My Toughest Place

Stacee - brick stairsI want to dedicate this post to the ladies I shared a table with for the last several months!  I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a life-changing experience with a group of people, but it is a bonding experience difficult to explain because the emotional attachment “just happens.”  This post is about where things got real for me. All of my coping tools were outsmarted, all of my rules were broken, all of my fears surfaced. And it happened not once, but multiple times a day without fail because I chose for it to.   But I wasn’t alone. Not for a moment. This is not a writing to exclude anyone, but the people I ate around 350 meals with during in-patient treatment deserve a shout out. They are courageous and loving and selfless.  Picture this…ladies going through a line in a small restaurant setting, facing food.  Sounds enticing if you love food and aren’t afraid of what different foods will do to you, but we are afraid because of the messages the media crams down our throats.  Combine with that fear the eating disorder relentlessly yelling in our heads, telling us we are weak and giving in if we take a bite of the pasta or chicken fried steak or cinnamon roll, and you have the potential for a perfect storm.

Why? Because we go to intensive inpatient treatment to face those fears over and over so that maybe…just maybe…we will discover our fear is an illness, not a reality. But it’s not only that. If you are in this level of treatment, the eating disorder is so loud our health is greatly compromised and there is a window of time to get nourished.

So…we spent a great deal of time eating at a table…like most people do, but we hadn’t.  Facing this fear six times a day is the hardest thing I’ve personally done. Not getting to carefully control what I put my mouth, was emotional - at least for me. I cried through most of my meals and that’s okay because I had professional and peer support. We ate with trained technicians, nutritionists, and therapists. Our anxiety was usually “at a 10 out of 10,” but if I wanted to get nourished, this was the deal. The most important part of getting through each meal, which had been prepared by a chef and staff who cared deeply about the quality of the food and about our recovery, were my peers who sat on either side of me.

These ladies were cheerleaders as well as patients, once they reached a certain point of their care, and their mindset was to go for a level closer to freedom. When being re-fed, I was scared because of my many food rules but, more than that, because my stomach wasn’t used to food and at first it wasn’t a  welcoming host.  I felt pretty bad. But this is why I was away from my family. I absolutely couldn’t do this on my own, and God provided amazing support. Those around me, and I with them, got to where we could read the outward signs of struggle and extreme stress - a shaking leg, a shaking hand trying to hold on to something as basic as a fork, not picking up a utensil at all, and for me…tears. I never rejected the food. I wanted to show the eating disorder it had taken enough from me, and I was not going to continue to surrender to it, but the tears just flowed.

As we would sit there together and progress through the meal at a reasonable pace, which was and is a struggle for me, the bites would become more delayed and those around me would begin to talk to me and remind me of why the struggle is real and why I was going to get through it. “Stace…Doug loves you and wants you to be healthy.”  “When you eat you’ll get strong enough to go watch Rylee dance and take her to and from school.” “Hasn’t Shelbee been asking you to come to see her at college and meet her new friends?” “Stacee…when your brain gets fed over time, you will get to write again.” There was nothing enabling about my soul sisters.  Nothing.  With few exceptions these gals wanted to get better, and they weren’t going to leave me behind.

I miss my peers every single meal because we got each other. And those called to often take the brunt of the sickness and anxiety and the killer in our heads, are often in a thankless position. But they see more in us. They see potential in our lives if we will just choose to take one more bite and then the next. God foresaw who I would need and most certainly who they would need as we coexisted in this vulnerable position. There were no coincidences.

I am better for knowing them and laughing with them and crying with them, and loving on them and them loving on me. God is more than good. He is the gifter of all good things. So putting people in our lives when we just can’t struggle alone one more moment, is Him. I felt guilt at first for needing more than Him. I beat myself up relentlessly for this, but then I was reminded we are made for community living…and this was the community I needed.  The therapists’ hugs which made me know I could get through this and the hugs from peers who didn’t let go until we were okay to do so. This was God showing me survival was within my reach…our reach.

You don’t have to live in a group like this for 4 months to be changed to the degree that you can continue to fight a battle. Who surrounds you now? Who reminds you and cheers you on and unconditionally reminds you that God isn’t going anywhere and those who love you who don’t want you to go anywhere? If there is no one, that’s my prayer for you. That God will put you in the direct path of those precious people who want you to do more than survive. They won’t stop praying and reassuring and loving until you thrive! This, my friends, is why I fight and let others help me do so.  Let there come a point in your life, where you just want more.

So here’s to those who worked, served, and temporarily resided by my side. And to those who prayed for all of the above from home.  You are my kindred spirits, my inspirations, my motivators so I could come home to my loves. Ladies…“ You are so worth saving.”

Love,

Stacee

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4.13

Light in the Tunnel

You know how it is when you have done the same thing for years, and you are trying so hard to stop and do better, but you have setbacks?  It can be disheartening.  Let’s look at 2 verses, and then I have a few things to share to keep us desiring to move forward even with a tough road in recovery or really, in life. “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”(Psalm 27:4-5)

I’ve been memorizing these 2 verses. My mind has been giving me more trouble than usual, and Scripture memory is the only way I can escape when my mind feels so full. Thinking about God keeping me safe and protecting me, at times from myself, is more than encouraging…it’s amazing, and so is He.

Learning to cope with the mind God has given me …without self-harm…has been more difficult than I could have ever imagined and a few days ago, God reminded me of a funny memory. When our youngest daughter, Rylee, was in middle school, one of her good friends, who had a boyfriend, became “so over him.” She just wanted to be friends.  After much thought, I’m sure, she went to break up with him.  He was surprised she wanted this split, and he asked her why.  She, in her quick defense and confidence said, “it’s not me, it’s you,” and that was it.  Now… I don’t know the particulars of the situation, but I heard both recovered rather quickly.  I have heard people say, “it’s not you, it’s me,” but this was too funny.

I so often want to tell my mind, “it’s not me…it’s you!”  I am grateful to have the mind God has given me, but it is too much for me and sometimes even for my doctors.  I’ve been so tired of the journey lately, and I know I have written mostly from past experiences, but this, this post is about the present. My mind and heart seem to heal more and more when I focus on bringing you and me encouragement which can only come from the Lord, so let’s continue to strive to get better and look to the only One who can heal us physically and spiritually.

Growing up, when I reacted wrong or messed something up,  verbal and or physical abuse came quickly. So when home left me, I continued the cycle. Now, when I am frustrated or upset with myself…those learned responses (now self-inflicted) can no longer be a “go to drug” for me, and I can feel lost. Letting God love on me when I do the wrong thing? So foreign. So gracious.

God doesn’t react to me like I react to me, and I don’t react to others like I do to myself. I don’t know…I guess the best way for me to describe my mind would be that it’s like I’m looking down a long tunnel. My mind…the way it works and shows me a situation….it’s tricky.  But some days the tunnel has light streaming through it, and some days it’s pitch black. I don’t want it to stay black. I never win when it does.

When my sister and I were little, we would take empty paper towel rolls and poke holes in them and look through one end of the roll outside.  We would cup our hand over the open end of the roll. The light couldn’t help but push its way through the holes, and it would look so cool, especially if we poked holes to make a certain design.  If we wouldn’t have poked the holes in the tubes, what would the point have been?  On the days my mind and heart start out hopeless, the tunnel is dark and without holes. There is light all around me, but until I surrender and let God “put the holes” in the tube or tunnel, I can’t see anything hopeful. The enemy wants me to believe there is no way to have hope and see light coming through because of the way my mind works.  He wants me to cut, or give up writing to you, or see only the path of destruction I have left behind.  In order to bring light into my mind so that I can see hope, I have to cope differently, and it’s extremely hard. It requires doing something that at the time seems weak and powerless when I am used to feeling empowered by restricting my food for a few days so that I can’t remember.  Or it may mean repeating the action of surrendering to God and asking Him to take away my strong desire to punish myself physically so that I won’t repeat my mistakes again. It’s new for me and I am not all that awesome at it…yet. But I’m not giving up.

It’s a waste of life to believe the lies that the world yells at you and me. It’s a waste of life to live as if the enemy is suddenly going to help us and not hurt us. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and life requires obedience to God who will only guide us to a fulfilling life on earth in order to get better. Although my brain is whole, my mind is also divided, and the same brain that fights to get better is the same brain which can hear the enemy … which can have endless flashes of vivid memories - both good and bad, and which can believe God is carrying me from the front lines of this battle. But because it’s the same brain, it  holds out mercy for you as you fight and fail and fight and triumph.  Please know that everyone doesn’t have to validate the reality of the difficulty of this journey you are on. Don’t wait to fight until everyone is on board and supportive.   When I wake up and can only see darkness, God is  ever-present to help.  This fight is real so yes…I do get down and that’s just me being honest with you. I do experience setbacks with my anorexia recovery and my mental health issues, but God is so big that if I will let Him poke a hole in the darkness of the tunnel, He will fill it with light that can only come from Him.

What does this look like for me? It looks like reading a verse from His Word,  the Bible. Then, it looks like letting Jesus give me the courage to let Him help me get my clothes on one piece at a time and get ready to go out and meet a friend who may need encouragement, or get things done at home which help  my family.  Do not compare yourself to me or anyone else.  Comparison can kill us.  Learning new ways to survive and live without doing harmful things (including ones I may not have even mentioned) is hard, and God has a personal track for each of us who desire healing.   But one step at a time God pokes light into my day, and I never regret venturing out with His help. It’s the only way to let go of the behaviors that have worked so hard to kill me…and you.  This road, for me, has been 20 years, and if it keeps me close to Jesus and if the battle reminds me to have mercy for those around me, those God has placed in my life to walk this out with - like you…I’m in. I’m all in friend.

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak: the Lord delivers him in the times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to his foes. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.” (Psalm 41:1-3) I love you and feel the joys and pains of getting better right along with you. You are precious to me, but most important, to Jesus who has given His very life to spare yours and mine. Right now…wherever you might be, please let God know you need His help in this fight to stop using the same harmful coping mechanisms and to separate yourself  from addictive behaviors. Maybe you need help dealing with the discouragement which can come from setbacks in sickness and struggle.  I encourage you and me to say to the enemy… “It’s not ME…It’s YOU. Now GO in Jesus name,” and let God show us His light today.

Love to You!

Stacee

Grace Extended

So, friend, I had a different post ready to share with you, but I’m going to need to put it away for now because God has something else in mind for me to share His love and mercy through.  How do I know?  Well, I was in bed …and now I’m not, and it’s 2am.  Although this season of cold can be difficult to get through because of limited sunshine to give us the natural vitamin D, I try to think of it also as a time of year where we seem to take longer portions of time to be together and where lingering over conversation with family and friends is coveted.  Recently, I sat across the table from a precious friend with whom I have several significant things in common. We didn’t have to explain what we felt or meant by what we were sharing, we just knew. You know the kind of friend that you can almost finish one another’s…..sentences? This gal is my friend for life. It was easy conversation, but our topic was far from that, and I just can’t seem to get it off my mind.  So my prayer is that God will reveal fresh hope to us for something that is far too familiar to so many… to my precious friend, and to Doug and me. We had only been married for a little more than a year; Doug was fully into his master’s work, we were in the ministry, and I was full throttle ahead as a new middle school teacher. We were having so much fun with friends who also were just starting out together. Doug and I knew we wanted children, but we were not wanting to rush things.  We were just getting used to sharing our lives with one another, not to mention sharing a sink.  We took the precautions necessary to prevent a pregnancy but…I still got pregnant. Although it was sooner than we had planned, we were so excited, especially with my history with anorexia. Some people cannot get pregnant because of the consequences of the beast, so I was elated to not have that issue as there had and have been other health consequences to battle as part of my chronic eating disorder.

As weeks turned into months, my check-ups were starting to show that our little guy was not very strong as he was being watched very closely by sonogram.  He was, however, still very much alive, and we believed he would get stronger, but I was strongly advised to eat more.  I wanted this baby much more than I wanted to deprive my body of food, so my eating began to increase regardless of how I felt about my deserving of food.

One morning, when I was well into my second trimester, I woke up feeling even more exhausted than usual as our little boy was taking a lot out of me at this point, so I grabbed some breakfast to eat on the way to teach school.  As I got buckled in, I noticed that my tummy was a touch harder to get the seatbelt around, and like any anorexic, I panicked for a moment, but then felt truly relieved that any growth may be taking place with our little one.  I so badly wanted to be a good mommy even before he was here.  To get to my school, I had to drive over one of the highest overpasses in the DFW metroplex, and, that morning, everyone seemed to be headed in the same direction.  I had a serious car accident.  I’d rather not get you lost in the details of the accident, but I was hit by 2 eighteen wheeler trucks at the top of the overpass. As my car bounced off the retaining walls, I could see over the railing enough to see the traffic down below. The whole scene was a living nightmare.

As I was rushed to the hospital, I remember lying there in the ambulance with tears rolling into my hair as they tried to get a heartbeat and, to all of our surprise, the paramedic said we still had a baby.  I covered my face with both hands and just cried in relief.  That’s all I wanted to hear. My injuries included a severely bruised sternum with some internal bleeding, a fracture to my left ankle and my right knee was badly bruised, but we still had a baby!  Isn’t it amazing that you don’t realize how badly you want someone until you don’t know if you still have that someone?  As a result of my sternum injury, my husband bathed me for the next few weeks because I couldn’t sit up on my own. This just made me love him more.  His actions reinforced that God chose my husband for me for so many amazing and loving reasons which have slowly unfolded over the last 20 years.  Please never underestimate the importance of God choosing your spouse or close friends.  His wisdom surpasses all we can see and imagine. We don’t know the road ahead.

The internal bleeding did not heal like my legs did.  So I only got to carry our baby boy for only a few more weeks after the accident.  The accident was too much on my body and, coupled with my low weight, this became too much for him.  In addition, this loss, for the next months, was almost too much for our young marriage. I was skinnier than ever with casts on both legs as they wheeled me past my sweet husband to do the first on two surgeries to take our son so that we could supposedly get some closure and so my body could begin to heal. But I didn’t care about healing. I wanted to be a mommy to our baby, and I didn’t want in the days ahead to hear that we would need to wait at least a year to even try to have a viable pregnancy. I wanted this baby and for the hurt to go away so that the full magnitude of pain from the loss wouldn’t have to come. I had come from hurt, and I wanted to be done with it. I wanted a new and fresh start.

Doug and I…we grieved alone. We didn’t know how to handle things any other way, and it’s taken years for us to even talk about this difficult time  - even after our little girls came along and defied what specialists said was possible.  But I got stronger with the passing of time, and because of God’s mercy and sovereignty there was a next pregnancy.  We were pretty much scared to death with this “at risk” pregnancy, and  I had 11 ultrasounds. She arrived on her due date and was perfect.  Then 2 ½ years later God brought us through another at risk pregnancy with only 9 sonograms to give our oldest little girl a “bestie,” and they have been inseparable since day one.  God sustained them, and me, and our marriage. He is in the business of healing and restoring.  With the loss of our precious son, we still dealt with loneliness when we were together, and we felt alone when we were with our friends.  I felt like I didn’t deserve to be here if our son wasn’t, and although time can be a healer, it has been God’s mercy letting us be parents which has trumped the sadness many days.  The enemy has tried to kill me emotionally over this loss, but it has been used by God as a patient tutor to remind us that He has had a plan all along. Even on our darkest days, there is hope when we let God in, okay?

God’s mercy and love have given us two healthy and amazing girls who take our breath away.  But I want to say that grieving our son’s loss does not compromise the thankfulness we celebrate with getting to parent our girls.  God knows that one child’s life does not delete the pain of another child’s death. We have 3 kiddos in my mind. I have to say this for my own sake even if not out loud. I have to, and sometimes keeping this reality in my heart makes his life even more precious.  When we see a little boy walking around the church or a restaurant  or a store, we seem to stop and watch him as if that’s how Beau Bennett would look, forgetting he would be almost 19 now.  We forget this until we see a cute strawberry blonde young man walk by and Doug and I make eye contact with one another realizing it has hit us simultaneously. But we are okay!

As I share more of my life, please know it is so not my goal to be able to identify with everyone on everything on every level.  Believe me…I am forever thankful to be able to proclaim God has not only brought us to this place, but that He will absolutely not leave us here.  Life, however, can absolutely be tough!  And when we live in community, and share our experiences when the timing is right, God allows us to comfort one another and suddenly there is meaning to our hurt and experiences.

I am trying to believe this truth:  in my weakness, He is not disappointed in me or who I’ve become or what has happened.  In my weakness, He ushers in His strength and the amount of faith I place in Him helps to determine where He will take me.  I don’t want to miss out, but my faith can be so weak; so when I am suffering, He often shows me Himself through Scripture. It helps to focus on Him, so I read in  Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,”  to remind me that HE knows we suffer, so we will need His promises to get us through!

Living in hurt and guilt over loss is paralyzing.  It will kill us if we focus on it.  I can only live in His grace (I am so new at this - and sorta bad at it!), and can only stand on His promises.  He is God and whether you have had a miscarriage or lost a child full term or  have lost a child at any age, he or she matters and is in the company of the ultimate Father.  He wants to heal you in your loss. He wants to heal our hearts and help us to breathe deep in His presence. Loss of a child is devastating and this, God gets.

I have had the blessing of sitting next to so many precious women who have shared about their loss or losses. And maybe if we were to sit and talk, you would say that your story hasn’t played out in the way you had so hoped, and you are angry with God about the absence of children in your arms. He can handle your anger, and He can grasp your depth of sadness. But we can’t stay in that anger.  He sees our hearts, so maybe it would be good to sit with Him and give Him your anger, guilt, as in my situation, and your sadness. He is the master of meeting us right where we are.

Thank you for letting me share about our son, Beau. Many of you reading this have gone through so much in an effort to be a parent and you have experienced loss. I am so sorry. Please believe that when we come to the point of sharing what we have gone through with even one other person, we can heal a little bit more and you will find … it’s not so lonely anymore.

“Jesus… Thank you that what we go through here on earth is not in vain. You can use anything to draw us close to you if we let you which is the ultimate purpose of our being here.  You know I have been overwhelmed with guilt and sadness for many seasons in the past about how we lost our son years ago and all of the issues around him not making it. You hurt with us over  the loss of a child and you understand the devastation so well, so please, meet each of us where we are in our healing.  Thank you that loss isn’t for nothing, and that You are the ultimate comforter when a life is lost, no matter how brief the life.  Bring joy to the darkness of those hurting, please Father. Thank you for raising the children who can’t be here with us. No one is more able.   We love You!”

Love to you…

Stacee

I’ve memorized this brief verse to help me through today…so I hope you will consider memorizing it too.

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, AND MY HOPE IS IN YOU ALL DAY LONG.”  Psalm 25:4-5

True Story....

When I don’t get to stop and write to you, I miss it and you so much! This time of year is amazingly wonderful but it can, all at the same time, be amazingly difficult. So, I want to share a non-holiday story with you in this holiday season. It’s a touch of our wedding story to help us focus on the only One who can lift our spirits in such a spirited time of year. The following is a true story that wasn’t amusing over 20 years ago, but now, I am willing to talk about it in certain settings! :)

I had just turned 23, and I was preparing for the most important evening of my life thus far - our wedding. Doug and I were to be married at 6pm in a gorgeous banquet room on our university campus. It was all lit up with numerous chandeliers, and colonial windows surrounded the room, so the room reflected the bright lights and illuminated their brilliance. A quaint balcony was just large enough to hold a bell choir that was to serenade my dad and me as we walked in to the Bridal March. The only thing to make the room more beautiful would be the calla lily flowers and berries that I had chosen to be draped all over the room and the same choice of flowers would decorate our wedding attire just enough. I couldn’t wait to see it all when I walked down the aisle shortly. Flowers are my favorite. They represent life to me, and although I had seen our seven layer cake, the flowers were going to be the highlight.

Up a flight of stairs from the banquet room was the bridal suite holding the giggles and smells of hairspray and perfume of my closest friends and female family members. Little flower girls and miniature brides with simply smaller versions of my cathedral length wedding gown ran around and played as they were ready to show off their darling curls and dresses. My dress, which once hung on a satin hanger, was now hanging on me as I was zipped into the layers of satin and my veil was fastened to my red curls. I was marrying the sweetest man I’ve ever known that night, and I couldn’t remember being more at peace and full of excitement. Excitement about the present and about our future. My beautiful bridesmaids and I reminisced as we got ready and told hilarious stories of things we’d gone through as roommates and suitemates, and now, as sisters.

An important fact I should insert here is that two nights before this evening, Doug and our groomsmen were playing a few harmless games of basketball to blow off some stress from their “wedding preparation” (ha!). Somehow, in the mix of their game, Doug went up for a rebound and on his way down, his nose met one of the guy’s shoulders and broke Doug’s nose horribly. So this injury was my only concern as time was getting very near for me to walk down the aisle to see how he was, as I had barely seen him since the accident.

As the final touches were being added to my dress, I received a note from him telling me how he could kiss me to keep his nose from aching worse than it already was, and I suddenly became super nervous. After reading the note, I looked around only to realize that my bridesmaids were no longer around me and that, actually, no one was close by. Then, I noticed my father standing by the stairs. He motioned for me to come to him and nervously I quickly approached him in my puffy gown. He took my hands and looked at me and said, “honey…I think we should talk about what we DO have.” I said to him, “ummm …what do you mean, Dad? What do we NOT have? Dad, do I still have a groom?!” He put one finger almost to my pearl lipstick and said, “yes…Doug is so ready, but your flowers and bouquets, including the unity candle, are not going to make it for your ceremony and a friend of yours is almost back here with a bouquet of plastic flowers that you will just have to use. The important things are here, and I know flowers are your favorite, but there are over 400 people waiting down these stairs and, most important, so is Doug.” Realizing that people forgive not having flowers at a wedding, but not having cake and punch would be completely unacceptable, I faced the fact with much relief that we wouldn’t have an angry mob awaiting us after our ceremony. So, I wiped my tear and got ready to meet my handsome groom.

So much planning and preparation and dreaming can go into special occasions in this life and still tough things can happen. Of course now I can see, in the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t too horrible, but at the time it felt so much worse until things were put into perspective. Why do I share this story with you? Because God has really been talking with me about stopping and taking absolute notice of “what I DO have,” and what we can all have. I have so, so much, and I am definitely not an ungrateful person, but I have treated my body pretty bad for so long. So, He challenges me to go deeper still. Our lives are full of peaks and valleys, and He has been calling to me to stop and let Him take the guilt and worry and regret which I carry around with me as if I must to prove how truly sorry I am for all my mistakes. It so weighs me down and hurts me and punishes me. You see…I have been sick for most of our marriage and while we have amazing memories as a couple and family, these memories, if I’m not careful when looking at pictures or listening to stories from the distant and not so distant past, are laced with anorexia and deep depression. The enemy wants me to live in the lie that because this is true, this is who I am or will ever be - an anorexic and depressed mom, wife, sister, or friend.

He taunts me with things that are true about my life, but God…God sees me totally different. He sees progress in my small steps. Again, God sees different, and I really have to spend a great deal of energy and focus on what God says, but even more so during the holiday season it seems. More memories come to mind, more realizations are marked mentally with celebrations, more pictures are taken to mark the memories. So… I must be on guard to not sink, and so must you. Please stop for a moment with me and think about what lies the enemy is hammering you with today. Now, instead of agreeing with the enemy about who we are, let’s thank God for where we are right now, because it’s the place He is going to rescue us from if we let Him, and we never ever have to come back to this point again. Psalm 103.5 talks about how Jesus “satisfies our desires with good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” I have lost much time, but He is my restorer. Then, in Jeremiah 32.17-19, we see that the enemy isn’t our boss. ”O sovereign Lord! You have made the heavens and earth by Your great power. Nothing is too hard for You! You are loving and kind to thousands though children suffer for their parents sins. You are the great and powerful God, the Lord Almighty. You have all wisdom and do great and mighty miracles.”

Jesus is the Truth who kills the lies. The enemy can’t have us when we belong to God, so let’s fight the enemy when he invades our thoughts. Tell him to go, “in Jesus Name!” It’s easier to agree with what he says, as I have mentioned before, but don’t you get tired of what he says to you? It’s a brutal way to live…I know. God our Father does not condemn us for the wrongs we have committed. He says for us to take His load and He will take ours. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11.28-30). Only He can console, truly console, our hearts and minds and change us. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent…” (Psalm 30: 11-12). Jesus sees us in a way that we just cannot imagine.

So, how did our wedding ceremony turn out? Beautiful. No flowers miraculously appeared, but it was still such an amazing, God-focused evening. We realized it was just as it was supposed to be. I know that a “flowerless” wedding doesn’t hold a light to the struggle we go through in fighting to get well. But God, even then, was preparing Doug and me to focus on what we do have in Him. It’s hard to do…. it’s so hard. I will share more in the days to come of how, at every stage of my relationship with God, I have needed to be drawn to Him and refocused and especially because of loss soon after our wedding.

This ceremony called life is humbling and challenging and worth going through with Him, my friends, because you see, with Him, you and I have everything, including flowers. God wants so desperately to be our focus because it’s then we realize that we can, through Him, wipe the tears away, no matter the situation or addiction, and focus on Jesus. What Do we have with Jesus? An eternity with Him. Without Him, the best laid plans aren’t ever enough.

Jesus, thank you for loving us. Sometimes You have to stop us in our tracks and pull us aside to help us focus on what we Do have. You are more than enough, and You are the only One who can make things be just as they should be in our lives. Thank You that we do not have to listen to and agree with the lies the enemy haunts us with. He is not in charge, and we praise You that You are. We celebrate You and Your birth especially in the days to come. We honor You by thanking You for how You have carried us to this day for a reason. We confess our utmost need for You and the joy of You, Lord, is our strength. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Where is the Hope?

Stacee and girls at Lake Hefner Today, as I am writing to you, I am sitting in my dining room beside a big window where I can look out and see our pretty little purple, pink, and white flowers. They are small but so strong to withstand our Oklahoma wind. It’s a beautiful fall day and the leaves are an indescribable color somewhere in the orange family. I am choosing to ignore the weeds I see because they are just frustrating and ridiculous. However, every time I look out the weeds do seem to have moved closer to the window. Creepy! In spite of them, I look out and what I see absolutely reminds me of hope. Hope, in my life, shows most when my fight can be the most difficult. Like white chalk on black paper. Offering you substance does not come from my mind and heart alone…by far! My mind can fail me, not so much in my memory, but in remembering that I have hope. I can lose sight of the many things the Father has carried me (us)through, so recalling a few of them daily as an accountability that cannot be avoided or discounted is essential. God’s faithfulness in my life deserves to be shared because it is real. This is awesome because the enemy wants us to be hopeLESS, so let’s do this!

I have evidence of God’s hope walking around my house, eating all of our food, singing, dancing, watching vines and TV. I have hope asking me if they look okay before meeting up with friends, and I have hope sitting on their beds at night spending time with Jesus. I see hope sleeping late on Saturday mornings after a long week of school and activities. I have hope looking at me across the sanctuary at church on Sunday to smile at me because I made it to church that morning because sometimes I haven’t. I have hope encouraging me to eat so I can feel good and be fully present at an event like some of the other moms. I have hope in the imperfections of their lives because they don’t evoke the same response from them that mine have in me. My two “hopes” are full of joy and passion about life and for God. I can see hope, and it makes me speechless.

Since God alone can see the big picture of our lives, He knew part of my healing would involve two precious redheads. Our hope is not in their performance or achievements in this life, but in the truth that there is evidence of Jesus living in and through them. It’s a miracle, really. When I see them actively seeking God, I see that some of the family cycles passed on to me aren’t there anymore and that… is hope! To my knowledge, I come from three generations of women struggling with depression on my mom’s side of the family alone. My dad’s mom struggled greatly with mental illness also. Amazing women who sought relief to the best of their ability, but suffered and struggled greatly. So when I see my sweet girls thriving in this life, all I can do is thank God for the hope I see in this cycle of mental anguish releasing itself from our family. Two blog posts ago, I referred to my parents’ divorce during my senior year in high school. This year, our oldest daughter is a senior, and so many memories have been flooding my mind of my experiences during my last year at home. Can you imagine my thankfulness, that because of God, her experience does not compare with mine? That’s hope! She is okay and full of joy and hope for today and for her future, and her younger sister is following her lead.

I have written about “restricting “in my life several times, and this way of life naturally seeped in and stole my hope. For years I did not allow myself to hope because all I had to do was look at the path of destruction I was leaving, and I was instantly hopeless. If I stop and focus on the people I have lost, and the strain on my family and friends which sickness and addiction can leave, I don’t feel good at all. It’s too much to take in. My hope is not soi temporary most days, but I still have work to do here with God’s direction. So many who have eating disorder and self harm problems aren’t the unmotivated and self-absorbed, contrary to what many believe. Not at first anyway. They are often over achievers who have grown exhausted and perfectionists who’ve experienced one too many failures. Those are the more common to get sick.

Here is where I have to go straight to what God’s words to me say, or I get overwhelmed with sadness and hope starts to wash away. 1 Peter 5:8-11 serves as both a warning and a reassurance. It says, “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (That part is viciously true... but it gets better) “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” The struggle is real! Do you want to get better? Whatever your problems may be, do you want to get better? God would never downplay that being here is hard, but His grace and mercy are strong and therein lies the hope. The enemy wants us to grovel and fail, so anything resembling this is not from God. How different would today be if you and I went to Jesus with our hurt and guilt and fear, rather than to our addictions which seek to “devour” us. Please know, friend, to deny the hope which is truly from God is to literally hand our freedom to the enemy. Hope placed in anyone or anything else is lost.

Consider this action…I often have to write down what is hurting me and what is keeping me from accepting hope. After I write these things, I hold the paper in my hands and lift this list up to God asking Him to take it, and then I tear the papers up and throw them away. When I hold these things inside, I get worse; so this, although simple, is a physical act to give them to the only One who can heal my heart and make room for a little more hope.

I have a final plea for you today. If you have never asked Jesus to come and live in your broken heart, would you please consider Him? If you have not, this hope (my lifeline I refer to) likely seems foreign. This does not have to be so! Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and him with Me.” (Revelations 3:20). There is no catch, no judgment no matter what your life looks like or who you are. I have been honest with you since beginning the Speak Out Loud blog, and my honesty won’t stop. But for true life and freedom to fight for our lives, Jesus is the key. Wherever you may be as you read this, in the U.S. or another country, Jesus translates the same. He died on the cross a criminal death for you and me, to pay the penalty our sin (wrong doing) deserved. That’s the truth, and His gift to us is His leadership and love in our lives and forgiveness when we do wrong. I have found that I lose everything without having a relationship with Him. I give Him my life and there is meaning beyond the next restriction or next cut. Jesus is hope.

“Jesus, I do not have to know where the people who are reading these words are spiritually, but I do care where they are. I care deeply. Things and choices and patterns of addiction, and the things we buy into, can be paralyzingly wrong and not of You. So Father, thank you for being so willing to meet each of us right where we are, without judgment, and with eager anticipation to give us the hope which is only found in You. If anyone who has looked at these words of hope at this time does not have a personal relationship with You, I pray in Jesus’ name that he/she will desire You more than anything else in life, and invite You to inhabit their heart. In Jesus name, Amen.”