Tuesday, August 31, 2010

True Beauty: Transparency

Over the past few weeks, I've opened my inbox to have several emails from people I don't know. The email addresses are different, but the content is essentially the same. They are all from women who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, they have read my recently-published book, and like me, they have at one point in their life, either now or previously, battled an eating disorder.

I've had ups and downs reading their notes. Sometimes, I can identify with their stories so well that I am brought to tears. Other times, I rejoice so loudly with their victory in Jesus over their past destructive behavior, I wake James up. (I check my emails in the morning, and I get up before him - whoops!)

However, today, I got a particular email that broke my heart more than others. Though this young woman has definitely had her share of struggle, it wasn't the details of her eating disorder, or even her depression, that devastated me.

She wrote...

"Last night, I told my sister and a handful of close friends [about my struggle with the eating disorder.] It is amazing to see how the Lord is already working through it. I have a few good friends who are currently struggling with eating disorders. I would have never been able to understand or relate, nor would they have ever told me, if I wasn't first upfront and vulnerable in front of them."

Three things in this paragraph caught my eye.

1. Of the handful of close friends she told who she knew she could count on to pray, a few of them (defined as at least 3 or more) are currently struggling with an eating disorder.

Maybe we've allowed ourselves to become immune to the statistics:

- 1 in 5 women currently have an eating disorder.

- 90% of the women who do have eating disorders are between the ages of 12-25.

- Twenty percent of the women who do survive anorexia will die prematurely due to health conditions caused by the eating disorder.

But those statistics don't represent numbers - they represent people. And they aren't strangers - they are people you know. She's the woman who sits in front of you on Sunday mornings in church. She's the student who walked by you on campus today. She's the young girl who just joined the youth group. She may even be your daughter, your mother....maybe even the pastor's wife.

We have all of the research, so being uneducated can't be the reason we don't act upon it. Certainly, we can't believe this type of unhealthy lifestyle is acceptable, so that can't be why we don't respond. Yet, remaining silent certainly takes less time and energy than dealing with the consequences of our actions or attempting to change.

2. If one person is willing to be vulnerable, others will follow.

The next time you're at church, test my "fine disease" theory. Ask five people how they are doing, and at least four of them will quickly respond to you, "Fine." Of course they are. I'm fine, you're fine...all of God's people are just fine!

We want to appear confident. Put-together. Solid. Because somehow, we have wrongly associated lack of difficulty in our life with godliness.


Don't believe me? Just check out Psalm 34:19 and 2 Timothy 3:12.

Persecution and affliction are not a maybe thing when you walk with Christ. It's not even a most-likely thing. It's a promise.

But what happens when we keep our struggles inside? We quietly pray, hoping that no one notices any broken pieces we haven't frantically tried to glue back together. When God restores the situation, we silently bow our heads and give Him praise.

Do you see what's wrong with this picture? We give God a golf clap (which is way lame, if you ask me, and one of the many reasons why I choose to watch football instead) when we should be wearing His jersey, jumping up and down, screaming with excitement as He runs us into the end zone!

Every time I share about my shortcomings in my walk with Christ, people line up to talk to me afterwards. Many times, it's just to utter the two words that were actually the subject line of the email I've referred to in this post: "Me too."

3. As soon as this young woman opened her mouth and shared her struggles, God started working in her life...and in the lives around her.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is 2 Corinthians 4:5-9:

"For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

For this to make sense, we have to remember that "jars of clay" is an ancient metaphor for human weakness. So if you were just to isolate that one passage, it reads:

"But we have this treasure in human weakness to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

Make it even more personal: We have an opportunity in our human weakness to show others the power of God.

Picture for one second that you are that clay jar. Imperfection happens. Maybe it's anorexia, but maybe you struggle in another area: jealousy, gossip, sexual sin, drugs, lying. Maybe you're struggling in your marriage or maybe you're compromising your morals at work. But when you try to piece yourself back together, you're just a clay pot with a bunch of dull cracks.

However, when you share your struggles with others, when you admit your imperfections....that is when His light can shine through you to penetrate into the lives of others. And where does the light shine the brightest - in the pieces that are solid and held together? No. God's light shines brightest through the cracks of the jar of clay...in our human weakness.

Instead of seeing transparency as messy and broken, can we recognize it as the opportunity for God's light to shine brightly through us?

Transparency is beautiful.

Let Him bust down your wall.

Let him peel off your mask.

Allow Him to mold you into the very person He created you to be.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

*NEW* Wondering Wednesday

As much as I love to write, I also love to read. So NEW BLOG FEATURE starting this week....Each Wednesday, I will be posting a question on my blog. I would love for you to log in and leave your comment, answering the question in the blog post.

And you never know...I may randomly give out prizes to a random participant. So if you have an answer, you might as well post it. :)

So here it goes:

I was wondering...

When you were a kid, do you remember a comment (or have you heard your parents talk about a comment) you made when were younger that you can't believe you said?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Missing my niece...

Aunt Chelle & Katerbug at the beach - Summer 2010

Today, I am really missing my niece, Katelyn....so I decided to post the letter I wrote to her on the day that she was born...love you, Katerbug!

January 24, 2008

Dear Katelyn, 

Well, you’re finally here. Happy birthday! I would love to tell you that I am more excited about you being here than anyone else, but I think your parents may have me beat…by just a little bit! I was with them just moments after they first found out about you. The three of us just cried and hugged, dreaming of when this day would come…and now, the waiting is over! It’s a great story, but I should let your parents tell you. I’m not going to steal their thunder this early on in the game. 

As you get older and start asking to see your baby pictures, you won’t see any of your Aunt Chelle. The problem is…I am in graduate school in Texas, which is about 16 hours away from where you are. (That is about how long it would take if you watched your favorite movie ten times in a row.) So even though you won’t see my face, hopefully, this letter will show you that my heart was in Knoxville on your first official birthday.

I’m not gonna lie to you, Katerbug. I was pretty disappointed when you didn’t show up three days ago. I really wanted us to be birthday twins. Your Uncle James, on the other hand, wishes you would have held off a few days since his birthday is January 28. We are getting married in 120 days, so apparently, God is even using your birth to try and teach us compromise. (You’ll meet God soon, and you will love Him, I promise. Your parents will introduce you as soon as they can.) 

Speaking of your parents – wow, you have one amazing mom. I should know. She had great practice being a mom on me, her little sister. She was always holding my hand when I crossed the street, even though Gigi already had me on one side. She was the one who gave me advice the first time I liked a boy. (Don’t say gross – it will happen to you one day too!) And she was also the one who consoled me when I found out he liked someone else. I was like her dolls, except I was better, of course. Oh, and in case she tries to blame the fact that she can’t french braid on me…I can’t help it. Your mom has gotten much more gentle in her hair styling since she first learned how to French braid. 

She was more than my second “mom” though. Your mom is also my best friend. As soon as you learn to talk, you need to start bugging your parents to have another baby. If you take after your mom in personality as much as you look like her, you are going to be one amazing big sister, Katelyn. My next niece/nephew is one lucky kid.
Oh, and while I’m thinking about it. There will probably come a time when your mom gets on your nerves. You’ll think that she doesn’t know anything and that she can’t do anything right. But just remember that you heard it here first. Your mom loves you more than anyone else on this earth, and she wants what is best for you. Even if you don’t understand her, trust her. No matter how hard that is. About the time you are ready to finish high school, something inside of you will just click, and you will know that she was on your team the whole time, and you will be a better woman…because of her. Your Gigi did this for your mom and me, and your mom will do the same for you. You’ll find that as you get even older, you will hear her advice echo in your mind each time you are faced with a decision.

And let me just tell you one of the best things about being a girl – DADDY! Hands down. Your G-Daddy is one of God’s greatest gifts in my life. To this day, I still think he is the best, strongest man in the world (equal to your Uncle James, of course.) He’ll be the one who shows you why following God is the smartest decision you can ever make. You see, God is your Heavenly Father, which means, he’s just like your daddy…except better. I know that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. Some little girls don’t have good examples of what a Heavenly Father would be like, but that’s not the case for you. He will shower you with unconditional love, spoil you as much as he can, (Try not to abuse that), and he will set the standard for the man you will marry someday. That guy has big shoes to fill, but we are already praying that God will shape him to be the spiritual leader that you need.

I know I’ve talked a lot about God, and you probably don’t even remember Him right now. It’s okay. It’s been a big day, coming out of your mom’s womb and everything. You’ve been preoccupied with other things. But God was the man who created you. He formed you in His image, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. As he molded your shape and taught you how to smile, He developed a plan for your life. You have a bright and beautiful future ahead of you, sweet Katelyn. You simply have to trust Him with all of your heart and not rely on your own strength. Then, He will direct your paths and work for your good, since you are called for His purpose.
He’s put some of His best in your path. Your mom has an incredible servant’s heart (that she learned from Gigi), and your dad works harder than anyone I know, and he will provide you with everything you will ever need. Your G-Daddy is the closest living, breathing example of Christ that you will ever encounter. I pray daily that by the time you are old enough to read this letter that your Aunt Michelle and Uncle James will be closer to you in distance…but I promise that you are in my thoughts and prayers everyday.

I haven’t actually laid eyes on you yet. I haven’t held you in my arms. But I can already tell you that I love you more than I ever thought possible. I promise that no matter how far away I live, if you need me, I’ll be there as soon as I can get to you. Since I can’t be there physically to change your diapers or tickle your little toes, I’m going to do the next best thing. I’m going to pray for you. 

Sweet Heavenly Father, I submit the life of my precious Katelyn to you. God, I pray that you would give her everything her heart desires. Use her to change the world for you. Send your angels to gather around her and protect her. Make her heart yearn to learn Your Word, and help her to be able to recite your teaching to resist the devil’s temptations. Use the sun’s warmth to remind her family’s love. Every time she sees a sunset or a mountain range, have her reflect on Your power. Don’t let anything stand in the way between her relationship with You. Amen.

We’ll get to have fun soon, I promise. So you just grow up sweet and strong, and know that your Aunt Chelle loves you. And bout that birthday twin thing, three days is close enough to still be twins, don’t you think? ☺

Love always in Him,
Aunt Chelle

Colossians 3:23

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Life Dream & Worst Nightmare Came True...

When I was in 1st grade, I wrote my first book. It was 222 pages of notebook paper - double spaced hand-written, unillustrated (except for the lovely cover...apologies to anyone who can actually draw who views this.) As many careers as I explored throughout my years growing up, one thing never changed: I was going to write a book. So in many ways, by releasing The Look that Kills: An Anorexic's Addiction to Control, my longest life dream has become reality.

Yet, it's a bittersweet dream come true. I remember the day after I admitted to my family that I had an eating disorder and needed help. I heard God's voice echo in my head: "Write it down."

Why? I thought. I never want anyone to find out about this ever. Why do I need to write it down?

A similar dialogue went back and forth several times before I finally obeyed. After all, I'd always said that writing was my therapy. Maybe writing it down would be part of my healing process. So, whenever anything significant happened throughout my recovery process, I would frequently keep a record of what happened either in a locked file on my computer or scribbled in my prayer journal.

That all changed on Mother's Day in 2009. I wrote one particular blog entry, and God triggered a different thought in my mind: Did you really think this was all about you?

Suddenly, I was faced with the scary realization that God wanted me to share everything I had been through: every lie, every unkind word, every deceitful action, every selfish decision....As a perfectionist who has spent most of my life proving that I am always right and covering up anything that someone could potentially view as a mistake, this was totally unchartered ground.

I came up with a compromise in my mind. I would write my story...but I would write it as fiction. That way, God would be pleased; after all, my story would be out there. But I could totally save face and put off my shortcomings on a fictional character.

In my mind, I justified that I might widen my audience by writing it as fiction. After all, wouldn't that be less threatening to someone who had an eating disorder? Instead of thinking that someone had given them yet another book about their problem, this could be a "beach read."

But after writing a few chapters, my story was all there....but something was missing. The actual events were all there, but it was bigger than that. It needed...transparency. Authenticity. And the hardest of all -- humility. And God didn't need to be a supportive character. He needed to be the center of the entire plot.

So, taking a deep breath....I erased the fictional account and started over on the writing project that is now The Look that Kills.

It is my prayer that more than reading my story, you will be drawn to the merciful God who created you. He longs to use you. He desires a relationship with you. And no matter what you've been through, He is fully capable of making it beautiful.

"and provide for those who grieve in Zion— 
       to bestow on them a crown of beauty 
       instead of ashes, 
       the oil of gladness 
       instead of mourning, 
       and a garment of praise 
       instead of a spirit of despair. 
       They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
       a planting of the LORD 
       for the display of his splendor."

Isaiah 61:3