Untangle the web of lies – eating, loss & labels

Hello!  Welcome back!  We are trudging through the waters of the tumultuous teen years on this blog right now.  Whew, I am reminded why adults say they’d never want to relive them again. :O  I’m ready to tackle another cultural lie.  Are you?

You are what you eat.  Isn’t that how the old saying goes?  For all intense purposes, I agree.  Yes, nutritional value plays a huge part in our well-being.  I gave up soft drinks, juice, fried foods and candy (not chocolate :)) eight years ago.  I may splurge for special occasions, but none of those are a part of my normal diet.  So then, why do I struggle with my weight?  Consistently inconsistent exercise is one element, but it’s not the main culprit.

To answer this question, perhaps the old saying should be revised…You are WHY you eat.  Bingo.  This familiar trap is as welcome as a tooth ache or flat tire.  It’s so uncomfortable because I believed that I was WHY I ate for so many years.  It’s something I still struggle with to some degree.

This is today’s lie we are exposing.  It goes back to my post about circumstances not defining us – but do we really believe it?

When my mom was nearing the end with her breast cancer battle, I had no one to help me through the emotional maze and stress of it all.  Not only was I trying to convince myself that she was going to be okay, but I also had eyes in my head that saw she was not.  No one would talk to me about the state of her health.  I warred with myself about this every minute of the day.  Add to that the pressure from school and trying to be a “normal” teenager, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a friend (to barely a few), and a student.

I seriously think that adults cannot comprehend the stress that teens go through with a sick or dying parent.  Nothing in the teen’s entire world makes sense.  Nothing.

There were two things in my life that I felt were safe zones.  God and food.  Both were vying for all of me.  God was radically pursuing me with passionate grace, mercy and love.  Food didn’t pursue me, but it offered momentary relief from my troubles.

When my mom was still able to eat, I remember one morning before school (I straddled living in two houses at the time), I reached into the fridge to get something for breakfast.  I mistakenly took one of the only foods that my mom could tolerate.  My grandfather said to me, That’s your mother’s.  In an instant, I decided to use this moment as a cry for help.  I didn’t know how to express my need to talk about her, so I intentionally replied, Sure it is.  It all is.  It’s all about her. Wow.  That was really the wrong thing to say to a man who was nursing his dying daughter.  I know I sounded like a brat.  I meant to.  For me, what I said was my huge S.O.S. signal that I was in trouble and needed rescuing.  To him, what I said was solely ungrateful, mean-spirited and rude.  Even in that moment, I understood his reaction.  I would’ve felt the same way if roles were reversed.  I was going for shock value – and got it.  Let’s just say I never used that tactic again.  Actually, I never made another cry for help again.  I pulled away from everyone.  From then on, I internalized everything.

I now know physical bodies are not strong enough, nor have the capacity, to hold all of our emotions, feelings and thoughts.  Issues will find a way of coming out in the name of sheer self-preservation and survival.  For me, I came down with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), but had no idea it was a real medical issue.  It was a living nightmare.  Mom had just died and I was secretly spinning out of emotional control.  IBS, at first, made me lose a ton of weight.  I was average, okay, maybe holding an extra ten pounds, but soon my clothes were literally falling off of me.  I remember seeing an old friend who hadn’t seen me since before my mom died.  As she walked toward me, her eyes grew huge and she covered her hand over her mouth as she looked me up and down.  I think people thought I simply wasn’t eating out of distress.  No.  My body was blowing up inside and I had no clue how to stop it and was far too embarrassed to tell anyone how sick I really was.

With IBS (and daily migraines!) in full swing, I remember standing in my grandparents’ kitchen one day.  I had drank a half of a glass of orange juice and set the half full cup in the sink.  Remember, my grandparents were from a different era and I truly understood that in my head, but my heart was another story.  No sooner did I set the cup down in the sink, did my grandfather come right behind me, pick up the cup and drink the leftover juice.  He looked at me and reminded me not to waste.  However, I was also living with my precious grandmother who had no idea how to help any of us 0r herself.  So she did what came natural to her.  She cooked.  She offered me food all the time, and my grandfather told me not to waste any.  Ug.  It was the perfect storm.

Then it happened.  One day, I felt a huge hole in my stomach.  I mean, literally, I felt a gaping emptiness overpower me.  Sensing this crossroads, Jesus spoke to my heart immediately and said, I am the bread of life.  Eat of me.  I paused and responded ever-so-eloquently, I have no idea what You are talking about.  Then I picked up whatever was on the counter and devoured the entire thing. Thus the food cycle began.

Food became a god to me.  It gave me something to do.  It kept me company when I was lonely.  Eating was a positive experience (though the IBS that followed wasn’t).  Eating let me put my nervous energy to use.  It was legal.

I am serious when I tell you I understand how people begin addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, sex and drugs.  I get it!   My pain was so deep, ominous, continual and merciless, if it had not been for God’s grace (by giving me a conscious the size of Texas!) I would have done ANYTHING to mask the pain.  I would have drank it, shot it, slept with it, snorted it, smoked it, anything to take the life-draining pain and stress away even for a moment.  This from a girl who had never so much as been called down by a teacher.  I was as vanilla as they came.  Not perfect (ha!!), but I had such an unhealthy fear of authority (thanks to my stepfather) that I had to be as good of a girl as possible 24/7/365 – no questions asked.  The pain was stronger than anything I’d ever felt.  It has been said that people will do anything when hungry enough, I believe the same is also true for emotional pain – no matter how out of character it would normally be.  Praise God He kept me from those illicit things, but I chose food as second best to Him.  I told God once, with food in hand, I know You are better for me.  I know I should go pray or read my Bible.  But that takes energy and effort I simply don’t have.  I want to feel better right now.  Food does that for me. I’m sorry, God.  It’s the way I feel.

God was still my heart’s desire, and I sought Him stronger than ever before, as best as I could, but I had this side-kick shadowing me.  I had a hidden idol.  Food.  I didn’t realize how out of control it had become until one afternoon I laid on my grandparents’ couch watching an old Perry Mason rerun.  I had no life whatsoever, so I logged many hours of television a day (which is why I hardly ever watch it now).  During a commercial, I reached down to grab a soda sitting on the floor.  It was empty.  I leaned over to find another one when I realized a startling fact – in two hours, I had consumed 12 cans of soft drinks!  What I know now about sugar and caffeine, I should not have a pancreas left!  I realized then I had a problem – one I didn’t know how to fix.

Food had become my feel-good friend.  It was my adrenaline outlet.  It was available.  It made me happy for a moment.  But, it was destroying my body from the inside out. Then the weight gain began.  It’s been a struggle ever since to retrain my thinking that food isn’t the answer for: good times, bad times, sad times, fun times, angry times, lonely times, celebratory times, bored times, happy times, sympathy times, and every other time.  What an uphill struggle.

This led to layers upon layers of self-hate because now I had added some extra pounds.  I felt horrible about the way I looked and the way clothes looked on me.  I compared myself with every classmate, stranger and magazine cover.  I hated that I overate.  I hated how I looked.  I hated why I ate.  I hated the IBS.  I hated that I had no control over any of it.  Exhausted, I gave up and gave in to the lure of overeating. And, I had grandparents that had no idea of my struggle and served me food and pressured me to finish the plate every time.

I had given in to every lie that was whispered in my ear.  You’re all alone now. Nobody cares.  You’re fat.  You’re ugly.  You’re pathetic!  You are powerless. You’re weak.  You’re hopeless.  There’s no future for you, so what does it matter?

Without realizing it, I had bought the lie – hook, line and sinker – that my circumstances defined me – I was WHY I ate.  It took years to unwind this thinking.  The Truth?

Yes, I was alone, but NO I didn’t have to be lonely.  The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. ~ Psalm 34:18

Yes, I had a problem with food, but NO God wasn’t going to give up on me. Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” ~ John 6:35 

Yes, my life seemed like a dead-end, but God is the God of new beginnings.  I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.  ~ Psalm 40:1-3

Yes, I was miserable, but God offered a comfort deep in my spirit that not even food could satisfy.  May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. ~ Psalm 119:76

Yes, all seemed hopeless, but NO it was not.  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. ~ Psalm 62:5

Yes, I felt like a loser, but God wasn’t finished with me yet!  …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 1:6

Yes, I felt unequipped to fight for my life, but God fights for us!  Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you! ~ Deuteronomy 3:22

Yes, I felt like there was no future for me, but the Bible says God has a plan. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Before people judge others for how they look – their body shape or size; how they dress; or even their hygiene – it helps to look deeper than skin-deep and see if there is something going on beneath the surface.  I was called fat by guys who didn’t even know my name.  And, you know what?  I wasn’t “fat” by scale standards.  I just wasn’t model-thin.  If you are struggling with WHY you eat, I encourage you to talk with a trusted resource.  Food issues like mine (or starving, vomiting, etc.) don’t have to get the best of us.  I’m right there with you on this journey, learning more and more that our souls only find rest and peace in God – not the kitchen.  Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.  ~ Psalm 34:8

<<Check out the companion song to this post on my Tunes page!>>

Spittin’ image

It was a hot, hurried day.  I needed to get in and get out of the large store quickly in order to meet a deadline.  At long last, I found a coveted parking space.  Pulling in, I looked up and saw a man walking to his car.  I turned off my engine and stared at him.  He never saw me.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him…he looked just like my dad.  So many different emotions stirred in my heart.  I lost my dad to cancer a couple of months ago.

I simply watched this man load his car and drive away – wide-eyed at how much they look alike both physcially and in their mannerisms.  Seeing this person put my mind back in the hosptial during the last 2 days of my dad’s life.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  We brought the kids, though we had many offers to let them stay back.  It was our 4th trip to see him in 3 months – shortening the window with every declining turn of his health.  We received an email from family saying, “Come now.”  We knew this was it.   On a Tuesday afternoon, I threw some clothes together, called my dear friend to take the dog, Bruce literally stood up from his desk at work and left for home.  I ran carpool from school, and in an hour we were out the door and on the highway.

All of us stood around my dad’s hospital bed and tried to think of positive things to say.  He labored with every struggling breath.  I tried to understand the medcial jargon about his condition, but much of it just rolled off.  We knew the inevitable.  I had something else I wanted to talk about with him.

My mom was only in my life for the first sixteen years before she died.  My dad – just the last eight.  It’s a God-story of redemption, forgiveness, and re-do’s.  For now, I will say we’ve had a wonderfully close relationship for these eight years, and I can’t imagine them being over so quickly.

The kids held his hands, maneuvering around the tubes and needles attached to them.  My daughter put on her granddaddy’s beloved baseball cap on her head and it made him smile.  Our first visit with him was pretty good.  He was able to speak a word or two between heavy breaths and could at least mentally track with the chatter in the room.  We stayed until 11pm and were so tired after a full day, a highway’s drive, and several hours of visiting; so we left to find a hotel for a little sleep.  Finally, we found one with availability.  We got to bed around 12:30am and were back at the hospital that morning.

We arrived to find out he had almost passed during the night.  This was a totally different person lying in the hospital bed.  He was much worse.  The kids knew, too.  They kissed him on the cheek, held his hand, and spoke softy to him.  The oygen machines rumbled loudly in the background.  Although some of us were fighting colds, the nurse said we needn’t wear the safety mask so we could spend some priceless face-to-face time with him.

What do you say to a dying man – who is your dad?  I was at a loss for words as I choked back tears.  I prayed that God would give me the right words.  After my prayer, I looked up and saw my dad’s Bible on the bed tray.  That was the answer.  I picked it up and thumbed through it to any highlighted passages he may have noted.  Indeed, we found some.  I read as many as I could find, standing over my limp, quiet dad.  God spoke to my heart to read Psalm 23.  After reading it, his wife looked at me with wet eyes and said, That is my favorite Scripture.  I didn’t know that, but God did.  He even met her need in that tender moment.  It was precious time.  God is good.

With my husband, kids and one stepsister in the room, I asked everyone if I could have a moment alone with my dad.  They were much obliged.  I sat on the edge of his bed, trying hard to not let his labored breathing get the best of me, and leaned in close to his ear so he could hear me.  This would be the last time I would get to talk with him this side of heaven, thus, I was tied up in knots and didn’t know what to say.  God spoke to my heart and encouraged me to say what I needed to.  So I did – respectfully, to a dying man.

I gently placed my hand on his arm and said, I’m so sorry this is happening to you.  I’m sorry I can’t fix this.  He raised his head, turned toward me, and looked at me with crystal clear eyes.  Though all morning he could not show a repsonse, in that moment, he was all there.  Our eyes caught, mine welling with tears.  I continued, No one knows how long they have on this earth.  But, I need to ask a favor of you.  If you get to heaven before me, will you please tell Mom that I love her?  I burst into tears (something I rarely do) and began to beg.  This is really important.  I need you to do this for me.  Will you promise?  He nodded his head yes.  Thank you, I replied with relief under my breath.  There was something else I needed to say.  I love you.  It was the first time I had ever said it eye-to-eye, with heartfelt sincerity.  He nodded again and mouthed, I love you, too, back to me. He passed away just hours later.

As I sat in my van in the large parking lot, staring at a stranger, the door to my grief began to rattle.  After my dad died, we came back for his memorial service, then it was one thing after the next including Christmas, New Year’s, my husband’s surgery, another family death, pneumonia for one of our children, our car broke down, a back injury for me, etc.  Literally, every day was a new crisis.  We are coming out of crisis mode, thankfully, but I am left with the stark realization that I haven’t even begun to morn his death.  I’m stuck in phase one of grief – shock & denial.  He was sick for a short time, and I am dazed and stunned at the fact that he’s gone.  He was just teaching our children how to give the car a tune-up under the hood a couple of months before.  He was wrestling, being silly, winning in chess, and enjoying Mexican food and hot sauce – his favorite.  Now there is a quietness that can’t be shaken.  His name is still on my emails and on my cell phone.  I can’t seem to bring myself to change them.

Eight short years.  My tears are not over the past and what was, they are over the future and what will never be in this lifetime.  Seeing that man, who could’ve been my dad’s twin, created a fault line in my heart that cannot be denied.  Yes, I will grieve.  It will take time.  A lot of time.  My family history is complicated, but God is the Master Healer and He can make sense of the things in this world that make no sense.  I may not ever understand it all, but that’s okay.  I find peace resting in God’s hands as my dad rejoices in His presence.

Scripture to ponder…

1 Corinthians 13:12, Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know in full, even as I am fully known. 

Revelation 7:17, For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

<< Check out the companion song to this blog on my Tunes page!>>