Why do you do whatever it is you do?

I’ve been thinking about that lately.  The world stopped for a precious minute and we’ve all had time to ask ourselves for the first time in the history of probably ever why we do what we do without the eyes of the outside world expecting much.  We have had a literal minute of silence followed by a horrific noise leaving us all speechless, and Silence again.

So, no one is paying attention but everyone is watching.   What matters to you? What do you actually care about?  The world was stopped and now its inflamed.  Everyone is speechless with their mouths hanging open and I ask myself why and what next.

I love transformation.  I seek out people who want transformation.  My life has been a process of slow transformation, and transformation is the kind of work I do with my life.  While I make my living in the physical transformation of bodies, I get to be a part of the spiritual, mental, and emotional  transformation that is all part of a divided whole.

This picture feels like what we so desperately want.  This little girl, arms open wide, shamelessly joining in what she hopes to be good, and where she hopes to be included.  It may just be the warm up to a workout, but she’s all in.  She knows getting it perfect doesn’t matter, she’s already loved.   She has no shame in her.  She’ll do as much as she wants, stop when she wants, and take her shoes off at inappropriate times.  Those of us surrounding her are riddled with obligation, addiction, and bear the consequences of living past her age, but are quietly, desperately trying to get back to her.

While my job is training and helping run a gym and nonprofit ministry, what is it really that I want to do?  Strip down the logo and expose the foundation and what is it that drives me to keep trying?… It took me more than a minute of thinking and staring out of windows serenely, but now I know, when it’s all shut down or burned up,  my heart wants this:

To be a witness to transformation.  To invite strong women who have let life teach them to be small to embrace the bigness of their soul and to feel the even biggerness of God’s grace as they break things on the way. 

And to watch the boarders of privilege blend with poverty.  In the same room…Rich with poor, Weak with strong, sober with addicts…all the colors. To see the pious and the social outcast share life.  To live out stories that ground us to our knees in empathy for the load every one of us is carrying.  

You see?…Its never just a job or a place…or a gym.  It’s  where we meet together to accomplish a thing.  Where we sweat and struggle and lean into what is hard on purpose.  Its where getting to the goal demands getting rid of old habits, fears, and the weight of self-protection.  All in.  Everyone exposed.

I love transformations.  It’s part of what makes me love training the body.  I  love that moment we wake up to recognize that we have strayed far from the little girl who didn’t hide, and didn’t worry, and didn’t try to control.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of jail battling a 20 year drug addiction, or a soccer mom faking your happiness  worrying about what happens to your marriage when the kids leave home. It doesn’t matter if you are black, brown, or white.  A holy thing happens when you start to pay attention…and then you decide…and then you move. Transformation.

It’s really brave, really messy, sometimes inconsistent, and there’s no limit of bartering, begging, or re starting.  It’s all transformation.  It starts sometimes from your hatred for what evil or neglect or sabotage has happened to you…or the apathy you have allowed to happen.  And it tenaciously grows out of what is most hoped for, and the peace you long desperately to recover…and it’s all holy.

It’s a decision point.  A pain point.  The time you try again, or the time you decide NEVER AGAIN.  It wakes you up from numbness to see God, wrestles to break free, sits with failure, and reaches for salvation.

 It’s in the hard labor of breaking a sweat, the fear of not knowing what sober, or thin, or strong, or equality even look like.  It’s fragile and yet it’s terribly strong. 

Its why I do what I do, and no matter what I do, I look for its likeness.   And as long as I do things, I hope they are things that hold space for what is transformational.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved. 

Right now.  You as an individual may be at a pain point or a decision point.  The world has stopped a moment to get your attention.  What is it you really want?   A good body?…Peace on earth?…  all good things.   All things that need you to seize a moment and decide what happens next.  You get to be this girl in the picture, unafraid to say what is true but grounded into a deeper truth of her absolute rightness in taking her place on the floor.

What will you do with a world that is sick and burning or a body that is weak and dying?  You can go numb…or you can begin to move.  It’s my favorite thing…that moment of decision.  It’s the moment where you see your life as a thing that can change.  You have a body, a mind, and a heart that can transform. You are a business, a city, and a culture that can decide.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved.

 

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about what we say yes to.  I spoke about the way our lives are a reflection of our innermost beliefs and desires about who we are and what we ultimately want.  It was big picture, wordy, thought rambling stuff so you may or may not have made it past the first few paragraphs.

Today, I want to break down using the medium to which I am accustomed (health and fitness) just what it is that you actually want to say yes to.  Almost entirely everyone has a body that demands constant attention.  I don’t care who you are or what you do, I’d put good money on the fact you need a body to do it with.  Regardless of that fact, our bodies are for the most part a mess.

In a culture with more food, education, and opportunity than ever, how is it possible that most people who come to me as a trainer in person or online, or to our gym 148 Wellness, and have so little connection with what it takes to subdue the body into a reasonably maintained vessel?

  I’m not going to blame culture here… there have always been snake oil salesmen and lies in the media.  None of that is going to change.  Instagram bunnies, diet culture, and “As seen on TV” devices are going to keep coming.  It’s not personal, they need to make a living too, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be at your expense.  The world isn’t going to spin differently to accommodate your particular weakness, but it also won’t stop you from learning to get stronger…so, that seems like a fair enough arrangement.

Allow me to list a few possible reasons people continue to struggle with their own body:  (This isn’t exhaustive…I’ll probably come up with more)

-They haven’t spent time studying their own life

– They haven’t taken ownership of the current state of their body.

-They intentionally stay helpless by focusing on impossible body images or dieting technique.

-They associate pain, discomfort, or even change with fear, punishment, and failure.

-They struggle with control, self-regulation, and the concept of failure.

-They have become accustomed to instant gratification, and find it difficult to be grateful for what to them seems like a burden.

Does any of that sound familiar?  Is it possible you have camped out in any of these particular head places?

I just turned 40.  The first time I started hating my body, I was around 8 years old when a babysitter said my thighs touched too much…yep, I even had thick thighs at 8…what a blessing.  I was bullied in middle school for being ugly, dumb, and fat. I developed a really fun case of bulimia in my 20s when a boyfriend introduced me to how genuinely inadequate I was…and then decided he was gay…I found not being a man yet another impossible standard to live up to.   On and on it goes.  So I’m not condemning anyone when I list out all of the potential pockets of their dysfunction, I’m simply listing my life experience mingled with my particular profession.

I tend to be long winded.  So this is the first in a series of teasing out just what it is you have agreed to in this life.  If anything in the above list resonates with you, pay attention to that.  Stop what you are doing and think, really think…without a phone…about what it is you want for your health. 

If I can walk up to almost any man or woman in America right now and get a full 20 minute dissertation about the ways they struggle with the body they have been in possession of and directly controlling since birth…maybe simply containing the discussion to “health and fitness” isn’t working.  It may be time to look at yourself as a whole lifetime of decisions, hurts, reactions, desires, and compromises.  It may be time to address your current body with a discerning eye on the past, and hope for its future.

“We Are the sum of every Yes that we utter”…

I just read that in the book “To be Told” by Dan Allender.  He is a thickly wordy, PhD in psychology kind of author who sees God in in the story of humans.  If you like that kind of thing, you’ll love Allender.

Anyway…The sum of every yes…what a pretty way to think about choices. The mundane and dramatic, leading to the total amount of who we are.   Saying yes often takes you out from where you are into a place you may be a little scared and unprepared to be.  The new job, the date, the move…it’s all yes and then hold on.  It’s a word said in a moment where hope outweighed reality.

Sitting here, taking perhaps a little too long to process one sentence, I am the current result of all the things I had the bravery or stupidity to say yes to.  I have used my time on earth in ways that have lead me here and until I’m dead, every decision I make, even in my response to another’s yes, will have an infinite number of possible outcomes…blessed and disastrous.  ‘Yes’ to a new business, ‘Yes’ to a speaking engagement, and ‘yes’ to committing to a life changing habit.  Yes is the reach before falling or flying.  Regardless of the outcome, yes starts the fire to cook or be cooked.

Saying No… that’s always there too.  But its power lies in subtracting and protecting.  It’s the thing we don’t do or believe in order to add value in another direction…another faith.  Saying no is saying yes to unchanging.  Saying no, is to hold the agreement that I’m not going that way, or, I’m not moving, but it doesn’t necessarily know which way to go.  It isn’t bad and may many times be necessary, but it only exists in the absence of desire and it seems static to the kind of movement that is the fallout of “Yes.” No is simply what’s left in the wake and the shadow of your yes.

All of our lives we make agreements.  We say ‘yes’ to more than questions.  We spend our lives deciding who we are going to believe and how we are going to live.  As we live, every Judgement held either for us, or against us, demands our” yes” to hold any power over us.  Every opportunity or challenge we say yes to is in keeping with who we have already agreed that we are. 

So.

Who do you say that you are?

Who or what has drawn a yes from your frightened lips in order for you to answer that question?  Do you even know why you said it?  Can you look back and see what it was that you wanted?…and did it go how you thought it would go?

I’ve said yes to everything from marriage, to divorce, to world travel, to nonprofit work, to business ownership, to marriage again. I’ve said yes to love, and yes to hate.  To wasteful thinking and to what I thought had purpose.

I’ve said yes to good things and bad, and each time was the result of who I agreed that I was, and what I believed would be fulfilling.  I’ve said yes to what I deep down just wanted to do and to what I felt compelled to do for others.  I’ve said yes many times…so have you…

I’m willing to bet each time led to movement. Disruption.  Transition. If you say it often enough, it will turn your life into something unrecognizable and that can either be very bad or very good. It depends very much on the quality of the yes’s preceding it.   When I have said yes to the things that God has carved into my heart and story, it’s always been miraculously disruptive.  You are the sum of a great number of agreements.  Still, every broken decision to agree with what is destructive offers the redemption of another yes.  That’s what grace is…grace is God’s yes.

So where does your yes come from and how do you harness it into what leads toward where you ultimately want to go?

It is your deep desire. Your gut place.  The longings in the heart and hope in the mind.

My unwise ‘yes’ is the result of unhealthy desire and sick hope.  Catastrophically bad decisions are bred in a hundred lesser malignant interactions before them.  Remember, you are the sum of your agreements and therefore the progeny of your dark desire as well as your productive hurt.  It’s why we need grace for others and ourselves in the face of a really stupid yes.  It’s why the next yes is important.

If I bring it down to a practical example, then the cake you binge on tonight is the result of saying yes to the futility of this day, like all days before it.  If you walk the weeks, months and years backward you might see a parade of agreements to body image issues, stress mismanagement, and self-medicating.  Binging on cake then, while common enough…is the sum of all your agreements to self-destruction. Even more seductively, It is your “yes” to comfort and your “no” to health.  It is acknowledging that the world is hard and unpredictable, and cake feels good.  Therefore, feeling good, comforted, social, happy, whatever…those things have your heart…and your heart says yes.

Yes, is a reflection of your value system.

Healthy or unhealthy, the thing you agree to do is a direct expression of the person you agree you are and the deepest desire of that person at any particular moment. 

I am a personal trainer, a weight loss expert, if you will allow such a glorified definition.  When working with anyone, I always ask why, and I continue to ask the same person the same question over and over again, sometimes for years… because most people don’t know their own answer, and many pay no attention to the story their life is telling, even fewer recognize when the two are in contradiction.  Most people don’t realize that they are already living out their highest current value system…they just don’t like the result.  They don’t like the sum of all their previous yes’s.  They hire me to sort it out.

Journeying through body change is essentially an exposure of beliefs, the reality of ones circumstances, inherent values, and integrity.  So it’s always seemed kind of cheap to dumb it down into a before and after picture, but it’s the language of the day so that’s what I sometimes do.  For me however, the point isn’t to get a shockingly magnificent body transformation that allows you to feel confident wearing the latest fashion thing if that doesn’t fill the emptiness of your soul.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep anyone from trying, and social media has infinite evidence of anyone tiring of that anytime soon.

Likewise our daily lives, our jobs, our families, our future hopes and dreams…all reflections of what we have said yes to…all the expression of who we agreed that we are.  Even our social media accounts are an artistic arrangement of the idealized self.  Its not entirely wrong but it is entirely damning in its exposure.

Yet I hope and I wonder, if I were to use a higher question,  if I were to acknowledge my creator, would my yes be the same kind as its been…or can it change?   Can I fix my heart on an unchanging God so that it changes my deepest desire? Sometimes beautifully hidden things come from the desire for love, adventure, meaning, or purpose.  When your heart says yes from your God given desire, however imperfectly executed, it’s usually overwhelmingly accurate.

As we enter a brave new world and leave quarantine, what relationships, what events, what commitments will get our yes?…what foods, what habits, what activities?  There has been an unexpected break in rhythm.  Life is different now and we have an opportunity to change our answer.

Who do people say you are?… and did you agree with them on purpose?  

Yes, to a different pace…that may be slower…or faster if you’re lazy.

Yes, to moving forward with bravery…you’re still alive… so maybe consider why.

Yes, to health in all its forms…try again… but be honest.

Yes, to knowing who God says you are…It may change every yes you say from now on.

If we are the sum of every yes, then what will that equal when all added up?  If you have lived through this, you are still most likely going to die later…most likely.  I think It’s not a bad question to ask yourself if you think you’ll like the answer…I hope. it’s yes.

If not, I hope you know that the numbers aren’t all in yet.  You can change your answer.  You can seek a God who says yes to who He created you to be and let each decision add up to something devastatingly miraculous.  He redeems years that locust have eaten, He is yesterday and tomorrow, He says Yes and Amen.

We find God in the margins.

 

In the space between words.

 

In the shadows that fall behind the monuments we build.

 

In our desperation in trying. In the pause between breaths. In the fear.

 

In the awe. In the stretches of time where nothing else can be done.

 

He meets us there, but calls us back to the margins.

 

To the space filled by others.

To the shadows they hide in. To the desperate, the wounded, forgotten, and fearful.

 

To hold space for the broken and claim kinship among them. To serve those who won’t love us and seek those who can’t serve us.


God shows us himself when we move to the margins.

I love writing. So I’m doing more of it.
It’s the place I feel God smile at me.
Hopefully, it’s also helpful.

I had never titled my blog, until now but  #strengthinthemarins seems good to me.
Follow along for random musings, mental health, nutrition, and simple, time manageable workouts.

The world is crazy…you’re probably crazy.
We are here for a moment, for a purpose. Slow the pace enough to seek the margin.
Your own.
Others.

Again today, as all the feverish work we have done over the last three months becomes the temperate road ahead.  Not so much easier, but consistent and forward.

David is kept in a state of constant evolution, working a steady second job that steadily allows us to pay the mortgage.  Chris does what Chris does and works at all hours of the day while occasionally irritating me with impromptu budget discussions and the very unromantic side of paying for a new business.  I press through the day,  fitness classes at 5am whether anyone shows up or not, clients, a very glamorous cleaning job, and the selling of my own plasma for grocery money and, secondarily, the benefit of anyone with coagulation issues.  There it is.  The very exotic life of three social entrepreneurs who love Jesus and feel like life is better when lived out in service.

As I go, I learn. 

As we go, we cut a path.  The further in, the more entangled our purpose becomes with the purpose of those around us.  The further on, the more we see how a broken world seeks to break what is weak in us.  Anymore, I only see clearly when I look behind and realize that the path had been cut for me…that it was never about me…and that is sometimes a relief, sometimes a bummer.

I considered the potential of partnering 148 Ministries into a brick and mortar existence as 148 Wellness with a muddy mixture of unwavering confidence and absolute uncertainty.  Confidence, that even my bad decisions are malleable to the kind of God that uses foolish things as teachers.  Absolute uncertainty of what this process would even look like, what life would look like, what the heck whatever we did would look like…

What would a business with the heart of a ministry even look like?

Several weeks in now, I keep discovering uncharted difficulty and unexpected clarity, but I also keep going.  Still confident.  Still uncertain.  We all just continue to take the next step, do the next thing, engage the next fire.   Overwhelmed with gratitude, and literally crying from uncontainable joy at so much undeserved favor, and in the next moment crying because I’m tired, and stupid, and whose idea was this anyway…

It does not feel like I thought it would feel.

Somehow as the process began and each door opened into another, I simply walked. Cautiously optimistic. Woefully naïve. Wonderfully simple. It was only in the walking that I found the direction; only in the stepping did the ground form underneath to support the weight of each footfall.

I had a dream many years ago of opening a gym with the mission of building up women broken from a world of abuse and misdirected worth.  Now alongside a pastor and a PTA we have a gym that does that…and more.  Somehow, It’s better than my dream.  Somehow, what I thought would be hard isn’t as hard as what I never once thought about.   The attacks come from the sides and within…never head on…never straight forward.

There was something still in me that thought doing a “good thing,” following God’s prompting, building a dream, serving a purpose, or whatever you want to call it,  meant that the “good” and “godly” in this world would be excited and supportive, cheering their fellow soldiers on.

…Some are…some are not…some don’t really care.

Something told me I could discern who was “good” and “godly.”

…I cannot.

Something in me must have also assumed that the personal struggles with my own character flaws, family dysfunction, and chronic tardiness would somehow fade behind the heroic mask of purpose.  All at once, every insecurity, every lazy habit, every fear would just dissipate like some kind of vapor.  All at once, I would be competent with an Excel spreadsheet.

…they have not.  I am not.

Something told me I could do this. 

Something told me I could not.

Somehow I must have had the idea that stepping out in faith would smooth the road ahead.  I have never considered myself a “good Christian” and things always seemed to go poorly for me as a matter of consequence.  This time though…was different…I was different.  My heart was different.  Somehow in my head that meant that surely goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life.  Good friends would draw closer and share the vision. All conflict, if any, would be resolvable. People would like me. My character would be above reproach. My marriage bonded even tighter with the chords of a working partnership. I would lose ten pounds but not even care, and it would all be under budget…because Jesus.

…None of that happened.

The road ahead is still only revealed one upward step at a time.  Friends have pulled away; bitterness and questionable motivations are always hunting us. It is now even harder to make time for family.  The time suck of conflict has emerged from the stupidity of miscommunication.  I can’t make anyone like me.  I still have anger issues. I’ve been eating products that could outlive me through some wizardry of the food industry called red #5, and the other day David and I had a legitimate kind of fight about the sequence of room painting.

This just doesn’t feel like I thought it would feel.

It is, however, better.  More risky, more unstable, more of what I already don’t have enough of, but infinitely better.  I only get the next step by taking the first. I only get to see what is wonderful when I wonder what is next…and I have seen some really wonderful things in the last few weeks.   I could have spent the rest of my life asking for a presentation of the path and the purpose, But God only seems to be interested in showing me as I go.

He doesn’t work like I thought He would, but as I go, I get to watch what is otherwise overwhelming become a simple step…and it’s so much better.

This girl doesn’t think she’s ugly. She also doesn’t think she’s pretty. This girl doesn’t think much about how she looks at all.

This girl doesn’t worry about your opinion of her pony.

This girl is not concerned with the adequacy of her clothing, or money, or ability…and she certainly isn’t concerned that her mother for some unknown reason, thought it necessary to perm her hair.

It would be years before she would fight for the rights to her own hair.

It would be years before she learned that she wasn’t loved by everyone; that she wasn’t safe with everyone.
It would be years before she was told how unworthy she was…how ugly, how stupid, how fat, how weird, how messy, how loud, how poor, and how different.

But this girl is wild. This girl will mess up your house and eat all your food. This girl knows clothing is an option, but not a good one. This girl is always dirty and mostly jumping on things. This girl is a perfect little hedonist. She wakes up to play, eats her fill without guilt, and rests without making excuses.

She hasn’t yet realized the things she won’t be good at…or that being an astronaut or a mermaid is off the table.
She doesn’t know that fractions are hard and that prom is, at best, disappointing.
She doesn’t yet know that her clothes, her looks, and her grades will determine who wants to be associated with her.

This girl doesn’t know what’s ahead.
This girl doesn’t know that to some she will only be a punching bag and to others she will only be a body.
This girl doesn’t know that she will make decisions from fear and impulse, that she will shamelessly grasp for attention, or one day helplessly claw for the unconditional love she was born to crave.

But, this girl…right here…she knows…every hurt and disappointment. She knows every disapproving Baptist look, and every girl she wished she looked like, She remembers every boy that punched her in the stomach or threw her into a wall…or worse…ignored her. Every time the longing to be included was met with exclusion.

She knows the pride, the anger, the bitterness, and the shame of being human. She may have been wounded, but she did her share of wounding. She may have been hurt, but she returned her share of hurting.

She knows the world is broken.

When she looks back on that tiny version of herself, she thinks she understands a little of what heaven is like…a little of what God is like.

We are born helpless into brokenness. We are born flawed physically and spiritually and from there, we tend to navigate poorly.
Some are allowed stability and ease; some are born into depravity, and many, are somewhere in between.
But in every childhood there still exists a kind of freedom unrestricted by self-protection, an ability to be present and a joy that is not yet mixed with sadness…that has to be close to heaven.

I love this girl.

I know what she’s in for and yet I still don’t know what awaits her. What I do know is that she is unconditionally loved and fearlessly accepted. I know that regardless of what is done to her or what she does, she is protected and forgiven. I know she will love and lose and fail and fear, but I know God is a good father who gives good gifts and doesn’t waste the suffering of His children.

And even if she suffered a little she would enjoy far more grace than is common. That girl rode horses and swam all summer. She traveled the world. She had deep friendships, good health, and sound sleep.

Bad will happen. Live long past childhood and it is inevitable. It is when we learn how dark the world is that we can truly appreciate what is light. If nothing has been bad enough for you then I find that nothing will ever be good enough.

This girl looks back on that girl with gratitude and perhaps a little loss, but looking forward, can only smile at the future and perhaps demand another pony…

Occasionally, my generally content, mostly grateful heart becomes generally, mostly unsatisfied.   I experience a laps in what most would consider “good character” and occasionally I feel what most would consider to be something akin to “ungrateful entitlement”…This bothers me about myself.  Perhaps I am confessing as a way to finally kill my private darkness with light, but I thought I’d tease out shameful behavior in a shamelessly public way. 

In these moments, I tend to think about what it is that I am and what it is I have and hold it against what I should be and am not.  Simply put, I compare what I have learned from the world around me as the standard of awesome, and recognize that I fall embarrassingly short of the mark…which, I suppose, is a normal human thing to do.  What unsettles me about this undesirable comparison is that without anyone else in the world to have anything different than what I have, I would never ever think to want anything else.  I have all that I could ever need, I am cared for, I have clothes, I have food, I have shelter, I am really, generally, fortunate.  I have crazy amounts of undeserved blessing.  I am every day humbled by grace and everyday blessed with abundance…and yet….The thought that other people might not think I’m blessed, or  awesome, or significant, really just nags at the ugly parts of my soul.  And whether you like it or not, I am going to assume that you do this as well…or social media as a dominating force in this culture would not be a thing. 

I sat at dinner the other night with my husband, and, as I generally do, asked him annoyingly weighty questions like, “If there were anyone else you could be, would you quit being David Storvick and go be that person?”….also, “how many burgers do you think I could eat before people started judging my ability to process emotions in a healthy way…?”

His answer, “No one…and, about four…” 

I agreed.

Of all the wealthy, fabulous, fancy people I have known, I wouldn’t ask to be any of them…so why would I envy what they have or feel “less than” what they are?

There are very few people I have met who, once knowing them, I would change places or circumstances with.  I have traveled to places of extreme poverty and obscene wealth.  I have known and worked alongside the struggling factory worker, the Pakistani refugee, the independently wealthy child of an even wealthier father, the missionary, the single mom, the trafficked orphan, and the spoiled brat.  I have spent time in Papua New Guinea, Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Cambodia, Ireland, Scotland, and Greece.  I have worked for family farmers and for wealthy sheikhs.  As I have watched their lives lived out, witnessed their character, shared their space, there is not one I can say has any more peace and purpose than I have.  I would not want their power, and I would not choose their path.  They are as flawed and floundering as I am.  They have perhaps different problems than myself, but they are all essentially hopelessly fighting their own version of discontent.

The very rich are as miserable as the very poor…except perhaps even more so because they have exhausted all the resources the poor can only hope for…and there is something in the hoping they have lost. 

One country is as corrupt and violent as another except where it benefits the powerful to keep relative peace.  While America is full of the fairly entitled and is mostly distracted by nonsense, I still like it the best, because the water is fairly safe and the infrastructure is mostly reliable.  So you see, there is no amount of being anyone else or living anywhere else I should possibly long for.

When I slow down enough to think about the “why” for more, I usually stop before the truth…not today.  

Why would I want more money? What would I do with it that would bring me more joy than I have right now?  It stresses me out to think of how to get it, keep it, and who to leave it to when I’m dead.

Why would I want to have a different body or be more attractive?  What is the point other than the manipulative power that comes from beauty…It is a currency that evaporates as soon as you are savvy enough to use it.  The value of beauty is that it is only ever valuable to others, and often enslaving to its bearer.   

Why would I want a bigger, nicer house other than the envy it incites and the status you’d assume?  I don’t like entertaining, and I don’t have time to clean it.

When I think about why, I am ashamed to think I thought it at all.  When I have all that I need, could the reason that I want more be that what I really want is for you to think I am more awesome than I really am?…gross.

Just as penance, I am right now laying what is true out there.  Quite literally, I have nothing.

The only material wealth I have had as an adult, I have had because the man I married is educated and a good provider.  There is very little that I possess that is due to my ability to earn what the world says I should have to be at such and such a status. 

This was never more obvious than when I went through a divorce a few years ago and was left with the nothing I had come into the marriage with.  (side note: if a lawyer divorces you, get a lawyer)

In a western world where most are entitled to so much paid vacation time, 401k matches, and weekends off, those things are only unicorns to me…magical, and above my pay grade.  I grew up quite poor, I have no formal education beyond high school, and the vocational path I chose has been a rugged series of roots and crevasses, and not the structured and predictable corporate ladder.  As a result, sometimes, while struggling over a particularly unwieldy root, I stare with longing at the lives of those who have what appears to be stability.  Deep down, I understand that there is no such thing as “safe” and that stability is a fantasy… but it is a fantasy I would sometimes very much like to get high and live in…sometimes.

So perhaps the discontent I sometimes feel is more about what I  want you to think of me, rather than what I actually think.  Could it be I am more concerned with you thinking I’m happy than actually being happy?  Could It be that what I want is respect whether or not I am respectable?  And is it possible that what I desire is honor, instead of humility in the presence of a God who gifts it all.   If that’s the case, and I’m afraid it may sometimes be… then I have some business to do with this particular character flaw.

I hereby release the effort to make you think I’m awesome.

I release my horrifying desire to be envied and honored and even elevated.

I release the image I wish you’d see rather than the reality of my reflection.

I release the strength I pretend to have.

I release the intelligence I project when I’m fairly uneducated.

I release the hypocrisy of projecting myself as a “good person,” when I know that I’m really not.

I release the god’s I’ve made of the worlds opinions, and the worship I give to temporal things.

 It is when I let my gaze drift that I find the discomfort of my discontent.  It is when I choose to look at a fantasy.   It is when I take my eyes off of the purpose of my own life and with no small amount of insolence ask God for more.  I have seen enough to know it’s a phantom…I should know better.  I should know enough not to chase wind.  Ecclesiastes says “All things are wearisome…there is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also… is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”

When I look for enjoyment from creation instead of the creator, when I look at shadows of perfection instead of a God who is perfect, when I chase wind, I always end up unsatisfied and weary.  In these moments, I remind myself of what is true.  I slow down enough to notice that I have all that I need and have been created to be nothing other than what I am.  There is nothing better…and that’s pretty awesome.

Sundays are good days. Intentionally quite days. Days David and I rest from the endless cycle of production and expectation. This Sunday was not much different with the exception of my breaking one of those quiet moments to be irrational and insecure…Sometimes, I needlessly chase those thoughts other people seem content to ignore…That just how I roll…like one of those obsessive greyhounds…its charming.

I wake up first from a nap and gaze at my husband, still sleeping peacefully.

He is patient. He is kind. He is the human I trust the most and the place where I can rest.

And yet…looking at him in that moment, like many moments since we’ve been married, my sense of calm is disrupted with inaudible tension. When I should be blissfully grateful I am instead uncomfortably fearful. I hate being afraid, so I move into much more manageable emotions…aggression and insecurity.

He wakes… possibly from my blink-less staring and writhing internal energy, and I start up…

“Are you always going to like me?”
“Where’s the anger?… When is that going to show up?”
“Is this the real you?… when are you going to start shutting down? When are you going to flip the switch?”
“…It’s fine…I know it’s my fault… I just need to know when because I’m getting soft…I’m getting too accustomed to this niceness, and it’s making me nervous”….”When is the other shoe gonna drop?!

To which he responded, “Um, what?…”

So yeah.. I begin the kind of cry that is not cute. His initial confusion giving way to concerned listening. He has no choice. I had to exercise that demon at last and he has already learned that it’s best to be still and wait for the end. When at last I look up, He says,

“You are a blessing to me, and never a burden.”
“This is who I am.”
“I love you like crazy. I see your crazy, and I’m not going anywhere.”

I had spent nine years in another marriage. He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a broken person and I wasn’t much better. Nine years living a cycle that continues in my mind three years later and has now poisoned my nap time.

A week maybe two, into that first marriage, depression, anger and anxiety took him over and would be my real spouse for the remainder of that decade. I remember numbly making an internal calendar where I could keep track of the good to bad day ratios. Where I could prepare to wall up against the inevitable hurt. Where I planned for winter.
One day good: One week bad.
One week good: Three weeks bad.
One month good: Four months bad.

It was the cycle I would come to live by and count on. I could hunker down in the bad and wait for the good. I walked on eggshells in the good because I feared triggering the bad. Every moment was edged with tension as I absorbed the next swing, the next week of silent treatment, the next outburst, the next dark cycle. Just before I felt I might break, he broke back into a moment of normal where I could convince myself that everything was fine. It wasn’t. I tried to be perfect. I tried to be strong. I tried to be pretty, and happy, and awesome. I wasn’t. In the end, I failed…hard…and I was really tired. My pride kept me alone. My insecurity kept me quiet. My grief kept me angry.

Here’s the thing…I am not living that life anymore.

So why am I still re-living that cycle?… Why am I still braced for bad? I struggle to rest in the good I now have because I could never trust the good I had before. And yet… if I continue to live an old life, I let the new life die. I give honor to those broken things instead of pouring energy into the future before me and hope within me.

That thing back there. That relationship, that failure, that hurt, that sin, that embarrassment, that anger…they have no power here. That thing happened, but it is no longer happening.

We all do this in one way or another. We all let the memory of an old pattern bind our forward progress. We operate from places of familiarity even when they are wrong or painful. We make excuses for our hesitation in risk and expect nothing to change. We accept poor treatment or bad behavior because we are convinced its all we’ve known and all we deserve. We drag a lifeless past into the places meant only for the living.

I can stop waiting for the shoe to drop because it already did. I endured that thing. I felt that fear. I lost that fight. I had enough. I was enough. I am enough, because I’m still here…that’s enough now. There is enough danger in the present to need my full attention. There are other opportunities to be brave. There is a good life right here if I am willing to let what was bad die. Not because I’m still angry, but because it’s useless and heavy.

You’re not dead yet, but perhaps you keep dragging what needs to die along, for no other reason than the stench is familiar. Acknowledge it, drag it into the light and have a good long look, then pull the life support you supply and walk away. Perhaps it’s a habit. Perhaps it’s a relationship. Perhaps it’s a job. Perhaps it’s a mindset.

For me… perhaps it’s time. It’s time to stop living old lives. It’s time to let them die. It’s time to kill old fear and starve old hate. It’s time to forget what is behind and press into what is ahead… (Philippians 3:13) It’s time to let my husband love me and live the life ahead of me.

And probably, I will wake him up from many more naps, with many more irrational things to cry about… and he knows that… and he doesn’t ask me to be any other way… I like this life.

1 Chronicles 28:20

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you…”

Another week goes by. Another Sunday I sit and can barely believe the direction we head.  One step, one moment one breath at a time we proceed in spite of fear and fatigue.

Last week was the first of many Tuesdays at Hope Center Indy.  Last Friday we again held chapel service for the women of the Volunteers of America Fresh Start program in downtown Indianapolis.  This week we look to extend yet again.  We work through complicated scheduling and uncertainty.  We wrestle internally with inadequacy and sorrow.  At the end of each day, David and I stare blankly at each other and cannot find the words to define the day.  We simply marvel at a God who allows us to share in the work.

Another week as their stories become a part of ours.  Another door opened, another scale falls from our eyes, another reason we can never turn back.  We hear them sing, we let them cry.  We get to be a part of their recovery and they are among the most refreshing parts of our day.  Gone is pretense. They can’t afford the walls the rest of us have built.  They are raw and they are wonderful.  

A girl asks for prayer,  she just wants her kids to forgive her.  A girl is abused as a pawn in her mother’s Satanic worship.  A girl fears going home knowing her pattern of relapse.  A girl wants her baby back but lives with the shame of the past.  A girl is beaten by someone who should have loved her. A girl has been raped by her father.  A girl has lost her husband to overdose…A girl recoils at kindness when hate is all she knows.

And yet… A girl sings with beauty and boldness, fully alive in her gift.  A girl commits her life to Christ.  A girl is hopeful.  A girl presses in to moving forward.  A girl embraces the God who sustained her.  A girl holds tightly to forgiveness.  A girl is baptized.  A girl releases her past and grins about her future.

Take it in.

These girls are your neighbors. These girls are your sisters.  These girls are in need of more than a government funded detox program or a well-meaning Christian handout.   They need us to get over ourselves.  They need us to stop worrying about things that don’t matter and get to work.  They need to walk out into a community that doesn’t fear them…doesn’t judge them.

So many of you want to help.  So many of you have offered support. We need it.

We need your prayer. We need your encouragement.  We need your talent.  We need your money.  We need your time.

But they need more.  They need foster parents who can weather the demons of addiction. They need a church family that is ferociously devoted to condition-less love.  They need know that they are not alone in their brokenness.  They need to know  that Jesus stands up for us in the midst of an accusing world,  and without flinching says “…Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11)  They need to see that in us.

The work is unfamiliar.  The outcome is uncertain.  The call is unmistakable: Be strong and do the work.  In our case, we just show up and watch God work.  Every time, It is a miraculous exposure of His power perfected in our weakness.   

If I can require anything of you today, it is this:  just show up.

Do the work you are called to do.  Hold comfort and competence lightly in your hands and trust that God is with you.  There is something more for you to do. There is a need.  You have a purpose.  Now you know.

The question came simply enough, “So Amber…how did you stop purging?…”

She sat curled up on a single chair, her entire frame easily fitting its width.  She had maintained that posture for most of the weekend, only briefly allowing herself to participate in the sample fitness classes myself and a few group instructors had designed for the purpose of introduction.

A few weekends ago, I was asked to give a testimony to the women at the Hope Center Indy and to share a little about 148 Ministries and the purpose of its formation.  In that testimony, I happened to share that for 16 years I had struggled with bulimia…I say “struggle” only because it took no small effort to hide my habit, but, in reality, I was really quite surrendered to the obsessive drive to purge what, in shame and excess, I had eaten.

If you yourself have any experience with an eating disorder, then you know the absolute prison it is.  You know the obsessive uncontrollable urge.  You know the absolute hate you have of what you know you will always submit to.  You know the insanely brilliant ways you develop to keep it hidden…to keep it fed.  You also know that it has very little to do with food.  It is a secret relationship you both need and despise.  People are surprised when I tell them.  They expect the bulimic to be skeletal, and I have never been described as anything but “healthy or big boned.”  For me, the binge always offset the purge, and my inability to become rail thin was just another in a long list of failures in my life.  Such was the sick thought cycle that made constant circular trips through my mind.

I will save the repulsive methods and techniques for another blog with another purpose.  It is important enough to mention that the shame and embarrassment ran deep enough to keep me secretly confined for years.  Friends did not know.  Family did not know.  For 9 years of marriage my ex-husband did not know.  While vulnerability and exposure may be the great healer, the disease is one of general mistrust and self-protection making the very tonic undrinkable.

 I sat across from that lovely girl, only a year and a half from my own last purge, and helplessly searched for her answer in my mind.  I wasn’t sure I really knew… I wasn’t sure I could put into words what finally killed the beast.  I took a deep breath, and said the simplest thing I could to paraphrase almost two decades of war against myself.

“Well, hmmm…I guess I stopped trying to stop”

Brilliant…this poor kid is looking to you for help and you come at her with that psychological oversimplification …why don’t you just read her tee shirt quotes for the next hour.  At least that was my critical internal dialogue at the time.  She and I talked for the next 45 minutes.  In real time, I attempted to build out my answer in such a way that we both gained a clearer understanding of how I may have quit.  Yet she was still hungry for answers and continued to bring questions that would make even a seasoned theologian re-consider their calling.  I am not a seasoned theologian; I am barely an adequate theologian so I prayed desperately in those moments for either wisdom or at least a distracting explosion somewhere.  No such luck.  God calls us to work through our understanding and sometimes that is accomplished through awkward and ungraceful conversations.  Sometimes it’s just being present and listening and recognizing that there are no good answers.

I cannot explain the circumstances of this girl’s life; I cannot even after hearing them myself explain away the brokenness of this ruthless world.  I cannot tell you why she was there and I am here or why the degree of brutality life chose to bring her through made any comparative experience of mine seem pedestrian.

What I can say is that what put us on equal footing was the same struggle to gain freedom from the same prison. By His grace, in that moment, God walked me through an understanding of the healing only He can give.  Healing I was too weak to even ask for, healing I was too helpless to even reach for.

Two years ago I was fatigued, and panicked, and broken by a broken marriage.  I had up to that point, performed so heavily in my own strength, that I found myself completely paralyzed with exhaustion and self-doubt. The casualties of failure left me with nothing left to prove or pretend and I was altogether uninterested in continuing to force myself to be anything other than what, in genuine weakness, I genuinely was.  Whatever hidden system of works I had used to keep a running equation of worth was dismantled.  I was forced to accept that If God really loved me, then He was going to have to love the ugly version.  He was going to have to love the girl curled up on the bathroom floor, crying, covered in her own vomit, and quitting.

I pulled away from that memory, Looked back up at this girl now not so different than myself and just  said,  “He does… he loves us when we are too weak to love ourselves and too hurt to love anyone else… When we are broken.  When we are fearful. When we can no longer cover our flaws with good behavior or self-discipline.  He is there with you on the bathroom floor…so you don’t have to be afraid there anymore.  You have no secrets. You cannot hide. You are not alone.  You can stop fighting and start accepting that he has already won your battle. You can surrender this one and let him love you in the middle of the ugly.”

He loves us perfectly in our imperfection.  Not the future version of ourselves where we have hidden what we hate, but the real one…the one who is addicted, angry, and anxious.  We are told by a man who knew Jesus himself that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:8)  You can choose to recognize this and stop fighting to make yourself worthy of recognition.  You can stop operating out of fear, when you are no longer afraid of losing love.  When you understand that God already knows that you are broken and doesn’t need you to fix yourself. That is when I was able to stop purging, and that is when, regardless of the circumstances, you are free from the prison of your own making.