January 20, 2012

A painful and beautiful journey

I call this a journey because I am the last person that wants to say "I've arrived, I've figured it out." I need a sign on my forehead that says "Work In Progress". With that said, I'm long overdue for some public confession.

For years, I've made food, instant gratification and every whim and desire that comes to mind my supreme focus. Not always consciously, that's true, but I'd be a liar if I said I made some choices without thinking twice. From a sociological standpoint, we can come up with tons of reasons (read: excuses) for this - the American culture, an abundance of resources, "living life to the fullest", tradition, "there's nothing wrong with it", "you're too hard on yourself", etc. For me, the truth is: I turn to food and satiety in its many forms for comfort, security, control and identity.

A few years ago, someone was speaking about responsibility and accountability for weaknesses in one's character and actions. The speaker pointed out many of our well-acquainted (and often, socially acceptable) reasons we give for not owning up to our failures; the list included the ones already mentioned and others like family/friend influence, upbringing, peer pressure, emotional instability. These are all rooted in the attitude of helplessness. Before I knew it, the breaking blow came out of the speaker's mouth - none of these (nor any others) are valid excuses for being a grown adult and feeding/growing in your character flaws. We were being challenged to own our failures and actions in the present; our destructive and irresponsible behaviors should (and could) no longer be blamed on anyone else.

It was an awakening. For the first time in my adult life, my heart and mind were open to the truth that I can make a conscious choice to not feed my flaws. It was also soul crushing for me. I felt utterly overwhelmed when I looked at the breadth of my destructive ways and I didn't trust in my strength to truly change. I knew I was weak and that it was my lack of strength that had always failed me.

Let me say this before going on any further: this isn't just about food. If you're reading this and think that's the case, please reconsider. It's possible that you're reading and we are not very well acquainted - oh the joys of facebook and the internets - but if we've had a conversation in the last 5-7 years, I'd like to think that you know I'm talking of much more than food issues. And as cheesy as it may sound - I would have rolled my eyes and sighed too at one point (oh how the proud fall) - I'm talking about the heart here. Your heart. My heart. Left to our own devices, we will ALWAYS choose comfort and satiety. That's the chief focus here and I'm begging you, don't disengage or shut down. Hear me out.

So, back to this journey I'm on. I was faced with my self destructive behaviors in full for the first time ever. I could see them for what they were and I was heartbroken. My excuses had been stripped away and I felt very raw, very bare to this new reality. I am the overachiever, the do-gooder, the A student, a proud firstborn. I don't fail, right?


I tell this story when people ask me what changed in regards to taking care of my physical self. Really, I know my thoughts and emotions were already being stirred up to see reality but it caught up with me one morning as I woke up. I looked over to the mirror on top of my dresser as I sat up in bed and I didn't recognize my reflection. I stared for a long time, trying to pick up any faint reminders of me and I couldn't. I was really scared and the heartbreak weighed heavy.

I don't know about others but the perfectionist firstborn thing plays both to my favor and my pain. When I fall, I want to pick myself up by my bootstraps, dust myself off and go. My sister said the other day, "when you decide something, you jump in head first." It's true and isn't something I'm ashamed of, really. I just don't always pick the best things to jump head first into and I'm woefully disappointed when I don't succeed. See! Favor and pain.

I woke up and knew things had to change. Through tons of interactions with others and plenty of self reflection, I finally correlated my unhealthy living with deep rooted excuses and lies I had bought into for years. I'm not sure I believe a person experiences true success with any physical change without experiencing emotional and spiritual change as well. In fact, I may someday argue that the emotional and spiritual change must occur first before anything. I may also come back and eat my words, too. Only time will tell.

The last 16-18 months have held plenty of success and failure. I've tried a crash diet, hardcore calorie tracking, USDA food guidelines (huge mistake, by the way), working out hard 5-6 days a week; I gave up trying to do anything for a short jaunt while in India thinking Indian food would prove healthier than my normal diet. It's mostly vegetarian, how could that hurt? (Side note: has anyone eaten paneer? As delicious as it is, it's not meant to be eaten everyday. Trust me and the 5-8 lbs I gained.) My pride has been tested to (what feels like) the extreme and that includes my insecurities and fears.

You know what, though? I've tasted the freedom of choice and it's what keeps me going. Even when I fall (and this happens often), I forcefully remind myself that I have a choice to make - death or life - and  I'm enabled to get back up again. I told a dear friend recently, when talking about what changed down deep: "I finally believe the promise of real joy is for me and I want to do everything I can to taste it. I was a slave to myself and my appetite. I want and choose joy today."

I wonder sometimes, "what would I be like today if I believed these things but I hadn't experienced any physical progress in the right direction? Would I persevere or would I retreat into old ways?" In all honesty, I don't have a solid answer to that question. I know I'd like it to be positive, that this change is much deeper than skin, but I'm not sure. Again, only time will tell.

If you're reading and identify with anything I've said, can I encourage you? You are more than your ideas about you and your life is meant to be much more than you think it is. I'm not talking about money, social success, the ideal weight, romance. I'm talking about the down deep you - you are meant for more than your ideas of what you should be. Haven't you asked it before? In the quiet, in the still moments when the noise fades, haven't you whispered or shouted it out to yourself? Maybe even hoping that someone would answer?

I have good news: there is someone to answer. Someone heard me when I was at my lowest, when I could barely form words to express the pain and regret. I know it is hard to believe; I've doubted it countless times and don't be surprised (I won't) when I'm found doubtful again. Someone values you much more than anyone or anything else in this world; someone hears you, even in your silence. You won't ever be able to fathom His care, His love for you and He doesn't expect you to. He only asks for you to come: "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." His name is Jesus Christ and He wants to give you rest right now.

The joy, the freedom, the ability to see, the strength to make a choice, that I can get up when I fall - it is only possible because I find my peace in Him. Don't try to clean yourself up first. Don't ignore the call until tomorrow. Don't believe that you've got too much baggage or that you're beyond the gifts of grace and mercy - that's a lie and only leads to more pain. Go to Him with your anger, your pain, your frustrations, your fears, your insecurities, your lusts, your hunger, your thirst. I promise that He will answer. And those ideas you've created about what your life is and can be will be trumped in painful but beautiful ways.

Choose joy. Join me on this journey

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