Friday, June 6, 2014

Childish vs. Mature Freedom

I’ve been feeling sentimental lately. It started on Memorial Day and has just been getting stronger this week with the controversy surrounding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Now it’s the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and I feel sad.

What has happened to us? This tiny infant country that skyrocketed to prominence on the backs of such strong leaders of character now appears to be crumbling. Moral decline, political corruption, patriotic apathy…I hurt just thinking about what George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan would say if they were alive.

As a kid, one of my favorite movies was “The Neverending Story.” Being a cowgirl at heart, I loved the horse Artax more than anything else about the show. But I was always frightened by the mysterious, destructive Nothing that was eating away the land of Fantasia. It was a swirling, black thunderstorm that obliterated everything in its path. There was no face to it—no person. It was just an evil force. And that’s the best way I know how to describe the state of our country today. It feels like the Nothing has descended on us, and we’re just sitting here waiting for it.

Americans have been spoiled by good leadership in the past to the point at which they took it for granted. Just as a teenager resents the discipline of good parents, our nation resented honorable authority figures and begged for a “cooler” set of parents that would let them do what they wanted. “It’s freedom!” they cried. “We deserve it. It’s our right!” While that’s true in theory, I think we’ve missed the point.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of freedom: childish freedom and mature freedom. With childish freedom, you demand the ability to live life according to your own terms. Everything is permissible because you’re free to do whatever you like, and you fully believe you’re entitled to it. Consequences don’t matter because it’s freedom, and it’s your right to use and abuse it regardless of what anyone else thinks. They’re free too, right? With childish freedom, anything less than permission to run amok is captivity, and you won’t stand for it.

The second kind of freedom is mature freedom. With mature freedom, you realize that, while you are free, you also have the ability to make choices and to do so with wisdom and understanding. Mature freedom is having the permission to do whatever you want but realizing that you don’t have to do it just to prove a point. You aren’t enslaved to abusing freedom for freedom’s sake. With mature freedom, you can act intentionally while considering what is best for more than just the man or woman in the mirror.

America isn’t free right now. At least not the way I see it. We’re under the influence of some loud voices who are deciding that what is best for everyone is to throw out all of our founding fathers’ standards and ideals in the name of progress. “Times have changed,” they say. That’s true. But some fundamental truths are timeless. Like working hard to make a living. Respecting your fellow countrymen. Accepting your punishment when you’re wrong. Some things never go out of style.

My dad was a soldier in the Army, and he loved his country. He saw the value in fighting to protect this nation and what it stood for. Though I miss him like crazy, part of me is thankful that he passed away 10 years ago so he wouldn’t have to see what is happening today.

I still love America. I still love our men and women in uniform. And if there’s one thing I could say to them all right now it would be to keep fighting. It’s worth it. This country has a great heritage, and our spirit can be restored. It’s not dead. It’s just being refined. Hang in there and don’t give up.

Today, as we celebrate the Greatest Generation, I pray that we can experience a resurgence of the responsibility that made them so great. I pray that childish freedom will give way to mature freedom and that we can move forward to become an even more beautiful and wonderful nation for those who come after us. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hanging up the Green Apron

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." - e.e. cummings

It's time for me to grow again. To have courage. It's scary, and I don't like it. But I'm gonna do it anyway.

I'll be honest. I hate change. I'd rather bathe in a tub of chewed gum than alter my life or routine. Once I get comfortable, I plant myself and don't intend to move from that spot. As you might imagine, this is not conducive to life, which is pretty much all about change. I once heard a pastor say that we should hold everything in life with an open hand so that when God has to take it away He doesn't have to break our fingers in the process. I have yet to get this.

Last Friday I worked my last shift at Starbucks. I took off the green apron I'd worn for a year and a half, looked at all of the Sharpie stains and then cried. I couldn't believe it was over. And I did NOT see such an emotional reaction coming.

But to me Starbucks was more than a job. When I was hired, I was in a pretty critical situation--fully engaged in an isolating eating disorder and almost completely cut off from the world. Too afraid to go out. Too imprisoned to live. Too stubborn to move. But God spoke clearly to me and nudged me to apply. He stirred in the heart of my store manager to hire me, and He began a restoration.

After being sedentary for so long (other than obsessive running), I was exhausted most days when I first started after being on my feet for hours. My arms ached from lugging around gallons of milk and mopping floors. I had coffee grounds under my nails, whipped cream smears on my sleeves and Frappuccino Roast splattered up my arms. I'd worked hard, and it showed.

Being on someone else's schedule rocked me into the reality. So accustomed to dictating my own agenda, I had to adjust to no longer having that power. The work schedule changed every week, and I had no way of controlling exactly what nights or hours I'd be listed. Before I'd taken the job I'd relied on a regimented calorie intake plan, but I now had to learn how to feed myself based on hunger cues and what my body needed to keep going.

Starbucks brought me under someone else's authority, too, which I needed. The only person other than my husband I'd listened to for months had been Ed himself, so it was a big deal that I had to follow the direction of a boss again. If she called and asked me to come in early, needed me to pick up an extra shift or asked me take a break before Ed was ready to eat, I had to roll with it. And slowly this relieved Ed of some of his power.

The part of working at Starbucks that brought the most transformation, though, was the relationships. The eating disorder lost its power when I started building friendships--good friendships--with my coworkers and customers. I shared laughs, tears, songs and secrets with many people in that store, and I felt a heartbeat again. There was conflict, love, anger and joy almost daily, and I learned to flex the relational muscles that had atrophied.

In the years I'd spent as a magazine editor I'd had a knack for leadership. I'd surrendered to Ed in return for his false perfection. After six months of working behind the Starbucks counter, those leadership characteristics started to peek through. My boss soon gave me a shot at being a shift supervisor, and that side of me got a wake-up call. I started running the store at night and managing staff, money, customer relations and other business-y things. I started making decisions again, using my wisdom and gaining confidence. And with a superior boss as a role model, my leadership (I think) only got better.

About a month and a half ago I started to sense that my time at Starbucks was almost up. My list of freelance clients was growing, and I was looking at more possibilities in the line of work I'd done for 10 years. I didn't have time anymore to complete the editing projects I felt I was gifted to do, and it seemed like doors were opening everywhere for me to return to that as my primary job. Just as God had whispered to me to go work at Starbucks, He whispered for me to leave during a church service on Easter Sunday.

I talked it over with the hubs, and we prayed about it. We both believed leaving was the right thing to do if for no other reason than to obey the Lord. (Isn't that the only reason you ever need anyway?) So I made the call and turned in my two weeks.

It was awful. It IS awful. I loved my job. I loved the people. I loved the atmosphere. I loved it so much, and now I have said good-bye. I've cried over this almost daily in the last week, and I know I will cry more. I never thought I would find such life when I went looking for a simple part-time job.

But that's what happens when you follow God. He leads you places you never expected and into situations that stir the most amazing changes inside you. Romans 8:28 says that God works on our behalf in all things, and verse 31 reiterates that He is FOR us.

God was FOR me when He put me at Starbucks. I must choose to believe that He is FOR me now in my new season. I have no idea what He has planned, but I didn't know then either. In fact, I've never really expected the most amazing things He's done in my life. He's just led me to them, carried me through and let me observe with thankfulness on the other side.

So, off I go, into the unknown future. Off to discover what is next. Off to embrace change like a big girl. Off to have my expectations surpassed yet again by God's better plans.

If you happen to see me at Starbucks in the future staring intently behind the bar, just know I'm probably having a flashback and longing briefly for the past. Don't worry. I'm sure it'll pass. Just make sure you stop me if I start to climb over the counter. Maybe remind me that God is faithful and that He has it all under control. Assure me that He has a purpose and a plan for all of His actions and that there's no better place to be than in His will. I'll try to respond gracefully and get back to my writing without making a scene.

- Jill

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Transformation Gone Too Far

No, no, no, no, no, no. No. NO!

That’s all I could think when I watched the new champ of “Biggest Loser” on “The Today Show” this morning. 

Somebody save her. She’s dying.

Instead, the show’s hosts kept saying how great she looked and how incredible her transformation was.

No. No. No. No.

I didn’t watch the episode. I like “Biggest Loser,” but I have trouble with eating disorder thoughts when I watch it. I immediately want to diet and lose weight again, which I’m not ready for. But I saw posts about the winner’s drastic weight loss on Facebook last night and then saw the pictures online this morning.

Rachel is in danger.

Rachel is a former athlete who put on a lot of weight and went on the show to get help. She says that while she was competing she found her inner athlete again and regained her spirit. I totally get that. It’s partially what happened to me too. I worked in an athletic environment and wanted to prove myself among my peers and superiors, so I shed weight in the name of athleticism and let that be how I explained my disorder.

“I run better. I’m just trying to win races. I want to be faster…”

This girl was aiming for the Biggest Loser triathlon, but she went too far. Just like all of us who know Ed usually do.

Before I dive in here, I want to say that I’m in no way speaking negatively about Rachel or criticizing her. How could I? I know far too well what’s involved in this kind of behavior to look down on anyone for embracing it. It feels way too good. The praise is amazing. The shopping is fabulous. The pride is through the roof. Granted, the life itself sucks, but it feels worth it.

But we have to do something here. Right now. Someone has to say something about this so that people don’t think this is what we should all aspire to. This is not healthy.  Women, shedding all of your body fat is NOT healthy. We are not supposed to be able to see every bone in your body jutting out under your skin. The ultimate goal for ourselves is to be healthy, not scary thin.

I get it. I get the desire. I get the feelings. I get the power and control that comes with losing weight. But your ultimate purpose here is NOT to bow down to the world’s idol of body image. You are so much more than that.

When we sacrifice everything for a perfect body, we lose so much. And I’m not talking about weight. Being healthy is great, and being active is important, but when those become our life and weight becomes our purpose we miss the “so much more” that’s available to us. We miss the people, things, moments around us because we’re too focused on the scale, calories, schedule, etc.

Our bodies are amazing things. They really are. But they aren’t worth our worship. The body isn’t meant to be our god. It’s a breakable, fragile, changing thing that WILL NOT maintain our idea of perfection for our entire life. Not going to happen. We are meant to worship one God—the One who won’t change, break, leave, get old or get tired, and who (unlike the treadmill) will actually love us, save us and provide for us. THAT is what we are to worship. Not an image in a mirror.

But oh, how difficult that can be when EVERYTHING in the world is screaming at us to worship our bodies. Commercials, TV shows, magazines, photos. I know. I fall prey to them all the time. Every time I see actresses on a red carpet I feel like I need to restrict calories and run 10 miles a day. Even when I watch “Good Morning America” while I’m running at the gym, I pay less attention to what the women are talking about and more attention to their appearances, wondering how often they work out and how much they eat. True story.

But eventually I get off the treadmill and tear myself away from the media, and if I’m smart I realize that there is actual life to be lived beyond the one in which I constantly pursue physical perfection. There is a life Christ died to give me, and one in which He offers me so much more peace and joy than I’ll ever find in a diet.

I want to hug Rachel. I want to help her. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to keep living under the awful pressure to be perfect. (If, in fact, that’s what she’s doing.) She’s worth so much to God whether she weighs 260 lbs. or 105. We all are.

For the sake of our nation, I hope someone has the courage to say that this “Biggest Loser” transformation was too much. I hope someone credible in the public eye says that. But at the same time, I don’t want Rachel to get hurt, which is what criticism would do to her, of course. But that also could be a good thing for her to hear. Sometimes the truth has to hurt for us to really get it.

Either way, my biggest prayer is for the young (and old) women out there to be protected from pursuing an unhealthy body based on what we’ve now glorified. Ladies, it’s not worth it. You’re beautiful just as you are. Be healthy and active, but don’t worship a false god. Your body won’t give you everything you’re looking for. Nothing will except for Christ. Turn to Him and find peace and fulfillment today.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Fear Landscape

Spoiler alert:

In the book “Divergent,” the main character—a teenage girl named Tris—has to endure what is called a Fear Landscape as part of her training. In a giant simulation room, her biggest fears come to life one by one around her, and she has to either conquer each one or calm herself down before she can advance to the next one and eventually exit the simulation.

Enter my own fear landscape. Not all of my fears are manifesting back-to-back, but I feel like I’m getting a good dose of them at the moment. In the book, fears that you didn’t even know you had come to life and make you confront your emotions and stand in the face of them. For the past week, I’ve been standing in the room with a bum ankle watching my fears surface and the emotions rise.

There for a while I was doing pretty good. I was celebrating a year’s worth of recovery, feeling pretty strong in where I was regarding food and body. But this week I’ve realized that there is still a long way to go.

During the whole process so far—eating more, living, working, re-emerging—I’ve maintain a high level of exercise. Nothing could hurt me too badly if I kept running, right? The risks seemed much less severe when I could torch 800 calories six mornings a week. But they seemed challenging at the time. Brutal even. But I was always safe and somewhat in control.

Now that control is gone. I’m alone in the arena with no defense against my fears of gaining weight, being imperfect, not living up to expectations, being a failure, being rejected, being weak and simply not being the best. I’m crumbling. I’m cowering. I’m losing.

Last Friday I hurt my ankle so badly that I wound up in the ER on Saturday morning, unable to walk. I was literally crawling around our house in tears, unable to put any weight at all on my left foot. The hospital took X-Rays and found that nothing was broken. And in the course of the last week I’ve discerned that it’s posterior tibial tendonitis. Unable to get an appointment with my orthopedic doctor until Friday (tomorrow), I’ve had to sit, lay or limp on a crutch all day for the last five. My bedroom feels more like a prison cell at the moment. Forget about working out. It’s hard enough to get to the bathroom.

Tuesday night (two days ago) was a particularly low point. I simply couldn’t see a way out of my destiny to get fat, which is to me, apparently, the worst possible thing that could happen to me…still. “I can’t run, therefore, I can’t burn off what I eat. I will be in this condition forever, gain tons of weight, not be pretty, not be valuable, lose all my fitness and have to start over at square-one with running again.”
Further fueling the discussion in my brain is the voice that tells me I can’t eat, either. “You aren’t burning anything at all. You can’t eat. You should only consume vegetables and lean protein. You must go hungry.”

Fear landscape.

Yesterday morning, I had a small breakthrough. I must surrender. I have to give up and totally give my fears to God.

I don’t know about you, but I never really know what that means until I’m experiencing it. But what I envisioned was myself trapped in a net or a snare, thrashing about trying to get free and then suddenly realizing that it wasn’t doing any good. And then finally stopping. Settling down.  “God, there is nothing I can do here. I’m only making it worse by mentally thrashing around. I’m giving up the fight and letting You take it.”

It’s not that I resign to just laying on the bed for all eternity until the inflammation and pain in my ankle goes away, but it does mean surrendering my fears and emotional upheaval to Him and trusting Him to make the situation right in His time and in His way.

So that was good.

Then today I experienced another step forward by reading Philippians 1. In this chapter, Paul is writing a letter from his prison cell talking about how he’s in a win-win situation. He says that for him to live is Christ (the opportunity to share Him) and to die is gain (he gets to be with Him). Paul isn’t scared. He’s not emotionally distraught. He’s fulfilling God’s plan for him in the middle of adverse circumstances, and he’s not afraid. I guess when you’ve been shipwrecked, flogged, starved and beaten within an inch of your life, fewer things tend to rattle you.

What am I really afraid of? What can possibly hurt me? If God is for me and is working all things together for my good (Romans 8:31 and 8:28), what is there to be upset about?

Courage. That’s what’s manifesting. I’m at my weakest point in a very long time, and this is where the Word of God is coming to life. When I am weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). I’m strongest when I’m weak. Because when I have no strength of my own, that’s when His is most clear. When I operate out of the Holy Spirit and maintain peace, joy and courage in the face of fear and uncertainty, it can only be attributed to Him. He comes alive. He shows through. He is glorified. And I am renewed.

I. Will. Not. Fear.

If the worst things I possibly imagine come true, I know God will still love me. My value is not based on my performance. It is based on the fact that I’m His child. And whatever physical state I’m in, that will never change.

Tomorrow I will find out more about the situation and hopefully find some answers and get a plan of action. But I know the healing is already taking place. It’s in my heart, soul and mind. And I believe the body will follow. 

- Jill