Thursday, December 17, 2015

When Joy Finds You

Today, my heart is overwhelmed. My mind envisions the scene on How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon version) when the heart of the Grinch swells so big that the box it was contained in at the beginning can no longer hold all the joy that is within it when the Grinch discovers life and connections outside of his mountain top cave.

Two words have defined my life this week: But God.

I'm struggling with this today, but God intimately knows my struggles.
I'm not sure I can do this, but God tells me in Philippians 4:13 that with Him, I can.
I'm so tired of fighting this battle, but God promises that He will fight for me.
I am so afraid, but God assures that He grants strength and courage.
I don't like myself today, but God says I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image.
I can't take anymore today, but God promises shelter like no other
I don't understand why I have to deal with this, but God promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him.

The list goes on and on. Last week during my quiet time one morning, I felt so broken. Treatment for my eating disorder has been, is, and will continue to be hard work. It's emotionally, physically, and mentally draining. But it's exactly where I'm supposed to be and I have no doubt that it has all been God orchestrated.

I think back to when I first came to treatment, and I don't know where that person is anymore. She was cowering in the corner covering her face, trapped there by fear, insecurities, doubt, shame, and guilt. The chains that were so intricately linked together weighed more than she did. She knew she needed help, but to her that felt like admitting failure. She knew she needed help, because she finally realized that she didn't know how to help herself and she was suffocating in the small, dark corner that had become her entire world.

She tried to save herself by staying busy and trying to do "good" things by giving her time and her love away constantly by serving others. And she gave and she gave and she gave, but she never truly received anything sent back her way because she felt undeserving and unworthy. One day, she had no more to give. She realized that she was empty.

Humbled, she realized that she once again found herself in a situation where she had to release her stubborn grip from the control that she thought that she had, and she had to hand over all that she had left to God. All that she had to give Him was herself and the mess she had made of herself, and that was enough. God could work with that. She knew that logically, but she didn't truly believe it yet. She thought that she was too broken.

God took her and uprooted her. She was obedient, but not accepting. She knew that she needed help from the people that God placed in her path, but she resisted. This eating disorder, the pain and trauma, the guilt and shame and fear and doubts and insecurities were all she knew anymore. Who would she be without them? What would occupy her mind without them? Could she really loosen her grip in order to discover the key to the chains?

She decided to try, but she was stubborn. In order to loosen the grip she would have to experience emotions that she didn't want to feel. She would have to experience emotions that she had shoved away for years. She would have to explore them in depth. She would have to cry and truly feel everything she had been afraid of feeling. She would have to start unpacking all of it bit by bit from the safe in which she locked them deep inside. She would be challenged and have to face things about herself that she didn't want to face. It would be hard, and she was afraid. 

Gradually the grip did start to loosen and I started to emerge from within her. I began to learn how to admit when I needed help and how to ask for it. I started learning that my eating disorder isn't about food, but rather, that food is an unhealthy way of coping that was forced on me by things in my past combined with my inability to process it all on my own and my stubbornness that held it inside of me for so long. I had to learn to start separating my emotions from the food. I'm still learning these skills. I'm a work in progress. I have to continue to get to know who I really am.

But on that day during that quiet time, God was speaking to me and for once, I was quiet enough to hear. And I could feel God telling me: "Lay it down. I see that you are tired. I see that you're going to continue breaking if you keep trying to do this alone. Let me fight for you". But I argued: "God I have tried that so many times with this eating disorder and all of this other stuff, but it hasn't worked. It would only work for a short amount of time and then I was back in that downward spiral". 

God: Have you truly ever laid it down?
Me: Yes! So many times I have tried!
God: How did you try?
Me: Well I've...I've taken it to the cross and laid it at your feet. But then, I picked it up and took it back with me over and over again. There isn't a try. It's either left at Your feet or it isn't. 

And in that moment I did break, but I broke in the way that I have needed to break for so long. Suddenly, that girl in the corner lifted her head. And she stood. The chains fell to the ground. She had realized that truly laying it down doesn't mean that she would be instantly healed. She accepted that there was still a long road of hard work ahead, and that is ok. As she turned to look and take in the world around her that she had hid from for so long, a little sparkle shone from her eye and a little confidence entered her step. And in that moment, I realized that the entire time, I've been staring into a mirror. 

That sparkle was in my own eye. The bit of confidence was within my own steps, and I no longer saw a frightened and trapped girl, but rather a young woman who realized that the world outside of her eating disorder and disordered thoughts was a big, beautiful world full of joyful moments with herself and other people waiting to happen. And it was scary. But it wasn't the same fear that kept her trapped in the corner. This was exciting; it was an adrenaline rush. She craved more. She craved more Jesus. She craved more genuine connections with other people. She craved adventure and the chances to take in the beauty of this world and the people in it.

"God, what do I do next? How do I get there?"

"Trust. Trust in me. Trust the recovery process. Trust yourself. Just trust."

And as I begin to trust, I am finding joy everywhere. There is joy in seeing another person take a huge step forward. There is joy in the smiles at the nursing home while you sing unrehearsed Christmas carols. There is joy when I look at all of God's creation through a camera lens. There is joy when I sit down with a paintbrush or a pencil. There is joy in smashing plates against a wall. There is joy in serving Christ. There is joy in practicing self care. There is joy in serving and loving others. To love and give, you must also be willing to give God His time first, and take time for yourself also.

There is joy in discovering what really sets your soul on fire and being passionate in your pursuit of that. There is joy in feeling at peace with where you are and where you've come from, and where you still have to travel. There is joy in God orchestrated moments that result in having church with a complete stranger in an aisle at Target. There is joy in obedience when He calls you to serve, but then also gently reminds you to balance it with the right amount of self care; refilling so that you can come back and serve and experience the true joy of giving.

We focus so much on what is wrong in this world. But today I can say with confidence that there is so much joy to be found. You just have to seek it. For me, that is seeking God first and the joy comes automatically. 

I can't claim recovery yet. It's still the flag at the top of Mount Everest that sometimes seems farther away than others. But I'm still climbing. I'm not giving up. I am accepting that the climb will be hard and that there will be times that I stumble or feel like quitting. But I am trusting. 

For the first time I am truly experiencing the life that God has had planned for me all along and joy. True, undeniable, joy.
He is so good.

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
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  1. That is beautiful, Staci. And so insightful. May God bless you and continue to lead you on this journey.

  2. You are such a talented writer, Staci. This is so genuine and heartfelt, and I love that you shared it with me. I'll be lifting you in prayers of protection with what you're facing on Christmas Eve...


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