A Few of My Favorite Things {March 2017}

by Elizabeth

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Ash Wednesday service at the Anglican church. I had never been to an Ash Wednesday service before but really wanted to go. I didn’t quite know what to expect, and I certainly didn’t expect to find a literal puddle of tears forming on the lenses of my glasses during the first kneel-down prayer (and oops, I’d forgotten to pack tissues). Ash Wednesday offers us a communal way to come back to God, to remember that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return,” and to be reminded to “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” In the sermon the priest spoke about the nature of sin to isolate, but how confession breaks this power. He also taught that regret can take up space in our souls, and sometimes we don’t even realize it. Confession frees up that space. I also learned something important about burnout from the Psalm 51 reading.

Team Expansion Ladies’ Retreat. I love the ladies on my team, but with all of us having busy schedules and some of us separated by long distances, we don’t often get to spend time just being with each other. So for 24 hours, that’s just what we did. We talked, we ate, we laughed, we played games, we took a walk at sunset, we made art, and we stayed up way too late. It was awesome.

Baked Oatmeal. I’m loving this crock pot recipe lately. It’s not too sweet, so even though it smells like oatmeal cookies while it’s cooking, it’s not sweet enough to attract my children’s taste buds, which leaves more for me to eat for breakfast throughout the week, right?

I’m also back into hummus and carrots, after quite a long absence in my diet. I’ve taken to rinsing and removing the skins of the chick peas before grinding, which both makes the hummus smoother and reduces the amount of olive oil needed (thereby reducing stomach issues for me).

Crying with friends. I was having a particularly bad day/week this month, and although I didn’t intend to, I broke down in front of a couple friends (in the school library, of all places). I’m thankful for friends who accept me at my most raw (and I felt so much better after crying with them).

The wisdom of G.K. Chesterton. My husband is reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and he reads memorable sections out loud to me. They are morsels of wisdom in a world gone mad. Although Chesterton was writing about a hundred years ago, he is surprisingly current.

 

BOOKS

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins. If the mark of a good book is that I laugh all the way through it and cry at the end, then this book is a GOOD book. I had avoided reading it because of 1) the drab cover and 2) the uncommunicative title. Truly, it needs a happier cover, because Cindy doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she had me laughing out loud in bed and laughing out loud in the church fellowship hall. So do yourself a favor and get this book. It’s geared towards homeschooling moms, but any mom-of-littles or mom-of-many will appreciate Cindy’s wisdom. It’s not on Amazon Kindle yet, but they promise it will be soon.

Invitations From God by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. You must read this book. It’s the current Velvet Ashes book club book, and it’s basically a collection of all the spiritual lessons I’ve been learning over the last 5 years or so, written in a very conversational tone. Jonathan recommends Emotionally Healthy Spirituality all the time, as a collection of the lessons God has taught him over the last several years. Invitations from God is going to become MY go-to spiritual growth recommendation.

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. This book is a coming of age story that’s definitely an “adult read.” This story does not shy away from grief and sorrow, and I certainly did not expect to ugly cry so much at the end of it. It does make me wonder — is grief a natural and accepted part of American Southern culture in general? (I’m thinking along the lines of Steel Magnolias and Because of Winn-Dixie here.)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. With this book, sometimes you just gotta stop and laugh. So we did. I hope to get my hands on the other books in the series someday soon.

Mark by Michael Card. Yes, still slowly working through this. Oh my goodness, the commentary on chapter 10 was excellent – I’ll share some in the Quotes section.

The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle. I read through her lengthy Lent chapter, which was full of gold nuggets. I’ll also list some below.

 

BLOG POSTS

The Crown Must Always Win, a conversation between Joshua Gibbs and Heidi White. I love the show The Crown. It’s emotionally and politically dense, and certainly not a binge-watching show, but I love the interplay between Call/Duty and Love/Relationship. As a missionary/pastor’s wife, I relate to these issues so much, even if I’m nowhere close to being royal.

So I Quit Drinking by Sarah Bessey. This is a LONG read, like a book chapter, but it’s so good I cried. Not because I drink — though I’ve had friends and family who’ve struggled to put down the drink — but because that tender, tenacious conviction from the Spirit is how I felt about taking Sundays off technology. I was nudged and nudged and nudged that way until I finally obeyed, and lo and behold I am light and free and have begun to count on my tech-free Sundays for true Sabbath.

The Gift of a Second Salvation by Esther Kline. This guest post at A Life Overseas tugged at my heart and resonated with my spirit and is such good news.

A Conversation with Jen Wilkin from Russell Moore. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear “conservatives” push back against hyper-conservative practices such as the outlawing of women in ministry or of male/female friendships (my husband wrote on that subject here).

Reconciliation Before Promotion by Russ Parker for Amy Boucher Pye’s Forgiveness Fridays series. I dare you not to cry at this true story of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Why Students Need to Hear Epic Unrelated Tangents by Joshua Gibbs. This article reminds me of my more favorite and impactful teachers: the ones who were free to “tangent.” It reminds me to allow my kids to tangent with their interests. Of course this tangential approach to teaching only works if we have LOTS of time at home and no rush to get anywhere (which wasn’t the case at our house for most of month).

An Open Letter to Paul Ryan About Poverty and Empathy by Karen Weese. Around here I purposefully refrain from posting about political topics, and to be honest I don’t really even know who Paul Ryan is or what he stands for. I only know that after having spent some time in the States and abroad working with poverty, the statements and stories in this article ring true to me.

 

PODCASTS AND VIDEOS

The Shoe Song: a gift to every parent who’s having a tough day from Jen Fulwiler. Pure fun. Also desperately true sometimes.

Thoughts from the mother of a beautiful brown child as the Confederate flag flies from the back of pickup trucks. From a friend. Well-articulated and compassionately delivered.

The Intersection of Effortlessness and Hard Work with Dr. Christopher Perrin at Schole Sisters. I have almost given up listening to podcasts – it’s what I did on Sunday afternoons that didn’t provide me the rest I really needed, and when I went offline on Sundays, I mostly don’t listen anymore. But I occasionally find time and this one was a good one. (I’ve listened to Dr. Perrin speak about Schole before.)

This interview with Tara Owens, author of Embracing the Body, was also good.

As was this interview with Jonathan Rogers, who wrote a book on St. Patrick. I love St. Patrick’s Day (I explain why here). Did you know there’s not much evidence to suggest Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the Trinity? I was also interested to learn that he was consistently in trouble with Rome for reaching out to the native pagan Irish (having been sent to Ireland only to care for the small transplanted flock there). His fight against the establishment made me like him more now than ever.

Faerie Tale Theatre. These shows are old, old, old, but when we started reading fairy tales together, I remembered them from my childhood. Not all of the episodes are child-friendly enough, but The Snow Queen and The Dancing Princesses are. My family watched them on the only English-speaking channel when we were stationed in West Germany in the 1980s. I found old copies on Youtube to show my kids.

And finally, the new Beauty and the Beast film. I particularly appreciated the Beast’s transformation. You can literally watch love begin breaking in to his heart. It makes the storyline more enjoyable and more believable.

 

MUSIC AND POETRY

Refugee by Malcolm Guite. Oh my goodness, do NOT miss this poem.

Only King Forever by Elevation Worship. Good gracious, these LYRICS (and that RHYTHM).

Our God a firm foundation
Our rock, the only solid ground
As nations rise and fall
Kingdoms once strong now shaken
But we trust forever in Your Name
The Name of Jesus
We trust the Name of Jesus

You are the only King forever
Almighty God we lift You higher
You are the only King forever
Forevermore, You are victorious

Unmatched in all Your wisdom
In love and justice You will reign
And every knee will bow
We bring our expectations
Our hope is anchored in Your Name
The Name of Jesus
Oh, we trust the Name of Jesus

You are the only King forever
Almighty God we lift You higher
You are the only King forever
Forevermore, You are victorious

We lift our banner high
We lift the Name of Jesus
From age to age You reign
Your kingdom has no end

Even If by MercyMe. Wow. May this be true of my faith.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 

QUOTES

Ecclesiastes 7:3 in The Message, sent from my “crying library” friends:

“Crying is better than laughing. It blotches the face but scours the heart.”

From Sue Hanna, in a lesson taken from Abraham and his father Terah:

“When we begin life in Christ, we are headed for the Promised Land, but most of us settle in Haran. Then we die there.”

“It’s all right to get stuck (for a while). It’s not all right to settle.”

Michael Card in Mark:

“Jesus’ response, that the man should sell everything and follow him, is not the answer to the man’s question. It is a litmus test that reveals the truth; he has not kept all the commandments. He has broken the first one and made money his god.” (On the rich young ruler’s question about what he must DO to inherit eternal life.)

“A person does not enter the kingdom with anything — not with wealth, not with accomplishments, not with degrees. We come into the kingdom with one possession: the grace of Jesus Christ.” (On the camel going through the eye of a needle and rich people entering the kingdom.)

Madeleine L’Engle in The Irrational Season:

“We all know that no one can see God and live, it’s all through the Bible. And it isn’t only a Judeo-Christian idea — it’s in Greek and Roman mythology too: in fact, it’s a basic presupposition of humankind.”

“But he [Jacob] recognized God when he wrestled with Him, and he limped forever after. And that limp is important, for the point the Old Testament writer is making by emphasizing Jacob’s thigh is that anyone who has seen the living God and survived is marked by this experience and is recognized forever after by the mark.”

I Had an Arranged Marriage

by Elizabeth

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One time Jonathan and I were at a wedding here in Cambodia, celebrating the marriage of a Brit and a Filipino. Sitting at the table with us was a young lady from India. When the table conversation strayed into the topic of marriage, this young lady asked us if we had a “love marriage” (as opposed to the Indian custom of arranged marriage).

Our first answer was yes – yes, we had a love marriage. A second later we added, “Our parents were really involved in our relationship.” And they were. They were intimately involved.

Another time we were sharing a meal with our Pakistani friends, when the conversation turned to marriage. They told us their story, and we told them ours. When we explained the way our parents had helped to guide us, we laughed and told them that at the time some people thought we were crazy.

There was another time when I was chatting with a lady from India about the cultural differences between India, Cambodia, and America. I asked if her daughter, who is studying in America, will have an arranged marriage, or not. She said she probably won’t have an arranged marriage, and that she herself did not have an arranged marriage, so how could she expect her daughter to?

I told her I got married at 18, and to her that seemed very young. (She was right. It was.) She said that in India, parents prefer their children’s marriages to take place a little later, so husband and wife and older, wiser, and more stable when they’re just starting out.

Then I explained how our relationship had unfolded – how Jonathan had talked to his dad, how his dad had talked to my parents, how Jonathan had then talked to my parents, how my parents had eventually talked to me — and she said that is exactly how marriages happen in India.

That was the moment I realized I had an arranged marriage. That was the moment I realized that “courtship” as I knew it was really “arranged marriage, American style.”

It makes sense: an arranged marriage is not a forced marriage. My friend went on to explain that even when it is a so-called “love marriage,” Indian families prefer marriage to be  formalized in this way — that children will talk to their parents, who will talk to the other parents, and so on.

In fact that is how she expects it to happen with her daughter, that she will tell her parents the man in whom she’s interested, and they will get to know the other family, etc. Parents know their kids, she explained, and they know how their kids react to certain situations and people, and they want their children’s marriages to be successful.

I like this idea of families knowing each other. It’s all too easy at university to find someone and fall in love them without any family context, and not to know what you’re getting into. But a marriage is not just a union between two people. A marriage always involves the families of origin, for we are formed by our families and bring our original family culture into our marriages, whether healthy or not.

Now that I’ve been married for nearly 17 years, I can honestly say I’ve loved nearly every moment of marriage. Yes, we’ve had conflict. Yes, we’ve had disagreements. Yes, we’ve sometimes been so busy we barely spoke to each other.

But most of the time we’ve enjoyed being married to each other.

And while I can’t attribute the success of my marriage solely to its arrangement, that arrangement does deserve some credit. Looking back, I can clearly see the way God moved to bring us together under the blessing and authority of our parents. That knowledge and belief is a sure foundation to lean upon when committing to a lifetime of love and togetherness.

Marriage doesn’t have to be as formally arranged as it was for Jonathan and myself or for my Indian or Pakistani friends. Still, it can be good for family to be involved. Or if, for whatever reason, it’s not possible for family to be involved, it can be good for someone to be involved, intentionally guiding a young couple toward marriage.

In the end, marriage is a community matter. The strength and stability of our marriages affect our churches and our culture at large. Proverbs 15:22 tells us that “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” We can all use a little outside input to make wise decisions — decisions that will hopefully last a lifetime.

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Other articles I’ve written about marriage:

What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex

Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)

When Marriage and Ministry Collide

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

Articles Jonathan has written about marriage:

The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

A Marriage Blessing

Love Interruptus?

Love with Faith (or Play Guitar with Both Hands)

Recorded at ICA in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2017.

To listen to the message, Click Here or visit the trotters41 podcast on iTunes.

Paul concluded his message to the Ephesians with the idea of Love mixed with Faith(6:23), and I borrowed his thoughts for a bit. Here are some excerpts…

Love comes to seek and save the lost, while Faith believes they can be.

Faith empowers Jesus to prophetically imagine a new paradigm for the co-crucified: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” While Love communicates the fantastical truth: “I want you with me in paradise.”

Faith innervates Jesus’ declaration to the Samaritan woman, “If you only knew the gift God has for you….”

But Love is what got Jesus talking with her in the first place.

“Love joined with faith.”

Faith helps me believe the Gospel. Love helps me share it.

Without Faith, Love lacks vision and imagination, leaving us without mooring and definition.

Without Love, Faith becomes cold and unapproachable, leaving us bitter and mean.

We need both.

Love mixed with Faith.

Passages Through Pakistan {book reviews from both of us}

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Last year Jonathan and I were privileged to read fellow blogger Marilyn Gardner’s new book Passages Through Pakistan. It’s a chronological journey through her childhood as a Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid in Pakistan. Somehow Marilyn manages to arrange the book around various forms of transportation while still maintaining that chronological progression. (The writer in me was impressed with that clever little device.)

On the surface my TCK experience seems quite different from Marilyn’s, so I initially wondered how much of her story I would relate to. Where hers involves missions and boarding school, mine involves military service and public schools. But my concerns were completely unfounded. There was so much to relate to, on so many levels. Truly, this is a story for everyone.

As I’ve said in other places, for me the mark of a good book is that I laugh all the way through and then cry at the end. Passages Through Pakistan certainly measured up in that regard as well.

One of the funnier parts came when reading about her family’s visits to the ruins of the ancient Indus River valley. Somehow the ancient Indus civilization managed to install covered drains in their city, while during Marilyn’s childhood, Pakistan had not yet done so. I could relate — the lack of covered sewers in Cambodia is something I continually lament.

I also laughed over her comparisons of popular (but fleeting) camp songs to the steady and stalwart hymns of our faith. But by the time I finished the book, I have to tell you I was wrecked. Wrecked.

In the end, Passages Through Pakistan is simply the story of a child’s faith in God. Marilyn holds her story loosely and tells it humbly, so it’s worth a read even if you’ve never lived overseas.

Jonathan’s and my reviews are featured below. We were thrilled to be part of her book launch team (and also to have our reviews printed in the book — wow such fun!).

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From Elizabeth:

For anyone who has wrestled with heavy bouts of homesickness or lived through long stretches of loneliness, Marilyn Gardner’s new book, Passages Through Pakistan, is a gift.

For anyone who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death or of betrayal while simultaneously trying to hold onto faith in a good and loving God, this book is a light in your darkness.

For anyone who longs for the people and places of your past or has ever had to pack up a life and say goodbye, this book is a trustworthy traveling companion.

For anyone who has ever grappled seriously with their privilege or come face to face with their own shortcomings, this book is a safe place to land.

And for anyone who’s ever wondered if it’s even possible to raise a happy family in difficult or unusual circumstances, Passages Through Pakistan offers hope and, what’s better, guidance.

But these stories are also a sober reminder to parents that no matter how much love and security we lavish upon our children, we cannot protect them from the sorrows and difficulties of this life — nor is it our job.

Marilyn’s book is a gem for all these reasons, and it is also a joy to read. The language is beautiful, and each story is seasoned with profound truths about life and faith. Somehow as we read, we are able to swallow the bitter along with the sweet. That is what grace is all about, and that is what this book is all about.

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From Jonathan:

It’s been said that if you dig down into your story deep enough, you find the common things. I didn’t grow up in Pakistan, and I didn’t experience boarding school or life as a missionary kid. But that doesn’t matter, because in this book Marilyn digs down deep enough into her own journey that I found myself resonating throughout. And crying.

The cross-cultural connections and the cross-cultural stretching, the faith struggles, the reverence of older missionaries, the questions about God’s sovereignty in the midst of catastrophe, and the confusion surrounding the loaded word, Calling. It’s all here.

We need this story. The missions community needs this story. Yes, it’s one person’s history, but this is a book that missionaries and TCKs of all stripes need to read, because Passages through Pakistan ties us to our shared history. It links us with the bigger Story, and it reminds young cross-cultural workers that they’re not the first. Not the first to travel. Not the first to care about social justice. Not the first to raise children abroad. It shows us that we are part of a larger plot arc that both preceded us and will in fact follow us. These reminders are much needed and deeply enriching.

I am sure that Marilyn’s gentle storytelling and textured memories will encourage and inspire and heal many.

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan’s at A Life Overseas today. . . .

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My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia.

I was recently asked to share at an international church on the topic of Living Well abroad. I gave it all I had and presented my compiled thoughts and hopes. This article is an extension of that presentation.

It’s not short and it’s not fancy. But it is pretty much all I’ve got. 

My hope is that this article might serve as a resource, a touch point, for you and your team/org/ministry/family/whatever. If you’d rather listen to the podcast of this material, you’ll find some links at the very end. All right, here goes!

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How long were you in your host country before you cried really hard? You know, one of those famous UGLY cries that no one sees but certainly exists? Was it sometime in your first year? Month? Week?

For me, it took about 27 hours.

Our theme verse for those early days was 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

But we did.

For as Paul Hiebert writes in his seminal work, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, “Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

Theory can only get you so far. At some point, you have to get your feet wet and Nike the thing. That’s what this article’s about. It’s an attempt to give some practical, hands-on, nitty-gritty, [insert random epic language here], rubber-meets-the-road, advice.

Much of this comes from my own experience of transitioning a family of six from the suburbs of mid-west America to the concrete vistas of Phnom Penh. The rest comes from observing lives and stories in that enigmatic place we call “the counseling room.”

The four specific areas we’ll consider include Living Well Abroad…

  1. Theologically
  2. Spiritually
  3. Relationally
  4. Psychologically

Click here to read about the 4 areas.

The simple tool I use with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients

Sometimes you stumble across a tool that you didn’t know you needed, but as it turns out, you really do. Like pretty much everything Steve Jobs ever created.

I’ve creatively titled this tool “The Shapes Diagram.” I use it with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients because it takes complex ideas (like emotions and inner healing) and makes them a bit more concrete.

This diagram basically designed itself as I was trying to communicate some core emotional health ideas to Cambodians in Khmer. It wasn’t that my clients were dumb, it was that I lacked enough language skill to accurately describe some things.

So I did what any former youth pastor would do, I started scribbling. And this is what I came up with:

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I’ll walk you through the thing here in a minute. But if you’d rather watch an 11-minute video of me explaining The Shapes Diagram, click the video below.

OK, so here’s a rough walk-through…

Basically, we all have emotions, and most people end up seeing me because they’re having some emotions they don’t like. In other words, most people don’t come in happy (except the pre-marital clients, they do come in happy, and usually they leave happy too, but that’s not a given).

We start in the middle rectangle. For many, the rectangle (emotion) is anger or sadness or anxiety. Now, many pastors hear the story that led to the unwanted emotion and immediately start looking at what STEPS the person needs to take (or avoid) in order to get to the positive result (and avoid the negative one).

For example, someone might tell the really sad person, “Exercise, read your Bible more, pray!” They might continue, “Don’t drink when you’re sad, don’t do drugs, don’t watch Gilmore Girls. Those would be steps in the wrong direction and would lead to a negative result.”

Here’s the thing: that might all be good advice, and maybe people need to hear it, but pretty much every depressed person I’ve ever talked to already KNOWS those things. What I’ve come to believe (and experience with my clients) is that for the most part, all of that top part (the middle emotion box) and the steps and the results are all future-oriented things. That is, they force the client to ask, “What will I do now?” And that’s certainly a very valid question.

The thing is, that top half of the diagram (Emotions plus Steps plus Results), often balances precariously on the triangle that consists of emotional pain and lies from the past.

Often, past painful events in the client’s life have caused him or her to believe, deep down in their core, lies. Lies like “I’m worthless,” “I’m unlovable,” and “I’m broken beyond repair.”

It takes a lot of energy to keep everything steady on the tip of that triangle, but people try. And they try and they try. And they never deal with the emotional pain and the lies. We do them a tremendous disservice if all we do is give them Steps.

I want to ask the question, “What’s in the triangle? What’s the pain that this is all balancing on?” In practice, about half of my clients see this diagram and immediately say, “Oh, I know what’s in that triangle!” They then go on to list the traumatic event or the emotional trauma and the lies it planted. The other half typically says, “Well, I think this is probably true, but I’m not sure what’s in there.” That’s fine too, and so with their permission, we just continue the conversation.

If we can help a client to see what’s in the triangle and label it and maybe find the lies, then we can encourage them to invite Jesus into that specific place for healing. We can invite the Truth in and he can counter the lies and heal the emotional pain. The triangle can be erased, and it’s not nearly as mystical as it sounds. : )

Then, with the triangle gone, the client’s emotions are simply resting on the Truth (Jesus). The emotions are still there, because the client is still a human, but the whole thing is much more stable.

Now some people try to bypass the triangle and jump straight to the Truth. But that’s not as effective. In fact, it’s just terrible. You can’t skip the triangle and jump straight to Jesus. You want to meet Jesus in the triangle. And he wants to meet you (and your clients) there too.

If you jump over the triangle (the pain/lies) you also jump over the healing.

I ask people to imagine that someone’s drowning in the middle of the Mekong. What if I see them drowning and I ride my boat over to them and I give them five gallons of good, clean water. Do they need that water?

Well, sort of. I mean, people need clean water to drink. And the Mekong is filthy. But is it helpful to them? No. It’s also not very kind. When someone’s drowning, I don’t want to just throw clean water at them, I want to actually help them.

We do that to folks who are depressed or anxious or experiencing a lot of difficult emotions. We give them good clean “water” of Truth and throw a Bible verse at them and stuff. The verses are true and good, but the timing is way off. Help the person NOT drown. That’s what the Church has to get better at doing, not just throwing water bottles to drowning/depressed people and telling ourselves we were helpful.

One article that might prove an additional resource is something I wrote about the Psalms. You can find that article here: The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement.

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Caveat: I’m all for medication if it’s necessary, and I would NEVER tell someone who’s depressed to stop their meds or go off their meds. I’m talking about a holistic approach here. So maybe someone’s on meds, fine, they should still be looking at what might be in the triangle.  Maybe there’s nothing, but maybe there’s something. Maybe it really is just a chemical imbalance that needs intervention. I believe that happens. But I also think exploring past painful events and asking around for deep-seated lies can expose someone to healing and greater self-awareness.

10 Ways to Choose Life in the Middle of an Eating Disorder

by Elizabeth

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Last fall I taught a class to international teen girls which I entitled “Life After ED,” where ED refers to eating disorders. I borrowed that title from a book I have not read because it so perfectly encapsulates what I want people to know: there is life after eating disorders. People need the hope of a life abundant when they’re in the midst of a struggle with scarcity.

When we talk about eating disorders, we’re talking about a range of struggles, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia (obsession with “right” eating), and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). The research I’ve read indicates that 75% to 80% of women will deal with some sort of food or body image issue in their life, and many are easy to hide, so when I talk about eating disorders, I’m not just talking about extreme cases. Food and body image issues are struggles for all of us.

[Men deal with eating disorders too, but I don’t know those stats, nor do I have significant knowledge of that subject.]

Most of the girls in that class were Third Culture Kids, and most of them didn’t know my story. It feels like such a healed part of my life that I rarely think about it nowadays — and I often forget to tell it. So I started out by telling my personal story through the lens of a cross-cultural transition, because that was my experience. Then I touched on some theology regarding our bodies (including the concept of Imago Dei), and finished with a discussion of ways to seek healing and freedom in this area.

Today I’m only going to share some practical ways to choose life in the midst of a body image or food struggle. As I’m still in the early stages of truly understanding “the theology of the body” (yes that too is a borrowed book title), I’m going to skip that section of my class. And because I’ve published my eating disorder story before, I won’t rehash it here, even though the story I told these girls had some additional (and also very personal) details.

So without further ado, here’s my list. And since this list is relatively short, feel free to ask for clarifications on any of the items, whether publicly or privately.

 

  1. Break the shackles of shame. I want to take away the shame of struggling with these things. They’re common to women. They’re not terrible or shocking, whether it’s to me or to God or to so many other women out there. So take a deep breath. These struggles with food and body hatred are just part of your life right now. The only way to move forward and get them out of your life is to acknowledge them. And remember, you are NOT alone.
  2. Get some help. You really need some outside help to fight your food and body image battles. It’s very hard to walk this path alone. So talk to someone – a parent, a counselor, a pastor, a teacher, another safe adult. But NOT a peer. Not a friend. It’s not that you can’t confess these things to your friends, but you can get into trouble partnering with a friend in fighting an eating disorder. It can become about competition. Or it can become about endorsement, where you and your friends all know you struggle, and you “accept” each other, but there is no accountability to grow or change. A counselor, on the other hand, will help you delve into the reasons why you stumbled into this eating disorder in the first place. A Christian counselor, in particular, will help you stand on the truth of God’s word and seek Jesus for the healing of your mind and your body. But make sure your counselor feels safe to you. If you’re not comfortable with one, look for another.
  3. Don’t expect a quick fix. There is no special prayer or special person’s prayer that will magically and instantaneously cure your struggle. There is only consistently walking with Jesus toward healing and restoration and consistently realigning your mind with the truth of God’s love. There is only “a long obedience in the same direction” (to reference yet another book I haven’t read).
  4. Don’t be thrown off guard by relapses. They are normal; I had three. Three separate times I stopped eating enough, lost too much weight, and stopped my normal female functioning too. It happened twice in high school and once after I had my second child. Remember, relapses are NOT the end of recovery or healing, and they don’t mean that no healing or recovery has occurred. They are just a temporary setback. So take a deep breath and start again to walk this road of healing.
  5. Don’t get your ideas of what your body is supposed to look like from magazines or images on the internet. This is simple to understand but difficult to live. I know how tempting it is to look at those pictures and compare yourself to them. I know how tempting it is to compare yourself to your own personal idea of a perfect body. But those images, whether on a screen or on a glossy magazine page, or inside your own head, don’t tell the truth. They aren’t real. Don’t let them lie to you about what is beautiful or valuable or what you must look like. Reject those ideas, they’re not from God. Put down the magazines or turn off your phone or your computer if you have to.
  6. Know where your value and worth come from. When God formed us from the dust, He stamped us with His image, something He didn’t do for any other creature. This is the idea of imago dei: the belief that all human beings, regardless of status or creed or “usefulness” or even likability, are valuable, because the God who created them is the one who gives them their value. Imago dei is what needs to be restored when we struggle with disordered eating, body image distortion, body shame, body hatred, or the effects of sexual abuse. So remember how much you are worth — body, soul, and all.
  7. Look in the mirror and declare God’s Word over yourself. This can be really hard and uncomfortable at first. Get into your underclothes and stand in front of that mirror and speak out loud statements like, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” or “I am created in the image of God, and God himself says that’s very good,” or “I am a child of God,” or “I am in Christ Jesus, and there is no condemnation for me, not even from myself,” or “The Spirit is setting me free from these things.” It’s hard at this stage to accept your physical body as something good, but try practicing these things and see if they help.
  8. Work on portion control, but avoid calorie counting. Portion control can be hard. Whether you’re accustomed to restricting OR overeating, it’s difficult to learn to listen to your body’s signs of hunger and fullness and to eat a normal, regular amount of food that’s not too big and not too small. Look up recommended portion sizes if you want, but don’t pay too much attention to calorie counts. Calorie counting is both legalistic and addictive and tends to be used in fear, not freedom. So don’t get hung up on calories.
  9. Hold onto hope for healing, restoration, and life abundant. I stand before you today free of obsessive thoughts of body hatred. I may have occasional thoughts of dissatisfaction, but I am free of obsession and the accompanying depression that my body is not good enough (and that therefore I am not good enough). So I want you to have HOPE: hope for freedom and wholeness and a full life after dealing with eating disorders.
  10. Remember that God is not giving up on you. God longs to live in you, in body, soul, and spirit. He will not give up on you, no matter how many times you binge, purge, or starve. He loves you the SAME. Always the same, eternal, everlasting, pure, perfect love. Of course we will make mistakes and let our beliefs and thoughts get all messed up. Of course we will make mistakes and make poor choices: that’s why Jesus came. God knew we would need Him, and He never gives up on us.

 

Linking up with Velvet Ashes