Friday, November 27, 2015

Food Triggers and the Holidays

Although I have been around my “goal weight” for almost 3 years, I still deeply struggle sometimes with food and body issues getting triggered in me. A “trigger” occurs when a body experience or food experience translates into a negative emotional state for me, like loneliness, shame or self-hatred. For example, if I feel full, I automatically feel ashamed. I never have to think about it, it’s just waiting for me, like an unseen ingredient in whatever I’m eating. In my “former life” of overeating and especially going to sweets for comfort, my experience of shame became ingrained and predictable: eat too much, feel ashamed and alone, repeat. The layers of fat I saw in the mirror only reinforced this shame story.

Holidays like Thanksgiving which revolve around food are still a huge struggle for me. I desperately want to be free to enjoy these occasional celebrations, to enjoy good foods that I normally don’t eat anymore. Though I have seen some deep signs of progress, I rarely if ever experience any food celebration without some hint of shame. Further, I must make intentional efforts to expose myself to these situations at times. I know that if I never allowed myself to experience “indulgences” then I would never have opportunity to work on these issues (though I have to be careful here!), to try and address these emotional echoes and residual shame issues.

Sometimes it’s like I come to a holiday dinner and say, “Ms. Loneliness, meet Mr. Feast; Mr. Feast, meet Ms. Loneliness.” Then they have a bunch of rowdy shame children who ransack my soul. How can I break free?

The past 2-3 years I have been growing in much more intentional work re-interpreting these events, with the result of finding the underlying causes slowly being healed. Reinterpretation is key here; my experiences of food and shame have been interpreted a certain way for so long that it feels like reality. It has become my “mind-map.” For example, my habit of buying a few candy bars after work (1-2x a week for many years) as a means to deal with the stress of work and my rampant feelings of worthlessness was quite literally transformed by bringing God into that habit in a different way. I didn’t try to change it at first, (tried that a million times before) although I was making healthier commitments and choices in other areas of my life (e.g., calorie counting, exercise) which helped me gain a vision for my life in which indulging in sweets might not be good or necessary.

As I tried practicing the presence of God in these times when I felt so, so alone, I would often pathetically cry out, “Jesus, I know you’re here; I don’t want to turn to these sweets, but I thank you that you will love me regardless. Help me find rest in you. I thank you that these candy bars remind me of your sweet grace and mercy always available to me.” I would then eat them, trying to receive his love (instead of shame) through the food. After a while, I felt less and less tempted to turn to sweets for comfort, until now it’s rarely even on the horizon.

Today, as I deal with the aftereffects of “the shame of feeling full,” two new interpretive categories have been bouncing around my mind and I want to tease them out a bit.

First, I thought of my body as a quite literal boundary for my sense of self. I have borders where my skin stops; this is me. It used to be much bigger. Now it’s slimmer but full of lots of unattractive loose skin (that looks a lot like fat, sad to say!). I thought, “This body is my address; this is where I live with God and he with me.” The underlying issue for me (and many others, I imagine) is acceptance of myself as I am, not as I should be. Whether fat, thin, weak, disabled, or physically strong, God’s loving presence in and with does not change.

Second, and related, I saw Jesus’ words in John 15 in a new way. I saw once again how I need, as Brennan Manning put it in one of my favorite books (Lion and Lamb), the healing of the image of God and of myself. They stand or fall together.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. . . . “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. (John 15:4, 9-10 MSG, emphasis mine)

As the adage goes, “being at home in my own skin” has as much to do with loving this vessel, this body of mine with a particular history (much of it heartbreaking, sinful and silly) as it does with my trust in Jesus who is with and in me.

Brennan Manning writes,

“Christianity happens when men and women experience the unwavering trust and reckless confidence that come from knowing the God of Jesus.” (Lion and Lamb, 18).

and again,

“Tenderness is what happens to you when you know you are deeply and sincerely liked by someone. If you communicate to me that you like me, not just love me as a brother in Christ, you open up to me the possibility of self-respect, self-esteem, and wholesome self-love. Your acceptance of me banishes my fears. My defense mechanisms – sarcasm, aloofness, name-dropping, self-righteousness, giving the appearance of having it all together – start to fall. I drop my mask and stop disguising my voice. You instill self-confidence in me and allow me to smile at my weaknesses and absurdities. The look in your eyes gives me permission to make the journey into the interior of myself and make peace with that part of myself where I could never find peace before. I become more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate. I too grow tender.” (ibid., 23).

Centuries earlier Paul had written a letter to a bunch of rowdy disciples who regularly used their bodies for things other than God:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV)

I used to read this verse as a veiled threat coming from a gloriously annoyed God who tolerated my presence. I’m beginning to see it through a different lens, as an invitation from Jesus to a place of shared habitation where we can grow together in union and communion in every moment and circumstance of life.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving Pre-Work (a repost from 2013)

I don’t usually repost my blogs, but this one seemed important enough to share again – at least I needed it! It’s from November 2013.


As we head into Advent next week (11/29/15) may our hearts be made ready through these kinds of meditations.





I’m realizing more than ever how necessary and appropriate the act and discipline of thanksgiving is to preparing us for the Advent season (which begins this Sunday, December 1, 2013)  

Preparing to receive Jesus as he gives himself to us and not how we expect him;


Preparing to receive Jesus in the company of other hungry disciples, shipwrecked at the stable;


Preparing to receive Jesus with humility, being brave enough to admit that we have no idea what is going on, even after all these years;


Preparing to receive Jesus as the way, the truth and the life of God.


Preparing to receive Jesus in wonder, adoration and in joy.


Thanksgiving is necessary “pre-work” for this work of receiving Jesus. Not just the holiday of Thanksgiving, of course, but the actual act of giving thanks, being thankful, offering thanksgiving for what is good, holy and true. When I say necessary pre-work, I don’t mean it merits us anything, but that thanksgiving carves out and prepares a place for Jesus to be born in us, just as room was made in a stable in Bethlehem. We give thanks for what is good in and around us, for what does not come from us. This requires a certain childlike humility, and as it happens, humility is the basic requirement for recognizing Jesus in the way he reveals himself to the world. Otherwise, we will miss him, leaving us to fend for ourselves in Black Friday lines and shiny packages, in overeating and lopsided football games. We remember that most people, throughout history, have missed him.


Two writers have become travelling companions with me as I do this preparatory work, so I wanted to quote their wisdom here and reflect on it a bit. Their words are unique in that we don’t usually hear things like this at this time of year. I hope you will see what I mean.


First, from the poet John D. Blase:


“Here’s a thought. I share it on Monday because it might take a coupla days to seep deep and if that’s the case then come Thursday you could be ready. I believe this Thanksgiving Day that God has a message for you and me, for all of us really. I don’t know whose voice you imagine God’s voice to sound like (maybe Morgan Freeman or Maya Angelou) but in whosoever's voice you think God sounds like, God says directly to you:


‘I AM so thankful for you.’


If we say that God loves us, and there’s at least a fair number of us who claim to believe that, then why would it be a stretch for God to be thankful for us? Just imagine this huge Camelot-style roundtable and everybody’s seated there and instead of the usual okay-now-tell-one-thing-you’re-thankful-to-God-for exercise, we all sit stunned while God goes around that mythic table and says ‘I AM so thankful for’ and names us, every one, by name, or nickname depending on how God feels in that moment?


That the voice of Love in the universe, and I believe there to be such a voice, were to pause on Thursday and say ‘I AM so thankful for Meredith and Winn and Mark and Ann and Leah and James and Jan and Holly and Michael and Anne and Kent and Pam and Boots (nickname) and Richard and Abbey and Sarah and Will and Don and Ingrid and Mary and Amy and Scout (real name) and…’” (Facebook post by John D. Blase on 11/25/13)


This idea blows my mind! Of course, the idea of God giving thanks leads us to ask, “But, who does God give thanks to??”


We forget that God is a Trinitarian fellowship made up of indescribably rich persons of power, love and goodness. It makes perfect sense that the members of the Trinity give thanks to each other. Jesus gave thanks to God the Father while on earth in an overflowing demonstration of the life and goodness of God caught up in Himself (Matt 11:25-30; 26:26; Mk 14:22; Jn 6:11).


What if, as part of this Trinitarian thanksgiving, you and I were included in God’s giving of thanks?? I am undone with the thought. This is where I want to live! If we are dwelling in this kind of reality, then we can safely navigate all the pitfalls that usually come with the holidays: toxic relatives, shopping lines, traffic jams, painful longings, deep disappointments and elusive joy. Amidst it all we can be grounded in God’s Trinitarian fullness, overflowing from eternity into time in the form of a baby in a dirty feed trough. This is peace and goodness to be thankful for!


The second quote comes from the late Dallas Willard.


“The emotional life of these children of light is deeply characterized by love.They love lots of good things and they love people. They love their life and who they are. They are thankful for their life—even though it may contain many difficulties, even persecution and martyrdom (Matthew 5:10-12). They receive all of it as God's gift, or at least as his allowance, where they will know his goodness and greatness and go on to live with him forever. And so joy and peace are with them even in the hardest of times—even when suffering unjustly. Because of what they have learned about God, they are confident and hopeful and do not indulge thoughts of rejection, failure, and hopelessness, because they know better.” (Facebook post from Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation on 11/25/13, emphasis mine)


The reason this quote is so meaningful to me is that the idea of “being thankful for my life” is profoundly foreign and even offensive. Offensive, at least, to my habitual self-hatred which I have cultivated and held dear, especially during the holiday season when there is so much ammunition for self-hatred! We gain weight, say something stupid, make stupid purchases, get our hopes up and feel utterly foolish when those hopes are dashed, we blow up at store clerks and “idiot” drivers, we get back with our families and feel age 9 again, responding to everything with the immaturity of that 9 year old, we traffic in shame and guilt and then wrap it all up and expect something different than self-hatred to come out on December 25. Lord, have mercy.


The Lord has been doing a new work in me in the past year and a half, and a deep part of that work is learning to be thankful for my life as it is and not as it should be. I am able, in Jesus name and in the power of his Kingdom, to look at all the painful areas of my life (past, present and future) and bring them out of darkness and into the “kingdom of the son he loves” (Col 1:13-14). I can learn to be thankful for parents who failed me, for authority figures who abused and manipulated me; I can learn to see the good that God has brought into my life through loneliness, suffering and physical pain. In Willard’s words I hear the whisper of the Bethlehem Jesus, who loves to dwell with the lowly and broken, saying, “My grace is sufficient in all these points of weakness, sin and excruciating pain. Trust me with them, because I am all you need and I am aboundingly good. You are a gift, from me, to the world.”


This aspect of “giving thanks” prepares me for Advent in bringing all of my life to Jesus as he reveals himself, not the strong, choice, good-looking parts, but the real parts: broken and sagging and empty and dysfunctional. This is the “neighborhood” that Jesus moves into, day after day after day (Jn 1:14).


To wrap this up, remember friends, as you feast with friends and family, to make sure you feast on God’s goodness expressed through Jesus. Take time out to receive the thanksgiving of God that he sings over you (Zeph 3:17)  and allow this to translate into thanksgiving for yourself and your life! That’s a meal worth waiting for and a meal worth sharing!! Bless yourself, bless others, bless God.


3 Because your love is better than life,

   my lips will glorify you.

4 I will praise you as long as I live,

   and in your name I will lift up my hands.

5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;

   with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Ps 63:3-5 NIV)


Here are some more Scriptures that have been on my mind recently regarding these things:


13 For you created my inmost being;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

   your works are wonderful,

   I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you

   when I was made in the secret place,

   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

   all the days ordained for me were written in your book

   before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

   How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,

   they would outnumber the grains of sand—

   when I awake, I am still with you. (Ps 139:13-18 NIV)


Col 1:9-13

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


Col 3:15-17

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Dire Need for Beauty

Like much of the world, I am shocked, silenced and saddened by the Paris terrorist attacks last night (Friday, Nov 13). My family and I are having conversations about it, praying for what little we know to pray for, and longing together for a better world when attacks like this no longer happen because the people inhabiting that world are healed in the depths of their souls by the love of God.

This kind of evil and suffering is mysteriously difficult to make sense of, and this “unknown factor” tends to unravel our souls a bit and make us a bit more skeptical toward the goodness of God. Whatever sense of “safety” we felt before we heard of the attacks has taken a significant hit, if we still allow ourselves to feel such things as safety and wonder.

As I was thinking about restoring a sense of safety and wonder, I found myself returning to some of Wendell Berry’s poetry that I had been meditating on earlier in the day. I realized once again, that Simone Weil was right when she wrote about the “Love of God and Affliction,” that the two things that pierce our souls are beauty and affliction. This piercing is also called penthos or “compunction.” Alan Jones writes,

“One of the ways in which the shock of Christ is kept alive is by means of what the desert tradition of the East called penthos. In the West it is called compunction, and has to do with a kind of ‘puncturing’ of the heart. Penthos (compunction) is the word for that which pierces us to the heart, cuts us to the quick, raises us from the ‘dead.’ Penthos administers the shock that is necessary for us to be who we really are. . . .  [it] frees the soul from the lying and the pretense that tend to dominate us when we are frightened, anxious or insecure. It is also known as the gift of tears.” (Soul Making, 84-5).

The assault on Paris had affected my soul significantly, causing me to wonder if I could ever feel safe in this world again. I realized that the best thing I could do would be to return to Berry’s poetry and let it play once again in my imagination. I need to expose myself to beauty in openness and wonder in order to find healing from the assault of affliction and confusing chaos. We cannot control being “pierced,” either through beauty or affliction, and though the piercing of suffering feels like assault forced on us, we can try and choose to place ourselves in contexts of beauty, goodness and truth. We can open our hearts again, ever so slowly, to the things that are worth living for – relationships, creational beauty, good books and music, etc. I offer Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” for myself and my readers, to help us recover a vision of safety, goodness and rest in a world sometimes gone mad with violence and hatred. Please pause with it as you read it, making room for it in your souls.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)

It’s interesting to note that Berry later objected to his use of “wild things” here, thinking it misplaced. In a 2013 Interview, he commented,

“I would now object to that phrase ‘wild things.’ I’m getting really uneasy about that term ‘wild,’ because after so many years of watching the original creatures of my place what I see is that they’re not wild. They’re conducting domestic life. They’re much better at it than we are. They are carrying on their domestic life — getting food, making shelters, raising their young — just like we’re supposed to be doing in our domestic life. Moreover, they see us as wild. And they’re right. Because we’re the ones who have shaken off our limits, and are out of control, and have given up our manners and courtesies and our compassion. We’re the ‘wild things.’ They’re scared of us and they are right.”

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Christ is Seated (A Meditation)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1 NIV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . (Hebrews 1:3 ESV; cf. Heb 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 ESV)

There Christ presently sits, ruling and reigning in ways that are relaxed, unhurried and irresistibly hopeful, along with all those he has purchased and made his own. His relaxed, hopeful presence permeates all who sit with him there, those redeemed souls bought with his love, the adopted and dearly loved sons and daughters of God.

As his peace rules their hearts, they are trained in his relaxed, hopeful ways of reigning. Participation with him in the living of their lives results in the fruits of his Kingdom presence and activity being made manifest in their day to day world – righteousness, peace and joy.

Those seated with him become like him in ways deeper than position or forensic declaration; they become united in intimate communion with him, becoming so deeply and pervasively identified with him that they end up discovering their true selves, hidden in him.