaction became unsettled and my chest fluttered slightly with nervousness.  As the moments began to slip by all the anger and fear I had been feeling began to transform slowly into something very different. Instantly, I was consumed with a new type of fear… one I hadn’t ever felt before. The fear was one of disgrace and sadness, longing and loathing, heavy and bottomless… and it was no longer pointing outward at He who forced reality upon me, it was now deeply entrenched within myself. I didn’t hate Him. I hated me. In what I thought were going to be my last moments of consciousness my pride shattered and I uttered the only words I knew to say… “forgive me.” They were only two words, but they meant much more.  With those words I excused Him from the room.  I let Him know it was okay for Him to leave me now.  I said I knew He had done all He could do to save me and I took full responsibility for it not working out. I told Him to discard me, for I knew I deserved it. I didn’t see it happen, but I felt it. He departed and I was left all alone with my fear.

“… And Grace, that fear relieved.”

Only moments later, my wooziness jolted and I realized I was not alone anymore. Yes, The Spirit had departed but Someone much more powerful had come in His place to be with me. God Himself was at my side.  He put His hand on me and said, "I will never leave you."   I knew whole-heartedly in those moments that He loved me in a way I couldn't fathom. I knew He was bigger than all of my mistakes and screw ups. My fear subsided, I don’t know how or why… but I believed.

How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.”

This was the hour I first believed… I mean really, truly, blind-faithfully, had no idea what it meant but knew it was real, believed. God had always been in my life but this was different. This was the moment of my conversion to Christ. That hour changed everything for me even though I didn’t understand it at all.

I was a frail, weak, feeble, scrawny, fragile looking woman for many months after my conversion. I am five foot six inches tall and should at my healthiest weight and body type be at about 135 - 140 pounds. At my lowest moment, the day He rescued me I only weighed one hundred and one pounds. But it may as well have been five hundred because I felt like the heaviest underweight person in the world.

My memory of that day was over and present time came into focus again. Four and a half years from that life changing night and many things have changed. I’ve been sober all of it, I live in a new house, my son is just about to finish his first year of Kindergarten, my relationship with my husband is amazing, my sister-in-law is now married and having her first child, I have a new church home, and a new recovery program. I have different friends, a different therapist, a diagnosis of ADHD and medication to improve my quality of life, I have new insight, I have a deeper Spiritual growth than ever before, I have new successes and new failures spreading out all over. I’ve lost some character defects and I’ve gained a few.

Just last week I realized there are a few things that haven’t changed in the years since God told me He would never leave me. I also realized that these things really needed to change if I was going to ever be able to accept the true gift of God’s Grace. In the years that had passed since then, my head knowledge was strengthening but, something else far more important had remained dormant. As if out of nowhere, knowledge and brain power joined with the essence of my spirit and the core of my heart and they began to converge together. It was a perfect storm which awoke me to some secrets within me. Secrets which had been meticulously hidden so far down below in my consciousness, that I had most certainly lived with them my whole life. These secrets had become such an intrinsic part of me that they weren’t really secrets at all. They were the defining facts of who I really was. They were me. But it didn't fit together anymore. God’s grace and those secrets didn’t go together at all. Upon further reflection, I recognized I had been holding onto things that could have only been placed there by one source, and one source only... the father of lies. Even through all the Grace I had felt and seen and heard in these years, I was still being bound by the biggest lies of all time….

I am a bad person.
I am not lovable.
I can not escape by past.

I felt the cool, soft air on my skin as I walked. Again, I was gliding what felt like effortlessly with an inner energy I hadn’t felt in so long, maybe even never. The voice of Todd Agnew singing a modern version of the most profound words ever written in a song were passing through my eardrums…

“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear…And Grace, that fear relieved.”
“How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.”

And then came the next part of the song…

“Hallelujah, Grace like rain falls down on me…
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away…
they’re washed away.”

Four and a half years after my conversion to Christ, four and a half years into my walk of trying to understand God’s Grace I finally felt His Grace upon me in a way I never had. This incredible gentle breeze of Grace touched my skin as I was gliding on this energizing euphoric walk. I felt hard, dark pieces from deep inside of me begin to unwind from the places they had been stuck for years. Stains were rising to the surface of my skin and were lifted by the movement of the air around me. It was like the past was being freed from my soul and all of its residue was being cleansed from my inner spirit. I began to feel lighter as it happened. I could envision the mist and vapors dissipating off of me, peeling off, blowing backwards into the wind with great swirls, stirring and rolling, being left in the wind never to be seen again. My skin felt fresh and new, my body felt so light and free. I felt a peace and calm within me I never knew existed. Four and a half years into my conversion I knew with all certainty that I was finally allowing God’s Grace to truly free me from my past. As the air tingled my skin, I surrendered to the only truth I ever need… His Grace Is Sufficient For Me.

With absolutely no desire to look back and see where all of the junk and lies of the devil that had been pulled up out of me were going, I turned the corner of my walk and committed to never ever look back there again. I saw the slight incline of the sidewalk ahead of me and had to smile. I’m ready God. I’m ready to finish this conversion thing with the rest of my life journey. I’m ready to believe what You want me to believe about me.

It has taken a health battle to bring me to this point in my surrender to God. The night of this walk of Grace I looked in the mirror and saw a frail, weak, feeble, scrawny, fragile looking woman, not much different than the woman I saw in the mirror back in February of 2007. Still five foot six inches tall with an ideal weight of 135 - 140 pounds, the mirror couldn’t lie. Seeing every rib easily, viewing the bruising and skin discoloration of a body that has been fighting to become healthy again made me sigh. I stepped on the scale, just out of curiosity. The number that appeared was no coincidence, one hundred and one pounds. But this time, the load felt a lot lighter. This time, the past wasn’t getting to weigh in with me. It was somewhere outside blowing in the wind. I may be standing frail, weak, feeble, scrawny and fragile but His Spirit is strong in me. My flesh will fail, but my God, You never will.  My conversion to Christ is continuing and I have most certainly, turned the corner. 
(Amazing Grace written by John Newton, Grace Like Rain by Todd Agnew)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Slow Driver

I never thought it would happen to me… no… never. But it has. I am embarrassed to admit that I have become one of those dreaded… slow drivers. I’m not 100% sure how it happened but I have my guesses and I suppose when I sit down and put it all together, it does make a little sense. Looking at my past driving record, it's probably a good thing!

I think it started back in November 2010 when my therapist told me I needed to learn how to slow down and learn to take care of myself and relax. Since slowing down was not my forte, it really took a large effort for me to do this. I supposed slowing down even seeped into my driving skills a bit back then.

In December, someone got mad at me on the highway for driving too slow in the left lane. When I looked down at my speedometer I realized I was going only 75 in a 70... only 5 mph over the speed limit. I got out of his way as he flashed a nice finger gesture at me and sped off. Three things happened in my mind that day.
  1.  Anger: I got a little angry as the self-righteous part of me awakened and said, “Hey… my tax dollars pay for this road too! The law says the speed limit is 70 and if I want to drive in the left lane going 70, that is my right!”
  2. Realization: I realized that when other people are in a hurry… it has absolutely nothing to do with me. We are all responsible for our selves and if he was late… it wasn’t because I was driving the speed limit in “his” lane. It was for completely unrelated reason.
  3. Grace: Certainly not grace from me... but a heavenly gift of grace from God... a glimpse into His way of doing things came over me.  I became acutely aware that everyone we come across everyday has their own battles and secrets. Instead of flaring up, I said a prayer for the hurried driver's safety and the safety of the people around him. I asked God to give him peace.

I have since spent more time driving in the middle lane to avoid making others mad but hey… my tax dollars do pay for the road too so you might still catch me in the left lane from time to time.

In January, as I drove my son to school in the mornings, I became keenly aware of the people who were using our neighborhood as a cut through to avoid the stop signs and a school zone on their way to work. It began to annoy me. Not because they were using our neighborhood roads, but because these “cut-thru-commuters” were speeding and ignoring our stop signs. In addition, if one of them got stuck behind me, they would get mad because as I stated in my title – I have become a slow driver. In my neighborhood I especially drive slow since there are lots of kids, bikes, dogs, cats and families. Why wouldn’t I respect my neighborhood, especially on my drive to take my son to school? I recently wrote a letter to our mayor and city counsel asking what could be done about the cut-thru artists. That is so not me.

In February, I got really sick. One thing I have noticed about myself through the years, even as a young lead-footed whipper-snapper… when I was sick… I drove slow. In fact, that was one of the ways I would judge how ill I was. “Oh man… I must be sick. I’m driving under the speed limit!” As you probably know, I have remained ill for quite sometime, I am working at my recovery from a bad bacteria infection but it is a long, slow and tedious process.  I stopped looking at my speedometer to gauge how sick I was feeling because... I was feeling sick all the time.

I guess through all of this, driving slow has just become my new normal.  I said in the beginning I was embarrassed about that but now that I'm typing this, I don't think I really am embarrassed.  I think I'm thankful.  Driving slower shows me that I am doing something right in my attempt to listen to God and slow down my life.

I went to the post office to mail two packages a few weeks ago. The line in the main area was really long, 15 or so people, and there were only two tellers so I decided to use the self-service postage machine. It’s pretty cool and I’ve done it many times so I knew I could fly right through the process without much trouble. As I began to weigh my first package, a man came and got in line behind me. As I progressed through the machine prompts he began to sign louder and louder to show his impatience, as though his noticeable displeasure would make me go faster. I was definitely in his way. Another woman got in line behind him and then another… so I was at the machine with three people behind me. I zipped right through the first package and started my second one. The man sighed more, and began commenting about how long I was taking. Seriously though, it had only been maybe 90 seconds. I ignored him, and neither of the people behind him in line said anything either. I was literally about to push my last button to retrieve my postage sticker when the impatient man behind me said, “I’m just going to go get in the other line… you are taking entirely too long!” then stepped out of line and huffed off to the main postal area line. Right then, my sticker popped out of the machine and I was done. I turned and looked at the lady who was next and said, “His impatience is your gain… I guess its your turn now.” She smiled and said, “Yep!” I let my son put the packages in the super cool alien-esk package eater and we began to leave. I decided to look over at the main postal area to see where Mr. Impatient-Pants was in line. I counted the people in front of him in line now… 22. He was going to be there for awhile. I’m not going to lie… I did a little evil laugh in my head… but only for a moment (okay, maybe two).

As I drove home from the post office, God really spoke to me through this experience. I have lived most of my life in an extremely impatient state. I want what I want and I want it now. I don’t want to wait in line, I don’t want to have to work too hard, I don’t want to be obedient… I want immediate gratification. I want to cruise right down the highway as fast as possible so I can just get where I’m going and get on to the next thing. God has been telling me to slow down for awhile. But I realized, that wasn’t all He had be asking of me… He was also asking me to enjoy the journey along the way.

I went to a class called “Renewal In Christ” several months ago. One of the big pieces of wisdom I took from that was how important it is to remove hurry from my life. I realized hurry and busyness have become the devil’s playground in my life. I had been working at slowing down… did pretty well at it for a time but then got right back into hurrying, worrying and trying to keep myself busy. I believe God allowed me to become ill so He could MAKE ME slow down. Because of the illness, I had no other choice.

The only treatment for my illness is complete diet change... gluten free, casein (dairy) free, wheat free, caffeine free and most importantly… SUGAR free. And when I say sugar free… I mean all sugar, not just plain white sugar. Even the natural sugars in fruit are a no-no for me right now. And it’s not a quick fix… it’s a long tedious process that is going to take time and patience. I will have good days and I will have awful days. And for me, a person who wants what I want and wants it now, a person who doesn’t want to wait in line, a person who doesn’t want to have to work too hard and a person who definitely has difficulty being obedient… this is hard work. I have had to learn that immediate gratification means nothing. I have had to begin to find the joy in the journey. 

There are times, like today, when I want to give up and just say “Screw it… I’m having chocolate pie!” but then God helps me remember Mr. Impatient-Pants at the post office. Hurrying will get me nowhere. In fact, changing my well-thought out, God-directed path purely out of impatience will do nothing but delay my results. The temporary joy I may get from instant gratification is a short-lived lie of the devil. Real joy comes from obedience to the God-guided journey.  I’m glad God has made me slow down, I’m glad God has made me change my ways and I am even glad I have become a slow driver. I don't think I could have begun to learn this any other way and now that I see it, I don’t want to miss a moment.  Not even the sucky ones like today when I have zero energy, a headache and a huge poison sumac rash all over both arms.  Can I just tell you, poison sumac is not fun at all... but I hear God in the back of my mind saying... "be obedient... don't scratch... be patient."

(yes... thats me in the picture... do you like my new hairdo??? )

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Art of Sacrifice

So I have made a pretty big decision in my life recently… to give up sugar. Those of you who know me very well are probably shocked. This was something I swore I would never do. Sugar, candy, cookies, cake, peeps, candy, sweet rolls, sparkling cider, and of course more candy have been the main staples of my diet, especially since God helped me quit drinking in 2007. I could easily blame my sugar addiction on the advice I got from a follow recoverer who told me, “be sure to eat sugar when you crave it… if you don’t you might end up drinking again,” but ultimately it is my own fault for taking this advice and making it into what I wanted it to be: an excuse to eat as much sugar as I wanted to, forever.

I got very ill recently and it seems my poor choices in diet are much to blame for my failing health. On April 19th I made the decision to give up sugar completely. I have adopted a new extremely healthy diet and am trying to cut out all sugars, even most of the natural ones for now. I started a new website called “Beat the Bad Bacteria” that has a lot of nutritional info and some really great easy recipes on it. Feel free to check that out.

I have successfully been sugar-free for 17 days now and I’ve got to tell you, it is hard. It reminds me a lot of getting sober but this time I have something I didn’t have before. I am blessed to have a different level of spiritual maturity. When I got sober from alcohol, I had to be teachable and humble and ultimately God did all the work for me but if I had to tell you how He did it, I couldn’t. I don’t think I was spiritually mature enough to even understand even the slightest part of how He could back then. Today as I give up sugar, I can tell you this… the difference in my spiritual maturity allows me to consciously seek Him in my times of trouble. I truly have nowhere else to go when the going gets rough. Not having sugar makes me feel horrible sometimes and that makes me want to give up and indulge. This morning I am so fatigued and I know its all about the sugar. The only answer is to turn to God and ask Him to give me the strength to deny my craving. God help me not give up on the task I feel you desire for me.

I’ve never been much of a faster (meaning, fasting – giving up food) but someone recently told me that what I am essentially doing as I give up sugar is learning the art of fasting which is essentially the art of connecting to God for the purpose of sacrifice. It’s very difficult to be so disciplined, especially since I have no discipline in and of myself. It’s difficult to be patient about the long term results of this decision, especially since I have no patience. It is difficult to be tenacious in my efforts, especially since I have no endurance. Discipline, patience, endurance… all things God didn’t seem to gift me with naturally – yet I’m realizing they are things He really wants me to learn.

Giving up sugar might sound silly to some people but I feel deeply that it is necessary for me to sacrifice something I love and swore I would never ever give up in an effort to follow God’s will for my life. I love the words of Jesus in this beatitude, “Blessed are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.” Matthew 5:6  I feel in my heart, doing God's will is my greatest desire and because of that I do feel blessed… and proud in a humble way that God has chosen me to learn some really important things in my life the hard way, just so I can learn more about who He is, how He is ultimately in control, and how much He truly loves me.

On a funny note, there has been a lot of talk around our house about my sugar sacrifice as well as a huge change in diet for all of us. Brett was not very thrilled about the grilled eggplant I put in front of him last night. But what was really funny to me was this morning when my little 6 year old came to me and said, “You are giving up sugar mommy and that is good. I’ve decided to give up something too.” This proud mama looked down at her smiling son and asked what he had decided to give up. I couldn’t help but laugh when he answered, “Broccoli.”